TIME White House

Obama Apologizes to Families of al-Qaeda Hostages Killed in U.S. Drone Strike

'No words can fully express our regret over this terrible tragedy.'

President Barack Obama took “full responsibility” for the death of two hostages held by al-Qaeda in a drone strike in January.

Speaking at the White House on Thursday, Obama said that Dr. Warren Weinstein, an American held since 2011, and Giovanni Lo Porto, an Italian national held since 2012, were killed in a counter-terrorism operation on an al-Qaeda compound in the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“It’s a cruel and bitter truth that in times of war mistakes, sometimes deadly mistakes, can occur,” he said. “I offer our deepest apologies to the families.”

Weinstein’s family issued a statement on a website called Bring Warren Home, noting their disappointment

“We do not yet fully understand all of the facts surrounding Warren’s death but we do understand that the U.S. government will be conducting an independent investigation of the circumstances,” they wrote. “We look forward to the results of that investigation. But those who took Warren captive over three years ago bear ultimate responsibility.”

The White House said the same strike is believed to have killed Ahmed Farouq, an al-Qaeda who held American citizenship. Another U.S. strike in January killed American al-Qaeda member Adam Gadahn, Earnest revealed.

“While both Farouq and Gadahn were al-Qaeda members, neither was specifically targeted, and we did not have information indicating their presence at the sites of these operations,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.

As of Thursday morning, Gadahn was still listed on the FBI’s “Most Wanted Terrorists” list.

In 2011, a U.S. drone strike targeted and killed Anwar al-Awlaki, a leader of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a case that stirred vigorous debate in the U.S. over the killings of Americans fighting alongside terrorist groups without trial.

In his brief statement to reporters, Obama said that after reviewing “hundreds of hours of surveillance, we believed that this was an al-Qaeda compound, that no civilians were present and capturing these terrorists was not possible.”

He added that he has ordered the operations to be declassified so that they could be publicly reviewed.

He also praised the two men, noting they had traveled to Pakistan as aid workers to help those facing poverty.

“There could be no starker contrast between these two selfless men and their al Qaeda captors,” he said.

TIME

Clinton Allies Knock Down Donor Allegations, New Questions Pop Up

Hillary Clinton attends the Hillary Rodham Clinton Awards for Advancing Women in Peace and Security at Georgetown University in Washington, DC on April 22, 2015.
Win McNamee—Getty Images Hillary Clinton attends the Hillary Rodham Clinton Awards for Advancing Women in Peace and Security at Georgetown University in Washington, DC on April 22, 2015.

Hillary Clinton’s allies are pushing back against the suggestion in a new book that donations to the Clinton Foundation influenced the handling of the sale of U.S. uranium mines to a Russian-backed company.

The new book, Clinton Cash: the Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich, says that Hillary Clinton failed in 2010 to block the purchase of American uranium mines by a Russian-backed company while people with financial and strategic interests in the sale were making millions of dollars of donations to the Clinton Foundation, a philanthropy run by her husband, former President Bill Clinton.

The suggestion of outside influence over U.S. decisionmaking is based on little evidence — the allegations are presented as questions rather than proof. The deal’s approval was the result of an extensive interagency process that required the assent of at least nine different officials and agencies. A former State Department official who participated in the deal’s approval told TIME that Clinton did not weigh in on the uranium sale one way or the other, and her campaign calls the allegations in the book “absurd conspiracy theories.”

But the book’s dark suggestions reflect the growing problem Clinton faces in her run for the White House in 2016 as more and more details of the foundation’s fundraising activities present the appearance of impropriety and lack of transparency during her time as Secretary of State.

One chapter of the book, written by conservative author Peter Schweizer and obtained by TIME, focuses on an obscure deal that had been years in the making. Schweizer says Secretary Clinton failed to block the Russian State Atomic Nuclear Agency (Rosatom), a Kremlin-controlled nuclear agency, from purchasing a controlling stake in an American Uranium mining concern, Uranium One. The company’s chairman, Ian Telfer, was a major donor to the Clinton Foundation. Several other Clinton Foundation donors stood to gain from the agreement as well.

Because the proposed sale involved the transfer of potentially strategic U.S. assets, the Uranium One transaction was subject to approval by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), an interagency panel that comprises powerful federal agencies. In prior years, Clinton had urged the committee to take a hawkish view of deals involving U.S. strategic assets, and Schweizer says that should have inclined her against the Rosatom purchase. “Despite a long record of publicly opposing such deals Hillary didn’t object,” Schweizer writes in the version of the chapter obtained by TIME. “Why the apparent reversal? Could it be because shareholders involved in the transaction had transferred approximately $145 million to the Clinton Foundation or its initiatives? Or because her husband had profited from lucrative speaking deals arranged by companies associated with those who stood to profit from the deal?”

The State Department’s role in approving the deal was part of an extensive bureaucratic process, and the chapter offers no indication of Hillary Clinton’s personal involvement in, or even knowledge of, the deliberations. State has just one vote on the nine-member committee, which also includes the departments of Defense, Treasury and Energy. Disagreements are traditionally handled at the staff level, and if they are not resolved, they are escalated to deputies at the relevant agencies. If the deputies can’t resolve the dispute, the issues can be elevated to the Cabinet Secretary level and, if needed, to the President for a decision. The official chairman of CFIUS is the Treasury Secretary, not the Secretary of State.

Before purchasing a controlling stake in Uranium One, the Russian conglomerate also had to get approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, an independent agency outside of the State Department’s purview, as well as Utah’s nuclear regulator. It also received the sign-off of Canada’s foreign investment review agency. The deal itself was the outgrowth of a diplomatic initiative launched by the Administration of George W. Bush to expand trade opportunities between Russia and the U.S., including in the area of nuclear power.

One official involved in the process said Clinton had nothing to do with the decision in the Uranium One case. Jose Hernandez, who as former Assistant Secretary of State for Economic, Energy and Business Affairs was the State Department’s principal representative on the committee, rejected the notion that Clinton’s foundation ties had any bearing on the deal. “Secretary Clinton never intervened with me on any CFIUS matter,” he told TIME. A spokesperson for Hillary for America, Josh Schwerin, also attacked the suggestions made in the book. The transaction “went through the usual process and the official responsible for managing CFIUS reviews has stated that the Secretary did not intervene with him,” Schwerin says, “This book is twisting previously known facts into absurd conspiracy theories.”

Throughout the new book, Schweizer suggests that Clinton used her authority as Secretary of State to intervene on behalf of companies that donated to her family’s foundation. Clinton has sought to distance herself from the charges on the campaign trail, calling the GOP claims “distractions.”

Even if Clinton was not involved in approving the deal with the Russian company, the book does raise more questions about the Clinton Foundation’s transparency regarding its donors and shows that the issue will continue to dog her candidacy. The book reports that Telfer, the Uranium One chairman, donated $2.1 million to a Clinton Foundation subsidiary through a charity he controls around the time the purchase was being finalized, an assertion TIME has verified through a review of public records. Those donations do not appear on the foundation’s disclosure of donors. Telfer is listed for smaller donations he made directly to the parent foundation.

In 2008 the Clinton Foundation and President Barack Obama’s transition team signed a memorandum of understanding about the foundation’s activities to allay congressional concerns over potential conflicts of interest stemming from its donors as Clinton was preparing to become Obama’s Secretary of State. “In anticipation of Senator Clinton’s nomination and confirmation as Secretary of State, the foundation will publish its contributors this year,” the agreement states. “During any service by Senator Clinton as Secretary of State, the foundation will publish annually the names of new contributors.”

Exempt from that relationship were an array of Clinton Foundation subsidiaries, including the Clinton Giustra Enterprise Partnership, a Canadian-based charity that works to establish “social enterprises” in the developing world. Telfer is one of three directors of a charity called the Fernwood Foundation, according to Canadian tax records dug up by Schweizer and verified by TIME. Fernwood has donated $2.1 million to the Clinton Giustra Enterprise Partnership, which at one point passed through as much as 88% of its donations to the main Clinton Foundation, Schweizer writes. Schweizer alleges that Telfer had 1.6 million shares in Uranium One and profited hugely off the deal, a claim that couldn’t be independently verified.

The Clinton Giustra Enterprise Partnership is listed as having given contributed more than $25 million to the foundation according to its online disclosures, but the foundation does not list any of the Giustra Partnership’s individual donors. When contacted by TIME, a spokesman for the Clinton Foundation deferred comment to the Clinton Giustra Enterprise Partnership, which didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Without a full account of donors to the foundations, allegations like the one in Schweizer’s book will follow Clinton’s candidacy even as she seeks to remain above the fray. The campaign, for its part, will continue to do its best to discredit Schweizer’s book and distance itself from Republican attacks.

“While Republicans focus their efforts on attacks, Hillary Clinton is going to continue to focus on how to help everyday Americans get ahead and stay ahead,” the Clinton campaign said in a memo circulated Tuesday night. “That’s what her campaign is about, and no book — especially one as discredited as this one — is going to change that.”

Read next: How New Hampshire’s Women Paved the Way for Hillary Clinton

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TIME Social Media

This App Will Flag Your Offensive Tweets Before Your Future Employer Sees Them

Hey Clear Ethan Czahor Jeb Bush
Hey Clear

It was created by a man who lost his dream job with the Jeb Bush campaign.

Ethan Czahor’s dreams collapsed on the national stage earlier this year. The 31-year-old age digital whiz had spent years positioning himself to work in politics and earlier this year Jeb Bush’s campaign came calling, hiring Czahor as its chief technology officer.

He lasted 36 hours, done in by a history of offensive tweets and blog posts that was uncovered by reporters and opposition researchers after TIME broke the news of his hire.

Now, two months later, he is looking to make his comeback, turning lemons into lemonade with Clear, an app designed to keep what happened to him from happening to anyone else.

“Why wasn’t I smart enough to take care of this before it happens,” Czahor asked himself for weeks after the controversy, he told TIME. Now he’s set about making sure people can manage potentially damaging social media histories.

The app, releasing publicly Monday, scours a user’s Twitter, Facebook and Instagram histories for potentially inflammatory or damaging posts, and makes their removal a breeze. It’s designed for the next generation in the workforce, who grew up sharing vast amounts of information online, some of which may become a liability in their future careers.

“This could happen to anyone in any field—it doesn’t have to be politics—every millennial is now entering the workforce, and maybe even a senior position, and everything that they’ve said online for the last 10 years is still there, and that’s a new thing for this generation,” Czahor said.

Already, there’s a long history of political aides being done in by their social media postings. Last month, GOP operative Liz Mair was forced to resign from a top digital post for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker after old tweets surfaced showing her criticizing the first-in-the-nation caucus state of Iowa. Benjamin Cole, a senior aide to disgraced Rep. Aaron Schock was forced to resign after racist Facebook posts were dug up. In 2008, former Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau was forced to apologize after a photo emerged of him groping a life-sized cut-out of then-Sen. Hillary Clinton.

The app works by flagging postings that contain watchwords: the obvious four letter ones, as well as “gay,” “Americans” and “black.” Posts are also subjected to sentiment analysis, using IBM’s Watson supercomputer, to try to flag additional negative messages. The app’s algorithms are far from perfect, but it errs on the side of caution. The Clear analysis of this reporter’s Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts scored a -2,404—a record low in the private beta—from the app’s proprietary grading system which calculates the potential liability of a person’s social media history.

It will soon be converted to a traditional 0-100 scale, Czahor said, with higher scores meaning safer profiles. (One reason for this reporter’s low rating: quotes from presidential candidates frequently scored as negative, while words on the watch list triggered alerts.)

“The most challenging part of this is determining which tweets are actually offensive, and that’s something that will take a while to get really good at,” Czahor said.

Czahor, who moved to California after college to test his hand at improv comedy at The Groundlings while working at Internet start ups, maintained that the offending comments that cost him the Bush job were meant to be good-natured. “I was telling jokes with my friends and they were completely tongue-in-cheek and completely harmless,” he said. “But years later after I had forgotten about them, they’d been pulled out of context and it looked terrible.”

“Most people don’t know that halloween is German for ‘night that girls with low self-esteem dress like sluts,'” one, now-deleted tweet read. “When I burp in the gym I feel like it’s my way of saying, ‘sorry guys, but I’m not gay,'” said another.

Clear is purely a defensive weapon, and can’t be used the growing class of opposition researchers against whom Czahor is looking to protect. The app requires that users grant access to their social media accounts, meaning, that a third party can’t review a user’s history without their consent.

Czahor said he believes that racist and other offensive postings should be held to account, saying Clear was designed for the universe of embarrassing messages that can simply be taken out of context months or years later.

While some messages, if public, may be captured in public archives and thus out of the reach of the app’s delete feature, Czahor said he believes the awareness alone of what a person tweeted or posted years ago is a valuable resource. “When this was happening,” Czahor added, “there were all of these emails asking how I felt about this statement or that statement, and I remember thinking ‘did I even write this?’”

Czahor said the next step would be to expand the app’s reach to emails, personal blogs, and search results, pointing to the embarrassing leaks from last year’s Sony hack as another potential use-case.

“You as a person exist in a lot of places on the Internet, and I just feel that you have the right to at least know what’s out there, and to take care of it.”

TIME 2016 Election

Ohio Governor Kasich Flirts With Presidential Run in New Hampshire

GOP 2016 New Hampshire
Jim Cole—AP Gov. John Kasich, R-Ohio, speaks at the Republican Leadership Summit in Nashua, N.H. on April 18, 2015.

“Don’t commit too soon," he told local Republicans

Ohio Governor John Kasich took his presidential flirtations to a new level Saturday, asking New Hampshire Republicans to keep their powder dry as he decides whether to run.

“Think about me, would ya,” he said at the party’s first-in-the-nation conference. “Don’t commit too soon.”

Buoyed by a growing economy in Ohio, Kasich has been floating a presidential run for more than a year in GOP circles, but has done little to expand his profile nationally or in Iowa and New Hampshire. In an 18-minute address followed by a brief question-and-answer session, Kasich, a former House budget chairman, set about trying to change that, educating a roomful of GOP voters about his record in Washington and Columbus.

“Foreign policy experience, actual success in Washington … changing Ohio and having people say, ‘Pretty good guy, not perfect, pretty good guy,”’ Kasich said. “Whether I run for President or not, I want you to think about this, because Ohio is a microcosm of America.”

Kasich said he has yet to make up his mind whether to run. “I’m trying to figure out what the Lord wants me to do with my life,” he said. “If I feel this is my call, I will come back again and again and again — and in the meantime I’m not going to change my message.”

“My only goal and my only purpose is to build a stronger situation for the people that I serve,” he said. “And that’s why I wanted to come here.”

Known for a do-it-his-own-way approach to governance, Kasich tried to curb the power of public-sector unions but expanded Medicaid. In Congress he fought to balance the budget — and has embraced the cause of passing a national balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution. He won re-election in 2014 by an overwhelming margin against a scandal-plagued Democratic opponent.

Kasich joked about his failed 2000 run for President, when he withdrew before the first votes were cast, saying he couldn’t hold town halls because voters wouldn’t show up.

Kasich’s remarks avoided the criticism of Democrats or his Republican opponents that has become a staple of GOP stump speeches. Instead, he said he wanted to lay out a conservative vision for the nation.

“You know, I’m a fighter,” Kasich said. “I could fight with the best of ’em. I could come in here and spend this whole speech blasting Barack Obama and all this other stuff, but that’s not what I wanted to do.”

TIME jeb bush

Jeb Bush: No Regrets on Terri Schiavo

Governor Bush attends the Concord City Republican Committee’s “Politics and Pies” series  at the Concord Snowshoe Club.
Brooks Kraft—Corbis for TIME Jeb Bush speaks at the Concord City Republican Committee’s “Politics and Pies” series at the Concord Snowshoe Club in Concord, N.H. on April 16, 2015.

"I don’t think I would have changed anything."

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said Friday he had no regrets about fighting to keep Terri Schiavo alive, addressing the mid-2000s controversy on his second trip to New Hampshire this year.

“I don’t think I would have changed anything,” he told New Hampshire business leaders at St. Anselm College’s Politics and Eggs breakfast in response to a question about whether he would have handled things differently with the benefit of hindsight.

As governor, Bush signed into law a state measure that gave him the authority to intervene to keep Schiavo, who was in a persistent vegetative state, alive. Her parents fought for more than a decade to keep her feeding tube in place, while her husband, Michael Schindler fought to remove it arguing she would not have wanted to remain on life support.

That law, known as Terri’s law, was found unconstitutional, as was a federal effort by then-President George W. Bush.

“It was one of the most difficult things I had to go through,” Bush said. “It broke my heart that we weren’t successful in sustaining Terri’s life.”
Bush said there was one thing he would have changed—wishing that Schiavo had a living will that would have made government intervention unnecessary.

“In hindsight, the one thing that I would have loved to have seen was an advance directive—that the family would have sorted this out,” Bush said.

He added, that he was potentially favor of a federal requirement that Medicare beneficiaries complete a living will to address end-of-life issues.

“I think if we’re going to mandate anything for government, it might be that if you’re going to take Medicare, that you also sign up for an advanced directive where you talk about this before you’re so disabled,” he said.

TIME jeb bush

Jeb Bush Says Senate Should Confirm Loretta Lynch

Jeb Bush
Mark Humphrey—AP Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks at the National Rifle Association convention in Nashville on April 10, 2015.

Former Florida governor Jeb Bush weighed in Thursday on the delayed confirmation of Loretta Lynch, President Obama’s nominee to be Attorney General, urging the Senate to move along with its consideration.

Answering questions at a town hall with New Hampshire primary voters at the Snowshoe Club, Bush, an all-but-announced Republican presidential candidate, stopped short of explicitly calling for Lynch’s confirmation. Her nomination to replace Attorney General Eric Holder has been stalled for an unusually long 160 days over a Senate showdown on an unrelated sex-trafficking bill that includes a controversial abortion provision.

“I think that Presidents have the right to pick their team,” Bush told a crowd of about 95 voters and a horde of media.

Bush said he had reservations about Lynch’s positions on gun control, but said presidential nominees deserve swift consideration.

“The longer it takes to confirm her, the longer Eric Holder stays as Attorney General,” Bush added, sending a signal to Republicans to lift their opposition to Lynch was only elongating the tenure of someone they like even less. “Look at it that way.”

Bush criticized Holder for having “politicized” his office, adding, “there should be some humbleness inside the Department of Justice.”

During the 60-minute Politics and Pie event, Bush was questioned about Obama’s rapprochement with Cuba and was challenged over his support of comprehensive immigration reform, telling one vocal critic, “I respect your view, but I don’t have to agree with it.”

He also addressed the dynasty question, joking that he’s not running for President to try to “break the tie between the Adams family and the Bush family,” referencing the second and sixth, and the 41st the 43rd Presidents, respectively.

Afterward, Bush, who brought a pair of key lime pies of south Florida’s famed Joe’s Stone Crab, sampled a blueberry pie, breaking his months-long paleo diet to sample some blueberry pie. “To hell with the diet … where are the french fries,” he quipped.

TIME rick perry

Rick Perry Takes a Swing at Three Senator Rivals

Rick Perry
Mark Humphrey—AP Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry runs off the stage after speaking at the National Rifle Association convention, Friday, April 10, 2015, in Nashville.

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry said Thursday he doesn’t think American voters “want to take a chance” on electing another Senator to the White House, delivering a sharp blow to the three declared Republican presidential candidates.

Speaking to reporters after a lunch with New Hampshire business leaders in Nashua, the second-time candidate, who has yet to publicly announce his presidential campaign, said that after electing first-term Sen. Barack Obama in 2008, voters don’t want to take the same risk again. Perry declined to say whether he believes Sens. Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Rand Paul are qualified to be president.

“These are really bright, capable individuals,” Perry said. “But my point is, do you want to take a chance on someone who doesn’t have a track record of being an executive. When you walk off the Senate floor, you walk off the Senate floor. You don’t walk away from things when you are Governor, you have to deal with things.”

In his roundtable with the business leaders, the longest-serving governor in Texas history said he understood why people gravitated to Obama, but argued that his lack of experience let the country down. “I think he was talented, he was a unique individual,” Perry said, “but he had no executive experience, and I think the country is seeing the cost of that.”

Perry compared electing a well-spoken Senator to flying on a plane from Boston to London with a charming pilot who can explain the theory of aerodynamics, but has only 150 hours of flight time. “Or do you want to be with that grizzled old 20,000-hour captain who has taken that airplane back and forth thousands of times safely,” Perry asked.

“That’s the juxtaposition of a young inexperienced United States Senator versus a skilled, experienced executive,” he continued. “I just think the American people are going to want an executive after eight years of Barack Obama — I’m thinking they’re going to want to have somebody who has got a real track record: don’t tell me, show me.”

Perry, 65, addressed concerns that he is among the older generation of Republican candidates, quipping to reporters, “I’m just filling out my Medicare card, so I hope they don’t hold my age against me.”

TIME Chris Christie

Chris Christie’s Straight Talk Plan Hits Its Tax Speed Bump

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie holds a town hall meeting at Londonderry Lion's Club on April 15, 2015 in Londonderry, N.H.
Darren McCollester—Getty Images New Jersey Governor Chris Christie holds a town hall meeting at Londonderry Lion's Club on April 15, 2015 in Londonderry, N.H.

Gov. Chris Christie’s plan to use straight talk to fight his way back into the 2016 Republican presidential primary has already hit its first snag.

On Tuesday, the New Jersey Republican proposed reducing or cutting Social Security benefits for future retirees who continue to earn money, an idea known as means testing. Under his plan, Social Security checks would be reduced for those who earn more than $80,000 a year in retirement and ended for those who earn more than $200,000.

Christie has framed the proposal as a much-needed burst of truth-telling on America’s entitlement programs. But it has already drawn criticism from some influential conservatives as a roundabout tax on upper-income Americans.

“Is it not, a straight-out wealth tax,” influential conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt asked Christie Tuesday. “It’s a tax on people who accumulated wealth during their life, or inherited it, they might not have earned it, they might have inherited it, but it’s a straight out wealth tax, right?”

Christie defended the plan to Hewitt, saying, “What it is, is a recognition of the fact that this program needs to provide first and foremost for those people who need retirement security the most.”

Taxes are a tricky issue for Christie owing to his record as governor. Despite a no-new-taxes pledge as a candidate in 2010, he cut property tax breaks for many New Jersey residents shortly after taking office to close a budget shortfall—effectively increasing their rates. He also raised fees for many state services.

Asked by a reporter Wednesday whether he would be open to raising any revenues at the federal level, Christie said he would listen to all proposals.

“Listen, I think we need to change the tax system significantly,” he said, adding, “As I’ve said in New Jersey, I always consider everything. Everything is on the table for conversation. But I don’t think that the problem right now in America is that we are under-taxed.”

But even his openness to considering revenue increases puts him outside GOP orthodoxy, where signing the Americans for Tax Reform “Taxpayer Protection Pledge” pledge has become the norm. Christie has not signed the pledge, according to a database maintained by the group. (He’s not alone. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has also said he would not sign the pledge, drawing criticism from some conservatives who are still unhappy about his father’s record as president.)

It also breaks with recent history. In 2012, all of the Republican presidential candidates unanimously pledged to veto any deficit reduction plan that raised new revenues, even if 10 times the amount taken in was cut from the budget.

Christie has not exactly endorsed the idea of raising taxes, but for some conservatives, anything but all-out opposition signals squishiness on the issue. Still, he framed his thinking on the issue as more straight talk.

“I am a guy who is always willing to listen to anybody, but let me be clear, I don’t believe the problem we have in America right now is that we’re under-taxed,” Christie repeated. “And so the fact of the matter is when you’re a leader, you have to be willing to listen to everybody’s ideas, but my ideas, I’ve laid out very specifically how to fix the programs, which doesn’t include raising taxes. That’s not the way to fix this problem.”

Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist defended Christie Wednesday in an email to TIME, praising him as a acolyte of President Reagan.

“To date Christie has opposed and vetoed all tax hikes in New Jersey,” Norquist said. “Reducing a benefit is not a tax hike. Shame on any conservative who confuses spending cuts and tax increases. For a Northeast Republican he is very Reaganite.”

TIME Chris Christie

Chris Christie Pins Hopes for Revival on Straight Talk

Chris Christie
Jim Cole—AP New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J. takes a questions during a town hall meeting with area residents in Londonderry, N.H., April 15, 2015.

For Chris Christie, it was a do-over of sorts. Laura Condon, a New Hampshire anti-vaccination activist, took the microphone at the Londonderry Lions Club to ask the New Jersey Governor if he would stand with conscientious objectors who want to opt out of vaccinating their children.

“Yeah, no, you can’t count on me for that,” the shirt-sleeved New Jersey governor said without missing a beat, surrounded by applauding voters in the first in the nation primary.

It was a much different response than he gave when a reporter asked Christie during a February trip to England. Then, his off-the-cuff remarks about balancing parent choice and public health led to criticism and a quick walk-back by his staff back in New Jersey.

But if Christie’s presidential ambitions can be hurt by his unscripted moments, he also hopes they’ll help revive his campaign. Dogged by lower approval ratings at home and overshadowed by his Republican rivals, Christie is pinning his still-unannounced campaign’s prospects on straight talk.

Wednesday’s event was the kick-off of his “Tell It Like It Is” tour, designed to put Christie into the fray in town halls, restaurants and rec centers across the Granite State.

Christie’s presidential ambitions depend on his success in interactions like this, modeled after former Sen. John McCain’s two successful primary campaigns in the state. He and his political aides are betting it all on his ability to break through in New Hampshire, as he seeks to resurrect his presidential ambitions following the fallout of the politically motivated closures of approach lanes to the George Washington Bridge in 2013 and a tough fiscal climate in New Jersey.

The town hall is Christie’s preferred format at home, where on Thursday he will hold his 135th since taking office, though they often feature high-octane interactions with those that disagree with him. Christie brought his swagger to New Hampshire, but he didn’t need it. He faced a capacity crowd of friendly faces, even dispensing his ritualistic recitation of his four rules for town halls, including the warning that “if you give it, you are getting it right back.”

And it worked on the vaccination critic.

“He was pretty harsh with his answer, but I don’t think he was disrespectful toward me,” Condon told reporters after the 90-minute event, crediting him with being “strong in his opinions.”

The interaction highlighted Christie’s core strength as a politician and all-but-certain presidential candidate—his confidence interacting with voters one-on-one, on topics of their choosing is second-to-none in the Republican field. Christie and his political aides are betting it all on his ability to break through in New Hampshire, as he seeks to resurrect his presidential ambitions following the fallout of the politically motivated closures of approach lanes to the George Washington Bridge in 2013 and a tough fiscal climate in New Jersey.

On Wednesday, he faced questions on his new plan to reform Social Security and Medicare, the emerging nuclear agreement with Iran, and the rising cost of college tuition.

“We need to start having a national conversation with out colleges and universities about cost-control,” he said using his own family as an example. His eldest son and daughter are students at Princeton and Notre Dame respectively, and Christie said his tuition bills next year would top $120,000, drawing gasps from the audience. He suggested that future federal grant money be tied to schools’ commitment to keep education affordable.

He delivered a detailed response to a question about campaign finance reform, saying he believes that the best solution to repairing a broken system to allow unlimited donations with immediate disclosure.

“There shouldn’t be any restrictions on who can give how much to whom,” he said, “But there needs to be 24 hour absolute giving out of that information on the internet of who you are taking that money from.”

And he earned a round of chuckles mocking former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whose campaign and its affiliates are looking to raise as much as $2.5 billion to send her to the White House. “But she wants to then get the corrupting money out of politics…,” he said, referencing her promise to do the same in Iowa on Tuesday.

On his entitlement plan, which would raise the eligibility age for Medicare and Social Security and means-test the programs, Christie sought to reassure a room heavy with seniors that his plan wouldn’t affect current or near-term beneficiaries. He added that some advisors tried to convince him not to give speech about entitlements yesterday, owing to Social Security’s mythical status as a ‘third rail’ of American politics. “I have to say this stuff because it’s true,” Christie said, earning another round of applause.

On immigration reform, Christie said he would prioritize border enforcement, but that building a border wall “sends a bad signal about who we are as a people.” He added that the debate over a path to citizenship for the 11 million people living in the U.S. without legal status is only prolonging immigration reform efforts.

“So let’s stop having this argument about a path to citizenship, because most of the folks that I’ve met want to work,” he said, not vote.

Former New Hampshire Republican Party Chairman Wayne MacDonald said the performance reminded him of McCain’s 2000 and 2008 “straight talk,” which propelled him to victory in both primaries.

“New Hampshire is about retail politics—it’s about events like this one,” MacDonald, who has yet to endorse a candidate, told TIME. “The candidates who appreciate that process are the ones that do well and are the most successful, and certainly Gov. Christie demonstrated that today.”

Before the town hall, Christie visited Chez Vachon, the Manchester diner that has hosted dozens of presidential contenders over the years, where he was playfully ribbed by a table of seniors about the bridge closing and the ending of the HBO drama The Sopranos.

On Friday, Christie will be back in New Hampshire for another town hall at an Exeter sportsbar. “We’re doing a town hall meeting in a bar, because a guy from Jersey should do a town hall meeting in a bar,” Christie joked. The crowd ate it up.

TIME Chris Christie

Chris Christie Takes a Swing at Jeb Bush

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie holds a town hall meeting at Londonderry Lion's Club on April 15, 2015 in Londonderry, N.H.
Darren McCollester—Getty Images New Jersey Governor Chris Christie holds a town hall meeting at Londonderry Lion's Club on April 15, 2015 in Londonderry, N.H.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie criticized former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush for not providing more specifics on his foreign policy views, his most direct critique yet of his better-funded Republican rival.

In an interview with conservative radio host Laura Ingraham Wednesday, Christie was asked whether he agrees with the Bush family record and its approach to foreign and domestic policy. “I’ll wait to see what Jeb is going to have to say about these things,” Christie said. “He’s certainly got a father and brother who have a record. And I don’t know what Jeb Bush is going to say about foreign policy.”

“The one speech that he’s given so far I thought was rather general and didn’t really give you any great insight into what he wanted to do,” he continued. “So let’s see what he’s got to say for himself. In the end, his record, and more importantly his vision for what the future is going to be is what is going to determine how credible of a candidate he is.”

Bush leads Christie both in fundraising and in national and early state polling.

Christie, who held his first town hall in New Hampshire Wednesday, noted that on Tuesday he delivered a policy speech on entitlement reform, the first of four addresses in the coming months. His foreign policy speech has yet to be scheduled.

“So if I decide to run for president, you can conclude that it’s because I believe that I’d be a better candidate for our party and a better president than Jeb Bush or anybody else who decided to run,” Christie added.

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