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Politics
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Democratic Lawmakers Start to Run on Obamacare


United States House of Representatives(WASHINGTON) -- As she seeks to emerge from a crowded Democratic primary field in Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial race, Rep. Alyson Schwartz is among the first prominent Democrats to take President Obama’s advice and defend the new health care law.

“It’s a major accomplishment of the president’s,” Schwartz told reporters on a call Wednesday. “It is something I think all of us should be proud of.”

In a new television ad that debuted Tuesday, Schwartz not only celebrated the Affordable Care Act, but highlighted her role in passing it.

“I worked with President Obama on the Affordable Care Act and getting health coverage to call Americans,” the ad said.

Schwartz served on the House Ways and Means Committee during the initial construction of the health care legislation, and the ad included photographs of the president and Schwartz together.

“It was my legislation that said insurance companies can no longer deny coverage to children with pre-existing conditions,” the ad continues.

This week, Schwartz called on other Democrats, particularly in her race, to “speak up” about the successes of the law and criticized them for “vagueness” on the issue.

“[They should] express their pride and commitment to implementing this law,” she said on the call.

Nationwide and in Pennsylvania, the health care law remains largely unpopular, though public opinion is trending -- slowly -- in the law’s favor. According to Gallup’s most recent data from earlier this month, 43 percent of Americans now approve of the law, the highest percentage since last October. In addition, the number of respondents who said the law has helped them in their own lives rose to 15 percent, up from 9 percent in November.

According to Schwartz, she hears stories of people “every day on the campaign trail” who have been helped by the law.

More importantly for her campaign right now, Democrats still overwhelming support the law. According to an ABC News/Washington Post poll from March, 76 percent of Democrats nationwide approve of the law.

With the hope of appealing to Democrat primary voters, the ad will run only in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, both Democratic Party strongholds.

Meanwhile, in Kentucky, another Democratic candidate is on the health care offensive. Elisabeth Jensen, who hopes to oust freshman Republican Andy Barr and become the state’s first female Democrat in Congress, released her own radio ad earlier this month attacking Barr for his votes to repeal the law.

Jensen’s ad equated the federal health care law with Kentucky’s own health insurance marketplace, Kynect, one of the most successful state-run marketplaces launched last fall, with 400,000 enrollees, according to the governor.

“I learned congressman Andy Barr voted 19 times to repeal health care reform. I was disappointed,” Jensen’s ad said. “Thanks to Gov. Beshear, Kentucky Kynect provides health care to Kentuckians who had no insurance. But Barr, along with Mitch McConnell, voted to end Kynect and let insurance companies drop coverage, deny care and charge women more.”

An anti-repeal message could be a safe compromise for Democrats still struggling to talk about Obamacare. A Kaiser Family Foundation Poll from March found that only 29 percent of Americans were in favor of repealing the law, including both those that favored repealing and replacing the law with a GOP alternative (18 percent) and repealing the law and not replacing it with new legislation (11 percent).

Another strategy among Democratic candidates has been to attack Republican governors for hampering the law’s implementation. Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu, a Democrat who faces a tough re-election, repeatedly has said while campaigning that “the law is not perfect.” But she is also vocal about her support for pending legislation in the state that would obligate Louisiana to accept federal funds to expand Medicaid under the new law, a move the governor so far has rejected.

Similarly, Schwartz’s ad directly criticized incumbent Gov. Tom Corbett, who has also chosen not to expand Medicaid in Pennsylvania. On the press call, Schwartz said Pennsylvanians are “outraged” that the governor refused the federal funds to expand coverage. In the ad, she promised to reverse that decision.

“As governor I will take the Medicaid expansion, because 500,000 Pennsylvanians need health care coverage,” she said in the ad.

Corbett’s campaign was quick to respond, saying Schwartz had “embraced an extreme liberal agenda.”

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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Caroline Kennedy on Hillary Clinton for President: ‘I Hope So’


Devin Dwyer/ABC News(TOKYO) -- Caroline Kennedy is endorsing Hillary Clinton for president in 2016 -- “if she runs.”

The new U.S. ambassador to Japan endorsed Barack Obama in 2008, calling him an inspirational figure for a “new generation of Americans” akin to her father in 1960.

“I think he’s been a great president. And I think that this rebalanced Asia is a really good example of somebody who’s taking the long view, advancing the United States interest,” Kennedy told ABC’s Jonathan Karl in an interview in Tokyo.

If Clinton decides to make a bid to succeed him, Kennedy says she’s on-board.

“If she runs,” Kennedy said.

“I know it sounds like a cliché, but two years is a really long time in politics,” she said. “I’m sure she’s looking forward to being a grandmother, I know she’s got to decide soon. So, so you know I hope so.”

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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Hillary Clinton’s Problem with the Media: Too Much Entertainment, Not Enough Facts


Astrid Riecken/Getty Images(STORRS, Conn.) -- Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed her frustrations about the current state of media on Wednesday night, describing what she sees as an “entertainment-driven” approach to news that is “not good for the country and not good for journalism.”

The potential 2016 frontrunner, 66, made her less-than-flattering comments during a Q&A session at her first-ever appearance at the University of Connecticut following her keynote address at the Edmund Fusco Contemporary Issues Forum in which nearly 2,300 students and faculty were in attendance.

Using questions submitted by students, University President Susan Herbst asked Clinton about the role journalists could play in resolving the gridlock in Congress. Clinton took the question -- and ran with it.

“I think journalism has changed quite a bit in a way that is not good for the country and not good for journalism,” Clinton said, venting about her concern that a more ratings-driven approach to television has led to theatrics over facts. “A lot of serious news reporting has become more entertainment-driven and more opinion-driven, as opposed to factual. People book onto the shows political figures, commentators who will be controversial, who will be provocative, because it’s a good show. You may not learn anything, but you might be entertained.”

Clinton argued that the obligation to show “two sides” to every story can be detrimental to a viewer’s understanding of complicated issues, citing climate change deniers and the handling of the Affordable Care Act.

“It’s OK to have people who ask hard questions about what we’re going to do about climate change, who come at it in a very vigorous, scientific way, but not to have people who just basically roll their eyes and say, ‘It’s not happening,’ and, ‘I’m not going to participate.’” she said. “And the Affordable Care Act…people didn’t really understand what was happening with it because all they saw was an argument about it. So we didn’t even give them the basic facts to make up their own minds.”

Even so, Clinton said she was optimistic that the issues “plaguing” journalism today could be resolved with some “professional tweaking” on the part of journalists.

“It’s important for journalists to realize that they have to do their homework, too,” she said. “They really should be well prepared when they interview people, when they talk about issues, because audiences usually tune in to see whoever the journalist is. And so that person has a responsibility, as well.”

Clinton also addressed immigration and her support of the bipartisan immigration bill, the situation in Ukraine and the need for more sanctions on Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Edward Snowden and his “odd” decision to seek asylum in Russia.

Earlier in the day, Clinton spoke at a women’s conference in Boston, where the potential presidential frontrunner, whose critics have asked whether she is too old to run for president in 2016, suggested that advanced age was a reason to embrace older women in positions of authority.

Older women “feel like they’ve fulfilled their responsibilities, their kids are out on their own. It’s now time for them to show what they can do!” she said.

Though women may take breaks from the workforce to care for children or aging relatives, she said, “their brains have not atrophied.”

Clinton gave few hints at either event about her plans to run in 2016 -- nor did she reflect on her soon-to-be title: grandma -- now that her daughter, Chelsea Clinton, is pregnant.

The president of the University of Connecticut, however, presented Clinton with two UConn “Husky” onesies for the future Clinton grandchild.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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John Kerry Brings His Puppy to Work


State Dept photo(WASHINGTON) -- Secretary of State John Kerry brought a special guest to a Take Your Children to Work Day event at the State Department Thursday: his one-year-old puppy, Ben (named after Benjamin Franklin).

Ben, who is also on Twitter at @DiploMutt, was not very interested in what his master had to say -- he was very boisterous, jumping around and chewing on his leash.

Kerry joked that because his daughters are grown with children of their own, Ben was the closest thing to an actual child that he could bring along.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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What President Obama Is Eating in Japan


File photo. Pete Souza/The White House(TOKYO) -- President Obama has plenty on his plate -- and in his sake cup.

The eater-in-chief is chowing down on sushi, seafood and even a mound of ice cream shaped like Mt. Fuji during his state visit to Japan.

Obama kicked off his culinary tour in Tokyo on Wednesday night with a sushi dinner with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the esteemed Sukiyabashi Jiro, a three Michelin-starred restaurant famous for being featured in the documentary, Jiro Dreams of Sushi.

It’s notoriously hard to get a reservation at the restaurant, where chef-recommended meals start at $300.

"That’s some good sushi right there,” Obama said as he left the restaurant.

Ambassador Caroline Kennedy and National Security Adviser Susan Rice joined Obama and Abe for the sushi dinner, which lasted an hour and a half.

Kennedy called the meal “incredible” -- as was the conversation, she said.

On Thursday, Obama feasted on royal consommé, Red Sea bream steamed with Champagne, roasted leg of lamb and a seasonal salad at the Emperor’s State Dinner at the Imperial Palace.

Plenty of booze was also within reach, including sake, Hennessy and Moet champagne.

For dessert, fruit and ice cream “in the image of Mt. Fuji” was served.

Obama will fly to Seoul, South Korea, later Thursday, his second stop on a four-country Asian tour.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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Caroline Kennedy on Life as Ambassador: Palace Runs, Twitter Controversy


State Department photo by William Ng/Public Domain(TOKYO) -- Her father was nearly killed by the Japanese more than 50 years ago. Now, Caroline Kennedy, the new U.S. ambassador to Japan, is bringing history full circle.

“I think that my story in a way is a great metaphor for the U.S.-Japan alliance,” Kennedy told ABC’s Jonathan Karl in an interview in Japan. “Countries that were once adversaries and enemies in war are now the best of friends and allies.

“That I could be here and receive the kind of welcome that I did, I think is an unbelievable tribute to the United States,” she added.

Her father, John F. Kennedy, was nearly killed during World War II when a Japanese destroyer rammed his Navy “patrol torpedo” boat PT 109 sending the crew into the water. He survived. The U.S. and its allies won the war.

Now, a Kennedy is a celebrated figure on the streets of Tokyo, where she received an almost royal welcome here five months ago.

“It was really kind of moving for me…to get the kind of welcome and to hear people that are older talk about President Kennedy and his legacy has been a very moving experience,” she said.

Kennedy has not shied from the public spotlight in her new role. She said she regularly leaves the embassy compound for a run or bike ride around the Imperial Palace. Sometimes people notice her on the streets.

“Depends how fast or slow I’m moving,” she joked.

But being the highest-profile American in Japan has cost her the privacy that had been a defining feature for so many years.

“It’s not about me. It’s about the United States,” she said. “Democracy, freedom, rule of law, is really, you know it’s, it doesn’t, it isn’t even about me at all.”

Kennedy has demonstrated that she isn’t afraid to rock the boat. Shortly after arriving in Japan, she stirred up controversy with a Twitter condemnation of the annual dolphin hunt, a Japanese tradition.

She called the slaughter “deeply concerning” for its “inhumanness,” raising eyebrows among many Japanese.

“The reaction was mixed,” she said of the spat, but “think that the whole point of being allies is that we can you know express our disagreements.”

Opposing the large-scale hunt of dolphins “is U.S. policy, it’s longstanding U.S. policy, it wasn’t my personal opinion,” she said. “It’s an evolving process, and I hope that I’ll be able to be an effective ambassador and work publicly and privately and make connections with people as well as the political leadership here.”

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s Advice on How to Deal with Getting Fired


Andreas Rentz/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Having been dismissed by the nation’s most powerful boss, retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal knows a thing or two about getting fired. And now he’s helping others deal with it.

McChrystal’s almost-40-year tenure in the Army, culminating in his leadership of NATO forces in Afghanistan, came to an abrupt end when impolitic statements he and his staffers made about the Obama administration were published in a 2010 Rolling Stone article.

In a blog post for the professional networking site LinkedIn, McChrystal wrote about how he overcame a period of self-doubt to restart his career.

“My very identity as a soldier came to an abrupt end,” he wrote. “I’d been soldiering as long as I’d been shaving. Suddenly I’d been told I could no longer soldier, and it felt as though no one really cared if I ever shaved again. I’d caught a curveball directly on the chin; I wanted to find a corner of the dugout, away from TV cameras, to rub my head and maybe sniffle a bit.

“I’d never been more tempted to feel like a victim -- an emotion that could have easily consumed me. Many would have supported, even welcomed me in the victim role; pundits would have let me rant, and a tell-all would have been an instant bestseller.”

Rather, McChrystal wrote, he re-evaluated his core skills and beliefs and, with the support of his wife, Annie, he was able to find a new career informed by his experiences in the military.

“What I’d learned, above all other lessons, was the importance of those you surround yourself with,” he wrote. “That lesson would be with me forever, uniform or no uniform.

“So in the end, the answer was simple. My business, and my life, has been people. ...By focusing on this simple truth, and allowing it to guide my decisions through a difficult time, this curveball ultimately opened as many doors as it closed. From starting a company to teaching at Yale, the past few years have been full of incredible experiences shared, most importantly, with true and lifelong friends.”

McChrystal, who now runs a consulting firm, has written several posts for LinkedIn, but this was the first dealing with his dismissal from his NATO role and subsequent retirement from the Army.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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Clinton's Accomplishments at State Department Under Scrutiny


State Department(WASHINGTON) -- Faced Tuesday with a question she couldn't answer about Hillary Clinton's accomplishments as secretary of state, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki returned Wednesday, armed with some facts about the high points of the former top U.S. envoy's tenure.

However, it might have been too little, too late.

Psaki was initially put on the spot by Associated Press correspondent Matt Lee's question, "Can you, off the top of your head, identify one tangible achievement that resulted from the last [audit of the department]?"

The press secretary replied, "I am certain that those who were here at the time, who worked hard on that effort, could point out one." Clinton retired in February 2013 just before Psaki joined the State Department.

Psaki, who probably caught some heat for her non-answer, was prepared Wednesday, rattling off the following Clinton achievements: a "stronger emphasis was placed on trade promotion investments and leveling the economic playing field;" "a fuller integration of women and girls into our policy framework planning and budgeting, program monitoring and evaluation and management and training;" and "a reorganization of the undersecretary for economic growth, energy and the environment."

Just the same, Republicans, who believe Clinton will be the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, will probably ignore all that and continue to focus on the deadly 2012 attack against the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, which happened under her watch.

On Wednesday, Clinton reiterated that the Benghazi siege, in which four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, were killed, is the "biggest regret" of her time as secretary of state.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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Jeb Bush Drops Strongest Hint Yet About 2016 Plans


William Thomas Cain/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The "Jeb Bush for president" speculation went into overdrive Wednesday after the former Florida governor admitted during a New York fundraiser that he was "thinking about running for president," according to a report by Politico.

Bush, the son and brother of two former commanders in chief, has dropped tantalizing hints before about possibly seeking the 2016 GOP nomination.

However, his statement Wednesday that came in response to a question at a Catholic Charities fundraiser was perhaps the surest sign yet that Bush will take the plunge into what is looking like a crowded pool of potential Republican candidates for president.

Politico reported that the audience erupted in cheers and applause after Bush expressed his interest in following in the steps of President George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.

But supporters shouldn't expect a full-throated declaration from Bush until after the midterm elections, which are still more than six months away.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer Vetoes Two Pro-Gun Bills


Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty Images(PHOENIX) -- Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed two pro-gun bills this week for concealed-carry permit holders.

One bill would have allowed people in the state to carry guns into both public events and public buildings where metal detectors and security are not present. The law excluded schools, community universities and colleges, and major sporting arenas.

The bill would have required public agencies to needlessly spend money on guards and equipment, Brewer said. In addition, she vetoed legislation that sought fines for local governments that passed gun laws stricter than those already in place at state level.

"I am a strong proponent of the Second Amendment, and I have signed into law numerous pieces of legislation to advance and protect gun rights. However, I cannot support this measure in its proposed form," Brewer wrote.

Some supporters of the proposed legislation, including Arizona Citizens Defense League, are upset with the vetoes. Arizona Citizens Defense League media representative Charles Heller told ABC affiliate KNXV?TV he disagreed with Brewer's claims of expenses.

"She was more concerned with cost than protecting people's rights." Heller told KNXV. "Disarmed victim zones are nothing but fatal funels."

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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Former Blue Angels Commander Reassigned After Sex Harassment Complaints


Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The Navy says a former commander of the Navy’s Blue Angels flight demonstration team was reassigned from his current post because of an ongoing investigation into claims that he allowed “lewd speech, inappropriate comments, and sexually explicit humor” under his command.

The “inappropriate work environment within the squadron…may have violated the Navy’s sexual harassment, hazing and equal opportunity policies,” the Navy said in a statement.

On April 18 the Navy announced that Capt. Gregory McWherter had been relieved of his duties as executive officer of Naval Base Coronado in San Diego because of the initial findings of a probe into allegations of misconduct and an inappropriate command climate when he was in command of the Blue Angels.   McWherter commanded the Blue Angels from November 2008 to November 2010, and again from May 2011 to November 2012.

The Blue Angels flight demonstration team is a much broader operation than the team of 16 F/A-18 pilots and weapons system officers who performs complex maneuvers at air shows.  The Navy’s best pilots compete for three-year tours with the squadron who are seen as ambassadors for the service.   But the team also includes additional transport pilots, officers and 100 enlisted sailors and Marines who provide maintenance and administrative support for the demonstration team.

On Wednesday night the Washington Post website reported that a former member of the Blue Angels squadron alleged to the Navy’s inspector general that McWherter had fostered a hostile work environment that tolerated sexual harassment.  The Post acknowledged it had come upon the information after a Navy official had inadvertently emailed a Post editor the public affairs talking points to be used if the allegations against McWherter became public.

In a statement the Navy acknowledged the circumstances behind the investigation into McWherter’s alleged misconduct.

“According to the investigation, Capt. Gregory McWherter, while serving as the commanding officer of the Blue Angels, tolerated an inappropriate work environment within the squadron which may have violated the Navy’s sexual harassment, hazing and equal opportunity policies,” the statement reads.

It said that a complaint had been filed with the Navy inspector general that alleged that “lewd speech, inappropriate comments, and sexually explicit humor were allowed in the workplace and in some case encouraged by the commanding officer” when McWherter was in command of the Blue Angels.  It added that there were further allegations “that pornographic images were displayed in the workplace and shared in electronic communications.”

In addition to the ongoing investigation, Admiral Harry Harris, commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet, has ordered a separate investigation to be led by an admiral that will “inquire into the facts and circumstances surrounding these allegations.” A Navy official says the investigation will look at the team’s behavior when McWherter was in command.

“All Navy leaders, whether assigned to a highly visible unit like the ‘Blues,’ or to our installations, squadrons, ships and submarines, are held to the highest standards,” said Vice Admiral David Buss, commander of Naval Air Forces.  ”The Navy expects everyone, from those officers in command positions to Sailors on the waterfront, to provide principled and highly ethical leadership, stressing discipline, accountability, and the importance of treating shipmates with dignity and respect.”

“We remain fully committed to accountability, transparency and protecting the integrity of ongoing investigations,” Buss said.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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First Lady Michelle Obama Announces Job Website for Veterans


Jason Davis/WireImage(WASHINGTON) -- First lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden have announced a new web tool to connect veterans and service members with employers.

Obama publicized the Veterans Employment Center, the new online resource, during Wednesday's anniversary celebration of Joining Forces, the national initiative serving America's military families.

The job tool will link veterans as well as their spouses to public and private-sector employers and provide a database of resumes.

"Our service members haven't always had the time or information they needed to prepare their resumes, to plot their career goals, to meet with employers and get the jobs they deserve. And that's simply not acceptable," Obama said. "As my husband has said, when you've fought for this country around the world, you shouldn't have to fight for a job when you return home."

Career and training resources will be available at ebenefits.va.gov, along with a military skills translator.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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Attorney General Eric Holder Calls Sotomayor's Affirmative Action Dissent 'Courageous'


United States Department of Justice(WASHINGTON) -- Attorney General Eric Holder praised Tuesday's dissent by Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor in the Michigan college admissions case, calling it "courageous and very personal."

Speaking at a Department of Justice diversity and inclusion summit on Wednesday, Holder explained that despite great strides toward equality, there is still more work to be done.

"It may be tempting for some when they look at the accomplished professionals in this room, or the lawyer who works in the Oval Office, or consider the fact that I have the privilege of serving as the attorney general of the United States, to feel that this country's long struggle to overcome disparity and discrimination has ended," Holder said.

Government agencies need to lead by example for equal opportunity, he added, saying progress requires "not just open and honest dialogue, but a willingness to confront these difficult issues through principled action."

Tuesday's Supreme Court ruling upheld Michigan's voter-approved ban on affirmative action programs in its public colleges. In her dissent, Sotomayor spoke from personal experience, saying affirmative action "opened doors" in her life.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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Erin Brockovich Rallies Outside Supreme Court for Camp Lejeune Victims


Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Environmental activist Erin Brockovich and dozens of military veterans rallied outside the Supreme Court Wednesday as the justices heard arguments that an electronics company was responsible for polluting drinking water at Camp Lejeune
that sickened thousands of Marines.

The case, CTS Corporation v. Waldburger, claims that CTS Corporation, a global manufacturer of electronics, contaminated the camp’s drinking water with trichloroethylene, a known carcinogen, between 1953 and 1987.

The rally began at the Upper Senate Park, ending outside the Supreme Court. Other speakers included Master Sgt. Jerry Ensminger, a retired Camp Lejeune Marine; Mark Partain, breast cancer survivor and the son of a Camp Lejeune Marine; and Kris Thomas, also a breast cancer survivor and son of a Camp Lejeune Marine.

“It’s probably one of the largest pollution problems we have in the country. We have servicemen and women coming home to their families who had no idea the land they were living on was polluted, that their families have been poisoned, that their children are dying,” Brockovich said at the rally.

According to North Carolina state law, the victims may no longer have the legal recourse to sue. CTS Corporation sold the land and shut down the plant in 1987. The state statute relieves the company from any liability 10 years after its last contaminating act -- making 1997 the deadline to sue, despite the fact that the chemicals weren’t discovered until 1997.

The court heard oral arguments in the case on Wednesday.

“We just want the opportunity to present our cases in court and allow the merits of our cases to be the determining factor,” said Ensminger, who lost his 9-year old daughter to leukemia and is convinced her leukemia was caused by the water contamination.

Tim Templeton from Kansas City, Mo., helps run a Facebook group called “Contaminated Marines of Camp Lejeune.” Templeton was stationed at Camp Lejeune and maintains that he is a poisoned patriot suffering from an immune deficiency. 

“Government can have its cake and eat it too, which they do. I would say it’s awful strange and doesn’t really square with reality for them to be supporting the polluters' side of the argument just merely because of the convenience,” Templeton said.

The Department of Justice has sided with CTS Corporation.

“We are referring to [the DOJ] as the Department of Injustice. How could you possibly side with the contaminator? This is an example of the Department of Justice coming off the tracks. They have lost their way,” said Tate McQueen, one of the litigants.

The court will consider whether a federal environmental law can override state law. The federal law allows victims to move forward with their claims when they first learned they had been sickened by chemicals at Camp Lejeune.

“At the surface to see a brief come out of this current administrations office AG that stands with CTS -- that isn’t going to stand with a soldier at Camp Lejeune. It looks like they are trying to get out of cleaning up their own mess. That’s not fair, that’s hypocritical and I find it really disappointing and very concerning, and it would concern any vet,” said Brockovich.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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New Poll Buoys Southern Dems’ Hope with Tight Senate Races


Pete Souza / The White House(WASHINGTON) -- Senate Democrats in the South received some welcome news Wednesday from a New York Times-Kaiser Family Foundation poll showing tight U.S. Senate races in Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana and North Carolina. But the poll also highlighted some potential warning signs for Democrats when it comes to health care and President Obama’s sagging approval ratings.

Sen. Mark Pryor, largely considered the most vulnerable Democrat in this year’s election, holds a 10 percentage point lead over his Republican opponent, Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Ark. Forty-six percent of registered voters in Arkansas said they’d vote for Pryor while 36 percent said they’d vote for Cotton. Pryor, who has served two terms in the Senate, has an approval rating of 47 percent.

The poll found that the two closest races in the Southern states are in Kentucky and North Carolina. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has a 1 point lead over Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, with 44 percent of registered voters saying they’d vote for McConnell and 43 percent saying they’d choose Grimes. Forty percent of Kentucky voters said they approved of McConnell’s job performance.

In North Carolina, 42 percent of registered voters said they’d vote for Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., while 40 percent said they’d pick one of her Republican opponents: Thom Thillis, North Carolina’s House speaker.  In another match-up, 41 percent said they’d vote for Hagan while 39 percent said they’d vote for Republican candidate Greg Bannon. Hagan’s approval and disapproval ratings both came in at 44 percent.

In Louisiana, Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., holds a wide lead over Republicans trying to unseat her with 42 percent of registered voters saying they’d vote for Landrieu. Her closest competition was Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-La., who came in at 18 percent. Louisiana does not hold primaries, so if a candidate does not receive a majority of the vote on Nov. 4, the election will head into a run-off.

But the poll does contain some red flags signs for Democrats. In Arkansas, Louisiana and North Carolina, a majority of registered voters said they would not vote for a candidate who did not share their views on the Affordable Care Act, which could prove problematic for Democrats if the president’s health care law is unpopular with voters.

An ABC News-Washington Post poll conducted in March found that 49 percent of Americans supported the health care law while 48 percent opposed it.

Another issue that could prove to be a liability is Obama’s approval ratings in these southern states where a majority of voters disapprove of how the president is handling his job. Sixty percent of registered voters in Arkansas and Kentucky said they disapprove of the president’s job performance. In Louisiana, 54 percent disapprove of how the president is handling his job while 51 percent of registered in voters in North Carolina disapprove.

The New York Times also said its poll found that support for Republican candidates is higher among likely voters in the four states.

There has already been some conservative push-back to the findings on voting patterns. Kirsten Kukowski, press secretary for the Republican National Committee, blasted a memo to reporters highlighting the poll’s sampling, which found that voters in Arkansas voted for Mitt Romney over Obama by 1 percentage point in 2012, when Romney actually won Arkansas by 24 points. She noted similar issues with the polls in the three other states.

The four polls were conducted from April 8-15 by land-line and cellphone. As for other poll data, 857 registered voters in Arkansas, 891 registered voters in Kentucky, 946 registered voters in Louisiana and 900 registered voters in North Carolina took part. The margin of sampling error was /- 4 percentage points for registered voters.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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