House Speaker Kevin McCarthy doesn’t seem to be holding up too well under the pressure of a looming national default and being the guy who is supposed to have 50% of the responsibility for stopping it. But you wouldn’t know it from reading the traditional Capitol Hill media.
That’s six denials of responsibility in 30 seconds’ worth of video from a press availability Wednesday. To be fair, he is under a lot of pressure. His future as speaker is in the hands of guys like Reps. Matt Gaetz and Chip Roy, the hold-out votes on his speakership who have been calling the shots. Gaetz has baldly admitted that he and his fellows “don’t feel like we should negotiate with our hostage.” (The hostage being the full faith and credit of the United States.)
Roy sent a four-page manifesto to all Republican House members Wednesday morning, demanding that they all hold the line against anything McCarthy might be negotiating and that everything they had in the draconian bill they passed be included, because "each are critical and none should be abandoned solely for the quest of a 'deal.'" That’s reinforcing what the Freedom Caucus demanded last week.
Nonetheless, the sages of the Capitol Hill press corps gush, “House Republicans have been surprisingly successful at setting the overall public narrative for the negotiations as the endgame unfolds.” That’s the wags at Punchbowl, marveling about how “McCarthy is speaking to reporters a half-dozen times per day, and House negotiators “[Reps. Garret] Graves and [Patrick] McHenry are accessible.” The White House negotiators, Punchbowl complains, “haven’t spoken once to reporters outside the daily briefing.” God forbid the Capitol crew go out and find them to ask questions.
Reporters like Jake Sherman, former Politico guy and Punchbowl founder, can camp out in the hall and these House guys will flock to them. They breathlessly tweet and publish every utterance from the Republicans, the “successful” narrative setters. As if everything these Republicans are spouting is legitimate or factual.
That’s who’s being rewarded: Gaetz, Roy, and every Republican who is talking about defaulting on the national debt like it’s a normal debate to have. What’s worse, this kind of reporting is establishing those dangerous extremists as legitimate players, never mind their willingness to blow the national economy to smithereens.
The very scary part of this is the coverage of those guys as legitimate is leading President Joe Biden and the White House team to also treat them as legitimate. Maybe they don’t want the same press to turn against them—which it effectively has with the coverage they’re giving the Republicans—or maybe they have some other bizarre reason, but the White House insists on treating McCarthy and the Republicans as, well, normal.
While the Freedom Caucus pulling McCarthy’s strings is insisting they won’t budge, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre is saying things like, “If everyone is working in good faith and recognizes that no one, neither side is going to get exactly what they want, we’ll get it done,” and, “We see these conversations going and moving in a productive way. That is important. We’ll get there. It has to be a bipartisan, reasonable budget negotiation.” Because, sure, “good faith” and “bipartisanship” and “reasonable” are all things that could be applied to the House Republican conference.
That’s how we end up with President Joe Biden offering things like two-year budget freezes (which are actually cuts when you factor in inflation) and publicly allowing Republicans to take repealing any part of the Trump Tax Scam—or even closing corporate tax loopholes—completely off the table. Maybe those tax increases are still on the table, but the White House isn’t saying if they are.
“We should be looking at tax loopholes and making sure the wealthy pay their fair share,” Biden said on Monday. No, he should be insisting on that, forcefully, while pointing out that McCarthy and team were being absolutely intransigent and unrealistic in their demands.
House Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal put her finger on the problem of both messaging and the media on Wednesday. It’s a good lesson for the White House on how to set a narrative. A reporter asked if progressives “are ready to tank” a deal. “No, no, no,” she said. “That is exactly the problem. When the media reports this as not their fault.”
“Let’s tell the truth here,” she continued. “We are not tanking anything.” That’s the message.
We speak with Anderson Clayton, the 25-year-old chair of North Carolina’s Democratic Party. Clayton has a big-picture plan for 2024, and explains the granular changes needed to get out the vote on college campuses and in the rural communities of the Tar Heel State.