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Wake Up To Politics - August 30, 2021

Wake Up To Politics: Problems pile up for Biden
Wake Up To Politics - August 30, 2021

Good morning! It’s Monday, August 30, 2021. Election Day 2022 is 435 days away. Election Day 2024 is 1,163 days away.

In today’s newsletter: I wrote at the beginning of last week about how President Joe Biden’s first August in office was shaping up like many of his predecessors’ — poorly.

Now, the month is coming to a close, but his problems are only growing. I’m leading off this morning with an update on the latest from Afghanistan, followed by my own on-the-ground reporting from a voting rights rally in D.C. this weekend, and then a roundup of a few more headaches facing the president.

Plus, we have contributions from two Wake Up To Politics student journalists: Davis Giangiulio with his weekly Economics Roundup, and photojournalist Nathan Posner with his debut in the newsletter.

Let’s dive in...

The latest: What to know from Afghanistan this weekend

— Breaking overnight: The U.S. military intercepted and shot down five rockets aiming at the Kabul airport this morning. According to a statement by White House press secretary Jen Psaki, “operations continue uninterrupted” at the airport; there are no reports of casualties.

— Drone strikes: The rocket attack comes after two U.S. drone strikes were carried out in Afghanistan in recent days: one on Friday in eastern Afghanistan and another on Sunday in Kabul. Both strikes were targeted at ISIS-K, the Islamic State affiliate that claimed responsibility for the attack last Thursday that killed 13 U.S. service members and at least 170 Afghans.

According to the Pentagon, the Friday drone strike killed two high-profile ISIS-K targets involved in planning last Thursday’s attacks and struck no civilians. The strike on Sunday successfully hit a vehicle carrying suspected ISIS-K suicide bombers targeting the airport, the military said.

Nine civilians from the same family, including six children, were reportedly killed in the Sunday strike. The U.S. has acknowledged the reports of civilian deaths but said the military is still “investigating further.”

President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden watch as the remains of the 13 service members killed in Afghanistan are brought back to the U.S. on Sunday. (Saul Loeb / AFP)

— More to come: “This strike was not the last,” President Biden promised on Friday. According to Politico, he has given the Pentagon the “green light” to strike any targets affiliated with ISIS-K “without seeking White House approval.”

— Evacuations continue: Meanwhile, the final evacuations are underway at the Kabul airport before U.S. forces are set to exit on Tuesday. The U.S. and 97 other countries announced on Sunday — and the Taliban confirmed — that they had “received assurances from the Taliban” that all foreign nationals and allied Afghans would be allowed to leave the country, an agreement that they said would remain in place past the August 31 withdrawal deadline.

However, it is unclear how evacuations will take place after August 31, when the U.S. has agreed to transfer control of the Kabul airport to the Taliban. This uncertainty has led many Afghans who assisted the U.S. war effort to lose hope that they will be able to escape soon.

American troops are already beginning to exit in advance of Tuesday’s deadline. The White House said this morning that about 1,200 people were evacuated from Kabul between 3 a.m. Sunday and 3 a.m. this morning, bringing the total of evacuees since August 14 to 122,300.

Refugees from Afghanistan arrive at Dulles airport on Sunday. (Nathan Posner / Wake Up To Politics)

Reporter’s Notebook: Democrats pressure Biden on voting rights with D.C. march

Thousands of people gathered in Washington, D.C., on Saturday to mark the 58th anniversary of the March on Washington.

Martin Luther King III (whose father delivered his famed “I Have a Dream” speech at the 1963 march), Rev. Al Sharpton, and other prominent activists organized the anniversary march to call for a slew of voting rights bills currently stalled in Congress.

Listening to speakers and interviewing attendees on Saturday as I covered the rally on the National Mall following the march, I was most struck by who many of the participants were aiming their ire at.

I certainly heard plenty of anger expressed toward Republican lawmakers — multiple attendees described them to me as “obstructionists,” one even called them “Confederates” — but there was a clear tone of discontent reserved for Democratic leaders as well.

Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-NY) was one of the speakers who went farthest in criticizing the party, although he notably refrained from mentioning any of his colleagues by name. Instead, Jones repeatedly blasted senators “clinging to the dangerous delusion” that the filibuster promotes bipartisanship and bemoaned a lack of support from “the White House.”

Although he never used President Biden’s name, he did draw a clear (unfavorable) contrast between Biden and another legislator-turned-president with an expansive social vision: Lyndon B. Johnson. “During the civil rights movement, we didn’t have a president who just threw up his hands and said ‘it’s the Senate’s responsibility,’” Jones pointedly complained.

With the Capitol as a backdrop, Martin Luther King III calls for voting rights on the anniversary of his father’s most famous speech. (Gabe Fleisher / Wake Up To Politics)

Several of the attendees I spoke to were similarly unhappy with Democratic leadership on voting rights. The most common targets: Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), the two leading Democratic defenders of the filibuster, the Senate rule preventing voting rights bills from advancing. “I don’t know what her problem is,” Laura Pendleton Miller, who came to the march from Arizona, said of Sinema. “I have no clue why she’s doing things that way.”

Miller predicted that, unless she modifies her stance on the filibuster, Sinema “will be in jeopardy when she runs again,” adding that she would support a primary challenge against the senator.

Other attendees sounded similar notes: “I’d rather have my enemy sit in that chair than a half-assed friend,” a Teamsters worker from New York told me, referring to Manchin.

Organizers promised that the pressure would continue. “If you can find the political will to pass an infrastructure bill costing $3.5 trillion, you can find the political will to protect voting rights across this country,” said NAACP President Derrick Johnson, notably taking aim at Biden’s leading legislative priority.

“We will stay on you until you get the carving knife out again,” Sharpton said, calling for a “carve-out” to the filibuster to protect voting rights. Sharpton promised a “fall of action” this autumn, even saying activists might sleep in tents outside the Capitol.

Sharpton added that organizers had intentionally chosen to station this weekend’s rally with the Capitol as a backdrop, instead of at the Lincoln Memorial, where the 1963 march took place. “This building is the target of our social justice movement,” Sharpton declared.

Plus: What else Biden is facing

The other crises piling up on his desk as the week kicks off:

  • Hurricane Ida. More than 1 million people across Louisiana, including the entire city of New Orleans, were left without power as Hurricane Ida — which has since weakened to a tropical storm — swept across the state. President Biden has signed a major disaster declaration; at least one death has been reported.
  • Coronavirus. The daily average for hospitalized COVID-19 patients in the U.S. is now more than 100,000 for the first time since last winter. Hospitals across the country are straining as they find themselves short-staffed and running out of oxygen supply to treat the latest surge in cases.
  • North Korea. According to a new report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), North Korea has resumed operation of its plutonium-producing reactor at Yongbyon, which could allow the country to expand its nuclear arsenal — a new foreign policy threat for Biden to worry about.
A man takes a picture of high waves in New Orleans as Hurricane Ida crashed down. (Gerald Herbert / AP)

Policy Roundup: Economics

Your weekly economics update from Wake Up To Politics contributor Davis Giangiulio.

New data shows most federal rental assistance has yet to be distributed. By the end of July, only $1.7 billion in relief had been distributed to renters, meaning 89 percent of the funds were still waiting to be sent out. On Wednesday, the Treasury Department updated its guidance to make it easier to apply for the funds, including allowing tenants to do self-evaluations to determine if they qualify for the program. White House Rescue Plan Coordinator Gene Sperling said this new guidance leaves “no reason for delays… in speeding anti-eviction relief.”

But while the federal government can try to speed up the process, it’s ultimately up to states and municipalities to get the funds out. Evictions will resume in most parts of the country after the Supreme Court struck down a federal eviction ban put in place by the CDC. Seven Democratic-controlled states still have evictions bans, lasting anywhere from the end of this month to the end of their pandemic emergency declarations.

President Biden is considering whether to re-nominate Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell. (Al Drago / Bloomberg)

President Biden’s choice of Federal Reserve chair is splitting his allies. Bloomberg reported last week that Biden is actively considering re-nominating current Fed Chair Jay Powell. The case for nominating Powell again centers on the fact that the future of the economy is uncertain, and his continuity as chair would allow for more stability. Plus, he’s been aggressive in tackling the recession and has followed the White House’s view on inflation. His support ranges from many in the GOP to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.

But progressives aren’t so sure on a second term for Powell. They see this as an opportunity to install someone who wants to have tougher bank regulations, focus on income inequality, and tailor policies to fight climate change. This would be a change, especially on the banking front, from Powell, who they think has been too friendly to big banks. The candidate many progressives are pushing is Lael Brainard, the only Democrat currently on the Fed Board of Governors. But a broad range of members of Biden’s economic team are supportive of giving Powell another shot. The announcement is expected in a matter of weeks.


What’s happening in Washington today. (All times Eastern)
Executive Branch
President Joe Biden will receive his daily intelligence briefing at 9:30 a.m. and meet with his national security team at 10 a.m. to receive an update on Afghanistan.

According to the White House, he will also receive briefings on Hurricane Ida from his homeland security team throughout the day.

Vice President Kamala Harris will join Biden for the 10 a.m. meeting on Afghanistan.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken will host a virtual meeting on Afghanistan with officials from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, Turkey, Qatar, the European Union, and NATO to discuss “an aligned approach for the days and weeks ahead.”

At 2:30 p.m., he will deliver remarks on the U.S. evacuation efforts in Afghanistan since August 14 and “the way forward.”

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki will hold her daily press briefing at 1:30 p.m.

The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) will hold a virtual meeting at 10 a.m. to vote on recommending CDC approval of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine (following the FDA’s grant of full approval last week) and discuss the need for COVID-19 booster shots.
Legislative Branch The Senate is on recess on September 13.  

The House is on recess on September 20.
Judicial Branch
The Supreme Court is on recess until October 4.

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