Carney shuts down WH press conference after being asked about Prop 8 case

That thing that we thought was becoming a thing – the issue of how actively (if at all) the administration will get involved in the upcoming Prop 8 and DOMA cases before the Supreme Court – is now officially a thing.

Today’s video of White House spokesman Jay Carney shutting down a press conference, immediately after being asked about the issue by two separate reporters (see below), pretty much cinched it.

There’s been an increasing flurry of stories over the past several days about whether the Obama Justice Department will file briefs in favor of gay marriage during the upcoming Supreme Court arguments on Prop 8, the California proposition that repealed the right of gay couples to marry in that state in 2008, and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a 1996 law that bans the federal government from recognizing the marriages of gay couples, and attempts to stop states from being forced to recognize “gay” marriages conducted in another state.

Now that President Obama is firmly on the side of supporting gay marriage, gay rights advocates are hoping the administration will file a brief, or briefs, supporting the gay rights challenges on DOMA and Prop 8 expected to be heard by the Supreme Court this coming March.

The administration’s response to these questions has been somewhat clumsy at best.

GOP super-lawyer Ted Olson’s call for the White House to submit a brief brought the issue to a head last Friday, when the White House and the Justice Department both gave what sounded like evasive answers (Justice sounded downright snippy) to Chris Johnson of the Washington Blade:

The Obama administration has thus far stayed out of the Prop 8 case. Asked in September by the Washington Blade whether the U.S. government would weigh in, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney had no comment and Nanda Chitre, a spokesperson for the Justice Department, said, “We are not a party to this litigation and would decline further comment.”

Next, Politico and Buzzfeed and the Washington Post weighed in, making it clear that the story had legs outside of the gay community. Buzzfeed suggested that the administration was “dodging” questions on the matter.

Then we come to today, and the video below, which isn’t good for the administration. Whether intended or not, it looks like the video shows White House spokesman Jay Carney shutting down a briefing because he was asked by two reporters why the administration has no comment on whether it will file a brief in the Prop 8, DOMA case before the Supreme Court.

Here’s the video:


Carney won’t remember this, because he wasn’t the spokesman at the time. But at the beginning of the Obama administration, they set the stage for a lot of bad blood with the gay community by making two serious mistakes.

The first mistake was constantly giving really weak and fumbling answers when asked at press conferences whether the administration planned to move ahead with the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. The weakness of the answers was interpreted by many in the gay community of being evidence of a lack of political will to follow through on the President’s promise to repeal the gay ban. It set an increasingly bad tenor to what became seriously strained relations between the gay community and the White House.

The second mistake was the administration filing an incredibly homophobic brief defending the Defense of Marriage Act that was pretty awful.  It invoked incest and pedophilia, among other things.

The lessons learned?

1) Don’t demur when asked about gay rights.  And especially don’t give an answer that sounds an awful lot like the answer you kept giving on DOMA.

In this case, Carney’s big mistake was saying “as you know, the  administration is not a party to this case.” The implication being, they’re not even a party to the case, so why should they file any briefs?  It really doesn’t matter if the administration is a party to the case.  They can file briefs.  Olson himself said so, and he should know – he was the top Republican guy filing cases before the Supreme Court.  So giving an answer that sounds like it’s trying to confuse people into thinking they of course wouldn’t file a brief is not exactly the best way to win gay friends and influence gay people.  (It also sounds an awful lot like the “gosh, we could never not defend DOMA in court” answer that we got, a lot, from the administration – and it was incorrect.)

2) Legal briefs matter, and just as importantly, our community thinks they matter.

I’ve already explained in detail my concerns about the administration the PR (not to the mention the substance) wrong on this issue.  It doesn’t matter if the Justice Department hasn’t yet reached a decision (why hasn’t it?) on whether to file briefs in the Prop 8 and DOMA cases, and that’s why the administration can’t yet give a straight (so to speak) answer.  It sounds like the administration is waffling on our civil rights.  And if that’s simply a matter of some administration official(s) sending the wrong message, then fix it.  Fast.

CyberDisobedience on Substack | @aravosis | Facebook | Instagram | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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68 Responses to “Carney shuts down WH press conference after being asked about Prop 8 case”

  1. Inis Magrath says:

    Mr. Aravosis wrote, “2) Legal briefs matter, and just as importantly, our community thinks they matter.”

    Just a point to bear in mind: I’m a straight man married to one woman, my first and only wife for over 28 years. When Mr. Aravosis writes of “our community” I think he means the LGBT community. I want Mr. Aravosis and everyone else in the LGBT community to know that for the Obama administration to submit a legal brief in favor of marriage equality in the DOMA and Prop 8 cases matters to me too. It matters to me a lot. Equal civil rights for all and equal treatment under the law must be defended as the bedrock of American society.

  2. Jake Orlando says:

    What is there to dodge? I’m from California, I remember Prop 8 like it was yesterday. I also remember then-Senator Obama speaking out against it. I also remember now-President Obama endorsing gay marriage a few months ago. What the hell do you think his opinion is or isn’t? Are we supposed to be outraged?

  3. Skeptical Cicada says:

    Um, it’s December 2012, not November 2012. Those of us who aren’t Obamabot drones are perfectly capable of voting for the man and even donating to his campaign and also holding his feet to the fire when he returns to his old backstabbing ways. DADT is gone ONLY because of activist pressure. Never forget that!

  4. Skeptical Cicada says:

    That a cute bit of apologist spin. Too bad it has no basis in reality.

    The DOJ will be before the Court in the DOMA cases arguing that classifications based on sexual orientation should be skeptically reviewed, like classifications based on gender. It is inconceivable (1) that no member of the Court will ask for the implications of that position on Prop. 8 and other issues and (2) that the DOJ can effectively dodge the question.

    Taking a position on the Prop. 8 case is inevitable. The only questions are what position the administration will take and when it will take it.

  5. It is never too late with us, so long as we are aware of our faults and bear them impatiently.

  6. Mal says:

    The WH generally does NOT comment on supreme court cases and it wouldn’t make any difference anyway if they did – it would just as likely hurt the prop 8 case in the conservative court.

  7. Jim says:

    Do you really think that Romney would have been a better choice? You have to vote for the lesser of two evils and Obama is a FAR lesser evil than Romney. Never forget that!

  8. Sweetie says:

    It’s eighty eight dimensions, you fool.

  9. Sweetie says:

    “Now that President Obama is firmly on the side of supporting gay marriage…”


  10. karmanot says:

    I hope so

  11. PDQ says:

    @John Aravosis: “Now that President Obama is firmly on the side of supporting gay marriage….”

    Really? What gave you THAT idea? Two television interviews don’t equal support. What they are is political opportunism.

  12. Number Six says:

    apparently not.

  13. Number Six says:

    Under the back of the bus.

  14. ezpz says:

    “It’s after the election” is exactly why they no longer need any excuses for anything.

  15. Ford Prefect says:

    Good point. Indeed, all real progress seems to be occurring from well outside the beltway. Hmmmmmm.

  16. Butch1 says:

    “Fierce Advocate.” Bwahaaaaaaaaa!!

  17. Ford Prefect says:

    Outstanding! What’s so weird is that Teh Gropernator is more progressive on this issue than Barack Obama.

  18. Skeptical Cicada says:

    Yes, amen!

  19. Ford Prefect says:

    Precisely. Of course, Obama opposed repeal of DADT, which is why he let congress do it in the lame duck. I’m sure he hated signing it, but at least he did that.

  20. Skeptical Cicada says:

    Oh, some of us didn’t fall for it. We just realized that it was the best we were going to be able to drag out of him before the election and that, as weak as it was, we could make really effective use of it in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, and Washington.

  21. Ford Prefect says:

    I do believe you’ve answered your own questions.

  22. Skeptical Cicada says:

    The only reason I don’t feel had is that I had no expectation of his accomplishing anything in his second term to begin with. I’ve long said we’d be back to the Rick Warren Obama as soon as the votes were counted. It’s precisely why I was so adamant that we force an endorsement of marriage equality out of him before the election. As I said, it was the time of our maximum leverage. I assumed he couldn’t be counted on to do anything in his second term and knew the Obamabots who were giving all sorts of assurances about what he’d do in a second term were either in denial or deliberately manipulating. I recall that they were also certain that an ENDA executive order would be promptly forthcoming after the election, yet Carney has already shot that down and repeated the insulting line about wanting to pass the ENDA bill instead–the one that is dead in the GOP House.

  23. A reader in Colorado says:

    That’s if we isn’t playing for the other team in the first place. I don’t think he’s reluctant to use power. He just uses it on people like Dennis Kucinich and Alcee Hastings.

  24. Ford Prefect says:

    GetEQUAL can’t do anything to Obama now. His last election ever is over. If they want influence in this WH, they’ll have to pony up many millions of dollars for a few speeches AFTER he leaves office. Those are the only constituents he cares about now. He’s in “legacy mode” now and that’s all about cold, hard cash. (See: Clinton, Bill.)

    As for Senate Dems, I seriously doubt any Dems can really feel threatened. They’ll have more than enough Wall Street money to make up the difference.

    Lastly, starting within 9 months or so, the “liberal media” will start right back up with the FEAR defense of the Democrats. It will work. In 2014, Dems will be re-elected regardless of how many times they’ve stabbed their base in the back.

    Not to worry though. You’ll be in great company, with all the poors, the elderly, the disabled, the african-americans, the former union members now bussing tables for $5 and hour and so on. It’s a big tent, we betrayed people! A much bigger tent than the Democratic Party, that’s for sure!

  25. Skeptical Cicada says:

    Yeah, I find that revised DADT story laughable! I guess the homophobic DOMA brief was sly strategy too. lol. I have nothing but contempt for the drooling Obamabots.

    I basically agree with what you’ve written here.

    I posit the coward interpretation only because I keep seeing him fail to exert his power in other areas too. He has been a pathetically weak negotiator and has repeatedly capitulated. It appears, in fact, that, without massive push back, he’s ready to give in on raising the Medicare age to 67, even though a huge majority opposes it and it increases the overall cost of health care. He’s also now inexplicably said he won’t use the 14th amendment to declare the debt ceiling unconstitutional, something Bill Clinton has urged him to do. He’s really just awful at using his power to fight opponents in the other branches.

  26. Ford Prefect says:

    Yes! Note the weaselly way he endorsed marriage equality, immediately pivoting to “states rights” while promising to do precisely nothing on his own.

    I still can’t believe people fell for that schtick.

  27. Ford Prefect says:

    Look, the WH flat out refused to do so in the middle of the election cycle. So if they didn’t do it then (polling shows there is no political cost involved with it, so his reasons aren’t polls or elections), they’re not going to do it now. Still, it might prove illuminating if people pushed it, just to see how they react–I’m confident they’d shut the door on that in a hurry.

  28. Blogvader says:

    What a big bitch.

  29. A reader in Colorado says:

    You’re right – the Senate. I wasn’t sure which house of Congress it was, thanks! (And Obama obviously doesn’t have access to a DVR).

    And about the anti-discriminatory language, yeah, just so. But that also fits the theory. It just wouldn’t do to be seen as too accommodating to the dirty gays.

    Why, the Republicans and the religious right might just refer to the Obama administration being “the gay lovin’ Obama administration”, after all. And that just wouldn’t do. No more than it would do to having them call him a “socialist”.

  30. BeccaM says:

    I think mostly he just wishes we’d all stay under the bus where we were thrown back in ’08.

  31. BeccaM says:

    I’m pretty sure the basketball game incident was when Obama could have been calling Senators to get them to move on ENDA.

    He didn’t lobby at all for it. Democratic Senators with their 60 vote supermajority assumed he wouldn’t have their back if they stuck their necks out to vote for it, and so it failed to a GOP filibuster.

    For me, the worst thing about DADT was how Obama and the WH lobbied against the inclusion of any anti-discrimination language in the bill.

  32. A reader in Colorado says:

    There might be some elements of both. The Obama administration has always treated the gay community not only as a nuisance, but as politically dirty – that it soils them in some way to be associated with gay community politics.

    If you read the post-facto history of the DADT struggle, you will read the story of Obama, the Pragmatic, Brave and Wise, who Took on The Powers that Be and Undid DADT, but in a Wise Way.

    That story was written by Obamabots. And although I don’t have a photographic memory, I followed every twist and turn in the DADT fight. From Obama agents telling Alcee Hastings not to do anything about DADT, to watching a woman’s basketball game instead of collecting votes on the Senate floor (couldn’t be bothered) to orchestrating the creation of a massively homophobic military family survey.

    Or the Donnie McClurkin and Rick Warren fiascos. Whether Obama changed or not, he very clearly at that time saw being gay at all as a moral failing and that people could and should be converted to straight.

    Maybe he evolved away from that nasty view of homosexuality that he had back then. But I don’t think the “evolution” is complete by a long shot. He pretty clearly sees us as trivial.

  33. FLL says:

    If Obama throws out loyalty to his base, GetEQUAL will be waiting for him down the road—and even trouble from some Dems in the Senate.

  34. Skeptical Cicada says:

    I alternate between your compelling interpretation and just viewing him as a coward about using the powers of his office.

  35. A reader in Colorado says:

    After having looked at the video, this isn’t a mistake. This is a dis. This is returning to the old Obama attitude of you’re beneath our notice, and having to address your existence at all, gay community, soils us.

  36. 2patricius2 says:

    Obama and the White House are not the prodders. We are the ones who have been the prodders. We need to keep pushing Obama and the White House. Whether they support full civil rights for those of us who are GLBTQ is not my concern. My concern is they do what we demand they do. The reason they responded in the past is that they were under pressure.

  37. A reader in Colorado says:

    That’s because, I’m convinced that the attempts to spin Obama as attitudinally gay positive have been wrong. They’ve been wrong all along.

    Don’t get me wrong. Has Obama done several things that were genuinely helpful to gay people and the gay rights movement? Sure he has, but he’s mostly either been dragged to do them, or done thing for political image reasons or management reasons. And, I think, in some small part, Michelle pushed him on some things.

    And I’m sure the deliberate spin (making him seem more gay positive than he really is) was done with the best intentions. (“See, if I say President Obama is a friend of the gay community, he’ll feel obligated to act like a friend, and he’ll be trapped”). Kinda like that.

    But I believe the image of Obama, the gay community positive president always was a complete and utter fabrication. His behavior has always been consistent with seeing the gay community as a nuisance.

    The bigot coddler never went away, he just went dormant.

  38. Skeptical Cicada says:

    Outrageous! The Solicitor General won’t be able to decline comment when standing in front of the bench in oral argument.

    The bigot-coddling Obama is back.

  39. karmanot says:

    It staggers the mind that demos still think the Obama administration supports protection of the safety net or equal civil rights for gays. It doesn’t.

  40. karmanot says:

    Well done!

  41. karmanot says:

    They are not prodding. They simply do not support full civil rights for GLTBQ communities. The greatest advocate and Peace Laureate is a lying con artist.

  42. karmanot says:

    I don’t buy that argument for a nano second. Obama is following the Clinton plan. History repeats itself.

  43. karmanot says:

    “I feel had” Indeed, we knew we were had, from the get go with Obummer. Clinton paved the way. This is no surprise. Still, Obat lemmings voted the bastard into a second term.

  44. karmanot says:

    The Supreme Court can also declare that the states have the right to declare that gays are only 3/4 of a being and thus can’t complete a fully human marriage.

  45. karmanot says:

    Obama has no post-evolved position. It’s his second term and he can exercise his ‘ick’ factor now, without political consequences.

  46. karmanot says:

    “what’s the excuse now?” Business as usual.

  47. karmanot says:

    the LEAST he could do? No,An amicus brief is the least he could do.

  48. karmanot says:

    Obama’s on a run now and the Inauguration ain’t even dancing yet. Dump the gays and work Medicare death panel cuts. God forbid, the Republicans were right about Berry O. How’s that lesser evil settling for ya?

  49. BeccaM says:

    By the way, there’s a list here of a large number of cases where the DOJ did involve itself in cases regarding the federal constitutionality of existing law — to-wit, attempts to overturn them:

    In many of them, the Solicitor General himself appeared before the court and/or amicus briefs were filed. For Obama, Carney, and the rest of the Administration to insist they have no place in getting involved in these marriage equality cases is utter BS.

  50. BeccaM says:

    Sometimes silence or a refusal to answer a straightforward question is itself the answer.

    Jay Carney said that the official White House response to questions as to whether Obama’s DOJ would file an amicus brief was “no comment.” That’s what we can expect when the cases are heard, what their current plans are: No comment.

    Obama’s post-evolved position on same-sex marriage is better than it was. However, saying it’s fine for the states to decide is like saying you’re in favor of no Federal ban on interracial marriage, but don’t see any reason why individual states couldn’t make it illegal. And then not even having the guts to file a brief in the Federal court that has the power to overturn the Federal law currently on the books that bans such marriages.

    It is a feckless and craven position. Sure, words do matter, but one needs to season it with corresponding actions, otherwise the words have no meaning. If DOMA is deemed to be unconstitutional, it is the President’s duty to tell the courts that is the official position of his Administration, and to explain why.

  51. jomicur says:

    He has a full plate! He inherited a mess from the guy who’s been president for the last four years! You pesky liberals want him to wave a magic wand! He’s playing a game of thirty-dimensional chess! Wait till his next term–you’ll see then! Etc., etc.

    If the Obamabots were capable of coming up with more credible excuses, they’d have done it by now.

  52. jomicur says:

    The whimsically titled “fiscal cliff” twaddle will be over in a couple of weeks. SCOTUS won’t hear the DOMA cases till March. There’s no reason why the administration can’t “man up” on both of them.

  53. jomicur says:

    By what conceivable standard is Obama “firmly on the side of supporting gay marriage”? What he said is that he’s firmly on the side of letting the states decide–the same position Dick Cheney espoused eight or nine years ago. If that’s firm support, what exactly would feeble, transparent vacillation look like?

    Gay organizations like HRC and gay websites like AmericaBlog supported Obama without getting any promises, much less guarantees, in return. I hope you’re happy with what you got.

  54. FLL says:

    Then loyalty, as I mentioned further down. During his campaign, Obama didn’t specifically promise to file briefs with the Supreme Court in marriage equality cases, but it was implied if the issue was loyalty toward voters who were supporting him.

  55. JefferyK says:

    Not exactly sure why standing up for gay rights is an issue of “cordiality.”

  56. Don Chandler says:

    “We are not a party to this litigation and would decline further comment.”–wow. It’s a constitutional’re a president.

    And you don’t have to be a party to litigation to file and amicus brief…you’re on record opposing constitutional amendments that discriminate against gays. You’re not alone in opposition to prop 8:

    [You] opposed “divisive and discriminatory efforts to amend the California Constitution… the U.S. Constitution or those of other states.”[90] Democratic vice-presidential candidate Joseph Biden also opposed the proposition.[91] RepublicanCalifornia Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger stated that although he opposed and twice vetoed legislative bills that would recognize same-sex marriage in California, he respected and would uphold the court’s ruling and oppose the initiative and other attempts to amend the state’s constitution.[92][93] The U.S. House Speaker, California Representative (8th District), Nancy Pelosi[94] along with other members of the California congressional delegation and both of California’s U.S. senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, voiced their opposition to Proposition 8.[95] Also voicing their opposition were the Lieutenant Governor, State Controller John Chiang, former governor and Attorney General Jerry Brown, 42 of 80 members of the state assembly, half of the state senators, and the mayors of San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego: Gavin Newsom, Antonio Villaraigosa, and Jerry Sanders, respectively. ———–wikipedia on prop 8.

    Sounds Like the Prez has developed a case of Romnesia.

  57. FLL says:

    Don’t forget that if cordiality is less necessary after the election, that applies to progressives as well as the administration. Obama got something that helped him (the gay vote), and might think that he can go on his merry way. When you turn that argument on its head, it’s just as valid. Gay voters got something that helped them, namely, keeping Romney out of the White House. Gay voters also kept Tony Perkins and the FRC out of the White House, which is worth mentioning because Romney demonstrated how servile he was toward Perkins et al, having kissed their ass at CPAC conferences. Now that gay voters have got something that helped them, they have no further obligation to be cordial toward the administration. GetEQUAL is always ready to turn any administration into an international laughing stock, when necessary, not to mention many U.S. senators in Obama’s own party. So when cordiality and loyalty are less necessary after an election, it’s a double-edged sword. It cuts both ways. After all, even certain commenters on this very board are less cordial toward the administration now that it’s no longer necessary. ;-)

  58. Mike_in_Houston says:

    “Had” is the word that comes to mind for me also. The election is over, so it’s back to business as usual. How long before we get reminded about “God is in the mix”?

  59. FLL says:

    Carney “would point you to the Department of Justice,” and the response from the Justice Department really was snippy, wasn’t it?: “We are not a party to this litigation and would decline further comment.” If the do-nothing Justice Department is becoming an embarrassment, the administration needs a new attorney general. The logic that the administration is using, moreover, is ludicrous. Just because the administration isn’t representing the plaintiffs in these cases, that doesn’t mean the administration can’t file a brief. The attempted dodge is pure BS.

    That was the hypocritical, cowardly part. Now, on to the stupid part. This story will only snowball until the Supreme Court begins hearing arguments in March. Can you imagine the administration disintegrating into a laughing stock by having Jay Carney prematurely shut down every press conference from now until March? High comedy, and not in a good way. If Holder isn’t willing to maintain some measure of dignity for the administration, then Obama needs to.

  60. JefferyK says:

    Honestly — haven’t we been here before? I’ve seen statistics showing that the gay vote was decisive in giving Obama a reelection victory. He had no problem with using the word “gay” when he needed votes. Now when we need the administration to step up to the plate and stand up for us, they run in the opposite direction. I feel had.

  61. fritzrth says:

    So, once again, Obama and his administration will sit in the background waiting for someone else to do the hard work, then they’ll come out of the shadows at the very end and take credit for it.

  62. fritzrth says:


  63. 2patricius2 says:

    Obama and the White House had to respond to constant prodding in the past. Sounds like they need a lot of prodding again on this issue.

  64. HolyMoly says:

    First: The White House CAN chime in whether they’re directly related or not. It’s called an amicus brief. Also, I think I remember Obama uttering some sort of oath or other back in January 2009 (and soon again in 2013) that said some sort of quaint, apparently meaningless phrase whereby he vowed “to the best of [his] ability, [to] preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” This is a constitutional issue, and surely he has a position on it (he took a position while in campaign mode). If he doesn’t want to execute the duties of his office to the “best of [his] ability” and issue an amicus brief, wouldn’t simply a public statement of support or opposition be the LEAST he could do?

    Second: He has not refrained from voicing his opinion on pending cases in the past, so why now? Anyone remember his public proclamation of Bradley Manning’s guilt? That was BEFORE his trial even started. (That was actually one time that I feel Obama should have kept his mouth shut, for the sake of a fair and impartial trial.)

    Third: “I refer you to the Department of Justice…the administration is not a party to this case….” The DOJ is a part of the executive branch and operates under the auspices of the White House. It IS a part of the administration, and it acts on behalf of the president. So why no comments from the president? (Guaranteed, if the press asks the DOJ, they might be referred back to the White House, then round and round we go!)

  65. Randy Riddle says:

    I’ve two theories about this. Either the White House and Republicans in Congress have made a deal to stay mum on Prop 8 and DOMA so that both sides can focus on the “Fiscal Cliff” talks or the Obama team doesn’t want to dive into gay marriage to maintain their focus on the Fiscal Cliff. No matter which it is, I agree with Lindsey Graham – Obama needs to “man up” and just do the right thing on both issues.

  66. nicho says:

    Of course they do. They shut down medical marijuana clinics in states where it’s legal. They prosecute whistleblowers. And they find ways for Obama to murder people with drones. They don’t have time for things like civil rights.

  67. HunterC says:

    To add to the White House-is-evasive list:

    Will Obama lift his pen and sign a non-discrimination order?

    It’s after the election, what’s the excuse now?

  68. caphillprof says:

    Does anybody know whether the Department of Justice actually does anything? I know lawyers who work there and they seem to go to meetings but not to prosecute cases or write briefs or act like lawyers.

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