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A Democrat and a Republican flew to Kabul Tuesday and then left in less than 24 hours after infuriating U.S. officials and colleagues.
Massachusetts Democrat Seth Moulton and Michigan Republican Peter Meijer, two moderate members of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus who’ve been critical of the Biden administration’s Afghanistan withdrawal, took an unauthorized trip to Kabul as U.S. officials frantically tried to evacuate Americans and vulnerable Afghans out of the country. They landed at the Kabul airport around 4 a.m. ET Tuesday, and left at 6 p.m that evening, according to the Washington Post.
Moulton and Meijer confirmed their trip in a Wednesday statement to the Associated Press, which first broke the story. Moulton spokesperson Tim Biba told the Washington Post the two decided to leave Kabul on a plane with three extra seats in order to ensure they weren’t taking up space on the plane; they ultimately sat in seats designated for crew members.
“America has a moral obligation to our citizens and loyal allies, and we wanted to make sure that obligation is being kept,” they said, explaining the reason for their trip. On Tuesday, the military said that more than 21,000 people had been evacuated from Kabul in 24 hours.
“As Members of Congress, we have a duty to provide oversight on the executive branch,’” Moulton and Meijer said. “We conducted this visit in secret, speaking about it only after our departure, to minimize the risk and disruption to the people on the ground, and because we were there to gather information, not to grandstand.”
Moulton and Meijer reportedly got to Kabul via a commercial flight to the UAE and then an “empty military flight going into Kabul,” Moulton spokesperson Tim Biba told the Washington Post.
Usually, members of Congress get authorization to take trips like this. Moulton and Meijer did not, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sent a letter to members of Congress Tuesday while Moulton and Meijer were on their way back to the U.S. to “reiterate that the Departments of Defense and State have requested that Members not travel to Afghanistan and the region during this time of danger.”
“It was not, in my view, a good idea,” Pelosi told reporters Wednesday.
Officials were furious about the trip, which came a week before the Biden administration’s self-imposed August 31 deadline to withdraw, with one administration official telling CNN that it was an “unhelpful distraction” and that the Pentagon wasn’t given a heads up before Moulton and Meijer went to Afghanistan.
“It’s as moronic as it is selfish,” an anonymous Biden administration official told the Washington Post. “They’re taking seats away from Americans and at-risk Afghans—while putting our diplomats and service members at greater risk—so they can have a moment in front of the cameras.” Another diplomat told the Post it was “one of the most irresponsible things I’ve heard a lawmaker do.”
“Whether it is Haiti or Afghanistan, taking up space in a disaster zone for your own ego helps no one,” Rep. Sara Jacobs, a freshman Democrat from California and former State Department official, told Politico in a statement.
The two congressmen, both of whom are Iraq War veterans, denied to the Post that they served as a distraction to the evacuation efforts.
“We have been on the other side of this argument while we were serving and it just isn’t accurate,” Moulton and Meijer said. “Trust us: the professionals on the ground are focused on the mission. Many thanked us for coming.”