The chances of a negotiated agreement on raising the debt ceiling took a sharp nosedive when President Barack Obama stormed out of a meeting with GOP leaders after a heated exchange with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.
“Eric, don’t call my bluff,” the president reportedly said as he left the table late on Wednesday after Cantor repeatedly called for a short-term debt ceiling hike. “I’ve reached my limit. This may bring my presidency down, but I won't yield on this."
Obama is also said to have told Republicans that no other president – “not Ronald Reagan” – would have sat through such long negotiations with them.
“He shoved back and said ‘I’ll see you tomorrow,’ and walked out,” Cantor said after the meeting.
As he left, Obama complained that Republicans are “focused on positioning and political posturing,” rather than trying to find an answer to the debt crisis.
The two sides are due to meet again on Thursday afternoon, just 19 days before the Treasury’s Aug. 2 deadline for increasing the $14.3 trillion limit.
It will be the fifth day in a row that the president has led talks that have included the leaders of both parties in the House and Senate.
Obama said he wants a decision by the end of this week on how to deal with the crisis, but Cantor told him that is unlikely as the two sides are too far apart and suggested a two-stage approach with a small short-term increase in the ceiling complete with lesser cuts than the Republicans have been asking for to avoid a default on government debts, and more talks after at a later stage.
“That’s when he got very agitated,” Cantor said after the meeting.
Democrats in the room disputed Cantor’s version of the end of the meeting, trying to portray the Virginia congressman as petty.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called him “childish,” on Thursday, saying he should withdraw from the talks. He “has shown he shouldn't be at the table, and Republicans agree he shouldn't be at the table,” Reid said from the Senate floor.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said the meeting had been going on for two and a half hours and Obama, whom she called “gracious” was trying to end it.
“It was his meeting and the meeting had come to an end,” she said. “I have never seen a president spend so much time with the leadership of Congress day in and day out, respectful of their concerns,”
Even before the meeting in the White House Cabinet Room, signs of the growing tensions between the two sides were clear. House Speaker John Boehner said negotiating with the White House had been like “dealing with Jell-O.”
It is the second time during the debt ceiling talks that Cantor has been involved in a walk-out. Three weeks ago he was the one who left talks led by Vice-President Joe Biden, saying that Obama had to get involved personally if an agreement was to be reached.
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