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At This Hour

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) May Scrap Recess if GOP Won't Raise Debt Limit; President Biden Delivers Remarks on Raising Debt Ceiling. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired October 04, 2021 - 11:30   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN AT THIS HOUR: Developing right now, in a letter to fellow Democrats, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer says that he may scrap next week's scheduled recess if Republicans do not agree to work with Democrats to suspend the debt limit, meaning pay Congress' credit card bill.

Senator Mitch McConnell, he just sent a letter of his own to President Biden saying that democrats do not need Republican cooperation to do this.

CNN's Manu Raju joining me live on Capitol Hill with more on these developments. McConnell's technically right, but what is technically really going on here?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's a staring game and it's unclear who will blink first, and it has significant consequences, Kate, if no deal is reached by October 18th. That is when the country could face its first-ever default on the national debt. And that would have massive economic ramifications.

So, it's unclear exactly how this will play out. Chuck Schumer telling his colleagues that Republicans need to agree to move forward in some way, and so the Senate will be in session potentially this weekend into next week if they don't deal with this immediately by the end of this week.

Now, what the Democrats have proposed to do is allow this to pass on a simple majority threshold. All 50 Democrats vote yes to consent to suspend the national debt limit. Republicans have objected to that, instead say they have to go through a separate process known on Capitol Hill as the budget reconciliation process. Now, that process takes a couple of weeks. It could tie up the Senate floor. It could open up Democrats to very politically-charged amendments, which is one reason why they don't want to go through that process.

And as a result, Democrats not moving forward on that, and Mitch McConnell not agreeing to allowing it to happen quickly means that there could potentially be no resolution on this issue.

[11:35:02] McConnell sending a letter to Joe Biden warning the president to work with his own party, telling this president to avoid what he's calling sleepwalking into an avoidable catastrophe.

So, as the rhetoric on that issue picks up, Kate, also the other major issue facing Democrats, how to deal with the president's infrastructure package and his larger expansion of the social safety net. That is an issue between Democrats trying to fight among themselves, trying to resolve this. At the moment, Democratic leaders have set an end of the month deadline to resolve those differences, move that $1.2 trillion infrastructure package, and the larger social safety net plan, in which there are substantial differences among progressives and moderates about what that looks like. And just yesterday, Pramila Jayapal, the head of the progressive caucus, warned Joe Manchin, moderates who want to bring down that price tag to $1.5 trillion.


REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL (D-WA): Well, that's not going to happen. So it's --

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, why won't it add up to that number?

JAYAPAL: Because that's too small to get our priorities in. So, it's going to be somewhere between $1.5 and $3.5, and I think the White House is working on that right now.


RAJU: And that's a huge difference, $1.5 to $3.5 trillion. But also so many difference in between about the key policy details of what that larger package will look like. But Chuck Schumer wants a deal, as he said to his colleagues today, in a, quote, matter of days on that. So, Kate, can they get a deal on that as well as avoid a debt default? So many questions here as we reach yet another pivotal time for the Biden agenda. Kate?

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. Manu, thank you so much for that.

We're about to hear from President Biden speaking about the debt ceiling. We will bring you that when he begins. That could begin any minute now.

In the meantime, joining me is Democratic Congressman Jared Hoffman. He's a member of the House progressive caucus, for more on this. Congressman, thank you for being here.

Do you agree that the end point of these talks will land somewhere between $3.5 trillion -- below $3.5 trillion and above $1.5 trillion?

REP. JARED HOFFMAN (D-CA): I do, but I also think there's too much obsession about these numbers, and I hope we focus a lot more on the content, what's behind them, what are we doing in terms of transforming people's lives. BOLDUAN: That's a great point. The key question is, and will remain, what gets cut and what gets included to get a deal done. If it has to come down from the top, the most expansive version of the spending bill that you would like to see, if it has to come down from that, what do you think? What gets cut? What are you comfortable with?

HOFFMAN: Well, there are some things that we can do creatively. For example, the duration of some of these programs and benefits. That will affect the top line. But we think it's important to get them in place because people need them. And I think once we have them, once, you know, moms are able to get back in the workforce because they've got childcare, for example, once we've got an extended child tax credit that lifts children out of poverty, we're not going to want to go backward.

BOLDUAN: Stephanie Murphy, she's one of the moderate House Democrats who's been pushing to untie, if you will, these two bills, pass the infrastructure bill now while continuing to work on this broader bill. She put out a statement that may cut to the core of what is going on here. She put this out, it's a sad day -- it's a sad day for our nation when a few members of Congress block much-needed results for the American people, not because they oppose the bill before them but because they don't trust members of their own party.

Trust, trust, that's what this seems to be coming down to as I've been -- we've been watching this. Do you not trust members, like Congresswoman Murphy, that you can vote on infrastructure now and still get the bigger spending bill that you care so much about?

HOFFMAN: Kate, that's not how I would frame it. But I will say this. I think it doesn't help trust when you take a package that came to us from the Senate with the president and just about all the Democratic senators making it clear this is a deal, they go together, and you try to break it apart and take what you believe is the easier vote out of order, take it first and leave the second bill, the more important one for most of us, quite honestly, leave it hanging on a separate track. That doesn't build trust.

So, we're in a better place now. I think we've politically functionally re-coupled these two bills. That's where it needs to stay. And we need to go forward on that basis.

BOLDUAN: Look, and there is, as we've been discussing and will continue, a real policy debate here, philosophical differences on priorities among them. There's also a question about tactics. There's video this weekend of some young activists in Arizona, Congressman, following Senator Kyrsten Sinema into a bathroom to confront her about what -- about their desires to see the bigger spending bill passed.


You may agree with these constituents on what they want to see happen with this bigger bill. How do you feel about following lawmakers into bathrooms with cameras rolling?

HOFFMAN: Kate, I don't condone the over-the-top type of tactics, but I do think they need to show up and make their voices heard. There's a way to do that, and, frankly, I think the calls for accountability, for responsibility from certain U.S. senators are only going to grow louder. But they need stay, you know, within the rails.

BOLDUAN: And in terms of just the deadlines, as we've seen in the last week, there really seems to be no hard deadline in what you all are working on. When do you think this needs to get done, or it doesn't get done at all? Like what's your deadline? Schumer's saying he needs -- there needs to be a deal in days, but we've blown past self-imposed deadlines already.

HOFFMAN: We certainly need pressure. And I think we've seen that the pressure of the last week led to a lot of progress. We frankly drew out those two U.S. senators and made more progress in a couple days than we had made in a couple months in terms of getting them to show their cards and trying to get this deal over the finish line. So, I'm fine with pressure. What we don't need though are arbitrary, self- imposed deadlines that, you know, end up dividing us and creating unnecessary drama.

So, look, we've got there August -- October 31st expiration of the short-term transportation extension. That is not a hard deadline. We can extend it again. But I think it's okay to treat it as a goal and to try to bring this thing home within that timeframe.

BOLDUAN: Well, let's see if it becomes a hard and fast goal the closer we get to that date. Thank you for coming on, Congressman.

HOFFMAN: Thanks for having me.

BOLDUAN: Coming up next, the Supreme Court back in session. It could be a blockbuster term for the high court, the consequential cases before the justices, the major changes that could come for Americans from coast to coast. What could be coming out of that building this term? We'll get to that after this.



BOLDUAN: All right. Let's go to the White House. President Biden about to speak about the debt ceiling. Let's listen in.

JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: What we need today to raise the debt limit and why the Republicans in Congress -- what they're doing today is so reckless and dangerous in my view. Raising the debt limit comes down to paying what we already owe, what has already been acquired. Not anything new. It starts with a simple truth, the United States is a nation that pays its bills and always has from its inception. We have never defaulted.

What we pay for is to keep us a great nation, social security benefits for seniors, salaries for brave service members and benefits for veterans and other financial obligations for our people and for our nation. We're able to meet these obligations based on the revenue we receive from taxes and based on our ability to borrow when needed. And in that case, we're able to borrow because we always pay our debt. We always pay what we owe. We've never failed. That's America. That's who we are. That's what's called for. It's called full faith and credit of the United States. It's rock solid, it's the best in the world.

But here's the deal, there's a cap on what we can borrow called the debt limit. And only Congress can raise or lower that debt limit. So, let me be really clear. This is really important to know. Raising the debt limit is about paying off our old debts. There's nothing to do with any new spending being considered. It has nothing to do with my plan for infrastructure or building back better, zero, zero. Both of which I might add are paid for.

So, if we're going to make good on what's already been approved by previous Congresses and previous presidents and parties, we have to pay for it. Social security benefits, the American people are promised salaries for service men and women, benefits for veterans. We're going to have to raise the debt limit if we're going to meet those obligations.

And raising the debt limit is usually a bipartisan undertaking, and it should be. That's what is not happening today. The reason we have to raise the debt limit is in part because of the reckless tax and spending policies under the previous Trump administration. In four years, they incurred nearly $8 trillion, in four years, $8 trillion in additional debt and bills we have to now pay off. That's more than a quarter of the entire debt incurred now outstanding after more than 200 years.

And Republicans in Congress raised the debt three times when Donald Trump was president, and each time with Democrats' support. But now, they won't raise it even though they're responsible for more than $8 trillion in bills incurred in four years under the previous administration. That's what we'd be paying off. They won't raise it even though defaulting on the debt would lead to self-inflicted wound that takes our economy over a cliff and risks jobs and retirement savings, social security benefits, salaries for service members, benefits for veterans, and so much more.

A failure to raise the debt limit will call into question Congress' willingness to meet our obligations that we've already incurred, not new ones, we've already incurred. This is going to undermine the safety of U.S. treasury securities and will threaten the reserve status of the dollar as the world's currency, that the world relies on. The American credit rating will be downgraded, interest rates will rise for mortgages, auto loans, credit cards, and borrowing.

Folks watching at home, you should know this is the Republican position.


Here's what it is. They won't vote to raise the debt limit to cover their own spending. Democrats voted with them to cover that spending the last four years -- previous four years. They say Democrats should do it alone. But then they're threatening to use a procedural power called the filibuster, meaning that we'd have to get 60 votes, not 50 votes, to increase the debt limit. This would block the Democrats from meeting our obligations and responsibilities to prevent Congress from raising the debt limit.

So, let's be clear. Not only are Republicans refusing to do their job. They're threatening to abuse the power, their power, to prevent us from doing our job, saving the economy from a catastrophic event. I think, quite frankly, it is hypocritical, dangerous and disgraceful. Their obstruction and irresponsibility knows absolutely no bounds, excuse me, especially as we're clawing our way out of this pandemic. Democrats will meet our responsibility and obligation to this country. We're not expecting Republicans to do their part. They made that clear from the beginning.

We tried asking to no avail. We're just asking them not to use procedural tricks to block us from doing the job that they won't do. Meteor is headed to crash into our economy. Democrats are willing to do all the work stopping it. Republicans just have to let us do our job. Just get out of the way. If you don't want to help save the country, get out of the way so you don't destroy it. We don't have time to delay with elaborate procedural schemes, which Republicans' proposals require, scores of votes without any certainty at all, many of which have nothing to do with the debt limit at all. And that's when accidents happen.

In the days ahead, even before the default date, people may see the value of their retirement accounts shrink. They may see interest rates go up, which will only raise their mortgage payments and car payments. And the American people, look, let's just say it this way, as soon as this week, your savings and your pocketbook could be directly impacted by this Republican stunt. It's as simple as that. Republicans say they will not do their part to avoid this needless calamity. So be it. But they need to stop playing Russian roulette with the U.S. economy.

It's one thing to pay our debts already acquired. It's another to require a super majority to pay the debts already acquired. It's not right. Let the Democrats vote to raise the debt ceiling this week without obstruction or further delays. Democrats in the House have already passed a bill that would do that. It's sitting in the United States Senate, where Democrats have the votes ready to pass it. That's the only way to eliminate the uncertainty and risk that's going to harm American families and our economy.

Let us vote and end the mess. We've got to get this done. We must get this done. As I said, it's playing Russian roulette, to play these games. We can do it this week. Just get out of the way and let us pass it. Thank you. REPORTER: Mr. President, Senator Mitch McConnell says he has sent a

letter to you explaining his view. Have you seen that letter? Have you communicated with him? And how dire do you believe this is if action doesn't take place within the next few days.

BIDEN: First of all, I did get a letter. I got it ten minutes before I walked in here. I've read it. I plan on talking to Mitch about it. He and I have been down this road once before back when I was vice president. And I hope we can have some intelligent and honest conversation about what he is proposing. And I think the easiest way to do this, and if the Republicans would not use the filibuster, would be to let us vote on what is already in the Senate right now, passed by the House, to raise the debt limit. And we could do that in the next several days.

REPORTER: Mr. President?

REPORTER: Mr. President?

REPORTER: Thank you, Mr. President. You've often touted your experience in the Senate, your 36 years in the Senate. Your aides have talked about your abilities to be a closer on deals involving legislation. Why were you unable, Mr. President, to close the deal with members of your own party on key parts of your legislative agenda last week?

BIDEN: I was able to close the deal with 99 percent of my party. Two, two people are still on their way.


I don't think there's been a president who has been able to close deals, has been in a position where he has only 50 votes in the Senate and a bare majority in the House. It's a process. It's a process. We'll get it done.

REPORTER: Mr. President?

REPORTER: Mr. President, it sounds like you're putting the blame squarely on two U.S. senators for your inability to close that deal, Senator Sinema and Senator Manchin. Am I incorrect? Is that who the blame lies with?

BIDEN: Look, I need 50 votes in the Senate. I have 48.

REPORTER: Mr. President, Leader Schumer has vowed not to raise the debt ceiling through the reconciliation process. So, ultimately --

BIDEN: Say that again, I'm sorry.

REPORTER: Leader Schumer has said he won't raise the debt ceiling through the reconciliation process. So, ultimately, if push comes to shove and Senator McConnell does not change his position, what is more important, that position that Senator Schumer has or raising the debt ceiling? And I also have a question for you on Ethiopia.

BIDEN: I'm going to answer one. I'm not going to with Ethiopia. Let's stick on the debts so we don't confuse the American people.

Number one, the issue of reconciliation, which is like code to the American people, what is reconciliation, there is a process that I understand the Republican leader is willing to initiate, go through, that would require literally up to hundreds of votes. It's an unlimited number of votes, having nothing directly to do with the debt limit. It could be everything from Ethiopia to anything else. It has nothing to do with the debt limit. And it's fraught with all kinds of potential danger from miscalculation. And it would have to happen twice.

So, you could literally have several hundred votes over the next number of days. Everything else would come to a standstill, but you still find yourself in a situation where, at the end of the day, you may have passed something that, in fact, then has to be undone again by Democrats or Republicans. It is an incredibly complicated, cumbersome process when there is a simple process sitting out there.

Sitting at the desk in the United States Senate is a bill passed by the House saying we, Democrats, will raise the debt limit, take responsibility for raising, even though we didn't -- some voted to acquire the debt, as well. We will go ahead and do that. That's the way to proceed.

REPORTER: If it comes down to reconciliation or raising the debt ceiling, which position would you take?

BIDEN: I'm not going to cross that bridge until we have to get there.

REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE) allegations genocide and why you haven't yet imposed the sanctions that you authorized two weeks ago, sir?

BIDEN: I'll speak to that later.

REPORTER: Regarding your build back better agenda, we know the top line figure from Senator Manchin is $1.5 trillion. Senator Kyrsten Sinema has yet to really give the number of where she's willing to go, how high she's willing to go. But she says she is negotiating in good faith with the White House. What is her figure? BIDEN: I'll let her tell you that. We're in negotiations.

REPORTER: Is it between $1.5 trillion and $3.5 trillion? Is it higher at least from the $1.5.

BIDEN: I'm not going to negotiate in public.

REPORTER: Mr. President, how is what the Republicans are doing now any different from when you opposed raising the debt limit as a senator during the Bush years?

BIDEN: Because we weren't calling for filibuster, we did not require 60 votes and it was a straight up and down vote.

REPORTER: Mr. President, Mr. President. You're talking about how you have 48 Democratic votes right now. The other two have been pressured over the weekend by activists. Joe Manchin had people on kayaks show up to his boat. Senator Sinema last night was chased into a restroom. Do you think that those tactics are crossing a line?

BIDEN: I don't think they're appropriate tactics, but it happens to everybody. The only people it doesn't happen to are people who have Secret Service standing around them. So, it's a part of the process.


REPORTER: A lot of people are trying attacking immigration -- REPORTER: Mr. President, I think, comments on other senators' positions in the negotiations, but what do you think the size of the reconciliation package should be? What specific dollar figure?

BIDEN: Well I laid out what I thought it should be. It's not going to be that. It is going to be less. I mean, look, the legislation, both the build back better piece as well as the infrastructure piece, are things that I wrote. These didn't come from, God love him, Bernie Sanders or AOC or anybody else. I wrote them.


I disagreed with Medicare for all, for example. I disagreed with -- but I laid out what I thought would be important.