By Justin Sink
President Obama briefed congressional leaders on his consultations with NATO allies and thanked them for passing a Ukraine aid bill during a meeting Thursday night at the White House.
Obama met with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for more than an hour in the Oval Office to discuss the latest attempts by the U.S. and Europe to punish Russia for their incursion into Crimea.
The White House had originally sought to attach IMF reforms to the $1 billion Ukraine aid bill, but Senate Democrats abandoned that attempt after congressional Republicans voiced their opposition. The legislation passed the House 378-34 on Tuesday, and Obama signed it Thursday afternoon.
On Thursday, the State Department said they continued to be concerned about a Russian troop build-up across the Ukranian border.
"We’ve told them to pull their troops back from the border. We want to see that happen as soon as possible. That’s exactly why Secretary Kerry is working with the Ukrainian Government to get their ideas so he can work with [Russian] Foreign Minister [Sergey] Lavrov to see if we can get a de-escalation plan in place here," said State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf.
Obama also discussed progress made at an international security summit, as well as his one-on-one meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican.
The White House said Obama touched on the pope's support for addressing income inequality and immigration reform but did not say whether the Republican leaders asked about social issues like the ObamaCare contraception mandate and abortion, where the pope and president disagree.
During a meeting earlier this week, Obama gifted Pelosi with rosary beads that had been blessed by the pope.
Obama also "shared his thoughts from his meeting with King Abdullah on strengthening the enduring U.S.-Saudi Arabia relationship," according to the White House official.