Irish Throwdown: Saint Patrick’s Day Lunch Sets Stage for Biden, McCarthy Debt Ceiling Negotiations


Call it the luck of the Irish: President Joe Biden, a Democrat, hinted at agreeing to negotiate with Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy on the debt ceiling during remarks at the annual Friends of Ireland luncheon, a shift from Biden’s initial position of wanting to pass a clean debt ceiling increase with no negotiations.

The two U.S. leaders of Irish descent gathered with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and congressional leaders at the Capitol on Friday for a themed lunch during which they did not mention the brewing debt ceiling disagreement specifically but appeared to allude to the looming fight to raise the nation’s borrowing limit.

McCarthy, who spoke first, put the pressure on Biden by harkening back to the days of the first Irish luncheon in the 1980s, featuring Republican President Ronald Reagan and Democrat House Speaker Tip O’Neill.

“Almost every year since, every speaker, every president, and every prime minister has set aside the issues of the day to gather to toast the great Saint Patrick,” McCarthy said.

The speaker characterized the late politicians’ relationship as “special.”

McCarthy continued:

All of us would honor the relationship those two had, and we talk about the moments and times when they rose to the occasion. It was easy to have political fights, but on 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.

In that moment and that time when they had fiscal problems, they found a way to get together. They would always break bread, share some Guinness, and fight hard for their own personal beliefs, and at the end of the day America was stronger for that, and it’s unique that 40 years later we’re back here again.

Biden last week introduced a budget proposal that included tax hikes and spending increases, a dead-on-arrival opening bid that House Republicans have already rejected.

McCarthy himself said he would not support tax hikes and needed to see discretionary spending cuts in exchange for raising the debt limit during a recent interview with Breitbart News’s Matthew Boyle.

“We’re not going to raise taxes and we’re not going to pass a clean debt ceiling,” McCarthy vowed.

The speaker on Friday spoke directly at Biden as he concluded his luncheon remarks, saying he wanted the pair to strive to be like Reagan and O’Neill in terms of reaching an agreement that prioritizes America.

“Our positions may be reversed but our goals can be the same, that we put this country first,” McCarthy said before reciting an Irish blessing that he said was his late father’s “favorite.”

Others present at the event included well-known Massachusettsans Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA) and former Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-MA), who now serves as U.S. special envoy to Northern Ireland. Former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was also in attendance, and Grammy-nominated Celtic band Cherish the Ladies performed for the attendees.

US President Joe Biden, center left, and US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, a Republican from California, right, during the annual Friends of Ireland luncheon with Leo Varadkar, Ireland's prime minister, not pictured, at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, US, on Friday, March 17, 2023. The Irish prime minister is in Washington today meeting with lawmakers, a bipartisan St. Patrick's Day tradition. Photographer: Yuri Gripas/Abaca/Bloomberg

(Yuri Gripas/Abaca/Bloomberg)


Biden and McCarthy appeared largely in good spirits, setting aside typical political tensions for the holiday celebration.

Biden quoted Irish poet Seamus Heaney and recalled visiting the Emerald Isle.

“I, like all of you, take pride in my Irish ancestry and as long as I can remember it’s been sort of part of my soul, how I’ve been raised,” Biden said.

The president said, “I agree with the speaker. There’s no reason why we can’t find common ground. There’s no reason why we can’t hope to change this direction of the extremes that both our parties are pushing.”

Biden said his and McCarthy’s “partnership” could be defined by their shared background.

“That’s the power of friendship. That’s the strength of our partnership if we work at it, and, simply put, I think it’s the Irish of it, I think it’s the Irish of it,” Biden said. “So, I hope we can turn this breakfast into more of an everyday relationship. … There’s so many possibilities we have.”

Write to Ashley Oliver at Follow her on Twitter at @asholiver.