There are two things to look at here: the power of Speaker as the Constitutional Officer of the legislative branch of government…and the power of a single senator to completely gum up the works.
For starters, as Speaker of the House, John Boehner is the Constitutional Officer of his branch of government. He controls the House. By definition, all Joint Sessions of Congress must occur in the House. And during such a convocation, the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate (who, is also the Vice President) preside.
One need to look no further than any State of the Union speech to notice this phenomenon.
Notice where the president speaks during a Joint Session of Congress. He speaks at the second level of the dais, one level immediately below the speaker’s rostrum. Of course, that’s where the Speaker of the House and Vice President of the Senate preside. They are in charge (and specifically the House Speaker), looking over the shoulder of their invited guest (the president).
In addition, it is the Speaker of the House who formally presents the honored guest to both bodies after the president is in place on the second level of the dais.
Next….look at the Senate.
All speeches before a Joint Session of Congress must be approved by a joint resolution by both houses of Congress. Had Boehner deferred to the president and propounded a resolution providing for Congress to conduct the Joint Session on Sept. 7, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) threatened to object to the consideration of that resolution in the Senate.
As we always say, the true threat in the Senate is not an actual filibuster (Jimmy Stewart style, commanding the Senate floor for hours and hours), but the threat of a filibuster.
This is what DeMint was threatening to do.
Calling up a resolution for a Joint Session of Congress is a rote, rather ministerial exercise. But DeMint’s threat of an objection signaled a filibuster.
Remember, the rules in the Senate favor the minority and it takes but one senator to gum up the works.
Here’s what would have happened. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) tries to call up the resolution for the Joint Session on Sept. 7. DeMint objects to the Senate even considering the resolution.
The Senate is frozen.
What can they do?
Reid can file a cloture petition to cut off DeMint’s filibuster. That will take 60 votes. And if Reid filed the cloture petition next Tuesday (Sept. 6), they wouldn’t be able to vote on it until the Sept. 8! And then…IF they get 60 votes and invoke cloture, DeMint could potentially hold the floor until Friday Sept. 9.
Only then can the Senate consider the resolution for the president to speak on the Sept 7.
Then, Reid probably has to file another cloture petition to end debate on the resolution and force a final vote.
And the process starts all over again.
That puts us to about Sept. 12 or Sept. 13…
So even if the Senate wanted President Obama to speak on the Senate…and vault over DeMint's objections…it would take until about Sept. 14 to give him clearance.
All because of the power of ONE senator.