Politics

Former White House aide Hope Hicks' testimony transcript released

Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Former White House aide Hope Hicks refused to answer questions about several key incidents related to President Donald Trump’s potential obstruction of justice investigated by special counsel Robert Mueller, according to a transcript of her congressional testimony released Thursday.

Members of the House Judiciary Committee questioned Hicks for nearly seven hours on Wednesday in a closed-door hearing. Democrats expressed some frustration with the former aide for refusing to answer any questions about her time at the White House.

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

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Despite cold shoulder form Trump, GOP firebrand Roy Moore announces 2020 bid for the US Senate

Joe Raedle/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Judge Roy Moore, the controversial conservative firebrand who narrowly lost a U.S. Senate special election in Alabama to Democrat Doug Jones in 2017, announced Thursday he will again compete for the GOP nomination to challenge his former rival in 2020 – setting up a rematch in one of this cycle’s most consequential races.

"I'm ready to do it again and yes, I will run for the United States Senate in 2020." "Can I win? Yes, I can win," he said in response to a reporter question in a press conference in Montgomery announcing his second Senate bid Thursday.

Moore re-enters the political arena roughly a year and a half after seeking to replace former Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, who vacated the seat to become President Donald Trump’s attorney general. Moore ultimately lost by more than 22,000 votes to Jones in a major blow to Republicans.

The former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice initially surged onto the national stage after defeating Trump-backed state Sen. Luther Strange in the GOP primary, which was seen as one of the earliest tests of the president’s political influence.

But his candidacy was stymied by the emergence of multiple accusations of sexual misconduct in the 1970s, which included inappropriate contact with underage women when he was in his 30s, during the general election campaign. He has denied the allegations and was never charged or investigated.

He has denied the allegations.

Jones’ victory in 2017 foreshadowed the rise of the "blue wave" in the Trump era – and was an early signal of the limits of the power of his presidential endorsement. But as the first Democrat elected to the Senate from Alabama in 25 years, he is now considered one of the most endangered incumbents up for re-election, and political experts have cast the race as a toss-up.

The GOP currently controls the Senate 53-47 over Democrats, but to ensure it can hold on to the chamber in 2020, the party is taking aim at the Senate seat in deep red Alabama which shows even deeper tints of red in a presidential cycle. The GOP primary in the state in March 3.

Prior to Moore's announcement, Jones didn't appear to show any signs of concern about him entering the Republican primary.

"I'm not going to give an 'if' answer, especially not with THAT guy," he told ABC News only hours before Moore made his announcement.

Although Jones is battle-tested, the contest is expected to be one of the most closely-watched due to Jones’ vulnerability and the eagerness of the Republican bench already lining up to oust him.

Moore is entering a crowded primary, with four other candidates already competing for the nomination and the chance to take on Jones, including Rep. Bradley Byrne, former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville and state Rep. Arnold Mooney. Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill filed official paperwork with the FEC to run for the seat, and is set to make a formal announcement next week.

Moore’s uphill climb also includes a potential rivalry with Sessions, who has not ruled out a bid for his former seat. In early May, the former attorney general said during a live interview at the SALT conference, "I haven't made a formal announcement about the senate race, but I am interested in the issues … I'd love to see us bring more intellectual heft behind those positions. I think it exists, and maybe I can contribute some in that."

Sen. Richard Shelby, the state’s other sitting senator, who has talked to Sessions about running again, also said the day before Moore announced his bid, "I don't think [Sessions has] ruled it out. I've talked to him about it. I think if he ran he would be a formidable candidate."

"I have not encouraged him to run but he's a friend and if he ran I think he'd probably clear the field," he added.

Back in 2017, Moore secured Trump’s coveted endorsement only a week shy of the election, and while he never campaigned alongside him, the president urged voters at a campaign rally held just days before the election took place and just over 50 miles from the Alabama state line to back Moore.

"We want people that are going to protect your gun rights, great trade deals instead of the horrible deals. And we want jobs, jobs, jobs. So get out and vote for Roy Moore," Trump said during a December 2017 rally in Pensacola, Florida.

But as Moore teased a political comeback over the last couple of months, the support he once boasted from within his own party has thinned, as Trump and other top Republicans appear wary of his candidacy and have even warned him against launching a bid.

Last month, Trump asserted that he would cost the GOP the crucial Senate seat.

"If Alabama does not elect a Republican to the Senate in 2020, many of the incredible gains that we have made during my Presidency may be lost, including our Pro-Life victories," the president tweeted. "Roy Moore cannot win, and the consequences will be devastating...Judges and Supreme Court Justices!"

Moore fired back at the president during an interview with Politico, in which he said, "The president doesn’t control who votes for the United States Senate in Alabama. People in Alabama are smarter than that. They elect the senator from Alabama, not from Washington, D.C."

He also said that despite Trump's opposition, he's confident he would successfully capture the GOP nomination again.

"They know I'll win," he added. "That's why they're upset."

Republicans worry Moore’s entrance into the race could potentially muddy the waters for the party's hope to flip the seat – and could possibly elevate Jones’ chances to earn a second term.

Shelby told reporters on Capitol Hill Wednesday that he would not support Moore if he decided to run again.

"It'd be up to the people of Alabama," he said. "There are a lot of other people that will hopefully be running … I would not support him."

"I think Alabama could do better and he would be a disruptor," Shelby continued. "I think we can win that seat back."

The top aide of Senate Republicans’ campaign arm also previously signaled that they would be against a Moore bid.

"There’s a lot about Roy Moore that still needs to be examined, especially on the financial element, it’s a tangled web," Kevin McLaughlin, the executive director of the National Republican Senate Committee, told the New York Times, before calling himself “A.B.R.M — Anyone but Roy Moore.”

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Pelosi has 'no appetite for going to war' with Iran, but GOP hawks warn president against inaction

Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- After Iran shot down an unarmed, unmanned U.S. drone Wednesday over international waters, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says “there’s no appetite for going to war," but Republicans warned that if President Trump does not respond with force, America's adversaries will think the U.S. is "all talk."

“I think it's a dangerous situation,” Pelosi, D-Calif., said during a news conference at the Capitol Thursday morning. “We have to be strong and strategic about how we protect our interests. We also cannot be reckless in what we do. So it would be interesting to see what they have to say, whether the - I don't think the president wants to go to war. There's no appetite for going to war in our country.”

The top congressional leaders from both parties and chairmen and ranking members of the Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Armed Services Committees – totaling more than 20 lawmakers – were invited to a closed-door, classified intelligence briefing from the administration at the Capitol late Thursday morning.

The White House invited top members of Congress to another classified briefing with President Trump in the White House Situation Room at 3 p.m. Thursday to learn more about the administration’s position on Iran from Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford, outgoing acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan and his replacement Mark Esper. The top four congressional leaders – Pelosi, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, as well as the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate Armed Services and Intelligence committees, are all expected to attend.

“There's nobody who has any illusions about Iran, their bad behavior in terms of who they support in the region, their spreading of ballistic missiles – and we have sanctions on all of that,” Pelosi said prior to the briefing. “But this is a dangerous neighborhood and miscalculation on either side could provoke something that would be very bad in terms of the security and our interests.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, told reporters that Trump's response to Iranian provocation "is truly a defining moment for him," likening it to the moment when President Barack Obama drew a "red line" and vowed he would not let Syrian President Bashar al-Assad get away with using chemical weapons on Syrians in 2013. Graham predicted the president's response will impact how adversaries around the world view the United States.

"If they do anything else to an American asset and this president doesn’t respond like Ronald Reagan, then this is a signal to Iran," Graham said. "We’re a lot closer today than we were yesterday and only God knows what tomorrow brings."

"They are testing him. They need to do so at their own peril," he added. "If they get away with this, God help us with North Korea and throughout the world. I'm convinced that as a last resort, President Trump will stop this behavior."

Earlier Thursday, Pelosi made clear she is not yet supporting a U.S. military response, but added, “let's get the facts.”

“Let's make sure that we don't have a beating the drum for something without the clarity of the facts involved,” she warned. “Our responsibility is to protect and defend our constitution, the American people, our country. That's our first responsibility. That's what we will honor.”

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, the No. 2 ranked Republican in the upper chamber, warned that rhetoric encouraging military force was "reckless."

"I don't think Iran or the US wants a war," Cornyn, R-Texas, said. "The United States needs to respond appropriately and I'm sure the president's national security team is presenting him with a range of responses. If we do nothing, it just encourages Iran further and Iran has a long history of harassing and killing American. I think doing nothing would be a mistake."

Asked why tensions are rising between Iran and the United States, Pelosi pointed at the breakup of the Iran nuclear deal.

“When we moved away from that, we lost some credibility with our allies,” she said. “However we go forward, we have to recognize that working together with our allies is very, very important and that we cannot throw our weight around.”

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Trudeau comes to Washington looking to move past feud with Trump, lobby for USMCA

Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump is set to welcome Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to the White House on Thursday as the two leaders push for approval of a renegotiated trade agreement between the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

The revised NAFTA trade agreement, now known as the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, has been renegotiated between the three governments but still requires ratification by the U.S. and Canadian legislatures. Mexico's Senate moved to ratify the agreement on Wednesday.

Trudeau's visit also comes four months before he faces reelection, and he is looking to send a message to the voters back home that he can work with the U.S. president and move beyond their previous disputes, Canada expert Christopher Sands said.

"Trudeau is trying to send the message that he's got this, he's working with Trump. He's not holding a grudge himself. He's not worried about being insulted. He's just pushing all that aside saying, I can work with this government," said Sands, a senior associate of the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Trump and Trudeau have had an at-times rocky relationship, with the president departing last year's G-7 Summit in Canada early and blasting Trudeau as "meek and mild." The president's insult, issued by tweet, came after Trudeau had called U.S. steel and aluminum tariffs "kind of insulting" and said Canada "will not be pushed around."

The U.S. has since dropped those tariffs, and now, Sands said, Trudeau's aim is to demonstrate that the Canadian alliance with the United States is on solid footing, that he and Trump are strong partners, and that with the USMCA the two leaders have found a common cause.

"Canadians expect their prime minister to suck it up and get along with the Americans," Sands said. "They know the Americans are difficult, but they're also important, and they know that somebody like Trump -- I don't think many Canadians think he's warm and fuzzy -- but they expect because the relationship is so important that prime ministers will find a way to get along."

He also noted that Trudeau has a particular interest in securing the full implementation of the USMCA because the effects of the uncertainty surrounding the pending agreement have been more deeply felt in Canada than in the U.S.

"I think Canada particularly has felt the economic impact of uncertainty, with diminished investment by Canadians as businesses haven't been sure what exactly to expect," Sands said. "Also foreign direct investment has been down, and it's slowing the Canadian economy, which hasn't seen growth rates comparable to what the U.S. has seen, and I think that's a concern for Trudeau."

After meeting with Trump at the White House on Thursday, Trudeau will also make a trip to Capitol Hill, where he's expected to take part in meetings with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Leader Mitch McConnell to make a direct pitch for the trade agreement and gauge the temperature of Congressional leaders on the chances for approval.

In addition to making a public push for the ratification of the USMCA, Trudeau is expected to privately raise the issue of two Canadians being held by China on charges of spying. The arrests come after Canada's arrest of the Huawei CFO on a U.S. warrant and are widely seen as an act of retaliation by China.

When Trump and Trudeau bid adieu on Thursday, it will only be for a short while. The two are set to again cross paths at the G-20 economic summit in Osaka, Japan, at the end of next week.

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Biden defends comments on segregationist Democrats

Scott Olson/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- After a day of criticism from many 2020 presidential opponents, former Vice President Joe Biden is not apologizing for comments he made about finding consensus with Southern Democrats with opposing views while serving in the Senate -- including those who supported segregation.

But Biden went even one step further late Wednesday, saying Sen. Cory Booker should apologize for his own criticism.

The controversy began at a fundraiser in New York City Tuesday night when Biden spoke about the need for consensus to fix the "broken" political system, and recalled his time in the Senate serving alongside former Sens. James O. Eastland, of Mississippi, and Herman Talmadge, of Georgia. Eastland served as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee when Biden arrived in the Senate and both Eastland and Talmadge were deeply opposed to desegregation.

"I was in a caucus with James O. Eastland," Biden said to the crowd of donors during an evening fundraiser in New York City on Tuesday, according to a press pool report, briefly channeling the late Mississippi senator's Southern drawl.

Biden said of Eastland, "He never called me 'boy,' he always called me 'son.'"

The former vice president then brought up deceased Georgia Sen. Herman Talmage: "[He was] one of the meanest guys I ever knew, you go down the list of all these guys. Well, guess what? At least there was some civility. We got things done. We didn't agree on much of anything. We got things done. We got it finished. But today, you look at the other side and you're the enemy. Not the opposition, the enemy. We don't talk to each other anymore."

Biden reiterated that he did not agree with the views those senators held outside a fundraiser in Chevy Chase, Maryland, Wednesday night.

"I could not have disagreed with Jim Eastland more. He was a segregationist. I ran for the United States Senate because I disagreed with the views of the segregationist -- many of them in the Senate at the time," Biden said.

"The point I'm making is you don't have to agree. You don't have to like the people in terms of their views. But you just have to simply make the case you beat them, you beat them without changing the system," he added.

Biden's initial comments drew criticism from some of his 2020 rivals, including Booker.

"You don't joke about calling black men 'boys.' Men like James O. Eastland used words like that, and the racist policies that accompanied them, to perpetuate white supremacy and strip black Americans of our very humanity," Booker, who participated Wednesday in a hearing on reparations for the descendants of slaves, said in a statement.

"Vice President Biden's relationships with proud segregationists are not the model for how we make America a safer and more inclusive place for black people, and for everyone. I have to tell Vice President Biden, as someone I respect, that he is wrong for using his relationships with Eastland and Talmadge as examples of how to bring our country together. And frankly, I'm disappointed that he hasn't issued an immediate apology for the pain his words are dredging up for many Americans. He should," Booker continued.

But when asked if he would issue an apology, Biden made it clear Wednesday night he did not believe he had a reason to.

"Apologize for what?" Biden asked. "Cory should apologize. He knows better. There's not a racist bone in my body. I've been involved in civil rights my whole career. Period. Period. Period."

In his comments Wednesday night Biden also pointed to his support for the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits racial discrimination in voting, and the extensions he was able to pass on the act while in the Senate. That position put Biden at odds with segregationist like Sen. Strom Thurmond, of South Carolina, who served as chair of the Senate Judiciary committee from 1981 to 1987.

Biden's comments Tuesday night were not the first time Biden spoke about his relationship with senators who supported segregation.

"When I first got started, it was a very different circumstance. The politics wasn't broken, but the American people were in overwhelming disagreement. On the war in Vietnam, the women's movement, the civil rights movement are bitter, bitter fights. When I got there, there were still five, seven segregationists from the south were part of the Democratic Party. ... But the politics wasn't broken in the sense that we still treat each other with some civility," Biden said in Concord, New Hampshire, earlier this month.

Biden has also recalled Eastland's offer to come and campaign for or against him in Delaware -- whichever would help more in his reelection efforts -- as he did in 2016.

"I was running for reelection in 1978. And I walked into the Senate dining room when we were trying to wind down everything. We had no appointments, just voting around the clock," Biden said during a speech at the Pittsburgh Labor Day parade in 2016.

"And I walked in -- true story -- and I got -- old Eastland looked at me. He never called me senator. He always called me ‘son.' He says, ‘Son, come over here and sit down a minute.' And I went over and sat down," Biden recalled at the time. "He said, ‘What can old Jim Eastland do for you in Delaware?' … I said, ‘Mr. Chairman, some places you'd help and some places you'd hurt.' "[Eastland] said, ‘Well, I'll come to Delaware and campaign for you or against you, whichever will help the most."

While on the campaign trail Biden has often talked about the need for consensus in order to make the political system work, which often requires working together to accomplish goals, despite differences in beliefs.

Booker was not the only 2020 Democrat to criticize Biden for the comments.

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., said Biden's comments on Eastland and Talmadge were "misinformed and wrong."

"I have a great deal of respect for Vice President Biden. He's done very good work and he's served our country in a very noble way. But to coddle the reputations of segregationists -- of people who, if they had their way, I would literally not be standing here as a member of the U.S. Senate, is, I think, is just misinformed and wrong," Harris told reporters outside the U.S. Capitol Wednesday. "Let's be very clear that the senators that he is speaking of with such adoration are individuals who made and built their reputation on segregation."

"I appreciate the importance of working with people and finding common ground. But to to suggest that individuals who literally made it their life's work to take America back on the issue of race is a real problem for me. And it's a very serious issue," she added.

Fellow candidate New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio slammed Biden for his comments, tweeting that Eastland believed his interracial family should be illegal.

"It's 2019 & @JoeBiden is longing for the good old days of 'civility' typified by James Eastland. Eastland thought my multiracial family should be illegal & that whites were entitled to 'the pursuit of dead n******.' It's past time for apologies or evolution from @JoeBiden. He repeatedly demonstrates that he is out of step with the values of the modern Democratic Party," de Blasio tweeted Wednesday.

Other presidential hopefuls refrained from hitting Biden directly but made clear that they did not agree with his views.

"I'm not here to criticize other Democrats, but it's never ok to celebrate segregationists. Never," Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., said Wednesday avoiding mentioning Biden by name.

Former Maryland Rep. John Delaney was similarly reflective, saying, "Evoking an avowed segregationist is not the best way to make the point that we need to work together and is insensitive; we need to learn from history but we also need to be aggressive in dismantling structural racism that exists today."

Symone Sanders, a senior adviser for the Biden campaign, defended the former vice president's comments, making it clear the vice president was not praising Eastland and Talmadge and calling the insinuation he did "disingenuous."

"@JoeBiden did not praise a segregationist. That is a disingenuous take. He basically said sometimes in Congress, one has to work with terrible or downright racist folks to get things done. And then went on to say when you can't work with them, work around them," Sanders tweeted Wednesday afternoon.

"Joe Biden has been an ally in the fight for civil rights for years. I am all here for VALID CRITICISM, but suggesting that Joe Biden -- the man who literally ran for office against an incumbent at 29 because of the civil rights movement, the man who was at the forefront of marriage equality before it was politically popular, the man who served as President Obama's VP, the man who literally launched his 2020 campaign calling out Nazis in Charlottesville along with Trump's equivalency -- suggesting he is actively praising a segregationist is just a bad take and a willfully disingenuous act," Sanders continued.

House Majority Whip James Clyburn, of South Carolina, a senior member of the Congressional Black Caucus and the highest ranking black lawmaker, defended Biden in comments to Politico saying that the business of governance sometimes requires working with people with distasteful views. Biden is one of 22 candidates expected to attend Clyburn's famous fish fry before the South Carolina Democratic Convention -- a must-stop event on the campaign trail in a state with a high number of black voters.

"I worked with Strom Thurmond all my life," Clyburn said of Thurmond, who was known for his staunch segregationist views. "You don't have to agree with people to work with them."

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Acting ICE director urges people in US illegally to turn themselves in

AlxeyPnferov/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- The Trump administration said Wednesday that it is targeting "all demographics" for deportation and is urging people living in the U.S. illegally to consider turning themselves in, although it wasn't immediately clear whether the latest plan represented any significant change in enforcement tactics.

Mark Morgan, acting chief for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, told reporters that his agency is "opening that aperture and applying the rule of law to all demographics that are here illegally."

His remarks came after President Donald Trump vowed to begin deporting "millions" next week, and Morgan signaled that would include undocumented families.

Morgan encouraged families living in the U.S. illegally to turn themselves in to authorities.

"I don't want to send ICE agents to their work place," he said. "I don't want to send ICE agents to their home. I don't want to try to track them down and apprehend them in their communities and towns."

But as of Wednesday, there was no indication that the administration would be able to deploy more resources to detain many more people than what it's done already -- a reality Morgan noted in a press call with reporters.

"Resources are clearly an issue and that will, to some degree, dictate the pace at which we will be able to locate, apprehend and remove the vast amount of people that are here illegally in this country," he said.

Under the Obama administration, federal law enforcement officers focused on detaining immigrants who were convicted of violent crimes and felonies. But shortly after taking office, Trump eliminated those priorities and broadened the scope of immigrants who could be made a priority for deportation.

As of June 15, there were 53,515 people in ICE detention. While most detainees are accused of immigration violations like crossing the border illegally, the majority of them have not been charged with other crimes, according to the ICE data.

The Trump administration has attempted to expand detention centers despite pushback from Democrats in Congress. In budget negotiations earlier this year, the administration secured some flexibility to grow detention capacity slightly beyond the cap mandated by congress. This year's budget funds fewer than 45,300 beds.

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Biden sidesteps questions about his son's foreign business dealings

Teresa Kroeger/Getty Images for World Food Program USA(WASHINGTON) -- Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden declined to answer questions on the campaign trail this week about his son's overseas business dealings in countries where the then-vice president was conducting diplomatic work, an issue his political opponents have already begun to wield against him as he wades into the 2020 presidential campaign.

More than once, after his father engaged in diplomacy on behalf of the United States in foreign countries, Hunter Biden conducted business in the same country. At two separate campaign stops on Monday, Biden avoided questions about his son while his staff blocked reporters from approaching the candidate.

Biden's campaign did provide ABC News with a statement saying the former vice president has always adhered to "well-established executive branch ethics standards," adding that if Biden wins the White House he will issue an executive order to "address conflicts of interest of any kind."

"This process will be set out in detail in the executive order," the statement reads, "that President Biden would issue on his first day in office."

The ethics pledge follows renewed questions about a pair of overseas business opportunities involving Hunter Biden -- one in Ukraine, another in China -- that already have begun to generate political attacks from Joe Biden's conservative critics. Ethics experts interviewed by ABC News said these are legitimate questions about possible past and future conflicts of interest.

In April of 2014, the then-vice president led a U.S. delegation to Kiev tasked with rooting out corruption and advocating for Ukraine to diminish its reliance on Russian oil. The Obama administration had pledged aid money to support a fledgling Ukrainian administration recovering from a revolution that ousted the country's previous leader.

"You have to fight the cancer of corruption that is endemic in your system right now," Biden told the Ukrainian parliament during the first of several post-revolution visits to the country. "And with the right investments and the right choices, Ukraine can reduce its energy dependence and increase its energy security."

Within weeks of his visit, Ukraine's largest energy producer, Burisma Energy, appointed Hunter Biden to a paid directorship on the firm's board.

Just months before, in December of 2013, there was a similar episode when the then-vice president led an Obama administration effort to tamp down tensions in the Far East. Hunter Biden disembarked from Air Force Two in Beijing alongside his father, ahead of a series of meetings between the vice president and several high-ranking members of China's ruling party. Upon his departure, Joe Biden called Chinese President Xi Jinping a "good friend."

Within weeks of that visit, Hunter Biden was doing business there, as a participant in a firm called Bohai Harvest RST. The corporation formed a novel Chinese-American investment partnership that involved such Chinese state-owned firms as the Bank of China. Reports at the time said they sought to raise $1.5 billion.

In response to questions from ABC News, Hunter Biden maintained that he and his father never talked about his overseas ventures.

"At no time have I discussed with my father the company's business, or my board service," Hunter Biden said in statement forwarded to ABC News by his attorney. "Any suggestion to the contrary is just plain wrong."

An attorney for Hunter Biden has also told reporters the vice president's son conducted no business on the Air Force Two trip to Beijing and never discussed his dealings with his father.

Robert Weissman, the president of progressive watchdog group Public Citizen and a frequent critic of business dealings by President Donald Trump's children -- including the Trump Organization's ongoing development projects overseas -- told ABC News that it can be challenging for the adult children of well-known political figures to carve out careers that don't pose ethics concerns, but he considers Hunter Biden's decisions concerning.

"At absolute minimum there's a huge appearance of conflict, and there's every reason to think that the investors that he‘s working with want him partnering with them because he's the son of the then-vice president and now presidential candidate," Weissman said. "[Joe Biden] should have encouraged his son to not take these positions."

Biden defends his son

The Ukrainian energy firm Burisma tapped Hunter Biden -- a Yale-trained attorney who worked at the Manhattan-based law firm Boies Schiller Flexner LLP -- to lead its legal unit and "provide support for the company among international organizations," according to the company's announcement at the time.

Hunter Biden and his associate at a business entity called Rosemont Seneca Partners -- where Hunter Biden was a managing partner -- both obtained board seats, and according to banking records reviewed by ABC News, the firm began collecting $166,666 payments each month.

In a statement to ABC News, Biden said "at no time" was he "in charge of the company's legal affairs" and said he "earned [his] qualifications for such a role based on [his] extensive prior board service." Hunter Biden had served on other corporate boards, including as vice chairman of the board overseeing Amtrak. He had no known experience in Ukraine or the highly competitive energy field, but said in his statement that he joined the board "to help reform Burisma's practices of transparency, corporate governance and responsibility."

But questions were raised at the time. Asked about the appointment in May of 2014 by ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl, then-press secretary Jay Carney responded that "Hunter Biden and other members of the Biden family are obviously private citizens, and where they work does not reflect an endorsement by the administration or by the vice president or president."

More details of his work for Burisma surfaced in the 2018 book Secret Empires by conservative author Peter Schweizer, and as Biden moved closer to announcing his bid for the White House, news reports began focusing greater attention on the burgeoning controversy. Reports in The Hill and The New York Times noted that the vice president's reform campaign in Ukraine included an effort to call for the dismissal of Viktor Shokin, then the country's controversial chief prosecutor. The reports noted that Shokin had ostensibly been leading an investigation into Burisma and its founder, Mykola Zlochevsky, for possible financial crimes.

Both Zlochevsky and the company have denied wrongdoing and neither have faced charges, but in an interview with ABC News, Shokin maintained his suspicions about the vice president's motives, accusing Biden of promoting his dismissal for personal reasons. He insisted he had "no doubt" Biden wanted him gone in an effort to protect his son's new employer.

"Biden was acting not like a U.S. vice president, but as an individual," Shokin told ABC News, "like the individual interested in having me removed -- having me gone so that I did not interfere in the Burisma investigation."

A Biden campaign spokesman rejected the premise of Shokin's allegation, saying Biden had "acted at all times in a manner consistent with well-established executive branch ethics standards." And the assertion that Biden acted to help his son has been undercut by widespread criticism of Shokin from several high-profile international leaders who said Biden's recommendation was well justified. Once Shokin was removed, the European Union's envoy to Ukraine, Jan Tombinski, lauded the decision as "an opportunity to make a fresh start."

With Biden emerging as a front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, however, Trump has sought to keep the issue in the public eye, aided by personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, who announced last month that he planned to travel to Ukraine to urge officials there to investigate Biden's efforts to lobby for Shokin's ouster.

"Explain to me why Biden shouldn't be investigated," Giuliani tweeted in May, before canceling the trip after facing criticism for appearing to engage a foreign government for political help.

Biden chaffed at Giuliani's efforts when he was asked about the matter during a candidate forum in New Hampshire in May. And he defended his son, saying "all the reports indicated that not a single, solitary thing was inappropriate about what my son did. He never talked to me. He never talked to anybody in the administration."

"I give you my word. None," he said, adding that "with all the investigation that's been done, there's not a single piece of evidence that he ever talked to anybody in government about it. … And I have faith in him."

But those assurances have failed to put the issue to rest. Even one of the activists Biden's team asked ABC News to contact had deep reservations about Hunter Biden's decision to accept a board seat at Burisma.

Daria Kaleniuk, a Ukrainian anti-corruption advocate, did not see fault in Joe Biden's conduct, saying she thought he "did what he had to do" in pursuing Shokin's removal, but decried his son's decision as "a very bad thing."

"[Hunter Biden] was very wrong," Kaleniuk said. "He allowed his name to be abused, and with that he made easy money."

Lingering questions

Ukraine is not the only foreign territory in which there are lingering questions about business conducted by Hunter Biden.

His exact role in the Chinese investment fund Bohai Harvest RST remains unclear. The firm's website described the venture as being "sponsored" by the government-controlled Bank of China, and securities filings in the U.S. say the fund was "to focus on mergers and acquisitions, and investment in and reforms of state-owned enterprise."

A source familiar with Hunter Biden's involvement said he served as an unpaid director and has not yet received any returns on his investments from the fund, adding that he only became a minority stake-holder in the company in October 2017, with his current investment estimated at approximately $430,000. He continues to play an active role, according to his attorney. And that presents a problem for ethics experts.

"If Hunter Biden is still connected with [the Chinese investment firm], he needs to get out of that relationship," Weissman, president of Public Citizen, told ABC News. "And there should be as much clarity as possible about what actually is going on there as well."

The timing of that deal has also caught the attention of Trump, who, earlier this month, challenged reporters on the South Lawn: "Biden has some kind of relationship financially -- or his son -- with China? Tell me about that."

In his statement to ABC News, Hunter Biden blamed the negative attention on the political climate.

"The narratives that have been suggested and developed by the right-wing political apparatus are demonstrably false," he said. "These distortions of reality will not distract my father, nor make me question my judgment in my initial decision to join the board of Burisma to do the good work necessary for the benefit of the company and Ukraine."

Hunter Biden said his directorship at Burisma recently expired, and he declined the company's offer to renew it.

"In this political climate," he said, "where my qualifications and work are being attacked by Rudy Giuliani and his minions for transparent political purposes, I have decided not to renew my directorship."

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Senators approve bipartisan $4.6 billion emergency border deal, with restrictions

Sherry Smith/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- All but one Senate appropriator on Wednesday voted to approve a $4.59 billion emergency funding measure designed to address the humanitarian situation at the U.S. southern border, a rare bipartisan move by a congressional panel on a topic that typically sparks partisan rancor.

But House Democrats expressed "concerns" -- and it was also unclear whether President Donald Trump would accept the measure because of restrictions on how the money can be used.

The Senate move comes at a critical time amid a surge of undocumented migrants at the border, particularly unaccompanied children, putting a strain on resources, specifically for the agency -- the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) -- in charge of housing those children. The agency has warned it will run out of funding by month’s end.

The deal struck by senators gives $1.2 billion to Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to relieve the overcrowding at detention facilities and for improving migrant care.

"This package does not include everything that i would have wanted ... But most importantly, it doesn’t not include poison pills,” Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala., said.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, the top Democrat on the panel, agreed, saying, “Everyone agrees there is a humanitarian crisis at our southern border. I don't think anyone disputes that," adding, “Do I like every aspect of this bill? No ... but we don’t fund the administration’s detention-first policy."

To that end, the bill contains a number of restrictions -- approved with GOP support -- designed to withhold money from a number of President Trump's immigration priorities, including the border wall.

The legislation provides no funding for more detention beds, something Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has sought, and Democrats succeeded in adding other restrictions to the bill that prohibit any funds from being spent on the wall or for any other unrelated purpose. Members of Congress would also be allowed access to ORR facilities within 48 hours' notice.

But the lone Democrat opposing the bill, Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon, took issue with any support for detaining children.

"Children should not be imprisoned in the United States of America," Merkley said, explaining his 'no' vote to his colleagues. "This for-profit prison system for housing children is a deep scar that has to end."

Merkley also noted that while the bill prohibits the use of information obtained from sponsors of unaccompanied children being shared with ICE, "there's no way to track and enforce that."

Shelby said he believes the bill has the support of the president, but quickly added, “That could change. Things change around here, you know.”

One sticking point: House Democrats are not part of this deal, though Leahy said he and Shelby are scheduled to meet with their House counterparts Wednesday afternoon.

“House Democrats are aware (of this deal), but they have their own plan,” a spokeswoman for Shelby told reporters.

All of this comes as President Trump has revived a campaign promise to deport “millions of illegal aliens” from the U.S., something he said Tuesday would start "next week."

“It’s hard to explain how this nation of immigrants ... struggles so mightily with who will be part of this nation’s future,” Durbin criticized at Wednesday's hearing.

But Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a key Trump ally, issued a stark warning to his colleagues.

"If we don't change our asylum laws, this never stops," said Graham, who was preparing to deal with legislation to address asylum laws this week in the Judiciary Committee, but he unexpectedly put that on hold Wednesday.

"This is not a crisis. It is a disaster," Graham said.

And in an apparent swipe at Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., who earlier in the week called migrant detention facilities in the U.S. "concentration camps," Graham said, "These are not concentration camps, though. People are trying to get caught."

Shelby implored his colleagues to support the deal and move forward, putting contentious issues temporarily on the back burner.

"Our border security professional and the children and families in their care cannot afford further delay," said Shelby.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is expected to put the bill on the floor as early as next week where it is expected to pass.

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Hope Hicks going 'through hell,' Trump tweets, as Democrats question her about president's potential obstruction of justice

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Hope Hicks, the former White House communications director and one of President Donald Trump's closest aides, was questioned behind closed doors on Wednesday before the House Judiciary Committee as part of the committee's ongoing investigation into potential obstruction of justice by the president.

Shortly after Hicks arrived, the Democratic chairman, Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York, emerged to tell reporters that Hicks was "answering questions put to her" in the committee interview.

Later, while Hicks was still facing questions, other Democrats coming in and out of the room didn't appear satisfied with her answers. While she was answering questions about her time on the campaign, they said, she was not answering any questions about her time at the White House.

Hicks said nothing to reporters when she emerged from the room as the committee took a lunch break after about three hours of questioning, and as the interview continued into the afternoon, Trump tweeted that Democrats were putting the "wonderful" Hicks "through hell."

Committee lawyers and members were prepared to question Hicks about her time in the White House and instances of potential obstruction detailed in special counsel Robert Mueller's report as part of his probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 election. The committee announced Hicks' agreement to appear last week and has said it plans to release transcripts from the hearing shortly after its conclusion.

On Tuesday afternoon, the White House sent a letter to Nadler that stated that Trump has instructed Hicks not to answer questions related to her time serving as a senior adviser in the White House, claiming she was "absolutely immune" from being compelled to testify" about her White House service.

"Because of this constitutional immunity and in order to protect the prerogatives of the Office of President, the President has directed Ms. Hicks not to answer questions before the Committee relating to the time of her service as a senior adviser to the President," White House counsel Pat Cipollone wrote.

White House lawyers used the same argument to prevent former White House counsel Don McGahn from testifying on similar matters before the committee.

Nadler responded in a letter Tuesday afternoon, saying "I reject that assertion."

"Questions will be posed to her and we will address privilege and other objections on question by question basis," Nader said.

A member of the White House counsel's office was in the room during her appearance Wednesday.

While the White House does not use the "immunity" argument as it relates to Hicks' time on the campaign, Cipollone addressed the committee's expressed interest in questioning Hicks about her time during the presidential transition.

"Much of Ms. Hicks's work during this period involved discussions with the President-elect and his staff relating to the decisions the President-elect would be making once he assumed office," Cipollone wrote. "Accordingly, her responses to specific questions about this period would likely implicate executive branch confidentiality interests concerning that decision-making process."

Last week, the White House directed Hicks not to comply with document requests from late May for White House records issued by the committee related to the Trump campaign and transition, though she did turn over some materials related to the campaign.

In a letter to the panel, Robert Trout, a lawyer representing Hicks, detailed some of the campaign-related materials provided to the committee. Trout noted that Hicks had previously turned over similar records March 22.

Documents related to Hicks' time in the White House and presidential transition were not turned over, Trout maintained, arguing the decision to release documents originating with the White House and transition "is not hers to make.”

Cipollone made a similar point in a previous letter to Nadler, writing that the documents "include White House records that remain legally protected from disclosure under longstanding constitutional principles because they implicate significant Executive Branch confidentiality interests and executive privilege. Because Ms. Talley and Ms. Hicks do not have the legal right to disclose the White House records to third parties, I would ask that the Committee direct any request for such records to the White House, the appropriate legal custodian."

Annie Donaldson, McGahn's former chief of staff, has also been subpoenaed to appear before the committee next Monday.

In a statement released last week, Nadler said his committee will attempt to resolve any privilege disagreements "while reserving our right to take any and all measures in response to unfounded privilege assertions."

A House Judiciary Committee aide suggested the panel would not find it acceptable for Hicks not to answer any questions about her time in the White House.

Hicks, who served as a Trump Organization employee and the press secretary for the 2016 Trump presidential campaign before assuming her roles in the White House, was one of Trump's closest confidantes on the campaign trail and in the early half of his presidency.

This will not be her first closed-door appearance before a House committee -- she appeared before the House Intelligence Committee for an eight-hour, closed-door session in February 2018 and told the panel her work for Trump occasionally required her to tell "white lies."

She also was asked about the controversial Trump Tower meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer in June 2016. She resigned from her position in the White House the following day.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters at the time that Hicks' departure had little to do with the testimony.

Hicks, who is mentioned in the special counsel's report dozens of times, also was a witness in Mueller's investigation into the Trump campaign's contacts with Russia during the 2016 election, having sat for two days of closed-door interviews with the special counsel's team.

The ranking member on the Judiciary Committee, GOP Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, told reporters members are learning nothing new from her testimony because it’s all laid out in the Mueller report. He accused Democrats of just wanted to re-litigate the report.

“She’s answering questions that she can and she’s been cooperative with this,” Collins said. He called the Hicks interview Wednesday a “press release” and a PR stunt by Democrats.

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Marine general 'bullied' subordinates, 'devalued women': Pentagon inspector general

Sgt. Joseph Johnson/U.S. Department of Defense(WASHINGTON) -- A Department of Defense Inspector General report concluded that a Marine Corps general "disparaged, bullied, and humiliated subordinates, devalued women, and created a negative ... work environment that led to a general distrust of his impartiality and leadership."

In response, the Marine Corps said it would "take appropriate action in light of the substantiated misconduct."

Brig. Gen. Norman Cooling was serving as the Legislative Assistant to the Commandant of the Marine Corps when the Senate Armed Services Committee sent a complaint to then-Defense Secretary James Mattis about Cooling's conduct, leading to the DOD IG investigation which was initiated on March 15, 2018.

The IG concluded that Cooling violated sections of U.S. Code, as well as Defense Department and Navy regulations. He is currently serving as the Assistant Deputy Commandant for Plans, Policies and Operations for the Marine Corps, after being removed from his previous position last year due to the investigation.

After reviewing the IG's draft report, Cooling acknowledged that he "fell short of maintaining a positive climate throughout the Office of Legislative Affairs (OLA)" and accepted responsibility for that shortfall, but said the report did not provide "sufficient evidence by any legitimate legal standard to support a finding that I created a hostile work environment or that I made demeaning remarks about women," according to the IG.

"The Marine Corps takes all allegations of misconduct seriously, regardless of rank," Marine Corps spokesman Maj. Brian Block told ABC News in a statement on Wednesday. "The Marine Corps is currently reviewing the DoD IG's report and will take appropriate action in light of the substantiated misconduct."

"The Marine Corps expects every Marine, uniformed and civilian -- and particularly those in leadership positions -- to hold themselves to the highest standards in their personal and professional conduct. When Marines fall short of our standards they are held accountable," he said.

The IG interviewed over three dozen witnesses and reviewed 11,650 official emails, along with other relevant documents before determining, according to the report, that "on numerous occasions ... Cooling’s comments and conduct demeaned, bullied, and humiliated his subordinates."

The report says:

  • "BGen Cooling told a female [non commissioned officer] who aspires to be a Marine Corps pilot that he would rather have his daughter work in a brothel than be a pilot."
  • "He loudly and publicly berated two staff members whom he accused of trying to 'f**k' him and asked them repeatedly, 'Where the f**k have you been?'"
  • "He publicly yelled to a staff member that if the staff member did not give him requested budget information he would castrate the staff member."
  • "In a staff meeting, he bullied a staff officer when he publicly berated, belittled, and singled her out for ridicule in front of her peers when a Member of Congress canceled a meeting with the Assistant Commandant. He then told his entire staff in the same meeting that if any of them failed to get an office call for the Assistant Commandant with a Member of Congress, he was 'going to jump out this f**king window.'"
  • "He bullied a subordinate when he attempted to damage her reputation by spreading a rumor about her and potentially damaging her future career by warning the most senior Marine Corps officer in the subordinate’s career field, 'watch yourself, you’ve got to watch out' for her. BGen Cooling further blamed the subordinate for the SASC complaint against him, his removal from the Legislative Assistant position, and this investigation into his conduct."

Cooling further told the IG that the report "can only legitimately establish that I made a few isolated comments that some construed in the worst possible way and told third parties so that they ended up in the [SASC complaint]."

"At no time during that brief assignment, nor at any other time during my career, did I ever discriminate against anyone for anything other than their performance," he said in the report.

Cooling graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1986 and has deployed multiple times to Iraq and Afghanistan throughout his military career.

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Trump's UN ambassador nominee faces tough questions on climate change, credentials

Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump's nominee for ambassador to the United Nations faced tough questions during her Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday on the international body, climate change, her top priorities and limited diplomatic experience.

Kelly Craft, the U.S. ambassador to Canada, who along with her husband is a major donor to Trump and other Republicans, is expected to be confirmed to the role -- described as the second most important U.S. diplomat, behind the Secretary of State.

Trump's first ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley departed her post at the end of 2018. A career diplomat has filled in for nearly six months now in an acting capacity. While Haley was a member of Trump's Cabinet, the administration has since demoted the position out of the Cabinet. Trump had nominated his former State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert to replace Haley, but Nauert withdrew her name months later.

Before her nearly two-year tenure as U.S. envoy in Ottawa -- where she was involved in renegotiating NAFTA -- Craft was a businesswoman and a political donor, especially with her husband Joe, who is a wealthy executive for one of the largest U.S. coal producers. Craft was candid about her lack of experience on Wednesday, telling the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that she would approach the role with "clear-eyed humility. I have much to learn about the United Nations."

But "ultimately, I would not have accepted the president's nomination if I was not certain I was ready for the task at hand," she added.

Republicans on the committee defended her credentials, in particular pointing to her time in Canada during Trump's tumultuous relationship with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his government as solid experience.

Democrats blasted her for "excessive" absences from her post, pointing out that she traveled back to the U.S. regularly, even after NAFTA negotiations resulted in a replacement deal, the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA.

"I find this staggering amount of time away from post very troubling and an abdication of leadership," said Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., the top Democrat on the committee.

Craft said all the travel was approved by the State Department and was paid for out of her own pocket, even when traveling for business purposes. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said that in the end, Craft actually saved taxpayers money because of that.

During the 2016 campaign, Craft and her husband each donated $2,700 -- the maximum amount individuals are allowed to donate -- to Rubio's reelection campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics' OpenSecrets database. Joe Craft also donated to the senatorial campaigns of Mitt Romney of Utah and Todd Young of Indiana, in addition to $1 million to Trump's inauguration fund. They've also given extensively to their home-state Sen. Mitch McConnell, who lobbied Trump to nominate Craft for the ambassadorship and introduced her Wednesday before the hearing.

Given her family business ties to coal, Craft said that she would recuse herself on matters related to it during her time as U.N. ambassador, as part of an agreement with the Office of Government Ethics. That could include recusing herself on all fossil fuel-related issues, she added, pending a final decision from the ethics officials.

"I will be in full compliance with our ethics agreement," she said repeatedly.

After previously saying she believed in "both sides of the science" on climate change, Craft also said unequivocally that climate change is real and humans are contributing to it, including the role of fossil fuels -- something Trump has refused to acknowledge.

"Climate change needs to be addressed as it poses real risk to our planet. Human behavior has contributed to the changing climate, let there be no doubt," she said in her opening remarks, adding that it will be a "top priority" for her at the U.N.

But Craft defended withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement, saying America should not take on an "outsize burden" that "imperils" jobs or economic growth. She said the U.S. is already leading on the issue, citing a 14% reduction in carbon emissions between 2005 and 2017.

The U.S. Energy Agency reported in May, however, that emissions rose in 2018 by 2.7%.

That stated support for climate change may cause some marital tension, Craft joked at one point.

"If anyone can offer me a ride after climate change," she said to laughs.

Hours after the U.N. released a special investigative report into the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, Craft also said she promised lawmakers that she would use the U.S. membership on the U.N. Security Council to press for full accountability in the Saudi government, including at the highest levels.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates and Danny Glover join renewed debate over reparations on Capitol Hill

drnadig/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- (WASHINGTON) -- Steps away from the U.S. Capitol – a building built by slaves – the House Judiciary subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties held its first hearing in more than a decade on the hot-button topic of reparations for the descendants of Africans brought to America, enslaved and impacted by discriminatory policies including segregation.

The hearing, timed to coincide with "Juneteenth," a date when the last slaves in Texas learned they were free, brings to the forefront the centuries-old debate over what, if anything, is owed.

At the end of the Civil War formerly enslaved families were promised by Union leadership 40 acres and a mule -- an offer never fulfilled. Centuries later, the debate over reparations is playing out on the campaign trail as many 2020 presidential presidential candidates weigh in on the topic and lawmakers press the case with perennial legislative efforts.

The appearance actor Danny Glover and award-winning author Ta-Nehisi Coates, whose 2014 essay "The Case for Reparations" thrust the divisive topic onto the national stage, are expected to testify, lending celebrity status to an issue that has been wending through Congress for decades.

Glover grew emotional as he spoke about his family's history as sharecroppers and as the descendants of slaves and stressed that America needs to acknowledge the impact of slavery and discrimination.

"James Baldwin, the great writer once said, 'if we can't tell the truth about the past, we become trapped in it," Glover told the panel. "This country is trapped in not telling the truth."

Former Rep. John Conyers, D-Michigan, first introduced reparations H.R. 40 legislation in 1989 aimed at creating a commission to "make recommendations concerning any form of apology and compensation to begin the long-delayed process of atonement for slavery." The measure has been reintroduced every congressional last session since then and was re-introduced this year by Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas.

The measure has drawn support from NAACP President Derrick Johnson whose organization backed the measure starting in 2014.

"Here we are in 2019 talking about it again. It is a sore spot for this nation," Johnson told ABC News in April. "It is something that we must address, so we can get past this moment in time in a way in which the legacy of slavery, the legacy of segregation, the legacy of institutional racism can once in for all be done away with and we can all prosper as a nation as one whole community."

Dr. Julianne Malveaux, a noted economist, spoke at the hearing about her family being lynched on land that they owned and forcibly removed.

"Reparations is an idea whose time has come," she told ABC News before the hearing.

Many 2020 Democratic presidential candidates have tackled the issue head-on, with the majority weighing in at several presidential forums this year including Rev. Al Sharpton's annual National Action Network convention.

Jackson Lee's bill has more than 50 cosponsors, including at least three House Democrats running for president: Eric Swalwell of California, Tim Ryan of Ohio and Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii.

Gabbard was one of the earliest 2020 candidates to sign onto H.R. 40. She worked as a congressional legislative aide to her mentor the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka of Hawaii, who in 1993 spearheaded a resolution, passed and signed into law by President Bill Clinton, apologizing for America's illegal role in overthrowing Hawaii's Queen Lili'uokalani in 1893.

Gabbard, in an interview in New Hampshire with WMUR, talked about reparations: "I think something similar needs to take place for other indigenous people and for the dark tragedy of slavery that occurred in our country's history.”

In early April, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., held a joint press conference with Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., to promote a 10/20/30 funding bill outside of the U.S. Capitol, a measure that seeks to allocate 10% of federal funds to invest into counties that have had a poverty level of at least 20% for over 30 years.

When asked by ABC News if the bill was a form of reparations Booker declined to comment, but Clyburn, the dean of the South Carolina congressional delegation, said that he "absolutely" feels it is.

Days later, Booker tweeted that he planned on introducing H.R. 40 in the Senate as part of a companion bill.

At the hearing on Wednesdsay, Booker said "I feel a sense of anger where we are in the United States of America, where we have not yet had conversations about a lot of the root causes of the inequities, and the pain and the hurt manifested in economic disparities. Manifested in health disparities. Manifested in disparities a criminal justice system that is indeed a form of a new Jim Crow."

He continued, "we as a nation have not yet acknowledged and grappled with racism and white supremacy that has tainted this country's founding and continues to persist in those deep racial disparities and inequalities today."

Another 2020 candidate who's been talking about reparations since 1997 is spiritual leader Marianne Williamson, who told ABC News Monday, "The whole idea of reparations, to me, has been an extension of a moral principle."

Williamson said reparations tackles "the economic gap that existed at the end of the Civil War and has never been closed."

Williamson added: "The reason I feel strongly about reparations is because there is an inherent mea culpa, there's an inherent acknowledgment, that a wrong that has been done."

While support for the measure has gained momentum among several 2020 candidates, the Senate's most prominent Republican, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, voiced blunt opposition to the idea of reparations on Tuesday.

"I don't think reparations for something that happened 150 years for whom none of us currently living are responsible is a good idea," McConnell told reporters at a press conference. "We've tried to deal with our original sin of slavery by fighting a Civil War, by passing landmark civil rights legislation, by electing an African American president."

He said that another issue is that it would be hard to "figure out" whom to compensate.

"We've had waves of immigrants, as well, who have come to this country and experienced dramatic discrimination of one kind or another," he said. "So, no, I don't think reparations are a good idea."

Coleman Hughes, who is African American, said he agreed with that sentiment saying reparations are an “insult many African Americans.”

However, Coates criticized McConnell over his comments on reparations saying: "For a century after the Civil War, black people were subjected to a relentless campaign of terror, a campaign that extended well into the lifetime of Majority leader McConnell." He added that "it is tempting to divorce this modern campaign of terror, of plunder, from enslavement. But the logic of enslavement, of white supremacy, respects no such borders."

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Rep. Ilhan Omar announces bill to end student lunch debt shaming

Steve Debenport/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- Following stories that gained national attention about students being publicly shamed for having school lunch debt, Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar said on Wednesday she wants to tackle the issue by introducing the No Shame Against Schools Act.

“Hunger and debt are a national problem,” Omar said.

Omar, who previously worked as a child nutrition outreach coordinator and a nutrition community outreach coordinator, announced her bill during a news conference which she said would prohibit any kind of identification like tokens or wristbands, publishing a list of children with outstanding debts, or using debt collectors to obtain school meal fees. It would also require schools to attempt to certify a child with unpaid meal fees and subsequently allow that school to receive retroactive reimbursement for that child's meals for up to 90 days.

“So, what this bill does is simple, it prohibits the punishment and shaming of children who are unable to pay school meal fees,” Omar, who has herself been a high-profile target of criticism, said.

Omar was joined by fellow lawmakers New Mexico Democratic Reps. Ben Ray Lujan and Deb Haaland who voiced their support for this act.

“The question on whether a child should eat should not be dependent on a family’s income,” Halaand said.

More than 75 percent of school districts reported having unpaid student meal debt at the end of the 2016-2017 school year, according to a 2018 report by the School Nutrition Association, which surveyed 1,550 districts nationwide.

The median amount of total debt was $2,500, but the amounts ranged from less than $10 to more than $865,000, according to the report.

Valerie Castile, mother of student cafeteria supervisor Philando Castile who in 2016 was fatally shot by a police officer in Minnesota, also spoke at the press conference. She highlighted the importance of continuing the legacy of her son by donating $8,000 to a Minnesota high school to settle school lunch debts.

“If we can give a tax cut to the rich, then we can make sure that students are fed at school and not shamed,” Castile said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture began requiring schools to implement policies to collect debt for unpaid meals at the start of the 2017-2018 school year. Although the USDA spends about $22 billion on child nutrition programs, it prohibits schools from allocating those funds to pay for the debt.

Several states, including Pennsylvania, Washington, Oregon, Kansas and Colorado, have passed legislation preventing schools from shaming students who owe meal debt, which has caused many districts to struggle with escalating debt, according to SNA.

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With just two weeks to go, administration officially confirms Trump July Fourth address at Lincoln Memorial

Veni/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump, as he promised, will deliver a speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial this July Fourth as part of his desired “Salute to America” event, the administration announced on Wednesday.

One of the two jets used as Air Force One will conduct a flyover of the National Mall as part of Trump's celebration, a U.S. official confirmed to ABC News, a detail first reported by the Washington Post.

The president first announced he wanted to hold a special July Fourth event at the Lincoln Memorial in a presidential tweet back in February, but Trump's plan to commandeer part of the nonpartisan, annual festivities that take place each summer on the National Mall has faced pushback over the added security, logistical and financial obligations with hosting a presidential event.

HOLD THE DATE! We will be having one of the biggest gatherings in the history of Washington, D.C., on July 4th. It will be called “A Salute To America” and will be held at the Lincoln Memorial. Major fireworks display, entertainment and an address by your favorite President, me!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 24, 2019

Trump's speech is set to take place between 6:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. and that timing would not conflict with the PBS annual broadcast of "A Capital Fourth," a concert with the National Symphony Orchestra, or the nationally-known fireworks display set to start at 9:07 p.m.

“There is no more appropriate place to celebrate the anniversary of American independence than among the Nation’s monuments on the National Mall and the memorials to the service men and women who have defended the United States for the past 243 years,” said Interior Secretary David Bernhardt in a release announcing the plans to go forward with the president’s desired event, just about two weeks before it’s set to occur.

In addition to a presidential address -- "an address by our Commander-in-Chief" the release calls it -- the Interior Department said the president’s “Salute to America” event will “honor each of the nation’s five service branches with music, military demonstrations, flyovers and much more.” Multiple military musical groups, including the Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps, the U.S. Army Band (“Pershing’s Own”), the Armed Forces Chorus, and the United States Marine Corps Silent Drill Team are set to perform.

Despite months of extensive planning by Bernhardt and other members of the administration, sources had told ABC News it was unclear for a time whether the president would get his way on the event because of the unique concerns of securing the president at Lincoln Memorial and concerns about the disruption to the public attempting to access the mall to view the fireworks from nearby public transit.

The administration has also ordered the launch location of the fireworks be moved from its regular launch location near the reflecting pool to a nearby park. Bernhardt touted that the administration’s revised plan as a way to open up parts of the National Mall to the public. The regular launch site forces the closure of the World War II Memorial and the reflecting pool for several days leading up to the July Fourth, but those areas will now remain open.

It is highly unusual for a president to participate directly in the city’s annual celebrations, which already feature extensive additional security measures, including the construction a temporary security apparatus around parts of the National Mall.

Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser, a Democrat, has previously raised particular objections to the president’s plans, emphasizing the added strain on the city's already stretched security operation in order to provide adequate security for the president, in addition to securing a new fireworks location.

"If we have to put more police to cover his movements, more police for the fireworks and an additional location for police where the fireworks are going to get set off, that puts a strain on us," Browser told the Washington Post in a recent interview. "We won't allow it to impact neighborhood safety. So the chief will have to think about if he needs additional resources."

Contacted for comment Wednesday, the mayor’s office did not have an immediate comment in reaction to the administration’s announced plans for July Fourth.

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Democratic presidential candidate Marianne Williamson makes push for reparations

Scott Olson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Ahead of Wednesday's House Judiciary subcommittee hearing on reparations for the descendants of slaves, the first on the topic in over a decade, Democratic presidential candidate Marianne Williamson told ABC News' 'Start Here' podcast that the policy is a necessary way for the country to atone for past actions.

"One of the reasons why I propose reparations as opposed to just say race-based policies is because they carry with them an inherent mea culpa. It is an inherent acknowledgement of a wrong that has been done, of a debt that is owed, and a willingness to pay it," Williamson, an author who is mounting a unique bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, said.

Williamson was also asked why she, as a white person, is the best messenger on the topic of reparations.

"Well I don’t know that I'm the best person to do anything, but I'm running for president … so I'm saying what I believe that we should do," Williamson responded.

Williamson, who is proposing a reparations program that would cost between $200 and $500 billion, said that if elected president she would form a "reparations council" to determine how the money would be spent, adding that there would be a stipulation that it be used specifically for "projects of economic and educational renewal."

"We're talking about two and a half centuries of slavery, which were then followed by another hundred years of institutionalized violence," Williamson said arguing that other nations who have subjected people to various atrocities have also atoned for their actions. "Germany has paid 89 billion dollars to Jewish organizations since the Holocaust ... Ronald Reagan signed the American Civil Liberties Act in 1988, by which we paid ... the surviving prisoners from the Japanese internment camps ... between 20 and twenty two thousand dollars. I think paying anything less than a hundred billion would be insulting."

The push also comes the day after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he opposes reparations because no one "currently alive was responsible for that."

Williamson slammed McConnell's comments, saying the country cannot be "made whole" until we address issues from our past.

"No he does not have a point there. America cannot be made whole until we clean up certain issues from our past. You can't have the future that you want until you're willing to clean up your past," Williamson said.

Wednesday's hearing on Capitol Hill also coincides with "Juneteenth," a date when the last slaves in Texas learned they were free, brings to the forefront the centuries-old debate over what, if anything, is owed.

This report was featured in the Wednesday, June 19, 2019, episode of ABC News' flagship podcast, "Start Here."

When asked about the feasibility of her proposal, Williamson said she is not running her campaign based solely on ideas that are popular with a wide swath of the electorate.

"I'm not pandering to popularity. Enough of that. That's the politics I want nothing to do with," Williamson said. "I'm articulating a vision of what I believe is necessary if we are to be a generation that rises up and is most responsible whether or not people will want to vote for that is up to the voters."

While she has yet to garner more than 1 percent in any public poll of the presidential race yet, Williamson will have multiple opportunities in the next week to get her message out in front of a national audience.

She is set to appear on ABC's The View on Thursday, and next week will share a Democratic debate stage with former Vice President Joe Biden, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and California Sen. Kamala Harris.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


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