Skip to content
A Fruitless Debt Ceiling Summit
Go to my account

A Fruitless Debt Ceiling Summit

Plus: Checking in on child labor laws.

Happy Wednesday! Congratulations to Buddy Holly the Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen for taking home Best in Show at the Westminster Dog Show last night. 

We would have probably gone with Winston the French Bulldog, but the judges couldn’t possibly have made a bad choice.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • A Manhattan jury on Tuesday found former President Donald Trump liable for sexually abusing and defaming E. Jean Carroll, awarding her $5 million in damages in the civil case. Carroll—a journalist and author—claimed Trump had raped her in the dressing room of an upscale New York City department store in 1996, but the jury found she did not sufficiently prove that charge. In a Truth Social post, Trump complained that he was not allowed to “speak or defend myself”—a false claim—and vowed to appeal. 
  • Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan was arrested Tuesday by Pakistan’s anti-corruption force, sparking protests around the country that have already left at least one person dead. Khan was ousted last year in a no-confidence vote, which he claims was orchestrated in part by the country’s military. Pakistan’s interior minister said yesterday the corruption charges are related to the purchase of land by a charitable trust run by Khan and his wife.
  • The Defense Department announced a $1.2 billion security assistance package for Ukraine on Tuesday, tapping into the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative to purchase weaponry and systems directly from American weapons manufacturers to bolster Ukraine’s air defenses. The move represents a longer-term commitment to Ukraine’s defense, as the materiel purchased from manufacturers must be built before it can be shipped to the battlefield—unlike aid authorized under presidential drawdown authority, which comes directly from existing U.S. military stockpiles. The announcement comes amid an ongoing Russian aerial bombardment of Ukraine ahead of a long-anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive.
  • The Justice Department announced Tuesday it had disrupted a sophisticated Russian cyberespionage system—called Snake—responsible for stealing documents and diplomatic communications from NATO allies and other Russian intelligence targets in more than 50 countries. U.S. cyber and intelligence agencies—joined by the English-speaking countries which are members of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing agreement—issued an advisory with information about how to detect infiltration by Snake malware.
  • The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force released draft guidance on Tuesday recommending women be screened for breast cancer every other year after the age of 40, updating their 2016 guidance which recommended regular screenings beginning at 50 years old. The task force points to new research indicating a 2 percent uptick in the breast cancer rates for women 40-49 years old between 2015 and 2019.
  • The National Association of Realtors reported Tuesday the median existing-home sales price in the U.S. was $371,200 in the first quarter of 2023—down 0.2 percent year-over-year from Q1 2022, and the first annual price decline in the first quarter since 2012. Single-family home sales prices fell in nearly a third of U.S. metro areas in Q1. San Francisco, Austin, Boise, and Phoenix experienced some of the sharpest declines.
  • Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis cut ties with his state political committee Tuesday, a crucial and required step ahead of announcing a presidential campaign. DeSantis also notched endorsements yesterday from Steve Cortes—a former campaign advisor to Trump—and Republican Rep. Bob Good of Virginia. DeSantis has now been backed by four members of Congress, while dozens of federal lawmakers have committed to supporting Trump.
  • Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California returned to Washington on Tuesday evening after a three-month absence due to a shingles diagnosis in February. Feinstein didn’t make it back in time for yesterday’s votes, but her return restores Democrats’ full majority in the Senate, allowing them to once again break ties on the Senate Judiciary Committee and advance President Joe Biden’s judicial nominations. The senator, 89, missed 91 floor votes during her absence.
  • Former Fox News host Tucker Carlson said Tuesday he is launching a show—a “new version of the show we’ve been doing for six-and-a-half years”—on Twitter. The move may represent a violation of his contract with Fox, but lawyers for Carlson sent a letter to the network alleging Fox breached the contract first by firing him last month.

Four Lawmakers Walk Into the Oval Office

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, and President Joe Biden meet with other lawmakers in the Oval Office of the White House on May 9, 2023. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, and President Joe Biden meet with other lawmakers in the Oval Office of the White House on May 9, 2023. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

At yesterday’s much-anticipated White House meeting between the president and congressional leadership, Joe Biden kicked off the discussion with a joke: “We’re going to get started. We’re going to solve all the world’s problems.” That’s how you get ahead in Washington: Overpromise, underdeliver.

Tuesday’s meeting between Biden and the congressional “Big Four”—House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries—represented the first step in negotiations to raise the debt ceiling and avoid a default since House Republicans narrowly passed their debt bill last month. But the two sides still remain far apart on how to resolve the standoff—and time is running low.

When we last wrote to you on the debt ceiling a few weeks ago, McCarthy had overcome a major hurdle: unifying his notoriously fractious conference to pass a bill that raises the debt ceiling until March 2024 and caps spending at fiscal year 2022 levels. Biden had sworn off even meeting with the speaker until Republicans had a plan, and now they did. Four days later, the president extended an invitation for talks at the White House.

But fast-forward a week and a half, and the meeting involved less negotiating than talking about negotiating. “The progress we made is, we were actually able to meet,” McCarthy told reporters outside the White House following the conversation. “Everybody in this meeting reiterated the positions they were at. I didn’t see any new movement.” 

Before the House bill passed, the Biden administration’s strategy—and by extension the de facto Democratic one–was to refuse to negotiate on spending until the debt ceiling was raised, insisting the threat of default should not be wielded as a political weapon. The thinking was that the GOP conference wouldn’t be able to coalesce behind a proposal, and pressure would mount on more moderate Republicans to break ranks and vote for a clean debt ceiling bill without spending cuts.

But House Republicans—thanks largely to McCarthy’s efforts—did coalesce, and their counterparts in the Senate have also lined up behind the speaker. “The Senate Republican conference is united behind the House Republican conference in support of spending cuts and structural budget reform as a starting point for negotiations on the debt ceiling,” 43 GOP senators wrote in a letter to Majority Leader Schumer last week. “We will not be voting for cloture on any bill that raises the debt ceiling without substantive spending and budget reforms.” 

And while some Democrats have speculated—or hoped—McConnell might play a secret dealmaker, he also threw his support behind McCarthy yesterday. “The solution to this problem lies with two people: the president of the United States who can sign a bill and deliver the members of his party to vote for it, and the speaker of the House,” he said. “There is no sentiment in the Senate—certainly not 60 votes—for a clean debt ceiling, so, there must be an agreement.”

If all 43 Republicans hold firm, Senate Democrats would be short the votes needed to pass a debt ceiling increase of their own, even if the handful of moderate Republican senators who didn’t sign the letter voted with them.

To avert fiscal catastrophe, one side will need to back down. For Democrats who’ve demanded a clean debt limit increase, the biggest hurdle will be conceding that they have to negotiate at all. And given Biden’s hardline stance thus far, relenting will represent a significant capitulation. “To [the] extent this was a leverage play and not a principle he intended to go the distance on, the discourse has self-actualized it in a way that makes it harder to climb down, escalated by the same folks who’d be key to validating any off-ramp,” said Liam Donovan, a lobbyist and former Republican Senate campaign operative.  

Republicans, meanwhile, are likely to maintain their current position so long as their unity holds. But fault lines are reportedly starting to emerge, with some moderate Republicans worrying hardline members of the House Freedom Caucus will refuse to get behind an eventual compromise deal that cuts less spending than the original House bill—which passed by only two votes.

If you look past all the bluster, there are some signs both sides may be inching toward a resolution. Coming out of yesterday’s meeting, the parties agreed to have their staff continue discussions during the week and for the principals to reconvene on Friday. The latter development is particularly significant, with some congressional observers arguing scheduling a second meeting is an achievement in and of itself.

“That’s pretty good progress as these things go,” said Matthew Glassman, a former Capitol Hill analyst for the Congressional Research Service and senior fellow at Georgetown’s Government Affairs Institute. “Honestly, somewhat better than I expected. [An] agreement to meet again will also cool off a lot of the bonkers rhetoric you could have gotten at this stage. That’s helpful.”

And yet, other than a vague aside about some unspent COVID-19 aid being “on the table,” Biden seems to more or less be sticking to his original position. In the last week, the White House has ramped up attacks on the proposed spending cuts in the House bill, attempting to frame legislation as harmful to Republican sacred cows like law enforcement and efforts to combat the fentanyl crisis at the border. Biden will deliver a speech on the debt ceiling in Hudson Valley today—a congressional district represented by Rep. Mike Lawler, a Republican who won his seat by less than one percent in 2022.

As the default date—which Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen notified Congress could be as soon as June 1—draws nearer, some Democrats are pushing Biden to consider an untried, unilateral move to raise the debt ceiling under the 14th Amendment’s Civil War-era provisions which say the “validity of the public debt … shall not be questioned.” The dubious legal theory claims the amendment invalidates the debt ceiling entirely. 

Biden told reporters last night he is weighing such an action, but said he’s unlikely to pull the trigger due to the legal questions. “I have been considering the 14th Amendment,” he said. “The problem is, it would have to be litigated, and in the meantime, without an extension, it would still end up in the same place.” Yellen warned Sunday invoking the mechanism could create “a constitutional crisis.”  

Some Republicans have suggested a short-term increase in the debt ceiling could help give some breathing room to both sides—an idea that Biden says he hasn’t ruled out, but that McCarthy has shot down. “We shouldn’t kick the vote,” the speaker said. “Let’s just get this done now.”

“To have five of the political leaders for our country walk out of the meeting and not one of them say that we made progress?” Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin said yesterday. “Ridiculous.” 

Fingers crossed Friday’s meeting will bear more fruit. 

Working the System

In February, the Labor Department announced one of the nation’s largest food sanitation companies—Packers Sanitation Services—had illegally employed at least 102 children at slaughterhouses. The company paid $1.5 million in civil penalties after kids ages 13 to 17 were discovered working overnight shifts cleaning meat saws and head splitters, with some sustaining acid burns from caustic cleaning chemicals.

Feds found the minors working at 13 facilities across eight states, including Arkansas—where, just weeks after the discovery, Republican Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed a law dropping permit restrictions on teen workers.

The past few months have presented a jarring split screen, with revelations of child labor abuses emerging alongside headlines about Republican-led states advancing legislation loosening restrictions on child labor. Lawmakers pushing the measures say they are intended to create opportunities for young people who want them—and help businesses deal with a tight labor market—but critics of the new laws argue they remove vital protections against exploitation.

A steady drip of recent investigations has revealed genuinely harrowing working conditions for some minors—particularly migrant children who may enter the United States without their parents, making them especially vulnerable to exploitation. A February New York Times report, for instance, profiled migrant children pulling sometimes 12- or 14-hour overnight shifts in hazardous conditions—roofing homes, harvesting coffee, sawing planks, tending ovens. The Labor Department’s newest investigation, meanwhile, found 305 minors working illegally at McDonald’s locations in Kentucky, Indiana, Maryland, and Ohio—including two 10-year-olds working until 2 a.m., packing orders and operating a deep fryer. (The franchise owner claimed the children’s parent, a night manager, had brought them to work.)

As Harvest reported in March, illegal child labor cases have exploded in recent years—the Labor Department reports a 69 percent increase in companies illegally employing children since 2018. The DOL—in conjunction with the Department of Health and Human Services—found 835 companies employing nearly 4,000 children unlawfully last year alone, and has more than 600 child labor investigations underway.

But not every teen flipping burgers is being exploited, of course. “It’s more important, actually, for their futures, to begin to learn and understand the norms of work,” Brent Orrell, a researcher on job training and workforce development and senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, told TMD. “To the extent that kids aren’t getting that experience, it’s really not serving their long-term interests.” Your Morning Dispatchers’ time babysitting triplets, umpiring little league baseball games, and hawking jumbo pretzels at a concession stand undoubtedly instilled important life skills that have stuck with us to this day. 

So Republican lawmakers in states including Iowa, Arkansas, Ohio, and Minnesota have this year introduced or passed legislation easing regulations and making it easier for children to work. They argue the new rules will expand valuable opportunities for teens to gain work experience—and help businesses bridge gaps in a tight labor market.

The Arkansas law Sanders signed in March, for instance, removed requirements for teenagers 16 and up to secure a work permit from the state’s labor department in order to get a job. And Arkansas chased that law with another increasing maximum fines for child labor violations from $1,000 to $5,000 per infraction and raising the statute of limitations from two to three years.

Iowa lawmakers, meanwhile, have passed a bill expanding the hours and times of day teens can work, regardless of whether school is in session. Under the bill, 14- and 15-year-olds would be able to work six hours a day instead of four, and until 9 p.m. instead of the current limit of 7 p.m. The bill would also enable those 16 and up to work the same hours as adult employees. Kim Reynolds—the state’s Republican governor—said last week she would sign the bill into law.

More controversially, the measure would allow 16- and 17-year-olds to work in previously prohibited areas such as manufacturing—though only as part of educational programs or apprenticeships. “The goal of this legislation was to create more opportunities for youth and more flexibility for them to pursue potential careers,” Republican state Sen. Adrian Dickey, one of the bill’s sponsors, told CBS News.

Businesses supporting the new laws argue they won’t make it any harder to punish wrongdoing—letting a 15-year-old kid work until 9 p.m. doesn’t stop the Labor Department from going after a McDonald’s letting a 10-year-old work until 2 a.m. “This is not, in my opinion, inviting any sort of nefarious activity at all,” said Chris Ferruso, Ohio legislative director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses—which supports an Ohio measure easing restrictions. “Those folks are already violating the law, and they’re going to be dealt with under the laws that already exist,” he told Bloomberg Law.

Skeptics of the new rules worry reducing layers of protection for children could raise the number of vulnerable kids who fall through enforcement cracks. Even fans of on-the-job experience for teens note the potential for exploitation. “There’s a price to be paid when inexperienced and vulnerable kids get into dangerous work situations,” Orrell said. “We really need to monitor exposure of children in these high-risk areas.”

But despite the Labor Department’s best intentions—and the Biden administration’s February promise to step up enforcement—it’s not clear federal investigators can effectively monitor those high-risk situations. The Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division—responsible for investigating child labor abuses—has fewer than 800 investigators to cover 9.8 million workplaces and is reportedly mired in a backlog of old cases. 

The U.S. Labor Department’s solicitor of labor, Seema Nanda, said in a statement to TMD that the department will “vigorously enforce child labor protections in all states.” But Nanda has argued states are making that job harder. “Federal and state entities should be working together to increase accountability and ramp up enforcement,” Nanda said. “Not make it easier to illegally hire children to do what are often dangerous jobs.”

Worth Your Time

  • With the Turkish presidential election coming up this weekend, is it even possible for President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to lose after two decades in power? Experts Gonul Tol and Ali Yaycioglu say yes. “To win the election, Erdogan has to capture more than the 26 million votes he secured in 2018 because Turkey’s voting population has grown,” they write in Foreign Policy. “His problem is that he faces a dramatically different political context that makes that task very difficult. In 2019, Erdogan’s party lost almost all of Turkey’s major cities in municipal elections. Particularly frustrating for Erdogan was the loss of Istanbul, the financial capital where he had launched his political career. Erdogan did not accept the opposition’s narrow win in Istanbul and called for a rerun. When the election was run again, the ruling party lost by a much bigger margin. Erdogan abusing his power to deny the election result had the effect of mobilizing the opposition. What does this tell us about elections in Turkey? That they are popular and fraud is not, making heavy-handed election fraud risky for Erdogan. The 2019 elections made something else clear, too. When the opposition parties get their act together, they can beat Erdogan at the ballot box.”
  • In a piece for Christianity Today, Bonnie Kristan mulls whether evangelicals will abandon Trump for DeSantis in 2024. “Trump’s use of Christianity as a political prop is by now well known,” she writes. “DeSantis is an especially interesting example here, as his campaign use of Christianity is more knowledgeable and sophisticated than Trump’s has tended to be. A practicing Catholic, DeSantis has a facility with biblical references Trump could never quite master, and he fits comfortably in evangelical culture in a way Trump does not. DeSantis’s ‘God made a fighter’ ad, launched during his gubernatorial campaign last year but clearly intended for a national audience, is probably a good forecast of Christianity’s place in this race. That’s why we should notice how little of Christ this campaign-prop Christianity contains. In fact, the ad never mentions Jesus at all. This ad isn’t really about God or faith at all. DeSantis is the one who will save the people’s ‘jobs, their livelihoods, their liberty, their happiness.’ He’s the hero of this tale. The narrator quotes imagined words from God at length, but God isn’t the object of praise here. God’s the one doing the praising. He’s praising Ron DeSantis. The ‘fullness of the Deity’ (Col. 2:9) can fit inside a baby, but not inside a campaign ad.”

Presented Without Comment 

Bloomberg: Biden Says Border ‘Going To Be Chaotic’ as Pandemic Rules Lift

Also Presented Without Comment 

Fox News “Exclusive”: Melania fully behind Trump’s 2024 campaign, says it would be a ‘privilege’ to serve as first lady again

Toeing the Company Line

  • Is it safe to lock in a Trump-Biden rematch in 2024? What’s happening with the Senate races in Michigan and Arizona? And what will the end of Title 42 mean for the U.S.? Kevin was joined by Andrew, Audrey, and Harvest to discuss all that and more on last night’s Dispatch Live (🔒). Members who missed the conversation can catch a rerun—either video or audio-only—by clicking here
  • In the newsletters: Haley reports on congressional Democrats’ reaction to the recent spate of mass shootings and Nick admits (🔒) he may have been wrong about the post-Tucker Fox News.
  • On the podcasts: Jonah is joined by Reason’s Elizabeth Nolan Brown for a conversation about the role of the state—or lack thereof—in boosting a nation’s birth rate.
  • On the site: Kevin debunks popular myths about America’s postwar tax policy and Jonah argues that Biden and Trump are both unfit for office in their own special ways.

Let Us Know

Did you have a job as a kid? Do you think children today should be allowed to?

Declan Garvey is the executive editor at the Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2019, he worked in public affairs at Hamilton Place Strategies and market research at Echelon Insights. When Declan is not assigning and editing pieces, he is probably watching a Cubs game, listening to podcasts on 3x speed, or trying a new recipe with his wife.

Esther Eaton is a former deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch.

Mary Trimble is the editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, she interned at The Dispatch, in the political archives at the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po), and at Voice of America, where she produced content for their French-language service to Africa. When not helping write The Morning Dispatch, she is probably watching classic movies, going on weekend road trips, or enjoying live music with friends.

Grayson Logue is the deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he worked in political risk consulting, helping advise Fortune 50 companies. He was also an assistant editor at Providence Magazine and is a graduate student at the University of Edinburgh, pursuing a Master’s degree in history. When Grayson is not helping write The Morning Dispatch, he is probably working hard to reduce the number of balls he loses on the golf course.