President Barack Obama opened the door to eliminating the penny, blasted the GOP for delaying Chuck Hagel’s nomination as Defense secretary and dished on the minimum wage, climate change, immigration, Benghazi and even the merits of Valentine’s Day in an online fireside chat Thursday afternoon.
The Google+ hangout featured questions from bloggers and others across the political spectrum — including one conservative blogger who repeatedly challenged Obama on the minimum wage and other issues. She said that she had to let go two employees at a nonprofit the last time the minimum wage went up.
But Obama contended that the minimum wage does not have a big impact on employment overall but would help many low-wage workers. He said that corporations who have seen record profits might have to take a small hit on their bottom line.
Obama’s willingness to get rid of the penny — which bears Abraham Lincoln’s head — may have been the newsiest tidbit. Obama said, “I don’t know” why the United States hasn’t acted to eliminate it like Canada has, and he noted that it’s “something I need legislation for.”
Obama said getting rid of the penny wouldn’t be a huge savings but that it was a metaphor for a larger need to streamline government. He said his attempts to get the authority to streamline government have been stymied by Congress, and he pointed a finger of blame at the committee structure and jurisdictional issues.
Obama predictably blasted any effort to block Hagel, noting his war wounds and service to his country and the nearly unprecedented nature of a filibuster of a Cabinet pick. Obama took larger aim at the GOP, saying that 60 votes is not the rule in the Constitution but Republicans are now treating that as the hurdle for everything.
“We don’t have a 60-vote rule,” he said, presumably not referring to Senate Rule 22. He said filibusters in the past were used only to extend debate on a handful of issues.
He also touched on gay rights in the immigration debate. He said somewhat defensively that he supported gay rights from the start of his administration and believes gays should be treated equally, including in immigration law. But he also said that he hasn’t wanted to be too heavy-handed on the bipartisan immigration talks.
As for Benghazi, he dismissed attacks on him as “largely driven by campaign stuff.”
On climate change, he said his administration has focused so far on things that the nation should be doing even if climate change didn’t exist, such as boosting miles-per-gallon standards on cars. He said the next steps would be harder because upgrading plants would necessarily involve some upfront increases in the cost of energy. But he said the economy wouldn’t suffer.
He also touched on lighter subjects, asking a pregnant woman if she had a “bump” yet and telling her to stand up and show it off. She did. Obama declined to pick between the parents’ different preferred girl baby names but offered he’d be fine with Barack as a boy’s name. Obama was also asked by one woman to give an executive order to her reluctant man to spoil her on Valentine’s Day.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.