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(WASHINGTON) -- Gas stations are running out of fuel in Southeastern cities and long lines are forming across the country as panic buying ensues following the crippling cyberattack on the nation's top fuel pipeline network.

Ashish Desai, an employee at BP station in Charlotte, North Carolina, said Tuesday was chaotic.

"We had people waiting before we even got here," Desai said, adding that cars began lining up around 6:30 a.m.

He said a handful of pumps were shut down around 2 p.m., but eventually they were all closed and it was unclear when the next fuel delivery would be made.

"It could be tomorrow; it could be next week. I don't know," he told ABC News.

The Southeastern U.S. is feeling the worst impact. The Colonial Pipeline that is now offline is responsible for delivering more than 70% of the transportation fuels supply to Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia, according a homeland security bulletin obtained by ABC News.

Georgia and North Carolina have already issued emergency declarations. In North Carolina, 9% of gas stations were without fuel, according to GasBuddy analyst Patrick DeHaan. And in Georgia, almost 6% of the state's gas stations were without gasoline, with more than 20% of metro Atlanta gas stations out.

"Much as there was no cause for, say, hoarding toilet paper at the beginning of the pandemic," Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm cautioned Tuesday, "there should be no cause for hoarding gasoline, especially in light of the fact that the pipeline should be substantially operational by the end of this week and over the weekend."

Krisi Ennis, who lives in North Carolina but works in South Carolina, said Tuesday that she had seen the news the night before, but panicked when she noticed the gas station near her job had run out of gas.

"I got lucky," she told ABC News, after waiting for over 40 minutes before finally getting to a pump.

She said there were only two gas stations with fuel available in her area and she paid $60 for 17 gallons of gas.

"You got to get what you can get right now; we got to go to work," Ennis said.

The national gas price stood at $2.98 on Tuesday, an 8-cent increase on the week, according to AAA.

The association said the last time the U.S. saw average prices at $2.99 and higher was November 2014.

Airlines are also feeling the ripple effects of the pipeline shutdown.

American Airlines had to add a fuel stop on two of their daily long-haul flights out of Charlotte, North Carolina.

One American flight that's normally nonstop from Charlotte to Honolulu will now involve a stop in Dallas/Fort Worth, where passengers will have to switch to a different aircraft. The other impacted flight that normally flies direct from Charlotte to London will stop in Boston for additional fuel.

A United Airlines spokesperson told ABC News that their operations are not currently impacted, but that they are tankering fuel into four airports. Tankering involves flying planes with additional fuel into an airport which allows them to avoid or reduce ground refueling. They will fly into Baltimore, Nashville, Greenville-Spartanburg and Savannah.

The Colonial Pipeline's chief executive had indicated the company would decide by the close of business on Wednesday whether it could fully restart the pipeline, Granholm said, but that even if it did, "it will take a few days to ramp up operations."

ABC News' Luke Barr, Josh Margolin, Sam Sweeney, Jade Lawson and Ben Gittleson contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



(PHOENIX) -- Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed a bill Tuesday which will remove the word "permanent" from the state's permanent early voting list (PEVL), a method that was heavily used by voters in the 2020 election.

He signed the controversial bill, SB 1485, less than an hour after the Arizona Senate passed it 16-14, along party lines. It also comes as auditors are at work inspecting Maricopa County's 2.1 million 2020 ballots under a Senate-ordered audit.

Arizona joins other Republican-led states that have introduced, passed and signed into law restrictive voting legislation. There are 361 bills in 47 states that introduce restrictive provisions.

The new law dissolves the word "permanent" before references to the early voting list. County officials are now required to send a notice by Dec. 1 of every even-numbered year to any voters on the list who failed to vote using an early ballot in at least one primary or general election where a municipal, statewide, legislative or federal race was on the ballot over four years.

According to Democratic Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, who opposes the legislative action, 75% of Arizonans are members of the permanent early voting list and 80% of Arizonans used the early voting mechanism to cast ballots in the 2020 election.

Several Democrats said Tuesday that the voters who would be most negatively impacted by this legislation are the ones who do not exercise their constitutional right regularly.

"Voting is probably our most precious civil right, but it's not mandatory ... (this bill) seeks, as it seems, to punish those who do not regularly vote," said state Sen. Kristen Engel. "Those are not the folks we need to make it more difficult to vote."

"This will impact all voters, not just Democrats ... This is going to impact independents. This is going to impact Republicans," said state Sen. Rebecca Rios, the minority leader.

Democrats have said the bill will remove at least 126,000 people from the early voting list -- a number which would have been higher if the measure was applied for records based on the 2020 election.

"The number could be as high as 145,000 voters," Democratic Rep. Raquel Terán said last month, citing the overall number of voters who would have been removed if the bill was applied last year.

"And this includes close to 30,000 Latinos. There are organizers in those communities ... who want to make sure that they do have a voice in our democratic process. And the PEVL has been that vehicle," she added.

Ducey defended his decision to sign the bill in a video posted to his Twitter account Tuesday afternoon, saying that although he has full confidence in Arizona's election system, that does not mean he can't take steps to make it stronger.

"This change will ensure active voters who continue to receive a ballot and free up resources for county recorders, to use on priorities like election security and voter education. Let's be clear, despite all the deceptive and heated rhetoric being used by some partisan activists to lobby against this reform, not a single Arizona voter will lose their right to vote," he said.

Republican Sen. Kelly Townsend, who temporarily tanked the bill late last month over her concerns about how results of the election audit may turn out, said she was ready to vote yes on the bill Tuesday, because she had received assurances that "we are now looking at other issues that need to be fixed for the 2022 election."

"It's about restoring confidence for everyone to cast the ballot regardless of what their party is. Because we have issue with the PEVL list that has drawn attention and caused great doubt, I think it's important that we looked at it and came up with solutions to help clean that up," Townsend said, without elaborating on what the issues with PEVL were.

President Pro Tempore Vince Leach defended the bill and argued claims of voter suppression were baseless because there are other ways to vote.

"After a series of items happen that are specifically spelled out in the bill, this bill removes non-voters. They have elected not to participate or they're moved or they're dead. This is not removing voters," Leach said. "We hear all the time that this is voter suppression. These people have plenty of other means of voting."

Leach's comments sparked passionate remarks from state Sen. Juan Mendez, who called out his colleague by district when explaining his own vote against the bill.

"Some of you, especially the legislator from District 11, need to understand that there is no kind of voter that is better or more deserving of access to the right to vote. Voting regularly? Seriously, you're really trying to shame voters?" Mendez said. "Are we checking if concealed-carry people still want the Second Amendment rights if they don't find enough bullets every year? ... This bill looks like nothing more than a ruse to disenfranchise voters that you don't like."

Business leaders in Phoenix penned a letter to Arizona lawmakers at the beginning of April, urging them to vote down SB 1485 and other bills which would make it harder to vote, such as one which would require new further identification when voting absentee.

"These proposals are a concerted effort from those in Arizona -- and across the nation -- who wish to sow additional doubts about our elections in the minds of voters and feed into the paranoia that has plagued our political discourse over the past several months," they wrote. "These measures seek to disenfranchise voters. They are 'solutions' in search of a problem. They are attempts at voter suppression cloaked as reform - plain and simple."

Ducey fired back at those claims in his video, saying if it was best to update their systems to run their businesses more efficiently, they would do the same.

"Large corporations have decided to insert themselves into the debate over election law. My advice to them regarding this law is simple: know what you're talking about before you say anything. These big businesses seem to embrace a static view of elections ... and view any change suspiciously. It's wrong. Dead wrong," he said.

There are additional pieces of Republican-led legislation which could be acted on in the coming weeks. The Senate has already passed SB1713, which would require voters to return additional identification with their absentee ballot, such as their driver's license, state ID or tribal ID card number or a copy of a federal/state/local government-issued ID. They could also use their voter registration number and a document that contains their name and address where registered to vote, like a utility bill. Its final form has not yet been passed by the House.

ABC News' Quinn Scanlan contributed reporting.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Photo Credit: U.S. Department of Energy

(WASHINGTON) -- The Biden administration on Tuesday warned that southeastern states faced a gasoline "supply crunch" following the ransomware attack on the Colonial Pipeline, as several states declared emergencies or suspended rules, and one major airline altered its flight routes.

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said that Colonial Pipeline's chief executive had indicated the company would decide by the close of business on Wednesday whether it could fully restart the pipeline, but that even if it did, "it will take a few days to ramp up operations."

"Much as there was no cause for, say, hoarding toilet paper at the beginning of the pandemic," Granholm told reporters, "there should be no cause for hoarding gasoline, especially in light of the fact that the pipeline should be substantially operational by the end of this week and over the weekend."

Top federal officials encouraged calm, even as Virginia's governor on Tuesday declared a state of emergency to "prepare for any potential supply shortages." His counterpart in North Carolina did the same the day before, while in Georgia, the governor suspended the gas tax and weight limits on trucks transporting fuel.

Anecdotally, some gas stations across the southeast faced long lines as motorists stocked up on gas.

Granholm said during a news conference at the White House that the federal government would investigate reports of gasoline price gouging and that any "crunch" would be short-lived.

"It's not that we have a gasoline shortage," Granholm said in an exchange with ABC News Senior White House Correspondent Mary Bruce. "It's that we have this supply crunch, and that things will be back to normal soon, and that we’re asking people not to hoard."

She added: "We have gasoline. We just have to get it to the right places."

In the meantime, the secretary said, "the crunch" would be felt in the southeast, where much of the Colonial Pipeline is located.

The 5,500-mile pipeline system transports approximately 45% of all fuel consumed on the East Coast, according to its website, and runs from Texas to New Jersey.

"It’s about 70% of the supplies of North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, and especially southern Virginia," that, Granholm said, "are impacted the most.”

The FBI said Monday that the DarkSide criminal organization, which operates in Eastern Europe, was allegedly behind the attack.

The attack on the Colonial Pipeline "could prove to be the most devastating ransomware attack on critical infrastructure systems in the U.S. to date," according to a bulletin issued Monday by the Department of Homeland Security’s regional office in Boston.

While federal officials are still trying to determine whether a foreign nation could be involved in the cyberattack, Russian intelligence has been known to cooperate with Eastern European cybercriminals in the past.

President Joe Biden said Monday that the attack was a "criminal act."

“So far, there is no evidence, based on -- from our Intelligence people that Russia is involved,” Biden told reporters. “Although, there is evidence that the actors’ ransomware is in Russia. They have some responsibility to deal with this.”

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Greg Nash-Pool/Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky was forced to defend her agency's guidance and even its integrity on Tuesday as Senate Republicans grilled her over CDC messaging on masks and other restrictions, arguing it's frustrating and unreasonable as more Americans get vaccinated.

The Senate Health Committee hearing came hours after the Food and Drug Administration authorized coronavirus vaccinations for children ages 12 and up, widening the U.S. population that will be protected against the virus and bolstering chances for a safe return to full-time school in the fall.

Asked what she would say to parents who are considering getting their kids vaccinated now, the CDC director, while acknowledging some parents may not want to be first in line, said she would encourage all parents to get their children vaccinated and for children to ask for the shot.

"I recognize some parents want to see how it goes, but I am encouraging all children to be vaccinated. And I am also encouraging children to ask for the vaccine," Walensky said. "I have a 16-year-old and I continue he wanted to get the vaccine. He wants his life back."

The hearing then quickly heated up over what critics say is her agency's murky messaging, a point Republican Sen. Susan Collins drove home by saying she "used to have the utmost respect for the guidance from the CDC."

"I always considered the CDC to be the gold standard. I don't anymore," Collins said, going onto to tick through what she called "conflicting, confusing guidance" from the CDC that contradicts health officials.

The Maine senator listed three examples she claimed have helped erode trust in CDC guidance, contending it's too strict.

"So, here we have unnecessary barriers to reopening schools, exaggerating the risks of outdoor transmission, and unworkable restrictions on summer camps. Why does this matter?" Collins continued. "It matters because it undermines public confidence in your recommendation, in the recommendations that do make sense, in the recommendations that Americans should be following."

Walensky, forced to respond, stood behind CDC guidance that she said is developed with "stakeholders and consumers" before being finalized, defended school recommendations by pointing to immunocompromised populations and got personal when responding to criticism about whether kids at summer camps need to wear masks.

"I want our kids back in camp," she said, talking about how her 16-year-old son counts down the days to his summer camp each year. "We now have 38,000 new infections, on average, per day. Last May 11th, it was 24,000. And we sent a lot of kids home and camps were closed. The camp guidance is intended to get our kids to camp and allow them to stay there."

Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy joined Collins in expressing frustration with the CDC and told the panel the American people "are beginning to disregard what you say is true."

"The American people have just lost -- just lost patience with us, with you guys. I would ask you to be aware of their frustrations and get a little real time into updating these things. I am sorry to be so frustrated," Cassidy said.

Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski expressed frustration at what she said were CDC roadblocks for Alaskan cruise ships. On masks, she said fishermen in her state dangerously keeping ocean-soaked masks on at all times out of fear the Coast Guard would cite them for violation of federal law.

“Tell me, tell me how anybody thinks this is a sane and sound policy to do,” Murkowski said. “This absolutely is a crazy policy,” she added of workers on boats having to wear masks outdoors.

Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy came to the CDC's defense, saying Walensky and other experts aren't going to say we know things that we don't and said they're working in the aftermath of former President Donald Trump who made egregiously false statements about the virus.

"I, frankly, appreciate the fact that we have leaders today who recognize that we still have gaps in information, who occasionally may err on the side of caution in order to save lives. And I share the frustration, but the frustration is rooted in the fact that we are still less than a year and a half into a virus that we are still beginning to understand," Murphy said.

Earlier, when it was Republican Sen. Rand Paul's turn, it didn't take long for him to drill the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, over his handling of the pandemic -- as he has in hearings since the pandemic began -- in a heated line of questioning on the origin of the virus.

Paul pushed the unverified claim that the virus originated in China's Wuhan Virology Institute. He demanded that Fauci admit that the National Institutes of Health specifically funded "gain-of-function research" at the Wuhan Institute of Virology -- a type of controversial research that involves boosting a virus so that vaccines or cures can be developed proactively, but which Paul said was "fooling with Mother Nature."

Fauci shot down the theory as unequivocally false.

"Senator Paul, with all due respect, you are entire -- entirely and completely incorrect. The NIH has not ever and does not now fund gain-of-function research in the Wuhan Institute of Virology," Fauci said. "I fully agree you should investigate where the virus came from, but again, we have not funded gain of function research on this virus in the Wuhan Institute of Virology."

He told Paul that while the NIH has funded research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in the past, it was not for gain-of-function research, "despite the fact that people tweet that."

Fauci also shot down a hypothetical question from Republican Sen. Roger Marshall of Kansas on whether some NIH funding could have ended up contributing to COVID-19.

"You could do research on something as benign as looking at something that has nothing to do with it and it could indirectly, someday, somehow be involved," Facui said. "So if you want to trap me into saying yes or no, I'm not going to play that game."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



(WASHINGTON) -- The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) does not have the "technical information" on the Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack, the acting director told a congressional panel Tuesday.

Colonial Pipeline said on Saturday it was the victim of a cyberattack involving ransomware and had "proactively" halted all pipeline operations as a result. The 5,500-mile pipeline system transports approximately 45% of all fuel consumed on the East Coast, according to its website, and runs from Texas to New Jersey.

CISA, an arm of the Department of Homeland Security, is responsible for the nation's cyber infrastructure.

Brandon Wales, the acting director of CISA, told lawmakers on the Senate Homeland Security Committee that once the agency gets the information, it will be used to help protect other companies.

"We do expect information to come from that and when we have it, we will use it to help improve cybersecurity more broadly," he testified.

Wales also admitted that the company did not directly reach out to the agency in the moments following the cyber attack.

"We were brought in by the FBI after they were notified about the incident," he said.

"I think there is a benefit when CISA is brought in quickly because the information that we glean, we work to share it in a bigger fashion to protect other critical infrastructure," he explained.

The FBI said in a statement Monday it had been confirmed that DarkSide ransomware was responsible for the compromise of the Colonial Pipeline networks.

The FBI added that it will continue to work with the company and government partners on the ongoing investigation.

The DarkSide criminal organization allegedly operates in Eastern Europe. While federal officials are still trying to determine whether a foreign nation could be involved in the cyberattack, Russian intelligence has been known to cooperate with Eastern European cybercriminals in the past.

President Joe Biden said Monday there is currently "no evidence" that Russia is involved in the cyber attack.

"Although, there is evidence that the actors’ ransomware is in Russia," the president added. "They have some responsibility to deal with this."

Wales also said it "is not surprising" that DarkSide went after a company like Colonial Pipeline.

"We've seen this over the past two years, they're going after bigger players they get bigger ransoms. Ransoms last year went up to around $300,000 For the small ones and millions of dollars for the big ones," he said.

Wales got into the challenges in federal government cybersecurity, which is a combination of a lack of updating systems, hiring the right people and that tactics are changing at a fast clip.

He urged Congress to add more funding to CISA's budget.

Ranking Member Rob Portman said the Colonial Pipeline hack shows how cyber incidents can have real world impacts.

"This is a stark example of how the cyberattacks can have real demonstrable impacts on our economy international security, ask the people who are in East Coast states about what they're paying for gasoline today at the pump, and they will tell you it has impact," he said.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

(WASHINGTON) -- With the possibility of compromise on an infrastructure package looking slim, President Joe Biden prepared to host a slew of Republican lawmakers at the White House this week -- including one, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has said his top priority is blocking Democrats' agenda.

The White House insists it remains open to compromising on Biden's $2.3 trillion infrastructure proposal, but at least outwardly, a great gulf remains between his sweeping plan and a counterproposal from a group of Republican senators that tops out at a quarter of the size.

"This is a big week ahead," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday.

McConnell and the top Republican in the House of Representatives, Kevin McCarthy, will join Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for a meeting with Biden and Vice President Harris at the White House on Wednesday, "to discuss policy areas of mutual agreement," including infrastructure, according to the White House.

The next day, the president planned to host the Republican senators behind the smaller infrastructure counteroffer.

Biden has repeatedly said he would prefer to work together with Republicans on passing an infrastructure plan.

But he said the same for his signature COVID-19 stimulus package, which ultimately passed Congress in March without a single Republican vote.

GOP opposition on Capitol Hill remains great. McConnell said last week that "100% percent" of his "focus is on stopping this new administration."

If the president hopes to proceed without Republican support again, he will need every single Democratic vote in the evenly split Senate, including that of West Virginia's Sen. Joe Manchin, whose more moderate stances and tepid support for Biden's initiatives have positioned him as a key target for the White House.

On Monday, Biden planned to discuss infrastructure with Manchin at the White House and meet separately with Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., on the same topic.

Some Democrats, like Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, say time is of the essence and that Americans do not care if a law has bipartisan backing.

"If Republicans want to come on board, seriously, great," Sanders said in an interview with Axios. "If not, we're going to do it alone."

But fundamental differences remain about what to include in the plan and how to pay for it.

Biden's proposal includes an expansive definition of what constitutes "infrastructure" -- from expanding broadband to providing money for childcare and electric-vehicle charging stations -- and suggests taxing corporations to foot the bill. The GOP counteroffer focuses on what Republicans call "core" infrastructure items, like roads and bridges, broadband, airports, waterways, rails, ports and public transit, with user fees instead of corporate tax hikes to fund the investments.

Psaki said Monday that the president was willing to hear ideas on how to pay for his plan -- as he has said since he first proposed it -- but that "the president's red lines are inaction and are anything that would raise taxes on people making less than $400,000 a year."

She suggested there was not much disagreement on the investments that should be included in an infrastructure package, but at least based on both side's public pronouncements, there are massive gaps.

"The proper price tag for what most of us think of as infrastructure is about six- to eight-hundred billion dollars," McConnell said in an interview with Kentucky Educational Television that aired over the weekend.

On Thursday, the president plans to host the Republican senator who has led the charge on the GOP counterproposal, Sen. Shelley Capito of West Virginia, along with five other GOP senators: John Barrasso of Wyoming, Roy Blunt of MIssouri, Mike Crapo of Idaho, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, and Roger Wicker of Mississippi.

Biden has already spoken on the phone with Capito, who is the most senior Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

Meanwhile, as they discuss a larger package, Democrats and Republicans in the Senate have negotiated over small bills linked to infrastructure, on issues like drinking water and wastewater and economic competitiveness with China.

It remains to be seen how those bills would fit into a larger deal.

For his part, McConnell said he hopes the continued talks with the Biden White House would eventually push positions closer to his own.

"I'm focused entirely on the present and the future, not the past," McConnell said Thursday in Kentucky. "My view at the moment is we need to turn this administration into a moderate administration. I'm still hoping the administration will pivot to a more centrist position and that's where I'm spending my time and focus."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



(WASHINGTON) -- Arizona's November election is in the headlines again, after the Republican-led Senate there successfully used its subpoena power to obtain Maricopa County's 2.1 million general election ballots in order to audit the presidential and Senate races.

But experts said the process is unprecedented when it comes to auditing an election -- which was signed off on by Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, Republican Gov. Doug Ducey and Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich back in November. The audit cannot retroactively change the results of the election, but experts worry that the act of the audit itself will sow doubt about the results.

Ducey refused to entertain former President Donald Trump's various nationwide election conspiracies -- putting him in hot water with his fellow Republican -- and certified President Joe Biden and Sen. Mark Kelly's wins. The election results moved the state out of safe Republican territory.

The state Senate hired a private firm that has never worked in the election realm before. Some of their practices, such as the storage and handling of ballots, have raised concerns with the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division, which weighed in late last week. In a letter to officials, the DOJ division expressed its concerns about possible violations of ballot preservation laws and voter intimidation. Following that letter, the Senate has since scrapped part of the plan to do follow-up canvassing at voters' homes, but assured the Justice Department that it had plans to do so in a safe and legal manner.

Hobbs said that she met with the DOJ on Thursday, alongside a number of other secretaries of state who have expressed concern about the impact of the audit.

"Every day that this exercise continues, I grow more concerned about what is happening," she said on a call with reporters. "We appreciate and share the concerns raised by the DOJ, as well as the concerns of my colleagues -- other secretaries of state -- who are starting to hear calls for similar audits or reviews to be conducted in their states. This is a horrible precedent that has been set here."

The governor is also now providing security to Hobbs and her family after she received death threats and was followed by a man associated with a far-right media group.

Here's what you need to know about the GOP-led audit in Arizona:

Months of litigation preceded the audit

The state Senate, which has subpoena power for testimony, compelled this audit. After months of tricky court battles and resistance from the county board of supervisors, the Maricopa County Superior Court ruled that the Senate could subpoena machines and ballots, among other things, as a part of its legislative power.

Republican-led Maricopa County had already conducted a hand recount of ballots there and had different independent firms examine their voting machines in the weeks following the election. Plus, GOP Chairwoman Kelli Ward herself signed off on original county certification of ballots just days after the election.

But, after Trump continued to push doubts about the election results, Republicans used the nationwide momentum in Arizona to push for GOP access to audit ballots which were duplicated by the county. Ward was able to conduct the audit in December with power from a state statute which allows a voter to dispute election outcomes if they suspect illegal votes, misconduct by election officials or an inaccurate vote count.

A private firm that never worked on election issues is conducting the audit

The Senate president hired the Florida-based cybersecurity company Cyber Ninjas to conduct the audit, but the company has no experience working on elections. Cyber Ninjas' CEO, on his since-deleted Twitter account, spread misinformation and doubt about the legitimacy of the election, according to the Arizona Mirror.

The company's website states that they track security vulnerabilities and protect against possible breaches. Fann said that the purpose of the audit is not to sow doubt in the election results, but to use it as a way to see where the state can improve its election administration in the future. The Arizona Capitol Times reported that Fann passed over a more experienced and more expensive company to conduct the audit, instead opting for Cyber Ninjas in an attempt to avoid allocating extra taxpayer dollars toward the cost.

The funding for the audit is a mixed bag of taxpayer dollars and private donations. Fann agreed that the Senate would cover $150,000 of the costs. Far-right One America News Network's Christina Bobb, set up a nonprofit to help fund the audit and is encouraging her followers to "get the audit across the finish line."

Actual ballot counters are volunteers, while some are paid, and according to ABC15 in Phoenix, were all required to sign nondisclosure agreements, raising further concerns about a process which has been lauded as transparent by those who are running it.

Drawing further scrutiny is the volunteers' methods at the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix.

"In typical post-election review procedures, officials review individual ballots and ballot counters make joint decisions about how each ballot should be counted. And in the event of a disagreement there are clear escalation procedures which ensure that that ballot receives additional scrutiny and is properly counted, but not so at the coliseum. At the coliseum ... the current procedures do not require all of the ballot counters to agree on how to count that ballot," Elizabeth Howard, an attorney with the Brennan Center for Justice and audit observer, said in a press call.

A controversy over bias erupted after former state Rep. Anthony Kern, who was on the steps of the Capitol on Jan. 6 and photographed inside an area rioters breached, was pictured participating as a ballot counter for an election where his name was on the ballot as a would-be elector for Trump if he won.

"We are concerned about the lack of a check on independence, objectivity and election administration experience," Howard said. "And in fact, one of the ballot counters ... is a presidential elector and he's counting ballots that were actually cast for or against him and local press have uncovered a tweet in which he shares that he is attending a stop-the-steal rally in D.C. on Jan. 6."

The auditors' objectives are unclear

There have been several conspiracy theories floating around the space where auditors are reviewing the ballots.

One official there said they were looking for traces of bamboo in the ballot paper, which would allegedly indicate that the ballots were smuggled into Arizona from Asia. They are also using 5K cameras to look at the ballots and determine the depth of the indentation, which would allegedly reveal if the ballot was cast by hand or filled out by a machine. UV lights were used by auditors who are searching for alleged watermarks by the Trump administration to show that they were "official ballots."

One official said he didn't believe that actual ballots were shipped in from Asia, but the question is "part of the mystery we are trying to un-gaslight people about. And this is how to do it," he said of the audit.

Washington's Republican Secretary of State Kim Wyman said on a press call the processes being used are not based on any sort of established election review procedures.

"They have no chain of custody regardless of their made-up procedures and policies that they put out in public. They don't reach anywhere near knocking on the door of standards that election officials operate," Wyman said.

"We do it so that we can make those arguments in court if needed, we can back up our policies and procedures and show that we follow the law, and that the election was fair and accurate. They can't do it. They have now contaminated and corrupted all of those -- what is it -- 2.1 million ballots that Maricopa County, so meticulously kept control of. Now all of that is gone, so pretty much anything from that day forward is just a crapshoot," she said.

When does the audit end?

The Senate has access to the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix until Thursday, but it appears auditors will need more time. High school graduations are scheduled there shortly after that date, so there is no chance they can extend their rental.

As of Thursday evening, officials said they are through about 275,000 of the 2.1 million ballots.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



(WASHINGTON) -- House Republicans are forging ahead this week with their plan to oust Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney from her post as GOP Conference Chair, illustrating the tight grip former President Donald Trump continues to hold over the Republican Party exactly six months after the presidential election he continues to falsely claim was stolen.

Cheney's refusal to side with Trump and other Republicans on what she's called "the big lie" and her vote to impeach the former president for his role in the Jan. 6 Capitol attack has made her an outlier in her party, and while it's not the first time this year she's faced an internal challenge, it will be the first time she's facing one without the support of Republican leadership.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy over the weekend publicly endorsed four-term New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, making all but certain Cheney will be stripped of her role as soon as this week. McCarthy follows the No. 2 House Republican Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana in voicing support for Stefanik.

Cheney has not responded to McCarthy, but least one House Republican who joined Cheney and eight other House Republicans in voting to impeach Trump, Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger, went after House leadership on Monday and said Cheney is being run out of her post for only one reason: because she is consistent in her message and refuses to lie about the truth.

"I think when it comes down to it," he told the National Press Club Monday, "what she is being removed for is making it uncomfortable and being consistent, and God bless her for having the consistency to tell the truth. Because history -- I'm going to tell you, in the longterm -- is going to write very well about her."

"She's being run out for one thing: her consistency. She said the same exact thing that Kevin McCarthy said on Jan. 6 which is Donald Trump is responsible," Kinzinger added.

In addition to describing McCarthy as hypocritical, Kinzinger said the Republican speaker dismissed his own warnings about violence in the days ahead of Jan. 6.

"I was very disappointed when my party's leaders -- Kevin McCarthy and Steve Scalise in particular -- decided that winning the next election or winning the majority was more important than a clear-eyed recognition of what happened on Jan. 6," Kinzinger said. "What happened on Jan. 6 is a lie led to violence."

Stefanik, poised to replace Cheney, was among the 147 Republicans who voted to overturn election results and defended questioning results in a floor speech after the Capitol attack and has expressed full support for the controversial Republican-backed audit of election results in Arizona, which election experts have worried will further undermine confidence in the electoral process.

Asked on Fox News' "Sunday Morning Futures" whether he supported Stefanik for the No. 3 House Republican position, McCarthy said, "Yes, I do," and pointed to what he said GOP messaging should be.

"Any member can take whatever position they believe in," McCarthy said, denying Cheney's ousting was based on her criticisms of Trump. "What we are talking about, it's a position in leadership. We are in one of our biggest battles ever for this nation and the direction of whether this century will be ours. As conference chair, you have the most critical jobs of the messenger going forward."

Republicans are expected to vote Wednesday during a House conference-wide meeting to remove Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, and replace her with Stefanik, nearly 20 years her junior with a more moderate voting record than Cheney, who once avoided saying Trump's name but became one of his staunchest supporters.

As House Republicans dealt with internal drama over the potential ouster, the White House said Monday it wouldn't affect negotiations over President Joe Biden's agenda.

“The president knows that there is some introspection going on in the Republican Party right now, and a determination about who they're going to be, who they want to lead them, and what they want to represent moving forward. He's not going to focus on that,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday, denying that the situation would influence Biden’s thinking as he heads into his first in-person meeting Wednesday with McCarthy and congressional leaders.

Ahead of his weekend endorsement of Stefanik, McCarthy last week was overheard saying he has "lost confidence" in Cheney. The pair shared an awkward moment on Capitol Hill in late February when they disagreed responding to a reporters' question over whether Trump should speak at CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference.

Trump also weighed in last week from Mar-a-Lago -- the once "Winter White House" which has still seen prominent GOP figures visit since Trump left office, McCarthy included -- to criticize Cheney in a statement as a "warmongering fool who has no business in Republican Party Leadership" and endorse Stefanik as "a far superior choice."

Stefanik, in a recent interview with former Trump adviser Sebastian Gorka, took her own jab at Cheney, saying the House Conference Chair's job "is not to attack members of the conference and attack President Trump."

In February, when Cheney faced another challenge to boot her from the coveted leadership position due to similar circumstances, even Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell spoke up to defend the congresswoman as "a leader with deep convictions and the courage to act on them," and Cheney kept her role after a closed-door, secret-ballot vote: 145-61.

Now, although Cheney isn't backing down from the next imminent challenge, she is not openly fighting the move, either. Branding herself as an "unapologetic conservative," she has continued to warn there are consequences if the GOP continues to push Trump's big lie.

Late last Wednesday, she published an opinion piece in The Washington Post laying out her case, writing, "The Republican Party is at a turning point, and Republicans must decide whether we are going to choose truth and fidelity to the Constitution."

"History is watching. Our children are watching. We must be brave enough to defend the basic principles that underpin and protect our freedom and our democratic process. I am committed to doing that, no matter what the short-term political consequences might be," she said.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Joshua Roberts/Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) — After President Biden set a new goal to administer at least one vaccine shot to 70% of American adults by July 4th, George goes one-on-one with Dr. Anthony Fauci about the shifting vaccination plan and the latest on vaccine approvals for children. Foreign Correspondent Maggie Rulli also reports from New Delhi on India’s devastating COVID-19 second wave. Plus, a special Mother’s Day panel will discuss the outsized impact the pandemic had on women in the workforce as the nation’s economy slowly recovers. And the Powerhouse Roundtable weighs in on the latest on the potential ouster of Rep. Liz Cheney from House GOP leadership and Republican-backed restrictive voting laws in Florida & Texas.

The Biden administration said last week it now supports waiving the intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines, opening the door for their possible manufacturing by companies and countries around the world. The U.S. had opposed the waiver, along with pharmaceutical companies, which are concerned about the precedent it would set.

While some countries, including the U.K., European Union, Canada, Japan, Australia and Brazil, do not support waiving patent protections on vaccines developed in their countries, the World Health Organization has called the natural distribution of COVID-19 vaccines "a moral outrage.”

"You said the companies should be scaling up, but many of those companies say that President Biden’s plan to have these patent waivers is going to prevent them from scaling up -- it’s going to hamper the supply chain and actually set back the vaccine production effort," Stephanopoulos said.

"I don’t think that’s the case, George. They can scale up. They’ve done an extraordinary amount. You’ve got to give them credit. They’ve really just really done something that is really quite impressive in the way they’ve gotten their vaccine supply up and out for the rest of the world," Fauci replied.

"I think the waiving of the patents and the TRIPs is not going to necessarily interfere with that right now," Fauci continued, referencing the WTO's Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights Agreement, which provide global patent protections.

"The endgame of this all, George, is going to be to get people vaccinated," Fauci said.

"India is the largest vaccine-producing country in the world. They've got to get their resources," Fauci continued. "That's the reason why other countries need to chip in to be able to get either supplies for the Indians to make their own vaccines."

India is currently experiencing a devastating surge of COVID-19 with record-breaking cases, hospitalizations and deaths. The country's health care system is teetering on the edge of collapse as hospitals are overcrowded and much-needed medical supplies are in low supply.

Last week, the U.S. government, non-profit and private sector organizations began sending shipments of aid to India.

Fauci also told Stephanopoulos that he has been in communication with his counterparts in India over the last several days, urging them to open more field hospitals and implement more stringent shutdowns.

"I believe several of the Indian states have already done that," Fauci said. "But you need to break the chain of transmission and one of the ways to do that is to shut down."

Back in the U.S., more than 151 million Americans have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, prompting some criticism of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's indoor mask guidance, suggesting it's too stringent.

"You've had experts like the former head of the (Food and Drug Administration), Scott Gottlieb, say it's time to start relaxing the indoor mask mandates. Is he right?" Stephanopoulos asked.

"I think so," Fauci responded, adding that the CDC will be updating their recommendations and guidelines in real time.

"We do need to start being more liberal as we get more people vaccinated," Fauci said.

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ImageCatcher News Service/Corbis via Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- Bo, the Obama family dog, has died, according to the former president.

The black and white Portuguese water dog, who joined the first family in the White House in April 2009, was the last presidential pet before President Joe Biden's dogs, Major and Champ, joined the White House earlier this year.

Barack Obama memorialized the pooch on Twitter, writing, "Today our family lost a true friend and loyal companion. For more than a decade, Bo was a constant, gentle presence in our lives—happy to see us on our good days, our bad days, and everyday in between."

He shared a few photos of Bo, including one of Barack running down the hallway at the White House.

Today our family lost a true friend and loyal companion. For more than a decade, Bo was a constant, gentle presence in our lives—happy to see us on our good days, our bad days, and everyday in between. pic.twitter.com/qKMNojiu9V

Bo, chosen for his hypoallergenic fur, was a gift from late Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy.

The dog was about 6 months old in April 2009, according to reports at the time, meaning he was about 12 at the time of his death.

On election night in 2008, Barack Obama revealed he had promised daughters Malia and Sasha a dog if he was elected to the White House.

"Sasha and Malia, I love you both more than you can imagine," he said. "And you have earned the new puppy that's coming with us to the new White House."

The Obamas added a second Portuguese water dog, Sunny, to the family in April 2013.

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Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

(WASHINGTON) -- With the April jobs report falling well below analysts' expectations, President Joe Biden on Friday faced both a challenge to answer why his enormous COVID-19 relief package hasn't created a bigger economic boost, and an opportunity to underscore the need to pass his equally massive jobs and infrastructure plans.

Biden is set to deliver remarks Friday morning addressing the economy, after spending much of the week traveling the United States to sell his American Jobs Plan and American Families Plan, which would pump nearly $4 trillion in government spending into the economy.

Many economists expected nearly one million jobs to be added to the economy in April, but the total was just 266,000, a disappointing slowdown in growth.

Republicans on Capitol Hill have pinned blame for slow job growth on Biden's COVID-19 relief benefits, including an additional $300 per week in unemployment, for disincentivizing workers from reentering the labor force.

"We have flooded the zone with checks that I'm sure everybody loves to get, and also enhanced unemployment," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday during an event in his home state of Kentucky. "And what I hear from businesspeople, hospitals, educators, everybody across the state all week is, regretfully, it's actually more lucrative for many Kentuckians and Americans to not work than work."

"Why is anyone surprised that the jobs reports fell short of expectations? I told you weeks ago that in Florida I hear from small business everyday that they can’t hire people because the government is paying them to not go back to work," Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., tweeted Friday in reaction to the jobs report.

Democrats and others make the case that the reason, instead, is due to the pandemic -- lack of child care, schools either closed or only partially opened, and general health concerns over returning to a workplace setting.

The White House argues that despite rising vaccination rates and state and local governments lifting restrictions from businesses, the economic scarring of the pandemic will not be quickly reversed, and long term economic aid from the government will be necessary.

“We have learned from past crises that the risk is not doing too much,” Biden has said, referring to recovery efforts after the 2008 recession. “The risk is not doing enough.”

Biden has been working to convince Republicans lawmakers and voters alike to support his jobs and infrastructure plans. One of the two packages, the American Families Plan, focuses on subsidizing childcare and creating universal free pre-school for 3- and 4-year-olds, efforts that could encourage parents who have dropped out of the workforce during the pandemic due to lack of childcare to get back to work. Women have disproportionately born the burden of this pandemic effect.

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U.S. Department of the Treasury

(WASHINGTON) -- Donald Trump has always liked to put his name on things -- in big letters -- on towers, hotels, golf resorts -- even steaks. As president, his black-marker signature was outsize and famously distinctive.

So, when questions were raised about whether he would want his name on millions of stimulus checks sent to Americans last year, it not only seemed plausible, it also unleashed a firestorm of criticism from Democrats.

Now, internal emails obtained by ABC News give an inside look at the scramble to add Trump's name just days before payments started going out in the middle of a presidential election year.

The documents provide a glimpse behind the scenes as the Trump administration sought to take credit for the payments. And for the first time, the government has released images showing versions of the checks that did not make the final cut -- including those with then-Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin's name alongside Trump's.

In the end, "President Donald J. Trump" appeared below the words "Economic Impact Payment" on the memo line of the final version of the checks, which were sent to 35 million Americans.

Unlike Trump, President Joe Biden's name did not appear on a new round of stimulus checks that started going out this spring, although like Trump, Biden did sign a letter mailed to Americans to notify them about the payments.

The inclusion of Trump's name on the actual checks last year -- which experts believed was unprecedented -- sparked controversy as the president ran for reelection.

Critics accused Trump, who has made a career of branding businesses with his own name, of trying to take credit for an aid program Americans relied on amid an economic crisis.

At the time, Mnuchin said it was his idea to include the president's name, and when a newspaper report raised concerns the decision could delay payments, the Internal Revenue Service denied there was any holdup.

In fact, emails obtained by ABC News through a Freedom of Information Act request show that officials scrambled to generate mock-ups for what the checks would look like.

ABC News obtained the emails after suing the Treasury Department to speed up the release of communications related to the inclusion of Trump's name. The department provided some key emails just five days before Trump left office in January, while it shared the draft check images with ABC News only last week.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press represented ABC News in the lawsuit.

Appearing in some of the check image drafts was Mnuchin's name, alongside Trump's. Ultimately, the secretary's moniker did not make it to the final version.

But the Treasury Department has refused to share certain emails from top officials in which they discussed what would appear in the memo line.

Dozens of blacked-out portions hide key exchanges and even the names of those sending and receiving emails. The unredacted parts do not make clear whose idea it was to include Trump's name.

Several emails that the department did provide to ABC News showed the scramble unleashed by the decision to add the president's name.

Just days before payments were due to go out, a senior Treasury official, David Lebryk, requested a new mock-up. That day, April 9, 2020, another official thanked colleagues "for turning this around so quickly," while they emailed about font size.

Then, late the next day, Lebryk emailed the head of the Internal Revenue Service to tell him they had settled on the final language. The IRS, part of the Treasury Department, was in charge of distributing the payments.

"We got word from the Secretary that he would like the memo line on Economic Impact Payments to read consistent with the attached image," the official, David Lebryk, wrote to IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig.

Rettig said that he needed formal confirmation before he could proceed; Lebryk replied the next afternoon that "this was a direct instruction from the Secretary."

Two days later, on April 13, Rettig again asked for confirmation that Mnuchin himself was instructing the IRS to include Trump's name on the memo line. Baylor Myers, who served as Mnuchin's deputy chief of staff, replied late that night, "Yes."

The next day, the department's Bureau of the Fiscal Service updated its mock-up to reflect the change.

In another email to Treasury officials, Rettig confirmed reporting by The Washington Post that he and other IRS officials had been "unaware" of the decision to put Trump's name on the checks until later in the process.

Amid the back-and-forth, late on April 14, the Post reported that the decision to include Trump's name would likely delay the checks going out; the paper cited unnamed officials.

That story ricocheted around the Treasury Department, with Mnuchin quickly emailing it to White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. Democrats on Capitol Hill blasted the administration, accusing Trump of hurting Americans in need and demanding more information.

The IRS quickly denied there would be any delay. Direct deposit payments started hitting bank accounts the next day -- April 15 -- and the checks with Trump's name followed later in the month.

It is unclear from the emails the Treasury Department provided to ABC News who exactly thought of including the president's name in the first place.

The Post reported, citing unnamed administration officials, that Trump had privately suggested to Mnuchin he wanted to formally sign the checks. But previous practice dictated that a civil servant sign them instead.

The president was asked about that report and denied he wanted to sign the checks.

"No. Me sign? No," he said at an April 3 news conference. "There’s millions of checks. I’m going to sign them? No. It’s a Trump administration initiative. But do I want to sign them? No."

Later, on April 15, he said he did not "know too much about" the decision to include his name.

"I don't know too much about it, but I understand my name is there," he said during another news conference. "I don't know where they're going, how they're going. I do understand it's not delaying anything. And I'm satisfied with that. I don't -- I don't imagine it's a big deal. I'm sure people will be very happy to get a big, fat, beautiful check and my name is on it."

Then, several days later, Mnuchin said he had thought of it.

"We did put the president's name on the check," Mnuchin said during an April 19 interview with CNN. "That was my idea. He is the president, and I think it's a terrific symbol to the American public."

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Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- In 2016, Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., was one of a handful of prominent Republicans to skip the GOP convention in Ohio and later refused to mention former President Donald Trump’s name when asked if she would vote for him.

Four years later, after becoming one of his staunchest defenders, Stefanik delivered a keynote speech at the Republican National Convention, calling Trump "the only candidate who is capable of protecting the American dream," and voted to challenge the results of the election in two states on Jan. 6.

Now, she’s on the verge of joining Republican leadership, as a growing number of lawmakers call for Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., to be replaced as the No. 3 House Republican amid her repeated criticisms of Trump for falsely claiming the 2020 election was stolen.

"My vision is to run with support from the president and his coalition of voters," Stefanik, 36, said Thursday of Trump in an interview with former Trump adviser Steve Bannon.

While allies say Stefanik’s relationship with Trump and position in the party is reflective of support for Trump among GOP voters and her district, some former colleagues don’t recognize the New York Republican today.

"It’s hard to square the two," said Barbara Comstock, a former Republican congresswoman from Virginia and an ABC News contributor. "Dealing for Trump was a challenge, and everyone had a different way of dealing with it."

Stefanik’s office declined to make her available for an interview or respond to messages seeking comment on the record.

"She's doing exactly what she is supposed to be doing as an elected official," Carl Zeilman, the chairman of the Saratoga County Republican Committee, told ABC News. "She's changed [with] the way the constituency wants her to represent the district."

A rising GOP star

After graduating from Harvard University in 2006, Stefanik, who volunteered for the state GOP party in high school, worked in former President George W. Bush’s White House, serving on the Domestic Policy Council and in the office of Josh Bolten, Bush’s then-chief of staff.

Several years later, she worked on Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaigns, crafted the party’s policy platform and led debate preparations for Romney’s running mate, former House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis. -- who would later call her the "future of the Republican Party."

She soon set her sights on Congress after moving back to New York and working in her family’s lumber and plywood business.

Local Republicans and political observers recall Stefanik outworking her competition in the 2014 GOP primary for New York’s 21st Congressional District, one of the largest in the eastern United States that was carried by former President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.

"She made a point to come and meet with each chairman and introduce herself and what she was running for. She attended large meetings, small meetings, firehouse meetings, whatever it was she made sure to be here," Fulton County GOP Chairman Susan McNeil told ABC News.

Pledging to bring fresh ideas and a new generation of leadership to Congress, Stefanik, with endorsements from Romney, Ryan and other GOP leaders, won her primary and easily defeated her Democratic opponent in November, becoming the youngest woman ever elected to Congress.

A moderate wary of Trump

Beginning her career on Capitol Hill as a moderate, Stefanik initially endorsed and voted for former Ohio Gov. John Kasich in the 2016 GOP presidential primary. She later backed Trump for president as the GOP nominee against Democrat Hillary Clinton.

But Stefanik, like Romney and other prominent establishment Republicans, skipped the party’s nominating convention in Cleveland that summer, with her office saying she would remain at home to focus on constituent work.

She criticized Trump after the release of the Access Hollywood tape in October 2016, but later confirmed she would support her party’s nominee for president, declining to mention Trump by name.

At the start of Trump’s term in office, Stefanik was a leader of the centrist GOP Tuesday Group caucus, voted against Republicans’ 2017 rewrite of the tax code and criticized Trump’s controversial ban on refugees from seven Muslim countries.

Like Cheney, she also criticized his posture toward Russia and NATO, and defended special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

According to FiveThirtyEight’s "Trump Score," which tracked how often Republicans voted for the former president’s agenda, Stefanik scored a 77.7%, roughly 15 points lower than Cheney’s 92.9%.

"There are areas where I disagree with the president, but if there are areas I agree with, then I am going to work with him," she told the Post-Star newspaper of Glen Falls, New York.

Stefanik was among the Republicans who later stood on stage with Trump at Fort Drum -- the large Army installation in her district and the home of the 10th Mountain Division -- in August 2018 when he signed the annual defense policy bill into law.

"That was a pivot or fulcrum type moment," Jeff Graham, the former mayor of Watertown and a longtime Stefanik supporter, told ABC News.

Trump defender and top surrogate

The next year, Stefanik emerged as one of Trump’s staunchest defenders as a member of the House Intelligence Committee, working closely with conservative Trump allies such as Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, to rebuff Democrats’ impeachment investigation into whether the president improperly withheld foreign aid to Ukraine.

Stefanik later served as a top surrogate for Trump and spoke in prime time on the third night of the Republican National Convention in Washington in the summer of 2020.

“This district was considered for a long time a moderate district, filled with Rockefeller Republicans, but that seems to have changed,” former Rep. Bill Owens, a Democrat who retired in 2015 after representing the area, told ABC News. “It’s clearly moved far to the right, and she’s followed that trend.”

Stefanik has used her new platform and profile in Republican circles to help support and recruit GOP women to run for Congress -- an effort that grew out of frustrations following the party’s 2018 midterm losses.

With her political action committee, E-PAC, Stefanik raised millions of dollars for GOP candidates in 2020 and supported the record number of GOP women elected to Congress last year.

Challenging election results

Stefanik was among the 147 Republicans who voted to overturn the election results in Arizona and Pennsylvania on Jan. 6, after a mob of pro-Trump protestors stormed the Capitol in a clash that left several people dead -- and defended questioning the results in two other states in a floor speech after the riot.

Like other Republicans who baselessly challenged the election results, she faced calls to resign from Democrats and was removed from the advisory board of the Harvard University Institute of Politics for her comments about the election results.

On Thursday, one day after Cheney wrote a Washington Post op-ed calling for Republicans to reject Trump’s "cult of personality," Stefanik told Bannon she fully supported the controversial Republican-backed audit of election results in Arizona, which election experts have worried will further undermine confidence in the electoral process.

But she also said she would work on "sending a clear message that we are one team, and that means working with the president and working with all of our excellent Republican members of Congress."

House Republicans can vote to remove Cheney from their leadership team as early as next week and install Stefanik in her place in a subsequent vote.

While some conservative groups have questioned Stefanik’s voting record, a broad swath of the GOP conference -- a mix of freshmen and veteran lawmakers, as well as centrists and some conservatives -- has publicly endorsed her to succeed Cheney in the No. 3 leadership position.

More importantly, she has the support of Trump, who called her a "smart and tough communicator" in a statement on Wednesday.

Stefanik "is an ambitious politician who sees her future in the Republican Party in one leadership role or another and has worked out that the potential for the party to move in a more moderate direction is not there -- and given that, has thrown in with [Trump],” Tim Weaver, a political science professor at the State University of New York at Albany, told ABC News.

Assuming Stefanik can keep her seat through the upcoming redistricting cycle in New York -- controlled by Democrats in Albany -- her rise to House leadership with Trump’s support could put her "in a prime position" for a leading role in the party, he added.

Graham, the former Watertown mayor, praised Stefanik’s rise in Washington and her representation of upstate New York -- and said her relationship with Trump was reflective of her constituents and many GOP voters.

"Nobody quite knew where the whole Trump thing was going to go," Graham said. "She was cautious. As they say in politics, she evolved."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.



(RICHMOND, Va.) -- Virginia Republicans are set to pick a nominee for this year's gubernatorial election at a convention on Saturday, testing the lasting strength of Trumpism in a state that has deepened its blue hue during former President Donald Trump's tenure.

In a crowded race with no clear front-runner, ties to Trump and his stalwarts are shaping its contours. The Republican contenders have largely embraced him and earned endorsements from some of his close allies -- ostensibly hoping to reflect the zeal of his base to claim the GOP nomination for the commonwealth's top job.

The race features seven candidates but it has splintered into two tiers, with the upper echelon widely seen as narrowing to four: state Sen. Amanda Chase, state Del. Kirk Cox, entrepreneur Pete Snyder and former hedge fund investor Glenn Youngkin. The other three contenders are Sergio de la Peña, a former official in the Department of Defense under Trump, Peter Doran, a businessman and author, and Octavia Johnson, the former sheriff of Roanoke. And while none are disavowing Trump, the level of passion among the candidates towards him isn't quite the same.

"You could categorize them in the three silos: Trumpy, Trumpier and Trumpiest," said Larry Sabato, the founder and director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics.

That dynamic has manifested perhaps most in the debate over election integrity, which has become a focal point in the contest after Trump claimed repeatedly and without evidence that rampant fraud cost him the presidency -- eroding confidence in the system.

Youngkin, who earned the endorsement of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz this week, formed an "Election Integrity Task Force" to "ensure election integrity." Snyder, who unsuccessfully ran for lieutenant governor in 2013 and scored the endorsement of former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders in his current bid, outlined an election integrity plan. His proposal calls for tightening voter ID laws and implementing signature matching for absentee ballots to address perceived voter skepticism about the security of the electoral system. And Cox, a former state House speaker who acknowledged Biden's victory back in December, has also pushed for election reforms in Virginia.

Only one of the candidates has directly invoked Trump's unfounded allegations of election fraud in the campaign. According to Chase, a self-proclaimed conservative firebrand who labels herself as "Trump in heels," the last election was stolen from the former president.

"To this day, my president is Donald J. Trump," she said last month at a Florida rally headlined by Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who's also embraced Trump's election conspiracies.

Chase's penchant for inviting controversy has underlined her bid. The two-term state lawmaker attended the "Stop the Steal" rally ahead of the Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6. She was also censured by her colleagues in the state Senate for, in part, praising pro-Trump rioters inside the Capitol as "patriots."

Chase's claims of a rigged election also don't end with 2020. They extend to her own race, too.

The decision to move forward with a convention, in her telling, was a concerted effort to "sabotage" her nomination. The bar for success is higher in conventions than in primaries since a candidate must secure a majority of the vote, rather than a plurality, to emerge as the winner.

A spokesperson for the Virginia Republican Party declined to comment on Chase's accusations.

The bumpy road to the convention has also led other candidates to raise concerns about the integrity of the nomination process. Chase, Youngkin and Cox sent a joint letter to the state party expressing reservations about its plans for ballot security and vote counting.

"All elections must be free, fair, and transparent. The Republican Party—the party of election integrity—must lead by example as it prepares to conduct its May 8 nominating convention," the candidates and rivals wrote to the state party chair.

Despite the apprehension, the state GOP is expecting the convention to "go 100% smoothly," said John March, the communications director for the Virginia GOP.

"Our chairman and other folks have talked to (the candidates) to make sure everybody's feeling comfortable and everybody is on the same page," he added.

In the off-year contest, a first referendum on the Biden administration and Democratic control of Congress ahead of the 2022 midterms, Republicans see the race as an opportunity to reverse a string of statewide losses. And history is on the GOP's side, with Virginia typically electing governors from the party not in the White House.

But one candidate who defied that trend -- former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who narrowly defeated Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli in 2013 -- is hoping to do it again. Virginia state law doesn't allow for sitting governors to seek back-to-back terms.

McAuliffe, the front-runner in the Democratic race, is competing against four other candidates for the party's nomination: state Sen. Jennifer McClellan, former state Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax and state Del. Lee Carter. Voters will elect a nominee in a primary set for June 8, which Sabato predicted will be McAuliffe -- although "strange things happen in the final days" of a campaign, he added.

He also warned that despite their gains in the last decade, Democrats shouldn't consider a win a foregone conclusion.

"If you think you can't lose, you're halfway to losing," he said.

Sabato called Cox a "credible candidate," noting his years in the legislature, and underscored Youngkin's personal wealth -- a mighty asset for gaining name recognition and criticizing an eventual opponent on the airwaves.

And being too Trumpy could ultimately prove detrimental down the line, Sabato argued.

Trump himself hasn't found success in Virginia, and neither have Republicans. Trump's losing margin in 2020 was the most significant for a presidential candidate in Virginia in three decades and voters in the state handed Democrats full control of governing in the Trump era.

"Donald Trump continues to dominate the stage," Sabato said. "(It's) impossible for people to separate the party from Trump. And that is going to hurt whoever emerges as the nominee. No ways about it."

Still, all four are betting on a pro-Trump strategy to propel them to the nomination, when nearly 54,000 delegates -- the party's faithful -- gather at more than three dozen voting locations across Virginia to pick the nominee.

The months leading up to the "unassembled" convention -- which Sabato called a "giant game" -- were marred by internal divisions within the state GOP, with party officials feuding over the format for selecting nominees for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general. The standoff simmered after the party's governing body approved rules for the convention, but some still pushed for a traditional primary up until the end.

The complicated convention process involves a smaller fraction of voters who were pre-approved by local GOP committees and ranked-choice voting. The delegates rank each of the candidates in order of preference on a ballot, which will be counted by hand at a central location starting on Sunday and could take multiple days.

"We are equipped to remain in place all the way through Thursday," Rich Anderson, the chairman of the Virginia Republican Party, told Virginia Scope. "We've planned toward the longest case scenario but my estimation is, hopefully, at the latest, will be done on Tuesday."

If there isn't a clear winner in the first round, there will be subsequent rounds of voting with second and third choices, or more, possibly coming into play until one candidate emerges with 50% plus one vote.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

(WASHINGTON) -- Standing before an aging bridge in Lake Charles, Louisiana, Thursday afternoon, President Joe Biden once again said he's ready to work across the aisle with Republicans to pass his $2.3 trillion infrastructure-focused American Jobs Plan.

"I’m willing to hear ideas from both sides," Biden said. "I’m ready to compromise. What I’m not ready to do, I’m not ready to do nothing. I’m not ready to have another period where America has another infrastructure month and doesn't change a damn thing."

He will likely get his next chance when he's expected to meet with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy next Wednesday at the White House, along with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The meeting would mark the first time he'll host the congressional GOP leadership, but recent McConnell comments suggest it could raise questions among congressional Democrats about whether Biden's willingness to compromise to get a deal done is misguided.

While McConnell on Thursday seemed slightly more open to working with the president, just the day before he said he was entirely focused on derailing Biden's agenda.

"My view at the moment is we need to turn this administration into a moderate administration," McConnell said Thursday in Kentucky. "I'm still hoping the administration will pivot to a more centrist position and that's where I'm spending my time and focus."

But on Wednesday he said that "100 percent of my focus is on stopping this new administration."

"I think the best way of looking at what this new administration is - the president may have won the nomination, but Bernie Sanders won the argument about what the new administration should be like. We are confronted with severe challenges from the new administration and a narrow majority in the House and a 50-50 Senate to turn American into a socialist country, and that's 100% of my focus," McConnell said.

His initial comments were dismissed and met with a laugh from Biden when he was asked to respond Wednesday afternoon, saying he’s been on familiar ground with McConnell.

"He said that in our last administration, Barack [Obama], he was going to stop everything, and I was able to get a lot done with him," Biden told reporters in the White House State Dining Room.

During the 2010 mid-term elections, McConnell said "the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president" and often used the filibuster to block much of Obama's agenda.

The war of words between McConnell and Biden comes as the president, Vice President Kamala Harris and other high-profile administration officials are traveling across the country to sell the president’s American Jobs Plan and his American Families Plan.

Republicans have criticized the cost of the scope of Biden’s infrastructure proposal, costing $2.3 trillion alone, and his plan to pay for it with a corporate tax rate hike from its current 21% to 28% and also raising the capital gains tax for those making over $1 million to 39.6%.

The president’s plan to raise corporate taxes has also been met with opposition from within his own party. Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has said he believes it should be raised to 25% instead, something Biden says he is willing to negotiate.

Republicans have proposed their own scaled down $568 billion infrastructure plan, something McConnell on Thursday branded as a “bipartisan alternative.”

"I think the administration will probably think of this as plan B," McConnell said, adding that he thinks Democrats will consider the proposal only if their attempts at using reconciliation to pass the larger package fail.

"I'm hoping that if the Democrats are unable to pass this new $4.1 trillion dollar bill they'll sit down with us and talk about passing an infrastructure bill," he said. "If they aren't able to get everybody behind this massive proposal than I think we've got a real chance to do something important on a bipartisan basis."

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