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McCarthy heads to White House with a threat, but without a plan

What’s scarier than a Republican debt ceiling crisis? A Republican debt ceiling crisis launched by officials who have no idea what they’re doing.


As congressional Republicans move forward with their debt ceiling scheme, the White House has repeatedly emphasized a simple point: President Joe Biden has no intention of negotiating with those threatening Americans with deliberate harm. The Democrat did agree last week, however, to meet with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy to, as the White House put it, “discuss a range of issues, as part of a series of meetings with all new Congressional leaders to start the year.”

The California Republican saw the invitation itself as a win — as if the president’s willingness to have a conversation with the speaker as the new Congress gets underway represents proof that debt ceiling negotiations are actually happening. Biden and his team had a very different perspective.

In other words, as McCarthy heads to the West Wing today for a meeting, he and the president don’t even agree on why they’re having a conversation.

Yesterday, as NBC News reported, the mess got messier.

Ahead of President Joe Biden’s first meeting Wednesday with new House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, the White House issued two sternly worded demands to the speaker. In a memo circulated Tuesday, top White House advisers Brian Deese and Shalanda Young said Biden intends to ask McCarthy, R-Calif., to “commit to the bedrock principle that the United States will never default” and to lay out his specific plan to reduce the deficit if he wants to attach it to an extension of the debt ceiling.

The White House’s memo was a rather serious, 1,000-word document, which included sections on specific budget figures. It also tried to establish some parameters ahead of today’s meeting: Biden wants McCarthy to vow at the outset not to cause a deliberate economic catastrophe — hardly an unreasonable request for an elected official who's supposed to work on behalf of the public — and to present some kind of plan that reflects his and his party’s stated goals.

Those hoping McCarthy would follow up with an equally serious response were left wanting. “Mr. President: I received your staff’s memo,” the House speaker said in a 21-word tweet. “I’m not interested in political games. I’m coming to negotiate for the American people.”

To the extent that such details matter, if McCarthy were uninterested in playing “political games,” he probably wouldn’t have sent Biden a taunting response by way of Twitter. What’s more, the “American people” the Republican claims to be negotiating on behalf of are the same people he’s threatening to hurt — on purpose — by way of his party’s debt ceiling crisis.

McCarthy went on to tell reporters yesterday that it’s “irresponsible to say, as the leader of the free world, to say he’s not going to negotiate.” But that’s backwards: Since when is it responsible for the leader of the free world to negotiate with those threatening Americans with deliberate harm? Why would an American president voluntarily try to negotiate in good faith with those effectively pointing a gun at his country’s economy?

Making matters worse, McCarthy will arrive at the White House today with a threat, but without a plan. The New York Times reported overnight:

... Republicans have insisted that they want “structural” fiscal changes in exchange for voting to raise the borrowing cap, but they have so far declined to offer a cohesive plan outlining what programs they would cut. Internal divisions over how to reduce spending have been spilling into public view, underscoring the political challenge that Republicans face as they try to wield the specter of a default to extract concessions from President Biden and Democrats.

McCarthy and his party, in other words, have launched a hostage crisis without taking the time to fill out a ransom note. As we discussed last week, the speaker, who realizes that putting his party’s unpopular demands on paper risks a political backlash, expects to sit down with the Biden and effectively say, “Tell me what you’ll give us to prevent a catastrophe, and I’ll let you know when I’m satisfied.”

What’s scarier than a GOP debt ceiling crisis? A GOP debt ceiling crisis launched by officials who have no idea what they’re doing.