Biden, congressional leaders meet at White House with potential shutdown looming

The top four leaders in Congress met with President Biden in the Oval Office to discuss how to fund the government and what should happen next for U.S. support of Ukraine. Congress faces a precarious stack of crises this week as leaders race to meet deadlines, including one that could spark a partial government shutdown. Lisa Desjardins reports.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    The top four leaders in Congress met with President Biden in the Oval Office today to discuss how to fund the government and what should happen next for U.S. support of Ukraine.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Congress faces a number of crises this week, as leaders race to meet deadlines, including one that could spark a partial government shutdown. Funding runs out for parts of the government late Friday.

    And, as we have been reporting, Ukrainians say, without more U.S. support, they will lose the war.

    Lisa Desjardins has been following it all and joins us now.

    So, Lisa, this meeting was significant, especially for House Speaker Johnson, who, of all the people in that room in the Oval Office, is likely the one who determines how things progress. Give us a sense of what happened.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Well, it was significant. You're right.

    And what happened here was a meeting that was serious. We know all the leaders came out. They said it was positive discussion, but it was in some ways intense. It wasn't a classical meeting, in the sense that it was a little bit lopsided. You have the Democrats in that meeting, including the president, and Senate leader for the Republicans, McConnell, almost on the same page, that they want a quick funding solution this week, and they also want to fund Ukraine.

    On the other side is Speaker Johnson, who, whatever he personally thinks, has a problem that his conference hasn't decided what they want to do in the House. So, you could hear that optimism, but also complicated tone as the leaders walked out.

  • Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY):

    The meeting on Ukraine was one of the most intense I have ever encountered in my many meetings in the Oval Office. The overwhelming sentiment in that meeting is, we have got to do Ukraine now. There are other issues, including border, which we should address, but not now.

    We want a fixed border. But it was also clear the speaker did not make — didn't give a reason why you had to do one before you did the other.

  • Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA):

    The other big priority for our country, of course, is the funding of our government. And we have been working in good faith around the clock every single day for months and weeks and over the last several days, quite literally around the clock, to get that job done.

    We're very optimistic. I hope that the other leaders came out here and told you the same.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    You can hear in that that they're sort of testing each other. These are new relationships.

    But one thing they have that they're going up against is the history here. Let's look at the last year with the funding problems. Here's what's happened just in September. In September, they passed seven weeks of funding in Congress. November, they split up the bill, so nine- and 11-week extensions, and then, in January, some more, five- and six-weeks extensions that brought us to here.

    While there may be hope that these leaders can pass through bills this week to avoid that Friday deadline. I don't know. By my count, they don't have enough time. They have to pass a short-term resolution, or we will have a partial shutdown.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Well, what is preventing Speaker Johnson from moving more quickly? Is this all tied to pressure from Donald Trump and the MAGA wing of the Republican Party?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Absolutely.

    It is not just Trump, but it is Trump, along with the hard-line conservatives, and the fractured nature, not just divided, of House Republicans. They are in several groups. We talk about House Speaker Johnson, who's just trying to keep his speakership going, could be ousted by any member bringing up a resolution to the floor.

    He has the trust and integrity portions with his conference, but they are not united. Let me show you what I mean and what he's up against in terms of the different demands of House Republicans right now in this current negotiation.

    There are some House Republicans, Freedom Caucus members especially, who want border changes in any deal this week. There are others who oppose any short-term funding patch. There are still others — listen to this, Geoff — who oppose the opposite. They don't want full funding bills, because, without those, maybe there will be an automatic cut.

    And there are some that I have spoken to who do want a shutdown. They think that is good leverage for them. House Speaker Johnson is trying to negotiate all of this, but he's got to make a decision in the end.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    We heard the Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, say that the exchange over Ukraine aid was one of the most intense scenes he's ever witnessed in the Oval Office. Where do things stand there, Lisa?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Yes, and he's a New Yorker.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Right.

    (Laughter)

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    So I have a feeling that that tells us a lot.

    House Speaker Johnson, when he came out said essentially that Ukraine is not his priority. He may agree in theory that it needs to happen. But he has said, America first, we need to deal with our problems first.

    That is a problem for Ukraine specifically. But there are some in the House trying to work around him. Specifically, I want to look at these two representatives, Jared Golden, a Democrat of Maine, and then also Brian Fitzpatrick, Republican of Pennsylvania.

    They are right now working on a work-around to get a bill that would have about $50 billion in aid to Ukraine in it. They believe it has the two-thirds support needed, but they would probably have to do that and go around Speaker Johnson. The question is, would that topple his speakership or not? They say they're serious.

    When is Johnson going to take action on Ukraine? He said they will move in a timely manner. I had to look that up in the dictionary because who knows what that means. It means not now.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Yes.

    Well, finally, Lisa, we expected action this week in the impeachment trial of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. At one point, the plan was for the Senate to get the articles of impeachment delivered. They have to be walked over from the House chamber to the Senate chamber. That didn't happen. Where do things stand?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    This is another thread tied in with everything else. House Republicans are pushing that back, because they could have a partial shutdown this week. They think an impeachment of an officer of the United States, Cabinet officer, would not look good.

    However, there are some Senate Republicans saying they want to make sure there will be a trial. Here's the number two Senate Republican, John Thune, today.

  • Sen. John Thune (R-SD):

    I believe the Senate needs to hold a trial. I think this is such a miscarriage of the law. And it is important that the United States senators sit and hear and the American people hear about this incredible crisis at our southern border.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Now, you hear him saying this is about the crisis at the border. Mayorkas and Democrats say he has done nothing wrong, that there is a crisis.

    But the issue here is, I think Democrats, my reporting is, want to move to not have a trial. They do not think there's reason for one. We're going to check in with that maybe next week, maybe the following weeks after we get past the other crises.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    All right, Lisa Desjardins, following it all for us, thanks so much.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    You're welcome.

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