- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 21, 2009

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger came to President Obama’s defense Friday, dismissing the president’s quip about the Special Olympics as a goof that could happen to anyone.

Mr. Schwarzenegger, a Republican, was at the White House to meet with the president about infrastructure funding, following a town hall meeting Thursday in California, where he announced support for the Obama administration’s budget blueprint.

A reporter asked the actor-turned-governor about Mr. Obama’s appearance on NBC’s “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” on Thursday, where the president said he wasn’t happy with his bowling score of 129 and joked, “It was like the Special Olympics or something.”

Mr. Schwarzenegger said he didn’t see the appearance but heard about it, and defended Mr. Obama.

“I know because of conversations I had with the president about Special Olympics, as the international coach of Special Olympics, I know where his heart is at. He loves the Special Olympics. He will do everything he can to help Special Olympics,” Mr. Schwarzenegger said. “Everyone of us sometimes makes a mistake - something comes out of your mouth and you say ‘Oops, I wish I wouldn’t have said that.’ I have many of those.”

“Not me,” joked Gov. Edward G. Rendell, a Pennsylvania Democrat known for colorful comments that stray off message.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Friday during his briefing with reporters that Mr. Obama regrets the comment.

“I know that the president believes that the Special Olympics are a triumph of the human spirit,” Mr. Gibbs said. “He understands that they deserve a lot better than the thoughtless joke that he made last night.”

Shortly after taping “The Tonight Show,” and before it aired, Mr. Obama apologized to Tim Shriver, chairman of the Special Olympics.

“He expressed his disappointment, and he apologized in a way that was very moving. He expressed that he did not intend to humiliate this population,” Mr. Shriver said on ABC on Friday, adding that the president hopes to have Special Olympic athletes visit the White House to play either a game of bowling or basketball.

“I think it’s important to see that words hurt and words do matter. And these words that in some respect can be seem as humiliating or a put down to people with special needs do cause pain, and they do result in stereotypes,” Mr. Shriver said.

Mr. Shriver is the brother-in-law of Mr. Schwarzenegger, who is married to Maria Shriver. The Shrivers’ mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founded the Special Olympics.

For her part, Maria Shriver issued a statement saying though she was sure Mr. Obama meant no harm, laughing at such remarks “hurts millions of people throughout the world.”

But Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the 2008 vice presidential candidate for the Republican ticket and mother to a child with Down syndrome, took issue with the comment.

“I was shocked to learn of the comment made by President Obama about Special Olympics,” she said in statement Friday. “This was a degrading remark about our world’s most precious and unique people, coming from the most powerful position in the world.”

• Amanda Carpenter contributed to this report.

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