Zelenskyy lobbies Republicans blocking aid to Ukraine

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is providing a classified video briefing to senators Tuesday in a bid to convince them to support the supplemental funding bill coming to the floor as soon as Wednesday that includes $60 billion in aid for Ukraine. While Zelenskyy is speaking with senators, Ruslan Stefanchuk, the speaker of Ukraine’s parliament, will meet personally with members of the House and Senate.

They face an uphill battle. House Speaker Mike Johnson countered the White House’s letter sent Monday warning that time and money is running out for Ukraine assistance with a missive of his own. Further assistance to Ukraine, he wrote, is “dependent upon enactment of transformative change to our nation’s border security laws.” He remains insistent that it’s the House’s racist immigration bill or nothing.

That’s the kind of digging in that could doom Ukraine, and unfortunately it’s been embraced by some Senate Republicans, like Sen. John Cornyn. He and his fellow Republicans are not actually negotiating this, he told NBC News. There’s no “negotiation” about it. “I think there’s a misunderstanding on the part of Senator Schumer and some of our Democratic friends,” Cornyn said. “This is not a traditional negotiation, where we expect to come up with a bipartisan compromise on the border. This is a price that has to be paid in order to get the supplemental.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer seized on that statement Tuesday morning. “What that Republican said, Mr. President, is the textbook definition of hostage-taking,” he said in his floor speech opening the session. “If funding for Ukraine fails, the failure will solely be on the Republican Party.”

Some Republicans seem to recognize that. In fact, there’s some disagreement among Senate Republicans, and between them and the House GOP. Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford, who’s been leading the talks for Republicans, insists that talks and negotiations are continuing, though Democrats dispute that as well. “We continue to work to find a solution that will protect our national security, stop the human trafficking and prevent the cartels from exploiting the obvious loopholes in our law,” he tweeted Tuesday. “That is the goal & we will continue to work until we get it right.”

Lankford also dismissed Johnson’s demand that the Senate and the White House have to swallow the House immigration bill whole. “H.R. 2 didn’t get a single Democrat vote in the House,” Lankford told Punch Bowl News. “I have to get 20 Democrat votes here [in the Senate]. If the House is going to say it has to be our bill that we got zero Democrats on but I need you to go get 20 over in your body, that’s not rational. That’s not how things work.”

Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina, another Republican who’s been involved in the talks, agreed. “That’s good—he’ll get what we send him,” Tillis responded when asked about Johnson’s position.

They both need to have a word with Cornyn, and also with Zelenskyy, before time runs out for Ukraine.

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