Politics Headlines

Marilyn Nieves/iStockBy LAUREN LANTRY, ABC NEWS

(WASHINGTON) -- The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 ruling on Thursday, held that nearly half of Oklahoma – home to 1.8 million residents – is Native American territory, saying any Native American resident on Native American land cannot be tried in state criminal court, and instead must be tried in federal court.

“Today we are asked whether the land these treaties promised remains an Indian reservation for purposes of federal criminal law,” Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in the majority opinion.

“Because Congress has not said otherwise, we hold the government to its word,” he wrote.

Gorsuch was joined by the four liberal justices in a ruling that is one of the largest legal victories for tribes in decades.

The specific case involved Jimcy McGirt, a member of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma. Previously, an Oklahoma state court convicted McGirt of three sexual offenses, including sexually assaulting his wife’s four-year-old granddaughter. But McGirt argued that the Oklahoma state court cannot prosecute him because he is Native American, and his crime occurred on an Indian reservation.

His argument relies upon the Major Crimes Act, which gives federal authorities – not state courts – jurisdiction over crimes involving a Native American on Native American land.

“State courts generally have no jurisdiction to try Indians for conduct committed in ‘Indian country,’” Gorsuch wrote, adding, “If Mr. McGirt and the Tribe are right, the State has no right to prosecute Indians for crimes committed in a portion of Northeastern Oklahoma that includes most of the city of Tulsa. Responsibility to try these matters would fall instead to the federal government and Tribe.”

The major dispute was whether McGirt’s crimes were committed on a reservation – the majority of the court ruled that they did. According to an 1866 treaty, the land on which McGirt committed his crime was given to Native Americans and was described as a reservation.

The state of Oklahoma state, along with the four conservative dissenting justices, argued that the land was not an Indian reservation.

"But, in seeking to defend the state-court judgment below, Oklahoma has put aside whatever procedural defenses it might have and asked us to confirm that the land once given to the Creeks is no longer a reservation today,” the majority said.

In his dissenting opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts argued that the reservation land was “disestablished.”

“None of this is warranted,” Roberts wrote. “What has gone unquestioned for a century remains true today: A huge portion of Oklahoma is not a Creek Indian reservation. Congress disestablished any reservation in a series of statutes leading up to Oklahoma statehood at the turn of the 19th century. The Court reaches the opposite conclusion only by disregarding the ‘well settled’ approach required by our precedents.”

Roberts also argued that this decision could destabilize much of Oklahoma, writing “the State’s ability to prosecute serious crimes will be hobbled and decades of past convictions could well be thrown out.”

Tribal leaders insist that the decision will be less destabilizing than critics have feared. They note that the ruling does not change land ownership in eastern Oklahoma. Creek Nation officials are working with state and federal officials to design a public safety and regulatory agreement between the separate governments to maintain the area.

Gorsuch wrote that under the Constitution, states have no authority to reduce reservations within their borders – that can only be done by Congress.

In his opinion, delivered less than a week after President Donald Trump visited Mount Rushmore – a site considered sacred by many Native Americans – Gorsuch referenced the centuries-long history of Native American people and land being dominated and taken advantage of by the United States government.

“The federal government promised the Creek a reservation in perpetuity,” Gorsuch wrote towards the close of the majority’s opinion. “Over time, Congress has diminished that reservation. It has sometimes restricted and other times expanded the Tribe’s authority. But Congress has never withdrawn the promised reservation.”

“As a result, many of the arguments before us today follow a sadly familiar pattern. Yes, promises were made, but the price of keeping them has become too great, so now we should just cast a blind eye. We reject that thinking. If Congress wishes to withdraw its promises, it must say so,” Gorsuch wrote.

“For MCA purposes, land reserved for the Creek Nation since the 19th century remains ‘Indian country.’”

ABC News' Devin Dwyer contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Alex Wong/Getty ImagesBy MOLLY NAGLE and JOHN VERHOVEK, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- Former Vice President Joe Biden tore into President Donald Trump Thursday on the incumbent's signature issue, the economy, seeking to cast him as a divisive and incompetent leader while unveiling the first major plank of his economic recovery plan.

"Donald Trump may believe that pitting Americans against Americans will benefit him. I don't," Biden said, arguing that Trump has demonstrated an inability to manage the raft of crises that have engulfed his presidency in the months leading up to the November election.

"We have a health crisis, an economic crisis, a racial justice crisis, a climate crisis. We need to come together to solve these crises, to solve them as Americans. This is our moment to imagine and to build a new American economy for our families and for our communities," the presumptive Democratic nominee said in a speech after touring a metal works factory in Dunmore, Pennsylvania, just outside of his hometown of Scranton.

The remarks came in concert with the release of the first part of Biden's "Build Back Better" economy plan, which focuses on a domestic manufacturing and innovation strategy that the campaign says will create 5 million new jobs, in addition to the jobs lost due to the coronavirus pandemic.

"The Biden plan to ensure the future is 'made in all of America' by all of America's workers" will look to counter steps taken by Trump in office, including the Trump tax cuts, which the campaign argues has led to an increase in foreign investments over domestic investments, and Trump's highly touted trade agreement with China.

Biden also took aim at Trump's 2016 campaign promises in the remarks, questioning what results the president had to show for issues including jobs, health care and manufacturing.

"Donald Trump loves to talk and talk and talk, but after three and a half years of big promises, what do the American people have to show for all the talk?" Biden asked.

"He promised to bring back jobs and manufacturing. It was in recession even before COVID-19. He promised to buy American, then he let federal contractors double the rate of offshoring jobs in his first 18 months. I'm going to change that," the former vice president continued.

Biden blasted what he characterized as the Trump administration's "incompetence" in dealing with the virus, arguing that Trump has "simply given up" the fight against stopping it's spread, and is instead solely focused on the fortunes of the stock market and their effect on his reelection prospects.

"When it comes to COVID-19, after months of doing nothing, other than predicting the virus would disappear or maybe, if you drank bleach, you may be okay, Trump has simply given up," Biden said.

"The truth is throughout this crisis, Donald Trump has been almost singularly focused on the stock market, the Dow and NASDAQ. Not you. Not your families," he added.

Biden's pivot to the economy, which has entered a recession spurred by the coronavirus crisis, comes as recent polling still shows Trump with a slight advantage over his Democratic rival when it comes to voters' attitudes on the topic. In a Quinnipiac University poll conducted in mid-June, Trump retained a 5-point advantage over Biden when voters were asked who would do a better job handling the economy.

The campaign says Biden's new plan includes a "Buy American" aspect, based on the premise that "when we spend taxpayer money, we should buy American products and support American jobs," and is meant to be a comprehensive "manufacturing and innovation strategy [that] will marshall the resources of the federal government in ways that we have not seen since World War II."

The plan, the campaign says, is not just a response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has decimated parts of the American economy, but is also a broader roadmap to a more equitable economy.

The manufacturing aspect of the plan includes a $400 billion "procurement investment" that, together with the former vice president's clean energy and infrastructure plan, will "power new demand for American products, materials and services and ensure that they are shipped on U.S.-flagged cargo carriers," according to the Biden campaign.

The procurement portion of Biden's policy is designed to support small businesses, particularly those owned by people of color and women, according to the policy release, and will also require businesses receiving funds from the investment to commit to a $15 minimum wage, paid leave and the guaranteed option to join a union.

Biden will also seek to work with allies to "modernize international trade rules and associated domestic regulations regarding government procurement," according to the policy proposal.

Biden is also proposing an additional $300 billion in research and development spending on "breakthrough technologies," like electric vehicles, lightweight materials, 5G and artificial intelligence. A portion of the proposed investment will also go directly to federal funding for research through entities like the National Institutes of Health.

The campaign did not give specific guidance on how the policy will be paid for, but said that recurring costs of the plan over 10 years would be paid in full, with a payment plan that will be rolled out with other portions of the larger policy. However, it left open the possibility of additional one-time stimulus investments that may not be covered in the proposed plan.

The campaign argues that the current economic situation calls for a "robust jobs agenda," that will off-set the precipitous decrease in demand and growth caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Today's elevated unemployment will mean lower demand, which will mean lower growth for our economy (which relies on consumption). A robust jobs agenda will increase demand," the campaign argued, saying broad investments now are necessary to improve both the long and short-term health of the economy.

Biden's trip to Pennsylvania on Thursday was his fifth to the critical swing state since the COVID-19 pandemic largely brought in-person campaigning to a halt, and marked Biden's first trip near his hometown of Scranton since October 2019.

The native Pennsylvanian also made a stop at his childhood home while in town, saying he "couldn't come to Scranton without coming by the old house."

In addition to the specific pillar Biden laid out, the campaign also previewed the other three pillars that together make up his plan, which includes mobilization plans across a number of different policy areas, including infrastructure, technological innovation, a "caregiving and education workforce" and racial equality that will be announced in the coming weeks.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


iStock/SeanPavonePhoto(WASHINGTON) -- BY: IVAN PEREIRA, ABC News

The statehouse in Mississippi has been closed as a surge in novel coronavirus cases now includes at least 26 lawmakers -- both representatives and senators -- and 10 Capitol employees.

"That number will certainly grow," Dr. Thomas Dobbs, the state's health officer, said at a news conference on Wednesday, when at least five of the state's largest hospitals reported having zero available ICU beds, forcing patients to be sent out of state.

Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann, who presides over the Senate, and House Speaker Philip Gunn are among those infected. Both are self-quarantining at home. In videos that captured recent sessions, several lawmakers were seen not wearing face coverings.

The Legislature, which last was in session on July 1, voted in late June to pass a bill removing the Confederate flag emblem from the Mississippi state flag.

But the Legislature still hasn't passed a budget for the next fiscal year, according to Gov. Tate Reeves, who added that lawmakers won't meet for at least 14 days to help prevent the virus from spreading further.

"There is and was a significant risk to a large number of people gathering in the state Capitol," Reeves said during a news conference.

A Mississippi Health Department spokeswoman said the agency still is conducting tests and outreach for anyone who was in contact with state leaders. Health officials are urging all staff members to get tested, self-quarantine for two weeks and monitor their symptoms.

Reeves said he's concerned about delaying the budget, particularly when it comes to funding for agencies like the Department of Marine Resources, which monitors safety patrols, but that he's worked out an emergency plan to keep the department funded.

"We are in the middle of a public health crisis, and we have to make decisions on risk and reward," Reeves said. "In my opinion, it is too high of a risk for legislators to come back at least for the next 14 days."

Mississippi's Health Department said that as of Thursday afternoon, the state had 33,591 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 1,204 deaths, with 703 cases and 16 deaths reported on Wednesday. Jackson, Mississippi, the capital, had reported 727 confirmed cases and 17 related deaths.

The state has seen a gradual increase in new daily cases since June, when all businesses were allowed to reopen, health department data shows.

Reeves said he's considering stricter measures to control the outbreak, including a statewide mask mandate. Reeves blamed residents and businesses for ignoring his calls to wear a mask on their own and avoid crowds.

"We believe very strongly if you wear a mask you can save yourself and your neighbors," he said. "Wearing a mask can slow the spread of this virus."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



In an exclusive interview with ABC News, Attorney General William Barr announced the creation of a new nationwide law enforcement initiative -- dubbed 'Operation Legend' -- intended to send federal resources to states and cities seeing a recent surge in violent crime.

In an opening act for the operation, a group of more than 100 FBI agents, U.S. Marshals, DEA agents and ATF agents will be dispatched to Kansas City, Missouri, in the coming weeks following a request from Missouri Gov. Mike Parson.

"The president recently said to states and cities that the federal government is ready, willing and able to to come in and help," Barr said in an exclusive interview with ABC News' senior Justice Correspondent Pierre Thomas. "The city of Kansas City -- they've had -- a serious spiking in crime, particularly murders. They're on pace to set all records of murders for that city, so we are going to go in."

According to the Kansas City Police Department, the city has already seen 99 homicides as of Thursday, in comparison with 74 at this point in the summer of 2019 -- a roughly 40% increase. It is also nearly double the number of homicides at this point in 2016, when there were only 54 homicides in Kansas City.

Among those killed in recent weeks was 4-year-old LeGend Taliferro, who was killed while sleeping in his bed on June 29.

According to his family, Taliferro had survived open-heart surgery as an infant and was scheduled for another operation soon.

"My daughter had open-heart surgery at a comparable age and I remember how stressful it was for our family," Barr said, in explaining the decision to name 'Operation Legend' after Taliferro. "The idea of your child surviving that and, you know, the joy you would feel to see your kid pull through something like that and then have them shot in the face, it affected me a lot."

While the federal assistance to Kansas City came following the request of the state's Republican governor, it's not clear whether the initiative would extend to other major cities like Chicago and New York where both local and state leaders have been skeptical about calls from President Donald Trump to surge federal assistance in response to crime increases.

For instance, Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas issued a statement following the DOJ announcement noting he wasn't consulted or made aware at all about the operation.

"I learned on Twitter this afternoon that the Department of Justice plans to send federal investigators to Kansas City as support for unsolved homicide and non-fatal shooting investigations," Lucas said. "As I understand the Department’s plan, any outside help will not be used for regular policing or patrol activities -- and solely to clear unsolved murders and shootings."

"I plan and hope to learn more about this effort over the days ahead. The investigative support effort announced this afternoon can be only one tool out of many, such as mental health treatment and restorative justice, in addressing violent crime," Lucas added.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday struggled to say what federal guidance might look like for the nation’s schools to reopen this fall, after the president said the current advice was too tough and Vice President Mike Pence promised a new approach next week.

In an exclusive interview with ABC’s “Good Morning America” Thursday, CDC Director Robert Redfield said no revisions would be made to the guidance.

"Should the doctors and scientists at the CDC be taking that kind of political direction from the president?" ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos asked.

Redfield did not directly answer the question but said he wanted to "clarify" that the guidance isn't actually changing.

“It's not a revision of the guidelines, it's just to provide additional information to help the schools be able to use the guidance that we put forward,” Redfield said.

But just Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence said changes were coming to make sure the guidelines are not “too tough” after the president tweeted earlier in the day that the guidance was "very tough & expensive guidelines for opening schools.”

"The president said today we just don’t want the guidance to be too tough," Pence said during a press briefing with the coronavirus task force. "That's the reason why, next week, CDC is going to be issuing a new set of tools, five different documents that will be giving even more clarity on the guidance going forward."

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany downplayed the discrepancy, insisting that the White House and Dr. Redfield are on “on the same page."

“The CDC director noted that there would be additional guidance. The vice president noted that as well. But we’re on the same page with with Dr. Redfield,” she said. “I think Dr. Redfield was noting he doesn’t plan to rescind the current guidance that’s out there. It will be supplemental guidance.”

Current CDC guidelines for schools recommend that schools maximize spacing between students’ desks, promote social distancing, have students to eat in classrooms rather than the cafeteria, among other recommendations.

Under repeated questioning Thursday, Redfield would not say whether any of those guidelines would actually be changed as a result of the president’s demand but instead stressed that the guidelines are “intentionally non-prescriptive.”

“Are you revising any of those at the direction of the president?” Stephanopoulos asked.

“Right now we're continuing to work with the local jurisdictions on how they want to take the portfolio of guidance we've given to make them practical for their schools to reopen,” Redfield said.

While stressed the empowerment of local jurisdictions on one hand as he stressed the non-binding nature of the scientifically-based data that his agency has produced, he also sought to push the administration line in calling for schools to be fully operational in the fall.

“The one thing I really want to say that would personally sadden me and I know my agency is in individuals were to use these that we put out as a rationale to keep schools closed,” Redfield said.

“No one wants to keep the schools closed but everybody wants to make sure they're safe before they are open again. That's what I keep trying to ask you about," Stephanopoulous followed up. "Which of these guidelines are looking to relax? Should students be six feet apart?” Stephanopoulos asked.

“I think we have to continue to work with the schools to look between the six feet apart, wearing face coverings, social distancing in seating, looking at changes in schedule to have different crowding. As I said, there is a whole portfolio that the schools can look at to see what's the right mix for them,” he said.

While President Trump has said on Twitter that ““SCHOOLS MUST OPEN IN THE FALL!!!” and has threatened to cut off funding to jurisdictions that don’t reopen, decisions about school reopening are at the local level and the president has little to no authority at the federal level to order schools to reopen.

While Pence signaled Wednesday that the administration could seek to leverage funding in the next coronavirus relief package to pressure localities to bend to their will, he acknowledged that the president’s threat carries limited punch.

“I think 90 percent of education funding comes from the states; roughly 10 percent, depending on states’ budgets, come from the federal government,” Pence said when asked by ABC News about the president’s threat to cut funding. “And as we work with Congress on the next round of state support, we're going to be looking for ways to give states a strong incentive and an encouragement to get kids back to school.”

In a later evolution of the administration’s position, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said Thursday in an interview with Fox News that the Trump administration isn’t actually threatening to pull federal funding but is instead considering “allowing families to take that money and figure out where the kids can get educated if their schools refuse to open.”

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



(NEW YORK) -- Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's former personal attorney, was taken back into federal custody Thursday in what his attorney said was a surprise decision that felt like "the rug had been pulled out from underneath" his client.

Cohen was released in May from federal custody to his Manhattan home on "furlough," according to the Bureau of Prisons, after the Department of Justice released him and other prisoners from federal detention facilities due to coronavirus concerns.

Cohen, 53, was in Manhattan federal court Thursday to arrange the conditions of his home confinement but the hearing ended with him being placed in handcuffs.

"On May 21, 2020, Mr. Cohen was placed on furlough pending placement on home confinement," a Bureau of Prisons official said in a statement. "Today, Michael Cohen refused the conditions of his home confinement and as a result, has been returned to a BOP facility."

"This is not what we came here to do today," Cohen's attorney, Jeffrey Levine, said after Cohen had been taken back into custody. "We came here to work out the terms and conditions of his home confinement."

Cohen was presented with the conditions of his home confinement and had no problem with the stipulations until he was told he could have "no engagement of any kind with the media, including print, TV, film, books, or other form of media/news," and that he couldn't use social media, according to a source.

Cohen said he had a problem with the language and said, "Let's work this out" before he was told to enter a waiting room, the source said.

"The next thing we knew, 90 minutes later, the marshals are coming with the shackles," said the source.

Cohen, who has been using his Twitter account frequently since he was released in May, has a book deal and did not want to relinquish the right to publish just because he was on home confinement, the source said.

"BOP just didn't want to have anything to do with working any language out," Levine said.

Cohen was taken to Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, the same federal facility currently holding Ghislaine Maxwell.

In 2018 Cohen admitted to violating campaign finance laws over payments made to women who alleged having affairs with Trump years before his 2016 presidential campaign, and he admitted lying to Congress while under oath about a Moscow real estate project Trump and his company pursued while Trump was trying to secure the Republican nomination for president.

Cohen was originally serving his three-year sentence in New York State's Otisville Correctional Facility and was slated to be released from custody in 2021.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Official White House Photo by Tia DufourBy DEVIN DWYER, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- In a history-making decision on Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled President Donald Trump cannot claim "absolute immunity" from criminal investigation while in office and may need to comply with a New York grand jury subpoena seeking his personal financial records.

The decision is a major legal defeat for Trump, although it remains highly unlikely the public will see the president's tax returns or financial records before Election Day. If the records are turned over in the grand jury probe, by law they must remain secret.

Chief Justice John Roberts, writing the 7-2 majority opinion, concluded that "no citizen, not even the President, is categorically above the common duty to produce evidence when called upon in a criminal proceeding."

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance is seeking 10 years of tax returns for Trump and his businesses as part of a probe into possible state tax fraud.

"The President is neither absolutely immune from state criminal subpoenas seeking his private papers nor entitled to a heightened standard of need," Roberts said.

But in a nod to the unique position of the presidency, Roberts returned the case to a lower court to allow Trump to "raise further arguments as appropriate," such as claims about the subpoenas' burden on his official duties.

"The court today unanimously concludes that a president does not possess absolute immunity from a state criminal subpoena, but also unanimously agrees that this case should be remanded to the district court, where the president may raise constitutional and legal objections to the subpoena as appropriate," wrote Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch, the president's two appointees to the high court, in a concurring opinion.

Given the further proceedings, it was not immediately clear how soon the New York grand jury could potentially receive the documents.

“This is a tremendous victory for our nation’s system of justice and its founding principle that no one – not even a president – is above the law," Vance said in a statement. "Our investigation, which was delayed for almost a year by this lawsuit, will resume, guided as always by the grand jury’s solemn obligation to follow the law and the facts, wherever they may lead.”

Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito both filed dissenting opinions, suggesting President Trump deserves greater deference from subpoenas given the nature of his job.

"The court's decision threatens to impair the functioning of the presidency and provides no real protection against the use of the subpoena power by the nation's 2,300 local prosecutors," Alito wrote.

Trump tweeted shortly after the decision was revealed that the matter is a "political prosecution."


The Supreme Court sends case back to Lower Court, arguments to continue. This is all a political prosecution. I won the Mueller Witch Hunt, and others, and now I have to keep fighting in a politically corrupt New York. Not fair to this Presidency or Administration!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 9, 2020



Courts in the past have given “broad deference”. BUT NOT ME!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 9, 2020

But the president's attorneys said they were "pleased."

"We are pleased that in the decisions issued today, the Supreme Court has temporarily blocked both Congress and New York prosecutors from obtaining the President’s tax records. We will now proceed to raise additional Constitutional and legal issues in the lower courts," Counsel to the President Jay Sekulow said in a statement on the New York case and on a second case in which the court blocked four congressional subpoenas, also sending the matter back to a lower court.

Later Thursday, Trump, speaking at a White House event, said he is partly satisfied with the rulings, calling them "purely political," part of a "political witch hunt" and a "hoax."

"Well, the court rulings were basically starting all over again, sending everything back down to the lower courts and to start all over again, and so, from a certain point, I’m satisfied," Trump said during a roundtable with Hispanic leaders. "From another point, I’m not satisfied because frankly, this is a political witch hunt, the likes of which nobody’s ever seen before. It’s a pure witch hunt. It’s a hoax. Just like the Mueller investigation was a hoax that I won. And this is another hoax. This is purely political."

In the case of Trump v. Mazars USA LLP and Trump v. Deutsche Bank AG & Capital One, House committees subpoenaed a sweeping array of Trump personal and business records predating his time in the White House, including bank statements, engagement letters, personal checks, loan applications and tax returns. They say the information is critical to drafting of federal ethics laws, anti-corruption legislation and campaign finance rules involving presidents.

When Trump's personal accounting firm and three financial institutions used by him and his business were initially subpoenaed for the information, in both cases, Trump intervened to block the third parties from complying. He has lost at every level in lower federal courts.

Trump is the only modern American president to have not publicly released tax returns or divest from major business interests while in office.

“The Supreme Court today confirmed that the president is not above the law. The court ruled that President Trump must follow the law, like the rest of us. And that includes responding to subpoenas for his tax records," said ACLU national legal director David Cole.

“There’s a lot of play left in these cases," said Philip Hackney, an associate professor in the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.

"SCOTUS ruled in favor in the Vance case, but we may never see Trump’s tax records anytime soon. Trump still has defenses he can raise," Hackney said.

ABC News' Elizabeth Thomas contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


YinYang/iStockBy DEVIN DWYER, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday blocked subpoenas from congressional Democrats for President Donald Trump's personal and business financial records but kept open the possibility that they could ultimately be enforced.

Chief Justice John Roberts, in a 7-2 opinion, reversed a lower court decision upholding four congressional subpoenas for the records, saying that it failed to adequately account for "weighty concerns regarding the separation of powers."

Roberts returned the case to lower courts for a reexamination of the subpoenas in light of those concerns. He did not rule out the possibility that the House subpoenas could be enforced in the future, but delayed, for now, the prospect that the documents will be turned over to Democrats before the November election.

Three Democratic-led House committees have sought a sweeping array of Trump personal and business financial records -- more than 10 years worth, many predating his time in the White House -- including financial statements, loan engagement letters, bank statements, credit card statements, personal checks, loan applications and tax returns.

The lawmakers have said the information is critical to drafting federal ethics laws concerning the presidency, anti-corruption legislation and campaign finance rules. They are also continuing to pursue possible improper financial ties between Trump and Russia.

"We have never addressed a congressional subpoena for the president's information," Roberts writes.

"We have held that each house has power to secure needed information in order to legislate," he said, affirming the power of Congress to legitimately subpoena the president.

At the same time, the Roberts concluded that power is not unchecked: "Without limits on its subpoena powers, Congress could exert an imperious control over the executive branch and aggrandize itself at the president's expense, just as the framers feared."

Roberts, deliberately not invalidating the subpoenas, said a lower could would need to perform additional "careful analysis" using criteria laid out in his opinion to determine whether or not they serve "significant legislative interests of Congress" and respect the unique burdens of the presidency.

Justices Thomas and Alito dissented.

"Congress' legislative powers do not authorize it to engage in a nationwide inquisition with whatever resources it chooses to appropriate for itself," Thomas wrote. "The power that Congress seeks to exercise here has even less basis in the Constitution that the majority supposes."

President Trump's legal team called the ruling -- along with a decision in a related case on a New York grand jury subpoena -- a legal victory.

"We are pleased that in the decisions issued today, the Supreme Court has temporarily blocked both Congress and New York prosecutors from obtaining the President’s tax records. We will now proceed to raise additional Constitutional and legal issues in the lower courts," Counsel to the President Kay Sekulow said in a statement.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, seizing on Roberts' affirmation of Congress' subpoena power, cast the decision as a victory for congressional oversight of the president.

"A careful reading of the Supreme Court rulings related to the President’s financial records is not good news for President Trump," Pelosi said in a statement. “The Court has reaffirmed the Congress’s authority to conduct oversight on behalf of the American people, as it asks for further information from the Congress."

"We will continue to press our case in the lower courts,” she added.

House Democrats face protracted litigation, which could potentially return to the Supreme Court, over the scope of their subpoenas and implications on the separation of powers. The lengthy process all but guarantees the committees will not receive the documents before the fall election.

"An important win today for the pillars of separation of powers and federalism," tweeted Carrie Severino, president of the Judicial Crisis Network, a conservative legal advocacy group. "These values are at the very heart of our Constitutional structure, and today they were upheld in a 7-2 opinion authored by the Chief Justice."

In a separate but related case handed down just minutes before, Roberts, writing for a 7-2 majority, said Trump did not have absolute immunity from subpoenas for his tax returns and other financial records sought by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance in a grand jury investigation.

"The conventional wisdom that this would be a split decision held: the president doesn’t have absolute immunity from state grand jury subpoenas but Congress doesn’t have carte blanche to engage in a fishing expedition against the chief executive," said Ilya Shapiro, a constitutional scholar with the Cato Institute. "Both cases will now continue, and won’t ultimately be resolved until after the election."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


uschools/iStockBy BENJAMIN SIEGEL, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- Geoffrey Berman, the former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York fired by President Donald Trump, told House lawmakers on Thursday that Attorney General Bill Barr repeatedly asked him to resign in a private meeting before his removal, and warned that his firing could damage his reputation.

“The Attorney General said that if I did not resign from my position I would be fired,” Berman said in an opening statement to the House Judiciary Committee obtained by ABC News. “He added that getting fired from my job would not be good for my resume or future job prospects.”

“I told him that while I did not want to get fired, I would not resign,” he said, adding that the effort to replace him "would have been unprecedented, unnecessary and unexplained."

The account – shared with lawmakers as part of their investigation into Berman’s firing and the politicization of the Justice Department -- raises new questions about the extraordinary June standoff between one of the nation’s most prominent federal prosecutors and the attorney general.

On Friday, June 19, Barr announced that Berman had resigned, and would be replaced by the U.S. attorney in New Jersey in an acting capacity until the Senate confirmed Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Jay Clayton for the post.

Berman fired back in a statement of his own, denying that he had resigned and claiming that he had learned of the change from the Justice Department’s press release. The standoff eventually led President Trump to formally fire Berman, and replace him with his deputy, Audrey Strauss.

In his statement to lawmakers, Berman said that Barr was not unhappy with his performance, and only said he wanted him to step down from the post “because the Administration wanted to get Jay Clayton into that position.”

“I told the Attorney General that there were important investigations in the Office that I wanted to see through to completion,” he said.

Barr and the administration faced intense criticism over Berman’s removal, given the number of high profile and politically-sensitive investigations he supervised at the Southern District.

Under his leadership, the office prosecuted the president’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, and continues to investigate Trump personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani.

The Southern District of New York has also investigated fundraising for the president’s inauguration, and Giuliani associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who, like the former New York City mayor, featured in events related to Trump’s impeachment. Parnas and Fruman were charged with campaign finance violations in October 2019.

Democrats are investigating what they say is a pattern of actions from Barr and the Justice Department that are overtly political and in service of the president’s personal interests.

In June, the committee heard testimony from two whistleblowers who alleged that Justice Department leadership inappropriately intervened in typically-sensitive law enforcement matters – related to the sentencing of Trump ally Roger Stone, and antitrust investigations into the marijuana industry - for political reasons and to benefit Trump's interests.

Democrats plan to release a transcript of the interview with Berman in the coming weeks.

Barr, in an interview with ABC News on Wednesday, said Berman’s firing “was not a question of removing him because of any deficiency on his part,” and said it was “ludicrous” to suggest that the move was an effort to exert influence over the office’s investigations.

“Anyone who knows the department knows that even if one were interested in trying to influence a case you wouldn't do it by removing the head of the office,” he said.

“That's simply not how the Southern District of New York or the department as a whole operates,” he continued. “So it's actually ludicrous, and I felt it was just simply not a plausible basis for not making a change there.

Barr is scheduled to testify before the panel on July 28.

ABC News' Katherine Faulders contributed to this report.

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(WASHINGTON) -- The federal investigation into convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein and his alleged co-conspirators is marching forward -- with or without Prince Andrew's cooperation, according to Attorney General William Barr.

In an exclusive interview with ABC News, Barr said the Justice Department continues to gather evidence in connection with the case, including the pursuit of an interview with the British royal.

"Definitely the department wants to talk to Prince Andrew, that's why the Southern District has been making efforts to communicate and to arrange interview with him," Barr said. "The department is communicating with him and made it clear that we'd like to interview him."

Federal prosecutors in New York formally requested testimony from Prince Andrew last month as part of its criminal investigation into the alleged co-conspirators of Epstein, two officials familiar with the matter told ABC News at the time. Prince Andrew is being sought as a witness and is not the target of the investigation, ABC News previously reported.

Geoffrey Berman, the then-U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of New York, slammed Prince Andrew's failure to cooperate with investigators last month.

"If Prince Andrew is, in fact, serious about cooperating with the ongoing federal investigation, our doors remain open, and we await word of when we should expect him," Berman said.

Whether Prince Andrew agrees to an interview, investigators continue their work, Barr said. Last week, FBI agents arrested Ghislaine Maxwell, the former companion of Epstein.

From at least 1994 to 1997, Maxwell assisted, facilitated and contributed to Epstein's alleged abuse of minor girls, a six-count indictment claimed. On Monday, she arrived in New York, where she was transferred to the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn.

Nearly one year after Epstein's suicide in federal custody, Barr said he remains "livid" -- and made assurances that Maxwell would not meet the same fate.

Barr said he has asked those responsible for her safety to relay, "specifically the protocols they're following, and we have a number redundancy systems to monitor the situation."

"I believe very strongly in that case and I was very proud of the work done by the department, the Southern District, on that case," Barr said.

"And as you will recall, after he committed suicide I said that I was confident that we would continue to pursue this case vigorously and -- pursue anyone who's complicit in it," he continued. "And so I'm very happy that we were able to get Miss Maxwell."

Maxwell is scheduled for a remote detention hearing July 14.

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Official White House Photo by Tia DufourBy WILL STEAKIN and OLIVIA RUBIN, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump's campaign rally in late June, as well as the accompanying counterprotests, likely contributed to the area's recent spike in coronavirus cases, Tulsa City-County Health Department Director Dr. Bruce Dart said Wednesday.

"In the past few days, we've seen almost 500 new cases, and we had several large events just over two weeks ago, so I guess we just connect the dots," Dart said at a press conference.

Dart, who said prior to the rally he'd recommended it be postponed over health concerns, added on Wednesday that "significant events in the past few weeks" had "more than likely contributed" to Tulsa County's surge in cases.

Tulsa County reported 261 new cases on Tuesday, a new record high. The state also broke records this week with 858 new cases on Tuesday and 673 on Wednesday.

"We continue to go up and are at a new peak," Dr. Dale Bratzler, the chief COVID-19 officer at the University of Oklahoma, told ABC News Monday.

Hospitals in the area are also beginning to report strain. Hillcrest HealthCare System, a major provider in Oklahoma with two hospitals in Tulsa, is nearly at capacity.

"We are running at 90-95% inpatient capacity in our Hillcrest Tulsa metro hospitals and ICUs," Dr. Guy Sneed, the chief medical officer at Hillcrest HealthCare System, told ABC News. "Many of our COVID patients are very sick and require ICU services, including mechanical ventilator support. Some are also requiring ECMO services."

"So, the strain on our existing hospital resources remains high, as it does for the other Tulsa area acute care hospitals," he added.

In the lead-up to last month's event, health experts raised concerns that the president's rally could end up being a dangerous event in terms of possible infections.

"I'm really very concerned about this event being a superspreader-type event where there will be potentially many people coming out of this who were exposed and could become sick from COVID-19," Dr. Lena Wen, an emergency physician and public health professor at George Washington University told ABC News.

And when asked on Wednesday why the president continues to hold campaign rallies amid the ongoing pandemic, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said it's "people's individual choice as to whether to go," and noted that the campaign handed out masks.

McEnany also said she had "no data to indicate" that the Tulsa rally contributed to the surge in cases.

In a statement to ABC News, the Trump campaign looked to deflect attention toward the ongoing protests for racial justice, targeting "the media" when asked about Tulsa health officials suggesting the president's rally contributed to surge in cases.

"There were literally no health precautions to speak of as thousands looted, rioted and protested in the streets and the media reported that it did not lead to a rise in coronavirus cases," Tim Murtaugh, the Trump campaign's communications director, said. "Meanwhile, the president's rally was 18 days ago, all attendees had their temperature checked, everyone was provided a mask, and there was plenty of hand sanitizer available for all. It's obvious that the media's concern about large gatherings begins and ends with Trump rallies."

While the Trump campaign conducted temperature checks and handed out masks and hand sanitizer in Tulsa, social distancing was not enforced, and most rallygoers did not wear masks inside the arena.

At least eight Trump campaign advance staffers in Tulsa, two of which attended the rally, tested positive for the virus.

Former 2012 presidential candidate Herman Cain, 74 -- who attended the Tulsa rally as a Trump campaign surrogate and was photographed inside the arena not wearing a mask -- has spent the week in the hospital after testing positive for the coronavirus.

The national chair of the Trump Victory Finance Committee, Kimberly Guilfoyle, who is dating the president's eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., tested positive for the coronavirus while in South Dakota for the president's Fourth of July speech. Guilfoyle also attended the Tulsa rally and was photographed not wearing a mask at the event.

The president will hold his second large-scale official campaign rally amid the ongoing pandemic on Saturday in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, despite surges in cases around the country. The Trump campaign will again not require attendees to wear masks and social distancing won't be enforced. Staffers will do temperature checks and pass out hand sanitizer and masks.

Each person who attended Trump's rally in Tulsa, and will attend Saturday's event in New Hampshire, must agree to a waiver that says they won't sue the president's campaign if they get sick.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



(WASHINGTON) -- Attorney General William Barr offered a forceful defense of the Justice Department's independence on Wednesday amid criticism that its work has been leveraged as a political tool for President Donald Trump.

"Where independence is most important and, in fact, essential is in the administration of criminal justice -- the decisions to charge people or not charge people," Barr said in an exclusive interview with ABC News.

"I'd like to hear some examples of people we've charged that they think were unrighteous cases to bring," he added. "And I haven't seen any specifics on that."

During his tenure as the nation's chief law enforcement official, Barr has overseen several high-profile investigations, including multiple cases tied to the president's 2016 campaign and a subsequent investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller.

Since taking office nearly a year-and-a-half ago, Barr has perpetually faced criticism from those who say he has politicized his role. That criticism dates back to his handling of the Mueller probe’s conclusion, including the rollout of the special counsel’s report. Congressional Democrats and former Justice Department officials have at times called for his resignation or impeachment, citing misuse of his office for political errands.

Perhaps most notably, the attorney general has drawn particularly strong scrutiny for his intervention in the government's case against Michael Flynn, the president's first national security adviser.

In 2017, Mueller charged Flynn with one count of lying to federal investigators. Though he twice pleaded guilty to the charge, the Justice Department dropped its case in May after Barr assigned a U.S. attorney to investigate the genesis of the government's case.

"[The U.S. attorney] came back and said that he didn't think anyone in the department would prosecute that case or charge that case," Barr said.

"And in fact, the documents that have recently been released indicate that the FBI felt that he had not lied. And this was not, as later spun, that he didn't show signs of lying," Barr continued. "They said they didn't think he lied. That he believed what he was saying was true. And there are a number of other facts there that made us feel that that was not a case that met our standards of prosecution."

Pressed on why then Flynn twice pleaded guilty, Barr declined to speculate. In May, more than 2,000 former federal prosecutors called on Barr to resign over what they described as his improper intervention into Flynn's case.

Barr also reacted to the case of former campaign adviser to Trump, political operative Roger Stone, who in February was sentenced to 40 months in prison after he was found guilty in November of obstructing justice, witness tampering and five counts of lying to Congress.

Barr reiterated that he thought Stone's prosecution was "righteous," and defended his decision to object to a stricter sentence for Stone, which he called "excessive."

In recent weeks, Stone has publicly advocated for presidential intervention ahead of his scheduled arrival in custody. The longtime political operative has flooded social media in recent weeks expressing concern over his own health if sent to prison, citing the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

On Twitter, Trump has fueled speculation that a pardon or commutation of Stone's sentence may be in the works, retweeting a message, "IT'S TIME TO #PardonRogerStone."

Barr said a prospective intervention is "the president's prerogative."

"It's a unique power that the president has," he added. "And it's certainly something that is committed to his judgment. But as I say, I felt it was an appropriate prosecution and I thought the sentence was fair."

More recently, Barr has faced criticism for the dismissal of Geoffrey Berman as U.S. attorney in the powerful Southern District of New York. In a statement last month, issued late on a Friday, Barr announced Berman had decided to step down from his position to make way for the president's official nominee for the post, outgoing SEC Commissioner Jay Clayton. Barr also sought to install the US attorney for New Jersey, Craig Carpenito, to replace Berman until Clayton's confirmation, but Berman contradicted Barr saying he never planned to step down. After a period of uncertainty as to how the matter would be resolved, Barr instead moved to fire Berman and handed over control of the office to his immediate deputy, Audrey Strauss.

"This was not a question of removing him because of any deficiency on his part," Barr said.

Berman's removal came two years into a tenure that included the prosecution of Michael Cohen, the arrest of Jeffrey Epstein and charges filed against two associates of Rudy Giuliani at the heart of the Ukraine impeachment inquiry.

Barr said it would be "ludicrous" to suggest that Berman was removed as a result of any ongoing investigation under his watch.

"Anyone who knows the department knows that, even if one were interested in trying to influence a case, you wouldn't do it by removing the head of the office," Barr said. "That's simply not how the Southern District of New York or the department as a whole operates. So it's actually ludicrous and I felt it was just simply not a plausible basis for not making a change there."

Berman is slated to appear before the House of Representatives on Thursday.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


michaelquirk/iStockBy JOHN SANTUCCI, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- In the new book from Mary Trump, the niece of President Donald Trump, one of the most explosive allegations is that the president hired a friend of his named Joe Shapiro to take the SAT exam so that he would have a better shot at transferring from college at Fordham University to the more prestigious Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

Now, the widow of a man named Joe Shapiro said if the book is referencing her late husband, who was a friend of Trump, she is confident the accusation is false.

"He always did the right thing, and that's why this hurts," Pam Shriver said of her late husband, an attorney and a former executive of the Walt Disney Company. Shapiro died in 1999 after a battle with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Shriver, an ESPN tennis analyst and former highly-ranked professional tennis player, said Shapiro was friends with Trump, but said it was her understanding that they did not meet until after Trump had transferred to Wharton for his junior year. Joe Shapiro was an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania on the same campus.

"They shared a love of golf," Shriver remembered, adding that Shapiro and Trump did keep in touch a bit over the years, and they visited him a few times at Trump Tower in New York City.

"When you put somebody's name in print in a book, you want to make sure the facts around it are correct, especially if they are not living because it's not like Joe is here and he would have known how to deal with this," Shriver said.

She said she was contacted by a journalist with this accusation years ago and refuted it at the time.

"It feels unfair," she said.

Shriver said over the years she has seen Trump at various tennis events, and every time the president greeted her, saying, "Joe Shapiro was the smartest man I ever met."

In her book, Too Much and Never Enough, How my Family Created the World's Most Dangerous Man, Mary Trump, who is the daughter of the president's late elder brother, Fred Trump, Jr., alleges that Trump paid his "buddy" Joe Shapiro to take the SAT for the would-be president.

"To hedge his bets he enlisted Joe Shapiro, a smart kid with a reputation for being a good test taker, to take his SATs for him. That was much easier to pull off in the days before photo IDs and computerized records. Donald, who never lacked for funds, paid his buddy well," Mary Trump writes, offering no proof or attribution for the accusation.

The White House fired back in a statement Tuesday saying, "The absurd SAT allegation is completely false."

Mary Trump's publisher, Simon & Schuster, said in a statement it stands by the contents of the book, which is slated to be published July 14.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


State Department Photo by Ronny Przysucha / Public DomainBy CONOR FINNEGAN, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- The United States is leading the world in the number of COVID-19 deaths and cases, but Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that doesn't mean the U.S. isn't also leading the world's response.

During a press conference Wednesday, he defended America's role in the world amid the global shock at what many see as the botched U.S. response to the pandemic and President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw from the World Health Organization.

"Of course the U.S. remains the world leader in the pandemic," Pompeo told reporters, saying the "world turns its eyes" to American scientists and researchers to develop treatments and to U.S. aid to assist the developing world in fighting their own outbreaks.

To date, the U.S. has provided $1.3 billion to more than 120 countries in emergency health, humanitarian and economic assistance, the State Department said Friday.

But the U.S. has also mismanaged its own response, with inadequate levels of testing or medical supplies, negligible efforts to contract trace or isolate and a rush to reopen in certain states despite the ongoing threat, according to public health experts.

The U.S. passed the threshold into three million confirmed cases of COVID-19 Wednesday, with a death toll approaching 132,000.

"The current state is really not good, in the sense that, as you know, we had been in a situation we were averaging about 20,000 new cases a day, and then a series of circumstances associated with various states and cities trying to open up, in the sense of getting back to some form of normality, has led to a situation where we now have record breaking cases," Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Tuesday.

While Trump has repeatedly claimed the U.S. has the world's lowest mortality rate, it actually has the ninth worst, with 39.82 deaths per 100,000 people, according to Johns Hopkins University.

"We have really a tale of two countries. We have places like New York where death rates continue to plummet because they were so high and now they're coming down. But in all the hot spots, whether it's Texas or Florida or Arizona, death rates are starting to climb exactly as we worried about," said Dr. Ashish Jha, director of Harvard University's Global Health Institute, adding it means the national death rate will climb again. "I'm really worried about what's happening in a lot of the hot spots."

At the same time, Trump formalized his withdrawal of the U.S. from the World Health Organization, notifying the United Nations Monday that the U.S. will depart the agency.

The decision has been roundly criticized by public health experts, allied countries and even some top Republicans.

"Certainly there needs to be a good, hard look at mistakes the World Health Organization might have made in connection with coronavirus, but the time to do that is after the crisis has been dealt with, not in the middle of it," said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., chair of the Senate Health Committee. "If the administration has specific recommendations for reforms of the WHO, it should submit those recommendations to Congress, and we can work together to make those happen."

Pompeo didn't offer any specifics Wednesday, instead blasting WHO for a "long history of corruption and politicization. ... On balance, that organization has not been able to deliver on its core mission for decades."

That contradicts what Pompeo said a little over three months ago, telling Americans to "be aware of and proud of our vast commitments to these important institutions. They not only help citizens around the world, but they protect Americans and keep us safe here as well."

Pompeo has previously accused the U.N. agency of failing to gather more data on the coronavirus outbreak in its earliest days and cowing to pressure from the Chinese government. But the agency is largely powerless to push back on a government that does not provide it information, a design of reforms the U.S. helped implement over a decade ago.

"The best way to rectify weaknesses in WHO and in wider global health governance is by remaining engaged and outlining a constructive vision for such reform. Not by walking away in a politicized fit of pique," said Jeremy Konyndyk, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development. "Withdrawing now, particularly on such specious grounds, will destroy U.S. credibility and diminish U.S. influence over the next generation of reforms that will inevitably follow the present outbreak."

One example of that with coronavirus was actually cited by Pompeo Wednesday: "Beijing claimed for months that it reported the outbreak of the virus to the WHO. Now we know that's not true too. We know the WHO's country office in China reported the outbreak only after it picked up a media statement from the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission."

By the WHO's own bylaws, it has no authority to demand that information on its own.

The early warnings WHO did provide were "ample" and included "actionable guidance to countries that were paying attention," added Konyndyk, who served at the U.S. Agency for International Development under President Barack Obama.

"Had the U.S. followed WHO's advice on early preparedness, aggressive testing, contact tracing, and other response measures, we would be in a far better place than we are today," he added.

Instead, the U.S. exit now will likely damage the global response, according to key U.S. allies.

"It is not a good idea to hamper the organization while in the full thrust and brunt of this pandemic," Germany's deputy ambassador to the U.S. Ricklef Beutin said Tuesday at the Atlantic Council.

Despite that opposition to U.S. withdrawal, Pompeo said the U.S. has "friends and partners" in other Western democracies against China's authoritarian model, which he called a "fundamental and fatal flaw" that makes it "incapable of being transparent, of accepting criticism."

Asked about the European Union's ban on travel from America, however, Pompeo said the two sides had made "real progress, technical progress" on creating "procedures and protocols... to monitor and measure" travel while allowing it to resume in some restricted way. But he did not provide any specifics or a timeline.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



(WASHINGTON) -- After weeks of phone calls and Zoom meetings, former vice president Joe Biden's campaign released its much-anticipated results from the Biden-Bernie Sanders Unity Task Forces on Wednesday.

The 110-page document lays out policy recommendations for the former vice president and includes language for the Democratic platform ahead of the Democratic Convention in Milwaukee next month.

"I commend the Task Forces for their service and helping build a bold, transformative platform for our party and for our country. And I am deeply grateful to Senator Sanders for working together to unite our party, and​ ​deliver real, lasting change for generations to come," Biden wrote​ in a statement announcing the recommendations.

The goal of the task forces, which were formed in May, was to make a unified set of recommendations to the Democratic National Convention's Platform Committee, and Biden himself, on policy proposals.

The groups were divided into six issue areas: climate change, criminal justice reform, the economy, education, health care and immigration. Each issue had teams of eight people, with four picked by Biden and four picked by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. The members were a mix of Biden and Sanders loyalists, experts, community leaders and politicians -- ranging from N.Y. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to former secretary of state John Kerry.

Also on the task force were several rumored vice presidential contenders such as Reps. Karen Bass of California and Marcia Fudge of Ohio.

The task forces were led by Analilia Mejia, who was appointed by Sanders, and Carmel Martin, who was appointed by Biden, both of whom worked to coordinate and support the work of the task forces.

Given recent national conversations on race and systemic racism, several sources with knowledge of the task forces work have hinted at racial equality and justice being front and center in many of the platform recommendations.

From the environmental task force led by Kerry and Ocasio-Cortez, popular proposals such as rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement on day one of the Biden administration made it into the recommendations to the DNC. However the New York congresswoman’s bid for a Green New Deal didn’t make the cut. The task force did recommend “Democrats commit to eliminating carbon pollution from power plants by 2035 through technology-neutral standards for clean energy and energy efficiency.”

The Biden campaign has called for a rapid scale up calling for 500 million made-in-America solar panels to be installed in the next five years. Jobs for companies to install these solar panels will be from a clean energy economy. The task force stressed that all jobs in the clean energy economy should provide an opportunity to join a union.

Democrats have called for the creation of an “environmental justice fund” aimed at making investments in policies that address the racial inequity in climate change’s impact on Americans.

The document also included recommendations for Biden’s criminal justice policy--a much discussed topic following the death of George Floyd, and a subject that has posed problems for Biden in the past due to his involvement with past criminal justice laws like the 1994 crime bill.

“It is unacceptable that Black parents must have “the talk” with their children, to try to protect them from the very police officers who are supposed to be sworn to protect and serve them. It is unacceptable that more than 1,000 people, a quarter of them Black, are killed by police every year,” the policy states.

Much of the policy tracks with Biden’s previously announced criminal justice plan, pledging to invest in community policing and having a police force representative of the communities they serve; increasing Department of Justice Pattern-or-Practice investigations of police misconduct; and instituting national use of force standard, which would permit deadly force only as a last resort.

“We will require immediate application of these standards to all federal law enforcement agencies and condition federal grants on their adoption at the state and local level,” the document reads, also requiring officers to train in nonviolent tactics, appropriate use of force, implicit bias, and peer intervention, both at the academy and on the job.

The group also recommends lowering the intent standard for federally prosecuting law enforcement officials for civil rights violations.

The policy does not include a call to legalize marijuana, but mirrors Biden’s previous policy of decriminalizing the drug, and expunging the records of those previously charged with cannabis use, among other recommendations.

The task force's plan on education calls for the desegregation of schools through the funding of magnet schools and busing, referred to as “school transportation initiatives to help facilitate improved integration.” The plan includes tripling Title I funding to eliminate the disproportionate funding between predominately white and majority minority districts. In K-12 schools, it calls for expanding free meal programs and pledges to support wraparound health and nutritions services.

The plan bans for-profit private charter schools, opposes private school vouchers and any policies that would take taxpayer-funded resources away from the public school system. The platform aims to put an end to the school-to-prison pipeline and pledges “adequate resources” for hiring guidance counselors, social workers and school psychologists. It calls for the reinstatement of Title IX protections for transgender students and protections for LGBT students from discrimination. o In higher education, the task force’s plan calls for grants to be given to historically black colleges and universities, minority serving institutions and tribal colleges and universities. It aims to make community colleges tuition-free. The document pledges to authorize up to $10,000 in student relief per borrower, a far cry from Sanders’ plan to forgive all student loan debt. It also places a cap on monthly student loan payments for borrowers with incomes under $25,000. The plan revamps the public service loan forgiveness program and makes enrollment automatic. It recommends the forgiveness of $10,000 in student debt per year for up to 5 years.

On health care, the task force calls for the establishment of a “high-quality public option plan” that is administered by the government and not private companies, but steered clear of mentioning Medicare for All, a hot-button issue during the primaries and a policy Biden has firmly said he does not support.

“Democrats believe we need to protect, strengthen, and build upon our bedrock health care programs, including the Affordable Care Act, Medicare, Medicaid, and the Veterans Affairs system. Private insurers need real competition to ensure they have incentive to provide affordable, quality coverage to every American. To achieve that objective, we will give all Americans the choice to select a high-quality, affordable public option through the Affordable Care Act marketplace,” the document states.

The task force also recommended extending Affordable Care Act coverage to recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA program, and “allowing undocumented immigrants to purchase unsubsidized coverage in the ACA marketplaces.”

The task force also calls for COVID-19 testing and treatment to be “widely available, convenient, and free to everyone.”

Referencing the health disparities highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the task force also recommended that, if elected, Biden issue an executive order directing all relevant federal agencies to document and report areas where significant disparities for people of color exist in the American healthcare system.

The recommendations also include policy surrounding the economy, particularly amid the impacts of the COVID-19 still being felt across the country, with a portion of the policy titled “Responding to the COVID-19 Pandemic and President Trump’s Recession.”

‘Make no mistake: President Trump’s abject failure to respond forcefully and capably to the COVID-19 pandemic—his failure to lead—makes him responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans and for the pandemic-induced recession that has followed,’ the group writes.

The plan includes calls for a $15 dollar minimum wage, at least 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave for all workers and families, repealing “right to work” laws, and supporting the Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights and the POWER Act to “enforce wage, hour, health, and safety rules across the economy.”

The recommendations also place a heavy emphasis on addressing the racial wealth gap, including support for a study on reparations.

“Democrats commit to the important first step of supporting H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to examine how the legacy of 246 years of slavery and another century of Jim Crow segregation continues to impact the economic prospects of Black Americans today, and to recommend remedies,” the policy reads.

The policy group focused on immigration honed in heavily on repealing many of the policies enacted by the Trump administration, including travel bans on certain nations they say have disproportionately affected Muslim and African countries, asylum policies, and policies that have lead to family separations.

Following Biden’s lead in calling for a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in the United States, the task force says they would “work with Congress to reform our immigration system to provide a roadmap to citizenship.”

Biden has said he would introduce an immigration bill in Congress on the first day of his presidency.

The group also recommended that Biden order the Homeland Security Administration’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties to “undertake a review of the Trump Administration’s immigration policies and provide recommendations for redress.”

Also among the immigration-related recommendations, the enactment of a “100-day moratorium on deportations of people already in the United States while conducting a full-scale study on current practices to develop recommendations for transforming enforcement policies and practices,” at both the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency and Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

The task force also recommended the reallocation of resources flowing to ICE for training, and to “demand transparency in, and independent oversight over, ICE and CBP’s activities,” and called for the end to programs that “ force local law enforcement to take on the role of immigration enforcement, including by ending all agreements entered into by the Trump Administration.”

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


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