President Barack Obama called a Washington political play yesterday, hoping to upstage the debate among his reelection competitors with a big announcement from the House floor to a Joint Session of Congress. But little did he know he was playing way out of his league.
Speaker of the House John Boehner summarily rejected Obama’s request, and instead invited Obama to speak the following day, ostensibly because of logistical issues. Both actions are unprecedented in recent memory, and have shattered hopes that Washington will take a more serious tone this fall, after months of hyper-partisanship.
Yes, both the president and Boehner look petty — but Obama looks pettier. He stooped to the level of Washington, the city whose tactics he has decried for years — and publicly, embarrassingly, lost. The episode is the latest sign that Obama’s self-image as a pragmatist and Beltway reformer is showing tarnish.
Obama cockily announced that he wanted to speak at the same time as his competitors — with minimal consultation with the nation’s top Republican, who must formally invite him to address Congress — and then pretended to be shocked when he was accused of playing politics.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney could barely keep a straight face when he denied that the timing was politically motivated, saying it was the first day Congress was back in session. But if Obama felt any hint of urgency about the speech he didn’t show it when he allowed Congress to take a 5-week vacation — and then took one himself.
Obama’s reelection strategy at this point is to run against a Congress that has set out to obstruct his legislative agenda. Getting down in the weeds with them did Obama, and the country, no good.