President Biden didn’t alter his plan for vacation time at Camp David over the weekend as the Taliban roared across Afghanistan and other crises mounted on the home front.
Mr. Biden is expected to remain at the presidential retreat in Maryland’s Catoctin Mountains until Wednesday before continuing his summer holiday at his residence in Delaware.
The R&R comes amid a stunning collapse of the Afghan government, with the Taliban advancing into the capital, Kabul, and President Ashraf Ghani fleeing the country.
Meanwhile, the U.S. remains one of the nations with the highest rate of new COVID-19 cases, poised to hit 200,000 new cases per day as the delta variant spreads seemingly unchecked.
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 inflation.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas 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.
Of course, 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 sparked 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 and Vice President Kamala Harris received video conference briefings Saturday and Sunday from the national security team about the situation in Afghanistan and efforts to evacuate U.S. officials and Afghan civilians who helped the war effort, the White House said.
Mr. Biden also took time Saturday to issue a statement in which he doubled down on his decision to order a swift pullout of U.S. troops and blamed former President Donald Trump for laying the groundwork for the Taliban resurgence when he cut a peace deal in 2019.
“I was the fourth President to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan — two Republicans, two Democrats. I would not, and will not, pass this war onto a fifth,” Mr. Biden said in the statement.
Democrats dismissed 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 Sunday, there were no plans for Mr. Biden to cut his vacation short.
He temporarily put his vacation on hold last week, returning to Washington to celebrate the Senate advancing two major economic items, dual spending packages that total more than $4 trillion.
Mr. Biden was supposed to spend last week in Wilmington, but he returned Tuesday to hold two public events before returning to Delaware on Thursday and then flying by helicopter on Friday to Camp David.
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.
“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.”