Credit: The White House(WASHINGTON) — President Obama on Wednesday commuted the sentences of eight individuals and granted pardons to 12 more.

According to the Department of Justice, the eight people whose sentences Obama shortened had been convicted of drug charges. Each of their sentences, scheduled to last until at least 2019, will now expire in either April or June of 2015.

Obama also pardoned 12 people who had been convicted on charges that included running an illegal distillery, theft of bank funds and wire fraud, among others.

Two of those pardoned were from Obama’s home state of Illinois.

Deputy Attorney General James Cole said Wednesday that Obama’s actions in commuting the sentences of the eight individuals provided clemency to “eight individuals who were sentenced under outdated and unfair laws.”

“While all eight were properly held accountable for their criminal actions, their punishments did not fit their crimes,” Cole said, “and sentencing laws and policies have since been updated to ensure more fairness for low-level offenders.”

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Credit: The White House(WASHINGTON) — President Obama on Wednesday commuted the sentences of eight individuals and granted pardons to 12 more.

According to the Department of Justice, the eight people whose sentences Obama shortened had been convicted of drug charges. Each of their sentences, scheduled to last until at least 2019, will now expire in either April or June of 2015.

Obama also pardoned 12 people who had been convicted on charges that included running an illegal distillery, theft of bank funds and wire fraud, among others.

Two of those pardoned were from Obama’s home state of Illinois.

Deputy Attorney General James Cole said Wednesday that Obama’s actions in commuting the sentences of the eight individuals provided clemency to “eight individuals who were sentenced under outdated and unfair laws.”

“While all eight were properly held accountable for their criminal actions, their punishments did not fit their crimes,” Cole said, “and sentencing laws and policies have since been updated to ensure more fairness for low-level offenders.”

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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mandate aspect of Obamacare, the latest Kaiser Family Foundation says, while a minority of Americans want the law repealed.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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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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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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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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ABC News(WASHINGTON) — President Obama says his history-making 45-minute phone call with President Raul Castro of Cuba was “substantive” and blunt as it charted a new course for relations between the longtime rival nations.

“I was very insistent with him that we would continue to promote democracy and human rights and speak out forcefully on behalf of the freedom of the people of Cuba,” Obama said, offering exclusive new details of the secret conversation in an interview with ABC World News Tonight anchor David Muir.

“I think there’s the possibility by engaging, by making sure that the American people are able to travel to Cuba, that the Cuban people are able to see, firsthand, what American values are,” he said. “That is going to spur change among the people of Cuba. And that’s our main objective here.”

More of the interview will air on Good Morning America at 7 a.m. ET. In the wide-ranging conversation, Muir also asked Obama about Fidel Castro, the 2016 presidential race and the Hollywood hacking scandal.

The call, which took place Tuesday, marked the highest-level contact between the U.S. and Cuba in more than 50 years.

Obama said both he and Castro delivered “lengthy” opening statements on the call before engaging each other in dialogue.

It sealed 18 months of secret negotiations that resulted in the swap of three convicted Cuban agents for a U.S. intelligence informant held more than 20 years in Cuba. Concurrently, Cuba agreed to release jailed American Alan Gross on humanitarian grounds.

The president said Pope Francis played a “very important role” in bringing the leaders together, providing both “moral authority” and practical support for the talks.

“I think this is a good first step,” Obama told Muir of the call and prisoner swap.

The president said he has immediately ordered normalization of diplomatic relations with Cuba and a review of Cuba’s place on a government list of state sponsors of terrorism.

“The key issue here is to use that list based on facts, not based on ideology,” Obama said. ”If in fact Cuba is not aiding or abetting terrorist organizations they shouldn’t be on the list.”

Obama said Castro, who is 83 years old, didn’t signal any change in governing style or policy during the phone call but that generational changes inside Cuba are likely to inspire a future of friendlier relations.

The president’s announcement drew criticism from Republicans and Democrats.

Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Obama had “vindicated the brutal behavior of the Cuban government” and would “invite further belligerence” toward human rights and democracy advocates.

Former Florida governor and possible 2016 Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush accused Obama of rewarding Cuba. “We should instead be fostering efforts that will truly lead to the fair, legitimate democracy that will ultimately prevail in Cuba,” he said in a statement on Facebook.

Obama told Muir his critics’ beliefs are sincere but misplaced.

“We have the same objective,” Obama said. “Question is, how do we achieve it. There’s no indication that by trying to ratchet up more sanctions on top of the almost unequaled sanctions we’ve been maintaining on Cuba over the past 50 years that somehow that is going to loosen the grip of the power of the Castro brothers and the one-party state there.”

The White House has drawn comparisons between the Cuba of 2014 and modern China and Vietnam.

“We have diplomatic relations with a number of countries that don’t abide by democratic practices that we believe in and human rights practices that we believe in and rule of law that we believe in,” Obama said.

“There is evidence in other countries that when we open up and engage with them — that change happens,” he said. “The world has a way of seeping in.”

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ABC News(WASHINGTON) — President Obama says his history-making 45-minute phone call with President Raul Castro of Cuba was “substantive” and blunt as it charted a new course for relations between the longtime rival nations.

“I was very insistent with him that we would continue to promote democracy and human rights and speak out forcefully on behalf of the freedom of the people of Cuba,” Obama said, offering exclusive new details of the secret conversation in an interview with ABC World News Tonight anchor David Muir.

“I think there’s the possibility by engaging, by making sure that the American people are able to travel to Cuba, that the Cuban people are able to see, firsthand, what American values are,” he said. “That is going to spur change among the people of Cuba. And that’s our main objective here.”

More of the interview will air on Good Morning America at 7 a.m. ET. In the wide-ranging conversation, Muir also asked Obama about Fidel Castro, the 2016 presidential race and the Hollywood hacking scandal.

The call, which took place Tuesday, marked the highest-level contact between the U.S. and Cuba in more than 50 years.

Obama said both he and Castro delivered “lengthy” opening statements on the call before engaging each other in dialogue.

It sealed 18 months of secret negotiations that resulted in the swap of three convicted Cuban agents for a U.S. intelligence informant held more than 20 years in Cuba. Concurrently, Cuba agreed to release jailed American Alan Gross on humanitarian grounds.

The president said Pope Francis played a “very important role” in bringing the leaders together, providing both “moral authority” and practical support for the talks.

“I think this is a good first step,” Obama told Muir of the call and prisoner swap.

The president said he has immediately ordered normalization of diplomatic relations with Cuba and a review of Cuba’s place on a government list of state sponsors of terrorism.

“The key issue here is to use that list based on facts, not based on ideology,” Obama said. ”If in fact Cuba is not aiding or abetting terrorist organizations they shouldn’t be on the list.”

Obama said Castro, who is 83 years old, didn’t signal any change in governing style or policy during the phone call but that generational changes inside Cuba are likely to inspire a future of friendlier relations.

The president’s announcement drew criticism from Republicans and Democrats.

Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Obama had “vindicated the brutal behavior of the Cuban government” and would “invite further belligerence” toward human rights and democracy advocates.

Former Florida governor and possible 2016 Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush accused Obama of rewarding Cuba. “We should instead be fostering efforts that will truly lead to the fair, legitimate democracy that will ultimately prevail in Cuba,” he said in a statement on Facebook.

Obama told Muir his critics’ beliefs are sincere but misplaced.

“We have the same objective,” Obama said. “Question is, how do we achieve it. There’s no indication that by trying to ratchet up more sanctions on top of the almost unequaled sanctions we’ve been maintaining on Cuba over the past 50 years that somehow that is going to loosen the grip of the power of the Castro brothers and the one-party state there.”

The White House has drawn comparisons between the Cuba of 2014 and modern China and Vietnam.

“We have diplomatic relations with a number of countries that don’t abide by democratic practices that we believe in and human rights practices that we believe in and rule of law that we believe in,” Obama said.

“There is evidence in other countries that when we open up and engage with them — that change happens,” he said. “The world has a way of seeping in.”

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ABC News(WASHINGTON) — Marking an abrupt sea change in U.S. policy toward Cuba, President Obama said on Wednesday he is open to visiting the communist Caribbean country before he leaves office.

“I don’t have any current plans, but let’s see how things evolve,” Obama told ABC News’ World News Tonight anchor David Muir in an exclusive interview.

The president also told Muir he spoke by phone with Alan Gross, the American detained in Cuba for more than five years, as he flew back to Washington following his release from a Cuban prison.

“The first thing he said was, ‘Mr. President, for you I don’t mind interrupting my corned beef sandwich.’ So I told him he has mustard on his upper lip,” Obama joked. “But we had a nice conversation. He obviously is joyful about being reunited with his family.”

No sitting U.S. president has visited Cuba since Calvin Coolidge in 1928, according to the American Presidency Project at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

“I certainly wouldn’t rule out a presidential visit,” Obama spokesman Josh Earnest said earlier Wednesday.

“Like many Americans, he has seen that Cuba is a place where they have a beautiful climate and a lot of fun things to do,” he said. “So, if there’s an opportunity for the president to visit, I’m sure he wouldn’t turn it down.”

The White House says senior administration officials will immediately initiate direct contact with their Cuban counterparts to begin the process of normalizing diplomatic relations.

More of the interview will air on “World News Tonight” at 6:30 p.m. ET Wednesday. In the wide-ranging conversation, Muir also asked Obama about Fidel Castro, the 2016 presidential race and the Hollywood hacking scandal.

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iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — The Senate adjourned for the year late Tuesday evening, but there was one item on the Senate’s agenda left unaddressed: the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act, which expires at the end of the month.

Set up after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act, also known as TRIA, was established to help American businesses with insurance coverage in the case of a terrorist attack. Some have speculated that the Super Bowl may not be played if TRIA expires, though the NFL has insisted it will be played regardless.

The Senate was unable to come to an agreement on the TRIA legislation this week. Over the summer, the Senate passed a seven-year extension of TRIA. Last week, the House passed a measure that would extend TRIA for six years and would roll back limits placed on Wall Street bank provisions.

Democrats, like New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, opposed the changes to the Dodd-Frank legislation in the House bill on TRIA. But ultimately, it was objections from Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., that sank the bill.

Senate Democrats attempted to place the House’s TRIA program on the calendar Tuesday night, but Coburn blocked the bill from moving forward.

“Several weeks ago I warned Speaker Boehner that if he followed Jeb Hensarling’s dangerous gambit, he risked killing terrorism insurance. Tonight, Senator Coburn struck the final blow when he objected to bringing the bill to the floor,” Schumer said Tuesday. “We hope that next year, the House Republican leadership will work with us in the same bipartisan way that the Senate did when we passed a TRIA bill 93-4. We hope the House will pass a bill quickly because billions of dollars of projects and hundreds of thousands of jobs are at risk.”

The Senate was able to cross off many of the items on its to do list in the final days of session, ranging from issues like controversial nominees to tax extenders to the spending bill. But with the Senate now adjourned and the TRIA legislation set to expire at the end of the month, Congress will need to address TRIA early next year.

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