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'My body is not their property,' a Texas woman's journey across state lines for an abortion

ABC

(NEW YORK) -- At 21 years old, Texas college student Madi said she was not ready to be a mother.

She was about 10 weeks along when she found out she was pregnant and decided she wanted to have an abortion.

But due to the new Texas law that effectively bans abortions as early as six weeks into pregnancy, Madi’s personal choice turned into an arduous journey, traveling hundreds of miles and crossing state lines for the procedure.

“I'm drowning,” said Madi, who asked to only be identified by her first name. “That's the best word to describe it, drowning.”

On Sept. 1, the most restrictive abortion law in the country went into effect. Senate Bill 8 bans abortions once cardiac activity is detected and before some women know they are pregnant. Nearly a month later, Madi traveled more than 400 miles to the only abortion clinic left in Mississippi.

She says her story reveals the lengths some women face to have a choice.

“I am a senior in college. I just turned 21 and I would say I'm a pretty typical college kid,” Madi told ABC News. “I am 13 weeks pregnant right now and I'm not in a place to have a baby.”

Madi said she was in a committed relationship and on birth control so her pregnancy was unexpected. She didn’t experience any early pregnancy signs until the nine-week mark, which at the time seemed like the typical stress of being a senior and starting a new semester.

“I had been not sleeping and not eating and nauseous for a few weeks,” said Madi. “So I took one test and it came out a clear plus sign from the beginning. And I was devastated.”

Up until that point, she had been living her life normally, she said.

“I was still living my life as regular and as carefree of a college kid as I could be,” said Madi.

After several positive pregnancy tests, Madi booked an appointment at a Planned Parenthood in Texas.

She said the clinician told her she was measuring 10-and-a-half weeks into her pregnancy -- past the mark at which she could still receive the procedure in Texas.

“I just cried. I was heartbroken and terrified,” said Madi. “I immediately knew that any chance I had of being able to have this procedure done in Texas was gone.”

She immediately knew that she wanted to exercise her federal right to choose, despite the new Texas law.

“There aren't any laws on the books in any state regulating men’s bodies. It's sexist, it's unequal and it’s wrong,” said Madi. “My body is not their property.

Madi said she began to research nearby clinics across state lines. She said she called more than 30 clinics, looking for the earliest open appointment.

“I started researching with the materials that Planned Parenthood gave me and looked into Louisiana and Louisiana's booked out three weeks,” said Madi. “I called Alabama, and Kansas, and Oklahoma, and Vegas, and Georgia.”

The earliest appointment Madi could find in Mississippi was more than 400 miles away.

Jackson Women’s Health is Mississippi’s last abortion clinic and the center of a potentially historic Supreme Court case that could possibly overturn Roe V. Wade.

Clinic director Shannon Brewer has been working at Jackson Women’s Health for two decades. She said the new Texas law isn't deterring people from getting an abortion, only pushing them to travel out of state for the procedure.

“We've been even busier, because now we're seeing even a lot more patients from Texas,” said Brewer. “We've almost doubled our capacity. Our phones are ringing non-stop because of this.”

Madi said it was with the help of her parents that she was able to get the procedure. Her mother, who asked not to reveal her name, said she wasn’t angry at Madi for her situation.

“I'm angry with Governor Abbott,” said Madi's mother. “I'm angry that men have decided this is what's best for women.”

Madi and her family had to make two separate trips to Mississippi in order to secure her appointment. Madi said she was grateful for the support through such an emotionally difficult time.

“There were so many emotions going on at once that it was a blur. The anxiety was still there. The frustration was still there. And I think honestly just the fear of the unknown,” said Madi.

“I had to keep in mind that I was doing this for me. This is my future on the line. It's my body on the line. And it's a lot to take in,” she added.

ABC News followed Madi on the day of the procedure.

Madi said the staff at Jackson Women’s Health helped put her mind at ease.

Her nurse walked Madi through what would happen during the procedure.

Prior to starting, she explained that Madi would first receive medication and then be asked to wait an hour-and-a-half to let her body prepare for the procedure. While she waited, she said her decision did not waiver.

“It's my body and it's my choice,” said Madi at the time. “I don't think it's right for people to try and convince others when it's not their life that's about to change.”

Madi said she wanted to publicly share her deeply intimate moment to break the stigma around a taboo topic.

“No one talks about this process,” said Madi. “I'm glad that I'm able to kind of shine a light and give people a little bit of that sense of control back that I feel like I've been lacking in this process.”

She said that the patient before her helped let her know that she wasn’t alone.

“Waiting for my turn to go into the room was so heavy because you're sitting there knowing that there's a girl in there before you,” said Madi. “Watching her come out and seeing that thumbs up from her, that she was doing OK after it, that put a little bit of ease on my nerves.”

During the procedure, Madi said she appreciated that she was able to ask questions and that the clinicians talked her through each step. After the procedure was over, Madi fell into her mother’s arms crying.

“We got in the car, got buckled, and we started making our way to the airport. Got on the flight and I finally slept,” said Madi.

By the time she got home, she learned of a stunning legal development.

On the same day as her procedure, a federal court blocked Texas’ Senate Bill 8 -- the law that had forced Madi to go to Mississippi for her procedure in the first place.

But 48 hours later, a federal appeals court allowed the ban to resume while the U.S. Department of Justice appealed the decision.

“To think that this could all, like, be overturned again and it goes back into place …. really scares me,” said Madi when she heard the news.

A federal appeals court ruled Thursday to reject the Justice Department’s decision and let the Texas statue remain in effect amid the ongoing legal challenge. But, following that decision, the Department of Justice announced it plans to ask the U.S. Supreme Court for a ruling to temporarily block the restrictive abortion law.

As the decision likely moves toward the U.S. Supreme Court, the Texas law has become a rallying cry for anti-abortion rights advocates.

Anti-abortion activist Heather Gardner is the executive director of the Central Texas Coalition for Life. Gardner said she has spent a decade training “sidewalk advocates'' to pray outside abortion facilities across the country.

Gardner said she acknowledges that some Texans will find ways around the law.

“We’re very well aware that women will go to other states to have abortions,” said Gardner. “We want women to not have to feel so desperate they have to do that.”

Yet Lila Rose, the president of Live Action, said that Senate Bill 8 is still a historic win for the anti-abortion movement.

“It is the most, most legal protection in effect right now across the country for human lives,” said Rose. “I think that Texas law should be an inspiration to other states because they found an enforcement mechanism that allows the lifesaving law to remain in effect.”

Rose added she hopes the Texas law reframes the narrative around abortion.

“Our societal approach to pregnancy and motherhood and seeing that pre-born child as a threat or a risk or an enemy as opposed to a precious member of the human family,” said Rose. “This is exactly what we should be focusing on, as opposed to promoting the death and destruction of children in the womb.”

While the country remains focused on Texas, Brewer said she will continue to fight to keep the doors of her clinic open in Mississippi.

“I just feel good that they're able to come here. It's like, as tired as we are sometimes ... every day that I get to wake up and [help women], I'm OK,” said Brewer.

While she recovers from her procedure, Madi said she's sharing her story because she recognizes many women won't have same emotional and financial support that she had through the process.

“There were so many unneeded obstacles that I managed to get over but many women won't,” said Madi. “I feel like this entire process of everything has happened for a reason. Everything happens in life for a reason and it's my chance to speak on it.”

Madi said her story is meant to empower other women in her situation to fight back.

“My biggest thing is making sure that other women know that they're not alone. If Texas is gonna make this difficult, make it difficult for Texas,” she said. “Don't go silently and if they need inspiration, I hope I can be that for them.”

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


First lady Jill Biden stumps in New Jersey, Virginia to help elect Democratic governors

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(EDISON, N.J.) -- First lady Jill Biden hit the campaign trail Friday, hoping to help deliver victories for Democrats in two gubernatorial elections.

Biden stumped in New Jersey for Gov. Phil Murphy on Friday afternoon and is traveling to Virginia Friday evening to help elect Terry McAuliffe.

"I came here to ask the people of New Jersey to reelect Phil Murphy as your next governor. You know, he's used this office to lead New Jersey through one of the darkest times in modern history," Biden said in Edison, New Jersey, Friday afternoon. "Joe and I know Phil. We know that he's going to fight for you and your family every single day."

An incumbent Democratic governor hasn't won reelection in New Jersey since the 1970s, but public polling indicates Murphy is better positioned heading into November than McAuliffe. Polls conducted in mid-September from Stockton University and Monmouth University showed Murphy with a nine-point and 13-point lead, respectively, over Republican Jack Ciattarelli, a former assemblyman.

While Virginians rejected former President Donald Trump at the ballot box twice and Democrats made significant gains in the commonwealth, including securing a trifecta government when he was in office, McAuliffe only has a slim 2.5-point lead over GOP nominee Glenn Youngkin, according to FiveThirtyEight's polling average.

Despite the race tightening over the last few weeks, McAuliffe is confident Virginians will back his record and he'll once again break the so-called "Virginia curse" of candidates losing Virginia's off-year gubernatorial race if they have the same party affiliation as the current occupant of the White House.

"We're gonna win this again and make history again with this," McAuliffe told reporters Thursday. "I am the first candidate for office of either party in 80 years to win every single city and county (in the primary). … Why? I think a.) people were happy with my job as governor before and b.) because I have a real agenda."

The first lady is not the only high-profile surrogate hitting the road for the two candidates -- former President Barack Obama will also stump for both men next week.

Obama will hold back-to-back events in the states on Oct. 23, 10 days before Election Day and coinciding with the first day of in-person early voting in New Jersey's history.

Georgia heavy-hitters Stacey Abrams and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who were both on the president's shortlist for vice president, are also headed to Virginia on Sunday to campaign for McAuliffe.

After McAuliffe said during the last debate that he doesn't "think parents should be telling schools what they should teach," the Youngkin campaign rallied around education as his closing message. Having the first lady, an educator who began her career in 1976, join McAuliffe on the trail could serve as an opportunity to speak to the issue and reassure parents who may be wary of his stance.

Biden, who currently works as an English professor at Northern Virginia Community College, has made education one of the top priorities in her role as first lady.

The first lady is not the first Biden to campaign for McAuliffe in the state -- President Joe Biden also made a campaign stop on behalf of his longtime friend in July -- though recent polling has shown Biden's approval ratings in the state fall, leading McAuliffe to distance himself from the president.

"We are facing a lot of headwinds from Washington, as you know. The president is unpopular today unfortunately here in Virginia, so we have got to plow through," McAuliffe said during a virtual rally last week. He's also said he's frustrated that Congress still hasn't passed the infrastructure package, saying the "inaction on Capitol Hill … is so damaging."

Despite the comments, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday that she expected the president would continue to advocate for McAuliffe's candidacy.

"I think the president of course wants former Governor McAuliffe to be the future governor of Virginia. There is alignment on a lot of their agenda, whether it is the need to invest in rebuilding our roads, rails and bridges or making it easier for women to rejoin the workforce," Psaki told reporters.

"We're going to do everything we can to help former Governor McAuliffe and we believe in the agenda he's representing," she added

And McAuliffe has since made clear that Biden is still welcome in Virginia, telling reporters Tuesday, "He'll be coming back. You bet he will."

ABC News' Meg Cunningham contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


DOJ to ask Supreme Court to block Texas abortion law

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(WASHINGTON) -- The Department of Justice plans to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to temporarily block the most restrictive abortion law in the country, after a federal appeals court ruled Thursday that the Texas statute can remain in effect amid an ongoing legal challenge.

The law, known as SB8, bans physicians from providing abortions once they detect a so-called fetal heartbeat, which can be seen on an ultrasound as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.

The law, which went into effect on Sept. 1 after the Supreme Court refused to block it, was briefly paused after a federal judge issued a temporary injunction last week barring its enforcement. Days later, the law was reinstated after a panel of judges on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a temporary administrative stay.

In the latest ruling in the high-profile case, the court rejected the Justice Department's request to again halt Texas' ability to enforce the law. In a 2-1 order Thursday night, a panel of judges granted Texas's request to continue to stay the preliminary injunction while it pursues its appeal.

The court's order did not detail its reasoning behind the ruling, which was expected to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"Next stop, #SCOTUS," University of Texas constitutional law professor Steve Vladeck said in a post on Twitter following the ruling.

Indeed, on Friday, DOJ Spokesman Anthony Coley confirmed in a statement to ABC news that the department "intends to ask the Supreme Court to vacate the Fifth Circuit's stay of the preliminary injunction against Texas Senate Bill 8."

Under the law, private citizens can sue a person they "reasonably believe" provided an illegal abortion or assisted someone in getting it in the state, and is crafted to prevent any state official, other than judges, from being responsible for enforcement.

In a 113-page ruling initially granting the preliminary injunction, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Pitman was scathing in targeting the state in how he says it schemed to evade judicial review.

"A person's right under the Constitution to choose to obtain an abortion prior to fetal viability is well established," Pitman wrote. "Fully aware that depriving its citizens of this right by direct state action would be flagrantly unconstitutional, the State contrived an unprecedented and transparent statutory scheme to do just that."

After the injunction was issued, some abortion providers in Texas briefly resumed providing abortions after cardiac activity was detected, only to have the ban back in effect within 48 hours.

Since the law went into effect, women have had to travel hundreds of miles to obtain an abortion out-of-state, inundating neighboring states' abortion clinics. Abortion providers in Texas have that some clinics may have to close permanently because of the law.

ABC News' Alexander Mallin and Mark Osborne contributed to this report.

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Former President Bill Clinton admitted to hospital with blood infection

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(ORANGE, Calif.) -- Former President Bill Clinton was admitted to a California hospital on Tuesday for an infection, according to a spokesperson.

"On Tuesday, President Clinton was admitted to UCI Medical Center to receive treatment for a non-COVID-related infection," Angel Ureña, spokesperson for Clinton, said in a statement Thursday. "He is on the mend, in good spirits and is incredibly thankful to the doctors, nurses, and staff providing him with excellent care."

An aide said that Clinton arrived on the West Coast, his first trip there after COVID travel restrictions, feeling "overly fatigued." The aide said that Clinton was diagnosed with a urological infection that transformed into a broader infection, but the prognosis was "good."

"In fact, he's been up and about, reading, texting, and joking and charming the hospital staff," the aide said.

Clinton has had a number of health issues over the past two decades, though most related to heart problems. He had a quadruple bypass surgery in September 2004 and two coronary stents placed in his heart in February 2010. He also underwent surgery for a collapsed lung in 2005.

Clinton's doctors at UCI Medical Center in Orange, California, further elaborated on the former president's health in a statement.

"President Clinton was taken to UC Irvine Medical Center and diagnosed with an infection. He was admitted to the hospital for close monitoring and administered IV antibiotics and fluids," Drs. Alpesh Amin and Lisa Bardack said in the statement. "He remains at the hospital for continuous monitoring. After two days of treatment, his white blood cell count is trending down and he is responding to antibiotics well."

"The California-based medical team has been in constant communication with the President's New York-based medical team, including his cardiologist," the statement continued. "We hope to have him go home soon."

Clinton, 75, served as president from January 1993 to January 2001.

He won the race for governor of Arkansas in 1978 at just 32 years old, though he lost in his bid for a second term. He then served again as governor from 1983 to 1992, when he rallied to earn the Democratic nomination for president. He faced off against incumbent George H.W. Bush, defeating him comfortably to become the first Democrat in office since Jimmy Carter.

He cruised to the White House again in 1996, defeating Bob Dole and third-party candidate Ross Perot.

Much of his second term, however, was dominated by the Monica Lewinsky scandal. The salacious details of the president's affair with the intern led to his impeachment in December 1998, but he was acquitted in the Senate.

Before President Donald Trump was impeached twice, Clinton was the last president to be impeached and only other president outside of Andrew Jackson to earn the ignominious vote.

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to reflect comments from Clinton's doctors and aides.

ABC News' Chris Donato contributed to this report.

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Youngkin calls pledge to flag 'carried' at Jan. 6 rally 'weird and wrong'

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(WASHINGTON) -- Hours after his Democratic opponent called on him to publicly condemn attendees of a GOP rally who pledged allegiance to an American flag said to have been flown at the Jan. 6 rally near the Capitol prior to the insurrection, Republican nominee for Virginia governor Glenn Youngkin issued a statement calling the act "weird and wrong."

"While I had no role in last night’s event, I have heard about it from many people in the media today. It is weird and wrong to pledge allegiance to a flag connected to January 6," Youngkin said. "As I have said many times before, the violence that occurred on January 6 was sickening and wrong."

Thursday morning, former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, the Democrat in the race, held a press call where he urged Youngkin to disavow the pledge that kicked off an event in support of the statewide GOP ticket.

"They really brought a flag up there and they did pledge of allegiance to a flag that was used to bring down the democracy that that American flag symbolizes," McAuliffe said. "I'm just asking Glenn Youngkin to issue a statement or go before the cameras today... and say, it was not appropriate to pledge allegiance to a flag... that tried to destroy the democracy."

At the start of the Wednesday night rally, which was livestreamed on the right-wing platform Real America's Voice, the emcee called up a woman with an American flag, which the emcee said "was carried at the peaceful rally with Donald J. Trump on Jan. 6."

Five people died during or after the riot on Jan. 6. A comprehensive review of police officer bodycam footage found roughly 1,000 instances of assault against members of law enforcement who were trying to protect the building, according to legal filings by the Justice Department.

Approximately 140 police officers were assaulted at the Capitol, including about 80 U.S. Capitol Police and about 60 from the Metropolitan Police Department. And nearly 650 people have been arrested and charged with federal crimes in connection to the events of Jan. 6, with more than 100 having already pleaded guilty.

Youngkin did not speak at or attend the Virginia rally on Wednesday, but former President Donald Trump called in to urge attendees to vote for the Republican nominee.

"I'll tell you what, Glenn Youngkin is a great gentleman, truly successful. ... I know Terry McAuliffe very well, and Terry was a lousy governor with raising taxes -- that's all they knew how to do," Trump said in brief remarks. "You have a chance to get one of the most successful business people in the country ... he'll straighten out Virginia. He'll lower taxes, do all of the things that we want a governor to do."

Trump, who didn't pick a favorite candidate during the primary campaign, endorsed Youngkin after he secured the Republican nomination in May. While he wasn't on the ground for the event, this marked the first time he attended an event, albeit via phone, to support the GOP ticket in the state.

Another Republican vying for statewide office, Winsome Sears, the nominee for lieutenant governor, was scheduled to speak at the rally, according to the event advisory, but she ultimately did not. ABC News has reached out to her campaign and to the John Fredericks Media Network, which held the rally, to ask about the cancellation but has not heard back.

Steve Bannon, the former White House adviser to Trump who was subpoenaed to appear for a deposition with the committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack Thursday, also spoke at the end of the rally. Bannon has rebuffed the House select committee's subpoena, and the committee's chairman and vice chairwoman said last week they will "swiftly consider" holding Bannon in contempt of Congress.

Virginia voters rejected Trump twice, and by nearly double the margin in 2020 as in 2016. McAuliffe has tied Youngkin to Trump, branding him a "Trump wannabe" and frequently highlighting Youngkin's plans and statements about "election integrity."

But with less than three weeks until the Nov. 2 election, the race is neck and neck. McAuliffe only leads Youngkin by 2.5 percentage points, according to FiveThirtyEight's polling average.

The fallout over the last general election, which Trump continues to falsely claim was stolen from him, has been a cloud over Youngkin's campaign as he attempts to fend off McAuliffe's attacks without alienating ardent Trump voters, many of whom wrongly believe President Joe Biden did not legitimately win the 2020 election.

But both candidates went on the record during the first debate pledging to "absolutely" accept the results of the election if they lose, even narrowly.

In-person early voting has been underway since mid-September and ends Oct. 30. About 345,000 ballots have been cast so far, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.

ABC News' Alex Mallin and Michelle Stoddart contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Biden embraces Trump accords, but struggles with his withdrawal from Iran nuclear deal amid growing threat

Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

(WASHINGTON) -- There have been major differences between the administrations of Donald Trump and Joe Biden on foreign policy -- not least over the Iran nuclear deal, with Biden officials blaming Trump's withdrawal for bringing Iran closer to a nuclear weapon today than before.

But even as Biden's top diplomat warned more starkly than ever about the threat from Iran and the need to salvage the nuclear deal Wednesday, there was some consistency: Secretary of State Antony Blinken embraced the set of key Trump-era deals known as the Abraham Accords.

Those historic agreements saw Israel establish relations with some of its Arab neighbors -- starting with the United Arab Emirates and extending, in varying degrees, to Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan.

The deals were controversial in some corners not just because they sidelined the Palestinians and did nothing to address long-simmering tensions there, but also because of the big-ticket incentives Trump offered to sweeten the pot for Arab countries, including selling the most advanced U.S. fighter jet, the F-35, to UAE; recognizing Morocco's claim to Western Sahara; and even offering to pay the Sept. 11 attacks victims to make legal claims against Sudan go away.

But with Israel's foreign minister and alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid and UAE's Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Blinken heralded the agreements during a meeting at the State Department Wednesday. He announced the two countries, along with the U.S., was expanding the Abraham Accords with two new working groups on religious co-existence and water and energy -- and said the Biden administration is looking to add other countries to them, too.

"Normalization is profoundly in the interests of the people in the countries in question and is providing all sorts of new opportunities," Blinken said during a press conference with Lapid and bin Zayed. "It simply means that people will have a better life, more opportunity, more security, more prosperity."

So far, that hasn't been the case for Palestinians. Palestinian leaders were furious that the UAE, Bahrain and others abandoned a decades-old commitment to not recognize Israel until Palestinian aspirations for a state were granted. But Blinken, Lapid and bin Zayed said Israel and UAE's growing economic and people-to-people ties were an example for what could be possible for the Palestinians, too.

"The more of a successful UAE-Israeli relationship will be, that would not only encourage the region, but also encourage the Israeli people and the Palestinian people that this path is worth not only investing in, but also taking the risk," said bin Zayed.

Bin Zayed announced he would visit Israel soon "to meet a friend, but also a partner," he said, smiling over at Lapid, who made a historic visit to Abu Dhabi earlier this year.

"The Palestinians are going to be the most important element of the success of peace in the region. We cannot just talk about peace in the region without the neighbors; the Palestinians and Israelis are not in talking terms to start with," he added, saying there had been some progress with recent meetings between Israeli ministers and the Palestinian Authority.

For his part, Lapid -- who invited bin Zayed to his house and said his wife was ready to cook for him -- added that Israel was now focused on making the existing Abraham Accords successful, while working to expand them to other countries, "including ones you don't think of," he added with a smile.

He had little to say about the Palestinians, however, adding during his opening statement, "All people are entitled to a decent way of life. This includes of course the Palestinians. Our goal is to work with the Palestinian Authority to ensure every child has that opportunity."

Blinken reiterated the Biden administration's support for a two-state solution and called for both sides to "enjoy equal measures of freedom, prosperity, democracy," But he backed normalization as a way to get there.

"We believe normalization can and should be a force for progress not only between Israel and other Arab countries in the region and beyond, but also between Israelis and Palestinians," he said.

To pursue that progress, he also made clear the U.S. is "moving forward" with reopening the American consulate in East Jerusalem, which has traditionally served as a de facto embassy to the Palestinians. Israel, which largely has control as host country, has vocally opposed the move, including in comments by Justice Minister Gideon Saar Wednesday, who said Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett agreed, "No way."
US, Israel weighing 'alternative plans' against Iran as nuclear talks remain paused

Beyond that disagreement, there was another critical difference on display Wednesday over the growing threat of Iran's nuclear program.

Blinken again warned time is running out for salvaging the Iran nuclear deal as Iran continues to expand its nuclear program, with more enriched uranium, enriched at higher levels, using more and more advanced centrifuges.

He once again declined to put a timetable on it, but in perhaps his strongest language yet, said the U.S. and its partners are looking at "every option to deal with the challenge posed by Iran. We continue to believe diplomacy is the most effective way to do that, but it takes two to engage in diplomacy, and we have not seen from Iran a willingness to do that at this point."

Hours earlier, his special envoy for Iran, Rob Malley, said the U.S. must "prepare" for "a world in which Iran doesn't have constraints on its nuclear program" -- a world without a nuclear deal. The Biden administration is doing that "now in consultation with our partners from the region," he added during an event with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

To that end, Malley is departing for United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Saudi Arabia on Friday to discuss Iran, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Wednesday.

Those efforts were echoed in what Lapid said Tuesday after meeting National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan at the White House. The two "discussed the need for an alternative plan to the nuclear agreement," according to his office.

Both he and Blinken declined to spell out Wednesday what those potential plans may be, but Lapid implied it includes the use of force.

"Secretary of State Blinken and I are sons of Holocaust survivors. We know there are moments when nations must use force to protect the world from evil. If a terror regime is going to acquire a nuclear weapon, we must act, we must make clear that the civilized world won't allow it," he said.

When asked later about the use of force, he added, "by saying other options, I think everybody understands here, in Israel, in the Emirates, and in Tehran what is it that we mean."

But while Blinken said all three of them -- along with European partners -- agree that Iran must not be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon, Lapid's language was even more stark. He urged less patience with waiting for Iran to resume nuclear talks. Those indirect talks between the U.S. and Iran have been on hiatus since June, with Iran's new government saying it must get its team in position first.

"Iran is becoming a nuclear threshold country. Every day that passes, every delay in negotiations, brings Iran closer to a nuclear bomb. Iran is clearly dragging their heels, trying to cheat the world to continue to enrich uranium, to develop their ballistic missile program," Lapid said, adding that Israel had not just a "right," but a "responsibility" to stop Iran from acquiring the bomb.

Blinken did not answer a question about use of force, saying again the Biden administration believes a "diplomatic solution" is best, but adding, "To be very clear, Israel has the right to defend itself, and we strongly support that proposition."

Other U.S. allies have joined in recent weeks in urging Tehran to resume those talks. The French Foreign Ministry said Wednesday the situation had reached a "crisis and at a critical moment for the future of the nuclear agreement," blaming Iran for "refusing to negotiate" and creating "facts on the ground that further complicate the return to the JCPOA," an acronym for the nuclear deal's formal name.

Enrique Mora, the European Union's second highest-ranking diplomat who has coordinated those talks, said Wednesday he was traveling to Iran to "raise the urgency to resume #JCPOA negotiations in Vienna. Crucial to pick up talks from where we left last June to continue diplomatic work."

But in the meantime, the U.S. is urging immediate action on another front -- the release of American citizens detained by Iran. Both Blinken and Sullivan met Wednesday with Babak Namazi, whose brother Siamak and father Baquer Namazi have been detained by Iran for six years -- to the day -- and 5 1/2 years, respectively.

"The Iranian government continues to subject the entire Namazi family to unimaginable abuse. Through it all, the Namazis have shown remarkable courage," Blinken said in a statement afterward. "The United States is committed to securing Siamak and Baquer's freedom as soon as possible, as well as that of the other U.S. citizens wrongfully detained in Iran."

Jared Genser, a lawyer for the Namazis, filed an urgent appeal with the United Nations last week to call for Baquer Namazi's immediate release so he can have a lifesaving surgery on a major blockage in his right carotid artery.

"My father's already lost so much precious time. I'm begging Iran to allow him to spend whatever time he has left with his family," Babak Namazi told reporters last week in an emotional appeal.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


White House pushes for release of Jan. 6 documents as Trump, Bannon rebuff committee

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(WASHINGTON) -- The battle over White House records of former President Donald Trump's activities related to the Jan. 6 Capitol attack intensified Wednesday as President Joe Biden formally rejected Trump's claims that the documents should be shielded from release to the House select committee investigating the insurrection.

In a letter to the National Archives, the White House counsel's office said President Biden is "instructing" the agency to comply with the House select committee's request for the records.

"President [Biden] maintains his conclusion that an assertion of executive privilege is not in the best interests of the United States," the letter states, after Trump last week made a broad effort to keep confidants from cooperating with the probe.

"President Biden does not uphold the former President's assertion of privilege," said Wednesday's letter, which also told the agency that "in light of the urgency of the Select Committee’s need for the information, the President further instructs you to provide those pages 30 days after your notification to the former President, absent any intervening court order."

Trump issued a statement late last week saying the requests "are not based in law or reality -- it's just a game to these politicians. They don't care about our Country or the American people." Trump went on to say the Democrats are "drunk on power."

Wednesday's move comes as the committee ramps up its efforts to move ahead with its investigation. Former Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen testified before the committee Wednesday, according to a source familiar with the proceedings.

On Tuesday, the committee issued a subpoena to former Associate Attorney General Jeffrey Clark. A lawyer for Clark declined to comment when reached by ABC News.

The House select committee has subpoenaed multiple former White House officials and aides to Trump and his campaign, including former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. The committee has said Meadows has been cooperating with the committee, though the extent of his participation in the investigation is unclear.

However, former Trump White House senior advisor and one-time campaign CEO Steve Bannon is standing firm in rebuffing the committee. In a second letter to the committee, obtained by ABC News, Bannon's lawyer says they have been directed by Trump's counsel not to respond, citing the former president's invocation of executive privilege.

"Until such a time as you reach an agreement with President Trump or receive a court ruling as to the extent, scope and application of the executive privilege ... Mr. Bannon will not be producing documents or testifying," Bannon's counsel, Robert Costello wrote in a letter to committee chairman Bennie Thompson.

Thompson and vice-chair Liz Cheney said last week they would "swiftly consider" holding Bannon, and potentially others, in contempt of Congress for ignoring committee subpoenas.

Sources confirmed to ABC News that Trump's lawyer sent a letter to several of those subpoenaed informing them that the former president wants the subpoenas ignored and that he plans to claim executive privilege. In the letter, Trump suggested he would be willing to take the matter to court to block their cooperation.

White House counsel Dana Remus said in an earlier letter to the National Archives that the White House "has determined that an assertion of executive privilege is not in the best interests of the United States," but that they would "respond accordingly" if Trump asserts executive privilege over only a subset of the documents.

The committee has issued at least 18 subpoenas, with most going to Trump associates and individuals linked to the rallies in Washington on the day of the Capitol riot.

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Mayorkas calling for end to ICE raids shows diversity of Biden's cabinet, experts say

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(WASHINGTON) -- Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, one of four Latino cabinet members in President Joe Biden's administration, said on Tuesday he wanted to end raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement at workplaces.

"The deployment of mass worksite operations, sometimes resulting in the simultaneous arrest of hundreds of workers, was not focused on the most pernicious aspect of our country's unauthorized employment challenge: exploitative employers," Mayorkas wrote in a memo obtained by ABC News. "These highly visible operations misallocated enforcement resources while chilling, and even serving as a tool of retaliation for, worker cooperation in workplace standards investigations."

Such a change from what was seen under the previous administration is something that policy experts, including Sylvia Puente, president and CEO of Latino Policy Forum, have said may result from Biden having surrounded himself with a more representative cabinet.

Mayorkas has been joined by Secretary Xavier Becerra of Health and Human Services, Secretary Miguel Cardona of the Department of Education and Administrator Isabel Casillas Guzman of the Small Business Administration.

"It was about time -- the increase in representation that looks like us in the White House, and cabinet levels in Congress, really allows us not to be invisible," Puente told ABC News. "It really allows us to take our place in our American society."

Becerra, who made history as the first Latino to lead HHS, discussed with ABC News the importance of representation for all Americans.

"There's a pride that comes in understanding what you bring to the table, of what your parents taught you and what your forefathers and foremothers did for this country," Becerra said. "I'm very proud that I bring that to my country. And that's the heritage that has made the fabric of our country so strong."

Becerra is the first person in his family to get a four-year college degree, after his parents emigrated from Mexico at a young age. Ultimately, he added, his opportunities have allowed him to help provide opportunities for others.

"It's about helping people like my dad, who didn't get past sixth grade, who worked with his hands all his life as a construction worker, a farm worker, so that he could actually have a better [life], at least for his kids," Becerra said.

"Given that we have this historic number of cabinet officials who are Latino," Puente said, "it really feels like the administration is living up its profit promise to have equity, to have diversity and to have inclusion."

Puente said she hopes to see it continue, and not "just in Hispanic Heritage Month," which spans Sept. 14 to Oct. 15. It's important for Latinx and Hispanic individuals "to be a part of this ongoing dialogue."

Barack Obama had a total of six Latino cabinet members.

Educational disparity

Cardona said during a GMA3 interview on Sept. 15 that he hopes to improve access to higher education.

"We want access to higher education for Latino students at the same rate as other students -- we want to make sure completion happens," Cardona said.

While Latinos account for 18.7% of the U.S. population, according to Census data, only 16.4% complete a four-year degree.

"We also want to make sure at the pre-K level that Latino students have access to early childhood education that serves as a foundation," Cardona added.

The dropout rate among Latino students, according to a 2019 fact sheet from the National Center for Education Statistics, is about 7.7%, which has declined in recent years but still trails Black (5.6%), white (4.1%) and Asian (1.8%) students.

In August, more than 200,000 migrants were encountered crossing the southern border, according to DHS data.

"People really want to come to the U.S. because they feel they can't make a living in their homeland, or they can't stay safe in their homeland, or they're afraid of being murdered in their home," Puente told ABC News.

After reports of U.S. border patrol agents acting aggressively towards Haitian migrants fleeing their country amid multiple crises, DHS launched an investigation and alerted the department's Office of Inspector General. Biden condemned the agents' actions by saying those who confronted the Haitian migrants aggressively "will pay."

Puente is among those hoping Biden's words can lead to larger reforms.

"We certainly expect immigration reform," she added. "We expect the president and vice president to not only continue to elevate the issue, but to really work with Congress. There are so many pieces of immigration that need to be unpacked."

Late last month, Mayorkas announced the formation of the Law Enforcement Coordination Council, an effort to "institutionalize best practices in law enforcement."

Mayorkas intends to chair the LECC, the first department-wide body to serve as a governing organization for agencies including U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

"We are bringing a greater, in my opinion, a greater degree of organization, cohesion to [law enforcement policies]," Mayorkas told ABC News at the time.

Biden has said on multiple occasions he will be a leader for all Americans, and organizations and his cabinet members have said they'll do what they can to help him keep that promise.

"As secretary, I'm going to make sure that when the president says 'everyone,' it includes everyone," Becerra told ABC News. "We're not going to leave anyone out. I don't care what corner of the country you're from, if you exist in the shadows, we're going to service you. We believe in the people who lift up this country."

ABC News' Luke Barr contributed to this report.

 

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Supreme Court considers Boston Marathon bomber death sentence as Biden halts executions

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(WASHINGTON) -- The Justice Department on Wednesday will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to reinstate the death sentence for Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, even as the agency has suspended all federal executions and President Biden has vowed to eliminate capital punishment.

A federal appeals court last year upheld Tsarnaev's conviction for the 2013 attack that killed three and injured more than 200, but it tossed out the jury-recommended execution on the grounds that procedural errors during the sentencing phase compromised his right to a fair and impartial hearing.

The Biden administration calls the case "one of the most important terrorism prosecutions in our nation's history" and plans to argue before the justices that any discrepancies during the process would not have led the jury to select a different sentence and that an execution must go forward.

"It's one thing to say that you're opposed to capital punishment, it's another for the United States Attorney's Office to tell the good people in Boston that you're no longer going to see the death penalty against the Boston Marathon bomber. And, so they didn't," said Jeffrey Wall, the former Trump administration acting solicitor general who first led the appeal to reinstate Tsarnaev's sentence, on why the new administration is continuing to seek death.

The White House would not directly answer when asked by ABC News whether President Joe Biden supports his Justice Department's case and a federal execution of Tsarnaev.

A Biden administration official pointed to a June statement by White House press secretary Jen Psaki that noted Biden's "deep concerns" about capital punishment and belief that "the Department should return to its prior practice, and not carry out executions."

Attorneys for Tsarnaev said their client deserves a new sentencing hearing after an appeals court concluded that the trial judge improperly denied admission of key mitigating evidence and inadequately screened prospective jurors for bias.

The defense said the alleged involvement of Tsarnaev's older brother, Tamerlan, in a 2011 triple homicide in Waltham, Massachusetts, is critical evidence to suggest he -- not Dzhokhar -- was the mastermind of the marathon attack and had previously exerted influence over younger accomplices.

"In 2011, on the tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, Tamerlan robbed and murdered a close friend and two others as an act of jihad," Tsarnaev's attorneys write in their brief to the high court. "For Dzhokhar -- a teenager well-liked by teachers and peers, with no history of violence -- the bombings were the culmination of Tamerlan's months-long effort to draw him into extremist violence."

Tamerlan Tsarnaev died shortly after the attack when he was run over by his brother as the two fled from police following a gunfight.

"If you accept the Eighth Amendment principle that somebody pretty much has a right to bring in almost anything that's mitigating … if you don't allow the defendant to bring in this evidence, you've basically deprived him of the only defense against the death penalty he was offering," said Irving Gornstein, director of the Supreme Court Institute at Georgetown University Law Center. "I think that will give [the justices] some pause. Now, enough pause? Probably not. But some pause."

The defense also said the trial judge failed to expose evidence of bias among potential jurors by not asking specifics about pretrial media exposure, including what they had read, heard or seen about Tsarnaev or the Boston Marathon bombing.

Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar argues that neither error -- even if undisputed -- would have swayed a jury against death.

"The record definitively demonstrates that respondent was eager to commit his crimes, was untroubled at having ended two lives and devastated many others, and remained proud of his actions even after he had run Tamerlan over and was hiding out alone," the government writes in its brief. "The jury that watched a video of respondent place and detonate a shrapnel bomb just behind a group of children would not have changed its sentencing recommendation based on Tamerlan's supposed involvement in unrelated crimes two years earlier."

The administration's pursuit of death for Tsarnaev contrasts with President Biden's 2020 campaign promise that he would "work to pass legislation to eliminate the death penalty at the federal level, and incentivize states to follow the federal government's example."

No legislation has been put forward, but in July, Attorney General Merrick Garland ordered a temporary halt to further executions of federal inmates, noting a number of defendants who were later exonerated as well as statistics showing possible discriminatory impact on minorities.

The Supreme Court could reinstate Tsarnaev's death sentence, or it could hand Tsarnaev a chance at a new sentencing hearing, clarifying rules for jury selection and mitigating evidence in death-penalty cases.

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Republicans fight for Latino voters in Democratic strongholds

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(WASHINGTON) -- Voting rights activists from Mi Familia Vota said after years of being ignored, they are seeing significant investments from politicians trying to reach out to the Latino community. As the largest non-white ethnic group in the United States continues to grow, Latinos have become a focal point for Republicans and Democrats alike.

But Héctor Sánchez Barba, the executive director and CEO of the Latino-focused civic engagement organization Mi Familia Vota, said that Latino voters must be prepared to identify which efforts are performative and what political promises will be kept.

"Nobody has a free ride with the Latino vote," Sánchez Barba told ABC News. "The important part is this is not a transactional element, just for the Latino vote. It [must be] a serious holistic engagement on Latino priorities."

The percentage of Latinos who were eligible to vote and did so rose to a historic high of 53.7% in 2020, increasing from 47.3% in 2016, according to CUNY's Center for Latin American, Caribbean, and Latino Studies.

This research also shows that the number of Latino votes in the 2020 election also increased by 29.8%: from the 12.7 million votes cast in 2016 to approximately 16.5 million in 2020.

Now, the fight for their votes is on ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.

President Joe Biden won the majority of Latino voters across the country, but former President Donald Trump scored more votes in 2020 than he did in 2016.

Latino turnout in Texas rose from 1,938,000 in 2016 to 2,972,000 in 2020, the CUNY research shows. That's a 31.1% increase.

Republicans are now targeting Democratic Latino strongholds throughout the state -- like the Rio Grande Valley -- which seemingly faltered in 2020. Biden won in most counties, but by less than Hillary Clinton had won them in 2016. Zapata, Starr and Val Verde counties, which previously voted for Democrats, flipped to Trump in 2020.

Democratic representatives from across the state -- Colin Allred, Vicente Gonzalez, Filemon Vela, Henry Cuellar, and Lizzie Fletcher -- are being threatened by GOP challengers, according to the National Republican Congressional Committee.

McAllen, a Latino-majority border city in the valley, voted for its first GOP mayor in 24 years.

And in order to flip more seats and hold onto newly acquired seats, Republicans are creating Hispanic community centers across the country. The next one is slated to open in San Antonio, GOP Communications Director Danielle Alvarez told ABC News.

"We just opened in Doral, which is in South Florida," said Alvarez. "[We were] talking about having "pastelitos" and "cafecito" and having photos of the South Florida community up, and instead of campaign pull-out tables, doing domino tables. Just making it personal."

They've said they have also implemented this strategy with other ethnic groups, like Asian Pacific Americans and Black voters.

She added, "It provides us the ability to not just share our message and our agenda, but for them to have a conversation back and share their values and what they're hoping to accomplish."

From there, the RNC can train them to do the on-the-ground organizing for the Republican efforts.

"Most people kind of hear Democrats' wishful thinking that Texas is going to be purple," Alvarez said. "We would make the argument that Texas is red and it's become even more red, since the previous election."

Alvarez said that the RNC has a strong data operation that can analyze voters and what is important to them. The party's 2012's "Growth And Opportunity Report" continues to be an important source of information for the GOP strategy, Alvarez said. The report highlighted the party's need to campaign among Latino, Black, Asian, and LGBTQ Americans and "demonstrate we care about them, too," the report states.

Republicans said they hope to combine what they've learned to ensure that the new Hispanic-targeted centers hit home with voters.

"We're lucky that we don't often have to paint people with broad brushes -- we can get down to what moves in individual voter," said Alvarez.

Overall, Latinos voted less for Democrats in 2020 than they did in 2016, but the demographic still chose Biden over Trump with 58% of the vote.

Despite this, the Democratic National Committee is attempting to quell any Republican progress, reaching back into its playbook that has long won them the "Latino vote."

Democrats' I Will Vote initiative has invested $25,000,000 in voter education, voter protection and targeted voter registration and aims to make voting more accessible. With this, they hope to drive new voters -- hopefully Democrats -- to the polls.

"You'll see Democrats going out into communities across the country and specifically showing how these bills are going to be impacting their lives: creating jobs, lowering costs for families and cutting taxes for them as well," said Lucas Acosta, the senior spokesperson and coalitions director at Democratic National Committee.

In 2020, Latinos overall were concerned with their safety, their health amid COVID-19, and the economy, according to Pew Research.

Eight in 10 registered Latino voters rated the economy as their biggest priority at the time -- as the pandemic surged on and the unemployment reached a peak of 14.8% in April 2020, the Congressional Research Service reports. It was the highest rate observed since data collection began in 1948.

Latinos comprise 18.7% of the U.S. population, but represent 28.1% of the population in poverty, according to the U.S. Census.

Acosta said Democrats will focus their door-to-door, on-the-ground community-based outreach on Biden's American Rescue Plan, which promised to "deliver immediate relief for hard-hit Latino families and small businesses, build a bridge towards economic recovery, and reduce poverty in Latino communities by almost 40 percent," the plan's fact sheet read.

"Our responsibility is to make sure that voters know who was in the room fighting for that," Acosta said.

For Latino-targeted voting groups like Mi Familia Vota, they said the focus remains on protecting voters by campaigning against misinformation targeting this sought-after demographic and legislative efforts that make it harder for Latinos to vote.

Republicans across the country have enacted a wave of new voting laws. In September, Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott signed a sweeping voting bill into law that restricts counties' ability to expand options for voting and makes the election process harder for Texans. The law would limit how and when voters can cast ballots by banning overnight early voting hours as well as drive-thru voting.

Voting groups also said ads targeting the Latino community spread false claims about politicians and their platforms. Specifically, they say these misinformation campaigns instilled fear and betrayed the trust of voters. A recent Nielson report showed that Latino consumers are more likely to receive and share fake news on social media when compared to the rest of the population.

"Those policies that they're promoting are gonna make it way harder for us to go to the polls and have the basic right to vote," Sánchez Barba said. "And this is not something new. This is something historical, so we're keeping the Republicans accountable at a very high level."

Sánchez Barba also called out anti-immigrant language from the right. He said the party has a lot of work to repair a reputation of hate against people of color and Latino folks.

"A lot of these politicians and these parties only show up very last minute when they need the Latino vote," Sánchez Barba said. "The Latino community doesn't forget."

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Senate committee questions TikTok in Jan. 6 Capitol attack investigation

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(WASHINGTON) -- The Senate Homeland Security Committee on Tuesday added TikTok to a list of social media companies being scrutinized for their potential involvement in the spread of misinformation related to the Jan. 6 attack on the United States Capitol.

In a letter obtained by ABC News, chairman Gary Peters, D-Mich., wrote to the company seeking additional information on how the app monitors "extremist and conspiracy" content.

"In the lead up to the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol, domestic extremists reportedly used TikTok to recruit, organize, and communicate," Peters writes to TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew. "Since January 6th, domestic extremist groups have used TikTok to continue to spread their messages through content supporting white supremacists, extremists, and terrorist organizations."

The Senate Homeland Security Committee spent months examining security and response failures related to the Jan. 6 attack culminating in a bipartisan report that found failures at every level of government that led to the breach of the Capitol by Trump supporters.

Part of that report, released in June, found that there were multiple warnings on social media about potential violence leading up to the attack.

Since the report, the committee has been sharpening its focus on the role that social media played in the attack, and continues to play in the spread of extremist misinformation.

The committee’s letter to TikTok Tuesday adds the company to a list of social media giants already being examined. Chairman Peters sent letters last month to other social media and tech giants like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. A committee aide confirms that work to get the information requested from these organizations is ongoing.

Peters is seeking information from TikTok on how the company identifies content that violates its terms of service governing violent extremism, enforcement of community guidelines and information on how the company’s algorithms recommend content.

He raises concerns in his letter that TikTok benefits financially from keeping viewers engaged with extremist content, citing a Wall Street Journal investigation which found that the app directed users who viewed political videos to QAnon and election fraud content.

"These algorithms increase user engagement, which in turn increases the amount of time users spend on these platforms, and by extension, the amount of advertisements that can be shown," Peters writes. "There is a financial incentive for social media platforms like TikTok to keep users engaged on their platforms and viewing content, including extremist content.”"

TikTok did not respond to a request for comment on the committee’s letter. Its community guidelines, posted on its site, say it prohibits "violent extremism." A TikTok representative responded to earlier questions about extremist videos on the site in a separate report by Politico.

"There is absolutely no place for violent extremism or hate speech on TikTok, and we work aggressively to remove any such content and ban individuals that violate our Community Guidelines,” spokesperson Jamie Favazza said in an email to Politico. ABC News has not independently reviewed that email.

The House has already taken some interest in TikTok, a Chinese-owned company that features a stream of short videos. The House Select Committee on Jan. 6 has asked social media companies, including TikTok, to turn over any records regarding the attack at the Capitol. The committee asked 15 companies including Facebook, and Twitter, to turn over any "records, including data, reports, analyses, and communications stretching back to Spring of 2020," according to a committee press release.

Congress has heightened its focus in recent weeks on regulating social media more generally in light of allegations by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, who unearthed documents she says shows the company had knowledge of its platforms' negative impact and did little to stop it.

Among other allegations, Haugen alleged in an interview on the CBS News program "60 Minutes" that Facebook decided to ease safeguards put in place to stop the spread of disinformation during the 2020 election season, which she says contributed to the Jan. 6 attack.

Facebook has publicly disputed Haugen's claims, pointing to investments in security that the company has made in recent years.

"Every day our teams have to balance protecting the ability of people to express themselves openly with the need to keep our platform a safe and positive place," Lena Pietsch, the director of policy communications for Facebook, said in a statement earlier this month. "To suggest we encourage bad content or do nothing is just not true."

Haugen testified before a subcommittee of the Senate Commerce Committee last week. The Senate Homeland Security Committee also plans to meet with Haugen, a committee aide confirms.

The administration also said it is working to thread the needle between ensuring citizen privacy and preventing future attacks.

"We are focused on ensuring that while we do this critical work, we protect civil rights, civil liberties, and the rights and privacy of each member of the American public," Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told the House Homeland Security Committee in September.

He emphasized to the committee the department is "ideology neutral" and focus on ideologies "connectivity to violence, regardless of the politics."

"This has been a long-standing challenge," he said.

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Biden immigration authorities to end workplace raids

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(WASHINGTON) -- Immigration and Customs Enforcement is ending the practice of deportation raids on worksites, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas said in a memo on Tuesday.

"The deployment of mass worksite operations, sometimes resulting in the simultaneous arrest of hundreds of workers, was not focused on the most pernicious aspect of our country's unauthorized employment challenge: exploitative employers," Mayorkas wrote in the memo. "These highly visible operations misallocated enforcement resources while chilling, and even serving as a tool of retaliation for, worker cooperation in workplace standards investigations."

He added the worksite operations go against the department’s civil rights code.

Mass worksite raids became more common after the first year of the Trump administration. One of the largest coordinated raid operations was conducted across multiple poultry plants in Mississippi in August 2019, resulting in the arrest of nearly 700 workers.

Four executives in charge of the poultry plants were indicted about a year after the raids.

Mayorkas said his department will "develop agency plans to alleviate or mitigate the fear that victims of, and witnesses to, labor trafficking and exploitation may have regarding their cooperation with law enforcement in the investigation and prosecution of unscrupulous employers."

House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., applauded the DHS move.

"The previous Administration too often carried out raids that tore apart communities but allowed employers to continue exploiting workers," he said in a statement. "Refocusing resources to counter exploitative employers is a necessary step in protecting the American labor market and workers. I appreciate the Department’s efforts to protect workers who sound the alarm on labor violations."

The National Day Laborers Organizing Network agreed.

"By ending worksite raids and acknowledging that workers should not have to endure the threat of deportation when they courageously come forward to report labor violations, this policy begins to move the country in the right direction," Nadia Marin-Molina, NDLON Co-Executive Director, said.

Former acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, who served as homeland security secretary under President Donald Trump, said the DHS should not be choosing to enforce the law against one group versus another. Wolf said that large-scale operations are not common and usually supported by federal prosecutors.

"Implying that past actions from ICE criminal investigators were wrong is not accurate and another shot at DHS law enforcement and continues the politicizing of DHS under this admin," Wolf tweeted. "Instead of supporting professional agents, DHS is ending a perfectly legal tool in order to appease left wing progressives who want to abolish ICE."

Senator Tom Cotton, R-Ark., accused President Biden of "weakening immigration law enforcement even further," as a result of the DHS announcement on ICE raids. "American workers and their wages will suffer as a result.”

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House votes to temporarily raise debt limit

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(WASHINGTON) -- The House voted Tuesday to temporarily raise the debt ceiling by $480 billion after the Senate approved the stopgap measure late last week, putting off the risk of default until early December.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the lower chamber back to Washington from a two-week recess to pass the measure. The bill passed along party lines Tuesday evening in a 219-206 vote. It now heads to President Joe Biden's desk for signature.

"A default would send shockwaves to global financial markets, and would likely cause credit markets worldwide to freeze up and stock markets to plunge. Employers around the world would likely have to begin laying off workers," Pelosi told reporters during a press conference on Capitol Hill Tuesday.

The debt ceiling bill was packaged as part of a rule for floor debate of several other bills, meaning there was not a stand-alone vote on the debt limit measure. The bill was considered "deemed and passed" once the rule was adopted.

Pelosi staved off defections amid razor-thin margins in the House. She could have only afforded to lose three votes.

Republicans for months have said that Democrats would need to act on their own to raise the debt limit because they have total control of Washington and are planning to pass a multi-trillion social and economic package with zero input from Republicans.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has said repeatedly that Democrats should have to hike the debt limit because of the high cost of Biden's proposed agenda.

Democrats have argued that raising the debt limit is a bipartisan responsibility, in part because it covers spending that already took place under the Trump administration.

The House's return Tuesday follows a chilling warning from Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen that if the House fails to act this week the U.S. is at risk of defaulting and will be unable to pay its bills.

Yellen warned on ABC's "This Week" that McConnell and Republicans are playing with "catastrophe" over a pending fight to raise the debt ceiling.

"Fifty million Americans wouldn't receive Social Security payments. Our troops won't know when or if they would be paid. The 30 million families that receive a child tax credit, those payments would be in jeopardy," Yellen said.

She said such a scenario "could result in catastrophe."

President Joe Biden has said he will sign the bill into law once the House approves the measure Tuesday, but lawmakers will once again be at odds and at risk of fiscal calamity come December.

The new deadline will coincide with the end of the stop-gap deal to fund the federal government.

Pelosi indicated an off-ramp on the debt ceiling drama is in the works. She told reporters that the Treasury Department should be able to lift the debt ceiling unilaterally, while Congress would maintain the power to overrule an increase to the debt limit.

"I'm optimistic that these decisions have to be made," Pelosi said.

"We are not a rubber stamp or a lockstep party -- we have a discussion, and other family values that all members have brought to the table," Pelosi said.

The idea to give the Treasury the authority to lift the debt limit "seems to have some appeal on both sides of the aisle because of the consequences of not lifting it."

Pelosi said she thinks the idea has "merit."

"We're just hoping that we can do this in a bipartisan way," she added.

The speaker said she does not support raising the debt limit through the process of reconciliation, which would allow Democrats to pass any bill with just a simple majority. The process is time-consuming and Democrats have firmly said they oppose using the process.

In a letter to Biden, McConnell warned that come December he would be willing to allow the nation to default on its national debt rather than work with Democrats on a resolution.

"Your lieutenants on Capitol Hill now have the time they claimed they lacked to address the debt ceiling through standalone reconciliation, and all the tools to do it," McConnell said in the letter. "They cannot invent another crisis and ask for my help."

ABC News' Allison Pecorin contributed to this report.

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White House tells governors: Get ready to start vaccinating kids

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(WASHINGTON) -- In a private phone call Tuesday with the nation's governors, the White House said states should prepare to begin vaccinating elementary-aged kids against COVID-19 in early November and that it would work with local health officials in the coming days to identify which sites will receive the first doses.

In audio obtained by ABC News, White House officials told the governors it had enough pediatric doses on hand for the 28 million children ages 5 through 11 expected to become eligible once federal regulators give the green light.

Once that happens, the pediatric Pfizer vaccine will be distributed in 100-dose packs. The doses, which are about a third of what is given to adults, will be sent to thousands of sites, including pediatricians, family doctors, hospitals, health clinics and pharmacies enrolled in a federal program that guarantees the shots are provided for free.

Some states are planning to provide the vaccine through schools as well.

"We've secured plenty of supply, and we'll be putting in place an allocation, ordering and distribution system similar to what we've used for the other vaccines," said President Joe Biden's White House COVID coordinator, Jeff Zients, on the phone call to governors.

Zients said states should expect an initial rush for shots and ensure parents can easily schedule appointments.

"It's important that all of us recognize that parents have been waiting for a pediatric vaccine for a long time so they will understandably be very eager to get their kids vaccinated or kids vaccinated right away," he said.

Pfizer's study on elementary-aged kids included 4,500 volunteers from the U.S., Finland, Poland and Spain. Precise details on the effectiveness of the vaccines in clinical trials involving kids has not been publicly released, although Pfizer says the study showed the smaller dosage was safe and effective.

Separate vaccine trials are under way for toddlers and preschoolers, with results expected by the end of the year. A Pfizer vaccine for kids under 5 is expected to become available in early 2022.

Both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention must agree the pediatric COVID vaccines are safe and effective before any shots are given to kids.

Key meetings with independent advisers to those agencies are scheduled for later this month and the first week of November.

In anticipation of the FDA and CDC authorizing the vaccine for kids, the federal government purchased 65 million pediatric two-shot doses from Pfizer. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, 70% of providers who administer vaccines to kids are enrolled to offer COVID shots.

Whether parents will embrace the vaccines for their kids is still a question and could depend upon details released in coming weeks on the clinical trial. In a September poll, the Kaiser Family Foundation found that about a third of parents with kids ages 5-11 were willing to vaccinate their kids right away, while another third wanted to "wait and see." The figures represented a slight uptick in vaccine acceptance among parents of elementary-aged kids since July.

Overall, children are still considered significantly less likely than adults to experience bad outcomes from COVID-19. According to an estimate by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children's Hospital Association, less than 2% of all child COVID-19 cases resulted in hospitalization. ​

Still, health officials warned that the sudden spike in COVID cases this summer and fall resulted in an alarming number of hospitalizations among kids. Since late August, the U.S. reported more than 1.1 million pediatric cases.

ABC News' Cheyenne Haslett contributed to this report.

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Trial starting for Giuliani associate, Lev Parnas, in campaign finances case

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(NEW YORK) -- Former President Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani face no criminal charges but their names will figure into the trial that starts Tuesday in Manhattan of Soviet-born and Florida-based businessman Lev Parnas, who has been associated with Giuliani and now stands accused of making unlawful campaign donations.

Before they hear any evidence, prospective jurors are being asked about the former president and his personal attorney since federal prosecutors have said Parnas allegedly shared photos of himself with Trump and Giuliani to raise his profile.

When asked about the extent to which their names were going to come up by Judge Paul Oetken during a recent court hearing, assistant U.S. attorney Hagan Scotten replied, "They will come up really only peripherally."

Parnas, 49, allegedly made unlawful donations totaling more than $350,000 to two pro-Trump super PACs and former Texas Congressman Pete Sessions in 2018. Another part of the case involves Parnas and co-defendant Andrey Kukushkin being charged with acting as straw donors for a wealthy Russian who wanted to enter the burgeoning marijuana market in the United States.

Parnas and Kukushkin have each pleaded not guilty to all charges. Prosecutors have said the recipients of the donations did not know the source of those donations to be the wealthy Russian.

The alleged illicit donations overlapped with Giuliani's quest in Ukraine to unearth information that could damage then-presidential candidate Joe Biden, an effort in which Parnas allegedly positioned himself as a middleman.

During Trump’s first impeachment, a defense attorney for Parnas cast him as someone who could shed light on the ousting of ex-ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch. Prosecutors have since eliminated allegations involving Yovanovitch’s firing to “streamline” the case, as they put it to the judge.

In recent weeks, Parnas has claimed he can no longer afford to travel to New York. The U.S. Marshals were ordered to send a plane to bring him Florida and taxpayers will pay his hotel bill for the duration of the trial.

 

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