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Obama To Hold Town Hall At Facebook Headquarters

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Obama To Hold Town Hall At Facebook Headquarters

Obama To Hold Town Hall At Facebook Headquarters

Obama To Hold Town Hall At Facebook Headquarters

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President Obama holds a town hall meeting at Facebook's headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif. Facebook users have been submitting queries for more than a week. NPR's Mara Liasson talks to Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

President Obama is in Palo Alto, California, today holding a town hall meeting at the headquarters of Facebook.

President BARACK OBAMA: What Facebook allows us to do is make sure this isn't just a one-way conversation, make sure that not only am I speaking to you, but you're also speaking back, and we're in a conversation. We're in a dialogue.

NORRIS: Yesterday, the president was in Annandale, Virginia; tomorrow, Reno, Nevada; and along the way, he's doing fundraisers in Silicon Valley and Hollywood.

Joining me now to talk about this trip is NPR's Mara Liasson.

Hey, Mara.

MARA LIASSON: Hey, Michele.

NORRIS: President Obama has always been popular at Facebook. Is this one of the big reasons he's there today?

LIASSON: Well, Facebook is the biggest town square in the world. It's the biggest town square in history: 600 million members - that's twice as big as the population of the United States. And it also has a very young demographic, which President Obama wants to reenergize for his 2012 campaign.

He's spending a lot of money trying to reinvigorate his grassroots, and social media, like Facebook, is going to be a big part of that, but it's going to be hard.

And just in a very non-scientific measure of interest, Obama's personal Facebook page has 20 million fans.

On Monday, he posted the invitation to this town hall about the debt and deficit, but only 16,440 people liked it on Facebook as opposed to the almost double that number, 32,000, who liked his message on Passover.

So either that suggests the deficit is a real downer, Obama is kind of losing his magic with the social media crowd, or maybe Passover is really, really exciting.

NORRIS: Interesting to see what his advisers think of that...

(Soundbite of laughter)

NORRIS: ...mini flash poll there.

Well, Mara, the president seems to be doing quite a few things on this cross-country swing. Is this a reelection campaign trip or a trip to sell the deficit plan or maybe a little bit of both?

LIASSON: Well, it's both, and it's really interesting because those two imperatives have now morphed into one. That can sometimes make things a little awkward.

On when he's out there talking about the debt and the deficit he is playing on the Republicans' turf. In other words, cutting the budget deficit was the agenda of the Tea Party and their rallying cry.

Now, the president is trying to shape that message and make it his own, saying that we can cut the deficit by $4 trillion over 10 years. We can save Medicare by - and raise taxes on the rich and do it all while investing in education, research and infrastructure. That's a complex message.

NORRIS: Now, on Facebook, you can just click a little icon there and you can tell whether or not you like something. What about the general public? How's the president's deficit plan been received by the broader public?

LIASSON: Well, that's pretty interesting. Since the speech, the polls have showed that everything that has been suggested to cut the deficit is unpopular with the public, except raising taxes on the rich, which happens to be a nonstarter with Republicans in Washington, but that is the only deficit reduction measure with majority support among the public. It is one of the president's proposals.

Seventy-two percent in the Washington Post-ABC poll this week supported raising taxes on people making $250,000 and up. As far as Medicare is concerned, only 21 percent support cuts in Medicare; 78 percent are opposed; and 65 percent oppose the Republican plan to change Medicare into a voucher or premium support plan.

NORRIS: Before we say goodbye, help us understand what's behind those poll numbers.

LIASSON: Well, you know, the other thing that's happening in the polls also, obviously, is the president's own poll numbers have been drifting down from 54 percent after that Tucson speech after the shootings there to now in the mid 40s.

He's really had one calamity after another. The economy is growing, not nearly enough for people to feel it. Gas prices are sky high. That's what I heard yesterday when I went to the town hall meeting in Annandale. People are really upset about it, and in some ways, they hold him responsible.

NORRIS: That's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson.

Mara, thanks so much.

LIASSON: Thank you.

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