- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 30, 2009

UPDATED:

President Obama hoisted beers in the Rose Garden Thursday evening with the black professor and white police officer at the heart of a racially charged incident that has roiled the nation and damaged the president’s standing at a critical moment in his first year in office.

Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and Sgt. James Crowley wore dark suits and sipped from tall, frosty glass mugs as they sat next to one another and across from Mr. Obama and Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Jr., who was a surprise guest at the powwow.

Afterward, Mr. Crowley said the conversation was “cordial and productive” and “frank,” but said no apologies were made either by himself or Mr. Gates.

“I think what you had today is two gentlemen agree to disagree on a particular issue. I don’t think that we spent too much time dwelling on the past. We spent a lot of time discussing the future,” Mr. Crowley said, speaking to reporters at the headquarters of the AFL-CIO, a few blocks from the White House.

He said that he and Mr. Gates had agreed to meet together in a few weeks in an ongoing effort to “learn from each other.”

Mr. Gates, in a statement posted at theroot.com, where he is editor in chief, said, “I thank God that live in a country in which police officers put their lives at risk to protect us every day, and, more than ever, Ive come to understand and appreciate their daily sacrifices on our behalf.”

“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,” he said.

The president — who last week said Mr. Crowley “acted stupidly” when he took Mr. Gates from his house in hand cuffs following a 911 call from a passer-by who thought Mr. Gates might be a burglar — afterward said the meeting was “a friendly, thoughtful conversation.

“I have always believed that what brings us together is stronger than what pulls us apart. 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,” Mr. Obama said.

But despite the president’s attempt to play peacemaker, a plurality of the public disapproves of the way Mr. Obama has handled the incident, according to a new poll Thursday that also suggested that the flap has contributed to Mr. Obama’s slumping overall approval rating.

The new poll found that 41 percent disapproved of the president’s statements about the Gates incident, with 29 percent approving and 30 percent having no opinion, according to the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.

Mr. Obama’s overall job approval in the Pew poll slipped from 61 percent to 54 percent from June to July. The results of the survey of 480 people conducted Monday came as a number of other polls released this week showed declining approval for the president’s health care reform proposal.

“Politically, [the Gates incident] has hurt President Obama in the public mind in terms of his character,” said Juan Williams, a well-known black journalist and commentator.

“I think that people feel that [Mr. Obama] has always been a racial healer and were surprised to see him taking sides in a racially charged dispute without all the facts,” Mr. Williams said.

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