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Zelenskyy is making a last-ditch push to get more U.S. weapons and aid for Ukraine

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky met with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and others in Congress to ask for more aid for his country's war against Russia.
Drew Angerer
Getty Images
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky met with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and others in Congress to ask for more aid for his country's war against Russia.

Updated December 12, 2023 at 1:02 PM ET

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy met with lawmakers today as part of a last-ditch push to convince Congress to approve more U.S. weapons and aid for his country in order to push back against Russia's invasion.

Zelenskyy with senators and top congressional leaders before heading to the White House for a meeting and press conference with President Biden.

Watch the press conference, which is expected to begin at 4:15 p.m. ET, here:

The visit comes at a critical moment. Biden has asked Congress for more than $60 billion in aid for Ukraine but has so far been rebuffed.

Zelenskyy began the day by addressing an all-senators briefing on Capitol Hill before meeting with House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., and Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., even as lawmakers warned they remain far from a deal on security spending.

Johnson told reporters after the meeting that he has asked the White House for clarity on the strategy for Ukraine's victory and detail on the oversight that will be applied to any money provided to the country. Johnson said the future of funding for Ukraine is up to the White House and Senate.

"We needed clarity on what we're doing in Ukraine and how we'll have proper oversight of the spending of precious taxpayer dollars," Johnson said. "And we needed a transformative change at the border. Thus far, we've gotten neither."

Johnson has insisted any security spending should be tied to a hardline immigration bill that passed the House this year. That legislation has zero support from Democrats, setting up a standoff over policy that could be insurmountable.

Senators leaving the meeting said Zelenskyy received a warm welcome and gave a presentation about his country's victories in the war against Russia. Zelenskyy also addressed questions about corruption and other concerns.

The meeting comes as Republicans are warning they are unwilling to budge from their demands that any aid for Ukraine must be paired with significant changes in policies at the U.S. border with Mexico.

Sen. Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla., told reporters that Zelenskyy is clearly aware of that political fight but focused on his own push for aid.

Biden has long insisted that the U.S. will stick by Ukraine in its fight against Russia for as long as it takes, but Republican support has waned as the war has dragged on.


Biden included his funding request for Ukraine as part of a larger request for more than $105 billion in supplemental national security funding that also includes aid for Israel, for countering China in the Indo-Pacific and for beefing up security at the U.S. southern border.

Republicans want big concessions on border policy

But many Republican lawmakers have said they will not vote for any more money for Ukraine unless it is attached to significant border policy measures. Immigration is a top concern for Republican voters ahead of the 2024 presidential election.

"If [Democrats] really think this is such a hinge point in history that it's so vital to provide Ukraine $60 billion worth of aid, they have to look at the clear and present danger of our unsecure border, our open border, and fix that," Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., said after the meeting.

The number of migrants crossing the southern U.S. border is at an all-time high. A bipartisan group of senators has been negotiating for weeks, looking to reach a compromise on tougher border policies, but talks broke down last week with Republicans saying Democrats were not taking their demands seriously.

Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, the lead Democratic negotiator in the talks, told reporters that "there are some really serious new policies on the table – policies that are outside of the Democratic comfort zone."

"We've stretched, and the Republicans now need to stretch as well," Murphy said.

Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., expressed frustration at the lack of progress being made in the border talks.

"It's sort of the law of holes. When you're in one, you stop digging. You try a new direction.," Kennedy said. He suggested that President Biden, as well as Senate party leaders Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell should be more involved in the negotiations.

Still, Kennedy told reporters he believes the chamber will reach an agreement on a supplemental funding package that includes Ukraine aid and "a meaningful step to stem the tide at the border."

"I believe we'll get there, and I believe it's very possible to get there in the next two weeks. But we're not going to get there doing what we're doing right now," he said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addresses leaders by video during a G7 leaders summit in Paris on Dec. 6.
Yoan Valat / Pool/AFP via Getty Images
Pool/AFP via Getty Images
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addresses leaders by video during a G7 leaders summit in Paris on Dec. 6.

Biden: "We can't let Putin win"

Time is running out on reaching a deal. Lawmakers are about to leave Washington for the holidays. And the White House says it will run out of money to support Ukraine by the end of the month.

"History's going to judge harshly those who turn their back on freedom's cause," Biden said last week. "We can't let Putin win."

U.S. officials have warned that Russian President Vladimir Putin would be emboldened by a win in Ukraine to pursue Eastern European countries that are members of NATO — countries that the United States is obligated to defend in what would be a more expensive and dangerous fight.

Sen. Murphy said Tuesday he hopes Congress stays in session until an agreement is reached, adding he believes "we can finish this in the Senate and get a bill to the House before Christmas."

Zelenskyy told G7 leaders last week that Putin is banking on the U.S. and other Western nations growing tired of the war.

"Russia hopes only for one thing — that next year the free world's consolidation will collapse," he said. "Russia believes that America and Europe will show weakness and will not maintain support for Ukraine at the proper level."

His wife, Olena Zelenska, has been even more explicit. In an interview with the BBC, Zelenska called any drop in aid as a "mortal danger."

"We cannot get tired of the situation because otherwise we will die. And if the world gets tired, they will simply let us die," she said.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.
Deirdre Walsh is the congress editor for NPR's Washington Desk.
Lexie Schapitl is a production assistant with NPR's Washington Desk, where she produces radio pieces and digital content. She also reports from the field and assists with production of the NPR Politics Podcast.