Biden impeachment inquiry live updates: House Republicans hold first hearing

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(WASHINGTON) -- House Republicans Thursday are holding the first public hearing of their impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden.

The House Oversight Committee hearing will kick off at 10 a.m.

Republicans say the inquiry will focus on whether Biden was involved in or benefitted from his family's foreign business dealings, among other issues. So far, House Republicans have yet to release evidence that Biden profited from his son Hunter's business deals or was improperly influenced by them.

The White House has blasted the impeachment inquiry as "extreme politics at its worst."

Here's how the news is developing. All times Eastern:

Sep 28, 9:29 AM EDT
Committee says it will examine emails, bank records, text messages

Chairman James Comer, R-Ky., will claim in his opening remarks that the committee has "uncovered a mountain of evidence revealing how Joe Biden abused his public office for his family’s financial gain."

But Republicans, to date, have yet to produce any hard direct evidence of wrongdoing by President Biden or that he was involved in or personally profited from his family's foreign business dealings, or that he improperly influenced policy based on them when he served as vice president.

Comer will also say the panel will examine over "two dozen pieces of evidence" including emails, text messages, bank records and testimony of Biden business associates during today's hearing.

Sep 28, 9:20 AM EDT
What to expect at today's hearing

The committee is expected to reexamine the findings of months of GOP-led investigations and offer an explanation as to why an inquiry is warranted.

"This week, the House Oversight Committee will present evidence uncovered to date and hear from legal and financial experts about crimes the Bidens may have committed as they brought in millions at the expense of U.S. interests," chairman James Comer, R-Ky., said in a statement.

The committee will hear from four witnesses, three of whom were called by Republicans to provide testimony.

The panel's 46 members (plus other lawmakers) will be allowed to question the witnesses in a hearing that could stretch on for more than six hours.

Sep 28, 9:07 AM EDT
Who are the witnesses?

Republicans have called three witnesses, one constitutional law scholar and two financial experts.

They are Bruce Dubinsky, a forensic accountant; Eileen O'Connor, a former assistant attorney general, United States Department of Justice Tax Division; and Jonathan Turley, a professor of law at George Washington University and a Fox News contributor.

Democrats will hear from Michael Gerhardt, a constitutional law professor at the University of North Carolina. Gerhardt served as special counsel to the presiding officer of former President Donald Trump's second impeachment trial.

Sep 28, 8:38 AM EDT
What polls say Americans think about the inquiry

Americans are divided on the GOP-led impeachment inquiry into Biden, a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll found.

Overall, 44% of Americans said that based on what they know, Congress should begin impeachment proceedings that could lead to Biden being removed from office while 47% said it should not.

Partisan views were apparent in the poll, with 74% of Republicans favoring impeachment proceedings and 83% of Democrats opposing them. Independents were split 46-45%.

Americans by 58-32% said the inquiry reflects Biden is being held accountable under the law like any president, rather than being unfairly victimized politically.

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Biden set to give speech on democracy one day after Republican debate

Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

(WASHINGTON) -- President Joe Biden on Thursday will deliver the latest in a string of speeches about democracy, as he seeks to draw a further contrast with his Republican rivals -- and, in particular, those he calls "MAGA" conservatives -- one day after most of them gathered for their second primary debate.

While in Arizona, Biden will deliver what a White House official said is the fourth in a series of speeches focused on democracy, with this one specifically focused on "the importance of America’s institutions in preserving our democracy and the need for constant loyalty to the U.S. Constitution."

The backdrop of Arizona is intended to draw on the legacy of the late Republican Sen. John McCain, who was close with Biden and "whose intolerance for the abuse of power and faith in America sets a powerful example to live by," according to the official.

"Protecting democracy continues to be the central cause of Joe Biden’s presidency," the official said. "President Biden will talk about his conviction that we must not walk away from the sacrifices generations of Americans have made to defend our democracy."

Biden will be joined in Tempe by some of McCain's family, Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs and members of the Arizona congressional delegation.

The speech builds on a main theme that Biden has hit on since his campaign launch in 2019, for his first White House term.

At the time, Biden linked then-President Donald Trump to the deadly 2017 mob in Charlottesville, Virginia, in which a white nationalist killed a counter-protester. He has since torn into Republicans for not uniformly and vocally refuting Trump's baseless claims of widespread voter fraud in 2020 and the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection by pro-Trump rioters.

In his speech, Biden plans to explicitly cite McCain's service during the Vietnam War, when he was captured, and his tenure in the Senate, when he advocated for a restoration of civility in Washington.

"The president will honor his friend and war hero," the official said.

The speech is also likely an effort to highlight Biden's own reelection bid -- a campaign that is anticipated to face off again against Trump next year.

It comes a day after most Republican presidential contenders, but not Trump, gathered in California for their second primary debate.

Many of the candidates have said that Biden won the 2020 election, though fewer have been vocal in their denunciations of Trump's allegations of fraud, with the exceptions of former Govs. Chris Christie of New Jersey and Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas.

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Five takeaways from the Republican debate: Haley scoffs at Ramaswamy, DeSantis goes after Trump, more

Eric Thayer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

(SIMI VALLEY, Calif.) -- The major Republican presidential candidates went toe-to-toe in the second primary debate, on Wednesday night in California -- trading barbs in a race still largely defined by former President Donald Trump's polling dominance.

The candidates frequently delved into policy and their differences on the issues, but the most attention-grabbing moments may be remembered as the personal attacks between the contenders.

Here are five takeaways Wednesday's debate.

Haley and Ramaswamy in the spotlight again

Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and entrepreneur and commentator Vivek Ramaswamy were near center stage at last month's debate, and they followed that performance up again Wednesday, in light of their relatively high spots in the polls next to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, though all three trail Trump.

DeSantis, who polls in the No. 2 slot, stood in the center with Haley and Ramaswamy on either side of him.

The two were in the thick of several exchanges, both on policy and on personality in a debate filled with seven candidates regularly shouting and sniping over each other, as the Fox News, Fox Business and Univision moderators interjected to restore order.

"TikTok is one of the most dangerous social media apps that we could have. I -- honestly, every time I hear you, I feel a little bit dumber for what you say," Haley said at one point, noting Ramaswamy's recent participation on TikTok despite his criticism of the platform. Ramaswamy said it was done to appeal to voters.

"I think we would be better served as a Republican Party if we're not sitting here hurling personal insults and actually have a legitimate debate about policy," he responded.

Haley later followed up by accusing Ramaswamy of being overly cozy with China, with Ramaswamy repeatedly defending himself from attacks by almost every candidate on stage -- including South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, standing to Ramaswamy's left, who Ramaswamy tried to dismiss with a raised finger.

Ultimately he spoke for the longest cumulative time, behind Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, according to an ABC News analysis.

Other hopefuls keep trying to break through

The debate also offered an opportunity for lower polling candidates to break through -- and they appeared to know it.

Scott and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum looked to go on the attack or to beef up their own profiles, with their support from GOP voters lagging in the low double digits so far, according to 538.

Scott threw the first unprompted elbow Ramaswamy's way after the latter offered praise for the other candidates on stage.

"I appreciate that because last debate, he said we were all bought and paid for," Scott said before jabbing at Ramaswamy's business ties to China.

At one point later in the debate, Scott, seemingly flippant, asked if the moderators couldn't see him and Burgum repeatedly expressed frustration over not being included in a segment about energy policy despite being an "energy state" governor.

Former Vice President Mike Pence, who did not express as much frustration as Scott and Burgum at the debate format, also sought to break through amid middling polls, taking his own opportunities to go after Ramaswamy and Trump by name as well as tout himself as the only authentic conservative on stage.

"This is a time for those of us that have the experience, the tested experience and a commitment to the conservative agenda that Ronald Reagan brought forward in this party," he said.

DeSantis gets in the mix, with some pointed barbs at Trump

Whereas at the first primary debate, last month, DeSantis mostly spoke when asked a question, on Wednesday he inserted himself into more back and forths and used moderator questions to forcefully argue for his record as Florida's top executive.

He also went after Trump by name on a few different occasions, including early in the debate, for choosing to skip out on the debates.

"Donald Trump is missing an action. He should be on this stage tonight. He owes it to you to defend his record where they added $7.8 trillion to the debt. That set the stage for the inflation that we have," DeSantis said. (Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who has been a vocal Trump critic, similarly criticized Trump for not showing up.)

Trump has said he sees no value in attending, given his lead, and it's unclear if those attacks -- or anyone's overall performance -- will be enough to topple Trump from his front-runner perch.

For much of the night, the candidates focused on Biden's time in office, though they will have to more immediately beat Trump to win the party's nomination.

"Democrats would panic if any of those candidates won the nomination. But nothing about tonight fundamentally changed the trajectory of a Biden vs. Trump rematch," said GOP strategist Alex Conant, who worked on Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio's 2016 presidential campaign.

Ukraine continues to divide the field

U.S. assistance to Ukraine in defending against Russia's invasion again divided the primary field, raising the stakes the presidential race has for the largest land war in Europe since World War II.

Haley and Pence pushed for continued assistance to Kyiv, while Ramaswamy and DeSantis looked to pump the breaks, with the Florida governor repeating his line that there should be no "blank checks."

The debate mirrors the divide on Capitol Hill, where establishment Republican figures like Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky are advocating for further aid to be included in the next government funding bill while hard-liners are pushing for that money to be directed to enhancing security at the southern border.

The debate covered many topics, with little time on abortion

The debate moderators made a point of hitting on various policy topics in detail, from the economy to energy to education to China as well as immigration, the border, child care, crime and unions. In many of those areas, the candidates broadly agreed on approach, with differences over specific tactics and solutions.

About 105 minutes into the 120-minute debate, the moderators brought up abortion rights when they noted that several state referendums to curtail abortion access have failed.

Since Roe v. Wade was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court last year, abortion regulations have been returned to the states -- a move hailed by conservatives. But voters across the country have repeatedly gone to the ballot box to defend abortion access and, in some swing states, they have said it's a key issue and favor Democrats on it.

Republicans have acknowledged, publicly and privately, that the issue motivates their base while potentially posing risks in general elections.

DeSantis, at the debate, touted the six-week abortion ban he implemented in Florida and again hit at Trump for blaming abortion opponents for disappointing midterm losses by Republicans. DeSantis said his success in Florida showed that abortion restrictions can be popular in battleground areas.

He later said in an exchange with Scott that he'd commit to supporting a 15-week abortion ban as president.

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Skipping the Republican debate, Trump talks UAW strike at non-union plant

Emily Elconin/Bloomberg via Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- Former President Donald Trump on Wednesday night opted out of the latest 2024 Republican primary debate and instead spoke in Michigan about the ongoing auto workers' strike.

The event was held as counter-programming to Trump's rivals, who gathered in California on the debate stage as he attacked President Joe Biden, assailed the criminal charges against him and urged union employees to back him next year.

Unions this week drew the attention of both major parties' presidential front-runners.

On Tuesday, Biden joined the picket line in Michigan with members of the United Auto Workers in the UAW's ongoing strike while seeking 46% pay raises and a four-day work week, citing the high profits earned by their employers.

Trump and his campaign called Biden's visit to the UAW picket line, which is unprecedented for a president in modern history, a "PR stunt."

However, Trump's Wednesday event in Clinton Township, Michigan -- which the campaign had called a speech to union workers -- took place at Drake Enterprises, a non-union auto parts plant.

According to ABC News' reporting, many of the attendees at Trump's speech were Drake Enterprises workers and some were UAW workers, but very few said they were on strike.

Unions and workers were dominant themes in Trump's speech, though. He began by immediately "saluting" UAW workers and arguing that Biden doesn't sincerely side with them, even as Biden's aides have cited Biden's long record in backing unions.

The crowd here cheered for nearly every line in Trump's speech.

In his speech, Trump repeated his pitch for economic nationalism, calling himself the only candidate who wants to protect American labor -- which was a key pledge in his previous campaigns.

He also attacked Biden for the federal government's environmental regulation push on tailpipe pollution, which would encourage more electric vehicle manufacturing -- while also raising the concerns of auto workers like those in the UAW. Biden has said he wants to invest in the auto industry to spur more electric vehicle use to address climate change.

Trump took a darker view.

"You're all on picket lines and everything, but it doesn't make a damn bit of difference what you get because in two years -- you're all going to be out of business. You're not getting anything. What they're doing to the auto industry in Michigan and throughout the country is absolutely horrible and ridiculous," he said.

At the picket line on Tuesday, Biden said, in part, "Folks, stick with it because you deserve the significant raise you need and other benefits."

On Wednesday night, Trump went on to criticize the heads of Ford and General Motors for not, as he said, fighting against electric vehicles and instead "giving up" too quickly. Both companies have signaled they see increased value in making more electric vehicles, given larger trends in the industry.

Trump later went after Biden again, saying the president treats American jobs as "disposable."

"Joe Biden claims to be 'the most pro union president' in history. Nonsense," Trump added.

Trump, a self-proclaimed billionaire, also said he spent most of his life "working alongside Americans just like you."

After being told in an NBC News interview that UAW President Shawn Fain was fiercely critical of him, Trump said he did not want the union's endorsement. On Wednesday, however, he struck a different tone.

"Hopefully your leaders at United Auto Workers will endorse Donald Trump," he said.

Though Fain criticized Trump this week and said there would be "no point" in meeting with him, Trump called Fain a "good man" but said it was time to endorse him. Only then, Trump said, will he "not say a bad thing about them again."

Trump's message to the UAW president: endorse him so "you can take a nice two-month vacation come back and you guys are going to be better than you ever were."

The former president said he wouldn't force people away from electric vehicles but wanted to give people the opportunity to choose.

Of the GOP primary debate also held on Wednesday, Trump attacked some of his challengers, like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, and suggested it was a job interview for a lesser role in his administration.

He asked his crowd who they thought he should pick as his running mate. They yelled out for former Michigan gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon, who was in attendance.

Trump also briefly talked about the indictments against him. He has pleaded not guilty in all four cases, two of which are related to the push to overturn the 2020 election; a third is related to hush money paid to an adult film actress; and a fourth is over Trump's alleged mishandling of classified documents while out of office.

"Just like you're fighting for your rights in your American dream, I'm fighting for my rights and fighting for my freedom against the coordinated ... very politicized forces of evil. I've never seen anything like it," Trump told the attendees.

He said his second presidency would be about "patriotic protectionism," slamming the amount of money the U.S. has given to Ukraine and claiming he would bring more jobs back home.

Michigan Democrat responds

Democratic Rep. Debbie Dingell of Michigan reacted to Trump's speech in an interview with ABC News minutes after he left the stage.

"I'm a car girl and the state of Michigan put the world on wheels," she said, later adding, "Electric vehicles are one of the technologies of the future. We are going to build them here. I'm not ceding our leadership to anybody."

Of Trump's comments about the UAW strike being undercut by the push for electric vehicles, Dingell said: "He says these negotiations don't matter? These negotiations are the most important negotiations I've watched in my lifetime. This is where the rubber hits the road."

"I think it says it all when he says was coming in to meet with union workers and he chose to go to a non-union plant," she said. "I think that just summarizes it right there. If he really did have strong support by union workers and he wanted to tell them how much he cared and how he cared about those benefits that unions fight for, then why didn't he go to a union shop?"

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What to know about Republican allegations, evidence in the Biden impeachment inquiry

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(WASHINGTON) -- House Republicans on Thursday, in their first impeachment inquiry hearing, are set to reexamine information they say they've gathered so far in their investigations into President Joe Biden and his family's business dealings.

"House Republicans have uncovered serious and credible allegations into President Biden's conduct," House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said when ordering the inquiry earlier this month. "These are allegations of abuse of power, obstruction, and corruption."

Among their claims, which have yet to be supported by direct evidence, is that President Biden was involved in or personally profited from his family's foreign business dealings, or that he improperly influenced policy based on them during his time as vice president.

Here's a closer look at some of the specific allegations levied against President Biden that are likely to be discussed during Thursday's hearing, and what Biden himself has said about his son's business dealings and the impeachment inquiry:

Allegation: Biden lied about his family's business dealings

Speaker McCarthy and other top Republicans have claimed Biden lied to the public about his knowledge of his family's business deals.

They highlight specific statements from Biden that he "never discussed" with his son or brother anything involving their businesses, and that his son never made money in China.

Biden's statement in regard to China is not true. Hunter Biden has testified in open court that he accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars from Chinese business interests.

Whether he "never discussed" business with his son is less clear. Hunter Biden's former business partner Devon Archer testified that Joe Biden attended at least two dinners with Hunter Biden's foreign business associates, and frequently spoke with his son over the phone while his son was in the presence of foreign business associates.

But Archer also testified that business never came up during those interactions. Those discussions were often about the weather and other benign subjects, he said. Archer, notably, testified that he never witnessed Joe Biden engage in any wrongdoing.

Hunter Biden also acknowledged at least one instance in which Joe Biden addressed his appointment to the board of directors of the Ukrainian energy company Burisma: "Dad said, 'I hope you know what you are doing,' and I said, 'I do,'" Hunter Biden told the New Yorker.

Allegation: Biden joined phone calls, meetings about Hunter's business

"Eyewitnesses have testified that the president joined on multiple phone calls and had multiple interactions – dinners, resulted in cars and millions of dollars into his son's and his son's business partners," McCarthy said when launching the impeachment inquiry.

Such statements appear largely based on Archer's testimony.

Archer testified that as many as 20 times, he saw Hunter put his father on speakerphone when Hunter was with business associates. But he said those conversations often stemmed from Hunter speaking to his father "every day" and that he never witnessed Hunter talking with his dad about the substance of Hunter's business.

Archer also testified about two different dinners that Joe Biden attended, but never indicated that Hunter's business was discussed.

The first was "a birthday dinner" with Hunter, Joe Biden and some foreign businesspeople: "I don't remember the conversation. I just remember that [Joe Biden] came to dinner, and we ate and kind of talked about the world, I guess, and the weather, and then everybody left," Archer said.

The second dinner involved Joe Biden, Hunter, one of Hunter's Burisma colleagues, a Greek orthodox priest, and someone from the World Food Programme: "I think we were supposed to talk about the World Food Programme. So, there was some talk about that," Archer testified.

As for a Porsche Archer said Hunter Biden received, it was bought for him by "a prominent businessman in Kazakhstan," according to Archer. Archer testified that he didn't know why the businessman bought the car for Hunter Biden.

Many of these findings are not new. A 2020 Senate report detailed some of these business endeavors and payments. The report, penned by Biden critics, GOP Sens. Chuck Grassley and Ron Johnson, found that Hunter Biden's overseas business ventures were "awkward" and at times "problematic" for U.S. officials but provided no evidence and found no instance of government policy being altered as a result.

Allegation: FBI information alleged million-dollar bribe to Bidens

"A highly credible FBI source alleges that Joe Biden received $5 million in exchange for pressuring for the firing of a Ukrainian prosecutor who was investigating the Ukrainian natural gas firm that Hunter Biden was on the board of, Burisma," Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., said earlier this month.

Grassley in July released a confidential FBI informant's unverified claim that, years ago, the Biden family "pushed" a Ukrainian oligarch to pay them $10 million. The FD-1023 form cites an unnamed source who recounts a series of interactions in 2015 and 2016 with Mykola Zlochevsky, the chief executive of Burisma. The source recalled Zlochevsky claiming that he was "forced" to pay Joe and Hunter Biden $5 million each, apparently in exchange for firing a Ukrainian prosecutor named Viktor Shokin who was purportedly investigating Burisma at the time.

There is no evidence aside from the unverified FD-1023 that Joe Biden accepted a bribe to influence U.S. policy in Ukraine. Democrats have accused accusing Grassley of selectively highlighting uncorroborated information to hurt a political opponent.

Rep. Jamie Raskin, the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, has said that in 2020, the Trump-appointed Justice Department interviewed the source, investigated the source's claims and then closed the investigation.

Allegation: Joe Biden used pseudonyms on emails

"Joe Biden used at least three pseudonyms on over 5,000 emails. We know one of these, his son was copied on, in a pseudonym, that pertained to Ukraine," Comer said earlier this month.

It is common for high-profile government officials, including presidents, to use pseudonyms for their email. It's been publicly reported that Barack Obama did it. And that Bill Barr did it.

The email Hunter Biden was copied on included Joe Biden's official schedule. The email included the normal list of the vice president's daily workload, but also included a reference to an overnight stay at the "Lake House." A source close to the Biden family said Biden copied his son because it was the weekend of the anniversary of Beau Biden's death, and the vice president wanted Hunter Biden to be there with the family.

Allegation: Biden as vice president coordinated Hunter's role in Burisma

"Biden used his official office to coordinate with Hunter Biden's business partners about Hunter's role in Burisma, the Ukrainian energy company," McCarthy said when ordering the inquiry.

This allegation refers to a December 2015 email exchange between Hunter Biden's office and the White House. In the exchange, according to Comer, Hunter Biden's business partner Eric Schwerin and the vice president's then-communications staffer Kate Bedingfield collaborated on a response to questions from the media about Hunter Biden's appointment to the board of Burisma.

Bedingfield wrote, "VP signed off on this" – and presented Schwerin with a statement she "will give to both reporters in my name shortly." The statement said that Hunter Biden "is a private citizen," and that Joe Biden "does not endorse any particular company and has no involvement with this company."

In a tweet on Sept. 6, White House spokesperson Ian Sams wrote: "More lies by @JamesComer. As Comer tells it, then-VP Biden 'colluded' with this business by ... saying he doesn't endorse it and wasn't involved with it? Total nonsense."

Allegation: DOJ is letting Bidens off the hook

"The president's family has been offered special treatment by Biden's own administration. Treatment that they would not have otherwise received if they were not related to the president," McCarthy has claimed.

This allegation rests heavily on the testimony of two IRS whistleblowers who accused senior Justice Department officials of slow-walking their investigation, stymying investigators' efforts to pursue leads, and failing to prosecute Hunter Biden to the fullest extent of the law.

But Attorney General Merrick Garland and special counsel David Weiss have both denied the allegations made by those whistleblowers. Other witnesses have shared testimony with Congress that undercuts some of the IRS agents' core claims.

Allegation: Biden family received $20 million through 20 shell companies

"Detailed banking records show that the Biden family and their business associates received $20 million in payments from foreign actors in places like Russia, China, Ukraine, and Romania, including payments during Joe Biden's time as vice president," Rep. Elise Stefanik said earlier this month.

Hunter Biden has acknowledged receiving millions of dollars from overseas business endeavors, often into companies with multiple partners. The structure of those companies and the beneficiaries are opaque -- perhaps deliberately. But it is not uncommon for business entities to use shell companies for strategic and tax-related reasons -- which is legal. And none of the money received by Hunter Biden has been linked to Joe Biden himself.

Allegation: Banks flagged 150+ suspicious activities from Bidens

"The Treasury Department alone has more than 150 transactions involving the Biden family and other business associates that were flagged as suspicious activity by U.S. banks," McCarthy has said.

Suspicious Activities Reports, or SARs, are reports filed by financial institutions to flag questionable banking transactions to the Treasury Department, but do not amount to allegations of crimes. These are essentially notices of unusual activity that investigators can use as tips or leads -- not actual allegations of wrongdoing or criminal activity, and banks are required to file them to help the U.S. government monitor possible money laundering activities.

These are essentially notices of unusual activity that investigators can use as tips or leads -- not actual allegations of wrongdoing or criminal activity.

What Biden has said

When Republican scrutiny into Hunter Biden grew during the 2020 campaign, Biden began to be asked about his son's actions.

"I have never spoken to my son about his overseas business dealings," Biden said during a stop in Iowa in July 2019.

Later, during a Democratic debate in October 2019, Biden said his son had done nothing wrong.

"Look, my son did nothing wrong. I did nothing wrong," he said on stage. "I carried out the policy of the United States government in rooting out corruption in Ukraine. And that's what we should be focusing on. And what I wanted to make a point about -- and my son's statement speaks for itself. He spoke about it today. My son's statement speaks for itself."

After the federal investigation into Hunter Biden became public last December, President Biden said he is "proud" of his son and "confident" he did nothing wrong.

On the impeachment inquiry, Biden has brushed it off as a distraction.

"Now, best I can tell they want to impeach me because they want shutdown the government," he told a group of donors behind closed doors the day after the inquiry was launched. "Everybody always asked about impeachment. I get up every day not focused on impeachment, I've got job to do. I've got to deal with issues that affect the American people every single solitary day."

"Lots of luck," he later said when asked about the inquiry.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Government shutdown would be 'devastating' for Bureau of Prisons employees

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(WASHINGTON) -- A potential government shutdown would be "devastating" for Bureau of Prisons employees, according to the head of the union that represents federal staffers at the agency.

A government shutdown appears to be on the horizon with just a few days until funding expires. Lawmakers have until the end of the day Sept. 30 to pass a spending deal to keep the government running.

All Bureau of Prisons officers and employees -- more than 34,500 people -- would still have to go to work if there is a government shutdown, leaving them without a paycheck.

"A shutdown is absolutely devastating for our members," Brandy Moore-White, the president of CPL-33, told ABC News. "Not only do our members put their life on the line every single day to protect America from the individuals incarcerated, but now they're having to go out ... and figure out how they're going to pay their bills and how they're going to feed their families."

She said prison employees put up with a lot on a day-to-day basis, and the shutdown's effects are an added hassle.

"We deal with the worst of the worst every single day and that's a job all in itself," she said. "And then you add the stress of not getting paid on top of it."

Moore-White told ABC News some of the union members live paycheck to paycheck -- many of them are single parents or single-income households. In some cases, both members of the family work for the Bureau of Prisons.

She said a lot of her prison employees came to the government for a "secure" paycheck, and when that stability isn't there, it can be stressful.

Morale among union members is already low because of understaffing at many federal prisons, and having a shutdown in the middle of trying to staff up can be tough, Moore-White said.

"Morale is already down and then the moment that you put this on top of it, it plummets," she said. "Law enforcement's not an extremely popular place to work anymore. And so just recruitment alone with the morale and the way that the world is right now has been really rough. But then when you are trying to recruit, people are like, didn't you not get a paycheck for a while? It is detrimental to recruitment as well."

Due to the location of most federal prisons -- most of which are located in rural communities, getting access to a food bank during a shutdown can be challenging, Moore-White said.

"A lot of the local unions reached out to food banks, but a lot of the local food banks can't support even the small communities that they're in," she said.

The Bureau of Prisons declined to comment for this story.

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Military families brace for loss of paycheck, services under a government shutdown

Courtesy of Besa Pinchotti

(WASHINGTON) -- As the nation nears another government shutdown, military families face an uncertain financial future where they may not receive a paycheck unless a spending deal passes in time.

Besa Pinchotti is chief executive officer of the National Military Family Association. Her husband, Dave, is a veteran of the Marine Corps and currently a civilian employed by the Air Force; his paycheck could be affected or cut by the shutdown, if it happens.

"I have no idea if my husband will get a paycheck," Pinchotti told ABC News Senior Congressional Correspondent Rachel Scott. "We're just going about our business hoping that he will, but planning in case he doesn't."

A government shutdown appears increasingly likely with just a few days until funding expires. Lawmakers have until the end of the day Sept. 30 to pass a spending deal to avert the shutdown.

As many as 4 million workers could lose pay as a result of a shutdown -- about half of whom are military troops and personnel.

Pinchotti's husband was furloughed in the 2019 government shutdown, and while the prospect of dealing with another shutdown is daunting, she said her family will work to weather it again. Other military families may not be so lucky, she said.

"We have three kids and I feel fortunate that we're doing OK, but we know that so many military families are not. And this will absolutely impact them in ways that I hope that we don't have to see," she said.

For some military families, that may mean losing services they have come to rely on: everything from nutrition assistance to health care, mental health care, after-school activities for their kids, and even childcare centers.

Access to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, commonly known as WIC, is one element Pinchotti said will have a "huge impact" on many military families. Some 7 million women, infants and children rely on WIC.

"There are WIC offices on military installations all over the world because it is such a critical nutrition for families at a really key developmental part of their lives. So not having it will have a huge impact," she said. "We know that millions and millions -- more than half of American families have relied on WIC and for military families, it is also a huge number. So we're expecting that to be a serious problem."

Resources could be even more strained for those military families living paycheck to paycheck, Pinchotti said. And while the military may see back pay, there are families that can't afford to miss a paycheck, she said.

"I don't think that a lot of the country understands how tight the military budget is, and the fact that so many are living paycheck to paycheck," she said. "For example, more than 25% of military families are food insecure. And when you know that fact, and you know that what could be affected and you know that your service member may get paid, but maybe not right now. You really have to think about what's going to happen today or next week."

Rep. Bob Good, R-Va., said the shutdown's impact would be "minimal" for many Americans.

"We have to worry about all 330 million Americans -- not just isolated stories and specific individuals," Good told Rachel Scott.

He said the need for spending cuts justifies the shutdown: "This is the time to do it if we don't do it now."

Good, who has more than 5,000 federal workers in his district alone, said it's absolutely worth shutting down the government over his and other hard-liners' demands.

A recent "Pulse Check" survey that Blue Star Families conducted of its members found most active-duty families -- 54% -- said they would be "greatly impacted" by a government shutdown. In open-ended responses from the more than 600 respondents, many cited pay as the most common concern.

"My husband is the only working parent, we will have no income. It is looking better and better to get out and join the private sector!" one respondent wrote in the survey, Blue Star Families said.

Pinchotti said in speaking with many military families, the impact won't be "minimal," as Good says.

"My message to Congress is, 'Get it together.' It's not fair what you're doing to military families," she said. "Besides our service members, we also have 16,000 military spouses who work for the federal government. And in today's society, it really takes two incomes to make ends meet. So you're talking about military families' livelihood, and they've got to get it together."

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House Republicans to hold 1st Biden impeachment inquiry hearing

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(WASHINGTON) -- House Republicans on Thursday will hold the first public hearing in their impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden.

The hearing before the House Oversight Committee will start at 10 a.m. ET and will feature four witnesses, three called by Republicans.

Chairman James Comer, R-Ky., said the focus will be to present findings from months of GOP-led investigations -- with the overall goal of explaining why an inquiry is warranted.

He claims House Republicans have "uncovered an overwhelming amount of evidence showing President Joe Biden abused his public office for his family's financial gain."

But so far, Republicans haven't produced direct evidence to back up their claims that Biden was involved in or personally profited from his family's foreign business dealings, or that he improperly influenced policy based on them when he served as vice president.

"Americans demand and deserve answers, transparency, and accountability for this abuse of public office," Comer said in a statement. "This week, the House Oversight Committee will present evidence uncovered to date and hear from legal and financial experts about crimes the Bidens may have committed as they brought in millions at the expense of U.S. interests."

The three Republican witnesses are Bruce Dubinsky, a forensic accountant; Eileen O'Connor, a former Assistant Attorney General, United States Department of Justice Tax Division; and Jonathan Turley, a professor of law at George Washington University and a Fox News contributor.

Democrats have called Michael Gerhardt, a constitutional law professor at the University of North Carolina, to testify. Gerhardt served as special counsel to the presiding officer of former President Donald Trump's second impeachment trial.

Comer has pledged to soon subpoena bank records and other documents for Hunter Biden and James Biden -- the president's son and brother. Comer and other top Republicans have said they believe the bank documents could be a smoking gun in the case.

Ahead of the hearing, Comer announced Tuesday night the panel had obtained bank records that he said show Hunter Biden received money from Chinese nationals, originating in Beijing, that listed President Biden's home in Wilmington, Delaware, as the beneficiary address.

According to the committee, Hunter Biden received two wires in 2019 totaling $260,000. The committee did not release the bank wire records in their announcement.

It has been reported that Hunter Biden often used his father's address and previously lived at the Wilmington home.

"Imagine them arguing that, if someone stayed at their parents' house during the pandemic, listed it as their permanent address for work, and got a paycheck, the parents somehow also worked for the employer," White House spokesperson Ian Sams wrote on X in response to the announcement. "It's bananas. Yet this is what extreme House Republicans have sunken to."

Abbe Lowell, an attorney for Hunter Biden, said the new allegation "evaporates in thin air the moment facts come out."

"This was a documented loan (not a distribution or pay-out) that was wired from a private individual to his new bank account which listed the address on his driver’s license, his parents’ address, because it was his only permanent address at the time," Lowell said in a statement.

The White House has insisted that Biden has done nothing wrong, and previously criticized the impending hearing on Thursday as a "political stunt."

"Extreme House Republicans are already telegraphing their plans to try to distract from their own chaotic inability to govern and the impacts of it on the country," Sams said last week.

Congressional Democrats, too, have criticized Republicans for launching the inquiry -- citing both the apparent lack of evidence and the timing of the inquiry as House GOP hard-liners are driving the government toward a shutdown as soon as Sunday.

"It's hard to grasp the complete derangement of this moment," said Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Maryland Democrat and ranking member on the House Oversight Committee. "Three days before they're set to shut down the United States government, Republicans launch a baseless impeachment drive against President Biden. No one can figure out the logic of either course of action."

"A surprisingly large number of Republican Members now admit that Chairman Comer's investigation has failed to produce evidence of wrongdoing by President Biden," Comer continued. "Republicans can see that Chairman Comer's whole sham impeachment drive is based on a lie crafted and peddled by Trump and Rudy Giuliani that has been repeatedly debunked by multiple credible sources."

Under pressure from GOP hard-liners, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., officially opened the impeachment inquiry on Sept. 12. McCarthy did so unilaterally without a full House vote as he had promised to do -- after it became apparent he didn't have enough support.

McCarthy framed the inquiry as a fact-finding mission and a "logical next step" in Republican investigations into the Biden family, tasking the House Oversight, Judiciary and Ways and Means Committees to take the lead.

McCarthy has accused Biden of lying about his knowledge of his family's business affairs and stated records show Biden's family members and some of their business associates made $20 million from foreign firms. There is no evidence, to date, that President Biden received any of that money.

"Taken together, these allegations paint a picture of a culture of corruption," McCarthy said earlier this month.

Though McCarthy has repeatedly declined to detail what the timeline for the impeachment inquiry would look like, additional impeachment hearings are expected although none have been announced.

ABC News' Will Steakin, Lucien Bruggeman and and Ben Siegel contributed to this report.

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Menendez to address fellow Democratic senators Thursday amid indictment, Schumer says

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(WASHINGTON) -- Sen. Bob Menendez is expected to address his fellow Democratic senators behind closed doors Thursday with over half of them calling on him to resign.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who on Wednesday stopped short of calling for Menendez's resignation after he pleaded not guilty earlier in the day on bribery and extortion charges, said "we'll see what happens after" the closed-door lunch. Asked directly whether he believed Menendez should resign, he only reiterated that "we will see what happens" after Menendez's address to Democrats.

"Like you, I'm just deeply disappointed. I was disturbed when I read the indictment. I've known Sen. Menendez a very long time and it was truly, truly upsetting," Schumer said. "But we all know that [for] senators, there is a much, much higher standard, and clearly when you read the indictment, Sen. Menendez fell way, way below that standard."

Schumer did not go as far as the at least 26 Democratic senators who have called on Menendez to resign.

That group notably includes Menendez's New Jersey Senate colleague Cory Booker. Booker called the allegations against Menendez "hard to reconcile with the person I know," but said he ultimately concluded that Menendez ought to resign his seat in the Senate.

"Stepping down is not an admission of guilty but an acknowledgement that holding public office often demands tremendous sacrifices at great personal cost," Booker said in a statement Tuesday morning. "Sen. Menendez has made these sacrifices in the past to serve. And in this case he must do so again. I believe stepping down is the best for those Senator Menendez has spent his life serving."

On Monday, Menendez seemed to swipe at those who are using his indictment to forward their political campaigns.

"Remember prosecutors are wrong sometimes. Sadly, I know that," Menendez said. "Instead of waiting for all the facts to be presented, others have rushed to take the opportunity for themselves or those around them."

Menendez and his wife, Nadine, are accused of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes in exchange for his wielding of political power to enrich three businessmen -- Wael Hana, Jose Uribe and Fred Daides -- and benefit the Egyptian government. Those bribes, according to prosecutors, included gold bars, a luxury convertible car, home mortgage payments and more. Menendez has denied wrongdoing.

Menendez has temporarily stepped away from his role as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee amid allegations.

This is the second time Menendez 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.

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Government shutdown would mean fewer controllers, potential flight disruptions

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(WASHINGTON) -- A government shutdown would worsen the FAA's ongoing air traffic control shortage -- eventually resulting in potential travel disruptions.

Approximately 1,000 air traffic controllers would be furloughed next week if Congress can't reach a deal, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said Wednesday.

The shutdown also would force the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to close its ATC training facility in Oklahoma, he said. It would also take some trainee controllers working at airport towers off the job. More than 13,000 certified controllers would continue to work without pay.

"We've obviously seen a lot of disruptions to air traffic, especially this past year. Some of those are caused by weather, some of those were caused by airlines, but a factor can be availability of air traffic control staffing," Buttigieg said at a news conference. "A shutdown lasting a few days could mean we will not hit our staffing and hiring targets next year."

The FAA currently employs 1,200 fewer controllers than it did 10 years ago -- despite more passengers and planes in the skies. The agency hired 1,500 controllers this year and is set to hire 1,800 next year -- but Buttigieg said that progress would be set back if there's a shutdown.

"We've seen a gap that has opened up over many years for the level of staffing -- we finally have that headed in the right direction," Buttigieg said. "But that can't happen if we get stopped in our tracks with training. At the end of the day that means more shortages and more outages, and that can contribute to cancellations."

Buttigieg called on House Republicans to "come to their senses" and pass legislation to keep the government funded.

"It certainly doesn't help with that safety critical job for controllers to come to work with the stress of not getting paid," Buttigieg said. "Each passing day, it gets more difficult and more complicated."

The air traffic controllers union also called on Congress to avoid a shutdown, saying the previous government shutdown at the end of 2018 and the start of 2019 "eroded critical layers of safety" in the nation's airspace.

"Shutdowns resulting from either a lapse in appropriations or expired FAA authorization negatively affect the flying public, cause significant delays to critical programs, waste resources and taxpayer money, harm the economy, and take a toll on NATCA members and their families," Rich Santa, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA), said last week.

"We cannot let history repeat itself," NATCA said.

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Fishermen's Supreme Court fight against government monitors could make big splash

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(CAPE MAY, N.J.) -- For nearly 50 years, America's herring fishermen have been required to take federal monitors on their boats when they set out into the North Atlantic.

Aboard cramped private trawlers, the monitors record the health of fish and of the sea.

But now there's a catch.

When regulators said the fishermen were on the hook to pay the monitors' salaries, many said the government had gone too far.

"We don't mind taking observers, you know, we have for decades now," said Stefan Axelsson, a third-generation herring fisherman. "But to be told to pay for it just isn't right."

"Me and everybody around me is concerned about that, highly concerned," added Bill Bright, who has been in the herring business for four decades, "because the margins are so tight right now."

This fall, Axelsson, Bright and half a dozen other fishermen -- who say the added expense could drive some out of business -- will take their crusade against the policy to the U.S. Supreme Court.

A ruling in their favor could have an impact far beyond the ocean, experts say.

"This case is going to completely change the way the federal government operates if the Supreme Court decides to change the status quo," said Meredith Moore, director of the fish conservation program at Ocean Conservancy and member of the nation's Marine Fisheries Advisory Committee. She says this is a "Trojan horse" for the anti-regulation movement -- a loophole that could affect oversight across the federal government.

At issue in the case, Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo, is how much discretion federal agencies should have in doing their jobs -- setting rules that govern everything from public health to environmental protection to tax collection – when Congress does not spell out the details in the laws that authorize regulation of American life.

The fishermen say a 1976 law directing management of the nation's fisheries -- the Magnuson-Stevens Act -- says nothing about requiring them to foot the bill for their own minders.

"You expect the government to pay the police force. You expect the government to pay for the IRS auditors. So that seems like kind of the default assumption. If Congress thinks this is really important that there be a monitor on every ship, then it can pay for a monitor on every ship," said Paul Clement, one of the country's most experienced Supreme Court lawyers who has argued over 100 cases.

Lawmakers have not appropriated funding for a federal monitoring corps aboard all vessels.

Clement says the fishermen's dispute with the National Marine Fisheries Service is just one example of how agencies, like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Environmental Protection Agency and the Internal Revenue Service, have seized too much power that Congress never intended them to have in some cases.

"This is about gray areas, but the problem is, once you say that there are gray areas and then there's a different rule, people start seeing gray everywhere," Clement said. "If the agency really wants this authority, they should go back to Congress and get it."

Since 1984, the Supreme Court has said judges should generally defer to federal agency experts in disputes over ambiguities in the law. The practice has become widely known as the Chevron Doctrine, named after the case Chevron U.S.A. Inc. v. National Defense Resources Council.

A federal appeals court sided with the government in the fishermen's challenge.

"If you got rid of Chevron you would essentially force - you'd make the executive branch a little less powerful. You'd make the other two branches a little more powerful," Clement says.

For years, the executive branch – under presidents of both political parties – has vigorously defended the legal precedent and the leeway it provides. But several conservative members of the high court have signaled an eagerness to overturn Chevron.

"We don't want Congress trying to figure out the nitty gritty details of literally everything," said Moore. "Congress has delegated these sorts of authorities to federal agencies to be experts, to be scientists, to be these technicians and make sure that we're protecting human health and safety and the environment."

The NOAA declined comment to ABC News about the case, citing the pending litigation.

The Biden administration argues in court documents that Congress explicitly gave fisheries regulators the power to set rules "as may be necessary" to do their jobs. The broad language implicitly gives the agency authority to have fishermen pay their observers, it argues.

"What we could lose with this case is the grounding of our government in expertise and science in the way that we interpret laws all over the country," said Moore.

Meanwhile, Axelsson and Bright say the salary payment rule -- which has not yet taken effect -- could make the economics of fishing herring significantly more difficult.

Higher insurance rates and fuel costs have eaten into profit margins over the past decade, and shrinking stocks of fish, likely caused by climate change, have meant dramatically lower government caps on what they can catch.

"Nobody has more invested than me and Steve, and nobody cares more about this fishery and nobody cares more about the ocean than we do," Bright said. "There is without a doubt a role [for] the government [in managing the fishery], but this should be based on, in our opinion, in science."

Since 1976, federal marine observers have been put on commercial fishing vessels to collect data to help set fishing guidelines. The scientists track water temperature and condition of the fish, and monitor for protected species swept up in the nets. They do not have law enforcement authority.

For sometimes days at sea, they're In close quarters with the fishermen, even sharing bunk beds in a tiny cabin.

In 2020, federal regulators -- looking to expand coverage of observers at sea -- moved to require some herring fishermen to directly pay observer salaries -- up to $700 a day. By one estimate, that could top 20% of the revenue from a fisherman's catch.

"Sometimes [the catch is] zero. Sometimes we have to go back out next trip to cover what the expenses were from this trip," said Axelsson. "So at some point, I may not make a herring trip if I got to, you know, take a monitor and pay for it because it might not be worth it to me and my crew."

As Bright prepares for herring season in November and Axelsson games out his next big catch, both men say their minds will be on the Supreme Court -- just don't expect to see them in the courtroom for oral arguments.

"I'll probably be fishing," Axelsson said. "Probably be fishing, too," added Bright.


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Sen. Bob Menendez due in federal court to be arraigned on bribery and extortion

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(NEW YORK) -- Sen. Bob Menendez, his wife and two business associates are due to appear Wednesday in a Manhattan, New York federal court to be arraigned on bribery and extortion charges.

Menendez has already said he is innocent in fiery statements and in public remarks but this is when he will formally enter a not guilty plea and begin mounting a legal defense.

Menendez said the wads of cashed found in his jacket, his closet and in other parts of his home were the results of legitimate withdrawals he makes from his savings account, what he likened to “old fashioned” paranoia of the son of a Cuban immigrant worried about confiscation.

He did not address the gold bars and other forms of alleged bribery federal prosecutors said he took in exchange for wielding political influence on behalf of three associates.

One of them, Wael Hana -- who returned to the United States on Tuesday -- was formally placed under arrest and brought to court for an initial appearance.

Hana allegedly paid off Menendez, including giving a no-show job to the senator’s wife, to ensure he could maintain a lucrative exclusive contract to provide halal meat to Egypt.

The other two businessmen charged in the case, Fred Daibes and Jose Uribe, are accused of paying Menendez in exchange for his help with separate criminal cases they faced, though U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said last week in his announcement of the charges neither the New Jersey Attorney General’s office nor the U.S. Attorney in New Jersey succumbed to the pressure Menendez is alleged to have provided.

Sen. Menendez signaled Monday that he will remain in office despite pressure to resign from office.

Defiant as he delivered his first public remarks since the Sept. 22 indictment, Menendez spoke in Union Station, New Jersey, where he started his political career four decades ago. He took no questions from the press.

Menendez has temporarily stepped down from his influential post as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced last week. Senate Democratic caucus rules state that any member who is charged with a felony must step aside from any leadership position.

Menendez has served in the Senate since 2006 and is up for reelection next year.

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Five things to watch in the second Republican debate

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(SIMI VALLEY, Calif.) -- Most of the Republican presidential candidates are gathering in Simi Valley, California, on Wednesday night for the 2024 cycle's second debate in the GOP primary, which has become increasingly dominated by former President Donald Trump.

Like he did with the first debate, Trump is skipping the event at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, citing his hefty primary polling leads and his complaints with the host venue and Fox News, whose sister network Fox Business is moderating.

That'll leave seven candidates on stage, vying with one another for momentum as they seek to close the huge gap with Trump.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, entrepreneur and commentator Vivek Ramaswamy, former Vice President Mike Pence, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum all qualified, while various other hopefuls, like former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, didn't make the polling and donor thresholds.

Here are five things to watch for as the candidates square off again:

Can Haley and Ramaswamy keep themselves in the spotlight?

Haley and Ramaswamy both garnered positive reviews after the first primary debate last month, according to a FiveThirtyEight/Washington Post/Ipsos poll of likely GOP primary voters. Haley touted her conservative bona fides while pitching herself as an accomplished leader rather than a provocateur, while Ramaswamy sought to go toe-to-toe with other candidates to burnish his outsider credentials.

The second primary could offer them a chance to maintain a key asset: momentum.

"You need to have a strong night, and you can't fall off the stage, literally or figuratively, at the debate. Both of them have to perform as well as they did or better," said New Hampshire-based GOP strategist Dave Carney.

However, their performances last month could inspire other candidates to step up their games on Wednesday night and possibly direct barbs specifically their way.

"Just take Nikki Haley, who did a great job at the first debate. I think all the other contenders think, 'Well, holy moly, I gotta do the same thing.' So there will be a lot more people who are much more proactive, much more assertive -- some of them, than they were the first debate," Carney said.

And for Ramaswamy, who has drawn the spotlight but raised eyebrows for mixing it up with other candidates while calling for broad overhauls of the federal government and advocating a Trump-like platform, GOP strategist Bob Heckman said voters may be looking for added policy meat on the bone.

"I think Ramaswamy, in particular, people want to see what the second act is. The first act was basically being a contrarian to everybody on stage. What comes after that in terms of substance?" Heckman said.

Can DeSantis and Scott change their narratives?

DeSantis, who has bounced from second place in some New Hampshire and South Carolina polls for the first time in recent weeks, has battled constant speculation that his status as the main Trump alternative is at risk.

And Scott, who was thought to be rising before the first debate, appeared to fade into the background at last month's event, with relatively little speaking time and tepid marks from likely voters in the post-debate poll.

It's unclear how much their strategies will change ahead of the Wednesday debate, though Scott has started to go after other candidates more by name.

"For DeSantis, it's critical. I don't think he can afford to have a second straight flat debate," Heckman said. "And I don't think he was bad in the first debate, but I don't think he excited anyone, and he needs to show some personality and some willingness to mix it up with the front-runner. And I don't think he showed that in the first debate."

"I think Tim Scott continues to be a curiosity. People look at him and say, 'Sounds good, and I want to know more about him.' If you look at his recent appearances, Tim Scott's been much more combative, much more forceful," Heckman added. "I think Scott has got an opportunity to really emerge in the second debate."

However, other strategists said that one debate is not enough to change perceptions of the candidates after months of campaigning -- particularly without Trump on stage to go after directly.

"Scott and DeSantis are likely who they are, and voters won’t come away with a different impression," GOP strategist Rob Stutzman said.

Shutdown, immigration could loom larger

Policy wise, strategists predicted that an approaching government shutdown and immigration are likely to dominate discussion on stage Wednesday night.

Moderator Stuart Varney told Variety that "we are going to go over all the issues, and that’s what the audience wants."

Republicans in the House have been unable to pass their own spending bills amid fierce infighting between Speaker Kevin McCarthy and hard-liners on his right flank who are demanding steeper spending cuts.

Republicans on and off Capitol Hill are also seizing on a rise in unauthorized crossings at the southern border to hit the Biden administration on its immigration policies.

"It's going to be the No. 1 topic of discussion, we're a few days from the government shutdown. As of today, right now, there's no plan in place. No. 2 will be the border as the crisis boils over," Carney predicted. "I think things like Ukraine and other things may come up, but only in context of the spending in the budget, which will all be part of the government shutdown conversation. And I'm sure the moderators will try to interject other issues, but I don't think voters are really caring about anything else but those two things right now."

Varney told Variety that their focus for the questions won't just be "the economy. That may be the most important issue in the category, but there are other subjects involved here."

With few of the candidates currently holding federal office and many making calls to clamp down on the border, it's unclear how much differentiation will emerge on the subjects of spending and the border.

"Immigration likely gets airtime, but they'll all sound the same," Stutzman said.

How much traction does the counterprogramming get?

While the debate will be the main event on Wednesday, the candidates on stage will have to at least partially share the spotlight.

Trump is set to speak in Clinton Township, Michigan, one hour before the debate begins. The speech is ostensibly about the ongoing United Auto Workers strike, whose members the former president is trying to court, but Trump has a longstanding reputation for lengthy and thematically meandering speeches.

Trump sought to counterprogram the first debate with an interview with Tucker Carlson on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.

Meanwhile President Joe Biden will start Wednesday in San Francisco after a campaign reception Tuesday evening before holding another campaign event later in Arizona.

"Trump gets attention no matter what he does. And so, I think it'll get some attention, but I think that most of the attention will be on the debate," Heckman said. "I don't think Trump loses a thing by not being in the debate, but I don't think he can avoid the fact that coming out of the debate, there's going to be talked about who has a good debate, who doesn't."

Is this the last time the stage is this big?

The stage only shrunk by one candidate after the first debate, with Hutchinson failing to qualify for Wednesday's event. But strategists predicted there will be a bit of culling by the time the third debate rolls around in November.

To qualify for that event, candidates must poll at least 4% in two national polls or at 4% in one national poll and 4% or one early state poll from two separate "carve out" states approved by the Republican National Committee: Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.

That’s a 1% jump in polling from the second debate’s requirements, where a candidate needed 3% in three national polls or 3% in two national polls and 3% in two early-state polls.

Candidates will also need a minimum of 70,000 unique donors -- up from 50,000 for entry into the second debate -- with at least 200 unique donors per state or territory in at least 20 states and/or territories.

"I think, potentially, the Reagan Library will be the scene of a massive killing field, and I think you'll see a number of people not make it on to the third debate, which is what the contenders really need," Carney said. "You need to have as clear a field as possible s that instead of people writing about eight or seven people, they're writing about four or five, and then hopefully that narrows down."

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Mike Pence calls out Trump for skipping debate: 'He ought to be on that debate stage'

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(SIMI VALLEY, Calif.) -- In a wide-ranging interview Tuesday with ABC News' Linsey Davis, former vice president Mike Pence said his former running mate, former President Donald Trump, should be facing the same questions in Simi Valley, California, as the rest of the field, with hours to go until the second Republican primary debate.

"Well, I think he owes it to voters to answer the tough questions and to share his vision for where we lead this country out of the failed policies of the Biden administration," Pence said from outside the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. "I think that Donald Trump today is different than the Donald Trump of 2016. And you bet I think he ought to be on that debate stage."

"He ought to be engaging all of us that are vying for this nomination. He ought to be sharing his vision," he added. "But for my part, I'm going to continue to share a vision of a tested proven conservative that knows those same ideas, those ideas we governed on, those ideas that Ronald Reagan brought forward and brought America back in the 1980s, they're the ideas that are going to bring America back today."

The former vice president offered his usual account of Jan. 6, when asked to react to former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson claiming in her new book that Trump repeated parts of the "Hang Mike Pence" chant along with rioters while watching the attack unfold.

"Well, I wasn't there. I have no idea what was happening at the West Wing. I was -- I stayed at my post that day," Pence said. "Whatever happened down at the White House, I know that what we did that day, what law enforcement did quelling that riot and making it possible for us to reconvene the Congress the very same day and complete our work under the Constitution of the United States. It took a day of tragedy and made it a triumph of freedom, and I'll never see it any other way."

Pence said he was "not familiar with the judge's ruling," when Davis asked if it's fair now to raise on the campaign trail how a New York judge on Tuesday found Trump liable for fraud, but said, "judgments about the president can be made by any American."

"Look, anybody on that stage can bring up any issues they want. I'm going to be focused on the issues the American people are focused on, and the fact that I'm committed to bringing those conservative solutions that have defined our party over the last 50 years, to bear on it, while Donald Trump and others are following a siren song of populism and want to lead our party to a whole different range of policies that I think will ill serve the nation as we try and find our way out of the failures of the Biden administration," Pence said.

Pence has been cautious not to alienate either side amid the United Auto Workers strike but told Davis he blames the economy under President Joe Biden's agenda for driving it.

"It's a free country. Joe Biden can go to the picket line and grab a bullhorn and talk about his support for members of the UAW, but I gotta tell you, you know, I come from the second leading manufacturing state in the country... I think what's putting those people on the picket line is not the class warfare politics you're hearing about, I think it's that Bidenomics has failed. Wages are not keeping up with inflation, and auto workers know it, just like all American workers," Pence said.

"I heard he didn't stick around very long on the picket line," he added, suggesting union workers could have "pulled him aside when the cameras weren't rolling" to question "this aggressive electric vehicle agenda."

"That's the issue that's driving that strike," he said. "And if I'm president, we're gonna go back to it all of the above energy strategy."

While seven Republican candidates including Pence are expected to debate on Wednesday night in California, Trump is holding a rally in Michigan to also shore up support among auto workers, skipping out on his second primary debate.

Pence, a seasoned debater, spoke longer than any of his competitors at the last debate, directing his attacks at political newcomer Vivek Ramaswamy and, at times, interrupting the moderators to get in on the topic of discussion.

The former vice president continues to poll in the single digits, indicated by his position on the debate stage, but his team remains confident in a pathway to victory with a heavy focus on Iowa.

Committed to America, a super PAC backing Pence, told donors in a pre-debate memo that they have surpassed 500,000 doors knocked in Iowa, claiming to be the first organization in the state to do so, and branding Pence as "the clear conservative alternative to Donald Trump."

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Growing number of Senate Democrats call on Sen. Bob Menendez to resign

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(WASHINGTON) -- A growing number of Senate Democrats on Tuesday called on New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez to resign after a federal grand jury returned a sweeping indictment against him late last week.

The Senate returned to Washington Tuesday for the first time since Menendez, a Democrat, was indicted on federal bribery charges. While many Senate Democrats were initially slow to react, many of them are now calling for Menendez to step aside, with at least 18 having done so by Tuesday evening.

Most notable is Menendez's New Jersey Senate colleague Cory Booker. Booker called the allegations against Menendez "hard to reconcile with the person I know," but said he ultimately concluded that Menendez ought to resign his seat in the Senate.

"Stepping down is not an admission of guilty but an acknowledgement that holding public office often demands tremendous sacrifices at great personal cost," Booker said in a statement Tuesday morning. "Sen. Menendez has made these sacrifices in the past to serve. And in this case he must do so again. I believe stepping down is the best for those Senator Menendez has spent his life serving."

Menendez and his wife, Nadine, are accused of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars of bribes in exchange for wielding his power to enrich three businessmen -- Wael Hana, Jose Uribe and Fred Daides -- and benefit the Egyptian government. Those bribes, according to prosecutors, included gold bars, a luxury convertible car, home mortgage payments and more. Menendez has denied wrongdoing.

Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa., was the first Senate Democrat to call on Menendez to step down. In a Saturday statement, Fetterman asserted that while Menendez is deserving of a presumption of innocence until proven guilty, he is "not entitled to continue to wield influence over national policy, especially given the serious and specific nature of the allegations."

Menendez seemed to be answering Fetterman's statement, and calls from others for his resignation, during remarks to gathered press on Monday afternoon.

While defending himself from what he described as "salacious" allegations in the indictment, Menendez called on his fellow lawmakers to be patient as he defends himself in court.

"A cornerstone of the foundation of American democracy and our justice system is the principle that all people are presumed innocent until proven guilty. All people. I ask for nothing more and deserve nothing less," Menendez said. "The court of public opinion is no substitute for our revered justice system. We cannot set aside the presumption of innocence for political expediency when the harm is irrevocable."

Menendez called on onlookers to "pause and allow the facts to be presented."

But he did not find a sympathetic audience in many of his fellow Democratic senators.

Since Menendez's remarks, several additional Senate Democrats have joined Fetterman in his calls for Menendez to resign.

Among them are Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., who said Menendez violated the public's trust.

"Public service is a sacred trust. The specific allegations set forth in the federal indictment indicate to me that Senator Menendez violated that trust repeatedly. While he is entitled to the presumption of innocence, serving in public office is a privilege that demands a higher standard of conduct. Senator Menendez should resign," Casey said in a statement.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, joined as well.

"Senator Menendez has broken the public trust and should resign from the U.S. Senate," Brown said.

Menendez, who is up for reelection 2024, has not yet announced whether he intends to run. But so far, the most vocal of those calling for his resignation are his colleagues who will be on the ballot next November.

Casey and Brown are up next cycle. So, too, are Sens. Jacky Rosen, Tammy Baldwin, Martin Heinrich and Jon Tester, who have joined the chorus calling on Menendez to resign.

Tester's call was particularly notable as he holds what is largely expected to one of the hardest seats for Democrats to keep next fall, in red Montana.

"I've read the detailed charges against Senator Menendez and find them deeply disturbing. While he deserves a fair trial like every other American, I believe Senator Menendez should resign for the sake of the public's faith in the U.S. Senate," Tester said in a statement.

Other Democrats include Sens. Kirstin Gillibrand of New York, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, Michael Bennet of Colorado, Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey of Massachusetts, Georgia's Raphael Warnock and Connecticut's Richard Blumenthal.

On Monday, Menendez seemed to swipe at those who are using his indictment to forward their political campaigns.

"Remember prosecutors are wrong sometimes. Sadly, I know that," Menendez said. "Instead of waiting for all the facts to be presented, others have rushed to take the opportunity for themselves or those around them."

Menendez has temporarily stepped away from his role as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee amid allegations.

This is the second time Menendez 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.

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