WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Antony Blinken pushed back Monday against harsh Republican criticism of the handling of the military withdrawal from Afghanistan, saying the Biden administration inherited a deal with the Taliban to end the war, but no plan for carrying it out.
“We made the right decision in ending America's longest-running war,” Blinken told the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He will testify today before the committee's Senate counterpart.
Republicans savaged the withdrawal process as a disaster and a disgrace. “This was fatally flawed and poorly executed,” said Lee Zeldin of New York. “I believe that you, sir, should resign. That would be leadership.”
Biden backs Newsom ahead of recall vote
President Joe Biden provided last-minute help Monday for California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who is only the fourth governor in U.S. history and the second in California to face a recall election.
Voting ends today in the race that could oust Newsom, a first-term Democrat, and it's being watched ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, when control of Congress and more than half of governorships are in play.
Amateur Republican political organizers upset with Newsom's approach to crime, homelessness and immigration launched the recall drive in early 2020, but the coronavirus pandemic got it to the ballot.
Biden: Climate change behind mass wildfires
On his first Western swing in office, President Joe Biden on Monday held out the wildfires burning across the region as an argument for his $3.5 trillion rebuilding plans, calling year-round fires and other extreme weather a climate change reality the nation can no longer ignore.
“We can't ignore the reality that these wildfires are being supercharged by climate change,” Biden said. “It isn't about red or blue states. It's about fires. Just fires.”
With stops in Idaho and California, Biden sought to boost support for his big rebuilding plans, saying every dollar spent on “resilience” would save $6 in future costs. And he said the rebuilding must go beyond simply restoring damaged systems and instead ensure communities can withstand such crises.
Texas coast braces for hurricane to hit today
Nicholas strengthened into a Category 1 hurricane Monday as it headed toward landfall along the Texas Gulf Coast and it was expected to bring heavy rain and floods to coastal areas from Mexico to storm-battered Louisiana.
Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center in Miami said top sustained winds reached 75 mph. It was traveling north-northeast at 10 mph on a forecast track to pass near Matagorda Bay in the upper Texas Gulf Coast later Monday, then move onshore along the Southeast Texas coast into this evening.
UN raises $1.2 billion in aid for Afghans
The United Nations drummed up more than $1.2 billion in emergency pledges Monday for helping 11 million Afghans facing an escalating humanitarian crisis in their homeland and millions more elsewhere in the region as the U.N. human rights chief voiced concerns about the Taliban's first steps in establishing power in the impoverished country.
At the first high-level conference on Afghanistan since the Taliban took power a month ago, Western governments, big traditional donors and others announced pledges that went beyond the $606 million that the United Nations was seeking to cover expected expenses through the end of the year for protecting Afghans from looming humanitarian disaster.
Judge: Iowa schools can enforce masks
A federal judge Monday ordered the state of Iowa to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Judge Robert Pratt said in an order signed Monday that the law passed in May substantially increases the risk of several children with health conditions of contracting COVID-19.
Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds said in a statement that the judge “unilaterally overturned a state law, ignored the decision by our elected legislature and took away parents' ability to decide what's best for their child.” She said the state will appeal the decision.
National Guard to bus Massachusetts pupils
Massachusetts' governor on Monday activated the state's National Guard to help with busing students to school as school districts across the country struggle to hire enough drivers.
Republican Gov. Charlie Baker said 250 guard personnel will be available to serve as drivers of school transport vans. They'll start training today, with some 90 of them to be initially deployed in four diverse cities north of Boston that have dealt with driver shortages.
Baker stressed the busing duties won't interfere with the guard's ability to respond to other major state emergencies.
Militia leader gets 53 years in mosque blast
The leader of an Illinois anti-government militia group who authorities say masterminded the 2017 bombing of a Minnesota mosque was sentenced Monday to 53 years in prison for an attack that terrified the mosque's community.
Emily Claire Hari, who was previously known as Michael Hari and recently said she is transgender, faced a mandatory minimum of 30 years for the attack on Dar al-Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington. Defense attorneys asked for the minimum, but prosecutors sought life, saying Hari hasn't taken responsibility.
No one was hurt in the bombing, but more than a dozen members of the mosque community gave victim impact statements Monday about the trauma it left behind.
Task force reuniting border separations
The Biden administration is expanding its effort to find and reunite migrant families who were separated at the U.S.-Mexico border under President Donald Trump as part of a zero-tolerance policy on illegal crossings.
A federal task force launched a new program Monday that officials say will expand efforts to find parents, many of whom are in remote Central American communities, and help them return to the U.S., where they will get at least three years of legal residency and other assistance.
The task force has reunited about 50 families since starting its work in late February, but there are hundreds of parents, and perhaps between 1,000 and 2,000, who were separated from their children and have not been located.
Capitol fencing up in preparation for rally
Congressional security officials have approved the reinstallation of a temporary fence around the Capitol as they prepare for a Saturday rally in defense of the rioters who stormed the building on Jan. 6.
The Capitol Police said in a statement that officials are “aware of concerning online chatter” about the demonstration. While it is still unclear how large the rally will be and whether members of domestic extremist groups will attend, security officials say they will be ready if there is unrest. They want to avoid the mistakes of Jan. 6, when officers were unprepared for the siege and were overwhelmed by former President Donald Trump's supporters.