In 2011, Barack Obama entered into negotiations with House Republicans. They wanted the president to cut future spending in exchange for voting to raise the debt ceiling to borrow more money to pay for existing debts.
Ultimately, Obama agreed to $2 trillion in cuts. The debt ceiling was raised, but the damage was done. “The United States experienced its first credit rating downgrade and the stock market plunged,” according to USA Today.
Joe Biden, as vice president, learned a lesson that day. He evidently shared it Wednesday with Kevin McCarthy after inviting the House speaker to the White House. He said: There will be no negotiations over the debt ceiling.
McCarthy has shown his hand. To Margaret Brennan, host of “Face the Nation,” he said, “we’re not going to default.” What has he to bargain with after giving away his leverage? I don’t know. But the moment seems to illustrate a new pattern of behavior coming out of the White House.
There will be no benefit of the doubt.
A problem for the Republicans
According to reporters Alexander Nazaryan and Michael Isikoff, the White House is prepared to work with House investigations but there’s a but.
“When it comes to Congress, we intend to review and respond to oversight inquiries in good faith,” White House communications officer Ian Sams said last month. “We're going to call it out when we see rampant hypocrisy.”
Sams said the Republicans have a “total lack of credibility.”
He’s not wrong.
Ohio Congressman Jim Jordan is head of the House Judiciary Committee. A “ferocious Trump defender,” he said he’d turn to a “compulsory process” if the White House refused to be forthcoming with requested information.
This is the same congressman who balked when the J6 committee subpoenaed him for testimony on his role in Donald Trump’s coup.
Sams went on.
He said Kentucky Congressman James Comer, head of the House Oversight Committee, is playing “political theater.” Sams said that when a Democrat is involved with government secrets, he’s very concerned. When Trump was involved, he was la-di-da. Sams said, via Nazaryan and Michael Isikoff, that:
Comer had downplayed Trump’s mishandling of sensitive documents after arguing in an interview with Newsmax last August that the matter 'didn’t amount to a hill of beans' and would not 'be a priority' in terms of an investigation.
This is not Barack Obama’s White House.
The average white American probably didn’t give the first Black president the benefit of the doubt on account of his being the first Black president.
The average white American does give Joe Biden the benefit of the doubt on account of his being white as well as being widely regarded as moderate.
With ample benefit of the doubt behind him from the average white American, Biden seems to believe that he owes none to the Republicans.
That’s a problem.
For the Republicans.
Blunting their attacks
What is “the benefit of the doubt”? Why is it important?
First, Merriam-Webster’s definition: it’s “the state of accepting something or someone as honest or deserving of trust even though there are doubts.”
Second, it’s important because virtually everything the Republicans in the House hope to accomplish with their phony investigations, of the Biden administration and the Biden family, depends on the president trusting them just enough for the Republicans to turn that trust against him.
Obama gave the House Republicans the benefit of the doubt. They dragged out the process so long global investors panicked. Obama lost once by conceding to $2 trillion in cuts. He lost twice after markets plunged. In the end, Obama was complicit in the GOP’s sabotage of his administration.
But because he was the first Black president, and because his party had just experienced a “shellacking” in the 2010 midterms, he had to play along.
Things are different now.
The president is white. The House Republicans are barely a majority. The benefit of the doubt of the average white American is not on their side.
Today’s House Republicans plan all kinds of investigations – of the 2020 election, Biden’s return of classified documents and Hunter Biden’s laptop.
But what they are actually doing is searching for reasons that would provide the appearance of proof of their allegations. They want to credibly accuse the president of something. But doing that requires Biden’s help.
The appearance of proof.
That’s why Sams leaned into their “total lack of credibility.”
By refusing to give the Republicans the benefit of the doubt, the White House is depriving them of that appearance, blunting their attacks.
This isn’t Barack Obama’s White House
McCarthy tried hard to make it look like Biden is the one being hypocritical. “He literally led the talks in 2011 and he praised having those talks,” he told CBS’s Margaret Brennan. “This is what he’s always done in the past.”
The House Republicans don’t know what they want, however, and the White House knows that the House Republicans don’t know what they want.
The House Republicans keep asking for spending cuts, but won’t say which domestic programs they want to cut. The reason for that is pretty clear. If they say what they want to cut – spending on Social Security, for instance, which is broadly popular – it will undermine demands for spending cuts.
The Biden administration believes it has the advantage. In a memo to McCarthy, the White House asked if McCarthy will “commit to the bedrock principle that the United States will never default on its obligations” and “when the Speaker and the House Republicans will release their budget.”
He won’t and they won’t, because he can’t and they can’t.
“The Biden administration believes Americans will view the Republican brinkmanship more unfavorably – as willing to jeopardize the economy and cut popular programs for ideological reasons,” according to USA Today.
Biden is probably right.
After all, this isn’t Barack Obama’s White House.