Biden under pressure over Afghanistan and Covid as approval ratings slide

Biden under pressure over Afghanistan and Covid as approval ratings slide

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Joe Biden faced mounting pressure at home and abroad on Monday as he raced against time to deal with evacuations from Afghanistan, a surging coronavirus pandemic and a vital congressional vote on his domestic agenda.

The US president’s job approval rating fell below 50% for the first time, according to an NBC News poll, with just 25% approving of his handling of Afghanistan, which was overrun by the Taliban this month far quicker than he predicted.

Thousands of American troops have poured back into the country to oversee the chaotic airlift of foreigners and selected Afghans from Kabul airport, and Biden is being called upon to extend a 31 August deadline for full US withdrawal.

But the Taliban warned on Monday there would be “consequences” if the US and its allies linger beyond that date.

Suhail Shaheen, a Taliban spokesperson in Doha, Qatar, told Sky News: “It’s a red line. President Biden announced that on 31 August they would withdraw all their military forces. So if they extend it that means they are extending occupation while there is no need for that.”

Asked if Biden would extend his deadline, Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, told reporters at the White House that the president is “taking this day by day, and will make his determinations as we go”.

He added: “We believe that we have time, between now and the 31st, to get out any American that wants to get out.”

Notably, this statement did not include thousands of at-risk Afghan civilians who worked with US forces, non-government organisations and media, many of whom are desperate to leave and reportedly feel betrayed by the US government.

Britain and the European Union are seeking an extension of the deadline. Boris Johnson, the British prime minister, spoke with Biden on Monday and they “agreed to continue working together to ensure those who are eligible to leave are able to, including after the initial phase of the evacuation has ended,” his office said.

Johnson and other leaders are likely to press Biden on the issue at a rapidly-convened Group of Seven (G7) virtual summit on Tuesday.

The US military reported by far its biggest day of evacuation flights out of Afghanistan on Monday, with 28 flights taking about 10,400 people to safety. Since 14 August, about 37,000 people have been evacuated. But security around the airport remains highly volatile.

The rush to flee has left at least 20 people dead, according to the Reuters news agency, mostly in shootings and stampedes. The German defence ministry said on Monday an Afghan man was killed and three others wounded in a dawn firefight between local guards and unknown assailants.

The harrowing images in Kabul have comprehensively ended Biden’s political honeymoon period after seven months. David Axelrod, a former strategist for Barack Obama, told the New York Times the way the war is ending “cuts against some of his core perceived strengths: competence, mastery of foreign policy, supreme empathy.”

According to the NBC News survey, 49% of adults approve of Biden’s overall job performance, while 48% disapprove. The poll showed 53% of Americans approve of the president’s handling of the coronavirus, which represents a 16-point drop from April.

This decline is likely to be the result of a fresh wave of infections caused by the highly contagious Delta variant that has caused record hospitalisations in parts of Florida, Texas and other southern states, especially where vaccination rates are relatively low, in what the White House at this stage calls a “pandemic of the unvaccinated”.

But the president received a boost on Monday when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave full approval to Pfizer’s vaccine, which previously had only emergency use authorisation.

In a televised address, Biden told those who have been hesitant to take the vaccine, “the moment you’ve been waiting for is here” and urged companies and public entities to “step up” vaccine mandates.

“If you’re a business leader, a nonprofit leader, state or local leader who has been waiting for full FDA approval to require vaccinations, I call on you now to do that,” he said.

The president can ill afford diminished political capital as the House of Representatives returned to Washington to consider his ambitious multitrillion-dollar domestic programme in what they hope will only be a two-day interruption of the August recess.

Nine moderate Democrats are threatening to oppose a $3.5tn budget blueprint unless the House first approves a $1tn package of road, power grid, broadband and other infrastructure projects that has already passed the Senate. Their stand could prove decisive in the narrowly-divided House.

Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, is seeking rapid approval of the budget resolution, which includes progressive priorities such as action to deal with the climate crisis and expanding the social safety net.

She pleaded with House members on Monday afternoon to come together. “We must not squander our Congressional Democratic Majorities and jeopardize the once-in-a-generation opportunity to create historic change to meet the needs of working families,” she said in a letter to colleagues before the session.

the guardian 

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