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Wednesday
Oct162019

Five moments Elizabeth Warren fended off attacks at fourth Democratic debate

3dfoto/iStock(WESTERVILLE, Ohio) -- Sen. Elizabeth Warren entered Tuesday night's debate as the front-runner for the first time, and her rivals challenged that newfound status throughout the night.

She fended off attacks from most of the remaining 2020 Democrats on hot-button topics including health care, automation and jobs, and taxes on the wealthy.

The fourth Democratic debate, at Otterbein University in Ohio, was the first time Warren faced the other contenders after leading a major poll.

In a Quinnipiac poll released last week, Warren led the field with 29% support among Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters. Former Vice President Joe Biden trailed her by 3 points.

The poll also did head-to-head matchups for the top three Democrats against President Donald Trump, with 49% of self-identified registered voters saying they'd vote for Warren over Trump, compared with 41% who said they'd reelect the president.

These are the five attacks from Warren's rivals that generated the biggest fireworks Tuesday evening:

1. Warren accused of being 'evasive' on raising taxes to pay for health plan

Candidates first grilled Warren on how she would will pay for her proposed health care plan.

"I have made clear… costs will go up for the wealthy and for big corporations, and for hard-working middle-class families, costs will go down," Warren said.

South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg doubled down on his criticism that Warren has been "evasive" on how the middle class would pay for "Medicare for All."

"Well, we heard it tonight. A yes or no question that didn't get a yes or no answer," he said. "This is why people here in the Midwest are so frustrated with Washington in general. ... Your signature, senator, is to have a plan for everything, except this. No plan has been laid out to explain how a multi-trillion dollar hole in this Medicare for All plan that Senator Warren is putting forward."

Warren hit back by saying that Buttigieg's proposed plan is "Medicare for All who can afford it."

"Costs are going to go up for the wealthy, they're going to go up for big corporations. They will not go up for middle class families, and I will not sign a bill into law that raises their costs," she insisted.

"I don't think the American people are wrong when they say that what they want is a choice," Buttigieg responded. "And the choice of Medicare for all who want it, which is affordable for everyone, because we make sure that the subsidies are in place, allows you to get that health care."

Sen. Bernie Sanders, who also supports Medicare for All, said, "I do think it is appropriate to acknowledge that taxes will go up. They're gonna go up significantly for the wealthy, and for virtually everybody the tax increase they pay will be substantially less than what they were paying for premiums and out-of-pocket expenses."

"At least that's a straightforward answer. But there's a better way," Buttigieg said.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar echoed Buttigieg's praise of Sanders' directness.

"I'm sorry Elizabeth, but you've not said that, and I think we owe it to the American people to tell them where we're gonna send the invoice," Klobuchar said. "I believe the best and boldest idea here is to not trash Obamacare but to do exactly what Barack Obama wanted to do from the beginning, and that's have a public option that would bring down the cost of the premium and expand the number of people covered and take on pharmaceutical companies."

Even Donald Trump's team weighed in on the discussion.

"Unable to be honest about raising taxes to pay for her healthcare plan. So obvious that she's dodging and not doing it well," Tim Murtaugh, the Trump campaign's communications director, told ABC News.

2. Warren's comment on automating jobs

Warren was also confronted with her statement that automation threatening jobs is "a good story, except it's not really true."

"The data shows that we have had a lot of problems with losing jobs, but the principle reason has been bad trade policy," Warren explained. "The principle reason has been a bunch of corporations, giant multinational corporations, who have been calling the shots on trade, giant multinational corporations that have no loyalty to America. ... They are loyal only to their own bottom line."

Entrepreneur Andrew Yang challenged her comment.

"Senator Warren, I have been talking to Americans around the country about automation. And they are smart. They see what's happening around them. Their main street stores are closing. They see a self-serve kiosk in every McDonalds, every grocery store, every CVS ...[There are] 3.5 million truck drivers in this country," Yang said. "And my friends in California, are piloting self-driving trucks. What is that going to mean for the 3.5 million truckers or 7 million Americans who work in truck stops, motels and diners that rely upon the truckers getting out and having a meal? Saying this is a rules problem is ignoring the reality that Americans see around us every single day."

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard agreed with Yang, saying the fear of automation taking jobs away is "fear that's well-founded."

"As people look to this automation revolution, they look to uncertainty," she added. "They don't know how this is gonna affect their jobs and their everyday lives."

3. A proposed wealth tax

Klobuchar attacked Warren a second time over proposed taxes.

Warren responded to a question about whether a wealth tax would "demonize" the wealthy, saying that "an entire generation of Americans" should be put before the billionaires benefiting from paying less.

Klobuchar, asked if she believed a wealth tax was the solution, said it "could work" but said she wanted "to give a reality check, here, to Elizabeth."

"No one on this stage wants to protect billionaires. Not even the billionaire wants to protect billionaires. We have different approaches. Your idea is not the only idea," Klobuchar said to applause, referencing Tom Steyer's response that he agrees with Sanders' belief that billionaires shouldn't exist.

Warren defended her position, arguing that Klobuchar was dreaming "small," a response she has given before when attacked by a more moderate candidate on stage, and that income tax increases for the wealthy, which Klobuchar argues for, don't do enough.

"Taxing income is not going to get you where you need to be the way taxing wealth does, that the rich are not like you and me. The really-really billionaires are making their money off their accumulated wealth, and it just keeps growing," Warren responded. "We need a wealth tax in order to make investments in the next generation."

Yang and former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke piled on with criticisms of Warren's idea for a wealth tax.

"Senator Warren is 100% right that we're in the midst of the most winner-take-all economy in history. And a wealth tax makes a lot of sense in principle," Yang said. "The problem is that it's been tried in Germany, France, Denmark, Sweden, and all those countries ended up repealing it, because it had massive implementation problems and did not generate the revenue that they projected."

O'Rourke accused Warrren of being "focused on being punitive or pitting some part of the country against the other, instead of lifting people up and making sure that this country comes together around those solutions."

"Senator Warren said show me your budget, show me your tax plans and you'll show me your values," he added. "She has yet to describe her tax plan. ... Under my administration, if you make less than $250,000 a year as a family, you will not see a tax increase."

Warren responded that she was "shocked at the notion that anyone thinks I'm punitive."

"Look, I don't have a beef with billionaires," she said. "All I'm saying is, you make it to the top, then pitch in 2 cents so every other kid in America has a chance to make it. That's what this is about."

4. Breaking up big tech

Yang and California Sen. Kamala Harris each took aim at Warren's proposal to break up big technology companies like Facebook and Amazon.

"As usual, senator Warren is 100% right in diagnosing the problem. There are absolutely excesses in technology and, in some cases, having them divest their business is the right move," Yang said. "But we also have to be realistic that competition doesn't solve all of the problems. It's not like any of us wants to use the fourth best navigation app. That would be like cruel and unusual punishment. There is a reason why no one is using Bing today. Sorry, Microsoft, it's true."

"I'm not willing to give up and let a handful of monopolists dominate our economy and our democracy. It's time to fight back," Warren responded. "Look, you get to be the umpire in the baseball game, or you get to have a team, but you don't get to do both at the same time. We need to enforce our antitrust laws, break up these giant companies that are dominating big tech, big pharma, big oil, all of them."

Harris called out Warren after the California senator called on Twitter to suspend Trump's account.

"Senator Warren, I just want to say that I was surprised to hear that you did not agree with me that, on this subject of what should be the rules around corporate responsibility for these big tech companies, when I called on Twitter to suspend Donald Trump's account, that you did not agree," Harris said. "I would urge you to join me because here we have Donald Trump, who has 65 million Twitter followers and is using that platform, as the president of the United States, to openly intimidate witnesses, to threaten witnesses, to obstruct justice."

Warren responded, "I don't just want to push Donald Trump off Twitter. I want to push him out of the White House. That's our job."

Harris pressed Warren to join her in saying that Trump's account should be "shut down." Warren responded, "No."

"You can't say you're for corporate responsibility if it doesn't apply to everyone," Harris said.

5. Biden points finger at Warren: 'I got votes for that bill'

Warren was brought into a scuffle between Biden and Sanders after the contenders were asked about significant policy differences.

"I think their vision is attracting a lot of people, and I think a lot of what they have to say is really important," Biden said. "I'm the only one on this stage that has gotten anything really big done."

Sanders was the first to challenge the former vice president.

"Joe, you talked about working with Republicans and getting things done," Sanders said. "But you know what you also got done, and I say this as a good friend -- you got the disastrous war in Iraq done. You got a bankruptcy bill which is hurting middle class families all over this country. You got trade agreements like NAFTA and PNTR with China done, which have cost us 4 million jobs."

Warren pointed to legislation she worked on following the financial crash of 2008.

"I had an idea for a consumer agency that would keep giant banks from cheating people," Warren said. "All of the Washington insiders and strategic geniuses said, Don't even try because you will never get it passed. And sure enough, the big banks fought us. The Republicans fought us, some of the Democrats fought us. But we got that agency passed into law. It has now forced big banks to return more than $12 billion directly to people they cheated."

Biden interjected, saying he was the one to go "on the floor and got you votes," pointing at her.

"I got votes for that bill. I convinced people to vote for it, so let's get those things straight too," he said.

Warren quipped: "I am deeply grateful to President Obama, who fought so hard to make sure that agency was passed into law, and I am deeply grateful to every single person who fought for it and who helped pass it into law."

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Wednesday
Oct162019

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to endorse Bernie Sanders

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Sen. Bernie Sanders' campaign announced Tuesday night that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the progressive firebrand whose 2018 New York Democratic congressional primary victory kickstarted a wave of liberal successes across the country, plans to endorse Sanders' presidential campaign.

Two senior sources with the Sanders team told reporters at the close of Tuesday's Democratic presidential debate that Ocasio-Cortez would accompany Sanders at his campaign rally in New York on Saturday.

The event, being dubbed by the Sanders campaign as a "Bernie's Back Rally," is scheduled at a park adjoining the East River, just miles from the congresswoman's Queens district.

The news comes as Sanders seeks to reinvigorate his campaign in the aftermath of a heart attack and slipping poll numbers.

The support of Ocasio-Cortez, who worked as an organizer for Sanders' 2016 campaign, is a win for him over Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., whom the representative also was believed to be considering for an endorsement, as the pair jockeys for position within the progressive flank of the Democratic presidential field.

Sanders also was endorsed by Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., late Tuesday evening. Omar, a fellow liberal and close friend of Ocasio-Cortez's, at times has attracted the ire of President Donald Trump, who in responding to some of her comments helped made her a household name.

"I have had the opportunity to work with Bernie Sanders up close on major policy initiatives," Omar said in a statement, referencing the pair's work on canceling student debt and expanding school meals. "I have seen the values that motivate him -- and his commitment to building a movement that represents marginalized communities across this country."

"Ilhan is a leader of strength and courage," Sanders said in a statement of his own. "She will not back down from a fight with billionaires and the world’s most powerful corporations to transform our country so it works for all of us. I’m proud of what we’ve done in Congress, and together we will build a multiracial working class coalition to win the White House."

Sanders' New York event will be his first major rally after suffering a heart attack while campaigning in Nevada two weeks ago. In the interim, the senator has fielded questions about the viability of his campaign, as the health issue cropped up at a time during which he has slid to third place, behind Warren and former Vice President Joe Biden, in most national and early-state polls.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Wednesday
Oct162019

Elizabeth Warren gets most speaking time at Democratic debate

PhonlamaiPhoto/iStock(WESTERVILLE, Ohio) -- Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren led Tuesday night's Democratic debate in terms of speaking time, fielding harsh criticism from rivals and making her onstage debut as the presumed front-runner.

Warren, who now leads a number of national and early-state polls, spoke for 22:32 through the three-hour debate. She took more heat from her counterparts than anyone else, including former Vice President Joe Biden, who previously had been put under the spotlight by fellow candidates.

Biden had the second-highest speaking time, at 17:30. He finished the night by closing the gap on Warren after the first hour, when it was estimated she spoke for nearly twice as long -- 10:50 to Biden's 5:21.

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar ranked third overall, at 13:53.

Businessman Tom Steyer spoke the least, clocking in at 7:20.

The rest of the candidates' speaking times are as follows:

• Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders: 13:20

• South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg: 13:04

• Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke: 13:02

• California Sen. Kamala Harris: 12:24

• New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker: 11:19

• Entrepreneur Andrew Yang: 8:54

• Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro: 8:39

• Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard: 8:09

The speaking-time estimations are calculated using multiple stopwatches.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Oct152019

State Dept official details White House meeting, shuffling of Ukraine portfolio in closed-door deposition

Kiyoshi Tanno/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- A senior State Department official told lawmakers Tuesday that acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney organized a White House meeting at which Energy Secretary Rick Perry, US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland and U.S. envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker were put in charge of Ukraine policy, according to a lawmaker present for the closed-door deposition.

 The move circumvented established policy-making channels in the executive branch and undermined US policy to promote the rule of law in Ukraine, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent told Congress, according to Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Virginia.

"Sondland, Volker and Rick Perry declared themselves the three people now responsible for Ukraine policy," Connolly, D-Virginia, told reporters after attending part of the deposition for Kent, whose portfolio includes Ukraine.

"They called themselves 'the three amigos,'" said Connolly, a member of the Oversight Committee. "Volker called them that."

Connolly said the meeting organized by Mulvaney took place on May 23, just days after US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch -- who testified before lawmakers last week -- was prematurely recalled from her post.

Kent testified that there had been a "parallel process that he felt was undermining 28 years of US policy in promoting rule of law in Ukraine," Connolly said. "And it was wrong. And he used that word: wrong."

The House investigation centers on whether the president and his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani were conducting a shadow foreign policy to get Ukraine to launch an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter's business dealings in the country, as well as into the unfounded theory that Ukrainian officials interfered in the 2016 election to support Hillary Clinton.

Kent was the fourth U.S. official to comply with a request for a deposition by the three House committees that are leading an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, in another crack in the White House stonewall strategy painting the probe as illegitimate and unfair.

Kent, who testified for roughly ten hours, was subpoenaed after the State Department directed him not to appear for his scheduled deposition, according to an official working on the impeachment inquiry

Last week, the State Department likewise said Sondland and Yovanovitch should not testify. Yovanovitch, who served under Republican and Democrat administrations and was named ambassador to Bulgaria by George W. Bush, defied the department's orders and testified for nine hours on Friday.

Sondland is now scheduled to testify on Thursday.

Two former U.S. officials have also testified. One was the former special envoy for Ukraine Kurt Volker. The other was Fiona Hill, Trump's top Russia adviser on the National Security Council, who departed the administration in July, days before Trump's controversial call with Ukraine's new president Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

At the time of the call with Zelenskiy, the administration was withholding a formal meeting between the two presidents and nearly $400 million in security assistance, although Ukraine was not yet aware of the latter.

Like Yovanovitch, Kent is a career foreign service officer. As the Deputy Assistant Secretary, he has overseen policy and communications for U.S. missions in several eastern European countries: Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. He's previously served as the deputy chief of mission in Kiev, Ukraine, and the senior anti-corruption coordinator for Europe -- roles that have made him battle-hardened in the fights against corruption and disinformation.

 Kent was also a key witness in Trump's firing of Yovanovitch over uncorroborated reports that she badmouthed him and shielded Biden and other Democrats from investigation in Ukraine. In emails that were turned over by the State Department inspector general to Congress, Kent is the one warning senior leadership of efforts to take down Yovanovitch by accusing her of corruption and obstruction -- allegations that have been spread in conservative media.

"Based on what I heard and what I had summarized for me before I got there, he was pretty detailed in talking about some of the shady characters [Rudy] Giuliani was dependent on for misinformation, disinformation," Connolly said.

In one email to acting Assistant Secretary for Europe Philip Reeker and State Department counselor Ulrich Brechbuhl, Kent said there is a "fake news driven smear" against Yovanovitch.

One of the chief allegations against Yovanovitch, made by Giuliani and others, is that she protected Biden and other Democrats by giving Ukraine's prosecutor-general a list of people he could not prosecute. At the time, the State Department called the allegation an "outright fabrication" that "does not correspond to reality."

In the emails, obtained by ABC News, Kent calls it “complete poppycock.”

Kent also noted that the names are not spelled in the standard style of an American diplomat. "This is a classic disinfo play," he adds.

Despite the effort to debunk these allegations, Yovanovitch was recalled from her post in Kyiv in May, just months after she was told she would be asked to stay for an additional year, according to her testimony Friday.

After Kent left the Capitol, Republicans criticized Democrats' handling of the investigation. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY) said if he had subpoena power, "I would love to subpoena Joe Biden."

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Oct152019

Pelosi, Schiff defend impeachment probe, lack of formal floor vote

rarrarorro/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff expressed confidence in Democrats' ongoing impeachment inquiry and efforts to obtain records and testimony from the Trump administration in court, while defending their inquiry from Republican criticism.

Pelosi defended their timeline, without providing any new updates on Tuesday, and dismissed questions about Republican calls for a formal floor vote.

"I'm not concerned about anything," she said. Republicans "can't defend the president so they're going to process."

Schiff warned the administration and witnesses to comply with Democrats' subpoenas.

"The evidence of obstruction of Congress continues to mount," he said. "We are nonetheless continuing to get good and important information from witnesses."

Schiff argued that the initial investigative work needs to be done behind closed doors because there is no special/independent counsel working quietly in private to investigate ahead of any impeachment process.
 
"I'm sure the president would like nothing better than for witnesses to ... know what others are saying," he said.

Schiff said "we will get to open hearings" with new and returning witnesses, and said Republicans have been "completely represented."

"We go until the questions are exhausted," he said. "They get to ask whatever questions they want."

Schiff said they will release transcripts at a later date, without divulging a timeline.

Despite speculation on Capitol Hill Tuesday that she would formally announce a floor vote on the parameters of an impeachment inquiry, Pelosi made no such announcement.

As members returned from a two-week recess, House Democratic leadership was checking in with members about a potential floor vote on impeachment, and how they would vote, according to aides.

Leadership emerged from the meeting on Tuesday evening without a decision, before gathering all House Democrats to update them on the impeachment investigation and answer questions.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Oct152019

Former Rep. Pete Sessions subpoenaed in SDNY case of two Giuliani associates

artisteer/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- Former Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, has been subpoenaed in a case related to President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and is fully cooperating with investigators, he told ABC News.

"I'm cooperating with the U.S. Attorney from the Southern District of New York and will be providing documents to their office related to this matter over the couple of weeks as requested," Sessions said.

He added that he has not been told that he is the focus of the investigation.

"Nobody has told me I am a target of this investigation, I am fully cooperating, and providing the documents they need," he said.

The Wall Street Journal was the first to report the subpoena.

The former Texas congressman has been embroiled in a campaign finance violation case involving two associates of Giuliani, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who were charged last in connection with an alleged scheme to circumvent federal laws against foreign campaign donations.

In the indictment, prosecutors outlined an alleged scheme by the two Soviet-born businessmen, who have been reportedly helping Giuliani investigate Joe Biden's son Hunter Biden, to raise $20,000 for a "then-sitting U.S. Congressman," who "had also been the beneficiary of approximately $3 million" from pro-Trump super PAC America First Action during the 2018 midterms. According to the indictment, Parnas allegedly met with the congressman and sought his "assistance in causing the U.S. government to remove or recall the then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine," Marie Yovanovitch.

The indictment doesn't name the congressman, but the description matches ABC News' reporting that Sessions had benefited from $3 million in backing from the super PAC during the 2018 cycle, and that during the same month that Parnas raised funds for Sessions, Sessions wrote a letter calling for Yovanovitch's immediate removal.

"These contributions were made for the purpose of gaining influence with politicians so as to advance their own personal financial interests and the political interests of Ukrainian government officials, including at least one Ukrainian government official with whom they were working," the indictment said.

Sessions, in a statement last week, stopped short of confirming that he is "Congressman-1" in the indictment, but added that if he is indeed the congressman in question, he would not have any knowledge of the campaign finance scheme that the indictment alleges.

Sessions also defended his push against the former Ukraine ambassador saying, "his entire motivation for sending the letter was that I believe that political appointees should not be disparaging the president, especially while serving overseas."

"I was first approached by these individuals for a meeting about the strategic need for Ukraine to become energy independent," Sessions said. "There was no request in that meeting and I took no action. Over time, I recall that there were a couple additional meetings. Again, at no time did I take any official action after these meetings. Separately, after several congressional colleagues reported to me that the current U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine was disparaging President Trump to others as part of those official duties, I wrote a letter to the secretary of state to refer this matter directly."

It's unclear which members of Congress have spoken to Sessions about Yovanovitch.

Parnas and Fruman, as well as two of their associates who have also been indicted, are scheduled to appear in court for arraignment and initial conference in New York on Thursday.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Oct152019

Kellyanne Conway's husband donates $5,600 to Trump GOP challenger Joe Walsh

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- George Conway, an outspoken critic of President Donald Trump and husband of presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway, has donated the maximum amount allowed to the presidential campaign of Republican challenger Joe Walsh.

Conway gave $5,600 to the former congressman's campaign on Aug. 30, just days after he announced his candidacy, according to a new campaign finance report filed on Tuesday.

A conservative lawyer based in Washington, D.C., Conway has been one of the biggest and consistent critics of Trump within the Republican Party.

Earlier this month, Conway penned an op-ed in The Atlantic, titled "Unfit for Office," once again calling into question Trump's mental fitness to hold office. And just this Monday, Conway went on Twitter to call him "incompetent and ignorant" and took aim at Republicans for not mentioning Trump's name while criticizing his policies.

Kellyanne Conway has served as one of Trump's closest aides since his presidential campaign in 2016, and has served as the president's counselor in the White House since his victory.

Walsh, too, has aggressively hammered the president since announcing his long-shot candidacy for the GOP nomination in August, further driving a wedge between the Republican Party and the coalitions of voters needed to secure the White House.

"The problem is an unfit president in the White House who took a divided country and is dividing that," Walsh said recently at an unsanctioned GOP primary debate last month.

"The Republican Party brand sucks, and it sucks because of him," he said. "Young people can't stand the party, women can't stand the party, black people who live in the suburbs can't stand it."

In the latest campaign finance disclosure, Walsh reported raising about $129,000 from his supporters between August and the end of September, compared to a massive $125 million haul the Trump campaign has brought in along with the Republican National Committee between July and September.

Despite the massive uphill climb ahead of him, Walsh remains adamant that conservatives should get behind an alternative Republican in 2020.

"I'm running because he's unfit; somebody needs to step up and there needs to be an alternative. The country is sick of this guy's tantrum -- he's a child," said Walsh, who was elected to the House in the 2010 Tea Party wave, but only served one term before becoming a conservative talk radio host.

Walsh, along with the other Republican primary challengers to Trump, are contending with other forces beyond the president, mainly the Republican National Committee giving "undivided support" to the president -- even passing an unprecedented loyalty pledge earlier this year before he's the party's official nominee.

As part of that pledge, several state parties have moved forward with forgoing their nominating contests in 2020, including South Carolina, Nevada, Kansas and Arizona. It has also led to 37 states and territories tightening the rules for choosing delegates to the Republican National Convention, an effort quietly helmed by Trump campaign officials.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Oct152019

American pastor once detained in Turkey offers Senate prayer a year after his release

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- A year after Andrew Brunson was released from a two-year stint in a Turkish prison -- he'd been accused of spying and aiding terrorists -- the American pastor visited the Senate floor and shared his appreciation for being freed with some of those who helped him.

"I'm standing here today because so many of you fought for me and I'm deeply grateful. In a time of many divides, you were unified in fighting for my release," Brunson said Tuesday -- the first day the Senate is back in session after a two-week recess.

Brunson, who's from North Carolina, was invited by Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., to give the opening prayer on Tuesday.

"Today," Brunson said in his prayer, "I pray that you grant to the senators of the United States the spirit of wisdom, the fear of the Lord and the courage to act with counsel of the Lord in all matters, great and small."

Brunson was a Christian evangelist in Turkey for more than 20 years before he was arrested in October 2016 and accused by the Turkish government of espionage and ties to terrorists. He, his lawyers and the U.S. denied those charges.

"He found himself in a Turkish prison ... in what we would consider to be despicable circumstances in a prison cell," Tillis said on the Senate floor Tuesday.

Tillis noted that the 62-page indictment against Brunson read like a "horrible, fictional novel."

Brunson's two-year imprisonment triggered a diplomatic feud between U.S. and Turkey, with the Trump administration enacting economic sanctions and tariffs on Turkey to pressure the country into releasing him.

At the time, President Donald Trump proudly boasted in a tweet, "There was NO DEAL made with Turkey for the release and return of Pastor Andrew Brunson. I don't make deals for hostages. There was, however, great appreciation on behalf of the United States, which will lead to good, perhaps great, relations between the United States & Turkey!"

Before Trump's remarks at the Values Voter Summit on Saturday, Brunson was invited on stage to pray over the president, alongside the Family Research Council's Tony Perkins.

The timing of Brunson's prayer on the Senate floor comes amid renewed tension between the U.S. and Turkey over its offensive against the Kurds in Syria, and amid growing ire among Republicans and Democrats in Congress on the Trump administration's handling of the escalating conflict.

A spokesman for Tillis denied that Brunson's invitation had anything to do with the ongoing crisis unfolding in northern Syria, and noted Brunson was invited to lead the Senate in prayer weeks ago.

But other Republicans, especially those close to Trump, have made their disapproval of the administration's actions regarding Syria loud and clear.

"I am gravely concerned by recent events in Syria and by our nation's apparent response thus far," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement Monday.

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham previously said Trump's decision to pull troops was "impulsive."

"I hope I'm making myself clear how shortsighted and irresponsible this decision is in my view," Graham said last week. "This to me is just unnerving to its core."

Graham appeared to back off after he met with Trump on Monday.

"The president's team has a plan and I intend to support them as strongly as possible, and to give them reasonable time and space to achieve our mutual goals," Graham said in statement.

On Monday, the White House announced it would enforce new economic sanctions on Turkey for invading northern Syria after the administration announced last week it would be pulling U.S. troops from the area.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Oct152019

Pence set to head delegation to Turkey for ceasefire talks, but unclear who he'll meet there

MicroStockHub/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. delegation President Donald Trump is sending to try to negotiate a ceasefire and settlement between Turkey and U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish forces will depart in the next 24 hours, a senior administration official said Tuesday.

 The trip was welcomed by the top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell, but the idea of talks has already been rejected by Turkey. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned any mediation between his government and the Syrian Kurdish forces that Turkey considers terrorists: "What kind of prime minister, what kind of head of state are those who offer to mediate between us and the terror group?" he said Sunday.

The White House delegation will include Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien, and special envoy for Syria Jim Jeffrey, according to the White House, which announced Pence will meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

While McConnell did not directly call out the president during a speech on the Senate floor, he blasted Trump's decision to withdraw all U.S. forces from northeastern Syria -- a sign of the fierce blow back even within Trump's own party that has only grown since his decision to pull back U.S. troops ahead of the Turkish operation against Kurdish forces.

"Leaving the field now would mean leaving the door wide open for a resurgence of this dangerous force [ISIS] and a new iteration of the Islamic State, creating a power vacuum begging for the meddling influence of Russia, leaving northeastern Syria wide open for Iran to extend its reach unimpeded all the way from Tehran to the doorstep of our friends in Israel, and destroying the leverage we currently have to compel Bashar al Assad to stop his slaughter of the Syrian people and negotiate an end to this terrible conflict and humanitarian catastrophe," McConnell said.

McConnell argued the U.S. deploying troops to Syria and Afghanistan did not make America the world's policeman, but a "prudent and responsible world power that stands up for our security and freedom of others." But moments later and across Washington, Trump said U.S. forces were "policing" and needed to come home: "We want to bring our soldiers back home after so many years ... They are policing, they are not a police force."

Two days after a fateful phone call between Trump and Erdogan, Turkey launched an operation last Wednesday against the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, the majority-Kurdish troops that the U.S. backed, armed and fought alongside against ISIS. Before the offensive began, Trump announced he was withdrawing two attachments of U.S. troops in the area -- a move critics have blasted as giving a green light to Erdogan, but which the senior administration official defended as a "tactical" decision to keep them out of the fray.

 "We have absolutely no -- I want to repeat here -- we have no decision at any level ever taken by the United States to provide military protection to the SDF, nor did we ever by any authoritative source -- underline authoritative source -- tell the SDF that we would protect them militarily. We told them many times that we would do everything in our power short of military action to try to prevail upon the Turks not to come in," the official told reporters during a briefing.

They added, "We failed in our mission to deter Turkey from coming in," but they rejected the categorization that the U.S. abandoned its Kurdish partner forces.

McConnell said U.S. support for local Kurdish forces and the U.S. military presence in northeastern Syria must continue, warning the Senate had a veto-proof majority earlier this year when it passed a resolution condemning Trump's push for a total withdrawal. But Congress has little power to keep troops there when the commander-in-chief orders them out. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-N.C., and Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., will introduce legislation Thursday to increase sanctions on Turkey, Graham said Tuesday.

 In the days since the offensive began, the administration has implemented its own sanctions on Turkey, starting with the defense, energy and interior ministers, and the defense and energy ministries Monday. It's a stunning move against a NATO ally that analysts warn will further unravel the U.S.-Turkish relationship.

But Turkey has remained defiant so far. Fahrettin Altun, a senior communications adviser to Erdogan, told AFP news agency Tuesday, "We will continue to combat all terrorist groups, including Daesh, whether or not the world agrees to support our efforts," using an Arabic name for ISIS.

Turkey is still "mulling over the impact of the sanctions and other action that we communicated to them," the official said, but the administration hopes now that they will be open to conversations to halt their operations.

McConnell urged Turkey to "listen carefully to the anger from Washington" when Pence and his delegation arrives later this week.

"Our first goal is to basically have a heart-to-heart talk with the Turks ... We're very concerned about their actions and the threat that they've presented to peace, security, stability and the territorial integrity of Syria," the official said.

"We are in high gear on our diplomacy, led by the president," the official added, noting that Trump talked to Erdogan and SDF General Mazloum yesterday "to press for a ceasefire."

 Turkey has already said they won't negotiate with the Syrian Kurdish forces because it considers them terrorists aligned with Kurdish separatists in Turkey.

The U.S. and Turkey also already had an agreement reached in the months since ISIS's caliphate fell to secure that area, prevent a resurgence of ISIS and address Turkey's security concerns. But Turkey said it didn't work for them and tore it up, invading Kurdish-held territory instead.

When asked by ABC News what the Pence delegation can get different this time, the official said, "The president has directed us to do this... We are very aware that the Turks entered into an agreement with us and they then decided that they would pull out of that agreement, and we're very concerned about that happening again."

As Russian and Syrian forces of strongman Assad took control of the key city Manbij Tuesday, they were coordinating with the U.S., according to the official, using an existing deconfliction line that has helped to reduce risk between Russian and U.S. troops for years now. All U.S. forces are now out of Manbij as the "orderly, deliberate, responsible ground withdrawal" continues, the official said.

The U.S. is also concerned about the human rights violations by Turkish-sponsored opposition groups -- which the U.S. holds Turkey responsible for, the official added, saying Turkey could have used its own forces instead and calling these opposition groups "thugs and bandits and pirates that should be wiped off the face of the earth."

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Oct152019

Democrats set for fourth debate after impeachment inquiry upends race

Heidi Gutman/Walt Disney Television, FILE(WESTERVILLE, Ohio) -- The Democratic presidential contenders head to Westerville, Ohio on Tuesday for the fourth primary matchup of the season as an ongoing impeachment inquiry battle continues to pull the contest into Washington’s orbit despite efforts to keep kitchen table issues at the forefront on the trail.

The pivotal debate, which will be hosted by CNN and the New York Times on the campus of Otterbein University, comes as the Democratic field is readying to spar over health care, immigration, climate change, criminal justice reform, among other topics, but is being consumed by external forces.

Here is how the night is unfolding:

7:13 p.m: Ahead of debate, Pelosi, Schiff defend impeachment probe, lack of formal floor vote

Ahead of the debate, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff on Tuesday expressed confidence in Democrats’ ongoing impeachment inquiry and efforts to obtain records and testimony from the Trump administration in court -- while defending their inquiry from Republican criticism.

Pelosi defended their timeline without providing any new updates and dismissed questions about Republican calls for a formal floor vote.

“I’m not concerned about anything,” she said. Republicans “can’t defend the president so they’re going to process.”

6:30 p.m.: O’Rourke wants to flex some policy muscles beyond guns at Tuesday's debate


Former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke's aides walked away from the last debate feeling like he had a breakout moment with his "hell yes we're gonna take your AR-15, your AK-47" line, but didn't get the momentum they were looking for in the wake, multiple sources inside the campaign have told ABC News since that night.

On Tuesday, one source told ABC News that the campaign understands one breakout moment, or one jab, is evidently not enough to move the polls for O'Rourke.

But that doesn't mean the strategy -- for the candidate struggling to score more than 2% in polls -- is shifting, that source, briefed on Tuesday night's strategy, told ABC News.

O'Rourke's goal for this debate is "substance over flash." The campaign wants viewers to see O'Rourke as a leader on policies beyond guns, acknowledging that some may view him as a single-issue candidate.

One thing we can count on is that O'Rourke will sell his history of being a political underdog. "Not paying attention to the polls and conventional political wisdom has paid off for him in the past," the source said, pointing to his first congressional race against an incumbent Democratic and, of course, his tight contest for U.S. Senate against Ted Cruz in 2018 while supporting impeachment, universal healthcare, and an assault weapons ban.

6:15 p.m.: Warren's campaign details her debate day prep


After flying into Ohio Monday, Warren's campaign says the polling frontrunner did some debate prep with her team.

Earlier on Tuesday, after going on a walk as part of her debate day routine, Warren met with the winner of a contest her campaign held for a supporter to fly out to the debate and attend as one of her guests.

Warren is expected to be one of her rivals top targets during the debate, given her rise in recent polling and a strong showing in fundraising over the last three months.
 
6:14 p.m.: Bloomberg pens op-ed calling out current Dem field, sparks 2020 speculation

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg penned an op-ed in The Washington Post ahead of Tuesday night's Dem Debate -- sparking further speculation regarding a possible 2020 presidential run, despite ruling one out earlier in the year.

Bloomberg, once a Republican, Independent and now a Democrat, criticizes the current 2020 Democratic field in the op-ed, writing: "The country elects a commander in chief, and yet based on the campaign so far, one might think we are electing a legislator in chief — or a prime minister whose party controls a parliament."

6:09 p.m.: Biden campaign responds to Hunter Biden's ABC interview

Biden Deputy Campaign Manager Kate Bedingfield was just on MSNBC and was asked why they feel it was the right strategy for Hunter Biden to be answering questions about allegations that they have maintained are false and have no credibility.

"This is Donald Trump's game. Look, Hunter Biden has been attacked viciously and personally by Donald Trump for the past three weeks. He sat down this morning and answered every question that was thrown at him, which frankly is a lot more than you can say for Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani and their ilk who are stonewalling and refusing to answer questions in their own impeachment inquiry, by the way. But, you know, you had Hunter sit down, he answered questions. He's shown he's not going to be bullied by the President of the United States and neither is our campaign," Bedingfield told MSNBC's Chuck Todd.

5:15 p.m.: Here's who is on the debate stage

The debate features a dozen candidates packed on the stage, the largest roster yet to appear in a single primary debate ever.

While the same 10 candidates who participated in the third presidential debate a month ago in Houston, hosted by ABC News and Univision, will appear on stage, both Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who reclaimed a podium after missing the cut last month, and Tom Steyer, a billionaire activist who entered the race in July and will be a newcomer to the stage this time around, will join their Democratic rivals.

The 12 candidates who officially qualified for the debate, in podium order as announced by CNN, include:

  • Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard
  • Businessman Tom Steyer
  • New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker
  • California Sen. Kamala Harris
  • Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders
  • Former Vice President Joe Biden
  • Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren
  • South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg
  • Entrepreneur Andrew Yang
  • Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke
  • Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar
  • Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro

The debate is slated to air at 8 p.m. ET on Oct. 15. The moderators will be CNN anchors Anderson Cooper and Erin Burnett, and New York Times national editor Marc Lacey.

2:13 p.m.: FiveThirtyEight and Ipsos try to answer "Who Will Win The Fourth Democratic Debate?"

If something is going to shake up the race before the Iowa caucuses, it’s likely to be a debate. So ABC News partner FiveThirtyEight teamed up with Ipsos to once again track how Tuesday’s debate affects likely primary voters’ feelings about the candidates. The FiveThirtyEight/Ipsos poll, conducted using Ipsos’ KnowledgePanel, will interview the same group of voters twice, on either side of the debate, to capture both the “before” and “after” picture.

1:47 p.m.: Ahead of the debate, Buttigieg comes out swinging

It's clear Mayor Pete Buttigieg is looking to enter the ring swinging. He's now going after 2020 competitors Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke -- calling Warren out, specifically, for hedging on Medicare for All taxes and dissing small-dollar donations as "pocket change" apropos her recent expansion of her no-big-fundraiser pledge to the general election (despite the DNC's debt.)

12:09 p.m.: Here's how the candidates are faring on raising money

Candidates have been sending out dire pleas heading into the final days, pushing out a cascade of fundraising emails and running ad blitzes on social media. Despite recent polling that showed his campaign trailing behind some of his 2020 Democratic rivals, Sanders set the tone for third-quarter fundraising Tuesday morning, announcing a whopping $25.3 million haul. The number eclipses Warren's combined total raised in the first two quarters and leaves Sanders with over $61.5 million in receipts this year.

5 a.m.: Here's what to watch for in Tuesday night's debate

For the second consecutive matchup, Biden will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Warren, pitting the elder statesman up against the rising liberal stalwart, who is steadily climbing in recent national polling and now shares the top spot with the former vice president.

Biden is walking into the debate hall on less steady ground: from fending off President Donald Trump's unsubstantiated claims about the former vice president's inappropriate behavior surrounding his son Hunter’s Ukrainian business dealings to lackluster fundraising numbers in the third quarter of 2019, and his lead in national polls slipping.

Many of the candidates vying for a spot on the 2020 ticket now have launched thinly veiled jabs against the veteran lawmaker -- maintaining full-throated support, while in the same breath saying they themselves would never allow their cabinet members’ families to sit on a foreign board, as Hunter Biden did during the Obama administration.

Biden pressured the Ukrainian government to oust a prosecutor who ostensibly had been leading an investigation into Burisma, an oil company, and was unpopular in his home country due to a lack of action. However, no evidence has emerged to support Trump’s main allegation that Biden did so to benefit his son, Hunter, who was later added to the company's board of directors. Several international leaders, including senior officials at International Monetary Fund, have criticized the prosecutor and said Biden’s recommendation was justified.

As House Democrats move full-steam ahead with an impeachment inquiry, this will be the first debate in which questions about the matter may be broached.

Meanwhile, Warren -- who has sought to avoid clashing with her Democratic rivals before a national audience so far, instead focusing on her pitch for big, structural change -- might become a key target for the lower-polling candidates who are struggling to make their mark on the electorate.

Flanking Biden on the other side will be Sanders, 78, who after suffering a heart attack, vowed to make it to the debate stage amid questions about his health and ability to keep up with the rigorous pace of the campaign trail.

Despite those concerns, he has already previewed the differences he seeks to make between him and his progressive colleague, Warren.

"There are differences between Elizabeth and myself," Sanders said in an interview with ABC’s This Week on Sunday, two days before his first official emergence back on the campaign trail since his heart attack. "Elizabeth, I think, as you know, has said that she is a capitalist through her bones. I'm not."

But beyond the three top-tier candidates, the others senators vying for the White House, including Booker, Harris and Klobuchar, are likely to take the stage with renewed urgency to turn a breakout moment into a tangible spike, as the crowded field enters the critical four months before first votes are cast in the Iowa caucuses in early February.

On Monday, Booker started to draw dividing lines with his opponents, criticizing the South Bend mayor for equating gun buybacks to a "confiscation" of firearms.

"Calling buyback programs 'confiscation' is doing the NRA's work for them … they don't need our help," Booker tweeted.

During an interview with the Snapchat show "Good Luck America,” Buttigieg said, "I just don't think we should wait to have a fight over confiscation when we can win on background checks and assault weapons ban and red flag laws right now."

Despite avoiding conflicts with other candidates so far in the previous three debates, Buttigieg is coming to the stage with a more aggressive approach.

In the same Snapchat interview, he also hit back at O’Rourke, who has recently took aim at Buttigieg for being a "poll-driven" candidate, telling the platform, "This is a policy disagreement, and it’s about governing. I get it, he needs to pick a fight in order to stay relevant.”

But aggressively targeting another candidate has so far backfired for those who’ve tried, such as Castro, who leaned into his aggressive style at the third Democratic debate, when he questioned Biden’s memory. But even some of his competitors criticized his decision to make an apparent swipe at Biden’s age.

Regardless, the debate will provide another night of contrast that will further crystalize the differences among the Democratic field, that still counts 19, on policy, philosophy and governing -- before November's upcoming debate could shrink the stage under more stringent qualifying rules.

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