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Politics

More than a year after George Floyd's killing, Congress can't agree on police reform

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(WASHINGTON) -- Talks of bipartisan police reform legislation in Congress are officially over as Republicans and Democrats can't agree on key issues.

Democrats, after more than a year of negotiations, made a final offer, but despite "significant strides," said Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., there weren't any more concessions to be made.

"I just want to make it clear that this is not an end -- the efforts to create substantive policing reform will continue," Booker told reporters at the Capitol.

"It is a disappointment that we are at this moment," Booker continued, adding that having participation from nation's largest police union and the International Association of Chiefs of Police shows that "this is a bigger movement than where we were just a year or two ago."

Lead Republican negotiator Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., said he's concerned about high crime rates in some cities.

"When you're talking about making progress in the bill, and your definition of progress is to make it punitive -- or take more money away from officers if they don't do what you want them to do -- that's defunding the police," Scott told ABC News. "I'm not going to be a part of defunding the police."

More than a year after the start of a racial reckoning in the United States, the movement to address brutality and racism in policing continues to dominate political discourse.

George Floyd's death prompts reform

The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act was introduced in June 2020, very soon after Floyd, a Black man, was killed by then-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin during an arrest. Floyd was accused of using a fake $20 bill at a local store.

Chauvin pinned Floyd on the ground, with his knee on the back of Floyd's neck and upper back until he went unconscious. Videos taken by bystanders sparked a national movement against police brutality and racism, and legislators, including Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, sought to answer calls for justice and end the current system of policing.

The Justice in Policing Act aimed to establish a national standard for policing practices, collect better data on police use of force and misconduct, ban the use of tactics such as no-knock warrants, and limit qualified immunity, which protects officers against private civil lawsuits.

It passed the House in March on a party-line vote, but the Republican-majority Senate didn't move it forward. The legislation was reintroduced in 2021.

Senate Republicans also proposed a reform bill in June 2020, but Democrats blocked it, saying it didn't do enough.

The Justice Act proposed using federal dollars to incentivize police departments to ban controversial practices, like the chokehold that killed Floyd, make lynching a federal hate crime, increase training and enforce the use of body cameras. The effectiveness of no-knock warrants also was to be studied.

Democrats and Republicans agree on 'framework'

In summer 2021, both sides settled on a shared "framework" from which to pursue legislation.

"After months of working in good faith, we have reached an agreement on a framework addressing the major issues for bipartisan police reform," Scott, Booker and Bass said in a joint statement. "There is still more work to be done on the final bill, and nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to. Over the next few weeks we look forward to continuing our work toward getting a finalized proposal across the finish line."

Many Republicans said they believed the proposed legislation put law enforcement under attack, while most Democrats held firm in holding accountable officers accused of abusing suspects.

Qualified immunity

Both sides still agreed to pursue change, but qualified immunity quickly became a sticking point for Republicans, and it ultimately led to the legislation's demise.

Qualified immunity protects officers in cases where they've been individually accused of violating a person's civil rights.

Some congressional Republicans said they feared a rise in frivolous lawsuits if qualified immunity were to be eradicated, but officers still would've had the same constitutional protections, and civil cases still would've been reviewed by courts before moving forward.

Sources told ABC News that Scott would get on board with a proposal if police unions could agree on a plan, but they've been very reluctant to do so.

Two police unions, the Fraternal Order of Police and the International Association of Chiefs of Police, were involved in negotiations with legislators. Though they came close to an agreement with Booker, other police unions such as the National Association of Police Organization, spoke out against Booker's proposals because they weren't included in earlier discussions.

Now, it's back to square one. Booker said he and Congressional Democrats will find other pathways to achieving extensive police reform , but those pathways likely won't include Republican colleagues.

Vice President Kamala Harris, who was in the Senate at the start of these negotiations, denounced Republican efforts to quash reform.

"We learned that Senate Republicans chose to reject even the most modest reforms. Their refusal to act is unconscionable," Harris said in a statement. "Millions of people marched in the streets to see reform and accountability, not further inaction. Moving forward, we are committed to exploring every available action at the executive level to advance the cause of justice in our nation."

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said President Joe Biden was disappointed.

"In the coming weeks," she said, "our team will consult with members of Congress, the law enforcement, civil rights communities and victims families to discuss a path forward, including potential executive actions the president can take to ensure we live up to the American ideal of equality and justice under law."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Florida lawmaker introduces abortion bill similar to Texas' controversial ban

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(FLORIDA) -- A state legislator in Florida has introduced an abortion restriction bill similar to a controversial law that took effect in Texas earlier this month.

The new bill, HB 167, introduced Wednesday in the Florida House of Representatives by Rep. Webster Barnaby, would ban most abortions in the state and would allow people to file civil lawsuits against doctors who violate the law.

Specifically, HB 167 would require physicians to test for a "fetal heartbeat" on a pregnant person seeking an abortion.

Under the proposed legislation, a physician may not perform an abortion if there is a "detectable fetal heartbeat."

The bill also puts the enforcement of the law on private citizens, versus the state, in allowing people to bring lawsuits against physicians. It calls for damages of at least $10,000 per abortion for the physician who performs the procedure and any defendants that “aided or abetted” the procedure.

People would have up to six years after an illegal abortion is performed to file a lawsuit.

The Texas law, Senate Bill 8, bans nearly all abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, specifically once the rhythmic contracting of fetal cardiac tissue can be detected.

Similar to the newly introduced bill in Florida, the Texas law is unusual in that it prohibits the state from enforcing the ban but allows anyone to sue a person they believe is providing an abortion or assisting someone in getting an abortion after six weeks.

People who successfully sue an abortion provider under this law could be awarded at least $10,000.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed the so-called "heartbeat ban" on May 19 and it went into effect on Sept. 1.

Like the Texas law, the Florida legislation does not include exceptions for pregnancies that occur from rape or incest, but makes an exception if a physician believes a "medical emergency" exists.

The bill's language about "fetal heartbeat" is controversial because many medical experts say that early-stage cardiac activity isn't a heartbeat.

Cardiac activity is typically first detected five to six weeks into pregnancy, or three to four weeks after the embryo starts developing.

Most of the abortions performed nationwide are after six weeks of pregnancy.

When a person is six weeks pregnant, it typically means the embryo started developing about four weeks prior, based on the formula doctors use to figure out when a person will give birth. People don't often realize they are pregnant until after the six-week mark.

The U.S. Supreme Court voted 5-4 on Sept. 1 to allow SB8 to take effect on procedural grounds, despite what the majority acknowledged as "serious questions" about constitutionality. The justices did not address those questions.

Texas is one of 13 states that have passed laws banning abortion in the first trimester of pregnancy; legal challenges have so far prevented all from taking effect.

Since Texas's abortion ban went into effect, lawmakers in 11 states, including Florida, have announced intentions or plans to model legislation after the state's law, according to NARAL Pro-Choice America.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' office said the new proposed abortion legislation in his state will be reviewed, according to The Associated Press.

“Governor DeSantis is pro-life. The Governor’s office is aware that the bill was filed today and like all legislation, we will be monitoring it as it moves through the legislative process in the coming months,” DeSantis spokesperson Taryn Fenske said in an email to the AP.

Democratic leaders in Florida have vowed to fight the legislation.

"This bill is dangerous, radical, and unconstitutional. The hypocrisy of this attempt by Governor (Ron) DeSantis and Republicans in the state legislature to take away our rights while at the same time preaching ’my body, my choice' when it comes to wearing masks is absolutely disgusting," Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, also a Democratic candidate for governor, said in a statement, according to the AP.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Schumer, Pelosi announce 'framework' to pay for $3.5T infrastructure bill

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(WASHINGTON) -- Democratic House and Senate leaders on Thursday announced they and the White House have reached agreement on a "framework" that will pay for most, if not all, of the massive $3.5 trillion human infrastructure bill -- a move meant to mitigate concerns from moderate and centrist Democrats opposed to the hefty price tag.

But the leaders provided very little details on the framework a day after President Joe Biden met with Democratic leaders, moderates and progressives at the White House in an effort to save his agenda from Democratic infighting.House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also did not provide a clear outline about when the reconciliation bill will be ready for a vote.

She also did not commit to putting the bipartisan infrastructure bill on the floor for a vote next Monday, which she had promised moderates would happen.

Pelosi was joined by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen at her weekly press conference, as Democrats also face a looming possible government shutdown on Oct. 1 and still need to deal with the debt ceiling, which Republicans will not support.

"The White House, the House and the Senate have reached agreement on a framework that will pay for any final negotiated agreement. So, the revenue side of this, we have an agreement on," Schumer told reporters.

"We know that we can cover the provisions the president has put forward," Pelosi added. "It's all good."

This announcement is meant to provide some relief to those moderate, centrist Democrats like Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, who do not support that $3.5 trillion number.

But Pelosi and Schumer provided very little on actual details. As of right now, leaders are no closer to having a reconciliation bill -- which means the fate of the bipartisan infrastructure bill hangs in the balance.

"We came to terms as to a framework of an array of agreements that we have, depending on what the need is. Now at the same time, we're finalizing on the outlay side, so if we need more, we need less -- that will impact the choices we make there," Pelosi said.

Pelosi also did not commit to putting the bipartisan infrastructure bill that has already passed in the Senate on the floor next week.

"We take it one day at time," Pelosi told reporters. "I am confident that we will pass both bills."

Pelosi also did not make clear if $3.5 trillion will remain the topline, or if that figure could change and drop lower.

"This is not about price tag. This is about what is in the bill," Pelosi said.

Following the press conference, reporters caught up with Pelosi and pressed for more details on the framework.

When reporters suggested they had too few details, Pelosi responded, "well that's your problem, not mine."

Following the press conference, many senators close to the negotiation table say they are in the dark about the new framework agreement.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders said he has "no idea" what the agreement is. He told reporters he hopes to be briefed on it soon "if there is a framework."

"We've been through this a million times. There are many many approaches as to how you can raise money in a fair and progressive way and raise at least 3.5 trillion dollars," Sanders said. "If that's what the menu is there is nothing then nothing particularly new I think."

Sen. Mark Warner, a moderate Democrat on the Budget committee who has been intimately involved in negotiations with the president on the reconciliation plan told reporters he has not the "foggiest idea" what is in the framework.

Warner told reporters he was "as interested in getting those details as you are."

Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said he was in meetings over the framework, but declined to give many details about what was discussed or decided upon.

"It went right to the heart of what we need in terms of tax fairness in America and that's where we are this morning," Wyden said while dodging questions about a topline or any agreed to "payfors."

Senators said they expected to receive more information from leadership Thursday on what the framework is.

Democratic leaders also have to contend with a potential shutdown on Oct. 1, but Pelosi insisted a shutdown would be avoided.

Pelosi told reporters Republicans could cave on raising the debt ceiling because "public sentiment is everything."

But she indicated that both chambers will do everything they can to keep the government open via a so-called "continuing resolution" that maintains current funding levels, which may mean they will have to deal with the debt ceiling at a later time.

"We will keep the government open by September 30 ... and continue the conversation about the debt ceiling. Whatever it is, we will have a CR that passes both houses by September 30," Pelosi said.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


US special envoy to Haiti resigns in protest over deportations

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(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. special envoy for Haiti, Daniel Foote, has resigned in protest over the Biden administration deportations of Haitians from the southern border, calling them "inhumane."

"Ambassador Daniel Foote, who had been serving as Special Envoy for Haiti since July 22, 2021, submitted his resignation to Secretary Blinken yesterday. We thank Ambassador Foote for his service in this role," a State Department spokesman told ABC News on Thursday.

In his resignation letter Foote protested the Biden administration's decision to deport Haitian migrants gathered in Del Rio, Texas.

"I will not be associated with the United States inhumane, counterproductive decision to deport thousands of Haitian refugees and illegal immigrants to Haiti, a country where American officials are confined to secure compounds because of the danger posed by armed gangs in control of daily life," Foote wrote in the blistering letter obtained by ABC News. "Our policy approach to Haiti remains deeply flawed, and my recommendations have been ignored and dismissed, when not edited to project a narrative different from my own.”

Ned Price, the State Department's top spokesman, pushed back strongly on claims Foote made in his resignation letter.

"For him to say his proposals were ignored is simply false," Price said in a statement. "There have been multiple senior-level policy conversations on Haiti, where all proposals, including those led by Special Envoy Foote, were fully considered in a rigorous and transparent policy process. Some of those proposals were determined to be harmful to our commitment to the promotion of democracy in Haiti and were rejected during the policy process."

"It is unfortunate that, instead of participating in a solutions-oriented policy process, Special Envoy Foote has both resigned and mischaracterized the circumstances of his resignation," Price said.

"No ideas are ignored, but not all ideas are good ideas," he added. "This is a challenging moment that requires leadership. He failed to take advantage of ample opportunity to raise concerns about migration during his tenure and chose to resign instead."

After thousands of Haitians and other migrants took shelter in an encampment under a bridge in the south Texas town of Del Rio, the Biden administration has been removing many back to Haiti and Mexico.

The migrant surge comes after Haiti experienced a tumultuous summer.

In July, Haiti's president was assassinated, leaving the country politically unstable. A month later, the country was rocked by a devastating earthquake that left thousands dead. And the countries streets are still run by gangs, leaving much of the population vulnerable to daily violence.

As many as 12,000 Haitians and other migrants took shelter in an encampment under a bridge in the border town , the Biden administration has been removing many back to Haiti and Mexico.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Democrats lash out at Biden administration over handling of Haitian migrants

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(WASHINGTON) -- Even as the Biden administration makes progress toward dispersing the large group of mostly Haitian nationals gathered in Del Rio, Texas, government officials are facing internal divisions over how the migrants have been treated.

"As we speak out against the cruel, the inhumane, and the flat out racist treatment of our Haitian brothers and sisters at the southern border we cannot and we must not look away in this moment," Democratic Rep. Ayanna Pressley said Wednesday.

Joined by a growing chorus of Democratic leaders in Congress, Pressley was referring to the striking images of Border Patrol agents on horseback confronting migrants and snapping their reins aggressively.

Some Democrats are also calling on the Biden administration to immediately stop repatriating the Haitians back to their island nation, citing concerns about safety. As of Wednesday afternoon, officials report there were just over 5,547 migrants left in the encampment under an international bridge in the South Texas town of Del Rio, as the Biden administration scrambles to track, process and remove the group that at one point ballooned to more than 14,000 people.

"Despite the Administration’s rapid deployment of personnel and resources in response to this crisis, much of the strategy to address the care of these vulnerable individuals is deeply concerning," Democratic Reps. Bennie Thompson and Gregory W. Meeks said in a joint statement on Wednesday. "Specifically, we urge the Administration to halt repatriations to Haiti until the country recovers from these devastating crises."

The Department of Homeland Security has a limited number of options after agents encounter unauthorized migrants in the border region. Some are referred to ICE custody for detention or deportation while many are released to U.S. resettlement organizations and given a future date to report or appear in court.

DHS extended temporary protections for Haitian nationals over the summer. But it only moved the deadline to apply to July 29. That means those who have arrived more recently do not qualify for the Temporary Protected Status designation even if they fled Haiti before the deadline, and thay are subject to removal under what's called Title 42.

"We have looked at the country conditions and made a determination that in fact we can return individuals who've arrived," Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said.

DHS provided a statement to ABC News Wednesday evening saying removal flights from Texas to Haiti will continue, noting that more than 1,000 migrants have already been flown back.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the government has rapidly expelled hundreds of thousands of migrants from the U.S. under a decades-old part of the public health code known as Title 42. These expulsions have gravely concerned immigrant advocates who say the process cuts off access to the humanitarian protections some migrants are due.

Immigration officials have cited the protocols as a necessary tool in managing the migration challenges, but resources on the border have remained strained and agents have been pushed to their limits in an attempt to manage the influx in Del Rio.

At the same time, images of the tactics used by Border Patrol agents on horseback have stirred outrage from Democrats, with some drawing connections to extremist views.

"Congress must do the work of investigating and ensuring accountability of the egregious and white supremacist behavior of border patrol agents in Del Rio Texas," Pressley said at the Wednesday press conference.

Mayorkas addressed the images of the horse mounted patrol at the beginning of Wednesday’s House Homeland Security Committee hearing and reiterated that the agents in question won't be interacting with migrants while the agency investigates.

"The facts will drive the actions that we take," Mayorkas said. "We ourselves will pull no punches, and we need to conduct this investigation thoroughly, but very quickly."

He said he expects the investigation to wrap up "in days and not weeks."

Mayorkas was pressed again Wednesday about providing data that explains what has happened to migrants after they've been arrested or detained by border officials. When asked repeatedly by Republican Rep. Carlos Gimenez of Florida, he declined to provide specifics or estimations, citing concerns over accuracy.

"Congressman, I want to be precise in my communication of data to the United States Congress and to you specifically having posed the question," Mayorkas said.

White House Press Secretary Jenn Psaki was also questioned Wednesday on the lack of information coming out of DHS about where the Haitian nationals are ending up, including how many have been released into the U.S.

"I certainly understand why you're asking and understand why people have been asking Secretary Mayorkas," Psaki said. "Those are numbers that are -- the secretary -- the Department of Homeland Security would have the most up-to-date numbers."

"But why is it so hard to keep track of a simple number like that?" asked ABC News White House Correspondent Cecilia Vega. "Why can't you give it? Why can't he give it? It’s been two days now he's been asked that."

"I'm certain they will provide it. It's an absolutely fair question to ask, and I'm certain he just wanted to have the most up-to-date numbers to provide," Psaki responded.

Vice President Kamala Harris spoke to Mayorkas on Tuesday, expressing her concerns about the treatment of migrants at the hands of agents for Border Patrol, a subdivision of the Department of Homeland Security.

Mayorkas promised her an update on the investigation into the incident involving Border Patrol agents on horseback and said the department is taking its obligations to provide humanitarian support seriously, according to a readout of the conversation from the vice president's office.

ABC News’ Kenneth Moton, Luke Barr, Sarah Kolinovsky contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


House committee probing Jan. 6 attack could subpoena Trump aides: Sources

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(WASHINGTON) -- The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol could issue its first subpoenas in the coming days, possibly targeting several former high-level aides to President Donald Trump for records and information, sources tell ABC News.

Former GOP congressman and Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows and White House aides Dan Scavino and Stephen Miller are among those of interest to the committee, sources familiar with the matter have told ABC News.

Trump's former campaign manager Brad Parscale, who, like the other aides, remains close to the former president, could also be subpoenaed by the panel, sources said.

Sources also said that John Eastman, a lawyer who worked with Trump's legal team last year, could also be subpoenaed for records and testimony by the committee.

Eastman was the author of a controversial memo obtained by Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Robert Costa that encouraged Vice President Mike Pence to overturn the election results on Jan. 6 to keep Trump in office by rejecting the electors in nearly a dozen states.

A spokesperson for the committee declined to comment when reached by ABC News.

Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., told reporters on Monday that the first subpoenas could be issued "within a week."

Lawmakers were briefed on the status of the probe by committee staff for more than five hours Monday night in the Capitol, meeting in person for the first time in weeks to walk through the complex inquiry via PowerPoint slides.

Thompson said the committee has scheduled testimony with persons of interest, but would not say who those people are and whether they have officially accepted the invitations from the committee.

Committee investigators are in the process of reviewing thousands of pages of documents obtained in response to requests issued in recent weeks to federal government agencies and 35 social media and communications companies.

The panel has also requested documents from the National Archives, which maintains and preserves White House records. National Archives officials said they're in the process of reviewing the request and have yet to turn over any documents to the committee for their review.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Biden tries to salvage agenda threatened by Democratic infighting

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(WASHINGTON) -- President Joe Biden on Wednesday worked to salvage his sweeping legislative agenda as Democratic infighting imperiled his ambitious goals on infrastructure, climate change, and Americans' relationship with government into peril.

The president planned to host a series of Democratic congressional leaders and factions at the White House, with the goal of pushing two pieces of legislation to the finish line: the bipartisan $1.2 trillion physical infrastructure bill that already passed the Senate but faces challenges in the House, and a potentially much larger bill with hundreds of billions of dollars for "human infrastructure" -- funding for child care, eldercare, universal preschool, free community college, combating climate change, and a host of other Democratic priorities.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters late Tuesday that she intends to put the bipartisan infrastructure bill on the floor next week -- as early as Monday -- for consideration, but it’s unclear if and when the lower chamber will vote on the bill.

Pelosi and Democratic leadership have urged their entire caucus to support the bill, despite the fact that the $3.5 trillion bill is still weeks away from completion and progressives have said they won’t support the bipartisan bill unless the larger social bill is passed. Historically, Pelosi is loath to put a bill on the floor that will fail, so leadership must decide soon how they intend to play this.

Congressional Progressive Caucus chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., who met with Pelosi on Tuesday for 90 minutes in her office and is expected to meet with Biden later Wednesday -- told ABC News that more than half of her caucus, which stands at nearly 100 members, is ready to tank the bipartisan infrastructure bill if the larger progressive bill isn’t ready by next week.

Meanwhile, moderate Democrats in both houses of Congress oppose some specific items in the larger bill -- which Biden calls his "Build Back Better agenda" -- as well as its overall price tag. They've threatened to tank that bill if significant changes aren't made to it -- changes the progressives adamantly oppose.

“Our belief is that it's not, it's not a random number, it's about what we are putting into the bill and what we're willing to take out. So if there are people who say they want a smaller bill, are they going to take out childcare or are they going to take out housing or are they going to take out climate change efforts? What is it that we're going to take out? For us, it's never been a $3.5 trillion bill. It’s a $0 bill, because there was plenty of money to pay for the entire thing,” Jayapal told ABC News.

With his agenda at risk, Biden hosted Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer Wednesday afternoon, followed by Democratic moderates from both chambers -- including Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who have expressed opposition to the larger spending bill. Later in the afternoon, he planned to meet with Jayapal and other progressives from both the House and Senate, including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the White House said.

Returning from the White House later Wednesday, Pelosi told reporters that Democrats' plan to hold the physical infrastructure bill vote early next week was still “on schedule.”

“We are calm and everybody’s good and our work is almost done,” she said, when asked about the larger bill.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki told ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Cecilia Vega that it was not a make-or-break moment for Biden's spending proposals.

"I would never describe it that way," Psaki said Wednesday. "But I would say, look, this is an important moment where we're in the pivotal period of our negotiations and discussions."

Psaki said Biden was holding three separate meetings -- rather than one -- because "this is a messy sausage-making process." She said he "sees his role as uniting and as working to bring together people."

"The president's bringing people of a range of viewpoints on big, important packages that are going to make their lives better here to the White House to have a discussion about it," she said. "He's rolling up his sleeves. He's walking them to the Oval Office, he'll have some COVID-safe snacks."

Late Tuesday night, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said he hoped Biden was "the secret sauce."

“The president of the United States is always a very influential figure, and I know he wants both bills passed," Hoyer told reporters.

Biden senior adviser Kate Bedingfield, the White House communications director, traveled to the Hill to meet with House Democrats Wednesday afternoon, too.

Manchin has said for months he believes there should be a “strategic pause” before Congress takes up the reconciliation bill, citing his concerns about spending. His opposition to the price tag runs in tandem with Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. Either one of them could tank the progressive bill from becoming law.

Separately, progressives are insisting that a pathway to citizenship is included in the bill. The Senate parliamentarian dealt a blow to Democrats late Sunday after ruling that immigration reform does not have a direct budgetary impact and therefor could not be included in the reconciliation bill.

Schumer and other Democrats expressed deep disappointment and vowed to continue fighting for new pathways to citizenship for immigrants in the country illegally.

The messy legislative fight carries high stakes with next year's midterms looming and the president hoping to chalk up a major win Democrats can point to as his approval sags after a much criticized withdrawal from Afghanistan and amid the continuing coronavirus pandemic.

John Podesta, an influential Democrat who served as chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, sent a memorandum to the office of every Democratic member of Congress on Tuesday, warning them to pare back the $3.5 trillion bill -- or risk losing control of Congress.

Podesta said he “wholeheartedly” supported that bill -- and actually thought it should “do even more" -- but that "the political reality is clear" and that Democrats "will not secure the full $3.5 trillion investment."

He called on Democrats to unite, saying progressives should accept a smaller price tag, and that moderates must swallow the other package in addition to the physical infrastructure deal they support. Doing nothing, he said, would fail Americans and could mean the end of Democratic control on Capitol Hill.

“It would signal a complete and utter failure of our democratic duty, and a reckless abdication of our responsibility,” Podesta wrote.

Meanwhile, Biden must also contend with a looming possible government shutdown on Oct. 1. Democrats in the House passed a short-term spending bill late Tuesday that would punt the shutdown fight to Dec. 3. The legislation also provides billions in aid for emergency disaster relief and Afghan evacuees. It also suspends the debt limit to December 2022.

But Senate Republicans have vowed to block any legislation that would lift or suspend the debt limit.

Senate Republicans say they oppose suspending the debt limit because of additional spending measures Democrats are currently crafting -- even though the debt limit does not authorize new spending and is instead paying off previous debt, much of it incurred during the Trump administration.

Senate Democrats have countered that they have lifted the debt limit with Republicans under the Trump administration on multiple occasions and say it's a bipartisan responsibility.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has said if Congress does not act to raise the debt limit, the U.S. could default on its debt sometime in October, potentially triggering an "economic catastrophe."

Republicans, led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, have said for weeks they will oppose any measure that raises the debt ceiling, insisting that Democrats can do it alone given their control over all three branches of government.

"Since Democrats decided to go it alone, they will not get Senate Republicans’ help with raising the debt limit. I’ve explained this clearly and consistently for over two months," McConnell said on the Senate floor earlier this week.

Biden has often touted the deal-making skills he honed over decades in the Senate, and the next few days will put his abilities to the test.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


FDA authorizes Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine boosters for people 65 and older, other at-risk groups

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(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized Pfizer booster shots Wednesday for seniors and other high-risk Americans, paving the way for third doses to be offered as early as the end of the week.

The decision would allow for anyone over the age of 65 to get a booster, as well as people as young as 18 if they have a medical condition that puts them at risk of severe COVID-19 or if they work a frontline job that makes it more likely that they would get infected.

FDA's acting commissioner, Dr. Janet Woodcock, said that list should include health care workers, teachers and grocery story workers, as well as people in prisons and homeless shelters.

"This pandemic is dynamic and evolving, with new data about vaccine safety and effectiveness becoming available every day," Woodcock said in a statement. "As we learn more about the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines, including the use of a booster dose, we will continue to evaluate the rapidly changing science and keep the public informed."

The deliberation follows a recommendation last week by the FDA's independent scientific advisers that, while protection from vaccination is strong, immunity probably wanes after six months and is important to replenish for certain high-risk groups.

The advisory panel, called the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee, said last Friday there wasn't enough evidence yet to recommend every vaccinated adult get a third dose.

Instead, the panel recommended the extra shot for those 65 and older or at high risk of severe COVID-19.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will determine exactly which populations are eligible.

The FDA's vaccine chief, Dr. Peter Marks, framed the booster debate as one "based on complex data sets evolving in front of our eyes," but with key information still incoming on how boosters will impact a wider age group, the panel ultimately indicated current data has yet to mature enough to recommend boosters for all.

"We need safety data for younger populations and we need to really know what the benefit is," Dr. Jeremy Faust, an emergency physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital and an instructor at Harvard Medical School, told ABC News Friday. "So far we've got some reasonable data for older people, but I really think that there are too many questions on the younger populations."

Currently, only immunocompromised Americans are eligible for a third dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. An estimated 2 million people have received a third mRNA based vaccine from the two manufacturers. Moderna and Johnson & Johnson have also asked the government to agree to booster shots for a larger population, and those requests are pending FDA review. FDA decisions are expected within the coming weeks.

If and when the career scientists at the FDA decide to sign off on boosters, the Pfizer vaccine can be labeled and administered as a three-dose vaccine for certain groups.

But before delivering the shots, the CDC will need to issue official recommendations.

A separate independent panel that advises the CDC is set to meet Wednesday for presentations and then again on Thursday to discuss the data in more granular detail before a vote.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky is then expected to weigh in by the end of the week with an official recommendation for who exactly should get the shots.

Among the recommendations by the CDC will be a decision on who qualifies as "high risk" and which "front-line" workers are at highest risk of exposure.

Experts say it's possible the FDA will endorse the idea of booster shots for people under 65 without conditions that put them at higher risk of severe illness as new data comes in.

"The story is not over because more and more data is coming in," White House chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci told ABC's Martha Raddatz on "This Week" Sunday.

"I think we really do need to test the water with one foot as we move forward," Dr. Paul Offit, an FDA advisory panel member and director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, told ABC News following the panel's vote last week.

"By the end of this week I think we'll learn more about exactly what the recommendations are," he said.

ABC News' Eric M. Strauss, Anne Flaherty, Sony Salzman and Cheyenne Haslett contributed to this report.

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Haaland embraces 'indigenous knowledge' in confronting historic climate change impacts

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(WASHINGTON) -- A relentless drought and wildfire season in America's West and a tense standoff over federal leases for oil and gas drilling have been early tests for the Biden administration's climate policy and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, the first Native American to hold the job and first indigenous member of a White House Cabinet.

"I can't speak for every tribe or even my tribe, but I can make sure that tribal leaders have a seat at the table," Haaland said in an interview with ABC News Live Prime. "Certainly, in this time of climate change bearing down upon us, that indigenous knowledge about our natural world will be extremely valuable and important to all of us."

"Indian tribes have been on this continent for millennia, for tens of thousands of years," she added. "They know how to take care of the land … that's knowledge that's been passed down for generations and generations."

Haaland, a former U.S. representative from New Mexico and one of the first two native women to serve in Congress, is leaning in on her experience as a member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe to confront the historic impacts of climate change on communities nationwide.

She leads the agency which manages more than 480 million acres of public lands and a government leasing program that has allowed private energy businesses to tap into valuable natural resources situated on federal property.

Early in his term, President Joe Biden ordered a moratorium of new leases -- with an eye toward discontinuing the program altogether -- in an effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels. The move has made Haaland, who's now conducting a formal review of the program, a target of criticism from the energy industry and Republican lawmakers from states dependent on oil and gas production.

"You said that if you had it your way, and I quote, you'd stop oil and gas leasing on public lands. As secretary, you will get to have it your way," Sen. Steve Daines of Montana charged during Haaland's confirmation hearing earlier this year. The Republican later voted against her nomination.

"It's a pause on just new leases, not existing, valid leases," Haaland responded, explaining the moratorium. Last month, a federal court ordered the Interior Department to resume the leasing program while legal challenges continue.

"It has the potential to cost jobs here in the United States, good-paying energy jobs," Frank Macchiarola, an energy industry lobbyist at the American Petroleum Institute told ABC News. "It has the potential to increase costs for consumers."

Most U.S. oil and gas production occurs on private land, according to the Congressional Research Service. Roughly 9% of American output came from federal lands in 2019, the agency said.

Haaland is also helping to lead the federal government's response to historic drought and wildfires fueled by climate change.

Ninety percent of the American West is experiencing "severe" or "exceptional" drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. The conditions have ravaged the agricultural industry in nearly a dozen states and forced several to enact mandatory water cutbacks for residents. California, Arizona and New Mexico have also been battling some of the largest and most destructive wildfires in years.

“Drought doesn't just impact one community. It affects all of us, from farmers and ranchers to city dwellers and Indian tribes," Haaland said on a visit to Denver in July. "We all have a role to use water wisely, manage our resources with every community in mind, work collaboratively and respect each other during this challenging time.”

The Interior Department has deployed millions of dollars in federal relief funds and sped recruitment of government firefighters. Last month, Haaland announced a pay raise for those on the front lines.

"We need to think about, you know, does that come down to management? Is that something that we need to reinvestigate how some of these forested lands are being managed? And is there a better way to prepare those forested lands for the next fire season?" said Brian Fuchs, a climatologist at the National Drought Mitigation Center, who hopes the worsening drought will lead to a greater review of how federal lands are managed and can best combat drought.

Haaland is also overseeing a multi-billion dollar renovation plan for the National Park System; a renewed campaign to improve access to the parks for communities of color; and steps to address longstanding protests by some tribal groups demanding greater control over federal parklands.

"You have to understand that for there to be any justice or repair on these lands, it has to go back to the roots. And for indigenous peoples on these lands -- it goes back to land theft," said Krystal Two Bulls, director of the Landback movement, which calls for all federal lands to be returned to their original tribes. "This entire so-called country was built on top of -- stolen land by stolen people."

Two Bulls and other Landback organizers argue that tribes are best suited to care for these lands given their deep history and knowledge of the natural world.

"Whoever's currently in charge is not protecting these lands, indigenous peoples, that's not what we're about, we're about that relationship to the land," Two Bulls told ABC News. "Native peoples knew how to manage and work with the fire, as a natural element, we knew how to do that."

Haaland has said she wants to use that knowledge in her tenure at the Interior Department and to make clear that "those voices are heard."

"Well, we absolutely are listening," she said.

During official travel, she regularly pays homage to her roots; she was known to wear traditional moccasins in the House and donned ceremonial tribal garb for her swearing in with Vice President Kamala Harris. She even addressed senators in the native language of the Laguna Pueblo during her confirmation hearing in the spring.

She also brings a legacy of service to her country; her father served as a Marine for three decades and her mother served in the Navy. Haaland said that she has always had a connection with the outdoors, and recalls spending time outside often with her father, who was an avid fisherman.

"I worked hard, and you know I followed a path, but I also stand on the shoulders of … so many tribal leaders who have come before me," Haaland said. "And so I feel very confident that if it weren't for those people that I wouldn't have had that path to follow."

Haaland was confirmed as secretary of the interior by a 51-40 vote in the Senate in March. Once sworn in, she took over the reins at an agency that less than two centuries earlier had a mission to "civilize or exterminate" indigenous people and led the oppressive relocation of Native Americans.

She says that history gave her no hesitation.

"This is our ancestral homeland, this is Native Americans', this is our ancestral homeland. We're not going anywhere," Haaland said. "This is land we love and care about."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


House votes to approve bill to avert government shutdown

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(WASHINGTON) -- The House voted along party lines to pass a short-term funding bill to avert a government shutdown next week.

The final vote was 220-211.

The bill would fund the government through Dec. 3 and it also includes billions in emergency disaster relief and aid for Afghan evacuees. It also suspends the debt limit through December 2022.

Senate Republicans are expected to block the measure later this week because they do not want to vote on raising the debt limit -- which means a shutdown could still happen if funding runs out after midnight on Sept. 30.

Democrats need 10 Republican senators to vote with them, and as of right now, the votes are not there. The path forward to avert a shutdown is unclear as of right now.

Senate Republicans have said they oppose suspending the debt limit because of additional spending measures Democrats are crafting -- even though doing so would pay for previous expenditures. But Senate Democrats worked with Republicans under the Trump administration to raise the debt limit on multiple occasions and said it's a bipartisan responsibility.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has said if Congress does not act to raise the debt limit, the U.S. could default on its debt sometime in October, potentially triggering an "economic catastrophe."

Republicans, led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, have said for weeks they will oppose any measure that raises the debt ceiling, insisting that Democrats can do it alone given their control over all three branches of government.

"Since Democrats decided to go it alone, they will not get Senate Republicans' help with raising the debt limit. I've explained this clearly and consistently for over two months," McConnell said Monday on the Senate floor.

But Democrats are pressing ahead and remain optimistic about the bill's prospects, knowing full well the challenge they face in getting Republicans on board.

"It is our hope that Senate Republicans will also do the right thing and stop playing politics around the debt limit," House Democratic caucus chair Hakeem Jeffries said at a press conference Tuesday.

Jeffries indicated that at least a handful of Republicans have publicly expressed they will end up voting for the bill. Democrats need at least 10 Republicans in the Senate to back the bill.

"Three times -- during the administration of the former president -- three times House Democrats cooperated in raising the debt ceiling," Jeffries said.

"Now all of a sudden, they want to jam up the American people and the American economy and our full faith and credit, because they're playing politics?" Jeffries said of Republicans in the Senate.

"Senate Republicans should be hearing from their friends in the big banks and big business, as to how catastrophic a default on our debt would be for industry, for commerce, for the economy and most importantly for the American people," Jeffries added.

Without GOP support, it's unclear how Democrats will plan to tackle the issue of raising or suspending the debt limit alone.

"The debt limit is a shared responsibility, and I urge Congress to come together, in that spirit, on a bipartisan basis as it has in the past to protect the full faith and credit of the United States," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wrote in a letter to members over the weekend.

The short-term funding bill unveiled on Tuesday extends funding through Dec. 3 for all vital federal agencies, including health, housing, education and public safety programs.

"It is critical that Congress swiftly pass this legislation to support critical education, health, housing and public safety programs and provide emergency help for disaster survivors and Afghan evacuees," House Appropriations Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro said in a statement Tuesday.

The bill also includes $28.6 billion in emergency disaster relief to address recent natural disasters, including multiple hurricanes and wildfires, severe droughts and winter storms in 2021 and prior years.

Another $6.3 billion would support Afghan evacuees, including funding to temporarily house evacuees at American facilities and in foreign countries, provide necessary security screenings and ultimately resettle eligible evacuees in the United States. The legislation also includes funding to provide humanitarian assistance for Afghan refugees in neighboring countries.

The legislation suspends the debt limit through December 2022.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


House Democrats remove money for Israel's Iron Dome system in funding bill

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(WASHINGTON) -- House Democrats on Tuesday removed $1 billion in funding for Israel's Iron Dome air defense system from their stopgap government funding bill, after progressives threatened to tank the measure over the military support for Israel.

While Democratic leaders committed to approving the funding by year's end in another must-pass bill, the holdup was the latest episode in an ongoing intraparty debate over support for Israel.

Republicans quickly took to social media to accuse Democrats of undermining Israel's security, and planned a procedural vote to highlight Democrats' divisions -- even as they had planned to vote against the initial measure when it included Iron Dome funding.

Moderate Democrats also criticized their colleagues for opposing the funds for the defensive missile system, which President Joe Biden promised to replenish after Israel's conflict with the Palestinian militant group Hamas in May.

While lawmakers from both parties have supported Israel's right to defend itself unconditionally for decades, a growing group of Democratic lawmakers have called on party leaders to revisit its relationship with Israel, and have accused its military of human rights abuses and blasted the treatment of Palestinians.

That tension has been exacerbated in recent years by the efforts of conservative Israeli leaders -- most notably former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu -- to align closely with Republicans and former President Donald Trump, after tensions with the Obama administration over the U.S. nuclear negotiations with Iran.

Still, Democratic Party leaders and Biden have been quick to demonstrate their support for Israel. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer on Tuesday spoke to Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid about the Iron Dome funding debate and reiterated Democrats' commitment to passing the measure.

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Two disbarred attorneys outside Texas sue abortion doctor under SB8

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(WASHINGTON) -- The first tests of Texas' unprecedented and highly controversial scheme for enforcing a ban on nearly all abortions have come from two non-Texans -- both former lawyers disbarred for alleged misconduct who are effectively inviting courts to invalidate the law on constitutional grounds.

Oscar Stilley, a former Arkansas attorney, brought one of the two civil suits filed Monday in Bexar County District Court against a San Antonio abortion doctor who publicly admitted to performing an unlawful procedure. Stilley is in custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons on a 15-year sentence for tax evasion and conspiracy, according to the complaint posted on his personal website.

Felipe N. Gomez, an Illinois attorney, brought the other suit; he is currently suspended from the state's bar over accusations of sending harassing and threatening emails, records show.

"In some ways the identity of these first plaintiffs highlights the absurdity of the law," said Kate Shaw, Cardozo School of Law professor and ABC News legal contributor.

"No connection to the issue, no connection to the parties, no connection -- as far as we can tell from the complaints -- to Texas, at all. And yet, they may well have the ability, the way the law is drafted, to go to court and to have the courts actually hear their case," she continued.

Gomez is a self-described "pro choice plaintiff," according to the two-page complaint obtained by ABC affiliate KSAT, and explicitly asked the court to strike the law, SB8, down.

SB8 prohibits abortions after about 6 weeks of pregnancy in Texas and allows "any person, other than an officer or employee of state or local government," to bring a civil suit against someone believed to have "aided or abetted" an unlawful abortion.

"The statute says that anybody can file a suit. That doesn't mean that there's not some state constitutional limitation on who could file a suit," said Irving Gornstein, executive director of the Supreme Court Institute at Georgetown Law Center, "but this person seems to be somebody who has no objection to abortions, he just wants to earn a bounty."

Stilley, who is seeking to claim a minimum $10,000 reward, and Gomez, who says he is not seeking any financial damages, both sued Dr. Alan Braid, an OB-GYN based in San Antonio, who publicly acknowledged in an op-ed on Sept. 6 that he had performed a first-trimester abortion in express violation of state law.

"I acted because I had a duty of care to this patient, as I do for all patients, and because she has a fundamental right to receive this care," Braid wrote. "I fully understood that there could be legal consequences -- but I wanted to make sure that Texas didn't get away with its bid to prevent this blatantly unconstitutional law from being tested."

The U.S. Supreme Court voted 5-4 on Sept. 1 to allow SB8 to take effect on procedural grounds, despite what the majority acknowledged as "serious questions" about constitutionality. The justices did not address those questions.

Legal experts said the new civil cases are now "vehicles" for state and federal courts to examine the substance of SB8 itself -- the near total ban on abortions across the state -- and ultimately suspend enforcement of the measure as in violation of longstanding Supreme Court precedent.

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Democrats introduce post-Trump ethics bill to enforce subpoenas, limit conflicts

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"Donald Trump made this legislation a necessity, but this is bigger than any one president," Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said in a news conference. "It's about our values, our ideals and our future."

The Protecting Our Democracy Act would speed up the enforcement of congressional subpoenas -- which were routinely ignored by the Trump administration -- and require administration officials to pay any court fines and legal fees.

After Trump refused to acknowledge Joe Biden's election victory and disrupted the transition, the bill proposes starting the transition process within five days of the election and would allow both campaigns to receive government briefings and make other preparations.

It would also require presidents and candidates to submit years of income tax returns to the Federal Election Commission for public release -- after Trump refused to release his returns as a candidate and as commander-in-chief, arguing that an ongoing Internal Revenue Service audit prevented him from doing so.

Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said the proposal would prevent presidents from using their office as a "get-out-of-jail-free card," by suspending the statute of limitations for crimes committed by a president or vice president while they are in office.

Schiff said the House could vote on the package later this fall. But it's unclear if it has the support of at least 10 Republicans in the Senate to clear the filibuster and 60-vote threshold for legislation.

"I realize many of the Republican members live in fear of angry statements from the former president," Schiff said.

Many of the underlying bills in the package, including proposals to beef up protections for whistleblowers and independent inspectors general at government agencies, have bipartisan support -- suggesting that Democrats could have more success in the Senate if they take it up piecemeal.

The Biden administration has worked "very constructively" with Democrats for months on the package, Schiff said.

The White House asked lawmakers to exempt administration officials from court fines if they are instructed to ignore subpoenas by the president. The version of the bill unveiled Tuesday also did not include earlier language requiring the White House to turn over presidential communications to Congress.

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Biden challenges UN to act together on pandemic, climate change

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(NEW YORK) -- President Joe Biden on Tuesday delivered his first speech as president to the United Nations General Assembly, telling diplomats that they were meeting at a moment "intermingled with great pain and extraordinary possibility."

He pitched his vision for America's return to the world stage -- in sharp contrast with years of bellicosity from his predecessor, President Donald Trump -- in which Biden said the U.S. would helm the response to the coronavirus pandemic and the climate crisis, and put behind decades of conflict in favor of diplomacy and partnership.

The world, he said, stood "at an inflection point in history," saying that, "to fight this pandemic, we need a collective act of science and political will."

"Today, many of our greatest concerns cannot be solved or even addressed through the force of arms," Biden said. "Bombs and bullets cannot defend against COVID-19, or its future variants."

His remarks were a laundry list of his goals -- with some of the strongest words reserved for the climate crisis -- that largely glossed over recent tensions with allies regarding the U.S. pullout from Afghanistan.

"We've ended 20 years of conflict in Afghanistan," Biden said, "and as we close this period of relentless war, we're opening a new era of relentless diplomacy of using the power of our development aid to invest in new ways of lifting people up around the world."

He did not even making passing reference to a recently announced defense partnership with Australia and the United Kingdom aimed at curbing China's influence on in the Indo-Pacific region, which led Australia to nix a major defense deal with France. That, in turn, prompted France to recall its ambassador from the U.S. and express its displeasure with Biden.

After his remarks, Biden planned to meet with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison at noon before departing for Washington, where he'll host British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the White House late in the afternoon, according to the White House.

The meetings come amid a diplomatic spat with France, which has expressed displeasure with Biden for a just announced defense partnership with Australia and United Kingdom -- which led to Australia nixing a major defense deal with France for nuclear-powered submarine technology.

Administration officials said Biden was trying to set up a phone call with French President Emmanuel Macron, too.

Biden's Tuesday morning speech kicked off a week of global engagements. The White House said Biden hoped to turn the page from conflict to global cooperation and competition.

As the president implored countries to "work together as never before," he tried to tamp down fears over the United States' increasing competition with China.

The day before, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres warned the U.S. and China to avoid a new Cold War and urged them to fix their "completely dysfunctional relationship."

On Tuesday, Biden told delegates -- without referencing China by name: "We are not seeking a new Cold War or a world divided into rigid blocks."

He said common action was needed to deal with climate change, a crisis he noted was "borderless."

"Will we meet the threat of challenging climate, the challenging climate we're all feeling, already ravaging every part of our world with extreme weather, or will we suffer the merciless march of ever more of ever-worsening droughts and floods, more intense fires and hurricanes, longer heat waves, and rising seas?" he said.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Republicans dig in on debt-limit standoff despite Democratic effort to mount pressure

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(WASHINGTON) -- Senate Republicans are holding firm against a hike to the federal debt limit, even as Democratic leaders announced Monday that they would link the raise in the borrowing limit to a must-pass government funding measure.

Government funding is set to expire at the end of September and administration officials are projecting that the United States could default on its credit in the coming weeks. The White House has warned an unprecedented default could send shockwaves through the economy and trigger a recession.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for weeks has dug in against support of a hike to the debt limit, arguing that Democrats, who control both chambers of Congress, should be held responsible for the move. But Senate Democrats worked with Republicans under the Trump administration to raise the debt limit on multiple occasions, and they said it's a bipartisan responsibility.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer Monday looked to ratchet up the pressure on Republicans by linking the increase in the federal spending limit to a resolution aimed at keeping the government open past a fast-approaching end of the fiscal year. That resolution includes aid for Afghan refugees and emergency funding for natural disaster relief.

"The American people expect our Republican colleagues to live up to their responsibilities and make good on the debts they proudly helped incur," the leaders wrote in a statement, pointing to $908 billion COVID relief legislation passed under former President Donald Trump.

Within moments of the Democratic announcement that the two measures would be tied, McConnell threw cold water on the plan. In floor remarks Monday afternoon, he doubled down on his long-held opposition to raising the debt limit.

Republicans would support an extension to government funding, McConnell said, but not if it includes a lift to the debt ceiling.

"Since Democrats decided to go it alone they will not get Senate Republican's help with raising the debt limit," McConnell said Monday.

Almost all Senate Republicans are in line behind McConnell, vowing to vote against a raise to the limit because they oppose additional massive spending measures that Democrats are currently working to craft.

Their biggest opposition is to a $3.5 trillion spending measure that encompasses many of President Joe Biden's agenda items and which is exempt from the normal 60-vote threshold in the Senate. Democrats can pass it without any GOP support, and a raise in the limit should be tied to that bill, Republicans argue.

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said Monday his vote on raising the debt limit would be "absolutely no."

"The Democrats say they don't need our votes to spend money they want to spend, but they do need our votes to pay for it," Romney said. "That dog won't hunt."

"I will not be consenting to anything that makes it easier for Chuck Schumer and the Democrats to bankrupt our kids," Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said, joining a chorus of other Republicans who also said Monday they won't support a government funding stop-gap that includes a raise to the debt limit.

Democratic Whip Dick Durbin accused Republicans of being politically motivated in their opposition and said they are failing to take responsibility for their actions.

"I certainly hope Sen. McConnell is not going to do damage to America and its economy out of an act of political spite," Durbin said. "If he won't stand up and take responsibility for things which he and his members supported in the Trump administration it shows this is a totally political effort."

But pressed on what Democrats would do if Republican opposition held, Durbin was frank: "I don't know."

The House is expected to vote to raise the debt limit and fund government on Tuesday, after the Rules Committee takes up the matter. Schumer said Democrats in the Senate will hold a vote to raise the limit in the coming weeks, but without at least 10 Republicans to support the measure, there's little that can be done aside from inclusion in the $3.5 trillion package. If the United States defaults on its debt in the coming weeks, it will be the first time in history this occurs. U.S. creditworthiness would take a hit, and markets could be severely impacted.

At least one Republican, Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana, said he would vote with Democrats on the measure because it would include hurricane relief for his home state. However he predicted that the bill would still fall short of 60 votes.

As they grapple with a looming government funding deadline and potential credit default, Democratic lawmakers are also at odds over how to advance their $3.5 trillion social policy package and the Senate's bipartisan infrastructure deal.

Progressives have vowed to withhold votes in the House for the Senate infrastructure agreement until their policy demands are met for the larger package. But moderates in the House and Senate have threatened to sink Biden's major policy package over its scale and individual provisions.

"I've never seen anything like this," Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., said of the to-do list before Congress. "I don't know how's it going to end."

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