WASHINGTON — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will speak to members of Congress on Wednesday in a virtual address, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced Monday.
"As war rages on in Ukraine, it is with great respect and admiration for the Ukrainian people that we invite all Members of the House and Senate to attend a Virtual Address to the United States Congress delivered by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine on Wednesday, March 16th at 9:00 a.m," the two Democratic leaders said in a letter to members Monday announcing the address.
The virtual address will take place in an auditorium inside the Capitol Visitor Center on Capitol Hill. Only lawmakers can attend in person, but there will be a livestream available for public viewing.
"The Congress remains unwavering in our commitment to supporting Ukraine as they face Putin’s cruel and diabolical aggression, and to passing legislation to cripple and isolate the Russian economy as well as deliver humanitarian, security and economic assistance to Ukraine," the letter said. "We look forward to the privilege of welcoming President Zelenskyy’s address to the House and Senate and to convey our support to the people of Ukraine as they bravely defend democracy."
Zelenskyy's address comes as Russia has intensified its military campaign against Ukraine, bombing major cities and residential areas. Negotiators from both countries were meeting for a fourth round of talks Monday to discuss a potential cease-fire, so civilians could evacuate to safer areas.
Negotiators were expected to call for a meeting between Zelenskyy and Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Ukrainian president said in a speech posted on his Telegram account Sunday.
Zelenskyy has remained in Ukraine's capital of Kyiv despite knowing he is likely Putin's top target and has continued leading his country's defense against the Russian military invasion. He was seen outside in Kyiv on Sunday when he visited wounded soldiers at a military hospital to present them with awards and medals.
Meanwhile, Congress passed nearly $14 billion in new assistance for Ukraine last week. The funding was allocated for the Defense Department, with several billion to replenish equipment sent to Ukraine and several billion for U.S. troops who are helping to defend NATO in Europe. The measure also provides money for humanitarian aid, to support Ukraine’s energy grid and to combat disinformation.
A small group of senators traveled to Poland on an official congressional delegation trip over the weekend as the country deals with an influx of refugees from neighboring Ukraine. The group included Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio; Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.; Roger Wicker, R-Miss.; and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.
Some Democrats have joined Republicans in calling on the Biden administration to transfer the Soviet-era planes that Poland has offered to Ukraine. Klobuchar said in an interview Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union" that she doesn't rule out that scenario even though the U.S. has rejected that plan for now because officials have said it could escalate the crisis. Zelenskyy has pleaded with the U.S. for those planes.
"I still don’t rule out having planes at some point. But, again, you take one day at a time and make the best defense system decisions," she said. "And that can’t always be discussed on the air, or you would be giving Vladimir Putin the road map to what NATO wants to do here to help protect Ukraine."
More than 40 Republican senators pressed the administration last week to transfer the fighter jets to Ukraine. Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also wrote a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin asking them to consider the plan.
"I understand this is not an easy decision for these countries to make," Menendez said. "Asking them to provide their own aircraft, especially as Russia’s military aggression edges closer to their own borders, would be unthinkable except in the direst circumstances. Unfortunately, that is the situation the world faces. Extraordinary times require extraordinary measures and sacrifices."