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D.C. Memo: On Afghanistan

Minnesota’s delegation on Afghanistan, controversy over an SBA meeting, and a bomb threat at the Capitol.

Civilians prepare to board a plane during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan August 18, 2021.
REUTERS

Hello and welcome back to the D.C. Memo. This week you can find me still cracking up at all your responses to last week’s MyPillow guy story. It’s clear that MyPillow guy has lost some customers, and that many of you feel very strongly about this. But, it’s not all fun and games in Washington this week, especially as America pulls out of a 20-year war. Here’s what we’ve got in the Memo: Minnesota’s delegation on Afghanistan, controversy over an SBA meeting, and a bomb threat at the Capitol.

Minnesota’s delegation has a lot to say about Afghanistan

There’s been a lot of news out of Afghanistan this week after U.S. forces pulled out from their 20-year occupation, leaving a vacuum of power. The Taliban have emerged to replace Afghan leadership after Taliban forces took city after city — often with little to no resistance — before finally taking the capital city of Kabul on Sunday.

Harrowing footage came from Kabul’s airport over the weekend, showing people climbing onto American airplanes and attempting to hold on to the wings or engines in an effort to escape Taliban rule. Landing crews were witness to gruesome scenes as some planes landed in the United States. One Air Force C-17 transport plane left Kabul late Sunday night with 640 people crowded on board, more than twice the planned number, after hundreds of Afghans who were cleared by the State Department to be evacuated swarmed loading ramps onto the plane.

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Now, many Afghans in Kabul are unable to make it to the airport as Taliban officers block entry points.

If you’re interested in helping any Afghan refugees that might resettle in Minnesota, CBS outlined a couple of places to donate, as did the Star Tribune. The International Institute of Minnesota, a refugee resettlement agency, has already facilitated the arrivals of 13 Afghan refugees in the last week, including a family of nine.

Politically speaking, Republicans are universally agreeing that Biden’s handling of Afghanistan was bungled at best, giving them fresh material to call out and attack the president. However, a major rift seems to be forming in GOP messaging as the wing of the party most aligned with former president Donald Trump claims Biden not only failed in Afghanistan but is attempting to flood the country with refugees.

MAGA personality Charlie Kirk said in his talk show that Biden intentionally let Afghanistan fall because he “wants a couple hundred thousand more Ilhan Omars to come into America to change the body politic permanently.” So uh, local angle I guess.

Here’s what Minnesota’s congressional delegation has to say:

Sen. Amy Klobuchar 

Sen. Amy Klobuchar tweeted on Monday that she had been briefed on the situation in Afghanistan, saying “Our immediate priority must be ensuring we are doing everything possible to evacuate American citizens and our Afghan allies.” On Wednesday, she said that women leaders in Afghanistan need protection. “I’m calling on the administration to streamline the process to get these brave women to safety in this country,” the senator said.

Klobuchar also co-wrote a letter with Sen. Mitt Romney, a Republican from Utah, urging the Biden administration to ensure the safety of journalists, support staff, and their families in Afghanistan. Writing to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, the senators highlighted that “the Taliban have long targeted journalists” and “despite this risk, journalists have been on the front lines…keeping citizens informed and government leaders accountable. Those who contributed to a free and open press in Afghanistan will likely face retribution by the Taliban, and must be brought to safety.”

Sen. Tina Smith

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Sen. Tina Smith joined Klobuchar and 44 other Senators from both sides of the aisle in signing a letter addressed to Blinken and Mayorkas, urging the Biden administration to protect and support Afghan women leaders “facing unparalleled danger.” The senators called on the administration to create a humanitarian parole category specifically for women leaders, activists, human rights defenders, parliamentarians, journalists and members of the Female Tactical Platoon of the Afghan Special Security Forces. The letter also asked to streamline the paperwork process that facilitates referrals and allows relocation to the U.S.

Smith said on Monday that the government’s focus “must be on evacuating Americans, coalition partners, and refugees from Afghanistan. Their lives are at risk because of their support of our mission, and we must do everything we can to ensure their safe evacuation.”

Rep. Jim Hagedorn

In a campaign email, First District Rep. Jim Hagedorn called Biden’s approach to Afghanistan a “total FAILURE as Americans and our allies scramble to get out of Afghanistan, and the Taliban takes control.” Hagedorn added in his statement that “[t]his man has been wrong about every consequential foreign policy decision for the last 50 years, and sadly it’s going to get even worse unless we take action to get new leadership!”

Rep. Angie Craig

Second District Rep. Angie Craig said she was “heartbroken by the images coming out of Afghanistan,” and that the U.S. needs to prioritize “enabling the safe departure of all U.S. and allied personnel.”

In the series of tweets, Craig also said that she is committed to supporting the people of Afghanistan, “particularly our partners who aided U.S. efforts for nearly two decades as well as the women and girls who deserve the freedom and opportunity that has been promised to them.”

Rep. Dean Phillips

Third District Rep. Dean Phillips took a centrist stance: “Enough of the juvenile finger pointing,” he said on Twitter. “Afghanistan isn’t a Democratic failure or Republican failure. It represents a collective failure of American strategy. Our outstanding military can defend, protect, and keep the peace, but democracies can only be built from the inside.”

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Phillips, whose father died in the Vietnam War, said that his heart “particularly aches for the thousands of Gold Star families of an eerily similar and painful episode forty-six years later.”

Rep. Betty McCollum

As the Chair of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, Fourth District Rep. Betty McCollum works perhaps more than any other member of the Minnesota delegation with issues of national security and defense appropriations. She issued a lengthy statement on Sunday outlining the history of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. She called the Taliban’s capture of Kabul a “human disaster for the Afghan people and the culmination of a two-decade bipartisan political and strategic failure of American leadership.”

“Millions of Afghans believed us and committed their futures to this partnership. Their trust in America will now cost many of them their lives and certainly their freedom. Afghans who courageously stood with America to reject extremism and build a new Afghanistan are now alone, vulnerable, and will be subject to the Taliban’s vengeful retribution. This is their worst nightmare come true. For an entire generation of Afghan women and girls who embraced access to education and human rights, they will almost certainly be cast back into the darkness of the Taliban’s state-sponsored misogyny.

 “Politicians and pundits will now start the blame game, but this dreadful outcome is not the fault of any one politician, leader, or administration. This is a whole of government failure in both Washington and Kabul. The Afghan people who trusted us will now be living with the consequences. Rather than blame, the Biden administration, Congress, and future American leaders – Democrats and Republicans – need to learn some very hard lessons and make sure such a devastating foreign policy failure never happens again,” McCollum said.

Rep. Ilhan Omar

Fifth District Rep. Ilhan Omar took an empathetic and humanitarian stance on Afghanistan. “Like many of us, I have watched the immense human tragedy in Afghanistan in horror,” Omar said in a statement. “My heart goes out to the Afghan people, especially the many Afghans who risked their lives for a safer, freer Afghanistan, as well the of countless Americans who served in this conflict, thousands of whom made the ultimate sacrifice.”

Omar said that for her, the situation has been “personally painful.”

“I know what it’s like to be the child in the family scrambling for safety in a war-torn country. I also know intimately the difference between making it out and not making it out. As with so many moments in this two-decade long conflict, I have not been able to read the news without seeing myself and my family, many years ago, desperately fleeing imminent violence in Somalia,” Omar said.

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Rep. Tom Emmer

Sixth District Rep. Tom Emmer said the images coming out of Kabul were “heartbreaking.” Emmer said on Twitter, “Our Afghan allies are heroes, and to leave them behind is unconscionable. Last month, I sent a letter to President Biden urging him to safely evacuate our Afghan partners who assisted our Armed Forces. Instead, the Administration set no concrete plan of action, and our allies were abandoned. This is a tragedy, and President Biden must answer for it.”

Rep. Michelle Fischbach

“What’s happening in Afghanistan is an embarrassment to our nation — a direct result of President Biden’s incompetence and his Administration’s mismanagement of our exit strategy in the Middle East,” Seventh District Rep. Fischbach said on Twitter.  “As this Administration’s recklessness puts American lives in danger, the president is nowhere to be found. The Biden Administration has abjectly failed in its duty to keep the American people safe, both at home and abroad.”

Rep. Pete Stauber

Eighth District Rep. Pete Stauber said the situation unfolding was “devastating” and that he prayed for the safe evacuation of U.S. forces and allies. “My heart breaks for the civilians, particularly the women and girls, who will undoubtedly face brutal oppression and abuse under the Taliban regime,” Stauber said. “I continue to pray for the safety of our military on the ground, U.S. and coalition citizens desperately trying to get out, our Afghan allies who have helped us, like the interpreters and their families, and for every innocent life that is in danger.”

SBA becomes the ‘cool kids table’

On Monday, Sen. Amy Klobuchar joined Reps. Angie Craig and Dean Phillips in hosting a roundtable with Small Business Administrator Isabelle Guzman, Burnsville Mayor Elizabeth Kautz and local small business owners to discuss ongoing efforts to help small businesses recover from the economic hardships brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Minnesota lawmakers were integral to establishing many of the relief programs that kept businesses afloat during the pandemic, including the Paycheck Protection Program, Restaurant Revitalization Fund and the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program.

Reps. Jim Hagedorn and Pete Stauber, both members of the House Small Business Committee, weren’t happy about this meeting, though. The two congressmen led a letter signed by Minnesota’s two other Republican representatives Michelle Fischbach and Tom Emmer admonishing the SBA Administrator for “refusing to address the pressing needs of the rural small businesses they represent.” They also voiced their frustration that Guzman did not invite them to join her during the trip to Minnesota.

“Administrator Guzman is intentionally politicizing the mission of the SBA during this visit. Small businesses across Minnesota are depending on the SBA for support during this time of economic hardship and recovery, yet the Biden Administration continues to ignore businesses in rural America and makes no effort to communicate with the people in these communities or their representatives,” Hagedorn said.

When I spoke with Craig earlier this week, though, she said that Phillips invited every member of the delegation on the House Committee on Small Business to come to a similar listening session in his district.

“Any time we have a secretary or administrator in my district, my Republican colleagues are welcome to join us,” Craig said. The SBA listening session was held in Burnsville, which is in Craig’s congressional district.

Bomb threat

Those Hill staffers, reporters and support staff lucky enough to be at or around the Capitol and surrounding buildings Thursday were subjected to evacuation protocol for an alleged bomb threat outside the Library of Congress.

The suspect, North Carolina resident Floyd Ray Roseberry, appeared to clutch a large metal can and repeatedly addressed President Joe Biden, urging Democrats in the White House and Congress to step down from office. The man claimed shooting through the truck’s windows would set the bomb off.

“Shoot me, get the revolution started, Joe,” he said.

Roseberry live streamed the bomb threat on Facebook, demanding to talk to Joe Biden on the phone. His truck was filled with U.S. currency coins held in totes, and he said the bomb in his truck was built by a military veteran. He also claimed his toolbox in the truck was filled with ammonium nitrate, and that the threat was due in part to the situation unfolding in Afghanistan.

Roseberry also said in a livestream that he’s one of five “southern patriots” who were already in the D.C. area.

Roseberry surrendered to police mid-afternoon Thursday and is in custody.

What I’m reading

  • Mapping America’s racial population shifts over the last decade”, Washington Post. Calling all Census data nerds! Or anyone, really: The Post has put together a cool interactive map that shows which ethnic and racial groups have grown in population since 2010, and in which counties. In Hennepin County, the fastest growing racial group was Black Americans. In D.C., the fastest growing group was White Americans. Does your county’s data surprise you?
  • Facebook wants you to hold you next meeting in VR,” CNN. If you’re remote working like me, you might feel like Zoom meetings just aren’t cutting it. Enter VR: Facebook created a way for you offices to connect with coworkers in a virtual conference room. I’ve tried VR before in a gaming environment, and it gave me vertigo more times than I’d like to admit. That plus the $299 VR headset means I definitely won’t be an early adopter on this one.
  • ‘Go there ready for war’ — militia organizing in North Carolina in the context of the insurrection at the Capitol,” Scalawag. This story is from March of this year, but given the context of a North Carolina man issuing a bomb threat at the Capitol Thursday, it’s a fairly poignant read.

That’s all from me this week. Thanks for reading. As always, please feel free to send any questions, comments or meetings you wish you were invited to to ahackett@minnpost.com, or find me on Twitter at @byashleyhackett.