Team Biden and the Media Don't Understand the House Republicans
Their core conceit based on the past decade is biting them with this majority
It’s really amazing to see how much the White House and the media are both flailing to understand the dynamics of this debt ceiling fight, and being very open about their surprise and Republican behavior. The questions they have are telling, because it shows how little understanding they have of the end result of the speaker fight. Weren’t all these people just at each others’ throats? Why are they sticking together instead of squabbling? Why isn’t Mitch forcing them in our direction? Where’s the GOP self-sabotage we know and love? And why aren’t the conservatives threatening to vacate the chair?
All these questions are bouncing around the narrative framing of this moment, and reveal how poorly Team Biden and our current dutifully pro-Democrat media understand the motivations of the people on the other side. If you pay any attention to the way moderates, centrists, and conservatives have worked in tandem on this, you could see this coming — but they clearly didn’t.
Republicans across the ideological spectrum of the conference are proud of the debt plan they passed last month, arguing that it gives them the upper hand with Democrats who have yet to even attempt to steer a clean hike of the borrowing limit through the Senate.
Perhaps most surprisingly, some conservatives are dismissing or dodging the prospect that a deal with Biden would prove unpalatable enough to try to oust him from the speakership. Those same conservatives fought hard for — and extracted from McCarthy — an agreement that a single member could move for a simple-majority vote on expelling the speaker from the top spot.
Yet they sound less than keen on using that power to dislodge him.
“The drama, the drama, the drama,” House Freedom Caucus Chair Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) said when asked whether the so-called “motion to vacate” the speaker’s chair is on the table for conservatives if they don’t like the final deal. “We are focused on where we are as the only side of the building that has passed legislation.”
Rep. Dan Bishop (R-N.C.), another past McCarthy skeptic, said that “I don’t even like to give consideration to someone being forced to resort to the motion to vacate” to vent dissatisfaction with the speaker.
Perhaps most surprisingly, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), one of McCarthy’s biggest antagonists in the past, argued on Monday that “literally nobody except the press” was talking about the possibility of ousting the speaker.
Positive noises from both sides plus a clock ticking closer to midnight: the signs pointed to the possibility of a breakthrough meeting this evening. But no white smoke appeared above the White House when talks ended at around 7 p.m. Instead, more encouraging talk: “I think the tone tonight was better than at any other time we’ve had discussions, McCarthy told reporters immediately after the meeting, before singing the praises of the president’s negotiating team. “We both agree that we want to come to an agreement,” he added. “There’s nothing agreed to.” As for the major differences that remain, McCarthy ruled out any tax rises, something Biden had suggested in his remarks to reports just before the meeting.
So far, McCarthy has maneuvered expertly in this debt fight. He united an unruly conference to pass legislation on the debt limit — something the White House was betting he would not manage. (As Reihan Salam wrote in the Atlantic recently, the Limit, Save, Grow Act offers a mild kind of fiscal conservatism; the tea party is very much over.) Democrats have been flat-footed ever since, with the president having to abandon his insistence that only a “clean” vote on the debt limit would do. McCarthy would then notch up another win, cutting out Democratic lawmakers and Senate Republicans to put himself center stage alongside Biden.
The strategy is paying dividends for McCarthy personally — a recent poll put his net approval rating at +8 — while it is internal divisions among Democrats, not Republicans that have come to the fore in recent days.
Over the last week, Biden has veered from echoing Republican and moderate Democrat messaging on the need to cut spending to flirting with the unconstitutional 14th Amendment option preferred by his party’s left wing. “I think we have the authority,” Biden said in Hiroshima Sunday before jetting back to Washington. In the past, administration officials have described the move as something that would trigger a “constitutional crisis” (Yellen) and that the White House would not entertain (Karine Jean-Pierre).
The sudden change of tone was only the latest demonstration of Biden’s wobbly position in these negotiations. Biden’s attempt to characterize Republican calls for fiscal constraint as MAGA extremism has been rendered unconvincing by McCarthy’s legislative accomplishment and evidently willingness to reach a deal.