President Obama had a candid, private conversation with campaign donors last night in Chicago.
Except, as it turns out, it wasn't so private. The microphone in the room that was on for the part of his remarks that reporters were allowed to listen to was accidentally kept open.
President Obama's harshest words were for the Republican whom the president has praised in public for offering serious attempts to address the deficit: House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc.
"Eliminating the health care bill would cost us $1 trillion dollars," the president said. "It would add $1 trillion to the deficit. So when Paul Ryan says his priority is to make sure, he's just being America's accountant and trying to you know be responsible, this is the same guy that voted for two wars that were unpaid for, voted for the Bush tax cuts that were unpaid for, voted for the prescription drug bill that cost as much as my health care bill — but wasn't paid for. So it's not on the level. And we’ve got to keep on you know, keep on shining a light on that.”
While President Obama has been very critical of Ryan's budget proposal this week, he has been more complimentary in the past when describing both Ryan and his previous 2010 proposal. Speaking before the House GOP retreat in January 2010, the president suggested Ryan was a "pretty sincere guy" who "has looked at the budget and has made a serious proposal."
A spokesman for Ryan said that "this week, the President is hard at work to save his political career; while Ryan remains hard at work with his colleagues in Congress to pass a budget and lift our crushing burden of debt."
At the fundraiser, the president also recalled his dealings with House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, over GOP attempts in the budget bill to de-fund the health care legislation.
"Here’s the good news, I don’t know if you noticed but as soon as we started advertising that a spending bill might end up being a women’s health bill, and the scrutiny started pouring in, you noticed they backed off pretty quick," the president said. "Because even folks who may not agree with your position on choice, the average person is thinking ‘Gosh there’s a place, a time and place to have that debate, and it sure as heck shouldn’t be in a spending bill.’ Particularly a spending bill from last year that is yesterday’s business."
About the GOP attempts to de-fund Planned Parenthood, the president said he told Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, was "'You guys want to have this debate? We’re happy to have that debate. We will have the debate on the floor of the Senate or the floor of the House. Put it in a separate bill. We'll call it up. And if you think you can overturn my veto, try it. But don't try to sneak this through.'"
"The interesting thing actually is how little traction these social issues are getting these days," the president said. "I just think the country is moved into a different place. I think there are some folks who feel very strongly about it. But a lot of these hot button cultural issues, I think there’s a generational change taking place in part where people say, 'You know what, we may have disagreement about his, but this is not what we’re worried about. We’re not worried about the gay family next door. We’re not worried about what women are doing in terms of maintaining their health. We’re trying to figure out how to move America forward.'"
The president said that's "what the budget debate was all about: it was can we transport issues that have very little to do with the budget and have everything to do with a particular agenda? And can we use the budget to chip away?
"And so you know they had a provision on repealing health care, they had a provision on basically repealing the EPA. They had a provision on making sure that we didn’t do anything on climate change," the president said. "And I remember at one point in the negotiations one of Boehner’s staff people pipes up and says, ‘You don’t understand Mr. President, we’ve lost on you know, on health care, we’ve lost on the EPA, we’ve given that up, we’ve got to have something to sell to our caucus.’
"And I said to them, let me tell you something: 'I spent a year and a half getting health care passed. I had to take that issue across the country and I paid significant political costs to get it done. The notion that I’m going to let you guys undo that in a 6 month spending bill?' I said, 'You want to repeal health care? Go at it. We'll have that debate. You're not going to be able to do that by nickel-and-diming me in the budget. You think we're stupid?'"
The president said "we’re going to see this again. We’re going to see this on the debt limit vote. This is going to be the strategy going forward. Trying to do things they can do legislatively under the guise of cutting spending."
Asked for a response, Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck said that "the Speaker believes his private conversations with the President should remain private. Obviously, if the President chooses to share a self-serving version with campaign donors, that is his prerogative."
CBS Radio News White House correspondent Mark Knoller was the first to notice and report on the audio line that was kept open.
Update: White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the President is not embarrassed at having been caught unawares on the open mic and said none of what he said contradicts with things he has sed previously in public. Read more here.
-Jake Tapper and Sunlen Miller