NC’s McHenry is a top negotiator in U.S. debt ceiling talks. Here’s what he’s saying.

·4 min read

U.S. House leadership has called on a North Carolina Republican to help with debt ceiling negotiations as the country spirals toward a potential breach of its debt payments that would result in cataclysmic consequences.

“There’s economic consequences, there’s global consequences, and I’m not interested in default, which is a key reason why I’m in the room,” Rep. Patrick McHenry told McClatchy Tuesday night. “I want to make sure we achieve the results necessary for this bill to pass Congress and avoid economic calamity.”

McHenry — a Republican from Lincoln County who often keeps a low profile — has risen to national prominence this week as one of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s chief negotiators in debt ceiling conversations with President Joe Biden and his staff. During some of McCarthy’s reporter updates, McHenry has been seen not far behind him.

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In January, the United States’ spending reached its $31.4 trillion debt limit, a figure set by Congress. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned that if Congress did not raise the debt ceiling or curb spending by around June 1, the country would default on its debts.

Experts say defaulting on the country’s debts could mean job loss; federal employees not being paid; halted Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements; a hesitancy for banks to issues loans; a stock market collapse and a recession.

“It’s a terrible outcome,” McHenry said.

Rep. Patrick McHenry stands outside the House Speaker’s office during debt ceiling negotiations at the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday, May 23, 2023.
Rep. Patrick McHenry stands outside the House Speaker’s office during debt ceiling negotiations at the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday, May 23, 2023.

House Republicans passed a bill last month that would raise the debt ceiling, but it would undo many of Biden’s major policy wins. The Senate, where Democrats hold a narrow majority, has not picked up the bill and left on its Memorial Day recess last week. Senators are not set to return until May 30.

That’s left McCarthy negotiating with Biden for a compromise that McCarthy can get through Congress and to the president’s desk to be signed into law before the country defaults.

But on Wednesday afternoon, members of the House were told they could leave Washington Thursday following the morning votes, and would be given 24-hour notice if they needed to return to deal with the debt ceiling during their own weeklong vacation for Memorial Day. Senators are also on a 24-hour standby to return.

It’s assumed that McHenry, Graves and McCarthy, who spent hours at the White House Wednesday, will remain focused on negotiations throughout the weekend.

How McHenry got here

Many believed McHenry would become the face of the debt ceiling issue due to his work as chairman of the House Financial Services committee. But the original bill skipped over committees and went straight to the floor, leaving the public largely in the dark about how the bill came to be. Only this week did it come out that McHenry and Rep. Garret Graves, a Republican from Louisiana, were leading negotiations from the McCarthy camp.

“I’m a longtime friend and supporter of the speaker’s and from time-to-time he asks me to come in and do work on his behalf,” McHenry said. “He asked me to be part of the negotiating team and I can’t say no because I want to see this through. This is not my choice and my decision, but I found myself in this position and I want to get the best outcomes possible.”

McHenry said he did something similar in January when he and Graves worked with other lawmakers to help McCarthy win his speakership. He added that McCarthy occasionally pulls from that same group of lawmakers to help when other issues arise.

“This is one of those circumstances,” McHenry said. “I have been helpful and I’ve been constructive in this.”

McCarthy, McHenry and Graves have spent long nights at the Capitol trying to negotiate with Biden’s team to figure out where they can make adjustments to get the bill passed.

“I think the fact that the speaker asked Patrick McHenry to be in the room shows his confidence in him,” said Rep. Richard Hudson, a Republican from Southern Pines and chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee. “I think he’s become a very trusted member of the Republican conference, and I think that’s good for North Carolina.”

Rep. Jeff Jackson, a Democrat from Charlotte, said he’s also glad to see McHenry at the negotiating table.

“I watched how he conducted himself during the mini financial crisis that we had a couple of months ago, and thought his behavior was smart and responsible,” Jackson said, referencing the country’s first major bank collapse since 2008.

McHenry said Tuesday that he’s frustrated by how long Biden waited to come to the negotiating table — 97 days, he counted.

“We’ve lost key time,” McHenry said. “That means that we have needless drama that has real consequences for real people and that was a horrible mistake and the president and his team and the Senate House Democratic leadership advised him quite poorly.”

He added that he is working in good faith to find a compromise before a default happens.