Democrats defeat GOP effort to declare ‘lost confidence’ in Biden after Afghanistan withdrawal
Republicans used a marathon markup of the annual defense policy bill to repeatedly hit President Biden on the messy withdrawal from Afghanistan, offering a slew of amendments related to the issue in an effort to force Democrats into taking tough votes.
Capping their efforts in the final standalone amendment debate after nearly 16 hours of considering the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), Rep. Michael Waltz (R-Fla.) offered an amendment that would have stated Congress “has lost confidence in President Biden’s ability to perform his duties as Commander-in-Chief of the United States Armed Forces.”
“I believe that this president has failed,” Waltz said.
Democrats fumed at Waltz’s amendment, with Rep. Anthony Brown (D-Md.) calling it “outlandish and despicable.”
Democrats rejected the Waltz amendment in a 28-31 party-line vote.
But Democrats, while less explicitly critical of Biden, also used Wednesday and Thursday morning’s consideration of the NDAA to take one of Congress’s first stabs at oversight of the withdrawal and the way ahead by offering some amendments of their own, as well as supporting many of the Republican amendments.
The consideration of the NDAA came days after the last U.S. troops departed Afghanistan, ending America’s longest war but leaving behind 100 to 200 U.S. citizens and thousands of Afghans who wanted to evacuate.
Lawmakers in both parties, including some Democrats who support the underlying idea of withdrawing, have criticized Biden’s execution of the withdrawal, particularly after the chaos that erupted at the Kabul airport after the Taliban took control of the country and the United States raced to evacuate Americans and vulnerable Afghans.
But Republicans sought to seize on Wednesday’s House Armed Services Committee meeting to force Democrats into going on the record in votes aimed at rebuking Biden.
The tone of Wednesday’s NDAA markup was set early, as top Republicans on the panel used their opening statements to knock the withdrawal.
“The decisions that President Biden has been making are disastrous. I fear America is less safe because of them,” Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), the panel’s ranking member, said. “These self-inflicted wounds have made our job even more important and difficult. Today’s markup begins our duty to conduct oversight on the withdrawal from Afghanistan.”
Rep. Trent Kelly (R-Miss.) also blasted what he described as an “abject failure of this administration to ensure a controlled withdrawal and continued security mission within the region,” while Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) referenced “the terrible and entirely preventable situation unfolding in Afghanistan.”
While Democrats have also been critical of the way Biden has handled the withdrawal, some bristled Wednesday at Republicans’ focus on the last few weeks rather than the last 20 years of failures.
“The idea that the only things that went wrong in Afghanistan is what President Biden has done over the past six or seven months is not correct,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said, adding there needs to be an “discussion about 20 years worth of policies that got us to this place. If we just look at the last couple of months and the difficult decisions that were made, we will be failing in our mission to better understand how we can prevent this in the future.”
Many of the Republican amendments were considered uncontroversial and were easily adopted in voice votes, such as ones requiring reports on military equipment abandoned in Afghanistan, the security situation in Afghanistan and threats posed by al Qaeda.
Several other GOP amendments were withdrawn without a vote because of committee jurisdiction issues, including amendments that would have banned U.S. military aid to countries that recognize the Taliban’s government and required a determination on whether the Taliban is a state sponsor of terrorism.
But a couple amendments elicited debate and provided lawmakers with one of their first public opportunities to wrangle over the withdrawal since the Taliban took over Afghanistan and the U.S. military exit from the country spiraled into a chaotic race to evacuate as many civilians as possible before Biden’s Aug. 31 deadline.
In addition to the Waltz amendment, Democrats opposed one from Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-Texas) to launch an inspector general investigation into whether there were “any political motivations” in Biden’s decision to withdraw.
Meanwhile, Democrats supported an amendment opposed by several Republicans that was offered by Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), a fierce opponent of the withdrawal who has been shunned by her party over her vote to impeach former President Trump.
Cheney’s amendment, which was ultimately approved in a voice vote after a lengthy debate, would create an independent, bipartisan commission to study lessons learned from the entire length of the war, with Smith calling it “exactly what we need to do.”
Among the Democratic efforts at Afghanistan oversight was an amendment from Rep. Jason Crow (D-Colo.) approved by voice vote to require a report on plans for “over the horizon” counterterrorism operations, continued efforts to retrieve Americans and Afghan allies left in the country and other areas.
As the last amendment of the night was being offered, the committee also held a moment of silence to honor the 13 U.S. troops who were killed in last week’s ISIS bombing during the evacuation operations.
“Their response when they were called upon to carry out this mission to get into the airport and get as many Americans and Americans allies out as possible, it really was a remarkable mission that those service members went in and did,” Smith said after the moment of silence. “We can’t forget that.”
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