Few answers from Biden administration on Afghanistan despite pressure: The Note

The administration plans to evaluate the calamity once evacuations are completed

August 18, 2021, 6:01 AM

The TAKE with Averi Harper

Days removed from the Taliban's takeover of Kabul and after a lengthy news conference with national security adviser Jake Sullivan, there is still little clarity on how conditions degraded so quickly in Afghanistan.

When ABC News correspondent Stephanie Ramos asked Sullivan about reports that Biden administration officials were informed the Taliban could overwhelm the country, the national security adviser denied seeing it.

"I'm not actually familiar with the intelligence assessments you're describing," said Sullivan.

President Joe Biden, in his remarks Monday, conceded that the Taliban takeover of the country unfolded faster than anticipated.

President Joe Biden speaks about Afghanistan from the East Room of the White House, Aug. 16, 2021, in Washington.
Evan Vucci/AP

The administration plans to conduct an evaluation of the calamity once evacuations are completed.

"We'll look at everything that happened, in this entire operation, from start to finish, and the areas of improvement where we can do better. Where -- where we can find holes or weaknesses and plug them as we go forward and, of course, we intend after we've had the opportunity to run that analysis to share that with people," Sullivan told reporters Tuesday.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan speaks during a press briefing at the White House in Washington, Aug. 17, 2021.
Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

Lawmakers are also putting pressure on the Biden administration for answers. Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee penned a letter to Biden demanding withdrawal plan details, plainly accusing the president of not having a concrete plan at all.

"For months, we have been asking you for a plan on your withdrawal from Afghanistan. You failed to provide us with one and based on the horrific events currently unfolding in Afghanistan, we are confident that we never received your plan because you never had one," the letter reads. "The security and humanitarian crisis now unfolding in Afghanistan could have been avoided if you had done any planning."

The RUNDOWN with Alisa Wiersema

The Biden administration's COVID-19 advisers are expected to give an update on booster shots Wednesday morning at a briefing and, according to White House press secretary Jen Psaki, the president will also give remarks on the topic when he speaks in the afternoon.

Although there has been an increase in vaccinations across the country in recent weeks, the update on boosters will be happening as large swaths of Americans choose to remain unvaccinated despite urging from medical officials and community leaders to protect themselves from exposure to the delta variant. The introduction of boosters could create new challenges in messaging and logistics if those who are already fully vaccinated need further convincing to get another shot.

A woman receives the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine as a booster dose at Skippack Pharmacy in Schwenksville, Pennsylvania on Aug. 14, 2021.
Hannah Beier/Reuters

The development is also playing out as several states across the South continue to experience surges in infections and hospitalizations. As of Tuesday, intensive care units across five states -- Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and Texas -- were over 90% full, according to federal data.

Having tested positive for the coronavirus on Tuesday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott -- who is fully vaccinated and asymptomatic -- is now one of those newly infected cases. In recent weeks, Abbott has been in the national spotlight for blocking school districts and local governments from issuing mask or vaccine mandates. Earlier this week, the governor attended a packed, indoor event that appeared to have little social distancing.

According to Abbott's office, he "will isolate in the Governor's Mansion and continue to test daily" while "receiving Regeneron's monoclonal antibody treatment."

The TIP with Quinn Scanlan

House Democrats introduced an updated version of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act Tuesday, saying that if passed, the legislation would restore key elements of the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act that the Supreme Court "gutted" in two major cases, Shelby v. Holder in 2013 and Brnovich v. DNC earlier this year.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the House will vote on the legislation next week. If all Democrats support it, the bill will pass the lower chamber just as it did in December 2019 when the bill first received a vote. But only one Republican -- Pennsylvania's Brian Fitzpatrick -- joined Democrats then and it wasn't taken up by the Senate, which was controlled by Republicans at the time.

A cloud rises behind the U.S. Capitol on Aug. 13, 2021 in Washington.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

If GOP senators blocking Democrats' sweeping democracy reform bill, the For The People Act, back in June is any indication, this bill is unlikely to reach Biden's desk without reforms being made to the Senate filibuster rules.

While Democrat-aligned groups and civil rights organizations put out statements urging its passage, conservatives took the opposite stance. Jason Snead, head of the right-leaning Honest Elections Project called the bill a "federal power grab," saying the authors "had many opportunities to make it constitutional or bipartisan, but at each opportunity, they sprinted in the other direction."


ABC News' "Start Here" podcast. What does life look like for people in Afghanistan now? ABC News Senior Foreign Correspondent Ian Pannell walks us through the changes for the Afghan people. ABC News' Sony Salzman tells us everything we need to know about booster shots. And ABC News Legal Contributor Channa Lloyd will be updating us on the R. Kelly trial which gets underway Wednesday in Brooklyn. http://apple.co/2HPocUL


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