Low expectations but high stakes for debt meeting

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With an assist from Jordain Carney

Let’s get one thing clear: The chances that top leaders from Capitol Hill and President Joe Biden strike a deal this afternoon to raise the nation’s debt limit are, at best, slim to none. That sets the bar for today’s White House meeting low even when the stakes are sky high to avoid a first-in-history default on the nation’s debt.

Just how low are expectations set for today? One top leadership aide told Huddle that not only do they not expect much tangible movement today, but that they are hoping the meeting won’t “devolve” into raised voices in the Oval Office. (Flashback to the Dec. 2018 shouting match over government funding.)

Positions are so entrenched at this point, with Democrats saying only a clean debt ceiling increase will do and Republicans conditioning an increase on spending cuts, that the two parties will arrive at the White House for Tuesday afternoon’s meeting with almost entirely different premises.

Here’s how the four corners of Capitol Hill leadership will come into today’s White House meeting and what they’ll look to get out of it:

SCHUMER: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) heads into the meeting in alignment with Biden and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), intent on separating discussions on spending from a path forward to raise the debt limit. The Democratic mantra has been “take the threat of default off the table” to pave the way for talks about federal spending.

Beyond that Democratic negotiating position, Schumer holds another card: the House-passed bill that marries significant spending cuts with a debt limit increase wouldn’t survive the Democratically controlled Senate and would likely lose some Senate GOP votes, too. The Senate majority leader, along with everyone else in the room, will be looking for Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) to articulate some sort of flexibility to move towards something that could potentially pass both chambers, a senior Senate Democratic aide told Huddle.

McCONNELL: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is not going to hammer out this deal. And he’s not going to back any deal cooked up on the Senate side in a bipartisan “gang” by self-appointed negotiators. Something that can get 60 votes in the Senate can’t necessarily pass the House, where hard-line corners of McCarthy’s conference don’t want him to budge from what they’ve already passed while others only signed onto that bill with confidence that parts they didn’t like would be negotiated out.

McConnell is letting McCarthy lead, knowing that the speaker needs to strike an agreement that he can take back to his fractious, four-seat-majority conference. There’s no way around the House here, a senior Senate GOP aide told Huddle on Monday evening.

JEFFRIES: The House minority leader will arrive at the White House as his relationship with the president is still developing, Jennifer Haberkorn reports this morning. For years, former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) led the relationship between House Democrats and the White House, but Jeffries, who does not have the former speaker’s long history of deal making, is still building his rapport and trust with the president.

The minority leader described himself this weekend as being in “lockstep” with the president on the debt ceiling, but is expected to evaluate what role he needs to play in the meeting and ensuing negotiations based on where Biden and McCarthy take the conversation. Jeffries will be expected to deliver the Democratic votes needed in the House to move any kind of compromise that emerges in the coming weeks.

McCARTHY: And that leaves the man everyone is watching. McCarthy heads to the White House satisfied that House Republicans have already done their part, passing a package of spending cuts coupled with a one-year debt ceiling increase. Many of his House GOP colleagues framed the bill as a negotiating position for these talks.

There was broad expectation at the time of passage that the bill would be winnowed, through negotiations with the White House, to something that could win Democratic votes in the Senate and the president’s signature.

But with a narrow majority and mounting frustration that Biden did not agree to sit down earlier, McCarthy could try to stick closer to his House-passed proposal, which he clocked as a victory in uniting his conference. Some on the right flank of the House GOP, including Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.), will view McCarthy compromising or departing from their bill at all as failure to execute on his promise to rein in federal spending. Norman told POLITICO last month that McCarthy made promises to keep intact all of the red meat spending provisions that the House already approved.

McCarthy will be looking to get Biden to talk about spending in relation to the debt limit, connecting the two issues that Democrats have been adamant about divorcing.

X-Date Update: A new, dire debt warning: U.S. could breach limit in early June, from Caitlin Emma

Related reads: The first test of the Biden-Jeffries relationship comes with the global economy in the balance, from Jennifer Haberkorn; Chaos? Kumbaya? How the debt limit standoff might end, from Josh Boak at The Associated Press

GOOD MORNING! Welcome to Huddle, the play-by-play guide to all things Capitol Hill, on this Tuesday, May 9, where we’d give anything to be a fly on the wall in the Oval Office this afternoon.

BORDER WATCH — House Republicans are planning to vote Thursday on their border security bill that is stocked with items on the party’s immigration wish list, from restarting construction of a southern border wall to placing new restrictions on asylum seekers — if they can win over some Republicans who have expressed wariness on the bill. Leadership wanted to time the vote with the expiration of a Trump-era border policy that lets the U.S. deny asylum and migration claims for public health reasons.

A few members we’re watching include Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas), who said in a statement Monday that “Americans who care about border security should be deeply disappointed in House Republican leaders” over the proposal’s treatment of drug cartels. Crenshaw’s frustration stems from what he sees as not enough direct action against the cartels, lamenting that “the only mention of the cartels in this bill is a ‘study’ of the cartels that may actually give the Biden administration a pathway to make our immigration crisis exponentially worse.”

A spokesperson for Rep. Thomas Massie said Monday that the Kentucky Republican will vote against the border bill over its treatment of “e-verify” technology designed to help companies confirm employees’ immigration status, while an aide to Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.) said he’s “expressed concerns to leadership” about the e-verify provision. Sounds like leadership might not have sailed the ship just yet.

Related read: For a Texan who wants to build bridges in Congress, U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales has burned quite a few, from Matthew Choi at the The Texas Tribune; House and Senate diverge on immigration as border fears mount, from Jordain and Daniella

REPORT CARD — Does the fight for the speakership feel like yesterday or ancient history? Depends on the day. But Olivia and Sarah have kept track of the demands that corners of the GOP conference made in exchange for getting McCarthy across the finish line and have a report on how the speaker is measuring up on key concessions.

“I’m pretty happy with him,” said Norman, one of the 20 initial opponents who blocked McCarthy from getting the gavel, adding he’d give the speaker an “A” on his tenure so far. But Norman noted that could change if the speaker budges in debt talks with Democrats.

RASKIN WATCH — Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) is viewing June as his deadline for making a decision about whether or not to jump into a race to succeed retiring Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), he told our Congress team colleague Jordain Carney, who caught up with him on Monday night.

Raskin described his position right now as an “absolute toss-up” and that he is taking “several weeks” to think through his options, field input and weigh the broader role he wants to play in 2024, calling the prospect that Trump is the GOP presidential nominee a “constitutional emergency.” But, he acknowledged on his own timeline: “I think I would need to decide by June.”

Raskin would be viewed as a serious contender if he got into the Senate race. But the decision isn’t without risks: If he runs for Senate and wins, he could be joining as a freshman member of the minority party given Democrats’ tough map for keeping the upper-chamber majority in the 2024 election. If he stays in the House, he is well positioned to become Oversight chair if Democrats flip the chamber. Of course, Raskin could end up stuck in the minority there, too, if Republicans keep the House.

“We have very important work going on now [in the Oversight Committee], and when we take the House back in 2024, we will have very important work going on, so I have to weigh that against my interest in the Senate,” he said, adding that the broader political headwinds make it a “complex calculus.”


C-SPAN slander… We won’t stand for it. Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) said he’s trying to “bring more engagement into public policy” and “make it entertaining.”

“I cannot bear to watch C-SPAN,” he told CBS News, calling it “boring.”

Rep. Judy Chu got the shot… She was hanging at the White House last night for a celebration of Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month and got to meet Oscar winner Ke Huy Quan from Everything, Everywhere, All at Once.

Suit up… It’s time to meet Michael Bennet at the playground.

BACK IN ACTION — Raskin was in full law professor mode as he spoke on Monday night to deliver the annual Herblock Lecture during the awards ceremony hosted at the Library of Congress for the 2023 Herblock Prize for editorial cartooning. His speech blended two sides of his professional history, mixing the Jan. 6 insurrection with a dive into the Second Amendment, the Constitution more broadly and Supreme Court precedent.

It was a notable appearance for Raskin marking, according to the Maryland Democrat, the first event he has spoken at since he rang the bell at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital late last month to mark the end of his chemotherapy treatment. Raskin, noting the milestone, joked that: “I’ve got a lot to say.” (It might not have been a joke. Raskin guesstimated afterward that he spoke for about 20 minutes—by Jordain’s clock it was 33 minutes.)


Senate panel asks Crow for full accounting of gifts to Thomas, other justices, by Liz Goodwin and Marianne LeVine at The Washington Post

McConnell Predicts Congress Will Keep Funding Ukraine’s Defense, from Steven T. Dennis at Bloomberg

Just 37 members of Congress are mothers with minor children, from Barbara Rodriguez at The 19th

Exclusive: Rep. Anna Paulina Luna Is Pregnant, Would Be 12th Sitting Member of Congress to Give Birth, from Eric Cortellessa at Time

Plenty of Mace: Nancy Mace, a ‘Caucus of One’ in the G.O.P., Says She’s Trying to Change Her Party, from Annie Karni at The New York Times; Nancy Mace finds herself on a lonely GOP island, from Mychael Schnell at The Hill

Democratic donors hope to recruit NBA legends Grant Hill and Dwyane Wade to run for Senate in Florida, from Matt Dixon and Jonathan Allen at NBC News


The House convenes at noon for morning hour and 2 p.m. for legislative business. First and last votes expected: 6:30 p.m.

The Senate convenes at 3 p.m. to resume consideration of the nomination of L. Felice Gorordo, of Florida, to be U.S. Alternate Executive Director of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development and will vote at 5:30 p.m.


4 p.m. House Rules Committee meets to consider the House Republicans’ border security bill and a bill on unemployment fraud. (H-313, Capitol)


MONDAY’S WINNER: Judith Fenley correctly answered that in 1929, the portrait and vignette on the $10 note was changed to feature Secretary Alexander Hamilton on the front and the United States Treasury Building on the back.

TODAY’S QUESTION: How many windows are in the Capitol’s dome?

The first person to correctly guess gets a mention in the next edition of Huddle. Send your answers to [email protected]

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Follow Katherine on Twitter @ktullymcmanus