It was nearly a month ago when Sen. Ted Cruz appeared on Fox News and used the single most ridiculous rhetoric I’ve ever heard about the debt ceiling. As the Texas Republican saw it, President Joe Biden wasn’t acting quickly enough to pay the GOP ransom, which Cruz found outrageous.
The president, the senator said, was “behaving like a terrorist.”
Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) labeled Republicans “economic terrorists” as debt ceiling talks continued Thursday, calling on President Joe Biden not to negotiate with the “hostage takers.” Bowman is among a number of Democrats who have expressed their frustrations with the party’s handling of the debt ceiling as House Republicans and White House negotiators continue negotiations to avoid an unprecedented government default.
During a brief interview with CNN’s Manu Raju, the New York congressman said, “I called on the president to invoke the 14th Amendment and mint a coin and do not negotiate with hostage-takers. I mean, we don’t negotiate with terrorists globally ― why are we going to negotiate with the economic terrorists here that are the Republican Party?”
But it’s also not new for those of us who covered the Republican Party’s original debt ceiling extortion plots during Barack Obama’s tenure.
Revisiting our earlier coverage, a senior White House aide said in 2013, for example, that the Democratic administration was open to compromise, but “what we’re not for is negotiating with people with a bomb strapped to their chest.”
Two years earlier, then-Vice President Biden spoke at some length with House Democrats, and while there was no transcript or recording of the behind-closed-doors discussion, reports from the time said Biden concluded that congressional Republicans “have acted like terrorists.” (He later denied using the term.)
The Republican National Committee and several other prominent GOP voices threw a fit, but it wasn’t just Democrats making the comparison. Former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, who served in the Bush/Cheney administration, told a national television audience in April 2011: “The people who are threatening not to pass the debt ceiling are our version of Al Qaeda terrorists. Really.”
Or put another way, Bowman’s rhetoric was provocative, but his choice of analogies has a pedigree.
Indeed, we can keep going down this road. Former Speaker John Boehner, for example, once characterized certain members of the House Freedom Caucus as “legislative terrorists.” Earlier this year, when far-right GOP members tried to derail House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s leadership bid, Republican Rep. Don Bacon of Nebraska labeled them the “Taliban 19.”
I don’t know whether Bowman will face any meaningful pushback for comparing Republicans to terrorists, just because they’re threatening to harm Americans on purpose unless their demands are met, but if the New York Democrat does face a GOP backlash, it’s worth keeping these details in mind.