Progressive Democrats shot themselves in the foot with letter urging talks with Russia, claiming it was outdated and blaming staff for its release

Biden Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Joe Biden in Geneva, Switzerland.Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images
  • Progressive Democrats withdrew a letter to Biden urging him to pursue talks with Putin to end the Ukraine war.

  • The letter prompted a wave of criticism, including from fellow Democrats.

  • One Democratic lawmaker said the letter extended an "olive branch to a war criminal."

Progressive Democrats faced a wave of backlash over a letter calling on President Joe Biden to pursue negotiations with Russia to end the war in Ukraine — including from members of their own party.

The letter, which was signed by 30 Democrats led by Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington state, was released Monday and withdrawn a day later by the progressive lawmakers following the blistering criticism.

"The Congressional Progressive Caucus hereby withdraws its recent letter to the White House regarding Ukraine," Jayapal said in a statement. Jayapal said the letter was drafted months ago and released by staff without vetting.

The Monday letter urged Biden to "pair the military and economic support the United States has provided to Ukraine with a proactive diplomatic push, redoubling efforts to seek a realistic framework for a ceasefire."

Though Jayapal on Tuesday retracted the letter and said it was drafted "months ago," she also gave a statement to the Washington Post earlier this week that echoed what the letter stated and urged Biden to make a "proactive diplomatic push" to end the Ukraine war. Additionally, Politico reported that Jayapal personally approved the letter's release on Monday, citing a source familiar with the situation.

Critics of the letter questioned why Biden should pursue diplomacy with Moscow when Russia has committed war crimes in Ukraine and the Kremlin does not appear interested in talks, and at a time when Ukraine is making progress on the battlefield and therefore has few incentives to sit down for negotiations.

"This letter is an olive branch to a war criminal who's losing his war. Ukraine is on the march. Congress should be standing firmly behind [Biden's] effective strategy, including tighter — not weaker! — sanctions," Democratic Rep. Jake Auchincloss of Massachusetts said in a tweet reacting to the letter.

The letter came on the heels of a series of escalatory moves in the war from Russian President Vladimir Putin, including the so-called annexations of four Ukrainian regions that Russian forces do not fully control or occupy. It was also sent as Ukraine has been regaining territory and pushing back the Russian invaders as part of a counteroffensive that's been buoyed by Western-supplied weapons. Arms provided to Ukraine by the US have played a crucial role in the fight.

The Ukrainian government has also been clear that it would not agree to any deal that would require it to cede territory to Russia, and which would likely leave it vulnerable to future attacks. By illegally annexing the Ukrainian regions and claiming them as part of Russia, Putin effectively threw the possibility of any negotiations out the window.

In a tweet that offered indirect criticism of the letter, Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut said, "There is moral and strategic peril in sitting down with Putin too early. It risks legitimizing his crimes and handing over parts of Ukraine to Russia in an agreement that Putin won't even honor."

Murphy, a prominent Democratic voice on foreign policy in the Senate, added, "Sometimes, a bully must be shown the limits of his power before diplomacy can work."

Following the fierce pushback to the letter, a number of its signatories walked back on it and issued statements emphasizing their support for Biden's approach to the war. Some of these Democrats also questioned the timing of its release. Democratic Rep. Sara Jacobs of California tweeted, "I signed this letter on June 30, but a lot has changed since then. I wouldn't sign it today."

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The letter was sent to Biden just weeks before the midterm elections and not long after House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy signaled the GOP would move to slash aid to Kyiv if Republicans regain control of the lower chamber next month.

Jayapal, the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, released a clarifying statement on Monday evening, stating, "Let me be clear: We are united as Democrats in our unequivocal commitment to supporting Ukraine in their fight for their democracy and freedom in the face of the illegal and outrageous Russian invasion, and nothing in the letter advocates for a change in that support."

Meanwhile, the Biden administration also slapped down the letter.

"In order for diplomacy to take place, there have to be parties ready and willing to engage in diplomacy. Right now, we have heard from Ukrainian partners, repeatedly, that this war will only end through diplomacy and dialogue. We have not heard any reciprocal statement or refrain from Moscow that they are ready in good faith to engage in that diplomacy and dialogue," State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement.

Congress has shown strong support for Ukraine thus far, passing legislation that's paved the way for the Biden administration to provide Kyiv with billions in aid. Polling has shown most US voters are in favor of continued support for Ukraine, but there are also signs that they are concerned about the economic consequences of the war.

Read the original article on Business Insider