Obama, Biden Sit Down for Beers With Gates, Crowley

Obama thanks professor, policeman for "a friendly, thoughtful conversation."

ByABC News
July 30, 2009, 7:17 AM

July 30, 2009— -- On a hot summer night, President Obama sat down for cold beers in the Rose Garden of the White House with the two men at the center of a recent uproar over racial profiling.

Obama and Vice President Joe Biden shared a drink and some snacks with Cambridge Police Sgt. James Crowley and Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates Jr.

Two weeks ago, Crowley arrested Gates after a confrontation at Gates' home. The resulting war of words escalated July 22 when Obama said the police acted "stupidly."

Obama hoped that tonight's meeting would dial back the controversy and create what he called a "teachable moment."

The media was kept about 30 feet away from the table where the four men sat with their beers in frosty mugs and snacked on pretzels and peanuts.

After the meeting, the White House released a statement from the president, who thanked Gates and Crowley for coming to the White House for "a friendly, thoughtful conversation."

Obama said he learned before the sit-down over beers that Gates and Crowley already had their own private conservation, which he called "a testament to them."

"I have always believed that what brings us together is stronger than what pulls us apart," Obama said. "I am confident that has happened here tonight, and I am hopeful that all of us are able to draw this positive lesson from this episode."

Crowley told reporters there were no apologies offered at the meeting, but that he and Gates already have planned a follow up meeting to continue the conversation.

"I think what you had today was two gentlemen [who] agree to disagree on a particular issue," Crowley said. "I don't think we spent too much time dwelling on the past. We spent a lot of time discussing the future."

Crowley did not offer any specifics on what was said at the table in the Rose Garden.

"It was a private discussion, it was a frank discussion," he said.

Gates said in a statement on theroot.com that after tonight's meeting, "There's reason to hope that many people have emerged with greater sympathy for the daily perils of policing, on the one hand, and for the genuine fears about racial profiling, on the other hand.

"The national conversation over the past week about my arrest has been rowdy, not to say tumultuous and unruly. But we've learned that we can have our differences without demonizing one another," Gates said.

Tonight's beer choices? Obama had Bud Lite, Biden had non-alcoholic Buckler, Gates went for Samuel Adams Lite and Crowley chose Blue Moon.

Before sitting down in the Rose Garden, Obama met with Gates and Crowley in the Oval Office.

Earlier today, President Obama washed down any ideas that that he was hosting a "beer summit".

It's just about "three folks having a drink at the end of the day and hopefully giving people an opportunity to listen to each other," the president told reporters this afternoon.

"This is not a university seminar; it is not a summit," Obama said of the get-together, as he sat next to Philippines' President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. "It's an attempt to have some personal interaction when an issue has become so hyped and so symbolic that you lose sight of just the fact that these are people involved, including myself, all of whom are imperfect."

The president added that "hopefully instead of ginning up anger and hyperbole, you know, everybody can just spend a little bit of time with some self-reflection and recognizing that everybody has different points of view."

The White House billed the event as just a couple of guys sitting down for a beer.

"There is no formal agenda, there is no legislative agenda," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said, adding that the sit-down is "not an after-action report," and he did not expect they will go over the details of what happened at Gates' house.

"To get together and talk about what's going on in this country is a positive thing, even if you're not able to hear each and every word of it," Gibbs told reporters. "I think that kind of dialogue is what has to happen at every level of ... our society if we're going to make progress on issues that ... we've been dealing with for quite some time."

Gibbs, instead, called it an opportunity to foster a dialogue. When told that Gates wants an apology, Gibbs said, "We're not here to mediate apologies."

Gates' and Crowley's families arrived separately at the White House at different times but met up as both groups were taking tours of the president's residence before the beer meeting. The Gateses and Crowleys continued their tours together, which Crowley called "a start."

So would the beer fest steer the conversation in the direction the president is hoping for?

"It's a teachable moment if it's larger than the cop and the professor," said Paul Butler, former federal prosecutor and law professor at George Washington University. "The president isn't some civilian dispute mediator. He's got the biggest soapbox in the world and he's an African American man whose been [racially] profiled himself, so if he doesn't cave in to the politics and doesn't like he took back his comment about the police -- if he keeps it real, there's the opportunity for real change."

The president last Friday said he helped "contribute to ratcheting" up the media frenzy surrounding the Gates arrest.

"I could have calibrated those words differently, and I told this to Sgt. Crowley," the president told reporters Friday.