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Rep. Adam Schiff was among the U.S. lawmakers who met with Ukraine's president


What does Ukraine still need from the United States? A congressional delegation led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi went to find out. They were in Poland and Ukraine, where they met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff of California was part of the delegation, and he joins us this morning. Thanks so much for being with us.

ADAM SCHIFF: Great to be with you.

MARTIN: You have heard President Zelenskyy address Congress virtually before, but what was it like to meet him face to face?

SCHIFF: It was really inspiring, I think, to sit down with him, to understand that there was a war going on all around us, and yet to see his calm, the courage that he's displaying, and I think it has inspired not just his fellow countrymen, the Ukrainian people, but also people around the world. He's really been extraordinary. And it's all the more extraordinary when you consider that up until his election, he was essentially a comic star on a sitcom.

MARTIN: I mean, it obviously carries a lot of symbolic weight to have the speaker of the House visit him in Kyiv, the highest-ranking U.S. official to do so, but it's also an opportunity to make an ask, right? I mean, the U.S. has obviously provided military assistance and training and weaponry to Ukraine. What did President Zelenskyy, though, use this chance to ask for?

SCHIFF: It was a pretty wide-ranging conversation. So we talked about weapons. We talked about food. We talked about the need for economic support. On the battlefield, the nature of the battle has changed, as Russians pull their forces back from the capital and have concentrated on the east of the country. It's less a situation where Ukrainian forces can ambush Russian tanks and more a fight at a distance, and that requires a different set of weapons, a different set of skills, a different kind of intelligence. And so we discussed what they need, how we can provide it to them. President Biden, of course, announced that large aid package. So this conversation was really helpful in giving content to what ought to be in that package.

MARTIN: So let's talk about that. The package President Biden has asked for - he's asked for $33 billion from Congress in new aid for Ukraine. Democrats have tied this funding to a COVID relief bill. Republicans don't like that. Should Ukraine aid and COVID aid be separated?

SCHIFF: I don't know that there's been any decision to tie what goes in this bill. I think certainly we feel there are a couple of emergencies that need to be addressed. We need to help Ukraine, and in particular, one of the things we discussed with President Zelenskyy is the Russians are essentially blockading Odesa, which is not only impairing Ukraine's ability to protect itself but also impairing Ukraine's ability to export food for the rest of the world. It's the breadbasket of Europe. So it could cause starvation in Africa and elsewhere. But we also discussed what we can do on a wide range of issues to help. And that's an imperative, but it's also imperative that we deal with COVID. We see rising cases around the country again. We need to protect the health and welfare of our own people, even as we protect the democracy around the world. And whether those ride together or they ride separately, the urgency is to get it done.

MARTIN: What's the outer bound of congressional support for this war?

SCHIFF: You know, Putin succeeded in doing what no one else has done in the last several years, which is bringing Democrats and Republicans together to defend democracy. I think both parties recognize - with a, you know, few notable outliers in the GOP. But for the most part, we recognize this is a fight between freedom and oppression, and if the Russians are successful in simply overrunning their neighbor and remaking the boundaries of Europe, they won't necessarily stop with Ukraine. So that's a wide-held view in Congress. And we'll provide Ukraine with what they need until they're successful.

MARTIN: Congressman Adam Schiff, Democrat of California. He traveled with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to visit President Zelenskyy in Kyiv Ukraine. Congressman, thank you for your time, as always. We appreciate it.

SCHIFF: You bet. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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