Presented by AT&T
Welcome to The Hill’s Morning Report. It is Wednesday! 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: Monday, 621,635; Tuesday, 622,321; Wednesday, 623,332.
What are 3,000 to 4,000 U.S. troops capable of in Afghanistan? They can prop up a weakened elected government for months or secure the military operations of a chaotic Kabul airport-turned-U.S. Embassy, at least temporarily, in less than a day.
On Tuesday, more than 1,100 U.S. citizens, U.S. permanent residents and their families flew out of Kabul on 13 evacuation flights, the administration said, as U.S. forces prepared for reinforcements to arrive by nightfall to secure thousands more departures this week. Nearly 2,000 Afghan special immigrants have been relocated among the 3,200 total population evacuated thus far, according to administration information.
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul, now operating from the airport, urged Americans to register online for evacuations but not come to the airport before being contacted. American citizens were told on Tuesday that the U.S. government can’t ensure their safe travel to the airport itself (CBS News and Yahoo News). U.S. troops worked against an unstated timeline to help American citizens flee along with Afghans.
The Associated Press: Americans help Afghans in their new, U.S. homeland.
Across town, Taliban leaders on Tuesday marked their return to power and the collapse of the Afghan government by holding a press conference.
Taliban leader Zabihullah Mujahid, once a shadowy and unseen figure, promised the Taliban would honor women’s rights, but he said it would be within the norms of Islamic law, The Associated Press and The New York Times reported. He said the Islamist militant group wanted private media to “remain independent” but stressed journalists “should not work against national values.” And he promised the insurgents would secure Afghanistan — but seek no revenge against those who worked with the former government or with foreign governments or forces. “We assure you that nobody will go to their doors to ask why they helped,” he said.
But many Afghans said they are deeply skeptical that Taliban fighters will abandon brutal interpretations of Sharia or Islamic law and bloody forms of vengeance. Early evidence on Tuesday and Wednesday suggested Afghan fears appeared well placed.
The Associated Press: Taliban destroy statue of foe, stoking fear over their rule.
The New York Times: The Taliban today reacted to a public display of dissent in the northeastern city of Jalalabad with an overwhelming use of force.
Older generations remember the Taliban’s history as well as their aggression during the recent blitz through provincial capitals (WION India). Before being ousted by the U.S-led invasion following the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, the group was known for severe restrictions on women, bans on the education of girls, and public stonings and amputations.
The Associated Press explainer: What we know and what’s next as the Taliban takes over in Afghanistan.
Talks continued between the Taliban and several Afghan government officials, including former President Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah, who once led the country’s negotiating council, according to the AP. Discussions focused on how a Taliban-dominated government would operate given the changes in Afghanistan over the past 20 years.
A top Taliban leader, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, arrived in Kandahar on Tuesday night from Qatar. His arrival was viewed as a potential signal that a governance deal was close at hand. But in a possible complication, the vice president of the ousted government claimed on Twitter on Tuesday that he was the country’s “legitimate” caretaker president. Amrullah Saleh said that, under the constitution, he should be in charge because President Ashraf Ghani fled Afghanistan and went into exile on Sunday.
Germany, meanwhile, halted $294 million in 2021 development aid to Afghanistan while rejecting the Taliban takeover. Such aid, including for security services and humanitarian assistance, is a crucial source of funding for Afghanistan — and the Taliban’s efforts to project a milder version of themselves may be a feint to keep funds flowing, AP reported.
Sweden said it would slow aid to the country, but Great Britain committed to an increase in aid. President BidenJoe BidenFighter jet escorts aircraft that entered restricted airspace during UN gathering Julian Castro knocks Biden administration over refugee policy FBI investigating alleged assault on Fort Bliss soldier at Afghan refugee camp MORE spoke with Prime Minister Boris Johnson of the United Kingdom on Tuesday, the White House said (The Hill). Today, Johnson said his government will do everything possible to try to prevent a humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan (Reuters).
Russian Ambassador to Afghanistan Dmitry Zhirnov told Russian state TV on Tuesday that he spoke with the Taliban and received assurances about “the security of the embassy” in Kabul (The Associated Press).
White House national security adviser Jake SullivanJake SullivanSchumer moves to break GOP blockade on Biden's State picks Sen. Hawley's 'holds' on Biden nominees are hostage-taking, not policymaking Clinton lawyer's indictment reveals 'bag of tricks' MORE (pictured below) and spokeswoman Jen PsakiJen PsakiBiden does not plan to shield Trump docs in Jan. 6 probe The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Arizona recount to show Trump's loss by even wider margin Watch live: Psaki, Homeland Secretary Mayorkas hold press briefing MORE defended the president’s decision to pull U.S. troops out of Afghanistan to end the two-decade war, regardless of the frenzied result and miscalculation of the Taliban’s rapid cascade of wins.
The New York Times: Some U.S. intelligence reports warned of a swift collapse in Afghanistan.
Biden’s top aides, peppered with reporters’ questions on Tuesday, declined to say if U.S. forces, which the president said will number up to 7,000 this week, will remain in Afghanistan beyond the previously announced Aug. 31 withdrawal date if U.S. citizens and at-risk Afghans are still being evacuated. Sullivan said the question was “hypothetical” (The Hill).
CBS News: There are an estimated 11,000 people in Afghanistan who "self-identify" as Americans, Psaki said.
Biden’s advisers are uncomfortably aware that the president planned to mark the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks by heralding the end of America’s “forever war.”
Opinions and analysis …
“Public executions and forced marriages are reportedly back. People are fleeing. The Taliban are in Kabul, and the government has fallen. This is a catastrophe,” Rep. Jim LangevinJames (Jim) R. LangevinBipartisan House group introduces legislation to set term limit for key cyber leader House panel approves B boost for defense budget Democratic lawmakers urge DHS to let Afghans stay in US MORE (D-R.I.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, wrote in an op-ed for Foreign Policy.
“This negligence was par for the course for the last U.S. administration. I am disappointed to see it now. At minimum, the Biden administration owed our Afghan allies of 20 years a real plan,” he continued. “They also owed it to our military service members and their families, particularly the men and women in uniform and their families who gave the ultimate sacrifice. Not to mention the women and girls of Afghanistan who are now experiencing a devastating new reality.”
The New Yorker’s David Rohde: Trying — and failing — to save the family of the Afghan who saved me.
The Hill: Malala Yousafzai: Biden must take “bold step” to protect Afghans.
The Hill: Former national security adviser H.R. McMaster: Rapid Taliban takeover “should not have come as a surprise.”
On Capitol Hill, a place where Biden was a presence for decades, the president has found that his supporters on the Afghanistan issue amount to a precious few.
As The Hill’s Jordain Carney writes, Biden has received backup from two key figures — Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOn The Money — House pushes toward infrastructure vote US mayors, Black leaders push for passage of bipartisan infrastructure bill Lawmakers say innovation, trade rules key to small business gains MORE (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerDemocrats press Schumer on removing Confederate statues from Capitol Democrats' do-or-die moment Biden touts 'progress' during 'candid' meetings on .5T plan MORE (D-N.Y.), who blasted out talking points to Democratic offices. However, customary allies have been critical.
“I am disappointed that the Biden administration clearly did not accurately assess the implications of a rapid U.S. withdrawal,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezBiden, don't punish India Democrats reject hardball tactics against Senate parliamentarian Biden threatens more sanctions on Ethiopia, Eritrea over Tigray conflict MORE (D-N.J.) said in a statement (The New York Times).
Some of Biden’s friends have been blistering — ex: Sen. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperOvernight Energy & Environment — Presented by the League of Conservation Voters — EPA finalizing rule cutting HFCs EPA finalizes rule cutting use of potent greenhouse gas used in refrigeration The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by AT&T - US speeds evacuations as thousands of Americans remain in Afghanistan MORE (D-Del.) — along with those planning key reelection fights in 2022 — see: Sen. Mark KellyMark KellyFive takeaways from Arizona's audit results Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by AM General — Afghan evacuation still frustrates Overnight Defense & National Security — Congress begins Afghanistan grilling MORE (D-Ariz.).
Scrutiny will continue as Democratic committee chairs invite officials to answer questions about Afghanistan. House Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Gregory MeeksGregory Weldon MeeksHouse passes sweeping defense policy bill Overnight Defense & National Security — Iron Dome funding clears House Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by AM General — Defense bill takes center stage MORE (D-N.Y.) was the first to formally invite Secretary of State Antony BlinkenAntony BlinkenDefense policy bill would require 'forever chemical' testing at military sites Biden criticizes treatment of Haitians as 'embarrassment' Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by the League of Conservation Voters — EPA finalizing rule cutting HFCs MORE and Defense Secretary Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinOvernight Defense & National Security — Presented by AM General — The Quad confab Top State Dept. official overseeing 'Havana syndrome' response leaving post Pentagon 'aware' of reports Wisconsin military base's struggle to feed, heat Afghan refugees MORE to testify (The Hill).
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerPanic begins to creep into Democratic talks on Biden agenda Democrats surprised, caught off guard by 'framework' deal Schumer announces Senate-House deal on tax 'framework' for .5T package MORE (D-Va.) and Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack ReedJack ReedTop Republican: General told senators he opposed Afghanistan withdrawal We have a plan that prioritizes Afghanistan's women — we're just not using it This week: Democrats kick off chaotic fall with Biden's agenda at stake MORE (D-R.I.) also indicated as much in the upper chamber. Reed said he will explore “what went wrong in Afghanistan and lessons learned to avoid repeating those mistakes.”
The Hill: Biden faces increasing questions from lawmakers about messy Afghanistan exit.
Niall Stanage: The Memo: Democrats vent frustration with Biden on Afghanistan.
The Wall Street Journal: Zakia Khudadadi was set to make Afghan history at the Paralympics — until the Taliban took over. Now she’s trapped in Kabul.
A MESSAGE FROM AT&T
AT&T is making a $2 billion, 3-year commitment to help connect communities to their American Dream
Susana Chávez became valedictorian of International High School at Langley Park while juggling numerous jobs throughout school. But what kept her powering through it all was her American Dream. With the help of accessible and affordable broadband, she was able to focus on her studies, get assistance from teachers and stay in touch with her mother back home. And thanks to Access from AT&T, we can connect low-income households like Susana’s, and more communities in areas we serve with their American Dream. Find out how.
LEADING THE DAY
CORONAVIRUS: In a world where the delta variant continues to spread, there is a glimmer of good news peppering the U.S.’s ongoing battle despite a continued rise in COVID-19 infections and more than 1,000 U.S. reported coronavirus deaths on Tuesday.
Topping that list is the increasing uptick in vaccinations across the country. As of Tuesday night, the seven-day average hit 765,000 shots administered per day — the highest mark reached since July 7.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 72.2 percent of American adults have received one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, with 61.8 percent being fully vaccinated. For those aged 12 and up, 70.1 percent have received one dose and 59.5 percent are fully vaccinated.
Finally, although more than 133,000 new infections are being recorded daily due to the delta variant, vaccinated individuals continue to see strong protections against the strain. According to an analysis by The Wall Street Journal, only 193,204 breakthrough cases have been recorded between Jan. 1 and early August — representing roughly 0.1 percent of the 136 million Americans who are fully vaccinated.
Put simply, the vaccines work. Still.
However, one breakthrough infection made news on Tuesday as Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) announced that he tested positive for COVID-19 despite being fully vaccinated. According to a spokesman, Abbott is not experiencing any symptoms but is receiving Regeneron's monoclonal antibody treatment. Abbott had been getting tested daily for the virus (The Texas Tribune).
> Boosters: The Biden administration’s plan to begin offering booster doses of COVID-19 vaccines is getting some pushback from global health advocates who argue that doing so will only deepen global inequalities.
As The Hill’s Nathaniel Weixel writes, the advocates say evidence surrounding boosters is not strong enough to justify this type of action and that the U.S. should keep its eye on vaccinating the masses, including those abroad, in order to truly halt the pandemic.
The Wall Street Journal: Delta variant threatens small businesses as it slows return-to-office plans.
The Associated Press: Pope FrancisPope FrancisPope decides to keep criticized archbishop, issues 'spiritual timeout' COVID faith: Are your religious views 'sincerely held'? Biden meets with leaders of Australia, Iraq before departing UNGA MORE appears in video promoting vaccination.
The Hill: National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins says Israeli data builds case for COVID-19 boosters.
The Associated Press: Great Britain OKs Moderna vaccine for ages 12 and up.
Across the country, states and cities are making alterations to their policies. In Nevada, Gov. Steve SisolakSteve SisolakHeller won't say if Biden won election Ex-Sen. Dean Heller announces run for Nevada governor Former Sen. Heller to run for Nevada governor MORE (D) announced that masks are not required at events where attendees must be vaccinated (The Hill).
In California, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D) rolled out a new rule that employees must be vaccinated or be at risk of losing their jobs. The directive was released after nine state assembly employees tested positive for COVID-19 in July (The Hill).
The New York Times: Los Angeles to require masks at large outdoor concerts and events.
The Hill: San Francisco reopening mass COVID-19 testing site.
The Washington Post: Alabama has “negative” ICU beds free as U.S. hospitals struggle with surge of cases.
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
POLITICS & CONGRESS: House Democrats on Tuesday unveiled a new proposal to update the landmark Voting Rights Act, seeking against long odds to revive the civil rights-era legislation. The bill seeks to restore a key provision of the federal law that compelled states with a history of discrimination to undergo a federal review of changes to voting and elections. The Supreme Court in 2013 set aside the formula that decided which jurisdictions were subject to the requirement and weakened the law further in a ruling this summer. Pelosi pledged to move quickly on the measure introduced by Rep. Terri SewellTerrycina (Terri) Andrea SewellPressure builds on Democratic leadership over HBCU funding Thousands march on Washington in voting rights push Activists gear up for voting rights march to mark King anniversary MORE (D-Ala.) and said Democrats plan to pass the bill when the House returns next week (The Associated Press).
> Will a group of nine House moderates who are at the moment bucking their leaders acquiesce next week to Pelosi’s legislative choreography devised to pass Biden’s agenda? The Hill’s Scott Wong and Cristina Marcos report that a conference call among House Democrats left the face-off between moderates and progressives unresolved.
The Wall Street Journal: Pelosi braces for showdown with moderates next week over infrastructure vote.
> Jan. 6: Elliot Carter, the founder and administrator of WashingtonTunnels.com, an obscure website about underground infrastructure in Washington, D.C., saw a sudden and suspicious spike in site traffic in the days before the U.S. Capitol insurrection. He said he contacted the FBI because he worried that people were covertly seeking escape routes or entry points to the Capitol ahead of the electoral college count in January. That concern eventually made its way to the leadership of the U.S. Capitol Police (CNBC).
> In California politics, former Republican Rep. Doug Ose, 66, on Tuesday ended his gubernatorial bid amid campaigning in the state to recall Gov. Gavin NewsomGavin NewsomCalifornia to launch program tracking violent deaths in LGBTQ+ community California governor signs legislation targeting Amazon warehouse speed quotas Newsom signs privacy laws for abortion providers and patients MORE (D) on Sept. 14. Ose said he suffered a heart attack on Sunday and decided to end his campaign to attend to his health (Los Angeles Times).
Miscellaneous: Transportation Secretary Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegDOJ sues to block JetBlue-American Airlines partnership On The Money — Presented by Wells Fargo — Pelosi plows full speed ahead on jam-packed agenda Blumenthal calls on Buttigieg to investigate American Airlines-JetBlue partnership MORE and husband Chasten Buttigieg on Tuesday announced they are parents (a process they’ve discussed publicly in recent months). “For some time, Chasten and I have wanted to grow our family,” the secretary tweeted. “We’re overjoyed to share that we’ve become parents! The process isn’t done yet and we’re thankful for the love, support, and respect for our privacy that has been offered to us. We can’t wait to share more soon,” he added (The Associated Press).
The Morning Report is created by journalists Alexis Simendinger and Al Weaver. We want to hear from you! Email: firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com. We invite you to share The Hill’s reporting and newsletters, and encourage others to SUBSCRIBE!
The `Endless Wars’ fallacy, by Rep. Dan CrenshawDaniel CrenshawGOP seeks Biden referendum over vaccine mandates The Memo: Biden comes out punching on COVID-19 The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by AT&T - Texas's near abortion ban takes effect MORE (R-Texas), opinion contributor, The Wall Street Journal. https://on.wsj.com/3k6oqqu
Biden’s grave miscalculation in Afghanistan: He didn’t think like an underdog, by David Von Drehle, columnist, The Washington Post. https://wapo.st/3iQkGKt
A MESSAGE FROM AT&T
WHERE AND WHEN
The House will meet on Friday at 3 p.m. for a pro forma session. Members are out of town until Aug. 23.
The Senate convenes for a pro forma session on Friday at 9 a.m. Senators are expected back in Washington Sept. 13.
The president will receive the President’s Daily Brief at the White House at 9:30 a.m. Biden and Vice President Harris will receive a briefing from the White House COVID-19 response team at 2:15 p.m. The president will subsequently deliver remarks on vaccinations at 4:30 p.m. Biden will also be interviewed by ABC News.
The Federal Reserve will release minutes from its July 27-28 policy meeting. Analysts will look for references to tapering pandemic-era easy money policies.
The White House COVID-19 response team will brief reporters at 11 a.m.
➔ INTERNATIONAL: The death toll in Haiti continues to climb following Saturday’s major earthquake. Fatalities are close to 2,000, the number of injured is close to 10,000 and destroyed or uninhabitable structures rendered some 30,000 families homeless. U.S. search and rescue workers said on Tuesday that priority needs are food, health care services, safe drinking water, hygiene, sanitation and shelter (The Associated Press). To make matters worse, Haiti was lashed by Tropical Storm Grace (NPR).
➔ ENERGY: The Biden administration is under fire from Republicans and environmentalists after calling on other countries to produce more oil amid high U.S. gasoline prices (The Hill). … The Department of Energy projected that solar power could account for up to 40 percent of national power generation by 2035, a tenfold increase from today (The Hill).
➔ TECH: The Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Thursday deadline in its antitrust battle with Facebook could signal how the commission under the lead of Lina KhanLina KhanHillicon Valley — Presented by Xerox — Democrats press FTC to resolve data privacy 'crisis' Democrats ask FTC to fix data privacy 'crisis' Overnight Hillicon Valley — Scrutiny over Instagram's impact on teens MORE (seen below) plans to take on the market power of tech giants. The FTC has one more day to disclose plans of how to proceed with the complaint — either through an amended complaint in district court or in-house options. Critics also urge Khan to recuse herself from cases involving tech giants and a growing list of recommended actions from the White House (The Hill).
And finally … This gripping drama occurred in a Utah petting zoo over the weekend as a female animal handler, who was not expecting to be bitten by an alligator, was dragged into its watery enclosure before being saved by a bystander who leaped into the tank, yelling a simple warning as frightened children looked on.
“We’ve got trouble in here!” exclaimed hero Donnie Wiseman, who scrambled to put his weight atop the reptile as the handler, her legs wrapped around the thrashing gator’s head, eventually extracted her gloved hand and arm (The Associated Press).
Lindsay Bull, employee at Scales & Tails, needed surgery and antibiotics but will be OK. Darth Gator, who chomped Bull’s appendage, is apparently forgiven for being “a little extra spunky” while being fed, according to the establishment’s owner. Wince-inducing video is HERE.