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President Obama visits South Carolina, holds town hall meeting in Columbia

President Obama arrived shortly before noon in Air Force One at the Columbia Metropolitan Airport. (Photo Source: WIS) President Obama arrived shortly before noon in Air Force One at the Columbia Metropolitan Airport. (Photo Source: WIS)
COLUMBIA, SC (WIS/WCSC) -

President Obama departed for the nation's capital on Friday afternoon after wrapping up a town hall meeting at Benedict College in Columbia.

Obama acknowledged it has been a full seven years since he was here in South Carolina, and said he'd been gone too long. But he told the crowd he'd been busy and laid out several of the programs he's tried to push through Congress and into law.

Obama spoke to hundreds of students, parents and guests at the college.

Obama walked on stage with no jacket and his sleeves rolled up, occasionally cracking jokes while talking to the crowd.

But he dealt with serious issues during the town hall meeting.

The first question asked had nothing to do with his message to youth at all. Instead it focused on the Keystone Pipeline and his recent veto on the project.

A woman in the crowd thanked President Obama for his veto, before asking him if his veto would be enough to stop the project. Obama proceeded to explain the entire Keystone XL issue to the crowd.

"But the truth is it's Canadian Oil that's then going to go to the world market," he said. "It will probably create a couple thousand construction jobs for a year or two, and 300 permanent jobs."

But Obama didn't directly answer the woman's question. After discussing his problems with the pipeline, he thanked her, then moved on to the next question.

Obama vetoed a bill passed rapidly through both Republican- controlled House and Senate, authorizing the construction of an oil pipeline from Canada down to the Gulf of Mexico.

The president also fielded questions about Ferguson Missouri, including the question of why Attorney General Eric Holder didn't prosecute the officer who shot Michael Brown.

President Obama said Officer Wilson deserved due process like any other American.

A mother of an South Carolina State University student asked him how her son can stay motivated given the financial struggles the school has been facing.

To that, Obama said it is possible to get a good education anywhere, but acknowledged there is more left to do to get all state schools on a level playing field.

Another student asked about high tuition rates across the country.

"Ultimately, I want the first to years to be like high schools are now," Obama said. "It is very hard nowadays to find a good well-paying job with higher education."

Obama mentioned his plan to provide free community college for students across the country, which he rolled out at the end of 2014. But the president was also quick to point out the program hadn't made much progress since he unveiled it, and he put that blame on Republican lawmakers, saying they didn't do what he had hoped.

The president also mentioned the program My Brother's Keeper, a program designed to keep young men on track and out of trouble, which South Carolina cities have embraced.

Obama also spoke about the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama, and used it as a charge to advance social policies like healthcare and reform to the criminal justice system.

"We've got to ensure not just the absence of formal, legal oppression, but the presence of an active, dynamic opportunity: Good jobs that pay good wages. A good start for every child. Healthcare for every family," he said.

The president was referring to programs like the Affordable Care Act, one of the most definitive programs of his time in office.

However, the programs he brought up are also some of the most controversial, and have received stiff opposition from Republican legislators and governors.

Many of the students who attended the town hall meeting said they were in awe not only that the president was visiting South Carolina, but a historically-black school.

It was Obama's first visit to the Palmetto State as president. He last visited Columbia in 2008 during his first presidential campaign.

Matt Moore with the state's Republican Party said before Obama's arrival he hoped the president has a positive experience in South Carolina and that Obama would be able to see that the state is on the right track of improving education and jobs.

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