From NBC's Athena Jones
In the first-ever online town hall at the White House, President Obama today discussed the economy, health-care reform, education, clean energy, help for small businesses, and other issues all in an effort to sell his $3.6 trillion budget to the American people.
The event -- much of which cable stations carried live, and which the White House says drew more than 67,000 viewers online -- consisted of the president answering the most popular questions submitted in written and video form and several from a live audience assembled in the East Room. Some 92,933 people submitted 104,082 questions online, and cast 3.6 million votes to select which ones should be answered, according to www.whitehouse.gov.
Obama's responses yielded no news, and the town hall felt at times like a university lecture. But there were two interesting moments. At one point, the president acknowledged a popular question about marijuana that he felt he needed to address.
"I have to say that 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," he said to laughter. "And I don't know what this says about the online audience, but I just want -- I don't want people to think that -- this was a fairly popular question. We want to make sure that it was answered. The answer is, no, I don't think that is a good strategy to grow our economy."
Later, in response to a question about health-care reform, Obama spoke about a bias he had toward nurses and shared a story about his youngest daughter that long-time Obama watchers had never heard before.
"I'm biased toward nurses," he said. "I just like nurses. When Michelle and I went in and Malia was being born, the OB/GYN was a close friend of ours, and so was much more attentive than the usual OB/GYN might be. But the fact is, we only saw her for like 15 minutes. The rest of the time, it was nurses who were doing everything. When Sasha, our little precious pea -- she got meningitis, when she was three months old -- very dangerous. The doctors did a terrific job. But, frankly, it was the nurses that were there with us when she had to get a spinal tap, and all sorts of things that were just bringing me to tears."
Obama said the event -- moderated by Dr. Jared Bernstein, a top economic adviser to Vice President Biden -- was an experiment. During the press briefing later in the day, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Obama planned to do it again, but could not say when.