Zelensky Expected to Go to Washington to Meet Biden and Address Congress on Wednesday

From a New York Times story headlined “Zelensky is expected to make trip to Washington to meet Biden and address Congress on Wednesday”:

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine is expected to make a daring trip on Wednesday to meet with President Biden at the White House and address Congress in person, according to four people familiar with the planning.

The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of concerns about Mr. Zelensky’s safety, cautioned that the plans were not final and could change. The risks involved in such a visit — with the wartime leader leaving his country for the first time since Russia invaded Ukraine — are high, and tight secrecy would surround any such effort.

Mr. Zelensky is expected to join Mr. Biden at the White House for an announcement on Wednesday — likely to include a pledge by the Biden administration of a new round of military assistance — before heading to Capitol Hill for a prime time speech, according to two people familiar with the planning.

White House officials declined on Tuesday evening to confirm a meeting between the two presidents.

There were suggestions that an unusual session of Congress was in the works. Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California earlier on Tuesday sent a letter to all House lawmakers asking them to attend the Wednesday night session in person, even though lawmakers retain the ability to vote remotely.

“We are ending a very special session of the 117th Congress with legislation that makes progress for the American people as well as support for our democracy. Please be present for a very special focus on Democracy Wednesday night,” Ms. Pelosi wrote.

And, on a surprise visit to the battered city of Bakhmut on Tuesday, Mr. Zelensky was presented with a flag by Ukrainian soldiers who asked that he present it to Congress. He promised to give it to President Biden, according to Ukrainian media who joined him on the trip. While his office had no official comment on any looming trip, the moment was captured on camera. It was not clear, however, that Mr. Zelensky was actually preparing to imminently leave the country for the first time since the war began.

In the first days and weeks of the Russian full-scale invasion, a Russian attack intended to take advantage of the leader’s absence might have stirred confusion in the Ukrainian military. But 10 months into the war, no prominent military analyst has recently questioned Ukrainian command and control in the military.

Russia’s military and political leadership have, however, an arsenal of missiles that can and are regularly fired at Ukraine, and a barrage timed for a presidential visit would be within Russia’s capabilities. Such a salvo might serve as a distraction to undermine political gain for Zelensky from the visit or signal to Ukrainians or American officials that Russia has options to respond to deepening U.S.-Ukrainian ties.

The appearance would mark a potentially electrifying moment as Democratic control of the House — and Ms. Pelosi’s reign as speaker and a member of Democratic leadership — comes to a conclusion, with Republicans set to take over on Jan. 3.

It would also put Republicans on Capitol Hill opposed to a newly released plan to provide nearly $50 billion to the war-torn country — as well as a broader spending package to avoid a government shutdown at the end of the week — in the potentially uncomfortable position of opposing the aid even as the Ukrainian leader appears on Capitol Hill.

Some Republicans in the House have repeatedly opposed previous packages that sent billions of dollars in military and humanitarian aid, suggesting the money is wasteful or better spent in the United States. Just earlier on Tuesday, Representative Lauren Boebert of Colorado, a far-right Republican, posted on Twitter scoffing at the release of the new aid.

— Emily Cochrane, Carl Hulse, Andrew E. Kramer, Marc Santora, Michael D. Shear and Annie Karni

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