Political News

Trump's 1st secretary of state testifies he never asked Tom Barrack to 'conduct any diplomacy' for US

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(NEW YORK) -- Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson testified Monday during the illegal foreign lobbying trial of former Donald Trump ally Tom Barrack that he never asked Barrack to undertake any diplomacy on behalf of the United States during his year-long stint as Trump’s secretary of state.

"Did you ever ask Tom Barack to commit any diplomacy on behalf of the United States?" prosecutor Hiral Mehta asked.

“No,” Tillerson replied.

Barrack, a billionaire California businessman who ran Trump's 2016 inaugural committee, is currently on trial in Brooklyn federal court for alleged illegal lobbying on behalf of the United Arab Emirates before and during the Trump administration. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges, which Barrack's defense attorney has dismissed the charge as ridiculous.

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

Tillerson, the former chief diplomat of the United States, during his three hours on the stand said he had had no knowledge of Barrack's communications with the UAE. Prosecutors allege failing to register as a lobbyist for those communications constitutes a crime.

But Tillerson also conceded there were conversations about foreign policy that he was not always a part of, including between Trump and his son-and-law, Jared Kushner -- who he said was also in communication with government officials, though not always in lockstep.

"It was evident that at times Mr. Kushner was engaging with the same government officials on the same issues I was engaging with them on and that those messages were not consistent," Tillerson said.

Regardless, he emphasized the importance of transparency surrounding relationships with foreign governments.

"You always, in any communication, want to understand the context in which the information is coming to you," Tillerson said.

Tillerson also testified that his dealings with Barrack were limited, but that Barrack had called him "on a couple of occasions" to discuss a potential ambassadorship.

"I recall him expressing interest in serving as an ambassador," said Tillerson, who said he brought the idea up to Trump, who "did not direct [him] one way or another" on the idea.

On cross-examination, the defense sought to normalize Barrack's contacts with the UAE by likening them to Tillerson's own contacts with foreign government officials during his time as the chief executive officer of Exxon Mobil.

Tillerson testified he took over one hundred foreign trips and met with dozens of foreign government officials when serving in that private role, including in the Middle East and Russia, in his efforts to promote the interests of his company.

"The fact that you were interacting with government officials in Russia... in no way meant you adopted all of their views or operated under their control, right?" asked Randall Jackson, Barrack's attorney.

"We at all times represent our views, nobody else's," said Tillerson, who has since retired.

But Tillerson said during that time, he explored registering.

"I had my attorneys look at the law," Tillerson said, "and I wanted to be sure."

Barrack was arrested in California in July 2021, accused of using his connection to Trump to surreptitiously promote UAE interests. The trial is expected to last five weeks, attorneys said during a hearing earlier this year.

According to the indictment, The UAE worked through Barrack "to influence United States foreign policy in the first 100 days, 6 months, 1 year and 4 years of the Trump administration."

The UAE funds committed nearly $400 million to Barrack’s investment management firm, the indictment said, though it did not make clear whether Barrack’s firm ever received the money.

The indictment released last July also charged Barrack with obstruction of justice and making multiple false statements during a June 20, 2019, interview with federal law enforcement agents.

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White House set to highlight Republican-led abortion restrictions in 100 days since Roe was overturned

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(WASHINGTON) -- A new Biden administration report on abortion access in the U.S. describes how widely the procedure has been curtailed in the roughly 100 days after Roe v. Wade was overturned, according to excerpts from the memo that were obtained by ABC News.

The report, compiled by Jen Klein, the head of the administration’s interagency task force on abortion access, will be one focus of a Tuesday meeting convening President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and Cabinet members to discuss the state of abortion care.

The report recaps efforts by Republicans to limit abortions in the wake of the Supreme Court reversing Roe in June and ruling that states could regulate or ban the procedure as they saw fit, a decision that was widely celebrated among conservatives.

At least 15 states have since ceased nearly all abortion services.

Tuesday's meeting comes as the White House works to drum up support for Democratic midterms candidates in the political fight to preserve or expand access to abortion and to call attention to the ways Republicans have banned or chipped away at the procedure, which polling repeatedly shows is unpopular with voters.

But the task force gathering will also serve as a reminder of what the Biden administration has yet to do -- or says it cannot do -- on abortion access, which has fueled criticism from advocates and some others in his party.

The new White House report describes a bill to codify Roe into federal law as the only way to protect women’s access, but the memo acknowledges this unlikely reality, given Democrats' current narrow majority in the Senate.

“Republican elected officials at the state and national level have taken extreme steps to block women’s access to health care,” Klein writes in her report for the president and vice president, noting Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham’s proposal to ban most abortions nationwide after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

“The result is that in 100 days, millions of women cannot access critical health care and doctors and nurses are facing criminal penalties for providing health care,” Klein writes.

Graham has contrasted his call for a ban with “radical" Democrats and said his “legislation is a responsible alternative as we provide exceptions for cases of rape, incest and life and physical health of the mother.”

On Tuesday, Biden and Harris will join Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, Defense Secretary Denis McDonough and Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, a White House official said.

In addition to reviewing details from the report on abortion access, Klein will also introduce four doctors from different states where abortion care has been affected by the decision on Roe, the official said.

The doctors attending are from states where abortion has been restricted -- like Georgia, where abortion is banned at six weeks, and Wisconsin, where all abortion clinics shut down after the Supreme Court decision -- and states or cities that have taken on an influx of patients who can no longer access care in their own states, like Illinois and Washington, D.C.

Particularly after a lag in reaction time after the high court's initial ruling came down, many advocates have continued to voice frustration that Biden hasn’t done more, they say, to work to protect abortion rights.

At the last task force meeting, for example, the president signed an executive order that the administration said would help low-income women pay for abortion services.

As a result of the order, the administration said, Medicaid would cover abortion-related costs for women who have traveled from states where abortion is banned to states where it is not.

But the implementation has been slow and details on next steps have been sparse. It’s unclear if states have enrolled in the program yet and what states with abortion bans will do, since participating in the program would improve peoples’ access to find abortion care in other places.

Biden last month said he could act more aggressively to protect abortion access if voters cast ballots for Democrats to expand the party's majority in the Senate: "If you give me two more senators in the United States Senate, I promise you, I promise you, we’re going to codify Roe and once again make Roe the law of the land."

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In Supreme Court debut, Justice Jackson grills attorney challenging EPA power under Clean Water Act

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(WASHINGTON) -- After her investiture at the U.S. Supreme Court last week, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson heralded her "seat at the table" and a desire to "get to work."

During oral arguments Monday, the public got a glimpse of what that looks like: the nation's first Black woman justice emerged as a remarkably active questioner in her debut on the bench, making clear she will not hesitate to make her mark on debate.

"Let me try to bring some enlightenment to it," Jackson said dryly to an attorney challenging key parts of the Clean Water Act.

The law gives the Environmental Protection Agency authority to regulate "waters of the United States," but there is widespread disagreement about the extent to which wetlands count.

The case, the first of the court's new term, will decide the scope of EPA power over tens of millions of acres of marshland and swamp land. Environmental advocates say public health and safety hangs in the balance.

"Isn't the issue what Congress intended?" Jackson pressed. "Why is it that your conception of this does not relate in any way to Congress' primary objective?"

"The objective of the statute is to ensure the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the nation's waters," she added.

Attorney Damien Schiff, representing an Idaho couple that wants to build their dream home on a lot near Priest Lake, argued that the federal government should not have unbound power to regulate wetlands on Americans' property without direct, physical connection to a major body of water.

"The Sacketts' property contains no waters, much less waters of the U.S.," Schiff said. The EPA contends marsh on the Sacketts' property has a "significant nexus" to the nearby lake.

The court will decide early next year how to draw the line.

The dispute played out for nearly two hours inside a courtroom packed with attorneys, clerks, special guests, and members of the public for the first time in two and a half years since the COVID-19 pandemic forced the arguments to go virtual. Masks were not required, though Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan wore them on the bench.

The nine justices assumed new seating assignments, by seniority, for the first time since the retirement of Justice Stephen Breyer. Flanking Chief Justice John Roberts at the center are Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito. Justices Amy Coney Barrett and Jackson, as the newest members of the court, hold the seats at each end of the bench.

Heightened security measures were visible throughout the courthouse, including a new requirement that water cannot be brought inside the building, but a steel security fence that had encircled the Court starting in June has been removed.

While the proceedings were again opened to the public in-person, the Court has decided to continue livestream audio online. "I think that's a great compromise on transparency and a huge step for the chief justice," said Sarah Isgur, a former Justice Department attorney and now an ABC News legal analyst.

The court gaveled in a new term and welcomed Justice Jackson as public confidence in the institution has slumped to a new low.

Jackson's appointment does not alter the ideological makeup of the court -- six conservatives, three liberals -- but her presence could change dynamics in untold ways.

"Each new justice really changes the institution," said Kate Shaw of Cardoza School of Law and an ABC News contributor. "By all accounts, she is a bridge builder and a warm and collegial person. I don't expect any radical change, but it'll matter for the public to see her on the bench, and I think it will matter as the court starts issuing opinions."

Jackson spoke at least 21 times during Monday's argument in the Sackett case, according to an ABC News review of the transcript.

"Although Justice Jackson might be more liberal in some respects than Justice Breyer, she won't change the really polarized cases. But every new justice is a new court, and there could be some unexpected alliances," Jeffrey Rosen, president and CEO of the National Constitution Center, said.

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Supreme Court upholds bump stock ban in big win for gun safety advocates

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(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected two appeals by gun owners seeking to overturn the federal government's ban on the sale of bump stocks -- devices that allow a semiautomatic firearm to shoot more than one shot with a single pull of the trigger.

The court did not elaborate on its decision, which is a significant victory for gun safety advocates and government efforts to regulate dangerous weapons.

After the Las Vegas shooting massacre in 2017, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives revised federal regulations to define bump stocks as machine guns under a 1986 law that bans machine guns.

Several pro-gun groups challenged the rules over what they argued was mischaracterization of the devices.

The ban makes possession of a bump stock a felony subject to up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. More than 500,000 Americans who previously purchased a bump stock will be required to turn it in or destroy it, gun advocacy groups have said.

The rejected cases are Aphosian v. Garland, and Gun Owners of America v. Garland.

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Biden visits Puerto Rico after Fiona, commits to recovery 'as long as it takes'

Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

(WASHINGTON) -- President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden on Monday visited Puerto Rico and will head to Florida on Wednesday after hurricanes ravaged the two areas.

In Ponce, on the south side of Puerto Rico, the Bidens surveyed damage from Hurricane Fiona, which killed more than two dozen people on the island last month. Along with meeting with families, community and political leaders from the island, they participated in a community service project to help pack bags with food and other essential items and were joined by Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Deanne Criswell.

"We came here in person to show that we're with you -- all of America is with you -- as you receive and recover and rebuild. I'm confident to -- I'm confident we're going to be able to do all you want, governor. And I'm committed to this island," Biden said after being introduced by Puerto Rico Democratic Gov. Pedro Pierluisi.

Biden pledged his commitment to investing in the island, "as long as it takes," making a clear reference to former President Donald Trump's holding up aid to the island after Hurricane Maria in 2017.

"After Maria, Congress approved billions of dollars for Puerto Rico. Much of it not having gotten here, initially. We're going to make sure that you get every single dollar promised, and I'm determined to help Puerto Rico build faster than in the past, and stronger, and better prepared for the future."

As he left the White House Monday morning, Biden also nodded to Puerto Rico's past challenges with the federal government when it comes to natural disaster relief.

"I'm heading to Puerto Rico because they haven't been taken very good care of. They've been trying like hell to catch up from the last hurricane. I want to see the state of affairs today and make sure we push everything we can," he said.

"We have to ensure that when the next hurricane strikes, Puerto Rico is ready," Biden said. "Today, I'm announcing more than $60 million in funding to help coastal areas in Puerto Rico to become better prepared for the storm. For example, we can create a flood warning system to help shore up levees and floodwalls."

During his remarks, the president touched on declaring disaster assistance before Hurricane Fiona ever made landfall -- touting his administration's assistance in providing home repairs and lost property, as well as over 1,200 FEMA personnel he said were on the ground in Puerto Rico helping with search, rescue and cleanup.

Fiona lashed an already-weakened power grid in Puerto Rico in September, leaving much of the island in darkness and struggling to recover. However, Criswell said on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday that 90% of residents had since had power restored.

When Biden began his remarks, he immediately spoke about Delaware and his connections to the Puerto Rican community there, saying the state had large Puerto Rican and Black communities – and he was "sort of raised in the Puerto Rican community at home politically."

"And between all minorities, we have -- 20% of our state is minority," he said. "And so I -- I was sort of raised in the Puerto Rican community at home politically."

The president's trip comes as the damage in Florida from Ian only starts to come into view.

Search-and-rescue efforts were ongoing as of Sunday, Criswell said on "This Week," meaning the death toll could easily rise as more of the area is surveyed.

The White House has yet to say whether Biden will meet with Florida GOP Gov. Ron Desantis in Florida on Wednesday but repeatedly emphasized that the government was working as "one team" after Hurricane Ian.

"The focus is going to be on the people of Florida," press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said. "And I'll say this, as the president has said, we are all one team when it comes to Hurricane Ian. We will continue to work alongside the governor and local officials to support the people of Florida."

ABC News' Cheyenne Haslett contributed to this report.

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Biden admin announces more than $300M in mental health funding in part from bipartisan gun bill

Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

(WASHINGTON) -- The Biden administration on Monday announced more than $300 million in new mental health funding, via awards and grants, with much of the money coming from the bipartisan anti-gun violence law passed this summer by Congress.

The Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services, through the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), is rolling out the roughly $314 million for health professionals in schools and in emergency departments.

The new funds allocated under annual appropriations as well as the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (BSCA) -- which was passed by Congress and signed by President Joe Biden in June -- are intended to help create healthier and safer learning environments for children, with the DOE granting some $280 million in competitive grants to schools to aid mental health staffing, it said Monday.

The DOE said it is dedicating $144 million a year for five years to a grant program for growing the amount of mental health professionals in schools, plus $143 million a year for five years to a grant program for "boosting the mental health profession pipeline" around schools that are most in need.

Notices inviting applications for both grant programs will open Monday morning and in the federal register on Tuesday.

Roberto Rodríguez, the education department assistant secretary for planning, evaluation and policy development, touted this spending in major terms -- calling the administration's response to mental health "historic."

"We've never seen an effort of this magnitude in relation to the challenge that we have around mental health," Rodríguez told ABC News, adding, "We also have never seen this level of investment from the federal level, more specifically in mental health professionals, so we are making a big bet on supporting, attracting, developing and retaining our school psychologists, social workers [and] counselors to really work in support of our students."

HRSA Administrator Carole Johnson said that the HHS also awarding nearly $27 million for a pediatric mental health access program for emergency department providers -- by training pediatricians to treat "mental health conditions and by [provide] tele-consultation to bring mental health expert support," the government said -- is an important step that will have a "substantial impact."

Johnson told ABC News that pediatric primary health care providers will, with this new money, receive support and training in analyzing mental health conditions. The virtual training sessions with mental health care specialists will help a range of providers, including family medicine physicians, diagnose and treat children before referring them to mental health services, Johnson said.

"[If] that pediatrician is more equipped to identify mental health issues and treat them, then that will make a big difference for that family," Johnson said. "If your school nurse is better able to identify early issues with mental health concerns and get that child referred to the right place, that'll make a big difference for children as well."

The HHS already provides $300,000 per week in additional resources to mostly state awardees, as well as tribal organizations and Washington, D.C., and almost $9 million to new grantees through the American Rescue Plan (ARP), officials said.

Johnson emphasized that the government believes the new funding will help reduce the burden on families and extend the "reach" of the mental health workforce in helping those in need.

"Our goal here is that there's no wrong door for getting kids connected to mental health services and pediatricians to be part of that solution," Johnson said. "As part of this project, [one can] call in to what we call a tele-consultation line where the project supports, in every one of our grantees, a tele-consultation service that allows pediatricians to connect directly with mental health experts. That might be psychiatrists or psychologists, social workers and care navigators that really help bring that mental health expertise into the pediatrician's office so that they can help -- in real time -- manage mental health care needs."

Rodríguez, the assistant education secretary, said that the department's mental health funding aims to target school districts in underserved areas.

"We're looking at communities that have high concentrations of poverty, communities where they may disproportionately lack access," Rodríguez said. "That includes not just our urban communities -- that includes our rural communities as well as suburban communities. What we've permitted here is the opportunity for states to apply on behalf of high need Local Education Agencies (LEAs) too, so if school districts don't have a capacity to pull together applications, states can work closely with school districts to do more of a comprehensive response."

The administration's funding commitment comes as various districts have sounded the alarm on their ability to handle mental health issues at their schools this year. The most recent National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) report found mental health professionals are one of the top five most understaffed positions reported in schools.

Amid a widespread educator shortage, Rodríguez said that the Education Department is also focusing on the next generation of mental health professionals by working with higher-education programs. These are partnerships between K-12 and colleges and universities, he said, to train school-based mental health service providers.

The new spending helps President Biden inch closer to his goal of "doubling" the amount of mental health professionals in schools. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy wrote in an advisory on protecting youth mental health that students lost access to teachers, counselors and mental health professionals when COVID-19-related measures forced schools to shut down for in-person learning in 2020 and 2021.

The BSCA, which Biden signed in June, will invest an additional $1 billion over the next five years in mental health supports in U.S. schools, according to the White House.

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Supreme Court with Justice Jackson faces major tests on race

Fred Schilling/Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States via Getty Images)

(WASHINGTON) -- At the U.S. Supreme Court, the siege may be over, but the mood is still sour.

The nine justices of the nation's highest court, six conservatives and three liberals, publicly reconvene for business Monday for the first time since its blockbuster decision overruling Roe v. Wade abortion rights. They face a steep slide in public confidence even as protests have subsided and security barricades come down.

"The big question now is will the justices feel any pressure at all to respond to public disapproval. It doesn't look like it," said Jeffrey Rosen, president and CEO of the National Constitution Center.

The conservative majority, led by senior conservative Justice Clarence Thomas, is poised to deliver more dramatic changes to American law in the months ahead, including in several disputes involving race.

"The five most conservative members of the court are interested in a maximalist strategy, basically to move the law as far and as fast as possible while they retain control of this court," said Kate Shaw, Cardozo School of Law professor and ABC News legal analyst.

"Underlying the challenges in each of the race-related cases is the idea that the Constitution absolutely prohibits any distinctions on the basis of race, no matter what the motivation," Shaw said. "I think we could well see a vindication of that position."

The justices will hear arguments over the use of race in undergraduate admissions at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina later this month. The court's conservatives appear ready to end affirmative action in higher education, reversing decades of precedent and outlaw any consideration of race as a factor in student admissions.

"This could be the term when the court said clearly that the Constitution is colorblind -- across a range of state action," said Rosen, "and further restricts the ability to be race conscious in voting rights and adoption. And that will be a sea change in American law. "

The court will decide whether Alabama's election maps dilute Black voting power under the Voting Rights Act, and in a major case from North Carolina decide whether state legislatures should have significantly more power over federal elections.

"It has a lot of implications on who gets to set that time, place and manner of actual elections," said Sarah Isgur, a former Justice Department attorney and ABC News legal contributor.

The justices will also hear also a major case on gay rights and free speech which could have sweeping implications for anti-discrimination laws nationwide.

"The stakes really could not be higher for LGBTQ people," said Jennifer Pizer, acting chief legal officer of Lambda Legal, which advocates for members of the gay community.

A wedding website designer is asking the court to strike down a Colorado public accommodation law that she says forces her to serve LGBTQ couples. "There are certain messages I am unable to promote through my business," said Lorie Smith, the designer and owner of 303 Creative LLC.

After a major ruling last term on regulation of power plants, the justices will rule on the EPA's power to protect wetlands over the objections of property owners. They will also take up California's Proposition 12, which would ban the sale of pork from pregnant pigs kept in crates.

"If this law were to stand, pork -- especially in California -- would be much more expensive," said Lori Stevermer, vice president of the National Pork Producers Council.

Those cases will play out during a campaign season dominated by unusually high voter engagement around the court.

"Women are registering in larger numbers in a number of critical states since the Dobbs [abortion] decision, and all of that in a close election cycle could make a difference in a number of races," said Shaw.

With a surge in partisanship over the court, several of the justices have tried to project unity.

"We like each other. We really do," said Justice Amy Coney Barrett at a joint event with Justice Sonia Sotomayor earlier in the summer. "As is often joked, this is like a marriage. We have life tenure and we get along."

But behind the scenes, relations between some of the justices remain tense, sources say.

Who leaked a draft majority opinion by Justice Samuel Alito on abortion is still an apparent mystery, several justices have said publicly. A report on the internal investigation is expected as soon as this month, but it's unclear if the findings will be made public.

"I worry that these types of leaks will become commonplace at the Supreme Court" if they don't identify the alleged leaker, said Carrie Severino, a former Thomas clerk and president of the Judicial Crisis Network, a conservative legal advocacy group.

Into the fray steps Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, the sixth new justice in the last 13 years.

"Justice Jackson is going to be a fantastic colleague and bring all kinds of new things to the table," said Justice Elena Kagan during an appearance in Chicago last month.

Jackson is the first former public defender and first Florida-raised justice. Her appointment marks the first time that four seats on the high court bench will be filled by women.

"It's unlikely that she'll be the deciding vote on some of these top cases, on the other hand, she could have enormous influence on the court in her ability to focus her dissents at specific justices to change some of those majority opinions," said Isgur.

Vogue magazine gave Jackson the spotlight last month with portraits taken at the Lincoln Memorial -- her first major media appearance since being sworn in. But it's Justice Thomas who most legal experts are watching closest ahead of the court's decisions in the weeks ahead.

"This is the Thomas Court," said Rosen. "And Justice Thomas can enact many of the efforts to overturn precedents that he's been arguing for for a really long time."

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Rick Scott responds to Trump's 'death wish' attack on Mitch McConnell

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(WASHINGTON) -- Florida Sen. Rick Scott, a member of Republican leadership in the upper chamber, said Sunday that he does not "condone violence" after Donald Trump lashed out at Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell and suggested McConnell had a "death wish"-- but Scott stopped short of condemning the former president.

Trump, in a post on his Truth Social website last week, wrote that McConnell must have a "death wish" after supporting a continuing resolution to fund the federal government.

Trump went on to criticize McConnell's wife in racist terms, writing that he should "seek help and advise [sic] from his China loving wife, Coco Chow!" Trump was referring to Elaine Chao, who is Taiwanese. Chao served as Trump's transportation secretary until she resigned after Jan. 6

Scott, who leads the Senate GOP's campaign arm, was asked for his opinion of Trump's attack on McConnell during an appearance on CNN's "State of the Union."

"I can never talk about and respond to why anybody else says what they said," Scott said. "But here's the way I look at it is I think what the president is saying is there's been a lot of money spent over the last two years. We've got to make sure we don't keep caving to Democrats, it's causing unbelievable inflation and causing more and more debt."

Scott then shrugged off the insult about Chao.

"As you know, the president likes to give people nicknames. You can ask him how he came up with the nickname," Scott said. "I'm sure he has a nickname for me."

"But here's what I know: We've got to watch how we spend our money, we got to stop this inflation," he said. "I don't condone violence, and I hope no one else condones violence."

Trump's team has insisted in the wake of the former president's "death wish" comment that it was meant in a political sense and was not advocating physical harm.

On CNN on Sunday, Scott was pressed on the racially inflammatory nature of how Trump singled out Chao. He replied that "It's never ever OK to be a racist. I think you always have to be careful if you're in the public eye with how you say things. You want to make sure you're inclusive."

Trump and McConnell, though close legislative allies through much of Trump's administration, became estranged in the wake of Jan. 6.

While McConnell did not vote to convict Trump at his second impeachment, he said in a speech in February 2021 that Trump was "morally responsible" for the deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

Trump has since repeatedly denounced McConnell, which McConnell typically ignores in public. His office did not respond to a request for comment on Sunday.

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Sen. Rubio and FEMA chief on recovery from Ian's devastation: 'I don't think it has a comparison'

ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- Sen. Marco Rubio and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Deanne Criswell on Sunday detailed the destruction Ian wreaked in Florida as Rubio said there's no "comparison" between the deadly hurricane and past storms.

"I don't think it has a comparison, not in Florida," Rubio, R-Fla., told "This Week" co-anchor Jonathan Karl. "Fort Myers Beach no longer exists. It'll have to be rebuilt. It'll be something different. It was a slice of old Florida that you can't recapture."

"There is a lot of devastation. Significant damage in the point of impact on the west coast of Florida," Criswell added.

Ian made landfall last week in West Florida before sweeping across the middle and upper regions of the state, leaving leveled homes and significant flooding in its wake. Search-and-rescue operations are ongoing, but the death toll in Florida stood at 72 as of Sunday morning, according to local officials.

There have also been four deaths in North Carolina, where Ian hit after passing through Florida, and several deaths in Cuba, which was hit before Florida.

Both Rubio and Criswell emphasized on "This Week" that federal officials have been working hand-in-glove with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

"I spent the whole day with Gov. DeSantis on Friday and wanted to really hear what his concerns were and what resources he might need to help support this," Criswell told Karl. "I committed to him that we would continue to bring in resources to meet the needs, not just for this response and the stabilization but as they go into the recovery efforts."

Asked by Karl if the forecast models were off in projecting Ian's path or if local officials should have called for evacuations sooner, Criswell said the hurricane had been "fairly unpredictable in the days leading up to landfall," when Ian quickly became the deadliest hurricane in the state in 60 years.

"This is going to be a long road to recovery," Criswell acknowledged. She added: "We are accounting for everybody that was in the storm's path and that we go through every home to make sure that we don't leave anybody behind."

Criswell, a former emergency management chief of New York City, was confirmed as FEMA administrator last year. She took over an agency that disburses billions in relief across the country but which has also faced scrutiny and criticism over its work.

"FEMA has -- they've all been great," Rubio said on Sunday. "The federal response from day one is very positive ... and we're grateful for that."

Karl pressed Rubio multiple times on a 2013 vote he cast against recovery funds for Hurricane Sandy, with Rubio arguing the Sandy relief included unrelated spending.

Karl asked if Rubio would also insist disaster money for his state be voted on without any non-emergency additions -- and, if so, if he was then prepared to vote against such funding if it was part of a larger package.

"What we're going to ask for Florida is what we supported for every other state in the country that's been affected by natural disasters, and that's emergency relief designed to be sent immediately to help the people affected now," Rubio said.

Karl asked Criswell about FEMA's work in Puerto Rico, which was hit by Hurricane Fiona last month. Criswell noted that 90% of people on the island have power again since the storm. "We have not stopped our response efforts and our recovery efforts," she said.

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Putin faces 'irreversible' reality in Ukraine invasion despite latest moves: Petraeus

ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin now faces an "irreversible" quagmire amid the country's land grab in its ongoing invasion of Ukraine, retired Army general and former CIA chief David Petraeus said Sunday.

Putin "is losing" despite "significant" but "desperate" moves in the war that began in late February, Petraeus told ABC "This Week" co-anchor Jonathan Karl.

"President [Volodymyr] Zelenskyy and Ukraine have mobilized vastly better than has Russia," Petraeus said. "Ukraine has recruited, trained, equipped, organized and employed force incomparably better than Russia has."

Regardless of Putin's bravado, Petraeus said, "No amount of annexation, no amount of even veiled nuclear threats can get him out of this situation."

Asked by Karl if Russia could win in its conflict with Ukraine, Petraeus said he did not see how: "They cannot. There is nothing he [Putin] can do at this point."

On Friday, Putin said he was "forever" annexing four regions of Ukraine -- a move denounced by Ukraine, the U.S. and other countries -- and, in late September, the Russian leader said he was calling up some 300,000 reservists to bolster the war effort, triggering protests across his country.

In a rare acknowledgment Thursday, Putin admitted "mistakes" in how the mobilization was carried out. But he argued again in a speech Friday that the invasion was crucial to preserving Russia against what he described as "the enemy" in the West.

Meanwhile Ukrainian forces, buttressed by billions in weapons and funding from the U.S. and European allies, have made steady territorial gains since a counteroffensive that started last month.

"He's going to continue to lose on the battlefield," Petraeus said of Putin, pointing to Russia's recent retreat from a supply hub city in one of the annexed regions. Mounting sanctions are another complication, Petraeus said.

Putin's Friday speech, in which he announced the annexation of parts of Ukraine, was designed to undercut Europe's commitment to challenging Russia, which is a major energy supplier on the continent, Petraeus said.

"Europe's going to have a tough winter," Petraeus said. "There's going to be very reduced flow of natural gas, but they'll get through it and I don't think they'll crack on the issue of support for Ukraine."

"Negotiations, as President Zelenskyy has said, will be the ultimate end," Petraeus said -- though an imminent diplomatic outcome might be unlikely, as Zelenskyy signaled on Friday that Ukraine would only agree to talks "with another president of Russia."

"It can still get worse for Putin and for Russia. And even the use of tactical nuclear weapons on the battlefield won't change this at all," Petraeus said.

Still, he said the nuclear threat must be taken "seriously."

Karl asked him if the use of such weapons would require the U.S. to directly intervene in the conflict with NATO.

Petraeus said a response might see the U.S. and its NATO allies "take out every Russian conventional force that we can see and identify on the battlefield" in Ukraine, the contested region of Crimea that Russia annexed in 2014 and ships in the Black Sea.

"It cannot go unanswered. But it doesn't expand -- it's not nuclear for nuclear. You don't want to get into a nuclear escalation here," Petraeus said. "But you have to show that this cannot be accepted in any way."

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7 Americans released from detention in Venezuela, Biden says

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(VENEZUELA) -- Seven Americans detained in Venezuela have been released, the White House announced Saturday.

"Today, after years of being wrongfully detained in Venezuela, we are bringing home Jorge Toledo, Tomeu Vadell, Alirio Zambrano, Jose Luis Zambrano, Jose Pereira, Matthew Heath and Osman Khan," President Joe Biden said in a statement.

Five of the individuals released were oil executives who were part of the "Citgo 6" group that was jailed in 2017 after being arrested on corruption charges when they were called to the country for a meeting. Earlier this year, Venezuela released the sixth oil executive, Gustavo Cardenas.

Biden expressed his gratitude for the "hard work of dedicated public servants across the U.S. Government who made this possible, and who continue to deliver on my Administration's unflinching commitment to keep faith with Americans held hostage and wrongfully detained all around the world."

Amid the positive news, Biden also noted there are still many families who have family members detained, recommitting his administration's commitment to bring them home.

"Today, we celebrate that seven families will be whole once more. To all the families who are still suffering and separated from their loved ones who are wrongfully detained -- know that we remain dedicated to securing their release," he said.

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

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Greg Abbott, Beto O'Rourke clash in 1st and only planned gubernatorial debate

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(TEXAS) -- Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and his Democratic challenger Beto O'Rourke faced off in a debate on Friday less than six weeks before Election Day.

The debate -- the first and only planned debate for the gubernatorial race -- took place at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley in Edinburgh, where Abbott and O'Rourke sat at tables with no audience as they clashed over some of the biggest issues facing the state.

The two candidates sparred over immigration, abortion and gun control, with the Uvalde school shooting being one of the hottest topics of the debate.

Nineteen children and two adults were killed at Robb Elementary School on May 24 in what is the deadliest shooting ever at a Texas public school.

O'Rourke held a press conference with Uvalde families affected by the shooting before the debate, speaking about the need for gun reform. O'Rourke also alleged that Abbott banned the families and others from attending the debate, to which Abbott's team responded that both candidates had agreed to the rules of the debate.

The first debate question regarding gun control opened with a video of a Robb Elementary survivor stating that in Texas, an 18-year-old cannot buy beer, but can purchase an assault-style weapon similar to that which killed her classmates in Uvalde.

When asked to explain their view on the issue, Gov. Abbott said any attempt to raise the legal purchasing age will be met "with it being overturned" and that he aims to address "what is really ailing our communities" which he cited was mental health issues.

O'Rourke rebutted Abbott's claim that any attempt would be immediately overturned, pointing to Parkland, Florida, where 23 days after its own mass school shooting, the legal purchasing age limit was raised and is still being held, years later.

"All we need is action and the only person standing in our way is the governor of the state of Texas," he said.

Abbott said he approves of expanding background checks to include juvenile records but is still against red flag laws. O'Rourke sidestepped questions on whether he supported confiscating AR-15-style weapons as he focused on what he believes he can get done as governor: raising the minimum age of purchase to 21, implementing red flag laws, and requiring universal background checks.

When asked about preventing another Uvalde, O'Rourke pointed criticisms at Abbott, who he said "has not lifted a finger to make it any less likely that any of our kids will meet that same fate."

Here's what the candidates had to say on other hot-button issues facing Texans.

Immigration

Abbott has been in the national spotlight over his busing of migrants from Texas to Democrat-run states and cities across the country, spending at least $12 million on the effort. Most recently, Abbott bused migrants to Washington near Vice President Kamala Harris's residence.

The panel showed a clip of New York City Mayor Eric Adams speaking on the busing of migrants saying he has reached out to the Texas governor's office to coordinate a plan. Adams says the governor has refused to do so.

"Mayor Adams has never called my office, never talked about it in my administration. And so, what he's saying is just flat out false," said Gov. Abbott. "There has been communication between non-governmental organizations in Texas as well as the ultimate location, whether it be Washington, D.C., or New York."

O'Rourke, speaking on the busing of migrants, said "We don't need any more stunts. We need solutions. We need those coming here to follow our laws. We need to make sure our laws follow up."

The two also disagreed on Operation Lone Star, an initiative started by Abbott to place more troopers at the border, with Abbott saying the $4 billion program was only necessary because of President Joe Biden's immigration policies. "I'm telling you $0 should be going to Operation Lone Star and that's what it would be if we had a president who was enforcing the immigration laws of the United States of America," Abbott said.

O'Rourke said Operation Lone Star was a failed system and is not deterring people from arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Abortion

Abortions in Texas have all but ceased after the state's trigger law went into effect on Aug. 25. The trigger law established civil and criminal penalties for performing banned abortions and prohibits the procedure with few exceptions, including cases where a pregnancy poses serious health risks to the pregnant woman.

During the debate, the panel of moderators played a clip where Gov. Abbott said victims of rape and incest can get the Plan B pill that can "prevent a pregnancy from occurring in the first place."

Yet when asked is emergency contraception a viable alternative to abortion for victims of rape and incest, Gov. Abbott said, "Well, it depends on what you mean by alternative. An alternative obviously, is to do what we can to assist and aid the victim, and that is to help get them medical assistance that they need and the care that they need, but also to know what their options are. They're going to know that [in] the state there are alternatives to abortion program provides living assistance, baby supplies, all kinds of things that can help them also with increased funding for prenatal and postpartum care."

When O'Rourke was asked if he would support any limit on when a woman can't have an abortion, he said this election is about reproductive freedom.

"I will fight to make sure that every woman in Texas can make her own decisions about her own body, her own future and her own health care and will work with the legislature and my fellow Texans to return us to the standard that Texas women want in the first place, Roe vs. Wade," he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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How Natural Disasters Can Change A Politician

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Government shutdown averted after House, Senate pass funding bill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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