Biden and speaker-in-waiting McCarthy careen toward rocky relationship

President Joe Biden prides himself in his willingness to reach across the political aisle, but House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who could be the next speaker in January, is poised to be a difficult opponent.

After surviving an intraparty challenge to remain the top House Republican, McCarthy has made overtures to his right, aware that his predecessors Paul Ryan (R-WI) and John Boehner (R-OH) were forced out by the hard-line faction. Simultaneously, Biden has expressed his desire to collaborate with the GOP while listing very liberal priorities that are unlikely to attract conservative support.

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Despite Biden’s rhetoric, Reagan biographer Craig Shirley dismissed the idea Biden and McCarthy’s relationship will be cordial and productive, attributing their potential problems to the president being “a hardcore leftist only interested in scoring points.”

“I expect nothing to get done in the next two years as a result, which will at least make Wall Street happy,” Shirley told the Washington Examiner. “Biden’s base would crucify him if he dealt with the Republicans, and the Republicans wouldn’t be too happy either. They are just too polarized.”

“They won’t come together on anything, even over ice cream,” he said, alluding to Biden’s penchant for the dessert.

Another Republican strategist, Cesar Conda, agreed, predicting the next two years will be defined by confrontation instead of cooperation. Citing the $550 billion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the $280 billion CHIPS and Science Act, Conda is hopeful Biden and McCarthy can respond to China since there is consensus on decoupling supply chains and introducing more export controls, among other policies.

“Perhaps some immigration and border security reforms that don’t include mass amnesty,” the Navigators Global, LLC founding principal and policy adviser said. “There will have to be some deal on raising the debt limit. But given the polarized political environment going into a presidential election, it’ll be tough to find very many areas of cooperation.”

Biden congratulated McCarthy after Republicans clinched their narrowest House majority for a Democratic president in 40 years, repeating he is “ready to work” with the GOP on, for example, expanding abortion access.

“In this election, voters spoke clearly about their concerns: the need to lower costs, protect the right to choose, and preserve our democracy,” he wrote in a statement. “I will work with anyone — Republican or Democrat — willing to work with me to deliver results for them.”

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre declined to describe Biden and McCarthy’s relationship, with the president himself providing very few details. The pair’s congressional careers only overlapped for two years from 2007 when Biden was one of Delaware’s two senators and McCarthy was elected to represent his home Bakersfield, California-anchored district.

“I think he’s the Republican leader, and I haven’t had much of occasion to talk to him, but I will be talking to him,” Biden said during his post-election press conference.

McCarthy has downplayed the possibility of compromise, crediting his intention to derail Biden’s agenda as a reason why Republicans now control the House. He has also promised to remove three Democrats from their committees: Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Adam Schiff (D-CA), and Eric Swalwell (D-CA).

The Democratic National Committee has continued criticizing McCarthy as “beholden” to the “extreme far-right wing of the Republican Party,” contending he has already demonstrated his inability to wrangle them. Biden did call McCarthy a “MAGA” GOP member on the campaign trail as well.

House Minority Leader-elect Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) is similarly ill-prepared to liaise with McCarthy, despite serving together in Congress since 2013. Jeffries conceded last weekend he has not conversed with McCarthy “recently” and has quipped, “Kevin who?” when asked about him in the past.

“I do have, I think, a much warmer relationship with Steve Scalise [R-LA],” Jeffries, the first black leader of a congressional caucus, told CNN of the incoming House majority leader.

Shirley argued Jeffries “will simply be a troublemaker, like a bad kid on the playground.”

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Although House Republicans are creating headaches for McCarthy, Biden’s thorn, liberal House Democrats, have coalesced behind the president, at least Congressional Progressive Caucus Chairwoman Pramila Jayapal (D-WA). Jayapal’s endorsement of Biden’s unconfirmed 2024 reelection bid coincides with Democrats overperforming in this month’s midterm elections.

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