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iStock(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear appeals from President Donald Trump in three separate cases seeking access to his personal financial records, including tax returns, personal checks and credit card transactions.

Three congressional committees and a New York prosecutor each issued subpoenas for the records, after which Trump challenged those requests in federal courts. He lost in every instance.

"We are pleased that the Supreme Court has taken up these three cases of significant constitutional issues," said Jay Sekulow, an attorney for Trump. "We look forward to presenting written and oral arguments."

The committees have sought the information as part of an effort to inform the drafting of federal ethics and anti-corruption laws involving the president.

The Manhattan District Attorney seeks many of the same records as part of a criminal probe into possible violations of state financial laws.

The Constitution grants Congress the broad authority to issue subpoenas to gather information for legitimate legislative purposes and other oversight. The president’s attorneys have said he has absolute immunity from criminal investigation while in office.

The justices announced the decision to review the cases on Friday in a single-page order without a detailed explanation. It takes at least four votes from the justices for the court to consider a case.

Cases involving presidential power "are cases that historically the Court has taken, even when there hasn’t been a circuit split," Paul Clement, who was solicitor general during the George W. Bush administration, predicted in recent public remarks.

Legal scholars have cautioned that the decision to hear the cases does not necessarily suggest the justices will side with the president.

"They’re probably pretty happy with the lower court reasoning in the cases," said Neal Katyal, who was solicitor general during Barack Obama's administration.

Katyal is expecting the court likely will order Trump to comply with the subpoenas. Clement suggested he shares that view.

"I think if you look at the Court’s precedents, you know, the president’s argument is a tough one," he said. "Maybe 'an uphill one' would be the right way to describe it."

Oral arguments are scheduled for March, the court said, setting the stage for a decision by the end of June.

If lower court decisions are upheld in any of the cases, Trump likely would have to turn over at least some of his financial records just a few months before voters cast ballots in the 2020 presidential election.

Trump is the only modern American president to have not released detailed tax return information to the public.

Ahead of the March hearing, the justices on Friday also extended a stay of a lower court order mandating Trump's compliance with the subpoenas until the case is decided.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) --  Just about an hour after the House Judiciary Committee Friday approved two articles of impeachment against him, President Donald Trump accused them of "trivializing" the constitutional process for political gain.

Before a meeting with Paraguay's president at the White House, Trump told reporters he had been working on a China trade deal but “got to see enough of it.”

“You’re trivializing impeachment, and I tell you what, someday they’ll be a Democrat president and they’ll be a Republican House, and I suspect they’re going to remember it. Because when you do -- when you use impeachment for absolutely nothing other than to try and get political gain.”

NEW: "You're trivializing impeachment," Pres. Trump says following House Judiciary vote passing articles of impeachment.

"Some day there'll be a Democrat president and there'll be a Republican House, and I suspect they're going to remember it."

— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) December 13, 2019

"I think it's a horrible thing to be using the tool of impeachment, which is supposed to be used in an emergency and, it would seem, many, many, many years apart – to be using this for a perfect phone call where the president of that country said there was no pressure whatsoever, didn't even know what we were talking about, it was perfect," he said, referring to his July 25 phone call in which he pressured Ukraine's president to investigate his political rivals.

Democrats accuse him of "abuse of power" for doing so and "obstruction of Congress: for blocking their efforts to find out what happened.

“To use the power of impeachment on this nonsense is an embarrassment to this country,” Trump said.

Asked if he preferred a short or long Senate trial – if impeachment made it to that body – Trump praised GOP Sens. Lindsey Graham and Mitch McConnell’s views that a shorter trial is preferable, saying both he'd do "whatever I want' and "whatever they want."

“I can do – I'll do whatever I want,” Trump said. “Look, there is – we did nothing wrong. So, I'll do long or short. I've heard Mitch, I've heard Lindsey – I think they are very much an agreement on some concept. I’ll do whatever they want to do, it doesn’t matter. I wouldn’t mind a long process, because I'd like to see the whistleblower, who's a fraud.”

On whether he'd prefer shorter Senate trial, Trump says, "We did nothing wrong. So I'll do long or short. I've heard Mitch, I've heard Lindsey, I think they are very much on agreement on some concept. I'll do whatever they want to do. It doesn't matter."

— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) December 13, 2019

He went on to criticize, as he often does, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff as “crooked,” “a corrupt politician,” and “a disgrace” – and then mocked U.S. Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the National Security Council Ukraine expert who listened to the July 25 call, became alarmed, and reported his concerns..

“Now, had I not had a transcript – I'm lucky we had this transcript, which by the way has now been verified by the lieutenant colonel – lieutenant colonel, OK? He's another beauty.”

Vindman was awarded a Purple Heart after being wounded by an IED while serving in Iraq.

The president also said he also watched Thursday’s House Judiciary Committee markup session – “I got to see quite a bit of it yesterday” – and that he “watched these Democrats on the committee make fools out of themselves, absolute fools out of themselves.

He said people “are absolutely disgusted” but he was benefiting.

“It’s a very sad thing for our country, but It seems to be good for me politically,” Trump said.

On Friday morning, one of the key players in the impeachment investigation -- the president's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani -- was caught on camera arriving at and then leaving the White House. While it wasn't immediately clear why he was there, Trump has said Giuliani would be delivering a report to Congress and Attorney General William Barr on what he's found while in Ukraine.

“I hear he has found plenty,” Trump added, speaking about it last weekend.

"The American people have already made up their mind on this #ImpeachmentScam," Giuliani tweeted Friday.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Justin Sullivan/Getty Images(LOS ANGELES) --  Less than a week before the last Democratic primary debate of 2019, all seven of the presidential candidates, including polling front-runners, former Vice President Joe Biden, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who are qualified and are anticipated to appear on the stage in Los Angeles, announced they "won't cross the union's picket line" to participate in the upcoming matchup.

Warren wrote on Twitter, ".@UniteHere11 is fighting for better wages and benefits—and I stand with them. The DNC should find a solution that lives up to our party's commitment to fight for working people. I will not cross the union's picket line even if it means missing the debate."


.@UniteHere11 is fighting for better wages and benefits—and I stand with them. The DNC should find a solution that lives up to our party's commitment to fight for working people. I will not cross the union's picket line even if it means missing the debate.

— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) December 13, 2019


 The tweet, coupled with similar statements from Biden, Sanders, billionaire Tom Steyer, South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, entrepreneur Andrew Yang and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar on Twitter, injected a fresh round of uncertainty and turmoil around which candidates will participate in the sixth debate, which is slated for Thursday, Dec. 19 at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, and co-hosted by PBS NewsHour and POLITICO.


I won't be crossing a picket line. We’ve got to stand together with @UniteHere11 for affordable health care and fair wages. A job is about more than just a paycheck. It's about dignity.

— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) December 13, 2019

A Yang's campaign underscored their commitment to the union, telling ABC News that the entrepreneur will participate in the debate if the dispute gets settled or a new venue is chosen.

A spokesperson for Sanders told ABC News "he will not cross a picket line to attend the debate," before clarifying that if the labor dispute is ongoing, he will not participate in the debate.

The labor vote is a key bloc of the Democratic coalition with the candidates frequently participating in rallies, events and forums hosted by unions in an effort to court their vote.

The seven candidates who are qualified for the upcoming debate and scheduled to appear are Biden, Buttigieg, Klobuchar, Steyer, Sanders, Warren and Yang.

The debate is a crucial opportunity for those seven contenders to spar over the issues before a national audience, ahead of the primary season entering the final month before early voting begins in February. The announcements from the candidates come only hours before the DNC is expected to formally release who is participating in the debate.

Earlier this week, after Yang qualified for the debate as the only candidate of color, he brought the total number of qualifying candidates who have crossed both the polling and grassroots donor hurdles up to seven for December's matchup, according to an ABC News' analysis.

Behind the picket line is UNITE HERE Local 11, a labor union representing 150 workers in the food services industry, including cooks, dishwashers, cashiers, and servers, who are contracted by the company Sodexo -- a global services company. The union workers prepare and serve meals at Loyola Marymount.

The union sent a letter, obtained by ABC News, to the presidential contenders on Friday, informing the Democrats of the labor dispute.

"We want to make sure you are aware that there is a labor dispute involving our union on that campus," the letter reads. "While we remain hopeful that the labor dispute can be resolved before next Thursday, we want to be clear that if the situation remains unresolved there could be picketing on the evening of the debate. Any assistance you can provide in resolving this dispute would be greatly appreciated."

The letter is signed by three co-presidents of UNITE HERE Local 11: Ada Briceno, Susan Minato, and Kurt Petersen.

The Democratic National Committee and Loyola Marymount were not made aware of the issue until after the letter was sent, a source familiar with negotiations told ABC News.

A source said the DNC is looking into the matter.

Local 11 has been in negotiations with Sodexo since March over a collective bargaining agreement, as they seek to negotiate better contracts, including better wages and health care benefits, but have yet to reach a resolution. Workers, along with students, have been picketing on campus since November, according to the union, after Sodexo abruptly canceled scheduled contract negotiations last week.

"We had hoped that workers would have a contract with wages and affordable health insurance before the debate next week. Instead, workers will be picketing when the candidates come to campus," Minato said in a statement.

This is not the first union-related hurdle the DNC has faced for the site of the December debate.

In early November, the DNC announced it was no longer hosting the primary debate at the University of California, Los Angeles, the original location of the match-up, over a labor dispute with a local union.

"In response to concerns raised by the local organized labor community in Los Angeles, we have asked our media partners to seek an alternative site for the December debate. We will be in touch with more information when it is available," the DNC wrote in an email informing the campaigns.

The debate was moved to Loyola Marymount only days later, in an announcement by the DNC.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



iStock(NEW YORK ) -- In the wee hours of Friday morning, comedian Nick Cirarelli changed his Twitter profile photo, posing as a political campaign staffer for presidential candidate and philanthropist Michael Bloomberg.

Cirarelli then tweeted a video of what appeared to be a sincere “campaign moment” often raved about on social media.

Look out #TeamPete because us Bloomberg Heads have our own dance! Taken at the Mike Bloomberg rally in Beverly Hills. #Bloomberg2020 #MovesLikeBloomberg

— Nick Ciarelli (@nickciarelli) December 13, 2019

The video showed a group of people or proposed “campaign staffers” dancing to “Move Like Jagger” before a Bloomberg press conference. Cirarelli captioned the post: “Look out #TeamPete because us Bloomberg Heads have our own dance! Taken at the Mike Bloomberg rally in Beverly Hills. #Bloomberg2020 #MovesLikeBloomberg."

The video attracted thousands of retweets and likes including some from several political reporters and prominent campaign staffers.

The dance moves seem to mock what takes place before many of Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s rallies and campaign events.

Team @PeteButtigieg showing off their dance moves early this morning ahead of today’s #SteakFry in Iowa.

— Rachel Scott (@rachelvscott) September 21, 2019

The prominent falsehood in the video was an altered Bloomberg campaign sign.

This is not the first instance where the Bloomberg campaign has faced a viral hoax. On the day of his campaign launch, Bloomberg's staff had to notify journalists that a fake logo was being spread on social media.

Cirarelli is familiar with the hoax. Along with Brad Evans, the duo started taking the internet by storm by placing pranks on corporate Twitter accounts. Together, the comedians have changed a narrative in digital culture.

On Thursday, Twitter announced an initiative to promote original sources as a way to prevent disinformation in the 2020 election.

Official candidates running for office will have an “election label” on their Twitter handle. The labels will state the office they are running for and the state they are from with a verified blue icon.

Twitter said it will continue to “focus on building tools that better enable people to find quality news and have informative conversations” on the platform.

Neither Cirarelli nor a spokesperson for Bloomberg respond to ABC News' request for comment. Buttigieg's campaign has not publicly commented on the social media stunt.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


drnadig/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- The House Judiciary Committee on Friday morning was set to vote on two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump, before sending them to the full House for historic final votes next week.

The committee is meeting after some 14 hours of bitter debate over the wording of the charges of "abuse of power" and "obstruction of Congress" on Thursday -- that ended in a surprise announcement from Democratic Chairman Jerry Nadler that the final voting would be delayed until Friday at 10 a.m.

That triggered fury from Republicans who complained that Democrats were doing so to get better ratings during the daytime than voting late at night. Democrats said they wanted to make sure the American public could witness the vote and the reasons members gave, and said, if they didn't, Republicans would accuse them of taking an impeachment vote in the dead of night.

Democrats argue the president abused his power by pressuring Ukraine to investigate his leading political opponents, for his personal benefit, by withholding obsessionally-approved military aid, and then blocking Congress' efforts to probe what happened. They say he violated the Constitution and, if left unchecked, would have the power of a dictator, and that his efforts pose a "clear and present danger" to the 2020 election.

Republicans argue the articles don't accuse the president of a specific crime, that the abuse of power charge is vague and nothing more than a dispute over policy, and that Democrats are motivated by a simple dislike of Trump and a long-standing desire to overturn the results of the 2016 election.

Here is how the hearing is unforlding:

9:45 a.m.

Members and staff are beginning to gather in the hearing room after the long and rancorous day Thursday.

Earlier Friday morning, Trump tweeted his praise for the Republican committee members who argued in his defense.

"The Republicans House members were fantastic yesterday. It always helps to have a much better case, in fact the Dems have no case at all, but the unity & sheer brilliance of these Republican warriors, all of them, was a beautiful sight to see. Dems had no answers and wanted out!" the president tweeted.

In an interview on Fox News Thursday night, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called the articles "pretty weak stuff" and predicted a Senate trial beginning in early January would be over quickly. He said he was in "total coordination" with the White House about how the trial would be handled.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Oleksii Liskonih/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- The Trump administration released heavily redacted documents Thursday evening that, without the redactions, would have been the first communications revealed between government agencies regarding aid money to Ukraine being held up.

The Freedom of Information Act request, filed by the Center for Public Integrity, a D.C.-based nonprofit group that specializes in investigative reporting, was first granted by a federal judge last month. That order required the Department of Defense and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to release documents to that group from April of this year regarding the Ukraine aid.

The nearly $400 million military assistance to Ukraine, which was held up just days before the infamous July 25 call between President Donald Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, has been at the center of the House impeachment inquiry against Trump, as House investigators zeroed in on whether the president withheld the aid in an effort to pressure Zelenskiy's new administration into investigating Trump's political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, and his son.

"We are deeply disappointed that the public won’t have access to this important information at the heart of the impeachment process," said Susan Smith Richardson, CEO of the Center for Public Integrity. "But we will continue to fight to ensure that the documents see the light of day."

In the documents released Thursday, there are conversations over email between Elaine McCusker, the deputy comptroller at the Department of Defense, and Michael Duffey from OMB regarding the Ukraine aid, but the conversations are mostly redacted. The aides did send each other press reports from August when the Ukraine aid being held up was first discovered. Duffey was subpoenaed by the House Intelligence Committee for testimony during its impeachment inquiries, but he followed most White House officials and did not comply with that request.

The documents also include spreadsheets of financial figures that appear to be related to Ukraine based on notes.

It was first revealed during a July 18 meeting between the OMB and other officials that the White House had decided to withhold the Ukraine aid. Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said the move was at the direction of the president.

National Security Council's Ukraine expert, Alex Vindman, and Vice President Mike Pence's national security aide, Jennifer Williams, testified before Congress that they first learned of the hold-up as early as July 3.

The possibility of a hold up when it was announced on July 18 immediately sparked confusion and concerns from national security officials and diplomats, prompting a series of NSC-led inter-agency meetings, during which officials came to a unanimous conclusion that the security assistance should be resumed, according to several witnesses' testimony in the House impeachment inquiry.

Laura Cooper, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, told House investigators that aides at the Pentagon were confused by the hold on the financial aid because the Defense Department had certified the financial transfer in May when Ukraine had met the necessary anti-corruption benchmarks. She said senior aides were unclear how everything would "play out" legally.

"So the comments in the room at the deputies' level reflected a sense that there was not an understanding of how this could legally play out," she told Congress, according to the transcript of her interview behind closed doors before the public hearings. "And at that meeting, the deputies agreed to look into the legalities and to look at what was possible."

In September, shortly after House committees launched a wide-ranging investigation into whistleblower allegations that Trump, his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and others attempted to pressure Zelenskiy's government to dig into the president's political rival, the Ukraine aid was suddenly released.

The president and his allies have repeatedly refuted the idea of a quid pro quo, but Mulvaney in October admitted there was one, telling ABC News’ Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl during a White House briefing that Trump had ordered him to hold up the military aid in part to pressure Ukraine to launch an investigation of Democrats.

Much of the president's closest allies' accounts of how the Ukraine assistance was held up and eventually released are still shrouded in mystery as the White House, the State Department and the Defense Department have directed their top officials to not cooperate with the House impeachment inquiry. Even for those who went around their agencies' direction and complied with House subpoenas, the administration has blocked them from getting access to their official records to help their testimony.

House Democrats in their articles of impeachment revealed on Tuesday included Trump's order to direct the White House and other executive branch agencies to defy congressional subpoenas as part of the arguments in support of the president's obstruction of Congress.

But more of those documents are expected to see light as part of media outlets and watchdog groups' open records requests.

The Center for Public Integrity is expected to receive more records from the Defense Department and OMB by Dec. 20 as part of its records request, and the Washington-based watchdog group American Oversight is also expected to receive some records related to Ukraine assistance from the Defense Department and the OMB.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Heidi Gutman/Walt Disney Television(WASHINGTON) -- Democrats will kick off 2020 with four Democratic primary debates in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, the Democratic National Committee announced Thursday. The debates will take place in January and February.

ABC News, in partnership with ABC's New Hampshire affiliate WMUR-TV and Apple News, will hold the first debate after voting begins on Friday, Feb. 7, at St. Anselm College in Manchester.

The early February face-off will mark the only debate this election cycle in New Hampshire, which hosts the country's first primary on Feb. 11.

CNN and The Des Moines Register will host a debate on Jan. 14 at Drake University ahead of Iowa’s caucuses. NBC News and MSNBC, in partnership with The Nevada Independent, hosts a Feb. 19 debate in Las Vegas prior to Nevada's caucuses. CBS News and the Congressional Black Caucus Institute co-host the debate before South Carolina's primary on Feb. 25 at The Gaillard Center in Charleston, South Carolina and Twitter will be a debate partner.

Five Democratic senators are currently running for president and have indicated they will return to Washington for an impeachment trial in the Senate should one take place.

With the possibility that the timing of the first 2020 debate could conflict with an impeachment trial in the Senate, Xochitl Hinojosa, communications director for the DNC, said, "If a conflict with an impeachment trial is unavoidable, the DNC will evaluate its options and work with all the candidates to accommodate them."

The newly announced debates will be held over a pivotal stretch of January and February, when voters are likely to winnow the field through the first four contests. After that comes Super Tuesday, when more than one-third of total convention delegates available to candidates will be awarded.

In 2008, there were four debates in January, after the Iowa caucuses were held on Jan. 3 of that year, and a fifth debate on Feb. 2.

Last week, California Sen. Kamala Harris, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock and former Pennsylvania Rep. Joe Sestak ended their presidential bids shortly after the last-minute entrances of former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and billionaire philanthropist and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The New Hampshire debate will air across ABC, WMUR-TV, which is owned by Hearst Television, Apple News and on ABC News Live, ABC's streaming channel available on the ABC News site, app and OTT media services.

The DNC will release more details, including the qualifying rules, for the early 2020 debates at a later date. In 2019, the party imposed more rigorous qualifying rules as the primary season deepened -- oftentimes putting the committee at odds with the presidential contenders leading to lower-polling candidates being excluded from the stages.

This is the second debate hosted by ABC News following September's matchup at Texas Southern University, a public, historically black university in Houston, which was co-hosted with Univision. That debate featured a roster of 10 candidates, with former Vice President Joe Biden and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the two polling front-runners at that point in the primary, tangling on the same stage for the first time. They have since stood shoulder-to-shoulder at center-stage in every matchup succeeding that debate.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


rarrarorro/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- The House Judiciary Committee on Thursday contentiously debated the wording of the articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump for 14 hours before Democrats postponed a final vote on the charges until Friday.

Chairman Jerry Nadler suddenly recessed the panel shortly before midnight, angering Republicans who were preparing to drop their amendments and vote against the articles.

For hours, Democrats and Republicans bitterly argued over the charges that have made Trump the fourth president to ever face impeachment: that he abused his power by withholding military aid, pressured Ukraine to investigate a political rival and obstructed Congress by refusing to cooperate with subpoenas for documents and testimony.

Nadler's decision to delay the vote until Friday angered many Republicans.

“The chairman just ambushed the entire committee. He did not have any consultation with the ranking members," said Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., the committee's top Republican. "I guess they didn't think enough today of spreading their very paper thin impeachment process for over 12 to 14 hours was enough.”

Republicans offered five amendments over the course of the day to rebut Democrats' case, and spent hours slamming Democrats' management of proceedings. They warned that Democrats risked an impeachment backlash in the upcoming presidential election.

"I think the American people, next November, will remember this Christmas present," Collins said.

Democrats accused Republicans of violating their oaths of office, and acting in political self-interest to defend Trump from their charges of abuse of power.

"This was personal," Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., said. "It was all for President Trump's personal political gain to benefit his own campaign and his reelection. He abused his power. He abused the power entrusted to him by we the people and he placed our safety, millions of dollars of taxpayer money on the table. That is an abuse of power. We must impeach Donald J. Trump."

"What exactly will history say about us?" Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., said.

Debate also became personal at points, with Republicans bringing up details of Hunter Biden's personal life and struggle with drugs, and Democrats raising one Republican's past DUI arrest and adult film star Stormy Daniels' alleged affair with the president.

The long day of impassioned constitutional arguments and political theater plowed along well into the evening despite predictions that it would end early Thursday afternoon. The markup turned into a game of chicken, with Democrats wary of ending debate and facing accusations of steamrolling the minority, and Republicans incensed by Democrats' suggestion that they wanted an early vote so they could attend the annual White House Christmas ball for lawmakers.

"I have not a new point or original thought from either side in three hours," Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif.

"Amen," Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., shouted out.

Once the committee votes, the House is expected to take up both impeachment articles as early as Wednesday, in what is expected to be a series of nearly party-line votes.

Here is how the hearing is unfolding:

7:20 p.m.

ABC News' Benjamin Siegel reports from the hearing room:

Democrats vote down the fourth amendment.

GOP Rep. Jim Jordan introduces another amendment - striking the last eight lines in both articles of impeachment, that describe Trump as unfit for office.

And so the hearing continues - more than 24 hours after Chairman Nadler first gaveled it in Wednesday evening, and after nearly ten hours in session today.

Republicans appeared to have made their peace with missing the White House Christmas party that began at 7 p.m.

Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the top Republican, was seen briefly sitting with his spouse in the hearing room.

(Spouses traditionally travel to Washington for the White House Christmas party.)

5:23 p.m.

Democrats have voted down the third Republican amendment.

Rep. Guy Reschenthaler, R-Penn., has introduced another amendment, the fourth of the day.

It would strike "all of Article II."

"The facts simply do not align," he said, in explaining the proposal to strike the obstruction charge, as some people in the hearing room groaned at the prospect of continued debate.

At points, debate has slowed down, with some members losing steam. But others are still in rare form: Just over an hour ago, Democratic Rep. Cedric Richmond of Louisiana, likened Republicans on the committee to Judas, and accused them of betraying their oaths of office as Judas betrayed Jesus Christ.

"Today, I'm reminded of Judas, because Judas for 30 pieces of silver betrayed Jesus. For 30 positive tweets, for easy re-election, the other side is willing to betray the American people their precious right to vote and the future of our great country," he said.


3:40 p.m.

The second GOP amendment that would have removed a reference to former Vice President Biden and inserted language about the Ukrainian Energy company Burisma and Hunter Biden fails on a party-line vote.

2:44 p.m.

Nadler responds strongly to Republicans arguing against the obstruction of justice article, saying "there are two basic protections we have for our democracy" -- the first being "free and fair elections."

"And the president in Article 1 is charged with trying to subvert the free and fair elections by extorting a foreign power into interfering in that election, to give him help in his campaign. We cannot tolerate a president subverting the fairness and integrity of our elections. The second major safeguard of our liberties designed by the framers of the Constitution, is the separation of powers.

"The second article of impeachment charges that the president sought and seeks to destroy the power of Congress," Nadler continues.

"Congress may be unpopular and maybe we should be re-elected or maybe we shouldn't be re-elected, that's a question for the voters. But the institutional power of Congress to safeguard our liberties by providing a check and a balance on the executive is crucial to the constitutional scheme to protect our liberties. Second to that is the ability to investigate the actions of the executive branch, to see what's going on, and to hold the executive, the president, or people working for him, accountable. The second article of impeachment says that the president sought to destroy that by categorically with holding all information from an impeachment inquiry. That is different from contesting some subpoenas on the basis of privilege, some may be contestable, some may not be." he says.

"Whether you think Congress is behaving well or badly, if you want a dictator, then you subvert the ability of Congress to hold the executive in check. What is central here is do we want a dictator, no matter how popular he may be, no matter how good or bad the results of his policies may be, no president is supposed to be a dictator in the United States. When I hear colleagues of mine arguing that Congress is unpopular and therefore obstruction of Congress is a good thing, this shows terrible ignorance or lack of care for our institutions, for our democracy, for our form of government, for our liberties. I, for one, will protect our liberties, will do everything I can to protect our liberties, our democracy, our free and fair elections, and the separation of powers that says Congress and the president and the judiciary check each other and nobody can be a dictator. I yield back," he says.

2:36 p.m.

Chairman Nadler gavels the hearing back into session.

12:59 p.m.

Nadler calls a recess so members can go vote.

It's expected that will take about an hour.

12:09 p.m.

Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz proposes an amendment that would remove a reference to former Vice President Joe Biden, a Democratic rival of the president in the 2020 election, and replace it with a reference to his son Hunter Biden and his work on the board of the Ukrainian energy company Burisma. The language of the amendment describes both the company and its decision to hire Hunter Biden as "corrupt."

The first article of impeachment accuses Trump of abuse of power for requests the Ukrainian government investigate Joe Biden and a discredited theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election despite unanimous findings from the intelligence community that Russia interfered in the election. It does not specifically mention Hunter Biden or Burisma.

Democrats have said allegations of wrongdoing against the Bidens are not credible and officials have said they found no wrongdoing by Hunter Biden, despite a possible appearance of a conflict of interest.

12 p.m.

GOP Rep. Jim Jordan's amendment to strike the abuse of power charge against Trump is defeated 23-17.

Before calling a vote on Jordan's proposed amendment, Chairman Jerry Nadler says: "The United States is a powerful nation on which his nation is dependent. He has a gun to his head. The gun is the fact that the president of the United States, upon whom he depends for military aid, for help in many different ways, has shown himself willing to withhold that aid and to do other things based on what he says, based on what he says, based on whether he's willing to play along with the president for his personal, political goals, so of course he denies he was pressured.

"If he didn't deny that, there might be heavy consequences to pay, and you cannot credit that denial without any aspersions on his character, but simply on the fact that the president of the United States holds a gun to his head," Nadler says.

11:35 a.m.

Ranking member Doug Collins argues Democrats keep saying Trump asked Ukraine's president to do "me a favor."

"Quit saying, 'I want you to do me a favor.' It's not in the transcript. It must be hard to read. I guess "me" and "us" gets confused when you're trying to make up facts. That's what's happening here."

"The moment I saw that they decided to use abuse of power, what they did is they gave their whole conference (all House Democrats) carte blanche to make up anything they want and call it abuse of power because they don't have anything else to give."

11:20 a.m.

After Democratic Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee and Veronica Escobar, both of Texas, each forget the word "us" when reading the transcript of the president's call, Trump responds with a tweet, repeating his claim that by "us" he meant the United States, not himself.

"Dems Veronica Escobar and Jackson Lee purposely misquoted my call. I said I want you to do us (our Country!) a favor, not me a favor. They know that but decided to LIE in order to make a fraudulent point! Very sad."

11:08 a.m.

Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., responds to the GOP defense that Trump never used the word "demand" in his July 25 phone call with the president of Ukraine, providing her own hypothetical for why, she says, that defense fails.

"When a robber points a gun at you to take your money, they usually don't walk up and say I'm robbing you right now," she says. "We can talk about alternative facts all day long but the facts are really pretty clear -- that the president abused his power, the precious power of his office to coerce a country that was dependent on us. A country who's fighting Russian aggression because when Ukraine fights Russian aggression, they're helping us fight Russian aggression. And he did it for personal gain. He should be held accountable," she argues.

10:22 a.m.

Republicans continue to argue that the articles don't accuse the president of committing any crimes and Democrats haven't proven that be broke the law.

They say the allegations of abuse of power and obstruction of justice don't meet the constitutional requirement of "high crimes and misdemeanors." Democrats argue the president doesn't have to commit a crime to abuse his office.

Republican Rep. Steve Chabot, argues that abuse of power wasn't one of the articles of impeachment against Presidents Bill Clinton or Richard Nixon.

"The facts speak for themselves. There was no impeachable offense here and that's why Article 1 of the impeachment ended up falling flat on its face and that it should be stricken," Republican Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner says.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., referring to his Democratic colleagues, says, "I hear them, you know, crying these alligator tears, clutching their pearls, over this notion that 'Trump didn't give this aid. We gotta go impeach him for it.' Where was all this concern when Obama was president?"

10:09 a.m.

After several Republican note that no specific crimes such as bribery are alleged in the articles, Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif, asks rhetorically: "There are no crimes here? That is the defense my colleagues across the aisle are putting forward?

"How about the highest crime that one who holds public office could commit, a crime against our Constitution. After all, the Constitution is the highest, most supreme law of the land. Every other law, statutory laws included, derive from the Constitution, not the other way around. The president committed the highest crime against the Constitution by abusing his office, cheating in an election, inviting foreign interference for a purely personal gain while jeopardizing our national security and the integrity of our elections," Swalwell says.

"Since my colleagues keep bringing up what potential crimes you could charge a president with, let's go through some of them because President Trump's conduct overlaps with criminal acts,"

Republicans criticized the impeachment articles, saying they don't accuse the president of committing any crimes and that Democrats haven't proven that be broke the law. They say the allegations of abuse of power and obstruction of justice don't meet the constitutional requirement of "high crimes and misdemeanors," though Democrats argue the president doesn't have to commit a crime to abuse his office.

9:46 a.m.

Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz, joins Collins' criticism of Nadler for refusing to hold a minority hearing day before the Judiciary Committee holds a vote Thursday evening.

"All we heard from was a bunch of liberal law professors that you called here that have a known record of disliking President Trump," she says.

9:30 a.m.


GOP Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio proposes an amendment to strike the first article that states the president abused his power in his actions toward Ukraine and asking for the investigation of his political rivals.

Jordan maintains that a "quid pro quo" never occurred.

"This strikes Article 1 because Article 1 ignores the truth. Four facts, five meetings. We've known there have been four facts that have not changed, will not change, will never change and we've known it since September 25th when the call transcript was released," Jordan says. "It shows no quid pro quo. What's interesting is the day the transcript came out, even chairman Nadler said there was no quid pro quo in the transcript."

"Article 1 in this resolution ignores the truth, the facts. It ignores what happened and what has been laid out for the American people over the last three weeks. So I hope that this committee will come to its senses, that it will adopt the amendment and strike article 1 from the resolution," Jordan says.

Democratic Rep, David Cicilline of Rhode Island responded by saying the evidence is "overwhelming" and clear that the quid pro quo happened, reading from previous witness testimony and texts exchanged between American diplomats.

9:03 a.m.

Within seconds of Chairman Jerry Nadler gaveling the hearing in, Ranking Member Doug Collins again calls for a "minority hearing" at which Republicans could present their own witnesses before the articles are debated.

ABC News' Katherine Faulders reports from the hearing room: Nadler ruled against Collins and after, Collins appealed the ruling and after a vote, his motion was tabled -- or set aside. Nadler has said a minority hearing could take place after today's hearing.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Joe Raedle/Getty Images(MANCHESTER, N.H.) -- Sen. Elizabeth Warren launched a handful of pointed critiques at her moderate Democratic primary opponents on Thursday, using an economic policy speech at Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire to pitch herself as the sole candidate in the race who will attack corruption head on and describing opponents former Vice President Joe Biden and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg as beholden to high-dollar donors.

"We're nearly a year into the Democratic primary and no other candidate has put out anything close to my sweeping plan to root out Washington corruption. Now, some candidates have at least put forward campaign finance reform plans, but if you want to know about a candidate's commitment to reform, don't just look at what they say they will do -- look at what they're doing right now," Warren said.

"Most candidates haven't disclosed the names of their bundlers or finance committees. They are spending time in fundraisers with high-dollar donors, selling access to their time for money. Some of them have spent months blocking reporters from entering those fancy, closed-door affairs. We know that one Democratic candidate walked into a room of wealthy donors this year to promise that 'nothing would fundamentally change' if he's elected president," Warren added, referring to both Buttigieg and Biden, respectively.

Warren's criticism comes on the heels of a weeks-long feud over transparency with Buttigieg, which led both candidates to release more information about their time working for big companies: Buttigieg for McKinsey and Co. and Warren as a bankruptcy lawyer for companies like Dow Chemical and Travelers Insurance.

Buttigieg has also recently decided to open his fundraisers to the press and pledged to release the names of his bundlers -- a political term for people who pull together fundraising money from different donors for the campaigns -- as well as who serves on his financial committee, all after calls last week from Warren to show "what promises he's making to rich folks and what he's saying that's different from what he says when he's out on the trail."

Buttigieg hasn't released a list of bundlers since April.

As for Biden, Warren's criticism referred to comments the front-runner made earlier this year to donors, expressing that he didn't think wealthy people should be demonized and assuring the room that "nothing would fundamentally change" if he was elected.

In her speech, Warren contrasted Biden and Buttigieg's high-dollar fundraisers with her own campaign, which she has pledged to run without doing any closed-door fundraisers.

"Look, I don't ask for a thousand dollar contribution in exchange for a picture. I'm closing in on 100,000 selfies for a grand total of zero dollars," Warren said. Warren, who promises voters at most town halls that she'll stay to take photos with whoever wants one, took her 90,000th photo at a rally in Chicago after Thanksgiving.

Though the Thursday speech was chock-full of wealth disparity statistics and the dozens of plans Warren has proposed to address economic issues facing families, most notable were the dozens of critiques she launched at her fellow Democratic candidates -- part of a growing trend for Warren, who largely refused to "bash" other Democrats in earlier stages of the primary.

Asked if the intent of her speech was to argue that she was the only Democrat in the race who could fix the problems facing America, Warren said, "pretty much."

"I mean, look we know how bad the problems are right now, no one is proposing the kinds of solutions that address those problems. We have a serious problem in America with corruption, with a Washington that keeps working better and better and better for those at the top and not much for anyone else," she told reporters after the speech. "But Americans know this all across the country and it means in a Democratic primary, that's a problem we should be wrestling with, it's one we should be attacking head on -- and it's just not happening."

While Warren never mentioned Biden or Buttigieg by name, she was clear in her words on Thursday, quoting Biden and listing specific examples from Buttigieg's campaign more than once.

"Now, unlike some candidates for the Democratic nomination, I am not counting on Republican politicians having an epiphany and suddenly supporting the kinds of tax increases on the rich or big business accountability that they've opposed under Democratic presidents for a generation," Warren said in the speech, drawing on comments Biden made in May about working across the aisle with Republicans.

"The thing that will fundamentally change things is with Donald Trump out of the White House. Not a joke," Biden told reporters at the time. "You will see an epiphany occur among many of my Republican friends."

Warren, on the other hand, has argued that Democrats will not win by campaigning on a return to the era before Trump, but rather that they should fight for "big, structural change."

"Unlike some candidates for the Democratic nomination, I'm not betting my agenda on the naive hope that if Democrats adopt Republican critiques of progressive policies or make vague calls for unity that somehow the wealthy and well-connected will stand down," Warren said in her speech Thursday.

Her comments about "progressive policies" and "Republican critiques" referred to criticism from both Biden and Buttigieg after she released details on her vision of Medicare for All plan back in November.

While Biden and Buttigieg, who support a public option for health care but do not support getting rid of private insurance companies, argued that the math behind her plan didn't add up and that Medicare for All would be too disruptive, Warren said their arguments against her plan were recycled talking points often heard on the Republican side.

In response to Warren's speech on Thursday, senior communications adviser for Buttigieg, Lis Smith, said Warren's "idea of how to defeat Donald Trump is to tell people who don't support her that they are unwelcome in the fight and that those who disagree with her belong in the other party."

"We need to move beyond the politics and divisiveness that is tearing this country apart and holding us back. Pete will be a President who will heal our divides and rally Americans around big ideas to solve the problems that have festered in Washington for too long," Smith said in a statement.

The Biden campaign declined to comment to ABC News, though the candidate did make an apparent reference to the Warren speech at a fundraiser late Thursday.

"I read a speech by one of my -- good person -- one of my opponents, saying that, 'You know, Biden says we’re going to have to work with Republicans to get stuff passed,’” Biden said to chuckles from the audience in Palo Alto, California. “I thought, ‘Well, OK -- how are you going to do it, by executive order?’”

The three Democrats will meet face-to-face on the debate stage next Thursday in Los Angeles for the sixth Democratic debate.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Roy Rochlin/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Before he was mayor of New York City, in the midst of his first foray into politics, Mike Bloomberg had a heart procedure -- a fact he immediately reported to the Federal Aviation Administration so he could keep flying airplanes.

On Thursday, Dr. Stephen D. Sisson of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine described the 77-year-old billionaire as "in outstanding health" and "great physical shape."

"He exercises several times a week and plays golf avidly," Dr. Sisson wrote. "There are no medical concerns, present or looming, that would prevent him from serving as President of the United States."

Bloomberg had two stents implanted in a blocked artery in 2000, according to Sisson's letter.

The letter released by Sisson in concert with Bloomberg's campaign details that since the stents were placed, he's endured normal cardiac stress testing. Bloomberg's latest annual examination was in July.

About 434,000 Americans receive stents every year, according to the American Heart Association. Stents hold open arteries to clear blockages or improve blood flow. It's the same procedure Bernie Sanders had in October.

In 2018, Bloomberg developed atrial fibrillation, for which he now takes a blood thinner. He also takes a beta-blocker and medication to help control his cholesterol.

Bloomberg also has had small skin cancers removed and is under treatment for arthritis and heartburn, both of which, Sisson said, are "well controlled."

According to Sisson's report, Bloomberg is 5 feet, 7 inches tall and weighs 165 pounds. His blood pressure was within an expected range for a man his age.

The doctor's letter also mentioned that Bloomberg has an active pilot's license. In 2000, immediately after receiving his stents, Bloomberg notified the FAA, according to the candidate's campaign.

Sisson's letter also mentioned Bloomberg is a non-smoker without a history of substance-use disorder, and that his dietary and exercise habits are excellent -- calling to mind several decisions he made as New York City mayor, such as cracking down on public smoking and the consumption of sugary drinks.

Ultimately, as the Democrat continues on a strenuous, uphill trail toward the White House, his doctor declared him to be in "outstanding health."
Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


iStock(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump's reelection campaign is planning a massive effort to court religious voters.

The president's team said that in the first quarter of 2020 it will launch three coalitions -- "Evangelicals for Trump," "Catholics for Trump" and "Jewish Voices for Trump" -- focused on expanding support for Trump within these communities.

The campaign hopes the coalitions will be swayed by the president's record of conservative judicial appointments, including two Supreme Court justices, and his pro-life record.

"The President draws tremendous support from all corners of the religious community and it's important to engage with them," Trump campaign director of coalitions Hannah Castillo told ABC News in a statement.

Christians and Catholics, especially among white voters, supported the president in big numbers in 2016, and the campaign hopes these new coalitions help repeat those results. About 8 in 10 self-identified white evangelical Christians said they voted for Trump in 2016, according to Pew Research Center.

But while white Catholics supported Trump over Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton by a 23-point margin, Hispanic Catholics backed Clinton by more than a 2-to-1 margin, 67% to 26%, according to Pew.

Trump often touts his record of pushing religious freedom at his campaign rallies, which routinely are kicked off with a prayer by a local pastor.

Trump's personal pastor, Paula White, a controversial figure within the evangelical Christian community, joined the White House in an official capacity in October.

At the United Nations in September, Trump said "protecting religious freedom is one of my highest priorities." However, advocates for persecuted religious minorities seeking refuge in the United States have criticized the president's policy of cutting refugee admissions to historically low levels, potentially harming Christians in Iran, Syria, Pakistan and Central and South America.

Trump on Wednesday signed an executive order aimed at combating anti-Semitism on college campuses, while the president himself has been criticized for using anti-Semitic language.

Throughout next year, the Trump campaign plans to unveil other coalitions leading up to election day. The campaign earlier this year rolled out voter outreach teams including "Latinos for Trump," "Women for Trump" and, most recently, "Black Voices for Trump," which Trump helped launch last month.

The campaign said it counts among supporters more than 30,000 "Women for Trump," 9,000 "Latinos for Trump" and 2,000 "Black Voices for Trump," plus about 800 "Workers for Trump."

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


iStock(WASHiNGTON) -- The House's moderate freshman Democrats, seen as some of the party's most politically vulnerable members, scored a legislative victory on health care Thursday, solidifying their argument that they can execute legislative priorities while also undercutting Republican claims that impeaching President Donald Trump thwarts progress for the country.

In between the hours of debate inside the House Judiciary Committee's markup of the impeachment articles, House Democrats passed a big-ticket piece of legislation, H.R. 3, aimed at reducing the price of prescription drugs. The vote, which was the culmination of a months-long effort to rally the caucus behind a single approach to lower drug prices, will do so by negotiating costs through Medicare and its vast bargaining power.

With centrist-minded Democrats wary of the political backlash of impeachment, the move bolsters their argument that they can still focus on and advance a comprehensive legislative agenda while simultaneously holding the president accountable for what they argue is an abuse of power. But the bill, not supported by Trump, is likely dead on arrival in the Senate.

The latest legislative accomplishment comes after a bruising few weeks for vulnerable Democrats, who have found themselves at the center of anti-impeachment attacks, including a $2.2 million anti-impeachment ad buy from the pro-Trump super PAC America First Action targeting 27 Democrats in districts Trump won in 2016.

Republicans are pouring millions into television and digital ads to capitalize on the Democrats' impeachment push. As ABC News has previously reported, the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee launched a $10 million anti-impeachment ad blitz in September, with $2 million from the RNC targeting more than 60 vulnerable House Democrats in Trump-won or key congressional districts. Last month, conservative nonprofit American Action Network also launched a $7 million TV and digital ad campaign opposing the impeachment, including $5 million in TV ads across 20 congressional districts.

The National Republican Campaign Committee, the House GOP's campaign arm, has also spent $90,000 so far on digital ads targeting Democrats for not "getting anything accomplished."

"Socialist Democrats' obsession with unilaterally removing Trump from office comes at the expense of getting anything accomplished for the American people and it will cost them their majority next November," National Republican Congressional Committee spokesperson Chris Pack said in a statement to ABC News.

But now national Democrats are closing ranks around their vulnerable members by highlighting their policy bonafides to run counter to Republicans' massive impeachment offensive.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is launching a new digital ad campaign, their opening salvo for 2020 backed by a mid-five figure buy, across the House battleground's swing districts.

"This targeted ad buy is a reminder that while House Democrats continue to put the priorities of the American people first, Washington Republicans once again showed they will always prioritize padding the pockets of their special interest backers over the people they were elected to represent," said DCCC Chairwoman Cheri Bustos.

The digital ads on Facebook will target voters across the congressional battlefield, which includes the DCCC's front-line members, the party's most vulnerable candidates up for reelection, and their top GOP targets. The ads, which underscore the efforts by House Democrats to continue to make health care a top election issue, will run in multiple languages, according to the committee.

The ad buy follows presidential contender and billionaire philanthropist Michael Bloomberg lending a sliver of his personal fortune to the arms race on the current congressional battlefield.

On Wednesday, a senior aide to Bloomberg confirmed he will donate $10 million to the House Majority PAC to help defend vulnerable House Democrats, as they face a slew of well-financed Republican attacks on their support of impeachment against Trump. The latest move continues his long history of deep-pocketed donations to buttress candidates. In the 2018 midterm elections, he spent upwards of $100 million on House Democrats, supporting their efforts to flip the chamber.

The legislation passed Thursday, named the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act in memory of the congressman who died earlier this year, is a key plank of Democrats' 2018 winning campaign platform, which helped them overtake the House majority.

Trump, who campaigned on making lowering drug costs a top priority, opposes the measure, which passed 230-192 in the House with unanimous support from Democrats. The bill is not expected to make it through the Senate. The White House Office of Management and Budget released a statement Tuesday night, saying, "If H.R. 3 were presented to the President in its current form, he would veto the bill."

Regardless of the GOP's lack of support for H.R. 3, Democrats are training their focus on the issues.

"Democrats are keeping our promises on health care," said Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez in a statement on the passage of H.R. 3. "We’re working to lower drug prices for middle-class families and passing historic investments in Medicare, while Trump’s agenda spikes costs, jeopardizes protections for people with pre-existing conditions, and slashes billions from Medicare and Medicaid. As Trump and Republicans break their promises at every turn, Democrats will keep working to improve the lives of everyday Americans."

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


iStock(WASHINGTON) -- Education Secretary Betsy DeVos faced intense scrutiny on Wednesday as she appeared before the House Education and Labor committee to defend her handling of a student debt relief policy.

The policy, called "Borrower’s Defense," is designed to offer debt relief to students who claim to have been defrauded by certain for-profit institutions.

DeVos argues that not all claims should be approved, stating in her written testimony that, "if claims are false, or students did not suffer financial harm, then hardworking taxpayers should not pay their student loans for them. It’s a matter of fairness."

Chairman Bobby Scott, D-Va., in his opening statement, said DeVos’ "refusal to process claims is inflicting serious harm on the students you have a duty serve."

"While the Department has been searching for a legal method of shortchanging defrauded borrowers, those defrauded borrowers have been left with mountains of debt, worthless degrees, and none of the job opportunities they were promised," Scott's opening statement said.

He added, "In many cases, they have been unable to go back to school, start a family, and move on with their lives."

Scott also accused the Education Department of "illegally" collecting on "45,000 borrowers who are waiting for you to take action on their claims."

"In some cases, these individuals had their wages and tax returns garnished by the very government that was supposed to be providing them relief," Scott said.

Republicans, however, defended DeVos and the department’s management of the claims.

"Claims that Secretary DeVos is unnecessarily or purposely delaying relief for these borrowers is false," Ranking member Virginia Foxx of North Carolina said in her opening statement.

"Secretary DeVos is putting reforms in place that will help defrauded students navigate the process of getting the loan relief they deserve," she said. "And Committee Republicans are supportive of these efforts. Defrauded students who have been financially harmed should get relief."

But the Republican defense didn’t stop Democrats from aggressively going after DeVos and her leadership at the department.

At one point during the hearing, Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson of Florida asked DeVos, "Why has every decision you’ve made harmed students instead of empowering them?"

Wilson said that although in the past she has often disagreed with her Republican counterparts over their approach to education, she has "never, not one time, believed they were out to destroy public education, until I met you," speaking to the secretary.

Wilson continued to condemn DeVos' leadership, "You are the most unpopular person in our government, millions will register to vote in 2020, many will vote to remove you, more than to remove the president."

Following Wilson’s remarks, Foxx said the claim that DeVos is trying to "destroy public education" was "going too far."

"That kind of comment cannot stand in this committee," Foxx said.

In her written testimony, DeVos said that she agreed that there is a backlog of claims at Federal Student Aid.

"To say that I am frustrated by that backlog is an understatement," she said in her written testimony. "But rather than focus on why there is a backlog, too many have instead focused on creating a media circus."

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


U.S. Department of Defense(WASHINGTON) -- A top defense official sexually harassed three female staffers before ultimately resigning from his post last April, according to a report from the Pentagon Inspector General's office released on Thursday.

The official, Guy Roberts, was the assistant secretary of defense for nuclear, chemical and biological defense programs -- as well as a former Marine Corps infantry officer, judge advocate and staff officer.

In the report, the Pentagon IG said it found that Roberts "engaged in a pattern of misconduct in which he sexually harassed women on his staff" to include "deliberate, unwelcomed physical contact of a sexual nature by hugging, kissing, or touching."

He also created a "hostile, intimidating, and offensive work environment for women" on his staff by making "deliberate, repeated, and public comments of a sexual nature to members of his staff in meetings and in a town hall forum," according to the report.

Roberts told the IG he disagreed with the report's conclusions and that it was not his intent to sexually harass the female employees, but he did acknowledge some jokes he made "were inappropriate." After taking into account his response to the report, the IG decided it would not alter its conclusions and said it stands by the findings.

The investigation into Roberts' conduct was opened after one of his female employees issued a complaint back in February. During conversations with some of the 18 witnesses interviewed throughout the investigation, the IG identified two other female employees who were also allegedly sexually harassed by Roberts.

The first employee said Roberts hugged and kissed her when they were alone, even whispering "I love you" in her ear and touching her thigh during a social event. That employee also said that Roberts invited her on dates for dinner and drinks, made comments to her about him living alone in an apartment without his wife -- which she perceived as an invitation to be alone together -- and expressed his desire to see her in a bikini.

The employee told the IG that she expressed to Roberts numerous times that she found the behavior inappropriate and told him to "stop."

The second and third employees alleged similar unwanted touching -- with the second employee saying Roberts routinely commented on her "looks."

Both employees told the IG that they did not report Roberts' behavior because of concerns that it could damage their reputation or negatively impact their careers.

“As a young female growing up in this business, you have to, whether right or wrong … be careful about what you say," the third employee said, according to the report.

Asked about the investigation's results during a Pentagon briefing on Thursday, chief spokesperson Jonathan Hoffman said he was not aware of the report.

According to his Defense Department biography, Roberts was the principal adviser to senior Pentagon leadership on matters concerning nuclear, chemical and biological defense programs, stepping into the role in November 2017.

When he abruptly resigned last April, a Pentagon spokesperson declined to provide an explanation for Roberts’s departure in a comment to Foreign Policy.

“The department’s commitment to modernizing the department’s nuclear force and closely cooperating with allies and partners remains unwavering, and will result in the increased defense of the nation,” said Lt. Col. Mike Andrews, a department spokesperson. “We appreciate [Roberts'] service to the department and wish him continued success.”

Because Roberts has already left his post, the IG said they would give the report to the office of the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, for inclusion in Roberts' personnel file.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


iStock(RALEIGH, N.C.) --  Several North Carolina Republicans in Congress are facing potential uphill battles to serve their current districts during the 2020 elections after a state court determined that old congressional maps were the result of partisan gerrymandering.

Such moves could further complicate broader Republican efforts to recapture the House amid a slate of GOP retirements. Republicans currently hold seats in 10 of the state’s 13 congressional districts. Under the new maps, it is expected that Democrats will pick up two seats, making the divide 8 to 5.

Races in North Carolina are on track to become some of the most expensive in the country in 2020. NextGen America, a group funded by Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer, announced in November plans to spend $4.5 million on voter engagement efforts in the state to elect Democrats in the Senate and other statewide offices.

According to ad-tracking firm Kantar/CMAG, the Senate race has seen nearly $13 million in TV ad buys with just under a year until the election.

The focus on North Carolina draws sharp into relief the changes taking place at the ground level in House districts.

Rep. George Holding found the state’s 2nd Congressional District altered into a likely Democratic stronghold and announced Friday that he will not seek reelection as a result.

"The newly redrawn Congressional Districts were part of the reason I have decided not to seek reelection," Holding said in a statement. "But, in addition, this is also a good time for me to step back and reflect on all that I have learned."

Holding isn't necessarily alone in considering his options. Holding and Rep. Mark Walker, of the state's 6th Congressional District, currently represent what will be Democratic districts.

Last week, Holding told reporters that he would choose not to run in a primary against another colleague to represent North Carolina in the House.

In the old may, the 2nd Congressional District included areas of Wake County where the population is predominantly white and also some neighboring Republican-leaning areas said J. Miles Coleman, the associate editor at Crystal Ball.

"But now, the new 2nd District, it's entirely Wake County, so it has more of the bluer parts of the Raleigh area," Coleman said.

Sabato’s Crystal Ball now rates the district as "Safe Democratic."

Democratic lawyer Deborah Ross has already announced she will run for the seat. Ross ran a close race against Sen. Richard Burr for Senate in 2016, with endorsements from a number of prominent Democratic organizations including EMILY’s List and the North Carolina AFL-CIO,. She ultimately lost.

In June, before any changes to the congressional maps had been made, Walker issued a statement saying he would not primary against incumbent Sen. Thom Tillis saying the support of "conservatives across North Carolina encouraging me to run for the Senate has been deeply humbling," he said. "I am confident that my continued service in the House will best help our efforts to reclaim the majority from Nancy Pelosi and advance our shared conservative goals."

However, months later, after the congressman's district was redrawn to include more Democratic-leaning enclaves such as larger, more liberal, nearby cities, like Winston-Salem, Walker expressed interest in a potential primary against Tillis or running for a congressional seat in 2022, according to a spokesperson for Walker. Crystal Ball rates Walker’s redrawn current seat as "Safe Democratic."

Political experts believe that North Carolina will gain a fourteenth House seat after the 2020 Census takes place.

"North Carolina definitely is going to gain a seat in the Census. I would be surprised if it isn’t another Democratic-leaning seat," Coleman said. "As you get more districts, it’s harder to gerrymander them, you have less room for creativity, basically."

Diane Parnell, the Rockingham County GOP chairwoman told reporters recently that she would like to see Walker run for Senate.

"He’s doing this not for himself, he’s doing this for us," she told WXII, a local news station.

Walker doesn’t have long to decide: The state’s filing deadline is Dec. 20

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