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House unanimously approves back pay for 800,000 furloughed federal workers
Oct-05-2013 786 0

The House on Saturday unanimously approved legislation to provide retroactive pay for furloughed federal workers after the government shutdown ends. The vote was 407-0.

The White House said Friday that it “strongly supports” the legislation and urged its “swift” passage, even while warning that the single bill alone “will not address the serious consequences of the funding lapse.”

The Senate is still deciding how to proceed with the legislation, a Democratic leadership aide said, adding that it is unlikely the Senate will act on it today.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said on the Senate floor that it is "cruel" to promise pay in the future but not allow federal workers to go back to work while the shutdown continues.

"It's really cruel to tell workers they'll receive back pay once the government opens and then refuse to open the government," he said. "Let's open the government."

Reid said the message being sent to federal workers is: "Stay home. Watch TV. Play chess. Whatever you want to do, because we won't let you work."

Approximately 800,000 government employees are furloughed during the shutdown.

Workers deemed essential and who are currently on the job will be paid for their work during the shutdown, although their paychecks could be delayed. But furloughed employees need congressional approval to receive back pay.

After past shutdowns, Congress passed similar measures, but federal employee unions had warned early in this impasse that there was no guarantee that Congress would act..

During the budget stalemate, the GOP-led House has passed a series of bills to fund some of the most popular programs impacted by the funding lapse - like national parks and care for veterans. But the Senate has declined to take up those piecemeal measures, saying that the government should instead be fully reopened.

"I'm glad to see at the very least that the Senate has plans to take up this bill," Rep. Hal Rogers R-Ky., said of the Senate's likely action on the back pay legislation. "Stop the presses! The Senate's going to take up a bill!"

The back pay measure was introduced by Democrat Jim Moran of Northern Virginia, which has one of the country’s highest populations of federal workers.

"The issue is fairness," Moran said on the House floor. "It's just wrong for hundreds of thousands of federal employees not to know whether they're going to be able to make their mortgage payment, not to know whether they're going to be able to provide for their families."

In a statement, House Speaker John Boehner lauded the passage of the measure and called for a resolution to the shutdown that includes measures to modify the Obama-backed health care reform legislation.

“It’s encouraging to see both parties come together to provide fairness for the 800,000 federal workers hurt by this shutdown," he said. "Now we should do something about the 800,000 jobs being destroyed by the president’s health care law."

Democrats continued to say they want GOP leaders to allow a vote on a government funding bill without add-ons that would make major changes to Obamacare.

Saying that ensuring retroactive pay was "the right thing to do," Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., said the fact that furloughed workers remain unable to go to work "highlights the sheer folly" of the ongoing government shutdown.

The House's move comes as the shutdown stretches into its fifth day. In an interview with The Associated Press, President Barack Obama again called on House leaders to put the "clean" funding bill up for a vote.

"We know that there are enough members in the House of Representatives -- Democrats and Republicans -- who are prepared to vote to reopen the government today," he said. "The only thing that is keeping that from happening is Speaker Boehner has made a decision that he is going to hold out to see if he can get additional concessions from us."

NBC's Kasie Hunt grills Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, on whether or not he supports giving back pay to furloughed government workers during this government shutdown.

If the Senate does take up the bill, a fast-track process could allow the bill to be passed as early as Saturday, although that move would require every senator to agree.

In an interview with NBC News, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas -- whose lengthy argument against Obamacare last month galvanized the GOP opposition to the short-term budget bill that led to the ongoing shutdown -- would not say whether or not he will object to the agreement.

“I support the House working cooperatively to resolve this, to fund the government, and at the same time, to prevent the enormous harms Obamacare is inflicting on millions of Americans,” he said.

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AP Nov-15-2016 70 0
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) will introduce legislation on Tuesday to get rid of the Electoral College, after Hillary Clinton lost the presidential election despite leading in the popular vote.

"In my lifetime, I have seen two elections where the winner of the general election did not win the popular vote," Boxer said in a statement. "In 2012, Donald Trump tweeted, 'The electoral college is a disaster for a democracy. I couldn't agree more. One person, one vote!"

"She added that Clinton, whom she supported, is "on track to have received more votes than any other presidential candidate in history except Barack Obama."

The Electoral College is an outdated, undemocratic system that does not reflect our modern society, and it needs to change immediately," she said.

Clinton is currently leading Trump by nearly a million votes, according to a Cook Political Report tracker of the national popular vote,  but Trump won the Electoral College, leading the former secretary of State 290-232.

According to Pew, Clinton would be the fifth person to win the popular vote, but lose the election.
Boxer's legislation would amend the Constitution to abolish the Electoral College. Even if it is approved by Congress it would need to be approved by three-fourths of the states within seven years before it would take effect.

Trump called the Electoral College "genius" on Tuesday morning, despite past criticism.

The tweet comes after Trump said during a "60 Minutes" interview on Sunday that he still has issues with the Electoral College.

"I'm not going to change my mind just because I won," the president-elect said. "But I would rather see it where you went with simple votes. You know, you get 100 million votes and somebody else gets 90 million votes and you win."
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Mark Hensch Nov-14-2016 147 0
Two Democratic members of the Electoral College have launched a campaign to keep President-elect Donald Trump from entering the White House, according to a new report.

Washington's Bret Chiafolo and Colorado's Michael Baca hope at least 37 of their GOP colleagues will abandon Trump and force the House into picking the next president instead, Politico said Monday.

Politico said the pair's so-called "Moral Electors" movement has already found one backer in Washington's Robert Satiacum.

"This is a longshot," Chiafolo told Politico in a phone interview Monday. "It's a hail Mary. However, I do see situations where - when we've already had two or three [Republican] electors state publicly they didn't want to vote for Trump. How many of them have real issue with Donald Trump in private?"
Politico said neither Baca nor Chiafolo is seeking the election of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

Both vowed they would encourage GOP electors to write-in either Gov. John Kasich (R-Ohio) or 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney instead.

The House would choose from among the top-three vote getters should enough electors reject Trump's claim to the White House.

Politico noted the 538 members of the Electoral College are scheduled to gather in their various state capitals and formally vote for president Dec. 19.

Baca and Chiafolo are seeking 37 other electors to halt Trump due to the Republican's results in the Electoral College vote last week.

Trump claimed 290 electoral votes to Clinton's 228, and currently leads in Michigan, which awards another 16.
Michigan would boost Trump's total to 306 electoral votes if all electors there go his way, well past the 270 threshold required for the presidency.

Politico added it could find only one GOP elector on record considering a break with Trump, his party's nominee.

Texas's Art Sisneros, a Libertarian activist, on Monday said he remains "undecided" but state party leaders and fellow GOP electors are pressuring him to go with Trump.

Twenty-nine states have laws mandating their electors support the victor of their state's popular vote, though Politico acknowledged none has ever been challenged or enforced.

Clinton's loss to Trump remains controversial as the former secretary of State won the national popular vote by less than 1 point over him.
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Paul Farhi Nov-01-2016 126 0
CNN chose an odd way to announce some news about itself on Monday: It waited until reporters called to disclose the fact that, yes, it had parted ways with one of its longtime commentators, Donna Brazile.

And it waited two weeks to do even that.

The cable network accepted Brazile’s resignation on Oct. 14 after it learned about her undisclosed role in back-channeling questions intended for a CNN-sponsored primary debate to Hillary Clinton’s campaign. According to Wikileaks, which posted hacked emails sent by Brazile to Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, Brazile tipped the Clinton camp to at least two debate questions.

On Monday, a spokeswoman said in response to press calls that CNN was “extremely uncomfortable” with Brazile’s involvement in helping Clinton and had accepted her resignation — two weeks earlier. She didn’t explain why news about Brazile’s status at CNN was delayed for weeks.

On Tuesday, CNN President Jeff Zucker told staffers in an internal conference call that he found Brazile’s behavior “disgusting.” But that statement raised its own set of questions, such as: Why was it “disgusting” for a political operative employed by CNN to try to help a candidate she’s promoted on CNN?

A CNN spokeswoman reiterated on Tuesday that no one at the network gave Brazile the information she secretly sent to Podesta. People at the network said CNN didn’t disclose her resignation on Oct. 14 because it was hoping to avoid calling attention to it at the time.

What’s known to date is that the leaks of the debate questions did not appear to come from within the cable network.

Brazile appears to have gotten one advance question about the death penalty from Roland S. Martin of TV One, who was a co-moderator of a CNN-sponsored town hall debate on March 13 between Clinton and Democratic challenger Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

Martin, or people close to him, evidently sent the question to Brazile, who passed it on to Podesta and Clinton communications director Jennifer Palmieri. The question was later asked at the town hall.

The circumstances behind the second question are somewhat murkier. Brazile told Podesta on March 5 to expect a question from a resident of Flint, Mich., about the city’s water crisis, writing in an email, “One of the questions directed to HRC tomorrow is from a woman with a rash.”

At the Flint debate the next day, CNN moderator Anderson Cooper introduced Flint resident Lee-Anne Walters, who said the city’s water had poisoned her family. She asked what the candidates would do about the issue. (Walters told Fox News on Tuesday that she still has a rash from the tainted water.)

CNN sources say Brazile learned that such a question would be forthcoming from a woman she met at a CNN-sponsored volunteer event in Flint held before the debate. But people at CNN couldn’t explain how Brazile knew the woman she met had been picked to ask the question.
Brazile was unavailable for comment.

A high-ranking CNN executive said Zucker described Brazile’s behavior as “disgusting” on Tuesday because “she took proprietary CNN information – a specific question that might possibly be asked at the town hall .?.?. and gave it to one of the candidates in the town hall. Regardless of how she got the information, even though she didn’t get it from us, it was wrong.”

Brazile, who was vice chair of the Democratic National Committee at the time of the primary debates and is now interim chair, was an outspoken proponent of Clinton during her many CNN appearances. She also was a paid commentator for ABC News. (ABC said Tuesday that Brazile’s status remains unchanged; her contract with the network was suspended in July when she became interim DNC chair.)

Brazile’s dual roles point up the inherent conflict of interest in the networks’ employment of political figures as commentators, said Edward Wasserman, dean of the graduate school of journalism at the University of California at Berkeley.

“There’s a clear conflict of loyalties,” he said. “She behaved in a way that is thoroughly unprincipled for a journalist and as an employee of CNN because she’s giving away proprietary secrets. Her obligation to a Democratic campaign outweighed her obligation to CNN and to the audience of CNN.”
Several of the major networks employ political figures such as Brazile to provide analysis. Fox News has given prime slots to a long list of former, and potentially, future Republican presidential candidates such as Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin. CNN employs Paul Begala, a former aide to Bill Clinton, and — perhaps most controversially — Corey Lewandowski, Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, despite a non-disparagement agreement between Lewandowski and the campaign.

“We’ve seen what a generation ago would have been unthinkable become fairly accepted,” said Wasserman, a former newspaper editor. “Back when I started in journalism, the door only opened one way. You were a journalist or you were a politician. Now the door swings both ways. It’s highly problematic and confusing the audience.”
His solution: “If you’re going to put these people on the air, question them as sources, not as employees with a horse in another race.”
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Sean Sullivan Oct-27-2016 101 0
Donald Trump on Wednesday pledged what he called a “new deal for black America” as he attempted to make late inroads with a voting bloc that polling shows favors Democrat Hillary Clinton by a vast margin.

“I will be your greatest champion,” Trump said during an campaign rally here. “I will never ever take the African American community for granted. Never, ever.”

In a scripted speech heavy on policy specifics, the Republican presidential nominee laid out a plan that he said is built on setting up better schools, lowering crime in inner cities and creating more high-paying jobs.

He told the largely white audience that “massive numbers” of black Americans have been ignored and left behind, and he blamed Democrats and Clinton for the “crippling crime and total violence” in the nation’s inner cities.

Trump was speaking in a city that was rocked by protests last month after police killed an unarmed black man. In his speech, he accused Clinton of waging a “war on police” that he said puts black lives at risk, and he called for police and residents to work together.

The GOP nominee pledged to remove gang members from inner cities and continued to falsely assert that the national murder rate is the highest it has been in 45 years.

“Some of our inner cities are more dangerous than the war zones we’re reading about and seeing about every night,” Trump said.

The real estate mogul said he wants to allow cities and states to declare disaster areas in blighted communities and give microloans to black entrepreneurs to help spur jobs. He championed school choice, which he called the “great civil rights issue of our time,” and increased funding for historically black colleges and universities.

He proposed tax holidays for inner-city investment and incentives for foreign companies to invest in “blighted American neighborhoods,” though Trump did not say what they were.

Trump later campaigned in Kinston, N.C., rallying an overwhelmingly white audience in a city that is about 68 percent black.

Trump’s candidacy is barely registering with African American voters. He had 3 percent support among African Americans in an ABC News tracking poll released Sunday, compared with Clinton’s 82 percent. Romney had 6 percent support among African Americans in 2012.

Toward the end of his speech, Trump also took a shot at a long-vanquished Republican rival as he slammed Clinton.

“She has less energy than Jeb Bush,” Trump said, saying he had brought up Bush because he didn’t live up to his pledge to support the eventual Republican nominee.

During the primary, Trump had disparagingly called Bush “low energy.” A Bush spokeswoman said Trump continues to be fixated on the former Florida governor.

“Donald Trump’s unending obsession with Governor Bush is very sad. Donald Trump should be focused on his current race — he certainly needs all the help he can get,” Kristy Campbell said in an email.

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Ben Kochman Oct-16-2016 445 0
A Republican candidate for state Senate was busted Friday for bilking at least 10 people in a Craigslist rent scam, police said.

Jon Girodes, 38, faces several grand larceny charges for listing his ritzy Hell’s Kitchen apartment online and collecting rent deposits — only to back out of the deals and keep the cash, cops said.

Girodes, who is running for the Harlem state Senate seat now held by Bill Perkins, stole a total of $50,000 from 10 victims, both men and women, police said.

After listing his luxury digs at 635 W. 42nd St. and demanding a year’s rent in cash up front, the politico refused to hand over the keys, cops said.

He stole over $11,000 from one woman alone — $7,750 for a purported lease and another $3,500 to “help” her find an immigration lawyer, ABC reported.

Girodes, wearing an untucked violet button-down shirt, jeans and loafers, grinned at reporters as detectives led him out of the 7th Precinct on the Lower East Side Friday night.

“I love the NYPD, but there are two sides to every story,” the candidate quipped.

He was still smiling as cops loaded him into the back of an unmarked SUV, as he headed to Manhattan Criminal Court to be arraigned.

Girodes’ bust comes just days after he outraged Harlem residents by telling a reporter he planned to woo prospective voters in the historically black neighborhood with Kool Aid, fried chicken and watermelons.
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Alan Gomez Oct-15-2016 128 0
Attention U.S. travelers going abroad: You now can bring home all the Cuban rum and cigars you want.

The Obama administration announced Friday a new round of executive actions designed to increase trade and travel with the communist island. And this is the one many Americans have been waiting for — no more restrictions on the island's famed rum and cigars.

Under the new rules, travelers can purchase unlimited quantities of Cuban rum and cigars in any country where they are sold so long as they are for personal consumption. Sorry American couch potatoes: You can't order Cuban rum and cigars online and have them shipped to your home.

The regulations issued by the U.S. departments of Commerce and Treasury will make it easier for U.S. companies to import Cuban-made pharmaceuticals, U.S. agricultural companies to sell their products to the island and Cubans to purchase U.S.-made goods online.

The changes follow a series of steps taken since President Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro announced on Dec. 17, 2014, that the Cold War foes would normalize relations after more than a half century of enmity.

On Friday, Obama added to the regulatory changes with a presidential policy directive that outlines his Cuba strategy thus far and lays out the future course. It includes a call for Congress to rescind a 50-year-old economic embargo on the island, something lawmakers have been unwilling to do so long as the Castro regime suppresses political and other freedoms.

The goal of the new regulations and policy directive are to make Obama's Cuba policy "irreversible" by establishing so many relationships with Cuba that a future administration wanting to scale back those ties would face widespread opposition from U.S. businesses and citizens.

"Challenges remain — and very real differences between our governments persist on issues of democracy and human rights — but I believe that engagement is the best way to address those differences and make progress on behalf of our interests and values," Obama said. "The progress of the last two years, bolstered by today's action, should remind the world of what's possible when we look to the future together."

The most noticeable — and likely most welcome — change for most Americans is the removal of the five-decade ban on Cuban rum and cigars. The Obama administration partially lifted that ban in January 2015, allowing Americans traveling directly to Cuba to return home with up to $100 in rum and cigars in their carry-on luggage.

Now, that monetary restriction is removed and U.S. citizens can purchase as much Cuban tobacco and alcohol as they want from anywhere they find the products abroad. That means all those Cuban bottles and boxes at duty free shops in foreign airports are fair game. The only restriction, according to Treasury: "Normal limits on duty and tax exemptions will apply."

All the changes go into effect Monday.
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Oct-07-2016 140 0
Wading into a racially-charged case from his past, Donald Trump indicated that the "Central Park Five" were guilty, despite being officially exonerated by DNA evidence decades after a notorious 1989 rape case.

"They admitted they were guilty," Trump said to CNN in a statement.

"The police doing the original investigation say they were guilty. The fact that that case was settled with so much evidence against them is outrageous. And the woman, so badly injured, will never be the same."

The five men were convicted as teenagers after implicating each other under intense questioning over a brutal sexual assault on a jogger that dominated the tabloids. Defenders said they were coerced into confessing and all five were later cleared by DNA evidence and a separate confession in 2002 from another criminal who took credit for the assault.

New York paid them $41 million in a settlement in 2014 over their ordeal.
Trump took out a full-page ad at the time of the crime calling for New York to reinstate the death penalty in response.

The case was notable for its racial politics: Four of the Central Park Five were black and one was Latino while the victim was a white banker.
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Jordan Fabian Oct-06-2016 160 0
President Obama on Thursday commuted the sentences of 102 inmates, the White House announced.
Obama has commuted the sentences of 744 individuals, more than the past 11 presidents combined, according to the White House. Thursday's announcement brings the total number granted this year alone to 590.

The latest round of commutations is part of the Obama administration's effort to free prisoners serving lengthy sentences doled out during the government's war on drugs.

With just three months left in office, Obama is accelerating the use of his clemency power. Obama in August handed out commutations to 325 inmates - including 214 on Aug. 3, the largest single-day total since 1900.

That alone nearly doubled the number of commutations granted during Obama's presidency.
Obama first launched a clemency initiative in 2014 to review sentences of non-violent drug offenders who would receive shorter prison terms under today's guidelines.

It's part of the president's broader push to reform the criminal justice system.
Facing pressure from reform advocates to pick up the pace of commutations, the administration has tweaked its strategy to accommodate more inmates.

He's shortened some inmates' sentences without immediately releasing them, leaving them years left to serve. That has allowed Obama to grant commutations to prisoners who have committed more serious offenses.

A larger number of inmates convicted of gun charges have received clemency from Obama, according to a USA Today review.
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Gregory Korte Oct-01-2016 157 0
The White House is putting forward a proposal to add a new racial category for people from the Middle East and North Africa under what would be the biggest realignment of federal racial definitions in decades.

If approved, the new designation could appear on census forms in 2020 and could have far-reaching implications for racial identity, anti-discrimination laws and health research.

Under current law, people from the Middle East are considered white, the legacy of century-old court rulings in which Syrian Americans argued that they should not be considered Asian — because that designation would deny them citizenship under the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. But scholars and community leaders say more and more people with their roots in the Middle East find themselves caught between white, black and Asian classifications that don't fully reflect their identities.

"What it does is it helps these communities feel less invisible," said Helen Samhan of the Arab American Institute, which has been advocating the change for more than 30 years. "It’s a good step, a positive step."

On Friday, the White House Office of Management and Budget advanced the proposal with a notice in the Federal Register, seeking comments on whether to add Middle Eastern and North African as a separate racial or ethnic category, which groups would be included, and what it should be called.

Under the proposal, the new Middle East and North African designation — or MENA, as it's called by population scholars — is broader in concept than Arab (an ethnicity) or Muslim (a religion). It would include anyone from a region of the world stretching from Morocco to Iran, and including Syrian and Coptic Christians, Israeli Jews and other religious minorities.

But the Census Bureau, which has been quietly studying the issue for two years, also has gotten caught up in debates about some groups — such as Turkish, Sudanese and Somali Americans — who aren't included in that category. Those are issues the White House is trying to resolve before adding the box on 2020 census forms.

Adding a box on the census form could have implications beyond racial identity. According to the White House notice, the new data could be used for a wide range of political and policy purposes, including:

• Enforcing the Voting Rights Act and drawing congressional and state legislative district boundaries;

• Establishing federal affirmative action plans and evaluating claims of employment discrimination in employment in the private sector;

• Monitoring discrimination in housing, mortgage lending and credit;

• Enforcing school desegregation policies; and

• Helping minority-owned small businesses get federal grants and loans.

Adding the classification also would help the government and independent scholars understand more about trends in health, employment and education.

"We can't even ask questions like that, because we don't have the data," said Germine Awad, an Egyptian-American and professor of educational psychology at the University of Texas at Austin.

The racial classifications have been unchanged since 1997, and Michigan's congressional delegation has argued that they're due for an update. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., said Friday the White House action was good news. Adding a MENA category, she said, would allow many of her Michigan constituents to "accurately identify themselves and access the employment, health, education and representation services that are based on census data.”

There are an estimated 3.6 million Arab-Americans in the United States, but that doesn't include other ethnic groups that could put the total Middle Eastern and North African population above 10 million. According to the Census Bureau's American Community Survey — a survey conducted in between the 10-year census cycle based on a statistical sample — about 1 million people from the region are first-generation immigrants to the United States.

"You have individuals within this designation that would consider themselves white, and they certainly have a right to their identity. It’s not about identity in the psychological way. It’s about where would you fit the best on this form," Awad said. "If you talk to anybody at the census, they’ll tell you that their job is not to help anybody with their racial or ethnic identity."

And some, especially in the Muslim-American community, are also concerned about how the data might be used — especially given proposals by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump for a moratorium on Muslim immigrants and for increased surveillance of Muslim communities.

"It just aids and facilitates the state's ability to know where these communities are in a very specific fashion," said Khalid Beydoun, a law professor at the University of Detroit. "My inclination is to think that individuals who might identify might not check the box for fear of retribution — especially if Trump wins."

But Beydoun, a naturalized citizen with Egyptian and Lebanese parents, said he still supports the proposal as an expression of Middle Eastern identity.

"In the grand scheme of things, it’s really a progressive stride forward," he said. "But in the broader landscape, it’s taking place in the context of greater animus against Arab Americans, and really, Islamophobia."

Comments on the proposal are due in 30 days, making it possible for the Obama administration to enact the change in the last three months of a presidency that has spent considerable effort to be more inclusive of Arab-Americans and other Middle Easterners.

"I think with him being the first African-American president and being an obvious example of making the American fabric more diverse, that this could be great sign of inclusion about what it means to be an American," Awad said.
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