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Obama Hosts First Twitter-Based 'Town Hall' Meeting

  • Richard Solash

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during his Twitter-based town hall meeting at the White House.

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during his Twitter-based town hall meeting at the White House.

WASHINGTON -- Demonstrating his social-media savvy, or at least the savvy of the White House social-media team, U.S. President Barack Obama took to the Internet for his first-ever Twitter-based "town hall" meeting.

At the carefully orchestrated event in front of a live audience at the White House on July 6, Obama answered 18 prescreened questions out of the nearly 170,000 submitted by users of the popular microblogging site -- but not before jumping behind a laptop and making self-proclaimed history.

"I am going to make history here as the first president to live tweet," he said.

Obama's message, which fit neatly within Twitter’s 140-character limit, asked Americans, "[I]n order to reduce the deficit, what costs would you cut and what investments would you keep[?]"

After signing the tweet "bo," the president admired his handiwork by saying: "How about that! Not bad."

Debt And Consequences

Obama's tweet would be his first and only during the live-streamed, hourlong event, with the president fielding questions -- mainly on jobs and the economy -- orally.

And it didn't take long for the president to come to a question on the impending deadline for raising the national debt ceiling.

If lawmakers do not meet the August 2 deadline to raise the limit on how much debt the country can hold beyond the current $14.3 trillion mark, the government will run out of its borrowing capacity and will have to begin withholding payments.

Obama's Democrats are locked in a battle with Republicans over just how to avoid a default and generated badly needed revenue.

Democrats favor increasing taxes on the country's wealthiest citizens, while Republicans favor massive spending cuts, including on social programs.

Obama said failure to reach agreement would have dire consequences.

"Potentially, the entire world's capital markets could decide, 'You know what, the full faith and credit of the United States doesn't mean anything.' And so our credit could be downgraded, interest rates could go drastically up, and it could cause a whole new spiral into a second recession or worse," he said.

Obama will host top Democrat and Republican lawmakers at the White House on July 7 for continued negotiations.

Boehner's Boo-Boo

In response to other questions tweeted from around the country, the president defended his 2009 stimulus package of spending and investments as "the right thing to do," but conceded that he had underestimated the scope of the late-2000s recession.

One Twitter user not likely to be impressed by that response is House Speaker John Boehner (Republican-Ohio), who managed to have his own tweet delivered to the president.

"After embarking on a record spending binge that's left us deeper in debt, where are the jobs?" Boehner asked.

Obama, however, appeared to have technology on his side, as a Twitter glitch had produced an error in Boehner's message, prompting the president to joke, "First of all, John obviously needs to work on his typing skills."

He went on to call the question "slightly skewed," before pointing to recent job growth in the private sector.

Amid questions on topics ranging from education, to alternative energy, to the U.S. space program, one comment for Obama urged the government to "stop giving money to countries that waste it [like] Pakistan."

A number of U.S. lawmakers have also advocated curtailing or cutting the more than $1 billion in aid that Washington gives to Islamabad each year after former Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was found hiding near a top Pakistani military academy on May 2.

"Sometimes people have an exaggerated sense that we spend 25 percent of the federal budget on foreign aid. It's a tiny amount that has a big impact," Obama said.

"I think for America, to be a leader in the world, to have influence, to help stabilize countries and create opportunity for people so that [countries] don't breed terrorists or create huge refugee flows and so forth -- it's smart for us to make a very modest investment in foreign aid. It's a force multiplier and it's something that even in tough fiscal times America needs to continue to do," he said.

Social Media Skills

Touted by the administration as a sign that it is connecting to Americans in new ways, the Twitter event follows a presidential question-and-answer session held in April that was moderated by the social-networking giant Facebook. Obama has also previously answered questions submitted via YouTube.

The president's team of young technology whizzes first set the standard for his administration by overseeing a highly successful social-networking push during the 2008 presidential campaign.

At the conclusion of the July 6 event, Twitter users were quick to offer their reactions -- which were mixed.

Some described it as little more than a gimmick, while others shared their favorite quotes from the town hall with their online followers.

One user said that if the president wants to hear what's on Americans' minds, he should host more Twitter town halls -- 1,000 more.

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