Biden, McCarthy poised to claim victory after protracted debt drama
Some House conservatives spent Sunday morning lining up against a deal that one called “insanity.” Some progressives are privately grumbling at their party’s lack of wins.
Yet as lawmakers parsed through the deal between President Joe Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy, it was becoming clear that most of the griping is coming from precisely where everyone expected — the margins.
Unless either party runs into major trouble with the unveiling of final text later Sunday, McCarthy and his counterpart, Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, will likely have the votes to pass the bill this week, according to more than a half-dozen lawmakers and aides from both parties. It would be a surprisingly low-drama end to months of high-stakes theatrics between McCarthy and Biden — one in which both can claim victory after avoiding fiscal calamity.
At the moment, that’s still an “if.” Negotiators won’t release full details of their plan until Sunday afternoon, after a final call between McCarthy and Biden — sending lawmakers and aides searching for problem spots in between their Memorial Day parades and picnics.
If an issue does emerge in either party, Republicans and Democrats agree it could dramatically alter their whipping operations. Those efforts have been going well so far — especially for Republicans, with conservative leader Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) offering early praise for the deal.
Even as a half dozen House Freedom Caucus members took to Twitter to thrash the McCarthy-Biden compromise, none have publicly signaled they are ready to seek revenge, despite talk in conservative circles whether one of their own would ultimately move to oust the speaker. McCarthy and his allies had privately worried that conservative angst could trigger a vote of no confidence — one of the lingering threats from his speakership fight — but for now, there’s no sign of that brewing.
Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.), a Freedom Caucus member who was among the 20 Republicans who opposed McCarthy during the start of the year, declined to say whether employing the so-called motion to vacate is on the table.
“Not saying what I would rule in or out until I see the text,” Norman said in a message to POLITICO on Sunday, while stating he is likely a strong “no” if the agreement in principle he’s heard is reflected in legislative language. “Bottom line; I need to see what’s in WRITING.”
While McCarthy walked his GOP members through some details on Saturday evening, the White House didn’t brief the Democratic caucus until 5 p.m. Sunday. Jeffries also told his members in a “Dear Colleague” letter on Sunday that the full Democratic caucus would also meet in person prior to voting on the deal.
During the Sunday briefing, Democratic lawmakers asked Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young, National Economic Council Deputy Director Aviva Aron-Dine and White House senior adviser John Podesta about policy points in the debt agreement, according to four people familiar with the situation.
They’re set to get six more briefings on the legislation over the next two days, with two briefings each on TANF and SNAP, budget caps and permitting. With the assumption bill text would be released Sunday, lawmakers were told to prepare to return to Washington with votes on the debt package as early as Wednesday and suspension votes on Tuesday.
The call wasn’t without some turbulence for the briefers, with Rep. Steven Horsford (D-Nev.) venting some frustration at the White House’s communication on the debt limit during the briefing, the people said.
In the meantime, Biden officials have been working the phones as they look to lock down votes, with the bill expected to reach the floor Wednesday. White House senior advisor Mitch Landrieu phoned a handful of Democrats, including Rep. Susan Wild (D-Pa.), on Sunday morning. Podesta is also making calls, as well as White House counselor Steve Ricchetti and congressional liaison Louisa Terrell, according to another House Democrat.
“If all this turns out to be true, then it’s a good deal and I’ll be happy to vote for it,” Wild told POLITICO about the emerging details of the deal. While she said she is refraining from a decision until text is released, she said it was important that Biden had protected programs like Social Security, Medicare and his own legislative priorities.
It “avoided catastrophic default,” she said, and “we can move forward with sensible budget discussions.”
The strongest support so far has come mostly from the centrist New Democrat coalition, whose chair Rep. Annie Kuster (D-N.H.) said in a Sunday statement they were reviewing the agreement but were “encouraged” by the deal and were “confident that President Biden and White House negotiators have delivered a viable, bipartisan solution to end this crisis.”
“We want to be clear — our Members are committed to upholding the full faith and credit of the United States,” she said. “We must act responsibly to ensure that we prevent the catastrophic consequences of default and protect the needs of the most vulnerable in our society.”
Not all Democrats are as content. Members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus are privately arguing that Biden could have gotten more. Many others are concerned about the lack of details so far — particularly on issues such as work requirements for food assistance programs and energy permitting, as they face steep pressure from environmental groups on the latter.
There’s also worry whether the deal will apply to Congress’ “pay as you go” rule — which requires new spending to be offset — to executive actions. That would mean presidential actions like student loan forgiveness could require a huge offset. One Democrat warned such restrictions “could be disastrous.”
White House officials, though, have told some Democrats that the Office of Management and Budget would have the power to waive that rule — potentially neutralizing the concerns, according to multiple people familiar with those discussions..
Besides the policy details, many Democrats are eager to see their party work on a stronger sales pitch, particularly after McCarthy and his GOP negotiators have repeatedly stood in front of news cameras pushing their own talking points multiple times a day for weeks.
Many Democrats want Biden to take a stronger public role in selling the deal, questioning why he left Washington for Camp David this weekend. “Why the hell isn’t he here?” one House Democrat, granted anonymity to speak about growing internal frustrations, said fellow members are asking.
Overall, though, many Democrats said it could’ve been worse. Several Democratic lawmakers and aides predicted that at least 80 of their members would back the deal, with some believing that number could go above 100 — depending on the final details and messaging strategy.
McCarthy took an optimistic tone on Sunday despite pushback from some on his right. He said on “Fox News Sunday” that 95 percent of his conference backs the deal, an assertion Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) disputed.
Either way, there are promising signs for the speaker.
Jordan’s praise during a private House GOP phone call on Saturday night was a clear win for McCarthy and his allies. The Ohio lawmaker was upbeat about the deal’s work requirements and spending provisions. That view was also echoed by Rep. Warren Davidson (R-Ohio). Both men, however, said they wanted to see the text before promising their full support, according to people on the call.
Jordan and Davidson are a welcome — and somewhat surprising — signal to rank-and-file Republicans who largely believed the right flank of the party was never going to support a compromise bill.
Others warned of stiff opposition to come. Russ Vought, a former Trump official who works closely with the House Freedom Caucus, said that conservatives on the House Rules Committee should try to block the deal from coming to the House floor — a move that would give more leverage to Democrats. It’s unclear whether Roy, Norman as well as Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) will oppose the rule, but Roy retweeted Vought’s calls for them to sandbag it.
Separately, in response to a Twitter user calling for him to stop the deal from passing the House, Roy replied: ”We are going to try.”
Jordain Carney, Caitlin Emma and Michael Stratford contributed to this report.