Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy came to Washington on Thursday to make the case for an additional $24 billion in the United States amid a showdown among House Republicans over spending.
Zelensky’s first stop was Capitol Hill, where he lobbied lawmakers behind closed doors. The Ukrainian leader was accompanied by House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries to the Old Senate Chamber for the meeting, and was later joined by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Accompanied.
The aid he pushed for came at the request of President Joe Biden, and he, many congressional Republicans and most Democrats see it as critical to Ukraine’s efforts to repel a Russian invasion.
Zelensky’s first trip to Washington last year helped secure a $50 billion package, but House Republicans have since grown resistant to Biden’s demands for more. Opinion polls also show that U.S. support for Ukraine is waning as the 19-month war drags on.
Zelensky told reporters after concluding his meeting with the senators that they had a “great conversation” and was “very grateful” for the U.S. support.
“There are many details, but it will be between us,” Zelensky said.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is trying to get his caucus to agree on spending ahead of the Sept. 30 government shutdown deadline, but he declined to commit to such aid ahead of Zelensky’s visit. Instead, he told reporters he had questions for the foreign leader.
“What is the plan for victory? Where are we on the battlefield right now? Many members are facing accountability issues,” McCarthy said when he arrived at the Capitol on Thursday.
Republican Rep. Mike McCaul, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said McCarthy raised the points during a meeting between Zelensky and House members.
McCaul also said Zelensky discussed a request for $24 billion in aid and expressed confidence that Ukraine would accept it, despite staunch opposition from Republican hardliners.
“They did it, and they’re going to get it,” McCall said. “I said, you know, most people support this. I know there are some differences on both sides, but I said this is not going to be won in a war of attrition. That’s what Putin wants, because he wants to break the will of the American people and The interests of the European people. We cannot afford a war of attrition.”
President Biden addressed the United Nations General Assembly earlier this week, urging world leaders to support Ukraine amid Russian aggression.
“We must stand up to this naked aggression today and deter other would-be aggressors tomorrow,” Biden said. “That’s why the United States, along with our allies and partners around the world, will continue to stand up to the brave The people of Ukraine stand together to defend their sovereignty, territorial integrity and freedom.”
White House spokesman John Kirby said he believed it was important for members of Congress to hear directly from Zelensky about the issues facing his country and what they need to do to combat Russian invaders.
“Obviously, he is the best ambassador for the Ukrainian people and their armed forces,” Kirby said.
During a previous visit to Washington, Zelensky attended a joint session of Congress, where he received a standing ovation with an impassioned plea for more support.
McCarthy said Zelensky also requested a joint session of Congress for the visit, but they did not have “time” to accommodate him.
“We are doing exactly the same thing for Zelensky as we are doing for the British prime minister, the Italian prime minister,” he said. “We’re going to bring members of both parties together, no different than we do with anyone else. It’s a bit of a busy week. We’re dealing with funding issues. I don’t know how we could slip away on such a short notice. .”
Biden and Zelensky will meet in the Oval Office on Thursday afternoon. There, Biden is expected to announce a new military aid package for Ukraine worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
According to a U.S. official, the plan will include strengthening Ukraine’s air defense capabilities as well as artillery munitions and anti-armor capabilities. However, it is unclear whether the program includes the ATACMS long-range missile, a weapon that would allow Ukraine to reach targets up to 190 miles away.
Zelensky will also attend the Pentagon and meet with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and other leaders.
ABC’s Ben Gittleson contributed to this report.