WASHINGTON – Mitt Romney no longer has a Secret Service detail trailing his every step. But the former Republican presidential candidate can still commandeer a Marriott hotel.
Romney came to Washington on Friday, four days after President Obama was sworn into a second term that Romney had hoped to prevent. He was at the J.W. Marriott hotel in downtown Washington for a luncheon that was put together by Catherine Reynolds, a Virginia philanthropist, and Bill Marriott Jr., chairman of the hotel chain. Romney is a member of the company’s board.
The luncheon, meant to honor Romney and his wife, Ann, took place just blocks away from the White House, where President Obama was continuing to assemble his staff for the next term. Bleachers constructed for the inauguration parade were still set up outside, and the official inauguration store – selling Obama hats, shirts, and mugs – was next door.
But Romney, who has remained out of the public eye, did not permit media of coverage of his trip. His staff said he was not available for an interview. The hotel, where many events and conferences are held, cordoned off the entrance with red velvet ropes and stationed guards at the door to block anyone from entering the lobby.
While the group of Romney supporters dined on either salmon or filet mignon, Romney told them that he had kept a low-profile since the campaign but planned to be politically active in helping get Republican candidates elected in 2013, 2014, and 2016, according to a source who attended the lunch and requested anonymity because the function was supposed to be private. Romney wasn’t specific about which candidates he would help and in what way, the source said, and it remains to be seen how active other Republicans want Romney to be following a losing campaign that many have criticized.
Still, those who attended the luncheon included some of the top Republican power-brokers. Among them were Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, Senator John McCain of Arizona, and former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott. There were also several former senators—Jon Kyl of Arizona, Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, and Gordon Smith of Oregon – as well as former diplomat C. Boyden Gray.
Spotted from the sidewalk arriving for the lunch were people like Ed Gillespie, a senior campaign adviser, and Scott Romney, the candidate’s older brother. A reporter standing outside the hotel entrance where other guests arrived did not see Romney, who apparently used a different door and thus avoided a small media contingent.
Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the former vice presidential nominee, arrived just before noon.
Ryan and his wife, Janna, arrived in his green LT Autoride Chevrolet Tahoe (it had a Green Bay Packers license plate frame and a sticker for Bud Weiser – not the beer, but a Beloit, Wisc.-based car dealership).
As Ryan walked in, he declined to both comment and to sign a baseball held by a grown man.
Romney on Saturday night is planning to attend the Alfalfa Club Dinner, an exclusive event attended by Washington power brokers.
Romney did not appear at the inauguration, becoming the first losing candidate to skip the ceremony since 1988, when then-Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis stayed in Boston and sent a congratulatory telegram to President George H.W. Bush.
Romney aides and the White House have declined to say whether Romney in any way communicated with President Obama on inauguration day.