Following reaction inside the Democratic Party and disavowals from some signatories, a group of 30 House Democrats withdrew a letter they had submitted to President Biden encouraging him to pursue direct negotiations with Russia to stop the situation in Ukraine.
The U.S. Congress has approved more than $65 billion in aid for Kyiv since the Russian invasion, and Mr. Biden and party leaders have stated that any peace negotiations or the specifics of a cease-fire should be decided upon by the government of Ukraine. The U.S. Congress’s reversal on Tuesday highlighted how sensitive the issue is on Capitol Hill.
The Congressional Progressive Caucus leader, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Washington), announced the letter’s withdrawal in a statement after it was published on Monday. She said that although it had been written months prior, “staff inadvertently disseminated it without screening.” As the caucus leader, Ms. Jayapal declared that she took responsibility.
The letter appeared to cast doubt on whether progressive Democrats still supported the administration’s strategy, and it was published at the same time as some Republicans hinted they may reduce their support for Ukraine aid if they win the House in November, as most observers expect they will.
A Republican-controlled House would not “give a blank check to Ukraine,” according to House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.), who made this statement last week. Ms. Jayapal said in a statement that she was withdrawing the letter as the timing of the Democrats’ letter caused their message to be confused with Mr. McCarthy’s position.
The letter had become into “a diversion,” she said, adding that “every conflict ends with diplomacy, and this one will too after Ukrainian triumph.”
Democrats who signed the letter quickly distanced themselves when it was made public, claiming it was written months earlier under different circumstances and that they were taken by surprise by its publication.
The congressmen encouraged Mr. Biden to “match the military and economic help the United States has offered to Ukraine” with initiatives to find a workable plan for a cease-fire and to “engage in direct discussions with Russia” in order to “seek a fast conclusion to the crisis.”
According to MPs, people signed the letter over the course of many months, mostly in the summer and continuing into September. According to a lawmaker and another person involved with the process, the letter’s language underwent a few changes but remained focused on urging the president to employ diplomacy in addition to the war effort to halt the invasion.
Still, according to some with knowledge of the situation, MPs were unaware the letter had been written and were as a result surprised. According to one source, lawmakers phoned Ms. Jayapal and demanded that she take it down or delete their identities. The letter had not been read by all signatories since June or July.
Rep. Ilhan Omar (D., Minn.) stated in a statement that “this letter was developed early in the summer, in response to concerns that Ukraine was being pressed by Washington not to negotiate.” The letter’s signatory, Ms. Omar, emphasized her unwavering support for Ukraine.
The letter’s other progressive Democratic signatory, Rep. Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, likewise noted on Twitter that the letter was drafted in July and he was unsure of why it was being distributed now. Poor timing, he remarked. The letter, he continued, was “not attacking Biden, but seeking to come to a cease-fire & diplomacy when others were beating war drums.”
Rep. Ro Khanna (D., Calif.), a prominent progressive, and Rep. Barbara Lee (D., Calif.), the sole member of Congress to vote against the resolution authorizing war in Afghanistan in 2001, were among the other House Democrats who had signed the letter.
Retracting the letter, according to Mr. Khanna, who vowed to continue supporting financing for Ukraine, was erroneous since it was meant to demand dialogue in addition to aid. He remarked on CNN, “I think the letter was common sense.
Democrats who chose not to sign the letter held negative opinions. The letter was described as “an olive gesture to a war criminal who’s losing his fight” by Rep. Jake Auchincloss (D., Mass.).
For Ms. Jayapal, who has held the role of chair of the progressives for a number of years and had ambitions to advance to a caucus-wide position, the dispute may turn out to be a costly error. According to two persons with knowledge of the situation, she had been making calls and letting others know that she was interested in the No. 2 position for Democrats.
The letter, which emphasized American support for Ukraine, was issued while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) was away. Despite stating that American “support for Ukraine—and our commitment to preserve democracy—is here to stay until victory is won,” Mrs. Pelosi has not addressed the letter scandal.