Politics News

Official White House Photo by Carlos FyfeBy MOLLY NAGLE, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- President Joe Biden will travel to Houston Friday to survey damage from the winter storm last week that left millions in Texas without power, and in need of drinking water.

The trip to Texas marks the first time Biden will travel to address a crisis beyond the COVID-19 pandemic that has consumed his young presidency.

Biden will travel with first lady Jill Biden to the Lone Star State Friday morning and will spend the day with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday.

"He's going to be spending the day with the governor of Texas because this is not a partisan issue. This is not just impacting Democrats or Republicans. It's impacting all of the people in the state. There obviously was a period of time where we needed to make sure that people were safe. Now we're at the recovery stage where we need to make sure people have access to clean water, access to places to live and to stay," Psaki said on ABC's "The View."

"The president wants to survey the damage so he can tap into all the resources in the federal government. We've already declared an emergency in over 100 counties, and our FEMA administrator, our acting administrator, is continuing to review, but the president wants to see for himself, and he wants to show his support and he wants to get briefed by the governor," she continued.

Biden declared a major disaster in Texas Saturday, making federal funding available to residents in a portion of the state's counties impacted by the storm.

He first addressed his plans to travel to the state last Friday, telling reporters he didn't want to strain resources on the ground.

"If, in fact, it's concluded that I can do without creating a burden for the folks on the ground when they're dealing with this crisis, I plan on going," Biden told reporters.

The effects of the storm were intensified due to massive power outages across the state that left millions without power amid the freezing temperatures, snow and ice.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the nonprofit corporation responsible for managing 90% of the state's electricity, has come under intense scrutiny for the power failures during the storm. The Texas Legislature held hearings Thursday to investigate the outages.

When asked during the White House press briefing if Biden had a message for leaders in the state about the failure, Psaki said the administration remained focused on relief efforts.

"There is plenty of time to have a policy discussion about better weatherization, better preparations. And I'm sure that's one that will be had. But right now, we're focused on getting relief to the people in the state, getting updated briefings, tapping into all of the levers of federal government." she said.

While in Texas, Biden is also expected to visit a vaccination site to see the progress on distributing COVID-19 vaccinations, after the winter storm also caused delays to vaccine shipments in the state.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Official White House Photo by Adam SchultzBy MICHELLE STODDART, LAUREN KING and KATE PASTOR, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- This is Day 41 of the administration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.

Here is how the day is unfolding. All times Eastern:

Feb 26, 10:48 am
Biden offers support to Ukraine on anniversary of Crimea annexation

In honor of the seventh anniversary of the Russian invasion of Crimea on Friday, Biden released a statement affirming the United States support of Ukraine.

“The United States continues to stand with Ukraine and its allies and partners today, as it has from the beginning of this conflict.  On this somber anniversary, we reaffirm a simple truth: Crimea is Ukraine,” Biden said.

Biden added that the U.S. will never recognize Crimea as part of Russia, and will "continue to work to hold Russia accountable for its abuses and aggression in Ukraine.”

Feb 26, 10:34 am
Biden still committed to $15 minimum wage, top WH economic adviser says

Biden’s top economic adviser Brian Deese said Friday on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" that the White House and congressional leadership are on the next path forward on minimum wage after the decision by the Senate parliamentarian Thursday that a $15 minimum wage hike could not be included in the American Rescue Plan if passed by reconciliation.

“We were disappointed by the parliamentarian’s ruling," he said, adding that Biden put minumum wage in his American Rescue Plan "because we believe is a justified, and in fact urgently needed, step forward. Passing the minimum wage would get a raise to 27 million Americans," Deese said.

But Deese would not bite when asked if the White House was rethinking the filibuster after the decision, only saying the White House was working with congressional allies to figure out the best way forward.

"We're going to consult with congressional allies, leadership to talk about a path forward on how we can make progress urgently on what is an urgent issue. At the same time, we need to act on this rescue plan. As hopeful as we all are about the trajectory of the virus, there are real risks and we need to act urgently now,” Deese said.

“The president has campaigned on the $15 minimum wage, he believes in it, he's committed to getting it done,” Deese said.

Feb 26, 10:05 am
Biden to travel to Houston after deadly storms

Biden will travel to Houston, Texas, on Friday with first lady Jill Biden in the wake of deadly winter storms that left millions without power and killed at least 17.

During his visit, the president will tour the Harris County Emergency Operations Center. Then the first lady will visit the Houston Food Bank to package food and water for the local community. After that, she and the president will meet with volunteers at the food bank. Biden will then visit a COVID-19 vaccination site, where he’ll deliver remarks.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki previewed the trip during a briefing on Thursday and noted that Biden would survey damage from the storm with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott for the majority of the day. She also said that the trip was not a political one. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, is also expected to meet Biden in Houston.

“He views it as an issue where he's eager to get relief to tap into all the resources in the federal government to make sure the people of Texas know we're thinking about them, we’re fighting for them, and we're going to continue working on this as they're recovering. There is plenty of time to have a policy discussion about better weatherization, better preparations," Psaki said. "And I'm sure that's one that will be had, but right now, we're focused on getting relief to the people in the state, getting updated briefings, tapping into all of the levers of federal government.”

Feb 26, 10:01 am
CPAC poised to score 1 for Trump in GOP civil war: The Note

Can you have a battle for a party if only one side is invited to the fight?

The Conservative Political Action Conference has long been a colorful if sometimes unreliable gauge of the state of the movement that powers the Republican Party. This year … not so much.

With the GOP divided about its future, the biggest gathering of conservatives in the early days of the Biden presidency gets underway in Orlando, Florida, on Friday as a tribute to all things Donald Trump -- up to and including rehashed and baseless complaints about the election.

Featured speakers include Donald Trump Jr., Sens. Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, Govs. Kristi Noem and Ron DeSantis, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, former Ambassador Richard Grenell and a wide range of pro-Trump House members and commentators. The former president himself, of course, speaks Sunday, in his first public speech since Jan. 20.

Not attending: Senators including Mitch McConnell, Ben Sasse or Mitt Romney; House members like Liz Cheney or Adam Kinzinger; former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley; former Vice President Mike Pence.

The theme of this year's CPAC is "America Uncanceled," though one speaker who had been booked was himself canceled for his extreme and anti-Semitic views.

But Trump and what he represents don't need to be "uncanceled" if they weren't canceled in the first place. It's hard to call it a comeback if the person and the movement in question never really left.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA/Bloomberg via Getty ImagesBy CONOR FINNEGAN, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- Secretary of State Antony Blinken is making his first "trip" as the top U.S. diplomat, the State Department said, although he's not really going anywhere.

With the Biden administration's coronavirus travel restrictions still in place, Blinken will hold meetings and attend cultural events with his Mexican and Canadian counterparts on Friday via video teleconference from Washington.

But the agency, keen to show that the new administration is actively working with U.S. allies, is launching a series of "virtual" trips with Blinken, where he will meet foreign leaders and local U.S. embassy staff, "visit" different cities and cultural sites, announce new policies or agreements and hold press conferences, just as he would on a real trip.

"We have designed this trip to resemble as close as we can a physical trip and we're doing the best we can to fulfill our diplomatic mission and to further our relationships with our close North American partners, given the reality in which we currently live," State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Thursday.

President Joe Biden held virtual meetings with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday in a similar fashion, with the White House calling it his first "bilateral meetings" even as the two sides communicated through video teleconferencing.

While virtual meetings have become the norm, diplomacy often works best when there are in-person discussions.

"There is far more difficulty in creating connections, establishing relationships and feeling empathy -- and, therefore, greater difficulty in achieving diplomatic goals," according to Nicholas Hawton and Shahrokh Shakerian, diplomatic advisers for the International Committee of the Red Cross. "The 'coffee corridor connection' is lost. The discussions and connections made in the informal spaces around traditional diplomatic locations simply cannot be replicated."

That presents a challenge particularly for U.S.-Mexican relations, with tensions over trade, energy, migration and countering narcotrafficking.

The Biden administration has startled to dismantle former President Donald Trump's harsh immigration policies, including forcing asylum seekers to remain in Mexico, which had created tensions with left-wing populist President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, known by his initials as AMLO.

But there are still issues with AMLO's energy policy, which U.S. critics said undermines the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement free trade agreement -- the modernized North American Free Trade Agreement. A bill before Mexico's congress would give the state-owned utility priority in feeding the national grid, marginalizing the renewable energy sector. That earned a warning from the Trump administration last month that Mexico must "live up to its USMCA obligations" or risk hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. aid, according to a letter from the Secretaries of State, Energy and Commerce obtained by ABC News.

It's unclear if the Biden administration shares those concerns. Acting assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Julie Chung said the issue will be discussed "in the medium term and the long term because there are many aspects that we're hearing from the private sector about their concerns -- but this is where we encourage Mexico to listen to the stakeholders, to listen to the private sector companies and really provide that culture, the atmosphere of free investment and transparency so that companies will continue to invest in Mexico."

Countering narcotraffickers and enhancing security will also be a top issue, especially after Monday's arrest of Emma Coronel Aispuro, the wife of the notorious drug cartel leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman.

Last month, Mexican authorities dropped charges against former defense minister Salvador Cienfuegos, who had been arrested and charged with drug trafficking by the U.S. Despite an alleged promise to prosecute him at home, Cienfuegos was released, and Mexico's congress passed a law to limit foreign law enforcement operating in the country and strip their diplomatic immunity.

"We continue to have a very strong level of cooperation across all levels between the United States and Mexico," Chung told ABC News. "We're going to make sure we address those law enforcement issues together, and we're committed more than ever to utilizing every tool to address that."

During his "visit," Blinken will meet with Foreign Affairs Secretary Marcelo Ebrard and Economy Secretary Tatiana Clouthier to discuss trade, migration, security and other issues.

He'll also see those migration issues "up close" by taking a virtual "tour" of Paso Del Norte, the port of entry between Ciudad Juarez in Mexico and El Paso, Texas, in the U.S.

While relations with Canada suffered under former President Donald Trump, who hit Canada with "national security tariffs," they seem to have easily rebounded under Biden. Trudeau praised their partnership on Tuesday, saying, "U.S. leadership has been sorely missed over the past years," in particular on climate change.

Blinken will meet again with Trudeau on Friday, along with his counterpart Foreign Minister Marc Garneau and other cabinet ministers. He'll also meet students and local leaders to discuss climate change and the Arctic, and see an Inuit cultural performance.

Climate change has emerged as a key issue between the two governments, with special envoy for climate change John Kerry holding his first high-level summit on Wednesday with Canada to commit to "ambitious" action and deepen both countries' commitments to reduce carbon emissions more quickly.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



(WASHINGTON) -- The federal agency tasked with connecting unaccompanied children to relatives or sponsors in the U.S., is on the verge of maxing out its capacity to hold children before they are resettled, new government data shows.

The Office for Refugee Resettlement, a division of Health and Human Services, has more beds than ever before in its history, but the coronavirus pandemic has cut the amount of usable space nearly in half. Out of that available space, the ORR shelters are at 92% capacity, according to an HHS official.

That leaves the agency to rely on large, temporary shelter camps. The use of temporary holding facilities was heavily criticized by Democrats and immigrant advocates just two years ago when a surge of migrant families caused similar capacity issues.

Officials are currently working to ramp up capacity at a facility on the outskirts of Carrizo Springs, Texas, from its current bed count of 225 up to 700, the HHS official said.

On a single recent day in February, the ORR received 413 referrals of unaccompanied children from the Department of Homeland Security while just 132 were united with a sponsor on the same day, according to the agency.

This difference has prompted the agency to take new measures to connect kids with sponsors more quickly, including authorizing shelter facilities to pay for plane tickets and other means of transportation, an ORR official confirmed in a statement to ABC News.

The Washington Post was first to report on the new transportation policy.

Another facility that could potentially be used again for unaccompanied minors, according to the HHS official, is the Homestead shelter in south Florida. Under the Trump administration, Amnesty International called the holding of minors at the facility "cruel and unlawful." And several Democratic lawmakers spoke out against it, including then-Sen. Kamala Harris.

President Joe Biden came to office vowing to unwind the prior administration's hardline immigration policies, signing a slew of executive actions and pushing for legislative reform.

"I will accomplish what I said I would do: a much more humane policy based on family unification," Biden said as president-elect. "But it requires getting a lot in place."

Is the Biden administration doing the same thing as the Trump administration?

Yes and no.

The Trump administration was heavily criticized for its use of facilities like Carrizo Springs for housing undocumented migrants and the Biden administration is now putting it back into use. U.S. Customs and Border Protection is also using a recently-constructed tent facility in Donna, Texas, to process migrants, while the main processing center in nearby McAllen undergoes renovations.

However, the Biden administration is not separating migrant families as the Trump administration was so heavily criticized for doing.

"It's absolutely not the same thing," Psaki said on ABC's The View Wednesday. "We are not ripping children from the arms of their parents. That is horrible and immoral and something we saw in the last administration."

When the influx of migrant families hit its peak in 2019, CBP stations and their staff were not equipped to handle it. Border Patrol agents normally out patrolling the desert were tasked with child care.

The Biden administration is now grappling with the added challenge of having to house more migrant children amid the pandemic and as they break from the former president's hardline posture of turning everyone back. While CBP doesn't provide the ages of all minors who they apprehend crossing illegally, officials have described the majority of them as children in their early to mid-teens.

The Biden administration said it is attempting to get out ahead of this problem, in part, by re-opening Carrizo Springs before migration patterns hit the same level.

"We need to figure out how to treat them humanely and keep them safe, and in the time of COVID, that means we needed to open an additional facility," Psaki added on The View. "This is incredibly difficult. It's heart-wrenching and it's a really difficult decision, but this is the best decision we felt we could make to keep these kids safe and get them into the right places and right homes."

The administration's defense in reopening the Carrizo Springs facility, which is made to handle overflow and was last used in 2019, is twofold: to guard against situations where undocumented minors are held in CBP facilities longer than they should be and to provide proper spacing amid the pandemic.

Psaki has described the crisis of unaccompanied migrant children as "heartbreaking" but in short, said at a briefing that the administration has no perfect solution: "This is a difficult situation. It's a difficult choice. That's the choice we've made."

"There was not enough space in the existing facilities, and, if we were to abide by COVID protocols. That's the process and the step. This facility in Texas, which has been reopened, has been revamped, has been -- there are teachers, there is medical facilities, and our objective is to move them -- move these kids quickly from there to vetted sponsored families into places where they can safely be," Psaki said Wednesday.

The Carrizo Springs facility last housed migrant children in 2019. In July of that year, when the number of unaccompanied children coming across the border started to decline after a peak earlier in the year, the facility was put into "warm status," meaning it was out of use but maintained.

Crossing attempts continued to decline as the Trump administration pressed forward with hardline asylum restrictions and its "Remain in Mexico" protocols.

When the global health crisis hit in 2020 the Trump administration implemented further restrictions at the border, technically under the direction of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These restrictions, known as "Title 42 expulsions," resulted in the immediate removal of the vast majority of people who attempted to cross into the U.S.

The Biden administration has continued the expulsions for everyone except children.

In recent months, the number of unauthorized border crossing attempts has begun to rise, according to the latest data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Last month, CBP averaged 3,000 arrests per day. Responding to a request from ABC News, CBP declined to share the average daily intake and referral numbers for unaccompanied children citing concerns about the impact to law enforcement operations.

What are the alternatives?

Now that the Biden administration is no longer sending children back to Mexico, their options are limited. There's broad consensus from CBP officials and their critics that Border Patrol stations are not fit to hold children long-term.

That leaves facilities like Carrizo Springs as one of the few viable options for minors to be held while authorities locate and verify potential sponsors to house them in the U.S.

"A bigger solution and system must be contemplated so we don't have to resort to these kinds of measures in the future," Theresa Brown, director of immigration and cross-border policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center said in a recent tweet. "But while we're building that, we have to ask what is the best we can do right now?"

While the ultimate aim is to place children with sponsors, vetting them takes time. When the Trump administration tried to expedite this process, they faced the liability of potentially sending a child to an unfit or dangerous home.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


uschools/iStockBy BENJAMIN SIEGEL, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- The House on Thursday passed the Equality Act, a top agenda item for President Joe Biden that would prohibit discrimination against LGBTQ Americans in a 224-206 vote.

Three Republicans voted with all Democrats on the measure, which the House also passed two years ago but languished in the then-GOP-controlled Senate. In 2019, eight House Republicans supported the bill.

The measure would extend the protections of the Civil Rights Act to LGBTQ Americans to block discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.

Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., Tom Reed, R-N.Y., and John Katko, R-N.Y., voted with Democrats in support of the proposal on Thursday.

The vote followed two days of emotional and -- at times -- personal debate in the House between Democrats and Republicans, with some lawmakers speaking from their own life experiences on the floor.

"None of us should be evicted, fired or denied accommodations and services simply because of who we are and whom we love," said Rep. Ritchie Torres, D-N.Y., who is one of the first openly gay Black men to serve in Congress.

Rep. Marie Newman, D-Ill., who spoke on the House floor on Monday in support of her transgender daughter, came under attack from Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, a conservative who told Newman on Twitter that "your biological son does NOT belong in my daughters' bathrooms, locker rooms, and sports teams," and unsuccessfully tried to delay Thursday's vote by forcing the House to vote twice on a dilatory motion to adjourn.

Newman, whose Washington office is across the hall from Greene's, put up a transgender flag outside her door. Greene, in response, put up a poster that read: "There are TWO genders: Male & Female - Trust the Science!"

Republicans opposing the bill cited concerns that it would infringe on their religious beliefs and irrevocably impact women's sports across the country.

"When men or women claim to be able to choose their own sexual identity, they are making a statement that God did not know what he was doing when he made them," said Rep. Greg Stuebe, R-Fla. "You are going to singlehandedly destroy women's sports in the name of equality, how ironic."

Democrats and LGBTQ advocacy groups condemned the rhetoric from Greene and other Republicans in opposition to the bill.

"Their attacks on trans people and the transgender community are just mean, mean," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said of the "despicable comments."

Alphonso David, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, called the comments "dangerous and transphobic."

"These comments actually create additional stigma against communities that need to be protected," he said.

According to the Human Rights Campaign, 44 transgender or gender non-conforming Americans were killed last year, the highest tally the organization has ever recorded.

"(The attacks are) not based on fact, they're based on fear," he said.

The Equality Act will need to garner the support of 60 senators to get to Biden's desk for his signature, which would require the support of at least 10 Republicans, assuming all Democrats back the package.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a critical swing vote who cosponsored the legislation in 2020, told the Washington Blade this week that she would not do so this year, pointing to unspecified changes she requested that were not made. She did not say what changes she had sought.

"Sen. Collins supports ensuring fairness and equal treatment of all Americans, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and she is considering all possible options to do so, including introducing her own bill," Collins' spokeswoman Annie Clarke told the Washington Blade.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will take up the measure, but has not yet scheduled a meeting to do so.

ABC News' Trish Turner contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



(NEW YORK) -- ABC News will kick off Women’s History Month with its new podcast "In Plain Sight: Lady Bird Johnson," co-produced with Best Case Studios and hosted by author Julia Sweig.

Drawn from over 123 hours of the former first lady’s mostly unheard daily audio diaries, the podcast presents a surprising and original portrait of Claudia Alta “Lady Bird” Johnson, told in her own words. The series provides stunning new revelations about Lyndon B. Johnson’s presidency and reveals Lady Bird as Johnson’s closest advisor and most indispensable political partner.

The series documents her front-row seat to some of the most notable events in U.S. history and decisions that shaped the nation forever, as well as her history-making encounters with John F. Kennedy, Jacqueline Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Eartha Kitt, Peter, Paul and Mary, politicians, civil rights activists, environmentalists and her surprising partnership with Washington's first Mayor, Walter Washington.

Using a rich trove of rare footage from the era, "In Plain Sight" creates an immersive audio experience of a tumultuous moment in America and tells the story of how one vastly underestimated woman navigated the power, politics and polarization of her time to become arguably one of the most influential first ladies in history. The first two episodes of the eight-part series will debut on Monday, March 1.

Julia Sweig is an award-winning author, scholar and entrepreneur. Sweig’s writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Atlantic, the Washington Post, Foreign Affairs, the Nation, the National Interest and in Brazil’s Folha de São Paulo. She is a senior research fellow at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas-Austin and the creator, host and executive producer of the podcast “ In Plain Sight.” Her fourth book, Lady Bird Johnson: Hiding in Plain Sight comes out March 16, 2021 from Random House.

Julia Sweig is co-executive producer, writer and host of the project. Victoria Thompson and Eric Johnson are executive producers and Suzie Liu is a producer with ABC News. Best Case Studios' Adam Pincus is executive producer and Anne Carkeet is a producer on the project.

Archival materials from: LBJ Library; JFK Library; Miller Center; U.S. National Archives; Universal Newsreel; WFAA-TV Collection/The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza; KLIF broadcast from November 22, 1963 courtesy of Cumulus Media; Andrew West audio report on June 5, 1968 courtesy of Westwood One; NBC5/KXAS Television News Collection; University of North Texas Special Collections; Jane Jacobs (Books and Authors Luncheon); WNYC, courtesy of NYC Municipal Archives.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Official White House Photo by Adam SchultzBy MICHELLE STODDART, LAUREN KING and KATE PASTOR, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- This is Day 39 of the administration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.

Here is how the hearing is unfolding. All times Eastern:

Feb 25, 5:32 pm
Biden has call with King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud of Saudi Arabia

Biden spoke Thursday with King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud of Saudi Arabia "to address the longstanding partnership between the United States and Saudi Arabia," according to a readout from the White House.

The official readout of the call did not mention anything about the intelligence report on the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi or the crown prince.

"Together they discussed regional security, including the renewed diplomatic efforts led by the United Nations and the United States to end the war in Yemen, and the U.S. commitment to help Saudi Arabia defend its territory as it faces attacks from Iranian-aligned groups.

"The President noted positively the recent release of several Saudi-American activists and Ms. Loujain al-Hathloul from custody, and affirmed the importance the United States places on universal human rights and the rule of law. The President told King Salman he would work to make the bilateral relationship as strong and transparent as possible. The two leaders affirmed the historic nature of the relationship and agreed to work together on mutual issues of concern and interest," the readout said.

At the end of his remarks for the National Governors Association winter meeting, Biden answered "yes" to a question about whether it "was a good call."

-ABC News' Senior White House Correspondent Mary Bruce and Molly Nagle

Feb 25, 5:18 pm
Biden touts state, local support for COVID-19 relief at National Governors Association meeting

Biden joined a meeting of the National Governor's Association on Thursday afternoon. During the meeting, the group's chair, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D-N.Y., who has been under fire for nursing home deaths in his state and is facing fresh details concerning a harassment allegation, said the nation's governors support the president's COVID-19 relief bill.

Biden touted his plan, which has bipartisan support outside of the Senate, as helping all Americans. The president noted that 400 mayors have called him in support of the bill.

"It's clear that even when the immediate crisis passes, there’s going to be more work to be done to help constituents recover," Biden said. "And my administration will be there every step of the way with you, because when people in this country need help, they're not Democrats, Republicans, they're all Americans and people who need work."

Cuomo also said governors stand behind Biden's forthcoming infrastructure bill, which he has not yet released but touted on the campaign trail.

Feb 25, 4:01 pm
Biden celebrates 50M vaccines deployed under his administration despite 'setbacks'

Biden delivered remarks announcing that the U.S. is "halfway" to his goal of administering 100 million vaccines in his first 100 days after he, Harris and Dr. Anthony Fauci, watched as four people received a COVID-19 vaccine.

"50 million shots in just 37 days since I’ve become president. That's weeks ahead of schedule, even with the setbacks we faced during the recent winter storms which devastated millions of Midwestern cities, towns, and also the same in the South," Biden said. "We're moving in the right direction, though, despite the mess we inherited from the previous administration."

Biden also worked to counter vaccine hesitancy, announcing that the administration is going to launch a "massive campaign" to educate Americans about the safety and efficacy of the vaccines.

"And there are folks who are hesitant to take the shot in the first place. We all know there is a history in this country of subjecting certain communities to terrible medical and scientific abuse," Biden said. "But if there is one message that needs to cut through, it's this: The vaccines are safe and effective"

Biden also pushed his COVID-19 relief bill, the American Rescue Act, and said he hopes Congress will pass it.

Despite the milestones that he touted, the president also offered a warning not to relax health measures.

"So I want to make something really very clear: this is not a time to relax," Biden said. "We must keep washing our hands, stay socially distanced, and for god's sake, wear a mask."

Feb 25, 2:08 pm
WH doesn't rule out sanctioning Saudi Arabia over journalist's death

ABC News' Senior White House Correspondent Mary Bruce pressed White House press secretary Jen Psaki in a White House briefing Thursday about the president's plans to hold accountable those responsible for the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Psaki wouldn’t offer specifics but didn’t rule out sanctions, saying “a range of actions” are on the table.

Psaki stressed that the next step is for Biden to have a call with the King of Saudi Arabia, Abdul Aziz, and for the intelligence community to release its full report of the events.

"And, of course, our administration is focused on recalibrating the relationship, as we've talked about in here previously, and certainly there are areas where we will express concerns and leave open the option of accountability," Psaki said.

Bruce also asked why the president would not speak directly with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, given not only his role in the future leadership of the country but also his reported involvement in the Khashoggi case.

Psaki pointed to bin Salman’s conversations with his counterpart, Secretary of Defense Llyod Austin, but did not say if Austin planned to discuss the issue with him directly.

-ABC News' Molly Nagle

Feb 25, 12:01 pm
Harris tries to combat vaccine hesitancy in D.C. as the district faces rollout issues

Harris visited a pharmacy in a Giant supermarket in a predominantly minority neighborhood of Washington, D.C., on Thursday in an effort to ease vaccine hesitancy on the same day she and Biden will tout reaching the 50 million-shot marker, which is halfway to their 100 million shots in 100 days goal. But on the same day of Harris' visit, there were problems with the district's website to register for vaccine appointments.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said the website issues were caused by a crush of demand after eligibility was expanded to include people with pre-existing conditions like severe obesity, asthma, liver disease and other conditions.


The online appointments that were made available today are now booked.

We know this morning was very frustrating for many people. We are working with Microsoft to understand why heavy traffic caused some eligible individuals to not get through.

— DC Health (@_DCHealth) February 25, 2021


At the event, Harris spoke to Brenda Thompson, a D.C. resident who was about to receive her second dose, about her experience getting the Moderna vaccine, with Harris saying she needed to "take it a little slow" the day after her second dose.

Harris spoke with the store's pharmacist, Samir Balile, who told Harris he sees lines of people every day waiting for their shots, but he is concerned about hesitancy in the coming weeks.

Harris reported to him feeling some side effects after the second dose.

"The first dose, I was fine. The second dose, I thought I was fine, got up early in the morning, went to work, then midday I realized I might need to slow down a bit. Just that one day, and then it was fine, it was like nothing," Harris said.

Feb 25, 10:29 am
Biden, Harris tout vaccine progress on Thursday

Biden and Harris will participate in an event Thursday afternoon commemorating 50 million COVID-19 vaccine shots administered during the Biden administration, which is halfway to Biden’s goal of distributing 100 million COVID-19 shots in his first 100 days in office.

When Biden set out the goal at the beginning of his term, the administration was already on pace to administer nearly 1 million vaccines a day, which some public health experts have said is not fast enough to control the pandemic.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, Biden’s chief medical adviser, has estimated that 325 million people will need to be immunized for the pandemic to end and to reach that threshold, Biden would need more vaccinations.

Biden has rejected the suggestion that his goal was too low, telling reporters in January that, "it's a good start."

Meanwhile, Harris visited a Giant supermarket in Southeast Washington, D.C. Thursday morning to promote the administration’s Federal Retail Pharmacy Program for COVID-19 vaccinations, which has delivered 1 million doses to over 6,500 pharmacies across the country.

Harris spoke to the store's pharmacist and then watched as a patient, Brenda Thompson, received her second dose of the Moderna vaccine.

Biden will also participate in the National Governors Association’s Winter Meeting Wednesday afternoon, and the White House will give a press briefing at 12:30 p.m.

Feb 25, 9:41 am
Biden issues major disaster declaration for Oklahoma

Biden issued a major disaster declaration for Oklahoma in the wake of winter storms in the U.S. south. The declaration covers 16 counties in Oklahoma and allows increased federal funding for recovery.

On Saturday, Biden issued a major disaster declaration for Texas, which freed up funds to aid recovery efforts after the storms left millions without power. The president is set to visit Texas on Friday to see relief efforts and visit a vaccine distribution facility.

Feb 25, 9:40 am
GOP finds risky form of unity in opposing COVID relief bill: The Note

The Republican Party is both less divided and more divided than it seems at the moment -- and not in ways that glide along the easiest political paths.

On the question of former President Donald Trump, the GOP is less divided than a colorful House leadership news conference might make it seem. The party still belongs primarily to Trump, as the CPAC gathering that begins Thursday in Florida will demonstrate.

On the question of President Joe Biden's agenda, there's actually more GOP dissension than meets the eye. The first floor votes on Biden's COVID-19 package are coming Friday in the House, yet united Republican opposition in Congress doesn't align with public polling on the topic.

Among the public at large, Biden and his COVID plans are considerably more popular than Trump and opposing COVID relief, at least for now. But Republican lawmakers appear to fear more political blowback in opposing Trump than voting "no" on COVID bills.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


 Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty ImagesBy CHEYENNEHASLETT, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- At a historic hearing Thursday, Rachel Levine, President Joe Biden's nominee for assistant secretary of health at the Department of Health and Human Services, and the first openly transgender person nominated for federal office, told lawmakers she would fight to improve health care access for all Americans if confirmed and deflected inflammatory questions from a GOP senator who likened transgender surgery to "genital mutilation."

As the HHS assistant secretary of health, Levine would oversee the nation's public health system amid the pandemic. A pediatrician, she recently led Pennsylvania's pandemic response as the state's health secretary and was the state's physician general before that.

She faced questions before the Senate Health committee for about two-and-a-half hours, alongside Surgeon General nominee Vivek Murthy.

Just over an hour in, Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky began questioning Levine about "genital mutilation" of children, which he compared to a person's decision to transition.

"American culture is now normalizing the idea that minors can be given hormones about their biological development and their secondary sexual characteristics," Paul said.

He repeatedly asked Levine if she believed minors should be able to make decisions to "amputate their breasts or amputate their genitalia" and if she supports the government "intervening to override the parents' consent to give a child puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones and/or amputation surgery of breasts and genitalia."

Levine responded politely that she would like to work with his office to talk about the complexities of transgender medicine. She deflected his misrepresentation of transgender surgery as "genital mutilation," which is defined by the World Health Organization as torturous and inhuman treatment most commonly done in Africa, the Middle East and Asia often aimed at controlling women's sexuality, enforcing premarital virginity and attempting to keep women "modest."

"Thank you for your interest in this question," Levine said. "Transgender medicine is a very complex and nuanced field with robust research and standards of care that have been developed. And if I'm fortunate enough to be confirmed as the assistant secretary of health I look forward to working with you and your office and coming to your office and discussing the particulars of the standards of care for transgender medicine."

Paul said she "evaded the question" and asked again, weaving in an anecdote about 23-year-old Keira Bell in the U.K., who recently took legal action against that country's public health system, the NHS, for not challenging her decision to transition when she began treatment at 16 years old. Bell argued she was not competent to make that choice as a teenager and now regrets it.

"Will you make a more firm decision on whether or not minors should be involved in these decisions?" Paul asked Levine.

Levine again told Paul that there was not a blanket answer to his question, but that she would be happy to meet with him to explain all the different circumstances, decisions and research that goes into transgender health care.

"Senator, transgender medicine is a very complex and nuanced field and if confirmed to the position of assistant secretary of health, I would certainly be pleased to come to your office and to talk with you and your staff about the standards of care and the complexity of this field," Levine said.

"Let it go into the record that the witness refused to answer the question," Paul said.

Later in the hearing, the committee chair, Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, thanked Levine for her medical response to what she called Paul's "harmful misrepresentations" and denounced the senator for being disrespectful to the nominee.

"It is really critical to me that our nominees be treated with respect and that our questions focus on their qualifications and the work ahead of us, rather than ideological and harmful misrepresentations like those we heard from Senator Paul earlier, and I will focus on that as chair of this committee. So thank you again for your response," Murray said to Levine.

Democratic Sen. Tina Smith of Minnesota also defended Levine.

"We need advocates at all levels to make sure that we address that inequity and we fight against discrimination and ensure that everybody, all patients, have access to care, especially amid this crisis which has revealed so many inequities. So I wanted to thank you," she told Levine.

Levine answered other questions at the hearing, mostly on her role as chief doctor for Pennsylvania during pandemic, her views on getting kids back into schools, the opioid epidemic and LGBTQ health equity.

"At its core, my career has been about helping people live healthy lives. As the assistant secretary for health, I would be committed every day to helping the people of our nation and improving our public health. I am both humbled by the opportunity, and ready for the job," Levine said in her opening statement.

Levine detailed her tenure in pediatrics and adolescent medicine at Mt. Sinai and Lenox Hill Hospital before moving to Pennsylvania, where she worked for Penn State College of Medicine and focused on helping teenagers with medical and psychological problems. She was named physician general of Pennsylvania in 2015, confirmed unanimously to the post, and confirmed twice more by a bipartisan Pennsylvanias State Senate to be secretary of health.

"Of course, our focus changed dramatically last year, and COVID-19 became my urgent and primary focus," Levine said. "There is still so much more to do."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


uschools/iStockBy BENJAMIN SIEGEL, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., accused Republicans on Thursday of watering down her proposal to form an outside commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol by challenging the scope of the probe -- the latest indication that efforts to launch an independent inquiry could be delayed by partisanship.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on Wednesday criticized Pelosi's initial discussion draft as "partisan by design" because it would give Democrats more appointees on the panel than Republicans -- a break from the 50-50 split of the 9/11 Commission lawmakers see as the model for their effort. He also took issue with the proposed focus of the panel.

"We can do something now that looks at the Capitol, or we could do something broader that looks at the full scope of political violence here in our country," McConnell said. "We cannot land at some artificial politicized halfway point."

On Thursday, Pelosi said the commission's makeup could be "easily negotiated" but accused Republicans of trying to minimize the Jan. 6 attack.

"The point is the scope. If you don't have your purpose, as to what the purpose of this is, then the rest of it is not the important part of the conversation," she said.

Pelosi accused McConnell of taking cues on the topic from Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., the conservative who suggested this week that "fake Trump supporters" and "provocateurs" were responsible for the violence at the Capitol last month -- unfounded claims repeatedly rejected by law enforcement.

"It's about domestic terrorism, we want to solve it, and I will do anything to have it be bipartisan so it would be well received by the American people," Pelosi said. "But if we're talking about scope and say, 'we've got to look at all mobs,' it's the Ron Johnson school of Jan. 6 investigations and to seeking the truth."

The California Democrat said she was "disappointed" with McConnell's remarks and claimed they had previously had a productive private conversation on the subject.

Pelosi's draft included language from FBI Director Chris Wray and an intelligence threat citing the danger of domestic terrorism and extremism, and a reference to future attacks based on "false narratives," according to a senior House Democratic aide.

In a Monday letter to the speaker, House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said the proposal shouldn't predetermine the commission's conclusions related to the riot, the aide said.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


danielfela/iStockBy LUKE BARR, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- The Department of Homeland Security on Thursday announced that communities receiving State Homeland Security Program and Urban Area Security Initiative grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency will be required to spend at least $77 million of those funds directly battling domestic violent extremism.

The money will help "ensure we have the necessary capabilities to detect and protect against threats from DVE," Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement. "This approach will help raise the nation's security baseline and prioritize activities to combat DVE, including open source analysis of threats, execution of threat assessment programs, the development and sharing of intelligence across states and between states and the federal government, and the development of training and awareness programs."

DHS said FEMA will fund 31 high-threat, high-density urban areas that will "be required to dedicate a minimum of 30% of awards toward five priority areas: cybersecurity (7.5%); soft target and crowded places (5%); information and intelligence sharing (5%); domestic violent extremism (7.5%); and emerging threats (5%)."

Mayorkas also announced that $25 million of FEMA grants would be spent on cyber infrastructure.

Javed Ali, a former senior director for counterterrorism at the National Security Council who also worked at DHS, told ABC News that this decision "underscores the seriousness with which the Biden administration plans to move out on this threat, especially in the aftermath of the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. This is likely the first in a series of other moves focused on domestic violent extremism to be announced in the coming months."

The siege on the U.S. Capitol resulted in five deaths and hundreds of arrests.

Acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman told lawmakers on Thursday that authorities had discovered a plan to target the next State of the Union address by some of the same groups that stormed the Capitol.

"We know that members of the militia groups that were present on Jan. 6 have stated their desires that they want to blow up the Capitol and kill as many members as possible, with a direct nexus to the State of the Union, which we know that date has not been identified," she said.

In his first interview after being confirmed, Mayorkas vowed to use department resources on fighting domestic extremism. In a column published by the Washington Post, he elaborated on that vision, calling domestic violent extremism "the most lethal and persistent terrorism-related threat to our country today."

"For several years," he wrote, "the United States has been suffering an upsurge in domestic violent extremism. The horror of seeing the U.S. Capitol, one of the pillars of our democracy, attacked on Jan. 6 was a brutal example of our suffering, and it compels us all to action."

He added: "The Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol was one of many events that constitute a multi-year pattern of violence by domestic extremists. These individuals and groups have largely been radicalized by the spread of false narratives, extremist rhetoric and conspiracy theories such as QAnon, which are disseminated on social media and other online platforms by malign actors, both foreign and domestic."

In January, the DHS National Terrorist Advisory System issued a warning about threats inside the U.S., that anger "fueled by false narratives," especially unfounded claims about the 2020 presidential election, could lead some inside the country to launch attacks over the coming weeks.

"Information suggests," according to the NTAS bulletin, "that some ideologically motivated violent extremists with objections to the exercise of governmental authority and the presidential transition, as well as other perceived grievances fueled by false narratives, could continue to mobilize to incite or commit violence."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



(WASHINGTON) -- Illinois Rep. Marie Newman displayed a transgender pride flag outside her Capitol office in a dig against controversial Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who made transphobic comments about her daughter.

The two lawmakers have clashed over the Equality Act, a bill that the House of Representatives will vote on Thursday that seeks to ban discrimination against the LGBTQ community.

Newman, a Democrat, choked on tears as she spoke on the House floor on Tuesday, saying the bill would offer protections for transgender people, including her daughter Evie.

"My own daughter, who years ago bravely came out to her parents as transgender. I knew from that day on my daughter would be living in a nation, where in most of its states, she would be discriminated against merely because who she is," Newman said. "And yet it was the happiest day of my life and my daughter has found her authentic self."

On Wednesday Greene, a Republican and staunch supporter of former President Donald Trump, tried to block the bill's movement through the chamber claiming it would force her daughter to compete in sports and share locker rooms with "biological" men.

On Twitter, Greene, who is known to espouse debunked conspiracy theories and who has in the past supported QAnon, said: "As mothers, we all love and support our children. But your biological son does NOT belong in my daughters' bathrooms, locker rooms and sports teams."

The bill would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, in addition to the existing categories of race, color, religion, sex or national origin.

The House passed the Equality Act in 2019, and is sending the bill back to the Senate in this new session of Congress in the hopes that the Democrat-controlled chamber can pass the measure, too.

Supporters of the measure say it would end discrimination in housing, education and employment and prevent people who identify as LGBTQ from being denied a locker room or restroom. While some Republicans supported the bill in the House last year, many Republicans claim the measure would threaten religious freedoms and women's rights.

Following Greene's comments, Newman put up the blue and pink transgender pride flag outside her office, located directly across the hall from Greene's.

She claimed Greene "tried to block the Equality Act because she believes prohibiting discrimination against trans Americans is 'disgusting, immoral, and evil.'"

Greene fired back by putting up her own sign that said: "There are TWO genders: Male and Female "Trust the Science!"

Thursday morning, Newman said Facebook took down her video as "hate speech" but allowed Greene's to remain up. Facebook soon after replied to Newman in a tweet saying the removal was a mistake and her video was restored.

"It was never meant to be a fight. It was a statement I felt was very necessary ... I felt as though she needed to hear from us. I just wanted to make a statement so she sees LGBTQ people," Newman said on CNN.

On Thursday, as she did the day before, Greene forced another floor vote on a motion to adjourn the House to stall the vote on the Equality Act. The motion was voted down, but halted business by an hour.

Greene's comments drew public scorn from fellow members of Congress, who denounced her actions as transphobic.

"There's no lower low than going after someone's kids. What a horrible performance by Congress' worst transphobic conspiracy theorist. Stay (Q)lassy, Marjorie," Democratic Virginia Rep. Jennifer Wexton tweeted.

Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal defended Newman, saying, "From the mom of one trans kid to another, we will pass the #EqualityAct —for Evie, for Janak, for thousands more to be able to fully be who they are."

Republican Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger, said, "This video and tweet represents the hate and fame driven politics of self-promotion at all evil costs. This garbage must end."

Kinzinger was one of 11 Republicans who voted to strip Greene of her committee assignments earlier this month.

In a press conference Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called Greene's actions a "sad event ... demonstrating the need for us to have respect" for the LGBTQ community.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


U.S. Capitol Police Acting Chief Yogananda Pittman appears before the House Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch via WebEx on Feb. 25, 2021 in Washington, D.C., to testify on the Capitol insurrection events of Jan. 6, 2021. - ABC NewsBy BEATRICE PETERSON and LUKE BARR, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- The acting Capitol Police chief on Thursday strongly denied that her department failed to heed intelligence reports ahead of the Jan. 6 attack warning of potential violence.

In her opening statement to a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing investigating security failures, acting Chief Yogananda Pittman addressed new focus on questions about intelligence failures that have triggered finger-pointing over who was responsible, saying nothing warned of something so overwhelming.

"The department was not ignorant of intelligence, indicating an attack of the size and scale we encountered on the 6th," Pittman said. "There was no such intelligence."

"There's evidence that some of those who stormed the Capitol were organized, but there's also evidence that a large number, were everyday Americans, took on a mob mentality, because they were angry and desperate," she said.

"It is the conduct of this latter group that the department was not prepared for. The department did face some operational challenges that we are addressing."

Pittman was the assistant chief of police of the department’s Protective & Intelligence Operations on Jan. 6 and was responsible for its Intelligence and Interagency Coordination Division.

She says the IICD came back with four "special assessments" about the potential for violence on Jan. 6 – all of which she said were "raw intelligence."

"Although the Department’s January 3rd Special Assessment foretold of a significant likelihood for violence on Capitol grounds by extremists groups, it did not identify a specific credible threat indicating that thousands of American citizens would descend upon the U.S. Capitol attacking police officers with the goal of breaking into the U.S. Capitol Building to harm Members and prevent the certification of Electoral College votes,” she said. “Nor did the intelligence received from the FBI or any other law enforcement partners include any specific credible threat that thousands of American citizens would attack the U.S. Capitol."

The former Capitol Police chief, Steven Sund, who resigned in the wake of the attack, testified Tuesday that he never saw an FBI warning sent by email the evening before the Jan. 6 assault -- a description of an online threat that extremists were preparing for "war" against the Capitol as Congress met in joint session to count Electoral College votes.

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

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artpipi/iStockBy SOO RIN KIM, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- As lawmakers and investigators dig into the roots of the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, the question of who funded one of the galvanizing forces behind pro-Trump efforts to challenge election results remains shrouded in mystery.

The nationwide "Stop the Steal" movement represented one of the most vocal efforts to contest the outcome of the 2020 election. The name, coined in 2016 by Donald Trump's longtime political adviser, Roger Stone, resurfaced during the 2020 race in a new effort led by far-right activist Ali Alexander, who is now the self-proclaimed national organizer of the "Stop the Steal" movement.

Multiple public and private entities -- affiliated and unaffiliated with Alexander -- championed "Stop the Steal," and there were hundreds of "Stop the Steal" events in the weeks following the election, leading up to the Jan. 6 rally in Washington that preceded the attack on the Capitol.

Some of those who bankrolled the post-2020 election challenges are known. MyPillow CEO and avid Trump supporter Mike Lindell supported legal efforts to overturn the election results. Publix Super Markets heiress Julie Jenkins Fancelli, a prominent Trump donor, reportedly helped pro-Trump groups fund the Jan. 6 rally on the Ellipse.

But beyond the limited information contained in news reports about privately funded efforts, not much else has been publicly revealed about the funding of organizers and events leading up to the Jan. 6 attack.

"As the investigation into the Capitol insurrection moves forward, lawmakers and investigators will almost certainly try to follow the money," said Brendan Fischer, the Federal Reforms Director of Washington-based ethics group Campaign Legal Center.

Shortly after Joe Biden was declared the winner of the 2020 presidential election, Alexander set up an entity named Stop the Steal LLC, according to attorney Baron Coleman, who registered the LLC on Alexander's behalf. As a privately held entity, the corporation is subject to very few disclosure rules.

But that's not the case with another "Stop the Steal" group. The Committee to Stop the Steal was set up as a political nonprofit just weeks before the 2020 election, with papers signed by a young law clerk from a California firm with links to Stone. The filings said the group's mission was to recruit poll watchers to "promote integrity in our electoral process."

As a tax-exempt nonprofit, the group is subject to the disclosure rules of the IRS, which requires such groups to publish details about their contributions and expenditures before and after an election, and through the end of the year. Such nonprofit disclosures are electronically filed and publicly available on the IRS website -- but no such documents from the Stop the Steal Committee are available on the site.

The group was set up by Ashley Maderos, whose now-deactivated LinkedIn page said she worked as a "provisional licensed attorney" at the Irvine, California, law firm of Jensen & Associates. Maderos is listed as the Committee to Stop the Steal's treasurer and custodian of records. Paul Rolf Jensen at one time represented Stone in a range of legal matters, including representing him and his earlier incarnation of the "Stop the Steal" group from the 2016 election in lawsuits brought by multiple state Democratic parties, alleging voter harassment. In several of those cases, federal judges rejected state Democrats' calls to restrain the Stop the Steal group's campaigns at polling places.

Jensen's name doesn't appear on the Committee to Stop the Steal's initial 2020 registration form to the IRS. The filing lists the organization's address as a UPS Store located near Jensen's offices. When reached by ABC News, Jensen declined to say whether Maderos works for his firm or whether his firm works for the Committee to Stop the Steal.

Nonprofits or their designated representatives are required by the IRS to produce copies of their contribution and expenditure reports upon request. Jensen declined, telling ABC News, "If you think I need to give you information, call a [expletive] cop." The following day, Maderos' LinkedIn page, which had indicated that she was a "provisional licensed attorney" at Jensen & Associates, was deactivated.

It’s unclear if there is any formal connection between the Committee to Stop the Steal and Jensen, who is not listed as an officer or an agent of the nonprofit in its initial IRS filing.

Salon, which first reported on the committee's missing disclosures on Friday, reported that when that publication called the law firm to inquire about the committee's filings, an unidentified employee of the firm said that Maderos no longer worked there, but would not say when she left, where she went, or what had become of the nonprofit group.

Neither Maderos nor Jensen & Associates have responded to further inquiries from ABC News.

A person familiar with the older, 2016 "Stop the Steal" organization, said the 2020 entity is essentially the same -- with "no formal connection" to Alexander's organization. And the source, who spoke under the condition of anonymity, said the Committee to Stop the Steal didn't file disclosure reports from 2020 because it was mostly dormant during the most recent presidential election, with no significant contributions or expenditures.

If in fact the committee didn't raise more than $25,000, it could be exempt from the filing requirements, campaign finance attorney Joe Birkenstock told ABC News. Or if the committee did not engage in any political activity leading up to the election, and instead operated only after the election, it may not have needed to comply with the IRS filing rules for political organizations, he said.

Birkenstock said that because he knows so little about the group's activities, he can't say whether those circumstances would have applied to the Committee to Stop the Steal.

The penalty for failing to file a contribution and expenditure report with the IRS on time would ultimately depend on the total amount of contributions and expenditures that did not get reported, according to IRS rules. Campaign finance attorney Caleb Burns told ABC News that in his practice, he has "not seen much in the way of IRS enforcement of these filing obligations."

In addition to the Committee to Stop the Steal, a similar-sounding group was formed after the election under the name Stop the Steal Political Action Committee. As a PAC, that organization falls under the reporting rules of the Federal Election Commission, not the IRS. It reported donations of $11,000, though it did not reveal the identities of its donors as it is required to do.

The PAC's treasurer, Patrick Krason, wrote in the filing that the organization was unable to gain access to donor information because its vendors stopped working with them after the Jan. 6 insurrection.

"This information is being refused to the PAC by the companies involved due to the companies choosing to unilaterally and without notice cancel the processing agreement and cut off all access to their platforms after the events of January 6," Krason wrote. He pledged to file an amendment with the information once the PAC obtains the donor information.

Krason told ABC News that he had not heard of the similarly-named nonprofit and that his PAC is not connected to it. He said his PAC was created as an independent expenditures group to challenge Republicans who voted against challenging the electoral votes, and that it never gave any money to Alexander's group.

Alexander, whose group was involved in the Jan. 6 rally, has sought to distance the Stop the Steal movement from the violent storming of the Capitol, saying that the chaos and civil unrest that resulted in five deaths was caused by miscommunication and confusion on the part of the rally's other co-organizers.

"In contrast to the chaos at the Capitol, the Stop the Steal movement for election integrity remained peaceful," Alexander wrote in a statement published on his Stop the Steal website.

"The premeditated actions of bad actors not only disgraced our Capitol but also disrupted both the Stop the Steal sponsored event at the Ellipse and the Stop the Steal organized event at Lot 8 on Capitol Hill permitted by US Capitol Police," wrote Alexander, who could not be reached by ABC News for further comment.

Stone never spoke at the Jan. 6 rally, but he promoted it heavily online, in media appearances, and in a speech to Trump supporters in Washington the night before, telling them the president's enemies sought "nothing less than the heist of the 2020 election."

But Stone has maintained that he played no role in "any unlawful acts" around the Capitol on Jan. 6, repeatedly saying that he "never left the site of my hotel until leaving for Dulles Airport" that afternoon. He has also decried attempts to ascribe to him the motives of the people around him.

"Any statement, claim, insinuation, or report alleging, or even implying, that I had any involvement in or knowledge, whether advance or contemporaneous, about the commission of any unlawful acts by any person or group in or around the U.S. Capitol or anywhere in Washington, D.C. on January 6, 2021, is categorically false," Stone said in a statement to ABC News.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


uschools/iStockBy LUKE BARR, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- In prepared testimony she's set to deliver Thursday before the House Appropriations Committee, the acting U.S. Capitol Police chief defends the actions of her department on Jan. 6, but admits the force was "overwhelmed by thousands of insurrectionists" who made it inside the Capitol and had "internal challenges" as the assault was underway.

"But, at the end of the day, the USCP succeeded in its mission. It protected Congressional Leadership. It protected Members. And it protected the Democratic Process. At the end of a battle that lasted for hours, democracy prevailed," the acting chief, Yogananda Pittman, is expected to tell the committee.

Pittman, who was the assistant chief of police of the department’s Protective & Intelligence Operations on Jan. 6, says she was responsible for member details and the Department’s Intelligence and Interagency Coordination Division (IICD).

She says the IICD came back with four "special assessments" of the situation ahead of Jan. 6 – all of which involved raw intelligence. Pittman says the final Jan. 3rd report concluded that militia members would be participating, would be armed, they’d target the joint session of Congress and "the threat of disruptive actions or violence cannot be ruled out."

The acting chief insists that while security officials were aware of that intelligence, it could not have predicted what occurred, adding that the Secret Service brought then-Vice President Mike Pence to Capitol hill.

"Although the Department’s January 3rd Special Assessment foretold of a significant likelihood for violence on Capitol grounds by extremists groups, it did not identify a specific credible threat indicating that thousands of American citizens would descend upon the U.S. Capitol attacking police officers with the goal of breaking into the U.S. Capitol Building to harm Members and prevent the certification of Electoral College votes," she says in her prepared remarks. "Nor did the intelligence received from the FBI or any other law enforcement partners include any specific credible threat that thousands of American citizens would attack the U.S. Capitol."

Pittman admits mistakes were made, including botched lockdown instructions and lack of use-of-force guidelines.

"We learned that despite the lockdown order simulcast over the radio, a lockdown was not properly executed," she explained.

Pittman says the department will review training on radio communications and lockdown procedures. One of the criticisms, mainly from the USCP union, is that leadership was not able to communicate with USCP officers who were fighting off the insurrectionists.

The acting chief also says that use of force guidelines were not clear.

"We also learned that officers were unsure of when to use lethal force on January 6th. We have provided guidance to officers since January 6th as to when lethal force may be used consistent with the Department’s existing Use of Force policy," she says.

She also notes that the "less lethal munitions" were not as successful in fending off intruders.

On Monday, former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund, who resigned in the wake of the assault, testified at a joint hearing by the Senate Rules and Senate Homeland Security committees that, after reviewing this intelligence, he increased the security precautions at the Capitol.

In her statement, Pittman says that, after reading the intelligence reports, the department increased member details from four to six, posted details outside of "certain" congressional leaders houses and equipped officers with assault weapons, deployed surveillance assets and worked to intercept "the radio frequency used by some demonstration groups and monitoring the communications of those groups."

In addition, Pittman says that the Department deployed USCP SWAT teams to monitor protesters and be on the lookout for firearms and restrict some access to the building.

In the end, all of this was for naught, she said.

"Despite the adjustment in its operations in response to the January 3rd Special Assessment, the Department was not prepared for the massive groups of violent insurrectionists that descended on the U.S. Capitol’s West Front just before 1:00 p.m. on January 6th," Pittman says. "While the Department was prepared to neutralize and remove individuals or groups engaging in civil disobedience or violence among the demonstrators, it was quickly overwhelmed by the thousands of insurrectionists (many armed) who immediately and without provocation began attacking officers, bypassing physical barriers, and refusing to comply with lawful orders."

Once the Capitol was breached, Pittman said the department’s focus turned to securing members and then to the physical security of the building.

Pittman walks through the difficulties in securing the open Capitol campus, noting that since 9/11 there has been a need to strike a balance between openness and security but adds that the department is currently reviewing a long-term solution.

"Even before September 11, 2001, security experts, including former USCP chiefs of police, argued that more needed to be done to protect the Capitol campus – although I doubt many would have thought it would be necessary to protect it against our own citizens," she says.

She does say the reviews will conclude Capitol security "must change and that the Department needs access to additional resources – both manpower and physical assets."

ABC News' Benjamin Siegel and Beatrice Peterson contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


uschools/iStockBy CHEYENNE HASLETT, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- Vivek Murthy, President Joe Biden's nominee to serve as U.S. Surgeon General, plans to tell Congress on Thursday that his top priority, if confirmed, will be ending the pandemic -- which has taken the lives of seven of his own family members in the U.S. and India.

"This is a moment of tremendous suffering for our nation. More than half a million people have lost their lives to COVID-19, including beloved members of my own family," Murthy will tell Congress, according to a copy of his testimony first obtained by ABC News.

In January, Murthy lost his great uncle, who he was very close with, an aide said. A second relative in the U.S. also died from the coronavirus and five of his family members in India.

As "America's doctor," the potential surgeon general would play a central role in crafting the public message on the coronavirus, which has claimed more than 500,000 American lives.

"If confirmed as surgeon general, my highest priority will be to help end this pandemic, work I've been doing over the past year with state and local officials, schools and universities, businesses, health care providers, and others," Murthy is expected to say.

"I have seen first-hand the importance of providing clear, science-based guidance to Americans on how to protect themselves and others," he will say, echoing Biden's motto, to lead with science.

For the past year of the pandemic, Murthy has advised many companies on public health measures, including Netflix, Airbnb, Estee Lauder and Carnival, the cruise ship company that had outbreaks on two ships last January and February.

Critics and watchdogs have raised issues with more than $2.5 million Murthy made from speaking at private events and advising private sector companies during the pandemic, while supporters say he has properly recused himself and meets the ethics requirements.

Murthy also advised Biden's campaign during the early months of the pandemic and was co-chair of Biden's coronavirus advisory team during the presidential transition.

Murthy has known the president for over a decade, dating back to his first time serving as surgeon general in the Obama administration. He made history then as the youngest appointed U.S. surgeon general and the first of Indian descent.

Back in 2014, Murthy's confirmation for the role was more fraught than it's expected to be this time around. At the time, the National Rifle Association lobbied against his nomination because of comments he had made referring to gun violence as a public health problem.

"Murthy's record of political activism in support of radical gun control measures raises significant concerns about the likelihood he would use the office of surgeon general to further his preexisting campaign against gun ownership," the NRA wrote on its website in 2014.

On Thursday, the former surgeon general will focus on the need to avoid partisanship, sharing examples of traveling to Alaska and Oklahoma in 2016 to meet with Republican senators and talk about the opioid crisis, telling Congress that he "would welcome the chance to once again work hand in hand with Congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle."

Murthy will also highlight the lessons he learned from his parents, who opened a medical practice in Miami -- lessons the Harvard- and Yale-educated doctor has learned from practicing medicine himself.

"I learned to listen deeply to the patient in front of me, to look beyond any labels, and to see that person in their fullest humanity, knowing they were someone's mother, father, grandparent, child, sibling or friend," Murthy is expected to say.

Murthy will testify before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which will likely advance his nomination to the Senate floor for a vote in the next few weeks. He is expected to be confirmed, but because Democrats hold a slim majority, Murthy, like all of Biden's nominees, cannot afford to lose a single Democratic vote without picking up Republican support.

ABC News' Anne Flaherty contributed to this report.

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