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YAMICHE ALCINDOR Dec-05-2017 133 0
Representative John Conyers Jr., who faces allegations that he sexually harassed former employees, announced Tuesday that he will leave Congress immediately, and he endorsed his son, John Conyers III, to replace him.

Mr. Conyers, the longest-serving current member of the House and the longest-serving African-American in history, called into a local radio show on Tuesday to announce, “I am retiring today.”

“I am in the process of putting together my retirement plans. I will have more about that very soon,” Mr. Conyers said from a hospital in Michigan.

He continued to deny that he had harassed any of his former employees and said he did not know where the allegations came from.

“My legacy can’t be compromised or diminished in any way by what we are going through now,” Mr. Conyers said. “This too shall pass. My legacy will continue through my children.”

Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, Democrat of Texas, also announced Mr. Conyers’s retirement on the House floor Tuesday morning, saying Mr. Conyers had informed Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin and Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic leader. He also informed Gov. Rick Snyder of Michigan.

The decision sets up a battle within the Conyers family for his Detroit-area House seat. Ian Conyers, a Michigan state senator and the grandson of Mr. Conyers’s brother, said he also plans to run for the seat held by his 88-year-old great-uncle.

“His doctor advised him that the rigor of another campaign would be too much for him just in terms of his health,” Ian Conyers, 29, said.

The congressman, who took his Michigan seat in the House in 1965, has already stepped aside as the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee amid swirling allegations of sexual improprieties. He has been facing intense pressure to resign.

Mr. Conyers, however, remained protective of his time in Congress. “I am very proud of the fact that I am the dean of the Congress,” he said. He appreciated the “the incredible, undiminished support” that he had received from his state and the country as a whole, he said.

He also did not waver from his stance that he did nothing wrong and called the accusations against him false. “Whatever they are, they are not accurate. They are not true,” he said. “I cannot explain where they came from.”

Mr. Conyers also went on to say the allegations were just part of life as a lawmaker.

“This goes with the issue of politics, the game of politics which we are in,” he said. “We take what happens. We deal with it. We pass on and move on forward as we keep going trying to make as much as we can of this tremendous opportunity that has been given to me for so long.”

Mr. Ryan and Ms. Pelosi had each said Mr. Conyers should resign after a woman who settled a sexual harassment claim against him said on television that the congressman had “violated” her body, repeatedly propositioned her for sex and asked her to touch his genitals. Other former staff members have since come forward to say he harassed them or behaved inappropriately.

Ian Conyers said that despite the accusations, he believes Michigan voters will reward his family’s work in politics by electing him.

The congressman “still enjoys healthy support in our district,” Ian Conyers said.

He added, “People are ready to support our dean and to support our family as we continue to fight, as we have for leading up to a century, for people from Southeast Michigan.”

The elder Mr. Conyers called into “The Mildred Gaddis Show,” a local radio program, to make the announcement. His decision comes as several other lawmakers face allegations of inappropriate behavior.

Representative Joe Barton, a Republican and the Texas delegation’s most senior House member, announced last week in an interview with The Dallas Morning News that he would not seek re-election after sexually suggestive online messages that he sent to a constituent came to light.

Representative Blake Farenthold, Republican of Texas, is also facing pressure after it was revealed last week that he used $84,000 in taxpayer funds to settle a sexual harassment claim with his former communications director, Lauren Greene. She accused him of regularly making comments to gauge her interest in a sexual relationship, including saying he was having “sexual fantasies” about her.

And last week, an Ohio Army veteran became the fifth woman to accuse Senator Al Franken, Democrat of Minnesota, of inappropriate touching. Senior House Democrats have also begun calling for Mr. Franken to resign.
Greg Price Nov-02-2017 145 0
Hillary Clinton’s campaign took over the Democratic National Committee's funding and day-to-day operations early in the primary season and may have used that power to undermine her rival Senator Bernie Sanders, according to the party's one-time interim chairwoman.

The DNC official, Donna Brazile, now a political analyst, wrote in Politico Magazine on Thursday that she discovered an August 2015 agreement between the national committee and Clinton’s campaign and fundraising arm that gave Clinton “control (of) the party’s finances, strategy, and all the money raised” in exchange for taking care of the massive debt leftover from President Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign.

It wasn't illegal, Brazile said, "but it sure looked unethical."

"If the fight had been fair, one campaign would not have control of the party before the voters had decided which one they wanted to lead," Brazile wrote. "This was not a criminal act, but as I saw it, it compromised the party’s integrity."

Brazile wrote that she had “promised” Sanders to find out if the DNC had intentionally “rigged” the primary system in order to prop up Clinton and assure she became the nominee. That assertion first popped up after the DNC’s emails, hacked by Russians, had been published online and showed former DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz and others may have tipped the scales for the Democrat Clinton versus Sanders, an independent seeking the Democratic Party nod.

“I had tried to search out any other evidence of internal corruption that would show that the DNC was rigging the system to throw the primary to Hillary, but I could not find any in party affairs or among the staff,” Brazile wrote. "I was happy to see that I had found none. Then I found this agreement.”

Brazile, a former CNN contributor who was later dismissed after it was discovered she had forked over debate questions to Clinton’s campaign, claimed when she took over as party chairwoman, the DNC was $24 million in debt. Clinton’s campaign, according to Brazile, assumed that debt with its own fundraising.

“Hillary for America (the campaign) and the Hillary Victory Fund (its joint fundraising vehicle with the DNC) had taken care of 80 percent of the remaining debt in 2016, about $10 million, and had placed the party on an allowance,” according to Brazile.

Normally, candidates take over their respective party’s operations after securing the nomination, but Brazile wrote Clinton had done so almost 15 months before last year’s election.

The timeline of when all this allegedly occurred was not fully explained by Brazile, but she wrote that the discovery was made “weeks” before the election. She said she told Sanders what she found out and that he took the supposed information “stoically.”

Brazile took over as interim DNC chair, a spot now officially held by Tom Perez, back in July 2016 after Wasserman Schultz resigned.

Debra Cassens Weiss Oct-31-2017 177 0
Former President Barack Obama has been called for jury duty, and he reportedly plans to show up.

Obama was called for jury duty in Cook County, which includes the city of Chicago, report the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times. Obama has a home in the city’s Kenwood neighborhood.

Chief Judge Timothy Evans told county commissioners on Friday that Obama plans to appear for jury duty next month. Evans did not give an exact date or specify the courthouse where Obama will appear.

Obama was also called to jury duty in January 2010, but he was unable to make it amid “a busy start to his second year as president,” the Sun-Times reports.
Jacqueline Thomsen Sep-26-2017 194 0
Former President Obama said dropping his oldest daughter Malia off at college was a very difficult moment for him as a father, comparing it to "open-heart surgery."

Obama said an event for the Beau Biden Foundation Monday that when he brought Malia Obama to start her freshman year at Harvard University, he was proud of himself for not crying in front of her.

"For those of us who have daughters, it just happens fast. I dropped off Malia at college, and I was saying to Joe and Jill [Biden] that it was a little bit like open-heart surgery," Obama said, CNN reported Tuesday.

"I was proud that I did not cry in front of her. But on the way back, the Secret Service was off, looking straight ahead, pretending they weren't hearing me as I sniffled and blew my nose. It was rough."

Obama said that while dropping his eldest child off at college was difficult, he called the experience "a reminder that, at the end of our lives, whatever else we've accomplished, the things that we'll remember are the joys that our children - and hopefully way later, our grandchildren - bring us."

Obama has often praised his daughters Malia and Sasha, calling them "amazing" women who managed to handle "the burden of years in the spotlight so easily" during his farewell address in Chicago earlier this year.

"Of all that I've done in my life, I'm most proud to be your dad," he said.
John Bowden Sep-10-2017 150 0
President Trump's Chief of Staff Gen. The New York Times reported on Friday that Kelly has created a "no-fly list" of aides who previously wandered into meetings unannounced and uninvited, who no longer have that power. Manigault, the Times reported, is chief among them.

In charge of this list is Kirstjen Nielsen, Kelly's longtime aide, who was recently appointed as an assistant to the president and his principal deputy. Nielsen is described in the article as "brusque" and "no-nonsense," and in charge of wrangling aides on Trump's outer circle.

Manigault has served as Trump's chief advisor on African-American issues in the White House, and earlier this month attacked the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) for "showboating" and refusing to meet with Trump.

"Coming to the table over and over again to work through these issues is the only effective way to get where they wanted to go," Manigault told Fox Business Network's Charles Payne.

"And instead, they're showboating and they're actually shorting out their constituents that they committed to represent by not coming to meet with the president," she said in August.
Tom O'Connor Sep-03-2017 874 0
The White House announced Friday it's switching up the format of an upcoming meeting between President Donald Trump and representatives of historically black colleges. The move comes as his administration continues to face deep criticism over its polarizing views on race relations in the U.S.

While the White House statement did not detail what modifications were being made, it did hint that the administration was looking to downsize Trump's meeting with the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HCBUs). Trump found early success in reaching out to these schools, which were at times critical of his predecessor, but the Republican leader's attacks on their funding, controversial comments following last month's deadly white nationalist attack in Charlottesville, Virginia and his poor approval rating among black communities in general have strained this relationship.

"Responding to suggestions and feedback from many key stakeholders, the White House initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) will modify its planned conference to best meet the current needs of HBCUs, their students and the broader HBCU community, " the administration said.

"This more intimate HBCU week will feature a series of strategic meetings for students and leaders to share their perspectives on the opportunities and challenges facing the HBCU community. The events will also focus on how the Administration can best work and support HBCU schools and students," it added.

Just over a month after coming to office earlier this year, Trump signed an executive order designed to boost federal funds for HCBUs. The move was seen as an opportunity for the Trump administration to win support of an influential black organization that often criticized his predecessor, President Barack Obama, for not sufficiently addressing the community's needs, despite him being the first black U.S. president. Trump's support, however, was short-lived.

The administration did not increase funds and actually cut Pel grant reserves and other crucial investment HBCUs had asked for, according to The Washington Post. In May, Trump signed a federal budget that controversially included language at the end suggesting he questioned the constitutionality of funding black colleges in the first place.

Recent national events have also highlighted the president's troubled relationship with a community he once famously tried to court on the campaign trail a year ago by asking "What the hell do you have to lose?"

On August 12, a man with white supremacist sympathies ran over a crowd of counter-protesters who were demonstrating against a massive far-right rally that swept the city of Charlottesville, Virginia. One woman was killed and over a dozen more injured. Trump condemned violence "on both sides" of the rally, remarks that garnered him considerable scorn even from within his own party.

These troubles have followed him to Washington. The Congressional Black Caucus may soon become one of the leading voices on the Hill calling for Trump's removal from office. Democratic Representative and Black Caucus leader Cedric Richmond of Louisiana said last month he was considering joining existing efforts to remove the president due to issues with Trump's "competency and fitness to serve."

He also vowed that the caucus would "keep its foot on the Trump administration’s neck by calling their racist and discriminatory policies what they are."

A poll released earlier this week by The Economist and market research company YouGov revealed that 57 percent of people in the U.S. think Trump doesn't care about the needs of black people. Among black respondents, three out of four said he either didn't care much or "not at all."


YAMICHE ALCINDOR Aug-22-2017 234 0
Gregory Cheadle, the man whom Donald J. Trump famously called “my African-American” at a California campaign rally, watched this month as now-President Trump praised “the good people on both sides” of the deadly melee in Charlottesville, Va., and he decided that possessive word “my” was in grave danger.

His backing for the president is on “life support,” he said.

Shermichael Singleton’s support has flatlined. Mr. Singleton was fired from his job as a senior adviser for the Department of Housing and Urban Development in February after previous writings critical of Mr. Trump came to light, yet he remained supportive. No more.

As the president heads to Phoenix on Tuesday to preach national unity at a campaign-style rally, even ardent supporters in the African-American community say the ties that once connected them to Mr. Trump have frayed badly.

“It’s difficult to continue to have hope for President Trump,” Mr. Singleton said. “It’s difficult to focus on complex policy issues when you have a country that is falling apart. It’s difficult to focus on health care. It’s difficult focus on the economy. It’s difficult to focus on infrastructure when you have people who dislike other people because of their ethnicity.”

“These people,” he said, “were waving Nazi flags.”

About a dozen interviews with black conservatives like Mr. Singleton revealed the tough question they are wrestling with: How can blacks who have defended the Republican Party against accusations of racism for decades remain loyal to a president who has, wittingly or unwittingly, boosted and buoyed the racists?

Some have answered by withdrawing their support. The only black Republican in the Senate, Tim Scott of South Carolina, criticized Mr. Trump by telling Vice News that his “moral authority is compromised.”

Some black conservatives, prominent and not-so-prominent, are weighing whether to leave the party altogether because they fear that under Mr. Trump’s leadership, Republicans may be complicit in espousing racism. Even after the ouster of Stephen K. Bannon, who as the president’s chief strategist was accused of pushing white nationalist views into the West Wing, they say that Mr. Trump has to reckon with his response to the violence and his history of taking controversial racial stances.

If he wants absolution, they say, he needs to show contrition.

Many black Republicans and their families have personally experienced racism — and in some cases witnessed violence perpetrated by the Ku Klux Klan and other supremacist groups that lynched thousands of people, beat and murdered civil rights marchers, and supported segregationist policies that held African-Americans back.

Black conservatives balked at Mr. Trump’s lament that is was “sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments,” an uncompromising defense of Confederate memorials.

And they fretted that he and his administration have made “law and order” a centerpiece of their response to Charlottesville.

“The ‘tough on crime’ phrase in my mind is nothing more than a code phrase for imprisoning blacks and people of color,” Mr. Cheadle said, before criticizing Mr. Trump for hiring only a handful of black people in the West Wing. “Mr. Trump waxes eloquent about providing jobs as the panacea for the racial divide and curing the woes of the inner city. The president would do well to lead by example.”
The majority of black Republicans interviewed said they would continue to support the president even as they criticize him. Most said they hope that Mr. Trump will prove his critics wrong and usher in a new phase of conservative policies that will overhaul the tax code, create new jobs, transform the health system and revamp the country’s entitlement programs.

Several polls show that the majority of Republicans agreed with Mr. Trump’s response, despite the intense backlash he received. And some African-Americans are in that camp.

“I don’t know that you can designate everybody who went to the rally from the camp of KKK as being nasty, mean, or say that their intention is to physically assault people,” said Chuck Linton, 70, a retired military veteran from Baltimore and an African-American. “I know that a lot of them, their intention is to be violent, but I don’t think all of them are.”

“The white supremacists and the left wing, and the ring wing and the middle wing are all the same anyway,” he scoffed.

But for Gianno Caldwell, a Republican political consultant whose grandfather moved to Chicago from Arkansas in part to escape the Klan, Mr. Trump’s response to Charlottesville was personal. Mr. Caldwell said he could not sleep the night of the raucous news conference when the president adamantly defended his “blame on both sides” position. He wept the next day on Fox News.

“I knew after the news conference that he was going to want to see some positive coverage, probably some black folks in front of the screen saying really nice things about how he is awesome and he rocked that news conference,” Mr. Caldwell said of Mr. Trump. “And I certainly wasn’t going to be used as a puppet.”

Mr. Caldwell added that it was “hard to defend President Trump when you know that no matter what happens in some days or weeks, he is going to step on the message and say something ridiculous and change the conversation.”

Going forward, he said, “If there is a position that I can agree with him on, I will, but it is going to be with a much more critical viewpoint then there was before.”

His position echoed Mr. Scott, who followed his Vice interview by saying on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that the president could “regain” his moral authority by sitting down with “folks who have a personal experience, a deep connection to the horror and the pain of this country’s provocative racial history.”
Quardricos Driskell, a Republican federal lobbyist and a religion and politics professor at George Washington University, never supported the president and said he believed early in the campaign that Mr. Trump held discriminatory views.

“The moral dilemma I face at this very moment and the question I have to wrestle with is Trump being the head of the Republican Party and yet courting and being complicit with this very small group that has always been at the fringes of our society,” said Mr. Driskell, who remains a Republican. “He has now helped to usher them into the mainstream. What does that mean as a black man who happens to be a Republican and happens to believe in conservative values and principles?”

Liberal activists say black Republicans have been ignoring Mr. Trump’s long history of racially offensive behavior. Mr. Trump settled a Justice Department suit that charged the family business with housing discrimination and falsely accused the nation’s first black president of being born in Kenya.

“We are in the predicament that we are in now because of the fact that people did not read the writing on the wall,” said Tamika D. Mallory, a gun control activist and a chairwoman of the Women’s March on Washington.


William Douglas Aug-22-2017 654 0
The Congressional Black Caucus, a formidable bloc of lawmakers with a big say in the fate of President Donald Trump and his legislation, Monday sent him a terse, clear message: We don’t think you understand us at all.

The caucus’ chairman Monday urged cancellation of next month’s highly anticipated meeting between White House officials and leaders of the nation’s historically black colleges. And he plans to have the 49-member caucus meet when Congress returns in two weeks to discuss whether to back Democratic-led efforts to impeach Trump.

Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., the caucus chairman, said the president’s remarks after the deadly Aug. 12 protest in Charlottesville show he has no commitment to the schools or the African American community.

Richmond said the caucus was outraged by Trump’s assertion of “blame on both sides” for the violent rally dominated by neo-Nazis and white supremacists.

“You can make an argument based on pure competency and fitness to serve, and that’s the conversation the caucus will have,” Richmond told reporters in a conference call Monday. The caucus includes 46 House Democrats, Democratic Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, and Republican Rep. Mia Love of Utah.

“Am I concerned about high crimes and misdemeanors?” Richmond asked. “Absolutely. Am I concerned about this president’s fitness to serve? Absolutely.”

Republicans control 52 of the Senate’s 100 seats, and 240 of the House’s 435 seats, and there’s been no GOP talk of impeachment.

Trump has received heavy criticism both inside and outside of government for not forcefully condemning neo-Nazis and white supremacists in the immediate aftermath of the violence in Charlottesville.

He disbanded two business advisory panels after several of its members, CEOs of top American companies, quit the panels resigned because of Trump’s response to the Charlottesville protest.
Richmond said what does not need to wait for a group discussion is Trump scrap a National HBCU Week Conference that administration officials planned for Sept. 17 to 19 in Washington.

The event is scheduled as a follow-up of sorts to Trump’s HBCU Initiative, a plan he announced with great fanfare in February.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

Trump signed an executive order for the initiative with more than six dozen black college presidents surrounding him. Its chief aim was to move responsibilities for HBCUs out of the Department of Education and into the White House with an executive director in charge.

Six months later, most of the HBCU portfolio remains in the Education Department and an executive director has not been named.

“Not only do I think it should be postponed, it shouldn’t have been happening in the first place,” Richmond said. “This White House isn’t serious about improving our HBCUs. They brought all those HBCU presidents to town, they took a picture in the Oval Office, and then they did nothing.”

Rep. Alma Adams, D-N.C., was the first lawmaker to call for next month’s meeting to be postponed.
She said last week that because of Trump’s handling of the events in Charlottesville and “zero progress on any of (the HBCUs’) priorities, it would be highly unproductive to ask HBCU presidents to come back to Washington.”

The Thurgood Marshall College Fund, an HBCU advocacy group that has been supportive of Trump’s outreach toward the schools, agreed.

“There is pretty strong consensus that the White House should consider postponing” next month’s meeting, Marshall College Fund President and CEO Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., wrote in a letter Friday to Omarosa Manigault-Newman, director for communications for the White House’s Office of Public Liaison.

Taylor said the ability of HBCU leaders to engage with representatives from federal agencies could be “overshadowed” by “concerns related to recent national events, ultimately making the conference counterproductive.”

Richmond criticized Manigault-Newman, questioning the value of dealing with the former reality television show celebrity who has served as Trump’s liaison to the African-American community since the 2016 presidential campaign.

“Omarosa is still pretending to have influence with this president,” he said. “I’m just surprised that she’s there as an African-American woman after his latest comments.”

Richmond’s comment reflects the terse relationship between the CBC and Trump. The caucus met with Trump in March. Afterward, Richmond said the CBC and the president shared similar goals but strongly disagreed on “the route to get there.”

The caucus rejected an invitation by Manigault-Newman for a follow-up meeting with Trump in June because “we have seen no evidence that your administration acted on our calls for action, and we have in fact witnessed steps that will affirmatively hurt black communities,” Richmond wrote in a letter.

At least three CBC members, Reps. Al Green, D-Texas., Maxine Waters, D-Calif., and Gwen Moore, D-Wis., have called for Trump’s impeachment.

Green said in June that Trump obstructed justice when he fired former FBI Director James Comey, who was investigating alleged Russian meddling in last year’s election. Moore last week cited Trump’s response to Charlottesville as proof he’s unfit for the Oval Office.

“For the sake of the soul of our country,” we must come together to restore our national dignity that has been robbed by Donald Trump’s presence in the White House,” she said last week. “My Republican friends, I implore you to work with us within our capacity as elected officials to remove this man as our commander-in-chief and help us move forward from this dark period in our nation’s history.”
John Wagner Aug-13-2017 181 0
President Trump is often quick to respond to terrorizing acts of violence.
As news broke of a terrorist attack in Paris in November 2015, Trump immediately tweeted that he was praying for “the victims and hostages.” Very soon after a shooting at an Orlando nightclub in June 2016, Trump tweeted that he was “right on radical Islamic terrorism.”

But he kept quiet Saturday morning as a protest led by white nationalists, who arrived with torches and chants in Charlottesville, on Friday night, turned violent. The cable networks that he usually watches showed footage of increasingly violent clashes between the white nationalists, some of whom looked like soldiers because they were so heavily armed, and the counterprotesters who showed up to challenge them.

He kept quiet as David Duke, the former leader of the Ku Klux Klan, declared that the scene in Charlottesville is a “turning point” for a movement that aims to “fulfill the promises of Donald Trump.”

The president kept quiet as Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) declared a state of emergency — and as Trump’s own wife responded, writing in a tweet that “no good comes from violence.”

Cable news commentary, Twitter and the inboxes of White House spokesmen quickly filled with this question: Where is the president?

Then, at 1:19 p.m. in New Jersey, Trump took a break from his working vacation at his private golf club to tweet: “We ALL must be united & condemn all that hate stands for. There is no place for this kind of violence in America. Lets come together as one!”

Trump has long tiptoed around the issue of white supremacy and has yet to provide a full-throttled rebuke of those who invoke his name. He had to be repeatedly pushed to denounce Duke after the former KKK leader endorsed him and praised him.

Trump’s candidacy excited many white nationalists, who were thrilled to hear Trump mock the Black Lives Matter movement on the campaign trail and declare that “all lives matter.” They rallied behind his promises to build a wall on the southern border, reduce the number of foreigners allowed into the country and pressure everyone in the country to speak English and say “Merry Christmas.” And they celebrated Trump selecting Stephen K. Bannon as his chief strategist, who formerly ran the right-wing Breitbart News and advocated for what he calls the “alt-right” movement.

About two hours after the president’s tweet, Trump expanded with four-minute statement that began: “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides.” He then added for emphasis: “On many sides.”

When asked what the president meant by “on many sides,” a White House spokesperson responded: “The President was condemning hatred, bigotry and violence from all sources and all sides. There was violence between protesters and counterprotesters today.” When pressed on what exactly the president saw or heard from the counterprotesters that was bigoted or hateful, the spokesman did not respond.

Later in the evening, Trump offered his condolences to a victim and "best regards to all of those injured."

Trump never used the words “white supremacy” or “white nationalism.” He didn’t detail what acts or words he considers to be hateful or bigoted. He didn’t mention the vehicle that had driven into a crowd of counterprotesters in Charlottesville — a tactic that has been repeatedly used by Islamic State terrorists. He scolded both sides and treated their offenses as being equal. He was vague enough that his statement could be interpreted in a number of different ways.

“Did Trump just denounce antifa?” tweeted Richard Spencer, who helped organize the protest in Charlottesville, using a term short for “anti-fascist” to describe violent liberal protesters.

But many other Americans wanted their president to be crystal-clear when it comes to white supremacy and what they were witnessing in Charlottesville. The president’s tweet and statement were quickly questioned and protested.

“There is only one side,” tweeted former vice president Joe Biden.

Many Democrats were more critical of Trump.

“The President’s talk of violence ‘on many sides’ ignores the shameful reality of white supremacism in our country today, and continues a disturbing pattern of complacency around such acts of hate,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement.

During last year’s campaign, former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton sought to make white nationalists’ support for Trump a liability.

One a single day last August, her campaign released a video that featured Ku Klux Klan members and other white supremacists touting Trump’s candidacy — then gave a speech condemning past racially inflammatory remarks by Trump and his support among the “alt-right,” which she described as an “emerging racist ideology.”

In a series of tweets Saturday, Clinton said her “heart is in Charlottesville today” and added that “the incitement of hatred that got us here is as real and condemnable as the white supremacists in our streets.”

Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee (R), whose daughter, Sarah Huckabee Sanders is Trump’s press secretary, tweeted: “ ‘White supremacy’ crap is worst kind of racism-it’s EVIL and perversion of God’s truth to ever think our Creator values some above others.”

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) both urged the president to use the words “white supremacists” and to label this as a terrorist attack.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) released a strongly worded statement that said, in part: “White supremacists and neo-Nazis are, by definition, opposed to American patriotism and the ideals that define us as a people and make our nation special.”

And Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) tweeted: “We should call evil by its name. My brother didn’t give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home.”

Andrew J. Goudsward Jul-21-2017 240 0
A week after the murder of 11-year-old AbbieGail "Abbie" Smith in New Jersey, the girl's grief-stricken father and sister in Jamaica made an impassioned plea to President Trump to allow them into the United States to attend the girl's funeral Monday.

In an exclusive video to APP.com, father Kenroy Smith tearfully asked Trump to intervene after AbbieGail's older sister Kenish had her visa application denied. The visa for Kenroy, who had previously been deported from the U.S. on a drug charge 16 years ago, remained in limbo.

The Smiths said they were desperate to come to Keansburg to pay their final respects to AbbieGail and to see where she had been fatally stabbed last week. They feared they would miss their only chance to say goodbye.

"My dear little AbbieGail was taken away and I need to pay my last respects to her," Kenroy Smith said breaking down in tears. "That's all I'm asking."

Kenish, the sister, said her temporary visa application was rejected Wednesday. She said she wasn't given a reason, but officials at the U.S. Embassy in Kingston, Jamaica, questioned her about her occupation as a cosmetologist and her ties to her home country before making the decision.
Kenish said she showed officials AbbieGail's death certificate and a letter from the Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office, but she was still turned down for a visa.

A State Department official said visa applications are judged on a case-by-case basis and the department doesn't comment on individual cases.

"AbbieGail Smith needs her sister there at the moment," she said. "Who's going to stand up for us? We have no control. We can't do it on our own."

Kenroy Smith said he would find out Friday whether he would be granted entry to the United States.
"She's my daughter. She's my everything," he said. "Please let me see my daughter for the last day before she goes under."

AbbieGale's body was found July 13 wrapped in a blanket on the roof of her apartment building hours after she was reported missing, authorities said. She was killed by a stab wound to the neck.
Smith's upstairs neighbor Andreas Erazo has been charged with her murder. He is in the Monmouth County Jail awaiting a bail hearing.

AbbieGail will be buried Monday following a Mass at St. Ann's Church in Keansburg.

Kenroy Smith said he was unsure whether he would be allowed into the country. He was deported from the United States to Jamaica in 2001 following a marijuana arrest.
"I'm not worried. I'm just praising God," he said.

Latisha Smith, one of AbbieGail's sisters who lives in Maryland, said she has been up early every day this week writing emails to elected officials and going to local immigration offices in a frantic last-ditch effort to help her father and sister get visas.

"Every minute it's like I'm hitting a roadblock, but I'm just not going to stop," she said. "I'm not stopping until they're here."

Latisha Smith said AbbieGail frequently visited her father in Jamaica and that Kenroy had developed a special bond with his youngest daughter.

"We're a family. We all need to be together for AbbieGail," she said. "The government — I just hope they hear my cry."
Jessica Huseman, Jun-15-2017 889 0
For decades, the Department of Justice has used court-enforced agreements to protect civil rights, successfully desegregating school systems, reforming police departments, ensuring access for the disabled and defending the religious.

Now, under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the DOJ appears to be turning away from this storied tool, called consent decrees. Top officials in the DOJ civil rights division have issued verbal instructions through the ranks to seek settlements without consent decrees — which would result in no continuing court oversight.

The move is just one part of a move by the Trump administration to limit federal civil rights enforcement. Other departments have scaled back the power of their internal divisions that monitor such abuses. In a previously unreported development, the Education Department last week reversed an Obama-era reform that broadened the agency’s approach to protecting rights of students. The Labor Department and the Environmental Protection Agency have also announced sweeping cuts to their enforcement.

“At best, this administration believes that civil rights enforcement is superfluous and can be easily cut. At worst, it really is part of a systematic agenda to roll back civil rights,” said Vanita Gupta, the former acting head of the DOJ’s civil rights division under President Barack Obama.

Consent decrees have not been abandoned entirely by the DOJ, a person with knowledge of the instructions said. Instead, there is a presumption against their use — attorneys should default to using settlements without court oversight unless there is an unavoidable reason for a consent decree. The instructions came from the civil rights division’s office of acting Assistant Attorney General Tom Wheeler and Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Gore. There is no written policy guidance.

Devin O’Malley, a spokesperson for the DOJ, declined to comment for this story.
Consent decrees can be a powerful tool, and spell out specific steps that must be taken to remedy the harm. These are agreed to by both parties and signed off on by a judge, whom the parties can appear before again if the terms are not being met. Though critics say the DOJ sometimes does not enforce consent decrees well enough, they are more powerful than settlements that aren’t overseen by a judge and have no built-in enforcement mechanism.

Such settlements have “far fewer teeth to ensure adequate enforcement,” Gupta said.
Consent decrees often require agencies or municipalities to take expensive steps toward reform. Local leaders and agency heads then can point to the binding court authority when requesting budget increases to ensure reforms. Without consent decrees, many localities or government departments would simply never make such comprehensive changes, said William Yeomans, who spent 26 years at the DOJ, mostly in the civil rights division.

“They are key to civil rights enforcement,” he said. “That’s why Sessions and his ilk don’t like them.”
Some, however, believe the Obama administration relied on consent decrees too often and sometimes took advantage of vulnerable cities unable to effectively defend themselves against a well-resourced DOJ.

“I think a recalibration would be welcome,” said Richard Epstein, a professor at New York University School of Law and a fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford, adding that consent decrees should be used in cases where clear, systemic issues of discrimination exist.

Though it’s too early to see how widespread the effect of the changes will be, the Justice Department appears to be adhering to the directive already.

On May 30, the DOJ announced Bernards Township in New Jersey had agreed to pay $3.25 million to settle an accusation it denied zoning approval for a local Islamic group to build a mosque. Staff attorneys at the U.S. attorney’s office in New Jersey initially sought to resolve the case with a consent decree, according to a spokesperson for Bernards Township. But because of the DOJ’s new stance, the terms were changed after the township protested, according to a person familiar with the matter. A spokesperson for the New Jersey U.S. attorney’s office declined comment.
Sessions has long been a public critic of consent decrees. As a senator, he wrote they “constitute an end run around the democratic process.” He lambasted local agencies that seek them out as a way to inflate their budgets, a “particularly offensive” use of consent decrees that took decision-making power from legislatures.

On March 31, Sessions ordered a sweeping review of all consent decrees with troubled police departments nationwide to ensure they were in line with the Trump administration’s law-and-order goals. Days before, the DOJ had asked a judge to postpone a hearing on a consent decree with the Baltimore Police Department that had been arranged during the last days of the Obama administration. The judge denied that request, and the consent decree has moved forward.

The DOJ has already come under fire from critics for altering its approach to voting rights cases. After nearly six years of litigation over Texas’ voter ID law — which Obama DOJ attorneys said was written to intentionally discriminate against minority voters and had such a discriminatory effect — the Trump DOJ abruptly withdrew its intent claims in late February.

Efforts to implement the nation’s strictest voter ID requirements — a solution in search of a problem, according to one critic — foundered amid court defeats, confusion and at least one giant oversight.

Attorneys who worked on the case for years were barely consulted about the change — many weren’t consulted at all, according to two former DOJ officials with knowledge of the matter. Gore wrote the filing changing the DOJ’s position largely by himself and asked the attorneys who’d been involved in the case for years to sign it to show continuity. Not all of the attorneys fell in line. Avner Shapiro — who has been a prosecutor in the civil rights division for more than 20 years — left his name off the filings written by Gore. Shapiro was particularly involved in developing the DOJ’s argument that Texas had intentionally discriminated against minorities in crafting its voter ID legislation.

“That’s the ultimate act of rebellion,” Yeomans, the former civil rights division prosecutor, said. A rare act, removing one’s name from a legal filing is one of the few ways career attorneys can express public disagreement with an administration.

reuters May-15-2017 355 0
The U.S. Supreme Court put the final nail in the coffin of North Carolina's strict voter-identification law on Monday, rejecting a Republican bid to revive the measure struck down by a lower court for intentionally aiming to suppress black voter turnout.

The justices left in place a July 2016 ruling by the Richmond, Virginia-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that voided the law passed by a Republican-controlled legislature and signed by a Republican governor.

The state's new Democratic governor, Roy Cooper, and its Democratic attorney general, Josh Stein, had told the justices they wanted to drop the state's appeal of the 4th Circuit ruling. But the Republican-led state legislature said it should be able to intervene in the case to defend the law. The appeal was filed by Cooper's predecessor, Republican Pat McCrory, before the Democrat took office in January.

Chief Justice John Roberts, citing a "blizzard of filings over who is and who is not authorized to seek review in this court under North Carolina law," wrote a two-page statement noting that the confusion over who represents the state was a reason not to hear the dispute.

The North Carolina law required that certain forms of government-issued photo identification cards be presented by voters, allowing for example driver's licenses, passports and military identification cards but not public assistance cards used disproportionately by minorities in North Carolina. Other provisions included cutting early voting days and ending same-day voter registration.

The law, one of a number of similar statutes passed by Republican-controlled states, was opposed by civil rights groups, including the state chapter of the NAACP, as well as Democrats.

Republicans have said the laws are needed to prevent voter fraud. Democrats have said the laws are voter suppression measures intended to make it harder for groups that tend to back Democratic candidates, including black and Hispanic voters, to cast ballots.

The NAACP and individual voters sued to block it, arguing it disproportionately burdened black and Hispanic voters, who are more likely than white voters to lack acceptable forms of identification.
The appeals court found that the North Carolina law's provisions "target African-Americans with almost surgical precision" and "impose cures for problems that did not exist," concluding that the Republican-led legislature enacted the measure "with discriminatory intent."

North Carolina passed the law weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in June 2013 to eliminate a requirement that states with a history of discrimination receive federal approval before changing election laws.
Meera Jagannathan May-09-2017 400 0
President Trump scrambled to throw his “unwavering support” behind historically black colleges and universities Sunday night after seeming to question their constitutionality days earlier.

“The statement that accompanied my signing of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2017, sets forth my intention to spend the funds it appropriates, including the funds for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), consistently with my responsibilities under the Constitution,” Trump said in a statement.

“It does not affect my unwavering support for HBCUs and their critical educational missions.”

The President went on to cite his Feb. 28 executive order touting an initiative to “ensure equitable opportunities for HBCUs to participate in Federal programs” and “increase the number of college-educated Americans who feel empowered and able to advance the common good at home and abroad.”


“I am happy to see the president reaffirmed this Administration’s support for HCBUs,” she said. “I will continue to be an advocate for them and for programs that make higher education more accessible to all students.”


Trump, in a signing statement Friday on the $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill, had listed HBCUs, Native American housing block grants and minority business development as examples of “provisions that allocate benefits on the basis of race, ethnicity, and gender.”

His administration, he wrote, would treat them “in a manner consistent with the requirement to afford equal protection of the laws under the Due Process Clause of the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment.”

Presidents have traditionally used signing statements to signal provisions their administrations may disregard.

YAMICHE ALCINDOR May-03-2017 323 0
Ben Carson does not like the creature comforts, at least not for low-income Americans reliant on the government for a helping hand.

As he toured facilities for the poor in Ohio last week, Mr. Carson, the neurosurgeon-turned-housing secretary, joked that a relatively well-appointed apartment complex for veterans lacked “only pool tables.” He inquired at one stop whether animals were allowed. At yet another, he nodded, plainly happy, as officials explained how they had stacked dozens of bunk beds inside a homeless shelter and purposefully did not provide televisions.

Compassion, Mr. Carson explained in an interview, means not giving people “a comfortable setting that would make somebody want to say: ‘I’ll just stay here. They will take care of me.’”

When Mr. Carson assumed the helm of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, he had no government experience, no political experience beyond a failed bid for the Republican presidential nomination and no burning desire to run a major federal bureaucracy. But his views on poverty alleviation were tough-minded and well-known, informed by his childhood in Detroit and his own bootstraps journey from Motor City urban grit to the operating theater of Johns Hopkins University.

After two months as the Trump administration’s point man on alleviating poverty, those views have not changed. At each stop of a tour through the Columbus area, local officials grinned as they explained the importance of his agency and made their cases for their budgets, which are on the president’s chopping block. But the secretary was resolute in his belief that too much government assistance has led to too much dependence.

“We have some people who are mentally ill. We have some elderly and disabled people. We can’t expect in many cases those people to do a great deal to take care of themselves,” he said. But, he added, “There is another group of people who are able-bodied individuals, and I think we do those people a great disservice when we simply maintain them.”

Antoine Williams, 45, who lives in a supportive housing complex for the chronically homeless, shook his head after Mr. Carson finished greeting officials in the lobby of his building and headed out in a four-car motorcade.

“If he got something to do with Trump, that means he’s not really for us,” Mr. Williams said. “It’s not surprising. That’s what the rich do, they make it hard for the poor.”

“We are talking about incentivizing those who help themselves,” Mr. Carson said, before asking about how comfortable a supportive housing center for drug addicts in Lancaster, Ohio, was letting people get.

Ben Carson, secretary of housing and urban development, toured the Columbus Choice Neighborhood in Ohio last week. A planning grant from HUD helped to fund the neighborhood.
Next Slide

To some, just making the trip here showed that Mr. Carson is studying housing deeply and relying on both experts and personal stories to do his job. Mr. Carson, who has also visited Detroit, Dallas and Miami on his listening tour, peppered officials at housing projects in Ohio about which agency or company was paying for the maintenance, what comforts they were providing and what kind of job training facilities each had.

And in an interview, he indicated that some of President Trump’s tough-minded budget cuts might be more bluster than bottom lines. HUD programs targeted for elimination, including Community Development Block Grants, which help fund efforts like Meals on Wheels, may wind up with different names, but they will continue to function in some of the same ways, he said, addressing the president’s proposal to cut HUD’s budget by 13 percent.

“I know they have been called out for elimination. My impression is that what he is really saying is that there are problems with those programs,” Mr. Carson said. “And I think it may have been someone on his staff who kind of said, ‘Well, maybe we just need to get rid of the whole program.’ No, we don’t need to get rid of the whole program because there are some extremely good things there.”

Mr. Carson said he planned to focus much of his energy on persuading developers to hire local low-income residents for construction programs.

But he also indicated that money would be tight and focused. At a supportive housing center for drug addicts in Lancaster, Ohio, Trisha Farmer, the chief executive of the Recovery Center, pleaded for more federal help to house recovering addicts.

Mr. Carson interjected. “We are talking about incentivizing those who help themselves,” he said, before again asking minutes later about how comfortable the facility was letting people get.

To some residents who met with Mr. Carson, the tour was nothing more than a dog-and-pony show.

On his second day in Columbus, Mr. Carson stopped by the apartment of Alzene Munnerlyn, an 87-year-old living in senior housing and using a voucher to pay part of her rent after she was priced out of her last apartment. For about 10 minutes, Mr. Carson and several local housing officials posed for pictures in Ms. Munnerlyn’s living room and chatted with her about her place.

As Mr. Carson was leaving, Ms. Munnerlyn, a retired information officer for the Ohio Department of Education, said she felt a little used. She had wanted to tell Mr. Carson that President Trump’s plans to cut funding for housing vouchers might make it harder for other seniors to keep their homes.

But, she said: “It was staged. It was so fast.”

“There needs to be a forum where you can just sit and talk with him, and he could ask you how you feel and then you could express yourself,” she said, frowning.

Hours later, Bela Koe-Krompecher, clinical director at the Y.M.C.A. of Central Ohio, expressed a similar sentiment after walking with the housing secretary through an apartment and medical clinic for the chronically homeless.

“It’s so choreographed,” he said moments after Mr. Carson left Franklin Station, a supportive housing center for the homeless. “I was kind of told, ‘Be quiet, Bela.’ But I think people need to have that blunt conversation.”

During the visit, Mr. Carson had asked whether people had to be sober and drug free to get housing. The question is at the heart of a philosophy change in housing made some decades ago, and it stuck with Mr. Koe-Krompecher as he explained his worries about the Trump administration’s policy direction.

“The thinking was for years, you had to be clean and sober to get housing. And harm reduction philosophy says, ‘No, you don’t,’” Mr. Koe-Krompecher explained. “‘Housing first’ says, ‘We house them, we get them services.’ So when he asked if someone was clean to live here? The answer is, ‘No.’”

Not everyone was so harsh. Bryanna Ramirez, 24, beamed as Mr. Carson visited her two-bedroom apartment in a housing facility set aside for low-income parents who are working. Ms. Ramirez, a single mother, is earning an associate degree in science at Columbus State Community College and had been a supporter of Mr. Carson’s presidential bid. As she and Mr. Carson chatted, he signed her copy of his biography, “Gifted Hands,” writing, “Keep up the good work.”

“The best thing to do is to do what Ben Carson is doing and that’s walking through to see if programs are really benefiting people and if people are really serious,” said Ms. Ramirez, who uses a Section 8 voucher to pay for an apartment she shares with her 2-year-old and 6-year-old daughters. “I think you should be in school or working to try to be on your own because that’s what America is about.”
Meera Jagannathan Apr-17-2017 419 0
As police searched across five states for a man suspected of gunning down a Cleveland grandfather and posting the footage to Facebook, President Trump was tweeting about a book with no words.

The commander-in-chief, fresh off a separate Easter morning Twitter rant, cluttered his feed Monday morning with tweets about “Fox & Friends,” jabs at Democrats and musings on the “fake media.”

Top White House aide Kellyanne Conway — rising to Trump’s defense in February after his public silence on a fatal Quebec mosque shooting drew criticism — said he “doesn’t tweet about everything.”

It seems the President will, however, tweet about anything. Here’s what appeared to be on his mind after Steve Stephens, 37, allegedly shot 74-year-old Robert Godwin Sr. Sunday afternoon in a murder that made national headlines.

“The recent Kansas election (Congress) was a really big media event, until the Republicans won. Now they play the same game with Georgia-BAD!” Trump wrote at 8:45 p.m. Sunday.


President Trump on Monday had yet to tweet about Sunday's shooting in Cleveland.

In the race for CIA Director Mike Pompeo’s seat, Republican Ron Estes narrowly beat Democrat James Thompson last week in Kansas’s 4th district — which Trump had won handily in the 2016 election. Tuesday's contest in Georgia for Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price's seat is also expected to be close.

At 8:07 a.m. Monday, the President tweeted, “‘The first 90 days of my presidency has exposed the total failure of the last eight years of foreign policy!’ So true. @foxandfriends.”

He was ostensibly misquoting conservative author Michael J. Knowles, who appeared on “Fox & Friends” to promote his book, “Reasons to Vote for Democrats: A Comprehensive Guide.”

“It is unbelievable how within the first 100 days of this presidency we have exposed the total failure of the last eight years of foreign policy,” Knowles said on air.

Six minutes later, Trump plugged Knowles’ work — a tome filled with blank pages — in a separate tweet.

“A great book for your reading enjoyment: ‘REASONS TO VOTE FOR DEMOCRATS’ by Michael J. Knowles,” he wrote.

Soon after, the President zeroed in on one of his favorite punching bags. This time, he coined a corollary to “fake media”: “real media.”

“The Fake Media (not Real Media) has gotten even worse since the election. Every story is badly slanted. We have to hold them to the truth!” he tweeted.


Trump forged ahead tweeting about the Georgia election, but failed to spell “Congressional” correctly.

The President, capping off a string of tweets that ignored the biggest national crime story of the day, retweeted a Drudge Report post linking to a Rasmussen poll touting a 50% Trump approval rating. Gallup’s latest poll puts his job approval at 41%.
Jim Malewitz Apr-11-2017 325 0
A federal judge has ruled — for the second time — that Texas lawmakers intentionally discriminated against Latino and black voters in passing a strict voter identification law in 2011.  
by Jim MalewitzApril 10, 2017 5:20 PM
 
A federal judge has ruled — for the second time — that Texas lawmakers intentionally discriminated against Latino and black voters in passing a strict voter identification law in 2011.

U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos ruled Monday that Texas “has not met its burden” in proving that lawmakers passed the nation’s strictest photo ID law, know as Senate Bill 14, without knowingly targeting minority voters.

The 10-page ruling, if it withstands almost certain appeals, could ultimately put Texas back on the list of states needing outside approval before changing election laws. A 2013 Supreme Court ruling sprung Texas and other states with a history of discrimination from that list.

The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last July that the Texas law disproportionately targeted minority voters who were less likely to have one of the seven forms of state-approved photo ID — a violation of the U.S. Voting Rights Act. And Texas conducted the 2016 general election under a court-ordered relaxation of the rules.

But the appeals court asked Ramos, of Corpus Christi, to reconsider her previous ruling that lawmakers discriminated on purpose, calling parts of her conclusion “infirm.”

After weighing the evidence again, she came to the same conclusion, according to Monday’s ruling. Her decision did not identify what some have called a smoking gun showing intent to discriminate, but it cited the state’s long history of discrimination; “virtually unprecedented radical departures from normal practices” in fast-tracking the 2011 bill through the Legislature; the legislation's “unduly strict” terms; and lawmakers' “shifting rationales” for passing a law that some said was needed to crack down on voter fraud.

“The Court holds that the evidence found 'infirm' did not tip the scales,” Ramos wrote. Civil rights groups and others suing the state offered evidence that “established a discriminatory purpose was at least one of the substantial or motivating factors behind passage of SB 14," she added.
Marc Rylander, a spokesman for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, said his office was "disappointed and will seek review of this ruling at the appropriate time." And Brantley Starr, Paxton's first deputy assistant, told the House Committee on Elections on Monday that he believes an appeals court will overturn overturn Ramos’ ruling — by considering the state’s effort this year to pass a new ID law.

Texas Republicans, including Gov. Greg Abbott, have long disputed that the Legislature discriminated — let alone did so knowingly — and have suggested that the law bolstered the integrity of elections. 

Democrats sought to capitalize on the ruling Monday, saying it highlighted "sickening" and "shameful" state efforts to suppress voter turnout.

“It is disgusting and shameful that Republicans have worked so hard to keep Texas’ diverse new majority away from the polls," Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said in a prepared statement. "Sadly, the damage has been done."

With the ruling, two federal courts — in consecutive months — have found that Texas lawmakers knowingly discriminated against Latino and black voters in elections. In March, a three-judge panel in San Antonio ruled the Legislature illegally “packed” and “cracked” minority populations in certain districts while redrawing the state’s congressional map in 2011— an effort to reduce their influence across Texas.
Krissah Thompson Mar-26-2017 301 0
The first cocktail party at Barack Obama’s new office last month was certainly more casual than any he had hosted in recent years. The wine bore a random assortment of labels, as if assembled potluck-style. The self-serve appetizers were set out in the narrow hallway. The host, tieless, eschewed formal remarks, as a few dozen of his old administration officials — Joe Biden and former chief of staff Denis McDonough, as well as more junior ones — mingled in a minimalist wood-paneled suite that could be mistaken for a boutique law firm.

“It was a bit of a shock to the system,” said Peter Velz, who used to work in the White House communications office. “You’re bumping up right against the vice president as he’s getting cheese from the cheese plate.”

As the dinner hour drew near, the former president exited with a familiar excuse, Velz recalled: “He was joking if he doesn’t get back to Michelle, he’s going to be in trouble.”

So far, Obama is trying to approach his post-presidency in the same way as his cocktail-hosting duties — keeping things low-key, despite clamoring from Democrats for him to do more. “He is enjoying a lower profile where he can relax, reflect and enjoy his family and friends,” said his former senior adviser Valerie Jarrett.

But the unprecedented nature of this particular post-presidency means his respite could be brief. Even while taking some downtime in the South Pacific last week, Obama put out a statement urging Republicans not to unilaterally dismantle his signature health care law.

Not only are the Obamas still young and unusually popular for a post-White House couple, their decision to stay in Washington while their younger daughter finishes high school has combined with the compulsion of the new Trump administration to keep pulling them back into the spotlight.

President Trump has repeatedly invoked his predecessor to blame him for the “mess” he says he inherited: “jobs pouring out of the country,” “major problems” in the Middle East and North Korea. A post-election show of camaraderie has ended; the two have not spoken since Trump took office.

Trump dropped any remaining veneer of politeness this month with a series of tweets accusing Obama — without a shred of evidence — of illegally surveilling Trump Tower during the campaign. Obama was privately irritated at the allegation, which the director of the FBI and lawmakers from both parties dismissed as unfounded.

He has attempted to stay above the fray, watching from the sidelines as Republicans have pressed to unravel a slew of his initiatives — and emphasizing the need for a new generation of political leaders to step up in his place.

And yet, while other recent ex-presidents have devoted their retirement years to apolitical, do-gooder causes, Obama is gearing up to throw himself into the wonky and highly partisan issue of redistricting, with the goal of reversing the electoral declines Democrats have experienced nationally.

Both the continued interest in Obama and his desire to remain engaged in civic life place him in an unusual position for a former president. George W. Bush left office with low approval rates, retreating to Dallas to write a memoir and take up painting. Bill Clinton decamped for New York on a somewhat higher note politically but downshifted to a mission of building his family’s foundation and supporting his wife’s political career.

Can the Obamas put their heads down and build their ambitious presidential center while living only blocks from the White House? Or is it inevitable that he will get pulled back into the political swamp?

In February, Obama attended a Broadway performance of Arthur Miller’s “The Price” along with his older daughter, Malia, and Jarrett. They slipped into the theater after the lights went down and left before they came up, most of the audience unaware of his presence — until a New York Times reporter sitting in front of him tweeted about it. By the time Obama left, a crowd had gathered outside.

Paparazzi wait outside of the D.C. SoulCycle exercise studio that Michelle Obama frequents, though she clearly does not appear interested in being photographed.

“They are still decompressing from an extremely intense period. It actually started not just eight years ago but really since his 2004 convention speech — and it never let up,” said a former senior West Wing staffer. “It’s like 12 years of extremely intense stress, political activity, scrutiny, responsibility as a national leader, and for the first lady as the surrogate-in-chief. .?.?. That’s been a big load for the both of them.”

Taylor Lorenz Mar-17-2017 315 0
Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) on Friday called for President Trump to apologize to former President Obama for accusing him of "wiretapping" Trump Tower without evidence.

"I see no indication that's true. It's not a charge that I would ever have ever made, and frankly unless he can produce some pretty compelling proof, then I think President Obama is owed an apology in that regard," Cole said.

"If he didn't do it, we shouldn't be reckless in accusations that he did."
Cole is the first GOP lawmaker to call for an apology, although other Republicans have questioned why Trump made the accusation without proof.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer on Thursday defended Trump, saying: "The president has already been very clear that he didn't mean specifically wiretapping. He had it in quotes. So I think to fall back on that is a false premise. That's not what he said. He was very clear when he talked about it yesterday."

Spicer said Trump stood by his claim, after the Senate Intelligence Committee earlier Thursday said it sees "no indication that Trump Tower was a subject of surveillance by any element of the United States government either before or after Election Day 2016."

Trump earlier this month wrote in a series of early Saturday morning tweets that "Obama had my 'wires tapped' in Trump Tower" during the campaign, calling his predecessor a "bad (or sick) guy!"
AP Mar-12-2017 377 0
Federal judges found more problems in Texas' voting rights laws, ruling that Republicans racially gerrymandered some congressional districts to weaken the growing electoral power of minorities, who former President Barack Obama set out to protect at the ballot box before leaving office.

The ruling late Friday by a three-judge panel in San Antonio gave Democrats hope of new, more favorably drawn maps that could turn over more seats in Congress in 2018. But the judges in their 2-1 decision didn't propose an immediate fix, and Texas could appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Republicans hold two of three congressional districts ruled newly invalid and were found to have been partly drawn with discriminatory intent. The GOP-controlled Texas Legislature approved the maps in 2011, the same year then-Gov. Rick Perry signed a voter ID law that ranks among the toughest in the U.S. Courts have since weakened that law, too.

Judges noted the "strong racial tension and heated debate about Latinos, Spanish-speaking people, undocumented immigrants and sanctuary cities" that served as the backdrop in the Legislature to Texas adopting the maps and the voter ID law. Those tensions are flaring again over President Donald Trump's executive orders on immigration, and Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is also demanding tough crackdowns on so-called sanctuary cities.

"The record indicates not just a hostility toward Democrat districts, but a hostility to minority districts, and a willingness to use race for partisan advantage," U.S. District Judges Xavier Rodriguez and Orlando Garcia wrote in their opinion.

Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton did not immediately remark on the ruling.

An attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund welcomed Friday's ruling.

"The court's decision exposes the Texas Legislature's illegal effort to dilute the vote of Texas Latinos," said Nina Perales, the group's vice president of litigation and lead counsel in the case. "Moving forward, the ruling will help protect Latinos from manipulation of district lines in order to reduce their political clout."

Hispanics were found to have fueled Texas' dramatic growth in the 2010 census, the year before the maps were drawn, accounting for two out of every three new residents in the state. The findings of racially motivated mapmaking satisfied Democrats and minority rights groups, who are now pushing a separate federal court in Texas to determine that the voter ID law was also crafted with discriminatory intent.

Texas was forced ahead of the November election to weaken its voter ID law, which allows concealed handgun licenses but not college student IDs, after a federal appeals court found that the requirements particularly hampered minorities and the poor.

The Obama administration had brought the muscle of the U.S. Justice Department into Texas to help challenge both the maps and voter ID law. But barely a month after Trump took office, the federal government reversed course and announced it would no longer argue that Texas purposefully discriminated against minorities with its voter ID law.

It was not yet clear whether the Trump administration will also drop opposition to Texas' maps. But U.S. Circuit Judge Jerry Smith, in a blistering dissent, had strong words for Obama administration attorneys after they joined the case.

"It was obvious, from the start, that the DoJ attorneys viewed state officials and the legislative majority and their staffs as a bunch of backwoods hayseed bigots who bemoan the abolition of the poll tax and pine for the days of literacy tests and lynchings," Smith wrote. "And the DoJ lawyers saw themselves as an expeditionary landing party arriving here, just in time, to rescue the state from oppression, obviously presuming that plaintiffs' counsel were not up to the task."

The stakes in finding discriminatory intent are higher because it provides a window for opponents to argue that Texas should be forced to resume having changes to voting laws "pre-cleared" by the Justice Department or a federal court. A 2013 U.S. Supreme Court ruling did away with preclearance by striking down a key provision in the federal Voting Rights Act.

The congressional districts voided by the panel belong to Democrat Lloyd Doggett and Republicans Will Hurd and Blake Farenthold. Hurd's district, which runs from San Antonio to El Paso, has been a rare competitive swing district in Texas in recent years.
Feb-28-2017 300 0
President Trump signed an executive order to bolster historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) on Tuesday. The order will do this by moving the moving the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities, which was previously part of the Department of Education, back to the White House.

The administration says this action will encourage strategic partnerships with other agencies and outside groups by giving it greater visibility. The United Negro College Fund had requested that Mr. Trump move the Initiative to the White House and be led by a person “who reports to a senior advisor to the president,” according to The Washington Post.

Dozens of HBCU leaders gathered at the White House on Monday where they briefly met Mr. Trump in the Oval Office before meeting with Vice President Mike Pence. The order is a signal that the Trump administration plans to make HBCUs a priority, boosting Trump’s “urban agenda,” a senior White House office told reporters in a briefing.

What to expect in President Trump's address to joint session of Congress
The White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities was started by President Jimmy Carter, but the Trump administration says the office has “lost track because they didn’t have the full force of the White House behind it.”
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