In a presidency full of firsts, Barack Obama racked up another one: first sitting president to tweet from the White House.
Obama strode to a laptop set up in the East Room on Wednesday, splayed his fingers in classic touch-type position and tweeted out a question: “In order to reduce the deficit, what costs would you cut and what investments would you keep? BO.”
With that, the first Twitter town hall was underway. Obama sat on a high stool, his back to the Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington, and fielded questions submitted via the trendiest of social media tools.
He didn’t make news, but that wasn’t really the point. As ever with the tech-obsessed White House staff, the goal was to give an online audience an unfiltered dose of Barack Obama.
The questions weren’t softballs. “Shnaps” seemed to think Obama was forsaking the free market. Then there was a question about jobs.
“After embarking on a record spending binge that’s left us deeper in debt, where are the jobs?” read the message from @johnboehner.
That would be House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio). Obama spotted a character glitch in the message: “John needs to work on his typing skills.” (Boehner’s office later said the problem was at the receiving end and that there was no typo when the message went out.)
Noting Boehner’s political leanings, Obama called the question “slightly skewed.” He acknowledged that job growth hasn’t been fast enough, but then turned it around and asked why Boehner and other lawmakers won’t pay for road, sewer and bridge projects that could put people to work right away.
“We haven’t gotten the kind of cooperation that I’d like to see on some of those ideas and initiatives,” he said. “But I’m just going to keep on trying and eventually I’m sure the speaker will see the light.”
The questions centered on domestic issues. People sent in nearly 170,000 questions and comments. Obama answered 18 before reviewing the replies to his inaugural tweet.
“RenegadeNerd” asked whether Obama would raise the debt ceiling on his own, bypassing Congress on the grounds that it would be unconstitutional for the U.S. not to pay its bills. That’s a strategy some Democrats want Obama to employ. As Obama pressures Congress to raise the debt ceiling, some lawmakers have advanced the argument that the whole idea of a debt ceiling may be unconstitutional.
“I don’t think we should even get to the constitutional issue,” Obama said. “Congress has a responsibility to make sure we pay our bills. We’ve always paid them in the past.”
Asked about mistakes he has made in combating the economic downturn, Obama mentioned two: one involving style, the other substance.
He said he should have been clearer in explaining the severity of the recession and the time needed for the economy to heal.
He also faulted his remedies for the housing crisis, noting that “we’ve had to revamp our housing program several times to try to help people stay in their homes and try to start lifting home values up.”