Biden, Johnson appear still at odds over Ukraine aid, border

The president met with the House speaker and other congressional leaders.

January 17, 2024, 5:45 PM

Congressional leaders left the White House on Wednesday seemingly still at odds over how to break the logjam over Ukraine aid and U.S. border policy.

President Joe Biden hosted top lawmakers for more than an hour to discuss his $106 billion supplemental request that would include roughly $61 billion in military assistance to Ukraine as it fights Russia's invasion.

The bill, which also includes aid for Israel and Taiwan as well as $14 billion for border security, has been stalled amid fierce debate over immigration policy as House Republicans demand stricter protocols on asylum and parole.

Leaving the meeting, House Speaker Mike Johnson told reporters, "We understand that all these things are important, but we must insist, we must insist that the border be the top priority."

"We understand that there's concern about the safety, security and sovereignty of Ukraine but the American people have those same concerns about our own domestic sovereignty and our safety and our security," he said.

PHOTO: House Speaker Mike Johnson, second from right, flanked by, from left, Rep. Mike Turner, Rep. Mike Rogers, and Rep. Mike McCaul, speaks to reporters outside the West Wing of the White House, Jan. 17, 2024.
House Speaker Mike Johnson, second from right, flanked by, from left, Rep. Mike Turner, Rep. Mike Rogers, and Rep. Mike McCaul, speaks to reporters outside the West Wing of the White House, Jan. 17, 2024, following their meeting with President Joe Biden.
Susan Walsh/AP

Schumer countered that both Ukraine and the border need to be addressed at the same time.

"The president himself said over and over again that he is willing to move forward on [the] border. And so we said we have to do both," Schumer said.

The Senate Democratic leader added, "The only way we will do border and Ukraine, or even either of them, is bipartisan. You cannot, cannot do things with one party in a divided Congress. Any party that says, 'Do it my way or no way', we're not going to get anything done."

A White House readout of the meeting called the need for Ukraine aid "urgent."

"In the meeting, President Biden underscored the importance of Congress ensuring Ukraine has the resources it needs -- including air defense and artillery capabilities -- to defend itself against Russia’s brutal invasion. The President discussed the strategic consequences of inaction for Ukraine, the United States, and the world. 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 statement said.

Ahead of the meeting, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said meeting would center on Ukraine.

"That's what we're gonna focus on in this discussion," Kirby told reporters at the daily briefing. "And as the speaker knows quite well, we continue to negotiate in good faith in a bipartisan way with the Senate, Republicans and Democrats up there on Capitol Hill, about the national security supplemental and which obviously includes money for border security."

Kirby said that could include sharing some classified material with the lawmakers to help demonstrate the "desperate, urgent need" for weapons and other capabilities to be provided to Ukraine.

It's been more than a year since Congress approved major funding for the war-torn Eastern European nation, and the administration has said it is quickly running out of funds to continue providing aid to Ukraine.

Describing the White House meeting, Schumer said there was an "understanding that if we don't come to Ukraine's aid, that the consequences for America and around the globe would be nothing short of devastating."

PHOTO: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jefferies, arrive to speak to reporters following a meeting with President Joe Biden outside the West Wing of the White House  Jan. 17, 2024.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jefferies, arrive to speak to reporters following a meeting with President Joe Biden about government funding, including border security and aid to Ukraine, outside the West Wing of the White House Jan. 17, 2024.
Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

Johnson said while House Republicans "understand the necessity about Ukraine funding" they still have questions about Ukraine's "strategy and endgame."

Biden's requested supplemental national security package sets aside $14 billion for border policies, including the hiring of more than 1,000 additional border patrol agents and asylum officers. It also includes $1.2 billion to combat the flow of fentanyl.

But Republicans are demanding more sweeping changes to U.S. immigration policy, pointing to the influx of migrants at the southwest border.

Negotiations have been going on for months, and were carried on throughout the holiday recess by a bipartisan group of senators.

Heading into the meeting with Biden, Schumer and McConnell gave a brief update on where things stand.

McConnell said the supplemental package could go up for a vote in the Senate as soon as next week.

"This is a unique opportunity to accomplish something in divided government that wouldn't be there under unified," McConnell said. "I keep reminding my members that if we had a 100% Republican government -- the president, House, Senate -- we probably would not be able to get a single Democratic vote to pass what Senator Lankford and the administration are trying to get together."

Schumer said he wouldn't make promises on timing for a vote but said they were "making good progress."

But Johnson has only grown more insistent that the House should not accept the Senate's work, and instead has pointed to H.R. 2, a House-Republican backed bill filled with border policies the Democratic-controlled Senate wouldn't support and that the White House would likely veto.

"We have talked about the necessary elements to solve this problem," Johnson said outside the White House.

"We passed our bill and it has critical elements. It's a historic restoration of the 'Remain in Mexico' policy, it is the end of catch and release, it is reforms to the broken asylum and parole systems. We're not insistent upon a particular name of a piece of legislation, but we are insistent that the elements have to be meaningful."

ABC News' Lauren Peller, Arthur Jones, Jay O'Brien, Selina Wang and Fritz Farrow contributed to this report.

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