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(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump's recent tirade against mail voting was a defiant attempt at elevating his argument of voter fraud -- without evidence -- but it comes as the largest single day of voting since the onset of the coronavirus crisis is set to take place next week.

Even as Trump seeks to turn the issue into a pitched battle, election officials in a number of states, including those run by Republicans, are expanding access to the voting alternative as part of their broader preparations amid the pandemic for the June 2 election.

The president, who has often railed against mail voting by alleging it is ripe for fraud, stepped up his assault last week by targeting efforts in two battleground states -- Michigan and Nevada -- aimed at making it easier to obtain an absentee or mail-in ballot. He threatened to cut off federal funding to those states over what he claimed were "illegal" tactics.

Election officials in both states refuted Trump's attacks, with a spokesperson for Michigan's Democratic secretary of state calling Trump's tweet "false," and Nevada's Republican secretary of state saying the shift to a mail-in election was done "legally."

But the president continued his attack over Memorial Day weekend, tweeting, "The United States cannot have all Mail In Ballots. It will be the greatest Rigged Election in history" and insinuated that advocates of mail-in voting are using the pandemic "for this Scam."

Election experts told ABC News that there has been no widespread fraud in mail voting and that the practice does not decisively give one party's camp an edge over the other.

Efforts to encourage vote-by-mail are coming from Republicans, too

Trump's latest broadside on vote-by-mail comes against the backdrop of seven states, plus the District of Columbia, abruptly changing their blueprint for running elections to adjust to social distancing and other state and federal guidelines ahead of presidential primaries on June 2.

But in those states, despite the president's rhetoric on mail voting, a host of Republican state parties, in Pennsylvania, Indiana and New Mexico are encouraging voters to cast ballots by mail or absentee.

"For several weeks now -- really well, the last month -- we've been in regular cadence of letting all of our folks know about the ability to vote by absentee in a no-fault manner," Indiana Republican Party Chair Kyle Hupfer said. "We haven't been too worried about that."

In Pennsylvania, voters can even request an absentee ballot right on the state GOP's site, with detailed instructions on how to maneuver the voting alternative.

Even some GOP candidates across the seven states are urging voters to use the prominent voting alternative.

In the same video that Mark Ronchetti, a Republican running for Senate in New Mexico, underscores the stakes of his election as a "chance to elect a conservative who will stand with President Trump," he also encourages voters to cast their ballots by mail or in-person, providing supporters with a link to request an absentee ballot on his website.

Matt Rosendale, a GOP candidate for Montana's at-large House seat, also shared a video outlining how to receive a mail ballot to "send a proven Trump conservative to Washington."

And GOP congressman, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania's 1st Congressional District, pushed for voters to request a mail ballot before his state's deadline.

Election prepping during a pandemic

Despite Trump's attempts to cast doubt on the integrity of the primary tool for voting during the crisis, election officials are now gearing up for one day of contests -- second only to Super Tuesday -- that look far different from only a few months ago.

In interviews with election officials across the country, most are moving quickly to prepare their staff and voters for the changes that the coronavirus placed on voting administration. Some states, like Rhode Island and Montana, have instituted changes to their voting system in recent years which have widely expanded vote-by-mail procedures. Others, like Pennsylvania and Indiana, are working around the clock to prepare voters and elections officials for the massive influx of absentee ballot requests.

Before the pandemic, of the seven states and the nation's capital voting on June 2, six allowed for no-excuse absentee voting. In late March, Indiana's elections board ordered the expansion of access to absentee mail-in voting to all voters in the Hoosier state -- without requiring an excuse.

Across geographies and party lines, secretaries of states, local election boards and candidates themselves have given a strong endorsement of the absentee voting process, encouraging voters to request their ballots through applications in states which require them.

In New Mexico, one of the states which hit early benchmarks for re-opening, officials have partnered with the state workforce department to match those who filed for unemployment with local election boards who are short-staffed ahead of the primary.

As the country bolsters its vote-by-mail programs, advocates raised concerns about Native American voters, many of whom live in rural areas of New Mexico and may not have access to resources needed to vote-by-mail.

Some rural post offices -- which are often the closest to Native American reservations -- are only open during limited hours. The shortened operating hours put more constraints on when and how communities are able to send and receive mail, but state officials say ample in-person voting will be available.

"We're basically having a regular election, like we normally would. It's just that we are encouraging everyone to use an absentee ballot and vote from home," Alex Curtas, a spokesperson for the New Mexico secretary of state, told ABC News.

Curtas said the vilification of absentee voting is disappointing: New Mexico, like most states, has safeguards in place to prevent tampering with an election.

"There are these safeguards and bulwarks against people trying to tamper with an election," he said. "Some people try to make a bigger deal out of it than it is."

Pennsylvania, Indiana readying for potential long lines and backlogs

Last year, lawmakers in Pennsylvania, which reported nearly 900 new coronavirus cases on Friday, implemented a vast expansion of absentee and vote-by-mail procedures, already inciting apprehension -- especially when coupled with the state's status as a 2020 battleground.

Suzanne Almeida, the interim executive director for Common Cause Pennsylvania, a voting rights organization, told ABC that for officials in Pennsylvania, "this was never going to be an easy election."

"Pennsylvania in 2020 was always going to be crazy. It's a swing state in the presidential election year. And then on top of that, in 2019 we passed historic voting reform that gave us vote-by-mail for the first time, and changed the voter registration deadline closer to election day," Almeida said.

Advocates are worried that larger cities like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, which have seen significant reductions in polling places, may present issues like long lines and wait times.

In Philadelphia, there will be 77% fewer polling places for the June 2 primary, with only 190 in-person polling places this election, a dramatic decrease from the 831 in last November's municipal election, local election officials confirmed to ABC News.

In Indiana, which is already entering phase 3 of re-opening, officials have seen delays due to the volume of absentee ballot requests, according to Russell Hollis, the deputy director of the Marion County clerk's office, home to Indianapolis.

"There are some delays, particularly with the volume of requests that we've had. It's very difficult to tell whether the post office is a factor," Hollis said.

Hollis said the vast increase in ballot requests is what has put the most strain on officials.

In 2016, the county mailed less than 6,000 absentee ballots. With days remaining until the final deadline, county officials had already mailed over 71,000 ballots to voters.

Upper Midwest red states embrace vote-by-mail

Elections officials in Montana, a state which has managed to fend off the spread of the virus with under 500 reported cases, echoed that assurance with their absentee process, saying a hiccup with a ballot is rare and often quickly resolved.

"If (a ballot) gets rejected, we contact the voter and let them know, and they can come in and resolve it," Eric Semerad, the Gallatin County election administrator, said. "It's very, very rare that that happens at all. It's usually forgetfulness, or household errors, things like that."

In South Dakota, which saw the highest number of COVID-19 cases per capita for the region in mid-April but currently has one of the lowest fatality rates in the country, election officials are confident the Tuesday primaries will run smoothly.

"One gift we were given is Wisconsin," South Dakota Secretary of State Steve Barnett, a Republican, told ABC News of the Badger's state April 7 spring election, which took place at the height of the state's lockdown. "They weren't able to model after anybody else -- we were all on the sidelines kind of watching them. But we've had enough time to prepare for this now."

"I think we're going to be in good shape," he added.

The state already had a robust vote-by-mail system, but under Barnett's leadership, election officials sent application forms to every registered voter in the state -- the same move Michigan's secretary of state announced last week that triggered Trump's attack. Barnett said that they were just using "the tool already in our toolbox" to encourage voters to use the absentee option, a state-wide push done for the first time to his knowledge.

"There's no blueprint, obviously, nobody's ever seen anything like this before," he said of conducting an election during a pandemic.

For in-person voting on election day, there have been some election worker shortages leading to the state reducing the number of polling sites. But Barnett doesn't anticipate "a lot of pressure on the polls," since there has been an influx of absentee ballots already returned, which is already nearly half of 2016's total election turnout. Poll workers will have hand sanitizer, Clorox wipers, gloves, masks and one-time use pens at polling sites.

In and around the nation's capital, election officials lean on mail ballots

In Washington, D.C., which has seen one of the starkest racial divides when it comes to the impact of the coronavirus, all of the nearly 150 precincts were closed due to the pandemic.

City officials urged residents to cast their ballots by mail, but for those who were unable to do so, 20 in-person vote centers will be available to every voter, no matter what address they are registered at.

Rachel Coll, the spokesperson for the city's Board of Elections, touted that its vote-by-mail system has been in place for 10 years and said they are strongly encouraging residents to use the no-excuse option for the primary.

The city, though, has trounced 2016's special ballot requests in the primary, which amounted to less than 8,000. In 2020, with days to go until hitting the deadline, the city has received more than 70,000 requests for a mail-in ballot. Washington also extended the deadline to receive a ballot to June 12, although they must be postmarked by June 2, to allow for more time for ballots to be received.

In Maryland, however, election officials are facing challenges with vote-by-mail, after opting to use a third-party vendor to handle printing and mailing ballots, according to a spokesperson for the state board of elections.

The board has expressed disappointment with the speed of the vendor, the spokesperson said, after it was reported by the Baltimore Sun that ballots in Baltimore County were marked as sent when they had yet to be.

The state used a special election in late April as a test run for their primary, which was ordered to be an all-mail election due to the pandemic. Election officials, who ran into issues during the special election when ballots sent to voters had conflicting instructions, are hoping for a smoother run this time around.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


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(WASHINGTON) -- For decades, government officials have struggled to accurately count Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders nationwide. Members have been mislabeled or gone uncounted because of an unwillingness or inability to participate in the census.

Every 10 years the U.S. Census Bureau undertakes a massive effort to count the American people. The results allocate seats for Congress as well as billions of dollars in federal funds for hospitals, schools, transportation and public assistance programs.

With the added challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic, an undercounting of Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders could be even more acute in the 2020 census. As a result, political leaders fear the small ethnic minority runs the risk of remaining underrepresented and being denied public funds and resources.

"We are underrepresented in the census, and as a result of that we are underrepresented in the distribution of resources," Kuhio Lewis, who serves as the Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders Complete Count Committee chair, told ABC News.

A Post Enumeration Survey (PES) is conducted after the census count to provide information to improve the coverage of future censuses. According to the 2000 and 2010 PES results, "Some in this population have a profound distrust of government or language barriers that have negatively influenced their participation in the past." In 2010, Hawaii had a self-response rate of 64.1%, according to the Census Bureau's response tracker, compared to the national rate of 74%.

Mistrust has developed from the American government overthrowing the Hawaiian Kingdom, said Lewis, and it is still fresh for many islanders.

"It's not that far away. My grandmother was here in that era where our queen was overthrown," said Lewis. "And I was raised by my grandmother."

Lewis works to educate as well as build trust between locals who don't self-respond and enumerators who have to knock on their doors. Due to the confidential nature of the survey, census workers must go to these homes alone. He hopes to send out local NHPIs to hard-to-reach households before the enumerators visit.

"When the government comes asking for your personal information, it's like what do they need that for," he said. "Someone hired from the outside to knock on their door -- it's just not going to work."

One third of NHPIs live in hard-to-count areas. While the Census Bureau employs the help of independent groups that are comprised of various trusted voices in the NHPI community to help with outreach, person-to-person contact is especially difficult right now, as communities across the country still struggle to get a handle on the spread of the coronavirus.

April 1 had been designated as "census day" in the state of Hawaii, with extensive programming planned in the hope of conducting a fair and more complete count of all residents. But in early March, as the threat of the coronavirus became more apparent, Hawaii Gov. David Ige began implementing social distancing measures. And, on March 18, field operations were halted by the Census Bureau nationwide.

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, key resource shortages directly affected by the census are being felt throughout the community.

According to a study from the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa John A. Burns School of Medicine, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders have been hit hard by the coronavirus. It suggested that there are as many as 217.7 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 in Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander residents in at least five states -- Hawaii, California, Oregon, Utah and Washington -- compared to the national rate of 60.5 hospitalizations per 100,000 according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The rates within these states are greater than those reported for African Americans and Hispanics/Latinos who the CDC reports at 92.3 and 74.3, respectively.

The University of Hawaii surmises that these numbers are largely due to the many inequities that exist within these communities, including: higher rates of chronic disease, a workforce largely comprised of essential workers, lower wages, as well as a disproportionate number of incarcerated and homeless people.

Randall Akee, an associate professor of public policy at UCLA, told ABC News, "I've seen most clearly in the last two to three months the vital importance of as accurate as possible population counts, especially for small populations, like NHPI. Because without that, it may potentially throw off our public health figures."

Additionally, more problems are likely to arise as the pandemic continues.

"Unfortunately, it's going to have other issues for us. We're seeing a lot of mental health issues, depression, substance use and abuse, even interpersonal violence," Keawe'aimoku Kaholokula, professor and chair of the Department of Native Hawaiian Health at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, told ABC News.

"The next decade, it's going to be really important for us," Kaholokula added. "We need people to recognize that our concerns need to be addressed and recognized by our leaders, (so) we can close the gap in these health equities we see across the U.S."

The Census Bureau will begin revving up field operations in June and has pushed back their self-response date deadline from July 31 to Oct. 31.

For the NHPI community, getting counted is more important than ever, Lewis told ABC News.

"We stand to lose billions of dollars," said Lewis. "Elevating our voices is so critical to the bigger picture in the survival of prosperity. Let's get counted. Let's make sure that we get our fair share."

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(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump honored fallen military troops as well as service members currently fighting the novel coronavirus, or what he called, "the invisible enemy," in a speech at Fort McHenry in Baltimore on Memorial Day.

"Tens of thousands of service members and National Guardsmen are on the front lines of our war against this terrible virus, caring for patients, delivering critical supplies and working night and day to safeguard our citizens," Trump said. "As one nation we mourn alongside every single family that has lost loved ones, including the families of our great veterans."

This comes as the nation nears a grim milestone of 100,000 deaths to the coronavirus, a milestone which prompted lawmakers to urge the White House to lower flags to half-staff in honor of Americans who died of the coronavirus. The president ordered flags to remain at half-staff through Memorial Day.

Despite the grim milestone, the president hailed service members for their work to combat coronavirus, with optimism for the fate of America.

"Together we will vanquish the virus and America will rise from this crisis to new and even greater heights. As our brave warriors have shown us from the nation's earliest days. In America, we are the captains of our own fate. No obstacle, no challenge and no threat is a match for the sheer determination of the American people," Trump said.

The president also hailed U.S. troops for their sacrifices in combat during his speech in Baltimore.

"We remember the young Americans who never got the chance to grow old, but whose legacy will outlive us all. In every generation, these intrepid souls kissed goodbye to their families and loved ones," Trump said. "They took flight in planes, set sail in ships and marched into battle with our flag, fighting for our country, defending our people."

He also acknowledged those families in attendance at Fort McHenry who had lost loved ones in conflict.

"To every Gold Star family here today and all across our land, our debt to you is infinite and everlasting," Trump said. "We stand with you today and all days to come remembering and grieving for America's greatest heroes. In spirit and strength, in loyalty and love, in character and courage, they were larger-than-life itself."

In keeping with social distancing guidelines, many Americans who have lost family members were finding different ways to honor their loved ones without gathering. Several ceremonies from across the country were also streamed online.

Earlier in the day, Trump joined Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper in a wreath laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. The cemetery is currently closed to the public and the ceremony was live-streamed.

Former Vice President Joe Biden visited the Delaware Memorial Bridge Veterans Memorial Park to pay his respects. He and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, wore masks while laying a wreath at the memorial.

"Today we honor our heroes we have lost. We pray for the loved ones they left behind," Trump said at Fort McHenry. "And with God as our witness, we solemnly vow to protect, preserve, and cherish this land they gave their last breath to defend and to defend so proudly."

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(WASHINGTON) -- Calling it a "brazen power grab" and voter-fraud "recipe for disaster," state and national Republican groups filed a federal lawsuit alleging the California governor's executive order to send mail-in ballots to every voter in the state for the November 2020 election is illegal.

The Republican National Committee, National Republican Congressional Committee and California Republican Party filed the lawsuit against Gov. Gavin Newsom and California Secretary of State Alex Padilla accusing them of using the coronavirus pandemic as "a ploy" to "rewrite the entire election code for the November 2020 election."

"This brazen power grab was not authorized by state law and violates both the Elections Clause and Electors Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The Governor's Order is invalid and must be enjoined," reads the lawsuit filed Sunday in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of California.

On May 8, Newsom signed the executive order that he said was intended to protect registered voters from the virus by giving them the option of voting by mail if they considered it too risky to brave potentially crowded polling stations to cast their ballot in the Nov. 3 general election.

"No Californian should be forced to risk their health in order to exercise their right to vote," Newsom said at the time. "Mail-in ballots aren't a perfect solution for every person, and I look forward to our public health experts and the Secretary of State's and the Legislature's continued partnership to create safer in-person opportunities for Californians who aren't able to vote by mail."

The lawsuit was filed on the same day President Donald Trump, whose name will appear on the general election ballot, escalated his attack against mail-in voting, suggesting its supporters are attempting to use the pandemic to pull a "scam."

The United States cannot have all Mail In Ballots. It will be the greatest Rigged Election in history. People grab them from mailboxes, print thousands of forgeries and “force” people to sign. Also, forge names. Some absentee OK, when necessary. Trying to use Covid for this Scam!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 24, 2020

"The United States cannot have all Mail In Ballots. It will be the greatest Rigged Election in history," Trump said in a Twitter post.

Ronna McDaniel, chairperson of the Republican National Committee, echoed Trump's concerns that the move could foster widespread voter fraud, alleging in a statement that ballots mistakenly mailed to dead or inactive voters could be intercepted by Democrats to tilt the election in their favor.

"Democrats continue to use this pandemic as a ploy to implement their partisan election agenda, and Governor Newsom's executive order is the latest direct assault on the integrity of our elections," McDaniel said in a statement. "Newsom's illegal power grab is a recipe for disaster that would destroy the confidence Californians deserve to have in the security of their vote."

I am pleased to announce that the RNC, @NRCC & @CAGOP just sued Gavin Newsom over his illegal election power grab.

His radical plan is a recipe for disaster that would create more opportunities for fraud & destroy the confidence Californians deserve to have in their elections.

— Ronna McDaniel (@GOPChairwoman) May 24, 2020

The 27-page lawsuit accuses Newsom of using the power of his pen to create a system that "will violate eligible citizens' right to vote."

"By ordering that vote-by-mail ballots be automatically sent to every registered voter -- including inactive voters, voters with invalid registrations, voters who have moved, voters who have died, and voters who don't want a ballot -- he has created a recipe for disaster," the lawsuit reads. "No State that regularly conducts statewide all-mail elections automatically mails ballots to inactive voters because it invites fraud, coercion, theft, and otherwise illegitimate voting. Fraudulent and invalid votes dilute the votes of honest citizens and deprive them of their right to vote in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment."

Newsom has yet to respond to the lawsuit.

Padilla slammed the lawsuit in a series of Twitter posts, calling it "just another part of Trump's political smear campaign against voting by mail."

"Expanding vote-by-mail during a pandemic is not a partisan issue -- it's a moral imperative to protect voting rights and public safety," Padilla tweeted. "Vote-by-mail has been used safely and effectively in red, blue, and purple states for years."

The virus has infected more than 92,000 people in California and killed nearly 4,000 in California, according to the California Department of Public Health.

While the overall infection rates in the state and across the nation are trending down and more and more counties in California are slowly reopening the economy, the nation's top health officials warn that the virus has not yet been contained and that they are worried about a potential second wave of infections in the fall.

"I want to be very clear to the American people, we are preparing for that potential fall issue, both in PPE, which is protective devices, both in ventilator stockpiles, and ensuring that we're really pushing on therapeutics and vaccine development so we can be ready if the virus does come back in a significant way," Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, said in an interview Sunday on ABC's This Week.

Expanding vote-by-mail during a pandemic is not a partisan issue — it’s a moral imperative to protect voting rights and public safety. Vote-by-mail has been used safely and effectively in red, blue, and purple states for years. (1/2)

— Alex Padilla (@AlexPadilla4CA) May 25, 2020

In the lawsuit, the GOP groups didn't slam the door shut on voting by mail.

"To be sure, vote-by-mail can be a legitimate feature of a state's election process, when coupled with adequate procedural safeguards to deter fraud," the lawsuit reads. "But given the many risks ... in most states it is an alternative implemented carefully and slowly and only with such safeguards in place."

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Official White House Photo by Joyce N. BoghosianBy ELIZABETH THOMAS, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump's first message on Memorial Day was a stark warning to Gov. Roy Cooper of North Carolina that if coronavirus restrictions in the state are not lifted the RNC might move its 2020 convention to another state.

The convention is currently scheduled for Aug. 24 at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, but North Carolina -- which entered the second phase of its reopening schedule last week -- prohibits mass gathering as large venues.

"I love the Great State of North Carolina, so much so that I insisted on having the Republican National Convention in Charlotte at the end of August," Trump tweeted. "Unfortunately, Democrat Governor, @RoyCooperNC is still in Shutdown mood & unable to guarantee that by August we will be allowed full attendance in the Arena. In other words, we would be spending millions of dollars building the Arena to a very high standard without even knowing if the Democrat Governor would allow the Republican Party to fully occupy the space."

I love the Great State of North Carolina, so much so that I insisted on having the Republican National Convention in Charlotte at the end of August. Unfortunately, Democrat Governor, @RoyCooperNC is still in Shutdown mood & unable to guarantee that by August we will be allowed...

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 25, 2020

He added, "Plans are being made by many thousands of enthusiastic Republicans, and others, to head to beautiful North Carolina in August. They must be immediately given an answer by the Governor as to whether or not the space will be allowed to be fully occupied. If not, we will be reluctantly forced to find, with all of the jobs and economic development it brings, another Republican National Convention site. This is not something I want to do. Thank you, and I LOVE the people of North Carolina!"

...made by many thousands of enthusiastic Republicans, and others, to head to beautiful North Carolina in August. They must be immediately given an answer by the Governor as to whether or not the space will be allowed to be fully occupied. If not, we will be reluctantly forced...

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 25, 2020

The president for weeks has called on governors, sometimes singling them out, to reopen their states and get back to some degree of normalcy even as coronavirus cases continue to rise and officials warn that the virus is not contained. The death toll in the United States continues to inch toward 100,000 and North Carolina on Saturday reported 1,107 new COVID-19 cases -- its highest number yet.

Vice President Mike Pence in an interview on Fox News' Fox & Friends Monday morning backed up the president, saying that if the state doesn't move quicker to reopen its economy, the GOP might move its national convention in August to a state "that is farther along on reopening and can say with confidence that, that we can gather there."

The governors' Press Secretary Dory MacMillan responded to Trump's tweets in a statement saying, “State health officials are working with the RNC and will review its plans as they make decisions about how to hold the convention in Charlotte. North Carolina is relying on data and science to protect our state's public health and safety.”

The president’s comments come as Democrats have publicly talked about the possibility of holding an all virtual convention if necessary.

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iStock/JTSorrellBy: ADAM KELSEY, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- As Americans continue to emerge from quarantines and stay-at-home orders amid the coronavirus pandemic, President Donald Trump declared this week that "we are not closing our country” if the United States is hit by a second wave of infections.

But in an interview on ABC's This Week Sunday, one of the leaders of the government's response to the virus, said it is "difficult to tell" whether such a step may be necessary.

"We're trying to understand during this period of coming out of the closure: How do we maintain openness and safety? And I think that's what we're going to be learning through May, June and July," said Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator.

"And also, I want to be very clear to the American people, we are preparing for that potential fall issue, both in PPE, which is protective devices, both in ventilator stockpiles, and ensuring that we're really pushing on therapeutics and vaccine development so we can be ready if the virus does come back in a significant way," she continued.

The comments come as the United States approaches a grim milestone: 100,000 COVID-19 deaths. The figure is one that early models cited by government officials in the initial weeks of the outbreak indicated might not arrive until late summer or fall. Birx wouldn't say Sunday whether she agreed with some experts that the death toll is actually higher, but said "it's difficult to count at the early part of the epidemic."

Despite the ominous total, Birx struck a cautiously optimistic tone Friday during a White House press conference -- her first in several weeks -- sharing approval of increased public activity over Memorial Day weekend, provided people continue to adhere to precautionary measures, like social distancing.

"You can go to the beaches if you stay 6 feet apart," she said. "But remember that is your space, and that is the space you need to protect to ensure you are socially distancing for others."

But with images emerging Saturday of large crowds at beaches and in public spaces, Birx was questioned by "This Week" co-anchor Martha Raddatz about whether that permission was premature.

"I think we have to communicate through different venues, making sure that our generation sees and our millennials can help us get that message out there -- of how to be together socially, yet distant," Birx said. "I think we really just need to have better continuous communication on how important that is."

The doctor noted, however, that the success of reopening efforts would come down to the public's ability to heed those directions from public health experts.

"I think it's our job as public health officials, every day to be informing the public (about) what puts them at risk," Birx said. "We've learned a lot about this virus, but we now need to translate that learning into real changed behavior that stays with us so we can continue to drive down the number of cases."

"This only works if we all follow the guidelines and protect one another," Birx continued.

While there has been a "dramatic decline" in the percentage of positive test results across the country in the past month, there continue to be spikes in several cities, such as Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.

Asked by Raddatz about additional recent upticks in states like Arkansas, Minnesota and North Carolina, Birx said that some of the increases were due to "proactive testing" in "areas where we know are the highest risks, whether it's nursing homes, whether it's areas where people work and sleep and stay together or transport together." She also noted that one Arkansas outbreak was instigated by a "social gathering."

Looking ahead, Birx said such testing efforts need to be applied "much better," in order to identify those who are asymptomatic.

"It is much easier to find symptomatic cases, because people are sick, and when people are sick they're often not out and about, particularly if they have a severe case of COVID with high fever," Birx said. "What I'm worried about is, what are we putting in place to find asymptomatic cases?"

As for preventative measures, in recent weeks, Trump has faced questions about his reluctance to wear a face mask, despite the government recommending the public do so when in close proximity to other persons. Raddatz asked Birx Sunday if the president should follow the advice.

"I always wear a mask. I wear a mask coming into the White House I wear a mask the entire time that I'm in the White House, except when I'm in my little, tiny space by myself," she said. "I think I wear a mask to really ensure that that public health message is going out there to communities that this is the way we protect one another."

"So is that a 'yes,' you wish President Trump would wear as mask?" Raddatz followed.

"I don't know President Trump's schedule so I don't know who he's with and whether he's social distanced or not," Birx said. "We have said, if you can't maintain 6 feet, wear a mask. I am not with the president on a daily basis, so I can't really speak to that. His personal physician and the individuals who interact with him can speak to that better than I can."

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(WASHINGTON) — When Michigan Rep. Justin Amash, a former Republican who left the party in July to become an independent, announced last weekend that he would not pursue the Libertarian Party's presidential nomination, the move removed a higher profile name from the top of its ticket.

Before Amash decided to forgo a run, a similar thing happened to the Green Party. Former Gov. Jesse Ventura, who became Minnesota's chief executive by running as a Reform Party candidate in the 1990 election, said at the end of April he was "testing the waters" for a possible bid for the minor party's nomination, only to announce a week and a half later that he would be sitting this one out.

The Libertarians are set to nominate their party's candidates for president and vice president on Saturday, and the Green Party is poised to follow suit in July, but neither party is likely to nominate candidates with any significant national name recognition.

The candidate with the best name indentification for the Libertarians is likely Vermin Supreme, a joke candidate who's made a name for himself among politicos as a serial campaigner for offices local, statewide and national. Contrast that with both 2012 and 2016 when former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson was at the top of the Libertarian ticket, two cycles in a row.

But even beyond the lack of candidate name recognition, the coronavirus pandemic has presented the parties with an even bigger problem: with traditional campaigning completely upended, minor parties now face an even greater burden of actually getting their candidates' names on every states' ballot for the Nov. 3 election.

"With this situation being what it is with the COVID-19 has made everything a lot more difficult, because the routes we would normally take in order to get our candidates on the ballot are closed to us because we can't petition," Green Party national co-chair Anita Rios told ABC News Thursday.

"We were certainly on path to have 50 state ballot access. We had 35 states coming in at the beginning of the year. We were out petitioning. We were going to make all 50 states, for sure," said Dan Fishman, executive director of the Libertarian National Committee. "And then, you know, COVID hits, and it's almost impossible to gather signatures."

While Fishman was still confident the party would gain ballot access in every state, third-party presidential nominees are up against cumbersome laws that vary state-by-state, and don't present the same hurdles for Democratic and Republican nominees, who typically enjoy more resources and money from national and state parties.

"There are 50 different sets of laws," Rios said. "And some of those laws are impossibly hard, and they serve no purpose."

For example, in some states, a party's candidate securing a certain percentage of the vote statewide in the most recent presidential, or gubernatorial, election is enough to guarantee ballot access for its candidates at all levels of government for the next four years. In other states, though, candidates can get on the ballot by collecting a specified number of signatures, but this can be even more difficult for third-party candidates to achieve in states that have an additional requirement that signatories must be either registered independents or registered members of the political party they're supporting by signing the petition.

Kristin Combs, another national co-chair of the Green Party, told ABC News that due to coronavirus, the party needs special "relief" from these laws.

"We are asking for one of three solutions from states -- either that they lower the signature requirements dramatically and allow for electronic filings of signatures, that they grant automatic ballot access or that they replace petition filing with a reasonable filing fee," Combs said.

The Green and Libertarian Parties teamed up to take on ballot access laws in the courts, winning a lawsuit in Illinois where a federal judge ended up significantly loosening the signature requirement for this cycle, and also ruling that so long as the parties' candidates qualified for the ballot in 2018 or 2016, they would be automatically qualified for the ballot in November 2020, too.

While the Libertarian Party, which stopped collecting signatures on March 7 because of coronavirus safety concerns, plans to use this ruling to challenge ballot access laws in other states, it's only a single-cycle solution for a problem that exists even without a pandemic.

"Fundamentally, ballot access is a tool that's used to really keep people form having too many choices. The old parties -- they don't want you to have a lot of choices because they want you to pick their candidate," Fishman said. "It's something we've struggled against for a long time so hopefully -- hopefully -- this crisis gives us an opportunity to say, 'Look, nothing is threatened by having easier ballot access requirements.'"

Rios said that these laws' only purpose "is to exclude people from the ballot."

"I think that trickles down to how ordinary people feel about their own personal involvement with politics... it's just a terrible message," she said. "I have encountered so many people who simply have told me flat out as I'm petitioning to try to get on the ballot for this or that, who say, 'I have no faith in the political process, no, I won't sign your petition because I don't see that as having any value.’"

While Rios said hearing that breaks her heart, at the core of that sentiment is the question political pundits often raise about third party candidates, especially those running in a presidential election: What's the point if they don't stand a chance of winning in America's two-party, electoral college system?

Perhaps the most memorable third party presidential candidates in recent history have been pegged "spoilers" -- candidates who took enough votes away from one of the major party candidates that if the third party candidate had not also been on the ballot, the outcome of the election may have been different.

In 2016, Johnson, the Libertarian candidate, and Dr. Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate, had enough of the share of the vote in key swing states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Florida, that had they not been on the ballot, the votes they got could have potentially made up the deficit then-Democratic nominee and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had against then-Republican nominee Donald Trump in those states, and Clinton could have potentially become president instead of Trump. After the 2000 election, many called Ralph Nader, the most high profile candidate the Green Party has ever ran, a "spoiler" for then-Democratic nominee and Vice President Al Gore.

"Yes, it's generally true that third parties can spoil an election. It's maybe a little more difficult to measure than some people might think," said Matthew Hindman, an associate professor of political science at the University of Tulsa.

"But generally speaking.... people vote for the two major parties, largely because voters don't want to spoil the election. We're often voting as much against candidates as we are for them," Hindman added. "That's never been more true than it is today."

Hindman said that Americans are "afraid of enabling the 'wrong' candidate to get elected," which has made for a stable two-party system where most voters cast ballots for Democrats or Republicans, and the number of "true independents" in this country has been declining over the last one to two generations.

"We have near an all time high in the number of people recording to be politically independent. But if you really zero in on those voters who claim to be independent, the vast majority of them, lean towards the Democrats or towards the Republicans," he said. "Historically, third parties have an opportunity to capitalize on a large number of independent voters. But when very few of them are truly independent, the conditions just aren't right for flourishing third party politics.”

For the Green and Libertarian Parties, though, it's not so much about actually winning the highest office as it is about winning enough of the vote to secure future ballot access for their candidates at all levels of government. And they certainly don't see their candidates as spoilers as much as they see the country's political structure as spoiled.

"I really do believe that people have the right to vote their conscience, and I understand that for some people that for them feels like they're stuck between two options, and I think for me, it really comes down to educating people that they don't have to be stuck with two options, that there's another voting system that could be easily implemented so that they don't have to be put in a position where they're stuck with the lesser of two evils," Combs said, advocating for a rank-choice voting system instead.

Fishman told ABC News he himself was called a spoiler when he ran to represent Massachusetts's 6th Congressional District in Congress in 2012.

"What I've always said to that is the only spoiled vote is one that you cast for a candidate you don't like," he said. "Saying that we're spoilers? I really reject that idea because people need to have representatives that they can vote for that look like them. If not, then the election is really spoiled. When you're out voting for a candidate that you don't like, that's a spoiled election."

"I think that is a profoundly undemocratic way of even looking at a campaign," Rios added.

She told ABC News that she feels like she comes "from the American third world." A Latina growing up in the Rust Belt of America, she shared that her father was illiterate, and she didn't graduate high school -- didn't even get beyond ninth grade -- and half of her six siblings didn't get a diplomas either. But even against those odds, she and those siblings later went on to earn bachelor's degrees.

"The way that has informed by notion of politics is that we are disenfranchised, and a significant portion of the American people are continually disenfranchised," she said. "When somebody says the word spoiler, I just think, 'Are we really talking about democracy? Are you really telling me that I should not vote for a candidate based on their alignment with my values?'"

"I think that that is just a really, really sad way of looking at politics, and I won't do it," Rios said. "I feel like I have struggled very hard... to have a voice in democracy, and I'm not going to give that away, and I'm not going to cheapen it by voting for people that I don't have any confidence in."

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(WASHINGTON) -- A top Senate Democrat on Friday accused the Trump administration of treating military veterans as “guinea pigs,” after the Department of Veterans Affairs disclosed treating 1,300 coronavirus patients with hydroxychloroquine – a drug widely being used in clinical trials and touted by President Donald Trump, but that hasn’t yet been shown to be effective.

“In the vast majority of cases at VA, we are prescribing hydroxychloroquine at the final stages of a Veterans’ life in the hope that it has some positive effect,” Wilkie said in a letter responding to allegations made by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. “It is being provided when requested by the family as a final treatment option when all other treatments have failed.”

President Trump has touted hydroxychloroquine as a potential “game changer” in the race to develop treatments for COVID-19. Typically prescribed for malaria, lupus and certain types of arthritis, the drug has not been proven an effective treatment against coronavirus.

The FDA has said doctors can use the antimalarial drug for other, or off-label, purposes, including to treat COVID-19. The drug has been on the market since the 1940s and doctors are familiar with its side effects. The FDA, though, also has warned patients not to use the drug outside a clinical setting or hospital because it can cause serious heart problems in some patients.

A paper published in the Lancet medical journal Friday added to those concerns after finding that people with coronavirus treated with the drug had a significantly higher risk of death and irregular heart rhythms.

“We need to know what the basis was for using this drug against the consensus of science, which called into question its effectiveness in treating COVID-19,” Schumer said in a statement Friday. “We also need to know who is authorizing these new trials, what facilities are participating and what families are being told.”

The VA said it plans to continue using the drug while at the same time studying whether it’s effective in helping stem the spread of a coronavirus infection. A trial at VA facilities is expected for the end of May.

Several hydroxychloroquine clinical trials with front-line health workers and COVID-19 patients are ongoing in the U.S. and around the world.

A cursory review of the drug’s use at VA hospitals earlier this year found no positive effects on COVID-19 patients. It indicated a possible connection between hydroxychloroquine and higher mortality rates, but the paper was largely inconclusive and not a peer-reviewed scientific study.

Earlier this week, the president dismissed that review, without evidence, as a “Trump enemy statement.”

The VA has previously ordered shipments of the drug. Federal contracts reviewed by Connecting Vets show the agency placed orders in 2007, 2012 and 2015.

A federal watchdog in March found insufficient stockpiles of hydroxychloroquine at some facilities. VA said these findings lacked “merit” and suggested in response that “active investigations” into the drug’s effectiveness were behind the supply shortages.

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Oleksii Liskonih/iStockBy WILL STEAKIN and MEG CUNNINGHAM

(WASHINGTON) -- Republicans in Oregon this week nominated a Senate candidate with a deep history of promoting and vowing support for the QAnon conspiracy theory, providing the fringe movement its largest electoral platform yet and roiling Republicans over having a candidate who openly embraces baseless conspiracy theories.

In a now-deleted Twitter video, insurance agent Jo Rae Perkins, who bested three other candidates in the primary to face Democrat Sen. Jeff Merkley in November’s general election, expressed support for the QAnon conspiracy theory, which casts President Donald Trump as a crusader against a web of deep state conspiracies and that the Federal Bureau of Investigations has deemed a potential domestic terror threat.

“I stand with President Trump. I stand with Q and the team. Thank you Anons, and thank you patriots. And together, we can save our republic,” Perkins said in a video posted on Tuesday, while holding up a sign with a popular QAnon slogan on it.

Her primary win has forced Republicans to grapple with having a state-wide nominee who openly embraces the conspiracy theory.

When asked about supporting Perkins in the general election, the Republican National Committee did not comment.

The Oregon state Republican Party issued a lukewarm and seemingly reluctant statement saying, "By virtue of being the GOP nominee, this is what we do - support them in winning the general election."

The National Republican Senatorial Committee would not express support for Perkins and instead responded when asked with a list of unrelated allegations against Democratic Senate candidates before saying “and THIS is what ABC News is focused on.”

The Trump campaign and White House declined to comment.

Perkins’ own campaign on Wednesday tried to distance the candidate from QAnon, writing in a statement that she “would never describe herself as a follower.”

But speaking to ABC News on Thursday, Perkins did just that.

The Senate nominee said she was “literally physically in tears ” after reading the statement posted by her own campaign to her personal Twitter account and bucked her own campaign by reiterating support for QAnon.

"My campaign is gonna kill me,” Perkins said. “How do I say this? Some people think that I follow Q like I follow Jesus. Q is the information and I stand with the information resource.”

Perkins said she misread the line in the statement that walked back her support for QAnon before it was posted and that she would have told her campaign to “fix it” if she’d realized what was being said on her behalf.

“I scanned it and said, yeah, it looks good to me and out it went. And then I saw it afterwards and I am like, literally was in tears, literally physically in tears because I'm so blown away. Because I went, crap, that’s not me. And I don't back down.

“I'm not backpedaling and I'm frustrated. I feel like I'm having to backpedal and that's like torn me up because that's not me,” she said regarding her support for QAnon.

While Perkins said that her campaign has told her “not to worry” about fixing the statement rejecting her support for QAnon, she said “I'm the candidate and the buck stops with me.”

The QAnon conspiracy theory, which has spread debunked and baseless ideas like John F. Kennedy Jr. faking his own death and returning last July 4th, started in late 2017 after an anonymous post surfaced on the online message board 4chan with someone claiming to have access to top-secret government information.

Since then the random and anonymous posts have ignited followers to pore over each line and word looking for strands and clues into the wild alleged conspiracies.

“People who believe are believing things that are not true and don't have evidence to back them up. That leaves them in a place where they're holding a lot of beliefs that are disconnected from our shared reality,” said Joseph Uscinski, a political-science professor at the University of Miami whose research focuses on fringe beliefs.

"And further than that, they hold a set of beliefs that scapegoat particular people for all the world's evils and accuse them of engaging in horrific crimes. And when you put that together, those are the sorts of things that can motivate people to act and we have seen some isolated incidents where people committed violence. based on this considered conspiracy theory,” Uscinski said.

Last August, the FBI identified the QAnon conspiracy theory as a domestic terrorist threat, as Yahoo News reported on a document saying for the first time that the agency is labelling “conspiracy theory-driven domestic extremists” as a growing threat.

“The FBI assesses these conspiracy theories very likely will emerge, spread, and evolve in the modern information marketplace, occasionally driving both groups and individual extremists to carry out criminal or violent acts,” the document states and goes on to say that the agency believes conspiracy theory-driven extremists will likely increase amid the 2020 presidential election.

The conspiracy has grown popular at Trump rallies across the country, with followers wearing and selling merchandise, waving signs to get popular QAnon slogans and internet links on camera with for people to search and learn more about the alleged conspiracy.

The president, who elevated to power after pushing a debunked conspiracy theory of his own that President Barack Obama fabricated his birth certificate and was not born in the United States, has promoted and encouraged QAnon followers since taking office by regularly re-sharing their tweets to his nearly 80 million followers to the celebration of believers in the conspiracy theory.

However, Trump’s promotion of QAnon followers is not bound to the internet, the president has also invited them to the White House as part of a “social media summit” and has taken a photo with a follower in the Oval Office when right-wing conspiracy theorist and QAnon-believer Michael Lebron visited back in 2018.

According to Uscinski, while the president may not be personally responsible for QAnon’s rise given he has not publicly commented on it, Trump’s anti-establishment and “deep state” talk has created a space for it to thrive and the president has not proactively looked to shut it down either.

“I think what Trump has done is create a space for people who are anti-establishment to come out of the woodwork. And to feel like they are taking part in mainstream politics,” Uscinski said.

“It's in [Trump’s] favor to not denounce it either. There have been lower level officials who’ve said we're not endorsing this. But he hasn't. So the status quo is what works best for him. He can keep these people in his camp without saying something they disagree with. And then he doesn't have to do anything that would make him look more of a conspiracy theorist that he already looks like. By outwardly endorsing it.

The day after Perkins’ primary win this week, she appeared on a popular QAnon YouTube channel to celebrate the victory.

Perkins said on the live stream posted on Wednesday, hours before her campaign tried to distance her from the conspiracy theory, that “most of the people who were at our election night party were Q people.”

She also said she’d "absolutely" use the information she’s learned from the QAnon conspiracy theory in the U.S. Senate if elected.

And prior to her election win on Tuesday, Perkins regularly tweeted promoting the conspiracy theory, sometimes welcoming converts to the “QArmy” and as early as January this year she shared posts claiming to have proof of “coordination between Q and President Trump.”

Perkins, with or without the support of her own party, will have an uphill climb in November. Democrats largely win Oregon state-wide elections and Merkley, the incumbent, is considered a strong favorite in the Senate race. The state has gone blue for every presidential election since 1984 and hasn’t elected a Republican governor since the 1980s.

Perkins said despite Republican officials slow start supporting her candidacy publicly so far, she doesn’t believe there will be any issues moving forward since she says she’s friends with Oregon Republican Party Chairman Bill Currier.

Currier did not return a request for comment.

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Official White House Photo by Joyce N. BoghosianBy ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump said Friday he has declared that churches and other houses of worship provide "essential services" and he's told the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to issue guidance allowing them to reopen.

"I call upon governors to allow our churches and places of worship to open right now," he said making the announcement and leaving without taking questions after calling church closings an "injustice."

He threatened to "override" governors if they weren't allowed to reopen "this weekend."

Earlier, he said doing so is critical to the nation's "psyche" and accused Democratic governors of not treating churches with 'respect."

With the U.S. death toll from COVID-19 close to 95,000 as the Memorial Day weekend begins, Trump has ordered all flags on government buildings lowered to half-staff through Sunday "for every life lost to the coronavirus pandemic."

His order came after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer sent a letter to him Thursday requesting flags be lowered when the death toll reaches reaches 100,000, as experts estimate will happen by the end of the month -- what the Democratic congressional leaders called a "sad day of reckoning."

-- A new study of 96,000 patients hospitalized on six continents published Friday in the medical journal the Lancet finds that people treated with hyroxychloroquine -- the unproven drug treatment Trump has touted as a "game changer" -- had a higher risk of dying from an irregular heart rhythm than those who didn't take the antimalarial medication, as reported in The Washington Post.

The president has said that he would finish his last dose of a two-week course of what he calls "the hyrdroxy" today.

Trump declares houses of worship provide 'essential services'

President Trump, as part of his push to reopen the country, has declared houses of worship provide "essential services" and demanded governors allow them to reopen "this weekend," threatening ti "override" them if they didn't but not explaining what legal grounds he had to do so.

"At my direction, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is issuing guidance for communities of faith," he said making a brief statement in the White House briefing room Friday afternoon without taking questions. "Today, I am identifying houses of worship, churches, synagogue, and mosques, as essential places that provide essential services," he said.

"Some governors have deemed liquor stores and abortion clinics as essential, but have left out churches and other houses of worship. It's not right. So, I'm correcting this injustice and calling houses of worship essential," he declared.

"I call upon governors to allow our churches and places of worship to open right now. If there's any question, they're going to have to call me, but they are not going to be successful in that call," he continued.

"These are places that hold our society together and keep our people united. The people are demanding to go to church, and synagogue, go to their mosque. Many millions of Americans embrace worship as an essential part of life," he said.

After Trump left, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany dodged answering when reporters asked what authority the president had to force governors to open churches.

She called it a "hypothetical question" -- even though the president himself said that if governors do not allow churches to reopen he will intervene to "override" them.

In an exchange with ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jon Karl, coronavirus task force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx praised a new Lancet study that shows a heightened mortality rate among COVID patients who took hydroxychloroquine -- the antimalarial drug Trump has touted as a potential "game changer" treatment -- as “one of our clearest studies” out there when it comes to comorbidities.

“It clearly shows that comorbidity that puts individuals at more risk and I think it's one of our clearest studies because there was so many, tens of thousands it of individuals involved, and the doctors clearly annotated who had heart disease and who had obesity, and you can see dramatically the increase risks for that," she said.

Birx’s praise for the study is notable considering its critical conclusions on hydroxychloroquine. The president has dismissed a prior study looking at VA patients that reached a similar conclusion as being a “Trump enemy statement.”

--ABC News' Jordyn Phelps and Elizabeth Thomas

Trump says new reopening guidance will deem churches 'essential'

President Trump continued to tease forthcoming CDC guidance to prioritize the reopening churches, suggesting he will speak more on the topic later today and that the new guidance will deem places of worship as “essential” to make it easier to open amid the ongoing pandemic.

“I just spoke to CDC, we want our churches and our places of faith and worship, we want them to open, and CDC is going to be -- I believe today they will be issuing a very strong recommendation, and I'm going to be talking about that in a little while,” Trump said.

Though the president usually addresses the issue in speaking of "churches," he made clear that the guidance will apply to all religious institutions.

“I consider them essential, and that's one of the things we are saying. We are going to make them essential. You know, they have places essential, that aren't essential, and they open and yet the churches aren't allowed to open and the synagogues. Again, places of faith. Mosques. Places of faith. So, that's going to see that and you're going to see that," he said.

The president made the comments during a South Lawn event with Rolling Thunder bikers to honor veterans that felt very much like a campaign event.

Rain fell as Guns n’ Roses blared from loudspeakers and the president spoke under the cover of the portico to a group of motorcyclists below.

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(NEW YORK) -- Presumptive Democratic Nominee Joe Biden has come under fire for comments he made during an interview with “The Breakfast Club” radio program, in which he quipped that if African American voters support President Trump over him in November, they aren’t “black.”

"Well, I’ll tell you what, if you have a problem figuring out whether you're for me or Trump, then you ain't black," Biden told radio personality Charlamagne tha God, who hosts the program, which is particularly popular among black millennials, a voting bloc the former vice president is hoping to woo.

"It don't have nothing to do with Trump, it has to do with the fact -- I want something for my community," Charlamagne replied.

“Take a look at my record! I extended the Voting Rights Act 25 years' I have a record that is second to none. The NAACP has endorsed me every time I've run. I mean, come on, take a look at the record," Biden fired back.

Later Friday, Biden joined a call with the National Black Chamber of Commerce and conceded that he was “much too cavalier” in his remarks, and said he did not take the black vote for granted.

"I know the comments have come off like I was taking the African vote for granted. But nothing could be further from the truth,” Biden said on the call.

"I shouldn't have been such a wise guy," Biden added, “I don't take [the black vote] for granted at all. And no one, no one should have to vote for any party, based on their race, their religion, their background. There are African-Americans who think that Trump was worth voting for. I don't think so, I'm prepared to put my record against his. That was the bottom line and it was really unfortunate, I shouldn't have been so cavalier,” Biden said.

Biden also offered strong criticism of President Trump’s rhetoric on race.

“Donald Trump...this is the same man who called Africa -- you know -- s-hole countries, while also claiming there were fine people on both sides in Charlottesville as those racists came out of the fields carrying torches. He's lied about President Obama's birth certificate,” Biden said.

Biden has consistently criticized Trump’s rhetoric on race, frequently charging in speeches on the campaign trail that the president is “fanning the flames” of white supremacy and hate in America. The presumptive Democratic nominee has also made the tragic 2017 events in Charlottesville, Virginia, when a woman was killed protesting a rally attended by white supremacists, a centerpiece of his campaign, as well as Trump’s comments that there were “very fine people,” on both sides that took part in the event.

Earlier Friday, Biden’s campaign said the comments were made “in jest” and were intended to show Biden’s confidence in his record supporting minority communities as opposed to President Trump’s record which has included a travel ban that affected people coming from predominantly Muslim countries, hardline immigration policies and comments about blacks and Latinos seen as offensive by many.

“Vice President Biden spent his career fighting alongside and for the African American community. He won his party's nomination by earning every vote and meeting people where they are and that's exactly what he intends to do this November,” Symone Sanders, a senior advisor for Biden tweeted following the interview.

“The comments made at the end of the Breakfast Club interview were in jest, but let’s be clear about what the VP was saying: he was making the distinction that he would put his record with the African American community up against Trump’s any day. Period,” Sanders continued.

Biden’s comments that sparked criticism, which came towards the end of a nearly 20-minute long, at times combative, interview that touched on Biden’s views on criminal justice reform, marijuana legalization, and delved into his role in crafting the controversial 1994 Crime Bill that critics argue had a disproportionate impact on minority communities and which critics say helped lay the groundwork for mass incarceration.

In a statement given to the news website Mediaite, Charlamagne said his response to Biden during the interview stood on its own.

“We have been loyal to Democrats for a long time, black people have invested a lot into that party and the return on investment has not been great,” he wrote. “As Biden said in our brief interview when I asked him if Dems owe the black community ABSOLUTELY was his answer. So let’s see what you got!!! Votes are Quid Pro Quo. You can’t possibly want me to Fear Trump MORE than I want something for my people,” the statement read.

President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign quickly sought to cast the comment as racist and condescending.

"Joe Biden believes Black men and women are incapable of being independent or free thinking. He truly believes that he, a 77-year-old white man, should dictate how Black people should behave," Katrina Pierson, a senior adviser to Trump’s campaign, who is also African-American, wrote in a statement released Friday morning.

“That is the most arrogant, condescending comment I’ve heard in a very long time and that’s saying something,” Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., the lone black Republican in the U.S. Senate, said in an interview Friday on Fox News.

Until the COVID-19 pandemic decimated the American economy, Trump has often attempted to appeal to black voters by citing record low unemployment levels.

“The Democrats always play the Race Card, when in fact they have done so little for our Nation’s great African American people. Now, lowest unemployment in U.S. history, and only getting better,” Trump said in a July 2019 tweet.

While black unemployment has reached record lows during the Trump administration according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, many economists view the continued economic growth since the middle of 2009, when Democratic President Barack Obama was in office, as the primary explanation for hiring, according to a fact check of Trump’s claims done by the Associated Press.

Biden’s remarks drew criticism from some activists who say he still has work to do to engage minority communities and win their votes this November.

“The comments were offensive, insensitive, out of touch...It’s just not good for the presumed future leader of the Democratic Party in our nation to say anything like that,” Yvette Simpson, an ABC News contributor who leads the progressive group Democracy for America, said Friday of Biden’s comments on “The Breakfast Club.”

“I think it sounds like [Biden] is taking this for granted. I think he believes that anybody who doesn't like Trump is automatically going to vote for him. And that he doesn't have to earn the vote of base voters, whether they be women or black and brown people or what have you. That's false,” Simpson added.

Others urged Biden to show that he “values” the voters that comprise the base of the Democratic Party, and will only win their votes if they feel his dialogue with them is genuine.

“Joe Biden doesn't get to decide who is black, or what black voters want, or what women of color voters want. He can decide that the issues and concerns of black voters matter, and engage us in conversations that can ultimately turn the election,” Aimee Allison the founder and president of She the People, a political network that aims to elevate women of color in politics, wrote in a statement provided to ABC News.

In an interview Friday afternoon, Sanders said that Biden was not taking any votes for granted.

“If the question people have is does Vice President Biden believe that he has to earn the votes of black voters, of Latino voters, of young people, of progressive of women, of working class voters, of blue collar voters in this country? Absolutely,” Sanders said on MSNBC.

Other experts say Biden’s comments fundamentally misunderstand the lack of representation that has historically driven black voters to disengage from the political process.

“Ultimately, the choice between Biden and Trump is not a choice between: if you're black, whether you're going to support a Republican, or if you're black, you’re going to support a Democrat. Historically black voters tend to not engage at all, because neither of the choices really reflect their political desires or political goals and what they think is best for their community at the time. So in that's not so much offensive or even insulting, but just mis-recognizes the complexity and sophistication of black voters really at this point in time,” said Dr. Mark Anthony Neal, a professor of African and African American Studies at Duke University, told ABC News.

However, Neal said there is remains a difference between how some black Americans may react to Biden’s comments, and how many feel about the rhetoric and policymaking coming out of Donald Trump’s White House.

“The disconnect, when we think about the same kind of rhetoric coming from the White House at the moment, is that Donald Trump, other than lip service to black historical figures and certain black folks that he has a relationship with, he hasn't enacted policies that suggest he has the best interest of black folks,” Neal said.

“So it’s not so easy for some of [Trump’s] more problematic statements to just roll off the backs of black folks in the way that Joe Biden is such a known entity and known for making the kind of comments that he made this morning,” Neal added.

Throughout the interview with Charlamagne, Biden defended his involvement with the 1994 crime bill, an issue that he has faced intense scrutiny on throughout his third run for the presidency.

When asked why he was hesitant to acknowledge the negative impact the bill and other legislation had on communities of color, as Hillary Clinton did on the program in 2016, Biden pushed back.

“She was wrong. What happened was, it wasn't the crime bill. It was the drug legislation. It was the institution of mandatory minimums, which I oppose,” Biden shot back.

Biden was also asked about his current views on marijuana, and his advocating for decriminalization instead of legalization until more scientific studies are conducted about the long-term impacts of the drug.

"No one should be going to jail for a drug crime. Period," Biden said.

“I think we got decades and decades of studies from actual weed smokers though,” Charlamagne argued.

“I know a lot of weed smokers,” Biden replied.

Biden relied heavily on support from the African-American community throughout this year’s Democratic primary, especially among older black voters, who propelled him to a landslide victory in South Carolina that many credit with reviving his campaign.

“I won overwhelmingly. I told you when I got to South Carolina. I won every single county. I won a larger share of the black vote than anybody has, including Barack [Obama],” Biden said.

Biden won black voters in the South Carolina primary in February by 44 points over the second place finisher in the contest, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt, according to exit polls.

The former vice president will likely need to turn out black voters this fall at higher rates than were seen in 2016, when Hillary Clinton narrowly lost to Trump.

A poll conducted this week by Quinnipiac University showed Biden with a 78-point lead with African-American voters over Trump.

In 2016, Trump carried just 8% of the black vote according to exit polls after making a stark and unorthodox pitch to them during one campaign event in the battleground state of Michigan.

"You're living in poverty, your schools are no good, you have no jobs, 58% of your youth is unemployed -- what the hell do you have to lose?" Trump said in an off the cuff comment during an August 2016 rally in Dimondale, Michigan.

During his interview on “The Breakfast Club” on Friday, Biden was also asked about who he is planning to vet to be his vice presidential running mate, and while he did not offer any specific names, he committed that there are multiple black women that are in the running.

“I'm not acknowledging anybody who is being considered but I guarantee you, there are multiple black women being considered. Multiple,” Biden said.

Several prominent African-American lawmakers, nearly all of whom have backed Biden’s bid including House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., Civil Rights icon and Georgia Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga. and Reverend Al Sharpton, have urged Biden to strongly consider choosing a woman of color to round out the presidential ticket.

“I think Vice President Biden should look around. It would be good to have a woman of color...It would be good to have a woman, who looks like the rest of America,” Lewis told reporters in early April.

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(WASHINGTON) -- A group of Republican senators is urging the Department of Justice to open an investigation into dozens of Planned Parenthood clinics that may have received a portion of the $80 million in potentially forgivable federal loans contained within the Paycheck Protection Program.

In a letter to Attorney General William Barr released Thursday, the lawmakers wrote: "These Planned Parenthood entities self-certified eligibility for these loans despite the clear ineligibility under the statutory text of the CARES Act," which established the PPP to aid small businesses. The senators said the nonprofit's loan applications were "fraudulent" and that submitting them could "trigger both civil and criminal penalties."

Planned Parenthood denies the accusations.

"Like many other local nonprofits and health care providers, some independent Planned Parenthood 501(c)(3) organizations applied for and were awarded loans under the eligibility rules established by the CARES Act and the Small Business Administration (SBA), which they met," Jacqueline Ayers, Planned Parenthood Federation of America's vice president of government relations and public policy, said a statement Wednesday.

Ayers added: "This is a clear political attack on Planned Parenthood health centers and access to reproductive health care. It has nothing to do with Planned Parenthood health care organizations' eligibility for COVID-19 relief efforts, and everything to do with the Trump administration using a public health crisis to advance a political agenda and distract from their own failures in protecting the American public from the spread of COVID-19."

The letter sent to Barr was signed by 27 of 53 Senate Republicans, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham and Mitt Romney.

Fox News was first to report on some Planned Parenthood affiliates receiving PPP loans.

DOJ has not said publicly whether it will investigate the matter.

The PPP program itself has been criticized over a lack of transparency, and a group of news outlets, including ABC News, is suing the SBA for access to government records that show which companies and nonprofits have received loans.

Planned Parenthood declined to confirm to ABC News how many loans its affiliates had received or the total dollar amount of said loans. The SBA didn't immediately return a request for comment.

The SBA has notified at least one Planned Parenthood affiliate that it should return its PPP loan.

The Republican senators argued in their letter to Barr that the SBA's affiliation rules link Planned Parenthood Federation of America and its members, which means they're part of an entity too large to be considered a small business.

But SBA affiliation rules aren't black and white, and they've already caused significant confusion tied to PPP lending. That said, the SBA has said that "generally, affiliation exists when one business controls or has the power to control another," and that control "may arise through ownership, management, or other relationships or interactions."

More than 10,000 work at Planned Parenthood locations, including independent affiliates. Republicans are arguing that independent offices adhering to common bylaws constitutes a management agreement and therefore establishes impermissible affiliation, rendering individual facilities ineligible for PPP.

"In order to be a Planned Parenthood affiliate, you have to get approval of the parent board, the one that's located here in Washington, D.C., a parent board that is sitting on -- according to their own numbers, in 2018 -- close to half a billion dollars in net assets," Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., chairman of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, said Wednesday. "They just don't qualify under the affiliate rules. It's as simple as that. Leave aside all the other issues, they do not qualify. So they need to return the money, and if they did this knowingly they need to be held accountable. And whoever helped them do this knowingly needs to be held accountable."

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Official White House Photo by Tia DufourBy JORDYN PHELPS, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump is eager for churches to resume in-person fellowship as part of his bigger push to reopen the country amid the pandemic, saying his administration could issue new guidance as soon as Friday.

Framing the reopening of churches as “important in terms of the psyche of our country,” Trump told reporters Thursday that he was urging the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to issue guidance specific to places of worship as soon as possible.

“I just got off the phone with CDC and talked about churches. I said I want the churches to open, the people want the churches to open, and I think you'll have something come down very soon, from CDC, we want to get our churches back,” Trump said at a roundtable with African American community leaders on his trip to Michigan.

The president’s determination to reopen places of worship comes as he has urged the people of the country to view themselves as “warriors” in prioritizing a return to a semblance of normal life even as the coronavirus remains a major threat to public health.

“People want to be in their churches,” the president said. “It's wonderful to sit home and watch something on a laptop, but it can never be the same as being in a church or be with your friends and they want to have it open and I think that's going to be happening very shortly.”

Back in March, the president had envisioned packed church pews by Easter Sunday in a bid to reopen the country, but ultimately relented from the Easter goal.

"I would love to have it open by Easter," Trump said on March 24. "It's such an important day for other reasons, but I'll make it an important day for this, too. I would love to have the country opened up, and just raring to go by Easter."

As he again pushes for churches to return to in-person fellowship, the federal government is in a position to offer guidance, but it will be state and local governments that continue to bear responsible for setting the terms of reopening based on the conditions in their communities.

But that hasn’t stopped Trump from casting the issue in political terms.

The president has criticized some Democratic states for taking approaches that he views as overly cautious and on Thursday blame “a lot of Democrat governors” for keeping churches shuttered.

“The churches are not being treated with respect by a lot of the Democrat governors. I want to get our churches open,” he said. “And we’re gonna take a very strong position on that very soon.”

Attorney General William Barr has threatened the Justice Department will intervene in lawsuits brought by churches opposing restrictions if it thinks the constitutional rights are being violated.

Public health officials continue to urge caution as states begin to relax social distancing guidelines that reopening too quickly could lead to another spike in virus. While there has been a recent downward decline of new cases on the national level, some states and cities have reported increases.

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Mario Tama/Getty ImagesBy ELIZABETH THOMAS, ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- In an appearance on ABC's The View, Republican Sen. Tim Scott R.-S.C, touted his efforts to combat the disproportionate and devastating affect coronavirus has had on the African-American community.

Scott was tapped by President Donald Trump to help address the staggering death and unemployment rates in minority communities due to COVID-19. During his interview on The View he highlighted his close relationship with the president and gave insight into the advice he's given the president on increasing telemedicine efforts and awareness of the Paycheck Protection Program in the African-American community.

"If you live in the rural parts of South Carolina whether you're black or white the reality of it is getting to a doctor is harder than it's ever been, and frankly for a long time we told folks don't come to the hospital," Scott said. "Telemedicine can bridge that gap and we need to make sure that the reimbursement rates are such that people will be able to afford to use telemedicine as providers and letting people get there, so that's one of the pieces of advice I've given to the President. The second piece of advice I've given to the president that, as a former small business owner myself, we need to make sure that African American businesses are fully aware of the paycheck protection program we have about 100 billion dollars left that we need to deploy."

The GOP senator also said that he has encouraged the administration to prioritize testing for these communities at churches.

"In order for us to help communities of color have the right locations to go visit to get the test," Scott said. "Sometimes you're more likely to walk to the church in your neighborhood then you are to find a ride to a local pharmacy or hospital so I've encouraged the testing to be done at churches at CVS or pharmacies or hospitals I want that everywhere."

As the lone Black Republican Senator, Scott was called on by Trump following the killing of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia and the release of the shocking video of his death.

"The video is really clear, that is murder 1 p.m. in the afternoon," Scott said. "I'm a black man that jogs too and I just thought to myself, 'Do I need to carry gun everywhere I go?' And I'm so frustrated by that video, so frustrated by the lack of response for six weeks, but I wanted the president to understand my frustration and my serious concern that we cannot afford to go back to a Jane's Byrd day in 1998 or Emmett Till's."

Scott also said that he has had ongoing conversations with the president about this deadly incident.

"I wanted the president to hear my thoughts on it and thankfully he called me that Friday evening, and we had a serious discussion about it," Scott said. "I was in the White House this weekend, we talked about it again, I was in there last weekend we talked about it again and I'm glad to see the Department of Justice is at least on the case."

Trump's rage with voting by mail

While the president has been relentlessly attacking voting by mail suggesting that it leads to voter fraud, Scott was hesitant to express the same sentiments. Sunny Hostin pressed Scott on why it is ok for Trump to vote via mail but not an everyday American.

"Let's talk about our election senator, just this week, Trump threatened to cut funds to states like Michigan and Nevada stemming from absentee ballots so people wouldn't have to travel to the polls in a pandemic," Hostin said. "But President Trump mailed in his own ballot this March, even though he was across the street from a polling site in Florida. Why is it okay for the President to vote by absentee ballot, but not for every American?"

"Well Sunny that's great question. I'll look forward to you asking the president that question," Scott said. "I'll just tell you that in South Carolina. If you are over a certain age or if you're at work, you have the ability to be able to vote, an absentee form. I think that's the case throughout this nation in different forms, different states do different ways. The good news is that a local, local counties and municipalities, really control most of the election process, along with the state so I think you'll continue to see a robust approach to early voting as relates to states who have it and then for reasons you can vote early and other states."

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(WASHINGTON) -- At least three times in the past two years, Tara Reade -- the woman who now accuses Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden of sexual assault -- took the witness stand in a trial centered on domestic violence.

Each time, before a judge would allow her to describe the insidious cycles of domestic violence, she had to show she was qualified to testify in court as a so-called “expert witness.” And each time, she began her answer by citing two things: Biden’s past efforts to protect women from violence, and her time on his Senate staff in the early 1990s, when she now says the sexual assault took place.

“What’s your experience specifically with respect to domestic violence?” Monterey County Deputy District Attorney Robin Duffy asked Reade during a trial in California early last year, according to a transcript of the testimony.

“Well,” Reade responded, “I worked originally for former U.S. senator Joseph Biden as a legislative aide. He worked on the Violence Against Women Act.”

In the January 2019 testimony, Reade seemed to praise what Biden started as a U.S. senator, saying that “going way back to my former boss, Joe Biden,” there has been a “movement” to “take the onus off the victim” by encouraging neighbors or other associates of victims to report domestic violence to authorities.

She also cited Biden and the Violence Against Women Act during testimony in October last year, six months after she first publicly accused Biden of inappropriately touching her nearly two decades ago, limiting her complaints then to allegations he stroked her neck and twirled her curly hair between his fingers.

According to the transcripts obtained by ABC News, her appearances in court reflect someone who has dedicated much of her life to helping those brutalized by violent and abusive men. But the transcripts also reflect someone who -- when under oath -- touted Biden’s work for women.

In addition, defense attorneys are reportedly now trying to determine if the transcripts show she provided false testimony about her credentials.

Before a judge allowed Reade to testify in a December 2018 trial -- involving the less common case of two women accused of domestic violence -- Duffy, the prosecutor, asked Reade to describe her past education.

“I have a law degree from Seattle University,” Reade noted, testifying under the name Alexandra McCabe, which she assumed after escaping from her allegedly abusive ex-husband in 1997.

“And what about undergraduate?” Duffy inquired.

“A B.A. from Antioch University,” Reade replied, referring to the bachelor of arts degree bestowed on those who graduate from the Seattle school.

After then hearing about Reade’s “20-year career,” including her time in state government as “a victim advocate” and her legal work for local agencies representing battered women, the judge ruled that Reade could testify as an expert witness in the case.

“I do find at this time that this witness does meet the educational background and training requirements to testify as an expert in the dynamics of domestic violence relationships,” the Monterey County judge said of Reade.

A month later, in her January 2019 testimony, Reade similarly testified that she received an undergraduate degree from Antioch University.

But, according to Antioch University officials, some of what Reade told the judges was not true.

"Alexandra McCabe attended but did not graduate from Antioch University,” the school’s spokeswoman, Karen Hamilton, said in a statement to ABC News.

In fact, according to one source familiar with the matter, Reade attended the equivalent of just one year of school at Antioch University in 2000 -- a fraction of what’s usually required to earn a degree.

The next year, Reade was accepted into Seattle University School of Law through the school’s Alternative Admission Program, which provides “a pathway for individuals from historically disadvantaged and under-represented communities” to attend law school, an official from the school recently told CNN, which first reported on questions about her undergraduate schooling.

Reade received her law degree in 2004.

After questions about her testimony surfaced, Reade provided the New York Times with a screenshot of a school transcript from Antioch University, which showed her department as “BA Completion” but left blank the “date conferred” and “degree conferred.” She told the Times that, to help protect her new identity from her allegedly abusive ex-husband, the school’s then-president, Tullise Murdock, helped secretly bestow a “fast-tracked” degree upon her.

But Hamilton, the Antioch spokeswoman, told the Times that Murdock denied any such arrangement.

If proven false, Reade’s claims -- under oath -- could amount to a crime.

In several press releases announcing convictions over the years, prosecutors have repeatedly described Reade’s testimony as “critical” to their cases. The district attorney’s office is now reviewing the matter, and defense lawyers from many of trials are now looking to reopen their clients’ cases, according to the New York Times.

A ‘legislative aide’ to Biden?

The details of Reade’s education may not have been her only overstatements while testifying in court -- she repeatedly testified that she was a “legislative assistant” in Biden’s office.

In her October 2019 testimony seven months ago, she even suggested she was involved in moving Biden’s key legislation along.

“On the Violence Against Women Act, I was a legislative assistant and did research in that office,” she said, according to a transcript of her testimony.

In January 2019, she testified that she worked for Biden “as a legislative aide” -- the same title she used to describe her position in at least four personal essays posted online.

“When you work as a legislative aide, you research the overarching issue of what the policy is or the law is they're trying to enact,” she said in court. “So I was reading and studying before and going to hearings and things like that.”

But, in fact, government records show Reade was a “staff assistant” on Biden’s team -- a lower position than a “legislative aide.”

Reade seemed to acknowledge the difference in a podcast interview two months ago, when she said she “worked for legislative aides” on Biden’s staff.

“Pretty low on the totem pole,” she said of her position at the time. “I was working with the interns. So I supervised the intern program, and made sure all the mail was distributed where it was supposed to [be].”

When assisting legislative aides, she “would help go to a hearing and take notes, or write something,” she added.

The Biden allegations

Reade is now accusing Biden of sexual assault during her time in his office, allegations that Biden and his closest advisers from the time have vehemently denied.

According to Reade, in 1993 Biden pinned her against a wall in a Capitol Hill hallway, slipped his hand into her skirt, and then digitally penetrated her.

The explosive allegation goes much further than when she first publicly lodged allegations against Biden last year. In an April 2019 interview with her local newspaper, she accused Biden of inappropriately touching her neck and shoulder when she worked for him.

The allegations last year went further themselves than previously-documented claims.

In recent interviews, Reade has said that while still working for Biden, she formally filed a sexual harassment complaint with a Senate office, but that has yet to be corroborated.

Biden has said the events described by Reade "never happened."

"[Women] deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, and when they step forward they should be heard, not silences," he said in a recent statement.

Still, "the full and growing record of inconsistencies in her story" should be examined, he said.

In her March podcast interview, Reade said that acting as an expert witness in Monterey County courts is part of “how I channel [the] rampage or energy” that has grown inside her through years of abuse.

“I have spent most of my life hiding from powerful men, be it my abusive ex-husband later, or Joe Biden,” Reade said, her voice cracking with emotion. “I am now at the point where just I’m done.”

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