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Posted by on Aug 31, 2011 in Breaking News, Politics | 22 comments

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.

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Copyright 2011 The Moderate Voice
  • JSpencer

    Great analysis Joe, and an even-handed one as well.

    “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.”

    That is the bottom line. Acting out by the GOP is more important than the country.

  • Dr. J

    I tell you what, Joe, next time I’m in town and request a meeting with you, and you offer me the following day instead, I won’t go around telling people you refused to meet. Call me a crazed partisan.

  • DaGoat

    So Obama asks to address Congress at the same time as a major GOP debate, and Boehner refuses a direct presidential request. So they’re both politically motivated a-holes. Nothing new here.

  • Allen

    Why does John Boehner hate Americans? Don’t he want them to have jobs?

    I don’t care what Partisan Politically motivated acts the President makes, I want him to stomp the living crap out of the Republican party this election. The American people cannot afford NOT too any longer!

  • Allen said:

    Why does John Boehner hate Americans? Don’t he want them to have jobs?


    Once again, I’m going to politely ask that you reconsider making comments than involve ad hominem attacks or overgeneralizations. You obviously have some very strong views regarding John Boehner’s actions. I think TMV readers would more easily understand your views if you avoided these kind of ad hominem attacks.

    That’s all.

  • Right Dr. J. That’s why I just love comments. I never knew that I was the Speaker of the House and you were the President of the United States and not ordinary citizens. Do they play Hail the Chief when you enter the room? Re-read the portions of this post on historical precedent. It suggests this is a new historic development. PS: How is the food that the White House Chef is preparing for you?

  • It seems it would be easier to reschedule the speech than the debates. Maybe it’s a historic event, but the question then becomes what part is historic: the refusal to meet let the president speak on the day he requested, or the president requesting a day with such an obvious conflict?

  • Jim Satterfield

    The debates just aren’t that important at this point. As Joe pointed out, they aren’t being carried on the networks and they are just short of being a dime a dozen. It’s not like any of the Republicans will pay any attention to him anyway except to attack him and any proposals he might make. Of course that’s why his address to Congress is meaningless anyway. He’s going to propose things that reasonable people could supposedly agree on and no matter what the proposals might be, the Republicans won’t agree. Nothing will get done. The status quo will triumph.

  • AlexandSmith

    Prof – how is it a conflict when congress is not directly involved in the debates? Scheduling conflict is when you can’t make a meeting because you have a prior engagement. Most of Congress will not be at the debates.

    I thought this post was well balanced and reasoned. One of the reasons I’ve taken to reading this blog. However, I find the disrespect to the office utterly appalling. It is shameful.

  • cjjack

    “The debates just aren’t that important at this point.”

    I’ll go one step further…they aren’t even debates at this point. Debates, if I recall, are composed of people arguing opposing points of view.

    These are not anything like that. The candidates all argue one point of view, splitting hairs on how they would oppose the other point of view. They’re not debating…they’re jockeying to get in the debate.

  • Allen


    Why does John Boehner hate Americans? Don’t he want them to have jobs?

    Hows that Nick?

  • So here’s what the American public are going to say:


    or perhaps


    More pointless bickering for nothing.

    — Obama’s job’s plan will be dead on arrival. He has too much opposition to get anything done, he has been neutered by the GOP/Tea Party and the people know it. It’s like the 9th inning rally speech when the team is down 0-12 and your players are walking off the field (wasn’t that a Charlie Brown plot?).

    — He has been ineffective to date with any of his plans. Whether or not it’s his fault is irrelevant, he’s been ineffective and that’s how folks see him. It’s nothing but a showy speech and people aren’t interested in showy speeches any more.

    — Congress is now viewed as actually harmful to the country. 14% approval rating? You can get 14% of the people to agree to anesthetic-free dental surgery. This is just another case of Boehner being a jerk, and folks are tired of it.

    — There is such a bad feeling in the air after the debt ceiling debacle, folks aren’t interested in any more of this tomfoolery.

    The best thing these two guys could have done for the next couple of months is stay out of each other’s way. There is no need for this speech, there is no need for this constant bickering, it’s all ruddy pointless.

    Our federal leaders are ineffective. They have abandoned or potentially betrayed the country through this ineffectiveness. The least they could do is STFU.

  • SteveinCH

    What’s the affirmative rationale for the President’s selection of next Wednesday as the date when he hasn’t offered a “jobs plan” in months?

    Why does the presentation of this plan require a joint session of Congress?

    If your point of view is that the President should be able to do whatever he wants whenever he wants, that’s fine. If you have any other point of view, there are at least some questions you’d like answered.

    Sadly, this is just bad behavior on both sides with partisans arguing who is worse, a distressingly frequent event in America. A pox on both your houses is a better answer imo

  • Allen

    When the President of the United States wants to address congress in a public joint session, it should NEVER be refused. In fact it should be illegal to refuse. You cannot expect any president to lead if you strip him of all opportunities to do so. Bush was never “refused”.

    This is just a new low in Republican generated gridlock. Stop everything, let the country fall, let all the people suffer simply because your party is not in the White House. No other reason, just that and that alone. I guess our forefathers never expected a bunch of kindergarten conservatives to habit the capital building.

    Politics have gotten way out of hand. Maybe Boehner will cry us a river again.

  • This thread has been good for revealing people’s feelings and biases, but it means nothing.

    If the president wants to offer a bill, he can do so at any time, with or without a speech. Congress is there to legislate, not listen to speeches. This may be the first time, but it’s their prerogative whether to let him interrupt them or not. This is not a dictatorship.

    The speaker and the president are at odds, and are making that increasingly public. Otherwise, this would have been argued in private.

  • Dr. J

    Joe Gandleman:

    Do they play Hail the Chief when you enter the room?

    Sadly, there has been a lapse in that particular obeisance.

    Boehner’s response may indeed be unprecedented, I just don’t think it’s unreasonable. If saying “yes, but one day later” constitutes obstruction, we could use more of that kind of obstruction in Washington lately.

    Moreover Obama is not the monarch. Boehner not only doesn’t work for him but leads an independent branch of government that is supposed to keep Obama in check. I won’t suggest that giving speeches during awkward TV hours is one of the presidential excesses the founders were worried about, but it’s reasonable for Congress to defend its own schedule and even its own political agenda.

  • DaGoat

    If Obama’s goal was to speak to Congress on the first day they were back, an obvious solution would be to have him speak during the day on Wednesday.

    Prof and Dr J, maybe it’s old-fashioned but the office of the presidency deserves respect and if Obama requested a certain day Boehner should try to accommodate it. Even if you don’t respect the man, you respect the office.

  • Respect is a two-way street.

  • davidpsummers

    Are we reduced to the point where the issue of pushing a speech back a day (or two, if Obama doesn’t want to compete with football) is a big issue? Partisanship is really taking over this country.

    How will most people react? I think they will increasing see both parties as partisan hacks. We can only hope we can turn this into real reform of the system.

  • Allen


    Oh contraire!

    Bills are discussed in advance and you know it. No point in presenting a bill if the General Opposition Party (GOP), will not agree to any of it. It’s just a waste of time and money. (thought you Republicans were all about saving money?).


    That’s what the Republicans stand for. They borrow and spend till there is nothing left for Social Programs, then leave office with the “Poison Pill love the country, hate the people” Destructo plan in place. You want to WHAT?….save the country from economic collapse?….la la la la la la…I’m not listening…la la la la…I’m still not listening…la la la la la …..I’m a Republican I don’t listen to Democrats…la la la la…..

    You damn right I’m “biased”. I’d be a fool NOT to be!

  • CStanley

    You want to WHAT?….save the country from economic collapse?….la la la la la la…I’m not listening…la la la la…I’m still not listening…la la la la la …..I’m a Republican I don’t listen to Democrats…la la la la…..

    Funny thing though, Alan, is that when some of us say, “OK, we’re listening, what’s the plan? it becomes quite obvious that there is no plan. Except, you know, to complain repeatedly and loudly about how the opposition is just so darn oppositional that we can’t even get a plan through (to which we ask, “OK, but what plan would you go with if the opposition would work with you?” and the response is the same, always deflection.)

  • JSpencer

    Given the level of criticism now, I can scarcely imagine the rage and vitriole that would be directed Obama’s way if he was a genuine liberal firebrand, instead of the gentle moderate he is. We have gotten that far afield of relevant values and perspective in this country. My greatest worry in that sense has to do with younger generations who may never develop an acquaintanceship with a sound base line. To me that is a sin.

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