Palo Alto Patch Spends the Day with Barack Obama

Here's a live blog by Aaron Selverston from the president's trip to Facebook

Palo Alto Patch was inside Facebook Headquarters liveblogging Obama's Town Hall event Wednesday afternoon. Here's the play-by-play, in reverse order:

3:05 p.m.

Obama shakes hands and departs, stage right.

3:01 p.m.

Addressing the frustrations of people from his election campaign, Obama says, "We've been through tougher times before. We’ve always come out ascendant. We’ve always come out on top."

Zuckerberg: "It’s such an honor to have you here." He hands the president a black Facebook hoodie, "so that you can dress like me."

2:59 p.m.

Final question: If you could have done anything differently in your first four years, what would it be?

Obama: "Well, it’s only been 2.5 years, so I’m sure I have a lot more mistakes to make!"

He says that passing health care reform may have been done more quickly and in a way that didn’t frustrate the American people the way it did. He says he asks himself if that could have been possible. He says he’s not so sure.

Another way to answer the question, Obama says, is what else does he have to get done in this term. Balanced budget, immigration reform, energy, he says, adding that $4/gallon gas really hurts a lot of people around this country. “It’s not because they're wasteful,” but may simply be stuck with “the beater you’re driving around that gets 8 miles per gallon.”

“This is the reason why I’ve said that it is so important for us to invest in new approaches to energy. We’ve got to have a long-term plan. Investing in solar and wind. Biofuels. Clean car technology. Converting entire federal fleet to fuel-efficient vehicles. That can help boost demand and drive down prices. Continue to increase fuel-efficiency standards on cars. Increase oil production in an intelligent way.

“The Treasury loses $4 billion a year in subsidies to oil companies. Now think about this. The top five oil companies have made $75-$125 billion in the last five years. Nobody’s doing better than these guys. Well, maybe Facebook’s doing better. They don’t need tax breaks. Why can’t we eliminate tax breaks to the oil companies and invest it in clean energy?”

2:54 p.m.

On health care:

Obama laments the lack of electronic health records. Everything is still done on paper, he says, so, for example, your primary care physician will take tests that don’t get shared with a specialist, and then your specialist will order the same tests. Your primary doc could have just emailed the results, but instead you got charged twice.

“Providing some incentives for the front-end investments for a community hospital” to get a system of this online needs to be a top priority, Obama says. The VA health system has already done this, he says, and has “achieved huge cost savings.”

Also he says we need to correct doctor reimbursements. Medicare, for example, can get billed over and over again for bad medical treatments that have to be repeated/corrected. There is no incentive for medical providers to get it right the first time. Says it’s like taking your car to a repair shop and then, if the shop doesn’t fix your car, having to pay them again and again for the same fix.

Says his health care reform legislation will start addressing these concerns.

2:39 p.m.

Question from a FB employee:

Is this a time for boldness, vis-à-vis, a budget plan? Is your budget plan bold enough?

Obama: "The Republican budget that was put forward is fairly radical. I wouldn’t call it particularly courageous.”

Says that he thinks Congressman Paul Ryan is “sincere, and wants to solve our long-term fiscal challenges,” but he and others in Congress want to “change our social compact in a fundamental way.”

Their view, Obama says, is that with his college scholarships, his mother's food stamps and his grandparents' Social Security income—“despite the fact that I benefited from all this, that I have no obligation to care for the people” that are next in line.

“Ryan wants to further reduce taxes for corporations, cut 70 percent out of clean energy, 25 percent from education,” and more.

“I guess you could call that bold. I would call it short-sighted,” the president says.

“Nothing is easier than solving the problem on the backs of people who are poor, people who are powerless, who don’t have lobbyists and don’t have clout.”

2:29 p.m.

On the Dream Act: Obama says we don't want these kids "starting the next Intel in China. We want them starting it here." Says lots of immigrants are also "working in the shadows" in agricultural fields and restaurants, and also looking after our kids. But they feel "locked out" of their surroundings. They should take responsibility for their crime, pay a fine, learn English, but there should be a pathway for them to get legalized. We need a secure border, and a streamlined naturalization process. This is all "what we call comprehensive immigration reform."

Obama gives props to Nancy Pelosi for advancing immigration reform but says bi-partisan support is needed in order for it to pass. Encourages the crowd to tell their elected officials to support it. "I can't do this by myself," says Obama.

2:25 p.m.

Question about the Dream Act. Congressional Budget Office says it would reduce deficit by $2.4 billion. Dream Act would offer citizenship to kids who were brought here by illegal immigrants. “They’ve grown up as Americans,” says Obama. “Especially for these young people, if they are of good character and going to school or joining our military, they want to be part of the American family, why wouldn’t we want to embrace them?” This comment triggered a smattering of applause.

Obama says this is just one small part of larger immigration challenge.

2:16 p.m.

Second question has to do about mortgage crisis. How can you assure that low to moderate [income] home-buyers can afford their first home?

This is the biggest drag on our economy, Obama says.

"I think we’ve got to understand that the days where it was really easy to buy a house without any money down is probably over," adding that he is now concerned with making sure the mortgage crisis doesn’t drag down rest of economy, despite how much more difficult it is to buy a home.

2:08 p.m.

Zuckerberg asks first question: What do we do about the debt?

Obama says the nation faces many challenges, including economic, environmental, energy related and technological, but that "I don’t think there’s a problem out there that we can’t solve if we solve it together."

Obama says the economy was booming when people like Zuckerberg were, "and I'm trying to say this delicately, still in diapers."

He says, "If we can get $1 trillion on the revenue side and $2 trillion in spending cuts, we can invest again in research," which will lead to breakthrough technologies that allow us to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.

1:56 p.m.

Sandberg says of Obama, with his 19 million Facebook "likes"—"We feel like he’s coming home, so welcome home, Mr. President."

Mark Zuckerberg takes the stage to uproarious applause.

1:54 p.m.

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's chief operating officer, has just taken the stage to welcome the audience to Obama's first Facebook Town Hall.

1:51 p.m.

President Obama has arrived at Facebook headquarters. His motorcade drove up California Avenue, avoiding about 200 demonstrators who had gathered on Page Mill Road.

1:49 p.m.

The president's traveling press corps has arrived.

1:41 p.m.

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, Palo Alto Mayor Sid Espinosa, Rep. Ed Honda, Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese and State Controller John Chiang are all sitting shoulder to shoulder in the second row.

1:28 p.m.

Air Force One touched down at exactly 1 p.m. POTUS is on the way!

1:20 p.m.

Gavin Newsom is here, as is Palo Alto Mayor Sid Espinosa. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg just walked by. Attendees are being asked to take their seats.

12:53 p.m.

Cindy Chavez, former Vice Mayor of San Jose and in charge of South Bay Labor Council, is talking to Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA, 8th District) and Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA, 14th District) are taking pictures with Facebook employees, and Eshoo is hobnobbing with local press.

12:34 p.m.

About 100 credentialed media have gathered next to about 500 Facebook employees and invited White House guests and are awaiting President Obama's arrival.

From Bay City News:

President Obama this afternoon brought his budget message to Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto, where he held an online town hall meeting and fielded questions on topics ranging from health care and education to immigration and jobs.

Most of those who attended in person were Facebook employees, and Obama noted the young demographic he was addressing and the novelty of a president holding a town hall meeting online.

"This format and this company is, I think, an ideal means for us to be able to carry on this conversation," Obama said.

He spoke about the nation's massive debt and ways to reduce the deficit, including by cutting health care costs, slashing defense spending and reducing tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans.

He pointed out that that income group includes people like himself and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who moderated the event and was sitting next to him.

"I'm cool with that," Zuckerberg said.

"I know you're OK with that," the president replied.

Obama aims to reduce the deficit by a cumulative $4 trillion over roughly the next decade, and said about half of that would come from cuts in spending.

He said it is possible to make spending cuts selectively without hurting key areas like education, infrastructure and technology, which he said are crucial to the nation's future.

"We can do all those things while still bringing down the deficit medium term," he said.

His message inspired Assemblywoman Nora Campos, D-San Jose, who was in the audience.

"There is so much more left to be done," Campos said. "We as Americans need to lend our support and our voice to his agenda."

She said Obama's visit to Facebook was a good thing for the state.

"I think this is a great opportunity for us Californians to be part of a new wave of social networking," Campos said.

Palo Alto Mayor Sid Espinosa was also in attendance and was equally enthusiastic about the town hall meeting.

"Too often in our country's history government leaders have really focused on the older generation," Espinosa said. "Obama is engaging young people; that's why coming to Facebook was such a good idea."

Obama spoke of the need to invest in alternative energy, which he said would both benefit the environment and help create jobs.

"I really like what he said about energy," said Facebook employeeTim Campos, 37, of Los Altos. "He was very focused on what needs to happen over the long term."

The president arrived at San Francisco International Airport on Air Force One exactly on schedule at 1 p.m.

As he walked down the stairs from the plane, the president smiled and waved at the crowd of dozens of people who were invited to attend the landing. He stopped for several minutes to shake hands and chat briefly with some of them.

Giulia Guzzardi, a San Francisco resident whose family is from Italy, was very happy to shake the president's hand.

"He was so nice. I said, 'Buongiorno!' and he was so quick and said, 'Buongiorno!' back to me," she said.

Obama then walked to the waiting Marine One and boarded the helicopter, which took off at 1:20 p.m. for Palo Alto.

The helicopter landed on a soccer field located at the northern edge of Stanford University at about 1:40 p.m.

From there, the president traveled in a limousine surrounded by a motorcade on Page Mill Road toward Facebook headquarters.

Police shut down Page Mill Road between El Camino Real and the Interstate Highway 280 on-ramp during Obama's trip, Lt. Sandra Brown said.

The segment of road was reopened at about 2 p.m., Brown said.

Police closed it again for about 20 minutes at 3:05 p.m. when the president left.

Tonight, he will appear at a Democratic National Committee fundraiser at the Nob Hill Masonic Center where he will speak at 8:30 p.m.

A group of more than 100 protesters gathered outside Palo Alto City Hall late this morning to call for protecting the nation's social safety net while addressing its budget problems.

Another group led by the organization CODEPINK demonstrated outside Facebook headquarters beginning at 11 a.m. to protest the Obama administration's foreign policy and funding for wars.


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