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GOP candidates partially blame shutdown threat on Trump debt

Former president did not attend debate among seven rivals

Candidates on stage at the second 2024 Republican presidential primary debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., on Wednesday.
Candidates on stage at the second 2024 Republican presidential primary debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., on Wednesday. (Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)

Some Republican presidential candidates on Wednesday used Donald Trump’s absence at a primary debate to criticize him for adding billions to the national debt.

The GOP candidates also pointed blame at President Joe Biden — saying he has been reckless with federal spending — for what increasingly appears to be a likely government shutdown during a televised debate that featured seven 2024 hopefuls. Primary front-runner Trump, who skipped the debate to instead address autoworkers in the swing state of Michigan, has encouraged a group of House conservatives to go for broke and not pass a temporary spending bill to keep the government operating past Saturday.

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said this when asked who would be to blame if the government shuts down this weekend: “Everybody who’s in Washington, D.C. — they get sent down there to do the job and they’ve been failing.”

“And let’s be honest about this with the voters. You know, during the Trump administration, they added $7 trillion … in national debt. And then the Biden administration has put another $5 trillion on and counting. They have failed and they’re in the spot they’re in now, because none of them are willing to tell the truth. None of them are wanting to take on the difficult issues. They just want to keep kicking the can down the road.”

Whether or not the can gets punted a few weeks via a stopgap spending measure is in doubt, with a handful of conservative rebels vowing to reject any temporary spending bills that hit the House floor.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was the only other candidate who had a chance to answer a question about the looming government shutdown, saying of lawmakers in Washington: “Spare me the crocodile tears for these people.”

He contended Biden is “completely missing in action from leadership.” But he did not limit his criticism to the sitting president, saying of the previous one: “And you know who else is missing an action? Donald Trump is missing an action. He should be on the stage tonight.”

“He owes it to you to defend his record, where they added $7.8 trillion to the debt that set the stage for the inflation that we have now,” DeSantis said, contending he has slashed Florida’s state debt and spending as governor.

Trump left office in the fourth month of fiscal 2021. Financial experts compiling national debt data by president for concluded the 45th president’s term featured a sizable debt hike.

“At the end of fiscal year 2020, the debt was $26.9 trillion. Trump added $6.7 trillion to the debt between fiscal year 2017 and fiscal year 2020, a 33.1 percent increase, largely due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and 2020 recession,” the experts wrote. “In his [fiscal] 2021 budget, Trump’s budget included a $966 billion deficit. However, the national debt actually grew by $1.5 trillion between October 1, 2020, and October 1, 2021.”

If all of fiscal 2021 is included, the total grows to $8.2 trillion.

Trump spent his evening in Michigan speaking to workers amid a United Auto Workers strike amid a contract dispute with American auto manufacturers that drew Biden to a picket line in Michigan on Tuesday. Trump on Wednesday evening called the seven GOP debaters “job candidates,” meaning for vice president in his possible second term. He asked the audience at an auto parts factory if any of the Republican candidates would be running mate candidates, drawing a collective groan.

“I don’t think so. I don’t think so,” Trump said, shaking his head. A few days before he counterprogrammed the debate, Trump called on House conservatives to bring about a government shuttering unless GOP leaders meet their many demands on cutting spending and loading spending bills with far-right policy provisions — even though such bills are going nowhere in the Senate.

“Unless you get everything, shut it down,” Trump wrote recently on his social media platform as he added to his lead in the primary in multiple polls. He is up nationally by over 35 percentage points in several polls released since Sunday — and by more than 40 percentage points in a couple surveys.

The government would shut down at 12 a.m. Sunday unless the House and Senate pass some kind of spending legislation that Biden would sign into law. But there is no legislation in the works that could pass both chambers — and only a Senate version of a continuing resolution could get Biden’s signature.

Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., is planning floor votes later this week on a right-leaning continuing resolution that also would include border security funds. A Senate stopgap includes aid for Ukraine that many House Republicans oppose, but no border monies. And neither chamber is expected to take up the other’s CR, which would leave the government without operating funds at 11:59 p.m. Saturday.

A YouGov poll released earlier Wednesday found twice as many respondents (29 percent) would blame congressional Republicans for a shutdown than Democrats (14 percent). Notably, another 32 percent said they would blame “everyone equally.”

Among key independent voters, most (39 percent) would blame “everyone equally,” while 20 percent would most blame GOP lawmakers and 10 percent would pin fault on congressional Democrats.

Among all respondents, 13 percent said they would blame Biden most, according to the same poll. Among independents, 12 percent of that bloc said the current president would be most responsible for a shutdown.

But it was GOP voters in the spotlight during the debate. Twenty-five percent of Republican respondents told YouGov they would blame Biden, while 24 percent would blame congressional Democrats and 9 percent would blame GOP members. Interestingly, over one-third (35 percent) would blame “everyone equally.”

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Photos of the week ending December 8, 2023