Washington — One week ahead of a potential, President Biden issued a stark warning that "America could be forced to pay the price" if Republicans in Congress fail to act.
"Let's be clear: if the government shuts down, that means members of the Congress — members of the U.S. military are going to have to continue to work and not get paid," Mr. Biden said at a dinner hosted by the Congressional Black Caucus, or CBC, in Washington Saturday night. "A government shutdown can affect everything from food safety to cancer research to Head Start for children."
Mr. Biden said funding the government is one of the "most basic responsibilities of Congress," and blamed "extreme Republicans" for failing to adhere to a previous debt ceiling agreement that included limits on federal spending. House Republicans continued to strategize over the weekend and plan to move forward on a package of appropriations bills this week, hoping to build support for a short-term continuing resolution to keep the government open.
"That's our plan," House Speaker Kevin McCarthy told reporters as he exited the Capitol Saturday. "If we're able to get 45 more days, just like a stop-gap, and get the rest of our business done, it would be very productive."
Mr. Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris spoke during the CBC's Phoenix Awards dinner and made a vociferous case for their reelection in 2024. Ashowed Mr. Biden trailing former President Donald Trump by one point, 49%-50%, in a potential rematch. Only a third of voters surveyed said they believed the president, who is 80 years old, could finish a second term.
"You may have noticed a lot of people have focused on my age," Mr. Biden noted Saturday. "Well, I get it, believe me. I know better than anyone. But there's something else I know. When I came to office, this nation was flat on its back. I knew what to do. I vaccinated the nation and rebuilt the economy."
Mr. Biden thanked caucus members and told them "I owe you," nodding to overwhelming support from Black voters during his 2020 campaign. Harris said the administration will continue to fight for issues impacting communities of color, from reproductive rights to anti-gun and civil rights legislation.
"They know when Congress passes a bill to put back in place the protections of Roe v. Wade, that our President Joe Biden will sign it, that when Congress renews the assault weapons ban, President Joe Biden will sign it, and when you pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, and Freedom to Vote Act, Joe Biden will sign them!" Harris said.
The CBC's conference
Their appearance capped the CBC's 52nd annual legislative conference, which had the theme of "Securing Our Democracy, Protecting Our Freedoms, Uplifting Our Culture."
"What we're seeing is that we are in a place where many of us thought we would not be at this day and age, where there are those forces that are trying to pull back the kind of freedoms and democracy and [equity] that we have seen expanding in this country," conference co-chair and Virgin Islands Delegate Stacey Plaskett told CBS News.
Plaskett pointed to recent battles over book banning, Florida's African-American history standards, the Supreme Court's decision to roll back affirmative action policies and efforts to dismantle diversity, equity and inclusion programs.
"There are so many forces that are really trying to restrict that and trying to at the same time erase history," said Plaskett. "It takes on a greater significance as we go into an election year."
This year's conference opened up with a national town hall discussion on voting rights, redistricting and defending democracy. The session was headlined by Plaskett, CBC Chair Steven Horsford, CBC Foundation President Nicole Austin-Hillery, Tennessee state Rep. Justin Jones of the "Tennessee Three" and entertainer Sean "Diddy" Combs.
Sessions also spanned a range of topics with panels on artificial intelligence, closing the racial wealth gap, health care, education, gun safety and the 50th anniversary of hip hop.
"The Black Caucus is not for one age group or one group of Black Americans or even just for African-Americans," Plaskett said. "It's for our allies who want to understand our history, want to understand the challenges, be a part of uplifting and recognizing how that helps all Americans."
The caucus' annual legislative conference is the largest gathering of African-Americans in the country. The CBC, often referred to as the "conscience of the Congress," was founded by 13 Black lawmakers in 1971.
Laura Garrison contributed to this report.
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