By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 2, 2010; A05
President Obama continued efforts to open himself to direct scrutiny from his critics on Monday, sitting for a half-hour of questions submitted to YouTube during his State of the Union address last week.
The online news conference of sorts follows the president's 90-minute Q&A with Republican House members at their retreat last week, which was broadcast live on cable outlets. Both were examples of the White House attempting to demonstrate Obama's willingness to listen to voices outside his party after last month's Democratic loss in the Massachusetts Senate race.
The GOP event featured sharp exchanges with some of the president's chief adversaries on Capitol Hill; Monday's exchange was mild by comparison. YouTube users voted on the questions they wanted the president to answer, and afforded Obama the opportunity to provide his talking points on domestic and foreign policy issues.
Two questioners urged Obama to do something for struggling small businesses. That gave him the chance to talk about his budget proposals providing tax breaks for small businesses and more capital for community banks.
Another pressed Obama to keep the Internet free of fees, giving him the chance to declare that fees for access run "counter to the whole spirit of openness." A college student who said he works three jobs asked the president what he is doing to make college tuition more affordable. That allowed the president to talk about legislation pending in the Senate that would change the way student loans are processed to increase Pell grants and add funds for community colleges.
Not all of the questions were softballs. A Silver Spring man offered up the first question with a video clip of Obama declaring that health-care reform "will not wait another year," a stark reminder of the president's failure to pass what he hoped would be his signature legislation last year. Two questions followed criticizing Obama for repeatedly breaking his promises of transparency by participating in a health-care debate that they said took place behind closed doors.
Obama responded, "We have been certified by independent groups as the most transparent White House in history." But he added later that "it's a fair criticism." As for health-care reform, he said he "hoped" Republicans would get behind it.
"We are calling our Republican colleagues to get behind a serious health reform bill," he said. "My hope is they accept that invitation, and that they work together with us over the next several weeks to get it done."
A string of foreign policy questions elicited mostly expected answers. Obama emphasized that al-Qaeda is "our target" and vowed to fight it "on all fronts." He added that America will "battle them with ideas."
When asked about the delay in closing the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Obama blamed it mostly on what he called "rank politics," adding, "Unfortunately, there has been a lot of political resistance."