A group of 30 left-wing legislators on Tuesday withdrew a letter sent a day earlier calling on President Biden to negotiate directly with Russian President Vladimir Putin to end his war on Ukraine — after several signatories running for re-election objected to his release nearly four months after it was written.
“The Congressional Progress Caucus hereby withdraws its recent letter to the White House regarding Ukraine,” the group’s chairwoman Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) wrote in a statement Tuesday. “The letter was drafted several months ago, but unfortunately was released by staff without vetting.”
Although she blamed unnamed employees for the letter’s belated release, Politico reported Jayapal personally approved its distribution Monday, citing a “source familiar with the situation.” The congresswoman’s office did not respond immediately to the Post’s requests for comment on Tuesday.
Jayapal’s announcement came after several lawmakers who had signed onto the letter this summer said they would not have done so at this point in the war, including Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wisc.)
“Anatomy of a DC screwup,” he wrote on Twitter Tuesday. “In July, Putin started to talk about using nuclear weapons. Some warhawks started to sound off, and many of us wanted to stay the course that Biden was doing, keeping diplomacy on the table. Hence the CPC signed a letter.”
“Unfortunately, this letter somehow went out three months later, at a very different time in the war. Those who signed on were not consulted on its release,” Pocan added, noting that it “never should have been sent in the first place.”
Although Rep. Sara Jacobs’ (D-Calif.) signature also appeared on the now-retracted letter, she reiterated her position on Twitter Tuesday, saying “timing in diplomacy is everything.”
“I signed this letter on June 30, but a lot has changed since then. I wouldn’t sign it today,” she said. “We have to continue supporting Ukraine economically and militarily to give them the leverage they need to end this war.”
In June, Ukraine’s future looked far bleaker as Russia captured Sievierodonetsk, one of the last holdouts in the Luhansk region of the Donbas at the time.
“The media narrative is that the Russians have been making gains,” Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl said June 14. “They may make tactical gains here and there, but the Ukrainians are holding tough.”
Since then, Ukraine has launched a counteroffensive, taking back vast swaths of the Donbas as the fighting has moved south, senior US defense officials have said.
The US has also sent Ukraine key weaponry since then, including HIMARS rocket systems and National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile systems, which Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia Laura Cooper this month said have contributed to Ukraine’s comeback.
“Ukraine has demonstrated the ability to use these capabilities to degrade Russian logistics and command and control, creating opportunities for Ukraine to maneuver and to advance,” she told reporters Oct. 4. “… The Ukrainian Armed Forces continue to reclaim territory and consolidate their gains.”
The letter, which also included signatures by Bronx and Queens Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Brooklyn Rep. Yvette Clarke, called on Biden to start a “proactive diplomatic push, redoubling efforts to seek a realistic framework for a ceasefire.”
“We urge you to make vigorous diplomatic efforts in support of a negotiated settlement and ceasefire, engage in direct talks with Russia [and] explore prospects for a new European security arrangement acceptable to all parties that will allow for a sovereign and independent Ukraine,” the lawmakers wrote.
The plea, which cited the “tens of billions of US taxpayer dollars” sent to Ukraine in war efforts, ran against the Biden administration’s approach throughout the war not to pressure Ukraine to return to the negotiating table with Russia or play a direct role in how the conflict is resolved.
In her statement, Jayapal said the letter’s poor timing led some to believe that the 30 Democrats do not support continued funding for Ukraine as the war enters its ninth month.
“Because of the timing, our message is being confused by some as being equivalent to the recent statement by the Republican Leader [Rep. Kevin] McCarthy is threatening an end to aid to Ukraine if Republicans take over,” she said. “The proximity of these statements created the unfortunate appearance that Democrats … are somehow aligned with Republicans who seek to pull the plug on American support.”
Jayapal added that the group was retracting the letter because the ensuing brouhaha created a “distraction” from Democrats’ support of the war, but did not say whether she still supported the letter’s message.
Pocan said he had no idea why [the letter] went out now” in a tweet Monday night. A representative from his office on Tuesday confirmed that the lawmaker had signed the document in July.
“Our support for Ukraine is consistent with @POTUS as ever,” he said on Twitter Tuesday. “Bad timing of a letter … created a lot of unnecessary confusion.”
Still, some constituents said the excuse did not make up for the lawmakers’ previous agreement with the letter.
“I don’t think ‘it was written in July’ eases my concerns,” @BDWildeman wrote. “That letter is just as ill-considered and contradictory in July as it is now. I look forward to your strong support of Ukraine in the face of a lawless invasion. We don’t need any more Russian adventures in Europe.”
“All of us have voted for funding and will continue. I think you are trying to sensationalize the letter,” Pocan wrote in his Twitter response. “Show me where it says we should stop supporting Ukraine? I didn’t think so.”
Ocasio-Cortez and Clarke’s offices did not immediately respond to requests for comment Tuesday.