Obama Holds Town Hall On Facebook

President Obama headed West Wednesday. He's holding a series of town hall meetings – as well as a series of campaign fund raisers. NPR's Ari Shapiro is traveling with the president to Palo Alto, Calif., where the president held a town hall meeting at Facebook headquarters. And he speaks with Michele Norris.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

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

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

President Obama headed out west today. He's holding a series of town hall meetings, as well as a series of campaign fundraisers.

NPR's Ari Shapiro is traveling with the president. Ari joins us now from Palo Alto, where the president wrapped up a town hall meeting at Facebook headquarters.

Ari, what's the thrust of that event?

ARI SHAPIRO: Well, it's the latest in the series of events where the president is pitching his plans to reduce the federal deficit by trillions of dollars. Yesterday, he delivered - he had a town hall meeting. Tomorrow, there's another town hall meeting in Reno, Nevada. And today, he was at Facebook speaking to a distinctly younger audience. The conversation was led by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

President Obama jokes that he got Mark to give up his trademark hoodie and put on a jacket and tie for the conversation. And even as President Obama talked about his plan to raise taxes on those who make above a quarter million dollars a year, he acknowledged that this is not the typical political audience.

Here's some of what he said.

President BARACK OBAMA: Keep in mind, what we're talking about is going back to the rates that existed when Bill Clinton was president. Now, a lot of you were...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Pres. OBAMA: I'm trying to say this delicately - still in diapers at that time. But for those of you who recall, the economy was booming.

NORRIS: Ari, that was the president speaking to, again, an obviously much younger audience where he's been facing, he's been talking about the deficit.

But I'm wondering, you know, beyond the hall there, on the swing overall, he's going to be talking to lots of different people. And how are Americans responding to his ideas about cutting the deficit?

SHAPIRO: You know, day after day, we see evidence that Americans want to cut the deficit, but they don't want to give up the government services that they have come to depend on.

There was just a poll out today from the Washington Post and ABC News that says Americans do want to cut the deficit. They don't want to cut Medicare, Medicaid, defense spending. The only thing that they do support in a majority is cutting - rather raising taxes for the wealthy. But that's a nonstarter with Republicans in Congress.

NORRIS: As we said, this is quite a swing for the president. You're literally on the go there. He wrapped up an event there at Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto, he's going to Nevada, he's also going to Hollywood. Is this more than just a trip where he's talking about cutting the deficit? Is this also a bit of a campaign trip?

SHAPIRO: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. In fact, even in the speech here at Facebook, which was not a campaign speech, he made clear that he sees himself as in one camp and Republicans in another.

I mean, he talked about bipartisanship and compromise, but he also talked about Republicans' plans for cutting the deficit are going to harm American investments that we need to bring the economy back.

And he used the analogy of the famous steep hills here in San Francisco in the Bay Area, where if you're driving a stick shift, you don't want to push too hard and you can't let the car roll backwards, either.

Pres. OBAMA: We've got to hit the accelerator. But you know, we've got to also make sure that we don't gun it. We can't let the car slip backwards. And so what we're trying to do then is put together a debt and deficit plan that doesn't slash spending so drastically that we can't still make investments and education, that we can't still make investments and infrastructure, all of which would help the economy grow.

NORRIS: So the president is covering a lot of ground there, obviously trying to boost support for his deficit cutting plan. But I'm wondering if he's also trying to build his coffers. Is he embracing a lot of money-wise out West?

SHAPIRO: Oh, for sure. There are six fundraisers planned on this trip, ranging from a small event tonight at a San Francisco private home, where people are paying more than $38,000 each for dinner with the president, to events in Hollywood tomorrow. There's one at Sony Studios' lot, where Hollywood celebrities are expected. All in all, he's expected to make more than $4 million on this trip.

You know, California was a very reliable piggy bank for President Obama during his campaign in 2008. The question is now will he find the same enthusiasm, not only for those huge, wealthy donors, but also for the small five, 10 and $20 contributions that he was so successful at getting online through websites like Facebook where we are right now.

NORRIS: And that's NPR's Ari Shapiro, traveling with the president quite literally on the go, on the way to the next stop.

Ari, thanks so much.

SHAPIRO: Thanks a lot, Michele.

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