President Obama told author Bob Woodward that he didn't know Rep. Paul Ryan was going to attend at a major speech he delivered last year on spending and debt, and says in retrospect that it was "a mistake" to dress down Ryan and his budget plans to his face in that setting.
In the interview conducted July 11 -- about a month before Ryan was tapped as Mitt Romney's running mate – the president also misstated the first name of the man who is now on the opposing presidential ticket.
"I'll go ahead and say it – I think that I was not aware when I gave that speech that Jack Ryan was going to be sitting right there," the president told Woodward according to audio transcripts of their conversations, provided to ABC News.
"And so I did feel, in retrospect, had I known – we literally didn't know he was going to be there until – or I didn't know, until I arrived. I might have modified some of it so that we would leave more negotiations open, because I do think that they felt like we were trying to embarrass him," Obama continued. "We made a mistake."
(Jack Ryan is the name of a famous Tom Clancy character, and also the name of the Republican who was slated to run against Obama in his 2004 Senate campaign before he withdrew in the wake of a sex scandal.)
The April 2011 speech set the stage for tense summer of negotiations that ultimately fell apart without a major agreement on spending and debt being reached. That's the major focus of Woodward's new book, "The Price of Politics."
Tune in to "World News with Diane Sawyer" and "Nightline" on Monday September 10, 2012 to see Diane Sawyer's exclusive interview with Bob Woodward
It also was an early volley in the broader debate now playing out on the presidential stage over taxes, entitlement programs, and the nation's fiscal course.
Last April, shortly after Paul Ryan released his budget proposal, "The Path to Prosperity," Obama chose to get more specific about his budget goals in a speech at George Washington University in Washington.
According to Woodward, as plans came together for the speech, a junior staffer in the White House congressional relations office noticed that while the co-chairmen of the president's fiscal commission, Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, were invited to attend, the other members were not.
Someone in that office thought it would be "polite" to extend invitations to others, even those who voted against the commission's recommendations. When Ryan got his invite, Woodward reports, he thought it was an effort by Obama to extend an olive branch to leaders of the new Republican House majority and "triangulate" a deficit solution, Bill Clinton-style.
But as Ryan and two GOP House colleagues settled into their seats, barely 25 feet from the president, they were in for a shock. The president lit into the Ryan budget plan, saying it was "less about reducing the deficit than it is about changing the basic social compact in America."