The professor, the policeman and the president are ready to share a beer — and maybe a few thoughts about race and law enforcement in America.

The gathering set for Thursday evening may help President Barack Obama write a sudsy but happy ending to an arrest that triggered a fierce debate over race relations and briefly knocked him off his stride.

An administration official said Monday that Obama is hosting the two main characters in the unlikely Boston-area drama that dominated several news cycles last week: Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Sgt. James Crowley of the Cambridge, Massachusetts, police department. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the announcement was not yet public.

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Crowley, who is white, arrested Gates, who is black, after an investigation into a suspected burglary found no burglars but escalated into a heated exchange between the men at Gates' home. When Obama said last Wednesday that the police had "acted stupidly," the national debate over racial profiling become so fierce that the president had to intercede again on Friday to get the public's attention back to his health care agenda.

Thus did a brief afternoon encounter turn into an ardently debated conflict in which other Americans drew their own conclusions about racial bias, proper deference to police and a president's appropriate role in a local law enforcement matter.

Obama phoned Crowley, who suggested the three men sit down for a beer at the White House. The president said he liked the idea, and Gates reportedly concurred when Obama phoned him next.

But what to serve? Crowley apparently likes Blue Moon beer. Gates favors Red Stripe or Beck's. Don't look for Obama to order a similar high-priced brand, however.

"The president had a Budweiser at the All-Star Game," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters, hinting at Obama's likely choice.

Ah, yes, the middle-class, mid-priced working man's brew, for a president who once drew snickers for musing about arugula in middle-America Iowa.

The meeting with Gates and Crowley in the planning stages, Gibbs said the president was hoping for "an increased dialogue between both of the individuals here and their representation of both law enforcement and the minority community."