WASHINGTON -- House Democratic leaders emerged from a Wednesday caucus meeting with a message for President Barack Obama: Invoke the Constitution to resolve the debt standoff.
If Congress can't reach a deal on a long-term debt limit increase by Aug. 2, Obama should "sign an executive order invoking the 14th Amendment," said Assistant Minority Leader James Clyburn (D-S.C.).
"I am convinced that whatever discussions about the legality of that can continue," Clyburn said. "But I believe that something like this will bring calm to the American people and will bring needed stability to our financial markets."
House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (D-Conn.) acknowledged that Obama has previously expressed doubts about his legal authority to unilaterally raise the debt limit. But circumstances have changed, Larson said, and "we just want to let him know that his Caucus is prepared to stand behind him" if Congress fails to pass a long-term deal.
"We have to have a fail-safe mechanism," Larson said. "We believe that fail-safe mechanism is the 14th Amendment and the president of the United States."
Section 4 of the 14th Amendment states: “The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payments of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.” Essentially, Democrats are arguing that since the "public debt" cannot be questioned, then the debt ceiling itself is unconstitutional.
Democratic senators have been eying this option since late June. Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), an attorney, predicted at that time the constitutional option may get "a pretty strong second look as a way of saying, 'Is there some way to save us from ourselves?'"
With time running out on Congress to come up with a bipartisan plan by next Tuesday to avert a debt default, Clyburn put the constitutional option back on the table in the Wednesday caucus meeting and got strong support from members. But he said he has yet to bring it back up to Obama.
"I speak with the White House often," Clyburn told reporters. "I have not spoken to them today."
Former President Bill Clinton has said he would invoke that option "without hesitation" and leave it to the courts to figure it out.
UPDATE: 3:35 p.m. -- White House Press Secretary Jay Carney again ruled out the possibility of Obama using the 14th Amendment to resolve the debt dispute.
"Our position hasn't changed," Carney said during his Wednesday briefing. "There are no off-ramps. ... Only Congress has the legal authority."
UPDATE: 5:20 p.m. -- Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and a handful of other Democrats are holding a Thursday press conference to urge Obama to use the 14th Amendment as a back-up option.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.) and Del. Donna Christensen (D-Virgin Islands) will join with Engel at 1:00 p.m. to call to Obama to "invoke the 14th Amendment in the absence of a bipartisan agreement agreement to raise the debt ceiling and avoid national default," according to a press release. The group also picked a symbolic location to deliver their message: the corner of Constitution Ave and 14th St.