How do you solve a crisis like the federal budget? With a tweet, of course, hoped House Democrats who hosted a Twitter town hall meeting on Thursday to field questions about the budget. And exactly what happens when Members of Congress try to solve a national crisis in 140 characters or less?
Not much. More than 20 Democratic lawmakers, led by Reps. Mike Honda (Calif.), John Larson (Conn.) and John Garamendi, (Calif.), fielded questions for more than an hour, the town hall was not always, well, quite on message.
As envisioned by its hosts, the House Democratic Caucus’s new media working group, the “Twitter Town Hall about the Budget” was an opportunity for everyday voters to interact with lawmakers and pose questions about the budget and the GOP spending bill.
Members of the public were able to submit questions by tweeting them with the hashtag #AskDems.
Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.), co-chairman of the new media working group, envisioned the town hall as an attempt to reach out to members of the public enraged by the Republicans’ proposed cuts to the budget.
“The tweeting voices are drawing a line in the sand, saying enough is enough – all in 140 characters or less,” Honda said.
During the hour of the event, #AskDems – the hashtag to follow the Town Hall – was the 3rd most discussed topic nationally.
Messages like this:
RepPerlmutter March Madness = Go Buffs! Proud to be a CU alum and seeing my team go to the semis and likely to the big dance.
Seemed a bit, well, off message, but the tweets came flying in.
And Republicans couldn’t help but jump in the game too, having some fun with their Democratic colleagues.
Rep. Darrell Issa, chair of the House’s oversight committee, for example, tweeted : “When Americans are tightening their belts at home, isn’t it time for the federal gov’t to do the same?”
Not to be outdone, tweeted back California’s Rep. Mike Honda, “The tightening of the belt is a tourniquet around the necks of the middle class.”
The Caucus’s New Media Working Group, “establishes and shares new media best practices with Members of the House Democratic Caucus to promote broader and more effective engagement with their constituents,” according to its website.
The Democrats are forging ahead in their efforts to use social media to reach voters, perhaps seeing it as their own, virtual “tear down that wall” moment.
Also held today for House Dems was an, only in Washington, “Speed Geeking” event organized by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s office. “Members will rotate in small groups around the room for quick briefings on how Facebook, Twitter, text messaging, E-newsletters, YouTube, and other new media technologies work and why they are important for reaching constituents and your communication efforts,” read the invite that went to all Democratic members.
“Members of Congress need to go where We the People are, and that increasingly means social media platforms like Twitter,” said Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.), referring to the Twitter town hall and the Caucus’s new media efforts. “The Internet is tearing down the gates that used to divide representatives from the public…Public research helped create the Internet; it’s about time public servants utilized it to its fullest potential.”