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Ask Tough Questions? Yes, They Can!

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Voters in North Texas describe why supporting Barack Obama feels like they're joining a movement. Video by Jose Antonio Vargas/The Washington Post

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For 40 slow minutes, Obama delivered his policy prescriptions and answered questions from the veterans. "I want the budgets to come in on time!" he told one questioner. He pledged to another his support for SR 1838, a new VA facility in the Rio Grande Valley. He told a third questioner about his plan for a $4,000 tuition credit. And the great orator found himself proclaiming that "it makes sense to have transferability."

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Whatever. Reporters, at tables in the back of the room, answered e-mails and read newspapers. Obama, by making no news in his speech, had left them plenty of time to plot their ambush -- executed minutes later to the obvious surprise of the candidate.

"I don't have any preliminary statement," Obama said as he began his news conference, encouraging reporters to "just dive in." That was a mistake.

Tom Raum of the Associated Press led off with a question about whether an Obama aide had told Canadians not to take seriously the candidate's public rhetoric critical of the NAFTA trade agreement. "Let me, let me, let me, let me just be absolutely clear what happened," Obama answered, explaining that the meeting was a "courtesy" and involved no "winks and nods."

Then an agitator -- columnist Carol Marin with the Chicago Sun-Times -- broke in. Marin, a visitor to the Obama entourage who accused the regulars of being too "quiet," accused the candidate of concealing details about fundraisers Rezko had for him and a real estate transaction between the two.

"I don't think it's fair to suggest somehow that we've been trying to hide the ball on this," Obama answered. But this only provoked a noisy back-and-forth between Marin, Sun-Times colleague Lynn Sweet and Michael Flannery from Chicago's CBS affiliate. "How many fundraisers? . . . Who was there? . . . Disclosure of the closing documents?"

Obama, while repeating his formulation that it was "a boneheaded move" to do business with Rezko, tried to shut down the requests for more information. "These requests, I think, could just go on forever," he said. "At some point, what we need to try to do is respond to what's pertinent."

Reporters, however, had a different idea of what was pertinent, and the questions about Rezko, NAFTA and other unpleasant subjects continued to come. An aide called out "last question," and Obama made his move for the exit -- only for reporters to shout after him in protest. "C'mon, guys," he pleaded. "I just answered, like, eight questions."

The questioning, however, has only just begun.


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