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Zelenskiy returns to Congress to bolster relationships amid worries of Trump return

Published 07/10/2024, 06:08 AM
Updated 07/10/2024, 09:21 PM
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy delivers remarks at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute on the sidelines of NATO's 75th anniversary summit in Washington, U.S., July 9, 2024. REUTERS/Kevin Mohatt/File Photo

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy returned to the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday to cement relationships with lawmakers who will vote on future U.S. aid for his country, which could be in jeopardy if former President Donald Trump is reelected.

Zelenskiy, who is in Washington for this week's NATO summit, met with leaders of the Senate and House of Representatives and members of committees involved in defense, spending, diplomacy and national security.

"It's an incredibly important mission and we've got to stand by Ukraine," Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner told Reuters.

The visit comes amid deep uncertainty about this year's U.S. presidential election, which pits incumbent Democrat Joe Biden, a strong supporter of aid to Ukraine, against the Republican Trump, who has expressed skepticism about the amount of aid given.

Zelenskiy awarded the Order of Merit of Ukraine to Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell before having lunch with a group of Democratic and Republican senators. He later sat down with the Republican House of Representatives speaker, Mike Johnson, telling reporters he had just invited Johnson to Kyiv.

Johnson, a close Trump ally, said it would be difficult to find the time for a trip before the November election, when every seat in the House will be up for grabs and his fellow Republicans hope to preserve or expand their narrow majority.

"We'd sure like to. The schedule's pretty tight through the election for us, so it's difficult to find the time to go, but we'd certainly like to," Johnson said.

Biden's uneven June 27 debate performance against Trump and low public approval have raised fresh doubts about his mental fitness, and a handful of congressional Democrats have called for Biden to step aside.

Reuters reported last month that two Trump advisers had presented the Republican candidate with a plan to end Russia's war in Ukraine - if he wins the Nov. 5 election - that involves telling Kyiv it will only get more U.S. weapons if it enters peace talks.

Zelenskiy urged U.S. political leaders in a speech on Tuesday not to wait for the outcome of the U.S. election before moving forcefully to help Ukraine and called for fewer restrictions on the use of U.S. weaponry.

JOHNSON CHANGED COURSE

In Congress, dozens of Trump's closest allies have voted repeatedly against assisting Zelenskiy's government, although Democrats and more internationally focused Republicans have worked together to approve the $175 billion in aid for Ukraine Washington has approved since Russia invaded in February 2022.

Most recently, Johnson changed course in April - months after Biden requested the money - and allowed the House to vote on and pass $61 billion in assistance for Ukraine.

When Zelenskiy last visited Congress in December, Johnson had said he would not support Biden's request for additional funding.

The House passed the supplemental spending package by 311 to 112, with the "no" votes coming from conservative Republicans closely allied with Trump. The vote fueled concerns Trump's party will not approve more money for Ukraine if they take control of the House, Senate and White House in November.

However, Johnson said in his first major national security address this week that Russia poses a threat beyond Ukraine, and that American voters have expressed support for the aid as he traveled around the country.

© Reuters. U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and a bipartisan group of senators meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on the sidelines of NATO's 75th anniversary summit, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 10, 2024. REUTERS/Kevin Mohatt

"People understand that (Russian President Vladimir Putin) would not stop if he took Kyiv. He's a ruthless dictator in my view," Johnson said.

(This story has been refiled to correct the spelling of Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy's name in paragraph 1)

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