Kevin McCarthy has ‘good first meeting’ with Biden about debt ceiling

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said Wednesday that he had a “good first meeting” with President Biden at the White House focused on the debt ceiling impasse and Republican demands for spending cuts.

“The president and I had a good first meeting,” McCarthy (R-Calif.) told reporters on the West Wing driveway. “We agreed to continue the conversation.”

Biden and McCarthy focused entirely on government spending at their first sit-down, McCarthy said after more than an hour of talks — rather than on other issues, such as contentious Republican demands for administration records.

The meeting happened hours after the FBI searched Biden’s Rehoboth Beach, Del., home for classified records after mishandled documents from Biden’s vice presidency and Senate years were found at his Wilmington home and former DC office.

Kevin McCarthy had his first meeting with Biden to talk about the debt ceiling Wednesday.

“I did not talk to him about classified documents. I came down here to talk about the debt ceiling and our spending, and that’s what we spent our time on,” McCarthy said. 

“We had an hour of conversation about this that I thought was a very good discussion,” he added. “I think there is an opportunity here to come to an agreement.”

The House speaker pointed to the $31.5 trillion national debt and growing interest payments to make the case that “we have got to change the trajectory to put us on a path to balance.”

“My role right now is to make sure we have a sensible, responsible ability to raise the debt ceiling but not continue this runaway spending,” McCarthy said. “The greatest threat to America is our debt. Our debt is now at 120% of GDP, meaning our debt is larger than our economy.”

The White House says it won’t negotiate with Republicans on spending cuts in exchange for increasing the debt ceiling and that any spending cuts should come separately, setting up a potential partial government shutdown at the end of September and US default in July — though McCarthy said that doesn’t seem likely.

In its own statement, the White House said Biden and McCarthy had a “frank and straightforward dialogue” and that Biden “welcomes a separate discussion with congressional leaders about how to reduce the deficit and control the national debt while continuing to grow the economy.”

Joe Biden
Biden has repeatedly accused McCarthy of trying to cut Social Security.
AFP via Getty Images

The White House hinted at a broader discussion with McCarthy than the speaker acknowledged, saying, “They covered a range of issues, and President Biden underscored that he is eager to continue working across the aisle in good faith, after passing historic bipartisan laws during his first two years in office.”

McCarthy said he was optimistic about a spending-reduction deal.

“I told the president I would like to see if we could come to an agreement long before the deadline, and we can start to work on other things,” McCarthy said, adding, “if we’re able to get to an agreement, we could have a funding agreement for the next two years.”

Biden has repeatedly accused McCarthy of planning to cut Social Security and Medicare — despite the speaker’s consistent denials — and ahead of the meeting said that he was waiting to see what spending reductions McCarthy proposes.

Biden told reporters on the White House lawn Monday that his message to McCarthy would be, “Show me your budget, I’ll show you mine” — even though the White House usually is first to propose an annual budget.

McCarthy said after the meeting that “no, we’re not talking about” Social Security and Medicare cuts, but that he wouldn’t detail what exactly he wants to eliminate.

Kevin McCarthy
The White House says it won’t negotiate with Republicans on spending cuts in exchange for increasing the debt ceiling.

“To really be able to do this right, I’m not going to negotiate this in the press,” McCarthy said.

“The president and I have talked about a lot of different ideas and we’ll work to see if we can come to an agreement. … I think the respectful way to do it is to talk to the president, as we did just now for more than an hour.”

McCarthy added, “We both laid out some of our vision… I can see where we could find common ground.”