GOP demands keeping troops in Kabul until all Americans evacuated
House Republicans on Tuesday called for a vote on legislation that would keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan until all Americans are evacuated, a day after the nation’s 20-year military engagement formally came to an end.
About two dozen Republicans, including some who served in Afghanistan, were on hand for a brief House session amid the chamber’s summer recess in the hopes of trying to pass a bill by unanimous consent that would delay the U.S. military withdrawal.
In the roughly five-minute pro forma session, Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), who was presiding, led a moment of silence to honor the 13 U.S. service members who were killed in the terror attack in Kabul last week.
Dingell then adjourned the House without any further action, prompting outcry from the Republicans on hand who didn’t get a chance to be recognized to speak on the floor in favor of the bill from Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) to extend the Afghanistan withdrawal.
“Never in my lifetime would I ever believe America would have an administration knowingly make a decision to leave Americans behind,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said at a press conference afterward.
“Now is not the time to hide. We are a co-equal branch. Now is the time for leadership in Congress,” McCarthy said.
Gallagher’s bill would have prohibited U.S. troop reductions in Afghanistan until the president certified that all U.S. citizens and permanent residents are evacuated. But it would allow an exception if the Defense secretary determined that U.S. forces were facing “imminent hostilities.”
The U.S. has been conducting evacuations out of Kabul for the past two weeks and sent in thousands of U.S. troops to secure the city’s airport in order to conduct the evacuations.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken estimated that there are still between 100 and 200 Americans seeking to leave Afghanistan who have not yet been evacuated following the last U.S. flight Monday.
President Biden said in a statement that his military commanders agreed that he should adhere to the Aug. 31 deadline to protect U.S. troops amid terror threats and “secure the prospects of civilian departures for those who want to leave Afghanistan in the weeks and months ahead.”
“I have asked the Secretary of State to lead the continued coordination with our international partners to ensure safe passage for any Americans, Afghan partners, and foreign nationals who want to leave Afghanistan,” Biden said.
But Republicans blasted the Biden administration’s decision to press on with the deadline to withdraw U.S. troops even though some Americans still remained in Afghanistan.
“It is time for Congress to step up because of the administration bungling this withdrawal,” Gallagher said. “This is a matter of life and death. We don’t leave our people behind.”
The House interrupted its annual August recess for a two-day session last week to vote on adopting a $3.5 trillion budget to start moving forward with Biden’s plans to invest in expanding social safety net programs like paid family leave, free community college and adding more benefits to Medicare.
House members aren’t scheduled to return to Washington until Sept. 20.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) office argued McCarthy’s position to extend the Afghanistan withdrawal would be “tying the hands of the commander-in-chief.”
“President Biden ended the longest war in American history while Minority Leader McCarthy spent the week putting self-promotion over the safety of American soldiers risking their lives to evacuate more than 120,000 from a war zone,” Pelosi’s office said in a statement on Tuesday.
Across the Capitol, the Senate cleared legislation by unanimous consent during a brief pro forma session to provide temporary assistance to Americans repatriated from Afghanistan. The bill, which the House passed by unanimous consent last week, now heads to Biden for his signature.
About 6,000 American citizens have been evacuated from Afghanistan, and more than 123,000 civilians in total have been evacuated by U.S. military or coalition flights, according to the Biden administration.