Obama Stands By His Gates Remarks, But Did He Go Too Far?

President Obama is sticking by his statement last night that police in Cambridge, Mass., acted "stupidly" in the arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates but he now says "everybody" involved should have behaved better. In an interview with ABC's Terry Moran for a piece that will air on "Nightline" tonight, Obama said he was taken aback by the response to what he said on the subject at his presser last night. "I have to say I am surprised by the controversy surrounding my statement because I think it was a pretty straight forward commentary that you probably don't need to handcuff a guy, a middle-aged man who uses a cane, who's in his own home," Obama told ABC. "I think that I have extraordinary respect for the difficulties of the job that police officers do… And my suspicion is that words were exchanged between the police officer and Mr. Gates and that everybody should have just settled down and cooler heads should have prevailed. That's my suspicion."

Obama's latest comments on the subject come as the officer involved speaks out. In an interview with a local Boston radio station this morning, Sgt. James Crowley denied wrongdoing and called Obama's characterization "way off base." "I support the president of the United States 110-percent," he told WBZ Radio. "I think he's way off base wading into a local issue without knowing all the facts, as he himself stated before he made that comment. I don't know what to say about that. I guess a friend of mine would support my position, too." An interesting tidbit: Crowley is considered by local police to be an expert in understanding racial profiling and happens to teach classes to other officers on different cultures. In the interview with ABC, Obama said he understood Crowley to be "an outstanding police officer" but added "it doesn't make sense to arrest a guy in his own home if he's not causing a serious disturbance."

The president's remarks on Gates, which came during the final question at last night's hour-long news conference, have somewhat overshadowed what would have been Obama's fourth straight of pushing health care reform. The topic has dominated TV coverage of the presser, and it was the topic of nearly every question posed to Press Secretary Robert Gibbs during his briefing on Air Force One this morning, where he tried to contain the furor by clarifying that Obama did not call the officers involved "stupid." "He was ensuring -- I think, again, denoting that at a certain point the situation got far out of hand, and I think all sides understand that," Gibbs said. Will it be enough to quiet the controversy--or will Obama have to further clarify on what is clearly remains a very tense subject for the nation?