Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, D-Ill., on Tuesday repudiated a letter he signed in June, along with 29 other House progressives — but not released until Monday — urging President Joe Biden to “engage in direct talks with Russia” to end the war in Ukraine.
The letter as written sparked a major uproar, exposing rifts within the Democratic family, days before the Nov. 8 midterm elections where Democrats may lose control of the House.
The backlash was so strong and swift that less than a day after the letter was made public, Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, retracted it on Tuesday.
“The Congressional Progressive Caucus hereby withdraws its recent letter to the White House regarding Ukraine,” she said in a statement.
“The letter was drafted several months ago, but unfortunately was released by staff without vetting. As Chair of the Caucus, I accept responsibility for this,” she said.
Back in June, Garcia did not take a lead in writing the letter or getting his colleagues to sign it.
Rep. Marie Newman, D-lll., also signed the letter. She lost her bid for another term when she was beaten by Rep. Sean Casten, D-Ill., in the June 28 Democratic primary. Garcia and Newman are vice chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
As Garcia mulls running for Chicago mayor in 2023, the blowup over the letter — where Garcia’s role was that of a bit player — shows how his congressional life may get much more attention if he moves forward with a bid for City Hall. His allies, with his knowledge, started circulating mayoral nominating petitions for him on Saturday.
Garc?a said in a statement, “I joined this letter four months ago. The letter had been written to reflect the situation at that time. Some of that information is now outdated and the letter should not have been sent.
“However, I want to be clear:the letter’s underlying message remains pertinent. I strongly support Ukraine in its defense against Russia’s illegal invasion. And I strongly believe that diplomacy should continue to be a powerful tool in our foreign policy arsenal.”
Garcia was never told the letter was going to be released on Monday. He has voted for every measure supporting Ukraine and, as a member of the Financial Services Committee, introduced measures dealing with giving Ukraine debt relief.
The letter, addressed to Biden said 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.”
Democratic critics of the letter said asking Biden to intervene undermined Ukraine and put pressure on Biden. The letter could also be seen as helpful to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who is threatening to cut aid to Ukraine if the GOP takes over the House and he becomes speaker.
Jayapal also said in her statement, “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 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.
“Nothing could be further from the truth. Every war ends with diplomacy, and this one will too after Ukrainian victory. 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.”
Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., with his co-chairs of the Congressional Ukraine Caucus, Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., issued a statement that took aim at the letter from the 30 progressives, making it clear that Ukraine negotiates for Ukraine — not the U.S.
“We have been unwavering in our support for Ukraine in the face of Vladimir Putin’s illegal invasion. Ukraine is an independent nation with the right to both territorial integrity and self-determination. Neither the United States nor any other nation can dictate when or how Ukraine ends their war against Russian invaders.”
There are about 100 members in the Congressional Progressive Caucus. The two other Illinois members, Democratic Reps. Jan Schakowsky and Danny Davis — whose district includes Chicago’s Ukrainian Village community — did not sign the letter.