DERRICK CEYRAC/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — U.S. officials are downplaying the idea that U.S. Navy ships will intercept or board a convoy of nine Iranian ships suspected of carrying weapons to Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Officials say the carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt was moved closer to Yemen because of the deteriorating security situation in that country and to ensure that shipping lanes remain open.

“The USS Roosevelt along with (the cruiser) USS Normandy are operating in the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Aden with the very clear mission to ensure that shipping lanes remain open to ensure there is freedom of navigation through those critical waterways and to help ensure maritime security,” said Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman.

He criticized what he called “overcranked reporting” that the carrier and eight other Navy ships near Yemen could be preparing to intercept and board the convoy of nine Iranian ships, mostly freighters, believed to be headed to Yemen.

“Let’s be clear,” said Warren. “They have moved to that area in response to the deteriorating security situation in Yemen.”

Marie Harf, a State Department spokeswoman, said, “I think there was a lot of misreporting. I saw a lot of cable tickers today, ‘Ships Going there to Intercept Iranian ships,’ that is blatantly untrue. So this discrete movement of U.S. assets is for a discrete purpose. Are there all of these other ways we have of making clear to the Iranians what they should and shouldn’t do? Absolutely. So let’s just not get all spun up about something that’s not accurate.”

Saudi Arabia and a coalition of Arab nations have conducted airstrikes in Yemen against the Houthis to force an end to their military campaign and restore the government of President Hadi.

The U.S. official said it is more likely that the ships could instead be boarded by the Saudis or other coalition partners if they do in fact proceed toward a Yemeni port. Saudi Arabian and Egyptian ships have been patrolling the waters off of Yemen to enforce a U.N. Security Resolution that prevents the re-arming of the Iranian-backed rebels.

The official said the Iranian convoy remains in international waters 150 miles east of the Yemen-Oman border headed in a westward direction.

“We are continuing to watch this Iranian convoy,” said Warren. “They’ve not declared their intentions or what they are going to do.”

White House spokesperson Josh Earnest said at a press briefing on Tuesday that “the principle goal” of U.S. warships being deployed off the coast of Yemen “is to ensure the freedom of navigation and freedom of commerce.” The move, he added, sends “a clear signal about our continued insistence about the free flow of commerce and freedom of movement in the region.”

Currently the Navy has nine warships dedicated to the Yemeni situation operating in various areas of the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea.

The aircraft carrier Roosevelt and the USS Normandy are operating in the northern Arabian Sea while another group of ships including the amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima is operating further south in the waters east of the Yemen-Oman border.

A third group of vessels are operating near the Bab el Mandeb Strait between the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.

According to a spokesman for the Navy’s Fifth Fleet, these ships are moving back and forth across the strait several times a day exercising their right of passage. In doing so they’re acting as a deterrent to any force who might seek to disrupt shipping.

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Vacclav/iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — The White House is expected to make a statement on Friday on the centennial of the killings of 1.5 million Armenians by Ottoman Turks, but will not refer to the slayings as a “genocide,” as many advocates have called for President Obama to do, and as he promised to do while a presidential candidate in 2008.

“We know and respect that there are some who are hoping to hear different language this year,” said a senior administration official. “We understand their perspective, even as we believe that the approach we have taken in previous years remains the right one — both for acknowledging the past, and for our ability to work with regional partners to save lives in the present.”

Pope Francis caused controversy last weekend when he referred to the killings as a genocide. At his Sunday mass, the pope called the tragedy the first genocide of the 20th century.

As a presidential candidate in 2008, Obama wrote on his campaign website that “the facts are undeniable…an official policy that calls on diplomats to distort the historical facts is an untenable policy.” He further stated, directly “as President I will recognize the Armenian Genocide.”

Ken Hachikian, chairman of the Armenian National Committee of America, called Obama’s decision not to refer to the killings as a genocide “a national disgrace.” Put simply, he adds, “it is…a betrayal of trust.”

“Obama will, tragically, use the moral standing of our nation not to defend the truth, but rather to enforce a foreign power’s gag-rule,” Hachikian said.

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew will lead a Presidential delegation to the Armenian capital of Yerevan on April 24 for a ceremony.

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Win McNamee/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — While addressing students at Georgetown University Tuesday morning, former President Bill Clinton was asked if he was ever tempted to step out of public life due to scrutiny.

Clinton said he thought about it several times as governor of Arkansas, but he joked that “We’re not big on quitting in my family. You may have noticed that.”

Clinton made no direct mention of his wife or her campaign. He referred to the dramatic impact nonprofits, foundations and non-governmental organizations can have by pointing to the positive outcomes created by the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation and the negative impact of ISIS, which he referred to as a “formidable non-governmental organization.”

During his remarks, the former president focused on foreign affairs, discussing his work in Haiti and how Nelson Mandela unified the government in South Africa.

Clinton stressed public policy as a vehicle for change. He said politics can be the enemy of good policy because it blurs the connection between policies and their outcomes.

He also touched on his time at Georgetown, noting that three presidents of three different countries were in his graduating class.

Following his remarks, Clinton shook hands with attendees but avoided questions from the media.

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Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call(WASHINGTON) — The head of the Drug Enforcement Administration is stepping down in the wake of a scandal over DEA agents who allegedly participated in sex parties in Colombia with prostitutes paid for by drug cartels and hosted in government housing paid for by U.S. tax payers.

An administration official told ABC News that a formal announcement about DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart’s decision could come as early as Tuesday afternoon.

Last week, she was in the hot seat on Capitol Hill, trying to explain to an outraged congressional committee why she could not fire the DEA agents involved.

Members of the House Oversight and Governmental Affairs Committee were flabbergasted by Leonhart’s admission that the majority of the agents who participated in sex parties “are still on the job.”

Some of the agents received light punishments, including between two and 14 days of suspension without pay, but civil service protections made it difficult for the director to take more significant disciplinary action.

“It is embarrassing that you don’t fire that person,” Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, admonished the director.

The allegations involved conduct that occurred between 2001 and 2012, some of which were revealed in a Department of Justice Inspector General report last week.

Unlike Secret Service Director Julia Pierson, who was appointed director after the 2012 Cartagena prostitution scandal, Leonhart has been director since 2007, during the time some of the alleged conduct occurred. However, Leonhart said she did not become aware that DEA agents were having sex parties in Colombia until after the 2012 Cartegena scandal, which uncovered similar conduct by DEA agents.

The Inspector General’s report focused on how the four enforcement agencies housed in the Department of Justice, DEA, FBI, ATF and U.S. Marshals Service, handled misconduct allegations. The report found that in many cases, DEA supervisors in the field did not notify headquarters about allegations of misconduct. One regional director who failed to move cases involving sex parties further up the chain of command was merely counseled as a reprimand for his actions.

Some members raised the possibility of amending the Title V of the Civil Service Act to allow for more swift and server punishment for sexual misconduct. However, Chaffetz questioned whether the charges leveled at the agents involved with prostitutes were appropriate, suggesting that different charges could have resulted in dismissal.

Two weeks ago, Attorney General Eric Holder took the unusual step of issuing a memorandum to all Department of Justice employees expressly prohibiting the solicitation of prostitutes on or off duty in any foreign or domestic jurisdiction.

“Department employees who violate these prohibitions will be subject to suspension or termination,” the memo states. Supervisors who fail to report such conduct are also subject to discipline.

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Pete Souza / The White House(WASHINGTON) — The long wait for President Obama’s attorney general nominee to be confirmed might be over.

Loretta Lynch’s confirmation has been tied up with a Senate bill on human trafficking because the legislation has language on abortion funding that Democrats say they never approved.

Now Senate Democrats and Republicans have reportedly reached a deal to end the long standoff.

“Democrats and Republicans have come to an agreement on a path forward,” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Tuesday.

If the bill has been approved, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., would have to bring Lynch’s confirmation to the Senate floor.

When her confirmation does come to a vote, Lynch will likely be narrowly approved, with at least five Republicans supporting her.

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State Dept photo(WASHINGTON) — Secretary of State John Kerry says that the Americas are entering a new era of economic, political and social change.

“It is in fact a transformative moment for the Americas. And we are determined to deliver on the strategic and historic opportunities that together we can create,” he said Tuesday morning, speaking at the State Department during the Conference of the Americas.

Kerry said the U.S. is committed to continuing its partnerships and growing democracy in the region.

“To succeed we must do more to empower the people of our hemisphere in education, technology, open governance and innovation,” he said.

Kerry added, “To build and defend democracy is our shared mission. Now more than ever before in my lifetime, people of the Americas are truly united in that cause.”

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facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather Read More → — One of President Obama’s top goals before leaving office is to create a system whereby studying at a community college would be free for two years to anyone interested in enrolling at a local school.

The idea, called “America’s College Promise,” proposes three-quarters of the funding would be covered by the federal government, and states would pay for the remaining 25 percent. Students would have to attend at least half-time, maintain a 2.5 GPA or better, and remain enrolled.

Asked by Inside Higher Ed, with Gallup Education, whether such a proposal is feasible, fewer than four in ten of 213 community college presidents surveyed believe that states would go along with the plan, even after receiving federal assistance.

The college presidents also expressed concern about for-profit colleges, with 38 percent acknowledging that they’re losing students to these institutions.

Meanwhile, 77 percent of the respondents say there is a workforce skills gap in their communities. Close to nine in 10 have started programs with local businesses to address this problem.

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Gabriel Eckert/iStock/Thinkstock(DENVER) — A Colorado lawmaker says it’s time that children who are prescribed medical marijuana be allowed to use that marijuana at school.

The push began when a school in Jefferson County, Colorado, told a 14-year-old boy who suffers from cerebral palsy and relies on a cannabis patch along with low-THC oil to treat muscle spasms that he could no longer have access to his medication on campus because it was marijuana.

State Representative Jonathan Singer wants medical marijuana administered the same way as drugs like Adderall and Ritalin.

“If we can do this for heavy narcotics we can certainly do it for medical marijuana,” he said.

Singer is now working on a proposal that would change the law to allow children access to prescribed medical marijuana at Colorado schools.

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Andre Nantel/Hemera/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — At least two senators – Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky – have been briefed on the Clinton Cash book, ABC News has learned.

Corker, who is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told ABC News he was briefed by the book’s author, Peter Schweizer, two or three weeks ago. The briefing was conducted in Corker’s Senate office and consisted of a slideshow presentation.

Corker said he was the only lawmaker in the briefing, and it was not conducted through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

“Somebody sent me an e-mail and said that, you know, that he was in town and thought it would be worth my while to listen,” Corker said. “It was just me.”

Asked about the contents of the briefing, Corker only said, “I saw it, he seemed like he had done a lot of research, and but I don’t have any comment beyond that.”

Senator Rand Paul was also briefed on the book, but his aides repeatedly declined to provide any information about who conducted the briefing, what was said, where it was conducted, etc.

On Sunday, The New York Times wrote that members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee were briefed on the book, leaving many wondering who exactly was briefed.

“Members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which includes Mr. Paul and Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, have been briefed on the book’s findings, and its contents have already made their way into several of the Republican presidential candidates’ campaigns,” the NYT wrote.

ABC News reached out to all of the senators on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and only Corker and Paul confirmed they were briefed. Five Republicans and five Democrats on the committee said they did not receive a briefing.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-California, one of Hillary Clinton’s strongest defenders in the Senate, said any briefing “was clearly partisan in nature.”

“Today’s New York Times reported that members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee were briefed on the latest anti-Hillary Clinton book. As the longest serving member of the Committee, I was never briefed on the book and I know of no other Democrats on the Committee who were briefed on it,” Boxer said. “So if there was a briefing, it was clearly partisan in nature.”

“This is just another vicious, partisan and unfounded attack on Hillary Clinton,” she added.

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MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — President Obama seemed to get a little star-struck on Monday as he honored the Ohio State University Buckeyes for winning the first-ever college football playoff national championship.

After lauding the “character and characters” of the team, the president was working the room and shaking hands when he spotted two famous Buckeyes.

“Hold on a second, Archie Griffin is here!” the president exclaimed when he noticed the former running back and football’s only two-time Heisman Trophy winner in the audience.

Obama urged Griffin up on stage to take a photo with him and that’s when the sports-fan-in-chief eyed Cris Carter.

“Wow, Cris Carter!” he said, calling over the Hall of Famer, who looked equally starstuck to be meeting Obama.

The three then posed for a photo, but not before a few members of the team gave Carter an assist, wiping the sweat from his brow and straightening his tie.

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