There are just over 48 hours left before the deadline for U.S. forces to withdraw from Afghanistan.
— The State Department says there are roughly 250 Americans still in Afghanistan who want to leave the country, per a spokesperson.
— Leaving was made more difficult overnight, as the U.S. Embassy, citing “a specific, credible threat,” advised Americans to stay away from Kabul’s airport.
— Hope is fading among the thousands of Afghans desperate to flee the country — and among their family members in the U.S, writes WaPo.
— Evacuations are winding down. The number of U.S. troops in the country has rapidly declined in the last few days, reports the NYT.
— Yesterday, the U.S. “used a special Hellfire missile” in an airstrike that killed two ISIS-K militants in Afghanistan, per the WSJ’s Gordon Lubold and Warren Strobel.
— President JOE BIDEN “expects to carry out additional airstrikes in the coming days and weeks,” reports our Lara Seligman. Biden “has given the Pentagon the ‘green light’ to strike any targets affiliated with the Islamic State’s affiliate in Afghanistan, ISIS-K, the group responsible for [Thursday’s suicide] attack, without seeking White House approval, according to three U.S. officials with knowledge of the operation. … The president’s ‘guidance is to just do it,’ the person said. ‘If we find more, we will strike them.’”
— One of those airstrikes happened just hours ago: “American forces launched a drone strike in Kabul on Sunday targeting a suicide bomber in a vehicle who was aiming to attack the airport,” scooped Reuters’ Idrees Ali.
We have more about both Afghanistan and the powerful hurricane bearing down on Louisiana. But first…
SCOOP: MORE THAN ONE JAN. 6 TRUMP-JORDAN CALL — We know that DONALD TRUMP and Rep. JIM JORDAN spoke once on the day of the Capitol riot, but the Ohio Republican has said he doesn’t remember when their conversation took place. We have some new details that could help clear up that timeframe — including confirmation of at least one more phone conversation between Jordan and the then-president during the siege.
After a group of lawmakers were evacuated from the House chamber to a safe room on Jan. 6, Jordan was joined by Rep. MATT GAETZ (R-Fla.) for a call during which they implored Trump to tell his supporters to stand down, per a source with knowledge of that call. The source declined to say how Trump responded to this request.
Jordan, when asked about whether Gaetz participated, said he’d “have to think about it,” citing many conversations he had during the frenetic attack. He also said phone calls to Trump happened more than once on that deadly day.
“Look, I definitely spoke to the president that day. I don’t recall — I know it was more than once, I just don’t recall the times,” Jordan told our Olivia Beavers. He later said that “I’m sure” one of the Trump-involved calls took place in the safe room “because we were in that room forever.” (For safety reasons, we are not disclosing the specific room where members were evacuated to, but that is the room Jordan is referencing.) Jordan would not get into the specifics of what he discussed with the president, though he said that like everyone, he wanted the National Guard to get involved.
A spokesperson for Gaetz, who has supported Trump’s decisions on Jan. 6, said: “Congressman Gaetz speaks with President Trump regularly and doesn’t disclose the substance of those discussions with the media.”
Jordan has previously disclosed that he spoke to Trump on Jan. 6, but not the existence of more than one call on the day — a rare piece of new information on the former president’s moves during the riot at a time when House Republicans are loath to discuss such specifics. Trump-Jordan discussions are likely to be of keen interest to the Democrat-led select committee on Jan. 6, which is expected to soon seek phone records of members of Congress themselves in its probe.
It’s Sunday morning, and thanks for reading Playbook. Drop us a line: Rachael Bade, Eugene Daniels, Ryan Lizza, Tara Palmeri.
HAPPENING NOW — Biden is at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware as the remains of the 13 U.S. troops killed in Thursday’s sucide bombing in Kabul are returned home. Under grey skies, the president and first lady JILL BIDEN have been privately meeting with the mourning families and will take part in the “dignified transfer” of the remains of the service members. More from AP
HEROES REMEMBERED — On Saturday, the Pentagon released the full list of the 13 American service members killed in Thursday’s bombing in Kabul. Saturday morning, we remembered the nine whose names were already public; today, we’re doing the same for the remaining four.
— NICOLE GEE, 23. A week before she was killed, Gee posted a photo on Instagram of herself cradling a baby at Kabul’s airport. “I love my job,” she wrote in the caption. Mallory Harrison, Gee’s best friend and fellow Marine, posted a moving tribute on Facebook. “The war stories, the losses, the flag-draped coffins, the KIA bracelets & the heartbreak,” she wrote. “It’s not so distant anymore.”
— JOHANNY ROSARIO PICHARDO, 25. She emigrated to the United States from the Dominican Republic and grew up in Lawrence, Mass., where she served in the JROTC before enlisting to active duty. Per the Boston Globe, in a statement, her family asked that their “loved one be recognized as the hero that she was.”
— HUMBERTO SANCHEZ, 22. As a student at Logansport High School in Indiana, Sanchez was an honors student, varsity athlete and artist, according to the Indianapolis Star. His service awards and decorations include the Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal and Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, per the Marine Corps Times.
— DYLAN MEROLA, 20. Merola was planning to go to college and study engineering after returning from overseas. He’d been in Afghanistan less than two weeks. “One of the best kids ever,” his mother told CBS 2 Los Angeles. “Kind, loving … he would give anything for anybody.”
— Related: “Most of the Americans killed in the Kabul bombing were 9/11 babies who never knew a nation at peace,” by WaPo’s Marc Fisher, María Luisa Paúl and Jose Del Real
THE HEAT TURNS UP ON SULLIVAN AND BLINKEN — This morning, the administration put its two foreign policy frontmen — national security adviser JAKE SULLIVAN and Secretary of State ANTONY BLINKEN — on the Sunday shows to explain the chaos in Afghanistan. And it wasn’t pretty.
— Speaking of the Americans who remain in Afghanistan, Sullivan told “Fox News Sunday” that “after Aug. 31, they are not going to be stuck in Afghanistan. We are going to ensure that we have a mechanism to get them out of the country should they choose in the future to come home.”
— On NBC’s “Meet the Press” Blinken said: “Nothing has been promised to the Taliban. To the contrary, we have made very clear — and not just us, country upon country around the world have made clear — that there are very significant expectations of the Taliban going forward if they’re going to have any kind of relationship with the rest of the world.”
— One such expectation, Blinken told MARTHA RADDATZ on ABC’s This Week that the “Taliban will permit freedom of travel going past Aug. 31,” and that “the Taliban have a strong interest in having an airport that functions.” More on that from David Cohen
— Immediately after that segment, Sen. BEN SASSE (R-Neb.) joined the show and called Blinken’s interview “a disgusting revelation of yet again no plan.”
— It seems like that might be an increasingly popular view. The Washington Post reports that House Democrats are privately discussing whether Blinken or Sullivan “should lose their jobs.”
— More: “Sullivan, Blinken warn of ‘exceedingly dangerous moment’ in Afghanistan,” by Aubree Eliza Weaver
HURRICANE IDA NEARS CATEGORY 5 STRENGTH — As it nears the Louisiana coast on the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Ida has strengthened rapidly and is just shy of Category 5 strength. The latest from NOLA.com
— Ida’s top winds have hit 150 mph, and it is projected to hit at least 155 mph. According to the National Hurricane Center, Category 5 hurricanes start at 157 mph.
— Gov. JOHN BEL EDWARDS said Ida “will be one of the strongest hurricanes that hit anywhere in Louisiana since at least the 1850s,” per CNN.
— What happens when a major hurricane hits an area with low vaccination rates and surging Covid cases? We may be about to find out. “New Orleans hospitals planned to ride out the storm with their beds nearly full, as similarly stressed hospitals elsewhere had little room for evacuated patients,” write AP’s Kevin McGill and Jay Reeves. “And shelters for those fleeing their homes carried an added risk of becoming flashpoints for new infections.”
— Another wildcard: how the hurricane will affect oil and gas prices. More than 80% of oil and gas production in the Gulf of Mexico has halted because of the storm, reports AP’s Frank Bajak. He also notes that “Louisiana’s 17 oil refineries account for nearly one-fifth of the nation’s refining capacity,” which could mean a surge in gas prices if the hurricane hits Louisiana hard.
SUNDAY BEST …
Senate Minority Leader MITCH MCCONNELL on “Fox News Sunday”: “Now we’re looking at the exit and over the next two days, our heroic military is doing the best they can with a horrible policy decision. This is one of the worst foreign policy decisions in American history. Much worse than Saigon, because after we left Saigon, there weren’t Vietnamese terrorists who were planning on attacking us here at home. … You know, just because we decide to quit fighting doesn’t mean the terrorists go away. So they’re still out there. They’re invigorated.”
Sasse on ABC’s “This Week”: “What we need is a commander in chief that actually has a big plan and a big way to solve this problem. President Biden has been repeatedly disconnected from reality. … Joe Biden put our forces at risk by having no plan for how to evacuate. We are absolutely at risk. And we are at risk because the president has been so unbelievably weak. Abandoning Bagram base will be read about in military textbooks for decades as one of the stupidest military blunders ever.”
Sen. MITT ROMNEY (R-Utah) on CNN’s “State of the Union”: “You can’t, as one party, end a war. It takes two parties to end a war. The Taliban and the radical violent jihadists in the world haven’t stopped fighting. They’re going to continue to fight us. The war is not over. … The idea that we could pull out of a dangerous place where radical violent jihadists are organizing — that we could pull out of that and that is going to stop them — that’s fantasy.” More from Aubree Eliza Weaver
BIDEN’S SUNDAY: This morning, the president and VP KAMALA HARRIS met with their national security team on Afghanistan.
— 12 p.m.: The president and first lady will participate in a dignified transfer at Dover Air Force Base.
— 2 p.m.: The Bidens will depart Dover to return to the White House, where they are scheduled to arrive at 2:55 p.m.
THE WHITE HOUSE
BEHIND THE SCENES — “‘A direct punch in the gut’: Inside Biden’s biggest crisis as he races to withdraw from Afghanistan,” by CNN’s Kevin Liptak, Kaitlan Collins, Jeremy Herb and Phil Mattingly: “Biden’s national security team had little time to emotionally process the attacks, one official said, as they remained focused both on the airlift mission in Kabul, now entering its most dangerous phase yet, and a new objective to take out the terrorists. …
“For a commander-in-chief known to occasionally flash his temper, multiple aides who spoke to CNN described Biden as consistently calm and level-headed in the aftermath of the attack. Still, by the time Biden emerged into the White House East Room after most of Thursday behind closed doors, the strain of the moment was evident.”
THE NEW REGIME — “Taliban prepare to form new cabinet as U.S. evacuation nears end,” Reuters: “ZABIHULLAH MUJAHID, the movement’s main spokesman, made the comments to Reuters as the U.S. military winds down its mission to evacuate U.S. citizens and vulnerable Afghans and withdraw troops from Kabul airport ahead of the Aug. 31 deadline set by President Joe Biden.
“Mujahid condemned an overnight U.S. drone strike against Islamic State militants following Thursday’s suicide attack near the airport as a ‘clear attack on Afghan territory.’ But he appealed to the United States and other Western nations to maintain diplomatic relations after their withdrawal, which he expected would be completed ‘very soon.’ The exact timing of the formation of a new cabinet remained unclear.”
— “Taliban Move to Ban Opium Production in Afghanistan,” by WSJ’s Sune Engel Rasmussen, Zamir Saar and James Marson: “Taliban leaders, seeking international acceptance after seizing power in Afghanistan, have told farmers to stop cultivating opium poppies, residents of some major poppy-growing areas say. This has caused raw opium prices to soar across the country.”
DIRE DELTA DATA — “U.S. Covid-19 Hospitalizations Approach a Peak as Delta Variant Spreads,” by WSJ’s Melanie Evans, Andrew Mollica, Anthony DeBarros and Jon Kamp: “Keeping ahead of demand is harder now than during earlier surges, according to doctors, nurses and hospital executives. Patients with other illnesses returned to hospitals this year, leaving fewer open beds as Covid-19 cases soared. … Uneven vaccination rates across age groups have skewed younger the ages of patients hospitalized with Covid-19. Data show record rates of hospitalizations across age brackets for young adults and those in younger middle age.”
HOW WE GOT HERE — “What Went Wrong With the Pandemic in Florida,” by NYT’s Patricia Mazzei, Benjamin Mueller and Robert Gebeloff in Miami: “The Florida story is a cautionary tale for dealing with the current incarnation of the coronavirus. The United States has used the vaccines as its primary pandemic weapon. But Florida shows that even a state that made a major push for vaccinations — Florida ranks 21st among states and Washington, D.C., in giving people of all ages at least one shot — can be crushed by the Delta variant, reaching frightening levels of hospitalizations and deaths. …
“Florida’s pandemic data, more scant since the state ended its declared Covid-19 state of emergency in June, reveals only limited information about who is dying. Hospitals have said upward of 90 percent of their patients have been unvaccinated. Exactly why the state has been so hard-hit remains an elusive question. Other states with comparable vaccine coverage have a small fraction of Florida’s hospitalization rate. The best explanation of what has happened is that Florida’s vaccination rates were good, but not good enough for its demographics.”
YESTERDAY’S MARCH ON WASHINGTON — “Thousands rally for voting rights, D.C. statehood today in Washington,” by WaPo’s Ellie Silverman and Fredrick Kunkle: “Thousands of people marched on Saturday to mark the 58th anniversary of the historic March on Washington and voice their support for expanding and protecting access to the ballot.
“The crowd cheered, sang and danced in the streets on the way to the National Mall while calling on Congress to pass an extensive voting rights measure and eliminate the filibuster if necessary to do so. The marchers, though fewer than in years past, also demanded D.C. statehood and an end to police brutality.” More: “In photos: Thousands descend on D.C. to march for voting rights,” by Axios’ Erin Doherty
THE ROAD TO RECALL — “How Gavin Newsom went from landslide victory to fighting for his political survival,” by L.A. Times’ Christopher Goffard
DEEP DIVE — “‘Hillbilly Elegy’ author J.D. Vance is running for Senate as a savior of the Rust Belt. Insiders and experts say otherwise,” by Insider’s Adam Wren and Meghan Morris: “Plenty of politicians seek to bolster their image by pointing to their business acumen and philanthropic efforts. In reality, though, it’s not clear what, if anything, [J.D.] VANCE has achieved through his company or his charity. A review by Insider of Our Ohio Renewal’s tax filings showed that in its first year, the nonprofit spent more on ‘management services’ provided by its executive director — who also serves as Vance’s top political advisor — than it did on programs to fight opioid abuse. … A spokeswoman for Ohio’s largest anti-opioid coalition told Insider that she hadn’t heard of Vance’s organization.”
THESE ALARMS ARE STILL SOUNDING — “Experts warn of dangers from breach of voter system software,” by AP’s Christina Cassidy in Atlanta
FIRST IN PLAYBOOK: WEEKEND WEDDING — Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and Skip Sayre got married on Saturday night in Haaland’s home state of New Mexico. Haaland’s dress was designed and sewn by her sister. The ceremony included traditional elements to honor her ancestry, and guests were required to be vaccinated and wear masks. Pic … Another pic
MEDIAWATCH — MSNBC’s PoliticsNation with Rev. Al Sharpton is celebrating 10 years on air. Sharpton reflects on the milestone
TRANSITION — Carly Good is joining Venn Strategies as an associate for the critical infrastructure practice. She previously was manager of the energy, environment and agriculture task force at the American Legislative Exchange Council.
ENGAGED — Steve Beynon, a reporter for Military.com and an Afghanistan war veteran and POLITICO alum, and Kali Linette, a marketer for Thycotic, got engaged this weekend. Their dogs Truman and Kennedy were present for the proposal. Pic
HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Justice Neil Gorsuch … WSJ’s Paul Beckett … Clayton Cox of McGuireWoods Consulting … Garrett Arwa of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee … Alison Schwartz of Grow Strategic Solutions … Nancy Scola … Finsbury Glover Hering’s Kyle Daly … Amy Nathan … Charlie Spies … Stacey Hughes of the American Hospital Association … IBM’s Ryan Hagemann … Ed Wyatt of Precision Strategies … PhRMA’s Tom Wilbur … Jerr Rosenbaum of HLP&R Advocacy … FTI Consulting’s Brian Kennedy … Duncan Neasham … Maurice Simpson Jr. … Nestle’s Molly Fogarty … Paul Coussan … Susan Markham … Paige Ennis … former Treasury Secretaries Robert Rubin and Jack Lew … Rachael Cusick … POLITICO’s Morgan Connolly, Noura Arzaz and Maddie Bedrick … Rich Cooper … former Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.) … USA Today’s Cristina Silva … Sacha Zimmerman … MSLGROUP’s Kelly Smith … Fannie Mae’s Anna English … former Sen. David Pryor (D-Ark.) … Evan O’Connell of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance (35) … former Guam Gov. Eddie Baza Calvo (6-0) … Adam Shapiro (52) … Wesley Dietrich … Uliana Pavlova … Sal Albanese … Connie Milstein … Sean Elliott … incoming Texas Tribune EIC Sewell Chan … David F. Levi (7-0) … Airbnb’s Brian Chesky (4-0)
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