May 24, 2023, 2:13pm EDT

White House looks to turn Matt Gaetz's 'hostage' comments against the GOP

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The Scoop

The White House is looking to turn recent comments by Rep. Matt Gaetz into a cudgel in its messaging battle over the debt ceiling, after the Florida Republican eagerly described himself and his fellow conservatives as “hostage” takers.

“MAGA Republicans explicitly yelled the quiet part out loud,” says a new memo from White House Deputy Press Secretary Andrew Bates.

On Tuesday, Gaetz told Semafor that hardline members of the GOP conference were uninterested in making new concessions on a debt ceiling deal, having already passed their own party-line legislation.  “I think my conservative colleagues for the most part support Limit, Save, Grow, and they don’t feel like we should negotiate with our hostage,” Gaetz said.

The administration’s memo accuses the House GOP leaders of “caving to the most extreme MAGA Republican members” and warns a default could sink the country into a calamitous recession.

“Stop holding millions of people ‘hostage’ who don’t have $100,000 to spend on chapstick,” the memo’s subject line reads, a reference to the recent House GOP auction of chapstick that Speaker Kevin McCarthy used.

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Know More

Gaetz isn’t the only conservative pressuring Republican leadership to not budge in negotiations. Rep. Chip Roy of Texas, an influential member of the House Freedom Caucus, sent a memo to House Republicans warning against any compromise on the GOP’s debt limit bill.

It listed the bill’s key planks including revoking clean energy tax credits, securing decade-long budget caps, and handing Congress more power in approving federal regulations, among others.  “Each are critical and none should be abandoned solely for the quest of a deal,” the Roy memo said.

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Joseph's view

Democrats have spent weeks arguing that Republicans are effectively pointing a gun at the economy, as Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen put it, by threatening not to raise the debt ceiling unless the White House agrees to major budget cuts.

It’s unclear how well the message has resonated with voters. A recent poll by CNN found that 60% of Americans believed Congress should only raise the government’s borrowing if it cuts spending at the same time. However, 51% of adults told Monmouth University that the debt ceiling and spending should be dealt with separately — suggesting that answers on the issue may be sensitive to how the question is framed.

Still, there’s a sense of concern among some Democrats that they’re losing the PR battle, as well as fear that any final deal could contain aggressive spending reductions and broader work requirements for safety net programs.

That’s creating a sense of whiplash among some Democrats, after many championed President Biden’s expansive budget at the start of the debt limit standoff earlier in the year.

“We were talking about reinstating the expanded CTC, now we’re talking about work requirements for food assistance,” a Senate Democratic aide told Semafor.


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