Now with Trump gone, Republicans are focusing their attacks squarely on how the Democratic president has handled the withdrawal while casting aside their serious foreign policy differences over America’s role in the world to try to sharpen their attacks on the Biden presidency ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.
House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) tweeted Monday: “Since Biden took over:
- Taliban got a country
- Russia got a pipeline
- Illegal immigrants got a free path into the United States. Meanwhile American citizens got inflation, high gas prices, and crime. Biden’s entire presidency has been a disaster — and it’s only been 7 months.”
But Republicans’ effort to bury their internal differences during the Trump administration under attacks against Biden could prove politically tricky if the withdrawal effort improves or quickly fades from voters’ minds.
Democrats on Monday were quick to point out what they called the hypocrisy of many of the attacks from Republican leaders.
“There are two types of Republicans right now who are criticizing Biden — the ones who have been consistent, who opposed this process when Trump began it, and the ones who are being totally opportunistic and hypocritical like [House Minority Leader] Kevin McCarthy, who did nothing to stop Trump from initiating the withdrawal,” Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.) said.
Some Republicans acknowledged that Biden is pursuing the same policy as Trump even as they argued Biden can’t use that as an excuse for blunders by his administration.
Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), a fervent supporter of Trump, said at a news conference that the Trump administration does have “some blame to bear” for initiating the withdrawal from Afghanistan but that the repercussions fall solely on Biden.
“President Biden was quick to blame others and never acknowledging the blame lies with him. The essence of his address was ‘The buck stops with me, but President Trump and others made me do it.’ Not exactly Harry Truman,” Graham later wrote on Twitter in response to a speech by Biden.
Several Republicans also sought to portray Biden’s decision as going against the advice of military leaders while arguing that their critique was consistent with the views they offered during Trump’s presidency.
“I know for a fact that the president’s military leaders argued against this decision. I think the president felt strongly about this, obviously. He overruled his own military leaders to do it, and he owns it,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said at a news conference in Jefferson, Ky., before issuing a reminder that he also made the same argument with Trump. “I think Afghanistan is lost.”
Others brushed past Biden’s policy similarities with Trump to argue that the former administration would have handled any problems with the withdrawal better.
“I don’t see President Trump as one who would sit back and allow a defeat on this magnitude. When I talked to his national security adviser [Robert C.] O’Brien, he told me that the president told him he would never allow for Saigon to happen under his watch, and that was during his administration. I don't think you’d see the same result,” Rep. Michael McCaul (Tex.), the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said on MSNBC, referring to the United States’ tumultuous withdrawal from Vietnam. “. . . This president can’t blame the prior administration; he has to take responsibility, accountability for his own actions, which have led to this unmitigated disaster, I called it, of ‘epic proportions.’ It is an absolute disaster.”
A Republican leadership aide, who like others interviewed for this report spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal party discussions, said that similarities between Trump’s and Biden’s Afghanistan policy probably won’t plague the party because the harrowing images of unrest in the nation are powerful enough to reshape public opinion and pin the blame on Biden.
Tensions between congressional Republicans and the Biden administration reached a boiling point during a phone briefing Sunday that included Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Republicans complained they were not called on to ask questions. House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik (N.Y.) accused House Democrats of silencing conservatives on the call — an assertion criticized by the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), which noted they were not in charge of the call and who got called on to ask a question.
McCarthy (R-Calif.) did speak on the call and was quick to link Afghanistan to the southern border, another GOP campaign theme, essentially arguing that terrorists will soon be traveling to Central America and find ways to enter the United States, according to a member on the call.
Republicans have been pushing for more briefings, and some are expected soon, including a staff briefing Wednesday and another all-member call next week when the House returns to work on its annual budget blueprint.
To counter the Republican attacks, the White House circulated talking points to congressional Democrats Monday afternoon, telling them to reiterate that Biden “was not willing to enter a third decade of conflict and surge in thousands of more troops to fight in a civil war that Afghanistan wouldn’t fight for themselves” and stress that there “was a possibility” and “not an inevitability” that Kabul would fall to the Taliban.
But the heated rhetoric from Republicans is unlikely to stop any time soon.
“We have never seen an American leader abdicate his responsibilities and leadership like Joe Biden has. He’s in hiding. The lights are on at the White House, but nobody’s home. Where is Joe Biden?” Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) said on Fox News. “All of us have to wonder if this man is capable of leading this country over three more years.”
Karoun Demirjian contributed to this report.