Frantic Negotiations, Late Nights and No Deal on America’s Debt

On Capitol Hill, this week’s delicate negotiations to prevent a government debt default took place over midnight video calls, marathon meetings in a plush conference room, and at least one early-morning motorcycle ride.

At the White House, evening tour groups were diverted from the West Wing as President Biden was in the Oval Office with his chief of staff and other advisers, who needed his immediate input.

But all talks have so far failed to reach a deal to raise the country’s debt ceiling, raising fears of a potentially catastrophic default that could send financial markets into a tailspin, raising interest rates. There may be a reduction in the country’s debt.

Negotiators got some breathing room Friday afternoon, when Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen said the U.S. could run out of money to pay its bills on time by June 5 — the June 1 deadline. There is a slight extension from the date.

But a week Frantic and “productive” meetings. It has given the people trapped in the negotiation room a distinct feeling that day and night are running together.

“We’re here, night after night,” said Representative Patrick T. McHenry of North Carolina, one of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s top lieutenants.

“Everybody wants the details,” Mr. McHenry said, as a throng of reporters demanded to know whether the country was headed for economic collapse. “Everybody wants a tweet. I want a deal that changes the direction of the country.

As he spoke, the usually upbeat congressman telegraphed his fatigue in small ways: The bow tie he wears every day was gone.

Mr. McCarthy, who went for a bike ride Friday morning with one of his key negotiators, Representative Garrett Graves of Louisiana, said bluntly: “We have to make more progress now.”

Although Mr. Biden and Mr. McCarthy have known each other for years and (mostly) speak of each other respectfully in public, their relationship so far has been less about finding sympathy and more about favoritism. has been about

“You’ve got two Irish guys who don’t drink,” Mr. McHenry said earlier in the week. “It’s a different setup than Tip O’Neill and Ronald Reagan,” said Speaker Thomas P. O’Neill Jr., a Democrat and Republican president who also shared Irish heritage and was known for sharing beer.

Mr. Biden’s aides have been working around the clock since talks abruptly broke down a week ago, prompting a Republican “pause” in talks that surprised members of the president’s negotiating team. From Japan, Mr. Biden demanded frequent updates, ending a scheduled dinner early to receive a briefing on the talks. On the last day of his trip, Mr. Biden’s advisers in Washington woke up at 4:30 a.m. to update him by video.

Since then, negotiators from the two sides have met several times in a conference room on the House side of Capitol Hill, beneath a fresco by artist Constantino Bromedi depicting “a retired Roman general defending his city.” Recalled for, a classic episode is often seen. Parallel to the life of George Washington, According to To Capital’s website architect.

The details of the meetings themselves have not been so colorful. Mr. McHenry expressed frustration this week at all those who pretended to know what was going on.

“Everybody wants to speculate or want to read something for themselves about what we’re talking about, but there are only a few of us in the room,” he said.

Mr. Biden’s team of negotiators is led by Shalinda DeYoung, director of the Office of Management and Budget, and Steve Ricchetti, adviser to the president, who has been a liaison on Capitol Hill since his days as Mr. Biden’s deputy. President. Mr. Riccietti was shuttled along Pennsylvania Avenue all week, shuttling between White House meetings and meetings with Republicans, according to a person familiar with his schedule.

Throughout the negotiations, Mr. Ricchetti has been the only member of the team empowered to make strategic decisions on Mr. Biden’s behalf, according to two people familiar with the discussions. (She is one of the few people authorized by Mr. Biden to answer the president’s phone when they are together.)

The group also includes Louisa Terrell, director of legislative affairs. Both he and Ms. Young have deep ties on Capitol Hill. According to several former administration officials, Ms. Young was a longtime staffer on the House Appropriations Committee who has built up respect with both Republicans and Democrats. Ms. Terrell’s experience on Capitol Hill dates back to Mr. Biden’s Senate office.

His experience will be key in selling members on any upcoming deal, according to several people involved. As Capitol Hill negotiators traveled to the center of the White House, they met in a conference room near Mrs. Young’s office suite in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.

At the White House, Mr. Biden receives daily updates from his chief of staff, Jeffrey DeZiantes. Mr. Zientes has not been as involved in the negotiations, but he has been leading internal strategy meetings and regularly meets with Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, and Representative Hakeem Jeffries, the top Democrat in the House, people familiar with the matter said. are in touch. (Mr. Schumer said in a statement that the president’s negotiators “are available when we have questions.”)

Mr. Biden is also working closely with Bruce Reed, a senior policy adviser who was Mr. Biden’s chief of staff during debt ceiling negotiations in 2011 and 2013, and Lyle Brainard, his top economic adviser.

Mr. Biden, who does not believe in negotiating in public — as he has. Said many times Since becoming president – has remained silent except to say on Thursday that he and Mr McCarthy have “very different views on who should shoulder the burden of additional efforts to put our fiscal house in order.”

Thus, in the Capitol, negotiators have become a kind of celebrity among reporters, with dozens of reporters trailing behind them and hanging on their every word for any insight into the negotiations. is hanging on.

Non-reporters were less enthusiastic: As a throng of reporters chased Mr. Graves out of the Capitol on Friday afternoon, pressing themselves against each other to be within earshot, one onlooker said, “I Don’t even know who he is.”

Mr. McCarthy has begun speaking to the media several times a day, often repeating the same thing but never missing an opportunity to give his side of the public. (At least twice he walked into the middle of a reporter’s live TV appearance, adopted a broad smile and started talking to people watching at home.)

The Louisiana Republican media-shy Mr. Graves tried to meet with members of Louisiana State University’s women’s national championship basketball team on Thursday as reporters hounded him for any information: “Did you Didn’t see the speaker?” he said at one point to a group of reporters, trying to draw them away from him.

Despite all the interest, the House wrapped up voting for the week Thursday morning, with most lawmakers happy to leave Washington. Some Democrats stayed behind to embarrass their Republican colleagues by leaving the city with an economic disaster.

“America may lose its ability to pay our bills and extreme MAGA Republicans have chosen to run out of town before sunset,” Mr. Jeffries said from the House floor.

Soon, most Democrats left as well. The country could default on its debt in little more than a week. But first, there was Memorial Day weekend.

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