Obama to Host Twitter Town Hall

BY David Chalian  July 6, 2011 at 8:38 AM EDT

@whitehouse

The White House, @whitehouse, will host its first Twitter town hall.

The Morning Line

Wednesday, the medium is the message.

Sure, President Obama may use his 2 p.m. ET Twitter event to move the ball rhetorically on the deficit talks, but his hosting of the first ever White House town hall on the popular micro-blogging social media site is well worth noting.

From the official White House guidance: “Twitter co-founder and Executive Chairman Jack Dorsey will moderate a conversation between President Obama and Americans across the country about the economy and jobs.”

On a conference call with reporters previewing Wednesday’s event, White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer said that the Twitter town hall and the YouTube and Facebook events that have preceded it are no different from what previous presidents have done using “more traditional outlets like the networks and major papers.”

“It is important to understand that a growing percentage of people are getting information through global devices,” Pfeiffer added.

“Our challenge is to [communicate information] in increments that can be consumed on mobile devices.”

Macon Phillips, the White House director of digital strategy, said the White House’s decision to have the president communicate in this space is not simply about reaching out to younger voters.

“Our Facebook and Twitter audience is a bit older. Thirty-five percent of our Facebook fans are below 35. Nearly half are above 45 years old,” Phillips said.

Thirty followers of @whitehouse with significant and regionally diverse followings of their own have been invited to live tweet the event from the East Room.

The questions will be submitted over the Internet. “Ultimately the decisions of what is asked and moderation of the event falls to Twitter. They are applying filters and working with partners to look for popular themes and hot topics,” Phillips told reporters.

One advantage for the president: He won’t be keeping his answers to 140 characters or less.

As any Twitter user knows, it can often be exceedingly frustrating to narrow your thoughts to just 140 characters. President Obama will avoid that frustration by giving his usual lengthy answers to questions and having his staff summarize those answers in the permissible amount before posting them to the @whitehouse Twitter feed.

The challenge for the president is all about looking comfortable with the process and displaying sufficient knowledge about the medium.

Republican presidential contenders should watch closely for what works and what doesn’t work. They will, no doubt, be sure to host Twitter events of their own over the course of the next eight months.

RACING THE CLOCK

On Tuesday, the president called on congressional leaders to “leave their ultimatums at the door” when they arrive at the White House for Thursday’s deficit reduction negotiations. But at the same time, he dismissed the idea of a short-term deal to raise the federal government’s borrowing limit.

“I don’t think the American people sent us here to avoid tough problems,” President Obama said Tuesday in an impromptu appearance at the White House. “That’s, in fact, what drives them nuts about Washington, when both parties simply take the path of least resistance. And I don’t want to do that here.”

Rather than “kick the can down the road,” the president urged lawmakers to “do something big” when it comes to raising the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling. If the limit is not raised by Aug. 2, the government could for the first time in history default on its obligations.

Still, the president showed no signs that he was prepared to back off his demand for a “balanced approach” that addresses “spending in the tax code,” such as the elimination of tax breaks and the closing of tax loopholes.

While Republican leaders in Congress agreed to join in the talks, they also made clear that any package with tax increases remained a non-starter.

“We’re not dealing just with talking points about corporate jets or other ‘loopholes.’ The legislation the president has asked for, which would increase taxes on small businesses and destroy more American jobs, cannot pass the House,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said in a statement released shortly after the president’s remarks. “The American people simply won’t stand for it. And their elected representatives in Congress won’t vote for it. I’m happy to discuss these issues at the White House, but such discussions will be fruitless until the president recognizes economic and legislative reality.”

In a statement of his own, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said, “These discussions are not about rich and poor or an election but they’re about making Washington take the hit and make some tough choices for a change — not the taxpayers and job creators.”

Thursday’s round of talks will include the top two leaders from each party in the House and Senate. The invitation from the president came after he and Speaker Boehner met at the White House Sunday, their first face-to-face session since the negotiations led by Vice President Joe Biden came to a standstill two weeks ago.

Leaders in both parties have repeatedly said that failing to raise the debt ceiling could do serious harm to the country’s economy, and there would be plenty of blame to go around if that were to occur.

The administration has issued a deadline of July 22 to reach a deal in principle to give lawmakers enough time to move the legislation through Congress. With time running out, you can bet all eyes in Washington these next few weeks will be glued on the White House and Congress to see if negotiators are once again able to beat the clock.

TRAIL MIX

Mitt Romney raised $18.25 million over the course of the last three months, according to the fund-raising totals released by his campaign Wednesday morning. All of the money raised came from contributions for the primary season only. The campaign spent 31 percent of what it raised in the second quarter, leaving $12.6 million in the bank as of July 1.

Fund-raising totals from Rep. Michele Bachmann were not yet available, but it’s possible that Romney raised more than the rest of the Republican field combined, which would certainly be an impressive feat.

Interestingly, the $18.25 million is significantly lower than the $23 million Romney raised in the first quarter of 2007, when he was a far less known candidate seeking the Republican presidential nomination. It’s also far less than his unhelpful and anonymous supporters speculated he would raise earlier this spring when they predicted a $40-$50 million haul for the quarter.

The tougher than anticipated fund-raising environment may be Romney’s evidence yet to prove his contention that President Obama has made the economy worse.

POLITICO’s Alex Burns reports that former House Speaker Newt Gingrich raised $2 million for the quarter and has $225,000 in cash on hand, while carrying $1 million in campaign debt.

As Gingrich continues to get “dead man walking” treatment in the press, it will be hard for him to raise the necessary funds to fuel his campaign. The extra burden of needing to raise money to pay off his debt creates an even steeper financial hill for him to climb.

HUCKABEE ON BOARD WITH PAWLENTY

No, not that Huckabee. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, a key political aide to her father Mike Huckabee’s successful Iowa caucus campaign in 2008, has signed on with Team Pawlenty as a senior adviser with a specific focus on his Iowa effort. Pawlenty is looking for a very strong showing in the Iowa Straw Poll next month, and Sarah Huckabee’s focus will be on directing that effort.

As Pawlenty and Bachmann battle each other for Mike Huckabee’s former supporters, scooping up a high profile operative with the brand name is welcome news to Pawlenty’s operation.

For more political coverage, visit our politics page.

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