The president wanted to speak in Congress. The opposition threw a spoke in his wheel. Never before had Congress rejected a president’s request for a date to speak.

The timing seemed auspicious. On Wednesday, two days after Labor Day (also the official end of summer in the U.S.), Congress will convene again for the first time after the five-week summer recess. What better opportunity for Obama to present himself as a can-do, nonpartisan president by announcing a job program on national television with a drum roll? At least, that is what Barack Obama and his advisers in the White House thought.

So they requested a date with John Boehner, the Republican Speaker of the House. This led, of course, to a confrontation because Boehner felt just as caught off guard as the Democratic congressional leaders. The publicly-conducted disagreement lasted for hours until the president finally caved and agreed, gritting his teeth, to a postponement until Thursday.

It was a precedent. Never before, according to presidential historians, had the Congress rejected a president’s request for a date to speak. The show of unity put on by politicians of both stripes when Gabby Gifford, a Democratic representative who was seriously injured in an assassination attempt, appeared at the vote to raise the debt ceiling a month ago seemed forgotten. Obama’s appeal fell flat: "As I have traveled across our country this summer and spoken with our fellow Americans, I have heard a consistent message: Washington needs to put aside politics and start making decisions based on what is best for our country and not what is best for each of our parties."

The conflict between the obstinate Democrats and Republicans has now heated up further, stoked by the polemic of the Republican primary race. The backstory for the postponement of the Obama speech is just a scheduling conflict with a televised debate among the presidential hopefuls in California. If the president had pushed through with his request, he would have scored points in the virtual showdown with his opponents. On Thursday, the football season kicks off between the Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers and the New Orleans Saints, threatening Obama with overwhelming competition.