WASHINGTON -- House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) may not be pushing the issue publicly, but in private she "clearly" supports President Barack Obama using the Constitution to raise the debt ceiling as a last resort, according to one Democratic member of Congress.
"Nancy clearly wants it," said the lawmaker, who requested anonymity. "Publicly? No. Privately? She thinks the president should do it. Period."
Several top Democrats have endorsed the idea in recent days as an eleventh hour solution: House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) backed the option on Wednesday, and House Democratic Caucus chairman John Larson (D-Conn.) and Assistant Minority Leader James Clyburn (D-S.C.) emerged from a Monday Caucus meeting announcing their support for the idea as well.
But Pelosi, the highest-ranking House Democrat, has been mum. One possible reason is that she has to preserve the image that Congress will reach a deal before the situation even gets to that point.
The provision at the heart of the constitutional debate, 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.
A Pelosi aide said he hasn't heard the Minority Leader endorse the constitutional option to any lawmakers. "But who knows," said the aide. "Our official line is her energy is focused on getting a balanced deal."
That "deal," of course, remains nonexistent. Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) met with Obama for nearly two hours on Saturday afternoon, shortly after the House voted down Reid's debt ceiling proposal. Reid took to the Senate floor afterward to knock Republicans for refusing to negotiate and said "the process has not been moved forward during this day."
The crumbling state of discussions over how to raise the debt ceiling by August 2, when the government is expected to run out of money to pay its bills, is causing a growing number of Democrats to nervously turn their attention to the constitutional option as a possible way of averting default. Meanwhile, the White House insists the option remains off the table, citing concerns with Obama's legal authority to unilaterally raise the debt ceiling without congressional approval.
The issue "came up" during a Democratic Caucus meeting on Saturday, Del. Donna Christensen (D-Virgin Islands) told The Huffington Post, but was not considered a viable option "for today."
"It's one I don't like, and I know the president has said he doesn't like," said Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.). "But if that's what it takes to prevent the country from catastrophic default, I think at the very last minute, I think that's something the president's going to have to consider."
When asked if he is optimistic that Congress can reach a deal by August 2, Connolly replied with a resounding "no."
"I think we're coming down the wire and the other side is essentially enthralled to a very narrow orthodoxy that doesn't allow them, ultimately, to recognize their obligations to the United States," he said. "I'm very concerned about that."
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), the former chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, charged forward on Saturday, filing a resolution with a group of progressive Democrats calling on Obama to take the constitutional route as a last resort.
"I think it's essential" that Obama be prepared to invoke the 14th Amendment, Nadler told The Huffington Post. "I'm dubious that anybody can come to any agreement that can pass both houses."
Asked if such action would only give ammunition to critics ready to call for Obama's impeachment -- this time for potentially violating the Constitution -- Nadler replied, "Let them try. Let them try."
The New York Democrat wondered aloud how much of the president's insistence that the option is off the table is for show, given that he needs to convey that the situation won't come to that point.
"It's something he should say," Nadler said of Obama's rejection of the 14th Amendment option. "But the fact is, legally, I think it's doable."
The increasing anxiety about an endgame was evident during Saturday's House debate. In the minutes before the House rejected Reid's debt proposal, some Democrats used their floor time to urge Obama to step in.
"The president needs to pull the 14th Amendment," Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) said. "I think he should, because the Republicans have shown no sign of compromise."