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News / Politics

Biden willing to meet Johnson to discuss Ukraine, Israel aid

By Justin Sink and Ashleigh Carrington Fields, Bloomberg News
Published: February 19, 2024, 11:42am

President Joe Biden said he would be willing to meet House Speaker Mike Johnson to discuss an emergency funding package for Ukraine and Israel, after White House officials previously dismissed the utility of direct talks.

“I’d be happy to meet with him if he has anything to say,” Biden told reporters Monday after returning to the White House from his weekend in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.

The president’s remarks are a signal the White House is intensifying its effort to secure passage for a $95 billion aid bill, which also includes funding for the Indo-Pacific and aid for Palestinian civilians. Supporters of the package, which passed the Senate in a 70-29 vote, have argued the fall of the Ukrainian city of Avdiivka to Russian forces and the death last week of opposition leader Alexey Navalny in a Siberian prison intensified the need for quick passage of the funding.

“We’re making a big mistake not responding,” Biden told reporters, adding that he hoped the death of Navalny, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s most formidable domestic critic, would rally support behind the legislation.

Biden said he was considering new sanctions on Russia over Navalny’s death.

The president’s willingness to engage in one-on-one negotiations comes after his aides had cast such a session as unproductive last week, noting the Republican leader’s shifting demands for a foreign aid bill.

Johnson, who clings to a narrow majority in the House, had insisted foreign aid funding be married to new border-control measures — only to reject a bipartisan package negotiated in the Senate at the urging of former President Donald Trump, Biden’s likely opponent in November’s presidential election.

“What is there to negotiate? Really? Truly? What is the one-on-one negotiation about when he’s been presented with exactly what he asked for? So, he’s negotiating with himself. He’s killing bills on his own,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters.

Biden is expected to travel to California for a three-day fundraising swing beginning Tuesday. Lawmakers are on recess so it’s not clear when a meeting might be scheduled.

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