By Jeff Mason and Trevor Hunnicutt
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden declared a “crisis averted” in his first speech from the Oval Office of the White House on Friday, touting the passage of a bill to suspend the U.S. debt ceiling and avoid economic catastrophe.
Biden took the opportunity to implore Americans to bridge their divisions, saying his compromise with Congressional Republican Kevin McCarthy showed what could be done.
“No matter how tough our politics get, we need to see each other not as adversaries but as fellow Americans,” he said, asking Americans “to stop shouting, turn down the heat and… working together to progress”.
Biden, a Democrat, said he would sign the bill on Saturday, ending months of uncertainty and averting what would have been America’s first-ever default as early as June 5.
“Reaching an agreement was critical, and that’s very good news for the American people. No one got everything they wanted. But the American people got what they needed,” said Biden as he sat at the historic presidential “Resolute Desk.” desk.
“We avoided an economic crisis, an economic collapse,” he said.
After tough negotiations, the Senate and House of Representatives passed a bill this week that suspends the government’s debt ceiling at $31.4 trillion.
Biden said that to preserve the economic progress of the United States, it was essential to keep the faith and the credit of the country intact. “The stakes couldn’t have been higher,” Biden said.
The president, who is running for re-election, noted other bipartisan bills he has signed into law and praised McCarthy, the speaker of the House of Representatives, who was his main negotiating partner.
McCarthy, a supporter of former President Donald Trump, was one of 147 Republicans who voted, unsuccessfully, to void the 2020 election won by Biden.
“We were able to get along, get things done,” Biden said. “Both parties acted in good faith.”
Republicans have refused to raise the debt ceiling for months, asking Biden and Democrats to cut spending in the 2024 budget in return. The White House has asked for a debt ceiling agreement before starting negotiations.
Ultimately, Biden and McCarthy cobbled together a last-minute deal that suspends the debt ceiling until January 2025 and caps spending.
The Republican-controlled House voted 314 to 117 to approve the bill, and the Democratic-controlled Senate voted 63 to 36.
“The final vote in both chambers was overwhelming,” Biden said.
Fitch Ratings said on Friday that the United States’ “AAA” credit rating would remain on negative watch, despite the agreement which will allow the government to meet its obligations.
OVAL OFFICE ADDRESS
American presidents have generally reserved an Oval Office address for the most significant and dramatic events: the attacks of September 11, 2001, for example, or the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger.
The White House said Biden was making his remarks there because of the seriousness of the situation if the debt ceiling had not been raised.
Former President Ronald Reagan addressed the nation from the Oval Office following the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1986; and former President George W. Bush used the venue to address the country after the September 11, 2001 attacks. Former President Barack Obama made remarks from the Oval Office following the BP oil spill in 2010 on the Gulf Coast.
Biden, who took office in January 2021, has previously spoken in prime time, including his State of the Union speeches from the Capitol and a speech from the White House East Room during the COVID pandemic. -19.
But the Friday night speech is his first from the Oval Office, a setting that showcases the power and authority of the presidency as Biden seeks a second term against a growing number of Republican candidates.
(Reporting by Jeff Mason and Trevor Hunnicutt; Editing by Heather Timmons, Alistair Bell and Diane Craft)