Hagerty Delivers Remarks Recognizing the Work of Congressional Staff Amid Afghanistan Crisis

September 22, 2021

WASHINGTON—United States Senator Bill Hagerty (R-TN) yesterday delivered remarks on the Senate floor recognizing the work of congressional staff amid the Biden Administration’s botched withdrawal from Afghanistan to assist Americans seeking to evacuate last month.

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Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

Madam President, from the moment that President Biden announced the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan in April, the people of the United States—after two decades of war—had hoped to mark the end of our presence in Afghanistan with a secure and orderly exit, and with our honor intact.

As we all know, what ensued proved to be the opposite.  Hubris fueled the Administration to proceed with a flawed exit plan from Afghanistan.  They allowed a calendar to dictate our withdrawal rather than the conditions on the ground.  Loss of life and humiliation have been the result, with our allies and partners openly questioning the resolve and competency of the United States.

Those harrowing images—of Afghan teenagers falling from the sky after clinging to a U.S. military plane as it took off from Kabul airport, complete chaos at the Kabul Airport, and the loss of 13 U.S. service members, including Staff Sgt. Knauss—would compel any reasonable person to ask why events had to unfold in this manner.

Against the operational failure in Afghanistan and this loss of credibility abroad, we are fortunate in knowing the people of the United States still retain that unique spirit—that American desire to come to the aid of others in need.

Those Americans stranded in Afghanistan, former Afghan interpreters who stood with our military, Afghan women and girls who worked with our aid organizations—these people needed our help, and our service members, diplomats, aid workers, and journalists all deserve recognition and credit for their sacrifice as they attempted to help.

I want to take this opportunity to highlight another group of Americans who rarely receive the public recognition that they deserve for their role in Afghanistan:  the staff here in the Senate.  These staffers shun the spotlight and dedicate their craft to represent the interests of our constituents.

When it became clear that the Administration was failing in Afghanistan, Congressional staffers across Capitol Hill—from both parties in Washington, and in state offices and district offices rose to the challenge.  These staffers helped with a modern-day “Digital Dunkirk” operation and were united in the common cause of helping stranded Americans and Afghan allies.  Many of them sprung to action instinctively and in an instant, almost as if they’d been on call, like a doctor or a firefighter, immediately ready to help mitigate the effects of this crisis.

Some of those who did this work serve on my staff. 

Bobby Zarate—my national security advisor—spent countless hours engaging with counterparts in the State Department, communicating with Active duty military and veterans, including some on the ground in Afghanistan, and fielding requests from all corners to expedite cases of American citizens and allies in Afghanistan.  Kevin Kim, a fellow in my office from the State Department, Rachel Leong, a legislative correspondent, and Bonny Warren, a caseworker in my Cookeville office, were right there too, every step of the way.  For their work on behalf of folks in need, I want to thank them for all they have done and continue to do.

I imagine many of my colleagues here in the Senate have similar stories—their own Bobbys, Kevins, Rachels, and Bonnys helping those in need.  For the totality of their work, we—the elected members of the Senate—owe them recognition.

Madam President, I am honored to describe the role that my office played and is continuing to play in rescuing Americans from Afghanistan, but it didn’t have to be this way, and I hope for the sake of our government and our country, that it is never this way again.

Madam President, I yield the floor.