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Biden invites Zelenskyy to the White House as he pushes for more aid for Ukraine

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

President Biden will welcome Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to the White House on Tuesday. The visit comes at a critical moment as Biden's effort to secure billions more in aid for Ukraine is stuck in Congress. NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez reports on Zelenskyy's efforts to help break through the deadlock.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: President Biden has long insisted that the U.S. commitment to Ukraine would not weaken and that America would stick by Ukraine for as long as it takes. But Republican support has weakened as the war is dragged on, and the president's tone has shifted from assurances to one of more pleading.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: And history is going to judge harshly those who turn their back on freedom's cause. We can't let Putin win.

ORDOÑEZ: President Biden has asked lawmakers for billions in extra funding for national security, including $60 billion for Ukraine. But many Republican lawmakers insist they will not vote for any more money unless it's attached to significant border security measures. Biden says Republicans are playing chicken with national security.

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BIDEN: Frankly, I think it's stunning that we've gotten to this point in the first place, while Congress - the Republicans in Congress - is willing to give Putin the greatest gift he could hope for and abandon our global leadership - not just Ukraine, but beyond that.

ORDOÑEZ: Republicans say Democrats are not taking their demands seriously. House speaker Mike Johnson says he'll keep repeating the same message about the border until he's blue in the face.

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MIKE JOHNSON: The battle is for the border. We do that first as a top priority, and we'll take care of these other obligations.

ORDOÑEZ: Johnson will also meet with Zelenskyy on Tuesday, as will other congressional leaders. Zelenskyy says Russian President Vladimir Putin is banking on the U.S. and other Western nations of growing tired of the war.

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PRESIDENT VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY: Russia hopes only for one thing - that next year, the free world's consolidation will collapse.

ORDOÑEZ: His wife, Olena Zelenska, was even more explicit in an interview on BBC, calling the slowdown of aid a mortal danger.

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OLENA ZELENSKA: (Through interpreter) We cannot get tired of the situation because otherwise we will die. And if the world gets tired, they will simply let us die.

ORDOÑEZ: Time is running out as lawmakers are about to leave for the holidays. And the White House says they only have until the end of the year before they run out of money to support Ukraine.

Franco Ordoñez, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.