Fury after Democrats publish and withdraw letter urging Biden to negotiate with Russia – as it happened

Last modified: 08: 06 PM GMT+0

Letter was drafted months ago and ‘released by staff without vetting’, says Pramila Jayapal

Closing summary

It was not a great day for progressive Democrats in the House of Representatives. They were put on the defensive yesterday after sending a letter signed by 30 of their caucus to the Biden administration, asking it to pursue negotiations with Russia to end the war in Ukraine – which caused an immediate blowback from other Democrats who warned it called Washington’s commitment to Kyiv into question. The caucus chair Pramila Jayapal withdrew the letter today with a statement that blamed her own employees for its release – not exactly a good look for a lawmaker whose treatment of staff has raised eyebrows in the past.

Here’s what else happened today:

  • The White House condemned a Russian court’s decision to uphold the nine-year jail sentence of WNBA star Brittney Griner for possessing cannabis vape cartridges. President Joe Biden said his administration is trying to reach an agreement with Russia to win the release of Griner and other jailed Americans, but hasn’t had success yet.

  • Republicans are experiencing a jump in voter enthusiasm ahead of the 8 November midterms, though Democrats have a slight edge in terms of which party Americans prefer to control Congress, a poll showed.

  • A prominent Democratic senator urged the Federal Reserve not to raise interest rates so high they cause job losses. The central bank is next week expected to hike rates again to lower inflation.

  • Former defense secretary Ash Carter died yesterday at the age of 68.

Insider has heard from a former staffer for Congressional Progressive Caucus chair Pramila Jayapal, who said the congresswoman keeps a close eye on her office’s interactions with the media and would not have allowed the Ukraine policy letter to be sent without her approval.

“I would be shocked if they hit send on that release without her knowing,” the unnamed staffer said, according to Insider’s report. “Everyone who has worked with her office knows that she keeps a tight grip on media relations. She has held up press releases over small edits and delayed letting staff hit send while she reworks language - though delaying a release by three months would be a new record.”

Jayapal’s interactions with her employees became an issue after she said a mistake by her staff was a reason why the letter was sent out two weeks before the 8 November midterms, even though it had been first circulated among Democrats over the summer. “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,” Jayapal said earlier today.

It’s not the first time the Washington congresswoman has been scrutinized over her treatment of employees. Last year, Buzzfeed News published a lengthy story in which several former staffers said Jayapal berates and mistreats her staff even as she pushes for policies that are intended to help America’s workforce.

“I have never worked in a place that has made me so miserable and so not excited for public service as Pramila Jayapal’s office,” a former staffer told Buzzfeed.

Jayapal’s chief of staff responded to the article by saying its anecdotes were “cherry picked” and contained “ugly stereotypes”.

A signatory to the now-withdrawn letter on Ukraine strategy from progressive Democrats has spoken up in defense of congressional staff amid criticism that the caucus’s leader unnecessarily blamed them for the fiasco.

Congressman Ro Khanna was among the 30 Democrats to sign the letter asking the Biden administration to pursue talks with Russia to end the war while continuing to support Kyiv militarily and economically. His comments come after Pramila Jayapal, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said the letter “was released by staff without vetting” – which was widely seen as an attempt to deflect blame onto employees that answer to her.

Here’s what Khanna had to say about that:

Let me just say something about Mike Darner & CPC staff. They are extraordinary. They have helped shape the biggest goals for progressives and have been very effective in our wins. They are committed also to human rights and diplomacy. Progressives owe them a debt of gratitude.

— Ro Khanna (@RoKhanna) October 25, 2022

Darner is the progressive caucus’ executive director.

Add Donald Trump’s former chief of staff to the list of those trying to get out of testifying before a special grand jury investigating the attempts to meddle with the 2020 election in Georgia.

Politico reports that Mark Meadows has asked a South Carolina court to block a subpoena for his appearance in November from Fanni Willis, the Atlanta-area district attorney who empaneled the grand jury looking into the election interference from Trump’s allies. Meadows has been tied to efforts by the former president to find ways to block Joe Biden’s ascension to office, including by traveling to Georgia to monitor an audit of the state’s ballot count. He also joined in when Trump pressed Georgia’s secretary of state to “find” him the votes to reverse Biden’s victory in the state.

Yesterday, conservative supreme court justice Clarence Thomas put a temporary hold on a subpoena from Willis to Republican senator Lindsey Graham, though the step is a typical one taken when the high court weighs a case.

President Joe Biden said the United States is continuing to negotiate with Russia to release women’s basketball star Brittney Griner and other detained Americans, but hasn’t made significant progress.

“We are in constant contact with Russian authorities to get Brittney and others out, and so far we’ve not been meeting with much positive response, but we’re not stopping,” Biden said this afternoon.

He also reiterated warnings of heavy consequences for Moscow if it deployed nuclear weapons to turn around its fortunes in Ukraine. “Russia would be making an incredibly serious mistake for it to use a tactical nuclear weapon,” he said.

Biden was speaking after receiving an updated Covid-19 booster shot, which you can watch below:

President Biden receives his updated COVID-19 booster shot. pic.twitter.com/0BjAwkNTnE

— CSPAN (@cspan) October 25, 2022

Next week, the Federal Reserve’s policy setting committee will convene and likely raise interest rates again to cut into America’s high rate of inflation. But an influential Democratic senator has a message for the independent central bank: be careful.

Sherrod Brown is the chair of the Senate banking committee, and has written a letter to Fed chair Jerome Powell asking him not to raise interest rates so high that struggling businesses are made to lay off employees:

For working Americans who already feel the crush of inflation, job losses will only make it worse.

That’s why @SenSherrodBrown is reminding Chair Powell that the @federalreserve must promote stable prices AND max employment. pic.twitter.com/M1zaEgVEET

— Senate Banking and Housing Democrats (@SenateBanking) October 25, 2022

“Monetary policy tools take time to reduce inflation by constraining demand until supply catches up – time that working-class families don’t have,” Brown wrote.

“We must avoid having our short-term advances and strong labor market overwhelmed by the consequences of aggressive monetary actions to decrease inflation, especially when the Fed’s actions do not address its main drivers.”

The 12-member Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) on which Powell sits makes decisions on rate increases, often unanimously. Brown doesn’t go so far as to ask Powell not to raise rates, but does remind him that the central bank’s mandate is both fighting inflation and ensuring job opportunities.

“We can’t risk the livelihoods of millions of Americans who can’t afford it. I ask that you don’t forget your responsibility to promote maximum employment and that the decisions you make at the next FOMC meeting reflect your commitment to the dual mandate,” Brown wrote.

President Joe Biden has released a statement of condolence following the death of former defense secretary Ash Carter.

Carter died suddenly yesterday at the age of 68. He served as defense secretary during the time that Biden was vice-president under Barack Obama.

Here’s what Biden had to say:


When I think of Ash Carter, I think of a man of extraordinary integrity. Honest. Principled. Guided by a strong, steady moral compass and a vision of using his life for public purpose.

Ash Carter was born a patriot. A physicist and national security leader across decades, he served with immense distinction at every level of civilian leadership at the Department of Defense, including as our nation’s 25th Secretary of Defense.

I was Vice President at the time, and President Obama and I relied on Ash’s fierce intellect and wise counsel to ensure our military’s readiness, technological edge, and obligation to the women and men of the greatest fighting force in the history of the world.

You can read the full statement here.

With two weeks to go until the midterms, President Joe Biden has made a closing argument for continued Democratic control of Congress, by publishing an opinion column on CNN’s website.

“Over the past nearly two years, we have made enormous progress. My administration, working with Democrats in Congress, is building an economy that grows from the bottom up and middle out,” opens the piece, which touches on themes the president often raises in speeches.

“But all of our progress is at risk. The American people face a choice between two vastly different visions for our country,” Biden continues, arguing that Republicans will undo attempts to lower prescription drug costs and cut the Social Security and Medicare programs many older Americans rely on.

“Republicans in Congress are doubling down on mega, MAGA trickle-down economics that benefit the wealthy and big corporations. They’ve laid their plan out very clearly,” he said.

You can read the full piece here.

In an interview with Fox News on Sunday, the Republican Texas senator Ted Cruz claimed his new book laid out “evidence of election fraud and voter fraud in November 2020, which the Democrats and the corporate media insists doesn’t exist”.

Today, Philip Bump of the Washington Post retorts: “This particular ‘corporate media’ outlet can now report that, in fact, rampant fraud continues not to exist – as demonstrated, here at least, by Cruz’s failure to present any of his promised evidence of election or voter fraud.”

Bump’s column is a must-read. Here’s another taste:

Cruz quotes from the speech he gave shortly before the Capitol riot:

“Voter fraud has posed a persistent challenge in our elections, although its breadth and scope are disputed. By any measure, the allegations of fraud and irregularities in the 2020 election exceed any in our lifetimes.”

Let’s shift the focus to make the gambit here clear: “UFOs remain a threat to our nation’s cows. By any measure, the claims of people seeing UFOS exceed any in our lifetimes.” See how that works?

And here’s our story on another aspect of the senator’s book – his description of how when rioters inspired by Republican talk of non-existent mass voter fraud broke into the Capitol, some looking for lawmakers to capture and possibly kill, he hid in a closet.

'People are furious': Jayapal at center of storm

There is much anguish – and anger – among House Democrats over the publication and then withdrawal of a controversial letter to Joe Biden in which leading progressives urged the US to commit to a negotiated end to the Russian war in Ukraine.

Manu Raju of CNN reports “major Democratic backlash over Jayapal’s decision to release a letter this week – that members signed in June – just two weeks before midterms. Some say they wouldn’t sign it now and were blindsided. ‘People are furious,’ one Democrat says.”

Jake Sherman, a reporter, author and co-founder of Punchbowl News – a Washington website specialising in covering Capitol Hill – is discussing the role and position of Pramila Jayapal, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

Sherman writes: “Important to keep in mind when thinking about this episode: CPC chair Jayapal wants to be in [party] leadership and has been making moves to set up a run. As we noted this [morning], being in leadership is asking your colleagues to trust your decision-making abilities.

In addition, Jayapal uses the statement to throw her staff under the bus.”

In her statement just now, Jayapal said: “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.”

Here are two tweets from different sides of the issue – the side which thinks the statement was a terrible mistake and the side which thinks admitting that mistake is at least a sort of a plus.

Bill Browder, anti-Putin campaigner: “Makes my blood boil. 30 Democrats led by Rep. Pramila Jayapal call on Biden to pair [back] the military support for Ukraine. She wants the US to reward Putin’s murderous aggression. We all know where appeasement goes and it’s nowhere good.”

Melissa Byrne, progressive activist and Bernie Sanders alum: “Friends can make mistakes and then friends can work to make it better. This is the sign of a functioning system. Good on Pramila Jayapal.”


Progressives withdraw letter to Biden on Ukraine

The group of progressive House Democrats, among them high-profile members of Congress including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Jamie Raskin, who yesterday wrote to Joe Biden urging him to commit to a negotiated settlement to the war in Ukraine have withdrawn their letter.

Pramila Jayapal of Washington, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, issued the following statement:

The Congressional Progressive Caucus hereby withdraws its recent letter to the White House regarding Ukraine.

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.

Because of the timing, our message is being conflated by some as being equivalent to the recent statement by Republican [minority] leader [Kevin] 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 [Volodymyr] Zelenskiy 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.”

Here’s the letter in question in full:

And here’s Ed Pilkington’s report on the whole affair:

The day so far

From Capitol Hill to the justice department, people close to former president Donald Trump are talking to investigators looking into the January 6 insurrection and the government secrets found at Mar-a-Lago, according to media reports today. Meanwhile, progressive Democrats are walking back a letter released yesterday in which they asked the Biden administration to pursue dialogue with Russia to end the war in Ukraine.

Here’s what else has happened today so far:

  • The White House condemned a Russian court’s decision to uphold the nine-year jail sentence of WNBA star Brittney Griner for possessing cannabis vape cartridges.

  • Republicans are experiencing a jump in voter enthusiasm ahead of the 8 November midterms, though Democrats have a slight edge in terms of which party Americans prefer to control Congress, a poll showed.

  • Former defense secretary Ash Carter died yesterday at the age of 68.

Joe Biden has made news in Britain, though not for a particularly good reason.

Yesterday, Britain’s ruling Conservative party elected former chancellor of the exchequer Rishi Sunak as their leader, allowing him to become prime minister today. Biden shared the news in a speech at the White House on Monday – though he might want to check with someone on how to pronounce Sunak’s name.

Here’s the clip:

For more on Britain’s new government, check out The Guardian’s live blog:

Another force attempting to shape the 8 November midterms is Mike Lindell, a deep-pocketed promoter of baseless conspiracy theories around the 2020 election. The Guardian’s Joan E Greve traveled to Ohio for a closer look at a man who may be doing grievous damage to American democracy:

Members of the crowd cheer when a man, wearing a blue suit and a long red striped tie, walks by their section in the Covelli Centre . Some of the rally attendees stand as the man smiles and waves at them, applauding him before he climbs the steps to the press risers.

Surprisingly, the man at the center of this praise is not Donald Trump, even though the former US president is the host of the rally in the hardscrabble rust belt city of Youngstown, Ohio.

Instead, the object of the crowd’s adoration is Mike Lindell, the chief executive of MyPillow and one of the most devoted promoters of the lie that Democrats stole the 2020 election through widespread fraud.

Lindell has become a target of scorn and mockery among Democrats, anti-Trump Republicans and even late-night hosts, but he has found a home at the rallies where the former president’s die-hard fans gather to lament that Joe Biden illegally resides in the White House. While Lindell still makes a living off selling foam pillows (not to mention sheet sets, slippers and pet beds), he has now dedicated tens of millions of dollars to exposing the supposedly massive electoral fraud that he cannot prove.

There’s still time to sway public opinion in the midterm elections – for better or worse. The Guardian’s Kari Paul reports on fears that TikTok has become a major source of lies and fabrications in the days left before polls close:

In the final sprint to the US midterm elections the social media giant TikTok risks being a major vector for election misinformation, experts warn, with the platform’s huge user base and its design making it particularly susceptible to such threats.

Preliminary research published last week from digital watchdog Global Witness and the Cybersecurity for Democracy team at New York University suggests the video platform is failing to filter large volumes of election misinformation in the weeks leading up to the vote.

TikTok approved 90% of advertisements featuring election misinformation submitted by researchers, including ads containing the wrong election date, false claims about voting requirements, and rhetoric dissuading people from voting.

House progressives walk back Ukraine letter

Progressive Democrats in the House of Representatives who signed onto a letter urging president Joe Biden to negotiate directly with Russia to end the war in Ukraine appear to be reversing themselves less than a day after it was released.

The letter, which also asks the Biden administration to continue supporting Kyiv economically and militarily, was sent a week after Kevin McCarthy, the top Republican in the House, said some members of his party might resist further support to Ukraine if they win a majority in the chamber following the 8 November elections.

Some Democrats say the letter signed by 30 progressive lawmakers gives the appearance that Washington is wavering in its fight against Russia. Here’s how congressman Jake Auchincloss put it:

This letter is an olive branch to a war criminal who’s losing his war.

Ukraine is on the march. Congress should be standing firmly behind @JoeBidens effective strategy, including tighter - not weaker! - sanctions. https://t.co/3ymk7gwGM5

— Jake Auchincloss (@JakeAuch) October 25, 2022

Today, Democratic congresswoman Sara Jacobs said she signed the letter over the summer, but wouldn’t do so now:

Timing in diplomacy is everything.

I signed this letter on June 30, but a lot has changed since then. I wouldn't sign it today.

We have to continue supporting Ukraine economically and militarily to give them the leverage they need to end this war. https://t.co/jEJlTK1hJI

— Congresswoman Sara Jacobs (@RepSaraJacobs) October 25, 2022

Mark Pocan said he was unaware of the reason for the delay in sending the letter, and said he signed it as a response to people who were “banging war drums.”

Hear you. First, this was written in July & I have no idea why it went out now. Bad timing. Second, it was trying to get to a cease-fire & diplomacy as others were banging war drums, not criticizing Biden. Third, I’ve supported the efforts & will continue. Over analyzed by some.

— Mark Pocan (@MarkPocan) October 25, 2022

Signatory Mark Takano didn’t comment on the letter, but put out a statement reaffirming his support for aid to Ukraine:

My statement regarding my continued support for President Biden’s policies towards Ukraine: pic.twitter.com/P5kHbjVJ1X

— Mark Takano (@RepMarkTakano) October 25, 2022

The January 6 committee is continuing its work behind the scenes, and The New York Times has details on the latest interview lawmakers scheduled with a former official in the Trump administration.

Hope Hicks, who was one of Trump’s longest serving aides during his time in office, will speak to the bipartisan panel, the Times reports:

New: Hope Hicks, a former top Trump White House aide, is scheduled to sit for a transcribed interview with the House Jan. 6 committee today, per person familiar

— Luke Broadwater☀️ (@lukebroadwater) October 25, 2022

The January 6 committee held what is expected to be its last public hearing earlier this month, where it voted to subpoena testimony from Trump. The ex-president has not yet said if he will comply with the subpoena. The committee is also expected to release a report on the Capitol insurrection before the end of the year.

Democrats have a tenuous lead in voters’ preference for control of Congress in the 8 November midterms, while Republicans are seeing a jump in enthusiasm, polling firm Morning Consult reports.

The 48% preference for Democrats on the generic ballot against 45% for the GOP may seem like good news for Joe Biden’s party, but it’s down from a five-point spread earlier this month, and seems to confirm that Democrats may have hit a peak a month out from the election.

Meanwhile, Republican voter enthusiasm has jumped 13 points over the past month, again giving them an edge over Democrats:

Latest @MorningConsult midterm tracker update shows Ds maintaining a 3-point generic ballot lead among LVs, but it was down to 2 points most of last week.

Rs have also regained enthusiasm edge: https://t.co/FY1514yVBV

— Cameron Easley (@cameron_easley) October 25, 2022

The firm also found the share of voters naming the economy as their top concern has risen even higher over the past month, with more respondents hearing bad things about where it is heading. That’s ominous for Democrats, whom polls show have struggled to convince voters of their plans to fight inflation.

Nevada is the site of a Senate race expected to be a squeaker, with Democratic incumbent Catherine Cortez Masto facing a tough challenge from Republican Adam Laxalt.

While other surveys have lately shown Laxalt with a slight advantage in a very close race, a new poll from the Phillips Academy today gives Cortez Masto the advantage – but warns her lead is within its margin of error:

Nevada Senate:
Cortez Masto (D-inc) 49% (+2)
Laxalt (R) 47%
Nevada Governor:
Sisolak (D-inc) 50% (+5)
Lombardo (R) 45%

Phillips Academy @andoverpoll, 1,052, 10/22-23

— Political Polls (@Politics_Polls) October 25, 2022

The GOP needs to gain only one seat in the Senate to regain control, assuming Democrats aren’t able to win any of the races viewed as opportunities to expand their majority, such as in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

We’re 13 days from the midterms and Democratic big shots are stepping up to sway races nationwide, including perhaps the biggest of them all, Barack Obama.

He’s out with an ad for Maryland’s Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wes Moore, who is not exactly struggling in his campaign against Republican Dan Cox:

If elected, Moore would replace governor Larry Hogan, a moderate Republican who has led the reliably blue state since 2015. He’s unable to run again due to term limits.

Former defense secretary Ash Carter dies at 68

Ash Carter, who served as US defense secretary under Barack Obama and helped guide the campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, died yesterday at the age of 68, Reuters reports.

He suffered a “sudden cardiac event” on Monday evening, according to Reuters, which cited a statement from his family.

Carter was most recently the director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard Kennedy School.

“This loss is so sudden and so devastating,” the school’s dean Douglas W. Elmendorf said in a statement this morning. “My heart goes out to Ash’s wife Stephanie and to all of Ash’s family. Our thoughts and sympathies are also with everyone who knew Ash, learned from him, and worked with him.”


White House condemns Russia's detention of Brittney Griner in 'intolerable circumstances'

The Biden administration has decried Russia’s continued jailing of WNBA star Brittney Griner after a court today turned down an appeal of her nine-year jail sentence.

Reuters reports that Griner hoped to have her sentence for possessing and smuggling cannabis vape cartridges reduced, or to be acquitted in today’s hearing. She was arrested days before Moscow sent troops into Ukraine, and her case has been seen in the context of the wider deterioration in relations between Russia and the United States that followed.

Here’s the full statement from White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan:

We are aware of the news out of Russia that Brittney Griner will continue to be wrongfully detained under intolerable circumstances after having to undergo another sham judicial proceeding today. President Biden has been very clear that Brittney should be released immediately. In recent weeks, the Biden-Harris Administration has continued to engage with Russia through every available channel and make every effort to bring home Brittney as well as to support and advocate for other Americans detained in Russia, including fellow wrongful detainee Paul Whelan. The President has demonstrated that he is willing to go to extraordinary lengths and make tough decisions to bring Americans home, as his Administration has done successfully from countries around the world. The Administration remains in regular touch with representatives of the families, and we continue to admire their courage in the face of these unimaginable circumstances.

Prosecutors on the case of the government documents found at Mar-a-Lago are focusing on two men with close ties to Donald Trump: Kash Patel and Walt Nauta, The New York Times reports. Here’s a little about both men:

Patel is considered a Trump loyalist, and in his last days in the White House, the president elevated him to chief of staff to the acting defense secretary. He also considered appointing Patel as deputy director of the FBI and CIA, but was stopped by objections from more senior members of his administration, including attorney general William Barr, whom the Times reports considered him unqualified for the FBI job.

Patel – who wrote a children’s book about the Steele dossier - was among the Trump surrogates who echoed his claim that he had declassified all the documents found at Mar-a-Lago, but has asserted his fifth amendment right when prosecutors asked him to testify. The Times reports that the government is now trying to get a federal judge to force him to answer their questions.

The second man prosecutors are after is far less well-known, but apparently more cooperative. Nauta was a White House cook who became a valet for Trump, often bringing him the Diet Cokes he is known to spend his days drinking in quantity. The government has obtained surveillance camera footage showing Nauta moving storage boxes out of an area of Mar-a-Lago where the government secrets were thought to be kept, and investigators want to know why that was done. Nauta has spoke to the government at least two times, according to the report, but prosecutors question if he is being fully candid with them.

Investigators tighten screws on Trump aides as they seek answers in Mar-a-Lago investigation

Good morning, US politics blog readers. The steady drip of details about the investigation into government secrets found at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort continues, with the New York Times reporting yesterday that prosecutors are pressuring two aides to the former president for more information about how documents were handled at the south Florida property. There’s no saying yet what the revelation means, but it makes clear how many avenues investigators are pursuing as they look for answers about sensitive documents Trump took with him when he left the White House.

Here’s what’s happening in politics today:

  • Joe Biden will speak about America’s fight against Covid-19 at 2.05pm eastern time.

  • There’s a slew of debates between candidates standing in the 8 November midterm elections, including Pennsylvania’s Senate candidates Mehmet Oz, a Republican, and John Fetterman, a Democrat, who face off at 8pm eastern time.

  • Progressive Democrats appear to be walking back a letter sent to Biden yesterday urging more diplomacy to end the war in Ukraine.


Chris Stein

The GuardianTramp

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