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Two months out of office, Barack Obama is having a post-presidency like no other
Krissah Thompson Mar-26-2017 271 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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John Bowden Sep-10-2017 73 0
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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.

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"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.
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Tom O'Connor Sep-03-2017 329 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."


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YAMICHE ALCINDOR Aug-22-2017 152 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.


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William Douglas Aug-22-2017 203 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.”
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John Wagner Aug-13-2017 119 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.”

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Andrew J. Goudsward Jul-21-2017 178 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 812 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 290 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 358 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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