Question Time

Ken AshfordObama & Administration, Obama OppositionLeave a Comment

Something unusual happened today in American politics — something never before seen.

President Obama appeared at the Republican party retreat.  Their invitation. He gave a speech, hitting on the same points as his State of the Union, and then….

…. he took questions.

He took questions from Republican congressmen.

It was much like "Question Time" that they have in the British parliamentary system.

And reports suggest that when Obama was questioned and put to task by Republican elected officials, who naturally challenged him on every question, he ran rings around them, coming off as far more knowledgeable.

The GOPers asked pretty typical questions. Some of them tried to play "gotcha." Didn't work. Obama answered their questions and provided his own commentary on them. He called Republicans out for their attacks on him. He noted that they've pretty much called his health care plan a "Bolshevik plot." One of the best moments was when Obama dissed Hensarling's question as a recitation of talking points.

Towards the end, Obama pointed to GOP pollster Frank Luntz, who was sitting in the front row. He noted that when many of the GOP Representatives stand on the House floor to talk issues, Luntz "has already polled it" — and they get the talking points from him on how to box Obama in. The President kept going back to the theme that the GOPers were in a constant attack mode — and how that prevented them from being able to work with him.

UPDATE:  Video just in….

UPDATE:  Transcript here.

And Ezra Klein writes:

Obama's Q&A session with the House Republicans was transfixing. What should have been a banal exchange of talking points was actually a riveting reminder of how rarely you hear actual debate — which is separate from disagreement — between political players.

This was a surprise. The session was clearly proposed so that Obama could appear to be taking real steps to reach out to Republicans. That implied warm feelings and a studied unwillingness to cause offense. But that was not the event we just saw. Instead, Obama stood at a podium for an hour and hammered his assailants. That makes it sound partisan and disrespectful. But it wasn't. It was partisan, but respectful.


Yesterday, I interviewed David Axelrod and was struck by his inability to explain how the White House would highlight the the difference between disagreement and obstruction. Today's session, if it becomes a regular event rather than a one-off, provided part of the answer. He'll debate them directly. But that may be tough to do. Republicans are already spreading the word that they made a mistake allowing cameras into the event. Apparently, transparency sounds better in press releases than it does in practice.

But if this is to be the last of these we see for a while, make sure to take the time and watch it, or read the transcript. It's some of the best political television I've seen in memory.

Writes the Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder:

“Debating a law professor is kind of foolish — the Republican House Caucus has managed to turn Obama’s weakness — his penchant for nuance — into a strength. Plenty of Republicans asked good and probing questions, but Mike Pence, among others, found their arguments simply demolished by the president.”

UPDATE:  Republicans are beginning to realize how they looked stupid… they now think the whole thing was a "mistake". 

I guess it is easy for Republicans to take on Obama on Fox News, but taking him on face-to-face?  Not so much.

How remarkable was it?  Fox cut away from broadcasting it.

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