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Pre-Gaming the "Open for Questions" Town Hall

BY Nancy Scola | Wednesday, March 25 2009

Welcome to the White HouseTomorrow (Thursday) morning at 11:30 ET, President Obama will return to the White House's East Room where he held a prime time press conference Tuesday night for a somewhat less precedented Q&A: a virtual town hall on the economy -- organized to respond to online questions submitted and promoted through Open for Questions, WhiteHouse.gov's first experiment in interactive citizen engagement. According to the White House press office, Jared Bernstein, chief economist to Vice President Joe Biden, will "facilitate" the town hall, posing selected questions to the president and even teeing up video queries.

Popular questions unlikely to make it past Bernstein includes those advocating for the legalization of marijuana, which -- in a demonstration of the iron-clad "Mary Jane Rule" of online forums -- have risen to the top of the OFQ sections on green jobs, financial stability, health care reform, and the budget. The question round closes at 9:30 tomorrow morning, and as of about 10:45 tonight, about 55,500 people have submitted 57,000 questions and cast 2.1 million votes. Some big groups with big email lists have been playing along. Organizing for America, the mobilization wing of the DNC, has been mailing their contacts to encourage participation, saying "Americans deserve to know what their government is doing to get our economy back on track. But it's up to you to participate and make this experiment a success." And MoveOn is asking supporters to search the Google Moderator-powered tool for "public health insurance plan" and cast a vote in support of a government alternative to private health insurance. (There's a web-form-based alternative if you don't want to create a WhiteHouse.gov account or pass through Google servers.)

Gathered in the East Room for the morning event, says the White House, will be "approximately 100 people, including teachers, nurses, small business owners, and community leaders," as well as a contingent of press. Micah and I will be doing some liveblogging of the occasion, so join us here.