Presidents meeting with vanquished rivals: A recent history

President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney shake hands at the end of the second presidential debate at Hofstra University, Oct. 16, 2012, in Hempstead, N.Y.
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

Later today, President Obama will host Mitt Romney for a private lunch at the White House. The president vowed to meet with Romney during his election night speech "to talk about where we can work together to move this country forward," but there had been skepticism about whether the meeting would actually take place.

That's because presidents have not always been quick to welcome their former rivals to the White House after Election Day.

For instance, it was not until 2007 that Al Gore - who had won the popular vote seven years earlier - finally made it to the White House. In November of that year, the former vice president returned to the Oval Office for the first time since the Clinton administration for a reception honoring Nobel Prize winners. Gore, who shared a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to bring attention to climate change, reportedly spent more than 30 minutes in private conversation with then-President Bush.

Still, Mr. Bush had reached out previously: The two men met on December 19, 2000, roughly one week after the Florida recount was settled by the Supreme Court. The pair reportedly spent less than 20 minutes meeting at the official vice-presidential residence, the Naval Observatory. Mr. Bush, of course, would not move into the White House until January.

In his 2004 reelection campaign, Mr. Bush defeated Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry. Kerry found his way to the White House four months later, though it was not to share ideas: He attended a South Lawn ceremony honoring the then-champion Boston Red Sox hosted by the president. Kerry arrived late to the ceremony, in the middle of Mr. Bush's remarks; the president welcomed him and added, "I like to see Senator Kerry, except when we're fixin' to debate. If you know what I mean." That appears to have been the extent of their interaction. 

After the 2008 contest, Mr. Obama met with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., on November 17 - two weeks after Election Day. (The New York Times pointed out at the time that this was nearly the same date that Bill Clinton met with George H.W. Bush after he defeated him in the 1992 election.) The private meeting, in which the two men promised to work together to solve problems, was not at the White House - Mr. Obama had yet to move in, after all. McCain did not meet with Mr. Obama at the White House until February of 2011, for what a McCain spokesperson at the time described as a "productive meeting on a range of issues."

All indications are that the two men did not build a close personal relationship, however. During the health care fight in 2010, they had a contentious exchange at Blair House that included McCain speaking over an attempt by the president to interject - "can I just finish, please," he said, cutting off Mr. Obama - and the president suggesting McCain was still in campaign mode.

"We're not campaigning anymore," Mr. Obama said. "The election's over." Responded his former rival: "I'm reminded of that every day."

In June of this year, McCain complained that the president had never made a good faith effort to reach out to him after the 2008 election. "Let's get real here," he told The Hill. "There was never any outreach from President Obama or anyone in his administration to me."

Romney, who has stayed out of the public eye during the debt limit fight, is not a member of Congress - which could make it easier for him to build a positive relationship with the man in the Oval Office than the last two presidential losers.