WASHINGTON — House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said Tuesday he thinks it’d be “very important” to have a meeting with President Joe Biden to avert a government shutdown and emphasize the need to pass the GOP’s border security package.
“Why don’t we just cut a deal with the president?” McCarthy, R-Calif., asked reporters who questioned why he’s not willing to strike a deal with congressional Democrats this week on a short-term funding bill to keep the government open.
McCarthy suggested that Biden could solve the crisis at the southern border — a major sticking point for Republicans in shutdown talks — unilaterally.
“Listen, the president, all he has to do … it’s only actions that he has to take. He can do it like that. He changed all the policies on the border. He can change those,” McCarthy said. “We can keep government open and finish out the work that we have done.”
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Asked specifically whether he was requesting a meeting with Biden, McCarthy replied: “I think it would be very important to have a meeting with the president to solve that issue.”
McCarthy and Biden did meet earlier this year as they negotiated over the debt ceiling and came to an agreement on top-line spending numbers that were meant to make the government funding process easier. But not long after striking that agreement, and amid spending complaints from conservatives, McCarthy opted to ignore the deal with Biden and try to pass bills at a lower level.
"I need to be very clear, it’s up to the speaker to twist in the wind. I mean, seriously ... a deal is a deal," White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Air Force One. "The president made a deal with the speaker and a bipartisan deal that was voted by two-thirds of House Republicans back in June."
A White House official said that "nothing has changed" — the shutdown crisis is one for McCarthy and Republicans to "fix," not Biden.
Responding to McCarthy’s demands on border security, the White House pointed to Biden’s request last week for a $4 billion supplemental funding request for the Department of Homeland Security to “safely and humanely manage the Southwest Border.”
White House officials also argue that the GOP’s short-term bill would dramatically cut border funding, resulting in 800 fewer Customs and Border Protection agents and officers. A shutdown, officials said, would mean tens of thousands of DHS law enforcement workers would be unpaid.
“So we would love to do this in a bipartisan way, but we’re not seeing that,” Jean-Pierre said last week. “What we’re seeing from House Republicans is wanting to defund" the Department of Homeland Security.
House Republicans have struggled to coalesce behind a strategy to avert a far-reaching government shutdown set for 12:01 a.m. Sunday, which could furlough millions of federal workers and affect federal benefits for millions of other people.
House conservatives demand that steep spending cuts be tied to any appropriations bills or short-term funding deal that moves through Congress. And in recent days, McCarthy has tried to make the shutdown showdown about the GOP’s border security measure, known as H.R. 2. In addition to normal funding bills, McCarthy said he will try this week to pass a short-term funding bill, known as a continuing resolution, or CR, that would include the Secure the Border Act (minus E-Verify provisions) and keep the government open temporarily while talks continue.
Those GOP bills would be dead on arrival in the Democratic-controlled Senate, which hopes to pass a short-term funding bill this week without controversial provisions. It’s unclear whether they’ll have enough time, with some GOP members likely to block a speedy vote. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has yet to release the stopgap bill but indicated it could come soon.
McCarthy also signaled he wants to vote on a stopgap bill in the House before the Saturday midnight deadline. “It’d be this week,” he told reporters, without specifying details about it. He declined to engage about what the House would do if the Senate passed a short-term bill by the deadline.
McCarthy made it clear he didn't support Ukraine aid in a continuing resolution, saying the issue should be dealt with separately.