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Analysis: No longer a 'broken record,' White House throws a few elbows with debt messaging

John T. Bennett, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON — “Congress must act.”

That has been the daily refrain on raising the debt ceiling for months from White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre. In fact, she warned reporters earlier this month she sounded like a “broken record” after saying three times during a May 2 briefing that “Congress must act,” a phrase she has repeated over and over since.

That changed this week as the country careened toward a federal debt default that could occur, shy of a deal, on or around June 1.

Without naming Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., Jean-Pierre on Thursday criticized House Republicans for “what Republicans themselves say is a hostage-taking.”

She was indirectly addressing a comment Gaetz made to Semafor on Tuesday, referring to the bill the House passed imposing budget cuts before talks began with Democrats. Gaetz said: “My conservative colleagues for the most part support ‘limit, save, grow,’ and they don’t feel like we should negotiate with our hostage.”

Jean-Pierre had notably critical words for the conservative House Freedom Caucus on Thursday, telling reporters “you heard them argue against preventing default.”


“That’s actually in violation of what the speaker has … said he wants to do. He said this week, when it comes to default, it’s off the table,” she added, referring to Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif..

Jean-Pierre on Wednesday accused House Republicans of “threatening” what she said would be an “economic catastrophe.”

“So, look, the president will be … wherever he needs to be to secure a reasonable bipartisan deal to prevent … this manufactured crisis,” the press secretary said.

White House spokesman Andrew Bates went after the same conservative faction that temporarily blocked McCarthy’s speakership bid, in a May 20 statement: “President Biden will not accept a wishlist of extreme MAGA priorities that would punish the middle class and neediest Americans and set our economic progress back.”


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