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How Bernie Sanders Is Attracting Monster Crowds (and Whether Hillary Should Be Worried)

Posted on: July 2nd, 2015 by ABC News No Comments

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images(MADISON, Wis.) — “Bernie-mentum.” No one is quite sure how to spell it, but Bernie Sanders supporters definitely feel the growing momentum for their underdog candidate.

“Hopefully, Webster dictionary will recognize it as a new word soon,” said volunteer Tyson Manker of Jacksonville, Illinois, who drove five hours to help at Sanders’s massive rally in Madison, Wisconsin, on Wednesday night.

Campaign spokesperson Michael Briggs called the turn-out impressive but not a surprise. “We had been getting indications all along that there was that much interest,” Briggs told ABC News over the phone Thursday morning.

The event was not an anomaly either. In June, 5,500 people came out to see Sen. Sanders in Denver, Colorado. In May, another 3,500 people attended a rally in Minneapolis, Minnesota, for Sanders. And approximately 5,000 people gathered in April in his hometown of Burlington, Vermont, for his campaign launch, roughly the same number who attended frontrunner Hillary Clinton’s campaign kickoff event in New York City.

“Also impressive,” Briggs added, “In Rochester, Minnesota, this morning — on a Thursday morning — we had 600 people for an hour-long town hall meeting,” The list of these smaller, but still relatively impressively well-attended events goes on and on. In the end of May, 300 people turned up for an event for Sanders in Kensett, Iowa, a rural town where only around 240 people live.

The campaign gauges interest in upcoming events based on RSVPs through their website and has had to change venues on more than one occasion based on a large number of people signed up to attend. It has already changed its venue for an event in Portland, Maine, on Monday, where the campaign expecting over 5,000 people to attend.

All this buzz is translating to movement in the polls, too. According to a Quinnipiac poll out Thursday, the independent Vermont senator now trails Clinton (52–33 percent) among likely Democratic Iowa caucus goers. And in New Hampshire, WMUR has Sanders within eight points of Clinton (43-35), when just two months ago a previous poll there had him down by over 20 points.

Sanders does not have a PAC and he says he does not want donations from corporations. Still, according to a note out from the campaign today, he has raised an impressive $15 million since launching his campaign on April 30. They say that total comes from 250,000 individual donors, with the average donation size around $33 dollars.

“Some campaigns have a machine, Sanders has a ground swell of support where people are doing their part,” Mankner said.

“Fundamentally different kind of campaign,” he continued. “People are taking ownership. … There is no centralized leader.”

Sanders likes to tell the crowds that come out to see him that his campaign is not about him, but is instead “a political revolution.” It is a message that resonates with grassroots organizers from labor groups, the Occupy Wall Street movement, and the former “Ready for Warren” campaign that has now pivoted to Sanders. These organizers used their online networking experience to amplify his message and effectively get the word out for upcoming events.

“A lot of people have been disenfranchised from the system and Bernie is a candidate that people can rally behind,” said Shana East, an artist and activist from Chicago who helped organize the website and social media campaign “People for Bernie,” which now has sub-chapters for almost every state and major city.

“Bernie is a candidate that people can rally behind. He has a lot of integrity. They feel like he is not just another political puppet,” she added. “People are coming out of the woodwork who want to get involved. We are helping to empower them so they feel like their role is important.”

Through the group’s website, those interested in Sanders can organize a “meetup” event and “People for Bernie” will help promote it. They are also taking the time to train people on how to use Twitter and Facebook. The group successfully facilitated 99 events (symbolic of “the 99 percent”) in the first week of Sanders’ campaign and have held nationwide conference calls every two weeks since.

Super volunteers like East see themselves as playing a key role traditionally reserved for a paid campaign staffer. “We knew how important it was for the media to see how many people are backing Bernie,” she said about the event in Madison. “We have artists making memes, making video and sharing it.”

“We can show visually this isn’t some crackpot candidate. He has a following. It is a movement,” she said.

Although Sanders would be the oldest president ever elected, he has an impressive social media presence himself. His Senate Facebook page has over 1.3 million likes and his campaign page is catching up, with over 700,000. In addition, his campaign has adopted a method of signing up supporters at events for text message alerts.

Sanders’s Iowa director, Pete D’Allesandro, said the mega-events and his on-the-ground effort in the Hawkeye State go hand-in-hand. “They help build enthusiasm for us here,” he said. “Because of social media, you can see the increase in the Bernie and Iowa supporter pages.”

Last Sunday, Sanders told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos he was riding the momentum all the way to the White House.

“We are going to win New Hampshire. We’re going to win Iowa and I think we’re going to win the Democratic nomination, and I think we’re going to win the presidency,” he said.

Copyright © 2015, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

President Obama Mocks GOP Nominating Contest as Political "Hunger Games"

Posted on: July 2nd, 2015 by ABC News No Comments

ABC News(LACROSSE, Wis.) — What if the presidential nominating process were like Hunger Games?

Well, President Obama suggested on Thursday that the GOP field has enough candidates to try it out.

“I’ve lost count how many Republicans are running for this job. They’ll have enough for an actual Hunger Games,” Obama joked during a speech in LaCrosse, Wisconsin.

The president was in Wisconsin to outline a proposal to update a Department of Labor rule that would giving some 5 million Americans a pay raise through raising the threshold for employees required to receive overtime pay. But the speech also became one of the president’s most aggressive offensives yet against the Republican 2016 field.

The president called the GOP field of presidential hopefuls “an interesting bunch” and said that while they are good people, their ideas are bad. He even compared them to the sort of wacky “Uncle Harry” who joins the family for Thanksgiving dinner.

“You still love him, he’s still a member of your family, right? But you’ve got to correct him, you don’t want to put him in charge of stuff. That’s all I’m saying,” he said.

The president also directly dinged Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who filed Thruday with the Federal Election Commission as a presidential candidate, ahead of an official campaign launch on July 13.

Without mentioning directly Walker by name, Obama took a swing at the governor’s policies in the state he was addressing.

“We’ve seen what happens when top-down economics meets the real world,” Obama said. “We’ve got proof right here in Wisconsin. You had a statewide fair pay law that was repealed. Your right to organize and bargain collectively was attacked, per student education funding was cut, your minimum wage has been stuck in place.”

On the topic of his new overtime pay policy, President Obama said it will ensure that people are getting a “fair day’s pay” for “a hard day’s work.”

“It’s one of the single most important steps we can take to help grow middle-class wages,” Obama said. “It’s going to give as many as 5 million Americans, including 80,000 folks right here in Wisconsin, the overtime protections they deserve. It’s the right thing to do. The right thing to do.”

Under the new rule, employers will be required to pay employees earning less than $50,440 time-and-a-half when their work week exceeds 40 hours, up from the current threshold of $23,660.

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Copyright © 2015, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Jim Webb Announces 2016 Democratic Presidential Bid, Challenging Hillary Clinton

Posted on: July 2nd, 2015 by ABC News No Comments

Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images(FALLS CHURCH, Va.) — Former Virginia senator and author Jim Webb will officially seek the Democratic presidential nomination, he announced on Thursday, acknowledging that he will face an uphill battle against Hillary Clinton.

“After many months of thought, deliberation and discussion, I have decided to seek the office of the Presidency of the United States,” he wrote in a more than 2,000-word statement posted on his campaign website.

The letter highlighted Webb’s military experience. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps and was awarded two Purple Hearts and several other distinctions in the Vietnam War. Webb also served as Secretary of the Navy and as an Assistant Secretary of Defense.

“There is no greater responsibility for our President than the vital role of Commander in Chief,” he wrote. “Let me assure you, as President I would not have urged an invasion of Iraq, nor as a Senator would I have voted to authorize it,” he continued drawing a clear distinction between himself and Clinton, who voted for the war.

He also criticized several other initiatives from the Obama White House.

“I would not have been the President who used military force in Libya during the Arab Spring,” he wrote, adding: “I would not be the President to sign an executive order establishing a long-term relationship with Iran if it accepts Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons.”

He has been traveling the country in recent weeks, speaking to voters in several of the state, including Iowa, that hold early nominating contests.

But Webb faces long odds. A poll out on Thursday from Quinnipiac University shows Webb barely registering among likely Democratic caucus-goers in Iowa. According to the poll, he garners the support of around 1 percent of Democrats.

“I understand the odds, particularly in today’s political climate where fair debate is so often drowned out by huge sums of money,” he wrote. “But our country needs a fresh approach to solving the problems that confront us and too often unnecessarily divide us.”

Webb also the author of five books, including Fields of Fire, a novel published in 1978 about the Vietnam War.

Copyright © 2015, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Why America Ferrera Is Saying ‘Thank You!’ to Donald Trump

Posted on: July 2nd, 2015 by ABC News No Comments

Jason Merritt/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Actress and activist America Ferrera joined the growing ranks of Donald Trump opponents on Thursday, arguing in an online missive that the real estate mogul’s recent comments about Latinos are backfiring.

“I heard what you said about the kind of people you think Latino immigrants are — people with problems, who bring drugs, crime and rape to America. While your comments are incredibly ignorant and racist, I don’t want to spend my time chastising you,” she wrote in a piece published on the Huffington Post. “Instead, I’m writing to say thank you!”

In the letter, the former Ugly Better star added: “What you just did with your straight talk was send more Latino voters to the polls than several registration rallies combined!”

Ferrera, who is of Honduran descent, noted that by associating Mexican immigrants with crime, rape and drugs, Trump’s tactic has served to, “energize Latino voters and increase turnout on Election Day against you and any candidate who runs on a platform of hateful rhetoric.”

Ferrera’s letter is a direct response to discredited statements Trump made in his presidential announcement speech last month, saying, “When Mexico sends its people… They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”

She pointed out that Latinos are both the youngest and fastest-growing constituency in the United States, offering Trump the following statistics: “You are running for President in a country where the Latino population grew by over 49 percent from 2000-2012, while the rest of the country grew by 5.8 percent. What’s more, we are the future. The median age of the average Latino is 27 years old, compared to 42 years old for white Americans. In case you need a translation, that means there are a whole lot of Americans who are Latino and have the right to vote. And, we’re not going anywhere.”

Ferrera ends the letter by urging Trump to “Keep it up!”

Ferrera is the latest Latina star to speak out against Trump’s statements, including Ricky Martin, Shakira and Eva Longoria. In recent days, a number of businesses — including Univsion, NBC and Macy’s — have also suspended their contracts with Trump.

Ferrara is not officially part of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign but she has been very active with the Clinton Foundation, and specifically Hillary and Chelsea Clinton’s “No Ceilings” initiative, which aims to expand opportunities for women and girls.

Trump’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Copyright © 2015, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Rick Perry: Democrats Have Failed African Americans

Posted on: July 2nd, 2015 by ABC News No Comments

Stewart F. House/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Rick Perry was in Washington, D.C. Thursday, taking on the issue of race.

The former Texas governor told the National Press Club that the Democratic party has failed African Americans.

“I am here to tell you that it is Republicans, not Democrats, who are truly offering black Americans the hope of a better life for themselves,” Perry said.

The presidential hopeful invoked President Obama several times, saying the country’s first black president has left black voters behind by focusing on big budget programs and not jobs.

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Today on the Trail — 7/2/15

Posted on: July 2nd, 2015 by ABC News No Comments

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — Where will the 2016 presidential candidates be on Thursday?

Read on below to find out their campaign schedules:

Bernie Sanders

The Vermont senator will be in Iowa, where he’ll hold town-halls at Iowa Central Community College in Fort Dodge at 4 p.m. ET and Morningside College in Sioux City at 8:30 p.m. ET.

Chris Christie

The New Jersey governor will be in New Hampshire for a town-hall at the Pink Cadillac Diner in Rochester Thursday morning, a roundtable in Portsmouth at 12 p.m. ET, an endorsement event at Martha’s Exchange in Nashua at 3 p.m. ET, and a house party in Spofford at 5:15 p.m. ET.

Rick Santorum

The former Pennsylvania senator will respond to the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage ruling in a keynote speech to a National Organization for Marriage gala in Washington, D.C. at 6:30 p.m. ET.

Rand Paul

The Kentucky senator will be in Iowa for a meet-and-greet at Grand River Center in Dubuque at 9:30 a.m. ET and another at a farm in Brooklyn at 3:30 p.m. ET.

Mike Huckabee

The former governor of Arkansas continues his Iowa religious-liberty town-hall tour with events at the Best Western Starlite Village in Fort Dodge at 8:30 a.m. ET, Pepper Sprout in Dubuque at 12:30 p.m. ET, and The Drake Restaurant in Burlington at 6:30 p.m. ET.

Bobby Jindal

The Louisiana governor will be in Iowa, where he’ll visit the Pizza Ranch in Rock Rapids at 12:30 p.m. ET, Rebo’s in Sioux City at 1 p.m. ET, Jolly Time Popcorn Factory in Sioux City at 2:15 p.m. ET, and Gary’s on the River in Spencer at 6:30 p.m. ET.

He’ll attend a town-hall at Sioux City Museum in Sioux City at 7:45 p.m. ET, and he’ll hold a “‘Big Parade and Mardi Gras Festivale’ Event” at Tysons Events Center in Sioux City at 8:45 p.m. ET.

Martin O’Malley

The former governor of Maryland will be in Iowa, where he’ll visit Southwest Iowa Renewable Energy at 12:30 p.m. ET, a house party in Creston at 5:30 p.m. ET, and a meet-and-greet at Draught House in Waukee at 8 p.m. ET.

Copyright © 2015, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

New Poll Shows Sanders ‘Gaining Ground’ on Clinton Among Iowa Democrats

Posted on: July 2nd, 2015 by ABC News No Comments

US Congress(NEW YORK) — Bernie Sanders “gaining ground” on Hillary Clinton, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday.

The Vermont senator appears to be closing the gap between him and Clinton in the Iowa Democratic Caucus. He is now trailing Clinton, the front-runner, 52-33 percent among likely Democratic Caucus participants, say the poll results.

Vice President Joe Biden has 7 percent, compared to a 60- 15 percent Clinton lead over Sanders in a May 7 survey of likely Democratic caucus-goers by the independent Quinnipiac University.

In Thursday’s survey, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley has 3 percent, while just one percent favor former U.S. Sen. James Webb of Virginia.  

Another 5 percent, according to the poll, are undecided.

Seven percent of Democrats say they would definitely not support Biden, Webb or former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, while 6 percent would not support Clinton.

Copyright © 2015, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker to Announce 2016 Plans on July 13

Posted on: July 2nd, 2015 by ABC News No Comments

ABC News(WASHINGTON) — Scott Walker will announce his presidential intentions on July 13, aides to the Wisconsin governor confirm to ABC News.

The announcement will come in the afternoon in Waukesha, Wisconsin.

Walker will also officially file his candidacy with the Federal Election Commission on Thursday.

The news comes on the same day that Walker will greet President Obama on a tarmac in La Crosse, Wisconsin.

Obama is coming to Walker’s home turf to tout a plan to give a pay increase to some five million Americans through updating a Department of Labor rule that sets the threshold for overtime pay.

Walker is using the presidential visit as an opportunity to contrast himself with the status quo Democratic agenda, releasing a statement calling the president’s overtime pay proposal “empty political rhetoric.”

“The president’s effort is a political pitch but the reality is this will lead to lower base pay and benefits and will cut workers’ hours and flexibility in the workplace,” Walker says in the statement.

Walker on Thursday also penned a new op-ed in which he broadly contrasts his economic agenda to that of the president’s.

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How Harry Reid Is Fighting for Burning Man

Posted on: July 1st, 2015 by ABC News No Comments

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — The Senate’s top Democrat has joined the ongoing fight between the Burning Man arts festival and the Bureau of Land Management over adding amenities to the famed do-it-yourself celebration.

The agency, which administers government-owned land, has asked organizers to construct a million-dollar compound for officials supervising the event, which is held on federal land.

In a letter to U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, slammed the BLM’s “outlandishly unnecessary” demands as out of touch with the spirit of Burning Man.

Among other amenities, the facility would include washing machines, flushing toilets and 24-hour access to ice cream, according to documents obtained by ABC News.

“Part of Burning Man’s philosophy is self-reliance and living with the elements is part of the experience,” Reid said in the letter. “Flush toilets and laundry facilities can be found about ten miles away … if BLM’s employees need such amenities.”

The request comes as event organizers and federal officials negotiate the term of the permit for this year’s event.

Federal officials maintain that the accommodations are needed to support staff monitoring the growing event in its remote location, a spokesperson said. Festival organizers say the requests are excessive, and not cost-effective.

Nearly 70,000 people flocked to last year’s festival, a famously grungy affair in the Nevada desert where attendants camp out, bring their own food and share bathrooms.

Reid isn’t the only politician to side with Burning Man over the federal government.

Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nevada, told the Gazette-Journal that the demands were “over the top,” while Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nevada, has also raised his concerns with BLM Director Neil Kornze.

“The BLM … appears to be asking for the Black Rock Desert version of the Four Seasons hotel as a condition of the permit,” he said in a statement to ABC News.

The Bureau of Land Management is now reassessing its original proposal, according to a spokesperson.

The story was first reported by the Reno Gazette-Journal.

Copyright © 2015, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Here Are All the Companies That Have Dumped Donald Trump

Posted on: July 1st, 2015 by ABC News No Comments

ABC News(WASHINGTON) — It’s only been two weeks since he entered the presidential race, but billionaire Donald Trump has already seen some of his most prominent business relationships go up in smoke following remarks he made about Mexico on the very first day of his campaign.

“When Mexico sends its people they aren’t sending their best,” Trump said at his announcement event last month from Trump Tower. “They are bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they are rapists and some are good people but I speak to border guards and they tell us what we’re getting.”

In light of those comments, several of the business partners Trump has cultivated over the years decided they no longer wanted to be in business with the Donald. Here’s a look at who has dumped Trump.

Univision

The first domino to fall was the largest network aimed at Hispanics across the globe, Univision.

“We see first-hand the work ethic, love for family, strong religious values and the important role Mexican immigrants and Mexican-Americans have had and will continue to have in building the future of our country. We will not be airing the Miss USA pageant on July 12th or working on any other projects tied to the Trump Organization,” the company said in a statement.

In an interview with ABC News’ Tom Llamas, Trump said, “I love the Mexican people, I have great respect for Mexico.”

In response to Univision dropping the pageant, Trump filed a $500 million lawsuit this week against the company for damages.

Televisa

Following Univision, the Mexico-based broadcaster fired Donald Trump for his comments saying in part, “Mr. Trump hasn’t demonstrated understanding or respect toward Mexican migrants and has offended the entire Mexican population.”

Televisa also owns the Mexican equivalent of Trump’s Miss USA pageant and said they would not be sending a representative to compete in Miss Universe.

Farouk Systems

Farouk Systems Inc, which owns hair care brands such as CHI and BioSilk, said they too are done with the Donald.

“Our company is multicultural with people of Latin American descent making up a large percentage of our employees and loyal customers,” company CEO Basim Shami said in the statement. “As a company proudly founded on the concept of coming to the USA in pursuit of the American Dream, Mr. Trump’s comments do not and will never reflect our company’s philosophy or practices.”

NBCUniversal

The network that has worked with Trump for both Miss Universe and his hit reality television series, The Apprentice, also said goodbye to the Donald this week.

“Due to the recent derogatory statements by Donald Trump regarding immigrants, NBCUniversal is ending its business relationship with Mr. Trump,” the company said in a statement.

NBC said Celebrity Apprentice is licensed from Mark Burnett’s United Artists Media Group and that relationship will continue. Trump fired back, saying, “If NBC is so weak and so foolish to not understand the serious illegal immigration problem in the United States, coupled with the horrendous and unfair trade deals we are making with Mexico, then their contract violating closure of Miss Universe/Miss USA will be determined in court.”

Macy’s

The magic of one of America’s biggest retail giants is no longer with Trump. Macy’s pulled its star away from the Donald today, saying in part, “We do not believe the disparaging characterizations portray an accurate picture of the many Mexicans, Mexican Americans and Latinos who have made so many valuable contributions to the success of our nation.”

“In light of statements made by Donald Trump, which are inconsistent with Macy’s values, we have decided to discontinue our business relationship with Mr. Trump and will phase-out the Trump menswear collection, which has been sold at Macy’s since 2004,” the retailer added.

Trump responded by saying it was actually his decision to end the relationship with Macy’s: “Clearly, NBC and Macy’s support illegal immigration, which is totally detrimental to the fabric of our once great country. Both Macy’s and NBC totally caved at the first sight of potential difficulty with special interest groups who are nothing more than professional agitators, who are not looking out for the people they purport to represent, but only for themselves. It is people like this that are actually running our country because our leaders are weak and ineffective.”

Even New York City, where the Trump Organization is based, is beginning to question its relationship with Trump.

“We are reviewing Trump contracts with the City,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement. “Donald Trump’s remarks were disgusting and offensive, and this hateful language has no place in our city. Trump’s comments do not represent the values of inclusion and openness that define us as New Yorkers. Our Mexican brothers and sisters make up an essential part of this city’s vibrant and diverse community, and we will continue to celebrate and support New Yorkers of every background.”

Copyright © 2015, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Marco Rubio Will Oppose Confirmation of a Cuba Ambassador

Posted on: July 1st, 2015 by ABC News No Comments

John Paul Filo/CBS(WASHINGTON) — For the first time in five decades, President Obama announced Wednesday that the U.S. will resume full diplomatic relations with Cuba, but Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, isn’t ready to embrace the news.

A staunch opponent of the normalization of relations with Cuba, the republican senator and presidential candidate Marco Rubio issued a statement issued Wednesday in response to the president’s announcement.

“It remains unclear what, if anything, has been achieved since the President’s December 17th announcement in terms of securing the return of U.S. fugitives being harbored in Cuba, settling outstanding legal claims to U.S. citizens for properties confiscated by the regime, and in obtaining the unequivocal right of our diplomats to travel freely throughout Cuba and meet with any dissidents, and most importantly, securing greater political freedoms for the Cuban people,” he said.

Rubio said he intends to oppose any confirmation of an Ambassador to Cuba until the issues he sees as unresolved are addressed.

“It is time for our unilateral concessions to this odious regime to end,” he said.

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Obama: ‘New Chapter’ Begins as US, Cuba Will Open Embassies

Posted on: July 1st, 2015 by ABC News No Comments

BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — President Obama hailed the start of a “new chapter” Wednesday as he announced the U.S. and Cuba are opening embassies in their respective capitals later this month and formally reestablished diplomatic relations between the two countries for the first time in more than 50 years.

“Today I can announce the United States has agreed to formally establish diplomatic relations with the Republic of Cuba” and open embassies in the two countries, the president said in the Rose Garden Wednesday.

The Cuban government announced it would open its embassy in the U.S. on July 20. The U.S. is expected to launch its embassy in Havana later that week.

Obama announced his intent to move forward with restoring ties between the two countries following the Dec. 17 prisoner exchange and humanitarian release of Alan Gross.

In the following seven months, top American and Cuban diplomats have met in a series of meetings in both countries to discuss issues surrounding normalizing relations.

Tuesday morning, the chief of the interest section, Jeffrey DeLaurentis, delivered a letter from Obama to Cuban President Raul Castro to officially re-establish diplomatic relations.

In May, the U.S. removed Cuba from the list of countries supporting terrorism, where it was listed since 1982. In April, Obama and Castro sat down for a historic meeting in Panama, the first time the two leaders engaged in a substantive conversation in-person.

The major sticking point as of the last round of talks, for Americans, has been the freedom for staff to move throughout the country; for the Cubans, it was courses provided to Cuban journalists by the U.S. government at the interests section in Havana, which they say fall outside normal diplomatic activities.

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Your Member of Congress Could Be a Taylor Swift Fan

Posted on: July 1st, 2015 by ABC News No Comments

ABC/Richard Harbaugh(WASHINGTON) — Nothing brings Congress together like Taylor Swift.

Members are holding at least 19 fundraisers around the pop star’s two Washington, D.C. concerts in mid-July, according to the Sunlight Foundation, which tracks political fundraising.

While tickets can be found on Swift’s website for about $180, members are asking supporters for as much as $5,000 in political contributions in exchange for concert seats at Nationals Park on July 13 and 14.

“With so much competition for time and money, politicians are always looking for new and creative ways to fund-raise,” said Jenn Topper, a spokesperson for the Sunlight Foundation.

Swift has been a major draw for politicians since 2010, Topper said, citing the nonprofit’s data. But members traditionally take advantage of any well-known musician in town — from Bruce Springsteen, to the Jonas Brothers.

While both Republicans and Democrats in Congress have plans for Swift’s shows, the 25-year-old singer has kept her own political affiliation ambiguous.

Swift voted for the first time in 2008, and told People Magazine she said she “went with her gut instinct” in the voting booth.

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Hillary Clinton Emails: Nearly 2,000 Messages Released by State Department

Posted on: June 30th, 2015 by ABC News No Comments

ABC News(WASHINGTON) — The State Department has released nearly 2,000 emails sent and received by Hillary Clinton in her first year as Secretary of State, according to officials and the agency’s website.

The release Tuesday evening is the first in a federal court-ordered rollout that will make 55,000 pages of Clinton’s emails available on the department’s website by Jan. 29, 2016.

Judge Rudolph Contreras of the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. said in May the State Department should “aspire” to release 7 percent of the documents by the end of June, with an increasing percentage of documents released every 30 days.

It was not clear how many pages were included in the 1,925 emails. Click here to read the emails.

In May, the department released 296 emails from Clinton’s private email account related to the September 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Those emails previously had been released to the House Select Committee on Benghazi, which has been investigating the attack for more than a year.

Clinton, the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination, has previously said on the campaign trail that she wants the State Department to make all her emails public.

State Department spokesman John Kirby said Tuesday the correspondence covers from March to December of 2009. The 9 p.m. release time, Kirby said, was not a news dump.

“This is really a function of physics for us,” Kirby told reporters. “There is a lot of e-mails to get through, we have a deadline we have to meet, and we are doing everything we can to reach that 7 percent goal for release as ordered by the courts.”

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Michelle Obama Welcomes Girl Scouts for White House Campout

Posted on: June 30th, 2015 by ABC News No Comments

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Michelle Obama welcomed a group of fifty Girl Scouts to the White House on Tuesday night for a campout on the Pennsylvania Avenue lawn.

“This is the first time we’ve ever done a campout on the South Lawn on the White House,” Obama said Tuesday night, telling the girls that they were “making history.”

The event is part of the first lady’s Let’s Move Outside intiiative that aims to get children active.

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Jeb Bush Releases 33 Years of Tax Returns

Posted on: June 30th, 2015 by ABC News No Comments

ABC News(WASHINGTON) — Jeb Bush released 33 years worth of tax returns on his campaign website on Tuesday, making public information including his worth and effective tax rate.

Bush’s 33 years of returns are, according to his campaign, the most ever released by a presidential candidate. Bob Dole released 30 years of returns during his campaign.

His campaign says that Bush is worth between $20 and 22 million, and has made $28.5 million in the seven years since he left office in early 2007.

In 2013, Bush paid an effective tax rate of 40.3 percent. On average, he paid 36 percent in taxes — a higher rate than the Clintons or President Obama paid in 2014.

The documents also note that Bush has averaged an income of $1.1 million per year in speaking fees since leaving office.

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Trump Files $500 Million Lawsuit Against Univision

Posted on: June 30th, 2015 by ABC News No Comments

ABC News(WASHINGTON) — Donald Trump filed a $500 million lawsuit against Spanish-language network Univision after the company decided to terminate its contract with Trump’s Miss Universe Organization and not broadcast the upcoming Miss USA pageant.

Univision decided that it would not air the pageant after comments Trump made when he announced his campaign for the presidency. Trump said that immigrants coming from Mexico to the U.S. were bringing “crime” and “drugs,” were “rapists” and not Mexico’s best. He stood by those comments on Monday, when he called NBC — who said it would not air the Miss USA pageant — “weak.”

“Nothing I stated was different from what I have been saying for many years,” Trump said in a statement Tuesday. “I want strong borders, and I do not support or condone illegal immigration.”

Trump’s statement also explains the lawsuit. “As a consequence of their inappropriate actions,” Trump says, “Univision and NBC have abandoned fifty one wonderful young women who have come from all over the United States to pursue their dream of being crowned Miss USA.”

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CIA Study Finds Low Minority Representation in Agency’s Senior Ranks

Posted on: June 30th, 2015 by ABC News No Comments

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — A new internal CIA report has concluded that the agency has not done a good job of promoting minorities to its senior leadership ranks. Concerned by the report’s findings CIA Director John Brennan vowed to implement the report’s recommendations noting that a lack of diversity at the agency’s highest levels has not allowed it to optimize its capabilities at a crucial time in its history.

“Without diversity we’re not going to be able to do our job,” said Brennan.

“The record clearly suggests that the senior leadership of the agency is not committed to diversity,” said the yearlong study led by Vernon Jordan, a prominent African-American attorney. Commissioned by Brennan in January 2014, the Diversity in Leadership Study team also included former senior CIA officials and retired Adm. Mike Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The study included data from 28 focus groups, 200 interviews with senior leaders and a survey where 41.5 % of the CIA workforce responded to questions about overcoming barriers to advancement.

“The fact is there has been little progress over the past several decades in diversifying the leadership cadre and pipeline and in sustaining the hiring of diverse officers,” said the study.

The report found that minorities make up 23.9% of the agency’s entire workforce, but those percentages decreased in management positions with minorities making up only 10.8% of the agency’s Senior Intelligence Service (SIS) – the CIA’s highest ranking officials.

Speaking to reporters at the CIA’s headquarters Brennan said he was “frustrated” by the low percentage of minorities within the SIS. He supported the study’s recommendation that the number of minorities in senior leadership positions be increased to at least 30 percent.

The study also found what Brennan labeled a “surprising” and “significant” decline in minority recruitment numbers since 2008. He speculated that an improving economy and strong competition from the private sector might be playing a role in the decreasing recruitment of minorities into the CIA’s ranks.

“I’m determined to see those numbers improve,” said Brennan.

In strong language the report said “the agency does not recognize the value of diverse backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives, nor consistently promote an inclusive, ‘speak-up’ culture where all opinions are heard, valued, and taken into account.”

Brennan stressed that diversity is important to avoid “group think” among the CIA’s analysts and operators and that a lack of diversity in the top ranks “has not allowed us to optimize the capabilities we have.”

The study was critical of the agency’s current leaders, managers, and supervisors that it said “do not prioritize diversity in leadership.” It said that was exemplified by the CIA’s most senior positions which “with few notable exceptions – are consistently occupied by white male career officers.”

“This is not just another study,” said Brennan, who promised action to remove the impediments the report said prevented minority officers from rising through the ranks. “We need to fix that.”

That includes the establishment of a newly established “Training Center for Excellence” which he said would work to improve recruitment numbers and help promote officials to higher ranks.

Brennan said another impetus for change is the recent integration of the CIA’s operations and analysis divisions into mission centers. He said the sweeping reorganization he announced earlier this year would help eliminate the stove-piping that may prevented minority advancement in the past. He said the changes have already led to the creation of new management positions, some of which have been filled by minority candidates.

The CIA director said meeting the report’s recommendations would not be like tuning on “a light switch.” Instead, he described a multi-year effort working towards short-term and long-term goals that “shows we’re not kidding, this is real this time.”

Despite the presence of few role models in senior agency leadership positions, the survey found that minority officers are more likely to aspire to senior leadership positions than non-minority CIA employees.

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Obama on Iran Talks: Still ‘Hard Negotiations’ to Be Done

Posted on: June 30th, 2015 by ABC News No Comments

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — President Obama said the U.S. and the P5+1 partners must still engage in “some hard negotiations” with Iran before finalizing a deal on Iran’s nuclear program.

“There’s still some hard negotiations to take place but ultimately it’s going to be up to the Iranians to determine whether or not they meet the requirements the international community has set forth,” he said Tuesday during a joint press conference with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.

Obama’s comments came shortly after a State Department official announced the deadline to secure a deal with Iran would extend beyond Tuesday until July 7.

Obama emphasized again that he will not hesitate to walk away from the negotiations if Iran does not agree to the terms reached in a tentative agreement negotiated in Lausanne, Switzerland earlier this year and that the U.S. is demanding more than just a declaration from Iran and a “few inspectors wandering around” every once and a while.

“The framework agreement that was established at Lausanne is one that if implemented effectively and codified properly would in fact achieve my goal which is Iran not obtaining a nuclear weapon” the president said, adding that there has been talk from Iranian negotiators that they are walking back parts of the commitments reached as part of that tentative agreement.

“I will walk away from the negotiations if in fact it’s a bad deal,” Obama added. “If we can’t provide assurances that the pathways for Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon are closed and if we can’t verify that, if the inspections regime, the verification regime is inadequate then we’re not going to get a deal and we’ve been very clear to the Iranian government about that.”

Asked about Americans being held in Iran, the president said the United States continues to push with urgency to secure their release.

“This is something that we continue to push hard on irrespective of the nuclear deal,” Obama said. “It’s a top priority for us to make sure that our people are treated fairly and on the face of it in the case of these individuals who’ve been held, they have not been and they are not being afforded the basic due process and legal rights that we afford visitors to our country so we’re deeply concerned about it, we spend a lot of time pushing on it, and we will continue to do so.”

It’s a message that Obama said he has communicated directly to the family members of those Americans.

“When I talk to the families, we remind them that that is a mission that will continue and has been worked on consistently throughout their captivity,” he said.

The news conference came as Rousseff wraps up her visit with Obama during a two-day visit to Washington, D.C. The two leaders met in the Oval Office Tuesday morning and for a private working dinner at the White House on Monday night.

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Chris Christie Announces 2016 Presidential Campaign

Posted on: June 30th, 2015 by ABC News No Comments

ABC/Randy Sager(NEW YORK) — Chris Christie is running for president, his campaign announced in an e-mail to supporters Tuesday.

The New Jersey governor is expected to formally declare a candidacy for the White House at his alma mater, Livingston High School in New Jersey, later Tuesday, becoming the 14th Republican candidate to enter the 2016 presidential race. The tough-talking moderate Republican’s campaign slogan is: “Tell It Like It Is.”

On Saturday, Christie unveiled his presidential campaign site. A day later, a short video was posted showing a more personal side of the governor in a town-hall style setting.

“I get accused a lot of times of being too blunt and too direct and saying what’s on my mind just a little bit too loudly,” Christie says in the video. “I know if my mom were still alive, she would say to me, ‘I taught you that in a trusting relationship, you don’t hold anything back’.”

Christie’s decision to run for the presidency comes after months of speculation as to whether the governor would throw his hat into an already crowded field of GOP candidates.

In the most recent ABC News/Washington Post poll last month, 22 percent of Americans see Christie favorably, while 48 percent see him unfavorably.

After Tuesday’s announcement Christie will go on to campaign in New Hampshire for the rest of the week, making stops at a series of town hall meetings and diners, as well as an appearance at the Wolfeboro 4th of July Parade on Saturday.

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Marco Rubio to Give First Domestic Policy Speech as Candidate for President

Posted on: June 30th, 2015 by ABC News No Comments

ABC/Donna Svennevik(NEW YORK) — Marco Rubio is ready to take his ideas on domestic policy public.

The Republican senator from Florida will deliver his first policy speech as a presidential candidate on Tuesday, July 7 at 1871 in Chicago.  The speech will cover “technology and the 21st century job market,” according to a Rubio aide.

“Marco will discuss the need to overcome our economic challenges by fostering the American innovation that will create high-paying modern jobs and by equipping all Americans with the skills needed to fill them,” the aide said.

Rubio will participate in a moderated discussion following his speech.

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Chris Christie Set to Formally Declare Presidential Candidacy

Posted on: June 30th, 2015 by ABC News No Comments

ABC/Randy Sager(NEW YORK) — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will formally declare his candidacy for president of the United States Tuesday at his alma mater, Livingston High School in New Jersey, becoming the 14th Republican candidate to enter the 2016 presidential race.

Over the weekend, Christie unveiled a short video previewing his message.

“I get accused a lot of times of being too blunt and too direct and saying what’s on my mind just a little bit too loudly,” Christie says in the video. “I know if my mom were still alive, she would say to me, ‘I taught you that in a trusting relationship, you don’t hold anything back.’”

In an ABC News/Washington Post poll last month, 22 percent of Americans said they see Christie favorably, while 48 percent see him unfavorably.

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Former Iran Hostage Wants President Obama to Demand Apology for Americans Held in 1979

Posted on: June 30th, 2015 by ABC News No Comments

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) — As the White House seeks a historic détente and nuclear deal with Iran, the 52 Americans held hostage by the Islamic regime back in 1979 are redoubling demands for a formal apology and compensation for their nightmarish ordeal.

“Not only have they not apologized. The taking of that [U.S.] embassy is still celebrated in Iran,” former hostage Rodney Sickmann, who spent 444 days in captivity, told ABC News. “We need to make sure that we show the rest of the world that if you do this to an American embassy, you will be held accountable.”

Sickmann and other survivors are imploring the Obama administration to insist upon a formal apology and compensation for their treatment as part of any agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. However, the White House has repeatedly said restitution for the hostages is not on the table in the discussions set to conclude in a few days.

“There are a whole host of issues on the side that are also priorities but that are separate from our ongoing efforts to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” Obama spokesman Josh Earnest told ABC News in April.

“Ultimately, the U.S. should insist on an apology,” Sickmann said in the interview. “For 444 days I had to live as a hostage, tied to a chair first 30 days, then locked in a room for the next 400. My freedom was gone. It was torture.”

On Nov. 4th, 1979, the United States embassy in Teheran was overrun by Iranians who Sickmann calls “terrorists,” describing abusive, humiliating and torturous circumstances for over a year. He and the other American captives were released Jan. 20, 1981, just minutes after Ronald Reagan took the oath of office.

“You regret not ever pulling that trigger when all this is happening to you, you think back to the morning I had a chance. I couldn’t have killed everybody but at least I would have given some satisfaction,” Sickmann told ABC. “But I did my job, I did what I was told to do which was to stand down. So stand down I did and now it is time for the US government to stand up and make sure that Iran is held accountable for what they did.”

The former hostages have found some allies on Capitol Hill, working on legislation in consultation with the State Department, that could potentially provide compensation from frozen or seized Iranian assets under U.S. sanctions. Congress has not yet approved any such proposal.

For more on Sickmann’s story and the harrowing tale of his detention in this ABC News Original Video.

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Supreme Court Allows Texas Abortion Clinics to Remain Open

Posted on: June 29th, 2015 by ABC News No Comments

zimmytws/iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday voted to grant an appeal from Texas abortion clinics that would have been shut down by restrictive state laws, allowing them to remain open until an appeal is completed.

The court order will remain in effect at least until it decides whether or not to hear a full appeal of a lower court ruling that approved the restrictive law. Had the justices voted in favor of the state, 10 of the 19 abortion clinics remaining in Texas would have been shuttered.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott said that the state legislation was properly upheld by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. “Texas will continue to fight for higher-quality healthcare standards for women while protecting our most vulnerable — the unborn,” he said. “I’m confident the Supreme Court will ultimately uphold this law.”

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Michelle Obama Hints at Post-White House Work While Promoting Education Initiative

Posted on: June 29th, 2015 by ABC News No Comments

Photo by Kris Connor/ FilmMagic(WASHINGTON) — First Lady Michelle Obama said on Monday that she hopes to continue her work on the Let Girls Learn initiative, which promotes education for young women in third world nations, after she leaves the White House.

Obama, along with the Peace Corps, have secured funding from numerous international powers for projects that provide young women around the world with educational opportunities. The funding also helps to keep those girls in school despite “cultural barriers.”

“This is exactly the kind of work that I plan to do for my remaining time as first lady, and beyond,” Obama said at More Magazine’s Impact Awards luncheon at Washington, D.C.’s Newseum Monday.

Obama said that the initiative “can’t just be the work of government.”

In fact, the first lady says she sees herself in the women her initiative has helped, saying that she “wasn’t any smarter or more talented than they are.”

“Instead of having to work or support family, I got to go to school,” Obama said.

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NBC Ends Relationship with Donald Trump

Posted on: June 29th, 2015 by ABC News No Comments

ABC News(WASHINGTON) — NBC on Monday ended its business relationship with business mogul and presidential candidate Donald Trump.

In a press release, NBC cites Trumps “derogatory statements…regarding immigrants.” Trump said Mexican immigrants to the U.S. brought “drugs” and “crime” and included “rapists” when he announced his candidacy earlier this month. He also said that Mexico wasn’t sending its “best” people to the U.S.

In the wake of those comments, Spanish language channel Univision said it would not carry the Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants, ventures partially run by Trump. NBC made similar comments on Monday.

The NBC press release further says that Trump will not participate in “The Apprentice,” but that “Celebrity Apprentice” is licensed by United Artists Media Group, allowing that show’s relationship with NBC to continue.

Trump told reporters on Monday, following a speech in Chicago, that the relationship with NBA had to end “because my view on immigration is much different than NBC.”

An official statement from Trump’s campaign called NBC “weak” and said that “like everybody else is trying to be politically correct — that is why our country is in serious trouble.”

“If NBC is so weak and so foolish to not understand the serious illegal immigration problem in the United States, coupled with the horrendous and unfair trade deals we are making with Mexico, then their contract violating closure of Miss Universe/Miss USA will be determined in court,” Trump’s statement read.

Trump concluded by ripping NBC for their willingness to “stand behind lying Brian Williams, but won’t stand behind people that tell it like it is, as unpleasant as that may be.”

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How Obama Will Welcome a President He Spied On

Posted on: June 29th, 2015 by ABC News No Comments

MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — When Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff learned in 2013 that the National Security Agency was listening in on her phone calls and reading her emails, she was none too pleased.

She canceled a long-planned state visit to the United States and used an address at the United Nations General Assembly to blast the United States for what she called a “totally unacceptable” violation of her country’s sovereignty and accused the United States of breaking international law.

But Monday night, over two years later, Rousseff will be wined and dined by President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden during a private “working dinner” at the White House. It’s part of a two-day fence-mending trip and an opportunity for the two presidents to move beyond what the White House acknowledges as a “turbulent patch” between the Western hemisphere’s two largest economies.

The two leaders will participate Tuesday in a series of formal meetings and also hold a joint news conference.

Obama has found himself in this predicament often in the past two years as he has tried to restore relationships with key allies angry over the NSA surveillance revealed by Edward Snowden in 2013. The president has repaired his relationship with German Chancellor Angela Merkel with meetings, phone calls and even a beer after she expressed outrage about the NSA spying on her cellphone conversations.

Just last week, Obama called French President Francois Hollande to patch their relationship following reports the United States spied on him and his two predecessors. In the phone call, the president reiterated a commitment that the United States is “not targeting and will not target the communications of the French president.”

This will be the second meeting for Obama and Rousseff since the NSA spying revelations in 2013. They previously met on the sidelines of the Summit of Americas in Panama in April.

But even as the two leaders attempt to move beyond the spying that damaged their relationship, the White House won’t say whether Obama will formally apologize to Rousseff.

“We have not made it a practice to issue apologies related to our surveillance activities,” White House Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said during a conference call with reporters to preview Rousseff’s visit last week. “What the president has done is make changes based on our very thorough review of programs.”

Rousseff’s visit to the White House “signals the fact that we are moving forward in terms of our positive relationship” and will allow the two leaders to move forward on a number of “stalled” areas, Rhodes said.

The White House said the two leaders will discuss a wide range of topics, from climate change to trade, as well as defense and international cooperation. The two leaders will also discuss Cuba and Venezuela.

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President Obama Signs Trade Bills into Law

Posted on: June 29th, 2015 by ABC News No Comments

Official White House photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) — President Obama signed two trade bills into law Monday, a victory for the president who faced embarrassing setbacks by members of his own party opposed to the measures.

“I think it’s fair to say that getting these bills through Congress has not been easy,” Obama said to laughter. “They’ve been declared dead more than once. They have inspired long and passionate debates and that’s entirely appropriate for our democracy. That’s how this country’s supposed to work. We’re supposed to make sure that we air our differences and then ultimately Congress works its will, especially on issues that inspire strongly held feelings on both sides.”

“This is a good day,” the president said. “I’m very confident that we’re going to be able to say at the end of the day that the trade agreements that come under this authorization are going to be improve the system of trade that we have right now and that’s a good thing.”

The bills give Obama “fast track authority” to secure a Pacific trade deal as well as provides assistance to workers. The president thanked his unlikely allies — House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — for working with him on the legislation.

As he signed the two bills, Obama seemed to relish the moment after spending weeks battling with members of his own party over the legislation. 

“This is so much fun we should do it again,” he said.

“No thank you,” one of the men standing behind the president said.

“Well maybe not this particular piece of legislation,” Obama responded. “I do like signing bills though.”

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Hack Forces OPM to Shut Down System for Background Checks

Posted on: June 29th, 2015 by ABC News No Comments

Mike Levine(WASHINGTON) — Three weeks after U.S. authorities determined foreign hackers may have stolen sensitive government records tied to tens of millions of people, the Office of Personnel Management has now shut down the system at the center of that breach, essentially bringing to a halt the way federal agencies have conducted background checks for years.

According to an “alert” posted on OPM’s website Monday, the Electronic Questionnaires for Investigations Processing system — or “e-QIP” — “will be down for an extended period of time for security enhancements.”

“e-QIP allows the user to electronically enter, update and transmit their personal investigative data over a secure internet connection,” OPM’s website said.

As ABC News previously reported, the e-QIP system was one of several systems likely breached by hackers in China, and they stole forms — known as “SF-86” forms — submitted by federal employees and others seeking security clearances.

The forms require applicants to provide personal information not only about themselves but also relatives, friends and “associates” spanning several years.

The forms ask applicants about past drug use, financial history, mental health history and personal relationships. That type of information could be exploited to pressure or trick employees into further compromising their agencies, sources said.

ABC News previously reported the OPM hackers may have used information stolen last year from a private government contractor, KeyPoint Government Solutions, to ultimately break into federal systems.

Each month, OPM “thwarts” an average of 10 million “intrusion attempts,” OPM Director Katherine Archuleta recently said in testimony submitted to lawmakers.

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Why Supreme Court’s Latest Ruling Could Have 2016 Implications

Posted on: June 29th, 2015 by ABC News No Comments

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — The Supreme Court affirmed Arizona’s ability to appoint an independent commission to draw federal districts in a 5-4 decision Monday.

The Arizona legislature had filed suit against the state in an effort to get redistricting, which happens every 10 years, back under its control. That duty has fallen to the independent commission since 2000 when a state referendum passed in an attempt to get politics out of the redistricting process.

“The people of Arizona turned to the initiative to curb the practice of gerrymandering and, thereby, to ensure that Members of Congress would have ‘an habitual recollection of their dependence on the people,’” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in the majority opinion, quoting James Madison in the Federalist Papers. “In so acting, Arizona voters sought to restore ‘the core principle of republican government,’ namely, ‘that the voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around.’”

If the court had ruled the other way, it was possible that legislatures in Arizona and 12 other states that currently use nonpartisan redistricting methods, including California, could have had the opportunity to redraw districts as early as this summer because the decision would have rendered the 2010 districts invalid. Now, those 2010 lines stand.

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