WASHINGTON——With the debate over raising the nation's $14.3 trillion debt ceiling heading into its final stretch, President Barack Obama will visit the University of Maryland on Friday for a town hall meeting the White House said will be focused on the economy.
About 1,000 people are expected to attend the hourlong event beginning at 11 a.m. atCollege Park, which will take place as congressional leaders continue to search for an agreement that will cut the budget deficit by trillions of dollars, raise the debt ceiling by Aug. 2 and eke out the best possible political position for their parties for the 2012 election.
The town hall will be Obama's fourth visit to the campus and his second as president. He rallied students there in 2009 at the height of another protracted and partisan battle that gripped the nation's attention: the fight over his health care overhaul.
"It provides an ideal stop for a visit to focus on the budget because it's a university where middle-class people and working-class people send their children," said Paul S. Herrnson, director of the university's Center for American Politics and Citizenship. "We pretty much are his constituency."
In a format that has become familiar, Obama will serve as his own moderator at Ritchie Coliseum, accepting questions from audience members who raise their hands. Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the White House had been considering a town hall meeting outside Washington — though still nearby — for some time.
"The president wants to go out and talk about the economy," Earnest said. Negotiations over the debt ceiling will be a part of that discussion, he said.
Obama continued talks Thursday with Republican House leaders as the two sides appeared to be back in the hunt for a comprehensive agreement. House conservatives have grown wary of the fallback plan proposed by Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell that would give Obama the authority to raise the debt ceiling without the express permission of Congress.
The outcome of the debt debate will have important ramifications for Maryland, which is home to a high concentration of federal workers and government contractors. Noting the state's strong ties to the federal government, Moody's Investment Services threatened this week to downgrade Maryland's AAA bond rating if a debt crisis is not averted.
Gov. Martin O'Malley went to Capitol Hill on Thursday to speak with House Democrats about the impact that a default would have on states.
"In the course of the next several days we're going to determine as a nation whether we still have what it takes as people of good will to forge a consensus and move forward," said O'Malley, who chairs the Democratic Governors Association. "We need to move forward."
Though many students have gone home for the summer, excitement was building in College Park. In addition to the health care rally in 2009, Obama campaigned at Comcast Center in 2008 and appeared on campus in 2006 to stump for then-Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, who was running for the Senate.
Students camped out overnight for tickets, which were exhausted in just over an hour Thursday morning, university spokesman Millree Williams said. About 250 people were turned away.
Jeremy Trombley, a doctoral student in anthropology, said he waited in line for three hours to score a seat.
"I just thought that this kind of opportunity to sit and talk with the president on a relatively intimate basis doesn't come around that often," he said. "I just wanted to hear firsthand what direction he sees the country going in."
Noting that Obama's mother was also an anthropologist, Trombley said that if he is called on, he would try to craft a question that incorporated that field of study as well as the current events.
Brandon Minor, a physics and computer science student at George Washington University, avoided the line altogether and landed a seat through a White House competition that encouraged people to use the social networking site Twitter to explain why they should attend.
Minor wrote that he is an "up-and-coming blogger" who wanted to hear for himself what Obama had to say. He plans to use Twitter to send out updates throughout the event.
On the debt, Minor said he likes that the administration is advocating for a broad deficit reduction plan.
"Obama's pushing for everything that he can."