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Rep. Gregory Meeks reacts to Zelenskyy's address to Congress


We turn now to one of the people who was in the room for that speech. New York Congressman Gregory Meeks is chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. And he also just got back from a trip to the Ukraine-Poland border. Congressman, first, I want to get your thoughts coming out of that speech. What was it like in that room where there was no aisle separating Democrats and Republicans?

GREGORY MEEKS: Well, I think that we were united in listening to President Zelensky and his message and his courage and that - how hard Ukrainian people are fighting for their freedom and their democracy.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, Vladimir Putin shows no signs of stopping his attack on Ukraine. We all saw that graphic video of the destruction and the carnage. What is the line that for you, Congressman, Russia must not be allowed to cross at this point?

MEEKS: Well, I think that, you know, I don't like to talk red lines, but I think, clearly, you know, if nuclear weapons are initiated or look like they're moving that way - chemical weapons could be that line also - you know, if we're talking about that, the president has said there will be severe consequences if any of those were utilized or attempted to be utilized. So, you know, I think that we are united on that.

MARTÍNEZ: How would NATO or the U.S. stop Vladimir Putin if indeed, say, he were to go to chemical weapons? What would happen?

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MEEKS: Well, as I said, you know, I don't want to and I don't think the president wants to get out in front on that to tell Vladimir Putin what we will do and what will happen. But severe consequences, just as we talked about, severe sanctions that will be crippling, and that's exactly what they're doing, then there will be other severe consequences that will be put in place.

MARTÍNEZ: But the president told Vladimir Putin a few months ago that no Americans would ever go into Ukraine. So he already gave him a hint of what he would not do. Why not in this case?

MEEKS: In this case, because we're talking about multilaterally. We're talking about continuing to work with our NATO allies collectively. What the president has done successfully was keep the NATO alliance together and strong and not just doing things unilaterally, which is why I think he may be - why he's going to travel to Brussels next week to continue to have that tight relationships so that we can deal with Vladimir Putin in a multilateral way.

MARTÍNEZ: What do you expect to happen on that trip?

MEEKS: Deep conversations about what - your question that you're asking, you know, what do we do when? I mean, it's similar to what took place - for example, it had been largely said that Germany would not move in regards to Nord Stream 2, and he did not - the president didn't jump to do it unilaterally. He waited until a line was crossed and then Germany and others were in unison with the sanctions against - you know, to stop Nord Stream 2. Similarly, this is what's happening in this same kind of conversation. So the president has been leading and moving us in a united way together. I expect that be the dialogue that will continue next week.

MARTÍNEZ: As I mentioned, you were just at the Ukraine-Poland border. Can you tell us a little about what you saw there and what the needs are?

MEEKS: Well, it caused me to cry as I cry today. We saw thousands of refugees crossing that borderline, women and children primarily because men could not - men between the ages of 18 and 60 could not do it. But you could see their torn faces, not knowing what their futures are going to be in just a matter of days. They only had one or two suitcases. They were crying. They were cold. They were hungry. And it made us - you know, many of us that was on the codel fall to tears. We saw the Polish people, though, step up to a lot of big ways. They were there with food, with blankets, with toys for kids and taking in some of the Ukrainian people.

MARTÍNEZ: That's Congressman Gregory Meeks, chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Congressman, thank you very much.

MEEKS: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.