US President Joe Biden is confronting a daily deluge of pressure from lawmakers on Capitol Hill to do more — and act faster — to help Ukraine as Russian President Vladimir Putin intensifies his bloody attacks across the country.
Those calls are poised to only grow louder on Wednesday after members of Congress hear fresh pleas for assistance directly from one man who is hunkered down in Kyiv: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Zelensky is set to deliver a rare wartime speech to Congress in the morning, less than two weeks after the Ukrainian leader held a virtual meeting with US lawmakers. He is widely expected to use Wednesday's address — as he has in speeches to other friendly governments — to make an impassioned appeal yet again to the US for more help, including for certain kinds of military assistance that the Biden administration has already come out against.
Lawmakers and aides on Capitol Hill told CNN that they expect the next major round of deliberations in Washington on how to best aid Ukraine's fight against Russia will, in no small part, hinge on what exactly Zelensky asks for when he speaks to Congress.
The speech comes as some on Capitol Hill are losing patience with the administration's pace and its unwillingness — for now — to go as far as Zelensky has wanted in supplying fighter jets and imposing a no-fly zone over the country. Those two things are likely to be among the things the Ukrainian leader asks for in Wednesday's speech, but the administration has ruled them out over concerns of how Putin would interpret those moves.
While the US government has largely responded to the war with a bipartisan support of Ukraine, patience is starting to wear thin for some lawmakers — including high-ranking Republicans who had been wary of criticizing the administration's response until now. Biden and his administration have not responded as quickly as some in Congress would like as the President aims to keep American allies united in their response to the crisis.
"Everything Congress has asked to do, (the administration) has originally said no. And then later on, they say yes after our allies do it," said Sen. Jim Risch, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "It's slow. It's excruciating."
"We're going to be hearing from Zelensky. So, I think depending upon what we hear then, and depending upon what action the White House takes next, we'll see," said Democratic Rep. Josh Gottheimer, who is one of many lawmakers who have advocated for sending fighter jets and other military machinery to Ukrainian forces. "In areas where we believe we need to push harder — and where we're hearing from back home that we need to push harder — we're going to express that to the White House."
One chief of staff to a member of the House put it bluntly when asked which issue their boss was likely to public push for next: "(Zelensky's) address to Congress will shape a lot of that," they said.
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