Podcast: What's Next For Afghan Refugees & Voting Rights March : The NPR Politics Podcast President Biden has warned there could be more violence coming over the weekend in Afghanistan. Yesterday's attack at Kabul's airport could be a preview of the disarray that could be in store for the country after the U.S. finally exits. And: it is still unclear where tens of thousands of evacuated Afghans will be allowed to resettle.

Also, voting rights activists will take to the streets across the country this weekend to pressure President Biden and congressional Democrats to take aggressive action on voting rights. The protests come as Republican-controlled state legislatures continue to pass measures that advocates say make it harder to vote.

This episode: White House correspondent Scott Detrow, White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez, national security correspondent Greg Myre, and politics and racial justice correspondent Juana Summers.

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How Many Afghans Will Biden Allow To Live In The US?

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TAYLOR: Hi, my name is Taylor (ph), and I'm about to begin my first semester as one of the assistant news directors of my college radio station. This podcast was recorded at...


Great job. It is 1:26 Eastern on Friday, August 27.

TAYLOR: Things may have changed by the time you hear it, but I'll still be counting the days until I begin covering local and campus news. All right, here's the show.


DETROW: I learned a very important lesson in one of my early shifts at the college radio station, which was that you are not allowed to go to sleep in between your newscasts, even if they're on Sunday morning.


DETROW: You know, it's important life skills like that, professional skills like that that you get at the college radio station.

ORDOÑEZ: Love that.

DETROW: Hey there. It's the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. I'm Scott Detrow. I cover the White House.

ORDOÑEZ: I'm Franco Ordoñez. I cover the White House also.

DETROW: And we are joined again by Greg Myre. We've talked to him a few times this week. He covers national security for NPR.

Hey, Greg.


DETROW: So of course, evacuations continue after the attack at Kabul's airport that killed 13 Americans and more than 160 Afghans. President Biden said yesterday that more than 100,000 people have now been airlifted from the country. But Franco, let's start with this - the White House is being very explicit that the president is being warned that there is a high risk of more attacks in the coming days.

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah. You know, this is something that some of the national security team warned the president and the vice president earlier today in national security briefings. And it was also something that was, you know, talked about from General McKenzie yesterday, talking about the likelihood of more attacks. You know, Biden, you know, expressed this same concern yesterday. This was a big part of his desire to do a rapid pull out of Afghanistan. It's every day that they are there, he says, that U.S. troops are in more danger.

DETROW: And Greg, what are the next few days going to look like? Because the president has insisted, first of all, that things are on pace for these airlifts to be done by the 31. But secondly, there is this incredible risk going on. Have we seen a slower number of people being airlifted or is the number going to speed up or what does that all mean for the next few days?

MYRE: Well, the message is that the airlift continues apace, and that seems to be happening perhaps at slightly smaller numbers. But yesterday, on Thursday, with the day the bombing took place in the afternoon Kabul time, 12,000 people were still airlifted out of the country. Today, Friday, there were 5,000 people awaiting flights. And again, the security concerns are still there. The Pentagon is saying we expect future attempted attacks. So high risk, but they're going to press ahead.

DETROW: And Greg, we talked about this a little bit yesterday in the podcast, but it's a new name. It's a new situation. Can you explain to us who ISIS-K are, how big of a threat are they and are they related to ISIS proper, the ISIS that really, you know, grew in influence after the U.S. pulled out of Iraq?

MYRE: They are, in fact, related to the Islamic State that we all heard about. And when that Islamic State group started picking up big chunks of territory in Syria, in Iraq in 2014, this led to the creation of ISIS affiliates in other countries. The one in Afghanistan is called ISIS-K or ISIS Khorasan. Now, ISIS-K is small. They don't have a base. They don't control territory. And in fact, they're at odds with the Taliban. They think the Taliban is not hardline enough. In their view, the Taliban went to five-star hotels in Qatar and negotiated compromises with the Americans. So in their mind, these - the Taliban are sellouts in some ways.

It will be hard to track them down. President Biden says that's what he wants to do, but U.S. military and intelligence capabilities have been shrinking. And these are small, elusive cells, not a big base, so we'll have to see how much of a threat they continue to pose. But they've carried out a lot of deadly attacks in Afghanistan in the past year.

DETROW: Yeah. You know, Franco, American lives have been lost. American lives are on the line. This is a very serious and fluid situation. But I think at this point, it is worth kind of stepping back and talking this - about this for a moment. President Biden insisted on going forward with this withdrawal from Afghanistan. He repeatedly said he was doing it because Afghanistan was not worth any more American lives. He kept saying, I don't want to send your son or daughter to Afghanistan.


DETROW: Now he has made a decision, and it has led to a situation of one of the most deadly days for U.S. forces ever in this war. Thirteen service members at this point have died. The president will be reaching out and having those exact phone calls that he said he was trying to avoid over the coming days. I mean, this is a tough moment for the Biden presidency.

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah. I mean, there's no doubt about it. I mean, the president even acknowledges that himself. I mean, yesterday, the first words out of his mouth when he, you know, came to the East Room and talked to us reporters was that it was a tough day. You know, his eyes were red, talking about the heartache that he and the first lady felt, talking about the service members being heroes. One of the arguments for pulling out was to stop putting American lives in danger, and this is the most American military lives, you know, killed in I think it's a decade.

DETROW: There's going to be political fallout there for days and weeks and maybe months to come. Rather than speculate on what that will be, we'll just note that and, you know, talk about it later on.

But let's look forward a little bit. We've now seen more than 100,000 people be evacuated from the Kabul airport with more to come. The vast majority of these people seem to be Afghans. Greg, what is the plan in the coming weeks for where these people go and when and if ever they make their way to the United States?

MYRE: Well, we haven't heard the details. And that's going to be very interesting because the numbers are larger than anticipated. A couple weeks ago, they were talking about 22,000 Afghans coming to the U.S., but I haven't seen any other countries that are going to take in large numbers. So this hundred thousand figure, you have to think most of them are coming to the United States. Dulles Airport outside Washington, there's been several flights daily. Right now, they're up to about a half-dozen military bases around the country. So they get to Dulles, then they go to these military bases, and then they're going to be integrated in the community.

DETROW: And, Franco, this is going to be a political challenge. Immigration, you cover it so closely. People are so dug in. It's become such a culture war issue and so many other things at once. I mean, the United - Congress can't even get to a resolution on the things that everyone seems to agree on when it comes to, you know, what to do with people who are in the DACA program. I mean, do you have any expectations for how this will change the immigration conversation?

ORDOÑEZ: I mean, I think it definitely will fuel more of the immigration conversation. I think there's no doubt about that. I mean, the Biden administration has been trying to ramp up efforts to process, you know, incoming Afghans with the special immigrant visa and looking at other refugee relief. I mean, the challenge facing, you know, the Biden administration is, you know, the demand of so many desperate Afghans trying to leave and who are going to want to come to the United States when already the visa program, the U.S. visa program, is already bogged down by so many systematic issues. And it's not only process and operational, but it's also going to be political.

The Obama administration previously faced challenges, you know, with states and localities pushing back on refugees coming from Syria. And that is something that the Biden administration recognizes. Also, I actually asked Press Secretary Jen Psaki about this yesterday. And she said they are doing their best to communicate with governors, talking about the vetting process of bringing people in. But they're also trying to communicate that this is part of who the United States is and that it's a part of the fabric of the United States and that they're not going to back away from that.

DETROW: You know, and it's clear that Biden anticipates that pushback, the way that he talks about that. He's repeatedly stressing the fact that Afghans are thoroughly vetted before they make it to the United States. Greg, one last question for you. We've talked about the deadline, the August 31 deadline. We've talked about the threat that that U.S. troops are facing around the airport. What are you looking for in the final days of this evacuation? And what will be any indications to you that maybe U.S. troops will be in and around Kabul past August 3, if that's still, you know, technically a possibility?

MYRE: It's certainly a possibility. But right now, we're getting no indication either from the White House or the Pentagon or anywhere else. The intent is to wrap this up. But also, the bombing we saw yesterday, it really struck me because, for Afghans, that is the future of their country and the problems they're going to inherit. They have a Taliban that's still trying to set up a government which has shown no real skill in doing so far. It has to provide security, which it couldn't do at the airport, as we saw yesterday. It's got to run an economy that is in very bad shape. It's got to avoid a humanitarian crisis.

So the U.S. will literally go wheels up in Afghanistan on Tuesday. But then there are just these monstrous problems facing Afghanistan, and we may not see a lot of it. The Western media will be gone. Afghan journalists will have a more difficult time reporting. So all of the scenes that we've been seeing may be invisible to us. One quick example. At the border crossing with Pakistan right now, there are huge crowds of Afghans trying to get out of the country. Seems very similar to the airport in Kabul. We're not really seeing that because there's not cameras there or we may not be seeing much of anything in Afghanistan come next week.

DETROW: All right. Well, Greg, thank you so much for joining us again today.

MYRE: My pleasure, Scott.

DETROW: We're going to take a quick break. When we get back, we will talk about voting rights.


DETROW: All right, we are back with Juana Summers now. Hey, Juana.


DETROW: So in August, nearly 60 years ago, in 1963, hundreds of thousands of people converged on the mall for the March on Washington. It's probably the most famous political rally ever. Tomorrow, activists are hoping to recreate that energy with rallies in Washington and elsewhere to push for action on voting rights. So what's the goal of these marches tomorrow, Juana?

SUMMERS: Yeah, so activists tell me that the goal is to really put some very public pressure on lawmakers in Washington, as well as President Biden, to act and to act quickly to protect voting rights. They're specifically calling on the administration and members of Congress to do whatever it takes to pass federal legislation. When I speak to activists as well as members of Congress, they are very concerned about efforts in Republican-led state legislatures since the 2020 election to attempt to put in place laws that critics say could make it more difficult to vote and laws, they point out repeatedly, disproportionately impact people of color. I talked to one of the organizers of the March on Washington for Voting Rights, which is holding events not just in Washington, I should point out. The oldest son of Reverend Martin Luther King, Martin Luther King III.


MARTIN LUTHER KING III: We specifically focused on the one issue of voting rights, and that's what makes it so different. But it also makes it tragic that we are at a place where, as my mom used to say, every generation has to re-earn or earn its freedom. Because theoretically, we should be beyond voting rights. We should be addressing other issues.

DETROW: How would you frame the mood of King and the other organizers at this point? Because this has been going on all year, and it seems to me like voting rights activists have gotten more and more frustrated with Democrats in Washington at the way they've responded to these pushes in so many states.

SUMMERS: That's a really great question. I think there is certainly a great deal of frustration. A number of - and it really depends on who you ask. I think about a conversation I had with Cliff Albright, who is one of the co-founders of Black Voters Matter. And he, in that conversation, just sounded so exasperated, that he feels like he sees Democrats prioritize votes on infrastructure, on roads and bridges, and yet the fundamental right to vote of people in this country - of Black people, to put a finer point on it, of people of color - isn't treated with the same severity.

But if you talk to other people, there's also a lot of hope. They're heartened by the fact that the groups organizing these events in Washington and elsewhere this weekend, they're incredibly diverse. You have a legacy civil rights organizations partnering with groups like the League of Women Voters, for example. So they feel like they have a strong coalition that's in a position to say, hey, we put Democrats and the president in office. Now, we've got some things that we want too. They feel like they have a chance to actually make something happen.

DETROW: Yeah. Franco, could you remind us how the president and the White House have approached this issue and have approached the pretty consistent frustrated feedback they've been getting from activists?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah. I mean, President Biden has certainly, you know, used his megaphone to say this is a priority. He deputized Vice President Harris to take the lead on these efforts, you know, including combating, you know, some of these restrictive voting laws passed in state legislatures - you know, largely, of course, Republican state legislators. You know, they - the administration also announced a $25 million Democratic Party investment into voting education and access.

But, you know, as you know, activists actually want him to do more. And they really feel that, you know, he needs to use his full political bully pulpit. You know, I think the argument is that he is not, you know, using all the political power that he has.

Now, look, of course, Biden has been distracted, most recently by the crisis in Afghanistan, but if you put that aside, he has been, you know, traveling the country, you know, pressing his infrastructure bill, pushing his spending priorities. And what I think - and, you know, Juana can talk about this as well - is that activists are looking for the president to put that same type of political capital into this.

SUMMERS: Yeah, I mean, that's right. I - there was a rally actually not far from the White House this week that was sponsored by a number of these groups. And there were people literally standing outside with stands (ph) that say, step up, Joe. They see the responsibility for protecting the right to vote specifically as something that falls at the feet of the president himself. And I talked to one of the people who was behind organizing that rally - Ben Jealous, who's a former head of the NAACP and now heads up a group called People for the American Way.

BEN JEALOUS: If, in September, this crisis has his full focus, it can be fixed by October, well in time for the 2022 elections. If the president dallies, if he acts like he's more powerless than he is, then we could see a situation where entire statewide elections are stolen next year.

DETROW: And that, of course, is the same focus that we've been talking about all year of, you know, the White House changing what it calls for, but really, it's a conversation about a handful of Democratic senators changing their mind on a pretty big issue. And they've given no indication that they want to change their mind on the filibuster.

SUMMERS: Yeah, that's absolutely right. And to be clear, just to be really direct, the president can't change the filibuster himself. And I asked a number of activists that. It's like, OK, this is not something in his wheelhouse, so what do you want to see him do? And the answer that they give me is that they want him to pick up the phone. He was in the Senate for a long time. He has good relationships with Democrats in the caucus. They believe that if he were to put pressure on key moderate senators who would need to be on board to make any sort of a change to Senate rules, that perhaps something would happen, they'd be able to move past the filibuster to create some sort of a carve-out for these civil rights bills. But they believe he has that power. It's unclear to me, though the president says he supports both of these bills, to what degree he would use his capital to do something to make sure they make it to his desk.

DETROW: It's worth noting there was action in the House this week on a voting rights bill, right?

SUMMERS: Yeah, that's right. This is that bill that was named for the late former Georgia congressman, John Lewis. And it's focused on restoring the power of the Voting Rights Act, which has been weakened by two Supreme Court rulings in the last decade and many people view as just key to the political gains that Black Americans in particular have made over the last half century. That passed on a party line vote, and it's going to head to the Senate.

ORDOÑEZ: I mean, you know, just listening to, you know, this issue and the challenges that Biden faces, it just reminds me of some of the other issues that, you know, progressives are pushing, particularly like immigration; really wanting President Biden to do more, to be more active and a little bit of frustration watching the president put so much political capital into these big spending plans but not follow through like they would like him follow through on some of the other promises that he has made, you know, during the campaign and through the first few months of his administration.

DETROW: All right. We're going to take one more quick break. It's Friday, which means when we come back, it's time for Can't Let It Go.


DETROW: We are back. And it is time to end the show like we do every week with Can't Let It Go, the part of the show where we talk about the things from the week that we cannot stop talking about politics or otherwise.

Juana, what about you?

SUMMERS: I got to start with the question. Do either of you guys play Fortnite?

DETROW: I know what it is. I've tried to play it a few times. It doesn't go well for me. But yes.

ORDOÑEZ: I'm similar. I know what it is. I have not played it, but I am kind of fascinated by the, you know, all the interest in the culture around it.

SUMMERS: Yeah. So this is good because we've got a good starting point. So Epic Games, the company, the developers behind Fortnite have done something kind of interesting. And it also kind of ties into what I cover for NPR. So I thought it was really interesting. It is, as we pointed out in the last segment, it's the anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr. King's "I Have A Dream" speech. And they've worked with Time Studios - as in Time Magazine - to create this experience called March Through Time. Players can be teleported to what they're calling DC 63, which is like this kind of a reimagined alternate universe, Washington, D.C., built by users. And you can actually take your character and travel to the Lincoln Memorial and the National Mall and hear recordings of Dr. King giving the "I Have A Dream" speech. There are also, like, minigames that you can do.

ORDOÑEZ: That's so neat.

SUMMERS: Yeah, it's...

DETROW: Are you doing the usual Fortnite stuff while you're there? Like, this is my question.

SUMMERS: This was my question, too. And I, full disclosure, I have not gotten to check out this experience myself yet. But a really smart gaming journalist I follow, Erin Ashley Simon actually did. You can find her on Twitter. She put up, like, a four-minute video of what people are doing. And, yeah, there's some of the emotes, as they call them, of people dancing and things like that. But you can also hold up signs at the rally. There are collaborative experiences that are sort of educational. There are puzzles. So, yes, some of the traditional Fortnight schtick, but there's also kind of a learning angle here, too. I see people kind of describing it as like an interactive online museum.

DETROW: Will you stream at your experience on Twitch so I can watch?

SUMMERS: Not a chance.

DETROW: (Laughter) I will go next. And it is a bit more basic, but I talked about this last year, my very late discovery of "Ted Lasso."

ORDOÑEZ: Love it.

DETROW: I was very much on it this year. It's so great. It has been an unexpectedly very heavy news cycle the last few weeks. And I feel like every Friday, "Ted Lasso" is like aloe vera for my brain. And I settle in. And the way that it has particularly leaned into romantic comedy, like, tributes and send-ups this year has just been delightful. And that's really all I have to say. I love it. It makes me happy. It's really great.

ORDOÑEZ: Please don't do any spoilers for the second season, because I haven't seen the second season. I think I got one - I think we have one episode left.

SUMMERS: I'm going to need some help with this one. I'm going to be super honest.


SUMMERS: I know nothing about "Ted Lasso." Like, I've heard that it's a thing. I don't know the premise. This is a non-starter for me like video games are probably for a lot of people listening to this.

ORDOÑEZ: We're just bridging gaps here.

SUMMERS: Give me your short pitch.

DETROW: Jason Sudeikis is a - I think he's Oklahoman. He is a Southern American U.S. football coach who finds himself in charge of a Premier League football team with lots of hilarity ensuing. But like that pitch sounds like a lame show, right? And I think expectations were low early on, but it has just become this, like - I don't even know what to say. It's just like the super earnest, feel good, happy, funny show that makes you feel better when it's over.

SUMMERS: That sounds nice, especially this week.

ORDOÑEZ: It's like a guy, you know, like, we're so - there's so much shtick about being mean, about being angry about, you know, bullying to get things done. This guy, you know, "Ted Lasso" takes a totally different approach to leadership. And it's about being kind. And it's fascinating and amazing to watch how he gets things done by just being nice. And it's funny.

DETROW: Well, Franco, I'm excited for you to join me on Season 2 journey. Let me know when you're there. What can you - other than Season 1 of "Ted Lasso," what can you not let go of?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, you know, I guess one of the things that caught my attention this week that has been, you know, just kind of stuck with me. You know, I live in D.C., you know, where, you know, Amazon packages are dropped at my front door and sometimes, you know, they're taken. And, you know, I think a lot of people can relate to that. But in this case, a woman from Connecticut videotaped a bear taking an Amazon package off her front doorstep.

SUMMERS: That took a turn.

ORDOÑEZ: It was - I mean, it's, like, silly. And it's funny. But just the fact that, you know, a bear taking an Amazon package - which, by the way, was toilet paper.

DETROW: Like in a gentle I want this way for myself picking it up or like I'm going to eat this because I'm a bear kind of way?

ORDOÑEZ: I mean, the way I saw it, and I'm no bear expert, you know, I do not profile bears. But it definitely looked like it was taking it - it was like, oh, this would be, this could be useful. I'm going to take it. You know, perhaps he opened or she opened the package. And like, you know, some, I assume others will open packages that they take from the door and realize that this may not be as exciting as I thought.

DETROW: (Laughter) Is that what you think when you steal packages from people's porches, Franco? You said that really knowingly.

ORDOÑEZ: It's like Fortnite. I don't really have the experience to, you know, kind of share what I want, but I want to know. I want to know. And, you know, just one more point on this. You know, it's also interesting that this, you know, very, you know, kind of viral video, but also kind of struck a chord where there's all this commotion in the community of Connecticut about bears and trying to make sure that, you know, people are not doing things that, you know, making sure that they keep food sources away and just kind of reduce the numbers. And that's certainly something that we don't necessarily have to worry about here in Washington, D.C.

SUMMERS: You never know. The zoo is not that far.

DETROW: All right. Well, that seems to be it for today. Our executive producer is Shirley Henry. Our editors are Muthoni Muturi and Eric McDaniel. Our producers are Barton Girdwood and Elena Moore. Thank you to Lexie Schapitl and Brandon Carter.

I'm Scott Detrow. I cover the White House.

ORDOÑEZ: I'm Franco Ordoñez. I also cover the White House.

SUMMERS: And I'm Juana Summers. I cover politics and racial justice.

DETROW: Thank you for listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.


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