Progressive Democrats retract letter to Biden urging diplomatic end to war in Ukraine

The Congressional Progressive Caucus retracted a letter that was sent on Monday calling for President Biden to pursue a diplomatic end to Russia’s war on Ukraine, saying it was not properly vetted prior to its release.

“The letter was drafted several months ago, but unfortunately was released by staff without vetting,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., chair of the caucus, said in a statement Tuesday. Jayapal said she accepted responsibility for the error and reiterated her support for Ukraine’s war effort.

The message was criticized for coming at a time when Ukraine’s counteroffensive against Russia was finding success and with no signs that Russian President Vladimir Putin had any interest in peace negotiations. Thirty members of the roughly 100-member group of Democratic legislators signed it.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, seated on a couch in her living room.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., at her Seattle home on Aug. 16. (Jovelle Tamayo/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

“We are under no illusions regarding the difficulties involved in engaging Russia, given its outrageous and illegal invasion of Ukraine and its decision to make additional illegal annexations of Ukrainian territory,” the letter read. “However, if there is a way to end the war while preserving a free and independent Ukraine, it is America’s responsibility to pursue every diplomatic avenue to support such a solution that is acceptable to the people of Ukraine.

“Such a framework would presumably include incentives to end hostilities, including some form of sanctions relief, and bring together the international community to establish security guarantees for a free and independent Ukraine that are acceptable for all parties, particularly Ukrainians,” it continued. “The alternative to diplomacy is protracted war, with both its attendant certainties and catastrophic and unknowable risks.”

On Monday evening, the caucus’s former chair, Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., responded to a tweet saying the letter had “big problems,” writing, “Hear you. First, this was written in July & I have no idea why it went out now. Bad timing. Second, it was trying to get to a cease-fire & diplomacy as others were banging war drums, not criticizing Biden. Third, I’ve supported the efforts & will continue. Over analyzed by some."

One of the letter’s signatories, Rep. Sara Jacobs, D-Calif., said Tuesday morning that she had signed the letter in early summer and would not have done so now.

President Biden at the microphone, looking puzzled.
President Biden at the White House on Sept. 30. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

“Timing in diplomacy is everything,” Jacobs said. “I signed this letter on June 30, but a lot has changed since then. I wouldn't sign it today. We have to continue supporting Ukraine economically and militarily to give them the leverage they need to end this war.”

The letter comes as Republicans have indicated they will reduce — if not cut off — funding for Ukraine’s war effort if they take control of Congress next year. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told Punchbowl News last week, “I think people are gonna to be sitting in a recession, and they’re not going to write a blank check to Ukraine.”

Jayapal attempted to draw a contrast with this position in her retraction statement Tuesday.

“Because of the timing, our message is being conflated by some as being equivalent to the recent statement by Republican Leader McCarthy threatening an end to aid to Ukraine if Republicans take over,” she said. “The proximity of these statements created the unfortunate appearance that Democrats, who have strongly and unanimously supported and voted for every package of military, strategic, and economic assistance to the Ukrainian people, are somehow aligned with Republicans who seek to pull the plug on American support for President Zelensky and the Ukrainian forces.”

President Volodymyr Zelensky appears on a large video screen above a panel of conference participants, with two other screens carrying the image in the foreground.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks on a video link at the International Crimea Platform summit, organized by Ukraine and Croatia, in Zagreb, Croatia, on Tuesday. (Damir Sencar/AFP via Getty Images)

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” she concluded. “Every war ends with diplomacy, and this one will too, after Ukrainian victory. The letter sent yesterday, although restating that basic principle, has been conflated with GOP opposition to support for the Ukrainians’ just defense of their national sovereignty. As such, it is a distraction at this time, and we withdraw the letter.”

Jayapal has emerged as a top figure in Congress during the Biden administration, supporting the White House in its full domestic agenda as the party’s moderate wing often undercut negotiations. In February, Politico reported she was considering a bid for a party leadership position in next year’s Congress.

Cover thumbnail photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters