Obama at Howard: ‘Passion is vital, but you got to have a strategy’

— President Barack Obama warned against a culture of political correctness on college campuses Saturday as he urged students at Howard University to engage in the political process at the local level.

In a commencement address at the historically black university in Washington, Obama said students should not attempt to block lectures and interrupt speakers with whom they disagree.

“Don’t do that,” he said, “no matter how ridiculous or offensive you might find the things that come out of their mouths.”

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Obama singles out student during commencement speech

CNN’s Fredricka Whitfield interviews one Howard University graduate who got a special shout out from President Obama during his commencement speech.

Citing the advice of his grandmother, Obama said: “Every time a fool speaks, they are just advertising their own ignorance. Let them talk.”

“Listen. Engage. If the other side has a point, learn from them. If they’re wrong, rebut them. Teach them. Beat them on the battlefield of ideas,” the President said. “One thing I can guarantee you: You will have to deal with ignorance, hatred, racism, foolishness, trifling folks. I promise you, you will have to deal with all that at every stage of your life. That may not seem fair, but life has never been completely fair. … And if you want to make life fair, then you’ve got to start with the world as it is.”

In delivering his first commencement speech of the 2016 graduation season — and the final year of his presidency — Obama made the case that action on issues important to black students, including mass incarceration and police behavior, require careful attention to local politics and a willingness to make bargains with those who hold opposing views.

“Let me ask you: How are you pressuring members of Congress to pass the criminal justice reform bill now before them?” he said. “If you care about federal policing, do you know who your district attorney is? Do you know who your state’s attorney general is? Do you know the difference? Do you know who appoints the police chief and who writes the police manual?”

Obama added: “Passion is vital, but you got to have a strategy. And your plan better include voting — not just some of the time, but all of the time.”

A call to participate

The President pointed to low voting rates among African-Americans in non-presidential election years.

“You don’t think that made a difference in terms of the Congress I’ve got to deal with?” he said. “And then people are wondering, ‘How come Obama doesn’t get this done, how come he doesn’t get that done?’ … You know what, just vote. It’s math. If you have more votes than the other guy, you get to do what you want.”

He cited Thurgood Marshall, a Howard law school graduate who went on to become the first black Supreme Court justice, noting that Marshall and his law partners filed “dozens of lawsuits” over a 20-year period before eventually winning the famous Brown v. Board of Education case, which ended school segregation.

“They knew it would not be easy. They knew it would not be quick. They knew that all sorts of obstacles would stand in their way. … They had discipline. They had persistence. They had faith — and a sense of humor. And they made life better for all Americans,” he said.

A case for compromise

Obama also told students that demanding politicians never bend might “make you feel good” but accomplishes little.

He told the students that he often tells his White House staff that “better is good,” because advancing a cause once means it’s easier to do so again.

He didn’t make any reference to the 2016 presidential campaign or particular politicians on Capitol Hill, but cited civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr.’s meetings with former President Lyndon B. Johnson to hash out bargains over the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act — even if those landmark laws didn’t accomplish everything King envisioned.

“You need allies in a democracy. That’s just he way it is. It can be frustrating and it can be slow, but history teaches us that the alternative to democracy is always worse,” Obama said.

“This is hard to explain sometimes: You can be completely right, and you still are going to have to engage folks who disagree with you. If you think that the only way forward is to be as uncompromising as possible, you will feel good about yourself, you will enjoy a certain moral purity, but you’re not going to get what you want. And if you don’t get what you want long enough, you will think the whole system is rigged,” leading to cynicism and anger, he said. “That’s how we cheat ourselves of progress.”

Obama also urged the students to empathize with “all people who are struggling, not just black people who are struggling — the refugee, the immigrant, the rural poor, the transgender person, and yes, the middle-aged white guy, who you may think has all the advantages, but over the last several years has seen his world upended by all the economic and cultural change and feels powerless to stop it. Got to get in his head, too.”

Obama touts progress

Obama began his speech with what he called a “hot take,” declaring that “America is a better place today than it was when I graduated from college.”

“It also happens to be better than it was when I took office, but that’s a longer story. That’s a different discussion for another speech,” he said to laughter and applause.

The President pointed to progress over time on issues such as racism, treatment of the LGBT community and income inequality, and said “if you had to choose one moment in history in which you could be born,” without knowing your circumstances ahead of time, “you wouldn’t choose 100 years ago. You wouldn’t choose the ’50s or the ’60s or the ’70s. You’d choose right now.”

Obama’s speech drew praise from Sen. Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican who chairs the Judiciary Committee.

He tweeted that “even conservatives would applaud it” — particularly the portion on campus speech.

Malia Obama to attend Harvard after gap year

— Malia Obama, the oldest of President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama’s two daughters, will attend Harvard University.

She’ll begin there in the fall of 2017, after taking a gap year, the White House announced Sunday. She’ll be a member of the class of 2021.

Obama said at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner on Saturday that his family plans to stay in Washington for two years after his presidency ends so that their youngest daughter, Sasha, can finish high school.

“Our decision has actually presented a bit of a dilemma because traditionally presidents don’t stick around after they’re done. And it’s something that I’ve been brooding about a little bit,” Obama joked during the comedy routine at the dinner, using it to launch into a video about what he’d do after leaving office — which featured Vice President Joe Biden and former House Speaker John Boehner.

He also joked that Michelle Obama is eager to “stay closer to her plot of carrots. She’s already making plans to see them every day.”

Malia Obama’s year-long deferral before her first year at Harvard is a route taken by about 80 to 110 students admitted students. Higher education experts tout the off-year as a way to travel, engage in a long-term special project or otherwise use the time in a constructive and meaningful way.

Malia Obama is far from the first child of a president to make a college decision while her father occupied the Oval Office.

Chelsea Clinton began her undergraduate studies at Stanford University in California in the fall of 1997 — before her father, Bill Clinton, departed office in early 2001.

George W. Bush’s twin daughters began college just months before their father’s election in 2000 — with Jenna Bush Hager attending the University of Texas and Barbara Pierce Bush attending Yale University, her father’s school. Both graduated in 2004, near the end of their father’s first term.

What to watch on Super Tuesday

— Donald Trump can’t lock up the Republican nomination Tuesday — but he can counter his two opponents’ divide-and-conquer strategy and reassert his dominance in the race by running the table in five states.

Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, could finally start to see the finish line. If she’s able to handily defeat Bernie Sanders, she could leave the Vermont senator with no real path to the Democratic nomination.

There are 172 Republican delegates at stake, and 384 up for grabs on the Democratic side, when Pennsylvania, Maryland, Connecticut, Delaware and Rhode Island vote Tuesday in the “Acela primary,” named after the high-speed train that shuttles commuters up and down the East Coast.

Here are five things to watch in Tuesday’s contests:

How big is Trump’s win?

The anti-Trump alliance is finally in place. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Trump’s last two foes still standing, have unveiled a divide-and-conquer strategy that will see Cruz focus his efforts on denying Trump a victory in Indiana, a key contest a week away, while Kasich campaigns in Oregon and New Mexico.

His opponents’ targets might have shifted, but make no mistake: A sweep would be an important victory for Trump — and a big step toward the 1,237 delegates he needs to clinch the GOP’s nomination.

The Cruz-Kasich alliance only came together, after Trump crushed the competition in New York and then made clear to his opponents that they had no real room in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Connecticut, Delaware and Rhode Island.

Trump’s go-to complaint now is that the GOP establishment’s only chance of slowing his roll to the nomination is to deny the democratic process and steal it from him.

Of Cruz, Trump told a crowd in West Chester, Pennsylvania, on Monday: “So we’re going to pick a guy that over a year got creamed, right? Got creamed. So you explain how that’s done. You would have a revolt!”

Whether Trump eventually racks up the delegate count he needs or not, big wins in Tuesday’s contests could drive that point home.

Just as important, even with Cruz and Kasich now finally on the same page in an attempt to stop Trump, more big victories could give pause to donors to the #NeverTrump movement.

Clinton looks to lock things up

She won’t hit the 2,383 delegates she needs to clinch the Democratic nomination Tuesday. But Hillary Clinton could come close enough to effectively decide the Democratic nomination if she wins big across the Northeast.

Clinton tried to nudge Sanders a bit Monday night in a town hall on MSNBC, noting that she has a much bigger lead right now than then-Illinois Sen. Barack Obama held at this stage over her in 2008.

“It was so much closer than the race right now between me and Senator Sanders,” she said.

Clinton also said she’s not buying the Sanders campaign’s belief that it can catch her in the total vote count when Democrats in delegate-rich California head to the polls in June.

“I am way ahead,” Clinton said. “Look, I have the greatest respect for Sen. Sanders, but really, what he and his supporters are now saying just doesn’t add up. I have 2.7 million more votes than he has. I have more than 250 more pledged delegates.”

Her win in the New York primary last week was a key moment as Clinton denied Sanders his last real opportunity to fundamentally alter the race. On Tuesday night, Clinton can solidify that victory and eliminate Sanders’ path to the nomination.

Will Sanders get any good news?

We have been here before.

After Clinton won big on Super Tuesday, she faltered in Michigan. And following her sweep of five big states on March 15, she watched Sanders reel off victories in six out of seven Western contests, slowing her momentum.

On Tuesday night, Sanders hopes for a similar moment to reassert his standing in the race.

Rhode Island looks like a good bet for Sanders, who has performed well in New England — winning New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine and coming close in Massachusetts.

But he faces long odds in the other four states on Tuesday’s calendar.

It could be enough to end his chances at winning the Democratic nomination.

Time is running out for Sanders, whose unexpected and meteoric rise has actually continued: He has now caught Clinton in national Democratic polls, and he has raised more money than she has in the campaign so far. However, those national polls don’t mean much now that most states have already voted, leaving him just 12 more contests where he can win delegates after Tuesday.

If he doesn’t pull off miracles Tuesday, Sanders will wake up the next day with tough decisions to make about the direction he wants to take the movement he’s led.

Will he battle on through California in an attempt to narrow the delegate gap and turn the Democratic National Convention into a bitter battle that he stands little chance of winning? Or will he look to carve out a different role for himself in Democratic politics?

What’s up with Pennsylvania?

The Keystone State is set for a chaotic night no matter how the immediate results pan out. That’s because 54 of Pennsylvania’s 71 directly elected delegates will enter the national convention unbound to any candidate.

Voters in each of the state’s 18 congressional districts will pick from a menu of names with no formal indication of whom they plan to support in Cleveland. To help their chances, the Cruz and Trump campaigns have sought out loyal supporters among the ranks of the delegate candidates and distributed those names to voters.

Still, state GOP rules do not bind those would-be delegates to what they tell the campaigns, or anyone else.

In all, more than 160 hopefuls will appear on the ballot Tuesday, with the Cruz campaign pushing for two write-in candidates. Of the more than 125 who spoke with CNN, about 20% say they’ll support Trump, while another 33% say they’ll back their congressional district’s winner — good news for Trump, who is poised to win the popular vote by a heavy margin.

Sixteen percent of respondents said they will support Cruz, while 10% said they planned to remain uncommitted, possibly until the convention. None of the candidates told CNN they planned to support Kasich.

The state’s rules could make for a chaotic process of sorting out who’s really won the state — and nothing will be certain until the first ballot at the Republican National Convention, anyway, since all 54 of Tuesday night’s delegate slot winners will be free to change their minds at any moment.

Can Cruz and Kasich win delegates?

It’s all but certain that Trump will romp on Tuesday night. But Cruz and Kasich are hoping to at least pick off a few delegates.

Cruz is eying Maryland as his best chance. The state awards 24 of its 38 delegates to the winners of congressional districts, three apiece. Cruz targeted the state’s rural areas, hoping to win one or two of Maryland’s eight districts.

Still, Cruz’s allies acknowledge Tuesday will be brutal.

“Some of these states — Connecticut, Rhode Island — these are Rockefeller-type Republicans. They’re not going to resonate with Cruz,” state Sen. Michael Hough, the chairperson of Cruz’s Maryland campaign told CNN. “Then in May, the map flips back.”

Cruz is already in Indiana, a state that votes May 3 and has 58 delegates up for grabs.

Kasich, meanwhile, looks poised to pick up a few delegates in Rhode Island, which awards its 19 on a proportional basis — and where Cruz might not reach the state’s 10% threshold to qualify for any delegates.

He also campaigned hard in Pennsylvania, despite its limited number of delegates available to be won on primary day.

“We’re going to have good results across these primaries. I’m very excited about what’s going to happen tomorrow,” Kasich said Monday in Philadelphia.

CNN’s Gregory Krieg contributed to this report.

Martin O’Malley challenges Hillary Clinton

— Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley took a major shot at Hillary Clinton on Sunday, saying the country needs a “new perspective” and “new leadership” in the 2016 election.

“Let’s be honest here,” O’Malley said. “The presidency of the United States is not some crown to be passed between two families.”

The Democrat’s comments, in an appearance on ABC’s “This Week,” are another signal that he’s likely to challenge Clinton in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary.

He’s focusing in recent weeks on issues like income inequality and wage stagnation — which liberal darling Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has made her signature, but that haven’t found a champion in the presidential race.

O’Malley said he won’t decide until this spring whether he’ll seek the Democratic nomination. But his shots at Clinton have been the most direct of any of the party’s likely challengers — with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders seeking to avoid the topic of Clinton at all costs.

Recalling the 2008 primary, when then-upstart Sen. Barack Obama challenged an inevitable-looking Clinton and won, O’Malley hinted he thinks Clinton could be defeated.

“History is full of times when the inevitable frontrunner is inevitable right up until he or she is no longer inevitable,” O’Malley said.


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Scott first black senator elected in South since Reconstruction

— South Carolina’s Tim Scott on Tuesday became the first African-American senator to win election in the South since Reconstruction.

The Palmetto State Republican was appointed by Gov. Nikki Haley to the office after former Sen. Jim DeMint resigned in November 2012.

In this year’s midterms, he outlasted Democratic challenger Joyce Dickerson.

The election was only to fill the last two years of DeMint’s term. Scott will have to run again in 2016 in order to earn a full six-year term.

Scott’s win also made him the first African-American in U.S. history to be elected to both the House and the Senate.

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus tweeted congratulations to Scott on Tuesday night, noting his “historic win.”

Scott discussed that history in a series of election-night tweets.

South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham was also re-elected Tuesday.


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