After Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-Vt.) $3.5 trillion budget resolution just squeaked through the Senate hours before Congress’s August recess, House Democrats called an emergency session for Aug. 23 that continued late into Tuesday evening. At the session, the House considered three monumental pieces of legislation: the Senate-passed infrastructure bill, Sanders’s budget resolution, and Rep. Terri Sewell’s (D-Ala.) ‘John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.’
The infrastructure bill, as laid out in an agreement made Tuesday morning between Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), was pushed off to be considered by the House sometime before Sept. 27. But in a party line vote, Democrats voted 220-212 to advance Sanders’s budget and Sewell’s election bill.
Republicans spent much of the session criticizing Democratic priorities. This emergency session was the first since the fall of Kabul to the Taliban terrorist group, and Republicans urged Democrats “to put politics aside” and hold consideration of the three bills until the Afghanistan crisis was dealt with.
Early in the session, Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) put forward a motion to suspend scheduled votes and to consider instead his bill that would “ensure no Americans are left behind in Afghanistan.” He blasted Biden’s handling of the crisis, referencing the quick fall of the nation and the administration’s lack of a plan to evacuate American citizens and allies.
“It is time for this body, this Congress, to act,” he said, “to hold the administration accountable and save lives.”
The bill would require daily reports to Congress “on the number of Americans left in the country and the number of Afghan allies seeking refuge.” In addition, he said, the bill “prohibits the president from withdrawing our forces until all Americans who want out are safely out of the country.”
He criticized the president for “doubling down on [an] Aug. 31 withdrawal date despite bipartisan opposition.”
“Make no mistake,” he said, “if we get out on Aug. 31 we are going to condemn thousands to death.”
“This is America. A great country such as ours takes care of our citizens and our allies,” he said, adding that “it may be too late to save face from this debacle; but it is not too late to save lives.”
Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.) responded curtly to this, saying that while he “has great respect and reverence for [Gallagher],” suspending consideration of Democrats’ ambitious agenda couldn’t be done because “it would hand over the floor to the Republican conference.”
He said that the legislation in consideration was “incredibly important,” and that he would not support voting on Gallagher’s bill. Democrats said little more on the Republican proposal.
Later in the session, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) gave a fiery speech on the subject, blasting Democrats for shooting down Gallagher’s bill.
“[Neguse] says he respects Mr. Gallagher, but that he could not turn the floor over to Republicans. Because if the floor was turned over to Republicans, instead of changing the election laws [and] spending $5 trillion, [Democrats] would put the American public first! God forbid we do that!” he said, calling it “devastating” that Democrats allowed Gallagher’s proposal to be so easily shot down.
“This week, the House is in session for the first time since Kabul fell to the Taliban,” he continued. “What’s happening in Afghanistan is a disaster for America’s security and credibility.” He criticized Biden’s withdrawal date as “unconditional surrender to the Taliban” that would leave thousands of Americans trapped in the country.
McCarthy said that instead of considering “$5 trillion in spending and taxes and changing election law to benefit one party over another,” the House should be using the session to prove that the United States doesn’t abandon its people or interests. Like other Republicans, McCarthy insisted that there should be no timeline for evacuation until every American is home.
But the House was not doing that, McCarthy said, because “the [Democratic] majority’s only interest is themselves—not the American people.”
He turned to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who said earlier in the session that “today is a great day of pride for our country and Democrats.” McCarthy disagreed.
“If there’s any moment of time to put politics aside, I would have thought today is the day. I’d have thought that we’d focus on what the rest of the world is focusing on,” he said. “Maybe in your caucus you think it’s a great day for you and the Democrats. It’s an embarrassing day for America.”
Despite this effort, Democrats did not address Afghanistan or the Gallagher bill during the rest of the session. The emergency session was concluded after Democrat priorities for the day were achieved in a party line vote.