White House(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama hosted trick-or-treaters from 39 schools in Washington, Virginia and Maryland on Friday night, handing out candy, healthy snacks and other goodies.
The president, who was not in costume, saluted one boy dressed as a Navy sailor, while Halloween-themed music played in the background, including Michael Jackson's "Thriller," "The Monster Mash" and the theme song from The Addams Family, among others. The trick-or-treaters walked across the South Drive to the South Portico of the White House.
Volunteers carved 200 pumpkins for the event.
The first family handed out an assortment of treats, including a box of White House Hershey kisses, a bag of black licorice and orange tangerine jelly beans, a White House sweet dough butter cookie, an apple, kettle corn, baseball cards featuring first dogs Bo and Sunny, and an assortment of other candies.
Credit: Architect of the Capitol(WASHINGTON) -- Attack ads are among the oldest tools in the political playbook -- and 2014 has seen its share.
Here are seven of the most controversial ads of 2014:
Candidate: Wendy Davis, Democrat
Race: Texas gubernatorial race
In “Justice,” Democrat Wendy Davis uses a photo of an empty wheelchair to make a political point. Her Republican opponent, Greg Abbott, is paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair. Despite a backlash, Davis defended the ad, which is the most-viewed YouTube video on this list. Abbott brushed off the ad, saying, "if [Davis] wants to attack a guy in a wheelchair, that's her prerogative. As for me, I'm running a different type of campaign."
Sponsoring Organization: National Republican Congressional Committee
Race: Nebraska 2nd Congressional District race
“Nikko” attempts to tie Democratic candidate Brad Ashford to a prison inmate’s quadruple murder while out on early release under Nebraska’s “good time” law. The Ashford campaign called the ad a desperate move from Republicans and the accusations in the ad "baseless." Critics have slammed the ad for supposedly playing up racial stereotypes, and have compared it to the “Willie Horton” ad used against 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis. The NRCC fired back by saying the ad sheds light on Ashford's record, and expressed confidence in GOP candidate Lee Terry's campaign.
3. “Largest Ever”
Candidate: Alison Lundergan Grimes, Democrat
Race: Kentucky Senate race
In “Largest Ever,” Democratic candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes attempts to set the record straight on her stance on immigration and attacks Sen. Mitch McConnell for voting for “amnesty” for immigrants. The ad is getting flak from liberal groups like Latino Victory Project and MoveOn.org because Grimes uses the term “illegal aliens” to refer to undocumented immigrants. Grimes has not directly responded to their criticism.
4. “Crime Scene”
Candidate: Mark Begich, Democrat
Race: Alaska Senate race
Critics pounced when Sen. Mark Begich used one of the most horrific crimes in Anchorage's history to attack his Republican opponent, Dan Sullivan. The ad cites a case in which an elderly couple was murdered and their 2-year-old granddaughter was sexually assaulted, and blames Sullivan for letting sex offenders get off with what it suggests are short sentences. Begich’s campaign also faced backlash for not taking down the commercial immediately after the family asked it to stop showing it. A spokesman for the Begich campaign said that they had notified the family before running the ad and the family did not seem opposed. After receiving a letter from the family's lawyer, the ad was pulled from air, Begich’s campaign site and Begich’s YouTube page.
5. “Stalker Gap”
Sponsoring Organization: Americans for Responsible Solutions
Race: Arizona 2nd Congressional District race
Sponsored by Gabby Gifford’s PAC, Americans for Responsible Solutions, this ad tells the story of Vicki, a mother whose husband and daughter were shot by the daughter’s ex-boyfriend, then ends by saying GOP congressional candidate Martha McSally “opposes making it harder for stalkers to buy a gun.” The Arizona Republic called the ad “vile” and a “murder indictment” of McSally. The ad drew further criticism when McSally revealed that she was a victim of stalking. ARS stood by their ad but then then pulled the ad after McSally said she always supported changing the "stalker gap."
6. “Restore Leadership”
Candidate: Allen Weh, Republican
Race: New Mexico Senate race
Weh’s ad seeks to tie his Democratic opponent, Sen. Tom Udall, to Obama’s policies to combat ISIS. Critics deemed the spot offensive because it features a still image, albeit brief, of American journalist James Foley’s executioner. Weh defended the ad, telling ABC News, “That video is rough, but that's the unvarnished truth.”
7. “When the Moment is Right”
Candidate: J.D. Winteregg, Tea Party Republican
Race: Ohio’s 8th Congressional District
In this Cialis spoof, John Boehner’s primary challenger, J.D. Winteregg, attacks the speaker’s many years in Congress, mocks his last name and alleges “electile dysfunction.” The ad got Winteregg noticed but also cost him his job as an adjunct professor at Cedarville University, a Christian college. Although he lost a job and the primary election, Winteregg said he has no regrets about airing the ad.
Andregric/iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The Department of Health and Human Services released a report on Friday that showed Medicare paid for HIV medication for more than 100 patients who were already dead.
The study was undertaken, the Office of the Inspector General said, because of "ongoing concerns about Medicare paying for drugs and services after a beneficiary has died." Using their enrollment database, the Social Security Administration's Death Master File and alternate death records, the OIG determined that at least 150 dead patients received HIV medication.
The study only looked at HIV drugs, which accounted for one quarter of one percent of all Medicare Part D drugs in 2012. The department says that the findings have implications for all such drugs, however.
"We recommend that [the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] change its practice of paying for drugs that have a date of service within 32 days after the beneficiary's death," the report read. That change aims to "prevent inappropriate payments for drugs for deceased beneficiaries and lead to cost savings for the program and for taxpayers."
BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- When President Obama walked into Gregg’s Restaurant and Pub in Providence, R.I., for a surprise lunch on Friday with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gina Raimondo, the devil was waiting.
And so were a few Flintstones and a pirate.
After meeting the restaurant’s owner, the aptly named Bob Bacon, the president headed straight to the sweets -- it is Halloween after all -- and ordered a sinister “Death by Chocolate” cake from the devil, a server in disguise.
"The word is that the chocolate-layer cake here is deadly and it's devilish, and so for Halloween, this is the kind of sin that we want to commit,” Obama said, noting he would share the 20-pound cake with the crew on Air Force One.
The president then ordered a less-devilish, but perhaps more deadly entree: a burger, medium well, with the works and fries.
When one of the servers noted “Michelle’s not going to be happy about that,” the president told her. “You know what, you don’t have to tell.”
The Halloween fun will continue Friday evening, when the president and first lady host pint-sized goblins, superheroes and princesses at the White House. The tiny trick-or-treaters, local school kids and children of military families will be rewarded with candy and, of course, some first lady-approved healthy snacks.
Obama did in fact share the massive chocolate cake. He negotiated a deal with the press aboard AF1 -- cake in exchange for letting Press Secretary Josh Earnest skip the planned gaggle.
iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The Obama administration is giving an unprecedented number of political appointees top diplomatic positions, a move that has long frustrated career Foreign Service officials but has become a renewed point of contention this week with the departure of Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns, the only career foreign service officer in the top echelons of Foggy Bottom leadership.
Burns, who served more than three decades as a diplomat, announced earlier this week that he would be heading to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. His replacement has not yet been announced. The most talked-about candidates are Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken or current Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, both of whom would be political appointees.
It’s actually the norm for a political appointee to get the deputy slot. In the 41-year history of that position, Burns is the exception to the rule. But career officials say their wider concern is political appointees’ total takeover of all the top State Department positions, not only at the deputy level but also at the next-highest level, the undersecretary for political affairs slot, or the “P” position.
And even Burns, a seasoned diplomat who had recently helped in secret talks to get Iran to the negotiating table over its nuclear program, recognized the prevalence of political appointees serving in the White House’s National Security Council and alluded to frustration among the career ranks in a parting letter he wrote for Foreign Policy.
“The revolution in communications technology and the increasing role of both the National Security Council staff and other agencies over successive administrations have tended to bring out the more passive (or sometimes passive-aggressive) side of the State Department,” Burns wrote.
These are the kinds of concerns that Robert Silverman, the president of the American Foreign Service Association, made up of Foreign Service officers, says he’s hearing from his members.
“They care deeply about who their leadership is. They also care deeply about who their direct supervisor is. And here in Washington, that is increasingly people from outside the system with no experience in this position who take a lot of special handling,” Silverman told ABC News.
He noted that the top positions are not only concerned with the issues that the secretary of state works on, such as ISIS, Iran and North Korea, but also more the more mundane tasks that keep the department running, like those of the passport agency or child custody cases.
“We’re not opposed to political appointees -- it’s important to bring in outsiders with fresh perspectives,” he added. “It’s just completely out of balance.”
Another reflection of that lack of balance cited by AFSA and others is the ratio of political appointees to career officers that President Obama has chosen to serve as foreign ambassadors. In his second term, 41 percent of his ambassadorial appointees have been political, versus 58 percent career. His record over both terms is 64 percent career, 35 percent political -- second only to the record of George W. Bush, for whom political appointees counted as 36 percent of his total ambassadorial nominations.
But State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki rejected the notion that the influx of political appointees in the top leadership positions represented a lack of emphasis on the Foreign Service.
“While it would be inappropriate to speculate about pending decisions and nominations about the Department’s senior leadership, everyone should rest assured knowing that the secretary doesn't just respect but reveres the institution that is the Foreign Service,” she said, adding that Secretary of State John Kerry is the son of a foreign service officer and has appointed more career officers in assistant secretary positions than “at any time in recent memory.”
iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- As of Thursday, early voting had begun in every one of the 33 states (plus Washington, D.C.) that offer it.
More than 12 million voters have so far cast their votes for the 2014 midterm elections, which is almost double the tally from last week. Why the big jump?
A lot of it has to do with more states getting into their in-person early voting periods, which is the preferred early-voting method for the majority of Democrats.
That also means some earlier Republican gains around the country are diminishing.
But with Thursday’s total early vote tally representing about 63 percent of the total 19 million early voters in the 2010 midterm cycle, there are still plenty of early vote returns we’ll see before Tuesday.
iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — You thought the battles over Obamacare were over after the nail-biting 2012 decision by the Supreme Court upholding a core provision of the law, right? Wrong.
In fact, the justices are meeting behind closed doors Friday to discuss a different challenge to the law that could, ultimately, be fatal to the future of the Affordable Care Act.
This challenge targets tax subsidies granted to those who seek to obtain insurance from the American Health Benefit Exchanges, often referred to simply as exchanges. The ACA grants the credits to qualifying individuals in order to defray the cost of insurance.
Sixteen states and the District of Columbia have established exchanges for themselves, while 34 states have opted to allow the Federal government to do so. According to the government, some 7.3 million people have obtained insurance through the exchanges.
But challengers of the law say its text grants subsidies only for those on the state exchanges, not the federal exchanges. They say lawmakers thought that every state would establish exchanges, and in fact only 16 did. Here’s the relevant paragraph in their brief to the Supreme Court:
In its briefs, the Obama administration scoffs at the challenge, saying there is no way Congress would have intended such an “absurd” result. Supporters of the law acknowledge, however, if this battle is lost it's unlikely the rest of the law could survive.
There are similar cases percolating in the lower courts, and it's likely the Supreme Court will hold off for now and only step in after those courts have ruled. But supporters of the health care law are worried that two years after the Supreme Court barely upheld the law, this challenge might be the final blow.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(DETROIT) — Senator Rand Paul said Thursday, "The Republican Party brand sucks."
The comment is extreme even for the Kentucky Republican who has complained publicly that his party has done a poor job trying to be more inclusive of those who traditionally vote for Democrats.
During his visit to suburban Detroit, Paul, who is likely running for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination, compared his party to an admission once made by Domino’s Pizza that said roughly, "Hey, our pizza crust sucks."
He then went on to say, "The Republican Party brand sucks and so people don’t want to be a Republican and for 80 years, African-Americans have had nothing to do with Republicans."
Paul believes that when the GOP starts building a presence in communities it has shunned in the past, "We’re going to win votes like we’ve never won before."
In response, Republican National Committee spokesman Sean Spicer said the party is proud of the effort it’s made to reach out to minorities.
US Senate(WASHINGTON) -- Safety concerns prompted the decision to put in place a 21-day quarantine for American troops serving in the Ebola mission in West Africa, top Pentagon officials said Thursday.
Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters that he and the other Joint Chiefs of Staff believe a quarantine makes sense for the 4,000 troops that will be assigned to Liberia for a six-month period.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel signed off on Wednesday on the recommendation made by the Joint Chiefs that the Defense Department impose a quarantine for returning troops. That order went further than guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that travelers from Liberia should self-monitor for symptoms for 21 days, but not under quarantine conditions.
“We did factor in science,” Dempsey said. “Physics is the science we factored in.”
Dempsey made a distinction between civilian health care volunteers treating Ebola-infected patients and the large military force headed to Liberia.
“This is not about small groups of people who are transient. There’s protocols for that,” Dempsey said. “It’s also not about health care professionals in direct contact with Ebola. There’s protocols for that.”
While American troops will not be providing any health care, their six-month deployments will keep them there longer than health care volunteers who stay for one to two months because of what he called the, “intense environment for them.”
“This is about a major military operation and big things on a global scale. And so we took a conservative approach and we’ll assess it in 45 days,” said Dempsey. “But we’re going to keep them safe.”
Hagel said that his decision to agree to the Joint Chiefs recommendation “was thoroughly reviewed by health care professionals in each of the services in the Office of the Secretary of Defense.”
Hagel said he was mainly focused on the security of the men and women in uniform, which is why he thought, “it was a smart, wise, prudent, disciplined, science-oriented decision based mainly on what the chairman just articulated, but also the reality of what else is going on.”
Hagel acknowledged the public debate about, “every decision, every issue, and every part of that by decision-makers.” But he said, “You have to analyze it based on what you think is the right thing to do for your people, and that’s the decision we made and why we made it.”
Photo by Wendy Maeda/The Boston Globe via Getty Images(BOSTON) -- After former Boston Mayor Tom Menino passed away on Thursday, politicians locally and nationally remembered him fondly.
Describing Menino's, "sheer determination and unmatched work ethic," current Boston Mayor Martin Walsh said that Menino, "took a city that is not as big in size as we are in stature and put us on the world stage as a national leader in health care, education, innovation and the nitty gritty of executing basic city services."
"Because of his leadership," Walsh said of his predecessor, "Boston is a better place today."
President Obama remembered the former mayor as a "bold, big-hearted" man who was "Boston strong." The president noted that Menino's, "legacy lives on in every neighborhood he helped revitalize, every school he helped turn around, and every community he helped make a safer, better place to live."
Secretary of State John Kerry, a Senator from Massachusetts for 18 years, put it simply: "Tom Menino was Boston." Praising his, "big bold beating heart of a street politician" and asserting that Menino still, "is Boston today," Kerry said that while, "others talked, Tommy worked."
Inset photos: (t) US Congress / (b) US Senate(WASHINGTON) -- A new Quinnipiac University poll out Thursday morning is bad news for Colorado Sen. Mark Udall in one of the most closely watched races this cycle.
The poll shows Udall's Republican challenger, Rep. Cory Gardner, leading the Democrat by seven points -- 46 to 39 percent -- in Colorado's Senate race. Seven percent are for Independent candidate Steve Shogan, while another 7 percent are still undecided.
This gap between Udall and Gardner is slightly wider than last week's poll, which showed Gardner leading by five points.
There is also a significant gender gap in this race, but it benefits Gardner more. He is leading among men 51 to 38 percent, while women back Udall 45 to 39 percent.
Only 10 percent of likely voters in Colorado could still change their mind, according to the poll. That's enough to make up the difference, but with only five days before Election Day, there's not much time to convince them.
Inset photo: Joni Ernst for US Senate(WASHINGTON) -- Joni Ernst’s campaign may have skyrocketed into infamy thanks to few hogs, but late Wednesday night a deer brought the Republican state senator from Iowa to a halt.
“Reports are true. RV did hit a deer. No one injured. Campaign will continue on,” Ernst’s campaign account tweeted shortly after the collision.
Ernst followed up with a tweet herself, assuring the public that everyone on the bus was safe.
Thank goodness we are all okay RT @JoniForIowa: Reports are true. RV did hit a deer. No one injured. Campaign will continue on. #iasen
Inset photos: Office of the Florida Governor(WASHINGTON) -- Florida’s gubernatorial race is still extremely tight, but former Republican governor now Democratic candidate Charlie Crist has inched ahead slightly, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll out Thursday morning.
Crist leads incumbent Republican Gov. Rick Scott 43 percent to 40 percent. Libertarian candidate Adrian Wyllie has 8 percent, while 9 percent of voters are still undecided.
Last week, the two were deadlocked at 42 percent.
Crist seems to have made some inroads with independent voters and leads among them by a significant 47 to 29 percent.
Among early voters, it’s still very tight with Crist at 40 percent and Scott at 39. Only 10 percent of Florida voters say they could change their mind at this point.
As for favorability in this race, voters now give Crist a split 45 percent favorability; Scott is underwater at 41 to 46 percent.