Biden urges Congress to avoid a government shutdown, send 'urgent' aid to Ukraine and Israel

AP , Tuesday 27 Feb 2024

US President Joe Biden implored the top four leaders of Congress Tuesday to act quickly to avoid a looming government shutdown early next month and to pass emergency aid for Ukraine and Israel, as a legislative logjam in the GOP-led House showed no signs of abating.

Joe Biden
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


Biden hosted 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., in the Oval Office along with Vice President Kamala Harris.

“The need is urgent,” Biden said of the Ukraine aid. “The consequences of inaction every day in Ukraine are dire."

He claimed that Israel also needs US funding to replenish its supply of Iron Dome interceptors that it uses to protect against inbound rockets.

Republicans in the House have thus far refused to bring up 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.

Central Intelligence Agency Director Bill Burns also joined Tuesday's meeting. Burns has played key roles in coordinating the US response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine as well as efforts to secure the release of Israeli captives held in Gaza.

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, the day after Biden is set to deliver his State of the Union address.

“It’s Congress's responsibility to fund the government,” Biden added. “A government shutdown would damage the economy significantly. We need a bipartisan solution.”

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 outside the West Wing the meeting was one of the most intense he'd ever had in the Oval Office. The leaders spoke of the need to fund Ukraine and avoid a shutdown and also discussed border security.

He described the president, vice president, McConnell, Jeffries, and his effort to implore the speaker to pass Ukraine funding urgently.

“We made it 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.

Jeffries said he told the speaker they'd be willing to work on a border deal.

“We all agree we have a broken immigration system and there is a need to address the challenges at the border," he 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.

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