Zelenskyy will also speak directly to senators on Tuesday morning, according to a Senate leadership aide, a crucial chance for him to try to prevail on senators to send him aid before the end of the year. A bipartisan group of senators is struggling to finalize an agreement to tighten border security in exchange for more Ukraine funding, and the chamber is scheduled to go into recess at the end of this week.
Zelenskyy is also expected to speak with House Speaker Mike Johnson, according to Johnson’s spokesperson Raj Shah.
Last week, Zelenskyy was scheduled to hold a video briefing with senators but canceled at the last minute after “something came up,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters.
White House aides have long noticed that public support for Ukraine goes up after either a major development in the war or a moment involving Zelenskyy that returns the conflict to the headlines.
Zelenskyy’s visit to Washington could do that again, while applying pressure on the GOP, according to a senior White House official granted anonymity to describe private discussions. It could also push mainstream Republicans to step up against leadership and those in their party who are now reluctant to back Ukraine. White House aides think more Republicans than not still favor helping Kyiv, the official said, and a Zelenskyy visit just ahead of Christmas might restart momentum.
“Whenever he comes here, it’s an opportunity for front page news, to remind people of exactly what’s at stake, what’s happening in Ukraine right now, why this still matters to the American people,” said another administration official, who also was granted anonymity to speak freely. “He is, of course, the best advocate for his country.”
The official said the Washington trip came together after Zelenskyy decided to attend Sunday’s inauguration of Argentina’s new president, since he was already in the same hemisphere.
“Once he’s out the door, it’s a lot easier for him to go to other places,” the administration official said. “It just made sense to both the White House and to President Zelenksyy and Ukraine’s presidential office that this was a good opportunity for him to come to the United States.
The White House has not yet announced plans for a news conference during Tuesday’s visit, but one could be in the works since Zelenskyy has spoken with the press in past visits, the official said.
In a letter to congressional leaders last week, White House budget chief Shalanda Young warned that inaction before the end of the year on a new round of funding threatens to “kneecap Ukraine on the battlefield.”
On Sunday, Young reupped her push for congressional action, painting a dire picture of what a Ukrainian defeat would mean at home.
“What happens if Putin marches through Ukraine, what’s next?” Young said during an interview on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “NATO countries, our sons and daughters are at risk of being a part of a larger conflict. And it’s not just Putin — other dictators are watching what Congress is doing.”
But the pressure so far has been in vain. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) accused Republicans of being “unreasonable” in their demands.
“If I were a cynic, I would say that Republicans have decided to tie support for Ukraine to immigration reform because they want Ukraine aid to fail,” he said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “But I’m not a cynic. And so we are still trying to resolve some pretty big differences that remain.”
Murphy said Republicans have conditioned their support for a $106 billion supplemental spending bill moving through the Senate on striking a deal on border policy changes. The supplemental includes aid for Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan, in addition to money for the border.
Republicans’ latest border proposal includes several demands, including a ban on class-based “parole” and the revival of a form of Title 42 expulsion authorities — some of which Democrats in the Senate have already rejected.
And while some have pushed to pass Ukraine aid separately as the country fights to hold back Russian forces, Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), who has been leading the negotiations for his party in the Senate, shut down the idea on Sunday.
“Can you get Ukraine aid passed separate from this?” Margaret Brennan asked Lankford during an interview on “Face the Nation.”
“No, no … what you hear from so many people is why would we deal with other people’s national security and ignore American national security?” Lankford said. “We can do two things at once for the United States of America,” he later added.
Burgess Everett and Jonathan Lemire contributed to this report.