Biden, McCarthy Share Rare Niceties, Laud Shared Irish Heritage

Two of Washington’s most at-odds politicians had an uncharacteristically friendly exchange at a luncheon celebrating their shared heritage.

(Bloomberg) — Two of Washington’s most at-odds politicians had an uncharacteristically friendly exchange at a luncheon celebrating their shared heritage. 

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and President Joe Biden opened the annual Friends of Ireland luncheon with brief remarks, each nodding to a looming showdown over raising the federal debt ceiling with light-hearted jokes and nostalgia for bipartisanship of decades past. 

“A clash is brewing, people say, between the president and I,” McCarthy said Friday to room of American lawmakers and an Irish delegation led by Prime Minister Leo Varadkar.

“I think you might be able to settle this for us. Which one of us is more Irish?” the speaker added, to laughs from the audience. 

Republicans are demanding spending cuts as a condition of raising the borrowing cap, something Biden has said he will not entertain, raising concerns about an impasse leading to a potential default. 

And while the tone was convivial during the annual St. Patrick’s Day event at the US Capitol, the reality is that stark differences remain in Biden and McCarthy’s strained relationship. 

McCarthy referenced debates in the 1980s between former Republican President Ronald Reagan and Democratic Speaker Tip O’Neill over Social Security — a topic on which Biden frequently attacks Republicans, accusing them of wanting to slash the entitlement program. 

“In some of the most difficult issues, even when it came to Social Security, they used the relationship of being Irish to find the way to put America first,” McCarthy said. “They would always break bread, share some Guinness and fight hard for their own personal beliefs.”

“America was stronger for that. And it’s unique that 40 years later, we’re back here again,” the speaker added.

Republicans — including McCarthy — have largely disassociated themselves from suggestions to pull back funding from Social Security.

Biden acknowledged the current partisan divide but also hit an optimistic note, citing the “power of friendship” between two people of Irish descent. 

“It’s the strength of our partnership, if we work at it, and simply put, I think it’s the Irish of it.”

“I hope we can turn this breakfast into a more of an everyday relationship,” Biden said.

Biden and McCarthy were seated next to one another at the lunch, briefly chatting out of earshot of reporters but otherwise watching the program. 

Varadkar made his own reference to the feud, joking he was honored to sit near the two leaders, but “not to keep the peace,” prompting more laughter.

“But rather to thank them for doing so much to protect and promote peace and prosperity on the island of Ireland,” he said.

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