Obama 'town hall' will answer Twitter questions

If history is a guide, the most popular questions will be about legalizing pot. Will Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey press the president on the topic?

Declan McCullagh Former Senior Writer
Declan McCullagh is the chief political correspondent for CNET. You can e-mail him or follow him on Twitter as declanm. Declan previously was a reporter for Time and the Washington bureau chief for Wired and wrote the Taking Liberties section and Other People's Money column for CBS News' Web site.
Declan McCullagh
2 min read
President Obama and Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg at a previous "town hall" meeting in April
President Obama and Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg at a 'town hall' meeting in April Declan McCullagh/CNET

President Obama will host a live Webcast at the White House next week to answer questions submitted via Twitter.

The White House and Twitter are billing the July 6 event as a "town hall," but it's not exactly going to be an exercise in open-microphone democracy. Instead, Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey will select a handful of questions submitted through the #AskObama hashtag.

Among the #AskObama questions so far, topics include: immigration, taxes, gigabit Internet speeds, and whether it's possible to win reelection if the unemployment rate is 9 percent or above next fall.

Obama's appearance at Facebook in April was billed as a historic opportunity for him to "connect with Americans across the country" through a virtual "town hall" meeting. But it ended up being a reprise of standard Washington politicking, with the president throwing political punches at Republicans over deficit reduction, spending, and taxes.

Another "virtual town hall" meeting at the White House in 2009 was thrown a bit askew by marijuana legalization activists, who took advantage of an online voting system to push their questions to the top of the charts.

By the time the event began, questions about legalizing marijuana ranked at the top of the "green jobs," "financial stability," "jobs," and "budget" sections (and came in a close second in the health care section too). Sample question: "What are your plans for the failing, 'War on Drugs', that's sucking money from tax payers and putting non-violent people in prison longer than the violent criminals?"

Presidential aides neglected to choose any of those questions to present to Obama on the nearby screens.

It would be a surprise if legalizing-pot questions failed to dominate next month's event. In a YouTube Q&A in January, 198 of the highest-rated 200 questions dealt with drug policy. Last week, Reps. Ron Paul (R-Texas) and Barney Frank (D-Mass.) introduced legislation that would end federal criminal penalties for marijuana possession and allow states to decide whether to criminalize it or not.

There's an official Twitter account for the next month's event, @TownHall.