July 22, 2024

President Joe Biden appeared to suggest over the weekend that Democrats had reached a new deal with embattled House Speaker Kevin McCarthy on Ukraine aid – a major omission from a funding bill that managed to avert a government shutdown.

“We just made one about Ukraine. So, we’ll find out,” Biden said when a reporter asked whether he would trust McCarthy when the “next deal comes around.”

The remark left open the prospect Biden had secured some new agreement from McCarthy to take up new funding for Ukraine, despite opposition from some hardline Republicans.

The comments prompted Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz – a Florida Republican who is promising to take action this week to try to oust McCarthy from his speakership post – to call on McCarthy to share more about “his secret side deal with Joe Biden on Ukraine. I’ll be listening.”

Multiple Democratic lawmakers serving on the House Foreign Affairs Committee told CNN on Monday that they had no reason to believe that McCarthy had made a fresh commitment to the White House over the weekend on Ukraine funding.

“I haven’t seen or heard of specific assurances,” one member said.

Another said they assumed Biden had been referring to an earlier government funding agreement that was reached over the summer.

“I do not believe there was a new assurance issued,” the lawmaker said.

Pressed Monday on what specific assurances Biden had secured on Ukraine aid from McCarthy, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre repeatedly demurred.

“There’s obviously bipartisan support to continue the funding to Ukraine,” she said when asked whether Biden was referring to any specific agreement from McCarthy to take up new Ukraine funding.

“What we’re seeing currently from Congress is there has been – there has been overwhelming support,” she added later, declining to say what exactly Biden was referring to when he told reporters he’d made a deal with McCarthy on Ukraine.

“I’m not going to go beyond what the president said,” she said.

Asked whether the White House had engaged in any backchannel negotiations with the speaker on Ukraine, she suggested it wasn’t necessary.

And she declined to detail any one-on-one conversations Biden has held on Ukraine.

“I just don’t have anything to confirm,” she said, without ruling it out.

Speaking on Capitol Hill earlier Monday, McCarthy told reporters he didn’t interpret the president’s remarks as implying there was a new deal.

“I don’t think the president implied that at all,” McCarthy said, adding: “I believe Ukraine is very important. I have always supported arming Ukraine – that’s not sending money to Ukraine, that’s arming Ukraine the weaponry to defend. But I think it’s very important with the number of Americans who are dying that we get the border done.”

The speaker later doubled down in remarks to reporters: “There is no side deal, so I don’t know who is bringing that up.”

The administration has worked since Saturday’s passage of the funding measure to shore up allies, reiterating the wide bipartisan support for Ukraine that still remains in Congress.

Biden was expected to speak with allies in the coming days to reiterate the point, according to people familiar with the matter. The White House said it did not have any calls to preview.

In the lead-up to Saturday, administration officials had lobbied intensely for new Ukraine funding to be included in a short-term spending bill. A top official from the Pentagon told lawmakers in a letter on Friday that the Department of Defense “has exhausted nearly all available security assistance funding for Ukraine,” offering stark warnings about the battlefield effects of failing to pass new assistance.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had also made appeals ahead of the spending deadline to include new Ukraine funding.

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