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 is getting little cover from Congress as he faces broad backlash over his handling of the U.S. withdrawal in Afghanistan.
Some Democrats, including 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.), have rallied to Biden’s side and circulated White House talking points to their members. Pelosi also urged Democrats during a conference call to stand behind Biden, according to a source familiar with the conversation.
But the quick fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban, images of chaos coming out of Kabul and questions about how, and how quickly, Americans and tens of thousands of Afghan allies and their families will get evacuated have merged into broad, bipartisan frustration between the two sides of Pennsylvania Avenue.
Though Sen. 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.), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, criticized the Trump administration’s agreement with the Taliban as “wholly inadequate,” he also didn’t spare Biden.
“I am disappointed that the Biden administration clearly did not accurately assess the implications of a rapid U.S. withdrawal,” Menendez said.
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 senior member of the House Armed Services Committee, issued a blistering rebuke of the U.S. withdrawal under Biden, calling it a “catastrophe.”
“At minimum, the Biden administration owed our Afghan allies of 20 years a real plan,” Langevin wrote.
Other Democrats stopped short of criticizing Biden directly but broke with his handling of the exit strategy.
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.), a close Biden ally, said that while the U.S. military shouldn’t have stayed “indefinitely,” the drawdown “should have been carefully planned to prevent violence and instability, and to ensure that the hard-fought progress gained over the past two decades—particularly when it comes to Afghan women and girls—would not be lost.”
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.), who is up for reelection next year, added that “the rapidly deteriorating situation in Afghanistan reveals a failure to prepare for a scenario where the Afghan government and military would refuse to fight the Taliban's advances when put to the test.”
The pushback over the handling of the drawdown in Afghanistan is for many Democrats about the execution of the plan to withdraw U.S. troops, not the actual endgame itself. Most in the party support ending the U.S. military’s involvement in Afghanistan.
It marks one of the significant rifts between Biden and his own party on Capitol Hill in the nearly seven months of their unified government. And it comes at a crucial moment when he and Democratic leaders are already facing headaches trying to unite warring factions behind the party’s sweeping infrastructure and spending package.
The administration has been working behind the scenes to try to loop in lawmakers and get staff up to date. Administration officials briefed both the House and Senate over the weekend. Senate staffers had an unclassified briefing on Tuesday and will have a classified briefing on Wednesday, according to two Senate sources.
Pelosi’s office is also working to finalize a closed-door briefing for all lawmakers for next week, when they’ll be back in Washington, according to a spokesman.
But Biden’s headaches with congressional Democrats over Afghanistan are unlikely to go away quickly.
House Foreign Affairs 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.) became the first committee chairman to formally invite administration officials to testify. He’s unlikely to be the last.
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.) said that he would work with other committees to “to ask tough but necessary questions about why we weren’t better prepared for a worst-case scenario,” and Senate 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.) said he’ll hold hearings on “what went wrong in Afghanistan and lessons learned to avoid repeating those mistakes.”
Meanwhile, Menendez, Meeks’s Senate counterpart, said he’ll use his panel to probe both former President TrumpDonald TrumpJulian Castro knocks Biden administration over refugee policy Overnight Energy & Environment — League of Conservation Voters — Climate summit chief says US needs to 'show progress' on environment Five takeaways from Arizona's audit results MORE’s negotiations with the Taliban and Biden’s “flawed execution” of the withdrawal. Republicans on the panel want to hear directly from 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.
“The Committee will seek a full accounting for these shortcomings as well as assess why the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces collapsed so quickly. Congress was told repeatedly that the Afghan Defense and Security Forces were up to the task, that it had the troops, equipment and willingness to fight. ... The American and Afghan people clearly have not been told the truth about the ANDSF’s capacity and deserve answers,” Menendez said.
Republicans, including those who have previously been supportive of Trump’s May 1 timetable for withdrawing U.S. forces, have launched fierce criticism of Biden’s handling of the withdrawal.
“The precipitous withdrawal from Afghanistan is an utter disgrace and a stain on our national honor,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellWe don't need platinum to solve the debt ceiling crisis The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Democrats argue price before policy amid scramble House passes standalone bill to provide B for Israel's Iron Dome MORE (R-Ky.), who has been critical of pulling out troops, told reporters in Kentucky.
Sen. Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleySchumer moves to break GOP blockade on Biden's State picks Dems punch back over GOP holdup of Biden SBA nominee DHS chief 'horrified' by images at border MORE (R-Mo.), who previously praised Biden’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops when he announced his timeline in April, this week called the strategy a “disastrous display of incompetence that has provoked a humanitarian crisis.”
Biden is betting that the American public will ultimately support ending the U.S. military’s presence in Afghanistan, which at two decades is the country’s longest war, despite the current barrage of troubling headlines.
“After 20 years, I’ve learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw U.S. forces,” Biden said during an address from the White House.
And some Democrats, including members of leadership and rank-and-file members, have offered full-throated praise for Biden.
Pelosi said Biden “is to be commended for the clarity of purpose of his statement on Afghanistan and his action.” Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinSchumer sets Monday showdown on debt ceiling-government funding bill Democrats surprised, caught off guard by 'framework' deal Senate panel advances antitrust bill that eyes Google, Facebook MORE (D-Ill.) sent a warning shot to Republicans, saying that “those who sat silently when Donald Trump pursued a hasty U.S. withdrawal and now cry howls of outrage reek of hypocrisy.”
Polling this week is sending up early red flags for Democrats and Biden.
Forty-nine percent of voters say they support Biden’s decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan, according to a Morning Consult-Politico poll released this week, marking a 20 percentage point drop since mid-April.
Democrats are signaling big concern over the ability to get Afghans who have aided the U.S. military effort and their families out of Afghanistan. Lawmakers have been signaling for months that they didn’t think the approval of visas was moving fast enough and recently allocated new funding and tried to loosen restrictions to help expedite the process as part of a Capitol security supplemental.
Forty-six senators, comprised almost totally of Democrats, sent a letter this week to Blinken and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro MayorkasAlejandro MayorkasJulian Castro knocks Biden administration over refugee policy Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by AM General — The Quad confab Mayorkas defends Biden policies on migrants in tense White House briefing MORE urging them to take quick action to protect Afghan women, including by increasing processing capacity within U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and tapping an interagency refugee coordinator.
Several congressional offices in both parties have said they are fielding calls this week from constituents with family members still in Afghanistan, as well as by multiple people on the ground who were held up at checkpoints and threatened with violence by the Taliban as they sought to flee.
White House staffers have provided a State Department phone line to House and Senate staffers for Afghanistan inquiries, including for questions about Afghans and their families stuck in the pipeline to get approval to travel to the United States. But that’s done little to dial down pressure from members of Congress.
“They have committed themselves to the broadest possible evacuation of people in several categories,” Rep. Tom MalinowskiThomas (Tom) MalinowskiThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden to reboot COVID-19 plan House Ethics panel reviewing Rep. Malinowski's stock trades Overnight Health Care — US hits new vaccine milestone MORE (D-N.J.) said during a press conference about the administration’s evacuation efforts.
“Now that commitment has to be operational,” he said. “The question is, is this going to be Saigon or Dunkirk? Are we going to leave people behind as we did in South Vietnam or are we going to hold the beach until everybody is taken off that beach?”
Scott Wong contributed