Democrats Muffle Criticism of Biden’s Ukraine Policy Amid Appearance of In-Fighting
By Kaia Hubbard
A group of progressive lawmakers on Tuesday withdrew an inflammatory letter urging President Joe Biden to reconsider his Ukraine policy that was released as the Democratic speaker of the House was in the awkward position of assuring a summit of nations in Croatia that the U.S. would stand firm in its commitment to the war-torn country.
The incident underscores the emerging divisions even among Democrats about U.S. assistance to Ukrainian forces holding off vastly better armed invading Russian troops for eight months. And they come as Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has already begun hinting that the steady stream of U.S. financial assistance could come to an end if the GOP retakes the House in fall midterms next month.
The group of Democratic lawmakers, led by Congressional Progressive Caucus Chairperson Pramila Jayapal of Washington, had urged Biden to rethink his strategy with Russia to bolster economic and military support with a “proactive diplomatic push, redoubling efforts to seek a realistic framework for a ceasefire.”
Jayapal, in a statement on Tuesday, explained that the letter was drafted “several months ago” but was released on Monday “by staff without vetting.” although she accepted responsibility for the error.
“Because of the timing, our message is being conflated by some as being equivalent to the recent statement by Republican Leader McCarthy threatening to end aid to Ukraine if Republicans take over,” Jayapal said.
An interview with McCarthy released last week spurred concern among Democrats, who have warned of the “pro-Putin” wing of the GOP. The California lawmaker suggested that Republicans, if they gain control of the House next year, would oppose additional aid to Ukraine.
“I think people are going to be sitting in a recession and they’re not going to write a blank check to Ukraine,” McCarthy told Punchbowl News, “They just won’t do it.”
Democrats fired back, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who said at a news conference on Monday alongside Croatia’s prime minister that Congress has “never given a blank check” to Ukraine.
Pelosi reiterated America’s commitment to Ukraine on Tuesday at a summit in Croatia, pointing to Congress’ continued efforts under the Biden administration to “meet the needs of Ukraine to achieve victory.”
“We have acted on a bipartisan basis, because that is what it takes,” Pelosi said while representing the U.S. at the Zagreb summit focused on Russian aggression in Ukraine. “Under President Biden, our support is here to stay.”
But the situation with the letter on the left, and McCarthy’s comments on the right, have illustrated that the situation is not so simple back home.
While the Biden administration had begun to see some opposition to its strategy in Ukraine from the right, the pushback among lawmakers on the left, despite being withdrawn, marked a change.
The lawmakers cited the destruction created by the war in Ukraine and beyond and the “risk of
catastrophic escalation,” along with soaring gas prices as a result, while pointing to remarks from Biden in May that suggested a negotiated settlement would eventually be required.
But the Biden administration’s stance has largely been to leave it up to Ukraine to make decisions regarding negotiations with Russia.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre reiterated that stance when asked about the letter on Monday during a briefing, saying, “We’ve been very clear: Nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine.”
“This is a decision that President Zelenskyy is going to have to make when it comes to any type of conversation with Russia, any type of negotiation,” she said. “That is something that Ukrainians need to make.”
Accordingly, some Democratic lawmakers railed against the members of their own party over the letter and its suggestion that the U.S. enter diplomatic talks with Russia, despite condemning Russia’s “outrageous and illegal invasion of Ukraine,” for what some believe would be rewarding Russia’s unprovoked attack on the country.
Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut wrote in a tweet on Monday evening that there is “moral and strategic peril in sitting down 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 said. “Sometimes, a bully must be shown the limits of his power before diplomacy can work.”
Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego of Arizona likewise endorsed a different approach than his progressive colleagues, writing on Twitter that “the way to end a war” is to “win it quickly” by giving Ukraine weapons “to defeat Russia.”
Jayapal, released a statement later on Monday “clarifying” the position of the letter, which seemed to walk back much of the group’s request of Biden.
“Diplomacy is an important tool that can save lives – but it is just one tool,” Jayapal 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.”
Then on Tuesday, Jayapal walked it back completely, withdrawing the letter altogether.
“Every war ends with diplomacy, and this one will too after Ukrainian victory,” she said. “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 and we withdraw the letter.”
Since Russia’s invasion in February, Congress has approved billions of dollars in aid to Ukraine on a bipartisan basis. Pelosi committed to continued efforts to support Ukraine in a statement on Tuesday.
“Congress on a bipartisan and bicameral basis will not waver in our efforts to support Ukraine and hold Russia accountable,” Pelosi said in a statement marking the conclusion of the summit on Russian aggression in Ukraine. “On behalf of the Congress, I made absolutely clear that America’s support for Ukraine will continue until victory is won.”
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