Biden, McCarthy, breakfast buddies once, US debt row

WASHINGTON (AP) — Joe Biden and Republican leader Kevin McCarthy chatted recently over breakfast at Biden’s vice presidential home at the Naval Observatory.

In those days, Biden wrote in his memoir, he sought to “continue to engage with the opposition party,” and the new House majority leader often visited with GOP lawmakers.

But now, with a potential national debt crisis looming, the early morning meetings of 2015 seem to have preceded political life as Democratic President Biden and new House Speaker McCarthy prepare for their first official meeting in the White House on Wednesday.

“You know, when I met with him as vice president, he was always eager to sit down and talk,” McCarthy recalled to The Associated Press before the meeting. “He was always someone who was always trying to find solutions, to work together.”

Biden signaled a clear lack of hospitality this time, as newly emboldened House Republicans are at a hearing on a risky fight over the debt ceiling.

At a fundraiser in New York on Tuesday, Biden called McCarthy a “decent man.”

“He made absolutely no commitments to have the speaker’s shoulder,” Biden said.

Two affable leaders known for their willingness to make deals, Biden and McCarthy find themselves in awkward political terrain as they negotiate the nation’s debt ceiling.

A generation apart — McCarthy, 58, has been in Congress for only a third of the time Biden, 80, was elected — the two men know the ways of Washington and the positions of power well.

Both built political brands on the ability to meet with all comers, making seemingly impossible deals. A senior White House official said the two showed mutual respect during their limited relationship during Biden’s presidency. Both veterans of the last fiscal standoff in 2011 were here when Biden, as Barack Obama’s vice president, tried to negotiate an end to the conflict with McCarthy’s predecessors in Congress.

Political and economic interests are evident this time as Biden tries to retain the White House and his new job as Speaker of the House as another contender for McCarthy, including right-wing Republicans.

“Like 2011, it’s not going to be a real bummer,” said Neil Bradley, vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a former top aide to former GOP Majority Leader Eric Cantor. “Both of them are experienced leaders who understand what it takes to get things done in Washington,” said Bradley, who has been part of previous Biden talks.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has announced that Congress will need to raise the debt ceiling, currently set at $31 trillion, to allow the nation to continue borrowing to pay its already outstanding bills. While the Treasury Department has been able to take “emergency measures” to temporarily stave off a debt default, that is expected to last only until June.

Along with the echoes of the debt ceiling settlement, since 2011, a majority of the House Republican “tea party” has risen to power, demanding budget cuts and threatening a federal debt default.

Remembering those difficult negotiations, Biden was reluctant to negotiate with the new House Republicans under McCarthy. Ahead of Wednesday’s meeting, the White House released a memo detailing Biden’s “two questions” for the Republican leader.

“Does the Speaker hold to the basic principle that the United States will never default on its financial obligations?” partially reads one of the questions. And: “When will Speaker McCarthy and House Republicans release their budget?”

Brian Deese, director of the White House National Economic Council, and Shalanda Young, director of the Office of Management and Budget, noted in a memo that Biden would release the administration’s budget on March 9, exceeding the February deadline, and called on McCarthy to elaborate. how to cut government spending that Republicans believe is too high.

McCarthy invited himself to the White House as he sought to meet with Biden. He announced over the weekend that he would not propose cuts to Medicare or Social Security, saying he is open to a deal as Republicans seek to cut federal spending as part of any debt ceiling deal.

Although McCarthy comes to the negotiating table with the power of a new House majority, he is also believed to be coming somewhat empty handed.

It’s far from clear that the new speaker will be able to muster the necessary votes from divided Republicans in Congress on any debt deal. He has promised his GOP hardliners a return to fiscal 2022 spending levels, but that may not be enough budget cuts for some of them.

It is a possible repeat of the 2011-12 financial crisis before the Obama administration struck a deal with Republicans that Biden negotiated with Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell to ease the crisis.

“We’re all behind Kevin, and we wish him the best of luck in the negotiations,” McConnell told his Senate Republicans, who are in the minority, on Tuesday.

“For a deal to have any chance of surviving here, it certainly has to break down between the House majority and a Democratic president.”

Senate Minority Whip John Thune, RSD, said Biden and McCarthy “don’t have the historical relationship that Sen. McConnell and Biden have had over the years, but I think that sometimes situations demand and require people to come. together – whether they like it or not.”

Like Republicans, Democrats are skeptical of working with a rival party. They are pushing Biden to drive a hard bargain against any trade.

Congressional Progressive Caucus Chairwoman Pramila Jayapal said, “Biden has seen who he’s been negotiating with over the last two years — it’s not people who are negotiating on something that makes sense for working people.”

Because the president, he added, is “a champion of working people and of eliminating inequality,” any deal with Republicans on budget cuts “will undo all of that work.”

Refusing to negotiate with Republicans was off-brand for Biden, who has relied on decades of experience building relationships with lawmakers, governors and administrations from both parties.

In many ways, Biden and McCarthy are picking up where their breakfast meeting left off.

“I think he starts by listening more than talking, getting to know Speaker McCarthy a little bit as a person and exploring what their shared priorities might be,” said Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del. a close associate of the president.

“They are career public servants,” said Tom Cole, a former history professor and Republican of Oklahoma. Both are very political. I think they are both very familiar people. It seems to me that they are having a reasonable discussion.”


Associated Press writer Josh Boak contributed from New York.