Inside the House Democrats’ fight over debt ceiling messaging
At the meeting, the House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries did not reject the idea outright, but senior Democrats tell POLITICO that leaders do not favor forcing members to skip constituent meetings at home when there are no concrete plans to vote.
The push from some Democrats to stay in Washington comes despite Jeffries’ own efforts to assuage Democratic lawmakers’ frustration with what they see as a White House messaging vacuum.
In recent days, members privately fumed that Biden refused to use his bullying pulpit to deliver a clear and concise message on the debt ceiling talks — even as Republican House Speaker. Kevin McCarthy and its negotiators Attic graves (R-La.) and Patrick McHenry (RN.C.) have used frequent reporters’ groups and impromptu press conferences to make their case and confuse the White House’s position.
Many Hill Democrats view Biden’s non-engagement as a strategic mistake. “They don’t want to poison the negotiating pit, but the Republicans are doing just that and it’s an asymmetrical game,” a member of Jeffries’ management team told POLITICO, summarizing the White House’s thinking. “It’s not sustainable.”
We’re told that at the weekly party leadership meeting earlier this week, Jeffries suggested that since the White House felt it couldn’t take offense at McCarthy, House Democrats would. Jeffries and his management team called a press conference on the steps of the Capitol shortly after. And since then, the Minority Leader has made it a point to field reporters’ questions more frequently as he seeks to counter the GOP’s zone-flooding tactics.
Meanwhile, the White House is largely happy to hang back and play Hill Democrats “good cop” to “bad cop” — a strategy they say has worked for them in the past. A Biden ally who is in contact with the White House says there have been conversations between Jeffries and the administration about what the message should be and who should say it.
“They’ve been coordinating with him around what they’re both saying,” the Biden ally told Playbook last night. “They’re on the same page about him doing this and them [staying mum]. The president knows when to be clear with the contrast, and he knows when to hold back to get a deal.
Today, as recess approaches, the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee is expected to release talking points urging Democrats to blast Republicans when they return home to their districts.
Still, some House Democrats say home messaging efforts aren’t enough. Many have urged leaders to oppose Republicans’ request to adjourn today. Instead, they hope to force a vote, putting pressure on the GOP for leaving town days before Date X — mirroring Republicans’ attacks on Biden for traveling to Japan last week for the G-7.
Democratic leaders appear to be encouraging their base to criticize Republicans for the adjournment. According to a whip memo sent Thursday night and shared with POLITICO, senior Democrats are today urging members to turn out in droves to the House to “demand that Speaker McCarthy keep the House in session and share constituent stories that highlight highlights the local impact of Republicans’ devastating cuts to critical programs that keep Americans housed, fed, healthy and safe while they hold the US economy hostage.
Of course, if McCarthy doesn’t, many Democrats will head to the airport right next to their GOP counterparts.