Biden tells congressional leaders Ukraine, Covid-19 are priorities

President Biden (centre) meeting Congressional leaders (from left) Kevin McCarthy, Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell at the White House. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

WASHINGTON - US President Joe Biden on Tuesday said that securing funding for Ukraine and Covid-19 are his priorities before Republicans take control of the House of Representatives early next year.

Mr Biden held talks with Democratic and Republican leaders of the House of Representatives and the Senate on what can be done in the remaining weeks when Democrats still control both chambers.

Republicans won a narrow majority in the House in the Nov 8 midterm elections and will take over in January, complicating Mr Biden’s agenda for the next two years. Biden’s Democrats retained control of the Senate.

Mr Biden said as the leaders began their talks that he wanted to discuss “what we’re going to do between now and Christmas in terms of legislation.”

He said funding more military assistance for Ukraine, an objective that House Republicans have talked about stalling when they take over in January, is a priority as well as funding measures to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, who attended the talks, gave Mr Biden a taste of what to expect if he takes over as House speaker as he hopes.

He told reporters after he would raise questions about Ukraine funding, which has surpassed US$18 billion (S$24 billion), and would be willing to work with Democrats if they are “willing to get our spending under control.”

“I’m not for a blank cheque for anything,” he said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is in her waning weeks as Speaker, told reporters after the meeting that Democrats may have to approve a government spending plan through Sept 30 that mainly freezes spending at the current level.

This would be aimed at not letting the budget become subject to attempts by Republicans to cut it.

Mr Biden said funding the government beyond Dec 16 to avoid a shutdown are high on his list as well.

“And we’re going to find other areas of common ground, I hope,” he said.

Besides Mr McCarthy and Mrs Pelosi, Mr Biden was joined by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell. 

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