TIME technology

Cable’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Year

At this time last year, the powerful cable industry seemed to be at the top of its game.

An appeals court, in January 2014, had chucked out the Federal Communications Commission’s latest attempt to establish net neutrality rules, and a month later, in February, the two biggest cable companies in the country, Comcast and Time Warner Cable, announced a massive, $45.2 billion merger.

Meanwhile, the industry’s powerful influence machine, led in part by the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, was working overtime in the nation’s capital. In 2013-2014, the industry spent $33 million on lobbying alone—more than it spent in the entire previous decade—and divvied out millions more in campaign contributions, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. In 2013, Comcast alone spent more on lobbying than any other company in the U.S. except Northrop Grumman, the defense contractor that makes the B-2 bomber.

And it wasn’t just money. The cable industry also enjoyed a Rolodex of almost comically well-connected friends: the president of the NCTA was a former FCC chairman, and the current FCC chairman was a former president of the NCTA—and President Obama’s golfing buddy, to boot.

With those sorts of connections—judicial, monetary, and personal—what could go wrong?

A lot, it turns out. And almost anything that could, did.

Things started getting bad for the industry in late summer, when an unprecedented 4 million people wrote into the FCC to comment on the agency’s proposed net neutrality rules. The vast majority opposed what they saw as an anemic attempt to protect the Internet from manipulation by large cable and telecom companies. Much of the public debate centered on whether a large Internet service provider, like Comcast, should be allowed to collect fees from web companies, such as Netflix, to deliver its content, like “House of Cards,” more quickly and in higher quality to customers.

Obama, who had campaigned 2008 against so-called fast lanes on the Internet, had only hinted that he would prefer to see stronger net neutrality provisions. But by mid-fall, the White House was ready to go to the mat. When Comcast heard rumors that Obama was considering calling for stronger rules, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts pulled out all the stops, calling up Obama’s senior adviser, Valerie Jarrett, and making it clear that Comcast opposed the move, according to the Wall Street Journal. It was no use. A few days later, Obama all but demanded that the FCC propose the strongest possible rules on net neutrality, and three months later, it was done.

Consumer and public interest organizations, and Internet advocates celebrated the FCC’s decision, calling it not only a blow to the cable lobby, but a staggering success for grassroots organizing power.

And the cable industry’s bad year wasn’t over yet. Last week, FCC and Justice Department officials began whispering about major objections to the proposed Comcast-Time Warner Cable deal, which would tie the two largest cable company in the country and give one company control over roughly 60% of all broadband Internet connections nationwide. On Wednesday this week, officials held a private meeting with Comcast and Time Warner Cable executives to express doubt that the deal was “in the public interest,” according to sources briefed about the meeting, and this morning, the companies formally announced that the deal is off.

Again, consumer and public interest organizations, and Internet advocates celebrated the decision as victory for grassroots organizing power. “Big Cable learned the hard way that their lobbyists can’t silence the voice of the people,” crowed Todd O’Boyle, a program director at Common Cause. “Once again this year, grassroots activists spoke out and Washington regulators listened. Comcast’s insider politics can’t beat us when we stand together.”

David Segal of Demand Progress said the strong net neutrality rules, combined with collapse of the merger, “underscores the importance of an engaged public.”

“We like to identify with the underdog,” he added, cheekily, in a statement, “and Comcast’s recent losing streak almost has us feeling sorry for them.”

TIME justice

Trust-Busting Isn’t Back. Comcast Was Just Unlucky.

The Comcast Corp. logo is seen as Brian Roberts, chairman and chief executive officer of Comcast Corp. (R) speaks during a news conference in Washington on June 11, 2013.
Bloomberg/Getty Images The Comcast Corp. logo is seen as Brian Roberts, chairman and chief executive officer of Comcast Corp. (R) speaks during a news conference in Washington on June 11, 2013.

Comcast walked away from its $45.2 billion proposed merger with Time Warner Cable, according to a statement released Friday.

The unexpected change of heart—attributed to unnamed sources by Bloomberg News, CNBC and the New York Times (Comcast declined to comment to TIME)—comes just a day after government officials at the Federal Communications Commission and the Justice Department expressed doubt this week that a marriage between the nation’s two largest cable companies would serve the public interest.

But advocates for robust antitrust action shouldn’t celebrate too much. The collapse of the merger had more to do with the specifics of this particular deal than a return to the 1970s, when the federal government last engaged in energetic trust busting.

For starters, the two companies involved in this particular marriage are uniquely unpopular. In poll after poll, Americans ranked both Comcast and Time Warner Cable as among the most-hated companies in the country. The prospect of two nationally despised companies merging into one bigger despised company did not earn much public support. Though 97 members of Congress signed a letter in 2011 in support of the unprecedented merger between Comcast and the much less-hated NBC Universal, this time around, there was hardly a peep.

Weak public support for the deal was also exacerbated by bad timing. The announcement of the proposed merger in February 2014 just happened to coincide with what became, over the course of the last year, a frothy, nationwide debate over net neutrality, the idea that all web traffic should be treated equally. While Comcast did its very best to separate its proposed merger from the hubbub over a free and open Internet, it was a tough sell. Comcast, which charged Netflix for faster delivery of its content—a violation of many people’s idea of net neutrality—found itself constantly in the news.

But even if the environment had been pristine for a merger of two giant companies, the fact that Comcast and Time Warner Cable are regulated by the FCC meant that, unlike with most mergers, this one always had to clear two separate hoops: one with the FCC and one with the Department of Justice.

The FCC was charged with determining whether the transaction would serve “the public interest, convenience, and necessity”—a nebulous standard that only exacerbated the companies’ problems. Meanwhile, the Justice Department had to decide whether the larger, combined Comcast would constitute a monopoly—another vaguely worded mandate that left room for interpretation.

The FCC, while technically an independent agency, doesn’t operate in a vacuum. Just weeks after President Obama expressed support for the strongest-possible net neutrality rules last November, the FCC proposed them. So it’s perhaps not insignificant to mention that Obama, a second-term Democrat who’s currently going to battle with liberals by supporting the biggest free-trade deal of all time, would throw the left a bone by quietly encouraging both agencies to slow-roll a merger that most Americans hated anyway.

If Comcast walks away from the Time Warner Cable merger as reported, anti-trust groups who vehemently opposed the deal will celebrate.

But there’s no reason to believe that the $49 billion merger between AT&T and DirecTV—or any of the other huge marriages coming down the pike—won’t go through without a hitch. Anti-trust organizations may have won a battle, but they’re still losing the war.

TIME justice

What’s the Deal With the Comcast-Time Warner Cable Merger?

The Comcast Corp. logo is seen as Brian Roberts, chairman and chief executive officer of Comcast Corp. (R) speaks during a news conference in Washington on June 11, 2013.
Bloomberg/Getty Images The Comcast Corp. logo is seen as Brian Roberts, chairman and chief executive officer of Comcast Corp. (R) speaks during a news conference in Washington on June 11, 2013.

The gargantuan, $45.2 billion merger between the nation’s two largest cable companies, Comcast and Time Warner Cable appears to be hitting a regulatory wall.

Here’s the quick-and-dirty on what’s going down:

Wait, I thought this thing was a done-deal?

You and everyone else. When Comcast first announced the proposed merger 14 months ago, in February 2014, industry insiders thought it was a slam dunk. But late last week, news broke that officials at the Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Justice would hold a meeting this week that, at the very least, would slow the approval process down.

What are the FCC and the Justice Department worried about?

If the merger goes through, a combined Comcast-TWC would control 30% of the pay-TV market, with roughly 30 million subscribers — three times the number of its closest cable competitor. It would also control almost 60% of the country’s market for broadband Internet, the pipe through which an increasing number of Americans watch TV, thanks to companies such as Netflix and Hulu (which Comcast also owns in part). FCC officials have expressed concern that such a merger would “not be in the public interest,” while Justice Department lawyers have whispered that it just might be big enough to trigger anti-trust actions.

So what happened this week?

On Wednesday, the FCC and Justice Department officials met with muckety-mucks at Comcast and TWC to cordially express their misgivings, according to a source familiar with the meeting. FCC officials said they may recommend that the merger be subject to an additional round of scrutiny, which means more meetings, more hearings, and more airing of Comcast’s laundry.

Uh-oh. That doesn’t sound good for the merger.

It’s definitely not. But it’s also hardly a death knell. While FCC and Justice Department officials stress that the merger could still go through, regulatory experts say the process will likely be long and tedious, since there’s no official timeline for when a decision will be made.

So what happens now?

Top lobbyists at Comcast and TWC are expected to spend the next few months doing their very best to cajole officials at the FCC and Justice Department to just push the deal through.

What’s Comcast and TWC’s very best argument in favor of the merger?

The two companies don’t overlap geographically. If you’re a TWC subscriber in New York City, for example, you couldn’t switch over to Comcast even if you wanted to; Comcast doesn’t offer service there. So combining the two companies doesn’t reduce cable and broadband Internet customers’ choices. And, anyway, since Comcast’s broadband service is faster than TWC’s in some places, some current TWC customers could actually see their service improve under Comcast. Comcast, which also owns NBC Universal, also argues that it has to be big in order to compete with enormously popular web streaming companies, such as Netflix and Apple TV.

So what are some government officials and public interest groups’ argument against the merger?

The biggest issue is the power that a combined Comcast-TWC would have on the greater TV/Internet marketplace. It could, for example, wield an unfair competitive advantage against both TV producers, who negotiate to license their content to cable companies, and online video streaming companies, like Netflix, which rely on broadband service providers to deliver their content quickly. Comcast already owns NBC Universal, one of the biggest TV producers, and part of Hulu, one of the biggest streaming TV producers.

What happens next?

At this point, what’s happening inside the FCC and the Justice Department is unclear. Neither agency is under any obligation to make its thinking public at this stage. And while industry insiders say the best weathervane is Wall Street, that’s much help these days either: Comcast stock dropped precipitously on Friday, when news of this week’s meeting with the FCC broke, but skyrocketed again at the close of business Wednesday, stretching up close to a five-year high.

TIME White House

Obama Says Elizabeth Warren Is ‘Wrong’ on Trade

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) delivers remarks during the Good Jobs Green Jobs National Conference at the Washington Hilton on April 13, 2015 in Washington.
Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images Senator Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) delivers remarks during the Good Jobs Green Jobs National Conference in Washington, D.C., on April 13, 2015

After months of simmering, backroom disagreements between the White House and the liberal, populist base of the Democratic Party about the issue of free trade, President Barack Obama went on the offensive Tuesday.

In an interview with MSNBC, Obama said Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and her supporters are “wrong” to think that the White House’s signature free-trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, would be bad for the American economy. The sweeping 12-nation accord, which would become the largest free-trade pact in U.S. history, would open up borders between the U.S. and 11 Pacific Rim countries, including Japan and Australia, and is supported by a wide variety of business groups and most Republicans.

“I love Elizabeth,” Obama told host Chris Matthews. “We’re allies on a whole host of issues. But she’s wrong on this.”

Warren, a longtime ally of the President and a populist hero in the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, has been a vocal opponent of the deal, which Congress is expected to vote on soon. Liberal groups and labor leaders have also publicly protested the deal on the grounds that it would exacerbate inequality and lead to fewer American jobs.

“U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren is out there saying things like this about the trade agreement: ‘It’s going to help the rich get richer and leave everyone else behind,'” Matthews said to Obama. “She also says it challenges U.S. sovereignty.”

“They are throwing the kitchen sink at this trade agreement which will involve 11 nations and ourselves on the Pacific Rim,” he continued. “Why are they saying these things?”

“Chris, think about it,” Obama responded. “I’ve spent the last 6½ years yanking this economy out of the worst recession since the Great Depression. Every single thing I’ve done from the Affordable Care Act to pushing to raise the minimum wage to making sure that young people are able to go to college and get good job training to what we’re pushing now in terms of sick pay leave … Everything I do has been focused on how do we make sure the middle class is getting a fair deal. Now I would not be doing this trade deal if I did not think it was good for the middle class.”

“And when you hear folks make a lot of suggestions about how bad this trade deal is,” the President continued, “when you dig into the facts, they are wrong.”

The full interview will air on MSNBC’s Hardball at 7 p.m. E.T.

TIME Hillary Clinton

How Barack Obama’s Trade Deal Puts Hillary Clinton in a Bind

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton meets with local residents at the Jones St. Java House in LeClaire, Iowa on April 14, 2015.
Charlie Neibergall—AP Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton meets with local residents at the Jones St. Java House in LeClaire, Iowa on April 14, 2015.

Sen. Marco Rubio is rarely on the same side as President Obama. But the Florida Republican, who is running for president in 2016, recently drafted a letter to the White House in support of Obama’s signature free-trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Congress is expected to vote on this term.

This odd-bedfellows moment backs Hillary Clinton, who announced this week that she is running for President, into a particularly uncomfortable corner — sandwiched between Republicans and centrist Democrats on one side, and the Democrats’ liberal, activist base on the other.

So far, Clinton has kept quiet about whether she supports the deal.

Most Republicans, the Obama administration and a powerful coalition of business interests, some of whom have donated to Clinton’s campaign, would like to see the former Secretary of State champion the Trans-Pacific Partnership. They argue that the sweeping, 12-nation free trade pact, the largest-ever for the United States, would been a boon for the U.S. economy.

“We stand ready to work with you to ensure quick consideration and approval of legislation to renew TPA,” Rubio wrote in the draft letter to Obama, which was obtained by TIME, in reference to the Trade Promotion Authority, the so-called fast track bill designed to facilitate the passage of the trade deal. “We must work together to ensure that goods and services created by U.S. workers are able to enter and effectively compete in overseas markets.” Rubio’s office declined to comment on the letter.

Meantime, an increasingly vociferous coalition of liberal lawmakers, labor leaders and grassroots populists, whose support Clinton will need during the primary campaign, have warned Clinton that they deeply oppose the pact, which they describe as a job-killing sweetheart deal for global corporations.

“People feel a lot of urgency and tension around this moment,” said George Goehl, the executive director the the National People’s Action, a network of progressive, grassroots organizations nationwide, in a press call Thursday morning.

“This is not a theoretical question for [Clinton] to answer,” he added. “It’s real-life right now and people want to know where she stands.”

On Wednesday night, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a potential Democratic presidential candidate who has been one of the loudest voices in Congress in opposition to the deal, rallied members of the progressive organization, Democracy For America, against the bill during a conference call. “The only way a member pays the price [for supporting TPP] is if the poeple are educated and organized,” he said, adding later that “What we have got to do is rally the American people and educate them and put pressure on vulnerable members.

“Keep the emails coming, put the pressure on,” he urged.

Clinton’s silence about the Trans-Pacific Partnership has sent both supporters and critics into spirals of speculation.

In her most recent memoir, Hard Choices, published last year, Clinton expressed limited support for the deal. “It’s safe to say that the TPP won’t be perfect,” she wrote. “No deal negotiated among a dozen countries ever will be — but its higher standards, if implemented and enforced, should benefit American businesses and workers.”

But during her 2007 run for the White House, she explicitly distanced herself from the last big free trade deal, the North American Free Trade Agreement which her husband signed in 1994, and said she would not pursue any new trade deals for a while.

After supporting NAFTA as first lady and in her 2003 memoir, Living History, Clinton said in an interview with CNN in 2007 that it “was a mistake to the extent that it did not deliver on what we had hoped it would, and that’s why I call for a trade timeout.”

Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, a liberal Democrat who has been outspoken about his opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, refused to speculate on Clinton’s position on trade. “I’m not going to go there. Hillary’s got a history. I’m pretty sure she was against fast track, against CAFTA. [She] spoke out in ’08 that we should renegotiate NAFTA,” he said Thursday. “So you make an assumption that Hillary is bad on trade but you would be wrong, I’d think.”

The Senate Finance Committee proposed a fast-track bill on Thursday afternoon that would give Obama the power to submit the trade pact to Congress for a simple up-or-down vote with no amendments. Supporters of the Trans-Pacific Partnership say such legislation is crucial as it assures other countries that Congress won’t significantly change the deal during debate.

Opponents, including Sens. Brown and Elizabeth Warren, have called the fast track undemocratic, in part because it makes it easier for negotiators and lobbyists to insert provisions into the trade deal that Congress would not approve individually.

The populist base has also railed against the non-transparent, and sometimes downright secretive, process surrounding the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiation process. As of last fall, a network of 566 stakeholders, 85% of whom represented industry and trade groups, were given limited access to the draft trade agreement, according to the Washington Post. Although more stakeholders have since been invited to access the document through a secure website, the details of the agreement, which will include twelve nations in the Asia-Pacific region, have not been made public or provided to the press. Even lawmakers have not been given copies of the draft plan.

In the coming weeks, Clinton will be asked, probably repeatedly, to take a strong position on the Trans-Pacific Partnership. If she opposes it, she risks alienating a slew of powerful, corporate interests. But if she doesn’t, she risks the rage of the populist left. And if she does nothing, she’ll lose points with both sides and be criticized by pundits for ducking a major issue.

“It’s a choice between a corporate vision of a world economy and a vision in which … workers’ rights and sustainable development is allowed by the legal system,” Roger Hickey, the co-director of Campaign for America’s Future, said on a press call Thursday morning. “It’s a big issue.”

TIME Chris Christie

How Obamacare Makes Chris Christie’s Medicare Plan Possible

Chris Christie
Mel Evans—AP In this April 8, 2015 file photo, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie addresses a gathering as he announces a $202 million flood control project for Union Beach, N.J.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie would like to raise the age to qualify for Medicare, part of a bold plan to reform entitlements that he released Tuesday morning.

The proposal was greeted with cheers from many conservatives, but there’s a twist. The main reason that slowly raising the retirement age from 65 to 69 is politically feasible is a law that many conservatives hate: Obamacare.

That’s because working-class Americans who lose health insurance at work when they retire at, say, age 65, would instead be eligible to receive modest subsidies on insurance exchanges set up by the Affordable Care Act. (Very low-income seniors could also sign up for Medicaid in some states or receive larger subsidies for coverage on the exchanges.)

“Obamacare soaks up the people who would otherwise be displaced by raising the eligibility age for Medicare,” said Avik Roy, a prominent Republican expert in health care policy who has argued that conservatives should use Obamacare to promote their own policies rather than repeal the law. “In the old days, if you raised the eligibility age for Medicare, then someone who is low-income at 65, but not eligible for Medicaid, are stuck in this gap, so what do you do?”

“But with [Obamacare], that safety net is there, so it’s much easier to raise the Medicare age,” added Roy.

But if retirees who, at 65, would have qualified for Medicare, which is relatively cheap, shift en masse to private insurance, which is relatively expensive, does Christie’s plan of raising the eligibility age actually save any money?

That answer has been hotly debated for years, since the cost of providing health care to 65-69 year-olds wouldn’t just disappear, it would shift to another part of the federal budget.

Some argue that it would save money, since the subsidies under the Affordable Care Act get smaller as seniors’ income rises, while Medicare serves seniors of all incomes the same.

“In general, raising the eligibility age for Medicare will save money for the federal government because seniors with relatively higher incomes wouldn’t be eligible for any other federal subsidies,” said Michael E. Chernew, a professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School. “That’s the simple analysis.”

A 2011 Kaiser Family Foundation study estimated that raising the eligibility age for Medicare from 65 to 67 would save the federal government as much as $5.7 billion in the short term. But it could also cost 65- and 66-year-olds $3.7 billion in out-of-pocket expenses, and employers $4.5 billion in retiree health-care costs. (And that’s to say nothing of how the policy could negatively affect the cost of Medicaid and Medicare Part B premiums, according to the Kaiser study.)

Chernew added that raising the Medicare age comes with other, more complex ramifications, including the type and quality of care available, and whether such a policy would encourage more older Americans to remain in the workforce for longer. Another part of Christie’s plan directly incentivizes Americans to keep working past the age of 65 by eliminating the payroll tax for workers 62 and older.

But the broader question is whether conservatives want to make use of the Affordable Care Act to make their own changes to the health care system or whether they want to repeal the law and start from scratch.

Roy, who has advocated for “transcending Obamacare,” argues that that Christie’s policy proposal is a smart political play. “He’s staking out ground as a credible, bipartisan entitlement reformer,” he said.

TIME Supreme Court

New Strategy Against Gay Marriage Divides GOP 2016 Field

US Supreme Court Declines To Hear Appeals On Same-Sex Marriage Cases
Alex Wong—Getty Images People come out from the U.S. Supreme Court on Oct. 6, 2014 in Washington, DC.

Activists want to take on the Supreme Court

MOUNT PLEASANT, Iowa—The U.S. Supreme Court’s expected decision this spring that gay couples have a constitutional right to marry will, for most, mark the end of a decades-long culture war.

But a small circle of Christian activists aren’t giving up yet — and they are already winning over some Republican presidential candidates to their last-ditch effort. Resting their hopes on an effort to redefine the role of the federal judiciary, the activists’ argument takes on a central tenet of modern American politics: that the Supreme Court has the final say on what is the law of the land.

“There are three branches of government,” Andrew Schlafly, a lawyer and conservative activist, told TIME in an interview. “If the Supreme Court overreaches on an issue, the other two branches are there to check and balance it. The Supreme Court can make that decision, but it can’t enforce its own orders in a state. That’s up to the Legislative and Executive branches.”

It’s an argument with a long history in American politics, Schlafly says. He cites the Supreme Court’s 1857 decision in the infamous Dred Scott case, which found that freed slaves were not American citizens and therefore had no standing to sue in court. “The Republican Party said no, we’re not going to go along with that,” Schlafly said. “And the next President was Abraham Lincoln and he did not enforce it.”

Most mainstream constitutional scholars find that argument confounding at best, with criticism from both liberal groups and the conservative Federalist Society.

“It was established a long, long time ago that the federal judiciary has the power to interpret our Constitution and to determine what government actions are constitutional and what are unconstitutional,” said Jeremy Leaming of the progressive American Constitution Society for Law and Policy. “This is pretty basic law-school type of stuff.”

If the Supreme Court decides that same-sex-marriage bans violate the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, then that’s the end of the story, he added. “States can’t choose and pick which parts of the Constitution to uphold and which not to.”

But regardless of how the argument is received in legal circles, it’s already having a significant effect on the Republican presidential primary, where a number of candidates are working overtime to earn the support of social conservatives who are opposed to same-sex marriage.

Last week in Iowa, where evangelical voters hold particular sway, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee emphatically argued that the high court’s ruling would not be the end of the debate.

“There is no such thing as judicial supremacy,” he said at an event organized by the conservative Family Leader group. He added that “unelected black-robed judges” can overturn laws, but even when they do, “then it goes to the legislature and the Executive Branch.”

After a speech at the same summit, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum told TIME that he agrees with Huckabee. “The idea that the courts can just wave their magic wands and not only invalidate laws but pass new ones is a novel concept in the concept of judicial review,” he said. “The courts in my opinion have far exceeded their Article III authority and they need to be pushed back upon by both the Executive and the Congress.”

Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who has argued nine times before the Supreme Court, stopped short of saying that as President he would refuse to enforce a high court decision that found same-sex-marriage bans unconstitutional, but he wrote in a paper provided to the Conservative Republicans of Texas that he would denounce such a ruling “for what it is. Lawless activism, subverting the Constitution.” He also called on conservatives to support a constitutional amendment defining marriage as “limited to one man and one woman” and to consider removing any Supreme Court justice that had “disrespected marriage.”

Florida Senator Marco Rubio has walked a similar tightrope. “Of course, court rulings must be respected, but it is the duty of the President to defend the Constitution, even when the courts won’t,” he wrote in a statement to Iowa conservative radio host Steve Deace.

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul did not say that he would ignore a Supreme Court decision but called for term limits on “out of control, unelected federal judges.”

Other Republican presidential candidates have chosen to take a different route, noting their disagreement with state and federal courts’ pro-gay-marriage decisions without actively trying to undermine them.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said gay marriage was a “settled issue” in his state, while Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker said court rulings must be respected. Both dropped appeals in their home states after losing same-sex-marriage cases. “For us, it’s over in Wisconsin,” Walker told reporters last fall. “The federal courts have ruled that this decision by this court of appeals decision is the law of the land, and we will be upholding it.”

After a Florida court declared same-sex marriage legal, former governor Jeb Bush said, “We live in a democracy, and regardless of our disagreements, we have to respect the rule of law.” All three governors have faced tough questions from some evangelical voters after conceding the fight.

Schlafly predicted that those candidates would lose support from the conservative Christian base in a Republican primary.

“I think voters are going to be extremely interested in whether a candidate is willing to stand up against overreach by the federal courts on marriage,” he said. “I think it will be a big issue — I think it will be the biggest issue.”

The Supreme Court’s decision on gay marriage promises to have particular salience in the first caucus state of Iowa, where a powerful evangelical bloc has long pushed back against the idea of judges defining marriage laws. After the state supreme court ruled in favor of gay marriage in 2009, conservative activists led a successful campaign to deny three justices another term on the bench.

Some conservatives in Iowa are now hoping for a similar backlash against a federal decision. “It’s the Congress that makes the law, it’s the President that executes the law, it’s the people that can amend the Constitution,” said Iowa conservative activist Bob Vander Plaats, who hosted Huckabee, Jindal, Santorum and Texas Governor Rick Perry. “The courts don’t get to do any of those.”

Last month, Deace, the Iowa radio host, asked a slice of the broad field of potential Republican candidates — Cruz, Huckabee, Walker, Perry, Paul, Rubio, Santorum, Ben Carson, Bobby Jindal and Donald Trump — to respond to an essay by John C. Eastman, a conservative professor of law, in which he made the case for ignoring a Supreme Court decision that found same-sex-marriage bans unconstitutional.

Perry, Trump and Jindal did not respond to Deace’s query. Jindal told TIME that he would wait for the court’s decision before weighing in on potential next steps.

Constitutional lawyers on both sides of the ideological divide have pushed back against these arguments. “It’s just fantastical to point to Dred Scott and the Civil War in reference to these cases,” said Leaming of the American Constitution Society. “It’s fantastical and it’s also quite frankly irresponsible.” But for some, at least, it may be good politics.

Read next: Transcript: Read Full Text of Sen. Marco Rubio’s Campaign Launch

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TIME Education

Californians Support Teachers, Feel So-So About Tenure

classroom
Getty Images

Californians trust their public school teachers and want to spend more money supporting public schools, according to a recent poll.

But all that love isn’t unconditional.

California voters also say they oppose the state’s strong tenure laws and believe that all public school teachers should be held accountable through regular performance evaluations, according to the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll, released this week.

The study comes less than year after an important and controversial lower court decision, Vergara vs. California, found that the state’s tenure laws were unconstitutional. The case, currently under appeal, has been used as a template of sorts by activists engaged in similar legal battles against tenure laws in New York and beyond. Both those groups as well as teachers unions will likely use the results of this poll as evidence to advance their own agendas.

The poll, which is the largest statewide survey of registered voters, found that three-fourths of Californians are in favor of putting more money into public schools in economically disadvantaged areas, and 52% are in favor of extending a tax increase that provides additional funding to public schools and other programs. A strong majority—56%—said California public schools teachers are underpaid for the work that they do.

But the majority of California voters also said they wanted to change some key laws governing how teachers are evaluated and laid off.

More than one-third of California voters say they oppose tenure laws, which provide strong job protections for teachers are carefully guarded by the unions. Another 35% say they support tenure, but only after a teacher spends between four and ten years on the job. (California law currently grants teachers tenure after less than 2 years in the classroom.) Nearly three-fourths of California voters said they thought that making it easier to fire underperforming teachers would improve the quality of public schools, according to the poll, while 64% were in favor of tying teachers’ salaries to performance evaluations.

The vast majority of Californians think it doesn’t make sense to layoff teachers according to seniority: 53% said pink slips should go first to teachers with poor classroom evaluations, while 26% thought they should go to those who failed to positively impact students’ scores on standardized tests.

The poll surveyed 1,504 registered voters between March 28-April 7 and has a margin of error of +/- 2.7%.

TIME Hillary Clinton

Liberal Groups Respond to Hillary Clinton Campaign Launch

With a video calling for "boldness"

Hillary Clinton may not face much of an electoral challenge for the Democratic nomination, but the progressive and populist left is hoping that she will at least have to contend with their ideas.

On Sunday, minutes after Clinton announced her bid for the White House in 2016, Democracy For America, which has partnered with MoveOn.org to try to draft Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren into the race, released a statement urging Clinton to articulate how, exactly, she plans to “stand up to the wealthy and powerful interests” that “dominate our political process.”

Meanwhile, Progressive Change Campaign Committee released a video that begins and ends with Hillary Clinton’s voice, lifted from her 2007 campaign launch: “Let’s start a dialogue about your ideas and mine,” she says.

The video ends with Clinton’s voice from that same launch: “So let the conversation begin,” she says. “I have a feeling it’s going to be very interesting.”

The video is part of the PCCC’s recent “Ready For Boldness” campaign, which calls on state and national leaders to demand that candidates embrace “big, bold, economic-populist ideas,” like affordable college, expanding social security benefits, and breaking up the big banks. The video quotes Sens. Harry Reid of Nevada, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Al Franken of Minnesota and Jeff Merkley of Oregon in support of the idea.

“We hope Hillary Clinton thinks big and takes on powerful interests on behalf of everyday working families,” said PCCC cofounder Adam Green in a statement. “Progressives will continue working to put big, bold, economic populist ideas at the center of the national conversation.”

DFA executive director Charles Chamberlain said that Clinton has earned the respect of progressives “because of her deep commitment to the rights of women and children,” but suggested in a statement that she would have to do more to earn their support in the long run.

“We’re looking forward to hearing more about Secretary Hillary Clinton’s vision for the future of our country and, in particular, how she plans to address our nation’s income inequality crisis and stand up to the wealthy and powerful interests on Wall Street and elsewhere that dominate our political process,” he said.

“There’s no question a lot of progressives feel concerned about Secretary Clinton’s position on these and other issues,” said George Goehl, the executive director of National People’s Action Campaign, in a statement. “They want to know where she stands.”

Read next: Can This Man Beat Hillary in Iowa?

TIME Economy

The Middle Class Is Doing Worse Than You Think

It seems like everyone is concerned about economic inequality these days. A Gallup poll in January showed that more than two-thirds of Americans are dissatisfied with the way income and wealth are distributed, and politicians from both parties are talking about the problems facing the middle class.

But the problem may be even worse than Americans think.

A new report by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis — hardly a liberal bastion — found that economic inequality is actually much worse if you take into account the demographics of the middle class.

Under the traditional economic model, which ranks all American families by their incomes and then analyzes those in the middle, the median income of the middle class increased only slightly, by between 2% and 8%, between 1989 and 2013.

But if you use a different economic model that takes into account demographic and sociological attributes, such as age, educational attainment, race or ethnicity, the median income of the middle class has actually decreased by 16% during that same time period, according to the report, which was released Tuesday.

Senior economic adviser William Emmons and policy analyst Bryan Noeth argue that the method economists typically use to measure the financial health of the middle class fails to reflect important shifts in the population, like whether a middle class family qualifies as middle class in terms of income but not in accumulated wealth, or whether a family is counted among the middle class one year, but not the next.

Instead, they suggest using a method that tracks the group more holistically, by defining a middle class family as one “headed by someone who is at least 40 years old, who is white or Asian with exactly a high school diploma, or by someone who is black or Hispanic with a two- or four-year college degree.”

“In effect, the bar has been rising to remain near the middle of the income and wealth distributions,” Emmons and Noeth write. “The growing importance of college degrees and other advantages more commonly enjoyed by white and Asian families are contributing to significant downward pressure on the relative standing of less-educated and historically disadvantaged minority families.”

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