Members Hold Back on Twitter During Speech

Posted January 28, 2010 at 11:33am

In a marked contrast to President Barack Obama’s speech to a joint session of Congress last year, the Twittersphere around the Capitol during Wednesday night’s State of the Union address was relatively quiet.While Members on both sides of the aisle worked their thumbs to near exhaustion before, during and after the speech last year, almost every Member set his BlackBerry down while the president spoke Wednesday night.Last year, Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.) tweeted that Congress was spending “at a rate that now would embarrass most drunken sailors.— Wednesday night saw no references to sloshed seamen.Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) digitally cheered Obama on in 2009 (“Yes we can!—). On Wednesday night, his staff said, he just wanted to enthusiastically listen.“He wanted to hear the entirety of what the president had to say without being on his BlackBerry and tweeting,— Communications Director Erin Allweiss said. “But he shared his thoughts and expectations leading up to it [on Twitter] and shared his thoughts after.—Fred Beuttler, deputy historian of the House, said he’s not surprised that legislators turned off their mobile devices and tuned in to the president’s words. He said it was likely a reaction to Rep. Joe Wilson’s (R-S.C.) infamous “You lie!— moment last year and all the scathing comments made on Twitter that got some Members bad press.“I think everybody realized last year that a line had been crossed in civility and decorum in the chamber,— he said. “Everybody was on good behavior last night.—While tweeting is not necessarily bad behavior, Beuttler added, the use of BlackBerrys in the House chamber is discouraged.Carrying the torch of last year’s Twitter frenzy, Republican Reps. Rob Wittman (Va.) and Paul Broun (Ga.) were the only two Members to Twitter during Wednesday’s speech.Earlier Wednesday evening, Broun advertised on his Twitter page that he would be live-tweeting the State of the Union. He had some sharp criticisms for Obama, including: “He is still promoting Obamacare. He doesn’t get it,— and “Earmark reform, Mr. President? Your so-called stimulus was full of earmarks!! Talk is cheap.—“As a US Marine I know allowing open gays in the military will destroy unit cohesiveness. It is a terrible idea,— Broun typed later in the address, responding to Obama’s claim that he would end the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell— policy. Wittman, despite his party identification, had more agreeable things to say about Obama’s speech. He praised the president for emphasizing science, technology, engineering and math education, and for proposing the elimination of the capital gains tax on small businesses.“I applaud the President in adressing (sic) federal spending but we must go farther than just freezing spending and it must start now!— Wittman wrote. Despite last year’s criticisms, Wittman, who also tweeted during Obama’s previous address, thought it was important to share his thoughts with constituents in real time, said his press secretary, Tom Crosson.“They want to be plugged in to hear what their legislators are saying right there instead of waiting,— Crosson said.He added that Wittman doesn’t think it’s untoward to tweet during the speech and that it didn’t distract the Representative from the speech.“It’s one thing to be ad-libbing on every single sentence the president makes,— Crosson said. “But especially with all the applause, you have time to get one in.—