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Obama gets personal in effort to help young men of color

BY Terence Burlij and Simone Pathe  February 28, 2014 at 9:15 AM EDT
President Obama embraces a student after delivering remarks about his 'My Brother's Keeper' initiative in the East Room at the White House Thursday. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President Obama embraces a student after delivering remarks about his ‘My Brother’s Keeper’ initiative in the East Room at the White House Thursday. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The Morning Line

To make the case for a new initiative designed to help young men of color, President Barack Obama put himself forward as an example Thursday, speaking in personal terms about getting high as a teenager and not always giving his education the attention it deserved. But Mr. Obama cautioned that he grew up in an environment where the consequences for his mistakes “were not as severe” as they are for black youth today.

The president’s remarks came as he announced the launch of “My Brother’s Keeper,” a public-private partnership with commitments from foundations of $200 million over the next five years, in addition to $150 million already invested.

“This is an issue of national importance — it’s as important as any issue that I work on,” Mr. Obama, flanked by young men of color from his hometown of Chicago, told an audience of business leaders, philanthropists and politicians gathered at the White House. “It’s an issue that goes to the very heart of why I ran for president — because if America stands for anything, it stands for the idea of opportunity for everybody; the notion that no matter who you are, or where you came from, or the circumstances into which you are born, if you work hard, if you take responsibility, then you can make it in this country.

The announcement comes with the president more than a year into his second term, and almost exactly two years after the death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin. Mr. Obama said the emotions and controversy surrounding the acquittal of George Zimmerman prompted the initiative.

As part of the effort the president signed an executive order to ensure federal agencies are coordinating more effectively with one another, but also local communities, businesses and philanthropic organizations, to address the issue. But he noted the move does not commit the government to spend more money.

“In this effort, government cannot play the only — or even the primary — role. We can help give every child access to quality preschool and help them start learning from an early age, but we can’t replace the power of a parent who’s reading to that child. We can reform our criminal justice system to ensure that it’s not infected with bias, but nothing keeps a young man out of trouble like a father who takes an active role in his son’s life,” the president said.

On Thursday’s NewsHour, Gwen Ifill looked at the broader questions raised by the initiative with Gail Christopher, the vice president of programs for the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, one of the groups involved with the effort, and Princeton University professor Eddie Glaude.

Christopher called the situation an “all-hands-on moment” for the country, and praised the president for shining a light on the issue. “I think it is unprecedented that we have the bully pulpit of the highest office in the land, that the president of the United States is drawing attention to the scope and the scale and the nature of the issue, and that’s important,” she said.

Glaude, meanwhile, said he was skeptical that the public-private partnership would offer a significant enough response to the problems the initiative was trying to solve.

“What we are doing is putting a Band-Aid on a gunshot wound. And I guess Band-Aids are OK. But what we need is a more robust discussion, a more robust policy initiative to address the crisis that is engulfing, I know, particularly black communities,” Glaude said.

For his part the president acknowledged Thursday that given the severity of the problem it meant there were no easy or quick solutions.

“This is not a one-year proposition. It’s not a two-year proposition. It’s going to take time,” he said. “We’re dealing with complicated issues that run deep in our history, run deep in our society, and are entrenched in our minds.”

As Yahoo News’ Liz Goodwin and Garance Franke-Ruta note, this is an issue that the president is likely to remain focused on even after his presidency comes to an end.

VETO AFTERMATH

Four years ago, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed a controversial “self-deportation” law against illegal immigration, provoking national ire and costing the state $140 million in lost revenue.

Now in her second term, Brewer made a different calculus this week, announcing in a Wednesday evening press conference that she was vetoing SB 1062, a controversial bill that would let businesses refuse to serve gays and lesbians on religious grounds.

“Religious liberty is a core American and Arizona value. So is nondiscrimination,” she said Wednesday.

It was more than just liberals and gay activists who were relieved. Arizona’s GOP Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake had urged Brewer to veto the bill. So had 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney. The Republican establishment, even those who oppose same-sex marriage, overwhelmingly opposed the bill — with strong support from their business constituency.

Republicans feared it would mire their party in a social fight that could only alienate voters at a time when the majority of Americans are more approving of same-sex marriage than the Republican right.

Conservative activists, meanwhile, vowed to keep up the fight Thursday, hoping to convince voters and judges that their efforts stem from their commitment to protecting their own First Amendment rights, not denying anyone else’s.

“This is not somebody adhering to old Jim Crow lunch-counter discrimination,” said John C. Eastman, chairman of the National Organization for Marriage. “This is a fundamental dispute about what marriage means, and why it’s important for society.”

Several states, including Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri and Oklahoma, are currently considering religious freedom measures that could impact gay rights, the Washington Post notes.

And in Arizona Thursday, the Republican-dominated House was back with another piece of social legislation. This one would allow the state to perform surprise inspections of abortion clinics.

LINE ITEMS

  • Senate Republicans blocked a Democratic effort to expand veterans’ health care and education programming Thursday. Majority Leader Harry Reid had refused to allow votes on a GOP substitute amendment that included Iran sanctions because he said it was irrelevant to veterans’ issues.

  • The Washington Post’s Ed O’Keefe looks into which lawmakers followed through on their pledge to give away their salary from last fall’s 16-day government shutdown.

  • Holding the 2016 Republican National Convention in Las Vegas? The Morning Line approves.

  • California Gov. Jerry Brown confirmed Thursday he would run for a fourth term.

  • Cuyahoga County Executive Ed Fitzgerald, a Democrat who’s running for governor, is challenging Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s move to shorten early voting week.

  • Politico Magazine’s Glenn Thrush offers this must-read profile of Joe Biden, looking at the vice president’s role in the White House and whether he might have another campaign in him.

  • Rep. Ed Pastor, D-Ariz., announced Thursday he would not seek re-election to a 12th term.

  • The Denver Post reports Colorado GOP Rep. Cory Gardner plans to drop his re-election bid and challenge Democratic Sen. Mark Udall this fall. In turn, Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck announced he would seek Gardner’s seat in the 4th Congressional District.

  • Hotline released their latest Senate race rankings, showing Republicans are in a strong position to retake the Senate.

  • Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., tells the Washington Post’s Robert Costa that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is not an “Arlen Specter” Republican.

  • Roll Call’s Matt Fuller talks to Republicans about the tea party’s fifth birthday.

  • Boston Magazine’s David S. Bernstein compiled a handy graphic outlining how many contributions each Massachusetts state lawmaker received from lobbyists in 2013.

  • The Clinton Presidential Library is set to make its first release of previously withheld records Friday afternoon, including records from the former first lady’s office.

  • How Democratic or Republican is your name? A left-leaning strategy firm can use your name to determine what party you likely identify with, whether or not you have a gun in your home or if you are educated.

  • Washington leaders have been punchier as of late. The Washington Post’s Ed O’Keefe compiled Speaker of the House John Boehner’s latest quips while Politico rounded up Vice President Joe Biden’s historic gaffes.

  • Actor Seth Rogen tells ABC News’ Arlette Saenz that he’d smoke pot with Iowa Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin. A spokesperson for the senator told the Des Moines Register: “You can put us down for a no comment on this one.”

NEWSHOUR ROUNDUP

  • For the first time in two decades, the federal government is updating those nutritional labels that don’t make it easy to understand what was in the cereal you had for breakfast this morning. Jeffrey Brown spoke with former CDC official Dr. William Dietz about the Food and Drug Administration’s efforts to reduce confusion about calories, ingredients and serving sizes.


  • Hari Sreenivasan spoke with the Guardian’s Spencer Ackerman about that publication’s report, based on documents from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, that British spy agencies, with help from the U.S., have been spying on citizens via Yahoo webcam chats.


TOP TWEETS

Ruth Tam contributed to this report.

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Questions or comments? Email Terence Burlij at tburlij-at-newshour-dot-org.

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