They also worried that the letter could create more pressure on Biden as he tries to sustain domestic support for the war effort, at a time when the region is heading into a potentially difficult winter and Republicans are threatening to cut aid to Ukraine if they retake Congress.
On Tuesday, Jayapal said the letter had been drafted several months ago and “released by staff without vetting.” She also sought to distance Democrats from recent comments by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who suggested that a GOP-led House would not support additional aid 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 Zelensky and the Ukrainian forces.”
Earlier, several of the letter’s signatories also walked back their support for the letter, saying it was written months ago. Late Monday, Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) seemed to commiserate with someone critical of the letter on Twitter.
“Hear you. First, this was written in July & I have no idea why it went out now. Bad timing,” Pocan tweeted.
“Timing in diplomacy is everything,” Rep. Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.), one of the letter’s other signatories, tweeted Tuesday morning. “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.”
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. https://t.co/jEJlTK1hJI
— Congresswoman Sara Jacobs (@RepSaraJacobs) October 25, 2022
In the original letter to the White House, dated Oct. 24 and first reported by The Washington Post, the lawmakers called on Biden to pursue a “proactive diplomatic push, redoubling efforts to seek a realistic framework for a cease fire.”
The liberal Democrats noted that the war’s disastrous consequences are increasingly felt far beyond Ukraine, including elevated food and gas prices in the United States and spikes in the price of wheat, fertilizer and fuel that have created global food shortages, not to mention the danger of a nuclear attack by Moscow.
The letter was signed by some of the best-known and most outspoken liberal Democrats in Congress, including Reps. Jamie Raskin (Md.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), Cori Bush (Mo.), Ro Khanna (Calif.) and Ilhan Omar (Minn.).
For now, their position remains a minority in the Democratic Party, which has overwhelmingly supported Biden’s denunciations of Russia and his spearheading of a global coalition to funnel massive support to Ukraine. Biden has framed the conflict as part of his broader view that the world is witnessing a historic confrontation between authoritarianism and democracy.
White House spokesman John Kirby said Monday that the administration appreciated the lawmakers’ “very thoughtful concerns” but signaled no shift in the administration strategy on Ukraine.
“We’re not going to have conversations with the Russian leadership without the Ukrainians being represented,” Kirby said during a briefing with reporters Monday. “Mr. Zelensky gets to determine — because it’s his country — what success looks like and when to negotiate.”
Privately, some administration officials questioned the timing of the letter, which came two weeks before midterm elections and one week after McCarthy said the GOP could oppose more aid to Ukraine.
Jayapal issued a statement Monday evening “clarifying” the position the progressives outlined in the letter, stressing that they still supported Ukraine and Biden’s commitment to ensure Ukraine is represented in any discussions about its future.
“Let me be clear: we are united as Democrats in our unequivocal commitment to supporting Ukraine in their fight for their democracy and freedom in the face of the illegal and outrageous Russian invasion,” Jayapal said. “Diplomacy is an important tool that can save lives — but it is just one tool.”
Democrats were not made aware that the letter would be issued Monday, including those who had signed the letter over the summer, according to three congressional aides who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters. One person close to the progressive caucus, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations, said it was strange to publicly release a letter with only 30 signatures out of the 220 Democrats in the House.
Many blamed Jayapal for the misstep, with several aides saying they believed this could tarnish her chances of winning a spot in Democratic leadership. Jayapal has made preliminary calls to her colleagues to express interest in running for a leadership position, leaving the impression among some members that she would challenge Rep. Katherine M. Clark (D-Mass.), who is also a member of the progressive caucus, for a presumed No. 2 spot in the party.
Marianna Sotomayor contributed to this report.