Political News

Migrant's arrest under 'Operation Lone Star' ruled unconstitutional

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(AUSTIN, Texas) -- The arrest of an Ecuadorian migrant under Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's initiative "Operation Lone Star" was ruled unconstitutional by a Texas county judge Thursday.

Some immigration advocates are hopeful the ruling by Travis County Judge Jan Soifer could potentially set a pathway for other migrants arrested under the controversial program.

Jesús Alberto Guzmán Curipoma, an engineer from Ecuador who hoped to submit a request for asylum, was arrested in September 2021 at a railroad switching yard in Kinney County on a criminal trespassing charge.

Guzmán Curipoma's attorneys, Angelica Cogliano and Addy Miró, argued that Operation Lone Star violates the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution which establishes that federal law takes precedence over state laws and therefore prohibits state laws form interfering with immigration enforcement by the federal government. Cogliano told ABC News that her client should have been able to submit a claim for asylum, but was instead arrested and detained for weeks.

The Travis County District Attorney's Office, which represented the state in the hearing, also agreed that Guzmán Curipoma's arrest violated the Constitution.

"After careful consideration, the Travis County District Attorney's Office agreed that Mr. Guzmán Curipoma's prosecution for criminal trespass as part of Operation Lone Star violates the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution and represents an impermissible attempt to intrude on federal immigration policy," said Travis County District Attorney José Garza in a statement. "In addition, DA's office concluded that based on the evidence, there were multiple ways in which the OLS program has failed to satisfy basic, fundamental, and procedural state and federal constitutional safeguards."

Abbott launched Operation Lone Star in March 2021, deploying thousands of National Guardsmen, Texas Department of Public Safety officers, and other state resources to the border and giving them the authority to arrest migrants under suspicion of criminal trespassing on private and state property.

Human rights organizations and the ACLU of Texas have called on the Department of Justice to investigate the program which they say sets up an alternative immigration system, one where migrants are arrested for faulty charges and detained for months without being given the chance to apply for asylum or seek representation. In December 2021, the ACLU of Texas and other civil rights groups filed a complaint with the DOJ and cited cases where migrants were allegedly lured onto private property by law enforcement agents so they could be arrested on trespassing charges.

"Operation Lone Star is a policy whereby they pretextually arrest people that they suspect of being here illegally, which is a fancy legal way of saying people that are brown on the border because there's no other way for anybody to try and determine if somebody looks like they could be illegal. That's not a thing you look like," Cogliano told ABC News "It's authorizing people to use that as a reason to arrest those people for certain offenses and detain them far longer than any U.S. citizen would be detained for that offense in Texas."

Kathryn Dyer, a clinical professor at the University of Texas School of Law, testified at the hearing on Thursday and spoke about her experience representing other clients arrested under the program.

"When you start taking away rights and building a separate legal system for people there's kind of no limit to it. This is concerning for immigrants and non-immigrants alike," Dyer told ABC News.

At a briefing in November, Texas DPS officials said there have been over 9,300 criminal arrests since Operation Lone Star's launch.

"These very serious constitutional issues have finally been heard and there's a judge that thinks that there were constitutional violations such that the case needed to be dismissed," Dyer said. "I do think that those issues and that ruling could open the door to other challenges."

A spokesperson for Gov. Abbott told ABC News in a statement that they expect the ruling will be overturned.

"The district court did not have legal authority to enter this flawed and collusive judgment without hearing from the Office of the Attorney General. There is no doubt that this will be overturned," said Nan Tolson. "In the meantime, Texas will continue to do what the Biden admin refuses to do: stepping up to secure our border and protect Texans from the catastrophic open border policies allowed by President Biden."

On Friday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a Tweet that he'd challenge the ruling.

"Lib Austin judge lets a Soros Travis County DA represent State of TX, then declares Op Lone Star unconstitutional. Ridiculous. Biden has FAILED to secure the border. Texas stepped in. We have the right to defend our border if the feds refuse. I'll fight this nonsense on appeal," he tweeted.

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Oath Keepers leader makes 1st court appearance following arrest on seditious conspiracy charge

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(WASHINGTON) -- The leader of the Oath Keepers militia group, who was indicted Thursday on a series of charges including seditious conspiracy in connection with the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol, made his first appearance before a judge Friday in a federal courtroom in Texas.

Stewart Rhodes, a former Army paratrooper and graduate of Yale Law School, could spend decades behind bars if convicted on all five federal counts he faces -- including the most serious seditious conspiracy charge, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

A lawyer for Rhodes told ABC News Friday that the allegations against Rhodes were "lies," and said that no members of the Oath Keepers ever "planned or conspired to attack the Capitol."

In his Friday court appearance, Rhodes responded "Yes" when asked by Magistrate Judge Kimberly Priest Johnson if he understood the charges against him. He then waived his right to have the full indictment read aloud.

Prosecutors asked that Rhodes be detained while he is awaiting trial, and the judge set a detention hearing for Jan. 20. Rhodes will remain in custody until then.

The indictment of Rhodes, along with 10 other alleged members of the Oath Keepers, signals a significant escalation in the Justice Department's sprawling investigation of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack and its prosecution of members of the far-right Oath Keepers militia group, described by prosecutors as a "large but loosely organized collection of individuals" who "explicitly focus on recruiting current and former military, law enforcement, and first-responder personnel."

Prosecutors allege Rhodes and other Oath Keepers began coordinating as early as just after Election Day "to oppose by force the execution of the laws governing the transfer of presidential power" between outgoing President Donald Trump and incoming President Joe Biden, according to court papers.

While Rhodes himself is not alleged to have entered the Capitol during the attack, prosecutors say he did enter the restricted area surrounding the building and coordinated with Oath Keepers who were part of a military-style "stack" formation seen walking into the building up the east side steps. Prosecutors said in their indictment Thursday that the members of the so-called "stack" were specifically searching for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, but left after they couldn't find her.

In their 48-page indictment, investigators chronicled in detail Rhodes' alleged communications with members of the group over private and encrypted apps, and their alleged accumulation of heavy weaponry and tactical gear that the group is accused of storing just outside Washington at a hotel in Virginia, where on Jan. 6 prosecutors say a so-called "Quick Reaction Force" of militia members waited on standby in case they were called into the city.

Nine of those charged in Thursday's indictment had been previously charged in connection with the Jan. 6 attack as part of what was already the Justice Department's largest and most complex conspiracy case tied to the insurrection.

In addition to Rhodes, 63-year-old Edward Vallejo of Arizona was arrested in Phoenix on Thursday and also charged with seditious conspiracy. Vallejo was allegedly part of the "Quick Reaction Force" that was lying in wait at the Virginia hotel.

After the riot, Rhodes and Vallejo allegedly met up at a restaurant where they "celebrated their attack" and discussed "next steps," according to the indictment. Vallejo allegedly sent a message to a Signal chat group the morning after Jan. 6 where he discussed making a "recon" trip to the Capitol to probe the "defense line" put up by law enforcement in the wake of the attack, court papers said.

Vallejo also made his first appearance before a magistrate judge in Phoenix on Friday afternoon, where a public defender representing him said he plans to plead not guilty to all charges against him. The judge set a detention hearing for next Thursday as the Justice Department seeks to keep Vallejo behind bars pending further legal proceedings in his case.

The deployment of the rarely-used seditious conspiracy charge will pose a major test for the Justice Department in its investigation into the Capitol attack and the prosecution of Rhodes as the founder and self-described leader of the Oath Keepers.

Only days after the Jan. 6 attack, the then-acting U.S. attorney for Washington, D.C., Michael Sherwin, said prosecutors were considering the potential for seditious conspiracy charges against some of the most "heinous acts" that took place at the Capitol. But as the investigation crossed the one-year mark and the number of arrests stretched beyond 700, such charges had yet to materialize, with prosecutors instead opting to bring charges like conspiracy or obstruction of an official proceeding, which similarly carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

Attorney General Merrick Garland appeared to foreshadow Thursday's charges last week in a speech marking the one-year anniversary of Jan. 6, when he addressed criticism of the department's handling of the investigation and the lack of charges to date against the more prominent figures believed to have coordinated the assault on Congress.

"The actions we have taken thus far will not be our last," Garland said. "The Justice Department remains committed to holding all Jan. 6 perpetrators, at any level, accountable under law -- whether they were present that day or were otherwise criminally responsible for the assault on our democracy."

John Sandweg, a former acting general counsel at the Department of Homeland Security, told ABC News that Thursday's indictment "confirms that the attack on the Capitol was not just an impulsive act, but was part of a premeditated conspiracy to forcibly steal the levers of power."

"It also demonstrates that, while much of the focus has been on the prosecution of those on lesser charges related to storming the Capitol, DOJ has been actively investigating the root causes of the attack," he said. "The question remains how far up the food chain will the rest of the investigation lead, but this indictment significantly ups the ante."

ABC News' Juan Renteria, James Scholz and Mireya Villarreal contributed to this report.

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Hamse Warfa makes US history as 1st Somali American presidential appointee

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(WASHINGTON) -- The White House announced this week that Hamse Warfa will join the Biden administration, making him the first Somali American presidential appointee in U.S. history.

He is currently a deputy commissioner for workforce development in Minnesota but will come on at the end of January as a senior adviser to the State Department on civilian security, democracy and human rights. In that role, he will help develop strategies for protecting and promoting democracy at home and abroad.

"My acceptance of this role is in direct response to President Biden's call to action to protect and promote democracy," he told ABC News.

Warfa's family fled Somalia after the country's civil war started in 1991 and lived in various refugee camps across Kenya, he said. After arriving in the United States as a teenager in 1994 alongside his family, he received a bachelor's degree in political science from San Diego State University and his master's in organizational management and leadership from Springfield College in the same city. He moved to Minnesota in 2012 after he was recruited by the state's largest philanthropic foundation, Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies, he explained.

The 2016 election season inspired Warfa to become more active in civic engagement.

"The strong anti-immigrant, and anti-Muslim policy and actions, motivated me to organize and get more involved at the state level," Warfa said. "Some of the Minnesota gubernatorial candidates talked about shutting down the refugee program, and in some cases, created fear about refugees in Minnesota, especially about Minnesota's Muslim, Somali community."

In 2019, the Minnesota governor's office appointed Warfa as deputy commissioner at the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, making him the highest-ranking Somali American official in the state's executive branch, according to the department.

Warfa's list of accomplishments also includes being the co-founder of BanQu, Inc., a blockchain service created to broaden economic opportunities for low-income people across the globe, as well as the recipient of a 2016 Bush Fellowship, which is granted to help develop leadership skills, and an Ashoka Fellowship for social entrepreneurs.

During his time in Minnesota government, he "successfully advocated for the largest job bill in state history, supplying workforce training to youth and adults," according to his department.

He served as an economic adviser to the Biden campaign, helping develop the administration's plans to reverse the Muslim ban and increase refugee admission numbers.

"When we talk about democracy, I want to make sure we talk about inclusive democracy," he told ABC News. "I want to bring my both lived and professional experiences to help the administration expand access to those affected by government policies and actions."

"I want to see America live through its ideals in building multiethnic and multiracial democracy that protects everyone," he added. "I hope people see in my example -- from the refugee camp to representing America -- hope for democracy and value of everyone's voice and vote."

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Advocates launch hunger strikes, hold events throughout US to push for voting rights

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(WASHINGTON) -- Advocates are taking action across the country as they hope to pressure members of Congress to pass voting rights legislation by Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

One of the actions being taken right now is a hunger strike by individuals in different parts of the U.S. as a form of protest to get the legislation passed.

Rev. Stephen A. Green, chair of Faith for Black Lives, organized a hunger strike that included him and 24 other faith leaders from across the country prompted by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer's "Dear collogues" letter released in early January.

"From Jan. 3, we noticed that there was a deadline or a date was identified for voting on or before Jan. 17," said Green. "And so, we decided to engage in this hunger strike to continue to apply pressure on the Senate to get it done on or before Jan. 17."

Green and the other faith leaders began their hunger strike on Jan. 6.

Un-PAC, a nonpartisan organization with a current mission is to get The Freedom to Vote Act passed, has restarted its hunger strike from last month and currently has members and allies protesting outside the U.S. Capitol.

"This is a last-minute push and a desperate plea because if this bill does not pass, by Martin Luther King Jr. Day or the end of January, it will be too late to implement many of the major facets of the bill [for the 2022 midterms]," said Callynn Johnson, a member of Un-PAC.

Last month, Un-PAC went on a hunger strike for just over two weeks outside the White House to push for voting rights legislation. The organization has more people joining them on their strike, including the faith leaders.

Another major event to support voting legislation will happen in Phoenix on Saturday, where there will be a voting rights mobilization.

"We will march over the 16th Street overpass here in Phoenix and march back to Eastlake Park," said Dr. Jannah Scott, a liaison and member of the leadership council with the African American Christian Clergy Coalition of Arizona. "Then, at the park part, we will have a program of speakers, of music, of people just coming together and giving their exhortation about why this is so important and about calling in Congress and the president to do what they need to do at this critical time in our history."

Eastlake Park has been a focal point for African American history. The park has traditionally been used for the annual Martin Luther King Jr. birthday celebration. The park has also held civil rights rallies, civil rights leaders' visits and is the starting point of all civil rights marches to the state Capitol.

Over the past year, the Arizona state legislature has passed state laws restricting voting access.

Arizona is also the home of Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., one of two key Democrats needed to end the filibuster and create a pathway for voting legislation. However, on Thursday, Sinema made it clear during her speech on the Senate floor that she does not intend to do that.

"There's no need for me to restate my long-standing support for the 60-vote threshold to pass legislation," said Sinema. "There's no need for me to restate its role protecting our country from wild reversals in federal policy is a view I've held during my years serving in both the U.S. House and the Senate and it is the view I continue to hold."

All these events lead up to Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday when over a 100 national and grassroots organizations will gather in Washington, D.C., for a march that will start at Potomac Avenue and end at Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge. A press conference will follow where Martin Luther King III, Arndrea Waters King and other voting rights leaders and community organizers will speak on the urgency to pass voting legislation.

Even after discussions with President Joe Biden and other Democratic colleagues, Sinema and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., are still not agreeing to end the filibuster. Without their votes, there is seemingly no pathway for voting legislation to pass before or on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, but that is not stopping protesters and voting rights advocates from taking action.

"We will escalate our mobilization if our demands are not met to have legislation passed by [Martin Luther King Jr. Day]," said Green.

"We will continue the calling for [voting rights]," said Scott. "We will not rest until this gets done."

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Some states move to protect abortion rights in face of challenge at Supreme Court

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(WASHINGTON) -- While the U.S. Supreme Court considers a case that could potentially overturn Roe v. Wade, some states are enacting or discussing protections for reproductive rights.

This week, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed a bill that codifies the right to an abortion, previously recognized by the state Supreme Court, into state law.

The so-called Freedom of Reproductive Choice Act, which quickly passed through the state legislature after first introduced on Jan. 6, grew out of concern that the conservative-leaning high court could overturn or limit Roe in the coming months through its decision on a Mississippi case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, that asks the justices to directly reconsider the nearly 50-year precedent.

"The United States Supreme Court is preparing to take a wrecking ball to its own precedent, Roe v. Wade, and that would also demolish our case law-based foundation here in New Jersey. Neither I nor those with me today can let that happen," Murphy said Thursday at a public bill signing. "Now, once I sign this bill, regardless of whether or not the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, New Jersey's position in supporting the right to reproductive autonomy will remain clear and unchanged."

The Democratic governor additionally signed a bill that requires insurers to cover 12 months of birth control prescriptions at one time.

Sarah Fajardo, policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, called the two bills an "important step" for residents as the country is "experiencing a crisis related to reproductive rights access and equity."

"These two bills not only declare the rights to abortion and reproductive autonomy in the Garden State, but expand much-needed access to contraception," Fajardo said during Thursday's bill signing.

Other states are also poised to address protecting abortion rights while the U.S. Supreme Court considers whether to uphold the Mississippi abortion ban.

The Vermont House of Representatives heard testimony this week on Prop 5, an amendment that would enshrine "reproductive autonomy," including abortion, in the state constitution. If ultimately passed by the state legislature, the proposal could go before voters in November.

In California, lawmakers are expected this year to consider a plan to make the state a "sanctuary" for anyone seeking abortion services should Roe be overturned. The California Future of Abortion Council, which Gov. Gavin Newsom convened in September, has recommended that the state help cover the cost of the procedure, as well as transportation, lodging, child care, food and lost wages, for those seeking an abortion there.

After hearing arguments last month over the Mississippi law, which would ban most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, the Supreme Court's conservative majority appeared inclined to scale back abortion rights. A decision on the case is expected by the end of the court's term in June.

Should the court overturn Roe, leaving the right to an abortion decided on a state-by-state basis, 26 states are "certain or likely" to ban abortion, according to a report published in October by the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-abortion rights research organization.

Among those, 21 states already have so-called trigger laws that would immediately ban abortion if Roe were overturned. The other five states are likely to ban abortion should Roe be overturned, the Guttmacher report said.

Fifteen states and Washington, D.C., currently have laws that protect the right to abortion, according to the institute.

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Biden administration to launch website for free at-home COVID tests on Wednesday

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(WASHINGTON) -- The Biden administration will launch a new website on Wednesday that Americans can use to request free at-home rapid COVID tests mailed to their doorsteps, senior White House officials said on Friday.

People will be able to order four tests per household at COVIDTests.gov. They won’t be delivered immediately, though. They will be shipped out 7-12 days after they’re ordered, senior officials said.

That means the first free tests won’t reach Americans until late January or early February, which will be too late to blunt the peak of omicron cases in many parts of the country. Still, the plan will allow Americans to have free tests on-hand in the coming weeks and months.

All that people need to enter on the site to receive a test is a name and an address. The White House will also launch a call line for people who don't have computer access.

Another 500 million tests will eventually also be available, bringing the total to 1 billion free at-home tests distributed to Americans, but the White House hasn’t announced a timeline for the second batch of tests.

And more immediately, starting Saturday, people will be able to get up to eight tests per month reimbursed through insurance if they go out and purchase them on their own, either online or at stores.

"In the first couple of days, we're encouraging people to just make sure you keep your receipts as the systems are getting up online," a senior administration official said on Friday.

The White House is also incentivizing insurers to work with retailers and offer the tests for free up-front for people who show their insurance cards, similar to how prescriptions might be covered at the pharmacy. Those partnerships between insurers and retailers are still in the works.

This is on top of 50 million free at-home tests that have been doled out to community health centers around the country and 20,000 free testing sites.

Taken together, it all signifies a clear effort on behalf of the administration to increase the testing supply after omicron caught the government off guard.

The myriad testing options now in full swing will also likely take the pressure off the website launching on Wednesday, particularly as cases begin to fall in some northeastern areas.

Less demand will give the White House time to finish contracting all 500 million tests.

Currently, the White House only has tens of millions of tests on hand, a senior administration official confirmed Friday.

They’ve secured another 400 million or so that are still being manufactured and delivered.

But senior administration officials said they were confident they would be able to get tests sent out to any American who ordered a test next week within their shipping timeline of 7-12 days.

"We're confident that with our contracting speed, which is very fast, with the ones we have on hand, and the timeline we're laying out today, that we can meet all of our timelines and get these to Americans that want them," a senior administration official said.

The tests will be sent via the U.S. Postal Service as first class mail.

The tests will not necessarily be of use to Americans who were exposed and want to take a test within the first 5 days of exposure, or come down with symptoms and want to test immediately, since they'll take more than 7-12 days to arrive.

But senior administration officials ran through the host of other testing options Americans can use in those scenarios and defended this program as one "​​designed to ensure that Americans have at-home rapid tests on hand in the weeks and months ahead, as they have a need."

The officials also said they were "ready" to meet demand on Wednesday and prevent any website crashes, as seen during former President Barack Obama’s launch of Healthcare.gov, which was overseen at the time by the current White House COVID Coordinator Jeff Zients.

"Of course, every website launch poses some risks, we are quite cognizant of that. But we have the best tech teams" across the administration, an official said. "So we're ready for this and we're ready for Americans to start ordering their tests on January 19."

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GOP candidates focus on school board controversies to bolster campaigns

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(WASHINGTON) -- With the midterm elections officially taking center stage in national politics, GOP candidates up and down the ballot are taking advantage of nationwide divides over education issues -- homing in on controversies over how much power school boards should have to bolster their campaigns.

Parental involvement, curriculum choices, COVID policies and vaccine mandates dominated conversations relating to Virginia's 2021 gubernatorial race, after Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe said he didn't think parents should have a say in what their children are taught at school, which, in part, ultimately delivered a win for Republican Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin.

The controversy over whether and how to teach about race also helped bring school boards into the national conversation, further seeping the bodies into partisan politics. School boards are now so contentious that some state legislatures are looking to make their normally nonpartisan elections, partisan.

In 2021, Tennessee passed a bill to attach party affiliation to school board candidates, and Arizona, Missouri, Utah and Indiana are among the states flirting with the idea.

School board elections, as with other down-ballot races, often don't pull hordes of attention from voters. But already in 2022, 20 school board recall efforts have been launched across the country, according to data tracked by the nonpartisan organization Ballotpedia. In 2021, 91 recall efforts were pursued, on average more than twice as many as had been seen in the past.

Like other battlegrounds, school boards have taken center stage in Arizona. GOP candidates for governor there and those hoping to unseat Sen. Mark Kelly in Washington have even started dropping in on school board meetings to shore up support.

School boards were propelled into the spotlight in the state after a document from a Scottsdale school board member listing personal information about parents who had criticized the district was shared by his son, according to the Arizona Republic. Politicians weighed in on the controversy that ensued and, ultimately, efforts to remove the member were successful.

Kari Lake, a former TV anchor, who is running for Arizona governor with backing from former President Donald Trump, and Jim Lamon, a businessman running to unseat Kelly in the Senate, held a joint rally outside the Scottsdale high school in late November ahead of a school board meeting to discuss the parental "dossier."

Lamon offered to pay legal expenses for parents who chose to pursue lawsuits against the district related to coronavirus policies or other issues.

"These people in that school board meeting about to kick off here, they work for you," Lamon said outside the Scottsdale meeting, according to the Arizona Republic.

"They work for the parents and the kids, not for themselves. And we don't work for them. ... We're a peaceful group, we're great parents here, and we'll stand tall. And I got your back," he added.

Lake cut an ad with mothers from the district announcing she would establish the "Arizona Parent Coalition" as governor, which would "serve as an oversight to unruly school boards and the union bosses."

"When all of us parents rally together, we win. And when we win, we will root out critical race theory," she said in a campaign video.

Lake is fundraising on the school board controversy as well, with a page on the Republican donation hosting site WinRed dedicated specifically to to it. She's singled herself out from the GOP field across the state by calling for cameras in all classrooms, which her competitors and sitting GOP Gov. Doug Ducey have spoken out against.

Former GOP Rep. Matt Salmon, who is running for governor, has called on the Arizona School Board Association to distance itself from the national branch. He told ABC News that while he doesn't think school board issues will necessarily draw single-issue voters, he does think they will engage previously unengaged ones.

"It looks like we've awakened the sleeping giant, and it's not just this, it's all kinds of government intrusion," Salmon said. "I think this is part and parcel of a lot of things that people are seeing: that their way of life is not getting better. It's getting worse."

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Nurses hold vigil at White House, demanding safer COVID working conditions

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(WASHINGTON) -- Health care workers held a vigil across from the White House Thursday night, lighting 481 candles, saying each represented the life of a nurse lost to COVID.

Activists recited poems and told personal stories, claiming the nurses' deaths were preventable and demanding workplace covid safety protections from both the government and the for-profit foundations of the hospitals they serve.

"When our workplaces aren't safe, nurses leaves, nurses get sick. And as these candles demonstrate, nurses die," Julia Truelove, an intensive care unit registered nurse in Washington, D.C., told ABC News. "We're here to say there is no nursing shortage, there is a shortage of workers willing to work under these nightmarish conditions."

"We're advocating for two main actions the federal government needs to take to help us be safe at work," Truelove said..

"The first is for OSHA to pass a permanent COVID standard which means that going forward, our employers are held accountable for keeping us safe with optimum precautions at work. The second is for the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) to base their guidance on the best science and the best public health, not just what is best for business," she said.

"The CDC is now telling us that if we're COVID positive we can come back to work no problem. That's unsafe for nurses, it's unsafe for our patients, it's unsafe for our coworkers," she said.

Nurses throughout the U.S., arguing they are overworked, understaffed, and negotiating for baseline safety protocols, have organized through National Nurses United, one of the fastest growing unions in the country, to take up their cause in the political arena with membership close to 175,000 worldwide.

"I have to work tomorrow, I have to work tomorrow morning, I'd like to be at home,” Truelove said, adding she was exhausted after taking on multiple 12-hour shifts multiple times a week. "But I know that someone has to be here and someone has to stand up right now for nurses from across the country that can't be here, so I'm happy to be here to represent those nurses who are fighting in their communities but yes, it's an extra burden because the government isn't doing it."

"Nurses will always fight to be by our patient's sides but when we are sick, when we are driven away from the profession, or worst of all when we are lost to this world for good, who will be left to care for the patients,” Truelove said.

"Nurses are not expendable. We cannot afford for one more nurse's life to go out due to preventable causes," she said.

ABC News' Lalee Ibssa contributed to this report.

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President Biden to announce new investment in nation's bridges

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(WASHINGTON) -- President Joe Biden will announce a nearly $27 billion investment Friday to fund repairs and replace bridges in need.

The Department of Transportation will launch the Bridge Replacement, Rehabilitation, Preservation, Protection, and Construction Program, which will provide $26.5 billion to states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico over five years and $825 million for tribal transportation facilities.

"The Biden-Harris Administration is thrilled to launch this program to fix thousands of bridges across the country -- the single largest dedicated bridge investment since the construction of the Interstate highway system," Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement. "Modernizing America's bridges will help improve safety, support economic growth, and make people's lives better in every part of the country -- across rural, suburban, urban, and tribal communities."

The funding is part of the bipartisan infrastructure package that Biden signed into law in November. While the program is slated to help repair thousands of bridges across the country, the administration is also seeking to use the program to increase resiliency when it comes to climate change, as well as make bridges safer for cyclists and pedestrians.

Across the country, the program is expected to help repair approximately 15,000 highway bridges, and will be allocated to each state according to a needs-based formula -- though the choice of which projects are undertaken are left up to the states.

While the funding for fiscal year 2022 is being released immediately, states will learn their funding totals for the full five years of the program in order to plan ahead, a senior administration official told reporters.

"As part of this announcement, the Federal Highway Administration will distribute $5.3 billion to states, D.C. and Puerto Rico for the current federal fiscal year, along with $165 million to tribes," the official said.

Some of the states set to receive the most funding include Pennsylvania, Illinois, California and New York.

In addition to providing funds to states to replace and repair highway bridges, the program has dedicated funding for "off-system" bridges, which are often locally owned and not part of the federal highway system.

"While states generally must match federal funding with up to 20% state or local funding, the bipartisan infrastructure law allows the use of federal funds to pay for the entire cost -- 100% of the cost -- of repairing or rehabilitating locally owned off-system bridges," the official stressed.

"The department encourages governors and states to take advantage of this incentive to make their federal dollars go further by focusing on local bridges," they added.

Pressed on how the administration planned to enforce its desire to focus funds on repairs for existing bridges, and emphasizing equity when new bridges are constructed, particularly in Republican-run states, the official brushed off the concern.

"Bridges in general are neither red nor blue. They're an important piece of infrastructure in communities," the official said. "And the state transportation departments have a good track record of investing in bridges based on the condition of those bridges. And we're confident that with these funds and with the guidance we've provided and with the conversations that we've been having with them, they're going to be directing the funds to the bridges that are in most need of repair."

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Why Spanish-language voting ballots are critical for democracy, advocates say

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(NEW YORK) -- As the midterm elections approach later this year, some states and jurisdictions have required voting ballots to be made available in other languages besides English.

The Latino population continues to grow in the United States and some counties have mandated that ballots in Spanish are available at polling sites.

However, Spanish and non-English ballots are not required across the nation, though some advocates say that multilingual ballots are critical for democracy.

"We need to have bilingual ballots, bilingual material across the country, it should be a national requirement and a national norm," said Domingo Garcia, the national president for the League of United Latin American Citizens.

In the 2020 U.S. Census data, the Latino population accounted for over 60 million people. Yet, according to a study conducted by the City University of New York, only 10.6% of Latinos voted in the 2020 elections.

Some advocates believe that one of the reasons behind this lagging voting number is a language barrier.

"When we look at the language barrier, it is voter suppression, right? It is discriminatory against eligible citizens who ... have the right to access ballots," said League of United Latin American Citizens Chief Executive Director Sindy Benavides.

Benavides said the need for ballot materials in Spanish include a need for other voting resources, such as interpreters, bilingual ballot directors and even flyers that can influence voter turnout.

"The requirements are very straightforward. ... All election information that is available in English must also be available in the minority language so that all citizens have the opportunity to register and to participate in elections and be able to cast a free and effective ballot," said Benavides. "We know that language barrier is directly tied to low voter turnout."

The areas of impact

Across the nation, at least 331 U.S. jurisdictions are required by law to offer language assistance to specific groups. But that number only makes for 4.1% of the 2,920 counties and 5,120 minor civil divisions that constitute the political subdivisions in U.S. Section 203 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

"In our own backyard, across the entire United States -- Ohio, Utah, Maryland, Virginia, Georgia, you name it -- we are touching every single state and one fact that is true, is that the Latino community will continue to grow for decades to come," said Benavides.

According to U.S. Section 203, if over 5% of a township or county's voting-age citizens are limited in English proficiency they need to be covered by language provisions within the Voting Rights Act, according to the U.S. Census.

Just last month, in the Washington, D.C., area, Prince George's County in Maryland and Prince William County in Virginia mandated ballots in Spanish to accommodate their significant Latino populations.

But in Georgia, Latino activists have pushed for Spanish-language ballots in Hall County, where 28% of all residents are Hispanic, according to Census data.

"What we've heard specifically from the community has been that not having information in Spanish limits their ability to be able to freely and openly participate," said Jerry Gonzalez, founder and CEO of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, or GALEO.

"Our community really takes voting very seriously, and they want to be informed and educated about what's on the ballot," said Gonzalez. "Sometimes not knowing what's on the ballot, because they can't read it in Spanish, makes them hesitant to actually cast a ballot and it prevents people from voting."

In November 2020, according to a report from GALEO, there were 385,185 Latino voters, representing 4.1% of the total electorate in Georgia. When compared to the 2016 analysis, the Latino electorate in the state grew by 140,995 Latino registered voters, representing a growth rate of 57.7%.

"Our effort is to make sure that we educate our community in both English and Spanish about the importance of their vote and also the importance of these elections and how consequential they are for us moving our community forward," said Gonzalez.

Hall County, Georgia, Elections Director Lori Wurtz told the Gainesville Times in December that Spanish ballots in the county would not be reevaluated for another five years, however, after that evaluation, she foresees the county qualifying for bilingual ballots. According to the U.S Census, jurisdictions are evaluated every five years using data from the American Community Survey.

"When we are tapped to do this, we're ready," Wurtz told the outlet.

Need for change

This week, the Senate will meet to discuss voting rights. However, Gonzalez emphasizes the need to also have "language barrier" as part of the U.S. Voting Rights Act.

This would be a key addition for Puerto Ricans, who have the right to vote in the United States as American citizens. If Puerto Ricans move to one of the 50 states, they are allowed to vote in federal elections, but they might not feel confident to do so with Spanish being the main language spoken on the island.

"It is important for Puerto Ricans to vote in the language that they understand, because there are now more Puerto Ricans living on the mainland," said Kira Romero-Craft from Latino Justice Puerto Rico Legal Defense Educational Fund.

"If they want to influence Congress to impact the island then Puerto Ricans need to vote," she told ABC News. "Puerto Rico, to me, is like the perfect example of why we need to care and why we need to engage and vote as if our life depended on it -- because it does."

Although a language barrier continues to be an ongoing issue in some states, advocates are calling on Latinos to go out and take to the polls regardless of current circumstances that may affect them.

"Your vote counts; your voice is your vote. And right now, more than ever, if you want immigration reform, then you got to vote to make sure that you have a congressperson or senator that will represent your points of view," said Garcia.

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Sinema, Manchin reject Biden push to change filibuster for voting rights

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(WASHINGTON) -- As President Joe Biden headed to Capitol Hill on Thursday in an attempt to persuade Democratic lawmakers to back a major change to the Senate's rules that would allow voting rights legislation to move forward, two key Democratic senators again rejected the idea.

Making the trip risked his political capital, after delivering an impassioned speech Tuesday in which he said there was "no option" except for senators to do away with the filibuster -- a rule that requires 60 votes, rather than a simple majority of 50, to advance most legislation -- if the bills could not be advanced another way.

"I've been having these quiet conversations with members of Congress for the last two months," he said Tuesday. "I'm tired of being quiet!"

But Biden quickly faced a losing battle in transforming his rhetoric into action as a pair of Democratic senators -- Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona -- repeated their steadfast opposition to changing the filibuster.

Even as he headed to Capitol Hill Thursday, Sinema made a Senate floor speech saying she would not support changing the rule.

"There's no need for me to restate my longstanding support for the 60-vote threshold to pass legislation. There's no need for me to restate its role in protecting our country from wild reversals of federal policy," Sinema said. "This week's harried discussions about Senate rules are but a poor substitute for what I believe could have and should have been a thoughtful public debate at any time over the past year."

"Demands to eliminate this threshold from whichever party holds the fleeting majority amount to a group of people separated on two sides of a canyon, shouting that solution to their colleagues," she added.

And soon after, Manchin told reporters he thought Sinema did a "great job" in her floor speech and said that the Senate needs "rules changes" but "not getting rid of the filibuster" -- a blow to Biden before he even arrived on the Hill for the Democratic caucus lunch.

After emerging from the closed-door meeting with Senate Democrats, Biden said, "The honest to God answer is, I don’t know whether we can get this done." He added, "I hope we can get this done, but I'm not sure. But one thing for certain, one thing for certain. Like every other major civil rights bill that came along, if we miss the first time, we can come back and try it a second time. We missed this time."

He referred to efforts in Republican-led states to pass more restrictive voting laws. "The state legislative bodies continue to change the law, not as to who can vote, but who gets to count the vote. Count the vote. Count the vote. It's about election subversion, not just whether or not people get to vote: who counts the vote. That's what it's about. That's what makes this so different than anything else we’ve ever done."

In the evening, Manchin and Sinema met with Biden at the White House for over an hour.

Despite the holdouts in his own party, Biden has made clear this week who he thinks would be to blame if he's unsuccessful in getting voting rights through: Republicans, who he said Tuesday were choosing the side of standing in the way of advancing civil rights if they block the bills.

And all 50 Republican senators oppose the bills, which Democrats say are needed to create national standards for making voting more accessible and to put a check on new state laws that make it more difficult for members of minority groups and others to cast their ballots.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell appeared visibly angry Wednesday as he blasted Biden's speech, calling it "profoundly, profoundly unpresidential." He deemed the remarks a "rant" that "was incoherent, incorrect and beneath his office."

When asked by ABC News about McConnell's rebuke, Biden said: "I like Mitch McConnell. He's a friend."

Despite Biden's support for a carveout to the filibuster, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced Wednesday that Democrats planned to use existing rules to prevent Republicans from using the filibuster to block debate from starting.

House Democrats are expected to replace an existing piece of legislation -- one that would not require a vote for debate to begin -- with both the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, allowing them to bypass Republicans' attempts to block the legislation from debate.

"The Senate will finally debate voting rights legislation, and then every Senator will be faced with a choice of whether or not to pass the legislation to protect our democracy," Schumer wrote in a memo to the Democratic Caucus Wednesday.

Still, Republicans will have another opportunity to block the bill from passing by filibustering before debate ends. Without changing the rules around the filibuster, the legislation will still require 60 votes to pass.

Biden, a veteran of the Senate and a self-described "institutionalist," has undergone an evolution in his view of the filibuster during the first year as president.

In an interview in March, Biden told ABC News' George Stephanopoulos that he supports bringing back the "talking filibuster," a version of the rule that would require a senator to "stand up and command the floor" and "keep talking" in order to hold up legislation.

Biden went further during a CNN town hall in October, noting that he would be open to "fundamentally altering" the filibuster on issues of particular consequence like voting rights.

But Biden's most definitive comments came in December while speaking with ABC News' David Muir, saying he would support a carveout to the filibuster in order to pass the voting rights legislation if that was the "only thing" standing in the way.

"If the only thing standing between getting voting rights legislation passed and not getting passed is the filibuster, I support making the exception of voting rights for the filibuster," Biden told Muir.

ABC News' Trish Turner and Allison Pecorin contributed to this report.

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Supreme Court blocks Biden vaccine-or-test mandate for large businesses

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(WASHINGTON) -- The Supreme Court on Thursday issued a stay of the OSHA vaccine-or-test requirement on private businesses of 100 or more workers, dealing a setback to the Biden administration's effort to control the COVID pandemic.

By a 6-3 vote, with the three liberal justices -- Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan -- dissenting, the court reasoned that the agency exceeded its authority to regulate workplace safety.

"Although COVID-19 is a risk that occurs in many workplaces, it is not an occupational hazard in most," the majority wrote.

At the same time, the justices voted 5-4 -- with Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh joining the three liberals -- to allow the Biden administration to require vaccination of health care workers at facilities that treat Medicare and Medicaid patients, subject to religious and medical exemptions.

Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas dissented, joined by Justices Neil Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett.

Business groups and a coalition of Republican-led states challenging the Biden vaccine rules praised the rulings.

"Today's decision is welcome relief for America's small businesses, who are still trying to get their business back on track since the beginning of the pandemic," said Karen Harned, executive director of National Federation of Independent Business Small Business Legal Center, which sued OSHA. "As small businesses try to recover after almost two years of significant business disruptions, the last thing they need is a mandate that would cause more business challenges."

All of the court's conservatives were in agreement that Congress should have been more specific and clear if it had intended to give an agency such sweeping power to impose vaccination on more than 80 million Americans.

"This is no 'everyday exercise of federal power," the court's majority wrote. "It is instead a significant encroachment into the lives—and health—of vast number [sic] of employees. We expect Congress to speak clearly when authorizing an agency to exercise powers of vast economic and political significance. There can be little doubt that OSHA's mandate qualifies as an exercise of such authority."

In dissent, Justices Breyer, Kagan and Sotomayor argued that extraordinary times can require extraordinary measures and that Congress gave the agency sufficient charge to respond to emergencies.

"In our view, the Court's order seriously misapplies the applicable legal standards," they wrote. "And in so doing, it stymies the Federal Government's ability to counter the unparalleled threat that COVID–19 poses to our Nation's workers. Acting outside of its competence and without legal basis, the Court displaces the judgments of the Government officials given the responsibility to respond to workplace health emergencies."

During nearly four hours of oral arguments last Friday in two highly expedited cases, the justices all appeared to fully comprehend the gravity of the moment for American public health; but many justices voiced fundamental disagreement with the federal government's authority to impose vaccine mandates nationwide.

"I am disappointed in the court's decision, which is a major setback to the health and safety of workers across the country," said Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, who oversees OSHA. "Regardless of the ultimate outcome of these proceedings, OSHA will do everything in its existing authority to hold businesses accountable for protecting workers."

One rule by OSHA that took effect on Monday required private employers with 100 or more employees to ensure they are vaccinated or subject the unvaccinated to a mandatory mask-and-testing policy, at the company's expense.

The Department of Health and Human Services has separately ordered all health care facilities that treat Medicare and Medicaid patients with federal funding to require vaccinations for all workers and staff, with limited exemptions allowed for religious or health reasons. The policy is in effect in roughly half the country after a federal appeals court halted it in some areas.

Combined, both policies would cover roughly 100 million Americans, officials said.

In the case involving health care workers, five justices reasoned that federal law and common practice have more clearly affirmed the HHS secretary's power to mandate vaccines.

"Congress authorized the Secretary to promulgate, as a condition of a facility's participation in the programs, such 'requirements as [he] finds necessary in the interest of the health and safety of individuals who are furnished services in the institution,'" the majority wrote, quoting from the statute.

"Relying on these authorities, the Secretary has established long lists of detailed conditions with which facilities must comply to be eligible to receive Medicare and Medicaid funds," they wrote. "Such conditions have long included a requirement that certain providers maintain and enforce an 'infection prevention and control program.'"

The majority also pointed out that most hospitals and health systems do not oppose the rule and, in fact, commonly require employees to be vaccinated for hepatitis B, influenza, measles, mumps and rubella.

Thomas and Alito took a narrower view in dissent, saying federal law does not authorize such a mandate.

More than 10.4 million health care workers at 76,000 federally-funded facilities will now be covered by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services vaccine mandate, according to the administration.

President Joe Biden said he was "disappointed" with the court's decision in the OSHA case but said a ruling upholding the requirement for health care workers will save lives.

"The lives of patients who seek care in medical facilities, as well as the lives of doctors, nurses, and others who work there," Biden said in a statement. "We will enforce it."

Twenty-two states already mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for health care workers while six states explicitly ban them, according to the National Academy for State Health Policy. No state issues a similar requirement for private businesses.

Hundreds of private businesses, however, have voluntarily imposed their own vaccine requirements for employees. Those policies are unaffected by the court's ruling.

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RNC threatens to 'prohibit' future nominees from participating in presidential debates

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(WASHINGTON) -- The Republican National Committee says it plans to make a major change heading into the 2024 election that would "prohibit" Republican nominees from participating in debates sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates, according to a letter sent by the RNC and obtained by ABC News.

The move follows longstanding criticisms from Republicans over the commission's handling of presidential debates, culminating in former President Donald Trump skipping the second out of three originally scheduled debates in the 2020 election against President Joe Biden. RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel called for changes be made to the commission last June.

The letter, dated Thursday and signed by McDaniel, outlines the communication between the RNC and CPD over the past year regarding concerns about the CPD's ability to "provide a fair and impartial forum for presidential debates, and proposing reforms to address these concerns."

The news was first reported by The New York Times.

The RNC said the CPD must address its "failures" if the organization wishes to have creditability within the Republican Party, including adopting term limits for its board of directors, committing to holding at least one debate before the start of early voting and establishing transparent criteria for selecting debate moderators.

Frank Fahrenkopf, chairman of the CPD, told ABC News he met with the RNC and tried to convey that the commission doesn't work with parties, only candidates.

"They just want to take over everything and we told them that we don't deal with the political parties, we never have," Fahrenkopf said. "We have nothing to do with the Republican, Democratic party or any other political party. We work only with those candidates for president and vice president who meet the requirements that we put out a year or so ahead of time."

The CPD, established in 1987 to ensure general election debates for president and vice president are part of the electoral process, said its handling of he 2024 debates "will be based on fairness, neutrality and a firm commitment to help the American public learn about the candidates and the issues."

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FBI arrests Oath Keepers leader on charge of seditious conspiracy involving Jan. 6 attack

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(WASHINGTON) -- The Justice Department has unsealed a major indictment charging the leader of the Oath Keepers militia group along with multiple other members with seditious conspiracy related to their alleged coordination in advance of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

The three indictments mark the Justice Department's first Jan. 6 use of the seditious conspiracy charge, which accuses Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes and other members of the group of conspiring to "oppose by force the execution of the laws governing the transfer of presidential power" from outgoing President Donald Trump to incoming President Joe Biden.

Rhodes was arrested in Little Elm, Texas, according to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia.

A lawyer representing Rhodes told ABC News that Rhodes was arrested while he was preparing for a virtual appearance Thursday before the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack. Attorney Jonathon Moseley said he was on the phone with Rhodes discussing the House investigation when Rhodes received a call from the FBI to come out of his house with his hands up in order to be arrested.

A conviction on the charge of seditious conspiracy carries a maximum sentence of no more than 20 years.

Before today, the Justice Department's case targeting 17 members of the Oath Keepers was already the department's largest and most complex conspiracy case resulting from the Jan. 6 attack. Three other members of the Oath Keepers charged as part of the conspiracy have already pleaded guilty and entered into cooperation deals with the government.

Rhodes, who is not believed to have entered the Capitol but was seen with several of the defendants gathered outside on Capitol grounds both before and after they entered the building, has denied any involvement in urging the group to storm the building and has said he believes it was wrong for the members of the group to do so.

In previous court documents in the conspiracy case against the Oath Keepers, Rhodes was repeatedly referred to as "Person 1" as prosecutors outlined his communications to members in advance of Jan. 6.

Several members of the group are alleged to have stashed heavy weapons at a hotel in Virginia and positioned a so-called "Quick Reaction Force" that would come to Washington in the event of significant violence or if former President Donald Trump invoked the Insurrection Act.

"The charges against Stewart Rhodes send a strong message about the criminal conspiracy he was engaged in," Javed Ali, the former senior counterterrorism director at the National Security Council and a former FBI and DHS official, told ABC News. "While there is no crime of domestic terrorism under U.S. law, the seditious conspiracy charge that Rhodes and others will now face is one of dozens of crimes under the terrorism enhancement statute, which could boost the amount of years he and other defendants face if these cases go to trial and the U.S. government wins."

The new charges come a week after Attorney General Merrick Garland delivered remarks to the Justice Department's workforce on the federal investigation into Jan. 6, in which he pledged that all those "criminally responsible" would be held to account, "at any level."

"We build investigations by laying a foundation," Garland said in the remarks. "We resolve more straightforward cases first because they provide the evidentiary foundation for more complex cases. Investigating the more overt crimes generates linkages to less overt ones. Overt actors and the evidence they provide can lead us to others who may also have been involved. And that evidence can serve as the foundation for further investigative leads and techniques."

As alleged in the indictments, the Oath Keepers are a large but loosely organized collection of individuals, some of whom are associated with militias. Though the Oath Keepers will accept anyone as members, they explicitly focus on recruiting current and former military, law enforcement, and first-responder personnel. Members and affiliates of the Oath Keepers were among the individuals and groups who forcibly entered the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

ABC News' Will Steakin contributed to this report.

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1 million expired COVID tests sitting in Florida warehouse OK to use after FDA grants extension

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(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has extended the shelf life of up to 1 million rapid COVID-19 tests that had expired in a Florida warehouse.

Earlier this month, Gov. Ron DeSantis' administration revealed between 800,000 and 1 million Abbott BinaxNOW COVID-19 tests had sat idle in a warehouse and expired in December.

Federal regulators, however, approved a three-month extension, meaning the tests can be used through March.

During a news conference Wednesday, DeSantis announced that the tests were being made available again and would be sent out.

"Different testing centers, different county health [department] people that want them, [they're] gonna go, but those are not at-home tests, those are older Abbott tests," DeSantis said.

The Florida Department of Health clarified in a statement that the tests are "produced for testing sites and require trained professionals to administer them."

The news of the stockpile was first revealed in late December by Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who's running for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 2022.

Fried told ABC News that after seeing long lines for tests last month, her team started calling local health departments to figure out why there were delays. She said an official high up in the governor's administration eventually told her about the stockpile.

"These are a million tests that should have been distributed to local departments of health, to local communities that needed these tests," she said. "We knew that omicron was coming to our country and our state, and he missed the mark and completely dropped the ball."

"It was wonderful that we had a stockpile," she added, "but if the stockpile isn't distributed and the tests aren't being distributed, then what good is it?"

At a press conference about a week later, DeSantis and Kevin Guthrie, director of Florida's Division of Emergency Management, confirmed that between 800,000 and 1 million tests had expired.

Guthrie said the tests originally were set to expire in September but the FDA earlier in 2021 had extended it until December.

DeSantis said the stockpile had gone unused due to low testing demand over the fall and that he was asking the Biden administration to extend the expiration date.

"We couldn't have predicted that Florida would have the lowest COVID prevalence in the fall," Christina Pushaw, a spokeswoman for the governor's office, told ABC News. "We had really low demand for testing. That was unexpected, and that's pretty much why" the kits weren't sent out.

Fried said this explanation is "completely inadequate" and that DeSantis' administration had time to distribute the tests before they expired.

"We all saw the lines. As I've driven across the state, I saw four-, five-hour lines," she said. "Knowing these were going to expire, he should have distributed them to all of the local health departments, should have replenished the stock, should have even done a swap exchange between the stockpile we had with other testing facilities, nursing homes, make sure they were utilizing the tests that were about to expire."

Pushaw said she's not aware of any testing center in Florida that didn't get the number of tests requested from the state.

In a Jan. 7 letter posted on the FDA's website, the agency said it was able to extend the shelf life of the test kits after Abbott provided stability data showing the kits would still work for at least 15 months if stored at room temperature.

After the FDA granted the extension, Fried said she's glad the tests can still be used but is calling on the DeSantis administration to take the White House up on its offer to set up federal testing sites.

"We need more testing," she said. "That is the only way to know if you're actually positive. I know it's flu season and cold season, and people need to know if they are positive in order to stay away from those vulnerable populations."

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