Politics Headlines

Official White House Photo by D. Myles CullenBy JACK DATE, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- Secret Service agents in Arizona on Monday tested positive for COVID-19 or showed signs of illness while preparing for a trip involving Vice President Mike Pence, leading to the government postponing the trip originally planned for Tuesday to Wednesday, a government official familiar with the matter tells ABC News.

The delay was needed for the Secret Service to bring in a new team of healthy agents in to Phoenix to complete the trip, according to the official.

"The health and safety of our workforce, their families, and that of our protectees remains the agency's highest priority," Secret Service Communications Director Catherine Milhoan said in a statement.

The Washington Post
first reported late Thursday that "eight to 10 agents and other officers from sister agencies" had fallen ill preparing for the Arizona trip.

On the trip, the vice president acknowledged "the dramatic rise of coronavirus cases in Arizona" while at the same time praising Gov. Doug Ducey's handling of the virus.

"Up until roughly three weeks ago, Arizona had literally set the pace in slowing the spread, in flattening the curve, and we're grateful to you, to your team," Pence told the governor. Later, he said: "The rising cases in Arizona is why I'm here."

This is the second time in nearly two weeks that agents have tested positive for COVID-19 while preparing for a presidential or vice presidential trip.

At least two agents tested positive for COVID-19 before an indoor campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, late last month.

Dozens of agents and other Secret Service personnel began to self-quarantine for 14 days after that trip due to potential exposure to those infected agents. At that time, the USSS said it would not affect operations.

"The U.S. Secret Service remains prepared and staffed to fulfill all of the various duties as required," Milhoan said in a statement on June 24. "Any implication that the agency is in some way unprepared or incapable of executing our mission would be inaccurate."

"To protect the privacy of our employees' health information and for operational security, the Secret Service is not releasing how many of its employees have tested positive for COVID-19, nor how many of its employees were, or currently are, quarantined," the statement continued.

The Secret Service employs approximately 3,200 special agents, 1,300 uniformed division officers and 2,000 support personnel.

Pence visited Florida on Thursday, the latest stop in a schedule taking him to various regions particularly hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

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(WASHINGTON) -- While America’s financial leaders may be split about whether the U.S. is on its way to economic recovery, both Democrats and Republicans largely agree that additional measures -- including another stimulus package -- is inevitable.

It will all have to wait, however, until after Congress returns from its Fourth of July recess, a two-week vacation that leaves legislation at a standstill.

As the legislators depart, here’s where things stand:

Bipartisan action in the nick of time on PPP

One play by the Democrats moved off the Senate floor this week: an extension to the Paycheck Protection Program, which expired at the end of June under current law.

PPP, which still had $134 billion to give even as the deadline neared, has undoubtedly been plagued with flaws. But rather than let the deadline for small businesses to apply for the program pass while Congress is on vacation, the extension means businesses can continue to apply through August.

In the meantime, Republicans and Democrats have batted around ideas to fix the program, which has doled out more than $513 billion in forgivable loans since it was launched in April.

Senate Small Business Committee Chairman Marco Rubio, R-Fla., argued that many small businesses that needed PPP have already gotten it -- and used it up.

"What we really need to pass very soon is targeted help for those who need a second round of aid," he said.

Other Republicans, like Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., have supported Rubio’s idea of less money but more targeted aid.

"It’d be driven more by losses, be needs-based and targeted as opposed to kind of just pushing money out," Thune said.

As for the Democrats, Rep. Nydia Velázquez, chair of the House Small Business Committee, demanded more data on who had gotten the first round of PPP loans before she would agree to anyone getting a second loan.

"We know that 4 million businesses accessed the program. But what about the millions of minority- and women-owned businesses that were not able to access the program?" Velázquez said during a House Financial Services Committee on Tuesday.

"No one should get a second loan unless we know most businesses that are struggling get a chance to get a loan," said Velázquez, a Democrat from New York.

Actual changes to the program will likely be tied to the next stimulus package.

Unemployment Benefits

The future is still unclear on the $600 per week of unemployment benefits.

The last CARES Act gave an extra $600 a week to everyone in the country who applied for unemployment insurance, on top of the regular unemployment amount they would receive from the state. But it expires on July 31, less than two weeks after Congress returns.

And more than one in 10 Americans, or 11.1%, are still unemployed, according to the latest joblessness report.

On Wednesday, Democrats introduced an option to keep the program going past July 31.

The legislation, introduced by Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Finance Ranking Member Ron Wyden, would create a "trigger" mechanism, tying the rate of unemployment benefits to the unemployment rate. As long as unemployment remains above 11%, $600 bonuses would remain in place. As the unemployment in each state drops, the bonus would reduce by $100 dollars for each percentage point.

But the latest joblessness report also showed nearly five million new jobs were added to the U.S. economy since May, when the unemployment rate was 13.3%, a measure of growth that Republicans took to mean they shouldn’t interfere.

"I just think it underscores how quickly the economy is rebounding, and we shouldn't do anything to derail that," said Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Pat Toomey.

But some lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have warned that tumult is still expected. The job numbers released Thursday were compiled before the recent surge in COVID-19 cases caused some states to delay their reopening plans.

"You've got to be living in a country club fantasy land to believe that this economic crisis is anywhere close to ending," Wyden said.

Wyden has floated this "trigger proposal" for several weeks, but it has gained relatively little traction with Republicans. On the Senate floor Wednesday, he called on Republicans to offer constituents who are facing the July sunset of benefits some sense of security moving forward.

"We've got a moral obligation to not turn our back on those who are suffering," Wyden said. "And I'm telling you the Senate is going to go home and Senators are going to hear loud and clear that workers are concerned about whether after July 31 they're going to be able to pay rent, they're going to be able to buy groceries."

While Republicans have objected to an extension of the unemployment program, arguing that the $600 bonus serves as a disincentive for returning to work, some prominent Republicans have said they support some sort of additional unemployment support.

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, has proposed a bonus for individuals returning to work, while Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, has said he supports some sort of measure that would prevent those receiving the unemployment bonus from "falling off a cliff" when it ends.

Direct Impact Payments

Back in April, the Internal Revenue Service executed a quick band-aid effort to combat economic standstill, delivering direct checks of up to $1,200 to nearly 160 million Americans.

Since then, Americans have said they’d like to see another round of direct impact payments, a call the White House seems to be receptive to.

It’s "on the table," Larry Kudlow, director of the White House National Economic Council, said on Fox Business, though the payment could also come in the form of tax rebates, he said.

"I think the tax rebates or the direct mail checks are on the table. This is all pre decisional, a lot of discussion going on. Probably we would want to target those to folks who lost their jobs and are most in need,” Kudlow said.

The president, too, has expressed support for another round of payments in an interview with Fox Business, but was unclear about how those payments would manifest.

But many Republicans are not in lockstep with Kudlow or the president. Democrats in the House, on the other hand, have called for not only another round of payments, but to increase the amount for families with children by $600 per child.

There are, however, outstanding issues from the first round of stimulus checks that would need to be addressed before another goes out.

According to a report on the CARES Act by the nonpartisan Government Office of Accountability (GAO) published on June 25, 1.1 million of the $1.4 billion in payments went to dead people.

As a solution, GAO recommended getting death data in the hands of both Treasury and the IRS to "help ensure the integrity of direct payments to individuals if Congress considers this type of assistance in the future."

Broad themes of the next stimulus package

On Tuesday, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell outlined three main themes he says Republicans will focus on in their next proposal: kids, jobs and healthcare.

"To step back toward normalcy our country will need K-12 and college students to resume their schooling, we will need to re-energize hiring to get workers their jobs back, and we'll need continued progress in the health care fight to get ready for the fall and winter and speed the search for a vaccine," McConnell said.

McConnell and fellow Republicans have also adamantly supported a legal carve-out to protect businesses, schools and health care providers who are afraid they’ll face lawsuits if people get sick when they reopen.

Republicans are expected to put pen to paper in late July, after the recess.

But as the number of coronavirus cases surge, Democrats have lambasted Republicans for slow-walking future relief packages. In an effort to galvanize support for their cause, Democrats brought a number of coronavirus relief proposals to the Senate floor throughout the week, almost all of which failed.

Those included proposals that would have granted rental assistance, food assistance, a moratorium on evictions, aid for nursing homes, among others.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Official White House Photo by Tia DufourBy LUKE BARR, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- Recent controversy over what President Donald Trump knew about U.S. intelligence has shed new light on how he -- or any president -- is briefed on top-secret information.

A military official has confirmed to ABC News that Russian intelligence officers offered to pay Taliban militants to kill American troops in Afghanistan over the past year, amid peace talks to end the 18-year war there.

Outraged members of Congress have been demanding answers about who knew what and when, and more important, was President Donald Trump briefed and if not, why.

The White House has denied a New York Times report that the president was briefed in writing on the intelligence. The president's aides argue it was unverified and while they specifically say he wasn't told verbally, they have been vague about whether it was presented to him in written form, in what's called the President's Daily Brief.

Instead, administration officials have turned their ire toward leaks.

"When developing intelligence assessments, initial tactical reports often require additional collection and validation. In general, preliminary Force Protection information is shared throughout the national security community—and with U.S. allies—as part of our ongoing efforts to ensure the safety of coalition forces overseas," CIA Director Gina Haspel said in a statement. "Leaks compromise and disrupt the critical interagency work to collect, assess, and ascribe culpability."

Four former senior intelligence officials previously involved in assembling the "PDB" described to ABC News the delicate business of briefing a president and how the top-secret document is put together six days a week.

What is the Presidential Daily Brief?

Former Secretary of Defense and CIA Director under President Barack Obama, Leon Panetta, calls it "incredibly important."

"It's not a good way to start your day," Panetta told ABC News. "It can put a lot of worry into your head, by virtue of just reading about all the potential threats that the country is facing."

Perhaps the most famous PDB is the one made public by the 9/11 Commission in 2004. It's title: "Bin Ladin Determined To Strike In US."

The intelligence was shared with then-President George W. Bush on Aug. 6, 2001, more than a month before the hijackers carried out the 9/11 attacks.

While it is rare for the public to see a PDB, the origins can be traced back to President John F. Kennedy, who wanted to be kept abreast on issues both foreign and domestic.

Bruce Riedel, a former national security official, told ABC News that even today, the PDB has the same goal it did in the 1960s.

"In the Kennedy administration it was called the President's intelligence checklist, or pickle," Riedel, now a senior fellow and director of the Brookings Intelligence Project, told ABC News. "It's purpose is really the same as it was back in the Kennedy administration -- to give the president a fairly short and concise summary of the most important intelligence."

He said the staff responsible for the PDB started out small, but now intelligence officers work around the clock to prepare the document.

Stephen B. Slick, a former CIA operations officer and member of the National Security Council, told ABC News that the PDB has only one person in mind.

"It is simply a brief compilation of the most important intelligence information and analysis that the IC believes should be shared with the president," Slick, now the director of the Intelligence Studies Project at the University of Texas at Austin, said.

"[Intelligence Community] agencies produce hundreds of reports and analytic products each day for customers across the U.S. national security establishment. The PDB is typically the pick of that crop prepared for the 'First Customer,'" he said.

Slick said that the PDB is ultimately the responsibility of the director of National Intelligence, but that it is full of CIA information, "which drafts and coordinates most of the articles that run."

Javed Ali, a former national security official and member of the National Security Council, said that the PDB is supposed to bring together all the information available to top officials.

“Theoretically the PDB is supposed to be a cross-functional product,” Ali, a visiting professor at the University of Michigan, said. “It fuses different perspectives and intelligence reporting, and shouldn't just be one agency constantly informing the most senior officials about what's happening in the world.”

Each president is different, Slick stressed, and every president has his own style and manner in which they prefer to be briefed.

"JFK wanted a card to stick in his shirt pocket," Slick said, while Richard Nixon relied on Henry Kissinger to brief him, and "Obama received his PDB on a tablet computer."

Riedel said that "about a dozen or so" officials normally would see the PDB, from the vice president to the president's national security adviser to the White House chief of staff.

The PDB is put together by analysts who have specific expertise on various world issues or events, but determining what actually makes it into the PDB and what the president sees on a daily basis, is a challenge for intelligence officials.

Ali told ABC News that the threshold for what appears in the PDB is high and is often aligned to issues of interest to senior policymakers, while also leaving flexibility for topics identified at the "bottom-up" level or on late-breaking developments.

Riedel echoed that view, saying there are multiple levels -- from supervisors to the director of National intelligence -- that analysis goes through before being placed in the president's briefing book.

"It can be a process that takes a long time," he said.

Slick explained that what ends up in the actual briefing book can be wide-ranging.

"PDB 'articles' can originate with the [intelligence community] based on new reporting or recently completed analysis that they believe merits the president's attention. Or, a PDB item can be a response to a question by the president, a senior principal or linked to a meeting, trip or decision he will shortly be required to make," he explained.

A personal briefing

In addition to a physical copy of the PDB, which Panetta said varies in page length based on the day and the intelligence, officials get an in-person briefer to answer their questions.

"A briefer will come in from the CIA and summarize the key elements of the PDB, respond to questions and if there are questions that the briefer doesn't know the answer to will usually come back with additional information," Panetta said.

Riedel said that when the president is briefed, the CIA director and director of National Intelligence are usually in the room.

In the Trump White House, Riedel said when now-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was CIA director, he knew how to get through to the president.

"My understanding is that Mike Pompeo was very good at this, when he was director. He understood how to read the president's mood, and understood how you could get information that the president would absorb, Not all the time. He had a pretty good track record on it," he explained, adding he has "no idea how it works in the current environment."

Not only is briefing the president "very demanding," Riedel said, but the president also serves as "your number one feedback. And if it's going right, the president and CIA analysts are more or less engaged in a dialogue."

Because former President Bill Clinton stayed up until all hours of the night, he'd receive the briefing in writing to start off with and would write questions in the margins of the PDB, Riedel said.

"First of all, someone would have to read his handwriting and make sense out of it, and then figure out what is this question about," Riedel said.

Bringing information to the president's attention

Panetta stressed any vital information about major adversaries such as Russia and China is always in the briefing book.

"Well, there's obviously a lot of judgment involved in what you're going to highlight, but I don't think there's any question that if there is intelligence in there that involves something serious involving our adversary that that would be highlighted," he said.

Panetta said that any intelligence, even not fully verified, about the Russians offering the Taliban a bounty on American soldiers would "absolutely" be something that the president should know about.

"Are you kidding me?" Panetta said. "The lives of our men and women in uniform, and they're being targeted and they're being killed, with a price under a head? There's just no question."

Panetta added that he would be "very surprised" if intelligence analysts didn't do their job.

Slick explained that the president might not have taken note and "the fact that IC experts may not have reached full consensus on the facts or implications of these reports would not keep it out of what he calls 'the book.'"

Slick said that while it is fair to look at the actions of the president, Americans should also focus on the people around him.

"The national security adviser and secretary of defense in particular should have been laser-focused on this issue and keeping the president informed and supported," he said. "Any minimally competent national security adviser or chief of staff would sense the tactical, strategic and political implications of reports like this … and also should have foreseen that it would leak and generate controversy."

Ali said, in theory, someone else could have seen and acted on the same information.

“The DNI should have seen it. Other very senior customers who also get the PDB could have seen it and even started a process to bring the government together to confront that even if it didn't get to the President's attention,” Ali said.

Panetta said that he doesn't know any intelligence official who wouldn't "speak truth to power when it comes to critical intelligence."

If they didn't brief the president on this matter, he added, "that's unacceptable."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


bpperry / iStockBy Alexander Mallin, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- Federal prosecutors have charged another individual allegedly involved in vandalizing the statue of former President Andrew Jackson in Washington, D.C.'s Lafayette Park last week.

Jason Charter, who self identifies in social media profiles as a supporter of the anti-fascist movement antifa, was charged Friday with two counts of destruction of federal property based on videos that appear to show him participating in the vandalism of both the statue of Confederate general Albert Pike as well as the Jackson statue.

According to an affidavit submitted to the DC District Court, Charter was seen on surveillance footage "standing inside the gated area of the Jackson Statue and directing others" carrying out the vandalism and was also seen helping individuals adjusting ropes they used to try and tear the statue down.

While their attempts to remove the statue were unsuccessful after authorities stepped in, Park Police said last week that it could cost upward of $78,000 to repair the damage done by the vandals.

Four other men were similarly charged late last week for their involvement in the attempt to topple the Jackson statue after investigators were able to track down their identities pulling both from surveillance video as well as social media posts shared publicly from those near the area at the time of the incident.

The FBI said Charter was similarly identified based on surveillance footage and added that after the vandalism of the Pike Statue he posted on his Twitter, "Tearing down statues of traitors to the nation is a service to this nation not a crime." Charter then posted images on his Facebook later in the night stating, "Death to all Confederate Statues," the FBI said.

In most cases, protesters have sought to single out removing statues commemorating figures from the Confederacy, though in certain areas such calls have extended to figures like Jackson -- considering his time as a slave owner and his forced removal of Native Americans off their lands.

It was not immediately clear as of Thursday afternoon whether Charter has retained a defense attorney. He is presumed innocent unless proven guilty in court.

While Charter has praised the antifa movement repeatedly in social media posts and his Twitter bio includes the hashtag '#IAmAntifa,' the affidavit filed by the FBI doesn't seek to directly connect him to the group. This is despite a concerted effort from both President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr to pin responsibility on antifa for much of the violence around the country stemming from protests over the death of George Floyd, who was killed in Minneapolis police custody in May.

Instead, it's been the right-wing boogaloo movement that has been singled out by name following arrests of several members accused of threatening to carry out violent attacks.

The latest arrest comes as Trump in a video posted to his Twitter account Thursday morning doubled down on his hard-line rhetoric against the recent vandalism of statues in the wake of Floyd's death.

"Lawlessness has been allowed to prevail, we're not going to let it prevail any longer," Trump said. "They go to prison for ten years if they hurt our monuments or our statues."

The Department of Homeland Security said Wednesday it planned to launch rapid deployment teams to protect federal monuments over the Fourth of July weekend, though it was not clear whether the deployment was a response to any specific threat or planned protest.

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rarrarorro/iStockBy JOHN PARKINSON, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- CIA Director Gina Haspel led a slate of intelligence officials to the U.S. Capitol Thursday to brief a select group of lawmakers on reports Russia offered bounties to the Taliban to kill U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

While the White House claims intelligence about the bounty reports was not fully verified by the U.S., a military official confirmed to ABC News on Sunday that Russian intelligence officers offered to pay Taliban militants to kill American troops in Afghanistan over the past year, amid peace talks to end the 18-year war there.

President Donald Trump has continued to call news reports about the bounties a "hoax."

U.S. intelligence agencies linked the effort to a Russian intelligence unit suspected of covert action and assassination attempts in Europe, according to The New York Times, which first reported the intelligence findings said to have been presented to President Donald Trump in March.

The president and vice president have both denied that they were briefed on the matter.


“No corroborating evidence to back reports.” Department of Defense. Do people still not understand that this is all a made up Fake News Media Hoax started to slander me & the Republican Party. I was never briefed because any info that they may have had did not rise to that level

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 1, 2020


Last year, 23 U.S. troops were killed in Afghanistan, but whether any were targeted by Taliban fighters paid by Russian operatives isn't known, the military official told ABC News. The official didn't know whether Trump was briefed but said other senior U.S. officials learned of the Russian operation "months ago."

Members of the so-called “Gang of Eight” were scheduled to be at Thursday's briefing. The exclusive group is comprised of the legislative branch’s highest ranking members and top intelligence leaders, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, as well as the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees.

Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe and General Paul M. Nakasone, Commander, U.S. Cyber Command, were expected to join Haspel for the briefing, according to a source familiar with plan.

Several lawmakers from both parties attended briefings earlier this week at the White House, although Pelosi and Schumer have continued to press the administration to conduct briefings for the entire congressional membership.

Democrats characterized the White House briefing Tuesday as inadequate, calling on the administration to provide “direct evidence and discussion from intelligence community into how credible they assess the information.” Majority Leader Steny Hoyer called the intelligence a “red flag” and said the American people must understand whether the United States’ relationship with Russia is “compromised by the relationship between the president and Mr. Putin.”

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Official White House Photo by Joyce N. BoghosianBy LUKE BARR, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- The American Civil Liberties Union has joined with a law firm to sue Attorney General William Barr and other federal officials in order to delay a federal execution that's scheduled to be carried out later this month, claiming it is unsafe because of coronavirus.

The execution is the second of four that the government has scheduled for this summer and which the ACLU argues could become "super-spreader events," according to the ACLU.

The plaintiffs are hoping to postpone the federal execution of Wesley Purkey -- scheduled for July 15 -- arguing that Purkey's witness and spiritual minister, Rev. Seigen Hartkemeyer, a 68-year-old Buddhist priest with lung-related illnesses, would be exposed to the virus if he attended the execution at an Indiana prison. The lawsuit argues that forcing Rev. Hartkemeyer to risk his health in order to perform his religious duties violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

"Trump officials claim to champion religious freedom yet, once again, have no qualms about trampling those rights when it suits their political agenda," said Heather L. Weaver, senior staff attorney for the ACLU’s Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, according to an ACLU press release. "There is no reason to resume federal executions during a pandemic, especially when it would keep a priest from performing his religious commitments to a man about to lose his life."

Purkey was sentenced to death in 2003 after he was convicted of killing a young girl, raping her and dismembering her body. Purkey also was convicted on the state level for using a claw hammer to bludgeon to death an 80-year-old woman who suffered from polio and walked with a cane, according to the Justice Department.

Litigation on the method of federal executions has delayed the four executions which were originally scheduled for December 2019. Last November, a judge initially halted the executions because of the method in which the federal government planned on carrying out the executions. The judge in the lower court took particular issue with the combination of drugs the government used.

That was overturned by a higher court and on Monday, the Supreme Court denied the petition to halt the execution of Purkey and three others, setting in motion the first federal executions in 17 years. During the 17-year hiatus, executions continued to be carried out on the state level but in 2014, then-president Barack Obama ordered the Justice Department to review how the death penalty is applied after a botched execution in a state prison in Oklahoma.

Allowing spiritual leaders at executions have been tackled by the Supreme Court in the past year, according to the ACLU. In 2019, the Supreme Court issued a stay in the case of Patrick Murphy, a Texas inmate who was sentenced to death. The court said that Murphy should not be executed unless a "Buddhist spiritual advisor or another Buddhist reverend of the State’s choosing to accompany Murphy in the execution chamber during the execution."

Similarly, the Supreme Court issued a stay earlier this month in Ruben Gutierrez’s case. Gutierrez, who was sentenced to death for killing an elderly woman, claimed his religious rights were violated when Texas didn’t allow spiritual advisors in the execution chamber. But the justices did allow the execution of Domineque Ray in February of 2019, despite the fact that he was a Muslim prisoner in Alabama, where the government only allowed a Christian chaplain in the execution chamber.

Rev. Hartkemeyer claims it's his obligation to be by Purkey's side when he is put to death.

"It’s vital that I be there, as Wes’s priest, to ensure this peaceful transition from life to death during his most dire moment of distress -- his ultimate crisis -- as he sits at the threshold of death. I will chant from behind a plexiglass barrier to ensure his peace of mind while passing and, through my physical presence, serve as a spiritual reminder to Wes of all the religious lessons I have taught him as he passes on from this life. This is my sacred duty," Rev. Hartkemeyer wrote in a blog post.

Dr. Simone Wildes, an infectious disease infectious diseases physician at South Shore Health, said there is no reason to hold an execution during a pandemic, given the health risks.

"In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic with increasing numbers of cases in a number of states, an execution is not a medical emergency especially given the fact that an execution has not occurred in 17 years in Indiana," Wildes, an ABC News contributor said. "It is not necessary to put people at risk for coronavirus to witness an execution. It might be better to wait until the number of cases are better controlled across state lines or even when a vaccine and definitive treatment is available."

Wildes says that because this is the first time prisons will be accepting visitors, protocols put in place will be put to the test.

But Barr has said that the crimes committed by the four men set for federal execution this summer are "heinous" and that, "The American people, acting through Congress and Presidents of both political parties, have long instructed that defendants convicted of the most heinous crimes should be subject to a sentence of death."

"The four murderers whose executions are scheduled ... have received full and fair proceedings under our Constitution and laws," he said. "We owe it to the victims of these horrific crimes, and to the families left behind, to carry forward the sentence imposed by our justice system."

ABC News did not receive an immediate comment on the lawsuit from the Justice Department.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Official White House Photo by Shealah CraigheadBy BENJAMIN SIEGEL, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- The Trump administration was slow to respond to warnings about the country's dwindling supply of protective equipment at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, and failed to prevent ongoing shortages across the country, companies involved in a federal effort to airlift supplies to the United States told House Democrats.

The House Oversight Committee released a memo Thursday summarizing its investigation into Project Airbridge, the Trump administration initiative led by Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump's senior adviser and son-in-law, that used taxpayer dollars to fly supplies to the United States on behalf of industry.

Citing interviews with representatives of six medical supply distributors that participated in the program, the memo depicts a dysfunctional program, and includes claims that the administration wasted valuable time at the outset of the pandemic to stockpile protective gear such as masks, face shields and medical gowns and effectively deliver it to communities in need.

Officials told the committee that "folks in the industry saw that things were getting worse, and their requests for guidance was increasing week by week," according to the memo, adding that "everyone was asking the same questions, but guidance wasn't coming."

Under the Kushner-backed program, the distributors, in exchange for taxpayers footing the bill for the airlifting of personal protective equipment, committed to selling half their cargo to customers in coronavirus "hot spots" designated by the federal government, the memo said.

But the participants were given little guidance on which customers to prioritize in a given area, or how to distribute the other half of their products airlifted to the United States by the federal government, according to the memo. The companies told Democrats they were forced to rely on public information and customer demand to make purchasing decisions, rather than data from the federal government.

"Despite months of effort, there are still severe shortages of PPE and critical medical equipment, and the Trump Administration has no coherent national strategy to address these deficiencies," House Oversight Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., said in a statement.

The alleged lack of a coordinated federal response to the nationwide PPE shortages was "one of the biggest missed opportunities," one official told House investigators.

Without the purchasing power and resources of the federal government, states were left to fend for themselves on the global market, leaving many overly reliant on Chinese brokers, industry representatives said.

Instead, the Trump administration allegedly worked to ink a deal with BYD, a Chinese electric car and battery manufacturer, and unsuccessfully pushed distributors to purchase protective gear from the company at higher prices.

The report also raised concerns about ongoing PPE shortages amid an overwhelming domestic demand for protective equipment that could increase as the U.S. hits new records for the daily number of coronavirus cases.

Officials also raised concerns about a global shortage of raw materials used to make protective gear, including gowns.

"Despite months of effort, there are still severe shortages of PPE and critical medical equipment, and the Trump Administration has no coherent national strategy to address these deficiencies," Democrats wrote in the memo.

Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., the top Republican on the panel, criticized Democrats for not including Republicans in the interviews with the medical supply distributors, dismissing the findings as "blatantly one-sided attacks on the president in an election year."

The Federal Emergency Management Agency defended its procurement efforts throughout the pandemic.

"The Supply Chain Stabilization Task Force supplied critical PPE to save lives in our nation, and we worked with Governors from every state and territory to provide PPE that otherwise would not have been available in our fight against this disease," FEMA press secretary Lizzie Litzow said in a statement to ABC News.

Asked about Project Airbridge at a House hearing on Thursday, Rear Adm. John Polowczyk, who leads the task force, said the "legal agreements that we signed with the commercial enterprise allowed us to direct their efforts to where the government felt the highest need was." He also said he had no knowledge of any efforts to pressure companies to buy PPE from Chinese company BYD, and did no business with the firm.

Polowczyk and other top administration officials defended the state of the Strategic National Stockpile, noting that the government would have 50,000 ventilators in reserve by next week.

Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., citing federal government documents, warned on Thursday that the demand for N95 masks exceeds the national supply of 160 million by roughly 30 million.

"These shortages are getting worse as coronavirus infections skyrocket across the country, driving up prices and demand for PPE," Clyburn, the chairman of the House select committee on the coronavirus, said in the hearing.

Polowczyk said that roughly 70 to 75% of states have at least 30 to 60 days of protective gear in reserve, but added that the federal government still lacked granular state-level data on N95 and PPE supplies -- impacting the federal government's projections on anticipated demand.

As the virus continues to spread dramatically across southern and western states, while slowly climbing upward in nearly every region of the country, administration officials also acknowledged the potential strain on the nation's testing system and supplies, which could complicate efforts to aggressively track and contain coronavirus outbreaks.

"We are not flattening the curve right now, the curve is still going up," Adm. Brett Giroir, the administration official coordinating federal testing efforts, told House lawmakers.

Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., the top Republican on the select panel, called on Democrats to focus their inquiry on China's role in suppressing information about the initial coronavirus outbreak, and impact on the global supply of protective gear.

"As China was lying to us and the rest of the world, they were hoarding PPE supplies," he said.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



(WASHINGTON) -- Joe Biden is surging in the polls and in his bank account.

The former vice president, in conjunction with the Democratic National Committee, announced a massive fundraising haul for June, raising $141 million, and $282.1 million last quarter, both record sums that outpace the numbers released by President Donald Trump’s reelection effort earlier Wednesday night.

In June, 68% of donors were new to the campaign and the overall average online donation was $34. More than 2.6 million also signed up to join the campaign, according to a release announcing the fundraising totals.

The Trump campaign and Republican National Committee announced earlier they had brought in a whopping, then-record-breaking $266 million in the second quarter of 2020 -- only to be upstaged by the Democrats hours later.

In June, Trump Victory, the joint fundraising committee between the RNC and the Trump campaign, along with other authorized joint fundraising committees, brought in $131 million, a significant jump in fundraising for the president's team after being outraised by the presumptive Democratic nominee in May. But still, they are facing a second straight month trailing in fundraising.

Biden and the DNC brought in $80.8 million in May, outpacing the $74 million raised by the joint Republican effort.

The Biden campaign did not provide a cash-on-hand number, but they are still at a significant war chest disadvantage against the Republicans, which said it had $295 million in the bank.

"It’s clear that voters are looking for steady leadership, experience, empathy, compassion, and character -- and they’ll find all of these qualities in Vice President Joe Biden. This has been our argument since day one of this campaign, and it will be our winning argument in November,” Biden campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon wrote in an email sent to supporters.

Trump's $266 million second quarter is over $100 million more than what was raised last quarter, a 71% increase, according to the campaign.

June's defeat comes at a time of political peril for the president amid sinking polling numbers, trailing Biden nationally by nine points, according to FiveThirtyEight, and facing crises such as an ongoing pandemic and nationwide protests calling for racial justice.

The news also comes weeks after the president's Tulsa, Oklahoma rally -- Trump's first in months -- drew lower-than-expected turnout after days of promising that over a million supporters had requested tickets to attend.

In a recent New York Times/Siena poll, Trump trailed Biden by 14 points nationally, with 50% of registered voters saying they would support the former vice president if the election were held today.

"The Trump campaign's monumental June fundraising haul proves that people are voting with their wallets and that enthusiasm behind President Trump's re-election is only growing," Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale said in a statement released before the Democrats released their total. "No one is excited about Joe Biden, which is why he has to rely so heavily on surrogates like Barack Obama and radical Hollywood elites. In stark contrast, President Trump is tapping into support from real Americans all across the country who have reaped the benefits of his America First agenda."

Trump's reelection effort has now nearly raised $1 billion, crossing over $947 million raised in the past two years with Wednesday's second quarter numbers, according to the Trump campaign.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


shapecharge/iStockBy ALLISON PECORIN, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- A new survey of assisted living facilities found that close to 7,000 seniors residing in these types of communities may have died from the novel coronavirus.

Because deaths in assisted living are not counted in federal records of nursing home deaths, the actual number is unknown.

The survey, conducted as part of an investigation led by Massachusetts Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, as well as Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., asked the nation's 11 largest assisted living facility operators about their experiences dealing with COVID-19, and discovered that 31% of seniors who contracted the coronavirus in an assisted living facility died from it. By applying that rate to all facilities nationwide, the survey determined close to 7,000 people have died in assisted living.

As of now, assisted living facilities have received no federal support to combat the virus. Nursing homes, however, have received significant federal support in light of the pandemic, to the tune of nearly $5 billion in economic aid and federal disaster shipments of much-needed protective equipment. Assisted living facilities have received no direct federal help.

Though nursing homes and assisted living facilities provide care to seniors, the two kinds of elder care are not identical. Unlike nursing homes, which typically cater to seniors with significant medical needs, assisted living facilities are retirement communities that serve elderly residents with varying degrees of independence, with some offering graduated care. There are about 1.4 million Americans in nursing homes, and about one million who reside in assisted living facilities, according to industry advocates.

But while nursing homes are regulated by the federal government and often funded, at least in part by Medicaid, assisted living facilities are regulated largely by the states and localities and are generally funded privately. Protective measures for nursing homes introduced by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid do not apply to assisted living facilities, nor does the surge of federal aid available to nursing homes.

The discrepancy between the two types of facilities has caught the attention of lawmakers, who argue more must be done for vulnerable seniors.

"We are simply not doing enough to protect our seniors or workers in assisted living homes from this deadly virus," Markey said in a statement. "This report confirms that, just like nursing homes, assisted living facilities present significant risks for coronavirus infection and outbreaks of COVID-19."

Assisted living facilities are also not currently required to report their cases or fatalities to federal officials and, according to the report, none of the surveyed providers have reported these deaths. That means that the thousands of deaths documented by providers as part of the congressional investigation are not reflected in the over 30,000 reported nursing home deaths already being tallied by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid.

Contacted by ABC News for a previous story, the agency stated that they do not have authority over assisted living facilities as they are not federally regulated.

Warren and Markey plan to introduce legislation in the Senate on Thursday that, if passed, would condition any future coronavirus relief funding for assisted living on facilities reporting their cases to state, local and federal officials. A similar piece of legislation is being introduced by Maloney in the House.

"Assisted living centers are facing a COVID-19 crisis that is almost as bad as the crisis in nursing homes -- but without being subject to the same regulations or oversight, and with no help from the federal government," Warren said. "Policymakers, public health officials, and assisted living facility residents and their families need to know this information so they can make the right choices about how to save lives during the COVID-19 pandemic."

The bill would require assisted living facilities to notify federal state and local officials, as well as loved ones, if there is a confirmed COVID-19 case in an assisted living facility and would apply all future reporting requirements for nursing homes to assisted living facilities.

For months, assisted living advocates have called on the federal government to do more for these types of facilities.

LeadingAge, an association of nonprofit providers of aging services that includes many nursing homes and assisted living communities sent a letter to Congress in May urging lawmakers to include funds for assisted living homes in any future coronavirus relief legislation.

"We implore you to take immediate action," Katie Smith Sloan, the president and CEO of LeadingAge wrote. "Our communities and older adults cannot wait for further relief."

In a statement in support of the senators' legislation, Dr. Georges Benjamin, the executive director of the American Public Health Association, an organization for public health professionals, said the bill would hold assisted living facilities to a higher standard.

"We know that older adults face a higher risk from COVID-19; we also know that the confined, congregate setting of these facilities puts those adults and the workers who support them at a higher risk of transmission," Benjamin said. "To protect these individuals and limit the community spread stemming from these facilities, it's essential that we exercise additional oversight in how these facilities report COVID-19 data."

It is not yet clear if the bill will gain support with Republicans, though lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have advocated that more be done for seniors.

In May, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who chairs the Senate Aging Committee, told ABC News she is "focused on helping to protect the health of vulnerable seniors in long-term care facilities during this pandemic."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


3dfoto/iStockBy BENJAMIN SIEGEL, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- A gun rights advocate known for defying Colorado's lockdown orders at her open-carry restaurant won a primary on Tuesday over a GOP congressman endorsed by President Donald Trump.

Lauren Boebert, 34, had been considered a long shot, even in a deep-red district, against Rep. Scott Tipton, a moderate who's served in Congress since 2011.

"3rd District Republicans have decided who they want to run against the Democrats this November," Tipton said in a statement. "I want to congratulate Lauren Boebert and wish her and her supporters well."

Boebert owns Shooter's Grill, the Rifle, Colorado, restaurant where servers are encouraged to carry firearms.

"I wanted to start carrying just for my protection. This is my establishment, so I didn't see anything wrong with that," Boebert told ABC News in a 2014 interview. "I began to open carry."

She gained more attention recently for defying Colorado's coronavirus restrictions, prompting several cease-and-desist orders and a legal fight.

In 2019, she also made headlines for a confrontation with Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke over his proposed mandatory buyback of assault weapons.

"I was one of the gun-owning Americans that heard your speech and heard what you had to say," she said last September. "I am here to say, 'Hell no, you're not.'"

Although Trump endorsed Tipton twice on Twitter, Boebert's website prominently featured an endorsement from "Boots on the Ground Bikers for Trump" and was endorsed by former conservative congressman Tom Tancredo.

Trump, who also saw a House candidate he endorsed lose in North Carolina last week to a 24-year-old motivational speaker, congratulated Boebert on her victory Wednesday.

Congratulations on a really great win! https://t.co/rMpFiV6LvY

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 1, 2020

Boebert attacked Tipton over his support for a $250 billion coronavirus relief package for small cities, accusing him of "teaming up with AOC and her Squad" to cosponsor the bill, which had four additional GOP cosponsors and has not received a vote.

She also assailed him for "joining" House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in voting for a House bill that would provide a pathway to legal status for undocumented farm workers, calling the measure that passed in the House in December "amnesty."

Boebert's campaign did not respond to a request for an interview from ABC News.

She's one of a handful of GOP House and Senate primary winners to have spoken favorably about the QAnon conspiracy theory, which, among other conspiracies, baselessly alleges Trump is fighting a shadowy "deep state" working to take over the government and enabling child sex trafficking rings run by Democrats.

"I hope that this is real," she said on an online show. "It only means America is getting stronger and better, and people are returning to conservative values, and that's what I am for."

Democrats said on Wednesday that Boebert's win would give them an opportunity to make the race more competitive, pointing to the fundraising strength of candidate Diane Mitsch Bush, who lost to Tipton by 8 points in 2018. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the campaign apparatus for House Democrats, also called on Republicans to disavow Boebert over her conspiracy theory-related comments.

Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Minn., chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, House Republicans' campaign arm, said in a statement that Boebert "has our support." An NRCC spokesman referred ABC News to Emmer's statement when asked to elaborate on Boebert's comments.

Trump won Colorado's 3rd District in 2016 with 52% of the vote compared with 40% for Hillary Clinton, who won four of the state's seven congressional districts.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



(OKLAHOMA CITY, Ok.) -- In just under two weeks, the state of Oklahoma took part in two pandemic-related milestones, the first of which was hosting President Donald Trump's campaign relaunch in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis.

The second milestone: On Tuesday, Oklahoma become the first state to expand Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act since the onset of the pandemic.

The move was approved by a narrow majority of voters.

The ballot measure, referred to as State Question 802, passed with a slim 50.5% majority vote, and is now expected to expand coverage to more than 200,000 lower-income Oklahomans through a state constitutional amendment. The measure mandates that certain low income adults are able to qualify for health care coverage, and aims to prevent subsequent legislation from making it more difficult for them to obtain health insurance through the Affordable Care Act.

Although the initiative began before COVID-19 spread across the country, Tuesday's decision brought a new level of significance to the Sooner State given its steady increase of reported coronavirus cases over the last several months. As of Wednesday, the Oklahoma State Department of Health reported more than 14,000 cases across the state.

"We protected State Question 802 in the constitution so that we could keep it out of the hands of politicians and special interests -- so the language is pretty clear they have to expand Medicaid and the legislature has to fund it," Amber England, campaign manager of the "Yes on 802 Oklahomans Decide Healthcare" initiative, told reporters during a teleconference Wednesday.

According to England, the passage of the measure would bring more than $1 billion in additional federal funds back to the state and would help "save rural hospitals."

In a statement issued to ABC News Wednesday, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt said the passage of State Question 802 tasked state legislators with "the difficult job of deciding where we will find an estimated $200 million in funding to support this constitutional mandate."

Stitt, who has long opposed the move, said the state is looking at a $1 billion deficit for the upcoming year and said his options going forward include raising taxes or cutting "funding to core services, such as education, roads and bridges or public safety."

England pushed back on the governor's assessment, saying that while she's "certain there will be a robust conversation" regarding the implementation of the amendment, the change will have to happen.

"We have a mandate from a majority of Oklahoma voters that says, 'We want more health care, not less,'" she said.

According to analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation, similar efforts to expand Medicaid through ballot initiatives have taken place in a handful of other states including Maine, Idaho, Nebraska and Utah over the last few years. Thirty-seven states and the District of Columbia have adopted Medicaid expansion, while 13 states have not, according to the non-profit foundation.

Missouri is currently one of the states that has yet to expand coverage, but the potential for change could be on the horizon following Gov. Mike Parson's announcement earlier this year that Missourians would vote on the Medicaid expansion question as a part of the state's August 4 primary election.

The possibility of another red-state shift three months before the November election could further fuel the Trump administration's rhetoric against the Affordable Care Act. While Trump did not mention his predecessor's signature policy during his June 20 campaign rally in Tulsa, Tuesday's vote in Oklahoma served up a political rebuke of the current administration's attempts to repeal the government-backed health insurance program while the country grapples with a pandemic.

"It's very bad health care," Trump said of the Affordable Care Act in May. "What we want to do is terminate it and give great health care."

To date, the Trump administration has not offered up an alternative to the to the health care policy. In a June 2019 interview with ABC News, Trump promised to put forth a new plan that he said would "be less expensive than Obamacare by a lot." At the time, Trump said his administration would have a proposal "in about two months, maybe less" but no plan was ever announced.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Official White House Photo by Shealah CraigheadBy Libby Cathey, ABC News

(WASHIGTON) -- President Donald Trump's resistance to wearing a face mask is well-known and he's never done so in front of news cameras.

But as pressure mounts from his fellow Republicans and Fox television hosts for him to "set an example" as the pandemic worsens, Trump on Wednesday claimed "I'm all for masks" and "would have no problem" wearing one in public view.

"People have seen me wearing one. If I'm in a group of people where we're not, you know, 10 feet away and, but usually I'm not in that position and everyone is tested. Because I'm the president, they get tested before they see me. But if I were in a tight situation with people -- I would absolutely," Trump said in an interview with Fox Business Network.

Trump appeared to refer to an unverified photo of him wearing one out of the view of news cameras during part of his tour of a Ford plant in Detroit back in May, even though he said that same day he intentionally removed his mask before walking before news cameras and telling reporters he "didn't want to give the press the pleasure of seeing it."

"It was a dark black mask and I thought it looked okay. Looked like the Lone Ranger," he joked in the Wednesday Fox interview.

As the pressure has grown and more governors and state officials are making masks mandatory, the White House has argued Trump not wearing one was "his choice" -- and a matter of "personal choice of any individual" that the Centers for Disease Control has said was recommended but not required.

At the same time, the White House said the president believed Americans should follow the guidance of local authorities.

It was the same language Vice President Mike Pence used again Tuesday while also claiming surprisingly, "Well, the president's worn a mask in public, as have I. And you've heard a strong encouragement, about mask wearing."

Back in May, when Trump asked a reporter to take his mask off when asking a question -- and the reporter said he would just speak louder -- Trump accused him of wanting "to be politically correct."

And four times in a June interview with the Wall Street Journal, the president repeatedly discussed how he believed masks were a "double-edged sword" and mocked former Vice President Joe Biden for wearing one.

In the Fox interview, the president repeated that he thinks the coronavirus will "just disappear" eventually, even though public health officials have made clear it will not simply go away.

"I think we are going to be very good with the coronavirus. I think that at some point that's going to sort of just disappear, I hope," Trump said.

Pence, who continues to insist the country is "safely" reopening even as the president has mostly stayed out public and said little about the coronavirus crisis, is taking the lead as he and Trump are now forced to reckon with a political future at risk with an unprecedented alarming new phase in the deadly pandemic.

As the masked vice president touched down in Arizona Wednesday, the hotspot state reported another daily-record increase in cases and deaths -- one day after the government's top expert on infectious disease warned lawmakers the country may see 100,000 coronavirus cases a day without more action to slow the spread.

Pence was initially traveling to Arizona this week for a campaign trip but after it was cancelled out of COVID-19 concerns, his office announced new plans to visit in a different capacity and meet with Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, who halted the state's reopening efforts Monday as new cases there skyrocket.

Arizona has seen its cases go from 13,000 on May 15, when the state's say-at-home order expired, to 79,000 on Wednesday. Hours before Pence touched down, the Arizona Health Department reported another day of records at 4,878 new coronavirus cases and 88 deaths.

President Trump has visited the battleground state twice since the pandemic hit: In May, when he spoke at a mask factory but refused to wear one publicly citing the press, and just last week, when he spoke at a "Students for Trump" rally with roughly 3,000 attendees in an indoor mega-church.

Pence, head of the coronavirus task force, who, like most in the Trump administration, has provided a rosy outlook of the government's response for months, is touring hotspot states throughout the week. He visited Texas on Sunday, where he ramped up his rhetoric around wearing a mask, and has plans to visit Florida tomorrow -- states with cause for concern, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci.

"Right now, the next couple of weeks are going to be critical in our ability to address those surgings that we are seeing in Florida, in Texas, in Arizona and other states," Fauci told lawmakers Tuesday, adding, "They are not the only ones that are having a difficulty."

As federal and state leadership navigate how to heed Fauci's advice and tackle the pandemic, some politicians once lukewarm on masks, facing bipartisan pressure, have started promoting them.

Ducey only two weeks ago allowed cities and counties to design their own mask mandates, following a public pressure campaign from mayors and other local officials across the state. While the city of Phoenix and others were quick to enact the requirement, Ducey has not made a statewide mandate, previously saying that some people can't wear masks "for whatever reason, shortness of breath or they are asthmatic."

In recent days, both Pence and Ducey have donned masks themselves and urged other Americans to wear them.

"Arm yourself with a mask," Ducey said Monday after issuing an executive order to, again, "pause operations" in bars, gyms, theaters, water parks and other venues. "It's your best defense against this virus."

Despite his latest comments President Trump has not portrayed the same message in his actions, and he's facing criticism for failing to meet the moment.

"There are millions of Americans who listen to the president and will do what they think he wants them to do, so he would do a great service to the nation if he would come out with strong and clear message for people to wear a mask -- but also set an example by wearing one himself," said John Cohen, a former acting Undersecretary at Department of Health and Human Services, now an ABC News Contributor.

Cohen also noted several of the hot spots states Pence is visiting may have prematurely on prematurely restrictions partly due to the mixed messages coming out of the administration.

"The inconsistent message on masks, coupled with him strongly urging states to relax social distancing restrictions has resulted in an inconsistent national policy and very well may have contributed to the increase in confirmed cases we are experiencing across the country," he said.

Most states, including Arizona, when reopening did not adhere to the White House recommendations of a phased approach. Case counts and positive test results weren't on a downward trend in May, and now those are rising exponentially in nearly half of the U.S.

Congressional Republicans as senior as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Leader Kevin McCarthy, who supported reopening the country are now calling on Americans to wear masks, saying there shouldn't be a stigma around wearing a mask and noting it may help the economy recover sooner.

Even a conservative host on Fox News said the president would "set a good example" if he wore a mask and suggested the Republican National Committee could market "MAGA" as "Masks Are Great Again."

On Friday, President Trump visits South Dakota for an event at Mount Rushmore, and on Saturday he celebrates in Washington, D.C., with his second annual "Salute to America" event.

Republican Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota told Fox News Monday night "we won't be social distancing" at the Mount Rushmore event, adding the state would provide masks to those attending the Friday evening event, it would not require people to wear them.

Cohen called the act of not even trying while the nation is dealing with a public health crisis "simply dangerous."

"Until there's a vaccine and to others therapeutic, the only way to slow the spread and protect vulnerable populations and prevent the healthcare, or local healthcare systems from becoming overwhelmed is by washing your hands, socially distancing and wearing a mask," Cohen, who has served in the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations, added.

"It's the responsibility for all elected officials to clearly and forcefully convey that to the public," he said.

ABC News' Jordyn Phelps, Ben Gittleson and Chris Donovan contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Chmiel / iStockBy Meg Cunningham, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., said that Congress should proceed with legislation that calls for a study into military bases named after figures of the Confederacy, despite the fact that President Donald Trump threatened to veto the bill if such language was present.

On ABC News’ 'Powerhouse Politics'podcast, Scott told ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl and Political Director Rick Klein that renaming bases or monuments should come after a study into their names.

"The willingness for the DOD to study the names of the bases, I think, makes sense to me. How we come to the conclusion on the bases that should be renamed, if at all, is a part of that process that we should study," Scott said.

"I think that we should move forward with the language basically as it is, from my understanding, which is that we should have a study of those bases and why they were named, and then come to a decision on what we should do about that. I think it's premature to make a decision before you see the results of that study, something that I'm interested in seeing."

An amendment to the Department of Defense's annual spending bill was introduced by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and passed by the Republican-led Senate Arms Services Committee, which would remove names, symbols and displays that commemorate the Confederacy within three years.

Scott is at the helm of police reform bills in the Senate Republican caucus, after speaking openly about his experience as a Black man being stopped by law enforcement. The Senate and House are currently at a standstill on reform legislation negotiations, with no clear path forward on how the they will proceed.

"I think you told me on ‘This Week’ that there is basically 70% of agreement between your bill and the Democratic bill in the House," Karl said. "What next? Is there anything more you can do? Are there bits and pieces that can be taken out of your bill, that you can reach out to, to your Democratic colleagues and get passed or are we just gonna have to wait till after the election on this?"

Scott said the worst outcome for his legislation is to wait until after the November general election to pick it back up.

"I think the worst outcome is to wait till after the election on the legislation that I sponsored," he said. "There are working groups on both sides of the aisle. So there is a reason for us to keep our shoulder to the grindstone for the next few weeks and see if we can emerge from this time back in our states with a compromised bill that leads to the President's signature."

"If we miss this opportunity, it won't be for the lack of effort on my part, and it won't be because every member of the United States Senate Republicans are willing to move forward and give democrats enough amendments to vote on every single difference they saw in the bill," he added.

Klein asked Scott about the recent slogan campaigns, such as Black Lives Matter, and if he agreed with the president that those are hateful slogans.

Scott said he doesn’t find the words ‘black lives matter’ hateful themselves, but calls to defund the police, he said, do contribute to stereotyping -- something which he has experienced as a Black man.

"I'm not here to defend and or comment on what he does or doesn't say. I think that's a path forward that is fraught with problems because I don't work for the president, I work for the American people," Scott said.

"I do not find black lives matter, the words themselves as a problem or hateful themselves. I think the concept of defunding the police is a position of stereotyping all law enforcement officers in the same way that I as an African American would hate to be stereotyped because I have been stereotyped," he added.

Scott’s newly-minted role as the leader of major bipartisan legislation has thrust him into the limelight -- and stirred conversation about the possibility of a presidential bid come 2024.

"So, I can't predict the future. What I can tell you is I think that it's easier to have a healthy reputation and a higher approval rating as a member of the clergy, then it is as a member of politics so my future is unknown to me, but I don't have any designs today on running for president of the United States," he said.

"And frankly, hate that I have received and the death threats and all of the things that have come up -- because I've worked on a bipartisan piece of legislation to make it safer in neighborhoods -- doesn't make me want to roll back my commitment on term limits in public office and especially in the United States Senate. So, I am thankful to be where I am," he added.

Also on the podcast, veteran pollster and political consultant Frank Luntz warned that the language Trump is using -- referencing "law and order," and calling himself a "warrior" -- is "over-caffeinated" and "not helping him."

"It’s not that they’re turning against him for what he’s doing. They’re turning against him because of what he’s saying," Luntz told Karl and Klein.

You can listen to ABC News' 'Powerhouse Politics' in its entirety here.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Official White House Photo by Tia DufiourBy BEN GITTLESON and JORDYN PHELPS, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- Even as the White House provided briefings this week to members of Congress on the intelligence behind reports Russia offered bounties to Taliban militants to kill U.S. troops, President Donald Trump on Wednesday tried to discredit them as "made up" and a "hoax" designed to "slander" him.

"The Russia Bounty story is just another made up by Fake News tale that is told only to damage me and the Republican Party," Trump tweeted Wednesday, going after The New York Times, which first reported on the intelligence on Friday and also reported that Trump had been briefed on it. "The secret source probably does not even exist, just like the story itself. If the discredited @nytimes has a source, reveal it. Just another HOAX!"

The Russia Bounty story is just another made up by Fake News tale that is told only to damage me and the Republican Party. The secret source probably does not even exist, just like the story itself. If the discredited @nytimes has a source, reveal it. Just another HOAX!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 1, 2020

But just as Trump repeated the message in a second tweet -- saying it was "all a made up Fake News Media Hoax started to slander me & the Republican Party" -- top White House aides tried to argue that the president wasn’t actually calling the underlying intelligence “fake” but was instead taking issue with media reporting.

"I think what is a hoax is the initial reporting,” National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien told reporters at the White House Wednesday. "And I believe this was The New York Times -- that the president had been briefed about this unverified, uncorroborated intelligence, and chose not to take action on it. That was a hoax, and there's no question about it."

Trump first used the word "hoax" in connection to the new reporting on Sunday night, writing in a tweet it was "possibly another fabricated Russia Hoax."

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said Wednesday she thought the “hoax” the president was referring to was the idea that “he was somehow briefed on it and didn't take action on it and looked the other way.”

Even as the White House sticks to its narrative that the intelligence never rose to the level to warrant a formal briefing of the president, O'Brien noted the U.S. had previously shared the information with other countries fighting in Afghanistan.

The White House has repeatedly said Trump was not briefed on the intelligence before The New York Times first reported on it, although top officials have been more vague about whether it had been included in the president's written briefing materials months ago. Multiple news outlets, citing unnamed sources, have reported that the intelligence had been included in the written materials, known as the President's Daily Brief.

The White House this week provided separate briefings for groups of select Republican and Democratic members of Congress but has so far not acceded to Democratic congressional leaders' request that all members of both the Senate and House of Representatives get briefed.

The first bipartisan briefing for the "Gang of Eight" -- a group of senior lawmakers from both parties that is regularly informed of sensitive intelligence -- is expected to take place on Thursday on Capitol Hill, according to a White House official and a senior aide to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The meeting had previously been expected for Wednesday.

In the four days since the first report on the intelligence, Trump avoided questions and did not appear publicly. He did not have any public appearances on his schedule on Wednesday either, although he planned to be interviewed by the Fox Business network.

The White House has faced mounting questions Tuesday about how much and how long Trump has known about the alleged Russian bounties. Lawmakers called on the administration to share more information and potentially take action.

A bipartisan chorus of members of Congress have expressed concern that Russia's actions may have potentially cost U.S. lives, forcing the White House to rush to contain the political fallout of the revelations. Democrats, sometimes joined by those on the other side of the aisle, have long alleged Trump has not responded forcefully enough to Russia's provocative behavior.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Kuzma/iStockBy QUINN OWEN, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- Administrative judges who decide asylum and deportation cases are challenging a Department of Justice policy dictating who is allowed to speak publicly about immigration.

The National Association of Immigration Judges, which represents over 400 of the immigration adjudicators across the country, joined a lawsuit filed Wednesday that accuses the Justice Department’s Executive Office of Immigration Review of using a recently implemented pre-approval process to infringe on free speech.

The Justice Department this year expanded a 2017 policy which requires additional layers of approval for public speaking engagements, according to policy documents revealed by lawyers with Columbia University’s Knight First Amendment Institute, which brought the lawsuit.

"Part of the job of an immigration judge is to educate the public about the immigration courts and the role they play in society," said Judge A. Ashley Tabaddor, president of NAIJ. "This policy prevents us from doing this critical work, undermining public understanding of and trust in the immigration courts in the process."

One example cited in Wednesday's legal complaint describes an immigration judge who was barred from speaking to a group of students studying immigration law at his alma mater even after he had been previously approved.

Another judge filed a request in February 2019 to speak with a seventh-grade class about immigration and asylum law and was informed by his supervisor months later that the request would be denied despite a lack of formal notice, according to the court filing.

The Trump administration has made a flurry of policy changes dictating who is granted asylum in the U.S. Those changes can impact how judges decide cases and have often left immigration lawyers scrambling to decipher the new rules.

A federal court on Tuesday struck down one policy that prevented migrants traveling through multiple countries before reaching the U.S. from obtaining asylum. The rule was previously upheld by the Supreme Court after back and forth among lower courts that repeatedly implemented and reversed the policy.

"The judges are on the front line of what’s happening to the court system," Tabaddor said, adding that complex legal changes require guidance only administrative judges can provide.

At U.S. immigration courts -- where the cases are civil, not criminal and legal representation is not guaranteed -- judges routinely explain court procedure to immigrants who appear without a lawyer.

"There’s a much greater efficiency and benefit to the court as well as to the community if you have the ability to educate a large group of people," Tabaddor said.

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