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Political Chat: Jobs Plan Scheduling Scuffle

MICHEL MARTIN, host: I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. Coming up: You can be honest. The last time you were thinking about going to the gym, were you more worried about getting your workout on or how you would look after it? It turns out that for many people, trying to maintain a fabulous hairstyle means skipping exercise. We'll talk more about that in a few minutes. But first, to this week's political news. The controversial President Obama's new jobs plan has started, even before anybody has seen it or heard about it.

The president is set to unveil his program in front of a joint session of Congress next Thursday. That was after his first choice of date to deliver the speech Wednesday was rejected by House Speaker John Boehner over what Mr. Boehner called parliamentary and logistical problems. The debate over just when and where President Obama will deliver his plan nearly eclipsed any news coming from other Republican hopefuls, including John Huntsman, who's delivered a jobs plan of his own.

Meanwhile, candidates Rick Perry and Mitt Romney - Rick Perry, of course, being the Governor of Texas, Mitt Romney being the former Governor of Massachusetts - are also bringing economic issues to the forefront of their campaigns. We wanted to talk more about all of this, so we've called upon two of our trusted political watchers. Matthew Continetti is the opinion editor for the Weekly Standard. He's also author of the book "The Persecution of Sarah Palin: How the Elite Media Tried to Bring Down a Rising Star." Matt, welcome back.

MATTHEW CONTINETTI: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: Also with us is Michael Fauntroy. He is author of the book "Republicans and the Black Vote." He's also a professor of public policy at George Mason University. Michael Fauntroy, good to have you back with us, as well.

MICHAEL FAUNTROY: It's my pleasure.

MARTIN: And so, starting with the latest news, we just mentioned President Obama had asked for time before Congress next Wednesday to talk about the jobs plan. House Speaker John Boehner said no to that. You know, this is the first time anyone can remember that a president has been denied his request to speak before a joint session of Congress. So, Matt, I'll ask you: What is that about? What was all this about?

CONTINETTI: Well, I think the missing element here was that there was a major Republican debate scheduled for the same night. And so, you have two options. Either the White House didn't know that that debate was taking place, in which case they just weren't doing their homework. Or they did know that debate was taking place and they wanted to step on it, just like President Obama took his Midwest bus tour to step on the Ames Straw Poll last month. And so it - in which case, that, too, it seems like a White House that's almost panicky. So I think this just goes under the file of the Obama Whitehouse can't win anything right now.

MARTIN: Michael Fauntroy, what do you think this was about?

FAUNTROY: Well, it seems...

MARTIN: Was it about anything?

FAUNTROY: It's about a little, and it's about nothing, at some level. It's almost like a "Seinfeld" episode. The speaker was flexing his prerogative as Speaker of the House, but I have to believe that if this were a Republican president, they'd figure out a way to deal with these sort of parliamentary problems with regard to the Republican Presidential Candidates Forum. The truth of the matter is we're still pretty far out, and I'm not sure that many people are going to be watching that, other than Republicans who might not be particularly interested in hearing what the president has to say, anyway.

So, for me, you know, there's not a whole lot here. It's just a little (unintelligible) kind of thing.

MARTIN: But what about - back to your point? Why would the president schedule an address on the same day as knowing that at least one member one of the body is going to be at this debate?

FAUNTROY: Well, I'm just speculating here, but Monday's Labor Day. Tuesday, members are traveling. The first day back is Wednesday. Now, this is significant because Labor Day is sort of the unofficial start to the campaign season. And perhaps they wanted to be the first one to get into the voters' ears.

MARTIN: All right, well, let's hear what Whitehouse Spokesman Jay Carney had to say about this. He was asked about this, of course, as you would imagine. I'll just play a short clip of what he had to say.


JAY CARNEY: 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.

MARTIN: Matthew, what about Michael's point, is that he wants to make a statement that, you know, we're hitting the ground running? And I do think it's also worth mentioning that Thursday is the season opener of the NFL.

FAUNTROY: Which actually is a bigger reason than all this other stuff about the debate on Wednesday.

MARTIN: What about - what do you think about Michael's point?

CONTINETTI: Well, I think it speaks to a larger issue. And Jay Carney's answer to that we just listened to seemed to suggest that they knew very well that they wanted that night, which was the night of the Republican debate, and which, even though it might not have a huge audience, was definitely going to be the political event of the week, simply because it was the first debate featuring Rick Perry. And I'll say this: The speech itself, why does Barack Obama want to give the speech before the joint session of Congress?

It's because he's going to use the speech to berate Congress. It's not an economics speech. If he wanted to give his economics speech, he could go to Wall Street. He could go to Main Street. He could give his policies. The reason...

MARTIN: From the Oval Office, couldn't he?

CONTINETTI: ...from the Oval Office. The reason he's doing it in a joint session of Congress is because the Congress is the prop for the speech, which is going to be a political speech. So I think that there was some frustration there on both parts, Congress and the White House, that each body is trying to use the other. And in this case, John Boehner won.

MARTIN: Did he, Michael?

FAUNTROY: Well, to the extent that he got what he wanted, yes. But in the long run, you know, I don't think people are going to be making any significant decisions about Speaker Boehner or the president based on this kerfuffle.

MARTIN: Well, it's interesting that surrogates for both sides are saying oh, you're playing politics. You're playing politics. But at the end of the day, taking it back to the public, do you think the public really cares?

FAUNTROY: Listen, you know, this is the first week of school for a lot of people around the country. Parents are dealing with that kind of stuff, unemployment. I'm not even sure this is really resonating outside of the Beltway.

MARTIN: It's our weekly political chat, speaking of inside the Beltway. Our guests are Michael Fauntroy. He's a professor of public policy at George Mason University. Matt Continetti, the opinions editor at The Weekly Standard. We're talking about the kerfuffle - that is one of my favorite words.

CONTINETTI: It is a great word.

MARTIN: It's a great word - over when the president's jobs plan speech would be delivered. It's going to be Thursday. So let's talk about the plan. What is the president actually likely to talk about, and is he likely to talk about something that would actually make a difference at this point, Michael?

FAUNTROY: Well, to Matt's point, there's going to be a lot of stylistic stuff, here. We need to work together to solve America's problems. We don't need to fight. To the extent that there are any previews, I'm finding - I'm hearing that there's a lot of talk about infrastructure programs that could be accelerated right now that there's funding for already. And the thinking being that if we can get those programs started, then we can get people back to work and perhaps get people thinking that we're moving in the right direction.

MARTIN: You know, I want to ask you to pick up on something that Matt just said, which is that this speech is a political speech. But really, who really is this speech for?

FAUNTROY: I think the answer to that will depend on, in large measure, what he says. You know, the left is saying to him: Be bold. Be big. So if he talks in those terms, then you'll know that he's speaking to the Democratic left. If he's more sort of professorial, a little more middle-of-the-road about things, then perhaps you can argue he's trying to reach out to independent voters.

MARTIN: Matthew?

CONTINETTI: I have no idea who this speech is for. I think it's for Barack Obama. And the White House continues to believe that somehow, the more that this president talks, the better he's going to do. And that's just been shown to be false. I think the real purpose of this speech is to lay the predicate for the 2012 campaign, and Barack Obama not having a record to run on, really, is going to run against politics.

MARTIN: Well, Jon Huntsman, who - the former governor of Utah came out with his jobs plan yesterday. And I guess let's assume that the timing was intended to get a jump on the president's speech. He called for some major tax code reform. He blamed heavy-headed of regulation for costing America jobs. I'll just play a short clip from his speech yesterday, and we can talk about it. Here it is.


JON HUNTSMAN: Our creative and entrepreneurial class is being strangled by a complex and convoluted web of misguided and overreaching regulations.

MARTIN: Well, this isn't exactly new - a new thought, particularly in the field in which he is running. Has he said anything to distinguish himself?

CONTINETTI: No. I mean, I think what's distinguishing about this speech that Jon Huntsman gave was that it's - it was a reminder to a lot of Republicans that Huntsman is a conservative. He ran a pretty conservative administration as governor of Utah, and philosophically, he's conservative.

But what's funny about him is he's adopted a strategy of running against the conservative movement, which no winning Republican nominee has done. So I think maybe this is a sign that they're re-adjusting. But of course, every time we talk about Jon Huntsman's economic policy, I feel like we should talk about, I don't know, Gary Johnson's economic policy, because they're polling at the same level.

And the attention devoted to a guy polling one percent is really quite funny when no one talks about Ron Paul, for better or worse, who's now neck and neck for second in some national polls.

MARTIN: OK, Michael?

FAUNTROY: Well, I think that Governor Huntsman has a similar problem that John McCain had not long ago, in that his record is clearly conservative. I think Matthew's absolutely right about that, just like McCain. And just McCain, for whatever reason, there are significant suspicions about him and what he stands for, which on the record, just don't make a lot of sense to me.

And him giving this speech in the run-up to the event on Wednesday, I think is the beginning of his final shot at trying to make a run at this nomination. I don't think that there's any real chance that he's going to get it, and that's unfortunate because he has a record on which he should be taken seriously. But the truth of the matter is, Republican primary voters also vote on personality, which helps explain why somebody like Rick Perry is as popular as he is right now.

MARTIN: OK, Matthew Continetti, in fact that was going to be my final question: What do we make of where the field stands right now? The story has been Texas Governor Rick Perry kind of just vaulting to the head of the field and along with Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who's been out there a lot longer, campaigning a lot more seriously, really, since the last campaign, he hasn't really stopped.

CONTINETTI: Most polls I see not have Rick Perry with a double-digit lead over Mitt Romney. The real fight seems to me, now, in the Republican Party is between Mitt Romney and Ron Paul over who's in second place, with Michele Bachmann trying to maintain relevance.

It's amazing. I can't think of a recent cycle where you had a guy who waited so long to enter the race and then, upon entering, with most voters not actually knowing who he is or much about him, immediately vaults to first place. It just shows that Rick Perry and his team know what they're doing.

And I would also say...

MARTIN: No, tell me. Tell me more. That was going to be my question: what accounts for it?

CONTINETTI: Well, he's a conservative, there's no question about that, and he has the Tea Party connection. But I think it's also because he holds executive office. He's been the - you can't be the governor of Texas for as long as he has been without having some political skill or at least doing something right. And that's the other part, which is that Perry has the same argument that Mitt Romney's been making, which is this is all about jobs, I'm a job creator.

Well, Rick Perry can say, look, I'm the only state in the country to have created jobs in the last few years. So he's got the message, he's got the personality, and he's got the money, which I think it's his race to lose at this point.

MARTIN: OK, Matt Continetti, I gave you the first word. Michael Fauntroy, I'm going to give you the last word.

FAUNTROY: I'm going to just say quickly. This is all about Republican voters thirsting for a candidate they can believe in. All of the other candidates have fundamental flaws that make them very problematic. And so Rick Perry comes in loud, with a lot of money and some executive experience, and that resonates with people who are vacillating on the other candidates.

MARTIN: Michael Fauntroy is the author of the book "Republicans and the Black Vote." he's a professor of public policy at George Mason University. Matthew Continetti is the opinion editor for The Weekly Standard, author of the book "The Persecution of Sarah Palin: How the Elite Media Tried to Bring Down a Rising Star." They were both kind enough to join us in our Washington, D.C., studios once again. Gentlemen, thank you so much for joining us.

CONTINETTI: Thank you.

FAUNTROY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.