The Hill’s Morning Report: Afghanistan’s future now up to Afghans, Biden says
Welcome to The Hill’s Morning Report. It is Friday! We get you up to speed on the most important developments in politics and policy, plus trends to watch. Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver are the co-creators. Readers can find us on Twitter @asimendinger and @alweaver22. Please recommend the Morning Report to friends and let us know what you think. CLICK HERE to subscribe!
Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported each morning this week: Tuesday, 605,567; Wednesday, 605,905; Thursday, 606,218; Friday, 606,476.
Not for the last time, President Biden on Thursday repeated his defense of his decision to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan this summer to conclude a war that spanned two decades, cost 2,400 American lives and $2 trillion.
Biden said predictions by critics that the Taliban will overrun the government led by President Ashraf Ghani (pictured below), inaugurated 16 months ago, are not inevitable (The Hill). But the president’s impassioned, half-hour speech acknowledged that continued U.S. investment in a poor, mountainous Muslim nation of nearly 39 million people could not by itself alter its course.
“We did not go to Afghanistan to nation-build,” he argued. “And it’s the right and the responsibility of Afghan people alone to decide their future and how they want to run their country.”
Biden said the United States fulfilled its goal of rooting out al Qaeda and finding and killing Osama bin Laden.
“Let me ask those who want us to stay: How many more? How many thousands more Americans’ daughters and sons are you willing to risk? How long would you have them stay?” Biden said in the East Room.
In 2009 when Biden was a newly inaugurated vice president, he delivered a foreign policy speech to House Democrats asking lawmakers if they could define the U.S. goal in Afghanistan. “We have to make Afghanistan the world’s responsibility, not just the United States,” he said, pointing to the Obama administration’s determination to review the situation with fresh eyes. “We need a strategy … that prevents Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for terrorists and helps the Afghan people deal with their own future.”
More than a dozen years later, Biden answered his own question.
Polls indicate his views of the war shifted along with the majority of Americans, who said 20 years of war and lost lives should end.
The U.S. management of the departure, now more than 90 percent complete, and the vacuum created by the exodus of allied forces present new challenges for the administration. Reports of Taliban fighters on the march and Afghan forces in retreat have only heightened fears about the survival of the Afghan government and what comes next, writes The Hill’s Rebecca Kheel.
The Associated Press: Biden says U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan will end Aug. 31.
The New York Times: The president made his case on U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan as Taliban fighters gain ground.
The Hill: U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Thursday that most British troops have left Afghanistan. The war that Great Britain joined there after 9/11 has claimed the lives of 457 of its soldiers.
LEADING THE DAY
CORONAVIRUS: Fans will be banned from attending events at the Tokyo Olympics when it opens up in two weeks after the government issued a state of emergency due to the spread of COVID-19 in the host city and the rise of the delta variant.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga made the decision to bar spectators, with Olympic organizers agreeing. The move is a financial blow to the beleaguered games, which have been a target of criticism in recent months, and to the government, which now has to make up the hundreds of millions lost by barring even a limited number of fans that were tentatively allowed to attend.
“Many people were looking forward to watching the games at the venues, but I would like everyone to fully enjoy watching the games on TV at home,” Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike said on Thursday. “It’s gut-wrenching because many people looked forward to watching at the venues.”
The entirety of the Tokyo games (July 23 until Aug. 8) will fall under the state of emergency, which starts on July 12 and lasts until Aug. 22 (The Associated Press).
The decision in Tokyo comes as the delta variant continues its spread, with experts likening it to the original strain of COVID-19 “on steroids” (CNN). It is also causing top officials to renew calls for Americans to get vaccinated, with recent studies continuing to show that the jabs retain effectiveness against the variant.
According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky, early sequencing shows that the delta variant is responsible for 80 percent of new cases in parts of the Midwest (McClatchy), with outside health experts warning that inside mask mandates will likely need to be reintroduced in the fall (CNBC).
The Associated Press: COVID-19 vaccines still work against mutation, researchers find.
The Washington Post: New study on delta variant reveals importance of receiving both vaccine shots, highlights challenges posed by mutations.
Axios: Trump country continues to fall behind on COVID-19 vaccinations.
The variant, along with other mutations, is also spurring Pfizer to request emergency use authorization of a third booster dose of its vaccine. According to Mikael Dolsten, Pfizer’s research chief, the dose — which could be received between six to 12 months after full vaccination — would give recipients a key boost in immune protection, raising antibody levels by 5 to 10 times compared to the original jab (Bloomberg News). Pfizer added that data shows efficacy of its two-dose vaccine is showing signs of waning after six months, as evidenced by a recent study out of Israel.
“While protection against severe disease remained high across the full six months, a decline in efficacy against symptomatic disease over time and the continued emergence of variants are expected. Based on the totality of the data they have to date, Pfizer and BioNTech believe that a third dose may be beneficial within six to 12 months following the second dose to maintain highest levels of protection,” the company said (CNN).
However, the Food and Drug Administration and the CDC issued a joint statement saying that booster shots are unnecessary at this time.
“Americans who have been fully vaccinated do not need a booster shot at this time,” they said.
The Hill: Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra: “Absolutely the government’s business” to know people’s vaccine status.
BBC: Vaccinated United Kingdom residents returning to their home country will be allowed to bypass quarantine.
CONGRESS: The remaining security fencing visible around the U.S. Capitol, which was installed following riots on Jan. 6, will be removed beginning as soon as today, Capitol Police announced on Wednesday. Dismantlement should take about three days to complete (CNN).
Bipartisan enthusiasm in the Senate for a plan to fund roads, bridges, rail, ports, airports and broadband has begun to fall apart among some Republicans over a proposal to rely on bulked-up IRS tax enforcement to bring in revenues that could help defray the overall costs of Biden’s agenda. Democrats are leaning heavily on the idea of adding personnel to the IRS to claw back some of the tax revenues that they say major tax cheats and corporations should be paying by law. The centerpiece infrastructure plan calls for spending $40 billion to potentially put $100 billion in federal coffers. The idea is not sitting well with some Republicans, The Hill’s Alexander Bolton reports.
Although most taxpayers are not audited by the IRS, Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), chair of the Senate Republican Conference, thinks “law-abiding Americans deserve better from their government than an army of bureaucrats snooping through their bank statements.” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has suggested the IRS should be abolished. And Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) asserts that “a $40-billion increase in funding for the IRS will lead to a huge potential for abuse. Bigger government results in more waste, fraud and abuse“ (Axios Markets and Yahoo News).
The challenge to come up with hundreds of billions of dollars in projected budget offsets that would pass muster with the Congressional Budget Office and be counted as fees, assessments, savings and new forms of revenue that are not tax hikes on corporations (opposed by the GOP) and don’t fall disproportionately on lower- and middle-income households (unacceptable to Biden and Democrats).
The Hill: Proposed police reform legislation in Congress needs more work, according to 29 civil rights groups.
The Washington Post: Representatives of civil rights groups, who met at the White House on Thursday, say they want to see more prominent congressional and executive strategies to combat Republican efforts to change voting laws around the country. Democratic voting legislation has stalled in Congress, as courts have ruled against their efforts, and as the party heads into the 2022 midterm elections facing historical trends that put their tenuous House and Senate majorities at risk.
In a statement following the meeting on Thursday about voting rights, the White House said Biden and Vice President Harris “reiterated that they will continue to push for Congress to pass critical legislation that protects the right to vote and combats subversion of the election process, while continuing to utilize all existing authorities in an all-of-government effort to ensure full voter participation and elections that reflect the will of the people.”
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
POLITICS: Republicans are making hay out of rising gas prices as they look to counter economic messaging on the Democratic side ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, reports The Hill’s Max Greenwood.
The rise in gasoline and oil prices has heaped pressure on Democrats, who are looking to the national economic recovery to help maintain its razor-thin majority in both houses of Congress. Now, Republicans are tethering the prices to Democrats’ policy agenda in an effort to sell their message of a mounting inflation crisis, especially as the U.S. economy begins to rebound on other fronts.
Over the Fourth of July weekend, the House GOP campaign arm launched a digital ad campaign targeting vulnerable House Democrats with a focus on the price rise – including the cost of gas.
The Texas Tribune: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) campaign says it raised $18.7 million in 10 days.
Karl Rove, Wall Street Journal: Harris vs. Abbott on the border.
Reid Wilson, The Hill: What’s in the new Texas voting rights overhaul.
Speaking of Trump, the former president is set to appear on Sunday at a Conservative Political Action Conference event in Dallas. Despite it being in his home state, Abbott is not expected to attend.
The Associated Press: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) parts with Trump in response to Surfside tragedy.
The Hill: Few companies stick with pledge to shut off funding for GOP objectors.
The Associated Press: Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R): Voters “know what the truth is.”
How Congress should fix the Supreme Court’s damage to the Voting Rights Act, by Edward B. Foley, opinion contributor, The Washington Post. https://wapo.st/3jTlWxs
Regulate teaching of U.S. race history, but keep it real, by Ramesh Ponnuru, columnist, Bloomberg Opinion. https://bloom.bg/3qX39To
The link between self-reliance and well-being, by Arthur C. Brooks, contributing writer, The Atlantic. https://bit.ly/3hTyvpW
WHERE AND WHEN
The House meets at 10 a.m. for a pro forma session. Lawmakers return to work in Washington July 19.
The Senate convenes on Monday at 3 p.m., and will resume consideration of Uzra Zeya to be an under secretary of State.
The president and Harris will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 10 a.m. Biden will deliver remarks at 1:30 p.m. and sign an executive order intended to promote economic competition. The president will depart the White House at 5:15 p.m. for his home in Wilmington, Del., where he will spend the weekend.
The vice president will deliver remarks at the National Association of Counties Annual Conference at 1 p.m.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken at 2 p.m. will meet virtually with the AFL-CIO Executive Council.
The White House press briefing is scheduled at 12:30 p.m.
INVITATIONS TO EVENTS NEXT WEEK: The Hill’s Virtually Live on Tuesday at 1 p.m., “Small Business Recovery: Minneapolis,” featuring Rep. Angie Craig (D-Minn.), Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and more. Information is HERE.
“The Future of Human Connectivity,” on Wednesday at 1 p.m., with Sen. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio), Federal Communications Commission Commissioner Geoffrey Starks (D), San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo (D) and more to discuss the future of an ultra-connected world. Information is HERE.
“Revitalizing America’s Cities,” on Thursday at 1 p.m., with Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava (D); Montgomery, Ala., Mayor Steven Reed (D); Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott (D); Dayton, Ohio, Mayor Nan Whaley (D) and more will join for a conversation about how microbusinesses could re-energize cities. Information is HERE.
➔ ALZHEIMER’S DRUG: The FDA on Thursday approved an update to the prescribing label for a new Alzheimer’s drug in an attempt to narrow its intended use. The FDA recommended that Biogen’s Aduhelm drug should only be used in patients with mild Alzheimer’s dementia or mild cognitive impairment, representing a walkback from its initial recommendation of use among a broader range of those with Alzheimer’s. Biogen noted that the drug was only studied on those with mild forms of the disease (The Hill).
➔ HAITI: Following the Wednesday assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, Haitian authorities said on Thursday they detained 17 suspects, two of whom are described as dual U.S.-Haitian citizens and six described as former members of the country’s army. A total of 15 are from Colombia, according to the national police chief (The Associated Press). … The United States has agreed to provide investigative “assistance” to the Haitian police (The Hill). … Haitian officials have provided few details about the facts of the president’s killing and some prominent Haitians are skeptical that a “highly trained and heavily armed group,” as authorities have said, could penetrate Moïse’s home, security detail and panic room, shoot him a dozen times, injure his wife (later flown to Florida for treatment), ransack his office and bedroom and escape unharmed before being caught without getaway plans, according to accounts provided to AP and The Miami Herald. … Fears are growing about a humanitarian crisis in Haiti, which is now under a “state of siege” with a government in turmoil (The New York Times). … What to know about Haiti’s crisis, reported by The Washington Post.
➔ STATE WATCH: State legislatures are moving to ban high school sports teams from adopting mascots that exploit the names and likenesses of Native Americans. Supporters and Native American advocates say the new trend is something positive that has come from the otherwise disastrous Washington Football Team, whose botched name change put a new spotlight on ugly and derogatory mascot names and logos (The Hill). … In Surfside, Fla., deaths rose to 64 at the site of the former Champlain Towers (ABC News). … Seeking to support Maine’s commercial fishing industry, Gov. Janet Mills (D) said she backs a ban on offshore wind projects in state waters. She says she favors wind power projects in federal waters further off Maine’s coast (The Associated Press).
➔ CRYPTOCURRENCY: Who isn’t confused about the ins and outs of digital currency and the scams spawned behind its anonymity and lack of regulation? For those interested in some primers: A detailed guide to how cryptocurrency works (The Washington Post). … Crypto scammers rip off billions and pump and dump schemes go digital (Bloomberg News). … Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is leaning into both Securities and Exchange Commission intervention and potential legislation, asserting that cryptocurrency’s lack of government regulation is “unsustainable.” She chairs the Senate Banking Subcommittee on Economic Policy (Reuters).
➔ INSIDE FACEBOOK: A wildly profitable company with 2.8 billion users and a current market valuation of more than $1 trillion is led by top executives, Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, who discovered their 13-year partnership was sorely strained by pressures during the Trump era, according to Sheera Frenkel and Cecilia Kang of The New York Times. They interviewed more than 400 people for their forthcoming book, “An Ugly Truth: Inside Facebook’s Battle for Domination.”
And finally … Bravo to winners of this week’s Morning Report Quiz! For our puzzle, we needed champion Googlers and guessers who recognized back-page news headlines about things lost and found.
Here’s who came up with four correct answers this week: Daniel Bachhuber, Patrick Kavanagh, Richard Baznik, Terry Pflaumer, Randall S. Patrick, Michel Romage, Amanda Fisher, Tom Hess, Stan Wasser, Mike McGeary, Jaina Mehta, John Donato, Kyr-Roger St-Denis, Joe Erdmann, Cliff Grulke, Luther Berg, John van Santen and Pam Manges.
They knew that the FBI and the Justice Department have so far found and charged more than 500 participants in the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, and are still on the hunt.
U.K. researchers announced this week they plan to launch a 2022 expedition to again try to find explorer Ernest Shackleton’s lost ship named Endurance, which lies beneath the Weddell Sea near Antarctica.
Researchers said in a study published this week they have found a new crop of rogue, free-floating planets in the Milky Way.
A 33-year-old man, who was among those competing in the second annual Utah Treasure Hunt, on Monday found $10,000 in cash, a silver coin and other items inside a wooden chest buried under a tree in Utah.
The Morning Report is created by journalists Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver. We want to hear from you! Email: email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org. We invite you to share The Hill’s reporting and newsletters, and encourage others to SUBSCRIBE!