Democrats withdraw letter urging Biden to rethink Ukraine war strategy

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The Congressional Progressive Caucus withdrew a letter, signed by 30 House liberals and sent to the White House on Monday, that urged President Biden to negotiate directly with Russia to end the war in Ukraine.

The withdrawal comes a day after the letter, led by the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), sparked a fierce backlash from many Democrats, as well as Ukrainian officials, who argued he was unrealistic to negotiate with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

They also feared the letter would create more pressure on Biden as he tries to maintain national support for the war effort, at a time when the region is heading into a potentially difficult winter and Republicans are threatening to cut aid to Ukraine if they take over the Congress. .

On Tuesday, Jayapal said the letter was written months ago and “released by staff without verification.” She also sought to steer Democrats away from recent comments by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Who suggested a GOP-led house would not support further aid to Ukraine.

“As caucus chair, I accept responsibility for this,” Jayapal said in a statement. “The proximity of these statements has left the unfortunate impression that the Democrats, who have firmly and unanimously supported and voted for every package of military, strategic and economic assistance to the Ukrainian people, are somehow aligned with the Republicans who seek to unplug america support for president zelensky and ukrainian forces.

Earlier, several of the letter’s signatories also dropped their support for the letter, saying it was written months ago. Late Monday, Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) seemed to sympathize with someone criticizing the letter on Twitter.

“Hearing you. First of all, this was written in July and I have no idea why it’s out now. Bad timing,” Pocan tweeted.

“Timing in diplomacy is everything,” Rep. Sara Jacobs (D-California), one of the letter’s other signatories, tweeted Tuesday morning. “I signed this letter on June 30, but a lot has changed since then. I wouldn’t sign it today. We must continue to support Ukraine economically and militarily to give it the leverage it needs to end this war.

In the original letter to the White House, dated October 24 and first reported by the Washington Postlawmakers called on Biden to pursue a “proactive diplomatic push, redoubling efforts to seek a realistic framework for a ceasefire.”

Liberal Democrats noted that the disastrous consequences of the war are increasingly being felt far beyond Ukraine, including increased food and gas price in the United States and the spikes in wheat, fertilizer and fuel prices that have created global food shortages, not to mention the danger of a nuclear attack by Moscow.

The letter was signed by some of the best-known and outspoken liberal Democrats in Congress, including Rep. Jamie Raskin (Md.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY), Cori Bush (Mo.), Ro Khanna (Calif. ) and Ilhan Omar (Minn.).

For now, their position remains a minority within the Democratic Party, which has overwhelmingly backed Biden’s denunciations of Russia and his spearheading of a global coalition to channel massive support for Ukraine. Biden framed the conflict as part of his larger view that the world is witnessing a historic showdown between authoritarianism and democracy.

White House spokesman John Kirby said Monday that the administration appreciates the “very thoughtful concerns” of lawmakers but did not signal any change in the administration’s strategy on Ukraine.

“We’re not going to have conversations with Russian leaders without Ukrainians being represented,” Kirby said during a briefing with reporters on Monday. “Mr. Zelensky has to figure out – because this is his country – what success looks like and when to negotiate.

Privately, some administration officials questioned the timing of the letter, which arrived two weeks before mid Road elections and a week after McCarthy said the GOP may oppose more aid to Ukraine.

Jayapal released a statement late Monday “clarifying” the progressives’ position outlined in the letter, emphasizing that they still support Ukraine and Biden’s commitment to ensuring Ukraine is represented in all discussions about its future. .

“Let’s be clear: we are united as democrats in our unequivocal commitment to support Ukraine in its fight for its democracy and freedom in the face of Russia’s outrageous and illegal invasion,” Jayapal said. “Diplomacy is an important tool that can save lives, but it is only one tool among many.”

Democrats were not told the letter would be released on Monday, including those who signed it over the summer, according to three congressional aides who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive issues. A person close to the Progressive caucus, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations, said it was odd to publicly release a letter with just 30 signatures out of the 220 House Democrats.

Many blamed Jayapal for the misstep, with several aides saying they thought it could tarnish his chances of winning a Democratic leadership spot. Jayapal has make preliminary calls to her colleagues to express their interest in running for a leadership position, leaving the impression among some members that she would challenge Rep. Katherine M. Clark (D-Mass.), who is also a member of the Progressive Caucus, for a presumed No 2 place in the party.

Marianna Sotomayor contributed to this report.

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