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Remarks on the Ongoing Evacuation Efforts in Afghanistan and the House Vote on the Build Back Better Agenda

August 24, 2021

THE PRESIDENT: Hello, folks. Before I update you on the meeting that I had with leaders of the G7 earlier today, I want to say a word about the progress we're making on the Build Back Better agenda here at home.

I just got off the telephone with the leaders in the House. Today, the House of Representatives has taken a significant step toward making a historic investment that's going to transform America, cut taxes for working families, and position the American economy for long-term -- long-term growth.

When I became President, it was clear that we had to confront an immediate economic crisis -- the most significant recession we've had since the Depression, or at least since Johnson. But we -- but we weren't going to -- but that wasn't going to be enough.

We also had to make some long-term investments in Americans and America itself.

The first thing we did was to write and pass the American Rescue Plan, and it's working. Our economy has added 4 million jobs in my first six months in office. Economic growth is up to the fastest it's been -- the fastest rate in 40 years. And unemployment is coming down.

Right now, our economic growth is leading the world's advanced economies. But to win the future, we need to take the next step. And today, the House of Representatives did just that.

Today's vote in the House allowed them to consider my Build Back Better agenda, a broad framework to make housing more affordable; bring down the cost of prescription drugs by giving Medicare the power to negotiate lower prices for drugs; make elder care more affordable; provide two years of free, universal, high-quality pre-K and two years of free community college; provide clean energy tax credits; continue to give the middle-class families the well-deserved tax cut for daycare and healthcare that they deserve, allowing a lot of women to get back to work, primarily; and provide significant monthly tax cuts for working families with children through the Child Care Tax Credit.

These investments are going to lower out-of-pocket expenses for families and not just give them a little more breathing room. In addition, we're going to make long-overdue, much-needed investments in basic, hard infrastructure of this nation.

There -- this is an area where we have broad, bipartisan agreement to invest in our antiquated roads, highways, bridges, transit, drinking water systems, broadband, clean energy, environmental clean-up, and making our infrastructure more resilient to climate -- to the climate crisis, and so much more.

And this is all paid for -- instead of giving every break in the world to corporations and CEOs. By the -- by the way, 55 of our largest companies in America paid zero dollars in federal taxes on more than $40 billion in profit last year.

We can ask corporations and the very wealthy just to pay their fair share. They can still be very wealthy. They can still make a lot of money, but just begin to pay their fair share so we can invest in making our country stronger and more competitive, create jobs and raise wages, and lift up the standard of living for everyone.

The bottom line is, in my view, we're a step closer to truly investing in the American people, positioning our economy for long-term growth, and building an America that out-competes the rest of the world. My goal is to build an economy from the bottom up and the middle out, not just the top down. And that's what we're on our way of doing.

Look, I want to thank Speaker Pelosi, who was masterful in her leadership on this, and Leader Hoyer, and Whip Clyburn, and Chairman DeFazio -- the entire House leadership team -- for the hard work, dedication, and determination to bring people together so we can make a difference in people's lives.

I also want to thank every Democrat in the House who worked so hard over the past few weeks to reach an agreement and who supported the process for House consideration of the Jobs and Infrastructure Plan -- the Build Back Better effort.

There were differences; strong points of view. They're always welcome. What is important is that we came together to advance our agenda, and I thank everyone who did that. I thank everyone. Everyone who did it was there.

Look, I also want to thank everyone who voted to support the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. You know, advancing -- it's an act to restore and expand voting protections, to prevent voter suppression, and to secure the most sacred of American rights: the right to vote freely, the right to vote fairly, and the right to have your vote counted.

The House has acted. The Senate also has to join them to send this important bill to my desk. And the Senate must also move on the [For the] Peoples Act, critical legislation to protect our democracy and the right to vote. We need both of those -- those election bills.

But let me now turn to Afghanistan. I've met this morning with my counterparts in the G7, as well as heads of the United Nations, NATO, and the European Union. I expressed my thanks for the solidarity we have seen as we've stood up an unprecedented global effort. I updated our partners on the significant progress we've made in the past 10 days.

As of this afternoon, we've helped evacuate 70,700 people, just since August the 14th; 75,900 people since the end of July.

Just in the past 12 hours, another 19 U.S. military flights, 18 C-17s, and one C-130 carrying approximately 6,400 evacuees and 31 coalition flights carrying 5,600 people have left Kabul -- just in the last 12 hours.

A total of 50 more flights, 12,000 more people since we updated you this morning.

These numbers are a testament to the efforts of our brave service women and men, to our diplomats on the ground in Kabul, and to our Allies still standing with us.

And we had a productive discussion, and there was strong agreement among the leaders about -- both about the evacuation mission underway, as well as the need to coordinate our approach to the Afghan -- to Afghanistan as we move forward.

First, on evacuation, we agreed that we will continue to close -- our close cooperation to get people out as efficiently and safely as possible. We are currently on a pace to finish by August the 31st. The sooner we can finish, the better. Each day of operations brings added risk to our troops.

But the completion by August 31st depends upon the Taliban continuing to cooperate and allow access to the airport for those who were transport- -- we're transporting out and no disruptions to our operations.

In addition, I've asked the Pentagon and the State Department for contingency plans to adjust the timetable should that become necessary.

I'm determined to ensure that we complete our mission -- this mission. I'm also mindful of the increasing risks that I've been -- I've been briefed on and the need to factor those risks in.

There are real and significant challenges that we also have to take into consideration. The longer we stay, starting with the acute and growing risk of an attack by a terrorist group known as ISIS-K, an ISIS affiliate in Afghanistan -- which is the sworn enemy of the Taliban as well -- every day we're on the ground is another day we know that ISIS-K is seeking to target the airport and attack both U.S. and Allied forces and innocent civilians.

Additionally, thus far, the Taliban have been taking steps to work with us so we can get our people out, but it's a tenuous situation. We already had some gun fighting break out. We run a serious risk of it breaking down as time goes on.

Second, the G7 leaders, and the leaders of the EU, NATO, and the U.N., all agreed that we will stand united in our approach to the Taliban.

We agreed the legitimacy of any future government depends on the approach it now takes to uphold their international obligations, including to prevent Afghanistan from being used as a base for terrorism.

And we agreed that none of us are going to take the Taliban's word for it. We will judge them by their actions. And we will stay in close coordination on any steps that we take moving forward in response to the Taliban's behavior.

At the same time, we renewed our humanitarian commitment to the Afghan people and supported a proposal by the Secretary-General Guterres of the United Nations-led international response with unfettered humanitarian access in Afghanistan.

Third, we talked about our mutual obligation to support refugees and evacuees currently fleeing Afghanistan. The United States will be a leader in these efforts and will look to the international community and to our partners to do the same.

We're already seeing our Allies' commitment. They're bringing their -- they're bringing to their countries the Afghans who served alongside their forces as translators or in their embassies, just as we're bringing to the United States those Afghans who worked alongside our forces and diplomats. We're continuing that effort.

We're conducting thorough security screening in the intermediate stops they're making for anyone who is not a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident of the United States.

Anyone arriving in the United States will have undergone a background check.

And -- and we must all work together to resettle thousands of Afghans who ultimately qualify for refugee status. The United States will do our part. And we are already working closely with refugee organizations to rebuild a system that was purposefully destroyed by my predecessor.

Finally, we agreed to stay vigilant against terrorist threats that have metastasized around the world.

We went to Afghanistan with our Allies in 2001 for clear reasons: One, to get the people who attacked us on 9/11 and to get Osama bin Laden, and to make sure that Afghanistan was not used again as a base from which to attack the United States or our Allies. We achieved that objective. We delivered justice to bin Laden more than a decade ago.

But the current environment looks very different than it did in 2001, and we have to meet the challenges we face today.

We run effective counterterrorism operations around the world where we know terrorism is more of a threat than it is today in Afghanistan, without any permanent military presence on the ground. And we can and will do the same thing in Afghanistan with our over-the-horizon counterterrorism capability.

Cooperation with our closest partners on our enduring counterterrorism mission will continue to be an essential piece of our strategy.

In short, we all -- all of us agreed today that we're going to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our closest partners to meet the current challenges we face in Afghanistan, just as we have for the past 20 years.

We're acting in consultation and cooperation with our closest friends and fellow democracies.

And I want to again thank all of our Allies and partners around the world who have rallied in support of our shared mission.

We ended the conversation today by a clear -- a statement on all of our parts. We are going to stay united, locked at the hip, in terms of what we have to do. We'll get that done.

And tomorrow, I've asked Secretary Blinken to give you an update and a detailed report on exactly how many Americans are still in Afghanistan and how many we got out and what our projection is.

So, thank you again. May God bless you. And may God protect our diplomats and all those in harm's way.

Thank you.

Joseph R. Biden, Remarks on the Ongoing Evacuation Efforts in Afghanistan and the House Vote on the Build Back Better Agenda Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/352521

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