President Biden warned on Tuesday that Russia was celebrating American division over providing aid to Ukraine, as President Volodymyr Zelensky hit a wall of resistance from congressional Republicans during a daylong lobbying blitz in Washington.
Speaking from the White House with Mr. Zelensky by his side, Mr. Biden said failing to support Ukraine would be a gift to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.
“Putin is banking on the United States failing to deliver for Ukraine,” Mr. Biden said at the White House. “We must, we must, we must prove him wrong.”
Republican leaders in Congress have insisted that any aid for Ukraine be paired with tighter security at the southern border, arguing that the migrant crisis had become a threat to national security.
But even Republican supporters of more aid for Ukraine appeared to have given up much hope of approving it before Congress heads home for the holidays.
Senator Mitch McConnell, the top Republican, suggested that the effort was all but dead for the year, saying it would be “practically impossible” to quickly pass a deal that ties together aid for Ukraine with the kind of border security package that Republicans are demanding.
The effort by the two leaders comes at what may be Ukraine’s most vulnerable point in the war since it beat back Russia’s initial invasion in the winter and spring of 2022. While the United States has provided tens of billions of dollars in aid since then, Ukraine’s top military commander, Gen. Valery Zaluzhny, said last month that the war had reached a stalemate, as deadly battles yielded few territorial gains.
The White House and Kyiv have argued that if Ukraine loses the war, Mr. Putin will be emboldened to advance his military aggression deeper into the West.
Mr. Biden accused Republicans of holding military aid to Ukraine “hostage” in exchange for “an extreme Republican partisan agenda on the border.” He cited the comments of Russian broadcasters praising Republicans for refusing to approve the Ukraine assistance.
“This host of a Kremlin-run show said: ‘Well done, Republicans. That’s good for us,’” Mr. Biden told reporters at a brief news conference. “If you’re being celebrated by Russian propagandists, it might be time to rethink what you’re doing. History, history will judge harshly those who turn their back on freedom’s cause.”
The chances of Congress passing an assistance package for Ukraine before the end of the year have grown bleak, after Republicans blocked the measure last week and polls showed Americans were skeptical of extending financial help.
Senators directly involved in the negotiations reported some progress, but there was no sign that a deal was imminent.
Mr. Biden on Tuesday, however, sought to present an air of confidence about his chief foreign policy goals. He said his top aides were working toward “a bipartisan compromise” that could satisfy both sides.
“We also need Congress to fix the broken immigration system here at home,” Mr. Biden said in a nod to Republicans.
After meeting behind closed doors with Mr. Biden at the White House, Mr. Zelensky thanked the United States for coming to Ukraine’s aid, but said the support must continue.
“It’s very important that by the end of this year we can send very strong signal of our unity to the aggressor and the unity of Ukraine, America, Europe, the entire free world,” Mr. Zelensky said.
Left deliberately vague at the news conference was any estimate of how long the current budget for arms for Ukraine can last. Mr. Biden signed off on a $200 million delivery during the visit, using funds from past congressional appropriations. But the size and frequency of the American-provided arms supply have diminished.
Quietly, American officials are looking for other options if Congress fails to act, from emergency allocations authorized by Mr. Biden to seizing Russian assets caught in the West and using them for armaments.
Senior American officials have had considerable frustration dealing with Mr. Zelensky and his generals. They have been pressing for a new strategy, one they can tell Congress will turn the tide. Mr. Zelensky, one official said last week, was evolving toward an approach that focused on the defense of Kyiv, protections around key industrial centers and a pathway to the Black Sea to expand grain exports.
Those options are being war-gamed in Germany this month and next, in hopes of coming up with an approach for 2024 that would reduce the horrific bloodshed and leave Mr. Zelensky in a stronger negotiating position.
In Washington, Speaker Mike Johnson accused the White House of failing to articulate a clear path to Ukraine’s victory, which Republicans have also said is a necessary condition to unlocking military aid. Mr. Johnson has voted repeatedly against aiding Ukraine.
There was no sign that the visit by Mr. Zelensky — who just a year ago received a hero’s welcome from Congress — had done anything to break the impasse over aid.
“Our first condition on any national security supplemental spending package is about our own national security,” Mr. Johnson told reporters shortly after noting that he had “reiterated” to Mr. Zelensky that “we stand with him against Putin’s brutal invasion.”
During Mr. Zelensky’s meeting with senators, a number of Republicans told him directly that securing the U.S. border with Mexico was the key to obtaining aid for his nation.
“I told President Zelensky, ‘Here’s the problem: It’s got nothing to do with you,’” Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, told reporters after the session.
Congressional leaders are toying with the idea of trying to keep Congress in session next week to keep trying to hash out a deal on Ukraine funding and border security. But it is unclear if another few days will be enough time to strike such a bargain.
“They say it’s an emergency at both the border and in Ukraine?” Senator Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, told reporters. “You don’t go home for three weeks. You don’t say ‘we can put it off for three weeks’ if it’s an emergency.”
The White House also appeared to become more directly involved in negotiations, dispatching White House officials and the homeland security secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas, to meet with negotiators on Capitol Hill.
But Congress appeared no closer to reaching consensus on an agreement that includes immigration, one of the most contentious issues in the United States. While the White House has signaled support for some asylum restrictions, Republicans are also pushing to expand rapid deportations nationwide.
At a news conference on Tuesday, Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington, said her party would not agree to “a partisan wish list of permanent, far-right overhauls to immigration policy.”
“It sends a dangerous message when one-half of the Senate is focused on pitting allies and crises against each other as political bargaining chips,” she said.
Kayla Guo, Robert Jimison and David E. Sanger contributed reporting.