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Presidential spokesman Jay Carney said the scheduling conflict was not intentional.

“It is coincidental,” Mr. Carney said. “You can never find a perfect time.”

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus slammed Mr. Obama’s request as “a thinly veiled political ploy” in a statement issued before Mr. Boehner’s letter was released.

“While the White House claims it’s simply a ‘coincidence,’ the American people can see right through that excuse,” Mr. Priebus said of the timing of the president’s request.

Asked by a reporter whether the White House was concerned about “potentially upsetting” former first lady Nancy Reagan, who is 90, Mr. Carney responded: “I - well, I think that the - well, you know, we - the sponsors of the debate control - you know, with the timing of it - that they can make a decision based on how they want to handle this. But there are many channels, there are many opportunities for the public to hear the president speak, to watch this debate, one of many. And - well, you know, we’ll let - we’ll let that sort itself out.”

Although it’s still early in the primary season, the debate has drawn more anticipation than others because of the recent entry into the race by Mr. Perry, who is outpolling former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the early front-runner.

Mr. Perry has yet to debate the rest of the field.

The president has asked for the joint session of Congress to deliver his proposal to spur the economy, as he tries to exert pressure on Republican lawmakers to approve ideas such as boosting spending for construction projects and extending unemployment benefits.

Lawmakers return from recess next week, and Republican leaders are voicing strong opposition to some of the president’s plans, which would add hundreds of billions of dollars to next year’s deficit.

Mr. Carney had said there will be more than 20 debates, but “there’s one president.” He said television viewers could decide what they want to watch, “whether it’s the - you know, the Wildlife Channel or the Cooking Channel.”

Or, as it now appears, professional football.

The original timing of the president’s speech would have required three Republican presidential candidates to choose between attending the speech or taking part in the debate.

Reps. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, Ron Paul of Texas and Thaddeus G. McCotter of Michigan are current House members, who ordinarily attend presidential addresses to joint sessions of Congress.