The president ultimately took seven questions, including four that had been selected by aides who waded through hundreds of videos submitted through the White House Web site. (One, though, came from a Republican congressman from Texas asking about medical malpractice.) Three questions were from members of the audience, all of whom were associated with groups close to the Democratic Party.
Asked whether a government-run, single-payer health care system could work, Mr. Obama said no, explaining that most people are insured through employers that are private companies. But he renewed his push for a so-called public option, which could compete with private insurers and, Mr. Obama said, “keep insurers honest.”
On a sleepy week in Washington, with the Fourth of July holiday approaching, the reach of the event was unclear. But the Republican National Committee was watching, setting up its own blogging operation that provided a running commentary.
“WOW! A question from a guy who works for Health Care for America Now, an organization promoting President Obama’s government-run plan. Coincidence?” wrote Matt Moon, a deputy research director at the committee.
Later, Mr. Moon added, “President Obama doesn’t have an answer to these questions, he has a speech for each of these questions.”
The policy and politics, though, was interrupted for a moment when Debby Smith, 53, of Appalachia, Va., rose to address the president. She explained how she was struggling to get treatment for cancer in her right kidney, saying, “I have a new tumor and have no way to treat it.”
The president walked over to Ms. Smith, who was fighting back tears, and summoned her into the aisle. He listened to her story, briefly embraced her and offered his thoughts, as photographers circled into capture the moment.
“I don’t want you to feel like you’re alone on this,” Mr. Obama said. “Without knowing all the details, I’m not going to give you an answer right now about exactly how we can help.”
As she spoke to reporters later, Ms. Smith said she was active in Organizing for America, a Democratic group that grew out of the Obama campaign. The White House said it was a coincidence that the president called on her. He did not seem to know her because after he extended a hug, he said awkwardly, “What was your name again?”
New York Times