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Obama comments on arrest of Harvard prof

July 22, 2010 10:31:15 AM PDT
President Barack Obama made a controversial comment on the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates during Wednesday night's presidential press conference.On Thursday, the president and his advisors are trying to turn the spotlight from his Gates comments back to health care.

President Obama is scheduled to arrive in Chicago on Thursday afternoon for two fund raisers on the city's North Side on Thursday evening.

President Obama is expected to arrive by motorcade after riding Marine One to Lincoln Park. He'll visit the home of Penny Pritzker, his chief fundraiser during last year's campaign, for a $15,000 per plate event at which he's going to talk about the need to reform America's health care system. But the fallout from his comments on Wednesday night on what happened to Professor gates and its bearing on race relations in America is another storyline with its own power.

"The Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home," said Pres. Obama during the press conference.

It was a blunt assessment from the president of the United States on a local matter involving one of America's leading black scholars, Henry Louis Gates of Harvard, an Obama friend.

But on Thursday presidential press secretary Robert Gibbs clarified that the president wasn't calling the officer who arrested Prof. Gates at his home in response to a 911 burglary in progress call "stupid" -- only that cooler heads should have prevailed. Gibbs said, "The President was clear?in denoting that at a certain point the situation?got far out of hand."

Gibbs added that the president stands by his view that generally blacks and Hispanics have been subjected to racial profiling by police for a long time. The Cambridge police officer says he won't apologize to Prof. Gates as demanded. Sgt. James Crowley in fact is a Boston area expert on racial profiling and taught the subject to police recruits at the Lowell, MA police academy, according to the school.

Strategists on both sides of the aisle acknowledge the presidential parry into the Gates story has an effect on the health care debate.

"He's a truth teller. You know, he'll tell you the truth whether it's about an unfortunate incident in Cambridge, Massachusetts or the rotten health care system that drives up costs for people," said Pete Giangreco, The Strategy Group.

"It's a distraction from something that he's trying to push through in two weeks against public opinion now. He took a longer time finding a puppy for his daughter," said Eric Kohn, Urquart Media.

ABC News has obtained an exclusive interview with President Obama about the controversy. That will be part of the Nightline program on Thursday night at 10:30 p.m. CDT.


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