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ABC NewsBY: QUINN SCANLAN and MEREDITH DELISO, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Day Two of the annual Conservative Political Action Conference -- considered a barometer of the Republican Party's base -- is underway in Orlando, Florida. And as was the case on Friday, speakers stood not only behind former President Donald Trump but also some of his most inflammatory and false ideas.

The conference -- called "TPAC" for Trump Political Action Conference on Friday by Donald Trump Jr. -- has so far been less about traditional conservative values and more centered around loyalty to Trump, allegiance to his discredited claims of election fraud and attacks on Democrats.

"The least popular in our party are the ones who want to erase Donald Trump and Donald Trump's supporters from our party," Indiana Rep. Jim Banks, chairman of the Republican Study Committee, said. "If that happens, we won't win back the majority in 2022. We definitely won't win back to the White House in 2024 if we erase Donald Trump."

Trump hasn't appeared at the conference yet -- he will make his first major address since leaving office at it on Sunday -- though attendees posed with a golden chrome-painted statue of the former president. The 200-pound fiberglass replica was made in Mexico by an American ex-pat, according to Politico.

Trump lost the presidential election by about 7 million votes, and the election results were certified in every battleground state. His campaign's efforts to challenge the outcome with baseless election fraud claims failed in court dozens of times.

Still, on Saturday, Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar, a Freedom Caucus member and one of the chief deniers of the results -- who was the surprise keynote speaker at a conference Friday night in Orlando, Florida, where speakers spread white nationalist rhetoric -- reignited conspiracies about the election being rigged.

"We had a great ruling in Arizona," Gosar said during a panel about immigration. "As many of you know, there were indices of fraud that were out in Arizona, and yesterday, a federal district court judge allowed the state legislature, who has supremacy over the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, to access the Dominion machines and the ballots."

On Friday, a judge ruled that Maricopa County must turn over the ballots from the November election to the state Senate and provide access to its voting machines so an audit can be conducted, according to the Arizona Republic. The state Senate had issued a subpoena for the ballots. The county has conducted multiple audits before and after the election. As was the case in every other state, no widespread election fraud has been discovered in Arizona and the Trump campaign's challenges to the results failed in court.

Rep. Jody Hice, R-Ga., blamed his state's election losses on Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.

"I guarantee you, Georgia is not blue, and what happened this election was solely because of a horrible secretary of state and horrible decisions that he made," he said during a panel on "Who's Really Running the Biden Administration." "And the Georgia General Assembly even now is in process of fixing a lot of that, and so I think we're going to see some tremendous change in that regard."

Raffensperger has said that Trump was "just plain wrong" about rampant voter fraud in the state and that the election followed the law.

Republicans in the Georgia General Assembly have introduced more than a dozen election/voting bills. Voting rights advocates and Democrats have warned they will have significant restrictions on voting, particularly for non-white residents.

During the panel, Hice conceded that Democrats did better than Republicans at registering voters.

"But listen we have got to register the voters," he said. "The Democrats outdid us when it came to registering new voters, and they got those folks out to vote."

Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who faces a recall effort, was a frequent target Saturday.

Former Ambassador Richard Grenell, who served as acting director of national intelligence in the Trump administration, said, "In my three decades in American politics, I have never seen a better case for a recall, than there is right now in California."

He said someone should challenge Newsom, saying, "If a public official is still failing to deliver on their promises, and if you can't limit their term or recall them in time, there's always one other option. You can run against them yourself."

Politico reported he was laying the groundwork for a gubernatorial bid if the effort to recall Newsom is successful, but Grenell denied that to ABC News after this story published. He also said he is not running for governor in 2022.

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stood firmly behind Trump's "America First" agenda on Saturday, while California Rep. Devin Nunes touched on the COVID-19 relief bill passed by the House overnight with no Republican support, calling it a "slush fund."

During a panel about "fighting communist China," Tennessee Sen. Bill Hagerty said he thinks Trump's administration, in which he served as the ambassador to Japan, will go down as one of the "most consequential" in history.

Former U.S. trade representative Robert Lighthizer followed up by saying Trump may not be done yet.

"He may have more!" Lighthizer said.

Editor's Note: This story previously stated that, according to Politico, former Ambassador Richard Grenell was laying the groundwork to run for governor of California if the effort to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom successfully made it on the ballot. After this story published, Grenell denied that to ABC News and said he would not run in 2022 either.

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ABC NewsBY: MEG CUNNINGHAM, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Coronavirus relief would be easier to pass if it were truly bipartisan, Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said Sunday on ABC's "This Week," adding that he thinks Democrats should trim the coronavirus relief bill to make it more targeted -- and to garner more support from Republicans.

"There's an easy answer to this, let's make it bipartisan," Portman told ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos.

"We can continue to work together and in this case, it would be very easy to get Republican support for a COVID relief package," he added.

According to the New York Times, there is Republican voter support for this package -- 40%.

"That is certainly one definition of bipartisanship," Stephanopoulos pressed.

Portman said he believes people support additional relief money for themselves, but that there are items in the bill which aren't relevant to coronavirus relief.

"Yeah, if -- you know -- checks are coming out to people's homes that's going to be popular, but that doesn't mean that this is the right bill. It's $1.9 trillion -- more than half of it won't even be spent in this calendar year," Portman responded.

"There are a number of things in here that have nothing to do with COVID relief," he said. "It's just not targeted. We have a Republican alternative. As you know, we've been talking with the president and his people about it, but got no response, which is much more targeted and focused on the real health care and economic matters that are urgent and that's what we ought to do."

Portman pointed to Republican packages during the Trump administration, and told Stephanopoulos that it was clear that the GOP would be in favor of additional relief. Prominent members of the party, were in Orlando, Florida, this weekend for the Conservative Political Action Conference, and on Saturday, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., criticized the Democrats' relief package.

"They're using COVID -- we just passed a COVID bill 45 days ago that Donald Trump signed into law -- they haven't even spent all that money yet," Nunes said.

Portman said that while former President Donald Trump -- who remains a central focus of CPAC this year -- is still popular within the party, according to polling, policies are what voters are really looking for from its lawmakers.

"I do think the policies are what is even more popular and that's why Republicans did pretty well in 2020, other than at the presidential level," he said. "That's where we ought to focus."

Stephanopoulos pushed Portman on the role of Trump within the party.

"But can you talk about that when President Trump is out there in the lead?" he asked.

"Well, it sometimes makes it more difficult. But look, I think he has an opportunity today to talk about his accomplishments, instead of talking about personalities ... talk about what you did," the senator said, referring to Trump's anticipated speech at CPAC on Sunday afternoon.

On "This Week," Portman also took aim at President Joe Biden's stance on Saudi Arabia and his decision -- announced late this week -- not to further punish Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi King Salman's son and heir to the Saudi throne, after an unclassified report from the U.S. intelligence community determined that he approved an operation to capture or kill journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

"But you have to give him credit, he's increased sanctions and increased the travel bans on those individuals directly responsible," Portman said. "I do think there ought to be something additional that focuses on him. And it could be along the lines of sanctions or travel bans, just as they've done for those directly involved with the killing of Khashoggi."

"Look, I know this is tough, because Saudis are pushing back right now on Iran. That's very important," he added. "So it's a delicate area and as we said earlier, it's easy to campaign but harder to govern. But I think there should be something directly related to the crown prince."

Fred Hiatt, a friend of Khashoggi's and the editorial page editor at The Washington Post where Khashoggi worked, also told Stephanopoulos in a separate interview on Sunday that he did not think the Biden administration went far enough in punishing the crown prince, either.

"I think the question is, what can you do so that the next time MBS or another would-be butcher like that is thinking about doing a heinous crime like this, will stop and think it's not worth doing," Hiatt said, referring to the crown prince by his initials. "And so far, the calculation for (Biden) is, you know, he's paid a price and the release of the report last week was a good step forward. But it's not a sufficient price. And, you know, Biden's own Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen last week said that those responsible for the reprehensible murder of Jamal Khashoggi must be held accountable. We now know that the man most responsible is the crown prince -- and he hasn't yet been held accountable."



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ABC NewsBY: MATT ZARRELL, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- New York Attorney General Letitia James has rejected a proposal from Gov. Andrew Cuomo to select an independent investigator to conduct a review of the allegations of sexual harassment against the governor, James said on Sunday afternoon.

After two former aides came forward this week with accusations against Cuomo, the governor's special counsel and senior adviser, Beth Garvey, at first announced that an independent review would be launched, led by former federal Judge Barbara Jones.

But after critics argued Jones was inadequate given her business ties to Cuomo's top aide, Steve Cohen, the governor's office released a statement on Sunday morning that James and the chief judge of the court of appeals, Janet DiFiore, would jointly select an "independent and qualified lawyer in private practice without political affiliation to conduct a thorough review and issue a public report."

"We had selected former Federal Judge Barbara Jones, with a stellar record for qualifications and integrity, but we want to avoid even the perception of a lack of independence or inference of politics," the statement said. "The work product will be solely controlled by that independent lawyer personally selected by the Attorney General and Chief Judge."

"All members of the Governor's office will cooperate fully. We will have no further comment until the report is issued," Garvey said.

Later on Sunday, James rejected the governor's call for the appointment of an outside lawyer and repeated her request for a formal referral from the governor's office so she can lead an investigation with subpoena power.

"To clarify, I do not accept the governor's proposal. The state's Executive Law clearly gives my office the authority to investigate this matter once the governor provides a referral. While I have deep respect for Chief Judge DiFiore, I am the duly elected attorney general and it is my responsibility to carry out this task, per Executive Law," James said in a statement. "The governor must provide this referral so an independent investigation with subpoena power can be conducted."

"I urge the governor to make this referral immediately," James said.

State and U.S. senators, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and others are calling for a completely independent investigation. Some, including state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, have called for Cuomo's resignation.

Allegations made against Cuomo

Two former aides to Cuomo made allegations of sexual harassment against the governor this week.

On Wednesday, Lindsey Boylan made claims of "sexual harassment and bullying" against the governor, saying it lasted "for years."

In a post on Medium, Boylan described one incident aboard a flight with Cuomo, aides and a New York state trooper in October 2017 where Cuomo suggested they play "strip poker." She also complained to friends that Cuomo "would go out of his way to touch me on my lower back, arms and legs."

Boylan, who began working in the state office in 2015 and was later promoted to deputy secretary for economic development and special adviser to the governor, accused Cuomo of creating "a culture within his administration where sexual harassment and bullying is so pervasive, that it is not only condoned but expected."

Months before her Medium post, Boylan, saying she was compelled to go public after seeing Cuomo's name floated as a potential U.S. attorney general candidate, began tweeting allegations against Cuomo on Dec. 13.

"Yes, @NYGovCuomo sexually harassed me for years. Many saw it, and watched. I could never anticipate what to expect: would I be grilled on my work (which was very good) or harassed about my looks. Or would it be both in the same conversation? This was the way for years."

Boylan, who is currently running for Manhattan borough president, resigned from the governor's office in September 2018.

After Boylan's Medium post, Cuomo's office issued a statement denying her allegations against the governor.

"As we said before, Ms. Boylan's claims of inappropriate behavior are quite simply false," according to a statement from press secretary Caitlin Girouard.

The statement also denied Boylan's allegations of what happened on the October 2017 flight.

Calls for an independent investigation and for the governor to resign have increased after a second accuser came forward with allegations against Cuomo on Saturday.

Charlotte Bennett, another former aide to Cuomo, told The New York Times that the governor harassed her last spring, including one incident on June 5, 2020, where Cuomo allegedly asked her questions about her personal life, romantic interests and stated that he was "open to relationships with women in their 20s," the Times reported.

Bennett left Cuomo's administration in November, she told the Times.

"I understood that the governor wanted to sleep with me, and felt horribly uncomfortable and scared," Bennett told the Times, adding that she told Cuomo's chief of staff, Jill DesRosiers, a week after the June 5 incident and was transferred from the role of executive assistant to a health policy adviser.

Cuomo released a statement after the Times story was published, calling Bennett a "hardworking and valued member of our team during COVID" but denied making any advances towards Bennett.

Cuomo said he never intended to act in any way that was inappropriate and was trying to be a supportive and helpful mentor. "The last thing I would ever have wanted was to make her feel any of the things that are being reported," he said.

"This situation cannot and should not be resolved in the press; I believe the best way to get to the truth is through a full and thorough outside review and I am directing all state employees to comply with that effort. I ask all New Yorkers to await the findings of the review so that they know the facts before making any judgements. I will have no further comment until the review has concluded."
Cuomo also under fire for nursing home deaths

Cuomo is also being investigated by the FBI and federal prosecutors, who are looking at the governor's coronavirus task force, with a particular focus on his administration's handling of nursing homes early in the coronavirus pandemic, two sources familiar with the matter told ABC News.

The investigation, first reported by the Albany Times Union, is in its initial stages. Subpoenas have been issued, the sources said.

The FBI has declined to comment, as did the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York.

The full scope of the investigation is not immediately clear, but the sources said there was a particular interest in nursing homes, which have been a source of increasing frustration for Cuomo.

The number of New York nursing home residents who died from the virus may have been undercounted by as much as 50%, according to an investigation conducted by the New York attorney general's office, which said that many of those patients died after being moved to the hospital and were thus not counted as nursing home deaths.

Investigators asked 62 nursing homes for information about on-site and in-hospital deaths from COVID-19 beginning the week of March 1, 2020, and found significant discrepancies between those figures and the numbers reported to the Department of Health. In one instance, according to the report, a facility reported to the DOH that on-site fatalities totaled five confirmed COVID-19 deaths and six presumed COVID-19 deaths, but told the AG's office there were actually 27 deaths at the facility and 13 hospital deaths -- a discrepancy of 29 deaths.

Earlier this month, a Cuomo aide conceded the administration withheld the nursing home death toll from state lawmakers out of fear it would be used against the state by the Trump administration.

"He starts tweeting that we killed everyone in nursing homes," Cuomo's top aide, Melissa DeRosa, said of Trump on the conference call recording, a transcript of which was provided by DeRosa to ABC News. "He starts going after [New Jersey Gov. Phil] Murphy, starts going after [California Gov. Gavin] Newsom, starts going after [Michigan Gov.] Gretchen Whitmer. He directs the Department of Justice to do an investigation into us."

Cuomo conceded his handling of nursing home fatality data created a "void" that became filled by misinformation and conspiracy theories -- but he declined to apologize.

"The void we created by not providing information was filled with skepticism and cynicism and conspiracy theories which fueled the confusion," Cuomo said during a news conference Monday. "The void we created disinformation and that caused more anxiety for loved ones."

ABC News' Aaron Katersky and Laura Romero contributed to this report.

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Official White House Photo by Adam SchultzBy MICHELLE STODDART, LAUREN KING and KATE PASTOR, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- This is Day 42 of the administration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.

Here is how the day is unfolding. All times Eastern:

Feb 27, 12:10 pm
Biden praises House for passing American Rescue Plan, tells Senate there’s “no time to waste”

During brief remarks Saturday morning, Biden praised the House passage of his American Rescue Plan and urged the Senate to pass the bill, warning there’s “no time to waste.”

He said he spoke with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi just before stepping out and thanked her for her work on the effort and for moving the country “one step forward” on relief.

The $1.9 trillion economic coronavirus relief package will provide resources to schools and businesses, boost funding for vaccinations and testing and grant financial relief to Americans across the country.

“With their vote, we're one step closer to vaccinating the nation. We are one step closer to putting $1,400 in the pockets of Americans,” Biden said. “We're one step closer to extending unemployment benefits for millions of Americans who are shortly going to lose them. We're one step closer to helping millions of Americans feed their families, and keep a roof over their head.”

“We're one step closer to getting our kids safely back in school. And we're one step closer to getting state and local governments the money they need to prevent massive layoffs for essential workers,” he added.

He directed a message to the Senate, stressing, “I hope it will receive quick action.”

“If we act now, decisively, quickly and boldly, we can finally get ahead of this virus, we can finally get our economy moving again, and the people of this country have suffered far too much for too long," the president said.

Feb 27, 11:49 am
House passes $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package in party-line vote


The House approved a massive $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, advancing President Joe Biden's top agenda item and providing more resources to schools and businesses, boosting funding for vaccinations and testing, and granting financial relief to Americans across the country.

Democrats passed the measure early Saturday morning in a party-line vote, with Republicans united against the bill calling for slimmer, more-targeted relief.

All but two Democrats supported the bill in the 219-212 vote, and no Republicans backed the package.

Reps. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., and Jared Golden, D-Maine, voted against the legislation.

The Senate is expected to take up the legislation next week, after the chamber's parliamentarian ruled that Democrats could not include a $15 minimum wage in the proposal over budgetary concerns.

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drnadig/iStockBy BENJAMIN SIEGEL and TRISH TURNER, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- The House approved a massive $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, advancing President Joe Biden's top agenda item and providing more resources to schools and businesses, boosting funding for vaccinations and testing, and granting financial relief to Americans across the country.

Democrats passed the measure early Saturday morning in a party-line vote, with Republicans united against the bill calling for slimmer, more-targeted relief.

All but two Democrats supported the bill in the 219-212 vote, and no Republicans backed the package.

Reps. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., and Jared Golden, D-Maine, voted against the legislation.

The Senate is expected to take up the legislation next week, after the chamber's parliamentarian ruled that Democrats could not include a $15 minimum wage in the proposal over budgetary concerns.

House Democrats kept the provision in their version of the legislation, which will be taken up again before Congress can send it to the White House for Biden's signature by the middle of March, when federal unemployment benefits expire.

"This started almost a year ago," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said of the pandemic ahead of the House vote. "Today's vote is a crucial step in our fight to defeat COVID-19."

The American Rescue Plan would provide $1,400 stimulus checks to millions of Americans across the country and extend federal unemployment benefits through the summer. It would also provide hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to state and local governments, schools and vaccine and COVID-19 testing efforts -- in addition to nutritional and child care assistance.

While Democrats and the White House have touted public polls showing broad bipartisan support for the measure, and the endorsements of state and local GOP leaders, House Republicans are expected to vote against the bill as a bloc. For weeks, they have argued that Democrats' proposal is too expensive and ignores the $4 trillion in coronavirus relief approved by Congress last year, some of which remains unspent.

"This isn't a relief bill," House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said Friday. "It takes care of Democrats' political allies while it fails to deliver for American families."

Americans "want us to actually work together, to come together and solve the problems in a bipartisan way," Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, R-Ohio, said on the House floor. "I think that message was clear. And the more the majority ignores it, the shorter their majority will be."

What's to come in the Senate

Biden briefly engaged with a group of 10 Senate Republicans pushing an alternative to his plan, but rejected their $600 billion counteroffer as too meager, arguing it did not meet the moment and would cut spending on key programs included in his legislation.

Democrats have advanced the coronavirus legislation using the budget reconciliation process, in a bid to avoid the Senate's 60-vote threshold and pass their package with a simple majority of votes, given the slim 50-50 divide in the upper chamber.

On Thursday night, the Senate parliamentarian told the Senate that the $15 minimum wage increase initially in the proposal would not meet the stringent budget rules of the reconciliation process and would have to be stripped out of the package for it to pass with a simple majority.

Progressives erupted at the ruling, with some calling for Democrats to overrule the decision and others renewing their push to end the legislative filibuster in the chamber.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., announced they would offer an amendment to the budget bill, once it comes over from the House, that would penalize "large, profitable corporations" through the elimination of tax deductions" if those companies do not raise the minimum wage for their workers to "at least $15 an hour." The two chairmen also said that measure would offer incentives to small businesses to raise worker wages.

Another option that appeared to have been taken off the table by White House chief of staff Ron Klain was overruling Elizabeth MacDonough, the Senate parliamentarian, something that would take 51 votes in the Senate. If all Democrats were united in doing so, Vice President Kamala Harris could cast her tie-breaking vote to overrule MacDonough. But with Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., opposing that action -- citing a need to protect the institution -- the need for Harris' vote appeared moot.

Most Republicans have stood firm against raising the wage during the pandemic, citing potential harm to smaller businesses and workers, though a small handful, including Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, have offered a more modest proposal to increase the wage to $10 an hour while mandating that employers implement E-Verify, thereby blocking undocumented workers.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Democrats would still "absolutely" pass the package without the minimum wage increase, and members of the caucus reaffirmed their commitment to the issue on Friday.

"I'm not going to stop till we get it," Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., said Friday.

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Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty ImagesBy QUINN SCANLAN and KENDALL KARSON, ABC News

(ORLANDO, Fla.) -- Conservative elected officials, activists and media personalities descended on Orlando, Florida, on Friday to kick off three days of speeches and panels at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, which culminates Sunday with former President Donald Trump's first major address since leaving office.

Officially beginning Thursday evening, this year's conference comes about a year into the coronavirus pandemic. Normally held in Maryland, Matt Schlapp, the chairman of the American Conservative Union, took a jab at the state's Republican governor, Larry Hogan, for telling the organization they could not hold CPAC there in 2021.

Throughout the day, speakers referenced the pandemic by decrying the restrictions officials put in place. Only about an hour into Friday's programming, attendees had to be reminded to keep their masks on.

The year's event also comes as the Republican Party grapples with its identity.

One faction of the party doesn't want Trump at the helm following the Jan. 6 insurrection when Trump-supporting rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to stop Congress from counting electoral votes certifying President Joe Biden's victory, which Trump relentlessly decried as illegitimate despite all evidence to the contrary.

But that segment of the party was notably absent from CPAC, which is considered a barometer of the Republican Party's base. The theme of CPAC 2021 is "America Uncanceled," but the pre-Trump GOP and establishment Republicans seemed to be "canceled" from the conference altogether.

Here are three key takeaways from Friday's programming:

Trump's Republican Party on full display -- but so is the schism in the GOP

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz claimed that the media "desperately, desperately, desperately wants to see a Republican Civil War." Kimberly Guilfoyle, a former Fox News personality and Trump campaign aide who is dating the president's eldest son, concurred, saying, "The press wants you to believe that the American conservative movement is fractured."

CPAC's speakers were staunchly behind Trump and the new Republican Party that emerged throughout his four-year tenure, and took direct swipes at the "establishment" wing of the party and Republicans who have come out against Trump.

Republican John Boehner was the speaker of the House for four years, but at CPAC, Cruz joked that he didn't know who he was. The quip comes after reports that Boehner, in the audio version of his memoir, tells Cruz to "go f--- yourself."

In between the shots aimed at the "radical left" or the Democratic Party as a whole, some seemed more focused on targeting their own Republican colleagues.

"My name is Jason Chaffetz. I'm from Utah, and I am not Mitt Romney. If you're looking for Pierre Delecto you need to go down the hall, go left and then just keep going left until ... well, just keep going left. That's where you'll find him," former Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz joked, referencing Romney's burner Twitter account handle.

"If Liz Cheney were on this stage today. She'd get booed off of it. What does that say? The leadership of our party is not found in Washington D.C.," said Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, jabbing at the GOP's conference chair, who voted to impeach Trump.

Donald Trump Jr. also took aim at Cheney.

"She hates Donald Trump and his policies … because she's tied to an establishment that has done nothing but fail us time and time again," he said.

Florida Sen. Rick Scott, who is charged with leading the party's efforts to retake the Senate majority as chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, acknowledged "all the infighting in the Republican Party," but adamantly said he wouldn't intervene.

"Many people are saying that my job is to mediate between warring factions on the right, and mediate the war of words between the party leaders," Scott said. "I've got some news for you, I'm not going to mediate anything, instead I'm going to fight for our conservative values."

He also made clear that the GOP is very much still Trump's party.

"We will not win the future by trying to go back to where the Republican Party used to be. If we do, we will lose the working base that President Trump so animated," Scott said. "We're gonna lose elections across the country and ultimately we're gonna lose our nation."

Dire rhetoric used to describe Democratic political opponents, what's at stake in country

During the second impeachment trial, the core of the House impeachment managers' case was this: Trump's extreme rhetoric about the presidential election being "rigged" incited a mob to storm the U.S. Capitol.

Every Democratic senator and seven Republican senators bought the argument, voting to convict Trump. In both the House and Senate, even Republicans who did not vote to impeach or convict Trump, respectively, criticized his rhetoric and actions surrounding the election.

But at CPAC, while there were few mentions of Jan. 6, several speakers' rhetoric was similarly inflammatory as they described political opponents in extreme terms and painted a dire picture of a nation led by Democrats.

During his speech, freshman Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R-N.C., delivered a line eerily similar to one Trump gave on Jan. 6, when the former president said, "If you don't fight like hell, you're not going to have a country anymore."

"If we sit on the sidelines, we will not have a country to inherit. If we do not get involved and say that it is our duty to make sure that our country is responsible, that our country doesn't take away our liberties, then my friends, we will lose this nation," Cawthorn said. "The Democrats, my opponents and adversaries on the other side are brutal and vicious and they are trying to take away all of our rights."

Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas said that "radical liberals ... want to erase and rewrite our history."

"There's no more urgent task today than the defense of America, and a simple unapologetic patriotism. We face many threats in this country, whether from China or Iran or Islamic terrorism, but there is no more pernicious threat to America than the rejection of our founding principles and our heritage and our tradition," Cotton said. "And all those on the left, who would reject those things I have a message: We will defend America without fear, without reservation and without apology."

While it was likely not meant to be a reference to Jan. 6, Cruz said that the Washington elites "look at the millions of people inspired who went to battle fighting alongside President Trump, and they're terrified."

The Texas senator also mocked Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, declaring, "AOC is telling us she was murdered!"

It was a clear reference to the New York congresswoman recounting on Instagram Live her experience on Capitol Hill the day of the insurrection. Ocasio-Cortez was not in the House chambers that day, but was hiding in her office in another building on the Capitol complex. Divulging that she's a sexual assault survivor, she spoke at length of the trauma and fear for her life that she felt on Jan. 6 when someone was banging on her office door, not knowing that the individual was a Capitol Police officer.

Eyes on 2024 as pro-Trump potential White House hopefuls given platform

The next presidential election is three years away, but the conservative confab afforded some of the potential 2024 presidential hopefuls an opportunity to position themselves as a possible leader of a post-Trump Republican Party.

Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, who is speculated to be eyeing a run for the White House, sought to cast himself as a fighter against those who have tried to "cancel me, censor me, expel me, shut me down, stop me from representing" voters in Missouri.

Hawley, who played a prominent role in objecting to the Electoral College results in Congress, received a standing ovation for referencing his opposition.

"I objected during the Electoral College certification, maybe you heard about it. I did," he said. "I said I want to have a debate on election integrity, and what was the result of that? You know what the result was, I was called a traitor. I was called a seditionist, the radical left that I should be resigned and if I wouldn't resign, I should be expelled from the United States Senate. Well, as I said a moment ago, I'm not going anywhere."

Cruz took the stage to double down on Trump's legacy, contending that the party Trump reshaped in his image is here to stay.

"The Republican Party is not the party just of the country clubs -- the Republican Party is the party of steel workers and construction workers and pipeline workers and taxicab drivers and cops and firefighters and waiters and waitresses and the men and women with calluses on their hands, who are working for this country," he said. "That is our party, and these deplorables are here to stay!"

But looming over Friday's speeches was the former president, who is still toying with a possible 2024 bid. He is set to take the stage on Sunday and reclaim the mantle that doesn't appear too far away.

The former president's eldest son even predicted that Trump's speech Sunday "will solidify Donald Trump and ... the MAGA movement as the future of the Republican Party."

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Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty ImagesBy MIKE LEVINE, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- The husband of Rep. Mary Miller, R-Illinois, has tried to distance himself from what the FBI says is a "radical militia group" with ties to last month's Capitol siege, after his pickup truck was seen on Capitol grounds that day with a large decal promoting the group.

When news of the decal promoting the "Three Percenters" militia group surfaced this week, Miller's husband, Illinois state representative Chris Miller, told the Daily Beast he "didn't know anything about [the group] until fake news" started asking questions about the decal seen on his vehicle.

In a statement to ABC News, Chris Miller said his son received the sticker "from a family friend who said that it represented patriotism and love of country."

Miller insisted he has never been a member of the group.

But this isn't the first time he has helped promote the Three Percenters. In videos posted online, including one video posted to his own Facebook page, he stood in front of a Three Percenters banner -- and a QAnon sign -- last year as he railed against Democrats.

"We can be thankful [that] neither 'Crooked Hillary' or 'Creepy, Sleepy Joe' will ever be the president of the United States," he said in the video, which was shot at a May 2020 rally in Springfield, Illinois, where he and many others protested state measures to curb the COVID-19 pandemic. "We can be thankful … that we have a great American patriot in the White House that is determined to make America great again."

An Illinois-based group that helped organize the rally uses a logo that features "Three Percenters" imagery. The group promised followers ahead of the rally that "some big speakers" would be participating.

In another video of his remarks posted online, Chris Miller declared, "We have identified our domestic enemies as Nancy Pelosi."

On Jan. 6, the same day that a violent mob stormed the Capitol based on false claims that the 2020 presidential election had been stolen from then-president Donald Trump, his pickup truck was reportedly seen outside the Capitol building with the Three Percenters decal on its rear window.

The link between the truck and the Illinois congresswoman was first reported Thursday by the Twitter account @capitolhunters, which is helping to research those who participated in the Jan. 6 attack, according to the Daily Beast.

The day before the Jan. 6 riot, Rep. Miller faced calls for her resignation after she cited Hitler in remarks at a rally outside the Capitol building.

"Hitler was right on one thing: He said, 'Whoever has the youth has the future,'" she told supporters at the Jan. 5 event. She has since apologized but said that critics "twist" her words.

A spokesperson for Rep. Miller told ABC News that the congresswoman joins her colleagues in condemning the violence of Jan. 6 and that "she and her family were in no way involved in the violent attacks." The spokesperson did not respond to ABC News' questions about Miller's husband.

The Justice Department has publicly accused several of those involved in the Capitol siege of having ties to the Three Percenters.

"For context, the Three Percenters … is a domestic militia that advocates for resistance to the U.S. federal government policy it considers to infringe on personal, local, and gun ownership rights," an FBI agent wrote in one set of charging documents.

The group's name stems from the view that just three percent of the population can successfully overtake a corrupt government.

According to the statement from Chris Miller provided to ABC News through a spokesman, any Capitol rioters tied to the Three Percenters have just "copied their name," as the "original" Three Percenters were "a non-violent anti-government group" that has since been "disbanded."

Members of the movement's more recent iteration "were not involved in the Jan. 6th riots," Miller said in his statement. But authorities have disputed that claim, as photos showed Three Percenter banners at the riot, and the FBI -- according to an ABC News count -- has arrested at least five followers of the group on charges stemming from their role in the attack.

Nevertheless, Chris Miller has now removed the Three Percenters sticker from his truck, the statement said.

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omersukrugoksu/iStockBy LUIS MARTINEZ, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- A day after President Joe Biden ordered the first military action of his presidency, an airstrike in Syria, his administration finds itself in the unlikely position of defending the move to Democratic lawmakers concerned about the legal authorities used to justify it.

Thursday night's airstrike targeted a compound used by two Iranian-backed militias the U.S. believes are responsible for rocket attacks in Iraq that wounded Americans. A Pentagon spokesman confirmed on Friday casualties resulted from the airstrike in eastern Syria.

Visiting Houston on Friday, Biden told reporters that the message he was sending to Iran with the attack in Syria was "you can't act with impunity, be careful."

John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, said the airstrike targeting the two militias was intended to limit the group's capability of launching future attacks and send a "clear message" that the United States will protect its citizens.

Republican members of Congress have praised the airstrike as a check on Iran's support for attacks against American personnel in Iraq through proxy groups.

But the response from key Democratic lawmakers has been quite the opposite.

Kirby referred to the airstrike as "defensive" because it's intended to protect U.S. troops from future attacks, but Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia didn't see it that way.

"Offensive military action without congressional approval is not constitutional absent extraordinary circumstances," Kaine said in a statement. "Congress must be fully briefed on this matter expeditiously."

Kaine has been a vocal critic of the use of America's military force in Iraq without congressional authorization, going as far as introducing legislation to replace the broad 2002 Authorization for the Use of Military Force with narrower restrictions.

"Congress should hold this administration to the same standard it did prior administrations, and require clear legal justifications for military action, especially inside theaters like Syria, where Congress has not explicitly authorized any American military action," said Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut.

Biden administration officials soon found themselves defending the strike's legality.

"As a matter of domestic law, the president took this action, pursuant to his Article II authority to defend U.S. personnel," Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, told reporters.

"The targets were chosen to correspond to the recent attacks on facilities, and to deter the risk of additional attacks over the coming weeks," she added. "As a matter of international law, the United States acted pursuant to its right of self defense, as reflected in Article 51 of the U.N. Charter."

"I can assure you, and I spoke to the National Security team, that there was a thorough legal process and review in advance," Psaki said.

Kirby said Biden "was well within his legal right to order these actions," citing the same two legal authorities to Pentagon reporters. He noted that the Pentagon had notified Congressional leaders prior to the attack and had briefed additional members and staff on Friday.

Thursday's airstrike was carried out by two F-15E fighter aircraft that dropped seven precision-guided munitions that leveled 11 buildings in Abu Kamal, right on the border with Iraq. While the damage assessment continues, Kirby acknowledged "we have preliminary details about casualties on site."

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robertcicchetti/iStockBy ALEXANDER MALLIN and LUKE BARR, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- Department of Justice officials are warning that domestic violent extremism is a persistent problem in the U.S. just over a month after the deadly siege at the United States Capitol.

"The rise of domestic violent extremism is a serious and growing public safety and national security threat," Acting Deputy Attorney General John Carlin told reporters on a call.

More than 300 individuals have been charged so far in connection to the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, the Justice Department announced on the call, with more than 280 arrested in what officials described as an investigation moving at "unprecedented" speed and scale.

Carlin and senior DOJ and FBI officials provided the first update on the DOJ's investigation into the Capitol riot in weeks, and outlined the department's broader mission in the coming months to address the domestic extremism threat facing the country.

Carlin said the DOJ's approach will primarily be informed by the comprehensive threat assessment examining domestic terrorism that President Joe Biden ordered be compiled by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in coordination with other agencies. He said DOJ will issue updated guidance to agencies in the coming days that will help make sure DOJ's national security division has insight and contacts with all cases that have a nexus to domestic terrorism or domestic violent extremism.

Weighing in on "horrific attacks" reported recently against members of the Asian American community, Carlin echoed the language in Friday morning's DOJ press release, stating, "No one in America should fear violence, because of who they are, or what they believe period. And these types of attacks have no place in our society. We will not tolerate any form of domestic terrorism or hate-based violent extremism, and we are committed to putting a stop to it."

The Justice Department on Friday issued a statement condemning attacks fueled by "bigotry and hatred" -- saying in the past months it has trained "hundreds of federal prosecutors and law enforcement officers" to identify and prosecute hate crimes and other civil rights violations.

The statement from Pamela Karlan, the principal deputy assistant attorney general for DOJ's civil rights division, doesn't single out any specific minority group but comes as law enforcement around the country report spikes in violent attacks against Asian Americans.

Karlan said DOJ's civil rights division is working closely with the FBI and U.S. attorney's offices around the country to evaluate possible hate crimes.

"When a crime is motivated by animus based on race, religion, national origin, sex (including sexual orientation or gender identity), disability, or citizenship, it causes a ripple effect across a community," Karlan said. "No one in the United States should live in fear of victimization because of who they are, how they worship, where they come from, or whom they love."

A senior FBI official told reporters that the primary terrorism threat to the U.S. homeland remains the "lone offender," including homegrown violent extremists and domestic violent extremists who are primarily radicalized online and plot to attack soft targets with readily available weapons. The FBI currently has open domestic terrorism investigations across all 56 of its field offices around the country, the official said.

The official noted that FBI "can never open an investigation based solely around protected First Amendment rights" and they "do not investigate ideology."

The Department of Homeland Security on Thursday used FEMA grants to also tackle the domestic violent extremist threat in the United States.

Communities receiving State Homeland Security Program and Urban Area Security Initiative grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency will be required to spend at least $77 million of those funds directly battling domestic violent extremism, Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced.

While 2019 marked the deadliest year from the domestic violent extremist threat since the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, the official said, 2020 was "unlike anything we've seen in decades" with the scale of violence around the country. Arrests were up from previous years of domestic terror subjects -- with approximately 180 arrests at the federal, state and local levels in the 2020 fiscal year.

Three of the four fatal domestic terror attacks in 2020 were committed by individuals ascribing to an anti-government or anti-authority violent extremist ideology, and marked the first attack by an anarchic violent extremist in over 20 years, the official said.

The FBI is increasingly alarmed, the official said, about the current cyber realm in which domestic extremists are operating using encrypted applications and platforms -- keeping out of investigators' reach much of their communications even when they are able to secure court-approved warrants.

Asked about testimony this week on Capitol Hill addressing potential threats to Biden's first joint address to Congress, the FBI official declined to confirm any specific intelligence but said more broadly the FBI was "watching very closely" for any reaction from extremists to the address.

"We have been worried that domestic violent extremists would react, not only to the results of an election that they might not see as favorable, but the transition of a government that they may question," the official said. "So I think for the near future as we continue to go through that process -- and I would view the first address to the nation part of that process -- that we are watching very closely for any reaction from individuals that would show either intent to commit an attack or somebody that has already committed one."

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Official White House Photo by Carlos FyfeBy MOLLY NAGLE, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- President Joe Biden will travel to Houston Friday to survey damage from the winter storm last week that left millions in Texas without power, and in need of drinking water.

The trip to Texas marks the first time Biden will travel to address a crisis beyond the COVID-19 pandemic that has consumed his young presidency.

Biden will travel with first lady Jill Biden to the Lone Star State Friday morning and will spend the day with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday.

"He's going to be spending the day with the governor of Texas because this is not a partisan issue. This is not just impacting Democrats or Republicans. It's impacting all of the people in the state. There obviously was a period of time where we needed to make sure that people were safe. Now we're at the recovery stage where we need to make sure people have access to clean water, access to places to live and to stay," Psaki said on ABC's "The View."

"The president wants to survey the damage so he can tap into all the resources in the federal government. We've already declared an emergency in over 100 counties, and our FEMA administrator, our acting administrator, is continuing to review, but the president wants to see for himself, and he wants to show his support and he wants to get briefed by the governor," she continued.

Biden declared a major disaster in Texas Saturday, making federal funding available to residents in a portion of the state's counties impacted by the storm.

He first addressed his plans to travel to the state last Friday, telling reporters he didn't want to strain resources on the ground.

"If, in fact, it's concluded that I can do without creating a burden for the folks on the ground when they're dealing with this crisis, I plan on going," Biden told reporters.

The effects of the storm were intensified due to massive power outages across the state that left millions without power amid the freezing temperatures, snow and ice.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the nonprofit corporation responsible for managing 90% of the state's electricity, has come under intense scrutiny for the power failures during the storm. The Texas Legislature held hearings Thursday to investigate the outages.

When asked during the White House press briefing if Biden had a message for leaders in the state about the failure, Psaki said the administration remained focused on relief efforts.

"There is plenty of time to have a policy discussion about better weatherization, better preparations. And I'm sure that's one that will be had. But right now, we're focused on getting relief to the people in the state, getting updated briefings, tapping into all of the levers of federal government." she said.

While in Texas, Biden is also expected to visit a vaccination site to see the progress on distributing COVID-19 vaccinations, after the winter storm also caused delays to vaccine shipments in the state.

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Official White House Photo by Adam SchultzBy MICHELLE STODDART, LAUREN KING and KATE PASTOR, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- This is Day 41 of the administration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.

Here is how the day is unfolding. All times Eastern:

Feb 26, 10:48 am
Biden offers support to Ukraine on anniversary of Crimea annexation


In honor of the seventh anniversary of the Russian invasion of Crimea on Friday, Biden released a statement affirming the United States support of Ukraine.

“The United States continues to stand with Ukraine and its allies and partners today, as it has from the beginning of this conflict.  On this somber anniversary, we reaffirm a simple truth: Crimea is Ukraine,” Biden said.

Biden added that the U.S. will never recognize Crimea as part of Russia, and will "continue to work to hold Russia accountable for its abuses and aggression in Ukraine.”

Feb 26, 10:34 am
Biden still committed to $15 minimum wage, top WH economic adviser says


Biden’s top economic adviser Brian Deese said Friday on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" that the White House and congressional leadership are on the next path forward on minimum wage after the decision by the Senate parliamentarian Thursday that a $15 minimum wage hike could not be included in the American Rescue Plan if passed by reconciliation.

“We were disappointed by the parliamentarian’s ruling," he said, adding that Biden put minumum wage in his American Rescue Plan "because we believe is a justified, and in fact urgently needed, step forward. Passing the minimum wage would get a raise to 27 million Americans," Deese said.

But Deese would not bite when asked if the White House was rethinking the filibuster after the decision, only saying the White House was working with congressional allies to figure out the best way forward.

"We're going to consult with congressional allies, leadership to talk about a path forward on how we can make progress urgently on what is an urgent issue. At the same time, we need to act on this rescue plan. As hopeful as we all are about the trajectory of the virus, there are real risks and we need to act urgently now,” Deese said.

“The president has campaigned on the $15 minimum wage, he believes in it, he's committed to getting it done,” Deese said.

Feb 26, 10:05 am
Biden to travel to Houston after deadly storms


Biden will travel to Houston, Texas, on Friday with first lady Jill Biden in the wake of deadly winter storms that left millions without power and killed at least 17.

During his visit, the president will tour the Harris County Emergency Operations Center. Then the first lady will visit the Houston Food Bank to package food and water for the local community. After that, she and the president will meet with volunteers at the food bank. Biden will then visit a COVID-19 vaccination site, where he’ll deliver remarks.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki previewed the trip during a briefing on Thursday and noted that Biden would survey damage from the storm with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott for the majority of the day. She also said that the trip was not a political one. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, is also expected to meet Biden in Houston.

“He views it as an issue where he's eager to get relief to tap into all the resources in the federal government to make sure the people of Texas know we're thinking about them, we’re fighting for them, and we're going to continue working on this as they're recovering. There is plenty of time to have a policy discussion about better weatherization, better preparations," Psaki said. "And I'm sure that's one that will be had, but right now, we're focused on getting relief to the people in the state, getting updated briefings, tapping into all of the levers of federal government.”

Feb 26, 10:01 am
CPAC poised to score 1 for Trump in GOP civil war: The Note


Can you have a battle for a party if only one side is invited to the fight?

The Conservative Political Action Conference has long been a colorful if sometimes unreliable gauge of the state of the movement that powers the Republican Party. This year … not so much.

With the GOP divided about its future, the biggest gathering of conservatives in the early days of the Biden presidency gets underway in Orlando, Florida, on Friday as a tribute to all things Donald Trump -- up to and including rehashed and baseless complaints about the election.

Featured speakers include Donald Trump Jr., Sens. Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, Govs. Kristi Noem and Ron DeSantis, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, former Ambassador Richard Grenell and a wide range of pro-Trump House members and commentators. The former president himself, of course, speaks Sunday, in his first public speech since Jan. 20.

Not attending: Senators including Mitch McConnell, Ben Sasse or Mitt Romney; House members like Liz Cheney or Adam Kinzinger; former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley; former Vice President Mike Pence.

The theme of this year's CPAC is "America Uncanceled," though one speaker who had been booked was himself canceled for his extreme and anti-Semitic views.

But Trump and what he represents don't need to be "uncanceled" if they weren't canceled in the first place. It's hard to call it a comeback if the person and the movement in question never really left.

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Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA/Bloomberg via Getty ImagesBy CONOR FINNEGAN, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- Secretary of State Antony Blinken is making his first "trip" as the top U.S. diplomat, the State Department said, although he's not really going anywhere.

With the Biden administration's coronavirus travel restrictions still in place, Blinken will hold meetings and attend cultural events with his Mexican and Canadian counterparts on Friday via video teleconference from Washington.

But the agency, keen to show that the new administration is actively working with U.S. allies, is launching a series of "virtual" trips with Blinken, where he will meet foreign leaders and local U.S. embassy staff, "visit" different cities and cultural sites, announce new policies or agreements and hold press conferences, just as he would on a real trip.

"We have designed this trip to resemble as close as we can a physical trip and we're doing the best we can to fulfill our diplomatic mission and to further our relationships with our close North American partners, given the reality in which we currently live," State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Thursday.

President Joe Biden held virtual meetings with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday in a similar fashion, with the White House calling it his first "bilateral meetings" even as the two sides communicated through video teleconferencing.

While virtual meetings have become the norm, diplomacy often works best when there are in-person discussions.

"There is far more difficulty in creating connections, establishing relationships and feeling empathy -- and, therefore, greater difficulty in achieving diplomatic goals," according to Nicholas Hawton and Shahrokh Shakerian, diplomatic advisers for the International Committee of the Red Cross. "The 'coffee corridor connection' is lost. The discussions and connections made in the informal spaces around traditional diplomatic locations simply cannot be replicated."

That presents a challenge particularly for U.S.-Mexican relations, with tensions over trade, energy, migration and countering narcotrafficking.

The Biden administration has startled to dismantle former President Donald Trump's harsh immigration policies, including forcing asylum seekers to remain in Mexico, which had created tensions with left-wing populist President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, known by his initials as AMLO.

But there are still issues with AMLO's energy policy, which U.S. critics said undermines the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement free trade agreement -- the modernized North American Free Trade Agreement. A bill before Mexico's congress would give the state-owned utility priority in feeding the national grid, marginalizing the renewable energy sector. That earned a warning from the Trump administration last month that Mexico must "live up to its USMCA obligations" or risk hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. aid, according to a letter from the Secretaries of State, Energy and Commerce obtained by ABC News.

It's unclear if the Biden administration shares those concerns. Acting assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Julie Chung said the issue will be discussed "in the medium term and the long term because there are many aspects that we're hearing from the private sector about their concerns -- but this is where we encourage Mexico to listen to the stakeholders, to listen to the private sector companies and really provide that culture, the atmosphere of free investment and transparency so that companies will continue to invest in Mexico."

Countering narcotraffickers and enhancing security will also be a top issue, especially after Monday's arrest of Emma Coronel Aispuro, the wife of the notorious drug cartel leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman.

Last month, Mexican authorities dropped charges against former defense minister Salvador Cienfuegos, who had been arrested and charged with drug trafficking by the U.S. Despite an alleged promise to prosecute him at home, Cienfuegos was released, and Mexico's congress passed a law to limit foreign law enforcement operating in the country and strip their diplomatic immunity.

"We continue to have a very strong level of cooperation across all levels between the United States and Mexico," Chung told ABC News. "We're going to make sure we address those law enforcement issues together, and we're committed more than ever to utilizing every tool to address that."

During his "visit," Blinken will meet with Foreign Affairs Secretary Marcelo Ebrard and Economy Secretary Tatiana Clouthier to discuss trade, migration, security and other issues.

He'll also see those migration issues "up close" by taking a virtual "tour" of Paso Del Norte, the port of entry between Ciudad Juarez in Mexico and El Paso, Texas, in the U.S.

While relations with Canada suffered under former President Donald Trump, who hit Canada with "national security tariffs," they seem to have easily rebounded under Biden. Trudeau praised their partnership on Tuesday, saying, "U.S. leadership has been sorely missed over the past years," in particular on climate change.

Blinken will meet again with Trudeau on Friday, along with his counterpart Foreign Minister Marc Garneau and other cabinet ministers. He'll also meet students and local leaders to discuss climate change and the Arctic, and see an Inuit cultural performance.

Climate change has emerged as a key issue between the two governments, with special envoy for climate change John Kerry holding his first high-level summit on Wednesday with Canada to commit to "ambitious" action and deepen both countries' commitments to reduce carbon emissions more quickly.

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VallarieE/iStockBy QUINN OWEN and JORDYN PHELPS, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- The federal agency tasked with connecting unaccompanied children to relatives or sponsors in the U.S., is on the verge of maxing out its capacity to hold children before they are resettled, new government data shows.

The Office for Refugee Resettlement, a division of Health and Human Services, has more beds than ever before in its history, but the coronavirus pandemic has cut the amount of usable space nearly in half. Out of that available space, the ORR shelters are at 92% capacity, according to an HHS official.

That leaves the agency to rely on large, temporary shelter camps. The use of temporary holding facilities was heavily criticized by Democrats and immigrant advocates just two years ago when a surge of migrant families caused similar capacity issues.

Officials are currently working to ramp up capacity at a facility on the outskirts of Carrizo Springs, Texas, from its current bed count of 225 up to 700, the HHS official said.

On a single recent day in February, the ORR received 413 referrals of unaccompanied children from the Department of Homeland Security while just 132 were united with a sponsor on the same day, according to the agency.

This difference has prompted the agency to take new measures to connect kids with sponsors more quickly, including authorizing shelter facilities to pay for plane tickets and other means of transportation, an ORR official confirmed in a statement to ABC News.

The Washington Post was first to report on the new transportation policy.

Another facility that could potentially be used again for unaccompanied minors, according to the HHS official, is the Homestead shelter in south Florida. Under the Trump administration, Amnesty International called the holding of minors at the facility "cruel and unlawful." And several Democratic lawmakers spoke out against it, including then-Sen. Kamala Harris.

President Joe Biden came to office vowing to unwind the prior administration's hardline immigration policies, signing a slew of executive actions and pushing for legislative reform.

"I will accomplish what I said I would do: a much more humane policy based on family unification," Biden said as president-elect. "But it requires getting a lot in place."

Is the Biden administration doing the same thing as the Trump administration?

Yes and no.

The Trump administration was heavily criticized for its use of facilities like Carrizo Springs for housing undocumented migrants and the Biden administration is now putting it back into use. U.S. Customs and Border Protection is also using a recently-constructed tent facility in Donna, Texas, to process migrants, while the main processing center in nearby McAllen undergoes renovations.

However, the Biden administration is not separating migrant families as the Trump administration was so heavily criticized for doing.

"It's absolutely not the same thing," Psaki said on ABC's The View Wednesday. "We are not ripping children from the arms of their parents. That is horrible and immoral and something we saw in the last administration."

When the influx of migrant families hit its peak in 2019, CBP stations and their staff were not equipped to handle it. Border Patrol agents normally out patrolling the desert were tasked with child care.

The Biden administration is now grappling with the added challenge of having to house more migrant children amid the pandemic and as they break from the former president's hardline posture of turning everyone back. While CBP doesn't provide the ages of all minors who they apprehend crossing illegally, officials have described the majority of them as children in their early to mid-teens.

The Biden administration said it is attempting to get out ahead of this problem, in part, by re-opening Carrizo Springs before migration patterns hit the same level.

"We need to figure out how to treat them humanely and keep them safe, and in the time of COVID, that means we needed to open an additional facility," Psaki added on The View. "This is incredibly difficult. It's heart-wrenching and it's a really difficult decision, but this is the best decision we felt we could make to keep these kids safe and get them into the right places and right homes."

The administration's defense in reopening the Carrizo Springs facility, which is made to handle overflow and was last used in 2019, is twofold: to guard against situations where undocumented minors are held in CBP facilities longer than they should be and to provide proper spacing amid the pandemic.

Psaki has described the crisis of unaccompanied migrant children as "heartbreaking" but in short, said at a briefing that the administration has no perfect solution: "This is a difficult situation. It's a difficult choice. That's the choice we've made."

"There was not enough space in the existing facilities, and, if we were to abide by COVID protocols. That's the process and the step. This facility in Texas, which has been reopened, has been revamped, has been -- there are teachers, there is medical facilities, and our objective is to move them -- move these kids quickly from there to vetted sponsored families into places where they can safely be," Psaki said Wednesday.

The Carrizo Springs facility last housed migrant children in 2019. In July of that year, when the number of unaccompanied children coming across the border started to decline after a peak earlier in the year, the facility was put into "warm status," meaning it was out of use but maintained.

Crossing attempts continued to decline as the Trump administration pressed forward with hardline asylum restrictions and its "Remain in Mexico" protocols.

When the global health crisis hit in 2020 the Trump administration implemented further restrictions at the border, technically under the direction of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These restrictions, known as "Title 42 expulsions," resulted in the immediate removal of the vast majority of people who attempted to cross into the U.S.

The Biden administration has continued the expulsions for everyone except children.

In recent months, the number of unauthorized border crossing attempts has begun to rise, according to the latest data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Last month, CBP averaged 3,000 arrests per day. Responding to a request from ABC News, CBP declined to share the average daily intake and referral numbers for unaccompanied children citing concerns about the impact to law enforcement operations.

What are the alternatives?

Now that the Biden administration is no longer sending children back to Mexico, their options are limited. There's broad consensus from CBP officials and their critics that Border Patrol stations are not fit to hold children long-term.

That leaves facilities like Carrizo Springs as one of the few viable options for minors to be held while authorities locate and verify potential sponsors to house them in the U.S.

"A bigger solution and system must be contemplated so we don't have to resort to these kinds of measures in the future," Theresa Brown, director of immigration and cross-border policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center said in a recent tweet. "But while we're building that, we have to ask what is the best we can do right now?"

While the ultimate aim is to place children with sponsors, vetting them takes time. When the Trump administration tried to expedite this process, they faced the liability of potentially sending a child to an unfit or dangerous home.

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uschools/iStockBy BENJAMIN SIEGEL, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- The House on Thursday passed the Equality Act, a top agenda item for President Joe Biden that would prohibit discrimination against LGBTQ Americans in a 224-206 vote.

Three Republicans voted with all Democrats on the measure, which the House also passed two years ago but languished in the then-GOP-controlled Senate. In 2019, eight House Republicans supported the bill.

The measure would extend the protections of the Civil Rights Act to LGBTQ Americans to block discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.

Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., Tom Reed, R-N.Y., and John Katko, R-N.Y., voted with Democrats in support of the proposal on Thursday.

The vote followed two days of emotional and -- at times -- personal debate in the House between Democrats and Republicans, with some lawmakers speaking from their own life experiences on the floor.

"None of us should be evicted, fired or denied accommodations and services simply because of who we are and whom we love," said Rep. Ritchie Torres, D-N.Y., who is one of the first openly gay Black men to serve in Congress.

Rep. Marie Newman, D-Ill., who spoke on the House floor on Monday in support of her transgender daughter, came under attack from Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, a conservative who told Newman on Twitter that "your biological son does NOT belong in my daughters' bathrooms, locker rooms, and sports teams," and unsuccessfully tried to delay Thursday's vote by forcing the House to vote twice on a dilatory motion to adjourn.

Newman, whose Washington office is across the hall from Greene's, put up a transgender flag outside her door. Greene, in response, put up a poster that read: "There are TWO genders: Male & Female - Trust the Science!"

Republicans opposing the bill cited concerns that it would infringe on their religious beliefs and irrevocably impact women's sports across the country.

"When men or women claim to be able to choose their own sexual identity, they are making a statement that God did not know what he was doing when he made them," said Rep. Greg Stuebe, R-Fla. "You are going to singlehandedly destroy women's sports in the name of equality, how ironic."

Democrats and LGBTQ advocacy groups condemned the rhetoric from Greene and other Republicans in opposition to the bill.

"Their attacks on trans people and the transgender community are just mean, mean," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said of the "despicable comments."

Alphonso David, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, called the comments "dangerous and transphobic."

"These comments actually create additional stigma against communities that need to be protected," he said.

According to the Human Rights Campaign, 44 transgender or gender non-conforming Americans were killed last year, the highest tally the organization has ever recorded.

"(The attacks are) not based on fact, they're based on fear," he said.

The Equality Act will need to garner the support of 60 senators to get to Biden's desk for his signature, which would require the support of at least 10 Republicans, assuming all Democrats back the package.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a critical swing vote who cosponsored the legislation in 2020, told the Washington Blade this week that she would not do so this year, pointing to unspecified changes she requested that were not made. She did not say what changes she had sought.

"Sen. Collins supports ensuring fairness and equal treatment of all Americans, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and she is considering all possible options to do so, including introducing her own bill," Collins' spokeswoman Annie Clarke told the Washington Blade.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will take up the measure, but has not yet scheduled a meeting to do so.

ABC News' Trish Turner contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

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ABCBy ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- ABC News will kick off Women’s History Month with its new podcast "In Plain Sight: Lady Bird Johnson," co-produced with Best Case Studios and hosted by author Julia Sweig.

Drawn from over 123 hours of the former first lady’s mostly unheard daily audio diaries, the podcast presents a surprising and original portrait of Claudia Alta “Lady Bird” Johnson, told in her own words. The series provides stunning new revelations about Lyndon B. Johnson’s presidency and reveals Lady Bird as Johnson’s closest advisor and most indispensable political partner.

The series documents her front-row seat to some of the most notable events in U.S. history and decisions that shaped the nation forever, as well as her history-making encounters with John F. Kennedy, Jacqueline Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Eartha Kitt, Peter, Paul and Mary, politicians, civil rights activists, environmentalists and her surprising partnership with Washington's first Mayor, Walter Washington.

Using a rich trove of rare footage from the era, "In Plain Sight" creates an immersive audio experience of a tumultuous moment in America and tells the story of how one vastly underestimated woman navigated the power, politics and polarization of her time to become arguably one of the most influential first ladies in history. The first two episodes of the eight-part series will debut on Monday, March 1.

Julia Sweig is an award-winning author, scholar and entrepreneur. Sweig’s writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Atlantic, the Washington Post, Foreign Affairs, the Nation, the National Interest and in Brazil’s Folha de São Paulo. She is a senior research fellow at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas-Austin and the creator, host and executive producer of the podcast “ In Plain Sight.” Her fourth book, Lady Bird Johnson: Hiding in Plain Sight comes out March 16, 2021 from Random House.

Julia Sweig is co-executive producer, writer and host of the project. Victoria Thompson and Eric Johnson are executive producers and Suzie Liu is a producer with ABC News. Best Case Studios' Adam Pincus is executive producer and Anne Carkeet is a producer on the project.

Archival materials from: LBJ Library; JFK Library; Miller Center; U.S. National Archives; Universal Newsreel; WFAA-TV Collection/The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza; KLIF broadcast from November 22, 1963 courtesy of Cumulus Media; Andrew West audio report on June 5, 1968 courtesy of Westwood One; NBC5/KXAS Television News Collection; University of North Texas Special Collections; Jane Jacobs (Books and Authors Luncheon); WNYC, courtesy of NYC Municipal Archives.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

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