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Seeking more U.S. aid, Ukrainian President Zelenskyy will visit Washington

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is headed to the White House tomorrow to meet with President Biden and top leaders in Congress. He's pushing for Congress to approve $61 billion in aid for the war against Russia. That bill has been stalled for months. NPR congressional correspondent Deirdre Walsh joins us from the Capitol. Hi there.

DEIRDRE WALSH, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Why is Zelenskyy in Washington this week?

WALSH: He was invited by President Biden. Earlier today, John Kirby, the spokesman for the National Security Council, said Zelenskyy's visit comes at a critical time.

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JOHN KIRBY: Because of what's going on in Ukraine, the increased activity we're seeing by the Russian armed forces as winter approaches, but also what's going on on Capitol Hill.

WALSH: The Senate and the House are scheduled to be out for a holiday break starting at the end of this week, so time is really running out to get this aid through. And prospects for this big package are not really looking that great. There still is bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress for assistance to Ukraine, but the split inside the Republican Party has really grown over the last year. More and more GOP lawmakers are publicly opposed to sending any more money, arguing the U.S. really needs to focus on security at its own border. President Biden, for his part, continues to make the case that if the U.S. doesn't help Ukraine now, Russia can win the conflict there and expand its aggression into NATO countries, and then the U.S. would be obligated to defend its allies if that were to happen.

SHAPIRO: So what can Zelenskyy expect in these meetings tomorrow?

WALSH: I mean, first, he's going to meet with all senators in the morning. The top leaders in the Senate, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, are both strong supporters and support the Biden administration's request. But McConnell is backing the Republican efforts to tie any new money for Ukraine to changes in border policy.

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MITCH MCCONNELL: When it comes to keeping America safe, border security is not a sideshow. It's ground zero.

WALSH: Zelenskyy's also going to meet tomorrow with House speaker Mike Johnson. Before he was elected speaker, Johnson opposed assistance to Ukraine, but more recently has warned against the threat from Putin. But again, like other Republicans, the speaker is insisting any new money has to be linked to conservative border security measures.

SHAPIRO: Well, how are the negotiations over a potential deal on border security going?

WALSH: They're still going. There is this group of senators that are still talking. That group is really focused on a narrow set of issues, not any sort of sweeping, comprehensive reforms. They're mostly talking about who can qualify to request asylum when they enter the United States at the southwest border. But members of the Hispanic caucus are getting nervous about these talks, and they released a statement warning President Biden not to agree to any kind of change that mirrors former President Trump's immigration policies. They're arguing that caving to any permanent policy changes for just this one-time spending bill would be a dangerous precedent. And Schumer warned today Republicans should not be taking such a hard line.

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CHUCK SCHUMER: If Republicans keep insisting on Donald Trump's border policies, then they will be at fault when a deal for aid to Ukraine, Israel and humanitarian aid to Gaza fall apart.

SHAPIRO: Well, how much U.S. aid money does Ukraine actually have left, and when will it run out if there's not an agreement?

WALSH: I mean, Biden administrations are - have been warning all week that it's not a lot. Pentagon officials say roughly 4.8 billion is left of the money that Congress already approved. But as the intensity in the fighting is picking up in Ukraine and the winter approaches, the Ukrainian military is really going through all of that aid pretty quickly. And they're especially low on ammunition. That's why there's such a big push this month to get all this new money approved by the end of this year.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Deirdre Walsh. Thank you.

WALSH: Thanks, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Deirdre Walsh is the congress editor for NPR's Washington Desk.