Political News

Obama to stump for Warnock with five days left to go in Georgia runoff

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(WASHINGTON) -- On Thursday, former President Barack Obama is set to stump for Sen. Raphael Warnock for a second time this campaign cycle -- five days before the Democratic incumbent runs for a full Senate term in next week's runoff against Republican Herschel Walker.

Obama, who enjoys a broad following among Democrats, will appear with Warnock in Atlanta to "encourage Georgians to cast their ballots ahead of the final day of early voting," Obama's office said.

He first campaigned with Warnock in Georgia in late October during the early voting period before the regularly scheduled race in November. Warnock moved to a runoff with Walker after neither clinched 50% of the vote last month.

Obama also appeared in Warnock's final television ad; his wife, Michelle, likewise recorded a get-out-the-vote message for the campaign.

Neither President Joe Biden nor former President Donald Trump -- both of whom are unpopular, polling shows -- are appearing in the state ahead of the runoff.

While Democrats retained control of Congress in last month's elections, an extra seat would both help the party move political nominees through the chamber and try to hold their majority in two years when they face a challenging Senate map.

Walker, Warnock's challenger, was largely off the campaign trail last week amid the holiday.

He is receiving notable support from the Republican Party, including Gov. Brian Kemp and Sens. Rick Scott of Florida and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

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Trump special master overturned by appeals court in Mar-a-Lago documents investigation

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(WASHINGTON) -- A panel of judges on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Thursday to overturn the appointment of a special master tasked with reviewing thousands of documents seized by the FBI from former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate this summer.

The ruling by the three-judge panel, including two Trump appointees, goes into effect in seven days, absent intervention by the full circuit court or the Supreme Court.

"The law is clear," the judges found. "We cannot write a rule that allows any subject of a search warrant to block government investigations after the execution of the warrant. Nor can we write a rule that allows only former presidents to do so."

The order effectively eliminates what federal authorities had described as a major obstacle in their ongoing criminal investigation into whether Trump illegally retained highly classified records after leaving the presidency and obstructed efforts by the government to recover them. He denies wrongdoing.

The appellate judges had signaled in a hearing last week that they were likely to order an end to the special master's review. They repeatedly expressed concern that the appointment of third-party judge Raymond Dearie by U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon in Florida lacked any clear precedent.

The panel was also skeptical of assertions from Trump's lawyer Jim Trusty, who described the search of Trump's home as "an extraordinary case" that warranted intervention from an outside arbiter to review all the materials seized in August.

Cannon had empowered Dearie, as special master, to evaluate the approximately 13,000 materials taken from Trump's club, including roughly 100 documents with classification markings.

Dearie was supposed to analyze if any of the documents that were taken raised privilege concerns, either executive privilege or attorney-client privilege.

Thursday's opinion makes clear the appellate judges' belief that Cannon stepped widely outside of her jurisdiction in appointing the special master.

The judges wrote that Trump had made no argument and presented no proof that the government exercised a "callous disregard" for his rights in carrying out the search, which would be the necessary standard for such an extraordinary intervention by the courts into the executive branch's law enforcement functions.

They also dismissed as a "sideshow" Trump's legal team's argument that the Presidential Records Act gives him some right of personal possession over the documents, noting that even if he was correct -- the items would still likely be subject to seizure under the search warrant.

"The status of a document as personal or presidential does not alter the authority of the government to seize it under a warrant supported by probable cause; search warrants authorize the seizure of personal records as a matter of course," they wrote.

The judges also addressed whether Trump's status as a former president would create some kind of exemption or carve-out to justify judicial intervention in the search.

"It is indeed extraordinary for a warrant to be executed at the home of a former president—but not in a way that affects our legal analysis or otherwise gives the judiciary license to interfere in an ongoing investigation," they wrote. "To create a special exception here would defy our Nation’s foundational principle that our law applies “to all, without regard to numbers, wealth, or rank.”

The Department of Justice had accused Trump's legal team of using the special master proceedings as a "shell game" to try and delay the progress of their investigation and called Cannon's appointment of a special master an "extraordinary judicial intrusion into a core executive branch function."

The 11th Circuit previously granted a request from the DOJ to stay portions of a ruling by Cannon that blocked the government from using the roughly 100 documents with classification markings recovered from Mar-a-Lago in its investigation and demanded they be handed over to special master Dearie.

Trump's attorneys then appealed that ruling to the Supreme Court, which declined to take up the matter.

Following that ruling, federal officials quickly moved for an expedited appeal to have the 11th Circuit end Dearie's review in its entirety -- arguing that the government's inability to access the roughly 13,000 remaining non-classified documents seized from Mar-a-Lago was also hampering their investigation.

Authorities will now be able to use the documents as evidence as they question witnesses and further examine the circumstances behind Trump's decision to remove thousands of government records -- including some with markings that refer to the nation's most protected secrets -- from the White House and store them at his private resort.

Earlier this month, Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed a special counsel, Jack Smith, to oversee the Mar-a-Lago investigation as well as a separate probe into efforts by Trump and his allies to overturn his 2020 election loss.

Last week, Trump's lawyers separately asked Cannon to order the Justice Department to hand over the full, unredacted affidavit that was used to justify the search warrant on Trump's residence. Cannon has yet to respond to their motion, but the Justice Department has expressed concern that disclosure of the details in the affidavit could jeopardize their investigation and potentially endanger cooperating witnesses.

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Senate votes to avert national rail strike by forcing agreement between unions, employers

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(WASHINGTON) -- The Senate on Thursday voted to avert a looming strike of the nation's railway workers by forcing a labor agreement.

A bipartisan majority of senators approved a House bill that will codify a tentative agreement between the rail companies and rail unions, which was brokered in September and subsequently rejected by some of the workers.

The Senate separately voted down two additional provisions to address the labor dispute: whether to institute a 60-day extension of the so-called cooling off period between both sides and whether to grant workers seven days of paid sick leave.

The first vote, on the cooling off period, failed 69-26.

The second vote, to add seven paid sick days for workers, needed 60 votes to pass and fell short with a 52-43 total. Six Republicans -- Lindsey Graham, Josh Hawley, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Michael Braun and John Kennedy -- voted to add sick leave while one Democrat, Joe Manchin, voted no.

The third vote, to uphold the agreement negotiated by the White House between freight employees and their bosses in September, passed 80-15.

Some of the same Republicans who voted for the sick leave provision joined five members of the Democratic caucus -- Bernie Sanders, an independent, as well as John Hickenlooper, Kirsten Gillibrand, Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey -- in voting no. Those lawmakers were Sens. Susan Collins, Tim Cotton, Cruz, Bill Hagerty, Hawley, Rubio, Tim Scott, Rick Scott, Dan Sullivan and Pat Toomey.

President Joe Biden vowed in a statement on Thursday to sign the rail agreement bill "as soon as it comes to my desk,"

"I know that many in Congress shared my reluctance to override the union ratification procedures," he said. "But in this case, the consequences of a shutdown were just too great for working families all across the country. And, the agreement will raise workers’ wages by 24%, increase health care benefits, and preserve two person crews."

Biden said he'd work to further support paid sick leave.

"I have long been a supporter of paid sick leave for workers in all industries – not just the rail industry – and my fight for that critical benefit continues," he said.

Congress' move to end the labor fight came as the White House emphasized that they thought lawmakers must send legislation "by this weekend" to avert a work stoppage or the nation could see potentially “devastating effects," given how much of the economy relies on rail to move goods.

The workers' unions reacted with open dismay, they said, at the government's intervention and Biden has described himself as a "proud pro-labor" president who made a difficult decision for the good of the larger economy.

"This shouldn't be a Republican or Democratic issue, this should be an American issue," Peter Kennedy, director of strategic coordination and research at Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees, said in an interview with ABC News. "This should be about putting hardworking Americans first. This should be about putting our economy first. And you do that by fighting, by providing basic protections for workers."

At Biden's urging, the House on Wednesday passed a law enforcing the September tentative agreement plus separate legislation to add sick days for workers, which had become a major sticking point in the unsuccessful negotiations.

Kennedy said he "disagreed" with Biden's call on Congress to pass legislation to try and avert a strike, saying it takes away their ability to go on strike.

"I still believe that President Biden is the most pro-union president that there is, based on my experience in life. Now, with that being said, I disagree with his call on Congress. And because it takes away our ability to strike more or less, and we don't want to lose that ability because the only way we can get paid sick days and we believe is by withholding our labor," Kennedy said.

The House voted 290-137 to adopt the deal between the rail companies and employees that was negotiated by the White House and 221-207 for the sick leave -- a key provision in addressing progressive Democrats' concerns to further protect workers.

Sanders had been urging his colleagues to consider boosting paid leave provisions for the rail workers and spoke on the floor between votes on Thursday.

“Workers who do difficult and dangerous work have zero paid sick days. Zero. You get sick, you’ve got a mark against you. Couple of marks, you get fired. This cannot and must not happen in America in 2022,” he said.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced the commencement of votes after a luncheon meeting with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Labor Secretary Marty Walsh concluded.

“I’m very glad that the two sides got together to avoid a shutdown which would be devastating for the American people, the American economy and so many workers across the country,” Schumer said on the Senate floor.

Biden said on Thursday that Congress would get a deal done to avert a railroad shutdown and that paid sick leave for those union workers would not be “within this agreement.”

An ABC analysis of the report of what had been negotiated between the Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) and the unions and freight railroad carriers found that the railroad workers essentially didn't have sick days under their current contracts. They have "personal leave days" that they can schedule, which is what prompted their ask for guaranteed sick days --15 of them-- that they could use at any point.

Their bosses and the president’s board both rejected that push, fearing what they called serious operational problems. The PEB decided to give workers "one additional day of personal leave time."

The House-passed but Senate-failed bill would have given workers "7 days of paid sick leave annually."

Biden warned on Thursday that if the nation’s rails were to close over the labor dispute, “It’s going to immediately cost 750,000 jobs and cause a recession.”

“We're going to avoid the rail strike, keep the rails running, keep things moving, and I'm going to go back and we're going to get paid leave, not just for rail workers but for all workers," he insisted.

The Transportation Trades Department, a department of the AFL-CIO union, on Thursday said they "unequivocally and wholeheartedly" did not support a cooling off period extension past the current deadline of Dec. 9.

"Freight railroads have made it clear that they are not interested in further negotiations with rail unions. Thus, any proposal to further extend the cooling off period would yield zero progress. Rather, an extension would simply allow the railroads to maintain their status quo operations while prolonging the workforce’s suffering," Greg Regan and Shari Semelsberger, president and secretary-treasurer of TTD, said in a joint statement.

The legislative votes on the labor dispute drew a number of unusual dividing lines between Republicans and Democrats: For example, Hawley, R-Mo., joined Sanders as an early proponent of the sick leave provision.

Rubio, R-Fla., publicly tweeted his support against union leaders.

“The railways & workers should go back & negotiate a deal that the workers, not just the union bosses, will accept,” he wrote in a tweet on Monday. “But if Congress is forced to do it, I will not vote to impose a deal that doesn’t have the support of the rail workers.”

“Union bosses & Biden sold out the workers to make a deal,” Rubio then wrote in a Wednesday tweet.

Cruz, R-Texas,, said earlier on Thursday that Republicans were “the party of railroad union workers.”

After he voted yes on the amendment for paid sick leave, he walked over to Sanders on the floor and gave him a fist bump.

ABC News' Justin Gomez, Sarah Kolinovsky, Amanda Maile and Trish Turner contributed to this report.

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BOP finalizes moving inmates from private prisons

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(WASHINGTON) -- All federal inmates housed in private prisons have been moved to Bureau of Prisons facilities and the agency has ended all contracts with private facilities, officials said.

Last year, in one of his first actions in office, President Joe Biden signed an executive order directing BOP to move all inmates to federal facilities, rather than have them housed in private facilities.

"We have never fully lived up to the founding principles of this nation, to state the obvious, that all people are created equal and have a right to be treated equally throughout their lives," Biden said just before signing the actions in January 2021. "And it's time to act now, not only because it’s the right thing to do. Because if we do, we'll all be better off."

"This is the first step to stop corporations from profiting off of incarcerated -- incarceration that is less humane and less safe, as the studies show. And it is just the beginning, in my view, to my administration's plan to address systemic problems in our criminal justice system," Biden said.

Advocates, including the ACLU, have said that private prisons reap lucrative financial rewards while taking advantage of people who are behind bars.

On Nov. 30, the McRae Correctional Facility in McRae, Georgia, was closed, making it the final facility to shutter its doors.

Biden signed an order directing the attorney general to not renew contracts the Department of Justice has with privately-operated criminal detention facilities.

As expected it took about a year to complete the transition.

"BOP and privately managed facilities remained positive, while maintaining transparency and accountability," a release from BOP said. "BOP inmates housed in these private prisons have been transferred to BOP facilities. In the mid-1980s, the BOP began designating low security inmates with specialized needs, such as sentenced criminal aliens, to privately managed facilities to better manage the increasing population. Over time, the BOP maintained contracts for 15 facilities, housing approximately 29,164 inmates. The overall BOP population peaked in 2013, with over 219,000 inmates."

The head of the Bureau of Prisons union told ABC News that the prison population has declined to a point where private prisons aren't needed, and has said previously the agency supports the president's decision to shutter private prisons.

"The fact remains that our population has declined to the point where we can safely return offenders who were temporarily housed in private prisons to vacant BOP facilities," Shane Fausey, president of the Council of Prison told ABC News through a text message."The reality is additional beds are no longer needed and the most cost effective measure is not to renew or further private prison contracts at this time."

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Biden 'prepared' to talk with Putin if serious about ending war in Ukraine

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(WASHINGTON) -- President Joe Biden said Thursday he's open to talking with Russian President Vladimir Putin about bringing an end to the war in Ukraine but only if the Russian leader is serious about peace negotiations.

"The fact of the matter is I have no immediate plans to contact Mr. Putin," Biden told reporters as he stood alongside French President Emmanuel Macron at a joint news conference.

"I'm prepared to speak with Mr. Putin if in fact there is an interest in him deciding he's looking for a way to end the war," Biden said. "He hasn't done that yet. If that's the case, in consultation with my French and my NATO friends, I'll be happy to sit down with Putin to see what he wants, has in mind. He hasn't done that yet."

Biden and Macron pledged to work together to hold Russia accountable and mitigate the war's impact on the rest of the world.

"We'll continue the strong support for the people of Ukraine as they defend their homes and families and their sovereignty and territorial integrity against Russian aggression, which has been incredibly brutal," Biden said. "I knew Russia was, but didn't anticipate it to be as brutal as it was."

Macron told reporters the U.S. and France "clearly condemn" Russia's "war crimes."

Speaking to ABC News' George Stephanopoulos, Macron said he believes negotiation is still "possible" with Putin to end Russia's invasion and that he was going to speak to Putin "in the coming days." Macron previously held a call with Putin in March, but said there was nothing reassuring about the conversation.

"A good peace is not a peace which will be imposed to the Ukrainians by others, No. 1," Macron told Stephanopoulos, adding, "A good peace is not a peace which will not be accepted on the mid-to-long run by one of the two parties."

Macron's state visit this week is the first of the Biden administration, and will culminate with a dinner on the South Lawn Thursday night in a candlelit pavilion.

"The design of this dinner was inspired by the shared colors of our flags -- red, white and blue -- and our common values: liberty and democracy, equality and fellowship," Jill Biden said Wednesday as she previewed the event. "These form the bedrock upon which our enduring friendship was built."

Ahead of the state dinner, the two families dined in Washington on Wednesday night before a formal meeting at the White House on Thursday morning.

The diplomatic tradition, put on hold for the past several years due to COVID-19, highlights the crucial partnership between the U.S. and France, officials said.

Along with Ukraine, Biden and Macron discussed the challenges posed by China, how to strengthen African economies and continuing support for the people of Iran and calling for accountability for those committing human rights abuses.

They also "outlined a shared vision to strengthen security and increase prosperity worldwide, combat climate change, build greater resilience to its effects, and advance democratic values," according to a joint statement following their closed-door meeting in the Oval Office.

"My administration's built our foreign policy around the strength of our alliances, and France is the very heart of that commitment," Biden said at the joint press conference.

Still, the bilateral relationship has also been fraught at times, including last year when Australia canceled a massive, multibillion-dollar submarine deal with France in exchange for a partnership with the U.S and the U.K.

More recently, French officials and other European leaders have raised concerns about climate and energy provisions included in the sweeping Inflation Reduction Act, specifically the tax subsidies for American-made technologies related to renewable energy, like components for electric vehicles. European Union leaders have said the subsidies may break the rules of the World Trade Organization and will have negative side effects for their economies.

Pressed by a reporter on the issue, Biden said Thursday he makes "no apologies" for the Inflation Reduction Act but acknowledged there are changes they can make to ensure European companies can participate.

"I never intended to exclude folks who were cooperating with us," Biden said. "That was not the intention."

Macron said the U.S. and France "need to resynchronize" on the issue of trade but both countries intend to create a clean energy future.

"We want to succeed together, not one against the other," Macron said.

Macron, France's president since 2017, was also the first foreign leader that then-President Donald Trump invited for a state visit. The two at first had a cordial relationship that turned sour over policy differences on issues like the Paris climate accord and the Iran nuclear deal.

Macron began his U.S. visit on Tuesday by joining Vice President Harris at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C., where they vowed to cooperate on space and in other realms.

On Friday, Macron will travel to New Orleans to meet with state leaders and the Francophone community, participate in a cultural event, meet with local companies involved in the transition to renewable energy and promote French language instruction in under-served communities in Louisiana, French officials said.

ABC News' Sarah Kolinovsky contributed to this report.

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Garland celebrates 'significant' Jan. 6 convictions, talks Trump special counsel

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(WASHINGTON) -- Attorney General Merrick Garland took something of a victory lap on Wednesday, a day after the Department of Justice secured convictions in one of the Jan. 6 investigation's highest profile prosecutions.

Stewart Rhodes, a Yale Law School graduate-turned-militiaman, was found guilty Tuesday of his most serious charge, seditious conspiracy, following a sprawling two-month trial in federal court in Washington and three days of jury deliberations.

An associate, Kelly Meggs, was also found guilty of seditious conspiracy in the first such convictions by a jury since 1995.

They could both face a maximum of 20 years in prison for that charge alone. Rhodes' attorney said they will appeal.

"Our work yesterday marked significant successes," Garland said on Wednesday.

Meggs and Rhodes, along with three others connected to the Oath Keepers, who were all tried together, were each convicted on some but notably not all of their charges -- indicating jurors rejected some of the prosecutions' arguments.

Three of the five were acquitted of seditious conspiracy.

"These convictions were the result of tireless work by Justice Department agents, attorneys, analysts and support staff beginning in January 2021 with a methodical collection of evidence and continuing through the presentation of that evidence during the seven-week trial that began in October of 2022," Garland told reporters at the Justice Department.

"Their skill and dedication are in the very best tradition of the Justice Department. And we are all extremely grateful to them," he said.

The seditious conspiracy convictions, Garland said, made clear that DOJ will hold accountable anyone responsible for the Jan. 6 attack.

Garland has named longtime federal prosecutor Jack Smith as special counsel to oversee the major Jan. 6 cases as well as the investigation into sensitive documents with classified markings that were taken from the White House by Donald Trump after his presidency ended.

The attorney general said Wednesday that he met with Smith in choosing him as special counsel and said the investigation is not being slowed down by the change in prosecutors overseeing the cases.

He also said the Justice Department would like transcripts from interviews conducted by the House Jan. 6 committee but did not say whether or not he was satisfied with how long the process was taking.

ABC News' Alexander Mallin contributed to this report.

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House committee receives access to Trump's tax returns after yearslong fight

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(WASHINGTON) -- The House Ways and Means Committee has received access to former President Donald Trump's tax returns after the Supreme Court last week rejected his final objection on the issue.

"Treasury has complied with last week's court decision," said a spokesperson for the department that includes the Internal Revenue Service in possession of Trump's confidential tax returns, which he has long resisted disclosing, unlike past presidents.

The chairman of the House committee, Richard Neal, declined to comment earlier Wednesday when asked if the panel had officially received the documents. But he said the committee intended to see the investigation through, despite the ticking clock before the new Congress begins in early January.

Neal, D-Mass., will surrender chairmanship of his committee to a Republican in January after the GOP won majority control of the House in the midterm elections.

He said the next step would be to have a meeting of the Democratic caucus. He wouldn't say whether the committee planned to release the tax documents publicly.

The committee had requested six years' worth of Trump's returns as part of an investigation into IRS audit practices of presidents and vice presidents.

In his petition to the Supreme Court, Trump accused the committee of seeking his taxes under false pretenses.

Court cleared the way for Trump to turn over taxes

The Supreme Court on Nov. 22 denied Trump's request to block an appeals court order that he surrender his tax returns and other financial records to the House Ways and Means Committee.

The court offered no explanation for its decision and there was no noted dissent or vote breakdown. It marked the fourth time Trump has lost a high court appeal related to requests for his taxes.

The move was the end of the road for Trump in the yearslong saga of congressional subpoenas for his tax records in the stated interest of drafting oversight legislation.

The Democratic-controlled committee argued that -- by the Supreme Court's own guidelines laid out in a 2020 ruling in the same ongoing dispute -- judges must defer to the legitimate legislative purpose behind a request for information. They said that standard was plainly met in this case.

"We knew the strength of our case, we stayed the course, followed the advice of counsel, and finally, our case has been affirmed by the highest court in the land," Neal said last week. "Since the Magna Carta, the principle of oversight has been upheld, and today is no different. This rises above politics, and the Committee will now conduct the oversight that we've sought for the last three and a half years."

While Trump has claimed the subpoena is a politically motivated fishing expedition, the committee said the documents were critical for drafting "legislation on equitable tax administration, including legislation on the President's tax compliance."

On Nov. 1, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts granted a temporary administrative stay of a lower court order regarding Trump's tax returns and other financial records. On Nov. 22, Roberts officially lifted that stay.

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Pa. county officials vote to certify midterm results after Republican-led delay

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(WASHINGTON) -- The Luzerne County Board of Elections in Pennsylvania on Wednesday voted to certify the county's results from the 2022 midterm election -- two days after an unusual delay caused by two Republicans and one Democrat on the board.

All three Democrats on the board voted to certify the result while the board’s two Republicans, Alyssa Fusaro and James Mangan, again voted against certifying.

Speaking at a special public meeting convened in order to hold a second certification vote, Daniel Schramm, the Democratic board member who initially abstained, said that there were no concrete numbers on how many people may have had difficulties voting in the midterm elections and did not try to come back.

“If you can't make the effort, you must come back and extend your right that you want. It can't be just -- snap your fingers saying, 'Well, I couldn't do it, so therefore we have to do it all over.' No, there isn't [sic] do-overs,” Schramm said.

“It costs too much money, way too much money. So that is one of the justifications why I've changed my mind because I can find no reason why it should not be certified … there was no close calls on the race. People won by hundreds of votes, not two or three," he said.

Before the vote at Wednesday's meeting, area residents were able to give comment in person, by phone or via videoconference.

Many spoke out against certifying the results, citing issues with paper ballot shortages in Luzerne County on Election Night -- a a judge had issued an order extending in-person voting hours at the polls -- as well as other alleged incidents where voters faced difficulties.

“This last election was a repeat of previous elections where the people's trust has been crushed,” Greg Griffin told the board during the comment period.

Others spoke in favor of certifying the results, arguing that while there may have been issues that should be investigated, it would be costlier and worse for voters to not certify or to try to do over the election.

“I would like to see our elections run as smoothly as possible without a hitch,” Claudia Glennan said. “I think people, though, are confusing their upset in how the elections are run with what is to take place during the certification process.”

While the proceedings remained mostly civil, one commenter was asked to leave when he would not share his municipality and claimed to be under the “jurisdiction of the press.” Another commenter claimed to be serving the board with affidavits.

According to ABC affiliate WNEP, the two Republican members of the board voted at a Monday meeting against certifying the results while two Democrats voted to certify and Schramm abstained, leading to the delay.

Local paper The Times Leader reported that the board members who voted not to certify cited paper ballot issues on Election Day, and many who attended the initial public meeting spoke against certifying the results.

On Election Day in Luzerne County, numerous polling places ran out of ballot paper. In-person voting hours were extended by the court.

"We went over everything meticulously as far as the reconciliations, that's any anomalies were pretty much explained. And it was due to the confusion at the polls because of the paper shortage," Democratic member Audrey Serniak said at Monday's meeting.

Schramm initially told WNEP that "I wanted more information so I could make a sure decision on that it's right to certify it."

WNEP later reported that Schramm said Monday, after the vote to delay, that his concerns about the election had been addressed and he was ready to vote to certify.

According to The Times Leader, County Assistant Solicitor Paula Radick said at the Monday meeting that the state or candidates could take legal action against the county for not certifying the results.

The Pennsylvania Department of State told ABC News in a statement on Monday that it had contacted Luzerne County officials "to inquire about the board's decision and their intended next steps."

In Pennsylvania's key statewide races, Republican candidate Mehmet Oz received more votes in Luzerne County in the Senate race, while Democratic candidate Josh Shapiro received more votes by a slimmer margin in Luzerne County in the gubernatorial race.

Shapiro went on to win statewide, defeating Republican Doug Mastriano; Oz lost to Democrat John Fetterman.

The delay in certifying the election results in Luzerne County comes at the same time that a county in Arizona, Cochise County, has also delayed certifying its results, prompting a lawsuit from the Arizona secretary of state.

In Cochise, two Republicans voted on Monday to delay certification over the objections over the board's lone Democrat, who said in a statement that "the other board members accept[ed] unsubstantiated ideas and unverified claims as facts instead of relying on the Arizona State Elections Office."

ABC News' Tal Axelrod and Brittany Shepherd contributed to this report.

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Democrats may soon shake up primary calendar: Why it matters and who could replace Iowa

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(WASHINGTON) -- The 2024 presidential race is still two years away but a major change to Democrats' primary process -- affecting which candidates run and which states get first crack at voting on their chances -- could come any day now.

Some party members are just waiting for their current leader, Joe Biden, to weigh in himself.

For months, members of the Democratic National Committee's group focused on rules and bylaws have been meeting in an effort to refresh the order of states in the party's presidential nominating contest. Many Democrats believe the current starting schedule of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and then South Carolina does not accurately represent the makeup of the party's voters and, as such, shuts out candidates who might ultimately do better nationwide.

These critics cite Biden's own, deceptively rough nominating experience in 2020 -- when poor showings in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada led many observers to predict that voters were rejecting him.

Instead, Biden went on to easily win the Democratic nomination once more states voted. He was then elected to the White House.

"It really does matter which state goes first in the calendar. The state that goes first really shapes the start of the primary: It dictates how candidates spend their resources in the off-year, it can create momentum, it can set the tone," said Nevada Democratic strategist Rebecca Lambe.

Earlier this year, national Democrats began a formal push to shake up the calendar, putting in jeopardy the first-in-the-nation status for the caucuses in Iowa, which is older and whiter and trending more conservative than many other parts of the country, including states that have been electing Democrats. (The second state on the calendar, New Hampshire, guarantees its spot through a law that could set off a scheduling scramble if any primary is moved before it -- more on that below.)

The DNC, made up of state party chairs, politicians and the like, shelved plans to decide on a restructured presidential nominating calendar from July until after the midterms, setting a new deadline for early December.

Biden has not publicly offered his preferences on the calendar and his press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, on Monday referred reporters' questions to the DNC.

Some committee members say they have found that vexing as they approach making significant changes to the process that will impact what is likely to be the president's own reelection bid in 2024 -- and potentially the campaign cycles beyond.

DNC members said that a lack of input from the White House might be holding up information disseminated to them by the committee about a meeting on Thursday to start settling on the primary calendar, with December's deadline looming.

"The DNC has gone completely silent, and it's understood that it is because the White House hasn't made a decision on what it wants," said one member of the committee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal discussions.

Another DNC member familiar with decision-making, who likewise requested anonymity, told ABC News that they do not expect Biden to "weigh in heavily" on the calendar but they do expect his staff to make "winks and nods" privately before the group convenes Thursday -- which this member would view as a generally encouraging sign that the White House approves of the party's decision to pursue a different nominating calendar.

This member conceded that many of their colleagues have been "frustrated" by the silence, however.

"We all want guidance. We want to know what the thinking is," the member said. "We kind of know in this business that if the White House is not weighing super strongly about something, it's because it's kind of a wink and a nod that they're agreeing with the direction that this is going in, at least, the broad strokes. And Democrats, we all agree that this needs to change."

The White House declined to comment for this story.

Carol Fowler, a member of the DNC's Rules and Bylaws Committee (RBC) from South Carolina, said she thinks Biden's decision in this process "absolutely" will impact the way the nominating calendar will be finalized.

"I have always assumed that at some point in this process, we will hear from the White House and know what President Biden's preference is. There is nobody on that committee -- I don't think -- who would want to oppose the president in this," she said.

It may all seem bureaucratic and confusing to the casual observer, but the stakes of the decision are high, with many Democrats saying the traditional order of their primaries is in desperate need of a change to encourage the kinds of candidates who can ultimately appeal to voters nationwide -- the true purpose of the process.

"I would 100% call it an imperative for the national party to figure this out ahead of a competitive primary going forward," said Rebecca Pearsey, a Democratic strategist who worked on Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren's 2020 campaign.

Party experts said two key questions hang over the deliberations, which are expected to begin at the meeting on Thursday and stretch into the weekend:

If the DNC swaps Iowa out as the first state, how can Democrats continue to ensure an early focus on the larger Midwest, which is home to multiple battleground states? And what order will that final grouping of early states be in?

Below is a breakdown of the current early states and two potential additions.

Will another Midwest state replace Iowa?

Michigan and Minnesota have been cited by committee members as the Midwestern front-runners jockeying for Iowa's top spot. Both states applied earlier this year to be the first state on the nominating calendar and both are run by Democratic governments, making it easier to shift primary dates.

Minnesota Democrats, in a June pitch, argued that their high turnout -- especially among diverse racial communities -- along with strong union membership and robust LGBTQ communities should be a draw. While Michigan is racially more diverse than Minnesota, Minnesota's Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party's chairman, Ken Martin, told ABC News that his state wins out as far as voter turnout among those same groups.

Rep. Debbie Dingell, who has long championed Michigan's inclusion in the early primary window, believes her home state is "very much in the mix" and balked at the insinuation from some other Democrats that the state is simply too large and too expensive for candidates that early in the cycle.

"Our state reflects the diversity of this country. And that's what you need," Dingell said. "You need to test these candidates so they are being screened for the question: Can they win in November? And Michigan meets that criteria to a T."

But some in the party said that one of the biggest limitations for Michigan holding an earlier primary is its size. For example, committee members noted that the state's large media markets could cost initially lesser-known candidates -- like, in 2008, Barack Obama -- a real shot at emerging from a crowded field.

Another factor, some members said, would be that Michigan would award so many more delegates than the other traditional early states (like New Hampshire and South Carolina) that it would create an imbalance. Candidates would essentially focus only on one part of the country and that state's voters would gain outsized influence, repeating the current problem.

The odds are increasingly stacked against Iowa to keep its top spot on Democrats' nominating calendar Still, Scott Brennan, Iowa's committee member on the national RBC, told ABC News that he feels confident his state will be competitive in keeping its spot after they restructured their infamously complicated caucus process to "satisfy all the concerns that were ever raised."

Brennan said it would be a "tremendous win" if the state were to stay in the early window.

In South Carolina -- the first Southern state on the calendar and the first state with a sizable bloc of Black voters, who are a crucial Democratic constituency -- state Democrats said the optimistic they'll keep a spot as one of the initial nominating states.

New Hampshire

New Hampshire did not suffer from the crippling logistical issues that hamstrung Democrats' 2020 Iowa caucuses. But the state, which is about 90% white, still faces criticism that it lacks sufficient diversity to represent the party base as it fights to keep its No. 2 slot.

However, the state Democratic Party insists on its record of holding successful primaries that force candidates to wear out their shoe leather to prove their skill at face-to-face campaigning.

"New Hampshire voters are extremely active. They're very involved in the process," said New Hampshire Democratic Party spokesperson Monica Venzke. "Candidates who come to New Hampshire leave stronger candidates."

State law also mandates that New Hampshire must hold its primary seven days before any other in the country. Neither Democrats or Republicans in state government seem eager to change that rule, which would pose a hurdle to other states looking to leapfrog it on the calendar. If the DNC chooses to have another state primary go first, that could trigger a kind of calendar arms race in which New Hampshire simply moves its primary up as well to abide by its law.

Currently, Iowa can go ahead of it because Iowa holds caucuses, not primaries. The caucus system, which is different than a standard election, is used by fewer and fewer states and territories each cycle. Nevada abandoned it after 2020.


Nevada is one of the states making the biggest push to go first in the primary calendar, which ticks many of the DNC's self-described boxes.

Nevada boasts significant racial diversity and is not expensive or vast enough -- in terms of the necessary campaign team -- to price out some candidates. It also remains a perennial swing state, so a candidate who wins enough Democratic voters there could make the argument that they are more electable in a tight race.

"Nevada is a state where you can find out who can go the distance," said Lambe, the strategist.

As for how Nevada could be squeezed ahead of New Hampshire's state law, though, some in the party said it would be a thorny matter best solved by the national committee.

"It's really going to be an issue for the DNC to work through on how to enforce the new calendar," a strategist said, "but it can be dealt with with tough rules and sanctions."

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Biden announces 'long overdue' investments in Indian Country

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(WASHINGTON) -- President Joe Biden on Wednesday announced "long overdue" commitments to Native American nations.

"On my watch, we're ushering in a new era and advancing a way for the federal government to work with tribal nations," Biden said as he spoke at the first in-person White House Tribal Nations Summit in six years, knocking his predecessor for not hosting any such forum.

Biden announced $135 million to help tribal communities impacted by climate change. Eleven "severely impacted tribes" will receive funds, according to the Interior Department, and three are planning on relocating entirely to new areas: the Newtok Village in Alaska, the Native Village of Napakiak in Alaska, and the Quinault Indian Nation in Washington.

"There are tribal communities at risk of being washed away, washed away by superstorms, rising sea levels and wildfires raging," Biden said Wednesday, calling the damage "devastating."

Biden also touted the billions of dollars made available to tribal nations through the American Rescue Plan, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act and the Inflation Reduction Act. Those investments, Biden said, helped Indian Country vaccinate residents, rebuild roads, provide clean drinking water and more.

"Together, my entire administration is advancing the economic agenda and making historic investments in Indian country and, I might add, that are long overdue," Biden said.

Over 300 tribal representatives are expected to attend the two-day summit held at the Interior Department. Biden began his remarks by thanking Interior Secretary Deb Haaland for her leadership, noting she's the first Native American to serve as a Cabinet secretary.

Haaland, introducing Biden to the podium, said the investments made by the Biden administration are "already improving the lives of so many."

"You and I know firsthand that native people have not always had friends in the White House," she said.

Among the new investments and changes announced by the White House to strengthen tribal nations are a presidential memo standardizing how federal agencies consult with tribes, requiring federal agencies to recognize "Indigenous Knowledge" in research and decision-making, and a draft of a 10-year plan to revitalize native languages. Federal agencies will also buy more electricity and energy products from tribes, and announce a new initiative to build electric vehicle charges on tribal lands.

On Wednesday, Biden also pledged to protect Nevada's Spirit Mountain and the surrounding wilderness area.

"I'm committed to protecting this sacred place that is central to the creation story of so many tribes that are here today," Biden said, adding there's "so much more that we're going to do to protect the treasured tribal lands.

"Everyone's entitled to be treated with respect and dignity, the dignity that comes from just being who you are," Biden said as he closed his remarks. "This is especially true for tribal nations. The United States owes a solemn trust and treaty obligations that we haven't always lived up to."

-ABC News' Ben Gittleson contributed to this report.

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House Democrats elect Hakeem Jeffries to succeed Nancy Pelosi

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(WASHINGTON) -- House Democrats on Wednesday elected a historic new generation of leaders.

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York will succeed Nancy Pelosi as leader of the Democratic Caucus.

The 52-year-old Jeffries will be the first Black lawmaker to lead a party in Congress.

The whip will be a woman -- Katherine Clark of Massachusetts -- and the No. 3, Pete Aguilar of California, will become the highest-ranking Latino in Congress after rising in prominence from his perch on the high-profile Jan. 6 committee.

Elections took place behind closed doors, where members voted by secret ballot. All three ran unopposed.

In a statement following his election, Jeffries said he and his newly elected colleagues will inherit their roles from "iconic" predecessors and work with the "seriousness and solemnity" of the present political moment.

"I am particularly humbled to be accepting this honor alongside my friends and partners in leadership, incoming Democratic Whip Katherine Clark and incoming Caucus Chair Pete Aguilar. Katherine represents another important crack in the glass ceiling, a trailblazer in the tradition of Speaker Pelosi," he said. "She makes all of us feel seen and heard and will work tirelessly to support our Democratic Caucus. I have watched how Pete brings people together to get things done, rolling up his sleeves as only a former Mayor can do. Katherine, Pete and I will work closely together fighting hard for everyday Americans."

Pelosi issued a statement congratulating her successor, as well as Clark and Aguilar.

"Congratulations to Leader-designate Hakeem Jeffries, Whip-designate Katherine Clark and Chairman-designate Pete Aguilar! Together, this new generation of leaders reflects the vibrancy and diversity of our great nation -- and they will reinvigorate our Caucus with their new energy, ideas and perspective. Now, with the fullest confidence of our Members, our new Leaders are well-prepared to carry on Democrats' fight for working families and defense of Democracy," she said.

On the Senate floor ahead of the elections, Sen. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer noted the "momentous" and historic nature of the newly elected leadership: the advancement of the first Black American to lead a chamber of Congress, the first Latino American to occupy a No. 3 slot.

"Hakeem Jeffries' elevation as House Democratic Leader is a turning point in the history of the United States Congress. Never before has an African American leader - or any leader of color - held the top position for either party in either chamber," he said.

The ushering in of new leadership follows Pelosi's pre-Thanksgiving announcement of her intention to step away from her role after 20 years. In her remarks before declaring her decision, the 82-year-old leader said she wanted to pave a way for a "new generation" of oversight in the Democratic party.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, 83, and House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, 82, also announced they would step aside from their leadership posts shortly after Pelosi's declaration.

"The hour has come for a new generation to lead the Democratic caucus that I so deeply respect," she said.

Jeffries, along with Clark, 59; and Aguilar, 43, mark a generational shift to House Democrats' top spots.

Schumer on Wednesday sentimentally noted the changing of the guards before taking a moment to praise his fellow Brooklynite, whom he's known for years.

"Today's gathering is unlike anything we've seen before. For one, it signals the end of a magnificent era. As my dear friend Speaker Nancy Pelosi has chosen to step down from leadership. We'll never see someone like Speaker Pelosi ever again in our lifetime. But her potential successor will be history making in its own right," he began.

"Now I've known Hakeem Jeffries for a long time, since before the days he was first elected to the New York State Assembly in 2006. When I first met him, I thought the same thing I thought when I first met Speaker Pelosi, here's someone who has it all."

The 118th Congress won't be sworn in until January. Republicans have been projected to regain control of the House, with House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy at its helm after clinching the Republican nomination for speaker in the next Congress.

Jeffries in his statement following his election noted his willingness to work with Republicans as the leader of House Democrats while continuing to fight for his party's priorities.

"We are going to continue to put People Over Politics and fight for all our values. House Democrats will lift up working families, the middle class and those who aspire to be part of it, young people and senior citizens, veterans, the poor, the sick and the afflicted and the least, the lost and the left behind," he said in a statement.

"We will look for common ground with Republicans whenever and wherever possible, but oppose extremism on the other side of the aisle whenever necessary."

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Senate approves historic legislation to protect same-sex marriages

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(WASHINGTON) -- The Senate on Tuesday approved legislation to codify protections for same-sex and interracial marriages, marking a historic win for Democrats anxious to secure the rights amid growing concern that a conservative Supreme Court majority could take them away.

The final vote was 61 to 36.

"What a great day," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said soon after passage. The bill sparked rare applause on the floor.

The Respect for Marriage Act would not require any state to issue a marriage license contrary to its laws but would mandate that states recognize lawfully granted marriages performed in other states, including same-sex and interracial unions.

The bill had been largely expected to pass after it earned essential support from 12 Republicans during a key test vote just before Thanksgiving, putting it on a glide path to President Joe Biden's desk later this month. The bill next heads to the House, which is expected to vote on it next week -- as early as Tuesday -- before Biden signs it. In a statement Tuesday night, he said he would "promptly and proudly" do so.

"The United States is on the brink of reaffirming a fundamental truth: love is love, and Americans should have the right to marry the person they love," he said.

Codifying same-sex marriage into federal law became a top priority for Democrats in light of the Supreme Court's decision in June to overrule its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision guaranteeing a constitutional right to abortion nationwide.

In floor remarks Tuesday afternoon, Schumer celebrated the bill, which he said ensures rights of LGBTQ people won't be "trampled."

"In many ways, the story of America has been a difficult, but inexorable march toward greater equality. Sometimes we've taken steps forward, other times, unfortunately, we've taken disturbing steps backward, but today, after months of hard work, after many rounds of bipartisan talks, and after many doubts that we could even reach this point, wea re taking the momentous step forward for greater justice for LGBTQ Americans," Schumer said.

Schumer and other Democrats have argued that a concurring opinion by Justice Clarence Thomas in the June decision, in which he said the court "should reconsider" granting a nationwide right to gay marriage, put the rights of LGBTQ Americans in question.

For Schumer, and other senators with loved ones who are a part of the LGBTQ community, the matter is personal. Schumer's daughter is married to her wife. On Tuesday, he appeared on the Senate floor wearing a tie that he said he wore at his daughter's wedding.

Schumer said that after Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died two years ago, his daughter was concerned her marriage could be in jeopardy. Now, two years later, and with the Congress poised to act, his daughter is expecting a child.

"I want them to raise their child with all the love and security that every child deserves," Schumer said. "And the bill we are passing today will ensure their rights won't be trample upon simply because they're in a same-sex marriage."

The original 12 Republicans from the first procedural vote stuck with their decision on Tuesday, despite pressure to reverse course from conservative groups and other lawmakers.

Those 12 were: Susan Collins of Maine, Rob Portman of Ohio, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Mitt Romney of Utah, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming, Dan Sullivan of Alaska, Roy Blunt of Missouri, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Joni Ernst of Iowa, Todd Young of Indiana and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

"I know that it's not been easy but they've done the right thing," Collins, one of the bill's co-sponsors, said Tuesday of her GOP colleagues ahead of the final vote.

Lummis, largely seen as one of the bill's most surprising supporters, described the days since her initial yes vote as a "painful exercise in accepting admonishment and fairly brutal self soul searching." She took pains to explain that while her personal religious beliefs preclude same-sex marriage, but said she still intends to support the bill.

"For the sake of our nation's today and its survival, we do well by taking this step, not embracing or validating each other's devoutly held views but by the simple act of tolerating them," Lummis said.

GLAAD celebrated the passage, with its president and CEO, Sarah Kate Ellis, saying in a statement that it "sends a message of equal protection, dignity, and respect for all same-sex and interracial couples who want to share in the love and commitment of marriage."

The Respect for Marriage Act would "require the federal government to recognize a marriage between two individuals if the marriage was valid in the state where it was performed," according to a summary from the bill's sponsors, including Congress' first openly bisexual woman in the Senate, Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., along with Collins, Portman and Tillis.

The legislation comes after months of behind the scenes coalition-building between Democrats and a group of Republican negotiators. Despite the crucial GOP support, the legislation was opposed by a large contingent of Republicans, some who have deemed it unnecessary.

"I think it's pretty telling that Sen. Schumer puts a bill on the floor to reaffirm what is already a constitutional right of same-sex marriage, which is not under any imminent threat, and continues to ignore national security and not take up the defense authorization bill," Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said earlier this month.

During the pre-Thanksgiving test vote, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell voted with the majority of his party to oppose the bill -- and vote no again on Tuesday.

The House passed a similar version of this legislation earlier this year, with 47 Republicans supporting it. The Senate version includes new language to ease some GOP concerns about religious freedom.

ABC News' Ben Gittleson and Robert Zepeda contributed to this report.

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McConnell casts doubt on Trump getting elected after dinner with white nationalist

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(WASHINGTON) -- House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, the likely next House speaker, defended former President Donald Trump on Tuesday, a week after Trump dined at his Mar-a-Lago resort with white nationalist Nick Fuentes and rapper Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, who has made antisemitic remarks.

"I don't think anybody should be spending any time with Nick Fuentes," McCarthy told ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Mary Bruce after meeting with President Joe Biden and other congressional leaders.

"He has no place in this Republican Party. I think President Trump came out four times and condemned him and didn't know who he was," McCarthy said, although there is no evidence Trump condemned Fuentes.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday went further than McCarthy, condemning Trump's meeting with Fuentes, opening his weekly press conference by rejecting not only "antisemitism" and "white supremacy" but saying Trump's association with the ideologies could keep him from winning a second term in the White House.

"There is no room in the Republican Party for antisemitism or white supremacy," McConnell said, flanked by Republican Senate leadership. "And anyone meeting with people advocating that point of view, in my judgment, are highly unlikely to ever be elected president of the United States."

McCarthy is a legislative ally of Trump's while McConnell has broken with the former president a number of times, including criticizing him over the Jan. 6 insurrection. The GOP leaders' comments came after a number of other high-profile Republicans condemned what Trump has insisted was an impromptu meal.

Beyond Washington, Trump faced criticism from his former vice president and potential 2024 primary opponent, Mike Pence.

"President Trump was wrong to give a white nationalist, an antisemite and a Holocaust denier a seat at the table, and I think he should apologize," Pence told NewsNation in an interview.

Still, Pence said, "I don't believe Donald Trump is an antisemite. I don't believe he's a racist or a bigot."

Fuentes, a white nationalist who has made racist, sexist and antisemitic comments, has been banned on all major social media platforms. Ye recently lost major business deals over his own antisemitic comments.

Trump has said he did not know who Fuentes was when Fuentes came to Mar-a-Lago, initially posting about the meeting on his social media platform on Friday, claiming he didn't know Ye would be bringing other guests, but not mentioning Fuentes.

In later statements, he said that he only sought to meet with Ye and that the rapper brought Fuentes to the two-hour dinner without his knowledge.

"Well, I condemn this ideology. It has no place in society," McCarthy said, when pressed by ABC's Bruce about Trump's lack of comment on the white nationalist Fuentes.

"The president didn't know who he was," McCarthy repeated. "So, he knew who Kanye West is. He didn't know who Fuentes is."

Asked later if it was appropriate for or Trump to meet with West, McCarthy said "the president has meetings with who he wants. I don't think anybody, though, should have a meeting with Nick Fuentes ... I think Kanye West…I don't think we should associate with them, as well. I'm very clear in my position."

McCarthy last week clinched the Republican nomination for speaker in the next Congress, fending off a challenge from Arizona Rep. Andy Biggs as the GOP will regain the House majority next session.

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Supreme Court conflicted over Biden deportation policy

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(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday wrestled for more than two hours with a perennial Washington pickle: how to square immigration enforcement mandates in federal law with Congress' failure to provide sufficient funding to do the job.

The justices also took on whether states like Texas and Louisiana, suffering alleged harm from illegal immigration, can sue the government to force it to crack down.

There appeared to be no clear answers to the politically charged questions.

"'Shall' means 'shall,'" Chief Justice John Roberts suggested of federal law instructing the Department of Homeland Security to "take into custody" unlawful immigrants convicted of certain crimes.

But Roberts went on to observe "it's impossible" for the executive branch to detain and deport all 11 million immigrants eligible for removal from the U.S. "Certainly, there are cases where we've said 'shall' means 'may,'" he added. (The government has only 6,000 interior immigration enforcement officers, according to DHS.)

At the heart of the case are Department of Homeland Security guidelines established by the Biden administration in 2021 to prioritize arrest and deportation of unlawful immigrants deemed a danger to national security or public safety over those who are otherwise non-criminals.

The administration argues it has broad discretion in how it detains and deports immigrants -- consistent with an approach long taken by governments of both parties.

"It's about prioritizing limited resources to say go after person A instead of person B," argued Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar. "There is no reason to conclude that that's actually going to lead to less enforcement against individuals overall."

Texas and Louisiana, which are challenging the guidelines, allege the White House approach to deportations is an abuse of discretion that has imposed costs on state taxpayers.

"States bear many of the consequences of federal immigration decisions," said Texas Solicitor General Judd Stone. He claims up to 80,000 "criminal aliens" are living in Texas.

"We either pay the costs through detention or through recidivism," Stone said.

A federal district court vacated the guidelines nationwide last year, and they are not currently in effect. The Biden administration is asking the Supreme Court to reinstate them.

Several conservative justices were highly skeptical that the guidelines were compliant with federal law.

"We have one set of priorities established by Congress and another set by the executive branch. Isn't that correct?" Justice Samuel Alito asked of Prelogar.

"No, that's wrong," she replied, "because the guidelines govern only decisions about apprehension and removal, whether to charge a non-citizen in the first place."

Justice Brett Kavanaugh suggested the government's abuse of immigration enforcement discretion has forced some in Congress to consider "dramatic steps" to compensate.

"What are the tools Congress has to make sure its laws are enforced in the U.S.?" Kavanaugh asked Prelogar. "I think your position is, instead of judicial review, Congress has to resort to shutting down the government or impeachment or dramatic steps if it -- if some administration comes in and says we're not going to enforce laws."

The court's three liberal justices were more deferential to the administration.

"Immigration policy is supposed to be the zenith of executive power," Justice Elena Kagan told Stone. "We're just going to be in a situation where every administration is confronted by suits, by states that can bring a policy to a dead halt by just showing a dollar's worth of costs?"

"It's just not enough [to do that] with a set of speculative possibilities about your costs," she said.

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson said she was "troubled" by the practical impact of forcing DHS to detain unlawful immigrants before a decision has been made on deportation. "You can't just indefinitely hold people," she said, noting the months-to-years-long backlog in cases.

The justices spent significant time grappling with two potential resolutions to the case that would not involve weighing in on the merits of the guidelines themselves.

One approach could be to decide that a lower court erred in vacating the guidelines since federal immigration law explicitly limits courts' ability to intervene. Another option could be to find that Texas and Louisiana don't have standing to bring the case or have not shown sufficient proof of being harmed.

"What will happen here if you prevail?" Kavanaugh asked the Texas Solicitor General Stone.

"Individual officers in ICE will go back to not believing that their enforcement discretion has been restrained," Stone replied.

The Biden administration had a starkly different answer: "It would be incredibly destabilizing on the ground," Prelogar insisted. "Bad for the executive branch, bad for the American public, and bad for Article 3 courts."

A decision is expected by the end of June 2023.

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Early voting soars in Georgia Senate runoff between Warnock, Walker

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(WASHINGTON) -- Early voting in Georgia's Senate runoff race between Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock and Republican opponent Herschel Walker opened statewide to all registered voters on Monday, following record-breaking turnout this weekend in the 34 counties that offered early voting on Saturday or Sunday.

Voting locations for the Dec. 6 runoff are now open in all 159 of the state's counties through Friday, with more than 500,000 Georgians -- about 7% of all active voters -- having cast their ballots either in-person or absentee through Monday, according to state election data.

Of those, more than 468,000 people have voted early in person.

Monday's total set a new single-day record, with 301,545 people voting early in person, according to state data.

Black Georgians are outpacing other demographic groups, according to the data, with 39.2% of the total turnout as of Monday compared to 48.4% for white voters, though white people make up nearly double the share of the overall state population.

Among various age groups, the highest turnout through Monday was for 65-70 year olds followed very closely by 60-65, 70-75, 55-60 and 50-55 year olds.

"Turnout so far is blowing doors," interim Deputy Secretary of State Gabriel Sterling wrote in a tweet on Monday.

After Georgia saw unprecedented early voting ahead of the 2022 midterms earlier this month, Sunday's turnout was 130% higher than the previous Sunday record of 37,785, set on Oct. 25, 2020, according to Sterling.

Early voting for the runoff began last Tuesday, though only in some counties, including those around Atlanta, where a majority of the state's residents live.

Counties had not initially offered Saturday voting either, after the secretary of state's office issued guidance that it conflicted with a law preventing voting within two days of a holiday like Thanksgiving last Thursday.

But Warnock and Democrats sued and a county judge ruled that Saturday voting was allowed. The state's higher courts declined to reverse that decision when Republicans appealed.

In the wake of the court ruling, the state's largest counties opened for Saturday early voting. Some other parts of the state, however, didn't begin early voting until Monday.

Long wait times are not deterring voters

With tens of thousands of voters taking advantage of the additional voting opportunities, some lines at polling places stretched for hours over the weekend.

The secretary of state's office sent a memo on Monday that highlighted short wait times statewide but warned of "longer wait times on higher turnout days such as the first day of Early Voting and the last few days of Early Voting" in the metro Atlanta area that includes Fulton, DeKalb and Gwinnett counties, which so far encompass about 63% of the total early vote.

Wait times are often shorter at other locations in counties that offer several early voting spots, the office advised.

Despite questions about potential voter apathy in the runoff -- when turnout is historically lower and there is less time for the media and candidates' campaigns to inform voters -- some residents told ABC News they were eager to cast another ballot.

The Dec. 6 Senate runoff will be the third in just two years and the sixth overall Senate race in the state since November 2020.

"I will go out as many times as I need to go out," said Manuel Rodriguez, who waited for almost an hour before he was able to vote in Fulton County. "It makes me feel that I'm part of something, that I'm contributing to the society that I want to live in and to the country that I love."

Warnock, Walker back on the trail

Warnock, a noted Atlanta reverend, was one of those Georgians taking advantage of weekend voting, casting his ballot on Sunday alongside faith and community leaders after waiting in line for about an hour in Fulton County, the fifth time he has voted for himself in just two years following two general elections and two ensuing runoff elections, along with primary challenges.

In the final days of the race, he has largely campaigned on the concept of character -- contrasting his background with that of Walker, a businessman and local football legend with a controversial past. Before Warnock walked to cast his ballot, he hosted a "Souls to the Polls" rally.

"This is an important election. And it's really about competence and character. That's what this is about who's ready and who's fit to serve in the United States Senate. I'm proud of my record," he said on Sunday.

He also continues to soar in fundraising, outpacing his Republican opponent by more than double.

Though the runoff won't determine control of the Senate, both Republicans and Democrats have cautioned voters not to underestimate the consequences of December's election.

Democrats have emphasized a 51-seat majority would create an easier pathway to accomplishing their legislative priorities. In contrast, Republicans have highlighted how a power-sharing agreement across the aisle works to their advantage, pointing to the ways in which a split chamber has allowed them to block Democratic legislation.

Warnock's campaign announced this week that they were investing more than $1 million for an "out of home" advertising campaign. The campaign includes billboards in high-traffic areas, mobile signs deployed across the state, planes that tow messages above metro Atlanta, posters at college campuses and ads at transit stops.

Walker was publicly absent on the trail from last Tuesday through the Thanksgiving holiday, making his first appearance during a campaign stop on Monday. He drew his own contrast with Warnock.

"You either stand up or you get out, because too many people have sacrificed. Too many people have died for us to have the freedoms and liberties that we have today to have these people to disrespect what we got going on," he said at a campaign stop in Toccoa on Monday.

"Raphael Warnock is just another hypocritical Washington politician," said campaign spokesman Will Kiley. "Warnock says character counts but refuses to take a look in the mirror."

ABC News' Isabella Murray contributed to this report.

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