A group of liberal Democrats has withdrawn a letter calling on the White House to pursue direct talks with Russia, saying it created the mistaken impression they had aligned themselves with Republicans who questioned continued support for Ukraine.
“Due to the timing, our message is mistaken by some to be equivalent to the Republican leader’s recent statement [Kevin] McCarthy is threatening to end aid to Ukraine if Republicans take over,” said Pramila Jayapal, a Democrat who chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”
The statement represents a dramatic turnaround for the progressive group just a day after sending the letter at the White House, urging him to seriously explore “every possible avenue” to end the war, “including direct engagement with Russia.”
The letter prompted a backlash from some Democratic lawmakers on Monday. “This letter is an olive branch to a war criminal who is losing his war” tweeted Congressman Jake Auchinclos.
The Biden administration responded to the letter saying the decision whether or not to engage with Vladimir Putin rests with Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the President of Ukraine. “[Zelenskyy] don’t think it’s time to sit down and negotiate with Mr. Putin,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said.
The letter came after senior Republicans, including McCarthy, warned in recent weeks that he would be hard for Congress to maintain full support for Ukraine if the GOP takes control of the House of Representatives – an outcome predicted by the polls.
Jayapal clarified late Monday than the letter was not meant to express a split with Biden, but announced on Tuesday that she would withdraw it after several of the signatories walked away from him.
Sara Jacobs, a Democratic congresswoman, said Tuesday that she signed the letter on June 30, but “a lot has changed since then.” I wouldn’t sign it today.
Another lawmaker whose name was on the letter, Mark Pocan, said it was “written in July” and he had “no idea why it was published now.” Bad timing.”
Jayapal said the letter was “drafted several months ago, but was unfortunately posted by staff without verification”.
She added that the letter had become “a distraction,” and said the group of liberal lawmakers believe the war will end with diplomacy after the Ukrainians have made gains on the battlefield.
“Every war ends with diplomacy, and this one will be too after the Ukrainian victory,” she said.
The comments and letter added to mounting political pressure on Biden ahead of November’s midterm elections and a potentially difficult winter on the battlefield, when continued support for Ukrainian forces will be crucial.
Concerns over Putin’s next moves have risen in recent days after Russian officials alleged Ukraine was planning a ‘dirty bomb’ – a charge that Western leaders say could be a precursor to an attack under false banner.
On Tuesday, Biden said, “Russia would be making an incredibly grave mistake if it used a tactical nuclear weapon. I can’t guarantee it was a false flag operation yet, we don’t know, but that would be a very, very serious mistake.