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(WASHINGTON) — President Joe Biden is stepping up efforts to get shots in people's arms, including calling on states, territories and local governments to do more to incentivize vaccination by offering $100 to those who get vaccinated and reimbursing small- and medium-sized businesses for offering their employees paid leave to get their family members vaccinated.

He also announced that every federal government employee and onsite contractor will be asked to "attest to their vaccination status," and will require anyone not fully vaccinated to wear a mask at work regardless of where they live, social distance and get tested once or twice a week. Employees can also face restrictions on official travel.

Biden was also directing the Department of Defense to look into how and when they will add COVID-19 vaccination to the list of required vaccinations for members of the military, according to a fact sheet that was released to reporters.

Ahead of the president's announcement, some groups representing large numbers of federal workers -- including law enforcement and postal workers -- raised some early objections.

"As an association representing those men and women charged with protecting the Constitutional rights of all Americans, including the right to privacy and choice, we are concerned by any move that would mandate the COVID-19 vaccine among federal employees," Larry Cosme, president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, said in a statement.

The statement also asked that the administration work collaboratively with the association and other federal employee groups to incentivize workers to be vaccinated.

Chad Hooper, the executive director of the Professional Managers Association -- formed in 1981 by IRS managers -- implored all of its members, their staff and eligible Americans to get vaccinated as soon as possible, but highlighted that any mandate imposed on the entire workforce would be the first of its kind.

"Consistent with vaccines for other illnesses, such as measles or influenza, PMA believes that agency leadership should have the discretion to determine whether any, some, or all of their staff must be vaccinated against COVID-19," Hooper said in a statement.

"At this time, no COVID-19 vaccine has received full approval from the FDA, and this may be contributing to vaccine hesitancy across our country. We must ask the administration to craft any such mandate with care and consideration of our members' individual contraindications as well as their closely held personal and religious beliefs," the statement continued.

Pfizer, Moderna and the Johnson and Johnson vaccines were granted an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA), but the FDA is facing pressure to issue full authorization of the vaccines, which could open the door to mandates in schools, and the military.

"The FDA recognizes that vaccines are key to ending the COVID-19 pandemic and is working as quickly as possible to review applications for full approval," FDA spokesperson Alison Hunt said in a statement.

ABC News' Jordyn Phelps and Lauren King contributed to this report.

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(WASHINGTON) — The Senate swiftly passed the $2.1B emergency security supplemental bill Thursday with a rare unanimous vote in the Senate and only 11 House members voting against it.

The bill now heads to the president for his signature.

The move staves off critical funding cuts that both the U.S. Capitol Police and National Guard were expected to enact following weeks of congressional inaction. Both forces were crushed by the emergency needs in the wake of the Jan. 6 insurrection, each relying on Congress to reimburse them in the months after the attack.

The bill provides $521 million to reimburse the National Guard for the cost of deployment to Capitol Hill and roughly $70 million to the Capitol Police to cover expenses incurred in response to the attack, according to the bill's summary.

An additional $300 million will be used to bolster safeguards for the Capitol complex, including funds for window and door upgrades and the installation of new security cameras.

But some Republican lawmakers argued that after spending trillions to battle the pandemic, it would be irresponsible to spend billions more without enacting spending cuts to cover the expenses.

The emergency supplemental bill also has $1.125 billion to cover the Afghanistan Special Immigrant Visa program -- a little less than what the White House requested -- to provide asylum to allies there who aided the U.S. mission and now face retribution from a resurgent Taliban.

The bill makes specific changes to the visa program, including increasing the number of authorized visas by 8,000 and lowering an employment eligibility requirement from two years to one.

Sen Mike Braun, R-Ind., said, "We need to protect our National Guard -- and we will. And we need to protect our allies who kept our troops safe, and we will. Emergencies arise and the biggest threat to dealing with them in my opinion is fiscal irresponsibility in D.C. We could have easily paid for the major parts of this legislation with offsets within the DOD."

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

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(WASHINGTON) -- The Biden administration on Thursday announced a new strategic framework aimed at reducing and managing conditions in Central America that have caused unprecedented levels of migration in recent years.

The strategy resembles much of what the administration has already proposed and focuses on reducing poverty, combating corruption and addressing violence in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. The administration previously dedicated $4 billion in financial support to the region, later saying that substantial portions of the money would not go to Northern Triangle governments and instead would be distributed among nonprofits and aid organizations.

Specifically, the five-point plan aims to address economic instability, establish anti-corruption measures with the involvement of U.S. officials, prioritize human rights and labor rights, counter and prevent gang violence and other organized crime while also targeting gender-based violence.

"We're not seeking to end migration," a senior administration official told reporters. "It's part of the fabric of this region, we have so many familial cultural ties to Central America. But we're seeking to change the ways in which people migrate, provide an alternative to the criminal smuggling, smuggling and trafficking rings, and to give people access to opportunity and protection through safe legal channels, safe legal pathways."

The strategy is being led by Vice President Kamala Harris who was tasked by Biden earlier this year with addressing the root causes of migration. In announcing the new framework, Harris said the United Nations and Mexico, among others, have committed support.

The administration is also looking to countries like Canada and Costa Rica, one official said, in an effort to provide more options for asylum and refuge.

The announcement comes as Biden continues to try to unwind the immigration enforcement policies of his predecessor, including recently making it easier for migrants to seek humanitarian relief. The Department of Justice announced this week the reversal of another Trump-era policy that immigrant advocates, student organizations and law professors said was part of the prior administration’s limiting of humanitarian protections.

Attorney General Merrick Garland formally rescinded a decision from his predecessor, Attorney General William Barr, which required the Board of Immigration appeals to completely re-decide immigration petitions and asylum cases even if a defendant had made progress in establishing their case. The Barr decision, now reversed, was also expected to exacerbate the growing backlog of cases in immigration court.

A group of more than 350 law firms, professors and advocacy organizations called on the Biden administration earlier this year to repeal a series of decisions made under the Trump administration which limited avenues for migrants to receive a grant of asylum. Monday’s announcement was the final decision to be reversed in that series.

The Biden administration had already reversed a decision from former Attorney General Jeff Sessions that domestic violence and gang violence were not grounds for asylum claims.

The new strategy from Harris also places an emphasis on making humanitarian relief opportunities available in the home countries of would-be migrants. It’s an essential component of reducing the migratory traffic at the U.S. southern border, which has become flooded with asylum-seeking children and families in recent months.

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(WASHINGTON) —The Biden administration on Thursday called on Congress to extend a federal freeze on evictions set to expire on Saturday, arguing its hands are tied by the Supreme Court.

The new statement comes as the country grapples with a COVID-19 surge fueled by the highly contagious delta variant.

The moratorium, essentially a nationwide ban on evictions, was put in place by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last September. In June, the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to allow the eviction ban to continue through the end of July but signaled in its ruling that it would block any further extensions unless there was "clear and specific congressional authorization.”

Amid public outcry, House Democratic leadership was looking to possibly take legislative action by the end of the week, before legislators leave for a six-week recess, to extend the freeze until the end of December, ABC News was told. Senate Democrats were also preparing legislation to extend the moratorium for the same duration, according to a Democratic aide.

"Given the recent spread of the Delta variant, including among those Americans both most likely to face evictions and lacking vaccinations, President Biden would have strongly supported a decision by the CDC to further extend this eviction moratorium to protect renters at this moment of heightened vulnerability," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement Thursday.

"Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has made clear that this option is no longer available. In June, when CDC extended the eviction moratorium until July 31st, the Supreme Court’s ruling stated that 'clear and specific congressional authorization (via new legislation) would be necessary for the CDC to extend the moratorium past July 31,'" she added, citing Justice Brett Kavanaugh's concurring opinion.

By a vote of 5 to 4, the court rejected a request from two associations of relators in Alabama and Georgia and group of property management companies seeking an emergency injunction against the CDC, which imposed the moratorium.

The Biden administration had previously said it would not extend the moratorium beyond July, so the Court allowed the moratorium to remain in place, though Justice Kavanaugh made clear that he and the other conservative justices believe the CDC exceeded its authority.

"In light of the Supreme Court’s ruling," Psaki continued, "the President calls on Congress to extend the eviction moratorium to protect such vulnerable renters and their families without delay."

In the meantime, Biden has asked the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Agriculture and Department of Veterans Affairs to each extend their respective eviction bans through the end of September, which Psaki said "will provide continued protection for households living in federally-insured, single-family properties.”

"The President has also asked these and other departments to do everything in their power so that owners and operators of federally-assisted and financed rental housing seek Emergency Rental Assistance to make themselves whole while keeping families in secure and safe housing -- before moving toward eviction," she added.

Psaki described the federal eviction moratorium as a "critical backstop to prevent hard-pressed renters and their families who lost jobs or income due to the COVID-19 pandemic from being evicted for nonpayment of rent."

"This moratorium prevented hundreds of thousands of Americans from experiencing the heartbreak, homelessness, and health risks that too often emanate from evictions -- particularly during a pandemic," she said.

The Biden administration has faced mounting pressure from some Democratic lawmakers to address the looming deadline amid growing concerns that vaccinated people can spread the delta variant to others -- evidence of which has prompted the CDC to advise vaccinated Americans to wear face masks indoors in areas with high or substantial levels of COVID-19 transmission.

"I urge the Biden Administration to extend the CDC’s eviction moratorium. It is reckless not to extend the deadline when rental assistance funds have not gone out fast enough to protect people. Eviction filings have already spiked in anticipation of the moratorium being lifted," Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, D-N.Y., tweeted on July 23.

When asked during Tuesday's press briefing if the Biden administration was discussing an extension of the nationwide eviction ban, Psaki had little to add.

"I don't have anything to preview for you at this point in time," she said. "But certainly, we will be watching this closely," she added, citing "ongoing discussions about how we can continue to help renters."

ABC News' Mariam Khan and Trish Turner contributed to this report.

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(WASHINGTON) -- The Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for federal workers could set the groundwork for more private sector organizations to follow along. But it also is likely to trigger an avalanche of lawsuits from those who say required vaccinations infringe on the civil liberties of Americans.

President Joe Biden is expected to announce on Thursday a plan requiring all federal workers to be vaccinated or comply with "stringent COVID-19 protocols like mandatory mask wearing -- even in communities not with high or substantial spread -- and regular testing."

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says that employers can require their employees to be vaccinated with exceptions being granted for religious and medical reasons.

Federal law does not bar organizations from mandating coronavirus vaccines even as the publicly available vaccines have yet to receive full authorization from the Food and Drug Administration, according to a Justice Department memo.

But some legal scholars say that full approval from the FDA would give companies increased legal cover from employees who refuse to comply with a vaccine mandate.

“There are many companies that are worried about pushback litigation and are waiting for full FDA approval,” said Larry Gostin, a professor of global health law at the Georgetown University Law Center and director of the World Health Organization Center on Public Health Law and Human Rights.

Full FDA vaccine approval is expected in September, according to a federal official. Normally, full approval takes up to a year following the submission of all required data.

Gostin added that employers also have the right to terminate employees who do not comply with their company’s vaccine mandate.

“A worker doesn’t have a legal or ethical entitlement to go unvaccinated or unmasked in a crowded workplace,” he said. “They can make decisions for their own health and well-being, but they can’t pose risk to others. Somebody who is unvaccinated and isn’t tested and unmasked poses a very substantial risk of transferring a very dangerous, if not deadly, disease.”

Similar to the legal arguments over state mask mandates, the debate surrounding vaccine mandates is an issue widely expected to end up in court.

“America is a very litigious society and there will be lawsuits,” said Gostin. “But employers and particularly hospitals are on very firm legal grounding and will win those lawsuits.”

While the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for federal workers could inspire similar moves from large employers to local governments, some states are taking offensive measures.

Several states including Arkansas, Tennessee, Utah, and Montana have already passed legislation banning COVID-19 vaccine mandates and vaccine passports, according to the National Academy for State Health Policy.

And with return to school quickly approaching for millions of U.S. students, some legislatures have even sought to prohibit required COVID-19 vaccines for school attendance.

The Federal Law Enforcement Officer’s Association, which consists of FBI agents and U.S. Marshalls, however, sees the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for federal employees as an attack on civil liberties.

“Forcing people to undertake a medical procedure is not the American way and is a clear civil rights violation no matter how proponents may seek to justify it,” said Larry Cosme, the association’s president, in a statement.

The idea of employer vaccine mandates is something that many public health experts increasingly agree on. A large number of companies are still allowing employees back to the office based entirely on voluntary employee disclosure of vaccination status as opposed to requiring actual proof of vaccination.

“An honor system can work in a situation where you don’t have an epidemic,” said Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr, a professor of epidemiology and medicine at Columbia Mailman School of Public Health. “We need to realize that we are in an emergency, and we have to do everything possible to ensure that the vast majority of people get vaccinated.”

Google, Apple and Facebook all postponed their return to office plans for mid-October as the delta variant continues to drive a dramatic rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations nationwide.

Google's decision to require staff in their offices to be vaccinated comes after similar announcements impacting government workers in New York and California to curb the spread of the delta variant.

“The timing for these vaccine mandates is right and it’s actually a bit long overdue,” said El-Sadr.

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(WASHINGTON) -- Republicans and Democrats on Wednesday battled over the new House of Representatives' new mask mandate, with more than a dozen Republicans voting twice without masks, despite new guidance from the Capitol physician aimed at preventing fast-spreading COVID-19 infections.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy "such a moron" Wednesday morning when asked about his criticism of the new mask mandate in the House.

"That's the decision from the Capitol physician, a mandate from him," Pelosi told reporters. "I have nothing to say about that, except we honor it."

Asked about McCarthy saying the decision was not "based on science," she replied, "He's such a moron," as she got into her car.

In a directive issued Tuesday night, The Office of the Attending Physician, Dr. Brian Monahan, said it was now required that all members and staff wear "medical-grade" masks throughout the House, unless members are speaking in the halls of the House or individuals are alone.

Members and staff will once again be prohibited from stepping on the floor to vote without a mask, or risk incurring fines.

The directive cited the increasing threat from the delta variant and noted House members travel weekly to and from areas of both high and low rates of disease spread. It also mentioned the new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention mask guidance for vaccinated people to wear masks indoors in where transmission is high or substantial, as well as recommending universal masking in schools.

"The same bureaucratic ‘public health experts’ who completely upended our society by pushing lockdowns and yearlong school closures now want to force Americans to return to pre-vaccine control measures. By forcing vaccinated Americans to return to masks, the Biden administration is not only casting doubt on a safe and effective vaccine, but contradicting why vaccines exist," McCarthy said in a statement in response. "Make no mistake — the threat of bringing masks back is not a decision based on science, but a decision conjured up by liberal government officials who want to continue to live in a perpetual pandemic state.”

After meeting with the top doctor on Capitol Hill Wednesday afternoon, McCarthy took to the House floor to decry the return of the House mask mandate and to slam Pelosi for calling him a "moron."

"Today, the Speaker who didn't know her own science, and said names to people, broke her own rules. Twice today, I saw the speaker in a crowded room without a mask. Less than 24 hours after imposing a mask mandate," he said.

"You don't know the facts or the science!" he said. "Do you know what frustrates Americans the most? Hypocrisy."

McCarthy claimed the vaccination rate for members of Congress is over 85 percent. "And, as of today, the transmission rate on the Capitol campus is less than 1 percent," he continued. "Well, the facts would tell us this isn't a hot spot, so the CDC recommendation doesn't apply to us!"

Republicans derailed the House floor schedule twice earlier on Wednesday, by forcing procedural votes protesting the new requirements.

At one point, the House was forced to vote on a motion to adjourn offered by Republican Rep. Chip Roy of Texas to disrupt proceedings, ostensibly over the mask mandate.

"This sham of an institution is doing nothing for the American people!" Roy yelled.

"We have people infected with Covid coming across the southern border,” he added, demanding that Dr. Fauci appear before Congress to testify about natural immunity. "Which is it? Vaccines or masks?"

"I don't believe that masks make any difference," Rep. Bob Good, R-Va., told ABC News when asked why he wasn't wearing a mask. "If they’ve been vaccinated, what are they worried about a threat from me?”

When asked if he had been vaccinated, he said, "I don't answer that question because it's no one's business."

Rep. Pat Fallon, R-Texas, another unmasked member, said he had "double immunity" from the vaccine and a prior COVID-19 infection.

"I'll pay the fines, I'm not wearing a damn mask," he said.

Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., another unmasked and unvaccinated member, got into a shouting match with liberal Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., who told him to "get vaccinated," and continued the feud on Twitter.

"You can't compel people to put something in their own body. People have to decide to do that for themselves," Donalds said. "I'm 42, healthy, and I already had COVID."

Asked about his colleague Rep. Clay Higgins, R-La., who recently disclosed he had COVID after believing he had previosly contracted it, Donalds said, "The reality is that people are going to make their own decisions."

As for the possibility of spreading the disease to vulnerable people with preexisting conditions, he said, "Anybody would be concerned about that."

"What we're doing is shifting the goalposts to eliminating COVID. And I want to eliminate COVID but we can't be just shifting the goalposts on every American," Donalds said. "If you have symptoms, go get tested. If you test positive, go isolate. This is not hard.”

Among the Republicans bristling at the return of the mask mandate on Wednesday was longtime opponent Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., who was seen throwing a mask back at a House staffer who offered her one.

According to two people who saw the exchange, Boebert threw a mask back at a staffer on the House floor and refused to put one on to comply with the latest rules. One person said she threw the mask on the ground.

Boebert’s office did not dispute the exchange, saying in a statement, "Rep. Boebert refuses to comply with Speaker Pelosi’s anti-science, totalitarian mask mandate. When offered a mask, she returned it with a quick slide across the table."

Boebert could receive a $500 fine for breaking the new mandate. GOP Reps. Roy, Andy Biggs of Arizona and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, who also appeared on the floor without masks, could be fined as well.

Members can appeal the fines to the ethics committee, and receive $2500 fines for subsequent offenses.

Editor's Note: A previous version of this story misattributed a quote from Rep. Byron Donalds to Rep. Clay Higgins due to an editing error. It also mistakenly reported that Higgins had been hospitalized with COVID-19. We regret the errors.

ABC News' Mariam Khan contributed to this report.

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(WASHINGTON) -- The National Basketball Social Justice Coalition is fighting to end racial and social inequality.

The group, which is composed of players, owners and staffers, has advocated for policy changes regarding criminal justice, policing and justice reform, by reaching out to lawmakers in Congress and state and local legislatures.

The Social Justice Coalition was formed in 2020, after the deaths of Jacob Blake and George Floyd.

In May 2021, the group, which represents the NBA community, publicly endorsed the George Floyd Justice In Policing Act. Since then, a source told ABC News, members of the NBA have held multiple bipartisan meetings with lawmakers to push the bill.

The 15-member group exclusively told ABC News they are now publicly supporting the Eliminating a Quantifiably Unjust Application of the Law Act, or EQUAL Act, a bill that seeks to eliminate the federal differences in sentencing between crack and powder cocaine.

In a joint statement shared with ABC News, the NBA Social Justice Coalition wrote, "The EQUAL Act is a significant step towards more humane sentencing policies. On behalf of the NBA community, we urge our legislators to continue moving this bill towards passage as quickly as possible and present it to President Biden for signature into law this summer."

James Cadogan, the coalition's executive director, told ABC News the EQUAL Act "gives people currently incarcerated for federal crack offenses a mechanism for re-sentencing."

"For 35 years, this legal disparity, with no basis in pharmacology, has only served to incarcerate unjustly," Cadogan said. "And Black and brown communities across the country disproportionately continue to bear the human cost."

Cadogan noted that the vast majority of people who've borne the brunt of that sentencing disparity are Black, because more Black people are incarcerated over crack cases than white people over powder cocaine cases.

"The proportions are different, but they were using the same substance and committing the same offense, so to have a sentencing disparity is something that should offend anybody in social justice," Cadogan said. "And to see now a bill that will rectify that, that is a big step for racial justice, knowing how many Black and brown families have suffered because of that disparate sentencing."

This isn't the first time the NBA has taken action on social justice issues; greats like Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Oscar Robertson have famously fought for civil rights and economic justice.

"Social justice is part of the fabric of the NBA, but we haven't had for the NBA community an institutionalized way of advancing that in the policy space," Cadogan told ABC News.

Earlier this summer, Karl Anthony Towns, from the Minneapolis Timberwolves, Steve Ballmer, the chair of the Los Angeles Clippers, and Caron Butler, assistant coach of the Miami Heat, held a virtual roundtable with Sen. Tim Scott and congresswoman Karen Bass on the topic of policing reform. The conversation was streamed online with the hope of generating more dialog around the issue.

Bass and Scott have been in negotiations for months to craft a bipartisan police reform bill called the George Floyd Justice In Policing Act.

Cadogan told ABC News that by having athletes join forces with members of Congress, a new population of listeners, who may have not been fully engaged in politics previously, joined the conversation about the pending legislation. For viewers, it wasn't "just about what's wrong" with the bill, Cadogan said, "but how we fix it."

"That's part of what's most important about our model and our advocacy approaches: We're not just talking about the things that we see that we want to fix, we're trying to put our really distinct platform behind the solutions in a legislative and policy framework that will make sense for us in our community that will help sustain change," Cadogan said. "Things don't change unless laws, policies change."

Next on the agenda for the National Basketball Social Justice Coalition is the issue of voting rights. Last year, the NBA opened up 23 league facilities to help increase voting participation by using them as both polling locations and voter registration locations. Now, it is focusing on local legislatures.

"If people can't vote, then people don't have a voice in our democracy, and that's unacceptable," Cadogan said.

He said the NBA community is committed to helping bring about some of the changes that Americans have been demanding for so long. "There's a lot on the horizon and we're going to be pretty active," he added. "Stay tuned."

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(WASHINGTON) -- After nearly three decades behind bars, Joel Caston is seeking redemption through politics.

The 44-year-old felon, convicted of murder as a teenager, became the newest elected public servant in Washington, D.C., this summer, winning a groundbreaking election for neighborhood commissioner on the city's southeast side.

"It sounds great to have an official title, I must admit that. However, what it feels like is that now I have to deliver," Caston told ABC News in an exclusive cell block interview inside D.C. jail. "My constituents spoke by way of voting, and how I have to do great as I promised in my campaign."

Many of Caston's constituents are his fellow inmates, who were able to cast ballots in a June local election that has pushed the boundaries of voting rights and racial justice.

D.C. last year joined just Maine and Vermont as the only places in America that allow prisoners to vote. Caston is the first incarcerated American elected to office with votes from incarcerated peers.

"I've been locked up 26 years on the fringes of existence," said inmate Colie Lavar Long, a first-time voter from inside jail. "So, when I actually put -- checked that box, and they actually said that he won -- this person I voted for -- it, like, reaffirmed that, you know, I'm worthy to be back in society."

Less than 1% of the nation's estimated 1.8 million incarcerated residents have the right to cast ballots from behind bars, according to The Sentencing Project, a fact that sets the U.S. apart from many other large democracies.

"In most places, you don't lose your humanity, you don't lose your civil rights, social rights, political rights when you're incarcerated," said Marc Howard, director of the Prisons and Justice Initiative at Georgetown University whose research shows civic engagement in prison can reduce recidivism.

Howard said it's also a matter of racial justice. One in 16 Black American adults is disenfranchised because of a conviction, a rate 3.7 times higher than among non-Blacks, The Sentencing Project found in a 2020 report.

"If you think about the broader context in history of the struggle for the right to vote in this country, it started out being extremely narrow -- white property-owning males -- and then gradually was expanded to different groups. But incarcerated people was always a group that was left out of that progression," Howard said.

Caston's election is a milestone being celebrated by voting rights advocates in an otherwise challenging time for their cause.

The landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965, enacted to eliminate racial discrimination in elections, faces fresh challenges at the U.S. Supreme Court and from Republican-led state legislatures enacting an unprecedented wave of restrictive voting laws.

Efforts by President Joe Biden and Democrats to bolster and expand the law have so far faltered on Capitol Hill.

"Joel is making the impossible possible," said inmate Ahmaad Nelms, who is serving an 18-month sentence in D.C. jail. "I want him to be the great commissioner he is, man, and show kids that you can be whatever you want to be."

Caston's district encompasses a historically black, low-income neighborhood on the far east end of Capitol Hill, including a nearby women's shelter and luxury apartment complex, neither of which he's seen or visited.

"A lot of meetings, a lot of engagement, has taken place over Zoom," Caston said of his campaign and constituent outreach. "So now, as the ANC commissioner, one of the things I do have access to is a computer. I'm Zooming from the inside."

The commission oversees ground-level issues of neighborhood residents, including liquor license approvals, sidewalk repair and public safety concerns.

"Some people are going to look at this with disdain, but a lot of people are going to think this is a man who is going to take a step in the right direction," said neighborhood resident and Caston constituent Garrick Thomas.

Nika Hinton, another resident in Caston's district, applauded the example he is setting for other inmates. "Maybe he's going to take that experience and share how he got through it and so others won't have to," she said.

Caston said he's out to prove the power of a second chance.

In 1994, it was in the same part of D.C. that as a teenager swept up in a culture of drugs and guns Caston was arrested and later convicted in the shooting death of another young Black man, 18-year-old Rafiq Washington.

"I was heartbroken," said Delante Uzzle, Caston's cousin and childhood best friend.

"You could get hurt walking to the store," Uzzle explained of how unforgiving life on the streets could be at the time. "So, if Joel was fighting, we had to fight. If I was fighting, they had to fight."

"As a teenager, I was once a drug dealer myself. I was once a gun man myself as a teenager," Caston said. "And I paid a huge penalty for that, that's my incarceration."

D.C. Corrections officials say they believe Caston is fully rehabilitated and a model of redemption.

"I was shocked, but less surprised [that he won election as commissioner]," Uzzle said. "I won't be surprised if he becomes mayor. That wouldn't shock me one bit."

Even the family of the victim in Caston's crime has given their full endorsement, telling ABC News in a statement: "We believe in forgiveness!!!!!! … and we hope Joel will do good work in the community!!!"

Behind bars, Caston has taught himself Arabic and Mandarin, studies the bible in French and Spanish, created a mentoring program for young inmates and has published a curriculum of books that teaches the basics of investments and savings.

"We want people on the inside thinking like citizens," he said. "If we can get them thinking this way while they're in the inside, the overarching goal is that that would be the mind set on the outside. So we change the narrative."

When he's released on parole -- expected later this year -- Caston said he intends to lobby for greater enfranchisement of Americans behind bars even as the idea remains highly controversial.

"It's called punishment. Punishment for their crime. And it's unconscionable to me that we're even debating this," Rep. Greg Murphy, R-N.C., said earlier this year during floor debate of H.R. 1, House Democrats' sweeping election reform bill that would have restored the vote to millions of ex-felons. Republicans were universally opposed.

While 21 states automatically return voting rights to incarcerated Americans upon release, 16 withhold the vote through periods of probation or parole, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Eleven more suspend the right to vote indefinitely for some crimes.

"It's absolutely outrageous and indefensible," said Howard. "Even though they've served their time, they paid their debt to society, they're supposedly having second chances, yet they can't participate in our democracy."

Just weeks after the campaign, Caston is already inspiring a new generation of voters who see a stake in politics and public service.

"I think all lives matter, all voices matter, everyone's voice matters," Caston said. "And I think that when you look at a story like mine -- and oftentimes we would just cast off individuals who are inside of incarcerated spaces and think that he or she does not have a value -- I believe that my story demonstrates that, yes, we do have value."

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(WASHINGTON) -- The TAKE with Averi Harper

While a group of Senate negotiators have come to an agreement on the bipartisan infrastructure plan, there is a larger battle brewing over the $3.5 trillion Democrats-only plan focused on "human infrastructure."

That budget reconciliation plan aims to make vast investments in social priorities like health care, paid family leave, education and climate change. It would require that all 50 Senate Democrats be in lockstep agreement. In short, they're not.

"I do not support a bill that costs $3.5 trillion," wrote Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., in a statement Wednesday.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., responded to Sinema via Twitter with her own warning saying in part, "Good luck tanking your own party's investment on childcare, climate action, and infrastructure while presuming you'll survive a 3 vote House margin."

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has already said she wouldn't bring that bipartisan plan to the floor for a vote without the passage of the budget reconciliation plan. The president has expressed confidence in the bipartisan plan but is still selling that human infrastructure plan to Americans across the country.

"As the deal goes to the entire Senate, there is still plenty of work ahead to bring this home," President Joe Biden wrote in a White House-issued statement. "There will be disagreements to resolve and more compromise to forge along the way."

The president's latest statement foreshadows what he must know is to come -- a continued uphill battle to get these major agenda items done.

The RUNDOWN with Alisa Wiersema

In its weekly COVID-19 forecast Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predicted that cases, hospital admissions and daily deaths will increase over the next four weeks. That trajectory, along with the agency's recently revised masking guidance, is adding to an already tense and partisan atmosphere in the nation's capital.

As reported by ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Cecilia Vega and Sarah Kolinovsky, Biden is expected to announce Thursday that federal employees will be required to be vaccinated or else they must abide by "stringent COVID-19 protocols like mandatory mask wearing -- even in communities not with high or substantial spread -- and regular testing."

Although the president also said the nation will not be heading back into a 2020-esque lockdown, Republicans seized on the changing messages coming from across the aisle.

By retracting advances toward a return to normalcy, some Republicans argued it will now be more difficult to get unvaccinated people to take the vaccine.

House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy said the return to using masks is "casting doubt on a safe and effective vaccine," despite the CDC adding that the return of mask requirements is based on a surge of highly transmissible variants.

McCarthy also said the move "is not a decision based on science." In response to that comment, Pelosi's office said she believes the view "is moronic."

The TIP with Quinn Scanlan

New Yorkers had something to say Wednesday about the body that runs elections in America's largest city.

"It's almost as if the Board of Elections is trying to overtake the MTA in most chastised public agency," quipped state Sen. John Liu during the Standing Committee on Elections' first of many hearings about voting and elections in the Empire State.

Those testifying before the committee, and the senators present, were in universal agreement that significant reform is in order for the NYC BOE, which has been plagued for years by headlines like last month's, when 135,000 "test ballots" were mistakenly added to preliminary ranked-choice voting results for the city's Democratic mayoral primary.

Reform will take time, and potentially a constitutional amendment, but it's needed to rid the BOE of its chronic "cronyism" culture that's led to unqualified, deeply partisan people running elections, witnesses testified.

"I really have no issue with the culture of nepotism and favoritism, but I do want the nepites and the favorites to be competent," said Henry Flax. "Sadly, this is not the case."

More hearings are set for next week in Syracuse and Rochester and the chairman urged voters to, like voting itself, make their voices heard.

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(WASHINGTON) -- President Joe Biden is likely to announce a vaccine requirement for the nation's federal employees Thursday, according to a source familiar with the discussions.

The decision is dependent on an ongoing policy review, which could determine whether employees will be able to opt out of vaccination and instead, undergo regular testing and continue masking.

"It's under consideration right now," Biden said of a vaccine mandate for federal workers Tuesday afternoon. "But if you're not vaccinated, you're not nearly as smart as I thought you were."

"Our goal as a federal employer is to keep our employees safe and to also save lives," principal deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Wednesday.

For the nation's nearly 2.1 million civilian federal workers, many questions about the move remain unanswered. The possible requirement also raises ethics questions, since the vaccines have not been fully authorized by the Food and Drug Administration.

Pfizer, Moderna and the Johnson and Johnson vaccines were granted an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA), but the FDA is facing pressure to issue full authorization of the vaccines, which could open the door to mandates in schools, and the military.

"The FDA recognizes that vaccines are key to ending the COVID-19 pandemic and is working as quickly as possible to review applications for full approval," FDA spokesperson Alison Hunt said in a statement.

David Magnus, the director of the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics, argued that the step was not ethically needed to require vaccines, given they have proven to be safe and effective in their current use.

"I don't think that the FDA approval versus the EUA should have any bearing at all on whether or not a mandate is put in place," he told ABC News in an interview.

Magnus argued that the expected announcement could leave workers with some choice on vaccine, but a consequence for not getting the shot.

"Some of the vaccine mandates -- I believe the one that's proposed by Biden, and the one that's been put in place here in California are actually quite soft. They're not really mandates," Magnus said.

"They're requirements, but not mandates, because not only do they have exceptions allowed, the consequences of not being vaccinated are not that this is a condition of employment. It's that if you fail to do this then you have to take other public health measures to ameliorate it, like regular testing and wearing a mask at all times," he added.

But Department of Justice lawyers have concluded that the law "does not prohibit public or private entities from imposing vaccination requirements," even for vaccines that are not yet fully approved by the FDA, according to a July 6 opinion from the department's Office of Legal Counsel.

"Although many entities' vaccination requirements preserve an individual's ultimate 'option' to refuse an EUA vaccine, they nevertheless impose sometimes-severe adverse consequences for exercising that option," the DOJ legal analysis concludes, citing, for example, refusal to enroll students who refuse to vaccinate at a university.

In June, a federal judge in Texas ruled in favor of a Houston Methodist Hospital, which was sued by 117 employees over the hospital's vaccine mandate.

"Methodist is trying to do their business of saving lives without giving them the COVID-19 virus. It is a choice made to keep staff, patients, and their families safer," U.S. District Judge Lynn N. Hughes wrote in the opinion.

The leading plaintiff, the judge wrote, "can freely choose to accept or refuse a COVID-19 vaccine; however, if she refuses, she will simply need to work somewhere else."

One professional association representing federal employees, the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, expressed concern about the expected vaccine requirement Wednesday.

"Forcing people to undertake a medical procedure is not the American way and is a clear civil rights violation no matter how proponents may seek to justify it," association President Larry Cosme said in a statement. "We would therefore encourage the administration to work collaboratively with FLEOA and other federal employee groups to incentivize all federal employees to be vaccinated, rather than penalize those who do not."

The expected vaccine requirement comes as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released revised mask guidance on Tuesday, calling for fully vaccinated individuals in "high" or "substantial" transmission level areas to resume wearing them.

Departing the White House for a trip to Pennsylvania Wednesday, Biden was seen unmasked exiting the Oval Office, despite Washington being considered a "substantial" transmission area. Biden's destination, Macungie Township in Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley, is considered a "moderate" transmission area, so the president did not don a mask there.

But shortly after the CDC's announcement Tuesday, White House reporters were instructed to resume wearing masks while indoors by the White House Correspondents Association and Vice President Harris was seen wearing a mask during an indoor meeting.

Harris was blunt about the development.

"No one likes wearing a mask," she said Tuesday. "Get vaccinated. That's it."

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(WASHINGTON) -- In a key test vote Wednesday evening, the Senate voted in favor of beginning debate on a $1.1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure deal that would provide funding for core items like roads, bridges, waterways and broadband.

Negotiators announced earlier in the day that they had reached a deal on the major aspects of plan.

Shortly after news broke that a deal had been reached, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced that he would hold the test vote on the bill Wednesday, a critical first step to its passage.

Republican negotiators, all of whom blocked the procedural motion last week, said that they were ready to vote to move the bill forward and on Wednesday evening, 17 Republicans -- including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell -- voted with all of the Democrats to advance the legislation, which was still being finalized. In a surprise split in the Republican leadership, McConnell's deputy, Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., voted no.

Details about the agreement were still emerging, but an aide close to the talks confirmed to ABC News that the top-line value for new spending has decreased from $579 billion in the original bipartisan agreement to $550 billion.

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, the lead Republican negotiator for the bipartisan group, said the bill is "more than paid for," an essential priority for Republicans, without raising taxes on those making under $400,000 a year, a red line for President Joe Biden.

The deal includes $110 billion in new funds for roads and bridges, $66 billion for rail, $7.5 billion to build out electric vehicle charging stations, $17 billion for ports, $25 billion for airports, $55 billion for clean drinking water, a $65 billion investment in high-speed internet and more.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., the chief Democratic negotiator, told reporters that she expects some of the bill text to be available Wednesday with further updates released as the remaining details are worked out.

A "small, tiny thing" related to transit and a "small thing" related to broadband must still be addressed, Sinema said, adding that negotiators are "very excited" to have a deal.

Sinema said she spoke with Biden and said he too is "very excited" about and "committed to" the plan.

Biden released a statement Wednesday afternoon hailing the deal as a signal to the world that "our democracy can function, deliver, and do big things."

"As the deal goes to the entire Senate, there is still plenty of work ahead to bring this home," Biden wrote. "There will be disagreements to resolve and more compromise to forge along the way."

Portman announced the agreement flanked by the four other Republicans in the core negotiating group early Wednesday afternoon.

"As of late last night and really early this morning we now have an agreement on the major issues we are prepared to move forward," Portman said. "We look forward to moving ahead and having the opportunity to have a healthy debate here in the chamber regarding an incredibly important project to the American people."

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who was part of the bipartisan negotiation group, touted the deal as a much-needed signal that bipartisanship is possible, even in an evenly divided Senate.

"I am delighted that we've been able to come together as a bipartisan group," Collins said. "America needs to see us be able to tackle an important issue that will affect the lives of Americans throughout this country."

It's still not clear if all Democrats are going to support the bipartisan deal. Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the Democratic whip, said Wednesday morning that was an "unanswered question."

"We certainly don't have a whip or people signing on the dotted line," Durbin said. "We need some assurances that we are all in this together."

Wednesday's test vote in the Senate was expected to be the first in a long series of hurdles to pass this bill and Biden's other agenda priorities. In addition to the procedural hurdles which still threaten to trip up the bipartisan deal on the floor, Democrats are also working to push through a second, larger budget bill containing the remainder of Biden's American Families Plan priorities along party lines.

Schumer has long insisted that both the budget bill and the bipartisan bill need to pass together using a "two-track" approach.

But Sinema threatened to derail that plan on Wednesday, announcing in a press release that she won't support spending the $3.5 trillion that Budget Committee Democrats agreed to as a top line for the budget bill.

"I have told Senate leadership and President Biden that I support many of the goals in this proposal to continue creating jobs, growing American competitiveness, and expanding economic opportunities for Arizonans," Sinema said. "I have also made clear that while I will support beginning this process, I do not support a bill that costs $3.5 trillion -- and in the coming months, I will work in good faith to develop this legislation with my colleagues and the administration to strengthen Arizona's economy and help Arizona's everyday families get ahead.”

To pass the budget bill, Democrats will need the support of every Democrat serving in the Senate. Sinema's opposition points to the possibility of a long road ahead for many of Biden's infrastructure priorities.
 

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(WASHINGTON) -- A day after its first hearing with emotional testimony from police officers brought the Jan 6. Capitol attack back into the national spotlight, the House select committee investigating the assault will meet this week on possible next steps, including issuing subpoenas.

"I have no reluctance whatsoever in issuing subpoenas for information," Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., told MSNBC's Morning Joe Wednesday morning, asserting the committee "absolutely" has the authority. "Nothing is off limits in this investigation."

His comment comes after the Department of Justice said in letters to former DOJ officials and provided to congressional committees that they can participate in investigations related to the Jan. 6, according to sources and letters reviewed by ABC News Tuesday, which the House Oversight Committee later confirmed. Therefore, if witnesses try to fight subpoenas, they may have to do so on their own dime.

"Members of Congress have already admitted that they talked to the White House while it was going on. Now many of them are trying to walk back the conversation they had," Thompson said. "We plan to pursue it."

Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., who sits on the committee, told ABC News' George Stephanopoulos that the committee had not ruled out calling Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, who has criticized the committee and was vetoed from it by House Speaker Pelosi over comments she said would damage its credibility, to testify.

Jordan admitted on Tuesday evening that he -- like GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy -- spoke to former President Donald Trump on the phone on Jan. 6, and in another interview Wednesday with Ohio Spectrum News reporter Taylor Popielarz, confirmed he spoke to Trump on Jan. 6.

Asked by Popielarz if he spoke to Trump before during or after the attack, Jordan said he didn’t remember.

“I spoke with him that day. After? I think after. I don't know if I spoke with him in the morning or not. I just don't know,” he said.

Fox News host Brett Baier also pressed Jordan Tuesday on whether he spoke to Trump that day, and Jordan repeatedly deflected, saying he's "talked to the former president umpteen times -- thousands, countless times."

Baier followed up, "But I mean on January 6, congressman."

"Yes," Jordan said. "I mean, I've talked to the president so many -- I can't remember all the days I've talked to him, but I've certainly talked to the president."

Conversations in Trump's orbit, such as the apparent call with Jordan, are key to what the committee is seeking to investigate, with Cheney saying Tuesday that Americans should know what happened "what happened every minute of that day in the White House."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi affirmed the committee's subpoena power in her weekly news conference on Capitol Hill, but distanced herself from the committee itself as House Republican leaders disparaged the two GOP members who joined the panel as "Pelosi Republicans."

When asked what will happen if House members don't comply with subpoenas, Pelosi emphasized she is not involved with the select committee and "has not been a party to any of those decisions, so I cannot tell you what they might decide."

The speaker also dismissed concerns that there will be political backlash if the committee's work drags out or loses momentum, asked if she would like to see the committee move more expeditiously.

"They will take the time that they need," she said. "We were very late in getting to this because we were striving for the bipartisan commission, which we thought was very possible."

While lawmakers have a seven-week recess coming up, Thompson said Wednesday that the committee will meet again to discuss its next steps this week.

"We'll have a meeting before we break for the August recess, but in reality, I think you know we'll be back during that recess doing our work because we have to get to the bottom of it," he told MSNBC. "Our democracy depends on it."

At its first hearing, the committee heard from four officers who recounted they feared for their lives on Jan. 6 as they were brutally beaten and outnumbered by a pro-Trump mob. One officer described fearing he would be "torn apart" and chants of "kill him with his own gun." Another said he was taunted with racial slurs in uniform for the first time in his career.

They all criticized lawmakers who have downplayed the attack and pleaded with the panel to uncover if those in power aided and abetted rioters, including the former president.

"There was an attack on Jan. 6, and a hit man sent them," said Capitol Police officer Harry Dunn. "I want you to get to the bottom of that."

Democrats are already coming to the defense of the officers after right-leaning cable news hosts attacked the testimonies as performative Tuesday night.

"Stupidity has no reach. It can go anywhere. It's unfortunate that people would interpret the brave people who defended the Capitol as somehow disingenuous in their presentations," Thompson said Wednesday.

While Capitol police officers watched the hearing on TVs and phones in the hallways of the building that was attacked, Republican leaders who blocked efforts to investigate the day dismissed the hearing as a political play and said they didn't watch.

Senate GOP Mitch McConnell, who said after the attack that the "mob was fed lies" and "provoked by the president and other powerful people," said he was "busy doing work" during the hearing.

"I don't see how I could have expressed myself more forthrightly than I did on that occasion, and I stand by everything I said," he said.

McCarthy, who held an event outside the Capitol ahead of the hearing as a preemptive strike to the officers' testimony, told a Politico reporter he wasn't able to because he was stuck in "back-to-back meetings."

Notably, McCarthy has suggested Pelosi didn't do enough to secure the Capitol that day, but McConnell, as leader of the Senate, has not faced the same criticism. Security at the Capitol is controlled by the Capitol Police Board.

GOP Rep. Matthew Rosendale of Montana told ABC News he only watched the opening statement from Cheney, who was ousted as the No. 3 House Republican earlier this year following her criticism of Trump's role on Jan. 6.

"I was quite disappointed," he said, before launching into a series of questions he wanted to be answered.

But because Republicans gave up their ability to participate in the hearing, with McCarthy withdrawing all of his members, they couldn't lead the discussion in their preferred direction.

Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif, who sits on the committee, blasted Republicans to ABC News who chose not to hear from the officers who helped protect them.

"For Kevin McCarthy and for my colleague from Montana to just say, 'Oh I didn't have the time to watch this hearing,' you know, is just unfortunate and sad, and they just want to play politics with this," he said. "That's all this is."

Aguilar added the public can expect more public hearings to come, though the date for the committee's next hearing has not yet been announced.

ABC News' Alex Mallin, Katherine Faulders and Ben Siegel contributed to this report.

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(WASHINGTON) -- The Justice Department on Wednesday released guidance intended to caution states embarking on so-called post-election 'audits' of vote counts for the 2020 presidential election that they must not run afoul of federal voting laws.

The guidance, previously previewed last month by Attorney General Merrick Garland in his policy address on voting rights, outlines federal statutes that the department says elections officials must adhere to during such "audits," such as preserving all federal elections materials and making sure they're not tampered with.

"This document sets down a marker that says the Justice Department is concerned about this, and we will be following this closely," a DOJ official told reporters on a media conference call Wednesday.

The guidance echoes a warning sent by the department back in May to the Republican-run audit in Arizona, warning officials there that all election records must be preserved and expressing concern about the state handing over election materials to the private contractor group Cyber Ninjas.

After the department's letter, Arizona officials backed off of a plan to send contractors from the group to visit homes in the state's largest county of Maricopa to ask voters whether or not they had cast ballots. The Wednesday guidance includes a warning that officials who seek to embark on such "audits" can't do so in a way that will intimidate voters.

DOJ officials on Wednesday declined to provide any update on the department's review of the Arizona "audit." But the guidance comes as Republicans in several other states have expressed interest or are already moving forward with similarly partisan reviews of the 2020 vote count in certain jurisdictions -- despite lacking any evidence of widespread fraud.

The department also issued separate guidance Wednesday that outlines the range of federal laws protecting voting by different methods.

"It's responsive to the fact that more Americans than ever are voting, not on Election Day in person in a polling place, but that are voting at voting centers or voting early or voting by mail," one official said.

An official said that the second set of guidance should be a note of caution to states that might be looking to roll back policies that expanded access to voting during the COVID-19 pandemic. The official gave the example of the election bill passed this year by Republicans in Georgia that implemented voting restrictions the department is now suing over, alleging it unlawfully targets minority communities.

"You should not assume that if you abandon the practices that have made it easier for people to vote, that abandonment is not going to get scrutiny from the Department of Justice," an official said.

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(WASHINGTON) -- Negotiators say they have a deal on the major aspects of a $1.1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure deal that would provide funding for core items like roads, bridges, waterways and broadband.

Shortly after news broke that a deal had been reached, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced that he would hold a test vote on the bill Wednesday, a critical first step to its passage.

Republican negotiators, all of whom blocked the procedural motion last week, said they're ready to vote to move the bill forward, and Schumer said he believes he'll have the 60 votes necessary.

Details about the agreement are still emerging, but an aide close to the talks confirmed to ABC News that the top-line value for new spending has decreased from $579 billion in the original bipartisan agreement to $550 billion.

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, the lead Republican negotiator for the bipartisan group, said the bill is "more than paid for," an essential priority for Republicans, without raising taxes on those making under $400,000 a year, a red line for Biden.

The deal includes $110 billion in new funds for roads and bridges, $66 billion for rail, $7.5 billion to build out electric vehicle charging stations, $17 billion for ports, $25 billion for airports, $55 billion for clean drinking water, a $65 billion investment in high-speed internet and more.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., the chief Democratic negotiator, told reporters that she expects some of the bill text to be available Wednesday with further updates released as the remaining details are worked out.

A "small tiny thing" related to transit and a "small thing" related to broadband must still be addressed, Sinema said, adding that negotiators are "very excited" to have a deal.

Sinema said she spoke with President Joe Biden and said he too is "very excited" about and "committed to" the plan.

Biden released a paper statement Wednesday afternoon hailing the deal as a signal to the world that "our democracy can function, deliver, and do big things."

"As the deal goes to the entire Senate, there is still plenty of work ahead to bring this home," Biden wrote. "There will be disagreements to resolve and more compromise to forge along the way."

Portman announced the agreement flanked by the four other Republicans in the core negotiating group early Wednesday afternoon.

"As of late last night and really early this morning we now have an agreement on the major issues we are prepared to move forward," Portman said. "We look forward to moving ahead and having the opportunity to have a healthy debate here in the chamber regarding an incredibly important project to the American people."

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who was part of the bipartisan negotiation group, touted the deal as a much-needed signal that bipartisanship is possible, even in an evenly divided Senate.

"I am delighted that we've been able to come together as a bipartisan group," Collins said. "America needs to see us be able to tackle an important issue that will affect the lives of Americans throughout this country."

It's still not clear if all Democrats are going to support the bipartisan deal. Democratic Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois Wednesday morning said that was an "unanswered question."

"I don't believe we certainly don't have a whip or people signing on the dotted line," Durbin said. "We need some assurances that we are all in this together."

But Wednesday's test vote in the Senate will be just the first in a long series of hurdles to pass this bill and Biden's other agenda priorities. In addition to the procedural hurdles which still threaten to trip up the bipartisan deal on the floor, Democrats are also working to push through a second, larger budget bill containing the remainder of Biden's American Families Plan priorities along party lines.

Schumer has long insisted that both the budget bill and the bipartisan bill need to pass together using a "two-track" approach.

But Sinema threatened to derail that plan on Wednesday, announcing in a press release that she won't support spending the $3.5 trillion that Budget Committee Democrats agreed to as a top line for the budget bill.

"I have told Senate leadership and President Biden that I support many of the goals in this proposal to continue creating jobs, growing American competitiveness, and expanding economic opportunities for Arizonans," Sinema said. "I have also made clear that while I will support beginning this process, I do not support a bill that costs $3.5 trillion -- and in the coming months, I will work in good faith to develop this legislation with my colleagues and the administration to strengthen Arizona's economy and help Arizona's everyday families get ahead.”

To pass the budget bill, Democrats will need the support of every Democrat serving in the Senate. Sinema's opposition points to the possibility of a long road ahead for many of Biden's infrastructure priorities.

ABC News' Molly Nagle contributed to this report.

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(WASHINGTON) -- The TAKE with Rick Klein

It takes less than ever to find partisan grooves these days -- and the fact that they've been etched deeper out of the fallout from Jan. 6 serves as a case in point.

That's the reality that confronts President Joe Biden with this next uncertain phase of combatting the pandemic. New federal guidance on mask mandates and the consideration of a vaccine requirement for federal workers run into longstanding political arguments about individual liberties and personal accountability.

The push for vaccinations has become less partisan of late, with prominent Republicans adding new emphasis -- and giving special credit to the previous administration -- to make the case.

Yet mask-wearing and vaccine requirements have long since taken on cultural as well as political significance, and the fallout of Biden's latest comments offer just a taste. Former President Donald Trump is offering strong pushback to mandates, and consider as well how readily some Republicans are using Dr. Anthony Fauci as a foil -- raising money off the mention of his name, and even threatening legal action against him.

Biden indicated that he will outline next steps in the push to vaccinate the country on Thursday, as some statistics showing rates going up of late. The president on Tuesday also served up a reminder that as a candidate he "promised to be straight with you about COVID -- good news or bad."

Another reminder: 11 months ago, Biden said he wouldn't hesitate to order another shutdown if that's what his advisers recommended.

"I would shut it down; I would listen to the scientists," he told ABC "World News Tonight" Anchor David Muir last August.

The campaign was quick to clarify that comment at the time. Biden's statement Tuesday about masks and vaccines framed them as a way "to avoid the kind of lockdowns, shutdowns, school closures and disruptions we faced in 2020."

"We are not going back to that," the president said.

The RUNDOWN with Averi Harper

The testimony of Capitol Police officer Harry Dunn underscored the additional layer of trauma Black law enforcement officers experienced on Jan. 6.

Dunn's heartbreaking testimony chronicled the racial slurs he endured as he tried to defend the seat of our nation's democracy.

Among the insurrectionists were attackers who carried Confederate flags, donned shirts with anti-Semitic messages and freely hurled the n-word at Black officers.

"No one had ever, ever called me a n***** while wearing the uniform of a Capitol Police officer," said Dunn.

He also brought with him the stories of other Black officers, later adding, "Another Black officer later told me he had been confronted by insurrectionists in the Capitol who told him, put your gun down and we'll show you what kind of n***** you really are."

For many, listening to Dunn recount the epithets stung as they were broadcast uncensored. The attack at the Capitol is often referred to as one of our nation's darkest days, it's particularly poignant that racism crept its way into the ugliness of it all, too.

It's a vile reminder that racism in America, even in its most blatant forms, still exists.

The TIP with Alisa Wiersema

Republicans in Washington have one more representative joining their ranks -- but the victory serves as an upset to Trump, despite his looming influence over the Republican Party on a national scale.

Nearly three months after the May 1 special election, State Rep. Jake Ellzey came out on top in Tuesday's runoff election for Texas' 6th Congressional District. Ellzey faced off with fellow Republican, Susan Wright, who had Trump's backing going into the contest due to the political legacy of her late husband, Rep. Ron Wright, who died in February from COVID and complications with cancer.

The conclusion of the race is the latest indicator of the former president's looming influence over his party in a state that is increasingly becoming ground zero for intra-party battles.

On Monday, Trump waded into another high-profile Texan battle by endorsing incumbent Attorney General Ken Paxton for another term. The move served a devastating -- and complicated -- blow to Land Commissioner George P. Bush, who was the only member of his storied political family to publicly back Trump, despite the former president launching repeated attacks against his father, Jeb Bush.

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