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A look at Biden and McCarthy's relationship ahead of their debt ceiling meeting

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Tomorrow afternoon, President Biden will sit down with congressional leaders to negotiate what to do about the nation's debts. A quick recap of all this - the U.S. is slated to run out of money to pay its bills around the end of this month. Congress needs to extend the debt ceiling in order to keep the payments going. Republicans say they will not do that, not without also approving spending cuts. Well, Biden will meet with the top Democrats and Republicans from both chambers. But really, this is a negotiation between Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. NPR's Scott Detrow joins us from the White House to talk about how these two men are approaching the meeting. Hey, Scott.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey. Good afternoon.

KELLY: So fair to say Biden and McCarthy are dug in, to use a technical term. And just remind us of the stance that they're dug in on.

DETROW: Well, I think. I could have given you this exact answer on their stances back in January to put a sense of how dug in they are. Biden says he won't negotiate at all, to the point where today Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was correcting reporters in the White House briefing who called tomorrow's meeting a negotiation. She said, no, it's a meeting. Biden is demanding that Congress raise the debt ceiling without conditions. He points out that's something Republicans were happy to do when Donald Trump was president. As for McCarthy, he says he will not raise the debt ceiling without also passing spending cuts. The House recently passed a bill doing just that. And that's been the state of things all year. But now the deadline is weeks away, so they're going to have a meeting.

KELLY: Yeah. So what are we actually expecting from this meeting? Like, are they actually likely to deal with each other once they're in the same room?

DETROW: That is a very good question. We did just learn that reporters will be allowed into the very top of the meeting, which was an open question. So we'll have a sense of how they're sizing each other up. You know, if you take a step back and look at Biden and McCarthy's relationship with each other, it's interesting because these are two political lifers. They're people who value personal relationships, getting to know other key figures, and yet they really have hardly any relationship at all. This is just the second Oval Office meeting since McCarthy became speaker. Here's Biden talking about McCarthy the other day during an MSNBC interview.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I think he's an honest man. I think he's in a position, though. He had to make a deal that was pretty, you know, 15 votes, 15 votes that - where he just about sold away everything that he - at the far, far right.

DETROW: So that's a reference to how many rounds of voting it took for McCarthy to be speaker. Think about this compliment for a second, Mary Louise. He's a really good guy who just had to sell out in order to maintain power. I don't know if I would want that compliment from someone.

KELLY: No, it's not the most promising as they sit down to talk tomorrow. What about McCarthy, what is he saying about Biden's role?

DETROW: He's been focused on the fact that up until this meeting, Biden has been refusing to have a serious conversation about the debt ceiling.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KEVIN MCCARTHY: President Biden has a choice. Come to the table, and stop playing partisan political games, or cover his ears, refuse to negotiate and risk bumbling his way into the first default in our nation's history.

DETROW: And I think the White House would counter that Biden is taking this seriously. He's just making it clear he's not going to start negotiating. But I think this line of argument has been gaining some traction, and I think that's one reason why Biden and McCarthy will be sitting down in the same room tomorrow.

KELLY: Thirty seconds, Scott, for you to tell me who else in that room you're going to be watching.

DETROW: One person to watch is Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. He is of note because in 2011, he and then-Vice President Biden cut a deal with each other to stave off a debt ceiling crisis that was very similar to this one now. So might they do it again? Both of them are saying they have no plans to. McConnell is yielding to McCarthy. And Biden, as we've been saying, is saying I'm not going to negotiate. So we'll see.

KELLY: And NPR's Scott Detrow at the White House. Thank you, Scott.

DETROW: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.