Opinion: Progressive Democrats fumble the ball on Ukraine

With less than two weeks until the midterm elections, progressive House Democrats on Capitol Hill spent the week undermining their own leaders and President Biden — by calling for negotiations with Vladimir Putin on a ceasefire in Ukraine.

“This was a debacle,” said David Axelrod, once a key campaign and political aide to Barack Obama.

It definitely was a fiasco by Capitol Hill standards, as a group of 30 House Democrats released a letter to Biden, walked it back a few hours later, and withdrew it the next day, accused of giving help to Moscow.

Ironically, the move by progressive Democrats put them in the same area code about Ukraine aid as more conservative Republicans such as U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Rome, who has long denounced the idea of the U.S. funding Ukraine’s defense against a Russian invasion.

“I have not talked to a single person asking to send more billions to Ukraine,” Greene said in September, making the case that the military and humanitarian aid money should be spent here at home.

Only one Georgia Democrat signed this Ukraine letter — U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Lithonia — and Johnson wasn’t exactly advertising his support for it this week.

Many House Democrats who signed hurriedly issued statements walking away from the original letter — which was circulated back in July but never sent.

“I have no idea why it went out now,” said U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wisc.

Maybe the most head-scratching explanation was from U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., who claimed the missive to Biden had been mistakenly sent out by a House staffer. (That is considered one of the lamest excuses a member of Congress can make — throwing staffers under the bus.)

There was no evidence of a rogue staffer, as Jayapal aides had recently been telling other Democratic offices that the letter was about to go out.

“Last call for signers on the Jayapal letter to President Biden urging a diplomatic approach to resolving the war in Ukraine,” a Jayapal staffer wrote on Oct. 19.

On the day the letter was released, another Jayapal staffer was eagerly sending out tweets about the details, in what seemed to be a coordinated publicity effort with outside groups — which netted statements critical of President Biden.

Think about that. Why would you be intentionally generating foreign policy criticism of your own party’s President just two weeks before the midterm elections?

There’s certainly nothing wrong with different viewpoints and other ideas on how to handle a situation.

Jayapal has talked about running for a top Democratic leadership post in the next Congress. This unforced political error wasn’t exactly a good advertisement.

Jamie Dupree has covered national politics and Congress from Washington, D.C. since the Reagan administration. His column appears weekly in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. For more, check out his Capitol Hill newsletter at http://jamiedupree.substack.com