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Obama Pardons National Thanksgiving Turkey 'Cheese'

The White House(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama issued yet another executive order Wednesday afternoon, granting two turkeys amnesty from Thanksgiving dinner.

"I am here to announce what I’m sure will be the most talked-about executive action this month," the president said before pardoning the National Thanksgiving Turkey at the White House.

"Today, I’m taking an action fully within my legal authority -- the same kind of action taken by Democrat and Republican presidents before me, to spare the lives of two turkeys, Mac and Cheese, from a terrible and delicious fate," Obama said.

Cheese was chosen by fans to be named the National Thanksgiving Turkey and pardoned by the president, but Mac's life was also spared. Since 2012, fans have been able to vote for their favorite turkey on Twitter.

"Let’s face it, if you’re a turkey and you’re named after a side dish -- your chances of escaping Thanksgiving dinner are pretty low, so these guys are well ahead of the curve," Obama added.

The side dish's chances of escaping Obama's dinner are pretty low -- macaroni and cheese has been featured on the White House Thanksgiving menu every year.

The nearly 50-pound birds were raised with the Presidential Turkey Flock at Cooper Farms in Fort Recovery, Ohio.

Since arriving in Washington, Mac and Cheese have been pampered at the Willard Hotel in a custom room with tarps and shavings. Following the ceremony, they flocked to their retirement home at Morven Park in Virginia.

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Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Underwent Heart Procedure

Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg underwent a coronary catheterization on Wednesday.

According to a press release from the court, Ginsburg experienced discomfort while partaking in "routine exercise." Ginsburg was taken to a MedStar Washington Hospital Center, where a coronary blockage was found and a stent was placed in her right coronary artery.

Ginsburg is "resting comfortably" and is expected to be released within 48 hours.

Despite being diagnosed with colon cancer in 1999 and pancreatic cancer in 2009, Ginsburg, appointed to the Supreme Court by President Bill Clinton in 1993, has never missed a day of oral arguments due to medical treatment.

The court is set to hear arguments on Monday.

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House Ethics Committee Defers Rep. Grimm's Case to DOJ Again

Andrew Burton/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The House Ethics Committee has once again deferred consideration of Rep. Michael Grimm's alleged violations of campaign finance law to the Department of Justice.

Grimm, R-N.Y., is alleged to have solicited and accepted prohibited campaign contributions, caused false information to be included in campaign finance reports and allegedly made a deal with a foreign national to collect campaign contributions in exchange for help getting a green card.

The committee had previously made a similar decision on Nov. 26, 2013, when it deferred action on the case.

The committee says it will make public statements at least annually regarding Grimm’s ethics referral.

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Angelina Jolie on Why She Would Get into Politics

Ethan Miller/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Angelina Jolie would consider a career in politics "if I felt I could really make a difference," she told a British television network.

"I've always gone where I felt I was needed," the actress and activist, 39, told ITV on Tuesday. "When I started working with the U.N., I loved working in the field."

Jolie began her humanitarian work in the early 2000s and since then has served as a United Nations goodwill ambassador, traveling to places such as Darfur, a war-torn region in Sudan, and neighboring Chad. She's also met with members of Congress over the years, championing causes focused on children in developing nations.

In June, Jolie was appointed an honorary dame commander of the Order of St. Michael and St. George for her work with the United Kingdom and efforts to end sexual violence in war zones.

Jolie added that after her U.N. work, she got more involved with going to Washington, D.C., to "plead" for certain cases.

Of that work, Jolie said she "doesn't know what that means or where that will lead me." But if she's useful in making change, then politics might be in her future.

The Oscar winner also spoke to ITV about "all of the people who are starving and dying at the moment."

"We simply aren't doing enough," she said.

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EPA Proposes Stricter Smog Standards

hxdbzxy/iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The Environmental Protection Agency proposed new smog standards in an effort to safeguard Americans from air pollution on Wednesday.

"Bringing ozone pollution standards in line with the latest science will clean up our air, improve access to crucial air quality information, and protect those most at-risk," EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said. "We deserve to know the air we breathe is safe."

The current standard deems 75 parts per billion of ozone as acceptable, but the EPA wants to lower that figure, perhaps to 60 parts per billion. At 75 parts per billion, the agency says, individuals can suffer damage to their respiratory system, asthma or aggravated cases of asthma, other long diseases.

The EPA says strengthening its standards would prevent at least 320,000 asthma attacks and at least 330,000 missed school days.

The agency expects to hold public hearings and announce final standards by Oct. 1, 2015.

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Where Turkeys Go After They're Pardoned by the President

seyitali/iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- It's a presidential tradition to "pardon" a turkey on the eve of every Thanksgiving -- and now we know where the lucky birds go to retire.

After the ceremony at the White House, this year's spared turkey will head to Morven Park in Leesburg, Virginia. In past years, the birds have gone to George Washington's Mount Vernon.

"Before that, Disney World. And before that, Disney Land," said Keith Williams, a spokesperson for the National Turkey Federation. "And about maybe 10 or 20 years ago, they went to a petting zoo in the area."

The federation works with different farmers each year to send two birds to the White House. One will be pardoned, and the other is a backup. Neither is really at risk of winding up on the First Family's dinner table, Williams said.

"Everyone calls it 'the pardon,' but it's the presentation of the national Thanksgiving turkey," he said. "We've done this since Truman. I believe it was George H. W. Bush who made an offhand comment that he was going to pardon the turkey, and that's where it became a custom."

This year's turkeys will join one of last year's turkeys, Caramel, at Morven Park. The other turkey, the one President Obama chose as the national Thanksgiving turkey, died this past summer.

"They're not bred for longevity," Williams said. "They're not pets. They're not workhorses. They don't live that long."

The turkeys come from an Ohio farm. People vote on the names and the final suggestions are sent to the White House. The White House announced that this year's turkeys are named Mac and Cheese.

Today's the day these turkeys go to the @WhiteHouse and meet President @BarackObama! #PresidentialTurkey14 pic.twitter.com/vTYknWaHO5

— Cooper Farms (@CooperFarms_) November 26, 2014


Today is the #WHTurkeyPardon. Cast your vote now for America's next top turkey. Are you on #TeamMac or #TeamCheese? http://t.co/frNyFCH1v6

— The White House (@WhiteHouse) November 26, 2014

Teresa Davenport of Morven Park said she'll be transporting the turkeys from the White House to the their new home, which is about an hour's drive.

"I'm bringing them in the back of our van and hoping it's not snowy and rainy," she said.


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New Name Added to List of Defense Secretary Candidates

US Department of Homeland Security(WASHINGTON) -- At least one new name has shown up on the list of candidates who could potentially replace Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel who announced Monday that he would step down from that role.

ABC News has learned that Jeh Johnson, the current Secretary of Homeland Security, may be under consideration for Hagel's old job.

Initial reports indicated that Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., Michelle Flournoy, former Under Secretary of Defense and Ashton Carter, former Deputy Defense Secretary, were among the candidates for the job. Reed and Flournoy, however, have reportedly told the White House that they are not interested in taking over the Pentagon.

Pentagon spokesperson Rear Adm. John Kirby said Tuesday that Hagel's decision to step down was mutually agreed to by Hagel and President Obama, and that it was not prompted by any policy disagreements.

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Federal Judge Deems Arkansas Same-Sex Marriage Ban Unconstitutional

senky/iStockphoto/Thinkstock(LITTLE ROCK, Ark.) -- A federal judge on Tuesday ruled against Arkansas' state laws defining marriage as between a man and a woman.

Amendment 83 of the Arkansas Constitution defines marriage, court documents say, as "consist[ing] only of the union of one man and one woman." A state law also defines marriage the same way and declares all marriages of same-sex couples as void.

The lawsuit was brought by a pair of same-sex couples. One couple, Rita and Pam Jernigan who are married under Iowa state law, want to receive spousal benefits under the Arkansas Teacher Retirement System. Meanwhile the other couple, Becca and Tara Austin, hopes to marry "for the same reasons that many other couples marry: to declare publicly their love and commitment to one another before their family, friends, and community and to give to one another the security and protections that only marriage provides," according to court documents.

The Austins say that because Becca is not a biological parent to the twin children they have, and because the two cannot legally marry under Arkansas law, Becca cannot be considered a parent to the children. Court documents also cite reduced family resources and stigmatization as complaints.

Each couple had applied for and were denied marriages licenses from the Pulaski County Circuit and County Clerk following the U.S. Supreme Court deemed a part of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, eliminating the definition of marriage -- for purposes of federal laws -- to include only opposite-sex couples.

Judge Kristine Baker determined that the laws in question "restrict the Jernigans and Austins' fundamental right to marry," and that those lws "unconstitutionally deny consenting adult same-sex couples their fundamental right to marry."

Baker did, however, grant a stay, giving the state the opportunity to appeal the ruling.

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'Disappointed' Holder Vows New Federal Action to Build Trust After Ferguson

Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Attorney General Eric Holder said Tuesday he was “disappointed” by the violence that erupted overnight in Ferguson, Missouri, and he said the federal government would soon announce a series of new programs to help ease tensions between law enforcement and citizens in cities and towns like Ferguson.

“There are other communities around this country that have these same issues that have to be dealt with,” said Holder, reflecting on the deep mistrust embedded into the streets of some communities. “These gaps, these divides exist in other parts of the country beyond Ferguson, and our focus will be national in its scope to try to deal ultimately with these issues.”

At a hastily-arranged meeting with reporters inside the Justice Department, Holder said he was briefed overnight and into Tuesday about the security situation on the ground in Ferguson, and he then briefed President Obama in the Oval Office.

The two talked about “programmatic initiatives that we want to announce relatively soon,” Holder said of the White House meeting, adding that in the weeks ahead the federal government will be bringing together federal and local law enforcement, elected officials and community leaders to take “concrete steps” to address issues of mistrust.

“I think this is an opportunity to find those things that bind us as a nation, to be honest with one another about those things that continue to divide us, and to come up with ways in which we make this union even more perfect,” Holder said.

In his remarks Tuesday, Holder also emphasized that – even though a Missouri grand jury declined to charge officer Darren Wilson for fatally shooting unarmed teenager Michael Brown in August – the Justice Department continues to conduct two separate probes -- a criminal investigation into Brown’s killing and a civil probe into practices of the Ferguson police department more broadly.

“They will be conducted rigorously and in a timely manner so that we can move forward as expeditiously as we can to restore trust, to rebuild understanding and to foster cooperation between law enforcement and community members,” Holder said, flanked on either side by the Justice Department officials overseeing the federal probes.

Specifically, federal investigators are looking into whether Wilson used unreasonable force when he killed Brown on Aug. 9. But building a case like that is particularly challenging, especially since prosecutors would need to prove that Wilson intended from the start to violate Brown’s constitutional rights.

Federal investigators are also taking a hard look at the Ferguson police department, trying to determine whether officers routinely engage in a "pattern or practice" of unlawful and discriminatory policing.

Depending on what federal investigators conclude and how city officials respond, a civil lawsuit could be filed by the Justice Department and a federal court could demand Ferguson police make big transformations.

Holder also disclosed that he has asked the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, Ron Davis, to conduct an “after-action review” of the law enforcement response to the violence that erupted overnight.

The after-action review will look to “develop strategies for identifying and isolating the criminal elements from peaceful protesters,” Holder said, sitting next to Davis and top Civil Rights Division officials Molly Moran and Mark Kappelhoff.

“I was disappointed that some members of the community resorted to violence rather than respecting what I thought were the really heartfelt words of Michael Brown Sr. and the wishes that he expressed about how he wanted his son’s memory to be honored with non-violence,” Holder said. “It is clear that acts of violence threaten to drown out those who have legitimate voices, legitimate demonstrators, and those acts cannot and will not be condoned.”

At the same time, Holder said, he was “encouraged” by the peaceful demonstrations across the country and “heartened” by those in Ferguson who tried to stop the violence and looting there.

They are “heroes in my mind,” he said.

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Obama on Ferguson: 'I Don't Have Any Sympathy' for Protesters Burning Buildings

Alex Wong/Getty Images(CHICAGO) -- With Ferguson, Missouri, bracing for a second night of violence and vandalism in the wake of the grand jury decision, President Obama warned protesters that “nothing of significance, nothing of benefit results from destructive acts.”

“I’ve never seen a civil rights law or a health care bill or an immigration bill result because a car got burned,” Obama said at an afternoon event in Chicago Tuesday originally scheduled to promote his recent immigration action. "It happened because people vote. It happened because people mobilized. It happened because people organized.”

The president, who was briefed earlier Tuesday on the situation in Ferguson by Attorney General Eric Holder, said a grand jury decision not to indict Police Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown should be respected. But he said frustration over real or perceived police injustice was legitimate and needs to be addressed.

“I have no sympathy at all for destroying your own communities. But for the overwhelming majority of people who just feel frustrated and pain, because they get a sense that maybe some communities aren't treated fairly or some individuals aren't seen as worthy as others, I understand that,” Obama said. “And I want to work with you, and I want to move forward with you. Your president will be right there with you."

Obama said a series of regional meetings between federal, state and local law enforcement officials and community and faith leaders would begin next week. They will be focused on “building trust” between communities and policy, and developing strategies to “make sure that law enforcement is fair.”

Senior Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett has taken a leading role in the initiative, according to the White House, keeping in regular contact with Missouri state officials and civil rights leaders.

The president is “considering” a trip to Ferguson once the situation there stabilizes, officials said.

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The White House Thanksgiving Turkey: A Pageant for Poultry

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- They're well-bred, blow-dried, and on their best behavior. Thousands of them compete every year. But only one will be pardoned by the president of the United States.

The National Thanksgiving Turkey is chosen "based on looks and behavior, kind of like a beauty pageant," said a spokeswoman for Cooper Farms, where this year's bird was hatched and raised.

One will be pardoned by President Obama and crowned National Thanksgiving Turkey at the White House ceremony on Wednesday. An alternate turkey will serve as runner-up, should the pardoned turkey be unable to fulfill his duties.

It’s been a long journey for the 50-pound birds. On Monday, they embarked on a nine-hour road trip from Fort Recovery, Ohio, to Washington, D.C., gobbling along to Kenny Chesney.

Since their arrival, the turkeys are being pampered at the Willard Hotel, staying in a custom room with tarps and shavings.

“Last night, they were trying to order room service,” National Turkey Federation Chairman Gary Cooper joked.

The chairman is responsible for raising the presidential turkey flock each year. Cooper said he began raising 66 birds in July with his son Cole.

This won’t be the Cooper family's first pardoning ceremony. In 1996, another one of the family’s turkeys was ceremonially spared by President Bill Clinton.

Following Wednesday's ceremony, the two will be taken to the lush, 1,000-acre Morven Park in Virginia to retire.

But not all turkeys get off scot-free.

Despite the pardoning ceremony, turkey is still on the first family’s Thanksgiving menu. The only thing that is clear is that neither of the turkeys from Cooper Farms will be part of the feast.

Where the Obamas get the turkey that ends up on their plates remains a mystery.

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Michael Brown's Family Gets Sympathy from Congress

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Members of Congress from around the country posted messages of sympathy for the family of Michael Brown after a grand jury cleared the Ferguson, Missouri police officer who shot the teenager on Aug. 9. But the elected officials included in their messages calls for peace and changes in the criminal justice system.

Rep. Lacy Clay, a Democrat who represents the Browns' congressional district, and Missouri's two senators, Democrat Claire McCaskill and Republican Roy Blunt, sent messages meant to soothe their state. 

I am extremely dissapointed, but not surprised. The pursuit of justice for Mike Brown is not over. #Ferguson #Justice4MikeBrown #peace

— Lacy Clay (@LacyClayMO1) November 25, 2014

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.: “My thoughts are with Michael Brown’s family today, as well as those in law enforcement who continue to protect the rights of all they serve, the National Guard members we ask to step forward during difficult times in our state, and all of their family members. Michael’s death was tragic, and the months since this tragedy have marked a challenging time in Ferguson and across Missouri. Together, I know we can move forward and heal as we work to find better job opportunities in and more investment for challenged communities.”

Lawmakers around the country took to Twitter to express their frustration and urge peace.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.: “However disappointed we may be in the decision by the grand jury in St. Louis County, we must hold the family of Michael Brown in our hearts...As the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote, ‘Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.’"

Remember, young people of #Ferguson, your pain is not wrong. Your feelings are valid. We understand you’re hurt.

— Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (@repcleaver) November 25, 2014

The tragedy in Ferguson (and the prosecutor's description of eyewitness accts) makes the strongest possible case for police body cameras.

— Joaquin Castro (@JoaquinCastrotx) November 25, 2014

Injustice and violence cannot be cured by more injustice and violence. Civil protest is what moves mountains.

— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) November 25, 2014

To the officers in Ferguson: You are there to serve and protect those in the community. Be patient. Be calm. Avoid escalation. #Ferguson

— Mark Takano (@RepMarkTakano) November 25, 2014

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y.: “From Ferguson to Brooklyn, the zip codes may be different but the issue of police officers shooting young, unarmed African-American men without justification is exactly the same. Throughout this country, we need a dramatic change in the manner that law enforcement authorities engage communities of color. The failure of the grand jury to indict Officer Darren Wilson is a miscarriage of justice."

Only love can overcome hate. Only nonviolence can overcome violence. #FergusonDecision

— John Lewis (@repjohnlewis) November 25, 2014

President #Obama & true civil rights leaders must calm tensions and educate people that mob justice destroys rights for all people #Ferguson

— Rep. Steve Stockman (@SteveWorks4You) November 25, 2014

I am deeply disappointed & disturbed by #FergusonDecision. We need to stand together in peaceful protest in order to move forward.

— Gregory Meeks (@GregoryMeeks) November 25, 2014

My thoughts are with #MichaelBrown's family tonight. We must work together to end racial profiling and police violence. #Ferguson

— Judy Chu (@RepJudyChu) November 25, 2014

Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn.: "Once the news trucks have left St. Louis and the city of Ferguson is calm, a family will still be without their son...Michael Brown’s family will always mourn the senseless shooting of their child -- a shooting which should never have taken place."

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Here's What's Next for Ferguson Case

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Within hours of the Missouri prosecutor announcing the grand jury’s decision to clear a Ferguson police officer in the shooting death of teenager Michael Brown, Attorney General Eric Holder issued a statement assuring the public that his department's own investigations into the matter were still underway.

“The federal inquiry has been independent of the local one from the start, and remains so now,” he said in a statement Monday night. “We have avoided prejudging any of the evidence [and]…we have resisted forming premature conclusions.”

But Holder’s statement also acknowledged a reality about federal law in such cases: “[It] imposes a high legal bar.”

The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division is separately conducting two investigations related to the matter.

First, federal investigators are looking into whether Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson used unreasonable force when he killed Brown on Aug. 9. But building a case like that is particularly challenging, especially since prosecutors would need to prove that Wilson intended from the start to violate Brown’s constitutional rights.

Second, federal investigators are taking a hard look at the Ferguson police department, trying to determine whether officers routinely engage in a "pattern or practice" of unlawful and discriminatory policing.

So the decision on criminal charges “is not the end of this,” said William Yeomans, a former Justice Department official who spent 26 years prosecuting federal civil rights cases.

Officers in Ferguson have allegedly been more likely to stop and arrest a black driver than a white driver. And the police force of nearly 50 has hired only a few black officers.

Depending on what federal investigators conclude and how city officials respond, a civil lawsuit could be filed by the Justice Department and a federal court could demand Ferguson police make big transformations.

“I think there's an opportunity for systemic change here,” Yeomans said. “[It’s] where big change can come.”

Brown’s family could also consider filing a civil lawsuit against Wilson or the Ferguson police department, accusing them of taking part in a wrongful death.

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Sen. Cory Booker to Have a Vegan Thanksgiving

Gilbert Carrasquillo/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., won’t be serving up turkey at his Thanksgiving table -- or mac and cheese, or pumpkin pie.

The vegetarian senator announced on Twitter that he’s committing to a vegan diet until the end of the year.

Vegan until end of yr at least. Vegetarian for last 22yrs MT @NickPatrickNYC Are u a vegan? I never knew this. I'm moving to mostly veg diet

— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) November 23, 2014

That means he'll have to find vegan recipes for his Thanksgiving menu and find them fast since the holiday is only two days away.

"For my first vegan Thanksgiving," Sen. Booker said in an Instagram video, "I am now going to transition out of some of my old time favorites. ...I don’t know exactly what it's going to be yet."

A video posted by Cory Booker (@corybooker) on Nov 11, 2014 at 11:27am PST

Though the 45-year-old politician has been meat-free since before he was the mayor of Newark, New Jersey, this is the first time he's excluding dairy from his diet and vowing to stick to it. During a question-and-answer session on the site Reddit, Booker admitted going vegan once before, but caving in quickly.

Already three weeks in, the senator, re-elected earlier this month, tweeted that he loves his "vegan experiment" and he's learning a lot. He also has been re-tweeting recipes.

He's even promoting a petition on Change.org to get the Vermont ice cream company Ben and Jerry’s to make a vegan flavor and treating his staff to vegan lunch. The petition for Ben and Jerry's to include non-dairy ice cream options is approaching 10,000 signatures.

For now, Booker joins the ranks of other vegan politicians -- Bill Clinton (though he admits to cheating sometimes), Al Gore, former Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, and Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla.

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Poll: Voters Split on Obama's Executive Order on Immigration, President's Approval Rating Nears All-Time Low

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) -- While Americans are split on President Obama's immigration action made earlier this week, the Commander in Chief's approval rating is nearing an all-time low, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll released on Tuesday.

Asked -- prior to the announced executive order -- whether Obama should use executive order to address the immigration issue should Congress fail to act, 45 percent of respondents said the president should take matters into his own hands, while 48 percent said he should not.

Overall, support for undocumented immigrants has begun to erode, with 48 percent of American voters saying that they should be allowed to stay in the country with a path to citizenship -- the lowest that figure has ever been in a Quinnipiac University poll and down from 57 percent in November 2013. Approximately 11 percent of respondents said undocumented immigrants should be allowed to stay but should not be allowed to apply for citizenship, while 35 percent believe that they should be forced to leave the U.S. -- the highest that figure has ever been.

Obama's approval rating has also dipped, as American voters gave him a 39-54 percent negative approval rating. His lowest-ever approval rating in a Quinnipiac University poll is 38-57 percent negative.

Only Democrats and voters under the age of 30 gave the president a positive approval rating.

Also of note, the poll found that Americans are strongly against the U.S. paying ransoms to terrorists holding American hostages -- 70 percent of American voters said the U.S. should never do so, while just 21 percent said the nation should pay the ransoms.

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