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(WASHINGTON) -- President Joe Biden signed an executive order Wednesday aimed at modernizing the federal government's response to cyberattacks -- by "improving information-sharing between the U.S. government and the private sector on cyber issues," improving detection of hacks into federal systems, and creating a "standardized playbook" for how the government responds to attacks, according to the White House.

Facing questions about why the U.S. isn't better prepared to protect its infrastructure from hacks like the ransomware attack on the Colonial Pipeline, the order seeks to bring the federal government more up to speed.

However, while it removes barriers to the private sector sharing info with the federal government about hacks, it stops short of mandating companies like Colonial Pipeline share information. A senior administration official clarified on a call with reporters that the federal government would mandate private companies "doing business with the federal government" share information with it about hacks.

"We pushed the authority as far as we could," the official told reporters, "and said anybody doing business with the U.S. government will have to share incidents, so that we can use that information to protect Americans more broadly."

“This executive order is about taking the steps necessary to prevent cyber intrusions from happening in the first place. And second, ensuring we're well positioned to react rapidly to address incidents when they do occur,” the official continued.

The Biden administration has been working on this executive order since its second week, the official told reporters, and it is expected to help address hacks similar to the one that hit the Colonial Pipeline.

"Colonial fundamentally was an IT incident, and this executive order will make IT software more secure," the official said.

The order will require all software bought by the federal government to meet certain security standards within nine months, the official said. And it "creates a pilot program to create an 'energy star' type of label so the government -- and the public at large -- can quickly determine whether software was developed securely," the White House said.

"We're working to bring visibility to the security of software," the official said, "akin to the way New York brought visibility and cleanliness to New York City restaurants by requiring restaurants to post simple ratings like A, B, C or D, regarding their cleanliness in their windows."

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(WASHINGTON) — The three key bipartisan negotiators on policing reform met for an hour Wednesday and appeared to have hit a setback over whether officers should continue to be protected from civil lawsuits, after a House Democratic leader said this weekend that so-called qualified immunity could be left out of any compromise.

"Right now, especially on the House side, it's our position that qualified immunity has to be eliminated," said Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif.

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., added that he and Bass are "very determined" on stripping officers of legal protection from lawsuits.

South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, the lead GOP negotiator, leaving the hour-long meeting by a exit different from Bass and Booker, when told of the congresswoman’s position, responded, "I'm on the exact opposite side."

On Sunday, House Majority Whip James Clyburn -- when asked if he would support a compromise that did not end the immunity protections -- said, "I will never sacrifice good on the altar of perfect. I just won’t do that."

“I know what the perfect bill will be. We have proposed that. I want to see good legislation, and I know that, sometimes, you have to compromise," Clyburn, D-S.C., said on CNN’s "State of the Union." "If we don’t get qualified immunity now, then we will come back and try to get it later. But I don’t want to see us throw out a good bill because we can’t get a perfect bill," he said.

One Democratic source told ABC News that Clyburn's comments "were really not helpful" to the bipartisan talks, seeing it as a chance to let Republicans off the hook on a thorny issue that civil rights activists have insisted be included.

Republicans, including Scott and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., have floated a potential compromise to hold police departments accountable as opposed to individual officers.

But on Wednesday, Booker and Bass made clear that was not acceptable.

Other difficult sticking points remain, such as whether to lower the criminal standard for finding law enforcement officers guilty of depriving a person of his or her civil rights. Democrats want to see officers who act with "reckless disregard," endangering another person, held criminally-liable, but Republicans have said that is a red line. They say they simply will not consider lowering the current standard requiring prosecutors to show an offending officer "willfully" deprived a suspect of his or her rights.

"We’re not going there," Graham told ABC News Tuesday.

But Booker held fast to the principle that police officers who perform "heinous" acts must be held accountable.

"When you knowingly, willfully are violating somebody's civil rights, that there's a consequence for that. We need to make sure that when you do something that is heinous and violating in a criminal fashion the law, you don't have a shield there either. This is about accountability for people that do very, very bad things," said Sen. Booker.

"And the bottom line is we want to see these shootings stop," said Bass. "How is that going to happen if officers are not held accountable? Qualified immunity is one issue, and the ability to prosecute an officer is another."

Bass said some progress had been made on the issue of military-grade equipment being sent to local police departments, something else Democrats want to see ended.

"We've had some very fruitful discussions on that one. It’s not as big of a controversy as some other areas," Bass said, without offering any detail.

Aside from legal protections and equipment, other sticking points include the creation of a national database to track police officers who break the rules.

The bipartisan group has met multiple times with pressure mounting for a compromise in the wake of a jury finding former Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin guilty of murdering George Floyd.

And while President Joe Biden, in his joint address to Congress in late April, said he would like a deal by May 25, the first anniversary of Floyd’s death, negotiators said that is almost an impossible task.

"I think it’s going to be hard, but we're committed to doing the work. We're meeting regularly. It's going to be very hard to get done before the end of the month,” said Booker. “We're all trying to get it done as quickly as possible, but there's no deadline for us."

"We're gonna keep talking until we get it across the finish line," Bass said.

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Alex Wong/Getty Images/Bloomberg via Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) — Sen. Joe Manchin is breaking with Democrats and throwing his weight behind a more measured voting rights bill in lieu of the sweeping Democratic voting reform bill that Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has labeled a top priority of the caucus.

The Democrat from West Virginia told ABC News exclusively that he intends to support the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, a more narrowly tailored piece of voting rights legislation that he said he believes could muster bipartisan support even as voting legislation is becoming a flash point between the two parties.

"I believe Democrats and Republicans feel very strongly about protecting the ballot boxes allowing people to protect the right to vote making it accessible making it fair and making it secure and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, if we apply that to all 50 states and territories, it's something that can be done -- it should be done," Manchin told ABC News' Rachel Scott. "It could be done bipartisan to start getting confidence back in our system.”

Manchin's announcement comes following a contentious markup of the Democrat-led voting reform act, the For the People Act, that deadlocked in the Rules Committee Tuesday.

Democrats have championed that bill as a necessary step to combat state-level changes to voting laws in largely Republican states that they say are aimed at oppressing largely minority, poorer and young voters.

The For the People Act proposes major election reforms that lower barriers to voting, including automatic voter registration, requiring voter registration on the day of an election and reforms to gerrymandering and campaign finance laws.

Republicans have vowed to oppose it. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell branded it as "one party takeover of our political system.”

Manchin said Tuesday's mark-up made clear to him that the robust Democratic bill, which he has already said he does not support, has no hope of mustering the necessary 60 votes to pass.

"No matter what was brought up it was partisan vote, 9-9," Manchin said. "This is one of the most -- I think -- important things that we can do to try to bring our country back together and if we do it in a partisan way, it's not going to be successful I believe."

For weeks Manchin has said he believes the Democratic proposal is too sweeping. The John Lewis Voting Rights Act takes a narrower approach to voting reform.

Its key objective is to put back in place key measures from the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that the Supreme Court overruled in 2013. The bill implements a federal process for reviewing changes to voting rules in any jurisdiction nationwide, with an eye toward measures that are historically discriminatory.

The bill passed the House last session but was never brought to a vote on the Senate floor.

So far no Senate Republican has come out to back that legislation, but Manchin said he's spoken to GOP colleagues and he sees a path forward.

He vowed that he would not bring the he bill to the floor for consideration unless it has bipartisan backing.

He's so committed to working in a bipartisan way that he's vowed not to use other measures that would allow the Senate to pass the legislation with a simple majority.

For example, Manchin said he won't support the use of reconciliation, a procedural tool that allows the Senate to bypass the usual 60-vote threshold necessary to pass legislation, to move the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.

He also won't support a one-time change to the Senate filibuster rule, despite pleas from some advocates.

"If you do it for one time you basically destroy the Senate as we know it," Manchin said.

Manchin encouraged the normal use of the committee and amendment process. He called use of that process on the For the People Act encouraging but said Democrats ought to look to where they can move forward with common ground.

"If you have another pathway forward why don't you take that?" he said.

Manchin has met with House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, and Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., in recent weeks to discuss his stance on the Senate filibuster.

Manchin called those lawmakers "very good patriots" who have informed his position on the matter.

"It's about the country," Manchin said. "It's about the fairness of the system. If the voting system in our country can't be secure and it can't be open and accessible to everybody and protected for everybody, no matter what your race, no matter what preference, you have -- you have not only a right but a responsibility to vote and we shouldn't make it difficult for you."

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(WASHINGTON) -- After a spiraling descent into bloodshed in recent days, the U.S. is boosting its diplomatic efforts to halt the violence between Israeli security forces and Hamas, the Palestinian terrorist group ruling Gaza.

President Joe Biden called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday, vocally backing Israel's "right to defend itself when you have thousands of rockets flying into your territory."

That unprecedented barrage of rockets, along with deadly Israeli airstrikes, have killed civilians caught in the crosshairs on both sides, while waves of Arab-Israeli street clashes are now rising within Israel itself -- a new threat of violence that could quickly worsen.

Former Acting U.S. Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller testified Wednesday that he was concerned in the days before the Jan. 6 insurrection that sending troops to the Capitol would fan fears of a military coup or conspiracies that advisers to the president were advocating martial law.

He said doing so could cause a repeat of the deadly 1970 Kent State University shooting in which Ohio National Guard troops fired at demonstrators and killed four American civilians.

"Historically military responses to domestic protests have resulted in violations of American civil rights, and even in the case of the Kent State protests of the Vietnam War tragic deaths," he said. "I fervently believe the military should not be utilized in such scenarios, other than as a last resort, and only when all other assets had been expended on January 6."

Miller's appearance comes as he confronts the criticism from members of Congress that it took three hours and 19 minutes to get approval from the Pentagon to send in the DC National Guard to the Capitol on Jan. 6. Miller, however, had refuted that timeline.

According to the written testimony Miller provided on Wednesday, he was aware of the breach by the time D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser called on Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy at 1:34 p.m. Nearly 90 minutes later, at 3 p.m., he "approved the activation and mobilization of the full D.C. National Guard to assist the Capitol Police and the Metropolitan Police Department."

But in response to questioning from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., Miller admitted that he did not approve an operational plan to deploy the National Guard to the Capitol until 4:32 p.m., more than three hours after he first learned that demonstrators had breached the Capitol perimeter. The National Guard did not arrive at the Capitol for another hour, at nearly 5:30 p.m.

Miller testified that during the insurrection he did not speak with former President Donald Trump.

"I didn’t need to. I had all the authority I needed and I knew what had to happen," he said, adding that he did speak to Vice President Mike Pence.

He said Pence is "not in the chain of command," and said, "He did not direct me to clear the Capitol. I discussed very briefly with him the situation. He provided insights based on his presence there. And I notified him or I informed him that by that point the District of Columbia National Guard was being fully mobilized and in coordination with local and federal law enforcement to assist in clearing the Capitol.”

Still, U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., testified on Wednesday that the "federal government was unprepared" for the Jan. 6 insurrection on the United States Capitol, "even though it was planned in plain sight on social media for the world to see."

She replied to Miller’s testimony saying, "I think the evidence is clear. The president refused to lift a finger to send aid after he incited a violent rebellion against our republic. The president, therefore, betrayed his oath of office and betrayed his constitution of duty."

Maloney, who is chair of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Reform, also said the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation "have a special duty to warn of domestic terrorist threats, yet it’s clear that despite all of this intelligence, the federal government was not prepared."

"It is our duty to understand what went wrong that day, to seek accountability, and to take action to prevent this from ever happening again," Maloney said. "Today -- more than four months later -- we’re still in the dark about exactly what went wrong."

The New York Congresswoman, during her remarks, called for a 9/11 style "independent, bipartisan commission, focused on investigating the root causes of this insurrection."

Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., and Miller had tense exchange as Miller attempted to explain his earlier written testimony to the committee saying he believed Trump’s comments on Jan. 6 "encouraged the protestors that day," adding, "I am not in a position to make an official assessment of his responsibility and, regardless, it was not relevant to the decisions I made on 6 January."

When asked by Lynch whether anybody would have "marched on the Capitol and tried to overrun the Capitol without the president's speech," Miller said, "I have reassessed, it's not the unitary factor at all. It seems clear there was an organized conspiracy with assault elements."

Miller said he did not reverse his position and said Lynch's comments to the contrary were "ridiculous," prompting Lynch to say: "You’re ridiculous."

Miller would later say "there's a difference between marching the Capitol and assaulting the Capitol."

Metropolitan Police Department Chief Robert Contee and former Acting U.S. Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen both also testified remotely Wednesday, as did Miller.

Rosen placed the blame for the events of Jan. 6 on Capitol Police not requesting additional law enforcement support.

Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., contended that he "didn’t do anything" and Rosen interrupted.

"How can you say that? [The DOJ] sent over 500 agents and officers on urgent basis on January 6," adding, "I think we should have been applauded, Congressman."

Welch replied that while he applauds the "frontline" Capitol Police "January 5 would have been a better day to send them.”

The testimonies are taking place during a hearing held by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform entitled "The Capitol Insurrection: Unexplained Delays and Unanswered Questions" -- the latest in a series of high-profile congressional hearings centered on the Jan. 6 insurrection.

The events of Jan. 6 occurred after Trump and his allies held a rally earlier that day in Washington, D.C., urging Congress not to certify the results of the November presidential election, in which Trump lost to Democratic candidate Joe Biden. Trump vowed to "never concede" and urged his supporters "to fight," as he continued to push baseless claims of election fraud.

Crowds of people then made their way to the steps of the Capitol, pushing through barricades, officers in riot gear and other security measures that were put in place in anticipation of the protest. An angry mob breached the Capitol building, forcing a lockdown with members of Congress and their staff holed up inside. It took hours for law enforcement to clear the building and establish a perimeter around the area. Five people, including a police officer, died during or in the days after the rampage.

More than 440 people have been arrested in connection with the Jan. 6 insurrection, including at least 52 active or retired military, law enforcement or government service employees, according to an ABC News investigation based on military records, court records, interviews and publicly available news reports.

Prosecutors are currently ramping up efforts to engage in plea discussions with many of the accused.

During the hearing, some Republicans attempted to rewrite the history of what happened on Jan. 6.

Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., who has consistantly promoted false claims that the election was stolen, said the Department of Justice is "harassing peaceful patriots around the country."

And Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C., questioned whether those who stormed the Capitol were Trump supporters at all, claiming he didn't see a poll to suggest those wearing Trump shirts and carrying Trump flags were Trump supporters at all.

"There was no insurrection. To call it an insurrection is a bold-faced lie," said Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Ga.

Clyde compared the protesters storming through the halls of the U.S. Capitol building and through Statuary Hall to "a normal tourist visit."

"Watching the TV footage of those who entered the Capitol and walked through Statuary Hall showed people in an orderly fashion staying between the stanchions and ropes taking videos and pictures, you know, if you didn't know the TV footage was a video from January the 6th, you would actually think it was a normal tourist visit."

Rep. Clay Higgins, R-La. and Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio tried to change the subject of Wednesday's hearing by focusing on Black Lives Matter and comments made by Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., telling protesters to "get more confrontrational" if Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was not found not guilty in the death of George Floyd. Republicans decried the "partisan approach" to the hearing and said Democrats were "politicizing" the issue. But that didn't stop Democrats from grilling Miller.

Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., went after Miller, saying he was preoccupied with defending his "reputation" and "justifying" his own actions.

He called for Miller to apologize for what happened on Jan 6., while Miller said he stands by "every decision" he made.

"You're here telling us that everything happened perfectly and you're not willing to apologize?” Khanna asked Miller, adding, "It's you who's let them down. I can't believe we have someone like you in that role -- had someone like you."

ABC News' Katherine Faulders and Luis Martinez contribued to this report.

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Official White House Photo by Adam Schult

(WASHINGTON) -- President Joe Biden on Wednesday held his first meeting at the White House with the "big four" congressional leaders, saying they would see whether they can "reach some consensus or compromise" on his proposed costly infrastructure plan.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy were joined by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

It's the first time Biden has met with McConnell and McCarthy in the Oval Office since becoming president and it came days after McConnell said he was focused "100%" on "stopping" Biden's agenda.

Afterward, McConnell and McCarthy told White House reporters that the group focused on infrastructure in the nearly two-hour meeting -- saying they made it clear Republicans would support only a much narrower version of Biden's plan and only if changes to the Trump administration's 2017 tax cuts were off the table.

"That's our red line," McConnell said of the tax cuts, which slashed the corporate rate from 35% to 21%, while signaling optimism on infrastructure, saying, "there is certainly a bipartisan desire to get an outcome."

"I think the first step is obviously to define what infrastructure is definition of it, and we all think, all agreed, to work on that together," McConnell said, a point McCarthy echoed, adding that infrastructure is "not home health -- that's roads, bridges, highways, airports, broadband."

"I don't favor having a top-down dictation as to what this package looks like, but rather a consultative process, in which everybody in my conference is involved in it," McConnell continued.

Wednesday's meeting is also the first for the four congressional leaders inside the Oval Office since one with former President Donald Trump imploded in October 2019, ending with Pelosi walking out.

Vice President Kamala Harris also joined the leaders in the Oval Office, and all six wore masks.

"I'm happy to have the House and Senate leadership here," Biden told reporters briefly at the top of the meeting. "You can see, Senator McConnell and Leader McCarthy and Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Schumer."

"When I ran, I said I wasn't gonna be a Democratic president, I was gonna be a president for all American," Biden continued. "And what the bottom line here is: We're gonna see whether we can reach some consensus on a compromise, on moving forward."

Biden said they're going to discuss infrastructure "to see if there's any way we can reach a compromise that gets the people's work done and is within the bounds of everyone agreeing."

The meeting was set to discuss "policy areas of mutual agreement," according to the White House, and comes as Biden seeks to push his $2 trillion infrastructure package forward.

The entire interaction with reporters in the Oval Office was limited to just one minute and 15 seconds, during which Biden only took one reporter's question: "How do you expect to do that, sir?"

"Easy, just snap my fingers, it'll happen," Biden sarcastically responded.

McConnell has said he thinks an infrastructure package should cost no more than $800 billion, among other policy issues he's vowed to fight the president on.

It also came on the heels of House Republicans voting in a closed-door, conference-wide meeting on Capitol Hill Wednesday morning to oust Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney from her No. 3 leadership position because she spoke out against the former president.

With much of the attention in Washington focused on that vote to remove Cheney, Biden was asked, "Given what's happened with Kevin McCarthy and his leadership, can you trust him to work with him?"

Biden appeared to say, "yes," with a light laugh, before reporters and photogaphers were ushered out of the room.

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Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- House Republicans voted to remove Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney from her House GOP leadership position following her criticism of former President Donald Trump and his continued attacks on the 2020 election.

Cheney, who has branded herself as an "unapologetic conservative," speaking on the House floor Tuesday night, delivered a searing indictment of House GOP leaders seeking to expel her from their ranks after she voted to impeach Trump for inciting the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

Here is how the vote and reaction unfolded:

May 12, 11:09 am
Pelosi praises Cheney, slams House GOP in statement

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in a statement following House Republicans' removal of Cheney as GOP conference chair by a voice vote, called out to "reasonable Republicans across the country" to "take back their party."

"Congresswoman Liz Cheney is a leader of great courage, patriotism and integrity. Today, House Republicans declared that those values are unwelcome in the Republican party," she said. "The Republican denial of the truth presented by Congresswoman Cheney is reflected in their denial of the need to seek the truth in a January 6th commission and to repair the damage of January 6th with a security supplemental immediately."

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy did not speak after the vote concluded behind closed doors.

May 12, 10:48 am
McConnell silent on Cheney's ouster

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, asked by reporters for his reaction to Cheney's ouster and what it means for the future of the GOP, did not answer.

He made no mention of the then just-completed House Republican conference vote to boot Cheney from leadership in his Senate floor speech Wednesday morning, either.

While McConnell publicly defended Cheney in February, when she first faced a challenge in the wake of voting to impeach the former president, he has stayed silent on her fate this time around.

May 12, 10:38 am
Durbin: 'Act of pure cowardice' by GOP to remove Cheney

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., following the vote to remove Cheney from her leadership posted told Capitol Hill reporters it's a "sad day for the American Republican Party."

"It was an act of pure cowardice for them to remove her from leadership, and then to do it by a secret voice vote. That just tells the whole story as far as I am concerned," he said. "Donald Trump owns the soul of the Republican Party of America, and it was proved today in the House Representatives."

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the House GOP has reached "a new and very dangerous low point" in ousting the Wyoming representative from leadership.

Republican Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, another enemy of the former president like Cheney, on Tuesday warned in a tweet, "Expelling Liz Cheney from leadership won’t gain the GOP one additional voter, but it will cost us quite a few."

May 12, 10:21 am
Full Cheney remarks following removal from leadership

After the GOP Conference meeting, Cheney spoke to reporters and repeated that she is committed to advancing the Republican Party -- but not the agenda of the former president.

"I am absolutely committed as I said last night, as I said just now to my colleagues, that we must go forward based on truth. We cannot both embrace the big lie and embrace the Constitution," she said. "The nation needs a strong Republican Party, the nation needs a party that that is based upon fundamental principles of conservatism, and I am committed and dedicated to ensuring that that's how this party goes forward, and I plan to lead the fight to do that."

Asked if she was concerned that Trump might end up back in the Oval Office, Cheney said she "will do everything I can to ensure that the former president never again gets anywhere near the Oval Office."

"We have seen the danger that he continues to provoke with his language. We have seen his lack of commitment and dedication to the Constitution. And I think it's very important that we make sure whomever we elect, is somebody who will be faithful to the Constitution," she said.

She said she didn't feel betrayed by her colleagues' vote, when asked, but warned of the GOP falling in line with the former president's "very dangerous lies" and said there's work to do for the future of the party.

"I do not. I think that it is an indication of where the Republican Party is, and I think that the party is in a place that we've got to bring it back from, And we've got to get back to a position where we are a party that can fight for conservative principles that can fight for substance, we cannot be dragged backward, by the very dangerous lies of a former president," she said.

May 12, 10:06 am
Trump releases scathing statements attacking Cheney

Former President Donald Trump, in a series of statements Wednesday as the vote was happening, attacked Cheney with personal insults -- following through on his promise since leaving office to inflict revenge on his enemies.

"Liz Cheney is a bitter, horrible human being," Trump said in a statement following her ouster. "She is a warmonger whose family stupidly pushed us into the never-ending Middle East Disaster, draining our wealth and depleting our Great Military, the worst decision in our Country’s history. I look forward to soon watching her as a Paid Contributor on CNN or MSDNC!"

In an earlier statement ahead of the vote, Trump encouraged her removal and said Cheney has "absolutely no personality or heart."

Despite Trump's attacks, Cheney is not backing down from her criticisms, vowing after the vote to "do everything I can to ensure the former president never gets anywhere near the Oval Office."

May 12, 9:59 am
Cheney ousted via voice vote, not secret ballot as expected

House Republicans removed Cheney from the No. 3 leadership post via a voice vote.

While a secret ballot was expected, and was the method used in February when Cheney faced another challenge to her post and prevailed 145-61, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy rejected calls for one.

Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger, who is in the party's minority for publicly supporting Cheney, said following the meeting that McCarthy said he opted for a voice vote instead to "show unity."

A voice vote is taken by evaluating the relative strength and volume of "aye" and "no" calls. Since the vote was conducted behind closed doors in a conference-wide meeting, it's unlikely many Republicans will let their positions be known in public.

May 12, 9:45 am
Stefanik sends note to colleagues announcing her bid for No. 3 spot

Following the vote to oust Cheney, New York Rep. Elise Stefanik formally announced her bid for House Republican Conference Chair with a letter to her GOP colleagues asking for their vote.

She blamed the news media for dividing the Republican Party and vowed to regain the majority and "fire Speaker Pelosi once and for all."

The note comes amid growing concern among the conservative wing of the Republican Party that Stefanik, with a more moderate voting record than Cheney, is not conservative enough for the job.

May 12, 9:37 am
After ouster, Cheney vows to keep Trump from Oval Office

Following the vote, Cheney told reporters that she did not feel betrayed by the vote and that she will keep on fighting to prevent former President Donald Trump from ever making his way back into the Oval Office.

"We cannot embrace both the big lie and the Constitution," she said.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger spoke immediately after Cheney and said there was little speaking among members during the vote to remove Cheney.

He said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said this morning that the vote was about "unity."

Other Republicans leaving the meeting said the conference vote to replace Cheney will likely take place Friday.

May 12, 9:30 am
Cheney ousted from leadership position

A majority of House Republicans, in a voice vote, removed Cheney from her leadership position at a closed door meeting.

Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York is the front-runner to replace her, having the support of the former president and House GOP leadership.

May 12, 9:25 am
Cheney gives final speech to colleagues, warns against Trump

Inside the closed-door meeting to oust Cheney from Republican leadership -- a monumental moment for the party -- a source familiar with her comments in the room said Cheney warned in her final speech to her colleagues not to let former President Donald Trump make the Republican Party "complicit in his efforts to unravel our democracy."

“I am going to take a moment of personal privilege and then we will have the prayer and pledge," she opened.

"I have tremendous affection and admiration for many of you in this room. I know we all came to Washington to do important work for the nation. History has chosen every single one of us. And history has put us here together at this moment of challenge for our country," she said. "Our nation needs this Republican Party as a strong party based on truth so we can shape the future."

"To do that, we must be true to our principles and to the Constitution. We cannot let the former president drag us backward and make us complicit in his efforts to unravel our democracy. Down that path lies our destruction, and potentially the destruction of our country," she said.

"If you want leaders who will enable and spread his destructive lies, I’m not your person, you have plenty of others to choose from. That will be their legacy," she continued. "But I promise you this, after today, I will be leading the fight to restore our party and our nation to conservative principles, to defeating socialism, to defending our republic, to making the GOP worthy again of being the party of Lincoln."

She then led the group in prayer.

“Dear God, fill us with a love of freedom and a reverence for all your gifts. Help us to understand the gravity of this moment. Help us to remember that democratic systems can fray and suddenly unravel. When they do, they are gone forever. Help us to speak the truth and remember the words of John 8:32 - 'Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.' May our world see the power of faith. May our nation know the strength of selfless service. And may our enemies continue to taste the inescapable force of freedom. In Jesus’s name we pray, Amen,” she prayed.

May 12, 9:09 am
McCarthy arrives on the Hill

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy arrived on Capitol Hill before 9 a.m. Wednesday when House Republicans are scheduled to meet behind closed doors to decide whether to remove Liz Cheney from her leadership post via secret ballot.

McCarthy announced the vote to recall Cheney on Monday, after he told Fox News' Sunday Morning Futures he supported New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, who has supported the "big lie" about the election, for the No. 3 House Republican position.

House Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger, who joined Cheney and eight other House Republicans in voting to impeach Trump, has criticized McCarthy in recent days as being hypocritical, pointing to how McCarthy gave a floor speech in January also tying Trump to the Capitol attack before traveling to Mar-a-Lago to see the former president weeks later.

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(WASHINGTON) -- Attorney General Merrick Garland told the Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday that he has not seen a more dangerous threat to democracy than the "invasion" of the Capitol on Jan. 6, which he called in written testimony a "heinous attack" and "intolerable assault."

"This was an attempt by some -- I want to be very careful to not ascribe it to all because every case is different, but there was an attempt to interfere with the fundamental passing -- element of our democracy, the peaceful transfer of power. And if there has to be a hierarchy of things that we prioritize, this would be the one we prioritize, because it is the most dangerous threat to our democracy," Garland said.

Garland and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Myorkas are using their testimony to highlight the new initiatives put forward by their respective departments as they push lawmakers to approve $100 million of additional funds in President Joe Biden's budget request dedicated to addressing rising domestic terrorism threats.

In March, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security released a report that outlined a threat assessment of domestic violent extremists, finding that attacks by such persons could be "elevated" this year.

On Tuesday, Mayorkas established a domestic terrorism branch in the DHS Office of Intelligence & Analysis and established the Center for Prevention Programs and Partnerships, which is an effort to combat terrorism and targeted violence.

In addressing that threat, the attorney general said Wednesday that challenges, including the ability to communicate on encrypted chats, make it more difficult to identify domestic violent extremists and that law enforcement is contending with an increased "degree of lethality and lethal weaponry available."

Without mentioning former President Donald Trump by name, Mayorkas said that false narratives fuel extremism.

"The spread of false narratives are used to fuel extremist ideologies," he said. "And those false narratives can lead people who are predisposed to violence to commit acts of violence against our institutions. And tragically, we saw that on January 6."

Garland said he did not know how long it will take to conclude investigations into the Captiol riot, which sparked one of the largest DOJ investigations in its history. As of this week, Garland said more than 430 arrests have been made in connection with the insurrection amid investigations that span "almost the entire country."

Responding to a question from Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., Mayorkas said Wednesday that DHS is "intensely" focused on Russia's effort to sow "discord and disunity" in the United States.

Garland said during later questioning that the government should be concerned "about interactions between domestic violent extremists particularly radically motivated and ethnically motivated ones where there are similar groups, particularly in Europe, with similar ideological events, sharing information."

Asked about how the Justice Department is addressing extremism in the ranks of law enforcement given the notable number of arrested Capitol rioters who were either current or former members of the law enforcement community, Garland said it represents one of the most difficult problems facing the department.

He said Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco has recently been leading a review of the department's procedures, meeting with heads of all of DOJ's law enforcement agencies "to determine how we can carefully vet our own employees, again, always being mindful of First Amendment and free associational rights."

Mayorkas also briefly addressed the Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack and said it is taking a whole of government approach to combat the issue.

"We are working at the direction of the president, in an all of government way, to address the cybersecurity threat that Colonial Pipeline suffered and that other businesses and institutions across our country are vulnerable to."

In written testimony, Garland referenced his experience overseeing the investigation into the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah federal building (also known as the Oklahoma City bombing) and how the terrorism the country witnessed that day in 1995 has a direct line to some of the threats the homeland now faces.

"The horror of domestic violent extremism is still with us," Garland said in the written testimony, while noting the FBI's assessment that the top domestic terrorism threat facing the country comes from racially motivated violent extremists -- specifically white supremacists.

Garland, in his written testimony, aslo noted the DOJ's focus on the rise in hate crimes in recent years -- including attacks targeting the AAPI community since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Hate crimes have no place in our society, and the Department, led by our Civil Rights Division, is committed to prosecuting those who commit them," Garland plans to say.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



(PHOENIX) -- Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed a bill Tuesday which will remove the word "permanent" from the state's permanent early voting list (PEVL), a method that was heavily used by voters in the 2020 election.

He signed the controversial bill, SB 1485, less than an hour after the Arizona Senate passed it 16-14, along party lines. It also comes as auditors are at work inspecting Maricopa County's 2.1 million 2020 ballots under a Senate-ordered audit.

Arizona joins other Republican-led states that have introduced, passed and signed into law restrictive voting legislation. There are 361 bills in 47 states that introduce restrictive provisions.

The new law dissolves the word "permanent" before references to the early voting list. County officials are now required to send a notice by Dec. 1 of every even-numbered year to any voters on the list who failed to vote using an early ballot in at least one primary or general election where a municipal, statewide, legislative or federal race was on the ballot over four years.

According to Democratic Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, who opposes the legislative action, 75% of Arizonans are members of the permanent early voting list and 80% of Arizonans used the early voting mechanism to cast ballots in the 2020 election.

Several Democrats said Tuesday that the voters who would be most negatively impacted by this legislation are the ones who do not exercise their constitutional right regularly.

"Voting is probably our most precious civil right, but it's not mandatory ... (this bill) seeks, as it seems, to punish those who do not regularly vote," said state Sen. Kristen Engel. "Those are not the folks we need to make it more difficult to vote."

"This will impact all voters, not just Democrats ... This is going to impact independents. This is going to impact Republicans," said state Sen. Rebecca Rios, the minority leader.

Democrats have said the bill will remove at least 126,000 people from the early voting list -- a number which would have been higher if the measure was applied for records based on the 2020 election.

"The number could be as high as 145,000 voters," Democratic Rep. Raquel Terán said last month, citing the overall number of voters who would have been removed if the bill was applied last year.

"And this includes close to 30,000 Latinos. There are organizers in those communities ... who want to make sure that they do have a voice in our democratic process. And the PEVL has been that vehicle," she added.

Ducey defended his decision to sign the bill in a video posted to his Twitter account Tuesday afternoon, saying that although he has full confidence in Arizona's election system, that does not mean he can't take steps to make it stronger.

"This change will ensure active voters who continue to receive a ballot and free up resources for county recorders, to use on priorities like election security and voter education. Let's be clear, despite all the deceptive and heated rhetoric being used by some partisan activists to lobby against this reform, not a single Arizona voter will lose their right to vote," he said.

Republican Sen. Kelly Townsend, who temporarily tanked the bill late last month over her concerns about how results of the election audit may turn out, said she was ready to vote yes on the bill Tuesday, because she had received assurances that "we are now looking at other issues that need to be fixed for the 2022 election."

"It's about restoring confidence for everyone to cast the ballot regardless of what their party is. Because we have issue with the PEVL list that has drawn attention and caused great doubt, I think it's important that we looked at it and came up with solutions to help clean that up," Townsend said, without elaborating on what the issues with PEVL were.

President Pro Tempore Vince Leach defended the bill and argued claims of voter suppression were baseless because there are other ways to vote.

"After a series of items happen that are specifically spelled out in the bill, this bill removes non-voters. They have elected not to participate or they're moved or they're dead. This is not removing voters," Leach said. "We hear all the time that this is voter suppression. These people have plenty of other means of voting."

Leach's comments sparked passionate remarks from state Sen. Juan Mendez, who called out his colleague by district when explaining his own vote against the bill.

"Some of you, especially the legislator from District 11, need to understand that there is no kind of voter that is better or more deserving of access to the right to vote. Voting regularly? Seriously, you're really trying to shame voters?" Mendez said. "Are we checking if concealed-carry people still want the Second Amendment rights if they don't find enough bullets every year? ... This bill looks like nothing more than a ruse to disenfranchise voters that you don't like."

Business leaders in Phoenix penned a letter to Arizona lawmakers at the beginning of April, urging them to vote down SB 1485 and other bills which would make it harder to vote, such as one which would require new further identification when voting absentee.

"These proposals are a concerted effort from those in Arizona -- and across the nation -- who wish to sow additional doubts about our elections in the minds of voters and feed into the paranoia that has plagued our political discourse over the past several months," they wrote. "These measures seek to disenfranchise voters. They are 'solutions' in search of a problem. They are attempts at voter suppression cloaked as reform - plain and simple."

Ducey fired back at those claims in his video, saying if it was best to update their systems to run their businesses more efficiently, they would do the same.

"Large corporations have decided to insert themselves into the debate over election law. My advice to them regarding this law is simple: know what you're talking about before you say anything. These big businesses seem to embrace a static view of elections ... and view any change suspiciously. It's wrong. Dead wrong," he said.

There are additional pieces of Republican-led legislation which could be acted on in the coming weeks. The Senate has already passed SB1713, which would require voters to return additional identification with their absentee ballot, such as their driver's license, state ID or tribal ID card number or a copy of a federal/state/local government-issued ID. They could also use their voter registration number and a document that contains their name and address where registered to vote, like a utility bill. Its final form has not yet been passed by the House.

ABC News' Quinn Scanlan contributed reporting.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Photo Credit: U.S. Department of Energy

(WASHINGTON) -- The Biden administration on Tuesday warned that southeastern states faced a gasoline "supply crunch" following the ransomware attack on the Colonial Pipeline, as several states declared emergencies or suspended rules, and one major airline altered its flight routes.

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said that Colonial Pipeline's chief executive had indicated the company would decide by the close of business on Wednesday whether it could fully restart the pipeline, but that even if it did, "it will take a few days to ramp up operations."

"Much as there was no cause for, say, hoarding toilet paper at the beginning of the pandemic," Granholm told reporters, "there should be no cause for hoarding gasoline, especially in light of the fact that the pipeline should be substantially operational by the end of this week and over the weekend."

Top federal officials encouraged calm, even as Virginia's governor on Tuesday declared a state of emergency to "prepare for any potential supply shortages." His counterpart in North Carolina did the same the day before, while in Georgia, the governor suspended the gas tax and weight limits on trucks transporting fuel.

Anecdotally, some gas stations across the southeast faced long lines as motorists stocked up on gas.

Granholm said during a news conference at the White House that the federal government would investigate reports of gasoline price gouging and that any "crunch" would be short-lived.

"It's not that we have a gasoline shortage," Granholm said in an exchange with ABC News Senior White House Correspondent Mary Bruce. "It's that we have this supply crunch, and that things will be back to normal soon, and that we’re asking people not to hoard."

She added: "We have gasoline. We just have to get it to the right places."

In the meantime, the secretary said, "the crunch" would be felt in the southeast, where much of the Colonial Pipeline is located.

The 5,500-mile pipeline system transports approximately 45% of all fuel consumed on the East Coast, according to its website, and runs from Texas to New Jersey.

"It’s about 70% of the supplies of North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, and especially southern Virginia," that, Granholm said, "are impacted the most.”

The FBI said Monday that the DarkSide criminal organization, which operates in Eastern Europe, was allegedly behind the attack.

The attack on the Colonial Pipeline "could prove to be the most devastating ransomware attack on critical infrastructure systems in the U.S. to date," according to a bulletin issued Monday by the Department of Homeland Security’s regional office in Boston.

While federal officials are still trying to determine whether a foreign nation could be involved in the cyberattack, Russian intelligence has been known to cooperate with Eastern European cybercriminals in the past.

President Joe Biden said Monday that the attack was a "criminal act."

“So far, there is no evidence, based on -- from our Intelligence people that Russia is involved,” Biden told reporters. “Although, there is evidence that the actors’ ransomware is in Russia. They have some responsibility to deal with this.”

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Greg Nash-Pool/Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky was forced to defend her agency's guidance and even its integrity on Tuesday as Senate Republicans grilled her over CDC messaging on masks and other restrictions, arguing it's frustrating and unreasonable as more Americans get vaccinated.

The Senate Health Committee hearing came hours after the Food and Drug Administration authorized coronavirus vaccinations for children ages 12 and up, widening the U.S. population that will be protected against the virus and bolstering chances for a safe return to full-time school in the fall.

Asked what she would say to parents who are considering getting their kids vaccinated now, the CDC director, while acknowledging some parents may not want to be first in line, said she would encourage all parents to get their children vaccinated and for children to ask for the shot.

"I recognize some parents want to see how it goes, but I am encouraging all children to be vaccinated. And I am also encouraging children to ask for the vaccine," Walensky said. "I have a 16-year-old and I continue he wanted to get the vaccine. He wants his life back."

The hearing then quickly heated up over what critics say is her agency's murky messaging, a point Republican Sen. Susan Collins drove home by saying she "used to have the utmost respect for the guidance from the CDC."

"I always considered the CDC to be the gold standard. I don't anymore," Collins said, going onto to tick through what she called "conflicting, confusing guidance" from the CDC that contradicts health officials.

The Maine senator listed three examples she claimed have helped erode trust in CDC guidance, contending it's too strict.

"So, here we have unnecessary barriers to reopening schools, exaggerating the risks of outdoor transmission, and unworkable restrictions on summer camps. Why does this matter?" Collins continued. "It matters because it undermines public confidence in your recommendation, in the recommendations that do make sense, in the recommendations that Americans should be following."

Walensky, forced to respond, stood behind CDC guidance that she said is developed with "stakeholders and consumers" before being finalized, defended school recommendations by pointing to immunocompromised populations and got personal when responding to criticism about whether kids at summer camps need to wear masks.

"I want our kids back in camp," she said, talking about how her 16-year-old son counts down the days to his summer camp each year. "We now have 38,000 new infections, on average, per day. Last May 11th, it was 24,000. And we sent a lot of kids home and camps were closed. The camp guidance is intended to get our kids to camp and allow them to stay there."

Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy joined Collins in expressing frustration with the CDC and told the panel the American people "are beginning to disregard what you say is true."

"The American people have just lost -- just lost patience with us, with you guys. I would ask you to be aware of their frustrations and get a little real time into updating these things. I am sorry to be so frustrated," Cassidy said.

Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski expressed frustration at what she said were CDC roadblocks for Alaskan cruise ships. On masks, she said fishermen in her state dangerously keeping ocean-soaked masks on at all times out of fear the Coast Guard would cite them for violation of federal law.

“Tell me, tell me how anybody thinks this is a sane and sound policy to do,” Murkowski said. “This absolutely is a crazy policy,” she added of workers on boats having to wear masks outdoors.

Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy came to the CDC's defense, saying Walensky and other experts aren't going to say we know things that we don't and said they're working in the aftermath of former President Donald Trump who made egregiously false statements about the virus.

"I, frankly, appreciate the fact that we have leaders today who recognize that we still have gaps in information, who occasionally may err on the side of caution in order to save lives. And I share the frustration, but the frustration is rooted in the fact that we are still less than a year and a half into a virus that we are still beginning to understand," Murphy said.

Earlier, when it was Republican Sen. Rand Paul's turn, it didn't take long for him to drill the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, over his handling of the pandemic -- as he has in hearings since the pandemic began -- in a heated line of questioning on the origin of the virus.

Paul pushed the unverified claim that the virus originated in China's Wuhan Virology Institute. He demanded that Fauci admit that the National Institutes of Health specifically funded "gain-of-function research" at the Wuhan Institute of Virology -- a type of controversial research that involves boosting a virus so that vaccines or cures can be developed proactively, but which Paul said was "fooling with Mother Nature."

Fauci shot down the theory as unequivocally false.

"Senator Paul, with all due respect, you are entire -- entirely and completely incorrect. The NIH has not ever and does not now fund gain-of-function research in the Wuhan Institute of Virology," Fauci said. "I fully agree you should investigate where the virus came from, but again, we have not funded gain of function research on this virus in the Wuhan Institute of Virology."

He told Paul that while the NIH has funded research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in the past, it was not for gain-of-function research, "despite the fact that people tweet that."

Fauci also shot down a hypothetical question from Republican Sen. Roger Marshall of Kansas on whether some NIH funding could have ended up contributing to COVID-19.

"You could do research on something as benign as looking at something that has nothing to do with it and it could indirectly, someday, somehow be involved," Facui said. "So if you want to trap me into saying yes or no, I'm not going to play that game."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



(WASHINGTON) -- The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) does not have the "technical information" on the Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack, the acting director told a congressional panel Tuesday.

Colonial Pipeline said on Saturday it was the victim of a cyberattack involving ransomware and had "proactively" halted all pipeline operations as a result. The 5,500-mile pipeline system transports approximately 45% of all fuel consumed on the East Coast, according to its website, and runs from Texas to New Jersey.

CISA, an arm of the Department of Homeland Security, is responsible for the nation's cyber infrastructure.

Brandon Wales, the acting director of CISA, told lawmakers on the Senate Homeland Security Committee that once the agency gets the information, it will be used to help protect other companies.

"We do expect information to come from that and when we have it, we will use it to help improve cybersecurity more broadly," he testified.

Wales also admitted that the company did not directly reach out to the agency in the moments following the cyber attack.

"We were brought in by the FBI after they were notified about the incident," he said.

"I think there is a benefit when CISA is brought in quickly because the information that we glean, we work to share it in a bigger fashion to protect other critical infrastructure," he explained.

The FBI said in a statement Monday it had been confirmed that DarkSide ransomware was responsible for the compromise of the Colonial Pipeline networks.

The FBI added that it will continue to work with the company and government partners on the ongoing investigation.

The DarkSide criminal organization allegedly operates in Eastern Europe. While federal officials are still trying to determine whether a foreign nation could be involved in the cyberattack, Russian intelligence has been known to cooperate with Eastern European cybercriminals in the past.

President Joe Biden said Monday there is currently "no evidence" that Russia is involved in the cyber attack.

"Although, there is evidence that the actors’ ransomware is in Russia," the president added. "They have some responsibility to deal with this."

Wales also said it "is not surprising" that DarkSide went after a company like Colonial Pipeline.

"We've seen this over the past two years, they're going after bigger players they get bigger ransoms. Ransoms last year went up to around $300,000 For the small ones and millions of dollars for the big ones," he said.

Wales got into the challenges in federal government cybersecurity, which is a combination of a lack of updating systems, hiring the right people and that tactics are changing at a fast clip.

He urged Congress to add more funding to CISA's budget.

Ranking Member Rob Portman said the Colonial Pipeline hack shows how cyber incidents can have real world impacts.

"This is a stark example of how the cyberattacks can have real demonstrable impacts on our economy international security, ask the people who are in East Coast states about what they're paying for gasoline today at the pump, and they will tell you it has impact," he said.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

(WASHINGTON) -- With the possibility of compromise on an infrastructure package looking slim, President Joe Biden prepared to host a slew of Republican lawmakers at the White House this week -- including one, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has said his top priority is blocking Democrats' agenda.

The White House insists it remains open to compromising on Biden's $2.3 trillion infrastructure proposal, but at least outwardly, a great gulf remains between his sweeping plan and a counterproposal from a group of Republican senators that tops out at a quarter of the size.

"This is a big week ahead," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday.

McConnell and the top Republican in the House of Representatives, Kevin McCarthy, will join Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for a meeting with Biden and Vice President Harris at the White House on Wednesday, "to discuss policy areas of mutual agreement," including infrastructure, according to the White House.

The next day, the president planned to host the Republican senators behind the smaller infrastructure counteroffer.

Biden has repeatedly said he would prefer to work together with Republicans on passing an infrastructure plan.

But he said the same for his signature COVID-19 stimulus package, which ultimately passed Congress in March without a single Republican vote.

GOP opposition on Capitol Hill remains great. McConnell said last week that "100% percent" of his "focus is on stopping this new administration."

If the president hopes to proceed without Republican support again, he will need every single Democratic vote in the evenly split Senate, including that of West Virginia's Sen. Joe Manchin, whose more moderate stances and tepid support for Biden's initiatives have positioned him as a key target for the White House.

On Monday, Biden planned to discuss infrastructure with Manchin at the White House and meet separately with Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., on the same topic.

Some Democrats, like Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, say time is of the essence and that Americans do not care if a law has bipartisan backing.

"If Republicans want to come on board, seriously, great," Sanders said in an interview with Axios. "If not, we're going to do it alone."

But fundamental differences remain about what to include in the plan and how to pay for it.

Biden's proposal includes an expansive definition of what constitutes "infrastructure" -- from expanding broadband to providing money for childcare and electric-vehicle charging stations -- and suggests taxing corporations to foot the bill. The GOP counteroffer focuses on what Republicans call "core" infrastructure items, like roads and bridges, broadband, airports, waterways, rails, ports and public transit, with user fees instead of corporate tax hikes to fund the investments.

Psaki said Monday that the president was willing to hear ideas on how to pay for his plan -- as he has said since he first proposed it -- but that "the president's red lines are inaction and are anything that would raise taxes on people making less than $400,000 a year."

She suggested there was not much disagreement on the investments that should be included in an infrastructure package, but at least based on both side's public pronouncements, there are massive gaps.

"The proper price tag for what most of us think of as infrastructure is about six- to eight-hundred billion dollars," McConnell said in an interview with Kentucky Educational Television that aired over the weekend.

On Thursday, the president plans to host the Republican senator who has led the charge on the GOP counterproposal, Sen. Shelley Capito of West Virginia, along with five other GOP senators: John Barrasso of Wyoming, Roy Blunt of MIssouri, Mike Crapo of Idaho, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, and Roger Wicker of Mississippi.

Biden has already spoken on the phone with Capito, who is the most senior Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

Meanwhile, as they discuss a larger package, Democrats and Republicans in the Senate have negotiated over small bills linked to infrastructure, on issues like drinking water and wastewater and economic competitiveness with China.

It remains to be seen how those bills would fit into a larger deal.

For his part, McConnell said he hopes the continued talks with the Biden White House would eventually push positions closer to his own.

"I'm focused entirely on the present and the future, not the past," McConnell said Thursday in Kentucky. "My view at the moment is we need to turn this administration into a moderate administration. I'm still hoping the administration will pivot to a more centrist position and that's where I'm spending my time and focus."

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(WASHINGTON) -- Arizona's November election is in the headlines again, after the Republican-led Senate there successfully used its subpoena power to obtain Maricopa County's 2.1 million general election ballots in order to audit the presidential and Senate races.

But experts said the process is unprecedented when it comes to auditing an election -- which was signed off on by Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, Republican Gov. Doug Ducey and Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich back in November. The audit cannot retroactively change the results of the election, but experts worry that the act of the audit itself will sow doubt about the results.

Ducey refused to entertain former President Donald Trump's various nationwide election conspiracies -- putting him in hot water with his fellow Republican -- and certified President Joe Biden and Sen. Mark Kelly's wins. The election results moved the state out of safe Republican territory.

The state Senate hired a private firm that has never worked in the election realm before. Some of their practices, such as the storage and handling of ballots, have raised concerns with the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division, which weighed in late last week. In a letter to officials, the DOJ division expressed its concerns about possible violations of ballot preservation laws and voter intimidation. Following that letter, the Senate has since scrapped part of the plan to do follow-up canvassing at voters' homes, but assured the Justice Department that it had plans to do so in a safe and legal manner.

Hobbs said that she met with the DOJ on Thursday, alongside a number of other secretaries of state who have expressed concern about the impact of the audit.

"Every day that this exercise continues, I grow more concerned about what is happening," she said on a call with reporters. "We appreciate and share the concerns raised by the DOJ, as well as the concerns of my colleagues -- other secretaries of state -- who are starting to hear calls for similar audits or reviews to be conducted in their states. This is a horrible precedent that has been set here."

The governor is also now providing security to Hobbs and her family after she received death threats and was followed by a man associated with a far-right media group.

Here's what you need to know about the GOP-led audit in Arizona:

Months of litigation preceded the audit

The state Senate, which has subpoena power for testimony, compelled this audit. After months of tricky court battles and resistance from the county board of supervisors, the Maricopa County Superior Court ruled that the Senate could subpoena machines and ballots, among other things, as a part of its legislative power.

Republican-led Maricopa County had already conducted a hand recount of ballots there and had different independent firms examine their voting machines in the weeks following the election. Plus, GOP Chairwoman Kelli Ward herself signed off on original county certification of ballots just days after the election.

But, after Trump continued to push doubts about the election results, Republicans used the nationwide momentum in Arizona to push for GOP access to audit ballots which were duplicated by the county. Ward was able to conduct the audit in December with power from a state statute which allows a voter to dispute election outcomes if they suspect illegal votes, misconduct by election officials or an inaccurate vote count.

A private firm that never worked on election issues is conducting the audit

The Senate president hired the Florida-based cybersecurity company Cyber Ninjas to conduct the audit, but the company has no experience working on elections. Cyber Ninjas' CEO, on his since-deleted Twitter account, spread misinformation and doubt about the legitimacy of the election, according to the Arizona Mirror.

The company's website states that they track security vulnerabilities and protect against possible breaches. Fann said that the purpose of the audit is not to sow doubt in the election results, but to use it as a way to see where the state can improve its election administration in the future. The Arizona Capitol Times reported that Fann passed over a more experienced and more expensive company to conduct the audit, instead opting for Cyber Ninjas in an attempt to avoid allocating extra taxpayer dollars toward the cost.

The funding for the audit is a mixed bag of taxpayer dollars and private donations. Fann agreed that the Senate would cover $150,000 of the costs. Far-right One America News Network's Christina Bobb, set up a nonprofit to help fund the audit and is encouraging her followers to "get the audit across the finish line."

Actual ballot counters are volunteers, while some are paid, and according to ABC15 in Phoenix, were all required to sign nondisclosure agreements, raising further concerns about a process which has been lauded as transparent by those who are running it.

Drawing further scrutiny is the volunteers' methods at the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix.

"In typical post-election review procedures, officials review individual ballots and ballot counters make joint decisions about how each ballot should be counted. And in the event of a disagreement there are clear escalation procedures which ensure that that ballot receives additional scrutiny and is properly counted, but not so at the coliseum. At the coliseum ... the current procedures do not require all of the ballot counters to agree on how to count that ballot," Elizabeth Howard, an attorney with the Brennan Center for Justice and audit observer, said in a press call.

A controversy over bias erupted after former state Rep. Anthony Kern, who was on the steps of the Capitol on Jan. 6 and photographed inside an area rioters breached, was pictured participating as a ballot counter for an election where his name was on the ballot as a would-be elector for Trump if he won.

"We are concerned about the lack of a check on independence, objectivity and election administration experience," Howard said. "And in fact, one of the ballot counters ... is a presidential elector and he's counting ballots that were actually cast for or against him and local press have uncovered a tweet in which he shares that he is attending a stop-the-steal rally in D.C. on Jan. 6."

The auditors' objectives are unclear

There have been several conspiracy theories floating around the space where auditors are reviewing the ballots.

One official there said they were looking for traces of bamboo in the ballot paper, which would allegedly indicate that the ballots were smuggled into Arizona from Asia. They are also using 5K cameras to look at the ballots and determine the depth of the indentation, which would allegedly reveal if the ballot was cast by hand or filled out by a machine. UV lights were used by auditors who are searching for alleged watermarks by the Trump administration to show that they were "official ballots."

One official said he didn't believe that actual ballots were shipped in from Asia, but the question is "part of the mystery we are trying to un-gaslight people about. And this is how to do it," he said of the audit.

Washington's Republican Secretary of State Kim Wyman said on a press call the processes being used are not based on any sort of established election review procedures.

"They have no chain of custody regardless of their made-up procedures and policies that they put out in public. They don't reach anywhere near knocking on the door of standards that election officials operate," Wyman said.

"We do it so that we can make those arguments in court if needed, we can back up our policies and procedures and show that we follow the law, and that the election was fair and accurate. They can't do it. They have now contaminated and corrupted all of those -- what is it -- 2.1 million ballots that Maricopa County, so meticulously kept control of. Now all of that is gone, so pretty much anything from that day forward is just a crapshoot," she said.

When does the audit end?

The Senate has access to the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix until Thursday, but it appears auditors will need more time. High school graduations are scheduled there shortly after that date, so there is no chance they can extend their rental.

As of Thursday evening, officials said they are through about 275,000 of the 2.1 million ballots.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



(WASHINGTON) -- House Republicans are forging ahead this week with their plan to oust Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney from her post as GOP Conference Chair, illustrating the tight grip former President Donald Trump continues to hold over the Republican Party exactly six months after the presidential election he continues to falsely claim was stolen.

Cheney's refusal to side with Trump and other Republicans on what she's called "the big lie" and her vote to impeach the former president for his role in the Jan. 6 Capitol attack has made her an outlier in her party, and while it's not the first time this year she's faced an internal challenge, it will be the first time she's facing one without the support of Republican leadership.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy over the weekend publicly endorsed four-term New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, making all but certain Cheney will be stripped of her role as soon as this week. McCarthy follows the No. 2 House Republican Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana in voicing support for Stefanik.

Cheney has not responded to McCarthy, but least one House Republican who joined Cheney and eight other House Republicans in voting to impeach Trump, Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger, went after House leadership on Monday and said Cheney is being run out of her post for only one reason: because she is consistent in her message and refuses to lie about the truth.

"I think when it comes down to it," he told the National Press Club Monday, "what she is being removed for is making it uncomfortable and being consistent, and God bless her for having the consistency to tell the truth. Because history -- I'm going to tell you, in the longterm -- is going to write very well about her."

"She's being run out for one thing: her consistency. She said the same exact thing that Kevin McCarthy said on Jan. 6 which is Donald Trump is responsible," Kinzinger added.

In addition to describing McCarthy as hypocritical, Kinzinger said the Republican speaker dismissed his own warnings about violence in the days ahead of Jan. 6.

"I was very disappointed when my party's leaders -- Kevin McCarthy and Steve Scalise in particular -- decided that winning the next election or winning the majority was more important than a clear-eyed recognition of what happened on Jan. 6," Kinzinger said. "What happened on Jan. 6 is a lie led to violence."

Stefanik, poised to replace Cheney, was among the 147 Republicans who voted to overturn election results and defended questioning results in a floor speech after the Capitol attack and has expressed full support for the controversial Republican-backed audit of election results in Arizona, which election experts have worried will further undermine confidence in the electoral process.

Asked on Fox News' "Sunday Morning Futures" whether he supported Stefanik for the No. 3 House Republican position, McCarthy said, "Yes, I do," and pointed to what he said GOP messaging should be.

"Any member can take whatever position they believe in," McCarthy said, denying Cheney's ousting was based on her criticisms of Trump. "What we are talking about, it's a position in leadership. We are in one of our biggest battles ever for this nation and the direction of whether this century will be ours. As conference chair, you have the most critical jobs of the messenger going forward."

Republicans are expected to vote Wednesday during a House conference-wide meeting to remove Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, and replace her with Stefanik, nearly 20 years her junior with a more moderate voting record than Cheney, who once avoided saying Trump's name but became one of his staunchest supporters.

As House Republicans dealt with internal drama over the potential ouster, the White House said Monday it wouldn't affect negotiations over President Joe Biden's agenda.

“The president knows that there is some introspection going on in the Republican Party right now, and a determination about who they're going to be, who they want to lead them, and what they want to represent moving forward. He's not going to focus on that,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday, denying that the situation would influence Biden’s thinking as he heads into his first in-person meeting Wednesday with McCarthy and congressional leaders.

Ahead of his weekend endorsement of Stefanik, McCarthy last week was overheard saying he has "lost confidence" in Cheney. The pair shared an awkward moment on Capitol Hill in late February when they disagreed responding to a reporters' question over whether Trump should speak at CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference.

Trump also weighed in last week from Mar-a-Lago -- the once "Winter White House" which has still seen prominent GOP figures visit since Trump left office, McCarthy included -- to criticize Cheney in a statement as a "warmongering fool who has no business in Republican Party Leadership" and endorse Stefanik as "a far superior choice."

Stefanik, in a recent interview with former Trump adviser Sebastian Gorka, took her own jab at Cheney, saying the House Conference Chair's job "is not to attack members of the conference and attack President Trump."

In February, when Cheney faced another challenge to boot her from the coveted leadership position due to similar circumstances, even Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell spoke up to defend the congresswoman as "a leader with deep convictions and the courage to act on them," and Cheney kept her role after a closed-door, secret-ballot vote: 145-61.

Now, although Cheney isn't backing down from the next imminent challenge, she is not openly fighting the move, either. Branding herself as an "unapologetic conservative," she has continued to warn there are consequences if the GOP continues to push Trump's big lie.

Late last Wednesday, she published an opinion piece in The Washington Post laying out her case, writing, "The Republican Party is at a turning point, and Republicans must decide whether we are going to choose truth and fidelity to the Constitution."

"History is watching. Our children are watching. We must be brave enough to defend the basic principles that underpin and protect our freedom and our democratic process. I am committed to doing that, no matter what the short-term political consequences might be," she said.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


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(WASHINGTON) — After President Biden set a new goal to administer at least one vaccine shot to 70% of American adults by July 4th, George goes one-on-one with Dr. Anthony Fauci about the shifting vaccination plan and the latest on vaccine approvals for children. Foreign Correspondent Maggie Rulli also reports from New Delhi on India’s devastating COVID-19 second wave. Plus, a special Mother’s Day panel will discuss the outsized impact the pandemic had on women in the workforce as the nation’s economy slowly recovers. And the Powerhouse Roundtable weighs in on the latest on the potential ouster of Rep. Liz Cheney from House GOP leadership and Republican-backed restrictive voting laws in Florida & Texas.

The Biden administration said last week it now supports waiving the intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines, opening the door for their possible manufacturing by companies and countries around the world. The U.S. had opposed the waiver, along with pharmaceutical companies, which are concerned about the precedent it would set.

While some countries, including the U.K., European Union, Canada, Japan, Australia and Brazil, do not support waiving patent protections on vaccines developed in their countries, the World Health Organization has called the natural distribution of COVID-19 vaccines "a moral outrage.”

"You said the companies should be scaling up, but many of those companies say that President Biden’s plan to have these patent waivers is going to prevent them from scaling up -- it’s going to hamper the supply chain and actually set back the vaccine production effort," Stephanopoulos said.

"I don’t think that’s the case, George. They can scale up. They’ve done an extraordinary amount. You’ve got to give them credit. They’ve really just really done something that is really quite impressive in the way they’ve gotten their vaccine supply up and out for the rest of the world," Fauci replied.

"I think the waiving of the patents and the TRIPs is not going to necessarily interfere with that right now," Fauci continued, referencing the WTO's Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights Agreement, which provide global patent protections.

"The endgame of this all, George, is going to be to get people vaccinated," Fauci said.

"India is the largest vaccine-producing country in the world. They've got to get their resources," Fauci continued. "That's the reason why other countries need to chip in to be able to get either supplies for the Indians to make their own vaccines."

India is currently experiencing a devastating surge of COVID-19 with record-breaking cases, hospitalizations and deaths. The country's health care system is teetering on the edge of collapse as hospitals are overcrowded and much-needed medical supplies are in low supply.

Last week, the U.S. government, non-profit and private sector organizations began sending shipments of aid to India.

Fauci also told Stephanopoulos that he has been in communication with his counterparts in India over the last several days, urging them to open more field hospitals and implement more stringent shutdowns.

"I believe several of the Indian states have already done that," Fauci said. "But you need to break the chain of transmission and one of the ways to do that is to shut down."

Back in the U.S., more than 151 million Americans have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, prompting some criticism of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's indoor mask guidance, suggesting it's too stringent.

"You've had experts like the former head of the (Food and Drug Administration), Scott Gottlieb, say it's time to start relaxing the indoor mask mandates. Is he right?" Stephanopoulos asked.

"I think so," Fauci responded, adding that the CDC will be updating their recommendations and guidelines in real time.

"We do need to start being more liberal as we get more people vaccinated," Fauci said.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


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