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Politics News

Steven Ferdman/Getty ImagesBy LUIS MARTINEZ and MARTHA RADDATZ, ABC NEWS

(WASHINGTON) -- In rare public comments James Mattis, President Donald Trump's first and former defense secretary, has blasted the commander in chief for how he has handled the wave of protests following the death of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer.

"Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people -- does not even pretend to try," Mattis wrote in an essay in The Atlantic. "Instead he tries to divide us."

"We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort," wrote Mattis. "We can unite without him, drawing on the strengths inherent in our civil society. This will not be easy, as the past few days have shown, but we owe it to our fellow citizens; to past generations that bled to defend our promise; and to our children."

Mattis told ABC News Chief Global Affairs Anchor Martha Raddatz, "Enough is enough," shortly after the publication of his essay on Wednesday evening.

Since resigning as defense secretary in December 2018 over Trump's plans to pull U.S. military troops out of Syria, Mattis has never directly criticized the president.

In the essay entitled "In Union There is Strength" Mattis wrote that he has watched this week's events and is "angry and appalled."

"We must not be distracted by a small number of lawbreakers," he wrote. "The protests are defined by tens of thousands of people of conscience who are insisting that we live up to our values -- our values as people and our values as a nation.

Mattis wrote that the oath to preserve the Constitution that he and other service members took would be used " to violate the Constitutional rights of their fellow citizens -- much less to provide a bizarre photo op for the elected commander-in-chief, with military leadership standing alongside.

"We must reject any thinking of our cities as a "battlespace" that our uniformed military is called upon to "dominate," Mattis wrote in an apparent reference to current Defense Secretary Mark Esper who used that term in a conference call with governors.

"We know that we are better than the abuse of executive authority that we witnessed in Lafayette Park. We must reject and hold accountable those in office who would make a mockery of our Constitution," he continued.

"At the same time, we must remember Lincoln's "better angels," and listen to them, as we work to unite," he wrote. "Only by adopting a new path -- which means, in truth, returning to the original path of our founding ideals -- will we again be a country admired and respected at home and abroad."

Mattis' rare public comments about Trump are a major shift for a man who has always maintained he would remain apolitical, as he did during his distinguished Marine career.

"It was an honor to serve under Secretary Mattis in the Pentagon, both as an American and as a former United State Marine," said Mick Mulroy, an ABC News contributor who served as the deputy assistant secretary of defense for Middle East policy.

"He exemplifies the ethos of service before self and the principle that military officers should be apolitical," said Mulroy. "I believe he was apolitical as secretary and is now. It was probably a difficult decision to write this statement and that makes it even more important."

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Courtesy of Obama.orgBy QUINN SCANLAN, ABC NEWS

(WASHINGTON) -- Former President Barack Obama weighed in on how systemic racism has been thrown into "high relief" during both the COVID-19 crisis which has disproportionately impacted communities of color and the nationwide protests amid tension between law enforcement and the minority communities they serve.

During a virtual town hall Wednesday, coming amidst civil unrest across the United States over the killing of another unarmed black man at the hands of police officers, Obama said that the tragedy of recent events, while "difficult and scary and uncertain," also represent "an incredible opportunity for people to be awakened to some of (the) underlying trends" of systemic racism in the United States.

"They offer an opportunity for us to work together to tackle them, to take them on, to change America and make it live up to its highest ideals," he said. "Part of what’s made me so hopeful is the fact that so many young people have been galvanized and activated and motivated and mobilized. Because historically, so much of the progress that we've made in our society has been because of young people. "

Speaking directly to young people of color he said "I want you to know that your lives matter. Your dreams matter."

The My Brother's Keeper "Anguish and Action: Reimagining Policing in the Wake of Continued Violence" town hall comes as protesters have taken to the streets en masse across the country after the death of George Floyd, a black man who died on Memorial Day after he was pinned down by Derek Chauvin, a white Minnesota police officer.

Chauvin was captured on cell phone video pinning his knee onto the back of Floyd's neck while he was on the ground; according to the arrest warrant documents, Chauvin kept his knee like that for eight minutes and 46 seconds, even as Floyd repeatedly said, "I can't breathe."

Chauvin has now been charged with second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter. On Wednesday, the other three officers present at the scene were charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and aiding and abetting manslaughter. All four have been fired from the Minneapolis Police Department.

Floyd's death came on the heels of outrage over the deaths of two other black Americans, Breonna Taylor, 26, and Ahmaud Arbery, 25.

Taylor, a frontline worker, was shot and killed by a police officer in her own home in Louisville, Kentucky, on March 13. The FBI in the city is investigating the case.

Arbery was shot and killed while he was jogging in Satilla Shores, Georgia, on Feb. 23. It took until May 7, after a cell phone video of the moment he was killed emerged, before any charges were brought in the case. Father and son Gregory and Travis McMichael were arrested for felony murder and aggravated assault.

Obama published a piece on Medium on Monday addressing the protests nationwide following the death of Floyd -- and, specifically, how he thinks people can move forward to "sustain momentum to bring about real change."

"Ultimately, it’s going to be up to a new generation of activists to shape strategies that best fit the times," he wrote. "But I believe there are some basic lessons to draw from past efforts that are worth remembering."

Obama asked the nation's mayors and local elected officials, who are tasked with appointing most police chiefs in the country and negotiating with police unions, to take a pledge to review their "use of force policies with members of your community, and commit to report on planned reforms."

"We need mayors, county executives, others who are in positions of power to say this is a priority. This is a specific response," Obama said. Several mayors have already taken the pledge, according to Michael Smith, executive director of the My Brother's Keeper Alliance, the organization within the Obama Foundation putting on the town hall.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, San Francisco Mayor London Breed and Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey have already signed the pledge, Smith said.

"Most of the reforms that are needed to prevent the type of violence and injustices that we've seen, take place at the local level. The reform has to take place in more than 19,000 American municipalities, more than 18,000 local enforcement jurisdictions," Obama said. "So as activists and everyday citizens raise their voices, we need to be clear about where change is going to happen and how we can bring about that change."

Former Attorney General Eric Holder, who, during his tenure in the Obama administration sought to implement reforms in approaches to law enforcement underscored that "one of the key things that people have to understand is that there's not a tension between justice, and having fair treatment, and public safety. You can keep people safe, and also have a better, more equitable criminal justice system."

"It was for me, the highlight of my time as attorney general, it was to be given the opportunity to get into communities to affect positive change, to bring and establish relationships between, again, people in law enforcement, people in communities of color," Holder said. "That was, I think, in some ways, you know, what I'm most proud of. And it laid, I think the foundation for future -- for future work. But I will always emphasize this -- that young people, young people... young people were critically involved in all of the work that we did starting at Ferguson and other parts of the country."

Despite some people seeking to compare this moment to the "riots and protests and assassinations and discord" in the 1960s, Obama said that what's happening now is different.

"You look at those protests, and that was a far more representative cross section of America out on the streets peacefully protesting... who felt moved to do something, because of the injustices that they had seen," he said. "That didn't exist back in the 1960s, that kind of broad coalition." Obama said there's a "change in mindset that's taking place, a greater recognition that we can do better." He said this is a "direct result" of the mobilization of young Americans "who put themselves out on the line to make a difference."

While the actions of police officers sparked the outrage and mass demonstrations, many members of law enforcement have stood in solidarity with the protesters, marching with them, taking a knee alongside them. Obama said he was "heartened" to see that because they are "a vital part of the conversation."

"Change is gonna require everybody's participation," he said.

And for those unsettled by the unrest, Obama had words of hope.

"The fact that people are paying attention, provides an opportunity to educate activate mobilize and act, and I hope that we are able to seize this moment," he said. "This country was founded on protest... and every step of progress in this country, every expansion of freedom and every expression of our deepest ideals has been won through efforts that made the status quo uncomfortable."

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ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- BY: ELIZABETH MCLAUGHLIN, LUIS MARTINEZ, and MATT SEYLER

In a reversal, a portion of the 750 soldiers from the 82nd Airborne who were sent to the Washington area to be on standby in case they were needed in the nation's capital amid ongoing protests are staying in the Washington region instead of returning to Fort Bragg.

Earlier Wednesday, a U.S. official said those soldiers were to be sent back to Fort Bragg, while some military police units would remain staged at Joint Base Andrews. A few hours later, however, a Pentagon spokesman told ABC News that, "there is no change. The active duty troops referred to remain on alert within the NCR, but outside the district proper."

Earlier in the day, Esper held a briefing with reporters and called the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis policeman "a horrible crime" and called for the officers involved to "be held accountable for his murder."

It was the first time that the secretary addressed Floyd's death, which occurred more than a week ago on May 25, and the nationwide protests over racial inequality in America ever since.

"With great sympathy, I want to extend the deepest of condolences to the family and friends of George Floyd, for me and the department," Esper said during a Pentagon briefing. "Racism is real in America, and we must all do our very best to recognize it, to confront it, and to eradicate it."

The secretary also said that he does not currently support the deployment of active duty military troops on city streets, as President Donald Trump has threatened to order, saying the National Guard is best suited for providing support to local law enforcement.

The Pentagon confirmed on the record Tuesday night that Task Force 504, an infantry battalion from the 82nd Airborne, had flown up to the area, along with active duty military police units from Fort Bragg, Fort Drum and Fort Riley, to stage at Joint Base Andrews in case their services were requested.

During Wednesday's press conference, Esper called the use of active duty forces "a matter of last resort" and said he does not support invoking the Insurrection Act of 1807, which allows the president to deploy active duty troops within the United States to carry out law enforcement duties that are not normally allowed.

"We are not in one of those situations now," Esper said.

The secretary has faced criticism for his handling of the military's role in responding to the civil unrest that swept the country after Floyd's killing, including using the term "battle space" to describe protests in city streets and participating in a photo op with the president in front of St. John's Church which had been set on fire after riots turned violent over the weekend.

Before the president, Esper, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, and other senior administration officials walked to the church on Monday, police used smoke canisters and pepper balls on peaceful protesters standing in and around Lafayette Park across from the White House to push them back, allowing the president to get to the church.

Once there, Trump did not inspect the damage or make remarks but held up a Bible for pictures.

Esper told reporters on Wednesday that he was "not aware of law enforcement's plans for the park ... but they had to take what actions I assume they felt was necessary given what they face but I was not briefed on the plans and was not aware of what they were doing."

He declined to condemn the police's method or say whether he regretted participating in the event, saying instead that while he knew he was going to the church, he "was not aware of a photo op ... happening" and had aimed to thank Guard troops who were assisting law enforcement in the park.

 "I do everything I can to try stay apolitical and try and stay out of situations that may appear political and sometimes I'm successful at doing that, and sometimes I'm not as successful," the secretary said.

He expressed a similar sentiment to the force in a memo on Tuesday night which largely focused on the military's role in defending the Constitution and staying apolitical "in these turbulent days." That same night, the Washington Post reported that senior Pentagon officials had directed the military service chiefs to keep quiet about the issues, despite some expressing interest in responding.

Asked about that report, Esper said, "What happened to George Floyd happens way too often in this country. And most times, we don't speak about these matters as a department, but as events have unfolded over the past few days, it became very clear that this is becoming a very combustible national issue."

He said that he had made the determination that he wanted to send "a clear message to the department about our approach" and to "set the tone" before giving other DOD leaders the space to express their thoughts.

Esper also responded to the criticism he received for urging states "to dominate the battle space" during a Monday call with President Trump and governors -- a recording of which was obtained by ABC News.

Two retired four-star generals took the rare step of publicly condemning Esper's comments, arguing the language was inappropriate to describe the current situation. And lawmakers on both sides of the aisle expressed concerns that the secretary's words could be seen as laying the groundwork for the invocation of the Insurrection Act, according to a former senior administration official.

Esper said the term is "what we routinely use to describe a bounded area of operations," adding, "It's not a phrase focused on people and certainly not on our fellow Americans, as some have suggested."

"In retrospect, I would use different wording so as not to distract from the more important matters at hand or allow some to suggest that we are militarizing the issue," he said.

While the president has repeatedly threatened the use of the military to quell protests that have turned violent, so far it has been the task for roughly 30,000 National Guard members to assist state and local law enforcement operations, not active duty troops.

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ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- BY: BEN GITTLESON and JORDYN PHELPS

President Donald Trump on Wednesday denied he had ordered peaceful protesters forcibly moved so he could visit a church near the White House earlier this week, amid harsh criticism for the crackdown.

"When I said, 'Go to the church,' I didn’t know protesters or not," Trump said "Nobody tells me that. They say, 'Yes sir, we’ll go to the church.'"

Law enforcement on Monday used chemical irritants and smoke canisters to clear peaceful protesters from Lafayette Park, just north of the White House, immediately before Trump briefly walked to the church to pose with a Bible in front of it and took photographs with his aides.

“When I went, I didn’t say, ‘Oh, move them out’—I didn’t know who was there,” Trump said in an interview with Fox News Radio. “I figured I was going to walk over to the church, very nearby.”

"We walked over to the church," he said. "It was very fast. I think it was very symbolic. I did hold up a Bible. I think that’s a good thing, not a bad thing."

Church officials roundly blasted Trump, with the Right Rev. Mariann Budde, the Episcopal bishop of Washington who oversees the church, telling "Good Morning America" it was "as if it were spiritual validation and justification for a message that is antithetical to the teachings of Jesus and to the God of justice."

Trump dismissed the criticism, saying it was “only the other side that didn’t like” his visit.

“The church leaders loved that I went there with a Bible,” he said.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany on Wednesday defended the officers as acting in self-defense and said "they used the minimal force that they could to ensure that that situation was safe, to ensure St. John's church would not burn a second night in a row."

The U.S. Park Police said in a statement Tuesday that the protesters threw “projectiles including bricks, frozen water bottles and caustic liquids,” although reporters at the scene said the demonstration had remained peaceful.

“When an officer is at risk, they have the right to defend themselves,” McEnany said. “They did so peaceably.”

She compared Trump's photo op to British Prime Minister Winston Churchill surveying the bombing damage to London during World War II, as well as to former President George W. Bush throwing out the first pitch at a baseball game after the Sept. 11 terrorist attack.

"Through all of time, we've seen presidents and leaders across the world who have had leadership moments and very powerful symbols that were important for a nation to see at any given time to show a message of resilience and determination, like Churchill," McEnany said. "It sent a powerful message of leadership to the British people."

In the Fox News interview, Trump also downplayed being brought to an underground bunker during protests outside the White House Friday, when the building was briefly put on lockdown.

On Friday evening, Trump was moved to the bunker to shelter in place for a brief period of time, multiple senior sources familiar with the matter told ABC News.

The president denied he had gone down because of the protests, but rather to conduct an "inspection" of the bunker.

"They said it would be a good time to go down and take a look, because maybe you'll need it," he said.

He went for a "tiny, short period" of time, he said.

The U.S. Secret Service declined to comment on Trump’s description of events, as did McEnany.

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ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- BY: JORDYN PHELPS, BEN GITTLESON, and LIBBY CATHEY

As the Trump administration fields a global pandemic and nationwide protests, the White House Wednesday afternoon released President Donald Trump's latest physical results, with his physician writing that Trump "remains healthy" and experienced no side effects from taking hydroxychloroquine as a prophylactic against the novel coronavirus.

In a memo made public from Dr. Sean Conley, the president's physician said the findings are based on examinations between November 2019 and April 2020.

"There has been no interval change to the President's medical history," Conley wrote.

Results showed the president weighed in at 244 pounds -- up one pound from his last reported physical -- passing the official threshold of being considered obese for at least the second year in a row.

The president's lab values and test results were within normal range, including his screening for diabetes (A1C), high cholesterol (lipid panel) and high blood pressure -- important conditions to look for in an obese individual, according to medical experts.

Trump's heart was also monitored via an electrocardiogram, or EKG, while he was taking hydroxychloroquine, a drug the president repeatedly touted amid the coronavirus pandemic but that has, separately, been linked to increased risk of cardiac arrhythmias. Patients taking any medication that has a known cardiac side effect generally will get an EKG prior to beginning the medication, then periodically at the discretion of their physician.

ABC News medical experts did note, however, that someone on a short course of hydroxychloroquine would generally not get periodic EKGs, so this was likely monitored out of an abundance of caution.

The president's cholesterol level slightly improved to 167 from 196 the year before.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany announced earlier Wednesday that the president's annual physical had been completed and that the results would soon be made available to the public.

McEnany's announcement was unusual because the president typically travels to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to complete his annual physical., but has not made a recent trip to the hospital.

Trump did make an unannounced trip to the hospital in November, when the White House said he was completing "portions" of his annual physical exam, in a visit that lasted more than two hours.

Former White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said at the time, "Anticipating a very busy 2020, the president is taking advantage of a free weekend here in Washington, D.C., to begin portions of his routine annual physical exam at Walter Reed."

While Trump's 2018 and 2019 physicals were both announced ahead of time, the 2020 physical was not.

After the president's last full physical examination in February 2019, Dr. Conley released a memo saying Trump was in "in very good health overall" and should remain so "for the remainder of his presidency and beyond."

Exam results at the time showed that at 6-foot 3-inches tall, Trump had a body mass index of 30.4, passing the official threshold of being considered obese. He weighed 243 pounds -- up seven pounds from September 2016, before he became president. Results also showed that Trump had increased his daily dose of rosuvastatin, a medication used to treat high cholesterol.

One year prior, Trump's first comprehensive physical as president revealed he had a common form of heart disease and high cholesterol. Then-White House physician Dr. Ronny Jackson suggested a reasonable goal for the president would be to lose 10 to 15 pounds, but he praised Trump for otherwise "excellent health."

"It is called genetics," Jackson told reporters in the White House Briefing Room in January 2018. "Some people have just great genes. I told the president that if he had a healthier diet over the last 20 years, he might live to be 200 years old."

Trump is the oldest president to ever take office. He doesn't drink alcohol or smoke, but he is known to enjoy fast food, steaks and ice cream. Golfing is his primary source of exercise.

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iStock/zrfphoto(HARRISBURG, Penn.) -- BY: ELLA TORRES

A Pennsylvania county commissioner is facing widespread calls to resign after remarks he made about the Black Lives Matter movement and the protests in Philadelphia over the death of George Floyd.

Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Gale called the Black Lives Matter movement a "radical left-wing hate group" that was among the "perpetrators of this urban domestic terror."

"This organization, in particular, screams racism not to expose bigotry and injustice, but to justify the lawless destruction of our cities and surrounding communities," Gale said in a statement he issued on Monday on his website and Twitter. "Their objective is to unleash chaos and mayhem without consequence by falsely claiming they, in fact, are the victims."

He called the protests "a riot" with looting, violence and arson.

Largely peaceful protests have erupted across the country, including in Philadelphia, against police brutality in the wake of the death of Floyd, a black man who died allegedly at the hands of Minneapolis police. One officer, Derek Chauvin, who was seen on video with his knee on Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes, has been charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter. Three other officers involved in the incident were fired from the Minneapolis Police Department.

Gale went on to call systemic police brutality and racism a "narrative" pushed by the media.

Research has proved otherwise.

Black men are about 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police over their life course than white men, according to a research article published in August 2019 in the peer-reviewed Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

Black people are 1.3 times more likely to be killed by police while unarmed than white people, according to the database Mapping Police Violence which reviewed killings from 2013 to 2019.

Gale's comments were met with fury from politicians and the public.

Valerie Arkoosh, chair of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners, and Ken Lawrence Jr., vice chair, issued a joint statement denouncing Gale's comments.

"This statement, in no part, reflects the sentiments or opinions of the majority Commissioners or of this County government," the statement read.

"Our democracy celebrates the rights of citizens to express themselves in demonstrations and do so without fear. … To our entire black community: We see you. We hear you. We stand with those who are calling out the systemic racism and violence toward people of color in our country," the statement continued.

Council members of the Municipality of Norristown, which is the county seat of Montgomery County, issued a statement saying they were "deeply outraged" and urged Gale to resign immediately.

"You assert that Black Lives Matter is a 'radical left-wing hate group' perpetuating 'urban domestic terror.' This is at the very least erroneous and at the most harmful to the safety and security of your constituents," the statement reads.

Gale also said Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney was among the "far too many Democrat mayors" who sympathize with "these far-left radical enemy combatants."

Norristown council members said while Gale decried Kenney, "we wonder how it seems you don't have any empathy, compassion, or even the ability to hear your constituents. In this, we believe you have failed us as our county commissioner."

An online petition calling for the resignation of Gale has amassed more than 67,000 signatures and counting on Wednesday.

Gale did not immediately respond to ABC News for comment. He has continued to post to his Twitter account, but has not addressed calls for his resignation. One of Gale's posts condemned Kenney for having a statue of former Philadelphia Mayor Frank Rizzo removed.

Rizzo was mayor from 1972 to 1980. His criticism, however, dates back to when he served as the city's police commissioner and was accused of police brutality. As mayor, supporters said he was tough on crime, but critics said he discriminated against minorities.

Kenney called the statue a "deplorable monument to racism, bigotry, and police brutality for members of the Black community, the LGBTQ community, and many others. The treatment of these communities under Mr. Rizzo’s leadership was among the worst periods in Philadelphia’s history."

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iStock/kieferpix(WASHINGTON) -- BY: CONOR FINNEGAN

With coronavirus restrictions closing U.S. embassies, consulates, and passport offices, there is now a backlog of over 1.6 million Americans waiting for their passport applications to be processed, according to a State Department report obtained by ABC News.

That massive backlog has angered some lawmakers. In a new letter obtained by ABC News, seven Republican senators offer a rare rebuke of the Trump administration for the State Department's "slow and inefficient policy" to process passports and its "unacceptable" and "inadequate" response to the challenge presented by the pandemic.

"This is ridiculous and cannot continue," said Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., who spearheaded the letter. In a series of tweets last week, he accused the agency of "a major fumble [that] will hinder our economic recovery."

The backlog has built up in just 10 weeks since the agency severely curtailed passport services on March 19 to only "life-or-death emergencies." According to the report provided to Congress last week, the department has been receiving 9,000 passport applications each day, compounding the logjam.

A State Department spokesperson told ABC News that 95% of the agency's staff responsible for processing passports were sent home for their safety, forcing them to "temporarily [suspend] expedited passport processing and [restrict] service at U.S. passport agencies and centers to life or death emergencies and urgent cases."

Since then, the agency has issued more than 350,000 passports, according to the spokesperson, but the vast majority of them were handled in March, with just over 26,000 in April and May combined.

State Department officials briefed lawmakers Thursday on a plan to reopen passport offices in phases, based on the conditions and health restrictions at a particular office.

But the plan "contains no innovative steps or processes to reduce the backlog. Simply resuming operations and processing applications at a normal pace until the Bureau of Consular Affairs is caught up is not an acceptable approach," wrote Lankford, along with Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, David Perdue, R-Ga., Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., John Boozman, R-Ark., and Mitt Romney, R-Utah.

The plan's three phases have not yet begun. In phase one, a limited number of staffers will return to work, with applications processed on a "first in, first out basis." Phase two would have most staff return to work, and phase three, all staff. But the plan does not lay out any steps to address the current backlog.

Instead it warns that even once all staff have returned under phase three there will still be delays because the current backlog will take months to work through, and even more Americans will begin applying for passports or passport renewal as global restrictions lift.

In a statement Friday, the State Department said it's unable to work through the backlog until those phases begin and people return to their offices.

"Processing passport applications requires us to review sensitive documents, such as birth certificates and other personal records, and to physically print and mail passport books and cards back to applicants. This means that our staff are not able to process passport applications from home," the agency said.

The group of senators rejected that, saying "More urgency is needed and more innovation is required." They argue that private businesses, congressional offices and other federal agencies have found creative solutions and offer some of their own, such as having "at least some elements of each passport review to be completed remotely" by employees on secure government systems.

If more is not done, the senators warned, the department could be "partially responsible for stifling international commerce at a time when our nation is eager to resume economic activity."

The State Department still has a global travel warning at its highest level -- urging Americans "Do Not Travel" overseas. Some countries have started to loosen their restrictions, although public health experts warn that lifting them too soon could cause new spikes in coronavirus infection rates.

On average, the department processes over 18 million passports each year.

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Official White House Photo by Tia DufourBy KENDALL KARSON, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- Republicans are suddenly adjusting their plans for the national convention with less than three months until the event, saying they are moving President Trump's acceptance speech out of Charlotte, N.C., amid a standoff with the state's Democratic governor over restrictions to safely host a large-scale event in the midst of the coronavirus.

Trump tweeted late Tuesday that due to the escalating feud with Gov. Roy Cooper, "We are now forced to seek another State to host the 2020 Republican National Convention."

A Republican National Committee official further clarified Trump's abrupt announcement, saying that the "celebration of the president’s acceptance of the Republican nomination" will be in another city. But the official added, "should the governor allow more than 10 people in a room, we still hope to conduct the official business of the convention in Charlotte."

The city and the RNC are locked in a contract that was signed more than two years ago, requiring the convention to be held in Charlotte. The event is scheduled for Aug. 24-27.

Trump laid blame for the sudden change of plans squarely on Cooper, but the governor has maintained that he is prioritizing public health over politics.

"It’s unfortunate they never agreed to scale down and make changes to keep people safe. Protecting public health and safety during this pandemic is a priority," Cooper responded in his own tweet.

Party officials are eyeing Nashville, Tennessee, as a potential alternative to host the marquee event in August, with a trip planned for later this week, either on Thursday or Friday, a Republican familiar with the discussions told to ABC News. Politico first reported the trip.

Other cities under consideration are Las Vegas, Orlando and Jacksonville, Florida, as well as venues in Georgia. Vice President Mike Pence also previously floated Florida, Georgia and Texas as potential alternative hosts and West Virginia Republican Gov. Jim Justice reached out to the White House and the RNC with an invitation to hold the event in his state, according to a local ABC affiliate.

All three Republican governors from the states mentioned by Pence welcomed the opportunity to host the convention. But one Republican governor is taking a different approach.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, when asked about the opportunity, was far more hesitant, saying in a Fox News interview on Wednesday, "I don't know where we will be several months from now. But this would not be something that we think that we would volunteer to do."

Trump's tweet comes amid stalled discussions with North Carolina leaders, and after RNC officials gave Cooper a deadline of June 3 to approve the party's outline for a safe, yet "full scale" convention.

Part of the RNC's plans for Trump's nominating celebration involved 19,000 delegates, alternate delegates, staff, volunteers, elected officials and guests inside the Spectrum Center, and "full hotels and restaurants and bars at capacity."

Earlier on Tuesday, Cooper rebuffed the request, telling the RNC in a letter, "The people of North Carolina do not know what the status of COVID-19 will be in August, so planning for a scaled-down convention with fewer people, social distancing and face coverings is a necessity."

"We are happy to continue talking with you about the a scaled-down convention would look like and we still await your proposed plan for that," he continued.

In the past week, national party leaders and North Carolina officials took turns outlining their visions for what the convention could look like in a flurry of letters. The back-and-forth was triggered by the president, who hamstrung convention planning after threatening early last week to pull the convention from Charlotte if "full attendance" won't be allowed.

Discussions between aides to Cooper and the RNC broke down after a Friday conversation between Cooper, Trump, RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, and Marcia Lee Kelly, the president and CEO of the convention, in which Republicans wanted a guarantee of a "full arena." Cooper, who is contending with rising coronavirus cases in his state, said on Tuesday that would be "very unlikely."

"Neither public health officials nor I will risk the health and safety of North Carolinians by providing the guarantee you seek," he wrote.

After Cooper's latest exchange, top Republicans assured that their preference was to keep the quadrennial event in Charlotte, at least only part of it.

"We hope to still conduct the business of our convention in Charlotte, but we have an obligation to our delegates and nominee to begin visiting the the multiple cities and states who have reached out in recent days about hosting an historic event to show that America is open for business," McDaniel said.

With eyes now on Nashville, Tennessee's Republican governor opened the door for the party to take the unprecedented step of moving locations in such a short period of time.

"I can tell them that Nashville is the best place in America to have a convention. And we certainly would be interested in welcoming that to our city," Gov. Bill Lee said.

The mayor of Nashville's office weighed in, too, but said they will not actively lobby to bring the event to the city.

"We're not surprised that any national convention would look at us," Chris Song, a spokesperson for the mayor said. "We have no plans to use our limited public funds to recruit this convention at this time."

But even with Trump stepping up his initial threat to an explicit declaration that he's looking elsewhere, auxiliary plans are still only in their early stages.

"We are aware of the interest from Gov. Lee's Office. We have not had any official contact with the RNC at this time," Butch Spyridon, the president and CEO of the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp., said in a statement to ABC News.

Lee also told reporters earlier on Tuesday, "There's been very little conversation."

The Republicans' approach to the convention -- drawing a hard line that a bustling, in-person event is a must -- differs from their Democratic counterparts, who are more open to changing the event's format to adjust to the ongoing health crisis that is expected to persist through August.

Democrats, after rescheduling their initial gathering from July to the week of Aug. 17, are still remaining officially coy about how they plan to proceed. But the party is considering contingency options for the event, and last month, national Democrats paved the way for remote voting, by allowing delegates to partake even if they don't attend the event in-person -- potentially shifting the convention closer to a virtual format.

Planning for both nominating events, which bookend the primary season, is a significant undertaking that takes years to organize and typically attracts thousands of the party's rank-and-file and supporters.

But since the onset of the public health crisis, organizers for both conventions have been faced with unparalleled circumstances and forced to recalibrate their best-laid plans on the fly.

Republicans, meanwhile, have consistently kept a public posture that their convention is "full steam ahead" and that a virtual convention is not on the table, since having an in-person event is inscribed in their party rules.

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Defense Secretary Mark Esper gives a press conference at the Pentagon, June 3, 2020, in Arlington, Va. - (ABC News)By ELIZABETH MCLAUGHLIN and LUIS MARTINEZ, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Wednesday called the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis policeman "a horrible crime" and called for the officers involved to "be held accountable for his murder."

It was the first time that the secretary addressed Floyd's death, which occurred more than a week ago on May 25, and the nationwide protests over racial inequality in America ever since.

“With great sympathy, I want to extend the deepest of condolences to the family and friends of George Floyd, for me and the department," Esper said during a Pentagon briefing. "Racism is real in America, and we must all do our very best to recognize it, to confront it, and to eradicate it."

The secretary also said that he does not support the deployment of active duty military troops on city streets, as President Donald Trump has threatened to order, saying the National Guard is best suited for providing support to local law enforcement.

He called the use of active duty forces "a matter of last resort" and said he does not support invoking the Insurrection Act of 1807, which allows the president to deploy active duty troops within the United States under limited circumstances.

“We are not in one of those situations now,” Esper said.

The secretary has faced criticism for his handling of the military's role in responding to the civil unrest that swept the country after Floyd's killing.

A statement by Esper to the force on Tuesday night largely focused on the military's role in defending the Constitution and staying apolitical "in these turbulent days." That same night, the Washington Post reported that senior Pentagon officials had directed the military service chiefs to keep quiet about the issues, despite some expressing interest in responding.

Esper was also called out for urging states "to dominate the battle space" during a Monday call with President Donald Trump and governors -- a recording of which was obtained by ABC News.

Two retired four-star generals took the rare step of publicly condemning Esper's comments, arguing the language was inappropriate to describe the current situation. And lawmakers on both sides of the aisle expressed concerns that the secretary's words could be seen as laying the groundwork for the invocation of the Insurrection Act, according to a former senior administration official.

While the president has threatened the use of the military to quell protests that have turned violent, so far it has been the task for thousands of National Guard members to assist state and local law enforcement operations, not active duty troops.

Still, earlier this week, elements of the 82nd Airborne Division, along with active duty military police units from Fort Bragg, Fort Drum and Fort Riley, staged at Joint Base Andrews outside of the nation's capital in case they were requested.

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


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rarrarorro/iStockBy ALEXANDER MALLIN, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- Former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, whose appointment of Robert Mueller established the special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, faced a grilling from Senate Republicans Wednesday over new revelations regarding the probe’s origins that have drawn significant political scrutiny in recent months.

"I do not consider the investigation to be corrupt,” Rosenstein said in the hearing. “But I certainly understand the President’s frustration given the outcome which was in face there was no evidence of conspiracy between Trump campaign advisors and Russians.”

Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has said Rosenstein's hearing would be just the first in a series of public inquiries of officials who had direct involvement in investigating whether members of the Trump campaign may have colluded with Russians who meddled in the 2016 election. Democrats have argued Graham's efforts are part of a fishing expedition by Republicans to obscure Russia's role in 2016 and support unfounded claims by President Donald Trump that he was personally spied on and was a victim of a 'coup attempt' by Obama Administration holdovers.

Graham pressed Rosenstein over his role in signing off on an application for continuing surveillance on former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.

A review by Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz of how those applications were handled found significant errors and material omissions by FBI agents involved in the process, even as Horowitz said he believed the Russia investigation as a whole was not improper.

In January, the Justice Department said that two of the four so-called 'FISA applications' for surveillance of Page, including the final renewal application signed by Rosenstein, lacked enough information to establish probable cause and thus were invalid.

"Every application that I approved appeared to be justified based on the facts it alleged, and the FBI was supposed to be following protocols to ensure that every fact was verified," Rosenstein said. "Whenever agents or prosecutors make serious mistakes or engage in misconduct, the Department of Justice must take remedial action. And if existing policies fall short, those policies need to be changed."

"If you knew then what you know now, would you have signed that warrant?" Graham asked Rosenstein during the hearing.

"No," Rosenstein said in response.

Much of the hearing was spent relitigating some of the more tumultuous days early in the Trump Administration, including how Rosenstein and other officials reacted to events like the firing of former FBI Director James Comey and the subsequent leak of his memos to The New York Times describing his interactions with President Trump.

Rosenstein told the committee he believed that former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe at the time faulted in not informing him of the existence of the memos sooner.

"Lying is when you ask someone a direct question and get a false answer. Candor is when you’re forthcoming with information someone needs to know," Rosenstein said. "I believe McCabe should have recognized that when I became acting AG, I needed to know about Comey’s memos and he didn’t tell me until a couple of hours before they showed up in The New York Times."

McCabe shot back in a statement calling Rosenstein's claims "completely false."

"I personally briefed Mr. Rosenstein on Jim Comey’s memos describing his interactions with the President mere days after Mr. Rosenstein wrote the memo firing Jim Comey," McCabe said. "Mr. Rosenstein’s testimony is completely at odds with the factual record. It looks to be yet another sad attempt by the President and his men to rewrite the history of their actions in 2017. They have found in Mr. Rosenstein – then and now – a willing accessory in that effort.”

Rosenstein resigned from the department in April 2019 having assisted Attorney General William Barr in the release of the special counsel's report, after both concluded there was "not sufficient evidence" to pursue obstruction of justice charges against President Trump.

Democrats in the hearing sought to defend Mueller’s conclusions and in a testy exchange, Sen. Dick Durbin attacked Republicans for holding a hearing on the Mueller investigation in the midst of a global pandemic and social crisis.

“This is the priority of the Senate Judiciary Committee today,” Durbin, D-Ill., said. “We’re taking it up because it has become a bloody shirt on the right.”

Graham shot back, saying information revealed in recent months paints a "sad episode in the history of the FBI."

"There was no 'there' there in August of 2017," Graham said, in reference to suspicions of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russians. "And it may not bother you but it bothers us and I hope it will bother the American people and we'll fix it."

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Richard Rodriguez/Getty ImagesBy LAUREN KING, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- In a rare public statement, former President George W. Bush said he and former first lady Laura Bush were anguished by the killing of George Floyd and disturbed by the injustice and fear.

"Yet we have resisted the urge to speak out, because this is not the time for us to lecture. It is time for us to listen. It is time for America to examine our tragic failures -- and as we do, we will also see some of our redeeming strengths," the statement said.

In a video that went viral, a Minneapolis police officer, identified as Derek Chauvin, pinned Floyd to the ground on Memorial Day after apprehending him outside a convenience store for allegedly using a counterfeit $20 bill. As his knee was on Floyd's neck for nearly 10 minutes, Floyd could be heard saying, "I can't breathe."

Chauvin was charged with third-degree murder. All four officers involved have been fired and investigations are ongoing.

Protests that began in Minnesota have multiplied across the country and around the world. While many have featured peaceful demonstrators marching -- sometimes with police officers -- some have grown violent and destructive, prompting cities to establish curfews and governors to call up the National Guard.

On Monday, as protesters in Lafayette Park next to the White House were being cleared from the area, President Donald Trump came to the Rose Garden to call himself the "law and order" president, saying "domestic terrorism" was to blame for the unrest.

"As we speak, I am dispatching thousands and thousands of heavily armed soldiers, military personnel and law enforcement officers to stop the rioting, looting, vandalism, assaults and the wanton destruction of property," he said. "We will end it now."

Earlier that day, he also called on governors to use their National Guard military police units to "dominate the streets" and threatened to deploy the active duty military if governors failed to use the National Guard more forcefully.

In his five-paragraph statement, Bush went on to talk about the "shocking failure" that many African Americans, especially young men, are harassed and threatened in the U.S.

"It is a strength when protesters, protected by responsible law enforcement, march for a better future. This tragedy -- in a long series of similar tragedies -- raises a long overdue question: How do we end systemic racism in our society? The only way to see ourselves in a true light is to listen to the voices of so many who are hurting and grieving. Those who set out to silence those voices do not understand the meaning of America -- or how it becomes a better place," Bush wrote.

Former President Barack Obama published an essay Monday on Medium addressing the ongoing protests and how he thinks people can move forward. The "bottom line," he wrote, is that "if we want to bring about real change, then the choice isn’t between protest and politics. We have to do both. We have to mobilize to raise awareness, and we have to organize and cast our ballots to make sure that we elect candidates who will act on reform."

The next moment in American history can be "a real turning point," Obama wrote, if "we can channel our justifiable anger into peaceful, sustained, and effective action."

Bush wrote, "America’s greatest challenge has long been to unite people of very different backgrounds into a single nation of justice and opportunity. The doctrine and habits of racial superiority, which once nearly split our country, still threaten our Union."

"Many doubt the justice of our country, and with good reason. Black people see the repeated violation of their rights without an urgent and adequate response from American institutions," he continued. "We know that lasting justice will only come by peaceful means. Looting is not liberation, and destruction is not progress. But we also know that lasting peace in our communities requires truly equal justice. The rule of law ultimately depends on the fairness and legitimacy of the legal system. And achieving justice for all is the duty of all."

"This will require a consistent, courageous, and creative effort. We serve our neighbors best when we try to understand their experience. We love our neighbors as ourselves when we treat them as equals, in both protection and compassion. There is a better way -- the way of empathy, and shared commitment, and bold action, and a peace rooted in justice. I am confident that together, Americans will choose the better way," Bush concluded.

Read the statement in full on the George W. Bush Presidential Center website.

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Erin Scott-Pool/Getty ImagesBy QUINN OWEN, ABC NEWS

(WASHINGTON) -- A doctor contracted by the Department of Homeland Security to advise on detention health conditions appeared before Congress on Tuesday to personally criticize the Trump administration as COVID-19 continues to spread through civil immigration detention centers.

Dr. Scott Allen, an independent health expert and medical school professor, told lawmakers that the novel coronavirus' persistence in Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities was in part due to "some gaping holes" in Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

"And the fact is -- in the real world -- use of those guidelines has been associated with failure," Allen told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

He said the CDC has not underscored the importance of reducing the detained population and its guidance on testing remains insufficient.

"I think we're underutilizing some of our best tools," he said. "We need to get more aggressive with our testing strategies."

ICE officials have repeatedly noted their reliance on CDC guidelines in the face of pressure to reduce its jailed population.

“ICE continues to re-evaluate all individuals in their custody who make up vulnerable populations and they’ve been modifying their practices based on recommendations from the CDC,” acting Deputy DHS Secretary Ken Cuccinelli told reporters in April.

MORE: New allegations pressure ICE to release immigrant detainees
Dana Gold, a senior attorney with the whistleblower rights group Government Accountability Project, represented Allen and specified that the doctor was not speaking on behalf of DHS.

Allen has repeatedly voiced personal criticism of immigration detention conditions with legal assistance by the group that represents and advises whistleblowers to help shield them from retaliation. He first raised alarms about the threat of COVID-19 in a March letter to Congress.

"Now the flames are growing," he wrote in testimony submitted to the committee Tuesday.

Recent projections from a study in the Journal of Urban Health, which looked at 111 ICE detention facilities, show coronavirus outbreaks can potentially spread to nearly every detainee and overwhelm local hospitals. Two detainees have died in ICE custody after contracting the disease.

More than a quarter of detainees tested by ICE came back positive and are currently monitored or isolated, according to the agency. Out of the nearly 26,000 people held by ICE on an average day in recent months, at least 900 deemed to be at high risk of infection have been released.

The number of people held in ICE detention has dropped by half since 2019, driven largely by a decline in unauthorized crossings at the southern border and the implementation of new rapid removal protocols by Border Patrol. Deportations and other administrative removals by ICE also have not stopped.

Earlier in Tuesday's Senate hearing, the head of ICE deportation operations said the agency does not test immigrant detainees before removing them unless they show COVID-19 symptoms or a prior agreement with the receiving country exists.

"We're not aware of any positive cases that were showing symptoms or known to be positive that have been deported," said Henry Lucero, the head of ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations. "We're trying to do more testing of these individuals at removal."

Novel coronavirus infections in people who do not show symptoms while still contagious are a major challenge to stemming the spread of disease, according to the CDC.

The chief public health official of Guatemala -- one of the Central American countries which has urged a halt on removals -- suggested in April that U.S. officials allowed infected patients to be deported.

"We automatically evaluate them here and test them and many of them have come back positive," Public Health Minister Hugo Monroy said at the time.

Lucero could not immediately provide the number of countries that had testing agreements with ICE. He also said the agency has detained some inmates as transfers from state and local correctional facilities despite knowing they had COVID-19.

A lawyer arguing on behalf of ICE before a federal court in Florida said asymptomatic detainees were not tested for COVID-19 before being transferred to another holding center, The Miami Herald reported last week.

Judges across the country have ordered the release of nearly 400 as the cries for relief continue. Detainees have launched legal challenges, pleading for the alternatives ICE uses in certain cases.

One barrier for some immigrant detainees is the inability to pay bonds even if they qualify for parole release. A federal judge ruled last week that immigration authorities in Maryland must consider a detainee's ability to pay when setting bond amounts.

"The constitutional problems with the immigration court's bond procedures made it almost guaranteed that an immigrant would have to sit in jail, without the government having to prove why they should not have their freedom," said Nick Taichi Steiner, staff attorney at the ACLU of Maryland.

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uschools/iStockBy BENJAMIN SIEGEL, ABC NEWS

(WASHINGTON) -- The Congressional Black Caucus is at work on a package of reform bills the House could advance later this month in response to the death of George Floyd, Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., the chair of the caucus, told ABC News.

A federal chokehold ban, a review of police training standards and a reform of the legal doctrine that shields police officers from legal liability are some of the proposals circulating among the group, which House Democratic leaders have tasked with leading the chamber’s response to Floyd’s death and the ongoing protests.

"We are going to do everything we can, while the nation has a height of awareness on the issue, to pass transformative legislation," said Bass. "We want to make sure that, in this time period, we are very visible so that African Americans around the country understand that this is our experience as well."

Republicans and Democrats have been united in condemning the events leading up to Floyd’s death, but any broad and rapid compromise on policing reforms are unlikely on Capitol Hill -- particularly in an election year when lawmakers are already struggling to agree on how to address the ongoing coronavirus and economic crisis.

Still, the caucus hopes to use the moment to promote new ideas for policing reform, as well as proposals that have stalled in committee and previous sessions of Congress. The effort could also lead to action in 2021 depending on the results of the presidential election.

"Of course it is a responsibility of all of us to take the time to heal. But we are looking to them for their values-based, sad experience, and their leadership in terms of legislation," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said of the caucus on Tuesday.

Former vice president Joe Biden on Tuesday endorsed a federal police chokehold ban from Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., calling it a "down payment on what is long overdue."

Jeffries first proposed the measure in 2015 after the death of Eric Garner. The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the topic in September 2019, but the proposal has yet to advance out of committee.

On Monday, Sen. Cory Booker D-N.J., along with Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., called for reforming the federal statute governing police misconduct and the qualified immunity legal doctrine, which has been used to shield police officers and other government officials from some lawsuits.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, a senior member of the caucus, plans to reintroduce the Law Enforcement Trust Integrity Act of 2015, a measure that would overhaul police training standards and incentivize oversight and accountability reforms.

Beyond the caucus, Libertarian Rep. Justin Amash, of Michigan, said he planned to introduce a bill to end qualified immunity and allow victims of excessive police force to sue officers in court, a proposal also backed by Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn.

"All of us want to get at the root causes of the lack of police accountability and want to be able to hold police accountable in court for their misconduct," Bass told ABC News, adding that lawmakers want to "end the careers of abusive officers" and prevent fired officers accused of using excessive force from being hired by other police departments.

While Republicans have supported plans for police brutality hearings and condemned the actions of the Minneapolis police officers involved in Floyd’s death, some have also called for more attention to the outbreaks of violence and looting amid the largely peaceful protests across the country.

Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., the former ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, said in a letter to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler that his committee should look into anti-facist 'antifa' protestors and their activities in addition to any examination of police brutality. Nadler plans to hold a hearing on new criminal justice proposals and police brutality as soon as next week, according to aides.

In the Senate, Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has pledged to hold a hearing on policing and use of force, while Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, plans to push to end a Pentagon program to transfer military equipment to American police departments, a move endorsed by a top aide to Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. on Twitter.

Bass predicted that the House will have legislation ready for passage by the end of the month, when the chamber is expected to return to Washington for votes.

"This is a unique time that is allowing us to come together because the people are angry," said Rep. Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio, a member of the caucus who was pepper-sprayed at a protest in Columbus, Ohio, over the weekend, "They’re crying out for answers."

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uschools/iStockBy BENJAMIN SIEGEL, ABC NEWS

(WASHINGTON) -- The Congressional Black Caucus is at work on a package of reform bills the House could advance later this month in response to the death of George Floyd, Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., the chair of the caucus, told ABC News.

A federal chokehold ban, a review of police training standards and a reform of the legal doctrine that shields police officers from legal liability are some of the proposals circulating among the group, which House Democratic leaders have tasked with leading the chamber’s response to Floyd’s death and the ongoing protests.

"We are going to do everything we can, while the nation has a height of awareness on the issue, to pass transformative legislation," said Bass. "We want to make sure that, in this time period, we are very visible so that African Americans around the country understand that this is our experience as well."

Republicans and Democrats have been united in condemning the events leading up to Floyd’s death, but any broad and rapid compromise on policing reforms are unlikely on Capitol Hill -- particularly in an election year when lawmakers are already struggling to agree on how to address the ongoing coronavirus and economic crisis.

Still, the caucus hopes to use the moment to promote new ideas for policing reform, as well as proposals that have stalled in committee and previous sessions of Congress. The effort could also lead to action in 2021 depending on the results of the presidential election.

"Of course it is a responsibility of all of us to take the time to heal. But we are looking to them for their values-based, sad experience, and their leadership in terms of legislation," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said of the caucus on Tuesday.

Former vice president Joe Biden on Tuesday endorsed a federal police chokehold ban from Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., calling it a "down payment on what is long overdue."

Jeffries first proposed the measure in 2015 after the death of Eric Garner. The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the topic in September 2019, but the proposal has yet to advance out of committee.

On Monday, Sen. Cory Booker D-N.J., along with Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., called for reforming the federal statute governing police misconduct and the qualified immunity legal doctrine, which has been used to shield police officers and other government officials from some lawsuits.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, a senior member of the caucus, plans to reintroduce the Law Enforcement Trust Integrity Act of 2015, a measure that would overhaul police training standards and incentivize oversight and accountability reforms.

Beyond the caucus, Libertarian Rep. Justin Amash, of Michigan, said he planned to introduce a bill to end qualified immunity and allow victims of excessive police force to sue officers in court, a proposal also backed by Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn.

"All of us want to get at the root causes of the lack of police accountability and want to be able to hold police accountable in court for their misconduct," Bass told ABC News, adding that lawmakers want to "end the careers of abusive officers" and prevent fired officers accused of using excessive force from being hired by other police departments.

While Republicans have supported plans for police brutality hearings and condemned the actions of the Minneapolis police officers involved in Floyd’s death, some have also called for more attention to the outbreaks of violence and looting amid the largely peaceful protests across the country.

Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., the former ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, said in a letter to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler that his committee should look into anti-facist 'antifa' protestors and their activities in addition to any examination of police brutality. Nadler plans to hold a hearing on new criminal justice proposals and police brutality as soon as next week, according to aides.

In the Senate, Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has pledged to hold a hearing on policing and use of force, while Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, plans to push to end a Pentagon program to transfer military equipment to American police departments, a move endorsed by a top aide to Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. on Twitter.

Bass predicted that the House will have legislation ready for passage by the end of the month, when the chamber is expected to return to Washington for votes.

"This is a unique time that is allowing us to come together because the people are angry," said Rep. Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio, a member of the caucus who was pepper-sprayed at a protest in Columbus, Ohio, over the weekend, "They’re crying out for answers."

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ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- BY: ELIZABETH MCLAUGHLIN and LUIS MARTINEZ

The Pentagon is defending Defense Secretary Mark Esper's use of the term "battle space," following criticism from retired military officers and congressional leadership about the term and the possible domestic deployment of the active duty military.

In a call with President Donald Trump and governors on Monday -- a recording of which was obtained by ABC News, Esper urged states "to dominate the battle space" so that civil unrest "dissipates and we can get back to the right normal."

Over the last week, thousands of Americans have peacefully protested systemic racial inequality sparked by the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer. But looting and riots in many American cities have caused states to activate the National Guard to support law enforcement -- with the president threatening to deploy the active duty military to quell the violence.

Two retired four-star generals took the rare step of publicly condemning Esper's comments on Monday, arguing the language was inappropriate to describe the current situation.

Congrats to @EsperDoD for making his mark in history.

Today he both ensured his name will be into countless future articles of how not to act in civil-military relations,
and jumped much higher up the ranking list of worst Secretary of Defenses in history. https://t.co/sIX5pZcj43

— Peter W. Singer (@peterwsinger) June 1, 2020


"The 'battle space' of America???" tweeted ret. Army Gen. Tony Thomas, who led U.S. Special Operations Command. " Not what America needs to hear...ever, unless we are invaded by an adversary or experience a constitutional failure...ie a Civil War..."

Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey expressed a similar sentiment, tweeting, "America is not a battleground. Our fellow citizens are not the enemy."

America’s military, our sons and daughters, will place themselves at risk to protect their fellow citizens. Their job is unimaginably hard overseas; harder at home. Respect them, for they respect you. America is not a battleground. Our fellow citizens are not the enemy. #BeBetter

— GEN(R) Martin E. Dempsey (@Martin_Dempsey) June 1, 2020


Asked about Esper's use of the term "battle space," a senior defense official, who declined to be identified, told Pentagon reporters on Tuesday that the "DOD often communicates in a parlance unique to the profession of arms."

"He was using the terms that we have," the official said. "Nothing should be read into the use of that term to denote anything other than it's a common term to denote the area we are operating in."

Esper served 10 years in the U.S. Army on active duty and another 11 years in the National Guard and Army Reserve.

A former senior administration official told ABC News that congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle have privately expressed concerns about Esper's words because they could be seen as laying the groundwork for the invocation of the Insurrection Act of 1807, which allows the president to deploy active duty troops within the United States under limited circumstances. The president would have to invoke the act because the active duty military -- unlike the National Guard -- is barred from carrying out law enforcement activities under Posse Comitatus Act.

On Tuesday, Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, called on Esper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley to testify before his committee next week to explain the role they envision the U.S. military playing in response to protests.

He also told reporters that language like "battle space" is "deeply concerning in terms of how the U.S. military would be used for domestic law enforcement," though he had not personally spoken to Esper about it.

As of Tuesday, governors in 28 states and the District of Columbia had activated more than 20,400 National Guard members to assist state and local law enforcement operations, according to the National Guard.

But overnight, elements of the 82nd Airborne Division, along with active duty military police units from Fort Bragg, Fort Drum and Fort Riley, staged at Joint Base Andrews outside of the nation's capital in case they were requested, according to two U.S. officials.

"The decision to use active military forces in crowd control in the United States should only be made as a last resort," said ABC News analyst Mick Mulroy, a retired Marine and former deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East.

"The National Guard is fully capable and trained for these operations. They are from these communities and likely have been activated many times to support people after fires, hurricanes, or pandemics. Some of the people they helped are the ones protesting. Active Army and Marine Corps units are trained to fight our nation's enemies, not their fellow Americans."

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