By Michael O’Brien - 09/01/11 09:30 AM EDT
Washington was beset Wednesday by political gamesmanship involving both the presidential election and the autumn session of Congress.
A public spat between President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) over the timing of a joint-session speech to Congress on jobs and the economy set a combative tone for the fall’s political high season.
Boehner responded by asking Obama to address Congress on Thursday instead. He made no mention of the conflict with the debate, instead citing concerns that Congress, which officially returns Wednesday evening, wouldn’t be prepared for the speech, given the extensive security precautions needed before such an event.
The conflict was resolved when White House press secretary Jay Carney said in a statement that Obama had agreed to address Congress on Thursday, Sept. 8, as the Speaker requested.
"The president is focused on the urgent need to create jobs and grow our economy, so he welcomes the opportunity to address a Joint Session of Congress on Thursday, September 8th and challenge our nation's leaders to start focusing 100 percent of their attention on doing whatever they can to help the American people," Carney said.
The dispute is the most high-profile example of schedule reshuffling undertaken by Obama and Republican hopefuls to replace him, signaling the campaign for 2012 is about to shift into a higher gear starting next week.
GOP candidate Mitt Romney, pushed out of his front-runner status by Texas Gov. Rick Perry, announced he’d found the time to attend a key conservative forum on Labor Day in South Carolina. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, meanwhile, flirted with withdrawing from an Iowa Tea Party event she’d previously scheduled before relenting.
Labor Day demarcates the end of summer and the beginning of fall for school children and football fans alike, and the flurry of moves by the president and GOP candidates shows the political world believes it also marks the point at which voters will begin tuning into candidates and their messages.
The White House dismissed the notion that it was trying to bigfoot the GOP debate by initially scheduling the president’s highly-anticipated jobs speech on Wednesday.
“One debate of many that’s on one channel of many was not enough of a reason” to pick another date, Carney said.
This was met with guffaws from Republicans, who described Carney’s excuse as “laughable.”
"President Obama’s decision to do his jobs speech the same night as the GOP presidential debate shows that this White House is all politics all the time. And White House comments that the schedule is a coincidence is laughable and another example of why the president is losing credibility with the American people,” said Republican National Committee press secretary Kirsten Kukowski.
It’s not the first time the president has moved to counter-program the Republican presidential field. After the influential Ames straw poll last month, Obama's bus tour rolled into Iowa the following Monday, leading to complaints from Republicans about the political overtones of the taxpayer-funded trip.
Romney shook up his schedule so he could accommodate both a planned appearance in New Hampshire and a presidential candidates' forum in South Carolina hosted by Sen. Jim DeMint (R).
Under pressure in the polls from Perry, Romney also added a speech over the weekend to a Tea Party group in New Hampshire.
Romney will deliver a major speech Tuesday in Nevada, where he’ll look to bookend Obama’s jobs speech by unveiling a jobs plan of his own. The speech will mark Romney’s emergence back into the spotlight after a deliberately quiet summer.
Not to be outdone, Palin, the 2008 GOP vice presidential candidate, also added a Tea Party speech to Granite Staters.
Palin was enveloped in her own calendar controversy on Wednesday, after she threatened to back out of a major speech scheduled for Saturday at an Iowa event organized by Tea Party of America.
Palin’s decision to attend appeared to hinge on whether Christine O’Donnell, the 2010 GOP nominee for Senate in Delaware, whom Palin had endorsed, would be allowed to attend the same event. O'Donnell had been invited, disinvited and then re-invited in the last 48 hours before having her invitation rescinded again — at the request of Palin, according to NBC News. Palin was said to recommit to the event following the adjustment.
If Obama’s speech had gone ahead as the White House initially hoped, on Sept. 7, it would have created a particular scheduling hassle for two other GOP candidates, Reps. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and Ron Paul (R-Texas), who would have had to choose between their day-to-day duties as a member of Congress and attending the debate. (Michigan Rep. Thad McCotter, who’s waging a long-shot bid for the GOP nomination, is not eligible to participate, according to debate rules.)
Paul’s office wasn’t happy about what it saw as a nakedly political move by the White House.
“It is undignified that the president of the United States would resort to such transparent tactics to step on our Republican debate,” Paul campaign manager Jesse Benton said. “The real losers here are the American people, who deserve the opportunity to hear from both the president and the GOP contenders.”