The White House expressed hope that it has put behind it a controversy surrounding President Barack Obama`s remarks on the arrest of African-American scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. But the incident highlights the challenge facing Mr. Obama in addressing the issue of race and in keeping the debate focused on his broader agenda, according to Wall Street Journal.

David Axelrod, a senior adviser to President Obama, said Sunday that he believed the president`s expression of regret for his initial statement that the police "acted stupidly" was having "the desired effect."

"People are talking more constructively now," Mr. Axelrod said on CBS`s "Face The Nation." "The steam has gone out of this. Instead of heat being generated, more light is being generated."

The incident highlighted social divisions that Mr. Obama hoped had been eased by his election as the nation`s first African-American president. The emotions triggered by his comments on the Gates arrest suggest that the issue of race continues to hang over his presidency.

It also came as an unwelcome distraction during a week when Mr. Obama sought to jump-start fractious talks in Congress on a health-care overhaul by stepping up his involvement in the fray. In recent weeks, opposition has grown sharper to the president`s agenda, and Mr. Obama led Wednesday`s prime-time press conference, during which he made his initial comments on the Gates arrest, with a pitch for health-care legislation.

Mr. Obama`s challenge this week will be to move beyond the Gates controversy and show momentum on health care. Congressional leaders are racing to make progress before an August recess.

Mr. Gates also signaled that he would like to move on. In a statement over the weekend, the Harvard University professor said he had spent his career "attempting to bridge differences and promote understanding among all Americans, especially between blacks and whites."

"I have pledged to do all that I can to help us learn from this unfortunate incident," he said.

Sgt. James Crowley arrested Mr. Gates at his home in Cambridge, Mass., on July 16, after a woman called police to report a suspected break-in. Mr. Gates had just returned from a trip to China, and was trying to force open the door of his home. Both he and Mr. Crowley said the other acted belligerently during the encounter, and the police officer charged Mr. Gates with disorderly conduct -- a charge that was later dropped.

The dispute sparked a national debate on racial profiling. Mr. Obama further inflamed the issue by saying at the news conference Wednesday that, while he did not have all the facts, the Cambridge police had "acted stupidly."

Suggesting that the ensuing controversy was beginning to distract from his agenda, Mr. Obama acknowledged on Friday he should have "calibrated" his words differently. He said that he had spoken to Mr. Crowley by telephone, and that he was inviting him and Mr. Gates to the White House for a beer. Mr. Axelrod said it was probable that Mr. Obama, Mr. Gates and Mr. Crowley would meet.

—Jonathan Weisman in Washington and John Hechinger in Boston contributed to this article.