Joe Biden resumes vacation while crises rage at home, abroad

President Biden got back to his vacation Friday, spending time at Camp David as the Taliban roars across Afghanistan and other crises mount on the home front.

Mr. Biden is expected to spend the weekend at the presidential retreat in Maryland’s Catoctin Mountains before continuing his summer holiday next week at his home in Wilmington.

The R&R comes amid a stunning collapse of the Afghanistan government as the provincial capitals fall to the Taliban, which now controls the majority of the country and is closing in on the capital, Kabul.

Mr. Biden has made no remarks on the rapidly deteriorating situation in Afghanistan since Tuesday. He has no public events on his schedule this weekend. 

Meanwhile, nearly 140,000 new COVID-19 cases were reported in the U.S. on Thursday, up from the 35,000 new cases on the same date last month.

Gasoline prices reached their highest level in years, but the pump isn’t the only place where consumers are feeling squeezed. Prices for goods and services are climbing higher in a wave of runaway inflation.

And Mr. Biden’s Homeland Security Secretary acknowledged this week the administration is facing a “serious challenge” at the southern border. In July, U.S. Customs and Border Protection apprehended 212,672 people, the highest total in two decades.

A president has access to secure communications and other trappings of Oval Office power whether at the White House, Camp David, aboard Air Force One, or relaxing at a civilian residence.  Nevertheless, the timing of Mr. Biden’s vacation provoked criticism.

Rep. Andy Biggs, Arizona Republican, branded Mr. Biden the “commander-in-absentia.”

Rep. Rob Wittman accused the president of hiding from the American people.

“In less than a year, President Biden has created multiple crises which continue to rage on without any discernible plan. Now, it appears his plan is to hide away in Delaware as the American People suffer under his ineptitude,” said the Virginia Republican.

The White House insisted the president is paying close attention to the developments in Afghanistan. It said the president was briefed Friday by members of his national security team on ongoing efforts to evacuate U.S. civilians.

Mr. Biden is expected to get additional briefings Friday and is traveling with staff members who can update him from any location.

Democrats defended dismissing Republican criticism of the presidential vacation as mere political theater.

“We finally have a commander-in-chief willing to speak with integrity about this failed forever war so I’m not interested in what chicken hawks and carnival barkers on the other side of the aisle have to say,” said Rep. Jake Auchincloss, Massachusetts Democrat.

Steve Zunes, a professor of Middle East politics at the University of San Francisco, said Mr. Biden can monitor the Afghanistan situation whether he is in Delaware or Washington. Still, he said, the vacation is emblematic of the U.S. attitude toward the crisis.
“Some people might see it as symbolic of the recognition that we are washing our hands after nearly 20 years of neither Republican nor Democratic administrations being able to stabilize the country,” he said.

As of Friday, there were no plans for Mr. Biden to cut his vacation short. He returned to Washington earlier this week to celebrate the Senate passage of his two most important economic agenda items, dual spending packages that total more than $4 trillion.

Mr. Biden was supposed to spend last week in Wilmington, but he returned Tuesday, held two public events on Wednesday before returning to Delaware on Thursday.

At some point, Mr. Biden likely will be forced to address the situation in Afghanistan, which has become a foreign policy disaster for the administration.

Mr. Biden ordered the withdrawal of U.S. troops in April, believing a U.S.-backed government and military could withstand the Taliban onslaught.

Even as the Taliban began launching major offensives, the administration argued that Afghan troops could hold their ground.

But now city after city has fallen to the Taliban. U.S. intelligence agencies and analysts say the country could fall to the Taliban within weeks.

“This is pretty scary and it’s going to be worse than what happened in Saigon,” Mr. Zunes said. “The Taliban is more ruthless than the communists acting out of revenge. There was an understanding that something like this could happen, but no one thought it would be this quick.”

The State Department said Friday it would reduce its staff levels at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, where embassy staff are evacuating and have been ordered to destroy sensitive documents and equipment, according to a memo obtained by NPR.

The Pentagon is rushing troops to Kabul to speed up the evacuations.

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said the fall of Afghanistan is “deeply concerning.” He said that is why the president approved the mission to rescue U.S. personnel.

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