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Politics

Biden signs bill making Juneteenth, marking the end of slavery, a federal holiday

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(WASHINGTON) -- President Joe Biden signed a bill Thursday afternoon making Juneteenth a federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States -- just in time for Saturday's June 19 anniversary.

It's a day African Americans have celebrated yearly since the Civil War-era and the culmination of a decades-long effort by advocates to get national recognition for the momentous development in American history.

A jubilant Vice President Kamala Harris, the nation's first Black vice president, who co-sponsored the legislation when she served in the Senate, spoke about the significance of the moment, noting slaves helped build the White House.

“Throughout history, Juneteenth has been known by many names: Jubilee Day. Freedom Day. Liberation Day. Emancipation Day. And today, a national holiday,” Harris said, to cheers and applause in the White House East Room filled with about 80 lawmakers and other guests.

“And looking out across this room, I see the advocates, the activists, the leaders, who have been calling for this day for so long, including the one and only Ms. Opal Lee,” she said, before Biden left the stage and walked over to the 94-year-old Lee to greet her.

In 2016, at 89-years old, Lee walked from her home in Fort Worth, Texas, to the nation's capital in an effort to get Juneteenth named a national holiday.

Biden then spoke, calling Juneteenth a day of "profound weight and profound power.

"A day in which we remember the moral stain that the terrible toll that slavery took on the country and continues to take, what I have long called America's original sin," he said.

"By making Juneteenth a federal holiday, all Americans can feel the power of this day and learn from our history and celebrate progress and grapple with the distance we’ve come but the distance we have to travel," Biden continued.

Biden turned political, raising what he called the "assault" on voting rights.

"You see this assault from restrictive laws, threats of intimidation, voter purges and more," Biden said. "We can't rest until the promise of equality is fulfilled for everyone in every corner of this nation. That to me is the meaning of Juneteenth."

The federal government said most employees will be off this Friday to mark the occasion, around which celebrations have become more mainstream in recent years, taking on added significance last year when the country went through a racial reckoning after the killing of George Floyd.

Earlier Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democrats with the Congressional Black Caucus held bill enrollment ceremony to highlight the victory.

"This is an important step for America," she said.

The group on Capitol Hill sang the hymn "Lift Every Voice and Sing," what's called the Black National Anthem, in unison, to close the ceremony.

Advocates say Juneteenth -- also known as Freedom Day, Liberation Day and Emancipation Day -- offers a day to reflect on the terrible stain on American history and celebrations look similar those on the Fourth of July.

It's celebrated on June 19 to mark the day in 1865 when African American slaves in Galveston, Texas, were among the last to be told they had been freed -- a full two-and-a-half years after the Emancipation Proclamation and two months after the Civil War officially ended.

Though advocates have worked for decades to make Juneteenth a national holiday, even succeeding at the state level everywhere but South Dakota, it took Congress only two days to pass the legislation once one Republican senator, Sen. Ron Johnson, who blocked the move last year, dropped his opposition.

The bill then passed the Senate by unanimous consent on Wednesday before passing the House Thursday night in a 415-14 vote, with all opposition coming from GOP members.


Juneteenth is the first new holiday created by Congress in nearly 40 years, when lawmakers in 1983 designated Martin Luther King Jr. Day as the third Monday in January to memorialize the assassinated civil rights leader.

Ahead of Biden's signing, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management said on Twitter that "most federal employees will observe the holiday tomorrow, June 18th" since it falls on a weekend.

Amid high tensions, former President Donald Trump was forced to reschedule a campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on June 19, 2020, after he was criticized as culturally insensitive for scheduling the riot on the holiday and near the forgotten Tulsa Race Massacre. Trump said he moved the rally, "out of respect" for the occasion.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


House votes to repeal 2002 AUMF in effort to rein in presidential war powers

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(WASHINGTON) -- The House voted Thursday to repeal the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force, a nearly two-decade old war powers measure that gave clearance to then-President George W. Bush's plans to invade Iraq.

The 2002 AUMF allows military action to “defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq.”

The final vote in the House was 268-161.

49 Republicans joined nearly all Democrats in voting for the bill, which now heads to the Senate.

"Today the House confirmed, in a bipartisan way, that the repeal of an authorization for use of military force that is no longer applicable does not impede our national security. Circumstances on the ground in Iraq have changed dramatically since passage of the 2002 AUMF. Significantly, we now count the democratic Iraqi government our partner in our counterterrorism mission – as such, it is time to repeal this authority," House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., said in a statement Thursday.

“While today’s vote moves us one step closer to a full repeal of this outdated AUMF, there is more work to be done. I have said before that repeal of the 2002 AUMF is not enough. I continue to be encouraged by the Biden-Harris Administration’s willingness to address outdated authorities. I look forward to working with the Administration and with my colleagues in Congress in reviewing existing authorities," he said.

Lawmakers have in recent years attempted to reign in wide-ranging authorities given to the president after the 9/11 terror attacks. The Trump administration cited the 2002 AUMF in part for its legal justification in the 2020 drone strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

The 2001 AUMF - issued to allow the president to order the invasion of Afghanistan - is still in effect. Lawmakers hope to repeal this order soon, as well.

The House voted last year and in 2019 to repeal the 2002 AUMF, but it was never given a vote in the Senate, which was controlled by Republicans at the time.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Wednesday signaled that he supported a repeal of the 2002 AUMF and said he planned to bring the measure to a vote this year.

With the Iraq War over for nearly a decade, the 2002 authorization, and its use as a primary justification for military action, has lost its vital purpose, Schumer said this week.

The White House also backs the effort.

“The administration supports the repeal of the 2002 AUMF [authorization for the use of military force], as the United States has no ongoing military activities the rely solely on the 2002 AUMF as a domestic legal basis, and repeal of the 2002 AUMF would likely have minimal impact on current military operations,” the White House said Monday in a statement of administration policy.

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Lawmakers react to Supreme Court decision upholding Obamacare

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(WASHINGTON) -- President Joe Biden and Democratic lawmakers praised the Supreme Court's decision Thursday to uphold the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, in a case challenging its individual mandate.

Former President Barack Obama made a point to emphasize that this isn't the first time the high court has upheld his presidency's landmark legislation, which Republicans have sought to dismantle for years.

"Today, the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act. Again," Obama wrote. "This ruling reaffirms what we have long known to be true: the Affordable Care Act is here to stay."

At least one Senate Republican criticized the decision but notably made no mention of an effort to continue to challenge the law.

"The failed Obamacare system will stagger on as a result of this decision," said Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., a doctor and senior member of the Senate Finance Committee who has helped lead repeal efforts in the past. "Every American’s health care has been harmed by Obamacare."

Ahead of those reactions, the president, who was Obama's vice president when the legislation passed, welcomed the decision in a tweet.

"A big win for the American people," Biden wrote. "With millions of people relying on the Affordable Care Act for coverage, it remains, as ever, a BFD. And it’s here to stay."

Biden was playfully referring to a moment in 2010 when he was caught on a microphone telling then-President Barack Obama in the East Room of the White House at the bill's signing that the passing of the Affordable Care Act was a "big f***ing deal."

Biden's chief of staff, Ron Klain, was one of the first to react from the White House and raised the famous gaffe Thursday morning.

"It's still a BFD," Klain tweeted.

In an official statement later, Biden expanded on the significance of the Supreme Court's decision and what it means for everyday Americans.

"Because of this law, they don’t have to worry about being denied coverage due to a pre-existing condition like diabetes or watching their coverage being capped during a cancer treatment. Because of the law, they are able to get free preventive screenings that can save their lives and improve their health," he said in a statement.

"Today’s victory is also for all the young people who can stay on their parents’ insurance plan until they turn 26 years old, and for the millions of low-income families and people with disabilities receiving health care because their states expanded Medicaid under this law," he continued.

At her weekly press conference on Capitol Hill, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also applauded the "historic decision" before slamming Republicans for being on the wrong side of history, she said, for supporting the lawsuit challenging the individual mandate.

"We will never forget how Republican leaders embraced this monstrous way to rip away America's health care in the middle of a deadly pandemic," she said.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., chair of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, also warned that Republicans may continue their crusade against the legislation.

"This ruling is cause for celebration -- but it must also be a call to further action, not an excuse for complacency," she said. "While I hope this victory for families is the final chapter in Republicans’ long, damaging campaign to undermine the health care hundreds of millions of people rely on, I know our work to help patients is far from over."

Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, a member of GOP leadership, however, appeared to concede that the yearslong GOP repeal effort is at its end.

"The Affordable Care Act gets constantly woven deeper and deeper into the system. It's eventually going to be pretty hard to unravel from the system," he said at the Capitol.

A record 31 million people access health care through the law, according to the White House.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who was minority leader when the Senate saved the law from a "skinny repeal" in 2017, also greeted the news from the Senate floor.

"Today, the American people have won again! After over a decade of Republican attacks: The ACA is here to stay," he said.

Thursday's decision was the third time the Supreme Court has upheld the health care law against legal challenges.

Several Democrats took the opportunity to remind Americans that the special enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act is open until Aug. 15, extended due to the coronavirus pandemic.

ABC News' Allison Pecorin contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Supreme Court upholds Obamacare health care law

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(WASHINGTON) -- The Supreme Court on Thursday, in a long-anticipated decision, rejected a challenge to the Affordable Care Act in a case involving whether the individual mandate can be severed from the rest of the law -- or whether the whole law must be struck down.

The court ruled 7-2, with Justice Stephen Breyer writing for the majority, striking down a lower court ruling, saying the plaintiffs -- Texas and 17 other GOP-led states -- did not have standing to sue.

"We conclude that the plaintiffs in this suit failed to show a concrete, particularized injury fairly traceable to the defendants’ conduct in enforcing the specific statutory provision they attack as unconstitutional. They have failed to show that they have standing to attack as unconstitutional the Act’s minimum essential coverage provision. Therefore, we reverse the Fifth Circuit’s judgment in respect to standing, vacate the judgment, and remand the case with instructions to dismiss," Breyer wrote.

"We do not reach these questions of the Act’s validity ... for Texas and the other plaintiffs in this suit lack the standing necessary to raise them," he wrote, concerning the arguments the mandate and the whole law should be invalidated.

Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch dissented. Justice Amy Coney Barrett joined the majority.

A record 31 million Americans have health care coverage connected to Obamacare right now, as well as 54 million Americans with preexisting conditions, all of which is preserved by the court essentially enforcing the status quo.

"The, sort of, existential challenges have been, basically, exhausted," said Kate Shaw, a Cardozo law professor and ABC News legal analyst, on the prospects for Republican legal efforts to do away with Obamacare.

"There may be challenges to dimensions of the law. There have been religious liberty objections to various aspects of the law, in particular the contraception mandate, so I think it is possible there will be more," Shaw said.

"But the legislature is where future battles about health care are likely to play out rather than the courts and the Supreme Court, in particular," she said.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Supreme Court rules for religious liberty in case involving foster care, same-sex couples

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(WASHINGTON) -- In a unanimous ruling, the Supreme Court on Thursday sided with religious freedom in a case involving a clash over Philadelphia's anti-LGBT discrimination policy.

The justices, an opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts, ruled for Catholic Social Services in a case involving foster care adoptions and same-sex couples.

Story developing...

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Congress passes legislation to make Juneteenth a federal holiday

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(WASHINGTON) -- For the first time in nearly 40 years, Congress has moved to establish a new national holiday, this time for Juneteenth, and just in time for Saturday's 156th anniversary of the day which marks the last African American slaves being freed in Texas in the wake of the Civil War.

The House voted Wednesday night to pass the legislation. It heads next to President Joe Biden's desk for a signature. When Biden signs it, as he's expected to at 3:30 p.m. ET Thursday, according to the White House, Juneteenth will officially become a federal holiday -- the first since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was signed into law in 1983.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas, a fierce advocate for the Black community who sponsored the legislation in the House, proudly announced from the podium the "bill is passed" before bringing the gavel down.

One Republican, Rep. Matt Rosendale of Montana, said in a charged statement ahead of the evening vote that he opposed the legislation that was "an effort by the Left to create a day out of whole cloth to celebrate identity politics." Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, a lead sponsor of the Senate bill, called the statement "kooky" in a tweet.

The final vote in the House was 415-14.

Other House Republicans who voted no on the legislation include Reps. Thomas Massie, Scott DesJarlais, Mo Brooks, Andy Biggs, Tom Tiffany, Doug LaMalfa, Tom McClintock, Mike Rogers, Andrew Clyde, Ralph Norman, Chip Roy, Paul Gosar and Ronny Jackson of Texas.

The House vote came after the Senate -- in a surprise move Tuesday -- passed the measure by unanimous consent following a single Republican senator dropping his opposition.

Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, who opposed the legislation last year, said in a statement hat he would no longer raise his objections on the floor, though, as of last week, the bill already had the support of 60 cosponsors to overcome a filibuster.

"Although I strongly support celebrating Emancipation, I objected to the cost and lack of debate," Johnson said, referring to his previous stance. "While it still seems strange that having taxpayers provide federal employees paid time off is now required to celebrate the end of slavery, it is clear that there is no appetite in Congress to further discuss the matter."

It's likely Biden will be accompanied for the signing by Vice President Kamala Harris, who was one of the Democrats to introduce the legislation in the Senate last year alongside Cornyn.

Steve Williams, the president of the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation, thanked lawmakers in a press conference on Capitol Hill earlier for, he said, "put(ting) that exclamation mark on the fabulous work."

"The Juneteenth nation is ecstatic," he said.

What is Juneteenth?

Juneteenth -- also known as Freedom Day, Liberation Day and Emancipation Day -- marks the day when federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, to ensure that African Americans still enslaved were freed following both the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation and end of the Civil War.

The advance by Union Army Gen. Gordon Granger came 30 months and 19 days after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863, which had declared, "all persons held as slaves within any States, or designated part of the State, the people whereof shall be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free."

But with the seven Confederate states operating under their own president, slaves in the South weren't exactly free to go. It would take another two months after Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House in April 1865 that troops would arrive in Galveston to free the final 250,000 people enslaved there. Most left the area despite a message from Union troops that they could stay and work for their owners as employees.

A few months later, in December 1865, the 13th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified and abolished slavery.

Where is it celebrated?

Like most holidays, Juneteenth is recognized in gatherings across the country, predominantly in the Black community. With the help of social media to spread awareness on a holiday not always taught in school, it has become more mainstream in recent years.

Celebrations can include reflections, parades, food and drink, music -- and even advocacy.

For instance, in 2016, Opal Lee of Texas, a now 94-year-old activist, walked from her home in Fort Worth to the nation's capital in an effort to get Juneteenth named a national holiday.

It was in 1979 that Texas became the first state to officially establish Juneteenth as an official holiday. Now, 49 states and the district separately recognize the day, with South Dakota as the only outlier, despite legislative attempts earlier this year.

Companies including Nike, Twitter, Google and General Motors have also signed on to make Juneteenth a paid company holiday, with several companies adopting the policy last year in the wake of the killing of George Floyd.

What's next?

The legislation has passed just in time for the holiday Saturday -- but it's unclear when Biden will sign the bill. He's expected to arrive back in the U.S. from his first foreign trip as president late Wednesday.

Despite the bipartisan victory, advocates said there is still work to be done to repair the wounds from American slavery.

Some point to HR 40, which specifically calls for the creation of a commission to study "and consider a national apology and proposal for reparations for the institution of slavery, its subsequent de jure and de facto racial and economic discrimination against African Americans, and the impact of these forces on living African Americans, to make recommendations to the Congress on appropriate remedies, and for other purposes."

A version has been introduced in every legislative session since 1989, but passed out of a House committee for the first time this year.

"We're giving America the opportunity for redemption, for repair, for restoration, for also understanding the new America, which is so multicultural," said lead sponsor, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, in April after it passed.

That legislation is still awaiting a full House vote and is expected to face an uphill battle in the Senate.

Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey, who was a lead Democrat to sponsor the legislation making Juneteenth a federal holiday also highlighted in a tweet Wednesday that even with its passage, Republicans still attack critical race theory which would allow students to study the roots of events, such as Juneteenth, in school.

"Even today, as conservatives try to erase history with their attacks on critical race theory and understanding the impacts of systemic racism, we stand here acknowledging the truth. We will make #Juneteenth a federal holiday," Markey said in the tweet.

Speaking at a press conference earlier Wednesday in front of the Capitol, a group of lawmakers including Jackson Lee and other Democrats supportive of the Juneteenth legislation said there is still work to be done.

"Of course today is not enough, there's so much more work left to be done, but this is an important day because it is a piece of pavement on that path towards justice," said Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn. "This is not a moment for complacency, this is a moment to rededicate ourselves to that work."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


DOJ drops civil lawsuit against former Trump national security adviser John Bolton

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(WASHINGTON) -- The Justice Department on Wednesday dropped its civil lawsuit targeting former national security adviser John Bolton over the publication of his 2020 memoir "The Room Where It Happened," halting an effort brought during the Trump administration that had sought to seize all proceeds Bolton received from the book.

The short filing, made Wednesday, only stated that "the parties stipulate to dismissal of this action, with prejudice."

"We are very pleased that the Department of Justice has dismissed with prejudice its civil lawsuit against Ambassador Bolton and has terminated grand jury proceedings," Charles Cooper, an attorney for Bolton, said in a statement. "We argued from the outset that neither action was justifiable, because they were initiated only as a result of President Trump's politically motivated order to prevent publication of the Ambassador's book before the 2020 election."

A separate criminal probe into whether Bolton illegally mishandled classified information by publishing the book has also been dropped, Cooper added in his statement. Last fall, grand jury subpoenas were sent to Bolton's publisher and his literary agent demanding their communications with Bolton.

Former President Donald Trump had publicly cheered on his Justice Department's failed effort last summer to block the publication of Bolton's book, which includes detailed accounts of private White House meetings and Trump's interactions with foreign leaders.

Prosecutors suing Bolton alleged that multiple passages in the book included highly classified information that would cause irreparable harm to national security.

"The NSC has determined that information in the manuscript is classified at the Confidential, Secret and Top Secret levels," DOJ attorneys said in a June 2020 court filing.

Bolton has long maintained that he did not publish any classified material.

"We accordingly do not believe that prepublication review is required," Cooper wrote to the Trump administration National Security Council in 2019, ahead of the book's publication. "We are nonetheless submitting this manuscript out of an abundance of caution." Bolton's team and lawyers from the NSC went through a months-long back-and-forth review process of the memoir's contents.

A federal judge overseeing the case, Royce Lamberth, subsequently issued a ruling that seemed to spell trouble for Bolton, after officials briefed Lamberth in a private setting on specific passages of the book that they said included classified information.

"This was Bolton's bet: If he is right and the book does not contain classified information, he keeps the upside ... but if he is wrong, he stands to lose his profits from the book deal, exposes himself to criminal liability, and imperils national security. Bolton was wrong," Lamberth said.

Bolton moved to publish the book last summer over the objections of the White House after he said the pre-publication review process had been politicized by officials acting at President Trump's behest. The civil suit against him accused Bolton of violating nondisclosure agreements he had signed upon his appointment as national security adviser, but attorneys for Bolton reasoned that he had no obligation to honor those agreements if Trump officials who intervened in the pre-publication review weren't acting in good faith.

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Biden-Putin summit: Key takeaways from their high-stakes meeting

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(GENEVA) -- After tight smiles and a firm handshake that made for an image both men wanted the world to see, followed by a chaotic photo op and about three-and-a-half hours of tense talks, U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin emerged to spin their summit at dueling news conferences Wednesday.

Both men called their meeting positive, but while Biden said he raised serious concerns and warned of consequences, he did not claim he got Putin to commit to changing his behavior and the Russian leader accepted no responsibility for cyberattacks on the U.S. or for anything else.

Biden had called for the meeting with Putin two months ago, alarmed about Russian aggression toward Ukraine.

Since then, the issue of cyberattacks, including a ransomware strike on an American oil pipeline company that disrupted the nation's gasoline supply -- which the U.S. says was carried out by Russian hackers -- has become a key point of contention.

Biden said he made clear that "certain critical infrastructure" is off-limits to attack "period," saying he gave the Russians a list of 16 American entities and told Putin if the attacks continue, the U.S. was ready to hit back.

"I pointed out to him that we have significant cyber capability, and he knows it," he said.

Overall, while Putin gained a fresh presence on the world stage, Biden was under pressure to produce what's being called "deliverables" -- concrete results from how he said he would confront Putin -- and whether he made met his goal of restoring "stability" and "predictability" to the post-Trump superpower relationship, which both Biden and Putin agreed had reached a "low point."

Leading up to the meeting, at the G-7 summit, Biden said the world's democracies were "in a contest with autocrats" while also calling Putin "a worthy adversary."

Here are some key takeaways:

1) What can be learned from the leaders' body language?

Both men will likely seize on photos of them looking confident -- to project an image of cooling tensions between the two countries.

ABC News Chief Global Affairs Correspondent Martha Raddatz highlighted what she called the "incredible" body language in both the handshake outside the Swiss villa then and inside as they sat down for a photo op. The Russian government was quick to release photos of the two men smiling at each other, appearing to frame the leaders as equals.

"I think President Putin, you saw those pictures of president Putin with President Biden. That's essentially what he wants right there," Raddatz said. "The relaxed President Putin sitting back in his chair, Joe Biden looking relaxed as well. All of this is so rehearsed."

While the photo op of the pair sitting down was chaotic -- with Russian security pushing out American press at one point -- both leaders appeared relaxed. Biden, who was the first to extend his hand for a handshake inside, sat with his legs crossed, hands in his lap and was seen smiling at several points. Putin leaned back in his chair, as he often does, and looked stoic, yet at ease.

"They know the world is looking at those pictures, especially Vladimir Putin. He wants to be on the world stage," Raddatz added.

Even with Putin denying Russian involvement in recent U.S. cyberattacks, and his refusal to give any ground on imprisoned opposition leader Alexey Navalny, because relations are at such a point, any signs of progress could be portrayed as a win.

"I think because they have lowered the bar so far, but it's still a bar, that any progress will be seen as a win according to Joe Biden and probably according to Vladimir Putin, too," she said.

2) How did each leader characterize the summit and each other?

Putin, the first to deliver a solo press conference following their talks, said there was "no hostility" on either side and even went out of his way to flatter Biden, calling him a "very balanced, professional man."

"Our meeting took place in a constructive spirit. Indeed, we have arrived at assessments on a number of issues, but both sides expressed their intention to understand each other and to seek common ground. Talks were quite constructive," Putin said.

Biden also called the summit "positive" and declared it a success at his later news conference, saying, "I did what I came to do."

Neither leader would bite when asked if they could trust the other.

Biden said, "it's not about trust."

"This is about self-interest and verification of self-interest," he said. "Almost anyone that I would work out an agreement with that affected the American people's interest, I don't say, 'Well, I trust you, no problem. Let's see what happens.' You know, as that old expression goes, 'the proof of the pudding is in the eating.'"

Putin said that between presidents "family-style trust" isn't possible -- but, said, there "were flashes of it."

3) Where did they disagree?

Biden said he raised a range of issues with Putin, including human rights, press freedoms and election interference -- topics Putin avoids discussing afterward.

"The bottom line is: I told President Putin that we need to have some basic rules of the road that we can all abide by," he said.

On the ongoing Russian military aggression toward Ukraine, Putin dismissed the topic, saying it's not the business of the U.S.

"Just like the United States carries out exercises on their territory, we are carrying out exercises. We didn't carry out exercises bringing our equipment to the United States. Regrettably the United States is doing that now," Putin said.

As far as Ukraine joining NATO, which Putin strongly opposes, he said it was "nothing to discuss here."

Then, there's the heavy tension over the imprisoned Russian opposition leader.

When ABC News Congressional Correspondent Rachel Scott challenged Putin over why so many of his opponents end up dead or in jail -- like Navalny -- Putin deflected by bringing up the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, saying Russia "sympathizes" with the U.S. and that it doesn't want the same to happen in Russia. He falsely suggested those rioters are now being persecuted for their political beliefs.

"It's not about me fearing anything," Putin said.

"This man knew he was breaking the law of Russia," he also said of the "citizen," repeatedly refusing to call him by name.

Putin also said that neither leader invited the other to Washington or Moscow, saying conditions need to be right for that to happen.

4) What did they agree on -- or at least agree to discuss?

The leaders agreed to send their ambassadors back to Washington and Moscow, respectively, in an apparent effort to deescalate tension, though the particulars weren't announced.

While Biden said there were no direct threats in his meeting with Putin, he also said he was clear in the meeting that the U.S. has "significant cyber capabilities" to respond and telling reporters "this is not a Kumbaya moment" but also that he believes "the last thing he wants now is a Cold War."

Cybersecurity was a top priority on the U.S. government's agenda.

Putin said the leaders agreed to "consultations" on the subject.

Regarding the two U.S. Marine veterans jailed in Russia, Trevor Reed and Paul Whelan, Putin said the countries might be possible to find a compromise.

"We discussed it. A certain compromise might be found there. Russia's foreign ministry and the U.S. State Department will work in that direction," Putin said.

The White House has separately said this prisoner swap could encourage the Kremlin to target more Americans unfairly like they believe these two Americans there were targeted and "wrongfully" held, Biden noted in prepared remarks at the start if his news conference.

5) So, what's next?

While Biden isn't going back to Washington with a ton of "deliverables," he is declaring the trip a success, calling the summit "good" and "positive" overall.

When asked on his way out of his news conference why he was confident Putin will change his behavior, Biden raised his finger at a reporter and asked, "What the hell?... When did I say I was confident?"

Collins followed up noting Biden said earlier it would take "six months to a year" to see if the U.S. and Russia "have a strategic dialogue that matters."

"What I said was, let's get it straight. I said what will change their behavior is if the rest of the world reacts to them, and it diminishes their standing in the world. I'm not confident of anything. I'm just stating a fact," he said.

When she followed up again, Biden said, "If you don't understand that, you're in the wrong business."

"I said what will change their behavior is if the rest of the world reacts to them and it diminishes their standing in the world. I'm not confident of anything. I'm just stating a fact," Biden continued.

Once he got to the airport, he apologized, and offered for a final time this trip on foreign soil, "America's back."

Even as the White House tried to play down expectations beforehand, intense focus will continue on whether there will concrete results out of the summit. The meeting was key to both leaders and their countries -- but its historic importance is mostly told in the images -- at least for now.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Biden-Putin summit live updates: 'I did what I came to do,' Biden says

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(GENEVA) -- U.S. President Joe Biden held a high-stakes summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday at what the leaders agree is a "low point" in the U.S.-Russia relationship.

The two men faced off inside an 18th-century Swiss villa, situated alongside a lake in the middle of Geneva's Parc de la Grange. The fifth American president to sit down with Putin, Biden has spoken with him and met him before, in 2016.

Having called Putin a "killer" and saying he's told him before he has no "soul," Biden told ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Cecilia Vega on Monday that he also recalled the Russian leader as being "bright" and "tough."

"And I have found that he is a -- as they say, when you used to play ball -- a worthy adversary," Biden said.

Here's how the news is developing Wednesday. All times Eastern:

Jun 16, 4:58 pm

Biden-Putin summit: Key takeaways from their high-stakes meeting

After tight smiles and a firm handshake that made for an image both men wanted the world to see, followed by a chaotic photo op and about three-and-a-half hours of tense talks, U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin emerged to spin their summit at dueling news conferences Wednesday.

Both men called their meeting positive, but while Biden said he raised serious concerns and warned of consequences, he did not claim he got Putin to commit to changing his behavior and the Russian leader accepted no responsibility for cyberattacks on the U.S. or for anything else.

Overall, while Putin gained a fresh presence on the world stage, Biden was under pressure to produce what's being called "deliverables" -- concrete results from how he said he would confront Putin -- and whether he made met his goal of restoring "stability" and "predictability" to the post-Trump superpower relationship, which both Biden and Putin agreed had reached a "low point.”

Jun 16, 4:02 pm

Biden gives Putin American Bison crystal sculpture and Aviator sunglasses

As is customary when an American president meets a foreign leader for a major meeting, Biden came bearing gifts.

According to a White House official, the president gave Putin with a crystal sculpture of an American Bison, "a stately interpretation of one of our nation’s most majestic mammals and representative of strength, unity, resilience."

The sculpture was presented on a cherry wood base, symbolic of President George Washington's roots, "with a custom engraved inscription plaque commemorating the meeting," the official said.

And in a touch of Biden's personal fashion, quite literally, he also gave Putin with a pair of custom Aviators made by Randolph USA in the company's Massachusetts factory.

Jun 16, 3:22 pm

Biden departs Geneva to end first overseas trip as president

Biden gave a thumbs-up as he boarded Air Force One, leaving his summit with Putin after a week traveling across Europe meeting with world leaders in his first foreign trip as president.

Biden told reporters at the airport he thinks he succeeded in what he said was his main mission of showing, on the world stage and to G-7 and NATO allies, that "America is back."

"They're glad America’s back -- and they acted that way," Biden said, offering final thoughts on his high-profile trip.

Biden reiterated that world leaders “thank[ed] him for arranging a meeting with Putin, and said he was a better position to represent the West "knowing that the rest of the West was behind us," adding he owed them all a "debt of gratitude.”

Jun 16, 2:54 pm

Biden snaps at reporter over whether he's confident Putin will change, later apologizes

When asked on his way out of his solo press conference by CNN's Kaitlin Collins why he was confident Putin will change his behavior, Biden walked back toward reporters, raised his finger and said, "What the hell?... When did I say I was confident?"

Collins followed up noting Biden said earlier it would take "six months to a year" to see if the U.S. and Russia "have a strategic dialogue that matters."

"What I said was, let’s get it straight. I said what will change their behavior is if the rest of the world reacts to them and it (?) diminishes their standing in the world. I'm not confident of anything. I'm just stating a fact," he said.

When she followed up again, Biden said, "If you don’t understand that, you’re in the wrong business."

But by the time he arrived at Air Force One a short while later to return to Washington, Biden walked over to reporters and apologized.

"I owe my last question an apology. I shouldn’t have -- I shouldn’t have been such a wise guy with the last answer I gave," he said. "Anyway. Thanks for being here," adding he feels good about where the country is headed following his first foreign trip.

Jun 16, 2:09 pm

Biden says meeting Putin not about trust but about American 'self-interest'

Asked now that he's met face to face with Putin if he thinks can trust him, Biden said the summit was "not about trust."

"This is about self-interest and verification of self-interest," Biden said. "Almost anyone that I would work out an agreement with that affected the American people's interest, I don't say, 'Well, I trust you, no problem. Let's see what happens.' You know, as that old expression goes, 'the proof of the pudding is in the eating.’"

Jun 16, 2:05 pm

Biden says he raised many issues with Putin, but did not claim he changed his behavior

Biden said he raised with Putin -- and will continue to raise -- cases like jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny, the two "wrongfully" imprisoned Marine veterans, Paul Whlean and Trevor Reed, and the ability of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty to operate, for starters.

However, he did not claim he caused Putin to change his behavior on those matters, signaling he thought the face-to-face meeting in itself a success.

"There were no threats, just simple assertions made. And no, 'Well, if you do that then we'll do this' with anything I said. It was just letting him know where I stood, what I thought we could accomplish together, and what, in fact, if there were violations of American sovereignty, what would we do," Biden said of the meeting.

On cyberattacks, Biden said they agreed to task expert in both countries "to work on specific understandings about what's off-limits and to follow-up on specific cases that originate in other countries." Putin refuses to say Russian hackers are to blame for some of the recent cyberattacks, despite U.S. intelligence indicating otherwise.

On the Middle East, Biden said Putin raised the withdrawal of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. He also said they agreed it's in the interests of both nations not to let Iran acquire nuclear weapons.

Jun 16, 1:48 pm
Biden: "I did what I came to do"

Biden declared the summit a success at his solo press conference, saying "I did what I came to do."

"Number one: identify areas of practical work our two countries can do to advance our mutual interests and also benefit the world. Two: communicate directly, directly, that the United States will respond to actions that impair our vital interests or those of our allies. And three: to clearly lay out our country's priorities and our values so he heard it straight from me," he said.

"There's much more work ahead. I'm not suggesting that any of this is done," Biden added, before taking questions. "But we've gotten a lot of business done on this trip."

Jun 16, 1:44 pm
Biden calls summit positive: 'I did what I came to do'

Following Putin's preser, Biden delivered his readout on the meeting in a solo news conference from outside his hotel in Geneva.

He started with a joke about that chaotic photo op earlier, in which Russian security pushed American reporters, before reading from prepared remarks giving his take on the summit following at the end of his week abroad.

"I've just finished the -- the last meeting of this week's long trip, the U.S.-Russian summit. And I know there were a lot of hype around this meeting, but it's pretty straightforward to me," Biden said, that "there's no substitute ... for face-to-face dialogue between leaders, none."

"President Putin and I -- share a unique responsibility to manage the relationship between two powerful and proud countries, a relationship that has to be stable and predictable," he continued. "We should be able to cooperate where it's in our mutual interest. And where we have differences, I wanted President Putin to understand why I say what I say, and why I do what I do, and how we'll respond to specific kinds of actions that harm America's interest."

Biden said he told Putin that his agenda isn't "against Russia or anyone else" but "for the American people."

Jun 16, 12:56 pm
Putin's impression of Biden: 'Very balanced, professional man'

While Putin defended Russia on several matters in his news conference, he called the summit with Biden as "very efficient, substantive" and offered his fresh impression of the American president to reporters.

"He is very balanced, professional man," Putin said. "He's very experienced. He talked a bit about his family and what his mother told him. They are important things -- maybe they're not quite relevant -- but it does talk about the level of his moral values, which is very attractive," he said.

"And it seems to me that we did speak the same language. Certainly doesn’t imply that we must look into each other’s eyes and find a soul," Putin said, seeming to refer to a past comment from Biden, who says he looked Putin in the eye during a visit to the Kremlin in 2011 and told him he had no soul, a moment Putin said he doesn't remember.

"But essentially, our talks were pragmatic," he said.

Jun 16, 12:40 pm
ABC News to Putin on imprisoned opposition leader Navalny: 'What are you so afraid of?'

ABC News Congressional Correspondent Rachel Scott pressed Putin directly on the fate of imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexey Navlany.

"The list of your political opponents who are dead, imprisoned, or jailed is long. Alexey Navalny’s organization calls for free and fair elections, an end to corruption. But Russia has outlawed that organization, calling it extremist. And you have now prevented anyone who supports him to run for office," Scott said. "So my question is, Mr. President, what are you so afraid of?"

Putin responded by bringing up the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, and finished by saying, "And fears, I don't want to talk about that. That's absolutely irrelevant."

"You didn't answer my question, sir," Scott said. "If all of your political opponents are dead, in prison or poisoned, doesn't that send a message that you do not want a fair political fight?"

Putin again raised the U.S. insurrection, noting that 400 people were arrested.

"As for who is killing whom and throwing whom in jail, people came to the U.S. Congress with political demands," Putin said. "They face prison sentences of up to 20, maybe even 25 years."

"They are being called 'domestic terrorists.' They are being accused of a number of other crimes," he added, deflecting from Navalny whom he refuses to call by name.

Jun 16, 12:15 pm
Putin, in solo news conference after summit, says 'no hostility' with Biden

After the summit, Putin was the first of the two leaders to hold a solo press conference.

He said there was "no hostility" between himself and Biden and called their talks "quite constructive" with both sides seeking "common ground," according to a translator.

"I think that both of these sides showed a willingness to understand one another and to find ways to bring our positions closer together," he said through a translator.

Putin said the leaders agreed on the "return of American ambassadors to Moscow and our ambassador to Washington," and regarding cybersecurity, said, "We agreed that we would begin consultations in this respect."

When a reporter asked a question in English about jailed Kremlin critic Alexey Navlany, Putin first laughed, took out his earpiece and claimed he didn't hear what was asked through the translator, before saying he believes Nalvalny "wanted to consciously break the law."

"This man knew he was breaking the laws of Russia. He has been twice convicted," Putin said, refusing to call him by name but instead refer to him as, "the citizen whom you have just mentioned."

Jun 16, 11:45 am
Biden gives thumbs-up leaving summit

The summit between the two presidents ended earlier than expected. Biden was the first to leave -- giving a thumbs-up to reporters as he walked out.

He departed Villa La Grange for his hotel in the "Beast," the armored presidential limousine that had been idling outside.

The two men spent two hours and 38 minutes meeting together, according to the White House -- shorter than up five hours White House officials said their encounter might last.

Next, Putin is expected to hold a news conference. Biden will wait to begin his own press conference until his counterpart's concludes.

Jun 16, 11:26 am
Expanded meeting ends early

A White House official said the expanded bilateral meeting broke at 5:05 p.m. local time (11:05 a.m. ET), after a little more than an hour.

The two men spent two hours and 38 minutes meeting together in total, according to the White House -- shorter than the four to five hours the Biden administration said it expected it to last.

Biden's ride, the Beast, is staged outside the Villa.

The second meeting was going to be broken into two parts -- with a break splitting up the two parts -- but the official said that it was all just one long part.

It appears the leaders are done meeting for the day.

Jun 16, 11:21 am
White House downplays possible prisoner swap

White House officials have significantly downplayed the prospect of a prisoner swap for two U.S. Marine veterans, Trevor Reed and Paul Whelan, being held in Russia, ahead of the meetings.

"That's certainly something the Russians have been pushing for," said ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Cecilia Vega. "They have basically said this could encourage the Kremlin to target more Americans unfairly like they believe these two Americans there were targeted."

Russian officials have indicated they would like to trade Reed and Whelan for two Russians held in the U.S.: Viktor Bout -- one of the world's most notorious arms dealers and dubbed "the Merchant of Death" — and also Konstantin Yaroshenko, a pilot currently serving a lengthy jail sentence for a drug smuggling conviction.

Whelan's family overnight released an audio message from him recorded from the prison camp in central Russia where he is held. In it, he appealed to Biden to help free him.

Jun 16, 11:06 am
2nd, expanded meeting underway

A White House official confirmed the expanded bilateral meeting started about an hour ago, at 4 p.m. local time (10 a.m. ET).

ABC News Correspondent Karen Travers said the summit is about setting the U.S.-Russia relationship on a new path forward to a more stable, predictable relationship.

"In terms of the stakes, it's been striking to hear officials on both sides say over the last few days heading into this summit that there are very low expectations for some major breakthrough between President Biden and President Putin," Travers said. "This is all about starting a conversation."

She also noted how different this meeting looks from President Donald Trump's encounter Putin in Helsinki in 2018, and the two took questions standing side-by-side at a joint news conference.

Jun 16, 10:13 am
What does success look like for Biden and Putin?

ABC News Chief Global Affairs Correspondent Martha Raddatz highlighted the "incredible" body language seen in Biden and Putin's face-to-face meeting and said the images captured there already make the summit a success for Putin.

"I think President Putin, you saw those pictures of president Putin with President Biden. That's essentially what he wants right there," Raddatz said. "The relaxed President Putin sitting back in his chair, Joe Biden looking relaxed as well. All of this is so rehearsed."

"They know the world is looking at those pictures, especially Vladimir Putin. He wants to be on the world stage," she added.

Even with Putin denying Russian involvement in recent U.S. cyberattacks, his refusal to discuss imprisoned opposition leader Alexey Navalny with Biden going into the meeting, and the two leaders still likely to air their grievances in dueling press conferences later, Raddatz said, since relations are so low, any progress will be a win.

"I think because they have lowered the bar so far, but it's still a bar, that any progress will be seen as a win according to Joe Biden and probably according to Vladimir Putin, too," she said.

Jun 16, 9:47 am
First meeting concludes, expanded meeting next

The first meeting between Biden, Putin, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has concluded after nearly two hours, according to White House and Russian officials.

"They are moving into the expanded bilateral meeting," a White House official said, with five aides present on each side, including the U.S. and Russian ambassadors.

On the U.S. side, Blinken, national security adviser Jake Sullivan, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland, U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan and National Security Council Russia experts Eric Green and Stergos Kaloudis, are accompanying Biden.

The Russian delegation is expected to include Lavrov, Putin’s foreign affairs adviser Yuri Ushakov, Lavrov’s deputy Sergei Ryabkov, the chief of the General Staff of the Russian military Gen. Valery Gerasimov, and Russian ambassador to Washington Anatoly Antonov. Kremlin envoys on Ukraine and Syria, as well as Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, are also expected to attend.

Jun 16, 9:34 am
Here's more of what Biden and Putin said to each other

In a photo-op surrounded by chaos, some reporters were let inside a small door leading to the room where Biden and Putin were already sitting down for the first meeting of their summit.

"I would like to thank you for your initiative in today's meeting," Putin said, according to a transcript from the Kremlin. "I know you've had a long trip, a lot of work. Nevertheless, there are many issues in Russian-American relations that need to be discussed at the highest level, and I hope that our meeting will be productive."

Biden replied, "Thank you, as I said outside, I think it’s always better to meet face to face."

The summit is expected to go as long as five hours, and while the two leaders are expected to take breaks and expand their meeting to a larger group, no updates are expected until their dueling solo press conferences later.

Jun 16, 9:28 am
American press says Russian security pulled on their clothes

At least two American reporters who made it inside the meeting said afterward that Russian security pulled on their clothes as they tried to push the journalists out.

When Russian security yelled and shoved at journalists to get out, both press and White House officials "screamed back that the Russian security should stop touching us," according to a pool reporter.

"Both presidents watched and listened to the media scuffle in front of them. They appeared amused by the scene," the reporter said.

The media scrum also appeared to momentarily delay the Swiss president’s departure from the villa. His motorcade pulled up for him to leave, and officials or security tried to move the reporters out of the way. The Swiss president came out and was able to pull away.

Jun 16, 9:09 am
Biden to use summit to talk directly, clearly with Putin about differences: Blinken

One critical message the president will carry, according to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, is demanding that Russia stop "harboring in any way criminal organizations engaged in cyberattacks, including ransomware" and urging "Russian cooperation in dealing with these criminal organizations to the extent they're operating from Russian territory."

But tough talk and mounting U.S. sanctions have not deterred Russian behavior, from crackdowns against domestic political opposition and pro-democracy movements to aggression overseas against neighbors Ukraine and Georgia or western democracies and their elections.

Pressed on that Sunday by ABC's This Week co-anchor Martha Raddatz, Blinken said U.S. sanctions "can be" effective, "especially when they're done in coordination with other countries."

To that end, he emphasized what the administration had said was the importance of Biden meeting American allies in the Group of Seven, NATO and the European Union before sitting down with Putin.

But some of those alliances are bruised after four years of former President Donald Trump's badgering and questioning -- with many Europeans in particular unsure whether "Trumpism" is here to stay or whether "America is back," as Biden has made his tagline for this trip.

Blinken didn't take that political question head on, but he said the U.S. and its allied democracies have "to actually demonstrate in concrete ways that democracies working together are making a difference for their people and for people around the world" -- especially in contrast to Russia and China.

Jun 16, 8:49 am
WH disputes Biden nodded when he and Putin asked whether they trust each other during 'chaotic' photo op

Biden and Putin's first -- and likely only -- photo op inside their summit was met with a chaotic scene.

According to a pool report, the chaos began outside the room with "10 minutes of a shoving match" between the U.S. and Russian security, press and delegations, with each side aiming to get inside. American reporters were first to go in but not all were let inside.

Already seated, Biden nodded while they shouted questions, including whether the two leaders can trust each other -- but the White House is already disputing that Biden was nodding yes to that.

"It was a chaotic scrum with reporters shouting over each other. @POTUS was very clearly not responding to any one question, but nodding in acknowledgment to the press generally. He said just two days ago in his presser: 'verify, then trust," White House communications director Kate Bedingfield said in a tweet.

Another reporter asked Putin if he feared imprisoned Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny and what he would do if Ukraine is allowed to join NATO. Putin didn't answer.

On the way out, another shoving match ensued.

"Lots of shoving and grabbing - it was extremely aggressive," one American pool reporter said. "The Russian security pulled on our clothes and shoved us as we tried to stay in the room. They eventually pushed us out the door."

Jun 16, 8:00 am
Biden and Putin sit down for first summit meeting

Inside Villa La Grange, the high-stakes summit has officially kicked off.

Speaking to reporters briefly at the top of their first closed-door sit-down, Putin said he hoped for a "productive" meeting, and Biden said "it is always good to meet face-to-face."

While the scene was chaotic, both leaders looked comfortable. Biden, who was the first to extend his hand for a handshake earlier, sat with his legs crossed, hands in his lap and was seen smiling at several points. Putin also leaned back in his chair, as he often does.

Seated in a library before their respective country's flag and with a globe in between, the pair were joined by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov for the first small session of the day.

Jun 16, 7:39 am
Biden and Putin shake hands

Following brief remarks from Swiss President Guy Parmelin wishing them well, Biden and Putin shook hands in front of cameras, with both men grinning, before entering the summit site.

Biden and Putin's meeting is expected to last four to five hours total with multiple sessions.

First, they're taking part in a small session, joined by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, ahead of a larger working session.

Biden and Putin are also expected to hold dueling, solo press conferences following the summit.

Jun 16, 7:30 am
Switzerland's president wishes Biden and Putin 'a fruitful meeting'

Swiss President Guy Parmelin wished Biden and Putin "a fruitful meeting" on Wednesday, just minutes before the two leaders sit down for their much-awaited bilateral summit in Geneva.

"On behalf of the Swiss government, I would like to welcome you to Geneva, the city of peace," Parmelin said in prepared remarks in French while welcoming them to Villa La Grange, where the meeting is taking place.

"It is an honor and a pleasure for Switzerland to host you here for this summit and, in accordance with its tradition of good offices, promote dialog and mutual understanding," he added. "I wish you both a fruitful meeting in the interest of your two countries and the world."

Jun 16, 7:22 am
Putin arrives a summit site ahead of Biden

At 7:04 a.m. ET, Putin's motorcade arrived at the summit site, Villa La Grange. While both leaders tend to run late, Putin was only four minutes behind his scheduled arrival, which came ahead of the American president.

Reporters shouted questions at Putin when he exited his car and was greeted by the Swiss president.

"Do you trust President Biden?" they asked. "How are you feeling sir?"

Putin did not engage.

Jun 16, 6:57 am
Putin touches down in Geneva

Putin's plane landed in Geneva on Wednesday at around 12:30 p.m. local time (6:30 a.m. ET), as planned, ahead of his meeting with Biden.

The Russian president was seen descending a covered staircase from his jet to the tarmac, where several black cars comprising his motorcade awaited. He gave a small wave before getting in one of the cars. His motorcade departed the tarmac at 12:41 p.m. local time (6:41 a.m. ET).

Biden arrived in Geneva on Tuesday.

Swiss President Guy Parmelin is scheduled to greet Biden and Putin at Villa La Grange, where their much-awaited summit is taking place, at 1:10 p.m. local time (7:10 a.m. ET). Parmelin is then expected to deliver welcome remarks and pose for a photo with Biden and Putin before the two leaders begin their meeting.

Jun 16, 6:08 am
What Putin wants when he meets Biden

When Putin meets Biden on Wednesday in Switzerland, experts in Moscow say for all their differences, the two leaders want something similar from their first summit: to cool things down.

The U.S. and Russia's relations are the worst they have been since the Cold War, and since 2016, in particular, seem locked in almost permanent crises.

Biden has said he wants a more stable and predictable relationship with Russia, one that would allow it to focus on other foreign policy priorities that are more important to it, like taking a harder line with China. The Kremlin for its part has faced a continuous and intensifying barrage of sanctions -- the latest in April -- and with its crackdown on opposition at home and aggressive actions abroad is increasingly becoming a pariah with western countries.

Since coming to office, Russia has appeared to want to get Biden's attention. The president offered Putin the summit after Russia massed thousands of troops on Ukraine's border in April.

But now, having got Biden to the table, analysts said Putin has a clear proposal to deliver in Geneva: stay out of Russian domestic politics and Russia might act less troublesome abroad.

"The Kremlin wants to transition to a respectful adversarial relationship from a disrespectful one we have today," said Vladimir Frolov, a former diplomat at Russia's embassy in Washington and now a commentator on foreign affairs.

"That is, it wants to be treated the same way the Soviet Politburo was treated by the US in 1970-80s," Frolov told ABC News. "Meaning no name-calling" -- such as Biden calling Putin a "killer" -- "no personal sanctions on the leadership, no democracy lectures, regular personal summit meetings; respectful tone of discussions, no tangible support for Russian opposition."

It will not be an invitation for détente but instead to return to the later years of the Cold War when Putin was a KGB agent and the Soviet Union and the U.S. saw each other as enemies but tried to maintain a predictable relationship. And, crucially, where Russia was treated as an equal.

"For this, the Kremlin is prepared to promise to behave more responsibly," Frolov said.

"This seems to be in line with what the White House sees as a desirable deliverable," he continued. "So unless one of the leaders stormed out of the meeting shouting expletives, the summit would be a major success."

Jun 16, 5:11 am
Biden to hold solo press conference

Biden will go before the press corps alone following his summit with Putin in Geneva on Wednesday. He defended that choice by saying he doesn't want the attention to be on physical details, but rather the substance of their discussions from their own points of view.

"I don't want to get into being diverted by, did they shake hands? How far did they -- who talked the most and the rest," Biden said in England on Sunday. "He can say what he said the meeting was about and I will say what I think the meeting was about. That's how I'm going to handle it."

Jun 16, 4:02 am
Biden to name nine ambassadors as his foreign trip comes to a close

As Biden's first foreign trip as president prepares to come to a close, he's announced a new slate of ambassadors to represent the United States -- another instance of the Biden administration showcasing their desire to restore the U.S. presence on the world stage.

Biden's nominees include Ken Salazar for ambassador to Mexico, C. B. "Sully" Sullenberger, III, for the rank of ambassador during his tenure of service as representative of the U.S. on the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization, Thomas R. Nides for ambassador to Israel, Julianne Smith for the United States permanent representative to NATO, Dr. Cynthia Ann Telles for ambassador to Costa Rica, Julie Chung for ambassador to the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, Sharon Cromer for U.S. ambassador to the Republic of The Gambia, Troy Damian Fitrell for ambassador to the Republic of Guinea and Marc Ostfield for ambassador to the Republic of Paraguay.

A source familiar with the nominations underscored the diversity among the nominees, following the pledge Biden made to have an administration that "looks like America," and stressed that even the political picks bring relevant experience to the table for their respective roles.

Jun 16, 3:00 am
Why are Putin and Biden meeting?

Though the two leaders have met before, it will be Biden's first face-to-face with the foreign "adversary" since being elected president.

During a phone call with Putin in April, Biden was the one to propose the meeting, tacked onto which will serve as a major test for the new president who is well acquainted with the Russian leader.

It comes at a time when both Biden and Putin agree that relations between Russia and the U.S. are at an all-time low. In recent weeks, ransomware attacks in the U.S. have been linked to Russian hackers, and outrage against the imprisonment of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has grown.

Ahead of the summit, the White House tailored its message to emphasize that the meeting was taking place because of differences with Russia, not in spite of them.

"This is not a contest about who can do better in front of a press conference or try to embarrass each other. It's about making myself very clear what the conditions are to get a better relationship are with Russia," Biden said during a news conference Sunday.

"We're not looking for conflict. We are looking to resolve those actions which we think are inconsistent with international norms, number one. Number two, where we can work together," he continued.

Jun 16, 2:04 am
All eyes on Biden-Putin summit after 'incredibly productive' day at NATO

Wrapping up his first NATO summit since taking office, Biden said it was an "incredibly productive day" with American allies, which included individual meetings with roughly a dozen other leaders on the margins of the gathering. But the focus continues to be on his next major summit, when he comes face to face with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva on Wednesday.

Biden said there was a consensus among his fellow heads of state at NATO, saying they were "glad" he was meeting with Putin early in his presidency.

"Every world leader here that's a member of NATO that spoke today -- and most of them mentioned it -- thanked me for meeting with Putin now," Biden said in a press conference on Monday from the NATO headquarters in Brussels. "Every single one that spoke, and I think there were probably about 10 or 12 that spoke to it, saying they were happy that I did that, that I was going to do that."

The president has previously described Putin as a "killer," who has no soul and is a "KGB thug." Asked by ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Cecilia Vega Monday about what he has learned from his previous meeting with him in 2016 and what his mindset is like walking into a summit with Putin, Biden said he is "bright" and "tough."

"I have found that he is a, as they say, when you used to play ball, a worthy adversary," Biden said.

Biden was also asked how he could trust Putin coming out of their summit and the president said it wasn't so much about trusting him, but rather "agreeing."

"I'm hoping that -- that President Putin concludes that there is some interest, in terms of his own interest, in changing the perception that the world has of him," he said.

Jun 16, 12:56 am
Here’s what Biden’s expected to raise in his meeting with Putin

A senior White House official emphasized Tuesday that ransomware will be a “significant topic of conversation tomorrow,” as well as other cyber activity, and Biden has already said that if Navalny dies in custody, it would be a “tragedy” and “another indication that Russia has little or no intentions of abiding by basic, fundamental human rights.”

Though Putin refused to even call Navalny by name in a recent NBC News interview and has said his imprisonment shouldn’t be a concern for leaders outside of Russia, White House officials said for Biden, the issue of human rights is still important to him.

“Certainly human rights are not off the table, and individual high-profile cases are not off the table. But otherwise, I’m not going to preview what he’s going to say,” the official told reporters.

Arms control, the extension of the New START Treaty and America’s support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity will be on the agenda for the meeting, officials said Tuesday.

Jun 15, 11:06 pm
Majority of Americans trust Joe Biden to negotiate on US behalf with foreign counterparts: POLL

An ABC News/Ipsos poll found a majority of the American public has a great deal or good amount of trust in Biden to negotiate on the country's behalf with other world leaders.

That level of trust -- 52% -- roughly tracks the president's overall approval rating, which averages 53%, according to FiveThirtyEight's tracker, and is about equal to the level of trust Americans have in Biden to negotiate with Russian President Vladimir Putin specifically. Still, 3 in 10 Americans, including 70% of Republicans, say they do not trust Biden at all to negotiate with his foreign counterparts, and about 2 in 10 (18%) Americans say they trust the president just some.

A slightly larger majority (57%) say they have confidence in the president to do the right thing regarding world affairs, while about 4 in 10 (42%) do not have much or any confidence in Biden to do so, according to the poll, which was conducted by Ipsos in partnership with ABC News using Ipsos' KnowledgePanel.

Compared to the level of trust and confidence in his predecessor, former President Donald Trump, at roughly the same point in his administration, Biden's marks are noteworthy and even more so when factoring in the current level of partisan division in the United States.

Jun 15, 9:36 pm
David Whelan talks about his brother who is being held in Russian labor camp

Putin indicated on Friday that he'd be willing to talk about a potential "prisoner swap" between two U.S. Marine veterans, Trevor Reed and Paul Whelan, for Russians being held in the U.S.

Russian officials have indicated they would like to trade Reed and Whelan for two Russians held in the U.S.: Viktor Bout -- one of the world's most notorious arms dealers and dubbed "the Merchant of Death" -- and also Konstantin Yaroshenko, a pilot currently serving a lengthy jail sentence for a drug smuggling conviction.

David Whelan told ABC News Live Prime anchor Linsey Davis on Tuesday that his brother, who is manufacturing clothes in a Russian labor camp, is a hostage and that it's difficult to know when that might come to an end.

"I'm always hopeful that he'll be released, but I don't have any idea what the timeline might be," David Whelan said. "The Biden administration has been very outspoken about Paul's case and we've appreciated that as a family. It's given us hope and it's given him hope."

"But he's still a hostage and there's no evidence yet that the Russians are willing to exchange in any exchange for him," David Whelan continued. "They said last week -- the Russian government did — that they would not consider Paul for exchange."

Whelan's family released an audio message from him on Monday recorded from the prison camp in central Russia where he is held. In it, he appealed to Biden to help free him.

"Please bring me home to my family and my dog Flora where I belong. Thank you, Mr. President, for your commitment to returning me home and bringing this deplorable hostage situation to an expedient conclusion," Whelan said in the recording that his family said was made on May 30.

Jun 15, 8:10 pm

 

Relations between the 2 countries at an all-time low

 

Ahead of the summit, ABC News Chief Global Affairs Correspondent Martha Raddatz said Biden needs to walk a fine line in an effort not to alienate Putin.

"He wants the relationship to be better — the U.S.-Russia relationship — to be better than it has been," Raddatz said on ABC News Live Prime Tuesday. "And they both agree that it's at one of the lowest points in history."

"So, President Biden will have to give his grievances to Putin, telling him what he wants to do — and yet, we even heard a bit of that today, a little flattery, a little, you know, he is a 'tough guy,' he is a 'bright guy,' President Putin, and he is a 'worthy adversary,'" Raddatz continued. "That is diplomacy 101."

In a separate interview with ABC News' Linsey Davis, Masha Gessen, a staff writer at the New Yorker and author of "Surviving Autocracy," agreed that "Russian-American relations are at an all time low."

"Biden is faced with an incredibly difficult challenge," Gessen added.

Watch the interview:

Jun 15, 7:31 pm
Biden's 'watch me' comment raises stakes ahead of Putin summit: The Note

Amid all the high-level shadow boxing setting up President Joe Biden's summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Biden has added a new wrinkle -- one that amounts to a test for himself that awaits him back home.

Biden has cast this moment in the world community in broad terms for the United States -- a chance to assert the power of democratic nations in the face of challenges from China and Russia in particular. Asked Monday what he is telling allies who may be worried about any American slide toward autocracy, Biden again went big.

"What I'm saying to them is, watch me," Biden said. "That's why it's so important that I succeed in my agenda."

Biden was nonchalant in his condemnation of what he called the "phony populism" of former President Donald Trump. Speaking about Republicans, he flatly observed that "the Trump wing of the party is the bulk of the party, but it makes up a significant minority of the American people."

Still, just hours earlier, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell served notice that his brand of hardball is still going to be played, with a warning about what Republican Senate control would mean for any Supreme Court vacancy under a Democratic presidency.

McConnell is objecting to congressional scrutiny of Trump-era Justice Department strategies, just like he did to the proposed Jan. 6 commission. And it's still far from clear whether any infrastructure or climate-change legislation can pass with Republican support, to say nothing of the prospects for tax reform.

Asked about Putin's laughing response to Biden's assertion that he is a killer, Biden said his message back would be that he is laughing as well. The world now is watching -- and will still be when Biden and Putin are both back home.

-ABC News Political Director Rick Klein

Jun 15, 6:40 pm
Biden thanks Swiss for holding US-Russia summit

Biden met with Swiss President Guy Parmelin and Foreign Minister Ignzio Cassis Tuesday and, according to a White House readout, Biden thanked the country for hosting the U.S. -Russia summit and "expressed appreciation for Switzerland's unique historical role providing a neutral ground for diplomacy and negotiations."

Biden and the leaders also talked about the strong relationships between the U.S. and Switzerland on many fronts. They also discussed Switzerland's role as the U.S. protecting power in Iran for 40 years and their contributions to the global COVID response effort.

-ABC News' Molly Nagle

Jun 15, 6:02 pm
Biden says he has the full support of NATO allies to meet with Putin

The high-stakes meeting between Biden and Putin comes on the heels of a summit with NATO leaders in Belgium's capital, another first for Biden as U.S. president.

"What I'll convey to President Putin is that I'm not looking for conflict with Russia but that we will respond if Russia continues its harmful activities," Biden said at a press conference in Brussels. "And we will not fail to defend the trans-Atlantic alliance or stand up for democratic values."

Biden said not a single NATO leader expressed reservations about him meeting with Putin but rather have "thanked" him for doing it.

"I had discussions with them about -- in the open -- about what they thought was important from their perspective and what they thought was not important," he said.

Jun 15, 5:14 pm
Here's what we know about who will be inside the the summit meetings

Biden and Putin's meeting is slated to begin on Wednesday around 7 a.m. ET and last four to five hours total, with multiple sessions.

The two leaders will first take part in a small session, joined by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, before taking part in a larger working session.

The two leaders are also expected to host dueling, solo press conferences following the summit.

Biden said they weren't holding a joint news conference, as Trump did with Putin, because he didn't want the focus to be on talking time or body language. Doing it this way leaves Putin with less of an opportunity to embarrass the American president, as he's historically tried to do.

"I think the best way to deal with this is for he and I to meet, he and I to have our discussion," Biden said Sunday in England, on another leg of his first trip as president. "I don't want to get into being diverted by, did they shake hands, who talked the most and the rest."

Jun 15, 4:50 pm
How is Biden prepping for his meeting with Putin?

While he is no stranger to Putin, Biden has been intensely prepping for the meeting, receiving at least once-a-day briefings for weeks leading up to the summit.

"He's been preparing for this like he prepares for every significant international engagement. He reviews the issues -- written material; he cares about digging into the details. That very much matters to him," a senior administration official said Tuesday.

The White House has also called on experts to help Biden prep for the meeting -- including Fiona Hill, a top Russia expert and National Security and former Trump administration official who famously said she considered faking a medical emergency to end Trump’s press conference with Putin in 2018 in Helsinki, Finland.

Wednesday's meeting is slated to last four to five hours total, with multiple sessions.

-ABC News' Molly Nagle

Jun 15, 4:40 pm
Biden says he has the full support of NATO allies to meet with Putin

The high-stakes meeting between Biden and Putin comes on the heels of a summit with NATO leaders in Belgium's capital, another first for Biden as U.S. president.

"What I'll convey to President Putin is that I'm not looking for conflict with Russia but that we will respond if Russia continues its harmful activities," Biden said at a press conference in Brussels. "And we will not fail to defend the trans-Atlantic alliance or stand up for democratic values."

Biden said not a single NATO leader expressed reservations about him meeting with Putin but rather have "thanked" him for doing it.

"I had discussions with them about -- in the open -- about what they thought was important from their perspective and what they thought was not important," he said.

Jun 15, 4:12 pm

Biden says he's 'always ready’ ahead of Putin meeting

Biden arrived in Geneva earlier Tuesday less than 24 hours ahead of his meeting with Putin, scheduled for Wednesday around 7 a.m. ET and expected to last several hours.

Looking to project confidence ahead of the high-stakes summit, Biden didn’t miss a beat during a photo op Tuesday with Swiss President Guy Parmelin.

"Mr. President, are you ready for tomorrow?" a reporter asked.

"I’m always ready," Biden replied.

The meeting with the Swiss president was Biden's final public event for the day.

When the president arrived earlier in Geneva, he was met with a long line of greeters, many dressed in colorful outfits, as he stepped off Air Force One.

The White House said Biden will hold a solo press conference after meeting with Putin, where he will give his takeaways. Putin plans to do the same.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


After meeting with vice president, Texas Democrats concede federal voting rights battle is in Senate

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(WASHINGTON) — Following their "very robust conversation" with Vice President Kamala Harris, Democratic state legislators from Texas conceded that while the Biden administration wants to see federal voting reform legislation make it to the president's desk, the hurdle to passage is the U.S. Senate -- but they aren't giving up on conversations with those lawmakers.

"We know it's a priority for the administration but quite frankly it lies in the Senate," state Sen. Carol Alvarado, the chair of the Texas Senate Democratic Caucus, said after the meeting at the White House Wednesday.

Harris met with more than a dozen Democratic lawmakers from Texas, applauding them as "courageous leaders" for staging a walkout in the final hours of the state's regular legislative session last month. Their departure resulted in a lack of quorum, effectively killing a sweeping election law overhaul that would've imposed new restrictions on voting.

"We are not asking for the bestowal of a right. We are talking about the preservation of the right, that is the right of citizenship," Harris said. "When I look at that, and the -- the fact that Americans are at risk of losing their access to their right ... we know we have a great challenge in front of us and therefore fight."

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has pledged to call a special session to get an elections bill passed. While a date hasn't been set yet, the Texas Democrats' trip to Washington underscored the urgency of this issue for not only them, but Democratic lawmakers and activists in other states fighting against the nationwide, GOP-led effort to roll back voting access in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election.

With the state lawmakers seated around a table in the Roosevelt Room with her, Harris reiterated her and President Joe Biden's "absolute commitment" to seeing Congress pass two bills -- the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, or HR 4, and the For The People Act, or HR/SR 1.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Tuesday that he would bring the Senate's version of the "For The People Act" to the floor for a vote next week, but it's all but certain to fail without changing the Senate filibuster rules as no Republicans support it, and there is also one key Democratic holdout: moderate Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

Because of him, the bill brought to the Senate floor could look very different from the version passed by the House. Manchin told ABC News that last week, he delivered a list of items he supports and opposes in the current version of the bill. Schumer has said he will look at that and decide what changes he'll make to the bill.

Manchin previously told ABC News he supports the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which is the more measured of the two bills and would restore key provisions in the original Voting Rights Act of 1965 that were struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013.

The Texas lawmakers met with members of the Democratic caucus on Capitol Hill Tuesday, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Schumer, but they did not meet with Manchin.

"There have been requests, there have been attempts and we are continuing to make those requests," said Alvarado, noting that two state lawmakers did meet with his chief of staff Tuesday.

Manchin told reporters on Wednesday he had planned to -- and was "hoping" to -- meet with the Texas delegation, but had a scheduling conflict. An attempt to schedule something Wednesday morning also did not work out.

"We're not going to give up on him because we believe that although he has other things in his district to take care of, we believe this is paramount to the people of the United States," state Rep. Senfronia Thompson, the dean of the Texas House Democratic Caucus, told reporters.

While Alvarado decried "how divisive" and "very partisan" the issue of voting access has become, no one from the Texas delegation met with Republican lawmakers during the trip. Pressed on this, Thompson said they plan to start at home with Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn. State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer added that a "small delegation" met with Cornyn's office Tuesday and said there would be follow-up from that.

State Sen. Royce West said that "as legislators, we respect the legislative process," but urged political leaders, and the nation as a whole, to get behind their diverse coalition working to protect voters' access to the ballot.

"We stand together. You have Anglos, Hispanics, African Americans, all of us are standing together," West said. "We look like America, and we need other people to stand up."

ABC News' Trish Turner and Alisa Wiersema contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Attorney general unveils Biden strategy to counter domestic terrorism

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(WASHINGTON) -- The number of domestic terrorism investigations has "increased significantly" over the past year, Attorney General Merrick Garland said Tuesday, unveiling the Biden administration's new strategy to counter domestic terrorism.

"Over generations to come, the national strategy recognizes that we cannot prevent every attack, the only way to find sustainable solutions is not only to disrupt and deter, but also to address the root causes of violence," Garland said.

He cautioned that domestic violent extremists could use social media platforms to further radicalize followers.

"Today, people may be drawn to social media and then to encrypted communications channels there," Garland said. "They may interact with like minded people across the country and indeed the world want to commit violent attacks. And they may then connect with others who are formulating attack plans, as well as mustering the resources, including firearms and explosives, to execute them."

The Biden administration laid out its "core" four pillars to combat domestic violent extremism (DVE) on Tuesday, releasing a long-awaited report that highlights the administration’s effort to combat what law enforcement leaders say is the biggest threat to national security.

The report was born out of an executive order issued by President Joe Biden shortly after he took office.

The strategy will center on information sharing, thwarting DVE recruitment and mobilization efforts, disrupting activity before violence occurs and addressing the long-term issues that lead to domestic violent extremism.

Garland said the Justice Department has already been implementing additional resources such as training for U.S. attorneys and asking for an increase in the 2022 budget to help combat the DVE threat.

"Our focus as members of the Department of Justice and as a federal government is to prevent, disrupt and deter unlawful acts of violence," Garland said. "Whatever their motive as a national strategy makes clear, there is no place for violence as a means of resolving political differences in our democracy."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Still a summit secret: What happened in Helsinki between Putin and Trump?

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(WASHINGTON) -- Ahead of President Joe Biden’s meeting Wednesday with Russian President Vladimir Putin, congressional Democrats said they are no longer seeking records of former President Donald Trump’s private meetings with the Russian leader, despite previous concerns Trump tried to conceal details of their conversations.

"The Biden administration is looking forward, not back," said House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., whose panel once considered subpoenaing Trump’s interpreter to testify about his July 2018 meeting with Putin in Helsinki, Finland, where only an American interpreter was also present.

From 2017 to 2019, amid former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election, Democrats raised questions about Trump’s conversations with Putin, especially after Trump said in Helsinki, standing next to Putin, that he believed his 2017 denial of election interference, over the findings of U.S. intelligence.

Similar questions were raised after the disclosure of an unplanned conversation with Putin during a G-20 dinner in Osaka, Japan, in June 2019 during which Trump was not accompanied by an interpreter.

He had told reporters beforehand that his private discussions with Putin were "none of your business."

In 2019, the Washington Post reported that the former president went to "extraordinary lengths" to conceal details of his conversations with Putin, leaving some subordinates without a clear record of the world leaders’ interactions.

Rep. Tom Malinowksi, D-N.J., a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee who served as an assistant secretary of state in the Obama administration, said details about Trump and Putin’s conversations are "historically very interesting," but less relevant given that Trump "is not shaping US policy towards Russia or anything else."

Foreign policy analysts ABC News spoke with ahead of Biden’s meeting with Putin in Geneva largely downplayed concerns about Trump and Putin’s conversations, and their impact on Wednesday's summit.

"You’d like to have it, but I don’t think it matters much," Ian Bremmer, a political scientist and president of the Eurasia Group, who first reported Trump and Putin’s second meeting at the G-20 in 2017, told ABC News.

"What happened beforehand has obviously created an atmosphere, a situation in the United States where everyone’s going to be watching closely what happens during that meeting and what is said afterwards,” Angela Stent, the director of the Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies at Georgetown University and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, told ABC News. "But I think the substance of what was discussed between Trump and Putin is much less important for President Biden going forward."

To prepare for his meeting with Putin, Biden has been receiving daily briefings leading up to the summit, sessions that have included advisors and experts inside the government, and senior officials in the previous administration, including Fiona Hill, a Russia expert who served on Trump’s National Security Council.

"Biden is very engaged in those sessions," Brett Bruen, a former diplomat who served as the director of Global Engagement at the White House during the Obama administration and participated in briefings with the then vice president, told ABC News.

"Obama would tend to listen, and ask a couple of questions, whereas with Biden it’s more of a conversation," he said. "He does perhaps, more than any other first term president going out on his first foreign trip, have the benefit of being on the world stage for a very long time."

While Bruen said any gaps in the government’s record of Trump’s conversations with Putin could create "major blind spots" in Biden’s preparations, there’s been no indication that the questions have disrupted Biden’s preparations.

In March, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters she was "not aware" of any "deep dive" into finding out what Trump and Putin discussed during their one-on-one meetings. The White House declined to comment on whether the topic was revisited before Wednesday’s summit.

"From the people I’ve spoken to, the interpreter who was with Trump at the Helsinki meeting, the other people in the National Security Council at that point, they had a pretty good idea of what was said," Stent told ABC News.

Unlike Trump’s meetings with Putin, Biden’s summit is unlikely to similarly dominate headlines, Bremmer predicted.

"This was the single issue that most exercised the anti-Trump voters on foreign policy," he said. "I don’t think this will be front page news for a week."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Senate progressives threaten to tank bipartisan infrastructure deal

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(WASHINGTON) -- Progressive Democrats are threatening to sink a bipartisan infrastructure proposal if they do not receive assurances that moderate and conservative members of their own party would back a go-it-alone effort to pass President Joe Biden's other key infrastructure priorities.

Those progressives want a guarantee that Democrats would unite behind the use of a fast-track budget tool known as reconciliation that allows them to bypass GOP objections with a party-line vote on a package including, climate, elder and child care and housing.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is in a difficult position. He cannot afford to lose progressives if he hopes to muster the 60 votes necessary to pass a bipartisan infrastructure bill. And to pass more progressive priorities using reconciliation, he can't afford to lose a single Democrat.

"One of the questions asked in our caucus lunch: Will the Democrats who are a part of this (compromise) be with us on reconciliation for what is not included?" Sen. Dick Durbin, the Democratic whip, said Monday. "I think that is an important question."

To that end, Schumer announced Tuesday that he plans to convene Democrats on the Senate Budget Committee to lay out their 2022 budget objectives. This move is the first step necessary to tee up the reconciliation process.

For progressives, evidence that Democratic leadership is moving forward with reconciliation is essential to secure votes for the bipartisan deal.

Already, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders has said the bipartisan deal doesn't have his support.

"I wouldn't vote for it," he said on Monday.

But other Senate progressives held the door open, saying they could be willing to vote for the bipartisan deal if they can get a "guarantee" that a reconciliation package, with climate at the center of it, is a sure thing.

"There has to be a guarantee ultimately -- an absolute unbreakable guarantee -- that climate is going to be at the center of any infrastructure deal which we cut," Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., said Tuesday. "So we can haggle over what the process is, maybe, but we can't over what the end product is.

Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., said that the reconciliation package and the bipartisan deal need to be "welded together" before a vote on the bipartisan deal is taken in order for him to support it.

Relying on reconciliation to pass priorities essential to the Biden agenda and progressives is a gamble for Democratic leadership. Some Democrats have said previously they wouldn't back a partisan effort, and Schumer needs all 50 Senate Democrats to pass a reconciliation package.

But Monday night, in a potential shift in position, Sen. Joe Manchin, a moderate who has previously said he opposes moving forward with reconciliation, left the door open to supporting it.

"I'd like to make sure that both of them get a fair look and see," Manchin said, referencing the bipartisan deal and the reconciliation package. "We're looking at everything. I just want to see what the bills are."

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, lead negotiator on the bipartisan offer, briefed the Republican conference on the group's plan behind closed doors Tuesday.

Following the meeting, GOP members seemed increasingly open to the proposal -- the details of which have not be revealed to the public.

MORE: After 1st round fails, where do infrastructure talks stand?
Though a lot of questions remain, Republican whip, Sen. John Thune, said the proposal was received "favorably" by his members.

"Our members were very open to it," Thune said. "There was a lot of pretty good feedback even from some of our more conservative members."

Key negotiators have been reluctant to set a deadline on when negotiations need to be wrapped up, but time is running out, with only a few weeks before a legislative recess.

"Two weeks this month, three weeks next month, one week in August," Durbin said. "So you put that down on the table and say well what do we have to do? A lot."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Trump allies leaned on DOJ to push probes into 2020 election fraud claims

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(WASHINGTON) — Then-President Donald Trump’s assistant, on his behalf, emailed the official who would become acting attorney general about investigating false claims of 2020 election fraud, documents released by the House Oversight Committee on Tuesday show.

The emails to Jeffrey Rosen, from Trump's former assistant -- with the subject line "From POTUS" -- purport to show manipulation of voting machines in Michigan.

Documents forwarded to Rosen allege election fraud in Antrim County, Michigan – claims that turned out to be false.

The emails were sent on Dec. 14, the day Trump announced Bill Barr would be stepping down as attorney general and as Electoral College votes were being counted.

Barr concluded in December before he left that there was no evidence of widespread voter fraud.

"To date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election," Barr told the Associated Press.

Trump's assistant also forwarded from Trump, to Richard Donoghue, then-acting deputy attorney general, a draft lawsuit, to be filed by the Justice Department, alleging voter fraud. Donoghue forwarded the draft lawsuit to U.S. attorneys in the Western and Eastern District of Michigan.

A lawsuit was never filed.

In a Dec. 30 email to Rosen released by the Democratic-controlled committee, then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows asks Rosen, "Can you have your team look into these allegations of wrongdoing. Only the alleged voter fraud," he wrote.

Another theory Meadows peddled to Rosen, in a Jan. 1 email with a link to YouTube video, was an allegation the committee said came from a former intelligence officer that people in Italy had somehow used satellites to manipulate votes in the election.

Rosen, in an email to acting Attorney General Donoghue, said he was asked to meet with one of Rudy Giuliani’s associates, Brad Johnson.

"After this message, I was asked to have the FBI meet with Brad Johnson, and I responded that Johnson could call or walk into the FBI’s Washington Field Office with any evidence he purports to have," Rosen writes. "On a follow up call, I learned that Johnson is working with Rudy Giuliani who regarded my comments as 'an insult.' Asked if I would reconsidered, I flatly refused, said I would not be giving any special treatment to Giuliani or any of his 'witnesses,' and re-affirming yet again that I will not talk to Giuliani about any of this."

Donahue responded in an email that the theory Meadow wanted investigated was "pure insanity."

Meadows also sent along an email for then-acting Civil Rights Division head Jeffery Clark to look into alleged "signature match anomalies" in Fulton County in Georgia.

"Can you believe this?" Rosen writes in a message forwarded to Donoghue.

The document release also includes an email from Kurt Olsen, who was working with Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, to Rosen’s chief of staff, John Moran. Paxton had already brought a lawsuit alleging election fraud.

The U.S. Supreme Court in December had officially put to rest the 11th-hour attempt by Texas and Trump's Republican allies Trump to throw out millions of votes in four states and overturn Democrat Joe Biden’s victory.

In an unsigned, single-page order, the court rejected the lawsuit, citing a lack of standing under Article III of the Constitution. In dismissing the case, the Supreme Court said Texas had no "cognizable interest" in how Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Georgia conduct their own elections.

"Attached is a draft complaint to be brought by the United States modeled after the Texas action," the email says. "As I said on our call, the President of the United States has seen this complaint, and he directed me last night to brief AG Rosen in person today to discuss bringing this action."

In May, Rosen testified in front of the House Oversight Committee that during his tenure in the Department no action was taken regarding the 2020 election.

"During my tenure, no special prosecutors were appointed, whether for election fraud or otherwise; no public statements were made questioning the election; no letters were sent to State officials seeking to overturn the election results; no DOJ court actions or filings were submitted seeking to overturn election results, and the only time DOJ did file a brief it was to seek a dismissal of Representative Gohmert’s lawsuit aiming to decertify the electoral count—and that lawsuit was dismissed, as DOJ had urged," he said.

Rosen declined an ABC News request for comment on Tuesday's email release.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Biden to hold July 4 celebration he once hoped would mark 'independence' from COVID

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(WASHINGTON) -- "America is back," says President Joe Biden, and so are July Fourth traditions in the nation's capital.

Though the country isn't on track to meet Biden's goal of having 70% of American adults vaccinated with at least one dose by July Fourth, the White House is eager to tout what it views as success reining in COVID-19 with an Independence Day celebration intended, Biden said in March, to highlight America's "independence" from the virus.

Biden plans to host first responders, essential workers, and military service members and their families on the South Lawn on Independence Day, a White House official confirmed to ABC News on Tuesday. More than 1,000 guests are expected, though final details are still being sorted out.

It's slated to be the largest event yet for the Biden White House. Under current policy, guests to the grounds must have tested negative for COVID-19. At a bill signing indoors last month, vaccinated lawmakers were back to pressing the flesh without masks, signaling one might expect to see a packed house July Fourth as well.

The plans were first reported by the AP.

In addition to the party at the White House, the National Mall will also be open for the traditional holiday fireworks, giving friends and families in Washington the chance to watch the display together after public parties in the district were restricted for much of the last year.

The National Park Service announced Tuesday it will put on a 17-minute display starting at 9:09 p.m. with fireworks launched from both sides of the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool. The organization called for unvaccinated attendees to wear masks indoors and "crowded outdoor spaces," citing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations.

Along with the celebration in the nation's capital, the White House will also activate state and local partners to host their own events across the country.

Earlier this month, Biden announced the specific goal of getting 70% of adult Americans at least partially vaccinated by July Fourth to motivate the country to return to a sense of normalcy, pitching the deadline as a gateway to "a summer of freedom."

"Take at least five actions to help in June, and you might even be invited to visit us at the White House in July to celebrate independence together,” Biden teased in remarks June 2 to kick off his "national month of action" to mobilize vaccinations.

But when Biden pitched the date as a key marker for him back in March, he painted a picture of small gatherings for the holiday.

"If we do this together, by July the 4th, there’s a good chance you, your families, and friends will be able to get together in your backyard or in your neighborhood and have a cookout and a barbeque and celebrate Independence Day," he said on the anniversary of America shutting down due to COVID-19. "That doesn’t mean large events with lots of people together, but it does mean small groups will be able to get together."

"After this long hard year, that will make this Independence Day something truly special, where we not only mark our independence as a nation, but we begin to mark our independence from this virus," he added.

Fourteen states and Washington have now reached the Biden administration’s goal of vaccinating at least 70% of their adult population with at least one dose -- a stark contrast to the news last July Fourth that saw more than 50,000 Americans diagnosed with the virus a day in the lead up to the holiday.

Still, the administration needs about 14 million Americans vaccinated in the next three weeks to reach its goal. With vaccinations dropping off -- from nearly 2 million per day two months ago to less than 370,000 a day now -- Biden appears on track to miss another self-imposed deadline. (He set a goal to sign policing reform legislation by the anniversary George Floyd's death in May. Negotiations are ongoing).

And with experts warning of the delta variant taking hold of and vast geographic disparities in vaccinations, some say it may be too soon to encourage parties across the country.

The U.S. is expected to surpass 600,000 deaths due to COVID-19 on Tuesday.

As more elements of life return to business as usual, the administration is hoping its month of national action and plethora of partnerships with public and private companies will help encourage Americans still holding out on vaccinations to get their shots. So far, more than 64% of Americans have received at least one dose, according to the CDC.

"Regardless of where we are on July 4th, we're not shutting down shop on July 5th. We're going to continue to press to vaccinate more people across the country," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said earlier this month when asked about concerns about not meeting Biden's goal.

Jay Van Bavel, an associate professor of psychology at New York University, told ABC News in March, when Biden set his sights on July Fourth, that choosing that date can make a difference in how Americans respond.

"July 4th is part of the signature day of national identity for Americans," Van Bavel said. "And so doing that is symbolic, it's signaling that this is something we should all pull behind in every state, in every city, in every town, to try to accomplish."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


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