with Tobi Raji

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On the Hill

BACK TO SCHOOL: House Democrats are returning to Washington D.C. today to start work on adopting a $3.5 trillion budget resolution that will advance some of the Biden administration's biggest policy promises. 

That's if the centrist and liberal wings of the party can agree on how to proceed after a group of moderate House Democrats have threatened to vote against the spending plan unless House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) first allows a vote on the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill. 

A senior Democratic aide reminded us of one of Pelosi's favorite rejoinders: “The vote is the currency of the realm.” Even if Pelosi were to cede to the demands of Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) and co., Pelosi would still face a major roadblock as nearly 100 members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus have signaled that they will withhold their votes on infrastructure until they complete their work on the reconciliation package.

  • Caught between two wings of her own party, the speaker so far has refused to blink,” our colleague Tony Romm reports. “She and other House Democratic leaders urged ‘unanimity’ on a call with the caucus on Tuesday. She issued a public letter that same day, warning that any delay ‘jeopardizes once-in-a-generation opportunity we face to enact initiatives that meet the needs of working families.’ And Pelosi joined top Democratic lawmakers on a call with Biden on Thursday, stressing in a statement later that she and the White House share a 'determination to produce results — and soon.'”
  • The White House has sought to aid Pelosi’s efforts, as top aides to the president — including Louisa Terrell and Steve Ricchetti, and a trio of Cabinet secretaries — have called moderates in recent days to hear their concerns yet encourage them to fall in line.”
  • Related: This weekend, Pelosi headlined a fundraiser on behalf of the DCCC for two of the centrist lawmakers up for reelection who signed onto the letter threatening to withhold votes for the budget resolution until the bipartisan infrastructure bill passes the House: Reps. Carolyn Bourdeaux (D-Ga.) and Vicente Gonzalez (D-Tex.). 

The timeline: The calls from moderate Democrats for a quick win have yet to quiet and Pelosi can only lose three Democratic votes and still have the budget resolution pass through the chamber. Democratic leaders in the House have plans to hold a vote as early as this evening to pass a rule for debating the budget resolution, the infrastructure bill and a voting rights bill. Committees have been tasked to craft their portions of the measure by September 15. 

Global power

BIDEN’S PLAN OF ACTION:President Biden said Sunday that the U.S. military is ‘executing a plan’ to move stranded American citizens to the Kabul airport in greater numbers, including through an expansion of a safe zone around the facility and by creating conduits for people to access the compound ‘safely and effectively,’” our Post colleagues Karoun Demirjian, John Hudson, Dan Lamothe and Adela Suliman report.

  • “The operational shift comes as U.S. commanders gear up for what officials hope will be a dramatic acceleration of evacuations from Afghanistan in the coming days, enlisting domestic commercial airliners and a number of foreign allies to aid the effort.”
  • “Evacuations had slowed over the past couple days, as backlogs in waystations like Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar prevented planeloads of people from departing Kabul, grounding planned flights out and degrading humanitarian conditions at the already overcrowded airport.”
  • “The addition of 18 commercial airplanes — activated, the Pentagon announced Sunday, as part of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet — is intended to address those bottlenecks. The jetliners, contracted from domestic airlines United, American, Atlas, Delta, Omni and Hawaiian, will not be flown into Kabul, but used instead to move those taken to places like Qatar on to other destinations in Europe, the Americas, Africa and the Persian Gulf.”
  • “Secretary of State Antony Blinken said earlier in the weekend that 13 countries had pledged to temporarily host evacuees, while an additional 12 had agreed to serve as transit points.”

“Many American citizens and U.S.-approved Afghans are still sheltering in place, awaiting instruction for when it is safe to come to the airport … Last week, the Biden administration estimated there were up to 15,000 Americans remaining in Afghanistan. Officials said Saturday that about 2,500 had left the country.”

  • Extended deadline? “Neither Blinken nor Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who appeared Sunday on ABC News, would say whether U.S. forces would be allowed to go beyond the narrow perimeter of the Kabul airport — or whether they thought Biden should extend the Aug. 31 deadline for U.S. forces to leave Afghanistan.” 

New lows: “Biden’s remarks capped the most tumultuous week of his presidency, one in which his decisions were harshly criticized at home and abroad and some of his optimistic assertions were undermined in real time by deteriorating conditions on the ground,” our colleague Matt Viser writes.

  • “A CBS News/YouGov poll released Sunday found that 63 percent of Americans supported withdrawing from Afghanistan, but only 47 percent approved of Biden’s handling of the pullout.”
  • “That is a 13-point drop from the 60 percent who supported his handling of the withdrawal a month ago. His overall approval rating, which has been consistently in positive territory and last month showed a net-positive of 16 points, has also dropped considerably and is now at 50-50.”

FROM THE GROUND: “Local staff members at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul are ‘deeply disheartened’ by U.S. evacuation efforts and have expressed a sense of betrayal and distrust in the U.S. government,” according to a State Department diplomatic cable obtained by NBC News’ Abigail Williams and Yuliya Talmazan.

  • “The cable, which was sent Saturday, said memos were sent Wednesday inviting Afghan staff members at the embassy to head to Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul. It told them to take food and to prepare for difficult conditions.”
  • “However, no one anticipated the brutal experience that occurred,” the cable said.
  • “Staffers reported being jostled, hit, spat on and cursed at by Taliban fighters at checkpoints near the airport, it said, adding that criminals were taking advantage of the chaos while the U.S. military tried to maintain order ‘in an extremely physical situation.’”

“Some staff members reported that they were almost separated from their children, while others collapsed in a crush of people and had to be taken to hospitals with injuries, the cable said. Others said they had collapsed on the road because of heat exhaustion, it said.”

  • “‘It would be better to die under the Taliban’s bullet’ than face the crowds again, a staff member was quoted as saying in the cable.”
  • “‘Happy to die here, but with dignity and pride,’ another said, while a third accused the U.S. of prioritizing Afghan government elites with contacts in the U.S., who already had the correct paperwork and other ways to flee the country.”

The campaign

THE BIG SHAKE-UP: Veteran election lawyer Marc Elias, who has litigated former president Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, has left Perkins Coie to start his own firm, Elias Law Group, the New York Times’ Shane Goldmacher and Maggie Haberman first scooped.

  • “The formation of Elias Law Group will allow us to more fully engage in representing our clients in the political process at this unique moment in history,” Elias said in a statement.

Eleven partners and three counsel will join the new firm, which will represent candidates, political and party committees, nonprofit organizations and voters. The firm will launch on September 2.

Why it matters: The Democratic Party’s legal world just grew. This month’s release of district-level census results has kicked off a nationwide redistricting battle. All hands are on deck as Democrats kick that struggle and the fight over voting rights into high gear. Democrats’ control of Congress depends on those outcomes.

  • Elias Law Group will coordinate its efforts with Perkins Coie, which has represented the Democratic National Committee and Democratic political leadership and campaigns, including the Clinton campaign, in the past.
  • However, it’s “not immediately clear if any of the major Democratic Party committees will be staying with Perkins, or all shifting to the new Elias Law Group,” per Goldmacher and Haberman.

At the White House

THE WEEK AHEAD:

Monday, August 23

  • President Biden will meet with his national security team to discuss the evolving situation in Afghanistan, every day this week.
  • Biden will welcome the Seattle Storm to the White House to honor the team for their 2020 WNBA Championship.
  • Vice President Harris will be in Southeast Asia until Thursday.

Tuesday, August 24

  • Biden will meet with G-7 leaders virtually to discuss the evolving situation in Afghanistan.

Wednesday, August 25

  • Biden will meet with private sector leaders to discuss improving the nation’s cybersecurity.

Thursday, August 26

  • Biden will welcome Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to the White House. 

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