Boehner asks Obama to move speech

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) asked President Obama to address a joint-session of Congress on Thursday, Sept. 8, when it wouldn’t conflict with the Republican presidential debate. 

Wednesday night, the White House accepted the Speaker’s offer.

Citing logistical difficulties, Boehner requested that Obama hold his jobs address, which Obama wants to deliver next Wednesday, one day later.

The Speaker’s letter made no mention of the more obvious conflict: between the president’s speech, and a Republican presidential debate scheduled on Wednesday night at 8 p.m. EDT. That debate is the first of the post-Labor Day political season, and the first one in which Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) is set to participate. 

The response by Boehner sets up an early showdown between Obama and the Congress just returning from its August recess.

{mosads}Boehner, in a letter responding to Obama’s request, said the House wouldn’t have enough time to prepare for a speech that evening.

“As your spokesperson today said, there are considerations about the Congressional calendar that must be made prior to scheduling such an extraordinary event,” the Speaker wrote. 

“With the significant amount of time — typically more than three hours — that is required to allow for a security sweep of the House Chamber before receiving a president, it is my recommendation that your address be held on the following evening, when we can ensure there will be no parliamentary or logistical impediments that might detract from your remarks.”

Boehner noted that the House isn’t scheduled to reconvene until 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday. 

“As such, on behalf of the bipartisan leadership and membership of both the House and Senate, I respectfully invite you to address a Joint Session of Congress on Thursday, September 8, 2011 in the House Chamber, at a time that works best for your schedule,” Boehner said.

Press secretary Jay Carney said in a statement Wednesday night that Obama had agreed to speak on Thursday Sept. 8 instead of Sept. 7, the day which the president originally requested.

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Boehner’s move appeared to surprise the White House, which according to a senior administration official had cleared the Sept. 7 date and 8 p.m. time of the address with House Republicans before making the formal request. The official said Boehner’s office was consulted about the letter before it was made public, and that “no objections/concerns were raised.”

Boehner’s office flatly denied the White House assertion that the Wednesday date was cleared with the Speaker. A Boehner spokesman, Brendan Buck, accused the White House of ignoring “decades, if not centuries” of protocol on such events.

“No one in the Speaker’s office — not the Speaker, not any staff — signed off on the date the White House announced today,” Buck said in a statement. “Unfortunately we weren’t even asked if that date worked for the House. Shortly before it arrived this morning, we were simply informed that a letter was coming. It’s unfortunate the White House ignored decades — if not centuries — of the protocol of working out a mutually agreeable date and time before making any public announcement.”

Meanwhile, the White House downplayed the scheduling conflict with the GOP debate as just that, an innocent coincidence. 

Asked whether the speech was purposefully scheduled the same night as the Republican debate, White House press secretary Jay Carney said, “Of course not.”

“It is coincidental,” said Carney, who explained that a number of considerations were taken into account when Obama settled on Sept. 7.

“One debate of many that’s on one channel of many was not enough of a reason” to pick another date, Carney said.

He added that Obama had chosen to speak directly to Congress in hopes that members had been chastened and softened after hearing from angry constituents over the August break.

The Republican National Committee (RNC), however, accused the Obama administration of politicking by scheduling the speech simultaneously with the debate. 

RNC Chairman Reince Priebus slammed Obama’s request as “a thinly-veiled political ploy” in a statement. “While the White House claims it’s simply a ‘coincidence,’ the American people can see right through that excuse,” Priebus said of the timing of the president’s request.

“If the President were serious about putting ‘country before politics,’ as he said in his request to speak to Congress, he wouldn’t be caught in such a thinly-veiled political ploy. This is yet another reminder that the President is out of touch and out of ideas. The only job he seems to care about is his own.”

A speech on Thursday would compete with the opening night of the NFL season, traditionally a ratings winner.

This year’s opener, televised on NBC, features the reigning Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers against the New Orleans Saints. More than 27 million viewers watched last year’s NFL opener on NBC. By contrast, 32.1 million people — on a total of 10 networks — watched Obama’s speech on healthcare to a joint session of Congress shortly after Labor Day in 2009.

In a letter to congressional leaders requesting the Sept. 7 slot, the president said he will urge Congress to put aside politics and focus on creating jobs during the speech.

“As I have traveled across our country this summer and spoken with our fellow Americans, I have heard a consistent message: Washington needs to put aside politics and start making decisions based on what is best for our country and not what is best for each of our parties in order to grow the economy and create jobs,” Obama wrote. “We must answer this call.”

According to a Democratic leadership source, the House Democratic leadership was not consulted with respect to Speaker Boehner’s letter requesting a new date for the president’s address.

This story was first posted at 4:22 p.m. and last updated at 7:50 p.m.

— Russell Berman and Sam Youngman contributed.

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