The Congressional Progressive Caucus on Tuesday withdrew its letter urging President Biden to negotiate with Russia over the war in Ukraine after it sparked a backlash among fellow Democrats.
CPC Chair Pramila Jayapal, Washington Democrat, said the letter “was drafted several months ago, but unfortunately was released by staff without vetting.”
Ms. Jayapal, who is eyeing a bid to become the leader of the House Democrats next year, said she accepted responsibility for the move.
She said the letter was “conflated” because of the timing of its release after comments by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, California Republican, were interpreted as suggesting a possible end to U.S. aid to Ukraine if Republicans win control of the House.
Mr. McCarthy said the U.S. should not issue a “blank check” for further funding to Ukraine.
Democrats seized on Mr. McCarthy’s comments to label the party “Putin Republicans.”
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White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre wouldn’t comment on the letter. She said any decision about negotiating with Moscow “is up to President [Volodymyr] Zelensky [of Ukraine], and he will make that decision for his country.”
Some Democrats were angered that the CPC letter undercut their criticism of Republicans as “pro-Putin” just as the midterm election season enters its final phase.
“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,” she said in her statement. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”
“Every war ends with diplomacy, and this one will too after Ukrainian victory,” she said. “The letter sent [Monday], although restating that basic principle, has been conflated with GOP opposition to support for the Ukrainians’ just defense of their national sovereignty. As such, it is a distraction at this time and we withdraw the letter.”
Rep. Sara Jacobs, California Democrat, said she signed the CPC letter on June 30 but wouldn’t sign it now.
“Timing in diplomacy is everything,” Ms. Jacobs tweeted. “A lot has changed since then. I wouldn’t sign it today. We have to continue supporting Ukraine economically and militarily to give them the leverage they need to end this war.”
Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman of New Jersey, another Democrat who signed the letter, said the timing of the release was “unfortunate and outside my control.” She issued a statement Tuesday to “unequivocally affirm my support for Ukraine’s right to sovereignty and to defend itself against Putin’s unlawful, unjust invasion.”
The lawmakers’ reasoning for the withdrawal did little to appease liberal anti-war elements of the party’s base.
“For us, peace is not a partisan issue,” said CodePink spokesperson Melissa Garriga. “Regardless of what happens in the midterm elections, we will continue to push all of our elected officials, including President Biden, to engage all parties in the conflict to find a negotiated solution to stop the killing, avert a nuclear war, and use our collective resources for life-affirming pursuits, not war.
“It is sad that we live in such a political climate where being an advocate for peace and a policymaker that seeks diplomacy is met with such fierce opposition and political backlash,” she said.
Mr. Biden didn’t mention the letter Tuesday but warned that it would be a “serious mistake” for Moscow to deploy radioactive weapons in Ukraine.
The president said he spent “a lot of time” Tuesday with national security advisers discussing Russia’s potential use of a tactical nuclear weapon in the war. He said he is not sure whether Moscow is waging a “false flag” operation.
Moscow claims Ukraine is set to use a dirty bomb, an explosive laced with radioactive material, on Ukrainian territory so it could blame Russia and rally support for its counteroffensive.
Ukrainian authorities said Russia might use the bomb itself and blame Kyiv.
“I’m not guaranteeing you that it’s a false flag operation yet. I don’t know,” Mr. Biden said. “But it would be a serious, serious mistake.”
• Tom Howell Jr. contributed to this report.