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The Daily 202: Biden says he has no Afghanistan withdrawal regrets. But.

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with Mariana Alfaro

Welcome to The Daily 202 newsletter! Tell your friends to sign up here. On this day in 2014, the world lost actress Lauren Bacall. “You know how to whistle, don’t you Steve? You just put your lips together, and blow.”

President Biden’s unwavering belief in the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan could soon come up against his famous empathy with people who lose loved ones to tragedies beyond their control, as the Taliban scorches its way back to power. 

Even so, the Islamist militia’s mounting battlefield gains aren’t likely to provoke the president to reverse course on a pullout he ordered, arguing he must defend America’s national interest and not the well-being of Afghanistan’s war-harried population. 

I do not regret my decision,” the president said Tuesday. “Afghan leaders have to come together. We lost thousands — lost to death and injury — thousands of American personnel. They’ve got to fight for themselves, fight for their nation.” 

Whether Biden might yet face political costs at home as the Afghan carnage piles up is unclear. 

Americans support the withdrawal, while domestic crises (the pandemic) and achievements (his infrastructure proposal) dominate the news cycle, at least for now. U.S. hawks no longer have the hold on the American debate and U.S. imagination they had 20 years ago next month, while the World Trade Center and Pentagon still smoldered.

Biden’s administration has tried to convey two basic messages as the Taliban romps across the country, retaking provinces and major cities, defeating U.S.-trained and -equipped Afghan forces with unsettling ease, no longer stalemated by American troops and air power.

One, it’s up to the Afghans now. Two, the United States isn’t completely cutting off the government in Kabul. 

My colleague Karen DeYoung reported last night on a “last-ditch” U.S. effort to bring global diplomatic pressure on the Taliban, warning of diplomatic and economic isolation if it reconquers Afghanistan. 

In the largest such gathering since U.S.-Taliban talks began nearly two years ago, representatives from Russia, China, Afghanistan’s regional neighbors, European powers, the European Union, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the United Nations have converged on Doha, Qatar, for U.S.-led meetings with the militants. 

The hope is that sheer numbers and a unified stance — both during the Taliban meetings and in a tough joint statement to be issued after their last session Thursday — will disabuse the militants of any notion that there are cracks in international resolve to cut off any Taliban government from all diplomatic contact and assistance. 

Russia, China, Iran and others in the region have recently hosted delegations of senior Taliban officials, treating them as ‘diplomats, as a kind of hedge,’ said a senior Biden administration official, one of several U.S. and European officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the sensitive diplomacy.” 

Karen’s report came a day after our colleagues Dan Lamothe, John Hudson, Shane Harris and Anne Gearan broke news the Biden administration’s outlook on Afghanistan has soured even further in the aftermath of the U.S. withdrawal: 

“A rapid disintegration of security has prompted the revision of an already stark intelligence assessment predictingKabul could be overrunwithin six to 12 months of the U.S. military departing, according to current and former U.S. officials familiar with the matter. 

One official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the issue’s sensitivity, said Tuesday that the U.S. military now assesses a collapse could occur within 90 days. Others said it could happen within a month. Some officials said that although they were not authorized to discuss the assessment, they see the situation in Afghanistan as more dire than it was in June, when intelligence officials assessed a fall could come as soon as six months after the withdrawal of the U.S. military. 

Asked about the new assessment, White House press secretary Jen Psaki didn’t dispute its existence or its accuracy. 

“We don't rely on anonymous assessments,” she told reporters Wednesday. “We rely on the intelligence assessments made by the U.S. government. They have put out public assessments which, certainly, we stand by.” 

Public intelligence and military assessments for the last 20 years have insisted, with metronomic regularity, that the United States wasn’t losing in Afghanistan, and that Afghan forces were meeting recruitment and training goals, and could stand on their own without direct U.S. support. Here’s a corrective.

“We are closely watching the deteriorating security conditions in parts of the country, but no particular outcome, in our view, is inevitable,” Psaki said. 

“Our larger point here is: Ultimately, the Afghan National Security Defense Forces have the equipment, numbers, and training to fight back. They have what they need. What they need to determine is if they have the political will to fight back.” 

As senator, Biden voted in favor of the 2001 authorization for use of military force that set America’s longest shooting war in motion. When he was vice president, his outlook on the conflict soured, to the point he faxed a memo written in longhand to President Barack Obama over Thanksgiving 2009, arguing against a troop increase there

As candidate for the White House and as president, Biden has been a staunch (some might say coldblooded) believer in the argument that America’s vital national security interests weren’t served by keeping U.S. forces there another year. 

In a contentious February 2020 interview with CBS, which I highlighted last month, Biden angrily disputed that the United States would own whatever happened after the military withdrawal he was advocating. 

“Face The Nation” host Margaret Brennan asked Biden, “Don't you bear some responsibility for the outcome if the Taliban ends up back in control and women end up losing the rights?” 

Do I bear responsibility? Zero responsibility. The responsibility I have is to protect America's national self-interest and not put our women and men in harm's way to try to solve every single problem in the world by use of force,” Biden thundered. “That's my responsibility as president. And that's what I'll do as president.”

What’s happening now

The Texas Senate passed a bill with new voting restrictions after a Democrat filibustered for 15 hours to try to stop the measure. “The state Senate voted 18-11 in favor of Senate Bill 1 around 9 a.m. local time, after Senate Democratic Caucus Chair Carol Alvarado left the floor for the first time since 5:50 p.m. on Wednesday — the latest long-shot effort by state Democrats to try to stymie passage of the legislation,” Eva Ruth Moravec and Elise Viebeck report. “Filibuster rules prevented her from eating, sitting down, leaning on her desk, taking a bathroom break or speaking on subjects unrelated to the legislation. ... Shortly after she finished, Sen. Bryan Hughes, the GOP sponsor of the bill, urged its passage, saying the measure contained ‘simple, common sense reforms.’ The chamber swiftly voted in favor... After the Senate session concluded, Republican Sen. Bob Hall called the legislation ‘one of the best bills we’ve passed in a long time.’”

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Lunchtime reads from The Post

  • What Rosen told U.S. senators: Trump applied ‘persistent’ pressure to get Justice to discredit election,” by Ann Marimow and Josh Dawsey: “Trump’s last acting attorney general has told U.S. senators his boss was ‘persistent’ in trying to pressure the Justice Department to discredit the results of the 2020 election. In closed-door testimony Saturday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Jeffrey Rosen said he had to ‘persuade the president not to pursue a different path’ at a high-stakes January meeting in which Trump considered ousting Rosen as the nation’s most powerful law enforcement officer. According to a person familiar with the testimony, Rosen’s opening statement also characterized as ‘inexplicable’ the actions of his Justice Department colleague, Jeffrey Clark, who was willing to push Trump’s false claims of election fraud and whom Trump considered installing as acting attorney general to replace Rosen.”
  • Giuliani told agents it was okay to ‘throw a fake’ during political campaign,” by Devlin Barrett: “Rudolph W. Giuliani’s promise of a ‘big surprise’ to help Trump’s election in October 2016 led to Democratic accusations the FBI was feeding him secrets about an investigation of Hillary Clinton. But a newly obtained transcript shows the former New York mayor told federal agents it was okay to ‘throw a fake’ when campaigning, to which his then-law partner added, ‘there’s no obligation to tell the truth.’ Giuliani’s comments came in a 2018 interview with agents for the Justice Department inspector general, conducted in a room at Trump’s hotel in downtown Washington.”
  • The grand illusion: Hiding the truth about the Afghanistan war’s ‘conclusion,’” an excerpt of Craig Whitlock’s new book on the Afghanistan War: “President Barack Obama had promised to end the war, so on Dec. 28, 2014, U.S. and NATO officials held a ceremony at their headquarters in Kabul to mark the occasion. ... But for such a historical day, the military ceremony seemed strange and underwhelming. Obama issued his statement from Hawaii while he relaxed on vacation. The event took place in a gymnasium, where several dozen people sat on folding chairs. There was little mention of the enemy, let alone an instrument of surrender. Nobody cheered. In fact, the war was nowhere near a conclusion, ‘responsible’ or otherwise, and U.S. troops would fight and die in combat in Afghanistan for many years to come. The baldfaced claims to the contrary ranked among the most egregious deceptions and lies that U.S. leaders spread during two decades of warfare.”

… and beyond

  • A guy who might be at fault for January 6 somehow got hired on the Capitol riot committee,” by Vice News’s Cameron Joseph: “The committee tasked with finding out how January 6 was allowed to happen announced last Friday that it had hired Joe Maher, a senior official at the Department of Homeland Security, to help run its investigation into the failures that led to the tragic day. That’s an alarming conflict of interest: Maher was running one of the key offices that may have contributed to that failure. Maher, a career official with almost two decades at DHS, became head of its Office of Intelligence and Analysis at the beginning of August during a rocky period for the office that is tasked with monitoring and warning about risks of domestic terrorism.”
  • Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul says 'yes I will' run for governor next year,” by the Albany Times Union: “Hochul on Thursday morning confirmed she intends to run for governor next year in what is expected to be a heated gubernatorial race after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced his resignation. … ‘I won’t let New Yorkers down,’ [she said]. Hochul also reiterated a statement that she made to the Buffalo News on Wednesday that she believes masks will be required in schools this fall. … The lieutenant governor, who is from western New York, acknowledged her candidacy a day after she pledged to clean up the Executive Chamber's ‘toxic work environment’ in the wake of a state attorney general's investigation that concluded Cuomo is a serial harasser who preyed on multiple women.”

The pandemic

The FDA is set to approve booster shots for immunocompromised people. 
Two-thirds of Americans in highly vaccinated counties now live in covid-19 hot spots, a Post analysis found. 
  • “The Post analysis illustrates how rapidly the state of the pandemic changed in July from a problem for the unvaccinated to a nationwide concern,” Fenit Nirappil, Dan Keating, Maria Aguilar, Naema Ahmed and Aaron Steckelberg report. “The Post classified the highest top quarter of counties as high vaccination, with at least 54 percent of the population fully vaccinated. The lowest quarter of counties were classified as low vaccination, with fewer than 40 percent of the population fully vaccinated. The CDC identifies hot spots as areas with high and rising caseloads, as compared with areas with moderate or low covid-19 outbreaks.”
  • “On the Fourth of July, just four percent of residents of highly vaccinated communities lived in hot spots, compared with 13 percent of people in low-vaccination areas. The outbreaks initially grew in the poorly vaccinated areas, where 28 percent of residents lived in hot spots as of July 14, compared with 13 percent of residents in highly vaccinated communities.”
  • “The gap narrowed in recent weeks as cases surged in major West Coast cities, South Florida urban centers and the New York-to-Boston corridor. By August, it closed. About two-thirds of residents living in both highly and poorly vaccinated counties are now in hot spots with high and rising caseloads.”
Meanwhile, hospitals across Texas and Florida are struggling. 
  • “At least two hospitals in Houston have been so overwhelmed with coronavirus patients this week that officials erected overflow tents outside. In Austin, hospitals were nearly out of beds in their intensive care units. And in San Antonio, a spike in virus cases reached alarming levels not seen in months, with children as young as 2 months old tethered to supplemental oxygen,” the Times’s Edgar Sandoval and Giulia Heyward report. “Across Texas, health officials warned of overloaded, strained hospitals, a growing crisis not seen since early February, when a late winter wave deluged the state’s health care system. More than 10,000 Texans have been hospitalized this week and at least 53 hospitals were at maximum capacity in their intensive care units.”
  • Hospital systems in Florida are also facing staff shortages. “Just north of Miami, covid-19 patients are flooding into the six Broward County hospitals run by Memorial Healthcare System, as Florida is being slammed with the highest rate of coronavirus admissions in the country. Memorial has enough beds. Not so with nurses,” Amy Goldstein reports. “The hospital system has scrambled to hire 439 travel nurses from as far away as Alaska, and it is offering some of its own nurses well-paid short-term contracts to compete with the appeal of working for lucrative outside agencies. It is beginning to pause some elective surgeries to shift staff to patients sick with covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Even so, the large public health-care system has about 700 nursing vacancies.”
Sen. Rand Paul disclosed 16 months late that his wife bought stock in Gilead Sciences, the company behind an antiviral drug used to treat covid-19.
  • The Republican from Kentucky said his wife bought the stock on Feb. 26, 2020, before the threat from the coronavirus was fully understood by the public and before it was classified as a pandemic by the World Health Organization, Isaac Stanley-Becker reports.
  • “The disclosure, in a filing with the Senate, came 16 months after the 45-day reporting deadline set forth in the Stock Act, which is designed to combat insider trading. Experts in corporate and securities law said the investment, and especially the delayed reporting of it, undermined trust in government and raised questions about whether the Kentucky Republican’s family had sought to profit from nonpublic information about the looming health emergency and plans by the U.S. government to combat it.”
  • “Kelsey Cooper, a spokeswoman for Paul, said the senator completed a reporting form for his wife’s investment last year but learned only recently, while preparing an annual disclosure, that the form had not been transmitted. He sought guidance from the Senate Ethics Committee, she said, and filed the supplemental report Wednesday along with the annual disclosure, which was due in May and submitted three months late. She also said Paul’s wife, Kelley, an author and former communications consultant, lost money on the investment, which she made with her own earnings. The purchase was of between $1,000 and $15,000 of stock in Gilead, which makes the antiviral drug known as remdesivir.”

Quote of the day

“They’re making a political bet on the lives of the people they serve,” former Republican National Committee chairman Michael S. Steele said about Republican governors’ moves against more coronavirus restrictions. “The party leadership has gone so far out on this limb that there they stand with a saw in their hand and they’re sawing it off.”

The 2020 Census is here

The Census Bureau is expected to drop its 2020 data today.
  • “Local-level demographic results from the 2020 census, set for release around a 1 p.m. ET news conference, will set off a scramble to redraw congressional and state legislative districts that pits power against power at the state level and, inevitably, in courtrooms across the country,” ABC News’s Rick Klein, Averi Harper and Alisa Wiersema write.
  • “The new data being released Thursday will show which counties, cities and neighborhoods gained or lost the most people in the 2020 census. That will serve as the building block to redraw 429 U.S. House districts in 44 states and 7,383 state legislative districts across the U.S. The official goal is to ensure each district has roughly the same number of people,” the AP’s David Lieb and Nicholas Riccardi report. “Republicans need to gain just five seats to take control of the U.S. House in the 2022 elections — a margin that could potentially be covered through artful redistricting. ... As they did after the 2010 census, Republicans will hold greater sway in the redistricting process. The GOP will control redistricting in 20 states accounting for 187 U.S. House seats, including the growing states of Texas, Florida, Georgia and North Carolina. By contrast, Democrats will control redistricting in just eight states accounting for 75 seats, including New York and Illinois, where the loss of a seat in each gives them a chance to squeeze out Republican incumbents. In 16 other states accounting for 167 U.S. House seats, districts will be drawn either by independent commissions or by politically split politicians with legislative chambers led by one party and governors of another. Six states have just one U.S. House seat, so there are no district lines to be drawn.”
  • “The data the Census Bureau releases Thursday will be what's called the ‘legacy version’ — a technical version of the data that states and political parties can plug into proprietary software to use to begin drawing maps,” CNN’s Eric Bradner reports. “A less-technical version — easier to read and for outside groups and individuals without access to that proprietary software — will come on September 30.”
  • “However, a number of organizations this year plan to release versions of the data that would allow individuals and outside groups to measure the makeup of proposed districts more quickly than in previous redistricting cycles.”

Hot on the left

“How Schumer’s kept his Democrats in array — so far,” by Politico’s Marianne Levine and Burgess Everett: “The Senate majority leader is not known for putting a hard whip on his members, yet Schumer's willingness to dish tough truths to the likes of Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin — not to mention Bernie Sanders — amounts to his recipe for delivery on Biden's domestic agenda. ... Behind the scenes, Schumer began to nudge harder than his genial nature suggests. He recalled telling Sanders, the Senate Budget Committee chair and the firmest “no” vote on the bipartisan plan, that ‘if you want the moderates to vote with the progressive vision, you can't vote no on this. You don't have that luxury.’ Then Schumer gathered Manchin and Sinema, his two most critical centrists, and told them of the caucus liberals: ‘If you won't vote yes on the budget resolution, I can't get them to vote yes’ on the bipartisan bill. The party's two wings "each need each other,” Schumer said in an interview, explaining his ‘two-track’ legislative strategy to link it with a party-line spending bill.”

Hot on the right

Trump will meet with a former ally of Rep. Liz Cheney (R) about a Wyoming primary challenge. “Trump is poised to sit down with Harriet Hageman, a Republican trial attorney who waged an unsuccessful 2018 campaign for governor of Wyoming, according to five people familiar with the matter. The meeting comes as Trump ramps up his effort to unseat Cheney in next year’s GOP primary,” Politico’s Alex Isenstadt reports. “Hageman would be an unconventional candidate should she choose to challenge Cheney. She was a member of Cheney’s leadership team during Cheney’s short-lived 2014 Senate campaign. She has also contributed to Cheney twice: a $500 check in 2013, and one for $1,500 in 2016.” 

Why Olympic host countries (usually) win more medals, visualized

Despite the absence of home crowds in Tokyo, Japan continued a long tradition of host countries raking in more medals than usual.

Today in Washington

Biden is delivering remarks on how his Build Back Better agenda plans on lowering prescription drug prices. At 12:20 p.m., the president will travel to Wilmington, Del. 

Harris will host a meeting with businesses to discuss the importance of care policies today at 2:15 p.m. 

In closing

Seth Meyers reviewed Mike Lindell's meltdown at his own cyber symposium: