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Obama Commits 'Sin,' Orders 'Death by Chocolate' from the Devil


BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) --  When President Obama walked into Gregg’s Restaurant and Pub in Providence, R.I., for a surprise lunch on Friday with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gina Raimondo, the devil was waiting.

And so were a few Flintstones and a pirate.

After meeting the restaurant’s owner, the aptly named Bob Bacon, the president headed straight to the sweets -- it is Halloween after all -- and ordered a sinister “Death by Chocolate” cake from the devil, a server in disguise.

"The word is that the chocolate-layer cake here is deadly and it's devilish, and so for Halloween, this is the kind of sin that we want to commit,” Obama said, noting he would share the 20-pound cake with the crew on Air Force One.

The president then ordered a less-devilish, but perhaps more deadly entree: a burger, medium well, with the works and fries.

When one of the servers noted “Michelle’s not going to be happy about that,” the president told her. “You know what, you don’t have to tell.”

The Halloween fun will continue Friday evening, when the president and first lady host pint-sized goblins, superheroes and princesses at the White House. The tiny trick-or-treaters, local school kids and children of military families will be rewarded with candy and, of course, some first lady-approved healthy snacks.

Obama did in fact share the massive chocolate cake. He negotiated a deal with the press aboard AF1 -- cake in exchange for letting Press Secretary Josh Earnest skip the planned gaggle.

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Career Diplomats Worried About Influx of Political Appointees


iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The Obama administration is giving an unprecedented number of political appointees top diplomatic positions, a move that has long frustrated career Foreign Service officials but has become a renewed point of contention this week with the departure of Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns, the only career foreign service officer in the top echelons of Foggy Bottom leadership.

Burns, who served more than three decades as a diplomat, announced earlier this week that he would be heading to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. His replacement has not yet been announced. The most talked-about candidates are Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken or current Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, both of whom would be political appointees.

It’s actually the norm for a political appointee to get the deputy slot. In the 41-year history of that position, Burns is the exception to the rule. But career officials say their wider concern is political appointees’ total takeover of all the top State Department positions, not only at the deputy level but also at the next-highest level, the undersecretary for political affairs slot, or the “P” position.

And even Burns, a seasoned diplomat who had recently helped in secret talks to get Iran to the negotiating table over its nuclear program, recognized the prevalence of political appointees serving in the White House’s National Security Council and alluded to frustration among the career ranks in a parting letter he wrote for Foreign Policy.

“The revolution in communications technology and the increasing role of both the National Security Council staff and other agencies over successive administrations have tended to bring out the more passive (or sometimes passive-aggressive) side of the State Department,” Burns wrote.

These are the kinds of concerns that Robert Silverman, the president of the American Foreign Service Association, made up of Foreign Service officers, says he’s hearing from his members.

“They care deeply about who their leadership is. They also care deeply about who their direct supervisor is. And here in Washington, that is increasingly people from outside the system with no experience in this position who take a lot of special handling,” Silverman told ABC News.

He noted that the top positions are not only concerned with the issues that the secretary of state works on, such as ISIS, Iran and North Korea, but also more the more mundane tasks that keep the department running, like those of the passport agency or child custody cases.

“We’re not opposed to political appointees -- it’s important to bring in outsiders with fresh perspectives,” he added. “It’s just completely out of balance.”

Another reflection of that lack of balance cited by AFSA and others is the ratio of political appointees to career officers that President Obama has chosen to serve as foreign ambassadors. In his second term, 41 percent of his ambassadorial appointees have been political, versus 58 percent career. His record over both terms is 64 percent career, 35 percent political -- second only to the record of George W. Bush, for whom political appointees counted as 36 percent of his total ambassadorial nominations.

But State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki rejected the notion that the influx of political appointees in the top leadership positions represented a lack of emphasis on the Foreign Service.

“While it would be inappropriate to speculate about pending decisions and nominations about the Department’s senior leadership, everyone should rest assured knowing that the secretary doesn't just respect but reveres the institution that is the Foreign Service,” she said, adding that Secretary of State John Kerry is the son of a foreign service officer and has appointed more career officers in assistant secretary positions than “at any time in recent memory.”

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Early Voting: More than 12M Votes Cast Ahead of Election Day


iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- As of Thursday, early voting had begun in every one of the 33 states (plus Washington, D.C.) that offer it.

More than 12 million voters have so far cast their votes for the 2014 midterm elections, which is almost double the tally from last week. Why the big jump?

A lot of it has to do with more states getting into their in-person early voting periods, which is the preferred early-voting method for the majority of Democrats.

That also means some earlier Republican gains around the country are diminishing.

But with Thursday’s total early vote tally representing about 63 percent of the total 19 million early voters in the 2010 midterm cycle, there are still plenty of early vote returns we’ll see before Tuesday.

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If You Thought the Legal Challenges to the Affordable Care Act Were Over, You'd Be Wrong


iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — You thought the battles over Obamacare were over after the nail-biting 2012 decision by the Supreme Court upholding a core provision of the law, right? Wrong.

In fact, the justices are meeting behind closed doors Friday to discuss a different challenge to the law that could, ultimately, be fatal to the future of the Affordable Care Act.

This challenge targets tax subsidies granted to those who seek to obtain insurance from the American Health Benefit Exchanges, often referred to simply as exchanges. The ACA grants the credits to qualifying individuals in order to defray the cost of insurance.

Sixteen states and the District of Columbia have established exchanges for themselves, while 34 states have opted to allow the Federal government to do so. According to the government, some 7.3 million people have obtained insurance through the exchanges.

But challengers of the law say its text grants subsidies only for those on the state exchanges, not the federal exchanges. They say lawmakers thought that every state would establish exchanges, and in fact only 16 did.

Here’s the relevant paragraph in their brief to the Supreme Court:

King v. Burwell, excerpted:

 

King v. Burwell, excerpted:

In its briefs, the Obama administration scoffs at the challenge, saying there is no way Congress would have intended such an “absurd” result. Supporters of the law acknowledge, however, if this battle is lost it's unlikely the rest of the law could survive.

There are similar cases percolating in the lower courts, and it's likely the Supreme Court will hold off for now and only step in after those courts have ruled. But supporters of the health care law are worried that two years after the Supreme Court barely upheld the law, this challenge might be the final blow.

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Rand Paul Has More Harsh Words for His Own Party


Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(DETROIT) — Senator Rand Paul said Thursday, "The Republican Party brand sucks."

The comment is extreme even for the Kentucky Republican who has complained publicly that his party has done a poor job trying to be more inclusive of those who traditionally vote for Democrats.

During his visit to suburban Detroit, Paul, who is likely running for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination, compared his party to an admission once made by Domino’s Pizza that said roughly, "Hey, our pizza crust sucks."

He then went on to say, "The Republican Party brand sucks and so people don’t want to be a Republican and for 80 years, African-Americans have had nothing to do with Republicans."

Paul believes that when the GOP starts building a presence in communities it has shunned in the past, "We’re going to win votes like we’ve never won before."

In response, Republican National Committee spokesman Sean Spicer said the party is proud of the effort it’s made to reach out to minorities.

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Michael Jordan Says What He Really Thinks About Obama's Golf Game


David Cannon/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — President Obama has often been slammed by the GOP for spending more time on the golf course than he does trying to solve the nation's problems.

However, a new critic has joined the mix but only to add his two cents about the president's golf game.

Former NBA superstar Michael Jordan, now owner of the woeful Charlotte Hornets, was recently asked what would be his ideal foursome on the links.

Jordan responded, "I’ve never played with Obama, but I would. But, nah, that’s OK. I take him out. He’s a hack. Man, it would be all day playing with him."

Attempting to backtrack a bit, Jordan actually talked more trash by saying, "I never said he wasn’t a great politician. I’m just saying he’s a s****y golfer."

As for the ideal foursome, Jordan said it would include current PGA superstar Rory McElroy, golfing legend Arnold Palmer, the late President Teddy Roosevelt and a clone of himself.

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Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey Explain Support for 21-Day Quarantine for Troops


US Senate(WASHINGTON) -- Safety concerns prompted the decision to put in place a 21-day quarantine for American troops serving in the Ebola mission in West Africa, top Pentagon officials said Thursday.

Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters that he and the other Joint Chiefs of Staff believe a quarantine makes sense for the 4,000 troops that will be assigned to Liberia for a six-month period.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel signed off on Wednesday on the recommendation made by the Joint Chiefs that the Defense Department impose a quarantine for returning troops. That order went further than guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that travelers from Liberia should self-monitor for symptoms for 21 days, but not under quarantine conditions.

“We did factor in science,” Dempsey said. “Physics is the science we factored in.”

Dempsey made a distinction between civilian health care volunteers treating Ebola-infected patients and the large military force headed to Liberia.

“This is not about small groups of people who are transient. There’s protocols for that,” Dempsey said. “It’s also not about health care professionals in direct contact with Ebola. There’s protocols for that.”

While American troops will not be providing any health care, their six-month deployments will keep them there longer than health care volunteers who stay for one to two months because of what he called the, “intense environment for them.”

“This is about a major military operation and big things on a global scale. And so we took a conservative approach and we’ll assess it in 45 days,” said Dempsey. “But we’re going to keep them safe.”

Hagel said that his decision to agree to the Joint Chiefs recommendation “was thoroughly reviewed by health care professionals in each of the services in the Office of the Secretary of Defense.”

Hagel said he was mainly focused on the security of the men and women in uniform, which is why he thought, “it was a smart, wise, prudent, disciplined, science-oriented decision based mainly on what the chairman just articulated, but also the reality of what else is going on.”

Hagel acknowledged the public debate about, “every decision, every issue, and every part of that by decision-makers.” But he said, “You have to analyze it based on what you think is the right thing to do for your people, and that’s the decision we made and why we made it.”

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Politicians Remember Former Boston Mayor Tom Menino, Say City Better Because of Him


Photo by Wendy Maeda/The Boston Globe via Getty Images(BOSTON) -- After former Boston Mayor Tom Menino passed away on Thursday, politicians locally and nationally remembered him fondly.

Describing Menino's, "sheer determination and unmatched work ethic," current Boston Mayor Martin Walsh said that Menino, "took a city that is not as big in size as we are in stature and put us on the world stage as a national leader in health care, education, innovation and the nitty gritty of executing basic city services."

"Because of his leadership," Walsh said of his predecessor, "Boston is a better place today."

President Obama remembered the former mayor as a "bold, big-hearted" man who was "Boston strong." The president noted that Menino's, "legacy lives on in every neighborhood he helped revitalize, every school he helped turn around, and every community he helped make a safer, better place to live."

Secretary of State John Kerry, a Senator from Massachusetts for 18 years, put it simply: "Tom Menino was Boston." Praising his, "big bold beating heart of a street politician" and asserting that Menino still, "is Boston today," Kerry said that while, "others talked, Tommy worked."

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Poll: Rep. Gardner's Lead Widens in Colorado Senate Race


Inset photos: (t) US Congress / (b) US Senate(WASHINGTON) -- A new Quinnipiac University poll out Thursday morning is bad news for Colorado Sen. Mark Udall in one of the most closely watched races this cycle.

The poll shows Udall's Republican challenger, Rep. Cory Gardner, leading the Democrat by seven points -- 46 to 39 percent -- in Colorado's Senate race. Seven percent are for Independent candidate Steve Shogan, while another 7 percent are still undecided.

This gap between Udall and Gardner is slightly wider than last week's poll, which showed Gardner leading by five points.

There is also a significant gender gap in this race, but it benefits Gardner more. He is leading among men 51 to 38 percent, while women back Udall 45 to 39 percent.

Only 10 percent of likely voters in Colorado could still change their mind, according to the poll. That's enough to make up the difference, but with only five days before Election Day, there's not much time to convince them.

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Iowa Senate Hopeful's RV Hits Deer on Campaign Trail


Inset photo: Joni Ernst for US Senate(WASHINGTON) -- Joni Ernst’s campaign may have skyrocketed into infamy thanks to few hogs, but late Wednesday night a deer brought the Republican state senator from Iowa to a halt.

“Reports are true. RV did hit a deer. No one injured. Campaign will continue on,” Ernst’s campaign account tweeted shortly after the collision.

Ernst followed up with a tweet herself, assuring the public that everyone on the bus was safe.

Thank goodness we are all okay RT @JoniForIowa: Reports are true. RV did hit a deer. No one injured. Campaign will continue on. #iasen

— Joni Ernst (@joniernst) October 30, 2014

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., was campaigning with the Iowa Senate hopeful on Wednesday and was among those onboard when the RV hit a deer just miles away from the final campaign stop.

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Charlie Crist Inches Ahead in Florida Governor's Race


Inset photos: Office of the Florida Governor(WASHINGTON) -- Florida’s gubernatorial race is still extremely tight, but former Republican governor now Democratic candidate Charlie Crist has inched ahead slightly, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll out Thursday morning.

Crist leads incumbent Republican Gov. Rick Scott 43 percent to 40 percent. Libertarian candidate Adrian Wyllie has 8 percent, while 9 percent of voters are still undecided.

Last week, the two were deadlocked at 42 percent.

Crist seems to have made some inroads with independent voters and leads among them by a significant 47 to 29 percent.

Among early voters, it’s still very tight with Crist at 40 percent and Scott at 39. Only 10 percent of Florida voters say they could change their mind at this point.

As for favorability in this race, voters now give Crist a split 45 percent favorability; Scott is underwater at 41 to 46 percent.

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Former Boston Mayor Tom Menino Dies at 71


Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images(BOSTON) -- Former Boston Mayor Tom Menino died Thursday at the age of 71, ABC News has confirmed.

He passed away surrounded by his wife Angela and other family and friends.

Menino, the city's longest-serving mayor, left office earlier this year to the applause of city hall employees after two decades leading Boston.

He was diagnosed with cancer shortly after leaving office and had recently suspended his treatments.

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Presidential Grandsons Latest Legacy Candidates in State Elections


iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush may be flirting with a presidential run in 2016, but it’s his son George P. Bush who has the more imminent deadline as he is running for Texas Land Commissioner.

The youngest politician in the Bush family is one of two presidential grandsons whose names will be on ballots come Tuesday as former President Jimmy Carter’s grandson Jason is running for governor of Georgia.

Jason Carter has had politics in his blood from both sides of his family, since his maternal grandfather was a Georgia state senator. After serving in the Peace Corps and becoming a lawyer, the ninth-generation Georgian served in the State Senate since 2010.

Friends say it is no surprise that his famous grandfather has been helping campaign with him, as Carter faces off against incumbent Republican Gov. Nathan Deal.

"They are extremely close and I would say if there’s any genetics in this, Jason has inherited all of the political genes from his grandpa," said Peter Bourne, who served as President Carter’s campaign director in 1976 and a special assistant while in the White House.

Bourne said insiders have known that Jason Carter, 39, was going to follow in his grandfather’s democratic footprints for some time since “he was the only one in the family who clearly had an interest in politics.”

"He's the oldest grandson so President Carter always sort of took a special interest in him," said Bourne, who is currently a professor at Oxford University and wrote a biography of President Carter. "I have that sense that he hoped that would be the case, that he saw him beyond his own children and his other grandchildren that he was the one to make a successful political career."

Former President George H.W. Bush told ABC News that his grandson's foray into politics was somewhat expected.

"I wasn't surprised because he had already demonstrated his abiding commitment to service through his time in the Navy," Bush said.

"I don't know if he got this from me, but 'P' is a loyal friend. So is his father, so maybe that explains that," President Bush said, going on to describe his grandson as "candid, totally honest and hard-working."

George P. Bush, 48, got his first taste of the national spotlight when he lead the Pledge of Allegiance at his grandfather’s 1998 nominating convention when he was only 12, and later, introduced his grandmother, then-first lady Barbara Bush, at the 1992 convention.

"It’s an overall positive for me," George P. Bush told ABC's Jon Karl of his family name. “But I said from day one of my campaign, 23 months ago, that I am a man of my own right, who stands on my own two feet with my vision. And I need folks to evaluate me based on what I bring to the table."

Timothy Naftali, a historian and former President George H.W. Bush biographer, said that the decision to run for a state office like land commissioner comes as a part of a larger plan as well.

"It’s obviously considered a stepping stone," he said.

"The Bushes are obviously sensitive to a sense of entitlement. Rather than running for Congress first, they're having him establish his credentials as a political figure in Texas first,” Naftali said.

"The family very much wanted to promote George P. as a public figure, if not as a politician," Naftali said of the move. "The family itself promoted him, so there’s a dynastic quality to the Bushes that we haven’t seen in a family since the Kennedys."

Carter and Bush are not the only legacy candidates hoping for some favorable returns on Tuesday. Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu, whose father Moon was the mayor of New Orleans and was the secretary of Housing and Urban Development, is in a tough re-election race just like Sen. Mark Pryor, the son of former Arkansas Gov. David Pryor.

"I think in the South people kind of like dynasties more than they do in other parts of the country," Bourne said.

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Poll: In Wis. Gubernatorial Race, Walker Pulling Away from Burke


Darren Hauck/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has gained a little ground over the past two weeks on Democratic challenger Mary Burke, putting the potential 2016 presidential candidate on track to win his third bid for governor in just four years.

While a poll conducted earlier this month showed the race at a dead heat, new data released Wednesday by the Marquette Law School now shows Walker with 50 percent of likely voters compared to only 43 percent for Burke.

Among registered voters, however, the survey still shows a tight race with Walker winning 46 percent of the vote and Burke garnering 45 percent -- essentially a statistical tie within the poll's margin of error.

Walker will continue his bus tour campaign through the Green Bay area Thursday, while Burke plans to make a campaign swing through southeastern Wisconsin.

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Five Days to Elections, Conservative Super PAC Makes Final Push with New Ads


iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — There are five more days until Election Day, and as candidates make their last push to gain the support of voters, political groups are running more adds in key districts.

The American Future Fund is out with three new ads in Georgia’s 12th district and Michigan’s 6th district. The conservative super PAC is also running ads for the Oregon Senate race, where Sen. Jeff Merkley is battling it out against his GOP challenger Monica Wehby.

Ads directing voter attention to the contest between Merkley and Wehby are peculiar because the race -- rated “likely Democrat by ABC News -- is no longer on the radars of most as the top and tight 11 races become more apparent.  AFF, however, is pouring $200,000 into the spot going after Merkley.

The ad, titled "Stopwatch," attacks him for not doing enough in Washington with a narrator asking the viewer, "Can you think of one thing he's accomplished?" It doesn't mention Wehby, but says at the end "Jeff Merkley's time is up."


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