Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — The White House took a shot at Donald Trump Wednesday, saying that the president “never backed out of a debate two days before it was scheduled to be held.”

The remarks were made to ABC News’ Mary Bruce from White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, who served as President Obama’s Iowa communications director for his 2008 presidential campaign, came after Trump announced his plan to skip the upcoming Fox News GOP debate on Thursday.

Trump said Tuesday he would not participate in the last GOP debate ahead of the Iowa caucuses, after publicly feuding with Fox News debate moderator Megyn Kelly, whom he has clashed with since the first Fox News debate last August.

“We’ve seen that, you know, over the last several months that Mr. Trump has repeatedly chosen to kick reporters out of the room for asking tough questions,” he continued. “It appears he’s taking that approach to a new level by avoiding those questions entirely.”

Earnest said Republicans voters will ultimately decide if Trump has the temperament to be commander-in-chief.

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kropic/iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — President Obama weighed in Wednesday on the controversy over diversity in the Oscars during a series of wide-ranging interviews, saying that the debate is really “just an expression of this broader issue.”

The remarks were part of the latest installment of “Live from the White House” — a round of interviews with television anchors from Richmond, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Salt Lake City, Denver, Los Angeles, and Oakland to discuss the Affordable Care Act. The cities were chosen for the interview series because they have large numbers of uninsured residents.

David Ono, from ABC owned station KABC, asked Obama about the controversy surrounding the Oscars and its lack of diverse nominees in the top categories.

“I think that California is an example of the incredible diversity of this country. That’s a strength. I think that when everyone’s story is told then that makes for better art,” Obama said.

“It makes for better entertainment it makes everybody feel part of one American family, so I think as a whole the industry should do what every other industry should do which is to look for talent, provide opportunity to everybody. And I think the Oscar debate is really just an expression of this broader issue. Are we making sure that everybody is getting a fair shot?”

The president was also asked by Joyce Garbaciak, of ABC Milwaukee affiliate WISN about the recent FBI arrest which uncovered a terrorist-style plot intended to kill dozens of people with automatic weapons at a Masonic center in Milwaukee.

Obama said the case highlighted the importance of vigilance in our communities and the danger of lone wolf operations.

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ABC News(NEW YORK) — ABC News has announced the criteria for its Republican presidential debate before the New Hampshire primary.

The faceoff between the GOP presidential hopefuls is slated for Feb. 6 in Manchester, New Hampshire.

Here are the three different ways candidates can gain an invitation for the debate stage:

1) Place among the top three candidates ranked according to the popular vote in the Iowa Republican caucuses on Feb. 1, 2016. (OR)

2) Place among the top six candidates in an average of New Hampshire Republican presidential polls recognized by ABC News. To be included, polls must be conducted no earlier than Jan. 1, 2016, and must be released to the public before 5 p.m. ET on Feb. 4, 2016. Poll averages will not be rounded. (OR)

3) Place among the top six candidates in an average of national Republican presidential polls recognized by ABC News. To be included, polls must be conducted no earlier than Jan. 1, 2016, and must be released to the public before 5 p.m. ET on Feb. 4, 2016. Poll averages will not be rounded.

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iZonda/iStock/Thinkstock(IOWA) — After Donald Trump said he’d skip this week’s Republican presidential debate, his fiercest rival in the GOP race, Ted Cruz, has challenged Trump to a “mano a mano” debate.

Cruz has even launched a website called DuckingDonald.com that asks supporters to check “yes” to a debate between he and Trump.

Cruz said that a debate between the two men could be moderated by conservative radio hosts. He also said they could debate without a moderator.

“We’ll do 90 minutes, Lincoln-Douglas, mano a mano. Donald and me. He can lay out his vision or this country, and I can lay out my vision for this country in front of the men and women of Iowa,” Cruz said.

Trump’s campaign responded to the debate offer, telling ABC News, “If he’s the last man standing and it comes down to a two-person race Donald Trump will be happy to debate him.”

On Wednesday, Cruz poked a little fun at Trump by tweeting a video from “Monty Python” called “Brave Sir Robin Ran Away.”

.@realDonaldTrump, trembling at being questioned by @megynkelly, channels Monty Python: https://t.co/6k5sNQ8VJb

— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) January 27, 2016

Trump said in a statement that he would host an event in Iowa to raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project on Thursday night. His campaign manager denied that Trump was scared of Fox News host and debate moderator Megyn Kelly, an assertion made by Cruz.

“He’s not afraid to take a question,” Trump’s campaign manager Corey Lewandowski said on “Good Morning America” on Thursday. Lewandowski also said Kelly is “obsessed” with Trump.

With Trump off the debate stage, Cruz will take over the center podium.

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iStock Editorial/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Hillary Clinton’s advantage over Bernie Sanders has shrunk to its smallest of the 2016 campaign, with Sanders building a double-digit lead on honesty and trustworthiness and negating Clinton’s onetime strength in connecting with voters’ priorities.

Clinton still leads in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll in trust to handle individual issues – with the exception of regulating banks and other financial institutions – as well as on electability. She’s also aided by broad support from non-whites and by her association with the Obama administration, given the president’s vast popularity within the party.

See PDF with full results here.

Overall, Clinton leads Sanders nationally by 55-36 percent among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents who are registered to vote. Her support is at a new low (albeit by a single point); Sanders’ is at a new high, up 8 percentage points from last month, led by a 17-point gain among independents. Clinton’s 19-point lead is down from 31 points last month, a previous low of 26 points in November and a vast 52-point advantage in July.

Clinton’s single greatest vulnerability has worsened in this poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates: Sanders now leads by 12 points, 48-36 percent, in being seen as more honest and trustworthy, vs. 6 points last month and an even split in October. Should Clinton emerge as the nominee, it’s an issue the Republican candidate likely will repeat at every chance.

Further, the candidates are virtually even, 47-43 percent, Clinton-Sanders, on who “is closer to you on the issues,” down from a 17-point Clinton lead just last month. And it’s close (Clinton +7) on who’d do a better job “bringing needed change to Washington.”

Fortunately for Clinton, “change” is less a Democratic than a Republican mantra this year. She prevails on other attributes and, especially, trust to handle key issues – often by very wide margins. Consider:

  • Clinton leads Sanders by 18 points in trust to handle the economy, 21 points on handling health care, 29 points on immigration issues, 37 points in trust to handle terrorism and 41 points in trust to handle a major international crisis.
  • She holds a 28-point advantage, 58-30 percent, in being seen as having the better personality and temperament to serve effectively as president. And her lead widens to 39 points – 65-26 percent – in having the better chance to win in November.

Groups

The changes in honesty and trustworthiness, and in being close to voters on the issues, are broadly based. Also, notably, there’s not much of gender gap in the current race – Clinton leads Sanders by 22 points among women and by 16 points among men. A bigger gender gap has been apparent in the past, but inconsistently.

Regardless, the candidates’ support profiles indicate why Iowa and New Hampshire might not be the best places to gauge their strength nationally. Clinton leads Sanders by a broad 67-28 percent nationally among non-whites vs. a virtual dead heat among whites, 45-43 percent. Whites accounted for 93 percent of Democratic caucus participants in Iowa and 95 percent in the party’s New Hampshire primary in 2008 vs. 65 percent across all primaries in which exit polls were conducted that year.

Furthermore, Clinton leads Sanders by 59-33 percent among Democrats, while it’s 49-43 percent, Sanders-Clinton, among independents who lean toward the Democratic Party. Independents accounted for 44 percent of Democratic primary voters in New Hampshire in 2008 vs. just 19 percent across all primaries that year.

Sanders also does better with liberals – 53-43 percent, Sanders-Clinton – compared with moderates, among whom Clinton has a 21-point advantage. Liberals accounted for more voters in Iowa and New Hampshire in 2008 – 54 and 56 percent, respectively – than their share across all Democratic primaries, 47 percent.

Sanders, further, does best with young adults – 54-40 percent, Sanders-Clinton, combining the last two ABC/Post polls for an adequate sample size. That moves to an even split among registered voters in their 30s, but then opens up to a wide Clinton lead – 65-23 percent – among those age 40 and older. Under 30s had higher turnout in Iowa in 2008 than anywhere else. And voters age 40+ accounted for 71 percent of the Democratic primary turnout overall.

Additionally, 57 percent of Clinton supporters say they’ll definitely stick with her; this slips to 46 percent among Sanders supporters.

Insider

As noted in our analysis of the GOP contest, Donald Trump is boosted in his party by his outsider status; 54 percent of leaned Republicans are looking for a candidate from outside the political establishment, and they’re a hugely pro-Trump group. The opposite holds true for Clinton: 80 percent of leaned Democrats, instead, are more interested in a candidate with experience in how the political system works – and Clinton leads Sanders by 2-1 among registered voters in this group, 64-31 percent. Sanders leads, 56-19 percent, among those looking for an outsider (again combining the last two ABC/Post polls), but there are far fewer of them.

Clinton also is helped by her association with Obama, who’s back to a 50 percent job approval rating overall, aided by his best rating in three years on handling the economy. Obama’s overall job rating soars to 83 percent among leaned Democrats, and among strong Obama approvers in the party who are registered to vote, Clinton leads Sanders by 62-33 percent. That compares with 45-48 percent contest among “somewhat” approvers of Obama, clear evidence why Clinton has been wrapping herself in the president’s cloak.

In a similar result, Clinton does best – 67 percent support, to Sanders’ 29 percent – among registered leaned Democrats who are satisfied with the way the government is working. But they account for just 36 percent of this population; her support drops to 49 percent, and Sanders’ rises to 40 percent, among those who are either dissatisfied or angry about the government.

A statistical analysis identifying the strongest independent factors in Clinton’s support cements these points. It finds that desiring a candidate with political experience is the single strongest factor, followed by being older, being non-white and being moderate (or conservative) as opposed to liberal. Strongly supporting Obama is another independent factor in backing Clinton.

Methodology

This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by landline and cellular telephone Jan. 21-24, 2016, in English and Spanish, among a random national sample of 1,001 adults. Results have a margin of sampling error of 3.5 points, including the design effect, for the full sample; 4 points for all registered voters; and 5.5 points for registered leaned Democrats. Partisan divisions are 34-23-34 percent, Democrats-Republicans-independents.

The survey was produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates of New York, N.Y., with sampling, data collection and tabulation by Abt-SRBI of New York, N.Y. See details on the survey’s methodology here.

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Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) — After rejecting any comparison between his own presidential campaign in 2008 and Bernie Sanders’ campaign in 2016, President Obama welcomes the Democratic presidential contender to the Oval Office Wednesday for a private, informal meeting.

The meeting, which is closed to the press, could be awkward, given the president’s recent comments that seemingly downplayed the allure of the Sanders’ grassroots campaign. A White House spokeswoman suggested no photos are expected.

“The President and Senator Sanders first discussed this meeting last December when Senator Sanders attended the Congressional Holiday Ball,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest wrote in a statement confirming the 11:45 a.m. meeting. “The two will meet privately in the Oval Office and there will be no formal agenda.”

Even after Hillary Clinton left her position as secretary of state following Obama’s reelection in 2012, the president still regularly meets informally at the White House with Clinton, the Democratic presidential front-runner.

ABC News’ latest polling shows Clinton leading Sanders by 19 points nationally — her smallest lead yet, with five days to go until the Feb. 1 Iowa Caucus. A new Quinnipiac poll of Iowa has Sanders moving ahead of Clinton with 49 percent support to her 45 percent.

Obama insists he will not endorse a Democratic presidential candidate until the party has settled on a nominee, but in a podcast interview with Politico’s Glenn Thrush a week before the Iowa caucuses, he appeared to signal his preference for Clinton.

“She’s extraordinarily experienced — and, you know, wicked smart and knows every policy inside and out,” Obama said, unabashedly touting Clinton’s readiness to be commander-in-chief. “It means that she can govern and she can start here, day one, more experienced than any non-vice president has ever been who aspires to this office.”

As for Sanders, the president indicated the upstart contender entered the race “with the luxury of being a complete long-shot and just letting loose” as he introduced himself to voters.

“I’ve gotten to know Hillary really well, and she is a good, smart, tough person who cares deeply about this country, and she has been in the public eye for a long time and in a culture in which new is always better,” Obama said. “You’re always looking at the bright, shiny object that people don’t — haven’t seen before. That’s a disadvantage to her. Bernie is somebody who — although I don’t know as well because he wasn’t, obviously, in my administration — has the virtue of saying exactly what he believes, and great authenticity, great passion, and is fearless. His attitude is, ‘I got nothing to lose.’”

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Darren McCollester/Getty Images(NEW BOSTON, N.H.) — Fresh off two significant endorsements from local newspapers, along with new polls showing a January surge, Republican presidential candidate John Kasich is oozing confidence in New Hampshire.

“Hey, nobody said they liked my haircut!” Kasich said Tuesday as he strode past reporters in New Boston. “How’s it looking?”

His grin never seemed to fade throughout the day. The Ohio governor received an endorsement from the Boston Globe late Monday night, and awoke Tuesday morning to the support of the well-regarded Concord Monitor. Kasich’s New Hampshire support has risen to 12 percent, according to a recent Boston Herald/Franklin Pierce poll, placing him in a statistical tie for second place in the state.

“I’m, like, in complete shock,” Kasich said at a town hall meeting here in the Granite State, his first of three for the day. “Honestly, little old me? The Boston Globe?”

In a campaign season defined by attacks and mudslinging, Kasich has engineered a potential comeback on an opposite track, appealing to voter optimism.

“You can live on two sides of the street,” Kasich told a crowd at Franklin Pierce University in Rindge. “You can live on the dark side, where you know, ‘woe is us’ — the old Eeyore effect. Or you can actually live on the sunny side of the street, and not only believe, but know, that working together as Americans, we can beat all these challenges.”

He used the word “sunny” no less than six times throughout the day, and used words like “hope” and “idealism” to describe his campaign.

Kasich’s humble delivery and sunny optimism have been carefully aimed: According to the Franklin Pierce/Boston Herald poll, 31 percent of New Hampshire Republicans say they could not envision supporting Donald Trump in a general election. Another 40 percent of New Hampshire voters do not belong to any party, yet are allowed to join for the day to participate in the primary.

“In order for him to win, he’s got to get independents here to grab a ballot,” said Tom Ulig, a retired business owner from Rindge who came to see Kasich speech at Franklin Pierce.

Other campaigns are making the same bet in New Hampshire, notably Chris Christie and Jeb Bush. Both have poured resources into the state, and both have presented themselves to moderates as purple-state pragmatists. But while Bush increasingly goes after Trump, and Christie focuses his ire on President Obama, Kasich barely mentioned any of his rivals by name.

“When the negative movement pops up, I think we have to push back against it,” Kasich said. “What we have to do as Americans is talk together, work together. And this is not some sweet little lullaby, this is the way it has to be.”

While Kasich, who recently called himself “the prince of light and hope,” might sound sweet, Ulig didn’t think he was cavity-inducing.

“When you say ‘sunny side’ it may sound kind of naïve,” he told ABC News. “I don’t think he’s naïve. I think he’s optimistic toward what can be done.”

Asked if Kasich has secured his vote, though, Ulig hesitated. “I’m leaning towards him,” he said. “I want to see some of the other moderates.”

He’ll have to wait nearly a week to see them. Every other Republican candidate will remain in Iowa throughout the week, except for Kasich: After a 16-hour visit with his family in Ohio and two days stumping in Iowa, the governor will head right back to the Granite State. As caucuses begin 1,000 miles away, he’ll be wrapping up his 84th New Hampshire town hall, far more than any other candidate.

As a beaming Kasich hustled out of his final event on Tuesday in Amherst, the speakers blared — what else? — U2’s bright-side anthem, “Beautiful Day.”

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ABC News(WASHINGTON) — Donald Trump has not yet changed his mind.

The GOP presidential front-runner announced Tuesday that he will not participate in Thursday’s Fox News debate.

“I’m not going to do the debate. I’m going to have something else in Iowa,” Trump said Tuesday.

Thursday’s debate is the last one before the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 1.

Instead of appearing on stage with his presidential competitors, Trump said he will host an event for veterans in Des Moines, Iowa, during the debate.

“He will…raise money for the Veterans and Wounded Warriors, who have been treated so horribly by our all talk, no action politicians,” the Trump campaign said in a statement released Tuesday night.

“When Donald Trump goes to Des Moines and we start raising money for veterans and wounded warriors and we have multiples of millions of dollars raised for these people and the American people tune in because they want to support that and Fox goes back and say they should have had 24 million watching their debate and instead they got 1 million, it’s a disservice to the American people,” Trump’s campaign manager Corey Lewandowski said Wednesday on ABC News’ Good Morning America.

Lewandowski also claimed Wednesday morning on MSNBC that other campaigns have “asked us proactively” to participate in the event and that “it’s very possible” that other candidates could skip the debate as well.

It’s a risk for Trump to be a no-show, given that the Iowa caucuses are five days away and he’s neck-and-neck with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in Iowa, according to recent polls.

Trump said he’s boycotting the debate because he believes Fox News host and debate moderator Megyn Kelly is “unfair” and “biased” because of questions she posed to Trump last August.

On her show Tuesday night, Kelly stood firm: “Mr. Trump has repeatedly brought up that exchange as evidence of alleged bias on my part. I maintain it was a tough but fair question and we agreed to disagree.”

Fox News does not plan on having an empty podium at Thursday’s debate. If Trump follows through on his threat, Trump’s podium will be removed and Cruz will take center stage.

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iStock Editorial/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Donald Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski says that the candidate isn’t afraid of Thursday night’s debate.

“He’s not afraid to take a question,” he told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s Good Morning America.

“The issue is an issue of fairness,” he added, claiming that Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly was “obsessed” with Trump.

The Republican presidential frontrunner recently said he is pulling out of the next Republican debate, hosted by Fox News, after a feud with the network escalated over the last few days.

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