Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images
As Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey looked on, President Obama sent the first presidential tweet at the start of the town hall.
As Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey looked on, President Obama sent the first presidential tweet at the start of the town hall. Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images
The economy, education, energy, taxes and the deficit were the leading topics this afternoon when President Obama held a "Twitter Town Hall" at the White House.
And a minor bit of history was made as he sent the first presidential tweet — basically a question about the deficit meant to kick off the discussion by asking "what costs would you cut and what investments would you keep"?
Questions and comments poured in via #AskObama at Twitter. And the event only lasted a little more than an hour, so the president obviously never saw most of the messages and questions that came in. Those he was shown were selected by a small group of journalists. Among the topics that didn't come up directly: the military campaigns in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.
We live-blogged down as it happened. Scroll down to see how the event went and for background.
Update at 3:11 p.m. ET. At The End, Thoughts About Responsibility:
Finishing up with more thoughts about welfare programs and society, the president says to Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey that "you and I are sitting here because somebody somewhere made an investment in our futures" — in Twitter's case it was the department of defense and universities creating the Internet and it Obama's it was government scholarships.
"We've got the same responsibility" to help those who are now coming up, he says.
Update at 3:08 p.m. ET. Cut Welfare?
"James" tweets that the government should cut spending on welfare programs. The president says that even progressives should be willing to acknowledge that some welfare programs have not been well designed and need reform. He notes, though, that welfare spending is not "a big driver" in the growth of the federal deficit.
"We can constantly improve any program," he adds. "And some programs that do not work, we should have the courage to eliminate them."
Update at 3:04 p.m. ET. "I Agree With This":
A tweet comes in that hits on ideas the president often talks about — that defense spending needs to be trimmed, as do subsidies to oil companies, while spending on education is increased.
"I agree with this," he declares.
Update at 3:02 p.m ET. What About Raising Taxes?
"Daniel" submits a tweet suggesting that taxes need to be increased.
Obama says history shows that small increases in taxes on the wealthy do not harm the economy.
Update at 3 p.m. ET. Suggestion — "Stop Giving Money To Countries That Waste It (Pakistan)":
That comment comes from "Elizabeth" in response to the question the president asked himself at the start of the event.
The president points out that foreign aid is a very small percentage of total federal spending, and is a "force multiplier" in spreading America's influence.
Update at 2:56 p.m. ET. Will He Raise Taxes On The Middle Class?
The president says he's in favor of "smart, common sense, balanced approaches" and notes that he is in favor of making the Bush-era tax cuts for low and middle-income earners permanent.
Update at 2:55 p.m. ET. On Energy:
In answering @aflynnbw's question about troops and foreign oil, the president mentions that energy independence would make the nation most secure. But he focuses most of his answer on the economic and environmental benefits. And he adds that "unfortunately, we have not seen a sense of urgency coming out of Congress" on crafting an energy policy.
Update at 2:50 p.m. ET. Helping Troops By Reducing Dependence On Foreign Oil?
"We definitely need to get more vets into jobs. But when are we going to support the troops by cutting oil dependence?"
Update at 2:47 p.m. ET. Helping Those "Under Water":
Asked again about homeowners who are "under water" with their mortgages, the president says that "the bottomline is we should be able to make some progress on helping some people, understanding that some people bought more home than they could afford" and might be better off renting.
Update at 2:40 p.m. ET. Not The Deal That Was Available:
Responding to Kristof, the president says that when the Bush-era tax cuts were extended, Republicans agreed to extend jobless benefits and to a $1,000-per-taxpayer cut in payroll taxes aimed at boosting the economy. He got, Obama says, "a much better deal than most people expected."
It "would have been great," he adds, to have reached agreement on the debt ceiling as well, but "that wasn't the deal that was available" at the time.
Update at 2:39 p.m. ET. A Question From New York Times Columnist Nicholas Kristof:
"Was it a mistake to fail to get Republicans to commit to raise the debt ceiling, at the same time tax cuts were extended?"
Update at 2:37 p.m. ET. Tax Credits For Hiring Veterans:
The president says he would like to see a tax credit for companies that hire veterans and more outreach by both the government and private companies to veterans when they look to fill jobs.
Update At 2:37 p.m. ET. @craigoc34 Asks About Tax Breaks For Veterans:
"My question is can you give companies a tax break if they hire a Honorable discharged Veteran?"
Update at 2:34 p.m. ET. Responding To Boehner:
After joking that Boehner's question is naturally skewed, the president notes that as he came into office the economy was headed into an "8 million jobs hole." It's taking time — too much time, he concedes — to fill that hole.
But he points to things such as the "16 tax cuts to small businesses" that he says have been enacted since he took office as among the actions that have been done.
And he makes the case that Republicans have not cooperated on some initiatives that would create jobs — such as needed spending on infrastructure. In time, he says, "the Speaker will see the light."
Update at 2:30 p.m. ET. A Question From Speaker John Boehner (R-OH):
"After embarking on a record spending binge that's left us deeper in debt, where are the jobs? #AskObama"
Update at 2:29 p.m. ET. On Mortgages:
"We're going back to the drawing board, talking to banks, trying to put some pressure on them... to modify loans more quickly," the president says to @robinmarty.
Update at 2:28 p.m. ET. @robinmarty Asks:
"How will admin work to help underwater homeowners who aren't behind in payments but are trapped in homes they can't sell?"
Update at 2:27 p.m. ET. Collective Bargaining "Has To Be Protected":
Responding to @pmglynn, the president says that "all of us are going to have to make some adjustments" to keep companies competitive and to keep government spending in check. "But the principle of collective bargaining," he says, is "something that has to be protected."
Update at 2:24 p.m. ET. @pmglynn Asks:
"Mr. President, In several states we have seen people lose their collective bargaining rights. Do you have a plan to rectify this? #AskObama"
Update at 2:20 p.m. ET. No 14th Amendment Action:
Responding to @RenegadeNerd, the president first talks about the Aug. 2 debt ceiling deadline and says "this is something that we shouldn't be toying with."
So, would he invoke the 14th Amendment and assert that Congress can't refuse to pay the federal government's bills? Obama says "I don't think we should even get to the Constitutional issue." Congress, he says, needs to work hard in the coming weeks to reach an agreement.
Update at 2:18 p.m. ET. @RenegadeNerd Asks:
#AskObama Mr. President, will you issue an executive order to raise the debt ceiling pursuant to section 4 of the 14th amendment?
Update at 2:17 p.m. ET. What Can He Do To Cut The Cost Of Higher Education?
The president points to something that's already been done — cutting the costs of student loans by taking away subsidies that went to banks that acted as "middle men." And he points to an upcoming change that will limit the amount that students have to spend annually when the repay their loans to 10 percent of their income.
Update at 2:13 p.m. ET. First Question — What Would He Do Differently On The Economy?
Obama says he would have explained more fully "that it was going to take a while for us to get out of this."
And he says the housing sector's problems have been "stubborn" and he wishes that it was in better shape.
Update at 2:09 p.m. ET. The President Tweets:
"It's only 140 characters," Twitter co founder Jack Dorsey jokes as he looks on proudly while the first presidential tweet is written.
And what did Obama write? He asked himself a question:
"in order to reduce the deficit,what costs would you cut and what investments would you keep - bo"
The debate "is going to be heating up" in coming weeks, the president says, and he wants to hear what people think.
Update at 2:06 p.m. ET. The President:
Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, who says neither he nor President Obama know what questions will be used, just introduced the president.
Update at 2:05 p.m. ET. It's Getting Started:
Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey was just introduced.
Update at 1:55 p.m. ET: The #AskObama hashtag being used to submit questions and comments is flying by with updates faster than
most eyes anyone's eyes can follow. And we see some comments that it has "crashed my tweetdeck." You can also follow by clicking the "everyone" tab at the official "AskObama" Twitter page.
Our original post:
It may not have the historical feel of the first time a president spoke on radio or TV, but there is something new happening this afternoon at the White House.
President Obama is answering questions, presumably from many regular folks, that have come in via Twitter. The event's supposed to get started at 2 p.m. ET.
The commander in chief, we understand, won't be typing in his answers and won't be limited to 140 characters. He'll be talking. Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey will be moderating. The New York Times' Media Decoder blog explains that "a handful of journalists from across the country" are helping choose the questions.
You can follow along on Twitter, of course. Use #AskObama and @townhall to see what's happening and to submit comments and questions.
Also, the White House is streaming the event. The video's going to be running here and here.
We'll update this post with highlights as they happen. Be sure to hit your "refresh" button to see our latest additions.