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

WASHINGTON (AP) — 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.

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.”

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 in a speech on the Senate floor ahead of the White House meeting that he hoped it would be an “important, timely and fruitful discussion” and urged Johnson to tune out demands from hardline conservatives.

“We recognize that the speaker of the House is in a difficult position, but he must reject the MAGA hard right which wants a shutdown, wants to hurt America and does not represent a majority of Republicans in the House, a majority of Republicans in the Senate and a majority of Republicans in America – let alone all Americans,” Schumer said.

Schumer said he would make a strong case to Johnson for why the military aid for Ukraine is immediately needed.

“Ukraine is low on ammo, on anti−air defense systems, on munitions, on long−range artillery. This shortage is creating asymmetry on the battlefield. Russia can fire and take out Ukrainian targets, but Ukraine increasingly can’t fire back,” Schumer 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.

AP writer Stephen Groves contributed.

Colleen Long And Darlene Superville, The Associated Press

Photo: AP