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White House Considers Dumping Petition Site

U.S. News & World Report logo U.S. News & World Report 4/18/2017 Steven Nelson
In this Jan. 28, 2017, file photo, U.S. President Donald Trump speaks on the phone with Prime Minister of Australia Malcolm Turnbull in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. For decades, Australia and the U.S. have enjoyed the coziest of relationships, collaborating on everything from military and intelligence to diplomacy and trade. Yet an irritable tweet President Donald Trump fired off about Australia and a dramatic report of an angry phone call between the nations' leaders proves that the new commander in chief has changed the playing field for even America's staunchest allies.: President Donald Trump may discontinue a service that allows petitions to win a response from the White House. © (Alex Brandon/AP) President Donald Trump may discontinue a service that allows petitions to win a response from the White House.

After announcing Friday it will no longer voluntarily release visitor logs, the White House is considering eliminating the popular petitions site We the People.

A decision to end the service would be seen as a setback for accountability by many critics of President Donald Trump, but as the end of a soft-news gimmick by others.

The site, launched on the White House website in 2011, was deftly used by the Obama administration to generate positive press. Since January, it has served largely as a sounding board for Trump opponents.

More than 1 million people, for example, have demanded that Trump publish his tax returns. Another petition that's passed 100,000 signatures – a time-sensitive threshold set by the Obama administration to earn an official response – tells Trump to resign.

None of the Trump-era petitions have been given a response, and White House Communications Director Mike Dubke tells U.S. News the site's fate is in limbo.

"This decision is still under review," Dubke says.

Cost, he says, is "always" a consideration.

Under President Barack Obama, the site was criticized by some as a propaganda tool, as petitions that challenged the administration went years without answer while goofy, softball or more politically convenient ones got a response.

Dave Karpf, a George Washington University media and public affairs professor, says he's not surprised the Trump White House is considering elimination of the service.

"The Trump administration has abandoned every other piece of the transparency agenda, so it seems like only a matter of time until they scrap We the People as well," he says.

"We the People functioned best for the Obama administration when it was (a) well-staffed and (b) produced high-traffic petitions that either aligned with the Obama agenda or surfaced new issues that could be included in the Obama agenda," Karpf says in an email.

Nowadays, he observes, "We the People is mostly an outlet for public outrage against Trump, his staff and his agenda."

Copyright 2017 U.S. News & World Report

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