Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky came to Washington on Thursday to make the case for an additional $24 billion to the United States, which has been stuck in a showdown between House Republicans over spending.
Zelensky’s first stop was Capitol Hill, where he lobbied lawmakers behind closed doors. The Ukrainian leader was escorted by House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries, then flanked by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell as he headed to a meeting in the old Senate room.
The aid he seeks was requested by President Joe Biden, and he, along with many congressional Republicans and most Democrats, call it vital to Ukraine’s efforts to repel the Russian invasion .
Zelensky’s first visit to Washington last year helped him secure a $50 billion package, but since then a growing number of House Republicans have mounted resistance to Biden’s demand for more. Polls also show that U.S. support for Ukraine is declining as the war continues for 19 months.
Coming out of his meeting with senators, Zelensky told reporters that they had a “great dialogue” and that he was “very grateful” to the United States for its support.
“There are so many details but it will be between us,” Zelenskyy said.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who is trying to bring his caucus together to reach consensus on spending before a Sept. 30 deadline, has refused to commit to providing such aid ahead of Zelensky’s visit. Instead, he told reporters he had questions to ask the foreign leader.
“What is the plan for victory? Where are we on the ground right now? The accountability issues that a lot of members have,” McCarthy said upon arriving at the Capitol on Thursday.
Republican Rep. Mike McCaul, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said McCarthy raised those points during Zelensky’s meeting with House members.
McCaul also said Zelensky discussed the $24 billion aid request and expressed confidence that Ukraine would receive it despite the adamant opposition of the most hardline Republicans.
“They did it and they’re going to get it,” McCaul said. “I said, you know, the majority of the majority supports this. I know, there’s dissension on both sides, but I said the war of attrition is not going to win. That’s what Putin wants, because he wants to break the will of the American people and the Europeans. We cannot afford a war of attrition.
President Biden, in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly earlier this week, urged world leaders to stand with Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression.
“We must resist this blatant aggression today and deter other potential aggressors tomorrow,” Biden said. “That’s why the United States, alongside our allies and partners around the world, will continue to stand with the courageous people of Ukraine as they defend their sovereignty, territorial integrity, and freedom.”
White House spokesman John Kirby said he thought it was important for members of Congress to hear directly from Zelenskyy about what his country is facing and what it needs to combat the Russian invaders.
“He is clearly the best messenger for the Ukrainian people and their armed forces,” Kirby said.
Zelensky’s previous visit to Washington included a joint meeting of Congress, where he received standing ovations as he made an impassioned appeal for more support.
McCarthy said Zelensky also requested a joint session of Congress for the visit, but they didn’t have “time” to accommodate him.
“What we are doing for Zelensky is exactly the same thing we did for the British prime minister and the Italian prime minister,” he said. “We’ll bring together the bipartisan group of members to be there, just like we do with anyone else. And it’s a bit of a busy week. We’re facing a funding issue. I don’t know how we can slide it happened in such a short time.”
Biden and Zelensky will meet in the Oval Office on Thursday afternoon. Biden is expected to announce a new military aid package to Ukraine worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
According to a U.S. official, the package will include capabilities to bolster Ukraine’s air defense as well as artillery munitions and anti-armor capabilities. However, it is unclear whether the package will include long-range ATACMS missiles, a weapon that would allow Ukraine to hit targets up to 300 kilometers away.
Zelensky will also make an appearance at the Pentagon, where he will 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.