WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama reached out to an online audience Thursday, taking questions on deadly subjects like drones and gun violence while also musing about the anachronism of pennies and the “chill” factor in Hawaii.
Participating in a Google+ Hangout chat, Obama offered assurances that drones, the unmanned aircraft used to hunt down terrorists, have never been used against a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil.
“The rules outside of the United States are going to be different than the rules inside the United States, in part because our capacity, for example, to capture terrorists in the United States are very different than in the foothills or mountains of Afghanistan or Pakistan,” Obama said in some of his most expansive comments on the subject.
In 2011, drone strikes in Yemen killed three Americans: U.S.-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, his 16-year-old-son and al-Qaida propagandist Samir Khan.
Obama said Congress provides oversight on counter-terrorism programs but said he and Congress need to find a mechanism “to also make sure that the public understands what’s going on, what the constraints are, what the legal parameters are.”
Obama’s response came as the government took a big step toward allowing drones over U.S. skies. The Federal Aviation Administration solicited proposals to create six drone test sites around the country. The agency also issued a draft plan designed to ensure privacy from the aircraft.
Obama also defended his proposals to ban certain weapons and bullet magazines and expand background checks on gun buyers.
“We already have some restrictions.” He said. “We can’t purchase a grenade launcher from a store, although there may be some folks who want to buy those. And the reason is that we think that on balance the second amendment does not automatically assume that any weapon that’s available you can automatically purchase.”
Obama criticized Republican senators for stalling the confirmation of former Sen. Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense. The senate came up short of the 60 votes needed to overcome a procedural obstacle.
“It’s just unfortunate that this kind of politics intrudes at a time when I’m still presiding over a war in Afghanistan and I need a secretary of defense who is coordinating with our allies to make sure that our troops are getting the kind of strategy and mission that they deserve,” he said.
Asked why the government hasn’t done away with the penny, Obama said he didn’t know, but suspected there was an emotional attachment to the coin.
“We remember our piggy banks and counting up all our pennies, and then taking them in and getting a dollar bill or a couple of dollars,” he said. “One of the things you see chronically in government is it’s very hard to get rid of things that don’t work so you can then invest on the things that do. The penny ends up being sort of a metaphor for the larger problems that we’ve got.
Asked to reflect about how being raised in Hawaii influenced him, Obama said the islands are a melting pot that exposed him to different cultures and that its climate is conducive to good health.
“The weather is nice all the time,” he said. “That kind of chills you out.”