Politics

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson seeks to reverse mask ban he signed, making him a GOP outlier

ABC News

(WASHINGTON) — Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas said he regrets signing an April law banning mask mandates and is seeking to reverse it as coronavirus infections soar among unvaccinated youth, making him an outlier among some Republican governors who have doubled down on their anti-masking views.

Asked by ABC's "Good Morning America" Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos on Thursday what changed his thinking, Hutchinson said, "The delta variant hit us hard.”

Arkansas has seen a 517% increase in the number of virus cases among people under 18 between April and July, according to an Associated Press report.

The state, like other hotspots in the country, is experiencing a frightening surge in COVID-19 with 3,000 new cases on Wednesday and 1,232 currently hospitalized, as the delta variant spreads.

So far, 42% of the state’s eligible population ages 12 and up has received at least one dose of a vaccine, according to state data, and a majority of adults 18 and over are also unvaccinated.

"There's been a lot of distrust and we hope to overcome that because medical sciences, vaccines work, I believe, and we need to get those out -- because that's the way out of this," Hutchinson said.

But the Arkansas governor, who is term-limited, is an outlier among Republican governors across the country who are doubling down on their own legislation banning mask mandates as the public policy measure continues to feed debate over personal liberties.

Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, a state which has become the epicenter of the virus, responded to President Joe Biden telling governors on Tuesday to help or "get out of the way" by making his defiance a rallying call -- and a fundraising tool, sending out a letter with the subject line: "I'm Standing In Joe Biden's Way."

"I am standing in your way," DeSantis said at a press conference Wednesday, declaring that Florida will remain a "free state" where children won't be asked to wear masks.

DeSantis's position is shared by Republican Govs. Greg Abbott of Texas, who he has said Texans should have the "right to choose," as well as Pete Ricketts of Nebraska, Kim Reynolds of Iowa, Doug Ducey of Arizona and Kristi Noem of South Dakota, who have all ridiculed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's latest masking recommendation that everyone in areas with substantial or high levels of transmission -- vaccinated or not -- wear a mask in public, indoor settings.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the frontrunner to replace Hutchinson in the 2022 Arkansas governor race, has made clear she opposes all mask and vaccine mandates no matter the circumstances.

"If I am elected governor here in Arkansas we will not have mask mandates, we will not have mandates on the vaccine, we will not shut down churches and schools and other large gatherings, because we believe in personal freedom and responsibility," she told Fox News last month.

Hutchinson, instead, after telling the public at a press conference Tuesday he wishes the mask ban wouldn't have become law, called for a special legislative session asking lawmakers to reverse it, only so that public schools can have the flexibility to require masks for students.

It's still not clear the GOP-led legislature in Arkansas will go along with Hutchinson's request.

As the legislature met Wednesday, the Little Rock School District Board of Education voted to file a lawsuit against the state because of the anti-mask law. That follows another lawsuit filed Monday by parents also seeking to strike the law down, citing health concerns for their children at school.

The bill which might stave off those lawsuits, HB1003, failed to advance in public health panel Wednesday after GOP lawmakers pushed back.

But while the legislature continues to meet Thursday to work out the details, at least 730 students and staff from the Marion School District in Arkansas were under quarantine -- just two weeks after classes started.

Presented with that number on "Good Morning America" and asked if he's confident that it's safe for kids to go back to school, Hutchinson said there would be challenges but said the state's focus should be on vaccines over masks to prevent outbreaks.

"Our emphasis should be on the vaccines and not get sidetracked, in a minuta debate on masks, even though that is important for the 12 and under, and the flexibility we're talking about," he said.

ABC News' Marlene Lenthang contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Leaders across the country in disagreement over whether to require COVID-19 vaccine passports

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(NEW YORK) -- As New York City turns to vaccine passports to help limit the spread of COVID-19, other cities have pushed back against similar measures, with leaders citing a wide range of concerns, from equity to security.

This week, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the nation's largest city would soon require proof of at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine for indoor dining, indoor fitness facilities and indoor entertainment facilities.

"This is crucial because we know that this will encourage a lot more vaccination," de Blasio said Tuesday at a press briefing announcing the policy. "The goal here is to convince everyone that this is the time. If we're going to stop the delta variant, the time is now. And that means getting vaccinated right now."

New York City is the first U.S. city to announce such a measure as the highly contagious delta variant is driving up cases nationwide.

When asked this week if Boston would do the same, acting Mayor Kim Janey said the city is focusing on vaccine access, while likening the idea of vaccine passports to slave papers and birtherism.

"There's a long history in this country of people needing to show their papers," the Democrat told ABC Boston affiliate WCVB Tuesday. "During slavery, post-slavery, as recent as you know, what immigrant population has to go through here. We heard Trump with the birth certificate nonsense. Here we want to make sure that we are not doing anything that would further create a barrier for residents of Boston or disproportionally impact BIPOC [Black, Indigenous and people of color] communities."

Disparities in vaccination rates have raised concerns about vaccine passports disproportionately impacting communities of color. Vaccination rates among Black and Latino residents in Suffolk County -- where Boston sits -- lag behind those of white residents, state data shows.

Janey's comments were met with some criticism, though, particularly from fellow mayoral candidates. Boston city councilor Andrea Campbell tweeted that "this kind of rhetoric is dangerous."

"The acting mayor's comments yesterday put people's health at risk, plain and simple," Campbell said during a press briefing Wednesday while outlining her platform policies, which include requiring proof of vaccination for crowded public indoor spaces, like restaurants and gyms. "Boston has an opportunity frankly to be an example to the rest of the country when it comes to getting residents vaccinated and preventing the spread of the delta variant."

Following Janey's comments, Michelle Wu, another Boston mayoral candidate, said she supports requiring proof of vaccination at restaurants, shops and other indoor venues. "Our leaders need to build trust in vaccines," she said on Twitter Tuesday.

Janey further clarified her comments regarding vaccination "hurdles," saying on Twitter Tuesday that "we must consider our shared history as we work to ensure an equitable public health and economic recovery."

"While there are no current plans for business sector vaccination mandates, we are using data to inform targeted public health strategies," she said. This includes working with the hospitality sector to build on-site vaccination clinics.

The debate comes as other leaders have continued to push back against vaccine passports and other mandates on the grounds of personal liberty.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis -- one of several state leaders who have moved to ban vaccine passports -- spoke out against the measure during a press briefing Wednesday.

"I think the question is, is we can either have a free society or we can have a biomedical security state," the Republican governor said. "I can tell ya -- Florida, we're a free state."

Other GOP leaders have used more inflammatory rhetoric throughout the vaccination campaign by likening vaccination requirements to the Holocaust -- drawing condemnation from Jewish organizations and fellow members of their party.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene apologized for comments she made in June that compared being required to wear masks in the House to the Holocaust. Republican Washington state Rep. Jim Walsh also issued an apology last month after he donned a yellow Star of David to protest COVID-19 restrictions, saying it was "inappropriate and offensive."

In the latest incident, John Bennett, the chairman of the Oklahoma Republican Party, recently took to Facebook to equate vaccine passports to the yellow Star of David that Nazis forced Jewish people to wear.

"It's not about the star, what it's about is a totalitarian government pushing a communist agenda on top of us and forcing people against their own liberties to get this vaccine," Bennett said in a video message Sunday following criticism to an earlier post on the Oklahoma Republican Party's Facebook page, which included an image of the yellow Star of David with the word "Unvaccinated" on it.

Following Bennett's initial post, local GOP leaders spoke out against the analogy, which the Jewish Federation of Greater Oklahoma City called "ill-informed and inappropriate."

"It is sad and ironic that anyone would draw an analogy from the largest recorded genocide in the 20th century with public health attempts to save lives," the organization said in a statement.

New York City's vaccine mandate follows in the footsteps of the "health passes" in France and Italy.

"We do want to make as many of these settings as safe as possible," New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi said during a press briefing Tuesday. "And that means having them be for people who are only fully vaccinated. That is the thrust of the policy."

Vaccine mandates are a smart policy for a dense urban place like New York City to help encourage vaccination, Dr. John Brownstein, an epidemiologist at Boston Children's Hospital and an ABC News contributor, said.

"We have to start to think about new ways to get the population to recognize the value of these vaccines," he said. "Creating some level of requirement is important. Of course that is going to be especially important in areas of high transmission, like health care organizations, or nursing homes ... but also places where there's potentially a high risk of transmission."

"A city like New York, which experienced the worst of the pandemic ... has a lot of concerns about a potential new surge," he said.

Each city will have its own context and "nuance in applying public health measures," Brownstein said, and there may not be a "one-size-fits-all approach" to increasing vaccination rates.

Following New York City's announcement, Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said during a news briefing Tuesday that the city is "interested" in the idea but there aren't current plans to implement a similar plan.

"We'll be watching to see how this plays out, but we don't have a current plan to do something like that at the city level," she said, noting that New Yorkers seem to have "embraced this vaccine passport idea a little bit more than has been embraced here in the Midwest and across Illinois."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Cuomo report: Could he face criminal charges?

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(NEW YORK) -- Governor Andrew Cuomo is facing further scrutiny after the New York attorney general's office concluded he violated state and federal law in sexually harassing at least 11 women.

While State Attorney General Letitia James' civil probe didn't include a criminal referral, several district attorney offices from across the New York area have asked to review the investigation's materials to determine whether criminal charges could be filed.

James' findings, released on Tuesday, concluded that Cuomo "sexually harassed current and former New York state employees by engaging in unwelcome and non-consensual touching and making numerous offensive comments of a sexually suggestive nature that created a hostile work environment for women."

Cuomo has denied all allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct, including inappropriate touching and sexual advances.

The attorney general's report also concluded that Cuomo may have violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlaws discrimination in the workplace on the basis of sex and prohibits gender-based harassment in the workplace. The report also cited the New York State Human Rights Law, which is similar to the federal law.

Under that law, an employee can be held liable if they engaged in conduct that violates those guidelines or if they aided and abet conduct that violates state laws. "Failure to investigate [discriminatory acts] can constitute 'active participation' to support an 'aiding and abetting' claim," the report stated.

In 2019, Cuomo signed legislation, to much fanfare, to strengthen protections against discrimination and harassment under New York State Human Rights Law, including extending the statute of limitations for employment harassment claims to three years from one year.

James' report also concluded that Cuomo allegedly violated federal and state law in retaliating against one of his accusers, Lindsey Boylan, who came forward with her allegations in December, by "actively engaged in an effort to discredit her," the report stated.

"The Governor and some of his senior staff questioned at the time (and continue to question) Ms. Boylan's motivations, claiming that she made her allegations of sexual harassment for political reasons, i.e., to bolster her political campaign, or generally to be vindictive or retaliatory herself. But retaliation is unlawful regardless of whether the employer believes the complainant is acting with a good faith belief that she was harassed," the report stated.

Further, Cuomo and his office failed to report and investigate the allegations of sexual harassment, in violation of their own internal policies and procedures, the report found.

Karen Agnifilo, a lawyer at Geragos & Geragos and a former prosecutor with the Manhattan district attorney's office, told ABC News the allegations contained in the report released on Tuesday "absolutely articulates criminal behavior in many of the instances."

Whether charges are pursued depends largely on "if the victims are willing to come forward, if it's within the statute of limitations for a misdemeanor, and if there's jurisdiction," Agnifilo added. "This report couldn't have been clearer. It found over and over again, that the victims were credible and, stunningly, the governor was not credible."

ABC News Legal Analyst Dan Abrams said it's important to note the difference between potential civil and criminal charges.

"It's very important to distinguish between sexual harassment, which is a civil law issue, meaning people can sue over it, but the remedy is money damages -- it's an individual suing him," Abrams said. "A criminal case is the government saying, 'We are going to seek to punish you and potentially take away your freedom,' and in a criminal case, the legal standard is also higher. It's proof beyond a reasonable doubt."

Abrams said the strongest case is for a misdemeanor criminal charge in connection with the claim that Cuomo allegedly groped the breast of his executive assistant who worked at the executive chamber in 2020.

"The criminal law in New York that I think that most people will be focusing on is a law called 'forcible touching' -- it's a class A misdemeanor, it's up to a year in prison," Abrams explained. "And the definition of it is forcibly touching the sexual or other intimate parts of another person for the purpose of degrading or abusing such person, or for the purpose of gratifying the actor's sexual desire."

"I think we are still a ways away from criminal charges," said Abrams, adding that even if Cuomo is charged with the misdemeanor "you still have to also prove that it's for the purpose of gratifying the actor's sexual desire. And that's one of these legal things people don't think about every day, but in the very definition of the statute makes it harder to prove."

That woman came forward anonymously to the Albany Times-Union in April.

Cuomo's lawyer, Rita Glavin, issued a denial after the report was released on Tuesday that Cuomo ever groped this anonymous assistant.

"The Governor was stunned by her claim made for the first time in early March 2021 that he groped her breast," Glavin said in a statement. "This claim is false, as the Governor has stated repeatedly and unequivocally."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


What is a HIPAA violation?

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(WASHINGTON) -- Late last month Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, of Georgia, raised eyebrows around the country when she claimed that a reporter's question about her COVID-19 vaccination status was a "violation of my HIPAA rights."

Not even close, legal experts say.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), a 1996 federal law, is a widely cited and misunderstood privacy statutes. In the age of COVID and questions about the disease and vaccines in the workplace, schools and elsewhere, debate over and misinformation about the law, which "gives you rights over your health information and sets rules and limits on who can look at and receive your health information," according to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), has taken on a whole new life.

"HIPAA is the tool the government uses to try and protect some of your personal health care information," explained Juan Morado, a health care regulatory and policy attorney at Benesch, Friedlander, Coplan & Aronoff, LLP. "It's a rule that prevents hospitals, health insurance companies, pharmacies, and health care companies from sharing certain protected health information (PHI) you provide them with anyone else without your permission."

In other words, the law primarily applies to health insurance companies and health care providers. Neither individual citizens nor most employers are considered "covered entities" under HIPAA, according to HHS.

"HIPAA's protection is incomplete," said Dr. M. Gregg Bloch, a professor of health law, policy and ethics at Georgetown Law. "The bottom line is that HIPAA is meant to provide some control for the consumer, for the patient, over how his or her information flows," he added.

"Here's the huge misunderstanding: What HIPAA does not do is stand in the way of anybody answering the question, 'Have you been vaccinated?'"

When asked about Greene's HIPPA comments, communications director Nick Dyer told ABC News, "It's none of the media's business. Privacy still exists in America, even though the fake news works every day to erode it."

Who and what falls under HIPAA?

Three main entities are covered under HIPAA: health care providers, health plans and health care clearing houses. Health care providers include doctors, clinics, mental health providers, dentists, nursing homes and pharmacies. Health plans include health insurance companies, HMOs, company health plans and government health care programs like Medicare and Medicaid. Health care clearing houses process health information.

A few practical examples of when the law would come into play: "Your doctor can't share your blood test results without your permission," Morado said. "A pharmacist isn't allowed to tell your employer if you're on medication without your permission."

Greene is far from the first to wildly misinterpret HIPAA.

Public relations departments and health care organizations are notorious for artfully misinterpreting the law, and claiming health information disclosures fall under HIPAA when they do not, in order to block information they'd prefer not to disclose to the public.

Bloch pointed to the early days of the pandemic, when U.S. nursing homes suffered major outbreaks. While nursing homes are covered entities under HIPAA, he explained, data needs to be identifiable in order to be protected for privacy reasons.

"The main misuse of HIPAA is by health care entities that want to hide the ball when they feel they have numbers that are going to make them look bad," Bloch said. So when health care journalists, for example, ask a nursing home for de-identified data about people who died there during an outbreak, HIPAA is not a relevant factor.

"That's utter nonsense," Bloch said of health care firms blocking requests for de-identified data by citing HIPAA. "HIPAA does not stand in the way of sharing that kind of data."

Widespread misinterpretations of HIPAA have also trickled down to ordinary citizens, who wind up thinking the law extends further than it does. "These things become on the surface, conventional wisdoms, and then people believe it," Bloch explained.

"Maybe a doctor's office doesn't want to bother with sharing a medical record, and so some assistant up front says HIPAA," he added. "He or she doesn't know what they're talking about. But the typical patient is not a lawyer, so the patient might not want to get into anything resembling a confrontational relationship with his or her doctor's office."

The result: The patient takes the incorrect information about HIPAA at face value and the myth proliferates. "Those are some of the ways that this mythology leeches into public space," Bloch said.

Other everyday situations that aren't covered under HIPAA: "If your boss/teacher asks if you're vaccinated, that's not covered by HIPAA," Morado said. Neither is your step count or heart rate recorded by an Apple Watch or Fitbit, he added.

"The biggest misconception is HIPAA protects all of your personal health care Information and that it applies to all businesses," Morado said. "HIPAA only protects information given to covered entities."

A non-exhaustive list of entities that are NOT covered by HIPAA, according to HHS:

Life insurers
Employers
Workers compensation carriers
Most schools and school districts
Many state agencies like child protective service agencies
Most law enforcement agencies
Many municipal offices

At the end of the day, HIPAA is "porous, maybe even squishy," according to Bloch. It's also subject to politics and political interests. While the law was meant to protect patient privacy, "the players that saw their business strategies as vulnerable got into the game, and made sure that there was plenty of Swiss cheese," he said of HIPAA. In addition to being misinterpreted, the law has many loopholes that benefit the marketing and the pharmaceutical industries, for whom health care data is extremely valuable.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


GOP leaders step into Biden's way on COVID

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The TAKE with Rick Klein

Debates over masks and mandates might make it seem like 2020.

It might also well be a taste of 2024. President Joe Biden's admonition that lawmakers who are blocking vaccine requirements should "get out of the way" accomplished nothing of the sort -- and may have had the opposite reaction.

"I am standing in your way," Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Wednesday, declaring that Florida will remain a "free state" where no one will be required to show proof of vaccination or force children to wear masks.

DeSantis and other potential presidential contenders who are Republican governors -- including Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem -- have sought to one-up each other when it comes to establishing themselves as champions of personal liberty before and now during this troublesome period of the pandemic.

New polling shows Biden's trust in handling the pandemic slipping among voters. Quinnipiac University numbers out Wednesday found the president's approval on COVID at 53% of Americans -- down a dozen points since May.

Biden aides, meanwhile, have begun calling out states, including Texas and Florida, where the delta variant is contributing to spikes in cases. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday "that's not meant to be political," and is simply "meant to convey that more action is needed in some part of the country."

Of course, it is political. Republican leaders don't need the contradictory messaging of former President Donald Trump to make resistance to vaccine and mask mandates a mantra, and skepticism of conflicting advice from scientists crosses party lines.

Now with the concept of "vaccine passports" gaining currency in some localities and businesses, partisan lines are hardening as quickly as campaign fundraising pitches can be written.

The RUNDOWN with Averi Harper

The walls are closing in on disgraced New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

After the announcement of the devastating findings in the state Attorney General's report on Cuomo's misconduct and an avalanche of calls for him to resign, state lawmakers could move toward impeachment.

The New York State Assembly, where Democrats hold a vast majority, needs 76 votes to proceed with impeachment. According to ABC News' Aaron Katersky, at least 82 of the state Assembly's 150 members are in favor authorizing an impeachment trial. This as Cuomo clings to power with no sign of voluntary resignation.

If impeached, Cuomo would be the second New York state executive to face impeachment. The first was William Sulzer who is the only New York governor to be impeached and convicted. His removal followed accusations of campaign finance fraud in 1913.

If Cuomo were to be removed from office, it would make way for the state's first female governor. As laid out in the New York's constitution, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul would immediately become the acting governor during an impeachment trial. If Cuomo is convicted, she would continue in that role through the end of his term.

The assembly's judiciary committee is slated to meet Monday morning to discuss their impeachment investigation.

The TIP with Meg Cunningham

Four Republicans vying to oust California's Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom criticized his response to the coronavirus pandemic in a debate Wednesday night on some of the top issues facing the state.

The candidates who joined Newsom all opposed mask mandates, but their solutions to curbing the spread of the virus and its variants differed.

Former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer encouraged viewers to get the vaccine (he and his family got it) but said he does not support mask mandates in schools, which are currently in place ahead of the 2021 school year.

Businessman John Cox took a different approach, saying he doesn't support mandates or believe that people who have had the coronavirus should get the vaccine, because they have antibodies that protect them against it.

Former Congressman Doug Ose and state Assemblyman Kevin Kiley both pushed back against mandates, saying they have faith that Californians can make the right decisions for themselves and their families. Kiley took the opportunity to call out Newsom's response directly, saying the governor was "bright lights and cash giveaways," in an attempt to conceal a broken state government.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Defense Secretary to announce mandatory COVID vaccinations for troops 'soon': Sources

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(WASHINGTON) -- Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin is expected to announce his recommendation to President Joe Biden that COVID-19 vaccines be made mandatory for troops, officials told ABC News Wednesday evening.

A senior official said the announcement will come "soon," while a separate U.S. official said an announcement is expected by the end of this week.

The president last week directed the Department of Defense to look into how and when vaccines could be mandated for service members. Austin's recommendation in response to that request is expected to be in favor of vaccine requirements, but for Austin to implement such a policy, he'll need a written waiver from Biden.

Because COVID-19 vaccines are available to the military under the Food and Drug Administration's emergency use authorization (EUA), the shot has so far been strictly voluntary.

According to the Pentagon's latest statistics, at least 70% of military personnel have received at least one dose, compared to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's reporting that 58% of the total U.S. population has received at least one dose.

Pentagon officials have publicly said they would consider requiring COVID-19 vaccinations, as is done with more than a dozen other vaccines, after the FDA fully approves the vaccines.

"I believe that when it's formally approved, which we expect pretty soon, we probably will go to that, and then that question will kind of be moot," Vice Adm. John Nowell told a sailor in a town hall question-and-answer video posted to Facebook last month.

It's reasonable that the FDA will fully approve the Pfizer vaccine by early September, a senior White House official familiar with the FDA approval process told ABC News Tuesday night.

However, while the two-shot Pfizer vaccine is considered suitable for most troops, the single-dose Johnson & Johnson is preferred in some cases, such as for those who are deploying overseas or aboard ships. A waiver from Biden would mean the DOD wouldn't have to wait for all of the vaccines under EUA to be fully approved before being able to require them, which would afford the Pentagon more options.
 

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Biden administration to announce actions to decrease climate-warming emissions from cars and trucks

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(WASHINGTON) -- The Biden administration will announce a set of actions on Thursday intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and pollution from cars and trucks, reducing planet-warming emissions from the No. 1 sector contributing to climate change in the U.S.

President Joe Biden is expected to sign an executive order on Thursday setting a goal that half of all new vehicles sold by 2030 are zero emissions vehicles, specifically electric vehicles powered by batteries or fuel cells or hybrid-electric vehicles. A senior administration official called it a "paradigm shift" for the country and the industry.

"A decade ago, we were talking about reaching around 50 miles per gallon of gasoline in 15 years. Today, for new autos we're talking about reaching around 50% of vehicles that don't require even one gallon of gasoline to go a mile in less than a decade," the official said on a call with reporters, adding that automakers like Ford and GM are expected to be at the White House to support the executive order and announce their plans to meet Biden's goal.

Automakers Ford, GM and Stellantis endorsed the move in a statement Wednesday night, saying they aim for 40-50% of all new vehicles sold by 2030 to be electric. They also said that goal can only be met with resources to expand electric charging stations that it part of Biden's proposed Build Back Better plan.

"With the (United Auto Workers) at our side in transforming the workforce and partnering with us on this journey, we believe we can strengthen continued American leadership in clean transportation technology through electric vehicle innovation and manufacturing," the companies said in a joint statement. "We look forward to working with the Biden Administration, Congress and state and local governments to enact policies that will enable these ambitious objectives."

The administration will also announce fuel efficiency standards that will more than reverse the rollback of the clean car standards under former President Donald Trump. A senior administration official said the administration will build on higher fuel efficiency standards set by California the senior official said will ultimately save 200 billion gallons of gasoline and reduce 2 billion metric tons of carbon pollution, according to the senior official. Those rules will still need to go through a formal rule-making process at Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation.

"What we're hearing across the board is a consensus about the direction where this industry is going. And a coming together around the recognition that this is the moment of truth, not just for climate action for economic action as well," the official said.

Former President Barack Obama issued similar fuel efficiency standards meant to require new gas-powered vehicles to use less gasoline, which would reduce greenhouse gas emissions and pollution from cars and trucks. Under Trump the EPA relaxed those standards, prompted a legal battle between the administration and California over more stringent goals set by the state.

ABC News' Sam Sweeney contributed to this report.

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'Unprecedented' fraud penetrated rollout of COVID-19 small business loans, watchdog warns

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(WASHINGTON) -- At the dawn of the COVID-19 pandemic, when offices and restaurants began shuttering, the federal government scrambled to keep small businesses afloat -- ultimately spending over a trillion dollars to help protect the American Dream for millions of workers and business owners.

But even before the first checks went out, alarm bells went off.

The person ringing those bells the loudest was Hannibal "Mike" Ware, the inspector general of the Small Business Administration. The veteran internal watchdog says he participated in a series of meetings with Trump administration officials and SBA program analysts that were laced with "testy exchanges" about how to expeditiously dispense funds without leaving them vulnerable to fraudulent claims.

His warnings went unheeded, Ware said, and the fallout has taken him "from a black-haired guy to a gray-haired guy."

"My frustration level was extremely high," Ware told ABC News in a recent interview. And now, a year and half later, he said "the magnitude of the fraud we are seeing is unheard of -- unprecedented."

As small businesses emerge from the pandemic, the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and the Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL), two key relief programs passed as part of the congressional CARES Act, are winding down. But for all the jobs they've rescued, their legacies may be tarnished by unprecedented amounts of fraud -- a reality that experts fear may impair efforts to pass future emergency relief programs.

"In terms of the monetary value, the amount of fraud in these COVID relief programs is going to be larger than any government program that came before it," Ware said.

All government programs suffer some amount of fraud, experts say. And emergency programs are even more susceptible, due to the inherent tension between the pressure to approve loans quickly and the need to screen applications and maintain other fraud-prevention measures that may prolong the process.

In an October 2020 report, Ware's office found that "to expedite the process, SBA 'lowered the guardrails' or relaxed internal controls, which significantly increased the risk of program fraud."

A senior SBA official in the Biden administration agreed with Ware's analysis, noting that "it should not be an expectation that we need to sacrifice speed for certainty -- you can do both."

"The story of 2020 for both PPP and EIDL is the fact that the previous administration's leadership did not have sufficient controls in place for determining individual identity or business identity," the official said. "Different choices could have absolutely been made to limit fraud vulnerabilities."

"With limited staff, few technological tools to conduct prepayment verification, and crushing need, SBA and other agencies abandoned many traditional controls and simply approved applicants with little or no verification of self-reported information," according to Linda Miller, the former deputy executive director of the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, a government task force established as part of the CARES Act.

"Best practice calls for due diligence at the front end to avoid making the fraudulent or improper payment in the first place," Miller wrote in June, after leaving PRAC. "But in the rush to quickly distribute pandemic relief, we failed to do that and so now we are chasing [funds that were fraudulently granted] ... but the recovered funds will be a fraction of what was stolen."

Ware said this is precisely what his office sought to avoid. Before PPP and EIDL were even finalized, the SBA inspector general's office submitted three reports to the SBA "detailing the importance of up-front controls," according to Ware. During the testy exchanges in the spring of 2020, he said he warned the SBA to "pump the brakes" on the process.

"Fraudsters are going to do what fraudsters are going to do," Ware said. "But the upfront controls mitigate exposure to fraud, and doing so would have saved taxpayers a whole lot of heartache on the back end. Unfortunately, the heartache was not avoided because of the way these programs were implemented up front."

Jovita Carranza, the former SBA administrator who resigned when President Trump left office, could not be reached by ABC News for comment. Last October, in a letter responding to Ware's report, Carranza wrote that the inspector general "failed to acknowledge the enhanced and effective system controls and validations that SBA is using" to weed out fraudulent applications and "grossly overstates the risk of fraud, waste and abuse."

Carranza's successor as SBA administrator -- Biden nominee Isabella Casillas Guzman -- has said that "reducing the risks of fraud and waste and abuse" in the distribution of relief loans and grants is a top priority. She said a series of steps implemented in December -- including up-front verifications and tax information from applicants -- has already produced "a sharp decline" in fraud, and that she is working closely with Ware to further improve safeguards and vigorously track down and recover prior fraudulent dispersals.

Ware agreed that controls put in place late last year helped curb fraud, but said the efforts were too little, too late.

"By then, well, you already know how much money was gone," he said. "A lot of money was out."

Among the relief programs, the previous administration's EIDL rollout has attracted particular scrutiny. James W. Connor, a former federal prosecutor who is now with the law firm Arnold & Porter, called the program a "fraud magnet," citing a provision that allowed recipients to receive up to $10,000 up front "with essentially no strings attached."

"That money is gone," Connor said.

But that hasn't kept Ware from trying to recover it. His investigative efforts have resulted in 307 indictments, 205 arrests, and 69 convictions tied to PPP and EIDL fraud, resulting in the recovery of more than $600 million so far.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Trump and his allies continue to pour donor money into Trump's businesses

iStock/Douglas Rissing

(WASHINGTON) -- Donald Trump may be out of office, but political donor money continues to pour into his properties across the country.

In just the first six months of this year, dozens of Republican campaigns and political groups have together spent at least $750,000 at Trump properties, with nearly half of that coming from fundraising committees directly affiliated with or linked to Trump himself, according to federal and state campaign disclosure reports.

Of that $750,000, the largest chunk was spent by the Make America Great Again PAC, Trump's presidential campaign committee-turned political action committee, which paid the former president's businesses more than $210,000 from January through June.

Much of that came from five monthly rent payments of $40,000 each for office space at Trump Tower in New York City, while the rest came from nearly $8,000 in lodging expenses at Trump hotels.

Trump's new PAC, Save America, also reported paying nearly $80,000 to the "Trump Hotel Collection" for lodging and meals over the six months since Trump left the White House.

Trump properties have also continued to serve as a favorite venue for high-dollar fundraisers for his political committees.

His joint fundraising committee with South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham spent more than $22,000 for a golf tournament hosted at Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, Florida, in May, which reportedly cost participants $25,000 each. Make America Great Again Action, a new pro-Trump super PAC led by former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, spent about the same amount at a fundraiser at Trump's golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey. The committee's disclosure filing doesn't show how much it raised from the fundraiser, but overall it reported raising roughly $705,000 in April and May.

The Republican National Committee, which continues to raise money off Trump's name in fundraising emails and messages, spent at least $191,000 at various Trump properties over the last six months, including $176,000 at Trump's Mar-a-Lago Club for a spring GOP donor retreat earlier this year.

On the Trump campaign's spending at Trump's properties, former Trump campaign spokesperson Tim Murtaugh previously said that "the campaign pays fair market value and abides by all FEC laws and regulations."

Since leaving the White House in January, the former president has settled in Florida, bringing dozens of his close allies and other Republicans to his properties in the Sunshine State.

A number of Republican politicians and political hopefuls have visited his Mar-a-Lago Club over the last six months for fundraisers, photo ops and other political events in the hope of appealing to Trump's loyal supporters or netting an endorsement from the former president himself.

Two Republicans who earlier this year voted to overturn the 2020 election results, Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks -- who is vying for an open Senate sit in 2022 -- and Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, spent $26,000 and $32,000, respectively, at Mar-a-Lago.

Another Alabama Senate hopeful competing for Trump's endorsement, Lynda Blanchard, also spent close to $25,000 hosting a fundraiser there.

And at least a dozen other GOP campaigns together spent tens of thousands of dollars at various Trump properties in Florida, including Trump National Doral and the Trump Golf Club in Palm Beach, during the first half of the year.

While Trump associates and supporters have long flocked to his properties in Florida and New Jersey, their preferred Washington, D.C., destination while Trump was president was the Trump International Hotel, on the site of the city's historic Old Post Office. Since opening in late 2016, shortly before Trump took office, the D.C. hotel has raked in millions of dollars hosting numerous fundraisers for various campaigns and political groups, as well as serving as his supporters' favorite place to gather, lodge and dine in the capital.

But so far this year, it appears that the action -- and the money -- has followed Trump from D.C. to Florida. Trump's D.C. hotel hasn't hosted many big events, with several congressional campaigns reporting smaller-scale meal and lodging expenditures that total only $15,000.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee and Florida Sen. Rick Scott held a fundraiser featuring Newt Gingrich at the D.C. hotel in late June, but that expenditure has yet to be reported.

In total, since Trump began his run for president in 2015, his political operation and various other federal campaigns have paid Trump's businesses $20 million, including more than $7 million during the 2020 election cycle, according to ProPublica's analysis of federal campaign disclosure reports.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Senate panel votes to scrap both Iraq war authorizations

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(WASHINGTON) -- For the first time in 50 years, a Senate committee has voted to repeal decades-old war powers measures that twice launched the U.S. into war with Iraq, giving a green light to then-President George W. Bush's ill-fated plan to invade that country to topple its despotic president, Saddam Hussein, under the later-discredited justification of ridding that country of weapons of mass destruction never found.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee Wednesday voted 18-14 to repeal both the 1991 and 2002 Authorizations for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) with supporters saying it was long past time for Congress to reassert its constitutional authority to declare war.

Three Republicans -- Todd Young of Indiana, Ohio’s Rob Portman, and Rand Paul of Kentucky -- voted with all the panel’s Democrats for repeal, with some Republicans who opposed the move Wednesday arguing that though they support scrapping both AUMFs, the time is not right amid rising tensions with neighboring Iran.

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., who along with Young has worked for years to gain the support of their colleagues, noted that no current action by the U.S. is using either AUMF "as the legal basis for any current U.S. military activity, nor are they needed to justify the detention of even a single detainee now in U.S. custody."

"I ask this committee to send a clear and bipartisan message that a Congress that initiated military action against Iraq can also recognize the end of hostilities against Iraq," Kaine said.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who has also fought for years to repeal the costly war, applauded the impending, bipartisan congressional action.

"It’s much easier to start a war than to end a war," Paul said. "I think the vote today is not meaningless and symbolic. It is to say that we do not give any president, Republican or Democrat, permission for a large land scale war in Iraq. We’re taking away that permission. If you want to go back, come before the people with a big important vote - we all say it’s the most important vote -- well, let’s take it back and make it part of the Senate."

The panel’s chairman, Bob Menendez of New Jersey, in encouraging support for repeal, told members, "I believe it would be a grave mistake if we do not act now to repeal the 1991 and 2002 AUMFs. As we heard very clearly from the administration yesterday in testimony from the deputy secretary of state and two senior lawyers on this matter, repeal of these will have no impact whatsoever on our operations or detention activities."

Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman had told lawmakers on Tuesday, "I want to state clearly that the Biden-Harris administration believes the 2002 authorization for use of military force against Iraq has outlived its usefulness and should be repealed, and the administration has made clear that we have no ongoing military activities that rely solely on the 2002 AUMF.”

Menendez argued that any U.S. personnel on the ground in Iraq now would not be affected "because they are there at the invitation of the Iraqi government," so, he said, no related mission in the Middle East would be affected.

And President Joe Biden and Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Kadhimi announced after meeting last week in Washington that the U.S. mission in Iraq would transition by year’s end from one of combat to an assist and advisory role.

Nevertheless, the top Republican on the committee, Jim Risch of Idaho, argued against repeal, saying that though rescinding these Congressional approvals now would have no practical effect, doing so risks sending a dangerous message in a volatile part of the world, particularly with regard to Iran.

"I would disagree that this has no useful purpose, and I think that the purpose of this is to communicate our resolve in the region and particularly as it affects Iran," Risch said.

"There are people that are going to look at this and say, 'Aha, the U.S. is getting weak in the region. The U.S. is not committed. They’re not keeping the same commitment it’s had to the region,'" Risch claimed, adding that it would do no harm to allow the authorization to merely "sit on the shelf" so as not to risk "sending a message that we are not committed to the region and committed to protecting our troops and American interests."

"I understand what the vote is here and where this thing is going to go, but I really believe that it would be a bad message to send as far as repealing this AUMF that gives even the slightest inclination ... that we’re backing away from this," said Risch.

But Young, a Navy and Marine Corps veteran, countered that though he, too, shares his colleagues’ concerns about Iran, these two Iraq-specific AUMFs are not relevant to that consternation.

"I believe that the threat from Iran is so significant and so different from the wars since 9/11 or Saddam Hussain’s Iraq, that we must pass a new AUMF should the situation require it," he contended. "Those advocating for leaving the 2002 AUMF in place as a means of deterring Iran, when that was in no way the intention of this authorization, would be building on past abuses and advocating for precisely the kind of expansion of war power authorities that ultimately makes Congress and this committee irrelevant."

The repeal action now moves to the full Senate for its expected approval, a decided change in sentiment from decades since the twin military campaigns in Iraq. But it does follow overwhelming public sentiment in recent years that has turned against America’s long wars in the Middle East.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who announced earlier this year that he now supports the repeal of both AUMFs, reiterated Wednesday that a vote by the full chamber would happen later this year.

"Allowing an authorization for military force to just lie around forever, is an invitation to a future administration to use it for any military adventurism in the region," Schumer said in a floor speech. "Americans frankly are sick of endless wars in the Middle East. Congress simply has to exert more authority over matters of war and peace, as we all know the Constitution prescribes."

The House in mid-June passed by an overwhelming bipartisan vote a repeal of both outdated authorizations, so once the full Senate acts, the repeal effort would then move to President Biden who has signaled support.

The last repeal of a military authorization came in January of 1971 when Congress voted to end the then-deeply unpopular 1964 Gulf of Tonkin resolution that led to the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.

One AUMF -- issued in 2001 to allow then-President Bush to order the invasion of Afghanistan in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks -- is still in effect. Some lawmakers are targeting that for repeal potentially later this year, but there is not the same bipartisan support for that move at this time, particularly as the situation in Afghanistan, where the U.S. has withdrawn its forces, spirals increasingly into chaos at the hands of the Taliban.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


What's next for Cuomo after sexual harassment report?

Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo vehemently has refused to step down after the release of a report that found he sexually harassed multiple women and created a hostile work environment.

The blistering report, by New York Attorney General Letitia James, was released on Tuesday after a four-month investigation. Cuomo has denied all allegations of sexual misconduct.

Here's how the political saga could continue:

While James said that the state attorney's probe would have no criminal referral, district attorneys in Manhattan, Albany, Westchester County and Nassau County have now requested the investigation's materials to look into the accusations, which allegedly took place in those jurisdictions and could lead to criminal charges.

Albany District Attorney David Soares said Tuesday his office is reviewing the report's findings to see whether criminal charges should be filed and encouraged more victims to come forward. He called the matter "developing" and said his office would be reviewing the documents.

On Wednesday, the Westchester County district attorney's office also asked for the investigative materials to conduct a criminal investigation into Cuomo's alleged conduct.

"As this is an ongoing investigation, we will not comment further at this time," Westchester District Attorney Mimi Rocah said in a statement.

The Westchester District Attorney intends to review the governor's alleged interactions with the female state trooper at his Mount Kisco home, while the Albany district attorney plans to review Cuomo's alleged interactions with female staff members in that county.

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance also said in a statement that the office requested materials pertaining to incidents that occurred in Manhattan.

Acting Nassau County District Attorney Joyce A. Smith slammed the report's findings as "deeply disturbing" and said the office requested documents for incidents that occurred in Nassau County to "investigate any potential crimes."

In a recorded video, Cuomo responded to the report on Tuesday by again denying the allegations, saying that "the facts are much different than what has been portrayed."

Cuomo has fielded calls to resign, including from President Joe Biden, formerly a close political ally.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Wednesday, "The president believes Governor Cuomo should do the right thing, resign, and leave space for future leadership in New York."

The governor insisted, yet again, that he "never touched anyone inappropriately or made inappropriate sexual advances." His video message displayed a series of photos of him kissing his parents and other figures, male and female, on the cheek as he said that such touching and kissing were a part of his culture and nature.

The State Assembly in Albany said it's moving "expeditiously" to wrap up up its own impeachment investigation into the sexual harassment allegations, which began in March.

Speaker Carl Heastie said in a statement Tuesday, after the Assembly had gathered to discuss the report, "It is abundantly clear to me that the Governor has lost the confidence of the Assembly Democratic majority and that he can no longer remain in office."

The Assembly has the power to bring impeachment charges against Cuomo. To impeach the governor, a majority of Assembly members must vote to impeach, after which the case would move to the impeachment court, where a two-thirds vote would be required to convict and oust Cuomo.

James, the state's attorney general, also is investigating whether Cuomo broke the law in having members of his staff help write and promote a book on his leadership in the pandemic, for which he was set to rake in more than $5 million, The Associated Press reported. Federal investigators also are probing the state's handling of data on nursing home deaths during the pandemic. The State Assembly is also investigating Cuomo for the book deal and nursing home deaths.

Despite the probes, Cuomo could still run for a fourth term as governor if he's not impeached. He's already begun to fundraise for the 2022 race, and no Democratic challenger has been announced for the primary. U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin and Andrew Giuliani may run as Republicans.

ABC News' Aaron Katersky contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Obama scales back 60th birthday bash amid COVID questions

Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- After plans to host hundreds of guests at his Martha’s Vineyard estate for a 60th birthday bash drew news media scrutiny, former President Barack Obama has decided to "significantly scale back" the affair, a spokesperson said Wednesday.

"This outdoor event was planned months ago in accordance with all public health guidelines and with COVID safeguards in place. Due to the new spread of the delta variant over the past week, the President and Mrs. Obama have decided to significantly scale back the event to include only family and close friends," Hannah Hankins said. "President Obama is appreciative of others sending their birthday wishes from afar and looks forward to seeing people soon."

She declined to give a new estimate of how many guests will attend the gathering.

A COVID coordinator had been slated to work the party, ensuring that all Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, state and local guidelines were followed, and collect proof of negative test results from guests, who would also attest their vaccination status.

Despite those measures, a source familiar with the decision-making process said the fast-moving COVID developments over the past week, such as rising cases fueled by the delta variant, and new CDC masking guidance for even vaccinated individuals, led to the downsizing in party plans.

"Even last Monday, things looked different than they do today," the source said.

Obama is turning 60 on Wednesday.

Overall, the Obamas did not want to become a distraction from the Biden administration's efforts to encourage Americans to get vaccinated, the source said.

According to the New York Times, some party guests had already arrived on Martha's Vineyard when word of the scaled-down plans was shared.

President Joe Biden was not planning to attend the party.

"While President Biden is unable to attend this weekend, he looks forward to catching up with former President Obama soon and properly welcoming him into the over 60 club," a Biden administration official said Monday.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment on the change of party plans.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Republicans face incomplete debate lineup, donor apathy in California recall race

(SACRAMENTO, Calif.) -- Ahead of a debate that's missing a few key candidates, Republicans hoping to replace California Gov. Gavin Newsom in September's recall election have attracted relatively few sizable donations, according to data from the California secretary of state reviewed by ABC News.

The Richard Nixon Foundation, which is hosting the debate on Wednesday night, said in a news release that four candidates are participating: John Cox, Kevin Faulconer, Kevin Kiley and Doug Ose.

But Newsom did not reply to the foundation's invitation, the group said, while deep-pocketed reality show star and former Olympian Caitlyn Jenner and talk-show host Larry Elder have scheduling conflicts. The foundation said in a news release it would hold spots for Newsom, Jenner and Elder in case any decided to participate.

The foundation is also planning a debate for Aug. 23.

The debates are not the only challenges facing the candidates. Dan Schnur, a professor at the University of Southern California and a former chairman of the California Fair Political Practices Commission, told ABC News that "the traditional Republican donor base doesn't appear to be convinced yet that the recall is a viable exercise."

But that could change due to recent polling showing "considerable grassroots support for recall," he said.

Here's what the Republican candidates invited to the debate have raised in large-dollar donations, according to data available on Tuesday:

  • John Cox: About $8.7 million across his 2021 and 2022 campaign committees -- including roughly $7.6 million in monetary and non-monetary contributions and loans from himself -- from at least 1,667 contributions
  • Kevin Faulconer: Approximately $3 million from at least 1,422 contributions
  • Larry Elder: About $990,000 from at least 574 contributions
  • Caitlyn Jenner: Approximately $747,000, from at least 1,581 contributions
  • Doug Ose: About $400,000 from at least 230 contributions
  • Kevin Kiley: Approximately $214,000 from at least 100 contributions

Only donations from an individual that add up to $100 or more are itemized in the data from the secretary of state, thus excluding those "small-dollar donations" in the donation counts.

Individuals donating to a gubernatorial candidate can give up to $32,400, according to the California Fair Political Practices Commission. According to the Federal Elections Commission, candidates have no limit when donating to themselves, but must still report those contributions.

Even if those numbers present an incomplete picture, as they only range from the start of 2021 to Tuesday and exclude the small-dollar donations, they still appear to be a relatively small number of donors for such a large state.

"The candidates … haven't set the world on fire," Joshua Spivak, a senior fellow at the Carey Institute for Governmental Reform at Wagner College, told ABC News.

Regarding the candidates, Spivak noted that "there seems to be a wide disconnect between interest in Caitlyn Jenner from media and online sources and social media and voters."

The California Republican Party is currently gearing up to vote on whether it can endorse a candidate at all, though it is expected to be approved. An endorsement from the state party may spur fundraising.

Newsom has criticized the recall as a partisan effort and waste of taxpayer money, but he "has his work cut out to raise Democratic interest in the recall vote. And if he fails on that front, an unusual off-year electorate might be just Republican-leaning enough to boot him out of office," according to FiveThirtyEight.

Voters in the election will respond to two questions: do they want to recall Newsom; and if most voters elect to do so, who should be his replacement?

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Republicans face incomplete debate lineup, donor apathy in California recall race

(SACRAMENTO, Calif.) -- Ahead of a debate that's missing a few key candidates, Republicans hoping to replace California Gov. Gavin Newsom in September's recall election have attracted relatively few sizable donations, according to data from the California secretary of state reviewed by ABC News.

The Richard Nixon Foundation, which is hosting the debate on Wednesday night, said in a news release that four candidates are participating: John Cox, Kevin Faulconer, Kevin Kiley and Doug Ose.

But Newsom did not reply to the foundation's invitation, the group said, while deep-pocketed reality show star and former Olympian Caitlyn Jenner and talk-show host Larry Elder have scheduling conflicts. The foundation said in a news release it would hold spots for Newsom, Jenner and Elder in case any decided to participate.

The foundation is also planning a debate for Aug. 23.

The debates are not the only challenges facing the candidates. Dan Schnur, a professor at the University of Southern California and a former chairman of the California Fair Political Practices Commission, told ABC News that "the traditional Republican donor base doesn't appear to be convinced yet that the recall is a viable exercise."

But that could change due to recent polling showing "considerable grassroots support for recall," he said.

Here's what the Republican candidates invited to the debate have raised in large-dollar donations, according to data available on Tuesday:

  • John Cox: About $8.7 million across his 2021 and 2022 campaign committees -- including roughly $7.6 million in monetary and non-monetary contributions and loans from himself -- from at least 1,667 contributions
  • Kevin Faulconer: Approximately $3 million from at least 1,422 contributions
  • Larry Elder: About $990,000 from at least 574 contributions
  • Caitlyn Jenner: Approximately $747,000, from at least 1,581 contributions
  • Doug Ose: About $400,000 from at least 230 contributions
  • Kevin Kiley: Approximately $214,000 from at least 100 contributions

Only donations from an individual that add up to $100 or more are itemized in the data from the secretary of state, thus excluding those "small-dollar donations" in the donation counts.

Individuals donating to a gubernatorial candidate can give up to $32,400, according to the California Fair Political Practices Commission. According to the Federal Elections Commission, candidates have no limit when donating to themselves, but must still report those contributions.

Even if those numbers present an incomplete picture, as they only range from the start of 2021 to Tuesday and exclude the small-dollar donations, they still appear to be a relatively small number of donors for such a large state.

"The candidates … haven't set the world on fire," Joshua Spivak, a senior fellow at the Carey Institute for Governmental Reform at Wagner College, told ABC News.

Regarding the candidates, Spivak noted that "there seems to be a wide disconnect between interest in Caitlyn Jenner from media and online sources and social media and voters."

The California Republican Party is currently gearing up to vote on whether it can endorse a candidate at all, though it is expected to be approved. An endorsement from the state party may spur fundraising.

Newsom has criticized the recall as a partisan effort and waste of taxpayer money, but he "has his work cut out to raise Democratic interest in the recall vote. And if he fails on that front, an unusual off-year electorate might be just Republican-leaning enough to boot him out of office," according to FiveThirtyEight.

Voters in the election will respond to two questions: do they want to recall Newsom; and if most voters elect to do so, who should be his replacement?

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Republicans face incomplete debate lineup, donor apathy in California recall race

(SACRAMENTO, Calif.) -- Ahead of a debate that's missing a few key candidates, Republicans hoping to replace California Gov. Gavin Newsom in September's recall election have attracted relatively few sizable donations, according to data from the California secretary of state reviewed by ABC News.

The Richard Nixon Foundation, which is hosting the debate on Wednesday night, said in a news release that four candidates are participating: John Cox, Kevin Faulconer, Kevin Kiley and Doug Ose.

But Newsom did not reply to the foundation's invitation, the group said, while deep-pocketed reality show star and former Olympian Caitlyn Jenner and talk-show host Larry Elder have scheduling conflicts. The foundation said in a news release it would hold spots for Newsom, Jenner and Elder in case any decided to participate.

The foundation is also planning a debate for Aug. 23.

The debates are not the only challenges facing the candidates. Dan Schnur, a professor at the University of Southern California and a former chairman of the California Fair Political Practices Commission, told ABC News that "the traditional Republican donor base doesn't appear to be convinced yet that the recall is a viable exercise."

But that could change due to recent polling showing "considerable grassroots support for recall," he said.

Here's what the Republican candidates invited to the debate have raised in large-dollar donations, according to data available on Tuesday:

  • John Cox: About $8.7 million across his 2021 and 2022 campaign committees -- including roughly $7.6 million in monetary and non-monetary contributions and loans from himself -- from at least 1,667 contributions
  • Kevin Faulconer: Approximately $3 million from at least 1,422 contributions
  • Larry Elder: About $990,000 from at least 574 contributions
  • Caitlyn Jenner: Approximately $747,000, from at least 1,581 contributions
  • Doug Ose: About $400,000 from at least 230 contributions
  • Kevin Kiley: Approximately $214,000 from at least 100 contributions

Only donations from an individual that add up to $100 or more are itemized in the data from the secretary of state, thus excluding those "small-dollar donations" in the donation counts.

Individuals donating to a gubernatorial candidate can give up to $32,400, according to the California Fair Political Practices Commission. According to the Federal Elections Commission, candidates have no limit when donating to themselves, but must still report those contributions.

Even if those numbers present an incomplete picture, as they only range from the start of 2021 to Tuesday and exclude the small-dollar donations, they still appear to be a relatively small number of donors for such a large state.

"The candidates … haven't set the world on fire," Joshua Spivak, a senior fellow at the Carey Institute for Governmental Reform at Wagner College, told ABC News.

Regarding the candidates, Spivak noted that "there seems to be a wide disconnect between interest in Caitlyn Jenner from media and online sources and social media and voters."

The California Republican Party is currently gearing up to vote on whether it can endorse a candidate at all, though it is expected to be approved. An endorsement from the state party may spur fundraising.

Newsom has criticized the recall as a partisan effort and waste of taxpayer money, but he "has his work cut out to raise Democratic interest in the recall vote. And if he fails on that front, an unusual off-year electorate might be just Republican-leaning enough to boot him out of office," according to FiveThirtyEight.

Voters in the election will respond to two questions: do they want to recall Newsom; and if most voters elect to do so, who should be his replacement?

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


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