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Other News: Obama Steps Back from Gates Comment

July 24, 2009 at 12:00 AM EDT
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JIM LEHRER: In other news today, President Obama voiced regret for saying police “acted stupidly” in arresting Henry Louis Gates. The black Harvard professor was arrested at his Cambridge, Massachusetts, home last week by a white policeman. A charge of disorderly conduct was dropped, but Gates claimed he was a victim of racial profiling.

Today, the president said, instead of illuminating that issue, he contributed to a media frenzy. He said he’s telephoned the arresting officer, Sergeant James Crowley.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I want to make clear that, in my choice of words, I think, I, unfortunately, I think, gave an impression that I was maligning the Cambridge Police Department or Sergeant Crowley specifically, and I could have calibrated those words differently. And I told this to Sergeant Crowley.

JIM LEHRER: The president said he still believes both the police and Gates overreacted. He also said he’s inviting both men to the White House for a beer. And later, the White House press office confirmed the president also spoke this afternoon on the phone with Gates.

Top House Democrats have reached agreement on cutting the growth of Medicare. It would work in much the same way as the military base-closing commission. The Institute of Medicine, chartered by Congress, would recommend changes in Medicare’s fee structure. The recommendations would take effect in early 2012, unless Congress acted to block them.

At the same time, the leader of conservative Democrats in the House, Mike Ross of Arkansas, said talks on other changes have fallen apart.

In Afghanistan, the U.S. military announced three more U.S. soldiers have died in combat. Two were killed in a bomb attack in the south; a third died in fighting in the eastern part of the country. Thirty-eight Americans have been killed in Afghanistan this month, the most since the war began.

The political crisis in Honduras escalated today as the ousted president, Manuel Zelaya, re-entered the country. Venezuelan television showed him at the border crossing between Nicaragua and Honduras. Despite the presence of government soldiers, he took a few steps onto the Honduran side.

In Washington, Secretary of State Clinton strongly criticized Zelaya’s action.

HILLARY CLINTON, secretary of State: President Zelaya’s effort to reach the border is reckless. It does not contribute to the broader efforts to restore democratic and constitutional order in the Honduras crisis. So we urge President Zelaya and all other parties to reaffirm their commitment to a negotiated, peaceful solution to the integrity of Honduran democracy.

JIM LEHRER: Clinton said both sides need to avoid provocations.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Geithner defended plans today for a new agency to oversee consumer financial products. The chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, has said the Fed is better suited for that role. But Geithner told a House hearing the current oversight of credit cards and mortgages is too scattered across the government.

TIMOTHY GEITHNER, treasury secretary: With great respect to the chairman and the other supervisors who are reluctant to do this, they are doing what they should, which is to defend the traditional prerogatives of their agencies. And I think, frankly, all arguments need to be viewed through that basic prism. And I understand that obligation they feel.

JIM LEHRER: In his testimony, Bernanke did not directly mention the dispute with Treasury, but he did say the Federal Reserve’s expertise could help prevent future abuses.

The federal minimum wage is now $7.25 an hour. It increased 70 cents today under a law passed two years ago. The new standard affects 30 states that have no minimum wage law of their own or have lower minimums than the federal standard.

California has moved a big step toward closing its budget deficit of $26 billion. The State Senate adopted a package of 31 bills early today. They included spending cuts for education, prisons, and state parks, among others. The State Assembly continued working on the bills under a compromise plan announced last Monday.

On Wall Street today, blue chip stocks ended higher, but technology shares were down. The Dow Jones industrial average gained nearly 24 points to close at 9,093. The Nasdaq fell 7 points to close just below 1,966. For the week, both the Dow and the Nasdaq gained 4 percent.