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With Afghanistan, Biden tries to restore ideal of American — not partisan — global deals

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: A U.S. Marine watches Afghan Commandos take part in a combat training exercise at Shorab Military Camp in Lashkar Gah in Helmand province.
A U.S. Marine watches Afghan Commandos take part in a combat training exercise at Shorab Military Camp in Lashkar Gah in Helmand province.Wakil Kohsar / AFP - Getty Images file

WASHINGTON — The headline from President Biden’s remarks on Wednesday was clear: After 20 years of war, the United States is finally — and fully — withdrawing from Afghanistan.

But the president said something else that grabbed our attention: He’s sticking to the deal that his predecessor, Donald Trump, cut with the Taliban.

“When I came to office, I inherited a diplomatic agreement, duly negotiated between the government of the United States and the Taliban, that all U.S. forces would be out of Afghanistan by May 1, 2021, just three months after my inauguration,” Biden said.

“It is perhaps not what I would have negotiated myself, but it was an agreement made by the United States government, and that means something. So, in keeping with that agreement and with our national interests, the United States will begin our final withdrawal — begin it on May 1 of this year.”

Prior to 2017, what Biden said would have been uncontroversial. Foreign policy agreements cut by previous administrations get respected by the next administration.

You’re not negotiating with a Democratic or Republican president; you’re negotiating with an American president.

But then came Trump, who tore up Barack Obama’s Iran nuclear deal and pulled out of the Paris climate agreement — all raising the question whether foreign governments and entities should even negotiate with the United States if the next president can scuttle the deal.

With his comments yesterday, Biden tried to turn Trump into a historical outlier and send a message to China, Russia and Iran that you can’t play one party’s president against the other party.

Or can you?

We won’t know if Trump is the outlier until the next Republican president. Will our country have partisan foreign-policy deals that can be undone by a successor of the other party? Or American deals that endure?

Blinken makes surprise visit to Afghanistan

Speaking of Afghanistan, “Secretary of State Antony Blinken landed in Afghanistan on Thursday for a surprise visit less than 24 hours after President Joe Biden announced the full withdrawal of U.S. forces from the country by Sept. 11 of this year,” per NBC News.

“While in Kabul, Blinken met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of the country's High Council for National Reconciliation.”

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

$4.1 million: The amount raised by Democratic Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe in the first quarter.

$1.8 million: The amount raised by Jennifer Carroll Foy in the first quarter.

About 37,000: The number of investors defrauded by Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. Madoff died in prison yesterday at 82.

More than 20: The number of Russian entities that will be blacklisted under new U.S. sanctions

13: The number of justices that would be on the Supreme Court under new progressive legislation to be introduced by a group of Democrats.

43 percent: The share of Republicans who say they won’t get a vaccine if they can avoid it.

31,561,946: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 80,421 more than yesterday morning.)

568,426: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far, per the most recent data from NBC News. (That’s 901 more than yesterday morning.)

194,791,836: Number of vaccine doses administered in the U.S.

20.8 percent: The share of Americans who are fully vaccinated

14: The number of days left for Biden to reach his 100-day vaccination goal.

Tweet of the day

Talking policy with Benjy: Why a bipartisan deal on infrastructure looks unlikely

A moderate group of Republicans is set to potentially offer an infrastructure plan of their own this week — with the hopes of enticing Democrats to the table. But if you want to see why the White House is so lukewarm on bipartisanship right now, take a look at how they want to pay for it.

Republicans oppose raising corporate taxes, Biden’s preferred pay-for. So Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., appearing on CNBC, suggested they might offer a smaller $600 to $800 billion plan funded by other means. One possibility Sen. Mitt Romney floated to reporters: user fees like a gas tax, which has traditionally paid for highway maintenance, but not been raised in decades to keep up with inflation. Another idea with some GOP interest in the House and Senate is supplementing or replacing that tax with a “vehicle miles traveled” charge that accounts for the ongoing transition toward electric vehicles.

There’s a credible policy case for a VMT or gas tax increase, but politically it doesn’t have much to offer Democrats. Two surveys this week found voters not only support Biden’s infrastructure proposal, they like it even more once they hear it’s paid for by corporate taxes.

At the same time, Republicans outside the negotiations are eagerly telegraphing how they plan to run against their proposed pay-fors. A strategy memo by Senate Republicans on how to oppose Biden’s plan cited polling showing opposition to a gas tax. When members of the Biden administration even mentioned a gas tax or VMT as a hypothetical, Senator Rick Scott, who chairs the NRSC this cycle, leapt to attack them in press releases and interviews.

In short, Republicans are (potentially) offering Biden less money, a less popular tax, and the opportunity to get deluged with negative ads citing their own ideas courtesy of their colleagues in exchange for a (possible) sheen of bipartisanship. For the White House, it was a no-brainer: They ruled out a gas tax on Tuesday in response to reports Biden discussed it with Republicans.

As has been a recurring theme, President Obama’s experience looms in the background. In 2013, Republicans pushed President Obama to limit the growth of Social Security benefits to jumpstart bipartisan budget talks. But as soon as he backed the idea, the House GOP campaign chair took to CNN to decry his “shocking attack on seniors.” No deal emerged and progressives were enraged it was even discussed. Biden seems reluctant to get baited into similar concessions when his own plan is still on track.

Virginia’s air war heats up

Jennifer Carroll Foy is the second Democratic Virginia gubernatorial candidate to hit the TV airwaves, up with an introductory spot with a heavy health care focus. The state delegate's campaign describes it as a “six-figure buy” in the Norfolk and Richmond markets.

Carroll Foy, who hopes to consolidate support as the anti-Terry McAuliffe alternative, joins the former governor and frontrunner in the ad wars; McAuliffe been up with his first TV ad — focused on criminal justice and felon voting rights — since last week.

On the Republican side, self-funder Glenn Youngkin has been on the airwaves with several spots, including a traditional bio piece and a recent March Madness bit featuring “out-there socialist ideas” competing in NCAA-style brackets.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

Even though troops may be leaving, American spy agencies and allies are planning to continue to exert force in Afghanistan remotely.

Mitch McConnell is instructing his fellow Republicans to publicly praise Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin.

A Texas bill would target parents for consenting to some medical treatments for their children seeking to transition. (And the Florida House has also passed a controversial transgender sports ban.)

A House panel has advanced a bill that would create a commission to study reparations.

Who is Brooklyn Center mayor Mike Elliott?