Members of the far-left Congressional Progressive Caucus did an about-face after being scolded over a letter they sent President Biden urging him to negotiate with Russian leader Vladimir Putin to end the eight-month-long war in Ukraine.
The letter — signed by 30 Democrats, including Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of the Bronx and Queens and Rep. Yvette Clarke of Brooklyn — called on the White House to pursue a “proactive diplomatic push” in an effort to reach 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,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal, the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and others said in the missive sent Monday.
But their appeal contradicted the Biden administration’s position that it’s up to the Ukrainian people to decide whether Kyiv should engage in negotiations with Moscow.
After Democrats and the White House criticized the proposed change in policy, Jayapal issued another statement Monday “reaffirming support for Ukraine and clarifying the position” laid out in the letter to Biden.
“Diplomacy is an important tool that can save lives — but it is just one tool,” Jayapal’s statement said. “As we also made explicitly clear in our letter and will continue to make clear, we support President Biden and his administration’s commitment to nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine.”
Blowback to the suggested diplomatic tack arrived quickly.
“Vladimir Putin would have signed that letter if asked,” a House Democratic leader told Politico.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said there was a “moral and strategic peril” in talking 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 wrote on Twitter. “Sometimes, a bully must be shown the limits of his power before diplomacy can work.”
The letter from the liberal Democrats was sent as Russia stepped up strikes on civilian targets in Ukraine, including vital utilities as winter approaches.
Moscow has also been accused of committing war crimes following the discovery of mass graves near Ukrainian cities liberated from Russian control, with the bodies showing signs of torture.
Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), a member of the Progressive Caucus who did not sign the letter, broke with his colleagues on Twitter, saying the “way to end a war” was to “Win it quickly.”
“How is it won quickly? By giving Ukraine the weapons to defeat Russia,” he added.
Asked about the letter, the White House on Monday reiterated its policy toward Ukraine.
“We’ve been very, very clear that this is a decision that President [Volodymyr] Zelensky is going to have to make when it comes to any type of conversation with Russia – any type of negotiation,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said. “That is something that Ukrainians need to make; we will continue to support them as long as it takes.”