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Obama Holds Online Town Hall

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel. The White House recently invited average Americans to put their questions to President Obama. They got more than a 100,000. The questions were posted online, then whittled down in a public vote and today Mr. Obama answered the lucky winners in a town hall style meeting at the White House. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY: It was another public question and answer session in the East Room of the White House. The president's second in less than 48 hours, but this time the ink-stained reporters from the old media were shuffled off to one side, while the questions came via the Internet from ordinary citizens like Harriet(ph) in Georgia.

Ms. HARRIET: Hello, President Obama, here is my question for your online town meeting. When can we expect the jobs that have been outsourced to other countries to come back and be made available to the unemployed workers here in the United States?

HORSLEY: The president thanked Harriet for the question and issued a warning. The U.S. is likely to lose more jobs before the recession ends, he said, and creating new jobs will take patience and persistence. Today's event was an electronic extension of a ritual the president said he follows daily, reading some of the thousands of letters that arrive at the White House. It helps keep him grounded, he said, in a town when so much attention is focused on daily ups and downs, and politics is treated like a game.

President BARACK OBAMA: And for the American people, what's going on is not a game. What matters to you is how you're going to find a new job when nobody seems to be hiring, or how to pay medical bills after you get out of the hospital, or how to put your children through college when the money you had put away for tuition is no longer there. That's what matters to you.

HORSLEY: For the most part, the questions put to the president today were more practical and more personal than those of professional reporters in the White House briefing room. People wanted to know how the president's agenda would lower their mortgage, improve veterans' benefits, or protect relatives who work in the auto industry.

ALICE: Hi, Mr. President.

KRISTEN: Hi, Mr. President.

MALORY(ph): Hi, Mr. President.

ALICE: My name is Alice.

KRISTEN: My name is Kristen.

MALORY: And I'm Malory.

KRISTEN: And we are all sophomores at Kent State University in Ohio.

MALORY: Our question is what proposals do you have to make college more affordable and to make student loans easier to get?

HORSLEY: Tens of thousands of people submitted questions for the president at whitehouse.gov. Internet users then voted American Idol style on which ones they wanted Mr. Obama to answer. More than 3.5 million votes were cast to narrow the list.

Pres. OBAMA: There was one question that was voted on that ranked fairly high and that was whether legalizing marijuana would improve the economy and job creation.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Pres. OBAMA: And I don't know what this says about the online audience.

HORSLEY: The president did not endorse legalizing pot as an economic strategy, but he did say his proposed investments in education, health care and alternative energy would plant the seeds of long-term success. That's an argument you can hear in a new TV ad paid for by Organizing for America, the post-campaign version of the 2008 Obama campaign.

(Soundbite of TV advertisement)

Unidentified Woman: Thousands are going door-to-door as part of Organizing for America, gathering support for President Obama's plan to invest in America's future. You can help, too. Call Congress and tell them to support President Obama's budget plan to get our economy moving again.

HORSLEY: Organizing for America is now under the umbrella of the Democratic National Committee. DNC Chairman, Tim Kaine, said last night at a fundraiser, the massive email list and an army of volunteers from the campaign are back in the fight, this time for the president's agenda.

Mr. TIM KAINE (Chairman, Democratic National Committee): So that we can put pressure on to get a good budget passed that invests in a better health care future, better energy future and education, and then move on to one battle after the next, so that we'll have more and more successes to claim.

HORSLEY: Sometimes, like last weekend, that will mean volunteers knocking on doors, reaching voters where they live, other times, like today, it'll mean using any means necessary to bring ordinary citizens into the White House.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.