Obama Turns to Twitter to Press Republicans on Debt-Limit Debate

Sunday, 31 Jul 2011 06:51 AM

 

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(For a special report on the debt debate, EXT6.)

July 31 (Bloomberg) -- President Barack Obama is pressing Republicans to change their minds on the debt-ceiling debate 140 characters at a time.

The president put his political organization to work on the social network last week, mobilizing supporters on Twitter Inc. for the Washington wrangling over raising the federal debt limit.

With 9.4 million followers, @barackobama, the president’s campaign Twitter feed, is the third most followed on the service, sandwiched between pop music stars Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber and Britney Spears and Katy Perry, according to fanpagelist.com.

A day after Obama’s campaign aides posted more than 100 Twitter messages urging followers to pressure their lawmakers to find a compromise in the debt-ceiling standoff, Obama’s campaign Twitter feed had just one posting as of 7 p.m. Eastern time yesterday. The end of the Twitter blitz came as lawmakers sought to break a stalemate and Obama held a meeting at the White House with Vice President Joe Biden, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat.

The lone message was posted mid-day and included a link to the president’s weekly radio address encouraging lawmakers to reach a bipartisan compromise to raise the $14.3 trillion debt by Aug. 2.

Twitter Blitz

Campaign aides used the site to flood followers on July 29 as the House of Representatives was heading toward a vote on a Republican plan to raise the debt ceiling. The House bill passed that day solely on the basis of Republican support, 218-210. The Senate later killed it, continuing the impasse in the debt- ceiling debate.

Obama had already threatened to veto the bill when he went before White House microphones to urge voters to “let your members of Congress know” how they feel. “Make a phone call. Send an e-mail. Tweet,” he said. “Keep the pressure on Washington.”

Over the course of the day, Obama’s campaign aides posted Twitter messages, some spaced just a minute apart, giving out the Twitter addresses of more than 230 Republican lawmakers. Obama’s followers were urged to contact the Republicans in support of legislation from the Democratic-controlled Senate to raise the government’s borrowing authority and take a slice out of the deficit.

Boehner Message

Obama isn’t alone in the capital contest of 140 characters or less: Republican House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, in advance of his chamber’s vote yesterday rejecting a Senate plan to raise the debt ceiling, issued this Twitter message: “DOA: @SenatorReid’s bill a non-starter in the House (and the Senate?)”

Not everyone was a fan of the president’s message blitz. Obama’s campaign Twitter feed lost 33,243 followers July 29, according to Twitter Counter, a website that tracks statistics for more than 10 million Twitter users. By 7 p.m. Washington time yesterday, the site had gained 10,786 followers, according to Twitter Counter.

“Tweet at your Republican legislators and urge them to support a bipartisan compromise to the debt crisis,” said one Obama campaign message on July 29. “Massachusetts voters: Tweet @USSenScottBrown and ask him to compromise on a balanced deficit solution,” said another, referring to the state’s Republican senator.

While the directives to contact Republican lawmakers came from Obama’s campaign Twitter account, White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer has been using Twitter for days to engage and debate lawmakers, pundits and voters on the debt-ceiling issue issue.

‘Silly Little Gimmick’

Representative Trent Franks, an Arizona Republican and one of the targets of the Twitter campaign, called the move a “silly little gimmick.” He said Obama should have spent more time engaging directly with House Republicans and putting deficit-cutting specifics on paper.

“I wish the president would tweet us,” Franks said. “He is AWOL in this discussion.”

The Obama campaign’s Twitter blasts also set off a series of retaliatory broadcasts.

‘No Ronald Reagan’

“President Obama is no Ronald Reagan,” Representative Joe Walsh, an Illinois Republican, said in a Twitter message.

Senator Dan Coats, an Illinois Republican, told his followers in a Twitter message: “Hoosiers: Tweet @BarackObama and ask him what his plan is.”

According to Rachael Horwitz, a spokeswoman for the biggest U.S. microblogging service, San Francisco-based Twitter posts about 200 million messages each day and has more than 200 million registered users.

Twitter Inc. was No. 4 in June in the U.S. among social networks, with 30.6 million users, according to ComScore Inc. That was up 14 percent from the previous month and a 31 percent increase from a year earlier, ComScore said.

“What’s exciting about Twitter is it’s another way to have an ongoing dialogue between many Americans across the country,” said Macon Phillips, the administration’s director of digital strategy, who manages @WhiteHouse, the official White House Twitter page, which has 2,306,503 followers.

Ronald Yaros, a professor of new media and mobile journalism at the University of Maryland in College Park, said as Twitter becomes a mass medium it could play a significant role in mobilizing voters and that how successful Obama is in using it in the debt-ceiling debate will be watched by other campaigns.

For the president’s campaign staff and White House advisers, Yaros said, the aim is not only for Obama supporters to mobilize “but that the followers will pass the word and use this as just one stage of the networking process.”

“It’s a very effective, efficient way to get the word out, and to let the network of existing followers be the disciples for, without waiting for the television camera to turn on,” Yaros said.

--With assistance from Brian Womack in San Francisco and Richard Rubin in Washington. Editors: Joe Sobczyk, Don Frederick

To contact the reporters on this story: Kate Andersen Brower in Washington at Kandersen7@bloomberg.net; Margaret Talev in Washington at mtalev@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at msilva@bloomberg.net

© Copyright 2014 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.

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