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House unanimously approves back pay for 800,000 furloughed federal workers
Oct-05-2013 358 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 Apr-23-2014 31 0
The Justice Department moved Wednesday to significantly expand the number of people eligible for clemency, issuing new guidelines allowing certain prisoners who already have served at least 10 years behind bars to apply for release.

The initiative is part of a broader Obama administration effort to ease sentences for nonviolent drug offenders.

Deputy Attorney General James Cole outlined the changes, which include six separate criteria inmates must meet to be eligible, on Wednesday morning. Among the requirements is that inmates must have served at least 10 years of their federal sentence and not have a "significant criminal history." They must be "non-violent, low-level offenders" with no significant ties to major gangs, have a record of good conduct in prison, and have no history of violence.

Finally, the process will be open to those who likely would have gotten a lesser sentence if convicted of the same offense today.

"Older, stringent punishments that are out of line with sentences imposed under today's laws erode people's confidence in our criminal justice system. I am confident that this initiative will go far to promote the most fundamental of American ideals -- equal justice under the law," Cole said.

He said the department plans to launch the initiative "quickly and effectively."

Cole suggested attorneys in the Justice Department are on board, though separate efforts to curb mandatory minimum sentencing have drawn complaints from the rank and file.

The National Association of Assistant Untied States Attorneys wrote to Attorney General Eric Holder in January arguing that the current sentence system is "worth preserving" -- and that mandatory minimums give prosecutors "leverage to secure cooperation from defendants."

DOJ leaders, though, argue that the new clemency changes are meant to address inconsistencies in sentences over time. The announcement is aimed primarily at drug prisoners, especially those sentenced under old guidelines that resulted in significantly harsher penalties for people caught with crack cocaine than for those who possessed the powder form of the drug. But it also applies to federal inmates imprisoned for other crimes, provided they meet the same criteria for clemency.

Cole outlined a detailed process that apparently will kick into gear starting next week. He said the Bureau of Prisons will circulate the new criteria to inmates across the country, and allow those who think they meet the standards to fill out an electronic form.

DOJ lawyers will screen those forms and forward select cases to pro bono attorneys to help in preparing clemency applications. Cole said lawyers from the Justice Department and elsewhere are being assigned to the pardon office to help in reviewing the "numerous petitions" expected to be submitted.

He said applications will undergo "rigorous scrutiny."

Cole also announced that current Pardon Attorney Ron Rodgers will be resigning; he will be replaced by Deborah Leff, acting senior counselor for access to justice.

One source told The Associated Press the Justice Department has identified more than 23,000 people who are serving sentences of at least 10 years. But it was not clear how many of those people would be viable clemency candidates.

The Obama administration says it's working to correct the legacy of an old sentencing structure that, historically, subjected black convicts to long prison terms for crack cocaine convictions while giving far more lenient sentences to those caught with powder, who were more likely to be white. The Fair Sentencing Act reduced that disparity and eliminated a five-year mandatory minimum for first-time possession of crack, and officials are now turning their attention to identifying inmates who received sentences under the old guidelines that now appear unduly harsh.

President Obama, who granted only one commutation in his first term, cut short in December the sentences of eight prisoners he said had been locked up too long for drug crimes. The White House has said it's seeking additional good candidates to consider for clemency, though spokesman Jay Carney said Monday that the number of commutations "will depend entirely on the number of worthy candidates."

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Apr-07-2014 138 0
Samsung's reported selfie marketing stunt last week got the company into a bit of trouble with the White House.

Senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer said on CBS’s "Face the Nation" that the White House counsel's office has had "conversations" with Samsung, after Boston Red Sox star David Ortiz took a picture of himself and President Barack Obama during a visit to the White House by the 2013 World Series winners.

Ortiz, who has an endorsement deal with the company, tweeted out the picture and Samsung retweeted the post to its 5.2 million followers.

Pfeiffer said Obama knew nothing about Ortiz’s connection to the company.

"In general, whenever someone tries to use the president's likeness to promote a product, that's a problem," Pfeiffer said.

Ortiz said the selfie wasn’t a premeditated marketing ploy, and the company said in a statement to the Boston Globe on that it was "thrilled to see the special, historic moment David Ortiz captured with his Galaxy Note 3."

"When we heard about the visit to the White House, we worked with David and the team on how to share images with fans. We didn't know if or what he would be able to capture using his Note 3 device."

The seemingly unscripted moment turned promotional opportunity isn’t the first time Samsung has used celebrity selfies to market its products.

Last month, Ellen DeGeneres made Twitter history at the Academy Awards with her celebrity-packed group selfie - generating a record 2.7 million retweets with the picture she took using a Samsung phone.

Pfeiffer jokingly mused that this could “be the end of all selfies,” though that remains doubtful.

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Apr-01-2014 212 0
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed is engaged to developer Sarah-Elizabeth Langford and the couple is expecting their first child, a spokeswoman for the mayor announced Monday.

Reed, 44, proposed to Langford, 35, while vacationing in the Bahamas last weekend, officials said.

“I could not feel more blessed that she agreed to marry me, and we look forward to building a family together in the greatest city in America,” Reed said in a statement Monday morning. “I am honored to have our friends and family share this special moment with us and I ask that our privacy is respected as we celebrate this personal occasion.”

Reed’s announcement is a surprising departure from his typically quiet stance on personal matters. And it brings rare attention to his private life, which until now has largely been the grist of gossip blogs and watercooler chatter, yet is rarely discussed by the mainstream media.

Monday’s news comes after months of speculation that Reed, elected to his second term as mayor last fall, and Langford are expecting a child and planning to wed.

Langford is the daughter of two prominent Atlantans: former City Attorney Susan Pease Langford and the late State Sen. Arthur Langford, for whom several Atlanta landmarks are named.

A former Miss District of Columbia, Langford is also a graduate of the University of Michigan and Howard University School of Law, Reed’s alma mater.

She’s now employed by National Church Residences, a senior housing nonprofit, and through NCR has worked with the City of Atlanta on housing developments, according to documents obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution through an open records request.

The nonprofit built Betmar Village, a senior apartment community near Lakewood Fairgrounds, with a $3.6 million tax-exempt bond in 2012 issued by Invest Atlanta — the city’s economic development arm. No city funds were involved in that deal, officials said, as the bonds are repaid by revenue from the project.

Attempts to reach Langford were unsuccessful Monday.

Just three months ago, Ambassador Andrew Young publicly urged Reed to propose to his long-time public girlfriend. It’s unknown when the couple plans to wed. The marriage will be the first for both.

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Mar-23-2014 176 0
President Barack Obama, a big basketball fan, tweeted his congratulations to the University of Dayton for its "huge upset win" over Syracuse University in the second round of the NCAA men's basketball college championship on Saturday.

Dayton, a No. 11 seed in the South region, defeated No. 3 seed Syracuse 55-53. Dayton won a surprise victory over No. 6 seed Ohio State in the first round.

"Devin Oliver, I may need to take you up on that pick-up game one of these days," the president said in a Twitter post signed "bo," which means he wrote it himself. Oliver, a 6-foot, 7-inch senior forward for Dayton, was ESPN's player of the game with 10 rebounds and 7 points.

Obama played high school basketball and continues to play recreationally. He had forecast Dayton would lose in the first round.

The president is known to unwind by watching sports on television and reporters could see basketball games on the screen in the front cabin of the president's plane during a flight to Florida on Thursday, the first day of the tournament.

The president leaves for Europe and the Middle East on Sunday with the crisis in Ukraine a pressing global problem. Not everyone on Twitter shared Obama's enthusiasm for basketball.

"You have bigger issues to be worrying about," one person tweeted in response.

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Mar-21-2014 180 0
The fashionable trio were spotted touring the Forbidden City, meeting with high school students at Beijing Normal School, and dining with the Chinese president and first lady.

During the school visit, Michelle Obama jumped in to try her hand at ping pong and learn Chinese calligraphy, while Malia,15, and Sasha,12, looked on.

The White House insists that the Obama visit is strictly cultural and has no political mission. The First Lady wasn’t even slated to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping and was only scheduled to attend events with China’s First Lady Peng Liyuan.

But once the first family arrived, the Chinese president ended up welcoming the family personally Friday night — with Michelle and Sasha donning red as a nod to the country’s treasured shade.

“We have had a wonderful first day here in China,” Obama gushed to the leader.

On Saturday, President Xi Jinping will travel to Europe where he will cross paths with President Obama, who will attend a Hague summit for the G7 on the Ukraine crisis.

The First Lady, center, the two Obama daughters, left, and the girls' grandmother Marian Robinson, far right, pose with China's First Lady Peng Liyuan during a tour of the Forbidden City in Beijing.

The Obama ladies arrived in China on Thursday for a seven-day, three-city tour.

Meanwhile, President Obama is all by his lonesome at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. before he leaves for Europe.

"It's very lonely at home," the President admitted this week.

"When [Michelle is] out of town, things tend to get a little slovenly around the house. Socks everywhere. Shoes," he told Ellen DeGeneres.

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Mar-21-2014 179 0
President Barack Obama's latest push in his much touted "Year of Action" is to help women get on an equal playing field with men.

Obama, speaking Thursday to a group of students and staff at Valencia College in Orlando, Florida, discussed his plan to give women more access to higher education and skills for the workforce.

"When women make less than men, that hurts their families, including their partners, their husbands, their kids. They have got less to get by on. It hurts businesses, because now their customers have less to spend," the President said. "When any of our citizens cannot fulfill their potential for any reason - that does not have to do with their talent or character or work ethic - that is holding us back."

Obama urged Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act but noted that less than 20 percent of congressional seats are held by women.

"Right now the majority of the senators support that bill, but so far Republicans have blocked it. We have got to get them to change their minds and join us in this century," Obama said.

"Congress needs to act so that Americans join every other advanced nation on Earth by offering paid leave to those who work hard every day. It is time to do away with some of these workplace policies that belong in it Mad Men episode," he added.

Part of his overall economic message help the middle class, the President focused on ways to specifically help women and girls be able to afford getting a college education. His plan includes keeping interest rates low for student loans, increasing the maximum Pell grant to $5,730, and creating a new $2500 tax credit.

More women receive Pell grants or other federal scholarships than men and they also take out more federal loans than their male counterparts.

"We all have a stake in this. Women make up about half of our workforce. Over half of Valencia students - 56 percent - are women. In fact, for more than two decades, women have earned over half of the higher education degrees awarded in this country," he said. "That means soon, for the first time, America's highly educated workforce will be made up of more women than men. But, the thing is, our economy has not caught up to their reality yet."

Surrounded by a group of female students and staff members from Valencia College, the President highlighted the role of community colleges in women's higher education. Fifty-eight percent of community college students are women, with nearly a quarter of them having children.

Thursday's event was the first of five regional forums on women's issues that will culminate in the White House Summit on Working Families in June. Senior administration officials will host events in Denver, Chicago, San Francisco, Boston, and New York City.

The President said he had a personal stake in seeing women get ahead because his household is made up of 80% women. He wants to make it easier for his daughters in the future.

"I want to make sure that my daughters are getting the same chances as men. I do not want them paid less for doing the same job as some guys doing. When they have children, I want to make sure they are not having to quit their jobs, or, you know, in some other fashion be hampered, because we don't have the kinds of policies in this country that support them," he said.

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Ann E. Marimow Mar-10-2014 128 0
A D.C. businessman was set to plead guilty Monday to funneling more than $2 million in illegal contributions to federal and local political campaigns, including Vincent C. Gray’s 2010 bid to become mayor.

In a hearing in federal court, prosecutors revealed for the first time that Gray (D) knew about the “shadow campaign” — a secret and illegal effort to bolster Gray’s mayoral run. They also said Gray personally asked for businessman Jeffrey E. Thompson’s help. In fact, in a June 2010 meeting, Thompson reminded Gray that his support would have to be secret. The two agreed to refer to Thompson as “Uncle Earl” to hide the campaign dealings, they said.
The case is a highly anticipated development in a long-running federal investigation that began with improprieties in Gray’s 2010 campaign but later expanded greatly in scope. The investigation has tarnished Gray’s tenure as mayor, and threatened his quest for a second term in the April 1 Democratic primary.

In court Monday, prosecutors laid out a detailed new set of allegations that portrayed the mayor as having intimate knowledge of Thompson’s campaign finance schemes and the need for them to be secret to protect Thompson’s business interests.

“Mayoral candidate A is Vincent Gray,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Atkinson said, before laying out months of intermittent conversations between Gray and Thompson. After Gray launched his campaign, he personally appealed to Thompson three days before a campaign finance deadline to “accelerate his fundraising,” prosecutors said. Thompson came through with checks, many of them “straw donations” from other individuals that were later reimbursed by Thompson.

Later in the campaign, a key figure in the shadow effort asked Thompson for more than $400,000 to fund a get- out-the-vote campaign, Atkinson said. Thompson insisted that Gray ask for funds himself, and the two men met and a Gray associate’s apartment. There, Gray presented him with a one-page budget and “expressed gratitude” to Thompson for his assistance as the meeting ended.

After the election, prosecutors says, Thompson continued to spend to Gray’s benefit, cutting a $10,000 check to a “close family member” of Gray’s to settle debts with campaign workers and spending another $10,000 at Gray’s request to fund a unnamed union election campaign. Later, after Gray was inaugurated, Atkinson said, Thompson paid $40,000 for home improvements to benefit a “close personal friend” of Gray’s.

After all this, Atkinson said, Thompson appealed to Gray, through Harris, to “expedite” a pending settlement involving his firm, D.C. Chartered Health Plan.

Thompson is charged with subverting campaign finance laws to steer money to mayoral and D.C. council candidates from 2006 to 2012. He reached a deal to plead guilty to one count each of conspiring to break federal and local campaign finance laws during a six-year period through illegal conduit contributions and off-the-books spending, totaling more than $2 million.

At a 1:30 pm plea hearing, a federal judge told Thompson that he faced a sentence of 24 months — 18 for the federal violations and six for those that occurred in the District.

Thompson’s defense team and prosecutors had been negotiating a deal for weeks, according to several people familiar with the talks.

Beyond Gray’s 2010 campaign, prosecutors say, Thompson secretly spent $812,146 in support of seven candidates for mayor and D.C. Council.

For three years prosecutors have been building a case against Thompson, whom associates have identified as the financier of an illegal campaign on Gray’s behalf and as the mastermind behind secret contributions to a long list of other local and federal political candidates.

The new court filing estimates that Thompson spent about $668,80o on campaign materials and services for Gray — more than has been previously reported.

Seven people connected to Thompson or affiliated with Gray’s last campaign have pleaded guilty in federal court in the past two years. Thompson, 58, has been alluded to in case after case, but until now he had been identified in court documents only as an unnamed co-conspirator.

The charges against Thompson reignite questions for Gray about campaign finance irregularities in his first mayoral campaign as he faces a crowded Democratic primary field on April 1. The mayor has not been accused of any crime, but he has apologized to D.C. residents and acknowledged the “misdeeds and missteps” of his associates.

On Monday before the hearing, Gray said he had only scanned the court papers but said he had no involvement in the shadow campaign.

“I’ve said all that I know,” the mayor said. “I’ve said this repeatedly. I’ve said I didn’t do anything — that I had nothing to do with this.”

The mayor has not answered specific questions about what, if anything, he knew about Thompson’s alleged secret efforts and when he learned about them.

The federal investigation has loomed over Gray as he seeks a second term. More than 40 percent of Democrats say the probe will be a major factor in how they vote this year, a Washington Post poll found. And the survey found that concerns about Gray’s trustworthiness are his most significant weakness among a public that generally approves of the job he’s doing as mayor.

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Feb-28-2014 272 0
President Barack Obama will attend a major summit on Lyndon Johnson’s civil rights legacy at the LBJ Library in Austin on April 10, the White House confirmed Thursday.

Obama will deliver a keynote address on the final day of the three-day summit, following presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton on the two previous days. George W. Bush is tentatively scheduled to speak on April 10 as well, summit organizers said.

“On Thursday, April 10th, the President and First Lady will travel to the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin, Texas, to deliver remarks at a Civil Rights Summit to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act,” a White House statement said. “Further details about the President and First Lady’s travel to Texas will be made available in the coming days.”

Library head Mark Updegrove announced the event — which will include panel discussions, special exhibits and other activities — earlier this month. Tickets to the events will be available, and some events will be streamed or aired on broadcast and cable networks.

Already confirmed to attend are civil rights leaders, current and former officeholders, academics, dignitaries and authors, including LBJ daughters Luci Baines Johnson and Lynda Johnson Robb; former NAACP Chairman Julian Bond; University of Texas President Bill Powers and Taylor “Parting The Waters” Branch, the premier historian of the civil rights movement.

The not-so-hidden agenda of the summit is to highlight Johnson’s domestic quality successes, particularly the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which had languished in Congress under President John F. Kennedy.

“We are truly honored to host President Obama as the keynote speaker at the LBJ Presidential Library’s Civil Rights Summit in April,” Updegrove said in a statement. “The world has evolved considerably in the half century that has passed since the signing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. As our first African American President, Barack Obama is the fulfillment of the promise of the Civil Rights legislation delivered by President Johnson and a bi-partisan Congress.”

In his half-decade in office, after declining to seek a second full term because of the war in Vietnam, Johnson also pushed through the Clean Air Act, Medicare and Head Start. Under his administration cars were also required to have seat belts and warnings were placed on cigarette packages.

“In the spirit of President Johnson, our students are determined to become the next ‘get it done generation,” Robert Hutchings, dean of the LBJ School, said in a statement. “The presence of President Obama and three former presidents is an affirmation of their own commitment to public service.”
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Feb-24-2014 277 0
Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick says he’s open to running for President.

The popular Democratic pol said Sunday that he may consider a White House bid, although not in 2016, in the future, but would have to talk about it with his family.

“Maybe, maybe,” Patrick said during an interview with Politico at the National Governors Association conference, when asked if he might run for the nation’s top office someday. “That’s a decision I have to make along with my wife of 30 years, and she’s a tough one to convince. … Let’s just see what time tells.”

Patrick has repeatedly ruled out running for President in 2016.

Patrick, who succeeded Mitt Romney as the governor of Massachusetts and gave a highly celebrated speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, will leave office at the end of 2015.

Patrick said he’s “looking forward to a break” after his second terms expires, but wants to return to government service.

“I’d like to have another opportunity to serve. I believe in service. I enjoy it,” Patrick said.



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