CHAIRMAN JEFFRIES: “FREE AND FAIR ELECTIONS ARE CENTRAL TO OUR LIBERTY, AND WE WILL CHANNEL THAT IN THE SPIRIT OF THE GREAT JOHN LEWIS WHEN WE MOVE H.R. 4”
WASHINGTON, DC – Today, House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and Vice Chair Pete Aguilar (D-CA) held a leadership press conference where they outlined House Democrats’ commitment to Building Back Better through jobs, tax cuts and lower expenses for everyday Americans, along with protecting our freedom to vote by advancing the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. They were also joined by House Democratic Caucus National Security Task Force (NSTF) Co-Chairs Rep. Jason Crow (D-CO), Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ) and Rep. Andy Kim (D-NJ) to underscore the importance of bringing American citizens and our Afghan allies out of Afghanistan safely.
CHAIRMAN JEFFRIES: We had a very robust discussion this morning about a variety of issues that are in front of us as a country and, of course, throughout the world with an emphasis and focus on the fact that we are going to move H.R. 4, the John Robert Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, today as part of the effort to make sure we push back against the intense voter suppression that we've seen take shape all across America and protect our democracy. Not for Democrats or Republicans or Independents, for Americans, because free and fair elections are central to our liberty, and we will channel that in the spirit of the great John Lewis when we move H.R. 4 shortly this afternoon. Hopefully, there'll be some Republicans who will join us. That remains to be seen.
We also, of course, are continuing to move forward to advance President Biden's agenda on behalf of working families, the middle class, everyone who aspires to be part of the middle class, the poor, the sick, the afflicted, the least, the lost and the left behind, young people, seniors, veterans, everyday Americans. President Biden appropriately said we were going to Build Back Better. We cannot go back to pre-pandemic normal because prior to the pandemic, we know that approximately half of the American people reported that they couldn't afford a sudden, unexpected $400 expense. This is in the wealthiest country in the history of the world. That's unacceptable. We are not going back to that. We're going to Build Back Better. Part of that agenda involves the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which we're going to advance, and part of that is going to be the Build Back Better Act that involves jobs and tax cuts and lower expenses for families, children and everyday Americans. We're committed to getting that done.
VICE CHAIR AGUILAR: As the Chairman mentioned, we came back from our district work period where we continue to see the transformational benefits of House Democrats and President Biden's policies having a positive effect on people in our communities. By passing a generational tax cut for middle-class and working families, we're seeing substantial drops in child poverty. We're seeing Americans hold on to more of their hard-earned dollars. I was pleased over the work period, just like many of my colleagues, to see $21 billion in rental assistance go out into our communities, and our goal has been to help alleviate the COVID-19 crisis. It has always been to keep our communities safe and strong and help them make ends meet. We're seeing policies that we have passed here make a real difference on the ground and as the Chairman mentioned, we'll address the landmark reconciliation package, the historic infrastructure agreement and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. These pieces of legislation all represent continued progress and a commitment for delivering results for the American public.
NSTF CO-CHAIR CROW: I'm Jason Crow. I represent the 6th Congressional District of Colorado. I also serve on the House Intelligence Committee and Armed Services Committee. But before that, before being a Member of Congress, I was an Army Ranger. I served three combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Two of those tours were in Afghanistan, and like many of my veterans, fellow combat veterans, I left a piece of my heart in that country, and it has been a very challenging 10 days to look at what has happened and to come to terms with what has been a 20-year challenge. I want to be very clear about something here. This is not a one-week discussion. This is not a one-month discussion. It is not a one-year discussion. This is a 20-year discussion. This has been a war that has been passed between four different administrations, many, many different Congresses, and we need to have the broad conversation that's necessary for our country, for the American people as to how we got to this point over the last 20 years and how we do better for the American people.
[…] So where are we today? Obviously, we're in a very challenging situation in Kabul. There's no secret to that. It is my personal view and the view of many of my colleagues that we must do everything necessary to save all American citizens and to evacuate our Afghan partners and our allies. This Congress, this Caucus, the Democratic Caucus, led the effort over the last couple of months to expand the special immigrant visa program, to expedite that program, and we passed that in a broadly bipartisan basis just a few weeks ago. Now, we have a moral obligation to make sure we are standing by our Afghan partners and our allies protecting American citizens, and that moral obligation does not have a deadline.
NSTF CO-CHAIR SHERRILL: The critical mission now is getting all American citizens, our Afghan allies in the SIV program and their families to safety, as well as additional vulnerable Afghans like women and girls who served in leadership roles. This is, of course, of particular concern to me because we, America, supported their efforts to access education and leadership roles throughout Afghanistan, and they're now in danger as a result of taking on those roles. So, our focus needs to be on executing this mission. Everything else is a distraction. And from the reports we've seen and heard, the several thousand soldiers and Marines currently on the ground in Kabul are executing it well with compassion, care and efficiency, and I want to commend our military members.
Make no mistake, this evacuation is an extremely dangerous mission and it's set to get more dangerous in the coming days. In that vein, there has been significant progress. Approximately 21,600 people were evacuated from Kabul yesterday. In the last 10 days, our forces have evacuated roughly 58,700 people in 10 days. That alone speaks to the dedication, professionalism and sheer hard work of our military, our State Department officials and the IC. So there are indications that we're moving in the right direction as far as accomplishing our mission to get out Americans, our allies and vulnerable Afghans.
NSTF CO-CHAIR KIM: A little over a week ago, my office put forward an email address for those that are trying to evacuate out from Afghanistan to be able to reach out to and that we would do everything we can to try to help out. At this point, just a few days later, our office alone has received over 6000 requests. Many of these requests are from families with multiple people seeking support. At this time, we have been able to help a number of people, but there is still an overwhelming number of people that have not been helped. And I think that this experience has really shown me just how much more work has to happen for us to be able to meet our mission, for us to be able to do what is responsible for us to accomplish. It has been one of the most difficult weeks of my life working through this situation, to be on the phone with so many of our partners out there in Afghanistan, many of them just outside the gates, begging me, begging people to try to get them to safety and to get through the chaos there. From our experience, that problem at the airport gates is the number one backlog and bottleneck in terms of getting at least the people that were in touch with to safety. And this is something that I've certainly been urging the administration to try to alleviate, find some way to smooth that system through. I certainly recognize the significant numbers that have been evacuated, but again, just the cries for help are ones that we cannot ignore.
Video of the full press conference and Q&A can be viewed here.
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