Obama's Question Time: An Amazing Moment

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The moment President Obama began his address to Republicans in Baltimore today, I began to receive e-mails from Democrats: Here's an except from one of them: "I don't know whether to laugh or cry that it took a f$$@&$* year for Obama to step into the ring and start throwing some verbal blows... I'm definitely praying at mass on Sunday morning that this Obama doesn't take another 12 month vacation."

This e-mail comes from a very influential Democrat.

Accepting the invitation to speak at the House GOP retreat may turn out to be the smartest decision the White House has made in months. Debating a law professor is kind of foolish: the Republican House Caucus has managed to turn Obama's weakness -- his penchant for nuance -- into a strength. Plenty of Republicans asked good and probing questions, but Mike Pence, among others, found their arguments simply demolished by the president. (By the way: can we stop with the Obama needs a teleprompter jokes?)

More than the State of the Union -- or on top of the State of the Union -- this may be a pivotal moment for the future of the presidential agenda on Capitol Hill. (Democrats are loving this. Chris Hayes, The Nation's Washington bureau chief, tweeted that he hadn't liked Obama more since the inauguration.)

During the presidential campaign, it was John McCain who proposed a form of the British Prime Ministers' questions for the president. It was derided as a gimmick. This is no gimmick. I have not seen a better and perhaps more productive political discussion in this country in...a long time. 90 minutes worth!

Maybe since Al Gore debated Ross Perot on NAFTA. Republicans may have wished they had spoken to John McCain about what happened to him in the presidential debates before they decided to broadcast this session. The president looked genuinely engaged, willing to discuss things. Democrats believe that he tossed away the GOP talking points and lack of real plans into a bludgeon against them. "The whole question was structured by a talking point," he told Jeb Hensarling. Obama took the blame for not living up to some of his promises on transparency in health care negotiations. He displayed a familiarity with Republican proposals that seemed to astonish those who asked questions of him. And at the end, Republicans rushed up to him, pens and photo cameras in hands, wanting autographs and pictures.

Mused one mid-level White House official: "This really is the best thing we've done in a long, long time"

Kudos to Republicans for opening this up to cameras.

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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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