Zelensky visiting D.C. to address Congress, meet Biden
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will visit Washington on Wednesday to meet President Biden, hold a press conference at the White House and address a joint session of Congress, a senior administration official told reporters.
Why it matters: Zelensky had not left Ukraine since Russia launched its brutal invasion on Feb. 24. During the visit, Biden will announce another $2 billion in U.S. military aid including, for the first time, the Patriot missile defense system.
- Zelensky's trip to Washington — which will last just "a few short hours," per the U.S. official — comes 300 days into the invasion, as Ukraine is suffering from massive power outages caused by Russian strikes on civilian infrastructure.
- Biden and Zelensky will have an "in-depth, strategic discussion" about the war, military aid and tightening sanctions before Zelensky heads to Capitol Hill, the official said.
- Congress is poised to pass $45 billion in additional military and economic aid to Ukraine this week as part of its $1.7 trillion omnibus funding bill, bringing total U.S. assistance to over $100 billion.
Between the lines: Some members of the incoming House Republican majority have expressed deep reservations about continuing to send aid to Ukraine.
- The official said the White House expected a big show of bipartisan support for Zelensky during the visit, and hoped that would generate additional "momentum" for continued assistance from the U.S. and its allies.
- Zelensky may have a chance to convince some skeptics — or at the very least GOP leadership — that U.S. aid is vital and being used responsibly.
Behind the scenes: Biden and Zelensky discussed a potential visit during a call on Dec. 11, and the plans were confirmed on Sunday, the official said. The news didn't start to emerge until Wednesday evening, a sign of the caution surrounding Zelensky's first foreign trip since the war began.
- The official declined to discuss the logistics of Zelensky's travel for security reasons but said the visit would take place during Wednesday afternoon and evening.
- Zelensky’s joint address to Congress is scheduled at 7:30pm EST, according to two sources familiar with the plans, which are still subject to change.
Flashback: When Zelensky addressed a joint session of Congress virtually back in March, he summoned some of the darkest days in U.S. history — including Pearl Harbor and 9/11 — in his plea for greater assistance.
- For many Americans, the tragedy in Ukraine has receded into the background as fighting rages on with no end in sight.
- For Zelensky, nothing else matters: Just Tuesday, he made a surprise trip to the besieged city of Bakhmut to hand out awards to troops involved in one of the war's fiercest battles.
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.