White House answers online petitions, ducks tax-return issue
By ZEKE MILLER
Feb. 25, 2018
WASHINGTON (AP) — After more than a year of silence, the Trump administration is beginning to address a backlog of petitions signed by Americans on the White House website.
But the White House is ducking a high-profile petition calling on President Donald Trump to release his tax returns. That petition attracted more than 1.1 million signatures.
The White House said the tax-return question "is not within the scope" of the government feedback tool because the issue "does not address an action or policy of the Federal Government."
The website, known as "We the People," was launched by the Obama administration in 2011, and since Trump took office has taken on increased prominence as an outlet for protest. It was briefly taken down by the Trump administration last year but was relaunched in late January.
Along with the tax petition, which reached the 100,000-signature threshold for a response on Inauguration Day 2017, the administration hasn't responded to one calling on the president to place his financial holdings in a blind trust.
The site has also been embraced by conservatives looking to push their priorities. The White House addressed an August 2017 petition seeking to declare as a terrorist organization "AntiFa," a loose collection of self-proclaimed anti-fascist activists whose occasionally violent protests earned national headlines last year. The White House said Trump opposes violence and that federal law provides no "mechanism for formally designating domestic terrorist organizations."
The administration also addressed dueling petitions on money for the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities. One petition sought the funding preserved, while another called on the Trump administration to defund the programs as requested in his 2018 budget request.
Another petition requests that U.S. change how it refers to the Sea of Japan. The White House says it follows the conventions of the U.S. Board on Geographic Names, and would adopt the name "East Sea," which has been pushed by Korean-American groups in protest of Japan's brutal occupation of the peninsula before World War II.
Petitions awaiting responses include one opposing the Federal Communications Commission's repeal of net neutrality regulations and another calling for the repeal of the National Firearms Act. The 1934 law serves as the foundation for subsequent federal gun control legislation, outlining classes of weapons like machine guns and grenades that must be registered with the federal government.
A petition calling for Peter Wang, a high school student slain in the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, to be buried with full military honors also awaits a White House response. An Army Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps cadet at the school, Wang was posthumously accepted to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point after survivors praised his efforts to save his fellow students' lives. He was buried last Tuesday.