The Surge

Slate’s guide to the most important figures in politics this week.

Welcome to this week’s edition of the Surge, which is looking for new revenue streams now that our planned pivot to OnlyFans has been squashed.


This week, the Taliban retook Afghanistan in about 20 seconds, prompting an ongoing evacuation crisis. The Biden administration is facing the worst scrutiny of his presidency, and it’s not just coming from Republicans. What is just coming from Republicans, though, is an early backlash against the prospect of evacuating and resettling Afghan refugees who put their lives on the line to help the United States. Elsewhere, a talk radio nut could take over the largest state in the country because of its bafflingly stupid recall rules, and a few House moderates are trying to take over the Biden administration’s legislative agenda. The COVID-19 virus is taking over the U.S. Senate, where members, according to hundreds of years of tradition, greet one another by breathing as heavily as possible directly into one another’s faces.


But first, about that crisis …

Joe Biden.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images.

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1. Joe Biden

Debacle.

This has been easily the worst week of Joe Biden’s presidency, and things could still get worse. The Taliban retook Kabul and with it, the country, in a few days, despite express predictions from the administration, up to and including the president himself, that such a thing wouldn’t happen so imminently. There are now both Americans and American allies, who are at severe risk of reprisal, behind Taliban lines. And while the U.S. is having success getting out the former, the situation with the latter is much murkier. It’s an acute, ongoing crisis, and Biden’s reputation—not just in terms of domestic politics, which is always a mystery, but internationally—is going to hinge on his ability to get out all of the people whom the United States has an obligation to get out. In the meantime, after Biden and his administration had used such certain language a month ago to say that exactly what’s happening now would not happen, he could be a little less snippy at the earned criticism coming his administration’s way.

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2. Seth Moulton

The criticism is coming from within the house.

Plenty of Democrats are trying to bite their tongues as the process unfolds. But not all. Some of them are Democratic hawks who thought the withdrawal was a bad idea originally. Others though, like Reps. Seth Moulton and Jason Crow, both veterans, have been stressing the need to evacuate Afghan allies for months. “I’m not going to mince my words on this: We didn’t need to be in this position,” said Crow, who along with Moulton led a June 4 letter to the administration urging it to pick up the pace on evacuations. “We should have started this evacuation months ago.” Moulton, in particular, was peeved with Biden’s claim this week that part of the reason evacuations were slow was that some Afghan allies “did not want to leave earlier,” before the Taliban takeover. “I mean, don’t tell me that Afghans don’t want to leave when there’s been a backlog of Special Immigrant Visa applications for over a decade,” Moulton said. “Don’t tell me they don’t want to leave when they’re literally clinging to airplanes to try to get out of this country. That was the single part of the president’s speech that I not only disagreed with but I thought was just biting BS.” The House returns next week. We’ll find out how many Democrats are still holding their tongues then.

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3. Josh Gottheimer

Can he keep the mod squad together?

Back to our bread and butter: slapstick hijinks surrounding the House legislative calendar. When the House returns next week, the critical item of business will be to pass a budget resolution that allows Democrats to use the filibuster-free reconciliation process for their (theoretically) $3.5 trillion social spending bill this fall. Nine House Democratic moderates, though, led by New Jersey Rep. Josh Gottheimer, have rebelled against the plan, saying they won’t vote for the budget until the House passes the Senate’s bipartisan infrastructure bill and Biden has signed it into law. That pins Gottheimer and eight others against … let’s see here … the vast majority of the House Democratic Caucus, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and the White House. The Gott Gang rejected an offer from Pelosi earlier this week that would have allowed them to save some face, and in doing so, assured themselves that Pelosi will now be working as hard as possible to humiliate them. May the best team win!

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4. Gavin Newsom

Wake up, California!

It is an indictment of California’s political system that its governor, Gavin Newsom, who has a decent approval rating, is in serious jeopardy of being replaced before the end of his term by right-wing talk radio loon Larry Elder, who would command nowhere even close to a mandate from the people of California to govern them. The recall ballot first asks whether the governor should be recalled—yes/no—and then, if recalled, would grant the governorship to whoever gets a measly plurality in the dingbat royal rumble on the next page. What is HAPPENING in this NUTCASE WORLD? We are barely on the fourth entry of the ol’ newsletter and just cannot deal with much more of this omnidirectional shit. [Breathes.] The problem for Newsom is getting his voters to understand that the system really is this stupid, and that they really do need to vote if they do not want a guy who’s called climate change “a crock” and opposes popular mask mandates to be their governor at a time of environmental and public health crises. The FiveThirtyEight polling average shows an effective tie between keeping and removing Newsom among likely voters. Good Lord. Can someone step up and do something about all the problems??

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5. Donald Trump

A short-lived flirtation with the idea of not being a tremendous jerk.

Let’s start with the good news. There are many Republicans in Congress and governorships who believe the U.S. has an obligation to resettle Afghan refugees. The bad news, though, is that the ones who are on TV all the time do not. Former Trump adviser and anti-immigrant ghoul Stephen Miller, Fox News hosts Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham, and the rest of Team MAGA are howling with propaganda about how, in Carlson’s words, potentially “millions” of terrifying Afghans are going to be resettled “probably in your neighborhood.” More traditional Republicans, like Sen. Ben “Damn the Red Tape” Sasse, have with varying degrees of urgency pushed for the administration to do more to take in Afghan allies and human rights activists as refugees. There’s no clear weather vane to which we can look to see who’s going to win out on this latest duel between GOP internationalists and isolationists. Just kidding, there is a weather vane named Donald Trump. On Monday, he seemed vaguely supportive of Afghan allies’ plight. “Can anyone even imagine taking out our Military before evacuating civilians and others who have been good to our Country and who should be allowed to seek refuge?” he said in a statement. After marinating in cable news for a couple of days, though, Trump sent another statement, showing the now-famous photo of Afghan evacuees on a U.S. Air Force flight, saying, “This plane should have been full of Americans. America First!” We know which way the wind is blowing.

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6. Mo Brooks

Bomber dude: I feel you.

Hallelujah, an actual good thing has happened since we started writing this, just as we were about to combine the last two entries into a single plea to our therapist. The good thing started with a bad thing, with a crazy person parking a truck he claimed was full of explosives outside the Library of Congress and threatening to blow it all up unless “Joe” talked to him on the phone, as he said on his Facebook livestream. (Buddy, the prime minister of the United Kingdom can barely get on the phone with “Joe” these days.) The good news is that they got the dude, a certain Floyd Ray Roseberry of North Carolina, to surrender without blowing up the Capitol complex, which would’ve been a whole big to-do. One of the most mystifying reactions to this sequence came from our old pal Mo Brooks, who followed an empathy route we hadn’t known existed. “Although this terrorist’s motivation is not yet publicly known, and generally speaking, I understand citizenry anger directed at dictatorial Socialism and its threat to liberty, freedom, and the very fabric of American society,” he said in a statement. “The way to stop Socialism’s march is for patriotic Americans to fight back in the 2022 and 2024 elections.” Can this guy please go a single attack on the United States Capitol without validating the attackers’ feelings?

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7. Roger Wicker, Angus King, and John Hickenlooper

Could COVID win the Senate majority?

The Senate isn’t scheduled to return until September. But how many will even make it back? Late Thursday afternoon—as of this writing, when the day was young!—three senators, Roger Wicker, Angus King, and John Hickenlooper, all vaccinated, announced they had breakthrough cases of the coronavirus. Perhaps esteemed members of the Senate, who are incapable of keeping their mitts off of one another, got a little too close for comfort when they were stuck in the chamber around the clock earlier this month trying to wrap up pressing business. Keep in mind that the Senate, unlike the House, has never and would never institute rules, as Speaker Nancy Pelosi has done, mandating mask wearing on the floor. Why, that would violate a senator’s prerogative to do whatever they want at the expense of everyone else! Given that reality, though, it may be important for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to convince 88-year-old California Sen. Dianne Feinstein to only visit the Senate floor in a hermetically sealed bubble until this recall business sorts itself out.