Obama lands at Stanford, visits Facebook to discuss budget

April 21, 2011, 3:04 a.m.

President Barack Obama traveled to California on Wednesday to discuss his deficit-reduction plan at Facebook’s Palo Alto headquarters and attend three Democratic fundraisers in San Francisco. The visit marked the middle of a three-day trip to Virginia, California and Nevada for the administration to sell its budget framework and for the president to raise money for his party and re-election campaign.

Obama lands at Stanford, visits Facebook to discuss budget
President Obama and Facebook held a town hall meeting Wednesday to discuss the ways in which the administration plans to reduce the national deficit. Obama took questions from Facebook employees and users during the hour-long meeting, which was moderated by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. (DEVIN BANERJEE/The Stanford Daily)

In Obama’s first major trip since he announced his 2012 campaign and since he and congressional Republicans narrowly averted a government shutdown two weeks ago, the president landed at Stanford’s Sand Hill Road fields after landing in San Francisco. Typically the location of student intramural sport games, the fields on Wednesday were swept and secured by Stanford and Palo Alto police, U.S. Marshals and Secret Service personnel before five large helicopters, including the president’s Marine One, touched down at about 1:30 p.m.

Obama then used his ground motorcade for the short trip to nearby Facebook headquarters on Page Mill Road. His arrival prompted street closures on Sand Hill Road, El Camino Real, Stanford Avenue, California Avenue and Page Mill Road.

Stanford spokeswoman Lisa Lapin told The Daily that high-profile helicopter landings on campus are rare because the University’s general-use permit with Santa Clara County restricts landings to those that are hospital-related or related to the travel of a head of state. Obama is the first sitting head of state to have visited Facebook, the social-networking giant co-founded by Mark Zuckerberg in 2004.

Zuckerberg moderated Wednesday’s town hall, which was held in a large warehouse at the company’s nondescript campus just east of Stanford. A company employee at the event said the audience consisted of approximately 700 employees and several White House invitees, among them House minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, State Controller John Chiang, Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.), Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) and Palo Alto Mayor Sid Espinosa.

The hour-long meeting was streamed online, giving Obama the chance to tap into and energize a young base that helped propel him to the White House in 2008. More than 46,000 Facebook users indicated online that they would watch the live stream of the event, and the live audience appeared engaged throughout the hour, applauding just over 20 times and giving the president standing ovations at the beginning and end of the meeting.

The president was jovial throughout the town hall, immediately noting that he is “the guy who got Mark [Zuckerberg] to wear a jacket and tie,” which Zuckerberg also did when Obama dined with him, Stanford President John Hennessy and other Silicon Valley leaders in February on the president’s last visit to the Bay Area.

Later, Zuckerberg and Obama were open about their support for one another. Introducing a question about education from a Facebook user, Zuckerberg first said, “I think the Race to the Top stuff that you guys have done is one of the most under-appreciated and most important things that your administration has done.”

The president acknowledged the importance of Zuckerberg’s recent $100 million donation to help improve schools in Newark, NJ.

Obama lands at Stanford, visits Facebook to discuss budget
One of four helicopters that accompanied the president's Marine One hovered over Stanford's Sand Hill Road fields on Wednesday. Obama landed on campus before taking his motorcade to Facebook's Palo Alto headquarters. (ZACK HOBERG/The Stanford Daily)

Questions came from both audience members and Facebook users, and their focuses ranged from tax policy to health care, housing and immigration reform to investment in education and infrastructure.

On the pressing issue of resolving the partisan budget dispute in Washington, Democrats and Republicans have agreed that $4 trillion needs to be cut over the next 10 years, but the parties disagree about where the cuts should occur. Obama advocated a combination of spending cuts and tax increases on the wealthy.

Zuckerberg, whose personal wealth Forbes estimates at $13.5 billion, replied, “I’m cool with that.”

Near the end, Obama urged members of the audience, regardless of their political affiliation, to “put the same energy and imagination that [they] put into Facebook into the political process.”

The president said that if they did so, “there’s nothing we can’t solve.”

Zuckerberg gifted Obama a hooded sweatshirt with Facebook’s name across the front—a trademark of the 26-year-old CEO’s wardrobe. Obama returned to San Francisco following the town hall to attend two fundraisers Wednesday evening and one Thursday morning. He will then travel to Reno, Nev., for a town hall meeting before returning to Los Angeles for three more fundraisers.

Elizabeth Titus contributed to this report. See The Daily’s original coverage of the Marine One landing here.

See photos by Zack Hoberg of Obama’s arrival at Stanford:

Devin Banerjee was president and editor in chief of Volume 236 of The Stanford Daily, serving from June 2009 to January 2010. He joined The Daily's staff in September 2007. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @devinbanerjee.

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