The White House has no qualms about naming and shaming GOP lawmakers it condemns as MAGA Republicans.
But the combative strategy, being deployed before President Joe Biden is anticipated to announce his 2024 reelection campaign after his State of the Union address next month, is a double-edged sword, as it inadvertently elevates his and the Democratic Party's opponents.
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The White House was initially reticent to cite individual GOP members whom Biden and his aides consider MAGA Republicans. That is, until the president delivered a prime-time address in Philadelphia last September in which he recommitted to denouncing "extremism that threatens the very foundations of our republic." Administration officials do deny that it's a new approach, but from Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) to Andy Biggs (R-AZ), they have been more proactive post-midterm elections in criticizing hard-line conservatives.
Just this week, for instance, as the country inched closer to its $31.4 trillion debt ceiling, the White House seized on a tweet from Biggs, a central figure in the House Republican speakership fight. In the missive, which the administration compared to "unprecedented economic vandalism," Biggs reiterated his opposition to raising the debt ceiling, a position incorporated into the deal House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) struck with holdouts to head the chamber.
But instead of being intimidated, Biggs has welcomed the scrutiny. "MAGA policies" under former President Donald Trump "created the most secure border, robust economy, and good quality of life for all Americans," according to Biggs spokesman Matthew Tragesser.
"Whether the White House calls congressman Biggs a MAGA, ultra-MAGA, or mega-MAGA Republican, he proudly embraces these titles," Tragesser told the Washington Examiner. "The Biden administration should adopt MAGA policies to steer our country in a better direction."
One senior GOP official added, "Rather than seek compromise with Republicans, the Biden White House is more infatuated with dividing people, creating straw men, and wasting taxpayer dollars."
Another Republican strategist, Alex Conant, described the White House as being in "full campaign mode," portraying the GOP "in the most unflattering light possible" until there is a 2024 presidential nominee.
"That means highlighting Republicans with limited appeal to independents and swing voters," he said.
But "elevating your staunchest opponents clearly makes the ability to forge bipartisan deals more difficult," according to Conant, as the Treasury Department this week introduced "extraordinary measures" to continue paying the country's debts and avoid a default until roughly the summer.
The White House remains unconcerned about the potential unintended consequences. Instead, administration officials contend Biden and his aides have "a duty" to underscore that "this is not what we stand for" and, in the case of Biggs, to ensure the public understands the "economic self-immolation" involved in default. That encompasses the ramifications it would have on Social Security and Medicare programs to widespread unemployment and the devaluation of 401(k) retirement savings accounts.
"That is just about the least popular message you can take to the country," one administration official said. "If we make an example of you and call out what that is, it's one of the most effective warnings we can send to other Republicans."
A Democratic strategist likened Bigg's stance to saying, "Here's a vomit and s*** sandwich. Pay money for this."
With the White House seeming to soften its "no negotiations," "no conditions" debt ceiling position Friday as both Biden and McCarthy expressed their openness to a meeting, the administration could come to regret its more assertive posture. Simultaneously, the White House decided against leveraging Trump's statement encouraging Republicans not "to cut a single penny from Medicare or Social Security” to their advantage and put pressure on GOP lawmakers not to push for entitlement reform. White House chief of staff Ron Klain did later tweet, "How extreme is the House GOP plan to cut Social Security and Medicare? So extreme that even Donald Trump is saying, 'Hey, that's too extreme for me!'"
How extreme is the House GOP plan to cut Social Security and Medicare?
So extreme that even Donald Trump is saying, "Hey, that's too extreme for me!" https://t.co/usfLVrv4FP— Ronald Klain (@WHCOS) January 20, 2023
The White House's tone coincides with the Democratic National Committee similarly readying itself for an unwieldy field of 2024 Republican presidential candidates, such as Trump.
"Let’s compare the track records: While President Biden and Democrats used their first two years to deliver for working families, Trump and Republicans used their time during 2017 and 2018 passing tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and big corporations, caving to Big Pharma and doing nothing to lower prescription drugs costs, failing to deliver on their promises like passing infrastructure legislation, and trying to rip away millions of Americans’ health care," the DNC wrote.
Former South Carolina GOP Gov. Nikki Haley has already teased the prospect of a presidential bid, asking Fox News anchor Bret Baier this week, “If I’m this passionate and I’m this determined, why not me?”
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Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is also poised to embark on a book tour next week to promote his Trump administration memoir, which includes a dig at Haley for allegedly plotting with Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner to become vice president while she was Trump's ambassador to the United Nations.