Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) — President Obama has accepted House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to report to Congress on the state of the union next month.

Boehner, R-Ohio, invited the president to deliver his State of the Union address in a letter Friday.

“The new year will bring a new American Congress, and with it, the opportunity to continue our work to build a stronger economy and secure a better future for our country,” the House speaker said in the letter. “In that spirit, it is my honor to invite you to address a Joint Session of Congress on Tuesday, January 20, 2015 so that you may fulfill your duty under the Constitution to report on the state of the union and recommend measures for our consideration.”

“Your report will inform our efforts to address the people’s priorities,” Boehner added.

The joint session of Congress to receive Obama’s address is slated to take place at 9 p.m. ET on Jan. 20.

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The White House(WASHINGTON) — President Obama’s decision to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba will “chip away” at the island’s “hermetically sealed society,” the president said Friday at what is likely his last press conference of the year.

“This is still a regime that represses its people,” the president acknowledged. “But what I know, deep in my bones, is that if you’ve done the same things for 50 years, you should try something different if you want a different outcome.”

“Suddenly Cuba is open to the world in way’s that it hasn’t been before,” he continued. “Over time, that chips away at this hermetically sealed society and, I believe, offers the best prospect of leading to greater freedom, greater self-determination of the Cuban people.”

In the wide-ranging press conference, Obama also touted his economic accomplishments this year.

“Pick any metric you want, America’s resurgence is real,” President Obama said. “We are better off.”

“In terms of my own job, I am energized, I’m excited about the prospects for the next couple of years,” Obama said, adding he wasn’t going to be “stopping for a minute” in his quest to make life better for all Americans.

“My presidency’s entering the fourth quarter,” he said. “Interesting stuff happens in the fourth quarter.”

The president leaves Washington on a high note, having made progress on several top priorities as he heads into the final two years of his presidency. In recent weeks, the president negotiated an unprecedented climate deal with China, took unilateral actions to reform the nation’s immigration system and announced a historic thawing of relations with Cuba.

Despite these successes, the president’s approval rating remains dismally low, hovering around 40 percent.

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JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Aloha, Obama family!

The president and first family are heading off to Honolulu, Hawaii, for a 16-day tropical vacation that’s become their annual tradition over the Christmas and New Year holidays.

“The president himself is eagerly looking forward to” the time away, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said last week.

While there’s no such thing as a work-free vacation for an American president, Obama will likely spend plenty of time soaking up the sun, snorkeling in Hanauma Bay, hiking and biking with his daughters, and enjoying the local cuisine.

He’s also expected to play several rounds of golf and squeeze in a few workouts at the Marine Base Kanehoe.

The White House says he plans to hold no public events. But as with past years, there’s the possibility Obama’s two-week getaway will be punctuated with breaking news around the world to which he’ll need to respond.

It will be the Obamas’ sixth trip to Oahu for family vacation since moving into the White House. The president has deep roots on the island, which is where he was born and spent most of his childhood.

The first family typically rents a multi-million dollar beach-side home in the town of Kailua, on the east side of the island, footing the several thousand-dollar per night bill with personal funds, the White House says.

Obama has taken fewer vacation days overall outside Washington than his predecessor, according to unofficial White House chronicler of presidential travel Mark Knoller of CBS News. While the meaning of “vacation day” is a matter of debate, by one measure, Obama had taken at least 140 days of R&R through August, per Knoller.

That compares to 533 days in George W. Bush’s two terms, including trips to his Crawford, Tex., ranch; 174 by Bill Clinton; and 390 for Ronald Reagan.

The president, first lady Michelle Obama, daughters Sasha and Malia, and dogs Sunny and Bo are expected to arrive on Air Force One Friday just before midnight local time. They will remain on the island until after the New Year.

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JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Aloha, Obama family!

The president and first family are heading off to Honolulu, Hawaii, for a 16-day tropical vacation that’s become their annual tradition over the Christmas and New Year holidays.

“The president himself is eagerly looking forward to” the time away, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said last week.

While there’s no such thing as a work-free vacation for an American president, Obama will likely spend plenty of time soaking up the sun, snorkeling in Hanauma Bay, hiking and biking with his daughters, and enjoying the local cuisine.

He’s also expected to play several rounds of golf and squeeze in a few workouts at the Marine Base Kanehoe.

The White House says he plans to hold no public events. But as with past years, there’s the possibility Obama’s two-week getaway will be punctuated with breaking news around the world to which he’ll need to respond.

It will be the Obamas’ sixth trip to Oahu for family vacation since moving into the White House. The president has deep roots on the island, which is where he was born and spent most of his childhood.

The first family typically rents a multi-million dollar beach-side home in the town of Kailua, on the east side of the island, footing the several thousand-dollar per night bill with personal funds, the White House says.

Obama has taken fewer vacation days overall outside Washington than his predecessor, according to unofficial White House chronicler of presidential travel Mark Knoller of CBS News. While the meaning of “vacation day” is a matter of debate, by one measure, Obama had taken at least 140 days of R&R through August, per Knoller.

That compares to 533 days in George W. Bush’s two terms, including trips to his Crawford, Tex., ranch; 174 by Bill Clinton; and 390 for Ronald Reagan.

The president, first lady Michelle Obama, daughters Sasha and Malia, and dogs Sunny and Bo are expected to arrive on Air Force One Friday just before midnight local time. They will remain on the island until after the New Year.

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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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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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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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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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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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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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