POLITICO Playbook: The three ‘most dangerous’ days

The White House says the next three days will be “the most dangerous” of the entire Afghanistan evacuation. Here’s where things stand in the desperate final hours of the U.S. withdrawal:

— Overnight, the U.S. conducted a drone strike on an ISIS-K target in Afghanistan. According to U.S. Central Command, the attack killed a planner for the group and caused no known civilian casualties. It comes after President JOE BIDEN promised to hunt down anyone responsible for Thursday’s suicide bombing at the Kabul airport, which killed 13 U.S. troops and at least 170 civilians. More from NYTReuters

— Approximately 6,800 people were evacuated from Kabul over the 24-hour period ending at 3 a.m. EDT this morning. Per a White House official, 111,900 people have been evacuated since Aug. 14.

— Because of continuing threats of a terrorist attack, a security alert from the U.S. Embassy on Friday night advised American citizens “to avoid traveling to the airport and to avoid airport gates,” and told those currently there awaiting entry to “leave immediately.”

HEROES REMEMBERED — Though a full list of the Americans killed in Thursday’s bombing has not yet been made public, here is what we know so far about those we lost.

— RYLEE MCCOLLUM, 20, was on his first overseas deployment. A newlywed soon expecting the birth of his first child, McCollum was born in February 2001 — a baby when the U.S. invaded Afghanistan. Now, he is “among the last casualties of America’s longest war,” write NYT’s Jack Healy and Dave Philipps.

— JARED SCHMITZ, 20. “This was something he always wanted to do and [I’ve] never seen a young man train as hard as he did to be the best soldier he could be,” his father, Mark, told KMOX radio. “His life meant so much more. I’m so incredibly devastated that I won’t be able to see the man that he was very quickly growing into becoming.”

— DAVID LEE ESPINOZA, 20, was a native of Rio Bravo, Texas. “He was my hero,” his mother, Elizabeth Holguin, told the Laredo Morning Times. “He was just brave enough to go do what he wanted and to help out people. That’s who he was, he was just perfect.”

— MAXTON SOVIAK, 22. “His final words to my wife over FaceTime when he was telling her goodbye was — after she told him to be safe — and he said, ‘Don’t worry mom, my guys got me, they won’t let anything happen to me,’” his father, Kip, told the WSJ in an email. “Today, she realized that they all just went together.”

— KAREEM NIKOUI, 20, “loved what he was doing, he always wanted to be a Marine,” his father, Steve Nikoui, told The Daily Beast. “He really loved that [Marine Corps] family. He was devoted — he was going to make a career out of this, and he wanted to go. No hesitation for him to be called to duty.”

— RYAN KNAUSS, 23, joined the Army out of high school and had already served one deployment to Afghanistan, per the Knoxville News Sentinel. “We were led to think that it was 12 Marines and one Navy, and we knew our grandson was in the Army. So we were praying for the families of the Marines, not knowing our grandson was one of the ones who lost his life,” his grandmother told The Daily Beast. “You just don’t think it will be yours.”

— HUNTER LOPEZ, 22, planned to follow both of his parents into a career in law enforcement after his deployment, according to the Orange County Register. “This kid knew since he was 11 what he wanted to do,” his uncle wrote on Facebook.

— TAYLOR HOOVER, 31. “Taylor spent his entire adult life as a Marine, serving. Doing the hard things that most of us can’t do. He is a hero,” his uncle wrote on Facebook, per the Deseret News. “We are wounded. We are bruised. We are angry. We are crushed. … but we remain faithful.”

— DAEGAN WILLIAM-TYELER PAGE, 23, loved hockey and hunting and had “a soft spot in his heart for dogs,” his family said in a statement. “After finishing his enlistment, Daegan planned to come home and go to a local trade school, possibly to become a lineman. Daegan will always be remembered for his tough outer shell and giant heart.”

Good Saturday morning, and thanks for reading Playbook. Drop us a line: Rachael Bade, Eugene Daniels, Ryan Lizza, Tara Palmeri.

TODAY’S MARCH ON WASHINGTON — It’s been exactly 58 years since the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where Rev. Dr. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. And today, as Biden and his top aides meet in the Situation Room to discuss the crisis in Kabul, thousands of civil rights activists will again march on the National Mall in an effort to bring attention to what they see as a crisis on the homefront: the fight for voting rights.

The demonstrations have two main audiences — Biden and moderate senators — and one overarching goal: filibuster reform, which many civil rights activists see as the barrier to passing H.R. 4, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which the House passed Tuesday and is expected to stall out in the Senate.

“It’s the height of hypocrisy to commemorate a day and not deal with the fact that they have diluted a lot of what was achieved that day in terms of voting rights,” Rev. AL SHARPTON told me Friday night. “You can’t take down the Confederate statues and segregationist statues outside of the building and leave the relic of segregationist legislation inside the building.”

Among civil rights leaders, there’s simmering frustration at both Democratic lawmakers and the White House for taking actions they see as largely symbolically supporting of Black Americans instead of securing advancements through the hard work of legislating.

The biggest gripe for many is that Biden has thrown his full weight behind issues like infrastructure and Afghanistan without giving voting rights the same urgency and attention.

“He’s actually gotten troops out of Afghanistan, even though he’s taken a political hit,” said LATOSHA BROWN, co-founder of Black Voters Matter. “When he decides that he wants to do something and he [pushes] the weight around, he does it. I will never say that he’s done enough until we actually have voting rights legislation in place.”

BIDEN’S and VP KAMALA HARRIS’ SATURDAY: The president and VP will meet with their national security team on Afghanistan at 11 a.m. in the Situation Room.


FORGET THAT CLICHÉ — No, Afghanistan is not the “graveyard of empires,” writes Kevin Baker for POLITICO Magazine. “Understanding this historical reality is critical to grasping why the United States is unlikely to suffer serious long-term effects from its long and wasteful occupation of Afghanistan — or from the bloody, bumbling withdrawal.”

THE LOOMING ECONOMIC CRISIS — Ahead of Tuesday’s deadline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops, long lines have formed at ATMs in Kabul as the country’s economic woes deepen, reports the AP. The ongoing crisis “could give Western nations leverage as they urge Afghanistan’s new rulers to form a moderate, inclusive government.”

MORE HEADLINES — “U.S. Holds Talks With Taliban Over Post-Aug. 31 Presence in Afghanistan,” WSJ … “Suicide bombing lays bare challenges of gate security mission at Kabul airport,” WaPo … “U.S. forces keep up Kabul airlift under threat of more attacks,” AP … “‘Are We Going to Pay Attention to It Anymore?’: U.S. News Outlets Are Charting a Course for Afghanistan Coverage After America Leaves,” Vanity Fair


YOU GET A RAISE! AND YOU GET A RAISE! — On Friday, Biden announced an across-the-board 2.2% pay increase for 2.1 million federal employees in 2022. That, plus a boost in locality pay increases, will amount to an average overall pay raise of 2.7%. More from WaPo’s Amy Wang and Eric Yoder


WILD STORY — “Tucker Carlson’s Ugly Feud With Eric Swalwell Has Sucked in Family,” by The Daily Beast’s Maxwell Tani: “Several days before Breitbart News ran a story alleging a sexual affair between Democratic Rep. ERIC SWALWELL and a Chinese spy, the congressman’s top aide received an unusual email from a fellow Hill staffer. It was BUCKLEY CARLSON, a communications director for up-and-coming Republican Rep. JIM BANKS and son of TUCKER CARLSON, arguably the most powerful person in right-wing media and one of Swalwell’s biggest antagonists.

“According to Swalwell communications director JESSICA GAIL, Buckley was reeling from the fact that the congressman had just days earlier referenced him in a tweet bashing his Fox News host father. As a consequence, Gail said, Buckley … intimated to her that he was working with a news outlet to push a story on an alleged tryst between Swalwell, who is married with children, and a Chinese infiltrator. Several days later, a Breitbart article featuring the allegations received extensive coverage on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News primetime program, including a photoshopped graphic of Swalwell in bed with the suspected spy.

“The ordeal illustrated not only the way Carlson seemingly uses his massive media powers to attack personal rivals but also how a relatively unremarkable squabble between two political figures has escalated into an ugly personal feud involving the loved ones of both the Fox News host and the Bay Area Democrat.”

SCRAMBLING TO FIX THINGS — “Democrats rush to avert eviction calamity after ban is blocked,” by Katy O’Donnell: “Speaker NANCY PELOSI said the House was considering ‘possible legislative remedies’ as more than 60 House Democrats demanded that she and Senate Majority Leader CHUCK SCHUMER work to revive the national eviction moratorium. Top Biden officials also mobilized to try to contain the fallout, with three Cabinet secretaries urging state and local officials to enact their own bans and pause eviction proceedings in court while governors and mayors work to distribute billions of dollars in languishing rental assistance.”

THE NEXT DEM DIVIDING LINE? — “Taxing companies’ overseas profits could be the next rift among Democrats,” by Brian Faler


CROSS THIS ONE OFF — “U.S. spy agencies rule out possibility the coronavirus was created as a bioweapon, say origin will stay unknown without China’s help,” by WaPo’s Ellen Nakashima and Joel Achenbach: “The U.S. intelligence community has ruled out the possibility that the novel coronavirus that has killed more than 4 million people globally was developed as a bioweapon by China, but the agencies failed to reach consensus on the virus origin. The report, the result of a 90-day sprint ordered by Biden, also found that the agencies are unlikely to reach a conclusion about the virus’s origins without cooperation from the Chinese government, which is unlikely, according to a summary of the takeaways released Friday.”

PLAYBOOK METRO SECTION — “COVID vaccination site opens at Dulles for arriving Afghans,” by AP’s Aamer Madhani: “White House Press Secretary JEN PSAKI on Friday confirmed that the site — which was set up by FEMA — has begun administering vaccinations to the Afghan evacuees. … The White House announced earlier this week that it was working to provide vaccinations to medically eligible evacuees upon arrival in the U.S.”


CHINA TALKS — “Pentagon holds talks with Chinese military for first time under Biden,” Reuters: “MICHAEL CHASE, deputy assistant secretary of defense for China, spoke with Chinese Major General HUANG XUEPING, deputy director for the People’s Liberation Army Office for International Military Cooperation, last week. ‘(They) utilized the U.S.-PRC Defense Telephone Link today to conduct a secure video conference,’ the official said.”


DESANTIS IN DE HOT SEAT — “Florida starts turning on DeSantis,” by Matt Dixon: “Covid infection rates continue to climb as [Florida] faces shortages of health care staff, morgue space and even oxygen for patients. About 16,000 people are hospitalized. Child infection rates have shot up. School districts — even in Republican strongholds — have rebelled against DeSantis’ anti-mask mandates. And cruise lines are resisting [Gov. RON] DESANTIS’ vaccine passport ban. Even his recent poll numbers are slipping. …

“‘There’s no question it’s impacting him politically,’ said a Republican consultant who has previously worked with DeSantis and requested anonymity to speak freely. ‘You can tout all the freedom and anti-lockdown that you want. There’s no political strategy for sick kids and tired parents.’”

THE ‘AUDITS’ ROLL ON — “Wisconsin Republicans seek $680,000 for 2020 election probe,” by AP’s Scott Bauer: “The Assembly Organization Committee, controlled by Republicans, circulated a ballot on Friday to approve designating former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice MICHAEL GABLEMAN as special counsel to lead the investigation, assist the Assembly Elections Committee and hire investigators and others as needed.

“The expenses were not specified, but Republican Assembly Speaker ROBIN VOS, who ordered the probe, said in an interview that the contract with Gableman will be for up to $680,000 for the entire investigation. The committee will vote on the spending by Monday without holding a public hearing.”


IDA COMING THROUGH — “Ida slams Cuba as a Category 1 hurricane but when it makes landfall in the U.S. it’s expected to be Category 4,” by CNN’s Jason Hanna, Paul Murphy and Melissa Alonso: “Hurricane Ida whipped western Cuba on Friday and the Category 1 storm is expected to slam the US Gulf Coast as an even stronger cyclone Sunday, putting states from Louisiana to Florida on alert for fierce destruction. Ida is expected to hit the United States as a Category 4 hurricane with sustained winds of 140 mph, forecasters at the National Hurricane Center said.”

SIRHAN GETS CLOSER TO PAROLE — “Parole Board Urges Release of Sirhan Sirhan, Robert F. Kennedy’s Assassin,” by NYT’s Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs: “The recommendation from the two commissioners does not necessarily mean [SIRHAN] SIRHAN, 77, will walk free, but it most likely puts his fate in the hands of Gov. GAVIN NEWSOM … The parole hearing was the 16th time Mr. Sirhan had faced parole board commissioners, but it was the first time no prosecutor showed up to argue for his continued imprisonment.”


THIS SHOULD BE INTERESTING — “Jan. 6 investigators demand records from social media companies,” by Nicholas Wu: “In a series of letters dated Aug. 26, the Democratic-controlled panel asked the companies, which include Facebook, Google, Twitter, Parler, 4chan, Twitch and TikTok, for all records and documents since April 1, 2020, relating to misinformation around the 2020 election, efforts to overturn the 2020 election, domestic violent extremists associated with efforts to overturn the election and foreign influence in the 2020 election.

“The panel is asking all of the companies to explain whether their algorithms helped spread misinformation and account for what they did to address or remove content or posts that might have spread falsehoods about the riot. It also requests information on the companies’ communications with law enforcement regarding Jan. 6 and the election, as well as on their reporting practices. The committee’s chair, Rep. BENNIE THOMPSON (D-Miss.), gave the companies a two-week deadline to respond.”


WWJD? — “NRB spokesman Dan Darling fired after pro-vaccine statements on ‘Morning Joe,’” by Religious News Services’ Bob Smietana: “DANIEL DARLING, senior vice president of communications for the National Religious Broadcasters, was fired Friday after refusing to recant his pro-vaccine statements. His firing comes at a time when Americans face a new surge of COVID-19 infections due to the highly contagious Delta variant even as protesters and politicians resist mask mandates or other preventive measures.”

CLICKER — “The nation’s cartoonists on the week in politics,” edited by Matt Wuerker — 15 keepers

GREAT WEEKEND READS, curated by Ryan Lizza:

“New York’s Private Schools Tackle White Privilege. It Has Not Been Easy,” by NYT’s Michael Powell: “In this world — where tuition runs as high as $58,000 — the topic has become flammable. Parents, faculty, students and alumni have all entered the fray.”

“The Man Who Swam the Seine,” by Sara Lieberman for GQ: “At the age of 19, ARTHUR GERMAIN dropped out of school, said goodbye to his famous mother, and devoted himself to a curious quest that no one had ever accomplished, or perhaps even seriously considered: swimming the length of France’s most fabled river.”

“Knives Outback,” by Mitch Moxley for Truly Adventurous: “A man is presumed murdered. In this town of 12, everyone is a possible suspect.”

“He Was the ‘Perfect Villain’ for Voting Conspiracists,” by NYT Magazine’s Susan Dominus: “ERIC COOMER had an election-security job at Dominion Voting Systems. He also had posted anti-TRUMP messages on Facebook. What happened next ruined his life.”

“Can Robots Evolve Into Machines of Loving Grace?” by Wired’s Meghan O’Gieblyn: “Perhaps, if we put bots together the right way, consciousness will simply emerge.”

“The Rise of the Elite Anti-Intellectual,” by Simon Brown for Dissent: “For decades, ‘common sense’ has been a convenient framing for conservative ideas. The label hides a more complicated picture.”

“The Epic Family Feud Behind an Iconic American Weight-Loss Camp for Kids,” by Bloomberg’s David Gauvey Herbert: “For five decades, as the children at Camp Shane shed pounds, made friends, and found romance, a fierce succession drama was playing out.”

“Her Name Is Not Honey Boo Boo,” by Rainesford Stauffer and Peyton Fulford for Teen Vogue: “ALANA THOMPSON is no longer the rambunctious child beauty queen the world knew as Honey Boo Boo. And she’d like you to use her real name.”

— From the archives: “Report of the DOD Commission on Beirut International Airport Terrorist Act, October 23, 1983,” from Dec. 20, 1983

FIRST IN PLAYBOOK — Rep. Joyce Beatty’s (D-Ohio) office is adding Mary Ellen Garrett as comms director, Tyler Levinson as press secretary and Kyle Cole as press assistant. Garrett most recently was a senior associate at SKDK and is a Paul Tonko alum. Levinson most recently was digital director for Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) and is a Steny Hoyer and Al Lawson alum.

MEDIA MOVE — Mary Newman is joining The Recount as an editor. She most recently has been a video producer at POLITICO.

TRANSITIONS — Robby Wehagen is now legislative director for Rep. Buddy Carter (R-Ga.). He previously was deputy assistant DNI for legislative affairs in the Trump administration. … Brennan Heil is now digital director for the House Foreign Affairs Committee. She previously was digital assistant for Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Rep. Julia Brownley (D-Calif.) … WSJ’s Ken ThomasPat PelletierEmma Tomaszewski of Rep. Mike Thompson’s (D-Calif.) office … DOT’s Ben HalleR.C. Hammond … POLITICO’s Marty Kady, Debbie Aust and Rebecca MiltenbergerTom Jolly … NBC’s Sarah Carlson Brooke … The Hill’s Morgan ChalfantMallory Blount of Herschel Walker’s Georgia Senate campaign … Gary ShapiroBrian Horn … Twitter’s Jessica Herrera-FlaniganEllen RatnerEllen CarmichaelHilary Halpern … former Defense Secretary Bill CohenThomas WinslowHeather Marie VitaleMatthew SwiftJim O’Brien of Albright Stonebridge Group … Connor RyanCallie StrockAnn Marie JablonRobert SimpsonLuke BuntingAbbie SumbrumLindsay GillArlet Abrahamian David Youngblood (42) … Sheryl Sandberg

THE SHOWS (Full Sunday show listings here):

  • FOX

    “Fox News Sunday”: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell … national security adviser Jake Sullivan. Panel: Karl Rove, Annie Linskey and Juan Williams.

  • NBC

    “Meet the Press”: Secretary of State Antony Blinken … H.R. McMaster … Anthony Fauci … Richard Engel live from Qatar. Panel: Matthew Continetti, Courtney Kube, Amna Nawaz and Eugene Robinson.

  • CNN

    “State of the Union”: Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) … Reps. Peter Meijer (R-Mich.) and Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) … Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) … Roya Rahmani and Yasmeen Hassan … Anthony Fauci.


    “The Sunday Show”: Craig Whitlock … Rep. Colin Allred (D-Texas) … House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) … Al Sharpton … Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.).

  • ABC

    “This Week”: Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.). Panel: Jonathan Karl, Gayle Tzemach and Vivian Salama.

  • CBS

    “Face the Nation”: National security adviser Jake Sullivan … Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) … Sue Gordon … retired Adm. James A. “Sandy” Winnefeld Jr. … Scott Gottlieb.

  • Gray TV

    “Full Court Press”: Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) … Rep. Susan Wild (D-Pa.).

  • CNN

    “Inside Politics”: Panel: Catherine Lucey, Jonathan Martin, Phil Mattingly, Rachael Bade, Nancy Youssef and Jonathan Reiner.

Send Playbookers tips to [email protected]. Playbook couldn’t happen without our editor Mike Zapler, deputy editor Zack Stanton and producers Allie Bice, Eli Okun and Garrett Ross.