WASHINGTON — As Russia’s offensive in Ukraine intensifies, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine will address Congress in a virtual speech on Wednesday, Democratic leaders said, a move that will likely increase growing momentum on Capitol Hill to pressure President Biden to send fighter jets to Kyiv.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, announced on Monday that Mr. Zelensky would deliver a closed-door speech to lawmakers, an address that comes nearly two weeks after Mr. Zelensky met virtually with members of Congress and urged them to send jets to Kyiv.
“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,” Ms. Pelosi and Mr. Schumer said in a joint statement.
Few of Mr. Zelensky’s requests have changed since the last time he spoke with members of Congress, including his plea for fighter jets to help push back Russia’s advancing forces. His speech on Wednesday is likely to only rally more support on Capitol Hill for such a move. His last conversation with lawmakers left even Democratic allies of Mr. Biden urging the administration to facilitate the transfer of fighter jets — namely Russian-made MIG fighters — to the Ukrainians.
Committed to keeping the United States from engaging in direct combat with Russian forces, the Biden administration last week rejected a deal to facilitate the transfer of fighter jets, after Poland offered to send MIGs to Kyiv, but only if the United States and NATO did the transferring. Poland also asked for its fleet to then be replaced with American-made fighter jets. Administration officials argued the move would be seen as escalatory by Russian officials.
That rationale, however, has done little to assuage either Republicans and Democrats in Congress, who have displayed far less reticence in shipping military equipment, and lawmakers in both parties over the weekend continued to press the administration officials to send MIGs to Kyiv.
“We commend the Polish government for taking proactive steps to deliver MiG-29 jets to the Ukrainian Air Force,” nearly 60 Republicans and Democrats wrote in a statement. “We urge assistance to help facilitate this deal, commit to replenishing our allies’ fleets with American-made aircraft.”
Lawmakers are also expected this week to take up legislation that would strip Russia of its preferred trade status, after Mr. Biden last week said the United States would join Europe and other allies in stripping Russia of normal trade relations.
Mr. Biden unveiled measures, announced jointly with the European Union and other Group of 7 countries, that would allow countries to impose higher tariffs on Russian goods and would prevent Russia from borrowing funds from multilateral institutions like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.