Two people familiar with the matter say that House progressives are contemplating withdrawing a request for President Joe Biden’s direct diplomacy with Russia. This is less than 24 hours after the letter sparked intense backlash among other Democrats.
Some Democratic lawmakers are furious that the letter supporting talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, originally drafted in June and signed in June, wasn’t circulated before Monday’s public release. It was revealed that all 30 House Democrats signed the letter, which included members of the approximately 100-member Congressional Progressive Caucus. They were urging Biden to immediately push for diplomacy despite Russia’s war crimes and indications about a military escalation towards Ukraine.
The timing of the letter is even more dangerous politically. Ukraine is not ready to negotiate at this stage, particularly since its long-running counteroffensive has been a success to date. There is no indication that Putin is willing to trade either.
POLITICO was told by several people that the letter to Biden was not released to many Democratic lawmakers who signed it. They spoke candidly under anonymity. POLITICO learned that the letter was released in its original form, despite being partially updated with additional information about Russia’s war against Ukraine.
According to a congressional aide, the original release date of the letter was August 1. He added that it wasn’t clear why there was a delay. It was circulated on the Hill during August’s long legislative recess.
“Once you sign up for a letter it’s up the original drafters and unfortunately, not all of them can keep people updated,” Rep. Ilhanomar (D-Minn.), a Progressive Caucus whip, and a signatory to the pro-Russian-diplomacy letter, tweeted Tuesday. Some of us won’t sign up to letters without knowing when or how it will release.
Others who signed the document and congressional aides blamed it on the Progressive Caucus’ Office for publishing it two weeks before midterms. Questions swirl about whether Republicans would continue funding Ukraine’s defense if the House majority is won, as is likely.
One lawmaker signed up and spoke under the condition that anonymity.
Staffer at Hill said it bluntly: “It is just a disaster.” CPC needs to do a thorough clean-up.
Biden was asked to think about a diplomatic route to end Russia’s war against Ukraine, if given the chance. Recognizing the difficulties of having direct talks with Putin they encouraged the consideration of a negotiated solution as the threat of nuclear war increases. Because it would require Ukraine to surrender some of its territory, this diplomatic route is not supported by Ukraine. The Biden administration pledged that the U.S. would not do anything without Kyiv.
Despite the backlash on Monday Progressive Caucus Chair Rep. Pramila Japal (D-Wash.), who is considering a bid to be House Democratic Leadership next year, released a statement to clarify that she supports Ukraine and make clear that her letter was not implying a departure from Biden’s policies.
However, her explanation did not stop the anger within the Democratic caucus. Several lawmakers criticized the letter in public in an extraordinary display of intra-party disapproval. One signatory even stated that she would not have signed it today.
“Timing is everything in diplomacy. This letter was signed on June 30, but much has changed since that time. Rep. Sara Jacobs (D.Calif.) stated.
Many Democrats were particularly critical of the suggestion in the letter that sanctions relief might be available to encourage Russia to stop its aggression on Ukraine.
Rep. Jake Auchincloss, D-Mass. called it a “an olive branch for a war criminal who is losing his war.”
Others who signed the letter quickly clarified and updated their positions. More are expected to make statements as early as Tuesday. Rep. Mark Takano, a California Republican who is also the chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee released Monday a statement stating that he supports Ukrainian self-determination.
Given Jayapal’s ambitions as a leader, the saga could have broader implications than Ukraine’s funding efforts. And Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), also signed the letter, is running for the top party post on the powerful House Oversight Committee.
Rep. Gerry Connolly, a Democratic-Va. candidate for Raskin’s job, issued a statement Tuesday condemning “magical thinking regarding nature of the Russian Threat” — but without mentioning Raskin or the letter.
Sarah Ferris, Burgess Everett and