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Biden will urge congressional leaders to avoid a government shutdown, send aid to Ukraine and Israel

Published: February 27, 2024, 8:06am

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden was meeting Tuesday with the top four leaders of Congress to press them to act quickly to avoid a looming government shutdown early next month and to pass emergency aid for Ukraine and Israel.

Biden was hosting House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. Vice President Kamala Harris also was attending.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Biden invited the leaders to the Oval Office meeting because he wants to make sure U.S. national security interests are “put first.” She said those interests include continuing to fund the government.

“Look, what the president wants to see is we want to make sure that the national security interests of the American people gets put first, right?” she said Monday as Biden flew to New York. “It is not used as a political football, right? We want to make sure that gets done.

“And we also want to see that, you know, that the government does not get shut down,” Jean-Pierre said, adding that keeping the government open and functioning is a “basic, basic priority” of Congress.

The Senate’s top two leaders also urged that the government be kept open. Parts of the government could start to scale back operations as early as Friday unless a deal is reached on spending and legislation is sent to Biden for his signature.

Schumer said in a speech on the Senate floor ahead of the White House meeting that he hoped it would be an “important, timely and fruitful discussion” and urged Johnson to tune out demands from hardline conservatives.

“We recognize that the speaker of the House is in a difficult position, but he must reject the MAGA hard right which wants a shutdown, wants to hurt America and does not represent a majority of Republicans in the House, a majority of Republicans in the Senate and a majority of Republicans in America – let alone all Americans,” Schumer said.

Schumer added that he will make a “strong case” to Johnson for why the military aid for Ukraine is immediately needed.

“Ukraine is low on ammo, on anti-air defense systems, on munitions, on long-range artillery. This shortage is creating asymmetry on the battlefield. Russia can fire and take out Ukrainian targets, but Ukraine increasingly can’t fire back,” Schumer said.

McConnell, in a Senate floor speech ahead of the meeting, criticized western nations that “hesitate” to aid Ukraine, but mostly pointed to decisions during the Obama administration not to send military aid to Kyiv.

The House, under Johnson’s leadership, is under pressure to pass the $95 billion national security package that bolsters aid for Ukraine, Israel and the Indo-Pacific. That measure cleared the Senate on a bipartisan 70-29 vote this month, but Johnson has resisted scheduling it for a vote in the House.

Apart from the national security package, government funding for agriculture, transportation, military construction and some veterans’ services expires Friday. Funding for the rest of the government, including the Pentagon, the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department, expires a week later, on March 8.