Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images(CHICAGO) — It’s always been a dream of President Obama’s to designate a national park in freezing conditions, he joked at a speech Thursday in Chicago.

That’s what he did.

The president announced three new national parks, including one in a Chicago neighborhood he said he used to drive past every day on the way to his first job.

It was 6 degrees with winds up to 20 miles per hour in Chicago on Thursday, according to the National Weather Service, leading the president to share his nickname for the frigid streets of Chicago: “Chiberia.”

The visit took place only days before Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is up for re-election. The president praised the mayor, his former chief of staff, for fighting for the national park and for new opportunity and jobs in Chicago.

The three new parks — in Illinois, Colorado and Hawaii — are some of the 16 federal parks that Obama has created or expanded using the Antiquities Act, first used by Teddy Roosevelt in 1906 to create Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming.

Next year is the centennial of the National Park Service, and the new parks are part of a campaign to get Americans and students to “Find Your Park.”

Representatives of the White House declined to say how much the new parks would cost but said they expected it to balance out with increased visitation and economic benefit to cities around the parks.

Pullman Historic Neighborhood

The Pullman neighborhood was originally built in 1879 outside the city limits of Chicago to house workers employed by the Pullman Palace Car Company, many of whom were former slaves. It was a fully functioning city hailed as the first industrial town. It was one of the featured attractions at the 1893 World’s Fair Exhibition, according to the Historic Pullman Foundation website.

Pullman workers went on strike in 1894 when George Pullman lowered wages but not rent in the town, which prompted Congress to establish the Labor Day holiday only six days after the strike ended. In the 1920s, workers created the first black labor union.

“This place has been a milestone to our dream of building a more perfect union,” Obama said, calling the strikes the beginning of modern workers’ rights, such as a 40-hour work week, overtime pay and the right to organize.

The president and first lady have a personal connection to Pullman as well. Michelle Obama’s great-grandfather was one of the porters.

“Without this place, Michelle wouldn’t be where she is,” Obama said in his remarks.

The district became a national historic landmark in 1970 and as one of the first Chicago landmarks in 1972. It is now the first National Park unit in the city.

Browns Canyon

This more-than-21,000-acre section of central Colorado is a natural area that is home to many varieties of plants and wildlife. Browns Canyon is about two hours southwest of Denver and a nine-hour drive from the Grand Canyon in Arizona. Along the Arkansas River, the area is a destination for whitewater rafting and is surrounded by national forests.

Members of Colorado’s congressional delegation and the editorial board of the Denver Post endorsed federal protection of the land after mining claims threatened to disrupt the area, according to a 2013 Denver Post editorial.

Honouliuli Internment Camp site

About 10 miles from Pearl Harbor, the Honouliuli Internment Camp opened in 1943 and was used to confine up to 400 Japanese-American citizens and immigrants during World War II. Despite being the largest and longest-used internment camp, it was mostly forgotten until 2002.

The 160 acres on the island of Oahu were donated to the National Park Service by Monsanto, which has owned the land since 2007.

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Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) — Vice President Joe Biden will travel to New Hampshire next week, continuing a series of trips to early primary states that began last week in Iowa and continued this week in North Carolina and South Carolina.

According to the White House, Biden will spend his time in the Granite State speaking about the administration’s economic policies at the Warren B. Rudman Center for Justice, Leadership & Public Policy and taking part in a roundtable discussion at Manchester Community College. The latter event will focus on the importance of sending more American teens to college and the relationships between community colleges and employers.

The New Hampshire Republican Party released a statement on the trip on Thursday, calling Biden a “potential presidential candidate.” Biden has said he would consider making a run in 2016, but will not make that decision until sometime this summer.

“The New Hampshire Republican State Committee welcomes all potential presidential candidates — including Vice President Joe Biden — to our state to meet with voters and compete in our First in the Nation primary,” Republican State Committee Chairman Jennifer Horn said in a statement.

“Recent comments made by the chairman of the New Hampshire Democrat Party have made it clear that their party leadership is trying to coronate Hillary Clinton and stop challengers like Vice President Biden from even having the opportunity to debate her,” Horn added.

Horn called that approach an insult to “every potential Democrat presidential contender” and noted that it “undermines the traditions of our primary.”

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Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Secretary of Defense Ash Carter spoke to members of the military at the Pentagon Thursday for the first time since being sworn in earlier this week.

The event was originally scheduled to take place this past Tuesday — his first day on the job — but was postponed due to a snowstorm in Washington, D.C.

“I’m very pleased to be back with you. It’s the highest honor of my lifetime and the highest honor that I think an American can have to be a Secretary of Defense,” Carter said before Pentagon employees.

The new Defense secretary hit on the same three commitments he made in his White House remarks following his swearing in ceremony: A responsibility to care for those in uniform, providing the president with his best advice and preserving the military’s role for the future.

Carter said a challenge will be how to make military service appealing to the next generation.

“They behave differently, they think differently, they’ve grown up differently. They’re used to a different kind of environment around them, and we have to make ourselves attractive to them,” he said.

Carter also said he wants to work for better compensation for service members and strengthen forces in order to be prepared to combat security threats.

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SumikoPhoto/iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — President Obama announced a new initiative Thursday to encourage young children to visit national parks — but it’s not all young kids.

It’s specific to 4th graders.

The program, ‘Every Kid in a Park initiative,’ allows for free admission for fourth graders and their families to all national parks for a full year.

But what is so special about those awesome 9 and 10 year olds?

According to a White House official, the school grade was decided on for “logistical, educational and instructional reasons.”

“NPS and other land and water agencies already have 4th grade programming in place in many locations,” the official said. “Many states focus on state history during the 4th grade, which aligns well with what NPS and other land managers have to offer.”

The White House also points to 4th graders only having one teacher at that age, making it easier for them to reach the group, and research which shows the earlier a youth connects with the outdoors the better for their development long term.

The official pointed to age 11 as the last chance to make those important impacts and build a relationship with nature.

Teenagers younger than 16 can already access the parks for free, but there is a fee for adults accompanying them and for the family car. An annual nationwide family vehicle pass is $80.

The announcement comes as Obama is set to designate three new National Monuments on Thursday.

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Scott Olson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz on Thursday called on GOP presidential candidates to disavow comments made by former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani in which he said he doesn’t believe President Obama “loves America.”

Giuliani made the comments at a private dinner Wednesday featuring Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, according to Politico.

“I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America,” Giuliani said at the dinner in New York City, Politico reported. “He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country.”

Wasserman Schultz, in a speech to the Association of Democratic State Chairs at the DNC Winter Meeting Thursday in Washington, D.C., called on the possible candidates to “start leading.”

“One of the GOP frontrunners was sitting just feet away, and didn’t say a word,” the Florida congresswoman said, referring to Walker.

“If the Republican Party really wants to be taken seriously, really wants to avoid its problems of the past, now is the time for its leaders to stop this kind of nonsense. Enough…I would challenge my Republican colleagues and anyone in the Republican Party to say enough. They need to start leading,” she added.

Wasserman Schultz mentioned several of the possible contenders by name and said she “rarely agreed with President Bush, but I never questioned his love for our country. I don’t often agree with my Republican colleagues on the Hill, but I know they love America.”

She isn’t the only Democrat to speak out. In a news conference Thursday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio condemned Giuliani’s remarks but, of Walker said, “I hear a deafening silence.”

At the dinner, Giuliani said “with all our flaws we’re the most exceptional country in the world. I’m looking for a presidential candidate who can express that, do that and carry it out,” according to Politico. “And if it’s you Scott, I’ll endorse you,” he said. “And if it’s somebody else, I’ll support somebody else.”

Walker has not returned requests for comment from ABC News, but he said on CNBC’s Squawk Box, “The mayor can speak for himself. I’m not going to comment on what the president thinks or not. He can speak for himself as well.”

Giuliani tried to walk back the comments Thursday morning on Fox News, saying he is “not questioning his patriotism,” referring to the president.

“He’s a patriot, I’m sure,” Giuliani said. “What I’m saying is, in his rhetoric, I very rarely hear the things that I used to hear Ronald Reagan say, the things that I used to hear Bill Clinton say about how much he loves America.”

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Official White House Photo by Pete Souz

(NEW YORK) — President Obama isn’t doing such a great job, according to voters polled in three critical swing states.
Data from a Quinnipiac University poll shows voters in Colorado, Iowa and Virginia, disapprove by margins of 9 percentage points (43-52 percent in Colorado; 43-52 percent in Iowa; 44-53 percent in Virginia) of the job President Obama is doing.

“Events change and issues move on and off the front-burner, but President Barack Obama’s job approval stays relatively the same — low,” said Peter A. Brown, assisstant director of the Quinnipiac Poll. “That’s about where it has ben for most of the last few years.”

By even bigger margins, voters want the next president to change directions from President Obama’s policies.

“By margins of 24 points or higher, voters say they want the next president to change direction and not follow President Obama’s policies. Whether that desire for a new direction will hurt the eventual Democratic nominee in 2016, time will tell,” Brown said.

Voters in those states, however, support by wide margins, Obama’s proposal to increase taxes on higher income earners to reduce taxes on the middle class.

As for the current state of the economy, Brown said voters in all three states say their personal financial situation is improving, but “at this point the president is not getting much credit for the improving economy.”

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Kasim Ileri/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — President Obama has tapped State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki to replace Jen Palmieri as the next White House communications director.

In a statement Thursday, Obama praised Palmieri’s work over the past three years and said he will “miss her deeply — and I wish her success in the future.”

“I’d say Jen is irreplaceable — if Jen Psaki hadn’t agreed to step in. Jen worked on both my campaigns, she’s served in the White House, and she’s traveled the world as an advisor to Secretary [of State John] Kerry. I fully trust Jen — and I am thrilled she’s agreed to come back to the White House as Communications Director,” the president said.

Psaki said she was “honored” to be returning to the White House.

Honored to be rejoining the team @WhiteHouse in April, exciting two years for @BarackObama ahead. Wil miss incredible colleagues @StateDept

— Jen Psaki (@statedeptspox) February 19, 2015

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ABC News(WASHINGTON) — President Obama Thursday challenged the idea that terrorist groups like al Qaeda and the Islamic State are connected to the Islamic faith during remarks at the White house Summit to Counter Violent Extremism.

“These terrorists are desperate for legitimacy,” Obama said, which is why he said they target Muslim communities.

Speaking at the State Department on the third day of the summit, he called on countries to address the conditions, or “political grievances,” that terrorists exploit such as human rights violations, lack of free speech and tension between social groups.

“We need to break the cycle of conflict, especially sectarian conflict, that have become magnets for violent extremism,” he added.

The president said that the coalition of 60 countries that has been conducting air strikes against ISIS “will not relent” to destroy the organization in Iraq and Syria.

Obama said both wealthy and developing nations need to take steps to improve the economic situation around the world, though he said poverty alone does not prompt someone to become a terrorist.

Obama said many people in countries with small Muslim populations get a distorted impression from news coverage. He specifically called out groups like women and young people to help prevent potential recruits from joining terrorist groups.

“Young people are not tapped for hate, it doesn’t come naturally to them. We adults teach them,” he said.

Obama continued to say that everyone has to work to bring more positive attention to the Muslim community.

“Groups like al Qaeda and ISIL peddle the lie that some of our countries are hostile to Muslims,” he said, adding that “we can’t allow cycles of suspicion to tear at the fabric of our cultures.”

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Office of the Governor(SALEM, Ore.) — Oregon officially has a new governor.

Former Secretary of State Kate Brown was sworn on Wednesday as the state’s 38th governor.

Brown becomes the nation’s first openly-bisexual governor, taking over for fellow Democrat John Kitzhaber, who was entering his historic fourth term embroiled in an ethics scandal.

Brown said in her inaugural speech that her first priority is to strengthen the state’s public records laws and the state ethics commission.

“We must seize this moment to work across party lines to restore the public’s trust,” she said.

Kitzhaber and his fiancée Cylvia Hayes are under investigation by the FBI and the Oregon Attorney General for alleged influence-peddling.

Brown said on Wednesday she and no one in her family will accept compensation from outside sources.

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U.S. Senate(WASHINGTON) — Even before the official government conclusions have been issued, Sen. Richard Blumenthal is calling the video of a guardrail safety test “hideously shocking.”

“The damage done to the driver’s side is very simply supposed to not happen and so that final test is deeply disturbing and gives me strong reason to say there ought to be more testing,” Blumenthal, D-Conn., told ABC News on Wednesday.

Blumenthal was reacting to helicopter-shot video of a guardrail safety test conducted late last month in Texas, where the safety of Trinity Industries’ ET-Plus guardrail system — a system used on many roads across the country — is under the microscope.

The government ordered eight crash tests after Trinity was found late last year to have committed fraud when it modified the guardrail end terminal a decade ago but failed to tell state or federal officials about the change at the time.

Accident victims and critics say the modified guardrail end terminal can malfunction when struck from the front, sending pieces of metal through the car and potentially killing or dismembering its occupants.

The government said the ET-Plus system passed its first four crash tests, but it has not released the results of the last four. It’s the very last one, the eighth, that has proved controversial already after critics said the crash appeared to severely damage the driver’s side of the car. Trinity, however, disputes what it calls conclusions made far too early.

“You can’t judge a book by its cover, you can’t judge a crash test by pictures,” Jeff Eller, a Trinity spokesperson, told ABC News in the company’s first on-camera interview since ABC News started investigating the controversial guardrail last fall. “You’ve got to wait until all the data is analyzed, until it is looked at. Until you do that, you’re basically just making it up.”

Per the terms of the government’s agreement with Trinity on the crash tests, media was not allowed to take pictures on the ground during the crash tests, which is why early reactions on the test are based on aerial imagery from ABC News affiliate KSAT-TV in San Antonio and on reports from inside the testing. ABC News producer Tonya Kerr was present for the tests, including the final one.

“It was a significant impact and it looked like substantial damage compared to tests in the past,” Kerr said of the eighth test.

Kerr said she was told there was no “intrusion,” meaning the guardrail did not pierce the vehicle — the alleged recurring problem described by real life accident victims.

The controversy over the final test has already sparked a battle between expert witnesses from either side of the Texas case — one accident expert who said it appears the test was a “clear failure” and another who said the first expert’s assertion was, “premature, scientifically unsound and irresponsible.”

“It’s too soon to tell,” Eller said, echoing Trinity’s expert witness. “The data has to go to the Federal Highway Administration. They’ve got to take a look at it. They’re the ones who will make the final determination. And until then, anything other than waiting on that is nothing but pure speculation.”

That’s what state departments of transportation across the nation are doing now: waiting. More than half the states in the country have stopped installing ET-Plus guardrail systems on their roads and many said they are awaiting the results of the tests to see if they’ll be ripping out the ones that are already there.

Trinity has maintained that their guardrail system is safe and has noted that it was approved by the FHWA after questions were raised about the modifications in 2012. The company has also indicated it will appeal the fraud judgment against it.

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