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Biden faces the most perilous moment of his presidency so far

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.
President Biden Departs White House For Pennsylvania
President Biden walks from the Oval Office to board Marine One on July 28, 2021.Anna Moneymaker / Getty Images

WASHINGTON — President Biden on Monday defended the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, blamed Afghan security forces for the Taliban’s takeover of the country, but also admitted that the takeover happened faster than he anticipated.

And now comes the hard part for the president: He’s got to withstand what promises to be a rough and messy next six weeks.

The fallout from Afghanistan is part of the challenge. Can the administration get more Afghan allies out of the country? Are there violent videos and images that become fixtures in the U.S. news? What about security threats tied to the new regime? And can Biden keep Democrats united — not on why the U.S. withdrew from Afghanistan, but how it withdrew?

Then there’s the upcoming 20th anniversary of 9/11, which will obviously get tied into the unfolding story in Afghanistan.

Next comes the Sept. 14 California gubernatorial recall against Gov. Gavin Newsom, which Democrats should win, but which also has become a lot closer than originally expected.

There’s the situation at the border, where the monthly number of detained migrants in July was at its highest level in 21 years.

Then comes the tricky two-track infrastructure/reconciliation talks, where Biden and Democratic leaders are walking an ideological and procedural tightrope to pass an agenda that they see as key to the upcoming midterms.

And last but not least, you have the surging Delta variant of the coronavirus, which is weighing on the returns to school and work, the economic recovery and the country’s divides over vaccines and masks.

Biden can definitely survive all of these challenges. But it won’t be pretty.

And the question we have is what the president and his party look like after it all.

Especially as we enter the home stretch of Virginia’s gubernatorial contest — and the real start of the 2022 political season.

The competency question

Back to Biden’s speech yesterday — politically, he probably made the best argument he could have given the circumstances.

If he retreated on his Afghanistan withdrawal, he would have shown weakness. So that’s why he blamed Afghans for the Taliban takeover and for their inability to leave their country earlier.

And it’s why he focused his remarks on why the U.S. is leaving Afghanistan instead of how it’s leaving the country.

But the danger for Biden here is on competency.

The core reason he’s president today is that more voters thought he could get the job done — on the coronavirus, on foreign policy, on dealing with allies — better than his predecessor could.

Yet the chaos and disorder out of Afghanistan could hurt him when it comes to competency.

Tweet of the day

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

640: The number of Afghan evacuees on board a military plane that fled Afghanistan, according to Defense One’s account of the rescue mission.

3: The number of storm systems threatening Haiti (which is still reeling from last weekend’s devastating hurricane) and the southeastern United States.

575,897 acres: The current estimated size of the Dixie Fire, per the Redding Record Searchlight.

36,989,786: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials.

625,955: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far, per the most recent data from NBC News.

357,292,057: The number of vaccine doses administered in the U.S., per the CDC.

50.8 percent: The share of all Americans who are fully vaccinated, per the CDC.

61.8 percent: The share of all American adults at least 18 years of age who are fully vaccinated, per CDC.

Virginia Governor: Youngkin plays “defund the police” card

In Virginia’s gubernatorial contest, Republican Glenn Youngkin is out with a new TV ad linking Democrat Terry McAuliffe to “defund the police” advocates in his party.

"Crime in Virginia is skyrocketing. The murder rate is at a 20-year high,” the ad goes. “Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe is running again, but how can he keep us safe? His record as governor — murder jumped 43 percent, and now he refuses to even meet with Virginia police officers. Instead, he's touting endorsements by extreme left-wing groups that want to defund the police, abolish ICE and close prisons.”

The McAuliffe camp responded to the Youngkin ad with this statement: "We know Glenn struggles with it, so here's the truth: As governor, Terry McAuliffe made Virginia the fourth safest state in the nation. He put in place one of the toughest laws in the country to combat domestic violence, and he has released a detailed plan to keep Virginians safe, including keeping guns out of dangerous hands. Glenn Youngkin's right-wing agenda would only make Virginia less safe — he's bragged about opposing any common-sense gun safety measures, and the Washington Post says his Trumpian economic plan would defund the police.”

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

Federal health officials are expected to recommend people receive a Covid vaccine booster eight months after their second dose.

The Taliban is claiming that there will be a general “amnesty” in Afghanistan and want women to join the government, as many Afghans are trying to flee the country out of fear of reprisal for their views or past work with the American government.

Members of Congress are pressuring the Biden administration to speed up the evacuations from Afghanistan.

The Las Vegas Raiders are the first NFL team to require all fans attending home games to be vaccinated for Covid.

A New York man has pleaded guilty to threatening to kill Georgia Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock.

Texas requests five mortuary trailers in anticipation of Covid deaths.