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In Ukraine, relief and rejoicing over U.S. aid vote

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In Ukraine, relief and rejoicing over U.S. aid vote

Ukrainians heaved a collective sigh of relief Sunday after the U.S. House of Representatives approved a long-sought $61 billion in aid, breaking a legislative logjam that had deepened hardships on the war’s front lines, and made it difficult for Ukrainian forces to fend off Russian attacks on civilian neighborhoods and critical infrastructure.

However, with a fresh infusion of aid ready to be rushed in as soon as the Senate approves the measure and President Biden signs the measure into law — both expected to happen by midweek — it may now take some time to determine whether Russian forces’ battlefield momentum of recent months can be reversed, analysts said.

And Ukrainians were braced for at least a short-term redoubling of the near-nightly pummeling of cities and towns across the country with missiles and drones — which in recent weeks was exacerbated by an alarming depletion of Ukrainian air defenses. An angry Russia could try to get in more punishing attacks before more air-defense help arrives, some feared.

“First of all — thank you, thank you,” said Anastasia Chuchin, 36, who was hurrying to catch a train on a rain-soaked morning in the capital, Kyiv. “We’re very grateful for this assistance. But we may still have some really hard days ahead of us.”

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President Volodymyr Zelensky issued a statement of appreciation moments after the vote, which occurred late Saturday evening Ukraine time. He thanked by name House Speaker Mike Johnson, the Louisiana Republican who had been heavily lobbied by Ukraine’s supporters to bring the measure to a vote despite bitter opposition from his party’s far-right flank.

“This is a life-saving decision,” Zelensky said in a Saturday night address to the country in which he expressed gratitude to all those in the United States who, “like us in Ukraine, feel that Russian evil definitely should not prevail.”

Just as important in that initial reaction was what Zelensky did not say. The Ukrainian leader carefully refrained from alluding to Ukrainians’ frustrations over how long it had taken to move the aid measure forward — or to widespread fears here that American assistance might be on the verge of drying up altogether, particularly if former President Trump, the Republican nominee, wins back the White House in November.

In an interview aired Sunday, though, the Ukrainian leader took a starker tone about setbacks directly tied to the fact that “the process stalled for half a year.”

“We had losses …. in men, in equipment,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” particularly citing the deteriorating situation in Ukraine’s Donbas region, its industrial heartland.

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“The east was very difficult, and we did lose the initiative,” he acknowledged. “Now we have the chance to stabilize this situation.”

As the political infighting dragged on in Washington, Ukrainian officials expressed particular alarm over the systematic destruction of crucial energy infrastructure, such as a power plant wrecked by missiles outside Kyiv this month. In some parts of the country, the targeting of electricity-generating plants has caused power cuts of a scope and duration comparable to those seen much earlier in the war.

U.S. defense officials have not provided a detailed breakdown of what will be in the first tranche of assistance, but the first order of business will likely be to replenish stores of munitions used by Ukrainian forces along a front line that stretches for hundreds of miles, arcing through the country’s south and east. Field units have reported rationing artillery shells and precision rockets even as Russian troops mount an aggressive push in places like the key eastern town of Chasiv Yar.

Speaking on CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday, Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he was confident the U.S. would be able to resume shipments of equipment by the end of the week.

“This should have happened six months ago,” Warner said of the House vote to approve the aid. “The next best time is now, this week. … If [Ukrainians] don’t have the materiels, they can’t carry this fight to the Russians.”

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U.S. and Ukrainian officials said resupply efforts could take place relatively quickly, because of supply chains and logistical networks established early in the more than two-year-old conflict. Some of those could be reactivated within days.

Even so, the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, noted that “Ukrainian forces may suffer additional setbacks in the coming weeks” while waiting for the arrival of weaponry that will allow them to stabilize the front lines.

While Russia has not managed any major battlefield breakthroughs since capturing the eastern town of Avdiivka in February, independent military analysts had reported steady incremental advances, amounting to hundreds of square miles of territory, that could have left Ukrainians hard-pressed to contain a concerted Russian push.

With the imminent arrival of aid, though, Ukrainian forces “will likely be able to blunt the current Russian offensive assuming the resumed U.S. assistance arrives promptly,” the institute said.

Russia, predictably, hammered on what has become a key talking point — that U.S. assistance would do little more than prolong a bloody confrontation. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov also suggested that the main idea behind the package was to funnel money to U.S. weapons manufacturers.

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The House vote “will make the United States of America richer, further ruin Ukraine and result in the deaths of even more Ukrainians, the fault of the Kyiv regime,” Peskov said, according to official Russian media.

Some U.S. lawmakers said coming to Ukraine’s aid now had helped avert sending a dangerous signal of U.S. weakness to Moscow.

“If we surrender Ukraine like we did Afghanistan, which was a debacle, will the United States be weaker or stronger?” Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.”

“We were running out of time,” McCaul said. “Ukraine was about to fall.”

In the NBC interview, Zelensky said the passage of the bill would send a powerful message to Russia that Washington stands by Kyiv, and that the war would not devolve into “a second Afghanistan.”

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“I think this support will really strengthen the armed forces of Ukraine, and we will have a chance for victory,” Zelensky said through an interpreter.

European allies, for their part, had watched the drawn-out aid drama with mounting anxiety and exasperation. But most quickly pivoted to public expressions of optimism and unity.

“Ukraine is using the weapons provided by NATO Allies to destroy Russian combat capabilities. This makes us all safer, in Europe & North America,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg posted on the platform X.

A few, including Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, could not suppress a slightly sardonic tone even in expressing relief. NATO allies that feel more directly threatened by Russia, including the Baltic states and Poland, have long viewed the conflict with a sense of crisis and urgency, and were at times incredulous as U.S. support appeared to flag.

“Better late than too late,” Tusk wrote crisply on X, referring to the long-delayed House vote. “And I hope it is not too late for Ukraine.”

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Many Ukrainians, whose days and nights are punctuated by air alerts that send people scurrying into basement bunkers or taking makeshift shelter behind a “second wall” at home, were eager to make the point that not only their own safety was at stake.

“This is a recognition that helping us in our fight against Russia and [Russian President Vladimir] Putin helps Europe, helps democracy, helps the entire whole world,” Dmytro Laba, a 36-year-old IT specialist in Kyiv, said of the House vote. “Even the United States of America.”

King reported from Kyiv and Wilkinson from Washington.

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New Hampshire political consultant behind AI-powered Biden robocalls hit with 24 criminal charges, $6M fine

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New Hampshire political consultant behind AI-powered Biden robocalls hit with 24 criminal charges, $6M fine

The New Hampshire political consultant behind robocalls mimicking President Biden is now facing 24 criminal charges, 13 of which are felony counts.

Steve Kramer admitted to commissioning robocalls that used artificial intelligence to generate a voice similar to President Biden encouraging recipients not to participate in the primary.

The Federal Communications Commission also announced $6 million in fines against Kramer.

“It’s important that you save your vote for the November election,” the illicit calls stated, according to New Hampshire Attorney General John Formella. The calls added, “Your vote makes a difference in November, not this Tuesday.” 

NEW HAMPSHIRE INVESTIGATING FAKE BIDEN ROBOCALL TELLING VOTERS NOT TO PARTICIPATE IN TUESDAY’S PRIMARY

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In this image taken from video, Steve Kramer speaks during an interview in Miami. (AP Photo)

“After we received multiple reports and complaints on the day these calls were made and the day after these calls were made, my office immediately opened an investigation,” Formella said.

He described how his office’s Election Law Unit worked with the Anti-Robocall Multistate Litigation Task Force, a bipartisan task force made up of 50 state attorneys general and the Federal Communications Commission Enforcement Bureau. 

Kramer previously told local outlet News 9 he produced the phone calls as a stunt to demonstrate the need to regulate AI technology.

NEW HAMPSHIRE AG TRACES ROBOCALLS WITH ‘AI-GENERATED CLONE’ OF BIDEN’S VOICE BACK TO TEXAS-BASED COMPANIES

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New Hampshire officials announce robocall probe

New Hampshire Attorney General John Formella describes the investigation into robocalls that used artificial intelligence to mimic President Biden’s voice and discourage people from voting in New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary during a news conference in Concord, N.H. (Amanda Gokee/The Boston Globe via AP)

“Maybe I’m a villain today, but I think, in the end, we get a better country and better democracy because of what I’ve done, deliberately,” Kramer previously said of the investigation.

The New Hampshire robocalls sparked immediate action in outlawing deep fakes impersonating political candidates. The FCC ruled the practice illegal in February. 

 

FCC commissioner

Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel speaks during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. (Alex Wong/Pool via AP, File)

With the unanimous adoption of a ruling that recognizes calls made with AI-generated voices as “artificial” under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), a 1991 law restricting junk calls that use artificial and prerecorded voice messages, the FCC said it was giving state attorneys general new tools to go after those responsible for voice-cloning scams. 

WHAT IS ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE (AI)?

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“Bad actors are using AI-generated voices in unsolicited robocalls to extort vulnerable family members, imitate celebrities and misinform voters. We’re putting the fraudsters behind these robocalls on notice,” FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement.

“State Attorneys General will now have new tools to crack down on these scams and ensure the public is protected from fraud and misinformation.”

Fox News’ Danielle Wallace and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Supreme Court OKs shift of Black voters to shore up GOP congressional district

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Supreme Court OKs shift of Black voters to shore up GOP congressional district

The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that a state’s mapmakers may shift tens of thousands of Black voters to a different district if they were seeking to shore up a partisan advantage for a Republican candidate.

In a 6-3 decision, the justices upheld a redistricting map drawn by South Carolina’s Republican Legislature and overturned a lower court ruling that called it a “stark racial gerrymander.”

At issue was whether the state legislators drew the districts for political or racial reasons.

All six Republican appointees were in the majority and said the legislators were motivated by partisan concerns, while the three Democratic appointees dissented and said voters were shifted based on their race.

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In the past, the court had said that partisan gerrymandering is legal and as old as the nation, but racial gerrymandering is discriminatory and unconstitutional.

The justices reasoned that the Constitution permits elected officials to make decisions based on political considerations, but the 14th Amendment forbids the government from making decisions based on race.

Not surprisingly, however, those two principles come into conflict in the drawing of election districts. At issue in the South Carolina case was a congressional district in the Charleston area held by Republican Rep. Nancy Mace.

That district had regularly elected Republicans, but a Democrat won it in 2018 in what was described as a major upset. Mace ran in 2020 and won a narrow victory.

When the South Carolina Legislature redrew its seven districts in response to the 2020 Census, the mapmakers sought to shore up her district as a Republican stronghold. They shifted more than 30,000 Black voters from Mace’s district in Charleston into a Black-majority district held by Rep. James E. Clyburn, the state’s lone Democrat.

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Lawyers for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the ACLU sued and argued the state’s redistricting plan was unconstitutional. They won a ruling from a three-judge court which said “race was the predominant motivating factor” in the drawing of Mace’s district.

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr, speaking for the court, said the evidence showed that partisan motives were driving force.

“To untangle race from other permissible considerations, we require the plaintiff to show that race was the predominant factor motivating the legislature’s decision to place a significant number of voters within or without a particular district,” Alito said. He added that the plaintiffs did not show race was the dominant factor in drawing the districts.

Justices Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor and Ketanji Brown Jackson dissented.

“What a message to send to state legislators and mapmakers about racial gerrymandering,” Kagan said in dissent. “Go right ahead, this court says to states today. …In the electoral sphere especially, where ugly patterns of pervasive racial discrimination have so long governed, we should demand better— of ourselves, of our political representatives, and most of all of this court.”

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Unlike other redistricting cases from Alabama and Louisiana, the immediate impact of the South Carolina case looks to be limited.

Civil rights lawsuits in Alabama and Louisiana led to the creation of a second Black-majority district where a Democrat could be elected. The South Carolina litigation did not involve a possible second Black-majority district.

In March, the three judges who had struck down Mace’s district issued an order that allows this year’s election to proceed using the state’s preferred map.

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AOC demands Senate Democrats investigate reports of Jan. 6 flags flown at Supreme Court Justice Alito's home

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AOC demands Senate Democrats investigate reports of Jan. 6 flags flown at Supreme Court Justice Alito's home

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., demanded the Democrat-controlled Senate investigate reports that a flag associated with the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the Capitol was flown at Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito’s home. 

In an interview on MSNBC’s “All in with Chris Hayes” on Wednesday, Ocasio-Cortez described the reports as “an extraordinary breach of not just the trust and the stature of the Supreme Court, but we are seeing a fundamental challenge to our democracy.” She said that Congress did not have to wait to take action against Alito until Democrats had a majority in the House. 

“Samuel Alito has identified himself with the same people who raided the Capitol on Jan. 6, and is now going to be presiding over court cases that have deep implications over the participants of that rally,” the progressive “Squad” member said. “And while this is the threat to our democracy, Democrats have a responsibility for defending our democracy. And in the Senate, we have gavels.”

“There should be subpoenas going out. There should be active investigations that are happening,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “And I believe that when House Democrats take the majority, we are preparing and ensuring to support the broader effort to stand up our democracy. But I also believe that when Democrats have power, we have to use it. We cannot be in perpetual campaign mode. We need to be in governance mode, we need to be in accountability mode with every lever that we have. Because we cannot take a Senate majority for granted, a House majority for granted or a White House for granted.” 

The New York Times reported on Wednesday that a second flag of a type carried by rioters during the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, was displayed outside a house owned by Alito. 

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ALITO SAYS WIFE DISPLAYED UPSIDE-DOWN FLAG AFTER ARGUMENT WITH INSULTING NEIGHBOR

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., called for Senate Democrats to investigate flags flown outside a home owned by Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito.  (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

An “Appeal to Heaven” flag was flown outside Alito’s beach vacation home last summer. An inverted American flag — another symbol carried by rioters — was seen at Alito’s home outside Washington less than two weeks after the riot at the Capitol. 

News of the upside-down American flag sparked an uproar last week, including calls from high-ranking Democrats for Alito to recuse himself from cases related to former President Trump.

Alito and the court have not commented on the “Appeal to Heaven” flag. Alito previously said the inverted American flag was flown by his wife amid a dispute with neighbors, and he had no part in it.

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The white flag with a green pine tree was seen flying at the Alito beach home in New Jersey, according to three photographs obtained by the Times. The images were taken on different dates in July and September 2023, though it was not clear how long it was flying overall or how much time Alito spent there.

Alito and his wife at Billy Graham funeral

Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito Jr., left, and his wife Martha-Ann Alito, pay their respects at the casket of Reverend Billy Graham at the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, Feb. 28, 2018.  (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

The flag dates back to the Revolutionary War, but in more recent years it has become associated with conservatives, Christian nationalism and support for Trump, according to the Times.

It was carried by some rioters fueled by Trump’s “Stop the Steal” movement. 

OBAMA CHEERS BIDEN JUDICIAL MILESTONE AS FORMER ADVISER WARNS OF TRUMP ‘MAGA COURT MAJORITY’ ON SUPREME COURT

Republicans in Congress and state officials have also displayed the flag. House Speaker Mike Johnson, hung it at his office last fall shortly after winning the gavel. A spokesman said the speaker appreciates its rich history and was given the flag by a pastor who served as a guest chaplain for the House, according to the Associated Press. 

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An Appeal to Heaven flag among Trump supporters

Crowds arrive for the “Stop the Steal” rally on January 6, 2021, in Washington, DC. An “Appeal to Heaven” flag is seen being flown by a supporter. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Alito is taking part in two pending Supreme Court cases associated with Jan. 6: whether Trump has immunity from prosecution for his efforts to overturn the 2020 election results and whether a certain obstruction charge can be used against rioters. He also participated in the court’s unanimous ruling that states cannot bar Trump from the ballot using the “insurrection clause” that was added to the Constitution after the Civil War.

There has been no indication that Alito would step aside from the cases. 

Another conservative on the Supreme Court, Justice Clarence Thomas, also has ignored calls to recuse himself from cases related to the 2020 election because of his wife Virginia Thomas’ support for efforts to overturn the 2020 election results.

Judicial ethics codes focus on the need for judges to be independent, avoiding political statements or opinions on matters they could be called on to decide. The Supreme Court had long gone without its own code of ethics, but it adopted one in November 2023 in the face of sustained criticism over undisclosed trips and gifts from wealthy benefactors to some justices. The code, however, lacks a means of enforcement.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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