President Biden faced heated criticism from congressional Republicans after the attacks in Kabul, as some senior Democrats also questioned the Pentagon’s reliance on the Taliban to protect the international airport where the bombings took place.
Some Republicans called for an emergency session of Congress, which is on its late summer break and not slated to return until mid-September.
The most vocal Democratic criticism came from Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who questioned whether Taliban guards had failed in letting the ISIS bombers get so close to the Kabul airport.
“I understand that American personnel were among the casualties and my prayers are with the victims of this cowardly attack and their families. As we wait for more details to come in, one thing is clear: We can’t trust the Taliban with Americans’ security,” Menendez said in a statement, before the full details of the death toll had been officially announced.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) used her statement to warn lawmakers against another unofficial visit to Kabul following the actions of two congressmen earlier this week, roughly 48 hours before explosions rocked the capital city.
“The gravity of the situation in Afghanistan necessitates reiterating that Members must not request or plan visits to the region. The Departments of Defense and State have explicitly stated that Member travel to Afghanistan and surrounding countries would unnecessarily divert needed resources from the priority mission of safely and expeditiously evacuating Americans and Afghans at risk,” Pelosi wrote in a missive to Democrats.
The speaker also said that she has requested that briefings continue to be held for lawmakers.
After a phone briefing with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Pelosi told lawmakers that they would receive follow-up briefings from administration officials as well.
“As we continue this process, Congress, on a bipartisan basis, remains deeply concerned about the security and humanitarian situation in Afghanistan,” she said in a statement. “As we work with the Biden administration to bring stability to the situation, Congress must continue to be kept closely informed.”
Several Democrats called on the Biden administration to grant temporary protected status to thousands of Afghan refugees coming into the United States, many who will have special immigrant visas but who would otherwise be left in limbo while their status is reviewed for months or years.
“We believe part of that solution must include granting the administrative clarity that only TPS can provide — giving State Department and Defense Department officials under fire in Kabul and immigration officials here at home the tools and time they need to process these cases out of harm’s way,” Reps. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.) and Joe Neguse (D-Colo.) wrote to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) called on Congress to pass legislation that would prohibit the complete withdrawal from Afghanistan “until every American is out of Afghanistan.”
Other Republicans took a more blunt approach and called for mass resignations.
“It’s time for accountability, starting with those whose failed planning allowed these attacks to occur. Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Antony Blinken, Lloyd Austin, and Mark Milley should all resign or face impeachment and removal from office,” Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) said in a statement referring to the president, vice president, two Cabinet officials and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Under Blackburn’s scenario, Pelosi would be next in line to become president.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki dismissed GOP calls for Biden to resign.
“This is a day where U.S. service members, 12 of them, lost their lives at the hands of terrorists. It’s not a day for politics,” she told reporters. “And we would expect that any American, whether they’re elected or not, would stand with us and our commitment to going after and fighting and killing those terrorists wherever they live and to honoring the memory of service members. And that’s what this day is for.”
Some Republicans stressed a call for unity during the crisis.
“While it may be tempting to some to use this moment to score political points, now is not the time for that. I urge my fellow Americans to gather together to mourn the fallen, comfort those in pain, and pray for peace, leadership, and safety. President Biden should also step up, be the commander in chief we need, and show the world we will not tolerate an evil attack like this,” Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) said.
Most Democrats gave some support for the continued mission and pushed to continue to evacuate as many as possible by Tuesday.
“I understand that evacuations continue. It is my hope that over the next couple days we will continue to evacuate not only American citizens but Afghans who supported our mission, known as SIVs, and other Afghans who have been targeted by the Taliban,” said Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Rep. Adam Smith, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, received a briefing Wednesday afternoon, less than 24 hours before the attacks, and defended the adherence to the Tuesday deadline because it would lead to an even more violent situation that could draw U.S. troops back into full fledged war.
“What the Pentagon has to do is, they have to balance the risk. And the risk to our military personnel, as well as to the civilians trying to get out, goes up, exponentially, if the Taliban start fighting. So that’s the calculation,” Smith said Wednesday.
The deadly attacks did not appear to sway Democrats from supporting the withdrawal, ending a politically unpopular 20-year war.
“It is clear to me that it was long past time to end the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, and that we could not continue to put American service members in danger for an unwinnable war. At the same time, it appears that the evacuation process has been egregiously mishandled,” said Rep. Susan Wild (D-Pa.), a politically vulnerable incumbent ahead of next year’s midterm elections.
John Fetterman, Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor who is running for the Democratic nomination for next year’s Senate contest, stood by his unequivocal stand to end the troop presence there.
“Today’s tragic events and senseless deaths underscore how critical it is for us to end this 20 year war and finally end American bloodshed in Afghanistan,” Fetterman said.
And. Rep. Charlie Crist (D-Fla.), who is running for governor, applauded the administration’s work in getting so many Americans and Afghans out of Kabul in such a short time.
“Today’s events underscore just how truly perilous this extraction mission is and how heroic the efforts have been to date. More than 100,000 people have been safely evacuated since the Afghan military collapsed and Kabul fell to the Taliban. This is remarkable and a true credit to the Marines, other service members, and State Department personnel working around-the-clock to save lives,” Crist said.