White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs made history when he became the first White house spokesman to use Twitter, and now he can add another milestone: first ever press secretary participating in an unofficial Twitter debate.
Gibbs duked it out late last week in a little reported Twitter back and forth with Weekly Standard senior writer Stephen Hayes. The two debated the small business aid bill gummed up in the Senate, with Hayes posting more than 30 tweets on the topic, and Gibbs about a dozen. The White House press secretary also seemed to like the experience, Gibbs tweeted that he "enjoyed" the "civil" debate.
It was an unusual way for the White House to start off its jobs-themed Labor Day weekend, with the August jobs numbers released on Friday and the President traveling to Wisconsin to talk small business on Monday. Gibbs typically uses Twitter to send out updates or articles, but rarely engages in a lengthier exchange with a single person.
"I think if the press secretary of the United States is engaging in a Twitter battle with a conservative pundit, there's no way the press secretary can win," PoliticsDaily.com columnist Matt Lewis told Fox. "I think it's probably a los[ing] forum, but it is quite interesting. It's a sign of the times."
But Richard Socarides, former special assistant to Bill Clinton, says it's good for the White House to adapt to the times. At the beginning of Clinton's first term, "E-mail was new at the White House and the notion that people sat in front of their computers all day, and answered their emails right away, was pretty revolutionary, so I think it's great, I mean this is the way we're talking to each other."
Hayes, a Fox News contributor, sparked the showdown by tweeting, "So @PressSec if raising taxes in a recession wld ‘put businesses further in a hole' what would raising taxes in a stymied recovery do?" He continued, "Come on @PressSec, I answered your questions. Answer just one of mine."
Gibbs responded to Hayes within a few minutes and the debate lasted until Friday morning.
"ATTN @stephenfhayes," Gibbs tweeted, posting a link to a USA Today article that said small businesses have put hiring on hold while for the Senate to vote on the small business aid bill.
"Ask small business owners across the country if they'd rather have across-the-bd tax cuts or gov-backed loans @PressSec," Hayes shot back.
The debate picked up again in the morning, with Hayes asking whether the White House or "@PressSec" had failed to factor in census jobs in previous employment numbers.
"As a matter of fact @stephenfhayes the Pres specifically mentioned in June stmt Census jobs were temp and focused on private job growth," Gibbs corrected.
The marathon Twitter battle ended in civility, with Gibbs tweeting, "@stephenfhayes I have enjoyed our tweets - shows that a good debate doesn't have to be a nasty debate."