The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

McConnell vows Republicans will not help raise debt ceiling in December

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, center, with members of the media at the U.S. Capitol on Oct. 6. (Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg News)

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Friday vowed that Republicans will not offer any more assistance to raise the nation’s debt ceiling. In a letter sent to President Biden, McConnell made clear he would be willing to allow the United States to default on its national debt rather than work with Democrats.

The letter came a day after the Senate passed a bill on a party-line vote to raise the nation’s debt ceiling through early December, temporarily staving off a potential government shutdown and default. McConnell and Biden also spoke about the matter by phone Friday, said a person familiar with the conversation who spoke on the condition of anonymity to confirm a private phone call.

In the letter to Biden, McConnell took credit on behalf of Republicans for having “filled the leadership vacuum,” likely referring to the handful of GOP senators who had helped advance Thursday’s measure procedurally. No Republican senators ultimately supported the final measure, which passed on a 50-to-48 vote.

After the vote Thursday night, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) took to the Senate floor to praise the result — and to blast Republicans for what he described as a “risky drama.” What had been avoided, Schumer said, was “a first-ever, Republican-manufactured default on the national debt.”

“Republicans played a dangerous and risky partisan game, and I am glad that their brinksmanship did not work,” Schumer added. “For the good of America’s families, for the good of our economy, Republicans must recognize in the future that they should approach fixing the debt limit in a bipartisan way.”

McConnell said that Schumer’s speech had “poisoned the well even further” and indicated that, when the issue arises again in December, Democrats should not bank on any Republican help.

“Last night, in a bizarre spectacle, Senator Schumer exploded in a rant that was so partisan, angry, and corrosive that even Democratic Senators were visibly embarrassed by him and for him,” McConnell wrote. “This childish behavior only further alienated the Republican members who helped facilitate this short-term patch.”

On Oct. 7, Sens. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), John Thune (R-S.D.), and Mitt Romney (R-Utah) expressed frustration over Majority Leader Schumer's floor speech. (Video: The Washington Post)

Representatives for the White House and for Schumer’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday night.

The Republicans’ opposition to raising the debt ceiling in a bipartisan manner had for weeks frustrated Schumer and his fellow Democrats, who repeatedly pointed out that the debt ceiling covered past spending, including bipartisan initiatives to respond to the coronavirus pandemic enacted last year. But the entreaties failed to loosen the GOP blockade until McConnell offered a roughly two-month extension after meeting with his conference Wednesday.

That deal drew attacks from former president Donald Trump, who mocked McConnell’s offer as a weak surrender.

“Looks like Mitch McConnell is folding to the Democrats, again,” Trump said in a statement Thursday. “He’s got all of the cards with the debt ceiling, it’s time to play the hand. Don’t let them destroy our Country!”

On Friday, McConnell told Biden that Democrats would need to raise the debt ceiling in December through the process of reconciliation, which would not require Republican votes.

“Your lieutenants on Capitol Hill now have the time they claimed they lacked to address the debt ceiling through standalone reconciliation, and all the tools to do it. They cannot invent another crisis and ask for my help,” McConnell wrote.

After Congress passed a short-term funding bill to keep the government open through Dec. 3, Democrats are back to finalizing President Biden’s domestic agenda. (Video: Mahlia Posey/The Washington Post)

Many Democrats had been calling to change the Senate’s filibuster rules to raise the debt ceiling through reconciliation, but faced resistance within their own party — most notably from Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), who on Thursday could be seen reacting to Schumer’s floor speech by placing his head in his hands.

Manchin joined the Republican chorus to criticize Schumer’s speech afterward.

“I didn’t think it was appropriate at this time,” Manchin told CNN’s Manu Raju late Thursday as he left the Capitol. “I just think that basically what we’ve got to do is find a pathway forward, to make sure that we de-weaponize. We have to de-weaponize.”

Manchin did not elaborate when asked how the Senate would raise the debt ceiling come December if Republicans once again refused to cooperate but suggested he was still opposed to eliminating the filibuster rules.

Seung Min Kim and Tony Romm contributed to this report.