By Melanie Zanona, Jeremy Herb and Alex Rogers, CNN
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy on Thursday vowed that President Joe Biden will face a “reckoning” for his handling of the US’ exit from Afghanistan but stopped short of calling for his resignation or impeachment over the episode — as some congressional Republicans have — according to a source on a call between the leader and House GOP members.
McCarthy, who told his colleagues he had spoken to Biden earlier that day, also said during the call that the focus right now needs to be on getting Americans out of Afghanistan safely and suggested that GOP demands for Biden’s immediate ouster are counterproductive, sources on the call told CNN.
The California Republican pressed Biden on the number of Americans who were still in Afghanistan, as well as military equipment, according to a source on the call.
“We are going to hold every single person accountable,” McCarthy told members on the call.
The call, taking place hours after two explosions outside Kabul’s airport killed 13 US service members and dozens of Afghans, according to the Pentagon and Afghanistan’s Ministry of Public Health, comes as Republicans intensify their anger at the President over the chaotic situation in the country, with some pinning blame squarely on him and directly calling for his ouster.
Biden has noted that the US withdrawal was set in motion by former President Donald Trump’s deal with the Taliban and vowed to not pass on a war entering its 20th year to a fifth US president — a stance he reiterated in remarks Thursday evening.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki, when asked on Thursday about Republican calls for Biden to resign in the wake of the bombings, told reporters that “it’s not a day for politics.”
“This is a day where US service members, 12 of them, lost their lives at the hands of terrorists,” Psaki said during the White House press briefing before another US death was announced. “It’s not a day for politics, and we would expect that any American, elected or not, would stand with us in our commitment to going after and fighting and killing those terrorists, wherever they live.”
Earlier Thursday, McCarthy had called on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to bring Congress back into session “so that we can be briefed thoroughly and comprehensively by the Biden administration” and pass a bill to prohibit the withdrawal of any more troops “until every American is out of Afghanistan.”
As McCarthy continues to stress the importance of staying focused on long-term accountability as opposed to scoring short-term political points, a growing chorus of rank-and-file Republicans have called for Biden’s resignation or impeachment. Several of them reiterated those calls during Thursday’s conference call, and one of them — Rep. Jackie Walorski of Indiana — said investigations were not enough.
A number of House Republicans on Thursday had already begun efforting fact-finding processes aimed at the administration’s handling of the exit from Afghanistan.
Rep. Devin Nunes of California, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, informed lawmakers during the call that he had sent a letter to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence requesting document preservation, according to two sources on the call. And Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, also called for document preservation so that the House can conduct oversight and investigations, another source told CNN.
While some Republicans prayed for the safety of American troops and diplomats in the immediate aftermath of Thursday’s attack, other Republicans did not hesitate to blame Biden.
“Joe Biden has blood on his hands,” tweeted Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, the no. 3 House Republican. “This horrific national security and humanitarian disaster is solely the result of Joe Biden’s weak and incompetent leadership. He is unfit to be Commander-in-Chief.”
Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn said five top US officials — Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley — “should all resign or face impeachment and removal from office.”
Democratic leaders in Congress said they were monitoring the situation, advocated for securing the airport to help Americans and Afghan allies evacuate, and pushed back on Republicans criticism.
“Right now, American heroes are risking & giving their lives to execute an extraordinarily dangerous evacuation, & the Minority Leader wants to defund the mission & tie the Commander in Chief’s hands in the middle of the most dangerous days of the operation,” tweeted Drew Hamill, Pelosi’s deputy chief of staff, referring to McCarthy. “What’s not going to help evacuate American citizens is more empty stunts & distraction from the Minority Leader who sat idly by as Pres. Trump proudly negotiated with the Taliban.”
Many in the GOP — and some Democrats — renewed their calls to postpone the August 31 evacuation date. Idaho Sen. Jim Risch, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the “Taliban and its terrorist contemporaries clearly don’t care about our deadlines or our people left in the country. They have what they want, which is an America and a NATO in disarray and retreat.”
South Carolina GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham said this should prompt the US military to retake Bagram Air Base north of Kabul and run evacuation flights from there.
“I urge the Biden Administration to reestablish our presence in Bagram as an alternative to the Kabul airport so that we do not leave our fellow citizens and thousands of Afghan allies behind. It is not a capability problem, but a problem of will,” Graham tweeted.
And some Republicans simply offered thoughts and prayers for the troops, including House Minority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana, Senate GOP Whip John Thune of South Dakota and Michigan Rep. Peter Meijer, one of the lawmakers who took a controversial trip to Afghanistan this week.
“My heart breaks for the U.S. servicemembers wounded in the explosion and the innocent Afghan lives lost,” tweeted Utah Sen. Mitt Romney. “I am inspired by the strength and compassion of our troops and pray for their safety.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated the name of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
This story and headline have been updated with further developments Thursday.
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CNN’s Kristin Wilson, Kevin Liptak, Annie Grayer and Devan Cole contributed to this report.