Obama mixes jokes with politics in Letterman appearance

President Barack Obama sat down with late-night TV talk show host David Letterman overnight, wrapping up a blitz of television appearances as he tries to build support for his top domestic priority, an ambitious healthcare overhaul plan.

Mr Obama also had his most irreverent answer yet on the question of whether some of the vitriolic reaction to his health care plan is driven at least partly by racism.

“First of all, I think it’s important to realise that I was actually black before the election,” Mr Obama said to huge laughs from Letterman and the audience.

Responded Letterman: “How long have you been a black man?”

Letterman covered a number of topics with Mr Obama – many of them serious – in a taping that ran to about 40 minutes.

On the economy, Mr Obama offered a sober prediction as the country deals with 9.7% unemployment, the worst level since 1983.

He said he expects unemployment will be a “big problem” for at least another year. But he also said the economy will rebound even more strongly.

On the war in Afghanistan, Mr Obama said he knows some people want him to bring troops home, and others are calling for him to increase US force levels to combat the insurgency. The top US commander there is warning the war could be lost without more troops.

Mr Obama said he will not make a decision on sending in more troops, though, until he completes a comprehensive review of the war effort and settles on his next strategy.

“I’m going to be asking some very hard questions,” Mr Obama said.

Mr Obama’s visit made him the first sitting president to appear on Letterman’s programme. He had been on Letterman’s show five times before, though, most recently in September 2008. He was elected in November.

The White House said it was a good way for him to reach another audience.

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