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Senate approves historic legislation to protect same-sex marriages

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(WASHINGTON) -- The Senate on Tuesday approved legislation to codify protections for same-sex and interracial marriages, marking a historic win for Democrats anxious to secure the rights amid growing concern that a conservative Supreme Court majority could take them away.

The final vote was 61 to 36.

"What a great day," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said soon after passage. The bill sparked rare applause on the floor.

The Respect for Marriage Act would not require any state to issue a marriage license contrary to its laws but would mandate that states recognize lawfully granted marriages performed in other states, including same-sex and interracial unions.

The bill had been largely expected to pass after it earned essential support from 12 Republicans during a key test vote just before Thanksgiving, putting it on a glide path to President Joe Biden's desk later this month. The bill next heads to the House, which is expected to vote on it next week -- as early as Tuesday -- before Biden signs it. In a statement Tuesday night, he said he would "promptly and proudly" do so.

"The United States is on the brink of reaffirming a fundamental truth: love is love, and Americans should have the right to marry the person they love," he said.

Codifying same-sex marriage into federal law became a top priority for Democrats in light of the Supreme Court's decision in June to overrule its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision guaranteeing a constitutional right to abortion nationwide.

In floor remarks Tuesday afternoon, Schumer celebrated the bill, which he said ensures rights of LGBTQ people won't be "trampled."

"In many ways, the story of America has been a difficult, but inexorable march toward greater equality. Sometimes we've taken steps forward, other times, unfortunately, we've taken disturbing steps backward, but today, after months of hard work, after many rounds of bipartisan talks, and after many doubts that we could even reach this point, wea re taking the momentous step forward for greater justice for LGBTQ Americans," Schumer said.

Schumer and other Democrats have argued that a concurring opinion by Justice Clarence Thomas in the June decision, in which he said the court "should reconsider" granting a nationwide right to gay marriage, put the rights of LGBTQ Americans in question.

For Schumer, and other senators with loved ones who are a part of the LGBTQ community, the matter is personal. Schumer's daughter is married to her wife. On Tuesday, he appeared on the Senate floor wearing a tie that he said he wore at his daughter's wedding.

Schumer said that after Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died two years ago, his daughter was concerned her marriage could be in jeopardy. Now, two years later, and with the Congress poised to act, his daughter is expecting a child.

"I want them to raise their child with all the love and security that every child deserves," Schumer said. "And the bill we are passing today will ensure their rights won't be trample upon simply because they're in a same-sex marriage."

The original 12 Republicans from the first procedural vote stuck with their decision on Tuesday, despite pressure to reverse course from conservative groups and other lawmakers.

Those 12 were: Susan Collins of Maine, Rob Portman of Ohio, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Mitt Romney of Utah, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming, Dan Sullivan of Alaska, Roy Blunt of Missouri, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Joni Ernst of Iowa, Todd Young of Indiana and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

"I know that it's not been easy but they've done the right thing," Collins, one of the bill's co-sponsors, said Tuesday of her GOP colleagues ahead of the final vote.

Lummis, largely seen as one of the bill's most surprising supporters, described the days since her initial yes vote as a "painful exercise in accepting admonishment and fairly brutal self soul searching." She took pains to explain that while her personal religious beliefs preclude same-sex marriage, but said she still intends to support the bill.

"For the sake of our nation's today and its survival, we do well by taking this step, not embracing or validating each other's devoutly held views but by the simple act of tolerating them," Lummis said.

GLAAD celebrated the passage, with its president and CEO, Sarah Kate Ellis, saying in a statement that it "sends a message of equal protection, dignity, and respect for all same-sex and interracial couples who want to share in the love and commitment of marriage."

The Respect for Marriage Act would "require the federal government to recognize a marriage between two individuals if the marriage was valid in the state where it was performed," according to a summary from the bill's sponsors, including Congress' first openly bisexual woman in the Senate, Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., along with Collins, Portman and Tillis.

The legislation comes after months of behind the scenes coalition-building between Democrats and a group of Republican negotiators. Despite the crucial GOP support, the legislation was opposed by a large contingent of Republicans, some who have deemed it unnecessary.

"I think it's pretty telling that Sen. Schumer puts a bill on the floor to reaffirm what is already a constitutional right of same-sex marriage, which is not under any imminent threat, and continues to ignore national security and not take up the defense authorization bill," Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said earlier this month.

During the pre-Thanksgiving test vote, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell voted with the majority of his party to oppose the bill -- and vote no again on Tuesday.

The House passed a similar version of this legislation earlier this year, with 47 Republicans supporting it. The Senate version includes new language to ease some GOP concerns about religious freedom.

ABC News' Ben Gittleson and Robert Zepeda contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


McConnell casts doubt on Trump getting elected after dinner with white nationalist

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(WASHINGTON) -- House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, the likely next House speaker, defended former President Donald Trump on Tuesday, a week after Trump dined at his Mar-a-Lago resort with white nationalist Nick Fuentes and rapper Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, who has made antisemitic remarks.

"I don't think anybody should be spending any time with Nick Fuentes," McCarthy told ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Mary Bruce after meeting with President Joe Biden and other congressional leaders.

"He has no place in this Republican Party. I think President Trump came out four times and condemned him and didn't know who he was," McCarthy said, although there is no evidence Trump condemned Fuentes.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday went further than McCarthy, condemning Trump's meeting with Fuentes, opening his weekly press conference by rejecting not only "antisemitism" and "white supremacy" but saying Trump's association with the ideologies could keep him from winning a second term in the White House.

"There is no room in the Republican Party for antisemitism or white supremacy," McConnell said, flanked by Republican Senate leadership. "And anyone meeting with people advocating that point of view, in my judgment, are highly unlikely to ever be elected president of the United States."

McCarthy is a legislative ally of Trump's while McConnell has broken with the former president a number of times, including criticizing him over the Jan. 6 insurrection. The GOP leaders' comments came after a number of other high-profile Republicans condemned what Trump has insisted was an impromptu meal.

Beyond Washington, Trump faced criticism from his former vice president and potential 2024 primary opponent, Mike Pence.

"President Trump was wrong to give a white nationalist, an antisemite and a Holocaust denier a seat at the table, and I think he should apologize," Pence told NewsNation in an interview.

Still, Pence said, "I don't believe Donald Trump is an antisemite. I don't believe he's a racist or a bigot."

Fuentes, a white nationalist who has made racist, sexist and antisemitic comments, has been banned on all major social media platforms. Ye recently lost major business deals over his own antisemitic comments.

Trump has said he did not know who Fuentes was when Fuentes came to Mar-a-Lago, initially posting about the meeting on his social media platform on Friday, claiming he didn't know Ye would be bringing other guests, but not mentioning Fuentes.

In later statements, he said that he only sought to meet with Ye and that the rapper brought Fuentes to the two-hour dinner without his knowledge.

"Well, I condemn this ideology. It has no place in society," McCarthy said, when pressed by ABC's Bruce about Trump's lack of comment on the white nationalist Fuentes.

"The president didn't know who he was," McCarthy repeated. "So, he knew who Kanye West is. He didn't know who Fuentes is."

Asked later if it was appropriate for or Trump to meet with West, McCarthy said "the president has meetings with who he wants. I don't think anybody, though, should have a meeting with Nick Fuentes ... I think Kanye West…I don't think we should associate with them, as well. I'm very clear in my position."

McCarthy last week clinched the Republican nomination for speaker in the next Congress, fending off a challenge from Arizona Rep. Andy Biggs as the GOP will regain the House majority next session.

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Supreme Court conflicted over Biden deportation policy

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(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday wrestled for more than two hours with a perennial Washington pickle: how to square immigration enforcement mandates in federal law with Congress' failure to provide sufficient funding to do the job.

The justices also took on whether states like Texas and Louisiana, suffering alleged harm from illegal immigration, can sue the government to force it to crack down.

There appeared to be no clear answers to the politically charged questions.

"'Shall' means 'shall,'" Chief Justice John Roberts suggested of federal law instructing the Department of Homeland Security to "take into custody" unlawful immigrants convicted of certain crimes.

But Roberts went on to observe "it's impossible" for the executive branch to detain and deport all 11 million immigrants eligible for removal from the U.S. "Certainly, there are cases where we've said 'shall' means 'may,'" he added. (The government has only 6,000 interior immigration enforcement officers, according to DHS.)

At the heart of the case are Department of Homeland Security guidelines established by the Biden administration in 2021 to prioritize arrest and deportation of unlawful immigrants deemed a danger to national security or public safety over those who are otherwise non-criminals.

The administration argues it has broad discretion in how it detains and deports immigrants -- consistent with an approach long taken by governments of both parties.

"It's about prioritizing limited resources to say go after person A instead of person B," argued Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar. "There is no reason to conclude that that's actually going to lead to less enforcement against individuals overall."

Texas and Louisiana, which are challenging the guidelines, allege the White House approach to deportations is an abuse of discretion that has imposed costs on state taxpayers.

"States bear many of the consequences of federal immigration decisions," said Texas Solicitor General Judd Stone. He claims up to 80,000 "criminal aliens" are living in Texas.

"We either pay the costs through detention or through recidivism," Stone said.

A federal district court vacated the guidelines nationwide last year, and they are not currently in effect. The Biden administration is asking the Supreme Court to reinstate them.

Several conservative justices were highly skeptical that the guidelines were compliant with federal law.

"We have one set of priorities established by Congress and another set by the executive branch. Isn't that correct?" Justice Samuel Alito asked of Prelogar.

"No, that's wrong," she replied, "because the guidelines govern only decisions about apprehension and removal, whether to charge a non-citizen in the first place."

Justice Brett Kavanaugh suggested the government's abuse of immigration enforcement discretion has forced some in Congress to consider "dramatic steps" to compensate.

"What are the tools Congress has to make sure its laws are enforced in the U.S.?" Kavanaugh asked Prelogar. "I think your position is, instead of judicial review, Congress has to resort to shutting down the government or impeachment or dramatic steps if it -- if some administration comes in and says we're not going to enforce laws."

The court's three liberal justices were more deferential to the administration.

"Immigration policy is supposed to be the zenith of executive power," Justice Elena Kagan told Stone. "We're just going to be in a situation where every administration is confronted by suits, by states that can bring a policy to a dead halt by just showing a dollar's worth of costs?"

"It's just not enough [to do that] with a set of speculative possibilities about your costs," she said.

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson said she was "troubled" by the practical impact of forcing DHS to detain unlawful immigrants before a decision has been made on deportation. "You can't just indefinitely hold people," she said, noting the months-to-years-long backlog in cases.

The justices spent significant time grappling with two potential resolutions to the case that would not involve weighing in on the merits of the guidelines themselves.

One approach could be to decide that a lower court erred in vacating the guidelines since federal immigration law explicitly limits courts' ability to intervene. Another option could be to find that Texas and Louisiana don't have standing to bring the case or have not shown sufficient proof of being harmed.

"What will happen here if you prevail?" Kavanaugh asked the Texas Solicitor General Stone.

"Individual officers in ICE will go back to not believing that their enforcement discretion has been restrained," Stone replied.

The Biden administration had a starkly different answer: "It would be incredibly destabilizing on the ground," Prelogar insisted. "Bad for the executive branch, bad for the American public, and bad for Article 3 courts."

A decision is expected by the end of June 2023.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Early voting soars in Georgia Senate runoff between Warnock, Walker

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(WASHINGTON) -- Early voting in Georgia's Senate runoff race between Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock and Republican opponent Herschel Walker opened statewide to all registered voters on Monday, following record-breaking turnout this weekend in the 34 counties that offered early voting on Saturday or Sunday.

Voting locations for the Dec. 6 runoff are now open in all 159 of the state's counties through Friday, with more than 500,000 Georgians -- about 7% of all active voters -- having cast their ballots either in-person or absentee through Monday, according to state election data.

Of those, more than 468,000 people have voted early in person.

Monday's total set a new single-day record, with 301,545 people voting early in person, according to state data.

Black Georgians are outpacing other demographic groups, according to the data, with 39.2% of the total turnout as of Monday compared to 48.4% for white voters, though white people make up nearly double the share of the overall state population.

Among various age groups, the highest turnout through Monday was for 65-70 year olds followed very closely by 60-65, 70-75, 55-60 and 50-55 year olds.

"Turnout so far is blowing doors," interim Deputy Secretary of State Gabriel Sterling wrote in a tweet on Monday.

After Georgia saw unprecedented early voting ahead of the 2022 midterms earlier this month, Sunday's turnout was 130% higher than the previous Sunday record of 37,785, set on Oct. 25, 2020, according to Sterling.

Early voting for the runoff began last Tuesday, though only in some counties, including those around Atlanta, where a majority of the state's residents live.

Counties had not initially offered Saturday voting either, after the secretary of state's office issued guidance that it conflicted with a law preventing voting within two days of a holiday like Thanksgiving last Thursday.

But Warnock and Democrats sued and a county judge ruled that Saturday voting was allowed. The state's higher courts declined to reverse that decision when Republicans appealed.

In the wake of the court ruling, the state's largest counties opened for Saturday early voting. Some other parts of the state, however, didn't begin early voting until Monday.

Long wait times are not deterring voters

With tens of thousands of voters taking advantage of the additional voting opportunities, some lines at polling places stretched for hours over the weekend.

The secretary of state's office sent a memo on Monday that highlighted short wait times statewide but warned of "longer wait times on higher turnout days such as the first day of Early Voting and the last few days of Early Voting" in the metro Atlanta area that includes Fulton, DeKalb and Gwinnett counties, which so far encompass about 63% of the total early vote.

Wait times are often shorter at other locations in counties that offer several early voting spots, the office advised.

Despite questions about potential voter apathy in the runoff -- when turnout is historically lower and there is less time for the media and candidates' campaigns to inform voters -- some residents told ABC News they were eager to cast another ballot.

The Dec. 6 Senate runoff will be the third in just two years and the sixth overall Senate race in the state since November 2020.

"I will go out as many times as I need to go out," said Manuel Rodriguez, who waited for almost an hour before he was able to vote in Fulton County. "It makes me feel that I'm part of something, that I'm contributing to the society that I want to live in and to the country that I love."

Warnock, Walker back on the trail

Warnock, a noted Atlanta reverend, was one of those Georgians taking advantage of weekend voting, casting his ballot on Sunday alongside faith and community leaders after waiting in line for about an hour in Fulton County, the fifth time he has voted for himself in just two years following two general elections and two ensuing runoff elections, along with primary challenges.

In the final days of the race, he has largely campaigned on the concept of character -- contrasting his background with that of Walker, a businessman and local football legend with a controversial past. Before Warnock walked to cast his ballot, he hosted a "Souls to the Polls" rally.

"This is an important election. And it's really about competence and character. That's what this is about who's ready and who's fit to serve in the United States Senate. I'm proud of my record," he said on Sunday.

He also continues to soar in fundraising, outpacing his Republican opponent by more than double.

Though the runoff won't determine control of the Senate, both Republicans and Democrats have cautioned voters not to underestimate the consequences of December's election.

Democrats have emphasized a 51-seat majority would create an easier pathway to accomplishing their legislative priorities. In contrast, Republicans have highlighted how a power-sharing agreement across the aisle works to their advantage, pointing to the ways in which a split chamber has allowed them to block Democratic legislation.

Warnock's campaign announced this week that they were investing more than $1 million for an "out of home" advertising campaign. The campaign includes billboards in high-traffic areas, mobile signs deployed across the state, planes that tow messages above metro Atlanta, posters at college campuses and ads at transit stops.

Walker was publicly absent on the trail from last Tuesday through the Thanksgiving holiday, making his first appearance during a campaign stop on Monday. He drew his own contrast with Warnock.

"You either stand up or you get out, because too many people have sacrificed. Too many people have died for us to have the freedoms and liberties that we have today to have these people to disrespect what we got going on," he said at a campaign stop in Toccoa on Monday.

"Raphael Warnock is just another hypocritical Washington politician," said campaign spokesman Will Kiley. "Warnock says character counts but refuses to take a look in the mirror."

ABC News' Isabella Murray contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Republicans in Arizona, Pennsylvania counties decline to certify midterm election results

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(WASHINGTON) -- Republican officials in two counties in Arizona and Pennsylvania declined on Monday to certify their midterm election results, with some citing broader, baseless concerns about the integrity of the voting system that have become commonplace among conservatives.

Republicans on the election boards of Cochise County in Arizona and Luzerne County in Pennsylvania voted against motions to certify the election results there.

Though Cochise County residents voted for GOP gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake and GOP Senate nominee Blake Masters, both candidates ultimately lost their statewide races.

Luzerne County residents voted for Democratic gubernatorial nominee Josh Shapiro and GOP Senate nominee Mehmet Oz, with Shapiro ultimately winning his bid and Oz falling short statewide.

Monday's vote in Cochise could risk the certification of more than 47,000 votes and exposes the county to lawsuits.

At Monday's meeting, Supervisor Tom Crosby proposed leaving the certification tabled until Friday, a motion that fellow Supervisor Peggy Judd seconded.

"This meeting agenda should have provided for interaction between subject matter experts on voter machines and representatives of the secretary of state's office," he said.

Ann English, the board's chair and a Democrat, disagreed, insisting there was "no reason for us to delay" and that "we have heard from every person more than once how they feel about the certification of machines."

"I feel that you both have the information necessary in order to make this decision that's nondiscretionary on our part to certify the election for Cochise County, no matter how you feel about what happened in Maricopa or Pima or Mohave or Apache. We're here to talk about Cochise County and our election," she said.

In a follow-up statement to ABC News, English said that she believes "it was unlawful for the Board to not certify the election as stated in the statutes."

"It is especially troubling to me when the other board members accept unsubstantiated ideas and unverified claims as facts instead of relying on the Arizona State Elections Office who told us the machines had been certified," she said. "Cochise County had an election without problems and our machine count and hand count matched 100%. We had no problems and all these claims are just grandstanding."

Arizona emerged as an epicenter of election misconduct claims in the midterm cycle, with Republican candidates seizing on printer issues in Maricopa County, which is home to Phoenix and about 60% of Arizona's population. Local officials have insisted that the issues did not prevent any voters' ballot from being counted, though Lake has continued to claim the issues cost her support.

Maricopa County officials unanimously voted on Monday to certify their county's results.

Neither Crosby nor Judd immediately responded to requests for comment regarding their votes.

In Luzerne County, two Republican members of the elections board voted against certifying the midterm results, two Democrats voted to certify and one Democratic member abstained.

Luzerne County faced a paper ballot shortage on Election Day, but voting hours were extended to ensure that all ballots could be cast.

The Luzerne County manager announced plans to resign the day after the election.

"There have been enough irregularities and enough discrepancies and enough disenfranchisement of disenfranchised voters in this county that I don't understand how we could possibly proceed without seriously considering a re-vote," Board of Elections Vice Chair James Magna, a Republican, said, according to ABC affiliate WNEP.

"We went over everything meticulously as far as the reconciliations, that's any anomalies were pretty much explained. And it was due to the confusion at the polls because of the paper shortage," added Democratic member Audrey Serniak.

Daniel Schramm, the Democrat who abstained, initially said, "My feeling is I needed a little more information."

WNEP subsequently reported that Schramm got answers to his specific questions and he said he would next vote to certify the results. The board will meet again on Wednesday, according to WNEP.

The Pennsylvania Department of State told ABC News in a statement on Monday that it had contacted Luzerne County officials "to inquire about the board's decision and their intended next steps."

It is traditionally rare for a county to decline to certify elections, though speculation had bubbled prior to the midterms that local Republican officials could push to do so as the belief of widespread voter fraud and election malpractice grows within the GOP, spurred on by former President Donald Trump's baseless attacks on the 2020 election he lost to Joe Biden.

The issues are not anticipated to stop any election victors from being seated, though the moves do open the counties up to litigation, with prominent attorney Marc Elias warning of upcoming lawsuits.

On Monday, his firm said in a statement that they had filed suit against the Cochise County Board of Supervisors.

Officials with the Arizona secretary of state's office did not respond to a request for comment.

ABC News' Brittany Shepherd and Oren Oppenheim contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Jan. 6 committee to interview former Trump Secret Service agent Tony Ornato

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(WASHINGTON) -- Former White House deputy chief of staff for operations and top Secret Service official Tony Ornato was expected to meet with the the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol attack on Tuesday, according to sources with knowledge of the matter.

This will be the first time the committee has spoken to Ornato since White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson recounted in dramatic testimony during a committee hearing in June how Ornato told her former President Donald Trump had a physical confrontation with his Secret Service detail in the president’s vehicle on Jan. 6.

Hutchinson told the committee in live testimony Ornato told her Trump was "irate" after being told he couldn't join his supporters at the Capitol, going so far as to try to grab the steering wheel of the SUV and lunging towards Bobby Engel, who was the head of Trump's Secret Service detail.

Hutchinson maintains that while she was not in the SUV at the time, she heard the account from Ornato when everyone was back at the White House after his rally at the Ellipse. Hutchinson told the committee Engel was in the room as Ornato told the story, and that Ornato motioned toward his clavicles as he was talking about the purported lunge toward Engel.

"Mr. Trump then used his free hand to lunge toward Bobby Engel and when Mr. Ornato recounted this story to me, he motioned toward his clavicles," Hutchinson testified she was told.

Hutchinson said that Engel didn't deny the story as Ornato recounted it in her presence.

The committee has wanted to question Ornato since Hutchinson’s testimony this summer, sources said, and will do so on Tuesday behind closed doors. Ornato, who has since retired, could deny Trump lunged at the wheel, sources said.

The committee has been interviewing Secret Service officials over the past few weeks, according to sources. While officials may not be corroborating the lunge at the steering wheel, the agents the committee has interviewed have confirmed the main point -- that Trump was irate and wanted to go to the Capitol.

Ornato’s interview is scheduled a day after the panel questioned Kellyanne Conway, a former senior adviser to Trump.

The New York Times was first to report on Ornato’s expected testimony.

ABC News' Isabella Murray contributed to this report.

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Supreme Court counsel defends Justice Alito after he denied allegation of 2014 leak

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(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. Supreme Court's top legal adviser on Monday defended Justice Samuel Alito after top Democrats on the Senate and House Judiciary Committees had publicly raised concerns about Alito's alleged ethics lapses, which Alito strongly denied.

"There is nothing to suggest Justice Alito's actions violated ethics standards," the court's counsel, Ethan V. Torrey, wrote in a letter to Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga.

The lawmakers had demanded answers from the court after a former anti-abortion activist, Rev. Rob Schenck, told The New York Times that he had received advance word on a 2014 opinion authored by Alito from a wealthy couple who had dined with the justice and his wife.

Schenck claimed Alito was the source of the leak.

He said he relayed this account to Chief Justice John Roberts in a letter after the court opened an investigation into the bombshell leak of a draft opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, in which five of the court's conservative justices decided to end the constitutional right to abortion.

The Dobbs draft opinion was leaked and reported first by Politico in May before it was released by the Supreme Court on June 24. Alito was also the author of that majority opinion as he was in the 2014 case, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, which allowed some private companies to refuse contraception coverage to employees on religious grounds.

Alito flatly denied Schenck's accusation.

Torrey, the court's legal counsel, reiterated the denial on his behalf in Monday's letter, calling the allegation "uncorroborated."

He also cited federal ethics code to explain why, in the justice's view, the social dinner Schenck described was not inappropriate.

Judges are allowed to "maintain normal personal friendships," Torrey wrote.

The letter was made public by the Supreme Court in response to questions about the lawmakers' request but is unlikely to quell calls from critics for new regulations.

"Recent reporting by the New York Times ... only deepens our concerns about the lack of adequate ethical and legal guardrails at the Court,” Johnson and Whitehouse wrote in a letter last week.

The justices are largely self-policing when it comes to ethics matters and are not bound by an enforceable ethics code.

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Pence, some other Republicans rebuke Trump for dinner with white nationalist

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(WASHINGTON) -- Multiple high-profile Republican lawmakers returning to Washington on Monday chastised former President Donald Trump over his dinner last week with white nationalist Nick Fuentes and rapper Ye, formerly known as Kanye West.

Their remarks are the latest round of rebukes after Trump met with the pair -- in what he insisted was an inadvertent group meal -- last week at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, news of which broke over the holiday and sparked outcry soon after Trump announced his third presidential campaign.

Fuentes has a history of racist, sexist and antisemitic comments and has been banned on all major social media platforms.

The dinner was attended by Fuentes, Ye -- who recently lost major business deals over his own antisemitic remarks -- and Florida Republican political operative Karen Giorno.

"It was wrong and inappropriate to have that meeting. White supremacy has no place in our nation's culture. It's antithetical to everything we stand for as Americans," retiring Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said Monday.

"I think it's ridiculous he had that meeting. Just ridiculous. That's all I'm going to say," Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, added.

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, a frequent Trump detractor and former Republican presidential candidate himself, called the dinner "disgusting."

"I think it's been clear there's no bottom to the degree to which President Trump will degrade himself and the nation," Romney said.

Their comments marked some of the first by congressional Republicans, who were largely silent about the dinner over the holiday weekend but were faced with questions by reporters in the halls of Congress on Monday.

Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell, the GOP leaders in the House and Senate, respectively, have not spoken publicly about the dinner. McCarthy is a legislative ally of Trump's. McConnell has previously criticized Trump over the Jan. 6 insurrection but declined to comment on the Mar-a-Lago meeting.

Trump has maintained that meeting with Fuentes was not intentional: He said in multiple statements that he only sought to meet with Ye and that the rapper brought Fuentes to the two-hour dinner without his knowledge. He also said he did not know who Fuentes was when Fuentes came to Mar-a-Lago.

Some Republican lawmakers on Monday declined to criticize Trump directly but said the meeting was still wrong and that it indicates Trump is not being served well by his aides.

"That's just a bad idea on every level. I don't know whose advising him on his staff, but I hope that whoever that person was got fired," said Senate GOP Whip John Thune of South Dakota.

"I'm gonna take at face value that the president didn't know who the guy was. I didn't know who it was. Whoever allowed anyone with his background to get that close to the president should not have a job in the Trump team," said Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C.

Others took a different view.

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., said, "I suppose he can have dinner with whomever he wants. I wouldn't have had dinner with him."

And Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said "the meeting was bad" but accused the press of a "double standard" because he said that Democrats didn't face similar coverage when associating with polarizing figures. Still, he said, "I think Trump should be talking about what he did as president and how he could fix the problems that America is living with, and any day he is not doing that is a bad day for him."

Beyond Washington, Trump also faced criticism from his former vice president and potential 2024 primary opponent, Mike Pence.

"President Trump was wrong to give a white nationalist, an antisemite and a Holocaust denier a seat at the table, and I think he should apologize," Pence told NewsNation in an interview.

Still, Pence said, "I don't believe Donald Trump is an antisemite. I don't believe he's a racist or a bigot."

The dinner and Trump choosing not to directly denounce Fuentes, as the controversy has unfolded, also became fuel for criticism from Democrats.

"For a former president to sit down and have dinner with an antisemite is disgusting and dangerous," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said Monday. "To give an antisemite even the smallest platform much less an audience over dinner is pure evil. Even assuming the former president didn't realize Mr. Fuentes was coming to Mar-a-Lago, for him to refuse to condemn Fuentes and his bigoted words after the dinner is appalling and it is dangerous."

The White House, too, has weighed in.

"We should all be condemning this, and we should be very clear, very clear and say it in really absolute clear terms," press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Monday. "This is something that we condemn, and we will continue to speak out against."

ABC News' Sarah Kolinovsky contributed to this report.

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White House criticizes China COVID policy, says people have 'right to peacefully protest'

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(WASHINGTON) -- The White House on Monday criticized China's coronavirus containment strategy and said people there have a "right to peacefully protest," although its comments were notably restrained at a time it is seeking to strengthen relations with Beijing.

The comments follow the most significant demonstrations in China in decades as over the weekend, protesters in Shanghai, Beijing and elsewhere challenged police in the streets, with some even calling for China's President Xi Jinping to resign.

"We've long said everyone has the right to peacefully protest, in the United States and around the world," a spokesperson for the White House National Security Council, who requested anonymity, said. "This includes in the PRC."

The spokesperson used the acronym for China's official name, the People's Republic of China.

At a later briefing Monday, White House spokesman John Kirby said that “people should be allowed the right to assemble and to peacefully protest policies or laws or dictates that they take issue with."

Asked why the earlier White House statement did not include any explicit calls for China to stop detaining and harming protesters and journalists, Kirby did not directly say.

"We're watching this closely, as you might expect, we would," Kirby told reporters. "And again, we continue to stand up and support the right of peaceful protest. And I think we're going to watch this closely and we'll see where things go.”

Asked explicitly if the White House supported people in China’s efforts to "regain their personal freedoms in light of these lockdowns," he replied, "The White House supports the right of peaceful protest." He did not elaborate.

The Biden administration has emphasized the need to manage the United States' strategic relationship with China, which it this year labeled the United States' "only competitor with both the intent and, increasingly, the capability to reshape the international order."

Biden has spoken with China's Xi half a dozen times since taking office, most recently in person -- for the first time since both became president -- this month at a summit in Indonesia.

China's continued strategy of locking down large parts of its cities and subjecting residents to stringent testing and restrictions stands in stark contrast to the approach to COVID in the United States and much of the rest of the world, which have largely returned to life as normal while living with the pandemic.

Since last winter's omicron wave subsided, Biden has adopted a strategy that eschews large-scale lockdowns or mandatory restrictions on Americans. A significant portion of the American population is now vaccinated against the virus, and the country has increasingly prioritized its economic recovery.

In September said in an interview that the pandemic was "over."

Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House's coronavirus response coordinator, told ABC's "This Week" on Sunday that a better strategy would be to "build up immunity in the population by getting people vaccinated," as the United States has done.

The spokesperson also said that it would be "very difficult" for China to be able to contain COVID using its current strategy.

"I think it's going to be very, very difficult for China to be able to contain this through their zero COVID strategy," Jha said in an interview with ABC News' Martha Raddatz. "I would recommend that they pursue the strategy of making sure everybody gets vaccinated, particularly their elderly. That I think is the path out of this virus. Lockdown and zero COVID is going to very difficult to sustain."

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What Congress is and isn't likely to do in the lame duck session

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(WASHINGTON) -- Lawmakers return to Washington after Thanksgiving break with a long agenda and just weeks until a new Congress begins.

Come Jan. 3, Republicans will run the House, ending two years of total Democratic control of the federal government. Already, GOP members are jockeying for new leadership positions and turning their attention toward how they will mount a response to the Biden agenda.

But partisan preparation aside, the next few weeks are going to require some across the aisle cooperation if Congress is to get anything done in what is known as the lame duck between the election and the end of the current term. There is a laundry list of must-pass agenda items hanging in the balance. Among them: funding the government and passing a massive military spending bill.

Democrats, meanwhile, will look to maximize their final days unchecked by GOP blockades.

Dems zero-in on 2 outstanding priorities

Democrats are expected to seal a win later this week by finally passing federal legislation that would enshrine into law protections for same-sex and interracial marriages. While procedural votes still remain, the legislation cleared a key test vote in the Senate just before Thanksgiving, with 12 Republicans joining all Democrats in the chamber to prevent a filibuster.

"Let me be clear: Passing the Respect for Marriage Act is not a matter of 'if' but only of 'when,'" Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said after that successful vote.

Approving the legislation would be a victory for Democrats who have been seeking to codify same-sex marriage -- currently legalized by the Supreme Court decision Obergefell v. Hodges -- since the high court overturned the right to an abortion earlier this year, with Justice Clarence Thomas suggesting in a separate opinion that Obergefell should also be reversed.

While the Senate's marriage bill will need to return to the House once passed, a previous version cleared the House with the support of 47 Republicans.

Democrats also hope to take up legislation later this month that aims to clarify the role, as spelled out in the Electoral Count Act (ECA) of 1887, that the vice president plays in certifying election results. The new legislation is intended to head off arguments like those made by former President Donald Trump around Jan. 6, 2021: that the vice president holds the power to unilaterally reject electors presented by the states. The legislation would instead define the vice president's role in certification as purely ceremonial.

ECA reform comes after months of behind-the-scenes bipartisan coalition building and has more than the requisite 10 Senate Republican co-sponsors, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. But it's still not clear if or when the Senate will take it up.

"We're working on it. We want to get it done," Schumer said Monday when asked about the timing of a potential vote.

Other priorities are likely to fall on the cutting room floor as the clock ticks down.

Some Democrats had hoped to pass some sort of immigration reform to secure a pathway to citizenship for recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, whose fate currently awaits a court ruling. But there's little appetite for such a measure from Republicans and at least 10 would be needed to move any proposal in the limited remaining time.

A group of Democrats are also angling to reinstate their popular, pandemic-era child tax credit. Success on that front is also unlikely.

Any legislation that fails to make it to the finish line come the installment of the new Congress, in January, must return to square one with the next group of lawmakers.

Leadership fights take center stage

While Democrats will look to make the most of their remaining weeks in control of both chambers of Congress, House Republicans will spend much of that time trying to figure out who will be at the helm come Jan. 3.

Current House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy is eying the speaker's gavel, but it remains to be seen if he'll have the votes he needs to secure it. Earlier this month, he won his party's nomination during a closed-door election. But it was far from unanimous support among his own party -- which will control at most 222 seats in the next House -- and to clench the speakership, McCarthy will need 218 votes, which means he can avoid few defections.

So far, five House Republicans have said they are hard "no" votes for McCarthy.

Meanwhile, House Democrats will elect a new, history-making generation of leaders this week during elections on Wednesday and Thursday, following Speaker Nancy Pelosi's pre-Thanksgiving announcement of her intention to step away from party leadership.

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York is largely expected to ascend to Pelosi's post. Jeffries won't have to scrap for votes; he is expected to take over for Pelosi with the overwhelming -- if not unanimous -- support of his caucus, putting the 52-year-old on track to be the first Black lawmaker to lead a party in Congress.

It will also be the first time in 20 years that Pelosi hasn't been in that role. The whip will be a woman -- Katherine Clark of Massachusetts -- and the No. 3, Pete Aguilar, will become the highest-ranking Latino in Congress; the Californian rose to prominence from his perch on the high-profile Jan. 6 committee.

Republican leadership in the Senate has already been decided, with members meeting behind closed doors last week and overwhelmingly selecting McConnell to remain at the party helm, despite facing his first challenge for the position in 15 years.

Rick Scott of Florida, the outgoing head of Senate Republicans' campaign arm, had 10 supporters back his bid to replace McConnell.

Senate Democrats are expected to hold their leadership elections later this month, likely after the Dec. 6 Georgia runoff election. Schumer is largely expected to remain atop the party.

Lawmakers will grapple with must-pass funding

One thing lawmakers must do in the coming weeks of the lame-duck session is fund the government. Current funding runs out on Dec. 16.

Democrats want to try to pass a year-long funding package composed of 12 major bills rolled into one. But there's yet to be an agreement on a top-line figure for that massive package, slowing negotiations.

A huge sticking point in those discussions has been a request from the Biden administration to provide Ukraine with $38 billion in additional funding -- the latest in a series of such aid -- to assist the country in its war against Russia.

All along, funding for Ukraine has had strong bipartisan support. But some Republicans have recently signaled that the party would not back additional funding during the lame-duck without guarantees of what they called transparency and accountability.

McCarthy has said his conference would not support writing a "blank check" for Ukraine if they captured the majority. He later walked back his comments, saying he is supportive of Ukraine. Reps. Michael McCaul and Mike Turner said on "This Week" on Sunday that the incoming House Republican majority will support Ukraine, downplaying critics inside the GOP like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene.

There are a few paths forward to avert an immediate shutdown. Among them is a short-term funding bill to punt the problem slightly down the road, giving lawmakers more time to make a deal. Some Republicans favor this option, figuring they'll have more negotiation power in the House come Jan. 3.

It's not yet clear how Congress will maneuver through this and, before they do, senators are also set to wrangle a must-pass military appropriations bill: the National Defense Authorization Act.

That must-pass legislation has cleared the chamber every year for 50 years, and this Congress is behind schedule.

Chance to raise debt limit seems to be slipping

The federal debt limit, which allows the government to borrow money in order to pay for spending required by Congress, will need to be raised sometime next year. But previous increases of the debt limit -- as under President Barack Obama and a Republican Congress -- became politically poisonous battles.

Some Democrats in this Congress want to go ahead and deal with it now, before GOP cooperation is required in the new year.

Some House Republicans, meanwhile, have indicated they will use a deal over raising the debt limit to extract cuts to government spending, such as on social programs.

But hiking the limit without GOP support would require use of a cumbersome fast-track budget process known as reconciliation. The process eats up an incredible amount of floor time, all but wiping Democrats' chances of using their remaining weeks in control to tackle other priorities.

While Democratic leadership has signaled interest in raising the debt limit before turning the House gavel over to Republicans, it does not seem likely to happen this Congress.

ABC News' Lauren Peller contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Biden to sign memo to combat conflict-related sexual violence

FILE, Official White House Photo by Carlos Fyfe

(WASHINGTON) -- President Joe Biden is poised to sign a memorandum boosting the U.S. government's opposition to conflict-related sexual violence in an effort to further combat rape as a weapon of war.

Biden is expected to sign the memo, which will clarify that an act of conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV) may constitute a serious human rights abuse, on Monday, according to the White House.

The memo is intended to give CRSV an "equal consideration alongside other serious human rights abuses in developing designations under existing sanctions authorities," the White House said.

It also directs the State and Treasury departments, as well as other federal agencies, to use additional tools to hold CRSV offenders accountable.

Biden is releasing the presidential memorandum in conjunction with the United Kingdom's international ministerial conference on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict, "at a time when CRSV persists with impunity around the world, including in Russian-occupied Ukraine and Ethiopia," the White House said

A report released by the United Nations in October said that Russian troops have committed war crimes, including rape and sexual violence, against Ukrainian civilians.

"You only need to see a snapshot from what is happening in Ukraine to know how important this presidential memorandum can be in focusing on accountability for conflict related sexual violence," a senior Biden administration official said on a call with reporters Sunday. "It will provide guidance and direction to facilitate targeting the perpetrators of these horrendous acts and bringing them to justice."

The United Nations estimates that 10 to 20 CRSV cases go undocumented for each one reported in connection with a conflict.

A 2021 report by the U.N. Secretary-General found 3,293 U.N.-verified CRSV cases across 18 countries -- 97% of which were targeted toward women and girls.

That number was about 800 more than what was verified by the U.N. in 2020.

The memorandum pledges an additional $400,000, on top of the $1.75 million annual contribution, toward the Office of the U.N. Special Representative to the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, as well as an additional $5.5 million over the next two years to help the State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor investigate and document acts of CRSV.

The memo also aims to deliver services and support for survivors of gender-based violence in emergency and conflict settings, as well as increase access to justice, protection, and services to survivors of gender-based violence, according to the White House.

"Together with today's Presidential Memorandum on Promoting Accountability for Conflict-Related Sexual Violence, these initiatives signal President Biden's ongoing commitment to confront gender-based violence -- in all of its forms -- around the world," the White House said.

ABC News' Justin Gomez contributed to this report.

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First lady Jill Biden unveils 2022 White House holiday theme and decorations

Official White House Photo by Cameron Smith

(WASHINGTON) -- First lady Jill Biden on Monday unveiled this year's White House holiday decorations, announcing the theme as "We the People."

More than 150 volunteers from across the country spent a week helping to decorate the inside and outside of the White House with 25 wreaths, 77 Christmas trees and over 83,615 holiday lights. There is also a gingerbread White House that was made out of 20 sheets of sugar cookie dough, 30sheets of gingerbread dough, 100 pounds of pastillage, 30 pounds of chocolate, and 40 pounds of royal icing, according to the office of the first lady.

While officially revealing the holiday theme and seasonal decor, Biden offered a holiday message of unity and hope and thanked the volunteers who helped spruce up the White House for the season.

"Over the last two years, I’ve traveled to almost 40 states -- to rural counties and big cities. Again and again, the Americans I’ve met have shown me the Soul of our Nation," the first lady said Monday in prepared remarks for the event at the White House in Washington, D.C. "I’ve seen it everywhere I've gone: When our country comes together, we are stronger. What we share is so much greater than the things that pull us apart. The Soul of our Nation is -- and always has been -- 'We the People.' And that is what inspired this year's White House holiday decorations."

Each room of the White House was decorated to "represent what brings us together during the holidays and throughout the year," according to Biden.

"The Gold Star trees honor and remember those who laid down their lives for our country, and the families who carry on their legacies," she said. "In the Library, we celebrate how the stories we share bring us closer to each other, our history, and the world around us. In the Vermeil Room, we honor how the smallest acts of kindness and appreciation really do matter. In the China Room, we remember family traditions passed down and dinner tables full of laughter."

"In the East Room, we highlight the national treasures that belong to us all -- our National Parks -- and the communion we find in nature," she continued. "In the Green Room, bells of all kinds remind us of the healing and unifying power of music. In the Red Room, we know that in times of both joy and grief, faith can light the way. In the State Dining Room, we honor the promise of the next generation and see the holidays through the eyes of children. And in the Blue Room, the official birds of all 57 states and territories -- and our Nation’s Capital -- are all woven together to transform the 18-foot Christmas Tree into a stunning symbol of unity."

As part of her White House initiative to support and promote the sacrifices and needs of military families, called Joining Forces, Biden was joined by members and leadership of the National Guard from more than 30 U.S. states and territories along with their families. The first lady, who holds a doctorate in education, was scheduled to partake in a roundtable discussion on education for military-connected children with National Guard families and state adjutants generals later Monday, according to her office.

"We wanted them to be a part of this special day because they represent the heart of our communities -- men and women who choose to serve even as they pursue other careers, who answer the call of duty in our hometowns as quickly as disasters strike and needs arise," Biden said. "Though our nation relies on their courage, the service of our Guardsmen and women, and of their families, often goes unseen -- especially children of National Guard members."

"As a fellow National Guard mom and grandmom, I wanted to welcome National Guard families to help us open this holiday season as my honored guests. Your service is the embodiment of We the People," she added.

The White House expects to welcome approximately 50,000 visitors during the holiday season, according to the office of the first lady.

"Throughout these halls, from the shining bells to the mirrored ornaments in the Grand Foyer behind me, you will see your own reflection -- a reminder and a request to see yourself in this house," Biden said. "And we are grateful to be able to welcome Americans home."

Last year's holiday theme was "Gifts from the Heart," intended to honor those who have persevered through hardships brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 100 volunteers decorated the White House with approximately 25 wreaths, 41 Christmas trees, 300 candles, 6,000 feet of ribbon,10,000 ornaments and nearly 80,000 holiday lights, according to the office of the first lady.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


After Colorado Springs mass shooting, Gov. Polis considers changes to strengthen 'red flag' law

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(DENVER) -- Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said Sunday that he is considering reforms to his state's "red flag" law after this month's mass shooting in Colorado Springs at Club Q, an LGBTQ venue.

The alleged shooter's access to an AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle has been thrust into the spotlight after it was revealed that the suspect, who is 22, was arrested last year and accused of threatening their mother with explosives.

Still, the state's red flag law, which allows for family or law enforcement to petition a judge to revoke an individual's access to firearms, was not used, Polis said.

"We're certainly going to take a hard look at why [the] red flag law wasn't used … what can be used to better publicize, make available, add different parties to make sure that it's used when it should be used," Polis said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

The governor, a Democrat, defended the legislation, which some conservatives have criticized as ineffective and vulnerable to abuse by the government.

"That law was successfully used several 100 times. And I know that it's prevented self-harm and violence in our state. And we need to make sure more people are aware of what it can do," Polis added on CNN's "State of the Union."

Among the changes being considered is expanding who can petition a judge under the law, Polis said.

"What I think we're going to look at in Colorado is potentially expanding that, for instance, so [district attorneys] can also seek extreme risk protection orders," Polis said on CBS' "Face the Nation."

He said that in last year's case, involving the suspect's mother, neither she nor the local sheriff pursued an order under the red flag law.

The suspect in the Nov. 19 shooting, which killed 5 people at the LGBTQ club and injured many others, legally purchased the rifle before the attack, authorities have said.

Patrons of the club tackled the suspected shooter before law enforcement arrived.

Appearing on "Face the Nation," Polis said there had been some media reports that one of the suspect's firearms was a so-called "ghost gun," referring to privately made weapons that aren't tracked by a serial number.

"All of these facts will emerge in the coming days and weeks. Obviously, right now our heart is with the victims, five people who lost their lives, their families, dozens of others injured and, of course, many traumatized," Polis said.

The suspect is facing five counts of murder and five counts of bias-motivated crime causing bodily injury, which is Colorado's hate crime law. The suspect has not yet entered a plea.

The mass shooting has reignited calls for stricter gun laws, including President Joe Biden's push for what he called an assault weapons ban, which faces an uphill climb in gaining the necessary support to pass through Congress.

Polis said Sunday that the response to the shooting needs to be "national," noting fewer laws in neighboring states, and indicated he's open to measures beyond gun legislation.

"Of course it's about mental health. Of course it's about gun policy. Of course it's about anti-LGBTQ rhetoric. It's about all these things," he said on "Meet the Press."

Asked directly on "Face the Nation" if he would back Biden's latest call for a ban, Polis said there needed to be a wide-ranging discussion -- on mental health, discrimination, red flag and ghost gun laws and more.

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White House denounces Trump's dinner with white nationalist Nick Fuentes

Allan Baxter/Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- A spokesman for President Joe Biden is sharply criticizing former President Donald Trump for having dinner with white nationalist Nick Fuentes at his Mar-a-Lago club last week.

"Bigotry, hate, and antisemitism have absolutely no place in America - including at Mar-A-Lago. Holocaust denial is repugnant and dangerous, and it must be forcefully condemned," White House deputy press secretary Andrew Bates said in a statement.

Trump met with Fuentes while hosting rapper and designer Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, at his resort last Tuesday, ABC News previously reported.

Fuentes has a history of racist, sexist and antisemitic comments, including apparent skepticism about the Holocaust, and has been banned on all major social media platforms.

Tuesday's dinner lasted about two hours and was attended by Fuentes, Ye -- who recently lost major business deals over his own antisemitic remarks -- and Florida Republican political operative Karen Giorno.

The White House's denunciation of the Mar-a-Lago dinner adds to a growing chorus of critics, including some Republicans.

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, an erstwhile Trump ally, told The New York Times it was "another example of an awful lack of judgment from Donald Trump, which, combined with his past poor judgments, make him an untenable general election candidate for the Republican Party in 2024."

Trump's former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo seemingly distanced himself from figures like Fuentes when he tweeted on Saturday that "anti-Semitism is a cancer. ... We stand with the Jewish people in the fight against the world's oldest bigotry." (He didn't reference Trump by name.)

And in a statement to The Washington Post, the Republican Jewish Coalition called on "all political leaders to reject their messages of hate and refuse to meet with" Ye and Fuentes.

Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, spoke even more bluntly.

"For Donald Trump to dine with notorious white supremacists and unrepentant bigots, I think at a minimum it's clarifying. He is trying to make America hate again and running arguably the most unapologetic white nationalist presidential campaign we've ever seen," Greenblatt said on CNN.

In a series of statements, Trump played down Fuentes' involvement, insisting he didn't know who Fuentes was before they met and that he was unaware Fuentes would be joining the meal.

"This past week, Kanye West called me to have dinner at Mar-a-Lago. Shortly thereafter, he unexpectedly showed up with three of his friends, whom I knew nothing about," Trump said in one statement on Friday.

In a subsequent statement, he said that Ye had asked for the meeting for "very much needed 'advice'" and brought "3 people, two of which I didn't know."

Trump recently announced he is running for president in 2024. Ye, who launched a longshot third-party bid of his own in the 2020 race, has also claimed he is running in 2024.

A source at the dinner previously told ABC News that during the meeting, Ye asked Trump to be his vice president. The rapper has often voiced support for Trump and met with him in the Oval Office while Trump was president.

In a video released on Twitter, Ye said their dinner became heated when he and Trump discussed politics. He contended that Trump was "really impressed with Nick Fuentes."

In his social media statements, Trump said he and Ye "got along great" and that Ye "expressed no anti-Semitism."

Biden has refrained from commenting on the dinner but suggested he had strong feelings. He was asked about it while out shopping in Nantucket off the coast of Massachusetts on Saturday afternoon.

"You don't want to hear what I think," he replied.

ABC News' Ahmad Hemingway, Olivia Rubin and Will Steakin contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Republicans are committed to Ukraine but want 'accountability' over funding, McCaul and Turner say

ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- Reps. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, and Mike Turner, R-Ohio, on Sunday insisted that the incoming House Republican majority would continue to support funding and arming Ukraine in its war against Russia, downplaying critics inside the GOP's conference who have vowed to oppose future aid packages. 

McCaul and Turner, the likely next chairmen of the House Foreign Affairs and Intelligence Committees, respectively, said on ABC's "This Week" that Ukraine could win if it gets adequate support from the West. 

They also backed House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy's past statement that Congress shouldn't provide a "blank check" and said Republicans planned to push for greater oversight and "accountability" over how American support is being used overseas.

"This Week" co-anchor Martha Raddatz cited objections to Ukraine aid from some conservatives -- like Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene -- and asked, "Are you really certain that Republicans will bring this to the floor?"

"I think the majorities on both sides of the aisle support this effort," McCaul said. "I think everybody has a voice in Congress. And the fact is, we are going to provide more oversight, transparency and accountability. We're not going to write a blank check."

"Does that diminish our will to help the Ukraine people fight? No. But we’re going to do it in a responsible way," McCaul said. Otherwise, he said, authoritarian countries like China and Iran could become emboldened by Russia's success.

"The issue, obviously, is we don't need to pass $40 billion, large Democrat bills that have been passed to send $8 billion to Ukraine," Turner told Raddatz, who recently returned from a reporting trip in Ukraine.

Raddatz pushed back on Turner, noting that beyond the immediate funds for procurement, that whole aid package was focused on Ukraine including with long-term financial support for rebuilding. Both McCaul and Turner also voted for the $40 billion package in May. 

The lawmakers' comments come ahead of what is expected to be a brutal winter in Ukraine, with Russia, some nine months after its invasion, targeting Ukraine's energy infrastructure -- limiting power and heat to major cities.

McCaul and Turner said that providing Ukraine with adequate air defense systems is a top priority, and McCaul contended the federal government had "slow-walked" some of its lethal support.

When Raddatz pressed McCaul on whether providing certain munitions could "incite Russia" after McCaul raised the possibility of extending Ukraine's range into Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014, McCaul said: "Crimea is not part of Russia under international law. So if they can hit into Crimea, I think that’s fair game."

But, Turner said, simply handing over U.S. equipment might not be the answer given its sophistication and how long it could take to train and ultimately use.

"Our air defense systems are so complex, we need to make certain that we work with partners and pull together an air defense system that they can put together to defend Kyiv, to defend their infrastructure," he said.

More broadly, McCaul and Turner said that starting in January, their committees will launch investigations into the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan. Republicans could also scrutinize Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas' handling of the southern border and the controversial contents of a laptop that Republicans say was owned by Hunter Biden, President Joe Biden's son.

"One thing that’s going to be very, very positive about this Congress is we’re going to get back to the committees working again," Turner said.

McCaul also expressed confidence that McCarthy will have the votes to become speaker in the next Congress despite public criticism from several hard-right lawmakers. 

McCarthy will need 218 votes on the House floor on Jan. 3 to be speaker. At least four Republicans in the likely 222-seat majority have vowed to oppose him -- complicating his path to winning the gavel in the first round of voting. 

The entire House will continue voting for a speaker until a candidate wins a majority. Lawmakers could nominate another compromise candidate if McCarthy fails to secure enough support.

"Do you think he has the votes?" Raddatz asked.

"Kevin has worked harder than any other candidate for speaker I've seen. I think he's got the majority of our conference," McCaul said. "And the fact is, what's the alternative here?"

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


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