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Happy Wednesday morning.
If you want to be optimistic about the progress of debt-limit negotiations, here’s what we’ve got for you:
No. 1: White House and congressional leadership aides plan to meet beginning today to discuss whether there’s any common ground for negotiations.
No. 2: Speaker Kevin McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will meet again with President Joe Biden on Friday.
But if you want to be realistic about the progress of debt-limit negotiations, here’s what’s going on:
No. 1: Biden and the four party leaders made practically no progress in their White House meeting Tuesday.
No. 2: The Hill staffers and Biden administration officials huddling over the next two days aren’t even on the same page when it comes to what they’re discussing. Democrats believe they are negotiating a spending agreement outside the context of the debt limit. Republicans believe they’re negotiating a debt-limit deal with a spending-cut component.
No. 3: Biden publicly flirted with invoking the 14th Amendment to lift the borrowing cap.
No. 4: The tenor of the White House meeting Tuesday between the Big Four and Biden was at times quite testy.
McCarthy read aloud old quotes from Democrats including Biden and former Speaker Nancy Pelosi about the need to negotiate around the debt limit.
Biden, in turn, asked McCarthy why House Republicans’ Limit, Save and Grow Act — which extended the debt limit by $1.5 trillion while slashing agency outlays — cut veterans funding by 22%. McCarthy then told the president that was a lie. That exchange stunned some in the room.
When McCarthy asked questions of Biden and Schumer interjected with an answer instead, the speaker said he wanted to hear answers from the president.
McCarthy asked Schumer why he was refusing to pass a clean debt limit if that’s what Democrats wanted. Schumer told him that debt limits were always bipartisan.
Biden later said that “three of the four participants” were “measured.”
“Occasionally there would be a little bit of … an assertion that maybe was a little over the top from the speaker,” Biden said.
McConnell, who some Democrats saw as a potential savior in these talks, sat mostly quiet during the session. However, McConnell reiterated that he believed a solution needed to be worked out by McCarthy and Biden. McConnell had the same line for reporters later.
If you’re honestly assessing the situation right now, you’d have to be pretty bearish about the prospects of coming to an agreement by June 1. Lawmakers and aides on both sides said they thought Tuesday’s meeting was mostly a wash. One source involved in the discussions said Biden and the Big Four can’t afford many more days like Tuesday if they want to reach an agreement in a timely manner.
The question, as ever, is who will blink first and when will that happen. McCarthy told us Tuesday that if the two sides are to solve this impasse by June 1, they’ll need an agreement in principle by early next week. And, as of right now, that looks a long way off.
Here’s some more bad news: McCarthy is firmly ruling out a short-term debt-limit increase. It’s only May 10, so perhaps this will change. But McCarthy seems pretty steadfast in his conviction that he won’t put a stopgap measure on the floor. Schumer and Jeffries have also pushed back against a short-term hike.
To be fair, once a deal is in the offing, there are ways to thread the needle between a clean debt-limit hike and the deal McCarthy is seeking. For instance, some senior aides have suggested passing the “cut” portion of any bipartisan compromise first and sending that to Biden for his signature. Only then would Congress lift the debt limit. But, at the moment, we’re far from that.
Schumer, who previously said he’d decide after Tuesday’s meeting whether to force a vote on a clean debt-limit hike, was noncommittal about this when we asked him last night. At the moment, Schumer doesn’t have 60 votes for this — a point McCarthy has been hammering.
Schumer’s response: “No hostage-taking. That’s what’s got to stop.”
— Jake Sherman, Andrew Desiderio and John Bresnahan
Coming soon: The first edition of The Vault is launching in a few hours directly to your inbox! The Vault is Punchbowl News’ quarterly edition anchored by Financial Services reporter Brendan Pedersen. It will feature indispensable, of-the-moment financial services coverage, including high-profile interviews with industry influencers, policymakers and key lobbying updates. Stay in the know on The Vault here, and look out for the first edition later today!
And check out this video with Brendan explaining The Vault.
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Pentagon chief slams Tuberville for ‘self-inflicted’ national security risks
News: Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s (R-Ala.) holds on senior military promotions are causing “self-inflicted” harm to U.S. national security, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told a top lawmaker in what amounts to the Pentagon’s gravest warning yet about the unprecedented legislative blockade.
In a letter to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) obtained by Punchbowl News, Austin for the first time went into detail about how Tuberville’s holds on general and flag officers — in protest of the Defense Department’s abortion policy — are impacting the Pentagon. Here’s Austin to Warren, the chair of the Senate Armed Services subcommittee on personnel.
“Delays in confirmation will soon foist vacancies on the most senior military positions across each of the Services, imposing new and unnecessary risks on U.S. warfighters across multiple theaters of operations.”
Austin warned that Tuberville’s holds have created “unnecessary uncertainty” for U.S. allies that rely on “our stable processes and orderly transitions.”
Tuberville has stood his ground for months now on this issue, vowing that he won’t consent to what is normally a unanimous and low-key affair on the Senate floor of approving these nominations until the Pentagon rescinds its abortion policy.
The DoD’s policy expanded abortion access for service members in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. It allows for travel reimbursements and paid leave for troops who aren’t able to seek care in the state in which they are based.
Republicans have slammed the policy change, saying it amounts to taxpayer funding of abortions. But some GOP senators have expressed unease about Tuberville’s tactic, which has now led to an unprecedented backup of military promotions. These include commanders in the Middle East and the Indo-Pacific as well as the U.S. military representative to NATO. It could also soon extend to the nomination for new chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said it’s incumbent on Tuberville’s GOP colleagues to convince him to back down.
Senate Democratic leaders could file cloture and go through laborious procedural hurdles on each promotion in order to get the officers confirmed, but that would take several weeks of floor time. Democrats have also warned that if they give in to Tuberville’s demands, it would set a dangerous precedent whereby any senator could resort to a similar tactic.
In a statement, Warren told us that Tuberville is “knowingly endangering military readiness and putting our troops at risk.” Warren tried to break Tuberville’s blockade last month but the Alabama Republican held firm — and even got some backup from Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah).
Tuberville has since expanded his holds to include a total of more than 200 general and flag officers. The Alabama Republican has said he’ll continue doing so for “as long as it takes.” Austin told Warren in his letter that around 650 additional general and flag officers will require Senate confirmation between now and the end of the year.
“The United States military relies on the deep experience and strategic expertise of our senior military leaders,” Austin wrote. “The longer that this hold persists, the greater the risk the U.S. military runs in every theater, every domain, and every Service.”
— Andrew Desiderio
McCarthy backs Santos amid indictment
Speaker Kevin McCarthy has no plans to push embattled Rep. George Santos out of Congress, despite the Long Island Republican facing indictment on federal criminal charges in New York.
Federal prosecutors in the Eastern District of New York indicted Santos Tuesday. The charges remain under seal but federal investigators have been looking into a litany of potential campaign finance violations by the freshman lawmaker. Santos is expected to appear in federal court as early as today, according to CNN.
McCarthy said Santos should be allowed to remain in Congress while his case works its way through the courts. McCarthy cited the example of former Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.), who didn’t resign until after he was convicted of federal corruption charges in 2022. McCarthy also reminded reporters that Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) was indicted, remained in Congress and was ultimately acquitted. He’s now chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“If a person is indicted, they’re not on committees. They have the right to vote but they have to go to trial,” McCarthy said Tuesday.
We caught up with House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, who said he doesn’t currently plan to file a privileged resolution to expel Santos from the House, despite bipartisan support for the move.
“George Santos is a disgrace,” Jeffries said. “But I’m not focused on George Santos right now. We’re working through trying to avoid a catastrophic default on our debt.”
Santos has come under significant bipartisan pressure to step down since January as a string of lies about his biography, job history and allegations of campaign violations and potential financial crimes have been uncovered. Federal, state and local investigators in addition to Brazilian authorities have all been looking into the claims.
Of course, if Santos were to resign, both parties would spend lots of money trying to win the swing-district seat. With a slim, four-seat GOP majority in the House, it would be a huge coup for Democrats to win back a seat the party lost in 2022.
Santos didn’t vote in the House Tuesday. And neither he nor his staff responded to multiple requests for comment. But Santos did tell the AP that the charges were “news” to him in a brief phone call.
– Heather Caygle, Jake Sherman and Mica Soellner
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THE HOUSE MAJORITY
Republicans move forward on immigration, border security package
After another marathon session — this time lasting more than eight-and-a-half hours — the House Rules Committee late Tuesday night approved a rule for H.R. 2, the Secure the Border Act.
The 213-page package, a mash-up of bills from the Judiciary, Homeland Security and Foreign Affairs panels, is expected to come to the House floor later this week.
This House vote will take place just as Title 42 public health authority expires on May 11. That Trump-era provision has been used to quickly expel hundreds of thousands of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border, and Biden administration officials fear another surge of border crossing once that authority ends.
Biden said this Tuesday about the situation at the border: “It’s going to be chaotic for a while.”
The signature legislation for the House Republican Conference would restart construction on former President Donald Trump’s border wall while upgrading security technology along the border and ports. In addition, the proposal calls for expanding collection of DNA and biometric information from migrants and imposing new fees on asylum applicants, among other things.
Speaker Kevin McCarthy and Republican leaders spent all Tuesday responding to problems with groups of GOP lawmakers since no Democrats are going to vote for the measure.
The good news for leadership? We caught up with several of the members Tuesday night who had problems with the bill and they’re mostly falling in line now.
Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) had concerns about the bill’s language allowing Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to designate criminal cartels as “foreign terrorist organizations” and what that would mean for migrant asylum claims. Crenshaw now is backing the legislation:
“I’ve worked with leadership on that to at least have a separate avenue. We’re working on the details on that, so there’s good conversations on that part.”
Crenshaw personally spoke with McCarthy on this issue.
Several other members were upset over the bill’s E-Verify provisions. Those ag-district Republicans say the expansion of the employment verification program would significantly exacerbate the farm worker shortage in their districts.
House Agriculture Committee Chair Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.) told us he’s now a “yes” on the bill after securing delayed implementation of the E-Verify expansion.
And Rep. David Valadao (R-Calif.) said Tuesday that he’d back the bill after receiving assurances from party leaders. Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.) is also expected to support the bill following the latest changes.
Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), meanwhile, has declared that he will vote against the package as long as the E-Verify language is included. GOP leaders, however, expect Massie to support the rule.
South Florida Republicans who had concerns with the asylum language in the bill also seem to be in good shape, with the exception of Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar (R-Fla.), who told us she hasn’t made up her mind yet.
“We’re still thinking through it. There’s some issues with the definition of persecution,” Salazar said.
As we noted, the House is expected to vote on the bill on Thursday — the same day Title 42 expires. Still, the bill is going nowhere in the Senate, and the White House strongly opposes it as well.
News from the Democrats: In the clearest sign yet that the immigration bill is unlikely to win any Democratic support, key leaders from the New Democrat Coalition are out with a statement bashing the proposal.
“This week, our Republican colleagues will attempt to rush through an ineffective, unserious bill that will wreck our economy and make the challenges on our Southern Border worse,” New Dem Chair Annie Kuster (D-N.H.), New Dem Immigration Task Force Chair Greg Stanton (D-Ariz.) and Vice Chairs Salud Carbajal (D-Calif.) and Lou Correa (D-Calif.) wrote.
The center-left Democrats are calling on Republicans to work on bipartisan reforms that focus on border security, workforce issues and a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers.
– John Bresnahan, Mica Soellner and Max Cohen
PUNCHBOWL NEWS EVENTS
Did you miss our Women Challenging Washington event yesterday? Check out the full video below.
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McCaul signals action on Blinken contempt resolution next week
News: House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Michael McCaul (R-Texas) is pledging to mark up a civil contempt resolution next week for Secretary of State Antony Blinken if Blinken doesn’t comply with the panel’s subpoena for documents about the chaotic 2021 U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.
McCaul has repeatedly pushed back the deadline for his subpoena requesting access to a dissent cable written by Kabul Embassy staff criticizing the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. The new deadline is May 11.
“I’m still hopeful he’s going to comply,” McCaul told us. “We’ve said, ‘Look, we’ll redact the names. We’ll look at it in camera.’”
McCaul has tried to accommodate the State Department’s concerns during the months-long saga. Officials at State expressed trepidation about turning over the cable, arguing that complying with the subpoena might put the signatories at risk of exposure. So McCaul has offered to see the document without the names of those who signed on.
State Department officials did conduct a briefing in late April on the warnings raised by embassy staff ahead of the pullout. But McCaul has been adamant the briefing doesn’t serve as compliance with his subpoena.
What stood out to us during our conversation with McCaul is how reluctant the chair is to get into a fight with Blinken.
“We’d like to get along on this one, but we’re just kind of at a crossroads,” McCaul said before noting a secretary of State has never been held in contempt of Congress before.
Also: House Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) released an “interim joint staff report” this morning on how then former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign reacted to the Oct. 14, 2020, New York Post story on Hunter Biden’s laptop.
Specifically, staffers for the House Judiciary and Intelligence panels — including Jordan’s weaponization subcommittee — looked into a letter released by 51 former intelligence officials alleging the story has “all the classic earmarks” of Russian disinformation.
The GOP staffers found the letter “was a political operation to help elect” Biden and the Biden campaign “took active measures to discredit the allegations about Hunter Biden by exploiting the national security credentials of former intelligence officials.”
Blinken — then a Biden campaign advisor — was a key player in the effort.
John Bresnahan and Max Cohen
8:30 a.m.: The Bureau of Labor Statistics will announce April’s Consumer Price Index.
9 a.m.: House Oversight Committee Chair James Comer (R-Ky.) will hold a news conference on the Biden family. … President Joe Biden will get his daily intelligence briefing.
10 a.m.: House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, House Majority Whip Tom Emmer and House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik will hold a post-conference-meeting news conference at the RNC.
10:50 a.m.: Biden will leave for Andrews, where he will fly to Kennedy Airport in New York. He’ll then fly to Westchester County Airport. Karine Jean-Pierre will brief on Air Force One en route to JFK.
11:30 a.m.: Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) will hold a news conference on their bill to overhaul the government classification system.
1:30 p.m.: Biden will talk at SUNY Westchester Community College about “why Congress must avoid default immediately.”
2 p.m.: Senate Republicans and Democrats will hold their party lunches.
3:40 p.m.: Biden will fly from Westchester to Lower Manhattan.
5:15 p.m.: Biden will speak at two campaign receptions in Manhattan.
8:30 p.m.: Biden will leave Manhattan for Kennedy, where he’ll fly to Andrews.
10:20 p.m.: Biden is expected back at the White House.
Editorial photos provided by Getty Images.
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