After Speaker John A. Boehner introduced President Barack Obama, and the president spoke to the House Republican Conference for 15 minutes, Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington began calling the names of the members leadership had picked to ask questions.
The seven Republicans questioned the president for almost an hour and a half on a range of topics.
•Policy Committee Chairman James Lankford, a sophomore from Oklahoma, pressed Obama first on whether he thought balancing the budget was an important goal. Lankford said a balanced budget was the “crown jewel” of former President Bill Clinton’s tenure and something he worked with House Republicans to enact. Obama, mirroring public remarks he has made recently, said he did not believe balancing the budget was an important priority. Louisiana Rep. John Fleming characterized Obama’s remarks on balancing the budget as, “It’s not necessary to do it and it’s not always advisable. His target is ... to make deficit spending 3 percent of [gross domestic product]. Once you get it there that’s as far as you need to go.”
•Rep. Candice S. Miller of Michigan, the second questioner, asked Obama why he decided to stop White House tours as a result of the sequester’s spending cuts. Obama, again echoing public comments he made in an interview with ABC News Tuesday, said the decision was not his, but the Secret Service’s, drawing an audible gasp from Republicans sitting in the room. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney recently said the White House chose to halt its tours from a list of options presented by the Secret Service.
•Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the chairman of the Republican Study Committee, asked the third question, pressing Obama on energy policies including the Keystone XL oil pipeline. But numerous Republicans said Obama’s answer left them confused about where he stood on the matter. Oklahoma freshman Rep. Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma said Obama “talked in circles” about the pipeline. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska said he listened carefully to Obama’s answer because the issue is of particular importance to him, but said he but couldn’t decipher what Obama meant. According to Rep. Greg Walden of Oregon, Obama did note that Canada would enjoy much of the tax revenue from the pipeline being constructed, a reason not to approve it.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.