Let Us Talk

March 20, 2009

Video: President Obama On Jay Leno

President Obama appeared on The Tonight Show on Thursday.

In his opening monologue, Leno said that lots of people were surprised that Obama would come on NBC — figuring that he would be tired of big companies on the brink of disaster with a bunch of overpaid executives.

President Obama told Jay Leno that he was stunned when he learned of the bonuses that bailed-out insurance company AIG was paying its employees. He said that the payments raise moral and ethical problems — and vowed again to try to recoup the cash for taxpayers.  He continued, “We’re going to do everything we can to get these bonuses back.”

Leno asked Obama what he thought when his staff first advised him of the payments, many made to traders in the very division that brought American International Group to ruin.

“‘Stunned’ is the word,” Obama replied. He said he found it hard to fathom how anyone would accept lavish payments in those circumstances. “People just had this sense of entitlement. We must be the best and the brightest.”

But Obama defended Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who has increasingly come under fire for failing to block the bonuses.

“I think Geithner is doing an outstanding job,” Obama said. “He is a smart guy. He is a calm and steady guy. I don’t think people fully appreciate the plate that was handed him.”

Leno got more personal toward the end of the 35-minute interview.

Leno asked the president whether the White House bowling alley had been “burned and closed down” in light of Obama’s gutter ball embarrassment on the campaign trail last year.

Obama replied, “No, no. I have been practicing . . . I bowled a 129.”  (During the campaign Obama bowled a 37 out of a possible 300).

The audience roared with laughter, and the late-night talk show host assured Obama “that’s very good, Mr. President.” To which Obama interjected, “It’s like — it was like Special Olympics, or something.”

The audience laughed. But the White House didn’t let the comment linger without clarification.

“The President made an offhand remark making fun of his own bowling that was in no way intended to disparage the Special Olympics,” White House spokesman Bill Burton told reporters flying aboard Air Force One after the taping of the show, according to a transcript released by the White House. “He thinks that the Special Olympics are a wonderful program that gives an opportunity to shine to people with disabilities from around the world.” 

President Obama called Special Olympics Chairman Tim Shirver before the show aired and personally apologized for the remark.  Obama made a bad attempt at a joke that was meant to criticize himself and he did not intend in anyway to humiliate the disabled.  President Obama also extended an invitation to Special Olympic athletes to come bowl or play basketball at the White House.

Appearing on ABC’s Good Morning America Friday Morning, Tim Shriver said Obama was “very sincere” in his apology.   “He expressed openness and an interest in being more engaging in the movement and said he was a fan of the movement,” Shriver said. “And I think importantly said he was ready to have some of our athletes over the White House to bowl or play basketball or help him improve his score.” 🙂

Also on the “Tonight Show,” Leno asked the president when he would finally be making good on his famous campaign promise to reward his daughters with a puppy, which so far hasn’t surfaced.

“Listen, this is Washington. That was a campaign promise,” the president deadpanned to much laughter.

The president said he was “teasing,” and explained that as soon as he returns from the NATO Summit early next month, the “dog will be in place.”

Leno asked if the dog would be a “Portuguese Water Head,” referencing first lady Michelle Obama’s hint that the first family was leaning toward a Portuguese Water Dog. The president laughed and said, “It’s not a ‘water head.’ That sounds like a scary dog. Sort of dripping around the house.”

But the first dad gave absolutely no hints about what kind of dog – or puppy – it will be. “We’re going to get a dog that is — that I think the girls will have a great time — I think I’m going to have a lot of fun with it. You know, they say if you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.”

It seems that Malia and Sasha will have their new furry friend by Easter!

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