Analysis by Aaron Blake
For the second time in a week, members of Congress have signaled a potential shift in America’s policy toward Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
First, it was House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) saying that a GOP-controlled Congress next year might withhold funding from Ukraine. Then, on Monday, 30 liberal House Democrats called on President Biden to engage in direct diplomacy with Russia.
One of these approaches has engendered significant pushback inside the party, some walk backs from the signatories and now, ultimately, a retraction. But it’s not the more drastic one.
Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) announced Tuesday that she had retracted the letter which she had spearheaded, just 24 hours after it went out. She said that the letter was drafted “several months ago” and that it was not vetted before it was released Monday.
The move comes after multiple signatories had distanced themselves from the thrust of Monday’s letter and Jayapal herself had sought to clarify it.
Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) said in a statement that, “Only Ukrainians have a right to determine the terms by which this war ends.”
Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) said that the letter wasn’t meant to criticize Biden’s approach and defended it in a series of tweets. But he also suggested that it was poorly handled. “First, this was written in July & I have no idea why it went out now. Bad timing,” he said. “Second, it was trying to get to a cease-fire & diplomacy as others were banging war drums, not criticizing Biden.”
Rep. Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.) echoed Pocan, saying she actually signed the letter in late June. But unlike Pocan, she offered perhaps the biggest break from its contents, saying that “a lot has changed since then. I wouldn’t sign it today.”
A Jayapal spokesperson initially declined to comment Tuesday on the claims that the letter was months old. But Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), the Progressive Caucus whip, seemed to confirm that it was and that signatories weren’t notified that it would go out Monday.