Another Way to Escape From D.C.

By Dan Froomkin
12:10 PM ET, 03/24/2009

The last time President Obama sat down for an interview with regional reporters, he made no secret of his pleasure in talking to people who didn't necessarily share the obsessions of the national press corps. "I enjoy the keen insights of people outside of Washington," he said.

Yesterday, for the third time in six weeks, reporters from markets way too small to field a White House correspondent -- Bangor, Me., and Fargo, N.D. -- were invited to ask the president questions.

"It's good for me to get a chance to know you guys and get a better sense of what your readership is thinking," Obama said, according to Andrew Barksdale of the Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer.

Barskdale writes: "Obama talked about topics ranging from expanding broadband Internet service to rural communities to making health-care services more efficient. He was relaxed and forthright. He mostly stuck to his talking points, but he didn't hesitate to say he didn't know the answer to a specific question or two about the details of his budget."

Some of the takeaways were of only local interest.

Robert Swift writes in the Scranton (Pa.) Times: "President Barack Obama said in a White House interview Monday projects like the long-sought Scranton-to-New York City commuter rail line will have a shot for federal funding when the next federal transportation funding bill is taken up by Congress."

Kevin Miller writes for the Bangor Daily News: "President Obama said Monday that rural states such as Maine could benefit significantly from his administration's energy and technology initiatives but reiterated that fixing the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression will take time, and money....

"White House officials organized Monday's intimate press conference — as well as two previous events — as part of the president's efforts to communicate his message to Americans outside of the Washington Beltway and major metropolitan areas."

Janell Cole write for the Fargo Forum: "North Dakotans worried about the state's robust coal mining and power generation industries shouldn't fear that it will be crippled by a federal 'cap and trade' program to regulate greenhouse gases, President Barack Obama said Monday.

"'I don't think this is something to be afraid about,' he said....

"And he's optimistic about reaching an accord with Congress on his proposed federal budget, despite disagreements with lawmakers that include Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., who is the Senate Budget Committee chairman and a sharp critic of the president's budget. Conrad thinks it will create much bigger deficits than the White House predicts."

James R. Carroll writes in the Louisville (Ky.) Courier-Journal: "Gearing up for negotiations with Congress over his proposed budget, President Barack Obama chided Republican lawmakers yesterday for opposing his initiatives without offering alternatives.

"'I do think that the Republican Party right now hasn't sort of figured out what it's for,' Obama said in a White House interview with The Courier-Journal and reporters from five other newspapers. 'And so, as a proxy, they've just decided 'we're going to be against whatever the other side is for.' That's not what's needed in an economic crisis.'

"He added that 'you could play that game maybe in the early '90s, when basically we were pretty prosperous. Right now, everybody's got to pull together.'"

Also present: Alex Daniels of the Arkansas Democrat Gazette.

Politico's Jonathan Martin concludes that the White House's goal was "to fire a political rifle shot, in this case aimed at convincing key senators to support the president's budget.

"That's why the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, the dominant daily in a state home to two moderate Democratic senators, was brought in to the Roosevelt Room along with the Bangor Daily News, representing a state with two moderate Republicans. And it's why the Fargo Forum, a paper which reaches thousands of Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad's constituents, got a front page story today on Obama's reaction on local floods."

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