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Rep. Mike Lawler on the debt ceiling speech Biden gave in his district

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

* President Biden spoke to voters about the debt ceiling in Westchester County, N.Y., this week. And in the audience was the district's congressman, a freshman Republican.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Mike is the kind of guy that when I was in the Congress, he was the kind of Republican I was used to dealing with.

SIMON: That Mike is with us. Congressman Mike Lawler, thanks so much for being with us, Representative.

MIKE LAWLER: Good morning. Thanks for having me.

SIMON: We spoke just a couple of weeks ago. Debt ceiling negotiations have been going on. Any closer to an agreement?

LAWLER: Look, I think we obviously saw a little bit of progress this week with the president and the speaker meeting. I know they are scheduled to meet again this coming week. The staffs of both have met. And, you know, there's been a little bit of a thawing. But, you know, obviously, when I met with the president on Wednesday, I took the opportunity to encourage him to really find some common ground here. I think all of us have a responsibility to avoid default. And as I said to the president, for me, throughout this entire process, I've had three parameters - the president and the speaker must negotiate, we must cut long-term spending and we cannot default. And I think if everybody's willing to give a little, we'll be able to get where we need to be.

SIMON: May I ask what was the effect of Donald Trump saying in his CNN town hall appearance, and I quote, "maybe we have to do a default"? He has a lot of influence in your party.

LAWLER: I don't think it has any effect. I think all of my colleagues understand a default would be cataclysmic for our economy. And frankly, I heard nobody in our conference after those remarks agree with them.

SIMON: Do you think a short-term deal might be needed to buy more time for a longer agreement?

LAWLER: You know, if it comes to that, maybe. But again, the objective here needs to be for everybody to get in the room, do what they need to do and negotiate. This is - you know, we've all known this is coming, so this should not be a surprise to anybody. The president took 97 days to meet with the speaker after their first meeting. We need to accelerate the conversations here. I don't think kicking the can down the road, you know, is going to solve anything here. So the objective needs to be to find a solution as quickly as possible.

SIMON: Representative Lawler, what - I know you don't want to negotiate in public, but what would you tell fellow Republicans they might have to give up if they're going to get an agreement?

LAWLER: Look, obviously, we passed the Limit, Save and Grow Act, which would save taxpayers $4.8 trillion over 10 years. The president, you know, has voiced his opposition to that. But I think, you know, there are certainly areas of agreement that we can find within it. The president previously supported work requirements. I don't see why he would be opposed to that. You know, obviously, unspent and unallocated COVID funds shouldn't be an issue. So I think there's areas within the Limit, Save and Grow Act that the president could find agreement with. And the objective, of course, would be, you know, for everybody to give a little bit because that's the only way you find compromise. So, you know, obviously, Republicans aren't going to get everything they want out of a final deal, but neither is the president. So I think there's got to be a little give and take and find some area of agreement.

SIMON: Final quick question - your fellow Congressman, George Santos, pleaded not guilty to 13 felony charges. Does his insistence on not resigning complicate the work of a small Republican majority?

LAWLER: Look, ultimately, he's not going to be long for this world - we all know that - in terms of elected office. So I've called for him to resign. If he had any dignity or decency, he would, but seemingly he does not. And so, you know, the process will play itself out. And, you know, I suspect sooner rather than later, he will no longer be a member of Congress.

SIMON: Congressman Mike Lawler, Republican of New York, thanks so much for being with us.

LAWLER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon
Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.