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BuzzFeed, Reporting To You

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    Joe Raedle / Getty Images

    MELBOURNE, FL — Within minutes of taking the stage at his first campaign-style rally since he became president, Donald Trump told his supporters he wanted to speak to them "without the filter of the fake news."

    "They've become a big part of the problem," Trump told his cheering audience. "They are part of the corrupt system."

    The crowd in attendance was happy to go along with Trump's anti-press rhetoric, which has become significantly more hostile since his press conference on Thursday and tweet on Friday calling many outlets "the enemy of the American People!" Many of his supporters told BuzzFeed News they see Trump as the truth teller.

    "He tells the truth and all the rest of them are liars," one supporter told BuzzFeed News about Trump, who gained prominence as a creature of the New York City tabloid media and as a reality show star.

    "He tells the truth and all the rest of them are liars."

    The rally, held in an airport hangar in Melbourne, FL, took an unfriendly tone toward the press before Trump even took the stage. Notably, Diamond and Silk, sisters who stumped for Trump via YouTube, had the crowd chanting "CNN sucks" before it was even 5 p.m. (the rally's scheduled start time).

    By the end of the evening, supporters approached the media pen, chanting "CNN sucks" and "tell the truth!"

    "What you hear about chaos, I think that's really overblown," said Philip Wahlbom, 48, of Atlanta, GA when asked what he thought about the beginning of the administration. "You have these reporters that want to highlight the things that maybe aren't going quite as [smoothly] as you would like them to, but by and large I think it's going just fine... he's shaking things up, he's stirring the pot, he's kicking the hornet's nest, I think he's doing a great job."

    Some of Trump's supporters told BuzzFeed News that their media consumption habits changed during the campaign.

    One supporter told BuzzFeed News that she was turned off by a changed media landscape. "Our local paper fell apart," she said, and too many outlets rush to be first. Now, she said, she watches Right Side Broadcasting — a mostly YouTube channel that gained prominence by streaming every Trump campaign rally — and "watched MSNBC [on election night] because I wanted to see them whine."

    Another supporter told BuzzFeed News he either gets his news from C-SPAN — which mostly airs the workings of government without commentary — and the Kremlin-backed Russia Today, now known as RT.

    Other supporters said they got their news from Facebook — recently embroiled in a controversy over promoting fake news — the National Enquirer, and Dennis Michael Lynch, who openly promotes news favorable to Trump.

    "I was an avid CNN person. But even during the campaign... you could see which way they were swaying, OK? I mean, it didn't take a rocket scientist to see they were against him," said Darlene Morris, 61, of Palm Bay, FL. "And if I'm just a normal person and I could tell that, I'm sure [Trump] knows it."

    "Now I don't watch but our Channel 13 news."

    Some said they became more engaged with news and politics when Trump began running for office. Jeinne Eubanks, 56, of Summerfield, FL told BuzzFeed News she did not follow politics at all until she heard Trump was running.

    "When my mom told me he was running, I'd never even watched news because I was always just so fed up with everything," Eubanks said. "I started paying attention, and I have just loved that man, would take a bullet for him, since day one."

    When asked where she gets her news, Eubanks said she TiVo's Fox News.

    "If I told you you did a sorry job ...every day, every day, every minute of the day, how long would it be before you would get disheartened?" Asked Richard Rowell, 74, of Waycross, GA. Rowell said that while he still watches a little bit of MSNBC, he stopped watching it regularly because he felt its reports were "negative."

    When asked about what political issues supporters wanted the president to address at the rally, many listed the "liberal media."

    Many others had complaints about "fake news." The phrase was a big topic of conversation among supporters as they waited for the president.

    When asked what news he trusts to stay informed, one supporter answered that the president was the answer.

    "We can trust Donald."

    With reporting from Andrew Kimmel and Salvador Hernandez.


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    Alabama Department of Corrections via AP

    The US Supreme Court declined on Tuesday to hear a case brought by an Alabama death row inmate challenging the conditions under which he will be executed — a move that two justices say allows states to avoid similar challenges "no matter how cruel or how unusual" their method of execution might be.

    The high court had halted Tommy Arthur's execution in November, with Chief Justice John Roberts issuing a so-called courtesy fifth vote. It only takes four justices to decide to hear a case, but requires five justices to issue a stay of execution.

    In order to challenge a method of execution, however, death row inmates have to prove the method risks severe pain — but also propose a “known and available” alternative way to be executed.

    The lower court held that Arthur's alternative method — the firing squad — cannot be a "known and available" alternative because it is not "expressly permitted" under Alabama law. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court declined to review that decision.

    In an 18-page dissent from the court's decision not to hear the case, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote Arthur had met his “macabre challenge.”

    Alabama uses a three-drug execution protocol: A controversial sedative used in several botched executions, followed by a paralytic, and then a drug that stops the heart. The final drug feels like fire coursing through your veins, and both states and inmates agree that, if an inmate were not properly sedated, the final drug would be incredibly painful.

    "Execution absent an adequate sedative thus produces a nightmarish death," Sotomayor wrote, joined by Justice Stephen Breyer. "The condemned prisoner is conscious but entirely paralyzed, unable to move or scream his agony, as he suffers 'what may well be the chemical equivalent of being burned at the stake.'"

    Arthur alleged that midazolam was not suitable as a sedative, as it has a "ceiling effect," which, when reached, means more of the drug won't increase sedation. It was here that Arthur instead asked that he be executed by firing squad and lower courts dismissed his claim because the firing squad is not currently allowed as a method of execution under Alabama law.

    "Under this view, even if a prisoner can prove that the State plans to kill him in an intolerably cruel manner, and even if he can prove that there is a feasible alternative, all a State has to do to execute him through an unconstitutional method is to pass a statute declining to authorize any alternative method," Sotomayor wrote. "This cannot be right."

    The sedative midazolam has been used in several high-profile botched executions. Sotomayor pointed to problematic executions using the drug in Ohio, Oklahoma, Arizona, and even Alabama.

    "Science and experience are now revealing that, at least with respect to midazolam-centered protocols, prisoners executed by lethal injection are suffering horrifying deaths beneath a medically sterile aura of peace," she wrote.

    "Twice in recent years, this Court has observed that it 'has never invalidated a State’s chosen procedure for carrying out a sentence of death as the infliction of cruel and unusual punishment,'" Sotomayor wrote. "We should not be proud of this history."

    Arthur was sentenced to death for a 1982 murder-for-hire scheme. In delaying his November execution, Roberts wrote that he did not think the court should grant the stay because the case “does not merit the Court’s review."

    Roberts stated that he was voting to stay the execution because "[f]our Justices have, however, voted to grant a stay. To afford them the opportunity to more fully consider the suitability of this case for review, including these circumstances, I vote to grant the stay as a courtesy.”

    A month later, Roberts did not vote for a stay in a different case and Alabama was allowed to carry out an execution using its three-drug protocol. The execution lasted more than 30 minutes, where the inmate “clenched his fists and raised his head during the early part of the procedure" and “heaved and coughed through about 13 minutes.”

    Read the dissent:



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    Alex Wong / Getty Images

    The latest project from the staffers and activists who worked on Bernie Sanders’ 2016 campaign, #WeWillReplaceYou, presents Democratic lawmakers with a stark choice: oppose Donald Trump at every turn, or face a primary challenger who will.

    One progressive who has yet to back the group’s aims is Sanders himself.

    Through a spokesman, the Vermont senator declined to say whether he supports the strategy behind #WeWillReplaceYou, founded last week by campaign alums and activists. Sanders' political organization, Our Revolution, also declined to comment when asked whether officials there agree with the idea of unseating incumbents.

    One month into Trump's presidency, Sanders and other party leaders are navigating new and difficult terrain as activists push a view of "resistance" defined in absolute terms, threaten lawmakers with primaries, and embrace tactics they readily compare to the Tea Party movement that upturned the Republican Party eight years ago.

    Demands for oppositional purity have emerged as a new rallying cry on the left, driving a wedge between grassroots activists and Democrats who remain open to pieces of Trump's agenda, vote for his cabinet nominees, or argue broadly that elected officials have a responsibility to find common ground with any president.

    #WeWillReplaceYou, the Sanders outcrop, is the first group to seize directly on those demands, asking progressives to "pledge to support primary election challengers against Democrats who won't do everything in their power to resist Trump."

    In interviews after their launch, #WeWillReplaceYou leaders outlined plans to pressure Democratic members of the House and Senate on every vote and policy item — and eventually, said co-founder Claire Sandberg, on an impeachment push.

    “We think that it’s time for Democrats to start seriously considering impeachment,” said Sandberg, who served as digital organizing director on the Sanders campaign. “If that takes shape, we’ll want to see Democrats across the board support it.”

    “There’s no middle ground anymore. This is a moment of black or white,” said another co-founder, Jessica Pierce, an organizer based in North Carolina.

    But under the terms set by #WeWillReplaceYou, not even Sanders clears the test.

    The self-described Democratic socialist, now a member of Sen. Chuck Schumer's leadership team, voted for three of Trump’s cabinet picks, including Secretary of Homeland Security Gen. John F. Kelly and Secretary of Defense Gen. James Mattis. Sanders also voiced an early willingness to working with Trump on infrastructure, trade policy, and drug costs, arguing in January that it didn't make "sense to say, ‘No, we’re not gonna work in any way in any form with the Trump administration."

    Trump’s first four weeks in office, of course, have since hardened opposition. Democrats have fiercely condemned his move to place a ban on refugees and travel from seven majority-Muslim countries, and they have led the charge for a comprehensive investigation into revelations about his associates' contacts with Russian officials.

    Still, organizers behind #WeWillReplaceYou said they haven't seen enough, describing any Democratic collaboration as unacceptable, whether a vote for a cabinet pick or an offer to speak with Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch.

    Sandberg, the co-founder, acknowledged that no Democrat in Congress — not even Sanders — currently meets their demands for wholesale “non-compliance."

    The point of the project, she said, is to start pushing Democrats toward the grassroots' vision of opposition well in advance of primary season. (“The most effective threat is one you don’t have to follow through on,” the group’s website explains.)

    “It was very strange to see so many people who are in the Democratic Party establishment react with just horror,” Sandberg said, citing criticism that the strategy could cost valuable seats in red states like Missouri and West Virginia, where Democratic Sens. Claire McCaskill and Joe Manchin are up for reelection.

    “I’m honestly surprised that they’re surprised. Whenever thousands of people [are telling Democrats to] do more to fight Trump — there’s an implicit ‘or else.’ We’re just making that ‘or else’ explicit.”

    It’s a threat activists had already started to embrace.

    Last week, a forum for candidates vying to chair the Democratic National Committee came to a sudden halt when a group of six activists — not aligned with #WeWillReplaceYou, they said later — rose from their seats and unfurled a large white banner: “DEMS: #RESIST TRUMP,” it warned, “OR BE REPLACED.”

    One of the protesters, 24-year-old Natalie Green, called out questions to Tom Perez, a DNC frontrunner, asking the former labor secretary if he would supporting primary challengers to run against incumbent Democrats “who refuse to fight” Trump.

    Perez did not answer the question directly, telling Green instead that he valued the party’s “big tent” and the tradition of locking arms after “spirited debate.” (It’s currently DNC practice to remain neutral in House and Senate primaries, though Perez did not mention that policy.)

    Activists confront DNC chair candidate Tom Perez at a forum on Wednesday.

    Via Twitter: @laurenegambino

    Green, a regular at marches and protests near her home in Washington, D.C., said Perez's response had been disappointing. “It's a question that's going to be so critical in the next couple years,” she said afterward. “But I think we made it clear that we will not be silenced. We will make sure that we do everything we can to hold Democrats accountable — and that will include running primary challengers.”

    The exchange between Green and Perez is one poised to replay itself again and again between activists and party leaders. Some Democrats describe the split as the party's next central internal strife, replacing the ideological fights that defined 2016 with a new struggle “between those who resist and oppose, and those who accommodate and appease," as operative David Brock put it early this year.

    The battle lines are not unfamiliar to either party.

    Under Barack Obama, the Affordable Care Act spawned a movement to pressure lawmakers on the right, with the conservative Heritage Foundation's political action committee threatening Republicans who wouldn't commit to a full repeal.

    Relative to Tea Party upsets, however, liberals have seen less success unseating Democratic incumbents. Two high-profile attempts to replace a sitting senator — Connecticut’s Joe Lieberman in 2006 and Arkansas’ Blanche Lincoln in 2010 — did not end with progressive victories. (After losing his primary, Lieberman ran as an independent and kept his seat. And though she scraped through her primary, Lincoln went on to lose badly to the Republican in the general election.)

    Whether #WeWillReplaceYou can successfully recruit and run winning primary challengers is a question the group's leaders describe as still a ways off. (The group has no full-time staff, just a team of volunteer activists that Pierce, one of the co-founders, described as "a coalition of the willing" and "a hybrid of love.")

    In recent years, liberal activist groups have concentrated on open-seat primaries, not incumbents. The Progressive Change Campaign Committee, an aggressive outfit based in Washington, hews to the belief that even if progressive candidates don't win their primaries, they've succeeded in pushing the field to the left.

    Last week, PCCC co-founder Adam Green welcomed the news of #WeWillReplaceYou with a statement of firm support for the project and for a party that fights Trump “boldly, consistently, and effectively.”

    “Ideally,” he added, “there would be no need for primaries against incumbents.”


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    A guards at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

    John Moore / Getty Images

    WASHINGTON — President Obama's pronouncements in 2014 and 2015 that the US combat mission in Afghanistan was over didn't end the government's right to hold prisoners at the US military facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, a federal judge ruled this week.

    Moath al-Alwi has been held by the US government since late 2001, when Pakistani authorities turned him over on suspicion that he had ties to al-Qaeda and the Taliban. In his latest bid for freedom, his lawyers argued that the end of the US combat mission meant he could no longer be lawfully detained as an enemy combatant.

    US District Judge Richard Leon ruled late Wednesday that regardless of Obama's statements, he would defer to the determination of the executive branch that the US was still engaged in "active hostilities" against al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and their affiliates.

    "Although the President announced a change in the military's focus going forward, he made clear that the United states would continue to engage in active counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan," Leon wrote.

    One of al-Alwi's attorney's, City University of New York School of Law professor Ramzi Kassem, told BuzzFeed News in an email that they will appeal Leon's decision.

    “Moath al-Alwi has been in U.S. custody for over 15 years. Neither the law of war nor any other set of laws in a civilized society should be read to permit arbitrary or lifetime imprisonment without a fair trial. We will appeal this decision because a higher court must check the President’s assertion that he can continue to imprison Mr. al-Alwi and others at will," Kassem said. He is representing al-Alwi through the Immigrant & Non-Citizen Rights Clinic, along with other volunteer lawyers.

    Leon, who heard arguments in December, is now the fourth federal judge in the US District Court for the District of Columbia to reject arguments similar to those raised by Al-Alwi's lawyers. The US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, which sets precedent for the district court, has yet to consider the issue because the detainees who brought earlier cases were transferred out before they could pursue an appeal.

    Al-Alwi is one of 41 detainees still held at Guantánamo Bay. The Defense Department last transferred out a group of detainees on Jan. 19. President Trump has expressed opposition to releasing detainees, tweeting on Jan. 3:

    Al-Alwi had also argued that even if there were still hostilities, his 15-year detention ran afoul of the principles of war, pointing to an earlier US Supreme Court decision — Hamdi v. Rumsfled, in 2004 — that warned against indefinite detention. Leon wrote that given the current military operations in Afghanistan, Al-Alwi's detention was permissible.

    "After all, 8,400 United States service members are currently stationed in Afghanistan and engage in the use of force, against al Qaeda, Taliban, and associated forces, consistent with the laws of war and in a context similar to that presented to the Supreme Court in Hamdi," Leon wrote. "To say the least, the duration of a conflict does not somehow excuse it from longstanding law of war principles."



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    Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

    WASHINGTON — The White House strongly defended the Trump administration's decision to withdraw Obama-era guidance aimed at protecting transgender students on Thursday as a states' rights issue that had already suffered a court loss this past summer.

    "It's a states' rights issue," White House press secretary Sean Spicer repeatedly said at the daily press briefing on Thursday, where he faced several questions about the decision. "That's entirely what he believes, that if a state wants to pass a law or rule or an organization wants to do something in compliance with the state law, that's their right. It shouldn't be the federal government getting in the way of this."

    Spicer refused to engage when asked if transgender students' rights is a civil rights issue, reiterating the states' right point and saying, "It's a question of where it's appropriately addressed."

    Detailing a five-point list to back up the decision to withdraw the guidance, Spicer repeatedly raised a 2016 trial court ruling by US District Judge Reed O'Connor in Texas that enjoined the enforcement of the guidance nationwide.

    "We have to remember, this guidance was enjoined last August by a court," he said. "It hasn't been enforced."

    Spicer did not, however, mention a conflicting ruling from the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. (That case is on appeal, scheduled to be heard by the Supreme Court next month.) The Fourth Circuit sided with the Obama administration earlier in 2016 — holding that the administration's position, that regulations implementing Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 could be interpreted to provide protections for transgender students under the law's sex discrimination ban, was permissible.

    On Wednesday, the Trump administration withdrew that guidance, Spicer said, for five reasons.

    "[T]he law that was passed in 1972 did not contemplate or consider this issue," he said. Later, reiterating a point he made earlier in the week, Spicer said, "The idea this was even contemplated is preposterous on its face."

    The US Supreme Court has made clear that — specifically in the realm of civil rights laws — "statutory prohibitions often go beyond the principal evil to cover reasonably comparable evils, and it is ultimately the provisions of our laws rather than the principal concerns of our legislators by which we are governed."

    That decision, written by Justice Antonin Scalia, addressed whether same-sex sexual harassment was prohibited under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Scalia noted that many had said that "male-on-male sexual harassment in the workplace was assuredly not the principal evil Congress was concerned with when it enacted Title VII" — a line that echoes Spicer's comments on Thursday. Nonetheless, Scalia concluded, "We see no justification in the statutory language or our precedents for a categorical rule excluding same-sex harassment claims from the coverage of Title VII."

    Spicer continued: "Number two, the procedure for this guidance letter that was done through the Obama administration was not properly followed. There was no comment period," referring to an argument that the guidance should have gone through additional review under the Administrative Procedure Act. "There was no input from parents, teachers, students or administrators. None."

    The Obama administration, however, began addressing the protections provided to transgender students under federal law years before the guidance was issued. The Justice Department and Education Department, for example, reached a settlement with Arcadia Unified School District in California over the treatment of a transgender student in 2013. What's more, the underlying legal basis for the protections — that sex discrimination bans include, by their very definition, protections against anti-transgender discrimination — has been a developing area of the law for an even longer period.

    "The question here is whether discriminating against someone on the basis of
    his or her gender non-conformity constitutes sex-based discrimination under the
    Equal Protection Clause," the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit held in 2011 in a case brought by Vandy Beth Glenn. "For the reasons discussed below, we hold that it does."

    More Spicer: "Number three, there's a reason that the Texas court had this matter enjoined. Because it didn't follow the law and it had procedural problems," he said, not providing any specific rationale for how that is a different reason, as opposed to just being a reiteration of the first two points.

    "Four, as I mentioned, it's a state rights issue," he said.

    "Number five, we have to recognize that children do enjoy rights from anti-bullying statues that are in almost every state. There's a difference between being compassionate for individuals and children who are struggling with something, wanting to make sure they're protected, and how it's being done," he said.

    Anti-bullying laws, of course, would not necessarily cover the full range of anti-transgender discrimination and specifically would not address the questions related to bathroom and locker room use that have been highlighted in recent years.

    Asked later in the briefing about President Trump's personal belief on the matter, Spicer deflected.

    "The president believes it's a state's rights issue," Spicer said. "He's not — I understand what you're asking. As [another reporter] pointed out, when the issue came to one of his own properties, he was very clear" — a reference to Trump's comments that Caitlyn Jenner would be free to use the restroom in accordance with her gender identity in Trump Tower.

    "Again, what he doesn't want to do is to force his issues or beliefs down — he believes it's a state's rights issue."


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    Charles Reed/U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement / AP

    ARLINGTON, Va. — In a small, windowless courtroom on the second floor of an office building, Judge Rodger Harris heard a string of bond requests on Tuesday morning from immigrants held in jail as they faced deportation.

    The detainees appeared by video from detention facilities elsewhere in the state. Harris, an immigration judge since 2007, used a remote control to move the camera around in his courtroom so the detainees could see their lawyers appearing in-person before the judge, if they had one. The lawyers spoke about their clients’ family ties, job history, and forthcoming asylum petitions, and downplayed any previous criminal record.

    In cases where Harris agreed to set bond — the amounts ranged from $8,000 to $20,000 — he had the same message for the detainees: if they paid bond and were set free until their next court date, it would mean a delay in their case. Hearings set for March or April would be pushed back until at least the summer, he said.

    But a couple of months is nothing compared to timelines that some immigration cases are on now. Judges and lawyers interviewed by BuzzFeed News described hearings scheduled four, five, or even six years out. Already facing a crushing caseload, immigration judges are bracing for more strain as the Trump administration pushes ahead with an aggressive ramp-up of immigration enforcement with no public commitment so far to aid backlogged courts.

    Immigration courts, despite their name, are actually an arm of the US Department of Justice. The DOJ seal — with the Latin motto “qui pro domina justitia sequitur,” which roughly translates to, “who prosecutes on behalf of justice” — hung on the wall behind Harris in his courtroom in Virginia. Lawyers from the US Department of Homeland Security prosecute cases. Rulings can be appealed to the Board of Immigration Appeals, which is also part of the Justice Department, and then to a federal appeals court.

    As of the end of January, there were more than 540,000 cases pending in immigration courts. President Trump signed executive orders in late January that expanded immigration enforcement priorities and called for thousands of additional enforcement officers and border patrol officers. But the orders are largely silent on immigration courts, where there are dozens of vacant judgeships. And beyond filling the vacancies, the union of immigration judges says more judges are needed to handle the caseload, as well as more space, technological upgrades, and other resources.

    Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly acknowledged the immigration court backlog in a memorandum released this week that provided new details about how the department would carry out Trump’s orders. Kelly lamented the “unacceptable delay” in immigration court cases that allowed individuals who illegally entered the United States to remain here for years.

    The administration hasn’t announced plans to increase the number of immigration judges or to provide more funding and resources. It also isn’t clear yet if immigration judges and court staff are exempt from a government-wide hiring freeze that Trump signed shortly after he took office. There are 73 vacancies in immigration courts, out of 374 judgeships authorized by Congress.

    “Everybody’s pretty stressed,” said Paul Schmidt, who retired as an immigration judge in June. “How are you going to throw more cases into a court with 530,000 pending cases? It isn’t going to work.”

    Judge Dana Leigh Marks

    Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP

    Judge Dana Leigh Marks, an immigration judge in San Francisco and president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, said judges have not been formally advised about whether the hiring freeze applies to immigration courts. Kathryn Mattingly, a spokeswoman for the Executive Office for Immigration Review — the Justice Department office that runs immigration courts — said in an email that the office is working with DOJ officials to come up with “guidance that may address specific positions.” According to Mattingly, there are more than 50 immigration judge candidates at various stages of the hiring process.

    In setting immigration enforcement priorities, the Obama administration focused on individuals involved in gang activity and convicted of felony and “significant” misdemeanor crimes. The Trump administration is casting a wider net, prioritizing deportation for any immigrant unlawfully in the United States who is charged with or convicted of a crime. Trump’s executive orders call for the construction of more detention facilities near the southern border and the hiring of 10,000 more immigration officers and 5,000 more border patrol agents.

    The only explicit reference to immigration courts in these orders directs the US attorney general to assign judges to detention facilities. That could mean flying judges to border states with large numbers of detainees, if there’s space to accommodate them, or holding hearings by video, which lawyers say can put individuals facing deportation at a disadvantage, especially if they don’t have a lawyer.

    "We actually hear it from both immigrants and people who want strong enforcement policies that the length of time these cases are pending is way too long and should be addressed."

    “All of those logistical considerations are daunting,” Marks said. Without more judges to augment what Marks described as an “anemic judge corps,” especially as Homeland Security hires thousands of more immigration enforcement officers, more cases means more delays, she said.

    According to Mattingly, the immigration review office is “evaluating” the executive orders and “having discussions with the Department of Justice regarding implementation.” Requests to interview office director Juan Osuna or Chief Immigration Judge MaryBeth Keller were declined.

    The immigration review office "recognizes that to reduce the pending caseload and wait times for those in proceedings, the agency must continue its hiring initiative to increase the size of its immigration judge corps and must increase support staff, in the field and at headquarters, accordingly," Mattingly said.

    Plagued by delays

    There are immigration courts in 27 states, plus Puerto Rico and the Northern Mariana Islands. The National Association of Immigration Judges has long advocated for immigration courts to become independent from the Justice Department, under a structure similar to the US Tax Court. The president can remove Tax Court judges, but otherwise it operates as an independent entity within the executive branch.

    The union says this type of structure would give courts more control over dockets and staffing, and bolster public trust. The US Government Accountability Office is studying proposed options to restructure immigration courts in response to a 2015 request from Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy and Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren; the office expects to finish the study by the summer, according to a GAO spokesman.

    For now, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is in control. The attorney general signs off on all immigration judge appointments. Sessions also has the authority to overrule decisions by the Board of Immigration Appeals.

    Greg Chen, director of advocacy for the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said the group is watching to see if Sessions — a proponent of hardline immigration policies — moves to bring in judges who align with his views.

    Political screening is a sensitive issue for the immigration courts. The Justice Department’s inspector general concluded in a 2008 report that department officials improperly adopted a political test for immigration judges during the second Bush administration.

    “We would hope that kind of ideology doesn’t infect the process,” Chen said.

    US Attorney General Jeff Sessions

    Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

    Even if Sessions does move now to fill the current vacancies, it could be years before the courts are at full strength. It can take as long as three years to hire a new immigration judge, according to judges and lawyers familiar with the process. The most recent class of immigration judges was hired in early January.

    And even if Sessions does fill all the existing judgeships, Schmidt said it still wouldn’t be enough to tackle the backlog. At most, an experienced judge could handle about 750 cases annually without rushing through proceedings and “stomping over everybody's due process rights,” he said. With 374 judges, that comes out to about 280,000 cases per year — far short of the current number of pending cases.

    Detainees get priority in immigration courts. As of the end of January, there were 20,856 pending detained cases, according to the latest statistics available from the Justice Department, out of more than 540,000 pending cases. Trump’s executive orders and Kelly’s guidance memos stress that priority will be placed on holding people facing deportation rather than releasing them, so those cases would go the top of the docket.

    Kelly criticized the immigration court delays because they meant that immigrants who were illegally in the United States could stay longer. Immigrants with work authorization before they enter into removal proceedings in court — green card holders, for instance — keep that status while their case is pending, and asylum seekers can be eligible for work authorization under limited circumstances. Generally, undocumented immigrants face the same job prospects that they did before they were picked up by immigration officers — working off the books, or self-employment.

    During the long stretches in between hearings, Marks said additional problems can arise: evidence can go stale and witnesses can move away or die.

    “We actually hear it from both immigrants and people who want strong enforcement policies that the length of time these cases are pending is way too long and should be addressed,” he said.

    Easing the backlog

    Chief Immigration Judge MaryBeth Keller took steps in January to try to ease some of the strain. She issued a memorandum that revised the types of cases considered priorities. The top priority is individuals held by the Department of Homeland Security. She rescinded earlier memos that prioritized classes of unaccompanied children who were not in the care of federal agencies and families who were not detained.

    "If you’re going to move these many cases in, you’re going to have to do something with the cases that are there now."

    It wasn’t clear from the memo, dated Jan. 31, if it was drafted in response to the Trump administration's new enforcement priorities — Trump signed the two executive orders on immigration enforcement on Jan. 25 — or if it was already in the works when Trump took office. A spokeswoman for the Executive Office for Immigration Review said the priorities outlined in the Jan. 31 memo “reflect the present state of the immigration system and EOIR’s efforts to adapt as the immigration landscape changes.”

    Eliza Klein, an immigration lawyer who retired as an immigration judge in 2015, said that Keller’s memo provided some relief to judges. But given the expanded enforcement expected under the Trump administration, she said, “the sense is that might be temporary.”

    Kelly addressed the immigration court backlog in his guidance memo this week, writing that the “surge of illegal immigration at the southern border has overwhelmed federal agencies and resources.” He said the department would expand the class of immigrants who can be immediately removed from the United States without first going before an immigration judge.

    President Trump with Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly

    Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

    In the past, this “expedited removal” process was applied to immigrants illegally in the United States caught within 100 miles of the border and two weeks of entry. It now will apply nationwide to immigrants who can’t prove that they have been in the US for at least two years.

    Those cases could still end up in court, though, if an immigrant seeks asylum or expresses a fear of persecution if they’re sent back to their home country. There are also carve-outs for children crossing the border alone and individuals who claim they have a legal right to be in the United States.

    Schmidt said that expanding expedited removal won’t be enough to address the backlog.

    “If you’re going to move these many cases in, you’re going to have to do something with the cases that are there now,” he said. “Grant them some kind of temporary status, and make room for new cases. But you can’t throw new cases on top of what you had.”

    Given the Trump administration’s hardline approach to immigration so far, any new proposal that goes beyond existing programs to grant immigrants facing deportation temporary legal status to remain in the United States seems unlikely to go far. With the exception of two existing deferred deportation programs, Kelly wrote in one of his guidance memos this week that “the Department no longer will exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement.”


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    Scott Olson / Getty Images

    WASHINGTON — The Trump administration, under a court's order to do so, turned over information Thursday night suggesting that a far greater number of people had been held by government officials as a result of the refugee and travel ban than previously acknowledged by the White House.

    The federal government held 746 people in between Saturday night, Jan. 28 — more than 24 hours after President Trump signed the executive order — and the end of the day on Sunday, Jan. 29, according to information provided to BuzzFeed News by the lawyers who challenged the ban in the Eastern District of New York.

    On Monday morning, Jan. 30, Trump tweeted otherwise, saying only 109 people were detained and questioned due to the order.

    "This evening, as ordered by a federal court, the Trump Administration disclosed to counsel in Darweesh v. Trump a list of 746 individuals that were held pursuant to the January 27, 2017 Executive Order," the statement from the Darweesh plaintiffs' lawyers noted. "The disclosure effectuates a court order first entered on Saturday, January 28, 2017, during an emergency hearing."

    The initial order in Darweesh was issued at 9:37 p.m. Jan. 28, so the list provided to the lawyers only begins with those being held at that time and goes through the next day, until 11:59 p.m. Jan. 29, according to the Darweesh lawyers. As such, the number of those detained on the first day of the order and released — or already removed from the country — by 9:37 p.m. Jan. 28 would not be included in the list turned over to counsel.

    In the Justice Department's cover letter accompanying the list, which was provided to BuzzFeed News by the plaintiffs' lawyers, Justice Department lawyer Samuel Go referred to the list as consisting of all people "encountered or undergoing processing ... pursuant to the Executive Order" during the relevant time period. The letter also notes that "this list includes legal permanent residents."

    The statement from the plaintiffs' lawyers also noted, "The identities of the 746 individuals were disclosed to Darweesh counsel under a protective order that prevents their release to the general public." A copy of the protective order was signed by the judge in the case on Thursday.

    The Justice Department provided no on-the-record comment beyond the filings in court.


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    Ron Sachs / Ron Sachs/MediaPunch/IPx

    WASHINGTON — The Trump administration held an unusual closed briefing with press secretary Sean Spicer Friday, allowing in an extended press pool as well as select news organizations they approved of, while excluding major news organizations the administration has been critical of.

    In a recording of the closed press briefing provided by ABC News, Spicer defended excluding outlets, arguing that the Trump administration has "gone above and beyond with making ourselves, our team, and our briefing room [accessible] than probably any prior administration, so I think we can take that to the bank." Spicer also cited the administration's "abundance in accessibility" at the closed press briefing with handpicked outlets.

    The confusing actions came on a day when the White House again fought with CNN and the media over a report that they asked the FBI to publicly knock down reports that the agency was investigating communications between the Trump campaign and Russian officials. The White House said it only communicated that to the FBI once the agency itself cast doubt on the stories as inaccurate.

    Of the administration's dispute with CNN, in particular, Spicer said they reported "pretty serious accusations, making it appear as if we did something wrong and nefarious when we want to make sure we set the record straight."

    On Friday, the administration for the first time included in its guidance a planned press gaggle that was supposed to be on camera. That was changed to off camera, with the White House not informing reporters that they would have to be put on a list. News organizations were put on a list of "interested parties" but then not allowed in. The New York Times, CNN, BuzzFeed News, Politico, and the LA Times were not allowed in. Instead, a group that included handpicked reporters from conservative outlets were invited to chat with Spicer, including Breitbart, One America News Network, and the Washington Times. Some national news outlets, like ABC, were also allowed to attend the briefing.

    The Associated Press and Time magazine boycotted the closed briefing.

    A reporter could be heard on the phone saying that the Trump administration "excluded a number of news organizations that have been targeted by the president."

    In a statement, BuzzFeed Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith said: "While we strongly object to the White House's apparent attempt to punish news outlets whose coverage it does not like, we won't let these latest antics distract us from the work of continuing to cover this administration fairly and aggressively."

    President Trump has made no secret of his disdain for the mainstream media, which he says traffics in "fake news" — a charge he often makes about stories he doesn't like. Of late he has ratcheted up those attacks, calling the media the "enemy of the people" and saying "we're going to do something about it" during his CPAC speech Friday.

    The White House Correspondents' Association board also released a statement protesting the closed briefing, saying, "The WHCA board is protesting strongly against how today's gaggle is being handled by the White House. We encourage the organizations that were allowed in to share the material with others in the press corps who were not. The board will be discussing this further with White House staff."



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    Brendan Smialowski / AFP / Getty Images

    WASHINGTON — Voters are critical of both President Donald Trump and the people protesting him, according to a new poll.

    A majority of 1,200 respondents survey said Donald Trump's conduct in office has been inappropriate, but a majority said anti-Trump protesters have also acted inappropriately.

    The PredictWise and Pollfish survey received responses from 1,200 people on Feb. 22 through online and in-app polling methods. Economist David Rothschild, from` PredictWise, said he does not report margins of error because he does “not believe it can be accurately estimated.”

    BuzzFeed News worked with PredictWise on designing the exclusive poll as part of a regular partnership.

    A slim majority of 52% disagreed with the appropriateness of Trump's behavior in office while only 36% approved of it. Women were more likely to be critical, with only 28% agreeing that Trump had acted appropriately compared to 45% among men.

    Younger people were less likely to say that Trump has acted appropriately, as were non-white people. Of white respondents, 43% said Trump had acted appropriately compared to 21% of Latino respondents and 13% of Black respondents.

    But despite these numbers, people were still critical of anti-Trump protesters, with only 31% agreeing their conduct was appropriate and 57% disagreeing.

    These results break down predictably among party lines. Republicans are far more likely to approve of Trump's conduct and to disapprove of protester conduct (83% disapproval) than Democrats (37%).

    Trump was trusted by 86% of Republicans surveyed but just 20% of Democrats.

    The poll also uncovered a large age divide where younger people are much less trusting of politicians in general. Whereas Trump is trusted by 52% of people aged 55 or older, that number drops to 32% among the 18-24 age range.

    While both Republicans and Democrat respondents largely agreed that all Americans should be freely able to criticize the president, a majority of Republicans opposed criticism of the president by legal immigrants.



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    Laura Ingraham

    Alex Wong / Getty Images

    The Associated Press is suing LifeZette for more than $49,000, claiming that the Laura Ingraham-helmed website failed to pay months of licensing fees.

    The complaint, filed on Friday in District of Columbia Superior Court, alleges that LifeZette entered into a year-long licensing agreement to use AP content in July 2015, agreeing to pay $4,200 per month. The AP says it suspended LifeZette's account in February 2016 due to nonpayment.

    LifeZette did submit a check for $42,611, according to the lawsuit, but it was returned due to insufficient funds. A copy of the check, dated Jan. 16, 2017, from the account of Ingraham Media Group Inc., was included in the court filings. Ingraham launched LifeZette in 2015 and is listed on the website as its editor-in-chief.

    A representative for LifeZette did not immediately return a request for comment on Friday afternoon.

    Ingraham, a conservative radio talk show host who supported Trump during the campaign and since, was reported to be a contender for the press secretary job in the new administration, a position that ultimately went to Sean Spicer. LifeZette, however, was one of the first news outlets that Spicer called on at his press briefings after Trump took office.

    AP is seeking $49,267 — $24,937.21 for the allegedly unpaid licensing fees, $17,674.50 for revenue that AP says it lost after it suspended LifeZette's account before the end of the contract, $2,915.10 in interest, and $3,740.58 in attorney fees. The amount of the returned check is the sum of the unpaid fees and lost revenue that would have been covered by the contract.


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    David Mcnew / AFP / Getty Images

    WASHINGTON — The federal government is moving ahead quickly on the construction process for President Donald Trump's controversial wall along the US-Mexico border.

    US Customs and Border Protection posted a notice Friday saying it will "on or about March 6, 2017" issue a solicitation for "the design and build of several prototype wall structures in the vicinity of the United States border with Mexico."

    A CBP spokesperson, speaking on background, confirmed to BuzzFeed News that the notice "is directly related to" Trump's Jan. 25 executive order on the construction of the border wall — a major campaign promise.

    According to a pre-solicitation notice posted Friday, interested bidders will have to "submit a concept paper of their prototype(s) by March 10." The government will then review and narrow the offers over the following 10 days, the notice says.

    "The primary purpose of this effort is to develop design standards for a border wall that may be constructed along the southwest border with Mexico in support of USBP operational requirements," the CBP spokesperson said in an email. "Any and all prototypes will be designed to deter illegal entry into the United States."

    CBP will then issue a full request for proposals, the notice says. The narrowed group of bidders will have to submit proposals — including the price of the wall — by March 24.

    "Multiple awards are contemplated by mid-April for this effort," the notice says. "An option for additional miles may be included in each contract award."

    Friday's notice represents the first step in the procurement process for construction of the wall, which has been applauded by some Republicans who want a crackdown on illegal immigration.

    Trump has said the wall will cost $12 billion, but Reuters reported earlier this month that the actual cost could be up to $21 billion. The president has repeatedly claimed Mexico will fund construction of the wall, which Mexican officials have roundly rejected.


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    Jason Redmond / AFP / Getty Images

    WASHINGTON — Daniel Ramirez Medina has been in a detention center since Feb. 10, when Immigration and Customs Enforcement came to arrest someone else at his house and, finding Ramirez there, arrested him as well — despite the fact that he had been granted relief under the Obama administration as a DREAMer.

    On Friday, however, Ramirez’s lawyers asked a federal court to hold a hearing as soon as Tuesday on a request to release him while the legal questions in his case can be resolved.

    [Update at 1:50 p.m. Monday, Feb. 27, 2017: Magistrate Judge James Donohue denied the request for an expedited hearing, meaning Ramirez will not have a chance to be released by the federal court until the next hearing, which is scheduled for March 8.]

    “Mr. Ramirez is a DACA holder—and thus considered lawfully present in the United States,” the lawyers wrote in Friday’s filing, referring to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. “He has not been convicted of, or charged with, any crime, but has already been in detention for over two weeks.”

    The lawyers allege that the federal government's actions in Ramirez's case have violated his Fourth Amendment, due process, and equal protection rights.

    While the case only directly involves the facts of Ramirez’s detention, it quickly could become a case over the contours of the rights of all DACA holders in the country — an issue that President Trump and senior White House officials have acknowledged is a difficult one even for the president's hardline immigration position.

    That's because the lawyers behind the Ramirez challenge have a bigger aim: a federal court order that would guarantee due process rights to all DREAMers who have been approved for the DACA program.

    To understand how this could happen (or not happen), it's important to understand the the specifics of the Ramirez case and the legal actions at play, and what will happen next this week.

    Federal officials have defended Ramirez’s detention, alleging that he is affiliated with a gang — a contention strongly disputed by Ramirez’s lawyers. (Neither side says that Ramirez was involved in any gang-related activity at the time of his arrest.) Nonetheless, he was arrested and has been detained since then at the Northwest Detention Center pending deportation proceedings.

    The lawyers filed a federal lawsuit against the detention on Feb. 13, seeking a writ of habeas corpus — a move that would result in his release, if successful. The federal court denied an initial request on Feb. 17 to release Ramirez immediately, instead directing that he have a bond hearing before an immigration judge.

    Earlier this week, Ramirez’s legal team — a high-profile set of 17 lawyers that includes nonprofit advocates, big law firm partners, and constitutional law scholars — went back to the federal court (rather than an immigration judge) and asked the court to release Ramirez while his case is proceeding. Notably, they write that they have made the request, in part, because they allege that the gang-related claims by the government have put Ramirez at risk in detention.

    The lawyers also filed a brief with the court at the same time detailing why, in their view, the district court has jurisdiction to hear Ramirez’s case. The Justice Department maintains that the matter should be confined to proceedings before an immigration court, which actually is an administrative arm of the Justice Department itself.

    The day after the filings from Ramirez’s lawyers, the magistrate judge overseeing the case in the federal court, James Donohue, ordered the government to respond to the request by 5 p.m. Pacific Time on Monday — when the Justice Department’s brief asking the court to dismiss the case due to lack of jurisdiction also is due.

    Once that brief is in, Ramirez’s lawyers want the court to resolve, at the least, the preliminary question of whether Ramirez can and should be released conditionally while his case is resolved.

    “The continued detention with dangerous criminals, of a lawfully present individual, who has no criminal record and has not been charged with any crime, is particularly unsafe and alarming and should be remedied immediately,” the lawyers argue.

    But the lawyers, in the underlying request for Ramirez's release, also bring the larger implications for all DREAMers who applied for DACA into focus.

    “Leaving Mr. Ramirez in detention signals that arresting and detaining a Dreamer without probable cause or reasonable suspicion is permissible, potentially putting all DACA holders at risk,” the lawyers note.

    In the amended petition filed in the case this past week, the lawyers ask for a declaratory judgment that DREAMers "have constitutionally-protected interests in their status conferred under DACA," that "arbitrary arrest and detention violates" DREAMers' due process rights, and that the federal government does not have the authority to arrest DREAMers "on the basis of their immigration status."

    It is in this context that the Justice Department is fighting to keep Ramirez’s case out of federal court and in its own administrative courts.

    In Friday’s filing, Ramirez’s lawyers were rather direct in their legal reasons for aiming to keep the case out of immigration court, rather than the federal court. They wrote that they “could find no way to ensure that this Court’s review of any determination by the Immigration Court would be ‘de novo,’ rather than for ‘clear error.’” "Clear error” is a deferential review, whereas “de novo” review would mean the federal court would not need to defer to the immigration court. In other words, which standard of review ultimately happens could lead to a significantly different review of the case.

    As the lawyers for Ramirez put it, “Given the critical factual and legal issues to be determined—and their importance both to Mr. Ramirez’s liberty and the status and well-being of hundreds of thousands of other DACA holders and their families — this Court should determine these matters in the first instance.”

    The larger issue, though, that the lawyers note is the fact that the underlying constitutional allegations cannot be resolved by the immigration courts. Those questions — sure to be heavily disputed by both sides — eventually would have to be resolved in federal court, and the lawyers for Ramirez note that they "could find no way to ensure that—once the case started down [the immigration court] path—it would be returned to this Court (where the important constitutional questions presented must be determined) in a timely manner." (The backlog in immigration courts is an ongoing concern that has raised questions for Trump's immigration enforcement plans.)

    On Monday, the Justice Department will present its argument that Ramirez’s case should be dismissed from federal court and, in the alternative, that he should not be released while the habeas petition is being considered.

    The magistrate judge, Donohue, has not yet responded to the request for a hearing. As of now, however, the next hearing in the case — on the government's motion to dismiss the petition — is not set to take place until March 8.


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    Chris Berry / Reuters

    ATLANTA — One of the protesters in the Atlanta Convention Center, angry and upset over the vote, directed his chants at the atrium full of Democrats.

    “Party for the people!” Curtis Ries yelled. “Party for the people!”

    Tom Perez’s narrow victory over Keith Ellison in election to chair the Democratic National Committee — a race progressives considered an urgent existential choice between the “establishment” and “grassroots” — did not spur the massive backlash DNC officials feared in the end. But Ellison's defeat did leave some young, liberal activists with new disdain, as 28-year-old Ries put it, for “institutional leadership" — for the party, for elected officials, the 447 DNC members with a say in the chair.

    Liberal support for Ellison, a Minnesota congressman beloved by Bernie Sanders voters, “was a very clear message, given to the party by its progressive base, by young people,” Ries said. "The DNC instead decided that they knew better.”

    The same frustration cycled through social media into this week: #DemExit hashtags, Facebook statuses on quitting the party, a Medium post for "disappointed progressives" advising activists to leave behind an organization of “paying, craved, cynical lip-service” and leaders who live to “serve the establishment.”

    A party chair race rarely decides the direction of a political movement, and this one didn't. Perez, the 55-year-old former labor secretary, is taking the helm of a party still contending with ideological differences and unresolved questions about how Democrats will handle pressure from the left to resist President Trump at every turn.

    Since the vote, Perez and Ellison have put forth a united front, making stops in Washington on Tuesday for the first time as chair and deputy chair of the DNC.

    But in the wake of a the long-fought chair's race, where Perez was cast as an insider, he is also facing a group of young and progressive grassroots activists and voters who view Democratic Party politics with distrust, unease, or from a remove.

    Jeff Weaver, Bernie Sanders’ former campaign manager, a Perez critic, and supporter of Ellison’s, said that Saturday's vote had likely reinforced that distance.

    “I think there are a number of people now who have increased skepticism about the party,” Weaver said after the DNC vote. “It is incumbent on Tom Perez and the rest of the DNC to reach out to people who feel separated from the party, bring those people in, and let them know that the party is a place that welcomes them.”

    Sanders himself told CNN on Sunday that Perez would "have to change is to figure out how we elect national Democratic leaders," adding that he was "not quite impressed with the process that exists."

    “If we do not bring this new generation into institutional politics now, they may never get there,” said former DNC chair Howard Dean, a backer of another candidate, Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., who bowed out before voting. “And that would be the end of the Democratic Party as a functional institution.”

    Adam Green, the co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, one of several liberal groups that backed Ellison, said the congressman's experience as an organizer made him an ideal figure to close the gaps on the left. "To actively build bridges between the Democratic Party and the grassroots base," he said.

    Of Perez, Green said, “This was not an ideological battle."

    Perez, he noted, would have been PCCC's first choice for U.S. attorney general had Clinton won.

    The left’s objection to Perez has to do in part with his entry into the race, and is centered not on policy but proximity to the Democratic Party establishment.

    The week after the presidential election, Ellison launched his chair’s bid and quickly secured top endorsements from Sanders and House and Senate Democrats, positioning his campaign as the link between grassroots activists and Washington.

    One month later, Perez got in the race, followed by news reports declaring him the preferred candidate of Barack Obama. When Joe Biden endorsed weeks later, Sanders released a statement “Do we stay with a failed status-quo approach?"

    Together with his role as a prominent surrogate for Hillary Clinton in last year’s campaign, the “establishment” label stuck. (Perez's resume is less commonplace: He is the first Latino chair of the DNC, a civil rights lawyer, and has only held public office once, on the Montgomery County Council in his home state of Maryland.)

    In the three final days before this weekend's vote, as the candidates made their final appeals to the DNC's 447 voting members in the meeting rooms and lobby bar of Atlanta’s Westin Peachtree Plaza hotel, there were warnings among progressives that a Perez victory would incite a revolt among the already alienated left wing.

    Weaver, the former Sanders manager, made a splash in a MSNBC hit where he called Perez’s candidacy “divisive” and referred to him as a “candidate of the inside” whose election would “send a horrible message to millions and millions of people.” A Glenn Greenwald column in the Intercept called him a party “functionary.”

    When voting ended, the only brief protest inside the Atlanta Convention Center came from Ries and the other Ellison supporters.

    The DNC race, the first contested chair’s vote since the 1980s, spanned 15 weeks and drew a total of 11 candidates. Perez and Ellison, the frontrunners from the start, went through two long and tense rounds of votes on Saturday before the former labor secretary clinched the majority of votes from DNC members.


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    Pool / Getty Images

    WASHINGTON — The moment may have been stolen by a controversy stirring photo featuring presidential aide Kellyanne Conway seated with her feet up on a couch in the Oval Office, but the presidents of dozens of HBCUs left a meeting with the vice president hopeful that their schools will make progress under the current administration.

    “Today’s meeting was an important first step toward building a working relationship between the administration, UNCF, and America’s HBCUs,” United Negro College Fund president and CEO Dr. Michael Lomax said in a statement, adding that the schools were looking forward to “meaningful actions” and “additional resources and investments.”

    But questions swirled late Monday into Tuesday regarding the execution of a photo-op with the president inside the Oval Office, and a statement by education secretary about school choice. Members of the UNCF attended a meeting with the education secretary and vice president, expecting to give remarks, Dillard president Walter M. Kimbrough wrote in a post on Medium. The agenda “blew up” when a photo op was proposed, Kimbrough said, adding, “needless to say that threw the day off and there was very little listening to HBCU presidents today.”

    Shortly after the photograph surfaced, DeVos caused an uproar on social media with a statement that called HBCUs “real pioneers on school choice.” She was criticized for not acknowledging the necessity of HBCUs during segregation, when black students were systematically denied access to higher education.

    South Carolina State University President James Clark said he was “very hopeful” that HBCUs would flourish under the Trump administration, saying the presidents spoke “as a unified group” at the listening session about the need for infrastructure investment, financial aid and host of other priorities.

    A UNCF spokesperson said four presidents from its member schools spoke during the listening session with Vice President Pence, discussing a wide range of topics Monday. Dr. Roslyn Clark Artis, Florida Memorial University president, emphasized a need to do produce more STEM graduates. Dr. Henry N. Tisdale of Claflin University president said Title III programs need to be fully funded. Dr. Mary Schmidt Campbell of Spelman spoke about HBCUs’ role in revitalizing communities.

    Talladega College recently came under fire for performing at Trump’s Inaugural parade, but its president, Dr. Billy C. Hawkins, spoke Monday of leveraging HBCUs ability to create professional development opportunities.

    “Our agenda is about educating the youth of America and especially the ones that attend HBCUs,” Clark told BuzzFeed News.

    President Trump, who will sign an executive order on HBCUs this afternoon, has said he'll help the schools in his New Deal for Black America. The action is set to move the White House Initiative on HBCUs from the Department of Education into the White House.

    LINK: Betsy DeVos Is Under Fire After Saying Historically Black Colleges Are "Pioneers" Of School Choice



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    WASHINGTON — Asked about the recent wave of anti-Semitic attacks and threats across the nation, President Trump on Tuesday told a group of state attorneys general that "sometimes it's the reverse," Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said of Trump’s comments in his and other officials' meeting with the president.

    "He just said, 'Sometimes it's the reverse, to make people — or to make others — look bad,' and he used the word 'reverse' I would say two to three times in his comments," Shapiro said. "He did correctly say at the top that it was reprehensible."

    Asked for further information about the purpose of the president's comments, Shapiro only said, "I really don't know what he means, or why he said that,” adding that Trump said he would be speaking about the issue in his remarks on Tuesday night.

    Saying that he hoped to see clarification from the president in those remarks, Shapiro added, "It didn't make a whole lot of sense to me.”

    White House spokespeople did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

    Earlier in the day Tuesday, a Trump adviser, Anthony Scaramucci, tweeted that it is "not yet clear who the #JCC offenders are" and linking to a story from October 2016 at Breitbart alleging a Democratic "effort to incite violence at Trump rallies."

    Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Senate Minority Leader, said, "That is an absurd and obscene statement."

    The Anti-Defamation League also questioned Trump’s reported remarks.

    "We are astonished by what the President reportedly said. It is incumbent upon the White House to immediately clarify these remarks. In light of the ongoing attacks on the Jewish community, it is also incumbent upon the President to lay out in his speech tonight his plans for what the federal government will do to address this rash of anti-Semitic incidents,” Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of ADL, said in a statement.


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    Aude Guerrucci / Aude Guerrucci/MediaPunch/IPx

    WASHINGTON — In a private meeting between President Donald Trump and national news anchors, a relaxed and open Trump said the time has come for compromise from both parties on an immigration bill, a major departure from the way he has framed the issue in the past.

    "The time is right for an immigration bill as long as there is compromise on both sides," Trump said, according to six attendees who recounted the meeting to BuzzFeed News.

    But Democrats believe the Trump administration, which has broadened the definition of who qualifies as a criminal and ramped up enforcement and deportations, stoking fear in immigrant communities, is far from an equitable negotiator on immigration.

    "The only thing Donald Trump is interested in compromising is the United States Constitution," said newly elected DNC chair Tom Perez, adding that Trump has painted immigrant families as criminals and floated mobilizing 100,000 troops to act as a deportation force.

    “At this point it’s just talk,” said Rep. Joaquin Castro.

    A list of Trump’s six guests released Monday night showed that three are family members of victims of violence by undocumented immigrants, which also angered Democrats.

    “He’s signaling to the country that most if not all undocumented immigrants are criminals, murderers, and rapists,” Castro said. “What happened to these victims and their families is tragic. However, the perpetrators of those crimes committed them because they were bad people, not because they were immigrants.”

    The meeting alternated between portions being off the record and parts attributable to senior White House officials without using their names, a practice the administration has criticized on stories they disapprove of. Attendees included NBC’s Chuck Todd and Lester Holt, CNN’s Jake Tapper and Wolf Blitzer, Univision’s Maria Elena Salinas, Telemundo’s Jose Diaz-Balart, News One’s Roland Martin, and others.

    The administration again leaned into efforts to deport criminals, according to meeting attendees. But Tapper and Blitzer wrote on CNN that “those who aren't serious or violent criminals could stay in the US legally, hold a job and pay taxes, without having to worry about being deported.”

    A major topic of the meeting was immigration, with Trump reiterating that “bad hombres” need to be removed from the country, but appearing open to a path to citizenship for DREAMers — undocumented young people brought to the country as children.

    Trump also acknowledged that his messaging on immigration, which has been hardline save for occasional comments that he has love for DREAMers, could have been better, giving himself a C grade so far.

    But like any instance of Trump appearing to moderate on immigration there was a catch. Asked by George Stephanopoulos if he was open to a path to citizenship for DREAMers, Trump said yes — once they leave the country and come back, which is a nonstarter for many immigrants with ties to the country.

    Attendees said one of the Fox News anchors — it’s unclear whether it was Chris Wallace or Bret Baier — asked whether giving some form of legal status to certain undocumented immigrants would mean that Trump wasn’t keeping his promises to his base.

    But Trump said that wouldn’t be the case because there has to be “a softening on both sides. There’s got to be a coming together."

    Democrats aren’t buying Trump’s talk of compromise on immigration ahead of his joint address to Congress Tuesday.

    Sen. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said the immigrant community is "rightfully scared" of what President Trump has done.

    "His executive order goes far beyond anything that anyone proposed. People are cowering. It’s going to hurt us economically — large numbers of people just aren’t going to show up to work and employers are going to start complaining," Schumer said, earlier in the day. "Once again, it’s an administration that they don’t seem to know what they’re doing. They simply come up with these proposals that sound good and then they can’t implement them, they don't make any sense, they don’t meet the law. It's amazing in a month how incompetent this administration has been."

    And while Trump was open to discussing issues more openly than attendees expected, he also was skilled at deflecting pointed questions. He was asked about his comments regarding violence in Chicago and what he meant by saying he was going to send in federal law enforcement, a question that he avoided.

    He was also asked about pushing police officers on the issue of police brutality and deflected, talking instead about the tough cops he met on the campaign trail and how they would be able to deal with the violence quickly.

    Trump also left the possibility open that he would speak about immigration besides in the usual red meat fashion he usually serves his base, by adding a mention of a compromise between the two parties.



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    Pool / Getty Images

    WASHINGTON — The presidents of historically black colleges and universities are nearly done with their trip here to the nation’s capital — including a quickly arranged meeting with President Trump in the Oval Office.

    Trump, according to a half dozen people in the room, said that the HBCU leaders made up the largest group he'd seen in the room.

    “You people are doing an amazing job,” four people in the room recalled Trump saying. Two of them said Trump repeated the complimentary refrain three times. They all said the comments raised eyebrows, and it was discussed afterward even as others just said it was Trump being Trump.

    It was “very insensitive,” one of the college presidents said, but added that while the phrase irked him and his colleagues, it also struck him as “very Trump-ish.”

    One college president from a Southern state said they heard the president make the “you people” comment but said that he was hardened to such sayings after growing up in the Jim Crow South.

    “I've heard a lot worse than that, and I mean a lot worse,” the college president from the Southern state told BuzzFeed News. “I'm sure if you're from the North or whatever you might be offended by something like that.”

    “I was waiting on him to say something worse.”

    Asked specifically about the "you people" comment, White House adviser Omarosa Manigault called the characterization of the meeting false, and said it was “the most ridiculous spin I have heard about this historic meeting where 69 HBCU president were invited to a meet and greet with the president of the United States.”

    Trump “was praising the amazing work of HBCU presidents… he was laughing and shaking hands and meeting each of the presidents,” she wrote in an email.

    A half dozen college presidents and HBCU advocates spoke to BuzzFeed News on the condition that their names be withheld because they feared reprisals from the White House.

    The HBCU officials are currently seeking added support from the administration amid sagging enrollments, crumbling infrastructure, and a lack of opportunity and tools for students to be more competitive in the current economy. The visit — and quick photo opportunity — has drawn scrutiny; Trump is viewed very unfavorably by black Americans, according to polling in recent weeks.

    Nearly all of the college presidents acknowledged the opportunity possibly offered them the bounce needed to bring their priorities to Capitol Hill.

    “The people who have been here eight years or longer know that this is not an opportunity that we got under Obama,” one of the college presidents said. “So was he the most graceful? No, but we all know there's something to be said about this president that we’re here.”

    Asked about the Oval Office experience, another college president said he had not enjoyed it much because they were hustled in and out so quickly.

    “It seemed like that's all he had to talk about, how crowded the Oval Office was,” he said. “Doesn't that sound like him?”


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    Paul J. Richards / AFP / Getty Images

    WASHINGTON — Both sides in the Supreme Court over transgender students' rights urged the Supreme Court on Wednesday to keep the case.

    If the justices agree to proceed, a case that started out this past fall as a technical question of agency deference could become a blockbuster challenge about the scope of transgender rights under existing civil rights laws.

    Last fall, the Supreme Court agreed to the case, and has scheduled arguments for later this month. But the Obama-era, pro-transgender guidance at the center of the case is no longer in effect at the federal level — the new Trump administration withdrew that guidance.

    The court had asked the parties in the case, the Gloucester County School Board and Gavin Grimm, to advise the court on how the Trump administration's move affected the case.

    The Obama administration's guidance had supported transgender students, concluding that sex discrimination regulations implemented to enforce Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 provided protections against anti-transgender discrimination in schools.

    In February, the Trump administration, in new guidance, withdrew the Obama-era guidance without taking a position on whether the federal law provides protections for transgender students.

    The appeals court, which sided with Grimm, found in 2016 that the Title IX regulations are ambiguous on the issue, meaning that the Obama-era guidance was allowed if it was a reasonable interpretation. The court found it was, so then deferred to that guidance in finding that Gloucester's policy that limits students to using restrooms that match their "biological sex" should be enjoined — a ruling more about federal agency authority, ultimately, than transgender rights.

    With the guidance gone, however, the underlying question remains: Should Title IX's sex discrimination ban be read to provide protections for transgender people?

    When the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, it took up two questions. The first related to the guidance and deference to the guidance — called Auer deference. The second, pointed to by lawyers for Gloucester and Grimm in Wednesday's letter, was more broad.

    It asks "whether, with or without deference to the agency, the Department of Education's specific interpretation of Title IX and 34 C.F.R. § 106.33, which provides that a funding recipient providing sex-separated facilities must 'generally treat transgender students consistent with their gender identity,' should be given effect."

    In short: Does Title IX require schools to respect students' gender identity?

    That second question has even larger implications beyond schools, as other agencies — including, most notably, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission — have interpreted the sex discrimination bans in other laws to include bans on anti-transgender discrimination as well.

    The lawyers for both Grimm and the school board want the Supreme Court to answer that second question.

    "In the School Board’s view, the withdrawal of th[e Obama-era guidance] should not prevent the Court from hearing argument and resolving the questions presented," the school board's lawyer, Kyle Duncan of Schaerr Duncan LLC, wrote. "That is particularly evident as to the second question, which addresses whether, properly interpreted, Title IX and its regulations require access to sex- separated facilities based on gender identity."

    Similarly, Grimm's lawyer, Joshua Block with the ACLU, wrote, "That question has been litigated widely in the lower courts; it is fairly encompassed in petitioner’s second question presented; and it has been fully briefed before this Court."

    The court doesn't need to keep the case. It could — as suggested as a final alternative by the school board's lawyer — vacate the appeals court's decision in favor of Grimm and send the case back to that court to address the underlying Title IX question.

    Even if the justices do keep the case, however, the school board asked for a delay. They asked the court to seek input from the new administration on the underlying Title IX question — which the administration declined to do in its February guidance. "It would be unusual for the Court to address questions of the sort presented here without first hearing from the Solicitor General," Duncan wrote.

    Additionally, due to the additional briefing that would require, the school board asked for the arguments to be delayed from their current March 28 date "until at least the April sitting."

    If pushed beyond the April sitting, the case likely wouldn't be heard until the court's next term, which doesn't begin until October — and barring an unexpected development will include its ninth member, Trump nominee Neil Gorsuch.


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    Jim Watson / AFP / Getty Images

    In one of the first public appearances of his post-presidency, Barack Obama will accept the Centennial John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award this spring for a career of "grace under pressure" and "exceptional dignity and courage," receiving the honor on the special occasion of the 100th anniversary of Kennedy's birth.

    The 44th president was selected by a 14-member bipartisan committee at the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation comprised of figures in politics, media, and business, including Republicans Sen. Jeff Flake, former congressman Bob Inglis, and Viacom's Shari Redstone. The committee is chaired by Bloomberg View columnist Al Hunt.

    According to Hunt, the award will go to Obama not for one particular legislative or political act, but for an "entire life that was really a testament to courage," he said.

    Established in 1989 by the Kennedy family, the annual award is meant to honor the 35th president's birth — and specifically offer a tribute to Kennedy's Pulitzer Prize–winning book, Profiles in Courage, a 1957 account of eight US senators throughout history who put principle above politics. Each year, the Kennedy Library Foundation picks a lawmaker who demonstrates the same willingness to, as a foundation official put it, take a stand for good in spite of political consequences.

    Obama will be the third former president to receive the award. In 2001, Gerald R. Ford was honored for his 1974 decision, widely vilified at the time, to pardon Richard Nixon. In 2014, George H.W. Bush received the award for raising taxes, breaking with his own major campaign promise in order to address a deficit crisis.

    Unlike past honorees, Obama will not receive the award for any one decision. To mark the centennial of Kennedy's birth, the committee wanted to "do something different this year if we could," Hunt said. "We thought, 'OK, this is different.'"

    After a "lengthy discussion," said Hunt, the committee was in "total agreement."

    Obama will deliver a speech at the special centennial event, a ceremony on May 7 at Boston's John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. Former ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy and her son, Jack Schlossberg, will present the award.

    The former president has kept a low profile since leaving office in January, very rarely weighing in on political developments. He is expected, however, to become a key player in a new redistricting effort led by his friend and former attorney general, Eric Holder. The National Democratic Redistricting Committee, or NDRC, will work to reverse the Democratic Party's historic state and local electoral deficits and help regain an advantage over Republicans when it comes to district-drawing.

    Obama, Holder told reporters this week, is "ready to roll."

    After attending Donald Trump's inauguration, the newly retired president took an extended vacation in Palm Springs, Calif., and on the private British Virgin Islands estate of billionaire Richard Branson. He was seen last week with daughter Malia and adviser Valerie Jarrett at a Broadway showing of Arthur Miller’s The Price, and this week signed a lucrative deal for a forthcoming book.

    The May 7 appearance in Boston offers Democrats a prominent opportunity to hear from their former president just more than 100 days into what has so far been a tumultuous Trump administration and a challenging time for the opposition party.

    The decision to honor Obama, said Hunt, "had nothing to do with Trump’s election."

    Bill Clinton admires an autographed copy of Profiles in Courage in 2000.

    Mario Tama / AFP / Getty Images

    In a statement, Schlossberg outlined the ways in which Obama personifies the opening lines of Profiles in Courage: "This is a book about that most admirable of human virtues — courage. 'Grace under pressure,' Ernest Hemingway defined it."

    During his two terms as the first black president, Schlossberg said, Obama "represented all Americans with decency, integrity, and an unshakeable commitment to the greater good” amid "unrelenting political opposition."

    The committee received submissions for this year's award nominee from a record 30,000 people — up 5,000 from the year before, a foundation official said.

    In a statement provided by the Kennedy Library Foundation, Obama said he is "deeply humbled" to receive the Profile in Courage Award. The late Kennedy, he said, "asked us to cast aside our narrow self-interest and take up the chase of a greater ambition: our collective capacity to do big things, especially when it’s hard."

    "Amidst the noisy and too often trivial pursuits of the politics of our time," Obama added, "it’s a summons to service that rings as loudly as ever."


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    Ed Reinke / AP

    WASHINGTON — Judge Amul Thapar, one of the judges who was on President Trump's short list for the current US Supreme Court vacancy, is being vetted by the White House for a seat on a federal appeals court.

    Two lawyers familiar with the process told BuzzFeed News that Thapar — currently a federal district court judge — is a frontrunner to be the nominee for one of two vacancies on the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. They said that the FBI in February interviewed people who know Thapar as part of a background check, which is typically a final stage in the pre-nomination process. The lawyers were not aware of any other candidates being considered at this point.

    The White House isn't expected to act on lower court nominees until Trump's pick for the US Supreme Court, Judge Neil Gorsuch, is confirmed. But the fact that the FBI is already doing background checks on at least one potential nominee is a sign that the White House is preparing to move on other court vacancies quickly once the Supreme Court seat is filled.

    There are 120 open seats on the federal courts, including the Supreme Court vacancy, making up about 13% of all authorized federal judgeships. The Sixth Circuit already has a majority of Republican-appointed judges, but nationwide Trump stands to reshape the political balance of the federal judiciary.

    Thapar made history when he joined the bench in 2008, becoming the first South Asian–American confirmed to a federal district or appeals court. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is a longtime backer. McConnell introduced Thapar at hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2006, when Thapar was nominated to be the US attorney for the Eastern District of Kentucky, and in 2007, when he was nominated for the US District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky.

    A White House spokesperson declined to comment. A spokesperson for McConnell did not immediately return a request for comment on Thursday.

    Thapar was among the 21 names that Trump said he would consider to fill the late Justice Antonin Scalia's seat on the Supreme Court. Thapar was one of four judges whom Trump personally met with before choosing Gorsuch as the nominee, according to news reports. Gorsuch's confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee are scheduled to begin on Mar. 20.

    Lawyers in Kentucky said that Thapar is well-respected among the bar, and is known as a tough questioner and good writer. He has experience serving on the Sixth Circuit, having sat on appeals panels by special assignment in several cases. He's considered a strict constructionist — a conservative legal philosophy that calls for a narrow reading of the US Constitution.

    Thapar has a strong law enforcement background, having served not only as the US attorney in Kentucky but also as a federal prosecutor in Ohio and in the District of Columbia. He also spent several years in private practice. Although Thapar has a prosecutorial background, Patrick Nash, a criminal defense lawyer in Kentucky, said that Thapar couldn't be pigeonholed in terms of his approach to handling criminal cases and sentencing.

    Thapar presided over the high-profile criminal case against an elderly Catholic nun convicted of breaking into a military facility used to store uranium as part of a protest. In 2014, he sentenced the then-84-year-old nun — who had asked the judge not to give her leniency because of her age — to 35 months in prison, which was less than what prosecutors recommended.

    “The court can say it is generally distressed to place good people behind bars,” Thapar said at the time, according to Oak Ridge Today. “But I continue to hold out hope that a significant sentence may deter … and lead (the defendants) back to the political process that they seem to have given up on. Without question, the law does not permit the breaking and entering into the secure facilities of the United States.”


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