The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by AT&T - Biden: US military stays in Afghanistan until last American is out

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Welcome to The Hill’s Morning Report. It is Thursday! 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; Thursday, 624,253. 

President Biden said his Aug. 31 deadline for U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan will have to wait if all Americans are not evacuated by then, a situation complicated by Wednesday’s admission by Defense Secretary Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinOvernight Defense & National Security — Presented by Raytheon Technologies — Navy probe reveals disastrous ship fire response Pentagon says almost half of Afghan evacuees at US bases are children Russian fighters escort US bombers over Black Sea MORE that U.S. forces are unable to provide safe passage to all Americans who need to venture to the Kabul airport to flee.


Biden told ABC News during a Wednesday interview that he is committed to keeping U.S. troops in Afghanistan until every American who wants to leave is evacuated. Austin told reporters the U.S. military does not have the forces and firepower in Afghanistan to expand its current mission from securing the Kabul airport to collecting Americans and at-risk Afghans elsewhere in the capital and escorting them for flights. “We don't have the capability to go out and collect large numbers of people,” Austin said. There were about 15,000 Americans in Afghanistan when the Taliban seized control on Sunday (The Associated Press).


The U.S. military reported it had evacuated approximately 1,800 people on 10 flights aboard C-17s by Wednesday night, flying a total of at least 6,000 people out of the country since Saturday. 


The president continued to defend his decision to withdraw all U.S. forces from Afghanistan this month, denying that the exodus was possible “without chaos ensuing.” His remarks to ABC’s George Stephanopoulos appeared to depart from his assertion this week that the administration planned for every contingency as well as his comment July 8 that there would be “no circumstance where you see people being lifted off the roof of an embassy … from Afghanistan,” a reference to the frantic airlifts of U.S. personnel from Saigon.


A witness today in the Afghan city of Asadabad described Taliban fighters who fired on people waving the Afghanistan national flag at an Independence Day rally at which several people were killed. Three people were killed during a similar protest on Wednesday (Reuters). 


Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark MilleyMark MilleyPoll: New Hampshire Senate race tight Republicans would need a promotion to be 'paper tigers' We've left Afghanistan — but its consequences are just starting to arrive MORE (pictured below with Austin) told reporters that he knew of no U.S. intelligence that had predicted the rapid fall of the Afghan government (Fox News). “There was nothing that I or anybody else saw that indicated a collapse of this army and this government in 11 days,” Milley said.


Both Austin and Milley have been asked by lawmakers to testify to Congress about U.S. intelligence failures and planning to carry out Biden’s order to end U.S. military involvement after two decades.



US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin (L) and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, hold a press conference



The Hill: Afghanistan disaster puts U.S. intelligence in the spotlight.


The Hill: U.S. weapons, munitions now under Taliban control.


The Associated Press, The New York Times: U.S. misread warnings, made fateful decisions ahead of a foreign policy crisis.


Separately, the administration is wrestling with what comes next in juggling Biden’s vows of continued U.S. diplomatic and humanitarian assistance for the Afghan people while also denying the Taliban additional U.S. resources as Afghanistan’s unelected rulers.


Beginning on Sunday, the Biden administration froze Afghan government reserves held in U.S. banks, seeking to deprive the Taliban of access to billions of dollars held by U.S. institutions. Afghanistan, one of the poorest countries in the world, is highly dependent on U.S. aid (The Washington Post). GOP lawmakers on Wednesday urged the Treasury Department to take steps to prevent the Taliban from accessing some $450 million in aid from the International Monetary Fund, which the department is doing.


The IMF, with U.S. backing, is issuing billions of dollars in new “special drawing rights,” a reserve asset that can be converted to government-backed money, to aid poorer countries. A portion of those assets was scheduled to be allocated to Afghanistan next week, an event that has generated urgent pushback from Republicans on Capitol Hill (Politico).


The Associated Press, The Washington Post: Taliban fighters declare independence as Afghanistan faces evolving humanitarian crisis.


Meanwhile, there are reports that former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled his country on Sunday with $169 million in cash before surfacing Wednesday in exile in the United Arab Emirates (CNBC).


The precarious situation in Afghanistan dominated discussions on Wednesday in international capitals. Leaders of the Group of Seven (G-7) nations will confer next week, while G-7 foreign ministers hold a videoconference today. Biden spoke on Wednesday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, while lawmakers in the United Kingdom lambasted Prime Minister Boris Johnson as well as Biden as U.S. allies scrambled to evacuate their personnel from Kabul (Reuters).


Anticipating a return to draconian restrictions under strict interpretation of Sharia Islamic law, nearly two dozen nations called on the Taliban to “guarantee” protection for Afghan girls (The Hill) while at the same time, Afghan women expressed both fear and defiance (The Hill and ABC News).


BBC: Iran closes its border to Afghans fleeing the Taliban.  



A Taliban fighter walks past a beauty salon with images of women defaced using spray paint



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CORONAVIRUS: The Biden administration on Wednesday announced that it will allow individuals to begin receiving COVID-19 booster shots on Sept. 20, with Americans being able to get a booster jab eight months after their second dose of either Pfizer’s or Moderna’s vaccine.


Top officials — including Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle WalenskyRochelle WalenskyCDC director signs off on boosters of Johnson & Johnson, Moderna COVID-19 vaccines Overnight Health Care — Presented by Carequest — Key CDC panel backs Moderna, J&J boosters CDC panel backs Moderna, Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine boosters MORE, Surgeon General Vivek MurthyVivek MurthyCDC director signs off on boosters of Johnson & Johnson, Moderna COVID-19 vaccines Overnight Health Care — Presented by Carequest — Boosters take a big step forward White House readying campaign for parents on children COVID-19 vaccines MORE and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony FauciAnthony FauciThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Altria - Manchin heatedly dismisses rumors of leaving Democratic Party Webb: Pretzel logic  More than 40 Texas hospitals face ICU bed shortages MORE — made the pronouncement on Wednesday, citing “available data.” Those who received shots in December, including healthcare officials, senior citizens and nursing home residents, are set to be the first to get a booster after immunocompromised individuals. 


“We have a responsibility to give the maximum amount of protection,” Biden said from the White House’s East Room, adding that booster doses are also “the best way to protect ourselves from new variants that could arise” (The Associated Press).


Worth noting: The booster shots will not be extended as of yet to those who received Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose vaccine because public health officials await trial results using two doses. J&J’s vaccine is a more traditionally conceived vaccine compared with the new mRNA versions developed by Pfizer and Moderna.


Peter Sullivan, The Hill: Questions, answers about Biden's new booster shot plan.


The Wall Street Journal: Pfizer’s COVID-19 booster shot improves immunity, Israeli study suggests.


Axios: What the new vaccine data does and doesn't tell us.


The White House also issued another directive, requiring nursing home staff across the country to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and threatening to withhold Medicare and Medicaid funding from facilities that don't comply. 


As The Hill’s Nathaniel Weixel writes, the new regulations will apply to more than 15,000 nursing home facilities that employ roughly 1.3 million workers and serve approximately 1.6 million nursing home residents. According to data compiled by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, only about 60 percent of staff in nursing homes and long-term care facilities nationwide are partially or fully vaccinated even though they became eligible for shots seven months ago. 



A medic places two vials of COVID-19 coronavirus vaccines (L to R): Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, on a table before administering dose



Reid Wilson, The Hill: Democrats embrace COVID-19 mandates in governor races.


The Washington Post: 46 states experience double-digit growth in hospitalizations in the last week as COVID-19 infections surge.


The Hill: Texas school officials think they've found a dress code loophole in ban by Gov. Greg Abbott (R). 


The Hill: Texas faces tipping point as COVID-19 spreads.


With mandates on the rise, one notable entity is doing its part to encourage vaccinations and not help individuals receive religious exemptions: The Catholic Church.


According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, the city’s archdiocese is advising priests against aiding people who are looking to bypass getting vaccinated via religious exemptions as the Vatican has thrown its weight behind its followers getting vaccinated. 


“Individuals may wish to pursue an exemption from vaccination based on their own reasons of conscience,” he wrote. “In such cases, the burden to support such a request is not one for the local Church … to validate and we are not able to provide support for exemption requests on that basis,” wrote the Rev. Michael Hennelly, the archdiocesan vicar for clergy, in a letter to diocesan priests. 


Hennelly also noted that the Vatican has labeled the current batch of vaccines “morally acceptable,” adding that it is not up to the “local church” for individuals to opt out. The Philadelphia archdiocese’s decision follows similar directives by those in New York City, Los Angeles, San Diego and nearby Camden, N.J.


Niall Stanage: The Memo: Prolonged COVID-19 war scrambles political landscape.


The Hill: Disney World loosening outdoor mask requirements.


ADMINISTRATION:  Happy 75th birthday to former President Clinton!


The Biden administration on Wednesday unveiled a major overhaul of the U.S. asylum system, including a plan to double staff, in an effort to speed processing conducted at the U.S. southern border with Mexico, where migrant arrests have soared to 20-year highs this year (Reuters and USA Today).


The Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday banned the use of the pesticide chlorpyrifos on food, reversing a Trump-era decision and pointing to scientific evidence that the common chemical can lead to health issues in children and farmworkers. Chlorpyrifos is used on crops including soybeans, broccoli, cauliflower, fruit and nut trees and also has “non-food uses” (The Hill and CNN). 


Biden will meet with new Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Aug. 26 at the White House (The Hill).

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Where is the accountability on the Afghanistan pullout? by Karen Tumulty, columnist, The Washington Post. 


The Taliban have claimed Afghanistan’s real economic prize, by Graeme Smith and David Mansfield, opinion contributors, The New York Times. 



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 9:30 a.m. Biden and Vice President Harris will meet at 10 a.m. with national security officials in the Situation Room to discuss Afghanistan. 


Secretary of State Antony BlinkenAntony BlinkenNuclear watchdog: US, Iran entering 'decisive' period on resuming talks Sullivan raised normalizing relations with Israel during meeting with Saudi crown prince: report Democrats call for State to lift ban on embassies discussing same-sex marriage MORE will participate in a videoconference discussion today with foreign ministers from G-7 industrialized nations to discuss the situation in Afghanistan ahead of a meeting of the G-7 leaders arranged for early next week (Politico).


Hill.TV’s “Rising” program features news and interviews at or on YouTube at 10:30 a.m. ET at Rising on YouTube.



INTERNATIONAL: The latest headlines from earthquake and flood-damaged Haiti are that few surviving victims expect Haitian government help and are trying their best to do for themselves (The New York Times and NBC News). 


TESLA: Democratic Sens. Richard Blumenthal (Conn.) and Ed MarkeyEd MarkeyUnder pressure, Democrats cut back spending House passes bills to secure telecommunications infrastructure Emanuel to take hot seat in Senate confirmation hearing MORE (Mass.) on Wednesday urged the Federal Trade Commission to probe Tesla’s autopilot claims. They said they have serious concerns about how Tesla advertises its advanced driver-assistance features, which don’t enable vehicles to operate autonomously (The Wall Street Journal).



The Tesla logo on a steering wheel



STATE WATCH: A federal appeals court in New Orleans on Wednesday upheld a Texas law that outlaws an abortion method used to end second-trimester pregnancies (The Associated Press).  … Pacific Gas & Electric on Tuesday night and into Wednesday proactively shut off power to thousands of customers in California because of concerns that damage to power lines could spark new wildfires (KTVU). … Nationally, there are 104 large wildfires burning, mostly in the West, where drought conditions and red flag warnings continue without relenting, according to the National Interagency Fire Center (CNN). … The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is viewing the voracious California infernos from satellites, and posted video clips to Twitter HERE on Wednesday.


And finally … It’s Thursday, which means it’s time for this week’s Morning Report Quiz! Alert to August’s woes, we’re looking for some smart guesses about disasters and losses of the past that occurred during what many cultures prefer to think of as the merry month of harvest.


Email your responses to and/or, and please add “Quiz” to subject lines. Winners who submit correct answers will enjoy some richly deserved newsletter fame on Friday.


Which country in history associated itself with an “August curse,” referring to a succession of disasters and tragedies occurring then?


  1. Russia
  2. India
  3. New Zealand
  4. Canada


In August 1945, what was the nickname of the first of two U.S. bombers, each of which decimated a Japanese city and together took the lives of an estimated 200,000 people?


  1. Peacemaker
  2. Enola Gay
  3. Lancer
  4. Liberator


Which of these enormously destructive hurricanes did not strike the United States in the month of August?


  1. Katrina
  2. Carol
  3. Sandy
  4. Andrew


Which sitting U.S. president died in August while traveling outside of Washington?


  1. James A. Garfield
  2. Warren G. Harding
  3. Franklin D. Roosevelt
  4. John F. Kennedy



Hurricane Earl moves through the Atlantic Ocean toward the U.S. coast