The White House chief of staff says it's on House Republicans to avert a shutdown

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Jeff Zients is the chief of staff for President Biden, seen in this photo taken on May 16, 2023. He works with federal agencies so that they are prepared for a shutdown this weekend.

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Jeff Zients is the chief of staff for President Biden, seen in this photo taken at the Oval Office, May 16, 2023. He works with federal agencies on preparing for a shutdown of government this weekend.

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The White House is getting ready to communicate with the public and with federal workers in the event that Congress fails to reach a last-second agreement to keep the government funded beyond Saturday night, President Biden’s chief of staff Jeff Zients told NPR.

But it doesn’t seem likely that Biden will be communicating face-to-face with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy about the funding impasse in the immediate future.

“There’s no need for a meeting right now. The meeting that has to take place is in the House of Representatives — where House Republicans come together and fund the government,” Zients said in an exclusive interview.

McCarthy said on Tuesday that he thought it would be “very important” to have a meeting with Biden to discuss government funding and border policies. Zients said White House teams are in regular contact with their counterparts on the Hill, including McCarthy.

Zients says there’s nothing easy about a government shutdown

Congress is inching closer to a shutdown. The Senate has a bipartisan short-term bill that will fund the government until November 17, and provide disaster relief in the United States and Ukraine. House Republicans, however, have rejected this plan and are now moving forward with their own strategy that combines spending cuts with tougher immigration policies. Zients also noted that FEMA recovery projects and small business loans would stall. He also noted FEMA recovery projects and small business loans would stall.

“There’s nothing easy here — so we’ll be prepared, but there’s nothing one can do if the government shuts down to avoid these bad consequences,” Zients said.

Zients said he did not expect a shutdown to hurt the economy – at least in the short term. It’s never the right time to shut down the government. He said that he believed the economy was strong and that as long as the House Republicans did their jobs, the economy would be fine, and the government would function.
President Biden and Vice President Harris, along with congressional leaders including House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, at an Oval Office meeting on May 16.

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President Biden and Vice President Harris, along with congressional leaders including House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, at an Oval Office meeting on May 16, 2010.

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The White House pins the blame on House Republicans

Zients repeatedly emphasized that funding the government was up to House Republicans. Zients stated that “we shouldn’t even be having this discussion.” This deal set spending limits for two years in order to avoid this exact scenario. That deal set spending limits for two-years in hopes of avoiding this exact scenario.


“Now what we have is a small group of extreme Republicans in the House reneging on that deal,” he said.

Biden, who is on his way back to Washington after a three-day fundraising trip in California and Arizona, has told donors in recent days that a shutdown would be “disastrous” and described McCarthy as choosing to try to keep his speakership rather than do what’s in the interests of the country.

The White House has sought to draw a contrast between Biden governing – and House Republicans who Zients described as focused on a “shutdown and other extraneous issues that really have nothing to do with making peoples’ lives better. “

On September 28, 2023, President Biden will deliver remarks in Phoenix about democracy.

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President Biden gives remarks on democracy at Phoenix, Sept. 28, 2023.

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Expect to hear from Biden on Sunday, if a shutdown happens

Zients received some advice on how to handle a moment like this from former White House chiefs of staff this summer, over dinner. Biden will be speaking to the American public if a shutdown occurs on Sunday, which is increasingly likely. Zients said that if a shutdown occurs, the president will communicate with the American people as he does in these times. “