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Obamas Get Some Extra Attention at Easter Church Service in DC

Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The Obama family Sunday attended an Easter service in the capital, drawing special attention from the pastor and a warm reception from the congregation.

The first family’s decision to skip church on Christmas Eve and Christmas while on vacation in Hawaii four months ago did not go unnoticed, among media outlets both religious and mainstream. On Sunday, they made up for lost church time.

The Obamas made a short trip to the Nineteenth Street Baptist Church (which is actually off 16th St. NW, after moving over 30 years ago), eschewing St. John’s Episcopal, a church traditionally visited by presidents that sits across Lafayette Square from the White House, where the Obamas have attended church services in the past along with a few other area houses of worship.

A tan-suited President Obama and the first family sat in the second row of a middle section of pews.

The Obamas received some extra attention from the pastor, Rev. Dr. Derrick Harkins, who directed part of a prayer at the first family, asking God to “surround our president…Bestow upon him a wisdom that indeed comes from you…Even yes, when the light of a flame turns into the harsh glare of criticism, tend to his spirit.”

He also asked for heavenly attention to “sister Michelle” and offered thanks for God’s “hedge of protection” around Sasha and Malia and asked that the church’s “prayers might envelop them with love and encouragement.”

The Obamas were mobbed by fellow churchgoers when Harkins encouraged attendees to greet those seated near them. Despite his explicit instructions to “stay where you are” and leave the first family alone, attendees bunched around the Obamas near the front of the church.

The first family smiled and shook hands with the congregation, and as phone photos were snapped and older women greeted the first daughters.

The first family didn’t acknowledge much of this extra attention, instead sitting quietly and declining to draw attention to themselves at the front of the medium-sized church.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio


John Paul Stevens: Okay to Consider Politics in Retirement Decision

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- In an interview with George Stephanopoulos on This Week, retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens revealed that he believes it is appropriate for justices to take "politics" into account in deciding when to retire.

"I think so… It's an appropriate thing to think about your successor, not only in this job," Stevens said on whether to take into account which president will choose a successor. "I'm just finishing the book by former Secretary [of Defense Robert] Gates. He thought a lot about his successor, too. If you're interested in the job and in the kind of work that's done, you have to have an interest in who's going to fill your shoes."

Asked by Stephanopoulos how he would respond if Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, currently the oldest member of the Court, approached him for advice on when to retire, Stevens said, "I'd say she doesn't need my advice."

"She did ask my advice when she became the senior associate justice," Stevens added. "And basically, I gave her that same answer. 'Ruth, you're fully capable of handling everything that comes along.'" (the senior associate justice post is technically held by Justice Antonin Scalia, in order of year of appointment, though Justice Ginsburg is three years older than her conservative colleague).

In a portion of the interview not aired, Stevens also revealed that regarding aging and the stamina and intellectual ability to do one's job on the Court, he had an arrangement with retired Justice David Souter that Souter would tell Stevens when it was time to go. (In the end, Souter retired first.)

In the wide-ranging interview, Stevens also discussed gun control and political redistricting in the context of his new book, Six Amendments. The book, which has come under attack by conservative legal thinkers, proposes six changes that Stevens believes would bring the Constitution more in line both with the founders' intentions, and with the exigencies of modern governance.

The most controversial of his proposals has proved to be the amendment that would add five words to the Second Amendment, qualifying the right to bear arms. The Second Amendment now reads, "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." Justice Stevens would have it read, "the right of the people to keep and bear Arms when serving in the Militia shall not be infringed."

The last state militia was disbanded in 1866, so no one would be covered by Stevens' new amendment. In other words, the government would face no restrictions in its ability to ban or regulate the ownership or use of guns.

Stevens, however, does not believe that that would lead legislatures to ban guns, because there is a strong political constituency for gun ownership in the U.S.

"The likelihood of [widespread outlawing of firearms] is quite remote," he says, because the gun lobby "is able to take care of itself in the democratic debates which would continue with my amendment." His new language "would merely prevent arguments being made that Congress doesn't have the power to do what they think is in the best public interest," Stevens added.

The justice also argued that the framers of the Constitution had no intention of providing for an individual right to bear arms in the Second Amendment in the first place, despite the conclusion to the contrary of a majority of the Supreme Court in 2008's District of Columbia v. Heller.

"There was a fear among the original framers that the federal government would be so strong that they might destroy the state militias," according to Stevens, and combating that prospect, he argues, was the framers' sole purpose in drafting this much-debated amendment. The new language, in his view, would simply return the law to what the founders intended.

The retired justice, on the federal bench for 40 years and widely seen as one of the intellectual leaders of the American judiciary, displayed some of his characteristic Midwestern modesty when asked by Stephanopoulos about his legacy. It was a "really awfully hard" question, judged the justice.

"Because it's a series of individual important events," he explained. "And some are terribly disappointing. And some are terribly gratifying. And you mix them all together. It's really hard to pass judgment on the entirety. All I can say is I did the best I could, and I didn't do well enough on many occasions."

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio


Rep. Michael McCaul Expresses Concern Over Potential Marathon Terrorist Copycat

TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images(BOSTON) -- Sunday on This Week, House Homeland Security Committee Chair Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, while noting the increase in security in Boston ahead of Monday's marathon, expressed concern over the potential that someone may try to replicate the attack last year on the Boston Marathon that left three people dead and hundreds injured.

"I do believe it's very ramped up security wise, cameras, personnel, canines, all sorts of bomb detecting equipment. So I do think it's very well fortified. It'd be difficult to penetrate that," McCaul said on This Week. "I am concerned, as was noted, a copycat type demonstration, or someone who was inspired by the Tamerlan brothers, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, to perpetrate another act of jihadism. That's a very real scenario."

"We don't have any chatter right now. But… we didn't have that last time," McCaul added. "What's the good news is since last time after we've done our reports and investigations on what happened last time, is that now we're having full cooperation, I think, with the FBI in terms of on the ground security and so I feel confident we're going to have a safe and successful marathon tomorrow. I know the entire nation is cheering for Boston."

Former New York City police commissioner Ray Kelly, now an ABC News contributor, echoed McCaul's concerns.

"Well, obviously, some sort of copycat event, and something that looks similar to what we saw last year," Kelly said, when asked by ABC's Martha Raddatz what worries him most about the marathon tomorrow.

"And again, you cannot totally rule out an event happening away… from the marathon. And I believe that the Massachusetts authorities and the Boston police have put that into the equation," Kelly said. "You need resources to respond to locations away from the marathon if something untoward happens."

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio


Not Everyone's Happy Michelle Obama Will Deliver a Graduation Address; School District Responds

ABC/Rick Rowell(TOPEKA, Kan.) -- First lady Michelle Obama plans to speak at a high school graduation next month in Topeka, Kansas, but not everyone's happy about it, as some families have voiced concerns that her presence could limit seating and take attention away from the graduates themselves.

The school district responded to some of that criticism Saturday, pledging "at least six tickets" for each graduate's family members.

"This will be a once in a lifetime experience for our graduates and their families, and we are looking forward to making it a very special time for everyone," Topeka Public Schools said in a press release, pointing out that it invited Obama to speak there.

The first lady is scheduled to speak at the May 17 combined graduation ceremony for four area high schools — a new arrangement, the school district says, as they usually have individual ceremonies — to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court's landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling. Filed against the Topeka school board, that suit ended racial segregation in public schools on May 18, 1954.

The first lady's press office has not responded to a request for comment on the criticism.

The school district tells ABC most of the response has been positive, and that critics' main concerns have to do with seating and changing the time of day for schools' ceremonies to combine them — although a few have called because they just don't like the first lady, or the president.

The ceremony, for 800 graduates, will be held in a local expo center that holds up to 10,000 for concerts and sporting events, according to its website. Capacity could change if Secret Service imposes security restrictions on the seating arrangements, the school district suggested.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio


Woman Sues After '8THEIST' Plate Denied, 'BAPTIST' Approved

iStock/Thinkstock(LEESBERG, N.J.) -- A woman filed a federal lawsuit alleging that her First Amendment rights were violated when she was denied a license plate that would proclaim her atheist views in New Jersey, though a plate reading "BAPTIST" was approved.

According to the suit, Shannon Morgan of Leesberg, N.J., said she tried to register online with the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission for a vanity license plate reading "8THEIST," but was told that the "requested plate text is considered objectionable."

Morgan then tested the system to see if she could register a license plate that read "BAPTIST" and found that it was permitted and she could order the license plate if she wished.

When Morgan attempted to follow up in person with the Motor Vehicle Commission about why her request was denied, she said she was never given a clear answer.

The suit alleges that by denying Morgan's request, the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission is infringing on her First Amendment rights.

The suit also alleges that another resident, David Silverman, president of American Atheists, was unable to get a vanity license plate reading "ATHE1ST" until local media started to report the story.

Morgan is being helped and represented by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a Washington, D.C.-based religious liberty watchdog group.

"The New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission's actions are mean-spirited and derogatory," as well as "unconstitutional," Americans United said in a statement.

"The government should not be in the business of rejecting plates on the grounds of religion or non-religion," Americans United Legal Director Ayesha Khan told ABC News. "That's a classic speech violation."

Khan said the Motor Vehicle Commission has "stonewalled" her client since the incident, refusing to engage with her in any way. They hope this lawsuit will help push the department to modify its regulations and Internet protocols that cause automatic rejections of plates it deems offensive.

Attempts to reach the MVC were not immediately successful.

According to the South Jersey Times, Sandy Grossman, a spokeswoman for the MVC, said that each license plate request was reviewed by commission officials.

"We review every request personally … and we review them for anything that's offensive or objectionable," Grossman told the South Jersey Times.

Grossman also told the Times atheist-themed license plates have been issued before.

"We have no objection and continue to issue plates with these types of configurations," Grossman reportedly told the Times.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio


Los Angeles Bans Electronic Cigarettes in Bars, Restaurants

iStock/Thinkstock(LOS ANGELES) -- It is now a crime in Los Angeles to take a drag off an electronic cigarette in a public place, including bars and restaurants.

As of Saturday, electronic cigarettes are illegal in public places in Los Angeles, following concerns about chemicals in the cigarettes' vapor.

"Vapers"-- people who smoke electronic cigarettes-- fought hard against the law. But Brandi Tseu, who works at a vape lounge-- a place where e-cigarette smoking is welcomed and is still legal-- says the ban makes sense.

"I do think we need to set up some common sense laws," Tseu said. "Even as a vaper, I wouldn't want to be sitting in a restaurant with someone with a fog machine next to me."

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio


President Obama's Address: Sending Easter and Passover Greetings 

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama’s weekly address leaves behind politics and focuses on the spirit of the season and the meaning of the holiday.

For him, the president says Easter represents “a story of hope – a belief in a better day to come, just around the bend.”

“These holy days have their roots in miracles that took place long ago.  And yet, they still inspire us, guide us, and strengthen us today,” he said. “They remind us of our responsibilities to God and, as God’s children, our responsibilities to one another."

He recounts the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, saying in the holy season “we recommit ourselves to following His example, to love and serve one another, particularly 'the least of these' among us, just as He loves every one of us.”
The president hosted an Easter prayer breakfast and a Passover Seder earlier this week. In his address he stresses the “common thread of humanity that connects us all.”
Read the full transcript of President Obama's address:

"Hi, everybody.  For millions of Americans, this time of year holds great meaning.  

"Earlier this week, we hosted a Passover Seder at the White House, and joined Jewish families around the world in their retellings of the story of the Exodus and the victory of faith over oppression.

"And this Sunday, Michelle, Malia, Sasha, and I will join our fellow Christians around the world in celebrating the Resurrection of Christ, the salvation he offered the world, and the hope that comes with the Easter season.

"These holy days have their roots in miracles that took place long ago.  And yet, they still inspire us, guide us, and strengthen us today.  They remind us of our responsibilities to God and, as God’s children, our responsibilities to one another.

"For me, and for countless other Christians, Holy Week and Easter are times for reflection and renewal.  We remember the grace of an awesome God, who loves us so deeply that He gave us his only Son, so that we might live through Him.  We recall all that Jesus endured for us – the scorn of the crowds, the agony of the cross – all so that we might be forgiven our sins and granted everlasting life.  And we recommit ourselves to following His example, to love and serve one another, particularly “the least of these” among us, just as He loves every one of us.
"The common thread of humanity that connects us all – not just Christians and Jews, but Muslims and Hindus and Sikhs – is our shared commitment to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.  To remember, I am my brother’s keeper. I am my sister’s keeper.  Whatever your faith, believer or nonbeliever, there’s no better time to rededicate ourselves to that universal mission.

"For me, Easter is a story of hope – a belief in a better day to come, just around the bend.

"So to all Christians who are celebrating, from my family to yours, Happy Easter.  And to every American, have a joyful weekend.

"Thanks, God bless you, and may God bless this country we love.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio


GOP Address: Government Should Be 'Enabling' Not 'Mandating' Americans

US Senate(WASHINGTON) -- In this week's Republican address, Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee criticizes Democratic approaches to government, saying that Dems in Washington want to mandate what Americans can and cannot do.  But Republicans, he says, want to offer more freedom for Americans to create better lives for themselves.

“Health care provides the most glaring difference between Republican enablers and Democrat mandators,” he says in the address. “Too often, Obamacare cancels the policy you want to keep and tells you what policy to buy, even if it costs more and restricts your choices of doctors and hospitals. Republicans believe that freedom and more choices will enable you to find a policy that fits your needs and your budget.”

Read the full transcript of the Republican address:

“I’m Senator Lamar Alexander.
“Have you ever read something so obviously right that it made you wish you’d written it? That happened to me the other day reading Newt Gingrich’s book ‘Breakout.’ Newt was quoting technology expert Tim O’Reilly, who was talking about the way the government should operate in the internet age. O’Reilly was saying this:
“The best way for government to operate is to figure out what kinds of things are enablers of society and then make investments in those things. The same way that Apple figured out, ‘If we turn the iPhone into a platform, outside developers will bring hundreds of thousands of applications to the table.’”
“Then O’Reilly went on to say that smartphone development used to look like government does now: Vendors talking in a backroom and deciding what features to offer. But Apple turned the iPhone into a platform in which the killer feature was that other people could make features.
“Just imagine if instead of mandating things for you to do, your government became a platform, just like your iPhone, enabling you to create a happier, safer, more prosperous life.
“Actually, government as an enabler was a good idea long before anyone imagined the Internet.
“In 1944, the G.I. Bill enabled World War II veterans to attend a college of their choice—helping them become the greatest generation. And today, half our college students have federal grants or loans that follow them to the colleges of their choice, enabling them to buy the surest ticket to a better life and job.
“Two weeks ago, the Senate voted to continue to give vouchers to working moms and dads to pay for child care while they earn degrees that enable them to get better jobs.
“In 2012, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's JOBS Act cut red tape and made it easier for entrepreneurs to launch a business, raise capital and take companies public. AOL co-founder Steve Case recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal that the law enabled a 70 percent increase in initial public offerings this year and ‘provides a model to tackle other hard problems, with innovation, compromise and courage.’
“While these ideas have attracted bipartisan support, usually in Washington Republicans are the enablers and Democrats are the mandators.
“Republicans say the success of the JOBS Act proves that lifting the big wet blanket of Obama regulations will enable our free enterprise system to create plenty of jobs.
“Meanwhile under the Democrats’ Dodd-Frank law, community bankers spend more time filling out forms than they do making loans.
“Democrats want to mandate fixed wages and more lawsuits, while Republicans want to allow more flexibility for working parents, enabling them to attend soccer games and piano recitals.
“I have proposed allowing states to turn half their federal education dollars into $2,100 scholarships that enable parents of low-income children to choose the best school. Democrat mandators insist on telling those children what school is best.  
“Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina would allow federal dollars to follow a child with Down syndrome or another disability to the school the parents choose. Democrat mandators say no—government knows best.  
“Last year, Republican senators proposed legislation to give back to states control over whether teachers and schools are succeeding or failing. Democratic mandators proposed, in effect, a national school board.
“Health care provides the most glaring difference between Republican enablers and Democrat mandators. Too often, Obamacare cancels the policy you wanted to keep and tells you what policy to buy, even if it costs more and even if it restricts your choices of doctors and hospitals.
“Republicans believe that freedom and more choices will empower you to find a policy that fits your needs and your budget.  
“Republicans would let you buy insurance across state lines; allow small businesses to join together and insure more people; expand access to health savings accounts; give governors flexibility with their state Medicaid programs; and allow patients to compare the price and quality of doctors and medical services.
“Republicans want to enable you. We want to be the iPhone party. We believe government ought to be a platform that gives you opportunity and freedom to create a happier, more prosperous, and safer life.
“Just imagine the Internal Revenue code, the Food and Drug Administration, or the Labor Department enabling you rather than ordering you around.
“Now, let’s make this address itself a platform that enables you to create a better life. Imagine your government as your iPhone. How can government empower you with the freedom and knowledge to make decisions to create a happier, more prosperous, and safer life for yourself and for your family?
“Email your ideas to: ideas@Alexander.Senate.gov. We’ll learn from you.
“Thank you and very best wishes on this Easter weekend.”

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio


Bill Clinton Targeted Chelsea’s Future Mother-in-Law in Healthcare Bid

US Congress(WASHINGTON) -- The latest batch of newly released documents from the Clinton administration revealed that President Bill Clinton already had his eye on Chelsea Clinton’s future mother-in-law two decades ago.

As the Clintons were readying to make their healthcare push, the documents show the White House listed then-Rep. Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky, Chelsea Clinton’s future mother-in-law, as one of 42 “priority Democratic targets” who were “most important to target immediately.”

The list was revealed as part of more than 7,500 new pages of documents from the Clinton presidency. It was the third installment of documents released by the Clinton Presidential Library.

The list included Democratic lawmakers who were “1) big undecideds on Ways & Means, Energy & Commerce and Education & Labor, 2) those who, on tough floor votes, have difficulty supporting the President or 3) very tough districts.”

Chelsea Clinton married Marc Mezvinsky, son of Ed Mezvinsky and Margolies, in 2010, and the two are expecting a child this year. Margolies is running for a House seat in Pennsylvania this year.

Also on their list of targets for healthcare–then-Rep. Rick Santorum, who was one of 19 Republicans described as those who are “occasionally independent but don’t hold your breath.”

Healthcare wasn’t the only issue the Clintons looked to Margolies-Mezvinsky for help on.  In August of 1993, Clinton was one vote short from getting his budget passed by the House.  And who did he convince to switch their vote? Margolies-Mezvinsky.  After she changed her vote, Republicans started chanting “Bye-Bye Marjorie!” and it ultimately cost her her seat.

In 2010, Margolies-Mezvinsky used this experience to convince House Democrats to vote in favor of the president’s healthcare plan, even if it could jeopardize their political future.

“Dear wavering House Democrats,” Margolies-Mezvinsky wrote in a Washington Post op-ed, “I feel your pain. Eighteen years ago, I was elected on the coattails of a popular young Democratic president who promised a post-partisan Washington. A year later, with partisan gridlock capturing the Capitol, there was a razor-thin vote on the House floor over legislation that Democrats said would remake the country and Republicans promised would bankrupt it. I was pressed on all sides: by constituents opposed, my president needing a victory and Republicans promising my demise. I was in the country’s most Republican district represented by a Democrat. I had repeatedly said, ‘I will not be a ‘read my lips’ candidate,’ when asked if I would promise not to raise taxes. I voted my conscience, and it cost me.”

“I am your worst-case scenario. And I’d do it all again,” she added. “You could be Margolies-Mezvinskied whether you vote with or against President Obama. You will be assailed no matter how you vote this week. And this job isn’t supposed to be easy. So cast the vote that you won’t regret in 18 years.”

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio


Clinton White House’s Conspiracy Theory of Right-Wing Conspiracy Theories

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- If Bill Clinton’s political camp was known for believing the right wing was out to get him, then this undated memo from his administration codified his team’s suspicions.

Clinton White House Conspiracy memo

The memo was released Friday in the latest, thousands-of-pages-long batch of Clinton White House documents to be posted online by the William J. Clinton Presidential Library & Museum. The National Archives have been releasing tranches of Clinton documents, previously withheld under the Presidential Records Act, every two weeks this spring.

Reportedly authored by Chris Lehane, then a young White House aide who would later serve as press secretary for Al Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign, the memo — the existence of which was first reported by The Washington Post in 1997 — accuses right-wing think tanks and publications such as The American Spectator of fanning conspiracy theories over the Whitewater land deal and the suicide of deputy White House counsel Vince Foster.

Richard Mellon Scaife, a wealthy conservative and supporter of Newt Gingrich, is the object of many of the accusations.

“The controversy surrounding the death of Vince Foster has been, in large part, the product of a well-financed right-wing conspiracy industry operation. The Wizard of Oz figure orchestrating the machinations of the conspiracy industry is a little-known recluse, Richard Mellon Scaife. Scaife uses his $800 million inherited Mellon fortune to underwrite the Foster conspiracy industry,” the memo reads.

Scaife gave $2.3 million to The American Spectator to find incriminating stories about Clinton, The Washington Post reported in 1999.

Itself a conspiracy theory — of how conspiracy theories were allegedly peddled — the memo dubs the flow of such theories as the “communication system of conspiracy commerce” and tracks them from conservative think tanks to British tabloids and back to the mainstream press, enshrining this path as “The ‘Blow-Back’ Strategy” and noting how congressional interest legitimized some news stories in the eyes of the mainstream press.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio