Nikki Haley says she agrees with Alabama court ruling that embryos are people

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(WASHINGTON) -- Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley said in a new interview that she agrees with an Alabama Supreme Court ruling that frozen embryos are considered people in the state.

"Embryos, to me, are babies," Haley told NBC News.

"When you talk about an embryo, you are talking about, to me, that's a life. And so I do see where that's coming from when they talk about that," she said.

When asked about some of the potential ramifications of the court's decision, however, Haley said, "This is one where we need to be incredibly respectful and sensitive about it."

A majority of the justices in Alabama found on Friday that "unborn children are 'children' ... without exception based on developmental stage, physical location, or any other ancillary characteristics."

Some outside advocates have warned that reclassifying the embryos as people rather than property could create new complications in procedures like in vitro fertilization.

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

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House GOP to question President Biden's brother James Biden in impeachment probe

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(WASHINGTON) -- James Biden, the president's younger brother, is scheduled to appear before the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday -- a high-stakes confrontation months in the making that could mark an inflection point in Republicans' ongoing impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden.

The GOP-controlled panel says it has gathered scores of bank records and witness testimony as part of its effort to further an unproven theory that President Biden improperly supported and benefitted from his family's overseas business affairs.

James Biden, 74, is a witness at the center of those allegations. During his closed-door deposition Wednesday, lawmakers will have the opportunity to question him for the first time.

Republicans have accused the president's son, Hunter Biden, and, to a lesser extent, James Biden, of serving as conduits for Joe Biden to quietly benefit from their foreign business arrangements -- allegations the White House has forcefully denied.

In fact, several key witnesses interviewed as part of the probe have shared exculpatory accounts that undercut key tenets of Republicans' accusations against the president.

Republicans are nonetheless expected to press James Biden on his role in allegedly selling the Biden "brand" and proclivity to invoke his family name in business negotiations, as ABC News has previously reported.

Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer, R-Ky., has separately taken a keen interest in two checks collectively worth $240,000 that James Biden sent his brother, Joe Biden, in 2017 and 2018.

Comer has framed those transactions -- which occurred after Biden left the vice presidency and before launching his presidential bid -- as evidence that he received "laundered" money from James Biden's business deals, including one with a Chinese energy firm.

But bank records obtained separately by ABC News indicate they were repayments for loans that Joe Biden had made to his brother around the same time. Images of the physical checks support that conclusion, with each of them characterized in the memo line as a "loan repayment."

After Comer issued a subpoena for James Biden's testimony last year, his attorney, Paul Fishman, said there was "no justification" for the interview, and reiterated that "Jim Biden has never involved his brother in his business dealings."

Of the loan repayments, Fishman added at the time that "there is nothing more to those transactions, and there is nothing wrong with them."

The Republican investigation was dealt a blow last week when special counsel David Weiss filed felony false statement and obstruction charges against a confidential FBI source who accused President Biden and his son of accepting a $10 million bribe from a Ukrainian oligarch -- an accusation core to Republicans' impeachment case that the Justice Department said is false.

Other witnesses -- a onetime and tangential business associate of Hunter and James Biden, Tony Bobulinski, and Hunter Biden's former business partner, Devon Archer -- have supported the committee's notion that Joe Biden knew more about his family's business affairs than the president, the White House and other business associates close to the family have let on.

Archer, who collaborated with Hunter Biden on multiple deals, told the committee that while Joe Biden met on a handful of occasions with their foreign business partners and was sometimes put on speakerphone in their presence, none of their discussions extended beyond pleasantries or delved into "commercial business."

Bobulinski went so far as to suggest that James Biden had created a shell company to protect Joe Biden's financial stake in the business deal with the Chinese energy company.

"Joe Biden is not on this document. He didn't sign it," Bobulinski said in his Feb. 13 interview with the committee. "However, I don't know if Joe Biden had an ownership [stake in the shell company] … I just know that Jim Biden signed on behalf of it."

Instead, Bobulinski, whose credibility has been called into question by Democrats after coordinating with former President Donald Trump's campaign ahead of the 2020 election, suggested that lawmakers put James Biden "under oath" to reveal "the extent" of Joe Biden's alleged role.

Hunter Biden is expected to appear before the panel one week later on Feb. 28.

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Trump brings in more than $6.8 million from Greenville fundraiser

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(WASHINGTON) -- Just days ahead of the South Carolina Republican primary, former President Donald Trump's campaign is expected to bring in at least $6 million from a fundraiser in Greenville, South Carolina, Tuesday evening, the Trump campaign told ABC News.

Trump's latest massive fundraising haul comes amid a cash crush for his campaign heading deeper into the 2024 election year, after Republican rival Nikki Haley's campaign outraised the Trump campaign during the month of January while Trump's legal expenditures continue to snowball.

Latest campaign disclosures show that the Trump campaign raised $8.8 million in January while the Haley campaign raised $11.5 million the same month, but Trump still entered February with $30 million in the bank, more than double what Haley had in cash on hand.

The star-studded Trump fundraiser on Tuesday was hosted by top Republicans from the state, including Gov. Henry McMaster and Lt. Gov. Pamela Evette, as well as those who have previously been Trump's political opponents, like Sen. Tim Scott, who was recently Trump's 2024 rival, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, who was once critical of Trump but has since pledged to throw all his support behind him.

Fox News first reported on the $6 million haul from the Greenville fundraiser.

Ed McMullen, one of the co-hosts of the fundraiser, told ABC News they have already raised more than $6.8 million from the Greenville fundraiser, with more expected from additional contribution pledges made Tuesday night.

"That's a historic number," said McMullen, a Trump-appointed ambassador to Switzerland who has fundraised for Trump since the 2016 election, explaining this is the most amount raised from a single fundraiser in South Carolina.

The Trump fundraiser comes on the heels of a Haley fundraiser that took place in the same city of Greenville just the night before, hosted by a group of longtime friends and allies, like Bush-appointed former Ambassador David Wilkins, Greenville City Council member John DeWorken and businessman Dennis Braasch.

That was Haley's third known fundraiser in South Carolina this month, after two earlier fundraisers in Columbia and Charleston.

Trump's Greenville fundraiser took place at the home of South Carolina casino developer Wallace Cheves, a major Republican donor who had also raised money for Graham and McMaster.

It was co-hosted and attended by numerous longtime top Trump donors, including Greenville-based investor Dan Abrams and Charleston-based financier Scott Bessent, as well as George Glass, former Trump-appointed ambassador to Portugal.

Speaking before a crowd of roughly 150 to 200 donors, Trump made little mention of Haley other than that he's expecting a big win in South Carolina this weekend and that an anticipated defeat in her home state is an indication that it's time for her to get out of the race, McMullen said of his remarks at the fundraiser.

For the most part, Trump focused on general election issues like immigration and his fight against President Joe Biden, saying he's moving beyond the primary after Saturday night, McMullen said.

Trump has been ramping up his fundraising this month, holding a major fundraiser at his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida last week, and scheduled to hold another fundraiser in Nashville, Tennessee on Thursday.

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Trump doubles down on comparing legal troubles to persecution of Russian dissident Alexei Navalny

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks with moderator Laura Ingraham during a Fox News Channel town Hall held in Greenville, S.C. on Tuesday, Feb 20, 2024. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

(WASHINGTON) -- Sitting down for a town hall-style interview with Fox News' Laura Ingraham just days ahead of the South Carolina Republican primary, former President Donald Trump on Tuesday did not back down from his comments comparing himself to Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny in the wake of Navalny's death, which the White House has blamed on Russia's authoritarian president, Vladimir Putin.

After calling Navalny a "brave" person, Trump again compared himself to Navalny, attempting to argue his various legal battles and criminal charges, which he denies, are "a form of" what was experienced by the dissident activist and politician -- who was imprisoned at the end of his life in notorious conditions.

“It's a form of Navalny. It's a form of communism or fascism," Trump insisted when asked about more than $350 million in penalties he's been fined by Judge Arthur Engoron after a lengthy New York civil trial in which Engoron castigated Trump for frauds that "shock the conscience." Trump has promised to appeal.

The former president had been criticized by his primary rival Nikki Haley for not initially reacting to Navalny's death last week. He said on Tuesday that "Navalny is a very sad situation, and he's very brave -- he was a very brave guy because he went back."

"He could have stayed away, and frankly, probably would have been a lot better off staying away and talking from outside of the country as opposed to having to go back in because people thought that could happen and it did happen," Trump said, referring to Navalny returning to Russia after German officials said he had been poisoned in 2020. (The Kremlin denies being involved.)

"And it's a horrible thing," Trump continued on Fox News, before quickly comparing his own legal battles to what Navanlny had gone through.

Ingraham pressed Trump multiple times on whether he sees himself as a potential political prisoner, but Trump repeatedly dodged the question.

"If I were losing in the polls, they wouldn't even be talking about me," Trump said the second time Ingraham asked him. 

Prosecutors have rejected that partisanship influenced them. Trump faces 91 charges; he has pleaded not guilty to all of them.

During a commercial break right after talking about Navalny, Trump said: "After that last question, I need a drink. Where the hell did this water come from? Where did this water come from?"

While attacking President Joe Biden's diplomacy, Trump again boasted about his relationship with Putin and other authoritarian foreign leaders. He has sought to contrast Biden's record with his own, maintaining that while he was in the White House, there was more peace and stability in the world.

"I know Putin very well. And I know President Xi [Jinping] of China, I know more Kim Jong Un [of North Korea], I know very well, I did a great job with him," he said.

Trump again indicates he wouldn't defend NATO countries over spending

In a section during the town hall on NATO, which wasn't aired after it was taped, Trump doubled down on his promise that he wouldn't commit to protecting member countries if they didn't "pay their dues," reiterating his long-standing criticism that some foreign allies don't contribute enough to their own defense spending relative to the U.S.

"Does this mean you're not going to defend NATO countries if they haven't paid their 2-point-whatever percent?" Ingraham asked.

"Well yeah, sort of it does," Trump said to cheers. "They said, 'I can't believe it. Nobody else ever said that.'"

Trump also again claimed that he was responsible for ensuring NATO allies started paying more into defense spending to meet a goal set in 2014 of 2% of a country's gross domestic product.

"If I said I would defend, then they wouldn't pay," Trump said. "As soon as I said, 'That's right. That's exactly what it means,' the money came pouring in."

Trump's remarks on NATO have stirred notable controversy. Haley called what he said "bone-chilling" and Biden slammed it was "shocking" and "un-American."

The post-World War II treaty is widely seen as having helped deter a continent-wide conflict on Europe.

Trump claimed on Tuesday that former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama didn't do anything other than give speeches to NATO allies, leaving the United States to foot 100% of defense spending, which is false.

Trump dodged questions about how he would specifically stop the war in Ukraine, sparked by Russia's invasion. He seemingly took aim at other NATO countries for not providing more aid to Ukraine.

When Fox News asked Trump to respond to former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's new suggestion that Putin might "have" something on Trump -- to use as leverage -- Trump called that "misinformation" and contended that he was tougher on Russia than any other president.

Wouldn't work with McConnell in the Senate

In another unaired segment from the town hall taping, Trump looked ahead to a potential second presidency and said he doesn't think he would be able to work with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

"He'll probably end up endorsing me honestly. I don't know that I can work with him. ... He made it very easy for the Democrats," Trump said, later adding, "So I don't know what his status would be."

With just four days before the next big race for the GOP presidential nomination, in South Carolina, Trump made very little mention of Haley, his main remaining primary challenger, only saying he believes she doesn't know how to get out of the race.

"I don't think she knows how to get out of it," Trump said. 

He has won every contest so far and holds a huge lead in polls, but Haley has vowed to fight on, saying her message against him is important.

"She is doing poorly in the polls. Look, if she was doing well, I'd understand it," Trump said of Haley.

When asked how many debates with Biden he would commit to, Trump said he would do "as many as necessary" but said he believes Biden wouldn't want to debate him.

Trump once again floated the idea of holding a campaign event in Madison Square Garden and the Bronx in New York City, pointing to unauthorized immigrants coming to the city.

"It's horrible what's going on," he said. "I think there's a chance that people are very, very unhappy."

Tim Scott joins Trump

South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott was in the audience for the town hall taping and Trump gave him a shoutout, saying once again that Scott has been a better advocate for Trump than himself.

"In a very positive way, he has been much better for me than it was for himself," the former president said. "I've watched him and he doesn't like talking about himself. But boy, does he talk about Trump."

Trump downplayed the role of vice president but said he was looking for someone "that could help you from the voting standpoint." Scott is thought to be among the possible names whom Trump could pick for the Republican ticket.

"One thing that always surprises me is that the VP choice has absolutely no impact," Trump said. "It's whoever the president is."

Later, Scott joined Trump on stage to tout Trump policies and what Scott called his support from the Black community.

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As Haley vows to fight on, Trump's team says he's weeks away from clinching Republican nomination

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(WASHINGTON) -- Just days ahead of the rematch between former President Donald Trump and Nikki Haley, this time in the South Carolina Republican primary on Saturday, two of Trump's top aides say he's already well on his way to securing the Republican nomination at least by March 19.

In a memo sent out to reporters on Tuesday morning, shortly before Haley gave a speech in which she vowed to continuing running against Trump, his advisers Chris LaCivita and Susie Wiles wrote that under what they consider "the most-generous model" for her, Trump is still expected to clinch the delegates needed to win the Republican nomination by March 19 -- two weeks after Super Tuesday, when 15 states vote at once.

If not accounting for "the most-generous model" for Haley, the advisers said that Trump is expected to win the nomination one week earlier, by March 12.

To do that, he'll need to earn 1,215 of the total 2,429 delegates available.

Trump's advisers also urged the Republican National Committee to rally behind him to begin their general election campaign against President Joe Biden and Democrats, even with Haley remaining in the race.

Still, Haley during her speech in South Carolina on Tuesday said she's not dropping out soon because she believes her message is important and more voters deserve to be "heard" beyond the three states to cast ballots so far.

"Of course, many of the same politicians who now publicly embrace Trump privately dread him," Haley told supporters in Greenville. "They know what a disaster he's been and will continue to be for our party. They're just too afraid to say it out loud."

"Well, I'm not afraid to say the hard truths out loud," Haley continued, drawing applause. "I feel no need to kiss the ring. And I have no fear of Trump's retribution. I'm not looking for anything from him. My own political future is of zero concern."

Trump has already secured 63 delegates from Iowa, New Hampshire, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Nevada and Haley has just 17 delegates -- and 50 delegates are up for grabs in the upcoming South Carolina Republican primary.

The following week, Trump and Haley will be competing for 189 delegates from Michigan, Idaho, Missouri, North Dakota and Washington, D.C., and on Super Tuesday on March 5, they'll compete for 874 from 16 states and U.S. territories.

Trump is ahead of Haley in nearly all of these states, according to 538's polling averages, though that includes states that don't have up-to-date polls and 538 isn't tracking every state.

LaCivita and Wiles in their memo claimed that under the "the most-generous model" for Haley, they expect Trump to earn 114 delegates in the week following the South Carolina primary, 773 delegates from Super Tuesday and an additional 192 delegates the two weeks after that, when primary contests in key states like Georgia, Arizona and Florida take place.

The next step for the Trump campaign, they wrote, is to claim Haley is "not newsworthy" and for the RNC to become "one with the Donald J. Trump for President campaign," a position that Haley has pushed back on as anti-democratic.

"We don't anoint kings in this country," she said on Tuesday. "We have elections."

LaCivita and Wiles claimed the campaign and the RNC should begin coordinating "convention planning, fundraising, strategy, and state party tactics" with the other campaign arms of the national party as soon as possible.

LaCivita and Wiles also attacked Haley for courting non-Republican voters in primaries where that is allowed, likening it to "hijack[ing] GOP contests."

"The results of 5 elections overwhelmingly sent an unmistaken message: Nikki Haley doesn't represent Republicans any more than Joe Biden does," they wrote.

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'I feel no need to kiss the ring' of Trump, Haley says as she refuses to drop out

Republican presidential candidate, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, speaks at a campaign event at The Madren Conference Center Owen Pavillion on Feb. 20, 2024 in Clemson, South Carolina. (Allison Joyce/Getty Images)

(GREENVILLE, S.C.) -- Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley is vowing to stay in the 2024 Republican primary race despite being rejected by voters in the few early states so far and trailing rival Donald Trump in numerous polls.

As Haley said in a speech on Tuesday in South Carolina, her home state, she will be continuing her campaign because she believes her anti-Trump message is important and more voters elsewhere in the country deserve to be "heard."

"Many of the same politicians who now publicly embrace Trump privately dread him. They know what a disaster he's been and will continue to be for our party. They're just too afraid to say it out loud," Haley told supporters in Greenville.

"Well, I'm not afraid to say the hard truths out loud. I feel no need to kiss the ring. And I have no fear of Trump's retribution. I'm not looking for anything from him," she continued, drawing applause. "My own political future is of zero concern."

She went on to make clear that, regardless of the outside chatter, she isn't seeking to be Trump's running mate or "trying to set up a future presidential run."

At the same time, Haley suggested she would not keep running against the former president for the GOP nomination just to run against him. 

"My purpose has never been to stop Trump at all costs," she said.

A Trump campaign spokesman responded to Haley on social media with a lewd retort: "She's going to drop down to kiss a-- when she quits, like she always does," he wrote.

South Carolina will hold its Republican primary, the next big race in the nomination fight, on Saturday. 

"But on Sunday, I'll still be running for president. I'm not going anywhere," Haley said.

According to 538's polling average, she trails Trump by more than 30 points in South Carolina.

She is behind by similar margins in other states.

Haley has repeatedly pointed to the fact that only three states have voted so far in this year's GOP nominating race, though she has lost in every one of those elections -- including in Nevada, to "none of these candidates."

Voters "deserve a real choice. ... We don't anoint kings in this country," Haley said. "We have elections."

In her speech, she said she'd heard from "the American people" -- a mother who "just wants a return to normalcy," a high school student who "finally has hope that America will make it" -- and they fueled her determination.

"They see the same polls as me. But more importantly, they have the same belief as me. They believe in America. They believe America can do so much better -- that we must do better. And they know when the country's future is on the line, you don't drop out. You keep fighting," Haley said. "In fact, you fight harder than ever."

"Dropping out would be the easy route," she continued. "I've never taken the easy route."

Haley made a similar case for herself during a campaign stop in Greer, South Carolina, on Monday night, telling her supporters she would stay in the GOP primary through Super Tuesday on March 5 and beyond.

"Go tell your family and friends that America's depending on what they do on Saturday," Haley said. "I promise you this, on Sunday, I'm headed to Michigan and then we're going to Super Tuesday states and we're going to keep on going."

During her remarks on Tuesday, Haley continued to blast both Trump and President Joe Biden.

"The truth is, Americans already know what Joe Biden and Donald Trump will do," she said. "But we're just as concerned with who they are. They're dividers at a time when America desperately, urgently needs a uniter. All they do is turn us against each other. Trump calls his fellow Americans vermin. These are dangerous times."

"The majority of Americans don't just dislike one candidate. They dislike both," she said. "As a country, we've never seen such dissatisfaction with the leading candidates. We've never had so many Americans mired in pessimism and division. We still have a chance to restore their faith. I will fight as long as that chance exists."

Haley, as she has done often on the trail, again cited Biden and Trump's ages -- at 81 and 77.

"We're talking about the most demanding job in human history. ... You give it to someone who is disciplined, someone who can work day and night for eight years straight," she said. "No vendettas. No drama. Just results."

But whatever her "serious concerns" about Trump, she said, she was not "Never Trump" and "never [has] been."

"Like most Americans, I have a handful of serious concerns about the former president," she said. "But I have countless serious concerns about the current president."

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Texas Gov. Abbott announces military base at border in Eagle Pass

Lokman Vural Elibol/Anadolu via Getty Images, FILE

(EAGLE PASS, Texas) -- Texas is building a new military base for National Guard members deployed to the southern border in Eagle Pass, Texas -- where state and federal authorities have been in a tense conflict over dealing with immigration -- Gov. Greg Abbott said.

At a news conference on Friday, Abbott announced the construction of what he said would a new "base camp" that could house up to 2,300 soldiers.

"As opposed to being scattered around many different places across this region, they will be operating out of one place. It will amass a large army in a very strategic area. It will increase the speed and flexibility of the Texas National Guard to be able to respond to crossings," Abbott said.

Officials expect that by mid-April they'll have a 300-bed capacity and will add another 300 each month until completion, Texas Maj. Gen. Thomas Suelzer, Abbott's top military adviser, said at the Friday press conference. The camp will include several features like large dining halls, individual rooms for soldiers and medical care facilities.

The move may also deepen the tension between the state and federal governments as Abbott continues to implement his own strategies to deter migrants from crossing in between ports of entry at the southern border.

Against the city's wishes, Texas seized full control of a Shelby Park on the U.S. side of the Rio Grande in January, enclosing a 2.5-mile area with barriers and concertina wire and staffing it with Texas National Guard troops.

It has been the epicenter of state and federal government showdown as Abbott continues to restrict Border Patrol's access to the area, preventing them from apprehending migrants crossing in one of the region's major hotspots.

The Biden administration has sued the state of Texas over a law that would give new authority to local police to crack down on those suspected of entering the country illegally.

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court intervened in the state-federal dispute and issued an order allowing federal authorities to cut down the razor wire installed by Texas in areas where it was otherwise difficult to help migrants in distress.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has been critical of the Texas governor, calling Abbott's unilateral actions on the border "unconscionable."

"It is unconscionable for a public official, to deliberately refuse to communicate, coordinate, collaborate with other public officials in the service of our nation's interests, and to refuse to do so with the hope of creating disorder for others," Mayorkas said in a recent interview with the Associated Press.

At the Friday press conference, Texas Maj. Gen. Suelzer said that in the coming weeks the Texas National Guard will be expanding operations and installing new barriers north and south of Eagle Pass, an indication that the state continues to build barriers despite the Supreme Court ruling last month that Border Patrol agents are allowed to remove or destroy razor wire fencing to apprehend migrants attempting to enter the United States. Suelzer did not specify if the expansion of those efforts means they will also restrict access to federal agents in those areas.

Without providing any evidence, Abbott claimed his efforts at Shelby Park and in other parts of the border are responsible for the number of crossings in the area dropping in recent weeks and increasing in Arizona and other parts of the border. The state's operations at Shelby Park cover roughly 1% of the entire southern border. But the governor did acknowledge that the number of migrant encounters in the region might once again climb in the coming months.

"As we all know, come springtime, there's going to be additional caravans that are making their way through the southern and central part of Mexico deciding where they are going to be going," Abbott said. "We want to make sure that when they come to the crossroad about, 'Are they going to go to Texas? Are they going to go elsewhere?' They will know the wrong place to go is the state of Texas."

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Nikki Haley says deployed husband 'stepped up to defend our nation's freedom'

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(WASHINGTON) -- During a South Carolina speech Tuesday where former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley vowed to stay in the 2024 Republican primary race, she grew emotional speaking about her husband -- recently the subject of jabs from former President Donald Trump -- who is deployed to Africa with the South Carolina Army National Guard.

At times holding back tears, Haley reflected on her husband, Maj. Michael Haley, and his second deployment. Haley said he left to keep not only his family safe, but also the country.

"The kids and I know Michael ... stepped up to defend our nation's freedom and our way of life," Haley said at the event in Greenville, South Carolina.

"They have made their stand because America is worth fighting and even dying for," Haley said. "Now, I will continue to make my stand because America is worth living for."

Haley told the audience that as she prepares for what could come in the future, her husband remains on her mind.

"As I prepare for what lies ahead, Michael is at the forefront of my mind," Haley said. "I wish Michael was here today, and I wish our children and I could see him tonight, but we can't. He's serving on the other side of the world where conflict is the norm, where terrorists hide among the innocent."

Haley's husband, who was deployed last year to Africa, was recently mocked by Trump, who implied during a campaign event in Conway, South Carolina, that he's in Africa to get away from his marriage.

After initially questioning why Haley's husband was not on the campaign trail, Trump took to social media last week to say that he should return from his deployment to "come back home to help save her [Haley's] dying campaign."

Haley blasted Trump for the comments, saying that anyone who disrespects military families can't be president.

"Michael is deployed serving our country, something you know nothing about," Haley wrote on X. "Someone who continually disrespects the sacrifices of military families has no business being commander in chief."

Michael Haley also responded to the insult made by the former president. In a post on X, he tagged the former president as well as multiple news outlets and shared a meme: a portrait of a wolf with bold white text overlaid that read, "The difference between humans and animals? Animals would never allow the dumbest ones to lead the pack."

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Houthis shoot down US MQ-9 Reaper drone flying near Yemen

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(WASHINGTON) -- An American MQ-9 Reaper flying near Yemen has been shot down by Houthi militants, a U.S. official confirmed to ABC News and the Pentagon later said on Tuesday.

The Houthis said they had targeted the Reaper as well as two American ships in the Gulf of Aden in a statement Monday.

This is their second downing of a Reaper, having shot one down one in international airspace near Yemen in November.

The U.S. has designated the Houthis as a global terrorist organization amid rising regional tensions and a consistent deployment of missiles and drones against each other since war in Gaza broke out.

The Pentagon says the drone, taken down by a surface-to-air missile, has not been recovered and that an investigation is ongoing.

Pentagon Deputy Press Secretary Sabrina Singh conceded that Houthi "attacks are getting more sophisticated," but she insisted "our dynamic strikes or coalition strikes absolutely have an impact."

Singh noted an "uptick" over the weekend of activity by the Houthis, who are backed by Iran.

"If Iran does have a role to play with the Houthis, it's not doing it," she said, urging the Iranians to exert influence over the Houthis to tame tensions.

The U.S. conducted what it calls five self-defense strikes Sunday against the Houthis, one of which targeted an unmanned underwater vessel, the first submarine the U.S. says the Houthis have employed since tensions began to flare in October.

The Coast Guard reported an interdiction this month that seized the components of the underwater drone that U.S. forces targeted Sunday.

The remotely-operated Reaper is charged primarily with intelligence gathering and costs more than $50 million, according to the Air Force.

ABC News' Anne Flaherty and Will Gretsky contributed to this report.

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US readies UN Security Council resolution calling for temporary cease-fire in Gaza

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(WASHINGTON) -- American diplomats are preparing to present a resolution to the United Nations Security Council calling for a temporary cease-fire in Gaza in exchange for the release of all hostages held inside the enclave and making several other demands related to the impact of Israel’s campaign on Palestinian civilians, U.S. officials said Tuesday.

While the draft resolution is markedly more critical of Israel’s siege of Gaza than prior public statements expressed before the council by Biden administration officials, it also condemns Hamas’ attacks on Oct. 7 -- a censure the Security Council has so far failed to pass.

The U.S., Qatar and Egypt are working to broker such an agreement between Israel and Hamas. While talks have stalled in recent weeks, negotiators are still optimistic a deal can be reached.

"The differences between the parties, they have been narrowed. They haven't been sufficiently narrowed to get us to a deal, but we are still hopeful, and we are confident that there is the basis for an agreement between the parties," one U.S. official said.

On Tuesday, the U.S. vetoed a resolution introduced by Algeria calling for an immediate pause in the conflict, marking the third time the Biden administration has rejected demands for a cease-fire in the chamber.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield explained that she voted against the measure because it did not condition the cease-fire on the release of hostages, arguing that it would derail ongoing talks that would accomplish both goals.

"While we cannot support a resolution that would put sensitive negotiations in jeopardy, we look forward to engaging on a text that we believe will address so many of the concerns we all share," she said.

Beyond demanding the release of hostages for a cease-fire, senior administration officials say the U.S. resolution makes clear that Israel's planned ground offensive into Rafah, a city in southern Gaza where more than a million Palestinians are sheltering, should not proceed "under current circumstances."

Additionally, officials say the draft states that there can be no reduction in territory in the Gaza Strip or any forced displacement of Palestinians -- demands that run counter to public statements expressed by the most conservative members of Netanyahu's government.

The measure also calls on Israel "to lift all barriers to the provision of humanitarian assistance, open additional humanitarian routes, and to keep current crossings open," one official said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday that his country would not be dissuaded from its mission by any form of international pressure.

"We are committed to continuing the war until we achieve all of its goals, which means the elimination of Hamas, the release of all the abductees and the promise that Gaza will no longer pose a threat to Israel," Netanyahu said. "There is no pressure--no pressure -- that can change that."

While the language in the draft resolution is markedly more critical of Israel's campaign than prior public statements by American representatives at the U.N., it also condemns Hamas' attacks on Oct. 7 -- a censure the council has so far failed to pass.

U.S. officials signaled that they would not rush to bring their proposal to a vote in the chamber, saying they anticipated allowing ample "time for negotiations."

But it's unclear whether any amount of time will allow diplomats to break through gridlock in the council.

In late October, a U.S.-led effort to pass a resolution calling for extended humanitarian pauses was rejected by Russia and China, two other permanent members of the body with veto power.

After torpedoing the U.S. text, representatives from both countries hastily submitted their own proposal calling for an immediate cease-fire, which, in turn, was quashed by the U.S.

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Russia to get hit with 'major sanctions' in response to Navalny's death, US says

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(WASHINGTON) -- The White House will announce a new "major sanctions" package on Friday "to hold Russia accountable" for the death of Alexei Navalny, the longtime Russian opposition politician and critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, said National Security Communications Adviser John Kirby.

"Whatever story the Russian government decides to tell the world, it's clear that President Putin and his government are responsible for Mr. Navalny's death," Kirby said Tuesday morning. "In response and at President [Joe] Biden's direction, we will be announcing a major sanctions package on Friday of this week to hold Russia accountable for what happened to Mr. Navalny."

Kirby did not go into detail about what the new sanctions package would include, but noted the sanctions will also work to hold Russia accountable for its ongoing war with Ukraine.

"I think what you'll see in this package that we're going to be announcing Friday is a set of sanctions -- a regime that not only is designed to hold Mr. Putin accountable for now two years of war in Ukraine, but also specifically supplemented with additional sanctions regarding Mr. Navalny's death," Kirby said.

Later Tuesday, national security adviser Jake Sullivan shed more light on the U.S. move, noting that the administration is timing them to coincide with the two-year anniversary of the start of the conflict.

Asked about what impact the sanctions would have, Sullivan said the upcoming package was "substantial," and covers "a range of different elements of the Russian defense industrial base, and sources of revenue for the Russian economy" that he said power their war machine and ongoing aggression and repression.

"We believe that will have an impact," he said.

" ... This is another turn of the crank, another turn of the wheel and it is a range of targets a significant range of targets that we have worked persistently and diligently to identify, to continue to impose costs for what Russia has done for what it's done to the army for what it's done to Ukraine, and for the threat that it represents to international peace and security," Sullivan added.

Last week, Navalny died in prison at age 47. Shortly after news of Navalny's death, Biden placed the blame directly on Putin.

"We don't know exactly what happened, but there is no doubt that the death of Navalny was the result of something that Putin and his friends did," Biden said.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last week that "Russia is responsible for this."

Yulia Navalnaya, Navalny's widow, on Tuesday called for the remains to be returned so they could be "buried with dignity."

She released a video in which she alleged that Navalny's body was being kept from the family because he had been murdered, perhaps by poison.

Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesperson, on Tuesday said those allegations were "unfounded, unsupported and borish."

Russia is already heavily sanctioned: sanctions signed by Biden in December went after financial institutions that indirectly allowed Russia to keep building its war arsenal amid its aggression against Ukraine.

ABC News' Kevin Shalvey and Sarah Beth Hensley contributed to this report.

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Supreme Court allows elite high school to adopt admissions plan aimed at boosting racial diversity

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(NEW YORK) -- The U.S. Supreme Court will allow one of the nation's top public schools to move forward with a new admissions policy that critics say has "racial balancing" at its core.

The closely watched case from Fairfax County in northern Virginia involves Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology.

For years, it's student body -- drawn from a race-blind process relying heavily on standardized tests -- was more than 70% Asian American. In 2020, school board officials shifted to a more holistic approach that has resulted in greater numbers of white, Hispanic and Black students enrolled. While fewer Asian American students were admitted, they still made up more than half the incoming class.

A district court struck the policy because of alleged racial motivations of officials, but a narrowly divided appeals court reversed the decision and said it was permissible.

A majority of Supreme Court justices voted to let that ruling stand; they did not explain their decision.

Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented from the decision, saying it violates the Constitution's Equal Protection Clause and is "indefensible."

"The holding below effectively licenses official actors to discriminate against any racial group with impunity as long as that group continues to perform at a higher rate than other groups," Thomas and Alito wrote.

“Today, the American Dream was dealt a blow, but we remain committed to protecting the values of merit, equality, and justice — and we will prevail for the future of our children and for the nation we love and embrace,” said Asra Nomani, co-founder of Coalition for TJ, which brought the suit against the school district.

“For the courageous families who have tirelessly fought for the principles that our nation holds dear, this decision is a setback but not a death blow to our commitment to the American Dream, which promises equal opportunity and justice for all," Nomani said.


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Bipartisan House members unveil new border, foreign aid proposal

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(NEW YORK) -- After Speaker Mike Johnson rejected the Senate-passed national security supplemental, a bipartisan group of House lawmakers unveiled a new proposal late last week to provide defense-only aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan and funds for the U.S. southern border -- however, it's not yet clear if GOP leadership will consider it.

The $66.3 billion bipartisan package, titled the "Defending Borders, Defending Democracies Act," would provide the aid for one year after enactment. The biggest chunk of the money -- $47.69 billion -- would go to supporting the defense of Ukraine.

To address the surge of migrants at the southern border, the legislation would require the suspension of entry of inadmissible aliens and require immigration officers to detain and immediately expel inadmissible aliens.

"Securing one's borders is necessary to preserving one's democracy and, therefore, necessary to maintaining world order and world peace," Republican Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania said in a news release about the proposal.

"As the world's oldest and strongest democracy, the United States' primary responsibility must be to secure its own borders. But we also have an obligation to assist our allies in securing their borders, especially when they come under assault by dictators, terrorists, and totalitarians. Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan are all freedom-loving democracies, they are our allies, and we must assist them in protecting their borders just as we must protect our own. We can, and must, achieve all of the above."

Fitzpatrick told ABC New last week that House members "all have the ability to find a way to navigate a bill to get to the floor and you know, all options are on the table but there are plenty of us that are not going to allow Ukraine to fail on our watch. It's too existential." He worked with several other lawmakers -- fellow Republicans as well as Democrats -- to craft the proposal.

This proposal will certainly put pressure on Johnson, but it's not yet clear if GOP leadership would consider it. Fitzpatrick said he is going to try to push the proposal forward.

"We're going to talk to [Johnson] about it. You know, our job is to legislate ... Hopefully ... we can win this support," Fitzpatrick said.

Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries made it clear last week that he wants a vote only on the Senate-passed supplemental that Johnson said he was opposed to because it didn't include any border changes.

"Mike Johnson simply needs to put the bipartisan national security bill on the House floor for an up-or-down vote, and it will pass," Jeffries said last week at a news conference.

ABC News reached out to Johnson's office for comment, but hadn't heard back by the time of publication.

The proposal may lose some momentum given the timing of its release -- just before the House embarked on a nearly two-week recess. The House returns to session on Feb. 28.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said he could support the new bipartisan proposal out of the House.

"Yes, I'm saying that the House proposal, it depends on how it's written, makes perfect sense to me," Graham said on CBS's "Face the Nation" on Sunday.

Graham said he has not spoken to former President Donald Trump about this new House proposal, but said border funding cannot wait. Previously, Trump had called on Republicans to oppose the Senate's bipartisan national security package -- contributing to its tanking.

"President Trump says let's wait on the border. With all due respect, we cannot wait," Graham said. "It's a national security nightmare."

ABC News' Fritz Farrow contributed to this report.


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Trump uses brief comment on Navalny's death to claim his own political persecution

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks to supporters during a rally on February 17, 2024 in Waterford, Michigan. CREDIT: Scott Olson/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- Former President Donald Trump on Monday used his first direct comment on Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny's death to complain about the alleged political persecution he claims he's facing in his own legal battles.

"The sudden death of Alexei Navalny has made me more and more aware of what is happening in our Country," Trump wrote on his social media platform, claiming that his political and court opponents, as well as judges in his cases, are "leading us down a path to destruction" in a "slow, steady progression."

Trump's primary challenger Nikki Haley has been blasting him for not commenting on Navalny's death and not condemning Russian President Vladimir Putin. Navalny had been a vocal critic of Putin and President Joe Biden immediately accused Putin of being responsible for the death.

Last night, Trump appeared to make a similarly compare himself to Navalny, sharing on Truth Social an opinion piece with a headline that said, "Biden:Trump::Putin:Navalny."

Trump's first direct -- but brief -- comment on Navalny's death comes three days after it was announced -- and he has yet to mention it on the campaign trail -- neither during a brief news conference Friday evening, at his appearance at "SneakerCon" in Philadelphia Saturday afternoon nor at his rally in Michigan later that evening.

Instead, his campaign remarks over the weekend zeroed in on his own political and legal battles, including more than $350 million in penalties New York Judge Aurthur Engoron imposed on him in a civil fraud case in which Trump was accused of inflating values of his properties -- the ruling coming out the same day Navalny's death was revealed.

Haley, who served as Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations, has been capitalizing on Navalny's death as she ramps up her attacks on Trump ahead of their rematch in the South Carolina Republican primary, hitting the former president on his self-proclaimed close relationship with Putin.

"Either he sides with Putin and thinks it's cool that Putin killed one of his political opponents, or he just doesn't think it's that big of a deal," Haley told ABC "This Week" co-anchor Jonathan Karl on Sunday amid Trump's silence on Navalny's death. "Either one of those is concerning. Either one of those is a problem."

Monday morning on "Fox and Friends," Haley accused Trump of being "weak in the knees" when it comes to Putin, and called for Trump to announce plans to seize Russian assets.

"It's amazing to me how weak in the knees he is when it comes to Putin," Haley accused. "... He has yet to say anything about Navalny's death -- which Putin murdered him,"

"He's yet to say anything about seizing Russian assets and allowing that money to go to Ukraine," Haley continued. "Why would you not want to have those assets seized? It's sitting in Congress; he should be calling for that. He doesn't talk about anything. All he does is go on late night rants talking about his court cases."

On the campaign trail, Trump has boasted about his self-proclaimed positive relationship with the Russian leader, claiming the Russia-Ukraine war would not have happened under his presidency. He didn't condemn Navalny's poisoning in August 2020 while he was president, saying there was no proof.

Earlier this month, Trump received backlash for saying he would “encourage” Russia to “do whatever the hell they want” to a NATO ally of the United States that doesn't pay what he called a “fair share” of defense funding. The Trump campaign defended his comment, saying Trump got U.S. allies to increase their NATO spending while accusing Biden of letting foreign allies "take advantage of the American taxpayer."

The Trump campaign did not respond immediately to an ABC News request for comment.

ABC News' Hannah Demissie and Nick Kerr contributed to this report.


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Biden says GOP making 'big mistake' on Ukraine aid, willing to meet with Johnson

President Biden. CREDIT: Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

(NEW YORK) -- President Joe Biden, in the wake of the death of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, said congressional Republicans are "making a big mistake" by not passing additional aid to Ukraine.

Biden, returning to the White House on Monday, was asked by a reporter if he'd go so far as to say House Republicans had Navalny's "blood on their hands" amid their opposition to funding for the war-torn nation as Russia's invasion enters its third year.

"No, I wouldn't use that term," the president responded. "They're making a big mistake not responding."

Biden continued, "Look, the way they're walking away from the threat of Russia, the way they're walking away from NATO, the way they're walking away from leaving our obligations, it's just shocking. I mean, it's been a while. I've never seen anything like this."

Navalny's death was reported by Russia's Federal Penitentiary Service on Feb. 16. No information has been shared about the cause of death. According to Navanly's team, his family has been denied access to his body.

Biden has blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin for Navalny's death.

Biden said Monday he is considering additional sanctions on Russia over Navalny's death, though he didn't elaborate on when those sanctions could be implemented or what they would target. Officials have told ABC they're weighing additional sanctions against human rights violators connected to Navalny's imprisonment.

Asked if Navalny's death could spark movement from Republicans on Ukraine aid, Biden said: "I hope so, but I'm not sure anything's gonna change."

In a shift from past statements from the White House, Biden said he would be willing to meet with House Speaker Mike Johnson on the issue.

"I'd be happy to meet with him if he has anything to say," Biden said.

Johnson has said he's been asking for a sit-down with President Biden for weeks to discuss aid to Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan and border security, but those requests were denied.

"What is there to negotiate really, truly?" White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Mary Bruce last week.

Jean-Pierre cited Johnson's shifting positions on how to deal with the border and foreign aid. House Republicans have stalled two bills that would deal with foreign aid: a bipartisan Senate compromise tying immigration changes to the aid and a stand-alone measure passed by the Senate providing $95 billion for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan.

In the wake of Navalny's death, Johnson was critical of Putin but didn't commit to providing additional aid to Ukraine. The House is currently in recess until the end of the month.

"As Congress debates the best path forward to support Ukraine, the United States, and our partners, must be using every means available to cut off Putin's ability to fund his unprovoked war in Ukraine and aggression against the Baltic states," Johnson said in a statement.


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