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New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signs sweeping gun bills into law

Eva Marie Uzcategui/Bloomberg via Getty Images, FILE

(TRENTON, N.J.) -- New Jersey Gov. Philip Murphy signed new gun legislation into law on Tuesday, making it harder for residents in the state to get a handgun license and high-capacity rifles.

The new laws come a day after a gunman opened fire at a July 4 parade in Highland Park, Illinois, that left seven people dead and over 30 injured.

"In the wake of horrific mass shootings in Highland Park, Illinois, Uvalde, Texas, and Buffalo, New York, it is necessary that we take action in order to protect our communities. I am proud to sign these bills today and thank my legislative partners for sending them to my desk," Murphy said at the signing.

The guns safety package has seven bills that include requiring gun owners who move to New Jersey from out of state to register their firearms within 60 days with local law enforcement; lets the state's attorney general bring a "cause of action for certain public nuisance violations arising from sale or marketing of firearms;" bans .50 caliber rifles and places restrictions on ghost guns.

The law also now requires those looking to become gun owners to pass a safety course to get a firearms purchaser's ID and the state now has the power to track all ammunition sales in the state through a registry.

The new laws go into effect nearly two weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a New York law that restricted the concealed carrying of handguns in public to people who have "proper cause."

Murphy criticized the court's decision, calling it "deeply flawed," according to ABC News Philadelphia station WPVI.

The Association of New Jersey Rifle & Pistol Clubs Executive President Scott Bach condemned the new laws, saying it ignored “criminals and those with dangerous behavioral issues,” according to ABC News New York station WABC.

Gun control organization Brady praised the governor for signing the bills and urged other states to “pass sensible legislation.”

“Gov. Murphy has strongly and consistently called for common-sense gun violence prevention reforms. Today, the legislature has delivered these needed policies and they will become law,” Brady said in a statement.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Dems stress message discipline on abortion ahead of midterms, while GOP hopes to avoid blunders

Paras Griffin/Getty Images for Essence

(WASHINGTON) -- Democrats are working to ensure their incumbents and midterm candidates maintain message discipline around a simple pitch to the public on abortion while the party looks to use the Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade to help persuade and motivate voters come November.

Lawmakers and contenders across the country have thus far echoed the same stance: The choice to have an abortion should be made between a person and a doctor. In doing so, Democrats have avoided taking the bait on Republican attacks accusing them of supporting abortions in the second and third trimesters -- procedures that are rare but that polls show voters approve of significantly less than abortions earlier on in pregnancies, when access is broadly supported.

"I think we're certainly going to see the other side try to lead us in that direction, and so I think it has the potential where it can certainly create a lot of gray area. And right now, we're in a position where I think the people of Arizona are seeing this in pretty black-and-white terms, and they're more in favor with us than they are with them," Arizona state Sen. Martin Quezada, who is running for treasurer in a state where all abortions could soon be banned, told ABC News.

Despite that discipline, Democrats are still grappling with various debates on the best strategy around ensuring abortion access -- and President Joe Biden has faced calls from others in the party to be more vocal and more detailed with his own plan.

But so long as Democrats stay away from debates over abortions in the second and third trimesters, party strategists who spoke with ABC News argued, the issue will remain politically advantageous in a cycle still largely characterized by voters' concerns over high inflation, which have helped sharply weaken Biden's approval ratings.

For their part, Republicans and their conservative allies have repeatedly tried to knock Democrats into more treacherous rhetorical territory -- something that Quezada, in Arizona, acknowledged. "I certainly expect they will start to try to dilute that messaging and try to get us lost in that gray area. That potential to lose some support is there," he said.

Stacey Abrams, the Democratic nominee in Georgia's gubernatorial race, was pressed repeatedly on Fox News Sunday last month over whether she supported abortions up to nine months. Republican Senate candidates have also cast their opponents as radicals on abortion. And the Republican National Committee has been looking to frame all Democrats as dodgy on the restrictions they would support.

"What's radical and out of touch is Joe Biden and Democrat politicians refusing to name a single limit they would seek on abortion," said RNC spokesperson Nathan Brand.

Still, Democrats have not budged.

During her Fox News interview, Abrams said that abortion was "a medical decision … that should be a choice made between a doctor and a woman and in consultation with her family." She later told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that she would support legislation enshrining the right to an abortion "until a physician determines the fetus is viable outside of the body."

And in the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has been pushing for passage of legislation that would enshrine Roe, the 1973 Supreme Court decision first protecting abortion access, into law -- while staying away from language about trimesters.

The need for that caution is borne out in polling.

According to a 2021 survey from the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, 61 percent of adults said abortion in the first trimester should be legal in all or most cases. But in the second trimester, 65 percent said abortions should be illegal in all or most cases; and 80 percent said the procedure should be illegal in all or most cases in the final trimester.

Such discipline, strategists said, allows Democrats to instead highlight unpopular stances from Republicans like foregoing exceptions in abortion bans for rape and incest.

On top of that, the Democratic National Committee and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee have each briefed campaigns on messaging to highlight Republican stances on abortion, according to aides.

"I think it's paramount that Democrats are disciplined here. I think that this is an incredibly powerful issue and incredibly powerful contrast with Republicans," said Molly Murphy, a Democratic pollster advising several midterm campaigns. "Voters are deeply troubled when they learn that Republicans support making abortion illegal without exceptions for things like rape and incest and the life of a woman."

To be sure, Democrats still face internal divisions over precisely how to tackle abortion rights.

Party members are debating backing allowances for abortions on federal lands, pushing an expansion of the Supreme Court and enacting a legislative filibuster carveout for abortion to eliminate the Senate's 60-vote threshold on the issue.

The White House has said it is currently not considering allowing abortion clinics to operate on federal lands over legal liabilities for workers, sparking frustration among progressives. And while Biden on Thursday said he supports a filibuster carveout for abortion -- new ground for the president -- there are currently not enough Democratic votes in the 50-50 Senate to change the upper chamber's rules.

Yet some pollsters said the minutiae of legislating on abortion will not resonate with voters as much as the overall issue.

"Ultimately the filibuster is process and not message. Democrats can talk about Republicans prioritizing making abortion illegal without exception and stay away from process, not because the filibuster carveout is bad … but because voters don't care about process," Murphy said.

And for Democrats running in conservative districts and states, operatives say they must be allowed to buck the overall party messaging and, if it aligns with their local voters, have the freedom to vocalize opposition to second- and third-trimester abortions.

"How they frame that I think should be reflected upon, one, their personal experience, but also the makeup of the district. We don't win races in a collection. We win them race by race, individual by individual," said Democratic strategist Antjuan Seawright. "And I think with every messaging point, it has to be done that way. Anything to the contrary could be a threat to the majority we do have"

On the flip side, Republicans have already dealt with some high-profile lapses in their discipline on the issue.

Yesli Vega, the GOP nominee in a swing House district in Virginia, sparked controversy last month when she agreed with an assessment that it was harder to get pregnant as a result of rape "because it's not something that's happening organically."

Vega later said, "As a mother of two children, yes I'm fully aware of how women get pregnant."

And when asked late last month if a 12-year-old girl who was raped by a family member should carry a pregnancy to term, Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn replied "that is my belief. I believe life begins at conception."

Such comments harken back to past campaign controversies like Missouri Republican Todd Akin, who lost a winnable Senate race in 2012 after he said victims of what he dubbed "legitimate rape" rarely got pregnant. Akin went on to apologize, saying in a video at the time, "Rape is an evil act. I used the wrong words in the wrong way."

Now, some conservatives acknowledge history could repeat.

"If we see two or three other candidates or incumbents, especially, using that kind of rhetoric, it's going to cause headaches for Republicans. No doubt about it," said Doug Heye, a former top RNC official.

Operatives from both parties said that issues like inflation and wages will likely steer the midterm cycle, with a polling memo from the Republican State Leadership Committee showing that just 8 percent of voters think abortion is a top issue, versus 37 percent who answered with the high cost of living.

But in such a contested cycle, in which the Senate could be decided by any one race, campaign stumbles on an issue where the electorate's views do not match their base have Republicans concerned.

When asked if a serious misstep on abortion could ultimately cost future control of the Senate, Heye replied, "Potentially so."

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


White House says Biden read Brittney Griner's letter from Russia, won't say if he'll meet her family

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(WASHINGTON) -- As WNBA star Brittney Griner appeals to Joe Biden for help in getting released from Russian custody, her case is a "top priority" for the president, according to the White House.

Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters during a briefing on Tuesday that Biden read Griner's handwritten letter, which was sent to the White House on Monday, and her note was "very personal" to him.

"I'm not going to share any personal interaction that I had with the president," Jean-Pierre told ABC News when asked about Biden's reaction.

"I just wanted to confirm that he did read the letter. And I will say again, this is very personal to him. Especially when someone writes a letter in such a personal way … we have made this a priority," she added.

Jean-Pierre wouldn't say whether Biden was going to respond to Griner's letter.

Griner personally reached out to Biden, urging him to help get her out of Russia -- where she has been held for some five months for allegedly possessing hashish oil -- according to her representatives.

In the handwritten letter from Griner, portions of which were made public, she expressed fears she will be held in Russia "forever."

"As I sit here in a Russian prison, alone with my thoughts and without the protection of my wife, family, friends, Olympic jersey, or any accomplishments, I'm terrified I might be here forever," Griner wrote to the president.

The athlete was visiting Russia to play basketball in the off-season when she was detained at Sheremetyevo International Airport on Feb. 17 after being accused of having vape cartridges containing hashish oil, which is illegal in the country.

Griner's detention was extended repeatedly, most recently through Dec. 20, which is the expected length of her trial. If convicted, Griner, 31, faces up to 10 years in prison.

"It hurts thinking about how I usually celebrate [the Fourth of July] because freedom means something completely different to me this year," Griner wrote in her letter to Biden.

Griner's wife, Cherelle Griner, previously told "Good Morning America" co-anchor Robin Roberts in May that she would like to speak with the president.

"I just keep hearing that, you know, he has the power. She's a political pawn," Cherelle Griner said. "So if they're holding her because they want you to do something, then I want you to do it."

At Tuesday's briefing, Jean-Pierre wouldn't say whether the White House was considering a meeting with Brittney Griner's family, but she said that both Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan have spoken to Cherelle Griner and the administration will keep "open communication and have very honest conversations with them."

"I just don't have anything to share on what communication the president's going to have with Mrs. Griner and her family," Jean-Pierre told ABC News when asked about a potential meeting. "All I can confirm is that he's read the letter, and he's making this a priority."

Last Friday marked the first day of Griner's trial in Russia.

The Phoenix Mercury star appeared in person at a courtroom in Khimki, a suburb of Moscow, ABC News reported.

The U.S. government classified Griner's case on May 3 as "wrongfully detained," meaning the U.S. will more aggressively work to negotiate her release even as the legal case against her plays out, the State Department has said.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine began one week after Griner was detained. Some officials are concerned that Americans jailed in Russia could be used as leverage in the ongoing conflict.

Griner's family and friends gathered at a vigil outside the Russian consulate in New York City ahead of her trial last week, calling on the U.S. to bring her home. Her next court appearance is on Thursday.

Leaders and players in both the WNBA and the NBA have also called for Griner's release and raised awareness about her case, as have advocates.

The WNBA, which kicked off its 2022 season on May 6, is honoring Griner with a floor decal bearing her initials and jersey number (42) on the sidelines of all 12 WNBA teams.

The 6-foot-9 center won an NCAA title at Baylor in 2012; a WNBA title with Phoenix, her current team, in 2014; and gold medals with the U.S. women's team at the 2016 and 2020 Olympics.

Civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton said he wants Biden and Blinken to arrange a trip for faith leaders to see Griner in prison as part of a prayer visit.

"After speaking with her wife last week, I am deeply concerned for Brittney Griner's physical, mental, and spiritual wellbeing," Sharpton said in a statement on Tuesday.

"She deserves to see the United States is doing something for her, so she can find the strength as this show trial goes on," he said.

The public campaign to free Griner escalated following the release of U.S. Marine veteran Trevor Reed in April, who was freed from a Russian prison as part of a prisoner exchange. Former Marine Paul Whelan has also been detained in Russia since 2019.

Jean-Pierre on Tuesday said that the Biden administration was working on both Griner and Whelan's cases just as hard as it done to secure Reed's freedom.

"We are going to make this happen," she said.

An international prisoner swap potentially involving Griner, Whelan and convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout has been discussed, according to Russian media reports, but it's unclear if there has been any substantial movement on the issue. Russian officials have also indicated that they want Griner to stand trial.

Asked about a potential swap, Jean-Pierre said she "cannot speak to any discussions" regarding the process of securing the release of any American detained abroad.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price said that secrecy is crucial to ensure that efforts to secure the release of Griner and others detained abroad are not jeopardized.

"While we update families -- and certainly in broad strokes -- on our efforts, it's not something that we are in a position to speak to publicly in any detail," Price told reporters on Tuesday.

"We do not want to do anything, we do not want to say anything, that would potentially jeopardize the chances of seeing an American released or that would delay by a single day, a single hour or a single minute the safe return of an American to her his family and loved ones back here," Price added.

ABC News' Shannon Crawford, Ben Gittleson, Molly Nagle and Tanya Stukalova contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


House's Jan. 6 committee announces next hearing date; expected to focus on who was in Capitol mob

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(WASHINGTON) -- House's Jan. 6 committee announces next hearing date; expected to focus on who was in Capitol mob
Tal Axelrod and Adam Carlson, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- The House select committee investigating Jan. 6 on Tuesday announced its next hearing: July 12 beginning at 10 a.m. ET.

The panel has been holding a series of public hearings since last month related to its year-long inquiry into the events before, during and after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack at the Capitol by pro-Trump rioters.

It has not yet been announced who will be testifying on July 12. The past hearings have stretched for several hours.

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., a member of the panel, indicated over the weekend that the next hearing would focus on the formation of the mob that ultimately descended on the Capitol last year, including the participation of several far-right groups.

"Who was participating, who was financing it, how it was organized, including the participation of these white nationalist groups like the Proud Boys, the Three Percenters, and others," Schiff said on CBS News' "Face the Nation" on Sunday.

Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., who served as the lead impeachment manager for the House proceedings against then-President Donald Trump after the insurrection, is anticipated to play a large role.

The last hearing featured lengthy testimony from Cassidy Hutchinson, a former top aide to Trump's last White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows.

Hutchinson's appearance sparked days of criticism of Trump -- including from other conservatives -- after she testified that the former president was aware that attendees of his speech at the Ellipse earlier on Jan. 6 were armed before he asked for security measures to be reduced and ultimately urged them to march to the Capitol. Hutchinson also testified that when the Secret Service would not take Trump to the Capitol after his speech, he lunged for the steering wheel of his SUV and then at the neck of a Secret Service agent.

Trump adamantly denied her account. The Secret Service said it would cooperate fully with the panel, "including by responding on the record," if investigators had any follow up questions over the alleged incident.

Other hearings the committee has held have focused on the Capitol insurrection itself; on Trump allies' awareness that his voter fraud claims were false; and on the pressure campaign by Trump and those in his orbit to push states to not certify now-President Joe Biden's win.

In her testimony last week, Hutchinson said she had heard chatter about the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers -- two prominent far-right groups -- in the days leading up to Trump's speech at the Ellipse. She said that Rudy Giuliani, who was then Trump's personal lawyer, was frequently seen around the White House at the same time.

Leaders of both the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers have been charged with seditious conspiracy over the groups' roles in last year's riot.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Justice Department sues Arizona for requiring proof of citizenship to vote in presidential elections

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(WASHINGTON) -- The Justice Department has filed suit against Arizona challenging its recently enacted voting law that requires proof of citizenship in order to vote in presidential elections.

The lawsuit contends that certain restrictions in Arizona's House Bill 2492 directly violate Section 6 of the National Voter Registration Act and Section 101 of the Civil Rights Act.

The Supreme Court previously rejected an effort by Arizona in 2013 to require its residents to provide proof of citizenship in order to participate in federal elections, though after President Joe Biden's victory against Donald Trump in 2020 the state quickly sought to implement a similar mandate in passing House Bill 2492.

"Arizona has passed a law that turns the clock back on progress by imposing unlawful and unnecessary requirements that would block eligible voters from the registration rolls for certain federal elections," Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke said in a statement Tuesday announcing the lawsuit.

Gov. Doug Ducey signed the bill into law on March 30.

"Election integrity means counting every lawful vote and prohibiting any attempt to illegally cast a vote," Ducey wrote in a letter at the time he signed the bill. "H.B. 2492 is a balanced approach that honors Arizona's history of making voting accessible without sacrificing security in our elections."

Republicans have a slight majority in both the state Senate and House of Representatives.

The Justice Department's lawsuit asks for a federal judge to prohibit several provisions of HB 2492 from being enforced.

In a press release, the Justice Department notes the new law with violate the Civil Rights Act "by requiring election officials to reject voter registration forms based on errors or omissions that are not material to establishing a voter’s eligibility to cast a ballot."

Arizona requires voters to prove they are a U.S. citizen when they register to vote -- the only state to do so -- by providing a government-issued identification, like a driver's license, tribal ID or passport. The 2013 Supreme Court ruling allowed the requirement for state elections, but Arizona cannot require proof of citizenship for federal elections, like president.

Arizona is one of the states where Trump has falsely contended he won in 2020. Biden defeated Trump by about 10,000 votes. A GOP-led review of the vote tally in Maricopa County, the state's largest, reaffirmed Biden's victory, and even increased his lead by a slight amount.

ABC News' Mark Osborne contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Four Vietnam War veterans awarded Medal of Honor

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(WASHINGTON) -- Four U.S. Army veterans were awarded with the Medal of Honor Tuesday for their "acts of gallantry and intrepidity" during the Vietnam War half a century ago -- after their cases got a fresh review.

President Joe Biden presented Specialist 5 Dwight W. Birdwell, Major John J. Duffy and Specialist 5 Dennis M. Fujii with the nation's highest military honor at a White House ceremony on Tuesday morning. John Kaneshiro, the son of Staff Sergeant Edward N. Kaneshiro, accepted the award on his late father's behalf.

The awards come after the Army concluded the decorated veterans' previous honors should be elevated to the Medal of Honor, the United States military's most prestigious award for bravery and heroism.

"Today, we're setting the record straight. We're upgrading the awards of four soldiers who performed acts of incredible heroism during the Vietnam conflict to respect the conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity of their service," Biden said. "They went far above and beyond the call of duty. It's a phrase always used but it just -- it takes on life when you see these men."

"Today's ceremony presented a poignant reminder of the sacrifices of the service members who served with these men, especially those who never made it home," the Congressional Medal of Honor Society said in a statement welcoming the recipients. "These newest Medal of Honor recipients wear the Medal on behalf of those who were lost and those whose freedom was secured by their sacrifice."

Birdwell, who is also a former Cherokee Nation Supreme Court justice, becomes the first Native American honored for action in Vietnam and the first to receive the award for action in any conflict since 1973. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin introduced a directive last year ordering the Secretaries of the Military Departments to review Black and Native American war veterans for upgrades to the Medal of Honor.

"It's a point of great pride for the Cherokee people and I think all native people to see a Native American get this honor," Cherokee Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin told ABC News in an interview. "I think about the fact that Dwight Birdwell represents thousands of Native Americans who have served this country in military service since the 1970s and even before at such high numbers, disproportionately high numbers. I think it's fitting and high time that someone get the Medal of Honor who's a Native American."

On Jan. 31, 1968, Birdwell moved directly into the line of fire, getting wounded in the process, to retrieve ammunition for his fellow soldiers.

Birdwell told ABC News his time in the Army gave him "a sense of discipline, enhanced respect for life, more respect for nature, and respect for people beyond the boundaries of this country."

"Someone asked me if I feel like a hero. I don't feel like I am, but I served with plenty, especially that day, and [I'm] honored to have served with them," Birdwell said. "I'm really overwhelmed by the whole process. But again, proud for the Cherokee people, proud for the unit I served with, and personally very satisfied that it came about."

In a 1972 battle for Fire Support Base Charlie, Duffy directed defense and facilitated the air evacuation of his team while under attack. He was the last to board an aiding helicopter.

"It's a great honor. Each of those awards are appreciated, and recognizing your endeavors, your duty that you've done, and the pride you have in your uniform that you've earned in combat," he said of his nomination. "And the same disciplines that applied in battle applied in life, whether it's being a broker or any other occupation, journalist, etc., you're focused, you're trying to tell a story and you're trying to do your job. So you learn discipline in the military -- not just the Army but all the military -- that serves you forever throughout life."

After retiring from the Army, Duffy went on to work in publishing and finance before focusing on poetry. The Pulitzer Prize nominee's works are engraved on two monuments.

In February 1971, Fujii served as crew chief of a helicopter ambulance. He is being honored for his role in several evacuations and tireless treatment of wounded Vietnamese military along the allied perimeter, even after a series of failed attempts to rescue him following a helicopter crash. Throughout this time, he directed strikes and defense until his eventual rescue.

"I was overwhelmed...the news it really shocked me," Fujii told KITV. "I mean, to be congratulated by the president himself, the commander in chief, that's something."

On Dec. 1, 1966, Kaneshiro defended his squad in the trenches from enemy fire using six grenades and a rifle, allowing for their successful extrication.

Naomi Viloria and John Kaneshiro were young children when their father was killed in action on March 6, 1967. Viloria was 8 years old and her brother, who went on to enlist in the Army after high school, was only 4 months old.

"I didn't know him. So you know, I didn't have that father figure, but just reading the actions that he did in newspaper articles of the period, that told me he was a man of character," he said. "So, you know, you put that together and say, 'Wow, you know, I hope I can be like him.'"

Viloria told ABC News their family has worked for decades to have his actions reviewed and nearly gave up.

"But then finally, this year, right after my mother passed away, we were notified that his combat record was being under review and he could possibly be awarded the Medal of Honor, and I finally got the call from President Biden," she said, adding that the family was "overjoyed" to hear the news.

"I think for us now, our family, it's an honor that America has suggested we recognize his selflessness, his courageousness in the face of adversity," John Kaneshiro said. "We're happy that he was recognized, finally."

ABC News' Luis Martinez, Cindy Smith, and Abby Cruz contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Fulton County subpoenas Rudy Giuliani, Lindsey Graham in probe into election interference

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(FULTON COUNTY, Ga.) -- The Fulton County special grand jury investigating possible criminal interference in Georgia's 2020 elections has issued subpoenas for Rudy Giuliani, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and several others in former President Donald Trump's orbit.

Others who were issued subpoenas include John Eastman, Cleta Mitchell, Kenneth Chesbro and Jenna Ellis, all of whom advised Trump on ways to overturn President Joe Biden's win in Georgia.

The special grand jury also subpoenaed attorney and podcast host Jacki Pick Deason.

The development was first reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Giuliani, Trump's personal attorney, testified in front of Georgia lawmakers on several occasions in late 2020.

Eastman, who part of a plan to push then-Vice President Mike Pence to reject the official slate of Democratic electors in Georgia and other battleground states, also testified in front of Georgia's legislators following the election, saying that there was "more than enough" evidence of fraud to warrant a different slate of electors.

At the end of its investigation, the special grand jury conducting the probe will, if appropriate, make recommendations to prosecutors, who would then need to decide whether to pursue any charges.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Democrats look to raise $10M for key governors' races with abortion access fund

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(WASHINGTON) -- The Democratic Governors Association hopes to turn anger at the overturning of Roe v. Wade into big-dollar fundraising for critical races where governors will hold sway over abortion access at the state level.

The DGA on Tuesday launched the "Protect Reproductive Rights Fund" to support gubernatorial races in states where access to abortion is at risk.

The DGA said it aims to raise $10 million for the new fund. The targeted states where the money will be directed include Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin.

The fund will be chaired by New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, who told ABC News that once the Supreme Court's five-justice majority opinion reversing Roe was leaked in May, she and some of her fellow Democratic governors knew that action had to be taken to protect abortion rights.

"We can look to Washington for leadership, that's important, but also the power does rest with the states," Hochul said. "And we've known all along that we are the ones who are the firewall between what the Supreme Court does and doing what we can to protect the rights of our women."

"I want to take ownership of this [fund] and support other Democratic candidates, whether they're incumbent governors or they're challengers, because where these critical decisions will be made is in the statehouses," Hochul told ABC.

In her own state, she has taken several actions to protect and expand access to abortion since the Supreme Court found there was no constitutional guarantee to accessing it. Those steps included allocating $35 million to providers, not only to accommodate women in New York seeking an abortion but also to prepare for the influx of women who may travel to the state from places where it is or will be widely banned.

Others governors, however, are in legal battles trying to ensure abortion access over the objections of abortion opponents there.

Last week, Wisconsin Democratic Gov. Ton Evers filed a lawsuit challenging the state's 19th-century pre-Roe abortion ban, which criminalizes abortion and only allows an exception to save the mother's life. Evers' lawsuit argues that the ban is unenforceable because it conflicts with other abortion laws that have since been passed.

Due to confusion over whether the ban is enforceable -- with Evers' suit pending -- abortion providers are suspending services in the state.

In the interim, Evers and his administration are taking steps to ensuring state residents have access to clinics in neighboring states such as Illinois and Minnesota.

"The unfortunate thing is that the most vulnerable women don't have probably [the] most opportunities to jump in a car and go to Illinois or Minnesota," Evers told ABC News.

In April, Michigan's Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who is up for reelection this year, filed a lawsuit in support of abortion rights under the state's constitution.

In Pennsylvania, the legality of abortion could change depending on who is elected as governor in November.

The state's Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf is term-limited and cannot seek reelection. Democratic state Attorney General Josh Shapiro and Republican state Sen. Doug Mastriano are running to be his successor. Shapiro has said he would protect the right to an abortion while Mastriano said he would not.

One of the first pieces of legislation that Mastriano introduced as a state senator was a "heartbeat" bill which would have banned abortions if a fetal cardiac activity could be found.

Hochul told ABC News that she believes the DGA's new fund will make a difference in this year's governor races and that people are going to be "energized" to vote following Roe's overturning -- a ruling that inspired passionate reactions from both sides of the issue.

"[Abortion] is going to have a major effect on this November's election, as well as the importance of raising the resources to support our governors," Hochul said.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


How three states are moving to protect abortion rights after the fall of Roe v. Wade

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(NEW YORK) -- A week after the U.S. Supreme Court voted to strike down Roe v. Wade, ending a nearly 50-year precedent, several governors are moving to protect abortion rights in their states.

On Friday, New York's legislature passed a constitutional amendment guaranteeing access to abortion during a special session initially called to rewrite state gun permit laws in the wake of another Supreme Court decision that rolled back the state's concealed carry restrictions.

The measure, which has been supported by Gov. Kathy Hochul, would codify the right to an abortion and the right to contraception in the state's constitution. It would also update the existing Equal Rights Amendment to extend protections to several new classes, including on the basis of sex (including sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, pregnancy, pregnancy outcomes, reproductive healthcare and autonomy), disability, national origin, ethnicity and age.

The measure passed the state Assembly late Friday, after passing the state Senate earlier that day. An amendment to the state's constitution would ultimately be decided by voters in a referendum after passing two separately elected state legislatures.

"We refuse to stand idly by while the Supreme Court attacks the rights of New Yorkers," Hochul said on Twitter while sharing a proclamation to add the equal rights resolution to the state legislature's session agenda on Friday.

In neighboring New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law Friday afternoon abortion bills that protect health care providers and out-of-state patients. One bill bans the extradition of people who get or perform abortions in New Jersey to states that criminalize the procedure, and the second prohibits state agencies from assisting in investigations that release their information to other states.

The bills swiftly passed the state legislature in the wake of the Supreme Court decision impacting Roe.

"While others throughout the country are revoking a woman’s right to reproductive freedom, New Jersey will continue to defend this fundamental right in our state," Murphy said in a statement Friday.

The laws follow other actions by the state to protect abortion rights in anticipation of Roe falling. In January, Murphy signed a bill that codified the right to an abortion into state law.

In Connecticut, a new law strengthening abortion rights went into effect on Friday. The law, which was signed by the governor in May, protects medical providers and patients seeking abortion care who may be traveling to Connecticut from states that have outlawed abortion. It also expands abortion access in Connecticut by expanding the type of practitioners eligible to perform certain abortion-related care.

As the state becomes a "safe harbor" state for abortion care, Lamont also issued an open letter Friday urging out-of-state businesses to relocate to Connecticut, "a state that supports the rights of women and whose actions and laws are unwavering in support of tolerance and inclusivity."

"With the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, there are many states across the country outlawing a woman's right to make her own reproductive choices. Not here in Connecticut. Not as long as I'm governor," Lamont said in a video message, asking businesses to consider the state as a place where their employees and customers may better identify with its values.

Lamont also touted the state's policies around paid family leave, child care and education for those seeking to start a family.

Twenty-six states are certain or likely to ban abortion with the fall of Roe, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health policy research organization.

In the wake of the Supreme Court's decision, President Joe Biden met virtually on Friday with nearly a dozen governors, including Lamont and Hochul, to discuss the administration's efforts to protect access to reproductive care, according to a White House official.

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Ending Roe vs. Wade opens the door to a nationwide abortion ban. But how likely is it?

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(WASHINGTON) -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, overseeing a very narrow Democratic majority, issued a warning to voters after the Supreme Court struck down Roe vs. Wade.

Republicans are "plotting a nationwide abortion ban" and will act if they get the majority in Congress this midterm election, she said -- a sentiment that is a nationwide rallying cry for Democrats.

And while that's possible -- the fall of Roe means abortion is no longer legally protected nationwide, leaving the door open to making it illegal nationwide -- the bigger question is whether its plausible.

Here's what to watch:

First things first: there is a Democrat in the Oval Office.

If Republicans were to win a lot of seats in the House and the Senate in November, giving them enough votes to pass a nationwide ban on abortion, that bill would still have to go to the president's desk to be made law of the land.

"The key backstop to there being a ban is that the president would veto it," said Victoria Nourse, a law professor at Georgetown University who focuses on Congress.

The only way around that, in the short-term, would be for Republicans to secure two-thirds of the Senate chamber, or 67 votes, to override that veto -- an incredibly unlikely scenario.

Still, such legislation could "very well backfire," given that only just 13% of Americans support making abortion illegal outright, according to a long-running Gallup poll, said Michele Goodwin, a constitutional law professor at University of California, Irvine.

But just because legislation is unlikely to pass in the immediate wake of the 2022 midterms, those races will still set the stage for bigger threats to abortion rights down the line.

"Where we are today is more of a marathon than a sprint," Goodwin said.

That's because if Republicans were to win the House or the Senate, they would be that much closer to enacting a ban if a Republican president was then elected in 2024.

And while Republicans could be pushed away from flat-out bans because of their unpopularity, more tailored bans could gain traction.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has thrown his weight behind a national ban on abortions after 15 weeks, which could get more support from moderate Republicans because nearly all abortions happen before then.

A ban like that could set up a "chip-away" of abortion rights, Goodwin said.

"To the extent that there is a chip-away that ultimately is realized, like what we see in Dobbs and with these trigger bans, one should actually be deeply concerned about the chip-away that could take place in Congress and also in the executive leadership of our country," she said.

Of course, the underlying question is whether Republicans would actually push for a nationwide ban, if all the pieces were in place.

So far, the only prospective 2024 candidate to go so far as call for a nationwide ban is former Vice President Mike Pence, who reacted to the Supreme Court decision by urging people not to "relent" until "the sanctity of life is restored to the center of American law in every state in the land."

Other possible Republican contenders like former President Donald Trump, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley and Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley have hailed the decision as a victory for state's rights, steering clear of mentioning top-down action at the federal level.

"This long divisive issue will be decided by the states and the American people," Trump said at a rally on Saturday in Illinois. "That's the way it should have been many many years ago, and that's the way it is now."

And Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who initially said a nationwide ban was "possible," recently said he didn't think it would be possible to get 60 senators, which is how many would have to vote in favor of a ban without ending the filibuster.

Any legislation would end up right back in court

Yet another potential barrier would be the court, which is where any law that touches the Roe vs. Wade decision would end up, whether it's an attempt to codify abortion rights or get rid of them.

And the Supreme Court ruled states should decide the laws around abortion on an individual basis, which could neuter interference at the federal level of either kind.

That's led states like California, Connecticut, New York and New Jersey to enact laws that protect peoples' rights to an abortion and make them safe harbors. It's unclear how those laws might interact with a nationwide ban -- something experts describe as uncharted territory.

But Nourse also said she sees a world where the court is more favorable to a nationwide abortion ban, which would align more with its recent ruling, than an attempt to make abortion legal.

"The bottom line is it will go back to the courts either way," said Nourse.

What about the steps to codify Roe vs. Wade as law?

While the midterms could hand Republicans a victory that set the stage for a future ban on abortion at the national level, they could also hand Democrats the votes they need to protect abortion rights.

"People across the country are mobilizing and women are pretty ticked off, including Republican women, even if they are not being vocal about this," Goodwin said.

If the decision does galvanize Democrats enough to gain seats in the Senate, progressives have urged their party to end the filibuster, which would mean Democrats could get laws passed by a slimmer majority.

This past week, Biden endorsed the idea, handing progressives a win.

But moderates warn that the political maneuver would go both ways.

Ending the filibuster could open the door to Republicans using the same tactic to ban abortion -- a point Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin leans on to defend his opposition to ending the filibuster.

The bottom line: No single election will guarantee a ban or the return of national protection for abortions, but every single one will have an impact.

"This is on the ballot," Nourse said. "And it's going to be on the ballot for a longtime."

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Mayorkas calls for new immigration law amid renewed scrutiny and tragedy at the border

Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- Congress "must pass" new immigration laws, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said Sunday while defending the administration's policies amid renewed scrutiny of the high amount of migration at the southern border.

"Because the border has been a challenge for decades, ultimately Congress must pass legislation to once and for all fix our broken immigration system," Mayorkas told ABC This Week co-anchor Martha Raddatz.

Mayorkas' defense comes after 53 migrants were found dead in a tractor-trailer in San Antonio, Texas, late last month, which Mayorkas called a "tragic result" of a "dangerous journey." Four men have been charged in the deaths.

On This Week, Mayorkas said that the U.S. was working with regional allies in Central and South America beyond pushing for legislation, which remains a dim prospect in Congress.

"These are remarkable, distinct times," Mayorkas said. In lieu of new laws, "we have a multi-faceted approach, not only to work with our partner countries but to bring law enforcement to bear to attack the smuggling organizations in an unprecedented way," he said. "We are doing so very much."

Raddatz pressed Mayorkas, noting that a legislative fix on immigration was unlikely given partisan gridlock on the issue -- and, she said, the administration's warning to migrants to not try to cross the border was either not being heard or not being heeded.

"Fifty-three people lost their lives in the most horrific of conditions," Mayorkas said of the migrants who died in San Antonio. "We continue to tell people not to take the dangerous journey. We are enforcing our laws. And we are working with countries … including our close partner Mexico, but with Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Costa Rica, Colombia, to really address the migration that is throughout the Western Hemisphere."

Still, Raddatz cited a historic high in May for southern border crossings: 240,000.

"I think that we are doing a good job. We need to do better," Mayorkas acknowledged. "We are focused on doing more, and we are doing it with our partners to the south."

"You have Congressman Henry Cuellar saying that only about 30% of the Border Patrol are doing missions at checkpoints and the border because the other 70% are tied up at detention centers. How do you fix that?" Raddatz pressed.

"We are pressing this issue vigorously and aggressively to address the number of encounters that we are experiencing at the southern border," Mayorkas responded.

He touted the administration's recent win before the Supreme Court, which ruled last week that the White House can end the Trump-era "Remain in Mexico" policy that made migrants seeking asylum stay outside the U.S. during adjudication.

Mayorkas argued that policy "has endemic flaws and causes unjustifiable human tragedy."

"We need to wait until the Supreme Court's decision is actually communicated to the lower court, to the federal district court and the Northern District of Texas ... So, we have to wait several weeks for that procedural step to be taken," he said.

As for the migrant deaths in the tractor trailer in Texas, Mayorkas said he didn't want to comment on the facts of the case as they were still emerging. He declined to say whether or not the vehicle had been "waved through" a checkpoint.

"The smuggling organizations are extraordinarily sophisticated. They are transnational criminal organizations," he said.

Raddatz followed up, asking: "What good are these checkpoints if a truck like that gets through, full of migrants?"

Mayorkas said the "checkpoints are part of a multilayered approach."

"In fiscal year 2022 alone we've stopped more than 400 vehicles and saved and rescued more than 10,000 migrants," Mayorkas said. "But this is why we continue to communicate that the journey -- the dangerous journey should not be taken. We are enforcing our laws and people lose their lives at the hands or exploitative smugglers."

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Not prosecuting Trump for Jan. 6 would fuel a 'much graver threat,' Liz Cheney says

Richard Harbaugh/ABC

(WASHINGTON) -- The Justice Department should not avoid prosecuting Donald Trump in relation to the Jan. 6 Capitol attack if a prosecution is warranted, Rep. Liz Cheney said in an interview with ABC News' "This Week" co-anchor Jonathan Karl.

While bringing charges against the former president -- who may challenge President Joe Biden in 2024 -- would be unprecedented and "difficult" for the country, not doing so would support a "much graver constitutional threat," Cheney said Wednesday in an interview at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library that aired Sunday on "This Week."

"Are you worried about what that means for the country, to [see] a former president prosecuted? A former president who was a likely candidate; who may in fact be running for president against Biden?" Karl asked Cheney.

"I think it's a much graver constitutional threat if a president can engage in these kinds of activities, and the majority of the president's party looks away; or we as a country decide we're not actually going to take our constitutional obligations seriously," Cheney said. "I think that's a much, a much more serious threat."

"I really believe we have to make these decisions, as difficult as it is, apart from politics. We really have to think about these from the perspective of: What does it mean for the country?" she said.

'Absolutely confident' in Hutchinson's testimony

The Wyoming Republican told Karl she was "absolutely confident" in Cassidy Hutchinson's startling testimony last week during a surprise hearing by the House's Jan. 6 committee, which Cheney vice-chairs.

"She's an incredibly brave young woman," Cheney said of Hutchinson.

On Tuesday, the former aide to Trump's White House chief of staff Mark Meadows testified that she was told Trump was verbally aggressive with Secret Service agents and lunged for the steering wheel of his vehicle after learning he was not going to the Capitol after his rally on Jan. 6, 2021.

Hutchinson said Tony Ornato, a Secret Service agent and Trump deputy chief of staff, told her as much not long after the incident that same day. Hutchinson's account has drawn significant attention and push-back from Trump.

"What Ms. Hutchinson testified to was a conversation that she was part of with Mr. Ornato and which Mr. Engel [a Secret Service agent] was present, where they detailed what happened in the limousine," Cheney said.

"Do you have any evidence other than Cassidy Hutchinson's testimony to corroborate what she said happened in that presidential motorcade?" Karl asked Cheney.

"The committee has significant evidence about a whole range of issues, including the president's intense anger," Cheney responded.

"I think you will continue to see in the coming days and weeks additional detail about the president's activities and behavior on that day," Cheney added.

In a statement to ABC News, the Secret Service said agents were prepared to give sworn testimony to the panel. A source close to the Secret Service did not dispute to ABC News that Trump was angry with agents in the car but said he did not reach for the wheel or lunge at Robert Engel, the lead agent on his detail.

Hutchinson also claimed that Trump knew his supporters were armed on Jan. 6 ahead of a march on the Capitol.

Trump on Tuesday worked to dismiss and downplay Hutchinson's testimony, posting on social media that "I hardly know who this person ... is, other than I heard very negative things about her (a total phony and 'leaker')."

"She is bad news!" he added.

Speaking with Karl, Cheney said the House committee "is not going to stand by and watch her [Hutchinson's] character be assassinated by anonymous sources and by men who are claiming executive privilege. And so we look forward very much to additional testimony under oath on a whole range of issues."

Criminal referral over witness tampering?

Cheney said during last week's hearing that some witnesses had told investigators Trump aides attempted to influence their testimony before the panel. Hutchinson was among those to receive messages about protecting the former president, sources later told ABC News.

"Witness tampering is a crime. Are you making a criminal referral to DOJ on this?" Karl asked.

"We'll make a decision as a committee about that," Cheney replied.

"Do you have any doubt that [Trump] broke the law and that he is guilty of criminal violations?" Karl asked Cheney. (Trump insists he did nothing wrong.)"It's a decision that we'll make together as a committee," Cheney said of referring any potential criminal conduct to the Justice Department.

"There's no question that he engaged in high crimes and misdemeanors. I think there's no question that it's the most serious betrayal of his oath of office of any president in the history of the nation. It's the most dangerous behavior of any president in the history of the nation," she said.

"It's possible there will be a criminal referral?" Karl asked.

"Yes," Cheney said, adding that the Justice Department "doesn't have to wait" for the panel to make a referral and that the committee could issue "more than one criminal referral."

Damaging Trump 'not the goal' of hearings

Cheney has emerged as perhaps her party's most vocal and most famous anti-Trump voice, drawing praise from Democrats and derision from many conservatives. Last year, she told ABC News that she would "do everything that I can to make sure" Trump "never gets anywhere close to the Oval Office again."

"Have these hearings gotten you closer to that goal -- making him toxic and not a viable candidate?" Karl asked in the new interview.

"That's not the goal of the hearings," she said.

"It's crucial for the country to make sure that he's never anywhere near the Oval Office again," Cheney continued.

"The goal of the hearings is to make sure that the American people understand what happened; to help inform legislation, legislative changes that we might need to make," she said. "I think it's also the case that there's not a single thing that I have learned, as we have been involved in this investigation, that has made me less concerned."

"There's no question: A man as dangerous as Donald Trump can absolutely never be anywhere near the Oval Office ever again," Cheney said.

With looming primary, Cheney doesn't 'intend to lose'

Cheney was one of 10 House Republicans to vote to impeach Trump in 2021 for inciting the Capitol riot. Of that group, four are not running for reelection and Rep. Tom Rice of South Carolina was defeated in his May primary by a Trump-endorsed opponent.

Cheney will face Trump-backed candidate Harriet Hageman in early August. The former president won a greater share of the vote in Wyoming in 2020 than in any other state.

"You said recently the country is now in a battle: We must win against the former president trying to unravel our constitutional republic. What will it mean for that battle if you lose the Republican primary in Wyoming?" Karl asked Cheney.

"Well, I don't intend to lose the Republican primary in Wyoming," Cheney said.

"How important is it that you win, for that larger battle?" Karl asked.

"I think it's important, because I will be the best representative that people of Wyoming can have," Cheney said.

"The single most important thing is protecting the nation from Donald Trump. And I think that that matters to us as Americans more than anything else, and that's why my work on the committee is so important," she said.

"It's so important to not just brush this past and say, 'Okay, well, that's in the past,' but it informs whether this sort of toxin of Trump's belief that he can put himself above the Constitution and put himself above the law -- whether or not we successfully defeat that. And I think it's very important that people know the truth. And that there are consequences," Cheney said.

Cheney thinks GOP 'can't survive' a Trump 2024 bid

Cheney said the Republican Party "can't survive" if the former president runs for the White House again and wins the GOP nomination for 2024.

"I think that he can't be the party nominee. And I don't think the party would survive that," Cheney said. "I believe in the party, and I believe in what the party can be and what the party can stand for. And I'm not ready to give that up."

"Those of us who believe in Republican principles and ideals have a responsibility to try to lead the party back to what it can be, and to reject, and to reject so much of the toxin and the vitriol," she added.

"I think it's important also to remember that millions of people, millions of Republicans have been betrayed by Donald Trump. And that is a really painful thing for people to recognize and to admit," she said.

"But it's absolutely the case and they've been betrayed by him, by the 'big lie" -- referring to Trump's continued baseless claims of election fraud -- "and by what he continues to do and say to tear apart our country and tear apart our party, and I think we have to reject that," Cheney said.

She said she has not "made a decision" about running for president in 2024.

"I'm obviously very focused on my reelection. I'm very focused on the Jan. 6 committee," she said, with public hearings expected to resume later this month. "I'm very focused on my obligations to do the job that I have now. And I'll make a decision about '24 down the road."

"But I think about it less in terms of a decision about running for office and more in terms of as an American -- and as somebody who's in a position of public trust now -- how do I make sure that I'm doing everything I can to do the right thing, to do what I know is right for the country, and to protect our Constitution?"

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Supreme Court marshal asks Maryland officials to prohibit picketing outside justices' homes

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(NEW YORK) -- Supreme Court marshal Gail Curley is asking Maryland officials to enforce state and local laws that prohibit picketing outside the homes of justices.

Curley sent the requests to Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Montgomery County executive Mark Erlich in letters dated July 1, citing an uptick in demonstrations since May -- when the draft opinion overturning Roe v. Wade was leaked to the public.

“For weeks on end, large groups of protesters chanting slogans, using bullhorns, and banging drums have picketed Justices’ homes in Maryland,” Curley wrote to Hogan, noting one crowd outside the home of a justice grew to more than 100 people.

The Maryland residences of Chief Justice John Roberts and justices Samuel Alito and Brett Kavanaugh have been the site of such activity. Alito and Kavanaugh were part of the majority opinion overturning Roe on June 24.

Last month, a man was arrested outside Kavanaugh’s home with a gun. Nicholas Roske, 26, allegedly told authorities he intended to kill the justice. Roske has pleaded not guilty to one count of attempting to kill a justice of the United States.

Curley in her letters pointed to a Maryland law which states a “person may not intentionally assemble with another in a manner that disrupts a person’s right to tranquility in the person’s home.” The law provides imprisonment for up to 90 days or a $100 fine.

Curley also cited a Montgomery County law that states a “person or group of persons must not picket in front of or adjacent to any private residence.”

As the Supreme Court marshal, Curley oversees security and the court's police force.

Hogan and Elrich’s offices did not immediately respond to a request for comment by ABC News.

Curley noted that Hogan previously said he was “deeply concerned” when hundreds of people gathered to protest at the justices’ homes. In mid-May, Hogan joined fellow Republican governor, Virginia's Glenn Youngkin, in urging U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to enforce a federal law that forbids demonstrations intended to sway judges on pending cases. In Virginia, the home of Justice Amy Coney Barrett has also been a target of protesters.

Elrich previously told ABC affiliate WCTI that he wished the protests were done somewhere else. "If everybody's going to protest everybody who does something at their houses, we're going to have a very hard time maintaining civil society," he said, as Curley noted in her letter.

Security has been tightened for the justices and their families since the draft abortion ruling was leaked on May 2, and the protests have been the topic of legal debate as protesters argue they are exercising their First Amendment rights.

Curley is also investigating the leak of the draft opinion. Little details have been provided about the probe, but it will likely look at the document’s paper trail, as draft opinions are not widely accessible.

The high court just ended a dramatic and divisive term, ruling on hot-button topics like abortion, gun rights, religious liberty and environmental regulation.

The justices will reconvene in October for a term that will include cases on election laws, free speech and consideration of race in college admissions processes.

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Kamala Harris to speak at Essence Festival, expected to discuss Roe overturn

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(WASHINGTON) -- Vice President Kamala Harris will travel to New Orleans on Saturday to take part in the Essence Festival of Culture.

According to White House officials, Harris will speak in "a fireside conversation with Emmy-winning actress and leading millennial voice Keke Palmer, where the Vice President will speak to the most critical issues facing Black women, including the implications of the Supreme Court's decision on [Roe v. Wade]."

"This will be the largest audience the Vice President has addressed since the Court's decision last Friday," the officials said.

The Supreme Court on June 24 overturned the landmark ruling that legalized abortion access nationwide for the past five decades.

Harris responded to the repeal of Roe that day, stating it was "the first time in the history of our nation that a constitutional right has been taken from the people of America."

"This is a health care crisis, because understand, millions of women in America will go to bed tonight without access to the health care and reproductive care that they had this morning; without access to the same healthcare or reproductive healthcare that their mothers and grandmothers had for 50 years," she said during a visit to Plainfield, Illinois.

Harris also said the decision could impact other privacy rights, including precedent on contraception and same-sex marriage.

"The great aspiration of our nation has been to expand freedom, but the expansion of freedom clearly is not inevitable," the vice president said.

The Biden administration has taken some steps to protect access to care. The Justice Department said it will protect women traveling across state lines for abortion services and Health and Human Services is working to ensure access to federally-approved medication such as contraception and the abortion pill mifepristone.

President Joe Biden met with Democratic governors on Friday to discuss additional efforts to safeguard reproductive care and women's rights.

But the president has said it's up to Congress to make Roe federal law, and without a carveout to the Senate filibuster it's unlikely any attempt to do so by Democrats will fail.

Democratic leaders have also said it's up to voters to elect more representatives who support abortion rights.

"You have the power to elect leaders who will defend and protect your rights," Harris said last week.

The Essence Festival of Culture kicked off on Thursday and will run through Sunday, featuring performances by Kevin Hart, Nicki Minak, Janet Jackson and more.

Harris, the first female and Black vice president, last spoke at the festival in 2019, when she was running for the Democratic nomination for president.

While in New Orleans, Harris will also meet privately with leaders of reproductive justice organizations.

ABC News' Molly Nagle contributed to this report.

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Military struggling to find new troops as fewer young Americans willing or able to serve

U.S. Army Reserve

(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. military has a recruiting problem, with a former senior military official telling ABC News the viability of the all-volunteer force could be at stake.

Pentagon data show a simple, troubling trend: Fewer and fewer young Americans want to serve, and due to obesity and other problems, fewer are qualified.

The Defense Department's top personnel and readiness leader blamed the nation's competitive job market as a major contributor while testifying on Capitol Hill in late April.

"The Department is in fierce competition for skilled, relevant and innovative talent. The labor market, exacerbated by the effects of the pandemic and the military-civilian divide creates a challenging recruiting environment," Gilbert Cisneros told senators at an Armed Services subcommittee hearing.

A former senior military official told ABC News that today's recruiters face a great challenge in pitching the benefits of enlisting to young people, with private companies using impressive incentives to entice prospects.

"Many of the things that we used to offer, like the GI Bill, are offered by private industry today. So they're no longer a benefit," the former senior official said.

Even the Marine Corps, which does not usually struggle to find recruits, is under pressure to meet its goals.

"We made mission last year; however, FY22 has proved to be arguably the most challenging year in recruiting history," Marine Lt. Gen. David Ottingnon said in written testimony before joining Cisneros at the Senate hearing in April. "In addition to COVID-19, the growing disconnect and declining favorable view between the U.S. population and traditional institutions, labor shortages, high inflation, and a population of youth who do not see the value of military service also continue to strain recruiting efforts and place the Marine Corps’ accession mission at risk."

Only 9% of young people now show a propensity to serve, according to Defense Department polling data shared with ABC News. It's the lowest number seen in 15 years.

Top reasons cited for not wanting to join are the possibility of injury or death, and fear of developing PTSD or other psychological problems.

But the pool of young people who meet the basic standards to enlist in the military is also shrinking.

Only 23% of Americans aged 17 to 24 are eligible to join without being granted a waiver. This is down from 29% in recent years, according to Pentagon data. Obesity and drug use are common disqualifying factors.

The former senior official, who maintains contact with active-duty leaders, said the poor shape of some incoming troops has led the Army to stop trying to have them run within the first two weeks of basic training.

"They have to teach them how to run, and they've had issues with bone density to the point that, when they do run them, they've ended up breaking a leg or worse, a hip," the former official said. "I've even heard in some cases they're putting them on diets of Ensure -- you know, the stuff for old [people] like me -- in order to build that bone density."

A second former senior military official told ABC News the problem is worse than the general public realizes.

"To the average civilian who's not knowledgeable about the situation, they think there are all kinds of kids around. Yeah, but you can't bring them in the Army if they're obese, if they've got a history of drug abuse, all these other things. So it's a much smaller population," the second former official said.

The Army slightly exceeded its enlisted active-duty recruiting goal for FY21, but has so far only met about 40% of its goal for FY22, which ends in three months.

The last few months of the fiscal quarter is usually when the Army gets most of its recruits for the year, because that's when high school graduation occurs, but an Army official acknowledged that "this is an unprecedented year." The Army is clearly behind where it would like to be.

In an attempt to expand its base of applicants, the Army this week advertised that it was "offering limited eligibility for applicants who do not have a GED or High School diploma to enlist in the Regular Army."

The Army said the opportunity was not new, and that some people without diplomas or GEDs have been able to enlist in the past, "just on a very limited basis." Prospective recruits without the standard educational credentials would have had to score at least a 50 on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, which indicates scoring in the 50th percentile.

While the opportunity was not new, it was not something actively advertised by the Army until this week.

The second former senior military official spoke of the importance diplomas held at the time they served.

"If they had graduated from high school it meant that they had started something and had finished it. And they were far more likely to succeed in the Army because of that discipline," the former official said.

On Thursday, the announcement welcoming qualifying non-graduates was removed from the Army Recruiting Command's website. Two Army officials confirmed to ABC News that the service is halting the initiative to reassess its merits.

"The Army has currently paused its efforts to take some time to ensure that this option sets recruits up for success in their Army career," one Army official with close knowledge of the decision said.

"The authorities exist, but at this stage we're not bringing them in," another Army official said. This official said it's possible Army leaders will later decide to proceed with enlisting a small group of qualifying non-graduates to see if doing so would be viable at a larger scale.

Neither official could say how many non-graduates have been able to enlist through waivers in years past.

The first former senior defense official painted a grim picture for the military as a whole.

"I have a real concern of the viability of the all-volunteer force, I really do. I don't see anything changing that's going to right this ship right now. Albeit there are a lot of good people trying to do everything they can, there are a lot of issues out there that have to be fixed," the former official said.

It would help to empower recruiters with more incentive tools, though that would mean more funding for things like enlistment bonuses and higher pay likely coming at the expense of other important military projects, according to the former official.

Cisneros told senators that a 4.6% military pay raise included in the FY23 defense budget will help, adding that he is working closely with the services to "leverage all authorities, resources and tools" to address recruiting challenges.

The second former senior military official said the recruiting problem is a sign of wider societal problems.

"It's a reflection on our country. It is our country, and those recruiters see those problems firsthand every day," the former official said.

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