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President Obama delivers a speech to Congress next Wednesday - Thursday. Make that Wednesday, or just make it Thursday. House Speaker John Boehner publicly disagreed with the White House over what date the president should come over. And that unusual spat precedes the debate over issues that matter a lot more.
The president says he wants to lay out proposals to create jobs. Republicans are offering their own plans, and that serves as a reminder that the fight over employment will affect both the economy and next year's election.
Here's NPR's Tamara Keith.
TAMARA KEITH: This is a fight where all the major players say it has absolutely nothing to do with politics and everything to do with logistics.
For a couple of weeks now, the White House has said the president would give a speech about jobs and the economy after Labor Day. And as far as presidential speechmaking goes, there's no bolder way to outline a policy than before a joint session of Congress.
Normally, it's a pretty easy operation. The president says, hey, I want to give a big speech. And the leaders of the House and Senate say, sure. Come on over. Well, there are some parliamentary steps along the way. But a president has never been turned down. That is, until yesterday, when Speaker John Boehner sent the president a letter recommending Mr. Obama pick a different night to give his speech.
Ross Baker is a professor of political science at Rutgers University.
Mr. ROSS BAKER (Political Science Professor, Rutgers University): There's a kind of etiquette traditionally that says to leaders of Congress, it's a good thing to defer to the president. You know, he is the person elected by all of the people. And if he wants to speak at a particular time, he should really have that opportunity.
KEITH: But this is Washington, 2011. It's only been a month since a fight over the once-obscure debt ceiling brought the nation to the brink of default. And it seems now nothing is simple.
In this case, President Obama sent a letter to congressional leaders saying he'd like to address a joint session at 8 p.m. Wednesday the 7th. It just so happens that is the exact time Republican presidential hopefuls were set to hold a televised debate.
Ms. KIRSTEN KUKOWSKI (Spokesperson, Republican National Committee): Clearly, he wants to steal the show from the GOP presidential candidates when this debate has been on the books for quite some time.
KEITH: Kirsten Kukowski is a spokesperson for the Republican National Committee. And like a lot of people, she saw the president's timing as overtly political.
Ms. KUKOWSKI: All this president does is campaign. It's pretty clear that it's all politics, all the time.
Mr. JAY CARNEY (White House Press Secretary): It is coincidental.
KEITH: That's White House press secretary Jay Carney, who insisted the president's choice of Wednesday night had absolutely nothing to do with the GOP debate.
Mr. CARNEY: This is about the president addressing the American economy, the need to grow the economy, the need to create jobs. This is the right time to do it, the right day to do it, given all the other considerations.
KEITH: In his letter to the president suggesting Thursday night instead, Speaker Boehner didn't say anything about the GOP debate. He cited security logistics and matters of timing, since members of the House aren't scheduled to return from their August break until 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday. This, of course, was also taken as a blatantly political move and set off a flurry of finger-pointing and finger-wagging on both sides.
Claremont McKenna political science Professor Jack Pitney says that stuff may matter to partisans, but most Americans will just roll their eyes.
Mr. JACK PITNEY (Political Science Professor, Claremont McKenna College): Ordinary citizens will think: What's the big deal? Why don't you just get the job done?
KEITH: When it comes down to it, Pitney says neither the president nor Speaker Boehner come out of this looking good.
Mr. PITNEY: This is a dispute between an unpopular president and an unpopular Congress, and it's very likely that the result will be to make both sides more unpopular.
KEITH: And Ross Baker at Rutgers says it's a huge distraction from the issue Americans care about and the subject of the president's speech: jobs.
Mr. BAKER: Certainly, if the president wanted a more welcoming audience in the House chamber, I think this makes it somewhat less likely. But candidly, I think that the chances of his getting a friendly reception, even without this particular disagreement, wouldn't have been very good.
KEITH: Late in the evening, the president agreed to give his speech Thursday the 8th. Instead of big-footing the GOP debate, now President Obama will have to go head-to-head with the start of the NFL season - a game between the Green Bay Packers and the New Orleans Saints.
Tamara Keith, NPR News.
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