From Tax Cuts To What's In His Bracket, President Obama Takes Questions At City Club

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When Mr. Obama took the mic and worked the stage, dozens of hands shot up, from audience members eager to catch the president’s attention. He only had one ground rule…

“I’m gonna go boy-girl, boy-girl…” he joked, as the crowd laughed.

[Watch the entire address on-demand]

But the tone got serious quick, as one woman – Colleen Cotter of the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland -- asked the president about ensuring court-appointed lawyers in civil cases, to make sure people – including those dealing with foreclosures –have access to legal counsel. Obama said his administration has worked hard to address the issue, but….

"This was a target of slashed budgets early in the previous administration, we have not fully recovered. And with the existing Congress it’s unlikely that we get the bump-up that we need.”

Obama added that law firms could possibly assist, by providing young, eager lawyers. And he said a more streamlined court process could help, without subjecting people to lengthy cases in order to resolve disputes faster.

Helen Sheehan got away with asking the president two questions…

“First, who’s in your bracket?" asked Sheehan, obviously with March Madness on the mind.

"I wasn’t that creative," laughed Obama. "I think Kentucky is going to take it. But, you know, I haven’t won since my first year in office. Clearly, I'm not spending as much time watching college basketball as I once did."

Sheehan then asked Obama what has surprised him most since taking office. The president said battling Congress on issues that shouldn’t be controversial…ranging from funding infrastructure to making sure the Department of Homeland Security remains operational, even as the same lawmakers threatening its funding are also up in arms about immigration control.

“That you would then threaten to not fund the very department that is responsible for securing our borders because you’re mad that our borders are not secured -- "

The City Club crowd erupted into laughter, then applause. President Obama resumed his answer.

" -- that’s not a good way of doing business. So, uhm….that surprises me a little bit."

A young student from the Hawken School named Lucy asked Mr. Obama why he thought the Republicans were always pushing tax cuts, and nothing else. The president said he felt he could understand the GOP’s philosophy of less government and free market capitalism, but added what may make sense on paper may not so much in real life.

“Our history tells us that if there’s a company that’s out there making a lot of money but also pouring a bunch of pollution into the water, and it catches on fire -- and suddenly people can’t fish there anymore, and people are getting sick, that it makes sense for us to have some regulations that say, you know what, you can make your products, you can make a profit, that’s great, but you’re kind of messing things up and so we’re going to say you can’t just dump your pollution in the water.”

And 7th grader Laura Winfrey asked Mr. Obama what advice he’d give himself on the first day of his two terms.

“I would have told myself to anticipate that because the recession was so bad and so tough for so many people, that I was going to have to be more aggressive in explaining to the public how long it was going to take for the recovery to take place.”

The City Club audience overall was friendly to President Obama. No one brought up heated local issues, such as the police shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice last fall, the Justice Department probe into the Cleveland Police Department’s, or even Ohio Congressman and House Speaker John Boehner’s role as a foil to the president’s initiatives.

Many in the crowd basked in Obama’s remarks, as if remembering the spirit of hope that propelled him into office nearly eight years ago, with Ohio’s help.

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