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White House, Congress scramble on last-minute deals on Ukraine and US immigration

A framed flag signed by front-line Ukrainian fighters in Bakhmut and presented to the U.S. Congress in 2022, sits at one end of the table the U.S. Capitol, in Washington

A framed flag signed by front-line Ukrainian fighters in Bakhmut and presented to the U.S. Congress in 2022, sits at one end of the table where Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy will meet privately with U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and other congressional leaders on a visit to the U.S. Capitol in Washington,… Acquire Licensing Rights Read more

WASHINGTON, Dec 11 (Reuters) – Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy will make his case for more U.S. aid for the war against Russia during meetings in Washington this week, as lawmakers struggle for a deal that would link funding for Kyiv with domestic immigration controls.

Zelenskiy has been invited to meetings at the White House and with members of Congress on Tuesday. Many Republican lawmakers have questioned continued aid to Ukraine.

His arrival in Washington comes as Congress is under a tight – if not impossible – deadline for acting, as it is scheduled to go into recess for the year by Friday.

The next round of Ukraine aid has been held up by a demand from House of Representatives Speaker Mike Johnson and other Republicans that no more funds be dispatched unless steps are first taken to harden the U.S. border with Mexico.

President Joe Biden has urged Congress to act by year’s end and Democrats in Congress were trying to win approval of about $50 billion in new security assistance for Ukraine. Also included in Senate Democrats’ measure is humanitarian and economic aid for the government in Kyiv, as well as $14 billion for Israel as it wages war against Hamas in Gaza.

On Sunday, a senior administration official said the White House has been working with House Republican leaders to find common ground, but the talks have not developed to a point where Biden’s direct intervention could close the deal.

However, the White House is open to making it harder to obtain U.S. asylum as a way to reduce the number of migrants attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border, according to a source familiar with bipartisan Senate negotiations.

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has pushed for some type of pro-immigrant provision, such as expedited work permits for migrants or better access to legal representation, the source also said.

Congress has been warned that a failure to renew U.S. military assistance to Ukraine could tip the war in Russia’s favor, creating national security threats for the West.

By mid-November, the U.S. Defense Department had used 97% of $62.3 billion in supplemental funding it had received and the State Department had used all of the $4.7 billion in military assistance funding for Ukraine it had been allocated, U.S. budget director Shalanda Young said last week.

A bipartisan group of senators was trying to break the deadlock. Much of their work focused on tightening U.S. asylum law for migrants.

Democratic Senator Chris Murphy told NBC’s “Meet the Press” show on Sunday that the latest proposal from Republican Senator James Lankford was “unreasonable.” He also said the White House was intensifying its efforts with Congress to reach a deal.

There has been hope among Senate leaders that Murphy and Lankford could cobble together a border security compromise, having struck up a friendship this year during a congressional fact-finding trip to the southwest U.S. border.

Lankford’s office did not respond to a request for comment. During a CBS News interview on Sunday, he pushed back against news reports about his proposals.

Meanwhile, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham told participants at an annual Doha Forum conference on Sunday: “I’m sad to report we are far away” from any bipartisan deal. He added that he hoped legislation could be enacted “by early next year,” possibly beyond the time frame Biden sought.

Even if a bipartisan deal was struck, several Democrats have voiced concerns that former President Donald Trump, who is seen as the leading candidate for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, could stand in the way.

“There’s a question on the Republican side – would they accept significant progress, or is Trump going to make the final call,” said Democratic Senator Peter Welch in an interview on Thursday.

Reporting by Ted Hesson and Richard Cowan in Washington, Jarrett Renshaw in Los Angeles and Andrew Mills in Doha; Editing by Gerry Doyle

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Ted Hesson is an immigration reporter for Reuters, based in Washington, D.C. His work focuses on the policy and politics of immigration, asylum and border security. Prior to joining Reuters in 2019, Ted worked for the news outlet POLITICO, where he also covered immigration. His articles have appeared in POLITICO Magazine, The Atlantic and VICE News, among other publications. Ted holds a master’s degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and bachelor’s degree from Boston College.

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