John Boehner’s Response To Barack Obama On Joint Address Was Not Unprecedented
In the aftermath of House Speaker John Boehner’s response to President Obama over an address to a Joint Session of Congress, many on the left repeated the statement made by Congressional historians that Boehner’s response was historically unprecedented. As it turns out, that isn’t entirely true, as James Freeman points out in The Wall Street Journal:
The June 24, 1986, edition of The Wall Street Journal featured a story headlined, “President’s Bid to Address the House On Nicaragua Is Rejected by Speaker.” That’s right, no quibbling over the date and time, just a flat-out rejection. In that case, President Ronald Reagan wanted to address the House before its critical vote on funding for the anti-communist “Contra” rebels in Nicaragua. Then-Speaker Thomas “Tip” O’Neil said that he was willing to host a Reagan speech if it was expanded to include the Senate in a joint session, or he would allow the President to speak to the House alone if the President would also agree to take questions from lawmakers. Otherwise, there would be no Reagan speech in the House chamber. Reagan already had the votes to prevail in the Senate, and Mr. O’Neil wanted to avoid having the spotlight turned on the House, which would make him and his colleagues accountable to the public if Contra aid were rejected.
Both Speaker O’Neil then and Speaker Boehner this week were on very solid Constitutional ground. The president has no more right to take over the proceedings in the House, or to invite himself in, than does the speaker have the right to commandeer the president’s time and attention within the White House. On this point, the meaning of a separate Article I and Article II in the Constitution couldn’t be clearer.
Stop and take that in for a second. O’Neill went a step further than Boehner did and told Reagan that he could not address the House. Rather than whining about the issue the way the Obama White House has, President Reagan is reported to have quipped “They have televisions up there on Capitol Hill, don’t they?” Then he made the speech from the Oval Office, and ended winning the vote in the House.
Reagan was doing the same thing that President Obama tried to do, he was playing a political game by hoping to put pressure on the House in the upcoming vote on aid to the Contras by delivering the speech from the House itself. As Speaker of the House, O’Neill was perfectly within his prerogative to reject Reagan’s request. Just as Boehner was within his prerogative to reject Obama’s selected date and suggest a more convenient alternative. The difference between Reagan and Obama, of course, is that Reagan wanted to address the House on a pending piece of legislation, while Obama wants the setting and pageantry of a Joint Address to deliver what is, in reality, a purely political speech. Whatever the reason, though, Boehner and O’Neill both responded appropriately, and the suggestion that what John Boehner did is somehow an historic rebuke of the President — an assertion made laughable by the fact that the President will, in fact, be addressing a Joint Session of Congress — is simply incorrect.