Update: Read about Demand Question Time, a campaign by a cross-partisan group of bloggers, techies and political consultants, including Mother Jones' David Corn, who are calling on the White House to make Q&A sessions between Obama and the GOP a regular event. The campaign's website is here.
That was must-see TV.
President Barack Obama spoke to an issues retreat held by House Republicans on Friday afternoon and demonstrated two things: 1. he's damn good, 2. this sort of face-off should happen all the time.
Obama opened by effectively delivering typically well-designed remarks. But what followed was historic: House Republican members asked him questions. It was the closest the United States has seen to the question time conducted in the British Parliament. The atmosphere wasn't as raucus. There was no shouting, no pounding on tables. Everyone was very polite. But the GOPers did try to press the president on tax cuts, health care reform, the budget, the stimulus, deficits, and their gripes about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Obama treated their queries with respect, answering them on substantive terms. He walked a fine line: talking about the need for bipartisan cooperation but also forcefully calling out the Republicans for their extreme rhetoric. At one point, he said that if the Republicans were going to describe his health care overhaul as a "Bolshevik plot," then there couldn't be much opportuntiy for collaboration. He explained that by demonizing the plan in such a fashion, the GOP was not allowing itself any room for compromise, for it would then face the wrath of its Tea Party wing.
The event was gripping. As word spread through Washington, people rushed to their televisions and became fixed on it. CBS News reporter Mark Knoller, a veteran White House correspondent, tweeted that this was a first. It marked a giant step forward in political and governmental transparency. (It was not certain that the House GOPers would allow cameras into the session until the morning.) The debate was serious and intense. It just so happened that Obama cleaned the clocks of the GOPers, referring to them repeatedly as "you guys," while they called him "Mr. President." ("Interesting session," Republican leader John Boehner tweeted afterward.) Consequently, Republicans may want to think twice before providing Obama another opportunity. Yet this was a good moment for the republic.
Journalists and citizens watching the event Twittered their amazement. At one point, I sent out a tweet noting that reporters and voters should ask the White House and the GOPers to commit to holding such a session on a regular basis. I suggested that White House and Capitol Hill reporters immediately question Obama aides and Republican leader John Boehner about their willingness to do so, adding that C-SPAN head Brian Lamb ought to quickly dispatch a letter to both sides. C-SPAN tweeted back, "We're on it!"
Obama campaigned to bring change to Washington. Regular public encounters between the president and the opposition party would be real change. (It might even have an impact on what sort of politician could consider becoming president.) NBC White House correspondent Chuck Todd tweeted that Obama "will win tons of pundit plaudits but will policy come out of it?" Yet good debate can shape good policy. Here was an unfiltered exchange between the opposing camps of Washington. Citizens could watch and decide.
UPDATE: The White House tells me that it doesn't "have anything" to say regarding Obama participating in these sorts of sessions on a regular basis.
My Twitter feed covering the Obama-GOP session is below:
The GOP-Obama session will be replayed at 8 pm tonight on @CSPAN. Pass it on. More #questiontime!
Good point: if a president HAD to take questions like this on a regular basis, would it change who could be president? #questiontime
Go CSPAN!, go! @CSPAN We're on it! RT @DavidCornDC Okay, Brian Lamb, at @CSPAN, write that letter now. More #questiontime, please.
Good pt MT @dtipson: @DavidCornDC Imagine how this could change the slate of Prez candidates: Palin could NEVER dream of surviving format.
Good debate can lead to good policy. RT @chucktodd: POTUS will win tons of pundit plaudits but will policy come out of it? #questiontime
Greytdog: I'd also like to see @GOPLeader take questions from progressives like @markos @DavidCornDC @chrislhayes @Karoli @Mudflats @shannynmoore etc
Join him. RT @davemreed: @DavidCornDC I already emailed the White House about holding more of these: http://bit.ly/vlOXhim
RT @markknoller: I think it's a first for a sitting President to take questions, on live TV, from members of Congress of opposing party.
Okay, Brian Lamb, at @CSPAN, write that letter now. More #questiontime, please.
Upside to #questiontime. Big problem for Fox News programming.
My email in-box is exploding with messages from people who want #questiontime. Vox Populi! Demand it.
We want #questiontime. Talk about bringing change to Washington. This could be real change.
O ends it...But without saying, let's do it again. The public should say that. So, public, get a move on. #questiontime.
markknoller: I think it's a first for a sitting President to take questions, on live TV, from members of Congress of the opposing party.
I want my O-GOP TV! #questiontime
Okay, tweets @marcambinder has given us the hash #questiontime. Start the crusade now. If you like watciing this., demand it.
edhenrycnn: my producer points out the President was supposed to be back at the WH 15 minutes ago! this went way long, and nation got healthy debate
@marcambinder Sure, have O do one with the House Dems. Let frank cross-partisan talk bloom everywhere! #questiontime.
Thanks to @lizzieohreally for getting that RT ball rolling.
@GOPleader will you commit to doing sessions like this on a regular basis? (Hint: the correct answer is yes.) Please RT this.
@billburton44 will WH commit to doing sessions like this on regular basis. (Hint: correct answer is yes.) Journos on his list, please RT.
Okay, WH/CapHill Journos, let's ask both Boehner and Gibbs if they'll commit to doing this on regular basis. And ask McConnell re GOP Sen.
I hate calling anything a game-changer. But I repeat: this could be historic.
RT @marcambinder: How effective is this for POTUS: Fox News Channel just cut away from it.
Ill. COngressman praises O's bipartisan work as a state senator, but says "that attribute hasn't been in full bloom" as pres.
Okay, journos, tweets, what's the best way to organize a movement for doing this ALL THE TIME? Or monthly.
GOPers trying to force O to defend Pelosi. O: "I've read your legis. The good ideas we take."
This is historic. Good for government, good for transparency, good for politics. Big Q: will O end this by asking to do it again...soon.
BTW, they call him "Mr. President." And he repeatedly refers to them as "you guys." It's good to be king. Or president.
O: you can't structure a bill when 30m now have coverage and it costs nothing! In other words, get real, man.
This is the biggest direct calling-out of the GOP on #HCR, O suggesting it is now held hostage to Tea Party.
O agrees to stay longer. "I'm having fun." He can smell the political win here.
O: "you guys" have demonized #HCR so much, you have no political room with your own base.
O telling GOP: if you call this a plot for govt to take over #HCR, then you don;t have a lot of room to negotiate with me. Dead-on. et
O: some of you guys talk about #HCR as if it was "a Bolshevik plot". And the GOPers applaud. Tea Party rules.
@WestWingReport I love this as a pol. journalist and transparency fan, but I do think it benefits O tremendously.
Anyone see any GOP/conservative Twitterers saying that this is a win/good for the Republicans?
Obama cites acceptance of GOP idea of allowing ins. firms to sell across state lines--adding, we want to make sure they don't abuse this.
Blackburn: "when will we start anew" on #HCR. Applause. Does Amer. public want this process to start all over? Yikes.
Will the House GOP staffer who suggested this have a job on Monday?
Rep. Marsha Blackburn: "thank you for acknowledging we have ideas." Sounds a bit defensive, there.
O does refer to a handful of lobbyists waivers. Should now ask, what is GOP doing to limit influence of lobbyists. Missed an opening.
O: re lobbyists, not been an admin. that was tougher on making sure lobbyists not part of it. But he did hire a few.
O turns it back to freshman GOPer: "what are you doing inside your caucus" so that we're all working together.
O: #HCR "a messy process" and "I take responsibility" for not structuring it so it could be in 1 place for broadcasting. Sly answer.
O asks to respond. Majority of #HCR deb. aired on CSPAN (eh). He did break a promise.
GOP: "we have not been obstructionists." Cites O not broadcasting #HCR debates on C-SPAN and hiring lobbyists. Toughest Q yet.
This O-GOP exchange is evidence....that the GOP underestimates Obama.
Talking to WVA Gopers, O segues to climate change. Even if you guys are skeptics, we need to stay ahead on clean tech, electric cars, etc.
Obama" "nobody's been a bigger advocate of clean coal technology ." Cites his promotion of nuclear energy. Wow, what a radical socialist.
This is Obama at his best. (He can thank Hillary, John Edwards, Biden, Dodd, Kucinich for this.)
O tells GOPers that wasteful spending is "always spent outside of your district." Translated: you're all hypocrites.
All politics is relative. Whenever O can get himself compared to Rs, that's good for him/Ds. Will help him beat back anti-incumbent fever.
Next up: Obama should ask to do televised Q&As with Senate Republicans.
Obama shoots, scores. If he did this instead of #SOTU, he'd get a bigger bounce.
O: "I may not agree to a tax cut" for the banking industry. And if you want across/board tax cuts, I don't want more deficits.
Dumb, that is....And Pence re-asks the tax cut question after O finishes besting him. "I may not agree to tax cut for Warren Buffet."
GOPers were dumd to agree to this. The only smart thing about it: not in primetime.
O: "I am not an ideologue." Any GOPer tempted to shout out?
O: "I am not an ideologue." Why wouldn't I accept GOP package if it was half the cost and created 2x the jobs?
Obama is good at this. I say we institute question time a la the Brits. Let him out-argue GOPErs every week.
O asks Pence: Was it a "bad idea" to protect teachers, cops, firefighters? And some of you going to ribbon-cuttings for projects u opposed.
O: "The notion that this was a radical package is simply not true." 1/3rd was "conventional" tax cuts. 1/3rd stabilizing state budgets.
Obama cites big jobs losses of 12/08, 1/09, 2/09 , says I assume you're not blaming me. Job losses more severe in 1st Q than expected
Pence calls on O to adopt broad tax cuts. Surprising everyone. Well, not.
Rep. MIke Pence starts with critique of stimulus bill, noting O sd w/out it, unemp. wld reach 8%. But unemp. went to 10%
And that was a joke.
First GOP question: will you show us your birth certificate?
Obama to GOP: if you resist, I still have to serve the common ground. Talk ends. Polite applause.
@HowardKurtz Obama certainly didn't highlight #HCR in #SOTU. But I'm not sure it's on the backburner. Waiting for Cong. to figure it out?
O: "status quo is working for the ins. industry, not working for the American public." Still, no applause. Hey, is this microphone on?
Obama calls on GOP t o support earmark and lobbying reform--expose lobbyists contacts with Cong. & WH. What, no applause?
Have yet to get a GOP email today about the new 5.7% GDP growth number. Must have gotten lost in the mail. Or are they too busy in Hawaii?
Tiller's Killer Guilty of First-Degree Murder; jury deliberates for just over 30 minutes. http://bit.ly/bZmIuA (HT @Awl)
O cites latest GDP growth-6%--and notes a 12% turnaround in 1 year, cites stimulus pkge. Yet you guys didn't support that.
Chides GOP for voting against his tax cuts, COBRA, and stimulus bill. Cites polls (!?) citing 80% approval for stimulus components.
Obama points out instances when some Republicans have voted with him. GOP response: Stop, you're embarrassing me!
Obama: American people don't want "Washington to be so very Washington-like." So, Chicago rules?
Good wrapup, video and links re: Tony Blair's grilling today by official Brit panel on Iraq run-up. http://thelede.blogs.nytimes.com/
Obama speaking to Republican issues retreat. Issues retreat? Sounds about right.
Boehner to hand O book of GOP "solutions." Where we these solutions before econ crash? Ehat did they do re #hcr in W years? Missed that.