By JoAnne Allen
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A tense airport exchange with Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, in which she wagged her finger in his face, was blown out of proportion, President Barack Obama said in an ABC News interview on Thursday.
"I think it's always good publicity for a Republican if they're in an argument with me. ... But this was really not a big deal," Obama said. "Last time we met, she wasn't fully satisfied. But, you know, I think this is a classic example of things getting blown out of proportion."
The testy exchange with Brewer on Wednesday distracted from the economic message Obama has sought to emphasize during a three-day campaign-style tour that followed his State of the Union address to Congress on Tuesday night.
Obama, who spent much of last year locked in battles with Republicans in the U.S. Congress, took a combative tone in the address as he pressed Republicans to work with him on the effort to fix the sluggish economy.
The president has also differed sharply with Brewer over immigration policy.
The Justice Department has challenged a controversial bill Brewer signed in 2010 cracking down on illegal immigrants in Arizona that called for police to check the immigration status of anyone suspected of being in the country illegally.
Obama has referred to the Arizona immigration law as "misguided." Critics have said the measure is a mandate for racial profiling, but its supporters believe tougher measures are needed to prevent non-citizens from taking U.S. jobs in a tough economic climate.
But Obama sought to play down any tension during his brief meeting with Brewer at the Phoenix airport.
"She wanted to give me a letter, asking for a meeting. And I said, 'We'd be happy to meet,' " Obama told ABC.
Brewer and Obama spoke when she met him on the airport tarmac to welcome him to her state.
During their chat, Obama told Brewer he disagreed with an account she had given of a meeting they had at the White House two years ago. At one point during the conversation, she pointed a finger at the president.
Brewer handed him a letter asking for a meeting to talk about Arizona's economy.
"Let me say that I respect the office of president, and when I went to meet him at the tarmac, I went with a happy heart," Brewer said on Thursday on CNN.
"He turned that conversation immediately to my book 'Scorpions for Breakfast' and was immediately somewhat distraught, disappointed about the way that he was disappointed in that book," she said.
A White House official said the subject of the book came up after Brewer gave Obama the letter.
"The president said he'd be glad to meet with her again, but did note that after their last meeting, a cordial discussion in the Oval Office, the governor inaccurately described the meeting in her book," the official said.
Immediately after the 2010 meeting with Obama, Brewer described the exchange as "cordial" but she later wrote in the book that she felt he had lectured her.
(Additional Reporting By Caren Bohan and Tim Gaynor; Editing by Peter Cooney)