WASHINGTON – President Obama kicked off his first Twitter town hall with -- what else? -- a tweet.
Using a laptop set up on a podium in the East Room of the White House, Obama typed this message: "In order to reduce the deficit, what costs would you cut and what investments would you keep?"
The tweet set the tone for the town hall focused on jobs and the economy, and hosted by Twitter, the social media service. The White House sees social media as an opportunity for the president to interact with Americans directly, particularly the younger and more tech-savvy part of the electorate, as his re-election campaign ramps up.
Twitter selected the questions for the president from among the thousands of inquires submitted from people across the country, including Republican House Speaker John Boehner, who asked Obama, "Where are the jobs?"
"This is a slightly skewed question," Obama said of his political rival's inquiry.
The president went on to answer Boehner's question by noting that the economy is, in fact, creating jobs, though not at a pace anyone should be satisfied with. He said there was more the government could do to boost the economy but also said he hasn't always been able to get Republican support for doing so.
Twitter users had to keep their questions to the social networking site's 140-character limit. But the president had no such restrictions. He answered in his trademark, lengthy form to questions on college costs, immigration, collective bargaining rights, the debt limit, manufacturing jobs, the housing crisis and other topics as Twitter users sent queries in by the tens of thousands.
Twitter was boiling his answers down to 140 characters or less at http://askobama.twitter.com.
The first question for Obama asked the president what mistakes he'd made in handling the recession and what he'd do differently.
Obama defended his stimulus program as "the right thing to do." But he allowed that his administration had underestimated the severity of the recession, and so he did not prepare the American people "for how long this was going to take" and the touch choices that lay ahead. Obama also said the problems in the housing market were more stubborn than expected and he'd had to revamp his assistance programs several times.