In recent days, as the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan, the political fight in the United States was largely limited to two related questions: whether President Biden was right to end the war and withdraw our troops, and whether his administration was implementing its policies effectively.
A third question is now coming to the fore, and it's every bit as contentious as the first two. NBC News reported overnight on the fight "over what to do about refugees from the war-torn country."
There is some bipartisan agreement to assist Afghans who stood with Americans. But it is unclear how many — and what categories of Afghans — will be able to come to the U.S. or whether the process will be expedited for those in danger. And while some Republicans have expressed openness to helping resettle U.S. allies in the region, there is sharp and early conservative resistance to Democratic efforts to expand refugee visas, signaling a battle to come over what has been a politically heated issue.
It's important to emphasize that there's some diversity of thought, even among Republicans, about the issue. Utah Gov. Spencer Cox (R), for example, reached out to the Biden administration yesterday, expressing an eagerness to "help those who are fleeing Afghanistan."
As Rachel noted on last night's show, there were also three U.S. senators -- Alaska's Lisa Murkowski, Louisiana's Bill Cassidy, and Oklahoma's Jim Inhofe -- who joined with 43 Senate Democrats in support of a "humanitarian parole category" that would allow Afghan women leaders, human rights activists, and other public figures to quickly relocate to the U.S.
But others in the party are taking a far less humanitarian approach.
Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.), for example, issued a statement yesterday that concluded, "The chaos we're seeing is not an excuse to flood our country with refugees from Afghanistan." Stephen Miller, an anti-immigration hard-liner, has been offensively aggressive in arguing against providing refugees safe harbor in the United States.
There is an inherent tension in the right's talking points. On the one hand, Biden is facing criticisms for the difficulties in getting people out of Afghanistan. On the other, the U.S. president is also hearing from detractors who don't want to see him succeed in getting people out of Afghanistan.
That contradiction won't stop this debate from proceeding in ways that are likely to turn ugly.