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House Democratic progressives release, walk back letter to Biden on Ukraine war policy

Thirty members of the House Progressive Caucus released a letter to President Biden on Monday that begins by supporting and praising his Ukraine war policy and ends by urging Biden 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 generally make giving peace a chance "America's chief priority."

The two-page statement points to the death and destruction Russia's war in Ukraine is causing in Ukraine and the harmful effects it is having outside the war zone, acknowledges that engaging with Russia is difficult, and reiterates that any resolution needs to be "acceptable to the people of Ukraine." A lot of people were confused.

The letter "is remarkable in that it mostly calls for what the U.S. is already doing — arming Ukraine, wanting a diplomatic solution, recognizing Russia isn't currently open to one — but presents this as if it would be a big change," writes University of Illinois political scientist Nicholas Grossman. The CPC's concerns "seem to be more about vibes than the actual policy, which makes the pre-election timing particularly curious," agrees political journalist Ben Jacobs. Talking Point Memo's Josh Marshall calls the letter's arguments "completely incoherent" and "contradictory on the key points." 

One of the signatories, Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), essentially disavowed the letter, and another, Rep. Marc Pocan (D-Wisc.), said the draft he signed was in July. CPC member Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), who did not sign the letter, tweeted: "The way to end a war? Win it quickly. How is it won quickly? By giving Ukraine the weapons to defeat Russia."

CPC chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) released a statement Monday evening "clarifying" the letter's intent.

The White House said Biden will continue providing Ukraine aid for as long as it takes. "We're not going to have conversations with the Russian leadership without the Ukrainians being represented," White House spokesman John Kirby said. "We'd all like to see this war end today, and quite frankly it could end today if [Russian President Vladimir] Putin did the right thing and pulled his troops out."

A handful of Republicans have voted against military aid for Ukraine, but Democrats have supported Biden's requests to send aid and weapons. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) suggested last week that if the GOP wins control of the House, Ukraine aid will be cut or approved only in exchange for policies House Republicans prioritize.