President Barack Obama is requesting a joint session of Congress for Sept. 7 to outline a new economic proposal, potentially upstaging a Republican presidential candidate debate slated for the same time.
In a letter to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Obama said, “It is my intention to lay out a series of bipartisan proposals that the Congress can take immediately to continue to rebuild the American economy by strengthening small businesses, helping Americans get back to work, and putting more money in the paychecks of the Middle Class and working Americans, while still reducing our deficit and getting our fiscal house in order.”
The president requested “the opportunity to address a Joint Session of Congress on September 7, 2011, at 8:00 p.m.”
For Congress to hold a joint session, both the House and Senate must pass a concurrent resolution.
Also at 8 p.m. on Sept. 7 is a NBC/Politico debate between candidates vying for the Republican presidential nomination. Obama’s request comes as GOP nominees such as former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney have scheduled their own “jobs” speeches up against the president’s.
The debate's organizers said it would remain on Sept. 7 — but notably they did not specify at what time.
"The Reagan Centennial GOP Candidates Debate with NBC News and POLITICO, hosted by the Reagan Foundation, will continue to take place on September 7th," Lauren Kapp, a senior vice president for NBC, said in a statement.
Obama's move drew quick criticism from one of the GOP nominees participating in the debate, with Tim Miller, a spokesman for former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, calling it a "desperate" move by Obama.
"Desperate political times for the president call for desperate political measures. His latest purely political maneuver won't work, though, because his economic policies have failed," Miller said.
And a senior GOP aide in the House called Obama's request "grossly unnecessary," providing a hint that Republicans might not embrace the request.
The backdrop to Obama's surprise power move to go head-to-head against a long-scheduled presidential debate is jockeying between the president and Republican presidential candidates on the timing of their "jobs" speeches.
Romney scheduled a high-profile economic speech for Sept. 6, the day before the debate.
Since Obama had already announced he would be delivering a "jobs" speech around Labor Day, Romney's move, combined with the long-planned GOP debate, forced Obama to choose between going head-to-head against either Romney's speech or the debate — or delivering his speech later in the week, potentially risking less media exposure or a perception he was following Romney.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney claimed the timing of Obama's speech had nothing to do with the GOP debate.
Asked if the White House specifically picked the time of Obama's speech to coincide with the debate, Carney said, "No, of course not. There were a lot of considerations that — once you decide you want to do a speech to Congress and you have to deal with Congressional schedules and other — there are other — there are many other factors here. And obviously, one debate of many that's on one channel of many was not enough reason not to have the speech at the time that we decided to have it."
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said the president's request showed strong leadership and demonstrated a renewed urgency to address the dismal economic situation.
"President Obama made a clear, strong statement today about America's top priorities: creating jobs and strengthening our economy. And with an address before a Joint Session of Congress next week, the President will give renewed urgency to the jobs crisis facing our nation," Pelosi said in a written statement.
Requests for comment from the offices of Boehner and Reid were not returned.
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