Well played, sir

I must confess, I am amused by the whole jobs-speech-scheduled-to-preempt-the-debate affair. Of all the liberals trying to get themselves worked up over Boehner’s request to move the date one-day, I’ve not seen any that even pretend to believe the White House’s story that the date was a coincidence. Instead, they bellyache about how “unprecedented” it is for the Speaker of the House not to grant a presidential request for a join session.

Is it unprecedented? I wouldn’t be surprised. (UPDATE: Actually, it’s not unprecedented.) But there’s a lot about this that is unprecedented. It’s unprecedented, as far as I know, for the president to use the scheduling of joint session of Congress in such a transparently petty way. And, it’s unprecedented, or nearly so, for the president to announce such a session without clearing it with the speaker first.

ASIDE: The White House initially claimed that it did clear the date with the speaker, but the Speaker’s office denied that, and the White House later backtracked:

“Cleared” officially downgraded to “consulted.” So someone at WH anonymously passed along inaccurate information to several journos. Nice.

(Via Hot Air.)

So I like the way Boehner handled this. Faced with a White House absurdly claiming that the debate preemption was just a coincidence and this really, really was the best possible date, Boehner countered in like fashion. In asking the White House to postpone for a day, he made a similarly absurd claim, that it had nothing to do with the debate and he really, really just couldn’t fit it onto the schedule.

The bottom line here is the White House was holding a losing hand. The president can’t address the Congress without the speaker’s permission, so they were playing a dangerous game by trying to put the speaker on the spot. Apparently they felt that the speaker wouldn’t want to look bad by refusing the president’s request, no matter how unreasonable, but they failed to consider how bad the president looked by making the unreasonable request in the first place. They didn’t have the upper hand in the perception game. Plus, the president has much more to lose by looking bad than the speaker does.

POSTSCRIPT: I was going to add that presidential addresses to joint sessions of Congress, apart from the State of the Union, are generally reserved for weighty matters of state such as war, not for political speeches like President Obama calling for more stimulus or more regulation or whatever other nonsense he’s come up with.

But it turns out that isn’t actually true. If you go through the list, there are several examples of non-SOTU political addresses, mostly by Democrats by also occasionally by Republicans. Neither Bush gave any, but by my reckoning, the other presidents going back to Kennedy gave one apiece. Before 1913 they were unheard of, but Woodrow Wilson gave them incessantly. Harding gave several, but then the tradition was thankfully broken by Coolidge. Roosevelt naturally revived it, giving many such addresses, and the tradition was continued by Truman before Eisenhower broke it again.

Still, I wish it were true, and it speaks well of Coolidge, Hoover, Eisenhower, Bush, and Bush that they abstained from the practice. One State of the Union per year is quite enough.

UPDATE: My, now this is interesting.

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