McConnell leaves GOP in dark on debt ceiling

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBiden stiff arms progressives on the Postal Service Biden clarifies any Russian movement into Ukraine 'is an invasion' The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden talks, Senate balks MORE (R-Ky.) is keeping his debt ceiling strategy close to the vest as he negotiates with Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerDemocrats calls on Biden administration to ease entry to US for at-risk Afghans Predictions of disaster for Democrats aren't guarantees of midterm failure Voting rights and Senate wrongs MORE (D-N.Y.) ahead of a mid-December cliff. 

Treasury Secretary Janet YellenJanet YellenYellen says Biden's COVID-19 relief bill 'acted like a vaccine for the American economy' On the Money — Yellen highlights wealth gap in MLK speech Yellen: US has 'much more work' to close racial wealth gap MORE has said Congress has until Dec. 15 to raise the nation’s borrowing limit or risk a catastrophic default that would have widespread ramifications for the global economy. 

But close allies say they’ve been given virtually no insight into the talks with Schumer, with the two leaders having a high-profile meeting before Thanksgiving before going to ground on their negotiations since then. 

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Asked how much he was hearing about the McConnell-Schumer negotiations, Sen. John CornynJohn CornynSenate panel advances bill blocking tech giants from favoring own products Senators introduce bill aimed at protecting Ukrainian civilians Lawmakers press Biden admin to send more military aid to Ukraine MORE (R-Texas), an adviser to the Senate GOP leader, said “pretty much nothing.” 

“I think Sen. McConnell said today, ‘Sen. Schumer’s not talking about it. I’m not talking about it either,’” Cornyn said. 

A senior GOP senator characterized McConnell’s position as, “He and Schumer are talking and it will all work out and we shouldn’t worry about it.” 

“That is almost an exact quote,” the senator added. 

Spokespeople for McConnell didn’t respond to a request for comment on the debt ceiling negotiations. 

McConnell didn’t disclose his thinking during closed-door caucus lunches this week, according to GOP senators who attended, and he was equally cagey during his regular press conference. 

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“Let me assure everyone the government will not default as it never has. And second, the majority leader and I have been having discussions about the way forward,” McConnell told reporters when asked about the talks. 

Pressed again on the path forward, McConnell added that he and Schumer were engaged in “useful discussion.” 

McConnell’s tight-lipped stance comes after a bruising fight heading toward an October debt cliff, during which McConnell and Schumer traded shots as they increasingly dug into their positions.

After arguing for months that Republicans wouldn’t help raise the debt ceiling and pushing Democrats to do it on their own through reconciliation, a budget process that allows them to avoid a 60-vote legislative filibuster, McConnell abruptly shifted strategies, offering to help Democrats advance a short-term debt hike. 

Republicans who support McConnell’s decision argue it was meant to defang one of the top Democratic arguments against raising the debt ceiling under reconciliation: that there wasn’t enough time. But it sparked unusually fierce criticism of the GOP leader from his own caucus, and his leadership team scrambled for hours to lock down the Republican votes needed to help advance the debt ceiling bill. Eleven Republicans, including McConnell, helped break a filibuster, though they all voted against passing the debt bill. 

Former President TrumpDonald TrumpPredictions of disaster for Democrats aren't guarantees of midterm failure A review of President Biden's first year on border policy  Hannity after Jan. 6 texted McEnany 'no more stolen election talk' in five-point plan for Trump MORE has repeatedly hammered McConnell over his handling of the debt ceiling and urged him to weaponize it against the rest of President BidenJoe BidenPredictions of disaster for Democrats aren't guarantees of midterm failure A review of President Biden's first year on border policy  Vilsack accuses China of breaking commitments in Trump-era trade deal MORE’s legislative agenda. 

“Old Crow Mitch McConnell, who is getting beaten on every front by the Radical Left Democrats since giving them a two-month delay which allowed them to ‘get their act together,’ must be fully prepared to use the DEBT CEILING in order to totally kill the Democrat’s new Social Spending (Wasting!) Bill, which will change our Country forever,” Trump said. 

Though Republicans helped suspend the debt ceiling under Trump, it has reemerged as a live wire this year as Republicans lean back into their fiscal hawk history. Republicans characterize McConnell as aware of the potential political land mines for GOP senators from within their own party. 

Sen. Kevin CramerKevin John CramerBiden huddles with group of senators on Ukraine-Russia tensions Overnight Defense & National Security — Texas hostage situation rattles nation Senators to meet with Ukraine president to reaffirm US support MORE (R-N.D.) said that McConnell has “never tipped his hat” on the debt ceiling talks. 

“I think it’s one of those areas where the leader sees a high level of responsibility and probably some political waters to navigate and he’s trying to navigate them before anybody else has to get in it,” he said. “It’s what Mitch does better than anybody.”  

McConnell vowed a day after the October vote that Republicans wouldn’t help defeat a filibuster of a debt ceiling increase for a second time, writing in a letter to Biden, “I will not provide such assistance again if your all-Democrat government drifts into another avoidable crisis.” 

The temperature appears to have cooled since then.

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Cornyn, referring to McConnell and Schumer, said “they both seem optimistic” they’ll reach an agreement to avert a debt default. 

“I think there’s a realization that this is a live hand grenade that could blow up and not discriminate between Republicans and Democrats, so I think both sides are incentivized to try to figure it out,” he said. 

Cramer added the ongoing negotiations, “seemingly in good faith,” were providing “enough confidence for people to not panic anyway so far.”

“I think people on both sides have a sense of confidence that a plan is being worked out between the two leaders,” he said. 

Republicans are offering to expedite the budget process for Democrats raising the debt ceiling on their own through reconciliation. GOP senators, and some budget experts, have also floated that the Treasury Department might have flexibility to push the debt ceiling into early next year. Yellen, however, has stressed that she has little wiggle room because the Treasury has to transfer money under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which recently became law. 

Democrats have been loath to put raising the debt ceiling on their own through reconciliation on the table, with some predicting that Republicans will cave similar to the October fight. Raising the debt ceiling under the budget rules would set off a complicated process, including two vote-a-ramas, where any senator who wanted to force a vote would be able to. 

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“As I said, Leader McConnell and I ... are having very good negotiation or, I would say, good negotiations and don’t want to oversell. And the bottom line is we hope to come up with a bipartisan agreement that both parties support that doesn’t risk us in the debt limit,” Schumer said. 

Republicans say they believe part of the reason that McConnell is keeping such a tight lid is because Schumer also appears to be careful about what he says about their negotiations. 

“The leader’s been very clear to us that he’s going to hold it as tight as he can,” said Sen. Mike RoundsMike RoundsLawmakers press Biden admin to send more military aid to Ukraine The Memo: Is Trump the GOP's future or in rearview mirror? Some in GOP begin testing party's lockstep loyalty to Trump MORE (R-S.D.). “I think he believes that Sen. Schumer has held it close, so I think our leader is going to hold it close as well.”