Biden in stalemate with Congress on Ukraine and border funding

Financial aid for Ukraine and Israel delayed over political battles on border and immigration policies

Joe Biden and Congressional leaders met on January 17 to discuss ways forward on border policies, and Ukrainian and Israeli funding. AFP
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US President Joe Biden and congressional leaders on Wednesday showed few signs of progress towards breaking a months-long stalemate over border policies, which has delayed funding for Ukraine and Israel.

Mr Biden held his first meeting in months with House Speaker Mike Johnson and other top legislators.

Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer later said that he saw the chances of a bipartisan Senate agreement as “a little bit greater than half", the most optimistic he has been since talks began.

But Mr Johnson has already indicated that the House will not accept the Senate’s terms on the border.

Republicans have demanded a crackdown at the US-Mexico border in exchange for supporting the President’s $110 billion emergency spending request.

“We must insist that the border be the top priority,” Mr Johnson told reporters after the meeting.

Mr Schumer said: “We have to do both together." He was referring to the Ukraine funds.

The stand-off carries high stakes for the US’s global standing, as well as political implications for Mr Biden and Mr Johnson.

Mr Johnson is pushing border policies favoured by conservatives as he tries to quell a GOP rebellion amid continued threats to his speakership.

Mr Biden has repeatedly said he will compromise on border policy, but has not specified any concessions.

A bipartisan group of legislators has discussed policies making it harder for migrants to seek asylum in the US, which the White House has suggested it could consider.

“President Biden has made clear he is willing to work with Republicans on border security,” Mr Schumer said before the meeting.

Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, who attended the meeting, said Mr Schumer should schedule a vote for next week on a border-Ukraine bill to force a quick compromise.

Mr McConnell has long advocated for more aid to Ukraine, putting him at odds with ultra-conservatives in the House.

“It’s time to try to act,” he said.

The White House has warned that failure to send Ukraine more aid amounts to a victory for Russia, which invaded the country in February 2022.

At the meeting, Mr Johnson faced Mr Biden, the Democratic leaders of the Senate and House, Mr McConnell and the Republican and Democratic leaders of national security panels.

Those officials have argued maintaining support for Ukraine is essential to maintaining US credibility as a global superpower.

The talks also came as Congress races to pass a temporary spending bill that would avert a partial government shutdown.

Updated: January 18, 2024, 12:18 AM