President Barack Obama took to the Internet on Thursday to field a number of questions following Tuesday's State of the Union address. The president participated in a Google+ Hangout and answered questions on various topics, including gun control, global warming, and Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel.
On Thursday, Senate Republicans announced that they would filibuster the nomination of Hagel, marking a rare use of the procedure when it came to filling the president's cabinet. Obama took his time to call out Republican obstruction, noting that a 60-vote requirement to appoint a cabinet member is not the right way to conduct business.
This is "an unprecedented filibuster," and "only a handful of filibusters for any cabinet nominee in our history" have ever been staged, he added.
"That's not the rule," said Obama, reminding viewers the Constitution only requires a majority vote.
"My hope is that Hagel will be confirmed, but it's unfortunate that this kind of politics intrudes when I still preside over a war in Afghanistan and I need a Secretary of Defense."
Gun control was also a hot topic, and Obama's views on an assault weapons ban opened the fireside chat when one participant asked if he thinks hand guns should be prohibited.
"I actually don't think we should ban hand guns," said Obama. He told viewers the government is trying to come up with a package that respects 2nd amendment rights but also makes changes to the way guns are sold. Background checks would affect hand guns, said the president, as would closing the gun show loophole, but his intention isn't to ban the weapons at all.
The president specifically targeted assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, saying that restrictions on weapons of war would save some lives.
"Having visited Newtown ... anybody who talked to those parents or the siblings of those who were killed would say we have to crack down and do something to reduce this violence," said Obama. "There are common sense steps we can take right now to reduce gun violence."
On the issue of climate change, Obama recognized that it may not be possible to have Congress pass comprehensive legislation. The president pointed to upgrades in fuel efficiency standards for automobiles and said he thinks more progress can be made, but that he's going to have to use the bully pulpit to convince the public that climate change is an urgent issue.
"I wish I could say the Washington works is a rational, reasoned wonk conversation [regarding climate change] .... That's not what motivates folks a lot of the time out here. What motivates folks is getting reelected."
Obama defended his administration against the accusation that it is less transparent than promised, especially because of its refusal to release information on unmanned drone strikes and Benghazi.
"This is the most transparent administration in history," said Obama. He pointed to the fact that every law and rule passed is posted online for the public to see, and defended the deployment of drones under his watch.
"There has never been a drone used on an American citizen on American soil. We respect and have a whole bunch of safeguards" regarding "how we conduct" terror operations outside the United States. "I am not somebody who believes that the president" can do whatever he/she wants, said Obama, who then pledged to continue working with Congress on a legal framework for the unmanned machines.
When it comes to advancing math and science education in the United States, the president agreed that making computer programming a national requirement was a sensible step to take. He even mentioned that designing video games in school would be a great idea, since it would get many students interested in math, science, and programming.
The hangout ended on a lighthearted note, with personal questions from those participating. One couple asked Obama to choose between "Eleanor" and "Alice" for their daughter's name. He refused to take sides, but said he wanted the parents to "tell Eleanor or Alice not to forget to be awesome."
Another questioner asked Obama to issue an executive order validating the existence of Valentine's Day, especially since her husband refuses to celebrate the holiday. The president left the man with valuable words we'd all be wise to follow.
"If mom is happy, everybody's happy. So do right, man."