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Biden speaks about border and Ukraine aid

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

We will start this hour at the White House, where, for weeks, the administration has been working with a bipartisan group of senators on a bill to try to reduce the number of migrants crossing the southern border. Now, that proposal seems to be falling apart before it's even gotten a vote. Today, President Biden urged Republicans in Congress to resurrect it. NPR White House correspondent Asma Khalid was in the room. Hi, Asma.

We will start this hour at the White House, where, for weeks, the administration has been working with a bipartisan group of senators on a bill to try to reduce the number of migrants crossing the southern border. Now, that proposal seems to be falling apart before it's even gotten a vote. Today, President Biden urged Republicans in Congress to resurrect it. NPR White House correspondent Asma Khalid was in the room. Hi, Asma.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Hi, Sacha.

PFEIFFER: What was the president's main message today?

KHALID: Well, the president is trying to make a final appeal to Republicans. You know, this is a bill in which the White House made a lot of concessions to the GOP on immigration issues, but now they see Republicans lining up to oppose the bill that has the very policies that many Republicans wanted - you know, more money for border agents, more money for immigration judges and asylum officers. And ultimately, what we heard from President Biden today was that he put the blame squarely on Donald Trump. The former president, who is also, of course, the front-runner for the 2020 (ph) GOP nomination, was campaigning against the bill at a recent rally, and Biden says Trump has been calling Republicans, trying to intimidate them to vote against the bill, because he thinks it's bad for him politically if the problems are improved and he can't campaign on it. And Biden flatly said Republicans have to show a little spine - make it clear who they work for.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Republicans have to decide - who do they serve, Donald Trump or the American people? Are they here to solve problems or just weaponize those problems for political purposes?

PFEIFFER: Asma, this bill also includes funding for border agents for some border policy changes and also money for Ukraine for its fight against Russia. What did the president have to say about that foreign aid part?

KHALID: Mmm hmm. You know, Biden said that the clock is ticking for Ukraine - that it urgently needs money to take on Russia. And he emphasized that the U.S. cannot walk away now because that is what Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, is betting on.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BIDEN: Supporting this bill is standing up to Putin. Opposing this bill is playing into his hands.

KHALID: Biden emphasized that this is a critical moment, and failing to support Ukraine will not be forgotten. But Sacha, the challenge here is that there are some Republican lawmakers who have been staunchly opposed to more Ukraine aid, and the White House thought it could get this money through by tying it to something that many Republicans wanted, like border money.

PFEIFFER: On one hand, the president is trying to get Republicans to revive this bill. But he - on the other hand, he also acknowledged it seems dead. Does the White House have a plan B?

KHALID: Well, really, publicly, at the moment, Sacha, I will say their main plan B seems to be blaming Republicans if this falls apart. The president is going to try to turn this into a campaign issue. And, in fact, his presidential campaign was out with a message today blasting the former president, Donald Trump, saying that this was all his fault. On Thursday, Biden is meeting with some congressional Democrats, so I think that's when we'll get a chance to see if there is a real plan B when it comes to policy, not just politics.

PFEIFFER: If the bill does fail, will that mean no more military equipment and money for Ukraine from the U.S.?

KHALID: I will say that the White House has been warning that that is indeed a very real possibility - that there is no money left, they're saying, for Ukraine. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell floated the idea of a separate bill that would provide money for Israel and Ukraine. And today, at the White House press briefing, the press secretary was asked if they would indeed be open to a different bill that just deals with these national security issues. The press secretary did not want to engage on that question yet. But, you know, to be clear, the White House has rejected outright the idea of only funding Israel. The Republican speaker of the House proposed a standalone bill for $17.5 billion for Israel, and the White House immediately said Biden would veto that, even though he has, of course, strongly supported Israel's right to defend itself.

PFEIFFER: NPR's Asma Khalid - thank you.

KHALID: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.