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GOP sees politics in timing of Obama speech

August 31, 2011|By Michael A. Memoli
  • Mitt Romney is seen on screen during the Iowa GOP/Fox News debate in Ames.
Mitt Romney is seen on screen during the Iowa GOP/Fox News debate in Ames. (Charlie Neibergall / AFP/Getty…)

The White House says it's "coincidental" that President Obama's planned address to Congress next Wednesday conflicts with a debate for GOP presidential candidates.

Others aren't so sure.

Just moments after the administration announced the president was requesting a rare joint-session address to roll out his long-awaited jobs plan, press secretary Jay Carney was peppered with questions about what some viewed as a curious bit of counter-programming.

Would the White House really schedule such a major address intentionally to overshadow the Republicans seeking Obama's job? "Of course not," Carney said.

"Once you decide you want to do a speech to Congress and you have to deal with congressional schedules ... there are many other factors here. And obviously, one debate of many that's on one channel of many was not enough reason not to have the speech at the time that we decided to have it."

Pressed repeatedly on the issue, Carney said the organizers -- NBC News and Politico, along with the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library -- could shift the time to give viewers the chance to see both.

"There's one president; there's 20 some-odd debates," he told reporters.

In fact, there is another debate the following week in Florida, and countless more scheduled leading up to the first round of primaries and caucuses.

"The candidates might enjoy the prospect of responding to the president," Carney added.

In a joint statement, NBC and Politico said the debate -- already postponed once -- would go ahead.

"We're thrilled that we now have a terrific opportunity to hear from national leaders of both major parties about the most pressing domestic issues facing the country," the outlets said.

Meanwhile, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said the timing reeks of politics.

"President Obama’s decision to address Congress at the same time as a long-scheduled Republican presidential debate cements his reputation as campaigner-in-chief," he said.

One possible wrinkle: Congress has not yet granted Obama's request to speak there. And one of the Republican candidates, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, is threatening to gum up the request. His campaign said it is "undignified that the president of the United States would resort to such transparent tactics to step on our Republican debate."

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