drnadig/iStockBy TRISH TURNER and ALLISON PECORIN, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) -- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made key progress Monday in locking down Republican support for a vote this year -- possibly even before Election Day -- to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Iowa Republican Sen. Charles Grassley, who Democrats had hoped might side with their objections, instead said he was good with moving forward on President Donald Trump's expected nomination.
"While there was ambiguity about the American people's will for the direction of the Supreme Court in 2016 under a divided government, there is no such ambiguity in 2020," Grassley said in a statement.
"So, make no mistake: if the shoe were on the other foot, Senate Democrats wouldn't hesitate to use their Constitutional authority and anything else at their disposal to fill this seat," he added.
Colorado Republican Sen. Cory Gardner, in a fierce reelection battle and another Democratic target, while refusing to answer reporters' questions Monday about where he stood, said in a statement it was up to the GOP-controlled Senate to decide.
"When a President exercises constitutional authority to nominate a judge for the Supreme Court vacancy, the Senate must decide how to best fulfill its constitutional duty of advice and consent," Gardner said.
Another GOP senator, Mitt Romney of Utah, has said he will not be announcing his position immediately as others have.
A spokeswoman for Romney told ABC News that the senator wants to consult with his GOP colleagues at a weekly lunch Tuesday before making any decisions.
Romney, the lone Republican to vote to convict Trump in the impeachment trial earlier this year, is one of few Republicans who could potentially scuttle the planned vote.
McConnell can afford to lose only three of his conference members and still keep a Trump nominee on track to a final confirmation vote. Currently, there are two -- Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine -- who say they do not back a confirmation vote before the election.
Trump has said he plans to name a nominee by week's end and wants to have his replacement confirmed by Nov. 3. But historically, Congress has taken far longer to complete the entire process, an average of 70 days, according to a Congressional Research Service report.
Other Republicans to watch include centrists such as Sens. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, though insiders say they would be surprised if the pair bucked their party leadership and Trump.
Over the weekend, institutionalists like Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Rob Portman, R-Ind., made it clear they are behind McConnell and Trump.
In a Senate floor speech Monday on the Supreme Court vacancy, McConnell -- who began with a tribute to the late Ginsburg -- said point blank what he had indicated in his paper statement over the weekend, "President Trump's nominee for this vacancy will receive a vote on the floor of the Senate."
He took aim at what he called "reckless" Democratic efforts to stop a vote.
"Now, already, some of the same individuals who tried every conceivable dirty trick to obstruct Justice (Neil) Gorsuch and Justice (Brett) Kavanaugh are lining up, lining up to declare the third time will be the charm," McConnell said.
Without committing to a vote before the election, McConnell made clear he thinks there's plenty of time to confirm a Trump nominee before year's end.
"We're already hearing incorrect claims that there is not sufficient time to examine and confirm a nominee," he said. "We can debunk this myth in about 30 seconds."
McConnell warned of the coming attacks by Democrats and their allies, saying, "Two years ago, a radical movement tried to use unproven accusations to ruin a man's life, because they could not win a vote fair and square. Now they appear to be readying an even more appalling sequel. This time, the target will not just be the innocence for one American, but our very governing institutions themselves."
Speaking after McConnell, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said much "hangs in the balance," ticking off a wide-ranging list of consequences for everything from health care to climate change.
"The right to join a union, marry who you love, freely exercise your right to vote, the right of a parent with a child who has cancer not to watch helpless as their son or daughter suffers without proper health care -- if you care about these things and the kind of country we live in -- this election and this vacancy mean everything and by all rights -- by every modicum of decency and honor -- Leader McConnell and the Republican senate majority have no right -- no right to fill it," Schumer said.
He laid into McConnell, Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham and other Republicans for reversing position on filling a court seat in an election year after not allowing a vote on President Barack Obama's nominee Merrick Garland in 2016.
"Why even bother constructing a pretense for your position? Why say it's this rule or that rule and then do the exact opposite when it suits your interests. Why not just come to the floor and say -- I'm going to do whatever's best for my political party -- consistency be damned, reason be damned, democracy be damned. Just admit it," said Schumer.
He warned that a handful of Republicans have it in their power to save the Senate, saying, "Tell me how -- tell me how this would not spell the end of this supposedly great body?"
"I don't see how. There's only one way -- one way for us to have some hope of coming together again, trusting each other again lowering the temperature – moving forward -- and that is for four brave Senate Republicans to commit to rejecting any nominee until the next president is installed. That was Justice Ginsburg's dying wish and it may be the Senate's only last hope," Schumer said.
Official White House Photo by D. Myles CullenBy WILL STEAKIN, TERRANCE SMITH and JUSTIN GOMEZ, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) -- With the vice presidential debate fast approaching, pro-Democrat Super PAC American Bridge 21st Century has released its entire opposition research book on Vice President Mike Pence for free online.
The group, which handed over similar extensive documents to the Hillary Clinton campaign for a price in 2016, told ABC News that instead of charging campaigns or allies for the opposition research book this cycle they're hoping it will be a bigger benefit to the public and allies to post a fully searchable version online as the campaign heads into its final stretch.
"American Bridge 21st Century has compiled the most extensive and exhaustive public file on the President and Vice President. We have weaved together narratives that paint Pence as a man unfit for power, and we believe the American people should know the truth," research director for the Trump War Room at American Bridge 21st Century Pat Dennis said in a statement.
Included in the opposition material is a damaging portrait of Pence as leader of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, specifically his optimistic outlooks, such as his prediction that the pandemic would be "behind us" by Memorial Day, and a Wall Street Journal op-ed proclaiming there is no "second wave," despite the reality of increasing cases across the country during that time.
The group, founded by controversial liberal political consultant David Brock, said in the document that the vice president is "a right-wing ideologue with a long history of trying to destroy programs important to middle-class Americans," and points to his record on health care, entitlement programs, like Social Security and Medicare, and voting against programs that aided American families with food insecurities.
In the wake of the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor by police and the racial reckoning unfolding in the United States, Pence's record on issues for the Black community is also laid out. They include his opposition to the 1992 Civil Rights Act, which Pence called "objectionable" and his repeated refusal to say "Black Lives Matter." Instead, Pence has said he believes that "all lives matter."
The research even includes Pence's run for a U.S. congressional seat in 1990, which was billed by an Indiana newspaper as "one of the most negative and unethical" campaigns in state history and led Pence to publish an essay a year later, "Confessions of a Negative Campaigner," in which he apologized and expressed regret for his tactics.
"Mike Pence likes to masquerade as an anti-establishment Republican but his decades of failed leadership, attacks on the middle class, and corruption expose him for the swamp monster he truly is," according to the document, which attempts to paint a contrast between Pence and President Donald Trump. The pro-Democratic Super PAC also says that Pence uses his leadership of the coronavirus task force to push a right-wing radical agenda.
When asked for comment, a Trump campaign official told ABC News that they have "roughly four times as many pages of opposition research on (former Vice President Joe) Biden and (Sen. Kamala) Harris combined between us and the RNC." The campaign suggested that even though American Bridge is posting its research online for everyone to see "doesn't mean it will move the needle or help anyone." The official also said the campaign used a document by the group this weekend to help build out Biden's past statements on vacant Supreme Court seats this weekend.
Last month the group posted its opposition research book on President Donald Trump online for the first time for free, posting over 1,000 pages of research on the president on a website previously reserved for internal use only.
Opposition research is typically highly guarded and released over time at critical points in an election to cause damage to a political opponent -- but dropping easily searchable information on candidates publicly has become more common in recent years as an effort to help political campaigns access them without violating campaign finance rules.
Some research can be used to point out an opponent's inconsistencies throughout their political career in an attempt to diminish their credibility among the general public.
In 2019, when asked by ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos at the White House during an ABC News exclusive interview whether his campaign would accept such information about a political opponent from foreigners -- such as China or Russia -- or hand it over the FBI, Trump said, "I think maybe you do both."
Trump called that information from foreign advisories "oppo research." Trump told Stephanopoulos that "I think I'd take it," and that it isn't interference in the United States political process.
The comment came on the heels of the investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 campaign and ahead of impeachment proceedings, when the president was accused of pressuring Ukraine to dig up damaging information on Biden.
"It's not an interference, they have information -- I think I'd take it," Trump said. "If I thought there was something wrong, I'd go maybe to the FBI -- if I thought there was something wrong. But when somebody comes up with oppo research, right, they come up with oppo research, 'oh let's call the FBI.' The FBI doesn't have enough agents to take care of it. When you go and talk, honestly, to congressman, they all do it, they always have, and that's the way it is. It's called oppo research."
(WASHINGTON) -- The tide is changing in Arizona. A state that used to be ruby red, once home to Barry Goldwater and Sen. John McCain, has now adopted a purple hue.
Democrats across the country are feeling the momentum from President Donald Trump's low marks on his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, and left-wing voters in Arizona are feeling optimistic ahead of Election Day.
There's a number of reasons for the shift in attitude in Arizona, experts say, but the vote will likely come down to Maricopa County -- home to Phoenix, Yuma and Scottsdale, among others -- and its diverse population.
"The Democratic Party in Arizona really benefits from all the migration to the state -- from the domestic migration to the international migration that's occurring," Samara Klar, an associate professor at the University of Arizona, who specializes in political identities, told ABC News.
Maricopa County makes up more than half of Arizona's population with its nearly 4.5 million residents. Trump won the county by just three points in 2016, but since then, the population has undergone massive changes.
In 2019, according to Pew Research Center, Maricopa County was home to the fourth largest growing Hispanic or Latino population in the entire country. Those who identify as Hispanic or Latino make up nearly 30% of the county's population, and the median age of Hispanics in the state is lower than it is in many states where the population supersedes one million Hispanic residents.
Polling shows Republican favorability slipping in The Grand Canyon State. This year, it has been one of the hardest hit by coronavirus, with nearly 5,500 deaths, and many criticize Republican Gov. Doug Ducey for reopening the state too soon.
Ducey's favorability is underwater, at 46%, and voters are completely split on whether or not they believe Ducey has done a good job handling the crisis, according to a Monmouth University poll released last week.
Pew also reports that the economic downturn stemming from the pandemic has hit Latinos and Hispanics especially hard, as the unemployment rate for Hispanics increased from 4.8% in February to 18.5% in April and dropped back to 14.5% in June.
Democrats are making their pitch to voters in Maricopa County, and across the state, to shore up support for Democratic nominee Joe Biden and former astronaut Mark Kelly, who is vying to unseat Ducey-appointed Republican Sen. Martha McSally in November.
Kelly consistently leads McSally in polling, and a majority of Arizona's likely voters in a New York Times/ Siena College poll released Friday said they would prefer to send a Democrat to the Senate.
Biden is consistently outpacing Trump in polls of the consequential battleground, and Trump's approval rating is in the mid-50% range as voters grapple with the political and economic ramifications of the pandemic.
Republicans remain in lockstep with the president
Despite the changing atmosphere in Arizona -- which could suggest Republicans may be losing support from moderates -- the Trump administration is sticking by the president's side to energize the base.
"The path that the party structure has chosen to take is to double down on red," Phoenix-based GOP strategist Chuck Coughlin said. "There isn't a messaging change. And I attribute that to the shadow of Trump."
That backing has some candidates in competitive races up against a wall, he said.
"Most presidential candidates permit their supporters to articulate differences, even minor differences, but any criticism of this president raises his ire and you become an enemy of the state," he said.
Though Republican candidates appear to be slipping on the surface, Republican voter registration is still outpacing that of Democrats.
Arizonans broke turnout records with 36% of registered voters casting a ballot. This year, 1.45 million voters returned a ballot in the primary, and the GOP and Democratic split was tight, with 52% of voters casting GOP ballots and 48% casting Democratic ballots.
Kelli Ward, the chairwoman of the Arizona GOP, said the party isn't taking their registered voter advantage for granted.
"Just this week we had the president, we had the vice president, we've got Karen Pence, the second lady," Ward said. "We saw Ivanka Trump here in Arizona over the last few days, and the president and this administration have done more for Arizona than any previous administration. We know that they care about our state and their visits just reinforced that."
Ward has used her position to amplify the president's message. She won her seat in 2019 after ousting establishment-backed Jonathan Lines, a Yuma businessman, who started his term as the chair in 2017.
She is boosting the campaigns of Republicans up and down the ballot, and is supporting at least two who have reposted or expressed interest online in the QAnon conspiracy theory.
Daniel Wood, who is running against 3rd Congressional District Democrat Rep. Ruben Grijalva, has posted tweets with QAnon's hashtags. In a Facebook post, he said he follows the group, "mainly for the reason that a very large majority of people who follow it want America free of corrupt politicians and believe in bringing power back to the people."
Their candidacies are highlighted on the Arizona GOP's website.
The FBI deems the group a domestic terror threat.
"I don't know anything about that," Ward said when asked of QAnon. "But I do know that as the chairwoman of the Republican Party of Arizona, I support Republicans who are running against Democrats who want to destroy our nation with the radical leftist policies."
Though those fringes don't represent the majority of the party, the Republicans across the state who elected Ward to her post tend to be some of the most engaged, according to Coughlin.
"The people who show up at Republican precinct committee meetings and Democratic precinct committee meetings are the activists, are the hardcore left and right of the party. And that's who elects Kelli Ward," Coughlin said. "They've progressively becoming more activist and populist."
Coughlin said McCain was the last major party representative to try to pull moderates into leadership positions in the party.
"McCain was the last statewide elected official that engaged in recruitment efforts to bring precinct committeemen who were more centrist back into the game," he said.
Dan Barker is a registered Republican who plans to cast his ballot for Joe Biden in November. The message of the party isn't one that resonates with him any longer, and he helped start a PAC called "Arizona Republicans Who Believe in Treating Others with Respect," which works to organize and recruit voters to cast their ballots for Biden, regardless of their party.
"Our message is that you've got to be inclusive, you've got to be able to reach out to have a unifying approach to governing our country," Barker said. "That is not the message of our current president."
Swing voters in the center demonstrate ideal expansion for both parties
In the 2018 Senate race, when Democratic Sen. Krysten Sinema beat Sen. McSally and Republican Gov. Ducey was reelected, there were nearly 200,000 voters who voted for Ducey and Sinema, splitting their ticket between the parties.
Those voters are ideal pickups for both Democrats and the GOP, and Democrats are honing their messaging to moderates in the fight for turning the state blue.
"Arizona has always had a bit of a maverick brand to it," Edder Diaz-Martinez, the communications director for the Maricopa Democratic Party, told ABC. "This is the type of state where we're not necessarily tied down to a political party. And that's also resonating with folks on the ground, and Latino communities."
Diaz-Martinez highlighted the recent political change in the state by recalling the actions of some of its prominent Republicans, including the late Sen. McCain's rocky relationship with the president and former Sen. Jeff Flake's recent endorsement of Biden.
The Democratic Party has taken a look at Arizona's affinity for moderate candidates, hoping to use that to their advantage this year in promoting Biden and Kelly.
"It's really more of the Democratic Party in Arizona that has, in recent years, been trying to portray a more moderate stance," Klar said. "Mark Kelly identifies as an independent, he's been an independent for years. So interestingly, I think it's the Democrats who are trying to put forth more of a centrist or moderate image."
Democrats in the state may be fighting tooth and nail to pull more voters to their side of the aisle if only for one election, but Republicans historically have the advantage in the state. Before Sinema's election, Arizona hadn't sent a Democrat to the Senate since the 1980s.
Despite that advantage, having Trump at the top of the ticket -- and some of the implications of tirelessly supporting him -- could ultimately hurt the party this election season, Klar said.
"It's a state where he's really lost a huge amount of support over time. So yes, there will be some Republicans in Arizona who are supporting Biden, just as we'll see across the country," she said.
"But more likely the risks of the Republican Party right now are Republicans who just don't feel enough enthusiasm to mail in their ballot to show up at the polls," she added. "They're just gonna sort of throw their hands up and give up on this election."
(WASHINGTON) -- In one of the most crucial battleground states in the country, Democrats have prevailed in a series of critical court fights aimed at increasing ballot access in population-rich Philadelphia.
Last week, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled on a series of measures that would effectively expand vote-by-mail opportunities. Ballots were given an extra three days after Election Day to arrive at election offices and still be counted. Officials are no longer allowed to immediately reject ballots if they think the signature does not match. And voters can now use drop boxes to return their ballots.
The rulings were among a series of successful court fights Democrats have had in dozens of states, which could potentially create a narrow but critical edge in the 2020 election.
Ed Rendell, the former governor of Pennsylvania and former chairman of the national Democratic Party, told ABC News the rulings were critical in their ability to expand voting access in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, and said they would have a positive effect for Democrats, who use mail-in-voting more than Republicans do. Rendell said the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision was backed up by "the facts and the law, and it was made with the idea to make it easier to vote."
"Shame on anybody who wants to keep a system in place that makes it harder for people to vote," Rendell said.
The fight in Pennsylvania is far from settled. A lawyer for the Trump campaign told ABC News they are prepared to appeal up to the U.S Supreme Court, if necessary.
The attacks on the vote-by-mail system and the changes to requirements and deadline can have a dizzying effect on voters who need or want to utilize the system this election season as the coronavirus pandemic continues, and could cause distrust in the system. According to a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll, 49% of registered voters see voting by mail as vulnerable to significant levels of fraud, even though there is no evidence to support it.
As tensions over mail-in-ballots rage and dozens of lawsuits from both parties over election laws make their way through courts across the country, the intense legal battle in Pennsylvania is seen as crucial to the election. A new FiveThirtyEight analysis ranked Pennsylvania as possibly "the single most important state of the presidential election" with a 31% chance of being the tipping point state that clinches a victory for either President Donald Trump or former Vice President Joe Biden.
The latest Monmouth Poll in Pennsylvania from Sept. 2 showed a tight race: Biden leads Trump by just 4 points in the state among all registered voters, a slim margin that narrows even more among likely voters to just 1 to 3 points, depending on turnout.
Democrats have seen successes in courtrooms elsewhere as well.
A Georgia court issued a ruling last month extending the deadline for ballots to arrive at polling locations by three days. In Mississippi, a judge ruled on Sept. 2 that voters with underlying medical conditions would be allowed to vote absentee, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, reversing a statewide restriction. In Harris County, Texas, a judge ruled officials can send all voters mail-in ballot applications, a move that Trump has repeatedly decried. In Michigan, a judge last week extended the deadline that mail-in ballots can arrive by to after the election.
And on Monday alone, Democrats notched two more wins: A judge in Nevada dismissed a Trump campaign lawsuit challenging the state's effort to send every voter an application for an absentee ballot, and a Wisconsin judge gave ballots almost an extra week to arrive as long as they are postmarked by Election Day.
And on Saturday, just one day after the Pennsylvania ruling, a South Carolina court struck down the state's witness requirement, which forces voters to have a separate witness sign their ballots. It was the party's "fifth victory for the week," according to Democratic Party attorney Marc Elias.
"After today's string of decisions, we are down to 31 pending lawsuits in 16 states--all of which need to be decided by November," Marc Elias, a Democratic lawyer, tweeted Friday after the Pennsylvania ruling. "It is going to be a very busy few weeks."
A Republican National Committee spokesperson pushed back on the idea that Democrats had been gaining an election edge through court actions, noting that numerous decisions had come from what they called "friendly" courts and betting on a win in an appeal.
"Many of their 'wins' have relied on half-hearted defenses from politically motivated state officials," the spokesperson said.
Matthew Morgan, Trump campaign general counsel, told ABC News that Republicans are also seeing decisions that they consider important to their efforts. Morgan pointed to a ruling in Pennsylvania last week in which the court blocked third-parties from delivering ballots on behalf of voters, or so called "ballot harvesting," an issue central to Republican's concerns over mail-in voting.
According to Democracy Docket, a platform that tracks election-related litigation around the country, election-related suits are still being litigated in critical battleground states including Florida, Michigan and Wisconsin.
The Republican Party is involved in about 40 election-related lawsuits around the nation, according to an RNC spokesperson, and has committed to spending $20 million on litigation efforts.
"Democrats are determined to remove every safeguard on absentee ballots that ensure the integrity of the process," Republican National Committee Spokesperson Mandi Merritt told ABC News in a statement, "and the RNC will continue to intervene to hold Democrats accountable."
Alex Conant, a political consultant and longtime Republican communications strategist who most recently worked on Marco Rubio's 2016 president campaign, said the outcome of these court battles could be critical.
"The rules are being written as we are holding the election," Conant said. "Depending on how you write the rules, it's going to advantage one party over the other ... If it's a close election like it was in 2016, a couple thousand votes makes a huge election."
Official White House Photo by Joyce N. BoghosianBy BEN GITTLESON, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump met Monday with Amy Coney Barrett, a conservative federal appeals court judge seen as the top contender to be his choice to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, ABC News has confirmed.
Trump said Monday that he will "probably" reveal his Supreme Court pick on Saturday -- out of deference to Ginsburg and memorial ceremonies this week in her honor.
"We'll make a decision, probably Saturday, but Friday or Saturday," Trump told reporters as he departed the White House Monday afternoon on his way to campaign in Ohio.
Earlier in the day, Trump told "Fox and Friends" in a long phone interview that he was inclined to wait to make his announcement until the country has had a chance to pay respects to the late justice.
“And we want to pay respect. It looks like we will have probably services on Thursday, or Friday, as I understand it, and I think in all due respect we should we wait until the services are over for Justice Ginsburg," he added.
The Supreme Court announced later Monday morning that the late justice will lie in repose in front of the court on Wednesday and Thursday and will lie in state at the U.S. Capitol on Friday. A private interment service will be held next week at Arlington National Cemetery.
Trump said he is choosing from among a list of five finalists, all of them women, but signaled there are a couple of front-runners.
“I have one or two that I think are -- they’re all outstanding but I have one or two that have in mind,” Trump said when asked if he’s leaning toward one of the candidates on his list.
Trump said he will meet in-person with at least some of those on his shortlist and that's he's already spoken with some of them in recent days.
Barrett is the lead contender on Trump's list of potential nominees to fill Ginsburg's seat, multiple sources familiar with the thinking of the president and his advisers told ABC News over the weekend.
Barrett was one of four finalists in Trump's search for Justice Anthony M. Kennedy's replacement in 2018.
She was confirmed in October 2017 to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago and is a former Notre Dame law professor who had clerked for the late Justice Antonin Scalia.
Trump said Monday he could meet with another of the leading candidates ABC News has reported, Barbara Lagoa, when he is in Florida later this week. Lagoa, a Cuban American, serves as a federal judge in Florida.
“I may. She’s highly thought of. And she’s got a lot of support," Trump said. "I don't know her, but I hear that she’s outstanding."
On Fox News Monday morning, Trump made note of the fact Lagoa hails from the must-win state of Florida in explaining how she made it onto his finalists list.
"Well, she's excellent. She's Hispanic. She's a terrific woman, from everything I know. I don't know her. Florida; we love Florida. So, she's got a lot of things. Very smart," Trump said of Lagoa,
Trump again expressed his wish for the Senate to vote on his nominee ahead of the Nov. 3 election.
Asked what his concern would be with a post-election vote, Trump said he had “no concern” but thinks it would be better for the country to have it decided.
“No concern, I just think it would be better. They asked would I rather have it -- I’d rather have it before the election. I think it would be better for our country. And we will pick somebody that is outstanding, very qualified. They are all qualified, but somebody that is outstanding. I’d rather see it all take place before the election, so before November third,” Trump said.
Official White House Photo by Andrea HanksBY: CONOR FINNEGAN, ABC NEWS
(NEW YORK — Amid a watchdog office's probe of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his wife for alleged "misuse of government resources," three sources familiar with the situation told ABC News those allegations also involve the department's chief of protocol and her office.
The little-known office is among the most important at the agency, managing diplomatic engagements like high-level visits, signing ceremonies and state dinners. But its chief, Cam Henderson, and her deputy, Mary-Kate Fisher, have been at the center of a probe by the department's Office of Inspector General into allegations that Henderson's predecessor harassed and intimidated staff.
ABC News obtained a copy of the OIG's draft report, which has not yet been published. It found the two Trump appointees failed to create a safe working environment for employees, including tolerating verbally and physically abusive behavior by the previous chief of protocol.
But while the OIG recommended appropriate action be taken, the State Department, along with Henderson and Fisher, forcefully rejected its findings and questioned the watchdog's integrity, according to the draft. Pompeo has similarly denied any misuse of government resources.
The draft report consists of two parts -- the OIG's findings, which were sent to Pompeo's deputy Stephen Biegun on May 6, and the department's emphatic denial, sent to the OIG on June 30.
It's unclear why a final OIG report hasn't been released since then. Steve Linick, the inspector general under whom the report was conducted, was fired in May by President Donald Trump at Pompeo's request. A spokesperson for the OIG did not respond to questions.
"The Department's leadership is extremely disappointed in the quality of work displayed in this memo from the IG's office," a State Department spokesperson told ABC News. "The Department has always had an appropriate and robust relationship with the IG's office, but we care about getting it right and in this case, the IG's office gravely and intentionally missed the mark. We expect future IG reports to be objective, comprehensive, professional, and appropriate. This memo from the IG's office does not meet any of those requirements."
While the department defends Henderson from the OIG's findings, she and her office are at the center of a separate OIG probe into the Pompeos' potential "misuse of government resources." The three sources allege her office has been used for running personal errands, like designing and sending the Pompeos' personal family Christmas card, as well as helping to arrange controversial dinners for elite guests using taxpayer funds.
Toni Porter, a top Pompeo aide, told congressional committees investigating Linick's firing that she has been interviewed by the OIG about the Pompeos, according to transcripts published by the House Foreign Affairs and Oversight Committees on Sept. 11. Porter said she at times took "direction" from Susan Pompeo and arranged personal dinner reservations or travel for the couple.
During testimony last Wednesday, Brian Bulatao, a longtime Pompeo confidante who serves as under secretary for management, defended the use of staff to run the Pompeos' personal errands -- and he specifically said that he did so for the Pompeos, because that is the implication -- even though federal regulations require that federal employees use their time for official duties and not request subordinates perform personal duties.
"What public employees choose to do on their own time, if it's not violating their work matters or any other guidelines we placed out, would be up to them," he told lawmakers about Porter's role.
But the sources told ABC News that the office of the chief of protocol repeatedly catered to the Pompeos. That includes helping design, facilitate the production of and handle the invoices for the Pompeos' personal Christmas cards, according to two of the sources.
Porter, who worked for Pompeo when he was in Congress and at the CIA, told lawmakers that she had no problem making arrangements like dinner reservations, but said she was "uncomfortable" with her role in the personal Christmas cards. McClatchy reported earlier this month that it had obtained emails showing Susan Pompeo asking Porter for help mailing the cards -- something a career official warned Porter against involving others in.
According to messages provided to ABC News, other officials beyond Porter were roped in, including the department calligrapher and other career staff in the chief of protocol office. The office allegedly even had to pause work on the department's official Christmas cards at Susan Pompeo's request to expedite the family's personal cards, according to the messages.
The office also helped arrange the "Madison dinners," a series of evenings at the department's storied reception rooms for elite guests, including Republican officials, CEOs and business leaders, and members of the media.
The department has defended the events as important "foreign policy-focused social gatherings ... in the finest tradition of diplomatic and American hospitality." But the taxpayer-funded dinners reportedly have few foreign dignitary guests, sparking concern among staff about their propriety and earning congressional scrutiny.
"These dinners are paid for by taxpayers, they pay for these dinners, and yet I wonder what taxpayers' benefit is from these dinners hosted for Mr. Pompeo and Mrs. Pompeo to make political contacts for their future," Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., told Bulatao Wednesday during the hearing -- alleging that the Pompeos are using the contacts for their "Rolodex, perhaps to use for a future political campaign for Mr. Pompeo."
Henderson has been key to arranging the dinners, including by working with Susan Pompeo on the guest lists and arranging invitations, menus and entry for the VIP guests, according to one source.
Amid the ongoing OIG probe of "misuse of government resources," Pompeo has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, telling Fox News last week that the Christmas cards and dinners are "lawful and appropriate."
"Everything we've done was for the betterment of the State Department," Pompeo said in the interview. "The fact that they're picking on my wife, who has done yeoman's work as a volunteer to try and make life better for every officer at the State Department, I find pathetic and sad.”
The draft OIG report, which was first reported by Politico and the Washington Post, found Henderson and Fisher "failed to report actions by the previous chief of protocol, Sean Lawler, that could be considered workplace violence."
Lawler resigned last summer after being placed on administrative leave over a department Office of Civil Rights investigation into his alleged harassment of staff, including claims of "threatening" behavior, cursing and "grossly unprofessional" comments, throwing papers and binders and cracking a horsewhip in the office, according to the OIG memo. Lawler called the allegations "ridiculously offensive and untrue" in an interview with the Washington Post.
Both the draft OIG findings and the department's response state that Henderson eventually removed the whip from Lawler's office, but the department insists that neither Henderson nor Fisher ever received complaints from staff that they found it threatening. The second source also said Lawler made racist comments about foreign dignitaries and, after Henderson took his horsewhip, brought a soccer ball into the office to kick at staffers' desks.
The OIG draft report included a lengthy denial from State Department counselor Ulrich Brechbuhl, Henderson and Fisher, who rejected nearly all the OIG's findings. In particular, while the OIG memo said Lawler's misconduct was "well-known," Henderson and Fisher denied hearing multiple concerns from staff and objected to casting some of his behavior as "threatening" or "violent."
Instead, Brechbuhl, Pompeo's former business partner and West Point classmate, said the OIG memo "shows a systematic pattern of selective inclusion and exclusion of facts, designed to create a pre-determined narrative."
He added the department considers the matters raised by the OIG memo to be resolved after Henderson and Fisher were counseled on proper leadership, with ethics and human resource training.
This is not the first time OIG guidance has been downplayed or ignored.
Assistant Secretary for International Organization Affairs Kevin Moley and senior adviser Mari Stull frequently berated staff and generally engaged in unprofessional behavior toward them, according to an August 2019 OIG report. The department provided counseling to Moley, who denied any wrongdoing, but never disciplined him, while Stull left the agency before the report was complete.
Brian Hook, who served as a senior adviser to Pompeo and special envoy for Iran, was found by the OIG last November to have retaliated against a career staffer for her "perceived political views" and "perceived national origin," violating department rules.
The department rejected the finding and declined to discipline Hook against the OIG's recommendation. Two other incidents of retaliation were deemed inconclusive after the department blocked the OIG from "essential information from key decision makers," it said, while clearing senior officials in two other cases.
(WASHINGTON) -- With just nine days remaining until current funding runs out, Congress on Monday moved a step closer to triggering another government shutdown after failing to strike a bipartisan deal on a stopgap funding bill to keep the government open.
After lengthy negotiations did not produce a bipartisan agreement with Republicans, House Democrats introduced their own proposal Monday afternoon funding government until Dec. 11, moving "full steam ahead" on a vote Tuesday, according to a senior Democratic aide.
The House will then send the political hot potato to the GOP-controlled Senate, although both chambers must ultimately pass identical legislation, which the president must also sign, in order to avert a government shutdown on Oct. 1.
Recognizing the lack of an agreement, a senior House Democratic aide warned that the bill "may get stuck in the Senate" after House passage, creating an impasse leading up to the deadline at the end of the month.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin struck an informal agreement early this month on a “clean” continuing resolution – essentially agreeing to keep a stalemate over another phase of COVID-19 relief out of the negotiations in order to keep government open.
Bipartisan, bicameral appropriators negotiated for weeks to agree to a series of anomalies – essentially short-term tweaks to current funding levels that address short-term need.
Two crucial points of contention remain: farm aid for the Commodity Credit Corporation -- a GOP priority -- and funding to replenish Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer, a temporary food benefit for families with children who would have received free or subsidized meals if schools were open.
House Democrats’ rough draft of a government funding bill shamefully leaves out key relief and support that American farmers need. This is no time to add insult to injury and defund help for farmers and rural America.
Another senior House Democratic aide contended that the CCC money “wasn’t help for farmers” but was “a bottomless, unaccountable political slush fund.”
“House Democrats already passed more than $30 billion in targeted and tailored emergency aid to farm country in response to the pandemic as part of the Heroes Act, including language to ensure greater transparency and accountability with the Administration’s use of the Commodity Credit Corporation, including decreasing the Secretary's ability to spend billions of taxpayer dollars without telling Congress,” the aide added.
Pelosi wants to take 30 Billion Dollars away from our great Farmers. Can’t let that happen!
The Heroes Act, a $3.4 trillion coronavirus relief bill, passed the House on May 15 but has failed to advance in the Senate.
Democratic leadership contends Trump is" openly using taxpayer dollars" in the CCC fund "explicitly political purposes," such as bailing out the oil industry, but a bipartisan delegation of lawmakers from Iowa encouraged Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to come together on the farm aid.
“In Iowa, our farmers have not only suffered lost markets and disrupted supply chains from the COVID-19 pandemic, but they have also been dealing with drought conditions and the destruction caused by the recent derecho which destroyed thousands of acres of crops and farmland," wrote Sen. Joni Ernst, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Subcommittee on Rural Development and Energy, along with Iowa Republicans Sen. Chuck Grassley, Rep. Steve King, and Democratic Reps. Cindy Axne, Abby Finkenauer and Dave Loebsack. "On top of all of this, farmers are planning to receive farm payments this fall and these resources cannot be taken away when they need it the most. Not providing additional funds to the CCC will delay their payments.”
"With schools across the country still closed because of restrictions associated with the pandemic, we can’t allow these vulnerable children to fall through the cracks," a senior House Republican aide argued in favor of extending the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer. "It is essential that we extend this temporary program through the end of the year, and meet our responsibility to feed children in need."
Pelosi emphasized that the Democratic continuing resolution released Monday would keep government open for now, but acknowledged that the broader goal is to create additional time to negotiate “bipartisan legislation to fund the government for this fiscal year.”
“We continue to believe that the Congress should complete its work by passing full appropriations bills by December, which the House has already done,” Pelosi, D-Calif., stated, adding that lawmakers must continue working towards an agreement for another phase of coronavirus relief package “that meets the health and economic needs of the American people.”
(WASHINGTON) -- While the nation lost a judicial icon with the passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg over the weekend, President Donald Trump won a monumental political opportunity in the form of a vacancy on the nation’s highest court with the potential to cement its conservative majority.
Coming just six weeks before Election Day, as the nation crept toward the devastating milestone of 200,000 lives lost and the president lagging in polls behind his Democratic opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, the vacancy has fundamentally altered the race.
The opening immediately provided Trump with a welcome diversion from what until now has been a race largely framed as a referendum on his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. It had the potential to fire up both Republicans and Democrats, though, and the true electoral impact remained to be seen.
Asked on Fox News Monday whether politics comes into play as he makes his decision, the president acknowledged that politics are an unavoidable element of the calculation.
"I try not to say so. I think probably automatically it is. Even if you're not wanting to do that it becomes a little automatic," the president said.
President Trump offered a nod to the fact that one of the candidates on his short-list, Barbara Lagoa, is from the must-win state of Florida.
"She’s an extraordinary person. I’ve heard incredible things about her. I don’t know her. She’s Hispanic and highly respected. Miami. Highly respected," Trump said of Logoa, a Cuban American federal judge from Florida.
A Fox anchor pointed out that Lago could help Trump politically in Florida, a battleground with a large Cuban American population.
"She’s a terrific woman, from everything I know,” the president said. “I don’t know her. Florida, we love Florida. So she’s got a lot of things – very smart."
Asked if politics would play a role in his selection, Trump replied: "I try not to say so. I think probably automatically it is, even if you’re not wanting to do that, it becomes a little automatic."
Even prior to Ginsburg’s death Friday, the president had sought to make the Supreme Court a central issue in his case for reelection, having previously used the tactic successfully in 2016 to bring along conservative voters who were otherwise disinclined to support his unorthodox candidacy.
Just nine days before Ginsburg’s passing, he had released an expanded list of conservative legal minds he vowed to choose from in the event of a future vacancy.
And even as he offered his condolences and words of admiration for the late justice, he lost no time in signaling his intentions to move forward with due haste to fill her seat, announcing on Saturday that he would nominate a woman to replace Ginsburg.
By Saturday night, the issue had already become a rallying cry for his base, with supporters at a Trump campaign rally in North Carolina chanting, “Fill that seat!” His campaign then emblazoned the phrase upon campaign memorabilia.
Earlier this year, Biden had pledged to nominate a Black woman to the court if he won the White House and said he was working on a list of prospective nominees. Biden has resisted pressure to release his list publicly, declining to do so before the election.
Trump's announcement that he would choose from among a list of women finalists came after the president and his allies pounded Biden earlier this year for vowing to make a female pick for vice president. "Some people would say that men are insulted by that," Trump said last month.
Supreme Court confirmation processes in the current political era have become extremely political affairs, and Trump himself had turned outwardly partisan within hours of Ginsburg's death.
At a campaign rally in North Carolina the evening after she passed away, the president led his supporters in what he called a "poll" of cheers about whether he should choose a man or a woman to replace the late justice. He rejoiced in their chants of, "Fill that seat!"
Earlier that day, his campaign had sent emails and text messages to supporters raising money off the court vacancy.
It remained to be seen which party would benefit more at the polls on Nov. 3.
Both Republicans and Democrats saw potential for the focus on the Supreme Court to energize their bases and turn out voters.
On Saturday, and again Monday morning, Trump said he wanted a confirmation vote by the election. But the timing was technically out of his hands, instead controlled by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell -- and several GOP senators who, together, could slow the process.
McConnell over the course of Trump's term has made confirming conservative federal judges a top priority, after years of slowing and blocking then-President Barack Obama's nominations. On the campaign trail, Trump frequently touts the relatively large number of the federal judges who have been confirmed during his tenure.
McConnell and the White House often work in lockstep, and on Sunday, the vice president's chief of staff, Marc Short, told CNN that the White House would "leave the timetable to Leader McConnell."
But in this nomination fight, two Republican senators, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, of Alaska, and Sen. Susan Collins, of Maine, have already bucked the Senate majority leader's goal of moving at a breakneck pace.
They have both said they do not want a confirmation vote before Nov. 3, and Collins said she thought whichever presidential candidate won should fill the seat.
Trump wasted no time taking public shots at them, tweeting about Murkowski and mentioning Collins at the North Carolina rally.
Meanwhile, Sen. Cory Gardner, who represents a more split electorate of Colorado and is up for election this year, has yet to express a position. On Monday, Trump publicly tried to sway him.
"I think it's going to help Cory Gardner," the president said during his interview with Fox News. "He's a great guy, by the way, and a-- very, very loyal to the party and loyal to his state."
Question marks also hovered above Sen. Mitt Romney, of Utah, and Sen. Chuck Grassley, of Iowa.
Romney has repeatedly demonstrated his independence from the president in the Senate and most notably, was the only Republican to vote to remove Trump from office earlier this year.
Grassley, who previously chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee, told reporters in July that if it were up to him, he would not hold a hearing on a vacancy in this election year because Republicans had used the same logic to block an Obama nominee in 2016.
Official White House Photo by Tia DufourBy ABC News
(NEW YORK) -- President Donald Trump on Monday gave himself an "A " grade on his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, saying he and his administration had done a "phenomenal job" even as the death toll neared 200,000 Americans.
At the same time, he gave himself a "D" on what he called "public relations."
“We’ve done a phenomenal job. Not just a good job. A phenomenal job. Other than public relations, but that's because I have fake news, you know, I can’t -- you can’t convince them of anything, they’re a fake. But we have done -- on public relations, I give myself a D," he said in a phone interview on "Fox and Friends."
"On the job itself, we take an A , with the ventilators and now with the vaccines that are years ahead of schedule," he added.
“We're rounding the corner -- with or without a vaccine -- they a hate it when I say that, but that's the way it is,” Trump said, as experts warn the outbreak could get worse over the winter. “We're rounding the corner on the pandemic,” he said.
Once again, he bucked all the experts by ambiguously promising “you’ll have” a vaccine "long before the end of the year, maybe, maybe by the end of October.”
In reality, the only thing public health officials and experts have said could possibly happen by the end of October -- under a best-case scenario -- would be one or more pharmaceutical companies obtaining enough data from ongoing vaccine trials for regulators at the Food and Drug Administration to evaluate whether the vaccine was safe and effective. If they approve its use, only then could a vaccine start to be rolled out to Americans on a limited basis.
Trump said three companies were “doing really well.” Asked which company was the closest, he said “Pfizer’s doing really well” and that Johnson & Johnson was “doing well” but “that’ll probably be a little later.” He also characterized said “Moderna’s doing very well" and noted the United States' involvement with British pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca's vaccine development.
Biden and other Democrats have accused Trump of putting political pressure on the vaccine approval process in order to be able to cite progress on a vaccine before the November election. In recent days, Trump has claimed to have forced the FDA to work faster.
“One of the reasons we're doing well is because what we did with the FDA," Trump said Monday. "Normally, if this were Obama and Biden, they wouldn't have this vaccine for another two and a half years because they wouldn't have been able to get through the process of the FDA." He provided no evidence for his claims.
"Total safety, by the way," he added. "Total safety. It's number one. But if this were up to them, if they had it instead of us -- what I did with the FDA was very good, and we speeded the process up to a point where we're going to have them in a matter of weeks. They wouldn't of had it for two and a half years."
Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post via Getty ImagesBy DEVIN DWYER and MARIAM KHAN, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) -- The Supreme Court, in an apparently unprecedented move, announced on Monday that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will lie in repose in front of the court on Wednesday and Thursday to allow public viewing.
In a statement, the court said her casket will arrive in front of the court just before 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday to be followed by a private ceremony in the the Great Hall "attended by Justice Ginsburg’s family, close friends, and members of the Court."
"Following the private ceremony inside, Justice Ginsburg will lie in repose under the Portico at the top of the front steps of the Building to allow for public viewing outdoors," the statement said.
Former law clerks to Justice Ginsburg will serve as honorary pallbearers and will line the front steps as the casket arrives and Supreme Court police officers will serve as pallbearers, the court said.
The Justices will remain inside the Great Hall where the casket will be placed on the Lincoln Catafalque, which has been loaned to the Court by the U.S. Congress for the ceremony. A 2016 portrait of Justice Ginsburg by Constance P. Beaty will be on display in the Great Hall, it said.
"The public is invited to pay respects in front of the Building from approximately 11 a.m. until 10 p.m. on Wednesday, September 23, and from 9 a.m. until 10 p.m. on Thursday, September 24," the statement said.
There has been an outpouring of public support for Ginsburg outside the court since her death Friday night, with an impromptu memorial of flowers and messages written in chalk and on stones left on the court plaza.
Further guidance regarding the public viewing will be available on the homepage of the Court’s website, the statement said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also announced that Justice Ginsburg will lie in state in Statuary Hall in the United States Capitol on Friday.
A formal ceremony will be held Friday morning, her statement said, but noted that because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ceremony will be open to invited guests only.
A private interment service will be held next week at Arlington National Cemetery.
Official White House Photo by Shealah CraigheadBy ALEXANDER MALLIN, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) -- Attorney General William Barr has singled out New York City, Portland and Seattle as jurisdictions that he determined permit “violence and destruction of property" and should lose federal funding as a result, the Justice Department said Monday.
“We cannot allow federal tax dollars to be wasted when the safety of the citizenry hangs in the balance,” Barr said in a statement Monday announcing the targeted cities. “It is my hope that the cities identified by the Department of Justice today will reverse course and become serious about performing the basic function of government and start protecting their own citizens.”
Barr's announcement follows up on a legally dubious memorandum issued by President Trump earlier this month, in which he demanded Barr and the Office of Management and Budget to identify cities and states whose leaders "7have contributed to the violence and destruction in their jurisdictions by failing to enforce the law, disempowering and significantly defunding their police departments, and refusing to accept offers of Federal law enforcement assistance."
Democrats described president's announcement as nakedly political and local leaders threatened to immediately sue the administration should it look to move forward with stripping federal funds.
The Justice Department is already engaged in court battles regarding the Trump administration's ongoing effort to cut federal funding from so-called 'sanctuary cities' that have refused to share information with federal immigration authorities.
While the three cities identified by Barr indeed experienced a range of violence, rioting and looting in the months following George Floyd's death at the hands of Minneapolis police in May, the unrest has largely abated in recent weeks even as Trump has increasingly sought to highlight images of violence and burning buildings to bolster his presidential campaign.
Barr has similarly made the issue one of his top priorities, leveling fiery attacks against local officials in the three cities while threatening direct intervention in cases where federal property or officials are endangered.
Last week, the Justice Department confirmed that officials researched the possibility of bringing criminal or civil rights charges against Portland city officials related to their response to growing unrest in the city throughout the summer.
The department has also encouraged U.S. attorneys around the country to consider charging rioters who carry out attacks against federal officials or property with sedition -- attempted violent overthrow of the U.S. government.
In a memo last week, Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen said the rarely-used seditious conspiracy statute should be considered in instances, for instance, "where a group has conspired to take a federal courthouse or other federal property by force."
Dimitrios Kambouris/WireImage for Glamour MagazineBy NICOLE PELLETIERE, ABC News
(NEW YORK) -- Ruth Bader Ginsburg's longtime friend, NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg, is speaking out on Ginsburg's life and legacy.
The Supreme Court justice died Friday at the age of 87 due to complications of metastatic pancreatic cancer. Totenberg met Ginsburg 50 years ago when she first started covering the court.
"I was reading a brief about sex discrimination, I didn't understand it," Totenberg said live Monday on Good Morning America. "I picked up the phone and called her and I got an hourlong lecture on the 14th amendment equal protection guarantee. I was like a stuffed goose afterwards."
She went on, "And then the next time we met was in person and we were at some conference . . . it was very boring and so, well, we did what lots of other women do. We went shopping."
Ginsburg died surrounded by her family at her home in Washington, D.C. She survived four battles with cancer over her Supreme Court career, never having to recuse herself from casework because of illness. In Dec. 2018, she was absent from oral arguments for the first time in 26 years after undergoing lung cancer surgery, though she participated in the cases remotely. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she joined oral arguments by phone from a Maryland hospital where she was being treated for a gallbladder infection.
In 2000, Ginsburg officiated at Totenberg's wedding, but it almost didn't happen when she was hospitalized the night before for a blockage caused by the radiation and chemo she had had, Totenberg said.
"She said that it was my election eve and she was not about to let me be worried and like thousands of other people who have had this experience, she showed up the next day to perform the wedding ceremony -- never told me that anything had happened until after the ceremony, after the dinner," Totenberg recalled.
Ginsburg was one of nine women in a class of 500 students at Harvard Law School in 1956 and became the first female member of the Harvard Law Review. She later transferred to Columbia University Law School, following her husband, Marty, who had landed a job in Manhattan.
When she graduated top of her class in 1959 without a single job offer from a New York law firm, she accepted a clerkship with a federal judge in Manhattan. Ginsburg then pursued the law through academia, first as a researcher at Columbia and later joining the faculty of Rutgers University in New Jersey, where she became one of the first women to teach at any American law school. In the 1970s, Ginsburg began taking up sex discrimination cases with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and co-founded its Women's Rights Project. She argued six cases before the Supreme Court and won five of them.
In the latter part of her career, Ginsburg also became a pop culture icon. Her life was the subject of the Hollywood biopic, On the Basis of Sex and the 2018 Oscar-nominated documentary RBG. Ginsburg was considered a pioneer for sex equality and was affectionately dubbed "The Notorious RBG." Her image is seen on T-shirts, coffee mugs and tattoos, and she was often portrayed on Saturday Night Live.
"I've been thinking a lot about why she became such a cultural icon in her 80s in all different forms," Totenberg said. "She was such a stand-up person, but she wasn't just a stand-up version for individuals who were her friends, or who she knew about."
"She was a stand-up person for everyone -- for women, for minorities, for gays. That was her biggest role, in some ways on the court was that she was a stand-up person for America and for Americans as individuals."
(WASHINGTON) -- Former Vice President Joe Biden is taking aim at Georgia in new ads targeting the African American community.
The Democratic nominee for president is targeting what his campaign calls 12 "critical states," which include Georgia, for a multi-million dollar digital and broadcast advertising push. The campaign says this week's ad buy will mark the second straight week that they plan on spending over $65 million in an effort to court voters nationally.
Peach State voters will hear new radio ads from former Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and Michael L. Thurmond, chief executive officer of DeKalb County, Georgia.
On Monday, the Biden campaign will unveil a new digital and broadcast ad called "Shop Talk: Criminal Justice Reform." The ad, which is set in a barbershop, features Black men talking about the criminal justice system and how it impacts them, their communities and their families. The ads are inspired by the Biden campaign's weekly "Shop Talk" roundtable series, in which Black men participate in discussions about the challenges and issues impacting Black men in America.
In last week's roundtable, several Biden campaign surrogates talked about the importance of voting. Rapper Jeezy told the all-Black male panel that he voted because African-American men didn't always have the right to vote.
"I vote because we didn't have a voice, we didn't have to have an opinion," he said. "We just kind of had to go along with what was going on."
He added that when it comes to issues facing the Black community, such as prison reform and unemployment, voting "gave me that much power; whether the person I voted for won or not, [it] gave me a voice."
According to Pew Research, only 54% of eligible Black men voted in 2016 compared to 64% of eligible white men.
Abrams told ABC News that outreach is critical to reaching Black men.
"I chafe at the notion that Black men aren't doing their part, which is often the subtext," Abrams said. "That's not true. But we can all do better and campaigns have to do a better job of reaching out and engaging communities, particularly Black men. These are voters who care about the future of our country."
Abrams added that candidates need to see Black men as "not only viable voters, but as valuable voters." She said she feels that the Biden campaign has focused its outreach into communities that are often overlooked.
Abrams narrowly lost her gubernatorial bid in 2018 to Republican Brian Kemp, who was then Georgia's Secretary of State. The close race raised multiple allegations of voter suppression, which included allegations of aggressive purging of voter rolls and denying the registration of new voters, as well as long waits at polling places and malfunctioning voting machines. Kemp has vehemently denied doing anything improper.
Following the loss, Abrams focused on her organization, Fair Fight 2020, which works to promote voters' rights and fair election policies ahead of the 2020 election.
Abrams told ABC News that when it comes to the issue of voting rights, she's motivated "because voting is power."
"In a democratic society the ability to select our leaders, and to demand the policies that make our lives more, is grounded in the right to vote," she said.
She added that she grew up in a family that was "deeply embedded in the civil rights movement," and that she began working for the rights of others to be able to vote during her first voter registration drive when she was only 17 years old at Spelman College.
Nearly three decades later, Abrams, who was the first Black woman to be a major-party gubernatorial nominee in the United States, is trying to help put the Peach State up for grabs.
"Georgia has been on the cusp of joining swing states for years, but it was always a question of investment," she said, noting that in the 2016 election, with minimal investment compared to states like Florida and Arizona, Hillary Clinton lost the state by less than 5% of the vote.
Two years later, Abrams came within 1.4% percent of winning. She says that since her bid, 750,000 people have been added to the voter rolls who were not previously registered.
This year is already shaping up to look a lot different than 2016, and Abrams says she isn't the only person who's noticed Georgia's evolving status.
"Donald Trump has been on the air here since June -- you don't spend money in a state that you think you've already won," Abrams said.
Georgia Deputy Secretary of State Jordan Fuchs told ABC News that, as of last Thursday, 1.1 million Georgia voters have requested absentee ballots for the general election. Of those, 54% are white voters and 30% are Black. Additionally, 25% of those who applied for absentee ballots in Georgia this election did not vote in the 2016 election.
In its effort to win the state, the Biden campaign will also air two previously released ads , including "He Knew," which is focused on President Donald Trump telling journalist Bob Woodward that when it comes to the coronavirus he "wanted to always play it down," according to audio aired on CNN, which obtained the recording of the interview.
In addition, the campaign will air "We're Listening," an ad in which Biden declares "now is the time for racial justice." The ad initially hit airways just hours before Biden traveled to Kenosha, Wisconsin, and spoke to the family of Jacob Blake.
If Biden wins Georgia in November, he will become the first Democratic presidential candidate to win the state since former President Bill Clinton in 1992.
(WASHINGTON) -- For years in abortion reporting, the refrain was the same: no, Roe v Wade is not going to be overturned, but access to abortion will continue to be stripped away through narrower laws.
That changed Friday night with the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Facing the express possibility that President Donald Trump, who has said he would appoint justices to overturn the landmark case that made abortion a protected right across the United States, will be able to make another appointment to the Supreme Court, suddenly it became a reality that Roe itself could be written off the books.
"I was certainly one who would talk to folks like yourself and say, 'There's too much emphasis being placed on whether Roe is overturned because they can, you know, make abortion as good as illegal for millions of people without overturning Roe,'" Jennifer Dalven, director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, told ABC News. "And that remains true today, but now, I think, with the potential of somebody else, a new justice, and President Trump having appointed three justices on the Supreme Court, it makes it so that Roe is in even further jeopardy -- the right to have an abortion at all."
Support for the right to abortion at the Supreme Court already was limited. After Justice Anthony Kennedy's 2018 retirement, Chief Justice John Roberts stepped in as a sort of swing voter, as he did this year in June Medical v. Russo, an abortion case out of Louisiana about hospital admitting privileges that mimicked the Texas law struck down in 2016's Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, for which he sided with the liberal-leaning justices, albeit with a cautionary written opinion.
Now without Ginsburg, the fate of abortion rights in America comes down to the highly politicized drama of the next Supreme Court appointment. Trump's appointments so far -- Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch -- sided with the conservatives against the abortion providers in June Medical, with Gorsuch's opinion positioning abortion as a potentially unsafe procedure (statistically, it's safer than a colonoscopy) and Kavanaugh's advocating for more fact-finding in that case. In their respective confirmation hearings, both men noted that Roe was a settled precedent, but many abortion advocates were not sufficiently convinced that meant they would not want to revisit, let alone reinforce, it.
Either Trump gets a third lifetime appointment or Democrats and some Republicans stifle the nomination process, Joe Biden wins the election, and he gets to appoint Ginsburg's replacement.
"Look, we all know that President Trump has vowed only to put justices on the Supreme Court who would overturn Roe v. Wade and allow the states to ban abortion outright," Dalven said. "So, who gets to select the next justice will determine the future of Roe v. Wade. It's that simple."
Should Trump get the appointment, Kimberly Mutcherson, co-dean and law professor at Rutgers Law School, told ABC News: "We could actually at that point see Roe overturned because when Ginsburg's vote turns into a 'Roe was wrongly decided' vote, then that becomes 5-4 ... because then it won't really matter that Roberts is siding with the liberals."
"In the long-term," said David O'Steen, executive director of the National Right to Life Committee, "I think [Roe] will be seen as wrongly decided, and that will come when there's a majority on the court that will actually interpret the Constitution according to the actual words written in the Constitution."
He added, "I would fully expect that the president will nominate someone that he believes will adhere to the text of the Constitution."
Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have indicated they will be pushing forward a nomination before the election. According to sources, the front-runner is conservative U.S. Circuit Judge Amy Coney Barrett.
Should Roe be overturned, the right to abortion would fall to states, and many states have prepared for that possibility. Governors have signed "trigger" laws on both sides that would either immediately protect the right or say it's not a right in that state. According to the Center for Reproductive Right's "What if Roe Fell?" project, abortion would remain legal in 21 states and would likely be prohibited in 24 states and three territories.
In order to overturn Roe, the court would need to hear an abortion case, which they could turn to make about Roe itself. Court-watchers have been following a case brought by Whole Woman's Health, the plaintiff in the landmark 2016 abortion case, challenging a ban on the dilation and evacuation (D&E) method of abortion. That case was heard in the 5th Circuit and is awaiting a decision. Another potential case in the pipeline, out of Ohio, challenges a ban on abortions sought on the basis of a Down syndrome diagnosis.
Overturning a nearly 50-year-old precedent, though, would be a major move that would likely draw questions about if the court had been politicized, especially since Trump has been vocal about wanting to strike down Roe, so the justices would need to present a strong case -- which court-watchers largely believe Roberts is keenly aware of. Overturning Roe would also mean addressing its subsequent Supreme Court decisions, primarily 1992's Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 2016's Whole Woman's Health and possibly even the early 2000s' Carhart cases, in which the court ruled against abortion providers on later-term abortions.
But even without deciding to overturn Roe, the Supreme Court -- with a Trump or Biden appointee -- could continue to chip away at access to abortion. For example, the court could uphold the D&E ban, which would be a de facto ban on second-trimester abortions, as it's the safest and most common procedure at that stage. Then, the court could uphold restrictions on telemedicine, cutting off access to abortion for patients in rural areas who rely on telemedicine to access medication abortion. The court could follow the Ohio case and chip away at access based on the reasoning for seeking an abortion.
And more, anti-abortion legislators could follow a framework Roberts indicated in his June Medical opinion to undo protections set in 2016, pointed out Amy Hagstrom Miller, president and CEO of Whole Woman's Health. To her, until an appointment is made, the situation is not much different now than it was on Friday afternoon.
"It kind of remains to be seen what would happen with this appointment and who gets to pick who the next justice is," she said. "Already President Trump has completely shaped the Federal Court, Circuit Court. It's completely different than it was four years ago. And the path to the Supreme Court is already changed."
Regardless of what happens, many in the reproductive rights space say they are feeling a poignant loss in Ginsburg's voice, which continually put women at the forefront.
"She was so adept at weaving the abortion piece of it into the larger narrative about women's equality and women's autonomy and our right to make decisions about our lives writ large," Hagstrom Miller said.
"Any replacement of Justice Ginsburg needs to be someone who understands the jurisprudence of women's rights and understands the necessity for following precedent and fair treatment under the law," Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, told ABC News. "And that means that it's really imperative that there not be a rushed process and a political process to try to push this to happen before the inauguration of the president and the new Congress in January."
"We were put in this position of power and importance to make decisions for the people who so proudly elected us, the most important of which has long been considered to be the selection of United States Supreme Court Justices," Trump tweeted Saturday morning. "We have this obligation, without delay!"
More so than about abortion specifically, Mutcherson said a rushed nomination vote before the election would represent "a sort of constitutional crisis" where "there's no respect for our constitutional order, and that's a really scary moment to be in."
"And I wonder," she added, "if there are enough Republicans out there, or moderate Republicans out there, who would say, 'No matter how important it is to me to see Roe v. Wade fall, it's more important to me that we show respect for our system.'"
ABC NewsBy JOHN VERHOVEK and SOO RIN KIM, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) -- Former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic National Committee, and affiliated joint fundraising committees entered the month of September with $466 million cash on hand, a massive stockpile that will aid the Democratic nominee's effort to unseat President Donald Trump in November, a Biden campaign official confirmed to ABC News on Sunday evening.
That sum is over $140 million more than Trump, the Republican National Committee and affiliated joint fundraising committees have on hand, which at the beginning of September was $325 million, according to Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh.
"45 days out, @TeamTrump is in strong position. Combined w/ @GOP we'll show $325M cash on hand, @realDonaldTrump energetically campaigning, huge volunteer army has made 102M voter contacts & we'll have 2X or 3X the cash as in 2016. Enthusiasm is with Trump. Biden excites no one," Murtaugh tweeted on Friday.
The rapid closing of the money gap between the two campaigns has been remarkable in recent months, considering the substantial war chest with which Trump started this cycle.
Biden's massive coffers going into September were due in part to a record-shattering August that saw the joint Democratic effort raise over $365 million. Trump and the GOP brought in $210 million in August.
Trump’s reelection campaign, the RNC, and their two joint fundraising vehicles have touted a prolific fundraising prowess throughout the 2020 election cycle, together amassing a whopping $1.3 billion just from January 2019 through the end of August this year. They have already surpassed the $1 billion goal they had set for the election cycle.
And back in April, the Biden campaign and the DNC were more than $180 million behind the president's reelection campaign and the RNC in cash on hand.
Much of that fundraising advantage has disappeared in recent months, however, as Team Trump burned through more than $800 million of that through the end of July and Biden repeatedly outraised the president over the summer, including by more than $150 million during the month of August.
Going into the month of August, the Biden campaign and the DNC were only $6 million behind the Trump campaign and the RNC in cash on hand, according to campaign announcements and disclosure filings submitted to the Federal Election Commission.