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After jobs speech dust-up, Obama agrees to change date

President Barack Obama agrees to delay a planned jobs speech to a joint session of Congress by one day after the House speaker objects to the date the White House originally sought.
/ Source: staff and news service reports

President Barack Obama agreed late Wednesday to delay a planned jobs speech to a joint session of Congress by one day after House Speaker John Boehner objected to the date the White House originally sought.

Obama had asked to address Congress with his much-anticipated jobs proposal at 8 p.m. EDT next Wednesday, a time that would have overlapped with a previously scheduled Republican presidential debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., sponsored by NBC News and POLITICO.

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Boehner balked and told the president he ought to wait and speak a day later.

"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," Boehner, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, said in a letter to the president.

"I respectfully invite you to address a Joint Session of Congress on Thursday, September 8, 2011 in the House Chamber, at a time that works best for your schedule," he said.

President Barack Obama gestures after a statement in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2011, where he urged Congress to pass a federal highway bill. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)Evan Vucci / AP

Obama's choice and Boehner's rejection of it brought cries of political gamesmanship from both sides, but after negotiations between aides to the two men, the White House released a statement saying that the president would speak Sept. 8.

"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," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

Obama's address still gives him a grand stage to unveil his economic agenda, but it falls on the same evening as the opening game of the National Football League season. White House officials were working on the precise timing of the speech.

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.

One GOP aide had complained that the White House alerted Boehner only 15 minutes before releasing its original letter requesting Sept. 7. The aide hinted that such short notice was a tad disrespectful.

A White House official responded, saying: "Boehner’s office was consulted about the 9/7 date before the letter was released. No objection/concern was raised," so the letter went out.

But Boehner's office said that the White House account was not accurate.

"No one in the speaker's office — not the speaker, not any staff — signed off on the date the White House announced today," said Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck. "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."

But NBC's Luke Russert tweeted on Wednesday evening that a House historian labeled Boehner's public rebuff as unprecedented.

Obama is expected to lay out proposals to increase hiring with a blend of tax incentives for business and government spending for public works projects. With July unemployment at 9.1 percent and the economy in a dangerously sluggish recovery, Obama's plan has consequences for millions of Americans and for his own political prospects. The president has made clear he will ask for extensions of a payroll tax cut for workers and jobless benefits for the unemployed. Those two elements would cost about $175 billion.

Earlier, in a letter to Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Obama asked for  joint session to be called in order to present his ideas.

"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. We must answer this call."

Usually, presidential requests to address Congress are routinely granted after discussions between the White House and lawmakers. But Boehner, in his formal reply, said that the House would not return until the day Obama wanted to speak and that logistical 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's letter did not mention the Republican debate or Sept. 8's opening NFL game between the New Orleans Saints and the Green Bay Packers.

White House spokesman Jay Carney insisted at Wednesday's daily press briefing that the Republican debate was not a factor in the president's timing for the original request, calling it "coincidental."

Carney said the president wants to address Congress because their participation is needed to carry out his plans. "He believes the venue is appropriate because of the actions that need to taken," Carney said.

But the political gamesmanship was clear.

Several Republican presidential campaigns commented on the scheduling scuffle.

Tweeted Republican presidential contender and former House speaker Newt Gingrich: "From one Speaker to another ... nicely done John."

In a statement to NBC News, Mitch Romney spokesperson Andrea Saul said, "Next Wednesday night TV viewers will have a choice between Republican candidates talking about the future of America, or Barack Obama talking about the future of his presidency."

Rep. Ron Paul's campaign chairman said in a statement that the idea to change the date of the speech came from his campaign.

"Speaker Boehner did the right thing, and we thank him for it," said Paul campaign chairman Jesse Benton. "When this subject initially came up, it was Congressman Paul's campaign who initiated talk of objecting to the President's plan calling a joint session at this time and we are glad to see the Speaker of the House seize the initiative."

Reid had no objection to Obama's request. "Senator Reid welcomes President Obama to address Congress any day of the week," said Adam Jentleson, a spokesman.

NBC's Garrett Haake, Luke Russert and Chuck Todd, The Associated Press, and Reuters contributed to this report.