Washington In a retreat after an hours-long test of wills Wednesday, President Barack Obama agreed to deliver an address on jobs and the economy to a joint session of Congress on Sept. 8, yielding to House Speaker John Boehner, who had balked at Obama’s request for a Sept. 7 speech.
Obama’s address still gives him a grand stage to unveil his economic agenda, but it will compete with the opening game of the National Football League season — a conflict the White House wanted to avoid.
The change now will allow a planned Sept. 7 Republican presidential debate in Simi Valley, Calif., to proceed without Obama upstaging it.
Still, by seeking a rare joint session of Congress as his audience, Obama will get a nationally televised address that puts him face to face with Republican lawmakers who have bitterly opposed his agenda and who have vowed to vote down any new spending he might propose.
“It is our responsibility to find bipartisan solutions to help grow our economy, and if we are willing to put country before party, I am confident we can do just that,” Obama wrote Wednesday in a letter to Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
With new August unemployment numbers ready to be released Friday, Obama is under pressure to lay out his plan. In seeking a joint session of Congress to deliver it, he is turning the effort into a public relations campaign.
The timing dispute created an inauspicious start to the jobs debate and introduced tensions before Congress even returns from its annual summer recess.
It began with the White House releasing the letter at noon Wednesday from Obama to Boehner and Reid requesting they convene a joint session of Congress for his address at 8 p.m. on Sept. 7.
Usually, presidential requests to address Congress are routinely granted after consultations between the White House and lawmakers.
In this case, the White House notified Boehner’s office on the same day it released the letter requesting the session.
A White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic, said Boehner’s office raised no objections or concerns.
But Boehner, in his formal reply, said the House would not return until the day Obama wanted to speak and that security and parliamentary issues might be an obstacle.
The House and the Senate each would have to adopt a resolution to allow a joint session for the president.
Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck said no one in Boehner’s office signed off on the date and accused the White House of ignoring established protocol of arriving at a mutually agreed date before making public announcements.
Boehner’s letter did not mention the Republican debate on Wednesday or Thursday night’s NFL game between the New Orleans Saints and the Green Bay Packers, a game certain to draw a large television audience. Bu the political gamesmanship was clear.
Tweeted GOP presidential contender Newt Gingrich: “From one Speaker to another ... nicely done John. “
In a message posted on the Twitter social network, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said: “BarackObama request to give jobs speech the same night as GOP Presidential debate is further proof this WH is all politics all the time.”