Jayapal withdraws letter on Ukraine policy amid outrage from Democrats


The progressive House leader abruptly backed down from pushing the Biden administration to pursue diplomacy in Russia’s war with Ukraine after furious domestic backlash from Democrats who felt blindsided by the move two weeks before the November term.

The move by Rep. Pramila Jayapal, head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, came after 30 liberals released a letter calling for more diplomacy — originally signed in June — that appeared to undercut her party’s staunch support for Ukraine. The release of the letter this week was opposed by most members, with some saying they would not sign it now given how the war has been going on in recent days.

After Democratic outrage began to surface, Jayapal said the letter was released without proper vetting by staff and said it misaligned his caucus’s position with GOP divisions over further support for Ukraine aid, which Democrats pushed back on. He withdrew the letter after the embarrassing intra-party tussle.

“The Congressional Progressive Caucus withdraws its recent letter to the White House on Ukraine,” Washington state Democrat Jayapal said in a statement. “The letter was written a few months ago, but unfortunately the staff released it without checking it. As the president of the caucus, I accept the responsibility for this.”

The public setback came amid backlash from Democrats who criticized the timing of Monday’s letter.

“People are angry, especially the front lines,” a senior House Democrat said before withdrawing the letter, referring to vulnerable members who are at risk of losing their seats in the Nov. 8 caucuses.

Democrats have argued that the ill-timed letter undermines their party’s position by showing strong support for Ukraine at a time when Republicans are debating whether to accept more US aid to Ukraine. Also, several Democratic members said they had signed this letter months ago and when Jayapal’s office sent the letter on Monday, they were caught off guard, with their names on it. Some said they wouldn’t sign again.

“Timing is everything in diplomacy,” said Rep. Sara Jacobs of California, a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus led by Jayapal. “I signed this letter on June 30, but a lot has changed since then. I wouldn’t sign it today.”

Wisconsin Rep. Mark Pocan, a former leader of the progressive caucus who signed the letter in July, told CNN he found it “disgusting” that it was sent this week after signing it this summer and added, “I would not accept it being fired now.” Firing it now, he said, ” It didn’t make much sense.”

The letter, signed by Jacobs and 29 other Democrats, praised President Joe Biden’s efforts to help Ukraine by avoiding direct U.S. involvement on the ground, but suggested a stronger attempt to end the war through diplomacy is needed to avoid a protracted war. slogging conflict.

“Given the devastation this war has caused for Ukraine and the world, as well as the risk of further catastrophe, we believe it is in the interests of Ukraine, the United States, and the world to avoid a protracted conflict,” the group said. , headed by Jayapal, write in the letter. “Therefore, we urge you to combine the military and economic support provided by the United States to Ukraine with a proactive diplomatic push, redefining efforts to find a realistic framework for a ceasefire.”

After Democratic backlash against the letter intensified, Jayapal clarified their position, saying they maintain a “clear commitment to support Ukraine” and support the Biden administration’s strategy.

An aide to Jayapal declined to explain why the letter was leaked on Monday. And some members said they didn’t get a follow-up on it before sending it to Biden.

“They didn’t double check with the signatories before releasing it. I would remove my name,” said one member who signed the letter, who spoke to CNN on condition of anonymity to speak freely. “It’s a terrible time.”

Other Democratic aides to members told CNN they were unaware the letter would be released Monday.

Representative Jake Auchincloss of Massachusetts, who did not sign the letter and is not in the Progressive Caucus, he tweeted: “This letter is an olive branch to a war criminal who is losing the war.”

The letter comes at a critical time in the war, as Russia increasingly targets civilian infrastructure, with a particular focus on cutting off electricity supplies to Ukrainian citizens ahead of winter.

In Congress, questions have grown about lawmakers’ willingness to sustain massive financial and military aid to Ukraine. Some Republicans have threatened to cut aid to the country if they take control of Congress in November.

The Liberal Democrats, in their letter, argue that more direct attempts to engage Moscow in diplomacy were necessary as the war dragged on.

“We are under no illusions about the difficulties facing Russia, given its massive and illegal invasion of Ukraine and its determination to carry out additional illegal annexations of Ukrainian territory,” the lawmakers wrote. “However, if there is a way to end the war while keeping Ukraine free and independent, it is America’s responsibility to pursue all diplomatic avenues to support such a solution acceptable to the Ukrainian people.”

John Kirby, the National Security Council’s strategic communications coordinator, said the White House had received the letter.

“We certainly appreciate the sentiments expressed by these members of Congress,” Kirby said.

“We have worked with members of Congress throughout the process, especially when we needed additional funding to support Ukraine’s defense needs,” Kirby said. “And it has been done in full cooperation with the members of Congress in full transparency. And this is, in fact, the way the president wants to continue.”

However, Kirby said there was no indication that Russian President Vladimir Putin was ready to engage in serious diplomacy to end the war.

“When you see and hear his speech, and when you see the other things, whether it’s the atrocities, the war crimes, the airstrikes against civilian infrastructure that the Russians are doing, it’s clear that Mr. Putin is not in the mood to negotiate.” said Kirby.

He said it was up to Ukraine and its President Volodymyr Zelensky to return to the negotiating table when the time was right.

“Mr. Zelensky decides when he thinks the time is right, and Mr. Zelensky decides, because it’s his country, what kind of success, what kind of victory and on what terms he’s willing to negotiate,” Kirby said. “We’re not going to order that.”

This story and headline have been updated to reflect additional developments.