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Live-blogging the President’s Twitter town hall (#askobama)

at 03:10 PM ET, 07/06/2011

President Obama participated in the first-of-its-kind live Twitter town hall Wednesday and The Fix brought it all to you live.

We had two reporters in the room at the town hall as well as people monitoring Twitter and the various other social networks, and we contributed live analysis as the proceedings happened.

3:10 p.m. — That’s a wrap!

As predicted, this was an almost entirely news-less affair that allowed Obama to talk about what he has done and what he plans to do in office. He almost never went off his message script — pushing Republicans to compromise on tax increases for “millionaires and billionaires,” emphasizing the need for comprehensive energy and immigration reform and making sure people know that the economic stimulus money wasn’t wasted.

As I mentioned earlier, Twitter did a good job of making it as interactive as possible, but the whole town hall would have benefited from more back-and-forth between the president and the moderator.  We didn’t learn anything new today. But President Obama and Twitter got some very nice media exposure for what was largely an event devoid of news.

3:09 p.m. - The first presidential Twitter townhall hits an hour

We are now at the hour mark. What Twitter has done well: Making it a real-time conversation by allowing people to talk back to Obama’s answer. What they haven’t done well: More follow-ups by a moderator pressing Obama to go beyond his standard-issue answers and more non-policy questions. Throw a political question in there!

3:05 p.m. — Obama’s simple tax-solution image

In talking about what needs to happen to solve the debt problem, Obama keeps saying the only thing wealthy people need to do is “simply” go back to pre-Bush tax rates.  

“It doesn’t take all that much,” says the president.  The image Obama is trying to create is one where the wealthy need to give only very little for this to get done.  Also, Obama just channeled Vice President Joe Biden when he referred to the quote: “You’re entitled to your opinion but not to your own facts.”

3:00 p.m. — Tweeters answer Obama’s questions

Twitter town hall now moves into responses to Obama’s first question about how best to lower debt.  Dorsey reads seven suggestions from users.

The first tweeter suggests cutting defense contracting, the war on drugs and public campaign financing.

Obama notes that he has supported public campaign financing in the past. But, he was the first presidential candidate in a general election to opt out of public financing. So...

2:55 p.m. — Obama on a potential return to the pre-Bush tax rates

Obama notes that simply going back to the pre-Bush tax rates would effectively close the debt. “Balanced approach,” “common sense,” etc.

Here’s the question:

So will you raise taxes on the middle class at least to W Bush levels @askObama @townhallless than a minute ago via web Favorite Retweet Reply

Remember, Obama is trying to win the policy debate with Republicans in Congress but, as importantly, the political debate particularly among independents.

2:52 p.m. — The question that should be asked

A question I (and political junkies all over the country/world) would like to hear: What do you think of the 2012 Republican field?

We need questions that Obama doesn’t have pat answers to like energy, education and the debt ceiling to get this thing off the press release stage.  Chances of that question being read: Zero — or a number below zero if that exists.

2:50 p.m. - Obama on education (again)

There is yet another education question!

@AssignmentDesk1 #AskObama Public Edu here in CA falling apart. Not grad enough skilled workers or smart citizens. Privitization looming?less than a minute ago via web Favorite Retweet Reply

It’s amazing that so many people want to hear about education but it consistently ranks in low single digits when folks are asked about the most important issues heading into 2012. I wonder what is responsible for that chasm?

Also, Obama begins his answer with this: “When society transformed from an agrarian to an industrial society...”

That’s the sign of a long answer.

2:47 p.m. - Obama riffs on “Schaps”

Is there any better comedic riff for a politician doing Twitter stuff than making fun of the odd handle names of the people asking questions? It is an absolute go-to.  How about this guy! “Schaps!”

Heyooo. Try the veal.

2:45 p.m. - Quick note about Obama and the debt ceiling

Listen to Obama’s language on the debt ceiling talks: “sensible, ”“balanced.” All of this is aimed at the independent voter. I wrote earlier today on how Obama and his team are focused on making him look like the adult in the room — the one guy in Washington looking out for the country’s interest rather than their own partisan concerns.  That’s exactly what his choice of words aims to do.

It’s also fascinating how Obama openly acknowledges his wealth (“a lot of people bought my book”) in his regular answer on tax increases for “millionaires and billionaires.”

 It’s not new but still interesting.

#askobama What changes to the tax system do you think are necessary to help solve the deficit problem and for the system to be fair?less than a minute ago via web Favorite Retweet Reply

2:42 p.m. — Obama field question from New York Times’ Nicholas Kristoff

Twitter takes a question from New York Times columnist Nick Kristof. (Doesn’t he already get the chance to ask Obama questions — just saying.)  

#AskObama Was it a mistake to fail to get Republicans to commit to raise the debt ceiling, at the same time tax cuts were extended?less than a minute ago via web Favorite Retweet Reply

Obama explains the compromise on the extension of the Bush tax cuts. He then notes that he got a payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance extended. “That was a much better deal than most people expected,” he says.

Obama also uses the question to get back to the debt ceiling; “The debt ceiling is not something that should be used as a gun against the head of the American people” to extract tax cuts for corporate jet owners,” he says.

Corporate jet owners!

2:39 p.m. — Obama takes question posted five minutes before being posed to him

One neat thing about Twitter is the possibility of having a real-time conversation with the President.  This last question on discharged veterans was submitted five minutes before being posed to Obama:

@whitehouse @townhall My question is can you give companies a tax break if they hire a Honorable discharged Veteran?less than a minute ago via web Favorite Retweet Reply

The issue is this: you need a moderator who will press Obama on this stuff and force him to make some news. As is, this is a very nice message platform — almost entirely unchecked — for Obama.

2:32 p.m. - Obama fields question from House Speaker John Boehner (Ohio)

Worth noting: Another reason why this is great for Obama and Twitter: MSNBC has carried every second of the townhall so far.

Also, Twitter does something very smart: They take a question from Boehner’s Twitter account asking “where are the jobs”?

After embarking on a record spending binge that's left us deeper in debt, where are the jobs? #AskObamaless than a minute ago via TweetDeck Favorite Retweet Reply

“This is a slightly skewed question,” Obama says.  He then adds that he inherited a terrible economy and notes that 2 million jobs have been created in the private sector. This is the fine line Obama has to walk now and through the 2012 election. He has to highlight the optimistic signs — such as there are — about the economy, while acknowledging that things are not better for lots and lots of Americans.

Another thing worth noting about the Twitter town hall is that the crowd in the room is decidedly friendly.  People appear willing to give Obama the benefit of the doubt. When he ends his Boehner answer by saying he hopes Boehner will come around to seeing things his way, Obama gets laughs.

2:30 p.m. - Obama on collective bargaining

A looooong answer on collective bargaining from Obama to this question:

Mr. President, In several states we have seen people lose their collective bargaining rights. Do you have a plan to rectify this? #AskObamaless than a minute ago via web Favorite Retweet Reply

The essence is that everyone — unions and business — need to make sacrifices. He notes that he froze the pay of federal workers and those within his Administration to show that the government is making sacrifices already.

2:25 p.m. — Obama on alternative energy

Next comes alternative energy:

@KimQuillenTP Will you focus on promoting alternative energy industries in oil states like Louisiana and Texas? #townhallless than a minute ago via UberSocial for BlackBerry Favorite Retweet Reply

Obama continues the “bet you didn’t know”-approach to this town hall by noting that his Administration put a ton of economic stimulus package money into clean energy. Also, he returns to one of his favorite topics — batteries. And, no I am not kidding.  (The Obama battery reference makes me think of the never-ending battery from the terribly atrocious movie “Knight and Day”. WHY!)

2:20 p.m. — Obama on the debt ceiling

Obama gets the debt ceiling question:

#AskObama Mr. President, will you issue an executive order to raise the debt ceiling pursuant to section 4 of the 14th amendment?less than a minute ago via txt Favorite Retweet Reply

He then heads immediately into “what’s at stake.”  To date, this is like watching an informational interview. Obama is making sure people are watching — the young and political reporters paid to do so (ahem) — know where he comes from on each issue.

He said that if we don’t raise the debt ceiling, “the Treasury will run out of money...and potentially the entire world capital markets could decide the full faith and credit of the U.S. don’t mean anything.”  He then adds that it could cause a “whole new spiral into a second recession.”

Obama also ruled out the invoking of the 14th amendment. “I don’t even think we should get to the Constitution issue,” he said. Also, that question was asked by someone named “renegade nerd.” That’s my bit.  Not cool, dude.

I would have loved to hear a follow-up question on the 14th Amendment and debt ceiling answers from President Obama. But, the reality is that these sorts of town halls make that next to impossible. Which is good for Obama, good for Twitter and bad for reporters.

2:15 p.m. - Obama fields question on education

Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey says there are a ton of questions about education and asks Obama this one:

Higher ed. is necessary for a stronger economy, but for some middle class Americans it's becoming too expensive. What can be done? #askobamaless than a minute ago via web Favorite Retweet Reply

Look at any poll, though, and it’s pretty clear that education is pretty far down on the list of priorities. Obama is likely to bring this answer back to the economy — lowering costs of college to reduce debts etc.

2:10 p.m. - President Obama field first question from outside the White House

The first question from a user not named Barack Obama is about what mistakes he made on the recession. The president starts off by noting all of the things it was right to do.  His mistakes? “Explain to the American people that is was going to take a while for us to get out of this,” is one. The other? “The continuing decline in the housing market hasn’t bottomed out as quickly as we expected.”

@DrewHampshire: What mistakes have you made in handling this recession and what would you do differently? #askObamaless than a minute ago via web Favorite Retweet Reply

Obama treads lightly on why there is so much focus on manufacturing sector in the discussion of the economic recovery.  Why? Because states with huge manufacturing sectors — Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan — are all swing states for 2012.  While he’s talking to a Twitter/high tech audience at the moment, he knows he needs the votes of people in the Rust belt where manufacturing is (still) king.

#AskObama Tech & knowledge industries are thriving, yet jobs discussion always centers on manufacturing. Why not be realistic about jobs?less than a minute ago via TweetDeck Favorite Retweet Reply

2:00 p.m. - President Obama makes history by issuing first presidential live tweet

The President started the first Twitter town hall with the first presidential live tweet. Worth noting: no one in the room, at least in so far as the camera angle will allow us to see, is 35-years old or younger.

The president’s first tweet was a question to himself. He asks himself about the debt.  This goes to a point made in an earlier Fix post: These social media townhalls are easy wins for the president. Can you imagine a national interview with a reporter where Obama got to ask himself the first question?

in order to reduce the deficit,what costs would you cut and what investments would you keep - boless than a minute ago via web Favorite Retweet Reply

Here is a collection of word clouds from Hamilton Place Strategies, a Republican consulting firm that specializes in issues relating to the economy. They’ve created individual word clouds for major U.S. cities based on questions posed to President Obama via Twitter. Here’s Washington, D.C.:

Read the latest tweets from the town hall curators and other notable attendees:

YOUR TAKE: #AskObama your question now.

What would you ask President Obama? Have you already asked him? Tell us (and the president) what's on your mind by sending an #AskObama tweet now.
 
Read what others are saying