Republicans are blasting President Biden for leaving Washington for Asia on Wednesday without significant progress on debt limit negotiations, as the country inches toward a deadline on defaulting that could prove catastrophic on the financial system.
Biden will be in Japan for this weekend’s Group of Seven (G-7) summit but has canceled the latter portion of his trip, which included stops in Papua New Guinea and Australia, to be back in the nation’s capital and resume talks with congressional leaders.
Even with the shortened trip, lawmakers criticized Biden for taking off at all.
“Here we are on the brink of a Biden default. And I think we saw the helicopters going across here, and I said I think he’s leaving now to go to Japan. I’m like stop, stop,” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) said during an outdoor press conference at the Capitol on Wednesday.
She criticized the president for priding himself on being a good negotiator yet not negotiating with Republicans between the beginning of February until last week, when he brought leaders to the table again.
“Mr. President, cancel your trip to Japan. Stay at the table,” said Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-S.D). “Good grief, Mr. President, when is enough, enough? Shame on anyone, on anyone, who refuses to act. Speaker [Kevin] McCarthy and this entire team have been responsible, reasonable and sensible. Time is short, Mr. President. Let’s get this done.”
Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), who has gone toe-to-toe with Biden on some key policy issues, said the president “should not leave, and he should worry about the debt limit here at home.”
After his meeting with Biden and other congressional leaders Tuesday, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) was asked if Biden should even be attending the G-7 and responded that the president can make his own decisions about his time.
The White House maintains Biden can be president anywhere, a line they often use when he heads out of Washington.
But on the day of Biden’s departure, McCarthy slightly changed his tune, saying, “I think he can” conduct international business while dealing with the debt ceiling before suggesting that the president should not have taken the trip.
“I think America wants an American president focused on American problems,” the California Republican said.
Biden delivered last-minute, unexpected remarks just before take off where he tried to assure the nation that leaders could come to an agreement before the country could default on its debt on June. 1 He referred to his shortened trip, indicating that would return Sunday after the G-7. His absence disrupted another international event — a planned Quad Leaders’ summit in Sydney was canceled once Biden determined he would not attend.
When questioned about Biden’s indication that he can return to Washington on Sunday, have a press conference and finish the deal, McCarthy poked at the president for not engaging in talks between Feb. 1 and last week.
“It’s doable, but this is for a guy who didn’t want to meet with us for 97 days, and leaves the country and says he wants to come back Sunday to have a press conference? I really want a president that’s engaged and working through it,” the Speaker said.
The White House brushed off Republican criticism over Biden leaving Washington at all, highlighting the significance of the G-7.
“One of the responsibilities that an American president has is our leadership on the global stage, which is incredibly important and critical,” press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on the way to Japan, by way of Alaska, on Wednesday. “There are critical issues, yes, domestically, but also internationally that the president has to take on.”
McCarthy at the White House on Tuesday outlined that Biden had “changed the scope” of who is involved in talks, appointing White House officials, including his Office of Management and Budget director, to work directly with members of the Speaker’s team as they try to reach an agreement.
Biden on Wednesday said that group met last night and will meet again Wednesday as well as in the days following. Biden added he will be in “constant contact” with his team while at the G-7 and in touch with the Speaker.
National security adviser Jake Sullivan defended the decision to cancel the second leg of the trip when questioned about the White House previously insisting that Biden can do the job of president anywhere — right before they announced the trip would be cut short.
“As we were getting prepared to take off on this trip, he … made the determination that in the balance of his time, he needed to be back in Washington for the closing days before the deadline to ensure the United States does not go over a cliff,” Sullivan said.
“The president is confident that we can avoid default, but the reason he’s going back is to make sure that happens. So what he will tell [allies] is he is going home to do what a president does,” Sullivan said, adding that Biden will express confidence to allies that he can strike a deal.
Vice President Harris is set to provide an update to reporters on preventing default Thursday, alongside the director of the National Economic Council Director, Lael Brainard, indicating that she is also stepping in while the president is away.
That’s still not enough for lawmakers.
“[Treasury Department Secretary Janet Yellen] said the U.S. could default as early as June 1, which is 16 days away. With this as a backdrop, President Biden is planning to hop on a plane to Japan tomorrow,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said Tuesday. “He can’t fly halfway around the globe just as negotiations are gaining momentum.”
Meanwhile, some Democrats defended the president’s decision to leave town.
“I don’t think he’s the one sitting in the room doing the negotiations. I think he’s the one, hopefully, leading the people in the room negotiating, but he can do that via Zoom or via telephone call,” Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) said. “Look, there’s a lot of shit going on in the world he needs to be tending to, too.”
Similarly, Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat, said Biden’s trip to the G-7 is a high priority.
“President Biden has a G-7 meeting, which is an effort to establish global security. It’s a very high priority,” he said. “I hope that Speaker McCarthy doesn’t try to use that [against him].”