Biden urges lawmakers to take 'swift action' to avoid shutdown, fund Israel, Ukraine

'It's Congress' responsibility to fund the government. We've got to get about doing it,' says US president

10:53 - 28/02/2024 Wednesday
US President Joe Biden
US President Joe Biden

US President Joe Biden urged congressional leaders Tuesday to ensure the federal government does not partially shut down when funding for some agencies runs out on March 1 and to approve additional military assistance for Israel and Ukraine.

The Oval Office sit-down with the four Democratic and Republican leaders in the House of Representatives and Senate took place as lawmakers scramble to come to an agreement to fund the government ahead of this week's rapidly-approaching Friday midnight deadline. Another deadline to fund more government agencies, including the State and Defense Departments, would take place about a week later.

This week's deadline affects the Departments of Agriculture, Energy, Housing and Urban Development, and Transportation.

The president appeared to crack a joke during brief remarks before reporters were ushered out of the room, saying "the government funding, I'm sure you guys have it all taken care of."

"All kidding aside, I think it's Congress' responsibility to fund the government. We've got to get about doing it. A shutdown would damage the economy significantly. I think we all agree to that. And we need bipartisan solutions," he said.

The Republican-held House of Representatives has emerged as the largest stumbling block towards brokering a deal, with Speaker Mike Johnson contending with an unwieldy and razor-thin majority in the chamber.

The White House said that during his meeting with congressional leaders, Biden "made clear that Congress must take swift action to fund the government and prevent a shutdown."

"A shutdown is unacceptable and would cause needless damage to hardworking families, our economy, and our national security. He emphasized that the only path forward is through bipartisan funding bills that deliver for the American people and are free of any extreme policies," it added.

Biden also "emphasized the urgent need for Congress" to approve his $95 billion national security supplemental funding request, which includes long-sought funding for additional military assistance for Ukraine and Israel.

Negotiations on government funding have been ongoing for weeks, and in the case of Biden's supplemental request, months.

Johnson said he met one-on-one with the president after the meeting with the other congressional leaders concluded, saying "my purpose was to express what I believe is the obvious truth, and that is that we must take care of America's needs first." He appeared to link any deal on government funding to efforts to tamp down on migration across the US-Mexico border.

"The first priority of the country is our border and making sure it's secure. I believe the President can take executive authority right now today to change that. And I told him that again today in person, as I've said to him many times, publicly and privately over the last several weeks. It's time for action. It is a catastrophe, and it must stop, and we will get the government funded, and we'll keep working on that," he told reporters at the White house.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, meanwhile said the discussions over Ukraine funding were markedly tense.

“The meeting on Ukraine was one of the most intense meetings I've ever encountered in many meetings in the Oval Office," Schumer said.

Asked about Johnson's position that Biden should pursue executive action to clamp down on immigration, the top Democrat said, "There was a discussion in the room that could you do border just by administrative action? I think Biden won that argument."

"He said you can't do it. We all said without personnel, and you need legislation for personnel, and even the Republicans in the budget ask for more money for personnel at the border. So it was clear. It was clear that we want to fix the border, but it was also clear the speaker didn't give a reason why you had to do one before you did the other," added Schumer.

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3 months ago