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

Biden hosted Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and the two minority leaders.

President Joe Biden speaks during a meeting with Congressional leaders in the Oval Office of the White House

President Joe Biden speaks during a meeting with Congressional leaders in the Oval Office of the White House, Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024, in Washington. Speaker of the House Mike Johnson of La.(from left), Vice President Kamala Harris, Biden, and Senate Majority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer of N.Y. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

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.

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 noted that Israel also needs U.S. funding to replenish its supply of Iron Dome interceptors that it uses to protect against inbound rockets.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

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 coordinating the U.S. response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as well as efforts to secure the release of hostages held by Hamas after its Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

Apart from the national security package, government funding for agriculture, transportation, military construction and some veterans’ services expires Friday. And 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 responsibility to fund the government,” Biden added. “A government shutdown would damage the economy significantly. We need a bipartisan solution.”

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

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.

“We are making good progress,” Schumer said. “The speaker said unequivocally he wants to avoid a government shutdown.”

He described the president, vice president, McConnell, Jeffries and his own 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.

But Johnson, in brief remarks outside the West Wing following the Democrats, didn’t mention Ukraine funding. He described discussing the border and government funding in the meeting as well as a one-on-one with Biden following the leader discussion.

“The first priority of the country is our border, and making it secure,” Johnson said. Republicans tanked a bipartisan border deal after Donald Trump encouraged them to; the bill would have denied migrants the ability to apply for asylum at the border if the number of daily crossings became unmanageable for authorities, among other major changes.

“It is a catastrophe and it must stop and we will get the government funded and we’ll keep working on that,” 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.

Associated Press reporter Stephen Groves and Will Weissert contributed.

Get the WHYY app!

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal