Now that the reporters were gone, President Barack Obama had some private thoughts to share with about 50 donors.
His recollections of the recent spending negotiations with House Speaker John Boehner. His tough assessment about his main budget antagonist in Congress. His desire for “cooler phones” in the White House and better information technology.
The late evening exchange at a Chicago restaurant did not stay private for long.
He was betrayed by a live audio feed which mistakenly piped Obama’s off the cuff remarks all the way to the press briefing room of the White House, where a few reporters were still at work.
It’s not the first time the privacy of Obama’s moments with donors has been pierced.
During his 2008 presidential campaign, his comments at a private fundraiser about rural Americans who “cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them” were made public by a blogger in the audience who wrote for the liberal news web site The Huffington Post.
In Thursday’s late event, captured on audio by CBS News, the president cast himself as a tough defender of his health care law, fiercely fighting off Republican attempts to cut off some of its funding during negotiations to avert a government shutdown last week.
“I said, ‘You wanna repeal health care? Go at it. We’ll have that debate. But you’re not going to be able to do it by nickel and diming me in the budget. You think we’re stupid?
“This is the same guy who 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,” Obama said.
The president, in remarks overheard by The Associated Press, also said he wanted a phone upgrade.
“The Oval Office, I always thought I was going to have really cool phones and stuff,” he said. “I’m like, `C’mon guys, I’m the president of the United States. Where’s the fancy buttons and stuff and the big screen comes up?’ It doesn’t happen.”
Government information technology, he complained, is “horrible.”
“It’s true in the Pentagon. It’s true in the agencies. It’s true in the Department of Homeland Security.”
In response to another question, he made a point about the need for good job opportunities by citing Thursday’s visit to the White House by the emir of the Gulf nation of Qatar. Earlier in the day, Obama had praised him as an important figure in building an international coalition to intervene in Libya.
“Pretty influential guy,” Obama told his donors. “He is a big booster, big promoter of democracy all throughout the Middle East. Reform, reform, reform.”
Letting the careful language of diplomacy slide, he continued: “Now he himself is not reforming significantly. There’s no big move toward democracy in Qatar. But you know part of the reason is that the per capita income of Qatar is $145,000 a year. That will dampen a lot of conflict.”
Copyright © 2011 The Associated Press