Carol Felsenthal
On politics

Obama/Boehner Jobs Speech Mess: The Buck Stops with Bill Daley

When Bill Daley took over Rahm Emanuel’s job as President Obama’s chief of staff, the conventional wisdom had it that, finally, an adult was in the room. It may be too soon to judge Daley’s performance in the job, but he certainly earns a low grade for the dustup over the scheduling of Obama’s upcoming jobs speech…

When Bill Daley took over Rahm Emanuel’s job as President Obama’s chief of staff, the conventional wisdom had it that, finally, an adult was in the room. (Remember, it was not long ago that our new and impressively disciplined mayor, the profane and excitable Rahm, was seen—maturity-wise—as a boy.)

It may be too soon to judge Daley’s performance in the job, but he certainly earns a low grade for the dust-up over the scheduling of Obama’s upcoming jobs speech.

On Wednesday morning, Bill Daley called House Speaker John Boehner [R-Ohio] to tell him that the president wanted to deliver his speech before a joint session of Congress next Wednesday night. Approximately 90 minutes later, the president’s aides tweeted the announcement of the speech. A few hours later, Boehner said “nothing doing,” claiming that he had heard Daley but not agreed. Boehner proposed that the speech be given the next night instead, and, by Wednesday evening, Obama had agreed. Some in the president’s own party used a different word: capitulated.

So Obama gets stuck with next Thursday, the night of the NFL season opener, featuring the Super Bowl-winning Green Bay Packers and the New Orleans Saints. The decision to stick Obama’s speech in at 6 p.m. central—kickoff is at 7:30 p.m.—means that, in many parts of the country, the speech won’t even air in prime time. How many Chicago voters are sitting in their easy chairs clutching their remotes at 6 p.m.—especially during this busy back-to-school season?

If Daley didn’t know that Wednesday, the day Congress returns from its five-week break, was also the night of the NBC/Poliltico-sponsored GOP debate at the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California—moderated by NBC’s Brian Williams, and featuring, for the first time, Texas Gov. Rick Perry—he should have. Yes, it’s one debate of 20 to come, but the contretemps made the president look like he was mischievously, sneakily trying to steal his potential opponents’ thunder.

In an editorial entitled “Oh, Grow Up,” critical mostly of Boehner and Company, this paragraph stood out: “It’s possible that the White House failed to seek Mr. Boehner’s back-room agreement before making its formal request. That’s hard to believe, even from an administration that is maladroit politically, to put it kindly.” The Hill’s Sam Youngman made essentially the same point in his report: “The back-and-forth has left some Democrats in Washington worried that the White House is becoming a rudderless ship.”

Daley, the ship’s skipper, has made no public comment so far.

It’s true that this story only may interest political junkies and pundits—and that it’s the quintessential silly Washington dead-days-of-August special—but the conflict had legs into September. It seems to dash hopes that the White House and the Congress would stop snipping and start legislating. It supports and strengthens Standard and Poor’s argument that it lowered its rating of the country’s credit because relations between the executive and legislative branches are dysfunctional and deadlocked. And this morning’s news that the nation had added zero jobs in August only adds to the story’s relevance.

The president, who could have given the speech from the Oval Office or the East Room, wanted to deliver it from the grand chamber of the House of Representatives to highlight its gravity and to assure coverage by network TV. Whether it’s true that Boehner and his caucus are trying to put every obstacle in Obama’s way—historians say that this is the first time in the nation’s history that a president has been denied the opportunity to address a joint session on the date of his choice—the loser is the president, who once again comes off looking like the 90-pound weakling getting sand kicked in his face.

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