(NEW YORK) -- A week after the U.S. Supreme Court voted to strike down Roe v. Wade, ending a nearly 50-year precedent, several governors are moving to protect abortion rights in their states.
On Friday, New York's legislature passed a constitutional amendment guaranteeing access to abortion during a special session initially called to rewrite state gun permit laws in the wake of another Supreme Court decision that rolled back the state's concealed carry restrictions.
The measure, which has been supported by Gov. Kathy Hochul, would codify the right to an abortion and the right to contraception in the state's constitution. It would also update the existing Equal Rights Amendment to extend protections to several new classes, including on the basis of sex (including sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, pregnancy, pregnancy outcomes, reproductive healthcare and autonomy), disability, national origin, ethnicity and age.
The measure passed the state Assembly late Friday, after passing the state Senate earlier that day. An amendment to the state's constitution would ultimately be decided by voters in a referendum after passing two separately elected state legislatures.
"We refuse to stand idly by while the Supreme Court attacks the rights of New Yorkers," Hochul said on Twitter while sharing a proclamation to add the equal rights resolution to the state legislature's session agenda on Friday.
In neighboring New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law Friday afternoon abortion bills that protect health care providers and out-of-state patients. One bill bans the extradition of people who get or perform abortions in New Jersey to states that criminalize the procedure, and the second prohibits state agencies from assisting in investigations that release their information to other states.
The bills swiftly passed the state legislature in the wake of the Supreme Court decision impacting Roe.
"While others throughout the country are revoking a woman’s right to reproductive freedom, New Jersey will continue to defend this fundamental right in our state," Murphy said in a statement Friday.
The laws follow other actions by the state to protect abortion rights in anticipation of Roe falling. In January, Murphy signed a bill that codified the right to an abortion into state law.
In Connecticut, a new law strengthening abortion rights went into effect on Friday. The law, which was signed by the governor in May, protects medical providers and patients seeking abortion care who may be traveling to Connecticut from states that have outlawed abortion. It also expands abortion access in Connecticut by expanding the type of practitioners eligible to perform certain abortion-related care.
As the state becomes a "safe harbor" state for abortion care, Lamont also issued an open letter Friday urging out-of-state businesses to relocate to Connecticut, "a state that supports the rights of women and whose actions and laws are unwavering in support of tolerance and inclusivity."
"With the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, there are many states across the country outlawing a woman's right to make her own reproductive choices. Not here in Connecticut. Not as long as I'm governor," Lamont said in a video message, asking businesses to consider the state as a place where their employees and customers may better identify with its values.
Lamont also touted the state's policies around paid family leave, child care and education for those seeking to start a family.
Twenty-six states are certain or likely to ban abortion with the fall of Roe, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health policy research organization.
In the wake of the Supreme Court's decision, President Joe Biden met virtually on Friday with nearly a dozen governors, including Lamont and Hochul, to discuss the administration's efforts to protect access to reproductive care, according to a White House official.
(WASHINGTON) -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, overseeing a very narrow Democratic majority, issued a warning to voters after the Supreme Court struck down Roe vs. Wade.
Republicans are "plotting a nationwide abortion ban" and will act if they get the majority in Congress this midterm election, she said -- a sentiment that is a nationwide rallying cry for Democrats.
And while that's possible -- the fall of Roe means abortion is no longer legally protected nationwide, leaving the door open to making it illegal nationwide -- the bigger question is whether its plausible.
Here's what to watch:
First things first: there is a Democrat in the Oval Office.
If Republicans were to win a lot of seats in the House and the Senate in November, giving them enough votes to pass a nationwide ban on abortion, that bill would still have to go to the president's desk to be made law of the land.
"The key backstop to there being a ban is that the president would veto it," said Victoria Nourse, a law professor at Georgetown University who focuses on Congress.
The only way around that, in the short-term, would be for Republicans to secure two-thirds of the Senate chamber, or 67 votes, to override that veto -- an incredibly unlikely scenario.
Still, such legislation could "very well backfire," given that only just 13% of Americans support making abortion illegal outright, according to a long-running Gallup poll, said Michele Goodwin, a constitutional law professor at University of California, Irvine.
But just because legislation is unlikely to pass in the immediate wake of the 2022 midterms, those races will still set the stage for bigger threats to abortion rights down the line.
"Where we are today is more of a marathon than a sprint," Goodwin said.
That's because if Republicans were to win the House or the Senate, they would be that much closer to enacting a ban if a Republican president was then elected in 2024.
And while Republicans could be pushed away from flat-out bans because of their unpopularity, more tailored bans could gain traction.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has thrown his weight behind a national ban on abortions after 15 weeks, which could get more support from moderate Republicans because nearly all abortions happen before then.
A ban like that could set up a "chip-away" of abortion rights, Goodwin said.
"To the extent that there is a chip-away that ultimately is realized, like what we see in Dobbs and with these trigger bans, one should actually be deeply concerned about the chip-away that could take place in Congress and also in the executive leadership of our country," she said.
Of course, the underlying question is whether Republicans would actually push for a nationwide ban, if all the pieces were in place.
So far, the only prospective 2024 candidate to go so far as call for a nationwide ban is former Vice President Mike Pence, who reacted to the Supreme Court decision by urging people not to "relent" until "the sanctity of life is restored to the center of American law in every state in the land."
Other possible Republican contenders like former President Donald Trump, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley and Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley have hailed the decision as a victory for state's rights, steering clear of mentioning top-down action at the federal level.
"This long divisive issue will be decided by the states and the American people," Trump said at a rally on Saturday in Illinois. "That's the way it should have been many many years ago, and that's the way it is now."
And Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who initially said a nationwide ban was "possible," recently said he didn't think it would be possible to get 60 senators, which is how many would have to vote in favor of a ban without ending the filibuster.
Any legislation would end up right back in court
Yet another potential barrier would be the court, which is where any law that touches the Roe vs. Wade decision would end up, whether it's an attempt to codify abortion rights or get rid of them.
And the Supreme Court ruled states should decide the laws around abortion on an individual basis, which could neuter interference at the federal level of either kind.
That's led states like California, Connecticut, New York and New Jersey to enact laws that protect peoples' rights to an abortion and make them safe harbors. It's unclear how those laws might interact with a nationwide ban -- something experts describe as uncharted territory.
But Nourse also said she sees a world where the court is more favorable to a nationwide abortion ban, which would align more with its recent ruling, than an attempt to make abortion legal.
"The bottom line is it will go back to the courts either way," said Nourse.
What about the steps to codify Roe vs. Wade as law?
While the midterms could hand Republicans a victory that set the stage for a future ban on abortion at the national level, they could also hand Democrats the votes they need to protect abortion rights.
"People across the country are mobilizing and women are pretty ticked off, including Republican women, even if they are not being vocal about this," Goodwin said.
If the decision does galvanize Democrats enough to gain seats in the Senate, progressives have urged their party to end the filibuster, which would mean Democrats could get laws passed by a slimmer majority.
This past week, Biden endorsed the idea, handing progressives a win.
But moderates warn that the political maneuver would go both ways.
Ending the filibuster could open the door to Republicans using the same tactic to ban abortion -- a point Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin leans on to defend his opposition to ending the filibuster.
The bottom line: No single election will guarantee a ban or the return of national protection for abortions, but every single one will have an impact.
"This is on the ballot," Nourse said. "And it's going to be on the ballot for a longtime."
(WASHINGTON) -- Congress "must pass" new immigration laws, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said Sunday while defending the administration's policies amid renewed scrutiny of the high amount of migration at the southern border.
"Because the border has been a challenge for decades, ultimately Congress must pass legislation to once and for all fix our broken immigration system," Mayorkas told ABC This Week co-anchor Martha Raddatz.
Mayorkas' defense comes after 53 migrants were found dead in a tractor-trailer in San Antonio, Texas, late last month, which Mayorkas called a "tragic result" of a "dangerous journey." Four men have been charged in the deaths.
On This Week, Mayorkas said that the U.S. was working with regional allies in Central and South America beyond pushing for legislation, which remains a dim prospect in Congress.
"These are remarkable, distinct times," Mayorkas said. In lieu of new laws, "we have a multi-faceted approach, not only to work with our partner countries but to bring law enforcement to bear to attack the smuggling organizations in an unprecedented way," he said. "We are doing so very much."
Raddatz pressed Mayorkas, noting that a legislative fix on immigration was unlikely given partisan gridlock on the issue -- and, she said, the administration's warning to migrants to not try to cross the border was either not being heard or not being heeded.
"Fifty-three people lost their lives in the most horrific of conditions," Mayorkas said of the migrants who died in San Antonio. "We continue to tell people not to take the dangerous journey. We are enforcing our laws. And we are working with countries … including our close partner Mexico, but with Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Costa Rica, Colombia, to really address the migration that is throughout the Western Hemisphere."
Still, Raddatz cited a historic high in May for southern border crossings: 240,000.
"I think that we are doing a good job. We need to do better," Mayorkas acknowledged. "We are focused on doing more, and we are doing it with our partners to the south."
"You have Congressman Henry Cuellar saying that only about 30% of the Border Patrol are doing missions at checkpoints and the border because the other 70% are tied up at detention centers. How do you fix that?" Raddatz pressed.
"We are pressing this issue vigorously and aggressively to address the number of encounters that we are experiencing at the southern border," Mayorkas responded.
He touted the administration's recent win before the Supreme Court, which ruled last week that the White House can end the Trump-era "Remain in Mexico" policy that made migrants seeking asylum stay outside the U.S. during adjudication.
Mayorkas argued that policy "has endemic flaws and causes unjustifiable human tragedy."
"We need to wait until the Supreme Court's decision is actually communicated to the lower court, to the federal district court and the Northern District of Texas ... So, we have to wait several weeks for that procedural step to be taken," he said.
As for the migrant deaths in the tractor trailer in Texas, Mayorkas said he didn't want to comment on the facts of the case as they were still emerging. He declined to say whether or not the vehicle had been "waved through" a checkpoint.
"The smuggling organizations are extraordinarily sophisticated. They are transnational criminal organizations," he said.
Raddatz followed up, asking: "What good are these checkpoints if a truck like that gets through, full of migrants?"
Mayorkas said the "checkpoints are part of a multilayered approach."
"In fiscal year 2022 alone we've stopped more than 400 vehicles and saved and rescued more than 10,000 migrants," Mayorkas said. "But this is why we continue to communicate that the journey -- the dangerous journey should not be taken. We are enforcing our laws and people lose their lives at the hands or exploitative smugglers."
(WASHINGTON) -- The Justice Department should not avoid prosecuting Donald Trump in relation to the Jan. 6 Capitol attack if a prosecution is warranted, Rep. Liz Cheney said in an interview with ABC News' "This Week" co-anchor Jonathan Karl.
While bringing charges against the former president -- who may challenge President Joe Biden in 2024 -- would be unprecedented and "difficult" for the country, not doing so would support a "much graver constitutional threat," Cheney said Wednesday in an interview at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library that aired Sunday on "This Week."
"Are you worried about what that means for the country, to [see] a former president prosecuted? A former president who was a likely candidate; who may in fact be running for president against Biden?" Karl asked Cheney.
"I think it's a much graver constitutional threat if a president can engage in these kinds of activities, and the majority of the president's party looks away; or we as a country decide we're not actually going to take our constitutional obligations seriously," Cheney said. "I think that's a much, a much more serious threat."
"I really believe we have to make these decisions, as difficult as it is, apart from politics. We really have to think about these from the perspective of: What does it mean for the country?" she said.
'Absolutely confident' in Hutchinson's testimony
The Wyoming Republican told Karl she was "absolutely confident" in Cassidy Hutchinson's startling testimony last week during a surprise hearing by the House's Jan. 6 committee, which Cheney vice-chairs.
"She's an incredibly brave young woman," Cheney said of Hutchinson.
On Tuesday, the former aide to Trump's White House chief of staff Mark Meadows testified that she was told Trump was verbally aggressive with Secret Service agents and lunged for the steering wheel of his vehicle after learning he was not going to the Capitol after his rally on Jan. 6, 2021.
Hutchinson said Tony Ornato, a Secret Service agent and Trump deputy chief of staff, told her as much not long after the incident that same day. Hutchinson's account has drawn significant attention and push-back from Trump.
"What Ms. Hutchinson testified to was a conversation that she was part of with Mr. Ornato and which Mr. Engel [a Secret Service agent] was present, where they detailed what happened in the limousine," Cheney said.
"Do you have any evidence other than Cassidy Hutchinson's testimony to corroborate what she said happened in that presidential motorcade?" Karl asked Cheney.
"The committee has significant evidence about a whole range of issues, including the president's intense anger," Cheney responded.
"I think you will continue to see in the coming days and weeks additional detail about the president's activities and behavior on that day," Cheney added.
In a statement to ABC News, the Secret Service said agents were prepared to give sworn testimony to the panel. A source close to the Secret Service did not dispute to ABC News that Trump was angry with agents in the car but said he did not reach for the wheel or lunge at Robert Engel, the lead agent on his detail.
Hutchinson also claimed that Trump knew his supporters were armed on Jan. 6 ahead of a march on the Capitol.
Trump on Tuesday worked to dismiss and downplay Hutchinson's testimony, posting on social media that "I hardly know who this person ... is, other than I heard very negative things about her (a total phony and 'leaker')."
"She is bad news!" he added.
Speaking with Karl, Cheney said the House committee "is not going to stand by and watch her [Hutchinson's] character be assassinated by anonymous sources and by men who are claiming executive privilege. And so we look forward very much to additional testimony under oath on a whole range of issues."
Criminal referral over witness tampering?
Cheney said during last week's hearing that some witnesses had told investigators Trump aides attempted to influence their testimony before the panel. Hutchinson was among those to receive messages about protecting the former president, sources later told ABC News.
"Witness tampering is a crime. Are you making a criminal referral to DOJ on this?" Karl asked.
"We'll make a decision as a committee about that," Cheney replied.
"Do you have any doubt that [Trump] broke the law and that he is guilty of criminal violations?" Karl asked Cheney. (Trump insists he did nothing wrong.)"It's a decision that we'll make together as a committee," Cheney said of referring any potential criminal conduct to the Justice Department.
"There's no question that he engaged in high crimes and misdemeanors. I think there's no question that it's the most serious betrayal of his oath of office of any president in the history of the nation. It's the most dangerous behavior of any president in the history of the nation," she said.
"It's possible there will be a criminal referral?" Karl asked.
"Yes," Cheney said, adding that the Justice Department "doesn't have to wait" for the panel to make a referral and that the committee could issue "more than one criminal referral."
Damaging Trump 'not the goal' of hearings
Cheney has emerged as perhaps her party's most vocal and most famous anti-Trump voice, drawing praise from Democrats and derision from many conservatives. Last year, she told ABC News that she would "do everything that I can to make sure" Trump "never gets anywhere close to the Oval Office again."
"Have these hearings gotten you closer to that goal -- making him toxic and not a viable candidate?" Karl asked in the new interview.
"That's not the goal of the hearings," she said.
"It's crucial for the country to make sure that he's never anywhere near the Oval Office again," Cheney continued.
"The goal of the hearings is to make sure that the American people understand what happened; to help inform legislation, legislative changes that we might need to make," she said. "I think it's also the case that there's not a single thing that I have learned, as we have been involved in this investigation, that has made me less concerned."
"There's no question: A man as dangerous as Donald Trump can absolutely never be anywhere near the Oval Office ever again," Cheney said.
With looming primary, Cheney doesn't 'intend to lose'
Cheney was one of 10 House Republicans to vote to impeach Trump in 2021 for inciting the Capitol riot. Of that group, four are not running for reelection and Rep. Tom Rice of South Carolina was defeated in his May primary by a Trump-endorsed opponent.
Cheney will face Trump-backed candidate Harriet Hageman in early August. The former president won a greater share of the vote in Wyoming in 2020 than in any other state.
"You said recently the country is now in a battle: We must win against the former president trying to unravel our constitutional republic. What will it mean for that battle if you lose the Republican primary in Wyoming?" Karl asked Cheney.
"Well, I don't intend to lose the Republican primary in Wyoming," Cheney said.
"How important is it that you win, for that larger battle?" Karl asked.
"I think it's important, because I will be the best representative that people of Wyoming can have," Cheney said.
"The single most important thing is protecting the nation from Donald Trump. And I think that that matters to us as Americans more than anything else, and that's why my work on the committee is so important," she said.
"It's so important to not just brush this past and say, 'Okay, well, that's in the past,' but it informs whether this sort of toxin of Trump's belief that he can put himself above the Constitution and put himself above the law -- whether or not we successfully defeat that. And I think it's very important that people know the truth. And that there are consequences," Cheney said.
Cheney thinks GOP 'can't survive' a Trump 2024 bid
Cheney said the Republican Party "can't survive" if the former president runs for the White House again and wins the GOP nomination for 2024.
"I think that he can't be the party nominee. And I don't think the party would survive that," Cheney said. "I believe in the party, and I believe in what the party can be and what the party can stand for. And I'm not ready to give that up."
"Those of us who believe in Republican principles and ideals have a responsibility to try to lead the party back to what it can be, and to reject, and to reject so much of the toxin and the vitriol," she added.
"I think it's important also to remember that millions of people, millions of Republicans have been betrayed by Donald Trump. And that is a really painful thing for people to recognize and to admit," she said.
"But it's absolutely the case and they've been betrayed by him, by the 'big lie" -- referring to Trump's continued baseless claims of election fraud -- "and by what he continues to do and say to tear apart our country and tear apart our party, and I think we have to reject that," Cheney said.
She said she has not "made a decision" about running for president in 2024.
"I'm obviously very focused on my reelection. I'm very focused on the Jan. 6 committee," she said, with public hearings expected to resume later this month. "I'm very focused on my obligations to do the job that I have now. And I'll make a decision about '24 down the road."
"But I think about it less in terms of a decision about running for office and more in terms of as an American -- and as somebody who's in a position of public trust now -- how do I make sure that I'm doing everything I can to do the right thing, to do what I know is right for the country, and to protect our Constitution?"
(NEW YORK) -- Supreme Court marshal Gail Curley is asking Maryland officials to enforce state and local laws that prohibit picketing outside the homes of justices.
Curley sent the requests to Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Montgomery County executive Mark Erlich in letters dated July 1, citing an uptick in demonstrations since May -- when the draft opinion overturning Roe v. Wade was leaked to the public.
“For weeks on end, large groups of protesters chanting slogans, using bullhorns, and banging drums have picketed Justices’ homes in Maryland,” Curley wrote to Hogan, noting one crowd outside the home of a justice grew to more than 100 people.
The Maryland residences of Chief Justice John Roberts and justices Samuel Alito and Brett Kavanaugh have been the site of such activity. Alito and Kavanaugh were part of the majority opinion overturning Roe on June 24.
Last month, a man was arrested outside Kavanaugh’s home with a gun. Nicholas Roske, 26, allegedly told authorities he intended to kill the justice. Roske has pleaded not guilty to one count of attempting to kill a justice of the United States.
Curley in her letters pointed to a Maryland law which states a “person may not intentionally assemble with another in a manner that disrupts a person’s right to tranquility in the person’s home.” The law provides imprisonment for up to 90 days or a $100 fine.
Curley also cited a Montgomery County law that states a “person or group of persons must not picket in front of or adjacent to any private residence.”
As the Supreme Court marshal, Curley oversees security and the court's police force.
Hogan and Elrich’s offices did not immediately respond to a request for comment by ABC News.
Curley noted that Hogan previously said he was “deeply concerned” when hundreds of people gathered to protest at the justices’ homes. In mid-May, Hogan joined fellow Republican governor, Virginia's Glenn Youngkin, in urging U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to enforce a federal law that forbids demonstrations intended to sway judges on pending cases. In Virginia, the home of Justice Amy Coney Barrett has also been a target of protesters.
Elrich previously told ABC affiliate WCTI that he wished the protests were done somewhere else. "If everybody's going to protest everybody who does something at their houses, we're going to have a very hard time maintaining civil society," he said, as Curley noted in her letter.
Security has been tightened for the justices and their families since the draft abortion ruling was leaked on May 2, and the protests have been the topic of legal debate as protesters argue they are exercising their First Amendment rights.
Curley is also investigating the leak of the draft opinion. Little details have been provided about the probe, but it will likely look at the document’s paper trail, as draft opinions are not widely accessible.
The high court just ended a dramatic and divisive term, ruling on hot-button topics like abortion, gun rights, religious liberty and environmental regulation.
The justices will reconvene in October for a term that will include cases on election laws, free speech and consideration of race in college admissions processes.
(WASHINGTON) -- Vice President Kamala Harris will travel to New Orleans on Saturday to take part in the Essence Festival of Culture.
According to White House officials, Harris will speak in "a fireside conversation with Emmy-winning actress and leading millennial voice Keke Palmer, where the Vice President will speak to the most critical issues facing Black women, including the implications of the Supreme Court's decision on [Roe v. Wade]."
"This will be the largest audience the Vice President has addressed since the Court's decision last Friday," the officials said.
The Supreme Court on June 24 overturned the landmark ruling that legalized abortion access nationwide for the past five decades.
Harris responded to the repeal of Roe that day, stating it was "the first time in the history of our nation that a constitutional right has been taken from the people of America."
"This is a health care crisis, because understand, millions of women in America will go to bed tonight without access to the health care and reproductive care that they had this morning; without access to the same healthcare or reproductive healthcare that their mothers and grandmothers had for 50 years," she said during a visit to Plainfield, Illinois.
Harris also said the decision could impact other privacy rights, including precedent on contraception and same-sex marriage.
"The great aspiration of our nation has been to expand freedom, but the expansion of freedom clearly is not inevitable," the vice president said.
The Biden administration has taken some steps to protect access to care. The Justice Department said it will protect women traveling across state lines for abortion services and Health and Human Services is working to ensure access to federally-approved medication such as contraception and the abortion pill mifepristone.
President Joe Biden met with Democratic governors on Friday to discuss additional efforts to safeguard reproductive care and women's rights.
But the president has said it's up to Congress to make Roe federal law, and without a carveout to the Senate filibuster it's unlikely any attempt to do so by Democrats will fail.
Democratic leaders have also said it's up to voters to elect more representatives who support abortion rights.
"You have the power to elect leaders who will defend and protect your rights," Harris said last week.
The Essence Festival of Culture kicked off on Thursday and will run through Sunday, featuring performances by Kevin Hart, Nicki Minak, Janet Jackson and more.
Harris, the first female and Black vice president, last spoke at the festival in 2019, when she was running for the Democratic nomination for president.
While in New Orleans, Harris will also meet privately with leaders of reproductive justice organizations.
(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. military has a recruiting problem, with a former senior military official telling ABC News the viability of the all-volunteer force could be at stake.
Pentagon data show a simple, troubling trend: Fewer and fewer young Americans want to serve, and due to obesity and other problems, fewer are qualified.
The Defense Department's top personnel and readiness leader blamed the nation's competitive job market as a major contributor while testifying on Capitol Hill in late April.
"The Department is in fierce competition for skilled, relevant and innovative talent. The labor market, exacerbated by the effects of the pandemic and the military-civilian divide creates a challenging recruiting environment," Gilbert Cisneros told senators at an Armed Services subcommittee hearing.
A former senior military official told ABC News that today's recruiters face a great challenge in pitching the benefits of enlisting to young people, with private companies using impressive incentives to entice prospects.
"Many of the things that we used to offer, like the GI Bill, are offered by private industry today. So they're no longer a benefit," the former senior official said.
Even the Marine Corps, which does not usually struggle to find recruits, is under pressure to meet its goals.
"We made mission last year; however, FY22 has proved to be arguably the most challenging year in recruiting history," Marine Lt. Gen. David Ottingnon said in written testimony before joining Cisneros at the Senate hearing in April. "In addition to COVID-19, the growing disconnect and declining favorable view between the U.S. population and traditional institutions, labor shortages, high inflation, and a population of youth who do not see the value of military service also continue to strain recruiting efforts and place the Marine Corps’ accession mission at risk."
Only 9% of young people now show a propensity to serve, according to Defense Department polling data shared with ABC News. It's the lowest number seen in 15 years.
Top reasons cited for not wanting to join are the possibility of injury or death, and fear of developing PTSD or other psychological problems.
But the pool of young people who meet the basic standards to enlist in the military is also shrinking.
Only 23% of Americans aged 17 to 24 are eligible to join without being granted a waiver. This is down from 29% in recent years, according to Pentagon data. Obesity and drug use are common disqualifying factors.
The former senior official, who maintains contact with active-duty leaders, said the poor shape of some incoming troops has led the Army to stop trying to have them run within the first two weeks of basic training.
"They have to teach them how to run, and they've had issues with bone density to the point that, when they do run them, they've ended up breaking a leg or worse, a hip," the former official said. "I've even heard in some cases they're putting them on diets of Ensure -- you know, the stuff for old [people] like me -- in order to build that bone density."
A second former senior military official told ABC News the problem is worse than the general public realizes.
"To the average civilian who's not knowledgeable about the situation, they think there are all kinds of kids around. Yeah, but you can't bring them in the Army if they're obese, if they've got a history of drug abuse, all these other things. So it's a much smaller population," the second former official said.
The Army slightly exceeded its enlisted active-duty recruiting goal for FY21, but has so far only met about 40% of its goal for FY22, which ends in three months.
The last few months of the fiscal quarter is usually when the Army gets most of its recruits for the year, because that's when high school graduation occurs, but an Army official acknowledged that "this is an unprecedented year." The Army is clearly behind where it would like to be.
In an attempt to expand its base of applicants, the Army this week advertised that it was "offering limited eligibility for applicants who do not have a GED or High School diploma to enlist in the Regular Army."
The Army said the opportunity was not new, and that some people without diplomas or GEDs have been able to enlist in the past, "just on a very limited basis." Prospective recruits without the standard educational credentials would have had to score at least a 50 on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, which indicates scoring in the 50th percentile.
While the opportunity was not new, it was not something actively advertised by the Army until this week.
The second former senior military official spoke of the importance diplomas held at the time they served.
"If they had graduated from high school it meant that they had started something and had finished it. And they were far more likely to succeed in the Army because of that discipline," the former official said.
On Thursday, the announcement welcoming qualifying non-graduates was removed from the Army Recruiting Command's website. Two Army officials confirmed to ABC News that the service is halting the initiative to reassess its merits.
"The Army has currently paused its efforts to take some time to ensure that this option sets recruits up for success in their Army career," one Army official with close knowledge of the decision said.
"The authorities exist, but at this stage we're not bringing them in," another Army official said. This official said it's possible Army leaders will later decide to proceed with enlisting a small group of qualifying non-graduates to see if doing so would be viable at a larger scale.
Neither official could say how many non-graduates have been able to enlist through waivers in years past.
The first former senior defense official painted a grim picture for the military as a whole.
"I have a real concern of the viability of the all-volunteer force, I really do. I don't see anything changing that's going to right this ship right now. Albeit there are a lot of good people trying to do everything they can, there are a lot of issues out there that have to be fixed," the former official said.
It would help to empower recruiters with more incentive tools, though that would mean more funding for things like enlistment bonuses and higher pay likely coming at the expense of other important military projects, according to the former official.
Cisneros told senators that a 4.6% military pay raise included in the FY23 defense budget will help, adding that he is working closely with the services to "leverage all authorities, resources and tools" to address recruiting challenges.
The second former senior military official said the recruiting problem is a sign of wider societal problems.
"It's a reflection on our country. It is our country, and those recruiters see those problems firsthand every day," the former official said.
(WASHINGTON) -- President Joe Biden on Friday met virtually with Democratic governors to talk reproductive health care amid some party disappointment over the administration's response to the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
New York's Kathy Hochul provided a list to Biden of potential actions, including additional funding for family planning services more broadly so that providers can focus private dollars for abortion services.
Hochul also asked Biden to give more consideration to his ability to "use federal facilities" for abortion care -- a move the White House has said would have "dangerous ramifications."
"What am I talking about? Veterans hospitals, military bases and other places where the federal government controls the jurisdiction in some of the states that are hostile to women's rights, and make sure that those services can be available to other women," Hochul suggested.
New Mexico's Lujan Grisham said she agreed "wholeheartedly" with Hochul's assessment that there are more federal opportunities to protect women's access to care, and suggested Indian Health Service clinic and sovereign tribal nations could be another avenue for Biden to pursue.
The president on Friday again decried the Supreme Court's decision ending 50 years of abortion rights as "terrible."
"I share the public outrage at this extremist court that's committed to moving America backwards with fewer rights, less autonomy," he said as he spoke with state leaders from the White House's South Court Auditorium.
Biden also touted some steps he's taken in the aftermath of the Roe decision, such as instructing the Justice Department to protect women traveling out-of-state for care and Health and Human Services to ensure access to federally-approved medication such as contraception and the abortion pill mifepristone.
But some Democrats say the administration should have been better prepared for Roe's fall, given the decision released by the high court on June 24 was leaked in early May.
Washington Sen. Patty Murray expressed frustration that the Biden team wasn't ready, telling ABC News on Monday that Biden should do "absolutely everything in his power to protect access to abortion in America."
Other governors in attendance for the virtual roundtable were New Mexico's Michelle Lujan Grisham, Connecticut's Ned Lamont, Colorado's Jared Polis, Illinois' J.B. Pritzker, Washington's Jay Insee, Oregon's Kate Brown and Rhode Island's Daniel McKee.
Their states have moved to protect women's access to reproductive health care before and after the high court's decision.
In Connecticut, Gov. Lamont signed a new law strengthening abortion rights. The law, which also includes protections for medical providers and patients traveling from out of state seeking abortion, went into effect today.
Hochul has instructed the state legislature to add equal rights to the agenda of their special, stating that after today lawmakers will be a step closer to enshrining abortion rights in the state constitution.
"The rights of millions of women across this country are now falling on the shoulders of just a handful of states," Hochul said.
In addition to urging more action from Biden, some of the governors in attendance also called on Congress to make Roe federal law by passing the Women's Health Protection Act.
The president yesterday called for a carveout in the Senate filibuster to codify Roe, but acknowledged on Friday that he didn't have the votes.
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., view of the filibuster remains "unchanged," her spokesperson told ABC News. Fellow moderate Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., is also unlikely to support changes to the rule, telling reporters he wants to see a bipartisan solution.
Biden said Friday the American people need to elect more Democrats to the House and Senate to "get this bill to my desk."
Biden predicted that a Republican-controlled Congress would try to pass a total ban on abortion.
"So the choice is clear: We either elect federal senators and representatives who will codify Roe, or Republicans who will elect the House and Senate will try to ban abortions nationwide," Biden said.
(WASHINGTON) -- Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra told reporters Friday that the upcoming launch of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline's new three-digit number, 988, on July 16, "will work, if the states are committed to it."
The new number, which advocates envision as the mental health equivalent to 911, Becerra said, "Won't work well, if they're not [committed]."
The Lifeline has been in operation using a 10-digit number since 2005. In the years since, the service has received more than 20 million calls from people experiencing mental distress.
With the launch of the new number, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (a division of HHS) expects a dramatic increase in the call volume for the Lifeline over the first year of 988's implementation.
The Lifeline has been underfunded and understaffed since its establishment. Despite an influx of federal funding from the Biden administration, states across the nation are still struggling to develop the infrastructure required to ensure all calls are answered.
As the launch of the new number approaches, Becerra says, "Failure is not an option."
The hope for the new number, Becerra says, is, "If you are willing to turn to someone in your moment of crisis, 988 will be there. 988 won't be a busy signal and 988 won't put you on hold."
"You will get help," he said. "That is the goal. That is the aspiration. And it doesn't happen overnight."
The Lifeline network consists of more than 200 call centers nationwide, which are funded largely at the state level. When Congress first designated 988 as the new Lifeline number in 2020, it gave states the authority to levy cell phone fees, similar to those in place for 911, to fund the service.
Only four states have implemented such taxes as of June 29, according to an analysis of state legislation around 988 from the National Academy for State Health Policy. Several other states have allocated general appropriations funding to assist with the launch of the new number.
Due to inconsistencies in funding at the state level, response rates also vary across state lines -- a problem SAMHSA and HHS say they have been working to address ahead of the new number's launch.
"There's no reason, no excuse that a person in one state can get a good response and a person in another state gets a busy signal," Becerra said.
The federal government previously allocated $105 million in funding to assist states and territories in preparing for the launch of the new number. An additional $177 million went toward funding the national backup centers that field calls unable to be answered at the local level.
Congress also recently authorized an additional $150 million for the Lifeline during Fiscal Year 2022 as part of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act — a legislative package focused on combating gun violence.
"President Biden has made it very clear" that mental health services are a "top priority," Becerra said, but added it is incumbent on states to stand this system up long-term.
Asked by ABC News about efforts to increase workforce capacity to meet the expected jump in call volume and a timeline for a consistent answer rate across state lines, Becerra said, "We went in big early to make it work."
"We need the states," he continued. "We are essentially helping the states learn to crawl, walk and run."
Dr. John Palmieri, acting director of 988 and Behavioral Health Crisis at SAMHSA, added, "States are in different places on this."
SAMHSA has set "aspirational targets," Palmieri said, of a 90% in-state response rate by 2023, "understanding that it's going to take time to get there."
While the national backup centers can take calls that local centers can't answer, advocates say a local response is ideal as it allows callers to be given follow-up resources near them after a mental health crisis.
"It's really important for us that when you call, you get someone who is near you," Becerra said.
In an effort to encourage states to bolster their own funding and workforce commitments for the Lifeline, HHS and SAMHSA have been sending letters to governors for the last few months with their call answer rates.
"We wanted to make sure they knew what they were doing," Becerra said, adding, "No governor is unaware of where their state stands."
Long term, he said, "I hope  does become the place that people can go to be rescued."
If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide or worried about a friend or loved one, help is available. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 [TALK] for free, confidential emotional support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
(WASHINGTON) -- The White House on Friday announced the next list of recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Olympic gymnast Simone Biles, gun control advocate Gabrielle Giffords and actor Denzel Washington are among the 17 individuals chosen to receive the nation's highest civilian honor. The ceremony will take place at the White House on Thursday, July 7.
Late Sen. John McCain, a Purple Heart recipient who represented the state of Arizona in Congress for decades before succumbing to glioblastoma in 2018, will be awarded the honor posthumously.
Biden and McCain's friendship dated back to the 1970s, and the two worked together on a number of issues during their time in the Senate. In 2018, Biden delivered a moving eulogy at McCain's memorial service, stating "we will not see his like again."
Apple co-founder Steve Jobs and former AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka also will receive posthumous awards.
President Joe Biden will be the first president to award the medals after already receiving one himself. Former President Barack Obama presented the medal to Biden in 2017, who was then serving as vice president.
"This honor is not only well beyond what I deserve, but it's a reflection of the generosity of your spirit," an emotional Biden told Obama during the ceremony. "I don't deserve this. But I know it came from the president's heart."
The Presidential Medal of Freedom is awarded to people who have "made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors."
"These seventeen Americans demonstrate the power of possibilities and embody the soul of the nation – hard work, perseverance, and faith," the White House said. "They have overcome significant obstacles to achieve impressive accomplishments in the arts and sciences, dedicated their lives to advocating for the most vulnerable among us, and acted with bravery to drive change in their communities – and across the world – while blazing trails for generations to come."
Here's a list of the other 11 Medal of Freedom recipients:
Sister Simone Campbell - Campbell is a member of Sisters of Social Service, and a prominent advocate for economic justice, immigration reform, and healthcare policy.
Dr. Julieta García - García was the first Hispanic woman to serve as a college president, having served in the top position at The University of Texas at Brownsville.
Fred Gray - Gray was one of the first Black members of the Alabama State legislature since Reconstruction, and a distinguished civil rights attorney whose clients included Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Father Alexander Karloutsos - Karloutsos is a former Vicar General of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, and as a priest provided counsel to several U.S. presidents
Khizr Khan - a Pakistani immigrant whose son was killed while serving in the U.S. Army, Khan served on the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom under Biden.
Sandra Lindsay - Lindsay, a New York critical care nurse, was the first American to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
Diane Nash - a founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Nash worked closely with King and other civil rights leaders.
Megan Rapinoe - a World Champion and Olympic soccer star, Rapinoe is also an advocate for gender pay equality, racial justice, and LGBTQI+ rights.
Alan Simpson - Simpson has served in the U.S. Senate for nearly two decades, leading on issues such as campaign finance reform and marriage equality.
Wilma Vaught - Vaught is one of the most decorated women in U.S. military history.
Raúl Yzaguirre - Yzaguirre is a civil rights advocate who served as CEO and president of National Council of La Raza for 30 years, and was once the U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic.
(WASHINGTON) -- Arizona Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema remains committed to upholding the Senate filibuster, a spokesperson said Friday, a day after President Joe Biden said he would support making an exception to codify abortion rights in federal law.
"Senator Sinema's position on the filibuster has not changed," the spokesperson told ABC News.
While West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin hasn't weighed in specifically after Biden's call, all signs are that he, too, remains opposed to such a carveout. Without the support of both Democrats, a change to the Senate rules is likely not possible.
Biden is under pressure to act on reproductive rights after the Supreme Court last Friday overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision legalizing abortion access nationwide for the past five decades.
Biden on Thursday called the high court's behavior "outrageous," stating he supported an exception to the Senate's 60-vote threshold to protect abortion rights.
"We have to codify Roe v. Wade in the law," he said. "And the way to do that is to make sure Congress votes to do that. And if the filibuster gets in the way it's like voting rights, it should be we provide an exception for this, except the required exception to the filibuster for this action to deal with the Supreme Court decision."
Biden earlier this year voiced support for a filibuster carveout to pass voting rights legislation, but that too faced opposition from Manchin and Sinema.
The administration has announced several steps aimed at safeguarding existing protections for women, such as protecting access for medication abortion and ensuring that pregnant patients can get emergency medical care. Earlier this week, Health Secretary Xavier Becerra said every option is being explored with top legal advisers.
But Biden's acknowledged that such executive action can only go so far, stating it is ultimately up to Congress to enshrine abortion rights at the federal level.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., on Friday said "Democrats are fighting ferociously to enshrine Roe v Wade into law."
But the party's options remain extremely limited, so long as the Senate filibuster is intact.
When asked about Biden's call for filibuster carveout, Sinema's office referred ABC News to the op-ed the senator wrote last summer and her statement following the leaked Dobbs decision earlier this year. In both statements, Sinema affirmed her belief that the filibuster has been used to protect women's rights.
"Protections in the Senate safeguarding against the erosion of women's access to health care have been used half-a-dozen times in the past ten years, and are more important now than ever," she said in the previous statement.
Manchin said last week, following the Supreme Court decision, that he was hopeful for a bipartisan solution.
When the draft abortion decision leaked in May, Manchin told reporters "the filibuster is the only protection of democracy."
ABC News' Allison Pecorin and Libby Cathey contributed to this report.
(WASHINGTON) -- Republican lawmakers are proposing what they call "pro-family" platforms following the Supreme Court's scrapping of the constitutional protections around abortion to try to help people who, in some states, could now be forced to carry a pregnancy to term.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio put out a sprawling framework last week, while Sens. Steve Daines of Montana, Mitt Romney of Utah and Richard Burr of North Carolina put out their own proposal pushing for a monthly cash stipend for working families pulled from other tax benefits.
Specific states have also touched on new or forthcoming tools for new parents, such as a website to connect moms with resources that South Dakota's Republican Gov. Kristi Noem discussed on ABC's This Week.
Yet implementing these small handful of new plans, which would institute policies that would be novel in some states, could prove easier said than done, critics and experts say -- raising concerns over the resources that will be available for new parents in the 12 states and counting without access to abortion.
"This ruling and the result that people are going to be forced to have unplanned pregnancies and care for children that they weren't planning for … means that people are going to be suffering economic consequences," Amy Matsui, the director of income security and senior counsel at the National Women's Law Center, told ABC News. "These plans nod to that fact, but don't actually do anything to address it in a meaningful way."
Among the top concern cited is a historic lack of investment in social safety net programs by states that are restricting or outlawing abortion.
An amicus brief filed by pro-abortion rights groups in the Supreme Court case that overturned constitutional abortion protections showed that 14 states with the most restrictive laws also demonstrated poor maternal and child health outcomes, including early need for prenatal care, low infant birthweight and infant mortality.
And while some early proposals appear intended to combat precisely those scenarios, experts warn that those trends indicate some states are on poor footing to implement any substantial solutions.
"When you look at the overlay, the states that have restricted or banned abortion are the same states that have not invested in their safety nets. They do not have the same kinds of supports for low-income families, for pregnant people, for health care, for child care, for supporting workers or for education that states that generally support abortion rights do," said Elizabeth Nash, a state policy analyst at the pro-abortion rights Guttmacher Institute.
"So basically, they are not providing the health care that people need or the supports that they need," Nash said. "And now, sort of as an afterthought and because of public outcry, they're saying, 'OK, well, let's pull together sort of a quick package.'"
To be sure, Republicans insist their plans are feasible, casting them as prudent proposals.
"For the past 50 years, our country built a massive, pro-abortion commercial infrastructure. There are commonsense, bipartisan steps we can take to support American families and protect life, instead of ending it," Rubio said in a statement.
"This will be a big boost for parents and families that won't increase the debt and will make federal policy work better for families across the nation -- I hope to see all my colleagues get behind this plan," Daines added.
But digging deeper, some experts expressed concern about the plans' specific planks, warning that they would force pregnant people to make difficult choices.
Rubio's plan, for instance, would allow new parents to invest in paid parental leave by pulling forward up to three months of their future Social Security benefits.
And in the proposal from Daines, Romney and Burr, the monthly cash benefit for working families is paid for by "consolidating the family portion of the [earned income tax credit] to not vary depending on the number of dependents" and eliminating the head of household filing status and child portion of the child and dependent care credit.
"That is great, and continuing to have an expanded child tax credit is important for the well-being of families and children," Matsui said of a monthly cash benefit. "But to fund it by taking away the head of household filing status or restricting the EITC or taking away the child portion of the child and dependent care tax credit is basically robbing Peter to pay Paul."
"Another example is the purported parental leave provision that is in Sen. Rubio's package. It offers new parents the opportunity to borrow against their future Social Security benefits," she added. "They need it now and they need it later. And we're asking them to bear the cost rather than provide new and additional supports. It really is just kind of a shifting shell game."
Rubio's plan also offers expanded tax relief for adoptive parents, though activists said that does little to help someone during a pregnancy. The plan also includes a provision to "expand access to social services by lowering barriers to faith-based organizations' participation," but the experts who spoke with ABC News warned of past discriminatory language by such groups, particularly against the LGBTQ community.
"That is just completely inappropriate," Nash said.
Experts did not disagree with every aspect of the plans. For instance, Nash called Rubio's provision to boost the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (also known as WIC) and to extend the postpartum benefit eligibility period from one to two years "helpful."
But overall, experts and critics spoke on the recently proposed plans with skepticism, chiefly over how novel their proposals are in some of the most impacted states.
"I think that even a really great plan, which I don't think either of these are, even a really great plan that isn't tested is a bad idea," said Susan Polan, associate executive director of public affairs and advocacy at the American Public Health Association. "We can't piecemeal it together and build the plane as we're flying it."
(WASHINGTON) -- A former White House aide's stunning testimony before the House panel investigating the Capitol attack indicated that the U.S. Secret Service may have had advanced warning of the potential for violence at the Capitol, raising new questions about the agency's planning ahead of the riot and actions taken by agents on Jan. 6.
Cassidy Hutchinson, a top deputy to then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, told lawmakers on Tuesday that the security team guarding then-President Donald Trump and senior White House officials were aware there was a serious threat posed by some descending on Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, when Trump was planning to address a rally to support his baseless accusations that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him.
In Hutchinson's telling, the agency famous for its teams of bodyguards, sharpshooters and hyper-skilled drivers was aware that among the throngs headed to Washington were some who were planning to carry a variety of weapons and military gear, and were seeking to target members of Congress and breach the Capitol building.
If so, the Secret Service apparently failed to coordinate effectively with law enforcement partners, the public, or congressional leaders to strengthen the security posture -- and instead ferried a number of people under their protection to the Capitol complex with little more than their personal security details.
The Secret Service declined to answer questions from ABC News.
If true, the lapse in security -- laid out on national television during a committee session Tuesday -- represents perhaps the most glaring evidence to date that the Secret Service, responsible for guarding key political figures and their families, failed at its most basic responsibilities in how it dealt with Trump's rally and the meetings of the House and Senate on Jan. 6, according to John Cohen, a former ranking Department of Homeland Security official who is now an ABC News contributor.
"It appears that senior officials at the White House were not only aware of plans to march on the U.S. Capitol, but also appeared to be planning for the president to join," Cohen said, citing another of Hutchinson's allegations. "This testimony raises highly disconcerting questions about what the Secret Service knew about this event and why more wasn't done to prepare."
Notoriously tight-lipped about their job and how they do it, the Secret Service is under renewed focus this week after Hutchison, 26, alleged shocking new details about the president's interactions with his security agents on Jan. 6 and how they were so concerned about possible violence at the Capitol that they refused Trump's directive to drive him there.
"The president said something to the effect of, 'I'm the effing president, take me up to the Capitol now' -- to which Bobby [Engel, the head of Trump's security detail], responded, 'Sir, we have to go back to the West Wing,'" Hutchinson testified she was told by Tony Ornato, a senior Secret Service official who was at the time White House deputy chief of staff for operations.
Trump, responding to Hutchinson's testimony, said, "I hardly know who this person, Cassidy Hutchinson, is, other than I heard very negative things about her (a total phony and 'leaker')."
Hutchinson also testified that in the days leading up to Jan. 6, Meadows at one point said, "Things might get real, real bad on Jan. 6."
And on the morning of Trump's planned speech at the Ellipse, just south of the White House grounds, Hutchinson said, Trump was made aware of individuals with weapons seeking to attend his rally and that many of them declined to pass through security checkpoints because they would have needed to surrender their weapons. Frustrated that those requirements were suppressing the size of the crowd, Trump suggested that the metal detectors be removed, Hutchinson testified.
Cohen said that, as concerned as he was about those developments, he was most troubled by the picture Hutchinson's testimony painted of possible failures on the part of the Secret Service, an agency Cohen has worked closely with since it was folded in to DHS after the 9/11 terror attacks.
"Hutchinson's testimony raises serious questions regarding security planning by the Secret Service on Jan 6. that will need to be answered," Cohen said. "Did the Service leadership have advanced notice of the planned march on the Capitol? Did they have advanced notice of the president's intent to join the crowd?"
Hutchinson said that Ornato, whom she described as "the conduit for security protocol between White House staff and the United States Secret Service," was aware of possible violence planned for Jan. 6 in the preceding days -- and alerted Meadows and Trump on the morning of Jan. 6.
Even with this information allegedly circulating among senior White House staff, the Secret Service ferried at least three of its protectees to travel to the Capitol -- Vice President Mike Pence, Second Lady Karen Pence, and incoming Vice President Kamala Harris, who was still a senator from California -- without supplementing their details with additional agents or coordinating with other agencies to shore up protection.
Ornato, a longtime Secret Service employee, currently serves as a senior official in the agency's training branch. The Jan. 6 committee has expressed interest in interviewing him, and the Secret Service has said he is available to testify under oath, but did not provide further details.
Law enforcement officials have broadly characterized Jan. 6 as an intelligence failure, claiming that Washington's myriad of law enforcement agencies did not fully grasp the threat landscape -- despite warnings that appeared on social media in the weeks leading up the rally.
Secret Service officials have also said that local officials did not ask DHS to establish a special national security designation for the Jan. 6 sessions of Congress, so their hands were tied -- though Cohen said DHS and the Secret Service don't have to wait for local officials to reach out if they are aware of active threats.
Hutchinson's testimony indicated that the Secret Service either had advanced warning of the threats and failed to notify others and formulate an appropriate response plan -- or they were misled by White House officials who had a clearer understanding of the potential for violence and neglected to alert the appropriate agencies, Cohen said.
"These security lapses may not have been a result of incompetence, but instead due to deliberate actions taken by senior White House officials," Cohen said. "If this information was not provided to the Secret Service, or if it was and the Secret Service failed to expand security operations, that would be highly disconcerting."
Don Mihalek, a former senior Secret Service agent who is now an ABC News contributor, said the "interplay of information" among senior White House staff and protective agents about possible threats happens regularly -- but that agents are limited in how they can implement plans if senior officials fail to heed warnings or cooperate with them.
Mihalek said he believes the breakdown in communication between agencies handicapped the Secret Service's planning and response as protesters marched on the Capitol building. He defended agents' decision to allow Pence, his wife, and Harris travel freely to the Capitol, despite possibly knowing the risk in advance.
"Nobody has a crystal ball," Mihalek said. "There's always a threat environment, and the Secret Service's job is to mitigate threats as much as possible -- and they don't have the authority to override a protectee's movement, outside of citing a credible and specific threat."
In the wake of her appearance on Capitol Hill, Hutchinson has faced a deluge of criticism from Trump associates and supporters who have questioned her credibility. Republican Rep. Liz Cheney told "This Week" co-anchor Jonathan Karl in an exclusive interview that she has full faith and confidence in Hutchinson's word.
"I am absolutely confident in her testimony," Cheney told Karl in a wide-ranging interview set to air in full on ABC's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" this Sunday. "The Committee is not going to stand by and watch her character be assassinated by anonymous sources, and by men who are claiming executive privilege."
(WASHINGTON) - The Supreme Court announced Thursday it will hear a case this fall that could upend state election laws across the country.
Moore v. Harper focuses on a new North Carolina voting map created by court-appointed experts after earlier maps proposed by the Republican-led state legislature were struck down.
The North Carolina Supreme Court in February ruled that the maps offered by the state general assembly were partisan gerrymanders, violating free speech, free assembly and equal protection provisions of the state constitution.
But the state legislature appealed that decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, which has agreed to take up the issue of redistricting and possibly restore the Republican-drawn map.
Central to the petitioners' argument is the so-called "independent state legislature" theory -- a fringe legal concept pushed by a small group of conservative advocates that would give state legislatures broad authority to run federal elections without the traditional oversight from a state constitution or judiciary, whom these advocates argue have no right to intrude on elected representatives.
Observers say there could be major ramifications from the Supreme Court's eventual decision.
"This has the potential to change the rules of the game in far-reaching ways in time for the next presidential election," ABC News Political Director Rick Klein said. "Depending on how far the Supreme Court goes, it could virtually invite Republican-controlled legislatures to rewrite centuries-old laws ensuring that the candidate who gets the most votes in a state gets its electoral votes -- and it even could free legislatures to pick electors on their own."
"It could wind up making it far easier for a future state legislature to actually do what Trump allies so desperately wanted done in the messy aftermath of the 2020 election," Klein added.
The "independent state legislature" theory argues that under the U.S. Constitution's Elections Clause and Electors Clause, state legislators can determine how elections are conducted without checks and balances from the other governmental actors such as state constitutions, courts or gubernatorial vetoes.
The Elections Clause reads, "The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of chusing [choosing] Senators."
The Electors Clause states that "each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector."
The Electors Clause was central to the unsuccessful plot by former President Donald Trump and his allies to use "fake electors" to overturn his 2020 loss to President Joe Biden.
Thomas Wolf, deputy director with the Brennan Center's Democracy Program, said the theory contradicts the intent of the Constitution's framers.
"It's contrary to 200-plus years of practice, the way we actually run elections, and it's contrary to over a century's worth of Supreme Court precedent," Wolf told ABC News. "It's also just disastrous as a policy matter."
Wolf warned that the argument, if accepted by the high court, could lead to the elimination of protections against discrimination for voting and strip election administrators of their ability to efficiently run and regulate elections.
The North Carolina Supreme Court said back in February that the theory would "produce absurd and dangerous consequences."
North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore celebrated the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to take up the case, stating on Thursday that he was "confident" the justices would agree with their view that the U.S. Constitution "explicitly gives the General Assembly authority to draw districts."
"This case is not only critical to election integrity in North Carolina, but has implications for the security of elections nationwide," Moore argued.
The Supreme Court first confronted the case in March, when North Carolina's state legislature sought emergency relief. The justices ultimately denied that request, but three conservative on the bench said they would have granted a stay of the North Carolina Supreme Court's order.
"This case presents an exceptionally important and recurring question of constitutional law, namely, the extent of a state court's authority to reject rules adopted by a state legislature for use in conducting federal elections," Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the dissent. He was joined by Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch.
Helen White, counsel at the nonpartisan group Protect Democracy, in a press call Thursday noted the Supreme Court ruled on the matter of partisan gerrymandering just three years ago.
In Rucho v. Common Cause, the court said while it wouldn't step in to police partisan gerrymandering, state courts and constitutions were a means of regulating gerrymandering in congressional elections.
White said if the court were now to adopt the "independent state legislature" theory, it would be a "radical pivot from what they themselves have said about the issues in this case."
Moore v. Harper will be argued before the nine justices in the term beginning this October, with a decision handed down in time for the 2024 campaign.
(WASHINGTON) -- Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas took aim at Sesame Street's "Elmo" after the popular children's show puppet promoted COVID-19 vaccines for children on Twitter.
A minute-long clip posted on the show's Twitter page showed Elmo speaking with his loving TV puppet dad, Louie, about feeling "a little pinch" when got a shot. Louie then says he had questions about Elmo getting the vaccine, which he took to Elmo's pediatrician.
"I learned that Elmo getting vaccinated is the best way to keep himself, our friends, neighbors, and everyone else healthy and enjoying the things they love," Louie said.
"Elmo" retweeted the original tweet from the Sesame Street page, echoing that his vaccination will benefit his loved ones.
But the puppet's message didn't sit well with the junior senator from Texas.
Cruz took to Twitter where he said Elmo "aggressively" advocates for vaccinating young children without citing scientific evidence.
The senator's tweet linked to a June press release in which Cruz announced he and 17 fellow members of Congress called on the Food and Drug Administration to answer 19 questions about the COVID-19 vaccine for kids.
"Why has the FDA recently lowered the efficacy bar for COVID vaccines for youngest children?" one question asks.
While the Sesame Street video with Elmo and Louie does not directly offer scientific evidence for the COVID-19 children's vaccine, a voice promotes asking questions about the vaccine and directs viewers to GetVaccineAnswers.org at the end of the video.
"Thanks, @sesamestreet for saying parents are allowed to have questions!" Cruz wrote, in an apparent flippant reaction.
The website mentioned in the Sesame Street video offers that research and clinical trials demonstrate the vaccine is safe and effective for children.
This is not the first time Cruz has gone after a Sesame Street character online.
In November, Elmo's fellow Sesame Street puppet, Big Bird, tweeted about getting the COVID-19 vaccine. At the time, Cruz called it "government propaganda."
Cruz's latest attack on a muppet comes less than two weeks after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approved the nationwide rollout of COVID-19 vaccines for children older than six months.
On Wednesday, the U.S. government bought 105 million COVID-19 shots from Pfizer for $3.2 billion with a late summer to fall delivery date.
Pfizer and Moderna produce the two vaccines approved for children under five years old.