Home>Congress>Payne, Watson Coleman urge Biden to pursue diplomacy in Ukraine (Updated)

Rep. Donald Payne, Jr. at the groundbreaking for the new Portal North Bridge. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for the New Jersey Globe).

Payne, Watson Coleman urge Biden to pursue diplomacy in Ukraine (Updated)

N.J. representatives sign Congressional Progressive Caucus letter

By Joey Fox, October 25 2022 12:34 pm

UPDATE: Shortly after this story was published, the Congressional Progressive Caucus withdrew the letter, saying it had been “released by staff without vetting.”

30 progressive Democratic House members, among them New Jersey Reps. Donald Payne Jr. (D-Newark) and Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Ewing), signed a letter yesterday urging President Joe Biden to pursue a diplomatic solution to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“We … believe it is in the interests of Ukraine, the United States, and the world to avoid a prolonged conflict,” reads the letter, which was spearheaded by Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Washington). “For this reason, we urge you to pair the military and economic support the United States has provided to Ukraine with a proactive diplomatic push, redoubling efforts to seek a realistic framework for a ceasefire.”

The letter calls the Russian invasion “outrageous and illegal” – a viewpoint shared by most Americans – and praises Biden’s support of Ukrainian independence, but calls for negotiations alongside Biden’s existing program.

“If there is a way to end the war while preserving a free and independent Ukraine, it is America’s responsibility to pursue every diplomatic avenue to support such a solution that is acceptable to the people of Ukraine,” it reads.

While even-handed in tone, the proposals put forward by the letter would mark a significant shift in U.S. policy towards Russia; many Democrats and administration officials have expressed skepticism that meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin is the right thing to do, or that any potential negotiated settlement would be acceptable to the Ukrainian people. Upon its release, the letter was met with frustration from fellow Democrats in Congress.

“There is moral and strategic peril in sitting down with Putin too early,” U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut) wrote on Twitter. “It risks legitimizing his crimes and handing over parts of Ukraine to Russia in an agreement that Putin won’t even honor. Sometimes, a bully must be shown the limits of his power before diplomacy can work.”

Jayapal, responding to the criticism, released another statement yesterday clarifying that the position of the letter is not meant to align with congressional Republicans who say that the United States’ financial involvement in Ukraine should be reduced.

“Let me be clear,” she wrote. “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.”

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