House Democrats urge Obama to invoke the 14th Amendment in debt fight

House Democratic leaders are calling on President Obama to invoke the 14th Amendment and raise the debt ceiling without congressional input.

Addressing the House Democratic Caucus on Wednesday morning, Rep. James Clyburn (S.C.) the third-ranking House Democrat, told members that Obama should veto any short-term debt-limit increase that lands on his desk and use the 14th Amendment to hike the debt ceiling unilaterally.

“With the same pen that he vetoes that short-term debt-ceiling extension, he should sign an executive order invoking the 14th Amendment to raise the debt ceiling unilaterally, Clyburn told reporters in the Capitol after the caucus meeting.

The Democratic members reacted with applause, according to caucus Chairman John Larson (Conn.), who also supports the 14th Amendment option.

Clyburn said the move would bring calm … and needed stability to our financial markets, and he compared todays debt-ceiling debate to the heated 1940s fight over whether to integrate the U.S. Armed Forces. Congress refused to take that step, Clyburn noted, leaving President Harry Truman to take it himself.

And that executive order still holds today, Clyburn said.

Former President Clinton also has advocated for the unilateral approach, saying he would use the 14th Amendment to raise the debt limit if he were still in the White House. 

“I think the Constitution is clear, and I think this idea that the Congress gets to vote twice on whether to pay for [expenditures] it has appropriated is crazy,” Clinton said in comments last week to The National Memo.

But Obama has all but ruled out invoking the 14th Amendment to raise the debt limit and prevent a government default.

There is a provision in our Constitution that speaks to making sure that the United States meets its obligations, and there have been some suggestions that a president could use that language to basically ignore that debt-ceiling rule, which is a statutory rule, Obama said last week during a town hall meeting. I have talked to my lawyers; they are not persuaded that that is a winning argument.

The Democratic leaders acknowledged Obamas reluctance to invoke the Constitution amid the debt-limit fight, but said they simply wanted to inform the president that theyd support him if Republicans left him no other choice.

He has taken … a position on this already, Larson said. But circumstances could change [and] we just want to let him know that this caucus is prepared to stand behind him.

The Democrats characterized the 14th Amendment option as a fail-safe to prevent a government default if a long-term debt-limit increase sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) dies before reaching the White House.

Democrats would prefer the Reid plan, Larson said, predicting that more than 180 Democrats would support that proposal.

But will Senator Reids plan come [to the House]? Larson asked. Weve got to keep as many options [open] as we can.

Rep. Xavier Becerra (Calif.), vice chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said the Republicans’ tendency to walk away from the negotiating table throughout the debt-ceiling debate leaves Obama with little choice but to act unilaterally. 

The Republicans, through their failure, have given you license to do whatever it takes to not let the American family go down into [the] abyss, Becerra said. We need someone to step forward.

Its unclear whether other Democratic leaders also are behind the 14th Amendment push. Larson said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) spoke up on the topic during Wednesdays caucus meeting, noting Obamas misgivings about pursuing that approach.

Pelosis office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

Last updated at 12:23 p.m.