The interesting question is: What is it about this president that has stripped away the veneer of respect that normally accompanies the Office of the President? Why do Republicans think this president is unpresidential and should dare to request this kind of thing? It strikes me that it could be the economic times, it could be that he won so big in 2008 or it could be, let’s face it, the color of his skin. This is an extraordinary reaction to a normal sequence of events.
The complete minute by minute tick-tock can be found here at TPM:
Roger Simon, Politico, putting said the tick-tock to prose:
The White House was well aware the president’s speech would conflict with a planned Republican debate sponsored by POLITICO and NBC to be held at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif. The debate would be broadcast live by MSNBC, CNBC, Telemundo and live-streamed by POLITICO.
Yet the White House did not see this as an obstacle. “With all due respect, the POLITICO-MSNBC debate was one that was going on a cable station,” the White House source said. “It was not sacrosanct. We knew they would push it back and then there would be a GOP debate totally trashing the president. So it wasn’t all an upside for us.”
And, at first, things seemed to fall into place.
At about 10 or 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday, White House chief of staff Bill Daley called House Speaker John Boehner and asked that a joint session of Congress be assembled the following Wednesday night. The White House viewed Boehner as a political opponent, but not an enemy and the call was cordial, even pro forma considering such a request had never before been refused.
And, according to the White House source, Boehner said “okay” to Daley’s request for the Wednesday evening date. (Asked for comment, Boehner’s press secretary, Brendan Buck, said he had nothing to add to his statement of Wednesday that read in part: “No one in the speaker’s office - not the speaker, not any staff - signed off on the date the White House announced today.”)
Then things quickly unraveled. It turned out not everyone was as sanguine as Boehner with the notion that a Democratic president was going to step on a Republican debate.
At 11:55 a.m. Wednesday, the White House tweeted the news about the joint session. “And then Rush Limbaugh beat Boehner up,” the source said.
The conservative talk show personality was in his familiar state of high dudgeon. “This is a pure campaign speech and to give it the imprimatur of a speech before a joint session of Congress, there’s no way, he doesn’t deserve that,” Limbaugh said. “Boehner’s got to say no. Now, whether he will, I have no clue.”
A number of Republicans in the House and a few in the Senate did have a clue and they told Boehner that while they would allow the joint session – it was hard not to for both historic and political reasons – the timing had to be on their terms, which meant it could not conflict with the Republican debate.
At which point Boehner’s office announced that Boehner had never agreed to the Wednesday date, that Congress did not get back into session until 6:30 p.m. on that day, that various votes had to be taken, that security had to be arranged and Obama should push his speech back a day to Thursday.
Which just happened to be the evening the Green Bay Packers were meeting the New Orleans Saints in the NFL season opener. Which meant Obama would have to move his speech up an hour or so before the kick-off at 8:30 p.m.
The White House was not pleased. In reality, it believed, Congress really had never gone out of session, a parliamentary move that blocked Obama from making recess appointments. “And they had to arrange security?” the White House source scoffed. “As if they couldn’t do that! This was a political thing, a tea party thing, a Rush Limbaugh thing. They were all giving Boehner gas.”
The White House did not want to give in and look weak, but what was the alternative?
An Oval office speech instead?
“You can’t speak for 40 minutes from the Oval Office,” the source said.
How about the East Room?
“He’s going to speak to an empty East Room with just the Teleprompters and staff there? No,” said the source
So it had to be in the House of Representatives, which the Republicans control. “But we couldn’t go if they didn’t let us come,” the source said. “You can’t hold the speech in the lobby or in the parking lot. And you’re not going to get network coverage if you hold it at George Mason University.
“After a month of world chaos, the setting had to match the topic. And you don’t get any better setting than a joint session of Congress.”
In the end, the White House felt it had no choice but to give in on the date, and Obama sent an email to his supporters with the subject line: “Frustrated.”
“It’s been a long time since Congress was focused on what the American people need them to be focused on,” Obama said in the email. “I know that you’re frustrated by that. I am, too.”
Obama said he was going to put forward “a set of bipartisan proposals to help grow the economy and create jobs” and he was “asking lawmakers to look past short-term politics and take action on that plan.”
It was, perhaps, not the friendliest message, but the White House was not in a friendly mood. Some Democrats were attacking Obama for once again “caving in” to Republicans, though others thought that it was an inconsequential matter.
The White House is viewing it as very consequential, however. “It is a big deal,” the source said. “It shows the House Republicans will do no outreach, nothing.”
And who does the White House believe was really behind treating the president so shabbily?
“At first, I didn’t think it was Boehner, but his caucus,” the source said. “But maybe not. Maybe it is him.”
By agreeing to Boehner’s preferred day, the White House at least prevents a prolonged argument about process. Because Washington rules dictate that there must be a “winner” in every dispute, the Speaker gets to gloat this morning, but the fact remains Boehner still looks small and petty, picking an unnecessary fight. That he claimed to be speaking “on behalf of the bipartisan leadership and membership of both the House and the Senate,” when he clearly was not, only makes him look slightly worse. If President Obama values being seen as “the adult in the room,” this little mess reinforced the perception.
But that doesn’t make yesterday’s developments any less ridiculous. If Americans wanted a responsible Congress, ready and willing to act in the nation’s interest, and able to work constructively in response to critical challenges, they made a tragic mistake in November 2010. Yesterday’s largely inconsequential fiasco will fade away soon enough, but it’s symbolic of a larger problem: voters elected far-right children to run the legislative branch of government.
Obama’s speech will achieve nothing. It will go nowhere because it has nowhere to go. A speech can rally the base, and maybe even temporarily change the topic in the news. But it can’t change the fundamental fact of politics right now, which is that the two parties disagree on the most profound question in Washington. It’s not: How do we fix the economy? It is: Who should win the next election?
So long as Republicans and Democrats disagree on that, there will be no significant cooperation on substantive issues. Boehner simply will not cut off his party’s candidates at the knees, especially its presidential contenders, by handing Obama a major economic accomplishment. Because he controls the House of Representatives, that means Obama -- and, by extension, the U.S. -- is not going to get a major economic accomplishment.
Almost everyone in Washington understands this. The interest in the president’s speech is just a function of the fact that people who discuss politics and policy for a living need to seem like we’re doing something through the long summer months. The administration needs to look like it’s acting to create jobs, the media need to appear to be reporting news, the pundits need to generate opinions about it all.
This is the part of the column where, as a pundit, I lay out my three-point, politically implausible plan to turn the situation around. This is where I tell the president to fight harder, or take his message directly to the people, or fire up the lethargic Obama for America organization. This is where I remind the Republicans that they supported tax cuts as stimulus all through the last decade and even into 2009; where I beg them to put country before party; where I warn them that everything they are doing unto the Democrats today will be done unto them tomorrow. This is where I summon history to show how FDR or Reagan or Truman broke a similar logjam.
But such exhortations -- and I am guilty of writing variations on these many times over -- are pointless today. The facts are what they are. And what they are is depressing and unlikely to change.