Biden signs executive order aimed at increasing competition in US economy

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(WASHINGTON) — President Joe Biden signed a wide-ranging executive order Friday afternoon aimed at minimizing the stranglehold of monopolies on certain industries and increasing competition among companies, which the White House believes will benefit consumers by driving down prices.

“For decades, corporate consolidation has been accelerating. In over 75% of U.S. industries, a smaller number of large companies now control more of the business than they did 20 years ago. This is true across health care, financial services, agriculture and more. That lack of competition drives up prices for consumers,” according to a White House fact sheet.

Targeting air travel, labor practices, meat processing and more, the executive order contains 72 initiatives overseen by a dozen different government agencies.

Here is some of what’s in the order:

  • It will allow owners of iPhones, appliances and other machinery to attempt to perform repairs on their devices themselves or seek out repairs at independent shops without voiding warranty protections.
  • It requires the FAA to mandate efficient airline refunds for lost bags and dysfunctional WiFi service.
  • It aims to lower the price of prescription drugs by urging state and local tribes to import cheaper drugs from Canada, a move long supported by Democrats, and former President Donald Trump.
  • Hearing aids, which can often run consumers thousands of dollars, would be able to be sold over the counter under the order.
  • The order will encourage the FTC to limit non-compete agreements that prevent workers from seeking out better-paying jobs and affect some 30 to 60 million Americans. It also encourages the FTC to ban unnecessary licensing requirements for jobs like accounting and hairdressing, which differ from state to state and prove burdensome, especially for military families who frequently move.

These items in particular, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday, are “fulfilling [Biden’s] campaign promise to promote competition in labor markets in order to raise wages and make it easier for workers to change jobs and to move between states.”

The changes won’t be immediately evident to Americans since the executive order merely kicks off longer rule-making and regulatory processes. Some of the executive actions are only recommendations, especially on those areas governed by the FTC and FCC, which are meant to be independent agencies not obligated to carry out White House directives.

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White House officials arrange confidential sales of Hunter Biden’s art

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(NEW YORK) — A New York gallery owner will facilitate sales of Hunter Biden’s original artwork, an arrangement meant to diffuse concerns over buyers paying top dollar to win influence with the president’s son, according to a source familiar with the situation.

The gallerist, Georges Berges, will independently set prices on the artwork of President Joe Biden’s son and keep the identities of buyers confidential, including from the president and administration officials. Berges will be the sole person authorized to collect, reject and agree on offers. Berges has agreed to reject any offer that seems unusual, including offers above asking price.

White House officials were involved in creating the arrangement, according to the source, as a way to avoid any suggestion of preferential treatment or conflict of interest.

According to the Washington Post, which first reported the story, Berges has said Hunter Biden’s artwork could be priced anywhere from $75,000 to $500,000.

But ethics experts are raising concerns about the agreement.

“This arrangement is problematic. The best disinfectant, in this case, would have been to have a publicly open process. The public could see who the purchasers are, and then it would be incumbent upon the Bidens to bear the burden of saying why it isn’t a conflict,” said Meredith McGehee, executive director of Issue One, a nonprofit dedicated to reducing the influence of money in politics.

“The White House went the absolute opposite way they should have gone. The only people, in the end, who won’t know who the buyers are is the public. By going the shadow direction, this raises more questions than answers,” she said.

In a statement to ABC News, White House deputy press secretary Andrew Bates said “the president has established the highest ethical standards of any administration in American history, and his family’s commitment to rigorous processes like this is a prime example.”

But Richard Painter, who was President George W. Bush’s top ethics lawyer, told ABC News he would have counseled against a secrecy deal for the president’s son during his time in the White House.

“The best solution would be to paint now, sell later, after his father is out of office,” Painter said.

“The problem is they chose the secrecy route and that just never works. I don’t want to say it’s like Trump’s tax returns, because he’s not the president. But whenever you don’t disclose something, whenever there’s secrecy people will assume the worst,” he added.

Still, Painter acknowledged Hunter Biden is not a government employee and has the right to do what he wishes with his art.

Hunter Biden has long used art as a way to cope with addiction and life tragedies, including the death of his brother Beau in 2015.

Biden said in a New York Times interview that painting “put my energy towards something positive.”

“It keeps me away from people and places where I shouldn’t be,” he said in the interview.

Don Fox, former general counsel of the Office of Government Ethics under the Obama administration, noted that career opportunities for children of any president are always subject to intense scrutiny.

“With visual art, the name of the artist is a huge factor in a piece’s value. The screening mechanism that has been put in place for the sale of Hunter Biden’s art may not be perfect, but it’s the best that could be done where the value of the product is so highlight subjective. Hunter Biden is entitled to earn a living,” Fox told ABC News.

Chris Clark, attorney for Hunter Biden, did not respond to a request for comment. A representative at Berges’s gallery declined to comment on the record.

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Conservatives distort Biden’s pledge to ‘knock on doors’ to get people vaccinated

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(WASHINGTON) — President Joe Biden’s push to enlist volunteers, including local doctors and pastors, to go “literally knocking on doors” to encourage vaccinations in some states sparked an outcry this week among conservatives, who mischaracterized the effort as the deployment of government agents to strong-arm reluctant Americans.

The blowback — from right-wing media and Republican politicians on Twitter — prompted a sharp response Thursday from the White House, which says any door-knocking efforts will be locally led by community volunteers.

“I would say, for those individuals, organizations that are feeding misinformation and trying to mischaracterize this type of ‘trusted messenger’ work, I believe you are doing a disservice to the country and to the doctors, the faith leaders, community leaders and others who are working to get people vaccinated, save lives, and help end this pandemic,” Biden’s COVID coordinator, Jeff Zients, said.

Earlier this week, after missing his own goal to ensure 70% of U.S. adults received at least shot by the Fourth of July, Biden called for a stepped-up vaccination strategy that would rely on volunteers like faith leaders, local medical professionals and community organizations to canvas neighborhoods.

He also promised to assign White House-coordinated “surge teams” to any states requesting help, including personnel to help track outbreaks, boost testing or tailor pro-vaccine messages to the public.

“We need to go to community-by-community, neighborhood-by-neighborhood and, often times, door-to-door, literally knocking on doors to get help to the remaining people protected from the virus,” Biden said.

The comment was swiftly picked up by conservative pundits and outlets suggesting that federal agents would soon be knocking on doors or mandating a vaccine.

“How about don’t knock on my door,” tweeted Rep. Dan Crenshaw, a Texas Republican. “You’re not my parents. You’re the government. Make the vaccine available, and let people be free to choose. Why is that concept so hard for the left?”

Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan tweeted: “The Biden Administration wants to knock on your door to see if you’re vaccinated. What’s next? Knocking on your door to see if you own a gun?”

The Biden administration has said repeatedly that the federal government won’t mandate vaccines and will leave it up to businesses and schools to decide.

“It’s up to every individual to decide whether they’re going to get vaccinated,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki this week.

Still, that message was muddied Thursday when Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra told CNN in an interview that “it is absolutely the government’s business” to know who isn’t vaccinated because of the money spent on the effort. He later added: “You don’t have to answer the door but I hope you do.”

Becerra later tweeted that his comments were being taken “wildly out of context.”

“To be clear: government has no database tracking who is vaccinated,” Becerra said. “We’re encouraging people to step up to protect themselves, others by getting vaccinated. It’s the best way to save lives and end this pandemic.”

In Missouri — one of the first states to receive help from the federal “surge” teams that Biden promised — the Republican governor there tweeted that government “agents” going door-to-door aren’t welcome.

“I have directed our health department to let the federal government know that sending government employees or agents door-to-door to compel vaccination would NOT be an effective OR a welcome strategy in Missouri!”

But according to an administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity, federal door knockers were never planned. At the request of the state’s health department, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention deployed an epidemiologist to Missouri on Monday to help with genetic sequencing and data analysis through Aug. 6.

Another CDC official – a “risk communication specialist” – was tasked to provide remote support for one month to the Missouri Chief Bureau of Immunizations to help address local vaccine hesitancy and drive up vaccination numbers.

In a statement, the Missouri health department said it hoped more support was on its way.

“We are looking forward to collaborating with them and learning more about how the Delta variant is impacting Missouri, specifically southwest Missouri initially,” the department said in a statement.

“More team members will be added in the coming weeks, both remotely and in person, to assist with data and research, vaccine uptake strategies and outreach,” the department added.

ABC producer Arielle Mitropoulos and Sasha Pezenik contributed to this report.

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McCarthy expected to appoint Republicans to Jan. 6 select committee

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(WASHINGTON) — After playing coy on the subject, GOP House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is planning to appoint Republicans to the select committee to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, Republican sources familiar with his plans tell ABC News.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced last week that Democrats would move forward with creating the select committee after Senate Republicans blocked a proposal for an independent, bipartisan commission.

McCarthy — who will get five appointments to the committee — hadn’t initially decided whether he would appoint anyone at all and reportedly privately threatened Republicans who would accept an appointment by Pelosi.

When asked at a press conference last week about his intentions he said: “When I have news on that, I’ll give it to you.”

A senior GOP aide familiar with the process said there are ongoing efforts to decide which members to appoint, with some likely being allies of former President Donald Trump who have attempted to downplay the rioting and attack at the Capitol on Jan. 6.

Some Republicans expect McCarthy to use the appointments to undermine what they see as the key aim of Pelosi in creating the commission — to politically damage Trump and other allies who objected to certifying President Joe Biden’s election victory.

However, McCarthy is also getting pressure from some in the party to appoint more moderate Republican lawmakers. The timing of an announcement is unclear, but is likely to happen within the next two weeks, sources say.

Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., one of the Democrats Pelosi has already tapped for the committee, told on CNN on Thursday that Republicans “have an obligation to put in a good-faith effort to get all the facts.”

“We’re going to start with having law enforcement officers testify to share their experiences that day,” she said when asked whether Trump would be called to testify.

Pressed whether McCarthy himself could be called to testify, as it’s known that he and Trump shared a phone call while rioters stormed the building, Murphy didn’t rule it out.

“I think that members of congress could be and will be probably called to testify under oath about their different perspectives on that day,” she said.

Pelosi last month introduced the measure to from the committee comprising 13 members after a bipartisan 9/11-style commission failed to pass the Senate. Eight committee members are to be selected by Pelosi and the other five chosen by McCarthy must be picked in consultation with the House speaker, the measure dictates.

Pelosi announced last week her selections for the committee, with much of the spotlight on Republican Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, an outspoken critic of Trump who was stripped of her No. 3 GOP leadership role earlier this year.

Pelsoi also said House Homeland Security Chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., will chair the committee, which will include Murphy and Reps. Zoe Lofgren, Adam Schiff, Pete Aguilar, Jamie Raskin and Elaine Luria.

Following Pelosi’s press conference, McCarthy denied reports that he threatened GOP members with taking away committee assignments if they were to accept a select committee position but took the chance to question Cheney’s place in the Republican Party.

“I was shocked that she would accept something from Speaker Pelosi. It would seem to me, since I didn’t hear from her, maybe she’s closer to her than us,” McCarthy said.

The resolution to form the House committee to investigate the attack passed last month mostly along party lines — other than Cheney and Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., who broke from Republicans to vote for its passage.

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Kamala Harris to announce DNC investing additional $25 million in voting rights initiative

Official White House t by Lawrence Jackson

(WASHINGTON) — The Democratic National Committee is investing an additional $25 million in its voting rights initiative, Vice President Kamala Harris is set to announce Wednesday, underscoring the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to a cause that has become a rallying cry for the party.

“This campaign is grounded in the firm belief that everyone’s vote matters. That your vote matters,” Harris plans to say, according to excerpts of her prepared remarks shared with ABC News. “I want to make clear that this is about all voters. It doesn’t matter to us if you are a Democrat or not. We want to help you vote, and we want to help make sure your vote is counted. Why? Well, because our democracy is strongest when everyone participates, and it is weaker when people are left out.”

DNC Chairman Jaime Harrison previously announced a $20 million initial commitment to the initiative, called “I Will Vote.” Priorities USA, one of the largest Democratic super PACs that litigated over 15 voting-centric cases, has also committed $20 million to fighting efforts to curtail access to the ballot box.

Harris will announce the investment when she gives remarks at Howard University in Washington at 1 p.m. President Joe Biden and Harris are also meeting with civil rights leaders at the White House at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday and will discuss this issue and the effort to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. Representatives from the NAACP, National Urban League and National Action Network, among others, will attend.

The $25 million will be used to fund voter education and protection efforts, targeted voter registration and technology to increase voting accessibility and combat “Republicans’ unprecedented voter suppression efforts,” according to the DNC.

“Republicans know that their policies are unpopular — and that the only way for them to hold on to power is to attack the constitutional right to vote, held by the people they swore to serve. That’s why the Republican Party has made unprecedented efforts to keep people from voting,” Harrison said in a statement. “I’ve said time and again that the ‘D’ in Democrat stands for deliver, and today we are delivering innovative and historic resources to protect this fundamental part of our democracy.”

The investment comes amid a nationwide Republican effort to pass what they call “election integrity” laws that often tighten voting restrictions and restrict access to the ballot box. Republicans endorsing these bills often point to the diminished trust among voters in U.S. elections but fail to address former President Donald Trump’s repeated attempts to undermine the 2020 election by falsely claiming there was mass voter fraud and that he actually won in November.

In the 2021 legislative sessions alone, state lawmakers across the country introduced nearly 400 bills that include restrictive voting provisions, according to the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice’s analysis. At least 17, mostly GOP-led states, have enacted 28 new laws this year that at least in part restrict voter access.

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Democrats seek swift timeline for Senate consideration of bipartisan infrastructure deal

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(WASHINGTON) — Congressional Democrats are eyeing a swift timeline for Senate approval of a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure plan, aiming to have the legislation on the floor as early as the week of July 19, according to three sources with knowledge of the matter.

The details of the timeline, including a push to have legislative language ready for consideration by Friday, were discussed among Democratic congressional aides and Louisa Terrell, the head of White House Legislative Affairs, and her deputy, Shuwanza Goff on a call Wednesday, the sources said.

The next hurdle for the bipartisan group of more than 20 co-sponsors, led by Sens Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz, and Rob Portman, R-Ohio, would be to obtain an official analysis of their bill by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office which crunches the numbers to see if proposed revenue would cover the desired new spending. That process takes time and usually far longer than most think or want.

The White House call and July 19 timeline were first reported by Politico.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has said he wants the bipartisan package considered before the August recess. He said a sweeping — potentially $5 trillion — budget bill containing a blueprint for the top priorities of the administration and congressional Democrats, like child and elder care, Medicare expansion and climate change policies, would eventually be considered just after the monthlong summer recess.

The latter bill — a budget resolution laying the groundwork for a so-called reconciliation bill that would be crafted under arcane chamber rules that require just a simple majority — would instruct multiple committees to draft pieces of a broader bill. The final product would require unanimous Democratic support in the Senate and nearly every Democrat in the House, given that no Republican is expected to vote for it.

The budget resolution and its directives to committees, which unlocks the reconciliation process, is being crafted by Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and is expected to be unveiled early next week, according to two Democratic sources familiar with the matter.

Sanders has acknowledged the broad range of views among his Democratic panel members and caucus colleagues, conceding weeks ago that his ambitious price tag might need to shrink to win support.

The timeline for all of this is incredibly bold as Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi attempt to appease disparate factions of their caucuses. And Pelosi has insisted that she will hold onto any bipartisan infrastructure legislation that passes the Senate until that chamber also approves the reconciliation bill.

Moderates like Sens. Mark Warner, D-Va., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., have pushed for a far smaller package and urged against dramatically raising taxes on the wealthy to pay for the plan.

And Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has made no secret of the fact that he plans to make it exceedingly difficult for his Democratic counterparts to maintain unity, urging centrist Democrats not to sign onto the sweeping, Democrats-only legislation.

“This is going to be a hell of a fight over what this country ought to look like in the future and that’s all going to unfold here in the next few weeks,” McConnell said Tuesday.”There is a process by which they could pass this bill without a single Republican, but we are going to make it hard for them,” McConnell said at an event Wednesday in his home state. “And there are a few Democrats left in rural America and some others who would like to be more in the political center who may find this offensive.”

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Biden taunts McConnell for ‘bragging’ about relief bill he voted against

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(WASHINGTON) — President Joe Biden taunted Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Wednesday for having acknowledged his home state of Kentucky will receive money from the Biden administration-backed American Rescue Plan — despite McConnell not having voted for it.

Biden was in Illinois to promote his his “Build Back Better” agenda and sell the bipartisan infrastructure package and a second, larger package on “human infrastructure” that Democrats are hoping to pass through reconciliation — a process which allows them to bypass the usual 60-vote threshold necessary to pass bills in Congress.

ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Cecilia Vega asked the president about remarks McConnell made Tuesday on his infrastructure packages.

“Mitch McConnell says you’re in for a heck of a fight on this one,” Vega said to Biden.

“Mitch McConnell loves our programs,” the president said with a smile.

He added that the Republican leader had acknowledged, as recently as Tuesday, that although he did not support the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package passed in March, its funding will help McConnell’s constituents.

“Have you seen what Mitch McConnell said? He told me he wasn’t going to get a single vote in order to allow me to get, with the help of everybody here, that $1.9 trillion … program for economic growth,” he said. “Look it up, man. He’s bragging about it in Kentucky.”

“It’s a great thing for Kentucky, it’s getting $4 billion to help poor — it’s amazing,” Biden added, mimicking McConnell and gesturing widely.

In fact, McConnell at an event on Tuesday in his home state did talk about the American Rescue Plan.

“So you’re gonna get a lot more money. I didn’t vote for it. But you’re gonna get a lot more money,” he said.” My advice to members of the legislatures and other public officials is spend it wisely, because hopefully this windfall doesn’t come around again.”

He also vowed that Republicans would wage a “hell of a fight” if Democrats attempt to pass a sweeping multi-trillion dollar infrastructure plan along party lines.

“This is not going to be done on a bipartisan basis. This is going to be a hell of a fight over what this country ought to look like in the future and it’s going to unfold here in the next few weeks. I don’t think we’ve had a bigger difference of opinion between the two parties,” McConnell said.

Biden on Wednesday visited Crystal Lake, Illinois, a district former President Donald Trump won in 2020 but that is represented by Democratic Rep. Lauren Underwood.

In remarks following a tour of McHenry County College, Biden expressed hope that the nation addressing infrastructure will not just drag on and become a running joke as it has been in the past.

“God willing, we’re not gonna have 40 — 40 weeks of, ‘this is infrastructure week.’ Do you remember those?” he said, referring to events during the Trump administration.

Biden focused his speech — which he concluded by describing as “boring” but “important” — on selling the “human infrastructure” aspects of the American Families Plan, calling it “essential” and the “second critical part” of his domestic agenda that he hopes to include in a reconciliation bill.

“To truly win the 21st Century and once again lead the world, to truly build an economy from the bottom up and the middle out, to truly deal everybody in this time, we need to invest in our people,” he said.

When the Senate returns to Washington next week, lawmakers hoping to move on Biden’s infrastructure agenda will be in a race against the clock to navigate a precarious political landscape before the summer comes to a close.

ABC News’ Sarah Kolinovsky, Justin Gomez and Allison Pecorin contributed to this report.

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Biden to meet with national security experts on ransomware defense

Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

(WASHINGTON) — President Joe Biden is slated to meet with national security and government leaders Wednesday to discuss the latest ransomware threat that happened over the holiday weekend.

Kaseya, an information technology and management solutions company, said 50 of its 35,000 clients were affected by a ransomware breach.

“While impacting approximately 50 of Kaseya’s customers, this attack was never a threat nor had any impact to critical infrastructure,” the company said in a statement on Tuesday. “Many of Kaseya’s customers are managed service providers, using Kaseya’s technology to manage IT infrastructure for local and small businesses with less than 30 employees, such as dentists’ offices, small accounting offices and local restaurants. Of the approximately 800,000 to 1,000,000 local and small businesses that are managed by Kaseya’s customers, only about 800 to 1,500 have been compromised.”

It’s unknown who carried out the ransomware attack on Kaseya.

It’s not just critical infrastructure being targeted. The Republican National Committee said one of its computer system vendors was breached by criminal cyber activity but insists that no RNC data was accessed.

“Over the weekend, we were informed that Synnex, a third-party provider, had been breached. We immediately blocked all access from Synnex accounts to our cloud environment. Our team worked with Microsoft to conduct a review of our systems and after a thorough investigation, no RNC data was accessed. We will continue to work with Microsoft, as well as federal law enforcement officials on this matter,” RNC Chief of Staff Richard Walters said in a statement to ABC News.

The administration has put a renewed focus on cyber threats after a spate of ransomware attacks disrupted supply chains in various sectors, with the majority coming from hackers based in Russia.

“Even if there are criminal actors, even if it’s not the Russian government that attacks our critical infrastructure or our country through cyberattacks, we reserve the option to take action if they won’t do it on their own,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on MSNBC Wednesday morning. “The president reserves that option, meeting with some of his national security experts this morning to get an update, to have a discussion about ransomware, and we’ll see what we learn from there.”

In May, one of the nation’s largest pipeline companies, Colonial Pipeline, was hit with a ransomware attack, which prompted the administration to take action.

Biden signed an executive order shortly after the hack, which was aimed at modernizing the federal government’s response to cyberattacks by “improving information-sharing between the U.S. government and the private sector on cyber issues,” improving detection of hacks into federal systems and creating a “standardized playbook” for how the government responds to attacks, according to the White House.

In addition to the executive order, the Department of Homeland Security mandated that pipeline companies report cyber breaches to federal authorities within 12 hours. The directive came from the Transportation Security Administration.

Meat supplier JBS has also been hit with a ransomware attack, forcing its meat plants to stop operations for a few days.

Both JBS and Colonial Pipeline paid the ransom to get their systems back online.

“I made the decision to pay, and I made the decision to keep the information about the payment as confidential as possible,” Colonial Pipeline CEO Joesph Blunt told a Senate Committee in June. “It was the hardest decision I made in my 39 years in the energy industry, and I know how critical our pipeline is to the country, and I put the interest of the country first.”

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Trevor Reed’s dad protests outside White House, says he’s ‘hopeful’ for his son’s release after Biden-Putin summit

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(WASHINGTON) — On one of the hottest days of the summer, Joey Reed stood alone outside of the White House, holding a sign with a picture of his son that said in bold type: “Free Trevor Reed.”

“Former U.S. Marine Presidential Guard wrongfully imprisoned by Russia for almost 2 years! Innocent & being used as a bargaining chip by Russia,” the message on the sign continued. “Mr. President, our son protected you. Please bring him home. Please meet with me.”

The plea was written next to images of his son in uniform, including two taken of him with former President Barack Obama.

U.S. officials said the Marine veteran, has been held for nearly two years in Russia on charges that U.S. officials said were fabricated in an effort to use him as bargaining chips in a potential prisoner swap between the two countries.

Joey Reed told ABC News on Tuesday that he hopes that more Americans learn that his son is one of two former U.S. Marines being held there.

The elder Reed, who has met with several White House officials, said that he hopes to meet with President Joe Biden but until then he plans on standing outside of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

“We’re really surprised at how many Americans don’t know what’s happening with our son,” he said.

He added, that he “just wanted to be here and then also just raise attention with the president who’s already doing a great job for our son.”

Trevor’s saga started in Moscow in August 2019, the younger Reed, while visiting his girlfriend in the city, and studying Russian, was taken to a police station to sober up after a drunken party. He would later be questioned by agents from Russia’s FSB intelligence service, and suddenly charged with assaulting an officer according to his father.

During Biden’s June meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the president spoke about Reed and another Marine veteran, Paul Whelan, who has also been held in Russia for two years. The Kremlin during the June meeting signaled it might be prepared to discuss a deal for their release.

In response to ABC News on Tuesday, a White House spokesperson said, “The president raised the case of Trevor Reed directly to President Putin in Geneva. He was very clear about the need to resolve his and other cases and see him freed.”

“The welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad is one of the highest priorities of the U.S government,” the statement continued. “We will continue to speak on his behalf until Russia does the right thing and returns him to his family in the United States. Trevor has been deprived of his freedom for far too long. We continue to engage with Russia on this case, as well as other U.S. citizens wrongfully imprisoned in Russia.”

Joey Reed, a Texas native told ABC News on Tuesday, that his life revolves around freeing his 30-year-old son, who followed in his father’s footsteps to become an elite Marine. He even uprooted his life to move to Russia for 14 months in an effort to free him.

He said after the meeting between Biden and Putin he was “hopeful,” but he wants other Americans to know that his son is “innocent and he didn’t do any of the things that they say he was doing.”

Trevor “received the longest sentence in modern Russian history for assaulting police officers when no one was hurt, and the only evidence that shows that he didn’t do anything,” he added.

He said he’s spoken to several Biden officials about his son, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, earlier in the year for nearly two hours. Reed said he gets weekly updates from the State Department and that “they try and keep us informed and find out if there’s anything we need. And they tell us what they do.”

Reed said Russia is a beautiful country however, he’s warning other Americans thinking of traveling to Russia to think again.

“If we didn’t have this problem with their — with their government and or their law enforcement, you know I would — I would tell everyone to go there, but I recommend the opposite. No American should go there,” he said.

The past two years have been hard — he said his wife has crying spells and “sometimes I break down.”

“I see a movie or something related to what my son’s going through it hits home all of a sudden.”

However, he also said he takes each day at a time and is hopeful because he knows, “nothing’s gonna happen immediately, but you know there’s hope on the horizon with President Biden.”

ABC News’ Patrick Reevell, Tanya Stukalova and Molly Nagle contributed to this report.

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Lawmakers face time crunch on infrastructure deals

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(WASHINGTON) — When the Senate returns to Washington next week, lawmakers will be in a race against the clock to navigate a precarious political landscape in time to progress President Joe Biden’s infrastructure agenda before the summer comes to a close.

There are only four weeks remaining for lawmakers to make major moves on infrastructure, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has promised that both a bipartisan package focused on core infrastructure items and a second, larger, fast-tracked budget bill aimed at other priorities in Biden’s American Families Plan will be introduced in July.

Prospects for the $1.2 trillion bipartisan deal, forged by a group of five Senate Democrats and five Senate Republicans got a boost Tuesday from the bipartisan House Problem Solvers caucus, who gave the proposal it’s seal of approval in a statement.

“I’m thrilled to have the Caucus’s support for our bipartisan agreement to make historic investments in upgrading America’s critical infrastructure, creating jobs and expanding economic opportunities across the country without raising taxes,” said Senator Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., who led Senate negotiations on the bipartisan infrastructure package.

But critically, the caucus only lent it support to the stand-alone bipartisan bill. The group did not endorse tying the bipartisan infrastructure package to a larger bill that would be passed using a fast-track budget procedure called reconciliation, as some progressive Democrats have called for.

“We support bringing this bipartisan, bicameral proposal, which is strongly supported by the White House, to the House floor as a stand-alone vote,” Problem Solvers Caucus co-Chair Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., said Tuesday. “Let us vote on this package now — no strings attached. Let this bill be considered up-or-down on its own merits.”

It is not yet clear whether lawmakers will have a chance to consider the bipartisan package separate from a reconciliation package. Democratic leaders are pursuing a “two-track” approach that would move both pieces of legislation at the same time.

Biden faced considerable backlash following the announcement of the bipartisan deal last month for saying he would only consider the bipartisan package “in tandem” with the larger reconciliation package. The president had to issue a clarification to soothe Republican detractors.

Republicans have all but demanded the bipartisan bill stand alone for it to earn their backing while progressive Democrats have threatened to vote against the bipartisan deal unless they’re assured the larger package will also pass.

Legislative language is still coming together behind the scenes while the Senate is on recess.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said during a press briefing Tuesday that the White House is in contact with congressional staff working on crafting both the bipartisan package and the legislation that would be used in a budget reconciliation process. No bill text on either package is yet available.

“There’s a lot of work that needs to happen with Congress, and we expect over the next week there to be a lot of behind the scenes bill writing negotiations discussions on Capitol Hill, long nights, lots of coffee over the course of the next several days,” Psaki said. “Given that Leader Schumer has conveyed that he would like to see both the reconciliation package and the infrastructure bill on the floor in July, and we’re in July now in terms of the president’s priorities.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reaffirmed on Wednesday that she is still committed to tying the bipartisan package to a reconciliation package. It remains to be seen if those commitments will be enough to coax progressives in both the House and Senate who are reluctant to support the bipartisan deal without assurances of a reconciliation package to vote in favor of the bipartisan deal.

Democrats are working with the narrowest of margins in both chambers. In the House, there is a slim majority. In the Senate, every single Democrat, plus the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Kamala Harris, will be needed to pass a reconciliation package that will almost certainly face unanimous opposition from Senate Republicans.

Unanimity among the Senate Democratic Caucus is going to prove its own challenge, especially under such time constraints. Budget reconciliation is a time-consuming process, and Democrats as of late are on wildly different pages about the appropriate amount of money to allocate.

Budget Chairman Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., whose committee will lead the reconciliation process, has proposed as much as $6 trillion for the second package. But moderate Democrat Joe Manchin said he will only support that which can be credibly paid for.

“I want to make sure we pay for it. I do not want to add more debt on,” Manchin said on ABC News’ “This Week.” “So if that’s $1 trillion or $1.5 trillion or $2 trillion, whatever that comes out to be over a 10-year period, that’s what I would be voting for,” Manchin said.

Republican Leader Mitch McConnell conceded at a press event on Tuesday that if all Democrats are united behind a reconciliation effort, there’s little he can do to prevent them from moving forward.

That leaves the Republican leader dependent on Manchin — as well as other moderate Democrats — who he said may find the spending levels Sanders is proposing “offensive.”

McConnell said he still sees a path forward on the bipartisan infrastructure deal but promised that Senate Republicans are “going to make it hard” for Democrats to move forward on a reconciliation package.

“This is not going to be done on a bipartisan basis,” McConnell said of the larger reconciliation package. “This is going to be a hell of a fight over what this country ought to look like in the future and that’s all going to unfold here in the next few weeks.”

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