(WASHINGTON) -- Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., was among 10 demonstrators arrested by U.S. Capitol Police on Thursday in an orchestrated act of civil disobedience outside the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill.
Johnson and voting rights advocates participating in Black Voters Matter Fund's "Brothers Day of Action," a protest led by Black men to advocate for voting rights, called on Congress to end the filibuster and pass the For the People Act.
The demonstration was a follow-up to the Black women-led protest on July 15, which ended in nine arrests, including the arrest of Congressional Black Caucus chair Rep. Joyce Beatty.
While the voting rights debate remains largely partisan in Congress, the majority of Americans believe that people who are legally qualified to vote should be able to, according to a survey from Pew Research Center. Data released on Thursday revealed that 57% of Americans view voting more as "a fundamental right" for all eligible U.S. citizens and "should not be restricted in any way." Less than 42% believe "voting is a privilege that comes with responsibilities and can be limited if adult U.S. citizens don't meet some requirements," according to the survey.
The push from Democrats to pass federal voting rights legislation continues to grow as at least 16 Republican-led states have passed laws that restrict voting rights, including measures that tighten rules for absentee and mail-in voting, and impose new voter ID and signature requirements.
Experts say the GOP measures, which have been pushed in the wake of former President Donald Trump's false allegations of voter fraud in the 2020 election, disproportionately impact voter access among minorities groups.
Although Republican state and federal lawmakers maintain that voting restrictions were imposed to make elections secure, President Joe Biden blasted the efforts in a speech on July 13, calling GOP attempts to limit ballot access a "21st century Jim Crow assault."
While Biden has used his presidential influence to embolden Democrats' push to pass federal voting rights legislation, he has yet to endorse ending the filibuster. The president has openly supported reforming the rule.
Progressive House Democrats, including Johnson and Reps. Jamal Bowman, D-N.Y., Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, and Al Green, D-Texas, who stood with demonstrators during Thursday's rally, said that Biden's speech was not enough.
Bowman urged Biden to take further action to help end the filibuster rule in the Senate, a change he said is needed to pass progressive bills on the Democratic agenda. Ending the filibuster would effectively allow bills to be passed with a simple majority, instead of the 60 needed with it in place.
"These bills, they sit in the Senate, not moving at all. Why? Because of the racist Jim Crow relic called the filibuster," Bowman said.
"It's not just about the president giving a speech on racial equity, or writing a press release saying he's for racial equity. It's about your policies, it's about your advocacy, it's about your budget. So we are calling on the president to be a leader for racial justice and equity -- so that the S. 1 bill passes in the Senate, so that the S. 4 bill passes the Senate, so that the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act passes the Senate, and so that we can really evolve into the multiracial democracy that we are," Bowman continued.
Jackson Lee praised voting rights protesters and vowed that she and other Congressional Black Caucus members will continue demonstrating until federal voting rights legislation passes in Congress.
"We committed that the agitation is not going to stop. We will show up, day after day after day, because we embody the Constitution," Jackson Lee said.
"Whatever it takes, we'll be there as nonviolent perpetrators," she continued. "Civil disobedient persons we are. I leave you in the name of the late John Lewis who said, 'Carry on.'"
(WASHINGTON) -- The Pentagon will temporarily house Afghan workers who aided the U.S. military or diplomatic missions and are trying to leave the country at Fort Lee, an Army installation in central Virginia, while they complete the application process for a special visa, according to the State Department.
It is the "first tranche" of Afghans who are being evacuated by the U.S. as it completes a military withdrawal from Afghanistan, nearly 20 years after American service members first arrived to topple the Taliban government and destroy al-Qaida's operations in the country.
But there are thousands more Afghans, including other U.S. contractors, who are desperate to exit the country and fear for their lives as the militant group takes dozens of districts by force. The House of Representatives voted Thursday to expand and expedite the Special Immigrant Visa, or SIV, program for these Afghans and create more openings as soon as possible.
The measure passed in a strong, 407-16 bipartisan vote, and now heads to the Senate where negotiations are ongoing about passage of the bill and an earlier, similar measure.
The State Department requested that the Defense Department house this initial group of 700 Afghans "who are closest to completing special-immigrant processing," according to State Department spokesperson Ned Price, along with hundreds of their family members, for a total of 2,500 Afghans.
This group of SIV applicants have passed "thorough" security vetting and had their employment for the U.S. certified by the embassy in Kabul. But for an additional 4,000 Afghans who have not yet completed the security vetting, the U.S. will move them out of Afghanistan and to either U.S. military installations overseas or a safe third country to await their case to be adjudicated, Price also announced Monday.
John Kirby, Defense Department press secretary, said Monday afternoon that there are still other domestic and overseas locations being considered for further relocation flights.
Upon arrival at Fort Lee, the group of 2,500 Afghans will be given temporary housing and other services as they finish the last steps in obtaining a special visa -- a process that should take only days, according to Kirby.
Price and Kirby declined to provide more details like when arrivals would begin, citing security concerns. President Joe Biden said flights would begin the last week of July, while the White House has said they intend to end evacuations before the withdrawal is complete, scheduled for Aug. 31.
It's still unclear how many Afghans in total the Biden administration plans to relocate, but the president has committed to Afghans who served the U.S. mission that there is "a home for you in the United States if you so choose, and we will stand with you just as you stood with us."
The House vote Thursday expands that pool of eligible Afghans, adding more openings to the program amid a surge of interest in the program and heightened fears across Afghanistan that the country is plunging into civil war.
There are now 20,000 applicants for the program, according to a State Department spokesperson. Roughly 10,000 still have to finish various stages of their applications, while the other half are waiting on the U.S. embassy in Kabul and the department to process their cases.
The bipartisan Allies Act, introduced by Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colo., would raise the cap on the Special Immigrant Visa program by an additional 8,000, while also removing requirements the authors said could lengthen the application process by several months.
Specifically, it would create a presumption that applicants face threats to their lives in sensitive roles as interpreters, translators or security contractors for the U.S. military, waiving the requirements that they obtain and submit sworn and certified statements.
Crow, a former Army Ranger who served in Afghanistan, said he owed his life in part to the Afghans who worked alongside U.S. troops as interpreters. His district director in Colorado, Maytham Alshadood, is a successfully resettled Iraqi who worked as an interpreter and translator with the U.S. military before immigrating.
"He's a perfect success story to the contributions these folks can make, and they've already proven themselves to be patriotic Americans and people that have served the country," he told ABC News. "We owe them a great debt."
The bill would also expand eligibility for the program to roughly 1,000 Afghans working with nonmilitary organizations that have partnered with the United States, such as the National Democratic Institute and the U.S. Institute for Peace.
"The Taliban is not going to make a distinction between someone who was working for USAID, or a grantee of the U.S. government promoting independent journalism or women's rights and someone who was a driver or translator," Rep. Tom Malinowski, D-N.J., another cosponsor of the legislation, told ABC News. "So we shouldn't make those distinctions, either."
Earlier this summer, the House passed a similar measure that waived the requirement for applicants to receive a medical examination on the front end of the process, and would allow them to receive an exam as soon as possible once resettled in the United States.
In the Senate, both measures have the support of Republicans and Democrats, who are weighing whether to add the provisions to an emergency spending package funding the Capitol Police, which could clear the chamber before the August recess.
"There are a lot of people in Afghanistan that have been loyal to us," Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., the ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee negotiating with Democrats over the package, said last week. "We cannot leave them behind."
The White House announced Operation Allies Refuge last week, and the State Department launched its task force Monday to oversee the program, with officials from the Pentagon, Department of Homeland Security and Department of Health and Human Services.
(WASHINGTON) -- The state of Mississippi formally asked the U.S. Supreme Court Thursday to uphold its ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy and overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that gave women the unfettered right to end a pregnancy before a fetus is viable outside the womb.
"Under the Constitution, may a State prohibit elective abortions before viability? Yes. Why? Because nothing in constitutional text, structure, history, or tradition supports a right to abortion," the state says bluntly in its opening brief in a blockbuster case that will dominate the court's next term.
The cascade of arguments Mississippi lays out constitute the most direct and aggressive attack on abortion rights in years before the high court.
Republican Attorney General Lynn Fitch, leading the case, declares outright that the time has come for the justices to discard long-standing precedent because Roe and Casey, a 1992 decision that reaffirmed the right to abortion access for women, are "egregiously wrong."
"Roe and Casey are unprincipled decisions that have damaged the democratic process, poisoned our national discourse, plagued the law -- and, in doing so, harmed this Court," the brief says.
Mississippi argues that states have compelling interests in protecting the lives of the unborn -- interests that have been neglected, it claims, by decades of flawed legal analyses by the court's majority.
"Scientific advances show that an unborn child has taken on the human form and features months before viability. States should be able to act on those developments. But Roe and Casey shackle States to a view of the facts that is decades out of date."
Abortion rights advocates were quick to respond Thursday, calling Mississippi's legal case "stunning" and "extreme."
"Their goal is for the Supreme Court to take away our right to control our own bodies and our own futures -- not just in Mississippi, but everywhere," said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is challenging the law, in a statement.
"Let’s be clear; any ruling in favor of Mississippi in this case overturns the core holding of Roe -- the right to make a decision about whether to continue a pregnancy before viability," she continued. "The Court has held that the Constitution guarantees this right. If Roe falls, half the states in the country are poised to ban abortion entirely. "
The Supreme Court has not yet scheduled the case for oral argument in the term set to begin in October. A decision is expected by June 2022.
(WASHINGTON) -- Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats are considering inviting former House Republican Rep. Denver Riggleman to serve as an adviser to the Jan. 6 select committee investigating the Capitol assault, according to sources familiar with the deliberations.
Riggleman, a former intelligence officer who lost his primary last year, has been a forceful critic of other Republicans over election-related disinformation and QAnon conspiracy theories.
Rep. Liz Cheney, picked by Pelosi to serve on the committee, has been pushing the idea even before Pelosi rejected two of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s choices on Wednesday.
Both Kinzinger declined to comment.
ABC News caught up with Riggleman entering Pelosi’s office after visiting Cheney.
Asked if he would join the select committee in a staff advisory role, he said, "If asked, I’ll do it."
Current committee members, including Cheney, met behind closed doors in Pelosi’s office Thursday afternoon – as speculation swirled that Pelosi may soon appoint Kinzinger to the panel.
Emerging from Pelosi’s office, Cheney emphasized the decision on Kinzinger is up to Pelosi.
"That’ll be up to the speaker,” Cheney told ABC News. "I think that Adam would be an excellent addition to the committee … but it’s a select committee and it’s up to the speaker to make that final decision on that."
Cheney also sounded support to bring Riggleman, the former Virginia congressman, onto the committee’s staff, citing his intelligence background.
"I think that Denver has a really interesting and important skillset that would be a tremendous benefit, and again, these decisions are all ones that are going to be made by the speaker," Cheney said.
Cheney also said that the select committee’s first hearing next week would provide a chance to listen to "some of the people who put their lives on the line to defend and fight for all of us."
“I think that it’s going to be an opportunity for the country to hear from some of the very brave people who defended the Capitol that day, to hear their experiences directly, to put some facts on the table in particular to counter some of the attempts at white wash that have been going on,” she said.
(WASHINGTON) -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi shot back at House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy on Thursday and said the Jan. 6 select committee is "deadly serious" after McCarthy accused Pelosi of an "egregious abuse of power."
"It's my responsibility as speaker of the House, to make sure we get to the truth on this, and we will not let their antics stand in the way of that," she said at her weekly press conference on Capitol Hill.
The boiling tensions between the two come after Pelosi rejected two of McCarthy's nominees for the committee -- Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan and Indiana Rep. Jim Banks -- citing concerns with “statements made and actions taken by these members" that might compromise the integrity of the investigation. Jordan and Banks are vocal allies of former President Donald Trump and supported his efforts to overturn the election.
"It’s bipartisan, and we have a quorum. Staff is being hired to do the job," Pelosi continued. "We're there to get the truth, not to get Trump."
While Pelosi accepted McCarthy's other three picks -- Illinois Rep. Rodney Davis, North Dakota Rep. Kelly Armstrong and Texas Rep. Troy Nehls -- McCarthy threatened Wednesday to pull all of his members.
"Unless Speaker Pelosi reverses course and seats all five Republican nominees, Republicans will not be party to their sham process and will instead pursue our own investigation of the facts," McCarthy said at a press conference on the Hill.
McCarthy on Thursday continued to insist that Pelosi's decision to veto two of his appointees is unprecedented.
"I checked with the historian," McCarthy said following Pelosi's news conference.
"The idea that she's going to pick and choose -- you're not going to get an outcome," McCarthy said, casting doubt on the work the committee is slated to do.
When asked what is wrong with having one or two Republicans serve on the House's Jan. 6 committee, McCarthy said, "this is a sham committee that’s just politically driven by Speaker Pelosi."
McCarthy wouldn't answer questions on whether he would strip committee assignments from Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., who is on the committee, or Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., who is reported as being considered, but instead pivoted his message to his grievances with Democrats.
Earlier, Pelosi acknowledged at her press conference that Nehls had also voted against certifying election results for President Joe Biden, but said the two members she rejected, Jordan and Banks, had taken the big lie to another level.
"The other two made statements and took actions that just made it ridiculous to put them on such a committee seeking the truth," she said.
She said some counseled her to allow Jordan and Banks on the committee "and then when they act up you can take them off," she disclosed. "I said, 'why should we waste time on something so predictable?'"
"I'm not going to spend any more time talking about them," she added later.
Back in May, Senate Republicans killed a proposal for an independent, bipartisan commission that would have given Republicans equal representation to investigate the Capitol attack. Under the House select committee proposal, which was approved by the House mostly along party lines with GOP Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger or Illinois joining Democrats, Pelosi gets seven appointments and McCarthy has five.
Pelosi also maintained the power to reject McCarthy's appointments, which she exercised Wednesday.
The House Select Committee was expected to hold its first hearing on Tuesday. Capitol police officers are among the first witnesses.
(IOWA) -- Democrat Abby Finkenauer, a one-term congresswoman who represented Iowa's 1st Congressional District until she was unseated by a Republican in 2020, announced Thursday she's running for Senate.
In her announcement video, Finkenauer, who is also a former state representative, shares the news with an intimate group of Iowans, calling out longtime fixtures of the Senate for how "obsessed" they are with maintaining power, citing their response to the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
"The politicians who've been there for decades ... [t]hey think they own democracy, and they were silent when it was attacked. You see it's politicians like Senator Grassley and Mitch McConnell, who should know better, but are so obsessed with power that they oppose anything that moves us forward. Since the Capitol was attacked, they've turned their backs on democracy, and on us," she says. "They made their choice, and I'm making mine. I'm running for the United States Senate."
The seat Finkenauer is seeking has been held by Republican Chuck Grassley for 40 years. First elected in 1980 when Republican Ronald Reagan ascended to the White House and defeating incumbent Democrat Jimmy Carter, Grassley is the longest serving senator to ever represent the Hawkeye State.
The 87-year-old has been fundraising, earning nearly $2 million in contributions so far this cycle, according to the Federal Election Commission filing for his campaign committee submitted a week ago. But Grassley has not made his reelection bid official yet, despite the National Republican Senatorial Committee's chairman persistently "bugging" the senator to make an announcement.
However, Sen. Rick Scott, the NRSC's chairman, indicated in a podcast interview Tuesday he feels good about Grassley seeking another term, citing a fundraiser he recently held for him in Florida.
"If he flies all the way from Iowa down to Naples, Florida, I think he's gonna run," Scott said.
The Republican Party of Iowa was quick to blast Finkenauer after her announcement.
"Let me be as clear as possible - Abby Finkenauer will never represent the state of Iowa in the U.S. Senate," Chairman Jeff Kaufmann said in a statement. "Iowans know Finkenauer and her disastrous record, it's why they rejected her last November. No matter how she tries to reinvent herself, Iowans will see that her values and priorities are just the same as AOC's and Chuck Schumer's. Finkenauer will fall in line with Democrat leadership every chance she gets in hopes to gain media notoriety. ... I look forward to seeing even more Iowans reject Finkenauer once again."
In a statement, Jennifer Heins, an adviser to the Grassley Committee, accused Finkenauer of being "too radical for Iowa," saying that's why she became "the first member of Congress from Iowa to lose re-election after just one term in more than fifty years."
When Finkenauer won in 2018, she became one of the youngest members of Congress along with New York's Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. At only 32 years old, Grassley was already serving his second Senate term when she was born.
After flipping her district from red to blue in the 2018 blue wave, the Democrat narrowly lost reelection in 2020 to Republican Ashley Hinson. Hinson won about 10,700 more votes than Finkenauer, giving her a 2.6-point lead over Finkenauer. Across the country in 2020, Republicans picked up 14 seats, not including Republican-turned independent Justin Amash's district, giving Democrats the slimmest House majority since the early 2000s.
Based on the 2020 election, Democrats are facing an uphill battle to win statewide in Iowa. The Republican in Iowa's 2nd Congressional District, Mariannette Miller-Meeks, also won her election, flipping an open seat from blue to red as well. Republican Joni Ernst fended off a challenge from Democrat Theresa Greenfield, winning reelection by a 6.6-point margin. Former President Donald Trump's margin against President Joe Biden was even bigger, 8.2 points.
But if Grassley chooses to forgo a bid, an open race could be much more competitive.
(WASHINGTON) -- Whether it is investing in a coal mining community, or in regional tourism, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo says new "investing in America" grants being announced Thursday are designed so every community in America feels empowered and included to get back on their feet in the wake of the pandemic.
She said the Commerce Department is making $3 billion in grants available for a myriad of programs, using funds passed as part of the American Rescue Plan.
Interested communities will have to apply for the grants, which exclude businesses.
"It'll be a nationwide competition to quite literally 'build back better,'" Raimondo told ABC News’s Karen Travers, using the name President Joe Biden uses for his recovery program. "Building back certain communities from the ground up so that everybody can thrive in the new economy.”
With concerns growing about how long current price surges will last, Raimondo said the Biden administration is watching inflation "very closely."
"And not, you know, not trying to deny that there’s a link between large fiscal stimulus and inflation," she said, "but inflation is not the only thing we need to be worried about."
Raimondo said the kind of funding the Commerce Department is investing in communities can be "quite beneficial" in countering inflation.
"These are investments in productivity. And that's what we need to be making. Every economist will tell you, you want to invest, to enhance productivity, and that's exactly what this is," Raimondo said. "This is investments in infrastructure, investments in skills, education, job training, and those are not inflation creating expenditures of money."
The grants will be distributed through the Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration.
Programs include the "Build back better challenge," in which regions can apply for up to $100 million to "accelerate recovery and inclusive economic growth by developing new industries or expanding existing ones through planning, infrastructure development, workforce training, innovation and commercialization, access to capital, and more," the department said.
Those programs include $300 million to invest in communities affected by the shrinking coal mining industry.
"We also need to be there for communities that have been traditionally dependent on coal," Raimondo explained. "And so that's what this money is for putting folks to work in those communities, making investments in those communities so they benefit from the transition to renewables, whether that's retraining, or innovation hubs or building infrastructure."
Raimondo insisted there would be no political considerations when grants are made to coal mining communities, especially since influential Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin represents West Virginia, a state hit hard by the industry downturn.
“It isn't just West Virginia. It's Virginia, it's West Virginia it's Ohio with Kentucky it's you know it's not about one state it's about being honest with people and creating jobs for people everywhere,” she explained.
Another program is aimed at getting Americans back to work through investments in worker training and in funding infrastructure projects.
"So, the way it works is pretty simple: a group of companies would come together in a community, they would say, 'we have 1000 open jobs right now,' for example, in order to hire people for those jobs. 'These are the skills they need to have,'" she said. "Then the money that we're providing would train those people in exactly those skills, and here's the best part, the businesses have to hire the folks, so that this is not trained, and pray and get a job. This is enroll, train, graduate, get your job."
The Commerce Department also will focus on providing funds for underserved communities, providing regional tourism grants, and helping communities plan for any potential economic hardship in the future.
Raimondo said the administration is not telling local communities how to invest their money, but rather providing a road map.
"This is bottom up," she said. "This is not Washington telling any community, how to do economic development. Every community has certain strengths, maybe it's, a certain talent pool, maybe it's, I don't know tourism, maybe it's a certain kind of skill set, maybe it's a certain technical know how. So each community wants to build on those strengths, and then use our funds to kind of supercharge those efforts."
Money will be available almost immediately especially for communities impacted by a lack of tourism because of the pandemic, Raimondo explained.
"There's so many communities that have lost jobs because of the lack of travel and lack of tourism," she said. "You need help yesterday and we know that."
Raimondo also touted the $1.2 billion infrastructure bill being debated in Congress.
In 2016, when she was governor of Rhode Island, she passed "Rhode Works," a sweeping infrastructure measure targeted at fixing Rhode Island’s roads and bridges, which then were among the worst in the nation. The cornerstone of the program was imposing tolls on truckers to pass through the state in order to fund the project.
"It was none other than Vice President Joe Biden, who traveled to Rhode island with me to stand under a crumbling bridge to say, 'get behind this governor and let's make this infrastructure investment happen,'" she said.
She urged Congress to pass the bill, saying that while it might seem controversial now, once communities see money being put into action, it will be seen as favorable.
"It is the right thing to do. And even if it's controversial at the moment, we got to push it over the finish line is the American people want and deserve better infrastructure," Raimondo told Travers. "And I promise you, it will be popular once you see the road crews out there making communities better and safer."
The talk after Wednesday's flurry of activity around Jan. 6 investigations was about separate partisan inquiries covering the same subject -- a subject leaders of the two parties don't see, or don't claim to see, the same way at all.
Then there's Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo. She could perhaps be the only person standing in the way of final Jan. 6 takeaways devolving into wearying and meaningless "both sides-ism."
Cheney's decision to stay on the House select committee, and even back Speaker Nancy Pelosi's rejection of two Republican members who were tapped to serve on it, is about more than a single vote, even a vote that belongs to a former member of GOP leadership.
She is also calling out her own party leader -- the man favored to become the next House speaker if Republicans recapture the majority -- as offering "disingenuous" rhetoric that should disqualify him from taking over any such job.
"There must be an investigation that is nonpartisan, that is sober, that is serious, that gets to the facts wherever they may lead," Cheney told reporters.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy outlined questions about security shortcomings at the Capitol that made clear Republicans were looking for an escape that has them aiming at Pelosi in whatever separate probe they launch.
McCarthy and his allies also say the House-approved committee is designed to embarrass former President Donald Trump and his supporters. Trump, who months ago committed to booting Cheney out of office next year, would readily agree.
But when the select committee holds its first hearing on Tuesday, Cheney will be there. As she explores ways to make sure her presence is felt, that fact alone will give an extra dose of credibility -- even bipartisanship -- to the endeavor.
The RUNDOWN with Averi Harper
The White House is changing its tune on COVID-19 procedures.
The White House will now announce any official who tests positive for COVID-19 if they have had close contact with the the president, vice president, first lady or the second gentleman.
"An email from our COVID-19 operations protocol team has been sent to White House staff informing them of the official policy -- that if you are in close contact with a principal, and test positive for COVID 19, your case will be disclosed to press along with any other relevant details," said White House press secretary Jen Psaki. "We will share the name of the staffer if that individual agrees to do so; of course, we respect their privacy."
Previously, White House officials said they would only announce cases of "commissioned officers," or senior staff with "assistant to the President" in their title.
The marked difference came after Psaki confirmed a breakthrough case of the coronavirus in the White House.
Officials have not announced any changes to COVID-19 measures like testing or reinstating masking, but new cases at the White House make the "independence" from COVID-19 that Biden hoped would arrive by July 4 feel even more elusive.
The TIP with Alisa Wiersema
The outlook on what will happen with the national push for federal voting rights legislation is still unclear, but the issue of voter ID requirements remains a fixture in debates across state legislatures.
In a memo circulated Wednesday, Pennsylvania state Rep. Seth Grove -- who also serves as the chairman of the Pennsylvania House State Government Committee -- said he plans to reintroduce his state's voting bill, H.B. 1300, which Democrat Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed earlier this month. Grove pegs his move on a Philadelphia Inquirer report that quotes Wolf indicating support for voter ID rules, despite previously citing such measures as nonstarters for advancing H.B. 1300.
The Pennsylvania Governor is the latest of several high-profile Democrats to lean into more nuanced positions on voter ID laws. Sen. Joe Manchin included voter ID requirements in his voting legislation compromise last month and was promptly backed by voting rights advocate Stacey Abrams.
Wolf previously voiced support for a handful of other provisions originally outlined in H.B. 1300, but it remains to be seen whether he will be open to renegotiating the bill after already vetoing it.
(TARRANT, Al.) -- An Alabama city council member is facing calls to resign after he used a racist slur while pointing toward a Black colleague during a meeting Monday night.
John “Tommy” Bryant stood up and pointed at Black council member Veronica Freeman and said, “Do we have a house N-word in here? Would she please stand up?" during the council meeting.
Video of the meeting was shared on the Tarrant, Alabama, Facebook page. The clip shows audience members at the council meeting audibly gasping in response to his use of the slur.
Freeman was later seen sobbing with her head in her hands before stepping out.
Bryant said that his use of the slur was to reflect something Tarrant Mayor Wayman Newton, who is Black, allegedly said during an earlier private meeting.
“He doesn’t need to use that term in front of everybody, and I thought the city ought to know the kind of terminology the mayor uses, and I didn’t want him to get away with it. So that’s the reason I made that comment," Bryant said in a Tuesday interview with local news station WVTM-TV.
“He said it in a derogatory manner, I said it so people would know what the mayor said,” Bryant added. “The mayor was being derogatory toward Veronica Freeman when he said that.”
When asked if he was racist, Bryant said, “It’s according to what your definition of the word racist is. What a lot of the public’s definition is, I might be a racist. But according to what the true definition of a racist is, absolutely not.”
Bryant and Freeman did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment.
Newton, who was sworn in as mayor in November, did not respond to ABC News' request but told Alabama Local News on Tuesday, “The video speaks for itself.”
Newton denied ever using the racial slur in reference to Freeman on Wednesday, telling ALN, “They are trying to expose me for saying something I did not say. All of that was a political stunt that they did not do very well.”
Alabama Democrats demanded Bryant resign after the outburst, saying in a statement, “He is racist and unfit to serve.”
“Alabama still has a long way to go when it comes to race, but cozying up to the KKK and using the N-word should make you unfit to serve. These racists belong in the history books with Bull Connor and George Wallace, not on the taxpayer’s payroll,” the statement added.
Alabama Republican Party Chairman John Wahl said Bryant's behavior “is completely unacceptable in any setting," but didn't mention if he believed he should resign.
“The Alabama Republican Party is deeply troubled by the racially charged outburst and disrespect shown by Councilman Tommy Bryant. Such language is completely unacceptable in any setting, and even more concerning coming from an elected official,” Wahl said to ALN.
(WASHINGTON) -- America's top general on Wednesday spoke publicly for the first time about whether he feared then-President Donald Trump would try to involve the military in the aftermath of the 2020 election, as reported in a newly-released book.
While Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley, at a rare Pentagon news conference, declined to comment on specific claims made in the book, he and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin Wednesday were emphatic that the military is and ought to remain a strictly "apolitical" institution.
"I, the other members of the Joint Chiefs, and all of us in uniform, we take an oath, an oath to a document, an oath to the Constitution of the United States, and not one time do we violate that," Milley told reporters asking about the book excerpts. "The entire time, from time of commissioning to today, I can say with certainty that every one of us maintained our oath of allegiance to that document, the Constitution, everything that's contained within it," he said, referring to the Joint Chiefs.
"I want you to know, and I want everyone to know, I want America to know, that the United States military is an apolitical institution -- we were then, we are now -- and our oath is to the Constitution, not to any individual at all," he said. "And the military did not and will not and should not ever get involved in domestic politics. We don't arbitrate elections. That's the job of the judiciary and the legislature and the American people. It is not the job of the U.S. military. We stayed out of politics, we're an apolitical institution."
Austin went out of his way to defend Milley.
"We fought together, we served a couple of times in the same units," Austin said. "I'm not guessing at his character -- he doesn't have political bone in his body."
Before the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol, Milley saw ominous parallels between the political turmoil in the United States and the rise of the Nazi party in Germany, according to "I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J. Trump's Final Catastrophic Year," by Washington Post reporters Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig.
"He had earlier described to aides that he kept having a stomach-churning feeling that some of the worrisome early stages of 20th-century fascism in Germany were replaying in 21st-century America. He saw parallels between Trump’s rhetoric about election fraud and Adolf Hitler’s insistence to his followers at the Nuremberg rallies that he was both a victim and their savior. 'This is a Reichstag moment,' Milley told aides. 'The gospel of the Führer,'" Rucker and Leonnig wrote.
The authors say that Milley believed Trump was stoking unrest after the election, and decried what he called "brownshirts in the streets," although an official told ABC News the comment was in reference to the radical members of the Oath Keepers and so-called "boogaloo boys," not Trump supporters in general.
An early sign of unease between Trump and Milley came last July amid Black Lives Matter protests in Washington, D.C., when Milley apologized for taking part in Trump's controversial walk from the White House to St. John's Church, though he peeled off before the president's notorious photo opportunity.
"I should not have been there," Milley said in a prerecorded video commencement address to National Defense University. "My presence in that moment and in that environment created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics."
In August 2020, Milley told Congress there is no role for the U.S. military in elections.
Then in January 2021, after the Capitol riot, Milley and the seven other members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff signed an internal memo to service members saying "the violent riot in Washington D.C. on January 6, 2021 was a direct assault on the U.S. Capitol building, and our Constitutional process," warning them that any act to disrupt the constitutional process is against the law.
Milley said Wednesday that he and the other members of the Joint Chiefs always gave the "best military professional advice" to Trump and any other president they've served under.
"We always adhered to providing best professional military advice, bar none. It was candid, honest, in every single occasion. We do that all the time every time," he said.
(WASHINGTON) -- After House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday rejected two of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy's recommendations for the select committee investigating the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol, McCarthy said he would pull all his Republican nominees unless she reverses course.
Pelosi rejected two of McCarthy's recommendations -- Reps. Jim Banks of Indiana and Jim Jordan of Ohio, a staunch defender of former President Donald Trump.
Banks and Jordan both voted to overturn the election results on Jan. 6 and Pelosi said their appointments could impact "the integrity of the investigation."
"I have spoken with him this morning about the objections raised about Representatives Jim Banks and Jim Jordan and the impact their appointments may have on the integrity of the investigation," she said in a statement. "I also informed him that I was prepared to appoint Representatives Rodney Davis, Kelly Armstrong and Troy Nehls, and requested that he recommend two other Members.
“With respect for the integrity of the investigation, with an insistence on the truth and with concern about statements made and actions taken by these Members, I must reject the recommendations of Representatives Banks and Jordan to the Select Committee," she said.
“The unprecedented nature of January 6th demands this unprecedented decision," Pelosi added.
. @SpeakerPelosi tells me she spoke with McCarthy about her decision to reject two of his picks to serve on the Jan. 6th commission.
McCarthy shot back at a news conference on Wednesday, saying Pelosi had created "a sham process."
"House Democrats must answer this question," he said. "Why are you allowing a lame-duck speaker to destroy this institution? This is the people's house, not Pelosi's House."
He said unless Pelosi changes her mind and seats all five nominees, "we will not participate." But, he said, Republicans will run their own investigation to answer why the Capitol was "ill-prepared" for the riot -- something he and Republicans have blamed Pelosi for.
"Speaker Nancy Pelosi has taken the unprecedented step of denying the minority party’s picks for the Select Committee on January 6," he said in an earlier statement. "This represents an egregious abuse of power and will irreparably damage this institution. Denying the voices of members who have served in the military and law enforcement, as well as leaders of standing committees, has made it undeniable that this panel has lost all legitimacy and credibility and shows the Speaker is more interested in playing politics than seeking the truth," it read in part.
The House Select Committee was expected to hold its first hearing on Tuesday.
House GOP Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., on Tuesday signaled some of the lines of inquiry Republicans would try to advance -- calling for an examination of "the whole array of political violence that led up to Jan. 6 and still has gone on after that" along with the security posture on Capitol Hill before the insurrection.
"There have been many questions raised about why there hasn't been a higher National Guard presence," Scalise said, hitting on a point McCarthy drove home on Wednesday.
As to how Republicans would respond to Democrats calling for GOP members to testify under oath about Jan. 6, Scalise said he would "let members of the committee discuss that and debate that."
Asked at his press conference if he was still prepared to testify about his phone call with Trump during the riot, McCarthy said his phone call is "out there."
"The question is, you make a phone call after people are in the Capitol to advise the president of what's going on, doesn't get to the answer of why were we ill-prepared," he said. "That's really playing politics, and it really shows if that's the issue that they want to go to, before they want to drive, we don't get all the answers."
President Joe Biden did not answer shouted questions on the Jan. 6 commission developments while departing the White House Wednesday, but the White House issued a statement emphasizing that Biden stands behind Pelosi’s decision to reject two of the Republican lawmakers.
"The President has made clear that the shameful events of January 6th deserve a full, independent, and transparent investigation to ensure something like that never happens again, and he has full confidence in the Speaker’s ability to lead that work,” White House spokesperson Michael Gwin said in a statement.
Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., chairman of the select committee, signaled in a statement Wednesday that Democrats -- and Republican Liz Cheney, a Pelosi pick -- would move forward with plans to hold their first hearing Tuesday despite GOP plans to abandon the panel. He said the group would go ahead with plans to hear testimony from law enforcement officers who defended the Capitol during the insurrection.
"We owe it to our democracy to stay the course and not be distracted by side-shows," he said in the statement.
Cheney, speaking to reporters Wednesday afteroon, said she agrees with Pelosi's decision and called McCarthy's statements "disingenuous."
"The attack on this building on January 6th was the worst attack on this Capitol since 1814. It was an attack on our Constitution," she said. "We supported what would have been the very best option, which was a bipartisan, independent commission. The minority leader opposed that. He lobbied against it in the Senate and the Senate blocked it. "
The American people deserve to know the truth and for the perpetrators of the insurrection to be "held accountable," she added.
"There must be an investigation that is nonpartisan, that is sober, serious, that gets to the facts wherever they may lead," she said. "And at every opportunity the minority leader has attempted to prevent the American people from understanding what happened, to block this investigation."
(WASHINGTON) -- Senate Democrats on Wednesday lost a key test vote to allow a bipartisan infrastructure deal to advance -- after Republicans involved in the talks say they needed more time to finalize details before helping Democrats meet the Senate's 60-vote threshold to start debate on the bill.
While Majority Leader Chuck Schumer's effort failed -- handing him and President Joe Biden at least a temporary political loss on a top priority -- the White House earlier Wednesday the president was "extremely supportive" of Schumer's strategy aimed at jump starting negotiations on the measure that would spend $1.2 trillion on "traditional infrastructure."
The partisan defeat, by a vote of 49 to 51, belied the comity behind the scenes as a bipartisan group of 11 senators works feverishly behind the scenes to finalize the terms of their package to fund major public works projects, from bridges and highways to public transit and broadband.
"This vote is not a deadline to have every final detail worked out. It is not an attempt to jam anyone," Schumer said on the Senate floor Wednesday morning.
"According to the negotiators, spurred on by this vote this afternoon –- they are close to finalizing their product," he argued. "Even Republicans have agreed that the deadline has moved them forward more quickly. We all want the same thing here – to pass a bipartisan infrastructure bill. But in order to finish the bill, we first need to start."
Key Republican negotiators in the bipartisan group of senators who have been trying to work out the deal say they believe they can finalize it by Monday.
"We are making tremendous progress, and I hope that the majority leader will reconsider and just delay the vote until Monday. That's not a big ask of him," GOP Sen. Susan Collins of Maine told reporters Monday morning.
The group huddled over Mexican food and wine behind closed doors for over two hours late Tuesday night, but left without squaring all of their differences on how to pay for package.
Schumer, the Republicans say, is well-aware of their position that waiting until next week to hold a vote would heighten the chances of success.
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, told reporters Wednesday afternoon that 10 Republicans have signed a letter to Schumer indicating that they are prepared to support taking up the bill on Monday.
He said it was his understanding that "Leader Schumer wanted to understand if there were ten Republicans in favor of getting on the bill, and we’ve indicated, Yeah, there are ten. Probably more."
Negotiators said Tuesday that there are about six remaining issues with the bipartisan bill, the thorniest of which is how to structure spending on public transit systems.
At the same time, the senior lawmaker expects the legislation to be finalized by Monday, and that includes the nonpartisan analyses by various agencies breaking down all of the financing options, how much revenue would be produced, and a final price tag.
Republicans, in particular, will be looking to show that the $579 billion in new spending is fully paid for.
If the vote seems certain to fail, Schumer could switch his vote to the losing side at the last minute, enabling him as majority leader, under Senate rules, to call up the vote again for reconsideration.
The Wednesday vote is to start debate on a shell bill because there is no final bill from the negotiators. It would serve as a placeholder should negotiators strike a final deal.
The measure is separate from a much larger bill Biden and Democrats are pushing that would spend $3.5 trillion on so-called "human infrastructure" such as child care.
Democrats plan to push that through the Senate with no Republican votes, using a budget tool called "reconciliation."
(NEW YORK) -- Tom Barrack, a longtime friend of Donald Trump's who chaired the committee that raised more than $100 million for his inauguration, has been charged with acting as an agent of a foreign government and obstruction of justice.
Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn said Tuesday that in 2016, Barrack illegally sought to use his influence with the new president on behalf of the United Arab Emirates.
In May 2016, according to the indictment, Barrack "took steps to establish himself as the key communications channel for the United Arab Emirates" to the Trump campaign and, that same month, gave a co-defendant a draft copy of an energy speech then-candidate Trump was preparing to deliver. The co-defendant then sent it to a UAE official and solicited feedback.
"Congrats on the great job today," court records quoted the Emirati official saying in an email to Barrack after Trump delivered the speech. "Everybody here are happy with the results."
A spokesman for Barrack, 74, told ABC News that "Mr. Barrack has made himself voluntarily available to investigators from the outset. He is not guilty and will be pleading not guilty."
At a court appearance in California, where he was arrested Tuesday morning, Barrack was ordered detained after prosecutors described him as "an extremely wealthy and powerful individual with substantial ties to Lebanon, the UAE, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia" who "poses a serious flight risk."
Between May 2016 and October 2017, Barrack "repeatedly promoted the United Arab Emirates and its foreign policy interests during media appearances" after soliciting direction from his co-defendant and UAE officials, the indictment said.
"The defendant promoted UAE-favored policy positions in the Campaign, in the Administration, and through the media, at times using specific language provided by UAE leadership," assistant U.S. Attorney Jacquelyn Kasulis wrote in the court filing. "The defendant never registered as an agent of the UAE, as public disclosure of his agreement to act at the direction of senior UAE officials would have diminished, if not eliminated, the access and influence that the UAE sought and valued."
The allegations involving Barrack came to light as part of a House Oversight Committee investigation, ABC News reported in July 2019.
(WASHINGTON) -- A fully vaccinated spokesperson for House Speaker Pelosi tested positive for COVID-19 this week after interacting with several infected Texas Democratic state legislators who traveled to the capital.
"Yesterday, a fully-vaccinated senior spokesperson in the Speaker’s Press Office tested positive for COVID after contact with members of the Texas state legislature last week. This individual has had no contact with the speaker since exposure," Pelosi spokesperson Drew Hammill told ABC News.
"The entire press office is working remotely today with the exception of individuals who have had no exposure to the individual or have had a recent negative test. Our office will continue to follow the guidance of the Office of Attending Physician closely," he added.
A fully vaccinated White House official also tested positive for COVID-19 off-campus, the White House disclosed Tuesday. News of both "breakthrough" infections was first reported by Axios.
"I will say that we -- according to an agreement we made during the transition to be transparent and make information available, we committed that we would release information proactively if it is commissioned officers. We continue to abide by that commitment," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday.
At least six of the more than 50 Texas Democrats who fled Austin last week to block dual Republican-backed bills that would revise the state’s voting and election laws in ways voting rights advocates say would make it harder for Texans to cast a ballot have since tested positive for COVID-19 in Washington.
The infections prompted a flurry of contact tracing on Capitol Hill and at the White House, where they have met with legislators and senior administration officials, including Vice President Kamala Harris.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., on Tuesday suggested that House leaders could discuss "whether going back to [masks on Capitol Hill] work," but added that the Office of the Attending Physician, who addresses the medical needs of Congress, "has not suggested" a return to the practice.
In a memo distributed to House offices on Tuesday, attending physician Dr. Brian Monahan did not announce any changes to House masking policy.
"Vaccinated individuals seeking to further reduce their risk of disease, or further reduce potential risk of transmitting disease to vulnerable household members, may consider additional protective actions such as wearing a well-fitted, medical-grade filtration mask when they are in a crowded or interior location," he wrote. "Individuals have the personal discretion to wear a mask and future developments in the coronavirus Delta variant local threat may require the resumption of mask wear for all as now seen in several counties in the United States."
Steve Scalise, R-La., the No. 2 Republican in the House, got his first dose of the Pfizer vaccine over the weekend, he said Tuesday.
He told The Times-Picayune he had previously tested positive for antibodies, and it "was a good time to do it" with the delta variant spreading across the country.
(WASHINGTON) -- When President Joe Biden was sworn in six months ago, he inherited several major challenges, including a global pandemic and subsequent economic disruption, a social and racial reckoning across America, and a fractured Washington, reeling from the divisions of the Trump era.
On the campaign trail, Biden promised to bring bipartisanship back to the federal government, calling for unity in order to stem the effects of the coronavirus, rebuild the economy and foster equity and inclusion for all Americans.
"Since taking office, the president has acted to get America back on track by addressing the crises facing this nation, vaccinating America to beat the pandemic, delivering much needed help to American families, making transformative investments to rescue and rebuild our economy, and fundamentally showing that government can deliver for the American people,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday, marking the anniversary.
While Biden has presided over a growing economy and a retreating pandemic, there is much he hasn’t been able to accomplish, as Washington remains deadlocked without more bipartisan support from Congress for his initiatives-- somethings Biden acknowledged during only the second Cabinet meeting of his administration.
"There's much more to be done and so much more to do. Tackling voting rights, which is an existential threat to democracy right now, the things that are being passed are just beyond the pale. The vice president has been working hard on this issue and going to continue to, we all are, but there's much more to do. We have to tackle the immigration problem, which we're working really hard to get done in a humane and serious way. Police reform and crime," Biden said Tuesday.
Six months into his administration, here’s a look at how successful Biden has been in pursuing some of his major initiatives.
The pandemic and the economy
President Biden oversaw an unprecedented vaccination effort to end the COVID-19 pandemic, distributing more than 200 million shots of the vaccine within his first 100 days in office.
COVID-19 cases and death rates plunged to a record low since the start of the pandemic as the effects of vaccination took hold.
Still, the Biden administration has struggled with vaccine hesitancy, and failed to hit a self-imposed goal to distribute at least one shot to 70% of all adults over 18 by July 4. As of Biden’s 6-month mark, 68.3% of adults over 18 have at least one shot, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.
"If you're fully vaccinated, you have a high degree of protection against severe illness, hospitalization and death. If you're unvaccinated, you are not protected. So please, please get vaccinated. Get vaccinated now," Biden said Monday, acknowledging that cases and death rates are once again rising in the U.S.
Biden was successful in passing his economic relief package, dubbed the American Rescue Plan. The $1.9 trillion spending package delivered stimulus checks, small business aid, funding for COVID-19 testing and vaccinations, and state and local government relief.
But he failed to deliver on one major campaign promise: to secure bipartisan support for his initiatives. The COVID-19 relief package passed in Congress without a single Republican vote.
"For all of those predictions of doom and gloom six months in, here is where we stand. Record growth. Record job creation. Workers getting hard-earned breaks. Look, we brought this economy back from the brink and we’ve designed our strategy not only to provide for a temporary boost, but to lay the foundation for a long-term boom that brings everyone along,” Biden said Monday in remarks touting his economic achievement and pushing a bipartisan measure to spend $1.2 trillion improving roads, bridges and other "traditional infrastructure."
But the fate of that is unclear in the both the Senate and House where Democrats have only a narrow majority -- as is the future of legislation that would spend $3.5 trillion on "human infrastructure" such as child care that Democrats hope to push through with no Republican votes.
In those same remarks, Biden had to address inflation concerns, as rising prices across the U.S. threaten the economic optimism of reopening after the pandemic.
President Biden has struggled to stem the flow of migrants crossing the southern border of the U.S. In June, Customs and Border Patrol apprehended a ten-year record number of migrants.
Biden appointed Vice President Kamala Harris to address the root causes of migration, and Harris has traveled to Guatemala and Mexico in her efforts to encourage potential migrants to stay in their home countries and apply for asylum legally. But with corruption, drug-related violence and extreme weather plaguing many Central and South American countries, her efforts, including offering increased aid to those countries, have not led to a significant shift in migration patterns, as illustrated by the June CBP numbers.
“No matter how much effort we put in on curbing violence, providing disaster relief, on tackling food insecurity — on any of it — we will not make significant progress if corruption in the region persists,” Harris said on May 4.
Biden was successful in overturning many of President Trump’s strict immigration policies. He ended Trump’s so-called “Muslim ban" that prevented people from traveling from several Muslim-majority countries to the United States. Biden also returned deportation priorities to the status quo in the Obama administration, which focused on people who committed crimes other than entering the country illegally.
While Biden has proposed a comprehensive immigration reform plan to Congress, there has been little movement to advance it. In July, a federal judge ruled that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which shielded young people brought illegally to the U.S. as children from deportation, is unlawful, and disallowed new applications to the program. The case is likely to be heard by the Supreme Court, but in the meantime, the defeat in the courts ramps up pressure on Biden and Congress to achieve a legislative fix for Dreamers.
“Only Congress can ensure a permanent solution by granting a path to citizenship for Dreamers that will provide the certainty and stability that these young people need and deserve,” Biden said in a statement Saturday. “It is my fervent hope that through reconciliation or other means, Congress will finally provide security to all Dreamers, who have lived too long in fear.”
Policing and Guns
One policy area proving elusive for Biden is police reform and gun control, as legislation on the issues have stalled in Congress.
The Biden White House has frequently highlighted its support for the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, and called for it to be passed by the first anniversary of Floyd’s death in May. While the deadline was missed, they have encouraged bipartisan negotiations on Capitol Hill that have yielded little beyond a "framework" and discussions continue.
The administration also decided to forgo Biden’s campaign promise to create a commission within his first 100 days to study the issue of policing, with senior adviser Susan Rice saying the administration decided it would not be the "most effective way" to deliver on its top priority of getting the Floyd bill passed "based on close, respectful consultation with partners in the civil rights community."
The president has not seen gun control legislation come to his desk from Capitol Hill, even after the House passed a measure that would address loopholes in the background check system. But Biden has taken unilateral action on the issue after several mass shootings during his short tenure in office.
Biden signed six gun-related executive actions on April 8, including directing the Justice Department to issue a proposed rule to regulate the sale of so-called "ghost guns" within 30 days, calling for investments in evidence-based community violence intervention and asking the Justice Department to publish model "red flag" legislation for states within 60 days.
He took additional action in June, allowing communities to spend some of the funding they received as part of his $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill funding to combat gun crime, such as investing in summer jobs programs for youths; hiring more police officers and court personnel; spending on gun-violence enforcement; and paying for more nurses, counselors and social workers.
Other measures include establishing a "zero tolerance" policy for gun dealers who break the law; embedding federal law enforcement officials with local police departments; and hiring more formerly incarcerated people for jobs in the federal government, according to the White House.
Even with his presidential actions, Biden is limited in what he can accomplish on his own, and has fallen short of some of his biggest campaign pledges on the issue, like stopping the importation of assault weapons, and creating a national buyback program for the U.S.