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Exclusive: Obama Reflects on First-Term Mistakes, Economy

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- As his third year in the White House draws to a close, President Obama offered a candid assessment of his presidency in an exclusive interview with ABC News' Barbara Walters, accepting some responsibility for the gridlock in Washington while projecting a sense of optimism for his re-election and America's future.

Obama took office in 2009 promising to change the culture in Washington, while refusing to let it change him. Taking stock three years on, Obama admits he's come up short on cultivating a spirit of bipartisan cooperation and unity of purpose and needs more time.

"That mindset doesn't exist in Washington right now, and I do take some responsibility for making sure that that spirit which I think the country longs for, that we can somehow get that in the Congress as well," Obama said.  "But that seems to be a longer than one-term project."

"Can you admit to any mistakes that you've made?" Walters asked.

"Oh, I think probably once a day, I look back and I say, you know, I could have done that a little bit better," Obama said.

Obama cited his approach to setting expectations for the "long haul" of economic recovery as less effective than desired.  He also admits that he could have been more resolute in his early dealings with congressional Republicans.  Obama -- who once said his GOP rivals could get "to the back of the bus" because he'd won the election -- looked back at his approach as more compromising, which he tells Walters ultimately angered some parts of his base.

"When it comes to dealing with Congress, you know, of late, I've said, I'm not going to wait for Congress.  I'm going to go ahead and just do whatever I have in my executive power," he said. "I think that there were times in my first couple a years where I kept on sitting there trying to see if we can negotiate some sort of compromise, and there just was a lot of refusal on the other side's part to compromise."

"And, I'd just stay at it... but as a consequence, I think a lot of time was lost that frustrated a lot of people around the country," Obama said.  "They want to see action on behalf of some of these issues."

Still, Obama, who has sat down with Walters for a pre-Christmas interview in each year of his term, said little about himself has changed despite the political buffeting presidents endure.

"I'm definitely grayer.  And people tell me I'm a little thinner, so I've got to start making sure I'm eating enough," Obama said.  "But in terms of what I care about, in terms of what led me to run for president in the first place, those things haven't changed."

Watch Walters' full interview with President Obama during a 20/20 holiday special on Friday, Dec. 23, at 10 p.m. ET.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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