Political News

DeSantis talks Trump, Black history, Disney, state of GOP primary and more

ABC News

(MIDLAND, Texas) -- In a wide-ranging interview on Wednesday with ABC News Live Prime anchor Linsey Davis, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis sought to contrast himself with former President Donald Trump -- whom DeSantis hopes to catch up to and defeat in the 2024 Republican primary race -- while defending himself against outside criticism of his campaign and speaking about his plan for the southern border and other issues.

He also responded to Trump attacking him for signing a six-week abortion ban in his state.

DeSantis sat down with Davis at the site of an oil rig in Midland, Texas, before he rolled out his proposed presidential energy policy in front of reporters and oil workers.

On Trump: 'We have a lot of differences'

Asked to differentiate himself from Trump, the leading GOP primary candidate in polls, DeSantis pointed to his upbringing compared with Trump's.

"I'm a blue-collar kid that had to work minimum wage jobs to get where I was," he said, before rattling off other differences.

"I could serve two terms. He would be a lame duck on day one. I ran 16 points better than him in Florida in my most recent race than he did in his most recent race. I've also delivered on these 'America first' policies more than I think anybody in the country and would have a much better chance of actually delivering all this as president," he said.

"So I think that there are a lot of things that people can look at, but I'm going to be there," DeSantis added.

The governor had sharp words for Trump's expected absence at next week's Republican primary debate, in California.

"Well, first, he owes it to people to be there. He owes it to people to make the case and defend his record. You can't be just not showing up to these things," DeSantis said.

Trump has indicated he sees no reason to attend, given his lead. He has often derided DeSantis, including in personal terms, and said he's better able to carry out key Republican priorities.

DeSantis on GOP megadonor sitting out primary

DeSantis played down the role of wealthy donors in his campaign when asked by Davis about major Republican donor and Citadel CEO Ken Griffin sitting out the 2024 presidential primary, with Griffin saying he's not impressed with any of the alternative Republican presidential candidates to Trump.

Griffin, who was one of DeSantis' most prominent donors for his 2022 reelection campaign, cited the governor's current feud with Disney as a point of concern.

DeSantis said that he's not at the behest of large donors.

"I'm a leader, I'm not a follower," he said. "So we lead and we do what we think is right and people can support us or not support us financially. But you should not be led by trying to please very wealthy donors, and I've never operated that way."

Pressed by Davis about Griffin's criticism of not understanding his campaign strategy and the voting base he's trying to appeal to, DeSantis pushed back, arguing that his strategy is clear -- he's showing up for voters.

"These voters in these early states take their responsibility very seriously," DeSantis said. "They want to learn about what you've done. They want to learn about you, what you're going to do for the country and so we're doing that and we're going to continue to do that."

"We're delivering the message. When we do that, we have a great deal of success. We've got a lot more work to do because there's a lot more people to meet, but we're pleased with our progress," he said.

Deadly force at the border?

DeSantis has advocated for shooting members of drug cartels who try to bring drugs across the southern border -- a proposal that has drawn sharp outcry from advocates over humanitarian and legal concerns given the number of other migrants who also make the crossing.

He told Davis that U.S. forces would be able to differentiate a drug smuggler from other migrants.

"The same way you would tell for anything," he said, when asked.

"For example, I served in Iraq back in the day. al-Qaida didn't wear uniforms. You know, the typical Arab male would have had the man dress on. You didn't know if they had a bomb strapped to them or not. They carry around the AK-47s, normal civilians would, so you couldn't even say if they had," he said.

"So you had to make a determination -- can you positively identify somebody as hostile through either hostile action or hostile intent? And then you do it, same way anyone would do that even in the United States. So you will do that, we'll be collecting intelligence," DeSantis said.

Asked whether staging the military at the border would be a "recipe for chaos," the governor said, "Right now is the recipe for chaos."

"What is happening in this country is a problem," he added.

'We have every right to push back' against Disney

DeSantis brushed off criticism from some Republican primary rivals about his public battle with Disney, the parent company of ABC News, stressing that he feels the fight "is about kids."

"I'm going to fight to defend those policies," he said of the Parental Rights in Education Act, a bill limiting the discussion of gender identity and sexuality in many K-12 classrooms.

Critics have sought to label the legislation as the "Don't Say Gay" bill, contending it is discriminatory. Supporters say it's about barring age-inappropriate topics in school.

Disney expressed opposition to the law, drawing DeSantis' ire.

The state Legislature, with DeSantis' support, went on to revoke the special tax district that essentially allowed Disney to govern the area around its famed Orlando theme parks -- a carve-out that, while standard for governments to do for various entities, DeSantis described as unnecessary privilege.

The conglomerate later sued DeSantis and accused state officials of a campaign against them for their political views that is "patently retaliatory, patently anti-business, and patently unconstitutional." The suit is still pending.

DeSantis has rejected Disney's claims and he told Davis that Republicans calling him out for the feud were picking the wrong side.

"That's kind of the old-guard Republicans where they basically always just bend the knee to the big, powerful corporations. You've got to stand for what's right. So I'm always going to stand for our kids," he said.

"I think Disney made a mistake in doing what they're doing. But we have every right to push back and defend our policies against those who are seeking to undermine them," he said. "And that was the right thing to do."

DeSantis would not allow federal funding for COVID shots

Earlier this month, DeSantis' administration advised against the updated COVID-19 for Florida residents under the age of 65, which goes against federal guidelines that recommend updated shots for anyone 6 months or older.

Asked on ABC News Live Prime if he would push the same policy if he were elected president, DeSantis said he wouldn't allow federal funding for COVID-19 vaccines and that people involved in the federal response to the pandemic would be held accountable for what he maintained were harmfully restrictive public health measures intended to cut widespread infections and deaths.

"We're going to have a reckoning about all these COVID policies. We're going to hold people accountable who got it wrong, people that clung to the lockdowns, people that clung to the school closures," DeSantis said.

Public health officials have made it clear that the COVID-19 vaccines, like the annual flu shot, are intended and have proven to lower the risk of severe illness and death. Independent scientific advisers to the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say the benefits outweigh the risks.

The updated vaccines are based on the same vaccines that have protected hundreds of millions of people around the world and are updated to address the current circulating subvariants.

The risk of myocarditis from vaccination has been shown to be uncommon and much less likely from a COVID-19 vaccination.

DeSantis unveils energy policy

On Wednesday, DeSantis also unveiled his energy policy, where he plans to focus on building up American "dominance" and undoing the energy and climate policies of President Joe Biden's administration, with a heavy emphasis on fossil fuels.

But early on in his time as governor, DeSantis' administration funded programs supporting electric vehicles, which the governor said came from a settlement from Volkswagen that dictated where the money could go.

"I could either use it or lose it. So that's why we did it. We put in the charging stations, but I would never support mandating the production of EVs," DeSantis said.

His new energy plans include restructuring the review process for energy infrastructure projects and withdrawing the U.S. from all global commitments to cut greenhouse emissions.

During his interview with ABC News, DeSantis expanded on his goal to get the cost of gas to $2 per gallon. As of now, gas is nearly $4 per gallon, according to AAA.

"Energy dominance - using the resources we have, that is one way to reduce prices at the pump, which is hurting people," DeSantis said.

Scholars behind controversial Black History standards 'were professionals'

DeSantis defended the language in Florida's Black History standards that directs middle school students should be taught enslaved people "developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit."

The language drew rebukes from, among others, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, DeSantis' rival for the Republican nomination who is Black.

“What slavery was really about was separating families, about mutilating humans and even raping their wives. It was just devastating,” Scott said in July. “So I would hope that every person in our country -- and certainly running for president -- would appreciate that.”

Asked by Davis why "there's any value to try to teach a concept to students that there was any upside to slavery," DeSantis said, "We're not doing that."

"We don't think that. And that's not what that provision means. That's not how it's being taught," he said, noting that the standards were "written by a cadre of Black history scholars, most of whom were Black."

"It was not saying that slavery benefited. It was saying that these folks were resourceful. They did things they weren't allowed to do, develop skills and then use. So they did it in spite of slavery, not because of it," he said.

"These guys were professionals," the governor said of the scholars who created the standard. "They didn't have political involvement. They just were told to do standards and they did it right."

Click here to read the transcript from the interview as aired on ABC News Live Prime on Wednesday.

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Who's in, who's out: 6 candidates are expected to be at the 2nd GOP debate

Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- With a week before the second Republican primary debate, six candidates expect to be on stage at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California on Sept. 27.

The campaigns of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, former Vice President Mike Pence, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, former Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie have told ABC News that they believe they'll qualify to be at the second debate.

That's down from the eight candidates who participated in the first debate in Milwaukee last month. Two other candidates, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, have not yet qualified for the Republican National Committee's elevated criteria, which include an increased polling threshold of 3% from 1% and 50,000 unique donors, up from 40,000 in August.

Former President Donald Trump appears to have also cleared the polling and donor benchmarks to make the second debate, though he has not signed the required pledge to support whoever becomes the eventual GOP nominee. Trump is expected to skip the debate and will instead visit Detroit to deliver a speech in front of union workers amid the major auto strike, according to a senior adviser.

The RNC has not said whether it has approved any of the candidates' spots on the second debate stage, though Christie has said he's been in communication with the national party and has gotten confirmation that he has cleared the criteria.

Scott's campaign pushed the RNC last week to change the qualifying and podium placement rules for future debates, including next week's debate in California. His campaign called for more of an emphasis on polls in early voting states rather than national polls when considering placement of leading candidates near the center of the stage.

The campaign manager for Scott -- who has performed better in polls conducted in early states like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina than in national ones -- said in a letter to the national party that "relying on national polling results for the podium placement simply would not represent where the candidates actually stand in relation to where we are in the process with the voters."

Christie, who also has performed well in polls out of New Hampshire, offered support for Scott's request, saying recently that the idea "makes a lot of sense."

In response to Scott and Christie's endorsement of shaking up podium placement consideration, RNC spokesperson Emma Vaughn told ABC News that the party "welcomed" their input.

"The debate committee has had a very thoughtful approach to the entire process, and we continue to welcome input from all candidates, partners and stakeholders," Vaughn said in response to the candidates.

Candidates still short of the RNC criteria

Burgum has qualified for the RNC's donor requirements but has not met the polling qualifications to get on stage. He has said he is confident he will participate, however.

The North Dakota governor said that a few weeks ago, he shifted some resources towards national advertising and name awareness in order to get his poll numbers up. Burgum does not plan to drop out of the race even if he does not reach the second debate stage.

"If we don't then we're going to continue straight on campaigning. We absolutely will be on the ballot here in New Hampshire and will be on the ballot in Iowa. At the end of the day, it's the voters that get to decide how the field gets narrowed, not cable networks, not club house rules," he said.

Hutchinson needs to make both polling and donor requirements to get on the second debate stage. On Tuesday, the former Arkansas governor said he will reevaluate his campaign if he does not clear the criteria.

Hutchinson is closer to clearing the donor thresholds than he is to making the polling qualifications– he has made one national poll and would need either one more or two separate polls from "carve out" states like Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada or South Carolina to get to California.

Asked whether he's hit the required 50,000 donors, Hutchinson said he's "just right at that."

Will Hurd, Perry Johnson and Larry Elder, who did not make the debate stage in August, still need to make either polling or both donor and polling benchmarks to get on stage in September.

ABC News' Kelsey Walsh contributed to this report.

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What happens if the government shuts down? A lot, history tells us

Alex Wong/Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- The nation is barreling toward what could become one the largest government shutdowns in U.S. history beginning Oct. 1, with each of a dozen bills needed to keep funding flowing mired in Congress.

Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security payments won't be affected. Neither will the U.S. Postal Service, which uses its own revenue stream.

Still, union officials and other experts estimate the scope of this shutdown is on track to eclipse past spending lapses, with as many as 4 million workers affected -- about half of which are active-duty military and reservists.

According to the American Federation of Government Employees, roughly $5 billion a week in civilian workers' wages alone could get sucked out of the economy in a shutdown.

"It is uncharted territory. And it is incredibly stupid. I mean, it is the equivalent of burning down your own house," said Max Stier, president and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service, a nonpartisan organization that champions the value of government service.

Stier, AFGE and other experts say there is no telling how long this possible shutdown might last, either. President Joe Biden and House Republicans had agreed on a spending cap for the 2024 budget year earlier this year as part of a broader deal to prevent the U.S. from defaulting on its debt payments. But far-right House Republicans say they were never happy with that agreement and want to cut federal spending further.

Doreen Greenwald, head of the National Treasury Employees Union, said using government operations as political leverage doesn't make sense because of the devastating impact it has nationwide. Eighty-five percent of federal workers live outside of the Washington area and many of them live paycheck to paycheck.

In the last government shutdown, many workers were told to show up but couldn't afford gasoline for their cars, she said.

"You elect people to send them to Congress to make government run efficiently. This is not efficient," Greenwald said.

What happens next

Absent a deal on spending by the end of the day on Sept. 30, U.S. coffers would begin to dry up at midnight.

Many government employees would be told to report to work without pay, including service members and other "excepted" workers needed to tend to priorities like orbiting spacecraft, the power grid, federal prisons and airport security.

Contractors would be hit, too, including hourly workers such as janitors and security guards -- all while lawmakers on Capitol Hill would continue to get paid their $174,000-a-year salaries.

National parks would probably close, or at least their restroom and trash operations, leaving many of them vulnerable to vandalism. And some passport offices located inside federal buildings could close too, slowing down access.

According to the White House, an upcoming shutdown could delay new clinical trials for cancer and other research, halt food and environmental inspections, and put disaster relief programs at risk. It also could force 10,000 children to lose access to Head Start, a national early child development program.

Stier said that as disruptive as shutdowns are, many Americans might still be quick to dismiss the role government plays in their lives because "mandatory" programs like Medicare will continue and so many federal workers will be forced to show up without pay. But there will be lasting damage, he said, including attrition in the federal workforce.

"If someone says, yeah, these are just bureaucrats who are getting their comeuppance, I would say actually, these are people who are serving our veterans, who are finding criminals, who are keeping us safe, and helping Americans in all kinds of different ways ... There's no other class of Americans who are told you must work and you will not be paid at all (until) some future date," he said.

Likewise, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told Congress on Wednesday there could be ripple effects felt later on, saying it could make the nation's shortage of air traffic controllers even worse.

"We now have 2,600 air traffic controllers in training," he said at a House hearing. "A government shutdown would stop that training. Even a shutdown that lasts a week, two weeks, could set us back by months or more."

History repeating itself

The last time the government shut down– a history-making, 35-day fiasco over the 2018 holidays when then-President Donald Trump demanded a Democratic-controlled Congress pass funding for a border wall -- federal workers began showing up at food banks and many essential workers began to call in sick.

By the end of the shutdown on Jan. 25, 2019, sick calls by TSA workers resulted in long lines at airports across the country. Trump eventually relented without getting money for the wall. But $3 billion in U.S. economic activity evaporated, never to be recovered, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

If Congress doesn't act, this shutdown could be much bigger in scope. In 2018, Congress had enacted five of the needed spending bills. Currently, Congress has passed zero discretionary funding bills.

On the upside, all federal workers will automatically qualify for backpay once the shutdown ends thanks to legislation passed in 2019. Contractors though aren't necessarily so lucky, with pay decided by private employers who take a financial hit.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said Wednesday that he will still planning to get a deal.

"It's not September 30th. The game is not over. We are going to continue to work through it," he said.

ABC News' Arthur Jones and Amanda Maile contributed to this report.

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Senate confirms CQ Brown as next Joint Chiefs chairman after vote sidesteps Tuberville blockade

Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- Air Force Gen. Charles "CQ" Brown Jr. was confirmed on Wednesday night with overwhelming bipartisan support in the Senate and will become only the second Black chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which is America's top military officer.

Brown was confirmed by a vote of 83-11.

With his ascension to serve alongside Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, the country's top two Pentagon posts are held by Black men. Colin Powell was the first Black chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Brown's confirmation comes just before the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Mark Milley, is set to retire.

The vote played out against a surprising development as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer earlier Wednesday set votes to circumvent a monthslong blockade on military promotions -- of Brown and hundreds of others -- by Alabama Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville.

In comments to a pool camera just before Brown's confirmation vote, Tuberville said he was "glad we're making some progress" on getting nominees confirmed.

"It's a win for Congress and it's a win for the legislative branch," he said.

Confirmation for two other nominees, Randy George and Eric Smith, is expected in the coming days. But Tuberville's hold remains in place for roughly 300 military nominees.

Tuberville has been blocking all military confirmations since February over a Pentagon policy that reimburses service members for out-of-state travel to access abortions.

The limbo has created what some Pentagon and Biden administration officials -- as well as congressional Democrats -- have argued is a national security crisis.

Tuberville has been able to gum up the works in the Senate by withholding his consent to move forward with confirming nominations in a bloc, insisting that if Democrats wished to advance nominees, they would need to do them one-by-one. That would break with Senate precedent on how nominations are confirmed.

Schumer has always had the option to sidestep Tuberville by moving nominees individually, but he was previously insistent that doing so would risk politicizing the military and would play into Tuberville's hand.

For the last eight months, it's been a stalemate.

On Wednesday, Schumer relented on his hard-line stance.

He took the first step to sidestep Tuberville and proceed to final votes on several key military nominees, including Brown, Gen. George, nominated to be Army chief of staff, and Gen. Smith, nominated to be Marine Corps commandant.

"I wish we were not in this position. I wish my Republican colleagues who do care deeply about keeping our military strong were able to prevail on Sen. Tuberville to completely change his tactics," Schumer said on the Senate floor. "This is not a sustainable path. Sen. Tuberville's continued abuse of his privilege will continue to disrupt the lives of hundreds of our nation's finest and most dedicated military officers and their families. And while Democrats didn't choose this fight, we are ready to put an end to this sooner rather than later."

In July, Schumer told ABC Senior Congressional Correspondent Rachel Scott that giving in to Tuberville's tactics could lead other senators to use nominees as bargaining chips. The burden to dissuade Tuberville was on Republican leaders Mitch McConnell and John Thune, he said.

"We cannot let the burden be falsely on our shoulders," Schumer told Scott. "If we start doing this, they'll do it for everything. Someone could get up and say until affirmative action is abolished I'm holding up everybody."

Schumer's decision Wednesday to move forward with confirming three individual nominees comes just one day after Tuberville announced his intention, during a closed-door Republican lunch, to escalate his tactics.

Tuberville had planned on using a most-unusual procedural technique which would have essentially allowed him to get around his own objection to force a vote on a single military nominee on the Senate floor.

The procedural move would have been in an effort to show the tools Schumer has at his disposal to move individual nominees, something Tuberville has been arguing for months that Schumer ought to do.

In floor remarks, Schumer said the proposed move from Tuberville demonstrates his becoming "more and more desperate to get out of the box he has put himself in."

"He is desperate to shift the responsibility on to others. But I've made it clear that we will not allow anyone to shift this on to Democrats," Schumer said. "The blame falls squarely on the shoulders of the senior senator from Alabama."

The step Schumer took Wednesday does little to overcome Tuberville's larger blockade that is still holding up hundreds of nominees.

If Schumer wished to confirm all of the nominees that are waiting on the Senate floor one-by-one, as he plans to do with these top-tier officials, a recent memo from the Congressional Research service found it could take as many as 89 8-hour workdays, during a time when Congress must manage a number of other priorities, including funding the government before Oct. 1 to avoid a shutdown.

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DeSantis rolls out energy policy, contends climate change is invoked to create 'fear'

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(MIDLAND, Texas) -- Speaking at an oil rig site on Wednesday in Midland, Texas, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis unveiled his energy plan for the U.S. if he is elected president, saying he would focus on building up American "dominance" while seeking to undo the policies of President Joe Biden's administration.

DeSantis' plan includes opposition to federal policies to redirect the auto industry toward manufacturing more electric vehicle; withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement to counteract the warming of the Earth -- a deal that conservatives say harms business without properly regulating China or India; and streamlining the environmental review process for energy and infrastructure projects.

DeSantis blamed the Biden administration for the rising cost of gas and energy, even as the president and his aides have repeatedly touted what they say are efforts otherwise, such as tapping the national Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

The governor's goal is to lower the price of gas to $2 per gallon in 2025.

Currently, the average U.S. gas price -- which can fluctuate widely -- stands at 3.88 per gallon, according to Triple AAA.

"We have it within our power to give America a new birth of freedom, a new birth of opportunity and a new era of prosperity," DeSantis said in his remarks. "Our energy dominance is one of the keys to unlocking that future for the American people."

DeSantis' policy rollout comes on the same day that Biden announced the launch of "American Climate Corps," which is described as "a workforce training and service initiative" for more than 20,000 Americans "that will ensure more young people have access to the skills-based training necessary for good-paying careers in the clean energy and climate resilience economy."

Several climate activists and Democratic lawmakers have called on Biden to create a federally funded jobs program to support climate and conservation projects.

More broadly, Biden has focused as president on fossil fuel alternatives. "We're going to invest a great deal of that money into infrastructure and into green infrastructure. ... We're going to own the electric market," he said at a 2020 ABC News town hall.

During his remarks on Wednesday, DeSantis connected the need for America to be energy-independent to national security, emphasizing the importance of not relying on countries like China.

"Energy security, energy independence and energy dominance [are] a key part of our nation's national security," he said.

DeSantis invoked China and Russia as threats to America's energy production.

"We will use our energy dominance to deny our enemies revenue, we will bankrupt their ability to threaten America and we will help our allies become less reliant on our adversaries," he said.

DeSantis, who has played down the effects of climate change, contended that there's been an attempt to stoke "fear" around the issue.

Asked by reporters if he would eliminate the Department of Energy, DeSantis said yes but maintained that he would still keep the department's core functions regarding nuclear energy while adding that the department's other functions have not made the country "better off."

"I think it's been a bureaucracy that hasn't produced for the American people and if Congress would be willing to do that, we would make that happen, yes."

In a sit-down interview in Midland with ABC New Live Prime anchor Linsey Davis, he was pressed about his previous push for electric vehicle production in his state. He said that was because of a settlement with Volkswagen but "I would never support mandating the production of EVs. I think that should be driven by the market."

DeSantis' energy plan marks the fourth policy rollout since his campaign launched in late May. DeSantis' latest policy plan comes as he continues to trail former President Donald Trump in both national and state polls. In one recent CNN survey, 52% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independent voters said they support the former president, while only 18% supported DeSantis.

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Trump faces chorus of GOP critics, but some voter support, after pushing back on 6-week abortion ban

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(WASHINGTON) -- Former President Donald Trump's campaign on Wednesday defended his record from criticism from other Republican leaders on the issue of abortion in the wake of Trump denouncing rival Ron DeSantis for signing a six-week ban in Florida.

In an interview that aired Sunday on NBC, Trump declined to say whether -- if he were president again -- he would sign federal legislation banning abortion. He also declined to say at what cutoff during pregnancy he supported imposing bans, argued it was "probably better" to leave the issue to the states and labeled Gov. DeSantis' decision to sign a six-week abortion ban in Florida "a terrible thing and a terrible mistake."

At the same time, Trump trumpeted his role in striking down national abortion protections through his three Supreme Court appointees.

"I did something that nobody thought was possible, and Roe v. Wade was terminated. ... Now, people, pro-lifers, have the right to negotiate for the first time," he said.

"Now it's going to work out. Now, the number of months [when a ban begins] will be determined," he said, going on to say, "It could be state or it could be federal. I don't frankly care."

His comments immediately triggered criticism both from his Republican presidential opponents and GOP governors of states who have signed similar abortion legislation -- notably, Iowa's Kim Reynolds, who wrote on Tuesday on social media that it was "never a 'terrible thing' to protect innocent life."

Iowa is the first state that votes in the GOP primary; Reynolds hasn't endorsed a candidate.

Reynolds came under attack from Trump earlier this summer for staying "neutral" while maintaining a close relationship on the trail with DeSantis, who has come to her defense against the former president before.

DeSantis doubled down on Reynolds' rebuke of Trump's attacks on him, calling the former president "wrong" and writing Tuesday on social media that "standing up for life is a noble cause."

Georgia's Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, who also signed legislation in his state banning most abortions at around six weeks, echoed Reynolds on Wednesday, writing in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, that there was "nothing "terrible" about "standing up for life."

In addition to DeSantis' admonishment, fellow 2024 GOP candidate Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina delivered some of his harshest comments of the former president to date.

"Frankly, today, those pro-life folks that we really want to stand with us, they're not standing," Scott said at a Monday town hall in Mason City, Iowa. "President Trump said he would negotiate with Democrats and walk back away from where I believe we need to be, which is a 15-week limit on the federal level."

Trump's former running mate and current primary opponent Mike Pence called Trump's comments a departure from what they had accomplished while in office.

"Donald Trump continues to walk away from the pro-life legacy of our administration," Pence said in a statement to ABC News Monday, first given to The New York Times, adding, "We will not rest, we will not relent, until the sanctity of life is restored to the center of American law in every state in the nation."

In response to these comments, a Trump campaign spokesman said in a Wednesday statement, in part: "President Trump's unmatched record speaks for itself.

The spokesman singled out Trump's role in Roe and added that "there has been no bigger advocate for the movement than President Trump."

Some Trump supporters back his abortion positions

Trump spent Wednesday campaigning in Iowa where some supporters seemed to be sticking by his side, arguing the stances of politicians like their governor skew too conservative on the issue.

"She's just playing games with the six weeks abortion cutoff. Trump wants to come to some consensus between everyone, 15 weeks. He's never said no abortion," said Kathy Schmitz, who said she used to work as a prenatal clinical nurse in the Navy.

Schmitz argued that candidates like Pence, who back some of the strictest abortion restrictions, are pandering to Iowa's predominantly Evangelical Christian voter base. Pence has long cited his deep Christian faith as part of his views on abortion.

"You don't even know you're pregnant at six weeks," Schmitz said.

"I think [it] is just politicking," said Gregory Erickson, echoing similar sentiments heard from Trump supporters who were attending his events on Wednesday. "Whether it's 12 or 15 weeks, I'm OK with partial. A limited choice."

Trump has doubled down on his abortion stance

Trump likens his position to former President Ronald Reagan's: supportive of abortion restrictions with exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother

At the Christian PrayVote Stand summit in Washington, D.C., on Friday, he began much of his remarks articulating how he feels Republicans need to "properly" campaign on the issue of abortion.

He also insinuated, as he has in the past, that the issue was to blame for some Republican losses during the 2022 midterm elections, when they failed to retake the Senate and only narrowly retook the House.

"Many politicians who are pro-life do not know how to properly discuss a topic which is so important to the people in this room and so important to millions and millions of people in our country," Trump said.

In a statement to ABC News on Monday, Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the leading anti-abortion advocacy group Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, criticized Trump's criticism of DeSantis on abortion and Trump's own comments.

"Trump is criticizing a law and lawmaker that acted, following the will of the people, on what he made possible through the Dobbs decision [on Roe]. Both Trump and DeSantis should focus on their concrete pro-life plan for the future and contrast that with [President Joe] Biden. He is their opponent," she said.

ABC News' Gabriella Abdul-Hakim, Libby Cathey, Soo Rin Kim, Oren Oppenheim and Kendall Ross contributed to this report.

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Pentagon to review LGBTQ+ discharges, correct records to ensure benefits

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(WASHINGTON) -- On the 12th anniversary of the repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, the Pentagon on Wednesday detailed a new DOD outreach campaign that will begin reviewing discharge records of LGBTQ+ veterans in an effort to make sure they have access to veterans' benefits.

Under the new campaign, the DOD for the first time will begin proactively reviewing the military records of veterans less-than-honorably discharged because of their sexual orientation who may be eligible for discharge upgrades, but have not yet applied.

Upgrading to an honorable discharge, which is the highest classification, would open the door to full veterans benefits for those affected.

In a statement, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said, "For decades, our LGBTQ+ Service members were forced to hide or were prevented from serving altogether. Even still, they selflessly put themselves in harm’s way for the good of our country and the American people. Unfortunately, too many of them were discharged from the military based on their sexual orientation – and for many this left them without access to the benefits and services they earned."

At a briefing with reporters, Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks acknowledged that while more than four out of five veterans who were discharged under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" who have applied for discharge upgrades or corrections to their service records have been successful, there are still many more who are eligible but haven't applied.

Hicks explained how the DOD intends to find them.

"We'll start with those discharged during the period of "Don't Ask Don't Tell" where the VA and the National Archives might have digitized records that can help expedite our review … And when we find indications that someone's less-than-honorable discharge was due to their sexual orientation, we'll put their name forward to their respective military departments review board for consideration. As we do this, we will be laser focused on preserving the privacy and dignity of each veteran."

More than 13,000 people were separated from the military under the policy from 1994 to 2011 with varying conditions, including honorable, general, other than honorable, and unknown discharges and from 1980 to 1993 more than 19,000 were separated, according to defense.gov.

Additionally, the announcement also includes new online resources launched on defense.gov.

Despite the actions announced Wednesday, Hicks acknowledged the lasting legacy of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy dating from the Clinton administration, saying, "At the same time, we know correcting these records cannot fully restore the dignity taken from LGBTQ plus service members when they were expelled from the military. It doesn't completely heal the unseen wounds that were left. It doesn't make people whole again, even for those many who received honorable discharges. But this is yet another step we're taking to make sure we do right by those who served honorably, despite being forced to hide who they are and who they love while serving."

"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was a DOD policy effective from Feb. 28, 1994 to Sept. 20, 2011 that barred openly LGBTQ+ people from military service. According to the DOD, "those who did not disclose their sexual orientation could continue serving in the armed forces." But "generally, those who chose to disclose would have been discharged." In many cases, the discharges were other than honorable. Thousands were discharged under the policy.

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Kari Lake set to launch Arizona Senate bid next month, after gubernatorial loss: Sources

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(PHOENIX) -- Kari Lake is set to launch a Senate campaign next month, three sources familiar with the matter confirmed to ABC News.

One of the sources said Lake has been eyeing mid-October to jump in the race. News of her plans was first reported by Politico.

Her entry would mark the latest twist in the race for Sen. Kyrsten Sinema's seat. Sinema, who late last year left the Democratic Party to become an independent, has not yet said if she plans on running for reelection, while Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego has cleared a path to his party's nomination.

Democrats currently hold a 51-49 majority in the Senate, in part with Sinema's support.

Lake generated a wave of enthusiasm among the GOP base in 2022 with her hard-line campaign for Arizona's open governor's mansion.

She lost to now-Gov. Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, but she has falsely blamed her defeat on baseless claims of voter irregularities -- even as she failed in her legal challenge to the results.

She has continued to be a visible presence on the conservative circuit in key states like Michigan and Iowa, which helped maintain her ties to primary voters.

"It's time Arizona has a true conservative fighter in the U.S. Senate. The people of Arizona want Kari Lake to stay in this fight and are calling on her to run and she’s very likely to answer that call," said Caroline Wren, a senior advisor to Lake.

Lake would likely be the favorite in the GOP primary. Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb is already running, and Blake Masters, who lost the 2022 Arizona Senate race to Democratic incumbent Mark Kelly, is reportedly weighing his own bid.

Arizona is among the handful of Democratic-held Senate seats that Republicans are targeting in 2024, along with seats in Montana, Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan.

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Former Oath Keeper Ray Epps, a target of Jan. 6 conspiracy theories, pleads guilty

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(WASHINGTON) -- Ray Epps, a former Oath Keeper member who became the target of Jan. 6 conspiracy theories spread by many Republicans, pleaded guilty Wednesday to a misdemeanor charge for his involvement in the attacks at the U.S. Capitol.

The Justice Department charged Epps on Monday with a single misdemeanor count of disorderly and disruptive conduct in a restricted area.

Epps was among the mob on the west side of the Capitol, and at one point helped push a large metal sign toward police officers, according to court documents. He followed other members of the mob past broken barriers and into the restricted area around the Capitol complex.

Epps said he went to D.C. on Jan. 6, 2021, to protest the 2020 election. Republicans accused him of being an undercover federal agent that urged supporters of former President Donald Trump to storm the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

Epps had long denied being an informant or federal agent, including in testimony before the Jan. 6 House select committee. Epps, who worked as a roofer after he served as infantry in the U.S. Marine Corps, told the House investigators that he never worked for the FBI.

He has since filed a defamation suit against Fox News and former host Tucker Carlson for repeated segments spreading the conspiracy theory he was acting undercover, which he has said resulted in threats and harassment that upended his life.

Carlson featured Epps in more than two dozen segments, according to his lawsuit. As a result of these prime-time reports and Fox's alleged defamatory statements, Epps received threats from Trump supports, according to the lawsuit. Additionally, Epps and his wife had to move from their Arizona ranch and now face financial turmoil, the lawsuit says.

Epps noted in his lawsuit that he wanted a peaceful demonstration on Jan. 6 and was "shocked and disappointed" at how the events of the day unfolded.

"He had concerns about the election and believed it was his duty as a citizen to participate in the protest. But he did not believe violence was appropriate," the lawsuit claims.

The Justice Department did not have any additional comments on Epps' charges Monday.

Epps' sentencing has been set for December. He faces up to six months in prison under the sentencing guidelines and a maximum of one year, plus one year probation.

ABC News' Sarah Beth Hensley contributed to this report.

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DeSantis calls out Trump's abortion comment as 'mistake': 'He's a different candidate' than in 2016

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(MIDLAND, Texas) -- Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, before unveiling his new energy plan in Midland, Texas, criticized Donald Trump for calling Florida's six-week abortion ban "terrible," with DeSantis in a new interview accusing his 2024 Republican rival of being "a different candidate today than he was" in 2016.

"He claimed to be pro-life. He spoke at the March for Life and was waxing eloquently about how everybody counts," DeSantis told ABC News Live Prime anchor Linsey Davis in Texas, in a sit-down set to air Wednesday at 7 p.m EDT.

"For him to then attack people like Iowa, South Carolina, Florida, all these other states, I thought that was a big mistake," DeSantis said.

Trump, in an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday, went after DeSantis for signing the six-week abortion ban in Florida earlier this year.

"What he did is a terrible thing and a terrible mistake," Trump said. Instead, he said, he would push for a compromise on the issue but did not specify a cutoff date on a ban he would prefer.

DeSantis told Davis that he thinks anti-abortion voters -- whom he and Trump are both seeking to woo, with DeSantis still trailing front-runner Trump by double-digits in the polls -- will agree with sharper restrictions.

More broadly, DeSantis argued that Trump's rhetoric shows the former president is softening his stances.

"I think he's taking positions that I think are different from what he took in 2015 when he first came onto the scene. And I do think he's a different candidate today than he was back then. And I think the one back then was probably closer to where Republican voters want to be than the latest iteration," he said.

Asked if he believes Trump is really opposed to abortion, DeSantis said, "Well, you tell me."

"I think that if you have something where you have a baby that has a detectable heartbeat, if you're pro-life, you would want to say that there should be protections there," he said. "And if he's saying, 'That's a terrible thing' -- I know most pro-life voters would think that he's wrong."

Abortion bans at six weeks are typically when cardiac activity is detected in fetuses.

Trump's comments have sparked backlash from other anti-abortion leaders in the Republican Party, including Kim Reynolds, the governor of Iowa, the state that votes first in the race for the GOP nomination.

A Trump campaign spokesman said in a statement, in part: "President Trump's unmatched record speaks for itself."

The spokesman singled out Trump's role in ending the abortion protections of Roe v. Wade, through his Supreme Court appointees, and added that "there has been no bigger advocate for the movement than President Trump."

ABC News' Lalee Ibssa and Soo Rin Kim contributed to this report.

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Biden, Netanyahu meet amid US-Israeli tensions

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(NEW YORK) -- President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sat down together Wednesday for the first time since Netanyahu returned to office -- a discussion in which Biden made clear the two leaders would be discussing the "hard issues" amid U.S.-Israeli tensions.

The topics of conversation included upholding democratic values, a veiled nod to the prime minister's controversial plan to overhaul the judicial system.

"We're going to discuss some of the hard issues, and that is upholding democratic values, that lie at the heart of our partnership, including checks and balances in our systems," Biden said seated next to Netanyahu in New York City.

The president and White House officials have repeatedly expressed concern for Netanyahu's proposal, but Wednesday morning, the prime minister attempted to reassure Biden of Israel's "commitment to democracy."

"I want to reassert here before you, Mr. President, that one thing is certain, and one thing will never change, and that is Israel's commitment to democracy. We will continue to uphold the values that both our proud democracies cherish, and I think that working together will realize the promise, rollback back the dangers, and bring a better future for our region and the world."

Netanyahu visited the White House in past administrations, but for his first one-on-one with Biden since reclaiming the premiership in Israel, the setting was in New York and not the Oval Office -- viewed as a sign of Biden's displeasure. However, at the top of the meeting, Biden told Netanyahu, "I hope we will see each other in Washington by the end of the year."

Biden also nodded to domestic issues, bringing focus to the ongoing UAW strike. Biden was wearing a red tie today in solidarity with UAW workers across the country, according to the White House.

Israel remains the U.S.' closest ally in the Middle East and Biden stressed the relationship between the countries is "ironclad" ahead of the meeting.

But Netanyahu's hardline government's policies have frustrated officials in Washington.

Netanyahu's critics slam the initiative to overhaul the judicial system as a play to undermine Israel's democracy by weakening its system of checks and balances and say it would also provide a legal shield for the prime minister, who is currently on trial for fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribe.

The prime minister denies the allegations against him and maintains that judicial reform in Israel is long overdue despite the massive protests sparked by proposed changes.

Additionally, as the U.S. has called for both Israelis and Palestinians to avoid escalation amid a period of heightened tension and violence, Netanyahu's government has forged ahead with plans to expand settlements in the West Bank.

Despite these concerns, Israel remains critical for advancing the Biden administration's foreign policy agenda.

U.S. officials have been working to normalize ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia, a move the Secretary of State Antony Blinken said would benefit American national security interests.

"This would be a transformative event. We've had decades of turmoil, decades of conflict in the Middle East. To bring these two countries together in particular would have a powerful effect in stabilizing the region," Blinken said earlier on Tuesday. "Now, it's hard to get there. There are things that Saudis are looking for, things the Israelis are looking for, things we'd be looking for that make getting to "yes" a challenge. But we see the reward, if we can get there, as well being worth the effort."

Israel is also a pivotal partner to the U.S. in constraining Iran, a mutual adversary. Despite recent success in negotiations to free American detainees from Iran, U.S. officials say they currently see no opportunity to rekindle talks to constrain the country's nuclear program -- meaning the U.S. defense alliance with Israel is likely to only grow in strategical importance.

Biden did emphasize these areas of common ground during the Wednesday meeting, telling Netanyahu that he would work to ensure Iran "never acquires a nuclear weapon" and expressing hope for the normalization of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia.

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Garland grilled by House Republicans on Hunter Biden, Trump investigations

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(WASHINGTON) -- Attorney General Merrick Garland testified before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday in a roughly five-hour high-stakes hearing where Republican lawmakers lambasted him over his department's handling of criminal probes into former President Donald Trump, President Joe Biden's son Hunter Biden, the events of Jan. 6 and other high-profile investigations.

"The fix is in," chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said as he kicked the hearing off. "Even with the face-saving indictment of Hunter Biden last week, everyone knows the fix is in."

Jordan accused Garland several times of "slow walking" the Hunter Biden investigation to benefit President Biden.

But Garland, in his opening statement, took criticism of his tenure head-on -- arguing that some Republicans' efforts to target career officials is "dangerous" at a time when threats against public servants are on the rise.

"We will not be intimidated," Garland said. "We will do our jobs free from outside interference. And we will not back down from defending our democracy."

Trump investigations

The appearance is Garland's first time sitting before lawmakers since special counsel Jack Smith indicted Trump for both his handling of classified documents after leaving the White House as well as his efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

Rep. Jerry Nadler, the Democratic ranking member of the committee, in his opening statement countered "extreme MAGA Republicans have poisoned our vital oversight work" in an effort to distract from the legal troubles the former president is facing.

Garland said Wednesday he wasn't instructed to charge Trump after being pressed on the former president's comments this past weekend that Biden directed the attorney general to act.

"No one has told me to indict," Garland said, "and in this case, the decision to indict was made by the special counsel."

Trump has pleaded not guilty to all charges against him and has denied any wrongdoing.

Hunter Biden and President Biden investigations

Garland's testimony comes nearly a week after special counsel David Weiss, also appointed by Garland, indicted Hunter Biden on felony gun charges after a plea deal between Weiss and Hunter Biden's lawyers fell apart in court in July.

Garland was peppered with questions about the timeline of the Hunter Biden investigation. In one exchange, Rep. Jordan levied several allegations about Hunter Biden and Burisma -- the Ukrainian gas company on which Hunter Biden was a board member, accusing the DOJ of letting prosecutors "slow walk" the probe.

The attorney general emphasized he gave Weiss authority and independence to bring the case as he saw fit.

"One more fact that is important, and that is that this investigation is being conducted by Mr. Weiss, an appointee of President Trump," Garland responded. "You will, at the appropriate time, have the opportunity to ask Mr. Weiss that question and he will no doubt address it in the public report that will be transmitted to the Congress."

Garland also pushed back against Republicans' claims that the Justice Department is seeking to tilt political scales in Democrats' favor leading up to the 2024 election -- and vehemently denied he has taken any directives from President Biden or the White House with respect to any criminal investigation.

"Our job is not to take orders from the president, from Congress, or from anyone else, about who or what to criminally investigate," Garland said. "As the president himself has said, and I reaffirm today: I am not the president's lawyer. I will add that I am not Congress's prosecutor. The Justice Department works for the American people. Our job is to follow the facts and the law, and that is what we do."

Several Republicans on the committee, including Jordan, have previously threatened to initiate impeachment proceedings against Garland over the department's handling of the criminal probe into Hunter Biden.

Jordan has cited testimony before Congress from IRS whistleblowers who have claimed the president's son received preferential treatment from investigators, and that Garland's past testimony before Congress claiming Weiss was given ultimate authority to make charging decisions was inaccurate.

Both Garland and Weiss, in letters to Congress, have disputed the whistleblower's claims.

Garland has argued his appointments of all three special counsels represents a commitment to ensure the integrity and independence of each of their investigations, and repeated that assertion in fielding questions from Republicans who have sought to portray them as evidence of politicization by the Justice Department.

"Our job is to pursue justice, without fear or favor," Garland said. "Our job is not to do what is politically convenient."

A third special counsel appointed by Garland, Robert Hur, continues to examine circumstances surrounding documents with classified markings that were found in President Biden's home in Delaware as well as a post-vice presidency think tank in Washington.

Hunter Biden has not yet entered a plea as part of his case, though his attorneys have said they will fight the charges brought last week. President Biden has denied wrongdoing in his handling of classified materials and vowed to fully cooperate with special counsel Hur's investigation.

White House spokesperson Ian Sams called the hearing a "distraction" and said House Republicans have "cranked up a circus of a hearing full of lies and disinformation with the sole goal of baselessly attacking President Biden and his family."

Fiery exchange over Catholic memo

In one particularly animated exchange, Garland and Rep. Jeff Van Drew, R-N.J., clashed over a memo written by an analyst in the FBI's Richmond field office about "radical traditional" Catholics within the bureau. Both FBI Director Christopher Wray and Garland both immediately recalled the document and called it not representative of the department's feelings on Catholics.

Garland pushed back on Van Drew's questions about the memo, at times raising his voice.

"The idea that someone with my family background would discriminate against any religion is so outraged us is so absurd," Garland said. In his opening statement Wednesday, Garland got choked up as he spoke about his how his family fled religious persecution in Eastern Europe and why it influences his work as a public servant.

Calls to defund the FBI

Democrats on the committee asked Garland about the impact of threats to federal agents and calls from some Republican lawmakers and presidential candidates to defund the FBI.

"Defunding the FBI would leave the United States naked to the malign influence of the Chinese Communist Party, to the attacks by Iranians on American citizens and attempts to assassinate former officials up to the Russian aggression, to North Korean cyber attacks, to violent crime in the United States, which the FBI helps to fight against, to all kinds of espionage, to domestic violent extremists who have attacked our churches, our synagogues, our mosques and who have killed individuals out of racial hatred," he said. "I cannot imagine the consequences of defunding the FBI, but they would be catastrophic."

Jan. 6 and Ray Epps' charge

Rep. Victoria Spartz, R-Ind., said a lot of Americans are "afraid" of being prosecuted by the department.

"This is a big problem when people are afraid of their own government," she said.

She said that while there were "probably" some people who came to D.C. on Jan. 6, 2021, with "bad intent," there were "a lot of good Americans" who were "sick and tired of this government not serving them" -- including some in her district.

"They came with strollers and the kids, and there was a chaotic situation because the proper security wasn't provided," Spartz said.

Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., questioned Garland on the misdemeanor charge against Ray Epps announced Tuesday by the DOJ. Epps, a former Oath Keeper, became the subject of conspiracy theories around Jan. 6 -- including Republican claims he was an undercover federal agent. Massie called Epps' charge a "joke" compared to others indicted for their participation in the Capitol attack, and asked Garland how many assets of the government were present on that day.

"In the cases that were filed with respect to Jan. 6, the Justice Department prosecutors provided whatever information they had about the question that you're asking," Garland responded, after stating he had no personal knowledge of the issue of whether federal agents were in the crowd. "With respect to Mr. Epps, the FBI has said that he was not an employee or informant of of the FBI."

ABC News' Alexandra Hutzler and Sarah Beth Hensley contributed to this report.

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Buttigieg: Government shutdown would stop crucial air traffic controller training 'in our tracks'

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(WASHINGTON) -- Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said a government shutdown would come "at exactly the wrong moment" as the department works to address the ongoing air traffic controller shortage.

While the Department of Transportation met its hiring goals this year for air traffic controllers, Buttigieg noted if a government shutdown occurs at the end of the month, it would "stop us in our tracks" as the Federal Aviation Administration works to train new controllers.

If a government shutdown occurs, controllers currently working in towers would stay on the job, but training of new controllers at the FAA facility in Oklahoma would pause.

"We now have 2,600 air traffic controllers in training. A government shutdown would stop that training. Even a shutdown lasting a few weeks could set us back by months or more because of how complex that training is," Buttigieg said during a hearing in front of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Wednesday. "We cannot afford that kind of politically driven disruption at the very moment when we finally have those air traffic control workforce numbers headed in the right direction."

The aviation industry is still attempting to address the marked increase in air travel as it rebounds from the lows of the pandemic.

Last week, the FAA announced it would extend a waiver that allows airlines to fly fewer and larger planes to New York City airports because the number of certified controllers in the area is "not sufficient" to handle normal traffic levels.

"The industry is ramping back up from the pandemic, during which a number of people ... were either retired or were laid off layoff," National Transportation Safety Board Chairwoman Jennifer Homendy said earlier this year. "A new workforce is coming in that needs to be appropriately, adequately trained. Some who were out during the pandemic also need to be retrained."

The United States currently employs 1,200 fewer fully certified controllers than 10 years ago, despite more planes and passengers in the skies, according to the National Air Traffic Controller Association.

Congress faces a Sept. 30 deadline to pass spending bills or else risk a government shutdown. Leaders in both parties are signaling an increased willingness to punt the deadline to fund the government to later this year by passing a stop-gap funding bill to keep the government funded past the Sept. 30 deadline.

ABC News' Gio Benitez and Sam Sweeney contributed to this report.

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Biden to launch 'American Climate Corps' following calls from activists, Democratic lawmakers

Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

(WASHINGTON) -- President Joe Biden on Wednesday will launch the "American Climate Corps," according to the White House, which described it as "a workforce training and service initiative" for more than 20,000 Americans "that will ensure more young people have access to the skills-based training necessary for good-paying careers in the clean energy and climate resilience economy."

Biden had endorsed a similar idea of a "Civilian Climate Corps" while running for president in the 2020 election. But the initiative was ultimately left out of the pared down version of Biden's "Build Back Better" bill that became the Inflation Reduction Act.

Dozens of climate activists and Democratic lawmakers have repeatedly called on Biden to create a federally funded jobs program that would carry out climate and conservation projects. They have implored him to use his executive powers as president to establish the initiative on his own, which is what he's doing now.

Wednesday's announcement comes amid the annual Climate Week that coincides with the yearly United Nations General Assembly in New York City.

While Biden spoke about the importance of tackling climate change in his address to the 78th Session of the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday, he notably will not attend a gathering on Wednesday hosted by U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres that will reportedly focus on new action countries are taking to fight climate change. U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry will attend in Biden's stead.

"The American Climate Corps, just in its first year of recruitment, will put to work a new, diverse generation of more than 20,000 Americans doing the important tasks of conserving and restoring our lands and waters, bolstering community resilience, deploying clean energy -- in many cases, distributed and community based -- implementing energy efficiency technologies that will cut consumer costs for the American people, and advancing environmental justice so long overdue in so many places," Biden's national climate adviser, Ali Zaidi, told reporters during a telephone call on Monday.

A major part of the initiative, according to Zaidi, will be teaming up with apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs across the country and pushing more Americans from diverse backgrounds into these programs -- ultimately resulting in well-paying jobs for them, thanks to funding from Biden's climate legislation.

Americans will be able to sign up online for the American Climate Corps, which the White House said will train young people in clean energy, conservation and climate resilience related skills. There will be a focus on climate justice, too, with an emphasis on helping underserved communities, according to the White House.

The Biden administration will coordinate recruitment for the American Climate Corps across the federal government and streamline pathways from the initiative and related programs into employment in the broader federal civil service, the White House said.

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Fulton County judge grants defense attorneys' request to interview jurors who returned Trump RICO indictment

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(ATLANTA) -- The judge overseeing the Fulton County election interference case will allow attorneys for two of Donald Trump's codefendants to interview the grand jurors who returned the indictment, according to a new order on Tuesday, after the attorneys raised concerns that it was not "properly returned."

Judge Scott McAfee ruled that the attorneys for Kenneth Chesebro and Sidney Powell -- who are headed to trial next month -- can speak with grand jurors but said the court would "guide and maintain oversight" of the process to ensure that "privileged matters remain protected."

Each interview must be voluntary and be conducted in the presence of the court, the order said.

McAfee, in his ruling, highlighted the secrecy rules that surround the grand jury deliberations but said that when it comes to the grand jurors themselves, "the court has not found nor been provided with any authority that suggests defense counsel are totally forbidden from contact."

"Defense counsel here are entitled, and would be expected, to conduct a thorough investigation in the zealous representation of their clients," the order said.

The Fulton County District Attorney's office had opposed the request, claiming the defense was seeking to "perform an illegal investigation."

The court instructed the defense attorneys to file a list of proposed questions for the grand juror interviews within the next three days and ordered the state to file any objections to the questions three days later.

Afterward, the court will then provide the approved questions list, and the state must provide contact information for each grand juror, the order said.

From there, the order says, the court will reach out to jurors to see if they would submit to a remote or in-person interview, which will be conducted in the presence of the court.

"Should defense counsel believe sufficient grounds and the requisite prejudice exist to dismiss the indictment after the conclusion of the final grand juror interview, Defendants will be permitted an extension from the regular deadline to file additional particularized motions," the order said.

Former President Donald Trump and 18 others were charged in a sweeping racketeering indictment in August for alleged efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election in the state of Georgia. All 19 defendants have pleaded not guilty.

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