President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine is expected to make a visit to Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, multiple congressional sources and a U.S. official confirmed to CBS News.
Zelenskyy is expected to give an evening speech before a joint session of Congress, meet with Congressional leaders, and visit with President Joe Biden at the White House.
The visit has been in the works since November. An earlier plan to visit the U.S. in September during the UN General Assembly was called off due to the war.
U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, co-chair of the House Ukraine caucus, confirmed to CBS News there had been on-going, serious, behind-the-scenes efforts to bring Zelenskyy to Washington.
“We’d be very honored to have him visit. I’m amazed he can make it in view of the situation,” Kaptur said. “It’d be a great gift to have him at the Capitol. We’re working with the leadership to be helpful. We personally understand if he cannot make it last minute.”
In a letter to her Democratic colleagues Tuesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged her members to return to Washington and be “physically present” at the House’s session Wednesday. Punchbowl news was the first to report that Zelenskky’s visit was the reason for the sudden gathering.
“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,” she wrote. “Please be present for a very special focus on Democracy Wednesday night.”
During an address to the Ukrainian people, Zelenskyy said this week is an “extremely important” one for Ukraine and suggested he had been asked to pass along a token of gratitude to the country’s allies.
“Our fighters gave me our flag today and asked to pass it on to those whose decisions are very important for Ukraine, for all our warriors,” he said. “We will definitely do it. We will definitely endure. We will definitely get the necessary support for Ukraine.”
Zelenskyy’s speech comes as Congress is working to pass a sweeping $1.7 trillion government spending package that includes nearly $45 billion in military, humanitarian and economic assistance for Ukraine. The measure will be one of the final pieces of legislation passed by the current Congress, and lawmakers are moving with urgency to clear the omnibus measure before a Friday deadline to avert a partial government shutdown.
The roughly $45 billion included for Ukraine is higher than the $37.7 billionin November, and if approved by Congress, will be the latest tranche of emergency assistance provided to Ukraine as it continues to combat Russia’s aggression. Lawmakers have already allocated more than $65 billion in aid to Ukraine since the invasion, though some House Republicans have expressed opposition to continuing to direct funding to the country. This new package will bring US assistance to over $100 billion.
The Defense Department has also committed extensive military equipment, as of the end of November, including 38 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System and ammunition, eight National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems, 45 T-72B tanks, more than 1,600 Stinger anti-aircraft systems and more than 8,500 Javelin anti-armor systems, as well as helicopters, armored vehicles and mine resistant vehicles.
Zelenskyy has repeatedly expressed his gratitude to Mr. Biden and lawmakers for funding and security assistance, but in Marchfor additional weapons, including air-defense systems. The Ukrainian president appeared virtually before both chambers of Congress then and invoked key events in U.S. history — the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor and Sept. 11, 2011, terror attacks — to further underscore the need for more help.
Zelenskyy’s expected visit would be part of his first visit outside Ukraine since Russia invaded in late February, and a daring decision to leave the country amid the ongoing war and Russian attempts on his life. Heat the White House in early September 2021, and the two have spoken repeatedly by phone in the months since Russia’s invasion, during which the U.S. President has expressed continued support for Ukraine.
The White House has explored having Mr. Biden visit Ukraine several times, but has tabled such plans amid security concerns. But other senior U.S. officials, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, have made visits to Kyiv over the course of this year.
Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware said Tuesday that Zelenskyy addressing Congress is “the perfect ending to two years where President Biden has had some landmark successes, and a year where his biggest success internationally has been rallying our NATO allies to support the Ukrainian close.”
Alan He, Melissa Quinn Caroline Linton contributed to this report.