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President Obama regrets the comments he made Wednesday night about the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. - but only in the sense that it's become such a distraction from the health care debate, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Friday morning.

In response to reporters' questions at the White House, Gibbs said if the President knew "just how much of an overall distraction and obsession it would be, I think he would regret distracting [the media] with obsessions."

Gibbs did not say that Obama was apologizing for his comments, which included saying the Cambridge police "acted stupidly" in arresting Gates outside of his own home last Thursday.

The Hill reports that "Gibbs said the president was probably 'not altogether surprised that somebody' asked him about the incident." While unsurprised at being asked about it, Obama has said he's "surprised by the controversy" over what he saw as "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."

Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) is probably the last person you'd expect to see courting the affections of the Netroots. The freshly minted Democrat has long been one of the progressive movement's most reviled betes noir. But next month, he'll address a large crowd of activists and bloggers at the annual Netroots a forum that will also feature his rival--and burgeoning Netroots star--Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA).

Each participant will be featured on stage separately and sit with the moderators for a question and answer session. The participants will be offered an opportunity to make brief opening remarks after which the moderators will engage them in questions of their sole choosing. The forum will solicit questions online in advance, from Pennsylvania voters and other interested citizens, and the moderators will exercise editorial judgment and discretion in selecting official topics and questions for the event. In addition, there may be some questions will be taken live from the audience at the forum, time permitting. Participants will then be given the opportunity to make closing remarks.

The two men have rallied voters at the same event before--but this is the first time the two will be courting a national progressive base. In June, the two addressed a crowd of union organizers in Pennsylvania, and, later the same month, a crowd of Pennsylvania-based health care and union organizers in Washington, DC.

Are David McKalip's political allies backing away from him -- despite his apology for sending a racist email depicting President Obama as a witch doctor?

A spokesman for Florida GOP gubernatorial candidate Marco Rubio declined to tell TPMmuckraker whether Rubio would continue to work with McKalip, who last month co-hosted a $500-per-person fundraiser for Rubio at the Grand Bellagio Clubhouse in Clearwater.

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He's only been in office for two and a half weeks, but Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) has already passed legislation in the chamber, his office announced -- his pilot program to fund service dogs for disabled veterans, which was incorporated by unanimous consent into the Defense Authorization bill that passed last night.

Franken introduced the measure along with Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA), and had additional cosponsors from both sides of the aisle: Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Mark Begich (D-AK), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and John Ensign (R-NV).

This is not the final piece of legislation, as the Defense Authorization will still have to go through the conference committee process. That said, the chances are probably very good that the Franken-Isakson Service Dogs for Veterans Act will be in the bill that gets signed by President Obama.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee has once again postponed marking up health care legislation, as negotiations between Democratic leaders, White House officials, and House Blue Dogs bore little fruit last night.

Now, though, at least one high-profile Democrat is suggesting that leaders might bypass the committee altogether, leapfrog its many Blue Dogs, and bring the bill to a vote.

"The preferable course would be to go through the committee," Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (D-CT) said yesterday, after a day of bad news for health care reformers. "But all options will be on the table."

A threat like that could speed negotiations along, but, if actualized, could unite a great number of Blue Dogs in revolt against the bill itself--and leadership won't likely do anything if they think it will imperil reform efforts.

Former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie, the Republican nominee for Governor of New Jersey, has now launched this new TV ad, his first of the general election season:

Pay attention to Christie's opening line: "As U.S. Attorney I put corrupt public officials in jail - Republicans and Democrats." In the wake of yesterday's big corruption raid in New Jersey, this is probably a good pitch for Christie to hold on to swing voters in this heavily Democratic state, and to maintain his big lead in the polls over Dem Gov. Jon Corzine.

The hallmark of bipartisan health care negotiations in the Senate Finance Committee has been its inability to get anything done, or offer benchmarks for progress. But now, after killing any hope that the Senate will pass health care legislation before it's August recess, chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) is now quietly promising that the panel will finish its bill by August 7.

Although Baucus continued to insist in public that negotiators will be "ready when we're ready," he gave Reid and other Democrats private assurances Thursday that his panel will complete work on its bill by Aug. 7, the start of the Senate's month-long recess, and in keeping with Obama's new deadline....

If the Aug. 7 deadline holds, [Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid said, he will work over the break with White House officials to merge the two Senate versions.

Convenient. At a time like this, it probably makes sense to point out that Baucus has taken a ton of money from the health care industry.

Poll: Palin's National Favorability Drops As She Leaves Office A new ABC/Washington Post poll finds that Gov. Sarah Palin's (R-AK) national favorability numbers are in bad territory as she prepares to resign her office. Only 40% of Americans view her favorably, with 53% viewing her unfavorably, down from a 46%-51% number from two weeks before Election Day 2008. In addition, only 37% say she understands complex issues, to 57% who say she does not.

Obama's Day Ahead President Obama will have his regular morning briefings, and then he will meet with Vice President Biden at 11 a.m. ET. He will then meet at 11:30 a.m. ET with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and with Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), and with Sec. of State Hillary Clinton at 12:30 p.m. ET. He will speak at the Department of Education at 1:15 p.m. ET. At 5:30 p.m. ET, he will sign a proclamation celebrating the 19th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. At 8:45 p.m. ET, the President and First Lady will attend the Marine Corps Evening Parade.

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David McKalip -- the Florida neurosurgeon and healthcare reform opponent who sent a racist email showing President Obama dressed as a witch doctor with a loin cloth and a bone through his nose, which was posted yesterday by TPMmuckraker -- has apologized directly to the president.

Through a P.R. representative, McKalip put out the following statement:

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