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First Family Arrives in Hawaii for 16-Day Vacation


JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — The president and first family have arrived in Hawaii, for a 16-day tropical vacation that’s become their annual tradition over the Christmas and New Year holidays.

“The president himself is eagerly looking forward to” the time away, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said last week.

They will remain on the island until after the New Year.

While there’s no such thing as a work-free vacation for an American president, Obama will likely spend plenty of time soaking up the sun, snorkeling in Hanauma Bay, hiking and biking with his daughters, and enjoying the local cuisine.

He’s also expected to play several rounds of golf and squeeze in a few workouts at the Marine Base Kanehoe.

The White House says he plans to hold no public events. But as with past years, there’s the possibility Obama’s two-week getaway will be punctuated with breaking news around the world to which he’ll need to respond.

This is the Obamas’ sixth trip to Oahu for family vacation since moving into the White House. The president has deep roots on the island, which is where he was born and spent most of his childhood.

The first family typically rents a multi-million dollar beach-side home in the town of Kailua, on the east side of the island, footing the several thousand-dollar per night bill with personal funds, the White House says.

Obama has taken fewer vacation days overall outside Washington than his predecessor, according to unofficial White House chronicler of presidential travel Mark Knoller of CBS News. While the meaning of "vacation day" is a matter of debate, by one measure, Obama had taken at least 140 days of R&R through August, per Knoller.

That compares to 533 days in George W. Bush’s two terms, including trips to his Crawford, Tex., ranch; 174 by Bill Clinton; and 390 for Ronald Reagan.

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State Department Issues World Travel Alert


iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The State Department issued a travel alert for the world on Friday.

The alert reminds Americans to be "extra cautious" when they travel. The alert, which expires in March, also tells Americans to "maintain a very high level of vigilance, and take appropriate steps to enhance their personal security."

The alert is allegedly prompted by the lone wolf attack in Sydney earlier this week.

According to a State Department official, a similar warning was issued in August 2013 to warn U.S. citizens of the potential for terrorist attacks, specifically in the Middle East and North Africa. That month there was a large car bomb explosion in Beirut.

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Obama Highlights America's Progress in 2014, the Future in Weekly Address


Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) -- In his weekly address, President Obama reflected on the progress America has made since his first election in 2008, and more specifically the steps forward the country has taken this year.

Obama called 2014 the strongest year for job growth since the 1990s, and highlights the decreasing cost of gas and the nation's leadership in containing the spread of Ebola, combating ISIS and addressing climate change, as well as the recent policy changes involving Cuba.

"Pick any metric you want -- America's resurgence is real," Obama says. "And now we ahve the chance to reverse the decades-long erosion of middle-class jobs and incomes. We just have to invest in the things that we know will secure even faster growth in higher-paying jobs for more Americans."

Obama then discussed the need to "make sure our economy, our justice system, and our government work not only for a few, but for all of us."

He also touched on the incoming Republican majority in the Senate, saying that "we'll disagree on some things. We'll have to compromise on others. I'll act on my own when it's necessary. But I will never stop trying to make life better for people like you."

Read the full transcript of the president's address:

Hi, everybody.  As 2014 comes to an end, we can enter the New Year with new confidence that America is making significant strides where it counts.
 
The steps we took nearly six years ago to rescue our economy and rebuild it on a new foundation helped make 2014 the strongest year for job growth since the 1990s.  Over the past 57 months, our businesses have created nearly 11 million new jobs.  And in a hopeful sign for middle-class families, wages are on the rise again.
 
Our investments in American manufacturing have helped fuel its best stretch of job growth since the ‘90s.  America is now the number one producer of oil and gas, saving drivers about 70 cents a gallon at the pump over last Christmas.  The auto industry we rescued is on track for its strongest year since 2005.  Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, about 10 million Americans have gained health insurance in the past year alone.  And since I took office, we have cut our deficits by about two-thirds.
 
Meanwhile, around the world, America is leading.  We’re leading the coalition to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL.  We’re leading the global fight to combat the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.  We’re leading global efforts to address climate change, including last month’s joint announcement with China.  We’re turning a new page in our relationship with the Cuban people. 
 
And in less than two weeks, after more than 13 years, our combat mission in Afghanistan will be over, and our war there will come to a responsible end.  Today, more of our troops are home for the holidays than at any time in over a decade.  Still, many of our men and women in uniform will spend this Christmas in harm’s way.  And as Commander-in-Chief, I want our troops to know:  your country is united in our support and gratitude for you and your families.
 
The six years since the financial crisis have demanded hard work and sacrifice on everyone’s part.  But as a country, we have every right to be proud of what we’ve got to show for it.  More jobs.  More insured.  A growing economy.  Shrinking deficits.  Bustling industry.  Booming energy.
 
Pick any metric you want – America’s resurgence is real.  And we now have the chance to reverse the decades-long erosion of middle-class jobs and incomes.  We just have to invest in the things that we know will secure even faster growth in higher-paying jobs for more Americans.  We have to make sure our economy, our justice system, and our government work not only for a few, but for all of us.  And I look forward to working together with the new Congress next year on these priorities. 
 
Sure, we’ll disagree on some things.  We’ll have to compromise on others.  I’ll act on my own when it’s necessary.  But I will never stop trying to make life better for people like you. 
 
Because thanks to your efforts, a new foundation is laid.  A new future is ready to be written.  We have set the stage for a new American moment, and I’m going to spend every minute of my last two years making sure we seize it. 
 
On behalf of the Obama family, I wish all of you a very Merry Christmas.
 
Thanks, and have a wonderful holiday season.

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GOP Address: Rep. Mike Kelly Issues a Call for Coal


US Congress(WASHINGTON) -- In this week's Republican Address, Rep. Mike Kelly called for energy reform and increased reliance on coal -- offering President Obama a lump of coal, though he avoided calling the commander in chief "naughty."

"Coal is our most abundant and valuable resource," Kelly says. "It lights our home, keeps our electric bills low, and puts food on the table for countless families."

Kelly criticizes the president's "all of the above" strategy for energy, saying that Obama is "leaving out everything that is below."

"Instead of forcing our workers to live with less, the president should let us use our God-given resources and talents to help Americans get back to work and make our nation the energy superpower it can be – and quite frankly, that it needs to be," Kelly adds.

Read the full transcript of the Republican address:

Good morning, I’m Mike Kelly, and I have the tremendous privilege of representing Pennsylvania’s Third Congressional District.

Today I’m offering President Obama a lump of coal for Christmas.

Not because he’s been bad this year – though I’ll get to that.
 
No, I’m offering the president a lump of coal because this product right here holds the potential for a 21st-century economic revival.

You see, coal is our most abundant and valuable resource.  It lights our homes, keeps our electric bills low, and puts food on the table for countless families.  More than 40,000 jobs in my state alone are tied to coal.

But this isn’t just about coal country – no, it’s about our whole country.

Because no other nation in the world has been blessed with such abundant, affordable, and accessible resources.

And with all that God has given us, we shouldn’t be just trying to keep up with the pack.  My goodness, we should be leading the world.

Now if only we had a president willing to seize this opportunity.

He tells us he’s for ‘all of the above’ but then he leaves out everything that’s below.

The president said he would bankrupt the coal industry and he’s spent his presidency trying to do just that.  Federal regulations have already forced two coal-fired power plants in my district to close over the past two years.  Hundreds more are set to shut down around the country.

He’s put up so many roadblocks to American energy that all our production is coming from state and private lands.

Now even when the president’s own party stopped him from imposing his cap-and-trade tax, he said it was ‘just one way of skinning the cat’ and then he directed the EPA to do his bidding for him.

Instead of forcing our workers to live with less, the president should let us use our God-given resources and talents to help Americans get back to work and make our nation the energy superpower it can be – and quite frankly, that it needs to be.

So whether it’s stopping these regulations, expediting infrastructure, or expanding production, there’s so much we can do to encourage the development of all forms of American energy.

These aren’t just Republican solutions – these are common-sense American ideas that have support in both parties.  You’re going to see them again in the new Congress, starting with a vote to approve the Keystone XL pipeline.

Because manufacturing things, making things – and doing it better than anyone else in the world – that’s what America’s always been about.  That’s how we’ve built such a robust and dynamic economy.  If we all pull together, we can make 2015 the year we restore our nation of builders.  

But that’s next year.  Right now, we are getting ready to celebrate Christmas.  And as we do, I hope you’ll set aside a moment to remember all those who gave their lives this year for the cause of freedom, and pray for those spending this holiday season away from their families and loved ones.

Merry Christmas everyone, and may God continue to bless the United States of America. 

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Sony Hacking: Obama Says Sony Made 'Mistake' in Canceling "The Interview"


The White House(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama says Sony made a "mistake" in canceling its planned release of the movie The Interview following a destructive cyber attack the U.S. government says was launched by North Korea.

"Sony is a corporation. It suffered significant damage. There were threats against its employees. I’m sympathetic to the concerns that they faced," Obama said. "Having said all that, yes I think they made a mistake."

"We cannot have a society where some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship here in the U.S.," Obama said, referring to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

The FBI formally fingered North Korea as being responsible for the attack, which successfully forced Sony to cancel its planned release of The Interview, which depicts the fictional assassination of the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

The FBI said the Sony attack was unprecedented given its "destructive" and "coercive" nature, saying it disabled "thousands" of Sony's computers and "significantly disrupted the company's business operations."

The White House has declared the Sony hacking case a “serious national security matter" but has been trying to walk a fine line with its reaction. Administration officials say they are acutely aware that a public act of retribution could further give the hackers and the North Korean regime the kind of attention they seek. Some U.S. actions, they suggest, could be covert.

“I don't anticipate that we'll be in a position where we're gonna be able to be completely forthcoming about every single element of the response that has been decided upon,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters Thursday.

"North Korea’s actions were intended to inflict significant harm on a U.S. business and suppress the right of American citizens to express themselves. Such acts of intimidation fall outside the bounds of acceptable state behavior," the FBI said.


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Supreme Court Denies Stay in Florida Same-Sex Marriage Case


 Jeffrey Hamilton/Digital Vision/Thinkstock(TALLAHASSEE, Fla.) -- Same-sex couples in Florida could get married as soon as next month after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to issue a stay.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi had filed for a stay while awaiting an appeal hearing before the 11th Circuit Court of Appeal. The Supreme Court, however, decided by a 7-2 margin not to grant the stay. Justices Scalia and Thomas dissented, saying that they would have granted the application for a stay.

In a statement on Friday night, Bondi said that "regardless of the ruling it has always been our goal to have uniformity throughout Florida until the final resolution of the numerous challenges to the voter-approved constitutional amendment on marriage."

Despite her application for a stay being denied, Bondi said that "the Supreme Court has now spoken, and the stay will end on January 5."

It's not clear whether Florida clerks will issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

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Sen. Rand Paul Criticizes Marco Rubio's Stance on Cuba


Credit: US Senate(WASHINGTON) -- In an unusual series of events, a Republican Senator on Friday called out one of his fellow party members online on Friday.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-S.C., and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., have publicly shared differing viewpoints on President Obama's decision to begin normalizing relations with Cuba. Paul has stated his interest in engaging Cuba, while Rubio is staunchly against the decision.

On Friday, Paul posted a series of messages on both his Facebook and Twitter pages criticizing Rubio's stance.

"[Rubio] believes the embargo against Cuba has been ineffective, yet he wants to continue perpetuating failed policies," the Facebook post began. In it, Paul calls himself "a proponent of peace through commerce" and stated his belief that "engaging Cuba can lead to positive change."

He went on to call Rubio an "isolationist who wants to retreat to our borders and perhaps build a moat."

Paul then sent a series of tweets, mentioning Rubio's handle, asking questions such as "what about the majority of Cuban-Americans who now support normalizing relations between our countries?" and "The United States trades and engages with other communist nations, such as China and Vietnam. So @marcorubio why not Cuba?"

Hey @marcorubio if the embargo doesn't hurt Cuba, why do you want to keep it?

— Senator Rand Paul (@SenRandPaul) December 19, 2014

Senator @marcorubio is acting like an isolationist who wants to retreat to our borders and perhaps build a moat. I reject this isolationism.

— Senator Rand Paul (@SenRandPaul) December 19, 2014

The United States trades and engages with other communist nations, such as China and Vietnam. So @marcorubio why not Cuba?

— Senator Rand Paul (@SenRandPaul) December 19, 2014

.@marcorubio what about the majority of Cuban-Americans who now support normalizing relations between our countries? http://t.co/0qhSOeD9Va

— Senator Rand Paul (@SenRandPaul) December 19, 2014


Both Paul and Rubio have been mentioned as possible candidates for the 2016 presidential election.

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Obama Determined to 'Chip Away' at 'Hermetically Sealed' Cuba


The White House(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama's decision to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba will "chip away" at the island's "hermetically sealed society," the president said Friday at what is likely his last press conference of the year.

"This is still a regime that represses its people," the president acknowledged. "But what I know, deep in my bones, is that if you’ve done the same things for 50 years, you should try something different if you want a different outcome."

"Suddenly Cuba is open to the world in way’s that it hasn’t been before," he continued. "Over time, that chips away at this hermetically sealed society and, I believe, offers the best prospect of leading to greater freedom, greater self-determination of the Cuban people."

In the wide-ranging press conference, Obama also touted his economic accomplishments this year.

"Pick any metric you want, America's resurgence is real," President Obama said. "We are better off."

“In terms of my own job, I am energized, I’m excited about the prospects for the next couple of years," Obama said, adding he wasn’t going to be “stopping for a minute” in his quest to make life better for all Americans.

“My presidency’s entering the fourth quarter,” he said. “Interesting stuff happens in the fourth quarter.”

The president leaves Washington on a high note, having made progress on several top priorities as he heads into the final two years of his presidency. In recent weeks, the president negotiated an unprecedented climate deal with China, took unilateral actions to reform the nation’s immigration system and announced a historic thawing of relations with Cuba.

Despite these successes, the president’s approval rating remains dismally low, hovering around 40 percent.

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Obama Makes History, Calling Only on Female Reporters


Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Mark this down as a historic day in White House history.

President Obama has just become the first president to field questions from only female reporters at a White House press conference.

Former ABC News correspondent Ann Compton, the first woman to report on the White House full time for a network and who covered the beat for 40 years, said that never before has a president only taken questions from women during a solo press conference.

On Friday, Obama took questions from eight reporters, all women from print or radio outlets. He fielded no questions from male reporters and none from the television networks.

The women-only question session triggered a flood of reactions on social media from members of the White House press corps and around journalism.

With 8th & last question, it's fact: Obama called only on women at press conf. Women long chafed at dominance of front-row male TV reporters

— Jackie Calmes (@calmesnyt) December 19, 2014

While I hope it's not a permanent ban on questions from male reporters, hard to complain about what women reporters have endured for decades

— Jonathan Allen (@jonallendc) December 19, 2014

Premise for Mrs. Doubtfire reboot: male tv reporter dresses as woman in order to land interview with POTUS. Briefing room hijinks ensue.

— Ryan Lizza (@RyanLizza) December 19, 2014

@karentravers @markknoller Bush43 once called on only men. Ari Fleischer defended saying those news orgzs failed to assign women to WH

— Ann Compton (@AnnCompton) December 19, 2014

Asked about the decision to call only on female reporters, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said “The fact is, there are many women from a variety of news organizations who day-in and day-out do the hard work of covering the President of the United States. As the questioner list started to come together, we realized that we had a unique opportunity to highlight that fact at the President’s closely watched, end of the year news conference.”

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Obama to Deliver State of the Union Address on Jan. 20


Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama has accepted House Speaker John Boehner's invitation to report to Congress on the state of the union next month.

Boehner, R-Ohio, invited the president to deliver his State of the Union address in a letter Friday.

"The new year will bring a new American Congress, and with it, the opportunity to continue our work to build a stronger economy and secure a better future for our country," the House speaker said in the letter. "In that spirit, it is my honor to invite you to address a Joint Session of Congress on Tuesday, January 20, 2015 so that you may fulfill your duty under the Constitution to report on the state of the union and recommend measures for our consideration."

"Your report will inform our efforts to address the people’s priorities," Boehner added.

The joint session of Congress to receive Obama's address is slated to take place at 9 p.m. ET on Jan. 20.

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Obama's Presidency in 2014 by the Numbers


Alex Wong/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Fresh off his announcement about normalizing diplomatic relations with Cuba, President Obama on Friday will hold what will likely be his final press conference of the year before the first family jets off to Hawaii for 17 days of R and R.

Here's a look at how the commander-in-chief has fared this year:

  • He has a 41 percent job approval rating in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll out this week, a single point from his career low, with 54 percent disapproving.
  • His approval rating averaged just 43 percent in 2014, making it his worst year by a significant margin.
  • His rating on the economy is essentially flat; 52 percent disapprove, despite recent economic gains. Fifty-four percent disapprove of his work on international affairs, a steadily negative majority since September. He’s gained 9 points on handling immigration, but only to 38 percent approval, with 55 percent disapproving. And for only the second time, numerically more disapprove than approve of his handling of terrorism, 48-43 percent.
  • He’s presided over the steepest drop-off in Democratic self-identification we’ve ever seen. Just 26 percent of Americans now identify themselves as Democrats, down 6 points from late October to the fewest on record since the start of ABC/Post polling in 1981. (More are independents; Republican Party ID is flat, but the GOP’s favorability rating has risen sharply.)
  • Obama’s career-long job approval rating, 50 percent on average, lags all three of his immediate two-term predecessors at this point in their tenure.
  • He’s at 29 percent approval among whites, the lowest of his presidency; not only do 67 percent disapprove, but a majority, 53 percent, does so strongly. Nearly two-thirds of nonwhites, by contrast, approve of Obama’s work in office.
  • Previous results also have indicated the president’s problems: He reached career lows in both favorability and empathy -- understanding the problems of people like you -- in a pre-election ABC/Post poll. His career low job approval, 40 percent, was Oct. 12.

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The Gingriches' Guide to Surviving a Presidential Campaign


ABC News/Yahoo! News(WASHINGTON) -- As the wife of a former presidential candidate, Callista Gingrich has some advice for the spouses of 2016 presidential hopefuls.

“Focus on the positive, try not to let the negativity get you down, because you really have to keep your [attention] on those issues that are most important to the future of this country. And some days that's a challenge,” Gingrich said. “But just be open-minded and appreciate the moment.”

Gingrich, who is out with a new children’s book, From Sea to Shining Sea, said that part of staying positive means steering clear of reading the news if you’re the subject of the report.

“Probably avoid that,” she told ABC News/Yahoo! News in a joint interview with her husband, Newt Gingrich.

“We kept begging her,” her husband, the former speaker of the House and 2012 GOP presidential hopeful, chimed in. “Margaret Thatcher had a ground rule: That she never read stories about her. And I think there's a certain virtue to don't get the Google Alerts. …If you look at the Twitter, for example, as we both do a lot of, there's a group of people on Twitter who really like to get all their anger out; so if you pay too much attention, it can really get you down.”

But don’t expect the Gingriches to put their advice to personal use again come 2016: He’s not running. They said their days on the frontlines of a presidential campaign are in the past.

“We had an opportunity, and I think we worked very hard,” Callista Gingrich said. “There is a new crop of candidates, and we will help as much as we can and be involved in the process.”

“There is a new generation coming down the road, and there are a couple of people who have been around for a while,” added Newt Gingrich, who rattled off a roster of nearly a dozen Republicans whom he expects will run in 2016.

From that list, Gingrich said he doesn’t consider anyone a frontrunner -- not even former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

“I don’t think he is,” Gingrich said. “I don’t think anyone is a frontrunner. I think if you go back and look at his brother in 1999, the amount of money he raised, the dominance he had over the field, no one has anything like that. I mean, Hillary arguably is a frontrunner, although I think she's a very fragile one.”

The problem for Clinton, Gingrich predicted, will be the same one she had in 2008.

“She's gotten her candidacy ahead of her cause, which is what she did in '08,” he said. “We're ready for Hillary, but for what? I mean, I think that's the real problem, and I think that's what all Jeb Bush and the others are going to have to answer for us is ‘So, why? …Why are you running and what would you do?’”

Callista Gingrich said some moderate Republican women voters might gravitate to Hillary Clinton's candidacy, if she runs. She said it was time for Republicans to nominate a woman on their ticket.

"Oh, I think we're more than ready, but I think somebody needs to step forward that's able to handle the job," she said. "Right now, we're not hearing about any of those likely people. So, I'm very hopeful that we'll see a woman run from the Republican Party in the very near future."

Callista Gingrich also discussed her newest children’s book, which is the fourth edition of a history series that follows a time-traveling elephant, Ellis, through major events in U.S. history.

“My books are really meant to serve as an introduction to the key moments that have shaped our nation,” Callista Gingrich said of the series. “And unfortunately, today, many of our kids are failing to learn our American history, including our founding principles and values and instead learning revisionist or politically correct history.”

She went on to add that the books are applicable to households across the political spectrum.

“These books are not meant to be Republican books or conservative books, but really they're pro-American books,” she said.

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White House Considering 'Range of Options' in Responding to Sony Hack


Jim Dorian/iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The White House will consider a "range of options" in dealing with the Sony hack, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Thursday.

Earnest would not speculate on the eventual White House response, saying, "I would acknowledge that an appropriate response is something that is not always obvious, but it's something that's worthy of careful consideration." The president's national security team continues to consider their options carefully, Earnest said.

"I don't anticipate that we'll be in a position where we're going to be able to be completely forthcoming about every single element of the response that has been decided upon," Earnest added.

Earnest would not discuss who would eventually be deemed responsible for the hack, though he did say that Obama "considers it to be a serious national security matter."


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President Obama to Close the Year with Annual Press Conference


The White House(WASHINGTON) —  President Obama will hold his annual year-end press conference Friday afternoon at the White House before taking off on his annual Hawaiian holiday vacation.

Obama last fielded reporters' questions the day after the mid-term elections and there's a lot of new ground to cover since then.

The president is expected to face tough questions on relations with Cuba, cyber-terrorism, torture, immigration, the economy, and race relations. Many also are watching closely to see whether the president will refer to the Sony hack as "terrorism" and how the U.S. is going to respond to North Korea.

President Obama will also likely tout his strong finish to the year -- in recent weeks he's announced a major climate deal with China, unilaterally reformed the nation's immigration system and seen a boost in job growth.  

This will be President Obama's seventh solo news conference of the year, according to the American Presidency Project at University of California, Santa Barbara. It's the 46th time in six years he will take questions in a solo session with reporters. George W. Bush held 34 solo pressers by this point in his presidency.

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Obama Signs Order Creating Task Force on 21st Century Policing


Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama signed an order on Thursday that officially created the Task Force on 21st Century Policing.

Obama had announced on Dec. 1 that he would take this step. The task force will convene sessions where they will hear testimony and accept proposed recommendations from invited witnesses. By March, the task force is expected to present a report and recommendations to the president.

According to the White House, the chairpersons of the task force will be Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey and Laurie Robinson, profesor of Criminology, Law and Society and George Mason University. Robinson is also a former assistant attorney general for the Department of Justice's Office of Justice Programs.

The task force will also include 10 other members, including attorneys, leaders of non-profit organizations and law enforcement officers.

Obama created the task force after weeks of protests over the police-involved shooting of Michael Brown, 18, in Ferguson, Mo., and the death of Eric Garner at the hands of a New York police officer in recent months.

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