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Biden to deliver State of the Union address before empowered GOP

Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

(WASHINGTON) -- President Joe Biden's second State of the Union address comes at a pivotal moment as he lays out not only his accomplishments and agenda, but makes the case for his leadership ahead of an expected announcement about whether he'll run for reelection.

Unlike his first two years in office, though, Republicans now control the House of Representatives, determined to block his priorities -- and already forcing a high-stakes battle over spending cuts that could cause the nation to default on its debt.

If he does run again, the president -- at 80, the oldest in the nation's history -- will have to persuade voters, expressing record economic discontent, that they would be better off with him when even many Democrats have their doubts.

Pushing bipartisanship amid acrimony

In his remarks -- which he worked on with advisers over the weekend at Camp David, according to the White House -- he's expected to call on Republicans to work together with him, underscoring "the progress the American people want us to make by working together in the year ahead," a White House official said.

His prime-time speech, though, comes as he faces constant antagonism from those same Republicans -- including over his possible mishandling of classified documents, for which he is under investigation by a special counsel. The White House has deflected questions about why it has not been more transparent throughout the saga.

Republicans on Capitol Hill have also criticized the president's handling of the suspected Chinese spy balloon the U.S. military shot down off the Atlantic coast Saturday; many GOP politicians have said the administration should have taken it out before it traversed the country.

Whereas Biden devoted nearly a fifth of his State of the Union speech last year to the days-old Russian invasion of Ukraine, his remarks this year will likely focus more on his legislative accomplishments -- how the federal government is "investing in America," as he has said during recent remarks.

Whereas he declared during his speech last year that the U.S. had "reached a new moment in the fight against COVID-19," in recent months Biden has focused less and less of his public remarks on the coronavirus pandemic, with Americans -- and the economy -- largely moving on.

The president, the White House official said, "will highlight the progress we have already made -- and will keep fighting to make -- on these and other commitments and priorities, illustrating in real terms how transformational his pieces of legislation are for Americans across the country."

It's a calculated political move that comes just before he may launch his reelection effort.

The next two years of his presidency will not likely see the same degree of legislative accomplishments he enjoyed during the first two, with Republicans in the House determined to put roadblocks in the way.

Persuading Americans they're better off

As the fruits of those laws only now just begin to become tangible for Americans -- shovels breaking ground on infrastructure projects, the price of insulin dropping, taxes falling on clean technologies -- Biden is hoping to take credit and boost his perennially low approval ratings.

"Next week, I'll be reporting on the state of the union," he said Friday, as he celebrated the surprisingly large number of jobs created in January. "But today -- today, I'm happy to report that the state of the union and the state of our economy is strong."

But it'll be an uphill battle persuading Americans he has helped improve their personal finances.

In a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll, four in 10 Americans said they've gotten worse off financially since Biden became president -- the most in nearly three dozen ABC/Post polls to ask the question since 1986. Just 16% said they were better off.

That said, Biden is helped by the way Americans view Republicans. In the same poll, the public took Biden's side in the debt ceiling debate, with 65% backing his approach of handling debt payments and federal spending as separate issues; just 26% support that of the newly minted speaker of the House of Representatives, Republican Kevin McCarthy, who has threatened to let the U.S. default on its debt if the president does not agree to spending cuts.

Touting accomplishments as Americans don't give credit

The economy is central to the president's message -- and Americans' concerns about the future.

Biden aides argue the president has numerous monumental achievements to speak of -- and that people are just now beginning to see the impact.

Biden has several positive indicators he can point to on Tuesday evening: High inflation is moderating, gas prices have fallen from their highs last year and the labor market remains strong.

In the past year, the president pushed through two significant pieces of legislation tackling his domestic priorities: a massive health, climate and tax bill known as the Inflation Reduction Act and a significant investment in semiconductor manufacturing, through the CHIPS and Science Act.

"On all three of the major pieces of legislation -- on infrastructure, CHIPS and Science, and on the inflation Reduction Act, 2023 is the year in which the most significant impact will begin to occur," Biden's top economic adviser, Brian Deese, told reporters Monday.

Biden has also celebrated other bills passed by Congress in the past year, including the Respect for Marriage Act, which codified federal protections for same-sex and interracial marriages, and the Safer Communities Act, which included a number of gun reform measures.

But broadly speaking, Americans see it very differently, according to the recent ABC/Post poll.

Just 36% of Americans said they thought Biden had accomplished a great deal or good amount as president; 62% said he had accomplished not very much or nothing.

Nor did Biden get much credit for a disparate list of items he might raise in Tuesday's address. Unemployment has dropped from 6.3% when Biden took office to 3.4% now -- a low since 1969 -- and the economy added a robust 517,000 jobs last month -- yet the public, by 60-34%, said he has not made progress "creating more good jobs in your community."

In an effort to combat that perception, Biden hit the road three times last week, highlighting his infrastructure law's investments in major train tunnel projects in Baltimore and New York and in replacing lead pipes in Philadelphia.

He also renewed a push for Congress to enshrine paid family and medical leave into law; Republicans and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, of West Virginia, prevented that from happening in 2021.

"I want to talk to the American people and let them know the state of affairs -- what’s going on and what I'm looking forward to working on from this point on, what we've done," Biden told reporters Monday. "And just have a conversation with the American people."

While Biden's pitching himself to Republicans, he also needs to make the case to Democrats.

In the ABC/Post poll, just 31% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents said the party should nominate Biden for reelection; 58% said it should pick someone else.

Will guns and policing reform take a backseat?

Meanwhile, it remains to be seen how much of his speech Biden will devote to the issues of gun control and policing reform, two areas where Democrats have fallen short of reaching their lofty goals of reform.

Recent mass shootings in California and the brutal beating of Tyre Nichols at the hands of five police officers in Memphis have once again put pressure on Biden to use his bully pulpit to prioritize those issues.

Asked last week how much emphasis Biden would place on policing reform, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre would not say.

On Thursday, she told ABC News Senior White House Correspondent Mary Bruce that Biden had "been working on his speech for some time" and that Americans could expect to hear from Biden about "how he is optimistic about the future of his country" and "the possibilities that we have as a country, especially as we look at our economy."

McCarthy-Biden relationship to put bipartisanship push to the test

Like last year, Biden is expected to call for bipartisanship, underscoring "the progress the American people want us to make by working together in the year ahead," the White House official said.

This year, the official said, "the president will once again amplify his belief that Democrats and Republicans can work together, as they did in the last two years and as he is committed to doing with this new Congress to get big things done on behalf of the American people."

Tuesday's address will mark the first time a Republican, McCarthy, will sit in a position of power on the dais behind the president while he speaks.

How Biden's relationship with McCarthy develops in the coming months will put his desire for bipartisanship to the test.

The president and the speaker met in the Oval Office last week as Republicans threaten a catastrophic default if the White House does not agree to broad, unspecified spending cuts. Afterward, both men called their talks "good."

While Ukraine dominated his speech last year, it is unlikely to play such a major role. The White House official did say, though, that Biden will "outline the progress made on maintaining international alliances to defend Ukraine, compete with China, and assert American leadership in the world."

Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders plans to deliver this year's official Republican response to the State of the Union address. She will likely paint a picture of an economy that has struggled under Biden.

Sanders, formerly President Donald Trump's press secretary, has also made "culture war" issues a focus of her governorship since taking office last month.

"Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders is the youngest governor in the nation and a powerful advocate for the popular, commonsense conservative principles that will put our country back on a better course," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement last week.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Tyre Nichols' family, Monterey Park massacre hero among State of the Union guests

Tim Graham/Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- First lady Jill Biden on Tuesday will sit during the State of the Union with the Ukrainian ambassador to the U.S., the parents of Tyre Nichols and the man who last month wrestled the gun away from a shooting suspect in Monterey Park, California.

Many of the guests present in the first lady’s viewing box were invited because they “personify issues or themes” President Joe Biden is expected to address in his speech, the White House said in a statement on Tuesday.

Others “embody the Biden-Harris Administration’s policies at work for the American people."

Nichols' mother and stepfather, RowVaughn and Rodney Wells, will sit in the first lady's box on Tuesday, weeks after their son died following a traffic stop that turned into a a violent altercation with police.

"President Biden has made clear that we must take action to prevent tragedies like this from ever happening again," White House officials said in an announcement.

The White House also invited Brandon Tsay, the California man who disarmed the suspect in last month's mass shooting in Monterey Park.

"Tsay is credited with preventing the gunman, who had killed 11 people and injured 10 others, from carrying out a second attack in Alhambra," the White House said.

Oksana Markarova, the Ukrainian ambassador, will join Jill Biden in "recognition of sustained U.S. support for Ukraine nearly a year after Russia launched its unprovoked attack," the White House said.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


What Biden promised in last year's State of the Union: Report card

Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

(WASHINGTON) -- When President Joe Biden delivers his second State of the Union on Tuesday, he'll no doubt tout a list of what he considers his greatest accomplishments.

But that raises the question: What did he promise last year, and was he able to achieve what he laid out?

Among the top priorities he outlined last March were rallying American support for Ukraine in its effort to repel the Russian invasion and efforts to fight record-setting inflation.

Ultimately, he said, the State of the Union was strong "because you, the American people, are strong."

Yet, a new ABC News/Washington Post shows just 36% of Americans think Biden has accomplished a great deal or good amount as president; 62% say he's accomplished not very much or nothing at all.

And with Biden appearing poised to run for a second term -- and looking to use this year's speech to make his case -- nearly six in 10 Democratic-aligned adults don't want to see him nominated again -- and his approval rating after two years in office is well below average compared with the previous 13 presidents. Only one, former President Donald Trump, has lower numbers.

Here are highlights of what Biden said last year and how things turned out:

War in Ukraine

Just six days before Biden's first State of the Union address, Russia invaded Ukraine and he spent a large portion of his speech, not on usual domestic concerns, but condemning Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"Putin has unleashed violence and chaos -- but while he may make gains on the battlefield, he will pay a continuing high price over the long run," Biden vowed, receiving bipartisan applause.

Biden said the Justice Department was assembling a task force to go after the crimes of Russian oligarchs and that the U.S. would join allies in closing off American air space to all Russian flights "further isolating Russia and adding an additional squeeze on their economy," he said.

"Tonight, I say to the Russian oligarchs and corrupt leaders who have bilked billions of dollars off this violent regime no more," he continued. "We are joining with our European allies to find and seize your yachts your luxury apartments your private jets. We are coming for your ill-begotten gains."

It's a warning the U.S. delivered on. Week after week in the months to follow, the U.S. announced new sanctions on Russia, targeting banks and individuals including Putin's adult daughters. As of last summer, the U.S. had frozen more than $30 billion of Russian oligarchs' assets.

The U.S. has also committed more than $24.9 billion in security assistance to Ukraine over the last year, but it has not sent American troops to the war -- a promise Biden made and has, so far, kept.

"Let me be clear, our forces are not engaged and will not engage in conflict with Russian forces in Ukraine," he said last year. "Our forces are not going to Europe to fight in Ukraine, but to defend our NATO allies."

While everyday Americans have appeared to rally around Ukraine's people, Biden holds just a 38% approval on his handling of the war, according to the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll.

US economy

Tempering expectations on the cost of war at home, Biden transitioned to the U.S. economy saying, "To all Americans, I will be honest with you, as I've always promised. A Russian dictator, invading a foreign country, has costs around the world."

Biden said his "top priority is getting prices under control."

But one year later, according to new ABC News/Washington Post, four in 10 Americans say they've gotten worse off financially since Biden became president, the most in ABC News/Washington Post polls dating back 37 years. Only 37% of Americans approve of his handling of the economy

Biden attempted to brace Americans for the war causing gas prices to go up, announcing the U.S. would release 30 million barrels from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Biden later expanded that release to 180 million barrels -- a move Republicans condemned as driven by politics.

"These steps will help blunt gas prices here at home. And I know the news about what's happening can seem alarming. But I want you to know that we are going to be OK," Biden said at the time.

But gas prices did continue to rise, peaking over the summer and concerning Democrats ahead of the midterm elections.

Addressing inflation, Biden pitched his plan to cut costs by promoting some of the pillars of "Build Back Better" -- capping prescription drugs, lowering energy costs, and instituting free, universal pre-K, among other initiatives -- all without ever using the plan's name.

"I have a better plan to fight inflation," he said. "Lower your costs, not your wages."

As the year went on, it wasn't looking promising for Biden's Build Back Better plan, but after a closely-guarded deal was made between Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin over the summer, everything changed.

Democrats, with Republican support, passed the CHIPS and Science Act, aimed at countering China, just before Manchin joined his party to pass a stripped-down Build Back Better plan, newly-rebranded as the Inflation Reduction Act -- in a major victory for Biden.

COVID pandemic

Congress dropped its mask mandate last year just one day ahead of Biden's optimistic address, so the president notably spoke before a crowded and mostly mask-free chamber.

"Because of the progress we've made, because of your resilience and the tools we have, tonight I can say we are moving forward safely, back to more normal routines," Biden said. "We've reached a new moment in the fight against COVID-19, with severe cases down to a level not seen since last July."

But it's dangerous to predict the unpredictable, and COVID deaths went on to peak for the year over the summer as cases increased with the more transmissible Omicron variant.

More than 267,000 people died of COVID last year, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, with the disease continuing to be a leading cause of death in the U.S., despite Americans moving away from mitigation measures.

This year's address comes as the Biden administration has confirmed it will end both the COVID-19 national emergency and public health emergency on May 11. The current public health emergency is in place through April, while the national emergency is in place until March.

"I know some are talking about 'living with COVID-19.' Tonight, I say that we will never just accept living with COVID-19," Biden said last year.

Lawmakers were required last year to have a negative COVID test to enter the chamber. Several Republicans boycotted the speech by refusing to test -- and in a sign the virus was still virulent at least four positive cases turned up afterward.

Gun violence and policing

Biden took a moment last year to talk about policing too, prompting Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy and other Republicans to stand up and applaud.

"We should all agree: The answer is not to defund the police. The answer is to FUND the police with the resources and training they need to protect our communities," Biden said.

He then briefly called on Congress to pass gun-safety legislation, saying the laws wouldn't infringe on the Second Amendment but "save lives."

"I ask Congress to pass proven measures to reduce gun violence. Pass universal background checks. Why should anyone on a terrorist list be able to purchase a weapon? Ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines," he said. "Repeal the liability shield that makes gun manufacturers the only industry in America that can't be sued."

Congress did, in May, pass gun safety legislation following mass shootings at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, and at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, though the legislation fell far short of what he asked.

As the administration continues to call on lawmakers to renew the long-expired ban on assault weapons, the public appears more divided on the question: 47% support such a ban, and 51% oppose it, according to the latest ABC/Post poll. That reflects a nine-point drop in support since 2019, despite recent gun violence.

While it's unclear how the president will address gun violence and policing in this year's address, in the wake of Tyre Nichols' beating and death, it's clear that compromise on gun violence and policing legislation is increasingly rare.

Infrastructure

Biden took a victory lap last year in touting the passage of the bipartisan infrastructure law, which he's hailed as landmark to his presidency.

"Now our infrastructure is ranked 13th in the world. We won't be able to compete for the jobs of the 21st century if we don't fix that," he said. "That's why it was so important to pass the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law -- the most sweeping investment to rebuild America in history."

He said the U.S. was "done talking about infrastructure weeks" and moving forward to "have an infrastructure decade."

Biden spent the week ahead of this year's address by touting his infrastructure agenda around the country, a tour he plans to continue later this week as money from the legislation starts to flow and projects can be started.

'Unity agenda'

Near the end of his address, Biden ticked through broad ideas with bipartisan support in proposing "a unity agenda for the nation."

Beating the opioid epidemic, focusing on mental health in children, supporting U.S. veterans, and ending "cancer as we know it," he said, were the pillars of the unity agenda.

While those initiatives earned applause on both sides of the chamber, they're longstanding, long-term issues without a clear end-game established.

In terms of unity in Washington, Biden will address a newly-empowered Republican House majority for the first time on Tuesday, and while Speaker Kevin McCarthy has vowed to block Biden's agenda, the two appeared to have a cordial meeting at the White House last week.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Biden expected to address policing reform in State of the Union, Tyre Nichols' parents to attend

ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- When President Joe Biden delivers his second State of the Union speech Tuesday night, two guests are expected to be in the audience: the mother and stepfather of Tyre Nichols.

Nichols died after being beaten during a violent encounter with Memphis police last month. His death has sparked calls for police reform at the federal level. His parents, RowVaughn and Rodney Wells, will sit in the first lady's box on Tuesday.

RowVaugh made a tearful plea for the passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act at his funeral last week.

"We need to get that bill passed, because if we don't, that blood, that next child that dies -- that blood is going to be on their hands," she said.

It's a topic Biden is likely to address as he speaks to lawmakers and the nation in what could be his largest audience of the year. But how far he'll will go in calling for reform, and how far his comments will go in a divided Congress, remains to be seen.

"Criminal justice reform and fears about racism have been top issue concerns for Black Americans and Black voters for several cycles," Karen Finney, a Democratic strategist and former Hillary Clinton adviser, told ABC News.

"I think given that Tyre Nichols' parents will be in the audience, we should expect that the president will talk about that," Finney added.

Biden said he was "outraged and deeply pained" when graphic footage of Nichols' fatal confrontation with police was released last month showing officers striking and kicking Nichols. He's called on Congress to send the George Floyd Justice in Policing reform bill to his desk, and met last week with members of the Congressional Black Caucus to discuss possible paths forward.

Vice President Kamala Harris, in remarks delivered at Nichols' funeral, said the beating of the 29-year-old Nichols was "not in pursuit of public safety."

"When we talk about public safety, let us understand what it means in its truest form," the vice president said. "Tyre Nichols should have been safe."

The country's confidence in police practices have hit new lows, according to a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll. Just 39% of Americans expressed confidence that the police are trained to avoid excessive force, and 41% were confident the police treat Black and white people equally.

"People are going to be listening very closely for what's the vision for what public safety and reforms look like," Finney said of Biden's speech, "because it's got to go hand in hand."

What police reform advocates want Biden to address

"I sincerely hope he doesn't double down on throwing more police at the problem because the calculus of that would be very wrong," Damon Hewitt, the president and executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, told ABC News ahead of the State of the Union address.

Last year, Biden, as part of his administration's crime prevention proposal, called for nearly $13 billion to hire 100,000 police officers around the country over the next five years.

Hewitt said he hopes to hear Biden call for comprehensive legislation, noting the odds of passing a police reform package may be slim but "that doesn't mean that any member of Congress, regardless of party affiliation, should be let off the hook."

The George Floyd policing bill passed the Democrat-controlled House in 2020 and 2021 but stalled in the Senate. It now faces bigger hurdles now that the House is controlled by a Republican majority.

Rashad Robinson, the president of civil rights advocacy group Color of Change, told ABC News he wants to see Biden talk about the need to end qualified immunity, create a database of police misconduct, more power to the Department of Justice for policy and practices, and more policies.

But he also said it's even more important for the president to use the national address to speak more directly to the American people to inspire them to get more organized around police reform.

"People don't remember all of the list of demands, or the things that the president wants on his desk," Robinson said. "But it is an opportunity to tell a story … He needs to tell a story about why we haven't actually gotten change, and who is standing in the way."

"It's something that I think is going to be necessary to actually build the momentum to win something real," he said.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


New bill would give Gov. DeSantis control over Disney's special Florida district

Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

(TALLAHASSEE, Fla.) -- In the latest development in Florida's conflict with Walt Disney World, a bill filed Monday during the state's special legislative session would give Gov. Ron DeSantis the ability to appoint a board to run Disney's Reedy Creek Improvement District -- the small, autonomous region that encompasses the company's theme parks outside Orlando.

Those selected by the governor for the oversight board would then go through confirmation by the Florida Senate.

Currently, Disney elects the members because it owns the district, essentially allowing the company to govern the region around its businesses.

According to the 189-page bill, none of the appointees to the oversight board could be recent Disney employees or have had a contractual relationship with a theme park within the past three years.

Another change that would be enacted would be the name of the district. The bill would rename it the "Central Florida Tourism Oversight District."

The proposal follows a law passed by the state legislature last year to eliminate the current district, which has granted Disney expansive authority over the carved-out area around its parks.

Instead of eliminating the district, the new bill gives the governor authority over who runs it.

The changes all come after Disney publicly criticized a controversial DeSantis-backed law banning discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in certain K-12 classrooms.

The Parental Rights in Education Law has been dubbed by critics as "Don't Say Gay," while its supporters say it ensures age-inappropriate topics are kept out of class.

Disney, citing concerns of discrimination, has said it "should never have passed and should never have been signed into law." (The Walt Disney Company is the parent company of ABC News.)

DeSantis' office insisted on Monday that the changes to the district were an effort to ensure corporate accountability.

"Florida is dissolving the Corporate Kingdom and beginning a new era of accountability and transparency," Bryan Griffin, DeSantis' press secretary, said in a statement.

Griffin explained that the proposed government oversight of the special district would allow imposing taxes on Disney for possible road projects outside the district's boundaries and imposing Florida law on the area.

The legislation would also keep the district's current financial obligations in place, including outstanding debts, staying in line with DeSantis' promise that neighboring Orange and Osceola counties would not be responsible for the district's $1 billion debt despite the legal changes.

Disney said in a statement on Monday that they were watching the "the progression of the draft legislation, which is complex given the long history of the Reedy Creek Improvement District."

"Disney works under a number of different models and jurisdictions around the world, and regardless of the outcome, we remain committed to providing the highest quality experience for the millions of guests who visit each year," said Jeff Vahle, the president of Walt Disney World Resort.

With Republicans having control of both chambers of the state legislature, the bill is likely to be considered quickly before being approved and sent to DeSantis to become law.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Potential debt ceiling standoff looms large over State of the Union

Yuri Gripas/Abaca/Bloomberg via Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- When President Joe Biden delivers his State of the Union address on Tuesday with new House Speaker Kevin McCarthy sitting over his shoulder, looming between the two will be a possible standoff over raising the federal debt ceiling.

The management of how to increase the borrowing limit, which the Treasury Department has indicated will need to be done as soon as June to make sure none of the federal government's bills go unpaid, is shaping up to be the first major obstacle that McCarthy and Biden must work together to overcome.

The conflict, along with the potentially calamitous economic consequences of a debt default, will no doubt color some of Biden's remarks on Tuesday as he looks to reassure the 53% of Americans who are "very" concerned about that outcome, according to a new ABC News/Washington Post poll.

Biden and McCarthy agree that the nation cannot default on its debt.

But with the Treasury already using "extraordinary measures" to keep the United States out of the red, that's about all they agree on.

Now that Republicans narrowly control the House, raising the debt limit cannot be accomplished without GOP votes, giving McCarthy increased influence over negotiations, if he can wrangle his conference. But McCarthy captured the gavel in the House only after a protracted speaker election that required him making concessions to the right wing of his party.

Many of those members see a debt limit hike as a powerful bargaining chip in their efforts to slash what they see as out-of-control federal spending. McCarthy has taken to their position.

The speaker looked to preempt the president's State of the Union speech in remarks on Monday night in which he outlined what he saw as the major risks the nation faces by failing to cut its spending. He described the $31.4 trillion national debt as the "greatest threat to our future."

"President Biden wants Congress to raise the debt limit yet again … without a single, sensible change to how government spends your hard-earned money. None. Does that sound responsible to you?" McCarthy said. "What Americans want -- and what Republicans are fighting for -- is a responsible debt limit increase that puts us on a path towards a healthier economy."

But that's a nonstarter for the Biden administration, which maintains that the debt limit must be raised without any political negotiation or bargaining, as has been done under both parties over many years.

"It's just that simple. There should be no hostage-taking here. There should be no attempts to exploit the debt ceiling or to leverage it," White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said at a briefing last month.

Biden has also pushed McCarthy to "show me your budget" -- a call for the Republican speaker to outline exactly which cuts to the federal budget he'd like to see made in exchange, given his criticism of federal spending.

McCarthy has yet to present such a budget and his remarks on Monday night again lacked details about what sorts of specific cuts he'd call for.

And while McCarthy has publicly insisted that decreasing funds for Medicare or Social Security is "off the table," Democrats and the White House have pointed to the ambiguity around his plan to suggest otherwise.

McCarthy's comments on Monday came after he and Biden discussed the debt limit and other issues at White House last week, their first meeting since McCarthy became speaker. The sit-down yielded no commitments or outcomes, but both McCarthy and Biden described it optimistically.

"I think, at the end of the day, we can find common ground, I really do," McCarthy told reporters in the White House driveway.

A few minutes later, the White House released its take on the meeting, saying the two men had a "frank and straightforward dialogue" and that the conversation would continue.

Both parties said no concessions were made.

Separately, top Biden administration officials have indicated that the White House will negotiate on spending and the budget in parallel talks -- as long as the debt ceiling is raised without strings attached.

"One is not appropriate for negotiation; the other one is," Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said Sunday on ABC's "This Week."

The emerging impasse echoes the 2011 debt crisis, during which the country came so close to default that its creditworthiness was downgraded for the first time in the nation's history.

At the time, the Republican-controlled House was again looking to exact spending concessions from a Democratic president.

Months before a deal, brokered in part by then-Vice President Joe Biden and Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, was passed, then-President Barack Obama addressed the nation's debt in his own State of the Union address.

Obama called for a five-year freeze to domestic spending that would "require painful cuts" to slow ballooning debt growth.

"I'm willing to eliminate whatever we can honestly afford to do without," he. "But let's make sure that we're not doing it on the backs of our most vulnerable citizens."

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Chinese surveillance balloons during Trump, early Biden admin not spotted by NORAD, commander says

Peter Zay/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- Previous Chinese surveillance balloon incidents that occurred during the Trump administration and early under the Biden administration were not spotted by NORAD at the time, Air Force Gen. Glen VanHerck, commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command, told reporters Monday.

"We did not detect those threats. And that's a domain awareness gap that we have to figure out," VanHerck said.

VanHerck said that U.S. intelligence made NORAD aware of the threat posed by the surveillance balloons after the fact through "additional means of collection and made us aware of those balloons that were previously approaching North America or transit in North America."

The military commander would not specify what techniques were employed by U.S. intelligence to determine the capabilities of the balloons.

VanHerck also provided a new insight as to why the balloon was not shot down as it approached Alaska in late January noting that his "assessment that this balloon did not present a physical military threat to North America and therefore, I could not take immediate action because it was not demonstrating a hostile act or hostile intent.”

Senior U.S. officials have described China as having built up a fleet of surveillance balloons that have crossed into sovereign airspace over five continents.

U.S. officials had told ABC News of prior incursions near Hawaii and Guam last February, and in the wake of the balloon being shot down off the South Carolina coast this Saturday, senior administration officials said that there had also been three additional incursions during the Trump administration.

VanHerck's acknowledgement that NORAD had not spotted those incursions would help explain why several former senior Trump to previous brief incursions denied having been aware of any balloon incursions.

During the audio briefing with reporters, VanHerck said that allowing the balloon to transit across the United States provided "a potential opportunity for us to collect Intel where we had gaps on prior balloons."

"This gave us the opportunity to assess what they were actually doing, what kind of capabilities existed on the balloon, what kind of transmission capabilities existed. And I think you'll see in the future that that timeframe was well worth its value to collect over," said VanHerck.

The general would not describe how that intelligence was gathered while the balloon was in flight, making only a vague reference to the U.S. using "multiple capabilities to ensure we collected and utilized the opportunity to close Intel gaps."

Mitigation efforts were taken to minimize intelligence collection as the balloon flew over Malmstrom AFB in Montana and Offutt AFB in Nebraska, according to VanHerck

"Just because we had the time to do that. And we also had the time to put together an effort of our own to learn about this particular balloon and what its capabilities are, and we're going to get more information from the recovery," John Kirby, the National Security Council's coordinator for strategic communications, said in a separate briefing with reporters.

VanHerck described the balloon itself as being 200 feet tall carrying a payload of intelligence-gathering equipment that weighed "a couple thousand pounds," which he compared in size and length to a regional passenger jet.

Kirby described the balloon as having a limited ability to maneuver using propellers and a rudder though he added that "the most important navigational vector was the jet stream itself, the winds at such a high altitude.

The recovery operation for the remnants of the balloon and its payload is being carried out six miles off the coast of South Carolina in U.S. territorial waters in an area described as being 1,500 yards by 1,500 yards.

U.S. Navy and Coast Guard ships are at the scene and have already recovered debris that was floating on the surface of the water according to Kirby.

While rough waters limited the recovery efforts by divers on Sunday, a Navy salvage ship is expected to be at the debris location in coming days.

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Chinese surveillance balloon recovery underway amid GOP attacks

Peter Zay/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- U.S. Navy vessels on Monday swarmed a widespread debris field with divers and cranes to retrieve pieces of the suspected Chinese surveillance balloon shot down by a U.S. fighter aircraft off the coast of South Carolina on Saturday afternoon.

A senior government said the FBI is expected to take custody of any recovered components of the balloon’s payload and to ship it to its laboratory in Quantico, Virginia. for analysis and intelligence gathering.

The balloon had been traveling across the continental U.S. since at least Tuesday with the White House facing mounting questions and political blowback as to why the balloon was allowed to cross the country in the first place, especially as the U.S. faces tensions with China.

Republicans continue to condemn President Joe Biden for not having ordered the balloon shot down earlier, but Biden said Saturday he did ask for such action, until the American military advised him they should wait until the balloon wasn't over civilian territory.

Asked whether the balloon incident has weakened U.S.-China relations as he arrived back at the White House on Monday from Camp David, Biden told reporters, "We’ve made it clear to China what we're going to do, they understand our position. We're not going to back off, we did the right thing, and there‘s not a question about weakening or strengthening, it’s just the reality."

When asked whether it was always his view to shoot it down or that he did so only because it became public, Biden responded, "Oh no, it was always my position. Once it came over the United -- into the United States from Canada, I told the Defense Department I wanted to shoot it down as soon as it was appropriate. They concluded -- they concluded we should not shoot it down over land, it was not a serious threat, and we should wait until it got across the water."

White House officials are continuing to push back against criticism from Republicans, insisting they simply did not want to endanger a successful takedown operation by disclosing sooner.

"On Wednesday, President Biden directed the military to shoot down the balloon while maximizing our ability to collect the payload," a White House spokesperson said in response to inquiries about the timing of the disclosure. "The military was working on the plan to execute it and we did not want to get ahead of the operation or risk it in any way. We have also kept Congress briefed generally on this issue of Chinese surveillance balloons program, including briefings last August."

White House spokesperson John Kirby spoke with reporters Monday afternoon to give an update on recovery efforts and also defended the decision to allow the balloon to traverse over the country.

The debris field is roughly "15 football fields by 15 football fields," he said, and some debris was recovered "off the surface of the sea," but weather conditions weren't favorable on Sunday.

"Our efforts to surveil this balloon and what we're going to learn from the recovery will prove to be valuable," Kirby said, and the fact the balloon took time to travel under tracking will give the U.S. "clarity" on the balloons' capabilities and China's intentions.

Suspected Chinese spy balloons flew over the continental U.S. three times under former President Donald Trump -- but the Biden White House said over the weekend that Trump and other top officials weren't aware at the time.

"This information was discovered after the prior administration left," according to senior Biden administration officials.

"From every indication that we have, that that was for brief periods of time -- nothing at all like what we saw last week, in terms of duration," Kirby said Monday, asked about the other instances but offering limited information.

House Republicans have promised a slew of investigations into the balloon's handling. Some Republican lawmakers are weighing introducing a resolution Tuesday condemning Biden's response -- right before his State of the Union address -- but no decision has been made.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, in a statement Sunday, said the Biden administration "reacted at first too indecisively and then too late."

"We should not have let the People's Republic of China make a mockery of our airspace. It defies belief to suggest there was nowhere between the Aleutian Islands of Alaska and the coast of Carolina where this balloon could have been shot down right away without endangering Americans or Canadians. This was a reminder of the PRC's brazenness and President Biden missed the opportunity to defend our sovereignty, send a message of strength, and bolster deterrence," McConnell said.

He said he hopes Biden's "belated decision to finally do the right thing carries over into his soon-to-be-released annual budget request," adding, "Whether it's spy balloons or spy satellites, hypersonic weapons or stealth aircraft, massive naval construction or nuclear stockpile expansion, China's military modernization effort is no joke."

In a statement on Sunday, U.S. Northern Command said the balloon was brought down "within sovereign U.S. airspace and over U.S. territorial waters to protect civilians while maximizing our ability to recover the payload."

China's Vice Foreign Minister Xie Feng, meanwhile, lodged "solemn representations" with the U.S. Embassy in China on Sunday over the "use of force" against what it maintains is a "civilian unmanned airship."

"What the U.S. has done has seriously impacted and damaged both sides' efforts and progress in stabilizing Sino-U.S. relations since the Bali meeting."

He said the U.S. has "obviously overreacted" and that China "resolutely opposes and strongly protests this."

The so-called "Gang of Eight" of congressional leadership is still slated to have a briefing on the balloon this week as Republicans warn Biden of investigations to come over his handling of the matter.

Montana Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat who chairs the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, also announced Friday that he'll hold a subcommittee hearing on the ballon.

It's unclear when Secretary of State Antony Blinken will move forward with plans for high-level meetings in Beijing postponed last week as relations with China remain tense.

"This balloon incident has done nothing to help improve U.S-China bilateral relations," Kirby said earlier. "And now it's just not the appropriate time for us to have those sort of face to face discussions with them on larger diplomatic issues."

ABC News' Luis Martinez, Ben Gittleson, Karson Yiu, Allison Pecorin, Justin Gomez and Katherine Faulders contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


George Santos, who claimed mom survived 9/11, invites ground zero volunteer to SOTU

Alex Wong/Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- New York Rep. George Santos, who continues to claim his mother was in downtown Manhattan on 9/11 despite immigration documents indicating she wasn't even in the United States, has invited a former ground zero volunteer firefighter to President Joe Biden's State of the Union address on Tuesday.

According to a Monday news release from Santos' office, his guest, Michael Weinstock, joined first responders in New York City on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, and was later diagnosed with neuropathy, a nerve disorder.

"[Weinstock's] condition is a direct result of the dust and toxins released from the World Trade Center, and the condition is not covered under the World Trade Center Health Program," the news release states, referring to the federal coverage for people sickened in the attacks and their aftermath.

In a statement quoted in the news release, Weinstock, a former Democratic congressional candidate, said: "I have travelled to Washington to bring attention to firefighters with neuropathy. This is an issue that transcends politics and speaks to my heart."

Santos took to the House floor on Monday to advocate for expanded health coverage for people who suffer from 9/11-related illnesses. He also displayed a photo of what he said was Weinstock on Sept. 11.

"Since the World Trade Center Health Program does not cover neuropathy, people like Michael must pay out of pocket for treatment, medications and other medical needs. I ask my colleagues that we work together and find a solution and have conditions such as neuropathy be covered under the World Trade Center Program Act," Santos said.

9/11 has become a point of controversy for Santos as one of several key parts of his biography that have been shown to be false, exaggerated or disputed by other information.

He maintained in an interview with One America News last week that "the toxic dust that permeated throughout Manhattan and my mother being present [in] downtown Manhattan" led to her death in 2016.

Santos' campaign website also currently states that his mother "was in her office in the South Tower on September 11, 2001, when the horrific events of that day unfolded."

However, ABC News previously obtained documents showing Santos' mother was not in New York during the Sept. 11 attacks.

According to the documents from the Department of Homeland Security's U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services, Santos' mom, Fatima Devolder, applied in February 2003 for an immigrant visa from the American consulate in Brazil. The form states that she had not been in the United States since June 1999.

During his interview with OAN, Santos said he didn't understand the immigration documents showing his mom wasn't in the U.S. on 9/11.

"That, to me remains a mystery because I was here and I was 13 years old. So I want to understand where they're coming from with this," he said.

He added that while his family believes his mother died from a 9/11-related illness, "We've never been able to prove that through claims and we've never been able to qualify for claims as a family and we just let it go."

Santos, a first-term Republican representing New York's 3rd Congressional District, has been dealing with controversy and investigations since before he took office last month.

County, state and federal authorities are looking into a number of issues raised about Santos, including related to his campaign's finances, while Brazilian prosecutors have said they are seeking to revive check fraud charges against Santos from when he was a teenager and New York Democrats Reps. Dan Goldman and Ritchie Torres have filed a complaint with the House Ethics Committee.

Santos said in December that "I am not a criminal."

"This [controversy] will not deter me from having good legislative success. I will be effective. I will be good," he told The New York Post.

Last week, Santos told House Republicans he would temporarily recuse himself from his two assigned committees, on small business and on science, space and technology.

A spokesperson for Santos told ABC News at the time that "the congressman is reserving his seats on his assigned committees until he has been properly cleared of both campaign and personal financial investigations."

Speaker Kevin McCarthy indicated that if he were to fill Santos' committee seats, it would be on a temporary basis.

McCarthy insisted to reporters last week that he did not pressure Santos to recuse himself but said he has "some new questions" about the embattled congressman.

"I think going through ethics will answer some others. I think until he goes through that, it would be better that he doesn't serve on committees," McCarthy said on Wednesday.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Americans have low confidence in leaders, GOP at risk in political disputes: POLL

Official White House Photo by Hannah Foslien

(WASHINGTON) -- Americans expressed scant confidence in President Joe Biden and his party heading into the 2023 State of the Union address. Yet wide majorities also lack faith in their Republican counterparts, and a new ABC News/Washington Post poll finds the GOP at risk on two fronts, the debt ceiling debate and its inquiry into alleged federal bias against conservatives.

Biden faces deep challenges of his own, including record economic discontent and weak job approval. Few give him credit for a range of accomplishments he may try to claim in tomorrow's address, from infrastructure to prescription drug prices.

The public takes Biden's side in the debt ceiling debate, with broad support for handling debt payments and federal spending as separate issues, along with extensive worry about the impacts of a default. The GOP leadership also faces skepticism about its probe of anti-conservative bias in federal agencies; most see this as an attempt to score political points, not a legitimate inquiry.

Among other issues, while Biden is calling on Congress to renew the long-expired ban on assault weapons, the public now is divided on the question: Forty-seven percent support such a ban, 51% oppose it. That reflects a 9-point drop in support since 2019, surprising given recent gun violence but confirming other data.

Internationally, the survey, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates, finds a substantial rise in the sense that the United States is doing "too much" to assist Ukraine in its war with Russia – 33% say so, up from 14% last spring. Still, that leaves about six in 10 saying the United States is doing the right amount (40%) or too little (19%, down from 37% as weapons shipments have soared).

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The shift toward saying the U.S. is doing too much peaks among Republicans and conservatives, up 32 and 30 percentage points, respectively. Those compare with non-significant changes of +5 points among Democrats and +6 points among liberals.

There's also the issue of confidence in the country's leadership. As detailed below, it's sorely lacking, with 68 to 72% of Americans expressing little or no confidence in Biden, newly elected Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and both their parties in Congress.

Debt debate

Biden has a wide advantage on one urgent and contentious issue, the debt ceiling. Just 26% of Americans adopt McCarthy's position that Congress should allow the government to pay its debts only if the administration agrees to cut federal spending. A broad 65% instead align with Biden's view that the issues of debt payment and federal spending should be handled separately.

Even among Republicans, fewer than half – 48% – support coupling debt payment with cuts in federal spending. That drops to 22% among independents and 10% of Democrats.

Underlying these results is broad worry about the consequences of default: A vast 82% are very or somewhat worried that a government default would damage the economy. That includes a majority, 53%, at the top end of the scale, "very" concerned.

Notably, this concern is bipartisan – about eight in 10 adults across the political spectrum are concerned about the economic impacts of a default, and being very concerned peaks among Republicans, at 59%.

That said, about two-thirds of Americans favor separate discussion of the debt limit and federal spending regardless of whether they're more or less worried about the impacts of nonpayment.

Confidence

Most broadly, the survey shows a now-common result: A public with deep economic dissatisfaction, sharp polarization and little faith in leaders on either side of the aisle. These attitudes are informed by the fact that, as reported Sunday, 41% say they've gotten worse off since the president took office, a high in polling back 37 years.

The public by an extensive 68-31% expresses just some or no confidence in Biden to make the right decisions for the country's future. It's a similar 70-28% for the Democrats in Congress. But it's even worse for McCarthy – a vast 71-19% lack confidence in his leadership. And it's 72-25% for his party.

Weaponization

In addition to the debt ceiling debate, the GOP faces headwinds in its inquiry into alleged anti-conservative bias in federal agencies by the newly created House Judiciary Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government. Americans by a 20-point margin, 56-36%, see the probe as "an attempt to score political points" rather than a legitimate investigation.

Indeed, while views are highly partisan, even among Republicans, 34% see the weaponization inquiry as an attempt to score political points, and a tepid 57% think it's a legitimate investigation. Results among conservatives are almost identical.

Part of the GOP's problem is widespread doubt about its premise. Relatively few Americans, 28%, think federal agencies in fact are biased against conservatives. Eleven percent think they're biased against liberals; an additional 11% volunteer that they're biased against both. A plurality, 42%, think federal agencies are not biased against either group.

Among conservatives themselves, 55% think federal agencies are biased against them. That's 47% among people who define themselves as somewhat conservative, rising to 66% of those who say they're very conservative (15% of all adults).

Assault weapons

While Biden has undertaken a new push to ban assault weapons, public views on the issue are now closely divided: Forty-seven percent support a ban, 51% oppose it. That reflects a 9-point drop in support for an assault weapons ban, and a 10-point rise in opposition, since last measured in an ABC/Post poll in September 2019. (Results were roughly similar, 49-45%, in a Quinnipiac University poll last July.)

Support for an assault weapons ban was this low just once before, a 45-53% result in December 2015; that poll, and this one, are the only two in which more than 50% have opposed a ban. In most other polls since 1995, majorities have supported an assault weapons ban, peaking at 79% in May 1999. It was 62% as recently as April 2018.

The decline in support for an assault weapons ban since 2019 is broadly based across groups. It would take a study focused in more detail on the issue to assess its reasons, but other studies provide clues. In a Pew Research Center poll last year, the public divided on whether or not making it harder to get guns would reduce mass shootings. And in a Pew study only among parents of children under 18, fewer than half, 45%, thought an assault weapons ban would be extremely or very effective at preventing shootings in schools specifically.

Accomplishments

Presidents typically tout their accomplishments in a State of the Union address. It can be a tough sell: Just 36% of Americans think Biden has accomplished a great deal or good amount as president; 62% say he's accomplished not very much or nothing. In an ABC/Post poll in January 2018, Trump was in a similar boat.

Nor does Biden get much credit for a disparate list of items he might raise in tomorrow's address. Unemployment has dropped from 6.3% when Biden took office to 3.4% now (a low since 1969) and the economy added a robust 517,000 jobs last month – yet the public by 60-34% says he has not made progress "creating more good jobs in your community."

Other efforts largely have yet to hit the ground, making it difficult for Biden to claim credit. Despite the huge infrastructure bill he signed into law in November 2021, the public by 60-32% says Biden has not made progress "improving roads and bridges in your community" – perhaps because much of the actual work is yet to be done.

Similarly, legislation Biden signed in August includes a tax credit up to $7,500 for buying an electric vehicle. But it took effect just this year; so far, the public by 56-26% says Biden has not made progress "making electric vehicles more affordable." (A substantial 18% are undecided.)

Lastly, despite measures to lower prescription drug prices for people on Medicare, the public by a closer 47-30% says Biden has not made progress "lowering prescription drug costs," with 23% unsure. Again, some of the bill's provisions take effect this year; others are years off.

This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by landline and cellular telephone Jan. 27-Feb. 1, 2023, in English and Spanish, among a random national sample of 1,003 adults. Results have a margin of sampling error of 3.5 percentage points, including the design effect. Partisan divisions are 26-25-40%, Democrats-Republicans-independents. See the PDF for full results, charts and tables.

The survey was produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates, with sampling and data collection by Abt Associates of Rockville, Maryland. See details on the survey's methodology here.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Record numbers of people are worse off, a recipe for political discontent: POLL

Yuri Gripas/Abaca/Bloomberg via Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- Four in 10 Americans say they've gotten worse off financially since Joe Biden became president, the most in ABC News/Washington Post polls dating back 37 years. Political fallout includes poor performance ratings for Biden and a tight hypothetical Biden/Trump rematch next year.

Given disaffection with both leaders, a rerun of the 2020 presidential election is hardly enticing: Nearly six in 10 Democratic-aligned adults don't want to see Biden nominated again for the job, and half on the Republican side would rather not see Donald Trump as their party's nominee.

If those were the choices and the election were today, the poll suggests it could be close: Among all adults, 48 percent support Donald Trump and 44 percent are for Biden; it's a similar 48-45 percent among registered voters. The differences are within the poll's margin of sampling error.

The big hit on Biden is the economy: With inflation moderating but still high, 41 percent say they're not as well off financially as they were when Biden took office, the most in nearly three dozen ABC/Post polls to ask the question since 1986, when Ronald Reagan, who popularized the "better off" phrase, held office. Just 16 percent in this poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates, say they're better off.

By contrast, nearly two years into Trump's presidency, far fewer – 13 percent – said they'd gotten worse off; more, 25 percent, were in better shape financially.

Biden's overall job performance rating, 42-53 percent, approve-disapprove, has been under water, and steadily so, since September 2021. On issues, Biden has just 37 percent approval for handling the economy, 38 percent on the war in Ukraine and 28 percent on the immigration situation at the Mexican border.

Biden's approval rating after two years in office is well below average compared with the previous 13 presidents. Three have been in about the same boat at this point (Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan) and one has been lower – Trump, at 37 percent, in polling by ABC/Post and previously Gallup. The pre-Biden average is 56 percent.

EMOTIONS – Underscoring Biden's challenges, many more Americans have a negative rather than positive emotional response to the prospect of his winning a second term: The public by a broad 62-36 percent would be disappointed or even angry if he were re-elected, rather than enthusiastic or satisfied.

Responses to a hypothetical Trump victory also are negative overall, but less so, 56-43 percent. Part of the reason is that Biden loses slightly more of his base – 26 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents would be unhappy if he were re-elected, compared with 20 percent of Republicans and GOP leaners who'd feel that way about a Trump win.

Trump occupies somewhat more space at the emotional extremes. Seventeen percent would be enthusiastic about his winning another term; 36 percent would be angry about it. Given a Biden re-election, fewer would be enthusiastic – 7 percent – but also fewer would be angry, 30 percent.

DOCUMENTGATE – For all his woes, Biden outpoints Trump on another measure – their apparent mishandling of classified government documents. Forty-five percent of adults think Trump intentionally did something illegal in his handling of classified documents after he left office as president. Many fewer, 27 percent, say the same about Biden after his vice presidency.

That doesn't mean Biden is fully off the hook in terms of public attitudes on the issue. Forty-eight percent think he acted wrongly, but not intentionally, in handling classified documents. Just 16 percent think he did nothing wrong. Twenty-nine percent think Trump was unintentionally wrong; 20 percent see no wrongdoing on his part.

BETTER OFF? – Inflation peaked at 9.1 percent in last June, a 40-year high; it's eased since but remained a still-high 6.5 percent in December. That's produced widespread economic pain. Nearly two years into Trump's presidency, 25 percent of Americans said they'd gotten better off since he took office. As noted, fewer, 16 percent, now say the same about life under Biden.

After Trump's first year, just 13 percent felt worse off financially. That spiked to 35 percent under Biden a year ago, and its level now, 41 percent, is the most measured in 33 ABC/Post polls since September 1986. The previous high was 36 percent among registered voters in September 2011, amid a plethora of economic troubles including 9 percent unemployment.

Economic sentiment is subject to partisan influence; 72 percent of Republicans say they've gotten worse off under Biden (more than any other group), while just 12 percent of Democrats say the same. The trouble for Biden is that it's 39 percent among independents, vs. 11 percent worse off among independents in 2018.

Biden's approval rating is vastly lower among worse-off Americans than others – unsurprising given the disproportionate number of Republicans in their ranks. Perhaps more telling, given independents' usual swing-voter role, is this: Among worse-off independents, Biden has a mere 12 percent approval rating and Trump leads him in vote preference by 82-8 percent. Among independents who are in the same shape or better off financially as when he took office, by contrast, Biden's approval vaults to 67 percent and he leads Trump by 62-29 percent.

Worse-off independents disproportionately lean Republican and better/same independents largely lean Democratic. Nonetheless, because independents are less firmly rooted in partisan predispositions, they can be movable – making their economic sentiment a measure to watch as the 2024 campaign heats up.

NOMINATION NATION – Just 31 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents say the party should nominate Biden for re-election; 58 percent say it should pick someone else. That's no better than it was for Biden last September, 35-56 percent.

Two Democratic groups stand out as most opposed to Biden for the nomination – younger adults and Democratic-leaning independents. Among 18- to 39-year-olds, 69 percent would like to see the party choose someone other than Biden, who already is the nation's oldest president. Anti-Biden sentiment on this measure reaches 72 percent among independents.

Still, even among mainline Democrats, just 39 percent would like to see Biden as the nominee; 50 percent think not. Indeed, the only group in which he's even numerically above water in support for the nomination is Black Democrats, who divide 47-41 percent on the question. The sample size for that group is small and the difference is within the margin of error.

On the Republican side, overall 44 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents would like to see Trump as the party's nominee, similar to 47 percent in September; these compare with 67 percent support for him to be the nominee heading into the 2020 contest. Forty-nine percent now would like to see the party pick a different candidate.

The most pro-Trump group among Republicans and GOP leaners is those who call themselves very conservative – 55 percent back him for the nomination, the only group to do so by a statistically significant margin. His other best groups, at 52 percent support, are non-college graduates, rural residents and those with lower household incomes. Most opposed to Trump in the GOP ranks are college graduates (67 percent), people with higher incomes (66 percent), GOP-leaning independents (61 percent) and moderates (56 percent).

APPROVAL and VOTE – Among other results, Biden's approval rating remains highly polarized; 81 percent of Democrats approve of his work, compared with 6 percent of Republicans; it's 45 percent among independents. Compare to Trump at this point in his presidency – 78 percent from Republicans, 12 percent among Democrats.

A key difference is independents, who gave Trump a 32 percent approval rating, 13 percentage points lower than Biden's from independents now.

That said – and while it's very early in the cycle – independents today support Trump over Biden by 50-40 percent, a slight difference, meaning it's significant at the 90 percent confidence level rather than the customary 95 percent confidence. There are miles to go before November 2024, but it's worth keeping in mind that in nine of the last 12 elections, whoever won independents won the presidency.

METHODOLOGY – This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by landline and cellular telephone Jan. 27-Feb. 1, 2023, in English and Spanish, among a random national sample of 1,003 adults. Results have a margin of sampling error of 3.5 percentage points, including the design effect. Partisan divisions are 26-25-40 percent, Democrats-Republicans-independents.

The survey was produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates, with sampling and data collection by Abt Associates of Rockville, Md. See details on the survey's methodology here.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Lawmakers praise successful downing of suspected Chinese spy balloon while concerns linger

Peter Zay/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- The downing of a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon by the U.S. military was met by lawmakers with a mix of praise for the safe and successful operation, criticism for it not happening sooner and concern over what intelligence may have been gathered and how to prevent something like this from happening again.

The balloon was shot down by a U.S. fighter aircraft off the coast of South Carolina on Saturday afternoon after traveling across the continental U.S. since Tuesday, according to officials. The Pentagon has said the high-altitude balloon was being used for surveillance, disputing China's claim that it was a civilian aircraft used for meteorological purposes.

President Joe Biden told reporters on Saturday that he ordered the Pentagon to shoot the balloon down "as soon as possible" on Wednesday. However, the operation was held off until the balloon -- carrying a payload described as being the size of three buses -- was off the coast, where threats to civilians were limited.

"They decided -- without doing damage to anyone on the ground -- they decided that the best time to do that was when it got over water within our 12-mile limit," Biden said. "They successfully took it down and I want to compliment our aviators who did it."

A senior defense official told reporters there was value in waiting to shoot down the balloon aside from just the safety of people on the ground.

"The surveillance balloon's overflight of U.S. territory was of intelligence value to us," the official said during a briefing on Saturday. "We were able to study and scrutinize the balloon and its equipment, which has been valuable."

Lawmakers across the aisle applauded the military for successfully taking down the suspected surveillance balloon, though some said it took too long.

House Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries thanked Biden and the U.S. military for "putting the safety of the American people first."

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer commended Biden's "leadership in taking down the Chinese balloon over water to ensure safety for all Americans."

Tennessee Republican Rep. Mark Green, chair of the Homeland Security Committee, said he was "pleased" that the "espionage tool" won't be returning to China.

At the same time, several lawmakers, including Green and fellow members of his party, reiterated criticisms that the balloon should have been brought down sooner -- before it crossed the continental U.S. -- and that the situation called for a more forceful response.

Green said that "damage to U.S. national security and American sovereignty was already done." Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., said Biden "refused to stop China," while Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., called it a "dereliction of Biden's duty."

"We still don't know what information was collected and where it was sent," Scott tweeted.

On Sunday talk shows, Republicans kept up the questions over the timing of the military's decision to down the balloon.

"I can assure you that if we fly a balloon over China, they're going to shoot it down, and probably a lot sooner than we did," Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said on ABC's "This Week."

"What began as spy balloon has become trial balloon, testing President Biden's strength and resolve, and unfortunately the present failed that test," Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., added on CNN's "State of the Union."

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said on CBS' "Face the Nation" that while he commended Biden for ordering the balloon to be shot down, "he didn't do that until a week aft it entered U.S. airspace."

Even Biden's defenders among congressional Democrats said the balloon's mere presence in the U.S. indicated broader issues in the relationship between Washington and Beijing.

"We should not have had this kind of incursion into the United States and we have a real problem with China on a number of issues, from their human rights violations to their violations of international business law to even the challenges we've had with them on overt spying. So I'm grateful that the military took decisive action when they and how they did, but we, obviously, have issues here," Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., said Sunday on "Face the Nation."

Senior administration officials have told ABC News that shooting down the balloon safely sent the message that the U.S. protects American lives while responding "effectively" to the violation of U.S. sovereignty.

Amid the security concerns, Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder said the balloon didn't pose a physical or military threat and, once it was detected, the U.S. took steps to protect against foreign intelligence collection of sensitive information.

A senior military official told reporters Saturday that the balloon was deemed unlikely to provide much more to China from flying over than could already be gained from its satellites.

"Nevertheless, this balloon was clearly crossing over sensitive sites, including sensitive military sites. And so we took additional precautions to make sure that whatever additive intel value would be minimized," the official said.

The eventual shoot-down then served to "neutralize any intelligence value it could have produced" by preventing it from returning to China, the official said.

In the wake of what he called China's "inexcusable" and "incompetent" spying, Virginia Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine said this incident will be a "major focus" of a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing this week.

As the balloon debris retrieval is underway, Michigan Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin called for all Congress members to be briefed on the situation in the coming week and as more is learned, while urging stronger steps against China beyond Secretary of State Antony Blinken postponing his planned travel in the country this weekend.

"Whether through new sanctions or tighter restrictions on U.S. exports to China, the message needs to be loud and clear," Slotkin tweeted.

Chinese surveillance balloons have previously been spotted over countries across five continents, including in East Asia, South Asia and Europe, according to a senior defense official. In the U.S., they transited the continental U.S. briefly at least three times during the Trump administration, senior administration officials said Saturday.

Following the resolution of this latest balloon, Missouri Republican Sen. Eric Schmitt said, "We need ensure that this never happens again."

ABC News' Justin Gomez, MaryAlice Parks and Matt Seyler contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


171 Republican lawmakers join effort to stop student loan forgiveness program

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(WASHINGTON) -- One hundred and twenty-eight House Republicans and nearly all Republican senators on Friday filed amicus briefs with the Supreme Court opposing the Biden administration's federal student debt cancellation plan, which has been halted as tens of millions of Americans await the justices' ruling on its legality.

While White House officials have been adamant that the president is within his authority to wipe out hundreds of billions in government-backed loans to provide "breathing room to tens of millions of working families," Republicans challenging it take the opposite view.

The forgiveness plan that could relieve up to $20,000 for eligible loan recipients is an unconstitutional breach of the separation of powers and a violation of the Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students Act of 2003 (HEROES Act), according to the House GOP brief.

"The Biden administration's student loan bailout is a political gambit engineered by special interest groups; abusing the HEROES Act for such a ploy is shameful," House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairwoman Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., said in a statement.

The House GOP brief included 25 members on Foxx's committee and roughly 100 other lawmakers. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy did not sign it, though Majority Leader Steve Scalise, Majority Whip Tom Emmer and House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan did.

Separately, 43 Republican senators signed their own brief in support of the challenge to the loan forgiveness program. Led by Tennessee's Marsha Blackburn, they also call the president's plan unlawful and claim it exceeds his office.

The White House has pushed back.

"While opponents of our plan are siding with special interests and trying every which way to keep millions of middle class Americans in debt, the President and his Administration are fighting to lawfully give middle-class families some breathing room as they recover from the pandemic and prepare to resume loan payments in January," spokesman Abdullah Hasan said in October.

However, the House Republicans say they believe Biden is exploiting the language of the HEROES Act, which the administration argues vests the education secretary with expansive authority to alleviate financial hardship for federal student loan recipients as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Indeed, the entire purpose of the HEROES Act is to authorize the Secretary to grant student-loan-related relief to at-risk borrowers because of a national emergency -- precisely what the Secretary did here," Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar wrote in a Supreme Court filing defending the proposed debt cancellation.

After legal challenges last year saw the forgiveness program halted by lower courts, the Supreme Court announced in December that it will hear oral arguments on the issue at the end of February.

A decision on the program is then expected by June.

The moratorium on loan repayments, which was first put in place under President Donald Trump earlier in the pandemic, is now set to expire 60 days after the decision or 60 days after June 30 -- whichever date comes first.

A vocal opponent of Biden's plan, Foxx also accused the administration of "bypassing Congress" to implement loan forgiveness.

"Congress is the only body with the authority to enact sweeping and fundamental changes of this nature, and it is ludicrous for President Biden to assume he can simply bypass the will of the American people," she said in her statement.

Foxx told ABC News in an interview last month that she believes it is an "injustice" for taxpayers to fund the administration's "scheme." The plan would cost $400 billion, according to an estimate from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, and its nearly half-a-trillion-dollar price tag worries Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C.

Despite the White House saying the cancellation would give needed economic relief, Duncan said it would be sending the U.S. further into a "debt spiral."

"The Court should invalidate the Secretary of Education's sweeping student loan forgiveness program since it trespasses on Congressional authority and violates the separation of powers," he said.

The U.S. Education Department has said the president's decision to cancel up to $10,000 for some loan recipients -- those who made less than $125,000 on their 2020 or 2021 taxes or $250,000 filing jointly -- or $20,000 for low-income recipients who received Pell grants could impact roughly 43 million Americans who owe $1.6 trillion in student loans.

That was particularly important in light of how COVID-19 upended the economy, according to the White House.

"This is why we took this action -- to make sure that tens of millions of Americans are able to deal with a time that was very difficult, especially in the last couple of years," White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told ABC News' Karen Travers last week. "That's been the important priority of the president: to make sure folks … who felt the pinch if you will, who felt the hurt the most these past couple of years due to what COVID did to the economy, got a little extra help."

After the cancellation program launched last year, 26 million people signed up online before it was halted by the courts.

Of that group, 16 million were approved before the department's website stopped accepting applications to let the legal process play out. However, no loan forgiveness has been discharged.

Last month, over a dozen advocacy groups like the NAACP filed briefs in support of the president's plan.

"Student loan borrowers from all walks of life suffered profound financial harms during the pandemic and their continued recovery and successful repayment hinges on the Biden Administration's student debt relief plan," Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said in response to the coalition of groups joining in support of the plan. "We will continue to defend our legal authority to provide the debt relief working and middle-class families clearly need and deserve."

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu 'definitely thinking about' 2024 presidential run

ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu said Sunday that he is considering a run for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.

"I'm definitely thinking about it and having those conversations," Sununu told ABC "This Week" co-anchor Jonathan Karl.

The governor, who was just overwhelmingly reelected to a fourth term, said "the message is new leadership" and touted his own track record running what he called the "most efficient" state government in the U.S.

"But at the end of the day, you're going to have a lot of Republicans that get in that race," he said. "They're all really good people. They're really good candidates. ... And you got to have that discussion about where we're going to go, both as a party and make sure we're going there as a country."

The field of 2024 GOP contenders already includes former President Donald Trump while former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley is expected to announce her own bid later this month, sources have told ABC News.

Sununu, a vocal Trump critic, is skeptical of his general election chances. "He could get the nomination, but he can't get it done," Sununu said.

He pointed to the 2022 midterm elections, where several major Trump-backed candidates fell short, as a sign of Trump's electability concerns. Sununu, a self-described "free-market principled Republican," said the party should focus on finding a conservative candidate who isn't too divisive.

"What I've tried to espouse to with Republicans is, 'Look, we want to vote for the most conservative candidate that can win in November and get stuff done in '25,'" he said.

Sununu said that his personal vision was this: "I believe government has to get out of your way. And we've done it really, really well here in New Hampshire. We're sharing that model across the country."

Good leadership is what is lacking out of President Joe Biden's White House, Sununu argued, faulting Biden both for his response to a Chinese reconnaissance balloon flying over the country last week and what Sununu said was a disingenuous picture of the economy.

"Go into a grocery store and just talk to people in the cereal aisle. What are they feeling? You know, do they feel confident about this leadership that the president? No," Sununu said. He cited a new ABC News/Washington Post survey that four in 10 Americans feel financially worse off under Biden.

"The best leadership is one that looks inside, says, 'What are we doing right? What are we doing wrong, right?' If we don't acknowledge the problem, we can't fix it," Sununu said, adding, "You need to see more of that out of Washington."

The Biden administration's approach to the Chinese balloon, revealing its presence days after it entered the U.S. and then shooting it down over the Atlantic Ocean on Saturday, was "too little, too late," Sununu said.

U.S. officials have said they delayed any military response to prevent hurting civilians and took steps to limit any intelligence risk.

"Again, you have to have leadership. You have to be transparent. You have to be fast-acting," Sununu said.

When asked about Biden's State of the Union address on Tuesday, Sununu contended that the commander-in-chief will wrongly take credit for current economic progress as the country recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, which brought widespread job loss.

Sununu said he expects Biden to tout the unemployment rate, at a decades-low, but "after a pandemic, that wasn't very hard."

Boasting about declining inflation, which is now at a year-over-year rate of 6.5%, would be similarly self-serving, Sununu said. "Inflation was at a record high -- of course it's coming down," he said. "It couldn't have gotten any higher."

"The prices are not going to go back to where they were. I know the Biden administration likes to pretend that," Sununu said, predicting that the economy would be headed for years of so-called "stagflation," in which rising costs limit growth.

Despite his sharp criticisms of Biden, Sununu said he still doesn't think Trump can win against him in a 2024 rematch.

"Trump is going to be seen as a very extreme candidate," Sununu said. "The country is going to push back against it."

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Buttigieg defends 'extraordinary' economy as polling suggests significant discontent

ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- With President Joe Biden preparing to deliver his second State of the Union address on Tuesday, a new ABC News/Washington Post shows many people feel their finances are worsening -- but Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg on Sunday said the president can "make the case" that the economy is back on track.

"You make that case by pointing to the reality and recognizing that the story won't tell itself," Buttigieg told ABC "This Week" co-anchor Jonathan Karl. He touted the latest employment numbers, including 517,000 jobs added in January, and an unemployment rate of 3.4% that is the lowest since 1969.

"What we're seeing is extraordinary. Record job creation, as the president has pointed out, more created in two years on his watch than four years on any other president's watch, and usually, when you have unemployment go down like this, you have inflation go up. But right now, inflation is going down as well," the secretary said.

Buttigieg also touted Biden's "economic track record" in creating manufacturing jobs, lowering the cost of insulin for seniors and projects that will soon be starting due to the 2021 bipartisan infrastructure law.

The ABC News/Washington Post poll shows 41 percent of Americans say they're not as well off financially as they were when Biden took office -- the most in almost 40 years of ABC News/Washington Post polling.

Pressed by Karl on the survey showing only 16% say that they feel better off today than they were two years ago when Biden took office, Buttigieg said the country has "been through a lot" recently.

"The president and the entire administration recognize that there continue to be headwinds, challenges, problems facing this economy," he said, invoking the COVID-19 pandemic. "After all, the president took office under some of the most challenging circumstances facing any president in modern times."

Buttigieg highlighted rising wages and more Americans participating in the labor force as a signal of economic strength and said that "we can expect continued improvement" if the administration continues "successful policies."

"Part of what I think you're going to see on Tuesday when the president's addressing the nation and the Congress in the State of the Union is a reminder that this successful approach stands in stark contrast to a strategy that would focus on things like preserving tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires," Buttigieg argued.

The House's new Republican majority, however, contends that Biden and congressional Democrats have been reckless and wasteful in their government spending, citing the national debt and historic inflation that only began to cool in recent months.

With the country approaching the deadline to increase the nation's debt limit by June or risk defaulting on its obligations, Speaker Kevin McCarthy has said there will be no default -- but that the White House must negotiate on spending in exchange for a debt ceiling increase.

The White House said raising the limit, which is currently about $31.4 trillion, has long been done without preconditions under both presidents. The ceiling allows the government to borrow money to pay for debts it has already incurred rather than for new spending. Biden's predecessor Donald Trump reportedly grew the national debt by approximately $7.8 trillion, which included an enormous government response to COVID-19.

Buttigieg on Sunday wouldn't comment on talks between the White House and GOP but made clear that raising the debt limit was not up for debate -- insisting that the administration viewed negotiating spending levels as a separate discussion with Republicans.

"The president's been very clear that the full faith and credit of the United States is not negotiable. Remember, this is not a decision or a negotiation about how much to spend or even how much to borrow, this is about whether the United States pays its bills, and we always do," he said.

He told Karl that there are "always negotiations going on" when it comes to spending, which House Republicans are hoping to curb now that they have control of the chamber.

But because Republicans haven't "put pen to paper on what they want," Buttigieg said, it makes it "hard to understand" where they want to make cuts.

Karl asked if it was then possible that there could be parallel legislation to raise the debt limit without conditions -- while a second bill reflected a compromise on spending.

"Yeah, because one is not appropriate for negotiation; the other one is," Buttigieg said.

As President Biden prepares for a likely 2024 reelection campaign, the ABC News/Washington Post poll also showed that less than a third of Democratic voters want to see him re-nominated.

Buttigieg gave no indication on when Biden could make his announcement but said he has been an "absolutely historically successful president and I want to see that continue."

When Karl followed up to ask if Buttigieg wanted Biden to run in 2024, he said, "When I'm appearing in this capacity, I can't talk campaigns and elections. But let me say this: I'm incredibly proud to be part of this team that he has built and to be part of the results that he is delivering."

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


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