Instead of presenting a unified front ahead of a coming debt ceiling fight, Trump's Cabinet remains crossways. Treasury Secretary Mnuchin wants a "clean" increase, OMB Director Mulvaney favors spending reforms, and Sean Spicer is caught in the middle.
The already beleaguered press secretary had the unenviable task of trying to convince the press that Republicans were negotiating while they're clearly fighting behind closed doors.
"I would put it more like this," Spicer said during Tuesday's press conference, "there's a conversation that is going to go on with Congress about how to proceed and it's not, at this time—I'm not going to get in front of that discussion."
But as Mnuchin, Mulvaney, and congressional leaders talk, talk, and talk, Spicer probably wishes they'd just knock it off. The White House should just admit that they don't have a plan. No amount of spin can hide that fact.
The only clarity has come from White House legislative affairs director Marc Short, who told reporters Monday that Congress should raise the limit "before they adjourn for August." A simple enough task, lawmakers periodically increase the debt ceiling in order to authorize increases in the federal government's borrowing authority.
Other than that, there's no agreement.
Mnuchin first indicated to the House Ways and Committee in May that he preferred a "clean," vote on the debt ceiling without any accompanying spending cuts or reforms. Mulvaney seemed to balk at that possibility during a sit-down interview with the Washington Examiner's editorial board.
Describing it as a sort of "smoke alarm," Mulvaney said the debt ceiling warns the federal government "that we've now, once again, spent more than we have." And now that alarm is blaring, he's prepared to borrow more in exchange for "certain spending reforms and debt reforms in the future."
Complicating the debate further, factions inside the Republican House conference are already drawing battle lines. Mulvaney's old colleagues in the Freedom Crisis, a flock of roughly 40 fiscal hawks, have made their opposition to raising the limit known. That means that Democrat support would be needed to keep the federal government from defaulting on its obligations.
And the longer the fiscal battle rages inside the administration, the harder Spicer's job gets. For once the White House should do the press secretary a solid and get on the same page.
Philip Wegmann is a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner.