Quite a few of you have written in to ask me: Is it possible the White House was negotiating with the knowledge that McCarthy would be forced to make unreasonable demands, thus leading House GOPs to close the door on negotiations? In other words, were they negotiating with the knowledge they’d get credit for coming to the table and having the Republicans walk away?
Normally I have a pretty intuitive sense of political tussles. In this case, I don’t. It’s not clear to me what’s happening, what will happen and to what extent the different players even have a plan. On the hypothetical above: I doubt the White House would enter into negotiations with the expectation and hope that they would fail. More likely it would be that they decided to sound out the possibility of a reasonable deal with the knowledge that Republicans were likely to blow up the negotiations on their own. In that case they get back the reasonableness/adult in the room cred from the D.C. powers that be at little cost.
I will say that it’s possible to see the growth of stated support for a 14th Amendment solution from Democratic senators as somehow related to that. Even Angus King, very much a centristy grand-bargain type, has expressed growing openness to the idea. There were also the various trial-balloonish comments from Biden and Yellen about extraordinary measures. If you squint a bit you can see these moving parts as somehow related to each other. It’s just as likely that they’re entirely unrelated — or at least not coordinated.
Kevin McCarthy’s decision to “pause” the negotiations, seemingly out of nowhere, is just that character off stage we’ve been saying was there all along. McCarthy was never empowered to make a deal in any reasonable territory. His House Freedom Caucus masters yanked his leash and that was that. They’ve been signaling for the last couple days that they don’t want a compromise. They want to see the Senate pass their House bill. Maybe they could be had for a bit less than that. But that’s the universe they’re operating in. He was the negotiator; he was the stalking horse.
So back to the original question: Is that possible? Yeah it’s possible and that was always a real possibility. (Check out Kate Riga’s and my discussion in this week’s pod.) But I have very little sense of what’s happening here. The one thing that is clear and has always been clear is that Kevin McCarthy can’t deliver his own caucus. They’re negotiating with him but the Freedom Caucus is actually driving this train.