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After White House meeting, lawmakers express optimism on avoiding shutdown

By Clyde Hughes & Chris Benson
President Joe Biden met with the leaders of the House and Senate to discuss plans to avert a government shutdown and pass funding for Ukraine. Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI
1 of 9 | President Joe Biden met with the leaders of the House and Senate to discuss plans to avert a government shutdown and pass funding for Ukraine. Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI | License Photo

Feb. 27 (UPI) -- As a partial government shutdown looms, a White House meeting Tuesday between President Joe Biden and congressional leaders was called "productive" and "intense."

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle expressed optimism that an agreement can be reached to avoid a shutdown of federal government resources.

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"We are making good progress," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters outside the White House after the day's meeting.

In addition to New York Democrat Schumer, Biden was joined by Vice President Kamala Harris; Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.; House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., in the Oval Office before noon.

Before the meeting, President Joe Biden thanked the congressional leaders for the sit-down and stressed its importance.

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"Look, I want to thank the leaders for being here today," Biden said. "We got a lot of work to do. We got to figure out how we're going to keep funding the government, which is an important problem, an important solution we need to find.

"And I think we can do that," he said.

After the meeting, Johnson called the meeting "frank and honest," and Schumer even noted what he said were the responsibilities on Johnson's shoulders to avoid a shutdown.

A swath of federal departments could close their doors by Friday if no action is taken by lawmakers, including departments of Agriculture, Energy, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, and Veteran Affairs. A handful of other departments would follow suit a week later on March 8.

"We made clear that means not letting any of the government appropriations bills lapse, which means you need six [continuing resolutions] to get that done," Schumer said. "We're hopeful we can get this done very quickly."

Divisions among House Republicans have stalled the approval of 12 spending bills to keep the government running through the year. The government has remained open thanks only to three stopgap measures.

After Tuesday's meeting, Jeffries said there was "real progress" on the appropriations bills that are scheduled to lapse March 1. He says he is "cautiously optimistic that we can do what is necessary within the next day or so to close down these bills and avoid a government shutdown."

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At the same time, Jeffries said it was important all parties find an agreement that is "bipartisan and anchored in common sense."

"We made it clear we cannot have the shutdown because it hurts so many people in so many different ways even for a short period of time," Schumer said.

Ukraine

The group also discussed a package to send funding to Ukraine that passed the Senate in a 70-29 vote as 22 Republicans joined all but two Democrats in approving it.

Before the meeting, Biden said "the consequence of inaction every day in Ukraine are dire."

Their discussion, however, was "one of the most intense I've ever encountered in my many meetings in the Oval Office," Schumer said because of the "urgency" and "consequences to the people of America, to America's strength, if we don't do anything."

Schumer noted how in the meeting he emphasized that "we couldn't afford to wait a month or two months or three months because, in all likelihood, we would lose the war, NATO would be fractured at best, allies would turn away and the boldest autocrats in the world would be emboldened."

The Senate's top Democrat put a spotlight on Johnson.

"It's in his hands," he said. "History is looking over your shoulder," Schumer said he told Johnson during their White House meeting. "The consensus in that room, [Ukrainian President Volodymyr] Zelensky in Ukraine will lose the war if we don't get the arms and don't get them quickly."

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Southern border, Israel

On the southern U.S. border, Schumer said Democrats want to "do something very real." Jeffries said the overall conversation was "open, honest and candid."

"We all agree we have a broken immigration system," Jeffries commented. "There is a need to address the challenges at the border in thoughtful, bipartisan way," he said while calling for "a safe, strong, secure and humane border" and the need for "good faith discussions" with House Republican's about the border. He urged them "not to play politics and engage in political games."

Earlier, Biden had said that, so far as the Israeli part of the supplemental bill goes, there is a need to deal with it and provide humanitarian assistance to Palestinians in Gaza.

With the supplemental, Johnson said, "the House is actively pursuing and investigating the various options on that and "will address in a timely manner."

After the meeting, Jeffries echoed Biden's earlier expressed sentiments, saying there is a need "that we provide humanitarian assistance to Palestinian civilians who are in harm's way in Gaza" and other places "through no fault of their own."

After the meeting, Johnson said when he arrived it was with the intent to "express what I believe is the obvious truth: that we must take care of America's needs first," which he said included "talking about the open border."

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He said he brought the issue up "repeatedly."

"We have been working in good faith around the clock," Johnson said, and are "very optimistic" that "we can get to an agreement on these issues" to avoid a shutdown.

Johnson said the border is his first priority.

Back and forth

"Even a partial shutdown by extreme House Republicans would mean chaos and pain for the American people," Schumer said Monday on Facebook.

He also took aim at House Republicans in a letter to colleagues over the weekend as he said it was "clear" they "need more time to sort themselves out" after a missed deadline on a set of funding bills that was due over the weekend.

"Unless Republicans get serious, the extreme Republican shutdown will endanger our economy, raise costs, lower safety and exact untold pain on the American people," Schumer wrote.

Johnson, who has pushed for several policy riders to be attached to the spending bills, fired back on X Sunday, calling Schumer's letter "counterproductive rhetoric," blaming the Democrats for harming the economy.

"Our position is that the American people and our mission is to take steps to rein in Democrats' overspending and policies that are harming the economy, raising prices and making everyday life harder for our constituents," Johnson said on social media. "This is not the time for petty politics. House Republicans will continue to work in good faith and security must be addressed immediately."

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Schumer said Monday of Russian President Vladimir Putin that "With this urgent aid package, Congress can help ensure Ukraine wins the war, ensure Putin is not victorious, ensure that democracy can thrive in the 21st century."

Schumer has urged Johnson to travel to Ukraine, as he did with a delegation of Senate Democrats last week, saying it would be "virtually impossible for anyone with decency and goodwill to turn their back on Ukraine if they saw the horrors of that war with their own eyes.

"If Speaker Johnson put the national security supplemental on the floor today, it would pass with a large number of both Democrats and Republicans," Schumer said previously. "Now is the time for action."

Biden had also pressured Johnson, who opposes sending foreign aid to Ukraine or elsewhere without measures to secure the U.S.-Mexico border, to hold a vote on the measure, calling the House decision to go on recess without a vote "bizarre."

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