President Obama Reaches Out To Public Via YouTube

The White House is trying to make this year's State of the Union address a two-way street. Senior White House officials responded to questions online after the speech Tuesday. Spokesman Robert Gibbs did a question-and-answer session on Wednesday on Twitter. And on Thursday, President Obama answered questions on YouTube. For a look at what was discussed, NPR's Ari Shapiro speaks to host Michele Norris.

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The White House is trying to make this year's State of the Union Address a two- way street. Senior White House officials responded to questions online after the speech Tuesday. Spokesman Robert Gibbs did a question and answer session on Twitter on yesterday. And, today, President Obama answered questions on YouTube.

NPR's Ari Shapiro was following the online town hall and joins me now. Ari, what was the main focus of today's event?

ARI SHAPIRO: Well, it hit a lot of the major themes from the State of the Union Address. The president talked about infrastructure, about education, immigration. But like in that speech, his main focus today was jobs. The first question came from an infantryman in Akron, Ohio who had just returned from his second tour of Afghanistan. He's now out of work and wanted to know where the jobs are. Here's what President Obama said, in audio that was a little glitchy, but you can hear what he's saying anyway.

BARACK OBAMA: We are making a big push with employers to say, these folks have shown leadership, they have been trained, they have performed at high levels in very difficult situations, they're going to be great assets to help rebuild the country.

SHAPIRO: As this was YouTube, there were a lot of questions from young people and many of them were asking about jobs. The president kept pointing to job growth numbers from the last two years that are, as he put it, smaller than anyone would like.

OBAMA: The overall jobs picture is still very tough out there. We created a million, point - 1,300,000 jobs last year in the private sector, which is a lot better than we had been doing. But it's still not enough.

SHAPIRO: You keep hearing this tension between the president's plan to create jobs and the frustration with Americans that right now the jobs just simply do not exist yet.

NORRIS: Ari, we just heard from David - as we just heard from David Welna, there's been a lot of talk this week about cutting deficits. Did that issue come up?

SHAPIRO: It did, but the president didn't offer much more detail than in the State of the Union Address. At one point the president even gave an answer to a question that was less specific than the interviewer Steve Grove would have liked and so, Steve Grove of YouTube followed up. Here's what they said.

STEVE GROVE: What sorts of things, what sorts of programs do you think need to be cut?

OBAMA: Well, you know, we're going to be announcing our budget, so I don't want to give too much details because then nobody pays attention when we actually put the numbers out.

SHAPIRO: Eventually President Obama said he wants to use a scalpel rather than a chainsaw, implying, of course, that the Republican approach is the chainsaw one.

NORRIS: And what about questions about foreign affairs?

SHAPIRO: Well, Egypt is the big issue of the moment where protestors are marching in the streets and the president and the White House are trying to walk a tightrope here, where President Hosni Mubarak, who has been in power for decades is an ally of the United States. At the same time, the U.S. would like Mubarak to give his people more freedoms. So the president is trying not to take sides. Here's what he said today.

OBAMA: I think that it is very important that people have mechanisms in order to express legitimate grievances. As I said in my State of the Union speech, there are certain core values that we believe in as Americans that we believe are universal - freedom of speech, freedom of expression.

NORRIS: Ari, how does this fit into the White House's larger strategy right now?

SHAPIRO: Well, it's part of a reshuffle, the latest element of which came just this afternoon. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, who we learned some weeks ago would be stepping down, is going to be replaced by Jay Carney. He has been the vice president's chief spokesman. Before that, he covered the White House for Time magazine.

And that's part of a much broader reshuffle in which David Plouffe, who orchestrated the 2008 campaign, came in to replace David Axelrod. You have Bill Daley, the new chief of staff, who has strong ties to the business community. And so, in many ways we're seeing kind of Obama 2.0, the stronger ties to the business community, the greater emphasis on social media. And some of this Obama 2.0 has echoes of Obama the campaigner from 2008.

NORRIS: And Jay Carney brings with him a strong foreign policy docket as well.

SHAPIRO: That's right. It is sort of a truism in Washington that when Congress is controlled by the opposing party, the president has more power in foreign affairs than he might in domestic affairs. And so, we may see more of an emphasis on those foreign affairs going forward.

NORRIS: Thank you, Ari.

SHAPIRO: You're welcome.

NORRIS: That's NPR White House correspondent Ari Shapiro.

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