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Biden Announces $135 Million in Humanitarian Aid for Syrians Affected by Conflict


Official White House Photo by David Lienemann(WASHINGTON) -- Vice President Joe Biden announced on Saturday that the U.S. would pledge an additional $135 million in humanitarian aid to help feed citizens impacted by the conflict in Syria.

According to a release from the White House, the latest round of humanitarian assistance brings the total pledged by the U.S. to over $3 billion since the start of the crisis, including $222 million to international humanitarian organizations working with the Turkish government. The White House notes that an estimated 1.6 million refugees from Syria have received aid from Turkey, and 190,000 refugees have left the town of Kobani for Turkey in recent weeks.

The breakdown of the aid money includes $133 in regufee food needs -- $63 million for those displaced by the conflict to other parts of Syria and $70 million for those forced to neighboring countries. About $11 million of the $70 million will go towards food assistance for those refugees in Turkey.

Biden made the announcement from Istanbul, following a meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

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Obama Expands Scope of US Mission in Afghanistan


Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) -- A U.S. official confirmed to ABC News on Saturday that President Obama signed an executive order expanding the scope of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan beyond what had been initially planned.

As part of the order, U.S. troops will be allowed to target Taliban forces that threaten U.S. troops within Afghanistan or that provide support to al-Qaeda. Originally, the 9,800 U.S. troops staying in Afghanistan were expected to be involved in training.

The order will also allow American aircraft to provide air support for Afghan troops on combat missions.

The ongoing combat mission is slated to end on Dec. 31.

According to the New York Times, the new name for the mission in Afghanistan will be Operation Resolute Support.

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Obama Talks Immigration Reform in Weekly Address


Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) -- In this week's address, President Obama discusses immigration reform.

Obama talks about the specific steps he outlined this week.

"We’re providing more resources at the border to help law enforcement personnel stop illegal crossings, and send home those who do cross over," Obama says. "We’ll focus enforcement resources on people who are threats to our security – felons, not families; criminals, not children.  And we’ll bring more undocumented immigrants out of the shadows so they can play by the rules, pay their full share of taxes, pass a criminal background check, and get right with the law."

Obama says he will continue to work with Congress on a bipartisan bill that can fix the immigration system.

Read the full transcript of Obama's address:

Hi everybody.  Today, I’m at Del Sol High School, in Las Vegas, to talk with students and families about immigration.
 
We are a nation of immigrants.  It has always given America a big advantage over other nations.  It keeps our country young, dynamic, and entrepreneurial.  But today, our immigration system is broken, and everybody knows it.
 
That’s why, nearly two years ago, I came to this school and laid out principles for immigration reform.  And five months later, Democrats, Republicans, and Independents in the Senate came together to pass a commonsense compromise bill.  That bill would have secured our border, while giving undocumented immigrants who already live here a pathway to citizenship if they paid a fine, started paying their taxes, and went to the back of the line.  Independent experts said it would grow our economy, and shrink our deficits.
 
Now, had the House of Representatives allowed a yes-or-no vote on that kind of bill, it would have passed with support from both parties. Today it would be the law. But for a year and a half, Republican leaders in the House have refused to allow that simple vote.  Now, I still believe that the best way to solve this problem is by working together – both parties – to pass that kind of bipartisan law.  But until that happens, there are actions I have the legal authority to take as President – the same kinds of actions taken by Democratic and Republican Presidents before me – that will help make our immigration system more fair and more just.
 
I took those actions this week.  We’re providing more resources at the border to help law enforcement personnel stop illegal crossings, and send home those who do cross over.  We’ll focus enforcement resources on people who are threats to our security – felons, not families; criminals, not children.  And we’ll bring more undocumented immigrants out of the shadows so they can play by the rules, pay their full share of taxes, pass a criminal background check, and get right with the law.
 
Nothing about this action will benefit anyone who has come to this country recently, or who might try and come to America illegally in the future.  It does not grant citizenship, or the right to stay here permanently, or offer the same benefits that citizens receive.  And it’s certainly not amnesty, no matter how often the critics say it.  Amnesty is the immigration system we have today – millions of people living here without paying their taxes, or playing by the rules.  And the actions I took this week will finally start fixing that.
 
As you might have heard, there are Members of Congress who question my authority to make our immigration system work better.  Well, I have one answer for that:  Pass a bill.  The day I sign it into law, the actions I’ve taken to help solve this problem will no longer be necessary.
 
In the meantime, we can’t allow a disagreement over a single issue to be a dealbreaker on every issue.  That’s not how our democracy works.  This debate deserves more than politics as usual.  It’s important for our future.  It’s about who we are, and the future we want to build.
 
We are only here because this country welcomed our forebears, and taught them that being American is about more than what we look like or where we come from.  What makes us Americans is our shared commitment to an ideal – that all of us are created equal, and all of us have the chance to make of our lives what we will.  That’s the country we inherited, and it’s the one we have to leave for future generations.
 
Thank you, God bless you, and have a great weekend.

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GOP Address: Rep. Bill Cassidy On 'Fighting for Job-Creating Projects' Like Keystone XL Pipeline


Sean Gardner/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- In this week's Republican address, U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana talks about fighting for job-creating projects.

He specifically cites the Keystone XL Pipeline, which failed in the Senate this week.

Cassidy says the benefits of building the pipeline include boosting the construction industry and creating over 40,000 jobs.
 
"The case for approving the pipeline is clear and obvious," Cassidy said. "This is a perfect example of what the American people want President Obama and Congress to do. Americans' frustration with the President’s failure to strengthen the economy, create jobs and make America energy secure was evident in the election November 4th. But more than six years after the Keystone application was first submitted, the pipeline has still not been approved. This is six years too long."

Read the full transcript of the Republican address:

Hello. I’m Doctor Bill Cassidy.

 
“I’ve had the privilege of representing the 6th Congressional District of Louisiana. 
 
“As a doctor, I’ve worked in Louisiana’s public hospital system treating the uninsured and underinsured for 25 years.
 
“When my patients tell me about their health concerns, they also tell me they are worried about the economy, their jobs, the direction of our country.
 
“Many families, many Louisiana families, are struggling.
 
“They need better jobs, better wages, better benefits.
 
“We have the opportunity to create these jobs. It starts with developing North America's natural resources and securing America’s energy independence now. 
 
“That’s why I’ve been fighting for job-creating projects like the Keystone XL pipeline.
 
“Last week, the House of Representatives passed the Cassidy Keystone bill which would approve the construction of this pipeline. This is the ninth time the House has voted to build the Keystone pipeline.
 
“Building Keystone would create more than 40,000 high-paying jobs, putting billions of dollars in workers’ pockets, and give a much needed boost to America’s construction industry.
 
“Manufacturers and their employees throughout the economy also benefit from the construction of this infrastructure project.
 
“Refiners in Louisiana and along the Gulf Coast benefit from a reliable supply of heavy crude, including American oil from North Dakota, which would be transported through the pipeline. 
 
“More than 60 percent of Americans support building the pipeline.
 
“The State Department review found that the pipeline would have little or no impact on the environment. And it will also save lives, because when oil is transported by train or truck inevitably there are accidents and workers may die.
 
“Yet President Obama doesn’t seem to care.
 
“The case for approving the pipeline is clear and obvious. This is a perfect example of what the American people want President Obama and Congress to do. Americans’ frustration with the President’s failure to strengthen the economy, create jobs and make America energy secure was evident in the election November 4th.
 
“But more than six years after the Keystone application was first submitted, the pipeline has still not been approved.
 
“This is six years too long.
 
“So why hasn’t President Obama approved?
 
“Why did it take Louisiana’s Senior Senator nearly 3,000 days to do something about it?
 
“If there was ever legislation that should be easy to get through the United States Senate, it is the Keystone XL pipeline.
 
“When the House passed the Cassidy Keystone bill, we made it as easy as possible for the Senate to get a bill to the President’s desk.
 
“The Cassidy bill contained the legislative language proposed by the Senate.
 
“I worked with colleagues in the House of Representatives to pass this version as quickly as possible. It passed with strong Republican and Democrat support.
 
“Unfortunately, President Obama and his supporters in the Senate oppose the Keystone jobs.
 
“It is time for the President to approve these jobs.
 
“But this isn’t just about Keystone. Keystone has become a symbol for the need to achieve North American energy independence.
 
“We need to expand access for energy production both on and offshore, and to allow the development of the infrastructure to transport fuel to the American people.  
 
“That’s why Americans spoke loud and clear on November 4th. They want Congress to work together to do what’s right for the American people. They rejected President Obama’s agenda that discourages the creation of manufacturing and construction jobs – the jobs that would be created because of projects like Keystone.
 
“Americans voted for Republicans. Republicans – we are the party of jobs.
 
“And on December 6th, it’s the people of Louisiana’s turn to be heard.
 
“We, the people of Louisiana will decide whether we want someone in the Senate who represents President Obama, or who represents us. Someone who will work hard for jobs in Louisiana all the time, not just when their job is on the line.
 
“Someone who will repeal and replace Obamacare with patient-centered solutions;
 
“Who will push back on the EPA’s job-killing regulations;
 
“Who will fight against President Obama’s executive amnesty;
 
“Who will defend our second amendment rights;
 
“And who will push to get the Keystone pipeline and other energy development projects built.
 
“I’m running for the United States Senate because I am that person. Louisiana needs a Senator who can pass Keystone. Louisiana does not need a Senator who supports President Obama 97 percent of the time; we need a Senator who supports us, the people of Louisiana, 100 percent of the time.
 
“Representing the people of Louisiana is a great honor. On December 6th, Louisiana will choose our next U.S. Senator. My commitment to you is that if you choose me, Bill Cassidy, I will do my best to live up to that honor.
 
“Thank you. God bless America, and God bless the great state of Louisiana.”

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President Obama: Don’t Use Ferguson as ‘An Excuse for Violence’


(LAS VEGAS) -- As a grand jury debates whether or not to indict Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown, President Barack Obama on Friday — in an exclusive interview with ABC News — urged the residents of the city and all others to “keep protests peaceful.”

“Well I think, first and foremost, keep protests peaceful. You know, this is a country that allows everybody to express their views,” Obama told ABC News chief anchor George Stephanopoulos during an interview conducted Friday in Las Vegas. “Allows them to peacefully assemble to protest actions that they think are unjust, but using any event as an excuse for violence is contrary to rule of law and contrary to who we are.”

A grand jury in Missouri is in the midst of determining if Wilson — who fatally shot the unarmed teenager on Aug. 9 — should be charged for the incident. It is not known precisely when a decision by the grand jury will be reached, but it’s expected to be announced soon.

On Thursday, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Brown’s father asked for calm ahead of the decision. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has also declared a state of emergency in preparation, and the FBI is sending approximately 100 of its own to the St. Louis area in anticipation of possible unrest that could mirror the chaos that ensued after Brown was shot earlier this year.


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Top Hillary Clinton Supporters Gather to Plot, Strategize


Feng Li/Getty Images(NEW YORK ) -- Two-hundred prominent Democratic strategists, former Clinton aides and donors, joined forces on Friday for a day-long strategy meeting hosted by the pro-Hillary Clinton super PAC Ready for Hillary to coalesce their efforts, plot and plan for when and if Hillary Clinton runs for president.

The meeting, held at the Sheraton Hotel in Midtown Manhattan, where the Clintons hold their annual Clinton Global Initiative summit, was made up of a series of closed-to-the-media strategizing panels and marked the beginning of the end of Ready for Hillary, which plans to shut down its operations once Clinton announces a run.

It also marked a turning point for Clinton’s potential 2016 campaign.

Although nobody would flat out say it (hypotheticals like “if” and “hope” preceded all statements about her candidacy), the general sentiment among the panelists and attendees was: She’s running. And when she does, her supporters said, they will be ready.

“Hopes run high,” Marty Chavez, the former Albuquerque mayor and a senior adviser for Ready for Hillary, told reporters. “The biggest takeaway I have is … there are a lot of people who have her back if she says yes.”

The attendees at the event included Correct the Record’s David Brock and Bruce Strider, who were invited guests to last weekend’s 10th anniversary event for the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Arkansas, as well as political strategists Harold Ickes, James Carville and Paul Begala. Two people who have been mentioned as possible campaign managers for Clinton, Stephanie Shriock, the head of EMILY’s List, and Guy Cecil, executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, also were there.

Hillary Clinton herself was not at the event. Super PAC rules would not allow her to go.

Very little was said about other possible Democratic presidential candidates, such as former Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia, who just this week became the first candidate to throw his hat in to the ring. The panelists said they saw Hillary Clinton as the most “formidable” candidate and that any concerns were not about a “Hillary Clinton problem,” but rather a problem for the Democratic Party, as a whole.

“We have yet to figure out a message on the economy that resonates with working-class voters,” Mitch Stewart, a former Obama adviser and founding partner of 270 Strategies, which partnered with Ready for Hillary, told reporters. “We have not been able to persuade them that your values align with ours. And that, for me, is the biggest concern out there.”

The meeting also focused on acknowledging what Ready for Hillary has accomplished since it launched nearly two years ago. In that time, the group has raised $11 million and gained 3 million supporters. Once it shuts down, the group plans to transfer its vast email list of supporters to Clinton’s campaign. It was unclear, however, what would happen to the group’s now-famous bus.

Ready for Hillary’s meeting came a day after Hillary Clinton came out in support of President Obama’s executive action on immigration and blamed Congress for inaction on the issue. It was a rare move for Clinton, prompting speculation she might be starting to position herself as a candidate, because she has remained relatively mute on policy matters since she stepped down as Obama’s secretary of state in 2013.

Ready for Hillary also hosted a grassroots fundraising event Thursday night at a noisy, haram-themed lounge downtown.

The event, with roughly 150 people, cost $20.16 to attend and offered up cocktails thematically linked to Clinton, who might run to become America’s 45th president.

“I’ll have one ‘Ceiling Breaker’ and one ’45,’” a young 20-something guy, donning a small Ready for Hillary sticker on his button-down shirt, was heard yelling out to the bartender.

Two minutes later, he was handed two ambiguously colored drinks.

“No idea,” he shouted out when asked what was in them. But, he said with a smile, “They’re named after her.”

Hillary Clinton, who has a lighter-than-usual schedule in the coming month, has said she will likely make a decision on 2016 sometime early next year.

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Why Students Are Tweeting Pics of School Lunches With #ThanksMichelleObama


iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Students across the country are tweeting photos of their school lunches and using the hashtag #ThanksMichelleObama.

The first lady has been active in pushing for reform in school cafeterias and encouraging healthier eating overall. The White House passed the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, championed by Michelle Obama in 2010, intended to improve the nutritional value of school lunches.

Some kids still don't seem too pleased by what their schools are dishing out, and the hashtag, which has been in use since August, went viral again on Friday.

While some students used the hashtag sarcastically, some used it to show support for Obama, thanking her for her efforts to get kids eating healthy.

Check out some of the tweets below:

 

this Looks like chicken and tastes like sausage im so confused #ThanksMichelleObama pic.twitter.com/3y150oGZpl

— hard pa$$ (@idkaysia) November 21, 2014

 

 

Whole wheat buns #ThanksMichelleObama pic.twitter.com/1nG6lr9hWW

— Lucas mcgeachy (@mcgluc18) November 21, 2014

 

 

This is considered a "meal" #ThanksMichelleObama pic.twitter.com/k3WOVbJpxv

— Jordan Fite (@jordan_fite37) November 21, 2014

 

 

Grilled cheese and plastic for lunch..yummy ???????????? #ThanksMichelleObama pic.twitter.com/YQ9N7XpLeB

— Kendrick (@KendraPohlman) November 21, 2014

 

 

Yum school lunch part 2 #ThanksMichelleObama pic.twitter.com/y8qY680qwR

— Jess Sency (@Jess_Sency) November 21, 2014

 

 

Good lunch at school #ThanksMichelleObama pic.twitter.com/xtCPI3M8tt

— Chase (@Chase_McMorrow) November 21, 2014

 

 

Many students love the new lunches. #ThanksMichelleObama pic.twitter.com/NnbpHJzEPN

— CSPI (@CSPI) November 21, 2014

 

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Obama Raises Stakes on Immigration in Vegas Rally


The White House(WASHINGTON) -- Pitching his immigration plan directly to the American people, President Obama told a rowdy crowd on Friday that what he’s offering is a “common sense” first step to fixing a “broken system.”

“Our immigration system has been broken for a very long time, and everybody knows it,” Obama said.

"It’s not amnesty,” Obama said of his plan to shield up to 5 million people from deportation. “Amnesty really is the system we’ve got today… What we are offering is accountability. It is accountability. It’s a common sense middle-ground approach.”

Taking an exasperated tone, the president claimed he tried everything to work with Congress and chastised Republicans in the House for refusing to vote on the immigration reform bill that passed the Senate.

“I cajoled and I called and I met. I told [House Speaker] John Boehner, ‘I’ll wash your car. I’ll walk your dog. Whatever you need me to do, just call the bill.’ That’s how democracy is supposed to work,” he said.

“This debate deserves more than politics,” he said. “This is about who we are. Who do we want to be?”

Obama also pushed back against critics who claim his executive actions poison the well for future compromise.

“Why? I didn’t dissolve parliament,” he joked. “That’s not how our system works. I didn’t, you know, steal away the various clerks in the Senate and the House who manage bills. They can still pass a bill. I don’t have a vote in Congress. Pass a bill.”

The president chose to return to a familiar site to kick off his campaign to sell his unilateral plan to overhaul the nation’s immigration system and shield up to 5 million people from deportation.

“Tracking down, rounding up and deporting millions of people is not realistic," he said.

Nearly two years ago, in this same gym at Del Sol High School, the president outlined his post-election promise to finally reform immigration in his second term.

On Friday, the same chants of “si se puede” (yes we can) rang out as Obama touted his move to bypass Congress and act on his own.

“I come back to Del Sol to tell you I’m not giving up. I will never give up,” he said to raucous applause.

Hispanics are a powerful voting bloc in this swing state, where undocumented immigrants make up a larger portion of the population than in any other state, according to the Pew Research Center.

While the mood inside the event was largely positive, outside protesters chanted “worst president ever” and held signs reading “Deport Obama” and “No Amnesty.”

When the president's remarks were briefly interrupted by a protester objecting that not enough undocumented immigrants are covered by his executive actions, Obama agreed that more needs to be done.

“Not everyone will qualify… This is the first step, not the only step,” he said. “That’s why we need Congress to pass a bill.”

The visit to Las Vegas also gives the president a chance to boost Democratic Leader Harry Reid in his home state in the wake of the bruising midterm loss for Democrats. Reid, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and several other lawmakers hitched a ride to Nevada aboard Air Force One.

Shortly after landing the president signed aboard Air Force One the presidential memorandum to formally give guidance to federal agencies.

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Boehner: Obama 'Damaging Presidency' with Unilateral Immigration Action


Heather Reed / Office of the Speaker(WASHINGTON) -- House Speaker John Boehner said that President Obama is damaging the institution of the presidency by taking unilateral action to reform the country's immigration laws, setting up another political showdown on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue as Republicans work on a strategy on how best to react to Thursday's announcement.

"All year long I've warned the president that by taking unilateral action on matters such as his health care law, or by threatening action repeatedly on immigration, he was making it impossible to build the trust necessary to work together," Boehner, R-Ohio, said. "As I warned the president, you can't ask the elected representatives of the people to trust you to enforce the law if you're constantly demonstrating that you can't be trusted to enforce the law."

"The president repeatedly suggested that he was going to unilaterally change immigration law and he created an environment where the Members would not trust him," Boehner added. "Trying to find a way to work together was virtually impossible and I warned the president over and over that his actions were making it impossible for me to do what he wanted me to do."

The House speaker predicted that Obama's actions "will only encourage more people to come here illegally" and "punishes those who have obeyed the law and have waited their turn."

"We saw the humanitarian crisis on our border last summer, how horrific it was. Well next summer it could be worse," Boehner warned. "With this action the president has chosen to deliberately sabotage any chance of enacting bipartisan reforms that he claims to seek."

Boehner said he warned the president that his actions could harm the institution of the presidency when the two spoke on Thursday afternoon before the president's address.

"As I told the president yesterday, he's damaging the presidency itself," he said. "President Obama has turned a deaf ear to the people that he was elected and we were elected to serve."

While Boehner refused to enumerate how the House might react to the president's actions, he stressed that "the House will in fact act."

"The people's House will rise to this challenge. We will not stand idle as the president undermines the rule of law in our country and places lives at risk," Boehner pledged. "We'll listen to the American people, we'll work with our members, and we'll work to protect the constitution of the United States."

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Eric Holder Appeals for Peace Ahead of Ferguson Decision


Scott Olson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- While a Missouri grand jury secretly decides whether to charge Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson for fatally shooting Michael Brown, the nation’s top law enforcement official on Friday called on concerned Americans to appreciate “the gravity” of the matter and express themselves peacefully.

"History has...shown us that the most successful and enduring movements for change are those that adhere to non-aggression and nonviolence,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in a video released by the Justice Department.

The message comes just days after the FBI -- an agency overseen by Holder -- warned law enforcement agencies across the country that extremist, violent protesters could hijack otherwise peaceful demonstrations nationwide. And it comes one day after Brown’s own father issued his own call for calm.

“Hurting others or destroying property is not the answer,” Michael Brown Sr. said in a public service announcement. “No matter what the grand jury decides, I don’t want my son’s death to be in vain.”

Holder echoed that sentiment in his message Friday, saying recent protests have highlighted “real and significant underlying issues involving police practices, implicit bias, and pervasive community distrust.”

Brown Sr. said he hopes the recent controversy will spark “incredible” and “positive change,” particularly over how police forces interact with the citizens they vow to protect.

In fact, the Justice Department is not only weighing whether to file federal criminal charges against Wilson himself, but it is also conducting a separate civil probe into the entire Ferguson police department, trying to determine whether officers routinely engage in a "pattern or practice" of unlawful and discriminatory policing.

In August, when pressed by ABC News, Holder seemed to acknowledge federal charges against Wilson are hardly guaranteed. And current and former officials have outlined several challenges associated with building such a case.

Nevertheless, Holder on Friday noted that "long-simmering tensions will not be cooled overnight,” and he touted the “importance” of police forces engaging with communities long before times of crisis.

Holder suggested police officials discuss with citizens even seemingly minor issues such as what uniforms officers should wear.

“[This] hard work…is necessary to preserve the peace and maintain the public trust at all times -- particularly in moments of heightened community tension," he said.

Law enforcement officials contacted over recent days by ABC News -- stretching from Los Angeles to the Atlanta area -- remained confident that such work would help maintain peaceful protests in their cities after the Ferguson decision is announced.

In Indianapolis, for example, police have held two town-hall meetings in the past two months to discuss the Ferguson issue with concerned residents and build a “bank of trust,” Rick Hite, the chief of the Indianapolis Metropolitan police department, told ABC News.

Still, federal authorities are urging vigilance.

"The announcement of the grand jury’s decision … will likely be exploited by some individuals to justify threats and attacks against law enforcement and critical infrastructure,” the FBI said last week in its intelligence bulletin, first obtained and reported by ABC News.

In his video message, Holder commended law enforcement for its response so far to Ferguson-related demonstrations across the country, saying “the vast majority of law enforcement officers have honorably defended their fellow citizens engaged in these peaceful protests.”

Holder also announced that the Justice Department was issuing new guidance to federal, state and local law enforcement agencies “about how to approach maintaining order during First Amendment-protected events.”

The guidance includes information and “best practices” that “will help law enforcement officers maintain public safety while safeguarding constitutional rights,” Holder said.

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Here's What Obama Almost Forgot to Bring to Las Vegas


Pete Souza / The White House(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama walked out of the Oval Office with a spring in his step Friday morning, bounding toward the Marine One helicopter for an immigration campaign swing to Las Vegas, Nevada.

But then -- to the shock of a shivering press corps -- after Obama boarded the bird, he quickly dashed out the rear door, making a bee-line for the White House, telling reporters, “I forgot something.”

Three minutes later, he emerged from the White House with a grin, saying "Do you guys ever forget something?"

"What'd you forget?" ABC News asked the president.

"My Blackberry!" Obama said with a smile, grabbing the black device off his left hip and showing it to the cameras.

With his electronic line to the world, Obama's chopper quickly lifted off for Air Force One. He was joined by speechwriter Cody Keenan, senior adviser Jen Palmieri, aide Marvin Nicholson, domestic policy adviser Cecilia Munoz, and deputy chief of staff Anita Decker-Breckinridge.

Obama will rally with Democratic supporters at Del Sol High School in Las Vegas Friday afternoon, one day after unveiling sweeping executive action on immigration.

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President Obama Offers Legal Status to Millions of Undocumented Immigrants


Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) -- Thursday night, President Obama announced a sweeping executive action intended to secure the border while providing relief for an estimated 4.1 million undocumented family members of U.S. citizens and about 300,000 undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally as children.

"Today, our immigration system is broken and everybody knows it," the president said from the East Room of the White House. "Are we a nation that tolerates the hypocrisy of a system where workers who pick our fruit and make our beds never have a chance to get right with the law? Or are we a nation that gives them a chance to make amends, take responsibility and give their kids a better future?

"There are actions I have the legal authority to take as president -- the same kinds of actions taken by Democratic and Republican presidents before me," Obama boldly claimed, "that will help make our immigration system more fair and more just."

The action will be finalized Friday with the signing of a presidential memorandum at a rally in Las Vegas. It will fulfill, at least in part, the promise Obama first made in 2008 as a candidate to lift the threat of deportation from millions of people living in the U.S. illegally.

The move means nearly half the nation's undocumented immigrants -- roughly 5 million people -- will be eligible for temporary legal status and work permits.


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The announcement set off celebrations on Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House and at watch parties organized by immigrant advocacy groups all around the country. It was also unleashed a flurry of protests from critics who have asserted Obama is exceeding his constitutional authority and setting a dangerous new precedent.

The White House said the president's primary focus, in light of limitations on his executive power, is on keeping families united. The biggest group that will benefit is an estimated 4 million undocumented immigrants who have been in the U.S. for at least five years and who have children that were born here as American citizens.

"Undocumented workers broke our immigration laws, and I believe that they must be held accountable," Obama said. But, "let’s be honest -- tracking down, rounding up, and deporting millions of people isn't realistic. Anyone who suggests otherwise isn't being straight with you.

"That’s why we’re going to keep focusing enforcement resources on actual threats to our security. Felons, not families. Criminals, not children. Gang members, not a mother who's working hard to provide for her kids. We'll prioritize, just like law enforcement does every day," he said. "After all, most of these immigrants have been here a long time. They work hard, often in tough, low-paying jobs. They support their families. They worship at our churches. Many of their kids are American-born or spent most of their lives here, and their hopes, dreams, and patriotism are just like ours."

Obama's order will also extend legal status to a larger universe of so-called Dreamers, who first came to the U.S. illegally as children and either are attending school, have graduated high school or have served in the military. As many as 270,000 more undocumented immigrants will be able to apply for legal status under the program, which Obama first unveiled in 2012, administration officials said.

All immigrant applicants must have clean criminal records, provide their biometric information and pay a fee of around $500, officials said. The legal status will only last three years but can be renewed. The president's executive action does not create a pathway to citizenship or allow access to federal health care benefits, he is claiming.

The application process won't begin until the spring of 2015, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

In addition to deportation relief, Obama has also directed that immigration enforcement agencies focus on those who have committed felonies and those who have crossed the border within the last year. By forgoing crackdowns on those without criminal records and who have been here longer, the White House claimed it will be able to devote more resources to border enforcement and cracking down on those who pose a threat.

"Today is an important step toward rational and humane enforcement of immigration law," AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka said in a statement.

Hillary Clinton sent a tweet after Obama's announcement, thanking him for taking action. She also released a statement in support of the president's remarks, saying, "I support the President’s decision to begin fixing our broken immigration system and focus finite resources on deporting felons rather than families. I was hopeful that the bipartisan bill passed by the Senate in 2013 would spur the House of Representatives to act, but they refused even to advance an alternative. Their abdication of responsibility paved the way for this executive action, which follows established precedent from Presidents of both parties going back many decades. But, only Congress can finish the job by passing permanent bipartisan reform that keeps families together, treats everyone with dignity and compassion, upholds the rule of law, protects our borders and national security, and brings millions of hard-working people out of the shadows and into the formal economy so they can pay taxes and contribute to our nation’s prosperity."

Clinton's statement continued, "Our disagreements on this important issue may grow heated at times, but I am confident that people of good will and good faith can yet find common ground. We should never forget that we’re not discussing abstract statistics – we’re talking about real families with real experiences.  We’re talking about parents lying awake at night afraid of a knock on the door that could tear their families apart, people who love this country, work hard, and want nothing more than a chance to contribute to the community and build better lives for themselves and their children."

Ahead of the president's address, Republicans were sharply critical of Obama's move to circumvent Congress, some vowing to sue the administration and others warning it would spoil any attempt at bipartisan compromise over the next two years.

"Instead of working together to fix our broken immigration system, the president says he’s acting on his own. But that is just not how our democracy works," House Speaker John Boehner said in a short video statement posted on YouTube. "The president has said before that 'he’s not king' and he's 'not an emperor,' but he sure is acting like one. And he’s doing it a time when the American people want nothing more than for us to work together.”

Boehner's comments referred to President Obama's previous comments that he didn't have the authority to make the moves he announced Thursday evening.

"I know some of the critics of this action call it amnesty. Well, it’s not," Obama said tonight. "To those members of Congress who question my authority to make our immigration system work better, or question the wisdom of me acting where Congress has failed, I have one answer: Pass a bill." 

But even some congressional Democrats questioned Obama's unilateral action, expressing preference for a more permanent solution through legislation.

"It is clear the immigration system in this country is broken, and only Congress has the ability to change the law to fix it," said Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Indiana. "I am as frustrated as anyone that Congress is not doing its job, but the President shouldn't make such significant policy changes on his own."

Said Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, "I am concerned if the president's action goes too far, that number one it will set the cause back, that it will inflame our politics, get us into a kind of retribution situation with the opponents of immigration reform, and really change the subject from immigration to the president and whether he should've done what he did."

"I know the politics of this issue are tough," Obama said during his address. "But let me tell you why I have come to feel so strongly about it. Over the past few years, I have seen the determination of immigrant fathers who worked two or three jobs, without taking a dime from the government, and at risk at any moment of losing it all, just to build a better life for their kids."

"I’ve seen the heartbreak and anxiety of children whose mothers might be taken away from them just because they didn’t have the right papers," the president continued. "I’ve seen the courage of students who, except for the circumstances of their birth, are as American as Malia or Sasha; students who bravely come out as undocumented in hopes they could make a difference in a country they love. These people -- our neighbors, our classmates, our friends -- they did not come here in search of a free ride or an easy life. They came to work, and study, and serve in our military, and above all, contribute to America’s success."

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The Immediate (and Not So Immediate) Impacts of Obama's Immigration Announcement


Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) — President Obama has announced Executive Action on immigration reform. Now what?

Some of the measures take effect immediately, while other reforms will take longer. Those reforms to deferred action won’t be fully implemented for six months, after applications can be accepted.


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While Obama waits and hopes, Congress will take some action that will be more comprehensive and lasting.


So when will we see what?

1. Relief For 4 Million From Fear of Deportation – Immediately.


While they can’t file their application for 6 months, those who qualify for deferred action through a son or daughter that is a U.S. citizen will feel immediate relief.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) are instructed to “immediately begin identifying persons in their custody” who meet the criteria; as well as consider the new criteria for “all individuals encountered.”

So that means parents of U.S. citizen can now go about their lives free from constant fear of deportation.

For those who qualify for expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) or Dreamer status, those applications can be filed in 90-days.

2. President Selling His plan – Immediately.


Starting Friday, president Obama hits the road to sell his plan to the American public and put pressure on the GOP to get something passed in Congress.

He speaks at Del Sol High School in Las Vegas -- the same place he visited nearly two years ago to lay out his principles for reform. But it’s not just the everyday Americans he is trying to get on board.

“I want to work with both parties to pass a more permanent legislative solution,” he said in his speech. “And the day I sign that bill into law, the actions I take will no longer be necessary.”

So expect him to continue putting pressure on the GOP to get something done.

3. Advocate Groups Will Organize Sign-Ups and Seminars – This Weekend.


Almost immediately, immigration groups will begin holding information sessions to help those impacted understand what they need to do to gain deferred action, as well as who exactly will qualify.

Also, don’t expect them to slow down their efforts. While claiming success for President Obama finally acting, most groups are continuing to push for more action to include those left out and get congress to move forward.

4. New Staffing and Resources at Border – Coming Weeks.


In the coming days we should get a better picture of the new staffing and resources for the border and when exactly they go into effect.

We do know there will be a new task force formed with made up of the coast guard, customs and border protection, immigration and customs enforcement and U.S. Citizenship and immigration services.

According to a Department of Homeland Security memo, within 90 days there should be a realigning of personnel to accomplish these task forces, all while maintaining the “the surge of resources” sent to the U.S.-Mexico border during the unaccompanied minors crisis over the summer.

We can also expect to see an overall change in the priorities, as outlined by the President, for CBP and ICE.

Their first priority for deportation: those that are threats to national security, followed by those with three or more misdemeanors, and lastly those “who have been issued a final order of removal on or after January 1, 2014.”

5. Credit Card Payments for Naturalization Fee — End of 2015.


It’s not cheap to become a citizen! The cost of naturalization is about $680, but you can’t currently pay for it with a credit card, which may be why so many permanent residents never take the next step to become citizens

Come the end of 2015, you can use your credit card.

6. Adjustments to High Tech Worker Visas – It’s Not Clear.

In a memo to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson outlined steps to improve the backlog for green cards and visas for high skilled workers, but no timetable is given.

What we will see, however, is a modernization to the process. That means the Department of State and USCIS will work together more closely so temporary status doesn’t expire as quickly.

Additionally, the 2007 expansion that allows students in STEM to stay an additional 17-months, for a total of 29-months on their “optional practical training” visa could also be increased.

“I direct that Immigration and Customs Enforcement and USCIS develop regulations for notice and comment to expand the degree programs eligible for OPT and extend the time period and use of OPT for foreign STEM students and graduates, consistent with law,” the memo outlines.

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Nominee for Counterterrorism Directorship Warns of Latest Threats


iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — Nicholas Rasmussen, the acting director at the National Counterterrorism Center, painted a stark picture of what may lie ahead for U.S. efforts to protect the homeland from terrorists while testifying Thursday before the Senate Select Intelligence Committee.

In line to become the next full-time director of the counterterrorism agency, Rasmussen told lawmakers that the nation faces "broader array of threats from a greater variety of terrorist groups and individual actors than at any point since 9/11."

Thirteen years ago, al Qaeda was regarded as the top threat to launch more attacks inside the U.S. However, Rasmussen said the danger to U.S. interests at home and abroad has been expanded to include so-called "lone wolves," the Islamic State and Iran-sponsored terrorists.

In fact, he went as far as to say, "We're far more at risk, presently, of attack from an individual homegrown violent extremist who may be inspired by, but not necessarily directed by," the Islamic State, otherwise known as ISIS or ISIL.

Meanwhile, Rasmussen suggested that the renewal of sectarian warfare between Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq and Syria is being exploited by Iran in its backing of Shiite extremist groups, which are also considered a threat against the U.S.

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Administration Lowers Number of Affordable Care Act Enrollees


ABC News(WASHINGTON) — The Department of Health and Human Services admitted Thursday that the actual number of people who enrolled in the Affordable Care Act between Oct. 1, 2013 and March 30, 2014 was under the 7.3 million that the Obama administration reported.

The discrepancy was first pointed out by the GOP-controlled House Oversight Committee.

HHS spokesman Ben Wakana wrote in a statement Thursday that the corrected number of enrollees is 6.7 million.

Apparently, the administration mistakenly counted dental-only plans as well that numbered about 400,000. HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell said the error was inadvertent and that an internal investigation is under way to discover what happened.

After the enrollment period earlier this year, the administration actually reported eight million enrollees in the Affordable Care Act, but revised the figure downwards when 700,000 people did not pay for their plans.

Republicans have renewed their battle to take apart the program they call "Obamacare," particularly after one of its architects, Jonathan Gruber, said one of the reasons the law passed was due to the "stupidity" of U.S. voters.

The White House has disavowed Gruber's remarks, saying it does not reflect the president's opinion of Americans.

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