President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner will take their battle over debt to the national airwaves on Monday night in back-to-back dueling addresses to the nation as they struggle to win the battle over public opinion in the final days before the nation's mounting debt hits the legal ceiling.
The president will make his case at 9 p.m., followed quickly by a rebuttal from Boehner. The president is expected to build on the support signaled earlier in the day by the White House for a plan being championed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. But Boehner and the House Republicans have rejected the Reid plan, leaving the competing sides seemingly farther apart than at any time since the highly publized sparring began.
With the August 2 deadline now only eight days away, the addresses help demonstrate the heightened stakes.
Earlier in the day, the president let his frustration over the stalled debt talks seep into an address on Latino issues, confessing that he’d like to “bypass Congress and change the laws on my own.”
He told the National Council of La Raza, “Believe me, the idea of doing things on my own is very tempting. I promise you.”
But he told the group meeting at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel that he has to work with Congress and will continue to fight for what he called a “balanced” plan that does not focus solely on spending cuts but that spreads the sacrifice to the wealthiest Americans as well.
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La Raza—and activist Latinos elsewhere—are disappointed in the president for not keeping his promise to champion comprehensive immigration reform in his first year in office. They are particularly angry that his administration has been aggressive in deporting undocumented immigrants, but the president defended the record number of deportations, contending he has had no choice.
“Those are the laws on the books,” said Obama. “I swore an oath to uphold the laws on the books. That doesn’t mean I don’t know very well the real pain and heartbreak that deportations cause.”
He added that he shares the concerns of Latinos. “I understand them and I promise you we are responding to your concerns and working every day to make sure we are enforcing flawed laws in the most humane and best possible way.”
His ''I'd like to change'' comment followed a section in his speech that mentioned the limitations of Washington in stopping deportations. He then spoke of his frustrations in dealing with Congress. His ''bypass Congress'' comment drew applause and chants of "Yes, You Can," a slight variation on his 2008 campaign slogan.
This article appears in the July 25, 2011, edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.