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Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy took his case for more Ukraine aid to the US Congress on Thursday, as a looming federal government shutdown and polarised politics threaten further support from Washington.
Zelenskyy returned to Capitol Hill on Thursday morning where he briefed the full 100-member US Senate in a closed-door meeting. He held a smaller briefing with Republican House speaker Kevin McCarthy and a handful of senior Republicans and Democrats from the lower chamber.
Zelenskyy went on to visit the Pentagon for the first time, before a planned meeting with US president Joe Biden at the White House.
The Ukrainian president’s visit to Washington comes amid a deepening political row in Congress that could bring a shut down of the federal government as soon as next week, and as rightwing Republicans threaten to withhold new aid for Ukraine as it enters a critical phase of its counteroffensive against Russian forces.
At stake is a request from the White House to Congress to authorise $24bn in additional funding for Ukraine this year. But the House of Representatives must approve the request, and Republican speaker McCarthy is under mounting pressure from the isolationist flank of his party to more aid for the country.
McCarthy declined Zelenskyy’s request to deliver an address this week to a joint session of Congress — an honour that was extended to the Ukrainian president last year.
“We just didn’t have time,” McCarthy told reporters on Thursday morning. “He’s already given a joint session. What we are doing for Zelenskyy is exactly the same thing we did for the prime minister of the UK, the prime minister of Italy.”
“This is a little busy week. We are dealing with the funding issue. I don’t know how we could slip that in, in such a short time,” McCarthy added.
Chuck Schumer, the Democratic Senate majority leader, said late Wednesday after a classified briefing with the Biden administration’s top military and security officials that the looming government shutdown could significantly impact Ukraine’s war effort.
“It is very clear that if we were to have a government shutdown, or to pass a [continuing resolution] with no Ukraine aid, that the effect on Ukraine would be very quick and devastating,” he said.
Schumer doubled down on Thursday after meeting Zelenskyy, telling reporters: “I am quoting him verbatim, Mr Zelenskyy said: ‘If we don’t get the aid, we will lose the war.’ That’s a quote from him.”
Before Zelenskyy arrived in Washington on Thursday, nearly 30 Republican lawmakers wrote to the White House to reject the $24bn funding request.
“The American people deserve to know what their money has gone to,” they wrote in the letter, led by senator JD Vance and congressman Chip Roy. “What is our strategy, and what is the president’s exit plan?”
Their letter underscored the widening divide in the Republican party over Ukraine. Mitch McConnell, the Senate’s top Republican, has urged the US to provide more weapons and funding to Kyiv.
Michael McCaul, the Republican chair of the House foreign affairs committee, said after meeting Zelenskyy on Thursday that the US should “get them everything they need”, including long-range missiles.
“There are a lot of political machinations right now, but I assure you we are getting to get it passed,” he added, referring to the White House’s funding request.
The Biden administration is expected to announce another Ukraine aid package on Thursday — separate from the bigger funding package it has asked for.
But officials have said no decision has been made on Kyiv’s plea for long-range missiles known as ATACMS, reflecting Washington’s fears that they could be used to strike deep into Russian territory, as well as a desire to preserve a stockpile of the weapons amid mounting tensions between the US and China over Taiwan.
Source: Financial Times