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Daryl Washington Jan-31-2017 283 0



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Andrew J. Goudsward Jul-21-2017 65 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."
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Jessica Huseman, Jun-15-2017 707 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.

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reuters May-15-2017 221 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.
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Meera Jagannathan May-09-2017 280 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.

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YAMICHE ALCINDOR May-03-2017 221 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.”
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Meera Jagannathan Apr-17-2017 330 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%.
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Jim Malewitz Apr-11-2017 240 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.
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Krissah Thompson Mar-26-2017 225 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.”

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Taylor Lorenz Mar-17-2017 218 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!"
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