House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday joined the chorus of U.S. officials condemning Reps. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., and Peter Meijer, R-Mich., for secretly flying to Kabul in the middle of ongoing efforts to evacuate thousands of Americans and refugees following the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan.
"This is deadly serious," Pelosi said during her weekly press conference on Capitol Hill. "We do not want members to go."
The House speaker said she has not spoken to either of the lawmakers since their return and is not sure whether the unauthorized visit would affect committee assignments.
"It was not, in my view, a good idea," Pelosi added.
The surprise trip by the lawmakers Tuesday angered the State Department, Defense Department and White House, prompting Pelosi to issue a letter warning members of Congress to "not travel to Afghanistan and the region during this time of danger."
"Ensuring the safe and timely evacuation of individuals at risk requires the full focus and attention of the U.S. military and diplomatic teams on the ground in Afghanistan," she wrote.
According to multiple reports, U.S. military personnel found out about the visit as the legislators’ aircraft was inbound to the airport in Kabul, where tens of thousands of Americans and Afghans have traveled in the hopes of being evacuated. According to the Pentagon, approximately 19,000 people were evacuated from Kabul on more than 40 U.S. military flights in the past 24 hours.
Critics said that Moulton and Meijer, both of whom are Iraq War veterans, could have taken seats that would otherwise have gone to other Americans or Afghans fleeing the country.
But in a joint statement, the congressmen said they made sure to leave on a flight with empty seats.
"As Members of Congress, we have a duty to provide oversight on the executive branch," Moulton and Meijer said in their statement. "We conducted this visit in secret, speaking about it only after our departure, to minimize the risk and disruption to the people on the ground, and because we were there to gather information, not to grandstand."
The Pentagon is concerned about security in and around the airport in Kabul. The airport remains under the control of U.S. and allied forces, while the rest of the city fell to the Taliban less than two weeks ago.
President Biden said Tuesday that his administration is sticking to its Aug. 31 deadline for evacuating all Americans, Afghans who qualify for Special Immigrant Visas and their families.
Moulton and Meijer said they believe Biden should extend the deadline.
"After talking with commanders on the ground and seeing the situation here, it is obvious that because we started the evacuation so late, that no matter what we do, we won't get everyone out on time, even by September 11," they said.
At the Pentagon, spokesman John Kirby said officials there were not made aware of the congressmen's plans.
"We are obviously not encouraging VIP visits to a very tense and dangerous and dynamic situation at that airport and inside Kabul generally," Kirby said.
Their visit, he said, required some members of the military on the ground in Kabul to alter their plans in order to protect members of Congress.
"They certainly took time away from what we had been planning to do that day," Kirby said.
He added that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin "would have appreciated an opportunity to have a conversation before the visit took place."
At his own weekly press briefing, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy expressed sympathy for the lawmakers.
"They're veterans. They're frustrated," House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said. "Yes, it's not the best idea to go there, but I understand their frustration."
Caitlin Dickson contributed reporting to this story.
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