President Obama bluntly criticized congressional Republicans and candidly assessed his own policies and the performance of federal workers in a meeting with campaign donors late Thursday in Chicago.
Apparently unaware that a microphone was still on, Obama said he essentially dared Republicans to try to repeal his health-care law during the recent budget negotiations. "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 exchange was overheard by CBS RadioNews reporter Mark Knoller, who had been listening from the White House to an audio feed of Obama's public remarks before the private meeting.
Later in the discussion, Obama said he told Republicans that they should try to pass a stand-alone bill to defund Planned Parenthood, rather than attach it to the broader budget bill.
"Put it in a separate bill," Obama said he told House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and his staff. "We'll call it up. And if you think you can overturn my veto, try it. But don't try to sneak this through."
White House press secretary Jay Carney on Friday dismissed any potential concerns with the comments. "He was taking questions from supporters," Carney said. "But there's nothing -- nothing he said that contradicts anything he said in public."
In the conversation, Obama also weighed in on the performance of rank-and-file federal employees, saying it is "striking how generally smart and dedicated" federal workers are, according to Knoller.
But Obama added that some government workers "are slugs and not trying to do their job."
Over the course of his presidency, Obama has generally lauded the work of federal employees and in a letter this week thanked the government's 2 million employees for working through the recent threats of a government shutdown.
During the exchange, Obama also told donors that the government's information technology "is horrible." Technology is subpar "across the board" at the Pentagon, Homeland Security and other agencies, Obama said, according to Knoller's account.
Knoller said Obama sounded exasperated, adding, "Come on, 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."
He also had tough words for the Republican chairman of the House Budget Committee, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.
"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.
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."
This isn't the first time Obama has been caught making off-the-cuff remarks to donors. During an August 2008 private fundraising dinner in San Francisco, Obama said some rural voters "cling to guns or religion as a way to explain their frustrations."