Debt Limit Crisis Looms as First Big Test for New Democratic Leader

Just six months into his tenure as House Minority Leader, Representative Hakeem Jeffries faces a formidable challenge: selling his fellow Democrats on the budget deal hammered out behind closed doors between President Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Without any input.

Complicating matters is the fact that with less than a week to go before a possible default, Mr. Jeffries has no idea how many votes he would ultimately need to secure such a package because he has asked Republicans to Haven’t heard anything about how many deviations they expect. A scale hits the floor.

The situation is particularly vexing for Democrats because while it is hard-right Republicans who have pushed the nation to the brink of default by refusing to raise the debt ceiling without spending cuts, they are the ones who will not be able to make any final compromise. are sure to oppose. Even if Republicans meet their threshold for winning a majority of members for the package, it may still need the support of several Democrats to pass.

“House Republicans have not specified how many votes they can get,” Mr. Jeffries said in an interview. If Republicans are counting on a large number of Democratic votes to pass the plan, he warned, they had better come to a deal with the White House that House Democrats can swallow — even if they don’t. don’t like

“I can say with great clarity that if dozens of Democratic votes are necessary in the House, then we cannot reach an extreme resolution to meet the needs of right-wing ideologies,” Mr. Jeffries said. said Mr. Jeffries.

gave Loan limit The impasse is the first major political and policy fight in 20 years in which House Democrats are not led by someone named Pelosi. Mr. Jeffries, a 53-year-old six-term lawmaker from Brooklyn, succeeded Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic leader and two-term speaker since 2003, unopposed in January. Now he’s getting something of a test with the global economy and the retirement accounts of millions of Americans on the line.

Of the four congressional leaders, Mr. Jeffries has the least power, but could also face the biggest challenge, as it is clear that House Democrats from their minority position in the House will have any debt over the finish line. will be necessary to advance the limit bill. . Although Mr. Jeffries has had little direct influence in the negotiations, Mr. McCarthy knows well that he cannot attack a deal and hopes that if House Democrats overwhelmingly reject it.

With little transparency in the negotiations, Mr. Jefferies’ troops have grown increasingly nervous this week about the possibility that Mr. Biden is going to cut an unsatisfactory deal to raise the debt ceiling — months of saying so. After they won’t cut a deal at all. — and then demand Democrats embrace it.

“There’s a lot of anger,” said Rep. Steve Cohen, Democrat of Tennessee. “We don’t know anything.”

Progressives have indicated they are unwilling to support a deal that cuts domestic spending or imposes tougher work requirements on public benefit programs — key elements of a deal White House officials and Congress K Republicans are trying to hash out both.

Mr. Jeffries said he was confident Mr. Biden would not give in to the store and would come out of the talks with a deal acceptable to coffeehouse Democrats that could be passed as long as Mr. McCarthy, California Republicans, and their allies, provide their share.

“I have every confidence in the ability of the Biden administration to lead the charge and protect democratic values ​​and everyday Americans,” Mr. Jeffries said. “And we will be there to support that effort as needed.”

When he’s not in the room, Mr. Jeffries is communicating regularly with the White House about what’s going on, with Jeff Ziants, the White House chief of staff, serving as a key point of contact. . He credited the administration with working with a wide array of members of the House to prepare them for the future.

“He’s been open, honest and accessible with House Democrats on the ideological front and that will serve him well at the end of the day when a resolution is reached,” he said.

House Democrats have grumbled that the White House, unwilling to derail talks, has been too quiet while Mr. McCarthy and his lieutenants meet regularly with reporters, giving them some leverage on the public relations front. Mr. Jeffries has moved in recent days to fill the void, which he has used to attack far-right Republicans, whom he accuses of trying to destroy the economy for political reasons. are

“They have decided that they can either pull out extreme and painful cuts that will hurt everyday Americans or hurt the economy and benefit politically in 2024,” he said. They said. “It’s unreasonable, it’s cruel, it’s reckless and it’s extreme. But this is the modern-day Republican Party in the House of Representatives.

Mr Jeffries, who has until now had a working relationship with Mr McCarthy, was not ready to take the criticism to the speaker.

“It’s not clear to me that that includes McCarthy,” he said, referring to a group of Republicans he sees as hoping for a politically advantageous default. “I think McCarthy has a very difficult task in terms of correcting the most extreme elements in his conference. But the extreme elements have said they don’t believe House Republicans are talking to hostages. We should talk.

As Mr. Jeffries navigates the debt ceiling showdown, senior House Democrats say he is able to draw on reserves of goodwill and trust from his membership.

“They are clearly at the forefront of these issues,” said Representative Richard E. Neal of Massachusetts, a veteran lawmaker and the top Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee. “He understands the politics of where we’re at, and I think there’s pretty broad support in the caucus for the approach he’s taken.”

“He answers, he answers questions and he tells you the truth,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, the senior Democrat on the Appropriations Committee.

If talks break down and a catastrophic default looms, Mr. Jeffries has a possible trick. He and his team got ready in silence. Special request To vote to raise the debt ceiling if all else fails. All 213 Democrats have now signed the petition, leaving them five short of 218 votes. As the clock ticked down this week, he stepped up calls for Republicans to sign on, though there have been no signs yet that anyone will.

Mr Jeffries called it an opportunity for Republicans to disprove him and show they are not all captives of the far right.

“Unfortunately, the so-called moderates in the House Republican Conference have failed to show the courage necessary to break with the most extreme wing of their party,” he said. “Now is the time to do it.”

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