Cotton leads Senate GOP push on Biden's Afghanistan withdrawal

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Senate Republicans are pressing President Joe Biden to account for how many Americans, green card holders and special immigrant visa applicants remain in Afghanistan after the U.S. completed its withdrawal earlier this week.

Led by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), a group of 26 Republicans wrote Biden on Thursday morning requesting information by next week about who remains in Afghanistan after the frenzied evacuation effort at the end of August.

"Our immediate priority is the safety and well-being of American citizens, permanent residents, and allies who were left behind in Afghanistan. We are also concerned by reports that ineligible individuals, including Afghans with ties to terrorist organizations or serious, violent criminals, were evacuated alongside innocent refugee families,” the senators write in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by POLITICO ahead of its release.

Their request is the latest example of Republicans' continued pressure on Biden over his handling of the military exit from Afghanistan, a push that ramped up after a terrorist attack killed 13 service members last week. And though the GOP's questions are especially pointed, a handful of Senate Democrats, including Arizona's Mark Kelly and New Hampshire's Maggie Hassan, have leaned on Biden to continue evacuations past the Aug. 31 pullout.

The Republicans’ letter on Thursday centers on how many Americans are still in Afghanistan and how many of those want to leave. In addition, the GOP senators asked similar questions about green card holders and special immigrant visa applicants who assisted U.S. operations in Afghanistan. A majority of SIV applicants were left behind in Afghanistan because of the complexities of the final few days of withdrawal, according to a State Department official.

Another chief GOP concern: the vetting of people the United States evacuated from Afghanistan who are not citizens, SIVs or green card holders. In their letter, the senators ask Biden how many evacuees "had no pending immigration application or status with the United States prior to being airlifted?”

The Republicans making the request are a disparate bunch representing more than half the conference, from hawks like Cotton to non-interventionist Republicans like Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.). It also includes moderate Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who has worked with Biden on some domestic priorities, and Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), who have led the opposition to Biden's agenda.

Recognizing their own policy differences, the Republicans wrote to Biden that “the signatories of this letter may have differing opinions about whether the United States should have maintained a military presence in Afghanistan, but we all agree that the arbitrary and poorly-planned method by which you withdrew from Afghanistan caused this crisis.”

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