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US Condemns Cuba for Arresting Dozens of Protesters

US Condemns Cuba for Arresting Dozens of Protesters

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — Cuba over the weekend arrested dozens of Damas de Blanco protesters — the wives of political prisoners who have government permission to protest — on the 20th anniversary of the sinking of a tugboat that killed dozens as they attempted to flee the communist nation. In a statement Monday, the U.S. State Department urged an end to the Cuban government’s use of intimidation tactics. “We strongly condemn the Cuban government’s continued use of this intimidation tactic to silence its critics and disrupt peaceful assembly,” said State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki.“We urge the Government of Cuba to end these practices and respect the universal human rights of the Cuban people.”The tugboat sinking took the lives of 37 people, including 10 children.
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Vicki Kennedy Testifies on Capitol Hill

Vicki Kennedy Testifies on Capitol Hill

ABC News(WASHINGTON) — Nearly five years after her husband, the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, passed away, Vicki Kennedy appeared before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee to testify about her nomination to the board of governors of the U.S. Postal Service.President Obama nominated Vicki Kennedy to the position in February, and her nomination comes at a time when the USPS is experiencing deep financial difficulties. Mrs. Kennedy expressed her commitment to helping the Postal Service survive and warned that further cutbacks could hurt the already embattled agency.“Anytime you have a cutback in service in any way, whether its delivery standards, whether its daily delivery, you know six days a week…I think it’s a black eye. I think it hurts us, and we want people to feel that the postal service is excellent in every way,” Kennedy said.Vicki Kennedy was introduced at the hearing by Sen. Ed Markey, who was part of the Massachusetts delegation when Ted Kennedy served. Other Kennedy friends and family were in the audience, including former Rep. Patrick Kennedy. Vicki Kennedy’s nomination will still have to be approved by the committee before heading to the full Senate for a final confirmation vote.
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Meet the First Somali Ambassador to the US in 20 Years

Meet the First Somali Ambassador to the US in 20 Years

YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Somalia has appointed the country’s first ambassador to the United States in more than two decades.Omar Abdirashid Ali Shamarke had his diplomatic credentials accepted Monday at the White House, where he is expected to attend President Obama’s Iftar celebration Monday evening, a dinner marking the breaking of the fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.“Ambassador Sharmarke’s arrival to Washington represents the latest progress in advancing U.S.-Somali relations,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement.“We look forward to working with Ambassador Sharmarke and continuing to work with the Federal Government of Somalia to bring stability, security, and prosperity to all Somali people,” Psaki added.Somalia’s embassy in the U.S. closed in 1992 following the fall of long-time president Siad Barre, which plunged the country into chaos. Two years ago, the first elected government in 20 years came into power and the United States has given more than half a billion dollars in aid to help build infrastructure and provide basic services, including security and development of a justice system.Ambassador Shamarke is no stranger to the United States. He spent years in America in exile and his family is based in Virginia. He also served in Somalia’s transitional federal government as prime minister in 2009, resigning a year later due to government infighting.Shamarke told ABC News in an interview shortly after taking office that Somalia needed help fighting the al Qaeda-backed militant group Al Shabaab, which at that time controlled all of southern Somalia and most of the capital Mogadishu.“We don’t have an edge in terms of capability and that’s why we have requested this international emergency help to salvage the country,” said Shamarke. “We cannot prevail on these extremist groups when they have Ak-47s, and other weapons and we only have Ak-47s.”In the last five years, the United States gave more than $1.5 billion in assistance, including equipment and training to African Union troops fighting alongside Somalia security forces to push Shabaab out of Mogadishu, as well as its strongholds in southern and central Somalia.Despite the terror group’s loss of physical territory, it continues to launch deadly strikes in both Somalia and the region.
Last September, Shabaab militants attacked an upscale mall in neighboring Kenya, killing 67 people.
Just last week, militants stormed Somalia’s presidential palace, setting off explosions and shooting guards. African Union and Somali military troops responded quickly and both the prime minister and president were unharmed, but the attack showed the threat the terror group continues to pose to the country’s security and stability.U.S. officials say that despite the ongoing terror threat, the administration remains committed to supporting the new government and increasing ties between the countries. A Pentagon spokesman confirmed to ABC News that up to 120 troops are now in Mogadishu, the largest U.S. military presence in Somalia since the 1993 failed Black Hawk Down operation.The State Department’s top diplomat for political affairs, Ambassador Wendy Sherman announced last month that the U.S. soon will name its own ambassador to Somalia, the first in more than 20 years.But in a nod to the realities of the security situation on the ground, Sherman confirmed that the new ambassador, along with the rest of the Somalia team, will be based out of the U.S. embassy in Nairobi  for the foreseeable future. Though the U.S. has set up a small mission in the airport in Mogadishu it is still too dangerous to have any U.S. staff based there, officials said.
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Harry Reid: Judge Judy Would Throw Out GOP Lawsuit

Harry Reid: Judge Judy Would Throw Out GOP Lawsuit

Ethan Miller/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Paging Judge Judy. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said on Monday the snarky TV judge would throw out the lawsuit crafted by House Republicans in “half a second.”“This is a phony trial that will come up. It’s a show trial. It’s what Republicans want. I guess that’s what they want, but if that’s really what they want, they should go talk to Judge Judy. Think she would throw this case out in a half a second,” Reid said on the Senate floor. “The United States Congress is no place for inane, politically motivated litigation. I think Judge Judy would agree.”“It’s expensive and wasteful. It’s wasting taxpayers hard earned money on something that is without any merit,” he added. “Enough is enough. The fight over Obamacare should be long since ended. The law’s here to stay.”Last week, House Speaker John Boehner and House Republicans released a draft of a resolution which would authorize the House to sue President Obama for not faithfully executing the law. The White House has called the lawsuit a “political stunt.”

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George W. Bush Gets Second Partial Knee Replacement

George W. Bush Gets Second Partial Knee Replacement

Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — George W. Bush enjoys his mountain biking and now, the former president will have two new knees to power his rides.Aides say Bush’s left knee was partially replaced over the weekend at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.
Earlier this year, he had his right knee partially replaced at the same hospital over Memorial Day weekend.Both surgeries were outpatient procedures, and Bush, 68, is making his way back home to Dallas.

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Six Best Barbs in Rand Paul vs. Rick Perry Feud

Six Best Barbs in Rand Paul vs. Rick Perry Feud

Stewart F. House/Getty Images | Tom Pennington/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — When it comes to dealing with ISIS, the militant Islamic group intent on taking over Iraq, there’s a rift within the Republican party — and nowhere is the divide more glaring than in dueling op-eds published by Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul.First, Perry ripped Paul in a scathing Washington Post op-ed published Friday. Perry’s critique was as pointed as it was blunt, calling Paul out by name and suggesting that Paul’s “isolationist” position (advocating against re-engagement in Iraq) “compounds the threat of terrorism.”Not to be outdone, Paul fired back in an op-ed published in Politico Magazine Monday, labeling Perry’s critique “bombast” — and jeering at Perry’s studious new glasses.The exchange was reminiscent of Paul and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s fiery feud earlier this year, not only in its intensity, but because once again, both combatants are likely 2016 hopefuls.In case you missed it, here’s are the best nuggets of the Perry/Paul tirades:Perry: “It’s disheartening to hear fellow Republicans, such as Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.), suggest that our nation should ignore what’s happening in Iraq. …[ISIS] represents a real threat to our national security — to which Paul seems curiously blind.” Paul: “There are many things I like about Texas Gov. Rick Perry. …But apparently his new glasses haven’t altered his perception of the world, or allowed him to see it any more clearly.”Perry: “Reagan identified Soviet communism as an existential threat to our national security and Western values, and he confronted this threat in every theater. …At the time, though, there were those who said that Reagan’s policies would push the Soviets to war. These voices promoted accommodation and timidity in the face of Soviet advancement as the surest path to peace. This, sadly, is the same policy of inaction that Paul advances today. …Paul is drawing his own red line along the water’s edge, creating a giant moat where superpowers can retire from the world.”Paul: “If the governor continues to insist these proposals mean I’m somehow ‘ignoring ISIS,’ then I’ll make it my personal policy to ignore Rick Perry’s opinions.”Perry: “In the face of the advancement of the Islamic State, Paul and others suggest the best approach to this 21st-century threat is to do next to nothing. I personally don’t believe in a wait-and-see foreign policy for the United States.”Paul: “Tough talk like Perry’s might inspire some for the moment, but when bombast becomes policy, it can have long and disastrous consequences. …On foreign policy, Perry couldn’t be more stuck in the past, doubling down on formulas that haven’t worked, parroting rhetoric that doesn’t make sense and reinforcing petulant attitudes that have cost our nation a great deal.”
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LeBron James Won’t Screw Up Our Convention, GOP Insists

LeBron James Won’t Screw Up Our Convention, GOP Insists

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — The Republican Party says they anticipated LeBron James’ move back to Cleveland and the NBA star won’t be able to block their convention plans.In fact, they may have been planning for it, according to party and city officials.“We’ve worked through all of these contingencies,” said Terry Egger, the chair of Cleveland’s host committee. “For all of the [host] cities that had NBA teams, [playoff basketball] was one of the considerations you had to put in to the equation.”James, 29, announced his return to the Cleveland Cavaliers three days after Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus revealed Cleveland as the party’s choice to host the 2016 national convention.Priebus told Fox News the GOP hopes to begin the convention on either June 28 or July 18 to allow the party’s candidate to begin raising general election funds earlier in the summer.Should the Cavaliers make it to the league finals in 2016, they could be playing well into June. In 2013, the last game was played on June 20, roughly a week before the RNC’s earliest date.Some — including Priebus — wondered if James-induced playoff basketball would throw off convention plans.“Obviously if the Cavaliers are in the finals, it makes things difficult for a June 28 start,” Priebus said in his announcement.Conventions, which have traditionally been held in August, can take up to six weeks of preparation.RNC spokesperson Ryan Mahoney said the party will “choose a date that allows us to put on the best convention possible and all options remain on the table.”According to Egger, party officials “absolutely” factored postseason basketball into account.“The tech team from the RNC, they covered every conceivable detail,” he said.The RNC has until Aug. 8 to decide on a start date, when delegates will gather in Chicago to approve Cleveland’s nomination.While contemplating a potential playoff run, Republicans shouldn’t plan on an endorsement from James.In March, the basketball superstar lent his talents to the White House for an Obamacare ad, and donated $20,000 to the Democratic Party in 2008, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
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Safety Advocacy Group Launches White House Petition to Prevent Hot Car Deaths

Safety Advocacy Group Launches White House Petition to Prevent Hot Car Deaths

Hemera/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — Safety advocacy group KidsAndCars.org launched a White House petition Monday, calling attention to child deaths in hot vehicles and urging the Obama administration to provide funding for related research and technology. The request asks the U.S. Department of Transportation to finance innovative technology that may detect when a child is left alone in the back of a car, and suggests the installation of such devices in all vehicles. “These memory errors are committed by normal, attentive and loving parents. Many of these parents had believed that they could never forget their children, until their children died,” said David Diamond, neuroscientist with KidsandCars.org. “Scientific studies confirm that you can’t assume your memory will never fail, and the consequences of a memory failure can be tragic.”More than 670 children have died in hot cars in the past 20 years, with at least 17 cases in 2014, according to the group. The petition comes on the heels of several related incidents, including the death of a 22-month-old Georgia boy who was left in an SUV by his father. KidsandCars.org requests 100,000 signatures by Aug. 12. “We believe the public wants action now,” said Janette Fennell, the group’s founder and president. “These deaths are happening too frequently in communities across the country and the petition will ensure White House attention and a response.”
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McCain Calls for Return of All Undocumented Children

McCain Calls for Return of All Undocumented Children

United States Congress(WASHINGTON) — Addressing the influx of thousands of children crossing into America from Central America, Sen. John McCain said the best solution is to send them back where they came from.Appearing on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday, McCain criticized President Obama’s request for $3.7 billion to find temporary shelter for the undocumented immigrants while facilitating deportations.Arguing that he and fellow Republicans won’t approve the funds, the Arizona lawmaker maintained, “The best way to do that is to send planeloads of people…to their country of origin.”McCain acknowledged that although the situation is “terrible and tragic,” the U.S. cannot allow unaccompanied children to remain in this country.What the Obama administration should be looking into doing, according to the senator, is changing trafficking laws to show “that if you come to this country illegally, you will be sent back.”In the long term, McCain said the White House needs to learn more about the living conditions in Central America that compel parents to send their children to the U.S. under the mistaken impression that they can live here without repercussions.
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DOJ Set to Fight Same-Sex Marriage Bans in Supreme Court

DOJ Set to Fight Same-Sex Marriage Bans in Supreme Court

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — The Justice Department is set to urge the Supreme Court to uphold a lower-court ruling and block states from banning same-sex marriage, Attorney General Eric Holder said.The nation’s top law enforcement official’s remarks come just days after Utah officials announced they will ask the Supreme Court to overrule a lower court that concluded gay couples can legally marry in the state.Last month, a federal appeals court ruled that Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage, approved voters in 2004, was unconstitutional, finding that states cannot keep two people from marrying simply because they are of the same sex.Now the state of Utah is asking the Supreme Court to weigh in, as several other federal appeals courts across the nation consider similar cases that could make their way to the Supreme Court.If the Supreme Court agrees to hear any of those cases, the Justice Department will file a brief with the court that “will be in support of same-sex marriage,” Holder said in a rare interview, sitting down with ABC News’ Pierre Thomas.Holder said the brief would be “consistent with the actions that we have taken over the past couple of years.” The Justice Department has refused to defend the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman, and its legal efforts to extend federal benefits to same-sex couples have been successful.Those efforts, Holder said, were “vindicated by the Supreme Court,” which ruled last year that same-sex couples must receive the same federal benefits as other married people. That ruling in the so-called “Windsor decision,” however, did not specifically address whether gay marriage is a constitutional right.The Supreme Court could rule on that question if it takes up Utah’s appeal or any of the similar cases.Holder said he believes banning same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, and he’s confident the nation’s highest court will agree.”I think a lot of these measures that ultimately will come before the court will not survive a heightened scrutiny examination,” he said.

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House Judiciary Chair Goodlatte Dismisses Calls for Obama Impeachment

House Judiciary Chair Goodlatte Dismisses Calls for Obama Impeachment

Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call(NEW YORK) — House Judiciary Committee chair Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Virginia, said Sunday on This Week that he won’t push for the impeachment of President Obama, despite recent calls by some Republicans.“We are not working on or drawing up articles of impeachment,” Goodlatte told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos on This Week Sunday. “The Constitution is very clear as to what constitutes grounds for impeachment of the President of the United States. He has not committed the kind of criminal acts that call for that.”Other Republicans, including former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, have rallied for impeachment charges against Obama. In a recent column published on Breitbart.com, Palin wrote “It’s time to impeach…The many impeachable offenses of Barack Obama can no longer be ignored.”While Goodlatte said Sunday morning that he won’t pursue impeachment, he did express support for House Speaker John Boehner’s efforts to sue Obama for overstepping presidential authority through his use of executive orders to modify aspects of the Affordable Care Act.We do believe that the president is not enforcing the law,” Goodlatte said. “And that’s why [Speaker Boehner] and many of us in the Congress are getting ready to take legal action to stand up for the people’s right for their elected representatives to be the part of our government that passes laws, not a president with his pen and his cellphone.”In his weekly address, Obama called the lawsuit against him “a political stunt that’s going to waste months of America’s time.”Although Goodlatte stopped short of calling for Obama’s impeachment, he did criticize the President’s handling of the escalating border crisis in the U.S. and his recent request for $3.7 billion in emergency assistance.“Yes, we should do targeted appropriations where it’s needed to make sure that we are able to detain people and send them back to their countries,” Goodlatte said. “But there is an awful lot that the president can do right now without any action on the part of the Congress. ”Goodlatte suggested that President Obama should act to stop the flow of illegal immigration from Central America, saying he should “make it very clear that people who illegally enter the United States are going to be sent home.”“This matter can be addressed if the president will exercise leadership and stop not enforcing the law. He doesn’t enforce law,” Goodlatte told Stephanopoulos. “He’s releasing criminal aliens back onto our streets that have been detained rather than making sure that they get sent back to their home countries.”President Obama described the surge of unaccompanied children crossing the southern border as a “humanitarian crisis” during a recent exclusive interview with Stephanopoulos.
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Holder: Palin Wasn’t a Good VP Candidate, Worse Judge of Who Should Be Impeached

Holder: Palin Wasn’t a Good VP Candidate, Worse Judge of Who Should Be Impeached

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) –  Attorney General Eric Holder is challenging Republicans who are calling for his and President Obama’s impeachment, and denouncing what he calls a “gridlocked Washington” stalled by what he says is a Republican Party bent on blocking any of the administration’s efforts.“For whatever reason, [some] Republicans decided early on that this was a president they were just simply not going to cooperate with,” Holder said in a rare interview with ABC News’ Pierre Thomas. “And over the past five-and-a-half years, we have seen demonstrations of that, where the president has reached out his hand, offered compromises that have simply not been met [in the way] they have been in the past by a Republican Party willing to do the appropriate things.”Administration efforts to pass comprehensive immigration reform, for example, have failed. Asked about calls by Sarah Palin to impeach Obama over the administration’s immigration policies, Holder said: “She wasn’t a particularly good vice presidential candidate. She’s an even worse judge of who ought to be impeached and why.”Holder similarly dismissed calls for himself to be impeached for declining to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the IRS scandal. Holder insisted that a special prosecutor isn’t necessary, with “career people” and FBI agents “doing a good, professional job” investigating the matter.As for House Speaker John Boehner’s lawsuit against the administration over the Affordable Care Act, Holder said he doesn’t think “that lawsuit’s going to have legs.”“It’s a more, I think, a political gesture than a truly legal one,” he said. “Filing a lawsuit against the president that has no basis is not going to improve the quality of life for the American people.”In the wide-ranging interview for This Week with George Stephanopoulos, Holder spoke at length about race and discrimination in America, saying the country is in “a fundamentally better place than we were 50 years ago.”“We’ve made lots of progress,” he said. “I sit here as the first African-American attorney general, serving the first African-American President of the United States. And that has to show that we have made a great deal of progress.“But there’s still more we have to travel along this road so we get to the place that is consistent with our founding ideals,” he said.Holder said that he and President Obama are treated differently than their predecessors.“There’s a certain level of vehemence, it seems to me, that’s directed at me [and] directed at the president,” Holder said. “You know, people talking about taking their country back. … There’s a certain racial component to this for some people. I don’t think this is the thing that is a main driver, but for some there’s a racial animus.”Asked about his controversial comments from 2009, in which he called the United States a “nation of cowards” when it comes to race, Holder stood firm.“I wouldn’t walk away from that speech,” Holder said. “I think we are still a nation that is too afraid to confront racial issues,” rarely engaging “one another across the color line [to] talk about racial issues.”In addition, Holder took Republicans to task for efforts to, among other things, enact voter ID laws in some states. He called such moves “political efforts” aimed at making it “more difficult” for “groups that are not supportive of those in power” to “have access to the ballot.”“Who is disproportionately impacted by them? Young people, African Americans, Hispanics, older people, people who, for whatever reason, aren’t necessarily supportive of the Republican Party,” Holder said, noting that “this notion that there is widespread in-person voter fraud is simply belied by the facts.”Holder said the Justice Department is expected to soon file challenges to restrictive voting laws in Ohio and Wisconsin, as the department already did in Texas and North Carolina.“I’m attorney general of the United States. I will not stand for — I will not allow people to take away that which people gave their lives to give, and that is the ability for the American people to vote,” Holder said.In the interview, Holder was also asked about the controversy now surrounding the name of Washington’s professional football team, the Redskins.“I think the name ought to be changed,” Holder, a long-time Washingtonian, said. “I think it is an offensive name. And the Redskins are … a team with a storied history that has huge amounts of support in Washington, D.C. And I think in the 21st Century, they could increase their fan base, increase their level of support if they did something that is so, from my perspective, so obviously right.”
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Holder: Palin Wasn’t a Good VP Candidate, Worse Judge of Who Should Be Impeached

Holder: Palin Wasn’t a Good VP Candidate, Worse Judge of Who Should Be Impeached

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) –  Attorney General Eric Holder is challenging Republicans who are calling for his and President Obama’s impeachment, and denouncing what he calls a “gridlocked Washington” stalled by what he says is a Republican Party bent on blocking any of the administration’s efforts.“For whatever reason, [some] Republicans decided early on that this was a president they were just simply not going to cooperate with,” Holder said in a rare interview with ABC News’ Pierre Thomas. “And over the past five-and-a-half years, we have seen demonstrations of that, where the president has reached out his hand, offered compromises that have simply not been met [in the way] they have been in the past by a Republican Party willing to do the appropriate things.”Administration efforts to pass comprehensive immigration reform, for example, have failed. Asked about calls by Sarah Palin to impeach Obama over the administration’s immigration policies, Holder said: “She wasn’t a particularly good vice presidential candidate. She’s an even worse judge of who ought to be impeached and why.”Holder similarly dismissed calls for himself to be impeached for declining to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the IRS scandal. Holder insisted that a special prosecutor isn’t necessary, with “career people” and FBI agents “doing a good, professional job” investigating the matter.As for House Speaker John Boehner’s lawsuit against the administration over the Affordable Care Act, Holder said he doesn’t think “that lawsuit’s going to have legs.”“It’s a more, I think, a political gesture than a truly legal one,” he said. “Filing a lawsuit against the president that has no basis is not going to improve the quality of life for the American people.”In the wide-ranging interview for This Week with George Stephanopoulos, Holder spoke at length about race and discrimination in America, saying the country is in “a fundamentally better place than we were 50 years ago.”“We’ve made lots of progress,” he said. “I sit here as the first African-American attorney general, serving the first African-American President of the United States. And that has to show that we have made a great deal of progress.“But there’s still more we have to travel along this road so we get to the place that is consistent with our founding ideals,” he said.Holder said that he and President Obama are treated differently than their predecessors.“There’s a certain level of vehemence, it seems to me, that’s directed at me [and] directed at the president,” Holder said. “You know, people talking about taking their country back. … There’s a certain racial component to this for some people. I don’t think this is the thing that is a main driver, but for some there’s a racial animus.”Asked about his controversial comments from 2009, in which he called the United States a “nation of cowards” when it comes to race, Holder stood firm.“I wouldn’t walk away from that speech,” Holder said. “I think we are still a nation that is too afraid to confront racial issues,” rarely engaging “one another across the color line [to] talk about racial issues.”In addition, Holder took Republicans to task for efforts to, among other things, enact voter ID laws in some states. He called such moves “political efforts” aimed at making it “more difficult” for “groups that are not supportive of those in power” to “have access to the ballot.”“Who is disproportionately impacted by them? Young people, African Americans, Hispanics, older people, people who, for whatever reason, aren’t necessarily supportive of the Republican Party,” Holder said, noting that “this notion that there is widespread in-person voter fraud is simply belied by the facts.”Holder said the Justice Department is expected to soon file challenges to restrictive voting laws in Ohio and Wisconsin, as the department already did in Texas and North Carolina.“I’m attorney general of the United States. I will not stand for — I will not allow people to take away that which people gave their lives to give, and that is the ability for the American people to vote,” Holder said.In the interview, Holder was also asked about the controversy now surrounding the name of Washington’s professional football team, the Redskins.“I think the name ought to be changed,” Holder, a long-time Washingtonian, said. “I think it is an offensive name. And the Redskins are … a team with a storied history that has huge amounts of support in Washington, D.C. And I think in the 21st Century, they could increase their fan base, increase their level of support if they did something that is so, from my perspective, so obviously right.”
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Latest Syria Threat ‘More Frightening Than Anything’ Else, Holder Says

Latest Syria Threat ‘More Frightening Than Anything’ Else, Holder Says

Photo by Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Recent intelligence indicating that bomb-makers from Yemen have teamed up with terrorists in Syria to develop a new generation of undetectable explosives is “more frightening than anything” else the Obama administration has seen, Attorney General Eric Holder warned, becoming the first U.S. official to publicly confirm ABC News reporting on the threat.In recent days, U.S. officials have boosted security measures at airports overseas amid deepening concerns that terrorists in war-ravaged Syria could be looking to down a U.S.- or European-bound plane, with help from one of the thousands of Americans and other foreign fighters carrying U.S. and European passports who have joined terrorist groups in the region.Holder called it “a deadly combination,” in which people with technical know-how are now “married” to “people who have this kind of fervor to give their lives in support of a cause that is directed at the United States and directed at its allies.””It’s something that gives us really extreme, extreme concern,” Holder said. “In some ways, it’s more frightening than anything I think I’ve seen as attorney general.”Holder sat down for a rare and exclusive interview with ABC News in London, where the attorney general was wrapping up meetings with U.K. officials and other European counterparts to discuss the issue.Days earlier, Holder held similar meetings with officials in Oslo, Norway, to “exchange information in the way that you can’t if you’re not present” and “come up with techniques to thwart those who would try to do us all harm,” as he described it.Earlier this year, U.S. officials learned that a particularly extreme “subset” of terrorist groups in Syria was working alongside operatives from al Qaeda’s prolific offshoot in Yemen to produce “creative” new designs for bombs, as one source put it.Specifically, associates of the al Qaeda affiliate in Syria — the Al Nusrah Front — and radicals from other groups were teaming up with elements of the Yemen-based group Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which built such innovative devices as the “underwear bomb” that ultimately failed to detonate in a plane over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009.U.S. officials have been outspoken about the dangers posed by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and — separately — the threat of foreign fighters in Syria, but the latest intelligence shows that the two threats have bonded in an unusually powerful way, essentially creating a sum more worrisome than its parts. And more recent intelligence has increased the concern.The latest potentially lethal partnership is at least part of what sparked an advisory to airlines earlier this year to look out for explosives-laden toothpaste tubes, cosmetics and shoes.And just days before the July Fourth holiday — coming several months after the initial intelligence was obtained — the Department of Homeland Security announced it would be increasing security measures at certain airports overseas.In particular, DHS said that if some overseas passengers flying to the United States want to bring cell phones and other electronic devices onboard with them, they’re going to have to show that the devices can turn on.”Powerless devices will not be permitted onboard the aircraft,” the Transportation Security Administration, part of DHS, said in a statement.It’s unclear exactly which airports overseas will have to implement the expanded security measures. TSA has been in close contact with all carriers affected by the new measures, particularly American, Delta and United airlines.In his interview with ABC News for This Week with George Stephanopoulos, Holder called the new security measures “appropriate” and “prudent steps that are necessary to protect the flying public” in light of developments in Syria and neighboring Iraq, where the group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria — or ISIS — is now wreaking havoc and recruiting Westerners to fight.”This is not a test,” Holder said of the new measures. “We’re doing something in reaction to things that we have detected.”Holder insisted he’s “really confident in our capacity to understand what’s going on, to monitor what’s going on and working with our allies.”FBI Director James Comey recently said the government is spending “a tremendous amount of time and effort trying to identify” anyone who’s gone to Syria, but “the challenge” is not missing anyone.About 7,000 foreign fighters, including dozens of Americans, have now joined nearly 16,000 other fighters operating in Syria.While in Norway, Holder publicly addressed European officials and advocated for a multi-national strategy to stem the flow of foreign fighters, urging other countries to conduct more undercover investigations and enact stronger laws criminalizing support for terrorists.
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Former White House Lawyer Convicted of Attempted Murder

Former White House Lawyer Convicted of Attempted Murder

(STAMFORD, Conn.) — After more than six hours of deliberations, a jury  found a former White House lawyer guilty of attempting to murder his wife. John Michael Farren, a 61-year-old who served as an attorney in both Bush administrations, was convicted Friday on charges of first-degree assault, risk of injury to a child, and attempted murder for a 2010 incident. Prosecutors claim that Farren beat his wife, Mary Margaret Farren, with a metal flashlight and choked her in their Connecticut home in January 2010. The attack came shortly after his wife served him divorce papers. In closing arguments, the defense argued that Farren was a logical man who turned emotional following the threat of divorce, and he didn’t intend to kill her during the beating since he stopped when she was “vulnerable.”Farren will be sentenced on Sept. 11 and faces a maximum punishment of 50 years in prison. He was named deputy White House counsel in 2007 under George W. Bush, and also worked for the older Bush as under secretary of commerce for international trade.
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Four Things You Might Not Know About Attorney General Eric Holder

Four Things You Might Not Know About Attorney General Eric Holder

U.S. Department of Justice(WASHINGTON) — As new terror threats emerge from the Middle East and the battle continues over border enforcement in the United States, Attorney General Eric Holder is urging lawmakers both internationally and at home to take action. Check out four things you might not know about Holder.1. His personal life Holder was born in New York City and went to Stuyvesant High School. He earned an undergraduate degree in American history from Columbia University and later a law degree from Columbia Law School. He is married to Dr. Sharon Malone, an obstetrician-gynecologist, and they have three children.
2. His careerHolder is the 82nd Attorney General of the United States and the first African-American to hold the position. He was nominated by President Barack Obama and took office on February 3, 2009. Holder was also the first African-American to hold the position of Deputy Attorney General during the Clinton administration. He was unanimously confirmed for that post by the Senate. Before being confirmed as President Obama’s Attorney General, Holder was a partner at the law firm Covington and Burling LLP.3. His prickly relationship with Republicans as AG  Holder — who is the only member of the cabinet to be held in contempt of Congress — has had an especially prickly relationship with some House Republicans. The animosity between the Attorney General and House GOP members has spilled into the open more than once, including Holder once describing conduct by Rep. Darrell Issa during a May 2013 Judiciary Committee hearing as “shameful” and memorably sparring with Rep. Louie Gohmert at a April 2014 hearing.4. His Reagan connection Despite his seemingly tense relationship with Congressional Republicans, some might be surprised to know Holder actually was nominated by President Reagan in 1988 to become an Associate Judge of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.
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President Obama’s Weekly Address: ‘Do Something, Congress’

President Obama’s Weekly Address: ‘Do Something, Congress’

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) — President Obama implored Republicans in Congress to act on anything, calling their planned lawsuit against him a “political stunt that’s going to waste months of America’s time.”Obama says Republicans have “blocked every serious idea to strengthen the middle class,” pointing the blame for political gridlock at the GOP. Instead of blocking action and filing lawsuits, however, the president says he has an idea for how Republicans in Congress should spend their time.”I have a better idea: do something, Congress. Do anything to help working Americans. Join the rest of the country. Join me, I’m looking forward to working with you,” he urges. Read the full transcript of the president’s address:Hi, everybody.  This week, I spent some time in Colorado and Texas, talking with people about what’s going on in their lives.   One of them was Elizabeth Cooper, who’ll be a college junior this fall.  She wrote to tell me something I hear often: how hard it is for middle-class families like hers to afford college.  And she shared something I know many of you feel when you wonder what’s going on in Washington.  She said she feels “not significant enough to be addressed, not poor enough for people to worry [about], and not rich enough to be cared about.” I ran for President to fight for Americans just like Elizabeth – people who work hard, do everything right, and just want a chance to build a decent life for themselves and their families. And after the worst economic crisis in generations, our businesses have now created nearly 10 million new jobs over the past 52 months.  The unemployment rate has fallen to its lowest point since 2008.  By almost every measure, our economy is better off than it was five years ago. But while we’ve created more jobs at this point of the year than any year since 1999, too many families barely earn what they did in 1999.  It’s harder to pay for college, save, or retire, because people’s wages and incomes have not gone up.  Nearly all the gains of the recovery are going to the very top – and aren’t making a difference in your lives.   And I believe America does better when the middle class does better.  And I’ve laid out an opportunity agenda to create jobs, train workers, educate our kids, and make sure hard work actually pays off. These are the things we should be doing to grow the middle class and help folks work their way into the middle class.  And it’s pretty uncontroversial stuff. I hope we can work together on it.  And I’m always willing to compromise if folks have other ideas or if it advances generally the interests of working Americans. But so far this year, Republicans in Congress have blocked every serious idea to strengthen the middle class.  Lifting the minimum wage, fair pay, student loan reform – they’ve said no to all of it.  And that’s when I’ve acted this year to help working Americans on my own– when Congress won’t act.   I’ve taken actions to attract new jobs, lift workers’ wages, help students pay off their loans, and more.  And the Republican plan right now is not to do some of this work with me – instead, it’s to sue me.  That’s actually what they’re spending their time on.  It’s a political stunt that’s going to waste months of America’s time.  And by the way, they’re going to pay for it using your hard-earned tax dollars. I have a better idea: do something, Congress.  Do anything to help working Americans.  Join the rest of the country. Join me, I’m looking forward to working with you. You know, on Tuesday, I met with Carolyn Reed and her husband David, who own six Silver Mine Sub shops in Colorado.  Two days later, they announced they’re giving their hourly employees a raise to ten dollars and ten cents an hour.   They’re not waiting for Congress.  Carolyn said, “We are happy to be a part of what I hope will be a growing voluntary trend in increased wages.” Carolyn and Americans like her all across the country are happy to do their part.  Congress now needs to step up and do its part.  And next week, I’ll travel to a couple of job sites to talk about how Democrats and Republicans can work together to grow the economy and protect nearly 700,000 jobs by passing a highway bill by the end of the summer.  I’m here because hardworking Americans like Elizabeth and Carolyn.  That’s something I’ll never forget – it’s something I’ll never stop fighting for.  Thanks, and have a great weekend.
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GOP Weekly Address: People, ‘Not Government’ Source of America’s Greatness

GOP Weekly Address: People, ‘Not Government’ Source of America’s Greatness

Photo Courtesy Joni Ernst for U.S. Senate(WASHINGTON) — In this week’s Republican Address, Iowa State Sen. and U.S. Senate nominee Joni Ernst pointed to the American people as the source of the country’s greatness, “not government.”In calling for a Balanced Budget Amendment, a domestic energy plan to create jobs, increased national security, individualized healthcare and stronger public schools, Ernst blamed “liberals who think government is the solution to every problem” for the current state of America. “They think that nothing can be solved unless Washington is involved.”Read the full transcript of the Republican address:Hello, this is Joni Ernst. I’m a mother and grandmother, a soldier, and proud to be Iowa’s Republican nominee for U.S. Senate. I get asked all the time what made me want to join the military. And the answer is simple. When I was attending college, I went on an agricultural exchange to the Soviet Union. And I saw with my own eyes what a nation without freedom looks like. I saw what happens to people when they lose their liberty. When I came home, I decided that it wasn’t enough for me to simply enjoy freedom and liberty. I had to do my part to protect and preserve it. Decades later, I am a Lt. Colonel and battalion commander in the Iowa Army National Guard. In fact I am recording this message a few days early, and by the time you hear this, I will be on active duty leading my troops for the next two weeks. Growing up on a farm in a small town in Iowa, I learned that America’s greatness comes from people, not government. The problem in America today is that Washington is full of liberals who think government is the solution to every problem.  They think that nothing can be solved unless Washington is involved. And so they grow our government, every year making it more intrusive and more involved in our lives. Today government tells us what doctors to see, what kinds of light bulbs to use, and in some places, even how much soda we can drink. I wake up at night worried that the failed policies coming out of Washington pose a grave threat to our ability to pass along the same great nation we once inherited to our children – like my teenage daughter – and future generations to come. But as Republicans, it’s not enough to simply say “no”. We need to provide solutions and be able to explain what we would do differently. First, we believe we need a Balanced Budget Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to force Washington to stop spending more than it takes in. That is how we run our households and we should expect nothing less from Washington. It is simply irresponsible to saddle our kids with a debt averaging $55,000 for every one of America’s youth. Speaking of our children, we need an economy that is growing and providing better paying jobs. We need the government to get out of the way and foster an economic environment that encourages real, lasting growth. We believe by safely and responsibly tapping into America’s domestic energy supply we can create hundreds of thousands of new, good-paying jobs in our communities while also strengthening our national security. We believe Obamacare is not improving healthcare in America, but making it worse. We need, and must demand, more individual control over our health care decisions, not less. Parents and doctors know what’s best when it comes to the health of their child – not the government.  We need to start over and create real, meaningful heath care reform that allows us- Americans to choose the plans they want, the doctors they need, at a cost they can afford. We believe we must preserve and protect Social Security and Medicare and keep our promise to today’s seniors.  But we also believe, as do some of our friends in the Democratic Party, that these programs must be reformed so America not only keeps its promise to today’s seniors but is also able to guarantee a safety net is available for our children and grandchildren. We believe strong schools are critical for the future success of our nation. I send my own daughter to the very same public school that I graduated from. To strengthen local schools, we believe we need to take power and money away from Washington politicians and bureaucrats, and give it to local parents, teachers and administrators, so they can decide what’s best for their children’s education. We know, and we believe that Americans know what’s best for their communities more than Washington bureaucrats. And part of that bureaucracy is failing our veterans, and the stories we’ve heard about the failures of the VA are heartbreaking. As an active member of the Iowa National Guard and the wife of a retired U.S. Army ranger, I believe this isn’t a partisan issue. It’s an American problem that must be solved. Growing up on that southwest Iowa farm, my family didn’t have much. My mother canned our food and made our clothes – teaching us the lessons of not spending what you don’t have. In our small town, we relied on each other – our neighbors lent us a helping hand when we needed it and we would do the same in their time of need. Today, to get America back on track it is going to take each of us working together to advance real solutions to our problems – not more tired rhetoric. Again, this is Joni Ernst. Thank you. God bless you and may God continue to bless the United States of America.
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Senate Committee Requests Details on CDC Lab Problems

Senate Committee Requests Details on CDC Lab Problems

Credit: Architect of the Capitol(WASHINGTON) — The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Friday called on the Department of Health and Human Services to answer questions related to a series of incidents at labs run by the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.The CDC responded to the incidents earlier Friday, acknowledging at least three instances in which active viruses or bacteria being found in unauthorized labs. The discovery of the three incidents, according to the HELP Committee, “necessitates a serious and careful review of HHS’s policies, procedures, and actions with respect to the appropriate handling of select agents and other serious pathogens.”The Senate Committee, led by Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Ranking Member Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, requested details from HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell and CDC Director Thomas Frieden on Friday.
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Hagel Talks Gaza Crisis with Israeli Defense Minister

Hagel Talks Gaza Crisis with Israeli Defense Minister

United States Senate(WASHINGTON) — Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel spoke with Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon on Friday to offer American assistance in negotiating a peaceful end to the crisis in Gaza.Hagel said that he made clear that the U.S. wants “to do everything we can to help stop what’s going on and encourage all sides to not escalate, to not let these hostilities get more out of control than they are.” He also reiterated that the U.S. would be willing to play the role in negotiations.When asked whether an Israeli ground invasion of Gaza, a possibility not denied by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday, would complicate United States involvement, Hagel declined to comment.
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