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Victoria Kennedy’s Behind-the-Scenes Tour of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute

ABC News(BOSTON) -- Anyone can now experience the challenge of life as a U.S. senator.

The Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the U.S. Senate opens to the public this week in Boston, following a public dedication Monday attended by President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden as well as a bipartisan contingent of Capitol Hill colleagues of former Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy, who died of brain cancer in 2009 after serving nearly 47 years as the "Liberal Lion" of the Senate.

"Ted understood that the only point of running for office was to get something done. Not to posture. Not to sit there worrying about the next election or the polls. To take risk," President Obama said at the dedication on Monday. "There are Republicans here today for a reason – because they knew Ted as somebody who bridged the partisan divide over and over and over."

Victoria Kennedy, co-founder of the Institute that bears her late husband's name, gave ABC News' David Wright a behind-the-scenes tour last week, explaining her husband's vision for the institute, which was first discussed over a family dinner in 2002.

"Teddy said everybody knows about the presidency because there are presidential libraries, but the truth is that nobody understands or knows anything about the Senate. And he'd get that mischievous look in his eye and say, 'We're in Article 1 of the Constitution,'" Victoria Kennedy said. "And he was such a man of the Senate, loved it so much, he wanted people to feel that same way."

"He also thought about that next generation of men and women who would serve in the Senate, and he wanted them to get inspired to get into the public sphere," Kennedy added.

The institute, located next to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library at the University of Massachusetts at Boston, features a full-scale replica of the U.S. Senate chamber, as well as a recreation of Kennedy's Capitol Hill office filled with Kennedy family mementos.

But more than a museum, the Kennedy Institute is a high-tech civics class, using touch tablets to guide visitors through interactive exhibits on the history and functioning of the Senate. Student groups can participate in longer sessions in the replica Senate chamber, debating and voting on a legislative issue of the day, such as comprehensive immigration reform.

"What we're hearing from teachers is the whole way back from school, it's not like any other field trip, they're talking about the issues," Victoria Kennedy said. "They're engaged talking about what they just experienced, they want to come back and be senators again."

The Kennedys were the only three brothers in history to all serve as senators. John F. Kennedy was a senator from 1953 until his election as president in 1960, while Robert Kennedy was a senator from 1965 until his assassination in 1968. Ted Kennedy sat at JFK's desk in the back of the Senate chamber the entire time he served from 1962 until 2009.

"He was entitled to sit in the front row, move up with seniority because he certainly had a lot of that," Victoria Kennedy said while giving a tour of the replica Senate chamber in Boston. "But he always liked sitting in the back and I think it's because you can see everything from here. I think he also enjoyed being with younger, more junior members where he could talk to them."

Echoing President Obama's words Monday on Kennedy's legacy in the Senate, Victoria Kennedy says it was her husband's ability to connect with other senators through personal relationships that made him successful at legislating.

"Ted Kennedy reached across the aisle and he had great relationships across the aisle," Kennedy says. "He would listen until...they could find common cause and move an issue forward."

And while Washington remains gridlocked today, Kennedy says she hopes the institute will help teach its visitors, young and old, the value of debate and compromise.

"Legislating is hard and that's one of the things you learn when you go through this place....But what we're showing here is you need to look each other in the eye, talk, and find that nugget of common ground," Kennedy said.

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GOP Presidential Hopefuls Back Indiana 'Religious Freedom' Law

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Key Republican presidential hopefuls are backing Indiana's new Religious Freedom Restoration Act amid growing concern over possible discrimination against gays and lesbians when the law takes effect.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who announced his candidacy for the GOP nomination last week, said in a statement on Monday that he favors the new law.

"I want to commend Governor Mike Pence for his support of religious freedom, especially in the face of fierce opposition. There was a time, not too long ago, when defending religious liberty enjoyed strong bipartisan support," Cruz said in the statement. "Alas, today we are facing a concerted assault on the First Amendment, on the right of every American to seek out and worship God according to the dictates of his or her conscience. Governor Pence is holding the line to protect religious liberty in the Hoosier State. Indiana is giving voice to millions of courageous conservatives across this country who are deeply concerned about the ongoing attacks upon our personal liberties. I'm proud to stand with Mike, and I urge Americans to do the same."

Earlier on Monday, former Republican Sen. Rick Santorum said in a tweet he supports Pence.


I stand with @mikepence4gov in defense of religious liberty and real tolerance. Will speak about this at GW tonight. http://t.co/TDPWHw91pL

— Rick Santorum (@RickSantorum) March 30, 2015

But the law signed by Gov. Pence last week drew early reaction from likely 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.



Sad this new Indiana law can happen in America today. We shouldn't discriminate against ppl bc of who they love #LGBT http://t.co/mDhpS18oEH

— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) March 27, 2015

Just as opponents of the law have developed #BoycottIndiana, supporters are using #StandWithIndiana to show approval of the law and advocate for religious freedom.



I'm not ashamed of Freedom. #StandWithIndiana RT @INDprogressives: @RepWesco Thanks for shaming our State and losing millions.

— Timothy Wesco (@RepWesco) March 30, 2015

However, data shows there have not even been 700 tweets with this hashtag, and few public figures are using it to express support.



THANK YOU, @GovPenceIN for supporting the freedom of all of us. We do not need any changes to it. #StandWithIndiana #RFRA #packoflies

— Martha Robinson (@LegitMartha) March 30, 2015

RFRA didn't need clarification in 22 years & does not now either! #StandwithIndiana #RFRA #StandStrongPence #INGOP

— Deb Spencer (@capri93) March 30, 2015

And rather than discuss boycotts, or the negative publicity the law has brought to the state, Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard tweeted that there was more to his city than this law.



Indianapolis will not be defined by this. #IndyWelcomesAll

— Mayor Greg Ballard (@MayorBallard) March 30, 2015


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Americans Favor Deal With Iran by 2-1; Relations With Israel Are Highly Politicized

Juan Bernal/iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Americans by a 2-1 margin favor an agreement with Iran over its nuclear development program, even while broadly questioning whether a deal would, in fact, prevent Tehran from producing nuclear weapons.

A new national ABC News/Washington Post poll also finds sharply politicized views of U.S.-Israel relations, which have been strained by the two allies’ dispute over the advisability of an agreement with Iran.

In a result that supports the Obama administration’s position in the face of Republican and Israeli criticisms alike, Americans by 59-31 percent back a plan to lift major economic sanctions against Iran in exchange for restrictions making it harder for it to produce nuclear weapons.

The finding in the survey, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates, is in concert with longstanding preferences for diplomatic rather than military solutions to international conflicts, when possible. It comes as Secretary of State John Kerry seeks a framework for an agreement, working with negotiators from Iran, Great Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China. Their self-imposed deadline was Monday.

While still a clear majority, support for a deal has slipped slightly from 64 percent in November 2013. It comes even though 59 percent are not particularly confident that such an agreement would achieve its goal of preventing Iran from developing nuclear arms. Support endures because even among those who are “not so confident” that an agreement will work, most still think it’s worth a try. Among those who are not at all confident, by contrast, most are opposed.

Support for an agreement peaks at 72 percent among liberals and 68 percent among Democrats, but also draws majorities of moderates and independents, 63 and 60 percent, respectively. Indeed, it’s backed by 46 percent of conservatives and 47 percent of Republicans -- at least as many, in both groups, as oppose it. Forty-seven GOP U.S. senators wrote a letter to Tehran earlier this month opposing a deal, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accepted an invitation from Republican leaders to deliver an address to Congress criticizing the approach.

ISRAEL -- The poll finds both Obama and Netanyahu underwater in their handling of U.S.-Israel relations. Just 38 percent approve of Obama’s handling of relations with Israel, and 37 percent approve of Netanyahu’s work on relations with the United States. Fifty and 44 percent, respectively, disapprove.

There’s vast partisanship in these views, marking the sharply politicized nature of current relations between the two longtime allies. Obama’s approval for handling relations with Israel ranges from 66 percent among Democrats to 34 percent of independents and a mere 8 percent of Republicans. Opinions on Netanyahu run the other way; 59 percent of Republicans approve of his handling of U.S. relations, vs. 37 percent of independents and just 21 percent of Democrats.

Lastly, the poll finds essentially a split decision on the establishment of a Palestinian state, a cornerstone of U.S. policy that Netanyahu appeared to call into question during his recent re-election campaign. While many are undecided, 39 percent support establishment of a Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza Strip, while 36 percent are opposed. That’s backed off from 58-22 percent in a Gallup poll in June 2003, as the Bush administration pushed its “Roadmap for Peace.”

Rather than partisanship, ideology is the stronger factor in attitudes on a Palestinian state. Support ranges from 58 percent among liberals to 41 percent of moderates, then drops to 30 percent of “somewhat” conservative Americans -- and just 18 percent of those who are “very” conservative. Strikingly, there were no such divisions in 2003.

METHODOLOGY – This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by landline and cellular telephone March 26-29, 2015, in English and Spanish, among a random national sample of 1,003 adults. Results have a margin of sampling error of 3.5 points, including design effect.

The survey was produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates of New York, N.Y., with sampling, data collection and tabulation by Abt-SRBI of New York, N.Y.

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Marco Rubio to Announce 2016 Presidential Run Decision on April 13

US Senate(WASHINGTON) -- Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said Monday he will announce whether he will run for president at an upcoming event.

“I will announce on April 13 what I’m going to do next in terms of running for president or the U.S. Senate," Rubio said on FOX News' The Five.

Rubio, a first-term senator, is up for re-election to the Senate in 2016, but Florida law bars him from running for both the Senate and the presidency at the same time. If he chooses to run for president but loses, Rubio said he wouldn't fall back on a Senate bid as a backup plan.

"When you choose to do something as big as that, you’ve really got to be focused on that and not have an exit strategy," Rubio said earlier this year.

One of Rubio's potential presidential opponents, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, is planning on running for both offices in 2016. Earlier this month, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, became the first major presidential candidate to declare a 2016 presidential bid.

Should Rubio decide to run for president, he will likely face his old mentor -- former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Asked to assess how Bush's expected candidacy could affect his own race, Rubio said, "The time will come for comparison shopping."

Rubio also commented on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server for official business, saying it must be determined if she sent sensitive information using the private email.

"I think she has bigger problems than emails. Ultimately I don’t think she has an agenda that looks forward to the 21st century," Rubio said.

Rubio revealed he uses a private email of his own, but stressed that he never includes "sensitive" information in his messages.

"I don’t write anything that’s national security related in an email," Rubio said.

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Internet Reacts to Indiana's New 'Religious Freedom' Law

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Indiana's new Religious Freedom Restoration Act has quickly ricocheted to the top of Internet chatter and is the focus of tweets and posts from a range of public figures.

Although potential Republican presidential candidates remained mum on social media, the law signed by Gov. Mike Pence last week drew early reaction from likely 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton:


Sad this new Indiana law can happen in America today. We shouldn't discriminate against ppl bc of who they love #LGBT http://t.co/mDhpS18oEH

— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) March 27, 2015

Celebrities were quick to express their outrage as well, adding star power to the hashtag #BoycottIndiana. Data shows that this hashtag has been tweeted over 55,000 times since the bill was signed into law.

Actor George Takei tweeted his request for people to boycott the state:



Join me to #BoycottIndiana . Show Gov. #Pence we won't stand for bigotry in the name of religion.

— George Takei (@GeorgeTakei) March 27, 2015


 Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, made it clear his company would not allow discrimination to occur.


Apple is open for everyone. We are deeply disappointed in Indiana's new law and calling on Arkansas Gov. to veto the similar #HB1228.

— Tim Cook (@tim_cook) March 27, 2015


Around the world, we strive to treat every customer the same — regardless of where they come from, how they worship or who they love.

— Tim Cook (@tim_cook) March 27, 2015


Jeremy Stoppelman, the CEO of Yelp, hinted in an open letter that the law could impact business dealings in Indiana.


An Open Letter to States Considering Imposing Discrimination Laws http://t.co/2iNMMP0aIt

— Jeremy Stoppelman (@jeremys) March 27, 2015


Within Indiana, Indiana University, which is public and therefore funded by the state, tweeted its "concerns" about the law.


IU voices concerns over #Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act and reaffirms our commitment to equality. http://t.co/qkgDpMbsFg #RFRA

— Indiana University (@IndianaUniv) March 29, 2015

Angie's List, an Indianapolis-based company, announced it will withdraw its campus expansion proposal:

Angie's List will withdraw campus expansion proposal due to passage of #RFRA http://t.co/N4s7mFhhl6

— Angie's List (@AngiesList) March 28, 2015

Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy announced on Twitter that he would ban state-funded travel to Indiana, following the lead of Seattle Mayor Ed Murray.

Because of Indiana's new law, later today I will sign an Executive Order regarding state-funded travel. -DM

— Governor Dan Malloy (@GovMalloyOffice) March 30, 2015


When new laws turn back the clock on progress, we can’t sit idly by. We are sending a message that discrimination won’t be tolerated. -DM

— Governor Dan Malloy (@GovMalloyOffice) March 30, 2015

But not all response to the law on social media has been negative. Just as opponents of the law have developed #BoycottIndiana, supporters are using #StandWithIndiana to show approval of the law and advocate for religious freedom.

THANK YOU, @GovPenceIN for supporting the freedom of all of us. We do not need any changes to it. #StandWithIndiana #RFRA #packoflies

— Martha Robinson (@LegitMartha) March 30, 2015


RFRA didn't need clarification in 22 years & does not now either! #StandwithIndiana #RFRA #StandStrongPence #INGOP

— Deb Spencer (@capri93) March 30, 2015

And rather than discuss boycotts or the negative publicity the law has brought to the state, Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard tweeted that there was more to his city than this law.

Indianapolis will not be defined by this. #IndyWelcomesAll

— Mayor Greg Ballard (@MayorBallard) March 30, 2015


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NCAA President 'Surprised,' 'Disappointed' by Indiana Law

Eddie Perlas / ESPN Images(INDIANAPOLIS) -- NCAA President Mark Emmert, an early critic of Indiana's new "religious freedom" law, says it could be a problem for future NCAA events in Indiana -- like the 2016 women's Final Four -- and is backing efforts within the state to change or repeal it.

"Whether it’s repeal or whether it’s some language change that makes it self-evident that there’s no discriminatory practices that could be condoned under this model is a decision they’re going to have to make, but they need to deal with it," Emmert told ESPN in an interview Monday.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence last week signed into law Indiana Senate Bill 101, a version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act on the books in other states and at the federal level. It simply states that the government must prove a higher threshold of government interest when enforcing widely applied laws where they infringe on anyone's free exercise of religion.

Both opponents and supporters have said it would allow for businesses to deny services to gays and lesbians, for instance if a Christian wedding photographer were uncomfortable being hired to photograph a gay wedding.

Indiana's Republican House speaker and Senate president pro tem said earlier on Monday that they will push their colleagues to make changes to the bill to clarify that it is not intended to allow denial of services based on sexual preference.

The law is slated to go into effect this July.

The NCAA is headquartered in Indianapolis, where the men's basketball Final Four will be played this weekend, and Emmert was one of the first figures outside politics to voice "concern" over the law when Pence signed it last week.

In the interview Monday, Emmert said the NCAA is proud that it has championed diversity for its athletes and employees and alluded to future problems for sporting events -- and the NCAA's presence -- in the state if the law stands.

"For us personally in the NCAA, this is a big deal. We’re very proud of the environment we’ve created here, and we don’t want to lose that. We don’t want to have it put at risk," Emmert said.

Emmert also hinted that the NCAA could move next year's women's basketball Final Four if the law stands.

"We have to evaluate this," Emmert said. "We, the NCAA, have to sit down and say, if this environment remains where it is, what does this mean for us going forward?"

In an interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos over the weekend, Pence would not say whether the law would allow for denial of services to gays and lesbians, and Emmert said recent statements by Indiana public officials have left uncertainty over what the law does.

"Before we get that far down the road [in repealing or changing the law], we need to get a better feel for what it really means," Emmert said.

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Spokesman for Mo. State Auditor Who Committed Suicide Found Dead

iStock/Thinkstock(JEFFERSON CITY, Mo.) -- Just over a month ago, Missouri state auditor Tom Schweich committed suicide in what has been described at least partially as a result of an alleged whisper smear campaign. Now, Schweich’s spokesperson has been found dead, also apparently caused by a self-inflicted gunshot wound, authorities said.

Jefferson City police spokesman Capt. Doug Shoemaker told reporters Monday the "initial investigation" into the death of Robert "Spence" Jackson "gives detectives the reason to believe this is most likely a suicide.”

In the days after Schweich’s death, Jackson was vocally critical of Missouri GOP Chairman John Hancock.

Schweich, also a Republican, believed Hancock was at the helm of a whisper campaign ahead of Schweich's gubernatorial run spreading an incorrect rumor that he was Jewish. Jackson, 44, was vocal after Schweich’s death that Hancock was at the center of the anti-Semitic attack, but Hancock has denied the allegations.

A .357 magnum with one spent round was found in the “general vicinity” of Jackson’s body. Police would not confirm whether Jackson owned the gun, but they believe Jackson killed himself sometime in the early part of the weekend, either Friday or Saturday.

After repeated attempts at making contact with her son, Jackson’s mother reached out to police and they found Jackson’s body in his Jefferson City apartment on Sunday night.

Shoemaker did confirm a note was found, but would not comment on its contents whatsoever and would not say whether it would ever be made public. Jackson’s body was found in his bedroom and there was “no sign of a struggle,” according to Shoemaker.

When asked if there were others in the apartment at some point, he would only say that is part of their “open investigation.”

There were no reports of sounds of a gun shot over the weekend, police said, adding Jackson’s last contact with anyone was on Friday.

Police said they “fully understand” the political issues surrounding the case and they “understand” Jackson worked for Schweich, but “it doesn’t mean we do anything more or less then for anybody else. We try to treat everyone the same…if there are more complexities in this case due to the nature of it, we will certainly investigate it.”

The police did acknowledge the higher profile nature of the case saying, "What we’re going to uncover, I don’t know. ...We want to make sure we have some level of closure for the family.”

They are doing an autopsy and expect initial results possibly as soon as Monday, but toxicology results will not be ready for weeks, authorities said.

Police would not answer any detailed questions citing respect to Jackson’s family, as well as the “open investigation,” but they will “back track” the last days of Jackson’s life to try and get more information for as long as they need in order to “find some definitive information.”

Jackson was previously the spokesman for former Gov. Matt Blunt, also a Republican. He put out a statement calling Jackson a “gifted communicator.”

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Indiana House Speaker 'Disappointed' in Gov. Mike Pence After ABC Interview

ABC News(INDIANAPOLIS) -- One of the top Republicans in Indiana says he was "disappointed" with how Gov. Mike Pence addressed questions about Indiana's new "religious freedom" law in an interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos on This Week Sunday.

"We were disappointed," Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma, a Republican, told ABC's Gio Benitez. "He failed to answer that question on national TV [Sunday]."

In an interview with ABC News, Pence repeatedly dodged questions on whether or not the new law could allow businesses to deny services to gays and lesbians, citing religious reasons for doing so.

Senate Bill 101, which Pence signed into law last week, is a version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act on the books in other states and at the federal level.

Both socially conservative supporters and pro-gay-rights opponents of the law say it paves the way for wedding-related businesses to refuse to provide cakes or flowers to gay weddings, for instance. The law simply states that the government must prove a higher threshold of governmental interest in order to enforce widely applied laws if they infringe on the free exercise of religion.

Bosma and Indiana Senate President Pro Tem David Long hastily arranged a news conference Monday morning to say that, in their view, the law would not allow businesses to deny services to gays and lesbians -- and that they want to amend it to clarify that point.

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Indiana Lawmakers Will Push for Update to 'Religious Freedom' Law

iStock/Thinkstock(INDIANAPOLIS) -- Indiana's top two Republican legislators will push for an update to the state's controversial "religious freedom" law, the pair said at a news conference Monday, following a wave of national backlash to the state's newest law.

"Hopefully by doing this we'll put the whole issue to rest," Indiana Senate President Pro Tem David Long told reporters at the State Capitol.

Major corporations, athletes, celebrities and gay-rights activists have lambasted the state's legislature and governor for enacting Senate Bill 101, a "religious freedom" law that states government must clear a higher threshold when enforcing laws that contradict citizens' or corporations' religious beliefs.

Both socially conservative advocates of the bill and pro-gay-rights opponents have said the bill could allow businesses to deny services to gays and lesbians based on their sexual preference. A Christian wedding photographer, for instance, could refuse to photograph a gay wedding by claiming it violated his or her religious beliefs, activists on both sides have said.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed the bill last week, stating in a press conference after he signed it that the law was not meant to promote discrimination.

Indiana State House Speaker Brian Bosma on Monday clarified that the bill was not intended to do that. Bosma called it a "misconception" that the law "allows the denial of services to any Hoosier. It doesn't do that."

Bosma and Long said they will "encourage" their legislative colleagues to pass an update to the bill in the four remaining weeks of their legislative session to specifically address that issue, saying both sides -- supporters and critics alike -- have mischaracterized what the bill would mean for gays and lesbians.

That question has been unclear since Pence signed it into law. In an interview with George Stephanopoulos on ABC's This Week Sunday, Pence repeatedly dodged specific questions on whether the bill could mean denial of services for gays and lesbians, if companies claimed religious grounds for doing so. Pence repeatedly stated the bill was not about discrimination and had been mischaracterized.

Long and Bosma criticized Pence and said his ABC interview prompted them to call the press conference.

Pence "did not answer questions clearly" in that interview, Bosma said. Pointing to their interpretation that the law will not mean denial of services, Long said, of Pence, "It would've been helpful if he said that yesterday."

Major groups and corporations from Apple to Angie's List to the NCAA and the NBA have released statements expressing a range of "concern" and condemnation of the law. Social conservatives like Bob Vander Plaats of the influential Iowa-based group FAMiLY Leader have praised Pence and the law.

The fallout over SB 101 also hangs over the 2016 presidential race, as Pence has said he's considering a run for the GOP nomination and will reportedly finalize his decision sometime this spring.

Similar laws are on the books in other states, including neighboring Illinois. A similar federal law was signed by president Bill Clinton.

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Obama Calls for Bipartisanship: 'Get Something Done'

The White House(BOSTON) -- President Obama made a passionate appeal for bipartisanship and civility at the dedication of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate in Boston Monday.

“We live in a time of such great cynicism,” Obama said. “What if we carried ourselves more like Ted Kennedy?”

“Ted understood that the only point of running for office was to get something done. Not to posture. Not to sit there worrying about the next election or the polls. To take risk,” the president said of the former Massachusetts senator, who died of brain cancer in 2009 after serving almost 47 years in the Senate.

“There are Republicans here today for a reason,” Obama said. “Because they knew Ted as somebody who bridged the partisan divide over and over and over. They knew him as somebody who kept his word.”

The U.S. Senate is “a more diverse, more accurate reflection of America than it used to be and that is a grand thing, a great achievement. But Ted grieved the loss of comradery and collegiality, the face-to-face interaction. I think he’d regret it, the arguments now made to cameras rather than colleagues, directed to a narrow base instead of the body politic as a whole…It leads more Americans to turn away in disgust and simply choose not to exercise their right to vote,” the president said.

Obama told the audience he and the first lady had been praying for Officer John Moynihan, the Boston police officer shot on Saturday. Moynihan was formerly honored at the White House as one of the nation’s “Top Cops.”

The president also alluded briefly to the Iran negotiations, quoting President John F. Kennedy: “Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.”

Known as the “liberal lion of the Senate,” Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., endorsed Obama during the Democratic primary in 2008, helping to legitimize what began as a long-shot campaign against then-frontrunner Hillary Clinton.

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Senator Demands Release of Hopkins Black Lung Report

Photodisc/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — U.S. Sen. Robert Casey, Jr. is demanding to see the findings of a Johns Hopkins internal review of a controversial radiology program that for years reviewed x-rays of coal miners on behalf of coal companies and rarely found miners to have serious black lung disease -- decisions that helped prevent them from obtaining much-needed financial support.

“My constituents and coal miners and their families who have suffered the effects of black lung and the wrongful denial of black lung benefits claims are waiting for answers,” wrote Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat, in a letter to Johns Hopkins Medicine CEO Dr. Paul Rothman Friday. “In the interest of full disclosure and transparency, I strongly urge you to publicly release the findings of your review.”

Johns Hopkins announced the internal review in 2013, two days after the broadcast of a joint investigation by ABC News and the Center for Public Integrity that looked at more than 1,700 cases Johns Hopkins took up on behalf of coal companies over a decade. In those cases Hopkins’ leading black lung expert, Dr. Paul S. Wheeler, never concluded, even once, that a miner had severe black lung. After the broadcast, Johns Hopkins suspended the program, pending the outcome of the internal review.

Nearly a year-and-a-half later, the school has completed its review, but won’t say whether medical opinions from Johns Hopkins doctors were skewed to favor coal companies over America’s coal miners.

“The review has always been intended as an internal evaluation and will remain confidential,” said Kim Hoppe, a Johns Hopkins spokeswoman.

Hoppe said Johns Hopkins doctors have not resumed reading lung x-rays for the coal industry, which paid millions of dollars to have doctors from the renowned hospital render their expert opinions in black lung benefits cases. Scores of those medical readings were used by coal company attorneys to thwart claims from coal miners who believed they were entitled federal financial relief because they had been stricken with black lung disease while working underground, the ABC News-CPI investigation found.

“Given the alarming findings of the investigative reports into the matter, I am surprised that, after almost a year and a half, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine has chosen to withhold findings that have clear implications for miners and their families, the American public and the federal government,” Casey wrote in his letter to Rothman.

“There are still many questions left unanswered following the revelation that since 2000 Dr. Wheeler had not found one case of complicated pneumoconiosis in over 1,500 black lung claims and in more than 3,400 x-ray readings,” Casey wrote. “The coal miners whose x-rays were read by Dr. Wheeler and their families deserve more information.”

Hoppe told ABC News earlier in March that “decisions coming out of the review are being deliberated.”

Among the miners affected by Dr. Wheeler’s x-ray readings was Michael “Steve” Day of West Virginia, who died in 2014. As in dozens of other cases, an autopsy found that, contrary to Dr. Wheeler’s opinion, Day did indeed have advanced black lung disease and should have been eligible for benefits.

“It proved to everybody that [Dr. Wheeler] was wrong,” said Patience Day Williams, Steve Day’s daughter. “We knew it all along.”

Day’s autopsy report said his lungs were clogged with coal dust -- the disease had spread into 85 percent of his lungs.

Wheeler had read his x-rays as negative for severe black lung, arguing that despite 34 years working in underground coal mines, Day’s lung problems could have been the result of a fungal disorder common in the Ohio River Valley. A pulmonary expert interviewed by ABC News last year, Dr. Jack Parker of West Virginia University, called that conclusion “intellectually dishonest.”

In brief comments to ABC News after the initial report aired, Wheeler continued to defend his findings, saying he believes the Hopkins review will prove that his conclusions were justified.

“Johns Hopkins commends all efforts to review the federal Black Lung Benefits Program to ensure the claims process is fair and just for all parties involved,” Hoppe said in an email in to ABC News.

Since announcing the probe, Hopkins officials repeatedly refused to answer ABC News questions about their look into the issues raised in last year’s series of reports on the obstacles that ailing miners were encountering when trying to collect federal black lung benefits. Johns Hopkins declined to make anyone involved in the internal review available for an interview, and declined to answer questions about who conducted the independent look back.

Wheeler told ABC News in an interview earlier this year that the review was overseen by a top Washington, D.C. law and lobbying firm.

Since the ABC News report, the Department of Labor has ruled that coal miners can reapply for benefits if the coal company had relied on Wheeler’s medical opinions for their case.

With help from an attorney, Day immediately reapplied for his roughly $1,000 monthly disability benefit. Word arrived two months after his death that the Department of Labor approved his benefit.

“If Dad had been here, honey, I bet you anything he’d be hootin’ and hollerin’,” Day’s daughter said. “I think that he would find great justice in it.”

ABC News contacted Johns Hopkins about the letter Friday, and a hospital spokesperson has thus far declined to provide a comment for this report.

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Obama to Visit Kenya in July

Pete Souza / The White House(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama will head to Kenya this summer, marking his first visit to his father's birthplace since taking office in 2009, the White House announced on Monday.

While there, Obama will hold bilateral meetings and participate in the 2015 Global Entrepreneurship Summit, which Kenya is co-hosting, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said in a statement.

The president's trip in July will "build on the success of the August 2014 U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit and continue our efforts to work with countries in sub-Saharan Africa, including Kenya, to accelerate economic growth, strengthen democratic institutions, and improve security," Earnest said.

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Californians High on Legalized Pot, More Water and Obama

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — If President Obama is considering a political career after the White House, he might want to consider running for governor of California.

Unlike national polls that have consistently shown more people disapproving of the job he's doing than the other way around, 55 percent of respondents to a survey by the Public Policy Institute of California approve of Obama's job performance with just 41 percent giving the president a thumbs down.

One thing in Obama's favor is that 52 percent generally favor his health care law while 42 percent are opposed to it, figures that run contrary to polls that are taken nationally.

As for the most pressing issue facing California, the economy and the state's problematic water supplies due to drought are essentially tied at 24 percent and 23 percent, respectively, among the 1,760 residents polled.

Two-thirds of Californians, in fact, say their regional water supply is a big problem and an equal number don't believe the state is doing enough to combat the drought.

Asked whether the sale and possession of marijuana should be legal in California, a record number -- 53 percent  -- said yes while 45 percent are against legalization.

One other finding that appears to buck the national mood: half of the state's residents believe that California is going in the right direction. Just 41 percent say otherwise.

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Gov. Martin O’Malley: Presidency Not a Crown to be Passed Between Two Families

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Gov. Martin O'Malley, the former Democratic governor of Maryland who is considering a run for the White House, said Sunday that new leadership is needed as the country heads toward the 2016 presidential race.

"The presidency of the United States is not some crown to be passed between two families. It is an awesome and sacred trust to be earned and exercised on behalf of the American people," O Malley told ABC's George Stephanopoulos on This Week Sunday.

When asked whether he was referring specifically to the Clinton and Bush families, the former governor said simply that the principle would apply to any two families.

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John Kerry Staying in Switzerland for Iran Nuclear Talks

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- As the clock continues to tick down on a nuclear deal with Iran, Secretary of State John Kerry has canceled a planned return to the United States.

Kerry will remain in Switzerland as the Iran nuclear talks approach their deadline.

Foreign ministers from six world powers are trying to reach a deal with Iran before a self-imposed deadline on March 31.

The focus of any deal would be to restrict Iran's nuclear program in return for easing sanctions.

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