President Joe Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy spoke Saturday evening as the two sides try to resolve the final roadblocks to clinching a sweeping deal to raise the nation’s borrowing limit.
The 6 p.m. call, confirmed to POLITICO by a person familiar, came as both sides had hoped to reach a deal Saturday. Before the call, GOP negotiators indicated that they remain divided on two major areas: Work requirements and spending levels. Other areas, like permitting reform, also remain in flux.
“We’ve been close for three days. … Big thorny issues remain. Some that the president and the speaker are going to have to resolve,” said Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), one of the GOP’s lead negotiators.
Biden also spoke with House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer earlier on Saturday, the person familiar said.
Meanwhile, McCarthy met with members of his whip team Saturday — including GOP Whip Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) and his deputy, Rep. Guy Reschenthaler (R-Pa.). Emmer, asked about the potential for a Saturday deal, pointed to the White House, said: “We’ll see what the president says.”
“We’ll find out soon if the president is really interested in making sure we do not default,” he added.
The GOP whip team has been in contact in recent days as they prep for the challenge of rallying a large swath of their conference — many of whom have opposed debt hikes during the past two years — to support a deal. Emmer and his deputies, though, have been focused on the process for what will happen once they reach the deal, instead of talking substance of a potential agreement.
But the Minnesota Republican did have a veiled message for conservatives — who have been circulating warning shots about possible deal details throughout Saturday: Don’t believe it until you hear from GOP leadership.
“Our job is to make sure that members are well aware that there is no agreement. … We’re constantly in touch with our members letting them know that what is being reported, you should not accept. There is no agreement,” Emmer said.
Conservatives, meanwhile, warned that they didn’t like what they were hearing about an emerging plan. Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) tweeted worry that Republicans were giving away too much in exchange for increasing the debt limit, comparing the House GOP bill with what may be in the bipartisan agreements.
“If work requirements are what become the centerpiece of a ‘deal,’ then there should be no deal. Talk about holding the wrong line,” he wrote.
Rep. Dan Bishop (R-N.C.) demanded Republicans not “fix” a debt crisis that he says Democrats created, adding “No Republican capitulation.”
McCarthy needs a majority of his conference to back a deal, as part of an understanding Republicans stuck during the speaker’s race. On Saturday the California Republican acknowledged that he is likely to lose votes from his side of the aisle.
“I didn’t get every single member to vote for the first one,” McCarthy said. “I didn’t get every single member to vote for me for speaker.”
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The GOP powwow comes as Republicans entered the day sounding optimistic about the progress being made toward a deal. Arriving at the Capitol earlier Saturday morning, McCarthy told reporters there is no deal yet but that he feels “closer to an agreement now than I did for a long time, because I see progress.”
“But listen, this is not easy in any shape or form,” he added.
Since then, McCarthy has largely remained huddled in his office, aside from making a lunch run to Chipotle with lead House negotiators Reps. Garret Graves (R-La.) and Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.). McCarthy quipped to a gaggle of reporters upon his return not to read too much into his lunch selection.
Meanwhile, President Joe Biden left Washington Friday evening to spend the weekend at Camp David, expressing optimism about a quick deal shortly before leaving. White House negotiators working on his behalf continued communicating with House Republicans via phone and virtual meetings.
Biden continues to speak with his negotiating team multiple times a day and is signing off on offers and counteroffers, according to a White House official, granted anonymity as they were not authorized to contextualize the talks on record.
Earlier Saturday, McHenry told reporters that a deal is hours or days away. McCarthy declined to get more specific.
The California Republican said negotiators are working through “a number of different things.”
The two sides were trading text late into Friday night, with McHenry noting GOP negotiators worked until roughly 2:30 a.m. as both sides raced to try to clinch a long-sought agreement. Emmer said early Saturday evening that talks remained ongoing.
Earlier this week, GOP lawmakers and the White House were closing in on a tentative plan to cap spending for two years in exchange for lifting the debt ceiling for two years.
But they are still trying to work out some of the stickiest points of negotiation, including GOP demands for new work requirements. The White House characterized those as “designed to tie the most vulnerable up in bureaucratic paperwork.”
As of Saturday, negotiators were also at loggerheads on permitting reform, according to people familiar with the talks, raising the possibility that it gets dropped. A coalition of GOP-aligned groups warned McCarthy that it might be better to leave it out of the negotiations, adding: “A bad permitting deal is worse than no deal at all.”
McHenry acknowledged that they are down to the final issues, adding: “What I didn’t anticipate is we’d have a very short list for a very long time.”
Late Friday, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said the country would run out of funds by June 5, crystallizing the deadline facing Congress. Prior estimates said the country could default as early as June 1.
McCarthy said he has not spoken with Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries in the last 24 hours and reiterated that he would give lawmakers 72 hours to read the bill text before a vote. That means if text is released on Saturday, the House could vote as soon as Tuesday.
That pledge could also drive Congress close to the June 5 deadline. The Senate is expected to need at least a few days to clear a deal, which McCarthy estimated would be approximately 150 pages or less.
Burgess Everett contributed to this report.
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