Biden was pressed on the issue Wednesday and presented it mostly as something for the House of Representatives to figure out out on its own. When asked his advice for the next speaker, Biden replied, “That’s above my pay grade.”
“We had two agreements we shook hands with,” the president said. “It wasn’t for me to do anything. If he wanted to talk to me, I was available. I’m available for whomever wants to talk to me, but the idea that I was going to somehow convince McCarthy to change his view was not reasonable.”
That came in response to a question about his relationship with former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and drew the ire of some conservatives.
At the same time, Biden acknowledged that he’ll need to have a functional Congress in order to keep the country running.
“We cannot and should not, again be faced with eleventh-hour decision of brinkmanship which threatens to shut down the government,” the president said. “And then we need to change the poisonous atmosphere in Washington.”
He then spoke of working in a bipartisan fashion, though he did not elaborate on how the atmosphere would change.
Biden further acknowledged that dysfunction could jeopardize Ukraine funding, promising a major speech to make his case for why it’s important for the United States to keep its commitment to the embattled nation.
It doesn’t appear he’ll be making any similar efforts to change hearts and minds in the speakership saga.
That’s the right call to make, according to Democratic strategist Stefan Hankin.
“If your opponents are shooting at each other in a circular firing squad, why jump in the middle?” he asked. “It’s not like the far-right faction is looking for guidance from Biden.”
On a more egalitarian note, Hankin pointed to separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches of government to suggest that Biden should not get involved in the internal affairs of Congress.
That appears to be the stance of the Biden administration, with press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre saying she hopes a new speaker is selected quickly “because the urgent challenges facing our nation will not wait.” But she reiterated it is the House’s responsibility to do so.
The answer the White House gets could be worse than what it faced with McCarthy. House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-LA) is racking up endorsements, as is hard-liner House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan (R-OH).
And despite not being in office, former President Donald Trump signed he’d like to get involved as well. Trump has said he’ll do whatever is necessary to help select the new speaker.
Biden has more familiarity with Congress than most presidents, having spent 36 years as a senator. In that respect, Sarah Lawrence College politics professor Samuel Abrams compares him to Lyndon B. Johnson, with a few key differences.
“He’s a guy who understands Congress and these institutions better than almost anybody. He’s also smart enough to know that we keep separation of powers clear, so he’s doing that,” Abrams said. “He also doesn’t necessarily have the energy or stamina [that LBJ had].”
Presidents in the past have flexed their muscle by hosting members of Congress at Camp David or aboard Air Force One or working them over the phone. LBJ even cornered people in bathrooms. But Abrams argues that Biden is thus wise to stay out of this particular battle.
“I don’t think he sees a lot of upside to trying to force these coalitions,” Abrams said.
That puts him in league with Democratic strategist Tom Cochran.
“With the separation of powers, it’s the responsibility of Congress to fix Congress,” said Cochran, a partner at 720 Strategies. “It’s not the president’s responsibility.”