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The Key Strength Biden Brought to the Debt Ceiling Talks
Critics of his belief in bipartisan dialogue might have another think coming.
[On the June 2, 2023 episode of The Bulwark’s “Beg to Differ” podcast, hosted by Mona Charen, panelist Bill Galston discussed the key strength that Joe Biden brought to his negotiations with Republicans over the debt ceiling.]
Mona Charen: Bill Galston, let’s talk about the president. He was pretty clear-eyed, according to the press reports, about the danger to him if a default actually happened. He understood quite clearly that though Republicans might get blamed somewhat, it would still splash back on him because he’s the president. And no matter what, presidents get blamed for bad outcomes. And so he approached these negotiations with that in mind—that any sort of deal, pretty much, would be a win for him. And then he got a much better deal than even he might’ve expected, and he instructed all of his aides and allies, “Don’t boast.” So, what is your evaluation of this whole thing, and particularly of how Biden handled it?
Bill Galston: He’s a political realist and a pretty good negotiator. Those are his strengths. He has beliefs, but he’s not ideologically rigid as he tries to transmute those beliefs into actual policy. He is an experienced negotiator. I don’t think it’s any accident, comrades, that when there was negotiating to be done during the Obama administration, in the end, it was always Vice President Joe Biden who was sent to carry it out, in part because of his knowledge of the Senate, in part because he had the kind of temperament to do it.
Mona Charen: And Obama didn’t, let’s not forget.
Bill Galston: Well, yes. But the fact that Obama didn’t, didn’t necessarily mean that Joe Biden did.
Mona Charen: No, no, that’s fair. Yeah, all right.
Bill Galston: This kind of situation plays to his strengths. Another strength, I believe, is his instinctive opposition to the demonization of other individuals or the other party. Now, I can’t say he’s always been pure as the driven snow in carrying out that belief, and he goes over the top sometimes and succumbs to temptation. But by and large, he has never regarded people on the other side of the table as per se illegitimate.
And it’s clear that he was eager from day one to send the message to Kevin McCarthy that he viewed McCarthy as a legitimate dialogue partner, whatever their disagreements, and that he was not going to use specific disagreements, even with hardline Republicans, as a shillelagh to beat Republican negotiators over the head with.
I also have to say that McCarthy responded in kind by choosing serious people to head up the negotiation for the Republicans, and by going out of his way to praise the president’s negotiating team. So somehow, the president’s refusal to demonize the Republicans had the benign effect of inducing the Republicans not to try to demonize him and not to pick a hostile team just to make a political point. So, a lot of Democrats have been bashing Biden for his allegedly old-fashioned and obsolete views about the possibility of discussions across party lines. I would say that if you take what happened legislatively last year, and combine it with the outcome of the debt ceiling talks, maybe it’s time for those critical Democrats to re-examine their criticism.
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