White House piles pressure on Republican Speaker over Ukraine aid

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US President Joe Biden and top congressional Democrats piled pressure on Republican Speaker of the House Mike Johnson to sign on to more US aid for Ukraine in a rare White House meeting on Tuesday, warning that the costs of inaction would be “dire”.

Biden and Kamala Harris, the vice-president, met with the leading Democrats and Republicans from both House and Senate in the Oval Office on Tuesday morning. They were joined by CIA director Bill Burns and Shalanda Young, director of the White House’s Office for Management and Budget.

Chuck Schumer, the Democratic Senate majority leader, told reporters it was “one of the most intense” meetings he had “ever encountered” in his “many meetings in the Oval Office”.

Schumer said he, the president, vice-president, House Democratic minority leader Hakeem Jeffries and, most notably, Republican Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell all took turns making the case for signing off on additional US aid to Ukraine.

Schumer, who recently led a congressional delegation to Ukraine, said the five lawmakers “made it so 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 autocrats in the world . . . would be emboldened thinking that the United States was this soft, fat country that lost its way and would take advantage.”

“We said to the Speaker: get it done,” Schumer added.

McConnell did not speak to reporters immediately after the meeting, but Johnson emerged from the Oval Office and made brief remarks without taking questions.

On the White House’s request for Congress to approve more aid to Ukraine, he said only: “I was very clear with the president and all those in the room that the House is actively pursuing and investigating all the various options on that, and we will address that in a timely manner, but again, the first priority of the country is our border and making sure it is secure.”

Johnson, who also said he spoke one-on-one with Biden after the group meeting, has become a pivotal figure in the debate over whether Washington should provide additional support to Kyiv.

Earlier this month, the Democrat-controlled US Senate approved a $95bn supplemental national security bill that included money for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, as well as humanitarian aid for civilians suffering in Gaza and other parts of the world. The bill passed with the backing of 70 senators, including more than a dozen Republicans.

But Johnson, an ally of former President Donald Trump, has so far refused to bring the bill to a vote in the House. That has left more US support for Ukraine in limbo and Republicans increasingly fighting among themselves over whether, and how, to provide more aid to Kyiv.

Johnson has insisted that Congress should instead prioritise writing new laws to crack down on the influx of migrants at the US-Mexico border.

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