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Former Obama housing chief Julian Castro says he's taking a step toward a possible White House campaign in 2020 by forming a presidential exploratory committee. The Texas Democrat tells The Associated Press that he will announce a decision Jan. 12.

The move Wednesday gives the 44-year-old former San Antonio mayor an early start to what's shaping up as a crowded Democratic field without a clear front-runner to challenge President Donald Trump.

Castro indicated in an AP interview that his mind was all but made up.

"I know where I'm leaning, for sure," said Castro, who has said for weeks that it was likely he would seek the nomination.

An exploratory committee usually is a formality before a candidate launches a presidential campaign. It legally allows potential candidates to begin raising money.

But just as important for Castro, the step gives him an early jump on bigger name Democrats who are considering running but are taking a slower approach.

No potential contender is more ascendant than outgoing Rep. Beto O'Rourke, who lost last month in a surprisingly close race against Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. O'Rourke has excited donors and activists who are now prodding him to seek the presidency.

Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Cory Booker of New Jersey, along with former Vice President Joe Biden, are also potential candidates.

Castro would be among the youngest candidates in the field and the most prominent Latino. He played down the attention that others are generating and pointed to past election cycles in which early favorites ended up faltering.

"People might say right now, 'Well, hey, you're way down here in polling that's taken.' The most dangerous place to be right now is actually in the pole position," Castro said. "It doesn't bother me that in December of 2018 I'm not right up at the top of the list. If I decide to run, it would be because I believe I have a compelling message and I'm going to work hard and get to the voters and I believe I can be successful."

Castro, who attended O'Rourke's election-night party in El Paso last month, said O'Rourke doesn't complicate his own chances.

"He's talented. He ran a good race against Ted Cruz," Castro said. "I'll let him talk about his future."

Castro said he has not spoken to former President Barack Obama about his potential candidacy but plans on consulting Democratic leaders. Obama has spoken to O'Rourke, who has said he won't make a decision on 2020 until after leaving Congress in January.

Obama picked Castro to take over the Department of Housing and Urban Development in 2014. Two years later, Castro was on the short list of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton's potential running mates.

For Castro, running for president would fulfill a destiny that Democrats have projected since he was elected San Antonio mayor at 34, followed by his star-making turn as the keynote speaker at the Democratic National Convention in 2012.

He is the grandson of a Mexican immigrant and son of a Latina activist. His twin brother, Joaquin Castro, is a Democratic congressman from Texas. Julian Castro said the Latino community has been treated "like a pinata" under Trump and deserved a candidate in the field.

"I'm also very mindful, especially now for the Latino community, that there's a particular meaning to my candidacy," Castro said. "We can't go through the 2020 cycle with nobody on that stage because of what's happened over the last couple of years."

Young and telegenic, Castro rose to national prominence early in his career as a Latino leader from a state that Democrats are eager to retake after decades of Republican dominance. But in Texas, O'Rourke has eclipsed Castro after getting closer to a statewide victory than any Democrat in a generation. It now puts Texas in the formerly unthinkable position of having two Democratic presidential candidates in the same year.

The last Texas Democrat to run for president was Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, who had a short-lived campaign in 1976.

Maryland Rep. John Delaney is the only declared 2020 Democratic presidential candidate so far. Others are expected to announce their intentions in the coming weeks.


Photo Credit: NBC 5 News
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A new brick-and-mortar toy store in Maryland opened by a former Toys R Us manager is seeing success thanks to the diversity of its dolls and toys.

Glendon Warner said he worked for Toys R Us when it went bankrupt. He decided to stock all he learned there into something new.

Toys, Babies and More in Hyattsville has been open for about two months and has found a customer base during a time when brick-and-mortar stores struggle to compete with Amazon and other online shopping options.

Warner sees that as an opportunity.

“They don't think about people who still don't know how to use a website,” he said. “They don’t think about people who still want to walk around and still bring their kids into a store where they can see live toys.”

Part of the draw is what he stocks on his shelves: Dolls of color. Dolls that reflect the diversity of the children who play with them can be hard to find.

“I noticed that even when I was with Toys R Us,” Warner said. “Before the second week of December, you can't find African-American dolls."

The diversity of the toys and dolls he offers has gained him some international sales.

“My second sale was from Great Britain,” he said.

Because of the diversity and the hard-to-find toys, Toys, Babies and More has a strong presence online.

As word of his toy story spreads, so does his business, something of which he and his wife are very proud.

“It's not easy, but when you have good family, you have God, anything is possible,” Claudine Warner said.


Photo Credit: NBCWashington
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Retired Metro bus driver Jim Lucitt lost count of the assaults and insults he and other operators were subjected to during his 20 years on the job.

The horror stories ranged from unruly behavior to attacks that posed serious safety threats to drivers and passengers. 

"Most people don't have any idea what the job is like," Lucitt said. "You become the target of somebody’s agitation or aggression,and it's a very dangerous job."

NBC4 obtained three years of internal agency reports that show operators were victims of assaults an average of 11 times per month. They document incidents in which they were choked, pepper-sprayed, splashed with hot coffee, punched, struck with bottles and threatened with box cutters and handguns.

"People have urine thrown on them," said Lucitt. "They get the urine in a cup and they throw it on them, and they spit on them, and they open up their soda cans on them."

In another disturbing case, a man approached a bus that was on a layover and began masturbating in front of the female driver. 

"It could be anywhere from someone just verbally assaulting all the way on up to physical assault, even stabbing of operators, rape, urine, feces," said Art Aguilar, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1277, which represents drivers. "And, for what cause? I mean, dogs get treated better than some of these operators."

Metro's security director said the agency is taking steps to protect drivers from such unprovoked attacks. Along with panic buttons that allow drivers to instantly summon police or deputies, many buses also feature new barriers to protect drivers. LA Metro is also testing live security cameras in 100 buses.

"We can actually view streaming real-time video on the bus," said Metro security Director Alex Wiggins. "That way, if there is an issue on the bus, we'll be able to intervene in real-time.

"Our operators are really on the front lines. They’re the first to interact with some individuals that may be in crisis."

Congresswoman Grace Napolitano co-authored a bill to improve safety nationwide. Introduced in June, the bill never made it out of a subcommittee, but Napolitano plans to try again next year.

"It requires transportation agencies to install barriers in order to prevent them within two years," Napolitano told the I-Team in August. "We will fight for this bill because we think it's important."

Metro said is has voluntarily installed barriers on 1,500 of its roughly 2,500 buses, but the agency plans to include them on all buses.

Until recently, the sheriff's department handled law enforcement on Metro buses, but the agency now shares that job with Los Angeles police. Officers and deputies are regularly riding buses.

NBC4's Jonathan Lloyd contributed to this article.


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Police looking for a 29-year-old Colorado mom who's been missing since Thanksgiving are hoping that newly released surveillance video showing her last sighting at a grocery store will help in finding her.

Kelsey Berreth, who was reported missing by her mother on Dec. 2, was last seen in public with her 1-year-old daughter at a Safeway supermarket on Nov. 22 in Woodland Park, where she's lived since 2016.

The video shows Berreth, dressed in dark pants and a light jacket with her hair pulled back, pushing a cart with her child in a carrier on top. Authorities said they have already received a number of tips in the case and they hope the new footage will lead to more.

Patrick Frazee, Berreth's fiance, told police he saw Berreth Thanksgiving afternoon when they exchanged their daughter, police chief Miles De Young said Monday. Frazee is taking care of the young girl now at his home. 

Frazee and Berreth were planning to marry and had been living in separate homes. Berreth would either sleep at Frazee's house or take the child to her home.

Frazee told police he took care of the child during the day while Berreth worked as a flight instructor at Doss Aviation. Berreth's employer got a text from her phone Nov. 25 saying she needed to take off the upcoming week. Her phone was tracked as being 700 miles away in Gooding, Idaho, that day.

De Young said Frazee is cooperating with police and is not a suspect in the case. Berreth's fiance could not be reached for comment by NBC.

"At this point, he is the father of Kelsey's daughter, and we're gonna leave it at that," De Young told reporters. "So, this is a missing person's case."

Cheryl Berreth, Kelsey Berreth's mother, said at a press conference that "this is completely out of character" for her daughter.

"She loves her family and friends, and she loves her job," Cheryl Berreth said. "Kelsey, we just want you home. ... We won't quit looking."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.



Photo Credit: Woodland Park Police Department
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In August, Cindy McCain was with her husband of 38 years, Sen. John McCain, when the former Navy pilot, Vietnam POW, Senate maverick and presidential contender died at their home in Arizona after a yearlong struggle with brain cancer. 

In an exclusive essay for TODAY's Voices series, Cindy McCain recalls the tenderness of their final moments together — when, facing his favorite creek, John “(leapt) into the hereafter, like the daring aviator he’d once been” — and reflects on the resolve she feels for the work that remains to be done. “He left us our instructions, and every day I can still hear him,” she says. 

We had a year to prepare for life without him, a full, satisfying year, a year of reminiscences and tenderness, of public appeals and private instructions, of adding chapters to our family history — a daughter married, a son deployed — and stories to his legend. 

It was a year of hope and resolve, of courage and kindness, of future plans and poignant goodbyes. There were many highs and a few lows. And as we knew he would, he faced them all with grace, and the sly humor he had always used to lift our spirits at low moments — to tease us, to laugh at life’s curveballs, to make life with him so much fun. 

The last couple months saw a steady decline. He struggled to stay in the fight, but he knew his service in America’s cause was nearing an end. 

And when the end came, it came swiftly, as if he had taken the final measure of his situation and resolved to embrace it, give thanks and leap into the hereafter, like the daring aviator he had once been and the brave soul he had remained. 

Family and friends surrounded him. He always drew a crowd. He faced the creek he loved. A black hawk swooped low overhead and settled on the branch of a cottonwood to keep watch. Sinatra on his playlist, singing “My Way.” Goodbye. 

Then up our hill at sunset. A crowd waiting, as crowds would gather everywhere he traveled the next week, saluting, hands on hearts, waving flags. Services rendered with the messages and music, the friends and ceremony he had requested. 

He had wanted it to be a celebration of his life’s cause, his beloved country, as much as it was a tribute to his memory. He wanted to part with America on terms that would inspire us to keep the faith, to fight for our ideals. 

And so he did, in the illuminating accounts and funny stories of a patriot’s life, offered by friends and family and fellow Americans, in the rousing chorus of "Battle Hymn of the Republic" and the affecting lyrics of his favorite song, "Danny Boy." 

It was the stirring experience we hoped it would be, though at one point, as the music swelled in that magnificent cathedral, I could’ve sworn I heard his voice complain it was taking “too damn long.” 

Our final parting the next day was more personal, a naval officer’s, a husband’s and father’s farewell on the banks of the Severn River in Maryland. 

There have been lots of things to do since we said goodbye to carry on the causes that had meant so much to him. 

The McCain Institute launched a campaign, Mavericks Needed, to engage more people in the defense of human dignity. There have been tributes intended to associate his name with good works he had admired. 

And my own work in the same spirit continues, fighting human trafficking, chairing the McCain Institute board, speaking out for the persecuted and threatened, enjoying and worrying about my children, and especially enjoying our grandson, Mac, otherwise known as John Sidney McCain V. 

Admittedly, after 38 years of marriage to the force of nature that was John McCain, living without him is not an easy adjustment. But adjust we will. He left us our instructions, and every day I can still hear him insist, “Don’t slack off. You know what to do.” 

Stay busy, serve causes greater than ourselves, stay in the arena, pick fights with the bad guys, and keep faith with the little guys. Remember, as he remembered, that the bell tolls for us, and to make our life as useful to others as it is to us. 

After so many years of life with him, of watching and learning from his example, of seeing him fight for his country and her ideals, of loving him, I really wouldn’t know what else to do.

This essay first appeared on Today.com. More from TODAY Voices:


Photo Credit: Getty Images
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Crews in hazmat suits went in and out of a home along Cheryl Drive in Warminster, Pennsylvania Wednesday morning leaving the neighborhood on edge Tuesday afternoon into evening.


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Nikki Haley, the departing U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said in an interview for NBC's "Today" show that she used President Donald Trump's "unpredictable" nature to her advantage on the job.

"He would ratchet up the rhetoric, and then I'd go back to the ambassadors and say: 'You know, he's pretty upset. I can't promise you what he's going to do or not, but I can tell you if we do these sanctions, it will keep him from going too far,'" Haley said.

Haley also said that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman doesn't "get a pass" for the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. But she stopped short of recommending giving Saudi Arabia anything more than stern talking-to.

Haley said that she wants her nominated successor, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert, to be "successful" and "time will tell how this works out."

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New York Attorney General-elect Letitia James plans to launch sweeping investigations into President Donald Trump, his family and "anyone" in his circle who may have violated the law once she settles into her new job next month, NBC News reported.

"We will use every area of the law to investigate President Trump and his business transactions and that of his family as well," James, a Democrat, told NBC News in her first extensive interview since she was elected last month.

She outlined some of the probes she intends to pursue with regard to the president, his businesses and his family members. They include the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with a Russian official, any illegalities involving Trump's real estate holdings in New York and continuing to probe the Trump Foundation. 

The White House, Trump Organization, an attorney representing the company and Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani did not respond to requests for comment.


Photo Credit: Mary Altaffer/AP, File
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Kimberly-Clark has issued a recall for U by Kotex Sleek Tampons, regular absorbency, for a quality-related defect, the company said Tuesday. 

Consumers have reported tampons unraveling and/or coming apart upon removal, leading some users to seek medical attention to remove tampon pieces left in the body. Additionally, some consumers have reported infections, vaginal irritation, localized vaginal injury and other symptoms, the company said. 

The affected products were manufactured between Oct. 7, 2016 and Oct. 16, 2018. A list of lot numbers of the affected products can be found on the Kimberly-Clark website. Additionally, consumers can check lot numbers on the U by Kotex website

No other U by Kotex brands are associated with the recall, the company said. 

Anyone with the affected products is urged to stop using them and to contact the Kimberly-Clark Consumer Service Team at 1-888-255-3499. Consumers who experience any vaginal infection, irritation or injury, or symptoms such as hot flashes, abdominal pain, nausea or vomiting are urged to seek medical assistance. 


Photo Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS, File
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Philadelphia Eagles center Jason Kelce is helping a local family out with their gender reveal. Find out how.

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