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Soon: House Speaker McCarthy Takes Questions On Debt Limit Talks; McCarthy Speaks Amid Debt Ceiling Negotiations. Aired 11:30a- 12p ET

Aired May 24, 2023 - 11:30   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to CNN NEWS CENTRAL. One of the top stories we're tracking today, the field expands. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is getting in the race officially. A spokesperson for the governor tells CNN DeSantis will make the official announcement tonight in a conversation with Twitter owner, Elon Musk. John?

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. We are waiting to hear from House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. He just announced that he will hold a news conference on debt ceiling negotiations. The U.S. is just days away from defaulting on its debt if Congress does not raise that ceiling. You're looking at live pictures now. People milling about to hear from the House Speaker.

With us now is the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Republican Michael McCaul. Chairman, great to see you. Thank you for joining us. You're a senior member of the party, you know things we don't.

REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL (R-TX): Great to see you.

BERMAN: What's House Speaker McCarthy going to say right now?

MCCAUL: Well, he's going to say we're still negotiating in good faith. A lot of this has been depth staff level but there's a one-on-one meeting with the speaker and the president to try to work this out. And we have a June 1 deadline.

We're going to stay up here as long as it takes to get that done. I think one thing is clear. We can't default on our full faith in the credit of the United States. So, it's in our financial markets into a tailspin.


We think -- in the House, we came up with a very responsible plan to raise the debt ceiling, but do so responsibly with meaningful cuts in spending. And so, I think the negotiations right now are not over raising the debt ceiling, it's about where can we cut.

BERMAN: Yes. MCCAUL: What about unspent COVID funding, you know? What about capping spending at 2022? The administration, I think wants 2023 levels. But I think we're getting closer. And we've, go through this drama, you know, every Congress but we always seem to be able to work it out at the end.

BERMAN: Did you just say that they are going to meet again? They have a scheduled meeting with the president and the speaker.

MCCAUL: I don't know about -- I mean --


MCCAUL: I mean, yes. There's been a meet --a lot of means at the staff level. And I anticipate the speaker will be meeting with the president. And he's also told us to be prepared to stay here as long as it takes until June the first to get it done. And I think that's what the American people deserve.

BERMAN: Let me just ask, He has said -- he told our Manu Raju when asked what concessions he was prepared to make, he was told raising the debt ceiling. Do you feel that not defaulting on American's debt is a concession?

MCCAUL: I think to -- for Republicans to vote to raise the debt ceiling was a pretty big deal. And the fact that we were able to pull -- you know, we have only a five-member majority and to get that passed was very significant. And I think it gives a speaker leverage into these talks.

So, I know may some -- and I personally don't think you know we should be defaulting or full faith and credit. And I think a lot of my colleagues agree with that assessment. And -- but the idea that you had the majority of Republicans voted to raise the debt ceiling, yes, that was a big deal.

BERMAN: Mr. Chairman, you had a chance to read what are called dissent memos that had to do with the decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan -- you and the ranking member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Gregory Meeks had a chance to read those memos. You've been asking for that for some time. You can't tell me what was in that because it's classified information. Let me just ask it in a different way. How much new did you learn from those memos?

MCCAUL: Well, I can tell you my impressions and that is that the embassy officials got the scenario right. They were warning the administration about a dire -- dire warnings about what was getting ready to happen in Afghanistan if certain actions were not taken.

Sadly, I don't think the administration really listened to what they were saying and it ended in this disastrous evacuation that we saw in mid-October. And it crescendoed with a suicide bomber going off killing 13 servicemen and women and about 170 Afghans.

Turning it over to the Taliban was a major mistake. I will tell you that the embassy employees deserve a medal for sending this to sit cable to the administration not only warning them but telling them what to do to avoid this situation, and also to save American citizens left behind, Afghan partners left behind, the interpreters, many of which were, as you know.

And we left American citizens, we left most of our Afghan partners behind, and the Taliban are now hunting them down with the biometrics that we left behind as well.

A disastrous result. I think the administration is embarrassed by this, obviously. And all we want to do is bring out the truth. And I think the veterans of Afghanistan and the Gold Star families deserve to know, not only accountability and answers, but they need to know what happened. And they do want accountability for how this ended.

BERMAN: Mr. Chairman, as you know, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is making it official, he is announcing that he is running for president tonight. Have you decided who you will support for the Republican nomination for president?

MCCAUL: No, I --you know -- no. Look, I support the nominee. And I think you're going to see -- you'll probably see more candidates getting into this race. And I think it's going to be very interesting.

I think we have a lot of good candidates, you know, out there that will, you know, jump into this race but I always want to reserve judgment. And it's way too early. I think, as you know, in politics, we're light years away from the nomination and so, you know, I reserve judgment, but I will support the nominee.


BERMAN: I got to let you run. But very quickly, how quickly is it that the nominee or who you support backs U.S. -- continue U.S. assistance to Ukraine?

MCCAUL: I think it's vitally important. It's in our national security interest in terms of the largest invasion in Europe since World War Two, a threat to the Pacific, the likes of which we haven't seen since my dad's war. And when I was in Asia, the Asian leaders, particularly in Taiwan, said what happens in Ukraine has a direct impact on Taiwan.

I think this counteroffensive you're going to see take place fairly soon will be determinative in terms of the support for efforts in Ukraine. But I think it's vitally important. I think the counteroffensive will be successful.

And I was pleased to see out of the G7 you know, the talk about F-16s going in. And the UK has really stepped up to the plate where I think in many ways, this administration has failed to give them longer-range artillery to hit Crimea.

The security defense I talked to in the UK, they're putting those weapons in. In France, for that matter is as well. So, I think a lot of writing on this counteroffensive that you're going to see take place in the near future.

BERMAN: Mr. Chairman, Michael McCaul, always a pleasure. Thank you so much for joining us on CNN NEWS CENTRAL. Sara?

SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR: All right. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is about to hold a news conference on Capitol Hill. We are expecting it to happen in a few minutes. You see everyone gathering their waiting. This will be about the debt ceiling and the negotiations and where they are in those which is just days away from causing a real problem if they don't figure it out. We'll bring it to live.



REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): A number of places that we're still far apart. I mean, it didn't seem like it'd be this --

BOLDUAN (voiceover): All right, let's listen in to Kevin McCarthy, the House Speaker, talking about the negotiations over the debt ceiling.

MCCARTHY: -- Coming Democratic leader before I was even a speaker about ways that we could work together on a debt ceiling. Hakeem told me he was going to follow the president's lead. I went down to meet with the president right after becoming speaker as you all know, on February first. I said, let's sit down. Let's work together.

The Democrats, they could have lifted the debt ceiling prior to me becoming a speaker. They knew the outcome of the election already. They knew we were taking power. They passed an omnibus bill but they decided not to do the rising of the debt ceiling, even though they thought people should just raise it cleanly.

Speaking with the president, I told him two things. We'll not raise taxes. Why? Because we got more revenue coming into our coffers than at any time in American history.

The problem is the Democrats had been in power, and they increased the amount of spending to the highest level we've ever had at any time in American history, especially to GDP. And now, we have the highest debt at any time to American history.

So, I just think it's common sense, it's reasonable, and it's rational that we spend less next year than we spend this year. Every household would do this. We have money that sits out there. COVID. That's been appropriate that hasn't been used.

We now know the damage that the Democrats have done in the majority when they spent that extra 6 trillion. It brought us inflation, harming every single family, made us more dependent upon China. It created three of the largest four bank failures in American history in the last couple of months. We cannot continue down this path. But the president waited 97 days, not even talk to me.


He could have spoken to me and said we were wrong on it, other angles, but he didn't. And now we're eight days away from Biden having defaulted. I don't want that to happen. That's why the Republicans in the House in April lifted the debt ceiling with common sense sensible things, the pulling of COVID money back.

Work requirements, they let people go back to work. Help our supply chain, make us less dependent on China. And more importantly, people working, then they're paying into Social Security and Medicare, making those two entities stronger.

And then making us stronger in our energy field where we're cutting the red tape where we could build things in America again, putting people back to work. That's reasonable, that's rational, but it sits in the Senate. But if the president waits too long, he can always take that up. Yes.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kevin McCarthy, you said finish the negotiations. Have you -- Has there been appreciable progress over the last (INAUDIBLE)

MCCARTHY: Look, there's differences we know where it's at. You have to spend less than you spent last year. That's not that difficult to do.

But in Washington somehow, that is a problem. They have increased spending with the Democrats in the majority on discretionary spending by more than 33 percent. No household has been able to afford to do that.

We can find ways. We can eliminate that. The president eliminated a lot of places that we can't talk about, so I got a short area to do it. But we found a reasonable way to do it.


MCCARTHY: So, it's not that -- look, I think we can make progress today. I'm hoping that we can make this progress today.

Mr. Speaker, what do you say to those who believe you can't get a yes because so many members of your conference won't accept anything less than the bill you've already passed?

GARRETT HAAKE, SENIOR CAPITOL HILL CORRESPONDENT, NBC NEWS: They're wrong. You know, you underestimated me the whole time. The one thing you should learn from me, I will never give up for the American people. Those are the people I'm looking at.

Can we get to yes? Yes. We passed the bill. The difficult --

HAAKE: But do Democrats? You need a bipartisan bill now.

MCCARTHY: So, you -- so you just -- so you just --

HAAKE: Can you get to yes on the field levels of Democrats?

MCCARTHY: Thank you because you just identified the problem, no Democrats. So, every Democrat voted against raising the debt ceiling. Nothing has happened in the Senate. I'm not a senator. I don't control the Senate. Why didn't they pass something? The president, he didn't talk to us for 97 days. So, don't blame me for reaching out to the Democrats, for begging the president to meet with me, or trying to find it. And don't blame us, Republicans, when we put a reasonable bill together that we actually took Democrats' ideas.

So, when we put spending for government, and increase it one percent each year to cap it so the slow growth of government, so the economy can catch up, that was a Democrat idea. When we put work requirements in to help people get a job, that's something Senator Biden voted for, and President Clinton signed into law. That was a Democrat-supported idea, too.

So, it's not my fault that the Democrats today had become so extreme, so far to the socialist wing, that they are now opposed to work requirements, that they are now opposed to saving one dollar less than you spent the year before. That, to me, really seemed that the problem are the Democrats.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- that the White House says they're trying to meet you halfway. So -- I mean, at this stage of the game since you are at loggerheads, what is the off-ramp here?

MCCARTHY: Look, the off-ramp here is to solve the problem, to spend less than we spent last year. That's not that difficult. They still want to spend more.

You cannot do that. No household will do that. Look, I explained -- I explained this before -- I explain --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) in your plan is unreasonable.

MCCARTHY: Well, they don't have a plan. They never pass anything. So -- and you can't spend more money the next year than you spent this year.

Look. I've explained this before. A debt ceiling, so the American people understand, is having a credit card, you raised and you hit the limit. So, year after year, you just kept raising the limit. So, you're paying more interest.

So, now in America, 17 cents out of every dollar that comes in just goes to interest. But now you owe so much on your credit card. You have to pay for it. But you owe more than you make an entire year.

So now for America, we owe more on our debt than our whole economy is worth, 20 percent more. So, should you just raise the debt limit or should you literally think let's eliminate some waste? If we had spent money, billions of dollars for a pandemic that the money has sat there for two years, pull it back.

If we can have a provision to help people find jobs? Let's do that. If we can find a way that cut red tape, they let people go back and build things in America and make us energy independent and not beholden to China. Let's do that. That's all we're asking. We're being reasonable. Yes.


MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: (INAUDIBLE) -- but you're going to need Democratic votes probably in the House, definitely the Senate, you have Democrat in the White House, why not offer a single concession beyond saying we're not going to default.

MCCARTHY: We've offered a lot of concessions. The cap on the spending is a Democrat idea. The work --

RAJU: They want to put it back and you said --


MCCARTHY: The work requirement was a Democrat idea. The time -- I can't help it if the Democrats have become so extreme, and now it's a party of Bernie Sanders than the party where Joe Biden was elected. Joe Biden is the President of the United States. He is the head Democrat. But if AOC and Bernie Sanders is going to run their party, that's not my fault. I'm not even sure Bernie Sanders is a registered Democrat.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Speaker, if the president does not agree to exactly what you want, are you willing to blow past the 20 percent?

MCCARTHY: OK. First of all, the premise of your question is all wrong. When have I ever said you have to agree to a hundred percent of what I want? All I've ever said to the president from February first, let's talk.

There's only a couple of things I will not do, Mr. President. I will not raise taxes. Why? Because we are bringing more revenue in, even to the GDP, not just to the 50-year average but to the history of America. Only two other times have we brought in 20 percent of the GDP, 1944 and 2000.

I will not put a clean debt ceiling on the floor. Why? Because we've spent more than we've ever spent before and we have the highest debt than we ever had before. I just don't think that's right.


MCCARTHY: But -- let me finish the question. And then I said to the president, but everything else is on the table. For 97 days, he wouldn't talk to me. So, we passed the bill.

We're not getting everything in our bill. I'm negotiating with the president. We passed a bill that raised the debt ceiling.

If I did what you're saying, we wouldn't be talking. But I sit and I'm sitting and sending our negotiation team down with theirs to which -- their team is highly respected on both sides out. They know this House and Senate well, and I know together.

And maybe you discounted me too. I didn't win the speaker on the first vote. It took 15 rounds. Do you know what I think? We're stronger for it. And it's -- probably we didn't solve this problem on the first negotiation, but it took us 97 days. I firmly believe that we'll be able to get that. Yes, Sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Speaker, the negotiators yesterday said that the concession Democrats were getting was to raise the debt ceiling. So, within the room there, what concession are you willing to give in order to save the economy?

MCCARTHY: I'm willing to make America stronger, to curb inflation, less dependency on China, and spend less than we spent the year before. Because you know what, when we're elected, the power is loaned to us from the American public. Who's representing them?

It's not my responsibility to represent the socialist wing of the Democratic Party. If the Democrat socialist wing and Bernie Sanders cared so much, they would have passed the bill. They would have done something on the border.

It is not my fault they won't take action. It is not my fault that the president would not meet with me for 97 days. I'm sorry. But the moment he was willing to wait with me, I've been there each and every day. And I firmly believe we will get and solve this problem.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Speaker, how much time will you give your conference to read the debt ceiling bill once an agreement is reached?

MCCARTHY: 72 hours.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Speaker, can I get clarity on that?



MCCARTHY: OK, ask your questions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. OK. So, are you afraid that voters will blame Republicans for this crisis in any possible default, and what gives you hope that a deal can still be reached?

MCCARTHY: Well, first of all, I don't think there'll be a default. And I don't see how you would blame Republicans. If there's any blame Republicans have, we're the only ones who acted.

So as -- if the American public didn't want some -- if they get rewarded for not taking an action and ignoring the problem, the Democrats are going to win that award every day. They did that with Title 42 on the border.

They've done that with inflation. They'd lied to us and told us it was transitory. They did that with the debt ceiling. They told us we shouldn't talk. So, I'm sorry. If you want to blame Republicans for solving problems, we'll take that blame.


MCCARTHY: Yes, ma'am.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sir, thank you. Are you going for president -- (INAUDIBLE) -- if we default?

MCCARTHY: Look, I'm not -- the only thing I look at, if a Dem -- if the Democrats control the Senate and they control the White House, and they wouldn't even do a bill and they wouldn't even communicate, I don't think I have to say who's to blame. If the Republicans have passed a bill that raise the debt ceiling, did it in a responsible, sensible way, I think the American public understands that.

But first of all, let me tell the American public. I am not going to give up. We're not going to default. We're going to solve this problem. I will stay with it until we can get it done.

But let's be honest about this. We have to spend less than we spent last year. It is not my fault that the Democrats cannot give up on their spending. And you would think that we have the most revenue in history coming in but when the Democrats were in power, they spent the most money. So, we have the most expenses going out, the expenditures.


It's not -- it's not a revenue problem. It's a spending problem. And then you have the highest amount of debt, don't you think that would finally wake them up to be sensible? Now, look, I don't want to point things out but we have a new viewer with CNN.

I just heard on your news station that 60 percent of Americans believe the debt ceiling should only be raised after you found savings. So, to your question -- your question, I think we're representing the American public. And that's what we'll continue to do.


MCCARTHY: I apologize. I got -- I got to open up the House. I appreciate spending time with you. We'll continue to keep you updated as we go. And I look -- I look forward to the days ahead. Thank you all very much.



BOLDUAN: All right, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy with his take on -- and perspective on the state of play with the debt ceiling negotiations, which is, they are exactly where they were or at least that's what he's saying publicly. This -- well, let's --

BERMAN: I'm not sure they're exactly where there were. The very first thing he said, and we were in commercial so you didn't hear it was, I am sending my negotiators to the White House --


BERMAN: -- to finish up. He -- the word he used, and he made a bit of a mistake but he said it, was to finish up the discussions on raising the debt ceiling.

BOLDUAN: This was -- this was Kevin McCarthy trying -- it almost feels like cleaning up from his remarks from -- to Manu last night, which was our only concession is raising the debt ceiling.

SIDNER: Right.

BOLDUAN: Because they -- he clearly went out of his way as he did to say we are not going to default. I'm going to be here till the very end. But amongst a lot of it was a lot of public posturing, which is what they're going to do before they get to the end.

SIDNER: And he also said that he's going to give his Republicans 72 hours to read the bill. I mean, all of the things point to if they're going to make a deal. This is going forward. This is not further apart.

BERMAN: All right, Manu Raju, let's go to you. You're really at the center of this entire news conference. You know, the speaker quoting you taking questions from you. Again, negotiators going to the White House, the word he used was to finish the deal. I don't know whether that was deliberate or not but it does paint a slightly more optimistic picture than we'd heard the last 24 hours.

RAJU: Yes. He has been signaling that talks in his viewers are still productive. But also, his rhetoric indicates that they are nowhere near a deal, one that can get through both chambers of Congress and signed into law within a matter of days, given the fact that what he is still insisting on are things that Democrats have not agreed to.

So, the only indication is that there has been some change in the posture of the White House to agree on the spending cuts that he has been demanding as part of raising the national debt.

I tried to press him about the exact concessions he's willing to offer. As you know, yesterday, he said the only concession they're willing to make is to raise the national debt limit. Democrats want their priorities added to it as well in order to get Democratic votes in the House and the Senate.

He said that his priority is the Democratic concessions that he'd be willing to make are ones they've already rejected, including work requirements on social safety net programs, and spending caps, rolling back current spending levels to major areas of significant dispute with the White House.

So, unless there's been some paid change in the posture of the White House, they are still far away from getting a deal, which is why today's meeting with the top negotiators and the White House officials at the White House will be so significant if they can actually close the gap, get closer to getting a deal, announced something before the House is expected to leave town tomorrow and return as soon as next week if there is a deal.

All major questions that they head into this moment, but the speaker indicating there's still a lot of work to do.

BOLDUAN: Manu, we have seen -- McCarthy's still sticking to the three- day rule which is important not just for legislative purposes and rules of the House, but it's important obviously when you're looking at this timeline here. We've seen in the past that speakers have kind of thrown the three-day rule out the window at the last minute when need be. Are you -- are you hearing any openness to that?

RAJU: No. That would cause a revolt within the ranks.


RAJU: Already, McCarthy will have a difficult time holding his line within his conference who -- members who don't want him to call for any concessions beyond what they have already approved in the House, which is, of course, a non-starter to Democrats. If that's watered down in any way, expect sizable Republican defections on any bipartisan deal.

And if McCarthy were to bypass the 72 hours to review the legislation, he could potentially lose even more support, which is why he said that he will stick to that timeframe. And that adds to the time crunch here, given that June first if that is the real deadline here. Not much time to get to the House and it takes about a week to get through the Senate.

BERMAN: All right.

RAJU: So, so much riding on these talks, no deal yet, guys.

BERMAN: All right, Manu Raju on the Hill, thank you. I will say the stock market is on team Kate Bolduan, on this being a somewhat grim news conference from Kevin McCarthy. The markets dropping down now 266 points. That's since Kevin McCarthy started speaking.

SIDNER: That's right.