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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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Why Congress' Only 5-Time "Jeopardy" Champ Chose Science over Lobbying

US Congress(WASHINGTON) -- He has a resume unlike any other elected official: Five-time Jeopardy champ, research physicist, patent holder, arms-control expert.

So when U.S. Rep. Rush Holt announced his retirement from Congress, he might easily have made his next step into the so-called "revolving door" of the lobbying world.

But, according to the New Jersey Democrat, who earned a reputation for being a leading advocate for science in Congress, there’s just better work to be done elsewhere.

Holt, 66, has since announced he will be joining the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) as its newest CEO, as well as its executive publisher of scientific journals.

In a recent interview with ABC News, edited for brevity, Holt expressed doubt about the quality of the science debate in 114th Congress, talked about where he hopes his next venture will lead him, and reflected on his decision to leave the Washington political game behind.

When you announced your retirement, many suggested it was further evidence of the “death of science” in the halls of Congress. True?

I’ve been careful not to say that I was leaving because of the atmosphere in Congress or leaving out of disappointment or frustration. But I must say the atmosphere in Congress doesn’t make me want to stay. Part of the problem is that ideology has trumped evidence and trumped science so often here on the Hill. There’s a real frustration when people are much more interested in advancing their ideological positions than they are in making policy on the basis of reliable knowledge.

You were the first physicist to be elected to Congress as a Democrat. How did your passion for science intersect with your duties serving constituents?

Too many people have the idea that a scientist must be otherworldly or academic, in the narrow sense of the world. I think a lot of people have been surprised that I’ve actually had good political instincts and a real ability to interact with people and, I would say, lead people. It shouldn’t be surprising that somebody with a science background could do well in politics. It’s not an obvious overlap, but they’re not incompatible. On some issues, my scientific background has been particularly useful. But what’s always useful is a reverence for evidence, and science brings an analytical ability that helps you understand a situation be it in the physical universe or in politics and human relations.

Does it trouble you then that there aren’t more scientists succeeding as politicians?

It’s a real problem. I think there are more scientists who are or can be adept at politics than there are politicians who are comfortable with science. There should be more people who, while choosing not to be scientists professionally, are comfortable thinking about science and thinking like a scientist. I think Congress suffers and policy-making in government suffers because there are not enough non-scientists who are comfortable thinking about science.

Republicans trounced Democrats in the midterm elections, and many have looked to label the GOP as an anti-science party. Does science have a friend in the 114th Congress?

I think over many years, appreciation of science has slipped and education of science has slipped. I think that it shouldn’t be possible to deny and patently reject the preponderance of scientific understanding. That’s not to say every scientist is always right. But the idea that you can just flat out deny evolution or climate change or any number of things that are so well established in the science community would have been, in past years, unthinkable. Now, it’s really quite common that people will blatantly, even proudly get on the political stump and say they deny what the scientists think is right.

You’re taking a very different path than many retiring members of Congress who become lobbyists. Why?

It was a deliberate move to avoid the revolving door. But I was very much interested in staying engaged in the policy process, to work on something that I think is of great social benefit. I really think if we improve the health of science in America it will be of great benefit to human welfare. Not just because you’ll have more scientists employed, but because with improved science we learn things that are beneficial to all humans.

Do you think that you’ll be able to accomplish more in the name of science than you could have as a congressman?

Maybe not more than what one could do in Congress, but in the current Congress I don’t think there’s going to be a lot of good accomplished. I certainly hope that’s not true but, from my perspective, the signs are not very promising.

You expressed some dismay in a 2008 interview that not more members of Congress were knowledgeable about science. Has that changed during your time on Capitol Hill?

I think I’ve been very well-engaged with members of Congress, but not on science issues. Most Americans say that science is for scientists, and they see themselves not as scientists and therefore they don’t think that science is for them and that’s really unfortunate. They miss a lot of beauty in science and a lot of truth in science.

How did you decide to take the helm of AAAS? What will your role be like there?

When I announced I was leaving I did not know what I was going to do next. I was pretty sure I was not going to go out to pasture and I avoided using the word "retire." But AAAS is an organization that I have known and intersected with time to time over many decades now. To look at it in a general sense, it’s about the health of science and its mission has to do with communication between scientists and the public, promoting integrity in science and strengthening support for science in technology, and making sure science plays a constructive role in the formulation of public policy. It’s a fairly natural step for me, but nobody predicted it. Least of all myself.

You’re one of the few members of Congress to compete on Jeopardy, and you actually beat IBM’s Watson in 2011. Do you ever see yourself returning to that stage?

I think I’m a lot slower now. I did beat Watson, but it was not televised. It was something IBM set up. It was an actual Jeopardy match so it was very life-like, but it was a demonstration that IBM set up a couple of years ago.

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Head of Phoenix VA System Removed from Post

ABC News(PHOENIX) -- Sharon Helman, the director of the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Healthcare System, was removed from her post on Monday after an investigation into wait times and substandard care.

The decision to remove Helman from her role in command of the Phoenix VA system "underscores VA's commitment to hold leaders accountable and ensure that Veterans have access to quality and timely care," a statement from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs read.

"Lack of oversight and misconduct by VA leaders runs counter to our mission of serving Veterans, and VA will not tolerate it," Secretary Robert McDonald said. "We depend on VA employees and leaders to put the needs of Veterans first and honor VA's core values of 'Integrity, Commitment, Advocacy, Respect and Excellence.'"

It is not immediately clear when the VA will name a new director for their Phoenix system. In the interim, longtime administrator Glenn Grippen has been named the director.

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John Hanson: The Forgotten First President

ABC News/Yahoo! News(WASHINGTON) -- Here’s a Thanksgiving pop quiz: Who was the nation’s first president?

If you answered George Washington, pass the gravy and get ready for a history lesson. It was actually John Hanson, a founding father whose name is largely forgotten in the pages of American history -- until now.

“They were both first presidents. We've had two governments,” said Peter Michael, a descendent of Hanson’s who is working to revive his memory as the first president of the Continental Congress under the Articles of Confederation, the precursor to the Constitution.

“George Washington was very famously the first president of our second government under the Constitution,” Michael told ABC News/Yahoo! News during a recent interview outside a replica of Hanson’s historic home in Frederick, Maryland. “But for eight years before the birth of that second government, we had an original government chartered under the Articles of Confederation. It had its presidents, the first of whom was John Hanson."

Michael, who has authored a biography about his ancestor’s life and also presides over a memorial association in his honor, explained that Hanson played a central role in putting the United States on solid footing in the wake of the Revolutionary War.

“John Hanson and his Congress inherited a blank slate and had to create a government from whole cloth and they did -- and successfully,” Michael said. “If they hadn't, the United States might not have existed."

Under the Articles of the Confederation, the young United States was governed under a single unified government, without separate executive and legislative branches. And Hanson, as an elder statesman at age 66, was nominated by his peers in Congress to lead the fragile new government in 1781.

“The American icons of the Revolutionary period -- Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, [and] others -- looked to John Hanson as the one [who] twice saved the nation and also to Hanson's way with people,” Michael said. “When no one else could do it, he persuaded the six states with the western lands to cede the western lands.”

We also have Hanson to thank for Thanksgiving.

"Thanksgiving, as an observance, had been recognized since the days of the pilgrims,” Michael said. “But it fell to John Hanson to establish Thanksgiving as an official annual observed holiday. It became a paid holiday, and a day off, in the Franklin Roosevelt administration."

Hanson served a one-year term as president and died a year later in 1783.

But in the decades and centuries following his death, Hanson’s memory would be largely forgotten to history. So forgotten, in fact, that his home in Frederick, Maryland, was demolished in the 1980s (a replica has since been built in its place) and his grave, in Prince George’s Country, Maryland, was paved over to make way for a parking lot. The burial site remains unmarked today.

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Obama on Ferguson: 'This Decision Was the Grand Jury's to Make'

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama spoke at the White House Monday night, reacting to the Ferguson, Missouri, grand jury decision not to file charges against Police Officer Darren Wilson, who shot and killed Michael Brown on Aug. 9.

Obama emphasized the importance of the rule of law.

"We are a nation built on the rule of law and so we need to accept that this decision was the grand jury's to make," he said.

Obama also called on Americans to heed Michael Brown's family's wishes.

"Let me repeat Michael's father's words: 'Hurting others or destroying property is not the answer. No matter what the grand jury decides I do not want my son's death to be in vain,'" the president said. "I join Michael's parents in asking anyone who protests this decision to do so peacefully."

At the same time, the president also appealed to law enforcement officials in Ferguson to “show care and restraint."

"The situation in Ferguson speaks to the broader challenges we still face as a nation,” Obama said, noting that “a deep distrust exists between law enforcement and communities of color."

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Five Things We Learned from this Year's Medal of Freedom Ceremony

Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama on Monday honored 19 individuals with the nation’s highest civilian honor.

At the annual Medal of Freedom ceremony at the White House, the president heaped praise on the recipients, highlighting their distinguished and varied accomplishments. He also revealed some interesting anecdotes about the trailblazers:

1) Obama has a sweet spot for Stevie Wonder…

It turns out Stevie Wonder’s classic album Talking Book had a profound impact on Obama when he was growing up.

“This is, by the way, the first album I bought with my own money. I was 10 years old, maybe 11…with my own cash!” the president recounted, as the singer sat beside him. “I didn't have a lot of it.”

“And I listened to that thing -- that thing got so worn out, had all scratches -- young people, you won't remember this, but you had albums and they got scratched,” Obama added.

2) …But he loves Meryl:

“I love Meryl Streep,” the president proudly declared. “I love her. Her husband knows I love her. Michelle knows I love her. There's nothing either of them can do about it.”

“She's done it all for her craft. She's sung ABBA, which you know, that's something,” he joked. “She learned violin. She wore a nun's habit, faced down a charging lion, mastered every accent under the sun. She inhabits her characters so fully and compassionately.”

3) Sometimes you do want “nobody, nobody sent”:

Lauding the works of dedicated public servant Abner Mikva, Obama retold a story of his dogged determination.

As a young man, Mikva went to volunteer for a local committee in Chicago. When the committeeman asked who sent him, Mikva said, “Nobody.”

“The committeeman said, ‘We don’t want nobody, nobody sent,’” Obama explained. “That’s Chicago for you.”

“Despite that abrupt dismissal, Ab went on to devote his life to public service,” Obama said, including reforming the Illinois criminal code and going to great lengths to defend freedom of speech.

4) Marlo Thomas “sleeps well”:

Singling out the award-winning actress, producer, author and social activist, the president revealed what makes Thomas succeed: She’s a giver.

He explained how her father used to say there are two types of people in the world: the takers and the givers. “The takers sometimes eat better, but the givers always sleep better,” he would say.

“Marlo Thomas sleeps very well, because she's given so much,” Obama said.

5) And “you don’t mess with Ethel”:

“To most Americans, Ethel Kennedy is known as a wife, mother and grandma,” Obama said of Robert F. Kennedy’s widow.

“On urgent human rights issues of our time, from juvenile justice to environment destruction, Ethel has been a force for change in her quiet, unflashy unstoppable way. As her family will tell you -- and they basically occupy this half of the room -- you don't mess with Ethel,” he said.

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Three People Who Could Replace Outgoing Defense Sec. Chuck Hagel

William B. Plowman/NBC(WASHINGTON) -- Here are three people who could replace outgoing Defense Sec. Chuck Hagel:

Ashton Carter, Former Deputy Defense Secretary

Dr. Ashton Carter served as the Deputy Defense Secretary from October 2011 to December 2013, where he oversaw military budgeting during a troubling financial time for the department.

As Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics from April 2009 to October 2011, and continuing into his job as Deputy Defense Secretary, Carter was instrumental in supplying U.S. troops based in Iraq and Afghanistan with Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicles, or MRAPs, a counteract to IEDs.

He also served in the Clinton administration as Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy.

Carter graduated summa cum laude from Yale University with degrees in physics and medieval history, and received his doctorate at University of Oxford. Before Dr. Carter got involved in politics, he was chair of Harvard’s International and Global Affairs. Dr. Carter is also the co-author of several books on national security and defense.

Michelle Flournoy, Former Under Secretary of Defense

Michelle Flournoy, former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, became the Pentagon's highest ranking woman ever when she was confirmed by the Senate in 2009. A so-called “key architect” of President Obama’s national security policy, Flournoy served for three years as the principal adviser to then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.

In 2012, she stepped down from her Defense Department position to become a national security adviser on Obama's re-election campaign. She later joined the Boston Consulting Group as a senior advisor to the public sector.

Flournoy earned a bachelor’s degree in social studies from Harvard University and a master’s degree in international relations from Balliol College at the University of Oxford.

Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I.

Jack Reed, the senior senator from Rhode Island who just won re-election, is poised to become the top Democrat on the Armed Serves Committee in the next Congress.

In 2007, the West Point alumnus rose to national prominence when he delivered Democrats' response to then-President George W. Bush's State of the Union address, calling the war in Iraq "a flawed strategy that diverted attention and resources away from hunting down Osama bin Laden's terrorist network."

Prior to his election to the Senate in 1996, Reed served three terms in Rhode Island's State Senate and three terms in the U.S. House. After his graduation from West Point in 1971, he received an active duty commission in the Army, and earned a master's degree in public policy and later a law degree from Harvard.

Though Reed's name has been floated as a potential replacement, Reed's spokesperson says the senator "does not wish to be considered" for the Secretary of Defense or any other cabinet position.

"Senator Reed loves his job and wants to continue serving the people of Rhode Island in the United States Senate," said Reed's press secretary, Chip Unruh. "He has made it very clear that he does not wish to be considered for Secretary of Defense or any other cabinet position. He just asked the people of Rhode Island to hire him for another six-year term and plans on honoring that commitment."

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Obama Announces Hagel's Resignation

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama on Monday praised the work of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel as he announced his resignation, saying Hagel determined “it was an appropriate time for him to complete his service.”

As the lone Republican on his national security team and the first enlisted combat veteran to serve in the position, Obama explained that Hagel “has been no ordinary Secretary of Defense.”

“He understands our men and women like few others because he stood where they stood, he’s been in the dirt, and he’s been in the mud. And that’s established a special bond,” the president said in the State Dining Room. “He sees himself in them, and they see themselves in him. And their safety, their lives have always been at the center of Chuck’s service.”

The president said Hagel had been critical to helping his administration during a “significant period of transition,” as U.S. troops withdraw from Afghanistan and the Defense Department faces a host of budgetary challenges. The president also lauded Hagel’s role in tackling the immediate threat from ISIS and shepherding the administration’s response to the Ebola crisis.

“Thanks to Chuck, our military is on a firmer footing, engaged in these missions and looking ahead to the future,” Obama said.

On a personal note, the president thanked Hagel for showing how the two parties can come together.

Recalling that Hagel traveled with him to Iraq and Afghanistan in 2008, Obama said “it’s pretty rare, at a time when sometimes this town is so politicized, to have a friend who was willing to accompany a nominee from another party, because he understood that whoever ended up being president, what was most important was that we were unified when we confronted the challenges that we see overseas, and that’s the kind of class and integrity that Chuck Hagel’s always represented.”

“We come from different parties, but in accepting this position you send a powerful message, especially to folks in this city. And when it comes to our national security and caring for our troops and their families, we are all Americans first,” he added.

Hagel will stay on until his successor has been confirmed by the Senate. The president has yet to announce whom that may be, but he did drop Sen. Jack Reed’s name during his remarks, who is believed to be on his short list.

In brief remarks following the president, Hagel said it has been the “greatest privilege” of his life to lead the Defense Department.

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Rep.-Elect Debbie Dingell on What Her Husband John Is Not Telling Her

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call(WASHINGTON) -- Rep.-elect Debbie Dingell, D-Michigan, is no stranger to the halls of the Congress. Her husband, the 88-year-old dean of the House, Rep. John Dingell, has served on the Hill since 1955.

But now, Rep.-elect Dingell, 61, is set to take on the U.S. Congress herself -- representing her retiring husband’s old district in the 114th Congress.

On the campaign trail, she said, the two were careful to maintain a “concrete wall.”

“I needed to earn the respect of everybody in the 12th and have them to get to know me,” she told ABC News’ Jeff Zeleny.

Asked if her husband would act as an adviser during her tenure, Dingell told ABC, “I think that he’s really afraid to give me advice -- and I hope he gets over that.”

Rep.-elect Dingell, who just chose her new office last week, said she’ll likely use her husband’s desk. It also belonged to Dingell’s father, Rep. John Dingell Sr., who served in the House for 22 years.

“If I could have the desk that the man who authored Social Security and the man who sat in the chair and helped author Medicare and the Civil Rights Act [used], maybe it’ll inspire and help me to do good things while I’m here," Dingell said.

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Hagel Issues Statement to Defense Department on Resignation

Department of Defense/Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo(WASHINGTON) -- Chuck Hagel announced on Monday that he is stepping down as secretary of defense.

After President Obama accepted his resignation, Hagel issued the following statement to the men and women of the Defense Department:

I wanted to take this opportunity to let you know that this morning, President Obama accepted my letter of resignation.  I have agreed to continue to serve as Secretary of Defense until my successor is confirmed by the United States Senate.

You should know I did not make this decision lightly.  But after much discussion, the President and I agreed that now was the right time for new leadership here at the Pentagon. 

I want you to know that I am immensely proud of what we have accomplished together.  We have prepared ourselves, our Allies and the Afghan National Security Forces for a successful transition in Afghanistan.  We have taken the fight to ISIL and, with our Iraqi and coalition partners, have blunted the momentum of this barbaric enemy.  We have come to the aid of millions of people around the world who have suffered the ravages of natural disaster and of disease.  We have worked tirelessly to sustain our all-volunteer force that has given so much during 13 years of war.  And we have bolstered enduring alliances and strengthened emerging partnerships, all the while setting in motion important reforms that will prepare this institution for the challenges facing us in the decades to come. 

Most importantly, we have helped keep this country and our fellow citizens safe.  We have sustained the blessings of liberty our ancestors secured and upheld the oath we took.

That work will continue.  It must continue.  The world is still too dangerous, the threats too numerous, for us to lose focus.  And even as I promised the President my full support going forward, so, too, do I promise that I will work hard to support you right up until my last day in office.  I owe you that.

There will be time later to say farewell.  For now, please know how much I respect and admire your service and that of your families.  As I gather with my own family this Thanksgiving holiday -- a luxury I realize not all of you will enjoy -- it will be the privilege of having worked with you these last two years for which I will be most grateful.

Thank you for all you do for this country.  God bless you. Happy Thanksgiving.

Chuck Hagel
Secretary of Defense

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List of Potential Host Cities for 2016 DNC Shortened

Keith Spaulding/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The list of potential host cities for the 2016 Democratic National Convention has been narrowed down to three.

Democratic National Committee Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., announced on Monday that Columbus, Ohio, New York and Philadelphia are the remaining contenders.

“We are fortunate to have such a diverse and vibrant group of cities interested in hosting this special event and we thank Phoenix and Birmingham for showcasing their special communities," Wasserman Schultz said in a statement. "We look forward to working with Columbus, New York, and Philadelphia as we go forward.”

We're getting closer to a final decision on where we'll host @TheDemocrats' 2016 convention! Narrowed it down to Columbus, NYC, and Philly.

— D Wasserman Schultz (@DWStweets) November 24, 2014

The announcement came after a round of site visits by the DNC’s Technical Advisory Group to five cities.

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