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First Thoughts: Picking up where they left off

Yesterday’s White House-vs.-Boehner standoff: Picking up where they left off a month ago… The spat epitomized Team Obama’s communication struggles and its over-willingness to accommodate and compromise… And it epitomized the House Republicans’ continued pettiness… That said, did Boehner bail out Obama?... Reid on Obama’s speech and the Tea Party… And Huntsman on “TODAY.”

*** Picking up where they left off: Just like they did a month ago in the debt-ceiling fight, the Obama White House and Republican-led House yesterday battled over something that used to be routine: a presidential address to Congress. Once again, both sides looked bad. The White House scheduled Obama’s speech on Sept. 7, the same night as the already-scheduled NBC-Politico debate at the Reagan Library -- hardly a coincidence. Then, in a move congressional historians say is unprecedented, House Speaker John Boehner rejected the president’s request, inviting him instead to speak the next night. And once again, the White House caved and agreed to the Sept. 8 date (which, by the way, coincides with the NFL’s season first football game). “If the objective of the White House and Speaker Boehner was to demonstrate to the American people that they have gotten the message from the markets and from voters that our economic straits are so dire that it is time to set petty politics aside, they have failed before they started,” former Clinton administration official David Rothkopf told the New York Times. Exactly.  

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner meeting with Congressional Leadership at the White House, July 13, 2011.

*** Epitomizing the White House’s communications struggles and over-willingness to accommodate: Yesterday’s standoff epitomized the chief weaknesses of both the White House and House Republicans. Team Obama struggles mightily in communicating and in its relationships on Capitol Hill and the rest of Washington (just talk to any Democrat who works on the Hill). Perhaps more importantly, when it’s engaged in a conflict, the White House’s first instinct is to accommodate the other side (see the debt-ceiling fight). In retrospect, you can understand why the White House picked Sept. 7 (the date of the debate) over Sept. 8 (the date of the first NFL game). But why didn’t it try to consult with Boehner earlier (say last week) and see if Tuesday could have worked? The White House apparently was aiming for the venue of Congress for this speech for weeks. Again, channeling “Cool Hand Luke,” it was “a failure to communicate.”

*** Epitomizing the House Republicans’ pettiness: Meanwhile, House Republicans -- once again -- looked petty and disrespectful to a head of state who won his office by a convincing margin in 2008, even if they were right on the protocol front. Think back to Joe Wilson’s “You lie” screed, or to Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell refusing to agree to a White House meeting after the 2010 midterms. It adds to the appearance that, overall, congressional Republicans have one goal above all others: defeating the president no matter what.

*** Did Boehner bail out Obama? All that said, you could argue that Boehner bailed out the White House politically. Obama’s speech on the same day as the GOP presidential debate would have been treated as a political address, and it would have resulted in a split-screen story (Obama addressing Congress, the presidential candidates responding to his speech). But now that Obama gets to go by himself on Sept. 8, the speech will be treated more as a jobs/economic plan. What’s more, the Republican presidential candidates who will be debating on Sept. 7 won’t really have the opportunity to respond to it. The White House did not seem to think three moves ahead on this one; elevating the presidential candidates to his level this early wouldn’t have been good politics for him.


Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) during a news conference in Nevada on Monday, August 29, 2011.

*** Reid on Obama’s speech and the Tea Party: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid gave some interesting remarks after a speech he delivered in Nevada yesterday. Some highlights, per NBC’s Sarah Blackwill: “I'm confident during that speech [Obama’s] going to talk about some of the things we need to do to create jobs.” More: “My Republican counterpart [McConnell] has said the No. 1 issue in this Congress is to beat Obama, so that's why we're having a few problems, because that's the No. 1 issue. It makes a little tough to get things done.” And: The Tea Party is the result of the economic downturn. As soon as the economy gets better, these folks will all be gone… The Republicans have to get off of this no new revenue. Very few people, very few Democrats want to raise taxes, but there are big loopholes we need to get rid of.”

*** Huntsman on “TODAY”: In an interview on “TODAY” this morning, Jon Huntsman said that the White House-Boehner standoff on the president’s speech represented what Americans dislike about politics today. “I think it’s such nonsense,” he said. “It’s what people hate about politics.” Huntsman also talked about the economic plan he unveiled yesterday in New Hampshire, saying he based it upon what he had accomplished as Utah governor. “I’ve been there, and I’ve done that… We’ve got to lower the [tax] rate and broaden the base.” In fact, Huntsman borrowed a Democratic phrase in talking about the corporate tax code: “corporate welfare” in describing some loopholes.


Republican presidential candidate former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman at a campaign stop in Hudson, N.H., Wednesday, August 31, 2011.

**** On the 2012 trail: Huntsman today remains in New Hampshire, holding events in Bedford and Concord… Bachmann addresses the American Legion convention taking place in Minneapolis… Buddy Roemer, in DC, unveils his “Made in America” jobs plan… And Ron Paul holds a town hall in New Hampshire.

*** Thursday’s “Daily Rundown” line-up: White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer and NBC’s Mike Viqueira on yesterday’s back-and-forth over the president’s plans for an address to Congress… Latest news on the Northeast flooding… NBC’s Carrie Dann on the Perry campaign’s money raising and poll rising… NBC’s Luke Russert with some college football kickoff politics… More 2012 news from the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza, the Chicago Tribune’s Clarence Page and USA Today’s Jackie Kucinich.

*** Thursday’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” line-up (guest-hosted by NBC’s Chuck Todd): The show will interview National Journal’s Michael Hirsh, Romney adviser Kevin Madden, as well as CNBC’s Ron Insana, the Financial Times’ Gillian Tett, and the New York Times’ David Leonhardt.

Countdown to NBC-Politico debate at Reagan Library: 6 days
Countdown to NV-2 and NY-9 special elections: 12 days
Countdown to Election Day 2011: 68 days
Countdown to the Iowa caucuses: 158 days
* Note: When the IA caucuses take place depends on whether other states move up

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