The dust-up underscored Obama’s dilemma as he attempts to show progress on the economy while distancing himself from a dysfunctional Washington.
The speech before a joint session of Congress, one of the grand symbols of the presidency, reflects a calculated attempt by Obama to regain an advantage in his bitter battle with Republicans over the economy, restore fast-eroding public confidence in his leadership and, perhaps, turn around a presidency with less than 15 months before he faces the voters.
White House officials said Obama would lay out a much-anticipated package of new proposals to stimulate job growth, a package expected to include spending programs for roads, bridges, school repair and training for the long-term unemployed.
Yet simply scheduling the address quickly turned into another partisan spit-fest.
It began around lunchtime Wednesday, when Obama sent a letter to congressional leaders requesting an 8 p.m. speech next Wednesday — a time that coincided with a previously scheduled Republican presidential debate.
House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), citing parliamentary and logistical “impediments,” sent a letter back that urged the president to come instead on the next night.
Democrats charged that the speaker was out of line and that presidents are always given deference in scheduling speeches to Congress. A Boehner spokesman countered that 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.”
Hours later, the White House capitulated, saying the president “welcomes the opportunity” to address lawmakers next Thursday.
The exchange underscored the heightened distrust between Obama and Republicans as both sides eye next year’s elections, and it again raised the question facing Obama as he prepares his speech — whether to propose measures that can actually pass the GOP-led House, or to heed the desire of many in his liberal base to propose an ambitious jobs plan designed to pressure Republicans.
In the nine months since tea party Republicans prevailed in the 2010 midterms by railing against the ever-expanding government debt, Obama and his aides have embraced the goal of deficit reduction — a shift that White House strategists believed would put the president in good stead with crucial independent voters.
But since January, Obama’s job-approval ratings have sunk to new lows, now hovering around 40 percent in most surveys.
A series of disappointing monthly jobs reports and wild fluctuations in the stock markets have increased public anxiety and raised concern among economists that the country may be close to another recession.