Politics

Some Uvalde families endorse Beto O'Rourke for Texas governor in emotional ad campaign

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(UVALDE, Texas) -- Texas Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O'Rourke rolled out an ad campaign Saturday featuring tearful endorsements from families of victims of the Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde.

Many Uvalde families have continued to voice how unheard they feel by their representatives as they plead for gun control statewide and nationally. Parents have spoken publicly about wanting commonsense gun legislation, and their calls on Abbott to convene a special session have gone unanswered.

One ad begins with parents looking straight to the camera, holding photos of their children and sharing what they hoped to do when they grew up: Lexi Rubio wanted to be a lawyer, Jackie Cazares hoped to become a veterinarian and Layla Salazar, a track star.

Another ad solely focuses on Maite Rodriguez, whose mother, Ana Rodriguez, stoically narrates the video.

"She wore green Converse with the heart drawn on the right toe. Those shoes ended up being one way to identify her body in that classroom. I never want another family to go through this. Greg Abbott has done nothing to stop the next shooting. No laws passed. Nothing to keep kids safe in school. So, I'm voting Beto for Maite," Ana Rodriguez says in the video.

Beto for Texas' director of communications, Chris Evans, told ABC News the ads are running in all major markets across the state of Texas indefinitely.

ABC News has reached out to Abbott's office for comment.

Nineteen students and two teachers died at the hands of a gunman on May 24. The police response to the shooting has come under intense scrutiny after it was revealed that officers did not breach the classroom containing the gunman for over an hour. The response also spurred a Texas House investigation that published a damning report in July outlining law enforcement's failures.

The ad campaign began just one day after the first and only Texas gubernatorial debate between O'Rourke and incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott, which notably featured many questions to both candidates on the topic of the shooting in Uvalde. The entire debate was less than an hour in duration, and the Uvalde-related discussion comprised more than 10 minutes of it.

Joshua Blank, research director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas-Austin, told ABC News that according to his research and expertise, he does not see Uvalde heavily influencing the upcoming election.

"As horrific as that may sound, polling has consistently shown that in the wake of mass shootings, and even mass shootings as horrific as the one that occurred in Uvalde, that partisan voters tend to look to partisan interpretations of those events. And so, while we might expect to see large shifts in sentiment in the wake of these tragedies, we tend not to find them," Blank said.

A Quinnipiac University poll last month found that the top three issues likely voters in Texas saw as most urgent were the Texas-Mexico border, at 38%, followed by abortion (17%) and inflation (11%). Gun policy garnered 8%, according to the poll, illustrating Blank's point.

Blank also said partisan voters approach solutions to gun violence differently.

"I think the issue is that voters of different persuasions come to the issue of gun violence and gun safety with a different set of expectations about what would be effective in addressing the pandemic or the epidemic of gun violence," Blank said.

One of the key issues of O'Rourke's campaign platform is gun safety. He's made it clear he believes significant policy reform is the answer, in forms such as "red flag" laws, universal background checks and a repeal of permitless carry. Abbott, conversely, says he "will continue to fight any federal government overreach that aims to disrupt the 2nd Amendment rights of law-abiding Texans," according to his website. His stance has also been illustrated by his passage of open and campus carry across the state during his tenure as governor.

Even if many agree that gun violence is an issue Texas officials should do more to prevent, Blank said this "doesn't mean that a majority of Texans think that the policy response that would be most effective necessarily has to do with stricter gun laws."

In the Quinnipiac poll, likely voters were also asked, between Abbott and O'Rourke, who would do a better job handling gun policy; 53% said the sitting governor would do a better job, while 44% responded that O'Rourke would.

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Some leading Democrats won't debate their election-denying opponents

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(WASHINGTON) -- Democrats in key swing states like Arizona and Michigan have refused to face opponents who espouse the false claim that the 2020 race was stolen from former President Donald Trump.

These Democratic politicians say they want to avoid combative spectacles with people who are attacking the election system without evidence -- suggesting their rivals are too far outside the mainstream to be worth engaging.

But that choice is not without criticism as some outside experts note it has strategic value, too.

"Candidates who are ahead in the polls and believe that they will be able to win without debates are advantaged by not debating. They will find a reason to justify their decision -- and in this case, what you're seeing is a reason to justify a decision among candidates who believe they're going to be able to win without debating," Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a political scientist at the University of Pennsylvania and director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, told ABC News.

Some major Republicans, like Nevada Senate hopeful Adam Laxalt, have so far also opted against debates.

"Statewide debates attract very low viewership. But from a normative standpoint, it is desirable for the electorate to be able to see the candidates side-by-side and for the process to have journalists be given the opportunity to ask tough questions," Jamieson said.

She said the biggest problem with not debating "is not who gains electoral advantage, but what is the public and the press not able to know as a result of that decision?"

"One would hope that candidates would perceive the advantage to the electoral process in deciding to debate, even if they find their opposing candidate unworthy of exchange," Jamieson said, adding: "If you think that you are incapable of presenting yourself well in a debate, you're less likely to agree to one, whether you are ahead or behind in the polls. That doesn't mean that we should absolve candidates of the responsibility to debate."

Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia, said candidates are usually able to "get away with canceling debates without much of a penalty" as voters don't usually see the events as key to their choices.

While the trend has a new twist this cycle, Sabato said the resistance to debating has a long history.

"Every single year almost all candidates will debate about debates -- how many there should be, how long they should be, where they should be, what subjects they should cover. This has become a permanent part of campaigning, and most people just tune it out because it doesn't affect their lives," he said. "It has no real impact on your campaign or your likelihood to win. And if you think of the other candidate as the beginning of the collapse of Western civilization then why not say, 'I'm not putting myself through that.'"

In Arizona, Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, the Democratic nominee for governor, declined to debate Republican opponent Kari Lake even after the Citizens Clean Elections Commission moved its deadline to allow Hobbs' team more time to negotiate the terms. Hobbs said she felt it wouldn't be worthwhile.

"We all saw the spectacle [Lake] created in the GOP primary," she said in late September.

Lake painted Hobbs as having something to hide for refusing to debate and, in a series of Twitter videos, taunted her opponent to face her.

In Michigan, incumbent Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel offered a similar rationale as Hobbs, saying GOP rival Matt DePerno -- who has claimed "election fraud" in 2020 -- operates by a different "set of facts" so a debate with him wouldn't be "serious" or helpful to voters.

Nessel also raised the potential of being confined by codes of ethics in having to respond to DePerno, whom Nessel has alleged was a "prime instigator" in a plot to illegally access voting machines in a bid to find evidence to overturn the 2020 presidential results. DePerno has not been charged and has said he is being politically persecuted.

Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania, another battleground state, progress toward a gubernatorial debate ground to a halt not because of the Democrat but because of the Republican: Doug Mastriano -- who was in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6 and helped lead the effort to challenge the 2020 results in his state -- tried to rewrite traditional debate rules including allowing the candidates to each select a moderator. A spokesman for Democratic nominee Josh Shapiro, the state's attorney general, ruled out accepting Mastriano's terms, calling the move a "stunt" that threatened "good-faith debate negotiations."

Here is the backstory on some of the major debates that won't happen:

Arizona

Bucking 20 years of Arizona campaign tradition, Hobbs declined to debate her Republican opponent in the only gubernatorial debate, which was set for next week. Hobbs cited Lake's performance in a GOP primary forum as having made Arizona "the butt of late-night TV jokes."

"You can't debate a conspiracy theorist," Hobbs' campaign manager, Nicole DeMont, said at a public meeting with the debate commission last month.

But as election deniers dominate the Republican side of the statewide ballot, Hobbs is the only Democratic nominee that declined to face one on the debate stage. Barrett Marson, a Republican strategist in Arizona who isn't working with Lake, criticized that reasoning since Hobbs also skipped a Democratic primary debate with her long-shot opponent then, Marco Lopez -- "someone who's not an election denier," Marson noted.

"Instead of practicing against Marco Lopez, she didn't debate then because she's probably just not a very good debater," he said.

Hobbs' campaign declined to comment to ABC News for this story.

At Arizona State University last month, she dismissed 76-year-old supporter Linda Martini, who drove from Phoenix to Tempe to help register voters, after Martini tried to ask Hobbs why she won't debate.

"Let's not do this here," Hobbs told Martini. "We need to talk about this later," she said, and she walked away with her team.

Martini subsequently told reporters, "She's got to debate ... It's bad for her not to."

"The people want to see her on TV. I can tell you from the senior community that I know best, they want to see her," Martini added. "Unless she could give a really good reason why, she has to debate."

Hobbs insisted to reporters last week that she's "not afraid" of debating Lake but wants to have "a substantive conversation."

Lake, who according to FiveThirtyEight's analysis has been closing the gap with Hobbs in recent polling, told ABC News last week that Hobbs' explanation is nothing more than an "excuse."

"They know that the Democrats are weak candidates with policies that Americans don't want," Lake argued.

Lake went on to try to recast her election denialism as being about "honesty and faith" and said Hobbs should challenge her directly: "If she's got a problem with where I stand on elections ... then she should show up Oct. 12, and I'd love to debate her on that."

Marson, the Republican strategist, believes Hobbs' team has determined she will be better off skipping the debate than attending -- "but I think that voters want to see it and are really questioning, What are you afraid of?"

"If Kari Lake wants to rant and rave for an hour on stage, then voters would see that and then make their own decisions," Marson added. "We've seen recently Kari try to soften her image, and she's gonna be able to use this unfettered access to voters to soften her image and not ever face a tough point from Katie Hobbs."

Bill Scheel, a longtime consultant to Democrats in the state, agreed with Marson that debate participation may not swing races but called it a "missed opportunity."

"This election is not going to be decided by whether someone debates or not. The actual viewership on public TV would be a tiny fraction of the overall electorate, but I really do think it's a missed opportunity for Hobbs. She's still not clearly defined for most Arizona voters," he said.

Michigan

Michigan Attorney General Nessel, who is seeking reelection, decided she won't debate DePerno, her Republican opponent, because she thinks he wouldn't participate in a "serious" event to "educate and inform voters."

"You have to have two candidates that are willing to abide by a set of facts that actually exist," she told ABC News in an interview in Lansing last week.

"You can't have separate sets of facts, and the things that Mr. DePerno often says, he's not dealing with facts. He's literally lying. He's making up things," Nessel contended. "And by giving him the platform to disseminate this kind of disinformation is a disservice to the voters in this state."

She added that prosecutorial codes of ethics are also tying her hands because of an investigation into DePerno and others. The case is being overseen by an outside prosecutor at Nessel's request. Still, she said, DePerno could raise the investigation on stage if they were to debate and twist the details while she would be limited in responding.

DePerno declined to comment to ABC News or respond to Nessel's criticism.

The attorney general, who is gay, also believes her identity as a member of the LGBTQ community may be weaponized against her if she were to debate DePerno, who has referred to her by the derogatory label "General Groomer."

"It's not just a matter of insulting me. It's insulting to the at least half a million residents in my state who also identify as openly LGBTA, and I'm not going to allow him to disparage me like that. I'm not going to allow him to disparage the hundreds of thousands of residents that I represent," Nessel told ABC News.

Pennsylvania

Debate negotiations in the Pennsylvania gubernatorial race have devolved into accusations of cowardice and of theatrics amid attempts by Mastriano, the Republican candidate, to rewrite traditional rules.

In an August letter to Shapiro, his Democratic opponent, Mastriano proposed his own set of guidelines, which would ban news outlets from holding exclusive broadcast rights over the debates and would let each candidate choose a moderator.

A Shapiro spokesman called the proposal "a stunt" and an excuse by Mastriano to avoid questions. He has shunned traditional media while focusing on conservative grassroots efforts.

"It's unfortunate that Doug Mastriano has recklessly decided to blow up good-faith debate negotiations with media outlets across the Commonwealth," the Shapiro spokesman, Will Simons, said in a statement at the time.

Mastriano has tried to frame Shapiro as cowardly for not accepting his terms and called Shapiro "reluctant" to face him. Last month, he invited Shapiro to what he said would be a debate in central Pennsylvania featuring Mercedes Schlapp, a former aide to Trump, as a moderator.

"Doug Mastriano's unserious proposal is an obvious stunt to avoid any real questions about his extreme agenda and record of conduct by dictating his own rules for debates," Simons said last week in a statement to ABC News.

"Nobody gets to pick their own moderators or set their own terms," he added.

In the meantime, counties have already begun sending absentee ballots to voters.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Herschel Walker denies report he reimbursed girlfriend's abortion

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(WASHINGTON) -- Herschel Walker, a Georgia football icon and U.S. Senate hopeful, has denied a report in the Daily Beast that an ex-girlfriend claimed he paid the cost of her abortion more than 10 years ago, a claim that would seem to contradict his anti-abortion posture on the campaign trail.

Walker, a Republican, immediately denied the claim and promised to file a defamation lawsuit against the Daily Beast, which published the story, on Tuesday morning. Walker later appeared on Fox News Channel's Hannity, where he issued additional denials.

"I can tell you right now, I never asked anyone to get an abortion," Walker told Sean Hannity. "I never paid for an abortion -- it's a lie."

The Daily Beast reported Monday that an unidentified woman who claimed to be Walker's ex-girlfriend said she sought a medical abortion after the couple conceived in 2009. The woman shared documentation with the news outlet: a receipt from an abortion clinic, a bank deposit receipt with an image of a $700 check that appeared to be signed by Walker sent within a week of the abortion and a "get well" card that appeared to be signed by Walker.

ABC News was not able to confirm the Daily Beast's reporting.

Walker has carved out a staunch anti-abortion position as a candidate for U.S. Senate, aligning himself with a bill proposed by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., that would institute a national ban on abortions after 15 weeks.

Without explicitly citing the Daily Beast's reporting, Walker's adult son, Christian Walker, an outspoken conservative social media personality and podcast host, lambasted his father on Twitter.

"Every family member of Herschel Walker asked him not to run for office, because we all knew (some of) his past. Every single one," Christian Walker wrote Monday. "He decided to give us the middle finger and air out all of his dirty laundry in public, while simultaneously lying about it. I'm done."

The younger Walker also leveled additional allegations against his father, who has attracted scrutiny in recent months for allegations of violence in his past. In a book years ago, Herschel Walker has described himself as having been diagnosed with a dissociative identity disorder, or D.I.D. He has said that treatment healed him.

"I know my mom and I would really appreciate if my father Herschel Walker stopped lying and making a mockery of us," Christian Walker wrote Monday on Twitter. "You're not a 'family man.'"

Walker is currently locked in a heated and high-stakes battle for Georgia's Senate seat with Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock, the outcome of which could tilt the balance of power in Washington come November.

When asked about the Daily Beast report late Monday, Warnock deferred to the "pundits [who will] decide how they think it will impact the race."

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Oath Keepers trial: Defendants 'concocted plan for armed rebellion' on Jan. 6, prosecution says

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(WASHINGTON) -- Five members of the Oath Keepers facing charges of seditious conspiracy "concocted a plan for an armed rebellion to shatter a bedrock of American democracy," a federal prosecutor said Monday in opening statements at the D.C. district court, kicking off the high-stakes first trial for members of the far-right militia group.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Nestler told jurors the defendants, including Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes, along with members Kelly Meggs, Jessica Watkins, Kenneth Harrelson and Thomas Caldwell, "banded together to do whatever was necessary" to stop the transfer of power between Donald Trump and then-President-elect Joe Biden -- and that they saw U.S. Congress certification of the electoral college as their perfect opportunity.

In addition to their alleged involvement in the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol, the Oath Keepers members conspired to stage "an arsenal of firearms," including multiple semi-automatic rifles at a hotel just outside of Washington D.C. and multiple teams of so-called "Quick Reaction Forces," with Caldwell even plotting for ways to potentially ferry weapons into the city by boat across the Potomac River in case they were called on, the prosecution alleged.

Nestler showed jurors multiple photo and video exhibits during his more than hour-long opening statement, including the now-infamous picture of members of the group climbing the steps of the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 riot in a military-style "stack" formation. He also showed video snippets of members of the Oath Keepers militia participating in training sessions with semi-automatic rifles.

All of the defendants, except Meggs, formerly served in the military before joining the Oath Keepers.

"These defendants use their training, knowledge and experience they gained in the United States Armed Forces to further their ability to succeed and plot to oppose by force the government of the United States," Nestler said on Monday.

While Rhodes is not alleged to have participated in the breach of the Capitol, Nestler described him as the group's ringleader in calling members to Washington and urging them to resist the transfer of power by force if necessary.

Nestler played audio of various public appeals Rhodes made to Trump directly, asking him to invoke the Insurrection Act, which he believed would help mobilize members of the group to take up arms and resist any efforts to remove Trump from office. He said Rhodes, a Yale-educated former lawyer, told the group "they needed to be careful with their words" and used coded language to shield their true aims of opposing by force the lawful transfer of presidential power, the prosecution alleged.

Even after the riot, as they learned law enforcement was seeking to arrest those involved in the attack on the Capitol, Rhodes attempted to pass a message directly to Trump assuring him it was not too late to take action, Nestler said.

"My only regret is that they should have brought rifles," Rhodes said in recorded audio on Jan. 10. "We could have fixed it right then and there."

Rhetoric used by the group's members grew increasingly violent in the days leading up to Jan. 6, Nestler said, with Rhodes and others raising the prospect of civil war or "bloody war" erupting as the end of Trump's time in power grew closer.

All of the defendants have pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Defense attorneys for the five charged Oath Keepers are expected to argue their clients did nothing illegal in connection with the Jan. 6 attack, while claiming the government's decision to charge them with the rarely-used seditious conspiracy statute is an effort to target members of the militia group over their political beliefs.

"The real evidence is going to show our clients were there to do security on [January] 5th and 6th," Stewart Rhodes' attorney Phillip Linder said during his opening statement Monday. "The type of security they've done for 13 years throughout their history."

Linder said Rhodes would testify during the trial. He described Rhodes as "extremely patriotic" and claimed the Justice Department's presenting of his recorded statements about opposing the transfer of power were merely an attempt to "alarm and anger" the jury.

"You take a handful of texts and you take a handful of things you don't understand, take some things that look bad and put them together then you come to a conclusion or an incorrect mischaracterization," Linder said on Monday. "We want to bring you the full picture."

The trial is expected to last upward of a month, lawyers have estimated, with a second set of defendants from the Oath Keepers militia charged in the conspiracy slated to stand trial in late November.

Nestler said the five Oath Keepers did have other reasons for being in Washington on Jan. 6 other than the storming of the Capitol, such as providing security for VIPs and attending Trump's "Stop the Steal" rally at the Ellipse that preceded the riot.

But, Nestler said, all of them "also agreed to do whatever was necessary, including using force to make sure that presidential power was not transferred," and that included driving to D.C. so they were able to bring their "weapons of war" close to the nation's Capital.

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Trump's 1st secretary of state testifies he never asked Tom Barrack to 'conduct any diplomacy' for US

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(NEW YORK) -- Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson testified Monday during the illegal foreign lobbying trial of former Donald Trump ally Tom Barrack that he never asked Barrack to undertake any diplomacy on behalf of the United States during his year-long stint as Trump’s secretary of state.

"Did you ever ask Tom Barack to commit any diplomacy on behalf of the United States?" prosecutor Hiral Mehta asked.

“No,” Tillerson replied.

Barrack, a billionaire California businessman who ran Trump's 2016 inaugural committee, is currently on trial in Brooklyn federal court for alleged illegal lobbying on behalf of the United Arab Emirates before and during the Trump administration. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges, which Barrack's defense attorney has dismissed the charge as ridiculous.

"[The government's] accusations are nothing short of ridiculous. Tom Barrack was never under anybody's direction. Tom Barrack was never under anybody's control," said Michael Schachter, Barrack's attorney, during opening statements. "Tom Barrack was his own man [and] said things because he wanted to."

Tillerson, the former chief diplomat of the United States, during his three hours on the stand said he had had no knowledge of Barrack's communications with the UAE. Prosecutors allege failing to register as a lobbyist for those communications constitutes a crime.

But Tillerson also conceded there were conversations about foreign policy that he was not always a part of, including between Trump and his son-and-law, Jared Kushner -- who he said was also in communication with government officials, though not always in lockstep.

"It was evident that at times Mr. Kushner was engaging with the same government officials on the same issues I was engaging with them on and that those messages were not consistent," Tillerson said.

Regardless, he emphasized the importance of transparency surrounding relationships with foreign governments.

"You always, in any communication, want to understand the context in which the information is coming to you," Tillerson said.

Tillerson also testified that his dealings with Barrack were limited, but that Barrack had called him "on a couple of occasions" to discuss a potential ambassadorship.

"I recall him expressing interest in serving as an ambassador," said Tillerson, who said he brought the idea up to Trump, who "did not direct [him] one way or another" on the idea.

On cross-examination, the defense sought to normalize Barrack's contacts with the UAE by likening them to Tillerson's own contacts with foreign government officials during his time as the chief executive officer of Exxon Mobil.

Tillerson testified he took over one hundred foreign trips and met with dozens of foreign government officials when serving in that private role, including in the Middle East and Russia, in his efforts to promote the interests of his company.

"The fact that you were interacting with government officials in Russia... in no way meant you adopted all of their views or operated under their control, right?" asked Randall Jackson, Barrack's attorney.

"We at all times represent our views, nobody else's," said Tillerson, who has since retired.

But Tillerson said during that time, he explored registering.

"I had my attorneys look at the law," Tillerson said, "and I wanted to be sure."

Barrack was arrested in California in July 2021, accused of using his connection to Trump to surreptitiously promote UAE interests. The trial is expected to last five weeks, attorneys said during a hearing earlier this year.

According to the indictment, The UAE worked through Barrack "to influence United States foreign policy in the first 100 days, 6 months, 1 year and 4 years of the Trump administration."

The UAE funds committed nearly $400 million to Barrack’s investment management firm, the indictment said, though it did not make clear whether Barrack’s firm ever received the money.

The indictment released last July also charged Barrack with obstruction of justice and making multiple false statements during a June 20, 2019, interview with federal law enforcement agents.

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White House set to highlight Republican-led abortion restrictions in 100 days since Roe was overturned

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(WASHINGTON) -- A new Biden administration report on abortion access in the U.S. describes how widely the procedure has been curtailed in the roughly 100 days after Roe v. Wade was overturned, according to excerpts from the memo that were obtained by ABC News.

The report, compiled by Jen Klein, the head of the administration’s interagency task force on abortion access, will be one focus of a Tuesday meeting convening President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and Cabinet members to discuss the state of abortion care.

The report recaps efforts by Republicans to limit abortions in the wake of the Supreme Court reversing Roe in June and ruling that states could regulate or ban the procedure as they saw fit, a decision that was widely celebrated among conservatives.

At least 15 states have since ceased nearly all abortion services.

Tuesday's meeting comes as the White House works to drum up support for Democratic midterms candidates in the political fight to preserve or expand access to abortion and to call attention to the ways Republicans have banned or chipped away at the procedure, which polling repeatedly shows is unpopular with voters.

But the task force gathering will also serve as a reminder of what the Biden administration has yet to do -- or says it cannot do -- on abortion access, which has fueled criticism from advocates and some others in his party.

The new White House report describes a bill to codify Roe into federal law as the only way to protect women’s access, but the memo acknowledges this unlikely reality, given Democrats' current narrow majority in the Senate.

“Republican elected officials at the state and national level have taken extreme steps to block women’s access to health care,” Klein writes in her report for the president and vice president, noting Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham’s proposal to ban most abortions nationwide after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

“The result is that in 100 days, millions of women cannot access critical health care and doctors and nurses are facing criminal penalties for providing health care,” Klein writes.

Graham has contrasted his call for a ban with “radical" Democrats and said his “legislation is a responsible alternative as we provide exceptions for cases of rape, incest and life and physical health of the mother.”

On Tuesday, Biden and Harris will join Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, Defense Secretary Denis McDonough and Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, a White House official said.

In addition to reviewing details from the report on abortion access, Klein will also introduce four doctors from different states where abortion care has been affected by the decision on Roe, the official said.

The doctors attending are from states where abortion has been restricted -- like Georgia, where abortion is banned at six weeks, and Wisconsin, where all abortion clinics shut down after the Supreme Court decision -- and states or cities that have taken on an influx of patients who can no longer access care in their own states, like Illinois and Washington, D.C.

Particularly after a lag in reaction time after the high court's initial ruling came down, many advocates have continued to voice frustration that Biden hasn’t done more, they say, to work to protect abortion rights.

At the last task force meeting, for example, the president signed an executive order that the administration said would help low-income women pay for abortion services.

As a result of the order, the administration said, Medicaid would cover abortion-related costs for women who have traveled from states where abortion is banned to states where it is not.

But the implementation has been slow and details on next steps have been sparse. It’s unclear if states have enrolled in the program yet and what states with abortion bans will do, since participating in the program would improve peoples’ access to find abortion care in other places.

Biden last month said he could act more aggressively to protect abortion access if voters cast ballots for Democrats to expand the party's majority in the Senate: "If you give me two more senators in the United States Senate, I promise you, I promise you, we’re going to codify Roe and once again make Roe the law of the land."

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In Supreme Court debut, Justice Jackson grills attorney challenging EPA power under Clean Water Act

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(WASHINGTON) -- After her investiture at the U.S. Supreme Court last week, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson heralded her "seat at the table" and a desire to "get to work."

During oral arguments Monday, the public got a glimpse of what that looks like: the nation's first Black woman justice emerged as a remarkably active questioner in her debut on the bench, making clear she will not hesitate to make her mark on debate.

"Let me try to bring some enlightenment to it," Jackson said dryly to an attorney challenging key parts of the Clean Water Act.

The law gives the Environmental Protection Agency authority to regulate "waters of the United States," but there is widespread disagreement about the extent to which wetlands count.

The case, the first of the court's new term, will decide the scope of EPA power over tens of millions of acres of marshland and swamp land. Environmental advocates say public health and safety hangs in the balance.

"Isn't the issue what Congress intended?" Jackson pressed. "Why is it that your conception of this does not relate in any way to Congress' primary objective?"

"The objective of the statute is to ensure the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the nation's waters," she added.

Attorney Damien Schiff, representing an Idaho couple that wants to build their dream home on a lot near Priest Lake, argued that the federal government should not have unbound power to regulate wetlands on Americans' property without direct, physical connection to a major body of water.

"The Sacketts' property contains no waters, much less waters of the U.S.," Schiff said. The EPA contends marsh on the Sacketts' property has a "significant nexus" to the nearby lake.

The court will decide early next year how to draw the line.

The dispute played out for nearly two hours inside a courtroom packed with attorneys, clerks, special guests, and members of the public for the first time in two and a half years since the COVID-19 pandemic forced the arguments to go virtual. Masks were not required, though Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan wore them on the bench.

The nine justices assumed new seating assignments, by seniority, for the first time since the retirement of Justice Stephen Breyer. Flanking Chief Justice John Roberts at the center are Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito. Justices Amy Coney Barrett and Jackson, as the newest members of the court, hold the seats at each end of the bench.

Heightened security measures were visible throughout the courthouse, including a new requirement that water cannot be brought inside the building, but a steel security fence that had encircled the Court starting in June has been removed.

While the proceedings were again opened to the public in-person, the Court has decided to continue livestream audio online. "I think that's a great compromise on transparency and a huge step for the chief justice," said Sarah Isgur, a former Justice Department attorney and now an ABC News legal analyst.

The court gaveled in a new term and welcomed Justice Jackson as public confidence in the institution has slumped to a new low.

Jackson's appointment does not alter the ideological makeup of the court -- six conservatives, three liberals -- but her presence could change dynamics in untold ways.

"Each new justice really changes the institution," said Kate Shaw of Cardoza School of Law and an ABC News contributor. "By all accounts, she is a bridge builder and a warm and collegial person. I don't expect any radical change, but it'll matter for the public to see her on the bench, and I think it will matter as the court starts issuing opinions."

Jackson spoke at least 21 times during Monday's argument in the Sackett case, according to an ABC News review of the transcript.

"Although Justice Jackson might be more liberal in some respects than Justice Breyer, she won't change the really polarized cases. But every new justice is a new court, and there could be some unexpected alliances," Jeffrey Rosen, president and CEO of the National Constitution Center, said.

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Supreme Court upholds bump stock ban in big win for gun safety advocates

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(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected two appeals by gun owners seeking to overturn the federal government's ban on the sale of bump stocks -- devices that allow a semiautomatic firearm to shoot more than one shot with a single pull of the trigger.

The court did not elaborate on its decision, which is a significant victory for gun safety advocates and government efforts to regulate dangerous weapons.

After the Las Vegas shooting massacre in 2017, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives revised federal regulations to define bump stocks as machine guns under a 1986 law that bans machine guns.

Several pro-gun groups challenged the rules over what they argued was mischaracterization of the devices.

The ban makes possession of a bump stock a felony subject to up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. More than 500,000 Americans who previously purchased a bump stock will be required to turn it in or destroy it, gun advocacy groups have said.

The rejected cases are Aphosian v. Garland, and Gun Owners of America v. Garland.

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Biden visits Puerto Rico after Fiona, commits to recovery 'as long as it takes'

Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

(WASHINGTON) -- President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden on Monday visited Puerto Rico and will head to Florida on Wednesday after hurricanes ravaged the two areas.

In Ponce, on the south side of Puerto Rico, the Bidens surveyed damage from Hurricane Fiona, which killed more than two dozen people on the island last month. Along with meeting with families, community and political leaders from the island, they participated in a community service project to help pack bags with food and other essential items and were joined by Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Deanne Criswell.

"We came here in person to show that we're with you -- all of America is with you -- as you receive and recover and rebuild. I'm confident to -- I'm confident we're going to be able to do all you want, governor. And I'm committed to this island," Biden said after being introduced by Puerto Rico Democratic Gov. Pedro Pierluisi.

Biden pledged his commitment to investing in the island, "as long as it takes," making a clear reference to former President Donald Trump's holding up aid to the island after Hurricane Maria in 2017.

"After Maria, Congress approved billions of dollars for Puerto Rico. Much of it not having gotten here, initially. We're going to make sure that you get every single dollar promised, and I'm determined to help Puerto Rico build faster than in the past, and stronger, and better prepared for the future."

As he left the White House Monday morning, Biden also nodded to Puerto Rico's past challenges with the federal government when it comes to natural disaster relief.

"I'm heading to Puerto Rico because they haven't been taken very good care of. They've been trying like hell to catch up from the last hurricane. I want to see the state of affairs today and make sure we push everything we can," he said.

"We have to ensure that when the next hurricane strikes, Puerto Rico is ready," Biden said. "Today, I'm announcing more than $60 million in funding to help coastal areas in Puerto Rico to become better prepared for the storm. For example, we can create a flood warning system to help shore up levees and floodwalls."

During his remarks, the president touched on declaring disaster assistance before Hurricane Fiona ever made landfall -- touting his administration's assistance in providing home repairs and lost property, as well as over 1,200 FEMA personnel he said were on the ground in Puerto Rico helping with search, rescue and cleanup.

Fiona lashed an already-weakened power grid in Puerto Rico in September, leaving much of the island in darkness and struggling to recover. However, Criswell said on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday that 90% of residents had since had power restored.

When Biden began his remarks, he immediately spoke about Delaware and his connections to the Puerto Rican community there, saying the state had large Puerto Rican and Black communities – and he was "sort of raised in the Puerto Rican community at home politically."

"And between all minorities, we have -- 20% of our state is minority," he said. "And so I -- I was sort of raised in the Puerto Rican community at home politically."

The president's trip comes as the damage in Florida from Ian only starts to come into view.

Search-and-rescue efforts were ongoing as of Sunday, Criswell said on "This Week," meaning the death toll could easily rise as more of the area is surveyed.

The White House has yet to say whether Biden will meet with Florida GOP Gov. Ron Desantis in Florida on Wednesday but repeatedly emphasized that the government was working as "one team" after Hurricane Ian.

"The focus is going to be on the people of Florida," press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said. "And I'll say this, as the president has said, we are all one team when it comes to Hurricane Ian. We will continue to work alongside the governor and local officials to support the people of Florida."

ABC News' Cheyenne Haslett contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Biden admin announces more than $300M in mental health funding in part from bipartisan gun bill

Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

(WASHINGTON) -- The Biden administration on Monday announced more than $300 million in new mental health funding, via awards and grants, with much of the money coming from the bipartisan anti-gun violence law passed this summer by Congress.

The Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services, through the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), is rolling out the roughly $314 million for health professionals in schools and in emergency departments.

The new funds allocated under annual appropriations as well as the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (BSCA) -- which was passed by Congress and signed by President Joe Biden in June -- are intended to help create healthier and safer learning environments for children, with the DOE granting some $280 million in competitive grants to schools to aid mental health staffing, it said Monday.

The DOE said it is dedicating $144 million a year for five years to a grant program for growing the amount of mental health professionals in schools, plus $143 million a year for five years to a grant program for "boosting the mental health profession pipeline" around schools that are most in need.

Notices inviting applications for both grant programs will open Monday morning and in the federal register on Tuesday.

Roberto Rodríguez, the education department assistant secretary for planning, evaluation and policy development, touted this spending in major terms -- calling the administration's response to mental health "historic."

"We've never seen an effort of this magnitude in relation to the challenge that we have around mental health," Rodríguez told ABC News, adding, "We also have never seen this level of investment from the federal level, more specifically in mental health professionals, so we are making a big bet on supporting, attracting, developing and retaining our school psychologists, social workers [and] counselors to really work in support of our students."

HRSA Administrator Carole Johnson said that the HHS also awarding nearly $27 million for a pediatric mental health access program for emergency department providers -- by training pediatricians to treat "mental health conditions and by [provide] tele-consultation to bring mental health expert support," the government said -- is an important step that will have a "substantial impact."

Johnson told ABC News that pediatric primary health care providers will, with this new money, receive support and training in analyzing mental health conditions. The virtual training sessions with mental health care specialists will help a range of providers, including family medicine physicians, diagnose and treat children before referring them to mental health services, Johnson said.

"[If] that pediatrician is more equipped to identify mental health issues and treat them, then that will make a big difference for that family," Johnson said. "If your school nurse is better able to identify early issues with mental health concerns and get that child referred to the right place, that'll make a big difference for children as well."

The HHS already provides $300,000 per week in additional resources to mostly state awardees, as well as tribal organizations and Washington, D.C., and almost $9 million to new grantees through the American Rescue Plan (ARP), officials said.

Johnson emphasized that the government believes the new funding will help reduce the burden on families and extend the "reach" of the mental health workforce in helping those in need.

"Our goal here is that there's no wrong door for getting kids connected to mental health services and pediatricians to be part of that solution," Johnson said. "As part of this project, [one can] call in to what we call a tele-consultation line where the project supports, in every one of our grantees, a tele-consultation service that allows pediatricians to connect directly with mental health experts. That might be psychiatrists or psychologists, social workers and care navigators that really help bring that mental health expertise into the pediatrician's office so that they can help -- in real time -- manage mental health care needs."

Rodríguez, the assistant education secretary, said that the department's mental health funding aims to target school districts in underserved areas.

"We're looking at communities that have high concentrations of poverty, communities where they may disproportionately lack access," Rodríguez said. "That includes not just our urban communities -- that includes our rural communities as well as suburban communities. What we've permitted here is the opportunity for states to apply on behalf of high need Local Education Agencies (LEAs) too, so if school districts don't have a capacity to pull together applications, states can work closely with school districts to do more of a comprehensive response."

The administration's funding commitment comes as various districts have sounded the alarm on their ability to handle mental health issues at their schools this year. The most recent National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) report found mental health professionals are one of the top five most understaffed positions reported in schools.

Amid a widespread educator shortage, Rodríguez said that the Education Department is also focusing on the next generation of mental health professionals by working with higher-education programs. These are partnerships between K-12 and colleges and universities, he said, to train school-based mental health service providers.

The new spending helps President Biden inch closer to his goal of "doubling" the amount of mental health professionals in schools. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy wrote in an advisory on protecting youth mental health that students lost access to teachers, counselors and mental health professionals when COVID-19-related measures forced schools to shut down for in-person learning in 2020 and 2021.

The BSCA, which Biden signed in June, will invest an additional $1 billion over the next five years in mental health supports in U.S. schools, according to the White House.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Supreme Court with Justice Jackson faces major tests on race

Fred Schilling/Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States via Getty Images)

(WASHINGTON) -- At the U.S. Supreme Court, the siege may be over, but the mood is still sour.

The nine justices of the nation's highest court, six conservatives and three liberals, publicly reconvene for business Monday for the first time since its blockbuster decision overruling Roe v. Wade abortion rights. They face a steep slide in public confidence even as protests have subsided and security barricades come down.

"The big question now is will the justices feel any pressure at all to respond to public disapproval. It doesn't look like it," said Jeffrey Rosen, president and CEO of the National Constitution Center.

The conservative majority, led by senior conservative Justice Clarence Thomas, is poised to deliver more dramatic changes to American law in the months ahead, including in several disputes involving race.

"The five most conservative members of the court are interested in a maximalist strategy, basically to move the law as far and as fast as possible while they retain control of this court," said Kate Shaw, Cardozo School of Law professor and ABC News legal analyst.

"Underlying the challenges in each of the race-related cases is the idea that the Constitution absolutely prohibits any distinctions on the basis of race, no matter what the motivation," Shaw said. "I think we could well see a vindication of that position."

The justices will hear arguments over the use of race in undergraduate admissions at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina later this month. The court's conservatives appear ready to end affirmative action in higher education, reversing decades of precedent and outlaw any consideration of race as a factor in student admissions.

"This could be the term when the court said clearly that the Constitution is colorblind -- across a range of state action," said Rosen, "and further restricts the ability to be race conscious in voting rights and adoption. And that will be a sea change in American law. "

The court will decide whether Alabama's election maps dilute Black voting power under the Voting Rights Act, and in a major case from North Carolina decide whether state legislatures should have significantly more power over federal elections.

"It has a lot of implications on who gets to set that time, place and manner of actual elections," said Sarah Isgur, a former Justice Department attorney and ABC News legal contributor.

The justices will also hear also a major case on gay rights and free speech which could have sweeping implications for anti-discrimination laws nationwide.

"The stakes really could not be higher for LGBTQ people," said Jennifer Pizer, acting chief legal officer of Lambda Legal, which advocates for members of the gay community.

A wedding website designer is asking the court to strike down a Colorado public accommodation law that she says forces her to serve LGBTQ couples. "There are certain messages I am unable to promote through my business," said Lorie Smith, the designer and owner of 303 Creative LLC.

After a major ruling last term on regulation of power plants, the justices will rule on the EPA's power to protect wetlands over the objections of property owners. They will also take up California's Proposition 12, which would ban the sale of pork from pregnant pigs kept in crates.

"If this law were to stand, pork -- especially in California -- would be much more expensive," said Lori Stevermer, vice president of the National Pork Producers Council.

Those cases will play out during a campaign season dominated by unusually high voter engagement around the court.

"Women are registering in larger numbers in a number of critical states since the Dobbs [abortion] decision, and all of that in a close election cycle could make a difference in a number of races," said Shaw.

With a surge in partisanship over the court, several of the justices have tried to project unity.

"We like each other. We really do," said Justice Amy Coney Barrett at a joint event with Justice Sonia Sotomayor earlier in the summer. "As is often joked, this is like a marriage. We have life tenure and we get along."

But behind the scenes, relations between some of the justices remain tense, sources say.

Who leaked a draft majority opinion by Justice Samuel Alito on abortion is still an apparent mystery, several justices have said publicly. A report on the internal investigation is expected as soon as this month, but it's unclear if the findings will be made public.

"I worry that these types of leaks will become commonplace at the Supreme Court" if they don't identify the alleged leaker, said Carrie Severino, a former Thomas clerk and president of the Judicial Crisis Network, a conservative legal advocacy group.

Into the fray steps Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, the sixth new justice in the last 13 years.

"Justice Jackson is going to be a fantastic colleague and bring all kinds of new things to the table," said Justice Elena Kagan during an appearance in Chicago last month.

Jackson is the first former public defender and first Florida-raised justice. Her appointment marks the first time that four seats on the high court bench will be filled by women.

"It's unlikely that she'll be the deciding vote on some of these top cases, on the other hand, she could have enormous influence on the court in her ability to focus her dissents at specific justices to change some of those majority opinions," said Isgur.

Vogue magazine gave Jackson the spotlight last month with portraits taken at the Lincoln Memorial -- her first major media appearance since being sworn in. But it's Justice Thomas who most legal experts are watching closest ahead of the court's decisions in the weeks ahead.

"This is the Thomas Court," said Rosen. "And Justice Thomas can enact many of the efforts to overturn precedents that he's been arguing for for a really long time."

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Rick Scott responds to Trump's 'death wish' attack on Mitch McConnell

Eric Lee/Bloomberg via Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- Florida Sen. Rick Scott, a member of Republican leadership in the upper chamber, said Sunday that he does not "condone violence" after Donald Trump lashed out at Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell and suggested McConnell had a "death wish"-- but Scott stopped short of condemning the former president.

Trump, in a post on his Truth Social website last week, wrote that McConnell must have a "death wish" after supporting a continuing resolution to fund the federal government.

Trump went on to criticize McConnell's wife in racist terms, writing that he should "seek help and advise [sic] from his China loving wife, Coco Chow!" Trump was referring to Elaine Chao, who is Taiwanese. Chao served as Trump's transportation secretary until she resigned after Jan. 6

Scott, who leads the Senate GOP's campaign arm, was asked for his opinion of Trump's attack on McConnell during an appearance on CNN's "State of the Union."

"I can never talk about and respond to why anybody else says what they said," Scott said. "But here's the way I look at it is I think what the president is saying is there's been a lot of money spent over the last two years. We've got to make sure we don't keep caving to Democrats, it's causing unbelievable inflation and causing more and more debt."

Scott then shrugged off the insult about Chao.

"As you know, the president likes to give people nicknames. You can ask him how he came up with the nickname," Scott said. "I'm sure he has a nickname for me."

"But here's what I know: We've got to watch how we spend our money, we got to stop this inflation," he said. "I don't condone violence, and I hope no one else condones violence."

Trump's team has insisted in the wake of the former president's "death wish" comment that it was meant in a political sense and was not advocating physical harm.

On CNN on Sunday, Scott was pressed on the racially inflammatory nature of how Trump singled out Chao. He replied that "It's never ever OK to be a racist. I think you always have to be careful if you're in the public eye with how you say things. You want to make sure you're inclusive."

Trump and McConnell, though close legislative allies through much of Trump's administration, became estranged in the wake of Jan. 6.

While McConnell did not vote to convict Trump at his second impeachment, he said in a speech in February 2021 that Trump was "morally responsible" for the deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

Trump has since repeatedly denounced McConnell, which McConnell typically ignores in public. His office did not respond to a request for comment on Sunday.

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Sen. Rubio and FEMA chief on recovery from Ian's devastation: 'I don't think it has a comparison'

ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- Sen. Marco Rubio and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Deanne Criswell on Sunday detailed the destruction Ian wreaked in Florida as Rubio said there's no "comparison" between the deadly hurricane and past storms.

"I don't think it has a comparison, not in Florida," Rubio, R-Fla., told "This Week" co-anchor Jonathan Karl. "Fort Myers Beach no longer exists. It'll have to be rebuilt. It'll be something different. It was a slice of old Florida that you can't recapture."

"There is a lot of devastation. Significant damage in the point of impact on the west coast of Florida," Criswell added.

Ian made landfall last week in West Florida before sweeping across the middle and upper regions of the state, leaving leveled homes and significant flooding in its wake. Search-and-rescue operations are ongoing, but the death toll in Florida stood at 72 as of Sunday morning, according to local officials.

There have also been four deaths in North Carolina, where Ian hit after passing through Florida, and several deaths in Cuba, which was hit before Florida.

Both Rubio and Criswell emphasized on "This Week" that federal officials have been working hand-in-glove with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

"I spent the whole day with Gov. DeSantis on Friday and wanted to really hear what his concerns were and what resources he might need to help support this," Criswell told Karl. "I committed to him that we would continue to bring in resources to meet the needs, not just for this response and the stabilization but as they go into the recovery efforts."

Asked by Karl if the forecast models were off in projecting Ian's path or if local officials should have called for evacuations sooner, Criswell said the hurricane had been "fairly unpredictable in the days leading up to landfall," when Ian quickly became the deadliest hurricane in the state in 60 years.

"This is going to be a long road to recovery," Criswell acknowledged. She added: "We are accounting for everybody that was in the storm's path and that we go through every home to make sure that we don't leave anybody behind."

Criswell, a former emergency management chief of New York City, was confirmed as FEMA administrator last year. She took over an agency that disburses billions in relief across the country but which has also faced scrutiny and criticism over its work.

"FEMA has -- they've all been great," Rubio said on Sunday. "The federal response from day one is very positive ... and we're grateful for that."

Karl pressed Rubio multiple times on a 2013 vote he cast against recovery funds for Hurricane Sandy, with Rubio arguing the Sandy relief included unrelated spending.

Karl asked if Rubio would also insist disaster money for his state be voted on without any non-emergency additions -- and, if so, if he was then prepared to vote against such funding if it was part of a larger package.

"What we're going to ask for Florida is what we supported for every other state in the country that's been affected by natural disasters, and that's emergency relief designed to be sent immediately to help the people affected now," Rubio said.

Karl asked Criswell about FEMA's work in Puerto Rico, which was hit by Hurricane Fiona last month. Criswell noted that 90% of people on the island have power again since the storm. "We have not stopped our response efforts and our recovery efforts," she said.

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Putin faces 'irreversible' reality in Ukraine invasion despite latest moves: Petraeus

ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin now faces an "irreversible" quagmire amid the country's land grab in its ongoing invasion of Ukraine, retired Army general and former CIA chief David Petraeus said Sunday.

Putin "is losing" despite "significant" but "desperate" moves in the war that began in late February, Petraeus told ABC "This Week" co-anchor Jonathan Karl.

"President [Volodymyr] Zelenskyy and Ukraine have mobilized vastly better than has Russia," Petraeus said. "Ukraine has recruited, trained, equipped, organized and employed force incomparably better than Russia has."

Regardless of Putin's bravado, Petraeus said, "No amount of annexation, no amount of even veiled nuclear threats can get him out of this situation."

Asked by Karl if Russia could win in its conflict with Ukraine, Petraeus said he did not see how: "They cannot. There is nothing he [Putin] can do at this point."

On Friday, Putin said he was "forever" annexing four regions of Ukraine -- a move denounced by Ukraine, the U.S. and other countries -- and, in late September, the Russian leader said he was calling up some 300,000 reservists to bolster the war effort, triggering protests across his country.

In a rare acknowledgment Thursday, Putin admitted "mistakes" in how the mobilization was carried out. But he argued again in a speech Friday that the invasion was crucial to preserving Russia against what he described as "the enemy" in the West.

Meanwhile Ukrainian forces, buttressed by billions in weapons and funding from the U.S. and European allies, have made steady territorial gains since a counteroffensive that started last month.

"He's going to continue to lose on the battlefield," Petraeus said of Putin, pointing to Russia's recent retreat from a supply hub city in one of the annexed regions. Mounting sanctions are another complication, Petraeus said.

Putin's Friday speech, in which he announced the annexation of parts of Ukraine, was designed to undercut Europe's commitment to challenging Russia, which is a major energy supplier on the continent, Petraeus said.

"Europe's going to have a tough winter," Petraeus said. "There's going to be very reduced flow of natural gas, but they'll get through it and I don't think they'll crack on the issue of support for Ukraine."

"Negotiations, as President Zelenskyy has said, will be the ultimate end," Petraeus said -- though an imminent diplomatic outcome might be unlikely, as Zelenskyy signaled on Friday that Ukraine would only agree to talks "with another president of Russia."

"It can still get worse for Putin and for Russia. And even the use of tactical nuclear weapons on the battlefield won't change this at all," Petraeus said.

Still, he said the nuclear threat must be taken "seriously."

Karl asked him if the use of such weapons would require the U.S. to directly intervene in the conflict with NATO.

Petraeus said a response might see the U.S. and its NATO allies "take out every Russian conventional force that we can see and identify on the battlefield" in Ukraine, the contested region of Crimea that Russia annexed in 2014 and ships in the Black Sea.

"It cannot go unanswered. But it doesn't expand -- it's not nuclear for nuclear. You don't want to get into a nuclear escalation here," Petraeus said. "But you have to show that this cannot be accepted in any way."

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7 Americans released from detention in Venezuela, Biden says

Mohamad syam/500px via Getty Images

(VENEZUELA) -- Seven Americans detained in Venezuela have been released, the White House announced Saturday.

"Today, after years of being wrongfully detained in Venezuela, we are bringing home Jorge Toledo, Tomeu Vadell, Alirio Zambrano, Jose Luis Zambrano, Jose Pereira, Matthew Heath and Osman Khan," President Joe Biden said in a statement.

Five of the individuals released were oil executives who were part of the "Citgo 6" group that was jailed in 2017 after being arrested on corruption charges when they were called to the country for a meeting. Earlier this year, Venezuela released the sixth oil executive, Gustavo Cardenas.

Biden expressed his gratitude for the "hard work of dedicated public servants across the U.S. Government who made this possible, and who continue to deliver on my Administration's unflinching commitment to keep faith with Americans held hostage and wrongfully detained all around the world."

Amid the positive news, Biden also noted there are still many families who have family members detained, recommitting his administration's commitment to bring them home.

"Today, we celebrate that seven families will be whole once more. To all the families who are still suffering and separated from their loved ones who are wrongfully detained -- know that we remain dedicated to securing their release," he said.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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