September 27, 2023

Under Obama, Little Progress on High-Level Jobs for Women

The White House has taken steps to even its gender balance in recent months with high-profile nominations like Samantha Power as ambassador to the United Nations and Susan E. Rice as national security adviser. But by most measures of gender diversity, including the proportion of women at cabinet level, the executive branch looks little different from 20 years ago, even as the House of Representatives, the Senate and corporate America have placed significantly more women in senior roles.

“There’s room for improvement, and we’ve seen some missed opportunities,” said Debbie Walsh, the director for the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. “We’re all watching the Fed to see what will happen there.”

Mr. Obama is choosing from a small pool of candidates for the Federal Reserve position — probably the most important economic appointment he will make in his second term. The finalists include Ms. Yellen, the Fed’s current vice chairwoman and a former Clinton administration official. The favored candidate among several top Obama aides is Lawrence H. Summers, the former Treasury secretary and Obama economic adviser.

Over all, Mr. Obama has named 13 women to cabinet-level positions, matching the historic high achieved by the Clinton administration. Mr. Obama has also put a record number of women in judicial slots, including two on the Supreme Court. Women make up about 42 percent of confirmed judges appointed by Mr. Obama, compared with 22 percent appointed by George W. Bush and 29 percent by Bill Clinton.

Yet the ratio of men to women in the administration is where it was two decades ago, if not a little more heavily male. The Obama administration has a smaller proportion of women in top positions than the Clinton administration did in its second term, for instance. Women hold about 35 percent of cabinet-level posts, compared with 41 percent for Mr. Clinton and 24 percent for Mr. Bush at similar points in their presidencies.

“The president’s commitment to diversity is second to none, and his track record speaks to it,” Alyssa Mastromonaco, the deputy chief of staff, said in an e-mail message. “This is a man who has appointed women as national security adviser, as White House counsel, as budget director and to lead the task of implementing our single most important domestic policy accomplishment,” namely Mr. Obama’s health care law. “This president has single-handedly increased the diversity of our courts, and he will continue to select from a field of highly qualified and diverse candidates for all federal posts.”

The Fed opening has stoked an unusually lively public debate, including questions about whether the Obama administration’s economic team is too insulated and too much of a “boy’s club,” in the words of some critics. “All else equal, I would not lightly dismiss the opportunity to break a glass ceiling,” said Jared Bernstein, a former Obama economic adviser and now at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, who lauded both Mr. Summers and Ms. Yellen on their merits.

Criticism became louder earlier this year after prominent office holders like then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis left the administration. Slots at the departments of State, Defense and the Treasury that many liberals had hoped would go to female candidates ended up being filled by men.

Mr. Obama himself responded to the criticism. “I would just suggest that everybody kind of wait until they’ve seen all my appointments, who is in the White House staff and who is in my cabinet, before they rush to judgment,” Mr. Obama said at a news conference in January as he was starting his second term. “Until you’ve seen what my overall team looks like, it’s premature to assume that somehow we’re going backwards. We’re not going backwards, we’re going forward.”

Since those remarks, he has named a series of women to top posts, including for interior secretary, commerce secretary, budget director and director of the Environmental Protection Agency.

But speaking privately, some administration officials have said that imbalance has resonated within the building and caused the White House to put a priority on considering female candidates earlier this year.

As of June 2012, 43 percent of Mr. Obama’s appointees had been women, according to a New York Times analysis of federal employment data. That is about the same proportion as in the Clinton administration, and up from the roughly one-third appointed by George W. Bush.

The largest gains in the number of women in the executive branch occurred in the Clinton administration. In no administration before his did women hold more than 18 percent of cabinet-level jobs; in his second term, the share exceeded 40 percent. At that level, women held a substantially larger share of senior roles in the executive branch than they did in Congress or in corporate America. During Mr. Clinton’s presidency, no more than nine women were ever serving in the Senate, whereas 20 do today.

The share of women holding board seats on Fortune 500 companies has also risen over the last two decades, to 16.6 percent last year from 9.6 percent in 1995, according to Catalyst. The executive branch continues to have a larger share of women in senior roles than Congress or corporate America, but it has also changed less since the 1990s.

Several White House officials bristled at the suggestion that gender would play any role in the Federal Reserve decision, and at the notion of any sort of institutional bias within the White House, which has approximately half male and half female employees.

A former Obama and Clinton administration official said that concerns about gender had perhaps been more prominent in Washington in the 1990s. The Clinton administration had an overt and open policy of trying to make the administration “look like America.” The Obama administration makes a priority of naming women to high-ranking positions, but the goal is not as pressing, the official said.

Another former Obama administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, suggested that Mr. Obama might feel inoculated against criticism were he to name Mr. Summers or another man for the Federal Reserve position because of his recent record in promoting women.

Other experts argued that the administration should be judged not just on its appointment record but on its broader record.

“It’s important to look at the bigger picture,” said Victoria A. Budson, the executive director of the women and public policy program at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. “It’s not so much about how many women, but are women represented, are the policies helping women?”

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Housing Stronger, Fannie Mae Posts $10 Billion Profit

Fannie said on Thursday that it would pay a dividend of $10.2 billion to the United States Treasury next month. It made no request for additional federal aid.

The company said the rise in home prices during the quarter enabled it to reduce reserves set aside for losses on mortgages, helping to bolster its net income.

The earnings for the period from April through June compared with the company’s net income of $5.1 billion in the second quarter of 2012.

The government rescued Fannie and its smaller sibling, Freddie Mac, during the financial crisis after both incurred major losses on risky mortgages. The companies received loans totaling about $187 billion.

Fannie said it expected to remain profitable “for the foreseeable future.”

Once the second-quarter dividend is paid, Fannie will have repaid $105 billion of the roughly $116 billion it received from taxpayers.

The latest quarterly gain followed a record $58.7 billion net income in the first quarter, when Fannie capitalized on tax benefits it had saved from its losses on loans during the crisis. It paid a first-quarter dividend of $59.4 billion to the Treasury.

The housing recovery that began last year has made Fannie and Freddie profitable again. Together they will have paid back about $146 billion of their government loans by next month. Those payments are helping make this year’s federal budget deficit the smallest since President Obama took office in 2009.

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News Analysis: Washington Steps Warily On Housing

Instead, the stopgap nationalization of housing finance has hardened into one of the most enduring legacies of the Great Recession. The federal government guaranteed about 87 percent of new mortgage loans last year, through Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and the Federal Housing Administration, effectively setting the terms and providing the money for nine out of 10 home purchases and refinanced loans.

In a speech on Tuesday, President Obama signaled that Washington may finally be returning to the place where the financial crisis started. With the housing market on the mend, Mr. Obama said it was time to “wind down” Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

“I believe that our housing system should operate where there’s a limited government role and private lending should be the backbone of the housing market,” Mr. Obama said in Phoenix, a city that is a symbol of both housing booms and busts.

The president praised a bipartisan Senate effort to replace Fannie and Freddie with a system that would charge lenders for explicit government guarantees of some mortgage loans. And while there is a risk that the cost of borrowing would increase, Mr. Obama also said that he wanted to preserve the wide availability of the 30-year, fixed-rate loans that are preferred by most Americans.

House Republicans are proposing a sharper retreat, preserving only the government’s support for lending to lower-income families. Proponents say it, too, would preserve the availability of 30-year fixed-rate loans, though they are not widely available in countries without government-backed systems.

“Washington has suddenly come alive on housing finance reform,” said David Stevens, president of the Mortgage Bankers Association, who headed the Federal Housing Administration during Mr. Obama’s first term. “We saw nothing substantive prior to this year, but now we’re in a housing recovery and the odds have clearly improved given that both the House and Senate have weighed in.”

For all the talk, however, it will be difficult to alter the government’s role in housing finance, which has remained substantially unchanged for half a century — notwithstanding Fannie and Freddie’s move from informal to formal wards of the state. That is because Americans like cheap mortgage loans and it is hard to preserve the benefits without the costs of the current system.

Fannie, Freddie and the Federal Housing Administration backed 87 percent of new mortgage loans over the last five years, the same share they backed in 2012, according to estimates by Inside Mortgage Finance, a trade publication. In the years before the crisis, less than 40 percent of the market was government-backed.

The government’s heavy hand is holding down interest rates, helping the housing market and the broader economy to recover. The average rate on a 30-year loan was 4.37 percent in July, according to Freddie Mac, a full percentage point above rates earlier in the year, but still very low by historical standards.

There is growing concern, however, that the government’s risk aversion and the absence of private competition are suppressing the availability of loans. The average credit score for borrowers whose loans were bought by Freddie Mac rose to 756 in 2012 from 720 in 2006, according to its securities filings.

“Every few days somebody comes in who in my mind should be able to get a mortgage loan, and I have to turn them away,” said Louis Barnes, a mortgage lender with the Premier Mortgage Group in Boulder, Colo. “It’s like trying to push ice cream out of the wrong end of the ice cream cone.”

Mortgage companies, backed by some federal officials, say Fannie and Freddie are being too aggressive in pursuing refunds from lenders when borrowers default, leading lenders to reject applicants they deem even mildly risky.

Other critics of Fannie and Freddie make the opposite point, that government support for housing, by making mortgage loans more affordable, is distorting the economy. The government, they say, is subsidizing homeownership, with much of the benefit flowing to affluent Americans, at the expense of biomedical research or bridge repairs.

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ABC News Dethrones NBC in Crucial Ratings Race

One year after a significant reordering of television’s morning shows swept ABC into first place in the ratings race, the same thing might be happening in the evening.

ABC’s 6:30 p.m. newscast, “World News With Diane Sawyer,” bested “NBC Nightly News With Brian Williams” among 25-to-54-year-old viewers last week, ending a winning streak of almost five years by NBC and rekindling interest in the once-predictable ratings competition.

NBC remained on top among total viewers. But ABC’s win was significant because television ads on news programs are bought and sold based on the coveted demographic of 25- to 54-year-olds. Ms. Sawyer has been seeking to snap Mr. Williams’s streak in that category ever since she took over “World News” from her colleague Charles Gibson in 2009.

ABC said the victory was its first since the week of Nov. 17, 2008, shortly after the election of President Obama.

It was a narrow victory: 38,000 viewers in the relevant age group separated the two shows. Partly for that reason, people at NBC News cautioned that the results could be a one-time aberration. Last spring and summer, though, those same people saw their prized morning show, “Today,” fall to second place behind ABC’s “Good Morning America,” first in total viewers and then in the 25-to-54-year-old demographic. The first time “G.M.A.” won, the gap was just 31,000 total viewers. Now its streak is nearly a year old, and it wins every week by an average of 650,000 viewers.

In the evenings, “World News” and the third-place “CBS Evening News With Scott Pelley” have shown some momentum this year at the expense of “NBC Nightly News,” which Mr. Williams has anchored since 2004. “This is just one week, so it is clearly too early to talk about a sea change in the evening,” said Amy Mitchell, the director of journalism research at the Pew Research Center. “But if you look at it alongside the larger NBC News narrative, this is one more sign of a chipping-away at their long-dominant news ratings.”

The battle between NBC News, a unit of Comcast, and ABC News, a unit of the Walt Disney Company, has been evident at other hours of the day as well. Some at NBC were pleased when ABC’s late-night program “Nightline” was moved an hour later to make way for “Jimmy Kimmel Live” in January; some at ABC were equally pleased when Mr. Williams’s prime-time newsmagazine, “Rock Center,” was canceled in May. (Its last broadcast was on June 21.)

At both networks’ news divisions, hundreds of millions of dollars in advertising revenue is on the line every year. While that represents just a tiny fraction of the total revenues of their parent companies, the news divisions are expected to post a profit and show growth, which is not easy at a time of stepped-up competition on television and online.

As is the custom in these bitterly contested ratings competitions, NBC’s news release about the 6:30 ratings on Tuesday made no mention of ABC’s gains; it simply excluded the 25-to-54-year-old viewership totals and emphasized that “Nightly News” had been winning among total viewers for years.

For NBC, which is still struggling to right itself in the mornings, a more permanent loss to ABC in the evenings would be doubly embarrassing. Turning around the “Today” show has been identified as the top task for Deborah Turness, a British news executive who will start as president of NBC News next Monday. The ratings results last week suggest that shoring up “Nightly News” will be a priority as well.

Among total viewers, “Nightly News” had an average of 7.54 million last week, besting “World News” by about a quarter of a million. Over all, ratings for the big three nightly newscasts have held relatively steady for the last couple of years after decades of slow and steady erosion. About 22.1 million people watched one of the three programs on an average weeknight in 2012, down 2 percent from an unusually strong 2011.

The ratings, of course, bestow bragging rights upon the best-performing network. On Tuesday, the executive producer of “World News,” Michael Corn, bought pizza for his staff ahead of a more elaborate newsroom celebration planned for later in the week. In a statement, Mr. Corn thanked the viewing audience and added: “We have a lot more work to do. We’re just getting started.”

In a twist that television industry gawkers immediately homed in on, the victory was shared by Ms. Sawyer and one of her regular fill-ins, David Muir. That was because Mr. Muir substituted for Ms. Sawyer three nights last week — the same three nights, it turned out, that ABC beat NBC in the all-important ratings demographic. Mr. Williams prevailed, barely, on the two nights that Ms. Sawyer was at work.

Mr. Muir, who usually anchors “20/20” and the weekend editions of “World News,” and George Stephanopoulos, who hosts “G.M.A.” and moderates “This Week,” are widely seen in the industry as the two most likely successors to Ms. Sawyer. For now, that is purely theoretical; Ms. Sawyer, who became the anchor at the end of 2009, has given no signal that she plans to step down soon.

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College Enrollment Falls as Economy Recovers

College enrollment fell 2 percent in 2012-13, the first significant decline since the 1990s, but nearly all of that drop hit for-profit and community colleges; now, signs point to 2013-14 being the year when traditional four-year, nonprofit colleges begin a contraction that will last for several years. The college-age population is dropping after more than a decade of sharp growth, and many adults who opted out of a forbidding job market and went back to school during the recession have been drawn back to work by the economic recovery.

Hardest hit are likely to be colleges that do not rank among the wealthiest or most prestigious, and are heavily dependent on tuition revenue, raising questions about their financial health — even their survival.

“There are many institutions that are on the margin, economically, and are very concerned about keeping their doors open if they can’t hit their enrollment numbers,” said David A. Hawkins, the director of public policy and research at the National Association for College Admission Counseling, which has more than 1,000 member colleges.

The most competitive colleges remain unaffected, but gaining admission to middle-tier institutions will most likely get easier.

Colleges fear that their high prices and the concern over rising student debt are turning people away, and on Wednesday, President Obama again challenged them to rein in tuition increases. Colleges have resorted to deeper discounts and accelerated degree programs. In all, the four-year residential college experience as a presumed rite of passage for middle-class students is coming under scrutiny.

The most striking signs of change came from Loyola University New Orleans and St. Mary’s College of Maryland. After the usual May 1 deadline for applicants to choose a college, Loyola and St. Mary’s each found that their admission offers had been accepted by about one-third fewer students than expected. Both institutions were forced to make millions of dollars in budget cuts and a late push for more enrollment.

Loyola made a flurry of calls to students who had been accepted but had decided to go elsewhere, and had even paid deposits to other colleges. Professors and administrators who usually are not involved in the process made calls, along with the admissions officers, “and we did invite them to see if there was more we could do with aid,” said Roberta Kaskel, the interim vice president for enrollment management.

Many colleges traditionally round out their classes with a small number of students admitted after May 1, often taken from their waiting lists, and miscalculations as big or as damaging as those by St. Mary’s and Loyola are rare. But consultants hired by families to help with the admissions process say that this spring and summer, they have seen more colleges actively hunting for students, reaching out to those who had turned them down, or even to students who had never applied.

“After May 1, I got e-mails from three or four colleges saying, ‘We’ve still got spots, and we’re looking for people to fill them,’ and I don’t remember getting any in the past,” said Lisa Bleich, an admissions consultant in Westfield, N.J.

“I had a client who had committed to one school, and then changed her mind and said she wanted to go to the University of Pittsburgh, where she had also been accepted,” she said. “They weren’t actively looking for more, but they agreed to take her, when a few years ago, they would have said, ‘No, we don’t have any space.’ ”

This summer, Randolph College in Virginia sent letters to students who had not applied but had strong academic credentials, saying that they had “been selected for admission” in the fall, and offering them financial aid. Randolph’s case is unusual, in that it is expanding, but it shows the lengths colleges will go to, to meet their enrollment targets.

“This is the first time we’ve tried this particular approach,” said Mike Quinn, the vice president for enrollment management. “Sometimes offering these qualified students a more generous grant will prompt them to start a conversation with us.”

Don McMillan, an admissions consultant in Boston, said his office fielded calls this week from families in Saudi Arabia and Italy, hoping to find their children places for a school year that, in some cases, is just a month away.

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Michael Hastings, 33, Winner of Polk Award, Dies

His death, in a car crash in Los Angeles at about 4:30 a.m., was confirmed by his wife, Elise Jordan. Mr. Hastings was believed to have been alone in the car, which struck a tree at high speed, according to the Los Angeles County Coroner’s office. He lived in New York City.

In 2010, Mr. Hastings won a George Polk Award, presented by Long Island University for reporting in the public interest.

The award honored his Rolling Stone magazine cover story, “The Runaway General,” published that June. In it, Mr. Hastings profiled Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, then the top commander of United States forces in Afghanistan.

The article quoted the general and members of his staff making disparaging comments about members of the Obama administration, including Vice President Joseph R. Biden, with respect to their handling of the Afghan campaign. Within days of its publication, President Obama met with General McChrystal in the Oval Office before firing him, ending his 34-year military career.

An inquiry into the article by the Defense Department inspector general the next year found “insufficient” evidence of wrongdoing by the general, his military aides and civilian advisers.

The inspector general’s report also questioned the accuracy of some aspects of the article, which was repeatedly defended by Mr. Hastings and Rolling Stone.

Mr. Hastings was a contributing editor at Rolling Stone at his death and had also written for GQ and Newsweek magazines.

Michael Mahon Hastings was born on Jan. 28, 1980, in Malone, N.Y. After attending Connecticut College, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from New York University.

As a young correspondent for Newsweek, Mr. Hastings covered the Iraq war. His fiancée, Andrea Parhamovich, followed him there, taking a job with a nongovernmental organization. She was killed in 2007 when her car was ambushed by Sunni insurgents.

Mr. Hastings’s memoir of the experience, “I Lost My Love in Baghdad: A Modern War Story,” was published in 2008.

Besides his wife, Mr. Hastings is survived by his parents, Brent and Molly Hastings; two brothers, Jeff and Jon; and his grandmother, Ruth Mahon.

His other books are “The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America’s War in Afghanistan” published last year, and “Panic 2012: The Sublime and Terrifying Inside Story of Obama’s Final Campaign,” published in January.

Daniel E. Slotnik contributed reporting.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: June 19, 2013

An earlier version of this obituary, using information from the family, misstated the name of Mr. Hastings’s surviving grandmother. She is Ruth Mahon, not Ruth Mahon Hastings.

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Holder May Rein In Prosecutors on Leaks

According to an adviser familiar with the deliberations, Mr. Holder has discussed expanding a requirement for high-level review of proposed subpoenas for reporters’ phone records so that it would include e-mails. He is also examining whether to tighten a standard for when officials may seek such records without giving prior notice to the news organization.

President Obama has given Mr. Holder until July 12 to make his proposals, and Mr. Holder wants to complete an overhaul of department regulations on leak investigations before his tenure is over, said the adviser, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the deliberations are preliminary. Mr. Holder has given no indication that he intends to step down any time soon, however.

The Thursday meeting was intended to seek additional ideas and lay the groundwork for an internal push if prosecutors and intelligence officials balk at giving up some powers in leak investigations, the adviser said. Further meetings with both news organizations and government officials are planned, including another news media session on Friday.

The first news media meeting was off the record, and The New York Times was among several organizations that were invited but did not attend because it objected to that condition. At least two active leak investigations and cases involve Times reporters.

Representatives from The Daily News of New York, The New Yorker, Politico, The Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post did attend, according to several participants. The group gathered in a conference room near the office of the deputy attorney general, James Cole, and met with him, Mr. Holder, and seven other officials. The meeting started after 5 p.m. and lasted more than an hour.

Mr. Holder began, they said, by acknowledging criticism that the Justice Department had tipped too far toward aggressive law enforcement and away from ensuring the free flow of information to the public. He expressed a broad commitment to update internal guidelines, including steps to reflect changes in technology since they were written three decades ago.

Several of the news media representatives, participants said, told the officials that leak investigations have had a chilling effect on both reporters and government officials. They urged more rigorous procedures for internal review of subpoena requests, including the scope of any records sought and whether to provide advance notice, and argued that there needed to be more internal and external checks and balances on prosecutors.

There have been previous efforts to consider revising the investigative guidelines. In 2003, for example, a group of lawyers representing The Associated Press, Gannett, The Washington Post and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press worked with Patrick Kelley, then the acting general counsel of the F.B.I., to develop a proposal.

The media lawyers eventually submitted a draft text and section-by-section analysis to the F.B.I. But after the 2004 election and turnover at the Justice Department, the Bush administration lost interest and dropped it, according to David Schulz, a media lawyer who led the informal project.

The 2004 proposal would in some ways have gone further than what has been initially discussed at the Justice Department. It would have expanded an existing rule that offers some protection from subpoenas for a reporter’s call logs so that it would also to cover other types of investigative tactics, like going through a reporter’s trash or obtaining a reporter’s credit card and travel records. The existing rule requires that before issuing a subpoena for phone records, other ways of obtaining information must be tried first, and the attorney general must sign off.

The 2004 proposal did not, however, contain several other ideas that Mr. Holder has discussed, according to the adviser. One example is a proposal to require prosecutors to have the Justice Department’s public affairs officials review a request for a reporter’s records before seeking the attorney general’s approval for a subpoena.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: June 1, 2013

An article on Friday about a series of meetings Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. has begun holding with leaders of some news media outlets misstated the surname of a media lawyer who led a project to consider revising the guidelines that the Department of Justice uses to investigate journalists. He is David Schulz, not Schultz.

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Holder Faces a New Round of Criticism

This time it is the news media and even some Democrats who are upset with Mr. Holder, who in recent days has taken steps seemingly aimed at assuaging them. He endorsed the enactment of a “media shield” law and invited leaders of news organizations to meet with him Thursday to discuss tightening rules on warrants and subpoenas for reporters’ records as part of leak investigations.

Even as Mr. Holder has sought to regain his footing, Republicans have resumed their criticism, accusing him of misleading Congress in testimony over whether the Justice Department has considered prosecuting journalists under the Espionage Act for publishing government secrets.

In a letter Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee chairman, Representative Robert W. Goodlatte of Virginia, and a Republican colleague, Representative Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, expressed “great concern” about Mr. Holder’s testimony before the committee this month, saying it “appeared to be at odds” with court documents that have come to light involving a warrant for e-mails of James Rosen, a Fox News reporter.

The prospect of a new round of perjury accusations from Congress has underscored that the furor over the leak investigations might pose a new threat to Mr. Holder, who surprised many Democrats by choosing to stay on after Mr. Obama’s re-election. For now, Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee are standing by Mr. Holder, even though the ranking member, Representative John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, pronounced himself “deeply troubled” by some of the investigative tactics used in recent leak cases.

“Certainly, it is fair to ask additional questions about the Rosen investigation, and any role the attorney general may have played in it, but I do not believe it credible to level charges that he may have intentionally misled the committee on this matter before we know the facts of the case in question,” Mr. Conyers said.

In his only recent interview, Mr. Holder told The Daily Beast that the investigations obeyed existing laws and guidelines, but he also said the rules “need to be updated.” He called the furor “an opportunity for the department to consider how we strike the right balance between the interests of law enforcement and freedom of the press.”

The Daily Beast article also paraphrased unnamed aides as saying Mr. Holder was “also beginning to feel a creeping sense of personal remorse.”

Reid Weingarten, a lawyer who has been a friend of Mr. Holder’s for three decades, said Mr. Holder had discussed no such feelings with him. Rather, Mr. Weingarten said, the disclosure to Fox News of the existence of a rare intelligence source in North Korea was “a horrible leak and he was charged with the responsibility to get at it.” That raised what he said Mr. Holder described to him as a trade-off between press freedoms and the need to identify leakers — a problem for which there are no easy answers because it pits “two laudable goals” against each other.

“He’s not immune from the criticism, but I think he sees this First Amendment-security conflict as almost impossibly difficult,” Mr. Weingarten said, adding: “He hasn’t confessed or cried to me, that’s for sure. What I sense in conversations with him is how horribly difficult the dilemma is when you have this situation. It’s important to get it right, and if we didn’t get it right — and that’s a big if — let’s button up the process now.”

Matthew Miller, a friend and former top aide to Mr. Holder, portrayed the attorney general’s proposal to tighten laws and guidelines on when news media records may be obtained as coming out of a realization that one cannot expect law enforcement officials to do anything less than what the rules permit when pursuing a particular case.

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Bucks Blog: Mortgage Relief Offered to Oklahoma Tornado Victims

The remains of a home in Oklahoma damaged by a tornado.Reuters The remains of a home in Oklahoma damaged by a tornado.

The federal government has imposed a 90-day moratorium on foreclosures of homes with mortgages owned or backed by the Federal Housing Administration in areas of Oklahoma devastated by this week’s tornado.

On Tuesday, President Obama declared five counties in Oklahoma to be disaster areas, allowing the Department of Housing and Urban Development to offer foreclosure relief and other housing aid to certain families living in those counties.

The moratorium applies to borrowers with mortgages insured by the F.H.A. who live in Cleveland, Lincoln, McClain, Oklahoma and Pottawatomie counties.

The action applies to new foreclosures, as well as those already in progress. In addition, the agency told lenders and loan servicers that it “strongly recommends” additional help for homeowners directly affected by the tornado, including waivers of late charges, mortgage modifications and refinancing.

H.U.D. also offers various programs to help victims refinance and rebuild their homes. In some cases, the agency will assist victims in obtaining 100 percent financing, including closing costs, to buy a new home or repair an existing one, if they use F.H.A.-approved lenders.

If homeowners are uncertain whether their mortgage is F.H.A.-insured, and don’t have access to their loan documents, they can call their loan servicer — the company to which they send their payments — or call 1-800-CALL-FHA. Generally, the agency can use the property’s address to tell if the loan is F.H.A.-insured.

Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, the two mortgage finance giants, also reminded loan servicers about mortgage relief available to victims of disasters like the Oklahoma storms.

Freddie Mac said servicers can offer forbearances — agreements to suspend or reduce payments — for up to a year. “We strongly encourage borrowers to contact their servicers, who are fully authorized to work with them on a case-by-case basis,” the company said in a statement.

Fannie Mae said that because it may be difficult to reach homeowners after a disaster, servicers can grant payment relief even if they can’t contact the homeowner right away.

In addition to delaying foreclosure actions, H.U.D. reminded lenders that payments made by insurance companies should go to the borrowers to assist in repairing or rebuilding the home, not used to pay down an existing loan balance.

Have you sought mortgage relief following a natural disaster? What happened?

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New York Times/CBS News Poll: Unity on Issues Falls to Politics

That disconnect could explain why Democrats and Mr. Obama are still struggling to translate public support into tangible political backing for their initiatives. Americans did not give Mr. Obama high marks for his handling of those issues — even though more than two-thirds of Americans over all, including a majority of Republicans, disapprove of the way Republicans in Congress are handling their job.

“I’m for stricter gun laws, but the reason I favor the Republicans over the Democrats and the liberals on gun laws is because they have always been against the Second Amendment and the right to own guns,” said Jim Hensley, 69, a Republican from Grandville, Mich., in an interview after the poll was conducted.

“Yes, I believe the Republicans should have voted for background checks, and they should not legalize automatic weapons,” Mr. Hensley added. “I was against the repeal of the ban on automatic weapons, and I don’t support the N.R.A. But it’s like marriage. You stick with your wife no matter what, and you don’t just ditch your political party on one issue.”

Two weeks after a bipartisan measure that would have expanded background checks for gun buyers was defeated in the Senate, nearly 9 in 10 of those surveyed said they favored background checks on all gun buyers, and 6 in 10 said they were disappointed or angry with the vote.

On immigration, 83 percent of respondents said they supported a path to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants already in the country illegally, as long as certain requirements — like paying fines and back taxes, passing a criminal-background check and learning English — were met. And nearly 6 in 10 favored a combination of cutting spending and raising taxes to reduce the federal deficit, echoing the plans being pushed by Mr. Obama and Congressional Democrats.

Yet Americans are closely divided on whether Republicans would handle these issues better than Mr. Obama, the poll showed.

Both stricter gun laws and an immigration overhaul received strong support from Republicans, with 86 percent favoring background checks on all potential gun buyers, and 83 percent favoring a path to citizenship if certain requirements were met. Last month, a bipartisan group of eight senators proposed such immigration legislation, which would offer a 13-year path to citizenship, as well as require certain border security measures.

Only 41 percent of those surveyed approved of Mr. Obama’s handling of gun policy, and 52 percent disapproved. Americans were about evenly divided on whom to trust to make decisions about gun laws and an immigration overhaul — Republicans in Congress or the president.

Rick Buckman, 52, a Republican and an electrical engineer from Dallas, Pa., said that while he supported stricter gun legislation, he did not necessarily approve of the president’s approach. “I was really ticked off that the law didn’t pass,” Mr. Buckman said. “But I thought it was wrong of President Obama to get in front of the public and use people who had been damaged by gun violence as props.”

Mike Brady, 68, a Democrat and semiretired lawyer in Farmington Hills, Mich., viewed the Republicans’ opposition to the gun control legislation as self-serving. “Well, Obama’s trying his best to do the obvious right thing for the country, but he’s been roadblocked extensively for political reasons by people who even among themselves would take a different position,” he said. “So it’s cynical, unprincipled obstructionism.”

The poll also showed that 57 percent disapproved of Mr. Obama’s handling of the federal budget deficit. Thirty-six percent of respondents supported reducing the deficit by cutting federal spending.

Though churning support for his agenda remains a problem for the president, according to the poll, Congress is struggling with overcoming its own unfavorable image. Three-quarters of Americans disapprove of the way Congress is handling its job, the poll found, and nearly 9 in 10 said most members of Congress were more concerned with serving special interest groups than helping the people they represent.

“It’s like the gladiator sports, where the emperor keeps the people entertained, even though we’re starving,” said Roberta Hughes, 61, of Elizabeth City, N.C. “But real people are losing out in real ways when they enact the drama.”

The nationwide poll of 965 adults was conducted from April 24 to April 28 on land lines and cellular phones, with a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.

Nearly 6 in 10 Americans said they would vote for a candidate who did not share their views of immigration. Only 4 in 10 said they would vote for a candidate who did not share their views on gun control — seemingly making immigration a less controversial issue at the voting booth, for now, than gun legislation.

“Stricter gun laws might help with some of the out of control people who randomly go around shooting others or killing themselves,” said Debby Warnock, 44, an independent from Pueblo West, Colo. “I do favor background checks, though some of the people who have killed others had clean backgrounds.”

She added: “I personally don’t care whether Republicans or Democrats make the decisions as long as it’s in the best interest of our country.”

Megan Thee-Brenan, Dalia Sussman and Marina Stefan contributed reporting.

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