Democratic leader Rep. Hakeem Jeffries discusses latest debt ceiling negotiations

Lawmakers are working on borrowed time with the nation $31 trillion in debt and projected to be unable to pay its bills in a matter of weeks. But a day after President Biden and key Republican leaders met for the first time, the two sides appear no closer to a deal. Geoff Bennett discussed the negotiations with Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, the top Democrat in the House of Representatives.

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  • Geoff Bennett:

    Welcome to the "NewsHour."

    Lawmakers are working on borrowed time, with the nation $31 trillion in debt and potentially unable to pay its bills in a matter of weeks without Congress raising the debt ceiling. But a day after the president and key congressional leaders met for the first time to find a way forward, the two sides appear no closer to a deal.

    Joe Biden, President of the United States: They're literally, not figuratively, holding the economy hostage by threatening to default on our nation's debt.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    President Biden today calling out Republican lawmakers as he makes the case for urgent action by Congress to avoid a default on the nation's debt.

  • Joe Biden:

    If we default on our debt, the whole world is in trouble. This is a manufactured crisis.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    The president took his message just north of New York City.

  • Joe Biden:

    Republican Congressman Mike Lawler is here as well.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Applying pressure to a vulnerable GOP congressman from the region.

  • Joe Biden:

    We're going to get started, and we are going to solve all the world's problems.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    The president's visit comes a day after he hosted top Republican and Democratic congressional leaders at the White House for talks aimed at breaking the impasse and avoiding an historic default the Treasury Department warns could come within weeks.

    But that meeting yielded little progress on an agreement. The window for negotiating a deal is closing. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen says the U.S. could run out of cash to meet its debt obligations as early as June 1, with a catastrophic impact on the global economy.

    Democrats insist debates over future spending shouldn't be tied to paying old debts.

  • Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA):

    All Democrats are saying is, pay the bills.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Republicans argue the two discussions are inseparable.

  • Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA):

    It's not just the debt ceiling crisis. It's also the spending problem in Washington that got us here.

  • Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT):

    A negotiation has to occur. The consequence of not doing that is too severe. And let me tell you, when bad stuff hits the fan, everyone ends up getting dirty.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Democratic and Republicans leaders are set to meet again at the White House on Friday.

    As the top Democrat in the House of Representatives, New York Congressman Hakeem Jeffries plays a key role in the debt ceiling negotiations.

    I spoke with him earlier.

    House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries, welcome to the "NewsHour." Thanks so much for being with us.

  • Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY):

    Good evening. Great to be with you.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    After yesterday's White House meeting, what's the path forward on raising the debt ceiling?

    House Republicans and nearly every Senate Republican, 43 of them, say they won't vote to raise the debt ceiling without significant spending cuts. And Democrats, of course, don't accept that premise.

  • Rep. Hakeem Jeffries:

    Well, President Biden, House and Senate Democrats continue to make clear that there's only one reasonable, acceptable, responsible path forward, which is to make sure that we avoid a dangerous default on our debt in a manner consistent with what has been done under Democratic presidents and Republican presidents for decades.

    It's unfortunate that many of the extreme MAGA Republicans in the Capitol have chosen to put the country in a hostage-taking situation and essentially say to us that either we must accept the default on America act with extreme cuts to Medicaid that would impact disabled children and seniors, extreme cuts to health care, extreme cuts to law enforcement, extreme cuts to food insecurity programs, as well as extreme cuts to education.

    Accept the default on America act is their position, or else we will default. And that's just inherently unreasonable. I'm thankful that President Biden convened us yesterday to have a conversation, House, Senate, along with the administration, and will be bringing us back together on Friday to see where's the common ground, where are the areas of disagreement, and how can we bridge those gaps in order to make sure that we avoid a default?

    So we're on a path, hopefully, to resolving this issue sooner, rather than later.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Speaker McCarthy told reporters yesterday that he believes that the White House and congressional leaders need to arrive at a deal by next week in order to pass legislation that would raise the debt limit by early June.

    Do you share that assessment? And is that timeline realistic?

  • Rep. Hakeem Jeffries:

    Well, I share the assessment that we need to resolve this issue sooner, rather than later.

    Even flirting with a default could trigger a job-killing recession. It could crash the stock market. That will hurt millions and millions of retirees across the country. It's also going to dramatically raise costs. And so, hopefully, on Friday, the Republican leadership will see fit to come together, sit down, have a reasonable discussion about finding common ground, and take us out of this hostage-taking situation.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    It appears the White House has ruled out a short-term increase of the debt ceiling, to do that while the negotiations continue.

    Is there a universe, though, where this could happen on parallel tracks, that the debt ceiling is raised and there is a separate agreement on spending cuts? Both sides get what they want. Both sides get to declare victory.

  • Rep. Hakeem Jeffries:

    Well, President Biden's position from the very beginning, which has also been the position of Leader Schumer, Senate and House Democrats, is that we must avoid a default on our debt.

    But, simultaneously, we are, of course, open and willing and ready and able to have a discussion about what future spending priorities, what future investment priorities, and what future revenue should look like to make sure that we're protecting the health, safety, and economic well-being of the American people.

    Geoff, that is something that we do here in Congress every year. But we can't do it with a gun being held to the head of the American people by the extreme MAGA Republicans here in the Capitol threatening a dangerous default. And, hopefully, again, on Friday, when we have this meeting, we can arrive at a path forward to do what is necessary to pay America's bills.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    A question about Title 42. The U.S. is bracing for the expiration of that pandemic-era border restriction.

    Two of your Democratic colleagues in border states, Ruben Gallego of Arizona and Vicente Gonzalez of Texas, say their communities don't have the resources and they don't have the infrastructure they need to keep pace with an expected surge of migrants.

    President Biden acknowledged the situation, in his words, would be chaotic for a while.

    The question is, why? Why should the situation be chaotic, when the administration had two years to prepare for it?

  • Rep. Hakeem Jeffries:

    Well, we're facing an unprecedented surge of migrants from Venezuela, Cuba, from Haiti, from the Central American Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras.

    And I think the administration has done all that it can with the resources that it has been provided. Clearly, the administration needs more in order to fully establish order at the border and a pathway forward, a pathway forward that should involve making sure that our values as a nation of immigrants, as a compassionate nation, are also not violated; they're vindicated.

    Congress should come together. Earlier today, Congresswoman Linda Sanchez introduced the U.S. Citizenship Act, which is a comprehensive immigration reform bill anchored in common sense and compassion and consistent with our country's history as a nation anchored in the rule of law.

    That's the approach that we should take moving forward. Unfortunately, what we see from the extreme MAGA Republicans here in Washington, D.C., is that they are trying to bring forth an immigration bill that will throw children out of the country, break up families, and spend billions of dollars in — or in the effort to construct a medieval border wall that is a failed policy of the former president of the United States of America, a 14th century solution to a 21st century problem.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Should President Biden consider reinstating Title 42, as even some Democrats have suggested, do you think?

  • Rep. Hakeem Jeffries:

    Well, the public health emergency is over.

    But there are tools that will be available to the administration, as has been indicated. With Title 42 lapsing, Title 8 does provide some ability for the Biden administration to manage the situation at the border. But we are going to have to provide the Department of Homeland Security with additional resources, so that it can do its job.

    And I urge my Republican colleagues to join us in making sure that the Department of Homeland Security has those resources so it can appropriately conduct itself along the border.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    This is your first time on the "NewsHour" in your capacity as House Democratic leader.

    And I want to take the occasion to ask you, one, how you view your role, and, two, what Democrats hope to achieve even while in the minority right now.

  • Rep. Hakeem Jeffries:

    Well, we want to continue to try to find common ground whenever and wherever possible with the other side of the aisle. That's what we've always been about.

    The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act was bipartisan, the CHIPS and Science ACT bipartisan, Safer Communities Act bipartisan. Many of the things that we've done over the last several years have been bipartisan in nature. So we're going to continue to try to find common ground to make life better for everyday Americans and build an economy from the middle out and the bottom up under the leadership of President Biden.

    And, at the same time, we are going to push back against extremism whenever necessary. And, unfortunately, in the House of Representatives, we see a lot of extremism on issues like reproductive freedom, or gun safety and the inability to do something on this issue, or even on democracy, and we will continue to stand strong against that extremism.

    It's been an honor to serve the people of the 8th Congressional District, to previously serve as chair of the House Democratic Caucus, and a honor to now serve in this position. And it's just consistent with America as a country, a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

    I emerged from a working-class community in Crown Heights. I think that's the best of the American tradition of sending people to Washington, D.C., who try our best to represent those individuals who are privileged to serve.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries, thanks for your time, sir.

    Good to see you.

  • Rep. Hakeem Jeffries:

    Thank you.

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