Vice President Joe Biden has been the White House’s point person for reaching a debt-ceiling deal since day one, so it was only natural that he was dispatched to Capitol Hill on Monday to move the ball over the finish line.
“I didn’t go to convince, I went to explain,” Biden told reporters after back-to-back meetings with Senate and House Democrats today.
Forget the debt deal. Biden is now being asked by Republicans to explain comments attributed to him likening talks with conservative “tea party” lawmakers to negotiations with terrorists.
According to Politico, Pennsylvania Rep. Mike Doyle was the one who introduced the analogy, saying that a “small group of terrorists have made it impossible to spend any money.” Biden accepted the premise, saying to the wary caucus: “They have acted like terrorists.”
Republicans were incensed by the comparison.
RNC chairman Reince Priebus said the vice president “more than crossed a line today,” and demanded an apology.
The office of Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a tea party favorite, offered this twist: “With the president holding the American economy hostage, I would prefer to think of myself as a freedom fighter.”
Biden denied that he ever called Republicans “terrorists.”
“I did not use the terrorism word,” he told “CBS Evening News” anchor Scott Pelley. “What happened was there were some people who said they felt like they were being held hostage by terrorists. I never said that they were terrorists or weren’t terrorists, I just let them vent.”
At ease in his natural habitat -- he was a senator for 36 years before moving to the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue -- Biden displayed trademark candor behind closed doors. In the same meeting with House Democrats, Biden made another comment that could have had more significant consequences on the planned debt-ceiling vote Monday night.
Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) told reporters that Biden said President Obama “was willing to invoke the 14th Amendment” if the parties could not reach a debt deal by Tuesday’s deadline.
A sizable group of Democrats have long advocated a clean debt-ceiling increase, without the steep spending cuts Republicans demanded. If one could not be passed, they felt Obama should have used that 14th Amendment option to raise the debt limit unilaterally -- a risky gambit that some legal scholars said may not have been constitutional.
Biden’s admission risked pushing Democrats already skeptical of the proposal to move into the firm “no” column.
“I think that’s the best option now, invoke the 14th Amendment and don’t go forward with this package,” DeFazio said.