Updated 8:41 p.m.
President Obama became “very agitated” and “abruptly” walked out of the latest round of debt-limit talks on Wednesday after House Republicans proposed splitting up the vote to raise the federal borrowing limit into two separate votes, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said Wednesday evening.
At an impromptu news conference shortly after returning to the Capitol from a meeting at the White House, Cantor told reporters that Obama became angry when the No. 2 House Republican announced that he was willing to drop his insistence on only one vote on raising the country’s $14.3 trillion debt ceiling. Obama said at a news conference earlier this week that he would veto any short-term debt-limit proposal, a threat that the president renewed Wednesday, according to a Cantor spokesman.
“I asked the president, would that be something that he would consider,” Cantor told reporters. “Well, that’s when he got very agitated, seemingly, and said that he had sat here long enough and that no other president — Ronald Reagan wouldn’t sit here like this, and he’s reached the point where something’s got to give.”
“So he said, ‘You’ve either got to compromise on your dollar-for-dollar insistence, or you’ve got to compromise on the big deal,’ which means on raising taxes,” Cantor continued. “And he said to me, ‘Eric, don’t call my bluff.’ He said, ‘I’m going to the American people on this.’ Again, I was somewhat taken aback, because look, I was compromising.”
At that point, Cantor said, Obama “shoved back [from the table] and said, ‘I’ll see you tomorrow,’ and he walked out.”
A Democratic aide with knowledge of the talks said that the incident happened as Obama was wrapping up the meeting and that Cantor had already made the two-vote proposal two separate times during Wednesday’s huddle. Cantor interrupted Obama to raise the idea a third time, the aide said, and at that point, Obama became “irritated” because the point had already been discussed.
Democratic officials told the Associated Press that Obama announced: “Enough is enough. We have to be willing to compromise. It shouldn’t be about positioning and politics, and I’ll see you all tomorrow.” The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the closed-door meeting.
And a senior Democratic aide told the Reuters news service that “Cantor’s account of tonight’s meeting is completely overblown,” adding that Cantor exhibited “juvenile behavior” by repeatedly interrupting Obama.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a statement Wednesday night that House Democrats would continue to take part in the negotiations and that the Moody’s announcement “is a another clear indication of the need to act and to act soon in order to remove all doubt that the United States will not default on its obligations.”
“The President has extended the respect and the courtesy to the bipartisan House and Senate leaders to listen to their concerns, their priorities, and their suggestions at extensive meetings over the past few weeks, and now we have a responsibility to act,” Pelosi said.
Cantor, who had previously been strongly opposed to anything other than a single debt-limit vote, told reporters that he made the new proposal Wednesday after Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner told leaders assembled at the White House that Moody’s was considering downgrading the United States credit rating. Cantor said that he proposed the new plan as a means of avoiding default.
“I don’t want to see us rattle the markets,” Cantor said. “As [Senate Minority] Leader [Mitch] McConnell had said earlier, we don’t want default. So that was the reason why I came off of our position – just seeing the lay of the land.”
Negotiators have been aiming for a deal that would secure at least $2.4 trillion in deficit savings in order to extend the debt limit through the end of next year. Cantor charged Wednesday that the White House’s figure for those potential deficit savings was consistently “going downward,” from $1.8 trillion last week to “not even” $1.4 trillion, due to Democrats’ insistence on the inclusion of unemployment insurance and health-care expenditures in the final deal.
It wasn’t immediately clear whether Cantor and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) had coordinated on the two-vote plan. Cantor told reporters that he’d “talked to the speaker this morning several times” and that the two discussed how far apart the parties are and “that we’re now going back on the positive momentum that we had in the Biden talks.”