McCarthy signals debt limit negotiations can’t move forward until Biden returns

Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.)
Tierney L. Cross
Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) speaks to reporters at the Capitol following a meeting at the White House with Congressional leaders and Vice President Harris to discuss the debit ceiling on Tuesday, May 16, 2023.

Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) signaled on Saturday that he doesn’t think debt limit negotiations can move forward until President Biden returns to Washington.

“Unfortunately, the White House moved backwards,” McCarthy told reporters, as he left the Capitol with Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.) — the lead GOP negotiator, and Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.). “I don’t think we’re going to be able to move forward until the president can get back in the country.”

“Unfortunately, the socialist wing of the Democrat Party appears to be in control—especially with President Biden out of the country,” he reiterated in a tweet afterwards.

The White House responded in a statement, turning the tables on McCarthy and claiming that his team “put on the table an offer that was a big step back and contained a set of extreme partisan demands that could never pass both Houses of Congress.”

“Let’s be clear: The President’s team is ready to meet any time. And, let’s be serious about what can pass in a bipartisan manner, get to the President’s desk and reduce the deficit,” the statement said. “It is only a Republican leadership beholden to its MAGA wing — not the President or Democratic leadership — who are threatening to put our nation into default for the first time in our history unless extreme partisan demands are met.”

Biden is in Hiroshima, Japan, through Sunday for the Group of Seven (G-7) summit. He was previously set to travel to Papua New Guinea and Australia as well but decided to cut the trip short as debt ceiling negotiations have dragged on.

The president said at the summit on Saturday that he is “not at all” worried about reaching a deal to raise the debt limit before the U.S. defaults on its debt. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has repeatedly warned lawmakers that default could occur as early as June 1.

“I still believe we’ll be able to avoid a default and we’ll get something decent done,” Biden said.

The apparent halt in negotiations comes after talks briefly broke down on Friday, as Republican lawmakers accused the White House of being “unreasonable” and unwilling to accept sufficient spending cuts. Talks resumed several hours later.

McCarthy’s recent comments represent a shift from his relatively optimistic outlook on the negotiations on Thursday. 

“We’re not there. We haven’t agreed to anything yet. But I see the path that we could come through,” he told reporters on Thursday morning, adding, “It’d be important to try to have the agreement, especially in principle, by sometime this weekend.”

Mychael Schnell contributed to this report.

Tags debt ceiling debt limit negotiation Garret Graves Janet Yellen Joe Biden Joe Biden Kevin McCarthy Kevin McCarthy Patrick McHenry

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