Biden Backs Down, Will Not Invoke Nuclear Option If Debt Negotiations Fail


President Joe Biden will not invoke the 14th Amendment to the Constitution to stop the U.S. from defaulting on its debt even if he doesn’t reach a deal with House Republicans to raise the debt limit, a top administration official said on Friday.

Biden, amid slow and difficult negotiations with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy on a debt limit increase, had publicly considered whether he could invoke the amendment’s fourth section to unilaterally pay U.S. creditors without congressional authorization.

That section reads, “The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law … shall not be questioned.”

The plan was criticized by Republicans and some Democrats, and Biden and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen have since decided against doing so, according to Deputy Treasury Secretary Wally Adeyemo.

“I think the president and secretary have been clear that that will not solve our problems now. So, yes, that is a no,” Adeyemo said on CNN when asked about whether Biden would invoke the amendment.

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“The 14th Amendment can’t solve our challenges now. Ultimately, the only thing that can do that is Congress … raising the debt limit,” he said.

Several Senate Democrats wrote a letter to Biden urging him to “prepare to exercise your authority under the 14th Amendment … preventing a global economic catastrophe.”

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Republicans and legal experts, by contrast, condemned the measure and said it would lead to severe consequences for the president.

Other House Democrats, including New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, also urged Biden to consider the amendment.

Support for invoking the 14th Amendment to avoid a debt default — which experts say would lead to catastrophic effects on the world economy, given global investor confidence in U.S. Treasury Bonds — came from Harvard Law School professor Laurence Tribe, a constitutional law scholar who wrote a New York Times essay in favor of invocation.

Tribe claimed that “Congress — after passing the spending bills that created these debts in the first place — [cannot] invoke an arbitrary dollar limit to force the president and his administration to do its bidding.”

However, Richard Epstein of New York University Law School, a constitutional scholar, told the Daily Caller News Foundation that an invocation would risk an “impeachable offense.”

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Meanwhile, Andrew McCarthy of National Review Institute said that “any debt [Biden] issued based on this deeply flawed interpretation of the amendment would be worthless.”

Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, said it would “reduce the separation of powers doctrine to junk bond status.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell warned Biden that doing so was “not an option,” while Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado said that “Congress — not the President — has the power to enforce Section 4.”

They were joined by some Democrats, with Yellen saying that invoking the amendment in this context would precipitate a “constitutional crisis.”

Biden and McCarthy remain in negotiations over a deal, with House Republicans declining to approve any measure that does not have sufficient cuts to public spending and other policy measures.

The House Freedom Caucus has signaled it will not approve a deal lacking several concessions, with McCarthy needing their support to keep House Republicans largely united.

McCarthy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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