Dec 12, 2023 - Politics & Policy

New Ukraine tensions emerge as Congress nears holiday break

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images.

With Senate negotiators still struggling to reach a deal to provide aid to Ukraine, House Republicans and Senate Democrats are exchanging public barbs over whether to leave town as planned at the end of the week.

Why it matters: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky came to the Hill on Tuesday to make a last ditch plea for aid, but lawmakers haven't reached agreement on pairing it with conservative border policy.

  • House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt on Tuesday that he's "not going to have everybody sit here through Christmas twiddling their thumbs."
  • "I don't know what else to do ... They've not sent me anything. I've told the Democrat leaders in the Senate that as late as yesterday: Send us something to work on. They haven't done it," Johnson said.
  • House members are "willing to work," Johnson added, "but we're not getting any cooperation from the White House and the Senate Democrats at all."

What they're saying: Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), the Democratic point-person in negotiations with Senate Republicans, told Axios that Johnson's refusal to keep the House in session is "not helpful."

  • "I can't believe the House is talking about leaving," he said. "How do you say you're serious about trying to come to a resolution on Ukraine and declare that you're packing up and giving up?"
  • Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he called Johnson on Monday night to urge him to keep the House in session past this week "to give the supplemental a chance to come together."

The other side: Johnson shot back at the Senate Democrats during a gaggle with reporters following a meeting with Zelensky.

  • "It is not the House's issue right now. The issue is with the White House and the Senate. And I implore them to do their jobs because the time is urgent and we do want to do the right thing here," he said.

State of play: Murphy and Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) are trying to forge an agreement to pair Ukraine aid with border security funds and policy concessions in a $110 billion package that would also include aid to Israel and Taiwan.

  • Murphy said he thinks there is still a chance to get a deal by the end of the year and negotiators "continue to make progress."
  • Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), the Republicans' negotiator, told reporters "there's no way to get it done this week," and that "the question is, are we staying into next week or does this move into early January?"
  • "I don't think we have a choice," Murphy said of staying in session. "The government is shutting down in January. We don't lack for things to do in January."
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