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Obama regrets Gates distraction

From NBC's Chuck Todd
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs says the president DOES regret commenting on the Gates issue ONLY in this respect: that had he known it would become such a media distraction, he would have refrained from commenting. But the president has said all he's going to say on the issue, according to Gibbs. He has not talked to Gates nor the Cambridge police officer.

These comments are part of an experiment Gibbs is trying today by having a morning "gaggle." It's the potential reinstitution of an old White House standby, the off-camera morning gaggle.

Gibbs convened reporters in his office at about 9:50 for a quick 20 questions and answers, which focused basically on two topics: health care and Gates.

Video: TODAY's Matt Lauer talks to David Gregory, moderator of NBC's "Meet the Press," about President Obama's remark that Cambridge police "acted stupidly" in arresting black Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr.

Some other notes:
-- On why the president stopped by his house in Chicago last night, Gibbs said he just wanted to check it out, see how things were. Apparently Secret Service is in charge of the house now and regularly keeps tabs on it.

-- On the president's meeting with Harry Reid and Max Baucus later today: the timing of WHEN the Senate Finance Committee finishes its work on a health-care bill will be on the agenda. Gibbs also said the president has been in regular touch with the three Republicans working closely with Baucus on this bill: Sens. Grassley, Enzi and Snowe... He's spoken with ALL THREE by phone this week.

-- Asked if not meeting the August deadline is a "blow," Gibbs said most important part of the deadline is that it forced progress and that progress in getting a bill on his desk by the end of THIS year is what matters. "One way or the other" there will be a bill on his desk in the fall.

-- Asked if the White House is "re-tooling" their August recess schedule because of this setback, Gibbs denied they are changing anything, indicating they always planned on doing a full-court blitz for health care, the economy, education and energy.

-- Asked if the president is satisfied with how he did on Wednesday night, Gibbs said Obama understands "and has for a long time" that he needs to explain the "benefits for those that have and those that don't have" health insurance. He believes he has to continue to explain what doing nothing means and that doing nothing actually is a setback for the system and costs the country MORE money. He will "continually" be doing this now and through August and until he gets a bill.

Video: White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs joins Rachel Maddow to offer some clarity on the answers President Obama gave in his press conference on health care reform.

-- On the Gates controversy, Gibbs reiterated that the president "believes and understands just how hard law enforcement is".

-- Back to health care and the issue of whether abortions will be covered by any new federal programs, Gibbs said no plan that is working its way through the House or Senate will change the Hyde amendment. He believes the issue is nothing more than a "red herring" and went through a long explanation about how any health care costs are eventually tax deductible, sort of implying that one could interpret (or mis-interpret) THAT as being an indirect way where the federal government is "paying" for abortions.

-- Some travel next week: The president makes two stops on Wednesday: in Raleigh, N.C., and somewhere in Southwest Virginia.