Boehner Rebuffs Obama's Request to Address Congress on Wednesday

After the president asked lawmakers to convene, the House speaker suggested the speech be held on Thursday instead

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A month after they went toe-to-toe over the nation's debt, President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, slugged it out on Wednesday over the calendar and the president's desire to give a speech to Congress. The prize is next Wednesday night, Sept. 7.

That night was supposed to belong to the Republicans. It was to be a showcase for the eight GOP contenders for president, a chance to use two hours of national television coverage of their debate in California to bash Obama. A chance to look presidential. But with only 198 words in a letter to the leaders of Congress, Obama reminded them who is president right now.

But it took Boehner only another 268 words in his own letter later in the day to remind Obama that while he is president, he does not dictate the schedule of the House of Representatives. Boehner reclaimed Wednesday for the GOP, suggesting that Thursday was a better day for the commander in chief to come to the House chambers to give what the White House hopes will be the marching orders in the battle to revive a weak economy.

Noting that the House will not be in session on Wednesday until 6:30 p.m., Boehner argued there just isn't enough time to have the president in as a guest at 8 p.m. "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," wrote Boehner, "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."

The next move is up to the White House, which has not yet responded. But if they accept Boehner's suggestion of Thursday night, they will find the president pitted against a ratings behemoth much tougher to overwhelm than any candidates' debate--the kickoff of the NFL season, with the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers taking on the New Orleans Saints at 8:30 p.m. The game will be broadcast on NBC.

In deciding on the grandest possible venue to unveil Obama's jobs plan and in picking Sept. 7 even though it clashed with the Republican candidates' debate in California, the White House was playing political hardball. But it is also ratcheting up the pressure to deliver a program that is more than just a rehash of past proposals and is bold enough to put the economy on a course more positive than today's.

If Obama falls short on that measure, if his proposal looks timid or inadequate, he could regret seeking that large stage. But that will not be known until later. The immediate impact is on politics, and it assuredly leaves the eight challengers steaming and the debate sponsors miffed.

Presented by

George E. Condon Jr.

George E. Condon Jr is a staff writer (White House) with National Journal.

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