A new low in political pettiness

The unprecedented and embarrassing fight President Obama lost with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) over when he could come and address a joint session of Congress next week to outline a jobs agenda is a new low for Washington and for the presidency in general. But the bottom line — Obama started it. Whether or not the Speaker was going to respond with pettiness and partisanship, the White House knew when it picked the evening of Sept. 7 that it was stepping on the GOP presidential debate and that it would spark accusations of politics. That was a risk they took and it was foolish, beyond too cute by half.


It is bad enough that Team Obama has hyped a speech on jobs, one the public has arguably waited for a year or more, for a full month. How could a speech surprise at that point, and possibly meet such raised expectations? But to add a stunt on top of that guaranteed the White House would defeat the speech before it was given. The president needs to win back Independent voters who might be listening to the GOP debates but also want to hear his jobs proposals. They don’t like reindeer games, but that is what they got out of the president of the United States and the Speaker of the House.

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Boehner, with his restive conservatives always nipping at his heels, also behaved badly. According to White House aides, including spokesman Jay Carney, the Speaker signed off on the 9/7 date for the joint session Wednesday morning. Someone got him to rebuff the president. And Obama backed down. Now the speech comes the night after the debate, and it looks like a political rebuttal. It also happens on the first night of the football season, which guarantees a smaller audience.
 
The GOP leadership is clearly not ready to work with Obama. But amid the president’s unrelenting political problems and policy challenges, this is a fight he didn’t need to start.
 


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