Politics

Democrats expected to take short-term debt ceiling increase, reject GOP reconciliation offer

Democrats expected to take short-term debt ceiling increase, reject GOP reconciliation offer

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(WASHINGTON) -- Senate Democrats emerged from a closed door special caucus meeting on the debt ceiling on Wednesday and said they intend to take GOP Minority Leader Mitch McConnell up on his short-term debt ceiling increase.

Multiple senators and aides told ABC News Democrats are rejecting McConnell’s other offer that would have Republicans expediting Democrats passing a longer-term debt ceiling increase using the budget reconciliation process that they’re using to pass the multi-trillion dollar social spending bill.

“McConnell caved! McConnell caved,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., told reporters with a fist raised.

“We intend to take this temporary victory and then try to work with the Republicans to do this on a longer-term basis,” Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., told CNN.

“There’s not going to be reconciliation,” Senate Budget Committee Chairman Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., told reporters emphatically, adding that the short term fix must pass as soon as possible.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., agreed, saying she was glad McConnell “folded“ and said Democrats would “never“ use reconciliation to increase the debt ceiling.

It’s unclear if a vote on the new proposal would occur Wednesday night or Thursday, though the latter appeared more likely.

As the U.S. barrels toward an unprecedented default in a game of brinkmanship on Capitol Hill, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell offered Democrats two options to increase the debt ceiling on Wednesday. Both options require that Democrats increase the ceiling by a specific amount, which the party has not wanted to do, fearing political implications of an increase to the nation's borrowing limit approved solely by Democrats.

Democrats rejected an offer for that Republicans to help Democrats expedite the budget process known as reconciliation to hike the debt limit by a specified amount but instead took a short-term increase of the debt ceiling to a specified amount for two months -- until December.

It comes after Republicans have refused to allow Democrats to move forward on raising the debt ceiling with a simple majority vote, subsequently preventing the country from entering a self-inflicted financial crisis, potentially worse than the 2008 crisis.

"Republicans remain the only party with a plan to prevent default," McConnell said, though he has maintained for weeks that Democrats should go the process alone. "We have already made it clear we would assist in expediting the 304 reconciliation process for stand-alone debt limit legislation. To protect the American people from a near-term Democrat-created crisis, we will also allow Democrats to use normal procedures to pass an emergency debt limit extension at a fixed dollar amount to cover current spending levels into December."

While some Democrats took short-term extension as a win, Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii said McConnell's two offers were "BS," adding the GOP leader is "heartless" and, sarcastically, "He could give a rip."

Asked by ABC News' Mariam Khan if Schumer should accept one of McConnell's options, given the nation is on a deadline, Hirono replied, "Why should we accept any part of a BS offer?"

Ahead of McConnell's proposition, Senate Republicans had planned to filibuster a House-passed measure on Wednesday that would suspend the debt limit until December 2022. At least 10 Republicans would need to join all Senate Democrats to break the GOP filibuster and allow a simple majority vote to pass the bill -- which President Joe Biden has called for, telling Republicans at a meeting with business leader earlier to "get out of the way."

Without Republican support, Biden and other Democrats raised carving out an exception to ending the filibuster for the debt ceiling vote, which would take the support of all 50 Democratic senators -- but it doesn't seem to be a pathway forward either.

Moderate Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who along with fellow moderate Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., has balked at changes to the filibuster rules, dug into his position earlier, putting the responsibility of the economic crisis squarely on the shoulders of Senate leaders to solve.

"This should not be a crisis. I've been very, very clear where I stand, where I stand on the filibuster. I don't have to repeat that. I think I've been very clear. Nothing change," Manchin told reporters on Capitol Hill. "But the bottom line is we have a responsibility to be the adults. Our leadership has the responsibility to lead."

"The only thing I can say at this time to Leader Schumer, and to Leader McConnell, please, lead, work together," he added.

Schumer had said earlier on the floor that the Senate must move forward with "the responsible thing and vote to allow the U.S. to keep paying its bills."

"Republicans' obstruction on the debt ceiling over the last few weeks has been reckless and irresponsible but nevertheless, Republicans will today have the opportunity to get what they've been asking for," Schumer said in the morning. "The first and easiest option is this: Republicans can simply get out of the way, and we can agree to skip the filibuster vote so we can proceed to final passage of this bill."

But Republicans letting Democrats govern so easily, despite Democrats suspending the debt ceiling multiple times in a divided Washington under former President Donald Trump.

GOP leaders have maintained for months that Democrats must act to raise the federal debt limit on their own, because they have total control of Washington and are planning to pass a multi-trillion social and economic package without Republican support.

But Democrats and Biden have reiterated that paying off U.S. debt is a historically bipartisan measure and that the funds Congress would be approving were spent, in part, under then-Senate Majority Leader McConnell.

McConnell has said repeatedly that Democrats should have to hike the debt limit to cover the cost of potentially trillions in yet-passed parts of Biden's agenda, though the debt limit must be raised to cover spending that already took place under the Trump administration with unified GOP support.

Amid Democrats' calls for carving out the filibuster, McConnell told members in a lunch meeting about the two options: a short-term extension or an expedited reconciliation process -- but those would also give Republicans exactly what they're asking for politically: an increase to the nation's borrowing limit approved solely by Democrats, for the GOP to seize on in midterms.

White House economists and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen have warned that without action, Americans will feel the real-world effects of a self-inflicted economic crisis in the coming days. Consequences include delays to Social Security payments and checks to servicemembers, a suspension of veterans' benefits, and rising interest rates on credit cards, car loans and mortgages.

ABC News' Mariam Khan contributed to this report.

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Supreme Court justices gripped by case of 9/11 detainee: 'We want a clear answer'

Supreme Court justices gripped by case of 9/11 detainee: 'We want a clear answer'

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(WASHINGTON) -- A U.S. Supreme Court case about state secrets and brutal CIA black-site interrogations after 9/11 took an abrupt turn Wednesday when a trio of justices demanded answers from the Biden administration about why the plaintiff -- Al-Qaeda suspect Abu Zubaydah -- is still held without charges in a military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, even though the war in Afghanistan has concluded.

"I don't understand why he's still there after 14 years," said a clearly exasperated Justice Stephen Breyer.

The controversial wartime detention of alleged terrorist combatants was not the immediate focus of the case but was raised after more than an hour of oral arguments by Breyer and Justices Neil Gorsuch and Sonia Sotomayor.

The justices had all been wrestling with how to balance the government's need to keep secret the foreign location of Zubaydah's interrogation -- in an effort to protect national security interests -- and the detainee's need to obtain testimony from two former CIA contractors about what happened when he was in their custody.

Zubaydah is pursuing a claim against Polish officials in Polish court for their alleged complicity in his harsh treatment at a CIA black site in the country, as outlined in a U.S. Senate report, and wants on-the-record testimony about what happened there. The U.S. government has never formally confirmed, nor denied, the existence of a site in Poland and contends testimony from the contractors could compromise secrets.

Justice Gorsuch suggested one "off-ramp," or solution, to the entire case could be allowing Zubaydah to speak for himself about how he was treated, especially since many details have already been declassified in a 2014 Senate Intelligence Committee report.

Zubaydah, who was captured in Pakistan in 2002, was waterboarded 83 times, spent 11 days in a coffin-size confinement box and was subjected to “walling, attention grasps, slapping, facial holds, stress positions and sleep deprivation,” according the report.

"Why not make the witness [Zubaydah] available? What is the government's objection to the witness testifying to his own treatment and not requiring any admission from the government of any kind?" Gorsuch asked acting Solicitor General Brian Fletcher, representing the Biden administration.

"I understand there are all sorts of rules and protective orders," he continued, "I'd just really appreciate a straight answer to this: will the government make Petitioner [Zubaydah] available to testify as to his treatment during these dates?"

Fletcher, apparently caught off guard, explained that he could not offer an answer without first consulting with the Defense Department. He pledged to comply with the justices' request. Under terms of his detention, Zubaydah is allowed to communicate only with his legal team.

"Well, gosh," replied Gorsuch, "this case has been litigated for years and all the way up to the United States Supreme Court, and you haven't considered whether that's an off-ramp that -- that the government could provide?"

The exchange was a remarkable moment that united justices from across the ideological spectrum.

Justice Sotomayor joined Gorsuch's argument, saying, "We want a clear answer. Are you going to permit him to testify, yes or no?"

Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who was participating virtually in the argument because of a COVID-19 diagnosis last week, attempted to throw the government a lifeline. "Is the US still engaged in hostilities under the AUMF against Al-Qaeda?" he asked.

"That is the government's position, that notwithstanding withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, we continue to be engaged in hostilities with Al Qaeda and therefore that detention under law of order remains proper," Fletcher replied.

It is unclear whether the terms of his detention could or would be modified to allow him to testify publicly about his treatment in CIA custody.

The government insists any official testimony that implicates Poland as the location of a CIA black site would breach the trust of our allies and harm future intelligence agreements.

Zubaydah says his pursuit of a case in Polish court could benefit from an eyewitness account of what happened to him, even though many details are already in the public domain. "I want to shine a light on what happened," said his attorney David Klein.

A majority of the justices appeared inclined to show deference to the government's national security concerns about formally confirming Poland as a black site location, but they were also skeptical of a sweeping assertion of state secrets privilege that prevents Zubaydah from providing his own account in a court of law.

The justices are expected to hand down a decision in the case by the end of June 2022.

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Supreme Court takes up secret CIA black sites in 9/11 detainee's case

Supreme Court takes up secret CIA black sites in 9/11 detainee's case

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(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday will wrestle with the limits of the government state secrets privilege in a high-stakes case brought by the first al-Qaida suspect detained and harshly interrogated at a CIA “black site” after Sept. 11, 2001.

Abu Zubaydah, who was captured in Pakistan in 2002, was waterboarded 83 times, spent 11 days in a coffin-size confinement box and was subjected to “walling, attention grasps, slapping, facial holds, stress positions and sleep deprivation,” according to a declassified 2014 Senate Intelligence Committee report.

He wants the U.S. government to publicly confirm that Poland was one of the locations of his interrogation and allow depositions of two CIA contractors involved with his treatment through the agency’s controversial rendition, detention and interrogation program, also known as the "torture program."

Zubaydah and his legal team said the information is critical to a case they are pursuing overseas against Polish government officials for alleged complicity in his treatment.

The Biden administration said in court documents that revealing the information would "cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security."

"We have a confrontation in this case between openness and secrecy -- major principles that have so corrosively confronted one another during this entire era of modern American history," said University of Chicago law professor and legal historian Farah Peterson.

Zubaydah, 50, has been detained at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, without charge since 2006. For years, the government asserted that he was a plotter in the 9/11 attacks, but officials later acknowledged that he was not tied to the operation, according to the 2014 report.

Today, the Biden administration calls Zubaydah "an associate and longtime terrorist ally of Osama bin Laden." His attorneys insist "none of these allegations has support in any CIA record."

While many details of Zubaydah’s treatment in U.S. custody have been public for years -- published in declassified congressional documents, media reports and other outside investigations -- the American government has never formally confirmed, nor denied, the existence of a black site in Poland or that Zubaydah was held there for five months between 2002 and 2003.

The European Court of Human Rights, independent investigations by international advocacy groups and several former top Polish officials have each pointed to the existence of a CIA site in Poland and alleged that Zubaydah was held there.

"It’s [about] protecting whether the [U.S.] government has any official confirmation of what foreign country does, or does not, cooperate with them," said Beth Brinkmann, a former deputy assistant attorney general for the Obama administration, at a recent event at William & Mary Law School. "There’s an interesting government interest in the government saying something and confirming something."

"It might have a chilling effect on other countries being willing to cooperate with us if they know it might come out," added Andrew Pincus, a Yale Law School professor, at the same event.

Zubaydah’s attorneys argue that because so many details of the CIA program are widely known, the government’s blanket assertion of the state secrets privilege is too broad and illegal.

"The two former CIA contractors who devised and implemented the torture program ... have twice testified under oath about what they saw, heard and did at various black sites, including what they did to Abu Zubaydah and some of what they observed at the black site at issue in this litigation," they wrote in court documents. "It is undisputed that this testimony contains no state secrets."

Lower courts have split over the subpoenas for evidence in Zubaydah’s case. A federal district court sided with the government, but the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals reversed the decision.

"The district court erred in quashing the subpoenas in toto rather than attempting to disentangle nonprivileged from privileged information," the panel wrote.

The Supreme Court will now parse whether sensitive information already in the public domain can be still subject to the state secrets privilege and to what extent information from government contractors may be protected for national security concerns.

A decision in favor of Zubaydah could help him expose more information about the now-defunct, secretive CIA program and advance his case against Polish officials overseas. A decision siding with the U.S. government could bolster the power of the state secrets privilege and limit future attempts at exposure of classified information related to national security.

The CIA did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment on the case.

Several family members of 9/11 victims have weighed in on the case at the Supreme Court in support of Zubaydah.

"The arc of the moral universe has been twisted and bent over the last 20 years, with justice sadly eluding both the families of the 9/11 dead and the accused, who were, like Mr. Zubaydah, tortured at government black sites," said Adele Welty, the mother of New York City firefighter Timothy Welty, who was killed in the attack. "In the interest of justice so long denied, we implore the government to separate properly classified information from unclassified and release all relevant documents."

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Climate change provisions remain crucial piece of reconciliation debate

Climate change provisions remain crucial piece of reconciliation debate

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(WASHINGTON) -- Asked last week what the biggest sticking points were in the ongoing negotiations over the partisan budget reconciliation bill, California Rep. Ro Khanna, a member of the progressive caucus, texted ABC News one word: "climate."

In television interviews since, several other progressive leaders have also been quick to underscore their commitment to the climate-related provisions in the sweeping budget package, suggesting the issues are top of mind as debate continues with key holdouts Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz. Without Republican support around the budget proposals, Democrats cannot afford to lose either vote.

Although the White House is eager to strike a deal on the budget bill, the upcoming United National Climate Change Conference in Glasglow, Scotland, at the end of the month is adding pressure for the president to deliver on climate change.

In his recent public remarks to both domestic and foreign audiences, President Joe Biden has not only outlined bold benchmarks for dramatically reducing the United States’ total greenhouse gas emissions and dependency on fossil fuels over the next 10 years, but he has also leaned on other nations to up their commitments, too.

"The president cannot show up in Glasgow empty-handed," Jamal Raad, co-founder and executive director of climate change advocacy group Evergreen Action, told ABC News. "The current budget reconciliation package includes major pieces of legislation that will drive down emissions and let us be taken seriously on the global stage."

But Manchin has expressed skepticism around some of the energy proposals, including new tax incentives for renewable energy production and disincentives for utility companies that do not accelerate a transition to cleaner energy sources. From a state with deep roots in coal, Manchin has repeatedly indicated he is reluctant to support measures viewed as punishing fossil fuels.

On CNN’s State of the Union last month, Manchin expressed his support for many, if not all, of the social programs outlined in the current budget proposal, but when pressed on the climate and carbon emissions proposal he said, "The [energy] transition is happening. Now they're wanting to pay companies to do what they're already doing. Makes no sense to me at all for us to take billions of dollars and pay utilities for what they're going to do as the market transitions."

In a document obtained by ABC News showing negotiations on the budget from over the summer, Manchin also listed that he was not in favor of cutting subsidies for fossil fuels if energy companies were going to be given tax credits for the production of renewable energies.

Biden campaigned on eliminating tax subsidies for fossil fuel companies, and when asked about it by ABC News on Friday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said ending them was still the White House’s goal.

The president’s initial proposals for large-scale government spending to foster renewable energy production were scrapped and scaled back to pass the bipartisan infrastructure deal in the Senate in early August. Progressives were told at the time that many of the ideas would be salvaged and included in the partisan budget reconciliation package.

Currently, the budget includes over $300 billion in proposed clean energy tax credits intended to support energy companies’ work to ramp up the production of renewables, cleaner cars and greener buildings; incentives for consumers to buy electric vehicles; fees and stricter rules around methane leaks; and $150 billion for a Clean Electricity Performance Program designed to incentivize utility companies to supply at least 4% more clean energy year over year with the target of reaching 80% zero-emission electricity nationwide by 2030.

Speaking to Margaret Brennan on CBS’s Face the Nation, progressive Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., said Sunday the climate provisions in the budget package were non-negotiable to her. She described a recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as a "code red for humanity."

“I think some of the climate provisions that we have, we cannot afford to increase carbon or just fossil fuel emissions at this time. That is simply the science. That is not something we can kick down the line,” Ocasio-Cortez told Brennan.

“You're going to run right into Sen. Joe Manchin on those issues though, you know that,” Brennan replied to Ocasio-Cortez, and the congresswoman did not disagree.

“Yes, and I think Sen. Manchin is going to run to the science,” Ocasio-Cortez responded.

On ABC's This Week on Sunday, Senate Budget Chair Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, argued that on the issue of fighting climate change, the top-line spending totals for the entire budget package were probably too small.

"When we especially talk about the crisis of climate change, and the need to transform our energy system away from fossil fuel, the $6 trillion that I had originally proposed was probably too little, $3.5 trillion should be a minimum," Sanders told ABC’s Jonathan Karl.

Beyond climate provisions, the budget also includes funding for new social programs like universal pre-K, paid medical leave and free community college.

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As Republicans play debt limit brinksmanship, nation barrels toward default

As Republicans play debt limit brinksmanship, nation barrels toward default

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(WASHINGTON) -- As the nation barrels toward default, Republicans are poised to sink a Democratic effort to suspend the federal borrowing limit.

Republicans in the Senate are filibustering a House-passed measure that would suspend the debt limit until December 2022. At least 10 Republicans would need to join all Senate Democrats to break a GOP filibuster and allow a simple majority vote to pass the bill.

Democrats argue that this would give Republicans exactly what they're asking for: an increase to the nation’s borrowing limit approved solely by Democrats.

"Tomorrow's vote is not a vote to raise the debt ceiling. It's, rather, a procedural step to let Democrats raise the debt ceiling on our own," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Tuesday. "We're telling Republicans that we're not asking you to vote for it, just let us vote for it."

But Republicans aren't backing down. They've maintained for months that Democrats must act to raise the federal debt limit on their own, because they have total control of Washington and are planning to pass a multi-trillion social and economic package with zero input from Republicans.

"They said they're perfectly prepared to do the job themselves," Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell insisted to reporters Tuesday. "The easiest way to do that is through the reconciliation process as I pointed out for two months."

McConnell, R-Ky., has said repeatedly that Democrats should have to hike the debt limit to cover the cost of potentially trillions in yet-passed parts of President Joe Biden's agenda, though the debt limit must be raised to cover spending that already took place under the Trump administration with unified GOP support.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told ABC News on Tuesday he won't support moving forward on a vote.

"We are not going to empower a radical march toward socialism," Graham, the top Republican on the Budget Committee, said.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Senate budget committee chairman, floated a potential solution that would involve temporarily suspending the chamber’s filibuster rules that require 60 votes for most legislation.

"Where it may come down to is a demand that at least for the debt ceiling that we end the filibuster ... and pass it with 51 votes," Sanders suggested.

But the 50-member Democratic caucus would have to remain unified to do this, and both moderates Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema have balked at any changes to the filibuster rules.

No Republican has yet gone on the record to say he or she is prepared to join Democrats to clear the way for a final vote on the debt limit Wednesday, though moderate Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, opened the door to potentially joining the majority.

"I want to make sure we are doing everything that we can to not send us into a situation of default, and I don't even want to get close," Murkowski said. "We have to make sure. We just have to ensure."

The nation technically hit the debt ceiling Aug. 1, with the Treasury Department using extraordinary measures to pay the nation’s bills. But Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said that by Oct. 18, her department’s efforts would be fully exhausted and default would be all but certain.

Pressure is mounting alongside partisan gridlock, with no backup plan emerging.

McConnell and his conference are insisting that Democrats use a fast-track budget tool called reconciliation that allows the majority to break a filibuster to pass certain legislation. Use of this arcane process is cumbersome, could take weeks and opens up Democrats to a series of potentially politically painful votes.

But there could be an added political benefit for Republicans in insisting that this process be used. It would put Democrats on the record raising the debt ceiling by a hefty dollar amount, whereas Wednesday's vote -- simply suspending the debt limit by no specified amount -- does not. That would feed into the GOP narrative that Democrats are out-of-control spenders.

"We're very interested in a specific dollar amount," Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., said Tuesday. "They're going to have to come before the American people and say, 'We're going to increase the debt ceiling by X amount, because this is the amount we intend to spend', and one way or another, it puts them on the record as to their spending proposals."

Some Democrats say they'd support using reconciliation if it meant a swift resolution of the debt limit issue. Manchin said the process should be considered, and Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut told reporters that "everything should be on the table" when pressed on whether the fast-track budget tool should be considered.

But each passing day limits the time Democrats would have to fast track a debt ceiling increase through the multi-step process to final passage, and Democrats tell ABC News that no work has begun on the reconciliation process, even behind the scenes.

"No, not at the moment," Sanders told ABC News.

Some Democrats were more emphatic.

"Reconciliation was never on the table," Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren said. "There's not enough time to make reconciliation work."

But on Tuesday, Schumer did not expressly rule it out.

When asked if he was ruling out using the budget process, Schumer repeatedly referenced the Wednesday vote as the preferred way to go about hiking the debt cap.

"Reconciliation is a drawn out, convoluted process. We've shown the best way to go. We're moving forward in that direction," Schumer said, refusing to entertain a Plan B.

If the nation defaults, the results are sure to be catastrophic. The White House has warned that an unprecedented default could send shockwaves through the global economy and trigger a recession. The political implications for both parties are unclear.

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Florida trying to block money Biden sent to school districts fined for mask mandates

Florida trying to block money Biden sent to school districts fined for mask mandates

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(WASHINGTON) -- Days after the Biden administration reimbursed two Florida school districts whose board members lost their salaries for mandating masks for students, the state's top education official is trying to strip the districts of the money.

In a series of memoranda, Florida Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran recommended Monday that the Florida Board of Education, which meets Thursday, withhold "state funds in an amount equal to any federal grant funds awarded" to districts that defy Gov. Ron DeSantis' ban on school mask requirements.

Corcoran said he found probable cause that 11 school districts, including Miami-Dade and Palm Beach, violated state laws by implementing a mask mandate.

He also recommended that the Board withhold the salaries of the board members in each district, a punishment already handed down in late August to officials in Alachua and Broward counties.

In response to that crackdown, the U.S. Department of Education awarded the Alachua and Broward districts hundreds of thousands of dollars to make up for the lost paychecks. The money was issued through the Project SAFE grant program, which was created last month to reimburse school districts that lose state money for implementing coronavirus mitigation strategies.

The Florida Department of Education has not announced that it has begun withholding salaries from school board members in other districts requiring masks.

Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona indicated in August that districts punished by Florida for requiring masks for students would be eligible for grant money. "I want you to know that the U.S. Department of Education stands with you," he wrote in a letter to superintendents.

The 11 districts that Corcoran said violated the law will be under the microscope Thursday, when the Board of Education meets to decide whether to implement the commissioner's recommendations and punish them.

District officials in Alachua and Broward counties questioned the legality of blocking federal funding on Tuesday.

"We're always concerned when funds are withheld from public education, but we're particularly concerned about the state interfering with federal funding. This will almost certainly have to be settled in court," Dr. Carlee Simon, superintendent of Alachua County Public Schools, said in a statement to ABC News.

Dr. Rosalind Osgood, chair of the school board in Broward County, called Corcoran's recommendations to the Board of Education "extremely displeasing" and said her district was complying with the law "and saving lives."

"Our students and staff need academic support, mental health support and job security. The way that the Governor and Commissioner of Education have handled this issue has caused added trauma, unemployment and a major disruption in school board operations," Osgood said in a statement to ABC News.

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Black woman in rural Texas unable to obtain ID needed to vote, advocates say system is unfair

Black woman in rural Texas unable to obtain ID needed to vote, advocates say system is unfair

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(OAKWOOD, Texas) -- As voters across Texas submitted voter registration applications on Monday, Oct. 4, ahead of the Nov. 2 statewide election, 82-year-old Elmira Hicks was left out.

The Oakwood, Texas, native says she hasn't been able to renew her driver's license for more than a year because she has been unable to present the required birth certificate needed to verify her identity.

In the Lone Star State, election laws require voters to present a driver's license, passport, military identification card, citizenship certificate, state election identification certificate or a personal identification card to cast a ballot or register to vote.

Hicks does not have a passport and without her driver's license or the other approved documents, she said she will face obstacles that will make it difficult for her to participate in state and federal elections as a rural resident with limited transportation.

"My ability to get a license is completely impossible. They've completely shut me down," Hicks told ABC News. "I can't vote without proper identification. My voice does not count. It's very important. People have died just to vote, people have stood in line, in the rain, women fought to vote and now I can't vote," Hicks added.

Like many Black elders in the South, Hicks was born with the help of a midwife, at a time when records weren't kept. She never had a birth certificate. Her daughter, Jonita White, has helped her apply for one. The pair battled in court over the issue. A judge even ruled in their favor. Still, they said the Office of Vital Statistics has rejected Hicks on a technicality.

"I do feel like the laws right now are targeting my mother and other African Americans in this country," White said.

Eight constitutional amendments ranging from taxes to judicial eligibility will be up for a vote on Nov. 2, an election Hicks will not be able to participate in.

Advocates warn that potentially thousands of predominantly minority voters could be disenfranchised due to voter identification requirements, which could have a large implications during next year's midterm elections for state and congressional races.

"It's often very common for people of a certain age not to have a birth certificate. I want to emphasize it's not as uncommon as people might believe," said Franita Tolson, the vice dean for faculty and academic affairs and a professor of law at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law.

"In this country, race correlates to a lot of different characteristics. So, for example, if you take voter identification laws ... people of color, so African Americans, Latinos, will be less likely to have the underlying documents that you need in order to get the ID in the first place in order to get a driver's license," Tolson continued.

Texas recently passed the Election Integrity Protection Act, one of the most restrictive voting laws in the country. It bans drive-thru voting, enlists new regulations for early voting and enacts new ID requirements for mail-in voting.

While Tolson does not believe all voter identification requirements are discriminatory, she called Texas' voter ID measures "racist" during a Congressional Subcommittee hearing, because she believes they disproportionately impact voters of color.

"Texas has a very restrictive voter ID law," Tolson said. "If you read it, it doesn't seem racist on its face, but if you think about how it operates in practice, as well as the intent behind it, it is fairly racist. For example, Texas' law only allows voters to have a certain limited amount of IDs. You have to have a driver's license, you can have a hand handgun license, you can have a military ID, but you can't have a federal ID, or you can't have a student ID, which are the types of IDs that people of color are more likely to have."

Rep. Steve Toth R-Texas, vehemently disagreed with Tolson's claim that the state's election laws are discriminatory, telling ABC News that the latest legislation makes it easier for people to vote and harder to commit fraud.

"We expanded the number of hours for people to vote, we expanded the number of days so people could vote. We added criminal penalties to people that want to shut voting locations down early or open late. We made sure that employers had to allow people to leave early to vote," Toth said, calling Tolson's charge offensive.

Nationally, there is bipartisan support for voter identification requirements among the majority of Americans, and 62% of Democrats support photo ID requirements, along with 87% of Independents and 91% of Republicans, according to a Monmouth poll.

Toth told ABC News that voters like Hicks have recourse.

"If they can't get a driver's license, go to DPS {Department of Public Safety], with a social security card, or some other ID, and to get an ID [election identification card] so that you can vote. It's free," Toth said, acknowledging that most people vote using their driver's license.

White said obtaining an election identification is not so easy for an 82-year-old woman who lives in a rural area without the convenient ability to drive herself to the Department of Public Safety.

"My challenge is it's taking so long to get this done," White said. "And to send my mother through all of these hoops at this age to go get documents notarized, to go get her Social Security application, We're having to look for high school records and baptism information...To send her through such a process, it is really is ridiculous."

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect Hicks has been unable to renew her driver's license.

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Exclusive: Ex-Trump aide Stephanie Grisham says 'I am terrified' of Trump running in 2024

Exclusive: Ex-Trump aide Stephanie Grisham says 'I am terrified' of Trump running in 2024

ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- Stephanie Grisham, one of former President Donald Trump's most senior and longest-serving advisers, says she is "terrified" that her former boss may run for office again.

"I am terrified of him running in 2024," Grisham, who served as both Trump's press secretary and first lady Melania Trump's chief of staff, told "Nightline" co-anchor Juju Chang in a wide-ranging exclusive interview on the eve of the publication of Grisham's new book.

"I don't think he is fit for the job," Grisham said. "I think that he is erratic. I think that he can be delusional. I think that he is a narcissist and cares about himself first and foremost. And I do not want him to be our president again."

Asked by Chang what scares her the most, Grisham painted a grim picture of what could happen if Trump ends up running again in 2024.

"I think he would foment more violence," she said. "He won't have consequences. He won't need to be reelected again."

"I think he will line his pockets," she added. "I think his family will line their pockets. I believe that he wanted to help the country in the beginning; I believe he wants to help himself now."

In her new book, titled "I'll Take Your Questions Now," out this Tuesday, Grisham describes a White House in perpetual chaos, where she says "casual dishonesty" flowed through the air "as if it were in the air conditioning system." The book is filled with accusations about the former president, and includes a host of alleged wrongdoings that range from downplaying the seriousness of the coronavirus to making sexual comments about a young female White House staffer.

But amid all the turmoil laid out in the book, Grisham remained by the former president's side for nearly his entire four-year term in the White House, before resigning after the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol.

"How did you go from one of the loyalist loyals to one of their fiercest critics, seemingly overnight?" Chang asked Grisham, who responded, "Definitely not overnight. It's kind of a journey."

Grisham, who is perhaps best known for never holding a televised press briefing during her time as White House press secretary, has faced a barrage of criticism for speaking out now, nearly a year after leaving the White House.

The former president and his family have forcefully responded to the latest tell-all book by a former close ally, with Melania Trump's office saying in a statement, "The author is desperately trying to rehabilitate her tarnished reputation by manipulating and distorting the truth about Mrs. Trump. Ms. Grisham is a deceitful and troubled individual who doesn't deserve anyone's trust.

"Stephanie didn’t have what it takes and that was obvious from the beginning," former President Trump said in a statement. "Now, like everyone else, she gets paid by a radical left-leaning publisher to say bad and untrue things."

Grisham has also received harsh pushback from some former colleagues, including former Trump White House Director of Communications Alyssa Farah, who responded to the book live during her guest-host appearance on "The View" Monday.

"First and foremost, I don't believe in profiting off of public service. I had a chance to write my White House tell-all and declined. The American people, the taxpayers paid my salary. I'm not going to go write a book and cash in," said Farah, who resigned from the White House in December following the election.

"Reading some of the reviews, some of the critics are saying, you know, if you're admitting to lying then, what makes us think that you're not lying now?" Chang asked Grisham about her role as press secretary.

"Well, I don't think I'm admitting to lying at all," Grisham responded. "I tried to give the press the most honest answers I could, and there were oftentimes I was given information that I knew to be true that perhaps wasn't true."

But Chang pushed back, pointing out that Grisham had already admitted that a 2019 tweet she posted targeting former Chief of Staff John Kelly had been untrue.

"To be fair, you did say that the John Kelly tweet was not sincere," Chang said to Grisham, who acknowledged, "That was not sincere," and added, "And I regret and apologize for so much."

"But you said that, 'I never lied?'" Chang followed up. "Oh no," Grisham said. "I would s-- I-- I just would say I-- I tried my best."

Beyond not holding a press briefing, Grisham writes in the book that she was once tasked by the former president with figuring out how to completely ban members of the media from the White House grounds. "I researched different places we could put them other than the press briefing room. Each time the president asked me about my progress on the matter, I let him know I was still working on options," she writes.

"Should the American public believe what you're saying now when you, in many ways, were non-responsive and not communicating transparently or honestly during -- by your own admission?" Chang asked.

"Fair question -- the fact is, the president never wanted me to do a briefing," said Grisham who added that "I was glad that that was something he didn't want from me, because I didn't want to have to go out there and say something dishonest."

Farah, however, pushed back on Grisham's claim that Trump told her not to hold press briefings.

"That would surprise me," Farah said. "When I worked for him, it was, 'Go get out on TV, Alyssa. Kayleigh, go give a briefing.' He wanted people out."

"She could have done backgrounders in her office," Farah said of Grisham. "But it seemed like she was largely MIA on the job."

Grisham also claims in the book that she observed the former president, who has been accused of sexual misconduct by at least 18 women, develop an "unusual interest" and behave "inappropriately" toward a young female staffer during his time as president, including during one trip where he summoned the unnamed aide to his cabin on Air Force One, allegedly telling other staffers, "Let's bring her up here and look at her ass."

"What I do know is that he behaved inappropriately. And since the woman worked for me, I tried to protect her and keep his unusual interest in her under wraps," Grisham writes. "If the president didn't see her with the press corps, he would ask me where she was. He would ask me if she were coming with us on foreign trips. When she did come along on trips, he often asked me to bring her to his office cabin in the aircraft, which he'd rarely done with anyone else."

"I wouldn't leave her in the cabin with him. I always sat there," Grisham told Chang. "And he would just talk to her about, you know, 'Did you see my speech? What did you think?' You know, I think have her compliment him."

But Chang challenged Grisham, asking, "And yet in many ways were you helping in some ways normalizing his other inappropriate behavior and enabling in some way this behavior?"

"I've thought about that a lot," Grisham replied. "At the White House, it's not like there's a human resources office that you can go to say, 'Hey, the president of the United States is acting inappropriately.'"

Grisham's claims about the staffer were corroborated by Farah, who said on "The View" that "I was aware of the situation and of the female and I did report it to the chief of staff."

"It was a challenging situation I don't know if anything was done," she said.

"What were you worried that might happen?" Chang asked Grisham.

"I was worried that a young, impressionable girl would be put into a situation that made her uncomfortable," said Grisham, who also admitted that she now believes "most" of the women who have accused Trump of sexual misconduct, including former porn star Stormy Daniels. "I was worried he would sexually harass her."

As the first lady's chief of staff, Grisham had an up-close look at the woman she says Secret Service agents referred to as "Rapunzel." Regarding the #FreeMelania hashtag that became a rallying cry for those who theorized online that the first lady didn't want to be in the White House, Grisham said that idea was misguided.

"The #FreeMelania hashtag I think was people hoping that she wanted to leave," Grisham said. "The truth is, she liked it there. I think there was a rumor for years that she had a whole separate house somewhere, which was not true. We would laugh about the #FreeMelania hashtag all the time."

Grisham also described what it was like to be the person to inform the first lady that her husband was being accused of an extramarital affair and was being sued by Daniels.

"That was tough. As a woman, I've been cheated on before, so that was painful for me," Grisham recalled. "It was very, very awkward. I've never had to do anything like that before."

Grisham also claimed that staffers had a secret nickname for the president's daughter, Ivanka Trump, and her husband, Jared Kushner, who both held senior positions in the White House, referring to the pair as "the interns."

"We called them the interns because as interns usually are, they come into places and think they know everything," Grisham said.

In the book, which publisher HarperCollins calls "the most frank and intimate portrait of the Trump White House yet," Grisham also claims Trump had an infatuation with dictators and writes how the former president allegedly sought to cozy up to Russia's Vladimir Putin during an overseas trip for the Group of 20 summit in Osaka in 2019. Grisham alleges that during a private meeting before the press was brought into the room, Trump told Putin, "Okay, I'm going to act a little tougher with you for a few minutes. But it's for the cameras, and after they leave we'll talk. You understand."

"Putin was coughing. He kept coughing, kept clearing his throat, and I did find it odd that he wouldn't just take a drink of water … and he knows ways to get in someone's head," Grisham told Chang.

As one of Trump's longest-serving political aides, Grisham's time working for the former president dates back to his 2016 campaign when she served as a press wrangler before moving deeper into the Trumps' inner circle. As other top aides resigned or were forced out -- with some even speaking out against Trump while he was still in office -- Grisham continued to stand by the president.

Grisham told Chang that one of her biggest regrets was not doing more from inside the White House during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic when, as she alleges, Trump was thinking more about getting reelected than how to get the virus under control.

"It was about having him look presidential for reelection. I wish I would have told him he needs to wear a mask. I wish I could've been louder with that," she said.

"Do you think that misinformation or dishonesty cost lives?" Chang asked about the White House's response to the pandemic.

"Yes," Grisham replied. "I will always think that, and I don't know that I -- you can ever forgive yourself fully for being a part of that."

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Sen. Kyrsten Sinema claps back after chased into bathroom by pro-Biden agenda protesters

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema claps back after chased into bathroom by pro-Biden agenda protesters

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(WASHINGTON) -- Sen. Krysten Sinema, an Arizona Democrat, is clapping back after she was videotaped and chased into a school bathroom over the weekend by a group of pro-Biden agenda activists, confronting her over her objections holding up Democratic efforts on Capitol Hill.

President Joe Biden has also weighed in on the encounter, when asked on Monday, calling it not appropriate but also "part of the process" for someone without Secret Service protection.

Sinema, in a new statement on Monday, called the display caught on video and posted online "no legitimate protest" and "wholly inappropriate."

She claimed activists entered Arizona State University, where she was teaching, using "deceptive" and "unlawful" means.

"After deceptively entering a locked, secure building, these individuals filmed and publicly posted videos of my students without their permission -- including footage taken of both my students and I using a restroom," the statement said.

While she wrote she supports the First Amendment, she shunned the protest -- by a group she doesn't name but claims to have met with several times since she was elected to the Senate.

"Yesterday's behavior was not legitimate protest. It is unacceptable for activist organizations to instruct their members to jeopardize themselves by engaging in unlawful activities such as gaining entry to closed university buildings, disrupting learning environments, and filming students in a restroom," she wrote.

Video posted to Twitter on Sunday by the organization Living United for Change in Arizona or LUCHA, showed people chanting at and chasing the first-term senator into a bathroom, pressing her to support Biden's Build Back Better agenda and progressive immigration policy.

LUCHA co-directors Tomas Robles and Alejandra Gomez said in a statement to ABC News that Sinema has shown "zero interest to engage with her constituents or meet her colleagues halfway on critical legislation."

"Sinema's constituents have not been granted access to her office, they have been ignored, dismissed, and antagonized," they said in an email on behalf of the organization. "We will continue to do the appropriate thing: listen to people across Arizona about what they need to thrive, meet our community where they are, fiercely advocate on their behalf, and meet the moment!"

The confrontation comes as the moderate Democratic senator, along with Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., continue intra-party negotiations on the topline number for a larger social spending package to accompany the already Senate-passed $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill.

"In the 19 years I have been teaching at ASU, I have been committed to creating a safe and intellectually challenging environment for my students. Yesterday, that environment was breached. My students were unfairly and unlawfully victimized. This is wholly inappropriate," Sinema continued.

Her statement ended by putting the onus also on elected officials to foster a healthy environment for politics.

"It is the duty of elected leaders to avoid fostering an environment in which honestly-held policy disagreements serve as the basis for vitriol -- raising the temperature in political rhetoric and creating a permission structure for unacceptable behavior," she wrote.

Biden was asked about the recent protests facing both Sinema and Manchin in his remarks on Monday about the debt ceiling.

"Joe Manchin had people on kayaks show up to his boat to yell at him. Senator Sinema last night was chased into a restroom. Do you think that those tactics are crossing a line?" a reporter asked.

"I don't think they're appropriate tactics, but it happens to everybody," Biden replied. "The only people it doesn't happen to are people who have Secret Service standing around them. So it's part of the process."

White House press secretary Jen Psaki attempted to clarify at a later press briefing that Biden was agreeing with Sinema that free speech is fundamental to democracy but also that the confrontation was "inappropriate and unacceptable."

"The president believes that -- maybe he shorthanded it, but he wanted to make that clear this morning," Psaki said.

"The safe and intellectually stimulating environment she's worked to create during the years of teaching at ASU was breached. That's inappropriate and unacceptable, and I think the context of what happened here is important, despite the fact that, of course, we stand for -- the president stands for -- the fundamental right of people to protest," she added.

She said it was clear the White House condemned the behavior.

Biden, asked earlier if Sinema has given the White House a topline number for the social package -- somewhere between $1.5 trillion and $3.5 trillion -- said, "I'm not going to negotiate in public."

But he did draw an apparent line of us-vs-them when it came to Sinema and Manchin.

"I was able to close the deal on 99% of my party," Biden said, on nearly getting his infrastructure and social spending bills across the finish line. "Two. Two people."

"I need 50 votes in the Senate. I have 48," he added later.

As the video of Sinema went viral on Twitter over the weekend, accumulating more than five million views by Monday, pundits of all parties united in agreement that the behavior crossed a privacy line.

ABC News' Trish Turner and Ben Gittleson contributed to this report.

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Biden calls out Republicans for refusing to help raise debt ceiling

Biden calls out Republicans for refusing to help raise debt ceiling

ABC News/Twitter

(WASHINGTON) -- Two weeks before the "calamity" Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen predicts could strike by Oct. 18, President Joe Biden on Monday blasted Republicans for "playing Russian roulette with the U.S. economy" in refusing to join Democrats to raise the debt ceiling so the U.S. does not default on its debt for the first time ever.

"The Republicans in Congress -- what they are doing today is so reckless and dangerous in my view. Raising the debt limit is It's about paying what we already owe, what has already been acquired. Not anything new," Biden said. "The United States is a nation that pays its bills and always has. From its inception, we have never defaulted."

"Not only are Republicans refusing to do their job, they are threatening to use their power to prevent us from doing our job, saving the economy from a catastrophic event. Frankly, I think it's hypocritical, dangerous, and disgraceful. Their obstruction and irresponsibility knows no bounds, especially as we are clawing our way out of this pandemic," he continued.

Biden's amping up the pressure on the GOP to get on board comes ahead of Senate Republicans planning to block another bill down this week to raise the debt limit -- an issue lawmakers have historically come together on for years.

Democrats are trying to pass a straightforward debt limit hike on their own with 50 votes -- and no Republican support. But Republicans are filibustering the Democratic strategy -- requiring 60 votes to move forward -- and insisting that Democrats raise the debt ceiling through the much more complicated process of budget reconciliation that Biden says could involve hundreds of votes that could mean it wouldn't get in time to avoid catastrophe.

Republicans have said they won't support spending on Biden's agenda, while Democrats are reiterating the point that raising the debt ceiling does not authorize new government spending but allows the government to pay for spending that previous politicians have already OK'd -- including former President Donald Trump and then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Biden seized on that point.

Pres. Biden: “The reason we have to raise the debt limit is, in part, because of the reckless tax and spending policies under the previous Trump administration. In four years, they incurred nearly $8 trillion in additional debt.” https://t.co/UkSrTz2XPz pic.twitter.com/9Y6Yh0Vphj

— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) October 4, 2021

"Raising the debt limit is usually a bipartisan undertaking. And it should be. That is what is not happening today," Biden said. "The reason we have to raise the debt limit is in part because of the reckless tax and spending policies under the previous Trump administration."

"Republicans in Congress raised the debt three times when Donald Trump was president. Each time the Democratic support. Now they won't raise it. Even though they are responsible for more than $8 trillion in bills incurred in four years under the previous administration," he claimed.

He called on Republicans to allow Democrats to hold a vote this week without "procedural tricks," he said, because at this point, "We are not expecting Republicans to do their part."

"We are simply asking them not to use procedural tricks to block them from doing the job they won't do. A meteor is headed for our economy," Biden said. "You don't want to help save the country? Get out-of-the-way so you don't destroy it."

Asked following his remarks if it's possible the U.S. will not pay its debt, Biden said he couldn't guarantee it.

"I can't believe that will be the end result because the consequence is so dire. I don't believe that. But can I guarantee it? If I could, I would, but I can't," he said, before leaving the room.

Biden gave a warning to Americans on the effects they could feel in the coming days.

"In the days ahead, even before the default date, people may see the value of their retirement accounts shrink. They might see interest rates go up, ultimately raising their mortgage and car payments. The American people, look, just say it this way. As soon as this week, your savings and your pocketbook could be directly impacted by this Republican stunt," he said.

The impassioned plea echoed the treasury secretary's at a hearing last week, where she warned raising the debt ceiling is "necessary to avert a catastrophic event for our economy."

"It has nothing to do with future programs of payments, it's entirely about paying bills that have already been incurred by this Congress, in previous Congresses, and it's about making good on past commitments -- as you said, paying our credit card bill," Yellen said in a hearing last week.

While lawmakers came together and voted to avoid a government shutdown, Democrats were forced to remove language from that bill that would have also raised the debt ceiling as Republicans argue they'll have to go at it alone through the budget reconciliation process.

McConnell, in a letter to Biden ahead of his remarks, reiterated his party's opposition to helping Democrats and warned the president that it is time for him to "engage directly" with Democrats in Congress on raising the debt limit by themselves.

"Your lieutenants in Congress must understand that you do not want your unified Democratic government to sleepwalk toward an avoidable catastrophe when they have had nearly three months' notice to do their job," McConnell wrote.

"Bipartisanship is not a light switch that Speaker Pelosi and Leader Schumer may flip on to borrow money and flip off to spend it," he continued. "We have no list of demands. For two and a half months, we have simply warned that since your party wishes to govern alone, it must handle the debt limit alone as well."

The party standoff comes in an extremely polarized environment, when lawmakers are also debating passing one of the largest government spending packages in history, Biden's approximately $2 trillion Build Back Better agenda and the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure deal.

Biden reiterated in his remarks that raising the debt limit has "nothing to do with my plan for infrastructure or building back better -- zero."

As the negotiations on Capitol Hill have become intertwined, Republicans insist that if Democrats want to pass such a major spending bill through special budget rules that would require no Republican support, they can raise the debt ceiling on their own, too.

And if lawmakers remain deadlocked on raising the debt ceiling, the government could go into default -- essentially, unable to pay bills, directly impacting the wallets of millions of Americans.

"It would be disastrous for the American economy, for global financial markets, and for millions of families and workers whose financial security would be jeopardized by delayed payments," Yellen warned lawmakers in a hearing last week.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer in a "Dear Colleague" letter to his caucus on Monday said a deal must be reached "by the end of the week," an exceedingly ambitious timetable in the partisan environment.

"Let me be clear about the task ahead of us: we must get a bill to the President's desk dealing with the debt limit by the end of the week. Period. We do not have the luxury of waiting until October 18th," he wrote.

Schumer also threatened to scrap the Senate's recess next week if the GOP doesn't help them rase the debt limit.

Currently, the federal debt is at $28.43 trillion, according to the Peter G. Peterson Foundation's tracker. The current debt ceiling is actually $28.4 trillion -- underscoring the pressure Yellen is under to continue paying the bills through "extraordinary measures."

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Exclusive: Stephanie Grisham says 'I regret' enabling culture of dishonesty in Trump White House

Exclusive: Stephanie Grisham says 'I regret' enabling culture of dishonesty in Trump White House

ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- In an exclusive interview with ABC News' George Stephanopoulos, Stephanie Grisham, one of former President Donald Trump's most senior and longest-serving advisers, said she regrets enabling a culture of dishonesty at the White House.

"You are talking about this cultural culture of casual dishonesty at the White House, so you were, as press secretary, even if you weren't getting briefings, enabling that culture, weren't you?" Stephanopoulos asked Grisham on Good Morning America Monday morning.

Grisham, whose new tell-all book "I'll Take Your Questions Now" is out this week, responded, "Yes, I was. And I've reflected on that and I regret that. Especially now when watching him, and so many people, push the false election narrative. I now want to, in whatever way I can, educate the public about the behaviors within the White House because it does look like he's going to try to run in 2024."

Stephanopoulos challenged Grisham, who served nearly the entire four-year term in the Trump White House before resigning after the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol, asking, "but you stayed until the final two weeks ... what took you so long?"

"Yes, that's a fair question and it's a complicated question," Grisham responded, adding that she was at first drawn to Trump's ability to attract large crowds and his support among Republicans. But she said that when she joined the West Wing, she "started to see what it was really like and I regretted that decision immediately."

The former president has forcefully responded to the latest tell-all book by a former close ally, with Melania Trump's office saying in a statement, "The author is desperately trying to rehabilitate her tarnished reputation by manipulating and distorting the truth about Mrs. Trump. Ms. Grisham is a deceitful and troubled individual who doesn't deserve anyone's trust."

Grisham, who also told Stephanopoulos it was the former president who told her not to hold briefings during her time in the role, said she is unsure if she could have done more to protect a young female staffer who she writes in her new book Trump had developed a "unusual interest" in and had "behaved inappropriately" toward.

"Should you have done more to protect her?" Stephanopoulos pressed.

Grisham responded, "I don't know if I could have, there's, there's not an HR department at the White House," before Stephanopoulos pushed back and suggested she could have brought the issue to White House chief of staff.

"I didn't feel comfortable talking to Mark Meadows," Grisham responded. "I don't believe he would have done anything. So I did the best I could, in terms of never letting her be alone with him in the cabin. I tried to keep her off trips as often as I could. I did the best I could, I think, in that environment."

Another major theme in the book is the former president's infatuation with world dictators. Grisham recalls how the former president tried to cozy up to Russia's Vladimir Putin during an overseas trip for the Group of 20 summit in Osaka in 2019.

"How do you explain why the president was so placating of President Putin?" Stephanopoulos asked. Grisham said that, in her opinion, "I got the feeling that he wanted to impress dictators, I think he almost admired how tough they were."

While other top aides resigned or were forced out, with some even speaking out against Trump while he was still in office, Grisham stood by the president throughout nearly the entirety of the Trump administration's four-year term, through numerous controversies -- and when asked on Monday by Stephanopoulos if it was a mistake to work for President Trump, she quickly replied, "Yes."

"Why do it?" Stephanopoulos asked.

"I do believe he gave voice to a lot of people who did feel forgotten," Grisham said. "But I think that many of us, myself included, got into that White House, and got heavy with power and … we didn't think about serving the country anymore, it was about surviving."

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Supreme Court pivots to abortion, guns, and death penalty as public approval slides

Supreme Court pivots to abortion, guns, and death penalty as public approval slides

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(WASHINGTON) -- Facing an onslaught of political pressure tactics and plunging public approval, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday sails into a new term set to decide some of the most divisive cases in decades on abortion, gun rights, the death penalty and religious freedom.

By the end of June 2022, the court's conservative majority has the potential to roll back 50 years of abortion rights precedent; declare a right to carry a handgun outside the home; bolster the death penalty; and, allow some American parents to use taxpayer funds for religious schools.

"This is not a court that has the opportunity to inch forward and tip toe around issues," said University of Chicago law professor and legal historian Farah Peterson. "We should all be watching these cases very closely because suddenly the court has new members interested in taking up issues of grave public concern."

The justices are also expected to address challenges to the Biden administration's nationwide vaccine mandate; continuation of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, for young immigrants; partisan drawing of congressional districts with new census data; and, Harvard's use of racial affirmative action.

The blockbuster docket will play out as public approval of the Supreme Court in Gallup polling hits its lowest point in more than two decades -- 40% in September, down precipitously from a ten-year high of 58% just last year.

"Not since Bush v. Gore has the public perception of the court's legitimacy seemed so seriously threatened," said Irv Gornstein, executive director of Georgetown Law's Supreme Court Institute.

On the heels of a term marked by moderation and unanimity, most court watchers are braced for a sharp pivot to more polarizing decisions, foreshadowed in part by the justices' 5-4 vote this summer to allow Texas to ban nearly all abortions across the state on technical grounds.

Taken together with a presidential commission weighing an overhaul of the bench, and mounting pressure on the court's oldest liberal member to retire, veteran legal analysts say it could be one of the most consequential years for the Supreme Court in a generation.

"We're going to have a huge explosion whichever direction they rule," said Carrie Severino, president of the Judicial Crisis Network, a conservative legal advocacy group, of the abortion cases. "Even if they try to rule down the middle and come up with a middle ground, you're going to have outrage from the left or serious concerns from the right."

Several justices have tacitly acknowledged in recent high-profile speeches and interviews that stubborn public perception of them as a politically-motivated group -- combined with the hot-button decisions on the horizon -- may significantly undermine the court's credibility.

The court announced last month that it would continue live-streaming oral arguments to the public at least through the end of the year, continuing an act of transparency prompted by the pandemic but even as the justices return to in-person sessions on Oct. 4.

"We don't trade votes, and members of the court have different judicial philosophies," Justice Stephen Breyer said in an interview on "Good Morning America" this month. "The great divisions are probably much more along those lines than what we would think of as political lines."

Justice Amy Coney Barrett used a joint appearance with Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell at the University of Kentucky to reject the notion that the justices are simply politicians in robes.

"To say the court's reasoning is flawed is different from saying the court is acting in a partisan manner," Barrett told students. "I think we need to evaluate what the court is doing on its own terms."

Justice Clarence Thomas used a speech at the University of Notre Dame to warn critics against "destroying our institutions because they don't give us what we want, when we want it."

To many observers, however, the court's opinions remain impossible to view without a political lens.

"If right-side judicial philosophies always produce results favored by Republicans and left-side judicial philosophies always produce results favored by Democrats, there is little chance of persuading the public that there is a difference between the two," said Gornstein.

Last year, the justices handed down unanimous or near-unanimous decisions in roughly 60% of cases, according to an ABC News analysis. On several hot-button social issues, Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Brett Kavanaugh, and Barrett joined liberal Justices Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, to forge common ground.

"Barrett, for example, voted with Roberts and Kavanaugh over 90% of the time," said FiveThirtyEight contributor Laura Bronner. "Based on what we know so far she seems like she's going to be a core component of the conservative triad at the center of the court."

That triad could be the key to just how quickly the court continues its shift to the right and whether it's prepared to set into motion major societal changes on several controversial issues.

"The conditions for the right side running the table have never looked better," said Gornstein. "But I don't think sweeping right-side rulings in all politically salient cases is inevitable."

The court's coming term will be dominated by the issue of abortion rights, centered on a case out of Mississippi that asks the justices to directly reconsider the landmark precedent in Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v Casey.

"Roe v. Wade is on thin ice," said Florida State University law professor and abortion law historian Mary Ziegler. "At the moment it really feels more as if it's a question of when, not if; and how, not whether."

As Americans snatch up guns at record pace and shooting deaths soar, the justices will also decide a major case out of New York on whether the Second Amendment creates a right to carry a handgun outside the home.

"It would mean that you could expect more people to be carrying handguns in places like New York City, Boston and Los Angeles" if the court affirms such a right, said Southern Methodist University law professor Eric Ruben. "One of the things that the justices, especially the 'institutionalist justices,' are going to be considering is ripple effects that could undermine a decade's worth of precedent and the lower courts."

The court will decide whether to reinstate the death sentence for Boston Marathon bomber Dzhohkar Tsarnaev and whether a Texas man sentenced to death has a First Amendment right to his pastor praying aloud and laying hands on him in the execution chamber.

A pair of cases will also test the government's power to keep national security secrets: A former alleged associate of Osama bin Laden detained for decades at Guantanamo Bay is demanding the CIA turn over information on alleged torture at black sites overseas; and, a group of Muslim men in California is seeking to sue the FBI for alleged unlawful surveillance.

Analysts say the conservative Supreme Court supermajority is at a crossroads, the cases ahead set to reveal how far and how fast they'll move the court's jurisprudence to the right.

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Bernie Sanders says spending bill's $3.5 trillion price tag likely to be lowered

Bernie Sanders says spending bill's $3.5 trillion price tag likely to be lowered

ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- In order for the bipartisan infrastructure bill and larger social spending package to pass, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said Sunday the $3.5 trillion budget resolution price tag will likely be lowered.

"Three and a half trillion should be a minimum, but I accept that there's gonna have to be a give and take," Sanders told ABC "This Week co-anchor Jonathan Karl.

House progressives have warned leadership they will not vote on President Joe Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure bill until the larger human infrastructure bill is also ready for a vote. The budget resolution calls for investments in climate change policy, child care and other social programs, and is wider in scope than the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which includes measures to improve the nation’s physical infrastructure.

"Both these bills are going forward in tandem," Sanders said, reiterating the progressive call to hold out on passing infrastructure until the social spending bill is also passed.

Moderate Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., have said they will not support the bill’s $3.5 trillion price tag. Due to the slim Democratic majority in the Senate, neither bill will pass unless they have all the votes of the Democrats.

Sinema released a statement Saturday accusing progressives of "an ineffective stunt" and slammed House Democratic leadership for failing to pass the bipartisan infrastructure deal.

"Denying Americans millions of good-paying jobs, safer roads, cleaner water, more reliable electricity and better broadband only hurts everyday families," Sinema wrote.

Asked by Karl to respond to her statement, Sanders said he thinks Sinema is "wrong" and said both bills must go forward together, adding that he voted for the infrastructure bill.

"We're not just taking on or dealing with Sen. Manchin and Sen. Sinema, we're taking on the entire ruling class of the country," Sanders responded. "Right now the drug companies, the health insurance companies, the fossil fuel industry are spending hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars to prevent us from doing what the American people want."

"This really is a test on whether democracy can work," Sanders said. "I hope very much and I expect that the Democratic caucus and the president -- I know he will -- stand firm."

Biden spent last week negotiating with members and visited Capitol Hill on Friday to meet with House Democrats. According to sources in the room for the meeting, the president suggested lowering the price tag for his social policy bill to a number ranging from $1.9 to $2.2 trillion to reach a compromise.

Sanders said he’s not sure it is "accurate" to say Biden would settle on a reconciliation package around $2 trillion.

"The president also said that a smaller investment could create historic achievements, but [for] you, $2 trillion is not enough?" Karl pressed.

"What the president is saying is that what we are trying to do is for the working families of this country, for the children, for the elderly, we're trying to pass the most consequential piece of legislation since the Great Depression, and he’s right," Sanders responded.

Sanders also said "no" when asked by Karl if a $2 trillion price tag for the larger bill would be enough.

Manchin has said he will not vote to go over $2 trillion on the reconciliation bill. Asked how they can proceed without his vote, Sanders said the bill is paid for by increasing taxes on "the wealthiest people not paying federal taxes."

"If Manchin wants to pay for it, I’m there, let's do it, and by the way, you could pay for it at $3.5 trillion, you can pay for it at $6 trillion," Sanders said. "We have massive income and wealth inequality in this country."

Democratic Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe has called the $3.5 trillion price tag too high. Pressed on whether the Democratic infighting will not only hurt Democrats in the midterms, but also hurt McAuliffe in his November race, Sanders said he "wishes Terry McAuliffe the best of luck" and emphasized the popularity of the reconciliation bill.

"What we are fighting for is precisely what the American people want," Sanders said.

Sanders emphasized his confidence in passing both bills.

"At the end of the day, I am absolutely convinced we're going to have a strong infrastructure bill, and we're going to have a great consequential reconciliation bill which addresses the needs of the American people," Sanders said.

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After 2 days of Democratic drama, fate of Biden's infrastructure agenda still unclear

After 2 days of Democratic drama, fate of Biden's infrastructure agenda still unclear

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(WASHINGTON) -- After two days of Democratic infighting and drama, the fate of President Joe Biden's infrastructure agenda remained unclear after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had to repeatedly put off a vote on a bipartisan infrastructure bill because progressive Democrats had vowed to vote against it -- unless there's a deal on a larger spending package.

After voting to approve a 30-day extension of federal highway and transit funding, House members were told late Friday that they could return home for a two-week recess. But they were put on 72-hours' notice for the possibility of votes on various legislation, including infrastructure.

Overnight, Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D- N.J. and co-Chair of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, railed against Pelosi, issuing a statement saying, "It’s deeply regrettable that Speaker Pelosi breached her firm, public commitment to Members of Congress and the American people to hold a vote and to pass the once-in-a-century bipartisan infrastructure bill on or before September 27."

"We cannot let this small faction on the far left — who employ Freedom Caucus tactics, as described by the New York Times today — destroy the President’s agenda and stop the creation of two million jobs a year — including for the millions of hard-working men and women of labor," he added.

The feuding has so jeopardized Biden's top legislative priorities that he went to Capitol Hill Friday afternoon to meet with House Democrats to make clear he wants both the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill and the $3.5 trillion social safety net and climate policy measure to pass.

"It doesn’t matter when. It doesn’t matter whether it’s in six minutes, six days, or six weeks. We’re gonna get it done," Biden told reporters as he emerged.

Behind closed doors, Biden suggested that a smaller topline social policy bill price tag ranging from $1.9-$2.2 trillion could be the compromise in tense negotiations involving the White House, Democratic progressives, moderates and two key Senate Democrats, according to sources in the room.

Such an investment, together with the $1.2 trillion bipartisan highway bill, would still be a huge investment, he told the caucus, the sources said.

"Even a smaller bill can make historic investments," they quoted Biden as saying.

The bipartisan infrastructure bill "ain’t going to happen until we reach an agreement on the next piece of legislation," he added, according to the sources. "Let’s try to figure out what we are for in reconciliation … and then we can move ahead."

He made clear he campaigned on the proposals in the larger package, they said, but did not suggest or endorse a specific timeline for votes in the House or Senate.

One Democrat inside the room told ABC News Congressional Correspondent Rachel Scott they were "massively disappointed."

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, the lawmaker told her "when the president of the United States comes, it's to close the deal -- not to say hello." The member added, "Most of us are at a loss for words. There was no plan. No strategy. No timing."

Earlier Friday, Pelosi and House Democrats held another caucus meeting for more than two-and-a-half hours as they tried to find a path forward on their policy agenda after Democratic leadership and the White House failed to bring progressives and moderates together behind the president's broader agenda.

Inside that closed-door gathering, which typically has the feel of a pep rally-turned-group therapy session, Pelosi seized the opportunity to take the temperature of her caucus. Centrist members from swing districts pushed for an immediate vote on the Senate-passed infrastructure bill. Progressives insisted that they will block it unless the Senate first approves the massive social policy package - hardening the stance they have taken for several weeks.

"No. We need a vote," Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., said outside the morning caucus meeting. "We need to be real. Are we going to deliver universal pre-K to this country, or not? Are we going to expand health care to our seniors and improve vision and dental, or not?"

Pelosi told members that Democrats ought to move quickly and that the situation was "perishable," according to sources familiar with her comments.

"We cannot and I will not ask you to vote for the BIF (Capitol Hill shorthand for bipartisan infrastructure framework) until we have the best possible offering that we can stick with," Pelosi told Democrats. "And it's not just me. This is about the president of the United States."

"So, that's why it is our intention to bring up the vote today. It is our intention to win the vote today," she added, according to sources familiar with her comments.

As she arrived at the Capitol Friday morning, ABC News asked Pelosi whether she was trying to get members on board by promising a second reconciliation bill early next year in an effort to appease members now, after vowing again on Thursday that a reconciliation bill would follow the vote on the bipartisan package.

"I don't know about that but a reconciliation bill is not excluded. It's not necessarily connected to this," she said.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer arrived a minute ahead of Pelosi, telling reporters only "we'll see" when asked whether the House would vote on the measure before the end of the day.

Pelosi had insisted for two mornings that she planned to go ahead with a vote on the Senate-passed $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill.

Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., exiting the morning caucus meeting on Friday, said she's "seen more progress in the last 48 hours than we've seen in a long time on reconciliation."

She reiterated the progressives' position that they'll vote "no" unless there is agreement with the moderate Democratic senators on a larger social spending package to accompany it.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who along with and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz. object to the larger bill's cost, told reporters on Thursday he already conveyed to leadership his topline number is $1.5 trillion -- far below progressives $3.5 trillion number.

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White House promises more rapid COVID-19 tests amid supply shortage

White House promises more rapid COVID-19 tests amid supply shortage

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(WASHINGTON) -- With at-home rapid COVID-19 tests hard to come by and many stores limiting purchases, the White House on Friday acknowledged the current supply crunch, promising to double the number of rapid tests available for sale within the next two months.

"You’re right that the at-home rapid test is under a lot of demand," White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients said, emphasizing that "overall, testing capacity across the country remains robust."

"The manufacturing is scaling up significantly, doubling across the next couple of months, and we're just going to keep at it to encourage those manufacturers to increase capacity and to drive down the cost of those tests."

The White House has touted the effectiveness of its new vaccine mandates and employee testing requirements, and it has committed to shoring up testing by investing billions of dollars.

Yet the U.S. has struggled since the start of the pandemic to meet demand for tests. As he began his tenure, President Joe Biden pledged a World War II-style production push to ramp up supply. But while PCR tests, which rely on labs to process them and take longer to produce results, are now widely available, the at-home rapid tests are hard to find.

Demand for testing generally has soared some 300% to 650% in some areas of the country, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra told senators Thursday, making the case that while "sufficient supply" remains, the issue becomes "getting [it] to the right places."

Senators on both sides of the aisle grilled Becerra on the testing shortage they're seeing in their states, saying that even though the federal government has supplied billions of dollars for schools and businesses to acquire tests, actually securing them has become a challenge.

"You need to know that right now there is a real crush to be able to get the testing that can get the results back in a timely enough manner to make a difference," Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said, adding that schools and businesses have told her "there's no place to get the testing, or certainly not to get the rapid test."

Consumers have felt that crush at checkout.

"Due to high demand, deliveries may be delayed," reads a banner across the CVS at-home testing page. "We appreciate your understanding as our associates work around the clock to support you."

"We may experience intermittent delays in supply in some locations and are working with the all of our testing partners to meet patient demand," Walgreens corporate spokesperson Erin Loverher told ABC News.

Following the doubling of testing volume in June to July, with much of the heightened consumption coming from the southern surge states, Walgreens is seeing "incredible demand," the Loverher said. As such, a cap has been placed on over-the-counter at-home COVID testing products "in an effort to help improve inventory," while the company continues to "work diligently with our partners to best meet demand."

CVS spokesperson Matthew Blanchette told ABC News the company has also begun to ration rapid test-kit purchases.

In order to preserve the straining supplies of point-of-care and over-the-counter rapid tests, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asked labs in September to use laboratory-based tests over rapid ones whenever possible to "meet the current test demand" despite what it called a "temporary shortage."

In late September, the Biden administration struck a new $1.2 billion deal for millions more rapid COVID-19 tests from Abbott and Celltrion, part of the $2 billion already announced by the White House to expand testing.

Abbott spokesperson John Koval told ABC News that the company would be ramping up production significantly, and by the end of October it aims to produce "as many or more" rapid tests as at the height of their production -- surging capacity up to at least​ 50 million tests a month.

The company is restarting production at its Illinois plant and rehiring in Maine after laying off several hundred workers when demand was down, Koval said.

"Overall, we'll continue to pull every lever we can to further expand the manufacturing and the production of these tests in order to make them more widely available and to drive down the cost per test," Zients said Friday.

ABC News' Anne Flaherty and Cheyenne Haslett contributed to this report.

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DOJ and Texas face off in court over restrictive abortion law

DOJ and Texas face off in court over restrictive abortion law

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(WASHINGTON) -- Lawyers from the Justice Department and the state of Texas squared off in court Friday as the Biden administration seeks an order that would halt enforcement of the state's restrictive abortion law that took effect exactly one month ago.

It was the first court hearing on the matter and presents the first opportunity for a judge to get abortion rights fully restored in Texas, at least temporarily.

In an overnight filing, DOJ officials accused Texas of mounting a "brazen" effort to enact a law purely designed to obstruct women's right to an abortion while evading all traditional methods of judicial review.

"S.B. 8’s novel enforcement scheme is calculated to accomplish what no state should be able to do in our federal system: deter, suppress, and render moot rights guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States," department officials said in its filing. "The State does not dispute that S.B. 8 has virtually eliminated previability abortions after six weeks of pregnancy in the State. Moreover, the approach Texas has taken need not be confined to the abortion context. If this mechanism works here, it would serve as a blueprint for the suppression of nearly any other constitutional right recognized by the Supreme Court but resented by a state government."

SB8, or the 'Texas Heartbeat Act,' bars physicians from providing abortions once they detect a so-called fetal heartbeat -- which can be seen as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. But the language of the law makes it so private citizens can sue anyone they "reasonably believed" provided an abortion, and effectively removes any government officials from being part of its enforcement.

Attorney General Merrick Garland announced last month that the Justice Department would sue Texas over its law just one week after the U.S. Supreme Court let it take effect. Soon after, the department filed for an emergency injunction seeking to halt enforcement of the law entirely as the legal fight plays out.

In a filing Wednesday, Texas officials urged District Judge Robert Pitman, a 2014 Obama-appointee, who consented to rare live streaming of the hearing on Zoom to members of the press given the high public interest, to dismiss DOJ's request for an injunction -- arguing the Biden administration had no standing to bring it before a federal judge and that the matter should instead be resolved before state courts.

"The federal government asks the Court to dispense with the normal cause-of-action requirement based on unfounded fears that the Texas Heartbeat Act will otherwise 'evade judicial review.' Nothing could be further from the truth," officials wrote in their filing. "The constitutionality of the Texas Heartbeat Act can be reviewed in the same way that virtually all of state tort law is: State-court defendants raise constitutional defenses before neutral judges sworn to follow the U.S. Constitution and, if necessary, appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court."

Also in their brief, Texas officials made an eyebrow-raising counterargument to DOJ's contention that the abortion law hinders interstate commerce -- the state instead pointed to reports of women seeking an abortion being forced to travel out of the Texas to Oklahoma, saying that "is stimulating rather than obstructing interstate travel."

Appearing on behalf of the state of Texas, Will Thompson, deputy chief for litigation in the AG's office, said the DOJ's allegation that the state enabled an "unprecedented scheme of vigilante justice" was "completely untrue."

"There's nothing unprecedented about private individuals enforcing state tort law rights in state court, and state tort law defendants being allowed to raise constitutional defenses, and if necessary, appeal up to the state court system to the US Supreme Court," Thompson said. "Nothing happens to a defendant in a heartbeat lawsuit until a state court hears the case. This is not some kind of vigilante scheme."

The judge pressed Thompson about the idea that so-called "bounty hunters" can bring suit against an abortion provider without experiencing any individual injury themselves.

"What do you say about the idea of private parties acting as proxies for the state? That's what the statute is designed to do. What do you do with the idea that this is putting private individuals in the shoes of the state?" Pitman said.

Later he asked: "If the state's so confident in the constitutionality of the limitations on a woman's access to abortion, then why did it go to such great lengths to create this very unusual private cause of action rather than just simply doing it directly?"

The judge questioned who could technically be a defendant to face an injunction over the law if not the state itself. Thompson responded that technically nobody could be enjoined because of how the law is crafted to prevent any state official, other than judges, from being responsible for enforcement.

Thompson said he disputed the characterization that the statute effectively deputizes private citizens to take on the role the state would normally take -- and said that citizens would have their own interests in bringing lawsuits against abortion providers.

He also pushed back on the Justice Department's contention it has standing to sue Texas based on injuries caused by the abortion law, arguing that nobody in the state has been specifically punished yet as a result and accused the federal government of seeking "extraordinarily broad power" by claiming the ability to usurp Texas state law.

"The United States is apparently asking the court to issue an injunction to stop the execution of a judgment that does not exist," Thompson said. "It's entirely speculative whether such a judgment would exist, will exist at any point, or if it existed whether it would violate the federal Constitution."

Thompson also attempted to argue that there's no "near-total ban" on abortion at all, and that women in the state are not unduly burdened in any way.

DOJ Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brian Netter said during his opening argument in the hearing that there is "no doubt under binding constitutional precedent that a state may not ban abortions at six weeks. Texas knew this, but it wanted a six week ban anyway."

"So the state resorted to an unprecedented scheme of vigilante justice that was designed to scare abortion providers and others who might help women exercise their constitutional rights while skirting judicial review," Netter said.

Netter said the administration didn't bring the suit "lightly" but that the rare step is necessary -- zeroing in on SB8's enforcement mechanism as "depriving the ability [of a woman or clinic] to redress" a constitutional violation.

Netter said this isn't so much about the abortion restriction itself -- which he said is plainly unconstitutional -- but the "mechanism" Texas is using, which denies constitutionally protected rights. This is "an end run around the Supremacy Clause," he said. "The U.S. surely has an interest in defending and upholding the supremacy of the Constitution."

Netter argued that Texas' efforts so far are "working" and pointed to recent reports of women seeking abortions being forced to flee the state "under sometimes harrowing circumstances" to get care.

Arguing that Texas' law "imperils the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution," Netter argued the DOJ was a "proper plaintiff" because of the Heartbeat Act's "unprecedented attack on the supremacy of the federal government and the federal Constitution."

He noted that the law has already achieved its desired effect, referring to one provider who has already been sued for performing an abortion after the Heartbeat Act's enactment. The former attorney who brought the suit, Oscar Stilley, appeared as an intervenor at Friday's hearing. Stilley has said he does not oppose abortions but brought the suit to force a court review of the law.

In his argument, Netter also sought to frame the potential ramifications of similarly crafted laws being allowed to take effect in other states, "so as to create the same result -- to create unconstitutional ends through deterrence."

Pitman asked Netter what limits there are on DOJ's claims that it has the authority to challenge a state law like Texas', and described the DOJ's theory in the case as "pretty expansive."

Netter responded that such a challenge would based on the law being in violation of the Constitution, having a major effect on the state's citizens and, most notably, preventing citizens from having the ability to vindicate their rights -- all of which he said the Texas law does.

"What's unique and what's different about this law is that it specifically deprives those who are affected by the law to have an ability to obtain the redress that is necessary in order to defend the Constitution," Netter said.

After returning from recess, Thompson from the Texas AG's office asked the judge that if he rejected the state's arguments that he also grant a stay pending appeal -- which would leave the abortion law in place at least until it is argued before the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Pitman then asked Thompson what actions he believes the state would have to take if he granted the government's request for an emergency injunction, to which Thompson answered, "Honestly, Your Honor, I'm not sure."

Thompson said the state's position remains that it has no role in enforcing the law so it's not clear how it would play a role in enjoining any private citizens from taking advantage of it.

Netter, in his response to Thompson's argument, called it "stunning" that Thompson said the state took serious efforts to comply with Supreme Court precedents in enacting the abortion law.

"It doesn't take a lot of reading between the lines to see what the state's objectives were," Netter said. "Why would the state of Texas have an interest in adopting a stated policy, a public policy that the state itself has no authority to enforce?... There's no answer to the question of why they decided to structure the law this way other than because it was trying to avoid the sort of constitutional litigation that any observer could have told you would lead to a speedy injunction of a six-week abortion ban."

Netter described Texas' argument that no injunction could be enforced against the law as "aggressive and terrifying."

"...Such an argument is that a state can pass a law that actively violates the Constitution and deprives individuals of constitutional rights without any recourse, I think that's their position," he said.

In adjourning the hearing, Pitman said he would take all parties' arguments under advisement but did not give any specific timeline on when he would make his decision on the DOJ's request for an emergency injunction.

Any ruling is likely to face a quick appeal from either Texas or the DOJ to try and put the matter before the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which in a separate challenge previously ruled the law could take effect.

ABC News' Devin Dwyer contributed to this report.

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Biden heads to Capitol Hill to meet with House Democrats amid infighting

Biden heads to Capitol Hill to meet with House Democrats amid infighting

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(WASHINGTON) -- President Joe Biden went to Capitol Hill Friday afternoon to meet with House Democrats, White House officials said, amid party infighting that has put his legislative agenda in jeopardy.

Biden, who has kept a low public profile most of the week while negotiating behind the scenes trying to break the impasse, spoke behind doors with liberal and moderate lawmakers for about half an hour.

As he emerged, he told reporters, "I’m telling you, we’re gonna get this done."

He added, "It doesn’t matter when. It doesn’t matter whether it’s in six minutes, six days, or six weeks. We’re gonna get it done."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has twice had to delay a vote on a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure plan Biden supports because progressive Democrats are vowing to defeat it unless they also get a vote on $3.5 trillion social safety net and climate policy measure he also supports -- but one that two moderate Democratic senators have objected to as too costly.

Beforehand, some Democrats said they were excited to be hearing from Biden directly and some had complained in recent days that he was not more involved in negotiations.

"He's going over there to make the case for his legislative agenda, which includes the infrastructure bill, and it includes his Build Back Better agenda that would be in the reconciliation package, so he wants to speak directly to members, answer their questions and make the case for why we should all work together to give the American people more breathing room," White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters shortly before Biden was scheduled to leave for the Capitol.

Asked whether he expected to walk out of there with an agreement, Pskai said, "I’m not going to make a prediction of whether there will or won't be a vote. I'll leave that to Speaker Pelosi to determine when she will call a vote. But he's making the case he believes it’s -- it's the right time for him to go up there."

"The case that the White House is making is that compromise requires everybody giving little. That's the stage we're in. But no matter where we end, if we can get something done here, we're going to have a historic piece of legislation passed Congress that's going to have a huge impact on the American people," she added.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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California Gov. Newsom signs sweeping police reform bills, will strip badges from officers for misconduct

California Gov. Newsom signs sweeping police reform bills, will strip badges from officers for misconduct

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(SACRAMENTO, Calif.) -- California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a wide-sweeping set of police reform laws Thursday, including one that would prevent an officer from being employed by another police department after being convicted of misconduct.

The new legislation also raises the minimum age to become a law enforcement officer from 18 to 21; sets limits on the use of rubber bullets and tear gas to protect protesters; and establishes new accountability measures.

The legislation, SB2, also known as the "Kenneth Ross Jr. initiative," will decertify law enforcement officers after conviction for misconduct or serious crimes and prevents them from moving to other departments. Officers can be decertified for excessive force, sexual assault, demonstration of bias and dishonesty.

The bill was named after 25-year-old Kenneth Ross Jr. who was fatally shot by Gardena Police Department Officer Michael Robbins in April 2018 while running away from police in Rowley Park, local Los Angeles ABC station KABC reported. The Los Angeles County District Attorney's office determined that the officer "acted lawfully in self-defense" because he believed Ross was an active shooter.

"I've lived here 52 years. I knew every officer by first name. When I heard about this shooting I did not know who this officer was and the reason why is because he transferred from Orange County after being involved in three questionable shootings there," Assemblyman Steven Bradford, a Democrat representing Gardena, said at the signing ceremony.

Bradford said the legislation would end the "wash, rinse, repeat cycle" where an officer can commit a crime and leave a department and get hired by another agency.

The new law means California will join 46 other states that have decertification processes for officers due to bad conduct, Bradford said.

The bill-signing ceremony took place at Rowley Park in Ross' memory where his mother, Fouzia Almarou, spoke.

"He was the love of my life. I'll never see Kenneth again. This bill means a lot because it'll stop police from attacking, targeting and being racist towards Black and brown people," Almarou said.

Newsom also signed the George Floyd Bill, which requires officers to intervene when witnessing another officer using excessive force and report the incident in real time. Those who don't could be disciplined in the same way as the cop who used excessive force.

Assemblymember Chris Holden, a Democrat representing Pasadena, authored the bill.

"Derek Chauvin was charged for killing of George Floyd, but justice for George Floyd doesn't rest in Chauvin's conviction alone – there were three additional officers who simply stood by and watched him die," Holden said in a statement.

Another bill, AB490, bans officers from using restraints that can cause position asphyxiation, which occurs when a person is restrained and cannot breathe.

"While many of us witnessed the untimely death of George Floyd last year, Angelo Quinto a native veteran from Northern California also lost his life at the hands of law enforcement when [they] used similar restraints," Assemblymember Reggie Jones Sawyer, a Democrat representing south Los Angeles, said.

"The new law will not hinder law enforcement from utilizing restraints they might need to use in dangerous situations ... but it will place a limit on those restraints as to not keep someone from breathing and the result be an unnecessary death," he added.

Last year, Newsom signed legislation banning police chokeholds in wake of Floyd's death in Minneapolis where officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into Floyd's neck for over eight minutes.

Assemblymember Sawyer also thanked the governor for signing the PEACE Act, which raises the minimum age of officers from 18 to 21.

The act will also have experts from community colleges and community advocates develop a framework for officers to receive a higher education that'll include psychology, history, ethnic studies, law and emotional intelligence.

"This framework will equip officers with the skills necessary for de-escalation while also guaranteeing they develop an understanding of the history of communities from diverse backgrounds and cultures," Sawyer said.

Another bill regulates the use of rubber bullets and tear gas at protests. It bans officers from "indiscriminately firing these weapons into a crowd or aiming them at the head, neck or other vital organs," bill author Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, a Democrat representing San Diego, said in a release.

Newsom touted the reforms as "another step toward healing and justice for all."

"Too many lives have been lost due to racial profiling and excessive use of force. We cannot change what is past, but we can build accountability, root out racial injustice and fight systemic racism. We are all indebted to the families who have persevered through their grief to continue this fight and work toward a more just future," he said in a statement.

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Biden heading to Capitol Hill to meet with House Democrats amid infighting

Biden heading to Capitol Hill to meet with House Democrats amid infighting

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(WASHINGTON) -- President Joe Biden will head to Capitol Hill Friday afternoon to meet with House Democrats, White House officials said, amid party infighting over passing his agenda.

Biden, who has kept a low public profile most of the week while negotiating behind the scenes trying to break the impasse, is set to meet with Democrats at 3:30 p.m.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has twice had to delay a vote on a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure plan Biden supports because progressive Democrats are vowing to defeat it unless they also get a vote on $3.5 trillion social and climate policy measure he also supports -- but one that two moderate Democratic senators have objected to as too costly.

Some Democrats said they were excited to be hearing from Biden directly and some had complained in recent days that he was not more involved in negotiations.

"He's going over there to make the case for his legislative agenda, which includes the infrastructure bill, and it includes his Build Back Better agenda that would be in the reconciliation package, so he wants to speak directly to members, answer their questions and make the case for why we should all work together to give the American people more breathing room," White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters shortly before Biden was scheduled to leave for the Capitol.

Asked whether he expects to walk out of there an agreement, Pskai said, "I’m not going to make a prediction of whether there will or won't be a vote. I'll leave that to Speaker Pelosi to determine when she will call a vote. But he's making the case he believes it’s -- it's the right time for him to go up there."

"The case that the White House is making is that compromise requires everybody giving little. That's the stage we're in. But no matter where we end, if we can get something done here, we're going to have a historic piece of legislation passed Congress that's going to have a huge impact on the American people," she added.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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Pelosi insists Democrats 'on a path' towards infrastructure vote despite setback

Pelosi insists Democrats 'on a path' towards infrastructure vote despite setback

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(WASHINGTON) -- After failing to keep her promise on Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters Friday Democrats are "on a path" toward a vote on a bipartisan infrastructure bill as she arrived at the Capitol, despite progressives continuing to vow to vote "no" unless a deal on a larger spending package is reached.

The speaker suggested that talking to reporters later on would be more useful than during her arrival at the Capitol -- an indication no progress was achieved overnight.

Pelosi and House Democrats held a caucus meeting Friday morning as they continue trying to find a path forward on their policy agenda after Democratic leadership and the White House failed to bring progressives and moderates together behind a path forward for President Joe Biden's broader agenda.

The breakfast meeting gave leadership an opportunity to brief members on the status of the discussions with Senate moderates and the White House -- and lawmakers a chance to address each other.

ABC News asked Pelosi on Friday whether she is trying to get members on board by promising a second reconciliation bill early next year in an effort to appease members now, after vowing again on Thursday that a reconciliation bill would follow the vote on the bipartisan package.

"I don't know about that but a reconciliation bill is not excluded. It's not necessarily connected to this," she said.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer arrived a minute ahead of Pelosi, only telling reporters "we'll see" when asked whether the House will vote on the measure before the end of the d

Pelosi has insisted for two mornings now that she plans to go ahead with a vote on the Senate-passed $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill -- despite progressive Democrats vowing to defeat it.

Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., reiterated on Thursday progressives' position that they'll vote "no" unless there is agreement with the moderate Democratic senators on a larger social spending package to accompany it.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., who along with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., is not agreeing with Democrats on a larger bill, told reporters on Thursday he already conveyed to leadership his topline number is $1.5 trillion -- far below progressives $3.5 trillion number, putting the House vote in even more jeopardy.

Biden, meanwhile, has remained largely out of the public eye this week as negotiations continue behind closed doors, other than stopping at the congressional baseball game to rub elbows with lawmakers.

"The President is grateful to Speaker Pelosi and Leader Schumer for their extraordinary leadership, and to Members from across the Democratic Caucus who have worked so hard the past few days to try to reach an agreement on how to proceed on the Infrastructure Bill and the Build Back Better plan," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement Thursday night.

"A great deal of progress has been made this week, and we are closer to an agreement than ever. But we are not there yet, and so, we will need some additional time to finish the work, starting tomorrow morning first thing," she said.

On Thursday, Pelosi left the Capitol just after midnight and told reporters that progressives and moderates were closer to reaching an agreement on the size of their social policy package than it appeared earlier in the week.

"We're not trillions of dollars apart," she said.

Asked about the vote that didn't take place Thursday as she promised, Pelosi said, "There will be a vote today," an apparent reference to the legislative calendar, by which, because the House was in recess, Friday was still considered to be "Thursday."

Notably, Pelosi told ABC News' George Stephanopoulos on "This Week" that she's "never bringing a bill to the floor that doesn't have the votes" -- raising questions of whether she'll be able to have a vote this week at all.

If Democratic leaders and the White House can reach an "agreement" or get Manchin and Sinema to accept a public commitment co-signed by Biden, that could be enough to meet progressive demands, and get their support for the delayed $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure plan in the House.

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