US House of Representatives Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal has withdrawn a letter sent by 30 of the members urging Joe Biden to engage in direct talks with Russia to end the war in Ukraine following a heated debate within the Democratic Party over future strategy in the conflict.
In a statement on Tuesday afternoon, Jayapal did an about-face, deleting the letter that had been sent to the White House the previous day and implying it was a mistake. “The letter was written several months ago, but was unfortunately released by staff without verification,” she said.
Jayapal went on to regret what she said was a confusion of the progressive Democrat’s call for a diplomatic end to the Ukraine war with a recent statement by Republican House Leader Kevin McCarthy threatening to end aid to the stricken country if the Republican Party regains the House in next month’s midterm elections.
Jayapal said, “The letter sent yesterday was confused with the GOP’s opposition to supporting Ukrainians’ righteous defense of their national sovereignty. As such it is a distraction at this time and we are withdrawing the letter.
Jayapal’s recantation is the latest twist in a bizarre 24 hours of Democratic politics, which has seen the progressive caucus seemingly lend its name to a call for direct talks with Moscow to end the war in Ukraine, followed by a violent reaction, then staged while returning from the station.
In the original lettersent to the White House on Monday and first reported by the Washington Post, progressive Democrats called on Biden to make “vigorous diplomatic efforts” toward a “negotiated settlement and ceasefire.” They pointed to the global hunger and poverty that could result from Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine as well as “rising gas and food prices at home”, concluding that the top priority of states States should be to seek “a speedy end to the conflict”.
Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the letter was the proposal that Biden should explore “incentives to end hostilities, including some form of sanctions relief” for Russia.
The letter provoked a fierce reaction from several Democratic lawmakers – including one of its own signatories – and drew a chilling response from the White House. This was interpreted as the first sign of friction over Ukraine within the Democratic Party, which has so far firmly backed Biden’s unconditional support for Kyiv in its battle to defend and reclaim its sovereign territory in Moscow.
The timing of the correspondence was also criticized, coming at a crucial stage in the war and just a week after Kevin McCarthy, the House’s top Republican, said that Congress “was not going to give Ukraine a blank check”.
The Democrats’ backlash was so intense that within hours of sending the letter, Jayapal was obliged to deliver a “clarification”.
“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, and nothing in the letter advocates a change in that support,” she said. declared.
The original letter was signed by several of the most prominent left-leaning Democrats in the House, including the so-called “Squad” of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib. Jamie Raskin, a member of the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 uprising at the U.S. Capitol, was also among the 30.
The White House responded by repeating Biden’s central approach – that Ukraine will decide for itself when and how to negotiate with Russia. The press officer, Karine Jean-Pierre, reiterated that there would be “nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine”.
Individual Democratic lawmakers were more pointed in their reaction — including the signatories. Mark Pocan, a Wisconsin congressman who signed the letter, said it was first written in July and said he was taken aback by its publication.
“I don’t know why he is out now. Bad timing,” he said.
A second signer, Mark Takano of California, released a statement after the letter was revealed saying he remained “firm in our support of the people of Ukraine”.
Arizona’s Ruben Gallego, a member of the progressive caucus who refused to sign the letter, issued a scathing response on Twitter. He wrote: “The way to end a war? Earn it quickly. How is it won quickly? By giving Ukraine the weapons to defeat Russia.
The sharpest comment from any Democrat came from former Marine and Massachusetts Rep. Jake Auchincloss. He condemned the letter as “an olive branch to a war criminal who loses his war. Ukraine is on the move. Congress should stand firmly behind [Biden’s] effective strategy, including tighter – not weaker! – punishments.”
After the initial rash of criticism, some of the progressive signatories defended their action. Ro Khanna from California, who underline that he had voted for each of the Ukraine aid programs, said, “Our nation should never silence or stifle debate.”
Congress has so far approved about $66 billion for Ukraine since the Russian invasion began in February, including military, humanitarian and economic aid. With Ukraine accelerating its advance on Russian positions ahead of a potentially punishing winter, and with the U.S. midterm elections looming on Nov. 8, the progressives’ letter could not have arrived at a more delicate moment.
Russian specialists have warned that the intervention could embolden Putin and soften the US commitment to lead the international coalition in support of Ukraine. Yoshiko Herrera, professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said: “The biggest problem with the letter is that it may weaken American support for Ukraine by fostering divisions among those who support Ukraine”.
Cracks, admittedly fine, are already clearly visible on the Republican side. The largest aid package for Ukraine, worth $40 billion, passed in May with 57 Republicans in the House and 11 in the Senate voting against.
Supporters of the letter said it reflected a desire to end the war through diplomacy — an aspiration that Biden himself has championed. He was explicit about this goal in a speech he did in Delaware in June.
Biden said, “It seems to me that at some point there will have to be a negotiated settlement here. And what that entails, I don’t know.