Liberal US Democrats withdraw letter to Biden on Ukraine policy

Party's progressive wing walks back earlier statement urging president to push for diplomatic solution

Pramila Jayapal is chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Reuters
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The progressive wing of the Democratic Party has officially retracted a letter it sent to US President Joe Biden on Monday urging him to engage Russia directly in an effort to end the war in Ukraine.

"The letter was drafted several months ago, but unfortunately was released by staff without vetting," wrote Pramila Jayapal, a congresswoman from Washington and chairwoman of the Progressive Caucus.

The caucus sent the letter to Mr Biden asking him “to make vigorous diplomatic efforts in support of a negotiated settlement and ceasefire” in Ukraine.

The appeal was made amid rising concerns over the threat of nuclear warfare as the more than eight-month-old conflict grinds on.

The left-leaning Democrats stated that “it is not America’s place to pressure Ukraine’s government regarding sovereign decisions” and were adamant that, because of the huge financial commitment Washington has made to Kyiv, there was 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”.

Even before the official retraction, Ms Jayapal was forced on Monday evening to walk back some of the statements made in the letter.

“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 and nothing in the letter advocates for a change in that support,” wrote Ms Jayapal.

The swift change of course shows how little room for dissent there is on the Ukraine issue in the US.

There has been bipartisan support for military aid packages throughout the conflict, though House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has hinted that a Republican-led Congress could curtail future funding.

“I think people are going to be sitting in a recession and they’re not going to write a blank cheque to Ukraine,” he told PunchBowl News.

The world’s wealthiest person, Elon Musk, recently came under scrutiny for tweeting about a potential peace between Ukraine and Russia.

“Redo elections of annexed regions under UN supervision,” he tweeted. “Russia leaves if that is will of the people.”

The billionaire also suggested that annexed Crimea remain “formally part of Russia, as it has been since 1783 (until Khrushchev’s mistake)".

The conflict has been a rallying point for most Americans but as it stretches on, some are clearly questioning how long America’s immense financial and military support should continue.

“The one thing that I think is very similar between the Democratic letter and statements from Minority Leader McCarthy are that they're both signs that the political consensus around a very robust support for Ukraine is not cast in iron,” said Scott Anderson, a visiting fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

The Progressive Caucus's swift about-turn suggests the Biden administration is not ready to change course.

But with the midterms looming, and the real possibility of a Republican-led Congress and Senate, it may not be entirely up to them.

Updated: October 26, 2022, 6:02 AM