The two congressmen who went on a secret trip to Afghanistan to observe the evacuation process should not have gone, House leaders from both parties said Wednesday.
“It was not, in my view, a good idea,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters in Washington.
“This is deadly serious. I do not want members to go,” she said.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) offered a similar message, saying members “shouldn’t go.”
But he qualified his statement by noting that Reps. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) and Peter Meijer (R-Mich.) are both military veterans and that members are being contacted by people stranded in Afghanistan, including Americans.
Moulton and Meijer said they went to Afghanistan to conduct oversight on the evacuation efforts. They said the visit was kept secret “to minimize the risk and disruption to the people on the ground, and because we were there to gather information, not to grandstand.”
The veterans criticized the Biden administration for putting members of the military in a poor position while praising the servicemembers for their “empathy and dedication to duty.”
They also said that, based on what they saw, evacuations couldn’t be completed even by Sept. 11, much less the Aug. 31 deadline that President Joe Biden imposed and is keeping in place.
Pelosi, who sent a letter to the full lower chamber urging them not to go to Afghanistan, said she learned about the trip just before it was made public and did not disclose the trip before the members left Kabul because of safety concerns.
“There’s a real concern about members being in the region,” she added, and resources are required to keep any members who travel there safe.
“It’s not just about them going to Afghanistan, but going to the region, because there’s a call on our resources diplomatically, militarily, and the rest,” she said.
The Department of Defense was not aware of the visit and having the members there “took time away from what we had been planning to do that day,” John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters at a separate briefing on Wednesday.
“We are obviously not encouraging VIP visits to a very tense, dangerous, and dynamic situation at that airport and inside Kabul generally,” he added. “And the secretary, I think ,would have appreciated the opportunity to have had a conversation before the visit took place.”
Spokespersons for Moulton, a former presidential candidate, and Meijer, a first-term congressman, did not return requests for comment.
They received some criticism from colleagues, even as they acknowledged the emotions that prompted the trip.
“On one hand, I think it is a distraction, I don’t want to be talking about it,” Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) said at an unrelated briefing outside the Capitol. “I understand the frustration on behalf of the two members, but also on behalf of the Congress.”