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Biden hosts high-stakes White House talks on Ukraine, shutdown

US President Joe Biden cut a deal with Republicans imposing automatic cuts if there is no budget by April 30, 2024
US President Joe Biden cut a deal with Republicans imposing automatic cuts if there is no budget by April 30, 2024 - Copyright AFP/File SAUL LOEB
US President Joe Biden cut a deal with Republicans imposing automatic cuts if there is no budget by April 30, 2024 - Copyright AFP/File SAUL LOEB
Danny Kemp and Frankie Taggart

US President Joe Biden hosts urgent talks with top Congress leaders at the White House Tuesday, in a bid to unlock billions of dollars in stalled Ukraine aid and avert a government shutdown at home.

The high-stakes showdown comes after President Volodymyr Zelensky warned that Ukraine desperately needs continued support from the West to defeat Russia’s invasion, and voiced hope the United States would approve a stalled $60 billion package.

Moscow has mounted heavy attacks on Ukrainian troops, who are struggling with an ammunition shortage as skeptical Republicans in the House of Representatives block further aid.

They are under pressure from likely presidential nominee Donald Trump to deny further funding until the United States has addressed his top campaign issue — a surge in illegal immigration at its southern border.

House Speaker Mike Johnson, a Trump ally who leads a razor-thin Republican majority, has refused to allow a vote on a so-called supplemental funding bill in which Biden has asked for the new aid to Ukraine. 

Biden is set to meet in the White House with Johnson and his Democratic counterpart Hakeem Jeffries, as well as the Senate’s Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and opposition chief Mitch McConnell.

“There is a strong bipartisan majority in the House standing ready to pass this bill if it comes to the floor,” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told CNN.  

“And that decision rests on the shoulders of one person — and history is watching whether Speaker Johnson will put that bill on the floor.” 

– Yellen: ‘act now’ –

When Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, US lawmakers were overwhelmingly in favor of arming the pro-Western former Soviet republic, which denuclearized in the 1990s after gaining assurances from the West over its security. 

The Senate has remained largely supportive and recently passed a package pairing the Ukraine funding with help for Israel’s military and for democratic Taiwan. But this then died in the House.

“Now is the time for action. Speaker Johnson cannot let politics or blind obeisance to Donald Trump get in the way,” Schumer, who led a trip to western Ukraine last week, said in a letter to colleagues.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen also called Tuesday for Congress to green light the aid.

The House “must act now” to help Ukraine and “to protect our national security interests and the values we and our allies and partners all share,” she told a press conference ahead of a meeting of the G20 finance ministers in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

The White House meeting will also address a partial government shutdown looming Friday night, as Congress still hasn’t approved the 12 annual spending bills that make up the federal budget, almost five months into the 2024 fiscal year. 

Without a resolution, a full government shutdown would come the following Friday — a day after Biden’s annual State of the Union address.

The two sides have been negotiating daily and had hoped to release the text on Sunday for the first four spending bills covering about a quarter of the budget, including agriculture, veterans, transport and housing.

Written By

With 2,400 staff representing 100 different nationalities, AFP covers the world as a leading global news agency. AFP provides fast, comprehensive and verified coverage of the issues affecting our daily lives.

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