Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones reveals he appeared before Jan. 6 committee

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(WASHINGTON) — Right-wing radio host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones appeared before the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, he disclosed on his show, telling his audience he invoked the Fifth Amendment to protect himself against self-incrimination “almost 100 times.”

Jones, who was subpoenaed by the committee to provide testimony and records, spoke at a Jan. 5 rally in Washington, D.C., and was also in contact with organizers of the rallies scheduled for Jan. 6, when pro-Trump rioters attacked Capitol Police and disrupted the electoral vote count.

“I went there to have a peaceful political rally, to put peaceful political pressure on Congress,” Jones said. “It’s a horrible historic fiasco and I wish it never happened.”

Jones said the virtual interview with the committee was “extremely interesting to say the least,” and that investigators were “polite” and “dogged.”

He told investigators — who gave him the impression that they regularly monitor his shows — that he had no knowledge of any plans for violence on Jan. 6.

Jones said the committee had “overall pretty reasonable” questions, even though he declined to answer nearly 100 of them.

“I wanted to answer the questions, but at the same time, it’s a good thing I didn’t,” he said. “I’m the type that tries to answer things correctly, even if I don’t know all the answers, and they can then kind of claim that’s perjury” he said.

Jones said the committee showed emails and text messages to him during their session — some of the thousands of records investigators have obtained from dozens of witnesses during their monthslong investigation.

He also said he “had not seen” a clip from his show on Dec. 31, 2020, when a guest host, Matthew Bracken, floated the notion of storming the Capitol to disrupt the electoral vote count.

Jones said investigators also questioned him about his participation in a “Stop the Steal” rally at the Georgia Capitol, and about who he was in touch with in the Trump White House.

“They asked me if we were with Proud Boys and if we were with Oath Keepers,” he said, recalling eating at a Hooters restaurant at his Georgia hotel with members of the far-right group.

“All I know is what I saw and what I witnessed,” he said.

On his show after the Captiol attack, Jones said the White House had asked him to “lead the march” to the Capitol. But on his show Monday, he said he never supported efforts to enter the Capitol and that his main point of contact was Trump campaign fundraiser Caroline Wren, who helped organize the rally outside the White House on Jan. 6.

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Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman gives 1st interview since Jan. 6 attack

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(WASHINGTON) — U.S. Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman, the man who led rioters up the stairs and away from the Senate chamber on Jan. 6, 2021, broke his yearlong silence Monday when he appeared on the podcast “3 Brothers No Sense.”

“It could have easily been a blood bath,” Goodman says on the show. “So kudos to everyone there that showed a measure of restraint in regards to deadly force, because it could have been bad.”

Goodman’s heroics were caught on camera in what became a viral video that came to light during President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial in the Senate, which revealed Goodman also guided Sen. Mitt Romney back to the Senate chamber, helping him narrowly avoid contact with the rioters.

The officer’s description of the day is one in which he kicked into “go mode” and relied heavily on previous military training to guide him. He said his decision to move up the stairs with the protestors wasn’t entirely by choice because he thought “they would have followed me anyway.”

“Any situation like that you want to de-escalate, but at the same time you wanna survive first,” Goodman says.

He also discusses his newfound fame and explains that he has chosen to stay out of the spotlight to protect his family’s privacy.

“I keep asking myself that question every day like who the hell am I?” Goodman says. “I’m the guy everybody keeps saying saved the Senate… I don’t need no statue, though, that’s one more thing for a bird to prop up and take a dump on.”

Up until Monday, Goodman has avoided media appearances. The podcast interview was conducted by the three hosts, one of whom, Officer Byron Evans, serves as a member of the U.S. Capitol Police.

Earlier this month, “World News Tonight” anchor David Muir sat down with three Capitol Police officers who were at the Capitol on Jan. 6 last year.

ABC News’ Rachel Scott and Allison Pecorin contributed to this report.

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Biden warns he would sanction Putin personally if Russia invades Ukraine

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(WASHINGTON) — President Joe Biden said Tuesday there could be some U.S. troop movements in the “nearer term” in Eastern Europe — and that he would consider personally sanctioning Russian President Vladimir Putin if Russia invades Ukraine — a day after 8,500 American forces were put on “heightened alert” in the region.

“If he were to move in with all those forces, it would be the largest invasion since World War II. It would change the world,” Biden told reporters at an unannounced stop at a local business in Washington.

Asked about what would lead him to deploy the troops staging nearby, Biden said that depends on “what Putin does or doesn’t do” but he repeated that American forces would not move into Ukraine.

“I may be moving some of those troops in the nearer term, just because it takes time,” Biden said, adding it’s not to be “provocative” but to reassure NATO allies whom have reasons for concern.

“We have no intention of putting American forces, or NATO forces, in Ukraine. But we — as I said — they’re gonna be serious economic consequences if he [Putin] moves,” Biden added.

Asked whether the risk of an invasion is increasing, decreasing or steady, Biden compared assessing Putin’s intentions to “reading tea leaves.”

“The fact that he continues to build forces along Ukraine’s border from Belarus, all the way around, you’d say, ‘Well that means that he is looking like he’s trying to do something.’ But then you look at what his past behavior is and what everyone is saying on his team, as well as everyone else, as to what is likely to happen. It all comes down to his — his decision-making,” Biden said.

Amid the escalating tensions, Biden had a one hour and 20-minute conference call from the White House on Monday with the leaders of the European Commission, European Council, NATO, France, Germany, Italy, Poland and the United Kingdom, according to the White House, which said they planned to “discuss diplomacy, deterrence and defense efforts” as well as what would constitute potential sanctions against Russia.

The White House said after the call that Biden and European leaders “reiterated their continued concern about the Russian military build-up on Ukraine’s borders” and also discussed “preparations to impose massive consequences and severe economic costs on Russia for such actions as well as to reinforce security on NATO’s eastern flank.”

“We’re all on the same page,” Biden said Tuesday. “You’ve got to make it clear that that there’s no reason for anyone, any member of NATO, to worry whether or not we would, we NATO, would come to their defense.”

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Supreme Court takes cases on future of affirmative action

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(WASHINGTON) — The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday said it would take up a pair of cases that could decide the future of affirmative action in college admissions.

The justices will hear appeals from a conservative student group that has been challenging the use of race as a factor in undergraduate admissions at Harvard University, the nation’s oldest private college, and the University of North Carolina, the nation’s oldest public state university.

It will be the first test on the issue for the court’s 6-3 conservative majority, following the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy and death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, both of whom defended race-conscious admissions.

The group which brought the case — Students for Fair Admissions — alleges that Asian American applicants have been illegally targeted by Harvard and rejected at a disproportionately higher rate in violation of Supreme Court precedent and the students’ constitutional rights.

Two lower federal courts have rejected these claims.

In the second case, the group alleges UNC refused to use workable race-neutral alternatives to achieve the stated goal of a diverse study body.

“Public schools have no legitimate interest in maintaining a precise racial balance,” the group wrote in its brief to the court. “The same Fourteenth Amendment that required public schools to dismantle segregation after [Brown v. Board of Education] cannot be cowed by the diktats of university administrators.”

That the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the cases is widely seen as an indication that the court could be willing to revisit its precedents on affirmative action and end the use of racial classifications in admissions altogether.

Chief Justice John Roberts has been among the most outspoken critics of affirmative action, famously declaring in a 2006 opinion, “It is a sordid business, this divvying us up by race.”

He and many of the court’s other conservatives have long argued that the best way to root out discrimination on the basis of race is to not permit discrimination on the basis of race.

“Harvard’s mistreatment of Asian-American applicants is appalling,” the plaintiffs wrote in their brief in the Harvard case. “That Harvard engages in racial balancing and ignores race-neutral alternatives also proves that Harvard does not use race as a last resort.”

In a series of decisions, beginning in 1978, the court said that race could be used as one factor among many when considering college admissions applications but that a school could not use quotas or mathematical formulas to diversify a class.

Harvard has defended the educational value and social benefits of admitting a diverse student body and rejected claims that it has given outsized importance to race.

“Harvard does not automatically award race-based tips but rather considers race only in a flexible and non-mechanical way; consideration of race benefits only highly qualified candidates; and Harvard does not discriminate against Asian-American applicants,” the school wrote the court in its brief.

The school is asking the court to affirm its precedent.

“The American public has looked to this precedent for assurance that the nation recognizes and values the benefits of diversity and that the path to leadership is open to all,” it wrote.

The cases join a blockbuster series of issues on the Supreme Court’s docket, including gun rights and abortion. It will likely be scheduled for oral argument this spring and decided by the end of June.

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House Republicans tout infrastructure funding they voted against

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(WASHINGTON) — In November, Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Virginia, was one of 205 House Republicans to vote against the bipartisan, $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill, calling it irresponsible and the “Green New Deal in disguise.”

On Friday, he took to Twitter to tout funding from the bill he voted against — highlighting a $70 million expansion of the Port of Virginia in Norfolk — one of the busiest and deepest ports in the United States.

Wittman, who deleted the tweet Friday shortly after ABC News reached out to his office for comment, is the latest member of a growing group of Republicans celebrating new initiatives they originally opposed on the floor.

Shortly after voting against the measure last fall, Rep. Gary Palmer, R-Alabama, celebrated its hundreds of millions in funding for a stalled highway project in Birmingham.

Last week, Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, touted new funding for a flood control project from the package, which she opposed last year, decrying it at the time as a “so-called infrastructure bill.”

Rep. Ashley Hinson, R-Iowa, a freshman lawmaker who also voted against the infrastructure bill, celebrating new “game-changing” funding to upgrade locks along the Upper Mississippi River.

Thirteen House Republicans and 19 Senate Republicans — including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky — voted with Democrats to approve the package, with many working with Democrats and the Biden White House on the details and legislative language.

“When I voted for the bipartisan infrastructure bill, I was voting for exactly this type of federal support for critical infrastructure that Iowans depend on,” Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said in a statement about the new lock and dam funding that Hinson also recognized.

Democrats have been quick to call out Republicans who voted against the infrastructure deal and recent COVID-19 relief package while praising elements of the legislation, criticizing them for “voting no and taking the dough.”

“When these Republicans had the chance to actually do something good for their constituents, they refused,” Nebeyatt Betre, a spokesperson for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said in a statement. “We’re not going to let them get away with this blatant attempt to rewrite history.”

Republicans have pushed back on the characterizations of their votes, arguing that they had issues with Democrats’ larger agenda that included the bipartisan package, called the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

“Congresswoman Hinson opposed the infrastructure package because it was tied to trillions of other spending in the House. Since the bill was signed into law, this money was going to be spent regardless. If there’s federal money on the table she is, of course, going to do everything she can to make sure it is reinvested in Iowa,” a spokesperson for Hinson told ABC News.

A spokesperson for Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Louisiana, the No. 2 House Republican who touted a $1 billion investment in flood protection and hurricane repairs in his home state funded by the package he opposed, told ABC News that the GOP whip has “consistently supported these flood protection projects” and approved earlier legislation to pave the way for them.

“What he did not support is tying necessary infrastructure needs to unrelated, Green New Deal policies Democrats put in their $1.2 trillion dollar bill — very little of which was dedicated to traditional infrastructure — that would cripple Louisiana’s energy economy and hurt workers and families in his state,” the spokesperson said.

“You can see why the Obama administration insisted on signage” for projects funded by the American Recovery Act, Jeff Davis, a senior fellow with the Eno Center for Transportation, told ABC News.

“People will be claiming these things for years, and it’s going to be hard to tell five years from now which projects were funded mostly or entirely with IIJA money or money out of the annual budget, he said.

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US preparing to approve evacuation from embassy in Ukraine: Sources

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(WASHINGTON) — The Department of State is preparing to approve the evacuation of some U.S. diplomats and diplomats’ families from the embassy in Ukraine, sources confirmed to ABC News.

The final authorization has not been approved, the sources said, so the scope of the evacuation is not yet clear.

A State Department spokesperson told ABC News, “We have nothing to announce at this time. We conduct rigorous contingency planning, as we always do, in the event the security situation deteriorates.”

That contingency planning has been underway for weeks now, as ABC News first reported last month that the embassy was preparing for an authorized or ordered departure.

An authorized departure allows families and non-emergency staff to evacuate, usually on commercial flights, while an ordered departure requires them to do so.

In either case, the State Department will warn U.S. citizens to depart the country, too. Ukraine is already a Level 4: Do Not Travel on the department’s travel advisory, with an explicit warning that “Russia is planning significant military action against Ukraine.”

But while Americans will be warned to depart this week, the State Department is making clear that they will not be evacuated on government aircraft, like in Afghanistan — an evacuation that the department continues to say is not a precedent.

“If there is a decision to change our posture with respect to American diplomats and their families, American citizens should not anticipate that there will be U.S. government-sponsored evacuations,” the State Department’s spokesperson said. “Currently commercial flights are available to support departures.”

The decision to evacuate some staff and families from the embassy has upset the Ukrainian government, according to one source, who said they were “p—– off.”

Ukrainians on the ground in Kyiv and at the front lines in the war between Ukraine and Russian-led forces in eastern provinces have told ABC News they are less convinced that a full-scale Russian attack is imminent. Some have suggested that the pressure from Moscow is a bluff — and one they see the U.S. as buying into with moves like this.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy hinted at that during his meeting with Secretary of State Antony Blinken Wednesday, telling him during a photo-op beforehand, “Your intelligence is excellent, but you are far overseas, and we are here, and I think we know some things a little bit deeper.”

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Biden’s 1st-year record on immigration: tough challenges, harsh criticism

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(WASHINGTON) — President Joe Biden has faced persistent challenges as his administration worked to reform U.S. immigration policy during his first year in office.

Some efforts over the past 12 months have succeeded in reversing hardline measures from the Trump era while other promises have stalled, generating harsh criticism from immigrant advocates.

Despite setbacks, Biden in sheer numbers has made more changes than Trump to federal immigrationpolicy with many reversals to the way the U.S. enforces immigration law.

Biden issued 296 executive actions during his first year compared to 86 in Trump’s first year and 472 over his four-year term, according to analysts from the non-partisan Migration Policy Institute.

Perhaps the most sweeping impact of the Biden presidency in immigration policy can be seen in the new approaches to interior immigration enforcement or the way Immigration and Customs Enforcement makes arrests.

Last September, ICE leadership moved to implement enforcement guidelines that once again made violent criminal offenders a top priority for deportation.

“This is a huge change in the way we approach enforcement writ large,” MPI Senior Fellow Muzaffar Chishti said during a policy conference this week.

While the prior administration openly justified an enforcement crackdown as a necessary means of deterrence, Biden’s security officials have ended long-term family detention and discontinued workplace raids.

Advocates decry the continued use of private ICE facilities and many have called for the end of civil immigration detention altogether.

“In the United States everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect,” Detention Watch Network Executive Director Silky Shah said Friday. “ICE enforcement and detention is inhumane, morally and financially costly, and completely unnecessary.”

Nonetheless, ICE arrests have been cut in half compared to the final year of the Trump presidency and the detained immigrant population is the lowest since 1999, according to MPI.

But at the border, it’s how the administration has handled new waves of unauthorized migration where the administration has faced immense challenges and criticism from a wide range of political perspectives.

Left-leaning advocacy groups point to the continued use of the rapid deportation protocols known as “Title 42,” which limits access to U.S. legal resources for unauthorized immigrants. The administration has engaged in legal battles to preserve the policy and, as recently as this week, continued the argument originally from Trump officials that the protocols are strictly a public health measure necessary to curb the global pandemic.

“It has been frustrating to all of us inside and personally to me I wish we there was more that we we — there’s more that — much more than we need to be doing and could be doing and — building blocks for that are also underway,” outgoing White House Deputy Director for Immigration Esther Olavarria said this week.

From the right, Biden faced strong opposition this year to his attempts at rolling back Trump-era practices including the “Remain in Mexico” policy which forced tens of thousands of asylum seekers to wait for their U.S. immigration court hearings in Mexico. After the states of Texas and Missouri launched a lawsuit against the repeal of “Remain in Mexico,” the Biden administration was forced to reinstate the practice while it continues an appeal.

“He completely dismantled the successful policies of the previous administration,” Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., said at a press conference Thursday.

The year was marked with a historic level of unauthorized border crossing attempts which hit a peak of 213,000 in the month of July, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. More than a quarter of those encounters with immigration authorities involved repeat offenders.

The easing of enforcement measures against immigrants in the country without legal documentation, Republicans say, has signaled to prospective migrants that attempting an illegitimate asylum claim might succeed.

The need to strengthen the immigration legal process is another spoke in the wheel of challenges for Biden’s immigration agenda. For migrants who avoid the “Title 42” rapid expulsion process and are directed to the typical “Title 8” route, cases are brought before an administrative judge and can take months or years to resolve. This past year, the immigration court case backlog surpassed 1.5 million for the first time, according to researchers at Syracuse University.

For those on the pathway to obtaining a green card, also known as legal permanent residency, the administration made a significant change with with reversal of the Trump administration “public charge” rule, which imposed new income and education requirements on immigrant applicants.

Biden has also sought to boost refugee admissions as well as preserve DACA — the Obama-era policy that shields from deportation those brought to the country illegally as children. The administration was forced to draft a new rule implementing the program after a federal judge ordered all new applications halted.

On the legislative front, Biden’s promise to provide a pathway to citizenship for about 10.5 million unauthorized immigrants has faced major headwinds in the Senate. Multiple attempts to get some version of the proposal included in the “Build Back Better” spending package were shot down by the Senate parliamentarian last year. And this week, Biden said the agenda items in the Build Back Better Act may need to be split up anyway to get enough support.

Politically, views of Biden’s approach to immigration have dragged down his overall approval ratings over the past year. A Gallup poll released last November found just 31 percent of Americans approve of his handling of immigration issues.

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Anti-abortion rights proponents say they are prepping for ‘post-Roe America’

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(WASHINGTON) — The anti-abortion rights movement is at a critical moment, motivated in large part by conservative justices on the Supreme Court who seem poised to rule in favor of states’ stringent abortion laws. Now, with the majority of the highest court seemingly on their side, anti-abortion rights supporters are publicly preparing for a post-Roe v. Wade America.

“I know in my heart that the tide has turned for the pro-life movement” said former Vice President Mike Pence, speaking at the National Pro-Life Summit in Washington, D.C., on Saturday morning. Pence’s rallying remarks mark one of several public appearances related to the Supreme Court challenge to Roe v. Wade he’s given in the past several months.

“The pro-life generation has never been stronger. And thanks to all of you, life is winning in America again. And I believe the majority of the highest court in the land is on our side as well.”

At the summit, the rallying cry was clear: abortion rights opponents believe the post-Roe world is imminent. Kristan Hawkins, the president of the Students of Life America, roused crowds to “launch the next phase of the anti-abortion movement from Washington, D.C,. to every one of your state’s capitols.”

“The final fight for freedom is here. It’s today, it’s now,” said Hawkins.

And that mantra was echoed across the anti-abortion rights movement in recent days.

“Next year will be a new era, because Roe will be gone,” Daniel Lipinski, a former member of Congress from Illinois, told a crowd of anti-abortion advocates at Friday’s March for Life on the National Mall.

For the last 49 years, throngs of activists have poured into Washington on the anniversary of the passage of Roe v. Wade to evangelize their message, lobby Congress and march down Independence Avenue for their beliefs. Some high-level proponents hope this year’s gathering will be their last.

“We had a dream that we wouldn’t have to go back on a cold day in January every year,” said Cardinal Sean O’Malley in a homily mass on Friday at the National Prayer Vigil for Life.

“Perhaps this will be the year of Herod’s death,” O’Malley added, likening the biblical tale of King Herod to Roe’s potential demise, “when legal protection for unborn children will be enshrined in our laws.”

Members at all ranks of the anti-abortion rights movement show new confidence in a Supreme Court, outfitted by three appointees from then-President Donald Trump — appointees specifically chosen to overturn Roe, according to the former president. For the first time in decades, the justices are taking up one of the largest threats to abortion protections guaranteed by Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey with their consideration of Dobbs v. Jackson’s Women’s Health Organization, a challenge to a Mississippi law that bans nearly all abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. While a final decision isn’t expected until June, the justices’ response to oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson gave anti-abortion rights advocates new vigor.

“The energy from the pro-life movement today is palpable,” said Prudence Robertson, host of EWTN’s Pro-Life Weekly.

“We expect this year’s March for Life to be historic with even higher levels of enthusiasm from participants,” Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life, told ABC News in a statement. “We are all hopeful that, with the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case before the Supreme Court, this year will bring us much closer to building the culture of life we have all marched for since Roe v. Wade was imposed on our nation nearly 50 years ago.”

Jeff Hunt, vice president of public policy at Colorado Christian University, who was previously affiliated with both Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney’s presidential bids, told ABC News that this year’s March for Life comes at a “historic moment.”

“We are the precipice of weakening the stranglehold Roe v. Wade has had on American citizens’ rights to address abortion policy,” said Hunt.

Such weakening is not new. Over the past several years, states have been highlighting and passing anti-abortion rights policies, aided heavily by the Trump administration appointing conservative judges at near breakneck speed. In 2019 alone, 18 states enacted laws to prohibit or restrict abortion, with nine of them enacting pre-viability bans, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights, a pro-abortion rights advocacy group.

Last year, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed into a law that bans all abortions once cardiac activity is detected, while newly installed Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin has freshly tasked his new chief diversity officer to serve as an “ambassador for unborn children.”

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Some state lawmakers focusing on abortion access amid challenge to Roe v. Wade

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(WASHINGTON) — Several state lawmakers are looking to expand abortion access this legislative session while a challenge to Roe v. Wade is before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Two bills out of Maryland and Washington aim to increase the pool of abortion providers operating in the states, which will likely see an increased demand for the service should the conservative-leaning high court overturn or limit Roe in the coming months through its decision on the Mississippi case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health.

Washington state Sen. Emily Randall, the majority whip for the Senate Democratic Caucus, is the lead sponsor of a bill under consideration this session that would expand abortion providers recognized under state law to include physician assistants and advanced registered nurse practitioners, in addition to physicians.

“Abortion providers in Washington are rapidly preparing for the increase in women and people … who will drive hundreds of miles to Washington’s borders from our neighbors in Montana, Idaho, Oregon and Nevada, depending on what type of ban the Supreme Court institutes,” Randall said during a media briefing Thursday with the State Innovation Exchange, a strategy center that supports state legislators nationwide in advancing progressive policies. “That’s why this policy is more important than ever.”

Democratic Maryland Del. Ariana Kelly, a former executive director at NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland, also plans to introduce legislation this session that would expand abortion access in the state by allowing qualified health care providers such as midwives and nurse practitioners to provide abortions and increase access to training for abortion providers. The so-called Abortion Care Access Act would also ensure Medicaid covers abortion procedures and eliminate copays and deductibles on abortion care.

“What we want to do is address what we see as a critical provider shortage and also affordability issues,” Kelly said during Thursday’s briefing, held two days before the 49th anniversary of Roe. “As we’re seeing an increased wait time for appointments, we can recognize that there’s a shortage of providers. In today’s climate, six months from now, I think we’re only going to see this getting worse.”

Kelly said that two-thirds of Maryland counties do not have abortion providers, particularly in rural areas, while the state is also seeing increased demand — including from patients flying in from Texas in the wake of a state ban on abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy. Helping Maryland residents access abortion care “more efficiently and effectively” may also help providers care for those coming from out of state, Kelly said.

Georgia Democratic state Rep. Park Cannon said she plans to introduce a resolution next week that addresses abortion access in the state, including for women of color, while a law that would ban abortion as early as six weeks in the state is being challenged in court.

“We need to resolve measures that say that Georgia has a strong commitment to the protection of reproductive health, rights and justice, which of course includes the right to safe and legal abortion care, but also the right to make reproductive decisions on your own,” Cannon said during the briefing.

Other states moving to protect abortion rights while the U.S. Supreme Court considers whether to uphold the Mississippi abortion ban include New Jersey, which last week enacted a bill that codifies the right to an abortion into state law.

The Vermont state legislature is also considering Prop 5, an amendment that would enshrine “reproductive autonomy,” including abortion, in the state constitution. If ultimately passed, the proposal could go before voters in November.

Meanwhile, states looking to restrict abortion rights include Florida, where state legislators are considering a bill that, like the Mississippi law before the Supreme Court, would ban most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Washington state Republicans have also introduced legislation this session that would roll back abortion access, including a bill that would make providing medical abortion methods a felony.

Additionally, voters in Kansas and Kentucky are expected to decide this year whether to amend their state constitutions to say there is no right to an abortion.

Last year, 108 abortion restrictions were enacted in 19 states, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-abortion rights research organization. That’s the highest total in any year since 1973, when the Supreme Court legalized abortion with its decision in Roe v Wade, the organization said.

After hearing arguments last month over the Mississippi law, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority appeared inclined to scale back abortion rights. A decision on the case is expected by the end of the court’s term in June.

Should the court overturn Roe, leaving the right to an abortion decided on a state-by-state basis, 26 states are “certain or likely” to ban abortion, according to a report published in October by the Guttmacher Institute.

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Bipartisan senators turn to reforming Electoral Count Act now that voting rights standoff over

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(WASHINGTON) — With voting rights reform now firmly in the rear view mirror, negotiations to reform the Electoral Count Act have ramped up, but it remains far from certain that the talks will bear fruit despite the growing bipartisan interest.

The obscure 19th century law that governs the counting of each state’s electoral votes for president, a process then-President Donald Trump and his allies sought to exploit to secure a victory not won at the ballot box, has long been the subject of bipartisan ire.

The law allows one congressman paired with one senator to object to the results submitted by each state, something both parties have done previously, although Trump allies in 2020 attempted to block the decision of far more states than ever before.

The vice president’s role in what usually is a perfunctory proceeding — counting and announcing the votes — is also extremely unclear, and Trump and his team attempted, in an effort to overturn the election, to exert pressure on then-Vice President Mike Pence to declare some states’ slates of electoral votes in question, pressure that led to the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

“I’ve always thought we should just repeal it,” Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., a former secretary of state, said Thursday. “If you can’t replace it, I’d be just for repealing it. I think it creates more problems than it creates solutions. And so I think there’s a lot of interest in doing something about that. And my guess is that the majority of Republican senators would agree with that.”

But therein lies the problem for Democrats, unsure if GOP interest in electoral law changes is real after the party’s unified, high-profile opposition to federal voting law changes. Republicans are, likewise, suspicious of Democrats whose leader, Chuck Schumer of New York, recently lambasted attempts to reform the ECA as “offensive.”

“If you’re going to rig the game and say, ‘Oh, we’ll count the rigged game accurately,’ what good is that?” Schumer recently scoffed when asked about budding ECA reform efforts. Branding those efforts “the McConnell plan,” since the GOP leader – Mitch McConnell of Kentucky — has expressed an openness to reforming the law, Schumer added, “It’s unacceptably insufficient and even offensive.”

Despite the lack of trust among the parties, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, has led bipartisan talks behind closed doors for the past three weeks to try to reform the law, with interest in those negotiations growing “big time” in the wake of the Democrats’ failed effort at broader electoral reforms, according to a Senate aide with knowledge of the matter.

“We’re going to be working hard over the recess,” Collins told reporters. “I’m very encouraged at the amount of interest that there is from both sides of the aisle.”

For his part, McConnell reiterated his support for possible ECA reform and the Collins talks Thursday, but went a bit further, telling ABC News, “I think it needs fixing, and I wish them well, and I’d be happy to talk a look at whatever they can come up with.” Asked for any red lines in those negotiations, the leader said, “I just encourage the discussion, because I think (the ECA) is clearly is flawed. This is directly related to what happened on January 6th, and I think we ought to be able to figure out a bipartisan way to fix it.”

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, an early member of the group, told ABC News, “There are about 10 Republicans and maybe four or five Democrats that are working on it. We exchanged a list of things that we thought ought to be included in an election reform package — some items related to making sure that election officials were not harassed, others related to how elections are certified, others related to what the role of the Vice President is in the electoral accounting process, how you would deal with an objection to a slate of electors.”

The details around how to implement each of these items would be complex, and the negotiation is “just now beginning to talk about which of these we’ll find sufficient support for in a bill,” said Romney.

Both conservative Democrats, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona — who refused to support changing the Senate rules to pass their party’s sweeping voting rights legislation — are working with Collins on ECA changes, along with GOP Senators Thom Tillis, Lisa Murkowski, and Roger Wicker, among others. Some senators, like Blunt, Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Ben Sasse, R-Neb., have shown interest, according to aides involved in the talks, but have yet to commit to being a part of the group.

Manchin, speaking with reporters about the talks, said he was particularly focused on violence and threats against poll workers which have ramped up in recent years in particular in the wake of Trump’s so-called “big lie” that he won the 2020 election but it was stolen from him by fraud.

“They’re scared now, because of the highly charged political atmosphere. We do want to make sure that we can raise this to the level of a federal crime if you accost, if you threaten anyone who works at the polls, you’ll be dealt with with the harshest penalties,” said Manchin, who is leading the talks for Democrats. “You’re not going to fool with the count and our voting people.”

The Collins-Manchin group plans to meet by Zoom in the next few days, with an eye toward potentially producing a legislative proposal at the end of next week’s recess, according to Romney, though Collins offered a more sober estimate. “I think we don’t know how long it’s going to take. We’ve done a lot of research. We’ve talked to election experts, professors, the election assistance commissioners, all sorts of people to make sure we get this right.”

Collins said the scope of her group’s work will go beyond just the 150-year old Electoral Count Act, like additional grant funding for states to improve the quality of their voting systems, and that she was encouraged by President Joe Biden’s comments expressing a willingness to work with Republicans to get this done.

A parallel effort is happening among a group of senior Democrats, including Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Angus King – – led by Schumer’s number two, Dick Durbin of Illinois. Durbin said he planned to talk to Sen. Collins about her efforts to see what might be done together.

“We wouldn’t necessarily merge our efforts, no. We just want to see what they are doing and talk it through,” Durbin told reporters this week.

In the House, a staff report from the Administration Committee, outlined in a 31-page report potential changes to the law which the group says is “badly in need of reform.” Their proposal could provide a foundation for the special committee investigating the Jan. 6 attacks from which to recommend legislative changes, the panel’s chair, Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., told NPR.

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