WASHINGTON — Progressive House Democrats on Tuesday retracted their call for President Biden to engage in direct diplomatic talks with Russia to seek a cease-fire in Ukraine, a remarkable retreat that came less than 24 hours after they issued it.
In a letter on Monday, the Congressional Progressive Caucus called on the Biden administration to “seek a realistic framework for a cease-fire,” and to “pursue every diplomatic avenue to support such a solution that is acceptable to the people of Ukraine.”
The missive, which came two weeks before midterm congressional elections, quickly sparked a backlash among other Democrats, who accused the 30 lawmakers who signed it of undermining support for Kyiv at a critical time in its war against Russian aggression.
“This letter is an olive branch to a war criminal who’s losing his war,” Representative Jake Auchincloss, Democrat of Massachusetts and a former Marine, wrote on Twitter. “Ukraine is on the march. Congress should be standing firmly behind @JoeBidens effective strategy, including tighter — not weaker! — sanctions.”
Representative Pramila Jayapal of Washington, the chairwoman of the Progressive Caucus, who led the letter, blamed unnamed aides for releasing it, saying that it had been drafted several months ago, “but unfortunately was released by staff without vetting.”
“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,” she said.
In a recent interview, Mr. McCarthy, who is in line to be speaker should his party win control of the House in next month’s elections, said Republicans would be unwilling to “write a blank check” to Ukraine, suggesting they would raise questions about future funding requests for the war.
“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,” Ms. Jayapal said on Tuesday.
The retraction — a highly unusual move for members of Congress — came after the progressive lawmakers faced an intense wave of criticism from Democratic colleagues who accused them of coddling President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and projecting a fractured American front to the rest of the world.
In the last year, as Congress moved to approve more than $60 billion to Ukraine, there has been little in the way of dissent or criticism from lawmakers in either party. The backlash on Monday night — from streams of biting messages on Twitter to upset calls from donors — suggests that support may hold, but it also pointed to growing uneasiness among some lawmakers about the scope, cost and consequences of American involvement in the war.
Representative Ro Khanna, Democrat of California, who signed the letter, said in an interview on Tuesday that he had voted to arm Ukraine in the face of Mr. Putin’s brutal war and would continue to do so. But he added: “History shows that silencing debate in Congress about matters of war and peace never ends well.”