When it comes to syncing calendars, President Barack Obama and Speaker John Boehner have had a scheduling problem long before Wednesday’s fight over the timing of the president’s upcoming jobs speech.
The latest dispute was resolved by Wednesday evening, with the president conceding to the Ohio Republican’s recommendation that he speak before a joint session of Congress on Sept. 8, a day later than Obama had requested.
But the push and pull over the calendar started early in Boehner’s tenure as Speaker. Within weeks of taking control of the gavel, the Ohio Republican earned a reputation for declining invitations from Obama, including a state dinner for Chinese President Hu Jintao and a flight on Air Force One to attend a memorial ceremony for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Ariz.
Rep. Elijah Cummings argued last year that it’s not lawmakers’ prerogative to turn down the president.
“When the president calls and asks a Member of Congress to meet at the White House, you go,” the Maryland Democrat said after Boehner and McConnell canceled their first postelection bipartisan meeting with the president because of “scheduling conflicts.” The meeting was later rescheduled.
The debt ceiling fight ramped up the stakes. “I couldn’t get a phone call returned,” Obama said in July. Boehner spokesman Michael Steel at one point relayed the meager length — three minutes — of a phone conversation the two did have.
But Wednesday’s brouhaha over Obama’s high-profile jobs speech escalated the discord.
Obama launched the first volley by asking to outline his new economic proposal before a joint session of Congress on the evening of Sept. 7, at the same time as a long-scheduled GOP presidential primary debate.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the timing had nothing to do with the GOP debate. “There are many other factors here,” he said.
But Republicans were angry. A spokesman for GOP presidential candidate and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who recently served as Obama’s ambassador to China, called it “desperate,” and a senior aide in the GOP House called it “grossly unnecessary.”
Then came the pushback from Boehner, who offered his “recommendation” to Obama that delaying his jobs speech 24 hours could avoid “logistical impediments.”
“As the Majority Leader announced more than a month ago, the House will not be in session until Wednesday, September 7, with votes at 6:30 that evening,” Boehner wrote to Obama. “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.”
The White House countered that Boehner had been notified about Obama’s plans but said nothing about the conflict, a contention that Boehner’s office vehemently denied.
“Before the request was sent, the [White House] talked to Boehner’s office and raised the date and time, and there was no objection raised by them,” an administration official told Roll Call.
Not true, Boehner’s camp said.
“No one in the Speaker’s office — not the Speaker, not any staff — signed off on the date the White House announced today,” Boehner 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.”
A senior Democratic aide called the bickering “childish” before taking a few shots himself.
“The childish behavior coming out of the Speaker’s office today is truly historic,” the source said. “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.”
By Wednesday evening, the White House had yielded to Boehner’s recommendation.
“Both Houses will be back in session after their August recess on Wednesday, September 7th, so that was the date that was requested,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in a statement. “We consulted with the Speaker about that date before the letter was released, but he determined Thursday would work better. 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.”