Zelenskyy meets with Biden, will speak to Congress later; live updates – USA TODAY

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WASHINGTON – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is meeting with President Joe Biden at the White House Wednesday and will deliver a prime-time speech before a joint session of Congress during a dramatic visit to Washington on the 300th day of the Russian attack on the U.S. ally.

He arrived at the White House for his historic mission a little after 2 p.m. and was warmly greeted by Biden and first lady Jill Biden.

Zelenskyy’s visit comes as Biden and Congress reaffirm their commitment to Ukraine by sending billions in humanitarian and military aid to the war-ravaged country, but it hasn’t come without pushback. 

The Ukrainian president will speak tonight even as some Republicans are demanding greater accountability from Biden and top Defense officials on how nearly $50 billion in aid already disseminated has been spent.

Congress is set to pass another $44 billion in Ukraine aid through the omnibus spending bill expected to pass this week.

Zelenskyy’s visit – his first outside his home country since the war began in late February – comes with a sense of urgency. It’s a whirlwind, wartime trip that is seen as a major security risk for the Ukrainian president, and it’s an opportunity to make a personal appeal to Washington as he tries to bolster public and congressional support for the fight against Russia.

Latest developments:

  • Zelensky has arrived at the White House and is meeting with Biden. He’ll hold a press conference with Biden this afternoon. Later today, he will address a joint session of Congress.
  • Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced the details of a $1.85 billion military package for Ukraine, including the transfer of the Patriot Air Defense System – the most advanced air weaponry the Biden administration has provided Kyiv to date in its battle against Russia.
  • Congress is set to pass a spending bill this week that includes about $44 billion for Ukraine in military and humanitarian assistance Some Republicans have resisted giving what House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy has called a “blank check” to the U.S. ally.
  • Hours before Zelenskky was set to address Congress Wednesday, the Senate overwhelmingly confirmed a new ambassador to Russia. Lynne Tracy is a veteran foreign service officer with extensive experience in Russian affairs.

Ukraine war live blog: https://www.usatoday.com/news/ukraine/

Biden tells Zelenskyy the U.S. supports Ukraine’s pursuit of a ‘just peace’

Biden and Zelenskyy kicked off their bilateral meeting at 2:15 p.m. ET in the Oval Office, with Biden telling the Ukrainian president the U.S. will support Ukraine’s pursuit of a “just peace.”

“I’m delighted you could make the trip,” Biden said, adding that Russian President Vladimir Putin is “escalating his assaults on civilians” and trying to “use winter as a weapon.”

The two leaders are expected to discuss all aspects of Russia’s war in Ukraine including what an end could look like.

Biden said the American people, “Democrats and Republicans, together with our allies,” have stood proudly with Ukraine to ensure financial humanitarian and security assistance.

“We’re going to talk about that today. We’re going to continue to strengthen Ukraine’s ability to defend itself, particularly air defense, and that’s why we are going to be providing Ukraine with a Patriot missile battery.” 

Biden referenced Time Magazine’s recent recognition of Zelenskyy, telling him: “You are the man of the year.”

Zelenskyy, who handed Biden a medal, said he hoped to come to the U.S. earlier and offered “all my appreciations from my heart and from all Ukrainians. He thanked Biden, Congress and “ordinary people” in the U.S. for their support.

– Joey Garrison

Zelenskyy gave Biden a military medal

Zelenskyy arrived in the Oval Office with a gift for Biden, a military medal that had been earned by a Ukrainian captain on the front lines of the war. Zelenskyy told the president the captain – a “real hero” — wanted Biden to have it.

“He said ‘Give it to the very brave President,'” Zelenskyy said.

Biden said the medal is “undeserved but much appreciated.”

The captain is in charge of a battery of U.S.-made High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, or HIMARS. The rocket systems have saved many Ukrainian lives, Zelenskyy said.

Biden said he will make sure the captain gets a presidential “command coin” traditionally given to service members for special achievements.

– Maureen Groppe

Biden to Zelenskyy: `Welcome back’

The president and first lady Jill Biden met Zelenskyy as he arrived at the White House Wednesday afternoon.

“Mr. President, welcome back,” President Biden said as he shook Zelenskyy’s hand.

Both the U.S. and Ukrainian flags flanked the red carpet that stretched from the White House doors to the driveway. An honor cordon stood at attention, presenting both the U.S. and Ukrainian colors on either side of the red carpet

Zelenskyy emerged from his vehicle wearing an Army green sweater, cargo pants and heavy boots – very much in the garb of a war-time president.

Biden put his hand on Zelenskyy’s shoulder as they walked together into the White House, ignoring shouted questions from reporters.

– Maureen Groppe

Harris to attend Zelenskyy address in Congress

Vice President Kamala Harris, who serves s as president of the Senate by virtue of her office, will attend Zelenskyy’s address to a joint session of Congress this evening, her office said.

Zelenskyy is expected to deliver his speech at 7:30 p.m. on the 300th day of the Russian attack in Ukraine.

– Candy Woodall

Biden, Schumer don blue and yellow for Ukraine

The Ukrainian flag wasn’t the only blue and yellow that greeted Zelensky when he arrived at the White House Wednesday.

Biden wore a blue and gold striped tie.

Those were also popular colors on Capitol Hill.

Sen. Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., who called the Senate into session as the presiding officer, wore a yellow tie with blue stripes.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., addressed the chamber wearing a blue suit and yellow tie.

“I see you are in your Ukrainian blue and yellow, as am I,” Schumer told Lujan. “And that’s appropriate, because this will be a day to remember in the history of the United States Congress when we welcome President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine.”

– Maureen Groppe

Zelenskyy has landed in the U.S.

Zelenskyy has arrived in the U.S., a White House official said in a brief statement.

When announcing his visit Tuesday, officials had stressed that it might not happen because of security concerns. But the Ukrainian president made it to the U.S. and his planned events with Biden are on schedule, according to the White House.

– Maureen Groppe

A timeline of Zelenskyy’s whirlwind trip to Washington

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s visit to Washington will be a whirlwind, over in just a matter of hours, before it’s back to Ukraine where Russia’s war still rages. Here’s a breakdown:

  • 2 p.m. Biden will greet Zelenskyy on the White House’s South Lawn.
  • 2:30 p.m. Biden and Zelenskyy will hold a bilateral meeting in the Oval Office where the two leaders are expected to discuss all aspects of the war. Biden will also commit nearly $2 billion in additional security assistance.
  • 4:30 p.m. Biden and Zelenskyy will hold a joint press conference from the East Room of the White House.
  • 6:15 p.m. Zelenskyy will meet with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at her office.
  • 7:30 p.m. Zelenskyy will deliver an address to a joint Congress, making the case for continued U.S. support for Ukraine’s defense against Russia. Zelenskyy is then expected to return immediately to Ukraine.

– Joey Garrison

Senate confirms new ambassador to Russia

Hours before Zelenskky was set to address Congress on Wednesday, the Senate confirmed a new ambassador to Russia.

Lynne Tracy, a veteran foreign service officer with extensive experience in Russian affairs, was confirmed 93-2. The previous ambassador left the post in September.

“Ambassador Tracy will not shy away from confronting Putin’s abuses,” Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said before the vote. “America needs her in her post. Europe needs her in her post. Ukraine needs her in her post.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., noted that Zelenskky is addressing Congress on the day of both the confirmation vote and as the Senate is considering a spending package that includes $44 billion in new aid for Ukraine.

“President Zelenskyy could not arrive at a more crucial moment for the Senate,” Schumer said.

– Maureen Groppe

U.S. to provide Patriot missile system, $1.85 billion in military aid to Ukraine

The U.S. announced an additional $1.85 billion in military assistance to Ukraine on Wednesday ahead of Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s visit to the White House to meet with President Joe Biden.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the package includes the transfer of the Patriot Air Defense System – the most advanced air weaponry the Biden administration has provided Kyiv to date in its battle against Russia. 

Kyiv had long pressed for expanded air defense capabilities, and the inclusion of the Patriot system in the latest tranche of aid will help Ukraine to protect its military bases and civilian infrastructure from Russian missiles.

Total U.S. military assistance to Ukraine now stands at $21.9 billion, and lawmakers are looking to add billions more to the war effort in a spending deal that is currently under consideration in Congress.

– Francesca Chambers

Zelenskyy’s agenda for Biden meeting

Zelenskyy said he is coming to the United States “to strengthen resilience and defense capabilities of Ukraine.”

“In particular, POTUS and I will discuss cooperation between the US and Ukraine,” he tweeted when the visit was announced.

Topics for his meeting with Biden will include weapons, energy, sanctions, and support for a peace formula and tribunal, according to the Ukrainian Embassy.

– Maureen Groppe

Biden and Zelenskky have talked `dozens’ of times

While Biden and Zelenskyy will be meeting for the first time since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Wednesday, they have been burning up the phone lines.

The leaders have held dozens of calls, most recently on Dec. 11, according to the White House. It was during that call that Zelenskyy’s trip was first discussed.

Days before the Russian invasion, Zelenskyy met with Vice President Kamala Harris in Germany.

He first met with Biden during an Oval Office visit in Sept. 2021, at which Biden reaffirmed his support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and security.

– Maureen Groppe

Zelenskyy address to Congress will be longer than virtual appeal in March

Zelenskyy’s address to Congress is expected to last 20 minutes, which is slightly longer than the virtual appeal he made to lawmakers in March.

For that speech, members of Congress watched from an auditorium at the U.S. Capitol complex with Zelenskyy, speaking from Kyiv three weeks into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, displayed on a large video screen.

Zelenskky invoked Pearl Harbor and 9/11 to implore the U.S. to help Ukraine. He ended his 16-minute address with a direct plea to Biden.

“President Biden, you are the leader of your great nation,” he said. “I wish you to be the leader of the world. Being the leader of the world means to be the leader of peace.”

– Maureen Groppe

Who is Volodymyr Zelenskyy?

Zelenskyy is the sixth President of Ukraine, elected in April 2019. The 44-year-old unseated incumbent Petro Poroshenko with 73% of the vote. Poroshenko had been in office since 2014. 

Since Russia invaded in February 2022, Zelenskyy has been the face of Ukrainian resistance, notably for his visibility online and his pleas to other countries for support. 

Zelenskyy’s career in entertainment includes comedy, acting, screenwriting, producing and directing roles. In 2003, he founded production company Studio Kvartal 95 with school friends. Kvartal 95 produces films, cartoons and comedy shows, including “Servant of the People,” perhaps Zelenskyy’s most well-known role other than the highest seat in Ukraine.

It was a conversation between former President Donald trump and Zelenskyy that led to the House filing an impeachment inquiry against Trump in 2019. An unnamed official in the intelligence community filed a complaint saying Trump had a phone call with Zelenskyy where he reportedly urged the Ukrainian president to investigate Burisma Group, a Ukrainian energy company for which President Joe Biden’s son Hunter had served on the board of directors, as his administration was holding up millions of dollars in military aid for Ukraine approved by Congress.

After Trump was acquitted, Zelenskyy pushed back on Trump’s claims that Ukraine was a corrupt country.

– Clare Mulroy

When is Zelenskyy addressing Congress?

He’s scheduled to speak to a joint session (House and Senate) at 7: 30 p.m. The speech will take place in the House chamber.

Trump Jr. calls Zelenskyy an ‘ungrateful international welfare queen’

Donald Trump Jr., the son of the former president, called Zelenskyy “basically an ungrateful international welfare queen” in a tweet Wednesday as the Ukrainian president prepares to ask lawmakers for continued U.S. support to fight Russia.

Trump’s attack is indicative of growing skepticism among many Republicans over the billions in U.S. aid already provide to Ukraine and nearly $45 billion more that Congress might approve.

“Mitch McConnell actually said yesterday that most Republicans #1 priority is … Ukraine,” Trump Jr. tweeted. “I have yet to meet a single Republican that thinks that, but I guess the disconnect between actual republicans and DC swamp rats shouldn’t surprise anyone.”

– Joey Garrison

McCarthy, Republicans wary of writing ‘blank check’ to Ukraine

While both Democrats and many Republicans praise Zelenskyy as a hero fighting for democracy, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy – who is running to be the next speaker when the GOP takes back the House Jan. 3 – has said he wouldn’t support writing a “blank check” to Ukraine.

Far-right conservatives have been less willing than other lawmakers on Capitol Hill to keep supporting Biden’s repeated calls for increased military and humanitarian aid. And McCarthy, R-Calif., has been listening to their concerns more closely these days as he tries to short up the votes he needs to win the speakership Jan. 3.

As Biden and Zelenskyy was meeting, Montana GOP Rep. Matt Rosendale tweeted out a photo of Biden in the Oval Office handing the Ukrainian president an oversized check for ’47 billion in Taxpayer Dollars’.

“How can we send an additional $47 BILLION to Ukraine for security while terrorists, drugs, and criminals flood our southern border?,” tweeted Rosendale, incorrectly listing the aid as $47 billion instead of nearly $45 billion.

Dive deeper: 

The man leading the war effort: Who is Volodymyr Zelenskyy? The past, present and future of the Ukrainian president

More aid for Ukraine: Lawmakers unveil bill to avoid government shutdown, boost Ukraine

Mercy mission: Christmas in Ukraine: Retired military couple helps remove bombs in war-torn country

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