Lawmakers from both parties push back at Biden’s Aug. 31 deadline
Democrats and Republicans alike on Tuesday called on President Biden to push back his Aug. 31 deadline to withdraw American forces helping to evacuate thousands of U.S. citizens and Afghan allies.
The lawmakers said sticking to the deadline, as Biden officials indicated Tuesday the president plans to do, risked leaving U.S. allies behind.
“There has been and remains an overwhelming bipartisan consensus that this cannot be done by Aug. 31,” Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee who served as a senior State Department official during the Obama administration, said following a classified briefing for House lawmakers.
Malinowski said the officials who briefed the lawmakers, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, indicated the Aug. 31 deadline was unrealistic.
He said Blinken, Austin and Milley are “being very candid actually. The practical problem is — and they’re not disputing any of this — is that you can’t do this by Aug. 31 … they’re not sugarcoating any of this.”
Since Aug. 14, the U.S. has evacuated or facilitated the evacuation of about 58,700 people, the White House said Tuesday.
But more than 100,000 people may be seeking to evacuate. The administration has acknowledged it does not know how many Americans are in Afghanistan because some people do not tell the embassy when they have entered or exited the country.
Estimates suggest 10,000 to 15,000 Americans remain in Afghanistan, along with 80,000 Afghan allies and their families.
Many people are also having trouble reaching the Kabul airport where the U.S. is seeking to handle evacuations. Getting to the airport requires going through Taliban checkpoints, and many Afghans are reportedly being turned away by the Taliban.
Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.) said Biden should hear the message from a “large bipartisan group of members” to reconsider the Aug. 31 deadline.
“There was bipartisan support for extending the August 31 deadline including applause when that was raised and a strong feeling that we wanted the cabinet secretaries in the room to advocate vicariously with the president to that end,” she said.
Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), echoed that he wanted top Biden aides to push the president to back off the end of the month deadline.
“I want him [Biden] to listen to his advisers,” Smith said.
Rep. Susan Wild (D-Pa.), who urged Biden in a letter Tuesday with 13 other colleagues to extend the deadline, said Democrats and Republicans are in lockstep.
“It’s clear that the sentiment in the room on both sides of the aisle is that we need to move off this 8/31 deadline and there doesn’t seem to be any kind of reassurance that we can get what needs to be done by then, from the briefers or from our side,” she said. “Hopefully the president’s going to move off that deadline.”
Some Republicans used the briefing as an opportunity to land blows on Biden.
Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the U.S. was violating the military credo to leave no one behind.
“That’s precisely what we’re doing. We’re violating the trust, the moral obligation,” he said. “Biden will have blood on his hands, people are going to die. And they’re going to be left behind.”
Others argued they get a different story from the Biden administration when they are speaking privately.
“It’s also painfully clear from the briefing that we just walked out of is that behind closed doors, the Biden team tells us one thing. They admit mistakes. They know this is a dangerous situation going on in Afghanistan,” said Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.).
“And President Biden tells us something different. That everything’s OK, that it’s under control. So either Joe Biden is lying to us or he’s not in touch with the team that just briefed us in the room.”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said after the briefing that Biden should make sure every American is out and then decide the date the U.S. departs.
“We want to be very clear with him: Don’t pick the date. Solve the problem,” he said.
Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he is negotiating with the administration to bring Blinken in for a public hearing and expected that to take place within two to three weeks.
He said he has had good communication with the administration and called Blinken “accessible,” adding that the foreign affairs panel will receive a classified briefing on Wednesday with top Biden officials.
“I’ve had number of dialogues with Secretary Blinken, I’ve called the administration several times and had conversations with them, understanding that there is still a lot — that’s why we’re working and negotiating where I want to bring Secretary Blinken before the committee as we will do that, Meeks said. “But the focus has to be, right now, razor sharp in getting our folks out.”
Others said they left the briefing with outstanding questions about how the U.S. will proceed both on the ground and strategically.
“I think you can tell that there’s widespread frustration at how we misread the situation. And a lot of concern frankly about the security risks in the next few days,” said Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.)
“The big items are, how did we get here and what are we going to do about it? And how long do we stay and what are the risks and plans associated with that?”
Slotkin said she wants to hear more about how the U.S. will monitor for terrorist threats from groups like Al Qaeda.
“I’m trying to understand what our vision is for Afghanistan after Aug. 31 if we’re indeed leaving,” she told The Hill.
“How are we going to make sure the very reasons that got us into Afghanistan aren’t again posing a threat to us and our allies?”
This story was updated at 3:16 p.m.
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