POLITICS + GOVERNMENT

Sen. Mitt Romney frustrated White House won’t negotiate on debt ceiling

May 8, 2023, 6:24 AM | Updated: May 9, 2023, 9:11 am

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, talks to members of the media after a roundtable discussion about the Jor...

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, talks to members of the media after a roundtable discussion about the Jordan River Watershed and the Great Salt Lake at the Jordan Valley Water Conservancy District in West Jordan on Friday. (Photo: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

(Photo: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — While in Utah on Friday, Sen. Mitt Romney once again called on President Joe Biden to engage in debt ceiling talks, saying it was “frustrating” that the White House has so far failed to negotiate, especially when Americans’ Social Security checks are on the line.

After finishing up a day of meeting with local officials across the state, Romney met with members of the Utah media, including the Deseret News, at the Conservation Water Park in West Jordan. He spoke about the nation’s debt, the controversy swirling around the Supreme Court and his plans for 2024.

What Romney said about the debt ceiling

On the debt ceiling debate, Romney said he wouldn’t be surprised if most Americans aren’t watching the issue closely. But if Social Security checks stop coming, and federal employees and members of the military stop getting their paychecks, then the public is likely to get more engaged, he said.

“We have agreed to spend on Social Security, and Medicare, and Medicaid, and housing vouchers, and education dollars and law enforcement dollars,” he said. “Not to pay those dollars would be devastating to the families that rely on that funding.”

Romney pointed to the recently passed House bill that would raise the debt ceiling while cutting spending, and said the White House should stop “stonewalling” and engage with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

“At this stage, what’s really frustrating is you have the White House saying they don’t want to negotiate. It’s like, guys, the nature of a democratic republic like ours is that when you have two parties — and in particular when you have one party that controls the House, and the other controls the White House — they have to work together and meet some place in the middle. And the White House is saying, ‘No, we won’t negotiate.’ Well, that just doesn’t work,” he said.

“And they keep saying, ‘Oh, it would be terrible if we didn’t raise the debt ceiling.’ Well, that’s right. So come to the table and negotiate. The House has actually passed a bill … that raises the debt ceiling. … The White House should sit down if they don’t like it and negotiate something they think is better,” he said.

Romney said Congress needs to cut spending during this year’s budget process, and said he could live with the government shutting down over budget negotiations because it was “different than defaulting on the debt and not being able to pay our other obligations.”

“There’s no question we don’t want to keep adding to the debt,” he said, adding that lawmakers shouldn’t look to “gimmicks” and “tricks” to get around the debt limit.

Supreme Court controversy

On controversy surrounding the Supreme Court, and specifically on allegations made against Justice Clarence Thomas over financial gifts he received from wealthy friends, Romney said he was waiting to see what Chief Justice John Roberts would do.

“I would expect that the Chief Justice, and the court itself, will look at some of the allegations and determine which things are problematic and which are not,” he said. “I think the court needs to have a review of its own (conflict of interest) rules, its disclosure rules and so forth. And I don’t think another branch should set those rules for the Supreme Court.”

Even though there are no quid pro quo allegations related to any decisions Thomas has made, Romney said it was important for public officials to be careful.

“Look, we really don’t want to lose confidence in one of the branches that has long held the most public support — the Supreme Court,” he said.

“We have a lot of confidence in the Supreme Court and having that jeopardized is terribly unfortunate,” he said. “You want to avoid doing the wrong stuff or the appearance of doing the wrong stuff. And it’s clear that, at least from an appearance standpoint, it raises a lot of questions in the public mind, which is very unfortunate.”

When asked whether he thought there was a coordinated effort to undermine the court, as has been alleged by other Republican lawmakers, Romney said, “Oh, sure.”

“The liberals will undermine the conservatives and the conservatives will undermine the liberals,” he said.

But still, he said, “Even the position I’m in … you’ve got to take extra care not to diminish the public’s respect. And, so, for instance, I don’t own any stocks. I’m allowed to, I just don’t. Everything I have in the stock market is in mutual funds, because I don’t want there to be confusion about, oh, he did this, because he’s got 100 shares of stock in XYZ company. I just avoid those things.

“You really want to take extra care not to diminish the public’s respect for institutions, which are so essential to the functioning of a democracy,” he said.

A 2024 Senate run?

When asked if he was any closer to a decision on a second run for the Senate in 2024, Romney said he was “a day closer today than yesterday, but I don’t have a date certain when I’ll make up my mind.”

“I’ve had two or more extraordinarily productive years, I’ve gotten a lot done I wanted to do. And then some things I didn’t know I’d get a chance to do,” he said.

“If I feel like I can’t get a lot more done, why then, I wouldn’t — if you will — take the personal burden of being there. Let someone else have a chance,” he said.

As the interview was wrapping up, Romney said he had an announcement.

“I’m of course planning on announcing my presidential exploratory committee any day now,” Romney said, laughing.

Liz Johnson, his chief of staff, was quick to cut in with, “That’s a joke,” just to make sure everyone understood.

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Sen. Mitt Romney frustrated White House won’t negotiate on debt ceiling