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Biden and McCarthy lean on holdouts in both parties to pass debt ceiling deal

<i>Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images/FILE</i><br/>Biden and McCarthy's political futures could hinge on their ability to pass the legislation while also selling it as a victory for their respective parties.
Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images/FILE
Biden and McCarthy's political futures could hinge on their ability to pass the legislation while also selling it as a victory for their respective parties.

By Kevin Liptak, CNN

(CNN) — Party leaders in Washington are waging an urgent campaign Monday to convince Democrats and Republicans to get behind compromise legislation that would avert a first-ever national default, with each side proclaiming victory following marathon talks.

Prospects for passage of the bill, based on the agreement struck between President Joe Biden and Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, grew Sunday as many centrist Democrats fell in line and Republicans maintained confidence that they would be able to carry the support of the majority of their House conference in a pivotal vote expected Wednesday.

In both parties’ sights are those in the political middle, who leaders are wagering will swallow some provisions they disagree with in order to suspend the federal borrowing limit through January 1, 2025 – after the next presidential election – and avoid default. The bill caps non-defense spending, temporarily expands work requirements for some food stamp recipients and claws back some Covid-19 relief funds.

The release of the bill text Sunday evening amounted to a consequential moment for both Biden and McCarthy, whose political futures could hinge on their ability to pass the legislation while also selling it as a victory for their respective parties.

Speaking to reporters on Monday outside the White House, Biden seemed cautiously optimistic – though he struck a defensive tone with reporters – that the deal will pass Congress before the June 5 deadline, but stopped short of saying it was a done deal.

“You know I never say I’m confident in what the Congress is going to do, but I feel very good about it. I’ve spoken with a number of members, I’ve spoken to (Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch) McConnell, I spoke to a whole bunch of people and feels good, we’ll see when the vote starts,” Biden said.

“One of the things I hear you guys saying is, ‘Why doesn’t Biden say what a good deal it is? Why isn’t Biden saying what a good deal it is before the vote?’ You think that’s going to help me get it passed? No. That’s why you guys don’t bargain very well,” he continued.

Asked by CNN’s Jeremy Diamond what his message was to House Democrats who may have misgivings about the compromise, Biden responded, “Talk to me.” Asked what he would tell them, the president said: “I’m not going to tell you.”

In a private call Sunday with House Democrats, Biden’s briefers defended their dealmaking with McCarthy, going into detail about what they had prevented from being added to the bill, according to multiple sources. They argued they stopped Republicans from pushing even stiffer work requirements and beat back efforts to repeal the Inflation Reduction Act and gut and gut Biden’s signature 2021 infrastructure law.

White House senior staff and Cabinet officials placed more than 60 one-on-one calls to House Democratic lawmakers from 7 p.m. Saturday through Sunday, a White House official said. That has included calls to House Democratic leadership, committee ranking members, appropriations subcommittee ranking members and chairs of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, Congressional Black Caucus and Congressional Hispanic Caucus as well as chairs of the ideological caucuses, the official said. Individual calls to senators have also taken place and are ramping up today, the official added.

After those briefings, many Democrats signaled that they were willing to support the plan simply because there’s no other viable option to avoid default, lawmakers told CNN.

“It’s not a victory, but it’s a lot better (than) what might have happened if there were default,” one Senate Democrat told CNN after an evening briefing.

Members of two major centrist groups – the New Democrat Coalition and Problem Solvers Caucus – are expected to largely support the plan, according to multiple sources. That represents roughly 100 Democrats, which could be enough to offset the losses from members of the hard-right who are furious over McCarthy’s dealmaking. On Monday, New Democrat coalition Chair Annie Kuster came out in support of the debt deal, endorsing a yes vote to her 99-member moderate caucus.

“Despite a divided government, President Biden has achieved a bipartisan agreement that will save our country from default until 2025 and protect our nation from economic collapse, while also preventing cuts to key programs that millions of Americans rely upon,” Kuster wrote.

Several members of the hard-line House Freedom Caucus have already harshly criticized the plan, vowing to try blocking it from passage.

McCarthy has insisted to House Republicans that Democrats “got nothing” in the negotiations, and he worked to amplify government spending caps and new work requirements for food stamps as critical wins long sought by the GOP.

But like Biden, McCarthy acknowledged the agreement required concessions from both sides.

“It doesn’t get everything everybody wanted,” McCarthy told reporters in the Capitol on Sunday. “But, in divided government, that’s where we end up. I think it’s a very positive bill.”

For McCarthy, the first big test will come Tuesday in the House Rules Committee, a panel that must adopt a rule to allow the bill to be approved by a majority of the House. To win the speakership, McCarthy agreed to name three conservative hardliners – Reps. Ralph Norman of South Carolina, Chip Roy of Texas and Thomas Massie of Kentucky – to the committee, a major concession since usually the powerful panel is stacked with close allies of the leadership.

Norman and Roy have emerged as sharp critics of the debt limit deal so far, while Massie was quiet while waiting for bill text to be released. If all three voted against the rule in committee, that would kill the bill – unless any Democrats vote to advance the rule.

Republicans believe they are pushing toward 150 Republican votes or more, two sources told CNN. That’s more than a majority of the Republican conference, which McCarthy has been promising for days he could get on this bill.

Republican leaders have been pitching their members aggressively that the deal they reached makes changes to future spending, claws back billions in unspent Covid funds, pulls back on Democratic IRS spending and imposes new work requirements on social safety net programs like SNAP. Allies of McCarthy and members of the whip team have been making the case that the options are default or a once in a lifetime bill to change the trajectory of federal spending. That message appears to be resonating with many members.

McCarthy’s allies sought to play down the conservative revolt.

“When you’re saying that conservatives have concerns, it is really the most colorful conservatives,” Rep. Dusty Johnson said on “State of the Union.”

McCarthy himself said Monday he’s not worried about the most conservative members of his party voting no. Asked how about the optics of having to rely on Democratic votes to pass the deal, if conservatives vote no, he replied, “Don’t worry about hypotheticals.”

Pressed on whether he is concerned about the House Rules Committee meeting, he told CNN, “Nope.”

Passing the bill through the House will not be the final step. The package must also clear the Senate, where any single senator could stall progress for several days. On Sunday, a handful of powerful Senate Republicans had raised concerns about the deal’s defense spending during a Senate GOP conference call, a source on the call said.

But with the support of Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell and expected backing of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, several Senate sources say there is a high likelihood there’ll be 60 votes to break a filibuster attempt. The timing of the final votes in the Senate could slip into Friday or the weekend.

™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Manu Raju, Haley Talbot, Lauren Fox, Morgan Rimmer and Arlette Saenz contributed to this report.

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