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Obama Holds Town Hall Meeting

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris. Today is President Barack Obama's 100th day in office. Officially, the administration dismisses the milestone as what it calls a Hallmark holiday, but this morning, the president traveled to Missouri for a town hall meeting to mark the event. He'll also hold a primetime news conference at the White House this evening. NPR's Don Gonyea reports that the day resembled many others for the new administration, as the president dealt with yet another crisis.

DON GONYEA: In many ways, this 100th day has been the typical day for President Obama. Since moving to the White House, he's won solid public approval ratings. He's had successes in Congress. And today, he was very pleased to pose for pictures with Republican-turned-Democrat US Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.

President BARACK OBAMA: In fact, I'd like to think that Arlen's decision reflects a recognition that this administration is open to many different ideas and many different points of view, that we seek cooperation and common ground.

GONYEA: But for Mr. Obama, such good news has always been accompanied, even overshadowed, by crisis: the economy, banks, the auto industry, two wars, North Korea, Iran and even pirates. Today's upbeat photo op with Senator Specter also took a serious turn, with the president addressing the swine flu outbreak, including confirmation of the first US death in Texas.

Pres. OBAMA: My thoughts and prayers and deepest condolences go out to the family, as well as those who are ill and recovering from this flu. This is obviously a serious situation, serious enough to take the utmost precautions.

GONYEA: Also today, more bad news on the economy: The GDP declined by 6.1 percent, worse than expected. As Air Force One took off from Washington this morning, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said that number may mean hundreds of thousands of additional jobs lost. That was the backdrop of the town hall meeting in the St. Louis suburb of Arnold, Missouri.

(Soundbite of song, "The Star-Spangled Banner")

The RIVERTOWN BARBERSHOP QUARTET (Barber Shop Singers): (Singing) Oh, say can you see, by the dawn's early light?

GONYEA: The Rivertown Barbershop Quartet sang the national anthem. The president was introduced by a woman who works as a hairdresser and who said her vote for him was her first for a Democrat in more than 30 years. Taking the stage, the president described his first months in office this way.

Pres. OBAMA: So today, on my 100th day in office, I've come back to report to you, the American people, that we have begun to pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off. And we've begun the work of remaking America.

GONYEA: He pointed to the economic stimulus, to his call for tough regulations on financial institutions. He spoke of the plan to remove combat troops from Iraq and the increase in forces for Afghanistan. He highlighted his ban on torture and the closing of the US detention center at Guantanamo.

Pres. OBAMA: Now, we're living through extraordinary times. We didn't ask for all the challenges that we face, but we're determined to answer the call to meet them. That's the spirit I see everywhere I go. That's the spirit we need to sustain.

GONYEA: Then it was time for questions. The first was one Mr. Obama has been asked repeatedly. It came from a retired autoworker. The man said it seems like workers are paying a price, but not Wall Street execs. He was echoing the thoughts of many blue-collar Americans.

Unidentified Man: We're also considered middle class. It just seems like they keep constantly wanting to take it away from the autoworker and prosecuting us instead of the corporate that brought us to this.

GONYEA: The president said he wants the US to have a car industry, but he also said he hasn't yet seen viable plans from GM and from Chrysler.

Pres. OBAMA: What they were doing wasn't painting a picture of how they could be viable over the long term, without being wards of the state. And frankly, there's no way that we were going to get taxpayers to just, every few months, just give a few more billion dollars because there are a lot of industries that would love to have those kinds of subsidies.

GONYEA: The president took a total of six questions in all. Most dealt with domestic issues, including the economy, health care and Social Security. A fourth grade girl asked about the environment. The answers were lengthy, some echoing his campaign speeches, going back two years. Mr. Obama's 100th day continues with a primetime news conference at the White House tonight.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, St. Louis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.
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