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Biden, leaders optimistic about avoiding shutdown, press Johnson on Ukraine

Speaker called for executive action on border and immigration

Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., prepares to address the media at the White House after a meeting with President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and other congressional leaders to discuss funding the government, border security and Ukraine aid.
Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., prepares to address the media at the White House after a meeting with President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and other congressional leaders to discuss funding the government, border security and Ukraine aid. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Congressional leaders emerged from the White House on Tuesday optimistic about avoiding a partial shutdown of several departments and agencies — after a meeting with President Joe Biden that also focused on the importance of aid to Ukraine.

“The speaker said unequivocally he wants to avoid a government shutdown,” Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters outside the West Wing, adding he did not believe differences on domestic spending were insurmountable.

When he got back to the Capitol, Schumer told reporters that he made clear to Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., that avoiding a shutdown would require another continuing resolution. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., also told reporters at the Capitol that leaders seemed to agree at the White House on the need to avert a shutdown.

Leaders also discussed the Senate-passed national security supplemental spending bill that would provide assistance to Ukraine, Israel and Indo-Pacific allies like Taiwan. That measure got bipartisan Senate support but has stalled in the House under Johnson. Schumer said that he, McConnell, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., and Vice President Kamala Harris all pressed Johnson to act.

Johnson said that he met separately with the president in the Oval Office after the larger meeting. He emerged similarly optimistic about reaching a path forward on government funding. The speaker said that he focused on border security, both in the larger group and one-on-one.

Johnson said he pressed Biden to take executive action on immigration and border security.

On the supplemental, Johnson said he “was very clear with the president and all those in the room that the House is actively pursuing and investigating all the various options on that, and we will address that in a timely manner.”

Schumer described the portion of the meeting discussing aid to Ukraine as “one of the most intense” he’s ever experienced. The Senate majority leader traveled to Ukraine and met with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy over the most recent recess.

At the top of the meeting, Biden echoed comments he’d made previously urging the House to act, saying, “I think the consequences of inaction everyday in Ukraine are dire.”

Biden, who spoke to reporters gathered in the Oval Office as the meeting was getting underway, quipped to the top four congressional leaders about the appropriations delay: “I’m sure you guys have that all taken care of.”

“But all kidding aside, I think that it’s the Congress’s responsibility to fund the government,” Biden said. “A shutdown would damage the economy significantly, and I think we all agree to that, and we need a bipartisan solution.”

Appropriations under the Agriculture, Energy-Water, Military Construction-VA and Transportation-HUD bills are scheduled to lapse on Saturday, the result of a Johnson strategy to bifurcate the expiration dates of fiscal 2024 appropriations. The remainder of the discretionary spending accounts run out at the end of next week.

Speaking on the Senate floor ahead of the meeting, Schumer urged lawmakers from both parties to work together to avoid a partial government shutdown.

“If both sides work together, if we reject poison pills that can never become law and if we tune out the extreme radical voices on the hard right then the task before us becomes much, much easier,” he said.

Aidan Quigley and Nina Heller contributed to this report.

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