Obama Accepts Request to Reschedule Jobs Speech Amid Conflict With GOP Debate
President Obama has accepted House Speaker John Boehner's request to postpone his planned jobs speech by a day, after the White House announced Wednesday that it was scheduling the address for the same night as a GOP 2012 primary debate in California.
“Today, the President asked to address the Congress about the need for urgent action on the economic situation facing the American people as soon as Congress returned from recess," Press Secretary Jay Carney said in a statement.
"Both Houses will be back in session after their August recess on Wednesday, September 7th, so that was the date that was requested. We consulted with the Speaker about that date before the letter was released, but he determined Thursday would work better," he said.
"The President is focused on the urgent need to create jobs and grow our economy, so he welcomes the opportunity to address a Joint Session of Congress on Thursday, September 8th and challenge our nation's leaders to start focusing 100% of their attention on doing whatever they can to help the American people," he said.
"We appreciate the President working with us tonight and look forward to hearing his new proposals," a Boehner spokesman said.
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Earlier Wednesday, Obama's letter to congressional leaders had requested to speak before a joint session of Congress on Sept. 7 at 8 p.m., which is the very same time as the scheduled GOP two-hour debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.
The president, however, first needed permission from congressional leaders in order to deliver the address.
While House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi welcomed the president, Boehner had said in a letter late Wednesday afternoon that he would like the president to pick a different time, and told GOP members during a conference call that he'd invite Obama to speak on Thursday.
Since the House does not come into session until Sept. 7, with votes scheduled that evening, Boehner had expressed concern about the time it would take to conduct the security sweep in time for a presidential speech. He did not mention the debate in his reasoning.
Sources familiar with the conference call also said Boehner explained that a joint session is a difficult procedure to pull off in a short time.
"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 had written.
Boehner's spokesman added in a statement that the White House had also ignored protocol by not first requesting a date from the speaker's office.
"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," Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck said.
A senior House Democratic aide later called Boehner's office "childish" for asking the president to reschedule.
"The childish behavior coming out of the speaker's office today is truly historic," the aide said. "It is unprecedented to reject the date that a president wants to address a joint session of the Congress."
The White House had insisted the timing was coincidental. Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters earlier that there were many scheduling "considerations" and suggested the president had no interest in detracting from the debate viewership.
But Carney downplayed the debate as one of many on the political calendar. He said the White House would "carry forward" with its planned speech regardless of "whatever the competing opportunities on television are, whether it's the wildlife channel or the cooking channel."
Republicans were quick to slam the president for the move. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus called it a "thinly-veiled political ploy."
"President Obama's decision to address Congress at the same time as a long-scheduled Republican Presidential debate cements his reputation as Campaigner-in-Chief," he said in a written statement.
Earlier a Reagan Library official, speaking to Fox News, said there was no official reaction yet from the organizers of the debate, but the event has been on the schedule for months. Politico, which is co-sponsoring the debate with NBC News, had said the debate would not be postponed.
Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe didn't buy the White House explanation. "No, that's not just coincidental," the Oklahoma senator told Fox News Radio, suggesting mischief was afoot. "Why else would he choose 8 o'clock on Wednesday?"
However, by scheduling the speech on the same night, the president ran the risk of becoming even more of a punching bag if the debate sponsors pushed back the time. Republican candidates would have had an immediate opportunity to rebut the president's speech on live TV.
"Potentially, it will backfire," said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics. "Obama's elevated this debate to a face-off with him rather than a face-off with the Republican candidates."
Andrea Saul, spokeswoman for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, had said in a statement that viewers would have a choice between "Republican candidates talking about the future of America, or Barack Obama talking about the future of his presidency."
Though the debate is one of many, it would be the first to feature Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who jumped into the race shortly after the last debate, which was co-sponsored by Fox News. Perry has quickly vaulted into the lead position in many national polls.
Obama is expected to outline proposals for both long-term deficit reduction and job creation.
The plan is likely to include a mix of infrastructure spending and tax relief, as well as other proposals. For months, the president has been pushing for new trade agreements, patent reform and an extension of the payroll tax cut, among other initiatives.
With Republicans in control of the House and Democrats in control of the Senate, the president will need bipartisan support for any proposals he lays out. After bitter partisan debates led to last-minute agreements on government funding and a debt-ceiling increase, the president is calling on lawmakers to come together around his new proposals.
"It is my intention to lay out a series of bipartisan proposals that the Congress can take immediately to continue to rebuild the American economy by strengthening small businesses, helping Americans get back to work, and putting more money in the paychecks of the Middle Class and working Americans, while still reducing our deficit and getting our fiscal house in order," Obama wrote in his letter Wednesday to Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid and Boehner.
Fox News' Chad Pergram contributed to this report.