Even as the partisan battle lines for the next epic political clash were being drawn, President Joe Biden had no desire to engage. "Nope," Biden said matter-of-factly in August when asked by a reporter if he was concerned about the potential for a US default on its debt. "They're not going to let us default." The comments, which bordered on a casual dismissal, came as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was rallying Republicans behind the idea that Democrats would have to approve any debt ceiling increase themselves.
Washington, once again, was barreling toward a self-imposed crisis that would rattle markets, threaten the US credit rating and, as has been the case for the better part of a decade, create yet another reason for Americans to question the government's ability to handle the most basic of tasks. In the moment, Biden's brush-off appeared to be a misunderstanding of the dynamics that threatened to overtake Capitol Hill. Instead, what it was -- according to interviews with multiple people involved in the events that would take place over the next four months -- was an early window into a strategy that would ultimately play a role in what became a crisis-free resolution that transpired with oddly little fanfare.