Political News

Jan. 6 committee seeks info from 6th House Republican over alleged Capitol tour

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol has requested information from a sixth House Republican, Rep. Barry Loudermilk of Georgia, suggesting in a letter Thursday that he may be linked to a tour through parts of the Capitol on the day before the attack.

"We believe you have information regarding a tour you led through parts of the Capitol complex on January 5, 2021," Chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., and Vice Chair Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., wrote in a letter to Loudermilk Thursday.

The letter comes in response to a Democratic House member's request for Capitol security to investigate allegations that GOP lawmakers led reconnaissance tours around the Capitol complex ahead of the attack.

"In response to those allegations, Republicans on the Committee on House Administration -- of which you are a Member -- claimed to have reviewed security footage from the days preceding January 6th and determined that '[t]here were no tours, no large groups, no one with MAGA hats on.' However, the Select Committee's review of evidence directly contradicts that denial," the letter to Loudermilk says.

The panel, which is looking to hold public hearings in June, suggested meeting with Loudermilk on the week of May 23.

In a statement, Loudermilk and Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., the ranking member of the House Administration Committee, accused the committee of promoting a "verifiably false narrative."

Loudermilk said that on Jan. 5, he met with a constituent's family in a House office building, but never entered the Capitol Building. No member of the family was on Capitol grounds on Jan. 6, or was investigated or charged in connection with the Jan. 6 attack, Loudermilk said in the statement.

The request for Loudermilk's cooperation comes a week after committee issued subpoenas to five House Republicans -- Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., and Ronny Jackson, R-Texas -- after they refused to cooperate voluntarily with the panel.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

House Dems pass gas price-gouging bill that faces uphill battle in the Senate

Brandon Bell/Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- The House's Democratic majority overcame some internal opposition to pass legislation on Thursday addressing high gas prices by cracking down on possible price gouging from oil companies.

The bill was approved along party lines in a vote of 217-207. Four Democrats -- Texas' Lizzie Fletcher, Jared Golden of Maine, Stephanie Murphy of Florida and Kathleen Rice of New York -- joined all Republicans in the chamber in voting against the legislation.

The Consumer Fuel Price Gouging Prevention Act, introduced by Reps. Kim Schrier, D-Wash., and Katie Porter, D-Calif., would give the president the authority to issue an energy emergency proclamation that would make it unlawful for companies to increase fuel prices to "unconscionably excessive" levels.

It would also expand the powers of the Federal Trade Commission to investigate alleged price gouging in the industry and would direct any penalties toward funding weatherization and low-income energy assistance.

"The problem is Big Oil is keeping supply artificially low so prices and profits stay high. Now I think that when the market is broken, that's when Congress has to step in to protect American consumers," Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., the chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said in a hearing on Monday. "And that's what this bill does: It empowers the FTC to go after the gougers and empowers the agency to effectively monitor and report on market manipulation."

Oil executives previously testified before Congress to address concerns about their prices but insisted it was the result of larger forces, including supply and demand.

The price gouging legislation faced stiff opposition from Republicans, who blame the Biden administration's policies, including spending and pandemic-relief stimulus, for inflation. Republicans also renewed calls for more domestic energy production.

"If anybody is going to be sued for gouging, it should be the Gouger-in-Chief Joe Biden who has created this problem," House GOP Whip Steve Scalise said on the House floor on Thursday. "Stop relying on foreign countries for our energy when we can make it here cleaner, better than anyone in the world and lower gas prices and address this problem. This bill doesn't do it. We got to bring up the bills that actually fix the problem."

Rep. Murphy broke with her party to join conservatives in voting against the measure, expressing concerns it didn't address the root of the price increases.

"I think vilifying one sector doesn't actually address the inflation issues that my constituents are facing," Murphy told ABC News. "The possible net effect of this bill will be to actually strangle production at a time when we are desperate for additional production."

The internal revolt came as Democrats are hoping to alleviate pain at the pump for consumers ahead of a consequential midterm election season.

"If you don't support legislation to stop price gouging, you are for price gouging," Speaker Nancy Pelosi told members during a whip meeting on Wednesday.

Though the legislation passed in the House, it faces a tough climb in the Senate. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., promised to bring the bill to the floor -- though it has no pathway to passage without GOP support.

Lawmakers had discussed introducing other legislation to lower gas prices such as measures codifying a federal gas tax holiday. That proposal didn't gain traction among Democratic leaders, like Pelosi, who argued consumers wouldn't benefit.

"I think we need to start with something like this bill and see what we can do," Rep. Porter told ABC News. "I think it is better to invest in those [gas tax holidays] through something like the infrastructure bill, which I supported."

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Inside the submarine capable of launching nuclear missiles


(NEW YORK) -- America's main nuclear deterrent glides undetected under the oceans as it carries a cargo of ballistic missiles that will hopefully never be used.

Off the coast of Hawaii, ABC News visited the USS Maine, one of 14 Ohio Class U.S. Navy submarines capable of launching nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles.

Measuring two football fields in length and weighing 18,000 tons, the massive submarine carries 20 Trident 2 D5 missiles capable of striking targets up to 4,000 miles away.

Each missile is capable of holding up to 12 nuclear warheads -- one reason why these submarines are able to carry about 70% of the nation's active nuclear arsenal allowed by the New START Treaty.

"I'd say it's the most powerful force in the world right now," Vice Adm. Bill Houston, the commander of the U.S. Navy's Submarine Forces, told ABC News.

But in keeping with U.S. policy, Houston could neither confirm nor deny whether there were missiles with nuclear warheads aboard the submarine.

You can see more of Martha's rare access inside the sub and exclusive reporting on America's nuclear defense this Sunday on a special edition of "This Week."

Developed at the height of the Cold War with the Soviet Union, the submarines have continued with their classified missions, serving as a key part of America's nuclear triad that includes strategic bombers and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) housed in the western plains states.

Recent comments by Russian leaders about their strategic nuclear capabilities following the invasion of Ukraine have shined a spotlight on America's nuclear deterrence mission.

Houston characterized comments by Russian leaders about Russia's nuclear weapons capability as "very dangerous," "irresponsible" and "unprofessional."

"It gives more meaning to this mission," said Houston. "But we view our mission as a peace mission, purely defensive is what we do."

He added, "And so when they saber rattle, this deterrent here is meant to prevent that from occurring."

A main part of why Ohio Class submarines are a powerful nuclear deterrent is because they are undetectable in vast stretches of ocean, making an adversary susceptible to a retaliatory strike should it carry out a strategic attack against the United States.

To stay hidden, the submarine will surface very rarely -- if at all -- during what could be a months-long patrol underwater.

"This submarine, once it's underwater, it will not be detected," said Houston. "It is the one portion of our deterrent that will always be available if needed."

And maintaining that deterrent means that not even senior military leaders will know where the submarine is at any given time. That's a privilege available only to the submarine's senior leaders.

The crew will regularly train for the unthinkable, like the launch of nuclear-armed missiles in a retaliatory strike against a country that has carried out a strategic attack against the United States.

ABC News was allowed to witness a simulated launch exercise where redundancies are an integral security measure intended to ensure the validity of a presidential order to launch missiles.

"United States policy is not to aim our missiles at any adversary or any country," said Cmdr. Darren Gerhardt. "If we said they're targeted, they would be pointing to the spot in the ocean. They don't go anywhere."

Living with the Trident missiles is also a regular part of life for the 150 sailors on the submarine.

The sailors have to maneuver their way through hallways lined by 24 missile tubes that house ICBMs. The missiles are also located near the sleeping berths.

Crew members carry out their assignments in shifts with some gathering for breakfast at 3 a.m.

With the submarine operating hundreds of feet below the surface, the crew has little awareness about what is going on in the world. At times the submarine will come up to periscope depth to receive satellite signals for updates on what's going on in the world. But that maneuver carries risk.

"But when I do come up to periscope depth that makes me vulnerable," said Gerhardt. "So I have to minimize the amount of times I do that."

And when the crew returns to their families, "we're catching up on several months' worth of information that we missed," Gerhardt said.

Both Houston and Gerhardt said they're used to this life under the sea.

"I would say this is where we're more comfortable," said Houston. "A pilot likes to be in the air. We like to be under the sea."

Added Gerhardt, "This is our home."

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Biden visiting a volatile Asia at a volatile time

Win McNamee/Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- When President Joe Biden arrives in Seoul on Friday, on his first trip to the region as president, he'll be landing in a volatile region at a volatile time.

Biden will seek to shore up ties with regional allies and advance his vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific region, but he'll do so as the threat of another nuclear test from North Korea looms.

At the same time, U.S. allies South Korea and Japan continue to squabble over historical grievances, blocking a breakthrough in bilateral relations.

Northern neighbor

Increasingly bellicose North Korea continues to paint itself as heavily-armed nation that its foes, including superpowers, should think twice about tangling with.

Images last month released by the official Korean Central News Agency showed the country's leader Kim Jong Un overseeing a spectacular night parade in Pyongyang with soldiers marching in perfect formation and ICBMs.

"If any forces attempt military confrontation with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, they will be perished," Kim reportedly vowed in a fiery speech.

Since 2021, North Korea has been steadily improving its missile technology, drastically increasing testing, including purported hypersonic missiles in January and a submarine-launched ballistic missile, or SLBM in May, and what is believed to have been a successful intercontinental ballistic missile test launch.

It was the first of its kind in years and Kim might very well have more ICBMs fired off during Biden's visit.

In what has become the new normal, each test launch typically garners perfunctory rebukes from the U.S. and its allies, with Japan predictably condemning the act, lodging complaints with the U.N., and then vowing to share information.

Unsettling signs

Signs indicate the North is restoring tunnels at its Punggye-ri testing site, where all six North Korean underground nuclear tests to date have been conducted. In 2018, Punggye-ri was famously dismantled "in a transparent manner" in front of the world's media. Now in 2022, a U.S. official tells ABC News that "the facility at Punggye-ri is capable of testing a nuclear device in short order."

U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters Wednesday that U.S. "intelligence does reflect the genuine possibility that there will be either a further missile test, including long-range missile test, or a nuclear test, or frankly, both, in the days leading into, on, or after the president's trip to the region."

Sullivan said the U.S. was "preparing for all contingencies, including the possibility that such a provocation would occur while we are in Korea or in Japan."

The Biden administration says the North "could be ready to conduct a test there as early as this month."

Circling the wagons

Biden will visit both Japan and South Korea, two key regional allies with a history of icy relations. South Korea's newly minted conservative president Yoon Seok-youl has called for a thaw.

Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has said, "There has never been a time when strategic cooperation between the two nations, and between them and the United States, has been more necessary," and says there is no time to waste in improving bilateral ties.

Despite the friendly overtures from the leaders of the two nations, experts say neither side is willing to make the first move to resolve the rows.

Jeff Kingston, director of Asian Studies at Temple University Japan, told ABC News the calls for unity are music to Washington's ears.

"The U.S. wants its allies to cooperate in coping with contemporary threats but they have remained divided over their shared past. Improving relations will be a difficult process because history is very politicized in both nations," he said.

Kingston said the recent failures of the two countries to see eye-to-eye is a wake-up call for those who have hopes that they could overcome the colonial past. "They also battle over territory -- the Dokdo/Takeshima islets -- and whatever else is handy."

Jaechun Kim, professor of international relations at South Korea's Sogang University, also has doubts fences can easily be mended.

Despite President Yoon's signaling the desire for closer relations with Japan, he walks a tightrope, Kim said.

"There is limit to which he can be proactive here because if you're seen as compromising on 'history' issues toward Japan, that is politically suicidal in the Republic of Korea," he told ABC News.

Kim said Japan and Korea will have to have to find common ground somewhere.

"We should not expect or push for a breakthrough on history issues. That's not realistic," he said. "Rather, the two countries will have to deepen cooperation on issues where their interests converge, issues such as economic engagement and maritime cooperation in Indo-Pacific, and trilateral security cooperation between ROK, Japan, and the U.S. in Northeast Asia to augment deterrence and defense against North Korea's nukes and missiles."

ABC News' Luis Martinez and Ben Gittleson contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Senate passes $40 billion in new aid to Ukraine, bill heads to Biden

uschools/Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- The Senate voted on Thursday to pass an additional $40 billion in new aid for Ukraine, after President Joe Biden called on Congress last month to deliver the additional funding, to help counter Russian President Vladimir Putin's invasion over the long term.

In his floor remarks before the 86 -11 vote, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer noted the significance of the package.

"By passing this aid package the Senate can now say to the Ukrainian people help is on the way: real help, significant help, help that could ensure the Ukrainian people are victorious," he said.

With the House having passed the aid package earlier this month, it will now head next to Biden's desk.

The aid package got broad bipartisan support with some Republican holdouts. It had been stalled for several days after Republican Sen. Rand Paul's refusal to expedite to process.

In floor remarks before Thursday's vote, Republican Leader Mitch McConnell promised a "big bipartisan landslide" and seemed to thumb his nose at concerns from Paul and other deficit hawks about the cost of the Ukraine bill.

"Anyone concerned about the cost of supporting a Ukrainian victory should consider the much larger cost should Ukraine lose," McConnell said as he encouraged all members to join the "big bipartisan supermajority" voting to advance the aid package.

But Schumer went further, calling out the group of Republicans who he expects will vote against the aid package.

"It appears more and more MAGA republicans are on the same soft on Putin playbook that we saw used by former President Trump," Schumer said.

"The MAGA influence on the Republican party is becoming all too large and all too dominant. We Americans all of us Democrats and Republicans cannot afford to stick our heads in the sand while Vladimir Putin continues his vicious belligerence against the Ukrainian people while he fires at civilian hospitals and targets and kills children and innocent people," he said.

"But when Republicans -- in significant number -- oppose this package that is precisely the signal, we are sending to enemies abroad," Schumer said.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Biden backs Sweden, Finland joining NATO as Turkey threatens to block the historic bids

Oliver Contreras/Sipa/Bloomberg via Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- President Joe Biden welcomed Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Finnish President Sauli Niinistö to the White House on Thursday to discuss their historic bids to join NATO.

All three leaders called for swift acceptance of the applications amid resistance from Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who announced Thursday that his country will oppose Finland and Sweden joining the alliance.

"The bottom line is simple, quite straightforward," Biden said in remarks made from the Rose Garden. "Finland and Sweden make NATO stronger, not just because of their capacity, but because of their strong democracies and a strong united NATO is the foundation of America's security."

The two nations formally submitted their applications on Wednesday as Russia's invasion of Ukraine is about to enter its fourth month, making the decision after seeing strong support from the public and the backing from their respective governments. Biden said conversations between the U.S., Finland and Sweden about Russia's aggression in Eastern Europe and NATO accession been going on for months, and that they have the "complete backing" of his administration. On Thursday, his administration will submit reports on accession to Congress so lawmakers can move "efficiently and quickly" on consenting to the expansion.

Biden also appeared to have a message Thursday for Russian President Vladimir Putin, a staunch opponent of NATO expansion.

"Let me be clear: New members joining NATO is not a threat to any nation," Biden said. "It never has been. NATO's purpose is to defend against aggression, that's its purpose, to defend."

Finland and Sweden's move to join the alliance is also welcomed by NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who said Wednesday the nations are their "closest partners."

"All allies agree on the importance of NATO enlargement," Stoltenberg said at a news conference. "We all agree that we must stand together. And we all agree that this is an historic moment, which we must seize."

The request must be approved by all of NATO's 30 member countries, making Erdogan's objection a potential headache.

"We have told our relevant friends we would say 'no' to Finland and Sweden's entry into NATO, and we will continue on our path like this," Erdogan said in a video statement on Thursday.

Erdogan has been critical of both countries, stating he perceives them as being supportive of groups Turkey views as extremist -- including the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK.

Both Sweden's prime minister and Finland's president addressed Turkey's disapproval during their visit to the White House.

"Finland has always had proud and good bilateral relations to Turkey," Niinistö said. "As NATO allies, we will commit to Turkey's security, just as Turkey will commit to our security. We take terrorism seriously, we condemn terrorism in all its forms and we are actively engaged in combating it. We are open to discussing all the concerns Turkey may have concerning our membership in an open and constructive manner."

Andersson said Sweden is having dialogues with all NATO members, Turkey included, to sort out any issues at hand.

Despite Turkey's opposition, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told ABC White House Correspondent MaryAlice Parks on Wednesday the administration is "confident at the end of the day" that Finland and Sweden "will have an effective and efficient accession process" and that "Turkey's concerns can be addressed."

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu met in New York on Wednesday to "reaffirm their strong cooperation as partners and NATO allies," according to a joint statement.

"They discussed ways and assessed concrete steps to enhance their cooperation on defense issues, counterterrorism, energy and food security, combatting climate change and boosting trade ties, while agreeing to intensify consultations on a range of regional issues," the statement read.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Lawmakers grill FDA head on 'slow' response to baby formula crisis

David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- Facing tough scrutiny from both Democrats and Republicans, FDA Commissioner Robert Califf on Thursday told lawmakers the agency has made "significant progress" in working to reopen the closed Abbott baby formula plant that triggered the nationwide shortage, but conceded it will be weeks before the supply gets back to normal.

"I'm pleased to say today we've already made significant progress, and I think we are on track to get it open within the next week to two weeks, most likely at the outerbound two weeks," Califf, testifying virtually, told a House Appropriations subcommittee.

FDA regulators ordered the facility shut down in February after contamination issues at the factory had been linked to four infants being hospitalized with a rare but serious bacterial infection, two of whom ultimately died.

But even when Abbot, the nation's largest infant formula manufacturer, does restart operations at its Sturgis, Michigan, facility, it will still take time to ramp up production -- six to eight weeks before the product is back on shelves.

Califf was pressed on how soon parents will be able to find the food for their children that they're desperately seeking.

"It will gradually get better," he responded, adding, "the big problem we have right now is distribution."

"The worst problems are in the rural areas because they're not the major areas that are purchasing these goods and we're going to have to pay very special attention to that," Califf said. "So, within days it will get better, but it will be a few weeks before we're back to normal."

Califf's appearance came just hours after President Joe Biden announced new steps to ramp up the federal response to the crisis, a problem that had been brewing for months.

On Wednesday evening, Biden invoked the Defense Production Act to help expedite domestic manufacturing and allow military aircraft to fly formula into the U.S. from overseas.

House Appropriations Committee chair Rosa DeLauro D-Conn., underscored what she said was the need to "get to the bottom of FDA's slow response," which she said contributed to the product going missing on the shelves "and in the homes of families the country over, potentially putting babies at risk and forcing parents to play a game of Russian roulette that they did not know they were playing."

"Why did the FDA not spring into action?" DeLauro said, pointing to the time it took for the agency to make the recall of several of Abbott's brands, following reports of contamination at their plant and allegations of ongoing quality control concerns.

"It makes me question which side the FDA is on," DeLauro said. "Are they on the side of Abbott, and industry, or on the side of the American consumer, in this case babies and their moms and dads?"

In his opening remarks, Califf recognized American families' anxieties at the shortage.

"We know many parents and caregivers are feeling frustrated," Califf said. "This crisis has shown us the impact of having a single manufacturer cease production for a brief period, and unless we strengthen the resilience of our supply chain, we could be one natural disaster or quality mishap or cyber attack from being here again. I hope I can work with this committee to ensure we have the tools and resources we need moving forward."

On how much more formula will realistically be imported, given FDA's announced easing of import restrictions, Califf said his agency is "pulling a bunch of levers just to save time."

"I do want to point out that right now in the last week we have had more infant formula bought, between 11 and 19 percent, than what was bought in the months before the closure of the plant," Califf said.

He underscored one of the salient points of the nationwide shortage -- that so few manufacturers hold such heavy influence over the baby formula market -- with four companies holding responsibility for roughly 90% of the nation's supply.

This crisis now "exemplifies the problem that we face when we have a concentrated industry where taking out one plant has such an enormous impact. This creates a situation where we have a delicate balance. If conditions are unsafe, how do we get the plant back up and operating without interrupting the supply?" Califf said. "We had to really wrestle this to the ground with Abbott."

"This crisis has shown us the impact of having a single manufacturer or ceased production for a brief period and unless we strengthen the resilience of our supply chain, we could be one natural disaster quality mishap or cyber attack from being here again,” he said.

Califf lamented what he described as insufficient technology, manpower and funding for his agency to adequately carry out their duties in a fast-paced and high stakes environment, urging the committee fund technology and experts "at least as good as the companies we regulate."

"The technology and data systems that we have are not of the quality we need for us to fully facilitate innovation and the rapidly moving industry we regulate in order to protect the public from well-meaning or potentially harmful products," he said.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Bush condemns 'unjustified and brutal' invasion of Iraq, instead of Ukraine, in speech gaffe

Noah Riffe/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

(DALLAS) -- Former President George W. Bush had a tongue-tied moment at a speech on Wednesday and millions on social media took notice.

When condemning Russia's attack on Ukraine, Bush mistakenly referred to the decision to launch an "unjustified and brutal invasion of Iraq" before quickly correcting himself to say "Ukraine," in what was a bungled criticism of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"The result is an absence of checks and balances in Russia, and the decision of one man to launch a wholly unjustified and brutal invasion of Iraq," said Bush, before catching himself and shaking his head. "I mean -- of Ukraine."

Realizing his mistake, Bush then appeared to say under his breath, "Correct."

Bush made the comment in a speech at his presidential center at Southern Methodist University in Dallas on Wednesday during an event examining the future of American elections. After a pause, Bush blamed the mistake on his age and the audience laughed.

"Anyway, I'm 75," he said.

But on Twitter, the reaction to Bush's inadvertent reference to the most polarizing decision of his administration was mixed, as users revived criticism of his decision to invade and sarcastically riffed on his history of such slip-ups.

Former Rep. Joe Walsh, who ran for the Republican nomination for president in 2020, tweeted as the clip swirled through social media: "All gaffes aside, George W Bush was wrong to invade Iraq. And Putin was wrong to invade Ukraine."

Another user cracked that "Freud really stepped out of his grave to personally slap the ‘Iraq’ out of Bush’s mouth didn’t he."

The mixup was widely seen. Since video of Bush's speech was clipped and tweeted by Dallas News reporter Michael Williams on Wednesday, it has been viewed more than 17 million times.

In his Wednesday remarks, Bush also described Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as a "cool little guy," deeming him "the [Winston] Churchill of the 21st century."

As president, Bush oversaw the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 -- as part of the post-9/11 conflicts in the Middle East -- under the pretext that the country was hiding weapons of mass destruction, or WMDs. Iraq's dictator, Saddam Hussein, was deposed but no weapons were found, and the war officially lasted for nearly a decade.

While the Bush administration argued the fighting was necessary for national security even without the WMDs, it became increasingly unpopular at home. Thousands of U.S. service members and tens of thousands of civilians died.

Bush wrote in his post-White House memoir that he had a "sickening feeling" when he learned there were no WMDs in Iraq after their supposed existence was used as justification for the invasion. He told ABC News' "World News Tonight" when leaving office in 2008 that the "biggest regret" of his presidency was what he called the "intelligence failure in Iraq."

When pressed in that interview, Bush declined to "speculate" on whether he would still have gone to war if he knew Iraq didn't have WMDs. "That is a do-over that I can't do," he said.

Nonetheless, he wrote in his memoir, "I strongly believe that removing Saddam from power was the right decision."

ABC News' Chris Donovan contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Biden embarks for Asia with a heavy focus on China and North Korea


(WASHINGTON) -- With much of the Biden administration's attention this year focused on Russia's invasion of Ukraine, President Joe Biden turns his attention to Asia Thursday as he embarks on a visit to South Korea and Japan -- a trip that the White House says "comes at a pivotal moment" for his foreign policy agenda.

The trip will mark the president's first trip to the region since taking office and will feature a heavy focus on North Korea and China. While the president campaigned heavily on making China a main focus of his foreign policy, the war in Ukraine has occupied Biden's foreign agenda of late.

While the White House may hope that the trip shows that the president has not taken his eye off the challenge China poses, Ukraine will still loom large over the trip.

"President Biden has rallied the free world in defense of Ukraine and in opposition to Russian aggression," White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Wednesday. "He remains focused on ensuring that our efforts in those missions are successful, but he also intends to seize this moment, this pivotal moment, to assert bold and confident American leadership in another vital region of the world -- the Indo-Pacific."

Biden will begin his journey in Seoul and wrap the visit in Tokyo. Sullivan said this will be an "opportunity to reaffirm and reinforce two vital security alliances" and to "deepen two vibrant economic partnerships."

"The message we're trying to send on this trip is a message of an affirmative vision of what the world can look like if the democracies and open societies of the world stand together to shape the rules of the road, to define the security architecture of the region, to reinforce strong, powerful, historic alliances, and we think putting that on display over four days bilaterally with the ROK and Japan, through the Quad, through the Indo-Pacific economic framework, it will send a powerful message. We think that message will be heard everywhere," he said.

Asked to what extent is the message of this trip a cautionary tale delivered to China and their aggression towards Taiwan, Sullivan said the message "will be heard in Beijing, but it is not a negative message, and it's not targeted at any one country."

While in South Korea, President Biden is expected to meet with President Yoon Seok-youl, "engage with technology and manufacturing leaders" who are "mobilizing billions of dollars in investment here in the United States," and he will visit American and South Korean troops who are "standing shoulder-to-shoulder in defense" of threats posed by North Korea, Sullivan said.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Biden will not be visiting the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) this trip. He visited the area as vice president in 2013 and while serving in the Senate.

Sullivan, though, continued to repeat that U.S. intelligence continues to show that North Korean leader Kim Jon Un, who ramped up missile launches in 2002, could launch a long-range missile test, nuclear test, or both in the days leading into, on, or after the president's trip to the region.

"We are preparing for all contingencies, including the possibility that such a provocation would occur while we are in Korea or in Japan," Sullivan told reporters.

He said that the U.S. is coordinating with allies in South Korea and Japan, as well as counterparts in China.

"We are prepared obviously to make both short and longer-term adjustments to our military posture as necessary to ensure that we are providing both defense and deterrence to our allies in the region and then we're responding to any North Korean provocation," Sullivan said.

In Japan, Biden will meet with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to discuss economic relations and global security issues, including North Korea, and they will launch a new economic initiative for the region.

"The Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, IPEF, as we affectionately call it, is a 21st century economic arrangement, a new model designed to tackle new economic challenges," Sullivan said. "From setting the rules of the digital economy, to ensuring secure and resilient supply chains, to managing the energy transition, to investing in clean modern high standards infrastructure."

And while in Tokyo, Biden will also participate in a second in-person Quad summit with his counterparts from Australia, India and Japan. They last met in September at the White House.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Biden invokes Defense Production Act to address baby formula shortage

Shawn Thew/EPA/Bloomberg via Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- President Joe Biden is invoking the Defense Production Act to address the widespread shortage of baby formula, the White House announced Wednesday evening.

The move will get ingredients to manufacturers to help speed up production, the administration said.

"The President is requiring suppliers to direct needed resources to infant formula manufacturers before any other customer who may have ordered that good," the White House said in a statement. "Directing firms to prioritize and allocate the production of key infant formula inputs will help increase production and speed up in supply chains."

The president has also directed Department of Defense commercial aircraft to pick up infant formula overseas to get on U.S. shelves faster while U.S. manufacturers ramp up production, the White House said.

The ongoing baby formula crisis has triggered a public outcry from parents and lawmakers, as well as an investigation by the House Oversight Committee.

Biden called the formula shortage one of his "top priorities."

"I know parents all across the country are worried about finding enough infant formula to feed their babies," the president said in a video address announcing the administration's latest steps. "As a parent and as a grandparent, I know just how stressful that is."

Coronavirus-related supply chain issues helped fuel the shortage, which was worsened by a recall from Abbott Nutrition, one of the nation's largest manufacturers of baby formula products. The company closed its manufacturing plant in Sturgis, Michigan, in February over concerns about bacterial contamination after four infants fell ill.

Abbott maintains there is still no conclusive evidence linking its formula to the four infant illnesses, which included two deaths.

On Monday, the Food and Drug Administration said it has agreed with Abbott on a plan to reopen its Sturgis plant. Abbott said it could restart operations there within two weeks, and that it would take six to eight weeks before the product is back on shelves.

The FDA also announced on Monday that it is easing import restrictions on foreign-made infant formula. The U.S. normally produces 98% of the infant formula it consumes, according to the FDA.

The Biden administration said it will focus on transporting overseas infant formula that has met FDA safety standards.

It is unclear how soon customers will see an impact on store shelves. Susan Mayne, director of FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, said Monday that it could take weeks to get imported product into the market.

The White House said Wednesday it was working to get more formula to stores "as soon as possible."

Later Wednesday, the House voted 414-9 across bipartisan lines on a measure to make it easier for recipients of the Women, Infants and Children federal nutrition program to use their benefits to purchase infant formula amid the ongoing national shortage.

It would also allow recipients to use their benefits to purchase an expanded range of formulas in future public health emergencies or supply chain disruptions identified by the Department of Agriculture.

The chamber also approved a second measure, largely along party lines, to boost funding for the Food and Drug Administration by $28 million to help the agency better regulate and oversee the infant formula industry.

The vote was 231-192, with a dozen Republicans voting with Democrats on approval.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

House passes bill to aid fight against domestic terrorism after Buffalo supermarket shooting

Tim Graham/Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- In the wake of the Buffalo, New York, supermarket shooting that left 10 Black people dead, the House on Wednesday approved a measure to beef up federal efforts to combat domestic terrorism and white supremacy.

The vote was 222-203, with Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Illinois, voting with all Democrats in favor of the proposal.

The bill from Rep. Brad Schneider, D-Illinois, would create new offices within the Justice Department, Department of Homeland Security and Federal Bureau of Investigation to "monitor, analyze, investigate, and prosecute domestic terrorism."

Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., and other progressives were initially wary of the measure earlier this year, but reached an agreement on language in talks with leadership and the American Civil Liberties Union to address concerns about the potential infringement on Americans' First Amendment rights.

"I was proud to lead my colleagues in a successful effort to strengthen protections in this bill for protesters, narrow the domestic terrorism definition, and enhance the scope of Congressional oversight to ensure that civil rights and civil liberties continue to be protected," Bush said in a statement to ABC News. "As an activist, I know first-hand the ways in which law enforcement agencies have targeted, surveilled and prosecuted marginalized communities."

All Republicans besides Kinzinger opposed the measure, arguing that it would be duplicative and could be used to target parents raising concerns at local school board meetings.

That could jeopardize its passage through the Senate, where Democrats have pledged to hold a vote but need the support of 10 Republicans to advance legislation past the 60-vote threshold.

"By diverting resources that could be used to actually combat domestic terrorism and mandating investigations into the armed services and law enforcement, this bill further weaponizes and emboldens the DOJ to target Americans' First Amendment rights and go after those who they see as political threats," House GOP Whip Steve Scalise's office wrote to Republican lawmakers in a memo encouraging them to vote against the measure.

The Justice Department and Attorney General Merrick Garland have said Republicans are mischaracterizing a memo issued last fall to the FBI and U.S. attorneys' offices around the country encouraging them to meet with local law enforcement partners to address a rising number of threats against local school board officials.

Even Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., who co-sponsored the original resolution introduced with Schneider, said he was "torn" on the bill ahead of passage, and ultimately voted against it.

"Maybe for four months after I put my name on that bill, every meeting I went to, I had people upset I was on that bill," he told ABC News. "They said, 'Will I be investigated because I am pro-life?' I heard overwhelming feedback."

The Justice Department has already established a domestic terrorism unit, and the Biden administration has requested funding from Congress to support 60 attorneys focused on domestic terrorism cases.

FBI Director Christopher Wray has called domestic terrorism one of the greatest threats to the United States.

The problem of domestic terrorism has been metastasizing across the country for a long time now and it's not going away anytime soon," Wray told a Congressional panel in March of 2021. "At the FBI, we've been sounding the alarm on it for a number of years now."

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

What's next for McCormick-Oz squeaker -- and the possible electoral turbulence of Mastriano as governor

Michelle Gustafson/Bloomberg via Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- Many across the country -- and certainly former President Donald Trump -- are watching Pennsylvania.

Ballots are still being counted in the GOP Senate primary race, where razor-thin margins separate hedge fund manager David McCormick and celebrity TV Dr. Mehmet Oz. Meanwhile, a late Trump endorsement in the Republican gubernatorial primary helped boost election denier and state Sen. Doug Mastriano to a win. Both races offer insight -- and raise tough questions -- about the conservative electorate in the Keystone State.

As of Wednesday afternoon, with 98% of votes counted, both McCormick and Oz had roughly 31% -- separated by just about 2,000 votes. Pennsylvania law triggers a recount if a candidate's margin of victory is 0.5% or less, as seems all but certain.

Here's what happening in the Senate contest and what to know about the gubernatorial win.

What's next for Oz and McCormick?

Only about 2% of ballots in the GOP Senate primary remain to be counted. But in a squeaker like this, those 2% are key.

Many counties in Pennsylvania don't start counting mail-in ballots until Election Day, so there are still enough outstanding votes across the state's 67 counties to be tabulated and counted that a result cannot yet be projected.

Raising another issue, in Lancaster County, "about 22,000 mail ballots were printed by the print vendor with the incorrect code and could not be read by the county's scanners," the secretary of state's office told ABC News on Tuesday night. County election officials were in the process of re-marking and scanning the ballots by hand, which will likely take a few days.

If the margin demands a recount when all votes are in, the secretary of state will initiate that process.

Trump, taking a page out of his own playbook and refusing to wait for every vote to be counted, on Wednesday publicly urged Oz to "declare victory." Trump continued to sow doubt in the election results to come, using his social media app, Truth Social, to again attack mail-in ballots.

Republicans have been reluctant to rely on that voting method in the last two years -- repeatedly criticizing and undercutting an option that millions of Americans relied on at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, despite any evidence of widespread fraud. But a key race still counting them is forcing patience within the party.

The combination of mail-in ballots trailing in and printing errors is, in part, what's causing the delayed result on the McCormick-Oz contest. But another factor was the ascendance of far-right conservative commentator Kathy Barnette -- over Trump's objections.

Barnette -- who was at Trump's rally on Jan. 6, 2021, and was seen walking with others to the U.S. Capitol before the deadly rioting (in which she has denied participating) -- saw a surge in support in the last few weeks and appeared to split votes among Trump's base and away from Oz and McCormick. As of Wednesday afternoon, she had about 25% of the votes compared to the others' 31% each, highlighting how unusually fractured GOP primary voters were.

In the days leading up to the primary, Trump came after Barnette, saying that she would not be able to win the general election against the Democratic nominee (who ended up being Lt. Gov. John Fetterman). He also swiped at her background, saying that "she has many things in her past which have not been properly explained or vetted." Barnette told NBC News Trump had to say that because "he's going to stick with that endorsement."

But during Trump's rally in Pennsylvania earlier this month, intended to bolster Oz, voters on the ground expressed skepticism, citing Oz's changing stances on COVID vaccines, abortion access and the Second Amendment. Instead, many told ABC News, they would prefer Barnette, calling her a true conservative.

"MAGA ["Make America Great Again"] does not belong to President Trump," Barnette said at a debate last month. "MAGA -- although he coined the word -- MAGA is actually, it belongs to the people."

Without Barnette's success, it's likely that either McCormick or Oz would have more decisively won the race, avoiding the potential for a recall while Republicans would prefer to be able to turn toward the upcoming general against Fetterman.

The Senate seat that Oz and McCormick are vying for is currently held by retiring Republican Sen. Pat Toomey. It would be a significant loss to the GOP -- and a critical gain for Democrats who hope to maintain their slim control in the 50-50 Senate.

Trump announced his endorsement of Oz in April, citing the latter's popularity and past compliments on Trump's health. He argued that Oz would be the one most likely able to win in November's midterms. But McCormick, the hedge fund owner from Connecticut endorsed by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, and whose wife worked in the Trump administration, drew many votes even without Trump's coveted support.

In a call with ABC News on Tuesday, McCormick struck a delicate balance of complimenting Trump while arguing his endorsement didn't matter in the race.

Both McCormick and Oz spoke at their respective election night parties and acknowledged that their race was too close to call.

"We're not going to have resolution tonight, but we can see the path ahead," McCormick said.

Oz, appearing minutes after, first thanked Trump for his endorsement and then Fox News host Sean Hannity for his "behind-the-scenes" advice.

"We're not going to have a result tonight. When all the votes are tallied, I am confident we will win," Oz said.

Whoever wins the Republican primary will face Fetterman, who has campaigned with a distinctly blue-collar bent and an everyman affect -- tall, bald and tattooed, more often in a shirt and shorts than a suit. He soared to a wide victory in the Democratic race over the more moderate Rep. Conor Lamb, even as he underwent surgery on primary day to get a pacemaker with defibrillator after he suffered a stroke last Friday. His campaign said Tuesday that the procedure was successful and he was recovering in the hospital.

Trump vaults Mastriano to victory, with a Democratic assist

Pennsylvania's Republican gubernatorial primary shifted dramatically in the final days of the election after Trump interjected and endorsed Doug Mastriano, who had attracted conservative grassroots support for his efforts to try to overturn the state's 2020 presidential result. Mastriano's win has raised concerns about the state's future election integrity, since Pennsylvania's governor appoints the secretary of state, the chief officer in charge with overseeing elections.

The state senator and retired Army colonel organized buses to the "Stop the Steal" rally on Jan. 6 and was seen on camera walking past barricades at the Capitol ahead of the rioting later that day. The House's Jan. 6 committee has subpoenaed him, given that he was in communication with Trump, but neither he nor the committee has confirmed whether he complied with the order. He has denied participating in any violence.

Establishment Republicans worried about Mastriano getting the nomination, given how his baseless claims about the 2020 election might play with the wider electorate. Two GOP candidates in the governor's race, Melissa Hart and Jake Corman, dropped out in the last stretch in an effort to consolidate votes around Rep. Lou Barletta instead of Mastriano.

Democrats, however, hoped for Mastriano's win, believing him easier to beat in November.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who ran unopposed for the Democratic nomination, branded Mastriano as Trump's pick so that he could stand out from the GOP crowd. But Republican political strategist Amanda Carpenter, who condemned Mastriano as "an insurrectionist" in a column for the website The Bulwark, also said his win should provide a lesson to Democrats, especially those who wanted Trump to face Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election for similar reasons.

"Hoping that Democrats will solve the problems of the Republican party has been a grave mistake. It's not often countries get second chances," she wrote. "But if the GOP now gets behind insurrectionists like Mastriano, it's January 6th forever."

ABC News' Hannah Demissie, Oren Oppenheim and Alisa Wiersema ontributed to this report.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Ashley Biden, the president's daughter, tests positive for COVID-19

Gary Gershoff/WireImage/Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- President Joe Biden's daughter, Ashley Biden, has tested positive for COVID-19, according to a White House official.

The first daughter, 40, was scheduled to travel to Latin America this week with first lady Jill Biden.

The president and first lady are not considered a close contacts, according to the first lady's spokesperson, Michael LaRosa.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre reaffirmed in Wednesday's briefing that the president was not considered a close contact of his daughter, who he hasn't seen in "about a week." She did not have guidance on when the president was last tested for COVID-19.

"[T]he president tests regularly throughout the week as part of a cadence as determined by his doctor," Jean-Pierre told reporters. "If his testing were to change because of the close contact, we’d let all of you know, but his cadence has not changed."

Ashley Biden will no longer be joining the first lady on her trip to Ecuador, Panama and Costa Rica, LaRosa said. Jill Biden was scheduled to depart Wednesday afternoon for Quito, Ecuador.

This is the second foreign trip Ashley Biden has had to drop out of in recent weeks. She was considered a close contact of someone who tested positive for COVID-19 before the first lady's trip to Poland, Romania and Ukraine earlier this month.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, who is currently meeting with health officials from G-7 countries in Germany, also tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday, the agency said. The president is not considered a close contact, it said.

As the BA.2 subvariant has spread around Washington, several people within the president's inner circle have tested positive for COVID-19 in recent weeks, including Vice President Kamala Harris, White House communications director Kate Bedingfield, former press secretary Jen Psaki and Jean-Pierre herself.

The president has never been deemed a close contact. When asked how this was possible, Jean-Pierre reiterated Wednesday that "extra precautions" are taken around meetings with the president. Because she had a meeting with the president today, Jean-Pierre said she was tested, masked and the meeting was socially distanced.

Masks are now optional at the White House campus, though meetings with the president are often socially distanced, officials said. White House officials have also stressed that the president is up-to-date on COVID boosters.

Someone is considered a close contact if the person was within 6 feet of an individual with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 for at least 15 minutes over a 24-hour period, per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

ABC News' Molly Nagle contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

DHS pauses much-scrutinized disinformation group for review but slams 'gross mischaracterizations'

Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- The Department of Homeland Security said Wednesday it was pausing its short-lived Disinformation Governance Board pending a review of the larger strategy behind it. The person tapped to lead the group, former Wilson Center fellow Nina Jankowicz, said she had resigned as a result.

Both Jankowicz and a DHS spokesperson said the group had itself become a target of disinformation since its creation was announced in late April. A DHS official went further on Wednesday, saying Jankowicz was "the subject of some particularly vicious and unfair attacks."

As the official suggested, Jankowicz became the face of conservative-fueled criticism, some of it in personal terms. Others voiced concerns about her background: Jankowicz, who is routinely outspoken on Twitter, had publicly criticized Republicans and sowed doubt about the accuracy of press reports critical of President Joe Biden's son Hunter.

More broadly, the disinformation board found detractors in the GOP and some leading civil liberties groups over the scope of its work. That scrutiny was fueled by an admittedly clumsy rollout -- such as a confusing name -- as well as an initial lack of specifics about the board's operations.

In an interview with ABC News last week, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said the board wasn't rolled out "effectively," but that its work was "exactly contrary" to how it was being portrayed.

"It was intended to ensure coordination across the Department's component agencies as they protect Americans from disinformation that threatens the homeland," a DHS spokesperson said in a statement on Wednesday. "The Board has been grossly and intentionally mischaracterized: it was never about censorship or policing speech in any manner. It was designed to ensure we fulfill our mission to protect the homeland, while protecting core Constitutional rights."

"However," the spokesperson continued, "false attacks have become a significant distraction from the Department's vitally important work to combat disinformation that threatens the safety and security of the American people."

The board is now on hold awaiting a report and a review of strategy for how the department can combat disinformation effectively while still protecting civil liberties. That work will be handled by members of the recently revamped Homeland Security Advisory Council. The DHS said that former Secretary Michael Chertoff and former Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick were tapped by Mayorkas to produce recommendations on the future of the group within 75 days.

"During the HSAC's review … the Department's critical work across several administrations to address disinformation that threatens the security of our country will continue," the DHS spokesperson said.

In her own statement on Wednesday, Jankowicz said, "With the Board's work paused and its future uncertain, and I have decided to leave DHS to return to my work in the public sphere. … It is deeply disappointing that mischaracterizations of the Board became a distraction from the Department's vital work, and indeed, along with recent events globally and nationally, embodies why it is necessary."

"I maintain my commitment to building awareness of disinformation's threats and trust the Department will do the same," Jankowciz said.

Administration officials emphasized that the decision to temporarily suspend the board was in part due to the "extreme" reaction from those who disagreed with it.

"There have been gross mischaracterizations of what the board what the board's work would be and there have been grotesque personal attacks," one official said Wednesday. "And the reaction has candidly become a distraction to the department's important work in addressing disinformation to security."

Mayorkas himself ultimately made the move to reassess the board before the group ever hosted its first meeting, according to the official. Asked if the decision was politically motivated, the official said the broader point was to ensure the success of the department's mission to counter misinformation campaigns, which the government believes compromise security.

The DHS had been on the defensive about the board for weeks, with Mayorkas being pressed by Republicans about it during a Senate hearing earlier this month.

The department previously admitted that "there has been confusion about the working group, its role, and its activities" and vowed to work on building greater public trust.

DHS has said the the panel would not be involved in managing department operations and Mayorkas said the group would "bring together the experts throughout our department to ensure that our ongoing work in combating disinformation is done in a way that does not infringe on free speech, a fundamental constitutional right embedded in the First Amendment, nor on the right of privacy or other civil rights and civil liberties."

Addressing disinformation is a major homeland security priority and DHS had said the new board would help counter false claims from human smugglers and Russia. A homeland security spokesperson stressed that work again on Wednesday, noting "malicious efforts spread by foreign adversaries, human traffickers, and transnational criminal organizations."

Some Republicans cheered the board's suspension, renewing attacks that it was "Orwellian" in nature and would, despite DHS' statements otherwise, be "policing" U.S. citizens.

"This board was only successful in reinforcing that the Department of Homeland Security's priorities are severely misplaced," Rep. Mike Turner, of Ohio, and New York Rep. John Katko said in a joint statement Wednesday. "When the border crisis is worsening daily, cyber-attacks from adversaries are threatening to cripple our critical infrastructure, the rise in violent crime is putting Americans across the country in danger, and disrupted supply chains are having devastating impacts on Americans, DHS is focused on policing Americans' free speech."

But the group was warily received by some civil liberties advocates, too.

"The burden is on the government to explain why a Homeland Security Department needs a disinformation board in the first place," Ben Wizner, director of ACLU's Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, told ABC News on Wednesday. "They really have only themselves to blame for the political backlash, given that they announced this without offering any clarity about the mission or scope of the board."

A group of First Amendment-focused organizations wrote to Mayorkas earlier this month asking for the type of re-evaluation that DHS has now announced.

"The Department has demonstrated a readiness to cross the legal bounds of privacy and speech rights. Coupled with the Department's checkered record on civil liberties, the Department's muddled announcement of the Board has squandered the trust that would be required for the Board to fulfill its mission," the groups, led by the nonprofit Protect Democracy, said in a statement.

Former Acting Head of Intelligence and Analysis at DHS John Cohen, who is also an ABC News contributor, said the responsibilities of the board were widely misunderstood.

"The intention of the board was to facilitate the discussion on policy issues impacting the department, it was meant to ensure that the department protected privacy and civil liberties, as they move to evaluate threat related online content," Cohen said.

Cohen, who helped stand up the disinformation board and left the department last month, said earlier in May that the board addressed a communication issue within the department.

"It didn't coordinate operational activities, it wasn't governing intelligence operations, it had no input on how organizations collect intelligence or information," he said then. "It was simply intended to be a working group that would gather on an ad hoc basis to address matters of policy."

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

House holds hearing on abortion access as nation awaits final Supreme Court decision

Richard Sharrocks/Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- The House Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing Wednesday on abortion access as the nation awaits a final decision from the Supreme Court in a case that result in the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., kicked off the hearing with a warning that if the landmark 1973 decision legalizing abortion is in fact overturned -- as was indicated in a leaked Supreme Court draft opinion -- the impact will be "devastating."

"Making decisions about when and how to start a family is essential to women's lives," Nadler said. "The right to decide whether to carry or terminate a pregnancy is central to life, liberty and equality. It is the very essence of what it means to have bodily autonomy, which is a prerequisite for freedom."

Expert witnesses speaking at Wednesday's hearing include Dr. Yashica Robinson, a board-certified OBGYN and board member with Physicians for Reproductive Health; Michele Bratcher Goodwin, a chancellor's law professor at the University of California, Irvine; Catherine Glenn Foster, the president and CEO of the anti-abortion law firm Americans United for Life; and Aimee Arrambide, the executive director of the abortion rights nonprofit Avow Texas.

Goodwin told committee members that if the draft opinion holds, it would be an "incredibly unusual" moment in American democracy.

"The Supreme Court has never gone back to in fact revoke what has been freedoms that have been well-articulated and established in the Constitution and also by the Supreme Court," she said.

The draft opinion, which is not the final ruling, was published by Politico on May 2 -- and later confirmed by the court to be authentic. Politico later reported that the Feb. 10 draft was still the only one circulated among the group and that none of the conservative justices have changed their vote in the wake of the bombshell leak.

Protests have been a near-daily occurrence since the document became public, with demonstrations extending to the homes of Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Samuel Alito and Justice Brett Kavanaugh. A nationwide day of protest was held on May 14 featuring hundreds of "Bans Off Our Bodies" events organized by abortion rights groups.

Security measures at the Supreme Court and for all nine justices have been increased since the demonstrations began.

According to the Department of Homeland Security, ABC News reported, domestic violent extremists have invaded the national abortion debate "to incite violence amongst their supporters." Targets of threats include the justices, members of Congress, public officials, clergy, health care providers and more.

Republican Rep. Jim Jordan, ranking chairman on the House Judiciary Committee, focused his opening statement Wednesday on accusing Democrats and activists of a trying to strong-arm the Supreme Court.

"You know why they're trying to bully and intimidate the court?" Jordan asked. "You know why, because the evidence for overturning Roe is overwhelming."

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.