TIME Hillary Clinton

Why Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Isn’t the Most Liberal Ever

Democratic presidential candidate and former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks at Rancho High School in Las Vegas on May 5, 2015.
Ethan Miller—Getty Images Democratic presidential candidate and former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks at Rancho High School in Las Vegas on May 5, 2015.

Her positions are all within mainstream political opinion

A number of Beltway pundits have recently decided that Hillary Clinton is not just running a liberal campaign, but perhaps the most liberal campaign in decades. But that’s not entirely accurate.

Just as you can’t step into the same river twice, no presidential campaign ever faces the same electorate. And on a range of issues, America has become more liberal since the last time Clinton ran.

Without exception, the positions that have been cited as “boldly liberal” are entirely in line with mainstream public opinion.

Take gay marriage, which Clinton endorsed in 2013. As of last year, 6 in 10 Americans—and a whopping 74% of Democrats—were in favor of it too, according to a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll.

Or immigration. Last week, Clinton was congratulated by many liberals for backing a broad path to citizenship for roughly 11 million undocumented people. But in an NBC/WSJ poll last fall, 60% of Americans were in favor of a “path to citizenship” and nearly 75% were even more in favor of it if the plan involved asking immigrants to jump through certain hoops, such as paying back taxes.

Or criminal justice reform. Last week, Clinton called for reforming sentencing laws and reducing how much military-grade equipment is funneled off to police departments. But as of last year, that’s pretty much exactly where most Americans were, too: 63% were against mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent crimes, according to Pew Research, and nearly 60% thought militarization of police had gone too far.

The same is true on other socially liberal issues that Clinton has backed lately, much to the delight of the liberal base, including better gun control measures, a minimum wage increase, and paid family leave. As of 2013, 91% of Americans supported mandating criminal background checks before someone is allowed to purchase a weapon, and 60% supported reinstating a ban on assault weapons, according to Gallup. Roughly two-thirds of Americans are now in favor of raising the minimum wage and 60% believe that employers ought to give paid time-off to employees when they’re sick, according to a February AP-GfK poll.

In early May, liberal activist groups claimed victory after Clinton’s campaign manager, Robby Mook, hinted that the Democratic front-runner would soon announce a comprehensive plan to make college more affordable. But again, she’s right in line with most Americans. According to the Harvard Institute of Politics, 79% of Americans described student debt as “a problem” that needs to be addressed.

At the same time, Clinton has kept mum on some liberal ideas that are more divisive. She’s avoided taking a stance on President Obama’s big new free trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which many liberals have criticized. While she’s made some populist remarks about reining in Wall Street, she’s stopped short of getting specific on liberal ideas like capping CEO pay or breaking up the big banks. And she’s not taken a definitive stance on the construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, which has become a signature issue for environmentalists hoping to address climate change.

It’s possible, then, to imagine a more liberal campaign than the one Clinton is running. And if seems like she has the most liberal campaign in history, that’s partly because she’s facing an America that is more liberal on those issues.

TIME global trade

Did Senate Democrats Just Kill Obama’s Free Trade Deal?

President Barack Obama pauses during a meeting at the White House in Washington on May 1, 2015.
Susan Walsh—AP President Barack Obama pauses during a meeting at the White House in Washington on May 1, 2015.

In his years-long effort to advance a massive new trade deal, President Obama weathered a major setback Tuesday from an unlikely source: his fellow Democrats.

While Senate Republicans largely rallied around a vote to consider the so-called fast-track trade bill, which would strengthen Obama’s authority to complete the Trans-Pacific Partnership, all but one Senate Democrat voted to block it.

The fast-track bill would limit Congress’s ability to amend future trade pacts and is widely considered a vital first step on the path to ratifying the partnership, the biggest free trade deal of all time and a legacy-defining priority for the Obama Administration.

Whether Tuesday’s setback is permanent is now the big question.

Shortly after the vote, a half-dozen liberal groups, including the AFL-CIO, Democracy For America and Greenpeace, which have vehemently opposed both fast track and the trade deal, celebrated Tuesday’s blocked vote as a major victory. “We appreciate those senators who stood with working people today against a bill that would have led to undemocratic trade deals that lower wages and eliminate jobs,” crowed AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka in a statement. “This vote sends a message loud and clear.”

But whether the vote actually forebodes the end of the fast track—and the end of the Trans-Pacific Partnership more broadly—is actually not clear at all.

Simon Rosenberg, the founder and president of the New Democrat Network and a supporter of free trade, explained the day’s drama as simply an effort by Senate Democrats, many of whom have every intention to eventually vote in favor of fast-track, to sweeten the pot a bit in the meantime. “What Democrats are saying is, if you want our votes, we need more than what we have now,” he said.

What exactly Senate Democrats hope to get out of this maneuver—and whether their power play will work—will likely be hashed out in negotiations in coming weeks.

Pro-trade Democrats, including Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, who coauthored the fast track bill, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, who also supports giving the president fast track authority, have not been shy in their demands. Both said they would not vote to advance the fast track until Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell agreed to include in the package three other trade measures, including one that would crack down on currency manipulation, one that would aid U.S. workers harmed by a new free trade deal and another that would strengthen the government’s ability to crack down on violations of the trade deal.

There is apparently room for negotiation. New York Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer, who is in favor of the fast track and the free trade deal, but said he withheld his support until a measure on currency manipulation was included, told the New York Times that he might be willing to drop that demand. By Tuesday evening, McConnell was already wheeling and dealing, telling reporters that he had already repackaged the fast track bill with the measure helping U.S. workers, and said that Democrats could add other measures as amendments.

But Bhaskar Chakravorti, the founding executive director of Tufts University’s Fletcher’s Institute for Business in the Global Context, warned that it’s not that simple. New measures can’t simply be added overnight to the draft trade deal, which currently encompasses the U.S. and 11 other countries, including Japan, Australia, Vietnam and Chile and would govern 40% of the world’s Gross Domestic Product. U.S. negotiators will have to take each change back into multiple rounds of discussion with all 11 partner countries, all of which are at different stages of development and have different things to gain from the pact, Chakravorti said.

One of the stickiest wickets, experts say, might be a measure restricting currency manipulation. Japan has said explicitly that it will not join a free trade deal that includes such restrictions.

But, Chakravorti added, the Democratic Senators’ public mutiny against their own president could also help U.S. negotiators in the long run. “Preventing the fast track is already sending a signal to the negotiators on the other side of the table [in foreign countries] to offer certain protections for certain type of jobs,” he added. “It was meant to send a signal and I’m sure that signal is being heard.”

TIME Congress

Obama Moves Closer to Inking Pacific Trade Deal

US President Barack Obama speaks about trade policy at Nike Headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon, May 8, 2015 .
Brendan Smialowski—Getty Images US President Barack Obama speaks about trade policy at Nike Headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon, May 8, 2015 .

President Obama may move closer to a career-defining Pacific Rim trade deal Tuesday that could permanently alter the balance of power between the White House and Congress on trade issues.

The Senate is expected to approve a bill to give the president “fast track” authority to make trade deals, reducing Congress’ role to approving or rejecting the entire deal. Members of Congress would not be allowed to filibuster a vote on a trade pact, add amendments, delete parts or otherwise tweak the final version of a trade deal.

If it passes, the bill would grease the skids for Obama to finish the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an unprecedentedly massive trade pact binding the U.S. and eleven other countries, including Japan, Australia and Chile, and governing 40% of the world’s GDP.

Most trade experts agree that if the fast track bill passes, it all but guarantees that the Trans-Pacific Partnership will too.

Supporters of the Trans-Pacific Partnership say getting the fast track bill passed is crucial since, without it, Congress could muddle up a document that has been delicately wrought in private negotiations for nearly a decade.

But critics of the deal, which includes an unlikely coalition of Tea Party Republicans and liberal Democrats, argue that passing the fast-track bill is akin to signing a blank check.

Conservative critics worry that the fast-track hands undue power to a president they already don’t trust. In an impassioned plea to supporters Sunday, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions wrote that the fast-track bill marks a “consolidation of power in the executive branch,” by eliminating “Congress’ ability to amend or debate trade implementing legislation and guarantees an up-or-down vote on a far-reaching international agreement before that agreement has received any public review.”

Liberal Democrats, for their part, argue that the Trans-Pacific Partnership would be bad for working class Americans by shipping more decent jobs overseas. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has said that the Trans-Pacific Partnership will strip safeguards on the financial industry and establish a shadowy international legal system, wherein powerful corporates can sue countries through private tribunals. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada has promised to filibuster it if it comes to that.

Meanwhile, Obama has launched an aggressive and unusually personal lobbying campaign to pass both the fast-track bill and the final trade deal. In past months, he has met with members of Congress in the West Wing, promised allies future political support, and publicly attacked members of his own party who have been critical of the deal.

On Saturday, Obama called his one-time top ally, Warren, “absolutely wrong” in her opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership. “The truth of the matter is that Elizabeth is, you know, a politician like everybody else,” he said in an interview with Yahoo News on Saturday. “And you know, she’s got a voice that she wants to get out there. And I understand that. And on most issues, she and I deeply agree. On this one, though, her arguments don’t stand the test of fact and scrutiny.”

Warren responded Monday by arguing that Obama should release the full text of the agreement now in order to clear the air.

The Senate is expected to pass the fast-track bill tomorrow by a hair, although it’s hardly a slam dunk. The House, which has not yet scheduled a vote on the bill, is likely to put up more of a fight. The final language of the Trans-Pacific Partnership itself will be hammered out by negotiators in Guam this week and in the Philippines later this month.

TIME Congress

Can Elizabeth Warren Kill President Obama’s Trade Deal?

Sen. Elizabeth Warren listens to Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen testify, at a Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee hearing on "Semiannual Monetary Policy Report to Congress" on Capitol Hill in Washington, Feb. 24, 2015.
Kevin Lamarque—Reuters Sen. Elizabeth Warren listens to Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen testify, at a Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee hearing on "Semiannual Monetary Policy Report to Congress" on Capitol Hill in Washington, Feb. 24, 2015.

Elizabeth Warren, the famously fiery populist senator from Massachusetts, has a reputation for having a bit of a reverse-Midas touch, when she wants to: if she decides she is against something, it often turns to smoke.

The latest subject of her withering glare? In a letter to supporters Thursday afternoon, Warren decried a sub-chapter in the Obama administration’s proposed trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, that would allow companies to sue foreign countries through an extra-judicial tribunal made up of three for-profit arbitrators.

If that sounds a little hard-to-follow, that’s because it is. But Warren’s street cred with liberals is strong enough that they tend to take her lead even when the argument can’t be summed up in a simple bumper sticker slogan.

Provisions for these tribunals — known as an investor-state dispute system, or ISDS — have appeared in more than 3,000 trade deals, including the North American Free Trade Agreement, since the 1950s, according to Jeff Zients, the director of the National Economic Council.

But Warren argues that it’s different this time around. For one, the Trans-Pacific Partnership is enormous. It includes the U.S. and 11 other countries, including Japan, Australia and Chile, oversees a whopping 40% of the world’s total annual GDP, and it’s irreversible: once we’re in it, there’s no getting out.

And for another, she claims that ISDS isn’t what it used to be. Two decades ago, when NAFTA was ratified, multi-national corporations were smaller and less powerful than they are today. Her case is that as those interests have gotten bigger and bigger, they’ve gotten more litigious: in the four decades from 1959 to 2002, there were fewer than 100 ISDS cases world wide. Between 2010 and 2013 alone, there were more than 200.

“Recent cases include a French company that sued Egypt because Egypt raised its minimum wage, a Swedish company that sued Germany because Germany decided to phase out nuclear power after Japan’s Fukushima disaster, and a Dutch company that sued the Czech Republic because the Czechs didn’t bail out a bank that the company partially owned,” she wrote in a Washington Post op-ed this winter.

In February, John Oliver, the Comedy Central comedian and host of Last Week Tonight who also holds sway with liberals, mocked an effort by the tobacco company, Philip Morris, to use ISDS to reverse public health regulations in Uruguay’s designed to reduce the smoking rate.

President Obama, backed by most Republicans, a majority of Democrats, and the powerful corporate interest groups, like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable, says Warren is just plain wrong. (He’ll be at Nike’s headquarters in Oregon on Friday explaining why the TPP is great.) ISDS is necessary, the deal’s backers argue, to ensure the corporations feel comfortable making direct foreign investments in other countries — particularly those with less well developed court systems.

But policy arguments aside for a moment, will the famous Warren touch work this time around?

In the past, Warren has been successful in taking down very narrow targets. Last fall, she set her sights on Antonio Weiss, the White House’s nominee for Treasury undersecretary for domestic finance, and by January, he’d bowed out. Before that, Warren helped doom Obama’s plan to nominate former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers to head the Federal Reserve.

But Warren’s also had some off-days. She failed, for example, in her effort last December to quash Congress’s unwieldy continuing resolution and omnibus bill — nicknamed the “Cromnibus” — which included provisions that unwound financial regulations.

And the Trans-Pacific Partnership, for better or worse, may have more in common with the latter than the former. Like the Cromnibus, the TPP is huge, unwieldy, and also includes provisions that many Democrats will like.

Plus, there are technical difficulties. If Congress passes what’s known as the “fast-track” bill next week — it’s unclear if they currently have the votes they need — there won’t be any room for debate about which parts to keep, rewrite, amend or scrap. The fast-track bill binds Congress into an up or down vote on the final version of the trade deal.

And if it comes down to a simple “yes” or “no,” Warren’s famous touch, however powerful, might not be enough.

TIME White House

Why Obama’s Visit to Nike Bothers Liberals

President Barack Obama arrives at the Oregon Air National Guard Base ahead of a fundraiswer at Nike, in Portland on May 7, 2015.
Brendan Smialowski—AFP/Getty Images President Barack Obama arrives at the Oregon Air National Guard Base ahead of a fundraiswer at Nike, in Portland on May 7, 2015.

If there’s one thing the liberal, activist base can agree on, it’s that they hate President Obama’s proposed trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership. They argue that it would transfer hundreds of thousands of decent American jobs to developing countries, like Vietnam, where workers, laboring under poor conditions, make pennies an hour.

And if there’s a second thing that liberal can agree on, it’s that the multinational sports outfitter, Nike, which conducts virtually all of its manufacturing in Asia and Mexico, is perhaps the world’s most powerful symbol, fairly or not, of precisely this kind of exploitation of cheap overseas labor, to the detriment of the American worker.

So Obama’s decision to visit Nike to promote the trade deal Thursday has liberals completely baffled.

“It’s crazy,” said Neil Sroka, the communications director of Democracy for America, a liberal advocacy group. “It would almost be funny on its face, if it weren’t such a sad indication of how out of touch the White House is on this issue with the lived experience of the American people.”

T.J. Helmstetter of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee added that “President Obama’s position on the TPP is misguided, as evidenced by his visit to Nike, which pays workers overseas so little they can’t afford to buy the shoes they’re making.”

Campaign for America’s Future, another liberal group opposed to the trade deal, is organizing a protest outside of Nike’s headquarters on Friday.

The White House, for its part, is making the case that visiting Nike — famous precisely because of its embrace of globalization — makes perfect sense. The president is expected to argue that the trade deal will reduce prices for American consumers by cutting tariffs on things like imported Nike sportswear.

“By allowing our trading partners to produce the goods in which they are relatively more efficient, the United States can import at lower prices than would prevail if we were to use our scarce resources to produce the goods ourselves,” economic advisers at the White House wrote in a report this month.

The trade deal, the advisers explained, would set new, higher standards for labor conditions, environmental protections and copyright. In exchange, lower tariffs at the U.S. border would make it easier to import Asian-made products — including Nike clothing and shoes. The U.S. imported $987.41 billion in goods and services from the Asia-Pacific region in 2012, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

It’s an argument that is no doubt music to the ears of the corporate leadership at Nike, where 56% of the company’s revenue comes from outside Mexico, the United States and Canada, according to the company’s filings.

But labor groups, environmentalists, liberals, and some Tea Party Republicans say that argument doesn’t take into account the reality of average Americans.

“The argument doesn’t make any sense for struggling workers and their families,” said Sroka. “If you can’t get a job because companies like Nike are shipping their jobs to Vietnam where they’re can pay workers less, then it matters very little to you that your shoes are going to be two bucks less.”

Dave Johnson, a senior fellow at the progressive Campaign For America’s Future, made a more populist argument. “Phil Knight, head of Nike, is now worth $23 billion because America’s trade policies encourage companies like Nike to create and move jobs outside of the U.S.,” he wrote. “The 23rd-richest American is one more symbol of the kind of inequality that results from outsourcing enabled and encouraged by these trade policies. Workers here lose (or never get) jobs; workers there are paid squat; a few people become vastly, unimaginably wealthy.”

For the last two decades, Nike has come under consistent fire from civil rights and anti-globalization groups for operating sweatshops that exploit weak labor laws and employ children. As recently as last year, the company was criticized for abusing workers in Indonesia and underpaying workers in China.

Nike says it now operates all its factories above board. “Nike fully supports the inclusion of strong labor provisions” in trade deals, the company said in a statement. “We’ve made significant improvements and driven positive change for workers in contract factories that make Nike product.”

If the TPP is approved it will include 12 nations, including Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Chile, and oversee 40% of the world’s total GDP. Obama’s trip this Friday comes just as Congress is debating the passage of “fast track” legislation, which would give Congress only an up-or-down vote on the trade deal, with no ability to tinker with the details.

Obama and his allies on trade, which include Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden and the vast majority of the Republican establishment, have argued that “fast track” legislation is necessary to smooth the way for the TPP. Congress is expected to vote on the fast track next week.

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.

Your browser is out of date. Please update your browser at http://update.microsoft.com