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    Sunday, April 21, 2024

    Biden meets congressional leaders in bid to once again avert government shutdown

    House Speaker Mike Johnson of La., talks with reporters outside the West Wing after meeting with President Joe Biden at the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

    President Joe Biden met Tuesday with the so-called Big Four congressional leaders to press House Republicans to move quickly to avoid a partial government shutdown looming at the end of the week — and pass emergency aid for Ukraine and Israel.

    Biden hosted the House and Senate leaders from both parties in an effort to find some common ground ahead of a Friday deadline to fund parts of the government and a fast-approaching second deadline to keep the rest of the government open.

    “We got a lot of work to do,” Biden said as the leaders prepared to start a closed-doors meeting. “We need bipartisan solutions.”

    The main focus of the meeting is on House Speaker Mike Johnson, whose hard-line Republican caucus wants to block any spending bill that does not include a potpourri of far right-wing policy priorities.

    The Republican leader also says he won’t allow a vote on the foreign aid bill even though Ukraine desperately needs the weaponry to stave off Russian strongman Vladimir Putin’s invasion.

    Both parties’ leaders in the Senate say they want to avert a shutdown.

    “We realize the speaker of the House is in a difficult position,” Schumer told reporters. “But he must reject the MAGA hard right, which wants a shutdown.”

    Sen. Mitch McConnell, the GOP leader, likewise urged his colleagues to work together to avert an “entirely avoidable” shutdown.

    “Shutting down the government is harmful to the country,” he said Monday in a separate floor speech. “And it never produces positive outcomes.”

    Right-wing Republicans are openly calling for a shutdown to help reduce government spending.

    Johnson has vowed not to to cave at some point and forge a deal with Democrats to keep the government open, but he broke a similar promise earlier this year.

    Government funding for agriculture, transportation, military construction and some veterans’ services expires Friday. Funding for the rest of the government, including the Pentagon, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the State Department, expires on March 8.

    The House is also under pressure to pass the $95 billion national security package that bolsters aid for Ukraine, Israel and the Indo-Pacific. That measure cleared the Senate on a bipartisan 70-29 vote this month, but Johnson has resisted scheduling it for a vote in the House.

    Vote-counters say it has overwhelming support in the House as a whole but only about half the Republicans back it. That creates a huge political headache for Johnson because Republican hard-liners say only measures that have unquestioned majority support in the caucus should move forward.

    The Ukraine and Israel aid was originally tied to a measure beefing up border security that would have effects in New York City, which remains in the throes of a migrant crisis. But the bill negotiated for months by a bipartisan group of senators died.

    Republicans demanded that border policy changes be included or they would not back aid for Ukraine. When Biden and Democrats agreed, the GOP refused to take “yes” for an answer and killed the entire bill instead.

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