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Tipsheet

House Progressives Chair Taking Major Heat for Withdrawn Ukraine Letter

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Two weeks before the election, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) is making headlines for a Monday letter sent to President Joe Biden, along with a walk-back from the congresswoman who chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which she says is "clarifying the position of the letter." The letter in question asked the president to engage more diplomatically with Russia when it comes to the war with Ukraine. Thirty members have signed on, which is what reportedly precipitated the letter being released. 

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The letter, suggesting Democrats in disarray, was released just 15 days before the midterms, at which point Democrats are expected to at least lose control of the House. 

A Tuesday morning article from Hanna Trudo at The Hill reveals even more damaging information, citing "sources directly familiar with the negotiations."

Trudo's piece explains that House progressives worked on the letter "over the summer," and waited until they had 30 members to release:

At the time, the midterms were on the back burner, according to both sources, who said the group of lawmakers didn’t have Nov. 8 on their minds at all when they crafted their request.

“They waited to get about 30 and released,” one source texted The Hill on Tuesday morning, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive internal negotiations. “Didn’t consider election timing.”

A House aide said the letter was “circulated for signatures” in June. “We aren’t sure why it was released now.”

That’s the question Democrats are now facing, with many wondering about the potential fallout from the move they consider puzzling, worrisome, and in some cases, downright infuriating right before the midterms.

...

In an unusual backtrack, Jayapal and the CPC sought to clarify their request by issuing a new statement later Monday reaffirming their support for Ukraine and support for Biden’s handling of the war.

But the move immediately opened the door to further questions about the party’s foreign policy strategy just days before the elections.

Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), a member of the CPC, did not sign the letter and criticized it in a tweet Monday, writing “The way to end a war? Win it quickly. How is it won quickly? By giving Ukraine the weapons to defeat Russia.”

Gallego told The Hill Tuesday that he did not think the 30 members signed on “fully knowing the consequences.”

“And also the timing seems weird too,” he added.

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There's a lot to unpack there. No wonder some Democrats express feeling "downright infuriating." If the House aide said they "aren't sure why [the letter] was released now," that suggests problems with staffing knowing what is going on in their offices. 

Further, while the letter is signed by members who are in safe districts, or will next be in next year's Congress, like Reps. Mondaire Jones (D-NY) and Marie Newman (D-IL), the letter could very well put other Democrats at risk by making news at this time. Maybe that the midterms are described as being such a low priority and they "didn't consider election timing" and also signed on without "fully knowing the consequences" is one of many reasons why Democrats are headed for historic defeats. 

One of those members, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), sent out a statement from his official Twitter account expressing how he was "glad to learn of the withdrawal of the letter," despite how he signed onto it. His lengthy statement reiterated his position on Ukraine, while also throwing Republicans under the bus, claiming they, led by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), "led to the conflation of growing Republican opposition to support for Ukraine."

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For how much the members thought a walk-back was necessary, the letter nevertheless still communicates a glowing sense of "appreciation" for the president's handling, as is mentioned in the very first line. Even when the members are asking something of Biden, they still sought to butter him up. For instance, they wrote:

Given the destruction created by this war for Ukraine and the world, as well as the risk of catastrophic escalation, we also believe it is in the interests of Ukraine, the United States, and the world to avoid a prolonged conflict. For this reason, we urge you to pair the military and economic support the United States has provided to Ukraine with a proactive diplomatic push, redoubling efforts to seek a realistic framework for a ceasefire. This is consistent with your recognition that “there’s going to have to be a negotiated settlement here,” and your concern that Vladimir Putin “doesn't have a way out right now, and I'm trying to figure out what we do about that.”

The letter did get more forceful as it went on, towards the of the two-page letter:

We agree with the Administration’s perspective that it is not America’s place to pressure Ukraine’s government regarding sovereign decisions, and with the principle you have enunciated that there should be “nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine.” But as legislators responsible for the expenditure of tens of billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars in military assistance in the conflict, we believe such involvement in this war also creates a responsibility for the United States to seriously explore all possible avenues, including direct engagement with Russia, to reduce harm and support Ukraine in achieving a peaceful settlement.

...

In conclusion, we urge you to make vigorous diplomatic efforts in support of a negotiated settlement and ceasefire, engage in direct talks with Russia, explore prospects for a new European security arrangement acceptable to all parties that will allow for a sovereign and independent Ukraine, and, in coordination with our Ukrainian partners, seek a rapid end to the conflict and reiterate this goal as America’s chief priority.

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Biden's approval rating on the Ukraine issue isn't as terrible as other issues, though he's still underwater, with 45.3 percent approving while 50.7 percent disapprove, according to RealClearPolitics. 

"Jayapal" has been trending over Twitter on Tuesday as a result of the walkback. As our friends at Twitchy highlighted, people were quick to notice how while the chairwoman took responsibility, she also threw staff under the bus.


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