A pair of must-reads on Afghanistan overnight:
— A WSJ scoop that casts perhaps the harshest light yet on the administration’s performance, by Vivian Salama: “An internal State Department memo last month warned top agency officials of the potential collapse of Kabul soon after the U.S.’s Aug. 31 troop withdrawal deadline in Afghanistan, according to a U.S. official and a person familiar with the document.
“The classified cable represents the clearest evidence yet that the administration had been warned by its own officials on the ground that the Taliban’s advance was imminent and Afghanistan’s military may be unable to stop it. … In all, 23 U.S. Embassy staffers, all Americans, signed the July 13 cable, the two people said. The U.S. official said there was a rush to deliver it, given circumstances on the ground in Kabul.
“The cable was sent to Secretary of State ANTONY BLINKEN and Director of Policy Planning SALMAN AHMED. Mr. Blinken received the cable and reviewed it shortly after receipt, according to the person familiar with the exchange, who added that contingency planning was already under way when it was received, and that Mr. Blinken welcomed their feedback.”
— A POLITICO tick-tock on “five days of panic” inside the Biden administration as Afghanistan unraveled and crisis ensued, by Alexander Ward, Lara Seligman, Andrew Desiderio, Alex Thompson and Bryan Bender: “[B]y Thursday morning in Washington, more population centers were falling to the Taliban by the hour, including the provincial capitals of Ghazni and Badghis.
“In the Situation Room, [Defense Secretary LLOYD] AUSTIN was now recommending that [President JOE] BIDEN send in troops to evacuate the embassy and protect the main international airport in Kabul. [National security adviser JAKE] SULLIVAN asked each Cabinet member in the meeting to weigh in. They unanimously agreed. That was the ‘oh, shit’ moment, said [a] U.S. official. It was now officially a crisis.”
PARTY POOPER — Did BARACK OBAMA ruin the party in D.C.?
His over-the-top 60th birthday party in Martha’s Vineyard first drew criticism for the size of the guest list during the Delta surge — and then after he slimmed it down, the former president was blasted for throwing an opulent party during a pandemic. It didn’t matter that he was following CDC protocols for an outdoor event.
The bashing of the bash is having a chilling effect on the D.C. party scene as (especially Democratic) pols and their staffers scramble to figure out when and where — or even if — they can party again.
“Who wants to throw a party right now when Obama hired a doctor to make sure everyone’s vaccinated and passes a Covid test and he still gets shamed for it?” said JOHN ARUNDEL, former associate publisher of Washington Life magazine and managing director of Perdicus Communications.
“I just think there’s a stigma to throwing any kind of event,” he added. “The optics of throwing the party or being at the party, it can be chilling.”
Just weeks ago, D.C. looked like it was back. The French, Italian and British embassies marked the return to life by opening their residences to hundreds of guests with Champagne and oysters. The Hill’s editor at large STEVE CLEMONS, lobbyist HEATHER PODESTA and French Ambassador PHILIPPE ÉTIENNE were planning to host another lavish party at the French ambassador’s residence in September, but they’ve decided to push it back to November. The U.K. embassy is holding smaller events in September.
“I thought this would give new dimension to what would be a masked ball,” Clemons said wistfully.
Obama’s party “created an awareness,” Clemons added, especially “when you see so many Americans struggling with [Delta], and hospitals filling up.”
The reticence is mainly among Democrats; broadly speaking, Republicans have been more willing to forge ahead with in-person events.
“What we could do six weeks ago, we can’t do now,” said Democratic strategist ADRIENNE ELROD, the director of surrogate strategy for JOE BIDEN’s 2020 campaign. “We have to be so cognizant because Republicans are looking for any reason to call us hypocrites or to call us liars.”
Elrod said their internal polling in 2020 showed that Biden’s handling of the pandemic during the campaign was key and that Democrats shouldn’t abandon their caution because they’re itching to go out.
Not all parties are being scrapped. Hill aides are advising their bosses on which ones to attend as event planners try to draw those luminaries to their parties. It can’t be a party just for a party’s sake, several of the advisers told us. There has to be a greater cause to justify going.
Event planner and political consultant KIMBALL STROUD is planning multiple galas this fall with 200 to 300 guests, including the March on Washington Film Festival gala on Sept. 30 to toast House Majority Whip JIM CLYBURN (D-S.C.) and a Halcyon Awards gala the following day. But she’s taking extra precautions like requiring proof of vaccination to attend. The spaces she’s reserving are large enough for social distancing.
“We’re not footloose and fancy free yet,” Stroud said.
As for fundraisers, we reported in late July that there was talk among Democratic donors of canceling various money events in the Hamptons. But so far the fundraisers have carried on without much of a peep. Tonight, incoming New York Gov. KATHY HOCHUL is being feted at a backyard tea dance at the Southampton home of financier JUDITH KASEN-WINDSOR. On Saturday morning, she’ll be at the Southampton Capri hotel for a breakfast hosted by supermarket billionaire JOHN CATSIMATIDIS.
One House Democrat warned that the Democratic Party can’t get so caught up in the optics of gathering that they give Republicans an edge in fundraising and campaigning.
“We can’t hide under the bed if we want to win the midterms,” the member said. “Look at how many races we lost in 2018 by fewer than a thousand votes. We decided it was better to campaign by Zoom than knock on doors. The GOP didn’t stay home, and our margins are thinner because of it.”
The pol added: “It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. You can adjust and be safe.”
That appears to be the thinking of Speaker NANCY PELOSI, who’s slated to hold an in-person event at the end of September for alumni of her office.
Some lobbyists are panicked about shrinking guest lists at fundraisers, especially with the infrastructure and reconciliation bills on the table. Fundraisers are prime opportunities to corner a member and press their interests.
Journalists might suffer too, with the Washington book party circuit in limbo. Lobbyist and D.C. hostess JULEANNA GLOVER was slated to have a book party at her Kalorama home in September for GAYLE TZEMACH LEMMON’s new tome, but she’s going to make the call the week before on whether to have the party based on the CDC’s guidance.
Happy Friday morning. Thanks for reading Playbook. Drop us a line: Rachael Bade, Eugene Daniels, Ryan Lizza, Tara Palmeri.
BIDEN’S FIRST TRUE FOREIGN POLICY TEST — The Taliban’s return to power marks the first real foreign policy crisis of the Biden administration — and a rare moment of bipartisan criticism of Biden. But will the bungled withdrawal from Afghanistan scramble American politics, or merely deepen long-building fissures across the political spectrum? On the right, attempts to save America’s Afghan allies have resurfaced fierce divides over immigration and diversity. On the left, the pullout is reigniting a debate over the United States’ “forever wars.” Rachael and Ryan talk Biden’s political pitfalls on today’s Playbook Deep Dive.
— 10 a.m.: The president will receive the President’s Daily Brief.
— 10:45 a.m.: Biden and VP KAMALA HARRIS will meet with their national security team in the Situation Room to discuss Afghanistan.
— 1 p.m.: Biden will speak in the East Room about the evacuations from Afghanistan, with Harris attending.
— 2:05 p.m.: Biden will leave D.C. for Wilmington, Del., arriving at 3 p.m.
HARRIS’ FRIDAY: The VP will then leave D.C. at 9:15 p.m. en route to Singapore.
THE SENATE and THE HOUSE are out.
LATEST HEADLINES …
— NYT: “Sluggish Visa Process Strands Thousands of Afghans Who Worked for U.S.” … “Hunted by the Taliban, U.S.-Allied Afghan Forces Are in Hiding” … “A 17-year-old Afghan soccer player died falling from a U.S. evacuation plane”
— POLITICO: “U.S.-made weapons seized by Taliban could lead to regional arms bazaar”
TOP-ED — “President Biden’s democracy agenda is in trouble,” by WaPo’s Josh Rogin
THE WHITE HOUSE
DEBT RELIEF FOR THE DISABLED — “Biden To Automatically Cancel $5.8 Billion In Student Loans For Over 300,000 Disabled Borrowers,” by Forbes’ Adam Minsky: “The administration will be cancelling borrowers’ federal student loan debt through … [a] program [that] allows student loan borrowers who are unable to maintain substantial, gainful employment due to a physical or psychological medical impairment to get their federal student loans cancelled.
“However, to get student loans forgiven under the program, disabled student loan borrowers must submit a formal application, which can be challenging for those facing serious health issues, and many borrowers may not even realize that they qualify.”
CUBA LATEST — “White House sticks with hardline approach to Cuba,” by Sabrina Rodríguez and Marc Caputo
CAMPAIGNING FOR NEWSOM — According to CNN’s Jasmine Wright, Harris is slated to attend a campaign event the weekend of Aug. 27 for California Democratic Gov. GAVIN NEWSOM, who faces a recall election in the coming weeks. Wright notes in the tweet that a visit from Biden is to be determined.
ELDER TROUBLE — “Elder’s ex-fiancee said he brandished a gun at her,” by Carla Marinucci: “ALEXANDRA DATIG, the former fiancee and longtime radio producer for California GOP gubernatorial candidate LARRY ELDER, says she broke off an 18-month engagement with the conservative talk show host in 2015 after he waved a gun at her while high on marijuana. Datig’s claim, which she regards as the culmination of a series of humiliating disputes that made her fearful for her safety and her ability to maintain her sobriety, comes as Elder has gained momentum in the recall to replace Newsom, with many observers counting him as the likeliest GOP alternative should voters decide to replace the incumbent.” After the story was published, Elder denied the allegation
AND THIS — “‘Women exaggerate the problem of sexism’: Top California recall candidate Larry Elder has a long history of making disparaging remarks about women,” by CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski, Em Steck and Drew Myers
HISTORY LESSON — “Jimmy Carter, trounced in 1980, gets fresh look from history,” by AP’s Bill Barrow in Atlanta
COMING THIS FALL — “Political Consultant Hank Morris Turns Battles With Andrew Cuomo Into Off-Broadway Musical,” by Variety’s Brent Lang
MUCK READ — “Republican Rep. Diana Harshbarger failed to properly disclose more than 700 stock trades worth as much as $10.9 million in violation of federal transparency law,” by Insider’s Dave Levinthal: “Rep. DIANA HARSHBARGER, a Republican from Tennessee, failed to properly disclose more than 700 stock trades that together are worth at least $728,000 … Harshbarger’s late disclosures involved stock trades by herself and her husband, ROBERT HARSHBARGER, between early January and June.” Her office blamed the late disclosure on a financial adviser’s “gross oversight.”
FIGHTING WORDS — “‘Locate us a ring’: Louisiana Congressman Clay Higgins challenges Facebook user to a fight,” by The Advocate: “The Lafayette Republican, who has a long history of bizarre social media antics, told an Alaska man named JOEL DOLPHIN who commented on one of his posts that Higgins is ‘easy to find,’ and suggested he is prepared to fight the man when he visits Alaska next year.
“‘I’ll be in Alaska next year, with (U.S. Rep.) DON YOUNG,’ Higgins wrote after Dolphin said he’d be happy to reiterate his criticisms face-to-face with the congressman. ‘Like I said. I’m easy to find. Locate us a ring, or a dojo. I’ll give you a few rounds to make your point. Be seeing you. Higgins out.”
BEYOND THE BELTWAY
LOOK WHO’S BACK — “After a nearly six-week exodus over GOP voting bill, enough Democrats return to Texas House to resume work,” by Texas Tribune’s James Barragán: “For the first time in nearly six weeks, state officials said there were enough lawmakers present in the Texas House on Thursday for the chamber to conduct business — opening the door for the passage of the GOP priority elections bill that Democrats have been attempting to kill for the past several weeks by staying far away from the Capitol. The margin was razor thin on Thursday and it was unclear for hours before gaveling in whether Republicans had gotten enough members in the chamber to begin their work. Ultimately, 99 members voted that they were present with 49 stated absences.”
— “Texas can ban standard procedure used during second-trimester abortions, federal court rules,” by WaPo’s Emily Wax-Thibodeaux: “Texas can ban the abortion procedure most commonly used to end second-trimester pregnancies, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday. The decision was hailed as a major victory by antiabortion advocates, even as doctors warned it could leave women less safe.
“And it comes as the Supreme Court prepares to hear arguments in another case, whether Mississippi can ban abortions after 15 weeks. The decision in that case could have far-reaching implications, further curbing the constitutional right granted under 1973’s landmark Roe v. Wade ruling. The Texas ruling on Wednesday could also end up in front of the Supreme Court, law experts predicted. It revolved around a procedure known as dilation and evacuation, or D&E.”
MEANWHILE IN ARIZONA … “Arizona ‘bracing for impact’ of Trump-driven election report,” by Zach Montellaro: “The controversial Arizona 2020 election review is almost over, but top officials in the state’s largest county and secretary of state’s office aren’t waiting for the conclusions, launching a pair of preemptive strikes against a report that could land as soon as next week. Secretary of State KATIE HOBBS, a Democrat, released a prebuttal laying out all of her office’s criticisms of the so-called election ‘audit.’ She detailed the pre- and post-election testing election equipment underwent in Maricopa County and called the state Senate-led effort ‘secretive and disorganized’ that routinely discarded best practices of an actual audit.”
THE INVESTIGATIONS — “Trump Organization and Prosecutors Spar Over Evidence—Out of Public View,” by WSJ’s Corinne Ramey and Rebecca Ballhaus: “Manhattan prosecutors are moving to advance their criminal investigation into former President DONALD TRUMP’s business affairs, fighting with his company over evidence and continuing talks with the lawyer of a Trump Organization executive who hasn’t been charged …
“Manhattan prosecutors and Trump Organization lawyers appeared at a secret court proceeding with New York State Supreme Court Justice JUAN MERCHAN last week to discuss a dispute over documents the Manhattan district attorney’s office has subpoenaed … In another sign of movement in the criminal probe, prosecutors have been holding talks with a lawyer for Trump Organization executive MATTHEW CALAMARI SR., partly to determine whether his cooperation would be helpful.”
SPY GAMES — “The FBI’s warning to Silicon Valley: China and Russia are trying to turn your employees into spies,” by Protocol’s Biz Carson: “It’s not the Hollywood image of espionage. But the risk to tech companies is real, the FBI says: Employees are being persuaded, or more typically, coerced by foreign autocracies into stealing information or handing over login credentials. …
“After Protocol heard about the briefings from multiple sources, the FBI agreed to an interview about the content of the briefings and shared its framework, called the ‘Delta Protocol’ (no relation to COVID-19 or this publication), which the agency developed to distribute to startups so they can learn to protect themselves.”
SELLING THE KNEWZ — “Rupert Murdoch Sells Failed Website Knewz to Trashy Tabloid King Dylan Howard,” by The Daily Beast’s Lachlan Cartwright and Maxwell Tani: “RUPERT MURDOCH has sold his failed online aggregator Knewz to DYLAN HOWARD, the American Media Inc. executive who gained national notoriety and disgrace for his role in the scheme to ‘catch and kill’ stories about Trump’s extramarital affairs. NewsCorp CEO ROBERT THOMSON confirmed the news in a call with The Daily Beast.”
FIRST IN PLAYBOOK — Former CNN reporter MICHELLE KOSINSKI is partnering up with the former head of MI6 RICHARD DEARLOVE to host the “One Decision Podcast” on the seemingly small choices made by leadership that have a huge impact internationally. The podcast is being produced by NSC alum BRETT BRUEN’s comms firm Global Situation Room. First guests include: Baroness CATHERINE ASHTON, ALYSSA FARAH and Lt. Col. ALEXANDER VINDMAN. Episodes will be available Sept 9.
TV TONIGHT — PBS’ “Washington Week,” guest-moderated by Pete Williams: Peter Baker, Peter Bergen, Anne Gearan and Vivian Salama.
SUNDAY SO FAR …
“Fox News Sunday”: Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.). Panel: Gerald Seib, Dana Perino and Charles Lane. Power Player: Chloe Mitchell.
“The Sunday Show”: Craig Whitlock … Patrick Gaspard … Melanie Campbell … Wade Henderson … Anne Applebaum … Evelyn Farkas … Kevin Baron … Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.).
“Full Court Press”: Rep. Jake Auchincloss (D-Mass.) … Niloofar Rahmani … Craig Whitlock.
“Face the Nation”: Nikki Haley … Ryan Crocker … Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan … Scott Gottlieb.
“Inside Politics,” guest-anchored by Kaitlan Collins: Panel: Julie Pace, Jeff Zeleny, Vivian Salama and Heather Caygle.
“This Week”: Panel: Terry Moran, Stephanie Ramos, Michel Martin and Craig Whitlock.
“Meet the Press”: Panel: Helene Cooper, Andrea Mitchell and Leo Shane.
HOT JOB — Editorial assistant for NYT Opinion, supporting Maureen Dowd
DESSERT (LITERALLY) — “Jeff Bezos’ house has artisan soft-serve ice cream on tap now,” by the New York Post’s Sarah Paynter
ENGAGED — Katherine Foley, a reporter on POLITICO’s health care team covering the FDA, and Benjamin Daniels, a research fellow at Georgetown University, finally solidified their pandemic engagement with photos at the aquarium. They met at a housewarming party for mutual friends about four years ago. Pic … Another pic
— Erik Rust, VP of government affairs at the Bank Policy Institute, proposed to Jennifer Read, VP and counsel at Porterfield, Fettig & Sears. The couple met on opposite sides of the aisle as House Financial Services policy staffers for Reps. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) and Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), respectively. Pic … Another pic
WELCOME TO THE WORLD — Winston Bao Lord, founder of Lord Hospitality, and Stephanie Lord, term member at the Council on Foreign Relations, welcomed Xavion Bao Lord and Tyson Everett Lord on Tuesday morning. They were “MoMo” twins — a rare and high-risk scenario where twins share the same sac, with only about 300 sets born in the U.S. each year. They came in at 4 lbs, 3 oz and 16 1/2 inches and 4 lbs, 6 oz and 17 1/3 inches, respectively. Pics
HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) … Reps. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) (6-0) and Kathy Castor (D-Fla.) … Katie Peters of the White House … Larry Kudlow … CNN’s Oliver Darcy … Eleni Roumel … CBS’ Fin Gómez … Ben LaBolt … Rachel Thomas of the Department of Education … Gina Keeney … POLITICO’s Doug Palmer, Natalie Fertig and Julia Kurzius … Targeted Victory’s Zac Moffatt and Ryan Meerstein … Jenny Backus … Michael Donaher of Rep. Andy Kim’s (D-N.J.) reelect … Matt Shapanka … Fox’s Tammy Bruce … Danielle Decker … Steve Pfrang … Jeffrey Norfolk … Elyse Ping Medvigy … Madeline Shepherd … Jeff Morehouse … Casey Badmington … Ari Goldberg of the Bipartisan Policy Center … Brad Fingeroot … Google’s Lauren Epshteyn … Susan Aspey … Jarrett Ray … Jim Hock of PSP Partners … Shannon Travis … Linnea Dyer Hegarty … Jordan Kittleson … Faryar Shirzad … David Ryan Adelman … former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell … Brianna McCullough … former Reps. Ron Paul (R-Texas) and Rubén Hinojosa (D-Texas) … Al Roker … former USTR Michael Froman, now at Mastercard … Connie Chung … Tarrah Cooper Wright of Rise Strategy Group … Lona Valmoro … Connor Shaw of the International Union of Journeymen and Allied Trades … Christie Edwards of the OSCE
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