Obama is portrayed as having a distrust of Republicans in Congress. But he came closer to a breakthrough deal over spending and debt with House Speaker John Boehner than many observers thought possible.
"If you're dealing with an opponent, you have to sit down and find a way to talk," Woodward said. "They had the merlot-and-Nicorettes meeting, the president and John Boehner, and at least initially made some progress. You have to stick with that. You know there's one quality a president needs -- it's stamina."
Republicans shoulder a share of the blame too, in Woodward's telling. He depicts Boehner's top deputy, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, at times working against Boehner, reflecting the strong Tea Party sentiments in the Republican conference.
"I also make the point that Speaker Boehner was responsible. He never found a way to go to Eric Cantor and say, and have that kind of conversation of a lifetime and say, 'Eric you're the deputy, you're the majority leader. I'm the boss. It's you and me. We've got to work together as a team.' "
After the "grand bargain" deal fell apart, congressional leaders pieced together a short-term spending deal to avoid an unprecedented default that could have triggered a worldwide financial crisis.
But they did it without Obama, and over some of his explicit objections, leaving the president angered, Woodward said.
"The president was moaning, groaning, whining, demanding, threatening, and desperate. And wow," Woodward said. "I asked the president about this and he said, 'Well, you know, anyone who knows me, I don't moan and groan and get desperate. But he acknowledges he was very angry."
Woodward pushed back at the notion that his book will be used by Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and other political foes to make the point that Obama was in over his head. His book, he told Sawyer, is a "legal wiretap," not an attempt to assign blame for a missed opportunity.
"I am not delivering that ammunition. I am trying to describe what happened … I also make the point that Speaker Boehner was responsible," Woodward said. "He had a partner, a dancing partner. He has the Republicans in on this. … I can't simplify it or make a judgment. What I can do is provide that wiretap."
The book paints a grim portrait for the future, including the next few months.
"The overarching theme here is that we dodged a bullet that could have changed this country forever but we dodged it by deflecting it off to the year 2013 which by the way is only several months away," Woodward told Sawyer.