Top congressional leaders emerged from Wednesday’s meeting with President Joe Biden at the White House hopeful that a deal on a national security supplemental aid package could be reached, with both Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Mike Johnson describing the meeting as “productive.”
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, which lasted an hour and 23 minutes, Schumer said he was “more optimistic than ever before that we come to an agreement.”
He cited “Democratic and Republican agreement” about the need to provide support for Ukraine, pointing to what he called “an understanding that if we don’t come to Ukraine’s aid, that the consequences for America around the globe would be nothing short of devastating.”
Still, the New York Democrat acknowledged, some people in the room called for legislation to address the situation at the border before committing to additional aid for Ukraine.
“There are a couple of people in the room who said let’s do the border first – we said we have to do both together in the Senate,” Schumer said. “The president himself said over and over again, that he is willing to move forward on border.”
Johnson also described the meeting as productive, but insisted the border must “be the top priority.”
“We had a productive meeting, I think, House and Senate leaders, the president was very forthright. I told the president what I have been saying for many months, and that is that we must have change at the border, substantive policy change,” the Louisiana Republican told reporters.
Johnson and Schumer declined to take any questions from reporters gathered outside the West Wing of the White House.
Speaking with CNN’s Kaitlan Collins later Wednesday, Johnson refused to commit to putting a Senate-passed immigration deal on the House floor, warning that “the devil is in the details.”
“I don’t yet know what they’re going to propose. There’s been lots of rumors about it, but I’m very hopeful that they will give us something meaningful that is very close to what we’ve sent over from the House,” Johnson said, referring to the partisan House-passed border bill known as HR 2.
Johnson indicated to Biden and other lawmakers present that it ultimately would not need to include the House Republicans’ hardline border security package in its entirety or its exact form. He communicated that “it’s not HR 2 or bust,” one source familiar with the meeting said.
“We’re not insistent upon a particular name of a piece of legislation, but we are insistent that the elements have to be meaningful,” Johnson told reporters at the White House following the meeting.
The White House said in a readout that Biden emphasized “the strategic consequences of inaction” in Ukraine as he made the case for additional support for the country.
“He was clear: Congress’s continued failure to act endangers the United States’ national security, the NATO Alliance, and the rest of the free world,” the White House said.
White House sources earlier said that Biden’s warning would lay out the potential setbacks that Ukraine could suffer on the battlefield in its ongoing fight against Russia without additional US aid. He had also planned to walk through the impact that US aid has had on Ukraine’s battle against Russia over the last two years and warn about the “cost of inaction” as Russia continues airstrikes and counter-offensive, one of the sources said.
According to the White House, the president also addressed the crisis at the border, saying, “We must act now.”
“He expressed his commitment to reaching a bipartisan agreement on border policy and the need for additional resources at the border,” the readout said.
The White House has seen encouraging progress on border talks in recent days, a source said, and hoped to use the meeting to press lawmakers to move quickly once an agreement is struck on the immigration portion of the supplemental package.
National security adviser Jake Sullivan and Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines offered lawmakers specific examples of the possible ramifications of not getting Ukraine additional US funding, two White House officials said.
The meeting included classified portions related to Ukraine, one of the officials confirmed. Both White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby had said earlier in the day that Biden’s national security team was expected to share classified information about the war.
The White House has repeatedly said that the administration has exhausted its presidential drawdown authority funding, and stressed how crucial new funding is for Ukraine’s continued defense.
“Our last security assistance package was authorized on the 27th of December,” Kirby told reporters Tuesday. “We meant it when we said it at the time, that that was the last one for which we had replenishment authority.”
Hours before the White House meeting, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell criticized Biden for not recognizing the flood of migrants at the southern border as a crisis.
“Over the weekend, President Biden once again refused to describe the situation at the southern border as a crisis. Apparently, according to the commander-in-chief, 10,000 border crossings in a day, and the busiest month and year on record at the border, is somehow not a crisis, ” he said.
But McConnell praised the bipartisan Senate border security negotiators for “making headway for the most significant border enhancements in almost 30 years. They are getting closer to delivering serious, lasting solutions to the unprecedented humanitarian and national security catastrophe that’s unfolding on President Biden’s watch.”
McConnell did not directly mention the White House meeting in his remarks on the Senate floor.
On the supplemental, Schumer conceded prior to the meeting that coming to an agreement “is very complex” but added that members on both sides know that “we must do something on Ukraine. The eyes of history are upon this chamber.”
This story and headline have been updated with additional developments.
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