‘Intense’ Discussion of Ukraine Aid Overshadows Government Shutdown Talks

February 27, 2024 by Dan McCue
‘Intense’ Discussion of Ukraine Aid Overshadows Government Shutdown Talks
President Joe Biden speaks during a meeting with Congressional leaders in the Oval Office of the White House, Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024, in Washington. From left, Speaker of the House Mike Johnson of La., Vice President Kamala Harris, Biden, and Senate Majority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer of N.Y. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON — With Congress at a virtual standstill, President Joe Biden on Tuesday urged Republican and Democratic leaders to act swiftly to avoid a government shutdown and finally pass long-stalled emergency aid to Ukraine and Israel.

Biden invited House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to the Oval Office as an impasse in the Republican-led House over the foreign aid showed no signs of breaking.

The Senate passed the $95 million package that would provide aid to Ukraine, Israel and allies in the Indo-Pacific region by a bipartisan 70-29 vote earlier this month.

Since then, however, Johnson has refused to schedule it for a vote, due to stiff opposition from members of the House Freedom Caucus and others on the GOP conference’s hard right.

At least one member, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., has threatened to make a motion to vacate the chair, and potentially end Johnson’s speakership, if he moves forward with funding to Ukraine.

It’s “an absolute no-go,” she said during interviews this month.

Prior to Tuesday’s late-morning meeting in the Oval Office, Biden attempted to balance the urgency of the moment with a bit of levity.

As pool reporters and photographers were ushered into the room, the president made no bones about the fact he believes passing the national security supplemental containing the foreign aid and funding for the government has to happen, and happen soon.

He called it an “important solution we need to find.”

He went on to describe the need for more U.S. aid by Ukraine as “urgent” and said the “consequences of inaction everyday in Ukraine are dire.”

Biden also spoke briefly about Israel, saying that while some of the money is earmarked to replenish Israel’s air defenses, it also “contains a significant portion having to do with humanitarian assistance in the Palestinian area, which I think is important.”

But it was when he got to the subject of government funding — funding that could partially lapse this weekend — that he decided to crack a joke.

“I’m sure you guys have it all taken care of,” he said with a smile to the congressional leaders.

A beat later he went on to say he was sure all in the room could agree that a government shutdown “would damage the economy.”

The meeting, which was also attended by Vice President Kamala Harris, ended about two hours later.

Afterwards, Schumer said the discussion surrounding aid to Ukraine was one of the most intense meetings he’d ever encountered in the Oval Office.

Asked to elaborate as he stood at “the sticks,” the microphones set up outside the West Wing, Schumer said the intensity was inflamed both by the “urgency of supporting Ukraine” and the “consequences to the people of America and America’s strength if we don’t do anything or do anything soon.”

Before leaving, Schumer admitted, “The intensity in that room was surprising to me.

“But because of the passion of the president, the vice president, Leader Jeffries, Leader McConnell and myself, it was made clear how vital this was to the United States. This was so, so important, and that we couldn’t afford to wait a month or two months or three months, because we would, in all likelihood, lose the war, NATO would be fractured at best, allies would turn away from the United States, and the boldest leaders, the boldest autocrats of the world … would be emboldened,” he said.

Schumer was also asked if there was any discussion of the migrant situation on the U.S.-Mexico border. House Republicans have insisted that something needs to be done to secure the border, and that only the White House can do it.

The White House has maintained it needs further congressional action to enable it to broaden its approach to addressing the situation.

Some Republicans have also said aid to Ukraine should be contingent on White House action on the border.

Schumer said the overwhelming sentiment during Tuesday’s discussions was that “we’ve got to do Ukraine now.”

“There are other issues, including the border, which we should address, but not now,” he said.

While Johnson evidently raised the idea that Biden could address border security issues by administrative action, Schumer said he thought the president won that argument.

“He said you can’t do it,” the majority leader said.

“We all said that without personnel — and you need legislation for personnel — you simply can’t get done what needs to be done,” he continued. “Even the Republicans, in their budget, ask for more money for personnel at the border.

“So it was clear we want to fix the border. And it was also clear that the speaker did not [have a case] for why you had to do one, [the border], before you did the other [Ukraine aid].”

“As Democrats, we support a safe, strong and humane border,” said Jeffries. 

“We just need our House Republican colleagues not to play politics and engage in political stunts relative to the border,” he said.

Johnson emerged from the West Wing shortly after Schumer and Jeffries headed back to the Capitol, revealing that he met one-on-one with Biden after the group meeting ended.

He did not take questions from reporters, but instead made a statement.

“Let me say this: When I showed up today, my purpose was to express what I believe is the obvious truth, and that is that we must take care of America’s needs first,” Johnson said. 

“When you talk about Americans’ needs, you have to talk first about our open border,” he continued. “I’ve been, I believe, in maybe 20-something states over the last several weeks, going around the country, appearing at events with my colleagues, and we’re hearing from the American people of all parties and all persuasions and all cities and all states who feel this acutely. 

“They understand that catastrophe at the border is affecting everyone and it is top of mind for all the American people for that reason. So I brought that issue up repeatedly today in that room and, again, one-on-one with the president. I think that’s our responsibility, to bring that up,” he said.

On the subject of government funding, Johnson said Congress has been working in “good faith” and “around the clock” every single day for weeks and months to “get the job done.”

“But again, the first priority of the country is our border and making sure it’s secure,” he said. “I believe the president can take executive authority right now, today, to change that. And I told him that again today in person, as I’ve said to him many times, publicly and privately, over the last several weeks. It’s time for action. 

“It is a catastrophe and it must stop. And we will get the government funded, and we’ll keep working on that,” Johnson said.

Dan can be reached at [email protected] and @DanMcCue

A+
a-
  • government shutdown
  • Hakeem Jeffries
  • Israel
  • Joe Biden
  • Kamala Harris
  • Mitch McConnell
  • Oval Office
  • In The News

    Health

    Voting

    White House

    Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to Address Congress Amid Skepticism About US Role Abroad

    WASHINGTON (AP) — Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida will head to Capitol Hill on Thursday for an address to U.S. lawmakers meant... Read More

    WASHINGTON (AP) — Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida will head to Capitol Hill on Thursday for an address to U.S. lawmakers meant to underscore the importance of keeping a strong partnership between the two countries at a time of tension in the Asia-Pacific and skepticism in Congress about... Read More

    April 10, 2024
    by Dan McCue
    President Celebrates ‘Unbreakable Alliance’ During Japanese Prime Minister’s Visit

    WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden feted his Japanese counterpart Prime Minister Fumio Kishida during the latter’s state visit here on... Read More

    WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden feted his Japanese counterpart Prime Minister Fumio Kishida during the latter’s state visit here on Wednesday, while also announcing a series of moves intended to deepen cooperation between the two nations on several fronts. “The unbreakable alliance between Japan and the... Read More

    Justice Department Blasts GOP Effort to Hold Attorney General Garland in Contempt Over Biden Audio

    WASHINGTON (AP) — The Justice Department on Monday blasted Republicans' effort to hold Attorney General Merrick Garland in contempt over his refusal... Read More

    WASHINGTON (AP) — The Justice Department on Monday blasted Republicans' effort to hold Attorney General Merrick Garland in contempt over his refusal to turn over unredacted materials related to the special counsel probe into President Joe Biden’s handling of classified documents. In a letter obtained by The Associated Press,... Read More

    April 8, 2024
    by Dan McCue
    Biden Administration Invests $6.6B to Bolster US Chip Manufacturing

    WASHINGTON — The Biden administration is awarding up to $6.6 billion in grants to the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, the... Read More

    WASHINGTON — The Biden administration is awarding up to $6.6 billion in grants to the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, the largest maker of the most advanced microchips in the world, to help support construction of the company’s first major hub in the United States. The announcement... Read More

    April 5, 2024
    by Dan McCue
    President Biden to Travel to Site of Baltimore Bridge Collapse

    WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden will visit the site of the Baltimore bridge that collapsed after it was rammed by... Read More

    WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden will visit the site of the Baltimore bridge that collapsed after it was rammed by a fully loaded cargo ship and is expected to reaffirm his commitment to rebuild the structure and reopen the Port of Baltimore as quickly as possible.... Read More

    April 4, 2024
    by Dan McCue
    Biden Presses Netanyahu on Curtailing Civilian Casualties in Gaza

    WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Thursday warned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to swiftly implement new steps to protect... Read More

    WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Thursday warned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to swiftly implement new steps to protect civilians and aid workers in Gaza or face the curtailment of U.S. support for Israel’s ongoing war effort against Hamas. Speaking to reporters in the White... Read More

    News From The Well
    scroll top