WASHINGTON (AP) - President Joe Biden hosted congressional leaders at the White House on Tuesday to discuss his agenda for the remainder of the year, as he looks to ensure government funding and lock in more legislative wins before Democrats lose control of the House on Jan. 3.
The meeting comes as the government faces a Dec. 16 shutdown if lawmakers don't agree on funding legislation to keep the lights on. Biden also wants that legislation to provide additional money for the COVID-19 response and to bolster U.S. support for Ukraine's economy and defense against Russia's invasion. Biden has also called on Congress to step in and impose a tentative agreement between railroads and workers to avert a potentially crippling freight rail strike on Dec. 9.
"We're going to work together, I hope, to fund the government," Biden told lawmakers, emphasizing the importance of Ukraine and pandemic funding as well.
Biden said the "economy's at risk" because of the looming rail strike, and he said he is "confident" that Congress could act to avert it. "There's a lot to do, including resolving the train strike," he said as he hosted Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in the Roosevelt Room.
McCarthy is working to become speaker in January, though he must first overcome dissent within the GOP conference to win a floor vote on Jan. 3.
Congress is also taking up legislation to codify same-sex marriage, raise the debt limit and reform the Electoral Count Act in a bid to prevent another attempt like in 2020 when then-President Donald Trump and allied lawmakers tried to overturn the will of voters in the presidential election he lost to Biden.
"We're going to find other areas of common ground, I hope," Biden added, "because the American people want us to work together."
Republicans are set to hold a narrow majority in the House come January, while Democrats are retaining control of the Senate. A runoff election in Georgia next week will determine whether Biden's party will hold a 51-49 majority or Vice President Kamala Harris will be needed to break a 50-50 tie.
One item up in the air is a ban on so-called assault weapons - an inexact term to describe a group of semi-automatic long rifles or long guns, like an AR-15, that can fire 30 rounds quickly without reloading. By comparison, New York Police Department officers carry a handgun that shoots about half that many.
The House passed legislation in July to revive a 1990s-era ban on the firearms with Biden's vocal support. But the 60-vote threshold in the Senate means some Republicans must be on board, and most are steadfastly opposed. One issue is the proliferation of weapons today; There are many more styles and types on the market than in the 1990s.