"My mouse pad broke, and I had to get my great-aunt some diabetes shoes."
That's how comedian Zach Galifianikis begins his segment with President Obama, in an episode of the online interview show Between Two Ferns that was posted today. It was an interview unlike any other for a sitting U.S. president, as Galifianikis probed the commander-in-chief's views with a range of oddball questions.
As The New York Times reports, Obama appeared on the comedy show in an attempt to get more young Americans to enroll for health care under the Affordable Care Act before the program's March 31 deadline.
"We have to find ways to break through," White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer tells the newspaper, which notes other turns in the not-so-serious media taken by Presidents Bush (Deal or No Deal), Clinton (MTV's Enough is Enough forum), and Ford (Saturday Night Live).
Sitting across from Galifianikis on the spare set that sets the tone for the show's awkwardly funny moments, Obama kept a straight face throughout - and seized a chance to talk about the new health care program.
Here are some of the questions Obama fielded that no U.S. president has faced before:
"Why would you get the guy who created the Zune to make your website?"
"Is this what they mean by 'drones'?"
"I don't have a phone, I'm off the grid. I don't want you people looking at my texts... know what I mean?"
We won't spoil all the jokes - the segment ends with an elaborate one that's best seen for yourself. The short video made a splash after it was posted Tuesday morning. Within two hours, it had been viewed more than 320,000 times, and the servers at Funny or Die, the comedy site behind the show, seemed to have trouble keeping up with demand.
To prepare for this week's show, All Songs hosts Bob Boilen, Robin Hilton and NPR Music's Stephen Thompson listened to 1,540 songs by musicians who will be playing at SXSW this week in Austin, Tex. Each narrowed that enormous list down to just a few songs by previously unknown bands that they're now planning to check out in Austin. NPR Music's Frannie Kelley and Ann Powers also stop by to offer a couple of suggestions, along with Katie Presley.
Discovery is the name of the game for many at SXSW, and this show is all about up-and-coming talent. Whether it's the upbeat, celebratory feel of Louisiana's Royal Teeth or the ghostly experimental electronic music of Alligator Indian, this edition of All Songs Considered is bursting with passion and unique voices. Hopefully we'll uncover a lot more of that feeling this week in Austin.
Our early headlines:
Other news of the day:
— Sen. McCaskill's bill on sexual assaults in military passes Senate by 97-0 vote. (Politico)
— At Oscar Pistorius trial, witness says the accused murderer "loved weapons." (Los Angeles Times)
— "Venezuelan student leader killed in anti-government clashes." (Time)
— "Swedish journalist shot dead in central Kabul." (Reuters)
— NHL game stopped, then postponed after Dallas Stars player Rich Peverley collapses; he's recuperating from heart problem. (Dallas Morning News)
— On third anniversary of earthquake and tsunami, Japan debates building "great wall" to protect against the sea. (Morning Edition)
"Crimea's regional legislature on Tuesday adopted a 'declaration of independence of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea,' " The Associated Press reports. "The document specified that Crimea will become an independent state if its residents vote on Sunday in favor of joining Russia."
That's just one of several developments Tuesday as the crisis in Ukraine continues. Among the other news:
— Sanctions. France's foreign minister said Western nations could impose sanctions on Russia — including freezes of some individuals' financial assets and travel restrictions — as soon as this week, NPR's Gregory Warner tells our Newscast Desk. As he notes, "the U.S. has already imposed travel restrictions on Russian and Crimean officials accused of 'threatening Ukraine's sovereignty and integrity.' "
— Yanukoyvch. Ousted Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych said Tuesday said that presidential elections in his country that are scheduled for late May are illegal, The Wall Street Journal writes. "In a brief statement delivered to reporters in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, Mr. Yanukovych didn't directly address a regionwide referendum to be held in Crimea on Sunday to decide whether the breakaway territory will secede from Ukraine and become part of Russia, but blamed the new government in Kiev for causing the divisions that have driven Crimeans to want to leave."
The vote for a "declaration of independence" by Crimea's parliament adds to the tension that's building in the run-up to Sunday's referendum. Just more than half of the region's population are ethnic Russians. Since Yanukovych left Ukraine last month following months of protests against his government and was then removed from office by his nation's parliament, Russia has moved to take control of the strategically important Crimean peninsula — where it has long had a Black Sea naval base.
The U.S. and its Western allies have condemned Russia's actions as being in violation of international law. Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he is protecting ethnic Russians from possible reprisal by what he claims are Ukrainian nationalists now in control in Kiev.
So far, there have been no serious confrontations between Russian forces and Ukrainian troops, who have mostly remained in their bases in Crimea.
There's a congressional election in Florida Tuesday that's worth watching — even if you don't live in the Tampa Bay-area district where it's taking place.
It's not because the winner of the neck-and-neck special election between Democrat Alex Sink and Republican David Jolly will affect the GOP's stranglehold on the U.S. House this cycle. It won't.
Rather, the contest to succeed the late longtime Republican Rep. Bill Young is taking on exaggerated importance as both national parties and their deep-pocketed donors frame it as a proxy for how President Obama and his signature health care legislation will play at the polls in November.
All of it is playing out in one of the few remaining competitive congressional districts.
"The Democrats have to shake things up to prove they are not a permanent minority in the House," says David Wasserman of the non-partisan Cook Political Report. "Winning this race would go a long way to show that."
Recent polls suggest that Sink has been holding on to a slight lead over Jolly, with Libertarian candidate Lucas Overby capturing the support of around four or five percent. A poll released Monday by Democratic-oriented pollster Public Policy Polling gave Sink a 48 percent to 45 percent advantage, with Overby at six percent.
Tuesday's winner will only savor temporary victory: She or he will have to run again in November's regular mid-term election.
The race, awash in money that has funded an avalanche of ads, pits two on-paper party moderates against each other in a district that Young had held since 1972. He was the longest-serving GOP member of Congress when he died in October.
Republicans enjoy a voter registration advantage of about 11,000. But the 13th district, largely white and skewing old, voted for Obama narrowly in 2008 and again in 2012.
Jolly came to the race hobbled by a competitive GOP primary battle in January that put him behind in raising money, and raising his profile.
In Sink, 65, the Democrats have a well-known candidate who had a nearly three-decades-long career as a banker before winning statewide office in 2006, becoming Florida's chief financial officer.
The first Democrat elected to the state cabinet since 1998, Sink, subsequently came up short in a run for governor in 2010, losing to Republican Rick Scott by 1 percentage point.
Sink, whose late husband, Bill McBride, was the Democrats' unsuccessful nominee for governor in 2002, supports the Affordable Care Act, but has said she would like to see it improved.
Republican candidate Jolly, 41, is a lawyer and lobbyist who came to Washington straight out of college and went to work for Young. He left the congressman's office in 2007 for the world of lobbying, opening his own firm, Three Bridges Advisors, three years ago.
Jolly has called for repeal of the Affordable Care Act and says he supports overturning Roe vs. Wade. He's seen as a more polished campaigner than Sink, who was described as an "awkward orator, often stiff on the stump" in a 2010 profile in the Tampa Bay Times.
Wasserman, of the Cook Political Report, cautions that the national media is overstating, at least to some degree, the singular importance of Obamacare in the Florida race.
Immigration and flood insurance are huge local issues, he said, and will play a role in the outcome. Sink supports comprehensive immigration reform; Jolly opposes a pathway to citizenship for immigrants in the country illegally.
"The national parties seem to be ignoring these issues in favor of test-driving their big-ticket national interests," Wasserman says. "In the district, voter interests seem much more varied."
The Money Race
Given Sink's advantage in not having a contested primary, she's been better positioned to raise money and to get a jump on early voting, including — and especially — absentee ballots.
She has outraised Jolly, $2.54 million to $1.04 million as of Feb. 19, but outside groups have also invested heavily in the race, with some estimates suggesting that in excess of $10 million per campaign will be spent.
A running tally of early voting shows that 42 percent of the 122,314 votes cast, according to the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections office, have come from Republican voters, 39 percent from Democrats, and 19 percent from other.
But, Wasserman says, "most private polling suggests Sink is winning about twice as many Republicans as Jolly is winning Democrats."
While one national party or the other will quickly claim their victory is a validation, the vagaries of this special election suggests otherwise. That makes it likely the true litmus test on Obama and the Affordable Care Act won't come until November.