Biden, McConnell Longtime Friendship Tested Over Debt, Agenda

President Joe Biden and Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell find themselves in a tense relationship, as Biden tries to get Congress to approve trillions to fuel his agenda and the federal government heads toward a crucial debt deadline just weeks away.

Both have pointed fingers over what could be the first-ever government debt default.

It's unclear whether the two leaders have talked in recent days. Both have said they are open to it.

"There's been contact with Senator McConnell from the highest levels of the administration, including a recent call with [Treasury] Secretary [Janet] Yellen. And in those conversations, we've made clear how catastrophic the consequences would be if Republicans continue to vote to default and block Democrats from solving this ourselves," deputy White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Tuesday. "Senator McConnell acknowledges there's nothing to negotiate here—Republicans have refused to do the responsible thing and voted instead to default, and when Democrats opted to go at it alone to get this done, McConnell blocked that as well."

The Senate is set to vote again on the debt ceiling on Wednesday, as Republicans have vowed to vote against raising the cap. Democrats hold a paper-thin majority in the Senate, which would require a bipartisan vote unless procedural maneuvers are used to give a Democrat-only vote, which McConnell has advocated.

McConnell opposes Biden and Democratic leaders' attempt to pass through a potentially $3.5 trillion expansion of the social safety net. It's being coupled with a separate infrastructure bill that has gained bipartisan support.

Biden has repeatedly hammered on McConnell and other Republicans for blocking the vote on the debt ceiling.

"As the President made clear—very clear—[Monday], we're no longer asking Republicans to do the right thing, we're just asking them to get out of the way," Jean-Pierre said.

Jean-Pierre told reporters she would notify the press if Biden and McConnell correspond directly over in the coming days, but the two have a long-standing relationship dating back to decades serving alongside each other in the U.S. Senate and while Biden was vice president under then-President Barack Obama and de facto leader of the Senate in that role.

During his first address to Congress in April—just four months after taking office as president—Biden emotionally thanked McConnell for naming a medical research bill in 2016 honor of the president's late son, Beau Biden, who died of brain cancer a year earlier. The comments were not in the president's prepared remarks. McConnell had also attended Beau Biden's funeral—one of few Republicans to do so.

"I'll never forget you standing, Mitch, and saying—naming it after my deceased son," Biden said from the Senate floor this April. "It meant a lot."

McConnell's office didn't respond to Newsweek's request for comment on his relationship with Biden. The White House also didn't immediately respond to a request for more information on their current relationship.

McConnell, 79, and Biden, 78, served in the Senate together from when McConnell was elected in 1985 until Biden became Obama's vice president in 2009.

McConnell was known as a staunch opponent of Obama's agenda as he served as minority leader of the Senate during the Obama tenure.

Biden was known as a trusted envoy to the Senate during the Obama administration.

As Biden was presiding over the Senate for the final time before leaving the vice president's office in 2016, McConnell praised him: "[Joe Biden] will be first to tell you he's been blessed in many ways. He's also been tested, knocked down, pushed to the edge of what anyone could be expected to bear. But from the grip of unknowable despair came a new man, a better man, stronger and more compassionate, grateful for every moment, appreciative of what really matters."

Biden and McConnell's friendship
Mitch McConnell opposes Joe Biden and Democratic leaders' attempt to pass a potentially $3.5 trillion expansion of the social safety net. Above, Biden speaks to McConnell during his inauguration on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on January 20. Alex Wong/Getty Images