House Judiciary chairman 'encouraged' by document production in broad probe into allegations against Trump

U.S. House Office Of Photography(WASHINGTON) -- House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler said he is "encouraged" so far by the document production in his sweeping probe of allegations of obstruction of justice, corruption and abuse of power by President Donald Trump.

"I am encouraged by the responses we have received since sending these initial letters two weeks ago," said Rep. Nadler, D-N.Y.

He added that the panel would work on an "appropriate accommodation" with any recipient "who may be reluctant to cooperate with our investigation."

The panel sent more than 80 document requests to different individuals and entities in and associated with the Trump administration, Trump Organization and family’s business empire, campaign and inaugural efforts.

About half of the people and entities who received requests for documents and other material earlier this month have been in touch with the New York Democrat’s staff about complying, Nadler told reporters recently.

The requests appear to cover every major episode under scrutiny by special counsel Robert Mueller’s office, prosecutors in the Southern District of New York, and congressional investigators, and the panel even requested copies of documents produced for previous inquiries.

They also ask for documents related to, among other issues, the firing of former FBI director James Comey, former Trump attorney Michael Cohen’s hush money payments to silence women who claimed to have had affairs with Trump ahead of the 2016 presidential election, and the Trump Tower meeting between campaign officials and a Russian lawyer who allegedly promised dirt on Hillary Clinton.

Trump initially suggested he would cooperate with the committee’s probe.

"I cooperate all the time with everybody," Trump said earlier this month at a White House event when asked about the request.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders -- in a statement following the original request described the investigation "disgraceful and abusive."

"Chairman Nadler and his fellow Democrats have embarked on this fishing expedition because they are terrified that their two-year false narrative of 'Russia collusion' is crumbling," the statement said.

The next day, Trump tweeted that the Democrats "have gone stone cold CRAZY" and that the requests were "sent to innocent people to harass them."

Democrats’ requests also focus on some of their longstanding concerns about the Trump administration, including the potential conflict-of-interest between the Trump family’s business interests and the administration, given concerns about possible violations of the Constitution's emoluments clause.

The panel has already consulted with attorneys for many of the individuals on their list, according to a committee counsel, and also anticipates issuing subpoenas in the coming weeks to compel compliance.

The chairman also indicated last week that after reviewing the documents, the committee would then settle on plans for eventual hearings.

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Democrats want FBI to investigate spa owner, Mar-a-Lago attendee Cindy Yang

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- High-ranking Democrats Friday called on the FBI to conduct a criminal and counterintelligence investigation into a Florida spa owner whose consultancy firm advertised access to President Donald Trump and his inner circle at the president’s Mar-a-Lago country club.

The Democrats said in a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray and other high-ranking officials that recent news reports about Li "Cindy" Yang’s consulting firm, which offered clients opportunities to interact with Trump raised "serious counterintelligence concerns" if true -- as did allegations of sex trafficking at massage parlors founded but no longer owned by Yang.

"...[A]lthough Ms. Yang’s activities may only be those of an unscrupulous actor allegedly selling access to politicians for profit, her activities also could permit adversary governments or their agents access to these same politicians to acquire potential material for blackmail or other even more nefarious purposes," according to the letter, which was signed by Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va., Senate Judiciary Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y.

The letter requests that the FBI "conduct criminal and counterintelligence investigations into credible allegations of potential human trafficking, as well as unlawful foreign lobbying, campaign finance and other activities by Ms. Yang." The letter also requests answers to a number of questions about law enforcement’s knowledge of Yang prior to the media reporting and about Yang’s interactions with Trump and others in the administration.

The letter came after an attorney for Yang, Michelle Merson, told ABC News that her client was wrongly accused -– though the legal team then hadn’t had a chance to look into the allegations related to the consulting firm.

"Mrs. Yang loves this country," Merson said last week. "She has lived a very quiet life, doing good things for herself, her family and her community."

Merson said her client is now living through a "nightmare" after she was perceived as linked to the alleged prostitution or as a national security "threat" because of the questions of political access peddling -- which, Merson said, is "far from the truth."

Another attorney for Yang later released a statement calling the allegations about Yang "abhorrent."

"At this time, the evidence indicates that our client has been falsely accused in a manner that she may never recover from," attorney Evan Turk said on March 14. "Her name, her reputation and her honor have been destroyed. Cindy Yang seems to be another casualty, as a supporter of our president."

Yang came to national prominence in the wake of a Miami Herald report that said she was the previous owner of a massage parlor where New England Patriots owner and longtime Trump friend Robert Kraft allegedly solicited prostitution. Kraft has pleaded not guilty, and Yang’s attorneys stress that Yang sold that particular massage parlor six years prior to Kraft’s arrest.

Yang’s story took on a different dimension when she was later identified by Mother Jones as having founded a consulting firm called GY US Investments LLC targeting Chinese businesspeople and advertising among its services access to Trump, his family and administration officials at Mar-a-Lago.

The extent of Yang’s relationship with Trump and his associates is unclear. Federal records show Yang and her family have contributed over $40,000 to pro-Trump and pro-Republican organizations since 2017, and photos from her Facebook page, now disabled, show her at various political events, including at Mar-a-Lago, posing with Trump, his sons, and other prominent Republicans.

But Merson said Yang was not a friend of the president and had only taken photos with him like many other Mar-a-Lago attendees.

Authorities have not accused Yang of any wrongdoing, and Merson told ABC News last week that she had not been in contact with law enforcement. Merson said Yang would cooperate with an investigation if it would help "clear her name."

In their letter, the Democrats request answers to their questions by 5 p.m. Thursday.

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Lawmakers call on Congress to diversify staff

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- As the new freshman class of Congress makes history as the most diverse class in the history of Congress, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are calling on colleagues to  the intern class on Capitol Hill.

Last week, a congressional committee gave final approval to a new program forcing Congress to set aside funding to mandate Congress to pay its interns.

The non-profit bipartisan group Pay Our Interns, which pushed the effort for intern pay, is now working with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to push for greater diversity with the halls of Congress.

In a new video released on Monday, freshman Rep. Ayanna Pressley recalled her stint as an unpaid congressional intern. "I worked three part-time jobs so that I could do that unpaid internship. And I had to work. I had rent to pay. I was contributing to bills in my family's household. "

Pay Our Interns co-founder Guillermo Creamer told ABC News his group plans on traveling across the country over the next six weeks, targeting historically black colleges and universities and Hispanic serving institutions' "Reflect Us" campaign. Pressley is one of over a half a dozen members of Congress who will be working with Pay Our Interns to push for diversity within the internship class.

In 2016, then-Speaker Paul Ryan drew criticisms for posting a selfie with House Republican intern class which lacked diversity. Rep Barbara Lee blasted Ryan saying "there’s no excuse for not having diverse staff & interns."

Congress set aside $14 million towards intern funding. Each office will be allowed to pay interns up to $1,800 per month. Previously, intern pay was at the discretion of the office. According to a 2017 study that Pay Our Interns conducted only 51 percent of Senate Republicans offered paid internships and 31 percent of Democrats.

In the House, paid internships were even harder to find, nearly 90 percent of offices didn't pay interns. Only 8 percent of Republicans and 3.6 percent of Democrats set aside funding.

Although Pay Our Interns is pushing for the diversity of the internship class, Creamer says he believes it is a starting point to diversifying staff on the hill. "Workforce is a pipeline, internships are an entry point."

According to the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies found in the last Congress, people of color accounted for 13.7 percent of senior staffers in the House. Since the new class takeover in January people of color now accounts for 22.1 percent of senior staff in the House.

Pressley agreed that internships are a pipeline, urging her colleagues to diversify their ranks."We need to diversify this pipeline, make sure that more people have an opportunity to learn the inner workings of government."

That unpaid internship would be a foundation for Pressley's political career, the same office she interned in over two decades ago is the same office she represents as a member of Congress.

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Trump calls Biden a 'low IQ individual' after former VP slips and hints at 2020 run

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- In the latest confrontation between President Donald Trump and a 2020 Democratic hopeful, he called former Vice President Joe Biden a "low I.Q. individual," referencing a slip in which Biden may have shown his hand.

It’s no secret that Biden may be close to declaring a 2020 presidential bid. At a recent event he told cheering supporters he appreciated their energy, and that he "may need it in a few weeks." But at a fundraising dinner Saturday in his home state of Delaware, he may have unintentionally revealed just how near he is to launching a campaign, saying "I have the most progressive record for anybody running."

Biden quickly corrected himself, saying, "I didn't mean it. I mean, of anyone who would run. Of anybody who would run."

On Monday, Trump posted on Twitter: "Joe Biden got tongue tied over the weekend when he was unable to properly deliver a very simple line about his decision to run for President. Get used to it, another low I.Q. individual!"

Last Thursday, when Trump was asked who poses a bigger threat -- Biden or Beto O’Rourke -- he responded: "Whoever it is, I'll take him or her on and I think with the economy doing so well ... I think it's going to be very tough to beat."

Trump has been engaging as well with other Democrats considering or running campaigns for the 2020 presidential ticket. The president has referred to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders occasionally as "Crazy Bernie," though in February he paid Sanders a rare compliment following the senator’s announcement of a 2020 bid.

Trump has also taken swipes at Beto O’Rourke’s mannerisms, continued longtime criticism of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and gone after the Green New Deal, supported to some degree by several Democratic candidates.

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'The View' discusses if Beto O’Rourke deserve 'rockstar status' in the Democratic Party

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Co-hosts on "The View" weighed in on Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke after he backpedaled some remarks he made over the first weekend of his campaign run.

On Monday morning, Whoopi Goldberg, Abby Huntsman, Joy Behar, Sunny Hostin and Meghan McCain acknowledged O'Rourke's accomplishment of raising $6.1 million -- the most donations given to any 2020 candidate in the first 24 hours of a campaign up to this point -- but they questioned if the media should be more focused on his policies.

O'Rourke was featured on the cover of Vanity Fair along with a quote he said about the presidential race: "I want to be in it. Man, I'm just born to be in it."

His controversial Vanity Fair comment -- which he struggled to recall on Sunday, saying he doesn't "know that anyone is born for an office or a position" -- received mixed reviews from the public, including conservative co-host McCain. Noting she doesn't often throw around the term "white male privilege," she said she believed that's what O'Rourke's "born to" be the president comment conveyed.

"If Hillary or Kamala or anyone had been on the cover of Vanity Fair saying 'I was born to do this,' the media would be going insane right now," she said.

McCain continued to give presidential candidate Kamala Harris praise, saying her campaign "roll out was more seamless in a lot of different ways" than O'Rourke's, yet "she's not being given the same credit he is," exposing the gender "stigma in politics."

"It does seem like the media is giving [O'Rourke] more credit than he deserves."

O'Rourke also said this weekend he would like to put a woman vice presidential candidate on his ticket after a supporter voiced the need "to drive this country forward and put a woman on his ticket."

O'Rourke told the supporter "your point is taken" during the exchange while mentioning several times "it would be very presumptuous for me to talk about who I would select as vice present right now."

Goldberg -- who joined "The View" for the first time in over a month after battling a near-death case of pneumonia -- didn't skip a beat responding to O'Rourke's "preference," questioning what made him think a woman wants to be his vice president.

"Why would you think she needed you to do that?" she continued. "You have to be careful with privilege like that because things slip out your mouth."

"You can't assume that because you're good at fundraising you're going to be the person," she added.

Huntsman admitted she's "not the biggest fan" of O'Rourke at the moment, but believes "there are Democrats that think he has the sort of rockstar status similar to what Obama [had]."

"I think a lot of politics is about how they make you feel," she commented. "Do you vote for the person you like most, do you vote for the person you think can get through the primary, or do you vote for the person you don't love, but know that they are the one person who can probably beat Donald Trump in general election?"

"Maybe he could go up against Trump in a way different than other candidates," she added.

Hostin noted that it's "kind of interesting" that O'Rourke "seems to have this mass appeal" across all 50 states.

Prior to O'Rourke's surprising $6.1 million raised in one day, fellow presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders held the 2020 fundraising record with $5.9 million. In addition to Sanders and O'Rourke, there are 13 other candidates in the overcrowded Democratic Party, not including potential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden.

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Trump administration wants Congress to put a limit on loans for grad students, parents of undergrads

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- A White House proposal, pushed by Ivanka Trump, would set legislative limits on a type of federal loan designed for graduate students and parents of undergraduate students.

The proposal, unveiled on Monday, would require cooperation with Congress, but Democrats who control the House haven’t said whether they would swing behind the change.

The loan limit proposed by the White House would be applied to PLUS loans, which according to the student aid website, are federal loans that are available to graduate or professional students and parents of dependent undergraduate students and can be used to help pay for college or career school.

"The principles, unveiled this afternoon at a meeting of the National Council for the American Worker, set forth concrete legislative actions that, if enacted into law, would provide more Americans access to affordable and quality education, improve institutional accountability, and help students and families make informed decisions regarding their educational options," the White House press secretary said in a statement on Monday.

The administration’s rollout comes amid broader scrutiny in higher education over inequities in the college admissions process.

Last week, the Justice Department revealed that several wealthy individuals had participated in a scam to ensure their children were admitted into schools, such as Yale University and the University of Southern California.

Ivanka Trump, the president's daughter who also serves as an adviser, posted on Twitter about the proposal, writing: "Today, @WhiteHouse will be sending Congress our policy priorities to modernize our higher edu system to ensure access to affordable, flexible, demand-driven education for Americans of all ages. We urge comprehensive Higher Edu reform!! It is long overdue!"

Bloomberg Government was first to report the administration’s plans, and a White House official confirmed the reporting to ABC News.

According to a memo released by the White House later, the administration wants "to increase access to affordable, flexible, and innovative postsecondary education and skills attainment to meet the interests and lifelong learning needs of every American."

Other priorities laid out by the Trump administration include proposals like expanding the Pell Grant to "include high-quality, short-term programs that provide students with a credential, certification, or license in a high-demand field," and urging Congress to reform the Federal Work Study program to include more opportunities for work in related fields to what the student is studying.

The Trump administration also proposes simplifying the student loan system and says Congress "should consolidate the five income-driven repayment options into one simple plan that caps monthly payment at 12.5 percent of a borrower’s discretionary income," and "should extend loan forgiveness to all undergraduate students (after 180 months of repayment through an income-driven repayment plan)."

The White House also included a proposal for Congress to provide financial aid to prisoners "eligible for release to improve employment outcomes and reduce recidivism," -- a proposal that comes not long after the White House and Congress worked on various prison reform initiatives.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who is the chairman of the Senate education committee, released a statement on Monday in support of the administration's proposal.

"I share the Administration’s goals to make a college education worth it and to make it simpler to apply for federal student aid and pay back student loans. It is helpful to have these suggestions as I work with Senator Patty Murray, the senior Democrat on the education committee, to develop bipartisan recommendations so that we can report legislation to the full Senate before summer," Alexander's statement said.

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Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen highlights terror, cyber threats

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- The biggest threat to the United States remains "Islamist militants" and their followers, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said on Monday.

At an annual address on the state of homeland security, Nielsen also pointed to homegrown terrorism and state-sponsored hackers. She said her agency is working with the State Department to put countries on notice when they don’t meet new "more stringent" requirements "to crack down on terrorist travel."

"Governments who work with us will make the world safer from extremists, while those that fail to comply will face consequences," she said.

The remarks come after a self-described white supremacist allegedly killed 50 people at two mosques in New Zealand.

"We will not permit such hate in our homeland," Nielsen said Monday.

Nielsen avoided discussing specifics of the alleged attacker's motivation and didn't mention the suspected shooter's beliefs. She instead focused on cases of Islamic State-inspired plots in the U.S.

Democratic Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, criticized Nielsen for not prioritizing the "very real threat of white nationalism and supremacism."

"It’s clear that she still does not have her priorities straight," Thompson said.

Over the weekend, a former White House national security adviser told ABC News' chief news anchor George Stephanopoulos on "This Week" that the Trump administration is largely prepared to invest more in curbing the domestic terror threat.

"I think that this administration stands ready to invest more money," said former Trump adviser Tom Bossert, who is now an ABC News contributor.

On Monday, Nielsen highlighted a domestic security case involving a Georgia woman accused of working for a group of ISIS hackers. The woman was arrested last week for allegedly creating ISIS "kill lists" of potential targets and serving as a recruiter for the terror organization.

Nielsen said that identifying ISIS followers remains a priority, despite the department's success in stopping foreign-born attackers from coming to the U.S.

"It is not an accident that since 9/11 there has not been a successful attack on U.S. soil by a foreign terrorist," said John Cohen, a former DHS senior official and ABC News contributor.

Nielsen also called out Russia for interfering in the 2016 election and said the country leads online influence campaigns that continue to pose a threat. The remarks came in contrast to President Donald Trump's previous dismissals of U.S. intelligence reports connecting the Russian government to election interference.

"They have continued to interfere in our public affairs and have attempted to sow division online among Americans on hot-button issues," Nielsen said.

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Trump tweets continue after weekend rant, says 'Fake News' blaming him for New Zealand shooting

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump tweeted six times before noon Monday -- following up on a weekend tweetstorm that sparked widespread criticism.

In one of the Monday tweets, he once again attacked the "Fake News Media" he said was trying to blame him for Friday's mass shooting that left 50 people dead at two mosques in New Zealand.

Over the weekend, he was especially prolific on Twitter, commenting on topics ranging from the late Sen. John McCain to a shuttered auto plant in Ohio to Fox News host Jeanine Pirro.

On Monday, one of the president’s top White House aides, Kellyanne Conway, defended the president’s weekend tweets, saying that “the president tweeted about a number of things” and accused the media of “cherry-picking” the president’s tweets.

Known for his frequent use of his favorite social media platform, the president fired off a flurry of some 50 tweets and retweets over the course of an otherwise quiet weekend spent at the White House, save for a brief outing to attend church on Sunday morning.

Days after the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a resolution expressing their support for special counsel Robert Mueller’s report to be made public, President Trump tweeted Saturday to claim that he encouraged Republican leadership to let all Republicans vote for transparency" and to "Play along with the game!"

The president’s tweet stood in contrast to a tweet he sent on Friday in which he argued there should have never been an investigation in the first place and that “there should be no Mueller report.”

The president also went after the late Sen. John McCain, who passed away in August, accusing him of “spreading the fake and totally discredited dossier” and of sending it to the FBI and the media “hoping to have it printed BEFORE the Election.” But the president’s claim is not accurate. McCain wasn’t made aware of the dossier until after the election when he passed it on to the FBI.

On ABC's "The View" on Monday, McCain's daughter Meghan fired back at Trump, saying he "spends his weekend obsessing over great men" because "he will never be a great man" like her father.

The president also sent multiple tweets related to a GM auto plant in Ohio that shuttered earlier this month, using his platform on Twitter to urge GM to get the Lordstown plant back up and running.

On Sunday, the president said he spoke to the CEO of GM, Mary Barra, and “asked her to sell it or do something quickly.” The president said Barra blamed the workers’ union, to which he said: “I don’t care, I just want it open!” He even went so far as to blast the local union chapter president – by name – and called on him to “get his act together and produce.”

The president also tweeted in support of FOX News host Jeanine Pirro, with whom he is friendly, after her usual Saturday night show did not air following controversial comments she made on her previous week’s show in which she questioned whether Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar's Islamic religious beliefs are opposed to the U.S. Constitution. Fox News later condemned Pirro’s comments.

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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sparks talk about his political future with Kansas trip

ABC News(TOPEKA, Kansas) -- Secretary of State Mike Pompeo often makes one thing very clear in interviews and public remarks: His love for his adopted home state Kansas. But his first visit to the state since becoming the top U.S. diplomat has reignited rumors about his political future there.

"I love Kansas. It's home for Susan and me for sure," he told a local radio station Monday.

Pompeo is in Kansas on his third stop on a three-state domestic tour – an unusual move for the country's foreign emissary, but one largely seen as trying to shore up support for President Donald Trump amid his trade battles with China, Mexico, and others.

Pompeo is addressing the Road to the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Overland Park – a State Department-run event in partnership with the Netherlands before they host the full summit in June. Last week, he spoke at an energy conference in Texas and the week prior to farmers in Iowa.

But while there's been speculation that he will run to be Kansas's senator in 2020 or governor in 2022, Pompeo himself has tried to downplay that.

"I try to just avoid ruling things out when there's others who are in control," Pompeo told McClatchy's Kansas City Star and Wichita Eagle. "The Lord will get me to the right place."

"But I know this much, I've seen a lot of the world and I dearly love the people of Kansas," he added.

Those comments have sparked renewed talk on Pompeo's future, as he is one of Trump's most trusted advisers. A California native and West Point and Harvard Law School graduate, Pompeo served as a three-term congressman from Kansas before becoming Trump's CIA Director and now Secretary of State. His swift rise and close relationship with the president and Republican leadership have fueled speculation about what he will do after Trump's first term.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell met with Pompeo earlier this year, urging him to run for the Senate next year when the Republican-held seat is vacated by retiring Sen. Pat Roberts.

But despite saying he tries to "avoid ruling things out," Pompeo did just that on a Senate bid, telling NBC News in February, "It's ruled out... I'm going to be the Secretary of State as long as President Trump gives me the opportunity to serve as America's senior diplomat."

Pompeo has said he would like to move back to the state, and while next year's Senate race may not be in the cards, the state's governor is currently a Democrat and up for reelection in 2022.

"It's a terrible quandary because he may well be the strongest and most capable cabinet member Trump has," Fred Berry, a Kansas businessman who was Pompeo's congressional campaign co-chair, told McClatchy, saying he wants Pompeo to run. "He won't be there forever."

Regardless of what he chooses next, after being a two-time member of Trump's cabinet, Pompeo's future will be closely tied to the remaining two years of the president's term. In several interviews with local Kansas radio and television stations, Pompeo was asked repeatedly about Trump's trade battles and the economic pain for farmers and manufacturers and his nuclear talks with North Korea, amid signs that the regime may walk away after the no-deal summit in Vietnam.

"You're doing such a great job by doing all that. We love that," the Lukas and Careth In the Morning show told him Monday.

"That's very kind... Susan and I miss Kansas, we miss you all as well," Pompeo responded.

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Supreme Court weighs race factor in Virginia gerrymandering case

iStock/Bill Chizek(WASHINGTON) -- The Supreme Court Monday waded into a long-running dispute over the use of race as a factor in drawing Virginia’s state legislative districts, setting the stage for a major decision that could reshape the electoral landscape in a key swing state on the eve of the 2020 presidential election.

The case centers on 11 state House of Delegates districts whose boundaries were drawn in 2011 following the 2010 census and have high numbers of black voters. Critics allege the map was drafted to “pack” racial minorities into districts to limit their political influence elsewhere; defenders say race did not predominate other race-neutral considerations.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 requires states like Virginia with a history of systemic discrimination to consider race as a factor when drawing boundaries. However, the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause limits states from using race to restrict voting rights of a minority group.

The justices grappled openly with that balancing act, and how to measure it fairly.

“I’m wondering how a state can comply with the Voting Rights Act on the one hand and Equal Protection on the other in this narrow band,” said Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

The Republican-controlled House of Delegates, in drawing the map, decided that in each of the 11 districts – where minority voters make up a majority of the population in Virginia – black voters should be at least 55 percent of the eligible voter pool to ensure that African-Americans could elect a candidate of their choice.

The plan at the time received wide bipartisan support and was supported by many members of the Virginia black caucus. The Obama administration Justice Department also signed off.

Paul Clement, arguing on behalf of the state House Republicans, argued that the justices shouldn’t micromanage the process or impose a “court-ordered plan on the people of Virginia.”

But challengers say that the 55-percent target for black voters is arbitrarily too high.

Marc Elias, the attorney representing critics of the map, called the “one-size-fits-all” standard for each of the 11 districts problematic. “If the state creates a blanket rule,” Elias argued, “then it has engaged in racial stereotyping.”

Justice Sonia Sotomayor seemed most receptive to that argument. “It’s hard for me to imagine how race is not predominant when they are drawing lines down the middle of a street” with black houses on one side and white houses on the other.

The political stakes are high.

Virginia Republicans hold a slim 2-seat majority both in the House of Delegates and the state Senate. Experts say redrawing the contested districts could give an advantage to Democrats headed into the fall campaign.

All seats in the Virginia legislature are on the ballot in November. The outcome will determine party control of the state chambers headed into the 2020 census and next redistricting – the chance to reshape Assembly and congressional maps for a decade.

Virginia has been ranked as one of the most gerrymandered states in the country with districts drawn in many cases specifically to minimize the electoral influence of black Democratic voters, according to the nonpartisan Princeton Gerrymandering Project.

Last year, a lower court sided with the challengers to Virginia’s map, ruling that the state assembly failed to conduct a “holistic analysis” of racial considerations unique to each district. It ordered that a new map be drawn before the 2019 elections.

Virginia’s Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring decided to let that ruling stand, opting not to appeal to the high court. The state’s Republican-led House of Delegates brought the appeal instead.

The justices now could also choose to stay out of the matter entirely, ruling narrowly that the Virginia House didn’t have the standing to bring a challenge at all.

“What this court is being asked to do is referee a dispute within the Virginia state government,” said Virginia Solicitor General Toby Heytens. “But the state’s Attorney General has that authority” and chose not to exercise it.

The Supreme Court is expected to issue an opinion by the end of June.

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