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Sen. Bob Menendez indicted again for corruption, allegedly had cash stuffed in coat, gold bars

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(NEW YORK) -- A federal grand jury in New York has returned a sweeping indictment against United States Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., chairman of the powerful Foreign Relations Committee, in connection with improper foreign relations and business dealings.

The investigation focused on a luxury car, gold bars and an apartment allegedly received by Menendez and his wife, Nadine Arslanian. His wife was also indicted.

The indictment charges Menendez, 69, and his wife with having a corrupt relationship with three New Jersey businessmen -- Wael Hana, Jose Uribe and Fred Daides.

The indictment accuses Menendez and his wife of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars of bribes in exchange for using the senator's power and influence to seek to protect and enrich the businessman.

"Those bribes included cash, gold, payments toward a home mortgage, compensation for a low-or-no-show job, a luxury vehicle, and other things of value," the indictment said.

This is the second time New Jersey's senior senator has been charged with corruption. A 2015 indictment ended in a mistrial in 2018 after a jury failed to reach a verdict on all counts and a judge acquitted him on some charges.

The previous charges against Menendez centered on his relationship with Florida eye doctor Solomon Melgen, a close ally of the senator. Menendez allegedly accepted gifts from Melgen in exchange for using the power of his senate office to benefit the doctor's financial and personal interests.

Sen. Chuck Schumer announced Menendez has stepped down as the chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Rules for the Senate Democratic caucus say that any member who is charged with a felony must step aside from a leadership position. However, according to a person close to Menendez, the senator will not resign. Menendez is facing reelection next year.

"For years, forces behind the scenes have repeatedly attempted to silence my voice and dig my political grave," Menendez said in a statement about the indictment. "Since this investigation was leaked nearly a year ago, there has been an active smear campaign of anonymous sources and innuendos to create an air of impropriety where none exists."

He continued, "I have been falsely accused before because I refused to back down to the powers that be and the people of New Jersey were able to see through the smoke and mirrors and recognize I was innocent."

Danny Onorato, a lawyer representing Nadine Menendez, said in a statement to ABC News, "Mrs. Menendez denies any wrongdoing and will vigorously defend against these allegations in court."

In June 2022, federal agents searched Menendez's New Jersey home and found "fruits" of the pair's "corrupt bribery agreement" with the three businessmen, according to the indictment. Investigators found over $480,000 in cash, some stuffed in envelopes and hidden in clothing, as well as $70,000 in Nadine Menendez's safe deposit box.

Also found in the home were over $100,000 worth of gold bars, "provided by either Hana or Daibes," according to the indictment.

Menendez allegedly gave sensitive U.S. government information "that secretly aided the Government of Egypt" and "improperly advised and pressured" a U.S. agricultural official to protect an exclusive contract for Hana to be the exclusive purveyor of halal meat to Egypt, according to the indictment.

Menendez also tried to disrupt a criminal investigation into a second businessman in the trucking industry that had been undertaken by the New Jersey attorney general, the indictment said.

The senator is also accused of recommending someone to the president to be the U.S. attorney in New Jersey who he thought he could influence. Philip Sellinger was ultimately confirmed to the post. He recused himself from the investigation and has not been accused of wrongdoing.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's Office said, "U.S. Attorney Sellinger was recused from the Daibes matter and all activity by the office related to that matter was handled appropriately according to the principles of federal prosecution."

"They wrote these charges as they wanted; the facts are not as presented," Menendez said in his statement. "Prosecutors did that the last time and look what a trial demonstrates. People should remember that before accepting the prosecutor's version."

Menendez appears to be the first senator to ever be indicted on two unrelated criminal charges while in office, according to the Senate Historical Office.

"The FBI has made investigating public corruption a top priority since our founding -- nothing has changed," FBI Assistant Director in Charge James Smith said in a statement. "The alleged conduct in this conspiracy damages the public’s faith in our system of government and brings undue scorn to the honest and dedicated public servants who carry out their duties on a daily basis."

Daibes, also named as a defendant, ultimately pleaded guilty last year in New Jersey to separate charges and is awaiting sentencing.

A spokesperson for Hana also rejected the claims in the indictment, saying, "We are still reviewing the charges but based upon our initial review, they have absolutely no merit. Mr. Hana is expected to voluntarily return to the U.S. from Egypt and appear in court on Wednesday."

New Jersey Dems called on on Senator Menendez to resign on Friday, with Gov. Phil Murphy releasing a statement, "The allegations in the indictment against Senator Menendez and four other defendants are deeply disturbing. These are serious charges that implicate national security and the integrity of our criminal justice system. I am calling for his immediate resignation."

Senate President Nick Scutari reiterated Gov. Murphy's plea to Senator Menendez to resign, with Sacutari issuing a statement, "The allegations laid out in today's indictment are alarming, and they raise serious questions about the Senator's ability to continue to serve."

Scutari continued, "I strongly believe that all Americans deserve the presumption of innocence and the ability to fully defend themselves. Due to the severity of the charges brought against him today, I believe Senator Menendez must resign from office to pursue his defense and allow our state and our nation to move forward."

All five individuals are due in Manhattan federal court on Sept. 27.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Migrant crisis explained: What's behind the border surge

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(WASHINGTON) -- The Biden administration is doubling down on strategies to contain migration as unauthorized border crossings surge across the southwest.

The number of migrants apprehended in a single day by the U.S. Border Patrol approached an estimated 9,000 on Wednesday, according to officials who declined to be identified to discuss preliminary data. Rural areas of southern Arizona, including the greater Tucson region, as well as south Texas have seen large increases in migration.

Border Patrol agents in Eagle Pass, Texas, on Wednesday "swiftly vetted and processed" about 2,500 migrants taken into custody at the border, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The enforcement involved shutting down rail and vehicle traffic at multiple border crossings in the area.

The U.S. Border Patrol made 181,059 apprehensions along the southern border in August -- up from 132,648 in July, according to the latest Customs and Border Protection data. Across the southwest, migrants were arrested or detained more than 232,000 times, the most since last December.

Authorities encountered migrants more than 300,000 times nationwide last month, up from 245,213 in July, according to the data.

The new data marks the largest monthly total ever recorded during the Biden administration.

This surge of migrants comes amid the Biden administration's new measures to help curb the increase at the southern border. Many Republicans think the administration is not doing enough to help secure the U.S. borders; immigration advocates say the president is not doing enough to overhaul immigration laws.

ABC News is breaking down all the details on the border crisis and the latest developments -- highlighting this new surge, and why it's happening now.

Expanding deportations

The administration announced this week it would further expand deportations to include more families -- a signal that children cannot be used to side-step the immigration process. It also dedicated a surge of 800 active duty Department of Defense personnel to support CBP.

At the same time, the administration is expanding work permit access and deportation protections for Venezuelans. The Temporary Protected Status expansion announce by Homeland Security on Wednesday will be available to 472,000 Venezuelans. These moves come along with parole processes for Cubans, Haitians, Venezuelans and Nicaraguans announced earlier this year. The combined effort is intended to create an orderly decision-making process, ensure more eligible immigrants can work while bluntly denying those with invalid claims to remain in the U.S.

Under the expanded expedited deportation protocols, authorities are expected to remove more families through Immigration and Customs Enforcement's, Family Expedited Removal Management (FERM) program.

The program has drawn criticism from immigrant advocates who say it cuts access families should have to attorneys and legal resources they need to make asylum claims. The FERM program operates across the country, including destination cities where migrants end up, and is not limited to border towns.

A CBP spokesperson underscored the consequences for those who enter illegally, and without valid legal claims, including prosecution and a several-year ban on entering the U.S.

"We remain vigilant and expect to see fluctuations, knowing that smugglers continue to use misinformation to prey on vulnerable individuals," the spokesperson said. "CBP is executing our operational plans and working to decompress areas along the southwest border."

Anyone released into the country by CBP must remain engaged in immigration proceedings with requirements to report back to authorities, according to the agency.

Republicans have accused Biden of supporting policies that are too welcoming toward migrants, which have given way to historic crossing at the southern border.

President Biden touted his immigration reform efforts Wednesday at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus dinner. At the event, Biden noted his request of $4 billion in additional funding for border security this year -- a figure Republicans have balked.

"I requested more funding, but instead of stepping up with solutions, Republicans are threatening to shut down the government," Biden said. "Just think about this, man. Think how many people it's going to hurt. Think to the people that are going to get hurt. It's time to act."

How did we get here?

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas will be in McAllen, Texas, this weekend for a visit with the president of Honduras. The two leaders are expected to discuss collaborative efforts to reduce unauthorized or "irregular migration," DHS said in a statement.

Communication between federal agents and local authorities remains constant, one CBP official said. But as migrant apprehensions increased this week, CBP was forced to release some migrants before local aid groups were ready to assist.

CBP works with non-profit groups and state partners to identify locations where migrants can get released and access transportation. One shuttle stop in Nogales, for example, has options for people to travel to Phoenix or elsewhere.

"It's a challenge, but I wouldn't say it's out of control," one official said in reference to the migration management protocols CBP has in place.

The Biden administration has returned more than 233,000 people from 152 countries back to their country of origin since May, including more than 36,000 family members, one official said this week. Others however, get funneled into a backlogged system where immigration court cases can take months or years to adjudicate.

CBP has released migrants in coordination with local authorities as they work to vet and process those seeking to enter the U.S., the agency said in a statement Thursday. CBP is also working to stand up a new soft-sided facility in the Tucson area and maintains contracts for transportation and medical support.

A migratory surge of this magnitude has not been seen at the border since last spring -- just before the Biden administration implemented the new border management policies.

At the time, officials had anticipated more migration as fast-track border expulsion protocols brought down during the pandemic under Title 42 of the U.S. code came to an end. To address the spring influx, the administration implemented a dual-track approach of enforcement and humanitarianism. Authorities expanded deportation processing, paroling more migrants through legal avenues and struck agreements with Mexico to accept the return of non-Mexican citizens.

The increases in unauthorized migration this week comes as the Biden administration pushes its strategy of bolstering legal options for immigration while cracking down on border enforcement. Officials say the administration remains bound by old legislative frameworks and budget restrictions that limit its ability to process migrants and provide work permits for asylum seekers. Those applying for asylum must wait 180 days before becoming eligible for a work permit.

Human smuggling's impact on migration

Officials emphasize that much of the migration is driven by transnational criminal organizations engaged in the big business of human smuggling.

The operations amount to "hard-core recruiting, transporting" and financial exploitation of people across the western hemisphere, one official said.

ABC News' Ben Gittleson and Luke Barr contributed to this report

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

'There's always deeper than rock bottom': Florida Democrats gird for 2024

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(WASHINGTON) -- An auto strike impacting Michigan. A prominent GOP Senate recruit in Pennsylvania. A pending campaign launch from a hardliner in Arizona. News just in recent days has put the battleground map into sharp relief.

But left out of the conversation is the nation's erstwhile premier swing state: Florida.

After a shellacking in 2022 that saw GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis and Sen. Marco Rubio defeat their challengers by 19 and 16 points, respectively, Democrats are hoping to get off the mat next year. But Democrats' attitude in the Sunshine State is gloomy heading into 2024 after years of missteps, donor disinterest and a decimated bench, leaving strategists resigned that any revitalization won't right the ship before the general election, experts say.

"It's hard to suggest there are stakes when the Democrats aren't really competing in Florida," said one Florida Democratic strategist, speaking on condition of anonymity. "I don't see what you would call any kind of an effort to try and capture the state."

"There's always deeper than rock bottom. That can still happen, I don't know. We'll find out after the 2024 results," the strategist added.

Whether or not the party is able to bounce back has significant ramifications for next year, when Florida's 30 electoral college votes will help play a significant role in the presidential race, Sen. Rick Scott seeks reelection as one of Democrats' only targets and a small handful of competitive House districts could help decide a chamber currently controlled by just a five-seat margin.

But Democratic operatives in Florida admitted to ABC News that they're starting out on their back foot.

Florida is part of the Biden campaign's expansion map -- essentially a demotion from being part of every presidential campaign's main battleground plan for years. Easier paths to keep the Senate and flip the House run through other states -- calculations that are anticipated to impact national investments.

"It has 28 congressional seats and 30 electoral votes. It's always gonna be coveted," said Thomas Kennedy, a Democratic National Committee member from Florida. "But I think if Florida Democrats don't get their sh*t together, they could be taken off the map for an extended period of time until they prove themselves competent."

Democrats blame their current position on a cocktail of blunders.

Several Democrats pointed to infighting in the state party for years, with Kennedy noting it's had five different chairs since 2016, leading to incongruous leadership at a time when Republicans were gaining ground.

What's more, Florida Democrats were hit hard by a confluence of national factors that are magnified within the state, including slippage with Hispanic and non-college-educated white voters who hold immense sway in Florida and pushback against the prominence of democratic socialism, a philosophy that often doesn't resonate in a state where many immigrants have fled from communist dictatorships.

"When Democrats nationally start calling themselves democratic socialists, that pisses people off in Miami who are Cuban and Venezuelan and who fled socialistic countries and communist countries," added John Morgan, a major Florida-based Democratic donor. "When you got people out there going, 'I'm a democratic socialist,' in South Florida, that's just death. Then you couple that with that fleeting movement of 'defund the police.' Nobody wants to f------ defund the police."

The party has also struggled to field candidates who can compete in one of the most expensive states in the nation, with Morgan rattling off a list of qualifications that would be hard for most would-be contenders to meet.

"It has to be somebody so big that they transcend politics and that their name ID is at least good coming out of the gate and would draw different money than traditional politicians do," he said.

More broadly, though, the Democratic strategist pointed the finger at the national party and donors who they accused of writing Florida off in favor of alternate electoral paths and over disappointment in results in 2018 -- when Democrats narrowly lost Senate and gubernatorial races.

All the while, Republicans were hard at work crafting a machine after setbacks in 2012.

"It was not memorialized on paper. But the response to that was, 'F--- it. We're out of Florida,'" the strategist said of the 2018 elections.

"It's like asking why the taxicab industry was so successful before the arrival of Uber. The difference is, there was massive disruption because the Republicans after the 2012 elections panicked, freaked out and correctly saw that they were facing electoral extinction at the national level if Florida was going to go the way of California, and in response to that, quadrupled down with a permanent campaign infrastructure to make sure that the state was not lost. And in response to that, the Democrats literally did absolutely nothing," the strategist added.

To be sure, not all Democrats were as harsh.

"Obviously, there's work to be done," veteran Florida Democratic strategist Steve Schale said. "I'm not as down on the state as some people are. I don't think that one election cycle means that Florida has somehow magically gone from a purplish or light red state to a forever red state."

Many Democrats who spoke to ABC News also specifically touted the work of Nikki Fried, the newest state party chair.

Kennedy told ABC News he's seen notable improvement from the state party, noting new communications efforts, Fried's outreach to county parties and a $1 million voter registration push.

In an interview, Fried split the state party's work into three main "buckets": improving communications, fundraising and internal structure.

"All three of those moving parts are essential and allows us, when you have all three of those silos working, then we also can then start focusing on year-round organizing, which we haven't been doing, door knocking year-round, voter registration," said Fried, who also boasted of renewed interest from donors.

"It is an absolutely accurate statement that there wasn't investment here in 2022," she said. "That is not going to be the case in '24."

Democrats have also started spending money and recruiting in the state, with the Biden campaign reserving Spanish-language ads and Senate Democrats recruiting former Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell -- an Ecuadorian immigrant who may be able to more effectively speak to Hispanic voters in South Florida who defected to Republicans in recent years -- to challenge Scott.

"I do think the Biden campaign running Spanish language ads, which is probably one of the biggest challenges we have right now, the [Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee] recruiting a Latina woman, that's really smart stuff, and it gives us a chance over the next year to hopefully get the state in a better place," Schale said.

Also giving Democrats a sliver of optimism are their upset victory in the Jacksonville mayoral race in May and an abortion referendum that will likely take place next year -- which, if similar to other votes in other states, could gin up Democratic enthusiasm.

"I think they see that light at the end of the tunnel," Kennedy said.

Still, it's unclear whether Democrats' efforts are enough to dig themselves out of the deep hole that's been dug.

"They made the announcement a couple of months back that they were going to invest $1 million in voter registration as if that was a big deal," the Florida Democratic strategist said. "Add a couple of zeros to that if you're serious about what you want to do here."

"In politics, circumstances can change, and they can change quickly," the person conceded. "But is Florida part of their plans today on the pathway to 270 [electoral college votes]? Hell no."

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Biden announces White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention

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(WASHINGTON) -- President Joe Biden announced on Friday the establishment of the first-ever White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention to help reduce the nation's epidemic of gun violence.

"He believes that now is the moment to accelerate our work to reduce gun violence, which is why he is establishing this office," Stefanie Feldman, who will serve as Director of the Office of Gun Violence Prevention, told reporters.

Speaking from the Rose Garden, the president said he took this action "to send a clear message about how important this issue is to me and to the country."

"After every mass shooting, we hear a simple message -- the same message all over the country. I've been to every mass shooting, 'Do something, please do something,'" Biden said.

"Do something to prevent the tragedies that leave behind survivors who will always carry the physical and emotional scars; families will never quite be the same; communities overwhelmed by grief and trauma. Do something! Do something," the president continued.

While the announcement does not include a new policy initiative, Biden said the new White House office will "centralize, accelerate and intensify" the administration's efforts to deal with gun violence.

Since taking office, the Biden administration has sought to take action on guns through executive actions, and most notably, the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which enhanced background checks for gun buyers under the age of 21 and increased funding for so-called "Red Flag" laws, among other actions.

"There's a big difference between doing the bare minimum and doing everything you can to make sure that the executive actions the president has already announced and the bipartisan Safer Communities Act are implemented to the fullest extent possible, and the president wants to make sure that we have staff on hand to really excel," a senior administration official said.

But the administration has not been able to pass a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines -- a campaign pledge from Biden's 2020 run. With the 2024 election on the horizon, Biden again called on Congress to act, and urged voters to take action if they don't.

"If members of the Congress refuse to act, then we'll need to elect new members of Congress that will act, Democrat or Republican. Look, folks, there comes a point where our voices are so loud, our determination is so clear that our effort can no longer be stopped. We're reaching that point. We've reached that point today in my view, where the safety of our kids from gun violence is on the ballot," the president said Friday.

Vice President Kamala Harris will add overseeing the office to her portfolio, and also spoke at the announcement.

"With this new office, we will use the full power of the federal government to strengthen the coalition of survivors and advocates and students and teachers and elected leaders, to save lives and fight for the right of all people to be safe from fear and to be able to live a life where they understand that they are supported in that desire and that right," Harris said.

Included in the audience of the event were members of Congress, state and local officials, survivors and family members, and gun violence-prevention advocates.

"Our losses may be different circumstances, but I know events like this are really hard to attend. You want to be here to promote to change, but it brings back all the memories as if it happened a day ago," Biden told the audience, drawing off his own experiences with loss.

Rep. Maxwell Frost, D-Fla., the first Generation Z and youngest member of Congress, introduced the president, and said the reason he got involved in politics was "quite simple: I didn't want to get shot in school."

Feldman has worked extensively on gun violence issues in the past and importantly, according to a source, has the ear of the president.

The Washington Post first reported that Greg Jackson, a gun violence survivor who heads up the Community Justice Action Fund, and Rob Wilcox of Everytown for Gun Safety, are expected to have "key roles" in the newly formed office.

The U.S. has seen more than 500 mass shooting so far in 2023, according to the Gun Violence Archive. A mass shooting is defined as four or more people shot at one time.

Activist groups, including March For Our Lives and Newtown Action Alliance, have advocated for years for an office for gun violence prevention, saying in an open letter to Biden in 2021 that the establishment of an office would "streamline the government's efforts to reduce violence."

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and Frost also introduced legislation last year to create this kind of White House office and liaison. Murphy said in a statement on Wednesday that the move will save thousands of lives.

"Congressman Frost and I introduced legislation earlier this year to establish this office, and though we will continue to push to codify the need for this office, the president's decision to set it up without legislation is a great step forward," Murphy said.

One source ABC News spoke with called establishing the office a big win for the gun violence prevention movement.

As Republicans have retaken the House, the likelihood of congressional action on gun safety issues has dwindled. Biden worked across the aisle to pass gun-safety reforms in the wake of the Uvalde, Texas, school shooting in 2022, but gun safety proponents have continued to advocate for additional measures, such as an assault-weapon ban but also limits on magazine ammunition capacity, universal background checks and safe storage laws.

Peter Ambler, the executive director of Giffords, told ABC News in a statement, "This has been a top priority of ours for years, and it would provide an important center of gravity for leadership across the Administration as the President and Vice President implement the historic Bipartisan Safer Communities Act and continue to push Congress to pass legislation to save lives."

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Dr. Apoorva Ramaswamy reflects on why her husband Vivek decided to run for president

ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- Dr. Apoorva Ramaswamy has been active on the campaign trail with her husband Vivek, an author and businessman running for the GOP presidential ticket, along with the rest of her family.

Dr. Ramaswamy sat down with ABC News' Linsey Davis to talk about their family, her husband's campaign and his controversial statements.

ABC NEWS LIVE: When was the first time that, and I'm wondering if they told you or you knew he's going to want to run for president?

Dr. APOORVA RAMASWAMY: Really just this past December. So that was when he really sat me down and said, Apoorva, I think, this is something that I feel called to do because we look at the future for our sons.

Realizing what are the things that are needed for their prosperity, for their thriving, that's what limits them is the things that we can do as parents.

But really on the political side, and I feel very confident that Vivek, as president, will be able to give Karthick and Arjun the society that they're going to want when they're starting to enter high school. One where their actions are rewarded based on their merit, not based on any other aspect of their appearance or their heritage, but really what they are able to do and give to other people and whether they are able to fulfill their responsibilities.

Similarly to be able to be proud of being Americans, that would be the biggest gift that I hope Vivek can provide to future generations.

ABC NEWS LIVE: How did you initially react when he said, I'm going to do it?

RAMASWAMY: The first thing I said was, 'Are you sure that this is the right time?' You know, we are young. At that time, we had basically a 6-month-old and a 3-year-old. And we really thought deeply about whether this was the right thing, both for our family and whether Vivek, as a 37 [year-old], at that point he'll be 39, would be the best version of himself for this role.

And after reflecting on it, we realized that it really is now as a young person, as someone who really has this investment in the future through our sons, that we both have the hope, but also the conviction that the future that we see of a true American revival is possible.

ABC NEWS LIVE: What is it that you were able to fall in love with Vivek that you think that the American people, if they also knew this about him, if they saw this side of him, then Americans would also fall in love with him?

RAMASWAMY: He is extremely genuine. There is no version of him that I see that he does not put out in his speeches or in his interviews. He is someone who loves people.

He loves America, he loves life. He's…extremely optimistic. There is no version of the world in which we are, as a country, do not succeed. There is no world in which we do not experience that American revival that he talks about. And I think the people are starting to see it, and it's honestly infectious.

ABC NEWS LIVE: His greatest strength?

RAMASWAMY: His joy and optimism.

ABC NEWS LIVE: Biggest weakness?

RAMASWAMY: His biggest weakness, is the fact that he, in some ways it’s also one of his strengths, is that he speaks freely and especially with social media and everything being what it is, sometimes things can be memed and taken out of context.

ABC NEWS LIVE: He has said recently "Juneteenth is a useless holiday." "Affirmative action is a cancer on our national soul." He's called the protesters "peaceful" on January 6. Do you guys agree with all of his passionate thoughts?

RAMASWAMY: Those are three very different statements, and I think they can be taken differently based on whether you say them the way they were or whether you take them in context. He also celebrated Juneteenth, a few months ago, and he believes very strongly that celebrating the end of slavery is an important thing. But as holidays go or any holiday for that matter, the fact that we have not taken a day off to allow people to vote, to actually engage in the democratic process, that would be the highest utility for any holiday.

So it being the most recent national holiday that was instated, that is really where it comes from. Utility for us as a country that says we believe in democracy. For us to still expect people to find time to vote, you know, in the interstices of their lives is really absurd.

ABC NEWS LIVE: But do you have differences of opinions or are you kind of lockstep with many of his main big political thrusts?

RAMASWAMY: He and I might disagree on how he says things, but when I get to talk to him, I have the pleasure of getting to talk to him more than anyone in the world, and I know [what's] in his heart; I agree with everything he believes.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

McCarthy expresses optimism on averting government shutdown

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(WASHINGTON) -- To avert a shutdown, Speaker Kevin McCarthy said the House should still try to pass a Republican short-term funding measure next week in addition to the individual spending bills, despite GOP holdouts.

"I would like to -- you need to -- because I don't know how else in a shutdown," he said when asked if he plans to move forward with a continuing resolution despite a handful of GOP holdouts.

McCarthy said a shutdown would put Republicans in a "weaker position."

"We will continue to work with people," he said. "I just believe if you're not funding the troops and you're not funding the border. It's pretty difficult to think that you're going to win in a shutdown."

The House plans to vote on a handful of appropriations bills next week, including measures funding the Departments of Homeland Security, State and Defense. Notably, McCarthy said he'll remove $300 million for training of soldiers in Ukraine from the Pentagon spending bill and instead hold a separate vote on it.

"I think we've made some progress to those who have been holding up passing the rule to get on to these bills. We've got members working, and hopefully we'll be able to move forward on Tuesday to pass these bills," McCarthy said.

When asked whether he would put a continuing resolution from the Senate on the floor, McCarthy said, "So you just asked me something that hasn't happened. So, I don't know if you asked [Senate Majority Leader Chuck] Schumer what he would do if I sent him a [continuing resolution] that keeps the government open."

The Senate has not yet sent McCarthy any legislation that would keep the government open. Typically, bills that fund the government for any period of time must start in the House. But as the process stalls int he House, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer signaled Thursday that the upper chamber may take matters into its own hands.

On Thursday afternoon, before the Senate left Washington for a long weekend, Schumer took the first steps to allow the Senate to begin work on their own short term funding bill next week.

"As I've said for months, we must work in a bipartisan fashion to keep our government open, avoid a shutdown, and avoid inflicting unnecessary pain on the American people," Schumer said on the floor as he took the first procedural step to allow the Senate to advance a separate bill. "This action will give the Senate the option to do just that."

Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have been more or less in lock step over funding the government. The Senate is largely expected to pass a short-term funding bill that keeps government funding at current levels while providing disaster relief and Ukraine aid.

It could prove difficult for the Senate to expedite passage of any such bill, with several Republicans threatening to stall proceedings over Ukraine funding.

Still, the Senate could likely pass a short-term funding bill and send it to McCarthy as soon as next week, with the Senate working across the aisle.

But McCarthy dodged a question on whether he's willing to work with Democrats on funding the government.

"I believe we have a majority here and we can work together to solve this. This is the same place you were all asking me during the debt ceiling. So, you know what, it might take us a little longer. But this is important," he said.

But McCarthy has had a difficult time holding his conference together. The House on Thursday failed for the second time this week to bring up the GOP defense spending bill for debate in an embarrassing setback for McCarthy.

The five Republicans who balked their party on that vote cited a variety of reasons, all broadly linked to frustration with how McCarthy, R-Calif., has handled the government funding fight.

"It's frustrating in a sense that I don't understand why anybody votes against bringing the idea and having the debate," McCarthy vented.

"This is a whole new concept of individuals that just want to burn the whole place down. That doesn't work," he said.

Democrats have made clear they will pin blame for a shutdown on House Republicans if the government is unable to reach a deal.

"Today extreme House Republicans showed yet again that their chaos is marching us toward a reckless and damaging government shutdown. Extreme House Republicans can't even get an agreement among themselves, to keep the government running or to fund the military," White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Thursday.

"The solution is very, very simple. Extreme House Republicans need to stop playing political games with people's lives. There's so much at stake here," she added.

With the continued inability to stitch together a coalition, McCarthy looks increasingly unable to control the floor, and Congress and the government remain on a path to a government shutdown at the end of the month.

Government agencies are increasingly preparing for that possibility. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) was beginning to reach out to federal agencies Friday to remind them to update their contingency plans for a government shutdown, an OMB official told ABC News.

The White House budget office would typically warn agencies at this time that they should be making preparations for a lapse in funding.

In a budget document released last month, the office noted: "One week prior to the expiration of appropriations bills, regardless of whether the enactment of appropriations appears imminent, OMB will communicate with agency senior officials to remind agencies of their responsibilities to review and update orderly shutdown plans and will share a draft communication template to notify employees of the status of appropriations."

Several agencies have already updated their plans for how to proceed if the government shuts down. The plans outline how many employees are in each agency and what type of jobs would be required to report to work without pay.

As many as four million government workers -- roughly half of whom are military troops and personnel -- could lose pay if Congress does not avert a shutdown by the end of the day on Sept. 30.

ABC News' Allison Pecorin contributed to this report.

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Justice Department arrests, charges IT contractor with espionage

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(WASHINGTON) -- The Justice Department has arrested and charged an IT contractor with two counts of espionage for allegedly taking secret and top-secret information from the State Department and sending it to a foreign country.

Abraham Teklu Lemma, a foreign national with U.S. citizenship, was working as an evening help desk technician assigned to the Bureau of Intelligence and Research with the U.S. Department of State when he is alleged to have copied large amounts of classified information, including documents, photographs, notes, maps and satellite imagery, and transmitted it to a foreign country using an encrypted messaging application.

"Between on or about December 19, 2022, and August 7, 2023, Lemma copied and pasted information from at least 85 Intelligence Reports regarding many topics—the majority of which relate to the Relevant Country. Lemma accessed these Intelligence Reports without a need-to-know the classified information contained therein. During the same period, Lemma accessed at least an additional 48 Intelligence Reports without a need-to-know," according to the criminal complaint.

He then allegedly transmitted the information to an unnamed individual of an unnamed country through a secure messaging app on "multiple occasions."

According to the complaint, "In one communication, Lemma sent an image relating to events in the Relevant Country and advised the Foreign Official, “[y]our team analyze this and establish some sort of sense to this,” according to the criminal complaint. In another exchange, the Foreign Official told Lemma, "[w]e making [sic] significant progress on averting the … in few days we will achieve the critical milestones ….not to happen again. Therefore, it’s not a long time we are asking. Good if you can check and [sic] back to me what u can do."

Similarly, the foreign official advised Lemma, "[i]t is great to identify the forward deployed command centers and logistic centers," in response to Lema discussing locations in the Relevant Country," court documents say.

He has held a top-secret clearance since at least 2020 and obtained a SCI in July of 2021.

The complaint states that on multiple occasions, Lemma traveled to an unnamed country where he has ties to and before, during and after his travels, and "has downloaded over 100 documents containing classified information from the DOS classified system to CDs and/or DVDs."

Since June, he was allegedly copying and pasting the classified information into a Microsoft Word document.

"DOS records further show Lemma then downloaded those Word files from the DOS classified system onto CDs and/or DVDs, which could then be taken out of the SCIF," the court documents say. "The material from Intelligence Reports that Lemma was reviewing and copying what was classified at the TOP SECRET and SECRET levels, and also related primarily to the Relevant Country," the documents read.

Between July and August of this year, he allegedly copied information from intelligence reports at least 10 times.

On multiple occasions last month, he was allegedly observed taking notes on a piece of paper of classified information at his desk in the SCIF.

The Justice Department says other chat logs it uncovered show Lemma was asked about specific intelligence information, and his account information was allegedly accessed in the representative's country when Lemma was no longer there.

The Justice Department alleges Lemma was paid over $100,000 in exchange for the information.

ABC News was not immediately able to locate a legal representative for Lemma.

In addition to his work at the State Department, he is currently employed during the day as a contract management analyst at the Justice Department, according to court records.

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South Korea visit to 'deepen and strengthen' relations with US, top Commerce official says

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(WASHINGTON) -- A top Department of Commerce official's visit to South Korea is intended to "find ways to deepen and strengthen" the connection between the two countries, and to build off the President of South Korea's state visit to the United States earlier this year, according to the Deputy Secretary of Commerce.

"The thing that we're hearing consistently, is the need to to align our approaches," Deputy Secretary of Commerce Don Graves told ABC News from Seoul, South Korea. "Our national security interests and our economic security interests can best be served, if we have alignment."

The deputy secretary said the two countries are aligned on a host of issues, including ensuring democratic norms, standards and values.

Graves took along 15 cybersecurity companies from the United States to encourage further engagement and investment between the two countries.

North Korea, one of the main threats identified by intelligence agencies in cyberspace, is known for launching state sponsored cyberattacks, according to the United States. Graves said meetings like he is having in South Korea and, later in the week, in Japan help to ensure the countries have the "best of class" from companies to combat any potential cyber threat.

"Part of this is also sharing intelligence," he told ABC News. "It's discussing ways that we can better use the variety of tools that we have at our disposal. In fact, that was one of the things that we talked about, with our government counterparts here in in Seoul, was how we can help each other strengthen the tools that we have to deal with cyber intrusions and a range of bad actions that these these states and their aligned companies or actors may be taking against our companies and against our private citizens."

One of the other major issues that came up in Graves' meeting was semiconductor production.

Earlier this year, Samsung agreed to build the "worlds largest" semiconductor manufacturing plant, and the Commerce Department is responsible for handing out funds for the CHIPS and Science Act, which is aimed at getting CHIP manufacturing back on American soil.

"The Korean government and Korean companies have been strong allies and partners as it relates to semiconductors," Graves said. "We're enabling our private sector to be better innovation partners with our allies and partners around the world, that we actually believe that two way commerce, the trade that we're all interested in expanding, actually grows as a result of us making these investments, and our expectation is that and we're seeing it across the board, is that companies from Korea and our other partners and allies are making investments alongside us in the United States, as well as making investments in their own countries domestically."

Graves said that, ultimately, the goal is to "build a more resilient supply chain that brings much of the supply chain back to the United States" and to ensure "that we're never put in a position where our national security is at risk."

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Zelenskyy lobbies Congress for Ukraine aid at center of GOP spending battle

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(WASHINGTON) -- Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy came to Washington on Thursday to make the case for $24 billion more in U.S. aid tied up in a showdown between House Republicans over spending.

Zelenskyy's first stop was Capitol Hill, where he was lobbying lawmakers behind closed doors. The Ukrainian leader, wearing military green fatigues, was escorted by House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries and later flanked by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on their way to a meeting in the Old Senate chamber.

The aid he's pushing for was requested by President Joe Biden, and he, many congressional Republicans and most Democrats call it vital to Ukraine's efforts to repel Russia's invasion.

Zelenskyy's first visit to Washington last year helped him secure a $50 billion package, but since then a growing number of House Republicans have mounted resistance to Biden's request for more. Polls, too, have shown American support for Ukraine waning as the 19-month war continues.

Exiting his meeting with senators, Zelenskyy told reporters they had a "great dialogue" and thanked the U.S. for its support.

"We talked about a lot of different missions," Zelenskyy said. "We were happy that senators and Congress, the White House, really the United States, of course the people of America, support us, supported from the first day of full-scale war and now together with us and we spoke about everything about support about the situation on the battlefield about our plans."

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who is trying to corral his caucus to consensus on spending before a Sept. 30 government shutdown deadline, said he had questions for the Ukrainian leader ahead of their meeting.

"What is the plan for victory? Where are we currently on the field? The accountability issues that a lot of members have," McCarthy said as he arrived at the Capitol on Thursday.

McCarthy, after sitting down with Zelenskyy, said he answered many of his questions on "accountability" but stressed American priorities should take precedent. The speaker called the meeting "productive" and he was "more than willing" to look at Ukraine aid but didn't commit to bringing it up on the House floor.

“What we're asking for is to fund government for the next month so it doesn't shut down,” McCarthy said. “And in funding the government for the next month let's also secure our border.”

Still, Republican Rep. Mike McCaul, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, expressed confidence Ukraine would receive the funding despite Republican hard-liners being adamantly opposed. So far, McCarthy hasn't been wiling to bring up bipartisan funding legislation that would include Ukraine aid for a vote.

"We will get it done," McCaul vowed on the aid. "There are a lot of political machinations right now, but we are going to get it passed."

Zelenskyy next visited the Pentagon, where he met with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and other leaders.

Zelenskyy was greeted with an honor cordon on the Pentagon steps. He also took part in wreath-laying ceremony at the Pentagon's 9/11 memorial.

To cap off the visit, Zelenskyy met with Biden at the White House on Thursday afternoon. The red carpet was rolled out for the Ukrainian president and his wife, Olena Zelenska, as they were greeted by President Biden and first lady Jill Biden at the South Portico.

Sitting in the Oval Office with Zelenskyy, President Biden reiterated his administration's commitment to helping Ukraine defend itself.

"Together with our partners and allies, the American people are determined to see to it that we do all we can to ensure the world stands with you, and that is our overwhelming objective," Biden said.

Zelenskyy said he was in Washington "to strengthen our coalition to defend Ukrainian children, families, our homes, freedom and democracy in the world."

"And I started my day in the US Congress to thank its members and the people in America for their big, huge support," Zelenskyy continued. "I felt trust between us and it allowed us to have frank and constructive dialogue, Mr. President. And this trust and support I’ve found from both chambers and both parties."

In the White House meeting, Biden announced a new military aid package for Ukraine worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

According to a U.S. official, the package will include capabilities to bolster Ukraine's air defenses as well as artillery ammunition and anti-armor capabilities. But the package will not include ATACMS long-range missiles -- a weapon that would allow Ukraine to reach targets up to 190 miles away -- the White House confirmed Thursday.

"The president is constantly speaking both to his own military and to his counterparts in Europe and to the Ukrainians themselves about what is needed on the battlefield at any given phase of the war, and then what the United States can provide, while also ensuring that we are able to provide for our own deferred -- deterrence and defense needs," Jake Sullivan, the president's national security adviser, told reporters. "As he's weighed all that up to date, he has determined that he would not provide ATACMS, but he has also not taken it off the table in the future."

McCaul said Zelenskyy repeated his request for ATACMS and F-16 fighter jets during his meeting with House members, and criticized the administration for withholding key systems. He called on Congress to include language in government funding bills to direct the administration to heed those requests.

"The weapons that he asked for, that this administration won't give, we write that into our appropriations bill, and I think the Democrats at the table ... we all agree," McCaul said.

Zelenskyy's previous visit to Washington included a joint meeting of Congress, where he received standing ovations as he made a passionate plea for more support.

McCarthy said Zelenskyy asked for a "joint session" of Congress for this visit as well, but they didn't have "time" to accommodate him.

"What we're doing for for Zelenskyy is exactly the same thing we did for the prime minister of the UK, the prime minister of Italy," he said. "We'll put in the bipartisan group of members together to be there, no different than we do with anybody else. And this is a little busy week. We're dealing with funding issue. I don't know how we can slip that in in such a short time."

ABC's Ben Gittleson contributed to this report.

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House done voting for the week with no funding deal to avert government shutdown in sight

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(WASHINGTON) -- Just hours after another embarrassing setback for House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in his quest to avert a government shutdown, members are headed home for the weekend – signaling that with just nine days to go, there is no funding deal in sight.

There won't be any other House votes for the rest of Thursday, and if votes are scheduled for Friday or the weekend, members will be given "ample notice," said Majority Whip Tom Emmer's office. Members will be "on call" through the weekend, Emmer added.

Earlier Thursday, the House failed for the second time this week to bring up the GOP defense spending bill for debate, in another crushing defeat for McCarthy, R-Calif.

Members of a group of Republican hard-liners once again voted against GOP leadership and the majority of their party in a 212-216 vote. Those five Republicans cited a variety of reasons, all broadly linked to frustration with how McCarthy has handled the government funding fight.

McCarthy and GOP leaders will be forced to once again to negotiate with the holdouts on the Pentagon bill -- historically the least controversial spending bill -- and may have to modify it. But that may risk alienating moderates.

With this development, McCarthy looks increasingly unable to control the floor, and Congress and the government remain on a path toward a government shutdown at the end of the month.

"It's frustrating in a sense that I don't understand why anybody votes against bringing the idea and having the debate," McCarthy vented after the defense spending bill vote.

"This is a whole new concept of individuals that just want to burn the whole place down. That doesn't work," he said.

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries slammed House Republican for "paralyzing Congress."

"We need the extreme, MAGA Republicans to get their act together in the Civil War that's happening on the Republican side of the aisle that's paralyzing Congress. Get your act together so we can handle the business of the American people and solve problems on their behalf," Jeffries said at his weekly press conference.

A government shutdown is increasingly likely as time runs out for Congress to act. It has until Sept. 30 to pass the bills needed to fund the government -- or approve a short-term measure while they continue to negotiate.

While the House is no longer expected to vote the remainder of the week, a small group of House Republicans is expected to continue negotiations through the weekend. However, votes are likely not expected now before next Tuesday. It's also likely the House will finally take up the 11 out of the 12 appropriations bills that must pass before the end of the year, according to sources.

McCarthy and GOP leaders had hoped a compromise around government funding unveiled Wednesday night would bring all Republicans behind the defense spending bill. That clearly didn't happen.

During a more than two-hour closed door GOP conference meeting Wednesday night, McCarthy outlined a new short-term plan to fund the government that would include deeper cuts, according to several members in attendance.

"We're very close there. I feel like I just got a little more movement to go there," McCarthy told reporters leaving the meeting Wednesday night.

Many Republican hard-liners have said they won't vote for a continuing resolution unless it had conservative policies attached, such as language to address "woke policies" and "weaponization of the DOJ."

Even if it the CR had passed in the House, the Senate wouldn't have likely accepted the new proposal.

Former President Donald Trump appeared to blast McCarthy's new plan late last night in a post on his social media platform, Truth Social.

"A very important deadline is approaching at the end of the month. Republicans in Congress can and must defund all aspects of Crooked Joe Biden's weaponized Government that refuses to close the Border, and treats half the Country as Enemies of the State," Trump wrote. "This is also the last chance to defund these political prosecutions against me and other Patriots. They failed on the debt limit, but they must not fail now. Use the power of the purse and defend the Country!"

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., one of McCarthy's most vocal critics, posted to X, formerly known as Twitter, "Trump Opposes the Continuing Resolution. Hold the line."

Speaker McCarthy responded to Trump's comments Thursday morning.

"You know the challenge here is if the government shuts down, Jack Smith still goes forward. It doesn't stop. That's what – we are trying to stop the weaponization. We got to be able to fight smartly," McCarthy argued.

ABC News' Ben Siegel, Lalee Ibssa and Sarah Beth Hensley contributed to this report.

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Several Trump allies could be witnesses in upcoming Georgia election interference trial

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(WASHINGTON) -- Several high-level allies of former President Donald Trump -- including Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel and Trump adviser Boris Epshteyn -- could potentially be called as witnesses in the first Georgia election interference trial next month, according to a court filing in the case.

McDaniel and Epshteyn were among 52 names that were submitted on a list of potential witnesses and evidence filed Thursday by attorneys for defendant Kenneth Chesebro, who is set to begin trial alongside Sidney Powell on Oct. 23.

"Defendant Kenneth Chesebro respectfully provides notice of the following evidence and witness(es) for the 10/13/23 trial," said the filing from attorneys Scott Grubman and Manubir Arora.

While not all of the names are certain to be called to testify, the filing provides a hint as to the possible scope of the trial.

Other potential witnesses on the list are Trump's former deputy White House Counsel Pat Philbin, former Trump campaign attorney Justin Clark, and former Trump campaign adviser Matt Morgan.

The list also includes former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, a longtime adviser to both Trump and Rudy Giuliani.

Also on the list are a number of the so-called "alternate electors" who were not charged as part of Fulton County District Attorney Fani Wills' indictment.

Trump and 18 others have pleaded not guilty to all charges in the DA's sweeping racketeering indictment for alleged efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election in the state of Georgia. The former president says his actions were not illegal and that the investigation is politically motivated.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee earlier this month set an Oct. 23 trial date for Chesebro and Powell after they both filed speedy trial demands. A trial date fo the other 17 defendants, including Trump, has yet to be scheduled amid ongoing legal battles.

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Biden to announce new military aid package for Ukraine as Zelenskyy visits Washington

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(WASHINGTON) -- U.S. President Joe Biden is expected to announce on Thursday a new military aid package for Ukraine worth hundreds of millions of dollars as the Eastern European country fights to recapture territory from invading Russian forces, according to a U.S. official.

The announcement will coincide with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's one-day visit to Washington, D.C., where he will meet with Biden at the White House, speak with U.S. military leaders at the Pentagon and talk privately with both Democratic and Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill. It will be Zelenskyy's second trip to the U.S. capital since Russia invaded neighboring Ukraine in February 2022.

The anticipated package will include additional capabilities to help Ukraine strengthen its air defenses "ahead of what's expected to be another brutal winter of Russian airstrikes against Ukrainian critical infrastructure sites," the official said. It will also include capabilities to help Ukraine with its ongoing counteroffensive against Russian forces, including artillery ammunition and anti-armor capabilities, according to the official.

The package is expected to include hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of equipment previously authorized by Congress, the official said.

However, one weapons system that Ukraine still wants from the United States are ATACMS long-range missiles and there are reports that those won't be part of the new security assistance package announced on Thursday.

When asked whether those reports were true, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said he wouldn't "get ahead of the president or anything that he might be speaking to tomorrow."

"As the president has said, ATACMS are not off the table," Kirby told ABC News on Wednesday. "We continue to have discussions here in the interagency about that particular weapon system, but no decision has been made. And I think I'm just gonna leave it at that."

Kirby added that Biden "has every expectation of talking to President Zelenskyy about his needs and about how the United States will continue to meet those needs."

Biden has called on leaders at home and around the world to stand strong with Ukraine, as a hard-right faction of Republicans question the continued flow of American dollars and military aid overseas.

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DeSantis talks Trump, Black history, Disney, state of GOP primary and more

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(MIDLAND, Texas) -- In a wide-ranging interview on Wednesday with ABC News Live Prime anchor Linsey Davis, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis sought to contrast himself with former President Donald Trump -- whom DeSantis hopes to catch up to and defeat in the 2024 Republican primary race -- while defending himself against outside criticism of his campaign and speaking about his plan for the southern border and other issues.

He also responded to Trump attacking him for signing a six-week abortion ban in his state.

DeSantis sat down with Davis at the site of an oil rig in Midland, Texas, before he rolled out his proposed presidential energy policy in front of reporters and oil workers.

On Trump: 'We have a lot of differences'

Asked to differentiate himself from Trump, the leading GOP primary candidate in polls, DeSantis pointed to his upbringing compared with Trump's.

"I'm a blue-collar kid that had to work minimum wage jobs to get where I was," he said, before rattling off other differences.

"I could serve two terms. He would be a lame duck on day one. I ran 16 points better than him in Florida in my most recent race than he did in his most recent race. I've also delivered on these 'America first' policies more than I think anybody in the country and would have a much better chance of actually delivering all this as president," he said.

"So I think that there are a lot of things that people can look at, but I'm going to be there," DeSantis added.

The governor had sharp words for Trump's expected absence at next week's Republican primary debate, in California.

"Well, first, he owes it to people to be there. He owes it to people to make the case and defend his record. You can't be just not showing up to these things," DeSantis said.

Trump has indicated he sees no reason to attend, given his lead. He has often derided DeSantis, including in personal terms, and said he's better able to carry out key Republican priorities.

DeSantis on GOP megadonor sitting out primary

DeSantis played down the role of wealthy donors in his campaign when asked by Davis about major Republican donor and Citadel CEO Ken Griffin sitting out the 2024 presidential primary, with Griffin saying he's not impressed with any of the alternative Republican presidential candidates to Trump.

Griffin, who was one of DeSantis' most prominent donors for his 2022 reelection campaign, cited the governor's current feud with Disney as a point of concern.

DeSantis said that he's not at the behest of large donors.

"I'm a leader, I'm not a follower," he said. "So we lead and we do what we think is right and people can support us or not support us financially. But you should not be led by trying to please very wealthy donors, and I've never operated that way."

Pressed by Davis about Griffin's criticism of not understanding his campaign strategy and the voting base he's trying to appeal to, DeSantis pushed back, arguing that his strategy is clear -- he's showing up for voters.

"These voters in these early states take their responsibility very seriously," DeSantis said. "They want to learn about what you've done. They want to learn about you, what you're going to do for the country and so we're doing that and we're going to continue to do that."

"We're delivering the message. When we do that, we have a great deal of success. We've got a lot more work to do because there's a lot more people to meet, but we're pleased with our progress," he said.

Deadly force at the border?

DeSantis has advocated for shooting members of drug cartels who try to bring drugs across the southern border -- a proposal that has drawn sharp outcry from advocates over humanitarian and legal concerns given the number of other migrants who also make the crossing.

He told Davis that U.S. forces would be able to differentiate a drug smuggler from other migrants.

"The same way you would tell for anything," he said, when asked.

"For example, I served in Iraq back in the day. al-Qaida didn't wear uniforms. You know, the typical Arab male would have had the man dress on. You didn't know if they had a bomb strapped to them or not. They carry around the AK-47s, normal civilians would, so you couldn't even say if they had," he said.

"So you had to make a determination -- can you positively identify somebody as hostile through either hostile action or hostile intent? And then you do it, same way anyone would do that even in the United States. So you will do that, we'll be collecting intelligence," DeSantis said.

Asked whether staging the military at the border would be a "recipe for chaos," the governor said, "Right now is the recipe for chaos."

"What is happening in this country is a problem," he added.

'We have every right to push back' against Disney

DeSantis brushed off criticism from some Republican primary rivals about his public battle with Disney, the parent company of ABC News, stressing that he feels the fight "is about kids."

"I'm going to fight to defend those policies," he said of the Parental Rights in Education Act, a bill limiting the discussion of gender identity and sexuality in many K-12 classrooms.

Critics have sought to label the legislation as the "Don't Say Gay" bill, contending it is discriminatory. Supporters say it's about barring age-inappropriate topics in school.

Disney expressed opposition to the law, drawing DeSantis' ire.

The state Legislature, with DeSantis' support, went on to revoke the special tax district that essentially allowed Disney to govern the area around its famed Orlando theme parks -- a carve-out that, while standard for governments to do for various entities, DeSantis described as unnecessary privilege.

The conglomerate later sued DeSantis and accused state officials of a campaign against them for their political views that is "patently retaliatory, patently anti-business, and patently unconstitutional." The suit is still pending.

DeSantis has rejected Disney's claims and he told Davis that Republicans calling him out for the feud were picking the wrong side.

"That's kind of the old-guard Republicans where they basically always just bend the knee to the big, powerful corporations. You've got to stand for what's right. So I'm always going to stand for our kids," he said.

"I think Disney made a mistake in doing what they're doing. But we have every right to push back and defend our policies against those who are seeking to undermine them," he said. "And that was the right thing to do."

DeSantis would not allow federal funding for COVID shots

Earlier this month, DeSantis' administration advised against the updated COVID-19 for Florida residents under the age of 65, which goes against federal guidelines that recommend updated shots for anyone 6 months or older.

Asked on ABC News Live Prime if he would push the same policy if he were elected president, DeSantis said he wouldn't allow federal funding for COVID-19 vaccines and that people involved in the federal response to the pandemic would be held accountable for what he maintained were harmfully restrictive public health measures intended to cut widespread infections and deaths.

"We're going to have a reckoning about all these COVID policies. We're going to hold people accountable who got it wrong, people that clung to the lockdowns, people that clung to the school closures," DeSantis said.

Public health officials have made it clear that the COVID-19 vaccines, like the annual flu shot, are intended and have proven to lower the risk of severe illness and death. Independent scientific advisers to the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say the benefits outweigh the risks.

The updated vaccines are based on the same vaccines that have protected hundreds of millions of people around the world and are updated to address the current circulating subvariants.

The risk of myocarditis from vaccination has been shown to be uncommon and much less likely from a COVID-19 vaccination.

DeSantis unveils energy policy

On Wednesday, DeSantis also unveiled his energy policy, where he plans to focus on building up American "dominance" and undoing the energy and climate policies of President Joe Biden's administration, with a heavy emphasis on fossil fuels.

But early on in his time as governor, DeSantis' administration funded programs supporting electric vehicles, which the governor said came from a settlement from Volkswagen that dictated where the money could go.

"I could either use it or lose it. So that's why we did it. We put in the charging stations, but I would never support mandating the production of EVs," DeSantis said.

His new energy plans include restructuring the review process for energy infrastructure projects and withdrawing the U.S. from all global commitments to cut greenhouse emissions.

During his interview with ABC News, DeSantis expanded on his goal to get the cost of gas to $2 per gallon. As of now, gas is nearly $4 per gallon, according to AAA.

"Energy dominance - using the resources we have, that is one way to reduce prices at the pump, which is hurting people," DeSantis said.

Scholars behind controversial Black History standards 'were professionals'

DeSantis defended the language in Florida's Black History standards that directs middle school students should be taught enslaved people "developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit."

The language drew rebukes from, among others, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, DeSantis' rival for the Republican nomination who is Black.

“What slavery was really about was separating families, about mutilating humans and even raping their wives. It was just devastating,” Scott said in July. “So I would hope that every person in our country -- and certainly running for president -- would appreciate that.”

Asked by Davis why "there's any value to try to teach a concept to students that there was any upside to slavery," DeSantis said, "We're not doing that."

"We don't think that. And that's not what that provision means. That's not how it's being taught," he said, noting that the standards were "written by a cadre of Black history scholars, most of whom were Black."

"It was not saying that slavery benefited. It was saying that these folks were resourceful. They did things they weren't allowed to do, develop skills and then use. So they did it in spite of slavery, not because of it," he said.

"These guys were professionals," the governor said of the scholars who created the standard. "They didn't have political involvement. They just were told to do standards and they did it right."

Click here to read the transcript from the interview as aired on ABC News Live Prime on Wednesday.

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Who's in, who's out: 6 candidates are expected to be at the 2nd GOP debate

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(WASHINGTON) -- With a week before the second Republican primary debate, six candidates expect to be on stage at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California on Sept. 27.

The campaigns of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, former Vice President Mike Pence, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, former Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie have told ABC News that they believe they'll qualify to be at the second debate.

That's down from the eight candidates who participated in the first debate in Milwaukee last month. Two other candidates, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, have not yet qualified for the Republican National Committee's elevated criteria, which include an increased polling threshold of 3% from 1% and 50,000 unique donors, up from 40,000 in August.

Former President Donald Trump appears to have also cleared the polling and donor benchmarks to make the second debate, though he has not signed the required pledge to support whoever becomes the eventual GOP nominee. Trump is expected to skip the debate and will instead visit Detroit to deliver a speech in front of union workers amid the major auto strike, according to a senior adviser.

The RNC has not said whether it has approved any of the candidates' spots on the second debate stage, though Christie has said he's been in communication with the national party and has gotten confirmation that he has cleared the criteria.

Scott's campaign pushed the RNC last week to change the qualifying and podium placement rules for future debates, including next week's debate in California. His campaign called for more of an emphasis on polls in early voting states rather than national polls when considering placement of leading candidates near the center of the stage.

The campaign manager for Scott -- who has performed better in polls conducted in early states like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina than in national ones -- said in a letter to the national party that "relying on national polling results for the podium placement simply would not represent where the candidates actually stand in relation to where we are in the process with the voters."

Christie, who also has performed well in polls out of New Hampshire, offered support for Scott's request, saying recently that the idea "makes a lot of sense."

In response to Scott and Christie's endorsement of shaking up podium placement consideration, RNC spokesperson Emma Vaughn told ABC News that the party "welcomed" their input.

"The debate committee has had a very thoughtful approach to the entire process, and we continue to welcome input from all candidates, partners and stakeholders," Vaughn said in response to the candidates.

Candidates still short of the RNC criteria

Burgum has qualified for the RNC's donor requirements but has not met the polling qualifications to get on stage. He has said he is confident he will participate, however.

The North Dakota governor said that a few weeks ago, he shifted some resources towards national advertising and name awareness in order to get his poll numbers up. Burgum does not plan to drop out of the race even if he does not reach the second debate stage.

"If we don't then we're going to continue straight on campaigning. We absolutely will be on the ballot here in New Hampshire and will be on the ballot in Iowa. At the end of the day, it's the voters that get to decide how the field gets narrowed, not cable networks, not club house rules," he said.

Hutchinson needs to make both polling and donor requirements to get on the second debate stage. On Tuesday, the former Arkansas governor said he will reevaluate his campaign if he does not clear the criteria.

Hutchinson is closer to clearing the donor thresholds than he is to making the polling qualifications– he has made one national poll and would need either one more or two separate polls from "carve out" states like Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada or South Carolina to get to California.

Asked whether he's hit the required 50,000 donors, Hutchinson said he's "just right at that."

Will Hurd, Perry Johnson and Larry Elder, who did not make the debate stage in August, still need to make either polling or both donor and polling benchmarks to get on stage in September.

ABC News' Kelsey Walsh contributed to this report.

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What happens if the government shuts down? A lot, history tells us

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(WASHINGTON) -- The nation is barreling toward what could become one the largest government shutdowns in U.S. history beginning Oct. 1, with each of a dozen bills needed to keep funding flowing mired in Congress.

Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security payments won't be affected. Neither will the U.S. Postal Service, which uses its own revenue stream.

Still, union officials and other experts estimate the scope of this shutdown is on track to eclipse past spending lapses, with as many as 4 million workers affected -- about half of which are active-duty military and reservists.

According to the American Federation of Government Employees, roughly $5 billion a week in civilian workers' wages alone could get sucked out of the economy in a shutdown.

"It is uncharted territory. And it is incredibly stupid. I mean, it is the equivalent of burning down your own house," said Max Stier, president and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service, a nonpartisan organization that champions the value of government service.

Stier, AFGE and other experts say there is no telling how long this possible shutdown might last, either. President Joe Biden and House Republicans had agreed on a spending cap for the 2024 budget year earlier this year as part of a broader deal to prevent the U.S. from defaulting on its debt payments. But far-right House Republicans say they were never happy with that agreement and want to cut federal spending further.

Doreen Greenwald, head of the National Treasury Employees Union, said using government operations as political leverage doesn't make sense because of the devastating impact it has nationwide. Eighty-five percent of federal workers live outside of the Washington area and many of them live paycheck to paycheck.

In the last government shutdown, many workers were told to show up but couldn't afford gasoline for their cars, she said.

"You elect people to send them to Congress to make government run efficiently. This is not efficient," Greenwald said.

What happens next

Absent a deal on spending by the end of the day on Sept. 30, U.S. coffers would begin to dry up at midnight.

Many government employees would be told to report to work without pay, including service members and other "excepted" workers needed to tend to priorities like orbiting spacecraft, the power grid, federal prisons and airport security.

Contractors would be hit, too, including hourly workers such as janitors and security guards -- all while lawmakers on Capitol Hill would continue to get paid their $174,000-a-year salaries.

National parks would probably close, or at least their restroom and trash operations, leaving many of them vulnerable to vandalism. And some passport offices located inside federal buildings could close too, slowing down access.

According to the White House, an upcoming shutdown could delay new clinical trials for cancer and other research, halt food and environmental inspections, and put disaster relief programs at risk. It also could force 10,000 children to lose access to Head Start, a national early child development program.

Stier said that as disruptive as shutdowns are, many Americans might still be quick to dismiss the role government plays in their lives because "mandatory" programs like Medicare will continue and so many federal workers will be forced to show up without pay. But there will be lasting damage, he said, including attrition in the federal workforce.

"If someone says, yeah, these are just bureaucrats who are getting their comeuppance, I would say actually, these are people who are serving our veterans, who are finding criminals, who are keeping us safe, and helping Americans in all kinds of different ways ... There's no other class of Americans who are told you must work and you will not be paid at all (until) some future date," he said.

Likewise, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told Congress on Wednesday there could be ripple effects felt later on, saying it could make the nation's shortage of air traffic controllers even worse.

"We now have 2,600 air traffic controllers in training," he said at a House hearing. "A government shutdown would stop that training. Even a shutdown that lasts a week, two weeks, could set us back by months or more."

History repeating itself

The last time the government shut down– a history-making, 35-day fiasco over the 2018 holidays when then-President Donald Trump demanded a Democratic-controlled Congress pass funding for a border wall -- federal workers began showing up at food banks and many essential workers began to call in sick.

By the end of the shutdown on Jan. 25, 2019, sick calls by TSA workers resulted in long lines at airports across the country. Trump eventually relented without getting money for the wall. But $3 billion in U.S. economic activity evaporated, never to be recovered, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

If Congress doesn't act, this shutdown could be much bigger in scope. In 2018, Congress had enacted five of the needed spending bills. Currently, Congress has passed zero discretionary funding bills.

On the upside, all federal workers will automatically qualify for backpay once the shutdown ends thanks to legislation passed in 2019. Contractors though aren't necessarily so lucky, with pay decided by private employers who take a financial hit.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said Wednesday that he will still planning to get a deal.

"It's not September 30th. The game is not over. We are going to continue to work through it," he said.

ABC News' Arthur Jones and Amanda Maile contributed to this report.

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