Obama jobs speech slated for Sept. 7 before Congress
By JENNIFER EPSTEIN | 8/31/11 12:26 PM EDT Updated: 8/31/11 3:32 PM EDT
President Barack Obama has asked congressional leaders to convene a joint session next Wednesday night so he can deliver a major economic speech, an address that will coincide with a scheduled Republican presidential debate.
In a letter to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Obama said he plans “to lay out a series of bipartisan proposals that the Congress can take immediately to continue to rebuild the American economy” during the 8 p.m. ET session.
He said his speech will call for “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.”
“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,” he said.
The debate, sponsored by POLITICO and NBC News, will still go on, the debate partners said in a statement. “The Reagan Centennial GOP Candidates debate with NBC News and POLITICO, hosted by the Reagan Foundation, will continue to take place on September 7th. We are thrilled that we now have a terrific opportunity to hear from national leaders of both major parties about the most pressing domestic issues facing the country.”
“This turn of events offers a great opportunity for both the candidates and the audience of the debate,” added John F. Harris, POLITICO’s editor-in-chief and co-moderator for the debate. “It raises the profile of the whole evening and in many ways makes it the first general election debate of the 2012 cycle.”
Eight Republican presidential candidates are set to participate in the debate, but White House press secretary Jay Carney said the conflict was “coincidental.” At least one of the candidates, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), hasn’t ruled out trying to block the joint session.
Carney said the speech comes as “the president feels that we are at a moment where we need to take significant action to spur economic growth and to create jobs.” That, he said, “requires working with Congress,” which is why the White House has asked for the joint session.
If members of Congress heard the same concerns from voters that the president heard on his bus tour this month, they will return to Washington “with a sense of urgency, and a focus and determination to do the kinds of bipartisan things that we can do right now to increase growth and increase job creation,” Carney said.
Carney said that the speech is not intended to overshadow the debate. “No, of course not,” he said. “There were a lot of considerations. Once you want to do a speech to Congress and you have to deal with congressional schedules and there are many other factors here … one debate of many that is on one channel of many was not enough reason not to have this speech at the time that we decided to have it.”
The Senate reconvenes on Tuesday; the House returns on Wednesday.
Carney added that POLITICO and NBC News are “welcome” to reschedule the debate. “If the sponsors so chose and the candidates so chose to adjust the timing of their debate so that it didn’t conflict, that would be completely fine with us in the spirit of democracy,” he said.
A debate pushed later Wednesday night could be an option, Carney said, because “Republicans might enjoy the prospect of responding to the president. Again, it’s not for us to decide how that plays itself out.” Carney didn’t engage on two questions about whether the overlapping timing might offend former first lady Nancy Reagan.
Members of Congress could object to the session by voice vote and force a roll call vote on it. Republican candidate Ron Paul “is weighing his options,” spokesman Jesse Benton told POLITICO. House Republican leaders have not said whether they’ll block the joint session.
Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus said the scheduling of Obama’s speech “cements his reputation as campaigner-in-chief.”
“While the White House claims it’s simply a ‘coincidence,’ the American people can see right through that excuse,” Priebus said. “If the president were serious about putting ‘country before politics,’ as he said in his request to speak to Congress, he wouldn’t be caught in such a thinly veiled political ploy. This is yet another reminder that the president is out of touch and out of ideas. The only job he seems to care about is his own.”
In explaining his rationale for the speech, Obama said the country “faces unprecedented economic challenges, and millions of hardworking Americans continue to look for jobs.”
“As I have traveled across our country this summer and spoken with our fellow Americans, I have heard a consistent message: Washington needs to put aside politics and start making decisions based on what is best for our country and not what is best for each of our parties in order to grow the economy and create jobs,” the president said. “We must answer this call.”
Carrie Budoff Brown, Jake Sherman and Jonathan Allen contributed to this report.
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