HomePoliticsBiden and McCarthy are on a collision course in a divided government

Biden and McCarthy are on a collision course in a divided government

WASHINGTON — Anyone wondering how a Democratic president and the new Republican House speaker would work together got their first real sneak peek this month, when President Biden released a budget that Republicans vowed to torpedo and Speaker Kevin McCarthy signed his first bill, one the president has vowed to veto.

In a pair of duels, McCarthy accused Biden of being “woke” with his promise to veto a bipartisan effort to prevent retirement fund managers from assessing a company’s cultural values ​​before investing. From Philadelphia, Biden asked McCarthy to reveal a Republican budget plan: “Lay it out,” Biden said.

McCarthy responded by calling the president’s proposal “totally unserious.”

With that, the collision course between the two men, whose relationship in the coming months will be one of the most important in Washington, appears to be set.

Mr. Biden, who spent 36 years in the Senate, has optimistically called for legislative politics “the art of the possible”. But with McCarthy publicly refusing to raise the nation’s debt ceiling without serious spending cuts and Biden refusing to negotiate the debt ceiling at all, a feverish battle of messages has replaced functional legislation, for now, as the United States take the risk. to default on your debt.

During a private lunch in the Democratic Senate earlier this month, Biden told the group that the speaker was in an “interesting position,” a comment that drew laughter from the crowd, and recounted his January meeting with McCarthy in the House. White.

“He was basically saying he was going to hold the debt ceiling hostage,” Biden told the crowd, according to a person in the room. “And we’re just not going to play that game.”

For his part, McCarthy had a different take on the meeting: “He said he wouldn’t negotiate with me. He has now just spent an hour with me in the Oval Office,” Mr. McCarthy said. singing Fox News host Sean Hannity.

At a celebration for Mr. McCarthy at the Conrad Hotel in Washington in January, according to two attendees, the new speaker told people advice he had taken to heart from Sen. Tim Scott, R-South Carolina, when it came to of high positions. -Bet Bargaining: In a game of chicken, you have to throw the steering wheel out of the window and crash the car.

The relationship between the president and the speaker of the House defines what can be achieved in Washington; in short, they need each other to show the public that government, even a divided one, can work. But when they’re from different parties, that relationship quickly turns combustible.

Mr. Biden and Mr. McCarthy have built a fragile relationship since Mr. Biden’s vice presidency, when Mr. McCarthy would visit for breakfast occasionally during his tenure as Majority Leader. With similar backgrounds, both coming from middle-class families and overcoming speech impediments at a young age, the two men have had a strained relationship over the years.

After their first White House meeting after Biden became president, McCarthy told reporters that he did not believe “anyone is questioning the legitimacy” of the election of Mr. Biden. That comment ignored the fact that only hours earlier he had voted with the majority of his conference to remove former Rep. Liz Cheney, a Wyoming Republican, from her leadership position because of her criticism of Trump and her false claims about the electoral fraud.

In a later interview with the conservative “Ruthless” podcast, McCarthy, 58, mocked Biden, adding to the caricature that the oldest president to serve is floundering. He said the 80-year-old Biden claimed to have fixed the problems on the country’s southern border and was more interested in handing out candy.

“He said, ‘Oh no, I fixed it. He was broken; I fixed the border,’” McCarthy said. “Then he asked me if he wanted a cookie. Oh no, he was very excited. ‘I fixed the border,’ then at the end, ‘Would you like a cookie? I’ll get you a cookie.’” He added: “He was very proud of his cookies.”

Privately, McCarthy has told allies that he has found Biden to be mentally sharp in meetings.

How Times reporters cover politics. We trust our journalists to be independent observers. So while Times staff members can vote, they are not allowed to endorse or campaign for political candidates or causes. This includes participating in marches or rallies in support of a movement or giving money or raising money for any political candidate or electoral cause.

Biden, for his part, has resisted personal attacks but portrayed broad swaths of the Republican Party as extremists, led by McCarthy.

Took 15 rounds of voting — and concessions to the far-right flank of his party — for McCarthy to be elected speaker in January. The White House sees that as a sign of his weakness, pointing to the slim majority Republicans have in the House.

McCarthy’s supporters say they see the process as a sign of his strength and ability to push through things to get the result he wants.

“If Kevin is nice and calm and persistent, pretty much the same beginning that he had to go through to become a speaker, in the end he’s going to pull off an incredible amount and people will be shocked,” said Newt Gingrich, the Republican who antagonized and impeached President Bill Clinton. as a speaker and whose former chief of staff, Dan Meyer, is now McCarthy’s top adviser.

“He’s a good planner,” Gingrich added. “That’s what people underestimate about Kevin.”

The relationship has not been without its lighter moments.

On Friday, the two Irish-American politicians joked with each other at a St. Patrick’s Day event on Capitol Hill, with McCarthy comparing their relationship to that of President Reagan, a Republican, and House Speaker Thomas P. O’Neill Jr., a Democrat, who also shared Irish heritage.

“A clash is brewing, people say, between me and the president of what should we do?” said Mr. McCarthy. “What would be the ramifications for the entire nation in the coming months? I think you could figure this out for us. Which of us is more Irish?

Mr. Biden responded, “there’s no reason we can’t find common ground.”

In the past, the president has tried to pander to McCarthy’s love of congressional leadership trappings. (He enjoyed traveling aboard Air Force One with Trump.) When McCarthy was invited to the state dinner honoring Emmanuel Macron of France, he called the White House to request an invitation for his mother. The president quickly complied, according to two people familiar with the call.

The two had a cordial interaction at Mr. Biden’s raucous State of the Union address, shaking hands and smiling at each other; at one point, the speaker seemed to silence the louder members. That cordiality didn’t extend much beyond the dais: McCarthy’s allies say they have no functional bond, for which they blame Biden.

“The White House has missed the opportunity to engage with the speaker in a more serious and comprehensive way,” Rep. Patrick T. McHenry, a North Carolina Republican, said in an interview. “They are dropping the ball on the relationship that will define years to come.”

Mr. McCarthy has expressed his frustration that during his years as minority leader, Mr. Biden rarely tried to speak to him and did not mention his name during his inaugural address.

Instead of Biden reaching out, Louisa Terrell, the White House director of legislative affairs, has spoken with the speaker several times since her January meeting with the president, discussing areas where Republicans and Democrats could work together, according to people familiar with those. calls They have spoken on issues including manufacturing, supply chain control, veteran support and the fentanyl overdose crisis. The White House also added two more helpers to the legislative affairs team this week.

“We think the president has done a good job of taking very hard, narrow majorities that we had last session, and we were able to find the connective tissue and figure out ways that we could work together,” Ms. Terrell said in an interview.

Several current and former White House officials also say that Biden has reached out to McCarthy more often than is publicly known. By an internal count, the president has invited McCarthy to the White House 20 times since he became president; Mr. McCarthy has accepted eight of the invitations.

In an interview, Gingrich proudly noted that McCarthy is likely to be a challenge for Biden.

“He wants to find a way to get a win,” Gingrich said of McCarthy, “but winning is not selling out.”

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