Congress Remains Short of Deal to Avoid Shutdown After Biden Meeting

Congress Remains Short of Deal to Avoid Shutdown After Biden Meeting

In a meeting with President Biden on Tuesday, congressional leaders said they were optimistic about averting a partial government shutdown at the end of the week but had no plan to do so before Friday’s deadline.

Speaker Mike Johnson, who is under intense pressure from Mr. Biden, Democrats and Senate Republicans to agree to a spending deal despite strong objections from right-wing lawmakers within his ranks, indicated he may be willing to do so in the coming days.

“We have been working in good faith around the clock every day for months and weeks and literally around the clock in the last few days to get this work done,” said Mr. Johnson, who met with the president one-on-one after he had held a group meeting with Mr. Biden and the other three congressional leaders.

“We are very optimistic,” he added, saying that “our first responsibility” is to prevent a shutdown.

Sen. Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and minority leader, expressed similar optimism to reporters at the Capitol.

“We are really making progress in the approval process,” he said.

But it was not clear whether progress would lead to an agreement before midnight Friday, as federal funding for several agencies is set to expire and funds for the remaining federal agencies are expected to run out on March 8.

Mr. Johnson, under pressure from far-right Republicans, has refused to agree to spending legislation that does not include some of his party’s tough policy conditions, such as repealing a federal rule aimed at expanding access to abortion drugs or a policy that could do so for some Make it harder for veterans who are considered mentally ill to buy guns.

Ultraconservatives have brought the government to the brink of a shutdown or partial shutdown three times in the last six months as they sought further spending cuts and conservative political terms set how federal money is spent.

Mr. Biden stressed during Tuesday’s talks that a bipartisan funding bill should be “free from any extreme policies,” according to a summary of the meeting provided by White House officials.

The talks came after Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and majority leader, announced on Sunday that leaders had failed to reach an agreement over the weekend because “House Republicans need more time “To find your way.” Mr. Johnson accused Senate Democrats of “attempting, at this late stage, to spend on priorities that are further removed than what their chamber has agreed on.” He did not say which priorities he was referring to.

Mr Johnson also came under intense pressure during the meeting over legislation to send aid to Ukraine. The discussion grew more heated as Mr. Biden, the two Democratic leaders and Mr. McConnell made an impassioned case for continuing to supply Kiev with weapons in its fight against Russian aggression. Mr. Johnson has so far refused to accept the $95 billion aid package the Senate passed earlier this month for Israel and Ukraine.

“The meeting on Ukraine was intense,” Schumer said. “Everyone in this room told Speaker Johnson how important” sending help was.

After the meeting, Mr. Johnson said of the foreign aid bill that Republicans in the House of Representatives are still “actively pursuing and considering all options on this, and we will address them in a timely manner.”

But he reiterated his stance that the efforts should take a back seat to immediate action to combat migration at the U.S. border with Mexico.

“The country’s top priority is our border and its security,” Johnson said. “I believe the president can use executive authority today to change that.”

Mr. Biden has been pushing for months for Congress to approve additional funding for Ukraine, arguing that without more American help the country will run out of the artillery, air defense weapons and other munitions it needs to prevail against Russia. The Senate-passed foreign aid bill would provide more than $60 billion to Kiev’s war effort as well as about $14 billion in security aid to Israel, which is trying to wipe out Hamas after the Oct. 7 terror attacks.

“The consequences of daily inaction in Ukraine are devastating,” Mr. Biden said before the meeting.

The White House has increased pressure on Mr. Johnson in recent weeks as Ukraine marked the second anniversary of the Russian invasion over the weekend. Mr. Biden continues to emphasize that Russian President Vladimir V. Putin poses a global threat.

“We told the speaker, ‘Get it done,'” Mr. Schumer said. “History is looking over your shoulder, and if you don’t do the right thing, whatever the current policies may be, you will regret it.”

Aid to Ukraine, he added, “is in his hands.”

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2024-02-27 20:02:49