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Highlights from Zelenskyy's trip to D.C.: Biden meeting and a plea for more aid

It was the Ukrainian president's first known trip outside his country since Russia invaded over nine months ago.

What to know

  • President Volodymyr Zelenskyy met with President Joe Biden at the White House on Wednesday, his first known trip outside Ukraine since Russia invaded about 10 months ago.
  • Biden said in a news conference that the U.S. would stay with Ukraine "as long as it takes" as the country enters what promises to be a brutal winter of war.
  • Zelenskyy later addressed a joint session of Congress, making an impassioned plea for continued bipartisan support ahead of a power transition in Washington next year that puts Republicans in charge of the House.
  • Lawmakers are expected to vote later this week on a huge funding bill that includes roughly $44.9 billion in Ukraine aid.

Vote on spending bill with Ukraine aid delayed over separate immigration issue

Frank Thorp Vproducer and off-air reporter

Plans to pass the $1.7 billion omnibus government funding bill in the Senate tonight appear to have fallen apart after a last-minute push by Republicans to hold an amendment vote to reinstate Title 42, the Trump-era Covid policy that several restricted asylum-seekers, at a simple majority. Democrats want to stick to a 60-vote threshold instead.

The massive spending bill includes nearly $45 billion in aid to Ukraine, which Zelenskyy made a plea for in his speech.

How Zelenskyy’s address to Congress could affect Ukrainians

Ukraine's U.N. ambassador tweets image of U.S. flag reimagined as yellow and blue

Some GOP senators show support for Ukraine

While some GOP lawmakers have expressed growing discontent over additional aid to Ukraine, other prominent Republicans praised Zelenskyy and Ukraine's efforts to thwart Russian aggression.

"Ukrainian President @ZelenskyyUa delivered one of the most inspiring speeches to a joint session of Congress I have ever witnessed," tweeted Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. "They are not asking for American soldiers to do the fighting — they are asking for weapons and economic assistance so they can stay in the fight. Ukraine’s victory is our victory."

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, also tweeted his support for continuing to provide assistance to Ukraine, suggesting that the U.S. should "accelerate, not curtail, our support."

"President Zelenskyy’s address to Congress was an inspiring call to action for America," said Portman, whose term ends after this year. "We must continue to provide more aid to Ukraine to ensure that it can defeat Russia’s aggression and win this war."

Jerry Moran, R-Kan., tweeted: “The U.S. has been essential in helping Ukraine fight back against Russian aggression and supporting their freedom and democracy. I appreciate that Zelensky acknowledged the American people’s support for Ukraine and graciously thanked each American.”

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, lauded Zelenskyy's speech, calling it "historic" in a tweet Wednesday. "Americans & Ukrainians are partners for democracy Zelenskyy made that very clear," he wrote.

GOP lawmakers intensify skepticism over Ukraine aid in response to Zelenskyy's speech

A series of Republican lawmakers, many of them allies of former President Donald Trump, cast doubt on aid for Ukraine in response to Zelenskyy's remarks Wednesday.

Rep. Lauren Boebert, the outspoken Colorado Republican, demanded a full accounting of U.S. military aid provided to Ukraine before she would vote for more (which the Biden administration has worked to more closely follow in recent weeks).

"Sadly, what I didn't hear tonight was a clear explanation of where the first $50 billion we sent to support their efforts went," she said. "Until Congress receives a full audit on where our money has already gone, I will not support sending additional money to this war."

Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona also protested additional assistance to Ukraine in a tweet Wednesday night that repeated an anti-immigration screed that referred to an "invasion." "Not one red cent should go to Ukraine while our border is open," Gosar wrote, in part.

Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky also blasted Ukraine aid, tweeting that American taxpayers "have been conscripted into making welfare payments to this foreign government."

Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida compared aid for Ukraine to Trump's tax returns (which the House Ways and Means Committee voted Tuesday to release publicly). "Congress: 'Audit Trump!' Also Congress: 'If you want to audit aid to Ukraine you support Putin!'" he tweeted.

Ukrainians in gallery cheered after speech ended

During Zelenskyy's speech, members of the Ukrainian diaspora sat in the visitor’s gallery overlooking the House floor. Members turned and applauded them before the speech began. The group had flags and cried throughout the speech.

After the speech ended, the group cheered "Slava Ukrainia, Ukrainia Slava” — a Ukrainian cheer meaning "glory to Ukraine" — as Zelenskyy and Pelosi exchanged flags of their countries. They later cheered, “God Bless America!”

Zelenskyy emphasizes U.S. 'joint victory' to underscore partnership

Throughout the speech, Zelenskyy emphasized that Ukraine and the U.S. are tied together in this struggle.

One key line appeared to imply that more clearly than any other, however.

After a round of applause ended, Zelenskyy said, "It gives me great pleasure to share our first joint victory: We defeated Russia in the minds of the world.”

That line, which earned further applause, underscores the significance of the U.S.'s role in the war, which the Biden administration and other lawmakers have tried to keep at arm's length while they continue to supply military aid.

In call for a secure world, Zelenskyy slides in a 'Put-in' joke

While the subject matter was serious, Zelenskyy showed off the comedic skills he developed in his former life as an entertainer as he spoke to Congress.

After he said he knew what everyone in Ukraine wished for Christmas this year — a Ukrainian victory — he made a deft joke about his foe, Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"We [will] develop strong security guarantees for our country and for entire Europe and the world together with you," Zelenskyy said. "And also together with you we will put-in place everyone who will defy freedom — Putin."

Zelenskyy presents Ukrainian flag to Congress, handing it to Pelosi: 'This flag is the symbol of victory of this war'

Rebecca Shabadis in Washington, D.C.

After his speech, Zelenskyy presented the Ukrainian flag to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who was sitting behind him on the dais.

"This flag is the symbol of victory of this war," Zelenskyy said, saying it had been signed by Ukrainian soldiers on the front lines in Bakhmut.

He said that "so much in the world depends on you" and that soldiers asked him to pass along the flag to Congress, where decisions "can save millions" in his country.

"We stand. We fight," he said. "And we will win because we stand united: Ukraine, America and the entire free world."

Pelosi then presented Zelenskyy with a U.S. flag that she said was flown over the Capitol on Wednesday in honor of his visit.

GOP representatives decline to join applause

Republican Reps. Lauren Boebert of Colorado and Matt Gaetz of Florida, sitting next to each other, refrained from applauding during the speech, even as Democratic Reps. Mark Takano of California and Carolyn Maloney of New York stood up and applauded next to them.

Zelenskyy conveys powerful image of Ukrainians having no electricity, heat or water on Christmas

Rebecca Shabadis in Washington, D.C.

Zelenskyy described a devastating image of what this Christmas might be like for millions of Ukrainians.

"Ladies and gentlemen, Americans, in two days we will celebrate Christmas," he said, adding that it "may be candlelit, not because it’s more romantic, but because there will be no electricity — millions won’t have heating or no running water."

Zelenskyy, who is Jewish, said that Ukrainians will celebrate Christmas and that, even if there is no electricity, "the light of our faith in ourselves will not be put out."

"If Russian missiles attack us, we will do our best," he said, adding that his people will sit down to holiday tables for dinner and "cheer up each other."

Zelenskyy tells lawmakers U.S. assistance isn't 'charity' but an 'investment' in global security

In his plea to Congress to pass additional aid to Ukraine, Zelenskyy commented on Ukraine's resources in its war with Russia.

“We have artillery, yes, thank you," Zelenskyy said. "Is it enough? Honestly, not really.” 

The remark, which elicited laughter from lawmakers, appeared to echo a similar comment he made to Biden earlier.

“More cannons and shells are needed," he continued. 

He later doubled down that security assistance from the U.S. was an investment in shared values.

"Your money is not charity. It's an investment in the global security and democracy that we handle in the most responsible way," he said.

Zelenskyy describes visit to front lines and refers to WWII

Wearing the fatigue green that has become typical for him since the start of the war, Zelenskyy described to Congress his visit to Bakhmut — a small city Russians have tried to capture in recent weeks — the day before his journey to Washington.

The city, he said, once boasted a population of 70,000. Now only a few civilians remain.

"Every inch of their land is soaked in blood," he said, describing the roar of gunfire and air alarms and the fierce combat found in the town and in the Donbass region.

Zelenskyy said the Kremlin's forces are using everything against Ukrainian cities — outgunning his country in the air and via artillery fire. To crystallize the point, he later cited the World War II Battle of the Bulge, in which U.S. forces had to hold the line against Nazi Germany during Christmas in 1944, and the Battle of Saratoga, a turning point in the America Revolution which cemented France's support for the Americans.

"Ukrainian soldiers are doing the same to Putin's forces this Christmas," he said.

Zelenskyy denounces Iran for aiding Russia's fight against Ukraine

Rebecca Shabadis in Washington, D.C.

Zelenskyy criticized Iran for allying itself with Russia in its fight against Ukraine, sending deadly drones to Russia that became a "threat to our critical infrastructure."

"That is how one terrorist has found the other," Zelenskyy said.

"It is just a matter of time when they will strike against your other allies," he warned. "If we do not stop them now, we must do it."

Zelenskyy warns international community can't ignore Russia-Ukraine war

Rebecca Shabadis in Washington, D.C.

Zelenskyy warned that the international community cannot ignore Russia's against Ukraine, because it has global ramifications.

"The battle continues," Zelenskyy said, saying the battle is not only for territory in Ukraine or in other parts of Europe.

"The battle is not only for life, freedom and security of Ukrainians or any other nation which Russia attempts to conquer. The struggle will define in what world our children and our grandchildren live in. ... This battle cannot be frozen or ignored," he warned.

Zelenskyy said the world is "too interconnected and interdependent."

Zelenskyy rejects 'Russian tyranny' in speech

Zelenskyy rejected "Russian tyranny" and struck a chord of near-victory in his speech to Congress.

“The Russian tyranny has lost control over us," he leader said. "It will never influence our minds again.”

He said the Russian people would also have a chance at freedom, but "only when they defeat the Kremlin in their minds."

'It's too much for me': Zelenskyy begins speech by thanking U.S.

Rebecca Shabadis in Washington, D.C.

Zelenskyy began his remarks before a joint meeting of Congress at 7:40 p.m. ET by thanking the U.S. for helping Ukraine in its fight against Russia.

He entered the House chamber to several minutes of applause, cheers and a standing ovation from most lawmakers.

"It's too much for me — all this for our great people," he said in English as he delivered his remarks.

Zelenskyy thanked "all those who value freedom and justice, who cherish it as strongly as we Ukrainians." He said, "I hope my words of respect and gratitude resonate in each American heart."

He also thanked members of Congress who have visited Ukraine in the past several months.

"Ukraine is alive and kicking," he said.

GOP Rep. Massie signals he won't attend Zelenskyy's speech to Congress

Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., suggested he wouldn't be present for Zelenskyy's remarks to Congress on Wednesday.

"I’m in DC but I will not be attending the speech of the Ukrainian lobbyist," Massie tweeted Wednesday, without directly naming Zelenskyy.

Some Republicans have grown increasingly resistant to backing additional funding to support Ukraine, particularly as the GOP prepares to control the House in January.

Rep. Mike Garcia, R-Calif., said more Americans had died from fentanyl than Ukrainians had died at the hands of Russians in a tweet Wednesday that signaled his displeasure with the Biden administration’s support for Ukraine.

His posture was that Biden should be more preoccupied with the border than with Ukraine. “Imagine a nation where POTUS protects his own,” he said.

Read more about Zelenskyy's speech and the Republican pushback here.

Lawmakers sport blue and yellow in support of Ukraine

Several House Democrats seated at the center of the chamber unfurled a large blue and yellow Ukrainian flag. Among them were Lisa Blunt Rochester of Delaware, Tom O'Halleran of Arizona and Madeleine Dean and Mary Gay Scanlon, both of Pennsylvania.

Several members are sporting blue and yellow. Rep. Victoria Spartz, R-Ind., a Ukrainian immigrant, is wearing a light blue suit. Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, are also wearing blue, as are Reps. Jennifer Wexton, D-Va., and Mikie Sherrill, D-N.J.

Many House members are missing given the holidays and the looming storm, but seats have been filled by senators, members of the diplomatic corps and congressional staffers.

Members of Zelenskyy’s team, all clad in green, filed into the back of the chamber. 

Zelenskyy's message to Putin: I stand with Biden and the U.S.

Zelenskyy was asked what message he hoped to send to Russian President Vladimir Putin by visiting the White House — his first known trip outside his own country since the invasion began over nine months ago.

"As to what is the message for Putin? I am standing here in the United States with President Biden on the same podium because I respect him as a person, as a president, as a human being, for his position," he said. "And for me, this is a historic moment."

Zelenskyy also noted that he maintains a close dialogue with Biden, which led to the acquisition of the Patriot missile system.

Zelenskyy admitted that if the war continued, he would likely ask for more, quickly adding: "We are in a war. I'm sorry."

"We're working on it," Biden quickly quipped.

Biden insists Patriot missile system is 'not escalatory, it's defensive'

When asked about whether the United States had made an "escalatory assessment" by agreeing to send Ukraine a Patriot missile battery, Biden said that he "did not discuss that at all," adding that the system was "not escalatory, it's defensive."

"We would love for them not to use it," Biden said.

A senior U.S. defense and a senior U.S. military official declined to say whether Ukraine gave the U.S. any assurances that they would not use the Patriot missile system to shoot down Russian aircraft in Russian airspace.

“This is a defensive system and the Ukrainians will use it to intercept incoming missiles,” the senior defense official said. “We expect that it will be used as the defensive system that it is.”

The Patriot system will not be linked to other NATO air defense systems, the officials said.

Zelenskyy says a just peace means 'no compromises'

When both presidents were asked what a fair end to the war could look like, Zelenskyy did not equivocate.

He said a just peace for him as president would mean there are "no compromises as to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of my country (and) payback for all the damages inflicted by Russian aggression."

Zelenskyy said in answering the question he thought of the many parents who have "lost their sons and daughters on the front lines."

"So what is a just peace for them?" he asked.

Ukrainian reporter says his family wouldn't be alive without U.S. assistance

A Ukrainian reporter thanked Biden and said that his family wouldn’t be alive without the assistance of the United States.

The reporter went on to ask what would be the “fair way” to bring the war to an end.

"I think we share the exact same vision, that of a free, independent and prosperous Ukraine," Biden said. The war "could end today if Putin had any dignity."

"He thought he could break NATO," Biden said. "He was wrong, wrong, wrong."

Biden says NATO and E.U. remain united in support of Ukraine

President Joe Biden said Wednesday that NATO and European Union allies remain more united over the defense of Ukraine than any other topic.

American allies in Europe fully understand what's at stake over Russia's war in Ukraine, Biden said, emphasizing that there has been no major invasion of a European country since World War II.

"They see no signs that Putin is going to do anything to change that unless we resist and we help the Ukrainians resist," Biden said, responding to questions from reporters in a joint news conference at the White House.

While Putin may have aimed to weaken NATO and Europe through this invasion, Biden said that the Russian president had only strengthened the alliance.

"He produced a more united Europe with Sweden and Finland joining [NATO]," Biden said about Putin. "So I don't see any reason to believe there'll be any lessening of support."

Many lawmakers expected to miss Zelenskyy address

More than 180 lawmakers have filed proxy letters with the House clerk allowing them to vote remotely rather than in person.

It means that many of them likely will skip out on attending Zelenskyy's address, even as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sent a letter to colleagues urging them to "please be present for a very special focus on Democracy Wednesday night."

His address comes four days before Christmas and as a winter storm bears down on the country, making travel back to Washington unappealing for many lawmakers.

House leaders could allow staffers to fill any empty seats in the chamber.

Republicans, who will take control of the House in January, have vowed to eliminate proxy voting, which began in response to the Covid pandemic.

Zelenskyy offers thanks to Americans, describes U.S. and Ukraine as 'real partners'

Zelenskyy began his remarks during a news conference with Biden by thanking the American people for supporting Ukraine's efforts in its ongoing war with Russia.

"I am thankful for all of this," Zelenskyy said, referring to aid provided by the United States. He described his visit to Washington, D.C., as a "historic one," saying that he believes it marks a "new phase" in Ukraine's relationship with the United States, describing the two countries as "real partners."

Zelenskyy also extended his appreciation to Congress, saying he is looking forward to meeting with lawmakers during their joint session later Wednesday and hoped they would pass the spending package including new aid for Ukraine.

"We need to survive this winter," he added.

Biden reiterates support for Zelenskyy and Ukraine's continued fight against Russia

Biden expressed his continued support for Zelenskyy in a news conference at the White House on Wednesday, emphasizing that his Ukrainian counterpart and his country "will never stand alone."

Noting Russia and the Kremlin’s “escalated” and “brutal attacks” that target civilian infrastructure, Biden said that "it's important for the American people and for the world to hear directly from you, Mr. President, about Ukraine's fight and the need to continue to stand together through 2023." Zelenskyy is set to deliver an address to a joint session of Congress later Wednesday.

Biden took the opportunity to take multiple shots at Russian leader Vladimir Putin, accusing him of attacking democracy and undermining international agreements of sovereignty and territorial integrity.

The president emphasized the need to pass the omnibus spending bill to provide more assistance to Ukraine, as he further summarized the international support and assistance provided to Kyiv. He commended the spirit of the Ukrainian people who have endured nearly 10 months of war despite the hardships and attack on infrastructure that undermines basic needs, such as access to electricity, and turning winter into a weapon.

“Three hundred days of the Ukrainian people showing Russia and the world their steel backbone, their love of country and their unbreakable determination — and I emphasize unbreakable determination — to choose their own path,” Biden said.

To conclude, Biden invoked the spirit of Hanukkah and its story of a small band of Jewish defenders fighting for their freedom, a reminder that “light will always prevail over darkness.”

Press prepare for Biden and Zelenskyy's joint news conference

Members of the press gathered in the White House on Wednesday in preparation for President Joe Biden and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's joint news conference.

Within a few feet of a massive Christmas tree, Ukrainian and American flags stood behind the lecterns at which the two leaders will stand as they take questions from the press.

Zelenskyy and Biden are expected to begin speaking around 4:30 p.m.

Zelenskyy and Biden kick off show of unity and force with Oval Office meeting

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy offered President Joe Biden “all my appreciation” in a meeting at the White House on Wednesday, before the wartime leader is set to deliver an address to a joint meeting of Congress.

At the Oval Office meeting, Biden confirmed that the U.S. will be giving Ukraine the Patriot missile battery the country has requested to counter Russian missile and air attacks.

Zelenskyy, who was near the front lines in eastern Ukraine on Tuesday before making his first known trip outside of his country since the start of Russia’s invasion about 10 months ago, gave Biden a military medal he said a Ukrainian soldier wanted Biden to have.

Read the full story here.

A possible entry for Zelenskyy's wish list: F-16 fighter jets

The General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon, a stalwart of U.S. air power and used by countries around the world, is expected to be among the additional military support Zelenskyy will ask for in his meeting with Biden.

A U.S. Air Force F-16C Fighting Falcon makes a fast pass at RAF Fairford in the United Kingdom on July 18, 2019.
A U.S. Air Force F-16C Fighting Falcon makes a fast pass at RAF Fairford in the United Kingdom on July 18, 2019.Rob Edgcumbe / Stocktrek Images via AP file

The jet isn't particularly new, first entering production in 1976, but it remains a formidable fighter and one that Ukraine has previously sought to acquire. Shortly after Russia invaded, the U.S. discussed a deal that would have sent F-16s to Poland, with Ukraine getting older Russian-made jets, though it eventually fell through. The U.S. has since discussed sending fighter jets to Ukraine, though Biden recently said the jets were off the table.

If the U.S. were to agree to sell F-16s to Ukraine, it would mark a significant step up in terms of support for Ukraine's air capabilities, which Zelenskyy is continuing to reinforce.

No guests in the House gallery for Zelenskyy speech

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a letter to members of Congress on Wednesday that "for security reasons" no guests would be allowed in the House gallery for Zelenskyy's address.

"Please note that, for security reasons, the House Sergeant at Arms has announced that there will be no guests allowed in the House Gallery — with the exception of official guests of President Zelenskyy," Pelosi wrote in the letter.

The U.S. has worked to ensure Zelenskyy's security, on the ground and in the air, even providing military aircraft to carry him to Washington.

In Oval Office meeting, Zelenskyy thanks Biden and Americans

Seated in the Oval Office with Biden, Zelenskyy thanked the president, Congress and the American people for their support as Russia's war in Ukraine surpasses 300 days.

Biden spoke briefly, promising continued support for his Ukrainian counterpart's country as well as a Patriot missile battery and training. Zelenskyy, meanwhile, said it was hard to articulate how much he and his country appreciated the U.S. for its aid.

"Really all my appreciation from my heart, the heart of the Ukrainians — all Ukrainians — from our nation," he said in English.

To further show his thanks, in what was a particularly poignant moment, Zelenskyy said that a Ukrainian officer in Bakhmut — a city Zelenskyy visited Tuesday where some of the fiercest fighting has continued for weeks — asked that his Ukrainian "Cross of Military Merit" be given to Biden.

The officer leads a HIMARS battery, a truck-mounted rocket launcher provided by the U.S. that was long-desired by the Ukrainians, Zelenskyy said. The Ukrainian president added that the soldier told him that "many (of) his brothers, this system saved."

Biden said the honor was "undeserved but much appreciated" and cited a military tradition he learned from his son Beau Biden, who fought in Iraq, to provide command coins.

"I will make sure he gets one of those," the president said, adding that he hoped to contact the Ukrainian officer as well.

Biden invokes late son Beau Biden, offers challenge coin for Ukrainian soldier

Ginger GibsonSenior Washington Editor

Zelenskyy brought Biden a medal that he explained a Ukrainian soldier had asked be delivered to the U.S. president.

In exchange, Biden explained how he and his late son Beau, who served in the military during the Iraq War, had a tradition of exchanging challenge coins — specially minted coins that represent different battalions and are often exchanged between soldiers or law enforcement.

President Joe Biden and Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky meet in the Oval Office of the White House on Dec. 21, 2022.
President Joe Biden holds a medal presented to him by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in the Oval Office.Brendan Smialowski / AFP - Getty Images

Biden asked Zelenskyy to take a challenge coin back to the soldier.

GOP leader Kevin McCarthy to meet Zelenskyy before speech

Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, who is running for House speaker, told reporters that he plans to meet with Zelenskyy before attending the Ukrainian president's speech to Congress on Wednesday.

He shared the news after meeting with Senate Republicans to "strategize" over the omnibus spending bill.

He did not say where he stood on providing Ukraine more aid. McCarthy had previously said he would not provide Ukraine with “a blank check” should he be elected speaker when Republicans assume control of the House in the new year.

“We didn’t talk about that much,” McCarthy replied when asked if future funding for Ukraine came up in his meeting with Senate Republicans.

Blinken announces $1 billion drawdown of arms and equipment for Ukraine

Abigail Williams

Phil McCausland and Abigail Williams

Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced Wednesday — just ahead of Zelenskyy's arrival — a $1 billion drawdown of U.S. arms and equipment for Ukraine, which will include expanded air defense and precision-strike capabilities as well as munitions and other equipment.

"Today’s assistance for the first time includes the Patriot Air Defense System, capable of bringing down cruise missiles, short-range ballistic missiles, and aircraft at a significantly higher ceiling than previously provided air defense systems," Blinken said, further confirming the widely reported news that the U.S. would provide Patriot missiles.

The $1 billion is the 28th drawdown of arms and equipment for Ukraine since August 2021, according to the State Department, and it brings the total U.S. military assistance for Ukraine to $21.9 billion since the beginning of the Biden administration.

The Defense Department is also announcing a separate $850 million package of security assistance under its Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative on Wednesday.

Photo: Zelenskyy shakes hands with Biden as he arrives

President Joe Biden welcomes Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to the White House.Patrick Semansky / AP

Zelenskyy arrives at the White House

After an overnight journey from Kyiv, Zelenskyy arrived at the White House on Wednesday in his first known trip outside of the country since Russia invaded Ukraine in February.

He was met by President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden and a Marine honor guard Wednesday shortly after 2 p.m. He shook hands with the president and first lady and posed with them before the news media before walking into the White House.

Zelenskyy journeyed to the U.S. aboard a U.S. military plane, and he traveled to the White House via car for a bilateral discussion with President Joe Biden shortly after landing.

The two leaders are expected to speak to the news media once they complete their meeting, and then Zelenskyy will travel to Capitol Hill to address Congress. The Ukrainian president's trip appears to be part of an effort to further secure aid from the U.S. and to galvanize support from lawmakers and the American people.

"I don’t want to get ahead of the president in terms of decisions he has yet to make about what that security assistance will look like," John Kirby, National Security Council coordinator, said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," "but clearly, we’re going to make sure that President Zelenskyy, when he leaves this country, knows that he’s leaving with the full support of the United States going forward."

Zelenskyy says he's in Washington to 'thank the American people'

Zelenskyy announced his arrival in Washington, D.C., via his Telegram channel Wednesday.

"I am in Washington today to thank the American people, the President and the Congress for their much-needed support," he wrote. "And also to continue cooperation to bring our victory closer."

The Ukrainian president, who is making his first known trip outside of his country since Russia's invasion, said he and Biden would "hold a series of negotiations to strengthen the resilience and defense capabilities of Ukraine" through continued bilateral cooperation between the two countries.

"Next year, we must return the Ukrainian flag and freedom to our entire land, to all our people," Zelenskyy added.

Photos: White House rolls out the red carpet for Zelenskyy

A name card bearing the name of Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is seen on a red carpet outside the White House on Dec. 21, 2022.
A card bearing the name of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is seen on a red carpet outside of the White House on Wednesday.Brendan Smialowski / AFP - Getty Images
A Park Service worker carries a red carpet ahead of President Joe Biden's welcoming Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky on the South Lawn of the White House on Dec. 21, 2022.
A Park Service worker carries a red carpet.Brendan Smialowski / AFP - Getty Images

White House: 'Safe to assume' Zelenskyy was in the motorcade that arrived on Pennsylvania Ave.

The White House said that it was "safe to assume" that a lengthy motorcade that arrived on Pennsylvania Avenue in the early afternoon on Wednesday carried Zelenskyy and his delegation.

The fleet of SUVs, which had government plates but not flags, came to a stop at Blair House, a residence across the street from the White House that is used by foreign dignitaries visiting the president.

Ukrainian flags decorated Pennsylvania Avenue leading to the Capitol.

Zelenskyy traveled on U.S. military aircraft, sources say

Zelenskyy traveled on U.S. military aircraft to Washington and will do the same when he departs, two U.S. officials told NBC News.

The U.S. has been involved in security logistics and provided travel assistance throughout his journey, multiple officials said. One official added that NATO allies provided fighter jets to help with escorts during transit.

A Ukrainian flag could be seen flying over Blair House, a residence across the street from the White House where foreign dignitaries typically stay when visiting the U.S.

Mike Memoli and Sally Bronston contributed reporting.

McConnell calls Ukraine aid a 'direct investment' in U.S. interests

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said just prior to Zelenskyy's arrival in the U.S. Wednesday that supporting Ukraine is "morally right" and a "direct investment in cold hard American interests."

The longtime GOP leader also called for more support for Ukraine, and said that Republicans "pushed hard" for increased security assistance.

"The reason is that a big bipartisan majority of the American people and a big bipartisan majority in Congress support continuing to assist Ukraine is not primarily about inspiring speeches or desire to engage in philanthropy," McConnell said on the Senate floor. "The Ukrainian people are courageous and innocent, and they deserve our help. President Zelenskyy is an inspiring leader. But the most basic reasons for continuing to help Ukraine degrade and defeat the Russian invaders are cold, hard, practical, American interests."

He added: "By assisting Ukraine today, America is directly demonstrating our commitment to the basic principles of territorial integrity and national sovereignty, changing the calculus for others considering military aggression and lowering the odds of a far costlier and far more deadly future conflicts in the process. So I’ll say it one more time: Continuing our support, continuing our support for Ukraine is morally right, but it’s not only that, it’s also a direct investment in cold hard American interests."

Senate overwhelmingly confirms new U.S. ambassador to Russia

Frank Thorp Vproducer and off-air reporter

The Senate voted 93-2 on Wednesday to confirm Lynne Tracy to be the U.S. ambassador to Russia.

Tracy, who was serving as the U.S. ambassador to Armenia, only needed a simple majority to be confirmed. She was expected to receive that support easily and did on Wednesday.

Her confirmation comes at a key moment, as diplomatic tensions between Washington and Moscow are at their highest since the Cold War due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Tracy, a longtime foreign service officer and diplomat, replaces former Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan, who served under Biden and then-President Donald Trump before departing the post around the time his wife died of cancer.

Republican Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah were the two no votes. Paul tweeted earlier in the day that it was "a mistake to send an Ambassador to Russia who supports putting Ukraine and Georgia in Nato."

Head of Ukraine trains 'a bit nervous' for Zelenskyy to fly

Alexander Kamyshin, CEO of state-owned Ukrainian Railways, said he was "a bit nervous" about Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy flying to Washington on Wednesday.

"First time since the beginning of the war my President goes for a trip not by train," he wrote on Twitter, concluding the tweet with the word "nervous."

He said he "forgot the name for that transport vehicle that flies," alluding to the fact that few planes — outside of those owned by the military — take to the sky in Ukraine. Train travel has become essential in Ukraine for passengers, including refugees fleeing the Russian invasion, as well as visiting dignitaries, the country's military and its leaders.

José Andrés, the Washington, D.C., chef whose World Central Kitchen has provided food and supplies to Ukraine, tweeted back, "We will take care of him!!!!"

Pelosi releases letter that contains Zelenskyy's invite to speak

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi released the letter she sent Tuesday inviting Zelenskyy to speak Wednesday evening to both chambers of Congress.

Sent "on behalf of bipartisan Congressional leadership," the letter applauded the Ukrainian people and its fighters for their "iron will" and "unbreakable spirit" and asked for the Ukrainian leader to address a joint meeting of Congress.

"The fight for Ukraine is the fight for democracy itself," Pelosi, D-Calif., wrote. "We look forward to hearing your inspiring message of unity, resilience and determination. Thank you for your leadership and consideration of this request."

Zelenskyy has landed in the U.S.

A senior Ukrainian official confirms to NBC News that Zelenskyy has landed in the United States.

He's expected to visit the White House before addressing a joint session of Congress at the Capitol.

NBC News

Sen. Coons says Zelenskyy's trip comes at 'critical moment'

Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., wore a blue and yellow tie in the halls of Congress on Wednesday to match the Ukrainian flag’s colors. He said Zelenskyy’s visit was a “critical moment” for Congress and Americans to understand how essential its “support is to the success of their fight against Russia.”

“President Biden today gets a chance to remind the American people what we’ve accomplished by pulling together our allies throughout the world to stand for freedom,” he said.

Though Congress is poised to pass a spending package that includes additional support for the country's fight against Russia, GOP support for future funds is not assured.

Coons said the audience for the speech is “the American people,” which he said includes “the new House majority” that is skeptical of Ukraine aid. Republicans retook the House in November's midterms.

“It’s a huge investment,” Coons said. “So I have Delawareans asking me: Why are we in this fight? Why does it matter to us? It’s important for President Zelenskyy to say thank you to the American people and to clarify why they’re fighting what they’re fighting for, and what difference it’s going to make.”

Zelenskyy's other recent surprise visit was to the front lines

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy hands out the State Award to a soldier during a ceremony in Bakhmut on Dec. 20, 2022.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy hands out the State Award to a soldier during a ceremony in Bakhmut on Tuesday.Ukrainian Presidential Press Service / AFP - Getty Images

On Tuesday, Zelenskyy made a surprise visit to greet troops on the front lines in Bakhmut, an eastern city that has seen months of intense fighting with Ukrainian forces largely holding out against Russian attacks.

There, Zelenskyy appeared to allude to the trip to Washington before the official announcement. A group of soldiers who helped defend Bakhmut gave him a Ukrainian flag and asked him to get it to Congress — and the Ukrainian president promised to give it to Biden himself.

“The guys handed over our beautiful Ukrainian flag with their signatures for us to pass on,” Zelenskyy said, according to The Associated Press. “We are not in an easy situation. The enemy is increasing its army. Our people are braver and need more powerful weapons. We will pass it on from the boys to the Congress, to the president of the United States. We are grateful for their support, but it is not enough.”

Biden says he is 'thrilled' to host Zelenskyy: 'Much to discuss'

NBC News

Zelenskyy to meet with Biden and address Congress in Washington

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will meet with President Joe Biden and deliver an address to members of Congress during a visit to Washington on Wednesday, his first known trip outside of the country since Russia invaded about 10 months ago.

The visit comes at a crucial moment in the conflict, as winter weather slows progress on the ground after a flurry of Ukrainian successes and as Republicans prepare to take control of the House while Kyiv pushes for greater support from its Western allies.

Zelenskyy said in a tweet early Wednesday that he was traveling to the U.S. “to strengthen resilience and defense capabilities” of his country.

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