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Biden says Hurricane Ian may rank 'among the worst' in US history

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- With Hurricane Ian lashing the southeast U.S. after leaving a path of destruction in Florida, President Joe Biden provided a detailed update Friday on his administration's response to the devastating storm, calling it now "an American crisis."

Hurricane Ian made landfall in Florida as a Category 4 storm on Wednesday, breaking rainfall and storm surge records as it left Fort Myers, Naples and other coastal cities underwater. Ian on Friday made landfall in South Carolina as a Category 1 storm just after 2:00 p.m.

"I've directed that every possible action be taken to save lives and get help for the survivors," Biden said as he spoke from the White House Roosevelt Room. "Every single minute counts. It's not just a crisis for Florida. It's an American crisis. We're all in this together."

The president said he continued his talks with Florida GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday morning, reiterating the federal government's commitment to help his state recover from the storm.

"We're just beginning to see the scale of that destruction," Biden said. "It is likely to rank among the worst in the nation's history. You have all seen on television, homes and property wiped out. It is going to take months, years to rebuild."

Biden didn't paint as grim a picture on the death toll as he did on Thursday, when he said early reports indicated "substantial loss of life" and said Hurricane Ian could be the "deadliest hurricane in Florida's history."

DeSantis said Friday morning the number of dead from Ian is at least 21, and that it's expected to grow. For now, the governor said 20 of those deaths are unconfirmed because they were spotted during search and rescue operations and crews were told to prioritize those found alive and still trapped.

Biden emphasized the work of search and rescue teams, stating he deployed the largest team in recent history along with the U.S. Coast Guard's six fixed-wing aircrafts, 18 rescue boats and 16 rescue helicopters.

"Working with the Defense Department, National Guard, state and local first responders, they've rescued 117 people in southwest Florida coast, in Fort Myers and Naples so far," Biden said.

Among the missions, Biden said, was rescuing a 94-year-old woman who was hoisted up into a helicopter. The rescue teams also reported saving a 1-month-old baby.

Four more Florida counties will be covered by disaster assistance to cover 100% of the cost to clear the debris left by the hurricane, bringing the total number of counties receiving the aid to 13.

Biden also spoke about the effort to restore power to the millions of Floridians still without electricity on Friday morning. He said 44,000 utility workers and restoration personnel from 33 states are "working around the clock to help get power back on."

Biden also spoke with South Carolina GOP Gov. Henry McMaster as the storm approached, again offering support as Ian brings potentially "life-threatening" storm surge to the state. Biden approved an emergency declaration for South Carolina late Thursday evening.

During his update Friday, Biden spoke about the need for unity when responding to these extreme weather events.

Biden and DeSantis have appeared to bury the hatchet as they've coordinated this week to respond to Hurricane Ian. The two leaders are political opponents on a number of issues, most recently sparring over DeSantis' migrant flights.

"At times like these, Americans come together, they put aside politics, they put aside division and we come together to help each other," Biden said.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


How Natural Disasters Can Change A Politician

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(WASHINGTON) -- In September 2017, Hurricane Irma swept across the southern tip of Florida, swamping what was then the state’s 26th Congressional District. The following July, that district’s Republican representative, Carlos Curbelo, introduced a bill that would tax greenhouse-gas emissions to help reduce the impact of climate change on his hurricane-prone constituency. Curbelo’s party affiliation raised eyebrows at the time, but for him, the threat of recurrent disasters sent political partisanship out the window. “This is not an academic discussion for those of us who live in South Florida. This is a local issue,” he told Audubon magazine in 2018.

And he’s not alone. Today, although some one-quarter of elected officials walking the halls of Congress don’t believe human-caused climate change is even real, research suggests that politicians can be persuaded to take action on climate change and other environmental issues. Unfortunately, it might take a headline-grabbing hurricane to do it. In the past decade, several studies have suggested that lawmakers are more likely to take action on climate change when they — and their constituents — have had to deal with the disastrous consequences of previously doing nothing. 

From the 1969 Cuyahoga River fire that led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency to the 1990 Oil Pollution Act that was born out of a series of oil spills, most notably from the Exxon Valdez, a long history of environmental disasters have inspired improvements in environmental policy, said M. Daniele Paserman, an economist at Boston University. 

“Disasters make environmental problems more salient,” he said. Paserman’s research has found that, between 1989 and 2014, congresspeople from districts hit by a hurricane were more likely to sponsor or co-sponsor environmental regulatory bills in the following year. And he’s not the only one who has noticed similar correlations. According to another study, which looked at abnormal temperature and precipitation trends between 2004 and 2011, members of Congress whose home states were experiencing weird weather were more likely to vote for all kinds of environmental legislation. More broadly, international research from 34 countries found that nuclear disasters increased the number of renewable-energy policies implemented for as long as seven years after the event. 

This line of research is relatively new and the number of studies relatively thin. But all of this builds on a larger question that has been studied more in depth: how personally experiencing the effects of climate change shape belief and behavior in the general public. 

A 2021 review of existing literature discovered ample evidence that living through a natural disaster is associated with higher levels of self-reported belief that climate change is a problem and a greater concern about what this might do to you and your family. Our own polling with Ipsos earlier this month showed something similar. Even among Republicans, nearly half of those who had experienced an extreme weather event in the past five years told us they were worried about climate change, compared with only 17 percent who hadn’t experienced a natural disaster.

But there are limits to the ability of a disaster to prevent future calamities. For one thing, the same review paper that showed increased belief in climate change didn’t find a corresponding increase in behaviors that would deal with that issue. And changes in belief are still heavily moderated by what people already think. For example, in a 2019 survey of people who experienced severe flooding in the United Kingdom during the winter of 2013-14, the ones who walked away with the highest levels of concern about climate change were those who had already attributed floods to global warming. 

So, it probably shouldn’t be a shock that the much smaller number of papers looking at how politicians might change their behavior in the face of climate change comes with its own set of caveats and complications. Studies have indicated that only countries with strong democracies see an increase in climate policy following climate disasters. And Paserman’s study found that the effects were tightly linked to proximity to the disaster. Even lawmakers who served in the same state where a hurricane occurred but whose districts were unaffected weren’t as likely to step up for political change. 

And while that paper found that politicians who experienced climate disasters were more likely to push for climate policies regardless of party, a different study — the one that showed abnormal temperature and precipitation trends were correlated with representatives’ environmental votes — found that party did matter. Moderate Democrats made the biggest shift toward more environmental-policy support, said Erich Muehlegger, an economist at the University of California, Davis, and an author on that paper. “We didn’t find much of a result for Republicans, nor did we find much of a result for the more strident Democrats, though that might be due to the fact that they were always voting for environmental regulations,” he said. “You can’t become more pro-environment if you were already on top of all those issues.” 

It’s going to take a lot more research to fully understand why politicians sometimes change their policy in the face of climate disaster and sometimes don’t. Meanwhile, just because lawmakers are responding to natural disasters with environmental votes doesn’t mean they aren’t seeing other, seedier kinds of legislative opportunities from the same event. Ethan Kaplan, an economist at University of Maryland, College Park, and his colleagues found that politicians are likely to use the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster to push through votes favoring the concerns of special-interest donors when nobody is paying attention. That’s not a contradiction to the idea that disaster could prompt politicians to take action on climate change. Instead, Kaplan said, the two things can run parallel. A disaster can create a distraction for donors’ goals in the short term, even as it prompts greater environmental policies in the long run. 

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Government shutdown averted after House, Senate pass funding bill

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(WASHINGTON) -- A bill to avert a federal government shutdown passed the House on Friday, just hours before the midnight deadline.

The House voted 230-201 to pass the stopgap legislation, which will keep the government funded through mid-December -- past the midterm elections.

The bill now heads to President Joe Biden's desk. He'll need to sign it before the end of the day Friday to avert a shutdown.

The Senate voted 72-25 to advance the legislation on Thursday afternoon after some stumbles earlier this week over energy permitting reform.

The legislation moved forward after Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., agreed to drop the provision -- which was opposed by some progressives and most Republicans -- from the continuing resolution. All 25 "no" votes came from the GOP side of the aisle.

The bill includes an additional $12 billion in military and economic aid for Ukraine, $1 billion in heating and utility assistance for low-income families, $20 million in response to the water crisis in Jackson, Mississippi, and includes a five-year reauthorization for Food and Drug Administration user fees.

The measure also includes money for Federal Emergency Management Agency's main disaster relief fund, an infusion that comes amid Hurricane Ian's leveling of southwest Florida and after Hurricane Fiona's devastation on Puerto Rico.

In floor remarks just before the vote, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., highlighted some of the emergency appropriations included on the bill, including aid for Ukraine and to assist with the water crisis in Jackson, Mississippi. She also highlighted a relatively small amount of funding that could be immediately deployed to assist with Hurricane Ian recovery effort, but noted that even more funds will likely be needed.

"This legislation is a package for the people. I urge a strong bipartisan yes on the continuing resolution so that we may swiftly send this bill to the President's desk," Pelosi said on the floor.

What's not included in the legislation is the billions of dollars the White House requested to continue its COVID-19 response. The Biden administration requested $22.4 billion for vaccines, treatments and next-generation research.

"This legislation avoids a very bad thing -- shutting down the government -- and does a lot of good things: money for the people of Ukraine, funding for communities reeling from natural disasters, aid to families with their heating bills, just to name a few," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said just before the vote.

"Millions and millions of people can breathe easy," Schumer added.

Republicans tried to get the continuing resolution to lapse early next year, rather than mid-December, in the hopes that the GOP will gain control of the House after the November midterm elections.

Sen. Schumer announced Thursday that the Senate will not return for its next vote until Nov. 14, giving members time to campaign in their home states from now until Election Day.

When the Senate returns for the lame duck session, it will have a hefty to-do list to tackle. Members will have to pass the National Defense Authorization Act, fund the government, confirm nominees and potentially take up legislation to protect same sex marriage.

Schumer warned of an "extremely busy" final two months of the calendar year.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Ketanji Brown Jackson appears with John Roberts after Supreme Court investiture

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(WASHINGTON) -- Ketanji Brown Jackson descended the Supreme Court's marble steps for the first time as justice on Friday morning, flanked by Chief Justice John Roberts and with a smile on her face, appearing to soak up her momentous, history-making installation as the 116th member of the court.

Jackson has already been sworn in and begun participating in cases, but on Friday she was feted with the investiture celebration in the historic courtroom, alongside her peer justices and a gallery full of friends, family and supporters, including President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.

Jackson sat in the same chair used by Chief Justice John Marshall in the 19th century as she was formally introduced to the court.

For the first time in the Supreme Court's 233-year history, a majority of the justices are not white men and it's the first time four women are serving together on the court. Jackson is the first Black woman to serve as a justice on the court.

Nearly every seat in the courtroom on Friday was filled, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and past Supreme Court justices, including Stephen Breyer and Anthony Kennedy, also in attendance, as well as Jackson's husband, Dr. Patrick Jackson, and two daughters, Leila and Talia.

After the ceremony, Jackson and Roberts were photographed together on the marble steps of the court. Four months after the same courthouse plaza was wrapped in steel security fencing and buffeted with angry protestors, Jackson and Roberts stood together quietly looking out at the horizon and a new day for this embattled court.

Jackson was tapped by Biden to fill the seat vacated by Breyer. After nearly 24 hours of questioning from senators in, at times contentious and emotional, Senate hearings, she was confirmed by the chamber in a 53-47 vote in early April.

Speaking at the White House the day after her confirmation, Jackson highlighted the historic nature of her appointment, noting the thousands of notes she received from people after her nomination.

"It has taken 232 years and 115 prior appointments for a Black woman to be selected to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States," she said. "But we've made it. We've made it, all of us. All of us."

Jackson was officially sworn in on June 30. Her husband held two Bibles as she repeated constitutional and judicial oaths in a brief ceremony at the Supreme Court.

"With a full heart, I accept the solemn responsibility of supporting and defending the Constitution of the United States and administering justice without fear or favor, so help me God," Jackson said in a written statement at the time of her swearing-in. "I am truly grateful to be part of the promise of our great Nation."

The entire court will sit for new pooled official photos on Oct 7.

The court begins hearing cases in the new term on Monday, Oct. 3. This term, for the first since the coronavirus pandemic, the court will welcome the public back to its courtroom as it hears arguments.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Race to November: Dr. Oz lays out his platform as Senate race heats up

ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- With just a little over a month before the Nov. 8 elections, Dr. Mehmet Oz tells ABC News that he is gearing up for a tight campaign schedule as he tries to convince Pennsylvania voters that he's the best choice for their U.S. Senator.

Oz laid out more specifics of his agenda and responded to criticism by his opponent, Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, in a wide-ranging interview and run with ABC News' Linsey Davis.

Oz, a former heart surgeon turned TV talk show host, said he decided to run for office because of the legacy he has as a first-generation American. The GOP candidate said that his father, who immigrated to the U.S. from Turkey, instilled in him pride in his adopted land and encouraged him to work hard.

"My life is a living testimony to the American dream," he told Davis. "I want everyone to have that, and I don't want that getting squandered away."

Oz's residency has come into question from Fetterman and other opponents who have noted that Oz moved to Pennsylvania in 2020 after residing in New Jersey. Fetterman has frequently brought up this point in social media posts.

Oz pushed back against the criticism, calling the residency complaints a "preposterous issue."

"I had two kids in Pennsylvania, married my wife 37 years ago in the house we live in now, which was the best decision I made in my life, and we moved back couple of years ago," he said.

"It's a deeper reality that, in Pennsylvania, we don't care where you're from. We care what you stand for," Oz added.

Oz added that he was a Philadelphia Eagles fan.

The Republican candidate said his first priority as a senator would be health care. Oz said every American should have access to health care but added, "we've got to deal with the cost issues as well."

When asked if he supported U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham's bill to ban abortion nationwide, Oz, who has supported banning abortions with exceptions for lifesaving instances, didn't directly answer but reiterated his stance that the issue should be left up to the states.

"I don't think the federal government should play a role in telling states how to make decisions around some of these issues, especially sensitive ones like those involving the pro-life movement," he said.

Health has come up in the campaign after Fetterman suffered a stroke in May.

Last month, Oz distanced himself from a comment made by one of his campaign staffers who was quoted saying that if Fetterman "had ever eaten a vegetable in his life, then maybe he wouldn't have had a major stroke and wouldn't be in the position of having to lie about it constantly."

Oz reiterated that he has empathy for Fetterman and his recovery.

"It's an area that I specialize in medicine, recovering from a stroke," he said. "All of these issues are challenges, especially if you're in the political arena, which is physically demanding, and you've got to articulate your thoughts on this campaign."

Oz, however, criticized his opponent for not having more facetime during the campaign. Fetterman has kept most of his campaigning online and with few public appearances since the stroke.

There is only one debate scheduled between the candidates on Oct. 25.

"Focus on the voters," Oz said. "They have a right to hear my opponent articulate and defend his policies."

Oz said he is focused on winning over all voters -- Republicans, Democrats and Independents. However, he has faced criticism for his ties to the far-right, but also from the far-right for not being conservative enough.

Oz was endorsed by Former President Donald Trump, but he has contended he wants to be a leader for all.

"I think I'm a moderate leader, but not passive. I feel very strongly about the positions I have," he said.

"Politics is a game of addition and multiplication, not division. I have lots of people endorsing me. Some of those people don't like President Trump. Many do. But I want everybody endorsing me," he added.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Ex-Trump adviser Tom Barrack's emails to Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump read aloud during trial

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(NEW YORK) -- Government prosecutors in the case of Tom Barrack on Thursday read aloud hundreds of emails and texts sent by the former Trump fundraiser, who is on trial at a federal courthouse in Brooklyn, New York, for allegedly illegally lobbying on behalf of the United Arab Emirates.

The hours-long recitation included messages to Donald Trump's daughter Ivanka Trump, her husband Jared Kushner, and Trump's 2016 campaign manager, Paul Manafort.

Barrack, a billionaire California-based businessman and longtime Trump associate, has pleaded not guilty to charges that he acted as a foreign agent for the UAE from 2016 to 2018 and failed to register with Justice Department, which prosecutors say constitutes a crime. The government alleges that Barrack illegally lobbied on behalf of the UAE while seeking investments from two UAE sovereign wealth funds -- a charge his defense attorneys have dismissed as ridiculous.

"[The government's] accusations are nothing short of ridiculous. Tom Barrack was never under anybody's direction. Tom Barrack was never under anybody's control," said Michael Schachter, Barrack's attorney. "Tom Barrack was his own man [and] said things because he wanted to."

After several days of testimony, prosecutors on Thursday laid out communications from Barrack in an effort to prove their case. The messages largely focused on discussions surrounding an energy speech that Trump, who was then a presidential candidate, was set to deliver in early 2016.

Prosecutors have alleged that Barrack shared an early draft of the speech with UAE government officials for feedback, and then inserted language favorable to the UAE.

"Wow, I'm just stunned by how bad this is," Barrack wrote in an email to Manafort in May, 2016, upon receiving a new draft of the proposed energy speech that did not include his earlier additions praising the UAE. "We better figure out a way to get one paragraph to balance foreign policy concerns for energy dependent allies in the gulf."

"Send me an insert that will work for our friends. I will push to get it included," replied Manafort, who was later pardoned by Trump after being sentenced in 2019 to seven years in prison for charges related to special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. "This is easier than fighting to get the speech back to where it was."

According to emails presented by prosecutors, Barrack, seeking feedback, had first sent a draft of the speech to Rashid Al Malik, whom the government describes as a UAE national who is also charged alongside Barrack. Al Malik then forwarded the speech to a member of the UAE government, and after much back-and-forth, language praising the UAE was inserted.

"Here is my latest draft, I will give it to him tomorrow," Barrack wrote days later to Al Malik, in an email with the subject line "totally confidential." Amidst more back-and-forth that followed, Barrack pushed back on some suggestions, writing to his aide, Matthew Grimes -- who is also charged and has pleaded not guilty -- "do not include any of their other comments please."

On May 26, 2016, Trump delivered the speech -- which included a pledge to "work with our Gulf allies."

"Amazing speech!" Al Malik wrote to Barrack shortly thereafter.

"MBZ and MBS were watching," added Al Malik, referring to UAE President Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan and then-Deputy Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud.

Prosecutors also displayed emails from months before the speech, in which Barrack pushed to get Manafort hired by the Trump campaign.

"I think it's really, really important and Manafort is a genius killer [sic] but the opposite of [Trump adviser Roger] Stone," Barrack wrote in a Feb. 29, 2016, email to Ivanka Trump and Kushner.

Barrack also forwarded an email he had previously sent to Trump saying that Manafort was "the most serious and lethal of managers."

"Thank you for being such a great friend," Manafort emailed to Barrack after Manafort was hired as the campaign's GOP convention manager. No responses from Ivanka Trump or Kushner were included.

Other emails also appeared to show an effort by Barrack to prevent others from meeting with UAE officials. In early May, Barrack emailed Al Malik that a sheikh had "reached out to the Trump Organization to Jared ... to try and set up a meeting."

"I intercepted," Barrack wrote in the May 5, 2016, email, which prosecutors read as a picture of Kushner was displayed for the jury.

"I told him to cancel that is bulls---," Barrack wrote days later regarding a separate potential meeting.

Later, Barrack emailed Jared that the man he was supposed to meet with was a "mid level bureaucrat."

"You are the only direct channel to the candidate and no one else," Al Malik told Barrack in a later email.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Greg Abbott and Beto O'Rourke set to debate: What to expect

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(NEW YORK) -- On Friday -- for the first and only time -- Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott and his Democratic challenger, former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke, will meet face-to-face for a debate less than six weeks before Election Day.

Both candidates come to the stage with long political careers, well-known records and established public personas.

Abbott has been governor since 2015 -- the position has no term limits -- and was the state attorney general and a member of the Texas Supreme Court before that.

He has defined his tenure based in part on Texas' economic performance and also on his hardline stances on abortion access and on immigration across the southern border, saying he is focused on reducing the flow of drugs and human trafficking.

His Operation Lone Star, where state troopers and National Guard members patrol the Texas border with Mexico, was one such major initiative to address that. But it has drawn scrutiny both for its success -- given its price tag and given that migrant arrests remain at all-time highs -- and what the federal government suspects may be civil rights violations.

Abbott's office has said President Joe Biden's border policies are to blame and that criticism of Abbott's immigration policies amounted to "attacking the only state taking unprecedented actions to do the federal government's job."

More recently, Abbott has also been sending migrants from Texas via bus to Democratic-led cities such as Chicago, New York and Washington, drawing outcry there that he is using people as part of a political stunt. He said it is a necessary protest of the White House's border strategy.

O'Rourke, who is running to unseat him, is a former representative for El Paso and announced last fall that he would run for governor. He previously ran against Republican Sen. Ted Cruz but narrowly lost in 2018; he then went on to unsuccessfully seek the Democratic nomination for president in 2020.

The last Democratic governor to represent the Lone Star State was the late Ann Richards, from 1991 to 1995, leaving office after being defeated by George W. Bush.

Friday's debate may well focus on a handful of topics that that either been priorities or pitfalls for both candidates. Immigration, a perennial focus for voters in Texas, is likely to come up with each candidate pressing different points -- on how best to handle people who seek to cross the border. O'Rourke may also cite the state's power grid failure during deadly winter weather last year while Abbott could cite O'Rourke's embrace of gun law changes in a state where gun ownership is popular -- but which was also the site of the Uvalde school massacre in May.

Abortion, too, splits Abbott and O'Rourke, given that Abbott signed a ban on abortions without exceptions for rape or incest. (Abbott's website states that he wants to "defend the culture of life in Texas.")

Recent polls indicate that O'Rourke has more work to do with voters and may be on the defensive on some issues. FiveThirtyEight's analysis of the best polling shows Abbott with an approximately 7-point lead over O'Rourke.

According to a recent Quinnipiac University poll, the Texas-Mexico border ranks as the No. 1 issue among likely voters along with that group narrowly backing Abbott's migrant busing (51-47% approval). However, O'Rourke has a slight advantage over Abbott with Hispanic voters (49-48%).

O'Rourke has called his fluency in Spanish is a "competitive advantage."

Abbott, for his part, has downplayed the certainty of a close race: "This game ain't over yet, and we'll see how close it is when all is said and done," he said earlier this month.

Some O'Rourke supporters are optimistic.

"Beto has done the work on the ground," said Jen Ramos, a political specialist for Jolt Action. " He not only focused on South Texas communities and Latino communities before he even decided to run for the governorship but has made a key point on talking to voters that have not been spoken to historically, in any gubernatorial election."

The debate will begin Friday at 8 p.m. ET and will be telecast throughout the state and on Nexstar's national cable news network.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Ginni Thomas appears in person for interview with Jan. 6 committee

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(WASHINGTON) -- Ginni Thomas, the wife of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, appeared in person at the House Jan. 6 committee's offices on Thursday morning for a closed-door interview.

Cameras caught Ginni Thomas walking to the conference room around 9:30 a.m. Her meeting ended around 2 p.m.

The select committee investigating the U.S. Capitol attack has sought to question Ginni Thomas over her efforts to push state officials to reject the outcome of the 2020 election. She was also communicating with members of the White House, including President Donald Trump's last chief of staff, Mark Meadows, about efforts to overturn Trump's defeat.

Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said after Ginni Thomas was interviewed that she still believes the 2020 election was stolen and answered "some" questions -- but he wouldn't characterize what she answered or not.

Thompson later said she didn't decline to answer any questions while he was there, which he said was for one hour.

In her opening statement to the committee, a copy of which was obtained by ABC News, Ginni Thomas said she had long "been active in political/public policy work" -- but that her husband did not share her interests.

She said she didn't believe her husband's work was within the scope of the committee's investigation and that her husband had never spoken with her about pending cases before the high court.

"It's an iron-clad rule in our home," she told the committee, insisting that Justice Thomas "is independent and stubborn."

In his own statement, Ginni Thomas' attorney, Mark Paoletta, said she "answered all the Committee's questions" and "was happy to cooperate with the Committee to clear up the misconceptions about her activities surrounding the 2020 elections."

Ginni Thomas' political activism has been under scrutiny given her marriage to a Supreme Court justice and her efforts to undercut the last presidential race. Records obtained by ABC News earlier this year showed she emailed Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers and Arizona state Rep. Shawnna Bolick asking them to "fight back against fraud" in the days after the November 2020 election.

Her attorney reiterated in his statement on Thursday that she has "condemned the violence on January 6, as she abhors violence on any side of the aisle."

"As she has said from the outset, Mrs. Thomas had significant concerns about fraud and irregularities in the 2020 election," Paoletta contended. "And, as she told the Committee, her minimal and mainstream activity focused on ensuring that reports of fraud and irregularities were investigated. Beyond that, she played no role in any events after the 2020 election results."

Sources have previously said that it was unlikely that Ginni Thomas' interview would be played during the committee hearing originally scheduled for Wednesday. But since that hearing is now expected to be rescheduled for a later date, after Hurricane Ian hit Florida, it's possible clips from her sit-down could be seen publicly.

The committee hasn't formally announced a new date for the hearing, but Thompson has told reporters that he "doubts" it would be scheduled for next week.

He said members would meet to discuss a new date this week. Asked if it was possible the next hearing could be delayed until after the election, Thompson told ABC News, "I would think not, because we got a report to write."

Ginni Thomas' attorney confirmed last week she would be meeting with the committee.

The committee sent a letter to her requesting an interview in June, after revelations about emails that sources said she exchanged with right-wing lawyer John Eastman, whom the committee's described as a leader of the legal scheme to fraudulently overturn Trump's election loss.

The committee vice-chair, Wyoming Republican Rep. Liz Cheney, told CNN at the time that they were prepared to consider subpoenaing Ginni Thomas for an interview.

The Jan. 6 committee is expected to release a final report of its findings and recommendations later this year.

ABC News' Gabe Ferris contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Biden administration scales back student loan forgiveness for some, amid lawsuits

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(WASHINGTON) -- President Joe Biden's administration is scaling back his federal student loan cancellation program to protect against legal challenges, including two suits filed this week -- with new guidelines now excluding at least hundreds of thousands of borrowers initially told they qualified for the forgiveness.

On Thursday, the Department of Education quietly updated its instructions on who qualifies for the debt forgiveness program of up to $20,000 for some Americans. (NPR first reported the change.)

The new guidance excludes people who took out federal loans that, while they were guaranteed by the government, were technically handled by private banks. As of Thursday, those borrowers -- with Perkins loans and Federal Family Education Loans (FFEL) -- can no longer qualify for the forgiveness program.

That change was made the same day as a lawsuit was filed by six Republican-led states targeting that very part of the program. The complaint argued that the debt cancellation would decrease revenue from interest payments for the private banks who manage those loans.

While about 4 million Americans in total have FFEL or Perkins loans, an administration official told ABC News that only about 770,000 of those borrowers will be affected by the change in the debt cancellation policy.

Forty-three million people are expected to qualify overall for the loan forgiveness, according to the Biden administration.

In a statement responding to the change, the Department of Education said it intended to provide relief "to as many eligible borrowers as quickly and easily as possible" -- indicating the shift in their guidance was intended to protect as much of the entire program as possible amid the legal challenges.

The Department of Education said it was continuing to "explore additional legally-available options to provide relief to borrowers with privately owned FFEL loans and Perkins loans, including whether FFEL borrowers could receive one-time debt relief without needing to consolidate."

There will still be FFEL and Perkins borrowers who do qualify for the relief, however, because anyone who had consolidated their education debt into federal direct loans before Thursday will still be eligible for the program -- a nuance that is expected to be litigated in court.

Two lawsuits have so far been filed against the federal student loan forgiveness program.

The first, announced Tuesday in Indiana by the California-based Pacific Legal Foundation, is being argued on behalf of Frank Garrison, an Indiana resident and Pacific Legal Foundation attorney who says that his loans being forgiven would force him to pay state taxes on the canceled amount that he otherwise wouldn't have to pay.

While the merits of the complaint have yet to be decided – and as Garrison seeks a temporary restraining order to halt the forgiveness program -- the case's mere existence shows conservatives believe they have found specific plaintiffs who can allege injury under the forgiveness program and so have standing to sue.

In statements this week, Pacific Legal Foundation said its suit was in response to the White House's "flagrantly illegal" decision, which the firm cast as a violation of Congress' authority.

In response, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre argued on Tuesday that no one has to get their debt relieved and that the plaintiff could "choose to opt out" rather than be stuck with a tax bill.

"We want to be really clear here: Opponents of the Biden-Harris administration student loan plan are trying to stop it because they know it will provide much needed, again, relief for working families. Anyone who does not want to get that debt relief can choose to opt out," she said.

On Thursday, in an escalation of the GOP’s emerging legal fight with the administration on student loan forgiveness, six Republican-led states filed suit against Biden in a bid to block his plan.

Governors for the six states -- Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and South Carolina -- claimed Biden is unfairly citing a national emergency, the COVID-19 pandemic, even as the president has said the pandemic is "over."

“President Biden’s student loan forgiveness scheme is fundamentally unfair and would harm the American families forced to pay for it. Additionally, the Executive branch does not have unilateral authority to impose a sweeping student loan cancellation plan,” Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts said in a statement.

The White House, for its part, has accused the Republicans of “standing with special interests” versus a program that an administration spokesman said will boost working- and middle-class families.

ABC News' Luke Barr and Sarah Kolinovsky contributed to this report.

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Judge rejects special master's request on seized documents, handing win to Trump

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(WASHINGTON) -- Florida federal judge Aileen Cannon on Thursday rejected a request from the special master she appointed to review documents seized from former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate to have Trump's legal team verify that the government's inventory log of seized items is accurate.

Judge Cannon's ruling again hands yet another process win to Trump's legal team, which will now no longer face the same deadline to state on the record whether they would dispute any of the items listed on the government's detailed inventory.

Trump's legal team earlier this week filed a letter under seal raising their objection to the request from special master Raymond Dearie -- even as Trump repeatedly in public statements and interviews has made baseless suggestions the FBI "planted" documents in order to incriminate him.

Additionally, Judge Cannon has extended the deadline for special master Dearie to complete his review to Dec. 16, beyond its prior end date of Nov. 30.

And rather than complying with the previous plan to have Trump provide a rolling production of the documents he's seeking to assert privilege over throughout their review, Cannon is now requiring Trump only submit a "comprehensive log" at the end of their review -- which she claims is "to avoid confusion and enhance organization and clear deadlines."

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Sen. Elizabeth Warren calls out stalled housing program aimed to help hurricane survivors

Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- With Hurricane Ian making landfall in Florida on Wednesday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D- Mass., and Rep. Adriano Espaillat, D-N.Y., pressed the Biden administration for details about a much-delayed housing program that they said was intended to be up-and-running by this hurricane season to help low-income people displaced by disasters, a letter obtained exclusively by ABC News shows.

The Disaster Assistance and Supportive Housing program, or DASH, was supposed to launch by March 2022 with the goal of subsidizing housing for people who lose their homes to hurricanes, wildfires or other disasters, and giving longer-term assistance in finding new housing in the aftermath.

But the program has yet to launch, Warren and Espaillat wrote in a letter to agency leaders, requesting an update.

"We are concerned that despite [Federal Emergency Management Agency] and [the Department of Housing and Urban Development]'s intention of making the program available for the 2022 Atlantic hurricane season, which is expected to produce above-normal storm activity, program implementation appears to have stalled," Warren and Espaillat wrote.

Asked about the program's delays and a timeline for the rollout, FEMA spokesperson Jaclyn Rothenberg said the agency was "reviewing the letter."

Warren and Espaillat called for an update from FEMA and HUD by mid-October.

"Year after year we are devastated by hurricanes, floods, and other natural disasters and year after year we are ill-prepared to meet the needs of the affected communities," Warren said in a statement to ABC News.

"As we begin the 2022 hurricane season, I am urging FEMA and HUD to act quickly to implement the DASH program so that no families, no matter their income, fall through service gaps in existing disaster relief programs."

Warren and Espaillat said the new housing program has been deemed "essential" by housing advocates who say FEMA's existing programs have " left low-income survivors vulnerable."

Just last week, Hurricane Fiona left the entire island of Puerto Rico without power and killed at least four people, with more potentially killed by indirect effects of the storm. The devastation showed the remaining need for hurricane relief leftover from Hurricane Maria, which hit the island five years ago.

"We are living in a time where our communities are under-prepared when natural disasters strike as we recently witnessed with Hurricane Fiona—and this is completely unacceptable," Espaillat said in a statement to ABC News.

Warren and Espaillat also argued in the letter that other communities of color would become victims of more climate change-related natural disasters in the future, and that government assistance could alleviate the effects.

"Given that climate change is resulting in a rapidly increasing number of natural disasters, which disproportionately impact low-income communities of color, we are concerned that the delay in activating DASH will result in more harm and slower recoveries for marginalized communities," they wrote.

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Biden, visiting FEMA in Ian's aftermath, says search and rescue critical

OLIVER CONTRERAS/AFP via Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- President Joe Biden on Thursday visited FEMA headquarters in Washington as search and rescue efforts were underway in Florida in the wake of Hurricane Ian.

Upon his arrival, Biden turned to FEMA personnel in the room and thanked them for their work during the historic storm.

Early assessments offer a devastating picture of the damage wreaked by the hurricane. Severe flooding and storm surges left people trapped in their homes, knocked out power to millions and destroyed at least two bridges in southwest Florida.

"This could be the deadliest hurricane in Florida's history," Biden said. "Numbers are still unclear, but we're hearing early reports of what may be substantial loss of life."

The president said he'll go to Florida once weather conditions allow to survey damage. He also said he intends to go to Puerto Rico, which was ravaged by Hurricane Fiona earlier this month.

"We're continuing to see deadly rainfall, catastrophic storm surges, roads and homes flooded," Biden said. "We're seeing millions of people without power and thousands hunker down in schools and community centers. They're wondering what's going to be left, what's gonna be left when they get to go home."

Before his visit to FEMA, Biden approved a major disaster declaration for the state, making federal funding available to impacted individuals in nine counties: Charlotte, Collier, DeSoto, Hardee, Hillsborough, Lee, Manatee, Pinellas and Sarasota.

Biden said the declaration means the federal government will pay for "100% of the cost" to clear debris and to save lives. The government will also cover a majority of the cost to rebuild public buildings ruined by the storm.

The president spoke with GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis again on Thursday morning, telling DeSantis that FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell will travel to Florida on Friday to check in on response efforts.

DeSantis has thanked the administration for the resources provided so far, but said Thursday the state expects more disaster declarations as the storm continues to move across the state.

"I just spoke with the president this morning and he offered support. I told them that thanks for this but because the storm has moved inland and caused a lot of potential damage in the center part of our state, that we are going to be asking for those counties to be expanded and included there," DeSantis said at a press conference at 9 a.m. Thursday.

The White House said Biden and DeSantis, often political opponents, are "committed to continued close coordination."

Accompanying the president to FEMA on Thursday were Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and leaders from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Weather Service, the U.S. Coast Guard and other officials.

Biden said search and rescue was critical, noting the Coast Guard's deployed 16 rescue helicopters, six fixed-wing aircraft and 18 rescue boats and crews.

"These are dangerous missions, and I'm grateful for the brave women and men in federal, state and local governments working as one team, risking their lives to save others," the president said.

Biden urged Floridians to continue to heed warnings from officials, and not to go outside unless they "absolutely have to."

"My message to people of Florida, to the country is at times like this, America comes together," Biden said. "We’re gonna pull together as one team, as one America."

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Biden admin: 300K barrels of diesel arriving to help power Puerto Rico after Fiona

DHS Photo by Benjamin Applebaum

(WASHINGTON) -- The Biden administration said Wednesday it had granted approval of a limited exemption in federal regulations on cabotage -- or the transport of goods -- in order to allow a foreign ship to bring 300,000 barrels of diesel to Puerto Rico days after Hurricane Fiona battered the U.S. territory.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement on Wednesday that the approval for the Jones Act waiver for Puerto Rico was "in response to urgent and immediate needs of" the island as it recovers from Fiona, which officials have said killed multiple people there.

"I have approved a temporary and targeted Jones Act waiver to ensure that the people of Puerto Rico have sufficient diesel to run generators needed for electricity and the functioning critical facilities as they recover from Hurricane Fiona," Mayorkas said. "The decision to approve the waiver was made in consultation with the Departments of Transportation, Energy, and Defense to assess the justification for the waiver request and based on input from the Governor of Puerto Rico and others on the ground supporting recovery efforts."

On Tuesday, Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi requested in a letter to President Joe Biden that the Jones Act be waived amid the emergency on the island after Fiona. Pierluisi warned that a shortage of fuel would have an impact on government operations, security and public health.

"Diesel supplies continue to decrease at a higher rate than previously anticipated, and shortages have been reported around the island," he wrote.

The Jones Act has been waived during previous hurricanes, such as Maria in 2017. This new waiver comes more than a week after Fiona made landfall in Puerto Rico. (A separate hurricane, Ian, made landfall in Florida on Wednesday.)

The Merchant Marine Act of 1920, best known as the Jones Act, requires that all goods transported to Puerto Rico and other American ports be aboard a ship built in the U.S., owned and crewed by Americans and flying the U.S. flag.

The Marshall Islands-flagged ship that is bringing Puerto Rico diesel was hired by British Petroleum. BP had applied for a Jones Act exemption since Sept. 20.

“When U.S. flagged vessels are not available to meet national defense requirements, the Department of Homeland Security may grant a waiver to the Jones Act if the proposed shipments are in the interest of national defense and after careful evaluation of the issue," according to DHS.

In his statement, Mayorkas noted that, despite waivers during emergencies, the Jones Act is vital to maintaining the strength of America’s shipbuilding and maritime industries.

The Biden administration previously committed its resources to assisting Puerto Rico during and after Fiona.

The island has still been recovering from the effects of Hurricane Maria almost exactly five years ago -- a disaster that led to intense scrutiny of the federal government's response under then-President Donald Trump.

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Biden coordinates with DeSantis and Fla. officials, warns oil companies as Hurricane Ian hits

Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- As Hurricane Ian began barreling across Florida, President Joe Biden detailed his administration's efforts to prepare for the storm and warned residents to heed warnings from officials.

"It's life-threatening," Biden said of the Category 4 storm as he spoke at a White House conference on hunger and nutrition. "You should obey all warnings and directions from emergency officials. Don't take anything for granted. Use their judgment, not yours."

Hurricane Ian grew stronger overnight, nearing a Category 5, and was set to bring devastating floods, storm surges and winds to Florida as it made landfall on Wednesday afternoon.

Biden said he talked with GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis "for some time" on Tuesday evening, marking the first time the two leaders had spoken directly about the storm.

Biden said members of his team have been in constant contact with the governor "since the beginning."

"Message has been absolutely clear, is that we are on the alert and in action," Biden said Wednesday. "We've approved every request Florida has made for temporary assistance, emergency assistance and long-term assistance that I've received."

Later Wednesday, after Hurricane Ian made landfall, the White House said Biden made calls to several local Florida officials and was able to reach Fort Myers Mayor Kevin Anderson.

"They discussed Fort Myers’ ongoing needs including support for the elderly members of the community, families that live in mobile homes and other community members who are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of the storm," the White House said.

The storm poses a major test for both Biden and DeSantis, often foes on numerous issues, just six weeks before the midterm elections.

When asked by ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Cecilia Vega about the tone of the Tuesday conversation between Biden and DeSantis, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said it was about how the two can work as partners on the issue.

"There's no politics in this when we talk about extreme weather," Jean-Pierre responded.

Past presidents have faced political consequences over natural disasters. George W. Bush was widely criticized for his response to Hurricane Katrina, especially after he praised the Federal Emergency Management Agency for its work despite the agency being blamed for failing to act fast enough.

Biden said Wednesday the federal government will be "ready to help in every single way possible" during Hurricane Ian, noting he's developed and deployed a search-and-rescue team that's already on the ground, and to help Florida rebuild after the storm.

Biden also delivered a stern message to oil and gas companies, warning them not to raise prices amid the storm or else he'll ask officials to investigate any potential price gouging.

"Do not, let me repeat, do not -- do not use this as an excuse to raise gasoline prices or gouge the American people," the president said, noting experts told his administration only 2% of U.S. daily oil production will be impacted in the short-term from Hurricane Ian.

Biden will be visiting FEMA headquarters in Washington on Thursday, Jean-Pierre announced at Wednesday's press briefing.

Jean-Pierre also provided additional details on the administration's response, telling reporters: "We have more than 1,300 federal response workers on the ground in Florida. There are 3.7 million meals and 3.5 million liters of water pre-positioned in Alabama [and] 110,000 gallons of fuel and 18,000 pounds of propane are pre-staged for immediate deployment. Three-hundred Army Corps personnel are on the ground to support power and fuel assessments. Three-hundred ambulances are supporting local officials, and multiple federal disaster medical assistance teams are deployed to Florida and Georgia."

DeSantis, who's up for reelection in November and is widely considered to be a Republican contender for the 2024 nomination, took a moment this week to thank the White House for their assistance.

"The effects of this are going to be broad and we appreciate the Biden administration's consideration to the people of Florida during this time of need," DeSantis said at a press conference on Wednesday.

DeSantis warned Wednesday that millions will be without power as the storm hits and highlighted the 200 shelters open in southwest Florida for those who need a place to stay during the storm.

"This is going to be something that is going to be there for days and weeks and months and unfortunately, in some circumstances, even years," DeSantis said as he talked about the impacts of Hurricane Ian.

ABC News' Justin Gomez and Molly Nagle contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Biden appears to look for congresswoman killed in car crash: 'Where's Jackie?'

Yuri Gripas/Sipa/Bloomberg via Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- President Joe Biden on Wednesday asked about the whereabouts of an Indiana congresswoman who was killed in a car crash earlier this year, prompting reporters to ask the White House to explain why he appeared confused and not be satisfied with the answer.

The misstep happened as Biden spoke at the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health, where his administration pledged $8 billion in an effort to end hunger and decrease diet-related diseases by 2030.

As he often does at such events, Biden was thanking the lawmakers involved in the issue when he mentioned late Rep. Jackie Walorski, who represented Indiana's 2nd Congressional District as a Republican for nine years. Walorski and two of her aides were killed in a car crash on Aug. 3.

"I want to thank all of you here," Biden said, "including bipartisan, elected officials like representative of government Sen. Braun, Sen. Booker, Representative Jackie, are you here? Where's Jackie? I think -- she was gonna be here -- to help make this a reality."

It seemed like Biden perhaps realized mid-sentence, when he said, "I think -- she was gonna be here."

Walorski served as co-chair of the House Hunger Caucus, and worked with Sens. Cory Booker, Mike Braun and Jim McGovern to pass the bill to convene the White House conference on hunger -- the first in 50 years.

After her passing in August, Biden released a statement commending Walorski's work on food insecurity.

"We may have represented different parties and disagreed on many issues, but she was respected by members of both parties ... My team and I appreciated her partnership as we plan for a historic White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health this fall that will be marked by her deep care for the needs of rural America," Biden said.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was hit with repeated questions on Biden's mistake during Wednesday's briefing.

"What happened in the hunger event today?" ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Cecilia Vega asked. "The president appeared to look around the room for an audience member, a member of Congress who passed away last month. He seemed to indicate she may be in the room."

Jean-Pierre responded by saying Walorski was "top of mind" for Biden as he mentioned those in Congress who championed the effort to convene the second-ever hunger conference, and because Walorski's family will be at the White House on Friday to celebrate the bill signing in her honor.

"So, of course, she was on his mind," Jean-Pierre said, adding Biden looks "forward to discussing her remarkable legacy of public service with them when he sees her family this coming Friday."

"But he said Jackie, are you here?" Vega pressed. "Where's Jackie? She must not be here."

"I totally understand. I just explained, she was on top of mind," Jean-Pierre responded.

Several other reporters in the room also pressed Jean-Pierre on the error, with one reporter asking if the late congresswoman were "top of mind," why Biden appeared to think she may have been in the room. Jean-Pierre stuck to her answer that Walorski was top of Biden's mind. The apparent gaffe comes as some Republicans question Biden's mental acuity.

ABC News' Ben Gittleson contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


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