House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., on Sunday wouldn't commit to supporting a short-term extension of the debt ceiling and insisted on a "clean" debt ceiling lift, in an exclusive interview on “Meet the Press,” as congressional leaders remain in a gridlock to work out a deal.
Asked by NBC News' Chuck Todd whether he accepts the premise that Democrats won't get a clean debt ceiling hike, Jeffries said: “I do not because we have a constitutional responsibility to make sure that we protect the full faith and credit of the United States of America."
“Everyday Americans understand this principle: If you have a bill, you need to pay it,” he added. “If you fail to pay it. It’s going to adversely impact your credit rating, your credit score will drop. If your credit score drops, your costs are going to go up and if America defaults on our bills, that’s exactly what is going to happen. And everyone is going to pay the price.”
Jeffries insists on clean debt ceiling: Full interviewMay 7, 202313:38
The White House is weighing whether to broker a short-term extension of the debt ceiling to allow more time to pass a larger increase, five sources familiar with the matter told NBC News last week — a backstop with three weeks until the current deadline in June.
Jeffries argued that “the only responsible” action would be to help President Joe Biden raise the debt ceiling and avoid a default as Democrats did three times during the Trump administration.
Asked if a short-term fix is the best way forward, Jeffries said: “Well, I don’t think the responsible thing to do is to kick the can down the road when President Biden has been saying, for months — the position of leader Schumer, the position of House Democrats — has been we have to avoid a default."
"America should pay its bills. Protect the full faith and credit of the United States of America," he said.
House Republicans are pushing to attach spending cuts to a debt ceiling increase, while Democrats have hesitated to negotiate over whether to pay the country’s bills or default. Democrats, resistant to policy conditions, have insisted on a clean debt limit hike. They want Congress to negotiate over spending cuts that Republicans have demanded in the separate government funding process, which has a deadline of Sept. 30.
Jeffries said Democrats are open to discussing what types of investments, spending and revenues are “appropriate” to protect the “health, safety and economic well-being” of the American people.
“That’s a process that is available to us right now,” he said. “I don’t think we need to delay those discussions for a few months.”
Jeffries’ remarks come before he and other congressional leaders are scheduled to meet with Biden this week to discuss the looming debt limit deadline, which could be as early as June 1.
The Biden administration agrees with Jeffries' remarks, saying that a short-term extension is "not our plan," a White House spokesperson said in a statement to NBC News.
"We are focused on removing the threat of default, which will erase our economic progress," the spokesperson added. "As the President has made clear, default is not negotiable.”
The office of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Biden last week insisted that he will only accept a bill with no strings attached, as he dismissed Republicans’ demands for concessions ahead of the meeting on Tuesday with congressional leaders, including McCarthy, Jeffries, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
The president has said he plans to reiterate to the leaders during the meeting that “they should do what every other Congress has done, that is pass the debt limit, avoid default.”
Biden invited the lawmakers to the meeting hours after Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned in a letter that the U.S. could breach the debt ceiling as soon as June 1, narrowing the timeline from the June 5 date she previously had set. It’s common for the Treasury to adjust the date for when money runs dry based on fluctuating tax collections that can be tricky to predict.
Forty-three Senate Republicans, including leadership, on Saturday said in a letter to Schumer that they won’t support a clean debt ceiling lift without spending cuts in a letter to Schumer.
In the letter, led by Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, the Senate Republicans wrote that they're “united” behind their colleagues in the House “in support of spending cuts and structural budget reform as a starting point for negotiations on the debt ceiling.”
“As such, we will not be voting for cloture on any bill that raises the debt ceiling without substantive spending and budget reforms,” they wrote.
Only six Republicans in the chamber did not sign onto the letter, including Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Rand Paul of Kentucky, and Josh Hawley of Missouri.
With the absence of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Democrats would need 10 Republicans to join them in voting for a debt ceiling increase, which they already appear to fall short of. The letter from Senate Republicans, however, does not mention whether they would be open to a short-term fix.
The White House swiftly pushed back against Republicans’ call for attaching spending cuts to any debt limit increase.
“At a moment when the country just posted historic jobs gains, this is no time for these Senators to reverse their support for avoiding default without conditions during the Trump presidency,” White House deputy press secretary Andrew Bates said in a statement shared with NBC News.
“They need to honor their Constitutional obligation to pay our bills and not unilaterally inflict a recession on the country,” Bates added. “The American people would not stand for that threat under any circumstances, but especially not to allow the draconian cuts in the House bill that would throw veterans, law enforcement, manufacturing workers, and sick children under the bus.”