Progressives Backtrack After Unforced Foul Over Biden’s Ukraine Policy
WASHINGTON — Sometimes the firing squad lines up in a circle.
At least, that’s how it seemed by Tuesday morning after the House Progressive Caucus released and then hastily withdrew a letter to the White House questioning President Biden’s policy toward Ukraine.
First reported by The Washington Post, the letter signed by 30 House liberals urged Biden to link the unprecedented military and economic support the U.S. is providing Ukraine to “a proactive diplomatic push, redoubling efforts to seek a realistic framework for a cease fire.”
Coming just two weeks before the midterm elections — an election that could end Democratic control of the House — the letter stunned many in the progressives’ own party.
For some deeply invested in Ukraine’s tenacious fight to save itself in the face of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s rogue invasion, negotiating with the Russian leader seems pure folly.
Others worried the progressives’ letter would create more headaches for Biden as he strives to sustain domestic support for the war at a time when Republicans are vowing to cut U.S. aid to Ukraine if they retake Congress.
On Tuesday, Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, withdrew the letter, saying it had been drafted months ago and “released by staff without vetting.”
She also tried to distance Democrats from recent comments by House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who said in an interview last week that a Republican-led House would not simply give a “blank check” to Ukraine.
“As chair of the caucus, I accept responsibility for this,” Jayapal said in a statement. “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 Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian forces.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” she continued. “Every war ends with diplomacy, and this one will too, after Ukrainian victory. The letter sent yesterday, 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.”
Some of the signatories also walked back their participation in the letter writing and signing on Tuesday.
Taking to Twitter, Rep. Sara Jacobs, D-Calif., wrote, “Timing in diplomacy is everything.
“I signed this letter on June 30, but 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,” she said.
Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., who had evidently been getting an earful about his participation in the letter, began his own tweet with the words, “hear you.”
“First, this was written in July and I have no idea why it went out now. Bad timing,” he continued. “Second, it was trying to get to a cease-fire and diplomacy as others were banging war drums, not criticizing Biden. Third, I’ve supported the efforts and will continue. Over analyzed by some.”
Among those fiercely criticizing the progressives for their letter was William Browder, an American-born British financier and political activist whose Hermitage Capital Management was once the largest foreign portfolio investor in Russia.
In 2008, Browder’s lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, uncovered a massive fraud committed by Russian government officials that involved the theft of $230 million of state taxes.
Magnitsky testified against state officials involved in this fraud and was subsequently arrested, imprisoned without trial and systematically tortured before his death in prison in November 2009.
After Magnitsky’s death, Browder lobbied for Congress to pass the Magnitsky Act, a law to punish Russian human rights violators, which was signed into law in 2012 by President Barack Obama.
On Monday night he tweeted that the original letter had made his blood boil.
“[Thirty] Democrats led by Rep. Pramila Jayapal call on Biden to pair the military support for Ukraine,” he continued. “She wants the U.S. to reward Putin’s murderous aggression. We all know where appeasement goes and it’s nowhere good.”
Dan can be reached at [email protected] and @DanMcCue
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