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Photo: Boris Roessler/picture alliance via Getty Images

Secretary of State Antony Blinken can expect the most aggressive questioning of his career when he testifies Monday before the House Foreign Affairs Committee and on Tuesday before Senate Foreign Relations.

Why it matters: Republicans see the hearings as their first chance to directly confront a top-ranking Biden official about the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. Democrats see it as a moment in which they must reject GOP efforts to blame President Biden for 20 years of bipartisan mistakes.

The big picture: We spoke to lawmakers and staff about what they plan to ask.

Republicans say they'll demand to know exactly how many Americans and allies remain stranded in Afghanistan, following the latest evacuations and persistent obstacles — and how specifically the U.S. plans to get them out.

  • They want to know the specific breakdown of those who have gotten out (special visa holders, "at risk" individuals, etc.) and the vetting process for the crush of evacuees who were airlifted.
  • Expect them to raise concerns about convicted criminals or members of terrorist watch lists among the evacuees — and to cite a particularly harrowing AP story about "child brides" trafficked to the U.S. during the chaos.
  • They'll use viral images of Taliban fighters donning U.S. military gear and flying Black Hawk helicopters to hammer Blinken on how the U.S. will deal with an arsenal now controlled by the Taliban. The Pentagon insists equipment left at Kabul airport was "demilitarized" and "unusable," but it's clear that's not the case across the country.

If and how the U.S. recognizes the Taliban government is a key question now that an acting Cabinet in Afghanistan has been formed — one with the leader of the al-Qaeda-linked Haqqani network and an FBI-wanted terrorist as interior minister.

  • GOP members will highlight the administration's downplaying of the Taliban's links to terrorist networks and reliance on the Taliban for security cooperation. They will pressure Blinken to prevent the Taliban from ever accessing more than $9 billion in frozen Afghan assets in the U.S. financial system.

The other side: Democrats will point to the peace deal the Trump administration negotiated with the Taliban and cite Donald Trump's own boast in June: "I started the process, all the troops are coming home. [Biden] couldn’t stop the process."

  • "My No. 1 question for Secretary Blinken: Can you describe for us now the detailed and well-considered plan prepared by the Trump administration for how we would get out of Afghanistan in an orderly way?" Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) told Axios in an interview.
  • "Let's face it, this mission was fraught with peril, because there's no way to flee without causing a stampede, and there's no way to have a stampede that's orderly and meritorious," he added.
  • One Democratic source told Axios that Republicans "are making this as much of a Benghazi as they possibly can." The source said that as Democrats see it, "this is not Jan. 6. This is an examination into U.S. policy toward a country in a 20-year war."

For the record: State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement that Blinken "has prioritized engagement with Congress from his first days" in office, including in recent Afghanistan briefings and calls, and that he "appreciates the opportunity to testify."

Go deeper

Some Jan. 6 witnesses spill for investigators

Rep. Bennie Thompson, chairman of the Jan. 6 Select Committee. Photo: Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Steve Bannon's refusal to comply with a subpoena from the Jan. 6 Select Committee overshadows the fact that other key witnesses are providing reams of evidence to investigators.

Why it matters: Four years of investigative stonewalling by the Trump administration had a demoralizing effect on Democrats, leaving the impression congressional accountability is a pipe dream. The quiet compliance shows a committee investigation is still feared — and has some clout.

Texas House probes school library books dealing with race and sexuality

Photo: Brittany Murray/MediaNews Group/Long Beach Press-Telegram via Getty Images

Texas state Rep. Matt Krause (R), chair of the Texas House Committee on General Investigating, announced Wednesday that he's initiating a probe into schools' library books, according to a letter sent to the state's education agency and other superintendents.

Why it matters: The probe focuses on books that discuss race, sexuality, or "make students feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of their race or sex," Krause wrote in the letter.

5 hours ago - World

Iran agrees to resume Vienna nuclear talks in November

Ali Bagheri (R) with Enrique Mora in Tehran on Oct. 14. Photo: Iranian Foreign Ministry handout via Getty

Iran's new chief nuclear negotiator said following a meeting in Brussels on Wednesday that Iran would resume negotiations in Vienna before the end of November, with the exact date to be set next week.

Why it matters: The Vienna talks have been frozen since Iran's new hardline president, Ebrahim Raisi, was elected in June. This is the most direct commitment from Raisi's government to return to the negotiating table.