6 min read

Back to the negotiating table

With 10 days to go until a possible default, Biden and McCarthy sit down together once again.
Back to the negotiating table
The last debt ceiling negotiation session. (Adam Schultz / White House)

Good morning! It’s Monday, May 22, 2023. The 2024 elections are 533 days away.

Welcome back to Wake Up To Politics. I’m excited to dive back into covering the world of politics for you. It’s going to be, as ever, a busy week on the American political scene.

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Biden, McCarthy return to the negotiating table

We now have only 10 days to go until June 1, when Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has warned the nation will enter into a default if the debt ceiling isn’t increased. She reaffirmed the date as a “hard deadline” in an interview Sunday.

And yet, even after two-and-a-half hours of additional staff-level talks on Sunday, Democratic and Republican negotiators have yet to agree on a single facet of a possible debt ceiling deal, per NBC News.

The talks will be kicked back up to the principal level this afternoon, as President Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy sit down together in the Oval Office. After two consecutive weeks of meetings between Biden and the “Big Four” congressional leaders, today’s session represents something McCarthy has sought this entire time: a one-on-one meeting between just the president and the speaker, their first since February. Biden just returned from Japan last night.

The two parties have traded off expressing skepticism about closing a deal in recent days. On Friday, Republican negotiators walked out of a meeting with their Democratic counterparts. “We’ve got to get movement by the White House, and we don’t have any movement yet,” McCarthy said at the time. “So, yeah, we’ve gotta pause.”

The “pause” was quickly lifted; by Sunday, it was Democrats complaining that Republicans were the ones being unreasonable and continually adding new demands. In some ways, these back-and-forth grumblings might be a good sign: it’s a time-honored tradition in Washington that negotiations have to collapse a few times to work; before finalizing any deal, both sides will have to blow off steam to their bases to show they didn’t give in immediately.

But there’s also unusually little time in this case, and the two sides remain very far apart.

As it stands right now, Biden and McCarthy are circling towards a deal that involves some combination of 1) setting caps on future federal spending 2) reforming the permitting process for greenlighting energy projects 3) clawing back unused Covid aid and 4) imposing work requirements for social programs.

But they have agreed on almost no specifics. Democrats reportedly offered to freeze federal spending at 2023 levels, which would amount to an approximately 5% cut due to inflation, but Republicans rejected the idea, insisting on deeper cuts.

Meanwhile, it is unclear if rank-and-file Democrats would actually accept any new work requirements; Republicans have lately tried to add new immigration restrictions to the deal, which is almost certainly a non-starter. Democratic attempts to raise revenue by increasing taxes on the wealthy have been similarly met with rejection by the GOP.

There’s been increasing chatter from Democrats about simply declaring the debt ceiling unconstitutional by invoking the 14th Amendment, which states that the validity of the national debt “shall not be questioned.”

11 Democratic senators pushed Biden to pursue that option last week; Biden said Sunday that he believes he has the authority to do it, but sounded wary of moving forward.

If Biden were to make the unprecedented move of sidestepping Congress on the debt ceiling, the Supreme Court could step in and order him to stand down — making unclear the legitimacy of any debt issued by the U.S. in the meantime. Such a crisis of confusion could lead to panic across the American economy, possible sparking a scenario not unlike a default.

For now at least, that suite of bad options leaves Biden and McCarthy stuck at the negotiating table, hammering out a potential compromise with only 10 days left. We’ll see if they make any progress after their one-one-one meeting today.

In other news

Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) will launch his presidential campaign today. Scott, the sole Black Republican senator, brings to the 2024 field a compelling personal narrative (his family “went from cotton to Congress in one lifetime,” he often says), impressive fundraising skills, and support from fellow lawmakers: Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-SD) is set to endorse Scott at his launch event in Charleston, South Carolina.

But Scott currently polls at about 1%; with Donald Trump hovering around 60% support, it is unclear whether the South Carolina senator can move the needle. He is one of several Republican candidates who is expected to jump into the race this week. Gov. Ron Desantis (R-FL) plans to declare his candidacy on Wednesday, according to multiple reports.

The latest entrant in the 2024 field. (Gage Skidmore)

Several top Republican recruits are hesitant to run for Congress if Trump is going to be the party’s White House nominee, according to Politico. Colorado’s Joe O’Dea and Pennsylvania’s Dave McCormick, both of whom staged losing congressional campaigns in 2022, are among the potential candidates reportedly wrestling with “what it would mean to share a ballot with Donald Trump.”

Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA) is once again spurning suits and wearing shorts and hoodies. Per the Associated Press, people close to him take it as a “sign that the senator is making a robust recovery after six weeks of inpatient treatment” for clinical depression.

A 95-year-old federal judge is battling with colleagues who say she is no longer mentally fit for the job. Judge Pauline Newman, who has sat on the Federal Circuit since 1984, insists she is fine and refuses to take a cognitive test, even as a complaint alleges that she claims to be speaking with a colleague who have been dead for 17 years.

Meanwhile, calls for 89-year-old Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) to resign have grown louder after the revelation that she suffered more complications from her recent bout with shingles than her team disclosed.

Today in government

White House: President Biden will meet with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy about the debt ceiling. VP Harris will travel to Mountain View, California, where she will convene a roundtable with tech CEOs and deliver remarks on investing in semiconductor manufacturing.

Congress: The Senate is out until tomorrow. The House is set to vote on up to six pieces of legislation:

Supreme Court: The justices will release orders this morning, announcing cases they will or will not hear next term.

Before I go...

Here’s a great story from the Washington Post’s David Von Drehle, on what he learned from his 109-year-old neighbor. The piece is an excerpt from a new book by Von Drehle, “The Book of Charlie: Wisdom from the Remarkable American Life of a 109-Year-Old Man.”

“A very long life is like a very large mansion,” Von Drehle writes. “There are many rooms and all the rooms are big. Charlie had not one but two careers as a doctor: years as a general practitioner, followed by decades as an anesthesiologist. His retirement was as long as most careers. He had not one but two long marriages, plus years as a single man.”

“Everywhere he went, of course, people asked him for his secret to longevity. His answer was deflating: just luck, he insisted.”

When Charlie eventually died, just one day after his 109th birthday, his family found a “single sheet of notepaper, on which Charlie had boiled 109 years into an operating code of life.” Among them:

“Think freely. Practice patience. Smile often. Forgive and seek forgiveness. Feel deeply. Tell loved ones how you feel. Be soft sometimes. Cry when you need to. Observe miracles.”

Read the full piece here, via the Washington Post.

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