Biden Will Urge Congress' Top Leaders to Keep the Government Open and Send Aid to Ukraine and Israel

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Joe Biden was meeting Tuesday with the top four leaders of Congress to press them to act quickly to avoid a looming government shutdown early next month and to pass emergency aid for Ukraine and Israel.

Biden was hosting House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. Vice President Kamala Harris also was attending.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Biden invited the leaders to the Oval Office meeting because he wants to make sure U.S. national security interests are "put first." She said those interests include continuing to fund the government.

"Look, what the president wants to see is we want to make sure that the national security interests of the American people gets put first, right?" she said Monday as Biden flew to New York. "It is not used as a political football, right? We want to make sure that gets done.

"And we also want to see that, you know, that the government does not get shut down," Jean-Pierre said, adding that keeping the government open and functioning is a "basic, basic priority" of Congress.

The Senate's top two leaders also urged that the government be kept open.

Parts of the government could start to scale back operations as early as Friday unless a deal is reached on spending and legislation is sent to Biden for his signature.

"We want to avoid a government shutdown," Schumer said Monday on the Senate floor. "We want to work with all our House counterparts to spare the American people the pain that a shutdown would bring."

McConnell likewise urged the political parties 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 on policy or politics."

The House, under Johnson's leadership, is 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.

Apart from the national security package, government funding for agriculture, transportation, military construction and some veterans' services expires Friday. Funding for the rest of the government, including the Pentagon, the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department, expires a week later, on March 8.