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Drew Angerer/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Florida Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson responded to White House Chief of Staff John Kelly Friday, assailing him for him comments he made Thursday at the White House.

Kelly, addressing reporters at the White House briefing, rebuked Wilson for her criticism of Trump's comments on a call to the widow of a U.S. soldier killed in Niger from her congressional district.

Without mentioning Wilson by name, Kelly also appeared to attack her for comments he said she made at the opening of a FBI field office in Miami in 2015, which was named for FBI agents killed in the line of duty.

"A congresswoman stood up, and in a long tradition of empty barrels making the most noise, stood up there in all of that and talked about how she was instrumental in getting the funding for that building," he said. "We were stunned, stunned that she'd done it. Even for someone that is that empty a barrel, we were stunned."

Wilson responded in an interview with CNN Friday morning, taking issue with Kelly using the term "empty barrel."

"I think that's a racist term too, I'm thinking about that when we looked it up in the dictionary because I had never heard of an empty barrel and I don't like to be dragged into something like that," she said.

She also accused Kelly of lying about the event, pointing out she wasn't in Congress in 2009 when she says the funding was secured.

A video of the 2015 ceremony obtained by The Sun-Sentinel newspaper appears to support Wilson's account of the ceremony.

"I was not even in Congress in 2009. So that's a lie. How dare he? However I named the building at the behest of Director [James] Comey with the help of Speaker [John] Boehner working across party lines so he didn't tell the truth and he needs to stop telling lies on me."

Wilson was in a car with Myeshia Johnson when she received a call from Trump earlier this week about the death of her husband, Sgt. La David Johnson, in Niger last month. She took issue with what she says Trump told Mrs. Johnson: that her husband "must have known what he signed up for."

Trump later criticized the congresswoman and denied her account of the conversation on Twitter.

Kelly said Trump's comments to Johnson were based on what he was told in 2010 by Gen. Joseph Dunford, the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, when his son Robert Kelly was killed in combat. Kelly said the president asked him for advice about what to say.

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Win McNamee/Getty Images(NEW YORK) --  First lady Melania Trump’s inaugural gown went on display Friday at the Smithsonian, part of an exhibit that features various inaugural gowns of former first ladies.

Trump, who participated in the gown’s unveiling at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History, offered praise for the designer Herve Pierre, who collaborated with Trump on the off-the-shoulder, full-length creme-colored couture gown.

“It can be a daunting task to choose an outfit that will be mesmerized and become part of our nation's story and forever history,” Trump said of deciding what to wear for the inaugural ball.

Sharing the story of the gown’s creation, Trump revealed that she was so focused on the dramatic changes that she and her family were facing in the wake of her husband’s election victory, Pierre only had two weeks to design and create the gown.

“We were very busy with all that goes into preparing for a new administration and all of the changes that we, as a family, would be facing,” Trump said. “To be honest, what I would wear to the inaugural ball was the last thing on my mind. By the time I got around to thinking about my choice, poor Herve was only given two weeks this piece.”

In donating the gown, Trump conveyed her family’s gratitude in representing the nation at the White House and said she hoped the gown serves as one piece of her family’s legacy in Washington.

“It is now my hope that this piece is one of the many great beginnings to our family’s history here in Washington, D.C. The president, Barron, and I love living here, and we are so honored to represent this country,” she said.

The gowns in the Smithsonian’s first ladies collection span over 200 years and includes the historic silk pink gown worn by Martha Washington at the nation’s first inauguration as well as the gown worn by Trump’s most immediate predecessor, Michelle Obama.

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U.S. Government (NEW YORK) --  Senate Republicans passed a budget late Thursday night following a series of votes, setting the stage for the GOP's ultimate goal of tackling tax reform later this year.

The measure is estimated to add $1.5 trillion to the deficit over the next 10 years, and contains about $4 trillion in spending cuts, including nearly $500 billion in cuts from Medicare over 10 years and more than $1 trillion from Medicaid.

“We have a once in a lifetime opportunity to replace America’s failing tax codes,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor after the bill was approved.

The Senate’s plan passed along party lines, with 51 Republicans voting in favor of the bill, and all Democrats voting against it.

The 51-49 vote sets the stage for debate later this year to dramatically overhaul the U.S. tax code for the first time in three decades.

Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky was the lone Republican senator who opposed the measure.

“I could not in good conscience vote for a budget that ignores spending caps that have been the law of the land for years and simply pretend it didn’t matter,” Paul said in a statement.

Following the budget's passage, the White House released the following statement: "President Donald J. Trump applauds the Senate for passing its FY 2018 Budget Resolution today and taking an important step in advancing the Administration’s pro-growth and pro-jobs legislative agenda. This resolution creates a pathway to unleash the potential of the American economy through tax reform and tax cuts, simplifying the overcomplicated tax code, providing financial relief for families across the country, and making American businesses globally competitive. President Trump looks forward to final enactment of the Fiscal Year 2018 budget resolution so we can bring jobs back to our country."

And White House press secretary Sarah Sanders tweeted a photo of President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump at a gala dinner benefiting the UNHCR at the Kuwaiti embassy at which the first lady was honored. "Great night honoring @FLOTUS & perfect ending w/ @POTUS announcing passage of budget—major step forward for tax cuts," Sanders tweeted.

Great night honoring @FLOTUS & perfect ending w/ @POTUS announcing passage of budget—major step forward for tax cuts pic.twitter.com/3icggLPvNf

— Sarah Sanders (@PressSec) October 20, 2017

The resolution is a nonbinding budget framework, and is a legislative vehicle that will allow Republicans to pass a tax plan under the rules of reconciliation. This means the GOP tax bill could pass without a single Democratic vote. It also avoids a filibuster attempt by Democrats.

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., a member of the Budget Committee, told reporters Thursday afternoon, "This is the biggest hoax hatched upon the American people ever, that this budget process even exists. The only thing about this that matters is preparation for tax reform."

The Senate opted to fast-track the bill by adopting an amendment that aligned its budget to the House's version of the bill, which was approved in the House chamber last week.

The move to align the two plans is intended to help speed up the process in getting final passage from both chambers of Congress, by foregoing a conference committee to work out the difference in the two documents.

Before the final vote, the Senate agreed to a bipartisan amendment that called the entire budget voting process "utter nonsense."

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said, I think it will go down in history as one of the worst budgets Congress has ever passed."

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Credit: Architect of the Capitol(WASHINGTON) -- Responding to growing revelations about the scale of the Russian effort to influence the 2016 presidential election over social media, a pair of Senate Democrats introduced a bill Thursday to force Facebook and other social media companies to disclose more details about political ads on their platforms.

The proposal from Sens. Mark Warner, D-Virginia, and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, which is also backed by Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, would update existing election law governing political television and radio ads to also include digital ads.

It would also require platforms to keep a public file on any ads from groups and people spending more than $500 -– which would include copies of the ads, the number of views, and contact information for the purchaser. Facebook revealed earlier this month that fake accounts linked to a Russian company spent $100,000 on roughly 3,000 political ads on the platform, a disclosure Warner referred to as the “tip of the iceberg.”

While Facebook, Twitter and other social media sights have fought regulation efforts on Capitol Hill in the past, the companies have pledged to do a better job self-policing their platforms. Klobuchar said any changes should be written in into law. “It has to cover everyone. you can't just have a few companies doing it voluntarily,” she said.

A Facebook spokesman said the company is open to working with lawmakers and reviewing the proposal.

“We look forward to engaging with Congress and the Federal Election Commission on these issues,” a Twitter spokesman said.

The legislative push comes amid new fears that the United States has done little to address concerns about Russian interference in the U.S. election ahead of gubernatorial races in Virginia and New Jersey, and the 2018 midterm elections.

“Our next election is only 383 days away, Russia will keep trying to divide our country,” Klobuchar said.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday, said the United States is “probably not” doing enough to defend against future meddling by Russia and other foreign powers. “We’re not,” Sessions said. “It requires a real review.”

Warner, the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the United States still lacks a “whole-of-government approach” to addressing foreign interference.

“Many members of the Trump administration acknowledge this problem,” he said. “I don't think we are helped in terms of making Americans fully aware when the president continues to dismiss the evidence of Russian intervention.”

He also said the Russian efforts are still underway, citing a report that Twitter suspended a fake account purporting to be the Tennessee Republican party that linked to a Russian-backed “troll farm.”

The senators hope to pass the legislation early in 2018, ahead of the midterm primary elections. They suggested it could make it through the Senate as part of a larger legislative package -- potentially from the Senate Armed Services Committee led by McCain, who is also a longtime advocate of transparency in campaign finance.



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DOMINICK REUTER/AFP/Getty Images(NEWARK, N.J.) -- Former President Obama made his much-anticipated first post-presidential appearance on the campaign trail Thursday, speaking at events for Democratic gubernatorial candidates in New Jersey and Virginia before elections there next month.

Appearing at a rally in Richmond, Virginia with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ralph Northam, Obama commented on the political climate in the country.

“Folks don't feel good right now about what they see, they don't feel as if our public life reflects our best,” Obama said, “Instead of our politics reflecting our values, we've got politics infecting our communities.”

Obama did not mention President Trump by name, but did offer some pointed criticism that appeared to be directed at him.

"You'll notice I haven't been commenting on politics a lot lately, but here's one thing I know: If you have to win a campaign by dividing people you're not going to be able to govern them. You won't be able to unite them later if that's how you start,” Obama told the crowd of thousands at the Richmond convention center.

Obama also got animated when offering some deeply personal thoughts on the events over the summer in Charlottesville.

“We saw what happened in Charlottesville, but we also saw what happened after Charlottesville, when the biggest gatherings of all rejected fear and rejected hate and the decency and goodwill of the American people came out,” Obama said. “That's how we rise. We don't rise up by repeating the past, we rise up by learning from the past.”

The race between Northam and former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie is considered the only competitive statewide race in the nation this year, raising the stakes for Obama’s visit to the state with the election less than three weeks away.

Obama slammed Gillespie for television advertisements attacking Northam over recent MS-13 gang violence in the Commonwealth, dismissing it as nothing more than fear-mongering.

“It's a tactic by the way that shows Ralph's opponent doesn't really think very highly of Virginians,” Obama said, adding, “If he honestly thought these were serious issues he'd offer serious solutions. But he's not because what he's really trying to deliver is fear. What he really believes is if you scare enough voters you might score just enough votes to win an election.”

The former president is still popular in Virginia, a state he won in 2008 and 2012.

Appearing at an event earlier in the day in Newark with Phil Murphy, who served as U.S. Ambassador to Germany during the Obama administration, the former president praised Murphy as the right choice for New Jersey voters.

"When Phil and his family said I’m ready to go, I’m willing to step out there and step into what can be a pretty tough political environment, I wasn’t surprised because I knew him," Obama said, "I knew their character."

Obama’s re-emergence comes as President Trump has taken aim at various parts of his legacy, including the Iran nuclear agreement and the Affordable Care Act and as the controversy around Trump’s interactions with families of fallen U.S. soldiers persists.

Obama shied away from calling out Trump directly in his remarks in Newark, instead hammering his critique of the state of U.S. politics Thursday.

"Some of the politics we see now, we thought we put that to bed. That’s folks looking 50 years back, it’s the 21st century, not the 19th century," Obama said.

The former president also told the crowd to ignore the polls and focusing on turning out as much grassroots support as possible.

"I don't know if y'all noticed, but you can't take any election for granted," Obama said, "I don't care what the polls say. I don't care what the pundits say."

Aides to the former president said Obama planned to stick to policy instead of political attacks on President Trump.

“It’s in no one’s interest – including the former president’s, the Democratic Party’s, or the country’s – for President Obama to become the face of any resistance or the party,” a senior adviser to the former president wrote in a statement to ABC News, “Instead, he is creating the space for leaders in the party to craft the best path forward that will make our country better.

“He is acutely aware that when he consumes political oxygen, it can stifle the attention that should be on current and emerging leaders in the party.”

The elections in New Jersey and Virginia will take place Nov. 7.

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Credit: Architect of the Capitol(WASHINGTON) -- Thursday on the Senate floor, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn. and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., introduced their bipartisan health care bill that aims to fund federal subsidies for two years and stabilize individual insurance markets.

After working on a bipartisan, short-term fix to health care for months, Alexander and Murray presented their legislation and named a list of 22 other Democratic and Republican co-sponsors that could help propel their bill forward. Among the supporters are Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine -- the three senators who sunk the Republican Party's effort to repeal and replace Obamacare this summer.

With the added support for the proposal, said Alexander, it “sounds like something that might actually become law before the end of the year.”

The bill has gained the support of 10 bipartisan governors, the America's Health Insurance Plans, the American Medical Association, and a group of 29 non-partisan patient, consumer, and health care groups.

But while Alexander and Murray have sent a clear signal they intend to continue working on their bill, it is still in the hands of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to bring the bill to the floor for votes, and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has said he only intends to support repealing and replacing Obamacare.

President Donald Trump has sent mixed signals about whether or not he can support the legislation as well.

Alexander said that over the course of 10 days, he’s taken four phone calls from the president to discuss cost-sharing reductions.

“The president encouraged me, and I said Mr. President, thank you for your leadership, thank you for four calls in ten days on this, and Sen. Murray and I hope you will consider it and strengthen it if you would like to. And he said he would,” Alexander said.

Trump has expressed his concerns about cost-sharing reductions benefitting insurance companies.

“I have great respect, as you know, for both of the senators you mentioned. And if they can come up with a short-term solution. What I did say is I don't want the insurance companies making any more money than they have to, because you look at the stock prices of the insurance prices from the time of the creation of Obamacare,” said Trump Thursday in the Oval Office.

But Murray and Alexander said they both worked hard to make sure consumers -- and not insurance companies -- benefit.

“The one issue we did not disagree on but we worked the hardest on, and had the most discussion on, was how we make sure we have the language in place in this that consumers benefit and it is not a bailout for insurers,” said Murray.

Despite some mixed signals from Trump and no commitment from McConnell for a vote, Murray and Alexander are intent on moving their bill forward. The two have been working for months on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions to fix a small, but stressed, part of the health care marketplace. The bill aims to benefit the premiums of about six percent of the population, or 18 million Americans who go into the individual markets to buy health care coverage. Most Americans are insured by the government or their employers.

But the individual marketplace isn’t the only part of the Affordable Care Act the Alexander-Murray bill hopes to change. With Open Enrollment for Obamacare marketplaces less than two weeks away, the bill also hopes to reinstate much of the funding that was stripped by the federal government this year to help people enroll in health insurance plans.

In the midst of all this, other senators have been working to promote their own health care plans. Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Bill Cassidy, R-La., whose health care reform bill was the latest to fail, just announced that they are working on an alternative measure to stabilize markets to the Alexander-Murray bill -- this despite the fact that both Graham and Cassidy are co-sponsors of the Alexander-Murray bill.

Graham and Cassidy say that they want their bill to include "more flexibility provisions." The Alexander-Murray plan gives states more flexibility to receive waivers to create their own programs and opens up catastrophic plans to people over the age of 30.

“Without a stabilization package, the market will collapse and advance premium tax credits will spike," they said in a joint statement. "This would increase the costs to the American taxpayer.”

This week, Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., and Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., also introduced their own health care bill, known as Medicare-X, which allows for a public option on Obamacare exchanges that they hope is a moderate Democrat response to the growing support for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders' "Medicare for all" bill

For now, Alexander and Murray are committed to finding ways to provide consumers short-term relief.

Alexander gave a stern warning to his Senate colleagues who have been uncertain about funding the cost-sharing reduction payments: “Unless they're replaced with something else temporarily, there will be chaos in this country and millions of Americans will be hurt.”

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US Senate(WASHINGTON) -- A clearly frustrated, bipartisan panel of senators on Thursday threatened to subpoena the Trump administration’s cyber czar, demanding to know how the White House plans to address "the disarray" that has embodied the U.S. government's response to cyber threats from Russia and other adversaries.

"Do you know that for eight years we've been trying to get a policy? For eight years we’ve been trying to get a strategy," an exasperated Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told top cyber officials from the FBI, Defense Department, and Department of Homeland Security during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.

At the end of the hearing's witness table, sitting beside Defense Department Assistant Secretary Kenneth Rapuano, was an empty chair that had been set aside for White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Rob Joyce, who declined an invitation to appear before the committee.

A more coordinated effort

Senators indicated they want a more coordinated federal effort to combat growing cyber threats and prevent Russia from trying to influence U.S. elections as they had last year.

Republicans and Democrats alike mocked what they described as a confusing and compartmentalized distribution of authorities for government agencies, and McCain said it’s important that a single, high-level administration official coordinates the government-wide effort.

"Mr. Joyce’s absence here, whose job it is to do all this, is an example of the disarray in which this whole issue rests," said McCain, the committee's chairman.

McCain also accused the Defense Department of deflecting responsibility for certain cyber-related threats, particularly threats against U.S. elections systems.

Rapuano told McCain, "When you look at the separation of authorities between state and local government, the lead for that coordination and support in our current system is DHS."

Rapuano added that it's problematic for the Pentagon to be "attempting to insert itself into a process."

But McCain countered: "It's the Department of Defense's job to defend this nation; that’s why it's called the Department of Defense."

"This is cyber warfare. Cyber is warfare," McCain told Rapuano. "Cyber is an attempt to destroy a democracy. That is what [Russian president Vladimir] Putin is all about.

"I steadfastly reject your shuffling off the responsibilities of cyber over to the Department of Homeland Security," McCain added.

'A lot of work to do'

Generally, DHS is charged with protecting "critical infrastructure," assisting states in their efforts to protect voting systems, and distributing threat information to other government agencies and private-sector partners. The FBI is responsible for investigating intrusions and potential threats from foreign governments, and the Defense Department is responsible for protecting military systems and developing offensive cyber tools.

A chart, provided by the U.S. government, was displayed at Thursday’s hearing to outline those differences.

"For eight years, we’ve been trying to get something besides this convoluted chart," McCain said.

The DHS official testifying, Chris Krebs, noted that he's only been in his role at the DHS National Protection and Programs Directorate for eight weeks, but he understands the Senators' unease.

"I share your frustration, and I think we have a lot of work to do," Krebs said. "I think this is going to require both the executive branch and the Congress working together to continue understanding how we need to address this threat."

McCain shot back: "Well, when the coordinator doesn't show up for a hearing, that’s not an encouraging sign."

At that point, Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., told McCain he should "consider a subpoena to get the main witness" to appear.

"I think that has to be discussed in the committee," McCain responded.

Threats of subpoenas

Asked why Joyce did not show up to Thursday’s hearing, a White House spokesman said: “It has been the longstanding practice of presidents of both parties not to make White House advisers available for congressional testimony or oversight. This practice is rooted in the separation of powers and in the confidentiality interests of the executive branch. Officials from relevant departments and agencies are available to accommodate the committee's legitimate oversight needs without violating the confidentiality interests that attach to White House staff.”

During Thursday’s hearing, Rapuano said he was not aware of any specific effort within his department to prepare a coordinated response to threats against upcoming elections, but Krebs said DHS has "absolutely" been engaged in such an effort.

"I didn’t need anybody to tell me to stand up a task force," Krebs said, adding that it was one of the first things he did after joining DHS from the private sector.

DHS has also recently issued security clearances to "a number" of state election officials so they can be read-in on classified information pertaining to threats against their systems, Krebs said.

"There’s no question [foreign hackers] are going to come back, and we’re going to be fighting them every day," Krebs said.

McCain's threat to subpoena Joyce was his second of the day. After Thursday's hearing, he said he is willing to subpoena Trump administration officials to get more information about the recent ambush in Niger in which four American soldiers were killed.

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Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- White House Chief of Staff John Kelly emotionally addressed the outreach made in the aftermath of a U.S. servicemember's death at Thursday's White House press briefing on Thursday, a description that came on a week in which President Donald Trump found himself in the midst of a controversy over his alleged comments to the widow of a fallen soldier and claims about former presidents' engagement.

Kelly, whose son, First Lieutenant Robert M. Kelly, was killed in action in 2010, described the process of alerting a fallen service member's family about their death and transporting their body back to the United States.

"Most Americans don't know what happens when we lose one of our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines or Coast Guardsmen in combat," Kelly said.

 Kelly described the painstaking process of bringing a fallen soldier home.

"Their buddies wrap them up in whatever passes as a shroud," he said adding that a fellow soldier "puts them on a helicopter as a routine and sends them home."

The bodies are packed in ice, he said, placed in the plane and flown to Europe. The soldier's remains are once again packed in ice and flown to Dover Air Force Base.

Once at Dover, the bodies are embalmed, then someone "meticulously dresses them in their uniform with the metals that they've earned, the emblems of their service and then puts them on another airplane linked up to the casualty officer escort that takes them home," Kelly continued.

A casualty officer then makes the solemn call to the home of the family, "very early in the morning and waits for the first lights to come on."

"And then he knocks on the door, typically the mom or dad will answer, wife. And if there is a wife this is happening in two different places, if the parents are divorced, three different places. And the casualty officer proceeds to break the heart of a family member and stays with that family until, well for a long long time, even after the internment," Kelly said.

On Monday, Trump claimed that President Barack Obama did not make phone calls to service members' families following their deaths, though later partially walked back the comments saying, "I don't know if he did. No, no, no… was told that he didn't often, and a lot of presidents don't."

The president then received criticism when Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla. claimed that he told the widow of Army Sgt. La David T. Johnson "he knew what he signed up for" during a condolence call.

Kelly told reporters on Thursday that the most important calls he received came in the immediate aftermath of his son's death.

"Hours after my son was killed his friends were calling us from Afghanistan, telling us what a great guy he was," Kelly said.



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ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump touted his administration’s response to Hurricane Maria, giving the federal relief effort a “10,” after noting that the storm’s devastation was worse than that of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

“I'd say it was a 10. I'd it was probably most difficult when you talk about relief, when you talk about search. When you talk about all of the different levels,” Trump said in a meeting in the Oval Office Thursday with Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello. “And even when you talk about lives saved you look at numbers. I think it was worse than Katrina. In many ways, worse than anything we've seen.”

During a visit to the island earlier this month, the president said that the territory’s officials “can be proud” of the relatively low death toll on the island compared to Katrina, which resulted in the loss over over 1,200 lives in the U.S.'s Gulf Coast. As of Wednesday, the death toll in Puerto Rico sat at 48.

The president said he thinks the administration has done “a really great job,” while Rossello said much still has to be done on the island where more than 80 percent of electricity consumers remains without power four weeks after Maria’s devastation.

“A lot still has to be done. We're hopeful that with this meeting that we're going to have, we're going to talk about the immediate needs for Puerto Rico," Rossello told the president. "What we need to go to get out of the sustaining phase. What we need to do to stabilize Puerto Rico and what we need to do to build Puerto Rico stronger and better than before."

“I am confident that with your commitment, with your support, Mr. President, we'll be able to come out of this in the long haul together with Puerto Rico, give the citizens of Puerto Rico the adequate resources," said Rossello.

"Treat us the same as citizens in Texas and Florida and elsewhere," he added.

Prior to meeting with the president, Gov. Rossello revealed that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has yet to restore power to his besieged island’s electricity grid, according to Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who met the governor and recounted his conversation to reporters.

“Apparently, according to the government of Puerto Rico, they have yet to execute on a power restoration contract to begin the restoration work, even the immediate work. So we need to see what are the impediments to that happening,” Rubio said after the nearly hour-long meeting.

He added, “Four weeks after the storm, they are where Florida was 48 hours after the storm.”

Rubio also said the $36.5 billion disaster relief package, which the Senate is likely to vote on late Thursday night, is too wrapped up in red tape to provide immediate relief to the U.S. territory.

He said that in order for the Puerto Rican government to access some of the funds, it will first need to conduct time-consuming damage assessments, preventing the government from being able to immediately allocate the money.

“It's great that there's a bunch of money sitting there, that there's a pile of money ready to help with assistance, but if their ability to get a hold of that money and use it is going to require a three-month process, then it's not going to do a lot of good,” he said.

Puerto Rico's energy infrastructure was facing a "crisis" prior to Hurricane Maria, according to a report commissioned by the Puerto Rican Electrical Power Authority in November 2016. The analysis noted that the island's power grid was "literally falling apart" due to poor maintenance and planning.



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Credit: Architect of the Capitol(WASHINGTON) -- Ohio Rep. Pat Tiberi is the latest seasoned House Republican to call it quits, announcing he’ll resign by Jan. 31 to accept a lucrative position in the Buckeye State rather than finish his ninth term on Capitol Hill.

Suddenly, there’s less hyperbole when House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., identifies this moment as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to overhaul the tax code, with decades of GOP experience heading for greener pastures.

Since the dawn of Congress, the House Ways and Means Committee has been the most powerful, coveted committee post a lawmaker can seek, as members of the panel have constitutional jurisdiction over the power of the purse.

That makes them popular candidates for higher political office, and deeply attractive recruits at lobbying firms on K Street, who can offer salaries far above the $174,000 members of the House are paid each year.

After seizing majority control in 2011, the initial GOP chairman, Rep. Dave Camp of Michigan, led the committee for four years before retiring and cashing in at PricewaterhouseCoopers accounting firm. Ryan handed off the chairman’s gavel for Ways and Means after less than a year when he was elected speaker in 2015.

There is not even legislative text of a tax bill yet, but Tiberi’s decision represents the sixth Ways and Means Republican, out of 24 GOPers on the panel, to decide to leave the House.

Republican Reps. Sam Johnson of Texas, Dave Reichert of Washington and Lynn Jenkins of Kansas are leaving public office while Reps. Diane Black of Tennessee and Jim Renacci of Ohio are mounting campaigns for governor.

“I have been presented with an opportunity to lead the Ohio Business Roundtable that will allow me to continue to work on public policy issues impacting Ohioans while also spending more time with my family,” Tiberi wrote in a statement announcing his intent to resign. “Leaving Congress is not a decision I take lightly but after a lot of consideration, it is the best one for me, my wife, Denice, and our four wonderful daughters.”

Tiberi’s announcement signals he intends to serve until the ongoing attempt at tax reform reaches a conclusion.

The number of House Republicans not seeking re-election (24) is not trending higher than previous election cycles, and is not far out of tune with the number of Democrats (11) moving on from the House.

Beyond Tiberi's looming resignation, four Republicans took appointments in the Trump administration, one resigned in disgrace, another resigned on fair terms in favor of a gig at Fox News, seven more are retiring and 10 are seeking higher office.

No matter how safe GOP leaders insist those Republican districts are, the 13-seat split between GOP and Democratic retirements puts the Republicans at a slight disadvantage heading into next year’s midterm elections, though their 46-seat overall majority helps create a cushion.

The bottom line: If Ryan is going to hand President Donald Trump a major legislative victory in his first year in office, tax overhaul might be the last best chance before the GOP’s grip on majority control is potentially dissolved.

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The White House/Eric Draper(NEW YORK) -- In a rare public speech today, former President George W. Bush blasted the divisive state of American politics, rejecting nativism and warning of a “crisis of confidence.”

“Bigotry seems emboldened. Our politics seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication,” the president said at an event hosted by the George W. Bush Institute in New York City today. “We've seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty. At times, it can seem like the forces pulling us apart are stronger than the forces binding us together.

“We've seen nationalism distorted into nativism. Forgotten the dynamism immigration has always brought to America. The fading value of trade,” he continued. “We've seen the return of isolationist sentiments forgetting that American security is directly threatened by the chaos and despair of distant places where threats such as terrorism, infectious disease, criminal gangs and drug trafficking tend to emerge. In all these ways, we need to recall and recover our own identity.”

He added, "People are hurting. They are angry. And they are frustrated. We must hear and help them but we cannot wish globalization away any more than we could wish away the agricultural revolution or the industrial revolution."

The former president directly challenged those who embrace bigotry and white supremacy -- a nod at the recent violence in Charlottesville.

“Bigotry or white supremacy in any form is blasphemy against the American creed,” the president said to applause.

Bush has largely refrained from weighing in on the state of politics since leaving office. In New York Thursday, he warned of the tone used in political discourse.

“Bullying and prejudice in our public life sets a national tone. [It] provides permission for cruelty and bigotry, and compromises the moral education of children. The only way to pass along civic values is to first live up to them.”

The president also directly weighed in on Russia’s interference in the 2016 election -- saying there were clearly attempts to subvert our political process.

“According to intelligence services the Russian government has made a project of turning Americans against each other. This effort is broad, systemic and stealthy. It is conducted across a range of social media platforms,” he said. “Ultimately this assault won't succeed.

“Foreign aggressions including cyberattacks, disinformation and financial influence should never be downplayed or tolerated,” he said. “It's a clear case where the strength of our democracy begins at home. We must secure our electoral infrastructure and protect our electoral system from subversion.”

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ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello, who will be meeting with President Trump later today, revealed that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has yet to restore power to his besieged island’s electricity grid.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., sat down with Rossello this morning, and recounted his conversation to reporters.

“Apparently, according to the government of Puerto Rico, they have yet to execute on a power restoration contract to begin the restoration work, even the immediate work. So we need to see what are the impediments to that happening,” Rubio said after the nearly hour-long meeting.

He added, “Four weeks after the storm, they are where Florida was 48 hours after the storm.”

Rubio also said the $36.5 billion disaster relief package, which the Senate is likely to vote on late Thursday night, is too wrapped up in red tape to provide immediate relief to the U.S. territory.

He said that in order for the Puerto Rican government to access some of the funds, it will first need to conduct time-consuming damage assessments, preventing the government from being able to immediately allocate the money.

“It's great that there's a bunch of money sitting there, that there's a pile of money ready to help with assistance, but if their ability to get a hold of that money and use it is going to require a three-month process, then it's not going to do a lot of good,” he said.

Puerto Rico's energy infrastructure was facing a "crisis" prior to Hurricane Maria, according to a report commissioned by the Puerto Rican Electrical Power Authority in November 2016. The analysis noted that the island's power grid was "literally falling apart" due to poor maintenance and planning.

As of Wednesday, 19.1 percent of customers on the island have electricity, according to the Puerto Rico governor's office.

Rossello is meeting with Trump at the White House and he said he will be asking for the administration to focus not just on Puerto Rico’s short-term needs but also the medium and long-term goals to stabilize and rebuild.

“We need equal treatment, we need all of the resources so that we can get out of the emergency and of course the resources to rebuild stronger than before,” he said.

ABC News' Erin Dooley contributed to this report.

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The White House(NEW YORK) -- Former President Obama is set to make his much-anticipated, first post-presidential appearance on the campaign trail today, speaking at events for Democratic gubernatorial candidates in New Jersey and Virginia before elections there next month.

Obama’s re-emergence comes as President Trump has taken aim at various parts of his legacy, including the Iran Deal and the Affordable Care Act, and as the controversy around Trump’s interactions with families of fallen U.S. soldiers persists.

It is unlikely that Obama will directly call out President Trump and will probably speak in general terms about the importance of honoring veterans, aides to the former president told ABC News.

He will instead put a major emphasis on the economy and the state of politics, they said.

“It’s in no one’s interest – including the former president’s, the Democratic Party’s, or the country’s – for President Obama to become the face of any resistance or the party,” a senior adviser to the former president wrote in a statement to ABC News, “Instead, he is creating the space for leaders in the party to craft the best path forward that will make our country better.

“He is acutely aware that when he consumes political oxygen, it can stifle the attention that should be on current and emerging leaders in the party.”

In New Jersey, Obama will attend a “canvass kickoff” event in Newark, New Jersey, with Democratic candidate Phil Murphy, who has held a sizable lead in most polls over his opponent, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno.

Obama will then head to Richmond, Virginia, in the evening for a rally with Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, who is locked in a tight race with former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie.

Virginia is largely considered the only competitive statewide race in the nation this year, and a recent poll from Monmouth University gave Gillespie a 1 point edge over Northam, highlighting the importance of Obama’s visit to the state with the election less than three weeks away.

Obama is still popular in Virginia, a state he won twice as a presidential candidate. A poll released Wednesday by Fox News had his favorability rating at 57 percent among likely voters in the state.

The elections in New Jersey and Virginia will take place Nov. 7.

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Shawn Thew/Pool/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Since his first week in office, President Donald Trump has tried to put in place extensive restrictions on who can come into the country, fulfilling a campaign promise to implement "extreme vetting" or a "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States."

"I got elected on defense of our country. I keep my campaign promises, and our citizens will be very happy when they see the result," Trump said in February.

But through three executive orders now, that promise has been slapped down and tied up by federal courts -- with the latest version put on hold by a federal judge in Hawaii on Tuesday.

The Justice Department has said it will appeal the decision, but the judge who issued the temporary restraining order cited the same arguments previous courts have had with the first two bans. It's unclear if the Trump administration has done enough legal maneuvering this time to avoid those, but it's worth looking back on the judicial road that led here.

Trump's first travel ban -- Jan. 27

One week into his term, Trump visited the Pentagon and, flanked by Vice President Mike Pence and Defense Secretary James Mattis, signed an executive order titled "Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States." Its implementation was effective immediately because the threat was so urgent, according to administration officials. But so few people outside the White House even knew the contents of it.

The result was chaos at airports across the country, where confused Customs and Border Protection agents were detaining folks with legal immigration papers and angry protesters chanted for their release -- a tumultuous scene that delighted then-White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, according to Bloomberg.

The order itself banned all citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries -- Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Somalia and Sudan -- for 90 days and all refugees for 120 days, while ordering the departments of State, Defense and Homeland Security to review the vetting procedures for all immigration and refugee admissions. When refugee admissions would resume, it called for the State Department to prioritize religious minorities such as Christians in the Middle East and indefinitely ban all Syrian refugees.

As swiftly as the executive order came, there were court decisions in New York and Boston blocking all or parts of it. Shortly after that, several states sued to block the executive order as well, including Virginia, Hawaii, Washington and Minnesota.

Nationwide block on first travel ban -- Feb. 3

The real halt came one week after Trump's Pentagon signing ceremony when a district court judge in Seattle froze the ban nationwide with what's known as a temporary restraining order. Judge James Robart was ruling on one of those lawsuits -- this one by Washington and Minnesota -- and Trump began lashing out at him on Twitter, writing, "If something happens blame him and court system. People pouring in. Bad!"

In addition to the president's dire rhetoric, the ruling was appealed by his administration and sent to the next highest court: the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers the western United States. Sixteen states joined Washington and Minnesota, filing what's called an amicus brief in support of their suit.

In dramatic fashion, audio of the case's oral arguments were broadcast live on cable television on Feb. 7, and two days later, the Ninth Circuit ruled unanimously in favor of the plaintiffs and kept the block of Trump's travel ban in place.

Trump's second travel ban -- March 6

There was some back-and-forth in the courts about how the case would proceed -- until the Trump administration voluntarily withdrew after signing a new travel ban.

This second ban was limited to six Muslim-majority countries, taking Iraq off the list. It also exempted legal permanent residents and anyone who already had a valid visa, which the original didn't do initially. And it excised the permanent ban on Syrian refugees, but kept in place the 120-day suspension of all refugee admissions.

Two days after its unveiling, another state -- this time, Hawaii -- sued to bar its implementation, arguing that the executive order "began life as a Muslim ban," was "infected with the same legal problems as the first order -- undermining bedrock constitutional and statutory guarantees," and was "motivated by animus and a desire to discriminate on the basis of religion and/or national origin, nationality or alienage."

Nationwide halt on second travel ban -- March 15


A district court judge agreed with that argument, granting another temporary restraining order one week later, this time before the ban could be implemented. Speaking at a rally in Nashville the same day, Trump called the ruling an "unprecedented judicial overreach," although he referred to the second ban as "a watered-down version of the first one" -- bolstering the argument of his opponents who said the ban was illegal because it was essentially the same as the first one.

Fifteen days after that, the Trump administration appealed again to the Ninth Circuit, but other federal courts across the country had also ruled against the ban. One of those other cases went up to the Court of Appeals, this time in the Fourth Circuit that covers the mid-Atlantic from South Carolina to Maryland.

Nationwide block on second travel ban -- May 25

The Fourth Circuit, by a vote of 10-3, blocked the travel restrictions for the six Muslim-majority countries, but left in place the 120-day refugee ban. Citing comments by candidate-Trump and his political surrogates about Muslims and Islam, the court ruled the new ban still "drips with religious intolerance, animus and discrimination" and was an expression of "President Trump’s desire to exclude Muslims from the United States."

In the days afterward, as his administration tried to paint the order as a limited pause for national security, Trump again undercut the message by tweeting, "People, the lawyers and the courts can call it whatever they want, but I am calling it what we need and what it is, a TRAVEL BAN!" and bashing the judiciary branch as "slow and political."

Meanwhile, his administration asked the highest court in the U.S., the Supreme Court, to weigh in.

Supreme Court rules -- June 26


The Supreme Court agreed to take the case up in full in October -- and in the meantime, overruled lower courts by allowing a limited travel ban to go into effect. The Trump administration hailed it as a victory, but the ruling ended up causing more headaches.

Instead of full implementation, the Supreme Court ruled that the 90-day ban on citizens from Iran, Somalia, Yemen, Libya, Sudan and Syria and the 120-day ban on all refugees could begin -- except for those who could prove a "bona fide" relationship to a person or entity in the U.S. The Court provided a vague description of what "bona fide" meant, setting off a new legal war.

Days later, the administration said its lawyers determined a parent (including parent-in-law), spouse, fiancé, child, adult son or daughter, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, sibling, whether whole or half, and including step relationships, qualified -- and the ban went into effect on June 29. Once again, a state sued to challenge -- with Hawaii claiming the categories were arbitrary and asking why grandparents or grandchildren, for example, weren't included -- and won.

On July 19, the Supreme Court ruled in Hawaii's favor and expanded the definition to include grandparents and grandchildren, aunts and uncles, and cousins.

In September, the Ninth Circuit ruled that refugees with a formal assurance from a resettlement organization in the U.S. counted as a bona fide relationship, but on Sept. 12, the Supreme Court overruled them again and allowed the stricter ban on refugees to remain in place.

After the second ban expired on Sept. 24, the Supreme Court dismissed the case, ruling on Oct. 10 that it no longer needed to issue a decision because "the appeal no longer presents a 'live case or controversy.' "

Trump's third travel ban -- Sept. 24

While the drama of the second travel ban was working its way through the court system, the Trump administration filed a little-noticed order that led to what's been called the third travel ban.

On July 12, the State Department issued a cable to posts around the world obtained by ABC News, notifying them that the administration had set new standards on information sharing for all countries in order to obtain U.S. visas or other entry to the U.S., and asking countries to meet them, create a plan to meet them or face travel sanctions if they don’t.

That exchange between U.S. diplomats and foreign countries played out, and the administration came up with a list of 47 countries that had insufficient systems. After informing them, that list was narrowed down to just seven, and on Sept. 24 -- just as the second ban was about to expire -- the administration issued a new proclamation that barred travel from them indefinitely.

Iran, Syria, Somalia and Libya -- all part of the original bans -- were listed, and the administration added Chad, North Korea and Venezuela.

These new conditions-based restrictions meant that countries could be added or removed, depending upon whether they complied with the new U.S. standards, and allowed for case-by-case waivers for individuals -- steps meant to inoculate the administration from legal challenges.

A key counterterror ally who has been cooperating with the U.S. against ISIS, Boko Haram, and others, Chad's addition was seen by many foreign policy experts as a grave error. Since then, the White House said national security advisor H.R. McMaster has spoken to Chadian President Idriss Déby Itno about how to work together to "address the deficiencies, toward the goal of improving vetting capabilities and lifting visa restrictions."

Nationwide halt on third travel ban -- Oct. 17


So far, that hasn't worked.

One day before new restrictions were to take effect, a district court judge in Hawaii issued a new temporary restraining order, arguing that the proclamation "plainly discriminates based on nationality in the manner that the Ninth Circuit" previously found unconstitutional.

It also "suffers from precisely the same maladies as its predecessor: It lacks sufficient findings that the entry of more than 150 million nationals from six specified countries would be 'detrimental to the interests of the United States,' " the judge wrote.

The plaintiff in this latest case -- the state of Hawaii -- didn't seek to block the bans on North Korea or Venezuela, so those restrictions have gone into effect. But the State Department said Tuesday that diplomatic posts in the other five Muslim-majority nations will resume visa issuances.

On the same day, a district court in Maryland also enjoined, or blocked, the third travel ban, calling it "the latest incarnation of the 'Muslim ban' originally promised by Trump as a candidate for the presidency" and calling it a violation of the U.S. constitution's guarantee of freedom of religion.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the White House will fight the ruling, telling Congress on Oct. 18, "We’re confident that we’ll prevail as time goes by in the Supreme Court." The next step would be to once again file an appeal with the Ninth Circuit, where the administration has lost twice before.

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Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- As President Donald Trump faces criticism over his comments to the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson, the families of the fallen said their conversations with past American presidents attempting to offer condolences sometimes drew their grief into sharp relief.

Trump called Myeshia Johnson on Tuesday in an effort to console her. According to Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., Trump told the widow that her husband, who died in an Oct. 4 ambush in Niger, “knew what he signed up for," but "I guess it still hurt.”

Trump denied making those comments.

Trump also claimed Monday that his predecessors often failed to call families of the deceased. “President Obama, I think, probably did sometimes, and maybe sometimes he didn’t. I don’t know,” Trump said. “Other presidents did not call. They’d write letters, and some presidents didn’t do anything.”

Some families who received presidential condolences in the past told ABC News that they found some comfort in those calls.

When he lost his son, Army Sgt. James “Jimmy” J. Regan in 2007, James P. Regan received a phone call from President George W. Bush. The president reportedly met in private with the families of the soldiers killed in action and sent thousands of personal letters during his time in office.

Jimmy had been killed in action on Feb. 9, 2007, in northern Iraq and died of wounds suffered when his vehicle was struck by an explosive.

Over a year later, at the rededication of the USS Intrepid, Bush and first lady Laura Bush spent an hour with the Regan family. The Regans also received a flag from the Bush administration in remembrance of Jimmy.

"To take the effort and time to see where we are coming from really means a lot. I have nothing but great things to say about Bush,” said Regan, who is the chairman and CEO at Lead the Way Fund Inc., a nonprofit organization established to raise funds in support of disabled U.S. Army Rangers and the families of Rangers who died in action.

Paul T. Monti received a phone call from President Barack Obama after his son, Sgt. 1st Class Jared C. Monti, was posthumously approved for the Medal of Honor in 2009.

Jared was killed in 2006 in Nuristan Province, Afghanistan, while trying to repeatedly rescue his wounded comrade under enemy fire.

Monti said he will never forget his conversation with Obama.

“He told me that the nation was proud of my son, and he was proud of my son, and that he knew that I was very proud of my son. That, I remember distinctly,” Monti told ABC News.

Monti also previously received a letter from Bush, who was president when his son was killed.

Like Bush, Obama also sought to comfort and offer condolences to the families in person and through letters.

On Oct. 29, 2009, Obama made an unscheduled trip to Dover Air Force Base to observe a dignified transfer -- the first time he had participated in the solemn military tradition. Obama met with the families of the soldiers after he paid his respects to the fallen.

He also attended another dignified transfer in 2011 after 30 Americans, including 22 Navy SEALs, lost their lives when their Chinook helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan. Similarly, he met with the families of the fallen in private for an hour.

Sharon Belkofer, who is the mother of Army Lt. Col. Thomas P. Belkofer, told ABC News that Obama was “unbelievably warm and compassionate” the two times she met him in person. Her son Thomas had served in Fort Drum’s 10th Mountain Division when he was killed by a suicide bomb attack in Kabul on May 18, 2010.

The first time she met President Obama was in 2011 at Fort Drum. According to Belkofer, Obama had changed his schedule the day he visited the New York military base and told his staff he wanted to meet with the Gold Star families that were in attendance.

Belkofer and her daughter-in-law were one of the last families to meet with Obama, but when they finally met, Obama embraced her and Belkofer began to cry.

Belkofer said Obama said, "Hi," and asked how she was doing.

She then lamented to Obama that she thought her son would be embarrassed “because I’m crying all over your suit.”

Obama assured her that her son would not be embarrassed, as he held and comforted her.

However, some families eschew presidential efforts to reach out.

Gold Star mother Nadia McCaffrey had a chance to meet President Bush after her son, Sgt. Patrick R. McCaffrey Sr., was killed in 2004, but refused the offer.

“I said 'No. If I am in his presence, I’m going to turn my back on him.’ And I would have done it,” McCaffrey said.

Patrick enlisted in the National Guard just after 9/11, choosing the Guard because of its domestic focus, according to McCaffrey. She blames Bush for her son being deployed overseas to a war she never supported.

“My son was very patriotic, and so am I,” she said. “And if I could have given my life for him, I would have done it without hesitation -- not a moment -- but I feel like he was sort of betrayed being a Guard.”

Kim Smith of East Peoria, Illinois, told ABC News that she’s speaking out because she is mad that Trump is being called a liar over his claims about other presidents calling families.

Eighteen members of her husband’s unit -- the 2nd Squadron, 106th Cavalry Regiment, Illinois Army National Guard from Obama’s home state of Illinois -- were killed over the course of a couple of years. Her husband, Army Staff Sgt. Paul G. Smith, was killed in action in Afghanistan on June 19, 2009.

She said she never received a call.

Smith said she received what seemed to be a formal letter from President Obama about a month after her husband’s death on July 17. She said the typed letter was not personalized, referred to her as only Mrs. Smith, and seemed to be signed with a machine-generated signature.

“I have a general’s handwritten letter, and that means more to me than Obama’s, so I’m upset that they’re calling [Trump] a liar and he’s not a liar,” Smith said.

Debra Booth -- the mother of Marine 2nd Lt. Joshua Booth, who died 11 years ago on Wednesday -- told ABC News that though she did not receive a call, she mentioned receiving several letters from Bush, Sen. Ted Kennedy, Gov. Mitt Romney and members of the Department of Defense.

As a member of the Massachusetts Gold Star families, she visited the White House on several occasions -- right before the end of Bush's second term and during the Obama administration -- to celebrate the holidays.

Joshua Booth's daughter got to put an ornament on the tree in honor of her father.

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