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The Daily 202

A lunchtime newsletter featuring political analysis on the stories driving the day.

Congress launches a slew of probes into Biden’s Afghan withdrawal

The Daily 202

A lunchtime newsletter featuring political analysis on the stories driving the day.

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Welcome to The Daily 202 – we’ve got a dynamic new look, a bunch of fresh features, and everything you need from the world of politics and policy. We’re going to be more concise. We’ll be easy to read at your desk or on your phone. We’ll give you visuals and graphics for at-a-glance information. But you’ll still get all the scoops, analyses, and deep dives you’ve come to expect. 

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We’ve given The Early 202 a new look, too, but Jacqueline Alemany and Theodoric Meyer will still get you a jolt of political reporting from Capitol Hill to K Street to go with your first cup of…whatever you drink to start your day!

The big idea

At least five congressional committees are investigating how the U.S. war in Afghanistan ended

Congress this week will bear down on President Biden’s handling of the withdrawal from Afghanistan, exposing him to sharp criticisms from fellow Democrats and potentially complicating his efforts to unite his party behind his embattled domestic priorities.

Over the past week, Biden has worked to push past the U.S. departure and refocus the country’s attention on his top two goals, smothering the pandemic and reviving the economy, the issues his aides believe will determine the outcome of the 2022 midterm elections.

But Democratic-led committees aren’t letting the war slip away, and plan to question current and former top officials about the planning and execution of the withdrawal, including forecasts the Afghan government and its military would hold out longer against the Taliban. At least five committees are known to be looking into how the U.S. war in Afghanistan ended.

One of the dynamics to watch is whether lawmakers narrowly focus on Biden and former president Donald Trump or broaden their search for answers across two decades since the U.S. invaded Afghanistan to hunt down the author of the 9/11 attacks, Osama bin Laden.

Another will be to what extent lawmakers target political decision-makers Trump or Biden, for example versus placing blame on ostensibly non-political actors like the military or the intelligence community.

A third dynamic to watch will be how lawmakers question officials about the path forward, amid concerns terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda could regroup, a potential threat the Biden administration says it can counter with “over the horizon” strikes without support on the ground.

Blinken on the hot seat

Secretary of State Antony Blinken faces the House Foreign Affairs Committee today at 2 p.m. in a hearing dubbed “Afghanistan 2001-2021: Evaluating the Withdrawal and U.S. policies,” and is sure to face tough questions about U.S. citizens left behind when the United States pulled out.

“I don’t know if I classify it as a ‘What went wrong?’ type of hearing. It is ‘What are the facts?’” Rep. Gregory W. Meeks (D-N.Y.), the committee chairman, told my colleagues Theodoric Meyer and Jacqueline Alemany. “I would hope that this should not be an issue of politics.”

But as the hearing name suggests, House Democrats want to place the Aug. 31 withdrawal in the context of the mistakes and miscalculations of a 20-year war, in which military leaders and administration officials of both parties misled the public.

The Senate Intelligence Committee will hold a classified hearing Tuesday on Afghanistan with CIA Deputy Director David S. Cohen, according to a source familiar with the panel’s plans.

That committee’s chairman, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) said he wanted to understand “why we weren’t better prepared for a worst-case scenario involving such a swift and total collapse of the Afghan government and security forces.”

Blinken’s job gets tougher on Tuesday, when he faces the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, whose chairman, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) has criticized both Trump and Biden for pushing ahead with a “flawed” withdrawal.

“I am disappointed the Biden administration clearly did not accurately assess the implications of a rapid U.S. withdrawal,” Menendez said Aug. 17. “We are now witnessing the horrifying results of many years of policy and intelligence failures.”

Republicans are signaling they will grill Blinken on how the U.S. screened the Afghans it evacuated, including security concerns and allegations older Afghan men brought with them much younger “child-brides,” raising sex-trafficking questions.

On Wednesday, the Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a closed briefing with Army Gen. Austin “Scott” Miller, the former commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, who in June delivered a bleak assessment of the war-torn country’s future. The House Armed Services Committee is also expected to hold its own hearings soon.

“I remain deeply concerned about the events that accompanied our withdrawal and the ongoing humanitarian crisis,” said Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) who chairs the Senate panel, said last week as he announced that briefing and hearings on Sept. 28 and Sept. 30.

Reed said his committee would “ensure accountability at the highest levels” and “examine the factors and decisions that manifested over four presidential administrations of both political parties.”

No apologies

The Biden administration has unapologetically defended its handling of the withdrawal.

“We planned for every contingency,” Biden said in mid-August. “But I always promised the American people that I will be straight with you. The truth is: This did unfold more quickly than we had anticipated.”

But “if anything,” he added, the Afghan government and military collapse “reinforced that ending U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan now was the right decision.”

What's happening now

Climate change could push more than 200 million people to leave their homes in the next three decades, according to a new World Bank report. “The second part of the Groundswell report published Monday examined how the impacts of slow-onset climate change such as water scarcity, decreasing crop productivity and rising sea levels could lead to millions of what it describes as ‘climate migrants’ by 2050 under three different scenarios with varying degrees of climate action and development,” the AP reports

This morning, Capitol Police in D.C. arrested a California man who had multiple knives in his truck near the Democratic National Committee headquarters. The driver was arrested for possession of prohibited weapons and told officials he was “on patrol” at the time of apprehension and began talking about white supremacist ideology, according to a USCP statement

Lunchtime reads from The Post

  • Biden is set to visit California today as another wildfire prompts evacuations in part of the state, Adela Suliman reports. “The Hopkins wildfire, in Northern California’s Mendocino County, started Sunday afternoon and has burned some 275 acres — and has only been 10 percent contained so far.” Biden will visit the state to outline how his administration plans to respond to wildfires and climate emergencies. 
  • An Afghan American woman’s escape highlights the secretive CIA role in Kabul rescues, Dan Lamothe and Ellen Nakashima report. Shaqaiq Birashk, who, until the Taliban’s takeover, was a USAID worker in Afghanistan, was evacuated from Kabul in a plan orchestrated, in part, by the CIA. The agency, alongside elite U.S. troops and Afghan counterterrorism forces, has been playing a pivotal role in the dangerous extraction of Americans, Afghans and foreign nationals facing threats of reprisal from the Taliban.

… and beyond

  • Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett says the court isn’t “a bunch of partisan hacks,” the Courier Journal’s Mary Ramsey reports. In the wake of the court’s recent controversial decision to deny an emergency appeal to block Texas’s law banning abortion, Barrett told a crowd that she doesn’t believe the highest court is politically driven. “The media, along with hot takes on Twitter, report the results and decisions. … That makes the decision seem results-oriented,” she said. She was speaking at an event held by the McConnell Center and was introduced by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R), who steered her to confirmation shortly before the 2020 election after blocking Merrick Garland's nomination.
  • Salesforce offered to relocate its Texas employees and their families if they’re concerned about the state’s new abortion law, CNBC reports.
  • Mexico’s supreme court greenlit abortion, but it is unclear whether doctors and nurses will listen. “Lawmakers in Mexico enshrined a doctor’s right to refuse to perform any procedure that goes against his or her personal beliefs in 2018 — a contentious issue that the Supreme Court is expected to take on this week that could ultimately determine how widely available abortion is in practice,” the New York Times’s Natalie Kitroeff and Oscar Lopez report
  • Mark Zuckerberg has said Facebook’s rules apply to all, but company documents reviewed by the Wall Street Journal reveal a secret elite that’s exempt. The company has built a system that exempts high-profile users from some or all of its rules, Jeff Horwitz reports. At time, the program, known as “XCheck” “has protected public figures whose posts contain harassment or incitement to violence.”  
  • The U.K.’s Boris Johnson will hold talks with Biden later this month. Johnson will “attempt to patch up Britain’s frayed relationship” with the Biden administration during a meeting held during his four-day trip to the U.S. for the U.N. general assembly, Reuters reports

The pandemic

More than half of Americans say they support businesses requiring proof of vaccination to return to the office. 

  • That’s according to a CNN poll published this morning. The poll, conducted before Biden announced he is seeking to compel businesses with more than 100 workers to require vaccinations or weekly testing, shows that Americans have warmed up to the idea of vaccine mandates in some cases, Annabelle Timsit and Bryan Pietsch report.
  • “They are more supportive than they were in an April poll of vaccine mandates for office workers (54 percent now), students returning to schools (55 percent) and people seeking to attend a sporting event or a concert (55 percent).”

The nation’s largest public school system welcomed roughly 1 million children back today. 

  • “While the city reopened schools last fall for part-time learning, the vast majority of students chose to keep learning remotely. But with no remote option now available to almost all parents, classrooms will be full for the first time in a year and a half,” the Times’s Eliza Shapiro reports.
  • “The first day of school in a system as large as New York’s can be chaotic even during normal times. This year is anything but. Even before schools opened their doors on Monday morning, the city was scrambling to fix the first problem of the new school year. The online health screenings that families are required to fill out each morning had crashed by about 8 a.m., as hundreds of thousands of parents attempted to log on at the same time."
  • The delta variant is stress-testing back-to-school plans, Yasmeen Abutaleb, Laura Meckler and Valerie Strauss report. A quarter of the nation’s 200 largest school districts are ignoring the CDC’s number one recommendation to mandate face masks, per Burbio, a data firm that tracks school reopenings.

Cases are soaring in West Virginia as vaccinations lag. 

  • The state has the third lowest vaccination rate in the country, Pietsch reports, and the highest rate of new cases per day in the nation relative to population, with an average of 123 new cases reported each day per 100,000 people.
  • “In contrast, several New England states have given at least one dose to about 75 percent of their populations, with Vermont leading at nearly 77 percent, with similarly high rates in Massachusetts and Connecticut. New daily cases in those states are among the lowest in the country — underlining the impact of widespread vaccinations.”

Tech job openings by state, visualized

Texas’s recent swerve to the right on abortion, voting restrictions as well as a ban on coronavirus vaccine mandates has many workers and industry leaders worried about retaining workers and recruiting top tech talent to the state. In August, Texas had 33,843 tech job openings — the second highest in the U.S. after California — according to a report from the Computing Technology Industry Association. That’s up 56% from a year earlier.

Hot on the left

The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol is after Mark Meadows’s records. The committee last week asked telecom and social media companies to preserve the records of Trump’s former White House chief of staff, the Guardian reports. Investigators have signaled their interest in examining potential involvement by the Trump White House and House Republicans on the attack when they made a series of records demands.

Hot on the right

The California recall election is tomorrow. Republicans are struggling to expand its appeal. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) is leading the polls in the recall effort pushed by the “small faction of Californians who still call themselves Republicans,” the Times’s Jeremy Peters reports. That’s because “California Republicans lack a single, unifying leader who has the ability to appeal beyond the hard right. The hollowed-out state party has left them with few avenues for organizing in such a vast place. And they have been unable to convert the populist anger at the governor over his handling of the pandemic into a broad-based backlash from voters who are right, left and somewhere in between.” 

Today in Washington

Biden is traveling to Idaho and California, where he will survey wildfire damage. At 12:15 p.m., he will receive a briefing from federal and state fire officials in Boise, and at 2:40 p.m. he will receive a similar briefing in Mather, Calif. At 4:25 p.m., he will deliver remarks on his administration’s response to recent wildfires and how the infrastructure deal could address some of these issues. At 7 p.m., Biden will deliver remarks at a campaign rally with Newsom.

In closing

John Oliver explained why many Belarusians don't like their leader, Alexander Lukashenko:

Thanks for reading. See you tomorrow.