Joe Biden calls for an end to the ‘poisonous atmosphere’ in Washington after McCarthy’s ouster

The president said Wednesday both parties will have to come together to ensure that the government does not shut down next month, while the battle for a new House Speaker kicks off

Joe Biden McCarthy EEUU
Joe Biden, this Thursday, leaving the Roosevelt Room of the White House.LEAH MILLIS (REUTERS)

The rebellion led by a handful of hardline Republicans and the ouster of Kevin McCarthy as Speaker of the House have plunged Congress into a state of paralysis that threatens Joe Biden’s ability to govern. The president spoke this Wednesday from the White House, calling on politicians from both sides of the aisle to come together: “We need to change the poisonous atmosphere in Washington. We have strong disagreements, but we have to stop seeing each other as enemies. We need to talk to one another, listen to one another, work with one another. And we can do that,” he said.

Biden called on Democrats and Republicans to work together in a bipartisan way. The president recalled that both parties have been able to reach two significant agreements in the last six months: one to avoid having the U.S. default on its debt and another to keep the federal government from shutting down. Biden thanked Rep. McCarthy for having done “the right thing” in both cases. Having worked alongside Democrats is precisely what cost McCarthy the speakership.

The agreement reached to keep the government opened is temporary, the president recalled, and will only last until mid-November. Thus, Biden insisted that more agreements must be reached in order to come up with a long term budget for the federal government and avoid looking into the abyss of another shutdown.

As he was leaving the Roosevelt Room, from where he spoke, Biden was asked if he had any advice for the new House Speaker: “That’s above my pay grade,” he said with a chuckle. During his short address, the president also said that he will soon give an update on the war in Ukraine and added — without going into details — that there are other ways to support Ukraine if he does not get more funds from Congress.

Meanwhile, the battle for McCarthy’s successor has begun. There are still no frontrunners for the post, as anyone who wants to assume the speakership must unite the votes of the entire Republican conference. However, some have already thrown their hat in the ring. The first to step forward has been Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan. Jordan is an avowed Trumpist, one of the radicals who have made life miserable for McCarthy. He is a former chair of the Freedom Caucus, which includes the 20 or so members of the party’s most hard-line wing in Congress, although he is not one of the eight who voted for McCarthy’s historic removal. Jordan’s chances of receiving support from moderate Republicans are slim, and he will certainly not get any backing from across the aisle.

Speaking to reporters in the halls of the Capitol, Jordan called on his party to come together. “We need to unite the conference,” he said, and added that he has received many messages and calls encouraging him to take the step. One of those supporting him is, precisely, Matt Gaetz, the driving force behind the motion to vacate that took McCarthy down. “My mentor Jim Jordan would be great!” he wrote on X (formerly Twitter).

House Majority Leader Steve Scalise also announced his candidacy for the speakership earlier Wednesday. The New Orleans representative is undergoing chemotherapy for leukemia, which initially cast doubt on whether he would try to become McCarthy’s successor. “I firmly believe this conference is a family,” he wrote in a letter to House Republicans, in which he recalled how he feared for his life after being shot in 2017. “God already gave me another chance at life. I believe we were all put here for a reason. This next chapter won’t be easy, but I know what it takes to fight and I am prepared for the battles that lie ahead. I humbly ask for your support on this mission to be your Speaker of the House,” he added.

In any case, the succession battle has only just begun. Although the turmoil continues on Capitol Hill, the House has adjourned until further notice, which is not expected to come until next week. Meanwhile, Acting Speaker Patrick McHenry evicted Nancy Pelosi, McCarthy’s predecessor, from the courtesy office she occupied in the Capitol to install himself.

Donald Trump
Donald Trump speaks to the media before he attends the third day of his civil fraud trial in New York, on October 4, 2023. PETER FOLEY (EFE)

For his part, Donald Trump referred in passing to the crisis in Congress upon his arrival, for the third consecutive day, at his civil fraud trial in New York. Asked by reporters about whether he himself would replace McCarthy as some Republicans have suggested, the current frontrunner in the Republican primaries for the 2024 presidential election boasted and said that he would do whatever is best for the Republican Party and the country. “A lot of people have been asking me that,” Trump said. However, he added, there are other “great people” within the party who could handle the job of speaker. “My focus — my total focus — is being president,” he concluded.

The former president appeared again Wednesday before Judge Arthur Engoron, a day after he flatly barred the Republican from making public comments about court officials. During Tuesday’s hearing, Trump lashed out on social media against Engoron’s top aide, Allison Greenfield, calling her “Schumer’s girlfriend,” a reference to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

As other judges have done before, Engoron imposed a gag order on Trump, threatening him with sanctions if he does not curb his tongue. Trump posted a photo of Greenfield with Chuck Schumer, insinuating that the two were working together and that the lawsuit against him is politically motivated. Engoron admonished Trump, assuring that his remarks are “unacceptable,” “inappropriate” and will not be tolerated. But Trump’s mood does not wane; on the contrary, he takes advantage of the swarm of cameras that each of his appearances attracts and turns every hearing into a campaign event. His candidacy is 40 points ahead of his closest rival, the Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

This Tuesday, Trump suffered another small setback: for the second time in three years, his name disappeared from the Forbes list of the 400 richest Americans. With a net worth of $2.6 billion, Trump falls $300 million short of the baseline to make the Forbes 400 list — a blow for the magnate since, according to the publication, he has been “obsessed” with the list for decades.

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