Record numbers of people are worse off, a recipe for political discontent: POLL

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(WASHINGTON) — Four in 10 Americans say they’ve gotten worse off financially since Joe Biden became president, the most in ABC News/Washington Post polls dating back 37 years. Political fallout includes poor performance ratings for Biden and a tight hypothetical Biden/Trump rematch next year.

Given disaffection with both leaders, a rerun of the 2020 presidential election is hardly enticing: Nearly six in 10 Democratic-aligned adults don’t want to see Biden nominated again for the job, and half on the Republican side would rather not see Donald Trump as their party’s nominee.

If those were the choices and the election were today, the poll suggests it could be close: Among all adults, 48 percent support Donald Trump and 44 percent are for Biden; it’s a similar 48-45 percent among registered voters. The differences are within the poll’s margin of sampling error.

The big hit on Biden is the economy: With inflation moderating but still high, 41 percent say they’re not as well off financially as they were when Biden took office, the most in nearly three dozen ABC/Post polls to ask the question since 1986, when Ronald Reagan, who popularized the “better off” phrase, held office. Just 16 percent in this poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates, say they’re better off.

By contrast, nearly two years into Trump’s presidency, far fewer – 13 percent – said they’d gotten worse off; more, 25 percent, were in better shape financially.

Biden’s overall job performance rating, 42-53 percent, approve-disapprove, has been under water, and steadily so, since September 2021. On issues, Biden has just 37 percent approval for handling the economy, 38 percent on the war in Ukraine and 28 percent on the immigration situation at the Mexican border.

Biden’s approval rating after two years in office is well below average compared with the previous 13 presidents. Three have been in about the same boat at this point (Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan) and one has been lower – Trump, at 37 percent, in polling by ABC/Post and previously Gallup. The pre-Biden average is 56 percent.

EMOTIONS – Underscoring Biden’s challenges, many more Americans have a negative rather than positive emotional response to the prospect of his winning a second term: The public by a broad 62-36 percent would be disappointed or even angry if he were re-elected, rather than enthusiastic or satisfied.

Responses to a hypothetical Trump victory also are negative overall, but less so, 56-43 percent. Part of the reason is that Biden loses slightly more of his base – 26 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents would be unhappy if he were re-elected, compared with 20 percent of Republicans and GOP leaners who’d feel that way about a Trump win.

Trump occupies somewhat more space at the emotional extremes. Seventeen percent would be enthusiastic about his winning another term; 36 percent would be angry about it. Given a Biden re-election, fewer would be enthusiastic – 7 percent – but also fewer would be angry, 30 percent.

DOCUMENTGATE – For all his woes, Biden outpoints Trump on another measure – their apparent mishandling of classified government documents. Forty-five percent of adults think Trump intentionally did something illegal in his handling of classified documents after he left office as president. Many fewer, 27 percent, say the same about Biden after his vice presidency.

That doesn’t mean Biden is fully off the hook in terms of public attitudes on the issue. Forty-eight percent think he acted wrongly, but not intentionally, in handling classified documents. Just 16 percent think he did nothing wrong. Twenty-nine percent think Trump was unintentionally wrong; 20 percent see no wrongdoing on his part.

BETTER OFF? – Inflation peaked at 9.1 percent in last June, a 40-year high; it’s eased since but remained a still-high 6.5 percent in December. That’s produced widespread economic pain. Nearly two years into Trump’s presidency, 25 percent of Americans said they’d gotten better off since he took office. As noted, fewer, 16 percent, now say the same about life under Biden.

After Trump’s first year, just 13 percent felt worse off financially. That spiked to 35 percent under Biden a year ago, and its level now, 41 percent, is the most measured in 33 ABC/Post polls since September 1986. The previous high was 36 percent among registered voters in September 2011, amid a plethora of economic troubles including 9 percent unemployment.

Economic sentiment is subject to partisan influence; 72 percent of Republicans say they’ve gotten worse off under Biden (more than any other group), while just 12 percent of Democrats say the same. The trouble for Biden is that it’s 39 percent among independents, vs. 11 percent worse off among independents in 2018.

Biden’s approval rating is vastly lower among worse-off Americans than others – unsurprising given the disproportionate number of Republicans in their ranks. Perhaps more telling, given independents’ usual swing-voter role, is this: Among worse-off independents, Biden has a mere 12 percent approval rating and Trump leads him in vote preference by 82-8 percent. Among independents who are in the same shape or better off financially as when he took office, by contrast, Biden’s approval vaults to 67 percent and he leads Trump by 62-29 percent.

Worse-off independents disproportionately lean Republican and better/same independents largely lean Democratic. Nonetheless, because independents are less firmly rooted in partisan predispositions, they can be movable – making their economic sentiment a measure to watch as the 2024 campaign heats up.

NOMINATION NATION – Just 31 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents say the party should nominate Biden for re-election; 58 percent say it should pick someone else. That’s no better than it was for Biden last September, 35-56 percent.

Two Democratic groups stand out as most opposed to Biden for the nomination – younger adults and Democratic-leaning independents. Among 18- to 39-year-olds, 69 percent would like to see the party choose someone other than Biden, who already is the nation’s oldest president. Anti-Biden sentiment on this measure reaches 72 percent among independents.

Still, even among mainline Democrats, just 39 percent would like to see Biden as the nominee; 50 percent think not. Indeed, the only group in which he’s even numerically above water in support for the nomination is Black Democrats, who divide 47-41 percent on the question. The sample size for that group is small and the difference is within the margin of error.

On the Republican side, overall 44 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents would like to see Trump as the party’s nominee, similar to 47 percent in September; these compare with 67 percent support for him to be the nominee heading into the 2020 contest. Forty-nine percent now would like to see the party pick a different candidate.

The most pro-Trump group among Republicans and GOP leaners is those who call themselves very conservative – 55 percent back him for the nomination, the only group to do so by a statistically significant margin. His other best groups, at 52 percent support, are non-college graduates, rural residents and those with lower household incomes. Most opposed to Trump in the GOP ranks are college graduates (67 percent), people with higher incomes (66 percent), GOP-leaning independents (61 percent) and moderates (56 percent).

APPROVAL and VOTE – Among other results, Biden’s approval rating remains highly polarized; 81 percent of Democrats approve of his work, compared with 6 percent of Republicans; it’s 45 percent among independents. Compare to Trump at this point in his presidency – 78 percent from Republicans, 12 percent among Democrats.

A key difference is independents, who gave Trump a 32 percent approval rating, 13 percentage points lower than Biden’s from independents now.

That said – and while it’s very early in the cycle – independents today support Trump over Biden by 50-40 percent, a slight difference, meaning it’s significant at the 90 percent confidence level rather than the customary 95 percent confidence. There are miles to go before November 2024, but it’s worth keeping in mind that in nine of the last 12 elections, whoever won independents won the presidency.

METHODOLOGY – This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by landline and cellular telephone Jan. 27-Feb. 1, 2023, in English and Spanish, among a random national sample of 1,003 adults. Results have a margin of sampling error of 3.5 percentage points, including the design effect. Partisan divisions are 26-25-40 percent, Democrats-Republicans-independents.

The survey was produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates, with sampling and data collection by Abt Associates of Rockville, Md. See details on the survey’s methodology here.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Lawmakers praise successful downing of suspected Chinese spy balloon while concerns linger

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(WASHINGTON) — The downing of a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon by the U.S. military was met by lawmakers with a mix of praise for the safe and successful operation, criticism for it not happening sooner and concern over what intelligence may have been gathered and how to prevent something like this from happening again.

The balloon was shot down by a U.S. fighter aircraft off the coast of South Carolina on Saturday afternoon after traveling across the continental U.S. since Tuesday, according to officials. The Pentagon has said the high-altitude balloon was being used for surveillance, disputing China’s claim that it was a civilian aircraft used for meteorological purposes.

President Joe Biden told reporters on Saturday that he ordered the Pentagon to shoot the balloon down “as soon as possible” on Wednesday. However, the operation was held off until the balloon — carrying a payload described as being the size of three buses — was off the coast, where threats to civilians were limited.

“They decided — without doing damage to anyone on the ground — they decided that the best time to do that was when it got over water within our 12-mile limit,” Biden said. “They successfully took it down and I want to compliment our aviators who did it.”

A senior defense official told reporters there was value in waiting to shoot down the balloon aside from just the safety of people on the ground.

“The surveillance balloon’s overflight of U.S. territory was of intelligence value to us,” the official said during a briefing on Saturday. “We were able to study and scrutinize the balloon and its equipment, which has been valuable.”

Lawmakers across the aisle applauded the military for successfully taking down the suspected surveillance balloon, though some said it took too long.

House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries thanked Biden and the U.S. military for “putting the safety of the American people first.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer commended Biden’s “leadership in taking down the Chinese balloon over water to ensure safety for all Americans.”

Tennessee Republican Rep. Mark Green, chair of the Homeland Security Committee, said he was “pleased” that the “espionage tool” won’t be returning to China.

At the same time, several lawmakers, including Green and fellow members of his party, reiterated criticisms that the balloon should have been brought down sooner — before it crossed the continental U.S. — and that the situation called for a more forceful response.

Green said that “damage to U.S. national security and American sovereignty was already done.” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., said Biden “refused to stop China,” while Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., called it a “dereliction of Biden’s duty.”

“We still don’t know what information was collected and where it was sent,” Scott tweeted.

On Sunday talk shows, Republicans kept up the questions over the timing of the military’s decision to down the balloon.

“I can assure you that if we fly a balloon over China, they’re going to shoot it down, and probably a lot sooner than we did,” Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said on ABC’s “This Week.”

“What began as spy balloon has become trial balloon, testing President Biden’s strength and resolve, and unfortunately the present failed that test,” Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., added on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that while he commended Biden for ordering the balloon to be shot down, “he didn’t do that until a week aft it entered U.S. airspace.”

Even Biden’s defenders among congressional Democrats said the balloon’s mere presence in the U.S. indicated broader issues in the relationship between Washington and Beijing.

“We should not have had this kind of incursion into the United States and we have a real problem with China on a number of issues, from their human rights violations to their violations of international business law to even the challenges we’ve had with them on overt spying. So I’m grateful that the military took decisive action when they and how they did, but we, obviously, have issues here,” Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., said Sunday on “Face the Nation.”

Senior administration officials have told ABC News that shooting down the balloon safely sent the message that the U.S. protects American lives while responding “effectively” to the violation of U.S. sovereignty.

Amid the security concerns, Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder said the balloon didn’t pose a physical or military threat and, once it was detected, the U.S. took steps to protect against foreign intelligence collection of sensitive information.

A senior military official told reporters Saturday that the balloon was deemed unlikely to provide much more to China from flying over than could already be gained from its satellites.

“Nevertheless, this balloon was clearly crossing over sensitive sites, including sensitive military sites. And so we took additional precautions to make sure that whatever additive intel value would be minimized,” the official said.

The eventual shoot-down then served to “neutralize any intelligence value it could have produced” by preventing it from returning to China, the official said.

In the wake of what he called China’s “inexcusable” and “incompetent” spying, Virginia Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine said this incident will be a “major focus” of a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing this week.

As the balloon debris retrieval is underway, Michigan Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin called for all Congress members to be briefed on the situation in the coming week and as more is learned, while urging stronger steps against China beyond Secretary of State Antony Blinken postponing his planned travel in the country this weekend.

“Whether through new sanctions or tighter restrictions on U.S. exports to China, the message needs to be loud and clear,” Slotkin tweeted.

Chinese surveillance balloons have previously been spotted over countries across five continents, including in East Asia, South Asia and Europe, according to a senior defense official. In the U.S., they transited the continental U.S. briefly at least three times during the Trump administration, senior administration officials said Saturday.

Following the resolution of this latest balloon, Missouri Republican Sen. Eric Schmitt said, “We need ensure that this never happens again.”

ABC News’ Justin Gomez, MaryAlice Parks and Matt Seyler contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

171 Republican lawmakers join effort to stop student loan forgiveness program

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(WASHINGTON) — One hundred and twenty-eight House Republicans and nearly all Republican senators on Friday filed amicus briefs with the Supreme Court opposing the Biden administration’s federal student debt cancellation plan, which has been halted as tens of millions of Americans await the justices’ ruling on its legality.

While White House officials have been adamant that the president is within his authority to wipe out hundreds of billions in government-backed loans to provide “breathing room to tens of millions of working families,” Republicans challenging it take the opposite view.

The forgiveness plan that could relieve up to $20,000 for eligible loan recipients is an unconstitutional breach of the separation of powers and a violation of the Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students Act of 2003 (HEROES Act), according to the House GOP brief.

“The Biden administration’s student loan bailout is a political gambit engineered by special interest groups; abusing the HEROES Act for such a ploy is shameful,” House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairwoman Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., said in a statement.

The House GOP brief included 25 members on Foxx’s committee and roughly 100 other lawmakers. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy did not sign it, though Majority Leader Steve Scalise, Majority Whip Tom Emmer and House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan did.

Separately, 43 Republican senators signed their own brief in support of the challenge to the loan forgiveness program. Led by Tennessee’s Marsha Blackburn, they also call the president’s plan unlawful and claim it exceeds his office.

The White House has pushed back.

“While opponents of our plan are siding with special interests and trying every which way to keep millions of middle class Americans in debt, the President and his Administration are fighting to lawfully give middle-class families some breathing room as they recover from the pandemic and prepare to resume loan payments in January,” spokesman Abdullah Hasan said in October.

However, the House Republicans say they believe Biden is exploiting the language of the HEROES Act, which the administration argues vests the education secretary with expansive authority to alleviate financial hardship for federal student loan recipients as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Indeed, the entire purpose of the HEROES Act is to authorize the Secretary to grant student-loan-related relief to at-risk borrowers because of a national emergency — precisely what the Secretary did here,” Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar wrote in a Supreme Court filing defending the proposed debt cancellation.

After legal challenges last year saw the forgiveness program halted by lower courts, the Supreme Court announced in December that it will hear oral arguments on the issue at the end of February.

A decision on the program is then expected by June.

The moratorium on loan repayments, which was first put in place under President Donald Trump earlier in the pandemic, is now set to expire 60 days after the decision or 60 days after June 30 — whichever date comes first.

A vocal opponent of Biden’s plan, Foxx also accused the administration of “bypassing Congress” to implement loan forgiveness.

“Congress is the only body with the authority to enact sweeping and fundamental changes of this nature, and it is ludicrous for President Biden to assume he can simply bypass the will of the American people,” she said in her statement.

Foxx told ABC News in an interview last month that she believes it is an “injustice” for taxpayers to fund the administration’s “scheme.” The plan would cost $400 billion, according to an estimate from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, and its nearly half-a-trillion-dollar price tag worries Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C.

Despite the White House saying the cancellation would give needed economic relief, Duncan said it would be sending the U.S. further into a “debt spiral.”

“The Court should invalidate the Secretary of Education’s sweeping student loan forgiveness program since it trespasses on Congressional authority and violates the separation of powers,” he said.

The U.S. Education Department has said the president’s decision to cancel up to $10,000 for some loan recipients — those who made less than $125,000 on their 2020 or 2021 taxes or $250,000 filing jointly — or $20,000 for low-income recipients who received Pell grants could impact roughly 43 million Americans who owe $1.6 trillion in student loans.

That was particularly important in light of how COVID-19 upended the economy, according to the White House.

“This is why we took this action — to make sure that tens of millions of Americans are able to deal with a time that was very difficult, especially in the last couple of years,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told ABC News’ Karen Travers last week. “That’s been the important priority of the president: to make sure folks … who felt the pinch if you will, who felt the hurt the most these past couple of years due to what COVID did to the economy, got a little extra help.”

After the cancellation program launched last year, 26 million people signed up online before it was halted by the courts.

Of that group, 16 million were approved before the department’s website stopped accepting applications to let the legal process play out. However, no loan forgiveness has been discharged.

Last month, over a dozen advocacy groups like the NAACP filed briefs in support of the president’s plan.

“Student loan borrowers from all walks of life suffered profound financial harms during the pandemic and their continued recovery and successful repayment hinges on the Biden Administration’s student debt relief plan,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said in response to the coalition of groups joining in support of the plan. “We will continue to defend our legal authority to provide the debt relief working and middle-class families clearly need and deserve.”

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New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu ‘definitely thinking about’ 2024 presidential run

ABC News

(WASHINGTON) — New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu said Sunday that he is considering a run for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.

“I’m definitely thinking about it and having those conversations,” Sununu told ABC “This Week” co-anchor Jonathan Karl.

The governor, who was just overwhelmingly reelected to a fourth term, said “the message is new leadership” and touted his own track record running what he called the “most efficient” state government in the U.S.

“But at the end of the day, you’re going to have a lot of Republicans that get in that race,” he said. “They’re all really good people. They’re really good candidates. … And you got to have that discussion about where we’re going to go, both as a party and make sure we’re going there as a country.”

The field of 2024 GOP contenders already includes former President Donald Trump while former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley is expected to announce her own bid later this month, sources have told ABC News.

Sununu, a vocal Trump critic, is skeptical of his general election chances. “He could get the nomination, but he can’t get it done,” Sununu said.

He pointed to the 2022 midterm elections, where several major Trump-backed candidates fell short, as a sign of Trump’s electability concerns. Sununu, a self-described “free-market principled Republican,” said the party should focus on finding a conservative candidate who isn’t too divisive.

“What I’ve tried to espouse to with Republicans is, ‘Look, we want to vote for the most conservative candidate that can win in November and get stuff done in ’25,'” he said.

Sununu said that his personal vision was this: “I believe government has to get out of your way. And we’ve done it really, really well here in New Hampshire. We’re sharing that model across the country.”

Good leadership is what is lacking out of President Joe Biden’s White House, Sununu argued, faulting Biden both for his response to a Chinese reconnaissance balloon flying over the country last week and what Sununu said was a disingenuous picture of the economy.

“Go into a grocery store and just talk to people in the cereal aisle. What are they feeling? You know, do they feel confident about this leadership that the president? No,” Sununu said. He cited a new ABC News/Washington Post survey that four in 10 Americans feel financially worse off under Biden.

“The best leadership is one that looks inside, says, ‘What are we doing right? What are we doing wrong, right?’ If we don’t acknowledge the problem, we can’t fix it,” Sununu said, adding, “You need to see more of that out of Washington.”

The Biden administration’s approach to the Chinese balloon, revealing its presence days after it entered the U.S. and then shooting it down over the Atlantic Ocean on Saturday, was “too little, too late,” Sununu said.

U.S. officials have said they delayed any military response to prevent hurting civilians and took steps to limit any intelligence risk.

“Again, you have to have leadership. You have to be transparent. You have to be fast-acting,” Sununu said.

When asked about Biden’s State of the Union address on Tuesday, Sununu contended that the commander-in-chief will wrongly take credit for current economic progress as the country recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, which brought widespread job loss.

Sununu said he expects Biden to tout the unemployment rate, at a decades-low, but “after a pandemic, that wasn’t very hard.”

Boasting about declining inflation, which is now at a year-over-year rate of 6.5%, would be similarly self-serving, Sununu said. “Inflation was at a record high — of course it’s coming down,” he said. “It couldn’t have gotten any higher.”

“The prices are not going to go back to where they were. I know the Biden administration likes to pretend that,” Sununu said, predicting that the economy would be headed for years of so-called “stagflation,” in which rising costs limit growth.

Despite his sharp criticisms of Biden, Sununu said he still doesn’t think Trump can win against him in a 2024 rematch.

“Trump is going to be seen as a very extreme candidate,” Sununu said. “The country is going to push back against it.”

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Buttigieg defends ‘extraordinary’ economy as polling suggests significant discontent

ABC News

(WASHINGTON) — With President Joe Biden preparing to deliver his second State of the Union address on Tuesday, a new ABC News/Washington Post shows many people feel their finances are worsening — but Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg on Sunday said the president can “make the case” that the economy is back on track.

“You make that case by pointing to the reality and recognizing that the story won’t tell itself,” Buttigieg told ABC “This Week” co-anchor Jonathan Karl. He touted the latest employment numbers, including 517,000 jobs added in January, and an unemployment rate of 3.4% that is the lowest since 1969.

“What we’re seeing is extraordinary. Record job creation, as the president has pointed out, more created in two years on his watch than four years on any other president’s watch, and usually, when you have unemployment go down like this, you have inflation go up. But right now, inflation is going down as well,” the secretary said.

Buttigieg also touted Biden’s “economic track record” in creating manufacturing jobs, lowering the cost of insulin for seniors and projects that will soon be starting due to the 2021 bipartisan infrastructure law.

The ABC News/Washington Post poll shows 41 percent of Americans say they’re not as well off financially as they were when Biden took office — the most in almost 40 years of ABC News/Washington Post polling.

Pressed by Karl on the survey showing only 16% say that they feel better off today than they were two years ago when Biden took office, Buttigieg said the country has “been through a lot” recently.

“The president and the entire administration recognize that there continue to be headwinds, challenges, problems facing this economy,” he said, invoking the COVID-19 pandemic. “After all, the president took office under some of the most challenging circumstances facing any president in modern times.”

Buttigieg highlighted rising wages and more Americans participating in the labor force as a signal of economic strength and said that “we can expect continued improvement” if the administration continues “successful policies.”

“Part of what I think you’re going to see on Tuesday when the president’s addressing the nation and the Congress in the State of the Union is a reminder that this successful approach stands in stark contrast to a strategy that would focus on things like preserving tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires,” Buttigieg argued.

The House’s new Republican majority, however, contends that Biden and congressional Democrats have been reckless and wasteful in their government spending, citing the national debt and historic inflation that only began to cool in recent months.

With the country approaching the deadline to increase the nation’s debt limit by June or risk defaulting on its obligations, Speaker Kevin McCarthy has said there will be no default — but that the White House must negotiate on spending in exchange for a debt ceiling increase.

The White House said raising the limit, which is currently about $31.4 trillion, has long been done without preconditions under both presidents. The ceiling allows the government to borrow money to pay for debts it has already incurred rather than for new spending. Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump reportedly grew the national debt by approximately $7.8 trillion, which included an enormous government response to COVID-19.

Buttigieg on Sunday wouldn’t comment on talks between the White House and GOP but made clear that raising the debt limit was not up for debate — insisting that the administration viewed negotiating spending levels as a separate discussion with Republicans.

“The president’s been very clear that the full faith and credit of the United States is not negotiable. Remember, this is not a decision or a negotiation about how much to spend or even how much to borrow, this is about whether the United States pays its bills, and we always do,” he said.

He told Karl that there are “always negotiations going on” when it comes to spending, which House Republicans are hoping to curb now that they have control of the chamber.

But because Republicans haven’t “put pen to paper on what they want,” Buttigieg said, it makes it “hard to understand” where they want to make cuts.

Karl asked if it was then possible that there could be parallel legislation to raise the debt limit without conditions — while a second bill reflected a compromise on spending.

“Yeah, because one is not appropriate for negotiation; the other one is,” Buttigieg said.

As President Biden prepares for a likely 2024 reelection campaign, the ABC News/Washington Post poll also showed that less than a third of Democratic voters want to see him re-nominated.

Buttigieg gave no indication on when Biden could make his announcement but said he has been an “absolutely historically successful president and I want to see that continue.”

When Karl followed up to ask if Buttigieg wanted Biden to run in 2024, he said, “When I’m appearing in this capacity, I can’t talk campaigns and elections. But let me say this: I’m incredibly proud to be part of this team that he has built and to be part of the results that he is delivering.”

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Rubio says China flew balloon over US to send ‘a message’: They think America is ‘in decline’

ABC News

(WASHINGTON) — Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Sunday that despite China’s claims otherwise, they sent a balloon into the U.S. to send a message about the country’s sway across the globe.

“The key part here is they knew exactly what they were doing and there was a message behind it,” Rubio told ABC “This Week” co-anchor Jonathan Karl.

“They understood that it [the balloon] was going to be spotted, they knew the U.S. government would have to reveal it, that people were gonna see it over the sky. And the message they were trying to send is what they believe internally, and that is that the United States is a once-great superpower that’s hollowed out, it’s in decline,” Rubio said.

The balloon’s presence over Montana caused the Federal Aviation Administration to issue a ground stop for the Billings airport on Wednesday. But U.S. officials only announced the vessel was over the country late Thursday, after it had already flown down from Alaska. The military chose to wait to strike the balloon until the risk to civilians was minimized, defense officials have said.

China saw value in that delay, Rubio said on “This Week.”

“The message they’re trying to send the world is, ‘Look, these guys can’t even do anything about a balloon flying over U.S. airspace. How can you possibly count on them if something were to happen in the Indo-Pacific region? … How are they going to come to the aid of Taiwan or stand with the Philippines or Japan or India when the Chinese move on their territory?'” he said.

Rubio’s comments come after bipartisan outrage over what the Biden administration described as a Chinese surveillance balloon that was first detected on Jan. 28 crossing Alaska, Canada and then the continental U.S., including flying over sensitive military sites that house intercontinental ballistic missiles.

The balloon was ultimately shot out of the sky on Saturday over the Atlantic Ocean, just off the coast of South Carolina.

As vice chairman of the Senate’s intelligence panel, Rubio will be one of eight lawmakers who will be briefed sometime this week behind closed doors on the circumstances around the balloon.

Rubio said on “This Week” that “first and foremost,” he wanted to know what information the balloon was able to collect. He pointed to China’s repeated use of such craft.

“Obviously, look, countries spy on countries. … What was the value of this platform? Because it’s one we’ve seen them use now for a handful of years here. But what’s the value of it?” he said, adding, “What are we going to do about it in the future?”

Rubio dismissed China’s public statements that the balloon was a civilian weather vessel that had accidentally flown to the U.S. He also said he wanted specific answers as to why the military chose to act when it did.

“When was it spotted? Why was it not brought down sooner over other areas? I’m open-minded to listening to the arguments they make about why it wasn’t dealt with sooner,” Rubio said.

The administration has said President Joe Biden on Wednesday ordered the balloon to be taken down once it was feasible, with the threat of harm to civilians ultimately delaying military action.

Whether the Pentagon would now glean useful intelligence from the balloon “depends [on] what they’re able to retrieve,” Rubio said. “When you shoot something out of the sky and it goes into the ocean, you don’t always get it back in a neat package,” he added.

Mike Mullen, who served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, concurred with Rubio in a separate interview on “This Week.”

“I think I know enough about the system that you actually can navigate this system,” Mullen said. “It has propellers on it, if you will. So, this was not an accident. This was deliberate. It was intelligence.”

Both Rubio and Mullen said that Secretary of State Antony Blinken made the right move in delaying a planned trip to China, in light of this incident, but the senator also criticized Biden for not addressing Americans directly on what was unfolding.

“I don’t know why they waited so long to tell people about this,” he said.

Mullen approximated that China’s balloon program is 10 years old and echoed some of the administration’s rationale.

“It’s very clear to me that the intelligence value of this, from the standpoint of what it was getting, was not worth the risk of killing an Americans on the ground,” Mullen said. “And it’s a substantial package in terms of its size, and even in the least dense areas of the country, there was that possibility, and I know that’s why we waited to this point to take it down.”

Mullen said this was the first time that he knew of a Chinese vessel “[coming] over the country like this,” and he suggested it was possible that elements in the Chinese military had acted on their own to disrupt Blinken’s diplomatic trip.

“There’s no way that he could have a meaningful visit, and we have a host of issues that we need to address. … Strategically, this really damages a relationship between us and China, which was deteriorating,” Mullen said. “And I think that’s really the big part of this.”

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Democrats approve new primary calendar for 2024

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(PHILADELPHIA) — The Democratic National Committee near unanimously approved a reconfigured presidential primary calendar rubber-stamped by the White House at the group’s winter gathering on Saturday.

A few nay votes were drowned out by a sea of “ayes,” followed by cheering from inside the Sheraton Hotel ballroom in Philadelphia.

Under the new calendar, the 2024 Democratic presidential primary begins in South Carolina — the state that revived President Joe Biden’s campaign in the 2020 contest — on Feb. 3.

That primary would be followed by Nevada and New Hampshire on Feb. 6, Georgia on Feb. 13 and Michigan on Feb. 27.

Modernization and representation were two key guiding pillars for the DNC as they strategized changing their early nominating window. The committee debated for months over what sort of voter coalition could win Democrats votes.

“This calendar reflects who we are as a nation,” party chair Jamie Harrison said at Saturday morning’s meeting.

During Saturday’s session, members of the New Hampshire and Iowa caucuses protested the changes to the primary calendar.

“We are creating a situation of continued uncertainty that will drag on until 2023,” said Iowa DNC member Scott Brennan. “We will leave here with absolutely nothing settled.”

Rita Hart, Iowa party chair, argued this calendar “feeds the narratives” that Democrats have “turned their backs” on the rural Midwest.

“Democrats cannot forget about entire groups of voters in the heart of the Midwest without doing significant damage to the party,” Hart said.

Joanne Dowdell, a DNC member from New Hampshire, says the DNC is punishing them because they cannot change their law.

“And we are frustrated because as many times as we say it, no one seems to listen when we tell you that this will only hurt President Biden in our purple, battleground state,” said Dowdell.

Dowdell added: “If President Biden doesn’t file for the New Hampshire primary, it will provide an opening to an insurgent candidate to rise in the state and potentially win the first presidential primary of 2024- something that no one in this room wants to see.”

Former 2020 candidate author Marianne Williamson is teasing a Democrat challenge to Biden and will be visiting New Hampshire in the coming weeks.

“No one state should have a lock on going first,” responded Michigan Rep. Debbie Dingell, met with a round of applause.

Leah Daughtry also argued that other states are going to have to “shift” to make space for Black and Latino voters, saying that they are all not urban voters, asking the body to dispel with the idea non-White voters are somehow not rural and suburban.

Georgia election official Jordan Fuchs told ABC News back in December that there’s little appetite to move their primary up unless both parties can do so, without either receiving penalties from their respective national parties – another unlikely parameter.

“Our legal team has continuously stated that both party primaries are going to be on the same day and we will not cost anyone any delegates,” said Fuchs.

Both states will lose their early-state waiver if they are unable to meet compliance – and if they run their primary anyway, they risk losing convention delegates.

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Florida schools directed to cover or remove classroom books that are not vetted

Courtesy Don Falls

(MANATEE COUNTY, Fla.) — A new state guidance in Florida is directing school districts to cover up or remove books in classrooms that have not been approved under a law restricting instruction and books on race and diversity and making it a felony for teachers to share pornographic material to students.

The directive instructs schools to “remove or cover all materials that have not been vetted” in classrooms, according to a copy of the guidance reviewed by ABC News.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in April signed the “Stop WOKE” act, which restricts lessons and training on race and diversity in schools and in the workplace, particularly anything that discusses privilege or oppression based on race, or whether someone “bears personal responsibility for and must feel guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress” due to U.S. racial history. WOKE in the bill stands for “Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees.”

A judge in November temporarily blocked the law from restricting race-related curriculum and conversation in colleges and universities, which is still being battled out in the courts.

Michael Barber, communications director of Manatee County schools, told ABC News on Friday that teachers could be charged with a third-degree felony if they share a book that’s considered pornographic or obscene under Florida law. But many teachers misinterpret the law as meaning they could be indicted for simply sharing any unvetted material, he said.

Manatee County acted under an abundance of caution when they asked teachers to cover all their books, which could have been an overreaction, according to Barber. The county official explained that teachers have an online link to a list of books that have been approved for their grades and if they make sure their class collections are on the list then they would be fine.

Barber admits that this is a tough time as teachers are preparing their students for national state accountability tests and don’t have much time to vet their reading material. Manatee County schools are planning to ask volunteers to help them with the vetting process, he said.

“Each school district is tasked with ensuring that the materials offered in school libraries and classrooms offer educational value and comply with Florida law,” DeSantis’ press secretary Bryan Griffin tweeted on Tuesday.

But Don Falls, a history teacher at Manatee High School in Florida, says the new law limits the kind of information that can be given to students.

According to Falls, if a student feels uncomfortable about the content that is being presented, then that would be a violation of the law by the teacher.

“Last week, I was doing a couple of lessons on civil rights, looking at the Albany movement, Birmingham in 1963. And, of course, some of those images of those periods can be quite upsetting: dogs turned on little girls, fire hoses,” Falls said in an interview on ABC News Live Prime. “I’m showing them some of these images, in the back of my mind, I was saying, ‘Well, if a student here gets upset about these, have I violated the law?’ But the information to me is too important to deny students. And so I’m still going to continue to do it.”

Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. wrote in a tweet last month, “A teacher or any adult faces a felony if they knowingly distribute egregious materials such as images which depict sexual conduct, sexual battery, bestiality or sadomasochistic abuse. Who could be against that?”

Falls believes that rule is unnecessary because schools were already operating under those standards.

“We have a set of ethical guidelines that we agree to. State guidelines that go along with our contract that would prohibit any of that. And those have always been there in all my years of teaching,” Falls said. “So, this attempt to try to convince the public that there is this kind of cabal of woke people that are out there distributing this stuff is just ridiculous because that just doesn’t happen.”

Earlier this week, the College Board released an updated version of the AP African American course framework after the Florida Department of Education rejected the course on Jan. 12.

Falls compared the law to McCarthyism, the controversial campaign by Sen. Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s to repress and persecute communists in the U.S. government.

“How ridiculous this was that in 2023 that we are covering books, that we are looking to ban books, that we are at a point that sounds like McCarthyism in our society,” Falls said. “I guess it’s frustrating as a long-time educator. I have been in the classroom for 38 years and I’ve never seen anything like this where this kind of widespread attempt to silence students, silence teachers to control the information in the classroom.”

DeSantis’ press secretary Bryan Griffin on Friday directed ABC News to a tweet he wrote in response to a video shared online that seemed to show empty bookshelves in a Florida library.

“This is the latest lie from the crowd who believes they should be able to subject children to their preferred political agenda in public schools without any accountability to parents or the taxpayer,” Griffin wrote.

ABC News’ Sabina Ghebremedhin and Brianti Downing contributed to this story.

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Republicans paint Biden as soft on China as surveillance balloon soars over US

Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

(WASHINGTON) — As what U.S. officials call a massive surveillance balloon believed to be from China continued to fly over the continental United States, President Joe Biden faced growing pressure Friday to address the situation as Republicans said he needed to take stronger action against Beijing.

In his first chance to comment Friday, after touting the January jobs report, he instead told reporters he wouldn’t answer questions on anything but the economy.

While Biden has, so far, decided against ordering military action, a U.S. official said late Thursday that the U.S. was closely monitoring the situation and “keeping all options open.”

Montana GOP Rep. Ryan Zinke, who served as interior secretary under former President Donald Trump, is among a chorus of Republicans calling for the balloon to be shot down, with Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., saying Trump would have done so already. But government officials have said they are concerned doing so would pose a risk to civilians below.

Still, Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, tweeted Friday, “It was a mistake to not shoot down that Chinese spy balloon when it was over a sparsely populated area. This is not some hot air balloon, it has a large payload of sensors roughly the size of two city buses & the ability to maneuver independently.”

Arkansas GOP Sen. Tom Cotton tweeted for Biden to “stop coddling and appeasing the Chinese communists.” He also asked whether the ballon was detected over Alaskan airspace as questions swirl.

Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney added a warning against Tik Tok, too: “A big Chinese balloon in the sky and millions of Chinese TikTok balloons on our phones. Let’s shut them all down.”

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, meanwhile, has called for the congressional “Gang of Eight” top members to be briefed. Such a meeting would bring together the top House and Senate leaders and the heads of the intelligence committees in each chamber.

“China’s brazen disregard for U.S. sovereignty is a destabilizing action that must be addressed, and President Biden cannot be silent,” McCarthy tweeted.

The criticism comes as newly-empowered House Republicans have formed a House Select Committee on China to investigate threats from the foreign power as the GOP argues the administration has not done enough on its own.

As officials weigh what to do next, Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday postponed his visit to Beijing, originally scheduled for next week, with an official noting that Blinken did not want to blow the situation out of proportion by canceling his visit but also did not want the balloon to dominate his meetings with Chinese officials.

A senior U.S. official said talks with Beijing would continue across multiple levels of government and that Blinken had been in touch with his Chinese counterpart this morning.

“We are committed to maintaining open lines with the PRC at all times, including during this incident,” the official said. “We will maintain open lines of communication with the PRC to address our concerns about this ongoing incident and to responsibly manage the competition between our countries.”

The Chinese Foreign Ministry said earlier Friday that the balloon is civilian in nature and used for scientific research, “mainly meteorological.”

“The airship is from China,” the foreign ministry said. “Affected by the Westerlies and with limited self-steering capability, the airship deviated far from its planned course. The Chinese side regrets the unintended entry of the airship into US airspace due to force majeure.”

“Force majeure” refers to something that is done beyond the control of the government.

ABC News’ Luis Martinez, Shannon Crawford, Gabe Ferris and Karson Yiu contributed to this report.

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Confidence in police practices drops to a new low: POLL

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(NEW YORK) — Americans’ confidence in how police are trained and their treatment of Black people both have fallen to new lows in an ABC News/Washington Post poll.

Following the death of Tyre Nichols after he was beaten by Memphis, Tennessee police on Jan. 7, just 39 percent of adults in the national survey are confident that the police in this country are adequately trained to avoid the use of excessive force. And just 41 percent are confident the police treat Black and white people equally.

Both are lows since first asked in ABC/Post polls nearly a decade ago.

The decline has been striking. In 2014, 54 percent of adults expressed confidence that the police are adequately trained to avoid excessive force; that’s since tumbled by 15 percentage points. Fifty-two percent said the police treat Black and white people equally; that’s 11 points lower now.

See PDF for full results, charts and tables.

Indeed, this poll produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates, finds that 38 percent are “not confident at all” that the police treat Black and white people equally, while just 15 percent are very confident of this. On avoiding excessive force, 34 percent are not at all confident, vs. 12 percent very confident.

These polls were conducted across a long period of police killings of Black people and subsequent protests, from the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in August 2014 to the murder of George Floyd by police in May 2020 and now the death of Nichols, in which five Memphis officers were fired and have been charged with murder. His funeral was Wednesday.

An ongoing analysis by the Washington Post finds that police officers fatally shot at least 1,096 people in 2022, with Black people more than twice as likely as white people to be killed.

RACIAL/ETHNIC GAPS – While confidence in the police is down overall, wide gaps across racial and ethnic groups remain. Forty-six percent of white people think the police are adequately trained on excessive force, compared with 34 percent of Hispanic people and only 20 percent of Black people.

On equal treatment, the gap in perceptions between Black and white people is wider: While 48 percent of white people think the police treat Black and white people equally, just 12 percent of Black people say so. It’s 33 percent among Hispanic people.

That said, the biggest shift in these views has come among white people. The sense among white people that the police are adequately trained to avoid using excessive force has dropped by 16 points since 2014, compared with 10 points among Hispanic people and 9 points among Black people, both within the margin of error for these groups.

Similarly, the share of white people who say the police treat Black and white people equally has fallen by 15 points, compared with 9 points among Black people and 7 points among Hispanic people which is again, within sampling error in the latter two groups. This is the first time fewer than half of white people (48 percent, as noted) say the police treat Black and white people equally.

Notably, while 33 percent of white people and 32 percent of Hispanic people are not confident at all that the police treat Black and white people equally, this soars to 72 percent among Black people.

OTHER GROUPS – There also are wide partisan and ideological differences in these views. On treating Black and white people equally, 72 percent of Republicans are confident in the police, falling to 40 percent among independents and just 14 percent of Democrats. On avoiding the use of excessive force, confidence in the police runs from 60 percent of Republicans to 39 percent of independents and 20 percent of Democrats.

One reason is that 29 percent of Democrats are Black people, dropping to 9 percent of independents and 3 percent of Republicans.

Attitudes divide similarly on the basis of ideology. Confidence in the police to treat Black and white people equally ranges from 68 percent of conservatives to 38 percent of moderates and 9 percent of liberals. Confidence on excessive force is 55-40-15 percent across these groups, respectively.

Among other groups, on equal treatment, confidence is far lower in urban areas, 35 percent, as opposed to rural areas, 57 percent; it’s 42 percent in the suburbs. Gaps are similar on avoiding the use of excessive force.

Women are 10 points less confident than men on the question of equal treatment by the police, 36 vs. 46 percent. And confidence on this item is a slight 7 points lower in the Midwest and South than in the Northeast and West.

METHODOLOGY – This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by landline and cellular telephone Jan. 27-Feb. 1, 2023, in English and Spanish, among a random national sample of 1,003 adults. Results have a margin of sampling error of 3.5 percentage points, including the design effect. Partisan divisions are 26-25-40 percent, Democrats-Republicans-independents.

The survey was produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates, with sampling and data collection by Abt Associates of Rockville, Md. See details on the survey’s methodology here.

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