In his first interview since announcing his reelection bid, President Joe Biden offered a change of tune over his relationship with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA).
The president declined to criticize McCarthy’s leadership ahead of a high-stakes meeting over the debt ceiling next week, instead calling McCarthy “an honest man.” Biden attempted to relieve McCarthy of blame by suggesting the Republican leader is being forced into tough positions by other members of his party.
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“I think he’s in the position, well, he had to make a deal,” Biden said. “There’s the Republican Party and there’s the MAGA Republicans, and the MAGA Republicans really have put him in a position where in order to stay speaker he has to agree — he’s agreed to things that, maybe he believes, but are just extreme.”
The comments come as the pair are scheduled to meet with the other three main congressional leaders on Tuesday to continue negotiations over the debt ceiling just weeks before the country is expected to default on its loans. It also marks a shift in attitude by Biden, who has often used the debt ceiling to criticize McCarthy’s leadership and undercut his leadership in the House.
As the two have sparred over the debt ceiling, Biden has repeatedly accused McCarthy of holding the economy “hostage” by tying the debt ceiling to his fiscal budget proposal, seeking to place the responsibility squarely on the speaker’s shoulders.
“In a speech to Wall Street, the speaker failed to guarantee he would be the first speaker not to default on our debt,” Biden said on April 29. “Let’s be clear. If he fails, the American people will be devastated.”
Now it appears Biden is softening his stance as Republican leaders in the Senate are coalescing behind McCarthy — leaving the negotiations entirely between him and the White House.
“The message to the president is pretty clear: You got a choice between accepting the House bill or entering into a discussion, which the speaker’s been trying to have with the president for some time,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said on Tuesday. “There is no solution in the Senate … The president and the speaker need to reach an agreement to get us past this impasse. That’s my message going down to the White House meeting.”
Negotiations on the debt ceiling have long remained stalled inside the halls of Congress as both parties have refused to budge in order to come to a compromise. Now, government leaders are scrambling to avoid a default on the country’s loans after Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen issued a warning that Congress has just under a month until the United States will be unable to make payments if lawmakers don’t take action.
House Republicans passed a bill last week that would raise the debt ceiling in exchange for cuts to government spending, but Senate Democrats have called those proposals “dead on arrival” in the upper chamber. Biden has also indicated he would not sign the legislation should it reach his desk.
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Schumer did move ahead with placing two competing debt limit bills on the Senate calendar, including one that would suspend the debt limit through 2024 as well as the GOP-led debt limit package that already passed the House. It’s not yet clear whether either bill will come to the floor for a vote, and Schumer said a decision would come after leaders meet with Biden on Tuesday.
The meeting will mark the first time McCarthy and Biden have met to discuss the debt ceiling since Feb. 1.
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