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Obama bounces between jokes and economic crisis

UNITED States President Barack Obama was alternately somber and light-hearted in an unusual appearance on America's top-rated late-night variety show on Thursday, moving deftly from the economic crisis to the April arrival of a "First Dog" in the White House.

In an appearance on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno," the first by a sitting president, Obama talked seriously about his economic plans and voiced strong support for embattled Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.

Wearing a bright red tie and an American flag pin on his lapel, the president pitched his budget and said he was stunned to learn crippled insurance giant AIG had paid out big bonuses to employees after using taxpayer money to stay afloat.

But he switched gears to talk about family life in the White House, confirming a timetable for the First Family's acquisition of a canine companion. Obama said the dog would arrive after his planned trip to Europe in early April.

"When we get back, the dog will be in place," Obama said, adding his daughters Sasha and Malia were not the only ones looking forward to its arrival. "They say if you want a friend in Washington, get a dog," he joked.

More seriously, Obama said critics had underestimated the number of challenges facing his Treasury Secretary, who has taken heat for his handling of the AIG bonus scandal.

"This guy has not just a banking crisis. He's got the worst recession since the Great Depression. He's got an auto industry ... that has been on the verge of collapse," Obama said. "I think Geithner is doing an outstanding job."

Obama reiterated the need for a government bailout of AIG and said his administration was doing everything it could to get the bonus money back. "The immediate bonuses that went to AIG are a problem," he said, "but the larger problem is we've got to get back to an attitude where people know enough is enough."


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