McCarthy calls for House to return and vote on delaying Afghanistan withdrawal
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on Thursday called for bringing the chamber back from recess so lawmakers can vote on legislation that would prohibit withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan until all remaining Americans are evacuated.
McCarthy’s call came after multiple explosions around the airport in Kabul, where U.S. officials are frantically trying to evacuate Americans and Afghans at risk of retaliation from the Taliban, led to the deaths of multiple U.S. service members.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and her leadership team called House members back to Washington earlier this week for a two-day session to adopt a $3.5 trillion budget resolution to begin the process for Democrats’ ambitious spending plan to expand social safety net programs. But the House has since gone back on recess until Sept. 20 as previously scheduled.
McCarthy pressed for the House to take legislative action in the form of Rep. Mike Gallagher’s (R-Wis.) bill, which would require the Pentagon to submit daily status reports to Congress on the evacuation of U.S. citizens and permanent residents from Afghanistan and prohibit reducing troop numbers there until the rescue efforts are complete.
“It is time for Congress to act quickly to save lives. Speaker Pelosi must bring Congress back into session before August 31 so that we can be briefed thoroughly and comprehensively by the Biden Administration and pass Representative Gallagher’s legislation prohibiting the withdrawal of our troops until every American is out of Afghanistan,” McCarthy said in a statement.
“In the meantime, President Biden must take decisive action to protect our troops, our citizens, and our allies without regard for an arbitrary deadline,” McCarthy added.
Pelosi said in a letter to lawmakers on Thursday afternoon that “we must and will continue to be briefed by the administration,” noting that she and other congressional leaders were briefed by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin earlier in the day.
Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill blasted McCarthy for “empty stunts” that he argued would be counterproductive.
“Right now, American heroes are risking & giving their lives to execute an extraordinarily dangerous evacuation, & the Minority Leader wants to defund the mission & tie the Commander in Chief’s hands in the middle of the most dangerous days of the operation,” Hammill wrote on Twitter.
“What’s not going to help evacuate American citizens is more empty stunts & distraction from the Minority Leader who sat idly by as Pres. Trump proudly negotiated with the Taliban. The Biden Administration has repeatedly briefed the Congress & providing frequent updates each day,” Hammill added.
The Trump administration initially negotiated an agreement in 2020 with the Taliban that set May 1 of this year as the date for the U.S. withdrawal. Biden ultimately delayed the May 1 deadline to the end of this month.
While in the Capitol this week, House members received a classified briefing on Tuesday about Afghanistan from top Biden administration officials, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley.
Lawmakers of both parties emerged from the briefing urging Biden to delay his Aug. 31 deadline to withdraw U.S. military forces, and warned that sticking to the date would risk leaving American allies behind.
Biden said earlier this week that he was sticking to the deadline next Tuesday for withdrawal, citing the security risks of staying longer in Afghanistan.
“There are real and significant challenges that we also have to take into consideration,” Biden said earlier this week. “The longer we stay, starting with the acute and growing risk of an attack by a terrorist group known as ISIS-K, an ISIS affiliate in Afghanistan — which is the sworn enemy of the Taliban as well — every day we’re on the ground is another day we know that ISIS-K is seeking to target the airport and attack both U.S. and Allied forces and innocent civilians.”
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul warned citizens on Wednesday to avoid traveling to the Hamid Karzai International Airport due to “security threats,” adding that “U.S. citizens who are at the Abbey Gate, East Gate, or North Gate now should leave immediately.”
Pelosi defended Biden in remarks on Wednesday despite bipartisan calls to extend the deadline for withdrawing from Afghanistan, saying that “I trust his judgment.”
“The judgment about leaving is a judgment that the president has made, and he has to balance the equities of what is the threat to our military and the people at the airport versus the advantage of staying,” Pelosi said at a press conference in the Capitol.
Two House members who were roundly criticized for making an unauthorized trip to Kabul this week said that what they saw on the ground ultimately changed their minds about the withdrawal deadline.
Reps. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) and Peter Meijer (R-Mich.) previously urged the Biden administration to extend the deadline, but they said in a New York Times interview published Wednesday that moving quickly will provide the U.S. with a better chance of Taliban cooperation later on.
“Almost every veteran in Congress wants to extend the Aug. 31 deadline, including us, and our opinion on that was changed on the ground, because we started the evacuations so late. There’s no way we can get everyone out, even by Sept. 11. So we need to have a working relationship with the Taliban after our departure. And the only way to achieve that is to leave by Aug. 31,” Moulton said.
Updated at 5:26 p.m.