US Special Envoy for Climate John Kerry said in remarks released Tuesday that he is confident the world’s largest fossil fuel emitters will ultimately decarbonize. But President Joe Biden’s top international climate official warned we’re quickly running out of time.
Facts First: When it comes to Yemen and Somalia, this claim is not quite accurate. The White House said in June that the US does have military personnel in Yemen and, according to the Defense Department, as of June the US had a small presence in Somalia.
In his letter to Congress, Biden wrote that while “the majority of United States forces in Somalia redeployed or repositioned to neighboring countries prior to my inauguration as President,” the “United States Armed Forces based outside Somalia continue to counter the terrorist threat posed by ISIS and al-Shabaab, an associated force of al-Qa’ida, in Somalia.”
It also won’t work.
The history of midterm elections is riddled with House members — and even some senators — who did everything they could to make sure voters knew they didn’t agree with the president of their party all the time and still wound up cinched at the political waist to the commander in chief.
The simple fact is (and this is never more true than in our current moment of tribalism) that most people have little to no idea who their House members are. They use that vote as a sort of parliamentary one; they vote for (or against) one party as opposed to one person.
The wave metaphor is useful here. What the likes of Wild and Kim (and others in swing districts) are trying to do is row their own little boats away from the potential of an anti-Biden wave that will swamp them. But they can’t row fast enough to get away. Either the wave will dissipate on its own or it will crash down on them.
They have very little agency in all of it. Which is both a) frustrating and b) true.
The Point: The best thing any swing district Democrat can do is push like crazy for Biden to stop the slippage on Afghanistan and pivot to stronger political ground like the infrastructure bill or the bigger coronavirus stimulus package.
The issue is bound to come to a head on Wednesday when the House Armed Services Committee votes on a major defense bill that is certain to become ground zero for debate over the Biden administration’s Afghanistan policy. Republicans are preparing to offer an onslaught of amendments touching on everything from funding for the Taliban to the American citizens left behind, which could put some of the committee’s most vulnerable Democrats in a tough spot.
The GOP-led push — which comes after many in the party cheered then-President Donald Trump’s deal with the Taliban to evacuate US troops on an even earlier timeline — signals that the chaotic withdrawal has now become an issue that could resonate on the campaign trail.
Democrats in swing House districts and difficult Senate races are chiding Biden, with the likes of vulnerable Sen. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire whacking “artificial timelines” set by the President to pull out of Afghanistan. There have been few congressional Democrats defending Biden and the Afghanistan withdrawal in recent days, as the President made a national address on Tuesday defending his decision and insisting it was time to end a war no longer in the national interest.
When asked if she believed the administration has handled the withdrawal well, Michigan Rep. Debbie Dingell said Tuesday, “I want answers to the questions,” adding that Congress must conduct oversight and the US must help Americans evacuate while assisting with the plight of Afghan women under Taliban rule.
“What I’ve watched the last few weeks, I like, many Americans, are in the midst of angst and worry about what’s going to happen and about what happened,” Dingell, a Democrat and member of Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s leadership team, told CNN.
Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin, a Democratic member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said “all four administrations” have made mistakes while overseeing the 20-year war, faulting in particular then-President George W. Bush for actions taken in 2002.
But Cardin added: “I think the Biden administration should have had a contingency plan for the rapid fall of the Afghan government, and a more orderly process for evacuation.”
The concerns are the latest indication of the challenges facing the Biden administration as it heads into a daunting period of legislating in the fall — where the White House and Democratic leaders will attempt to pass a massive social spending program, raise the national borrowing limit, avoid a government shutdown and approve a Senate-passed infrastructure bill. They’ll need total Democratic unity to pass much of their agenda, even as some are looking to keep the President at arms-length.
And it all comes as Democrats are clinging to their majorities in Congress, with growing fears that Biden’s slipping approval ratings could put at risk some of their party’s most endangered seats.
The GOP has jumped on the issue, continuously hammering Biden over his execution of the withdrawal. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy — who has held four news conferences on the topic in a span of a week, even with the House on recess — encouraged Republicans in a letter to “exert maximum pressure on the Democrat majority with our amendments and debate” and “communicate the human stories of our fellow countrymen still in Afghanistan by meeting and doing events with local veterans in your districts and continuing to message on TV and local media.”
Republicans have also pumped out videos on social media to show they’re in Washington this week and call on Pelosi to bring the House back into session for in-person briefings and floor action.
But McCarthy has contradicted his own messaging at times, telling reporters last week he believes there should be no US troops in Afghanistan while saying at the same news conference that the US should have kept Bagram Air Base open indefinitely. And the California Republican also suggested the US should not negotiate with the Taliban, without mentioning that it was Trump who initially invited the Taliban to Camp David — an invitation that was ultimately scuttled.
Yet it’s not just Republicans who are pushing back. Some Senate Democrats in difficult reelection races are also sounding the alarm.
“Leaving any American citizen behind is unacceptable, and I will keep pushing this administration to do everything in its power to get our people out,” said Sen. Mark Kelly, an Arizona Democrat.
Hassan, who faces a difficult reelection, told WMUR last week that there have been “real miscalculations” by Biden’s foreign policy team, saying there shouldn’t be “artificial timelines” set for the withdrawal.
To push back against his critics, Biden offered a forceful defense of his decision to withdraw US troops in Afghanistan, delivering a speech Tuesday in which he argued that the evacuation was a “success” — despite the death of 13 US service members in a suicide bombing last week — while arguing that his choice was “between leaving and escalating.”
“I was not going to extend this forever war, and I was not extending a forever exit,” Biden said.
Biden said the US mission was shifting to a diplomatic effort to help the remaining seeking to leave Afghanistan get out of the country.
Some Democrats said Biden effectively made his case.
Rep. Elaine Luria, a Virginia Democrat in a swing district, said she was initially skeptical of the August 31 withdrawal deadline. But she said her view changed after seeing the thousands of Americans who were able to get airlifted out of the country and as she understood the danger facing US troops if they remained stationed there.
“The risk seemed to be escalating to a point where I can’t be second-guessing the commanders on the ground,” Luria told CNN.
Luria, who sits on the House Armed Services Committee, added of Biden’s speech: “He was very strong and emphatic in his remarks and he stood behind the decision he made. … He spoke to people who had doubts” about the withdrawal. “And I think he was very clear on all those points.”
Contentious fight over Afghanistan awaits House panel
On Wednesday, the politics of Afghanistan and the 2022 midterms will collide when the Armed Services panel considers a $744 billion bill to authorize defense programs. The committee includes a number of Democrats in the most competitive races, including Rep. Elissa Slotkin, whose Michigan district voted for Trump last fall.
“Our office worked around the clock advocating to get American citizens and our Afghan partners through the gates in the final hours before the August 31 deadline,” Slotkin said, noting there are fewer than 200 in the country now. “In the coming weeks, I will be providing any assistance — and oversight — I can to make sure the administration gets every single one of them out of Afghanistan.”
While the annual National Defense Authorization Act covers everything from the Pentagon’s policies prosecuting military sexual assault to authorizing military pay raises and funding for F-35 fighter jets, much of the committee’s debate this year will be focused on Afghanistan.
House Republicans have filed more than 50 amendments related to Afghanistan, out of more than 700 that have been offered ahead of the committee debate, which often goes past midnight before the bill is advanced.
Congressional aides say the amendments include provisions to tell Congress what weapons may have fallen into the hands of the Taliban and what intelligence the Pentagon may have shared with them. Other proposals would designate the Taliban as a foreign terror organization, prohibit funding to the Taliban and require an Afghanistan counterterrorism plan from the Biden administration.
“There’s going to be a vigorous debate (on) NDAA,” vowed Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama, the panel’s top Republican.
In some cases, Democrats may find themselves in a difficult position: forced to choose between crossing their own party or taking tough votes on hot-button issues that could be turned into attack ads that hurt them back home.
“There’s going to be some things that are pretty hard-hitting,” GOP Rep. Michael Waltz of Florida, a combat-decorated Green Beret, told CNN. “The policy’s been pretty terrible, it’s been disastrous. I think when we stick to that, we’ll get some Democrats’ support.”
One GOP source said many of the amendments are likely to attract bipartisan support, as the committee contains a number of frontline Democrats poised to have difficult campaigns in next year’s midterms. But other Democrats on the committee with national security backgrounds may also be inclined to back some of the amendments.
Other frontline Democrats on the panel include Reps. Andy Kim of New Jersey and Jared Golden of Maine, who — like Slotkin — both represent districts won by Trump and have national security backgrounds.
“There’s a good number of folks on the committee who are pretty knowledgeable on this and have been critical of the administration. It’s not just the front-liners,” the GOP source said. The Biden administration “did not lay the groundwork with the House national security members on the Afghanistan withdrawal to position themselves where they’d have defenders.”
In addition to the Afghanistan policy, Rogers plans to offer an amendment to boost the Pentagon’s budget by $25 billion. That proposal may also attract bipartisan support, just as it did in the Senate Armed Services Committee in July, in a rebuke to the Biden administration.
The annual defense authorization bill, which authorizes funding and sets Pentagon policy, is one of the few major pieces of bipartisan legislation that actually gets signed into law every year. Still, the marathon markups can attract drama — and the fresh conflict over Afghanistan is promising to add a whole new layer to the debate.
“We’ll see how Afghanistan changes what was originally planned,” freshman Rep. Blake Moore, a Utah Republican who sits on the House Armed Services Committee, told CNN. “I got the sense that things were going to go relatively smoothly. But I think that this could add a lot more into that day.”
CNN’s Morgan Rimmer contributed to this report.
The bill “will solidify trust and confidence in the outcome of our elections by making it easier to vote and harder to cheat,” Abbott said in a statement Tuesday after the bill’s final passage in the state House and Senate. “I look forward to signing Senate Bill 1 into law, ensuring election integrity in Texas.”
Once several Democrats returned to the Capitol in Austin last week, the party was powerless to stop election law changes that its leaders say will impose burdens that fall disproportionately on minorities and people with disabilities.
“I was born in segregation,” Democratic state Rep. Garnet Coleman said before Tuesday’s House before the vote. “We think we’ve made progress, and then all of a sudden there’s a new law that moves us back in time.”
Senate Bill 1 takes aim at Harris County, the home of Houston, which last year offered drive-thru voting and 24-hour early voting. The bill restricts the hours counties can offer early voting to between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. And it prohibits tactics like the ones Harris County used in 2020, when a garage at the Toyota Center — the home of the Houston Rockets — was used as a place residents could vote from their vehicles.
The bill also blocks counties from sending unsolicited mail-in voting applications — even to those who are over age 65 and therefore qualify automatically to vote by mail. It also places new rules around mail-in voting, increases protections for partisan poll watchers and sets new limits on those who help voters, including those with disabilities, to cast their ballots.
The House’s passage of SB 1 last week was the final major hurdle Republicans needed to clear. Then, the House and Senate hashed out the differences between the versions of the bill they’d approved in a conference committee, requiring both chambers to sign off on the final language.
Republicans on the conference committee chose to remove a bipartisan amendment that would have prevented voter fraud charges against people who did not know their “particular circumstances” made them ineligible to vote.
The House passed the final bill Tuesday on an 80-41 vote, and hours later the Senate approved the bill with an 18-13 vote.
“The right to vote is too precious, it costs too much, for us to leave it unprotected, unsecured,” said state Sen. Bryan Hughes, the Republican author of the measure. “This is a bill we can be proud of. It’s going to help every voter.”
Democrats in Texas — as the party’s members have in other states — said the only way to halt Republican laws that restrict voting access is for Congress to pass federal voting rights protections, which remain stalled on Capitol Hill.
“We knew we wouldn’t be able to hold off this day forever. Now that it has come, we need the U.S. Senate to act immediately to pass federal legislation to protect Texas voters from Republicans’ assault on our democracy,” Texas House Democratic caucus chair Chris Turner said in a statement.
Seen in a long camera exposure, the Caldor Fire burns at the Sierra-at-Tahoe ski resort on Sunday, August, 29, in Eldorado National Forest, California. The main buildings at the ski slope’s base survived as the main fire front passed.
Residents are stuck in gridlock while attempting to evacuate as the Caldor fire approaches in South Lake Tahoe, California, on Monday, August 30.
Firefighters with the Eldorado National Forest address the Caldor Fire in Strawberry, California, on Friday, August 27. The raging fire has prompted evacuation orders and warnings in the Lake Tahoe Basin.
A tanker makes a fire retardant drop near Lytle Creek, California, on Thursday, August 26, as efforts continue to stop the South fire.
A firefighter watches a tree as the French Fire burns in the Sequoia National Forest near Wofford Heights, California, on Wednesday, August 25.
A firefighter tries to extinguish flames at a burning house as the South Fire burns in Lytle Creek, California, on August 25.
From left, Astrid Covarrubias, Jose Lamas and Maria Covarrubias walk through smoke after visiting their burned-out home in Lytle Creek on August 25.
The French Fire continues to spread near Wofford Heights, California, on August 25.
Firefighters are seen behind the flames of a backfire they were setting to battle the French Fire near Wofford Heights on Tuesday, August 24.
Crews battle California’s Caldor Fire as it moves east toward Lake Tahoe on Monday, August 23.
This aerial photo, taken on August 19, shows burned homes at the Creekside Mobile Home Park a day after they were destroyed by the Cache Fire in Clearlake, California.
Firefighters dig a containment line on the Caldor Fire near Pollock Pines, California, on August 18.
Smoke and haze from wildfires obscure the Golden Gate Bridge and the San Francisco skyline on August 18.
In this long-exposure photo, embers light up hillsides as the Dixie Fire burns near Milford, California, on August 17.
Destiney Barnard holds Raymond William Goetchius while stranded at a gas station in Doyle, California, on August 17. Barnard’s car broke down as she was helping Raymond and his family flee the Dixie Fire.
Destroyed property is seen August 17 after the Caldor Fire passed through Grizzly Flats, California.
Firefighters spray water on trees being burned by the Dixie Fire near Janesville, California, on August 17.
A firefighting helicopter flies in front of the sun, which was shrouded in thick wildfire smoke near Lakeview, Oregon, on August 15.
Wind blows smoke away for a moment, revealing damage from the Parleys Canyon Fire in Utah on August 14.
Crews battle a fire in Newhall, California, on August 12.
A table and chairs sit in front of a destroyed home in Greenville, California, on August 12.
A firefighter battles the Dixie Fire near Taylorsville, California, on August 10.
Smoke plumes rise from the Kwis Fire near Eugene, Oregon, on August 10.
A firefighter works to extinguish a controlled burn, a preventative measure, to protect a home in Greenville, California, on August 9.
Firefighters battling the Dixie Fire clear a fallen tree from a roadway in Plumas County, California, on August 6.
Flames from the Dixie Fire consume a pickup truck on Highway 89, south of Greenville, California, on August 5.
Operations Chief Jay Walter passes the historic Sierra Lodge as the Dixie Fire burns through Greenville, California, on August 4. The fire leveled multiple historic buildings and dozens of homes in central Greenville.
Firefighters work at a Greenville home that was engulfed by the Dixie Fire on August 4.
The Dixie Fire burns near Taylorsville, California, on July 29.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom, left, and Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak tour an area destroyed by the Tamarack Fire in Gardnerville, Nevada, on July 28.
Firefighter Brentt Call walks through a burned-over area of the Bootleg Fire near Klamath Falls, Oregon, on July 27.
Cal Fire Capts. Tristan Gale, left, and Derek Leong monitor a firing operation in California’s Lassen National Forest on July 26. Crews had set a ground fire to stop the Dixie Fire from spreading.
Firefighters try to reach a fire site in Quincy, California, on July 25.
Volunteers sort clothing at a donation shelter for those affected by the Bootleg Fire in Bly, Oregon.
Scott Griffin surveys his property, which was destroyed by the Bootleg Fire in Sycan Estates, Oregon.
Flames consume a home as the Dixie Fire tears through the Indian Falls community of Plumas County, California, on July 24.
People stand behind the fire line as flames from the Steptoe Canyon Fire spread through dry grass in Colton, Washington, on July 22.
Plumes of smoke from the Dixie Fire rise above California’s Plumas National Forest, near the Pacific Gas and Electric Rock Creek Power House, on July 21.
Firefighters walk near a wildfire in Topanga, California, on July 19.
A firefighter does mop-up work in the Fremont-Winema National Forest, which has been struggling with the Bootleg Fire in Oregon.
A car is charred by the Bootleg Fire along a mountain road near Bly, Oregon.
Nicolas Bey, 11, hugs his father, Sayyid, near a donated trailer they are using after their home was burned in the Bootleg Fire near Beatty, Oregon.
Firefighters extinguish hot spots in an area affected by the Bootleg Fire near Bly, Oregon.
A bear cub clings to a tree after being spotted by a safety officer at the Bootleg Fire in Oregon.
Firefighters work to protect Markleeville, California, from the Tamarack Fire on July 17. The Tamarack Fire was started by a lightning strike.
The Tamarack Fire burns in Markleeville, near the California-Nevada border, on July 17.
A member of the Northwest Incident Management Team 12 holds a map of the Chuweah Creek Fire as wildfires devastated Nespelem, Washington, on July 16.
A cloud from the Bootleg Fire drifts into the air near Bly, Oregon, on July 16.
Firefighters spray water from the Union Pacific Railroad’s fire train while battling the Dixie Fire in California’s Plumas National Forest on July 16.
Horses climb a hillside that was burned by the Chuweah Creek Fire in eastern Washington.
Fire from the Bootleg Fire illuminates smoke near Bly, Oregon, on the night of July 16.
A firefighter battles the Bootleg Fire in the Fremont-Winema National Forest, along the Oregon and California border, on July 15.
A firefighting aircraft drops flame retardant on the Bootleg Fire in Bly, Oregon, on July 15.
Firefighters dig away at hot spots underneath stumps and brush after flames from the Snake River Complex Fire swept through the area south of Lewiston, Idaho, on July 15.
Burned cars sit outside a home that was destroyed by the Chuweah Creek Fire in Nespelem, Washington.
Evacuee Dee McCarley hugs her cat Bunny at a Red Cross center in Klamath Falls, Oregon, on July 14.
An airplane drops fire retardant on the Chuweah Creek Fire in Washington on July 14.
Operations Section Chief Bert Thayer examines a map of the Bootleg Fire in Chiloquin, Oregon, on July 13.
Men hug a member of the Red Cross at a Bootleg Fire evacuation center in Klamath Falls, Oregon.
Embers blow across a field as the Sugar Fire burns in Doyle, California, on July 9.
Firefighters monitor the Sugar Fire in Doyle, California, on July 9.
In this long-exposure photograph, taken early on July 2, flames surround a drought-stricken Shasta Lake during the Salt Fire in Lakehead, California.