Zelensky is due to deliver a rare wartime address to Congress in the morning, less than two weeks after the Ukrainian leader held a virtual meeting with US lawmakers. It is widely expected that he will use Wednesday’s rhetoric – as he said in his addresses to other friendly governments – to once again make an impassioned appeal to the United States for more help, including certain types of military assistance the Biden administration has already provided. against.
Lawmakers and aides on Capitol Hill told CNN they expect that the next major round of deliberations in Washington about how best to help Ukraine fight Russia will depend, in large part, on exactly what Zelensky is asking when he speaks to Congress. The speech comes as some on Capitol Hill are losing patience with the administration’s pace and unwillingness – for the time being – to go as far as Zelensky wanted to supply fighter jets and enforce a no-fly zone over the country. Those were likely among the things the Ukrainian leader requested in Wednesday’s speech, but the administration ruled them out over concerns about how Putin would interpret those moves.
Biden is expected to announce an additional $800 million in security assistance, according to an official — bringing the total to the $1 billion announced just last week and $2 billion since the start of the Biden administration.
While the US government has largely responded to the war with bipartisan support for Ukraine, some lawmakers are losing patience — including high-ranking Republicans who have been wary of criticism of the administration’s response thus far. Biden and his administration have not responded as quickly as some in Congress would like as the president aims to keep American allies united in their response to the crisis.
“Whatever Congress asked to do, they (the administration) originally said no. And then they said yes after our allies did,” said Senator Jim Risch, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “It’s slow. It hurts.”
Democratic Rep. Josh Gottheimer, who is one of the team members of many lawmakers who have advocated sending fighter jets and other military vehicles to Ukrainian forces, said. “In areas where we think we need to do more — and where we hear back home that we need to do more — we’re going to voice that to the White House.”
“He (Zelensky)’s speech to Congress would make up a lot of that,” one House Chief of Staff said bluntly when asked what issue their president was likely to publicly push for next.
Ukraine’s president takes a virtual stand at the Capitol
Members said they don’t expect Zelensky to utter words when it comes to the help his country needs.
“I think he’d be grateful for what we did,” said Ohio Republican Senator Rob Portman, predicting what to expect from Zelensky’s speech. the truth.”
A White House official said at the time that they would reject any suggestion that congressional pressure had prompted the White House to take action, and officials stressed that the administration’s decision-making process on Ukrainian aid prioritized consultations with its European allies.
The question of sending Soviet-era fighter jets to Ukraine — and how — has emerged as a particularly thorny debate. In what the White House would later refer to as a “temporary communications breakdown” last week, the Polish government proposed sending planes to a U.S. Air Force base in Germany, and in order to move those planes to Ukraine—only and soon U.S. officials rejected the idea. The administration warned that the logistical challenges — as well as the risks of direct confrontation between the United States and Russia — were too great.
But in the days following that rejection, Democratic and Republican lawmakers alike have ramped up calls for the administration to provide Ukraine with these combat aircraft, along with other military tools such as air defense systems.
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill, including some of its more hawkish members, largely agree, although Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia recently said he wouldn’t want to take the option off the table.
The White House faces difficult next steps
Hours after Zelensky spoke before Congress, Biden is set to give his own speech detailing US aid to Ukraine. The two presidents have spoken regularly in recent weeks and White House officials have been in daily contact with Zelensky’s staff, a level of coordination that leads the White House to believe it wouldn’t be surprised by the Ukrainian president’s speech on Wednesday.
At the White House press conference on Tuesday, Psaki credited Zelensky’s “passion,” “courage,” and “courage” for helping to accelerate a “historic amount of military, security, and arms assistance” to Ukraine, and acknowledged calls for a range of additional measures. that came from Congress.
“Yes, we’re aware that there’s been a bunch of bipartisan calls,” Psaki said. “But what we have a responsibility to do here is assess the impact on the United States and our national security.”
Lawmakers say that when they ask the White House to weigh some options when it comes to helping Ukraine, they direct the things they heard from their constituents back home.
Senator Dick Durbin, D-Illinois who is the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, said he would “stand by” Biden’s decision not to send fighter jets to Ukraine. Even so, when he returned to Chicago for the weekend, Durbin heard many of his constituents express concern about the lack of combat aircraft supplied to Ukraine.
“This is a dilemma,” Durbin told CNN. “It’s a classic dilemma. We want to provide the equipment Ukraine needs to survive. We don’t want to push Putin into World War III or a nuclear showdown.” “Only the president can make that decision, and he urged caution. I can make arguments on one side or the other.”
A personal moment for many lawmakers
Democratic Representative Stephanie Murphy, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said. “People want to see us do more and they seem to understand that this is a good moment in the face of evil and a defense of democracy’s moment.”
Murphy said the administration’s consideration of its options in aiding Ukraine has been “active and cautious,” adding that the next round of discussions on military assistance to Ukraine will need to be approached with caution.
“We are getting to a point where we are exhausted by the easy answers,” she said. “The good thing is that Zelensky will come before Congress and ask for a lot of things – as they should.”
The Ukrainian leader’s speech is likely to mean more to some of the lawmakers who have built personal relationships with Zelensky over the past few years. He has personally met with US lawmakers in the past, held calls with senators and spoke last week with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
“I think Congress generally appreciates the fact that three weeks after this attack by a much larger country, it can still go somewhere and have a virtual meeting with the United States Congress,” said Republican Missouri Senator Roy Blunt.
This story was updated with additional reports on Tuesday.
CNN’s Kaitlan Collins, Manu Raju and Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.