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Errin Haines and Lisa Lerer on Afghanistan evacuations, infrastructure debate

As President Joe Biden manages the evacuation of Americans in Afghanistan, his domestic policy agenda hangs in the balance on Capitol Hill. To analyze both, Judy Woodruff is joined by Lisa Lerer of The New York Times, and Errin Haines of The 19th.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, as you can imagine, it's a critical week at the White House, from managing Afghanistan to cajoling fellow Democrats on Capitol Hill.

    To analyze both of these issues, I'm joined now by Lisa Lerer of The New York Times and Errin Haines of The 19th.

    Amy Walter and Tamara Keith are away on this Monday.

    So, to both of you, as we have been hearing, we have been discussing COVID, Afghanistan, enormous issues confronting this White House.

    And, right now, Errin, the president is facing criticism on — some support, but a lot of criticism, not just from Republicans, but from members of his own party. How is that different, what the Democrats are saying, many of them calling for investigations? And does it suggest in some way that the president is going to be able to get through this or not?

  • Errin Haines:

    Well, I think it's still early days, Judy.

    I mean, we're a week into this Afghanistan exit. And, certainly, the handling of this is something that folks are wanting accountability for. You had the president telling George Stephanopoulos in that interview that even in his calculus months ahead of what we have seen unfold in the last week, that he knew that this — there was going to be — it was going to be a chaotic process.

    Obviously, that is exactly what is unfolding. And, yes, you absolutely have some folks even within the Democratic Party who are really being very critical of the administration's response.

    And you see the administration being increasingly responsive, the president delaying going back to Wilmington, so that he could look responsive on this issue, so many administration officials out on the Sunday shows over the weekend and even today trying to engage with members of the press, trying to appease them as they continue to kind of raise questions about the way that this exit is being handled and what folks can expect going forward, particularly vulnerable Afghanis who were helpful to us during this war, the women and girls who we know are going to be vulnerable under a Taliban regime.

    And so Democrats are going to — they're saying that there could be hearings as soon as this week dealing with accountability from the Biden administration. So, I think that, even as this is early, I think we're going to continue to see folks even within his own party, as well as obviously Democrats and members of the political press, continuing to try to hold this administration accountable, and then continuing to try to respond.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Lisa, to you, how do you see this distinction between what Democrats are saying, what Republicans are saying about the administration's handling of Afghanistan, while they are in the middle of dealing with this full-blown crisis?

  • Lisa Lerer:

    Well, Republicans, as would be expected, they are taking a much harder line against the administration than Democrats.

    The Democratic criticism, while notable, because it's really the first time we have heard Democrats breaking with the administration since President Biden came into office, is a quite a bit more restrained, which the White House is taking as a good sign.

    The White House is betting here, politically, that as the story fades from a constant rotation on TV news and from the headlines, the American public will forget how this was handled in some form, and by the time we all get to the midterm elections 15 months or so from now, the president and his party will get credit for being the ones that finally took the country out of Afghanistan, which remains a politically popular position.

    That is a political gamble. And a lot of Democrats, while, in public, they're a bit restrained in their criticism, privately say they're quite worried. And they look at some of the arguments coming out of the Republicans, who are basically trying to use this to make a larger case against the administration, painting this as an example of incompetent leadership, as, you know, failed leadership.

    And they see that as a way of — they see that as something that has the potential to become a narrative in these midterm elections, and a narrative that could be damaging for Democrats, because their fate, for better or worse, is really intimately tied to how the White House does.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, there's always a lot on the president's plate.

    But — and, right now, it's not just Afghanistan. It's, as we have mentioned, of course, COVID. But it's also, Errin, the infrastructure legislation, which the White House has been trying to get Congress to approve for months, critical votes coming up in the House of Representatives this week.

    Interesting pressure on both the Democratic leadership, where, again, Nancy Pelosi faces the split we referred to earlier between progressives and moderates in her own party, and pressures on Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leader.

    Just quickly to both of you. I'm interested in how those — how the — what the political calculus looks like for leaders in both parties right now in the House.

  • Errin Haines:

    Yes, well Judy, what is — one thing that is interesting is a new term that I think we're learning this week, conservative Democrats, which you saw progressive Democrats using to frame moderate Democrats who are not getting on board with this infrastructure package, and kind of making getting this thing across the finish line more challenging than I think the administration thought that this was going to be, particularly given how popular the American Rescue Plan has been with American voters.

    And that — as these voters have started to get things like their child tax credit checks, seeing the kind of direct relief from their government on the pandemic, which, frankly, was a lot of the voters that I certainly spoke to last year said that they voted for, wanting their government to be responsive to especially the economic part of this pandemic.

    And so we're in August now. We know that the focus is about to turn again from governing back to campaigning. And so I think both — for both parties, looking to able to hit the campaign trail with something to — with a message to voters that they — on what they have been delivering this year is very important.

    It will be interesting to see. We certainly know that Minority Leader McCarthy and Speaker Pelosi are not friends, by any stretch. And so the tactic he takes, in terms of the message that he gives to his party about whether to get on board with this, whether that is politically beneficial to him.

    We haven't seen that yet, but I think it will be interesting to see kind of how that plays out in terms of how that moves things ahead on this issue.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Lisa Lerer, in just only — in 30 seconds, what do you think?

  • Lisa Lerer:

    I think part of the place — of course, Speaker Pelosi is the person to watch on this.

    But what this story is really telling us is about the larger divides in the Democratic Party. These are divides between the moderate and the liable wing that have been going on for six years now. And there's no resolution.

    While progressives seem to have the upper hand on policy here in Washington, in these off-year elections, moderates have done quite well. So I think you have two factions of the party that are both empowered. And I think Speaker Pelosi has quite the knot to untangle to get this thing through.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Quite the knot to untangle. And we will be watching it this week. There could be a vote in the next day or so.

    Lisa Lerer, Errin Haines, thank you both. We appreciate it.

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