Skip to content
Sign up to receive our free weekday morning edition, and you'll never miss a scoop.
McCarthy and Biden in White House

Disconnect between McCarthy and Biden

Here’s something that might surprise you: Speaker Kevin McCarthy and President Joe Biden have had no conversations about the impending government shutdown.

Yes, the two most important players in this crisis haven’t met or spoken in any meaningful way during this standoff. And despite the enormous stakes in this funding dispute — millions of federal employees, including military service members, won’t be getting paid starting Oct. 1 — there’s no plan for the two men to confer.

The White House isn’t entirely flying blind here. McCarthy and his staff have kept in touch with Steve Ricchetti, the counselor to the president, and Shuwanza Goff, the legislative affairs director. McCarthy and Ricchetti dealt with each other extensively during the debt-limit negotiations. Goff is well-respected by House Republicans and has long had a close rapport with Team McCarthy.

McCarthy also hasn’t spoken to a single Cabinet secretary about the looming shutdown either. It’s been crickets.

Let’s break this down.

The politics for McCarthy: McCarthy is desperately trying to drag Biden into the government shutdown fray — rhetorically and substantively. Why? Biden is an easy target for the California Republican. The president’s poll numbers are terrible. And the speaker’s most hardline critics have no interest in cutting deals with the White House. Former President Donald Trump — who McCarthy has all but endorsed — is lashing out at Biden as well. So why shouldn’t McCarthy?

McCarthy is also on a different page than his Capitol counterpart, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, on government funding, Ukraine and other issues. McCarthy is struggling to rally support in his own conference. Hitting Biden, including launching an impeachment inquiry, makes sense internally for McCarthy. It’s a useful distraction.

Here’s a perfect example. Check out what McCarthy said Wednesday evening (this is lightly edited for clarity):

The politics for Biden: Why in God’s name would Biden engage here? McCarthy is flailing, let him get himself out of the mess he’s in. That’s the White House’s take, at least.

From the White House’s point of view, McCarthy is an unreliable partner. McCarthy backed away from the top-line spending targets that he personally agreed to with the president back in the spring as part of the Fiscal Responsibility Act. McCarthy touted that deal as a big win for House Republicans. Now McCarthy is the only congressional principal no longer abiding by the agreement.

Instead, under pressure from conservative hardliners, McCarthy directed House appropriators to come up with another $100 billion in spending cuts. That move has led to the current crisis and likely government shutdown. Administration officials question why they’d sit down with him again.

“President Biden did sit down with Speaker McCarthy — in May,” White House Deputy Press Secretary Andrew Bates said.

Also, if you’re the White House, why not wait to see what McCarthy can actually pass? The House is slated to vote today on four GOP-drafted spending bills — Defense, Homeland Security, Agriculture and State-Foreign Operations. There’s no guarantee that McCarthy can pass any of them, as evidenced by last night’s maneuvering in the House Rules Committee to cut $300 million in Ukraine funding from the Defense bill. (The House still might not pass the Defense bill, even without the Ukraine money).

McCarthy has to prove he can actually get himself to the negotiating table by passing bills. Otherwise, he’ll get rolled by the Senate. (We’ll note the speaker has made this argument to his colleagues as well.)

Team McCarthy vehemently disagrees with the White House’s characterization of the speaker’s position, pointing to the fact that the Senate wants to go beyond the spending caps laid out in the debt-limit bill.

“If you give two kids each $100 budget for dinner — and one spends $80 and the other spends $120, who broke the deal?” a McCarthy ally said Wednesday night.

The truth here is that the White House may have to engage — and soon. Once the government shuts down, congressional leaders will need to find their way out of it. And Congress will need to know how far Biden is willing to go.

Also: Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) will address Senate Democrats behind closed doors today about his federal indictment on bribery and corruption charges. Menendez pleaded not guilty on Wednesday. A majority of the Democratic Caucus has called on him to resign, including nearly all the Senate Democratic leadership. But not Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

Presented by The Coalition to Project American Jobs

It’s taking the IRS years to process a small business tax credit. 1M+ small business owners who filed for the Employee Retention Credit are stuck in backlog or waiting on payment for their claims. Tell the IRS to lift the moratorium now.

Editorial photos provided by Getty Images. Political ads courtesy of AdImpact.