A progressive House leader has abruptly withdrawn a letter urging the Biden administration to pursue diplomacy in Russia’s war with Ukraine, an about-face following a furious backlash from Democrats who felt caught off guard by the decision just two weeks before November’s midterm elections.
The move by Rep. Pramila Jayapal, head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, came after she published a letter – originally signed in June – from 30 liberals calling for more diplomacy, a move that appears to undermine their party’s staunch support for the Ukraine. The publication of the letter this week was not approved by most members, and some said they would not sign it now given the turn of the war in recent days.
After Democratic furor began to emerge publicly, Jayapal argued that the letter was posted by staff without proper verification and said she was wrongly confusing her caucus’ position with GOP divisions on providing additional aid to Ukraine, which the Democrats support. She withdrew the letter after the embarrassing row within the party.
“The Congressional Progressive Caucus hereby withdraws its recent letter to the White House regarding Ukraine,” Jayapal, a Democrat from Washington state, said in a statement. “The letter was written several months ago, but was unfortunately published by staff without verification. As caucus chair, I accept responsibility.
The public reversal comes amid a backlash from Democrats who criticized the timing of the letter, which was sent on Monday.
“People are furious – especially the front-liners,” a senior House Democrat said before the letter was withdrawn, referring to the most vulnerable members at risk of losing their seats in the US midterm elections. November 8.
Democrats argue the ill-timed letter undermines their party’s position showing strong support for Ukraine – at a time when it is Republicans arguing over whether to approve more US aid to Ukraine. Additionally, several Democratic members said they signed that letter months ago and were caught off guard when Jayapal’s office sent the letter Monday with their names on it. Some said they wouldn’t sign it again.
“Timing in diplomacy is everything,” said California Rep. Sara Jacobs, a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus that Jayapal leads. “I signed this letter on June 30, but a lot has changed since then. I wouldn’t sign it today.
Wisconsin Rep. Mark Pocan, a former Progressive Caucus Leader who signed the letter in July, told CNN he found it “puzzling.” She was sent this week after signing it this summer and added: ‘I wouldn’t support it being released now. To release it now, he said, ‘didn’t make much sense’.
The letter, signed by Jacobs and 29 other Democrats, praised President Joe Biden’s efforts to support Ukraine while avoiding direct US involvement on the ground – but they suggested a more forceful attempt to put Ending the war through diplomacy is necessary to prevent a long and slogging conflict.
“Given the destruction created by this war for Ukraine and the world, as well as the risk of catastrophic escalation, we also believe it is in the interest of Ukraine, the United States and the world avoid a protracted conflict,” the group said. , led by Jayapal, write in the letter. “For this reason, we urge you to combine the military and economic support the United States has provided to Ukraine with a proactive diplomatic push, redoubled efforts to seek a realistic framework for a ceasefire. ”
After the backlash from Democrats intensified over the letter, Jayapal clarified his position, saying he maintained “an unequivocal commitment to support Ukraine” and supported the Biden administration’s strategy.
An aide to Jayapal declined to explain why the letter was sent on Monday. And some members said they didn’t receive a follow-up before it was sent to Biden.
“They didn’t check with the signatories before posting it. I would have taken my name off,” said a member who signed the letter, who spoke to CNN on condition of anonymity to speak freely. “The moment is terrible.”
Several other Democratic aides to the members told CNN they were unaware the letter would be sent Monday.
Massachusetts Representative Jake Auchincloss, who did not sign the letter and is not part of the Progressive Caucus, tweeted: “This letter is an olive branch to a war criminal who loses his war.”
The letter comes at a critical time in the war, with Russia increasingly targeting civilian infrastructure with particular emphasis on cutting off power to Ukrainian citizens before winter.
In Congress, questions have swirled about the willingness of lawmakers to maintain massive financial and military support for Ukraine. Some Republicans have threatened to cut aid to the country if they take control of Congress in November.
The Liberal Democrats, in their letter, say more direct attempts to engage Moscow in diplomacy were needed as the war drags on.
“We are under no illusions about the difficulties in engaging Russia given its outrageous and illegal invasion of Ukraine and its decision to proceed with further illegal annexations of Ukrainian territory,” the lawmakers wrote. “However, if there is a way to end the war while preserving a free and independent Ukraine, it is America’s responsibility to pursue all diplomatic avenues to support such a solution that is acceptable to the people. Ukrainian.”
John Kirby, strategic communications coordinator at the National Security Council, said the White House received the letter.
“We certainly appreciate the sentiments expressed by these members of Congress,” Kirby said.
“We worked with members of Congress throughout this process, particularly when we needed additional funds to meet Ukraine’s defense needs,” Kirby said. “And it was done in full and transparent collaboration with members of Congress. And that’s exactly how the president wants to keep moving forward.
Still, Kirby said there was no indication that Russian President Vladimir Putin was willing to engage in serious diplomacy to end the war.
“When you see and listen to his rhetoric, and you see the other things – whether it’s atrocities, war crimes, airstrikes against civilian infrastructure that the Russians are committing – it’s clear that Mr. Putin is in no mood to negotiate,” he added. said Kirby.
He said it would be up to Ukraine and its president, Volodymyr Zelensky, when the time came to return to the negotiating table.
“Mr. Zelensky can determine when he thinks the time is right, and Mr. Zelensky can determine, because this is his country, what success looks like, what victory looks like and on what terms he is ready. to negotiate,” Kirby said. “We’re not going to dictate that.”
This story and title have been updated to reflect additional developments.