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White House Beer Summit

Aired July 30, 2009 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Five live cameras are now trained on various locations over at the White House, but we may not see much of the president and his two guests, Harvard University Professor Henry Louis Gates and Police Sergeant James Crowley.

And if you are expecting any big pronouncements about race in America, don't necessarily hold your breath.

Let's go straight to our White House correspondent Dan Lothian to set the scene for what might happen this hour -- Dan.


Well, you know, that meeting has either started or is about to get under way.

I can tell you that both Sergeant Crowley and Professor Gates are here at the White House. We saw Professor Gates arriving here earlier in the hour. Both of their family members got a chance to tour the White House, also meet the president, and then all three men will be sitting down for what has been called a beer summit that the president and this White House believes will be a teachable moment.


LOTHIAN (voice-over): Cold beer diplomacy at the White House. President Obama, Professor Gates and Sergeant Crowley trying to get rid of a nasty hangover from a controversial and racially-charged arrest.

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: They're decent, honorable, good men. To get together and talk about what's going on in this country is a positive thing.

LOTHIAN: While the president has called this controversy a teachable moment, aides say no formal agenda, no after-action report, is on tap for this so-called beer summit. Just a dialogue around a Rose Garden table on issues like racial profiling.

GIBBS: This is an issue, as you mentioned, of concern to a lot of Americans, not just African-Americans, but a lot of Americans. And I think as such it will be a topic that's continued to talk about.

LOTHIAN: President Obama plans to toss back a Bud Light. Crowley wants a Blue Moon. And Gates is said to prefer a Red Stripe. But there's controversy brewing in the choice of beverages. Massachusetts Congressman Richard Neal had such a bad taste in his mouth, that he sent this letter to the president, suggesting an American-owned product like Sam Adams instead of Bud Light, which is now owned by a Belgian company.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi. Can we get you all to call the White House tonight?

LOTHIAN: And this man protesting alone outside the White House doesn't think drinking beer at the meeting is appropriate because it sends the wrong message to the nation's youth.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We want him to hold up some orange juice, something that's healthful.


LOTHIAN: Well, Wolf, of course, if it had been orange juice, you know what would have happened? Someone would have probably complained that it wasn't Florida freshly squeezed or Tropicana or one other brand.

It would have been controversial no matter what they had decided to drink here at the White House. Now, once the press, the cameras will be allowed to go in, though only about 20 seconds to really sort of spray the scene, do a photo-op.

We do hope that later on after this meeting has concluded, perhaps the players, the key players, Mr. Gates and Crowley, will come out to the microphones and talk to us. And perhaps we will hear if anyone issued an apology -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It would be great if all three of them came out and spoke to the press.

LOTHIAN: That would be great.

BLITZER: Let's see and hear about this teachable moment. The White House pretty sensitive to the fact that they're restricting media access, aren't they, Dan?

LOTHIAN: They are.

And, you know, Robert Gibbs was questioned about this, and they really believe that just that picture alone, showing all three of these men together, is a teachable moment.

As Robert Gibbs pointed out that had anyone at the initial controversy said, hey, all three of these guys are going to sit down together and talk at the White House, that would have been unthinkable. so they think this is a powerful picture.

BLITZER: Dan Lothian, stand by. We are going to be getting back to you.

The president seemed eager last week to announce his plans to raise a glass with Professor Gates and Sergeant Crowley. Now it seems he and his aides can't say enough or do enough to try to downplay this event, as we just heard.

Let's bring in CNN's Tom Foreman to walk us through what was supposed to be and what will be.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Sure. We are going to take a look at what you are not going to see, I guess.

Wolf, you spent so many years at the White House. You know this. Come to the front of the White House here. We're going to come around back here and show you where it was supposed to be taking place.

There's a location right around back here where they have got -- you heard a lot about it or seen a lot about it. As we move over this way, this is where the play set is that was set up for the girls over there. It's an area that's also featuring this little place, a little picnic table over here.

I want to stop my video here for just one second and stop it for a second before we move on. This is originally where this was going to happen, over at this picnic table. Now, for some reason, that's not where it's happening now. So, we put all of that aside, and then you move over this way, toward the Rose Garden area.

This is now where it's going to happen. I want to stop that again and show you the area we're talking about because this is that same table they're going to be seated at, Rose Garden here, a few more pictures of it right in this area. That's going to be happening in this area. But look at this.

We talk about the buffer zone that Dan was just talking about a minute ago. This is where it will happen. That's 40 feet away, which is roughly where the media is going to be kept, somewhere way out in here to take their pictures of it, and, again, for maybe 20, maybe 40 seconds.

So, Wolf, as teachable moment goes, it apparently is something of a private school at the moment, and I'm not sure that alcohol has been hidden this much since prohibition, but we will have to see what they come out with afterward.

BLITZER: Yes, that would be nice. All right, we will stand by for that. Tom, thank you.

This certainly isn't the first time the president has reached for a cold one in public. He may just like beer. But some political analysts see it as an attempt to reach out to middle-class voters, or, as Sarah Palin used to call them, Joe Six-Pack Americans.

Back during the presidential primary in 2008, Republican John McCain had a clear edge over Mr. Obama with beer drinkers. By contrast, our CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll showed the president had the advantage with more upscale wine drinkers.

Let's go to Michael Eric Dyson, a Georgetown University professor and author named by "Ebony" magazine as one of the 100 most influential black Americans, and syndicated columnist and radio talk show host Larry Elder. They're joining us to discuss what's going on.

Michael Eric Dyson, first to you.

Are we overexaggerating the importance of this so-called teachable moment?


I think that it might be more teachable should we hear some of the consequences of the dialogue that the three men shared. I think it might be instructive for us to understand, for instance, how they were able to amicably reach a conclusion that they should come together in the first place and beyond that, that even despite their differences, real problems remain.

I think it becomes a teachable moment when we find out who is doing the curriculum, who is the professor, and whose classroom are we speaking to. But, more broadly, I think what's important, Wolf, is that this moment in America is being watched by so many people, and, indeed, around the globe, and I think they could say some important things to diffuse some of the tensions, but also to help shed light on racial profiling, prejudices across the board, class inequality, and some of the hostilities that obtains on both sides between police people and communities.

BLITZER: Larry, what would you like to see emerge from this three-way session?

LARRY ELDER, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Well, I tell you what I hope doesn't emerge. I hope, Wolf, that the beer doesn't flow so freely that Sergeant Crowley ends up arresting the president and Professor Gates for being drunk and disorderly. I don't think that would be a teachable moment.

But as to Professor Dyson's point, this is a situation where, if I were Sergeant Crowley, I would be flattered that the president invited me to the White House, but I would respectfully say, until and unless you directly apologize to me and to my department for accusing me falsely of racially profiling Professor Gates, I refuse the invitation.

I don't like the idea that the president seems to feel that these are parties who were equally at fault. Gates made this a racial incident, falsely accused the officer of profiling him, made all sorts of horrible comments about him, including about his mother. And for Obama to reward him by inviting him to the White House, as if they were both equally at fault, I think sends the wrong message.

BLITZER: Well, what if that happens? And we're just speculating now, Michael Eric Dyson. If let's say Sergeant Crowley says, you know what, you really should apologize to me for some of the things you said, and then the professor says to the sergeant, you know what, I really think you should apologize to me for arresting me in my own home, what does the president do in a situation like that, where one or both are seeking an apology?

DYSON: Well, I think they have been pretty well vetted. I don't think that's going to be the reality.

I think that what Mr. Elder said earlier, though, is problematic. First of all, he is taking the sergeant's word for what Mr. Gates said. That's part of the problem here to begin with. Secondly, I think that, look, the issue of racial profiling doesn't begin -- making this a racial incident doesn't begin with Professor Gates believing that he is being racially profiled or treating differently because he is an African-American.

The situation and the context itself suggest some racial possibilities. That is to say when a police person engages with a citizen in his own home and having been proved that this person is in his own home and then moving forward, Professor Gates has the reasonable suspicion that race plays a role here.

So I think Mr. Elder is neglecting that element. But beyond that, I think that we're not going to get much out of this personalizing this incident, that Professor Gates says with -- shooting arguments against Sergeant Crowley, Sergeant Crowley shooting darts against Professor Gates.

I think Obama has already worked that out, that this is a friendly conversation over beer, where people hash out their particular individual differences, but the broader landscape is something that all of us will have to hash out over beer and wine in many bars across America.

BLITZER: All right, Larry, go ahead and respond to that.

ELDER: Well, Wolf, I think a lot of people voted for President Obama because he's black, not just only because he is black, but that was certainly a factor.

Why? Because it makes a statement about how far we have come in race relations in this country. And many people thought that Barack Obama would help to bring us together, to the extent that tensions still remain.

Instead, during that press conference, he immediately sided with Professor Gates and implied that this thing was about racial profiling, as opposed to saying the police ought not stereotype blacks and blacks ought not stereotype the police. The police have a really difficult job. They're willing to get up in the morning and take a bullet for somebody you don't even know.

And within the black community, black -- a crime is committed disproportionately by blacks against black people. And so we need the police, and we have to appreciate and respect the kind of job that they are doing, and Barack Obama struck the wrong tone then. And in his semi-apology, he still never took back the implication that this was about racial profiling, despite the complete and total lack of evidence.


BLITZER: Professor, hold on one second.


BLITZER: Michael, hold on one second, because I want to continue this conversation, but I want to update our viewers right now.

We're learning -- we're just getting some new information coming into THE SITUATION ROOM about a letter that Sergeant Crowley might be bringing to this beer chat they're having right now over in the Rose Garden at the White House. We are going to tell you who wrote it, what it says. Stand by.


BLITZER: Looks like the press pool is now coming back into the Briefing Room over at the West Wing at the White House with the videotape. We will get that to you as soon as it's cued up.

In the meantime,, I want to go to CNN's Don Lemon, because he has been talking to some folks in Cambridge.

And you got some new information, Don. Share it with our viewers.

DON LEMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I had been speaking -- in contact with the folks in Cambridge since I left there last week, Wolf.

And just moments ago, I got an e-mail in here, and I wanted to get it on THE SITUATION ROOM for you. This one is from Sergeant Leon Lashley. He is the black police officer, Cambridge police officer, who was on the scene during that arrest at Professor Gates' home.

I believe we have a picture of him at that arrest, bald guy, African-American. He sent me a letter, just -- an e-mail saying he sent a letter to with Jimmy Crowley, Sergeant Jimmy Crowley to the White House, and he asked him to read it.

He said, "Dear Jim, would you be so kind as to mention the following to Mr. Gates and the president during your meeting with them?"

He says: "One of the major problems stemming from the events of July 16 is that I" -- and then am -- I think he left a word out -- "am now known as the black sergeant, have had my image plastered all over the Internet, television and newspapers. Subsequently, I have also become known, at least to some, as an Uncle Tom."

And that's a quote from him. "I am forced to ponder the notion that as a result of speaking the truth and coming to the defense of a friend and colleague who just happens to be white that I have somehow betrayed my heritage. Please convey my concerns to the president that Mr. Gates' actions may have caused grave and potentially irreparable harm to the struggle for racial harmony in this country and perhaps throughout the world.

"In closing, I would simply like to ask that Mr. Gates deeply reflect on the events that have unfolded since July 16 and ask himself the following questions: What can I do to help heal the rift caused by some of my actions? What responsibility do I bear for what occurred on July 16, 2009? Is there anything I can do to mitigate the damage done to the reputations of two respected police officers?

"Thank you in advance, your friend, Leon K. Lashley."

Leon K. Lashley is a 26-year veteran of the Cambridge Police Department, Wolf, and we have the words that he believed caused this controversy when he spoke out and when he stood up for his friend.

I spoke to them right after that press conference they held on Friday, when they asked for an apology from the president. We will play that for you later. But that's coming from the black police sergeant who was on the scene and supporting Sergeant Crowley -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, it's obvious that he is very passionate about this. And you had a chance to break that story when you were up in Cambridge. The feelings are still intense. As much as the White House would like this to all blow over and everybody starts singing together kumbaya, it's not necessarily happening, at least not yet, is it, Don?

LEMON: No, it's not.

And I think that, for the most part, the people in the White House and people around the country believe that this part of the story is the president's own making, because the police in Cambridge dropped the case, they believed, so that they could move this along very quickly, address it and then get it behind them.

And they said after the president made his remark that evening at the White House, the acted stupidly remark, they believe that it just brought it to a whole new level. So, yes, that conversation is happening about that.

But also in the African-American community, there are reports, you hear it on the radio, where this officer, the sergeant, is portrayed, really, quite frankly, as an Uncle Tom. And he is concerned about that. And he wants that to be told to the president, because he thinks that African-Americans should examine their stance, what they think about race, look at themselves, not only for this situation, but about racial profiling and race in the country in general.

BLITZER: Don, I want you to stand by. Don't go away, because we're only a few seconds away from getting the videotape that is now coming in. They're going to be cuing it up within a few seconds. And we're going to see the picture that a lot of us have been waiting for, at least for a week, since the president announced that he was going forward with this extraordinary meeting, at least a few days ago, last Friday, when the president announced he wanted to bring these two men together for a beer over at the White House. They both agreed. And only a little while, the press pool from Twitter, they went out there. They shot some video of the three of them. I believe the vice president, Joe Biden, was also at this meeting. And now this video is going to be shown. Let's take a look at it and then discuss. We have got a lot of people who want to comment on what is going on.

This is the video that is about to go out to the entire world. Watch this right now.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you, everyone. Thank you. Thank you.


BLITZER: All right, there it is. That's what the White House allowed us to shoot. When I say us, I mean all of the national news media. They had a pool, a camera that went out there. You saw the Rose Garden.

They kept the reporters, they kept the camera crews, the photographers pretty far back, so they couldn't shout any questions. But you did see the sergeant, the professor, the president, and the vice president, Joe Biden, sitting around that little round white table in the Rose Garden.

Dan Lothian is our White House correspondent.

Dan, help us better understand why so far at least this is all we're going to get from this -- this meeting, which was supposed to be a teachable moment for all of us -- that is why the White House decided this was going to be it, unless they change their mind and they come back to the cameras after the meeting?

LOTHIAN: Well, that's a really good question, Wolf, because Robert Gibbs was asked that time and time again. If the White House is putting out there that this is such a teachable moment, a chance for all of the parties involved in this to perhaps make some kind of a statement about what happened and perhaps what the country needs to do to make sure that these kinds of controversies don't occur again in the future, that why we weren't given sort of more access to be able to listen into perhaps to some of the conversation.

The only answer that the White House could give us is essentially that they thought that a picture of all these parties sitting down together was a powerful picture, that, in essence, what Robert Gibbs said was that if you had asked someone a few days ago whether or not they thought that in the midst of this controversy that all of these folks could sit down together and chat in this manner over a beer, that most people wouldn't believe that it was possible.

So, they believe by showing that people with different views who have strong feelings can come together and sit down, that this is a teachable moment. Obviously, we're hoping we can find out more about the language of the teachable moment if anyone decides to come out to the microphones afterwards and give us a statement. But, Wolf, essentially what the White House hopes will happen from now on here going forward is that they can put this behind them. This has been a distraction.

The president talked about this when he made his surprise visit to the Briefing Room last Friday, that this had been a distraction from some of the most key issues like health care reform. They would like to start pointing all their focus on that again -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We are hearing, by the way, that Sergeant Crowley has decided he will speak publicly after this event, maybe tell us what happened around that table.

Four men -- there were supposed to be three, but the vice president, Joe Biden, was there as well.

I want to continue this conversation.

Jessica Yellin is here.

It so far was a -- quote -- "light moment," shall we say, if you like the Bud Light, for example.


JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I like that, Wolf. And there are a lot of people making puns right now about this incredibly well-covered beer.

Our own Ed Henry has wondered whether this will quench the thirst for diplomacy. Over at ABC, Jake Tapper called the event the audacity of hops.

And my favorite, CBS has declared it the coalition of the swilling. That one is pretty good. So, look, it is nice to have a beer and a laugh, but does anybody really think that we could give Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner a pint of beer and this health care debate once and for all? Of course not.

So, why should we play along with the idea that a brew will do the trick in this case? Does anyone really think the nation's most intractable problems can just be solved by throwing back a cold one?

Look, this incident sparked a national debate over racial profiling. And President Obama said, as we have repeatedly said, this should be a teachable moment. But this beer summit, as we have also reported, is a way to put the Gates-Crowley brouhaha behind us.

So, is the president missing an opportunity to teach us something here? Wolf, is he missing a window to have a national discussion about race in America?

BLITZER: It's good question. And let's discuss it with Gloria Borger, our senior political analyst, Nia-Malika Henderson from, and Candy Crowley, our senior political correspondent.

What's the answer, Candy?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think the answer is the White House doesn't want to have a huge discussion about race right now. They want to have a discussion about health care and what -- the reason this is even occurring is because the president stepped into this in a news conference, and this was another way to kind of dial it back.

So -- and I think one of the reasons, on to Dan's report here, that they don't want reporters out there listening to what's going on is, I think that you will find what Jessica just suggested, that even in this singular case, you are not going to have people change their minds very easily. I doubt, after a beer, these two men are going to change their minds about what happened.

BLITZER: Is the president, though, missing an opportunity, Nia?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, POLITICO: I think a lot of people probably think that he is missing a window here. This was the first real kind of racial flare-up of his administration.

There will certainly be more. I think people are wondering what he does next time, because this event -- I mean, as Candy said, they have done everything they can to dial it back and essentially make it a nonevent. And this whole idea of it being a teachable moment, I think we're still wondering what the lesson is out of this.

BLITZER: I was surprised. I guess I shouldn't be surprised, as a former White House correspondent. I spent more than seven years covering a president.


BLITZER: They kept the reporters so far away, 40 feet away, they couldn't even shout a question. They could have ignored the question, but you couldn't even hear reporters shouting questions, because they kept them so far away.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It's one of these odd things that happen at the White House, which is you're allegedly having a private conversation with 400 reporters standing behind a line trying to get your picture.

I think Candy is right. The president of the United States was trying to change the subject again. He wants to get back on to health care reform. If there's a teachable moment, as we keep calling it, it isn't going to occur in the White House. It's going to occur in the country and in the public debate that's ensued after this incident.

And the sergeant can come out and talk about it. Skip Gates can come out and talk about it. But I don't think President Obama wants to do a lot more talking about it.


BLITZER: All right, guys. Hold on for a second.

Soledad O'Brien, our correspondent is here as well.

Soledad, is this going to blow over in a day or two, and we will move on to health care or and all sorts of other issues?

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Oh, sure. When racial profiling blows over, I think it's going to go -- no, absolutely not.

I was at a National Urban League conference today, and we were seeing all the jokey headlines about the brouhaha, et cetera. Perfectly serious, 100 percent serious talking about racial profiling, people more concerned actually that President Obama didn't use this as an opportunity to have a serious conversation about race.

I mean, you see the waiter here, right, bringing the beer out, frosty beer out. Look how everybody is dressed. The president and the vice president have their sleeves rolled up you. The two at the center of the controversy, Professor Gates and Sergeant Crowley, in jacket and tie. You know, it's a sort of staged and not really comfortable casual conversation happening right there.

It's a conversation that's also not comfortable that the country has to have. It's not going to be a teachable moment. I don't think it's possible. I think this is something that is maybe more of a teachable long-term discussion. And hoping that it blows by quickly, those two things, teachable discussion and moving past it, are kind of contradictory.

BLITZER: I'm really anxious to get Michael Eric Dyson, the Georgetown university professor, and Larry Elder, the -- from Los Angeles, both of your thoughts on whether or not the president right now and the vice president, because he's there as well, they're missing an opportunity.

First to you, Michael.

DYSON: Well, I think absolutely right.

I was on that panel that Soledad just referenced. And I think what's critical here is to understand that the president has been loath or at least reluctant to engage explicitly in the discussion of race. We can understand that. He doesn't want to be ghettoized as the black president.

But that's a far cry from saying at the same time you have got to use your bully pulpit to help fellow citizens, especially -- I think he has a special responsibility to white citizens and non-African- American and non-Latino citizens as well to engage in enlightening conversation in a non-threatening fashion, but one that goes to the heart of some of the more vicious, gnarled problems that we confront in this country.

And one of them is racial profiling. By not having a conversation -- I'm a professor. I know about a teachable moment. But you have got to be able to deconstruct it and break it down and tell us what was going on and the movable parts.

Perhaps, in the aftermath, if they step to the microphone and talk about what they did say and where we can go in the future, that might be helpful. But, otherwise, this will not blow over. The problem of racial profiling is deeply entrenched in America.

And unlike Mr. Elder, I don't think that there's an equality of means here. That is, on the one hand, if black people have stereotypes about policemen, they don't usually involve them being murdered. But policemen who have stereotypes about black people, there are flying bullets, there are falling bodies, and there are dead men.


BLITZER: All right, those are very strong words, Larry Elder, and I suspect you strongly disagree with Michael Eric Dyson.

ELDER: I do.

And the reason, as Candy Crowley put it, that the president is trying to dial this back is because of that wonderful, powerful letter that was written by that black officer, in which he challenged Professor Gates to talk about his responsibility and how he made things worse and how he can make things better.

The fact is that there is a lot of tension between blacks and the police within the black community, and this country has gone a long, long way in race relations. Professor Gates lives in a city, Cambridge, that has a black female mayor. He lives in a state, Massachusetts, that has got a black governor. He lives in a country that has got a black president, and the chairman of the Republican Party happens to be black.

This is not your grandfather's country. It's not your grandfather's police department. And a lot of the accusations, knee- jerk accusations against the police by blacks often egged on by so- called civil rights leaders and other people of influence are irresponsible.

And the people that get hurt are blacks living in the black community, because they are more likely to be victimized by other blacks.

BLITZER: All right.

ELDER: And so, this automatic black officer -- white officer, black civilian or black victim, or black suspect, ergo, racial profiling, I think, is incredibly unfair. And the president, I believe, should have taken that challenge on. But he didn't.

BLITZER: All right, Don Lemon spent some time up in Cambridge covering this story for us here at CNN. He's with us right now.

And, Don, you shared with us just a little while ago a very moving e-mail that you received from Sergeant Leon Lashley, the black officer who supports his fellow white officer, who -- Sergeant Crowley, who is at this beer meeting with the president and the vice president and Professor Gates.

I want you to give us some of the background, including what you promised you would do, some of that -- some of what Sergeant Lashley originally said that caused an uproar, especially in the African- American community.

LEMON: Yes, and, Wolf, why don't we play that real quickly, and then I will talk about everything that -- that you mentioned there.

But this was the press conference on Friday. Right after the press conference, CNN, the only news organization allowed to go in to speak to those officers while -- while Sergeant Crowley was listening.

Take a listen to Leon Lashley.


SGT. LEON LASHLEY, CAMBRIDGE MASSACHUSETTS POLICE: From what I seen -- and I was there -- he did nothing wrong. This situation right here was not a racial motivated situation.

LEMON: And, you know people, obviously, they're going to pay closer attention to you, because you're an African-American man -- I'm just being honest -- and you're supporting this white officer that -- it has been put out there by some that he was, you know, racially profiling Dr. Gates. They're going to pay attention to you.

LASHLEY: I hope they would. They called him a -- I heard one of the comments, "a rogue cop." There's nothing rogue about him. He was doing his job.


LEMON: When I got there, Wolf, last week, right after this incident happened, the Cambridge Police Department -- the police commissioner himself said that the men and women of that police department were deeply wounded by the president's comments and the turn of events within the president's comments -- the president's comments that followed.

And they were concerned about speaking to the -- the press. I had to gain their confidence and tell them, you know, I want to play your side of the story. I'm not going to do gotcha journalism. I just want you to -- to speak to us and tell us what you're thinking. There's no judgment in that.

And so as I spoke to them, as I gained their confidence, they spoke to me about that and said, you know, we would not stand behind this officer -- black, white, Puerto Rican whomever -- if we thought that he did the wrong thing. And it wasn't just a matter of glue about police officers sticking together. They look at this officer as family, not only as a colleague -- as a colleague, but as family. And they simply were standing by someone they feel was wrongly harmed.

But in this letter, Wolf, that I read just moments ago, this sergeant, who's a 26 year veteran of that police department -- and, also, the other young lady, who is a 16 year veteran of this police department, police officer Kelly King -- they're concerned about the perception, especially among blacks, that they are, in some way, betraying their heritage because they are standing by this officer.

And just to, you know, talk about what the -- what Michael Eric Dyson was saying and what Soledad has been talking about, being at the Urban League -- and also Larry Elder. I do think that this can make a difference if, out of this, there is some constructive conversation and if they come out of this with solid points about where we go from here, what we're going to do to address this issue.

The concern in the community -- in the African-American community and also in the larger culture -- is that this is only a photo-op and it only adds to the fodder and the conversation rather than solutions. And I'm sure Soledad can attest to that.

BLITZER: I want to...

LEMON: That's what her "Black In America 2" was about.

BLITZER: Yes. And she did a "Black in America 1" and "Black in America 2." Soledad is working on a "Latino In America" -- Soledad, you spent so much time studying race relations in the United States, I would love to hear what you think needs to happen right now coming out of this photo-op.

O'BRIEN: Well, you know, what's interesting -- and one of the panelists suggested this, which is it's kind of out of the president's hands. I mean, obviously, he wants to get the conversation back on health care. So here we have a photo-op and then it will be closed, from -- from his perspective.

But I think for people who really want to have a conversation, you know, I think we have to, as Professor Dyson said, deconstruct the moment. Let's talk about it. Let's figure out the actual numbers and -- and what happens and what are people's rights.

For a lot of black people, they say someone like Professor Gates, whether he was angry, maybe he was shouting, maybe he said something to the police officer, maybe he said something, "your mama," whatever -- at what point does it make it OK to arrest somebody who you've already cleared as really being the homeowner and no longer involved in any crime?

And so I think that that's the perspective of the people we were talking to at the Urban League was whatever happened, at what point was it OK to arrest someone who is this renowned black professor? On the other side of it, people would say, listen, Professor Gates was the first one to tell me he'd be happy to call the police if, God forbid, someone was breaking into his home in Martha's Vineyard.

So there's this balancing act. And I think the only way to have a resolution is a conversation. It's not going to be on the lawn of the White House, frankly. It just will not. I mean it's going to end and they're going to get back to health care. And we have to sit down and maybe even hold some kind of a town hall or a forum to really talk about these issues, I think.


BLITZER: And it would be excellent if one of these four or two of the four or all four decided, after they finished their beer and their discussion in the Rose Garden around that table, they came to our microphones over there at the West Wing of the White House to share some thoughts so this teachable moment would not go unheard.

Soledad O'Brien, thanks so much.

Don Lemon, thanks to you, as well.

Of course, we want to thank Michael Eric Dyson and Larry Elder.

A good serious discussion.

We're going to keep our panelists here, because we have a lot more news coming up, including the president's number one priority right now, the issue of health care reform. He says the president's health care plans are simply flat out wrong -- we're not talking about a Republican critic or a Blue Dog Democrat. We're talking about the president's own personal physician for many years. And we're going to explain to you why he thinks the president is wrong.

Stick around.

Lots of news happening right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: President Obama is battling criticism of his health care plans from many, many sources. But an unusual opponent is handing the president an unusual twist.

Let's get more from CNN's Jim Acosta -- Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, President Obama talks often about all of the forces lining up against his health care plan. But there's one critic you may not have heard from in this debate -- Mr. Obama's former doctor, David Scheiner. And he is passionate in his belief that the president's plan won't work.



ACOSTA: (voice-over): Chicago Dr. David Scheiner has taken a hard look at President Obama's prescription for health care reform and sees bad medicine.

SCHEINER: This isn't the kind of health care program that I think is going to work.

ACOSTA: What makes Dr. Scheiner so special?

He was Barack Obama's personal physician for 22 years. He voted for Mr. Obama. But the doctor thinks the president's plan doesn't go far enough.

SCHEINER: If I had to say the single one thing which is the worst part of it, is that private insurance companies continue to be a part of the health scheme. Everybody keeps saying we don't want the government getting involved in health care. The government is involved in health care in Medicare and it works.

ACOSTA: Scheiner would rather see the nation adopt a single payer system, like the ones in Canada and Europe. It's something an up and coming State Senator Obama talked about six years ago.


OBAMA: I happen to be a proponent of a single pair universal health care plan. But as all of you know, we may not get there immediately, because first we've got to take back the White House. And we've got to take back the Senate. And we've got to take back (INAUDIBLE).


ACOSTA: Yet during the campaign, that position evolved.


OBAMA: If I were designing a system from scratch, then I would probably set up a single payer system. But the problem is we're not starting from scratch.

This is about the future.

ACOSTA: Now, the president favors giving Americans the option of joining a government-run plan that would compete with private insurers.

OBAMA: Nobody is talking about some government takeover of health care.

I'm tired of hearing that.

ACOSTA: Dr. Scheiner points out nobody has seen the details of that option, making it a hard sell for the president. SCHEINER: We don't even know fully what the public option is going to be. If the public option is too good, patients who are sick will flock to it and I'm not sure if it will be able to support itself.

ACOSTA: Scheiner almost had a chance to confront the president with his concerns. He was invited to a recent televised town hall with Mr. Obama, but he says he was dropped from the program.

SCHEINER: I just hope we can -- Congress and the American public and the president will hear some of my words. We've got to do something better.


ACOSTA: Dr. Scheiner will finally get a chance to have his say here in Washington. He and other doctors who support a single payer system are gathering at the Capitol to meet with lawmakers and rally with supporters. He may not be the president's doctor anymore, but Dr. Scheiner says he's trying to save the patient before it's too late -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Interesting stuff.

Thanks very much, Jim Acosta.

Let's go back to the best political team on television and Jessica Yellin.

Let's get some more on this health care debate, which is really heating up.

YELLIN: Heating up, Wolf, and it's all everyone in Washington is talking about -- President Obama's health care plan -- well, other than the beer summit.

And now, we get to hear what Americans think about that health care plan. "The Wall Street Journal" and NBC News asked people if they think President Obama's health care plan is a good idea. Forty- two percent say, no, bad idea. Thirty-six percent say good idea. Twenty-two percent are unsure.


That's impressive since there is no plan. Again, there is no plan. It is clear people feel confused. The president hasn't released a plan. Congress has -- have many. The confusion of the people is evident right here.


YELLIN: Do you think we even know what the president's health care plan is?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. And he's actually come out, I think, and he said he doesn't know what's in the plan. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, I hear a lot of people saying it's socialism. You're not allowed to have a living will if, say for -- if you're 58 and you need a liver transplant, the government gets to decide if you get it or not.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think anyone knows what's in the president's health care plan, including congressmen and senators.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm trying to follow it. It's complicated.


YELLIN: So why are we asking people if they support the president's plan when it doesn't exist and who should be doing a better job of explaining what's at stake here -- Congress, the president or the media -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Good question.

Let's get some answers -- Gloria, what do you think?

BORGER: Well, I think this president has been very good at explaining the problem we have in this country. But he doesn't have a plan. And what he's finding is that it's very difficult to sell an abstraction. And voters that I've talked to lately say they want the president to start drawing a line in the sand, taking sides, telling people what he's going to support and what he's not going to support, so they can decide if they support him.

BLITZER: He deliberately doesn't have his own detailed blueprint because of what happened in '93 and '94, during the Clinton administration, when there were 1,000 pages of Hilary Care, as it was called then, that collapsed.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, POLITICO: Right. And I mean some people think he's taking that lesson a little bit too far by being a little vague and giving it all to the -- the folks in Congress.

And I think one of the problems is that in this vacuum, even though there's all this chatter from Congress and the media and the president, there's also these sound bites that are arriving from ads and all of the people fearing that their sodas are going to be taxed and things like that.

So he has had a problem getting his message out.

BLITZER: Damage to whom right now, Candy, as these members of the House and Senate go on vacation or go into recess, go back to their districts, hear from their constituents in their states and in their districts right now, they're going to be bombarded with both sides -- advertisements, as well as a lot of folks just complaining or loving or whatever.

Who gets the advantage in this month long recess, the president and his allies or the Republicans? CROWLEY: I -- I would think it's the critics of the plan, be they Republicans or the Blue Dogs. And if you're a Blue Dog, by the way, you really ought to go on a boondoggle (INAUDIBLE)...

BLITZER: Those are the fiscally conservative Democrats.

CROWLEY: Democrats. Because they are really going to be bombarded. And it's not just by the ads. It's -- they've got constituents. I mean these districts are -- are relatively small places. They're going to be in their district offices. They are going to get an earful one way or the other from their -- from the constituents.

Why the president?

Because in Washington D.C. A controversial piece of legislation that goes on for some time in the public conversation is a pinata and people beat the heck out of it. And so every day that -- it's why the president wanted this done quickly -- let's go, let's go, let's go. He's at the peak of his power. We all know, you know, that it -- the first year, second year, it goes down. And he also knows that these big long waiting periods just people fill the void with criticism.

BLITZER: That's why he wanted this deadline before the August recess. He didn't get it.

BORGER: He did. And he wanted all the stakeholders sitting around the table, joining hands, saying we're going to sign on to a deal. At a certain point, he has to decide who he's with and who he's against.

And if he starts talking about the big, bad insurance companies, he may get more people to be with him. And I bet that's what. You're going to see happen over the recess.

CROWLEY: And it's a big, bad insurance company...


CROWLEY: -- versus big, bad government.

BORGER: That's right.

CROWLEY: I mean that's...

BORGER: Well...


BLITZER: We'll see who's -- who's badder.


BLITZER: All right, guys, thanks very much.

Disgraced and imprisoned, now released and reinstated -- the former Atlanta quarterback, Michael Vick, makes a surprise revelation.

And we've finally learned who will have custody of Michael Jackson's children.

Lots more news happening right now right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Fredricka Whitfield is monitoring some other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Fred, what's going on?


A stock market rally on Wall Street today pushes the Dow to its highest level in nearly nine months. The Dow Jones Industrials closed about 80 points higher today, inching closer to the 10000 level. Another round of earnings reports is giving investors new reasons to be optimistic about the economy.

And the custody battle over Michael Jackson's children is over. Just hours ago, attorneys for both the pop icon's mother and his ex- wife reached an agreement. Katherine Jackson will remain the sole guardian of her son's three children. Debbie Rowe, who is the biological mother of the two eldest, will receive visitation rights. Attorneys for Mrs. Jackson say they are pleased this matter is resolved and it was handled in a caring, thoughtful and courteous manner.

And Britain's highest court has ruled in favor of a woman's fight in how she chooses to die. Debby Purdy has multiple sclerosis and wants to have her husband by her side if she decides to have an assisted suicide. She spent years challenging an ambiguous law that didn't make it clear if her husband would be prosecuted for helping her.

And former Atlanta Falcons quarterback, Michael Vick, claims that he's close to signing with a football team. Vick made the comment to reporters as he left a courtroom after a hearing in his bankruptcy case. He did not elaborate. Vick was conditionally reinstated by the NFL this week with after serving a sentence for running a dog fighting ring -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Fred, thank you.

It's a race against time and a dangerous flu and right now, the U.S. government apparently isn't winning. We've been hearing warning after warning about a second wave of the H1N1 virus when flu season hits in the fall. A startling report confirming now many people's worst fears -- that we just are not ready.

Let's go to CNN's Mary Snow.

She's been looking at this study.

What do we know -- Mary?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this report comes from the investigative arm of Congress. The bottom line -- the Government Accountability Office concludes many gaps remain in pandemic planning and preparedness.

Some of the key points in this report, the GAO says federal, state and local agencies need to better coordinate efforts, especially with the private sector. It cites a lack of clarity when it comes to who's responsible for things like state border closures, should they happen, and distributing vaccines. And it says work needs to be done to prepare for health services, such as not having enough hospital beds for patients.

We asked for a response from the Departments of Homeland Security and Health & Human Services, since these two departments were specifically targeted in the report. They challenged the finding, saying: "Our aggressive coordinated efforts to plan for and respond to the H1N1 flu have not wavered since the first signs of the outbreak emerged. Working with our federal partners, as well as state and local and territorial officials," they're taking the critical steps, they say, to ensure the nation is prepared for the fall flu season -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What's the latest on the effort to get a vaccine or two?

SNOW: Well, at this point, as you know, clinical trials are just now getting underway. They'll determine how effective vaccines will be and how safe there'll be. So health officials, at this point, do not expect to start a mass vaccination program until early October. And as we know, an advisory panel came out with guidelines just yesterday. And at the top of the list of people who will be a priority for getting vaccines -- pregnant women, health care workers, first responders, people with children under six months and children six months to four years old; and, also, older children who have chronic medical conditions.

But when you add those groups alone, (INAUDIBLE) the top targeted groups, we're talking about 42 million people.

BLITZER: It's going to be a huge challenge for the country.

We'll watch it.

Thanks, Mary, very much.

Let's go to Lou Dobbs to see what's coming up at the top of the hour -- Lou.

LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, in just a few moments, we'll be reporting on the president's beer summit at the White House. Professor Henry Louis Gates and police Sergeant James Crowley joining him.

Is this really a teachable moment? What will -- what will happen?

Also, the Obama administration's efforts to reach a health care deal in Congress hitting another major setback -- Democrats versus Democrats in the House. And this showdown the subject of our Face-Off debate here tonight.

And tumultuous weather sweeping the nation, from torrential rain and flooding to extreme heat and drought. We'll show you what's happening to our weather this summer and why.

Join us for all of that, all the day's news and a lot more coming up in just a few moments right here on CNN -- Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: All right, Lou.

Thank you.

Proof a man can do two things at a time.

Watch this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- against right handed pitchers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, we had an unbelievable...


BLITZER: What a catch. Jeanne Moos takes a look at that and some other extraordinary catches in baseball.

And an inside look at the president's meeting with Professor Gates, Sergeant Crowley and Vice President Joe Biden.


BLITZER: Here's Jeanne Moos with the catch of a lifetime.





JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: (voice-over): It was the crying baby versus the soda kid.

Did you catch the guy's catching foul balls with one hand while holding kids in the other?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: An unbelievable play.


MOOS: Sure, it happens every once in a while -- guys catching pop-ups with their kids propped up in their arm. But for it to happen twice in three days has sports fans raving with competing superlatives.

Was this the best foul ball catch ever?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dad with the catch and the baby.


MOOS: Or was this?




MOOS: Web sites compare the two barehanded catches. Fans gave points for difficulty with a heavier kid. They subtracted points because this ball seemed deflected by someone and thus easier to catch. They gave props to this kid for how he fielded his soda.

BOBBY CROSBY, L.A. DODGERS FAN: He can hold this gigantic soda and not drop it while his dad doesn't drop the ball. That kid is awesome and so is the daddy.

MOOS: Bobbie Crosby show know. He also multitasks while catching fly balls.

(on camera): Isn't holding a camera a little like holding a baby?

CROSBY: It's definitely tougher to hold a baby. They don't come with those nice straps that just strap right to your hand.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's the camera guy.



MOOS: Bobby attends about 75 Dodgers games a season. He likes to tape himself catching balls during batting practice.




MOOS: He sees what a ball can do to somebody. In fact, he's prevented a few people from getting smacked.





MOOS: Though catching with a glove isn't quite as entertaining...


MOOS: catching with a pizza box. Bobby even taped himself giving a ball he caught to a kid.


CROSBY: There you go.


MOOS: Unlike the guy who shoved around a 4-year-old a few years back while scrambling to get a foul ball. And the announcer called foul on him.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a jerk in every park.


MOOS: But this guy didn't jerk. He didn't drop the ball. And the kid didn't drop a drop.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is one of the better grabs you'll ever see, folks.


MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: All right. Let's go to Lou Dobbs in New York -- Lou.

DOBBS: Wolf, thanks. Good evening, everyone.

President Obama holding a beer summit at the White House with the two men at the center of a controversy over race that the president himself contributed to. We'll have the latest for you on that beer summit and whether this really is a teachable moment, as both the president and Professor Henry Louis Gates suggest.

Also, the Obama administration's efforts to reach a health care deal suffering another major setback -- new divisions, sharp divisions tonight among House Democrats. We'll examine this showdown in our Face-Off debate.

And tumultuous weather sweeping the nation, from torrential rain and flooding to extreme heat and drought. We'll show you what's happening to our weather this summer and we'll explain why.