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

Beatrice Peterson/ABC News

(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.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Lawmakers face time crunch on infrastructure deals

uSchools/iStock

(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.”

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Six months after Capitol riot, progress meets with push for further investigation

wellesenterprises/iStock

(WASHINGTON) — While Capitol Police are marking six months since the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by touting changes the agency has made to better prepare for such incidents, Congress continues its push for further investigations into the deadly incident.

In a letter released by the Capitol Police Tuesday morning, Acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman paid tribute to the officers who lost their lives defending the Capitol in January and charted a path forward for the agency.

“We will never forget USCP Officers Brian Sicknick and Howie Liebengood, who died after the attack, nor the sacrifices of the nearly 150 law enforcement officers who were injured,” she wrote. “Throughout the last six months, the United States Capitol Police has been working around the clock with our Congressional stakeholders to support our officers, enhance security around the Capitol Complex, and pivot towards an intelligence-based protective agency.”

A Jan. 6 rally in support of then-President Donald Trump turned deadly after Trump encouraged his supporters to march to Capitol Hill, where Congress was meeting to certify Joe Biden’s election win.

Rioters breached barricades and security checkpoints, forcing Vice President Mike Pence and lawmakers to evacuate or shelter in place, temporarily disrupting the certification. Five people, including Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick, died during or after the riot, 140 police officers were injured and the Capitol building suffered approximately $1.5 million in damage.

Pittman touted changes the agency has made since then, such as increased information sharing and training.

She wrote that the U.S. Capitol Police have opened offices in Florida and California to monitor threats outside the D.C. area, with more offices set to open, and is working with Congressional oversight committees so the Capitol Police can immediately request assistance from the National Guard.

The National Guard, which was stationed at the Capitol since Jan. 6, left on May 24.

“Those are just some of the improvements the United States Capitol Police is making, with the support of our Congressional stakeholders, in the wake of the January 6 attack,” Pittman wrote.

The Justice Department has charged more than 500 people with actions related to the riot at the Capitol — with crimes ranging from misdemeanors to conspiracy.

The FBI is still on the hunt for the suspect who it says placed pipe bombs outside the Democratic National Committee and Republican National Committee the night before the riot.

The U.S. Capitol has seen an increase in physical security measures since the riot as well.

In a statement, Capitol police say they don’t discuss plans due to security concerns, but the outer permitter of the fencing that has been around the Capitol since right after the attack came down on March 24 and the remainder is slated to come down this week, sources familiar with the plan told ABC News.

The move comes as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi created a House Committee to investigate the events of Jan. 6 last week after Republicans in the Senate blocked the creation of a bipartisan committee to investigate the attack in a late May vote.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell pointed to investigative work being done by Senate committees, most notably a joint effort by the Senate Rules and Homeland Security, as evidence for why a bipartisan commission was not needed.

That joint effort yielded a 95-page report that found “significant breakdowns ranging “from federal intelligence agencies failing to warn of a potential for violence to a lack of planning and preparation by (U.S. Capitol Police) and law enforcement leadership.”

But the joint report was narrow in scope and did not examine events leading up to the Jan. 6 insurrection. Democrats called for further action, prompting Pelosi to form the select committee.

She tapped GOP Rep. Liz Cheney, who was stripped from her No. 3 leadership position in the House Republican conference due to her criticism of former President Donald Trump, to serve on the committee, along with seven other Democrats.

“We are very honored and proud she has agreed to serve on the committee,” Pelosi told reporters Thursday.

House Homeland Security Chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., will serve as chairman, which was widely expected.

House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy is allowed to appoint five Republicans to the committee, in consultation with Pelosi, who has ultimate veto power, but McCarthy has not yet named Republican members to the committee.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

‘We’ve lived through some of our darkest days’: Biden reflects on 4th of July, COVID

Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg via Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) — Emerging from the White House to “Hail to the Chief,” President Joe Biden addressed the largest event of his administration to declare: “All across this nation we can say America is coming back together.”

“This year, the Fourth of July is a day of special celebration. For we are emerging from the darkness of years. A year pandemic and isolation. A year of pain, fear and heartbreaking loss. Just think back to where this nation was a year ago. Think back to where you were a year ago. And think about how far we’ve come,” Biden said to applause from the crowd of 1,000 military families and essential workers.

Throughout his remarks, Biden sought to draw a sharp contrast between where the country was a year ago, and today, praising the American people for helping to get the virus under control by rolling up their sleeves to get their vaccination shots — though the nation missed his goal of having 70% of Americans vaccinated with at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by July 4.

While Biden used soaring rhetoric to celebrate the country’s success so far, he stressed the fight is not over, referencing the delta variants of the virus that have concerned medical experts, as cases spike in areas with low vaccination rates.

“Thanks to our heroic vaccine effort, we’ve gained the upper hand against this virus. We can live our lives, our kids can go back to school, our economy is roaring back. Don’t get me wrong. Covid-19 has not been vanquished. We all know powerful variants have emerged like the Delta variant,” Biden said.

“But the best defense against these variants is to get vaccinated. My fellow Americans, it’s the most patriotic thing you can do. So please, if you haven’t gotten vaccinated. Do it. Do it now. For yourself, for your loved ones, for your community, and for your country. You know, that is how we’ll stay ahead of these variants and protect the hard-won progress we’ve made,” the president continued.

“We never again want to be where we were a year ago today,” he added, with a wagging finger. “So today, while the virus hasn’t been vanquished, we know this: It no longer controls our lives. It no longer paralyzes our nation. And it is within our power to make sure it never does again.”

Pulling a card from his pocket, Biden struck a somber tone as he read the total number of U.S. COVID-19 deaths to date — 603,018 people lost their lives to the virus — and paid tribute.

“Each of them meant the world to someone they left behind. And those of you who have been through all this, know that to heal, you have to remember. We have to remember them. And we will. We commit to always remember them. That’s what we’ll do,” he said.

While partisan divisions have also caused a split in the vaccination views, Biden sought to pitch a message of unity, urging the country to come together to continue to get a handle on the virus and get back on track.

“You know, history tells us, when we stand together, when we unite in common cause, when we see ourselves not as Republicans or Democrats, but as Americans, then there is simply no limit to what we can achieve. None. Today we see the results of the unity of purpose. The unity of purpose we are forging — we’re our nation,” Biden said.

“For together we’re beating the virus,” he continued. “Together we’re breathing life into our economy. Together we will rescue our people from division and despair. But together we must do it. Over the past year, we’ve lived through some of our darkest days. Now I truly believe, I give my word, we are about to see our bright future.”

Earlier Sunday, Vice President Kamala Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff paid a visit to some firefighters in Los Angeles, along with Congressman Ted Lieu and his wife, Betty.

“Let’s take a minute to also reflect on what you all did during that last year and a half to keep pushing and you didn’t stop. You didn’t have the ability to stay at home. You were there to serve. So it’s an important day to also reflect on — on the good, right? And the fight, and our commitment to it. So thank you all,” she said.

The group visited Los Angeles Fire Department Station 19 in Brentwood, California, and both Harris and Emhoff noted that it is their neighborhood station.

“It’s personal to us,” Emhoff said. “This is our neighborhood station, so thank you for everything you do for our neighborhood, our neighbors. I know we’ve been evacuated a couple of times, and you guys were ready to protect our family. And we really appreciate it.”

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

White House official acknowledges younger Americans are ‘less eager’ to get vaccinated

ABC News

(WASHINGTON) — The lead White House COVID-19 response coordinator acknowledged Sunday that younger Americans feel less vulnerable to COVID-19, making them less likely to get vaccinated.

“Younger particularly those in their 20s, have felt less vulnerable to the disease and, therefore, less eager to get shots. They were made eligible later so they have not been eligible as long and we continue to see hundreds of thousands of young people vaccinated each week,” Jeff Zients told ABC “This Week” Co-anchor Martha Raddatz.

“If you are vaccinated, you’re protected. And if you’re not vaccinated, you’re not protected. And that’s particularly important for everyone, including young people, in light of delta variant,” Zients added.

However, in a new ABC News/Washington Post poll, among those not vaccinated, 74% said they probably or definitely won’t get a shot, which is up from 55% in April.

The high percentage of unvaccinated people who do not want to get a shot is raising concerns that vaccine rates could remain stagnant as the highly transmissible delta variant of COVID-19 spreads across the country. It’s estimated that the delta variant was found in approximately 26% of new coronavirus cases in the U.S.

“Our polls even show that 74% of those people will probably not or definitely won’t get a shot. So what does it mean for getting rid of the virus nationwide? Will it continue to be with us indefinitely?” Raddatz asked.

“We are seeing increases in cases in those areas in the country where there’s lower vaccination rates. So, it’s really important that people get vaccinated,” Zients responded. “The good news is confidence in the vaccine — those saying they’re willing to get vaccinated — has increased across time as more and more people know people who’ve been vaccinated and can see the benefits of being vaccinated.”

This type of encouragement might be working for some, including 20-year-old Ally Kirk of West Virginia, who told Martha Raddatz earlier this week she changed her mind and decided to get vaccinated.

“A lot of my friends started getting it. My parents were vaccinated. I felt a lot more comfortable with it. I did some research on my own. And I felt that it was time for me to get it. I was ready. I’m ready to move past COVID and get on with life back to normal,” Kirk told Raddatz.

“We do have a lot to celebrate,” Zients said Sunday. “We are much further along than I think anyone anticipated in this fight against the pandemic,” adding that 90% of adults 65 or older have received at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine.

But Raddatz pressed Zients for a more direct answer on the impact the unvaccinated will have on the nation’s fight to end the pandemic.

“But what does it mean for the nation if we have all these unvaccinated people who say they’re just not going to get it?” Raddatz asked.

“Well, we are — we are vaccinating millions of Americans each week. And we’re going to continue to do that. We’re going to continue to drive up the vaccination rate and we’re optimistic that more and more people will get vaccinated,” Zients responded.

As the Biden administration has officially fallen short of its goal to fully immunize 160 million Americans and to ensure 70% of adults get at least one shot by the Fourth of July, Raddatz also asked Zients about the mixed messaging of President Joe Biden preparing to host more than 1,000 first responders at the White House for Independence Day.

“I assume they’re taking precautions. But is having large crowds gather really the right message right now?” Raddatz asked.

“The event at the White House is being done in the right way. It’s an outdoor event with testing and screening. Vaccinated people are not wearing masks. Unvaccinated people masked,” Zients responded. “That said, we are doubling down on our efforts. Across the summer months, we will vaccinate millions more people because you need to get vaccinated to be protected against the Delta variant, and against this disease overall.”

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Vaccine hesitant are in ‘death lottery,’ W.Va. governor says

ABC News

(WASHINGTON) — As the country marks its 245th Independence Day, the Biden administration has officially missed its target of getting 70% of all adults at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine. And as state governments examine what went wrong with their vaccine rollout programs, a culprit is clear: the younger population is significantly less likely to be vaccinated.

“At the end of the day, the young people — we’re having a hard time getting them across the finish line and getting them vaccinated,” West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice told ABC “This Week” Co-anchor Martha Raddatz.

“They’re young people all across this country that are not getting vaccinated,” Justice added. “It’s a challenge. That’s all there is to it.”

Nationally, 67% of all adults have received one dose, but only 56.1% of adults in West Virginia have received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine — a surprise from a state that was lauded months ago as being one of the leaders in the U.S. on vaccine distribution.

When that statistic is broken down by age group, the vaccination rate plummets in younger generations. While more than 78% of the U.S. population over the age of 65 is vaccinated in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 39.5% of 18- to 24-year-olds are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

“Let’s go back to who’s not getting vaccinated,” Raddatz said. “The statistics will show it’s poverty, race and you just look at the map — it’s a lot of red states.”

“Well, I mean, there’s some truth to that and everything,” Justice responded. “Because, you know, the red states probably have a lot of people that, you know, are very, very conservative in their thinking. And they think, ‘Well, I don’t have to do that.’ But they’re not thinking right.”

“Do you really think those people who aren’t vaccinated — who as you said may be more conservative, may not want anybody in their business — are really ever going to get vaccinated?” Raddatz asked. “What could actually put them over the edge to want it at this point?”

“Well, Martha, I hate to say this, is what would put them over the edge, is an awful lot of people die,” Justice responded. “The only way that’s going to happen is a catastrophe that none of us want.”

“And so, we’re just going to keep trying,” he added.

In the capital of West Virginia, the local Kanawha-Charleston Health Department is only vaccinating eight to 10 people a day, according to Dr. Sherri Young, a health officer and the executive director of the health department. On their best day earlier this year, they had administered 5,344 shots.

“Do you think that last little trickle out there — which is pretty sizable — will ever do it?” Raddatz asked Young.

“Probably not,” Young replied.

According to a new ABC News/Washington Post poll, 74% of people who are unvaccinated probably won’t get a shot, which is up from 55% in April.

While reporting in West Virginia, ABC News came across dozens of individuals under the age of 35 who were still unvaccinated.

William Paterson, 22, of Morgantown, West Virginia, told Raddatz he would “probably not” get the vaccine because he felt he wasn’t at risk.

“Do you worry that you might give it to someone else?” Raddatz asked Paterson.

“A lot of the people in my family that are at health risks are already vaccinated, so I’m not really that worried about it right now,” he replied.

The state of West Virginia has continued to try incentivizing people to get vaccinated, offering multiple lotteries: a million dollar cash prize, custom-outfitted trucks, full four-year scholarships to any public institution in the state, lifetime hunting and fishing licenses, custom hunting rifles and shotguns, and getaways to West Virginia State Parks.

When asked if the vaccine lottery swayed his decision to get vaccinated, Paterson said “it doesn’t change anything really.”

Justice told ABC News that people are gambling with their lives.

“When it really boils right down to it, they’re in a lottery to themselves,” Justice said. “We have a lottery, you know, that basically says, ‘if you’re vaccinated, we’re going to give you stuff.'” “Well you’ve got another lottery going on,” Justice later added. “And it’s the death lottery.”

“I was saying earlier, that it’s the old, ‘you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make ’em drink,’ right?” Raddatz said to the governor. “You’ve provided the vaccine, and yet…”

“Maybe what you got to do is lead them to water — and then if they won’t drink — you’ve got to just, some way, stand up and push their head down to some way — at least a few will drink,” Justice responded. “And that’s what we got to do.”

Some young adults are gradually visiting their local pharmacies though. Ally Kirk, 20, got vaccinated the day ABC News spoke with her.

“Well, a lot of my friends started getting it,” Kirk told Raddatz, while explaining what changed her mind about getting vaccinated. “My parents were vaccinated. I felt a lot more comfortable with it. I did some research on my own, and I felt that it was time for me to get it. I was ready. I’m ready to move past COVID and get on with life back to normal.”

ABC “This Week” Co-anchor Martha Raddatz and ABC News’ Nate Luna contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Biden backs removing sexual assault, harassment cases from military chain of command

MivPiv/iStock

(WASHINGTON) — President Joe Biden has announced his support for the recommendation that prosecution of sexual assaults and sexual harassment cases be removed from the military chain of command in favor of independent prosecutors to handle those cases.

Recommended by an independent civilian panel that looked at sexual assault in the military, the change has been long been supported by advocates for sexual assault victims who say it will improve the handling of sexual assault allegations.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had already announced that he backed the same recommendation made by the Independent Review Commission on Sexual Assault on the Military when the group presented him with recommendations.

“I strongly support Secretary Austin’s announcement that he is accepting the core recommendations put forward by the Independent Review Commission on Military Sexual Assault (IRC), including removing the investigation and prosecution of sexual assault from the chain of command and creating highly specialized units to handle these cases and related crimes,” Biden said in a statement released Friday.

“Sexual assault is an abuse of power and an affront to our shared humanity,” he added. “And sexual assault in the military is doubly damaging because it also shreds the unity and cohesion that is essential to the functioning of the U.S. military and to our national defense.”

“Today’s announcement is the beginning, not the end of our work,” Biden said. “This will be among the most significant reforms to our military undertaken in recent history, and I’m committed to delivering results.”

Biden said he looked forward to working with Congress “to implement these necessary reforms and promote a work environment that is free from sexual assault and harassment for every one of our brave service members.”

The change to remove the military chain of command from prosecutions has been the centerpiece of legislation championed by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., for the last decade.

Recently, Gillibrand has received bipartisan support for a bill that has been previously voted down and not backed by the Pentagon.

But Gillibrand’s bill has not received the support of key lawmakers on the Armed Services Committees who are opposed to the removal of the chain of command from all felony cases, not just sexual assault prosecutions.

While Biden expressed support for the change in military sexual assault prosecutions, ahead of Friday’s announcement two senior administration officials seemed to indicate that Biden does not support broader changes in Gillibrand’s bill.

The officials said the independent panel recommends that the changes be enacted by Congress this year but that they not go into effect until 2023 to help build the infrastructure needed to bring special victims prosecutors on board.

“We reject the notion that shifting legal decisions about prosecution from command to prosecutors diminishes the role of those commanders,” said one of the officials.

“We believe, instead, that it enhances their role and places them in the lead of taking care of their people — the number one job of commanders — and creating climates of no tolerance for sexual assault, sexual harassment, and related crimes” the official added.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Gay couple wins case against florist after Supreme Court rejects appeal

DNY59/iStock

(WASHINGTON) — Over the objections of three conservative justices, the US Supreme Court has turned away an appeal from a Washington State flower shop that violated state anti-discrimination law by refusing to serve a same-sex couple on religious grounds.

The decision means a California Supreme Court judgment against Arlene’s Flowers and owner Barronelle Stutzman will stand. In 2013, Stutzman refused to arrange wedding flowers for a pair of long-time customers — Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed — saying that doing so would violate her religious beliefs.

“After Curt and I were turned away from our local flower shop, we cancelled the plans for our dream wedding because we were afraid it would happen again. We had a small ceremony at home instead,” said Robert Ingersoll in a statement. “We hope this decision sends a message to other LGBTQ people that no one should have to experience the hurt that we did.”

With help from the ACLU, the couple sued the shop under Washington’s anti-discrimination law, which says businesses that are open to the general public cannot refuse to serve someone based on sexual orientation, even on the basis of sincere religious beliefs.

After years of legal proceedings, the state’s highest court sided with the couple. In 2018, the US Supreme Court remanded an appeal from Arlene’s Flowers back to the state for a second look. A year later, the Washington Supreme Court affirmed its original decision.

“The adjudicatory bodies that considered this case did not act with religious animus when they ruled that the florist and her corporation violated the Washington Law Against Discrimination by declining to sell wedding flowers to a gay couple, and they did not act with religious animus when they ruled that such discrimination is not privileged or excused by the United States Constitution or the Washington Constitution,” the court wrote.

“The State of Washington bars discrimination in public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation. Discrimination based on same-sex marriage constitutes discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. We therefore hold that the conduct for which Stutzman was cited and fined in this case—refusing her commercially marketed wedding floral services to Ingersoll and Freed because theirs would be a same-sex wedding—constitutes sexual orientation discrimination under the [law],” the Washington high court wrote in 2019.

Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch indicated that they would have taken up the case to review the judgment against the shop. The justices who voted to reject the case did not elaborate.

Lawyers for Stutzman in a statement online called the decision “devastating news.”

“The Supreme Court has once again said that critical nondiscrimination laws protecting LGBTQ people are legally enforceable and has set a strong and definitive precedent,” said Alphonso David, president of Human Rights Campaign, an LGBT advocacy group.

Earlier this week, the court delivered another win for LGBT rights advocates by rejecting the appeal of a Virginia school board seeking to impose a transgender bathroom ban. The move means schools in at least five states can no longer discriminate on the basis of gender identity in the use of restroom facilities.

The Court has sought to balance religious liberty and LGBT rights in a number of recent decisions.

The justices unanimously sided with Catholic Social Services this month in its dispute with the City of Philadelphia over discrimination against LGBTQ people in screening parents for foster care.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Biden is rated poorly on handling crime; alternative approaches win broad favor: POLL

Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

(NEW YORK) — The number of Americans seeing crime as an extremely serious problem in the United States is at a more than 20-year high, President Joe Biden is underwater in trust to handle it and broad majorities in an ABC News/Washington Post poll favor alternative crime-fighting strategies to address it.

A sweeping 75% in the national survey said violent crime would be reduced by increasing funding to build economic opportunities in poor communities. Sixty-five percent said the same about using social workers to help police defuse situations with people having emotional problems.

These measures, aimed at underlying causes of crime, are most apt to have been seen as effective, by substantial margins, of five that were tested. Among the others, 55% think increasing funding for police departments would reduce violent crime, 51% say the same about stricter enforcement of existing gun laws and 46% say so about stricter gun-control laws.

See PDF for full results and charts.

Broad support for alternative anti-crime measures comes against a backdrop of heightened high-level concern. Twenty-eight percent of Americans see crime in the United States as an extremely serious problem, a relatively small group but the most to hold this view compared to nearly annual polls by Gallup from 2000 to 2020. The average across those previous polls is 19%.

Views of crime in the country as a high-level problem expand to 59% when including those who see it as very serious, not just extremely serious. As typically is the case, far fewer, 17%, see crime as an extremely or very serious problem in the area where they live, though this is at a numerical high — by a single percentage point — compared to Gallup polls since 2000.

This poll, produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates, finds a troubling difference in the experience of crime along racial and ethnic lines. While 13% of white people and 17% of Hispanic people call crime an extremely or very serious problem in the area where they live, this jumps to 31% among Black people.

Politically, just 38% of adults overall approve of how Biden is handling the issue of crime in this country, with 48% disapproving. That said, Americans divide almost exactly evenly on which political party they trust more to handle crime — 36% pick the Republicans, 35% the Democrats, about the average difference between the parties on this question in polls going back to 1990. Twenty percent volunteered that they don’t trust either party on crime.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Garland orders halt to any further federal executions

Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) — Attorney General Merrick Garland has ordered a temporary halt to the Justice Department advocating any scheduling of further executions of federal inmates, according to a memo.

Garland in a memo to senior officials at the department Thursday echoed his own recently stated reservations about use of the death penalty, noting a number of defendants who were later exonerated as well as statistics showing possible discriminatory impact on minorities.

“The Department of Justice must ensure that everyone in the federal criminal justice system is not only afforded the rights guaranteed by the Constitution and laws of the United States, but is also treated fairly and humanely,” he wrote in the memo. “That obligation has special force in capital cases. Serious concerns have been raised about the continued use of the death penalty across the country, including arbitrariness in its application, disparate impact on people of color, and the troubling number of exonerations in capital and other serious cases.”

“Those weighty concerns deserve careful study and evaluation by lawmakers. In the meantime, the Department must take care to scrupulously maintain our commitment to fairness and humane treatment in the administration of existing federal laws governing capital sentences,” he continued.

The new directive comes after Garland’s predecessor in the job, William Barr, had resumed the department’s use of capital punishment against inmates a year ago, after a nearly two-decade lapse. He also pushed for executions of several federal prisoners during the transition period before President Joe Biden — who opposes the death penalty — took office.

The federal government in 2020 executed more people than all 50 states combined, according to a year-end report from the Death Penalty Institute, a non-partisan, death penalty information center that tracks death row inmates and executions.

The directive, however, is not expected to impact the department’s position taken recently in the case of Boston bomber Dzokhar Tsarnaev, a person familiar with the matter told ABC News. Officials last month urged the Supreme Court to overturn a lower court’s ruling and reinstate Tsarnaev’s death penalty despite Biden’s stated opposition to capital punishment.

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

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.