- The Washington Times
Wednesday, August 31, 2011

It’s the people’s House, as Speaker John A. Boehner made clear to President Obama on Wednesday.

Mr. Boehner, Ohio Republican, asked the president to postpone for one day his speech on jobs to a joint session of Congress, to avoid “parliamentary or logistical impediments.”

Late Wednesday, the White House released a statement agreeing to the postponement.

The time and date Mr. Obama originally chose for his major address, 8 p.m. on Sept. 7, happened to coincide with a Republican presidential debate at the Ronald W. Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in California. Mr. Boehner made no mention of the debate in his letter to the president, but said the House would be just returning from its monthlong recess on Sept. 7.

“With the significant amount of time - typically more than three hours - that is required to allow for a security sweep of the House Chamber before receiving a President, 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,” Mr. Boehner wrote.

Mr. Boehner told the president that “there are considerations about the congressional calendar that must be made prior to scheduling such an extraordinary event.”

Mr. Obama’s speech now will coincide with opening day of the NFL season.

Presidents traditionally ask the leaders of Congress to schedule a speech to a joint session, which is what Mr. Obama did this time. But it’s unusual for a leader of Congress to suggest another date after the White House has announced it.

Mr. Boehner’s office said the White House broke protocol.

“No one in the speaker’s office - not the speaker, not any staff - signed off on the date the White House announced today,” spokesman Brendan Buck said. “Unfortunately, we weren’t even asked if that date worked for the House.

“Shortly before it arrived this morning, we were simply informed that a letter was coming. 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,” he said.

Earlier Wednesday, the head of the House Democrats’ fundraising arm accused Mr. Boehner of playing politics and trying to stifle job-creation efforts.

“After 239 days with no action to create jobs, Speaker Boehner and House Republicans have just given the American people the clearest - and most disgraceful - proof yet that their priority is playing politics instead,” said Rep. Steve Israel of New York, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

“Republicans saw and heard from outraged constituents across the country throughout the August recess but clearly did not listen. Americans’ top priority is creating jobs and protecting Medicare while Republicans’ top priority is playing political games,” he said in a statement on DCCC letterhead.

The White House had been on the defensive about choosing a date that conflicts with the GOP debate, the first one to include Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

Presidential spokesman Jay Carney said the scheduling conflict was not intentional.

“It is coincidental,” Mr. Carney said. “You can never find a perfect time.”

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus slammed Mr. Obama’s request as “a thinly veiled political ploy” in a statement issued before Mr. Boehner’s letter was released.

“While the White House claims it’s simply a ‘coincidence,’ the American people can see right through that excuse,” Mr. Priebus said of the timing of the president’s request.

Asked by a reporter whether the White House was concerned about “potentially upsetting” former first lady Nancy Reagan, who is 90, Mr. Carney responded: “I - well, I think that the - well, you know, we - the sponsors of the debate control - you know, with the timing of it - that they can make a decision based on how they want to handle this. But there are many channels, there are many opportunities for the public to hear the president speak, to watch this debate, one of many. And - well, you know, we’ll let - we’ll let that sort itself out.”

Although it’s still early in the primary season, the debate has drawn more anticipation than others because of the recent entry into the race by Mr. Perry, who is outpolling former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the early front-runner.

Mr. Perry has yet to debate the rest of the field.

The president has asked for the joint session of Congress to deliver his proposal to spur the economy, as he tries to exert pressure on Republican lawmakers to approve ideas such as boosting spending for construction projects and extending unemployment benefits.

Lawmakers return from recess next week, and Republican leaders are voicing strong opposition to some of the president’s plans, which would add hundreds of billions of dollars to next year’s deficit.

Mr. Carney had said there will be more than 20 debates, but “there’s one president.” He said television viewers could decide what they want to watch, “whether it’s the - you know, the Wildlife Channel or the Cooking Channel.”

Or, as it now appears, professional football.

The original timing of the president’s speech would have required three Republican presidential candidates to choose between attending the speech or taking part in the debate.

Reps. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, Ron Paul of Texas and Thaddeus G. McCotter of Michigan are current House members, who ordinarily attend presidential addresses to joint sessions of Congress.

• Dave Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

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