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Former State Department official explains resignation over US support of Israel

ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- Annelle Sheline publicly resigned in March from her position with the U.S. State Department over the Biden administration's Israel policy.

Sheline, who holds a Ph.D., worked for one year as a foreign affairs officer at the Office of Near Eastern Affairs in the Department of State's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.

She resigned from her job due to the administration's position on the Israel-Hamas conflict. According to Sheline, she initially attempted to voice her opposition within the administration and found that many of her colleagues at the State Department shared her concerns and were also devastated by the impact of U.S. policy on Palestinians in Gaza.

Sheline sat down with ABC News Live to talk about her departure in-depth and how she was shocked and horrified by the terrorist acts of Hamas.

ABC NEWS LIVE: Joining us now for more is Doctor and Annelle Sheline, a former U.S. State Department official who resigned weeks ago from her position over the administration's stance on the war. Dr. Sheline, you just heard Matt's story. What is your reaction to the images and videos that IDF soldiers are posting on social media?

ANNELLE SHELINE: I think they're very disturbing. I think that it reflects the impunity that these members of the IDF are accustomed to operating. That they know that they will face no repercussions as the IDF soldier, dual national in South Africa, said. He hadn't heard anything from the IDF, condemning what he had done or any sort of, repercussions and disciplinary measures.

I think that obviously this comes from the top. This is something that also reflects the fact that the United States has continued to provide unconditional military aid to Israel for years, regardless of years of human rights abuses. And my concern is that even now, with the levels of devastation and the violation of international law that Israel is engaging in, we still are not, in fact, seeing the U.S. condition military aid.

ABC NEWS LIVE: I want to get more into your resignation. You wrote in an op ed: "Whatever credibility that the United States has had as an advocate for human rights has almost entirely vanished since the war began." Now, Dr. Sheline, you know, you worked in an office devoted to promoting human rights in the Middle East. At what point did you decide that it was better to speak up from the outside, as opposed to try to have a seat at the table on the inside?

SHELINE: At first I tried to raise opposition on the inside. Like many of my colleagues, people inside the State Department, many of them are devastated by what U.S. policy is enabling Israel to do to Palestinians inside Gaza. I co-authored a dissent memo. I signed two other dissent cables. I attended internal forums to speak about what was happening, to raise concerns, and I let my supervisors know that I would be resigning over Gaza.

I initially was not planning to resign publicly. I just let it be known inside the department that I, that why I was resigning. But then it was with come in conversation with colleagues at State who said that they they hoped I would reconsider. They hoped I would resign publicly. They hoped that I would contribute to the public pressure because that does seem to be the only thing that is having any kind of an impact, even though up to this point, we really have not seen the Biden administration adopt a new approach.

They continue to send weapons. We've seen announcements of new weapons. It's, it's really shocking that this has been allowed to go on for six months now.

ABC NEWS LIVE: Dr. Sheline, let's go back to October 7. How did you feel on that afternoon about what happened in Israel? Did you agree with the initial justification for going into Gaza that Israel had a right to defend itself?

SHELINE: I was shocked and horrified by the terrorist acts of Hamas. This is a terrorist organization. However, fairly quickly it became clear that Israel's intent was not to merely rescue their hostages or go in with a surgical strikes to go after the leaders of Hamas that were responsible for that, but instead to engage in a policy of collective punishment.

There were statements from senior Israeli officials saying they were going to cut off water, electricity, food. I, unfortunately, the the way again, that U.S. policy has given Israel a green light for decades, I think is why we're seeing such a horrifying outcome right now in Gaza.

ABC NEWS LIVE: I understand you voted for Joe Biden in 2020. I'm curious this time around. Are you planning to sit the election out, or can either candidate earn your vote now in 2024?

SHELINE: Part of the reason I'm speaking out is in hopes that it will contribute to this pressure on President Biden. Many people are engaging in this because I do, I know for some he's lost their vote. And, you know, there's no way they would vote for him. But I would if he took the measures that he is able to take.

You know, Israel, Israeli officials themselves have said they cannot conduct this war without U.S. weapons. So I want Biden to uphold American law and stop American military support for Israel.

ABC NEWS LIVE: Dr. Annelle Sheline thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us today.

Copyright © 2024, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

What is FISA? Surveillance law in spotlight as lawmakers debate key spy program

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(WASHINGTON) -- A bill to reauthorize a spy program considered critical to U.S. national security is in limbo on Capitol Hill.

An attempt on Wednesday to move ahead with reforming and renewing parts of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was blocked by House Republicans, in another blow the Speaker Mike Johnson.

Johnson and members of the GOP caucus huddled privately after the failed procedural vote but disagreements remained, making FISA's future unclear.

The House is aiming to vote on a newly revised plan Friday morning.

Here is what to know about the surveillance measure.

What is FISA?

The federal law sets out rules and procedures for gathering foreign intelligence through electronic surveillance, physical searches, pen registers and more. It established the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) and the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review.

It was passed in 1978 in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal and other intelligence controversies unearthed around that time, including surveillance against U.S. dissidents such as anti-war protesters and Martin Luther King, Jr.

It has been amended several times since then, including after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

What is Section 702?

The FISA debate on Capitol Hill largely centers around Section 702, which allows the U.S. government to collect electronic communications of non-Americans located outside the country without a warrant.

But it sometimes results in the collection of data on Americans who are in contact with those surveilled individuals, making it controversial.

Critics of the program, such as civil liberties groups like the ACLU, have called for requiring a warrant to access the data of those Americans. Some lawmakers are also opposed to reauthorizing the program without an amendment requiring a warrant or other reforms to protect Americans' privacy.

Intelligence officials, though, have warned a warrant amendment would cripple a program relied upon for counterterrorism.

FBI Director Christopher Wray said if Congress were to impose such a requirement, it would "blind ourselves to intelligence in our holdings."

Congress is facing a time crunch to come to a resolution, as Section 702 is set to expire on April 19.

"If we lost 702, we would lose vital insight into precisely the threats Americans expect us in government to identify and counter," national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters.

That includes, he said, "terrorist threats to the homeland; fentanyl supply chains bringing deadly drugs into American communities; hostile governments' recruitment of spies in our midst; transnational repression by authoritarian regimes; penetrations of our critical infrastructure; adversaries' attempts to illicitly acquire sensitive dual-use and military commodities and technology; ransomware attacks against major American companies and nonprofits; Russian war crimes; and more."

When has FISA been used?

Section 702 was used to target al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in August 2022. Al-Zawahiri was Osama bin Laden's deputy and helped coordinate the Sept. 11 attacks.

Section 702 played a role in locating ISIS commander Hajji Iman, who was killed by U.S. Special Operations Forces in 2016, according to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

The agency added that it has also been used to help the government gain insight on plans to smuggle fentanyl and other drugs into the U.S. and to mitigate ransomware attacks on U.S. infrastructure.

Former President Donald Trump and some of his conservative allies in Congress have broadly criticized FISA after surveillance against Carter Page, a former adviser to his 2016 presidential campaign. Trump this week urged lawmakers to "KILL FISA," which likely contributed to its demise earlier this week.

The Justice Department admitted errors in the FISA applications for surveillance on Page, however the ordeal didn't include Section 702 but rather another provision of the law.

ABC News' Jay O'Brien, Lauren Peller, Arthur Jones and Alexander Mallin contributed to this report.

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Education secretary elevates new deputy chief as college enrollment deadlines loom

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(WASHINGTON) -- Education Secretary Miguel Cardona will name LaWanda Toney as deputy chief of staff for strategic communications, as the secretary's team looks to tackle college affordability with enrollment deadlines quickly approaching.

"The message is clear: We want to make college possible for folks like the secretary, who's a first-generation college student [and] wasn't sure if college was possible for him," Toney told ABC News in an exclusive interview.

Pushing for adequate college and career training programs have been among Cardona's top priorities during his three years as education secretary. But the last several months have been mired by higher education woes, such as the Supreme Court's gutting of affirmative action last year and President Joe Biden's initial student debt relief plan introduced in 2022 (and struck down by SCOTUS last year).

Most recently, there were widespread issues with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, form. The department has tried to simplify the form over the course of this year -- implementing the Better FAFSA Form -- and has ramped up operations this spring, fixing an issue that prevented contributors without a Social Security number (SSN) from starting or accessing the form.

"There's nothing more important to the Department of Education," Cardona said during a House Committee on Appropriations' fiscal year 2025 budget request hearing this week. "We’re working on this around the clock because we want to make sure our students have the information they need to make informed decisions."

However, the price of college has gone up over the years, according to higher education sources who spoke with ABC News, and some colleges never recovered from the 2008 financial crash. This comes as the annual cost of tuition has risen to nearly six figures at some institutions and millions of students are wary about their college prospects.

"We're really trying to make it so that higher education is more affordable and accessible across the country," Cardona told ABC's "GMA3" on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, higher education experts say college affordability is the top barrier to entry cited by students and families.

With Toney's strategic messaging, the department will work to ensure college is attainable, a senior Department of Education official told ABC News. "Time is of the essence," the official said, so the department is working toward what every young student needs: The choice to either choose their career or attend college.

"We want everyone to have the opportunity to further their education," Toney told ABC News. "Whatever path they [students] choose. If it's to go to a career, then making sure that high schools are set up to support them in that way. And if they choose to go to college, they have those options."

The daughter of college-educated teachers, Howard University shaped Toney, according to a source familiar, and Toney's experience at the historically Black institution empowered her.

Toney was elevated to deputy chief of staff from her senior adviser role in the office of communications and outreach.

Prior to her work at the department, Toney ran the strategic communications team at the National Parent Teacher Association (PTA). Executive Director Nathan Monell worked with her for years and said Toney spear-headed "college readiness and accessibility" strategies.

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RFK Jr. consultant terminated after saying that voting for him helps ‘get rid of Biden’

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(WASHINGTON) -- Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s independent presidential campaign says it has ended its contract with a consultant who was seen on video encouraging people to vote for him in order to get "rid of Biden" even if that means electing former President Donald Trump.

Campaign manager Amaryllis Fox announced the decision in a post on X in response to a Kennedy supporter asking for the campaign to distance itself from the consultant, Rita Palma.

Video of Palma’s comments had energized Democrats online as they said it confirmed their accusations that the purpose of Kennedy’s campaign is to hand the White House back to Trump over President Joe Biden. Kennedy rejects that.

"We terminated her contract for misrepresentation immediately upon seeing the longer video in which she gave an inaccurate job title and described a conversation that did not happen," Fox wrote on X, referring to Palma.

While speaking to a crowd in New York on Friday at an event unaffiliated with the campaign, Palma falsely identified herself as the campaign's New York state director, according to the Kennedy campaign and the video of Palma’s comments that circulated online.

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"My time with Team Kennedy has been one of the best political adventures of my life filled with some of the best people I’ve encountered, and i have encountered many," Palma told ABC News via text message after she was terminated.

"I hold no ill will and look forward to the next seven months of watching Bobby shine," Palma wrote.

She did not respond to a question about why she identified herself as the campaign's New York state director.

PHOTO: Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. speaks at a Cesar Chavez Day event at Union Station on March 30, 2024 in Los Angeles.
Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. speaks at a Cesar Ch...Show more
Mario Tama/Getty Images, FILE
Kennedy's team had already been pushing back on Palma's comments in the video, which has been shared by Democratic operatives on social media and elsewhere.

At the Friday event, Palma told Kennedy supporters that backing him in New York, even if Trump ultimately won the White House, made sure "we're rid of Biden either way.”

“Why wouldn’t we put our vote to Bobby and at least get rid of Biden and get those 28 electoral votes in New York … to Bobby rather than to Biden, thereby reducing Biden’s 270?" Palma said in the video. "And we all know all that works, right -- 270 wins the election. If you don’t get to 270, if nobody gets to 270, then Congress picks the president, right?

“Who are they going to pick if it’s a Republican Congress? They’ll pick Trump," Palma said in the video. "So we’re rid of Biden either way.”

Kennedy’s campaign manager told ABC News earlier this week that she had spoken to Palma on Monday and determined she was “operating as a private citizen” at a “health freedom event.”

“She definitely does not speak on behalf of the campaign,” Fox said. “She’s never been to one of our strategy meetings or any kind of leadership meeting on electoral strategy in New York or nationally.”

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Japan's Fumio Kashida stresses Ukraine aid, US world role in speech to Congress

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(WASHINGTON) -- Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Thursday addressed a joint meeting of Congress, where he praised U.S. leadership on the world stage as "indispensable."

Kishida is in Washington this week as the U.S. looks to strengthen relationships with allies in the Indo-Pacific amid the mutual threat from China, North Korea and Russia.

During his speech to lawmakers, Kishida warned about such threats as he looked to reassure Americans he said were experiencing "self-doubt" and exhaustion in upholding "international order."

"As I often say, Ukraine of today may be East Asia of tomorrow," the prime minister said.

"Without U.S. support, how long before the hopes of Ukraine would collapse under the onslaught from Moscow?" he asked. "Without the presence of the United States, how long before the Indo-Pacific would face even harsher realities?"

His remarks prompted applause, though notably some Republicans did not join in, including Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene.

Kishida's remarks toward Ukraine skeptics come as U.S. aid to the war-torn ally as it fights Russia's invasion is stalled in a political fight on Capitol Hill.

It has been more than a year since Congress approved aid for Ukraine.

The Senate in February passed a $95 billion foreign aid package that includes nearly $60 billion in funds for Ukraine, but the legislation has yet to be taken up in the Republican-controlled House, where some hard-line conservatives are opposed to sending any more money to Ukraine.

Speaker Mike Johnson previously said the House would act on Ukraine funding with "innovations" when lawmakers returned from recess this week. But as of Wednesday, there was still little sign of progress on how to move forward.

"There are a lot of different ideas on that, as you know, it's a very complicated matter in a very complicated time," Johnson said Wednesday at a press conference alongside other GOP leaders. "And the clock is ticking on it, and everyone here feels the urgency of that. But what's required is that you reach consensus on it and that is what we are working on."

Kishida met with Johnson, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries just before delivering remarks at the joint meeting of Congress.

In his speech, Kishida noted his nation announced $12 billion for Ukraine as part of NATO's aid package and imposed strong sanctions against Russia.

"Japan will continue to stand with Ukraine," he said.

The prime minister also met with President Joe Biden and administration officials in the Oval Office on Wednesday. The two leaders discussed defense partnerships and economic cooperation as well as the wars in Gaza and Ukraine.

At a joint press conference in the Rose Garden afterward, Biden again called for Johnson to bring Ukraine aid up for a vote after praising Japan for its assistance.

"The war in Ukraine comes to an end by the House leader allowing a vote," Biden said. "There's overwhelming support for Ukraine among the majority of Democrats and Republicans. There should be a vote now."

In this visit, Biden and Kishida announced new initiatives to upgrade military command and control frameworks and a forum for co-development and co-production of missiles as well as new space agreements and climate initiatives.

The red carpet was rolled out for Kishida on Wednesday night as the Bidens hosted a state dinner at the White House. There, Biden and Kishida toasted to messages of unity.

On Thursday, Biden will host a trilateral meeting with Kishida and Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. A senior official told ABC News the meeting will allow the three men to stand "shoulder-to-shoulder" as China exerts "extraordinary pressure" in the South China Sea.

Kishida, who discussed his strong connection to the U.S. dating back to part of his childhood spent in Queens, told lawmakers that Japan is "ready to do what's necessary" to help the U.S. protect democracy and deter aggression.

"You are not alone. We are with you," the prime minister said.

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Biden administration still at odds with Israel over plans for Rafah invasion

A man walks past tents and shacks erected by destroyed buildings in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, April 9, 2024. (AFP via Getty Images)

(WASHINGTON) -- Even as U.S. officials applaud Israel's initial steps to address dire humanitarian conditions in Gaza, the Biden administration and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are still openly at odds over Israel's planned invasion of Rafah -- a military operation American diplomats and experts say would have devastating consequences for civilians sheltering in the city.

In a White House news conference Wednesday, President Joe Biden said he had been "very blunt and straightforward" in a high-stakes phone conversation with Netanyahu last week about the need to alleviate suffering in the enclave.

While the president said failing to meet his demands for dramatic improvements in humanitarian conditions in Gaza would push the administration to reconsider its policy toward Israel, he declined to answer when questioned whether he would put conditions on American military aid as leverage.

"So, we'll see what he does, in terms of meeting the commitments he made to me," Biden said of Netanyahu.

Officials across Washington have also been vague in their descriptions of the consequences Israel may face, but they have enumerated the changes they expected to see, including surging aid to Gaza by opening a crossing in the north and the Ashdod seaport, one of Israel's three main ports. Other changes would include repairing water supply lines in the enclave, and creating a more effective mechanism to ensure military activities don't endanger aid workers.

But U.S. demands related to Israel's battle plans for Rafah are conspicuously absent from the list -- beyond saying that a full-scale assault would be a "mistake" and that Israel must consider "alternatives" -- which the administration has yet to publicly spell out.

Regardless of the tough talk from the White House, Netanyahu on Tuesday restated his belief that an incursion into Gaza's southernmost city was essential.

"This victory requires entry into Rafah and the elimination of the terrorist battalions there. It will happen. There is a date," he asserted.

U.S. officials have said Israel hadn't shared any new information on timing.

"No, we do not have a date for any Rafah operation -- at least one that's been communicated to us by the Israelis," Secretary of State Antony Blinken said during a news conference on Monday. "On the contrary, what we have is an ongoing conversation with Israel about any Rafah operation."

As part of those continuing talks, Blinken also said an Israeli delegation is expected to travel to the U.S. next week for meetings and that their discussion would include what the administration's ideas are for alternative approaches for rooting out Hamas fighters in the area.

"I don't anticipate any actions being taken before those talks. And for that matter, I don't see anything imminent--but there is a lot of work to be done," Blinken predicted.

"The president has been very clear about our concerns -- our deep concerns about Israel's ability to move civilians out of harm's way, to care for them," Blinken said.

In an interview taped last week -- before his call with Netanyahu -- that aired late Monday, Biden seemed to go even further than he did in his conversation with the prime minister by publicly urging Israel to implement a six-to-eight-week cease-fire to allow food and medicine to be distributed through Gaza.

Negotiators have been trying to secure a prolonged truce in exchange for the more than 120 hostages still inside the enclave.

While the president and members of his Cabinet have repeatedly declared a deal is within reach, some U.S. officials are privately much more pessimistic -- doubtful that Hamas would agree to anything short of an arrangement that allows the group to retain power over Gaza.

The U.S. is also doubtful that Hamas can fulfill the requirements for the deal currently on the table, which calls for the release of 40 captives who are women unaffiliated with the Israeli military, children, individuals who are older than 50 or sick, according to a source familiar with the negotiations.

Paul Salem, the president and CEO of the Middle East Institute, argues that an Israeli offensive in Rafah will only diminish prospects for an agreement -- as well as those for peaceful resolution to the conflict.

"Whether Israel takes Rafah or not, the longer-term strategic dilemma for the Jewish state will largely be the same," Salem said. "Hamas as a movement will still exist. It can organize a long-term insurgency if Israel plans to maintain a full occupation of Gaza for the foreseeable future, or it can seek to rearm and regroup over time."

Salem says that ending the war will depend on diplomats' ability to forge a political path forward that includes Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Arab countries, the U.S. and the international community.

"All of that will only be made harder if tens of thousands more Palestinians are killed in conflict or extinguished by famine and disease," he said.

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Lawmakers of color propose more school funding to diversify mental health field

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(WASHINGTON) -- Less than a year after U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy released a public health advisory calling attention to a crisis of loneliness, isolation and lack of connection across the country, Rep. Jamaal Bowman says he was spurred on to call for more funding for the next generation of mental health providers -- particularly those in minority communities.

Bowman's new bill, introduced in the House on Wednesday, would provide grants to historically Black colleges and universities, tribal colleges and universities and minority-serving institutions and Hispanic-serving institutions to create, expand or improve graduate-level programs in mental health fields.

The proposal, which was endorsed by the American Psychological Association, the American Federation of Teachers and other groups, would provide $10,000 to each school per student in their corresponding program.

The legislation is co-sponsored by Rep. Tony Cardenas, D-Calif., and has garnered more than a dozen other Democratic co-sponsors, all of whom are lawmakers of color.

"There's a mental health crisis in our country amongst our children, and we need all hands on deck and additional resources to respond," Bowman, a New York Democrat, told ABC News in an interview.

"That crisis disproportionately impacts Black or Latino kids, and that's why we need to invest in these institutions," he said.

The colleges and universities have also long grappled with less funding than predominantly white schools, Bowman said.

“I want all institutions to really invest in the mental health of our peers, because I don't want any kid to suffer, but HBCUs and [minority-serving schools] are historically underfunded institutions in comparison,” he said.

"Because of that historic under-funding, is the point that we start there because they need the influx of resources," he said.

As of 2021, only 8% of the psychological workforce in America was Hispanic, 5% was Black and 3% was Asian, which is disproportionately lower than their share of the population, Bowman's office said.

His bill, The Access In Mental Health Act, is in response to what he calls obstacles to high-quality and culturally responsive care for marginalized communities because of the disparity in diversity for mental health workers.

At the same time, Black children are "nearly twice as likely to die by suicide than White children," Murthy, the surgeon general, wrote in his public health advisory last year.

Murthy added: "Socioeconomically disadvantaged children and adolescents--for instance, those growing up in poverty--are two to three times more likely to develop mental health conditions than peers with higher socioeconomic status."

Black children were also more likely than any other group of children to lose a parent or caregiver to COVID-19, federal health officials have said.

Bowman's connection to the issue is firsthand, he said: While he was a middle school principal in the Bronx, in the year before deciding to run for Congress in 2020, 17 children died by suicide in his borough, he said.

"I saw a rise in suicide ideation and suicidal ideation amongst my kids," he said, including "amongst my Latina students."

While the fate of Bowman's bill is unclear in the House, which is run by Republicans, he said he feels personally connected to the issue.

"I lived and experienced the crisis in real-time," he said.

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Biden administration to close 'gun show loophole'

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(WASHINGTON) -- The Biden administration on Thursday announced they are closing what is often known as the "gun show loophole," by tightening up the definition of what it means to be "engaged in the business" of selling firearms.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) has just implemented a change in the federal register language, which was previously more specific to who was selling guns, and the agency did it in accordance with the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which was passed in 2022.

The administration rolled out the proposed rule in September 2023, taking in over 300,000 comments from the public.

Prior to the passage of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, those "engaged in the business" of firearms dealer were required to register to become a federally licensed firearm dealer, according to the language previously used. The definition that ATF is implementing on Thursday is more specific to better regulate the market in accordance with the new federal law, according to the White House.

The rule now explicitly lists the types of commercial activities that indicate whether a person should become a federally licensed dealer and thus be required to run a background check; prevents people from evading the licensing and background check requirements by claiming that they are just selling a few guns, according to the White House; and prevents people from falsely claiming that guns are part of a personal collection and exempt a seller from running a background check on a buyer.

By being more specific and precise in the definition, administration officials on a call with reporters said it would require more people to register for a federal selling license and run a background check on the person they are selling to.

President Joe Biden said in a statement he has spent time with people who lost loved ones to gun violence, and that he is taking action to make sure fewer guns are sold without background checks.

"This is going to keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers and felons. And my Administration is going to continue to do everything we possibly can to save lives," he said. "Congress needs to finish the job and pass universal background checks legislation now.”

The final rule was signed off by Attorney General Merrick Garland.

“It will also close the gun show loophole and it closes the fire sale loophole as well by clarifying how firearms dealers who go out of business or lose their license must go about liquidating their inventory,” Garland told reporters. “Under this regulation, it will not matter if guns are sold on the internet, at a gun show or in a brick and mortar store, if you sell guns [you] must conduct background checks.”

There are over 80,000 licensed gun dealers in America. The Department of Justice estimates that there are over 20,000 unlicensed sellers who are selling firearms through online advertisements, gun shows and other means, according to the White House.

A senior administration official told ABC News they are confident the actions are legal and will stand up to potential challenges in court.

“Strong regulations like this one are not in conflict with the Second Amendment,” the senior official said.

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FBI director concerned lone wolf or small groups will draw 'twisted inspiration' from events in Middle East, Russia

FBI Director Christopher Wray testifying during a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on the "Annual Worldwide Threats Assessment" in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, Mar. 11, 2024. (Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

FBI Director Christopher Wray is set to warn Congress on Thursday of his concerns over potential bad actors carrying out attacks on U.S. soil due to events overseas.

"Our most immediate concern has been that individuals or small groups will draw twisted inspiration from the events in the Middle East to carry out attacks here at home,” Wray is set to tell the House Appropriations Committee, according to a transcript of his opening statement obtained by ABC News. "But now increasingly concerning is the potential for a coordinated attack here in the homeland, akin to the ISIS-K attack we saw at the Russia Concert Hall a couple weeks ago."

In his testimony, Wray will also urge Congress to reauthorize Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which lays the groundwork for the government to be able to collect the communications of non-Americans overseas on U.S.-based platforms without the use of a warrant.

The effort was torpedoed in the House by former President Donald Trump and his allies on Wednesday after Trump urged GOP members to "Kill FISA" in a post on his Truth Social platform.

Hard-line Republicans in the House, are opposed to reauthorizing FISA without an amendment that would require the intelligence community to obtain an additional warrant to access the data of Americans.

Some civil liberties groups, including the ACLU, have also pushed for similar reforms, with the ACLU saying Section 702 allows the government to engage in "mass, warrantless surveillance of Americans’ and foreigners’ phone calls, text messages, emails, and other electronic communications."
MORE: Former top general warns of 'inevitable' threats to US from Islamic State in wake of Moscow attack

The bill voted on in Congress on Wednesday didn't include the warrant amendment.

Wray is testifying Thursday afternoon to discuss the FBI's budget, which is facing a $500 million decrease.

House Republicans said they've made cuts to the FBI and other federal law enforcement agencies' budget and the FBI Director is hoping Congress funds the agency through 2025.

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Arizona Republicans block quick push to repeal near-total abortion ban, which hasn’t taken effect yet

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(WASHINGTON) -- Arizona Republicans on Wednesday blocked efforts to move forward on a bill to repeal a near-total abortion ban in the state that dates to 1864, which the Arizona Supreme Court ruled this week is enforceable.

Despite many members in their own party calling for an end to the law, GOP leaders in the Legislature, which is controlled by conservatives, said they will be "closely reviewing" the court's ruling and listening to constituents to determine the best course of action.

"The Supreme Court has made its decision, and it was one based solely on the text of the law - it was not a policy statement," Senate President Warren Petersen and House Speaker Ben Toma said in a statement to ABC News.

Petersen and Toma noted that the court's ruling this week has not yet taken effect and is expected to not kick in for several weeks, at least.

"During this time, we will be closely reviewing the court's ruling, talking to our members, and listening to our constituents to determine the best course of action for the legislature," the state Senate president and House speaker said.

The court ruling on Tuesday drew support from abortion opponents and denunciation from advocates for reproductive rights, including President Joe Biden, who labeled it “cruel" and blamed it on the "result of the extreme agenda of Republican elected officials who are committed to ripping away women's freedom."

The president of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, Marjorie Dannenfelser, who opposes abortion, called the court decision an "enormous victory for unborn children and their mothers."

“Reinstating Arizona’s pro-life law will protect more than 11,000 babies annually … The compassion of the pro-life movement won in court today,” she said.

But notable Arizona Republicans, including Senate candidate Kari Lake and former Gov. Doug Ducey, both of whom supported less strict abortion bans, distanced themselves from the court's decision.

Democrats and Republicans alike in the Legislature have been calling to repeal the ban, which predates Arizona's statehood and includes only an exception to save the life of the pregnant woman.

Amid the bipartisan outcry, drama was stirred in the Arizona House on Wednesday as Democrats tried to bring forward a bill to repeal the law.

Republicans got ahead of them, with Rep. Matt Gress moving to bring the legislation to the floor. But then he quickly joined other Republicans to temporarily adjourn for recess before they could vote.

There were then chants of "shame, shame, shame" from Arizona Democrats, per members in the room.

The state House later narrowly voted, 30-29, to adjourn for the next week.

Democratic Rep. Stephanie Stahl Hamilton -- who introduced the proposal in the House to repeal the ban -- made a passionate speech to her colleagues amid the voting on the second motion to adjourn.

“We're in a real moment right now. We've got the eyes of the world watching the state of Arizona. And that's not hyperbole,” she said.

“This is probably one of the most important decisions we will make this legislative session. And when people's lives are at stake, we don't have time to waste. So today we need to stay in this chamber,” she said.

Republican Rep. Teresa Martinez then took to the floor to advocate for the body to adjourn so that they might not “rush on this very important topic.”

She also decried the actions of her Democratic colleagues earlier in the day, when they chanted "shame" at Republicans on the floor.

“I cannot believe the lack of decorum and childish behavior displayed," she said.

Gov. Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, slammed state Republicans, saying they "had the chance to do the right thing for their constituents, and they failed.”

"I will do everything in my power to protect reproductive freedoms for Arizona women. ... My heart is with every single woman who is now questioning if it is safe for them to start a family. I am proud to be a voice for every Arizonan who believes in freedom and bodily autonomy," Hobbs said in a statement to ABC News.

"This fight is far from over,” she said.

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House fails to pass procedural vote on FISA in blow to GOP

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(WASHINGTON) -- A key procedural vote on a bill to reauthorize the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act failed on the House floor on Wednesday, another sign of Republican infighting under Speaker Mike Johnson's leadership.

Nineteen Republicans broke ranks with party leadership and voted against the measure, despite urging from Johnson that the legislation reformed the FISA program and is necessary for national security. The final vote was 193-228.

"We will regroup and formulate another plan," Johnson told reporters after the defeat. "We cannot allow Section 702 of FISA to expire. It's too important to national security. I think most of the members understand that."

"It's never helpful for the majority party to take down its own rule," he added.

FISA is a federal law that establishes procedures for intelligence gathering of foreign nationals, but sometimes results in the collection of data on Americans who are in contact with those surveilled individuals.

Hard-line Republicans are opposed to reauthorizing FISA without an amendment that would require the intelligence community to obtain an additional warrant to access the data of those Americans. Some civil liberties groups, including the ACLU, have also pushed for similar reforms. The bill voted on Wednesday didn't include the warrant amendment.

The requirement of an additional warrant, the intelligence community has warned, could create a massive backlog in the FISA process and effectively shut down the program.

Former President Donald Trump ramped up pressure on GOP lawmakers to oppose the legislation as he weighed in on the matter ahead of the vote.

In a post on his conservative social media site, Trump said to "KILL FISA" as part of his grievances against the FBI's handling of surveillance against Carter Page, a former adviser to his campaign.

Johnson tried to sell House Republicans on the FISA legislation during a closed-door conference meeting earlier Wednesday despite growing opposition, according to several members.

This is the fourth rule vote that's failed during Johnson's six months as speaker, an embarrassment for House Republican leadership.

Every Democrat also voted against this procedural vote, a common practice in the House where the minority party votes against the procedural votes of the majority.

Democratic leadership and the White House have vocally supported FISA reauthorization and a majority of Democrats would likely ultimately vote to extend FISA when the legislation is brought up for an official vote.

National security adviser Jake Sullivan, speaking with reporters at the White House on Tuesday, also made his case for Congress to reauthorize FISA.

"If we lost 702 [of FISA], we would lose vital insight into precisely the threats Americans expect us in government to identify and counter," Sullivan said.

Sullivan proceeded to list off some examples: "Terrorist threats to the homeland, fentanyl supply chains bringing deadly drugs into American communities, hostile governments' recruitment of spies in our midst, transnational repression by authoritarian regimes, penetrations of our critical infrastructure, adversaries' attempts to illicitly acquire sensitive dual use and military commodities and technology, ransomware attacks against major American companies and nonprofits, Russian war crimes and more."

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Mayorkas takes heat from GOP in hearings on DHS budget, border

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(WASHINGTON) -- Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said that the DHS has a "perennially insufficient budget" and pushed for each agency to receive needed funds, including efforts to secure the southern border, he testified before two different congressional committees on Wednesday.

Mayorkas, who the House voted to impeach in February over his handling of the migrant surge at the southern border, spoke about the president's fiscal 2025 budget request as Republicans blasted him over his handling of the border.

The budget includes billions of dollars to help fight terrorism, secure the United States' borders, strengthen disaster resilience and more, Mayorkas said. The budget also includes $4.7 billion for the Southwest Border Contingency Fund to fund border security measures and immigration enforcement efforts along the southern border.

"The dedicated public servants of DHS deserve full support, and the American people deserve the results a fully resourced DHS can deliver," Mayorkas said in his opening statement to the House Appropriations Committee. "The funding opportunities outlined in the President's Fiscal Year 2025 Budget for DHS are critical to meeting both goals."

Mayorkas called the situation at the southwest border a crisis.

"Yes, I would," he said, when asked whether he would call the situation at the southern border a crisis. "As a matter of fact, I work every single day with the men and women in the Department of Homeland Security to not only strengthen security of our southern border as well as the northern border, and we deploy personnel from different parts of our department whenever the situation so warrants and the situation at the border."

He also called on Congress to pass the bipartisan border bill -- a package Senate negotiators worked on with the DHS and Mayorkas. In February, the Senate didn't pass the bipartisan foreign aid bill with major new border provisions. The Senate then removed the border provisions -- voting only on the national security supplemental, which passed. Speaker Mike Johnson rejected that bill and hasn't brought it to the House floor for a vote.

"Only Congress can fix our broken and outdated system, and only Congress can address our need for more border patrol agents, asylum officers and immigration judges, facilities, and technology," Mayorkas said at the House hearing. "Our administration worked closely with a bipartisan group of senators to reach agreement on a national security supplemental package -- one that would make the system changes that are needed and give DHS the tools and resources necessary to meet today's border security challenges. We remain ready to work with you to pass this tough, fair, bipartisan agreement."

In the Senate's Homeland Security budget hearing later Wednesday, Mayorkas repeated the call to pass a border deal, saying the agreed-upon border legislation would have addressed problems he had personally observed for decades.

"My first encounter with the immigration system -- the broken immigration system -- was in the 1990s when I served as a federal prosecutor in California and I learned that the system was fundamentally broken and it remains so," Mayorkas said.

"This piece of bipartisan legislation would have been the most transformative change to our broken immigration system, not only for the resources it provided, but for the changes in the law, that it delivered. It would have brought ... such extraordinary fairness in a system that has suffered backlogs and interminable timelines in the processing of claims," he said.

Mayorkas said the bill would have changed the "risk calculus" for migrants deciding whether to embark on a dangerous journey north. This deterrence effect would have been an "absolute game changer," Mayorkas said.

Questioned by Republican Sen. John Kennedy about unauthorized immigrants counting for congressional representation, Mayorkas said it was "preposterous" and "disrespectful" to suggest the department has allowed illegal immigration to freely occur.

During the House hearing, Mayorkas was pressed about resources being used to secure the southern border, taking heat from Republicans, who are pushing for his ouster.

"Mr. Secretary, we've seen gamesmanship out of the administration and gimmicks and I called for your resignation last year, and I stand by my request," Rep. Ashley Hinson, R-Iowa, told him.

The House voted to impeach Mayorkas on Feb. 13 by a vote of 214-213 over what Republicans claimed was his failure to enforce border laws amid a "crisis" of high illegal immigration, allegations the secretary denied as "baseless."

The DHS and Mayorkas have criticized the impeachment efforts. His impeachment proceedings are set to begin next week.

Asked by Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., about migrants who are committing crimes in the country, Mayorkas said Immigration and Customs Enforcement works with other agencies to find and remove them.

"I believe that when an individual poses a threat to public safety, or national security, your local or state jurisdiction should cooperate with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement for the swift detention and removal of that individual," he said.

While the surge of migrants at the southern border hit an all-time high in December 2023 at 302,000, in the past year, the DHS has deported 630,000 migrants, the vast majority of whom crossed the southwest border -- including more than 99,000 individual family members, a DHS official said.

Mayorkas was also asked about communities that don't comply with an ICE detainer -- which is when an illegal migrant is flagged for removal while they are in a local jail. Some communities do not allow for the detainer to be executed.

"We continue to work with local jurisdictions to persuade them that when an individual poses a threat to public safety, and the individual has a detainer placed on him or her that they honor the detainer and not release the individual onto the streets, but rather turn the individual over immigration and customs enforcement," he said.

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Trump says Arizona abortion ban ruling goes too far, again touts role in ending Roe

Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to the media as he arrives at the Atlanta Airport on April 10, 2024 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Megan Varner/Getty Images)

(WASHINGTON) -- Former President Donald Trump said on Wednesday that a new court ruling in Arizona upholding a near-total ban on abortion in the state, based on a 19th-century law, had gone too far and "needs to be straightened out."

It was the latest example of how the 2024 candidate is now trying to balance his support for abortion opponents without embracing the broader bans that voters have been rejecting.

"It's all about states' rights and it needs to be straightened out," Trump said in Atlanta, reacting to the ruling. "And I'm sure that the governor and everybody else will bring it back into reason and that will be taken care of."

Trump also told ABC News that he will not sign a federal abortion ban if he is elected president again and Congress sends such legislation to his desk.

Asked about a separate Florida court decision earlier this month that upheld the state's 15-week ban and paved the way for a six-week ban, Trump said his home state "is probably going to change" while again touting his role in the "incredible achievement" of overruling Roe v. Wade's abortion protections and leaving it up to the states.

"We did that and now the states have it, and the states are putting out what they want. It's the will of the people," he said.

"Arizona is going to definitely change," he continued. "Everybody wants that to happen."

Trump would not say how he intends to vote on an upcoming ballot measure in Florida which would broaden abortion access there.

When asked explicitly about the November referendum, Trump quipped instead that he's going to vote for Brian Jack, his former political adviser, who is running for a House seat in Georgia.

Later, during a visit to a Chick-fil-A, Trump said it should be up to the states to decide if doctors should be punished for performing abortions if they are illegal.

"Let that be to the states," he said. "Everything we're doing now is states and states' rights."

Rival Joe Biden's campaign responded by slamming Trump's comments about Roe and suggesting his new position on abortion can't be trusted because he "lies constantly – about everything."

"Donald Trump owns the suffering and chaos happening right now, including in Arizona, because he proudly overturned Roe – something he called ‘an incredible thing’ and ‘pretty amazing’ just today," Biden campaign spokesman Michael Tyler said.

Biden was also asked at the end of a press conference on Wednesday: "What do you say to the people of Arizona right now who are witnessing a law go in place that dates back to the Civil War era?"

He was interrupted by reporters before he could complete his thought, but he appeared to be criticizing the ban for being so old.

The Arizona Supreme Court's decision on Tuesday on the abortion ban drew differing reactions from state Republicans who previously claimed to be "100% pro-life" while both local and national Democrats vowed to push to protect abortion access in one of the most politically important states on the 2024 map.

Vice President Kamala Harris is planning to travel to Tucson on Friday for her "Fight for Reproductive Freedoms."

"Arizona just rolled back the clock to a time before women could vote – and, by his own admission, there's one person responsible: Donald Trump," Harris said in a statement on Tuesday.

Biden, in a statement through the White House, also blasted the Arizona ban, which only has exceptions to save the life of the pregnant woman. Biden called the restrictions "cruel" and the "result of the extreme agenda of Republican elected officials who are committed to ripping away women's freedom."

GOP Senate candidate Kari Lake, who narrowly lost the governor's race in 2022, said in her own statement that she supports Trump's stance on abortion and claimed that as a senator she would oppose both "federal funding" and "federal ban[s]" on abortion.

However, Lake also regularly says she's "100% pro-life" and supports "saving as many babies as possible."

Asked last month how she would vote on a pro-abortion access initiative if it made it on the ballot in Arizona, Lake dismissed the question to simply say, "I'm pro-life."

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'I don't have any files for you,' man tells Trump's lawyers after they subpoena wrong person

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(NEW YORK) -- There are multiple Jeremy Rosenbergs in New York City, as former President Donald Trump's attorneys found out Tuesday after they sent a subpoena to the wrong one.

Last month, Trump's attorneys in his criminal hush money case in Manhattan sought to subpoena the Jeremy Rosenberg who was a supervising investigator in the Manhattan district attorney's office.

Instead, according to court filings revealed Tuesday, the subpoena went to another Jeremy Rosenberg living in an $8 million Brooklyn home.

"I don't have any files for you," that Rosenberg wrote to defense attorney Todd Blanche, per the court filings.

Furthermore, that Rosenberg wrote, "I'm keeping the fifteen dollars" Blanche had provided to help him pay the cost of sending the requested documents.

Prosecutors informed the court that was not the Jeremy Rosenberg Trump's legal team was looking for, after Blanche complained Rosenberg was not being cooperative.

"After receiving defendant's pre-motion letter, the People spoke with Mr. Rosenberg's counsel, who informed the People that Mr. Rosenberg was not, in fact, served with the subpoena, that Mr. Rosenberg had not corresponded with defense counsel, and that Mr. Rosenberg does not have any connection to the Brooklyn address where the subpoena purportedly was served," prosecutors said.

Trump is scheduled to go to trial on April 15 after prosecutors say he falsified business records in connection with a hush money payment his then-attorney Michael Cohen made to adult film actress Stormy Daniels just days before the 2016 presidential election.

The former president has pleaded not guilty and denied all wrongdoing.

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Trump again asks appeals court to delay his upcoming hush money trial

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(NEW YORK) -- Former President Donald Trump on Wednesday asked a New York appellate court for an interim stay to his upcoming criminal hush money trial in New York -- a tactic that has already failed twice this week.

Trump's latest effort to scuttle the trial involves a petition against Judge Juan Merchan, challenging his failure to recuse himself from the case and his refusal to allow Trump to make arguments about presidential immunity.

There was no immediate word from the court on when -- or whether -- a judge will hear those arguments.

Merchan has said presidential immunity does not apply to Trump's hush money case because he failed to invoke the defense in a timely fashion.

"This Court finds that Defendant had myriad opportunities to raise the claim of presidential immunity well before March 7, 2024," Merchan wrote earlier this month.

Merchan declined to recuse himself from the case last August, writing that "this Court has examined its conscience and is certain in its ability to be fair and impartial."

Trump insists that Merchan should not preside over the trial because his daughter did political consulting work for Democrats, creating an "unacceptable appearance of impropriety," his lawyers have said.

Trump has tried, and failed, twice this week to delay the trial while he challenges a gag order and while he tries to get the case moved out of Manhattan.

The former president last April pleaded not guilty to a 34-count indictment charging him with falsifying business records in connection with a hush money payment his then-attorney Michael Cohen made to adult film actress Stormy Daniels just days before the 2016 presidential election. Trump has denied all wrongdoing.

Jury selection for the trial is scheduled to get underway this coming Monday in New York City.

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