Updated 4:15 p.m. | Speaker John A. Boehner kicked off the two-week congressional recess with a visit to Afghanistan to observe the historic presidential election there.
According to a statement and press release from the Ohio Republican’s office Monday morning, datelined from Kabul, Boehner was accompanied by Education and the Workforce Chairman John Kline, R-Minn.; Natural Resources Chairman Doc Hastings, R-Wash.; Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich.; and National Republican Campaign Committee Chairman Greg Walden, R-Ore.
Also in attendance were some of the Speaker's friends and allies: Republican Reps. Tom Latham of Iowa, Devin Nunes of California and Steve Womack of Arkansas.
House GOP leadership aides could not shed light on why this particular "Gang of Eight" had been assembled -- it could just be that Boehner wanted to bring lawmakers with whom he has a good rapport. Participation by some members, however, made special sense. Nunes has expressed interest in succeeding retiring Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee in the 114th Congress, and Latham and Womack sit on the Homeland Security and Defense Appropriations Subcommittees, respectively.
Womack posted photos on his Facebook page documenting the trip.
“The group met with American troops stationed in Afghanistan, as well as Ambassador James B. Cunningham and General Joseph F. Dunford,” according to an official readout of the visit. “The delegation sent a strong, unequivocal message that the House of Representatives wants to maintain a right-sized presence in Afghanistan to successfully complete the work that has been done to date, and to honor the sacrifice of thousands of troops and civilians, as well as their families.
“Discussions focused on the impact of the election, the role of American troops going forward, and the continuing economic development of Afghanistan. The visit to Afghanistan is one stop on a trip that focuses on national security, as well as American jobs,” the readout continued.
Boehner spokesman Kevin Smith confirmed early on Monday that the delegation had already departed from Afghanistan, but per security protocol could provide no other information about the trip itinerary.
In an e-mail to CQ Roll Call later in the afternoon, Smith said that Boehner's most recent visit underscored his commitment to seeing the country thrive and prosper under a democratically elected government, plus he suggested that the House's top Republican would continue to pay close attention to developments in the region in the coming months:
"He believes we cannot allow Afghanistan to return to what it once was, a save haven for al Qaeda from which to plot and execute attacks on Americans and our allies. He believes the gains and accomplishments of our troops and our allies has made our country safer. And he believes it is critical that we reach a bilateral security agreement with the Afghan government before the end of the year to ensure we have sufficient military presence to complete the work that we started, and ensure that the gains we have made are not jeopardized like they have been in Iraq."This most recent visit marks the fourth time Boehner has traveled to Afghanistan, and his second time as speaker. Previous trips occurred in 2007, 2009 and 2011.
Boehner has broached the subject of Afghanistan with President Barack Obama as recently as February , when the two men met in the Oval Office to discuss a variety of issues.
Boehner released the following statement on Monday morning:
“Since shortly after 9/11, our troops have fought to bring peace and security to Afghanistan and to ensure it can never again be used as a safe haven for terrorists to attack the United States. Many Americans have sacrificed to secure these goals, and far too many have made the ultimate sacrifice or suffered life-changing wounds in the past twelve years of fighting. Now, the Afghans are poised to elect a new government for the first time in their history. We must honor the sacrifices of the Americans and Afghans who have given so much to reach this point and continue our work together. I appreciated hearing from Ambassador Cunningham and General Dunford about the status of those efforts. More than that, it was an honor to meet with so many members of the American Armed Forces and civilians who work to protect our nation every day. I thank them all for their service and hope that political leaders in Washington and Kabul will always prove worthy of their trust.”