Democratic staffers frustrated by lack of White House details on Afghan evacuees

Democratic staffers frustrated by lack of White House details on Afghan evacuees
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Democratic congressional staffers on a call with the White House shortly after President BidenJoe BidenBiden: Democrats' spending plan is 'a bigger darn deal' than Obamacare Biden says he's open to altering, eliminating filibuster to advance voting rights Biden: Comment that DOJ should prosecute those who defy subpoenas 'not appropriate' MORE’s speech on Afghanistan said they were disappointed to hear the administration had few new details to share about its plans for evacuating tens of thousands of Afghans who assisted the U.S. military.

White House staffers offered only vague remarks when discussing the more than 80,000 people awaiting evacuation, according to three sources familiar with the call.

The only concrete plan for providing relief to evacuees was to establish a phone line with the State Department where members of Congress could inquire about the status of various interpreters and their families seeking to come to the U.S.

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“How are we going to have people stuck in Afghanistan get through to a member of Congress to help someone who is stuck in Afghanistan?” said one source.

“This is a tacit admission the plan isn't working. ... How is that helpful for other people if it's on a one-off basis? Are tens of thousands of people going to reach out to members of Congress? Come on. That makes no sense,” the source added.

Another source, who agreed the phone line was not a solution, said the approach was likely designed to be responsive to members of Congress overwhelmed by calls to their own offices.

When reached for comment, a State Department spokesperson said, "The Department of State is working closely with Congress to ensure that congressional inquiries regarding [special immigrant visas] and other urgent Afghanistan issues are appropriately processed."

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

In his speech, Biden acknowledged the frustration over the high number of Afghans who are still stuck in the country after working with the U.S.

“I know there are concerns about why we did not begin evacuating Afghan civilians sooner,” Biden said. “Part of the answer is some of the Afghans did not want to leave earlier, still hopeful for their country. Part of it was because the Afghan government and its supporters discouraged us from organizing a mass exodus to avoid triggering, as they said, a crisis of confidence.”

The Biden administration is under increasing pressure to swiftly evacuate those who qualify for a special immigrant visa (SIV) as a result of their assistance to the U.S., with many refugee advocates fuming that a visa process with a three-year backlog has left U.S allies vulnerable and stranded.

"In the coming days, the U.S. military will provide assistance to move more SIV-eligible Afghans and their families out of Afghanistan," Biden said Monday.

Another source said the White House staffers had little to say beyond arguing that they were focused on getting U.S. allies out of Afghanistan.

It was frustrating, the third source said, because it seemed contrary to conditions on the ground.

The U.S. has so far designated three bases to house Afghan evacuees. Though the Biden administration had said it is weighing evacuating allies to other countries, sources said they did not discuss any other nations that might house them on Monday's call.

They also did not discuss parole, a method for temporarily allowing those who otherwise don’t meet immigration requirements to come to the U.S.

The scene at Kabul’s international airport descended into chaos Monday as military and civilian flights stalled with thousands of Afghan civilians flooding the tarmac, desperately seeking a way out of the country.

Video footage showed Afghan men running alongside a U.S. Air Force plane, with some attempting to grab onto the sides.

The U.S. has thus far evacuated about 2,000 Afghans.

“They were very proud of the fact that they've helped 2,000 people, but there are tens of thousands more, and 2,000 is not a lot when you have tens of thousands of people waiting and holding on to landing gear at Kabul airport,” the source said.

“This isn't working; they need to do better,” the source added.

Updated on Friday at 10:05 a.m.