John Boehner Enjoys White House Spotlight

In this March 11, 2009 file photo, House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington. AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari, File

House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio.
AP Photo/Alex Brandon
The White House today confirmed that President Obama's planned economic speech tomorrow in Cleveland can be taken as a direct response to an earlier speech there by House Republican leader John Boehner in which Boehner called on the president to fire his economic team.

Asked at his daily briefing if the White House chose Cleveland for the president's speech because Boehner had given his own speech on the economy there, spokesman Robert Gibbs said simply, "yes."

"It's in the same city and I think the president will use that opportunity to contrast a vision of returning to a decade of policy and value decisions that got us into this mess which, if you look back at what Congressman Boehner said in that speech, he seemed to lay out a strong predicate for the very same type of decisions that had been made over the past 10 years that got us into this mess," Gibbs said.

By calling the speech a response to Boehner, the White House is elevating the relatively-little-known Ohio congressman, who will likely become speaker if Republicans take over the House in the midterm elections.

In Milwaukee yesterday, the president didn't actually utter Boehner's name, but he nonetheless attacked himfor voting against a bill to help states keep teachers, police officers and firefighters employed.

In an e-mail to reporters this afternoon, Boehner spokesman Michael Steel seemed to luxuriate in the White House's move to raise Boehner's profile.

"Clearly Boehner's economic speech in Cleveland two weeks ago struck a chord not just with the American people but also with this White House," he wrote. "Quiz for you enterprising reporters: when was the last time a sitting President of the United States chose to follow the Minority Leader of the House of Representatives to a city and respond to his or her speech? Is it totally unprecedented? (And totally desperate?)"

Both sides have reason to embrace a White House vs. Boehner narrative. For the White House, it makes sense to attack an individual rather than the opposition party more generally - while Republicans want the midterm elections to be about the Obama-Pelosi-Reid Democratic agenda, Democrats, facing a generic ballot disadvantage, want the focus to be on the individuals in various races.

And for Boehner - who could face leadership challenges from self-proclaimed "Young Gun" Eric Cantor or other ambitious Republicans after the elections - a little White House attention could go a long way in solidifying his position as the top Republican in the House.


Brian Montopoli is a political reporter for CBSNews.com. You can read more of his posts here. Follow Hotsheet on Facebook and Twitter.

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