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After debt ceiling meeting, Biden open to working around Congress

After a difficult White House meeting, President Biden left the door open to circumventing Congress to prevent Republicans from crashing the economy.


As last week got underway, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen delivered some bad news to Congress: The deadline to address the debt ceiling could come as early as June 1. Almost immediately thereafter, President Joe Biden scheduled a meeting with bipartisan congressional leaders for May 9. They quickly agreed to participate.

The expectations for this discussion were low. As NBC News reported, attendees did not exceed those expectations.

President Joe Biden and congressional leaders failed to resolve the impending default crisis at a contentious meeting in the Oval Office on Tuesday afternoon, but they plan to meet again Friday. Each side accused the other of being unreasonable. ... A source described the mood in the room as “tense and serious.”

As a dangerous deadline approaches, the parties are so far apart that they didn’t even agree on whether the White House meeting constituted the start of negotiations. In fact, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries used the opportunity to implore House Speaker Kevin McCarthy to take default off the table and begin talks over the budget. He refused the New York Democrats’ request.

Evidence of progress was elusive. “Everybody in this meeting reiterated the positions they were at. I didn’t see any new movement,” the California Republican told reporters after the meeting wrapped up.

McCarthy, generally known around Washington, D.C., as a charming back-slapper, was apparently not in a persuasive mood: The president told reporters that while three of the four congressional leaders were “very measured and low key,” the House speaker was “occasionally ... a little over the top.”

NBC News’ report added, “McCarthy told members the meeting was a waste of time and he hoped ... Biden would not waste his time again.”

Or put another way, the president did not surrender the way the GOP leader told him to, which left the House speaker annoyed.

That said, yesterday’s developments did break some new ground. A reporter asked Biden, “Are you willing to take unilateral action, like invoking the 14th Amendment, to make sure that [default] doesn’t happen?” The Democrat replied, “I have been considering the 14th Amendment. And a man I have enormous respect for, Larry Tribe, who advised me for a long time, thinks that it would be legitimate.”

Biden added, however, “But the problem is it would have to be litigated. And in the meantime, without an extension, it would still end up in the same place.”

He obviously didn’t explicitly endorse the provocative tactic, but the comments suggested the president is leaving the door open to circumventing Congress to prevent Republicans from crashing the economy.

(His reference yesterday to Laurence Tribe comes on the heels of the Harvard law professor’s New York Times op-ed on the subject over the weekend, in which he concluded, “The right question is whether Congress — after passing the spending bills that created these debts in the first place — can invoke an arbitrary dollar limit to force the president and his administration to do its bidding. There is only one right answer to that question, and it is no. And there is only one person with the power to give Congress that answer: the president of the United States.”)

For his part, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell all but promised there would be a solution before the x-date. “The United States is not going to default,” the Kentucky Republican said. “It never has and it never will.”

I have no idea why he’s so confident.