Jake Johnson Politics Ukraine

Congressional Progressive Caucus Withdraws Letter That Tepidly Called for Diplomacy in Ukraine

The move comes after the mild and carefully worded letter sparked furious backlash from pundits and at least one Democratic leader.
President Joe Biden meets with the Congressional Progressive Caucus in the Roosevelt Room, Wednesday, March 30, 2022, at the White House. (Official White House Photo by Erin Scott)

By Jake Johnson / Common Dreams

The Congressional Progressive Caucus on Tuesday withdrew a letter that mildly expressed support for diplomatic negotiations to end Russia’s war on Ukraine as the document’s 30 signatories faced a torrent of criticism and hysterical backlash from fellow Democrats, party leaders, and pundits on social media.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), the chair of the CPC, said in a statement that the letter addressed to U.S. President Joe Biden “was drafted several months ago, but unfortunately was released by staff without vetting”—a line that was widely seen as Jayapal throwing her staff under the bus.

“As chair of the caucus, I accept responsibility for this,” she added. “Because of the timing, our message is being conflated by some as being equivalent to the recent statement by Republican Leader McCarthy threatening an end to aid to Ukraine if Republicans take over.”

“The proximity of these statements,” the CPC leader said, “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 Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian forces.”

Jayapal said that narrative—peddled by one Democratic leader who Politico granted anonymity to slime their colleagues as Putin apologists—could not be “further from the truth.”

“Every war ends with diplomacy, and this one will too after Ukrainian victory,” Jayapal continued. “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.”

Jayapal’s statement capped off a bizarre series of events that began Monday afternoon, when the CPC released a letter voicing support for a “proactive diplomatic push” in pursuit of a “realistic framework for a ceasefire.” The letter directly quoted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who said in May that the war “will be bloody, there will be fighting, but it will only definitively end through diplomacy.”

Though the letter went out of its way to condemn Russia’s aggression, support the arming of Ukraine, and acknowledge the major obstacles to a diplomatic settlement—including Russia’s unlawful annexation of Ukrainian territory—it was immediately maligned on social media and in the press as a dangerous call for “appeasement.”

One unnamed member of the Democratic leadership told Politico that “Vladimir Putin would have signed that letter if asked.”

“That bone-headed letter just put Dems in the same league as Kevin McCarthy, who said in the same week that Ukraine funding could be in jeopardy,” the anonymous top Democrat said.

As the outrage mounted in the hours following the letter’s release, signatories began distancing themselves from its message and insisting on their support for aiding Ukraine militarily—even though the letter doesn’t suggest cutting off military assistance. Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) noted in response to one critic of the letter that he has “voted for every defense package to Ukraine.”

“Calling for exploring every diplomatic avenue to avoid nuclear war and seek a ceasefire while upholding Ukraine sovereignty is what many constituents seek,” Khanna wrote on Twitter. “Our nation should never silence or shout down debate. The admin does not.”

Khanna was just one of several prominent progressives who signed the letter, including Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Cori Bush (D-Mo.), and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.)

Late Monday, in the face of growing backlash, Jayapal issued a statement purportedly aimed at “clarifying the position” of the letter, which was endorsed by a number of peace groups including Just Foreign Policy, Win Without War, and the Friends Committee on National Legislation.

“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,” Jayapal said. “Diplomacy is an important tool that can save lives—but it is just one tool.”

Erik Sperling, the executive director of Just Foreign Policy, told The Intercept Monday night that “the shrill response to this utterly moderate letter exposes that war proponents are scared of an open debate about the range of potential approaches to address this escalating conflict.”

“As happened with the war in Iraq and many others throughout human history, war proponents attempt to silence debate in large part because they aren’t confident in their arguments and are afraid that pro-diplomacy views will appeal to average Americans,” said Sperling. “With polls already showing growing opposition to U.S. military involvement in Ukraine, increasing concern from progressives will only make it harder for war proponents to cast conventional pro-diplomacy views as ‘far-right’ or ‘pro-Putin.'”

In a Monday tweet touting the since-withdrawn letter, CPC policy director Keane Bhatt pointed to Data for Progress polling from September showing that “a majority (57%) of Americans support U.S. negotiations to end the war in Ukraine as soon as possible, even if it means Ukraine making some compromises with Russia.”

“A majority of voters (57%) believe that Russia’s war in Ukraine will end in a negotiated peace, not a total military victory for either side,” Jessica Rosenblum, director of communications at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, wrote in a summary of the survey’s findings. “Moreover, voters largely agree that the U.S. has a leading role to play in negotiating an end to the war (59%).”


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Jake Johnson
Jake Johnson

Jake Johnson is a staff writer for Common Dreams.

14 comments

  1. Jayapal- ““Every war ends with diplomacy, and this one will too after Ukrainian victory,”
    This from a card carrying member of the “Progressive Caucus”?
    Hmm, seems to me that after one side “wins” there is no need for “diplomacy” except re terms of surrender ..
    So the “progressive caucus” is on board with its war-hawk Admin.

    Guess this goes to show what happens when folks try to “reform” the Party “from within” – by electing more “progressives” – but it’s still vote Blue no Matter Who – if the “opposition Party” suggests pulling back on the war – we are against it, for war, no matter the cost
    ” …Khanna (D-Calif.) noted in response to one critic of the letter that he has “voted for every defense package to Ukraine.” Does it ever occur to these idiots that anti-war folks in this country might think this a good reason to vote R? In ’16 there was a choice between war hawk Clinton and Russian “appeaser” Trump and, from participating on-line in that period, it was clear that folks for whom war was THE issue, said they were voting Trump.

    It appears that D’s are just as guilty of “following their leader” as Rs are following theirs – all the Rs have to do is say they are “for” or “against” something and Ds, in knee jerk, lemming fashion will take the opposite stance, the “reformers” in the Party tuck their tales between their legs and salute. I guess this is what it means to be the “opposition party” Interesting, isn’t it, how the Ds can be jerked around by the “other” party ….

    And still, to my everlasting consternation, people refuse to vote for an Ind non-corp party – that wouldn’t pull this BS …

    Ds talk about “voter suppression” while they engage in candidate suppression – so “we want everyone to be able to vote, but only for D/Rs – no one else allowed, on ballots or in debates” and the “progressive press” is mum about this – in effect colluding with the duopoly – so not only do we not have a “progressive caucus” in the DP, we don’t even seem to have one in the press ..

    And why a 3rd party? Because the 2 we have have consistently flushed us, and the rest of the world, btw, down the toilet for several decades now, and the sewer is smelling worse and worse …

    1. Yes, they all are Chicken shits and more, they’re cowards to their very core, and certainly so, nothing more! Vote Blue No Matter Who! The Democratic party no longer exists, it’s just a shell and what it could have been. Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), the worse coward of the lot of them, noted in response to one critic of the letter that he has “voted for every defense package to Ukraine.” Good job Representative Khanna: What a waste!

  2. Very disappointing. By backing down, these “progressives” are only acceding to the hypocritical US stance which condemns Russia for exactly the same inhumane behavior we support and offer cover to when it takes place in Palestine, Yemen, and half a dozen tormented nations around the world (and here we go with Haiti).
    These “progressives” have no more respect for the concept of a “rules driven international community” than warmongers Biden and Blinken.

  3. As per usual, the left-ish, Neo Progressive latest call for ‘peace’ talks between the US and Russia is another attempt to engineer a reverse, Orwellian reality where the victims and their supporters are to blame for a war they did not start, do not want and in which they only react to ever increasing unprovoked, imperialistic aggression.

    Did Putin declare he is willing to withdraw from all occupied Ukrainian provinces, pay reparations for all the destruction he caused, and refrain from interfering in Ukrainian democratic processes, including and specifically Ukraine’s military and economic ties with the west in the future?

    Putin trampled the diplomatic avenue when he conquered Crimea and escalated Ukrainian ethnic tensions in Eastern Ukraine into a full-scale war in 2014. He doubled down on the contempt he has for diplomacy that does not guaranty the fulfillment of his imperial ambitions when he tried to conquer the entire country in 2022, flaunted international law when he unilaterally declared conquered territories Russian, decimated Ukrainian civilian infrastructure, and threatened the use of nuclear bombs throughout the conflict and ‘dirty’ bombs recently.

    Any negotiations for peace between Ukraine and Russia that are provisioned to be modelled by the Minsk accords would be rewarding of Putin’s imperial criminality, and hence would not only reward his counter-diplomacy military and imperialist adventurism, but would guaranty similar criminality, in the future, by Russia, China, and any other country with similar imperialistic delusional designs on its neighbours.

    1. “Any negotiations for peace between Ukraine and Russia that are provisioned to be modelled by the Minsk accords would be”

      …. a waste of time, since the EU+US+Ukrainians failed to live up to either Minsk 1 or Minsk 2. Why on earth would anyone be foolish enough to believe that Minsk 3 would somehow be the first agreement of the century that Uncle Sam would actually honor and keep?

      1. @ Jeremy

        The two Minsk’s accords failed due to violations from BOTH sides.

        More important, they were based on the Russian continued control on territories they conquered, while peace requires minimally the complete Russian withdrawal from all conquered territory, reparations for the damage caused in Ukraine, and a Russian obligation to avoid interfering in Ukrainian democracy, including its economic and military aspirations.

        Any peace that does not result in fully independent and sovereign Ukraine and does not restore its territorial integrity (guarantied by Russia itself in the denuclearization Budapest Memorandum agreement) is not peace at all but a surrender to Russian unprecedented, unjustified and unjustifiable military aggression and nuclear weapons’ normalization.

    2. dga —only for you nazis matter—your immorality and imperialism has successfully been demolished by Russia—no negotiation with lying immoral americans—Russia will denazify ukraine–american fascists can do nothing –now isolated from the civilized world

  4. Any decent humans left in the Democratic Party need to leave now! Actually, they needed to leave 20 years ago, but with today’s Democrats having no real anti-war nor peace faction remaining, it is quite obvious that the Democrats are now the party of the traditional sources of right-wing power …. Bankers, Generals, Police+Spies.

    Any of the fake left in the party is just window dressing. Just for show. They love holding press conferences, but do nothing. And of course, on minor issues like Global Nuclear War, they can’t even stand by a letter and a press conference. The fake left is just for show, to get fools to stay in the pro-war, pro-death party of the Bankers.

  5. “Blessed are the Peacemakers”
    — some unimportant, anonymous guy we de-platformed and sent to Gitmo 20 years ago. We don’t allow HIS kind in these parts.

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