Man Shot Outside White House Remains in Critical Condition

Law enforcement officers stand on Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House in Washington, Friday, May 20, 2016, after the White House was placed on lockdown for a shooting nearby. A U.S. Secret Service officer shot a man with a gun who approached a checkpoint outside the White House on Friday afternoon and refused to drop his weapon, the Secret Service said. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Law enforcement officers stand on Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House in Washington, Friday, May 20, 2016. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON – A gunman shot by a U.S. Secret Service officer outside the White House remained in critical condition in a Washington hospital Saturday, one day after the shooting, a hospital spokeswoman said.

George Washington University Hospital spokeswoman Susan Griffiths would provide only his condition. She referred other questions to the Secret Service, but a spokesman for that agency, Robert Hoback, declined to discuss the case, citing the continuing investigation.

On Friday, a U.S. law enforcement official said that authorities identified the gunman as Jesse Oliveri of Ashland, Pennsylvania, about 80 miles northwest of Philadelphia. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to release the information.

Secret Service Deputy Assistant Director David Iacovetti said Friday that one of the agency’s officers shot the man once after he approached a checkpoint at about 3 p.m. and refused repeated commands to drop his weapon.

Iacovetti said the gunman never made it inside the White House complex, and no one else was injured.

The Metropolitan Police Department, the Secret Service, Park Police and the FBI said in a joint statement Friday night that there was “no known nexus to terrorism.”

Messages left Saturday at a home telephone number for Oliveri in Ashland weren’t returned.

Cathy Hadesty, who lives across the street in the wooded area, said police closed a section of the road near the house Friday night but reopened it by Saturday.

Hadesty said she never met Oliveri and only knows the family “just to say, ‘Hi,’ when we’re going down the driveway.”

“They’ve always been really good neighbors,” she said.

Court records show that Oliveri, 31, had just one recorded run-in with police in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, resulting in a 2004 guilty plea to careless driving.

The Associated Press

White House Press Briefing Highlights Zika Worries

SAN JUAN – In the White House’s daily briefing Monday, Press Secretary Josh Earnest began by reading a statement by the National Governors Association on the Zika virus.

“As Congress returns from recess today, the nation’s governors urge the administration and Congress to work together to reach agreement on the appropriate funding levels needed to prepare for and combat the Zika virus. We also ask they act as expeditiously as possible to ensure those funds are available for states, territories and the public at large,” the statement read.

Earnest proceeded to tell reporters that the governors’ concerns are “consistent with the argument that the administration has been making for more than two months now.”

To a question about the status of tests for treatment of the virus, Earnest responded, “What I do know is there our public health professionals have indicated that, if given additional resources, that there’s more that they could do to speed up the development of critical diagnostic tools and speed up the development of a vaccine.”

“So this is an urgent effort that requires a long-term commitment,” he went on. “And those are two things that Congress isn’t very good at. They aren’t very good about acting quickly, and they aren’t very good about making long-term commitments to things.”

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 11:  Director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Anthony Fauci (L), and Principal deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Anne Schuchat (2nd L) listen as White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest (R) speaks during a daily briefing at the James Brady Press Briefing Room April 11, 2016 in Washington, DC. Fauci and Schuchat joined the briefing to discuss the current situation of the spread of Zika Virus. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Anthony Fauci (keft), and Principal deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Anne Schuchat (center) listen as White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest speaks during a daily briefing at the James Brady Press Briefing Room April 11, 2016 in Washington, D.C. Fauci and Schuchat joined the briefing to discuss the current situation of the spread of Zika Virus. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

In response to: “So you have world health organizations, the CDC, and now the governors and others are saying that this is going to be a pandemic. What are the Republicans saying to you or to the President or to leg affairs here, or whomever, the reasoning as to why they are not making this an urgent issue right now?” Earnest answered he didn’t “think that anybody can offer up a legitimate explanation for why [Republicans] haven’t taken these common-sense steps that we know would enhance the safety and security of the American people.”

“On Zika, given there’s an active current threat from the virus in Puerto Rico, and also, of course, strong ties between that island and many cities and states in the mainland, how much concern is there that the island’s financial situation could contribute to a more full-blown public health crisis there that could affect the mainland? And if and when, or if Congress eventually allocates this money, presumably some of it would go to Puerto Rico, right?” a reporter asked. To which Earnest responded: “Some of the financial turmoil in Puerto Rico is having a negative impact on the public health care system inside of Puerto Rico, and given the fact that there are reported cases of the Zika virus in Puerto Rico, this seems like a pretty bad time for investments in Puerto Rico’s public health system to be cut. Yet that’s exactly what the Puerto Rican government is having to do because they have not been given the restructuring authority that they need by Republicans in Congress.

“So there is a concern about how the interplay between these two issues could have a broader negative impact not just on the 3 million Americans who live in Puerto Rico but potentially on the U.S. mainland as well. So that’s why the administration has prioritized both of these issues – both our efforts to try to address the financial challenges in Puerto Rico, but also to make sure that we are providing the necessary resources to state and local officials across the country to fight the Zika virus in their communities. And, yes, that would include providing resources to the government in Puerto Rico to, for example, more effectively concentrate efforts to fight the mosquito population.”


Reluctantly, Obama Embracing His Role as The Anti-Trump

WASHINGTON (AP) — He won’t be on November’s ballot, but President Barack Obama is slowly embracing his role as the anti-Trump, taking on the Republican front-runner in ways that no other Democrat can.

With Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders still fighting it out in the Democratic primary, the task has fallen increasingly to Obama to articulate the counter-message to Donald Trump, whose ascent to the White House would constitute an overwhelming rebuke to Obama. Democrats are working hard to use the contrast between Obama and Trump to paint the Republican candidate as anything but presidential.

In this April 5, 2016, photo, President Barack Obama speaks in the briefing room of the White House in Washington. He won’t be on November’s ballot, but Obama is slowly embracing his role as the anti-Donald Trump, taking on the Republican front-runner in ways that no other Democrat can. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

In this April 5, 2016, photo, President Barack Obama speaks in the briefing room of the White House in Washington.  (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

For months, Obama and his aides mostly avoided getting dragged into the fray or letting the campaign din distract from Obama’s agenda. The White House would sidestep questions about the latest Trump controversies, refusing to turn Obama into a pundit on the race to replace him.

When Obama waded in, it was only to offer implicit rebukes of the Trump phenomenon, such as his assertion in September that “America is great right now” – a not-so-veiled reference to the business mogul’s campaign promise to “make America great again.”

Now the Trump criticism is coming with increasing frequency and ease. Asked Tuesday whether Trump’s proposals were already damaging U.S. relations, Obama answered unequivocally: “Yes.”

“I am getting questions constantly from foreign leaders about some of the wackier suggestions that are being made,” Obama said. “They don’t expect half-baked notions coming out of the White House. We can’t afford that.”

The Democratic National Committee quickly circulated video of Obama’s remarks, arguing they illustrated how Trump “simply doesn’t have the temperament necessary to be commander in chief.”

Yet by calling attention to Trump’s positions, the White House risks further elevating him, while giving Obama’s critics a fresh reason to get behind the billionaire businessman.

Obama has said repeatedly he doesn’t believe Trump will win, and White House officials said there was no concerted effort to insert Obama more visibly into the election debate. After all, every minute Obama spends talking about Trump is a minute wasted when it comes to Obama’s many unfinished pieces of business.

In his latest rebuke, Obama unloaded on Trump’s proposal to compel Mexico to pay for a border wall by threatening to cut off remittances that Mexican immigrants in the U.S. send back home. Asked about that idea, Obama issued a point-by-point rebuttal, arguing that would actually increase the flow of immigrants into the U.S. and that tracking huge numbers of remittances was impossible.

“Good luck with that,” Obama said.

Obama’s public scolding of Trump, who for years peddled inaccurate claims about Obama’s birth certificate, dates back to 2011, when Obama roasted him at the glitzy White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner. Trump was visibly humiliated as Obama lobbed joke after joke at him on national television.

Obama, echoing the broader message from Democrats this year, has stressed that Trump isn’t the only Republican espousing “draconian” rhetoric about Mexicans, Muslims and others. Yet the brunt of Obama’s criticism has centered on Trump, who has the best mathematical path to the Republican nomination despite losing in Wisconsin on Tuesday.

Though Clinton and Sanders have both vigorously attacked Trump, neither has been able to focus exclusively on the Republican as their battle for the Democratic nomination continues. Obama hasn’t endorsed either of the Democrats or campaigned on their behalf, leaving his condemnation of Trump as his primary foray into the race to date.

The White House said once the Democrats choose their nominee, Obama will be out in full force campaigning, raising money and activating his own supporters. White House spokeswoman Jennifer Friedman said Obama would cast the general election as a choice between building on Obama’s policies and abruptly reversing course.

“This is a choice that the president does not take lightly, and is something he will lay out for the American people with increased frequency in the weeks and months ahead,” Friedman said.

By The Associated Press

Obama Narrowing List of Possible Supreme Court Candidates

WASHINGTON (AP) — Despite calls to select a Supreme Court nominee from outside the judicial monastery, President Barack Obama doesn’t appear to be ready to leave the faith.

In his search for a replacement for the late Justice Antonin Scalia, President Barack Obama is zeroing in on a small group of appellate court judges with largely traditional credentials and a history of bipartisan backing. The choices suggest the White House plans to challenge the Republican Senate to block a nominee whose pedigree might have paved the way for a relatively easy confirmation, if the fight weren’t playing out in an election year.

FILE - In this May 1, 2008, file photo, Judge Merrick B. Garland is seen at the federal courthouse in Washington. In his search for a Supreme Court nominee, President Barack Obama is zeroing in on a small group of appellate court judges whose bipartisan credentials and traditional judicial pedigree the White House hopes will increase pressure on Republicans vowing to block whomever Obama nominates in an election year. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)

Judge Merrick B. Garland  (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)

Obama’s top tier of candidates include Judge Sri Srinivasan of U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, Merrick Garland, chief judge on same court, and Judge Paul Watford of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, according to a source familiar with the selection process. Ketanji Brown Jackson, a D.C. district court judge, is also under consideration, although a less likely option, said the source, who was not authorized to publicly discuss private White House deliberations and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The judges’ inclusion on the short list was first reported by National Public Radio, which also named Judge Jane Kelly of the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals as a finalist being interviewed by the president.

The president’s advisers planned to meet Thursday at the White House with Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee to discuss filling the vacancy.

The emerging list, which the White House says is not final, seems in line both with Obama’s personal and political aims. As he has in his past two nominations, Obama appears drawn to candidates with traditional resumes – Supreme Court clerkships, prestigious posts in government and stints at major law firms.

The list also shows the president grappling with whether to add racial or gender diversity to the court. Srinivasan, 49, would be the first Indian-American on the court, while Watford, 48, would be the third African-American to hold a seat. Brown Jackson, 45, would be the first African-American woman.

But the push to make history appears to be just part of an especially complex mix of calculations. Facing Republicans vowing to block any nominee and preparing to mount a months-long campaign to back up their position, the White House has repeatedly stressed that the nominee will have “impeccable” credentials – suggesting the choice will have a record so sterling it will shame GOP senators into backing down.

Obama’s consideration of Garland appears to fit into that approach. Garland, a white 63-year-old with an Ivy-League, East-Coast background, would not add diversity to the court. But with a reputation as a judicial moderate and with broad respect in Washington, Garland could put maximum pressure on some GOP senators to crack from leadership opposition.

Others on the list press different political buttons. Both Srinivasan and Watford come with some bipartisan endorsement. Srinivasan was unanimously confirmed to the bench in 2013. Watford’s confirmation vote was a more partisan 61-34 split.

As Obama appointments, neither comes with long records on the bench, leaving their judicial philosophies somewhat ambiguous.

Other candidates come with added challenges and will test Obama’s interest in adding diversity of experience to the court.

The president appears to have ruled out naming a politician or administration official, despite briefly considering Attorney General Loretta Lynch. On the short list, only Kelly, a former public defender in Iowa, did not follow the traditional ladder to the highest court.

The risks associated with her experience have already emerged. In recent days, conservative groups raised questions about Kelly’s work securing a plea deal for a man facing child pornography charges. After two decades as a criminal defense lawyer, there’s little doubt there are more cases like that in her background.

Even in a normal confirmation environment, there will be many types of arguments available to opponents, said Michael Gottlieb, a former White House lawyer who is now a partner at the Washington firm of Boies, Schiller and Flexner. The White House tries to limit those to leave the nominee’s opponents with “only the most unattractive arguments,” he said, adding: “All it takes to form the basis of a narrative against a nominee is one negative story.”

Obama: Guantanamo Bay Undermines Security, Must be Closed

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama on Tuesday vowed to “once and for all” close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and transfer the most detainees to a facility in the U.S., submitting a plan short on specifics and unlikely to make headway with opponents in Congress.

Obama cast his proposal as a moment to turn the page on a facility that for years has raised nettlesome legal questions, become a recruitment tool for violent extremists and garnered strong opposition from some allies abroad.

“I don’t want to pass this problem onto the next president, whoever it is,” Obama said, in an appearance at the White House. “If we don’t do what’s required now, I think future generations are going to look back and ask why we failed to act when the right course, the right side of history, and justice and our best American traditions was clear.”

Despite the big ambitions, Obama’s proposed path to closure remained unclear. It leaves unanswered the politically thorny question of where in the U.S a new facility would be located and whether it could be completed by the end of Obama’s term. Moving detainees to U.S. soil is currently prohibited under U.S. law and lawmakers have shown little interest in removing the restrictions.

“We will review President Obama’s plan but since it includes bringing dangerous terrorists to facilities in U.S. communities, he knows that the bipartisan will of Congress has already been expressed against that proposal,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said Obama had yet to convince Americans that moving detainees to U.S. soil is “smart or safe.”

“It is against the law – and it will stay against the law,” Ryan said.

Even Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a former prisoner of war and an advocate of closing the prison, called Obama’s report a “vague menu of options,” which does not include a policy for dealing with future terrorist detainees.

Obama has “missed a major chance to convince the Congress and the American people that he has a responsible plan to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility,” he said.

It’s not clear whether that chance ever existed. Momentum to close the facility has slowed dramatically under Obama’s tenure. Congress remains deadlocked on far less contentious matters, and the issue has little resonance on the presidential campaign trail.

Still, for Obama, the facility stands as a major unfilled promise and a painful reminder of the limits on his power: His first executive order sketched out a timeline for closing the prison, but was ultimately derailed by Congress.

The White House has not ruled out the possibility that the president may again attempt to close the prison through executive action – a move that would directly challenge Congress’ authority. The plan submitted Tuesday does not address that option.

The proposal underscores the administration’s strategy of shrinking the population, hoping the massive cost for housing the diminished population would ultimately make closure inevitable.

Under the plan, roughly 35 of the 91 current detainees will be transferred to other countries in the coming months, leaving up to 60 detainees who are either facing trial by military commission or have been determined to be too dangerous to release but are not facing charges.

Those detainees would be relocated to a U.S. facility that could cost up to $475 million to build, but would ultimately be offset by as much as $180 million per year in operating cost savings. The annual operating cost for Guantanamo is $445 million. The U.S. facilities would cost between $265 million and $305 million to operate each year, according to the proposal.

The plan considers 13 different locations in the U.S., including seven existing prison facilities in Colorado, South Carolina and Kansas, as well as six other locations at current correctional facilities on state, federal or military sites in several states. It also notes that there could be all new construction on existing military bases. The plan doesn’t recommend a preferred site and the cost estimates are meant to provide a starting point for a conversation with Congress.

More detailed spending figures, which are considered classified, will be provided to Congress. Lawmakers have been demanding the Guantanamo plan for months, and those representing South Carolina, Kansas and Colorado have voiced opposition to housing the detainees in their states.

Vice President Joe Biden reacts to comments made by President Barack Obama, accompanied by Defense Secretary Ash Carter, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Vice President Joe Biden reacts to comments made by President Barack Obama, accompanied by Defense Secretary Ash Carter, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

“We must safeguard the missions on Fort Leavenworth, the nearly 14,000 military and civilian personnel and their family members, and the thousands of Kansans who live in the Leavenworth community,” Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., said in a statement Tuesday.

Advocates of closing Guantanamo say the prison has long been a recruiting tool for militant groups and that holding extremists suspected of violent acts indefinitely without charges or trial sparks anger and dismay among U.S. allies.

Opponents, however, say changing the detention center’s ZIP code won’t eliminate that problem.

Obama’s proposal faced criticism even from those who endorse closing the detention center. His initial campaign pledge was widely viewed as a promise to end the practice of detaining prisoners indefinitely without charge, not to bring that practice to the U.S., said Naureen Shah, director of Amnesty International USA’s Security and Human Rights Program.

“Whatever the president proposes, even if it doesn’t come to fruition, the administration is changing the goal posts on this issue,” she said.

García Padilla, US Democratic Governors Meet With Obama

Gov. Alejandro García Padilla (first from left) in press conference after meeting with President Obama.

Gov. Alejandro García Padilla (first from left) in press conference after meeting with President Obama.

SAN JUAN – Gov. Alejandro García Padilla and more than 30 Democratic U.S. governors met Saturday morning with President Obama for the winter meeting of the National Governors Association (NGA).

Governors from different jurisdictions in the U.S. will have the opportunity to discuss their more pressing matters. They also meet with federal officials including President Barack Obama, García Padilla said in a written statement Friday before leaving for Washington, D.C.

The agenda for Saturday’s meeting included discussions about the state of the economy and the ways states are responding to the heroin addiction epidemic.



All Eyes On Iowa’s Grassley For Supreme Court Nominee’s Fate

WASHINGTON – Sen. Chuck Grassley – farmer, onetime sheet metal shearer, six-term senator and Judiciary Committee chairman – has a major say in whether President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee even gets a hearing.

So far, the 82-year-old Iowa lawmaker has delivered a somewhat muddled message.

Hours after Justice Antonin Scalia’s death one week ago, Grassley issued a statement that echoed his Republican leader, Mitch McConnell. “It only makes sense that we defer to the American people who will elect a new president to select the next Supreme Court justice,” Grassley said.

But three days later, Grassley said on a conference call with reporters that he would “wait until the nominee is made before I would make any decisions” on whether to hold a hearing. “In other words, take it a step at a time,” he said.

He’s repeated the “step at a time” refrain throughout the week on his multiple stops in Iowa, part of his pledge to visit all of the state’s 99 counties each year.

By late Thursday, Grassley and McConnell had penned an op-ed in The Washington Post, saying the American people should have a chance to decide on the justice through voting in the next election, “rather than a lame-duck president whose priorities and policies they just rejected in the most-recent national election.”

The same day, Grassley and Obama discussed the nomination process over the phone, according to the White House. A Grassley spokeswoman would only describe the call as cordial, and would not say whether the committee will hold hearings. Obama also called McConnell.

Obama has insisted he will fulfill his constitutional responsibility and send a nomination to the Senate. The White House may consider playing to Grassley’s sympathies with its choice.

Among the possible nominees is Judge Jane Kelly, a former Iowa public defender who was named to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in 2013. Grassley backed Kelly’s confirmation, in part because a longtime friend highly recommended her, he said at her confirmation hearing.

Kelly once clerked for circuit court Judge David Hansen, a onetime county Republican chairman who campaigned for Grassley in first bid for the House, the senator told the committee. Grassley was laid up in the hospital at the time and never forgot Hansen’s work helping him win.

“He gets all the credit for it,” Grassley said.

Some of Grassley’s GOP colleagues have argued against any hearing for Obama’s nominee. The top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, has called for Grassley to move forward.

“I have served in the Senate for more than four decades, and on the Judiciary Committee for 36 years,” Leahy said this week. “During that time, Supreme Court nominees have always been treated differently compared to other nominees – they have always received a hearing and they have always been reported to the full Senate.”

Leahy presided over the panel in 2009 and 2010, when Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan were confirmed. Those nominations were an easier task for Obama, as the Senate was under Democratic control. Grassley voted against the nominations of both justices.

Grassley, who is seeking his seventh term, is a veteran of intense, partisan battles in the Senate. He helped push through President George W. Bush’s tax cuts 15 years ago and was the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee as the panel considered health care overhaul in 2009 and 2010. Last year, he launched an investigation of former Secretary of State and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email account and server.

He also has worked well with Democrats. He and Leahy have combined forces on a criminal justice overhaul, despite opposition from some conservatives.

Grassley’s also known for his genial, folksy demeanor around the Senate, even if he’s occasionally hard on witnesses and corporations or charities he sees as operating outside the law. In recent years he has taken to Twitter, often humorously and with misspellings.

He tweets often, in the last week logging his various town hall visits and mentioning a North Korea sanctions bill – “U can’t trust the fat dictatr,” he tweeted – but he hasn’t said much about what his committee will do with Obama’s inevitable Supreme Court nomination.

He saved those comments for his constituents.

“I would say this isn’t about a person at this point. This is about a process,” Grassley said at a town hall in Muscatine, Iowa.


Caribbean Business

Obama, Sanders at the White House: Nice Chat but that’s All

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama and his aides have said a lot of nice things about Bernie Sanders, but not this one: He’s ready to be president.

The key omission was particularly noticeable Wednesday as Obama and Sanders met for their first one-on-one since Sanders jolted the Democratic campaign and locked Hillary Clinton in an unexpectedly tight race.

The long-discussed meeting between Obama and his sometime critic was a moment for the president to display his public neutrality in the heated primary race to replace him – rebutting suggestions that he’s in the tank for Clinton. For Sanders, it was a chance to show he’s got some sway with a president who’s still popular among Democrats.

“By and large, over the last seven years on major issue after major issue, I have stood by his side where he has taken on unprecedented Republican obstructionism and has tried to do the right thing for the American people,” Sanders said after the meeting.

But neither the White House nor Sanders is suggesting the men are kindred spirits, or even close political allies. White House officials say the men lack much of a personal relationship and have markedly different approaches to politics. The president this week declared bluntly he doesn’t see Sanders’ upstart campaign as a reboot of his own battle against Clinton in 2008. Obama allies bristle at comparisons between Sanders and the president.

It’s a reminder that even as Obama watches the nomination battle from a distance, he is personally tied to the outcome. He remains focused on ensuring a Democrat wins the White House and on protecting his legacy. Increasingly, it appears, he sees Clinton as his best hope.

Sanders emerged from the 45-minute meeting with gracious things to say about his host.

He said he believes Obama has been “even handed” in his dealing with the candidates. The president has campaigned for him in the past, Sanders noted, harking back a decade to an appearance then-Sen. Obama made in Vermont. And he has campaigned for Obama, he said, delivering a pointed rebuke to Clinton, who has suggested Sanders has been disloyal to the president.

The White House had kind words for Sanders’ contribution to Democrats enthusiasm, although not his leadership.

“That ability to engage Democrats and excite them and inspire them will be critical to the success of Democrats up and down the ballot,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said. “Whether Senator Sanders is the nominee or not.”

The caveat was a marked contrast to remarks Obama recently made about Clinton. In an interview with Politico, the president described his former secretary of state as “more experienced than any non-vice president has ever been who aspires to this office.” Sanders has “great authenticity, great passion and is fearless,” Obama said, but he added the senator is untested.

White House officials say Obama interview was a reflection of his close, working relationship with Clinton and his focus on wanting Democrats to win, not his discomfort with Sanders.

Although Sanders and Obama overlapped in the Senate, they have few personal ties. Sanders, an independent who tends to vote with Democrats, is an unabashed liberal willing to hold the line. Obama has shown far more interest in pragmatism than ideological purity.

The president respects the role Sanders has played in the Senate, a White House official said. Indeed, a younger Obama once cheered that effort.

“It seems like power is always trumping principle,” Obama said as he campaigned for Sanders in 2006. “Things can change, that we can overcome that cynicism.”

But as president, Obama has not relied on Sanders for advice or legislative heft. The senator hasn’t been a regular at the White House. He last met privately with Obama in December 2014 to alert the president of his plans to run for his job, Earnest said.

Obama allies have dismissed suggestions that Sanders’ campaign is following a path Obama charted eight years ago. Despite both men attracting youthful crowds, promising change and running against Clinton, the comparison is thin, they say.

Sanders rails against the gap between the nation’s wealthy and poor, which has grown during Obama’s presidency, and slams the role of Wall Street and big corporations in the economy.

He also blasts the proliferation of big money in politics. In 2012, Obama blessed the creation of a Democratic super PAC, Priorities USA Action, to support his re-election bid.

Like Clinton, Sanders opposes the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a key part of Obama’s trade agenda. He also opposes the president in advocating transforming Obama’s health care law into what he describes as a universal “Medicare for all” system.

These issues weren’t the focus of the meeting, Sanders said, downplaying the differences as he stood in the driveway of the White House to talk to reporters. Photographers were not allowed to shoot the president and Sanders together in the Oval Office.

Vote to Repeal Obama’s Health Law Marks Testy Start to 2016

WASHINGTON – Legislation repealing President Barack Obama’s health care law comes to the forefront when the House reconvenes this week, marking a sharply partisan start to a congressional year in which legislating may take a back seat to politics.

The bill undoing the president’s prized overhaul of health care has been like a long-delayed New Year’s resolution for Republicans. It will be the first order of business for the House in the new year.

There are few areas of potential compromise between Obama and the GOP majority in the House and Senate, but plenty of opportunities for political haymaking during the presidential campaign season.

Obama will veto the health law repeal bill, which also would cut money for Planned Parenthood. The measure already has passed the Senate under special rules protecting it from Democratic obstruction. But that’s the point for Republicans, who intend to schedule a veto override vote for Jan. 22, when anti-abortion activists hold their annual march in Washington to mark the anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in 1973 that legalized abortion.

Despite dozens of past votes to repeal the health law in full or in part, Republicans never before have succeeded in sending a full repeal bill to the White House. They insist that doing so will fulfill promises to their constituents while highlighting the clear choice facing voters in the November presidential election.

Every Republican candidate has pledged to undo the health law. The Democrats running for president would keep it in place.

“You’re going to see us put a bill on the president’s desk going after Obamacare and Planned Parenthood so we’ll finally get a bill on his desk to veto,” House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., told conservative talk host Bill Bennett over the holidays.

“Then you’re going to see the House Republican Conference, working with our senators, coming out with a bold agenda that we’re going to lay out for the country, to say how we would do things very differently,” Ryan said.

In the Senate, which reconvenes Jan. 11, a week later than the House, early action will include a vote on a proposal by Sen. Rand Paul, the Kentucky Republican who is running for president, for an “audit” of the Federal Reserve. Democrats are likely to block it. But, like the health repeal bill in the House, the vote will answer conservative demands in an election year.

Also expected early in the Senate’s year is legislation dealing with Syrian refugees, following House passage of a bill clamping down on the refugee program. Conservatives were angry when the year ended without the bill advancing. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky promised a vote, though without specifying whether it would be the House bill or something else.

The House Benghazi committee will continue its investigation of the attacks that killed four Americans in Libya in 2012, with an interview of former CIA Director David Petraeus on Jan. 6. That comes amid new Democratic accusations of political motives aimed at Hillary Clinton after the committee chairman, Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., endorsed Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. for president. Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, was secretary of state at the time of the Benghazi attacks.

The bold agenda promised by Ryan after succeeding former Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, as speaker last fall will begin to take shape at a House-Senate GOP retreat this month in Baltimore. Thus far Ryan has pledged efforts to overhaul the tax system and offer a Republican alternative to the health overhaul.

In the Senate, McConnell’s primary focus is protecting the handful of vulnerable Republican senators whose seats are at risk as Democrats fight to regain the Senate majority they lost a year ago. That means weighing the political risks and benefits of every potential vote to endangered incumbents in Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire.

That could determine whether McConnell allows criminal justice overhaul legislation – the one issue cited by Obama and lawmakers of both parties as ripe for compromise – to come to the floor.

McConnell already has suggested that prospects for approval of Obama’s long-sought Asia trade pact are dim, and the senator has ruled out major tax overhaul legislation as long as Obama is president.

McConnell could try to put his thumb on the scales of the presidential race with two GOP senators having emerged as leading contenders.

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas has been a thorn in McConnell’s side, once calling the GOP leader a liar, and has frosty relations with his fellow senators. Rubio is on good terms with fellow lawmakers and has been endorsed by several of them. McConnell could schedule debate on an issue with the potential to favor Rubio politically over Cruz, such as National Security Agency wiretapping authority.

But McConnell insists he is staying out of it.

“We all have a big stake in having a nominee for president who can win, and that means carrying purple states, and I’m sure pulling for a nominee who can do that,” McConnell told The Associated Press, refusing to elaborate on who might fit that description.

By The Associated Press