House Progressives Retract Letter Urging Biden to Negotiate With Putin

House Progressives Retract Letter Urging Biden to Negotiate With Putin
Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) in Washington on April 28, 2022. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)
Frank Fang

A group of progressive House Democrats have caused a rift within the party by issuing and then retracting a letter less than 24 hours later that urged President Joe Biden to rethink his strategy for the war in Ukraine and negotiate directly with Russia.

In the letter (pdf), dated Oct. 24, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, led 29 Democrat colleagues in calling on Biden to combine the military and economic aid that the United States is providing to Ukraine with a “proactive diplomatic push, redoubling efforts to seek a realistic framework for a ceasefire.”

“The alternative to diplomacy is protracted war, with both its attendant certainties and catastrophic and unknowable risks,” the letter says.

The letter immediately led to pushback from many Democrats. For example, Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), who signed the letter, took to Twitter to say the letter was written in July and he had "no idea why it went out now.”
Rep. Jake Auchincloss (D-Mass.), who wasn't one of the signers, criticized the letter on Twitter as “an olive branch to a war criminal who’s losing his war.”

Some Ukrainians have publicly voiced their concerns about the letter. Inna Sovsun, a member of the Ukraine parliament, said she was “deeply troubled.”

“You can't negotiate with terrorists when they continue to kill,” Sovsun wrote on Twitter.
Anastasiia Lapatina, a journalist with The Kyiv Independent, questioned on Twitter why the Democrats wanted “a new European security arrangement acceptable to all parties that will allow for a sovereign and independent Ukraine,” as they wrote in the letter.

“RUSSIA DOES NOT ACCEPT A SOVEREIGN UKRAINE. How many times does this have to be reiterated?” Lapatina wrote.

“Russia operates on a completely different set of assumptions about the world and this war. They want Ukraine crushed, not independent,” she continued. “They have never accepted our independence, and they won't start now. Our subjugation is their fundamental goal. Diplomacy will not change that.”


Facing backlash, Jayapal issued a statement on Oct. 25 saying that the Caucus was retracting the letter.

“The letter was drafted several months ago, but unfortunately was released by staff without vetting,” Jayapal wrote. “As Chair of the Caucus, I accept responsibility for this.”

Jayapal added that the letter was conflated with recent comments by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who said on Oct. 18 that Republicans won't write a “blank check” to Ukraine if they retake the lower chamber of Congress in November.

“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,” Jayapal wrote.

McCarthy has since defended his “blank check” remark in an interview with CNBC.

“I think Ukraine is very important. I support making sure that we move forward to defeat Russia in that program. But there should be no blank check on anything. We are $31 trillion in debt,” McCarthy said.

“Wouldn’t you want a check and balance in Congress?” McCarthy continued. “We’ve got to eliminate the wasteful spending in Washington.”

When asked about the withdrawn letter on Oct. 25, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said any decision to negotiate a peace agreement rested with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
“There is nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine. We’ve been very clear about that,” Jean-Pierre said during a press briefing. “Our job, as we see it today, as we’ve seen it for this past year—more than a year—is to make sure that Ukraine has what it needs on the ground.”


House progressives’ about-face with the letter has since drawn close scrutiny.
Tulsi Gabbard, a former congresswoman from Hawaii who left the Democratic Party in October, said the incident showed why voters shouldn’t vote for Democrat candidates.
“This is one of the main reasons I left the Dem Party: it’s COMPLETELY controlled by an elite cabal of warmongers,” Gabbard wrote on Twitter.

She added, “Any Dem who opposes their warmongering agenda is beat into submission. Sadly, to vote Democrat is a vote for war & more war—possibly nuclear.”

The Washington state Republican Party took to Twitter to say that Jayapal “throws her staff under the bus” with her explanation about how the letter was released without vetting.
“This new controversy is just the latest in Jayapal's hypocritical saga,” the group wrote. 
Frank Fang is a Taiwan-based journalist. He covers U.S., China, and Taiwan news. He holds a master's degree in materials science from Tsinghua University in Taiwan.