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Russia maybe 'not serious' about diplomacy on Ukraine but ball in its court: Blinken

Pool via ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- Secretary of State Antony Blinken, speaking at the State Department on Wednesday, confirmed the U.S. had delivered a written response to Moscow security demands as Russia amassed troops on its borders with Ukraine.

"Today, Ambassador Sullivan delivered our written response in Moscow. All told, it sets out a serious diplomatic path forward, should Russia choose it," Blinken said.

"The document we’ve delivered includes concerns of the United States and our allies and partners about Russia's actions that undermine security, a principled and pragmatic evaluation of the concerns that Russia has raised, and our own proposals for areas where we may be able to find common ground," he continued.

"This is not a negotiating document," Blinken said, adding that President Joe Biden was "involved from the get-go" and had signed off on it.

"The ball is their court," he added, referring to the Russians.

Russia had said it would not continue talks until Moscow had the responses in hand, and Blinken announced after meeting in Geneva last week with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that the U.S. would oblige, which some argued might be seen as a U.S. concession.

But Blinken denied that, saying the U.S. did not change its positions in the paper, but "reiterated what we said publicly for many weeks and, in a sense, for many, many years."

That includes rejecting Russia's key demands, laid out in its own draft treaties last month, that NATO bar Ukraine from joining the Western military alliance and that NATO pull back troops from its Eastern European member states, who were formerly Soviet states.

"There is no change. There will be no change," he told reporters. "I can't be more clear -- NATO's door is open, remains open, and that is our commitment."

Blinken and Lavrov will speak in the coming days once Russia has reviewed the U.S. response, the top U.S. diplomat said. While there are fears that Russia is using the diplomatic exchange as pretext to attack Ukraine, saying diplomacy failed to address their concerns, Blinken said the U.S. would not be the one to end talks, even as it prepares sanctions and readies NATO deployments.

"You may be right, that Russia is not serious about this at all. But we have an obligation to test that proposition, to pursue the diplomatic path," he said. "The point is we're prepared either way."

Blinken's comments follow Biden saying Tuesday there could be some U.S. troop movements in the "nearer term" -- and that he would consider personally sanctioning Russian President Vladimir Putin if Russia invades Ukraine -- a day after 8,500 American forces were put on "heightened alert" in the region.

But in Ukraine, leaders have offered a different assessment from that put forward by the White House that a full-scale Russian attack is imminent.

During a news conference on Wednesday, Ukraine Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said they believe Russia’s forces are currently “insufficient” for a full-scale invasion and that right now the Kremlin is seeking to destabilize Ukraine with the threat of attack and other means, not yet actually launching one.

In a televised address to the nation Tuesday night, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy urged people to stay calm about the threat of a Russian attack and said there was work in progress to bring about a meeting between him and the leaders of Russia, France and Germany.

"Protect your body from viruses, your brain from lies, your heart from panic,” Zelenskiy said.

The White House and State Department have defended the administration's decisions and rhetoric, denying that drawing down the embassy, putting 8,500 U.S. troops on alert, and warning of an "imminent" threat have escalated the situation.

Asked on Tuesday about the criticism from Kyiv that the U.S. is giving into Russia's playbook, State Department Spokesperson Ned Price denied the U.S. created a "panic."

"We have been clear about our concerns. We have been clear about the depth of those concerns," Price said. "Given what we're seeing on Ukraine's borders, what we're seeing in what should be an independent sovereign country of Belarus, with the Russian military buildup there, what we're seeing with preparations for potential hybrid operations -- all of this is cause for concern, but certainly no one is calling for panic."

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Biden, lawmakers prepare for Supreme Court vacancy, react to Breyer's retirement

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(WASHINGTON) -- President Joe Biden on Wednesday declined to expand on reports Justice Stephen Breyer would be retiring from the Supreme Court at the end of the current term, saying he would wait to speak further until the justice personally announces his plans.

"Every justice has the right and opportunity to decide what he or she is going to do, announce it on their own. There's been no announcement from Justice Breyer. Let him make whatever statement he's going to make, and I'll be happy to talk about it later," Biden said.

Breyer, the most senior member of the U.S. Supreme Court's liberal wing and staunch defender of a nonpartisan judiciary, stepping down from the bench fulfills the wish of Democrats who lobbied for his exit and for Biden's first high court appointment.

The vacancy now paves the way for Biden to nominate a Black woman to the court -- a historic first and something he promised during the 2020 campaign.

Biden's first public appearance since the news was at an afternoon White House event with American business executives to discuss his stalled Build Back Better agenda.

Several progressive House lawmakers have already amped up the pressure on Biden with Reps. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., Cori Bush, D-Mo., and Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y., all reminding Biden on Twitter of his promise to elevate a Black woman to the position.

When reporters followed up with the president on Wednesday, Biden added, "I'll be happy to talk about this later. I'm gonna get into this issue."

White House press secretary Jen Psaki shared the president's sentiment in an earlier tweet.

"It has always been the decision of any Supreme Court Justice if and when they decide to retire, and how they want to announce it, and that remains the case today," she said.

Later on at a White House briefing, Psaki confirmed Biden "certainly stands by" his pledge to nominate a Black woman to the post.

"The president has stated and reiterated his commitment to nominating a black woman to the Supreme Court and certainly stands by that," she said, declining to offer more details until the public heard from Breyer.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, in a statement, said the Senate is prepared to move to confirm Biden's nominee to fill the Supreme Court vacancy with "all deliberate speed."

"President Biden's nominee will receive a prompt hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee, and will be considered and confirmed by the full United States Senate with all deliberate speed," he wrote in a statement.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, which holds hearings for court nominees, said in a statement that the vacancy presents Biden "the opportunity to nominate someone who will bring diversity, experience, and an evenhanded approach to the administration of justice" and that he looks forward to moving the nominee "expeditiously through the Committee.”

Once Biden nominates a replacement for Breyer, Senate Democrats plan to not only hold a confirmation hearing swiftly -- similar to Justice Amy Coney Barrett who had her first hearing within 13 days of her nomination -- but also to hold those proceedings while Breyer is still sitting on the bench, according to two Democratic aides familiar with the matter.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, speaking to reporters in Kentucky, said he was "afraid to put the cart before the horse" since Breyer has yet to make a formal announcement and he downplayed questions on whether Republicans would try to block the new nominee, adding, "We don't know who the nominee is yet."

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina reacted to the news with a reminder that Democrats -- having the slimmest of majorities in the Senate -- still have the ability to pass Biden's nominee without Republican support. Sen. Mitch McConnell, as majority leader in 2017, lowered the threshold to break the Senate filibuster from 60 votes to 51 votes for Supreme Court nominees in order to pass former President Donald Trump's first pick.

"If all Democrats hang together – which I expect they will – they have the power to replace Justice Breyer in 2022 without one Republican vote in support. Elections have consequences, and that is most evident when it comes to fulfilling vacancies on the Supreme Court," Graham said in a statement, in a nod to the 2020 Senate elections in Georgia which Democrats won.

Graham was one of three Senate Republicans to vote to confirm Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, who once served as a clerk to Breyer and is being eyed as a potential replacement to him, to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals last year.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said in a statement that Biden should "honor the legacy of Justice Breyer and nominate another experienced jurist who respects the current structure and limited role of the Supreme Court."

"Whoever the President nominates will be treated fairly and with the dignity and respect someone of his or her caliber deserves, something not afforded to Justice Kavanaugh and other Republican nominees in the past," he added.

Democrats counter that Attorney General Merrick Garland was not treated respectfully when McConnell refused to bring his nomination to the high court to the Senate floor in 2016 as majority leader.

Progressive activists had put unprecedented public pressure on Breyer, who was nominated in 1994 by President Bill Clinton, to retire. McConnell said in June that the GOP may try to block a Democratic nominee to the court if the party wins control of the Senate in November and a vacancy occurs in 2023 or 2024.

ABC News' Devin Dwyer and Eric Fayeulle contributed to this report.

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Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson eyed as potential replacement to Justice Stephen Breyer

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(WASHINGTON) -- With the retirement of Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer at the end of the current term, one name keeps rising to the top of the list of potential replacements: Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson.

Jackson, whom President Joe Biden nominated to replace Merrick Garland on the high-profile D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals when he picked Garland for attorney general, is a Harvard Law graduate who served as a clerk to Breyer from 1999-2000 and interviewed with former President Barack Obama for former Justice Antonin Scalia's vacancy in 2016.

After the Supreme Court, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals is the most important federal court in the country, with jurisdiction over cases involving Congress and the executive branch agencies.

Biden, who has said he would appoint the first African American woman to the Supreme Court because the court should "look like the country," would be able to make good on that promise with a Jackson nomination. No Black woman has ever been nominated to the high court.

Other top contenders include Judge Leondra Kruger, of the California Supreme Court; Judge Leslie Abrams Gardner, of the US District Court Georgia; and Judge J. Michelle Childs, of the US District Court South Carolina.

Once Biden nominates a replacement, Senate Democrats plan to not only hold a confirmation hearing swiftly -- Justice Amy Coney Barrett had her first hearing 13 days after former President Donald Trump nominated her -- but also to hold those proceedings while Breyer is still sitting on the bench, according to two Democratic aides familiar with the matter.

Jackson was the first Black woman confirmed to an appellate court in a decade and is one of six Black female circuit court judges currently serving. She is also one of just 39 active Black female federal judges out of 793 total.

The 51-year-old also has some bipartisan appeal. She was confirmed 53-44 to her current seat in June 2021, drawing votes from three Republicans -- Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska. Collins told reporters Wednesday that Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin called her to discuss the path forward regarding a potential Supreme Court confirmation in the Senate.

At the time of Jackson's last confirmation, several Republican senators brought up the advocacy group Demand Justice, which has supported Jackson's nomination and has called for expanding the Supreme Court.

"Demand Justice claims that the Supreme Court is broken," Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said. "Do you think the Supreme Court is broken?"

"Senator, I've never said anything about the Supreme Court being broken," Jackson said in response. "Again, I'm not going to comment on the structure, the size, the functioning even, of the Supreme Court."

Under questioning, she also characterized religious liberty as a foundational tenet of the U.S. government and said the Supreme Court has made clear that the government cannot infringe on religious rights.

She was also asked if she believed race would play a role in her decision making, if mandatory minimums were racist and the role of race in the judicial system.

Jackson repeatedly emphasized her belief in judicial independence.

Jackson grew up attending public schools in Miami and graduated from Harvard College. She has served as an assistant public defender and as vice chair and commissioner on the U.S. Sentencing Commission.

The mother of two teenage daughters is related to former House Speaker Paul Ryan by marriage.

Ryan testified on her behalf when she was nominated to the district court in 2012, offering his "unequivocal" endorsement.

During her circuit court confirmation hearing, she offered a poignant response when Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Calif., asked what the nomination meant to her.

"It is the beauty and the majesty of this country, that someone who comes from a background like mine could find herself in this position," she answered. "And so I'm just enormously grateful to have this opportunity to be a part of the law in this way, and I'm truly thankful for the president giving me the honor of this nomination."

ABC News' Lauren Lantry, Adia Robinson and Trish Turner contributed to this report.

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As new variants emerge, US government turns attention to a universal coronavirus vaccine

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(WASHINGTON) -- At the dawn of the COVID-19 pandemic, vaccine makers raced to design a shot that perfectly matched the new virus's genetic code. Their efforts were successful, resulting in highly effective vaccines in record time.

But the virus has continued to evolve into new, concerning variants, each with a slightly different genetic code. Although current vaccines still work well against new variants, they are no longer a perfect match.

Vaccine makers like Pfizer and Moderna are now exploring tweaked booster shots to match the now-dominant omicron variant, but the U.S. government is aggressively pursuing a different approach: a pan-coronavirus vaccine that would work equally well against any COVID-19 variant.

"Since September of 2020 there have been five SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern -- alpha, beta, gamma, delta and now, the current, omicron," Dr. Anthony Fauci said at a White House task force briefing Wednesday. "So, obviously, innovative approaches are needed."

Fauci, who heads up the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has issued $43 million in research grants across several academic institutions to support development of a pan-coronavirus vaccine, sometimes called a "universal" coronavirus vaccine.

The idea, scientists say, is to create a vaccine that works as as a generalist rather than a specialist. A pan-coronavirus vaccine will be designed using features of the virus's genetic code that are shared universally across all different versions of the virus -- and hopefully, any new versions that will emerge.

Several research groups are already working on a pan-coronavirus vaccine, including scientists at the California Institute of Technology, Duke University, University of Washington, Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

But scientists at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research are arguably the furthest along. The Army vaccine appears to work well in monkeys, and is now being tested for safety in a phase 1 study in human volunteers.

In a rare look inside the Walter Reed laboratories last year, ABC News' Bob Woodruff spoke to a team of Army scientists hopeful that their vaccine candidate would work not only against COVID-19 variants, but also against related coronaviruses, like those that caused the SARS-1 and MERS outbreaks in 2003 and 2012, respectively.

But designing a pan-coronavirus vaccine is no easy feat. Scientists say it could take months, even years, to find a vaccine that works equally well against multiple coronavirus strains.

"I don't want anyone to think that pan-coronavirus vaccines are literally around the corner in a month or two," Fauci said. Current vaccines dramatically reduce the risk of hospitalization and severe illness, even against new variants like omicron. And crucially, they are available today.

"Do not wait to receive your primary vaccine regimen," Fauci said. "If you are vaccinated, please get your booster if you are eligible."

ABC News' Matthew Seyler contributed to this report.

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Fed signals rate hikes coming 'soon' amid inflation concerns

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(WASHINGTON) -- Officials at the Federal Reserve on Wednesday signaled that they could "soon" raise interest rates for the first time in three years, as inflation concerns cast a shadow over the pandemic-battered economy.

The central bankers said in a statement Wednesday that they were leaving rates unchanged for now, at near-zero levels, but with a recovering labor market and the threat of inflation, this will likely change in the near future.

"With inflation well above 2 percent and a strong labor market, the Committee expects it will soon be appropriate to raise the target range for the federal funds rate," the Fed said in a statement Wednesday.


Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said during his closely watched news conference Wednesday that the Fed's "policy has been adapting to the evolving economic environment and will continue to do so," alluding to the backdrop of elevated inflation and labor market gains.

"Economic activity expanded at a robust pace last year, reflecting progress on vaccinations and the reopening of the economy," Powell said. "Indeed, the economy has shown great strength and resilience in the face of the ongoing pandemic."

Powell said the sharp rise in COVID-19 cases associated with the omicron variant likely will weigh on economic growth in the short term, but he expressed hope, as health experts have suggested, that the omicron variant hasn't been as virulent as previous strains, and that it's expected for cases to drop off more rapidly.

Powell added that "inflation remains well above our longer run goal of 2%," which it notably has for some time now. He attributed this largely to supply and demand imbalances related to the pandemic and the reopening of the economy.

"These problems have been larger and longer lasting than anticipated, exacerbated by waves of the virus," Powell said Wednesday. "While the drivers of higher inflation have been predominantly connected to the dislocations caused by the pandemic, price increases have now spread to a broader range of goods and services. Wages have also risen briskly, and we are attentive to the risks that persistent real wage growth in excess of productivity could put upward pressure on inflation."

The Fed chair said that they expect inflation to decline over the course of the year, but signaled that the central bankers are taking this issue seriously -- they're very aware of the pain it causes for consumers and will be "watching carefully" to see how the economy evolves.

"We understand that high inflation imposes significant hardship, especially on those least able to meet the higher costs of essentials like food, housing and transportation," Powell added. "In addition, we believe that the best thing we can do to support continued labor market gains is to promote a long expansion and that will require price stability. We're committed to our price stability goal."

Powell continued: "We will use our tools both to support the economy and a strong labor market, and to prevent higher inflation from becoming entrenched."

The Fed officials noted in their latest policy statement that indicators of economic activity and employment have continued to strengthen.

"The sectors most adversely affected by the pandemic have improved in recent months but are being affected by the recent sharp rise in COVID-19 cases," the statement said. "Job gains have been solid in recent months, and the unemployment rate has declined substantially."

Still, they noted that supply and demand imbalances related to the pandemic and reopening of the economy "have continued to contribute to elevated levels of inflation," and that much of the economic recovery still remains at the mercy of the virus.

The unemployment rate as of last month fell to 3.9%, only slightly above the pre-pandemic rate of 3.5% in February 2020.

Soaring inflation, however, has thrown a new wrench into the economic recovery. Government data released earlier this month indicated that consumer prices have jumped 7% over the last 12 months, the largest one-year increase since 1982.

The Fed officials also reiterated Wednesday that they expect to continue to taper their pandemic-era asset purchasing program meant to buoy the economy during the health crisis and end it completely by early March.

In previous projections released last month, Fed officials indicated that they anticipated as many as three interest rate hikes starting in 2022.

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Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer retiring

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(WASHINGTON) -- Justice Stephen G. Breyer, the most senior member of the U.S. Supreme Court's liberal wing and staunch defender of a nonpartisan judiciary, will retire from the bench, fulfilling the wish of Democrats who lobbied for his exit and clearing the way for President Joe Biden's first high court appointment.

Breyer, the court's oldest member at 83, will step down despite apparent good health, deep passion for the job and active involvement in cases, three sources familiar with the situation confirmed to ABC News. There has not yet been official confirmation from the court or from Breyer's chambers.

Last term he authored major opinions upholding the Affordable Care Act, affirming free speech rights of students off-campus and resolving a multi-billion dollar copyright dispute between two titans of American technology, Google and Oracle.

"He has been operating at the peak of his powers," said Jeffrey Rosen, law professor and president of the National Constitution Center. "It was so inspiring that this term his pragmatic vision of compromise and moderation were ascendant and all of the unanimous decisions were a moving tribute to his inspiring legacy."

While Breyer has disavowed political considerations, many will see them in his decision to leave. Stepping down early in the Biden presidency and while Democrats retain a razor-thin majority in the U.S. Senate will help ensure his seat is filled with someone who shares his judicial philosophy.

"It's a highly personal decision," Breyer told ABC News of retirement in a 2015 interview.

Progressive activists had imposed unprecedented public pressure on Breyer, who was nominated in 1994 by President Bill Clinton, to retire quickly. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said in June that the GOP may block a Democratic appointment to the court if the party retakes control of the Senate next year and a vacancy occurs in 2023 or 2024.

Many Democrats remain haunted by Republican obstruction of President Barack Obama's nominee to the court in 2016 and the rushed confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett last year, just weeks before the 2020 election and after the sudden death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

In the lead up to his retirement, Breyer distanced himself from partisan politics.

"It is wrong to think of the court as another political institution," he said in an April speech at Harvard Law School. "And it is doubly wrong to think of its members as junior league politicians."

He added, justices "are loyal to the rule of law, not to the political party that helped to secure their appointment."

"He's very savvy," said Rosen. "He understands that democracy is fragile and people in the past have not obeyed the court and the court doesn't have any ability to enforce its decisions. That's why being attentive to its legitimacy is so important to him."

The vacancy now clears the way for Biden to nominate an African American woman to the court, a historic first and something he promised during the 2020 campaign.

There have been five female justices in Supreme Court history; three are currently serving -- Justices Barrett, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, the first and only woman of color confirmed to the high court.

U.S. Appeals Court Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, a former Breyer clerk, public defender and Biden appointee who won three Senate Republican votes in confirmation, is considered a top contender for nomination along with Judge Leondra Kruger of the California Supreme Court, a former deputy solicitor general in the Obama administration who has argued a dozen cases before the high court.

"We are putting together a list of a group of African American women who are qualified and have the experience to be on the court," Biden said in June 2020. "I am not going to release that until we go further down the line in vetting them."

While Breyer never enjoyed the rock-star status held by Ginsburg, he has long been revered and celebrated as a consensus-seeker and happy warrior throughout his 27 years on the court.

"He is not a dogmatist, generating rules from some high-level theory. He is in search of workable results," former federal appeals court Judge Richard Posner said of Breyer in the Yale Law Journal.

As a devout institutionalist, Breyer has passionately defended the Supreme Court's reputation as an impartial and apolitical branch of American government. He has written a book on the subject, "The Authority of the Court and the Peril of Politics."

"A judge has to do his best not to have an opinion on a political matter," he told ABC News in 2015. "And if I have an opinion, I might talk to my wife about it but I'm not going to talk to you."

He has described differences among the justices as contrasts in "philosophical outlook" rather than differences of politics and chaffed at the labeling of justices as "liberal" or "conservative."

"Politics to me is who's got the votes. Are you Republican or Democrat? I don't find any of that here," he told ABC News Chief Washington Correspondent Jonathan Karl.

Breyer has been one of the few justices to be a regular attendee at State of the Union addresses before a joint session of Congress.

"I think it is very, very, very, important -- very important -- for us to show up at that State of the Union," the justice told Fox News in 2010. "Because people today, as you know, are more and more visual … and I would like them to see the judges too, because federal judges are also part of that government."

In recent years, as the court was repeatedly thrust into an uncomfortable spotlight during the Donald Trump presidency, Breyer joined with Chief Justice John Roberts to help steer the institution away from the headlines.

"The more the political fray is hot and intense, the more we stay out of it," Breyer explained during a 2020 interview with the Kennedy Institute.

The nine justices have handed down more unanimous opinions in 2021 than any time in at least the last seven years. Court analysts credit a narrow focus on common ground rather than sweeping, more divisive pronouncements. Some see a vindication of Breyer's longtime approach in the results.

During oral arguments, Breyer is frequently one to lean in, animatedly challenging lawyers on both sides of a debate to address the real life consequences of a case. He has earned the moniker "king of hypotheticals" for his creative use of the technique.

Associate Justice Stephen Breyer, appointed by President Bill Clinton, sits with fellow Su...

Breyer has cultivated a reputation for pragmatism and compromise in his opinions, which have been praised for their colloquial language and avoidance of jargon.

"My job ... is to write opinions," Breyer told "Fox News Sunday" in 2010. "The job of 307 million Americans is to criticize those opinions. And what they say is up to them. And the words I write are carrying out my job under the law as best I see it."

In 2014, Breyer wrote for a unanimous court to limit the scope of a president's power to make recess appointments.

"Pro forma sessions (of Congress) count as sessions, not as periods of recess," he said, dealing a rebuke to Obama who had tried to force appointments to the National Labor Relations Board. "The Senate is in session when it says it is."

He has twice authored significant majority opinions on the issue of abortion.

In 2000, Breyer wrote a 5-4 decision striking down a Nebraska law criminalizing "partial-birth abortions" as "an undue burden upon a woman's right to make an abortion decision." Two decades later, his opinion in June Medical Services v. Russo cast a Louisiana law requiring hospital admitting privileges for abortion doctors as a "substantial obstacle" to women that violates the Constitution.

On the First Amendment, Breyer was the pivotal vote in a pair of 5-4 decisions in 2005 involving public displays of the Ten Commandments. He voted to uphold a longstanding monument at the Texas state capitol, while opposing placement of framed copies of the commandments inside Kentucky courthouses. He was the only justice to agree with both decisions.

President Donald Trump, second right, greets Stephen Breyer, associate justice of the S...

Breyer frequently championed "six basic tools" that judges should use when deciding a case -- text, history, tradition, purpose, precedent and consequences. He has also urged consideration of international law.

"When you're talking about the Constitution, different judges emphasize different ones of those," he said in a 2017 interview, "but nobody leaves any of those out completely."

When Breyer's analysis put him at odds with his colleagues, he frequently wrote in dissent, defending the use of race as a factor in school admissions; pushing for deference to legislatures on gun control laws; and, opposing partisan gerrymandering.

"The use of purely political considerations in drawing district boundaries is not a necessary evil that, for lack of judicially manageable standards, the Constitution inevitably must tolerate," Breyer wrote in a 2004 case.

In the hotly contested 2000 election, Breyer lamented the court's decision to get involved in the dispute between George W. Bush and Al Gore.

"The Court was wrong to take this case. It was wrong to grant a stay," he wrote at the time. "We do risk a self-inflicted wound -- a wound that may harm not just the Court, but the Nation."

Breyer has been a staunch critic of the death penalty and what he sees as unacceptably lengthy delays between sentences and executions.

In a famous 40-page dissent in 2015, Breyer urged the court to reconsider whether capital punishment violates the Eighth Amendment.

"Lack of reliability, the arbitrary application of a serious and irreversible punishment, individual suffering caused by long delays, and lack of penological purpose are quintessentially judicial matters," he wrote.

Breyer's career on the high court caps a lifetime of public service.

He grew up in San Francisco, where he attended public schools and earned the rank of Eagle Scout. In 1957, Breyer joined the U.S. Army Reserves and served a tour of active duty in the Army Strategic Intelligence during his six-year career.

He studied philosophy at Stanford University and became a Marshall Scholar at Oxford University. In 1964, he earned his law degree from Harvard University and went on to clerk for justice Arthur Goldberg on the U.S. Supreme Court.

"I'm sure they wanted me to be a lawyer," Breyer said of his parents in a 2017 oral history. "I thought, well I'd like to be a lawyer. I sort of always knew I would be."

After a short stint in the Justice Department antitrust division, Breyer joined the faculty at Harvard Law School in 1967, specializing in administrative law. That same year he married Joanna Hare, a member of the British aristocracy and a pediatric psychologist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

In the mid-1970s, he cut his teeth in politics, serving as an assistant special prosecutor in the Watergate investigation and later as special counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee working alongside Sen. Ted Kennedy.

"A few lessons I learned from Kennedy. One of them: the best is the enemy of the good," Breyer said in 2017. "If you could get an inch, it's much better to get that inch then to complain about not getting a mile."

He was first appointed to the federal bench in 1980 by President Jimmy Carter, going on to serve 13 years as an appellate judge until Clinton elevated him to replace Justice Harry Blackmun on the Supreme Court in 1994. The Senate confirmed Breyer 87-9.

Asked in 2017 how he would like to be remembered, Breyer told an interviewer: "You play the hand you're dealt. You're dealt one. And you do the best with what you have. If people say yes, he did, he tried, he did his best and was a decent person, good."

ABC News' Rachel Scott contributed to this report.

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Possible witness in sex trafficking probe involving Matt Gaetz takes plea

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(NEW YORK) -- A close friend and former government employee of Joel Greenberg, Joe Ellicott, is set to plead guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and distribution of a controlled substance in the latest development in an investigation that includes a probe into allegations of possible sex trafficking of a minor by Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz, which he vehemently denies.

While Greenberg is not named, according to court documents unsealed overnight, Ellicott is set to plead guilty to working with a "government official" who assumed office in 2017 to commit wire fraud by facilitating bribery connected to government contracts that were signed by the "public official" who took office in 2017.

Ellicott had been cooperating with the prosecutors for months prior to being charged this week, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Greenberg, a one-time close ally of Gaetz who pleaded guilty last year to multiple federal crimes including sex trafficking of a minor, took office as Seminole County Tax Collector in 2017.

Last May, Politico reported that investigators were seeking information from close associates of Greenberg, including Gaetz and long-time friend Joe Ellicott. A subpoena received by one associate allegedly stated that the grand jury is investigating alleged crimes "involving commercial sex acts with adult and minor women as well as obstruction of justice." It also requested any communications, documents, recordings and payments the individual had with Ellicott, Gaetz and Greenberg from 2016 until now, according to Politico.

In a statement responding to Ellicott pleading guilty, Gaetz's chief of staff Jillian Lane Wyant told ABC News: "After nearly a year of false rumors, not a shred of evidence has implicated Congressman Gaetz in wrongdoing. We remain focused on our work representing Floridians."

Ellicott is also set to plead guilty to the distribution of a controlled substance. According to court documents, Ellicott sold Adderall to others for at least two years including to one unnamed person who paid him a total of $5,000.

In one payment made over Venmo, the purchaser paid Ellicott for the drugs but wrote in the memo line "2 hour full body massage" to conceal the nature of the transaction, according to prosecutors.

Ellicott, who was also on the tax office payroll as an assistant deputy tax collector, has a long history with Greenberg; he was a groomsman at the former tax collector's wedding and the pair co-hosted a local sports-themed radio show before Greenberg ran for office. Ellicott had been cooperating with the prosecutors for months prior to being charged this week, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Ellicott's lawyer declined to comment.

Ellicott could emerge as a key witness in the ongoing sex traffic investigation, and appears to have information that may be damning to others beyond Greenberg, sources say.

As ABC News previously reported, in a private text exchange over the encrypted messaging app Signal, Ellicott allegedly told Greenberg in August 2020 that a mutual friend was worried she could be implicated in the investigation into the sex ring involving a minor.

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'Don't Say Gay' bill moves forward in Florida

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(TALLAHASSEE, Fla.) -- A Florida bill that would limit classroom discussions on sexual orientation and gender identity and encourage parents to sue schools or teachers that engage in these topics is speeding through the state House and Senate.

It's being called a "Don't Say Gay" bill by LGBTQ advocates, who fear that if this bill is signed into law, it could act as a complete ban on the lessons on LGBTQ oppression, history and discussions about LGBTQ identities.

"This would erase LGBTQ+ history and culture from lesson plans and it sends a chilling message to LGBTQ+ young people and communities," said Melanie Willingham-Jaggers, the executive director of the national LGBTQ youth advocacy group GLSEN.

Activists say that erasing LGBTQ presence from schools may imply to students that their gender identity or sexual orientation is something to be ashamed of or hidden.

"We have to create a learning environment where they feel safe and healthy, or it's not an effective learning environment," said Heather Wilkie of the Zebra Coalition, a Central Florida LGBTQ advocacy group.

"When you have laws like this, that directly attack our kids for who they are, it prevents them from learning," she said. "It prevents them from being able to be healthy."

The two bills in the state legislature, HB 1557 and SB 1834, state that a school district "may not encourage classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in primary grade levels or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students."

The House Education & Employment Committee has moved the bill forward, handing it off to the Judiciary Committee.

It adds that parents who violate this rule can sue, seeking damages and reimbursement for attorney fees and court costs.

Rep. Joe Harding, who is the sponsor of the legislation, hopes it will "reinforce the fundamental right of parents to make decisions regarding upbringing & control of their children," according to the bill's text.

Harding did not respond to ABC News' request for comment.

Chasten Buttigieg, activist and husband of U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, denounced Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and the state legislature for the efforts.

LGBTQ advocacy organizations say these bills are reminiscent of the “no promo homo” laws of the 1990s that barred educators from discussing queer topics in schools, but with an added mandate on parent and family involvement.

"These mandates are harmful and risk carelessly outing LGBTQ+ young people to families who do not affirm their children’s identities," Willingham-Jaggers said.

2021 was a record-breaking year for anti-LGBTQ legislation, according to the Human Rights Campaign. More than 250 of these bills were introduced and at least 17 were enacted into law.

Several states, including Arizona, Alabama, Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, Oklahoma, New Hampshire and South Dakota, have already introduced anti-LGBTQ legislation in 2022.

This Florida legislation follows similar bills that restrict educators from teaching about oppression in the U.S.

Wilkie said that queer issues and access to supportive resources have been the priority against anti-LGBTQ attacks in recent years, and this has been a heightened effort since the Pulse nightclub shooting in 2016.

LGBTQ youth in the state, who have a higher risk for suicidal ideation, depression and anxiety, have been struggling, but Wilkie says advocacy groups will continue to fight these bills.

"We will fight," she said. "It's so disheartening to think that they would not be able to freely talk about themselves, or learn anything about their history."

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Not just for artwork, NFTs are being used by political candidates to raise money, attract young supporters

Ellen Weintraub, Commissioner at US Federal Election Commission, addresses the audience during the Web Summit 2021. - Bruno de Carvalho/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

(NEW YORK) -- With everyone from giant companies to celebrities embracing the cryptocurrency phenomenon known as NFTs, political candidates are now getting into the act -- but some experts say that transparency concerns could affect their use as a political fundraising tool.

Non-fungible tokens -- digital assets that cannot be replicated and can be used to represent real-world items -- are slowly creeping into the political world, with a few candidates already using them to raise thousands of dollars.

"NFTs are bringing more people into our fold, into our movement," said Max Rymer, a digital consultant for Minnesota Republican gubernatorial candidate Dr. Scott Jensen.

Jensen's campaign saw an opportunity for NFTs to be a low-dollar way for people to become engaged with their candidate and receive something of value in return for their donations, Rymer told ABC News.

Through the sale of NFTs, "we've added 2,500 new people that are going to support our campaign going forward," Rymer said.

Blake Masters, a Republican U.S. Senate candidate in Arizona, is also embracing NFTs.

"I was thinking of creative ways to raise money and I thought of NFTs because [they] can give people a sense of ownership," said Masters, who is also the co-author of "Zero to One," a bestselling business book published in 2014.

So Masters sold his supporters limited edition NFTs depicting the cover of his book -- and raised nearly $575,000.

Like collectible artwork and rare baseball cards, the value of an NFT derives from it being unique -- in this case, a unique digital token in a distributed database known as a blockchain. The digital tokens are stored in the blockchain through a digital wallet and can be held as an asset -- as digital memorabilia -- or sold and traded for investment purposes.

Many NFTs also come with real-life perks and exclusive access to events, which makes them attractive as campaign offerings.

For example, for those who purchased Masters' digital tokens, the perks included receiving a signed copy of his book and the opportunity to meet him and his co-author, tech billionaire Peter Thiel, who helped develop the NFT collection.

"We'll have at least one token-holders party," Masters told ABC News. "It's like the Willy Wonka golden ticket."

That kind of involvement makes NFTs a good way to help candidates build a community of supporters, said Joseph Argiro, CEO of Iron Key Capital, a digital asset hedge fund.

"[NFTs] are probably a better way than just to accept donations, because they are more of a symbolic representation of your beliefs," said Argiro.

For those who purchased from her initial NFT collection, former first lady Melania Trump offered an audio recording with a "message of hope." A portion of the proceeds from her collection, which was released last month, supported her Be Best initiative, a campaign focused on children's issues and advocating against cyberbullying.

"What you're trying to tap into with NFTs is a sense of supporters around a common cause," said Joshua White, an assistant professor of finance at Vanderbilt University. "And so NFTs can build a community where there's this positive feedback loop."

In the case of Masters' Senate campaign, said White, NFTs could attract young voters that have never voted Republican but want a younger and more tech savvy candidate to represent them.

NFTs have also been a breath of fresh air for political campaigns and fundraisers that are seeking a new way to appeal to grassroots supporters, said Brian Forde, co-founder of the online fundraising platform Numero, which is working to launch a new NFT fundraising platform for Democratic campaigns called electables.com.

"We've put out surveys to more than 14,000 grassroots donors and a couple things stand out: One, they're tired of hyperbolic emails, two, they want to be recognized and connect with other grassroots supporters of that campaign," Forde said. "So with NFTs, electables allow them to connect with other grassroots supporters and be recognized for their contribution."

Forde said that supporting an NFT is similar to supporting a sports team -- which is why NFTs have been embraced by numerous leagues.

"What surprised me the most about NFTs is how quickly and powerfully one connects and builds a community of strong supporters," Forde said. "Pro sports leagues were some of the first to figure this out, and in many ways, campaigns are a lot like sports teams. If you own [an NFT], you feel a belonging to that community in a stronger way than you ever did before. Sports teams have been the pioneers, and campaigns are going to follow in their footsteps.

And while the number of political campaigns that have launched NFTs remains low, interest has been growing. Forde said electables.com, which will make money by providing an NFT fundraising platform for campaign clients, currently has more than 300 campaigns on its waitlist ahead of its planned launch in March.

As of now, there's little to no official guidance on NFT fundraising from the Federal Election Commission, FEC Commissioner Ellen Weintraub said. Nor has there been any campaign or committee seeking an official advisory opinion from the agency.

"It's not something that the agency has gotten a lot of questions on, and certainly there have been no formal request of the Commission as a whole to weigh in on this," Weintraub told ABC News. "My sense is that it's just not that common yet."

As a result, the Masters campaign and the Jensen campaign both sought legal advice before they launched their NFT collections.

"We ran it through all the legal analyses," Masters said. "I was heavily legally diligent, and we were careful with our language ... we made sure that all the benefits were allowed."

"It's brand new territory for a lot of these regulatory bodies too," said Rymer. "So we partnered, in essence, with the Campaign Finance Board and we treated this the same way that supporters would get a hat for a donation."

NFTs can typically be purchased using either regular currency -- like through a credit card -- or with cryptocurrency, virtual tokens that allow purchasers to remain anonymous. But most political campaigns that report to the Federal Election Commission or state-level election agencies are required to report the identity of their donors -- and officials say that could raise transparency concerns.

"I think we probably have to look into the transparency aspect, whether one could determine where the NFT, the 'thing of value,' is coming from," Weintraub told ABC News.

White said that if a cryptocurrency user has linked their virtual wallet to their personal information, then transparency isn't an issue. But he said that the use of cryptocurrency for political fundraising in general makes it easier to "not know where that money is coming from."

To comply with fundraising regulations that govern contribution limits and other restrictions, some campaigns offering NFTs have turned to platforms like electables.com and the recently launched Front Row, which launched over the fall as another NFT marketplace for Democrats.

"We built this platform because we saw that that's what needed to happen for progressive organizations, campaigns and movements that have some of these compliance regulations to participate in this ecosystem," Front Row co-founder Parker Butterworth told ABC News. Butterworth said the platform allows political organizations to collect all the necessary information from NFT buyers, including their name, addresses, age, and U.S citizenship status.

The platform offered its first NFT collection from the Texas Democratic Party, and it's now talking with several new clients, said Butterworth. He said the world of NFT fundraising is a "very fast moving space" that's expected to expand the world of digital campaigning.

"NFTs are not going anywhere," said Argiro. "I think we're just seeing the beginning of how communities use these NFTs to drive community formation and capital formation."

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Pelosi announces she is running for reelection

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(WASHINGTON) -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Tuesday she is running for reelection.

"While we have made progress much more needs to be done to improve people’s lives. This election is crucial: nothing less is at stake than our Democracy. But we don’t agonize-we organize. I am running for re-election to Congress to deliver For The People and defend Democracy. -NP," Pelosi said in a tweet.

As rumors continued to swirl over Pelosi's possible retirement, she is putting them to bed -- for now.

She could always announce a resignation in the coming months, depending on which party keeps the House after the midterm elections -- or she could choose to stay if she wins her seat.

The reelection announcement does not mean she will necessarily be running for the speaker's gavel should Democrats keep the House.

And if they do retain the majority through the midterms and she stays in office, Democrats will likely be looking for fresh leadership.

Last January, the House narrowly reelected Pelosi as speaker with 216 votes, giving the California Democrat a fourth term as its leader.

Pelosi, who is the only woman to ever serve in the leadership role, has previously said she will not run for speaker after 2022.

She will turn 82 in March.

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US evacuated diplomats’ families from Ukraine out 'abundance of caution,' acting ambassador says

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(KYIV, Ukriane) -- The acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine told ABC News Tuesday that an order for diplomats’ families at the embassy to leave the country was issued because Russia could attack “any day now” if it chose.

Kristina Kvien, the embassy’s charge d’affairs, made the remarks after standing in the bitter cold with a Ukrainian deputy defense minister to receive a 79-ton delivery of American military aid at Kyiv’s Boryspil Airport, intended to help Ukraine defend itself against Russia.

The U.S. State Department on Sunday ordered diplomats’ families to leave and authorized non-emergency staff to depart if they choose, in light of the threat of a possible Russian invasion, as Moscow masses over 100,000 troops near Ukraine’s borders. Ukraine’s government has criticized the decision, calling it “premature” and “excessively cautious." The United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and Germany have since followed suit in various forms, but the majority of European countries have said so far they do not believe such a step is warranted.

Kvien told ABC News the decision on the partial evacuation was taken out of an “abundance of caution” given the scale of the Russian build up.

“The decision was made because right now Vladimir Putin and Russia have built up such military might on the border that they could take an action any day now," she said. "And with that in mind, we felt that out of an abundance of caution, we had to make sure that our embassy families were safe. So that was the basis for a decision."

Kvien said Russia had built up so many troops it “means that Russia could do anything at any moment.”

“It's like a gun to the head of Ukraine," she said. "And we don't think that Ukraine should have to live with a loaded gun to its head.”

Ukrainian officials have publicly disagreed with the U.S. assessment that a Russian attack could take place at any moment. A deputy defense minister, Hanna Malyar, on Tuesday said the number of Russian troops at the border currently is “not enough for a full-scale invasion.”

In general, Ukrainian officials are more skeptical that Russia will really go through with a major attack and in recent days they have become increasingly vocal in contesting the picture coming from the U.S. that an attack is imminent. The head of Ukraine’s national security council, Alexey Danilov, on Monday told the BBC that “the number of Russian troops is not increasing in the way many people are presenting it”.

Ukrainian officials instead have suggested they believe Russia’s build up is currently intended to destabilize Ukraine with the threat of attack, including by undermining its economy. Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in video addresses has urged Ukrainians not to panic and that the threat of invasion is not worse now than when Russia began the conflict in 2014.

Kvien said she believed Ukraine’s government views the threat seriously.

“I do think that President Zelenskyy is taking the threat very seriously, and he is being careful to make preparations as needed,” she said.

“They've been living with Russian threats for a long time. So I would say that they are just a bit more, ‘sang froid’ as they say, in French. But that doesn't mean that they don't take them seriously,” she said.

The U.S. military aid shipment landing on Tuesday was the third to arrive in a week, part of a $200 million security aid package approved to help Ukraine defend itself and deter Russia.

The delivery included 276 Javelin anti-tank missiles, over 800 SMAW-D shoulder-fired "bunker buster" missiles, 170 pounds of 50-caliber ammunition and bomb disposal suits.

Kvien said the weapons demonstrated the U.S.’ “absolute, rock-solid support” for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

The U.S. is still seeking to avert a Russian attack through diplomacy. Russia has demanded guarantees from the U.S. that Ukraine will never join NATO and that the alliance will pull back forces from eastern European countries that joined after the Cold War.

The U.S. has already ruled that out but has proposed discussing other security issues, such as limits on missiles deployments and military exercises.

Kvien repeated there are “some areas” that the U.S. is able to talk about with Russia to try to address its concerns, such as "arms control, better transparency in terms of military exercises," but she reiterated that Ukraine’s choice to try to join NATO was not on the table. She said she hoped Putin would choose to take the path of diplomacy.

“I think that it's the only reasonable path. I think it's the only path that ultimately will lead to a more secure Europe, which Mr. Putin says he would like to have,” she said.

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Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones reveals he appeared before Jan. 6 committee

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(WASHINGTON) -- Right-wing radio host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones appeared before the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, he disclosed on his show, telling his audience he invoked the Fifth Amendment to protect himself against self-incrimination "almost 100 times."

Jones, who was subpoenaed by the committee to provide testimony and records, spoke at a Jan. 5 rally in Washington, D.C., and was also in contact with organizers of the rallies scheduled for Jan. 6, when pro-Trump rioters attacked Capitol Police and disrupted the electoral vote count.

"I went there to have a peaceful political rally, to put peaceful political pressure on Congress," Jones said. "It's a horrible historic fiasco and I wish it never happened."

Jones said the virtual interview with the committee was "extremely interesting to say the least," and that investigators were "polite" and "dogged."

He told investigators -- who gave him the impression that they regularly monitor his shows -- that he had no knowledge of any plans for violence on Jan. 6.

Jones said the committee had "overall pretty reasonable" questions, even though he declined to answer nearly 100 of them.

"I wanted to answer the questions, but at the same time, it's a good thing I didn't," he said. "I'm the type that tries to answer things correctly, even if I don't know all the answers, and they can then kind of claim that's perjury" he said.

Jones said the committee showed emails and text messages to him during their session -- some of the thousands of records investigators have obtained from dozens of witnesses during their monthslong investigation.

He also said he "had not seen" a clip from his show on Dec. 31, 2020, when a guest host, Matthew Bracken, floated the notion of storming the Capitol to disrupt the electoral vote count.

Jones said investigators also questioned him about his participation in a "Stop the Steal" rally at the Georgia Capitol, and about who he was in touch with in the Trump White House.

"They asked me if we were with Proud Boys and if we were with Oath Keepers," he said, recalling eating at a Hooters restaurant at his Georgia hotel with members of the far-right group.

"All I know is what I saw and what I witnessed," he said.

On his show after the Captiol attack, Jones said the White House had asked him to "lead the march" to the Capitol. But on his show Monday, he said he never supported efforts to enter the Capitol and that his main point of contact was Trump campaign fundraiser Caroline Wren, who helped organize the rally outside the White House on Jan. 6.

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Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman gives 1st interview since Jan. 6 attack

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(WASHINGTON) -- U.S. Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman, the man who led rioters up the stairs and away from the Senate chamber on Jan. 6, 2021, broke his yearlong silence Monday when he appeared on the podcast "3 Brothers No Sense."

"It could have easily been a blood bath," Goodman says on the show. "So kudos to everyone there that showed a measure of restraint in regards to deadly force, because it could have been bad."

Goodman's heroics were caught on camera in what became a viral video that came to light during President Donald Trump's impeachment trial in the Senate, which revealed Goodman also guided Sen. Mitt Romney back to the Senate chamber, helping him narrowly avoid contact with the rioters.

The officer's description of the day is one in which he kicked into "go mode" and relied heavily on previous military training to guide him. He said his decision to move up the stairs with the protestors wasn't entirely by choice because he thought "they would have followed me anyway."

"Any situation like that you want to de-escalate, but at the same time you wanna survive first," Goodman says.

He also discusses his newfound fame and explains that he has chosen to stay out of the spotlight to protect his family's privacy.

"I keep asking myself that question every day like who the hell am I?" Goodman says. "I'm the guy everybody keeps saying saved the Senate… I don't need no statue, though, that's one more thing for a bird to prop up and take a dump on."

Up until Monday, Goodman has avoided media appearances. The podcast interview was conducted by the three hosts, one of whom, Officer Byron Evans, serves as a member of the U.S. Capitol Police.

Earlier this month, "World News Tonight" anchor David Muir sat down with three Capitol Police officers who were at the Capitol on Jan. 6 last year.

ABC News' Rachel Scott and Allison Pecorin contributed to this report.

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Biden warns he would sanction Putin personally if Russia invades Ukraine

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(WASHINGTON) -- President Joe Biden said Tuesday there could be some U.S. troop movements in the "nearer term" in Eastern Europe -- and that he would consider personally sanctioning Russian President Vladimir Putin if Russia invades Ukraine -- a day after 8,500 American forces were put on "heightened alert" in the region.

"If he were to move in with all those forces, it would be the largest invasion since World War II. It would change the world," Biden told reporters at an unannounced stop at a local business in Washington.

Asked about what would lead him to deploy the troops staging nearby, Biden said that depends on "what Putin does or doesn't do" but he repeated that American forces would not move into Ukraine.

"I may be moving some of those troops in the nearer term, just because it takes time," Biden said, adding it's not to be "provocative" but to reassure NATO allies whom have reasons for concern.

"We have no intention of putting American forces, or NATO forces, in Ukraine. But we -- as I said -- they're gonna be serious economic consequences if he [Putin] moves," Biden added.

Asked whether the risk of an invasion is increasing, decreasing or steady, Biden compared assessing Putin's intentions to "reading tea leaves."

"The fact that he continues to build forces along Ukraine's border from Belarus, all the way around, you'd say, 'Well that means that he is looking like he's trying to do something.' But then you look at what his past behavior is and what everyone is saying on his team, as well as everyone else, as to what is likely to happen. It all comes down to his -- his decision-making," Biden said.

Amid the escalating tensions, Biden had a one hour and 20-minute conference call from the White House on Monday with the leaders of the European Commission, European Council, NATO, France, Germany, Italy, Poland and the United Kingdom, according to the White House, which said they planned to "discuss diplomacy, deterrence and defense efforts" as well as what would constitute potential sanctions against Russia.

The White House said after the call that Biden and European leaders "reiterated their continued concern about the Russian military build-up on Ukraine's borders" and also discussed "preparations to impose massive consequences and severe economic costs on Russia for such actions as well as to reinforce security on NATO's eastern flank."

"We're all on the same page," Biden said Tuesday. "You've got to make it clear that that there's no reason for anyone, any member of NATO, to worry whether or not we would, we NATO, would come to their defense."

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House Republicans tout infrastructure funding they voted against

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(WASHINGTON) -- In November, Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., was one of 205 House Republicans to vote against the bipartisan, $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill, calling it irresponsible and the "Green New Deal in disguise."

On Friday, he took to Twitter to tout funding from the bill he voted against -- highlighting a $70 million expansion of the Port of Virginia in Norfolk -- one of the busiest and deepest ports in the United States.

On Monday, a spokesperson for Wittman told ABC News the congressman has spent more than a decade working on supporting the Port of Virginia, and that the level of funding the port received through the infrastructure bill was a result of that prior work -- specifically the "new start" designation in 2021 from the Army Corps of Engineers.

Wittman deleted his tweet because he did not want to give the impression that he voted for the bill, his office said.

"While Congressman Wittman voted against the infrastructure bill, he's ecstatic that the Port of Virginia received the funding that he worked so hard over the years to secure," a spokesperson told ABC News.

Wittman is the latest member of a growing group of Republicans celebrating new initiatives they originally opposed on the floor.

Shortly after voting against the measure last fall, Rep. Gary Palmer, R-Ala., celebrated its hundreds of millions in funding for a stalled highway project in Birmingham.

Last week, Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, touted new funding for a flood control project from the package, which she opposed last year, decrying it at the time as a "so-called infrastructure bill."

Rep. Ashley Hinson, R-Iowa, a freshman lawmaker who also voted against the infrastructure bill, celebrating new "game-changing" funding to upgrade locks along the Upper Mississippi River.

Thirteen House Republicans and 19 Senate Republicans -- including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. -- voted with Democrats to approve the package, with many working with Democrats and the Biden White House on the details and legislative language.

"When I voted for the bipartisan infrastructure bill, I was voting for exactly this type of federal support for critical infrastructure that Iowans depend on," Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said in a statement about the new lock and dam funding that Hinson also recognized.

Democrats have been quick to call out Republicans who voted against the infrastructure deal and recent COVID-19 relief package while praising elements of the legislation, criticizing them for "voting no and taking the dough."

"When these Republicans had the chance to actually do something good for their constituents, they refused," Nebeyatt Betre, a spokesperson for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said in a statement. "We're not going to let them get away with this blatant attempt to rewrite history."

Republicans have pushed back on the characterizations of their votes, arguing that they had issues with Democrats' larger agenda that included the bipartisan package, called the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

"Congresswoman Hinson opposed the infrastructure package because it was tied to trillions of other spending in the House. Since the bill was signed into law, this money was going to be spent regardless. If there's federal money on the table she is, of course, going to do everything she can to make sure it is reinvested in Iowa," a spokesperson for Hinson told ABC News.

A spokesperson for Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., the No. 2 House Republican who touted a $1 billion investment in flood protection and hurricane repairs in his home state funded by the package he opposed, told ABC News that the GOP whip has "consistently supported these flood protection projects" and approved earlier legislation to pave the way for them.

"What he did not support is tying necessary infrastructure needs to unrelated, Green New Deal policies Democrats put in their $1.2 trillion dollar bill -- very little of which was dedicated to traditional infrastructure -- that would cripple Louisiana's energy economy and hurt workers and families in his state," the spokesperson said.

"You can see why the Obama administration insisted on signage" for projects funded by the American Recovery Act, Jeff Davis, a senior fellow with the Eno Center for Transportation, told ABC News.

"People will be claiming these things for years, and it's going to be hard to tell five years from now which projects were funded mostly or entirely with IIJA money or money out of the annual budget," he said.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to incorporate comments from Rep. Rob Wittman's office. ABC News sought comment on Friday from Wittman's former spokesperson, who is no longer with the office.

 

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What Holiday Pie is your favorite?