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House unanimously approves back pay for 800,000 furloughed federal workers
Oct-05-2013 768 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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Cyra Master Aug-22-2016 59 0
Colin Powell says Hillary Clinton's campaign has been trying to use him to help justify her use of a private email server while she was secretary of State.

The Democratic presidential nominee reportedly told FBI investigators that Powell, another former secretary of State, recommended she use a private email account.

Clinton allegedly discussed email practices with her predecessor during a dinner after she became the top U.S. diplomat in 2009, The New York Times said Thursday.

On Sunday, Powell told the New York Post's Page Six that Clinton was using her private email long before their meeting.

"The truth is she was using it for a year before I sent her a memo telling her what I did [during my term as Secretary of State]," he said.

"Her people have been trying to pin it on me."

But, the Post reported that "despite appearing angered by the situation," Powell added, "It doesn't bother me. It's OK, I'm free."

Journalist Joe Conason first reported the talk in his forthcoming book about Bill Clinton's life after the presidency, "Man of the World: The Further Endeavors of Bill Clinton."

An advanced copy states that Clinton spoke with Powell during a dinner party in Washington, D.C., hosted by Madeleine Albright, another former secretary of State.

"Toward the end of the evening, over dessert, Albright asked all of the former secretaries to offer one salient bit of counsel to the nation's next top diplomat," Conason wrote.

"Powell told [Clinton] to use her own email, as he had done, except for classified communications, which he had sent and received via a State Department computer," he added.

Powell's office released a statement late Thursday saying he had no recollection of the dinner conversation.
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Nolan D. McCaskill Aug-19-2016 307 0
President Barack Obama will visit Louisiana next week, the White House announced Friday.

Obama will travel to Baton Rouge on Tuesday, press secretary Josh Earnest said, noting that Obama’s team reached that date after coordinating with state officials.

“Additional details will be announced in the coming days. The President is mindful of the impact that his travel has on first responders and wants to ensure that his presence does not interfere with ongoing recovery efforts,” Earnest said. “He is also eager to get a first-hand look at the impact of the devastating floods, hear from more officials about the response, including how the federal government can assist and tell the people of Louisiana that the American people will be with them as they rebuild their community and come back stronger than ever.”

Republicans have urged Obama to cut short his summer vacation on Martha’s Vineyard to show solidarity with a state that’s been trying to deal with the worst natural disaster in the U.S. since Hurricane Sandy.

The Republican presidential ticket flew into Baton Rouge on Friday morning to visit those impacted by the severe flooding. During his visit with Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, Donald Trump told volunteers at a church in Greenwell Springs that Obama doesn’t want to visit the state, suggesting golf is more important to the president.

“The president says he doesn’t want to come, he is trying to get out of a golf game,” Trump said, according to ABC News. “He will never be under par.”

Hillary Clinton spoke with Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards by phone Friday. Clinton said the flood, which was much larger than anticipated, has damaged more than 40,000 homes, impacting more than 100,000 people.

“My heart breaks for Louisiana, and right now, the relief effort can't afford any distractions. The very best way this team can help is to make sure Louisianans have the resources they need," Clinton wrote in a Facebook post, which included links to the Red Cross and the Baton Rouge Area Foundation.

Edwards’ office on Thursday warned against outside politicians visiting the state too soon — particularly Trump. “We welcome him to LA but not for a photo-op,” a spokesman for the governor’s office said in a statement. “Instead we hope he’ll consider volunteering or making a sizable donation to the LA Flood Relief Fund to help the victims of the storm.”

Edwards, a Democrat, himself praised the Obama administration’s response to the disaster and defended Obama from the broadside over his decision to remain on vacation.

“The president is welcome to visit whenever he wants to visit, and when he wants to visit we’re gonna receive him and we’re gonna do whatever’s necessary to make sure that that visit goes off without a hitch,” Edwards said Thursday.

But he also tried to nudge the White House to stay away for a while, noting that when Vice President Joe Biden visited Louisiana to attend police officers’ memorials, his visit closed down interstates and drew law enforcement officers away from their regular duties to provide additional security for Biden.

“Quite frankly, that is not something that I want to go through right now,” he said. “And so while the president is welcome to visit, I would just assume he give us another week or two, get back to a greater sense of normalcy here and then he can visit. Well, I’ll say that differently: He can visit whenever he wants to.”

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Nunzio Ingrassia Aug-16-2016 145 0
The Milwaukee Bucks hired former Oregon State head coach Craig Robinson as vice president of player and organizational development Monday. If Robinson's name looks familiar, it's because he's also president Barack Obama's brother-in-law.

According to the team, Robinson will be in charge of programs that help players grow both professionally and personally.

"Craig has an impressive set of qualifications that we feel will be beneficial to our players and our entire organization," Bucks general manager John Hammond said, via the team's website. "We couldn't be more excited to welcome him to the Bucks family."

Robinson coached at Oregon State from 2008-14, winning 93 games in that span. He's the older brother of the first lady, Michelle Obama.

President Obama hasn't been shy to express his love for Chicago sports teams. It's probably safe to say he will keep a closer eye on the Bucks now.
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CHARLIE SAVAGE Aug-10-2016 72 0
The Obama administration is moving forward with a plan to better track killings by police officers, as heightened national scrutiny of such deaths has reinforced criticism of its reliance on self-reporting by state and local law enforcement agencies.

In a notice published in the Federal Register this week, the Justice Department said it would ask law enforcement agencies and medical examiner’s offices to fill out forms when there is a news report or another indication that a person died while in police custody.

Under the proposed system, which would cover 19,450 state and local law enforcement agencies and about 685 medical examiner’s or coroner’s offices, they would also be asked to fill out forms about the total number of such cases every three months. The department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics would then compile that information.

The proposal comes as police killings of African-Americans have fueled protests in recent years in places like Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore, and led to the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. The resulting scrutiny of the issue has focused attention on the lack of reliable and comprehensive data about how many people are killed by the police each year.

The government’s existing system is called the Arrest-Related Deaths program, which is intended to be a census of a variety of causes of such deaths, including suicides, accidents and deaths from natural causes. Critics say it does not provide accurate data about killings by police officers in part because it relies on self-reporting by law enforcement officials.

In 2014, for example, The Wall Street Journal gathered data on police shootings from 2007 to 2012 from 105 of the nation’s largest police agencies and compared it to the F.B.I.’s statistics. It found that more than 550 police shootings were not included in the national database or were not attributed to the agency involved.

The Guardian, which reported the Justice Department proposal on Monday, and The Washington Post are conducting projects that will try to fill the gaps by compiling data on arrest-related deaths across the country.

“Because of concerns about variations in data collection methodology and coverage,” the Justice Department notice said, the Bureau of Justice Statistics has “developed and tested new methodologies for collecting data” aimed at enabling “accurate and comprehensive accounting of deaths that occur during the process of arrest.”

Such information, it said, is critical for law enforcement agencies to “demonstrate responsiveness to the citizens and communities they serve, transparency related to law enforcement tactics and approaches, and accountability for the actions of officers.”

The F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, had previously foreshadowed that the government was trying to develop a better system to understand the scope and frequency of arrest-related deaths. The notice, which invited comments on the proposed system until Oct. 3, was a step toward that policy goal.

The notice did not make clear whether killings by federal law enforcement agents would be included in the new system. It proposed asking state and local agencies — not federal ones — to fill out forms about arrest-related deaths. However, the notice did not address how coroners were supposed to address killings by federal officers.

In 2013, The New York Times reported that the F.B.I. had deemed its agents faultless in all 150 cases, dating to at least 1993, in which agents had shot people, based on documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act litigation. The bureau later decided to fire one agent it had faulted over a shooting in Queens in 2012, although the person he shot — a man trying to burglarize his car — survived.

More recently, a bureau review panel proposed disciplining an agent who shot the tire of a suspected drug dealer’s car during an arrest attempt in Baltimore in 2014, finding that the agent violated the bureau’s policy on using lethal force. But it cleared other agents who shot and killed the suspect.

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MICHAEL D. SHEAR Aug-03-2016 82 0
In an extraordinary denunciation of Donald J. Trump’s temperament and competence, President Obama urged leaders of the Republican Party on Tuesday to withdraw their endorsements of Mr. Trump’s candidacy, flatly calling him “unfit to serve” as the nation’s 45th president.

Speaking in the East Room of the White House while Mr. Trump rallied supporters in a nearby Virginia suburb, the president noted the Republican criticism of Mr. Trump for his attacks on the Muslim parents of an American soldier, Capt. Humayun Khan, who died in Iraq.

But Mr. Obama said the political recriminations from Republicans “ring hollow” if the party’s leaders continue to support Mr. Trump’s campaign.

“The question they have to ask themselves is: If you are repeatedly having to say in very strong terms that what he has said is unacceptable, why are you still endorsing him?” Mr. Obama said. “What does this say about your party that this is your standard-bearer?”

The president’s condemnation of Mr. Trump, and his direct appeal to Republicans to abandon their candidate, were stunning even in a city where politics has become a brutal and personal affair. Mr. Obama seemed eager to go beyond his past interventions in the race, which have included forceful rejections of Mr. Trump’s statements and policy proposals.

Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian, called Mr. Obama’s comments “a highly unusual and almost unprecedented moment.” The last time a sitting president was as openly critical of the other party’s candidate, Mr. Brinkley said, was in 1953, when President Harry S. Truman mocked Dwight D. Eisenhower as not knowing “any more about politics than a pig knows about Sunday.”

“It’s a reflection of just how radical and dangerous President Obama feels that Trump is,” Mr. Brinkley said.

Using the formal backdrop of a joint news conference with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore, Mr. Obama suggested that Mr. Trump would not abide by “norms and rules and common sense” and questioned whether he would “observe basic decency” should he reach the Oval Office.

The president said he would have been disappointed to lose in 2008 or 2012, but added that he had never doubted whether his Republican rivals in those races, John McCain and Mitt Romney, could function as president or had the knowledge to make government work.

“That’s not the situation here,” Mr. Obama said.

As Mr. Obama condemned Mr. Trump, the Republican candidate — apparently unaware of the president’s remarks — repeatedly criticized his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, and the president in an hour of remarks. He called Mrs. Clinton a “liar” and a “thief” and said the country would be “finished” if voters chose four more years of a presidency like Mr. Obama’s. Mr. Trump also accused Mrs. Clinton of repeatedly lying over the weekend when she told Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday” that James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director, had said her statements about her private emails were truthful.

“I mean, she lied,” Mr. Trump said, prompting cries of “Lock her up!” from his supporters. “She, pure and simple, she only knows to lie. She really does. She only knows to lie. But she lied, and it’s a big story.”

Mr. Comey, testifying last month to Congress, said that “we have no basis to conclude she lied to the F.B.I.” But he also said he could not say whether Mrs. Clinton’s many public statements on the issue were truthful.

Mr. Trump, in a written statement meant to respond directly to the president’s remarks, called Mrs. Clinton “unfit to serve in any government office.” He also accused Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton of allowing Americans to be slaughtered in Benghazi, Libya; letting veterans die waiting for medical care; and releasing immigrants into the United States to kill innocent people.

“Our nation has been humiliated abroad and compromised by radical Islam brought onto our shores,” Mr. Trump’s statement said. “We need change now.”

The dueling appearances by the president and the Republican candidate seeking to replace him escalated the heated political rhetoric in a race that had already devolved into a series of personal attacks and character assassinations. Mr. Obama cited Mr. Trump’s reaction to Captain Khan’s parents, Khizr and Ghazala Khan, as a principal reason for his extended remarks. Mr. Trump had criticized the Khans after they honored their son at the Democratic National Convention and urged people to vote for Mrs. Clinton.

Mr. Obama lamented what he called an attack on a “Gold Star family that had made such extraordinary sacrifices on behalf of our country.” He said he did not doubt that Republicans were outraged about the statements Mr. Trump and his supporters had made about the Khan family in the last several days.

“But there has to come a point at which you say somebody who makes those kinds of statements doesn’t have the judgment, the temperament, the understanding, to occupy the most powerful position in the world,” Mr. Obama said.

The president did not limit his criticism to Mr. Trump’s treatment of the Khan family. Mr. Obama said the Republican nominee had repeatedly demonstrated that he was “woefully unprepared to do this job.” The president said Mr. Trump had proved he lacked knowledge about Europe, the Middle East and other parts of Asia.

“This isn’t a situation where you have an episodic gaffe. This is daily,” Mr. Obama added. “There has to be a point at which you say, ‘This is not somebody I can support for president of the United States, even if he purports to be a member of my party.’ The fact that that has not yet happened makes some of these denunciations ring hollow.”

Mr. Trump, who spoke at a boisterous rally at Briar Woods High School in Ashburn, Va., began his remarks there by saying a veteran had given him a Purple Heart medal earlier in the day.

“I always wanted to get the Purple Heart,” said Mr. Trump, who received five deferments from the draft during the Vietnam War. “This was much easier.”

Throughout his speech, Mr. Trump argued his case that Mrs. Clinton was “unfit” for the presidency, accusing her of being dishonest, weak on foreign policy and corrupt. He accused the president of doubling the national debt and said the Iraq war exit was a “disaster.”

“Let Obama go to the golf course,” Mr. Trump said. “But you know what? We’d be better off.”

At one point during the rally, a crying baby interrupted Mr. Trump’s speech.

“Don’t worry about that baby. I love babies,” Mr. Trump said at first. “I hear that baby crying, I like it. What a baby, what a beautiful baby. Don’t worry, don’t worry.”

A few beats later, he changed his tune. “Actually, I was only kidding,” Mr. Trump said. “You can get that baby out of here.” Laughs and a few gasps escaped from the crowd. “Don’t worry, I think she really believed me that I love having a baby crying while I’m speaking,” Mr. Trump added. “That’s O.K. People don’t understand. That’s O.K.”

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Jim Malewitz Jul-21-2016 198 0
Texas’ voter identification law violates the U.S. law prohibiting racial discrimination in elections, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday.

The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed previous rulings that the 2011 voter ID law — which stipulates the types of photo identification election officials can and cannot accept at the polls — does not comply with the Voting Rights Act.

The full court's ruling delivered the strongest blow yet to what is widely viewed as the nation’s strictest voter ID law. Under the law, most citizens (some, like people with disabilities, can be exempt) must show one of a handful of types of identification before their ballots can be counted: a state driver's license or ID card, a concealed handgun license, a U.S. passport, a military ID card, or a U.S citizenship certificate with a photo.

Texas is among nine states categorized as requiring "strict photo ID," and its list of acceptable forms is the shortest.

Texas’ losing streak continued in its efforts to defend its law, fighting challenges from the U.S. Department of Justice, minority groups and voting rights advocates. Wednesday's ruling did not immediately halt the voter ID law, which has been in effect since 2013. The judges instructed a lower court to draw up a remedy.

In a statement on Wednesday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton called the ruling “unfortunate.”

“It is imperative that the State government safeguards our elections and ensures the integrity of our democratic process. Preventing voter fraud is essential to accurately reflecting the will of Texas voters during elections,” he said.

Experts have closely watched the case, calling it one of two such battles that the U.S. Supreme Court could ultimately settle, helping to determine the point that states — which assert they are protecting the integrity of elections — cross over into disenfranchisement.

The 5th Circuit is considered one of the country’s most conservative appellate courts, with 1o of its 15 members having been appointed by Republican presidents.

The case centered on whether Texas discriminated against Hispanic and African-American voters when it passed the legislation: Senate Bill 14.

Paxton, Gov. Greg Abbott and other proponents argued that the law was needed to bolster security at the ballot box by preventing voter fraud, but opponents cite the paucity of proven in-person voter fraud in the state and argue the intent was to undercut the electoral strength of the state’s growing minority population — people less likely to have photo identification or the means to obtain an election certificate.

Experts have testified that more than 600,000 Texans lack such identification, though not all of them have necessarily tried to vote. Those citizens can obtain “election identification certificates” free of charge, but only if they are able to produce a copy of their birth certificate.
Standing before the judges in May, opponents of the identification law argued that not all voter ID rules discriminate, but Texas’ unusually short list of what’s acceptable is burdensome for certain voters — particularly minorities.

Texas argued that opponents of the law had "failed to identify a single individual who faces a substantial obstacle to voting because of SB 14." In Wednesday's ruling, the judges rejected that argument.

"For one thing, the district court found that multiple Plaintiffs were turned away when they attempted to vote, and some of those Plaintiffs were not offered provisional ballots to attempt to resolve the issue," the ruling stated.

The ruling also affirmed the lower court's finding that Texas' "lackluster educational efforts resulted in additional burdens on Texas voters."

Seven of the court's 15 judges backed the decision in full. Two other judges backed most of the decision. Dissenting judges wrote that the "en banc court is gravely fractured and without a consensus. There is no majority opinion, but only a plurality opinion that draws six separate dissenting opinions and a special concurrence."

More specific to the Texas law, some of the dissenting judges wrote that "requiring a voter to verify her identity with a photo ID at the polling place is a reasonable requirement widely supported by Texans of all races and members of the public belonging to both political parties."

Voting rights advocates were quick to praise the appeals court's overall decision Wednesday.

“We have repeatedly proven — using hard facts — that the Texas voter ID law discriminates against minority voters,” Gerry Hebert, executive director of the Campaign Legal Center and an attorney for the plaintiffs, said in a statement. “The 5th Circuit’s full panel of judges now agrees, joining every other federal court that has reviewed this law. We are extremely pleased with this outcome.”

Gov. Rick Perry signed the law in 2011, kickstarting its convoluted journey through the federal court system.

Early legal challenges put the rules on hold until 2013, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of the Voting Rights Act, ruling that Texas and other states with a history of racial discrimination no longer automatically needed federal pre-clearance when changing election laws.

In August 2015, a three-judge 5th Circuit panel ruled that the law did have a “discriminatory effect,” in violation of the Voting Rights Act, although it did not constitute a poll tax as a lower court had ruled.

Wednesday's ruling affirmed those findings, and sent the case back to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas.

"The district court’s lengthy opinion goes through the evidence supporting its findings in great detail," according to the opinion on the discrimination finding. "A few examples show that the district court relied on concrete evidence regarding the excessive burdens faced by Plaintiffs in making its findings."

The appeals court, however, reversed the district court's ruling that the Legislature had intended to discriminate against certain voters. Though some evidence "could support" that conclusion, the ruling said, the overall findings were "infirm." The judges told the district court to reconsider the evidence.

On Wednesday, Abbott cheered that finding, but lamented the rest of the ruling.

"Voter fraud is real, and it undermines the integrity of the election process," he said in a statement.

It's not clear what that court's remedy might look like. Experts called it unlikely that the court would throw out the law completely.

"The remedy is NOT going to be to strike the Texas voter ID law as a whole," but instead to fashion some kind of relief that give people who have a reasonable impediment to getting an ID the chance to get one," Rick Hasen, an elections expert at the University of California, Irvine School of Law, wrote on his blog.

"Further, given the timing of the election, the trial court has to craft some kind of interim relief and then can figure out a more comprehensive solution after the next election," Hasen added.

After each loss, Texas has appealed. Through April, Paxton’s office had spent more than $3.5 million defending the law in several lawsuits, its records show.

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Reena Flores Jul-17-2016 205 0
After days of violence and heightened racial tensions in the U.S., the White House responded this week to an online petition asking the federal government to formally label the Black Lives Matter movement as a "terror group."

"Terrorism is defined as 'the use of violence and intimidation in pursuit of political aims,'" read the "We The People" petition, created July 6 on the White House website. "This definition is the same definition used to declare ISIS and other groups, as terrorist organizations."

Black Lives Matter, the petition said, "earned this title due to its actions in Ferguson, Baltimore, and even at a Bernie Sanders rally, as well as all over the United States and Canada." It asked the Pentagon to recognize the group as such "on the grounds of principle, integrity, morality, and safety."

Because the online document received at least 100,000 signatures -- at the time of this reporting, it had garnered over 141,000 names -- the White House was automatically prompted to respond.

The "We the People" team noted that "The White House plays no role in designating domestic terror organizations," nor does the U.S. government "generate a list of domestic terror organizations."

"[T]herefore," the response read, "we are not able to address the formal request of your petition."

The White House then went further: Acknowledging that it was a "difficult time" for the country -- and that the debate remains a "charged" one -- the statement additionally prompted petition signers to consider President Obama's words calling for compassion towards the movement.

"I think it's important for us to also understand that the phrase 'black lives matter' simply refers to the notion that there's a specific vulnerability for African Americans that needs to be addressed," the president said last week, talking to a Washington, D.C. gathering of enforcement officials, civil rights leaders, elected officials and other activists on the issue of racial disparities in the criminal justice system. "We shouldn't get too caught up in this notion that somehow people who are asking for fair treatment are somehow, automatically, anti-police, are trying to only look out for black lives as opposed to others. I think we have to be careful about playing that game."

The petition came on the heels of deadly officer-involved shootings in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Falcon Heights, Minnesota, and after days of Black Lives Matter protests for more police accountability.

On July 7, one day after the petition published online, seven law enforcement officers policing a BLM demonstration in Dallas, Texas were shot and killed in a shower of sniper-like fire. And on Sunday, three more policemen were shot and killed in Baton Rouge.

Black Lives Matter protesters condemned the massacre in Dallas, and prominent members did the same after Sunday's Baton Rouge shooting of police officers.

One public voice of the movement, DeRay McKesson, urged peace after news of the Louisiana deaths broke.

"I'm waiting for more information like everybody else," McKesson told the New York Times. "I have more questions than answers."

"The movement began as a call to end violence," he said. "That call remains."

Errol Barnett contributed to this report.
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AP Jul-13-2016 158 0
The NAACP says Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has declined an invitation to address the group's upcoming convention, flouting established precedent and highlighting anew the GOP standard-bearer's struggle to attract support from nonwhite voters.

NAACP president Cornell William Brooks told CNN Tuesday that Trump had declined the group's invitation to speak at the Cincinnati gathering, scheduled from Saturday through Wednesday. Presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton is slated to speak there next Monday, which is also opening day of the Republican National Convention across the state in Cleveland.

The Trump campaign did not respond immediately Tuesday night to an Associated Press request for comment.

Brooks said the Trump campaign cited scheduling conflicts with the GOP convention, where Trump will formally accept the party's nomination. Brooks argued Trump should have made the time amid the racially charged fallout of videotaped killings of black men by police in Louisiana and Minnesota, followed by the killings of five Dallas police officers by a black sniper.

"We represent an occasion for those running for president to speak to the nation's most critical issues at a critical hour in this country," Brooks said on CNN. "You can't run for president and not talk about police misconduct and police brutality. You can't run for president and not talk about the nation's civil rights agenda."

He called the gathering an opportunity for Clinton and Trump to give civil rights leaders "a window into not only their policies, but into their heart and character as a candidate."

The NAACP's official Twitter account used part of Brooks' interview to chide Trump. That tweet was quickly recirculated on Clinton's official account.

Republican nominees John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012 addressed the NAACP convention, though Romney was booed when he told attendees he'd be better for black families than President Barack Obama had been during his first term.

Black voters, who already helped propel Clinton to the Democratic nomination over Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, will be integral to the general election outcome.

African-Americans cast about 13 percent of presidential ballots in 2012, according to exit polls conducted for the AP and television networks. Obama drew about 93 percent of the black vote, critical to his margins in such battlegrounds as Ohio and Florida.

Trump has boasted that he could win as much as one-quarter of the black vote nationally. The largest share won by any Republican nominee since 1980 is about 12 percent.
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JOSH LEDERMAN Jul-07-2016 185 0
President Barack Obama called on American law enforcement to root out bias in its ranks and said all Americans should be troubled by frequent police shootings of blacks and Hispanics, insisting that fatal incidents in Minnesota and Louisiana are not isolated.

Adding his voice to a growing public outcry, Obama said the shootings were symptoms of a "broader set of racial disparities" in the justice system that aren't being fixed quickly enough.

He ticked through a list of statistics he said showed concerns about bias are real: African-Americans being shot by police or arrested at more than twice the rate of white Americans.

"When incidents like this occur, there's a big chunk of our fellow citizenry that feels as if it's because of the color of their skin, they are not being treated the same," Obama said. "And that hurts. And that should trouble all of us."

Obama's diagnosis of the problem reflected a growing sense of frustration and willingness to speak out publicly about police killings despite the risk of making law enforcement officers feel under attack.

The president spoke in a hastily arranged appearance at a hotel in Warsaw just after arriving in Poland for a NATO summit. He largely echoed comments he made earlier in the day in a Facebook post as the two deaths were increasingly capturing the country's attention.

In Louisiana, 37-year-old Alton Sterling was fatally shot Tuesday as he tussled with two white officers outside a convenience store in a predominantly black neighborhood. The shooting was caught on tape and went viral online.

The next day in Minnesota, 32-year-old Philando Castile was shot to death during a traffic stop. His girlfriend posted video of the aftermath live on Facebook, saying he had been shot "for no apparent reason" while reaching for his wallet, as an officer had asked.

Though the White House has sought to avoid commenting on specific cases before all facts are known, in this case Obama weighed in while both shootings are still being investigated, including a civil rights probe by the U.S. Justice Department into the Louisiana incident.

Similar statements about other shootings have stoked tensions with law enforcement, including with FBI Director James Comey, who has suggested the intense public focus on police officers' conduct, fueled by caught-on-camera moments, may be inhibiting officers as they try to protect their communities.

Aiming to pre-empt that concern, Obama said that speaking out about the issue is not an attack on police. He emphasized that he and other Americans appreciate the risks police officers take and mourn officers who die in the line of duty.

"When people say 'black lives matter,' that doesn't mean blue lives don't matter," Obama said, referring to uniformed officers. "That just means all lives matter."

Yet despite Obama's efforts to bridge misunderstandings between African-Americans and the police, the problem clearly persists. In 2014, Obama created a task force to develop modern policing guidelines, and he urged local communities and policing agencies to implement those recommendations drafted by the Justice Department.

Obama said if anything good could come from recent deadly incidents, it would be that more parts of the country would adopt those recommendations.

"Change has been too slow," Obama said. "We have to have a greater sense of urgency about this."

Obama has wrestled for much of his presidency with the policing issue, the "Black Lives Matter" movement and his role as the first black president in responding to them. After the issue burst into the spotlight in 2012 with the shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida, Obama insisted the U.S. take the issue seriously and added, "If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon."
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