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(WEST PALM BEACH, Fla.) -- Gov. Ron DeSantis created new controversy around Florida's already controversial new election law Thursday, apparently giving exclusive access to the signing ceremony to Fox News and barring other media outlets from covering the event at the Hilton in West Palm Beach, according to reporters on the ground.

"In about an hour, behind this door at meeting facility at Airport Hilton in West Palm Beach, @GovRonDeSantis will sign law making it harder for some people to vote. No Florida reporters allowed in because he’s given an exclusive to cable channel Fox News for the bill signing," tweeted Anthony Man, the senior political writer for the South Florida Sun Sentinel.

He said that "hundreds" of DeSantis' and former President Donald Trump's supporters were also allowed into the event.

"Not a single reporter is being let in. This in a 'sunshine' state that prides itself on open government," CBS12 reporter Jay O'Brien echoed.

O'Brien said his station was supposed to be a pool camera to feed the event to other affiliates across the country.

DeSantis' spokespeople did not respond to ABC News's inquiries about the event. ABC affiliate WPBF-TV said other outlets were allowed in after DeSantis signed the bill and made remarks, which happened live on Fox and Friends around 8:45 a.m.

"This keeps us ahead of the curve," DeSantis said. "We're proud of the strides that we've made. We're not resting on our laurels and me signing this bill here says, 'Florida, your vote counts. Your vote is going to be cast with integrity and transparency.'"

Democrats were united against the bill, saying it's unnecessary and meant to suppress the vote among historically disenfranchised communities. One Republican senator also voted against the bill. Craig Latimer, president of the Florida Supervisors of Elections Association, issued a statement after the bill passed saying while some of the "most disenfranchising" provisions were cut from the bill before passage, "this legislation still makes requesting Vote By Mail ballots and returning those ballots harder."

Florida's bill, SB 90, imposes new limitations on mail voting, including lessening the number of elections a single vote-by-mail application covers and restricting ballot drop boxes. Only drop boxes at main office locations, not the ones at early voting locations, can be open after regular hours but all drop boxes must be physically manned by an election worker when they are accessible to voters. While they did not require in person monitoring, drop boxes did have to be under constant video surveillance previously.

SB 90 also bars local agencies from accepting outside money for nearly all election-related expenses and from mailing unsolicited ballots to voters and imposes new voter ID requirements when applying for a mail ballot or updating one's voter registration record. The bill also bans what Republicans call "ballot harvesting" -- someone collecting and returning others' mail ballots -- by limiting voters to possessing ballots belonging only to members of their or their spouse's immediate family and a maximum of two other voters per election.

Just after DeSantis signed the bill, two lawsuits were filed challenging the new law. The first, filed against the secretary of state, attorney general and all 67 county election supervisors, states that the bill will "impede every step of the voting process in Florida," but that it will not impact the state's voters' equally.

"It is crafted to and will operate to make it more difficult for certain types of voters to participate in the state’s elections, including those voters who generally wish to vote with a vote by-mail ballot and voters who have historically had to overcome substantial hurdles to reach the ballot box, such as Florida’s senior voters, youngest voters, and minority voters," the complaint reads.

The plaintiffs include the League of Women Voters of Florida, Black Voters Matter and the Florida Alliance for Retired Americans. As relief, the plaintiffs request that several provisions of the bill, including the ones around drop boxes and vote-by-mail requests, are declared unconstitutional.

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund also filed a lawsuit challenging the law, alleging it violates the Voting Rights Act, Americans with Disabilities Act and the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

DeSantis's reported media snub hearkens back to what unfolded in Georgia at the end of March, when Georgia GOP Gov. Brian Kemp signed the Peach State's sweeping new election bill, SB 202 or "The Election Integrity Act of 2021," and ignited a nationwide outcry, marking the first significant battle in what's become a war over voting rights. Kemp signed the bill behind closed doors, later posting a photo of it to Twitter that enraged activists and Democratic lawmakers as one state representative, Park Cannon, was arrested after continuing to knock on the door where Kemp was delivering remarks to media after signing the bill, hoping to gain access. Six lawsuits have been filed challenging Georgia's law.

The effort to impose new voting restrictions following months of Trump and allies spreading conspiracies about a rigged and stolen election is not unique to Georgia and Florida. State lawmakers introduced hundreds of bills during the 2021 legislative session that would reduce access to the ballot and at least five other restrictive voting bills have been enacted in other states. Texas lawmakers are set to take up one of its omnibus elections bill, HB 6, for a floor vote Thursday.

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(WASHINGTON) -- Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas warned that cyberattacks -- specifically ransomware attacks -- are on the rise and targets range from government agencies to small businesses.

"The threat is real. The threat is upon us. The risk is to all of us," Mayorkas said at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Now & Then Speaker series Wednesday. "Inform oneself. Educate oneself and defend oneself."

A ransomware attack is when hackers lock files on a device and demand a ransom be paid in order to unlock them, according to the Department of Homeland Security's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.

Mayorkas said that $350 million was paid out for ransomware attacks in 2020.

Most recently, there was a ransomware attack against the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, D.C., with a group demanding money for stolen files. The MPD has not provided an update as to what happened.

And the Illinois Attorney General's Office has been under attack since at least April 10, ABC News affiliate WLS-TV reported on Tuesday. The attorneys in the office are having to use their personal emails -- underscoring the threat that these attacks pose.

Mayorkas also stressed Wednesday that ransomware attacks against small businesses have been successful.

"As a matter of fact, small businesses comprise approximately one-half to three-quarters of the victims of ransomware," he said.

Overall, ransomware attacks have been up almost 300% in the past year, he said.

"The losses from ransomware are staggering and the pace at which those losses are being realized are equally staggering," he added.

Mayorkas announced an effort to speed up DHS' awareness on cyber -- one of four so-called "sprints" -- that will focus on hiring people with the right experience to work at the department.

A DHS spokesperson told ABC News that the department intends to hire 200 cyber personnel by July.

Mayorkas also said Wednesday that resources from Homeland Security and the Secret Service are available for businesses to take advantage of in an effort to combat and respond to ransomware attacks.

"We stand at the ready to provide education to provide vital information to assist you in navigating through what you perceive to be a threat to assist you in perhaps building the defenses," he said.

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(AUSTIN, Texas) -- After weeks of debate and political maneuvering, the nation's next showdown over state voting rights lands in Texas on Thursday, when the Republican-backed House Bill 6 -- which seeks to revise the state's election laws -- heads to a floor vote.

As written, HB 6 states the path to ensuring "election integrity and security" will come through "increasing criminal penalties" and "creating criminal offenses," which Democrats and voting rights activists said amounts to voter suppression tactics that would disproportionately affect communities of color.

"We predict that if these provisions become law, that you're going to have Anglo-watchers-slash-vigilantes disrupting polling places in primarily places where people of color vote (from) inside the polling place, and that voters will feel so uncomfortable that they will simply leave without casting their ballot," said Nina Perales, who serves as vice president of litigation for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, during a Wednesday press call.

In its current form, the bill makes it a state felony for election officials to send out mail-voting applications to voters if they did not individually request the forms.

HB 6 also requires people who help voters cast their ballots to submit documentation describing why the voter needed help, even if the voter needed assistance due to medical reasons. The person assisting the voter is also required to submit their own personal contact information and must include their relationship to the voter.

Additionally, the bill expands the access granted to poll watchers within polling places, and states that a poll watcher can only be removed "if the poll watcher engages in activity that would constitute an offense related to election fraud."

Voting rights advocates point to this provision as an example of how the bill would promote voter intimidation, and said it sets the bar very high for the expulsion of a poll watcher who could otherwise engage in unsavory behavior. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, a non-partisan, independent organization that analyzes election rules, the bill essentially limits "the ability of election workers to protect voters against illegal disruption and harassment by 'watchers.'"

"If a poll watcher starts screaming, yelling, (or) arguing with a voter, (or) laying down on the floor, (or) banging pots and pans -- poll workers would not be able to eject those individuals. That would be a crime. The only recourse for the poll worker would be to call the police and hope that the police would come," Perales said.

Thursday's vote is sure to set off a renewed round of backlash from prominent Democrats and voting rights activists who spent weeks decrying state Republicans' push to advance dual pieces of election legislation in both the House and the Senate. Former presidential candidates and Texas locals, Julian Castro and Beto O'Rourke, as well as voting rights advocate, Stacey Abrams, have all spoken out against the advancement of the bills.

In addition to high-profile political voices, corporate giants like American Airlines, Microsoft, Dell and Unilever weighed in with their opposition to the legislation, which began progressing through the Texas legislature on the heels of the fallout surrounding Georgia's revised election laws.

On Tuesday, more than 50 companies, business groups and industry leaders signed a letter calling on "lawmakers to uphold our ever elusive core democratic principle: equality."

"We stand together, as a nonpartisan coalition, calling on all elected leaders in Texas to support reforms that make democracy more accessible and oppose any changes that would restrict eligible voters' access to the ballot," the letter said.

The state's top Republicans have repeatedly voiced their opposition to corporate giants weighing in on the progression of the bills, as many companies continue to dig in on their positions against the legislation. A Republican-backed proposal to financially penalize entities that "publicly threatened any adverse action" against Texas in their opposition to election legislation was even briefly debated during the state's budget debate in April.

Ultimately, the proposed amendment was not added to the budget, thereby upholding comments made by Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick in April when he was asked if companies who were critical of the state's election bills should lose financial incentives.

"This is not a quid pro, we don't punish people because they disagree with us," Patrick said at the time.

In a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz took a different approach by castigating what he called "watch-me-woke-it-up CEOs" and announcing he would "no longer accept money from any corporate PAC." He urged Republicans at all levels of government to follow suit.

"Enough is enough. Corporations that flagrantly misrepresent efforts to protect our elections need to be called out, singled out and cut off," Cruz said.

Across the aisle, in one of the state's most diverse cities on Wednesday, two of the region's top Democrats -- Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo -- refused to have their respective "state of the city" and "state of the county" events be produced by the city's chamber of commerce, the Greater Houston Partnership, over the ongoing voting rights debate.

The pair said the decision was in response to the organization's lack of expressed opposition to the advancement of the state's voting bills, including HB 6.

"There is nothing partisan in voting suppression ... when there are bills that engage in voter suppression, voter intimidation, restricting access to the polling place -- that's not partisan, that's just downright wrong," Turner said at a press conference, while urging business leaders to make greater strides in opposing the bill before it is enacted into law.

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(WASHINGTON) -- ​A D.C. district judge ruled Wednesday that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not have the authority to uphold a federal eviction moratorium, which was put in place to prevent those behind on rent because of the pandemic from being evicted from their homes.

Judge Dabney Friedrich of the D.C. District Court ordered the CDC and the Department of Health and Human Services to vacate the eviction moratorium, which has been in place since last year.

Though Friedrich, a Trump-appointed judge, acknowledged the "serious health crisis" presented by the pandemic, she ruled that the eviction moratorium went beyond the CDC and HHS's legal authority to control activities that could increase the spread of disease or infection.

"It is the role of the political branches, and not the courts, to assess the merits of policy measures designed to combat the spread of disease, even during a global pandemic," Friedrich wrote. "The question for the Court is a narrow one: Does the Public Health Service Act grant the CDC the legal authority to impose a nationwide eviction moratorium? It does not."

It was not clear whether the freeze on evictions would be immediately reversed. The Department of Justice has already appealed the judge's decision and a spokesperson for the department said they'll seek to prevent the moratorium from being lifted pending a ruling on the appeal.

Late Wednesday, Friedrich put on hold her ruling pending the Justice Department's appeal. The judge gave those challenging the moratorium a week to file papers opposing the delay and the DOJ will have four days to respond to them.

Several courts have ruled on challenges related to the eviction moratorium with varying outcomes. In this case, an association of realtors brought their case against the CDC.

Diane Yentel, the CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, said there are now numerous conflicting rulings related to the federal moratorium.

"While this latest ruling is written more starkly than previous ones, it likely has equally limited application impacting only the plaintiffs who brought the case or -- at most -- renters in the district court's jurisdiction," Yentel said.

While the legal battle continues, renters are stuck in the middle.

Homelessness and housing insecurity have been on the rise since the coronavirus pandemic left millions unemployed and unable to make rent. Some 10.7 million adults living in rental housing -- 15% of adult renters -- were not caught up on rent, according to data collected by the Center on Budget and Policy priorities in late March.

Congress took initial action to prevent evictions during the earliest stages of the pandemic, implementing an eviction moratorium as part of the massive bipartisan COVID-19 relief bill passed in March 2020.

Shortly after the congressional moratorium expired, the CDC stepped in, implementing their own freeze that kept renters housed through December. Congress extended that authority through January 2021 and the CDC has issued subsequent extensions since.

The federal eviction moratorium is currently set to expire on June 30, but the judge's ruling Wednesday throws that date into question.

The Biden administration has always touted the eviction moratorium as a major coronavirus relief effort. The court's decision would be a blow to their push to help disadvantaged communities.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki was asked about the decision Wednesday.

"I understand the Department of Justice is reviewing the court's decision and should have more to say later today," Psaki said. "We also recognize of course, the importance of the eviction moratorium for Americans who have fallen behind on rent during the pandemic. A recent study estimates that there were 1.55 million fewer objections filed during 2020 than would be expected due to the eviction moratorium, so it clearly has had a huge benefit. We would expect that a response and any -- of course -- decision about additional action would come from DOJ and you may hear more from them today."

HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge said Wednesday morning, however, that the administration had no intention to extend the moratorium past the June 30 expiration. She said those who fell behind on their rent and mortgages should be getting back on their feet.

"The resources that we put in to stop evictions, and to stop -- I mean the moratorium on foreclosures on homes, we know that we have put enough money in the system through the Rescue Plan that people should come out of this June 30th at least current," Fudge said. "And so that in itself is going to allow us hopefully to keep people in their homes."

A reporter asked if that meant the administration would not extend past the June 30 expiration date and Fudge said, "As of this time I am not aware that we are."

Congress has passed several tranches of rent relief, but advocates said that those funds have flowed slowly to those most in need.

Vincent Reina, an associate professor and faculty director of the Housing Initiative at the University of Pennsylvania, told ABC News that programs designed to distribute federal dollars are still finding their footing.

"In some places it's definitely flowing, in other places it just launched," Reina said Tuesday. "There's still no clear certainty about number of people served thus far."

That's why Yentel said the DOJ appeal of the judge's ruling is critical.

"The Biden administration should continue to vigorously defend and enforce the moratorium, at least until emergency rental assistance provided by Congress reaches the renters who need it to remain stably housed," Yentel said.

ABC News' Alex Mallin and Stephanie Ebbs contributed to this report

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(WASHINGTON) -- The Biden administration now says it supports waiving the intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines, opening the door for their possible manufacturing by companies and countries around the world, beyond those that invented them.

It is a historic shift and one that advocates and aid groups say is critical for speeding up the end of the coronavirus pandemic.

The U.S. had opposed the waiver, along with pharmaceutical companies like Johnson and Johnson, Moderna, and Pfizer who are concerned about the precedent it would set and accused the administration of taking "an unprecedented step that will undermine our global response to the pandemic and compromise safety."

The World Trade Organization is holding negotiations on patent waivers for COVID-19 vaccine technology this week. In a statement Wednesday, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tsai announced that the U.S. "will actively participate in text-based negotiations" at the international body "to make that happen."

"The extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures," Tsai said. "The administration's aim is to get as many safe and effective vaccines to as many people as fast as possible

Last October, India and South Africa first proposed that the intellectual property protections be waived, so that companies and countries wouldn't face litigation for producing vaccines patented by J&J, Moderna and others for themselves. The U.S., European Union and some other countries had opposed the idea.

With the Biden administration announcement Wednesday, that could shift rapidly, but Tsai's statement was clear in seeking a negotiation, not in endorsing South Africa and India's proposal.

Those negotiations could take weeks, and any final agreement would require a high level of support. But the countries involved understand the urgency, according to a WTO spokesperson, as the virus rages in countries like India, Brazil and elsewhere.

WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala told the body's members Wednesday that it was "incumbent on us to move quickly to put the revised text on the table, but also to begin and undertake text-based negotiations."

If an agreement is reached, it would be a critical step forward -- but not the only one needed, according to Matt Kavanagh, a global health professor at Georgetown University.

While a WTO waiver, known as a Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property or TRIPS waiver, would remove the threat of litigation, companies and countries would have to reverse engineer the vaccine technology unless the U.S. pharmaceutical firms shared their technology and "recipes" for vaccine production, according to O'Neill.

If those U.S. firms balked, the Biden administration could even compel them to share their technology and "recipes," using the Defense Production Act and other political, legal or even moral leverage, O'Neill explained.

"The Biden administration can compel Moderna and the others to teach other companies to make their technology or how to make their 'recipes,' so to speak, for COVID vaccines," he said. "That's what's needed to make this move fast."

That's a few steps ahead, but the industry has already made clear their opposition to Biden's support for TRIPS waivers.

"This decision will sow confusion between public and private partners, further weaken already strained supply chains and foster the proliferation of counterfeit vaccines," said Stephen Ubl, president and CEO of Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the industry trade group.

In the meantime, aid groups and activists are urging the Biden administration to act more immediately by sharing doses of the COVID-19 vaccines it has purchased, as more than half of Americans have now received at least one shot.

"A TRIPS waiver is necessary, but not sufficient," said Keifer Buckingham, a senior policy adviser at the Open Society Foundations. "There are not enough vaccines going around. The solution inevitably has to be 'both, and'" -- expanding production through a waiver and providing more doses directly and through COVAX, the global mechanism that distributes vaccines to lower and middle income countries.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



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(WASHINGTON) -- More than 186,000 restaurants flooded the federal government with applications for money in the first two days of a program set up to ameliorate the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the White House said Wednesday.

President Joe Biden touted the high interest in the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, launched on Monday as part of the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package he signed into law nearly two months ago, as an industry group warned the fund's popularity could cause it to quickly exhaust its $28.6 billion in funding.

"Whether it's our economy or our sense of community, we're relying on restaurants to play a big role in our recovery," Biden said at the White House Wednesday afternoon. "We want our economy to recover in a way that deals everyone in. Then our restaurants need a seat at the table, no pun intended."

The president said that the applications "all haven't been processed yet" but that "right now, it looks like we'll be able to provide help to about 100,000 restaurants and other eligible businesses."

"Restaurants are more than a major driver of our economy," he said. "They're woven into the fabric of our communities. And so for many families, restaurants are the gateway to opportunity, a key part of the American story."

The new program will provide grants of up to $10 million to restaurants, bars, food trucks, caterers, bakeries and other eateries.

"The question on the minds of many is what happens when applications outpace the available funds," the president and CEO of the National Restaurant Association, Tom Bené, said this week.

Earlier Wednesday -- Cinco de Mayo -- Biden made an unannounced visit to a taqueria in Washington that had been awarded money from a pilot version of the restaurant fund, as well as from the Payment Protection Program -- the federal government's signature program for providing businesses with pandemic-related aid over the past year. He said he ordered tacos and enchiladas.

Severely impacted by the economic crisis unleashed by the pandemic and restrictions on businesses to mitigate the spread of the virus, restaurants have over the past year become primary beneficiaries of government grants and loans to businesses.

Accommodation and food services businesses were the No. 1 industry benefiting from the latest round of funding from the Payment Protection Program -- receiving 17%, or $40 billion, of the loans, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration. They have received billions more from separate federal aid programs for small businesses.

The Small Business Administration, which administers the Payment Protection Program and the new restaurant fund, said Tuesday that the Payment Protection Program had finally run out of money -- four weeks earlier than expected -- as the government transitions to more targeted programs.

The same could happen with the restaurant fund, according to the National Restaurant Association's chief lobbyist, Sean Kennedy.

Kennedy told grassroots supporters in an email that the "the total number of applicants is going to exceed expectations – and may quickly exhaust the $28.6 billion in federal funding."

The White House on Wednesday noted that 97,600 applications came from businesses controlled by women, veterans, socially and economically disadvantaged individuals, and that 61,700 more were submitted by businesses making less than $500,000 annually before the pandemic -- "representing some of the smallest restaurants and bars in America."

Those applicants will be prioritized for the first three weeks of the program.

The businesses can use the grants for expenses like payroll and rent.

Franco's Ristorante in the Chicago area was one of the many restaurant groups that received forgivable loans both times they were made available through the Payment Protection Program.

Frank Ruffolo, a managing partner for the Italian restaurants, told ABC News that the loans allowed him to pay staff members across four locations, keeping around 95% of his team employed.

Franco's Ristorante has applied for funding from the Restaurant Revitalization Fund too, but the fact that the new program had so much less money behind it did not give Ruffolo hope.

"The funding that you had for the PPP loans compared to these grants -- it's much, much less," Ruffolo said. "So it doesn't really sound like there's enough out there for everyone."

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday the average turnaround time for applications for the program, "from submission to funding," will be up to two weeks.

Psaki said Biden was "open" to working with Congress to provide even more funding for restaurants in the future.

"There has already been a large interest in this program," Psaki said. "And there are great needs across the country from these small businesses, from these restaurants that are in communities across the country."

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story initially misquoted Biden about the applications that had been submitted to the Restaurant Revitalization Fund. He said they "all haven't been processed yet." The story has been updated.

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(WASHINGTON) -- As House Republican leaders actively kept trying Wednesday to oust a member of their own leadership team – No. 3 Rep. Liz Cheney – the congresswoman wasn't backing down -- but she wasn't openly fighting the move, either.

The embattled Wyoming representative has told people she doesn’t believe it’s worth serving as the Republican Party’s conference chair if it requires lying about the election results, a source familiar with the congresswoman’s thinking told ABC News.

Cheney has angered her Republican colleagues in the days and weeks following the Jan. 6 Capitol riot by repeatedly calling out former President Donald Trump’s election lies, which she said she believes played a major role in inciting the insurrection.

In February, Cheney fought off a challenge to boot her from the coveted leadership position due to similar circumstances, though at the time she still had the support of top Republican leadership.

Cheney kept her leadership role after a closed-door GOP 145-61 vote with a secret ballot that required two-thirds support of the conference to remove her.

It's not clear whether that threshold or format will change in any upcoming vote. A spokesman for House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy did not respond to messages about the format of a conference vote.

And it’s unclear if Cheney can hold on to the spot this time around. Sources have told ABC News that a vote to boot Cheney could take place as soon as next Wednesday, during a House Republican conference-wide meeting.

Jeremy Adler, a spokesman for Cheney, signaled Wednesday morning that the congresswoman will not sit back quietly as the intra-party attacks continue.

“Liz will have more to say in the coming days,” he said. “This moment is about much more than a House leadership fight.”

Cheney is not actively whipping colleagues for their support to keep her in the position, a source close to Cheney said.

The congresswoman believes that evading questions about Trump and the election results rather than forcefully answering them -- as other GOP leaders have done -- is equivalent to "being complicit in the lie," the source said.

"If you let [Trump] bloviate, you get people attacking the Capitol and you get people attacking the very foundation of the Republic," the source said in explaining the thinking behind her repeated comments since Jan. 6.

On Wednesday, Trump himself weighed in to criticize Cheney as a "warmongering fool who has no business in Republican Party Leadership."

Trump has endorsed Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York in the race to replace Cheney.

“We want leaders who believe in the Make America Great Again movement, and prioritize the values of America First. Elise Stefanik is a far superior choice, and she has my COMPLETE and TOTAL Endorsement for GOP Conference Chair. Elise is a tough and smart communicator!”

Stefanik has emerged as the apparent frontrunner should Cheney be ousted from her post, sources familiar with the matter told ABC News.

Stefanik, a prominent ally and defender of Trump, has been working the phones with her team in a bid for Cheney's spot, sources said.

In January following the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, the dean of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government announced Stefanik was removed from the advisory board of the Harvard University Institute of Politics after her "public assertions about voter fraud in November's presidential election that have no basis in evidence, and she has made public statements about court actions related to the election that are incorrect."

McCarthy's team has begun whipping votes against Cheney and after McCarthy was caught on a hot mic in audio obtained by the Daily Caller saying he's "had it" with Cheney.

"I think she's got real problems. I've had it with ...I've had it with her. You know, I've lost confidence," McCarthy said in audio published by the Daily Caller.

Other Republican leaders have publicly weighed in to support Stefanik.

"House Republicans need to be solely focused on taking back the House in 2022 and fighting against Speaker Pelosi and President Biden’s radical socialist agenda, and Elise Stefanik is strongly committed to doing that, which is why Whip Scalise has pledged to support her for Conference Chair," a spokesman for Republican Whip Steve Scalise said in a statement provided to ABC News.

President Joe Biden offered his first reaction to House Republicans’ effort to oust Cheney, telling reporters Wednesday, "I don’t understand the Republicans."

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(NEW YORK) -- Former President Donald Trump will remain banned on Facebook for now, the Facebook Oversight Board announced Wednesday, adding that Facebook must review the matter in the next six months to determine a defined penalty.

Facebook announced on Jan. 7 that Trump was locked out of his accounts on Facebook and Instagram indefinitely in the wake of the Jan. 6 Capitol siege, over concerns that his posts were inciting violence.

Trump responded to the board's ruling in a statement: "What Facebook, Twitter, and Google have done is a total disgrace and an embarrassment to our Country. Free Speech has been taken away from the President of the United States because the Radical Left Lunatics are afraid of the truth, but the truth will come out anyway, bigger and stronger than ever before. The People of our Country will not stand for it! These corrupt social media companies must pay a political price, and must never again be allowed to destroy and decimate our Electoral Process."

In a separate statement released on Wednesday, Trump again baselessly claimed there was fraud in the 2020 election.

Within six months, "Facebook must reexamine the arbitrary penalty it imposed on January 7 and decide the appropriate penalty," the board said Wednesday. "This penalty must be based on the gravity of the violation and the prospect of future harm. It must also be consistent with Facebook's rules for severe violations, which must, in turn, be clear, necessary and proportionate."

"It is not permissible for Facebook to keep a user off the platform for an undefined period, with no criteria for when or whether the account will be restored," the board said.

The board claimed that Facebook gave Trump's account "a vague, standardless penalty" and then tried to "avoid its responsibilities" by sending the "case to the Board to resolve."

"If Facebook decides to restore Mr. Trump's accounts, the company should apply its rules to that decision, including any changes made in response to the Board's policy recommendations below," the board's ruling said. "In this scenario, Facebook must address any further violations promptly and in accordance with its established content policies."

As part of the board's examination, Trump was allowed to provide a statement, which was submitted by the American Center for Law and Justice on his behalf.

The statement denies that Trump's comments lead to the Capitol siege: "It is stunningly clear that in his speech there was no call to insurrection, no incitement to violence, and no threat to public safety in any manner," and that there is a "total absence of any serious linkage between the Trump speech and the Capitol building incursion."

The statement also claimed that "all genuine Trump political supporters were law-abiding" and that the incursion was "certainly influenced, and most probably ignited by outside forces."

In response to the board's ruling, Facebook said, "We will now consider the board's decision and determine an action that is clear and proportionate. In the meantime, Mr. Trump's accounts remain suspended."

"The board also made a number of recommendations on how we should improve our policies," Facebook said. "While these recommendations are not binding, we actively sought the board's views on our policies around political figures and will carefully review its recommendations."

Trump's supporters and critics are reacting to the board's decision.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy tweeted, "If they can ban President Trump, all conservative voices could be next."

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, called the board's ruling "disgraceful."

"For every liberal celebrating Trump’s social media ban, if the Big Tech oligarchs can muzzle the former President, what’s to stop them from silencing you?" Cruz tweeted.

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., responded, "There's no Constitutional protection for using social media to incite an insurrection. Trump is willing to do anything for himself no matter the danger to our country. His big lies have cost America dearly. And until he stops, Facebook must ban him. Which is to say, forever."

Trump was permanently banned from Twitter on Jan. 8.

Trump told ABC News recently that the written statements he's been issuing during his social media ban are "so much more elegant than Twitter."

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Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

(WASHINGTON) -- President Joe Biden's new benchmark in the fight against COVID-19 -- ensuring 70% of American adults get at least one shot by July 4 -- seems to be a tacit acknowledgement of what scientists have been saying now for months: Eradicating the virus that causes COVID-19 might not be possible. But if enough Americans get some protection, it'll become manageable.

That approach is being embraced by scientists and politicians alike as a considerably more pragmatic approach to dealing with COVID-19 than the idea of waiting on "herd immunity," especially considering that a fourth of Americans might never accept the vaccine.

"We're going to have highs and lows of case numbers potentially for years, but those are going to be in the population that chooses not to vaccinate," said New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu in a phone interview Tuesday.

Since the pandemic began, Americans have embraced the idea that the virus would one day evaporate, either because enough people became infected with the virus or received a vaccine. That collective, or "herd," immunity would block the virus from transmitting to new people, eradicating the threat.

The idea was so alluring that some top advisers to President Donald Trump called for allowing younger people to get sick with the virus so it would go away sooner and businesses could reopen without restrictions. Trump, who last fall jumbled his reference to the term as "herd mentality," predicted that "with a vaccine, I think it will go away very quickly."

By January, five days after taking office, Biden said he was "confident that by summer we're going to be well on our way to heading toward herd immunity." And by March, Biden said herd immunity was a prerequisite to giving up masks.

"We've got to reach the point where we have herd immunity -- meaning where we have a vast majority of the American people have been vaccinated -- before we can stop wearing these," Biden said this spring, holding up his mask.

Since then, however, the U.S. vaccine rollout has slowed considerably with only 32% of the population fully immunized. Big federally run vaccination sites are closing up shop in favor of smaller mobile vans that reach people in rural and other hard-to-reach neighborhoods.

And for the first time, some states this week were expected to decline portions of the vaccine doses available. Administration officials told governors in a weekly phone call Tuesday that because some states were expected to leave behind supply, other states can now ask for added doses if they want it.

The sudden slowdown so early in the rollout of vaccinations has health officials warning that eradication of the virus might not be possible. Another concern is that potentially dangerous global variants could form overseas that threaten the efficacy of the vaccines. Health officials have already predicted that booster shots will probably be needed for years.

"Eradication was never in the cards … COVID is with us for the indefinite future," said Dr. Tom Frieden, the former director of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"That doesn't mean that the pandemic is with us. We can end the pandemic," he said, noting the U.S. could manage smaller isolated outbreaks in ways it can't with the current level of 50,000 some infections a day.

Biden seemed to acknowledge as much in his remarks Tuesday.

"Well, I'd like to get it 100%," he said of the vaccination rate. "But I think, realistically, we can get to (70%) between now and July 4th."

Scientists said the concept of herd immunity has always been nuanced and a difficult threshold to pinpoint. Although often taken to mean total eradication of the virus, herd immunity can also be defined around more manageable goals, such as dramatically slowing down transmission.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, had initially estimated that roughly 70-85% of a population must become immune to the virus for it to go away, but he's since backed away from the number.

In a private phone call Tuesday between the nation's governors and the White House, Fauci tried to steer state officials away from any estimate because he said no one knows what the magic number would be.

"The one thing … that we absolutely know for sure is that as you get more and more people vaccinated, the number of cases are going to come down and down and down. So our goal is just get as many people as you can possibly get vaccinated, and don't get hung up on this elusive concept of a number that nobody really knows what that number is," Fauci told the governors.

According to a senior administration official, Biden's new benchmark was less about doing away with any notion of herd immunity and more about setting "a collective goal for the country" now that the president's first 100 days in office had passed.

But Biden's 70% figure of vaccinated adults also appears to be a nod to the "tipping point" in COVID cases that health experts and state officials have witnessed on the ground. That's the point at which hospitalizations and death rates plummet after enough people are vaccinated.

In New Hampshire, for example, more than 60% of adults already have the first dose, making it one of a few states with the highest vaccination rates and inching close to Biden's goal of 70%.

Sununu, a Republican, said he sees that as a success.

"We're there," Sununu said when asked what success might look like in the pandemic. "I don't mean to like sugarcoat it but … our economy is booming. And everyone who wants one of the vaccines has it."

Dr. Paul Goepfert, professor of medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and director of the Alabama Vaccine Research Center, said he thinks the "ultimate definition of success" would be hospitalizations and deaths similar to that of the seasonal flu or lower. Annual flu deaths are estimated to go as high as 60,000 in a year.

Dr. Paul Offit, the director of vaccine education and physician of infectious diseases at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, said one benchmark could be how the country fares next fall. If fewer than 50 people die every day of COVID by next November through January -- a period of time you'd expect to see deaths peak -- that could be considered a success, he said.

"If we have an adequate level of population immunity, then we will only have a small bump (in cases) over the winter. If on the other hand we don't, then we will again see a surge next winter," Offit said.

Frieden said new, potentially more dangerous variants of the virus developing overseas remain the wildcard. Introduction of such a variant could change that equation for any state with large pockets of unvaccinated people. That's why getting as many people vaccinated as possible has to remain the goal.

"I understand that people want clarity," Frieden said. "But the reality is that there's a lot we don't know. And if people tell you with great certainty that they know, they don't know what they are talking about."

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(WASHINGTON) -- President Joe Biden set a new goal for vaccinations in America, calling for 70% of the U.S. adult population to have at least one shot and 160 million Americans to be fully vaccinated by July 4 in remarks on Tuesday afternoon.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that, as of Tuesday, 105 million Americans are fully vaccinated, while 147 million have had at least one dose.

"That means giving close to 100 million shots -- some first shots, others' second shots -- over the next 60 days," Biden said.

Over the past 60 days, about 153 million doses have been distributed, so the new goal would represent a significant slowdown. In the past, the administration has set goals that some public health experts have criticized as being low targets.

Biden acknowledged in his remarks that, "the pace of the vaccination is slowing," as many Americans have already been vaccinated -- though he added that it was anticipated by his administration.

The president's plan focuses on three key demographics: children between the ages of 12 and 15, adults who have struggled with access to the vaccine and Americans who are "less eager" to get vaccinated.

No vaccines have been greenlighted for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration for children, which Biden acknowledged.

"The FDA's scientists are currently reviewing the data to decide if and when to authorize that age range for vaccinations," Biden said. "The FDA and the FDA alone will make that decision. But today, I want American parents to know that if that announcement comes, we're ready to immediately move to make about 20,000 pharmacy sites across the country ready to vaccinate those adolescents as soon as the FDA grants its okay."

Biden also touted the launch of a new government website, vaccines.gov, which he said is a "simple website" to help Americans find a place to get vaccinated.

"We know that many adults have not been vaccinated because they have found it too confusing or too difficult or too inconvenient to get a shot," Biden said. "So for those having trouble finding a location or making an appointment, we're going to make it easier than ever."

Biden also talked about targeting Americans who might be hesitant to get vaccinated. He floated using incentives like working with sports teams for free tickets or discounts and stores to provide discounts to Americans who get vaccinated.

Recent ABC News/Washington Post polling shows that still nearly one in four Americans are disinclined to get vaccinated, something Biden said could be remedied with more information from trusted sources.

"Talk to someone you trust like your physician or your pharmacist, or people who have already been vaccinated," Biden said. "Talk to your faith leaders or others in your community that you trust. Look to those people to help answer your questions."

When asked by a reporter Tuesday whether this phase of vaccine outreach would be more difficult than earlier ones, Biden said that he thought it would be easier, given that in earlier phases vaccinations relied on the available supply. But he also said that convincing people is also going to be hard.

"We're gonna keep at it, and I think at the end of the day, most people will be convinced by the fact that their failure to get the vaccine may cause other people to get sick and maybe die," Biden said.

Biden ended with an appeal for Americans to achieve the vaccine goal: A Fourth of July celebration. Particularly, an Independence Day where Americans could celebrate with small, fully vaccinated, maskless, outdoor picnics and barbecues.

"We need you," Biden said. "We need you to bring it home. Get vaccinated. In two months, let's celebrate our independence as a nation and our independence from this virus. We can do this. We will do this"

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(NEW YORK) -- Rep. Charlie Crist, D-Fla., announced Tuesday morning his intent to return to the governor's mansion -- his second attempt at the office since leaving it in 2011. He's the first official challenger facing Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Crist was the Republican governor of Florida from 2007 to 2011 before switching his party registration to Independent in 2010. He became a Democrat in 2012 and has been in Congress representing Florida's 13th Congressional District since 2017.

"We'll treat those that disagree with us today, as our allies of tomorrow, not our enemies," Crist said at an event announcing his run Tuesday. "There's too little decency and civility in Florida's politics, frankly in America's politics, and changing that starts with changing the attitude at the top. Unlike this governor and the Republican leadership in Tallahassee, we will listen to our fellow Floridians."

"Governor DeSantis and the leaders of the Republican Party have simply lost touch with what regular Floridians need and truly care about," he added.

His campaign video highlights his accomplishments as governor and in Congress, where he pointed to his vote to pass coronavirus relief legislation. But he also launched attacks against DeSantis, who has come under fire nationally for his handling of the coronavirus in Florida.

"I worked with President Biden to get more vaccines and more arms and funding for our schools, to get them open safe, but today Florida has a governor that's only focused on his future, not yours," Crist says.

"He doesn't care, and unless you could write him a campaign check, you don't exist. The truth is, no matter where you live in our state, if you're a Democrat or Republican or an Independent, you deserve better than that," he adds.

He's not the only Democrat thinking about challenging DeSantis. Democratic Rep. Val Demings of Florida's 10th District ambiguously tweeted out a campaign-style video of her own on Tuesday morning, hours before Crist was expected to launch his campaign. She has said publicly she is considering a run for statewide office -- either for Senate or the governorship. Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services Nikki Fried, the only Democrat currently holding statewide office in the Sunshine State, is also thought to be exploring a bid.

Crist has a long political history in the state. He served as a state senator for most of the 1990s, then moved on to a number of statewide offices, including attorney general and state education commissioner. He ran an unsuccessful Senate campaign as an independent against Republican Sen. Marco Rubio in 2010, before later launching a gubernatorial bid as a Democrat in 2014. He lost that race to the Republican incumbent and now-Sen. Rick Scott.

Scott, the current chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, attacked Crist over his track record, tweeting a link to a video paid for by a group called Let’s Get To Work that promotes conservatives and originally posted it Monday -- preempting Crist's announcement.

"Which governor took Florida to the bottom? Charlie Crist," the narrator says. "What's worse, he didn't stay to fix the mess. He ran away. He tried to go to Washington instead. Charlie Crist: slick politician, lousy governor."

Crist's exit from the Republican Party was in part catalyzed by a hug n Florida between him and former President Barack Obama early in his presidency.

"I didn’t know it yet. But that high-spirited day in Fort Myers -- meeting Obama (bad enough) and greeting him with a hug (even worse) -- ended my viable life as a Republican politician. I would never have a future in my old party again. My bipartisan hopes and dreams, I would discover soon enough to my shock and disappointment, were vastly overstated and hopelessly out of date," he wrote in an autobiography in 2014.

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(WASHINGTON) -- House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy said on Tuesday a growing number of Republicans in the conference are taking issue with Rep. Liz Cheney and he signaled that her days as GOP Conference chair -- the third-ranking Republican in the House -- could be numbered.

"I have heard from members concerned about her ability to carry out the job as conference chair, to carry out the message. We all need to be working as one if we're able to win the majority," McCarthy said on Fox News.

While he did not explicitly state what her future will be within the party, all signals point to another possible vote to oust her from her position as conference chair.

"I haven't heard members concerned about her vote on impeachment, it's more concerned about the job ability to do and what's our best step forward that we can all work together instead of attacking one another," he said.

Cheney's team was quick to respond.

"This is about whether the Republican Party is going to perpetuate lies about the 2020 election and attempt to whitewash what happened on Jan 6. Liz will not do that. That is the issue," Cheney spokesman Jeremy Adler said in a statement provided to ABC News.

The latest battle in Cheney's political war with President Donald Trump over the election came Monday when Trump put out a statement saying, "The Fraudulent Presidential Election of 2020 will be, from this day forth, known as THE BIG LIE!"

"The 2020 presidential election was not stolen," Cheney tweeted not long after. "Anyone who claims it was is spreading THE BIG LIE, turning their back on the rule of law, and poisoning our democratic system."

Cheney rebuked Trump again on Monday at a closed-door conference in Georgia, where a spokesman confirmed she called Trump’s false election fraud claims "a poison in the bloodstream of our democracy."

The earliest Republicans could hold a vote on Cheney's leadership position is next Wednesday during a weekly Republican conference meeting, though sources have signaled a vote could take place before the end of the month.

Republicans are considering another woman to replace Cheney, sources familiar with the deliberations told ABC News. Some of those names under consideration are Reps. Elise Stefanik, Anne Wagner, and Jackie Walorski, the sources said. Axios was first to report their names.

A spokesperson for Wagner declined to comment. Spokespeople for Reps. Stefanik and Walorski did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

GOP Rep. Jim Banks is also being considered, per a source. The Indiana Republican heads the Republican Study Committee. ABC News has reached out to Banks' office for comment.

The optics of replacing Cheney, the only woman in House Republican leadership, with a white male, would certainly raise some eyebrows at a time when the Republican Party is trying to engage more women and minorities in politics.

Frustration is growing among Republican lawmakers at the continued feud and Cheney's seeming inability to step away from the political battlefield.

"GOP members want to focus on the agenda. We have energy issues we want to focus on, and this isn't helping at all," one GOP aide said of the broader intra-party fight.

As a conference chair, Cheney's role is to maintain focus on the party's message, and not necessarily her own, having some in the party admitting she could very well be in jeopardy of losing her leadership post.

"She's there telling the truth, but she needs to think about how effective she is able to be if she's constantly choosing to engage opposite Trump which puts her opposite most of the conference. If she can't develop some message discipline, then what is the point in her retaining the job," another Republican aide told ABC News.

In a secret ballot in February, Republicans voted 145-61 to keep her in the No. 3 position, despite her vote to impeach former President Trump for his alleged role in inciting the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection.

McCarthy, who at the time was criticized by colleagues for his shifting statements about Trump’s responsibility for the storming of the U.S. Capitol, endorsed Cheney and encouraged Republicans to keep her on the leadership team.

Now, it appears McCarthy is not as confident in Cheney’s role in leadership as he looks to take back the House in 2022 and win back favor with the former president.

McCarthy, when asked last week about Cheney’s future, refused to answer when asked whether she remained a good fit as the conference chair.

Cheney has taken heat from other Republicans for statements she has made in recent weeks and months to direct the Republican Party away from Trump.

Trump, in return, has vowed to back a primary challenge to Cheney in her statewide district in Wyoming.

In February, Cheney told reporters that Trump "does not have a role as a leader of our party going forward.”

Last week, she said it is "disqualifying" for any public official who opposed certifying the election results to run for the White House in the future.

At the Republican retreat in Orlando last month, Cheney said that she believes Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy are the heads of the Republican Party and suggested that the GOP can win back the House, Senate and White House in the next elections by conveying to voters that they are a party of "competence and of conservative principles" and by winning back voters they lost in 2020, making subtle digs against the former president without naming him.

One Republican official with knowledge of the matter told ABC News that Cheney is unlikely to lose McConnell’s support, given there’s no need for him to weigh in on the matter. McConnell also has a longstanding relationship with the Cheney’s.

Just last week, conservatives criticized Cheney for fist-bumping President Joe Biden as he walked into the House chamber to deliver his address to a joint session of Congress.

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(WASHINGTON) -- Ahead of President Joe Biden’s first foreign trip to the United Kingdom in June, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in London this week for the first face-to-face-meetings of G-7 foreign ministers in two years.

While the international entourages are limited and strict COVID-testing and mask protocols are required, the gathering, beginning Tuesday, shows an eagerness among member nations to return to in-person diplomacy and get to work on major issues in a post-COVID world. Around the formal G7 conference table, Blinken and his counterparts have removed their masks, but they are separated by plexiglass dividers.

These G-7 meetings with friendly allies will provide a low stakes but high-profile opportunity for Biden’s team to visibly reappear on the world stage, as the president has liked to talk about, and evaluate the country’s position after four years of former President Donald Trump’s "America First" doctrine.

In his first 100 days in office, Biden has emphasized that he sees an urgent need to mend relationships with allies that were complicated and strained under Trump and he has reentered global institutions his predecessor abandoned.

Biden's push for increased multilateralism, however, comes at an awkward time when so many citizens around the globe are still experiencing physical isolationism in the face of a global pandemic.

While the G-7 nations have applauded their information-sharing and collaborative work fighting the virus, each country has handled the health care crisis very differently and vaccine manufacturing and distribution are still extremely inequitable.

Beyond the pandemic, however, many Americans see the global community as having a fairly poor track record in solving global crises. From the fight against climate change, where emissions are far exceeding goals meant to reduce them, to wars in Syria and Yemen; the recent buildup of Russian troops on Ukraine’s eastern border and allegations of human rights and trade violations by China -- the list of emergencies facing and frustrating the G-7 leaders has only grown.

Back home, both Blinken and Biden have a tough job ahead of them and will likely have to continue to make the case to skeptical Americans that multilateralism is worth the time.

"Not a single one of those challenges can be effectively met by any one country acting alone -- even the United States, even the United Kingdom. There is, I think, a stronger imperative that at any time since I've been involved in these issues to find ways for countries to cooperate, coordinate, to collaborate. That's the way we advance the interests of our citizens,” Blinken said at a joint news conference with U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab Monday.

The Biden administration’s argument is that U.S. leadership has been lacking and that international crises still require international cooperation. Much of the agenda for this G-7 is structured around threats and competition from Russia and China.

In the last few weeks, Biden has redoubled his focus on China, pitching his domestic agenda as a necessary step for competing with country and calling out Beijing for bad behavior. On Friday, the Biden administration specifically said China had failed to keep commitments to protect American intellectual property as outlined in their recent trade deal.

"It is not our purpose to try to contain China or to hold China down. What we are trying to do is to uphold the international rules-based order that our countries have invested so much in over so many decades," Blinken said Monday. "When any country, China or otherwise, takes actions that challenge or undermine or seek to erode that rules-based order and not make good on the commitments that they've made to that order, we will we will stand up and defend the order."

Several nations outside of the G-7 were invited to attend events and meetings this week, including South Korea, India, Australia and Brunei, which is chairing the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Blinken conducted bilateral meetings with most of those visiting delegations Monday. The teams sat across from each other at long tables in cavernous and otherwise empty hotel conference rooms.

"They're all key partners for us. I think they're also a sign of the greater focus on the Indo-Pacific region, as the economic and strategic crucible for this century," Secretary Raab said at Monday's news conference.

Prior to the meetings this week, the Group of Seven wealthy industrialized nations also announced they planned to jointly invest $15 billion "in development finance over the next two years to help women in developing countries access jobs, build resilient businesses and respond to the devastating economic impacts of COVID-19."

The international work on girls’ empowerment feels especially poignant at the moment with U.S. and NATO withdrawing of troops from Afghanistan this summer, causing many human rights experts to worry about the future of Afghan women in civil society should the Taliban increase their power there. Many of the G-7 countries supported the United States' Afghanistan coalition and have lost their own troops in the war that has lasted nearly 20 years.

This trip to London is Blinken’s first as secretary of state and the U.K.’s first G-7 meeting since Brexit. Blinken did meet with Raab during a NATO meeting in Brussels in late March.

During their news conference Monday, the two secretaries talked liberally about their shared values, mutual agreement on foreign policy and close-knit cooperation.

"I think it's fair to say the Biden administration is barely 100 days old, but has already taken a huge number of bold and very welcomed steps on issues like climate change, global health and human rights. And that's really created momentum in efforts to tackle these pressing global issues," Raab said.

When asked if the U.K. felt snubbed by America's decision to withdraw from Afghanistan, he demurred.

In turn, when Raab was asked how the U.K. could lead on the global stage when it had decided dramatically recently to cut international aid, Blinken complimented the U.K. on its humanitarian work.

"The U.K. is our most vital partner including working around the world, in helping other countries, helping people fulfill their potential and deal with some of the challenges that have been brought on by many things but including by COVID-19 … we share a commitment to and conviction about the importance of doing development work in different ways and amplifying, as Dominic said, both our respective contributions as well as bringing others along," Blinken said.

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(NEW YORK) -- Caitlyn Jenner, the former Olympic decathlete and reality TV personality now running for California governor, has branded herself as a "compassionate disrupter" fighting against "elitist" career politicians in a new campaign launch video released Tuesday.

"The American Dream grew up here, yet career politicians and their policies have destroyed that dream," Jenner says in the three-minute ad that made its debut on ABC's Good Morning America.

"I came here with a dream 48 years ago, to be the greatest athlete in the world," she says over clips of her as athlete in the 1970s interspliced with present-day footage. "Now I enter a different kind of race, arguably my most important one yet: to save California."

Jenner, who gained international fame as a world record-breaking Olympic gold medalist in 1976 and came out publicly as a transgender woman in 2015 first to ABC's Diane Sawyer, filed paperwork last month in her bid to replace Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom -- putting a Hollywood-sized spotlight on an increasingly likely recall election in the Golden State.

In one of the first looks at her campaign, Jenner's ad juxtaposes nostalgic images of old California with videos of homelessness, fires and closed businesses, as the lifelong Republican says she's running for office to combat big government, which she says has "taken our money, our jobs and our freedom."

"I want to carry the torch for the parents who had to balance work and their child's education, for business owners who are forced to shut down, for pastors who are not able to be with their congregation, for the family who lost their home in a fire, for an entire generation of students who lost a year of education," says Jenner, who is seeking office for the first time.

The video does not mention either the coronavirus pandemic or Newsom by name, but includes apocalyptic pictures of the impact of the virus on California as well as anti-lockdown messaging.

"This past year has redefined our career politicians as elitists," Jenner says, speaking over clips of Newsom dining indoors without a mask at a French restaurant and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visiting a hair salon last year while the state was under stay-at-home orders, for which both politicians received backlash. Newsom apologized at the time for what he called "a bad mistake," while Pelosi said the San Francisco salon owed her an apology for what she deemed was "clearly a setup."

"California is facing big hurdles. Now, we need leaders who are unafraid to leap to new heights, who are unafraid to challenge and to change the status quo," Jenner says as the camera pans over magazine covers of her from August 1976 and July 2016.

"California -- it's time to reopen our schools, reopen our businesses, reopen the golden gates, so I don't care if you're a Republican or a Democrat -- I'm ready to be governor for all Californians," Jenner says, appearing to combine lines from the political playbooks of both former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden.

The 71-year-old Jenner, whose political stances have evolved through the years, identifies as "economically conservative, socially progressive." After supporting Trump in the 2016 presidential election, she revoked her support in 2018, citing the administration's attacks on the transgender community.

But Tuesday's video launch and her springboard into the campaign season comes after Jenner said over the weekend that she opposes transgender girls competing in girls' sports in school. The former athlete appears to be siding with the Republican Party's recent wave of anti-trans legislation being considered in at least 31 states, calling measures regarding youth competing in girls' sports at school "a question of fairness."

"That's why I oppose biological boys who are trans competing in girls' sports in school. It just isn't fair. And we have to protect girls' sports in our schools," Jenner told TMZ on Saturday -- a shift from the 2015 ESPY Awards when she received the Arthur Ashe Courage Award and voiced support for trans athletes.

While appearing to distance herself from Trump, Jenner has met with Republican strategists with ties to the former president, including Governors Association Executive Director Dave Rexrode and former Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale. Jenner's campaign website is operated by Nucleus, a platform created by Parscale to "protect" conservatives against "cancel culture." The ad released Tuesday was created by Parscale and his team.

Jenner publicly announced her bid in a statement on April 23, criticizing what she called California's "one-party rule that places politics over progress and special interests over people," and knocking Newsom, whom she has repeatedly called out on social media, saying he'll "order us to stay home but goes out to dinner with his lobbyist friends." She also launched a website which so far includes only a landing page with a brief introduction, a merchandise shop, and a donation portal via WinRed, a Republican fundraising site.

Newsom -- who has the backing of the California Democratic Party and prominent leaders like Pelosi and Vice President Kamala Harris -- has called the Republican recall effort a threat to California values that will hinder the progress he says the state has made on COVID-19, climate change and anti-gun violence since he took office in 2019.

This is the sixth official recall attempt Newsom has faced, but the first one expected to make it onto the ballot, igniting what could be the political fight of his life. Fueled by frustration over his handling of the pandemic and allegations of government overreach, recall organizers exceeded the 1.5 million signatures needed to advance the effort to a statewide ballot last month. The recall petition was introduced in February 2020.

"This now triggers the next phase of the recall process, a 30-business-day period in which voters may submit written requests to county Registrars of Voters to remove their names from the recall petition," California Secretary of State Secretary Weber said, explaining that 100,000 signees would have until June 8 to withdraw their names in order to stop the recall election from moving forward -- a turnabout that election experts say is unlikely.

Once the effort officially qualifies for the ballot, an election will be held and voters will be asked a two-part question: Do they want to recall Newsom, and if so, who they would like to replace him with?

In addition to Jenner, other Republicans vying for that spot so far include former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, 2018 GOP gubernatorial nominee John Cox, and former GOP Rep. Doug Ose. If Newsom wins, he could stay in office at least through 2022 when he is back up for reelection.

A March poll by the Public Policy Institute of California of 1,174 likely voters found that 56% opposed a recall of Newsom and 40% supported one -- with views breaking along party lines, and the remaining 5% unsure. A January survey from the same organization found Newsom's approval rating at 52%, compared to 49% in January 2020 and 43% in January 2019.

Newsom is expected to be only the second governor in California history to face a recall election. The first was Democratic Gov. Gray Davis, who was successfully recalled and removed from office in 2003 by then-Republican candidate and Hollywood star Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Similar to 2003, Jenner is leaning into her celebrity fame and name recognition. But in deep-blue California, where Democrats currently outnumber Republicans by a nearly 2-to-1 margin, it could be difficult for a one-time Trump supporter to find a path -- especially one who supports a platform that critics say harms transgender youth.

Samuel Garrett-Pate, a spokesperson for Equality California, the largest statewide LGBT+ nonprofit organization in the U.S., says Jenner is still tethered to the Trump administration's discriminatory policies against LGBT+ Americans despite her public reversal, pointing to how she's "hired Trump's former inner circle to run her campaign."

"Now Caitlyn wants the trans community to trust her at a time when their civil rights and very humanity are under threat across the country? Not a chance," Garrett-Pate said in a statement to ABC News.

Garrett-Pate also said that Jenner's comment opposing trans youth playing sports "isn't just deeply harmful to transgender and gender-nonconforming kids, some of whom looked up to her; it's also wildly out of step with California voters, who overwhelmingly oppose discrimination against transgender people."

Palm Springs Mayor Pro Tem Lisa Middleton, the first transgender person to be elected to political office in California, also criticized the former Olympian for taking a public stance against a community she has represented on TV.

"By stepping up this weekend, and adding her name to those attacks, Caitlyn Jenner used, frankly, one of the first opportunities she has had since declaring her candidacy to come out in opposition to transgender youth," Middleton told ABC News, adding, "If you're with Donald Trump on one day, and then condemning him for attacks on transgender children the next day, and then hiring his advisers on the third day, I don't think you're a friend of the transgender community."

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U.S. Marine Corps photo by Gunnery Sgt. Ismael Pena

(WASHINGTON) -- Ahead of a fatal training accident, Marine Pfc. Jack Ryan Ostrovsky shared his reservations about the safety of assault amphibious vehicles, or AAVs, according to his father, Peter Ostrovsky.

"A week before the AAV incident, Jack Ryan told me about his concerns with the AAVs, and that they sink all the time. It was hard for me to believe that statement, but now I know there was more to the story that was the basis for his concern," Ostrovsky told lawmakers on Capitol Hill Monday.

Ostrovsky was one of eight Marines and one sailor who perished at sea last summer when their AAV took on water and sank off the coast of Southern California. A command investigation has since identified it as a preventable tragedy.

"First and foremost, the sinking of this AAV and the deaths of eight Marines and one sailor were preventable, preventable in so many ways," Assistant Commandant Gen. Gary L. Thomas told the House Armed Services Committee in his opening remarks. "But we failed. We failed these brave young men."

The military investigation concluded that rough waters and a long string of human and mechanical failures ranging from insufficient water escape training to poorly maintained vehicles led to the accident.

Peter Vienna, stepfather of Navy Corpsman Christopher "Bobby" Gnem, one of the deceased, took umbrage with the tragedy being called a "mishap" during his testimony.

"An AAV crew that did not follow its own emergency SOPs -- had they done so the AAV still would have sunk, but not with our boys in it," Vienna said. "I point that back at leadership's failed duty to properly train and certify that group, just another result of a terrible lack of readiness."

Several congressmen with experience in AAVs from their own time in the Marines expressed similar concerns during Monday's hearing.

"I spent a lot of time in an AAV, including in waterborne operations -- that's how we got into Baghdad in 2003," said Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., a former infantry officer. "I can tell you we sat on the roof because we were afraid it would sink."

Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., was an enlisted infantryman in the Marines.

"I actually spent seven months living on AAVs," he said during the hearing. "In the great scheme of things somehow the Marine Corps thought the best way to transport men around Iraq was to shove us into a AAVs. They were death traps."

First Marine Expeditionary Force Commander, Lt. Gen. Joseph Osterman told reporters last August that only two AAVs have sunk in the last 25 years. But the investigation revealed more than half of the vehicles inspected across the fleet were not fully watertight and another half had emergency escape lighting failures -- both being problems that contributed to last year's disaster.

On the morning of July 30, 2020, 13 AAVs assigned to Camp Pendleton's 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit made a roughly one mile ship-to-shore movement from the USS Somerset to train on San Clemente Island, a Navy-owned piece of land about 60 miles off the Southern California coast. The trouble began in the early evening, when most vehicles took to sea en route back to the ship.

Water began flowing in through several leak-points. While some amount of leakage is expected during amphibious operations, the water is usually drained by on-board bilge pumps before becoming a problem. But that Thursday, a transmission failure left the crew powerless to purge the incoming water.

"When the transmission failed, the hydraulic bilge pumps failed," Marine Corps Staff Director Maj. Gen. Gregg Olson told lawmakers Monday. "When the transmission failed, the engine went into idle and ceased charging the batteries. And then when the engine compartment itself filled with water, the generator failed and effectively the vehicle was without power."

The craft began to sink.

The crew raised a distress signal, but contrary to Navy and Marine Corps requirements, there were no safety boats in the water. No help would come for another 20 minutes.

The distressed crew and passengers watched the water slowly rise in their vehicle for 45 minutes before a second AAV arrived to assist. The crew then opened a hatch on top of their sinking craft to prepare for evacuation. But the two vehicles collided, knocking the imperiled AAV sideways in the path of a large incoming wave.

The swell flowed over the AAV, now only about 6 inches above the sea, flooding water through the open hatch. The gradual sinking became rapid. Marines on nearby AAVs watched helplessly as the craft slipped below the surface -- 11 of the 16 men still aboard.

If the three-man crew would have had the other Marines and sailor aboard the sinking AAV evacuate sooner, even in full gear, the flotation devices they wore would have been enough to keep them afloat, Olson said.

In early August, search crews located the sunken AAV nearly 400 feet under the ocean's surface. The vehicle was recovered, along with the bodies of all of the service members who were missing up to that point still inside.

Vienna on Monday described the terrible impact the loss of his stepson has had on him and Gnem's mother.

"She's suffering both mentally and physically," Vienna said. "For me, well, frankly, the last nine months, I've been on suicide watch."

Ostrovsky also shared his family's grief and sorrow with the committee.

"The loss of Jack Ryan has destroyed our family's future plans. Jack Ryan was supposed to be the next leader of our family, who was going to create his own legacy of success through his military career," Ostrovsky said.

"Though it is little comfort to the families, we will honor their memory by taking the necessary actions to prevent a tragedy like this from ever happening again," Thomas said.

Marine Commandant Gen. David Berger suspended all AAV waterborne operations the day after the accident while the matter was reviewed. The vehicles remained on land until April 2021.

In subsequent inspections, "We had a problem across the fleet with our watertight integrity: Some 54% of the vehicles that were inspected had failures in the watertight integrity of their plenum doors -- that's the large intakes on the front that permit air to come up in and out of an engine that's underwater -- 18% had cargo hatches that were leaking in excess," Olson said, "and fully 50% had inoperable emergency escape lighting systems."

Personnel inside the sinking AAV were in the dark with no working emergency lighting system or chemical lights, which are supposed to be attached to cargo hatch handles by the crew. The men on board resorted to using the flashlights on their personal cellphones as they struggled to open a hatch, the water continuing to rise.

The commanding officers of both 1st Battalion, 4th Marines and the 15th Marine Expeditionary unit have been relieved of posts as a consequence of the accident. A broader command investigation headed by a three-star general was established by Olson on April 2 to look at higher-ranked officers, which could lead to potential disciplinary actions for generals.

Moulton said that while combat training must involve danger, he was not convinced the AAV exercise on July 30 merited the risk.

"The Marine Corps must be the nation's premier fighting force. We can't become a Marine Corps that only cares about safety. But we also have to be smart about how we get there," he said.

All eight Marines killed in the incident served as riflemen in the 1st Battalion, 4th Marines based in Camp Pendleton. The sailor was a Fleet Marine Force corpsman serving alongside them in the infantry unit. Their names, ages and hometowns are as follows:

  • Lance Cpl. Guillermo S. Perez, 20, of New Braunfels, Texas
  • Cpl. Wesley A. Rodd, 23, of Harris, Texas
  • Cpl. Cesar A. Villanueva, 21, of Riverside, California
  • U.S. Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Christopher Gnem, 22, of Stockton, California
  • Lance Cpl. Marco A. Barranco, 21, of Montebello, California
  • Lance Cpl. Chase D. Sweetwood, 19, of Portland, Oregon
  • Pfc. Bryan J. Baltierra, 18, of Corona, California
  • Pfc. Evan A. Bath, 19, of Oak Creek, Wisconsin
  • Pfc. Jack Ryan Ostrovsky, 21, of Bend, Oregon

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