All Talk: What Do Obama's Speeches Do?

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This week, Obama will give three speeches in three small Midwestern cities about the economy as a way to frame the inevitable confrontation with Republicans this fall over the debt ceiling. But if the past is any guide, while Obama's speeches have been good for getting voters to vote for him, they've been pretty bad at convincing Republicans in Congress to change their minds.

"In a couple of months, we will face some more critical budget deadlines that require Congressional action, not showdowns that serve only to harm families and businesses — and the president wants to talk about the issues that should be at the core of that debate," Obama adviser Dan Pfeiffer said in a mass email, The New York Times' Mark Landler reports. White House officials are comparing this week's speech to one Obama gave in Osawatomie, Kansas, in 2011 about economic inequality, which became a theme of his 2012 campaign. But the difference is Obama was trying to convince millions of American voters to vote for him. Today he is looking for the votes of a couple hundred House Republicans who were sent to Washington by the voters who did not find Obama's speeches all that convincing.

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Obama's "staff is meticulously orchestrating this economic tour," which starts on Wednesday at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, The Times reports. The speech is supposed to set the terms of the coming fiscal debate. But it comes as a bloc of House Republicans look increasingly unpersuadeable even for people in their own party. Senators who back immigration reform are urging lobbyists to convince House Republicans to allow a vote on some kind of immigration bill, National Journal reports. House Republicans think the senators are up to no good:

“Wow, these people are really trying to [screw] us,” one House GOP aide said of the meeting.

House Republicans who oppose a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented workers in the U.S. think that even if the House passes something without the pathway, the conference committee — where the House and Senate reconcile differences between their versions of bills — will put a pathway back in. As Breitbart News' Matthew Boyle reports:

“We are scared to death of what we figure is already Boehner’s end game,” a senior congressional GOP aide told Breitbart News. “There are so many forces within the GOP establishment pushing for their interests that it’s hard to conceive that Boehner will not cave to them.”

That's even though on CBS's Face the Nation on Sunday, Boehner wouldn't even say whether he supports a path to citizenship. "It's not about me. It's not about what I want," Boehner said. "[M]e taking a hard position for or against some of these issues will make it harder for us to get a bill... If I come out and say I'm for this and I'm for that, all I'm doing is making my job harder."

It's not just immigration where Boehner's private speeches have not been as effective as Obama hopes his public ones will be. Texas Rep. Steve Stockman is circulating a discharge petition to force the House to vote on creating a special committee to investigate the Benghazi attacks of 2012, The Hill's Julian Pecquet reports. Boehner and other Republican leaders have opposed creating a special committee, but so far, 160 members of the House have signed Virginia Rep. Frank Wolf's resolution demanding one. Sixty-two Republicans rebelled and voted against the farm bill last month, even though it included big cuts to food stamps. (The House passed a food stamp-less bill earlier this month, though 12 Republicans rebelled this time.)

Plus, New York's Jonathan Chait writes that although House Republicans didn't get what they demanded during the 2011 debt ceiling crisis, they're asking for even more this time. 

If Obama wants to lift the debt ceiling for the rest of his term, they announced, all he has to do is … agree to sign on to [Paul] Ryan’s plan to cut and privatize Medicare. If that’s too much for him, Republicans have generously offered the choice of letting Obama accept a package of deep cuts to Medicaid and food stamps in return for a shorter debt-ceiling extension. 

Boehner and other GOP leaders have not convinced certain House Republicans to lower their expectations. Obama will try to do so with three of his soaring speeches.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.