Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) summoned House members to be “physically present” at the Capitol for a “very special” occasion on Wednesday evening, which turned out to be a speech from none other than Volodymyr Zelensky.
The Ukrainian leader found a rapt audience of lawmakers, many of whom compared him to British statesman Winston Churchill, as he pled for their continued support in his country’s war with Russia even as skepticism of America’s involvement rises among Republicans.
Zelensky goes to Washington
Wearing his familiar green sweater, Zelensky advised a joint session of Congress to think of U.S. spending in Ukraine as an “investment” in Western democracy, saying Americans can rest easy knowing the money is being spent “in the most responsible way.”
“Your money is not charity. It is an investment in global security and democracy that we handle in the most responsible way,” he said. “Let the world see that the United States is here.”
Ukraine enjoys support from both political parties, but there is growing skepticism on the Right, especially among “America First” Republicans, of the scope of America’s commitment to the conflict, which has cost taxpayers billions of dollars.
Even Republican conference leader Kevin McCarthy (Ca.), hardly a right-winger, has warned Republicans won’t give Zelensky a “blank check” once they take over the House in a couple of weeks.
The Churchill of our time?
Congress is currently wrapping up business for the year with a $1.7 trillion “omnibus” spending package that includes another $45 billion in aid for Ukraine.
Pelosi congratulated lawmakers on the bill, the contents of which are largely unknown to members, saying it represents “progress for the American people” in a special invitation asking lawmakers to be “physically present” at the Capitol for a “very special focus on Democracy Wednesday night.”
Zelensky arrived in Washington to a rapturous reception from the press and politicians, with many comparing him to Winston Churchill. The towering British statesman spoke to Congress in December 1941 following America’s entrance into World War II.
Hillary Clinton said Zelensky “has led his people and his country through 10 months of war with Churchillian courage and resolve.”
Pushback from the right
Pelosi made her own connection, noting her father was a member of Congress when Churchill “came to the Congress on the day after Christmas to enlist our nation’s support in the fight against tyranny in Europe.”
“Eighty-one years later this week, it is particularly poignant for me to be present when another heroic leader addresses the Congress in a time of war – and with Democracy itself on the line.”
But Zelensky was greeted with jeers from some on the right. Donald Trump Jr. called Zelensky “basically an ungrateful international welfare queen,” while Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.) described him as the “shadow president” of the “51st state, Ukraine.”
Despite concerns about the risks of continued escalation between the United States and Russia, Biden assured Zelensky of America’s “unequivocal and unbending support” for “as long as it takes” for Ukraine to win.