Obama's Jobs Address To Coincide With GOP Debate

For a couple weeks, the White House has hinted that President Obama would lay out his jobs agenda after Labor Day. Well, Wednesday, Obama asked House and Senate leaders if he could address a joint session of Congress next Wednesday evening — the same day and time as a Republican presidential debate. Late Wednesday afternoon, House Speaker John Boehner said that won't work — how about the next night? NPR's Mara Liasson joins Robert Siegel to talk about this strange case of scheduling and politics.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host: President Obama will outline his jobs plan to a joint meeting of Congress next Thursday, not next Wednesday. And what a difference a day makes when it comes to politics. Scheduling of the date involved a political tug-of-war between the White House and Speaker of the House, Republican John Boehner.

And joining us to explain what happened today is NPR's Mara Liasson. And, Mara, tell us what the White House announced late this evening after earlier in the day requesting a joint session of Congress on Wednesday evening to address the Congress about jobs?

MARA LIASSON: Well, what they announced was that he won't be speaking on Wednesday evening. Instead, he'll be speaking on Thursday evening, instead. The speaker of the House decided not to invite the president to speak on Wednesday, which was the date that he had requested. Instead, he suggested Thursday. And after a little bit of back and forth and partisan mudslinging, the president has agreed once again to do what the speaker wants, which is to have it on Thursday.

SIEGEL: Now the significance of Wednesday - or this one significance of Wednesday is that there would be a direct conflict between a speech to a joint session at 8 p.m. and a Republican presidential primary debate at 8 p.m.

LIASSON: That's right. The Republicans have many primary debates scheduled, about 20, but this one is at the Reagan Library. It's also the first one that Rick Perry, the Texas governor who recently entered the race, will be part of. And Republicans were incensed that the president would have to speak on that night and upstage them. So Speaker Boehner decided to do the same thing to the president and said, sorry, we're not going to invite you up. The House is back in session at 6:30 on Wednesday, and it's just not convenient for us to have you speak on Thursday.

And the president decided not to make a fight out of this. He acquiesced. He just said, OK, I'll speak on Thursday. The problem with Thursday, and the reason why the White House didn't want to speak on that night originally, was because it's the first night of the football season. And the football game between the New Orleans Saints and the Green Bay Packers will have a huge audience perhaps cutting into the president's audience.

SIEGEL: And the debate is sponsored by NBC.

LIASSON: Yes. The debate is sponsored by NBC. It's only carried on one channel. But this is what happened: There was a standoff, and the president stood down at least on this matter of scheduling, and he now will go ahead and give his speech on Thursday.

And I should say that traditionally, these things are quite pro forma. The president asks to give a prime time joint session of Congress address, and he usually gets the time and date of his request. But not anymore, not in the political times we are living in today.

SIEGEL: Right. Well, that's a measure of Washington politics. What can we expect in the speech if actually it's establishing what day it's to be delivered? Is that contentious? It seems not very likely that what President Obama will propose could actually be approved by the Republican House.

LIASSON: It's very unlikely that anything he proposes will be approved by the Congress. However, it is an important thing for him to do to lay out his jobs plan. He has two very big holes to climb out of with the speech. The first one is the economic hole and the fact that the recovery is faltering. So he has to offer a package of proposals that will strike economists and ordinary people, as ones that if they were enacted really would do something to boost economic growth and job creation. And that's going to be very difficult for him since there really are not a lot of arrows left in the fiscal policy quiver.

For instance, he can't propose a big stimulus plan, huge public works project. That is really out of the question with the deficit so big and the political climate turned against spending. The second hole he has to climb out of is his own political hole. His numbers on leadership have just plummeted over the summer.

SIEGEL: And...

LIASSON: And he really has to prove that he has a plan and he's ready to fight for it.

SIEGEL: NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Mara, thank you.

LIASSON: Thank you, Robert.

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