John Boehner Refuses President Barack Obama’s Request for a Special Session of Congress to Talk about His Jobs Bill

NOTE: This was substantially revised as new information came in.

In this post I was not cheering on President Barack Obama for timing his planned address to a special session of Congress on his jobs plan in a time of severe economic crisis to the time when GOPers were holding a major Presidential debate. It raised eyebrows to say the least.

But Speaker of the House John Boehner’s response now jumps the political — and historical — shark: he has refused Obama’s request saying Congress can’t act fast enough..the first time a President has had such a request refused.

Later reporting noted that Boehner is suggesting Obama’s speech compete with the opening game of the NFL season — something as seemingly coincidental as Obama’s choice for a speech. It seems like one more political message — another political flexing of muscles. The problem: Oftentimes such muscle-flexing suggests that the muscles are in one’s head. The Huffington Post:

Boehner urged in a letter to the president that the speech be moved from Wednesday Sept. 7 to Thursday Sept. 8. His reasoning was not that the speech will conflict with the Republican presidential debate scheduled to take place that night. Rather, he argued that the House of Representatives won’t have enough time to pass the resolution and conduct the security measures necessary in order to officially invite the president to a joint session on Wednesday -– an explanation that is perhaps hard to swallow, considering Congress’ ability to pass massive pieces of legislation at the last minute.

Has this happened before?

Boehner’s response to Obama’s request may be unprecedented. The Senate Historical Office said it knows of no instance when Congress has refused a president permission to address a Joint Session of Congress.

“From 1800 to 1913, presidents chose not to address Congress in person. Since 1913, every president has appeared before Congress at least once during his term(s) in office. Permission to speak in a joint session is given by resolution of the House and Senate, and arrangements are made through the leadership offices of each chamber,” said Betty K. Koed, an associate historian for the U.S. Senate, in response to an inquiry from The Huffington Post.

Get ready to hear a traditional partisan defense of Boehner. But the bottom line is that no Speaker has refused a request by a President before. In a way, though, it’s not surprising: no House of Representatives has threatened to let the U.S. go into default if its demands were not met before, either.

I predict many will react as I do: Obama’s timing left just enough (im)plausible deniability on the timing of his speech. But the economy is in a bad state and a President should be given an opportunity to address lawmakers before the State of the Union given the suffering so many Americans are feeling. And if he had delivered the speech, GOPers at the debate would be virtually guaranteed great sound bytes with “legs” that would be run alongside Obama’s comments. Boehner’s response also leaves some wiggle room for partisans to insist that there was absolutely nothing political about a Speaker of the House for the first time in American history turning a President down when he asks to address a joint session of Congress on a specific date.

ABC News’ reporting puts this in better context than earlier reports:


Obama’s request for the joint session on Wednesday would have conflicted with a planned debate of Republican presidential candidates in California. Boehner’s request for the joint session on Thursday conflicts with the opening game of the NFL season.

With the House of Representatives not set to return to session from a month-long recess until hours before the president’s proposed time for a joint session, Boehner pointed to concerns about “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.”

Boehner wrote that he agrees with the president that “creating a better environment for job creation must be our most urgent priority” and said that the House has worked to implement “an agenda designed to reduce economic uncertainty, remove unnecessary government barriers to private-sector job creation, and help small businesses.”

“We welcome the opportunity to hear your latest proposals,” Boehner, R-Ohio, wrote. “We look forward to hearing your ideas and working together to solve America’s jobs crisis.”

GOP aides say that the speaker was not made aware of the president’s request for a joint address until 15 minutes prior to the White House’s public announcement.

This is not the first time that Boehner and Obama’s schedules have competed in the public spectrum.

Following the GOP’s electoral triumph last November, the White House announced a Nov. 18 meeting with the president and Congressional leadership without first confirming the attendance of the GOP leaders. After Boehner cited a scheduling conflict, the Oval Office sit-down was eventually rescheduled to Nov. 30.

Boehner is not the only Republican displeased with the president’s proposed timing for the widely anticipated address on job creation. Earlier Wednesday, Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus criticized Obama for trying to steal the show from Republicans vying to defeat him and participating in the GOP debate at the Reagan Library in California.

“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,” Priebus wrote in a statement. “While the White House claims it’s simply a ‘coincidence,’ the American people can see right through that excuse.”

While Boehner’s proposal to have the joint session a day later solves the quandary between a presidential primetime address and the GOP debate, if accepted, the speaker’s proposal would likely match the president up in primetime against the NFL’s season opener on NBC between the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers and the New Orleans Saints.

Happenstance — to use MSNBC’s Martin Bashir’s favorite word — indeed.
The Atlantic’s George Condon:

But it took Boehner only another 268 words in his own letter later in the day to remind Obama that while he is president, he does not dictate the schedule of the House of Representatives. Boehner reclaimed Wednesday for the GOP, suggesting that Thursday was a better day for the commander in chief to come to the House chambers to give what the White House hopes will be the marching orders in the battle to revive a weak economy.

Noting that the House will not be in session on Wednesday until 6:30 p.m., Boehner argued there just isn’t enough time to have the president in as a guest at 8 p.m. “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,” wrote Boehner, “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.”

The next move is up to the White House, which has not yet responded. But if they accept Boehner’s suggestion of Thursday night, they will find the president pitted against a ratings behemoth much tougher to overwhelm than any candidates’ debate–the kickoff of the NFL season, with the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers taking on the New Orleans Saints at 8:30 p.m. The game will be broadcast on NBC.

AJC blog:

It’s not often that a White House publicly asks to be invited to speak to a Joint Session of Congress without working out a date with Congressional leaders. And it’s not often that the Congress tells a President to find a different date. But that’s what happened today.

The best post on this is on New York Magazine’s Daily Intel which gets to the bottom line:

Obviously, both sides here are lying through their teeth. Nobody is admitting it, but this scheduling tug-of-war revolves 100 percent around the GOP debate, and whether Obama will be allowed to frame it in the way of his choosing. As the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza observed this afternoon, Obama may have picked Wednesday not so much to overshadow the GOP debate as to set up a contrast “between a sitting incumbent spending his time trying to find solutions to the big problems facing the country and a motley crew of Republicans fighting amongst themselves as they all try to run to the extreme ideological right.”

It’s unclear whether Obama privately got the okay from Boehner before he went public with his initial request. According to NBC’s Luke Russert, Obama only gave Boehner fifteen minutes’ notice about his request, while Politico’s Glenn Thrush hears from an administration source that the “date/time of Obama address was ‘cleared’ with GOP before it went public.”

Whatever happened behind closed doors, this whole exercise in political posturing is fairly pointless. The hoped-for contrast between Obama and the GOP field will be just as clear, and probably even clearer — because anyone who is interested will be able to watch both events — if Obama is forced to give his address on Thursday, the day after the debate. In other words, the final outcome of this battle of disingenuous motivations really doesn’t matter.

Another in other words is this:

To many independent voters this is one more example of people with Ds and Rs next to their names acting like pre-schoolers.

VERY YOUNG preschoolers…

UPDATE: Interesting take on this from Daily Kos:

Boehner’s office concedes that it was briefed ahead of time, but denies agreeing to the date. But even if they didn’t explicitly agree to the schedule, unless they voiced an objection, they were quite clearly operating in bad faith.

But all that is really beside the point. For what is almost certainly the first time in the history of our nation, the Speaker of the House has rejected a request from the President to speak on a matter of great national urgency. Everything else about this story is noise.

Of course, Republicans will try to sidetrack the discussion by questioning why President Obama had to pick the same night as the Republicans had scheduled a presidential debate. But the answer is simple: Wednesday is the first day the House returns to session after it’s month-long vacation. What could possibly be more urgent than getting to work right away at creating jobs?

Certainly a Republican presidential debate couldn’t be more urgent, especially when it can be delayed by an hour and wasn’t even going to be broadcast on national networks anyway. And don’t forget, this is primary season; GOP debates are a dime a dozen. There are two or three scheduled that week this month next month alone. They are so unimportant that John Boehner didn’t even watch the first GOP debate.

So this isn’t really about the debate. It’s not even really about a scheduling conflict. This is the GOP’s way of telling President Obama that he can go to hell for all they care—that there is no chance in the world that they will work with him on passing legislation to boost job creation. If they can’t even agree to listen to a speech, there’s no chance they’ll agree to anything that will strengthen our economy.

Whatever ends up happening, President Obama should still give a speech next Wednesday. If Republicans refuse to hear to what he has to say, then it’s time to take his message straight to the public.

4:21 PM PT: FWIW, Boehner’s office confirms that it did not object to the proposed date when White House requested it.

I agree. It is one more sign, really, that you have to toss out the window any kind of cooperation when it comes to the current brand of Republicans in the party’s leadership.

I again point you to this column to remind TMV readers that while these weren’t exactly what everyone would say were the good old days, there was a time when Republicans were not as predictable.

The way to predict is to listen now to Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity. We are living in the days of the triumph of the talk radio political culture: confrontation, noncooperation and, when at all possible, demonization. I predict many independents will look at both sides, decide which looks more hyperpartisan and in the end hold their noses and vote for the less lockstep hyperpartisan side.

Democratic leadership reacts:

The offices of both Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) confirm that Boehner did not ask them to sign off on the delay.

“The childish behavior coming out of the Speaker’s office today is truly historic,” said another senior Dem aide. “It is unprecedented to reject the date that a President wants to address a Joint Session of the Congress. People die and state funerals are held with less fuss, so the logistics excuse by the Speaker’s office is laughable. Yes, consultation always occurs, but the President always gets the date he wants.”

That is, in fact, correct.