WASHINGTON — President Biden left the White House Friday ahead of Memorial Day weekend despite criticism from fellow Democrats for not being more involved in debt-ceiling talks.
“With regard to the debt limit, things are looking good, very optimistic,” Biden told reporters on the White House lawn as he departed around 6:20 p.m.
“I hope we’ll have some clear evidence tonight before the clock strikes 12 that we have a deal, but it’s very close.
“And I’m optimistic.”
Biden departed for jaunts to Camp David and Delaware as House Democrats are slamming his hands-off approach to avoiding what the White House says could be a ruinous federal debt default.
Signaling that a deal might not be so close, the White House press office released a statement attacking House Republicans for pushing for a “cruel and senseless” work requirement for food stamps — just moments after Biden struck a more upbeat tone to reporters.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said Friday afternoon the government won’t run out of money until June 5, four days later than expected, taking some pressure off the talks, though any deal still would have to be pushed through both the House and Senate, where members of both parties have expressed opposition to the terms of some major points of possible compromise.
Biden will fly Friday evening to Camp David in Maryland and from the forested mountain compound to his home in Wilmington, Del., on Sunday.
The president is scheduled to return to DC later on Sunday.
After visiting Arlington National Cemetery to honor the nation’s war dead Monday, he will yet again chopper to Delaware.
An anonymous House Democrat griped about Biden’s travel plans to Politico, exclaiming, “Please tell me that’s not true,” when told of Biden’s plans to leave town.
“You’re going to see a caucus that’s so pissed if he’s stupid enough to do that,” the lawmaker said.
Biden hosted just two events Friday — to celebrate the winning teams of the March Madness men’s and women’s basketball competitions. The celebration of the women’s Louisiana State University team was marked by freshman forward Sa’Myah Smith collapsing during Biden’s address.
A top White House negotiator, budget director Shalanda Young, attended the LSU event, as did Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.), who is one of the leading GOP negotiators.
“Shalanda Young back there, direct of management and budget, putting together a deal — hopefully,” Biden said.
“[Young] is now helping me with the critical budget talks we’re in the middle of now. But she said, ‘I’m leaving the talks to be here.’”
At the late-afternoon event with the University of Connecticut men’s team, Biden spoke little of the financial fight, telling Vice President Kamala Harris’ husband Douglas Emhoff that the term second gentleman “sounds ridiculous.”
“I’m bored with me, too,” Biden joked as a child wailed, before telling a young boy, “I want to know who your haberdasher is.”
The optics of Biden leaving town amid debt talks outraged fellow Democrats in part because of Biden’s hands-off approach.
For months, the White House refused to negotiate with House Republicans on spending cuts in exchange for a debt-ceiling hike.
“It’s time to bring the president off the bench, or bring somebody off the bench. No one’s responding to anything. Kevin’s consistently on message,” an anonymous House Democrat told Politico, referring to House Speaker McCarthy.
“We have the Oval Office. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Although the White House has warned that failure to reach a deal could result in a US debt default, some conservatives scoff at the notion, arguing the Constitution would require debt payments to be made from the ongoing federal cash flow.
Yellen’s Friday afternoon statement stalling the debt-talks deadline said, “Based on the most recent available data, we now estimate that Treasury will have insufficient resources to satisfy the government’s obligations if Congress has not raised or suspended the debt limit by June 5.”