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(NEW YORK) -- Former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole, who will be remembered for the tenacity that defined his career and his work on behalf of fellow military veterans, died in his sleep Sunday morning. He was 98.

"Thank you for the outpouring of love over the last year, it continues to sustain us as we grieve the loss of the precious man we knew as husband and father," the Dole family said in a statement Sunday. "Bob Dole was never only ours - we shared him with Americans from every walk of life and every political persuasion. He dedicated his life to serving you, and so it is heartwarming that so many honor him at his passing.

In his memoir, One Soldier's Story, Dole wrote that his experiences in World War II defined his life.

"Adversity can be a harsh teacher," he wrote. "But its lessons often define our lives. As much as we may wish that we could go back and relive them, do things differently, make better, wiser decisions, we can't change history. War is like that. You can rewrite it, attempt to infuse it with your own personal opinions, twist or spin it to make it more palatable, but eventually the truth will come out."

As an Army officer in World War II, he was wounded and there were doubts he'd survive. His right arm was permanently disabled, but he adapted.

"If unable to reach voters with my right hand, I could always reach out with my left," he wrote in The Doles: Unlimited Partners, a book he co-authored with his wife, Elizabeth, and Richard Norton Smith.

He went on to graduate from college, and, while still in law school, won a seat in the Kansas state legislature. He won a seat in Congress in 1960 and went on to serve in the House until he was elected to the Senate in 1968.

Dole ran three times for president. He lost in primaries in 1980 to Ronald Reagan and in 1988 to George H.W. Bush. He won the Republican party nomination in 1996, but lost the general election to Bill Clinton.

"Those pivotal moments remain indelibly impressed in your heart and mind," he wrote in One Soldier's Story. "For me, the defining period in my life was not running for the highest office in the land. It started years earlier, in a foreign country, where hardly anyone knew my name."

'An All American Boy,' wartime service and wounds

Robert Dole was born in the small town of Russell, Kansas, on July 22, 1923.

His father, Doran, ran a local creamery, and his mother, Bina, occasionally sold Singer sewing machines door-to-door to make ends meet. He grew up with three siblings and, according to a timeline on the Dole Institute website, the four children shared a room, a bike and a pair of roller skates.

His neighbors recalled him growing up as "an all-American boy," according to his 1996 presidential campaign website. In school, he was an honor student, sports editor of his school newspaper and he lettered in football, basketball and track.

In 1941, he graduated from Russell High School and enrolled at the University of Kansas, becoming the first in his family to go to college -- thanks to a $300 loan from a Russell banker.

A year into college, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Dole left the university in 1943 to enroll in the Army. He had hoped to become a doctor and trained in the medical corps at Camp Barkley in Texas, according to a Dole Institute timeline. He later attended Army Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning in Georgia and, by the end of 1944, graduated as a second lieutenant in the Army infantry.

In 1945, Dole was assigned to the 85th Regime, 10th Mountain Division. It was originally intended to be a group of "skiing soldiers" to fight the Germans in the snow and mountains. But Dole was wounded during "Operation Craftsmen," a spring offensive in Italy that was meant to overtake German troops scattered in the hills and valleys of the Apennine Mountains and gain control of northern Italy.

Dole's platoon was to take Hill 913. His fellow soldiers later described it as a "suicide mission."

It was April, and a stone wall and a field of landmines trapped the Americans in an exposed area. A Nazi sniper, perched in a farmhouse, began firing at the battalion, according to Dole's 1996 campaign website. The platoon leader was ordered to take out the sniper and gunners. But as Dole climbed a rocky field, his radio man was hit.

Dole crawled across the battlefield on his stomach and then pulled the wounded soldier into a foxhole. Seconds later, an exploding shell ripped into Dole's right shoulder and back. His collarbone was shattered, part of his spine was smashed and his right arm was dangling from his side.

Lying facedown in the dirt, Dole recalled being unable to see or move his arms.

"I thought they were missing," he said on his campaign website. He called for help, and two medics who tried to rescue him were gunned down. A sergeant eventually dragged him to safety.

Dole earned two Purple Hearts and was awarded the Bronze Star, but doctors weren't sure he'd survive. He was hospitalized for three years. He suffered infections, grueling therapy, several operations and in one instance developed a blood clot that nearly killed him.

Good Samaritans helped him. A surgeon performed several of Dole's surgeries at no charge. Back home in Russell, the community collected money in a cigar box at the local drug store to help pay for his medical bills. Dole kept that cigar box, decades later, in his Senate office desk drawer.

He recovered sensation in most of his body and was able to walk, but his right arm was permanently disabled. He would often carry a pen in his right hand to prevent his fingers from splaying. He usually avoided shaking hands with his right hand.

"Coming back from a war is a longer journey than any plane flight home," Dole wrote in a 2006 forward to Courage After Fire: Coping Strategies for Troops Returning from Iraq and Afghanistan and Their Families. "I sustained my own injuries in World War II; some of my wounds were obvious, some were not. Some wounds were healed more quickly than others. And though I was lucky to be surrounded by great doctors, wonderful family, and a more supportive community than anyone could reasonably ask for, that mental readjustment was no small task."

In 1948, while still recovering, he married Phyllis Holden, an occupational therapist from New Hampshire. They met during his last months of treatment at a hospital dance and married three months later.

His hopes of becoming a physician dashed, he set his sights on becoming a lawyer.

"Maybe I couldn't use my hand, I told myself, but I could develop my mind," he wrote in The Doles: Unlimited Partners.

He first enrolled at the University of Arizona in Tucson on the GI Bill, and a year later transferred to Washburn University in his home state of Kansas. He graduated in 1952.

Senate leadership, presidential aspirations, a political power couple

Still in law school, Dole won his first election, claiming a seat in the Kansas House of Representatives. He served from 1951 to 1953, until he was elected Russell County Attorney.

His daughter, Robin, was born in 1954.

He served as county attorney until 1961, when he was first elected as a Republican to the 87th Congress.

His campaign events featured singers playing the ukulele and women referred to as "Dolls for Dole," who handed out cups of Dole pineapple juice, according to the Dole Institute. He served on the House Agriculture Committee after having pledged to support farmers' interests, such as promoting rural electricity and soil conservation.

In 1964, he voted in favor of the Civil Rights Act, and in 1965 voted in favor of the Voting Rights Act. He considered them to be the most important votes of his career.

He was elected to the U.S. Senate, defeating former Kansas Gov. Bill Avery, and served for 28 years, garnering national attention.

In the early 1970s, he served as the chairman of the Republican National Committee, including during the 1972 election and Watergate break-in. He lived at the Watergate at the time, and a hometown reporter asked whether he had hidden the break-in tools in his one-bedroom apartment, according to The New York Times. He said he did not.

Dole and Phyllis divorced in 1972. In 1976, she told an interviewer that much of what her former husband had achieved since the war was an effort to prove that he could do it in spite of his handicap, according to a 1982 profile in The New York Times.

He married Elizabeth Hanford in December 1975 in a ceremony at the Washington National Cathedral.

In 1976, then-President Gerald Ford selected Dole as his running mate at the Republican National Convention. And at the end of the decade, Dole made a brief run for president in the Republican primary, but withdrew after a lackluster showing in New Hampshire.

Dole went on to serve as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee from 1981 to 1985. He served as the Republican leader from 1985 to 1996. In the midst of his leadership role, he ran for president again. This time, he scored an upset over then-Vice President George H.W. Bush in Iowa, but fell short again in New Hampshire in 1988, withdrawing from the race.

Elizabeth Dole became labor secretary under Bush. In 1991, she left her Cabinet position to become the president of the American Red Cross. From 1983 to 1987, Elizabeth Dole, under President Ronald Reagan, had become the first woman to serve as secretary for the Department of Transportation and the first woman to lead a branch of the armed services, the Coast Guard.

In 1996, Dole retired from the Senate to fully pursue the presidency. This time, he secured the Republican nomination and, with former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and U.S. Rep. Jack Kemp, challenged President Bill Clinton.

"When I delivered my concession speech that evening, I meant it when I said, 'Tomorrow is the first day of my life when I have nothing to do,'" Dole wrote in Great Political Wit: Laughing (Almost) All the Way to the White House.

He was wrong. He went to his Washington campaign office to personally thank his staff and volunteers. While there, he got a call from the producers of The Late Show with David Letterman asking if he'd be a guest on their show while they broadcasted from Washington.

Two nights later, he recalled trading quips with Letterman when he asked Dole about Clinton's weight.

"'I don't know,' was my comeback. 'I never tried to lift him. I just tried to beat him,'" Dole wrote, then describing the audience's laughter. "Pundits, ever quick to grasp the obvious, claimed to have discovered a New Dole."

He was no longer the "glowering, Social Security-devouring sourpuss they'd come to know," he wrote. He made appearances on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Saturday Night Live and filmed a Visa commercial that premiered during the 1997 Super Bowl. In it, he returned to his hometown to be asked by the diner's waitress for identification before he could cash a check.

"I just can't win," he said in the advertisement.

In his book, he wrote, "Over the years I've grown ever more convinced that my hero, Dwight Eisenhower, was absolutely right when he said, 'A sense of humor is part of the art of leadership, of getting along with people, of getting things done.'"

As Dole settled into a post-political life, Elizabeth Dole returned to politics.

She sought the Republican nomination for president before exiting the race in October 1999. Then in 2002, when longtime Sen. Jesse Helms announced his retirement, she decided to run for his seat and became the state's first female senator. She served one term before being defeated in her reelection bid in 2008.

Post-political life, continued service to veterans

In 1997, months after losing the presidential election, Clinton presented Dole with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

"Through it, we honor not just his individual achievement but his clear embodiment in the common values and beliefs that join us as a people," Clinton said ahead of placing the medal around his neck. "Values and beliefs that he has spent his life advancing. Sen. Dole, a grateful nation presents this award, with respect for the example you have set for Americans today and for Americans and generations yet to come."

After accepting the medal, Dole said, "No one can claim to be equal to this honor, but I will cherish it as long as I live because this occasion allows me to honor others who are more entitled."

Dole went on to lead the World War II Memorial Commission. As national chairman, he helped to raise more than $197 million to construct a national memorial to honor the 16 million Americans who served in the armed forces during the war. Construction began in September 2001 and was completed in April 2004.

At the dedication ceremony, Dole spoke about the importance of remembering the sacrifices made to uphold democracy.

"It is only fitting when this memorial was opened to the public about a month ago the very first visitors were school children," Dole said. "For them, our war is ancient history and those who fought it are slightly ancient themselves. Yet, in the end, they are the ones for whom we built this shrine and to whom we now hand the baton in the unending relay of human possibility."

In addition to his Visa commercial, Dole went on to pitch for Dunkin' Donuts, Pepsi and Viagra. His good humor also won him a place on Comedy Central, where he supplied commentary on The Daily Show during the 2000 election. And ground was broken for the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas in Lawrence in 1997 and dedicated in 2003.

But his work with and for veterans is something he notably continued into his later years. Elizabeth Dole began to work in support of military caregivers.

He served as honorary adviser of the Honor Flight Network, which works to provide veterans the opportunity to visit the World War II Memorial in Washington for free. Dole would often spend Saturdays at the memorial, greeting veterans, swapping stories and posting for photos.

In 2007, President George W. Bush appointed Dole to help lead a bipartisan commission to investigate a neglect scandal at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Elizabeth Dole, in 2012, established the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, which was designed to empower, support and honor the nation's 5.5 million military caregivers.

Dole embarked on a reunion tour of his home state, visiting all 105 counties, in his early 1990s. And in 2017, at the age of 94, he returned to Fort Benning, from which he'd graduated from Army Officer Candidate School in 1944.

On his Twitter account, he posted that he hadn't been there since he graduated. "Jiminy!" he wrote, posting a photo of him sitting on a plane.

On Dec. 4, 2018, Dole made headlines celebrating a fellow veteran. He visited the U.S. Capitol Rotunda and was helped out of his wheelchair so that he could stand and salute the casket of George H.W. Bush.

Two days later, the Doles celebrated their 43rd wedding anniversary.

In April 2019, President Donald Trump signed into law a bill authorizing Dole's honorary promotion to colonel.

"He turned adversity into action as he healed from the grave wounds sustained while risking his life for a fellow soldier, and decided to come to Congress and to serve the people of Kansas," Rep. Nancy Pelosi said in January 2018 at a ceremony granting Dole the Congressional Gold Medal. "Sen. Bob Dole, for a lifetime spent defending, advancing and exemplifying our proudest American ideals, we thank you."

Dole announced in February 2021 that he was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer.

"While I certainly have some hurdles ahead, I also know that I join millions of Americans who face significant health challenges of their own," Dole said.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


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(WASHINGTON) -- House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., attempted to downplay the tumultuous week in the Republican conference on Friday, acknowledging only that some of his hard-right members distract from the GOP midterm message in their feuds with Democrats and each other but not condemning the anti-Muslim rhetoric from his member that set off the most recent controversies.

"It's things we would not want to deal with," he said of the controversies over the last few weeks surrounding comments and social media posts from Reps. Lauren Boebert of Colorado, Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Paul Gosar of Arizona.

"It's [distracting from] things the American people want to focus on: stopping inflation, gas prices and others," he said. "Anything that deviates from that causes problems."

The infighting this week began when Boebert's remarks that likened Muslim Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., to a terrorist first appeared on social media. Boebert tweeted an apology to "anyone in the Muslim community I offended" but refused Omar's request to make a direct public apology to her.

"She apologized publicly, she apologized personally," McCarthy suggested of Boebert's comments, defending the lawmaker.

According to both Omar and Boebert, Omar hung up on Boebert in their private phone call because, Omar said, she refused to apologize directly and Bobert, instead, demanded she apologize for "anti-American" sentiments.

McCarthy did not specifically address the content of Boebert's bigoted remarks that set off the exchange.

The second feud of the week broke out soon after between Greene and Rep. Nancy Mace, R-S.C., a freshman who has loudly and repeatedly criticized some of her far-right colleagues.

After Mace condemned Boebert's remarks in a CNN interview, Greene referred to her as "trash" and a "RINO" or "Republican in name only," calling her "pro-abort" because Mace, a rape survivor, supports access to abortion in cases of rape and incest.

Mace responded on Twitter with taunting emojis to Greene, calling her "crazy" and "insane." The feud continued even after McCarthy met with both women in private: Greene claimed to have spoken with former President Donald Trump about supporting a primary challenger against Mace next year.

The escalating series of attacks left moderate Republicans grumbling and worried that McCarthy's refusal to publicly condemn his far-right members' antics could further embolden them and inject more chaos into the midterms and hurt Republicans' increasingly likely chances of taking the House next year.

McCarthy, who needs to keep both wings of his party happy to win the speaker's gavel next year, had a different take.

"We're going to be quite fine," he predicted brightly.

McCarthy's press conference comes hours after more than 40 House Democrats called for Boebert to be removed from her committee assignments "following her Islamophobic comments and incitement of anti-Muslim animus."

"There must be consequences for vicious workplace harassment and abuse that creates an environment so unsafe for colleagues and staff that it invites death threats against them," said the statement from Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., Congressional Black Caucus Chair Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio, Congressional Asian Pacific American Chair Judy Chu, D-Calif., Congressional Equality Caucus Chair David Cicilline, D-R.I., and Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chair Raul Ruiz, D-Calif., and signed by 36 other members of the Progressive Caucus.

If the House does take action against Bobert, it would follow Green and Gosar being stripped from their committee assignments, as well as Gosar becoming the first congressional lawmaker to be censured in more than a decade last month after he tweeted an edited Japanese cartoon depicting violence against Democrats.

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(WASHINGTON) -- President Joe Biden has signed a short-term funding bill to keep the government open until Feb. 18, 2022, narrowly averting a shutdown that loomed for Friday, the White House said.

At the top of earlier remarks on the November jobs report Friday, Biden teased he would sign the bill before heading to Camp David for the weekend and said the action represents the "bare minimum" of what Congress should do.

"Funding the government isn't a great achievement, it's a bare minimum of what we need to get done," he said.

The president also thanked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer for their leadership on getting the bill passed and called for them to start working now on a full-year funding bill.

"In these times, a bipartisan cooperation is worth recognition. So I want to thank Speaker Pelosi and Schumer getting this done. And I want to urge Congress to use the time this bill provides to work toward a bipartisan agreement on a full-year funding bill that makes the needed investments in our economy and our people," he said.

Both chambers of Congress passed the continuing resolution on Thursday that will kick the can of keeping the government open down the road until mid-February, averting a shutdown even after a small group of Senate Republicans threatened to stall the legislation in protest of Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers.

The small contingent of GOP senators, fronted by Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, insisted that the Senate consider an amendment to the stopgap funding bill that would have effectively zeroed out funding to support the mandate.

Debate between Senate leaders about whether to allow such a vote nearly ground the upper chamber to a halt and threatened to cause time-consuming procedural delays that would have led to a temporary shutdown -- but late Thursday night, a deal was reached to allow a vote on the amendment and on final passage.

"I am glad that in the end cooler heads prevailed. The government will stay open and I thank the members of this chamber for walking us back from the brink of an avoidable needless and costly shutdown," Schumer said just before the votes were taken.

Efforts to strip funds for the mandate failed, with two Republicans absent for the vote, but the short-term spending bill passed. Nineteen Republicans including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell voted with Democrats after the House approved the bill largely along party lines -- other than the support of a single Republican, retiring Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill.

Sometime next week, the Senate will take another vote on overturning Biden's vaccine mandate. The effort has been backed by moderate Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and is expected to pass the upper chamber, though it likely won't get a vote in the Democrat-controlled House.

To avert a future shutdown, Congress will need to pass another short-term spending bill before Feb. 18 or pass a package of large appropriations bills that have been caught up in negotiation for months.

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(WASHINGTON) -- The Christmas season has begun in Washington, with bright lights, festive trees and a touch of bipartisanship in the spirt of the holiday.

President Joe Biden, joined by first lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff, lit the National Christmas Tree outside the White House on Thursday evening.

The president delivered a message of optimism, telling the crowd of first responders and military families, "We have so much ahead of us."

"We are a great nation because of you, the American people," Biden said. "You've made me so optimistic."

While Biden struck a tone of optimism, the reality of the pandemic was still on display with a smaller crowd allowed than most years and guests required to wear a mask despite being outside.

Last year's ceremony had no guests and was completely virtual because of the pandemic.

The national Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony began in 1923 with President Calvin Coolidge, when he lit a 48-foot balsam fir tree from Vermont with festive bulbs in red, white and green on Christmas Eve.

This year's tree came from Middleburg, Pennsylvania, and is adorned with white and red lights. It is surrounded by smaller trees each representing a different state and territory with decorations unique to the area handcrafted by students across the country.

The White House tree was lit one night after the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony, which featured House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy on Wednesday.

"Now, as always, this tree is our symbol of hope. That it has earned the nickname 'The People's Tree,' is a testament to its special ability to unite us in comfort and joy, no matter who we are where we're from," Pelosi said.

The Capitol Hill Christmas tree is a tradition dating back to 1964.

The 84-foot white fir, nicknamed "Sugar Bear," made its way to D.C. after venturing across the country from Six Rivers National Forest in California. The tree features hand-painted ornaments made by California residents.

"A tree is the lungs of the earth. A tree breathes in CO2, captures the carbon but releases the oxygen, and purifies," McCarthy said. "So it's a rightful symbol of why we have it here."

Both the National Christmas Tree and the Capitol Hill tree are free to visit for the public until early January.

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(WASHINGTON) -- Competitive races across the country are expected to disappear as states begin to submit their re-drawn maps for this decade's round of redistricting.

While only 18 states have finished their gerrymandering process, nearly half a dozen highly competitive seats have been slashed from the last batch of congressional maps according to data tracked by FiveThirtyEight. Instead, swing and lightly safe districts are being transformed into incumbent safe havens, giving Republicans a competitive edge over Democrats in the map overall, with 55 seats leaning Democratic and 90 seats leaning Republican.

On the old maps, drawn in 2011, Republicans had 21 competitive seats and 67 solid seats; this go around, only 12 competitive seats remain while 78 are solidly GOP. Democrats can't bank on the same certainty. Instead, many Democrat-drawn maps have so far added competition, creating six new competitive left-leaning seats and creating no additional safe races.

"There's concern about competition because Republicans don't view their ability to compete in a competitive race as very durable," Doug Spencer, redistricting expert at the University of Colorado's Bryon White Center for the Study of American Constitutional Law, told ABC News. "Republicans did a very good job at gerrymandering in 2010, so they don't have a lot of room to grow, and they do have a lot of room to lose, so they're shoring up now as many of these seats as safely as possible."

Rapidly shifting racial demographics, especially in key swing suburban counties within red states, is one of the motivating factors for GOP-led legislatures to propose redrawn boundaries as to not lose out on seats in future elections to a more diverse voting bloc, even if it means delivering safe seats to Democrats in exchange. Compared with old maps, Democrats so far have picked up six safe seats, while Republicans have two additional ones. This shift can be seen clearly in highly coveted Georgia, where a proposed map pushes two critically competitive Atlanta-area counties, GA-6 and GA-7, squeezing Democrat Rep. Lucy McBath into a heavily conservative district, effectively creating a safe GOP challenge and placing Rep. Carolyn Bourdeux in a secure Democratic seat, respectively. McBath has since announced she will be running for Congress in Bourdeux's district instead.

"I refuse to let (Gov.) Brian Kemp, the (National Rifle Association) and the Republican Party keep me from fighting," McBath told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "They are not going to have the last word."

Gwinnett County, a portion of which is in GA's seventh district, had nearly 90% white residents in 1990. Now, it's only 35% -- a clear threat to potential conservative candidates down ballot, likely to be a part of this round of gerrymandering calculus, redistricting expert Michael Li explained to ABC News.

"The suburbs are becoming much more multiracial than they were in the past and also at the same time, suburban white voters have proven to be much more volatile much more less automatically supportive of Republicans than in the past ad that's created uncertainty for Republicans," said Li, senior counsel for the Brennan Center's Democracy Program. "Suburbs are dangerous to Republicans in a way that they weren't before. And so the best play under those circumstances is to circle the wagons and try to hang on to what you have, and to make your districts ultra Republican."

Such buffer building is present in Texas, a state with rapidly diversifying population growth. New maps in the Lone Star State show a net loss of five competitive seats, with Democrats picking up five safe seats and Republicans picking up two. According to data tracked by 538, Republicans were able to flip seven "light-red seats" (or slightly safe) as well as a Republican-held swing seat into safe seats. Only one race in Texas remains competitive with the newly approved map, a much more advantageous map for Republicans in the state than in years past.

The Princeton Gerrymandering Project, a nonpartisan analysis tool that measures political advantage in redistricting maps state by state, gave Georgia a grade of "C" in partisan fairness, competitiveness and geography. Texas received an "F."

Midterm competition elimination present in the new maps is likely to "piss off Democrats" says Spencer. He suggested that it's possible that Democrats may be able to harness the collective anger to spike turnout in the few key competitive races that remain, though it's unlikely to know this early if impassioned messaging alone is enough to rally in impactful numbers. He agreed that lack of durability, especially in the suburbs, has motivated Republicans to draw districts with incumbency protection in mind.

The immediate impact of less competition is uncertain. Yet Spencer said he is concerned that more safe seats may negatively impact voter engagement and the fundamentals of the democratic system.

"You're now basically muting the voices of a lot of people who just feel like politics is dead to them," Spencer said. "If we live in a country where you can't unelect the people that you don't support, it's not a democracy. The core fundamental idea of democracy is elections are a check on the government and without competitive seats it's just not true."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

(WASHINGTON) -- As cases rise in the colder months and amid concerns of a new COVID-19 variant arriving in the U.S., President Joe Biden announced a new plan Thursday for a winter coronavirus strategy that includes making at-home rapid tests free, extending the mask requirement on public transit and requiring more stringent testing protocols for all international travelers.

Biden pitched the nine-point plan from the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, as one that can unite the country.

"I know COVID-19 has been divisive. It's become a political issue, which is a sad, sad commentary," he said. "Now as we move into the winter and face the challenges of the new variant, this is a moment we can put the divisiveness behind us, I hope. This is a moment when we can do what we haven't been able to do enough of through this whole pandemic, get the nation to come together, unite the nation in a common purpose, to fight it and protect our economic recovery."

"And while my existing federal vaccination requirements are being reviewed by the courts, this plan does not expand or add to those mandates," Biden said, adding it's a plan "all Americans can hopefully rally around, and it should get bipartisan support, in my humble opinion."

The latest approach from the White House does not include more aggressive measures such as requiring testing for domestic flights or mandating testing for passengers after their arrival in the U.S.

To allow for free rapid tests, senior administration officials say the more than 150 million Americans with private insurance will be able to submit for reimbursement to their insurance companies through the same rule that allows tests on site to be covered by insurance.

"So that if you're one of the 150 million Americans with private health insurance, next month, your plan will cover at-home tests," Biden said.

To reach uninsured Americans and those on Medicare or Medicaid, the Biden administration will send 50 million at-home tests to 20,000 federal sites around the country to be handed out for free.

"The bottom line, this winter, you'll be able to test for free in the comfort of your home and have some peace of mind," the president added.

The Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Labor and Treasury Department will put out guidance by Jan. 15 to determine exactly how many tests will be covered and at what frequency, the plan said, and it will not retroactively cover tests already purchased.

Senior administration officials said they are confident in the supply of rapid tests to meet the possible demand of Americans who will now be able to get them at no cost.

"Supply will quadruple this month from where it was at the end of summer, so we're doing a ton to ramp up all tests, but specifically a big focus on ramping up these at-home tests," a senior administration official said on a call with reporters Wednesday night.

The extension of mask mandates on public transportation, including airplanes, rails and buses, will now go through March 18, per the plan, and tighter requirements for travel into the United States will go into place early next week.

The new travel rules call for proof of a negative COVID test within one day of travel to the U.S. for all passengers, regardless of their vaccination status or nationality.

The plan also puts a heavy emphasis on booster shots, which have had a sluggish uptake in the U.S. but experts urge for added protection in the face of the new omicron variant and its many unknowns.

A concerned Biden on Thursday said more than 100 million Americans are eligible for their free booster shot now -- but haven't gotten one yet.

"If you're older than 18 and got vaccinated before June 2, six months has gone by. Go get your booster now. Go get it now," Biden said.

Pharmacies will expand locations and hours to administer booster shots through December, according to the plan, and the Biden administration will up its outreach efforts through a public education campaign aimed at seniors and new family vaccination clinics that can be a one-stop shop for kids vaccines, adult vaccines and booster shots.

Biden also raises the possibility that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will no longer suggest that schoolchildren quarantine for 14 days after exposure, instead relying on the popular "test-to-stay" policy that allows kids to keep attending school so long as they test negative each day.

"The CDC has been studying approaches to quarantine and testing, including looking at the science and data of how they may keep school communities safe. CDC will release their findings on these approaches in the coming weeks," according to the plan.

In all, the new strategy comes as cases continue to rise, a combination of colder weather pushing people indoors together and vaccine immunity waning among people who got the shot more than six months ago and haven't yet gotten a booster.

There are also new concerns about omicron, which has more mutations than previous variants but is still mostly a mystery -- from how transmissible it is to its capability to cause more severe disease or evade vaccines.

On Monday, Biden reassured Americans that his administration is taking every precaution to protect the public from the omicron variant and that he doesn't expect this to be the "new normal."

"It's a new variant that's cause for concern, but not a cause for panic," the president said. "And we're gonna fight this with science and speed. We're not going to fight it with chaos and confusion, and we believe we can deal with it."

The administration's ban on incoming travel from eight countries in southern Africa went into effect this week after the variant was first detected in Botswana. It has since been found in nearly 30 countries, including in the U.S. on Wednesday.

Over the past year, Biden has focused his efforts to defeat COVID on increasing vaccinations and testing.

When the country didn't meet his goal of 70% of all adults vaccinated with at least one shot by July, and as cases spiked again from the delta variant's arrival over the summer, Biden moved forward on vaccine mandates.

Though the mandates were supposed to apply to all federal government employees, health care workers and employees of large private companies, the rollout has been met with lawsuits and lax deadlines.

The mandate for government employees initially was supposed to be implemented in late November, but the government has delayed firing employees who refused to comply until after the holidays.

Still, 92% of federal employees had their first dose as of last week.

The mandates on health care workers and employees of large companies have faced legal challenges that halted them until a decision in higher courts later this winter.

But many hospitals and companies have gone ahead with mandates on their own, often successfully.

The nation's public health experts have continued to push vaccines and boosters as the best defense against the variant, even as they wait for more data.

"We don't know everything we need to know about the omicron variants, but we know that vaccination is a safe and effective way to protect yourself from severe illness and complications from all known SARS-CoV-2 variants to date," CDC Director Rochelle Walensky told reporters on Tuesday.

As of Wednesday, 71% of adults over 18 and almost 60% of the entire American population are currently fully vaccinated. Nearly 100 million adults who are eligible for boosters have yet to get them.

Reflecting on the past year, Biden on Monday said, "we're in a very different place" as we enter December, noting that vaccinations were just being rolled out and the majority of schools were still closed in 2020.

"Last Christmas, our children were at risk without a vaccine. This Christmas, we have safe and effective vaccines for children ages 5 and older, with more than 19 million children and counting now vaccinated," Biden said.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


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(WASHINGTON) -- The Supreme Court on Wednesday began to hear historic arguments over a Mississippi law that would ban most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

The case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health, asks the justices directly to reconsider the precedent set by Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

This means that the justices, a majority of whom are conservative, have the real opportunity to lessen the right to an abortion or possibly overturn the landmark case that made abortion a federally protected right nearly half a century ago.

Legal scholars are raising the alarm that if the court should decide to uphold the Mississippi ban, it could clear the way for new restrictions on abortion across the U.S.

ABC News legal analyst Kate Shaw, a professor at Cardozo Law School, told ABC News' "Start Here" that as many as 30 states would restrict abortions if Roe gets overturned.

"It's certainly possible that there will be a majority of justices on board to just overturn Roe and Casey and rule that the Constitution doesn't protect a right to terminate a pregnancy," Shaw said. That would leave each state to decide for itself, and "a number of states already have laws on the books that go into effect immediately."

According to a report from The Guttmacher Institute, 21 states have these so-called trigger laws, some of which include bans on abortion after six or eight weeks of pregnancy, effectively banning all abortions. Several other states without trigger laws, according to Shaw, would likely "move very quickly" to prohibit abortion should Roe be overturned.

Shaw said she believes that the court could reach a compromise solution that still would allow Mississippi to enforce its 15-week, and even though that also "would be a dramatic change in the constitutional law of abortion, but that they do that without overturning Roe and Casey, simply suggesting that Roe and Casey undervalued the state's interest in protecting potential life, and thus that this viability line should be reconsidered."

Such a ruling could give states more power to restrict abortions, Shaw continued, "but it would not allow them to prohibit or criminalize all abortions."

This report was featured in the Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021, episode of "Start Here," ABC News' daily news podcast.

"Start Here" offers a straightforward look at the day's top stories in 20 minutes. Listen for free every weekday on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, the ABC News app or wherever you get your podcasts.

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(WASHINGTON) -- President Joe Biden on Wednesday declined to comment on the claim former President Donald Trump's chief of staff Mark Meadows makes in an upcoming book, according to the Guardian, that Trump had a positive COVID-19 test three days before their first presidential debate.

ABC News Senior White House Correspondent Mary Bruce asked Biden, who was 78 and, like Trump, unvaccinated when they shared the stage in the September debate, if he believes Trump put him at risk of contracting the potentially fatal virus.

Biden paused, and then responded with a smirk, "I don't think about the former president."

Later, White House press secretary Jen Psaki took a different tone -- slamming Republicans and Trump allies she said had appeared to withhold the positive test result.

"What is not lost on us is that no one should be surprised that currently in Congress, as we're looking at the government staying open, you have supporters of the former president, supporters of the former president who withheld information, reportedly, about testing positive and appeared apparently at a debate, also held events at the White House, reportedly, with military veterans and military families," she said.

She said the White House did not know about Meadows' claim prior to the story breaking in The Guardian.

The nation's top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who notably was the target of Trump's ire for his messaging surrounding the virus, also said he "certainly was not aware of his test positivity or negativity" when ABC News Correspondent Karen Travers asked him about the revelation at the afternoon White House briefing.

"I'm not going to specifically talk about who put who at risk, but I would say, as I've said, not only from an individual but for everybody, that if you test positive, you should be quarantining yourself," he said.

The Guardian , which says it obtained a copy of Meadows' upcoming book, reported that Trump test positive on Sept. 26, sending shockwaves through the White House, before a second COVID-19 test came back negative, according to the Meadows account.

ABC News has not independently confirmed the book's contents.

According to the debate rules, each candidate was required "to test negative for the virus within seventy-two hours of the start time" of the Sept. 29 debate in Cleveland, Meadows recalls understanding in the book, according to The Guardian.

But Trump, then 74, was determined to go to the debate and face Biden, regardless, according to the account.

"Nothing was going to stop [Trump] from going out there," Meadows writes, according to the excerpt in The Guardian.

Trump's reportedly positive, then negative, in tests were taken on the same day of the now-infamous packed Rose Garden ceremony, described as a "superspreader event," in which Trump announced he would nominate now-Justice Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court.

At least 11 guests, including press secretary Kellyanne Conway, former New Jersey GOP Gov. Chris Christie, Republican Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Thom Tillis of North Carolina, and University of Notre Dame President John Jenkins, tested positive afterward.

Meadows called Trump, who was on Air Force One at the time, with news of the positive test before calling back that he tested negative after another screening.

Trump went on to headline a rally in Middletown, Pennsylvania, that evening, and held public events at the White House in the coming days.

Meadows has dodged questions surrounding Trump and COVID-19 since the president tweeted in the early hours of Oct. 2 that he tested positive, at the time, repeatedly refused to tell reporters when he had last tested negative.

Two senior Trump officials later told ABC News Chief Washington Correspondent Jon Karl they had heard Trump tested positive before the debate but Meadows told Karl several months ago that was not true.

"Some people say you first got -- you got an initial positive test even before the debate. Is that true or is that not true?" Karl asked Trump in a March 18 interview at Mar-a-Lago for his new book, "Betrayal: The Final Act of the Trump Show."

"No," Trump responded. "No, that's not true."

In a new statement on Wednesday, the former president called the reporting "fake news" -- but did not flat out deny that he had tested positive before the debate.

"The story of me having COVID prior to, or during, the first debate is Fake News. In fact, a test revealed that I did not have COVID prior to the debate," he said.

Notably, Meadows did not write explicitly, according to The Guardian excerpts, that Trump had COVID-19 before the debate but that he had an initial positive test that was followed by a more reliable negative test.

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(WASHINGTON) -- The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol attack on Wednesday will recommend the full House hold former Trump Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark in contempt for refusing to cooperate with their investigation in the latest effort to ratchet up pressure on the former president’s aides and allies.

The move comes as Mark Meadows, former President Donald Trump’s fourth and final chief of staff, agreed to cooperate with the panel, turning over thousands of pages of records and agreeing to appear for a deposition in the coming days.

The full chamber could vote to hold Clark, the former acting head of the Justice Department’s civil division, in contempt as soon as Thursday, making him the second Trump associate after Steve Bannon to be reprimanded by Congress for refusing to cooperate with the investigation.

After a House vote, the Justice Department would determine whether to prosecute Clark as it has Bannon, who was charged with two counts of contempt of Congress for spurning the panel’s subpoena.

Bannon has pleaded not guilty and faces up to a year in prison and a $100,000 fine for each charge.

Unlike Bannon, Clark appeared before the committee with his attorney on Nov. 5, in response to a subpoena for records and testimony.

But he left after 90 minutes, after refusing to answer any questions, citing claims of executive privilege, which the committee has disputed, and Trump’s ongoing legal challenge to the panel’s inquiry.

Clark declined to answer direct questions about his knowledge of Georgia election law and his conversations with members of Congress, both of which committee members argued would not be covered by any claims of executive privilege.

The committee also sought to question him about Trump’s efforts to get the Justice Department to investigate baseless claims of election fraud.

Ahead of the Capitol riot, Clark played a prominent role advancing Trump's efforts to challenge the election results inside his administration. He circulated a draft letter inside the Justice Department to urge Georgia's governor and top Georgia officials to convene the state legislature to investigate voter fraud claims.

On Tuesday, committee members spent four hours interviewing Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a source familiar with the interview confirmed to ABC News.

Raffensperger was the target of a pressure campaign from then-President Trump and his aides and allies last year over the results of the presidential election in Georgia. Joe Biden was the first Democrat to carry the state in a presidential election in nearly three decades.

ABC News' Alex Mallin, Katherine Faulders and Ben Siegel contributed to this report.

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(ATLANTA) -- Stacy Abrams will be back on the campaign trail in a second bid for governor of Georgia, setting the stage for a possible rematch with GOP Gov. Brian Kemp whom she lost to in 2018.

Abrams, hoping to become the nation's first Black chief state executive, made her campaign announcement Wednesday on Twitter.

"I’m running for Governor because opportunity in our state shouldn’t be determined by zip code, background or access to power," Abrams said in an announcement video.

In 2018, she ran a closely-watched race for governor against Kemp, but lost by almost 2 points.

Following the loss, Abrams continued to gain notoriety as she advocated for voting rights legislation. She launched the Fair Fight voter protection organization, which is credited with helping Joe Biden win Georgia in 2020, as well as Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff win the state's two Senate seats.

"We believe in this place and our folks who deserve to be seen and heard and have a voice because in the end, we are one GA."

Abrams highlighted the work she’s accomplished since leaving the campaign trail in an announcement video that shows Abrams at community events and features various scenes of Georgians at work. I've worked to do my part to help families make it through paying off medical debt for 68,000 Georgians expanding access to vaccines, bringing supplies to overwhelmed food banks, lending a hand across our state, especially in rural Georgia," she said.

Kemp may face a Republican primary challenge.

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

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(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday heard historic arguments over a Mississippi law that would ban most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, with conservative justices openly raising the prospect of overturning decades of legal precedent since the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion nationwide.

After almost two hours, the conservative majority appeared headed toward changing 30 years of settled law protecting a woman's right to end a pregnancy before fetal viability and upholding the Mississippi ban, which legal scholars say could clear the way for stringent new restrictions on abortion in roughly half the country.

"Viability it seems to me has nothing to do with choice," said Chief Justice John Roberts. "Why is 15 weeks not enough time?"

"That's not a dramatic departure from viability," Roberts added of the state law and the line it would draw.

Since the 1973 landmark Roe ruling and the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey case that affirmed the decision, the court has never allowed states to prohibit the termination of pregnancies prior to fetal viability outside the womb, roughly 24 weeks, according to medical experts.

Mississippi argues Roe was wrongly decided and that each state should be allowed to set its own policy.

Scott Stewart, the solicitor general of Mississippi and a former clerk to Justice Clarence Thomas, spoke first, saying that the precedents the Supreme Court set with Roe and Casey in 1992 "damaged the democratic process" and "poisoned the law," adding, "they've choked off compromise."

"For 50 years they've kept this court at the center of a political battle that it can never resolve," he said.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor questioned whether the court should have taken up the case since the legal right to an abortion based on viability has been a long-standing precedent.

"There has been some difference of opinion with respect to undue burden, but the right of the woman to choose, the right to control her own body has been fairly set since Casey and never challenged. You want us to reject that viability line and adopt something different," she said. "Thirty (justices) since Casey have reaffirmed the basic viability line. Four have said no to the members of this court, but 15 justices have said yes or varying political backgrounds."

Referring to comments from a Mississippi lawmaker, she said, "The Senate sponsor said we're doing it because we have new justices on the Supreme Court," noting the new makeup of the court with three conservative justice appointed by former President Donald Trump.

"Will this institution survive the stench that this creates in the public perception that the Constitution and its reading are just political acts?" she asked.

Justice Stephen Breyer stressed the importance of stare decisis -- the legal principle that courts generally adhere to precedent.

"To overrule under fire in the absence of the most compelling reason to reexamine a watershed decision would subvert the court's legitimacy beyond any serious question," Breyer said.

Jackson Women's Health and its allies say the high court's protection of a woman's right to choose the procedure is clear, well-established and should be respected.

But the current court, with a 6-3 conservative majority, is widely considered more sympathetic to abortion rights opponents than any in a generation.

Conservative justices homed in on the current viability standard of roughly 24 weeks, with Justice Samuel Alito describing the line set as "arbitrary."

As Julie Rikelman of the Center for Reproductive Rights, representing Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the only abortion clinic in Mississippi, argued the impact of pregnancy, Alito responded, "If a woman wants to be free of the burdens of pregnancy, that interest does not disappear the moment the viability line is crossed," adding, "The fetus has an interest in having a life, and that doesn’t change from the point before viability and after viability.”

When Justice Thomas asked her to identify the constitutional right at issue -- whether to abortion, privacy or autonomy, Rikelman replied, "It's liberty."

"It’s the textual protection in the 14th Amendment that the state can’t deny someone liberty without the due process of law," she said.

"Allowing a state to take control of a woman's body and force her to undergo the physical demands for risks and life-altering consequences pregnancy is a fundamental deprivation for liberty, and once the court recognizes that liberty interest deserves heightened protection, it does need to draw a workable line of viability that logically balances the interests at stake," Rikelman added.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh asked if the court's decisions in Roe and Casey were wrong to begin with, how that would counter the stare decisis principle.

"The Constitution is neither pro-life nor pro-choice on abortion. If we think that the prior precedents are seriously wrong, why don't we return to neutrality? Doesn't the history of this court's practice with respect to those cases tells us that the right answer is actually a return to the position of neutrality, and not stick with those precedents in the same way that all those other cases did?"

Later, Kavanaugh asked Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar, arguing the Biden administration's support for abortion providers, "Why should this court be the arbiter rather than Congress?"

"There'll be different answers in Mississippi in New York, different answers and Alabama than California because they're two different interests at stake and the people in those states might value those interests somewhat different way," Kavanaugh said, signaling he might support handing the issue back to the states, despite saying at his confirmation hearings that Roe was "settled law."

Prelogar replied that it's not up to states to decide whether to honor fundamental rights.

A former clerk to the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Justice Elena Kagan, Prelogar earlier said, "The court has never revoked a right that is so fundamental to so many Americans and so central to their ability to participate fully and equally in society. The court should not overrule the central component of women's liberty."

Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who's personal views on abortion factored large during her confirmation hearing last year, raised doubts about how sweeping the impact would be if the court sides with Mississippi. "Don't Safe Haven Laws take care of that?" she said, referring to legislation in nearly every state allowing a parent to abandon a newborn baby without fear of prosecution in the event life circumstances make them unable to parent.

Majorities of Americans support the Supreme Court upholding Roe v. Wade and oppose states making it harder for abortion clinics to operate, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll this month. Three in four Americans, including majorities of Republicans, independents and Democrats, say the decision of whether or not to have an abortion should be left to a woman and her doctor.

But Americans appear more sharply divided on the type of ban at issue in Mississippi. A Marquette University Law School poll this month found 37% favored upholding a 15-week ban, with 32% opposed.

Overshadowing the case is the Supreme Court's still-pending decision in a separate dispute over Texas' unprecedented six-week abortion ban, SB8, which has been in effect for nearly three months and dominated national headlines.

The justices gave the Texas law a highly expedited hearing, during which a majority appeared skeptical of its enforcement scheme that encourages citizens to sue anyone who aids or abets an unlawful abortion for the chance at a $10,000 bounty. Many observers assumed the court would quickly move to put the law on hold, but it has not done so.

A decision in the Mississippi and Texas cases are expected by the end of the court's term in June 2022.

The abortion rights battle at the Supreme Court comes as Republican-led states have enacted more than 100 new abortion restrictions so far this year, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion rights.

Twenty-one states have laws in place that would quickly impose abortion bans in the event the Supreme Court overturns Roe.

Fourteen states plus Washington, D.C., have laws explicitly protecting access to abortion care, according to Guttmacher.

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(WASHINGTON) -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Wednesday that GOP Rep. Lauren Boebert's faith-based attacks on Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar, who is Muslim, are "indecent" and "dangerous" and suggested it is a publicity ploy.

"To see a member of Congress attacking another member is not a good thing. Right? Under any circumstance. Whether it's ethnic, generational, gender, or gender ID, whatever. But to see the supposed people of faith denouncing other people's's indecent. It's indecent," Pelosi said to House Democrats during a closed-door meeting, according to a source familiar with her remarks.

"So, this is hard because these people are doing it for the publicity. There's a judgment that has to be made about how we contribute to their fundraising and their publicity on how obnoxious and disgusting they can be. But I do think it has to be clear that there is no place for that," Pelosi said.

"These people do not respect the House that they serve in. We have to make sure that the public understands that we do," Pelosi said.

In a video posted to Twitter last week, Boebert referred to Omar as a member of the "Jihad Squad" and claimed that a Capitol Police officer thought she was a suicide bomber in an encounter in an elevator on Capitol Hill.

Boebert apologized on Twitter Friday "to anyone in the Muslim community I offended," adding that she had reached out to Omar's office to speak with her directly, but the phone call did not go well.

Omar hung up on Boebert after the Colorado Republican refused to make a public apology to her, according to a statement from Omar and Boebert's account of the call.

Democratic leadership is now figuring out how to respond to Boebert's anti-Muslim attacks, though Pelosi noted in her remarks Wednesday that there are "different views" among the caucus regarding the appropriate response.

A senior Democratic aide confirmed to ABC News that House leadership discussed a possible resolution condemning Islamophobia but didn't make any decisions during a meeting Tuesday night.

Other options could include possibly censuring Boebert and stripping her of her committee assignments.

Late last month, the House voted to censure GOP Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona over a video he tweeted depicting violence against Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and President Joe Biden. He was also removed from his committee assignments.

Earlier this year, House Democrats also voted to remove GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene from her committee assignments over her violent social media posts aimed at Democrats.

During a press conference Wednesday, House Democratic caucus chairman Hakeem Jeffries accused the Republican Party of having a "total meltdown," and he pummeled Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy over his inability to reign in warring members.

"Republicans are having a complete and total meltdown. Attacking each other. 'Liar,' 'clown,' 'trash,' grifter,' 'nuts,'" Jeffries said, using some of the terms GOP Reps. Greene and Nancy Mace have flung at each other in the last 24 hours.

Greene and Mace are publicly feuding after Mace condemned Boebert for making the anti-Muslim remarks. Greene then denounced Mace for having criticized Boebert.

McCarthy met separately with both Greene and Mace late Tuesday night at the Capitol and told them both to stop the public feuding, according to sources familiar with the conversations.

McCarthy has not publicly commented on the matter, nor has he publicly rebuked Boebert for her bigoted attack on Omar.

ABC News requested comment from Mace and Greene, but neither of them immediately replied.

"What happened to the kinder and gentler Republican Party? It doesn't exist. They are having a complete and total meltdown," Jeffries said.

"The so-called leader has no control over what's happening, and the American people are hurt as a result," he said of McCarthy.

"It would be nice if we had a functional party on the other side of the aisle that could focus on the economy, on inflation, on the problems of the American people, but instead, they're focused on attacking each other and trying to prove loyalty to the cult. Shame on them. It's a disgrace over there," he added.

"What more does Kevin McCarthy need to see? What more does this guy really need to see?" Jeffries said.

ABC News has reached out to McCarthy's office for comment but has not heard back.

Democratic Reps. Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Andre Carson forcefully condemned Boebert's anti-Muslim remarks late Tuesday night.

Omar, Tlaib and Carson are the only three Muslims in Congress.

"We may only be three among hundreds serving in Congress, but we are strong advocates that won't shy away in demanding better for our communities. No one deserves to feel hate or racism solely based on one's faith. It's completely unacceptable," Tlaib said.

A shaken Omar spoke of her difficult experiences as a Muslim American -- from the person who told her she would never be elected to Congress for wearing a hijab, to the bigoted reception she received from some Republican members when she was first elected.

"So, when a sitting member of Congress calls a colleague a member of the "jihad squad" and falsifies a story to suggest that I will blow up the Capitol, it is not just attack on me, but on millions of American Muslims across this country," Omar said of Boebert.

"We cannot pretend that this hate speech from leading politicians doesn't have real consequences," Omar said Tuesday. "The truth is that anti-Muslim hate is on the rise both here at home and around the world."

Omar said she has received "hundreds" of death threats often triggered by Republican attacks.

She held up her phone to the mics and played out a disturbingly graphic voicemail she received from an unidentified male just hours after she got off the phone with Boebert on Monday -- highlighting the types of threats she said she regularly receives.

The man made several racist and bigoted remarks about Omar, and also threatened her life.

"Condemning this should not be a partisan issue," Omar said. "This is about our basic humanity and fundamental rights of religious freedom enshrined in our Constitution. Yet, while some members of the Republican Party have condemned this, to date, the Republican Party leadership has done nothing to hold their members accountable."

Omar said she wants "appropriate action" taken against Boebert but will leave it to leadership to decide what that means. She did not seem keen on the idea of a resolution that would condemn Islamophobia, noting that it's been done before.

"This kind of hateful rhetoric and actions cannot go without punishment. There has to be accountability," she said.

Jeffries said there are "active discussions" underway to make sure Boebert is held accountable.

"We're continuing to have discussions -- leadership, House Democratic Caucus -- to make sure that we support our colleague, because clearly, this type of dangerous rhetoric is endangering Ilhan Omar and it endangers other members of this Congress," Jeffries said.

"We needed to act as it related to the situation with Paul Gosar and we needed to act as it related to the situation with Marjorie Taylor Greene and we're going to need to make sure that Lauren Boebert is held accountable for her hatred, for her bigotry, for her Islamophobia and for jeopardizing the health and safety and wellbeing of a fellow member of Congress," Jeffries said.

ABC News' Benjamin Siegel contributed to this report.

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Jackson Women's Health Organization is Mississippi's last remaining abortion clinic. - ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday will consider a case that could fundamentally transform abortion rights in America by overturning Roe v. Wade and clearing the way for stringent new restrictions on abortion in roughly half the country.

"This is the most important Supreme Court case on abortion since Roe in 1973, and I don't think it's particularly close," said Sherif Girgis, Notre Dame law professor and former clerk to Justice Samuel Alito.

The justices will hear arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health over a Mississippi law that prohibits termination of pregnancies after 15 weeks. Lower courts have found the ban plainly unconstitutional under the half century of legal precedent since Roe and put it on hold.

Fetal viability outside the womb -- around 24 to 26 weeks, according to medical experts -- has been the long-standing line before which states cannot ban abortions. Mississippi is asking the justices to eliminate that standard and allow each state to set its own policy.

"Roe v. Wade has hindered a healthy political dialogue about abortion, and perhaps most importantly, about how we as a society care for the dignity of women and children," said Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch, who is leading defense of the state law.

The case will be heard by a court whose conservative majority of justices is widely viewed as more sympathetic to opponents of abortion rights than any in a generation. The three most recently appointed justices were all elevated to the high court by former President Donald Trump with the express purpose of overturning Roe.

​​"The new crop of quite conservative justices on the court seems to put special stock in how wrong a previous opinion was, and they all think that Roe was very, very wrong," said Cardozo Law professor and ABC News legal analyst Kate Shaw. "I think that will be an important factor in their decision whether to revisit it."

The fact that the court decided to take up the case -- without a clear conflict among lower courts or ambiguity in legal precedent -- suggests to many legal scholars that a decision favoring Mississippi is highly likely.

"The court has long surprised us," said Shaw, "but it seems to me a vanishingly slim chance that the court will strike down the Mississippi law."

A decision upholding the state's 15-week abortion ban would implicitly reverse nearly 50 years of Supreme Court precedent and open the door to state restrictions much earlier in pregnancy.

"You cannot uphold Mississippi's 15-week ban on abortion and continue the precedent of Roe v. Wade. They're not compatible," said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is leading the legal battle against the law. "There is no middle ground."

Majorities of Americans support the Supreme Court upholding Roe v. Wade and oppose states making it harder for abortion clinics to operate, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll this month. Three in four Americans, including majorities of Republicans, independents and Democrats, say the decision of whether or not to have an abortion should be left to a woman and her doctor.

University of California, Berkeley Law professor Daniel Farber said the legal options before the court are stark and extreme. "I think between those two options, I think overruling Roe would win the day," Farber said.

Some abortion law scholars believe the justices may attempt a more moderate approach -- at least in appearance -- by upholding the Mississippi law while explaining that they are changing, rather than overturning, the standard set by Roe and Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

"The court might say, 'We are not finding that there's no constitutional protection for abortion, only that these earlier decisions didn't give sufficient weight to other kinds of state interests,'" said Shaw. "So, perhaps states may be able to ban abortions prior to viability, but that doesn't mean they have carte blanche to ban all abortions."

Mississippi has just one remaining abortion clinic, Jackson Women's Health, that only provides abortion services up to 16 weeks of pregnancy. The state argues that a ban starting at 15 weeks would not impose a significant burden on most women.

While Americans are broadly supportive of abortion rights, they appear more sharply divided on the type of ban at issue in Mississippi. A Marquette University Law School poll this month found 37% favored upholding a 15-week ban, with 32% opposed.

Overshadowing the case is the Supreme Court's still-pending decision in a separate dispute over Texas' unprecedented six-week abortion ban, SB8, which has been in effect for nearly three months and dominated national headlines.

"SB8 has the effect of making the Mississippi statute look quite moderate," said Julia Mahoney, a law professor at the University of Virginia. "So in a sense, upholding the Mississippi statute looks now like kind of a middle ground."

The justices gave the Texas law a highly expedited hearing, during which a majority appeared skeptical of its enforcement scheme that encourages citizens to sue anyone who aids or abets an unlawful abortion for the chance at a $10,000 bounty. Many observers assumed the court would quickly move to put the law on hold, but it has not done so.

Girgis said the delay suggests the justices "hit some snags" in their negotiations and may have decided to resolve the dispute in tandem with the Mississippi case.

"If they end up reversing Casey and Roe, then obviously the question of the constitutionality of SB8 becomes a lot easier," Girgis said.

In the meantime, access to abortion care for millions of women in the nation's second-most populous state remains on hold and could be suspended for months longer. The court is not expected to issue a decision in the Mississippi case until June.

"We're waiting on tenterhooks to hear from the court," said Northup of Texas law SB8. "But it is just quite unconscionable that we're so many months in, allowing this law to be in effect when it clearly violates Roe v. Wade."

Justice Brett Kavanaugh could be the key vote to watch in both cases, analysts said. He sided with the majority more than any other justice last term and notably broke with Chief Justice John Roberts in September to allow SB8 to take effect.

"From a tea leaf reading standpoint, we're watching Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett," said Mary Ziegler, Florida State Law professor and a leading abortion law historian.

"I think she may have some incentive, certainly not to save Roe, but to take her time in unraveling Roe rather than kind of delivering an immediate death blow," Ziegler said of Barrett, the court's newest and youngest member. "We don't know what Brett Kavanaugh, who is no longer beholden to John Roberts to get the deciding vote, will say about abortion."

The abortion rights battle at the Supreme Court comes as Republican-led states have enacted more than 100 new abortion restrictions so far this year, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion rights. Twenty-one states have laws in place that would quickly impose abortion bans in the event the Supreme Court overturns Roe.

Fourteen states plus Washington, D.C., have laws explicitly protecting access to abortion care, according to Guttmacher.

"If the court follows the rule of law, we will prevail," Northrup said. "But we are ready to fight on every front if there should be a reversal of Roe."

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(WASHINGTON) -- Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn, said she had an "unproductive" call with Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., on Monday over her anti-Muslim remarks and claimed the Colorado Republican refused to publicly apologize for suggesting she was a terrorist.

Instead, Omar claimed in a new statement that Boebert "doubled down on her hurtful and dangerous comments," which led Omar to "end the unproductive call."

In a video posted to Twitter last week, Boebert referred to Omar as a member of the "Jihad Squad" and claimed that a Capitol Police officer thought she was a terrorist in an encounter in an elevator on Capitol Hill.

She was condemned by Democrats and some Republicans for the remarks and apologized on Twitter Friday "to anyone in the Muslim community I offended," adding that she had reached out to Omar's office to speak with her directly.

Apparently, that call did not go well.

Omar hung up on Boebert after the Colorado Republican refused to make a public apology to her, according to a statement from Omar and Boebert's account of the call.

"I believe in engaging with those we disagree with respectfully, but not when that disagreement is rooted in outright bigotry and hate," Omar said, adding that Boebert "doubled down" on her comments.

In an Instagram video recapping their conversation, Boebert said she refused to make a public apology directly to Omar and instead demanded the Minnesota Democrat apologize for her "Anti-American" rhetoric.

"Rejecting an apology and hanging up on someone is part of cancel culture 101, and a pillar of the Democrat Party. Make no mistake, I will continue to put America first, never sympathizing with terrorists," Boebert said in her video. "Unfortunately, Ilhan can't say the same thing, and our country is worse off for it."

Omar and Democratic leaders, issuing a rare joint statement last week, have called on House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and other Republicans to hold Republicans accountable for the anti-Muslim rhetoric, but the California Republican has said nothing publicly about the exchange.

In her statement on Monday, Omar demanded McCarthy "actually hold his party accountable" for "repeated instances of anti-Muslim hate and harassment." Her office also said she is routinely subjected to harassment and death threats.

Omar added in a tweet on Friday that "normalizing this bigotry not only endangers my life but the lives of all Muslims."

ABC News' Oren Oppenheim contributed to this report.

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(WASHINGTON) -- Former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, who served under former President Donald Trump until his firing in the wake of the 2020 election, has sued the Department of Defense over redactions they made to his upcoming book.

Esper's memoir, set to be released in May of 2022, is expected to chronicle his time in the Trump administration, in which he served first as Secretary of the Army and then as Secretary of Defense until Trump tweeted about his firing on Nov. 9, 2020, following weeks of contention.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Washington on Sunday, said that Esper engaged in "extensive coordination" with the Department's Office of Pre-publication and Security Review.

Esper alleges the review "dragged on" for six months and when he finally heard back on Oct. 7 after reaching out in May, there was no explanation given for some redactions.

"No written explanation was offered to justify the deletions," Esper wrote in an e-mail to current Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. "My follow-on conversations with the DOPSR official handling my case confirmed my assessment. He similarly has been unable to assert that the redacted items contain classified information or compromise national security."

Esper said he was asked not to quote his conversations with Trump or other foreign officials, although much of the material "was already in the public domain," according to Esper.

His attorneys argue in the lawsuit that the Defense Department "has unlawfully imposed a prior restraint upon Mr. Esper by delaying, obstructing and infringing on his constitutional right to publish his unclassified manuscript entitled 'A Sacred Oath.'"

The former defense secretary also said he had already met with Austin's chief of staff and the Defense Department's Director of Administration and Management, Mike Donley.

"I should not be required to change my views, opinions, or descriptions of events simply because they may be too candid at times for normal diplomatic protocol. After all, the DOPSR process is about protecting classified information and not harming national security -- two important standards to which I am fully committed. Moreover, my Constitutional rights should not be abridged because my story or choice of words may prompt uncomfortable discussions in foreign policy circles," he said in the suit.

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby responded in a statement on Monday.

"We are aware of Mr. Esper’s concerns regarding the pre-publication of his memoir. As with all such reviews, the Department takes seriously its obligation to balance national security with an author’s narrative desire. Given that this matter is now under litigation, we will refrain from commenting further," Kirby said.

In a memo reported first by ABC News Chief Washington Correspondent Jonathan Karl in his new book Betrayal, the Presidential Personnel Office under the direction of John McEntee, a favorite aide of Trump, made a case for firing Esper three weeks before Esper was terminated.

Reasons outlined for his firing in the memo included that Esper "barred the Confederate flag" on military bases, "opposed the President's direction to utilize American forces to put down riots," "focused the Department on Russia," and was "actively pushing for 'diversity and inclusion.'"

ABC News' Matt Seyler contributed to this report.

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