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Trump White House relaunching Obama-era petition site

121817 Nelson WH Petitions pic
During the Obama years, the "We the People" site was a routine topic of cable news conversation, and the White House prioritized favored policy requests or quirky requests. (screenshot)

The White House has decided to keep an online petition-hosting platform launched under former President Barack Obama.

After months of review, the Trump administration will switch vendors for the “We the People” service, saving an estimated $1.3 million per year, a White House official told the Washington Examiner.

The platform, hosted at petitions.whitehouse.gov, will go offline Tuesday and relaunch in late January, the official said.

The service promises feedback when petitions pass 100,000 signatures, though no responses have been issued under President Trump.

"Following the site’s relaunch," the official said, "petitions that have reached the required number of signatures will begin receiving responses."

"All existing petitions and associated signatures have been preserved and will be available when the site is relaunched," they said.

Savings for the petition site are separate from estimated annual savings of up to $3 million that the White House announced last week following a revamp of other parts of the White House website.

A decision to keep the petition site wasn't guaranteed.

Trump communications staff discussed the fate of the petition site for months. Former White House communications director Mike Dubke cited cost as a consideration, and another person involved in discussions said they were unable to “pull the trigger” due to a major shakeup over the summer, requiring renewed consensus.

Early in President Trump’s administration, the petition platform became a sounding board for his critics. The most popular petition of his presidency, with 1.1 million signatures, asks for his tax returns. A petition with nearly 140,000 signatures tells him to resign.

During Obama’s presidency, the site was a routine topic of cable news conversation, and the White House prioritized favored policy requests or quirky requests that allowed for soft-news coverage, such as requests to build a Death Star or deport Justin Bieber.

Critics said the Obama administration engaged in propagandistic use of the service, ignoring for years petitions that did not align with official priorities. A petition requesting a pardon for mass surveillance whistleblower Edward Snowden, for example, waited 25 months for a response.

Although early petitions were critical of Trump, some of the 17 petitions that crossed the 100,000-signature threshold this year were created to support him.

The second most-popular petition, for example, is a more than 366,000-person request to “formally recognize AntiFa as a terrorist organization,” something that the petition creator recognized is not possible.

The anti-Antifa petition was created by a pro-Trump social media personality who told Politico they created the petition to change the national conversation after furor at Trump blaming “both sides” for violence at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va.

“It was to bring our broken right side together … and prop up antifa as a punching bag,” the person told Politico. “So the narrative changed from 'I hate myself because we have neo-Nazis on our side' to 'I really hate antifa, let's get along and tackle the terrorists.'"

More than 150,000 people, meanwhile, have signed a petition asking that liberal donor George Soros be labeled a terrorist and have his assets seized.

Despite the potential for politically guided responses and frivolity, the Trump White House decided to keep the site because it viewed input from the public as important, the official said, saying that while the service is down “Americans will be able to contact the White House any time” by visiting a contact page on the main website.