Maine Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) joined her fellow members of the Congressional Progressive Congress in signing a now-retracted letter to President Joe Biden that one of her fellow Democratic Members of Congress described as an “olive branch to a war criminal.”
The letter Pingree signed urges President Biden to enter direct negotiations with Russian strongman Vladimir Putin as he continues to persecute a war in Ukraine.
“[W]e urge you to make vigorous diplomatic efforts in support of a negotiated settlement and ceasefire,” the letter said.
The Progressive Caucus retracted the letter within hours, but the proverbial cat was already out of the bag.
After the letter was released, Pingree flip-flopped, backing away from a diplomatic settlement in favor of an outright Ukrainian military victory over Russia.
Fellow signers of the letter include Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-MN5), Alexandria O’Casio Cortez (D-NY14), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA7), and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI13) — the so-called “squad.”
With midterm elections just weeks away, the letter set off a firestorm of infighting and back-biting in Democratic ranks. Several staffers and anonymous sources complained to Politico about the Progressive Caucus, calling the move amateurish and a sign that the organization needed personnel changes.
U.S. Rep. Jake Auchincloss (D-Mass.) publicly called the letter an “olive branch to a war criminal.”
Rep. Jared Golden (ME-CD2) did not address the controversy publicly, and Pingree’s communications team in D.C. did not respond to questions emailed by The Maine Wire.
Pingree did not speak with any Maine outlets about the flap, but did issue a statement to the Associated Press. In that statement, Pingree took a 180, backing away from diplomatic negotiations and instead saying she would back the U.S. supporting Ukraine until Russia was militarily defeated.
The Bangor paper did not cover the letter flap, but did endorse Pingree today.
“I am sorry if this letter was misinterpreted as anything other than my full support for Ukraine and its brave citizens,” Pingree said. “It was the right call for the Progressive Caucus to retract this letter. In the past and in the future, I will support the aid Ukraine needs to defeat Russia.”
Pingree did not say whether there were any limits to the amount of U.S. taxpayer money she was willing to commit to Ukraine’s war. The U.S. has already forked over more than $20.3 billion to Ukraine since the Feb. 24 invasion began, according to the Congressional Research Service.
The letter, reportedly drafted in June and released today without being recirculated amongst its 30 signatories, created a firestorm, with Democratic leaders saying they were blindsided by the letter. The letter’s release gave the appearance that House Democrats broadly, rather than the small group of left-wing progressives, had thrown their weight behind the message.
In a statement to Politico, Progressive Caucus chief Rep. Pramila Jayalpal (D-WA07). retracted the letter and threw an unnamed staffer under the bus.
“The Congressional Progressive Caucus hereby withdraws its recent letter to the White House regarding Ukraine,” said Jayalpal. “The letter was drafted several months ago, but unfortunately was released by staff without vetting.”