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Biden summoned congressional leaders to the White House to talk about Ukraine

: [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In a previous audio version of this story, we incorrectly said Republican Senator John Thune is from Texas. He is from South Dakota.]


Russia invaded Ukraine almost two years ago.


President Biden used to say Ukraine had U.S. support as long as it takes. But lately, he hasn't been able to make that promise. That's because Republicans in the House of Representatives have not said yes to a request for more aid. Here's House Speaker Mike Johnson at the White House last night.


MIKE JOHNSON: We understand that there is concern about the safety, security and sovereignty of Ukraine, but the American people have those same concerns about our own domestic sovereignty and our safety and our security.

MARTÍNEZ: Johnson says he wants big changes in U.S. border policy first before agreeing to any more money for Ukraine.

FADEL: NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson was at the White House yesterday, and she joins us now. Good morning, Mara.


FADEL: OK, so the president summoned congressional leaders to the White House to talk about Ukraine. How did the conversation go?

LIASSON: According to White House and Senate officials, it went pretty good - according to House Republicans, maybe not so much. Now, you heard speaker Mike Johnson talking just there. He didn't say no to Ukraine aid. He is still willing, in theory, to provide more aid, but he's continuing to tie this to border policy. He insists on big changes and that the border policy changes should take priority. President Biden says he's willing to make concessions on the border in order to get Ukraine aid also because he's under pressure from blue-state Democratic governors and mayors who are grappling with increased numbers of migrants. So it's not just Republicans in border states. And in the Senate, there is a bipartisan group trying to work out a deal on the border that would be tied to Ukraine aid. And so far, they say they are making progress.

FADEL: OK. So the president is willing to make concessions. There's a bipartisan group working on it. Is that enough to get a deal?

LIASSON: In the Senate, yes, but the House is a question mark. Yesterday, the speaker of the House listed off a series of policy measures that he thinks are essential. They're basically elements of former President Donald Trump's border policy. They were in a bill passed by the House, but this bill has no chance of clearing the Senate because no Democrats would vote for it. And, of course, it needs 60 votes. The question is, would enough Republicans in the House accept anything less than that? Many hard-right Republicans see bipartisan bills - bills that you pass with Democratic votes - as failures. That's one of the reasons Kevin McCarthy lost his job as speaker.

So there's also a school of thought that says some Republicans would rather have the border as an issue to use against President Biden going into the 2024 election than actually get a bill. In the Senate, there are Republicans like Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia who say, look, this is the best chance of getting any Democratic support for big changes in the border; even if Republicans won the White House in November, we couldn't pass anything like this because Democrats would never vote for it.

FADEL: What are Democratic leaders saying?

LIASSON: They talked to reporters outside the White House also. They say this would only happen if the two issues are handled together and in a bipartisan way. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer says he's optimistic. He put the chances of a deal as a little bit greater than half. He and Biden have been saying that the stakes here are really high. This is urgent. If Russia wins, takes over Ukraine, it will hurt the national security of the United States. It'll hurt NATO and the world.

FADEL: NPR's Mara Liasson. Thank you, Mara.

LIASSON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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