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Obama stomps on GOP debate plans

Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidates
US President Barack Obama delivers the annual State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the Capitol in Washington on Jan. 25, 2011, left, and Republican presidential candidates during the Iowa GOP/Fox News Debate on August 11, 2011 in Ames, Iowa. Getty Images

Updated: 4:36 p.m. ET

The White House says President Obama's decision to schedule a joint session to Congressat the same time as a high-profile Republican presidential debate is merely a coincidence.

But others are not so sure.

Jon Huntsman spokesman Tim Miller called the president's decision a "purely political move" that was destined to fail.

"Desperate political times for the President call for desperate political measures," Miller told CBS News in a statement. "His latest purely political maneuver won't work though, because voters know his economic policies have failed."

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RNC chair Reince Priebus, too, argued that the decision was a "thinly-veiled political ploy" driven by Mr. Obama's self-interest.

"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," Priebus said in a Wednesday statement. "While the White House claims it's simply a 'coincidence,' the American people can see right through that excuse."

"This is yet another reminder that the President is out of touch and out of ideas," he continued. "The only job he seems to care about is his own."

POLITICO and NBC News, who are co-hosting the Republican debate, have said that the event will not be postponed.

"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 two news organizations said in a joint statement on Wednesday. 

Whether or not the debate time will be pushed remains unclear, but POLITICO's Jim VandeHei seemed to suggest in an appearance on MSNBC that it would follow Mr. Obama's speech.

"If you think about that debate, that NBC/POLITICO debate, it is high theater now - you have this big Obama speech talking about jobs, and now you're going to have these leading candidates having to respond to it in real time," he said. "And they're going to use that opportunity to go at each other to show who's better on those issues."

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the timing of the speech was "coincidental."

"There's one president, there's 20-some-odd debates," Carney said in his daily briefing. "The candidates might enjoy the prospect of responding to the president."

When asked if the speech was scheduled to overshadow the GOP debate, Carney said, "of course not."

"No, of course not," he told reporters. "There were a lot of considerations. Once you want to do a speech to Congress and you have to deal with congressional schedules and there are many other factors here ... one debate of many that is on one channel of many was not enough reason not to have this speech at the time that we decided to have it."

He suggested that the debate could be pushed back to accommodate both events.

"If the sponsors so chose, and the candidates so chose to adjust the timing of their debate so that it didn't conflict, that would be completely fine with us in the spirit of democracy and that," Carney said.

Larry Sabato, director of University of Virginia's Center for Politics, said Mr. Obama's decision was surely intentional - and that, if the debate did indeed air following the president's remarks, it may have unintended consequences.

"It can't be an accident that Obama scheduled this for the night of the GOP debate," Sabato told Hotsheet. "So the obvious motive was to upstage them in the most dramatic way--a venue open only to a president, not his presidential rivals. As we have learned, opposition party members giving a formal response to a presidential speech are almost always outclassed."

Even so, Sabato noted that by delivering a major speech right before the GOP debate, Mr. Obama could actually be elevating the GOP debate - and ensuring that more people watched it.

"Maybe there's an unintended consequence here," Sabato says. "Obama has elevated the debate to a face-off with him, rather than among the GOP candidates. And the Republicans get the last word."

He continues: "Also, originally, this was just a one-cable net debate. Many potential viewers would have missed it entirely. Now all networks are bound to mention the drama that unfolds after the speech. No doubt the audience will be much larger, giving the Republicans a bigger platform than they would have had otherwise."

Still, some liberals applauded the move. Current TV's Keith Olbermann said in a tweet: "THIS is the Obama I like: Jobs Address to Joint Session of Congress 9/7 8 pm - same hour as GOP debate #PreemptThem" 

Regardless, the question remains as to whether or not Mr. Obama will be able to deliver the speech as requested on September 7: House Speaker John Boehner responded to the president's request for a joint session by inviting him to do the address the following night, on September 8.

In a letter to the president on Wednesday afternoon, Boehner cited a lack of sufficient time to prepare the chamber for his address.

"With the significant amount of time - typically more than three hours - that is required to allow for a security sweep of the House Chamber before receiving a President, it is my recommendation that your address be held on the following evening, when we can ensure there will be no parliamentary or logistical impediments that might detract from your remarks," Boehner wrote. "As such, on behalf of the bipartisan leadership and membership of both the House and Senate, I respectfully invite you to address a Joint Session of Congress on Thursday, September 8, 2011 in the House Chamber, at a time that works best for your schedule."

The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation is hosting the debate in conjunction with NBC News and POLITICO, though it is scheduled to be broadcast on the cable channel MSNBC. Neither Politico nor the Reagan Foundation immediately responded to a request for comment.

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