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Obama's Presidency in 2014 by the Numbers


Alex Wong/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Fresh off his announcement about normalizing diplomatic relations with Cuba, President Obama on Friday will hold what will likely be his final press conference of the year before the first family jets off to Hawaii for 17 days of R and R.

Here's a look at how the commander-in-chief has fared this year:

  • He has a 41 percent job approval rating in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll out this week, a single point from his career low, with 54 percent disapproving.
  • His approval rating averaged just 43 percent in 2014, making it his worst year by a significant margin.
  • His rating on the economy is essentially flat; 52 percent disapprove, despite recent economic gains. Fifty-four percent disapprove of his work on international affairs, a steadily negative majority since September. He’s gained 9 points on handling immigration, but only to 38 percent approval, with 55 percent disapproving. And for only the second time, numerically more disapprove than approve of his handling of terrorism, 48-43 percent.
  • He’s presided over the steepest drop-off in Democratic self-identification we’ve ever seen. Just 26 percent of Americans now identify themselves as Democrats, down 6 points from late October to the fewest on record since the start of ABC/Post polling in 1981. (More are independents; Republican Party ID is flat, but the GOP’s favorability rating has risen sharply.)
  • Obama’s career-long job approval rating, 50 percent on average, lags all three of his immediate two-term predecessors at this point in their tenure.
  • He’s at 29 percent approval among whites, the lowest of his presidency; not only do 67 percent disapprove, but a majority, 53 percent, does so strongly. Nearly two-thirds of nonwhites, by contrast, approve of Obama’s work in office.
  • Previous results also have indicated the president’s problems: He reached career lows in both favorability and empathy -- understanding the problems of people like you -- in a pre-election ABC/Post poll. His career low job approval, 40 percent, was Oct. 12.

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President Obama to Close the Year with Annual Press Conference


The White House(WASHINGTON) —  President Obama will hold his annual year-end press conference Friday afternoon at the White House before taking off on his annual Hawaiian holiday vacation.

Obama last fielded reporters' questions the day after the mid-term elections and there's a lot of new ground to cover since then.

The president is expected to face tough questions on relations with Cuba, cyber-terrorism, torture, immigration, the economy, and race relations. Many also are watching closely to see whether the president will refer to the Sony hack as "terrorism" and how the U.S. is going to respond to North Korea.

President Obama will also likely tout his strong finish to the year -- in recent weeks he's announced a major climate deal with China, unilaterally reformed the nation's immigration system and seen a boost in job growth.  

This will be President Obama's seventh solo news conference of the year, according to the American Presidency Project at University of California, Santa Barbara. It's the 46th time in six years he will take questions in a solo session with reporters. George W. Bush held 34 solo pressers by this point in his presidency.

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The Gingriches' Guide to Surviving a Presidential Campaign


ABC News/Yahoo! News(WASHINGTON) -- As the wife of a former presidential candidate, Callista Gingrich has some advice for the spouses of 2016 presidential hopefuls.

“Focus on the positive, try not to let the negativity get you down, because you really have to keep your [attention] on those issues that are most important to the future of this country. And some days that's a challenge,” Gingrich said. “But just be open-minded and appreciate the moment.”

Gingrich, who is out with a new children’s book, From Sea to Shining Sea, said that part of staying positive means steering clear of reading the news if you’re the subject of the report.

“Probably avoid that,” she told ABC News/Yahoo! News in a joint interview with her husband, Newt Gingrich.

“We kept begging her,” her husband, the former speaker of the House and 2012 GOP presidential hopeful, chimed in. “Margaret Thatcher had a ground rule: That she never read stories about her. And I think there's a certain virtue to don't get the Google Alerts. …If you look at the Twitter, for example, as we both do a lot of, there's a group of people on Twitter who really like to get all their anger out; so if you pay too much attention, it can really get you down.”

But don’t expect the Gingriches to put their advice to personal use again come 2016: He’s not running. They said their days on the frontlines of a presidential campaign are in the past.

“We had an opportunity, and I think we worked very hard,” Callista Gingrich said. “There is a new crop of candidates, and we will help as much as we can and be involved in the process.”

“There is a new generation coming down the road, and there are a couple of people who have been around for a while,” added Newt Gingrich, who rattled off a roster of nearly a dozen Republicans whom he expects will run in 2016.

From that list, Gingrich said he doesn’t consider anyone a frontrunner -- not even former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

“I don’t think he is,” Gingrich said. “I don’t think anyone is a frontrunner. I think if you go back and look at his brother in 1999, the amount of money he raised, the dominance he had over the field, no one has anything like that. I mean, Hillary arguably is a frontrunner, although I think she's a very fragile one.”

The problem for Clinton, Gingrich predicted, will be the same one she had in 2008.

“She's gotten her candidacy ahead of her cause, which is what she did in '08,” he said. “We're ready for Hillary, but for what? I mean, I think that's the real problem, and I think that's what all Jeb Bush and the others are going to have to answer for us is ‘So, why? …Why are you running and what would you do?’”

Callista Gingrich said some moderate Republican women voters might gravitate to Hillary Clinton's candidacy, if she runs. She said it was time for Republicans to nominate a woman on their ticket.

"Oh, I think we're more than ready, but I think somebody needs to step forward that's able to handle the job," she said. "Right now, we're not hearing about any of those likely people. So, I'm very hopeful that we'll see a woman run from the Republican Party in the very near future."

Callista Gingrich also discussed her newest children’s book, which is the fourth edition of a history series that follows a time-traveling elephant, Ellis, through major events in U.S. history.

“My books are really meant to serve as an introduction to the key moments that have shaped our nation,” Callista Gingrich said of the series. “And unfortunately, today, many of our kids are failing to learn our American history, including our founding principles and values and instead learning revisionist or politically correct history.”

She went on to add that the books are applicable to households across the political spectrum.

“These books are not meant to be Republican books or conservative books, but really they're pro-American books,” she said.

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White House Considering 'Range of Options' in Responding to Sony Hack


Jim Dorian/iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The White House will consider a "range of options" in dealing with the Sony hack, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Thursday.

Earnest would not speculate on the eventual White House response, saying, "I would acknowledge that an appropriate response is something that is not always obvious, but it's something that's worthy of careful consideration." The president's national security team continues to consider their options carefully, Earnest said.

"I don't anticipate that we'll be in a position where we're going to be able to be completely forthcoming about every single element of the response that has been decided upon," Earnest added.

Earnest would not discuss who would eventually be deemed responsible for the hack, though he did say that Obama "considers it to be a serious national security matter."


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Obama Signs Order Creating Task Force on 21st Century Policing


Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama signed an order on Thursday that officially created the Task Force on 21st Century Policing.

Obama had announced on Dec. 1 that he would take this step. The task force will convene sessions where they will hear testimony and accept proposed recommendations from invited witnesses. By March, the task force is expected to present a report and recommendations to the president.

According to the White House, the chairpersons of the task force will be Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey and Laurie Robinson, profesor of Criminology, Law and Society and George Mason University. Robinson is also a former assistant attorney general for the Department of Justice's Office of Justice Programs.

The task force will also include 10 other members, including attorneys, leaders of non-profit organizations and law enforcement officers.

Obama created the task force after weeks of protests over the police-involved shooting of Michael Brown, 18, in Ferguson, Mo., and the death of Eric Garner at the hands of a New York police officer in recent months.

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Five Changes Recommended for Secret Service After Fence Jumper Enters WH


Vacclav/iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- A bipartisan, independent panel scrutinizing the U.S. Secret Service after a man with a small knife in his pocket jumped the perimeter fence and made it deep inside the White House earlier this year is recommending sweeping changes at the agency.

The Secret Service's “paramount mission” of protecting the president and other high-ranking officials “allows no tolerance for error,” and a “single miscue, or even a split-second delay, could have disastrous consequences for the nation and the world,” warns the panel's final report, commissioned by DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson after the September breach.

After speaking with 50 officials from the Secret Service and as many as 70 others from other federal agencies, state agencies, and the White House, the panel's report makes these “important” recommendations:

1. A TALLER, “BETTER” FENCE

A better fence can provide agents with “crucial” time needed to identify a threat and determine how to respond appropriately, the report concludes. “Every additional second of response time” counts, and those seconds would help agents “decide, in a split-second, whether to use lethal force on a person who may not actually pose a viable threat to the president or the White House.” The report says that “for sure, the fence must be taller.” In addition, horizontal bars on the fence that can be used like a ladder “should be eliminated,” and the top of the fence could be curved outward “to make scaling it much more difficult for most,” the report recommends. “Importantly, designers of the new fence must balance security concerns with the long and storied tradition of the White House being the ‘People’s House,’” the report says. The acting head of the Secret Service, Joe Clancy, said recently that changes to the fence, which currently stands at 7.5 feet, are already under serious consideration.

2. A “STRONG” LEADER FROM OUTSIDE
“The Panel found an organization starved for leadership that rewards innovation and excellence and demands accountability. From agents to officers to supervisors, we heard a common desire: More resources would help, but what we really need is leadership.” Consequently, the report concludes that “the right person” to become the next Secret Service director “should come from outside the Service.” The report says any benefits from appointing someone with “Service experience” are “outweighed” by the need for “dynamic leadership” that can “move the Service forward into a new era,” “drive change in the organization,” and “make difficult choices.” “Only a director from outside the Service, removed from organizational traditions and personal relationships, will be able to do the honest top-to-bottom reassessment this will require,” the report concludes.

3. A NEW BUDGET

“[N]o one has really looked at how much the mission, done right, actually costs.” So, the report says, a new director should “start with a zero-based budget,” determine what “is needed” to accomplish the Service’s mission, and then ask the White House and Congress for “this sum.” In the meantime, “to ensure adequate training and personnel for the White House,” the administration and Congress should find a way to let the Secret Service hire 85 more special agents and 200 more Uniformed Division officers, the report says.

4. MORE TALENT AND MORE AGENTS

“The Secret Service is stretched to and, in many cases, beyond its limits,” with those protecting the White House working “an unsustainable number of hours,” the report says. So the service needs to “increase significantly in size” by hiring more agents and uniformed officers, the report concludes. In addition, the service needs to recruit “more of the best and most innovative scientists and engineers dreaming up ways to defeat the next threat,” according to the report. All that means the Secret Service needs “an administrative department that can demonstrate with rigorous precision why additional resources are necessary and knows how to budget for it,” the report says.

5. MORE ACCOUNTABILITY

“The agency’s zero-failure mission requires that its high standards be met,” so agents and officers themselves “must see that the organization itself believes in its standards and enforces them in a consistent, evenhanded manner,” according to the report. “It’s not just about morale or fairness, but about creating a “culture of performance that the Secret Service needs to meet its zero-failure mission,” the report states.

After the recommendations were released, Secretary Johnson called them "astute, thorough, and fair," saying, "Fundamental change is needed at the Secret Service." And the head of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Virginia, said it's “imperative that the Secret Service begin to review and implement the recommendations...as soon as possible."

The four panelists – former top Justice Department officials Thomas Perelli and Mark Filip, and former White House officials Joseph Hagin and Danielle Gray – were directed to take a broad look at how to revamp an agency scarred by recent scandals. Two of the panelists served under the Obama administration, the other two served under the Bush administration.

A separate internal DHS probe, led by Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, detailed the multiple failings and missed opportunities that led to the Sept. 19 incursion allegedly carried out by 42-year-old Omar Gonzalez. The results of that probe were released last month.

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Congressmen Write Letter to 18 Universities Urging Them to End Use of University Debit Cards for Student Tanning


Credit: Architect of the Capitol(WASHINGTON) -- Five congressmen on Thursday wrote a letter to 18 universities urging them to disallow the use of university debit cards by students for indoor tanning.

A recent study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology found that the 18 universities allow the use of student debit cards for tanning services, an agreement that the reps. say "constitute an endorsement and even encourage indoor tanning," which they note "has been designated a carcinogen by the World Health Organization."

The letter was sent to Indiana University, Michigan State University, Ohio State University, Pennsylvania State University, Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, Southern New Hampshire University, the universities of Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Pittsburgh, Texas at Austin, Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Vermont, Virginia Tech, Western Kentucky University, Clemson University and Georgia Southern University.

"We believe your university should not be offering incentives to students to engage in activities that put their health at risk," the congressmen wrote.

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Obama Surprised With 'Cuban' Cigar On Historic Day for U.S.-Cuba Relations


Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) --  Turns out President Obama capped off Wednesday, a day that marked the dawn of a new relationship between the U.S. and Cuba, with...what else: a cigar.

And, according to the gift giver, it was a Cuban.

When a guest at one of two White House Hanukkah receptions handed one to Obama, he gave it a sniff.

“I had the unique distinction of gifting the president of the United States with one of Cuba’s finest cigars, a Montecristo Series at the White House…after a ceremony in which a Menorah was lit,” John Berzner, who offered the cigar to the president on Wednesday, told ABC News.

Berzner said when he was preparing to leave his Colorado home Tuesday for the annual White House Hanukkah Party, he selected one cigar from the box to bring with him.

Little did he know, of course, that Wednesday would be a landmark day in U.S.-Cuba relations with the freeing of American Alan Gross after five years of imprisonment in the country and the softening of long-hardened diplomatic relations with Cuba.

On Wednesday, the president announced an increase in the amount of Cuban goods authorized U.S. travelers to Cuba can bring back to the States, including tobacco. However, those revised regulations have not yet gone into effect. A White House spokesman did not immediately respond to an ABC News request for comment.

When Berzner handed the cigar to the president, he said: “Mr. President, a Cuban cigar for you!”

“Oh, nice!” Obama replied as he lifted the cigar up from the crowd.

“The finest,” Berzner said as Obama raised the cigar to his nose to sniff.

The president approved, telling Berzner, “Pretty good!”

Nigel Savage, who was also a guest at the event and shot the video, added, “The president definitely looked like he appreciated a good Cuban cigar.”

There’s no telling what the president ultimately did with the gift.


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WikiLeaks Releases CIA Report on High-Value Targeting


Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) --  WikiLeaks has released a CIA document from 2009 analyzing the positive and negative effects of strikes against high-value targets.

The U.S. military has used high-value targeting of insurgent leaders in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the CIA also uses drone strikes to target high-value al Qaeda targets in Pakistan and Yemen.

The 18-page secret document is dated July 7, 2009, and is entitled “Best Practices in Counterinsurgency: Making High Value Targeting Operations an Effective Counterinsurgency Tool.”

WikiLeaks posted the report on its website Thursday. A press release accompanying the release said the report was compiled by the CIA’s Office of Transnational Issues and “weighs the pros and cons of killing 'insurgent' leaders in assassination plots."

A CIA spokesperson declined to comment on WikiLeaks' posting of the report and its contents.

"High-value targets" is the term used to describe senior leaders in insurgent organizations. They can be targeted in airstrikes or operations where they are captured for their intelligence value.

The report is a historical analysis that found both positive and negative effects from high-value targeting. One key finding from the review “suggests that HVT operations can play a useful role when they are part of a broader counterinsurgency strategy.” More to the point, the report said the targeting is most effective when a country decides on a strategic outcome before beginning the HVT track and also integrates it into other military and civilian counterinsurgency operations.

However, the targeting can also have significant negative impacts. It could lead to more local support for the insurgency and it could also lead to other radical groups filling the power vacuum created when insurgent leaders are killed.

The report includes brief reviews of successful and unsuccessful HVT efforts in other countries and how it fit into their counterinsurgency strategies -- for example, descriptions of the British fight against the IRA in Northern Ireland and the Colombian government against FARC rebels.

In addition to using open-source reporting to recount the experiences to tackle insurgencies, the CIA also interviewed U.S. officials running HVT programs in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In Afghanistan the report said that high-value targeting had a limited effect against the Taliban because of the logistical inability to integrate it into a broader counterinsurgency campaign by the U.S. military and Afghan government. Moreover, the Taliban had “good succession planning and bench strength, especially at the middle levels,” said the report.

A few months after the report was written President Obama would approve a troop surge and counterinsurgency strategy for Afghanistan that would see U.S. troop levels rise to 100,000.

In Iraq, the report says that early targeting against leaders of al Qaeda in Iraq “did little to slow AQI’s momentum.” But that began to change in 2007 as the HVT operations were complemented by “broader Coalition and Iraqi Sunni actions against AQI” that cut the terror group off from its support base and have contributed to its decline since that time.

Years later, that group would push into Syria, where it would re-emerge as ISIS, which has taken over territory in both Syria and Iraq.

Clandestine reports also indicated that “the Iraqi Government has chosen not to target Muqtada al-Sadr and many of his top aides because of political sensitivities.” The CIA report said “capture or refraining from lethal operations may be warranted if the government’s goal is to integrate an insurgent group into the political process."

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Obama: Jeb Bush Has ‘Every Right’ to Run for President in 2016


ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama says he “loves” the Bush family personally and that former Florida governor and possible 2016 presidential candidate Jeb Bush has “every right” to run in 2016.

But he made sure to praise his former secretary of state as well, adding that Hillary Clinton would make an “excellent president.”

“The Bush family, I love personally,” Obama told ABC News' World News Tonight anchor David Muir in an exclusive interview. “They are good people. Jeb's father, George H.W. has been here many times, in some cases with Jeb. And they are a great family, wonderful people. Obviously I have a lot of disagreements with Jeb and his brother on policy. But I think they have every right to do what they think is best.”

The president said of Clinton that he “think(s) so highly of her and I’ve said before and will continue to say I think she'd be an excellent president.”

Obama added that the “great thing about democracy” is that “anybody can run, even the son of and brother of former presidents.”

Earlier this week, Bush announced he would "actively explore the possibility of running for president of the United States."

He didn’t set up an exploratory committee, a traditional first step for presidential contenders, but said he would set up a political action committee next month that would help him “facilitate conversations with citizens across America to discuss the most critical challenges facing our exceptional nation.”

Bush’s likely entry could set up a dynastic face off with Clinton, if they both run. Clinton hasn’t said she will enter the race, but told ABC’s Diane Sawyer in June she will be “on the way to making a decision by the end of the year.” More recently she has slid that decision timetable to the beginning of next year saying she will decide after the first of the year.

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Hillary Clinton Praises Obama’s Decision to Change Course on Cuba


JP Yim/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — What does possible 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton think of the president's announcement Wednesday to normalize relations with Cuba?

One day after she condemned the torture revealed in the Senate’s interrogation report, Clinton released a statement saying she "support[s] President Obama's decision to change course on Cuba policy while keeping the focus on our principal objective -- supporting the aspirations of the Cuban people for freedom."

She said she was "deeply relieved" by Alan Gross' release, and noted when she was Secretary of State she "pushed for his release" and "stayed in touch" with his wife and daughters, while calling "for a new direction in Cuba."

"Despite good intentions, our decades-long policy of isolation has only strengthened the Castro regime’s grip on power," Clinton said. "As I have said, the best way to bring change to Cuba is to expose its people to the values, information, and material comforts of the outside world. The goal of increased U.S. engagement in the days and years ahead should be to encourage real and lasting reforms for the Cuban people."

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Liberal Groups Kick Off Their ‘Run Warren Run’ Campaign in Des Moines


US Senate(DES MOINES, Iowa) — A campaign without a candidate kicked off Wednesday night in the all-important state of Iowa. Progressive group MoveOn, joined by Democracy for America launched their effort to draft Elizabeth Warren at a coffee shop in Des Moines.

Warren wasn't there, but about 80 people reportedly showed up to check out their "Run Warren Run" campaign.

DFA officially joined the effort at the event pledging $250,000, which is on top of the $1 million MoveOn has already promised to put into the first phase of the campaign. They say they will set up offices in Iowa and New Hampshire, run ads, and assemble a "national volunteer army" on behalf of Warren. A release from DFA said 87.6 of their members are supportive of the draft Warren effort.

According to the Des Moines Register, Iowa state senate president Pam Jochum was in attendance at the event. She praised Warren, but told the Register she isn't ready to back Warren over Hillary Clinton, saying, "Not yet."

Warren has said repeatedly she won't run. These supporters are hoping to convince her to act to the contrary, even putting cash where their hopes are.

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Christie to Talk About Possible White House Run with Family During Christmas


ABC/ LOU ROCCO(NEW YORK) — New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie is nearing a decision on whether he'll run for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016, according to nj.com.

Christie actually made the admission to a youngster at Mendham Township Middle School Wednesday when asked if he was planning to seek the presidency.

Saying that it was something he was thinking about, Christie told the assembly that he would talk about the future with his family during Christmas and finally announce his plans during "the first part of next year."

The governor tried to relate his situation with other families facing difficult choices, saying, "No matter what, I am still Andrew, Sarah, Patrick and Bridget’s father and they wonder what I am going to do for work, and I’m still Mary Pat’s husband and she wonders the same thing."

If Christie decides against running for president or fails to win the nomination, his tenure as governor ends in December 2017.  Christie has already said he doesn't want to be a senator, which would rule out a run for another elected office.

As for why Christie is likely to announce his intentions in early 2015, political pundits, including former New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman, says that Jeb Bush likely forced his hand by forming an exploratory committee that will ultimately determine if he'll be in the race for the GOP nod.

Both Christie and Bush appeal to more moderate Republicans as well as the same high-end donors.

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Obama: Sony Hack Proves U.S. Needs to Do ‘A Lot More’ to Protect Against Cyber Threats


ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- The actions of hackers who released a trove of e-mails stolen from Sony Pictures executives indicates the U.S. has not done all it can do to prevent enemies from exploiting “vulnerabilities” in our technology, President Obama said Wednesday.

“We’ve made progress,” Obama said in an exclusive interview with ABC World News Tonight anchor David Muir. “But what we just saw with Sony shows a lot more progress needs to be done. That means, by the way, that Congress also needs to take up cyber security legislation that’s been languishing for several years now.”

The hackers threatened to launch a Sept. 11, 2001-style attack on theaters screening the yet-to-be-released Sony film The Interview, which depicts the fictitious assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un. The federal government determined that North Korea was responsible for the hack.

On Wednesday, Sony Pictures announced it was cancelling the film’s Dec. 25 release.

“In light of the decision by the majority of our exhibitors not to show the film The Interview, we have decided not to move forward with the planned December 25 theatrical release,” the company said in a statement. “We respect and understand our partners’ decision and, of course, completely share their paramount interest in the safety of employees and theater-goers.”

Even before Sony’s announcement, President Obama had encouraged Americans to go to the movies.

“The cyber-attack is very serious,” Obama told Muir, but added: “For now my recommendation would be that people go to the movies.”

In addition, the president said authorities saw “no credible evidence” of a “serious threat to theaters.”

More of the interview with the president will air tonight on Nightline and tomorrow on Good Morning America. In the wide-ranging conversation, Muir also asked Obama about the release of American Alan Gross after five years of imprisonment in Cuba, Fidel Castro and the 2016 presidential campaign.


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Poll: Majority of Americans Have Unfavorable Opinion of Obamacare's Individual Mandate


ABC News(NEW YORK) -- A majority of Americans have an unfavorable opinion on the individual mandate aspect of Obamacare, the latest Kaiser Family Foundation says, while a minority of Americans want the law repealed.

The poll found that 64 percent of Americans find the individual mandate -- which requires nearly all Americans to either have health insurance or pay a fine -- unfavorable. Forty-six percent of Americans have an unfavorable opinion of Obamacare as a whole, while 41 percent take a favorable stance.

Despite its apparent unpopularity, however, the poll shows that just 31 percent want the law to be repealed, and just 12 percent want it to be scaled back. Comparatively, 24 percent believe Obamacare should be expanded and 21 percent believe it should be implemented as is.

Other aspects of the law are actually popular -- such as the employer mandate, which requires employers with 100 or more full-time workers to offer health coverage or pay a fine. About sixty percent of Americans favor the employer mandate, the Kaiser Family Foundation says.

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