WASHINGTON — Five months after he grabbed the sledgehammer, this week marks the beginning of a defining challenge of President Kevin McCarthy’s two decades in elected office: whether he can strike a deal with President Joe Biden that avoids a default. of unprecedented debt and quell the difficult situation. right-wing conservatives ready to revolt against him.

Failing to raise the debt limit in the next three weeks could be catastrophic for the US economy, but failing to secure spending cuts pushed by his right wing could spell the end of McCarthy’s career.

To achieve his lifelong ambition to become a speaker, the California Republican allowed far-right conservatives to put him in a political straitjacket, and any of them can now force a vote to impeach him if he doesn’t succeed.

In a high-stakes meeting at the White House on Tuesday, McCarthy will try to juggle those competing interests and reignite negotiations with Biden that have stalled since their first and only substantive face-to-face meeting at the White House on February 1. 1.

Biden has insisted he is happy to negotiate spending for fiscal 2024 after Congress agrees to raise the debt ceiling with no strings attached. But a clean debt bill is impossible for McCarthy.

Twice this year, McCarthy proved the naysayers wrong: He captured the speaker’s gavel after 15 grueling rounds of voting, then forced through his plan to raise the debt ceiling and enact deep spending cuts in the House by a slim margin. . That remarkable display of GOP unity strengthened his hand in the debt standoff, but the real test for McCarthy will be whether he can keep control of the gavel and negotiate with the Senate and White House on legislation that can pass and become law. .

Walking into the meeting, McCarthy seems to keep his cards close to his chest. A McCarthy spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

McCarthy is an «honest man» but «almost sold everything [to the] far, far right,” Biden said in an interview with MSNBC host Stephanie Ruhle before his meeting with congressional leaders.

“There is the Republican Party and there are the MAGA Republicans,” the president said, “and the MAGA Republicans have really put him in a position where, to continue to be a speaker, he has to agree: he agrees with things which maybe you think, but they are just extreme.”

motion to vacate

During the bitter battle of the speakers in January, Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Florida Republican, emerged as McCarthy’s most ardent foe, vowing that the California Republican would never take the sledgehammer. In the end, Gaetz doubled down on him, but he made concessions that allow him to continue to be a thorn in the speaker’s side.

Gaetz or one of his allies now has the power to trigger a so-called «motion to evict» if McCarthy strikes a debt deal with Biden and Democrats they deem too liberal. He was already one of four Republican lawmakers who voted against McCarthy’s debt-ceiling package that narrowly passed the House 217-215, with just one vote to spare.

Gaetz and his camp believe they have an advantage over McCarthy, a Gaetz ally in Congress said. «He was not removed from a committee and he is back in the news, and not in a negative light,» the lawmaker said.

Easier said than done, but moderate Republicans argue McCarthy should focus on getting the best deal he can with Biden on debt and spending cuts rather than worry about threats to his shaky presidency.

“A four-seat majority by definition is difficult. I didn’t like the single person dropping the rule,” said Rep. Don Bacon, R-Nebraska, who represents one of the 14 GOP House districts that Biden won in 2020. “I think the speaker can’t Let this fact dominate though, and he seems to be playing well.»

«Good politics is good politics, and he’s winning,» Bacon said.

Rep. Dusty Johnson, RS.D., chairman of the Republican Main Street Caucus, which describes itself as a bloc of pragmatic lawmakers, made it clear that McCarthy will need to «deliver» a deal to its 222 members that addresses what the Republicans see federal spending out of control.

One idea in the House-approved McCarthy plan is tougher work requirements for those who rely on safety-net programs like Medicaid and food stamps.

I think Kevin McCarthy will have a lot of freedom in the details. He won’t have as much freedom over the magnitude of the deal. Republicans believe that significant action is needed now,» Johnson said in an interview.

“We don’t necessarily have to have everything exactly as we proposed,” Johnson continued. “But the final package must be a substantial change in the way our country spends and borrows money. And Kevin McCarthy will have to deliver that. And he understands that, and he’s prepared to do it.»

Another pressure point for McCarthy is that he is defending his fragile majority in the House of Representatives in 2024. Seeking to exploit that vulnerability, Biden will hold a campaign-style rally on Wednesday in the district of Rep. Mike Lawler, RN.Y., who the Last year he flipped a Democratic-held seat in the Hudson River Valley.

Before Biden’s visit, Lawler maintained that he would not allow a debt default to occur. But he also said he believed McCarthy is in a stronger bargaining position after the House approved his debt plan.

“If we are in a situation where default is on the table, of course the goal is to avoid default 100%, but no one should be playing the game of chicken here and trying to force someone to blink.” Lawler said into a phone. interview.

McCarthy’s hand is strengthened, Lawler argued, «because we are the only ones who have really acted on this.»

‘Modest pessimism’

The time is finishing. Last week, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen informed McCarthy that the US could run out of measures to service its debt obligations and default for the first time on June 1, sooner than expected.

«It is widely accepted that financial and economic chaos would ensue» if the United States defaulted, Yellen warned Sunday.

Top Republicans aren’t confident of a Biden-McCarthy deal, but they argue things are moving in the right direction after House Republicans approved his debt-increasing, spending-cutting package that served as the initial offer in the negotiations.

«Instead of being in the depths of the ocean, I’m just drowning,» House Financial Services Chairman Patrick McHenry, RN.C., a McCarthy ally, said Sunday on CBS’s «Face the Nation.» optimism comes from complete and utter pessimism that anything can be done at some level of modest pessimism now.”

A short-term extension of the debt limit could be a way to avoid an immediate default that would likely force a downgrade of the US’s credit rating in recession.

While there has been bipartisan skepticism about a deal anytime soon, both the White House and key Republicans like McHenry say all options should be kept on the table given the deadline is just three weeks away.

Deferring the debt increase for several months would align the issue with the annual government funding process, which ends on September 30, allowing Republicans to say the two issues are moving forward together, while Biden could insist that they are on separate ways. Boehner and Obama

Twelve years ago, another Democratic president and a Republican speaker found themselves in a similar situation. President Barack Obama and President John Boehner, R-Ohio, were on the brink of a historic debt default a year before Obama faced off with voters in his quest for a second term.

At the last minute, Obama and Boehner struck a deal known as the Budget Control Act that raised the debt ceiling by $400 billion while creating a bipartisan supercommittee responsible for addressing the deficit. Before Boehner needed to raise the debt limit again in 2015, he announced his resignation and then struck another deal with Obama and then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

Sen. Ben Ray Lujan, DN.M., a former House assistant speaker who served in the House under McCarthy, said the Californian appears to be prioritizing saving his job as speaker over avoiding a default.

“When President Boehner was confronted with this, he said, ‘Okay, go ahead. I’m here to do a job. And I’m going to do what’s right for the American people, and I’m going to stand up for that ideal.’ That doesn’t seem to be where Speaker McCarthy is, which is, ‘Hold on to the presidency,’ seems to be the priority. In this case, preventing non-compliance must be the priority,” Luján said in an interview.

“You wanted to be a speaker, you are in that position. Now, you have a responsibility for the entirety of the American people, our country,» added the senator. «And with that responsibility comes tough decisions that need to be made.»