"He is the president of the United States and I believe that all members ought to be here to do this. Doesn't mean they're going to," Boehner told reporters Thursday morning after a conference meeting with fellow Republicans. "Remember, I'm just the speaker. There are 434 colleagues who have their own opinions and they're entitled to them. But as an institution, the president is coming at our invitation. We ought to be respectful, and we ought to welcome him."
Republican lawmakers in both chambers, including Louisiana Sen. David Vitter, who said he would attend an NFL kickoff party instead, have announced they won't attend.
The speech, during which Obama is expected outline a proposal the White House says will reduce the nation's unemployment rate, has been a point of contention from the moment administration officials announced the president's plans. The White House initially requested to speak to Congress on the same night as a Republican presidential debate (held Wednesday evening), a request that Boehner denied. The parties agreed to hold the speech Thursday instead.
Republicans also announced that they would not prepare an on-air response to the president's proposal immediately following the speech, a decision House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, said was "disrespectful."
"Listen, this is not the State of the Union address," Boehner said when asked Thursday why Republicans would not give an official televised response. "The American people shouldn't be forced to watch some politician they don't want to listen to. And frankly, most of them would rather watch the football game." (The Green Bay Packers are scheduled to play the New Orleans Saints in the first game of the NFL season immediately after Obama's speech.)
Lawmakers are expected to flood Statutory Hall after the speech tonight--the room in the Capitol building next to the House chamber where Obama will deliver his address--to give their own responses.
"I think it's a more appropriate and respectful way to go forward," Boehner said.
- President Barack Obama
- John Boehner