‘Stop, stop’: GOP bashes Biden for taking off during debt showdown

Republicans are blasting President Biden for leaving Washington for Asia on Wednesday without significant progress on debt limit negotiations, as the country inches toward a deadline on defaulting that could prove catastrophic on the financial system.

Biden will be in Japan for this weekend’s Group of Seven (G-7) summit but has canceled the latter portion of his trip, which included stops in Papua New Guinea and Australia, to be back in the nation’s capital and resume talks with congressional leaders. 

Even with the shortened trip, lawmakers criticized Biden for taking off at all.

“Here we are on the brink of a Biden default. And I think we saw the helicopters going across here, and I said I think he’s leaving now to go to Japan. I’m like stop, stop,” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) said during an outdoor press conference at the Capitol on Wednesday.

She criticized the president for priding himself on being a good negotiator yet not negotiating with Republicans between the beginning of February until last week, when he brought leaders to the table again.

“Mr. President, cancel your trip to Japan. Stay at the table,” said Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-S.D). “Good grief, Mr. President, when is enough, enough? Shame on anyone, on anyone, who refuses to act. Speaker [Kevin] McCarthy and this entire team have been responsible, reasonable and sensible. Time is short, Mr. President. Let’s get this done.”

Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), who has gone toe-to-toe with Biden on some key policy issues, said the president “should not leave, and he should worry about the debt limit here at home.”

After his meeting with Biden and other congressional leaders Tuesday, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) was asked if Biden should even be attending the G-7 and responded that the president can make his own decisions about his time. 

The White House maintains Biden can be president anywhere, a line they often use when he heads out of Washington.

But on the day of Biden's departure, McCarthy slightly changed his tune, saying, “I think he can” conduct international business while dealing with the debt ceiling before suggesting that the president should not have taken the trip.

“I think America wants an American president focused on American problems,” the California Republican said.

Biden delivered last-minute, unexpected remarks just before take off where he tried to assure the nation that leaders could come to an agreement before the country could default on its debt on June. 1 He referred to his shortened trip, indicating that would return Sunday after the G-7. His absence disrupted another international event — a planned Quad Leaders' summit in Sydney was canceled once Biden determined he would not attend.

When questioned about Biden’s indication that he can return to Washington on Sunday, have a press conference and finish the deal, McCarthy poked at the president for not engaging in talks between Feb. 1 and last week.

“It’s doable, but this is for a guy who didn’t want to meet with us for 97 days, and leaves the country and says he wants to come back Sunday to have a press conference? I really want a president that’s engaged and working through it,” the Speaker said.

The White House brushed off Republican criticism over Biden leaving Washington at all, highlighting the significance of the G-7.

“One of the responsibilities that an American president has is our leadership on the global stage, which is incredibly important and critical,” press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on the way to Japan, by way of Alaska, on Wednesday. “There are critical issues, yes, domestically, but also internationally that the president has to take on.”

McCarthy at the White House on Tuesday outlined that Biden had “changed the scope” of who is involved in talks, appointing White House officials, including his Office of Management and Budget director, to work directly with members of the Speaker’s team as they try to reach an agreement.

Biden on Wednesday said that group met last night and will meet again Wednesday as well as in the days following. Biden added he will be in “constant contact” with his team while at the G-7 and in touch with the Speaker.

National security adviser Jake Sullivan defended the decision to cancel the second leg of the trip when questioned about the White House previously insisting that Biden can do the job of president anywhere — right before they announced the trip would be cut short.

“As we were getting prepared to take off on this trip, he … made the determination that in the balance of his time, he needed to be back in Washington for the closing days before the deadline to ensure the United States does not go over a cliff,” Sullivan said.

“The president is confident that we can avoid default, but the reason he’s going back is to make sure that happens. So what he will tell [allies] is he is going home to do what a president does,” Sullivan said, adding that Biden will express confidence to allies that he can strike a deal.

Vice President Harris is set to provide an update to reporters on preventing default Thursday, alongside the director of the National Economic Council Director, Lael Brainard, indicating that she is also stepping in while the president is away.

That’s still not enough for lawmakers.

“[Treasury Department Secretary Janet Yellen] said the U.S. could default as early as June 1, which is 16 days away. With this as a backdrop, President Biden is planning to hop on a plane to Japan tomorrow,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said Tuesday. “He can't fly halfway around the globe just as negotiations are gaining momentum.” 

Meanwhile, some Democrats defended the president’s decision to leave town.

"I don't think he's the one sitting in the room doing the negotiations. I think he's the one, hopefully, leading the people in the room negotiating, but he can do that via Zoom or via telephone call,” Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) said. “Look, there's a lot of shit going on in the world he needs to be tending to, too.”

Similarly, Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat, said Biden’s trip to the G-7 is a high priority.

“President Biden has a G-7 meeting, which is an effort to establish global security. It's a very high priority,” he said. “I hope that Speaker McCarthy doesn't try to use that [against him]."

Democratic senators urge Biden to use 14th Amendment to raise debt limit

A group of Democratic senators led by Sen. Tina Smith (Minn.) are circulating a letter urging President Biden to invoke his constitutional authority under the 14th Amendment to raise the nation’s debt limit without having to pass legislation through Congress.  

These senators say the spending reforms that Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has demanded in exchange for raising the debt limit are unacceptable and that Biden should circumvent Republican lawmakers by raising the debt limit unilaterally, something that has never been done before and would almost certainly be challenged in court.  

“We write to urgently request that you prepare to exercise your authority under the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, which clearly states: ‘the validity of the public debt of the United States...shall not be questioned.’ Using this authority would allow the United States to continue to pay its bills on-time, without delay, preventing a global economic catastrophe,” they write in a letter currently circulating through the Senate Democratic conference. 

The signatories on the letter so far include Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.).  

More debt ceiling coverage from The Hill:

The lawmakers warned they will not accept any concessions attached to the debt limit that cut federal assistance for low-income Americans without raising taxes on wealthy individuals and corporations.  

“We cannot reach a budget agreement that increases the suffering of millions of Americans who are already living in desperation. At a time of massive wealth and income inequality, we must ask billionaires and large corporations who are doing phenomenally well to start paying their fair share of taxes,” they wrote in response to proposals by House Republicans to increase work requirements for people who rely on Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. 

The Democratic senators warned that Republican proposals in a House-passed bill to raise the debt limit could push as many as 21 million people off of Medicaid and deny nutrition assistance to 1.7 million women, infants and children. 

The lawmakers also blustered at House Republicans’ demands to attach major permitting reforms for fossil-fuel attraction projects to debt-limit legislation.  

“We also cannot allow these budget negotiations to undermine the historic clean energy and environmental justice investments made by Congress and your administration by allowing fossil fuel companies to unleash a flood of dirty energy projects that will worsen the climate crisis and disproportionately impact frontline communities. We must continue the transition from fossil fuels to clean and renewable energy,” they wrote.  

Merkley said the letter is intended to assure Biden that he will have support on Capitol Hill if he decides to use the 14th Amendment to raise the debt limit in the absence of a deal with McCarthy.  

“It’s important because Kevin McCarthy has two main requests: attack ordinary, working families across America by cutting the foundations for health care, housing, education and good-paying jobs, and unleash fossil fuels on America. And both of those are absolutely unacceptable,” he said.  

"I want the president to see that he has the support in the Senate to use the 14th Amendment," he said. "He has support to say no to outrageous demands from the radical right."

Treasury Department Secretary Janet Yellen, however, warned last week that invoking the 14th Amendment would be a "constitutional crisis" and would spur a legal battle.