McCarthy has put Biden into a bind

This Week: The Briefing, Vol. XI, Issue 18

  • McCarthy has put Biden in a bind
  • Biden hits an all-time polling low
  • N.C. could get a much more Republican-friendly House map for 2024


Debt ceiling: typically, the media can be counted on to take Democrats’ side whenever there’s a dispute over the debt ceiling. It has happened again and again.

However, this time, it will be a little bit harder to carry out this deception. The reason is that the Republican House, against all expectations, managed to pass a debt ceiling bill that makes reasonable demands for spending limits of the Biden administration and also raises the borrowing limit. The Democrat-controlled Senate, meanwhile, seems unlikely to pass any debt ceiling increase of its own.

Why does the debt limit need to be increased? The short answer is, because of decades of completely irresponsible government borrowing. The U.S. government borrows money constantly. The proceeds from each new round of bond sales is used to pay the interest on the last round. At this rate, if the borrowing ever stops, then so does the repayment.

This is why, paradoxically, a failure to raise the debt limit and borrow even more money would create a crisis. It could possibly cause a sovereign default.

On the one hand, this possibility gives fiscal conservatives a bit of leverage every time the debt ceiling has to be raised. On the other hand, any attempt to use that leverage creates a high-stakes standoff, potentially leading to a world economic disaster. Metaphors involving “hostage-taking” tend to crop up when this happens.

House Republicans have now passed a debt ceiling bill that makes specific demands for spending limitations going forward. Nearly all house Republicans were ultimately willing to go along, even if it wasn’t ideal, and this was politically wise because it puts the ball squarely in President Joe Biden’s court. It also testifies to the leadership of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).  

So far, Biden is refusing even to talk to McCarthy about the issue. He is demanding unconditional surrender, but he is doing so from a position of weakness.

It is very difficult to look at this situation, even from the perspective of a Democratic partisan, without realizing that Biden, by refusing talks, is playing a legislative game of Chicken.

If Democrats had an alternative bill that the House could pass — for example, if the Senate were able to pass a clean debt ceiling bill — then Biden would have a much stronger claim on the moral high ground. But no such bill is likely to pass. For once, House and Senate Republicans also seem to be on the same page.

As for the politics of the situation, at heart, Biden isn’t just risking the broader economic well-being by refusing to negotiate. He is actually risking his own presidency and his own legacy. He is up for reelection next year, after all. Any crisis that occurs as a result of his refusal to negotiate crashes on him, not on a bunch of obscure congressional Republicans that most people can’t even name.

And it is a safe bet that Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis, or some other Republican nominee will spend 2024 hammering Biden if his refusal to negotiate on the debt ceiling brings negative consequences for the broader economy.

Biden unpopular: Whatever potential crisis comes up, it will come just as Biden is hitting his all-time low in polling, according to the Gallup organization. Biden hit 37% approval in late April, according to Gallup. 

Is this fatal to his reelection prospects? Not necessarily. As Gallup points out, President Ronald Reagan had similar numbers at this point in 1983. However, there are a few key differences. First of all, Reagan was dealing with an unemployment rate north of 10%. He was also dealing with mortgage interest rates more than twice as high as today’s. By the time of the 1984 election, these situations had improved enough that his landslide reelection was possible.

Biden, on the other hand, has these low ratings despite enjoying a very low unemployment rate (3.5%) and interest rates which, although certainly higher than a couple of years ago, are fairly reasonable. It would be difficult for Biden or for anyone else to improve these two key metrics, let alone do so significantly before November 2024. Indeed, most people expect the economic situation to become either modestly or considerably worse.

What if, although voters did not take it out on Democratic candidates in 2022 as harshly as they could have, they continue to feel economically insecure? And what if they continue to blame Biden? 

Another important fact to remember about Biden when you see national polls between him and Republican opponents: he could win the popular vote and still lose the election. Biden very nearly lost in 2020 to Trump despite winning the popular vote by 4.5 points. 

DeSantis: The Florida governor will be able to sign a bill that clarfies that he does not need to resign the governorship in order to run for president.

Senate 2024

Pennsylvania: The 2022 gubernatorial loser, Doug Mastriano (R), says he has made a decision about whether to run for Senate, but is not releasing it yet. Republicans are hoping his decision is a big No, and that now includes his 2022 endorser, Donald Trump. Last year, Trump defied party leaders in the state by endorsing Mastriano, who went on to lose in an epic blowout against now-Gov. Josh Shapiro (D). This time, he considers Mastriano a loser.

West Virginia: Gov. Jim Justice (R) has jumped into the Senate race against incumbent Sen. Joe Manchin (D). Justice is extremely popular in the Mountain State, and pulls show he begins as the favorite both in the primary and in the general election. In the primary, he will face Rep. Alex Mooney (R), The preferred candidate of the conservative Club for Growth. 

For his own part, Manchin has not committed to running for reelection. The closest he has come so far is to say that he would win whatever race he got into — a logical conditional statement which would necessarily be true if he did not run for anything. 

Governor 2024

North Carolina: As expected, proud culture warrior Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson has announced his candidacy for the open governor’s seat. Robinson is characterized in the liberal media based on his supposedly controversial comments about how children shouldn’t learn about “homosexuality or any of that filth.” That could actually be an asset, depending on how the issue of pornography in public school libraries plays out in 2024. It could certainly be an asset in a Republican primary. This issue certainly hasn’t hurt Ron DeSantis in Florida, although he hasn’t put it quite the same way.

House 2024

North Carolina: as expected, the newly elected conservative majority on the state supreme court has reversed key rulings, including one about the Tar Heel State’s congressional map. This offers Republicans a better chance of holding their majority in 2024, as it holds forth the possibility of adding as many as four additional Republican seats.

The previous Democratic majority on the state court threw out the map that had been created by the Republican legislature and imposed a map that resulted in a 7-7 House delegation. The map that was originally thrown out had 10 safe Republican seats, three safe Democratic seats, and one true toss-up seat.

Republicans in North Carolina now enjoy a veto-proof majority in both houses of the state legislature, thanks to a recent Democratic defection in the state House, so they should have free rein to pass any redistricting legislation they need to.