In his speech on Friday afternoon, President JOE BIDEN sought to project stability and competence, and to persuade both the U.S. and its allies that after days of chaos in Kabul, he finally had the situation in Afghanistan under control.
But as of Saturday morning, there appears to be quite a distance between reality as Biden described and, well … reality — a credibility gap that is dominating the coverage right now and could threaten Biden’s standing with the public as the crisis stretches into its second week.
Here’s a breakdown of the most yawning gaps between rhetoric and reality …
What Biden said: “We have no indication that [Americans] haven’t been able to get — in Kabul — through [to] the airport. … Thus far, [the Taliban have] allowed them to go through.”
— But just minutes later, that claim was contradicted by Defense Secretary LLOYD AUSTIN, who told House lawmakers in a Friday afternoon briefing that some Americans trying to flee Afghanistan “have been harassed and even beaten” by Taliban fighters — a reality Austin called “unacceptable.” More on that from Andrew Desiderio, Heather Caygle and Lara Seligman
— This morning, the State Department sent out a security alert “advising U.S. citizens to avoid traveling to the airport,” citing “potential security threats outside the gates.”
What Biden said: “I have seen no question of our credibility from our allies around the world.”
— Germany: “For those who believed in democracy and freedom, especially for women, these are bitter events,” Chancellor ANGELA MERKEL said this week. The man she’s endorsed as her successor, CDU leader ARMIN LASCHET, called the withdrawal “the biggest debacle that NATO has suffered since its founding.”
— U.K.: “It’s sad that the West has done what it’s done,” said Defense Minister BEN WALLACE. From the same article: “[Biden] hasn’t just humiliated America’s Afghan allies,” said RORY STEWART, a former British cabinet minister. “He’s humiliated his Western allies by demonstrating their impotence.”
— France: In a call with Biden, President EMMANUEL MACRON emphasized that NATO has a “moral responsibility” to evacuate its Afghan allies — a phrase found in the French readout of the call, but omitted from the U.S. readout, reports The Guardian’s Joan Greve.
— It’s perhaps unsurprising that America’s NATO partners might feel burned. Bloomberg’s Alberto Nardelli reports that “Biden told key allies in June that he would maintain enough of a security presence in Afghanistan to ensure they could continue to operate in the capital following the main U.S. withdrawal.” That no longer appears to be the case.
— “This looks like ‘America First,’ except that its officials can speak French,” a former U.S. intelligence officer told FT’s Edward Luce. He writes that the execution of the withdrawal has caused a “blurring between Biden and Trump” in the eyes of much of the international community.
It all amounts to a growing credibility problem. The White House has long portrayed Biden as supremely competent and a straight-shooter, especially compared to the bumbling and lies of his predecessor. But the current reality in Afghanistan undercuts both aspects of that image of Biden.
WHAT’S MORE IMPORTANT? — You might imagine that the crisis in Afghanistan is the Biden administration’s top priority at the moment. But it isn’t — at least according to senior White House adviser NEERA TANDEN.
“The No. 1 priority for our cabinet overall, from our perspective here, is to build support throughout the [August] recess process for the legislative agenda,” she told the L.A. Times’ Eli Stokols and Noah Bierman, who have a great writeup about the White House’s continued focus on domestic priorities over all else.
“Every morning this week at 8:45, a newly established ‘war room’ has convened at the White House, with about 20 staffers logging onto a Zoom call to coordinate messaging and deployment of critical resources,” they report. “The operation has nothing to do with the crisis in Afghanistan — it’s about keeping President Biden’s big infrastructure push on track,” and the war room is overseen by Tanden.
— Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, the DCCC is trying to rally the votes for Biden’s $3.5 trillion spending plan — and some members of the “Mod Squad” are taking it as a threat.
Our Sarah Ferris reports that in recent days, DCCC Chair SEAN PATRICK MALONEY (D-N.Y.) has phoned members “to warn that their majority is in jeopardy if they derail Biden’s broader spending priorities. But some of those centrists who received calls from either Maloney or his staff … said they also took his comments to mean that their own fundraising help from the party would be at risk. And while they said there was no direct threat to withhold DCCC funds, those Democrats said the warning was implied.”
On the other hand, as Bill Scher notes, is the DCCC really going to withdraw support from any vulnerable members next year when its entire mission is to retain the House for the Dems?
Good Saturday morning. Thanks for reading Playbook. Drop us a line: Rachael Bade, Eugene Daniels, Ryan Lizza, Tara Palmeri.
GOOD READS ON THE TALIBAN TAKEOVER
— Heck of a lede: “As a Marine Corps veteran of Vietnam (1965-1966), a reporter who was among the last to be evacuated from Saigon by helicopter (1975) and a correspondent who covered the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan from the Afghan side (1980), I can say with authority that I agree wholeheartedly with Secretary of State ANTONY BLINKEN’s statement, ‘This is not Saigon,’” Phil Caputo writes in POLITICO Magazine. “It’s worse.”
— A great tick-tock: “‘The Taliban Are Here’: The Final Days Before Kabul’s Collapse,” by WSJ’s Yaroslav Trofimov, Vivian Salama and Dion Nissenbaum
— Will it matter in the midterms? “Biden Is Betting Americans Will Forget About Afghanistan,” by The Atlantic’s Peter Nicholas
— What is it actually like to try and make it to Kabul’s airport? “The treacherous journey into Kabul airport to escape Taliban-controlled Afghanistan,” a first-person from WaPo’s Susannah George … “‘Tear gas and gunshots’: Harrowing scenes grip Hamid Karzai International Airport,” Army Times … Worth a look: Some deeply moving photos of U.S. Marines tending to children at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.— The long view: “How climate change helped strengthen the Taliban,” CBS
— Reason to hope: “Anti-Taliban Forces Retake Three Northern Afghan Districts,” Voice of America
— 10:15 a.m.: The president will meet with his national security team on Afghanistan, with VP KAMALA HARRIS attending virtually.
— 12:05 p.m.: Biden will leave D.C. for Wilmington, Del., arriving at 1 p.m.
HARRIS’ SATURDAY — The VP will travel to Singapore via Anchorage, Alaska, and Tokyo, spending the night aboard Air Force Two. She’ll arrive in Singapore at 10:25 p.m. EDT.
THE WHITE HOUSE
NOMS NOMS — On Friday, President Biden officially announced nominations for three ambassadorships: R. NICHOLAS BURNS to China, MICHAEL BATTLE to Tanzania and former Chicago mayor and former White House chief of staff RAHM EMANUEL to Japan.
— Emanuel’s nomination is already controversial, writes the Chicago Trib’s Bill Ruthhart. On the one hand, it “will give Biden a deeply experienced government tactician and political veteran in his ranks of top diplomats, but the choice also drew criticism from some in the Democratic Party’s progressive wing who have found fault with Emanuel’s eight-year tenure as mayor.”
BIDENOLOGY — “Biden’s view of job comes into focus after Afghan collapse,” by AP’s Jonathan Lemire and Zeke Miller: “He sold voters on his experience and this is the first time he is offering decisions, not mere opinions in a Senate hearing — and he will be judged by the outcome, which is far from clear at this point. Americans are seeing a different side of Biden during this crisis, a sterner, sometimes testy man known much better for his empathy.”
GOING BACK TO CALI — “Kamala Harris to campaign in California for Newsom,” by Jeremy White in Oakland: “[VP KAMALA] HARRIS plans to swing through the Bay Area next Friday, according to [Gov. GAVIN] NEWSOM’S campaign, returning to her political home turf in the vital final weeks of the recall race. …
“A visit by Harris could also help rally California Democrats to fill out their ballots, particularly the critical Democratic voting bloc of women of color. While Harris’ poll numbers have slipped in recent months, she retains deep support in the Bay Area, where she launched her political career as a prosecutor.”
— ELDER BACKLASH GROWS — “Jenner, Faulconer call on Elder to exit California recall,” by Jeremy White in Oakland: “Two prominent California recall candidates and the Sacramento Bee editorial board called Friday for GOP frontrunner LARRY ELDER to drop out of the race after his past comments about women and allegations made by his ex-fiancee surfaced this week.”
HELP WANTED — “Kathy Hochul Is Looking in New York City for a Second-in-Command,” by NYT’s Luis Ferré-Sadurní and Jeffery Mays in Albany: “[A]s [incoming New York Gov. KATHY] HOCHUL contemplates her own second-in-command, politics will once again play a role. She has said she intends to choose a lieutenant governor from New York City, and she has focused on several elected officials who are people of color.” On the short list: State Sen. JAMAAL BAILEY, the chairman of the Democratic Party in the Bronx; State Sen. BRIAN BENJAMIN of Harlem; outgoing Bronx Borough President RUBÉN DÍAZ JR.; and Assemblywoman RODNEYSE BICHOTTE, the chairwoman of the Democratic Party in Brooklyn.
THE HOT ZONE — Just how bad is the Florida Covid surge? Bad enough that on Friday, the City of Orlando asked its “residents to reduce water consumption immediately” so that liquid oxygen, which is used to treat municipal water, could instead be diverted to area hospitals to help treat Covid patients, per Dave Puglisi, a reporter for Fox’s Orlando affiliate. More from the Orlando Sentinel
APPROVAL ON THE WAY — “FDA approval of Pfizer Covid shot could come next week,” by Adam Cancryn and Erin Banco: “The Food and Drug Administration is on track to approve Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine for adults as soon as next week, three people with knowledge of the matter told POLITICO. The long-anticipated announcement would make Pfizer’s Covid-19 shot the first to receive full licensure from the federal government, a milestone in the nation’s year-and-a-half pandemic battle.”
JAN. 6 FALLOUT — “Capitol Police officer who shot Ashli Babbitt exonerated in internal probe,” by NBC’s Ken Dilanian and Rich Schapiro: “The Capitol Police officer who fatally shot ASHLI BABBITT outside a door of the U.S. Capitol has been formally exonerated after an internal investigation, according to a department memo obtained by NBC News. … The exoneration by the Capitol Police wraps up the last remaining investigation into the incident.”
— “Eviction Ban Survives Appeal, Clearing Way for Supreme Court,” by Bloomberg’s Tina Davis: “A trio of judges denied a bid by the Alabama Association of Realtors to suspend an earlier court ruling that allowed the eviction moratorium to continue. The ruling comes one week after U.S. District Judge DABNEY FRIEDRICH rejected their plea to block the new eviction moratorium established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, even as she voiced concerns over the legality of the policy. The ban was extended by the Biden administration until Oct. 3.”
— “Supreme Court Grants Temporary Reprieve to Biden Immigration Policy,” by NYT’s Eileen Sullivan: “Justice SAMUEL A. ALITO JR. on Friday temporarily paused a ruling from a federal judge in Texas that had required the Biden administration to reinstate a Trump-era immigration program forcing asylum seekers arriving at the nation’s southern border to await approval in Mexico.”
BEYOND THE BELTWAY
BIG NEWS IN THE GOLDEN STATE — “Court rules California gig worker initiative is unconstitutional, a setback to Uber and Lyft,” The Sac Bee: “A California judge on Friday ruled that a 2020 ballot measure exempting rideshare and food delivery drivers from a state labor law is unconstitutional because it infringes on the Legislature’s power to set workplace standards. … [A] coalition of gig companies and community organizations supporting Prop. 22 said it will immediately appeal.”
DeSANTIS CHRONICLES — “AP urges DeSantis to end bullying aimed at reporter,” by AP’s David Bauder
— “Sarasota becomes first Trump county to defy DeSantis on school masks,” by Andrew Atterbury
FALLOUT IN AUSTIN — “Texas GOP voting bill on fast track after standstill ends,” AP: “The sudden end of Texas Democrats’ 38-day walkout has put Republicans back on a fast track to pass a sweeping voting bill and is causing rifts among some Democrats who said Friday they felt “betrayed” by colleagues who returned to the state Capitol.” State of play from The Texas Tribune
MINNESOTA WILD — “Minnesota GOP ‘in ruins’ after shocking scandal,” by David Siders and Paul Demko
SNAPPED UP — “The Hill Is Sold to a TV Giant,” by NYT’s Ben Smith and Katie Robertson: “The local television behemoth Nexstar Media Group announced Friday that it had acquired The Hill, a Beltway political news website, for $130 million.”
CLICKER — “The nation’s cartoonists on the week in politics,” edited by Matt Wuerker — 19 keepers
GREAT WEEKEND READS, curated by Ryan Lizza:
— “When the toughest trees met the hottest fire,” by E&E News’ David Ferris: The fate of the world’s tallest living thing — the coast redwood, some species of which were born before Jesus Christ — is at risk, “a tale of how heat, mismanagement and climate change are transforming the West.”
— “The Spine Collector,” by N.Y. Mag’s Reeves Wiedeman, with Lila Shapiro: “For years, a mysterious figure has been stealing books before their release. Is it espionage? Revenge? Or a complete waste of time?”
— “Eating the Whale,” by Wyatt Williams for Harper’s Magazine: “Letter from Alaska: A personal history of meat.”
— “The Dresden Job,” by GQ’s Joshua Hammer: “When a rash of sensational museum robberies stunned Europe, police zeroed in on a fearsome crime family — and a flashy new generation of young outlaws. Joshua Hammer unravels the case of a billion-dollar jewel heist and the race to catch a brutally audacious band of thieves.”
— “Behind the Fight to Save the Gulf’s Spectacular Coral Reefs,” by Texas Monthly’s Juli Berwald: “About 100 miles from Galveston, Flower Garden Banks is home to some of the healthiest coral communities in the world. Some unlikely allies came together to help expand protections, but will it be enough?”
— “Shipwrecked: A Shocking Tale of Love, Loss, and Survival in the Deep Blue Sea,” by Boston Magazine’s Kevin Koczwara
— “In obituary for a vaccinated man, daughters share anger — and a plea,” by Tampa Bay Times’ Claire McNeill: “In assisted living on Florida’s East Coast, Clark Allen had tried to protect himself from COVID-19.”
— “Love and death: The legacy of Congressional Cemetery’s ‘Gay Corner,’” by Andrew Yarrow in WaPo Magazine: “[W]hy did ‘Gay Corner,’ as some refer to it, develop under the cherry trees near [Leonard Matlovich’s] 6-by-8-foot granite grave marker? Part of the answer is a 10-second walk away: the fenced-in grave of the country’s most notorious homophobe, J. Edgar Hoover.”
— From the archives: “Getting the Story in Vietnam,” by David Halberstam in Commentary, January 1965.
STATE DEPARTMENT DEPARTURE LOUNGE — Stephanie Leutert has rejoined the University of Texas’ Strauss Center as director of the Central America and Mexico Policy Initiative. She most recently was a senior adviser for migration policy at State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration.
TRANSITIONS — Donni Turner is now legislative counsel for Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.). She most recently was legislative director for Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.), and is a Bernie Sanders/Budget Committee alum. … Al David Saab is now a legislative assistant for Rep. Neal Dunn (R-Fla.). He most recently was legislative correspondent for Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.).
WEDDING — Ashley Marie Thomas, a deputy politics editor in AP’s Washington bureau, and Dino Hazell, an editor on the AP’s Washington politics desk, got married last Saturday at the Cathedral Basilica of St. John the Baptist in Savannah, Ga. The two met while working for the AP in Philadelphia. More via the NYT
HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) … Peter Hamby of Snapchat and Puck … Arkansas Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin … Brian Parks of Locust Street Group … Puja Murgai … Drew Morris of Sen. Marsha Blackburn’s (R-Tenn.) office … Ryan McCormack of Rep. Scott Fitzgerald’s (R-Wis.) office … Joe Minges … The Atlantic’s Elaine Godfrey … Stephen Neuman of American Airlines … Katie Brown of G2G Consulting … Thomas Bradbury of the American Conservative Union … Lindsay Fisher … Rubén Olmos of Global Nexus … Mary Ann Naylor … WaPo’s Manuel Roig-Franzia … Jana Winter … NBC’s Pamela Engel and Harry Smith (7-0) …… Ben Howard of the Duberstein Group … Jack Kelly … HHS’ Tericka Lambert … Bruce Evans … E&E News’ George Cahlink … Marguerite Biagi … David Heifetz of Breakthrough Energy … Francine McMahon … Mary Brady of the Economic Club of Washington, D.C. … Elizabeth (Stoltz) Reilly … Amelia Penniman of Bully Pulpit Interactive … Rachel Hirschberg Light … CNN’s Cameron Hough … Steve Case of Revolution and the Case Foundation … Ken Mehlman of KKR
THE SHOWS (Full Sunday show listings here):
“Fox News Sunday”: Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) … Surgeon General Vivek Murthy … Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Panel: Gerald Seib, Dana Perino and Charles Lane. Power Player: Chloe Mitchell.
“This Week”: Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin … Surgeon General Vivek Murthy … Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) … Mike Mullen. Panel: Terry Moran, Stephanie Ramos, Michel Martin and Craig Whitlock.
“Meet the Press”: National security adviser Jake Sullivan … Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) … Education Secretary Michael Cardona … NBC News poll. Panel: Helene Cooper, Andrea Mitchell and Leo Shane.
“State of the Union,” guest-anchored by Brianna Keilar: National security adviser Jake Sullivan … Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) … Surgeon General Vivek Murthy.
“Face the Nation”: Secretary of State Antony Blinken … Nikki Haley … Ryan Crocker … Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan … Scott Gottlieb.
“The Sunday Show”: Melanie Campbell … Wade Henderson … Anne Applebaum … Evelyn Farkas … Kevin Baron … Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) … DNC Chair Jaime Harrison … Texas state Rep. Nicole Collier.
“Full Court Press”: Rep. Jake Auchincloss (D-Mass.) … Niloofar Rahmani … Craig Whitlock.
“Inside Politics,” guest-anchored by Kaitlan Collins: Panel: Julie Pace, Jeff Zeleny, Vivian Salama and Heather Caygle.