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Biden cancels Australia visit to negotiate debt limit increase

By Ben Marquis
|
May 17, 2023

According to the Treasury Department, a deal on increasing the nation's debt limit must be reached between Congress and the White House and enacted before June 1 to avoid a possible default on the government's debt obligations, leaving only about a week's worth of time remaining for negotiations on an agreement.

With the debt default deadline fast approaching, the White House revealed on Tuesday that President Joe Biden will cut short a planned overseas trip this week and return to Washington D.C. by the weekend, according to the Daily Mail.

The president still planned to depart on Wednesday for a trip to Japan to participate in a G7 meeting, but now will return to the White House after that event concludes instead of traveling on to visit Australia and New Guinea, as had initially been planned.

Biden Still Set to Visit Japan for G7 Meeting

There had been rumors swirling of potential changes to President Biden's travel plans this week in light of the ongoing talks over the debt limit and default and the topic came up during Tuesday's White House press briefing with press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and National Security Council spokesman John Kirby.

Kirby gave a detailed rundown of Biden's itinerary for the trip to Japan for the G7 meeting but conspicuously said nothing about any plans for the previously scheduled visits to Australia and New Guinea.

When asked by multiple reporters if that meant that plans had been changed and the back half of the trip had been canceled, Kirby was noncommittal and simply repeated some variation of "we’re reevaluating the rest of the trip" in response to those questions.

Visits to Australia and New Guinea Postponed

Just a short while after that press briefing was finished, however, the White House released a statement from Jean-Pierre to announce that "President Biden will return to the United States on Sunday, following the completion of the G7 summit, in order to be back for meetings with Congressional leaders to ensure that Congress takes action by the deadline to avert default."

She noted that Biden had personally spoken with Australia's prime minister about the postponed visit and that Biden had offered an official state visit to the U.S. at a later date, as well as that his team had also shared the news of the canceled plans with New Guinea officials.

"The President has made clear that members of Congress from both parties and chambers must come together to prevent default, as they have 78 times before," Jean-Pierre said. "The President and his team will continue to work with Congressional leadership to deliver a budget agreement that can reach the President’s desk."

The press secretary noted in conclusion that one of Biden's top priorities was "Revitalizing and reinvigorating our alliances and advancing partnerships like the Quad" -- the U.S., Australia, India, and Japan -- and that "We look forward to finding other ways to engage with Australia, the Quad, Papua New Guinea and the leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum in the coming year."

White House Meeting With Congressional Leadership

Also on Tuesday, the White House released a readout of President Biden's meeting that afternoon with the top four members of congressional leadership -- House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (CA-20), House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (NY-08), Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (NY), and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (KY).

That Oval Office meeting was described as "productive and direct" and focused on ensuring that the nation does not default on its debt obligations for the first time in history.

"The President emphasized that while more work remains on a range of difficult issues, he’s optimistic that there is a path to a responsible, bipartisan budget agreement if both sides negotiate in good faith and recognize that neither side will get everything it wants," the readout stated.

It added, "The President directed staff to continue to meet daily on outstanding issues. He said that he would like to check in with leaders later this week by phone, and meet with them upon his return from overseas."

And, though not mentioned in the readout, Jean-Pierre had revealed earlier during the press briefing that Vice President Kamala Harris would be in attendance as well, though she refused to confirm if her inclusion meant that Harris would potentially play a leading role in negotiations with Congress while Biden was in Japan.

Biden Reportedly Now Open to Considering GOP Proposals

The Daily Mail also reported that in contrast to the past several weeks and months, in which the White House and Democrats have steadfastly refused to even discuss Republican proposals for spending cuts and other reforms in exchange for lifting the debt ceiling, there are rumblings now that Biden is suddenly open to considering some of those proposals ahead of the June 1 deadline for the debt limit to be raised or risk default.

That reportedly includes things like stricter work requirements for recipients of certain welfare programs, a "clawback" of unspent COVID-19 relief funds, and even caps on discretionary spending for the next couple of years.