White House throws cold water on Biden using 14th Amendment for debt ceiling deal

With eight days to go before a potential default, the White House and Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) continue debt ceiling negotiations after failing to reach a deal on Tuesday.

Democrats like U.S. Rep. James Clyburn, from South Carolina, threaten the unprecedented use of the 14th Amendment as a viable alternative, with the former Democratic whip saying Tuesday during an appearance on MSNBC: “The 14th Amendment is still there and, as president of the United States, [Biden] has some authority to use it.”

When asked about the 14th Amendment at Tuesday’s press briefing, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre essentially threw cold water on the proposal.

“It sounds like the White House is now ruling out invoking the 14th Amendment as an option to get around the debt ceiling. Is that accurate?” a reporter asked.

“What I can say is it is not going to fix the current problem that we have right now, which right now, what is going to deal with getting the debt limit done is for Congress to act,” KJP replied. “And that’s what we’ve been very clear on.”

“So, if it won’t fix the current problem, that means that’s not a possibility that the president will pursue,” the reporter pressed.

“Look, I — I’m not going to go beyond what the president has said.  He’s made it very clear it’s not going to solve our problems.  That is just where we are,” the press secretary said. “Congress needs to do its job.  They need to do a job that has been happening since 1960, which is lifting the debt limit more than 78 times.”

Earlier in the briefing, Jean-Pierre stressed the same point that the 14th Amendment “is not going to deal with the problem that we are currently having at this moment, at this time.”

“What we need to focus on is Congress acting, is Congress doing their constitutional duty and dealing with the debt limit,” she added.

President Biden was singing a somewhat different tune on Sunday during a press conference in Hiroshima, Japan, saying he had the authority.

“I’m looking at the 14th Amendment as to whether or not we have the authority — I think we have the authority,” the president said. “The question is, could it be done and invoked in time that it would not be appealed, and as a consequence past the date in question and still default on the debt? That is a question that I think is unresolved.”

George Washington University Law professor Jonathan Turley offered his take on that authority in a column he posted on his website.

“Biden is not the first president to disregard legislative authority. But these members of the legislative branch are beseeching their leader to ignore them and their constitutional authority,” he wrote. “Indeed, the most important power given to Congress under Article I is the ‘power of the purse.’ It was the ultimate control over government. Whatever entanglements or commitments a president may seek, he must ultimately get the Congress to go along.”

“George Mason captured that intent when he declared that ‘no branch of government should ever be able to combine the power of the sword with the power of the purse.’ This purported 14th Amendment loophole would reduce the separation of powers doctrine to junk bond status,” Turley added. “Barack Obama previously rejected this theory and said that Congress had to give him the authority to raise the debt limit.”

Tom Tillison


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