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The House of Representatives is set to vote on the debt limit bill late Wednesday

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

First, though, to Capitol Hill where the U.S. House of Representatives is on the verge of the first major vote to approve critical legislation to lift the debt ceiling. President Biden, ahead of a trip to Colorado for a commencement address at the U.S. Air Force Academy - he's pulling for good news.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: And God willing, by the time I land, the Congress will have acted, the House will have acted, and we'll be one step closer.

KELLY: If the House approves the plan, the Senate will take up the legislation next. That whole process could take days and could brush up against the date that the country runs out of money to pay its bills. Joining me now, NPR congressional correspondent Claudia Grisales. Hey there.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.

KELLY: All right. So what we watching for? The House is voting on this debt limit bill that's expected - what? - late tonight?

GRISALES: Yes. Yes. We're looking at seeing what House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and other leaders are predicting, which is that this bill - it's called the Fiscal Responsibility Act - will move through the chamber. We just saw a related procedural vote that gives us a little bit of a clue how this late-night session for final passage could go. I was there in the chamber, and I can tell you this is probably the most exciting procedural vote we've had in the House...

KELLY: The bar is high. Yeah.

GRISALES: ...For quite some time. Yes. The final vote tally to move to the next stage of debate for this bill was 241 to 187. And with that, we saw 52 Democrats join 189 Republicans to vote for this. It was a really interesting scene in the chamber 'cause we could see Democrats waiting to see how many Republicans were willing to vote yes before submitting their own votes. In the end, we saw 29 Republicans vote no. They were largely members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus. We saw progressive Democrats vote no as well. So it was a large share of Democrats who were part of a moderate bipartisan caucus - it's known as a Problem Solvers Caucus - who came through in the end to push this over the line to head to the next stage of debate. And so we saw moderate Republicans and Democrats play a key role here, and that is largely what was predicted for this bipartisan deal.

KELLY: Tell me more about those no votes. What elements in the bill are attracting the most pushback?

GRISALES: Well, we've heard a lot of concerns from Democrats that this deal is a ransom note in these negotiations to raise the debt limit and lots of frustration about the overall deal and new limits that it sends - it sets for spending. While on the other hand, we've heard more conservative Republicans say this was no deal at all and that the GOP could have extracted a lot more from the Biden White House, and it did not.

KELLY: Yeah, we've also heard some Republicans criticizing Kevin McCarthy's dealmaking. Is he going to keep his job?

GRISALES: We have heard significant discontent among those House Freedom Caucus members, for example, with some flirting with that idea of his removal. But we haven't seen any traction in a major way, so for now, McCarthy's job looks safe. He was quite confident talking to reporters earlier today that the legislation would pass, sharing what message he would tell members of his conference ahead of tonight's vote.

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KEVIN MCCARTHY: Vote for the bill. It's going to be the largest cut in American history - put us on the right track to the first step of changing the way we spend money here.

GRISALES: And then he was asked after this if he was worried about losing his gavel, and he said, quote, "not at all."

KELLY: And then give us the preview - if the House votes yes on this bill, they suspend the debt limit tonight, what happens in the Senate?

GRISALES: There is a lot left to do here. As we know, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has said the so-called debt limit X-date, the deadline, is Monday, June 5. And the Senate already has a growing list of senators who will vote against this measure. Some, such as Republican Mike Lee of Utah, have already said they'll resort to stalling tactics if they cannot get the votes they want on certain amendments. So Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer warned his chamber that without cooperation, they should prepare for potential new votes at the end of this week or perhaps into this weekend related to this bill. So Congress could be cutting it very close to the deadline, and that raises a whole slew of concerns if it could face a downgrade in its credit rating or worse.

KELLY: Sounds like quite the weekend ahead on Capitol...

GRISALES: Yes.

KELLY: ...Hill. Good luck with that.

GRISALES: Thank you.

KELLY: NPR's Claudia Grisales. Thank you.

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

Claudia Grisales is a congressional reporter assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.
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