TIME

Morning Must Reads: May 22

Capitol
Mark Wilson—Getty Images The early morning sun rises behind the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC.

Good morning from Washington. The New Hampshire primary is gaining influence at the expense of the Iowa caucuses—a win for more moderate candidates like Jeb Bush. The Pentagon’s tongue-twisting on the fall of Ramadi comes at a cost. And Obama dreams of Cuba as he works to soothe Jewish concerns over the emerging Iran deal. Here are your Friday must reads:

Must Reads

Why New Hampshire Will Be the First Real Test for Republicans
Iowa’s importance is waning, and that’s only good for the first-in-the-nation primary, TIME’s Philip Elliott writes

Rove’s Crossroads PAC Is No Longer G.O.P.’s ‘Big Dog’
The former Bush adviser’s political groups are being supplanted in the early days of the 2016 race (New York Times)

Clinton Foundation Reveals Millions in Previously Undisclosed Speaker Payments
The foundations plays it loose on its transparency pledge (Washington Post)

Obama Seeks to Boost Ties With Jewish Americans Amid Iran Talks
The president steps up his outreach effort as negotiations continue (Wall Street Journal)

Jeb Bush: George W. Spent Too Much Money
The former Florida Gov. finds another breaking point with his brother (Politico)

Student Debt Is Hot Topic for 2016 Field
Democrats call for more aid, while Republicans stress cost controls (Wall Street Journal)

Pentagon Rhetoric About Ramadi’s Fall Risks U.S. Credibility
TIME’s Mark Thompson looks beyond the Pentagon spin

Sound Off

“Let me tell you something that was even sadder, was just how many Republicans ran for the hills. I’ll point out some of the Republicans running in 2016 were nowhere to be found when Indiana was being fought. I will tell you this—I will always, always, always stand and fight for religious liberty of every American.” — Sen Ted. Cruz showing off his conservative credentials to a group of pastors in Washington Thursday

“I know there’s one person particularly that hopes President Obama will be in Havana at some point in the — at some point in the relatively recent future, and that’s President Obama himself.” —White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest teasing the potential for Obama to be the first sitting president to visit Cuba in more than 50 years

Bits and Bites

A whole new world of campaign tech (Boston Globe)

Rick Santorum rips Fox News over ‘arbitrary’ debate rules (National Journal)

Chris Christie teases New Jersey news media with profanity, jokes (for charity) (New York Times)

Senators offer compromise on domestic surveillance changes (Associated Press)

Ron Paul ads warn of financial crisis (Wall Street Journal)

Test your campaign gimmicks knowledge (Boston Globe)

TIME

Morning Must Reads: May 21

Capitol
Mark Wilson—Getty Images The early morning sun rises behind the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC.

Good Thursday morning from Washington. Fox and CNN have set the criteria for the first Republican presidential debates, causing heartburn for candidates polling within the margin of error of zero. Sen. Rand Paul spoke for 10.5 hours on the Senate floor, while his campaign tried to build momentum online. And Pope Francis is coming to Washington in four months and that has Democrats celebrating and many Republicans nervous, or worse. Here are your must reads:

Must Reads

Good Thursday morning from Washington. Fox and CNN have set the criteria for the first Republican presidential debates, causing heartburn for candidates polling within the margin of error of zero. Sen. Rand Paul spoke for 10.5 hours on the Senate floor, while his campaign tried to build momentum online. And Pope Francis is coming to Washington in four months and that has Democrats celebrating and many Republicans nervous, or worse. Here are your must reads:

Sound Off

Why This Red State is Poised to End the Death Penalty
It would be the first to do so since 1973, TIME’s Alex Altman explains

Pope Francis Goes to Washington
TIME’s Elizabeth Dias on the politics of the pontiff’s upcoming U.S. visit

Rand Paul Bets the Campaign on ‘Filibuster’
The 10-hour show was accompanied by a major organizing and fundraising push from his presidential campaign (Politico)

Super PAC Backing Hillary Clinton is Struggling to Raise Money
The candidate has promised to fight against unlimited money in politics, but she needs it too (Wall Street Journal)

The Clintons And the Ponzi Schemers
Questionable associations highlight Clinton access woes (BuzzFeed)

Fox News Just Made the Republican Primary More Exciting
Limiting the field to 10 candidates will narrow the field (Politico)

NSA May Need to Begin Winding Down Surveillance Program
A controversial spying program is likely to lose its congressional authorization (Washington Post)

Bits and Bites

“I’m not going to be in a witness protection program. I’m a Bush. I’m proud of it.” — Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush on not fleeing from his liability of a last name

“I’m reminded of the movie The Blues Brothers: ‘Jake, we’ve got to get the band back together again.’” — Sen. Ted Cruz loosely quoting the comedy classic as he backs up 2016 rival Rand Paul’s really long speech

TIME

Morning Must Reads: May 20

Capitol
Mark Wilson—Getty Images The early morning sun rises behind the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC.

Good morning from Washington. Hillary Clinton took (a few) questions from the press after a month-long gap, but that isn’t the only strain on her go-small campaign. Congress is tackling the important issues, like bringing sledding back to the Capitol. And Herman Cain’s (remember him?) former campaign email list is preparing you for the end times.

Here are your must reads:

Must Reads

Hillary Clinton Faces the Limits of the Controlled Campaign
TIME’ Sam Frizell reports from Iowa on the Clinton message machine

A 2016 Theme Emerges: Money, Money, Money
It’s tripping up candidates left and right (Washington Post)

Half of Hillary Clinton’s Speaking Fees Came From Groups Also Lobbying Congress
TIME’s Philip Elliott explores the intersection of Clinton’s personal and professional ambitions

Conservatives Declare Victory in Battle Against Government Bank
Opponents see momentum against the Export Import Bank reauthorization (Politico)

Why Young People Don’t Want to Run For Office
TIME’s Katy Steinmetz talks with the authors of a new book

Sound Off

“I’m probably the most scrutinized politician in America.” — Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker to CNN on Tuesday on Capitol Hill where he was meeting with lawmakers

‘The president’s request for an Authorization of Use of Military Force calls for less authority than he has today. I just think, given the fight that we’re in, it’s irresponsible … This is why the president, frankly, should withdraw the Authorization of Use of Military Force and start over.” — Speaker John Boehner, calling on President Obama to submit a new request for authority to attack ISIS

Bits and Bites

Herman Cain fans hear about the apocalpyse (TIME)

White House threatens trade bill veto (TIME)

Obama links climate change to national security (Washington Post)

Congress wants to bring sledding back to Capitol Hill (Washington Post)

Fundraiser puts spotlight on Clinton Foundation finances (Politico)

TIME

Morning Must Reads: May 19

Capitol
Mark Wilson—Getty Images The early morning sun rises behind the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC.

Good morning from Washington. The State Department says the full release of Hillary Clinton’s emails won’t come until weeks before the Iowa Caucuses, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t causing trouble now. Obama joins Twitter and Chris Christie has an … interesting … explanation for why his poll numbers are dropping in New Jersey.

Must Reads

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

The public has shifted

Clinton Friend’s Memos on Libya Draw Scrutiny to Politics and Business (NYT)
A Clinton loyalist’s efforts reveal potential conflicts

State Department Plans to Release Hillary Clinton’s Emails in January 2016 (Politico)
Release delayed by months

At Same-Sex Wedding, Ruth Bader Ginsburg Emphasizes the Word ‘Constitution’ (NYT)
Reading the SCOTUS tea leaves

2016 Hopefuls Look for Love in a Very Wrong Place (Politico)
The race for support from D.C.

Sound Off

“They want me to stay.” — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie explaining to Fox News why his poll numbers are dropping in his home state as he eyes a White House run

“I can share around if you like, but it seems like a thin conspiracy theory.” — Top Clinton adviser Jake Sullivan to the then-Secretary of State in a newly reveals batch of emails detailing Clinton’s correspondence with Sidney Blumenthal over Libya

Bits and Bites

Obama joins Twitter, again

Nothing cartoonish about Jeb Bush’s Iowa trip

Rick Santorum claims that he’s responsible for the ‘crushing sanctions’ on Iran

More Clinton fees to be disclosed

Another day, another press dodge for Clinton

 

TIME

Morning Must Reads: May 18

Capitol
Mark Wilson—Getty Images The early morning sun rises behind the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC.

Good morning from Washington. President Obama will travel to Camden, N.J., this afternoon to tour a police operations center and visit with local youth, in his latest effort to raise awareness about police-community relations following turmoil in Ferguson and Baltimore. Obama will also unveil the results of a report he ordered on the transfer of military-style equipment to police forces, instituting new approval requirements and banning many transfers of camouflage uniforms and grenade launchers that the Administration says are more militaristic in nature.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will skip Obama’s visit to his state in order to deliver remarks on foreign policy in New Hampshire in the latest effort to resurrect his presidential hopes. Breaking with civil libertarians in both parties, Christie will deliver a strong defense of the National Security Agency’s spying programs, calling most privacy fears “baloney.”

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton is returning to Iowa today where she will attend a grassroots organizing event in Mason City.

Must Reads

Republican Candidates Dodge Immigration Questions (TIME)
It’s not their favorite topic

Obama to Limit Military-Style Equipment for Police Forces (NYT)
After Ferguson, Baltimore, White House to order changes

Energized Republicans Put On a Campaign Show in Iowa (TIME)
Joe Klein assesses the GOP field

Sensing a voter shift, Clinton tacks to the left (WP)
Hillary Clinton is running as the most liberal presidential front-runner in decades

Christie to Call For Larger Military, Defend Intelligence Collection (TIME)
Caters to GOP’s hawkish wing

Sound Off

“I don’t understand the question you’re asking,” — Sen. Marco Rubio to Fox News Sunday’s Chris Wallace during a length back-and-forth over the invasion of Iraq

“Thousands of years of culture and history is just being changed at warp speed. It’s hard to fathom why it is this way.” — Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush on the Christian Broadcasting Network Sunday, saying he does not believe the Constitution provides for a right to same-sex marriage

Bits and Bites

Pentagon faulted in assault cases

GOP: Business lobby blowing it on trade

Defense bills cause transparency jitters

Ben Carson makes faulty Lincoln analogy

Sanders to introduce bill to make college tuition-free

Senate candidate Loretta Sanchez appears to disparage American Indians

TIME Chris Christie

Chris Christie to Call For Larger Military, Defend Intelligence Collection

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
Olivier Douliery—Getty Images New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

He'll call for more warships and military planes in a speech Monday

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will call for an expanded military and defend American intelligence programs Monday in a speech laying out his foreign policy vision in New Hampshire.

The all-but-certain Republican presidential candidate is set to criticize the emerging Iran nuclear agreement as well as President Obama’s handling of the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), according to prepared remarks released by his political action committee.

“With Iran, the President’s eagerness for a deal on their nuclear program has him ready to accept a bad deal,” Christie will say.

Christie will issue a full-throated defense of American spying efforts, seeking to draw contrast with more dovish members of his own party, as well as many Democrats, who have unified against the National Security Agency since the Edward Snowden revelations in 2013.

“They want you to think that there’s a government spook listening in every time you pick up the phone or Skype with your grandkids,” Christie will say. “They want you to think of our intelligence community as the bad guys, straight out of the Bourne Identity or a Hollywood thriller. And they want you to think that if we weakened our capabilities, the rest of the world would love us more.”

“Let me be clear: all these fears are baloney,” Christie will add. “When it comes to fighting terrorism, our government is not the enemy. And we shouldn’t listen to people like Edward Snowden, a criminal who hurt our country and now enjoys the hospitality of President Putin—while sending us messages about the dangers of authoritarian government.”

Christie will also propose an expansion of federal defense spending, including a repeal of the mandatory budgetary caps known as sequestration.

“The Army and Marines should not be reduced below their pre-9/11 strength, and our active duty forces should be at 500,000 Army soldiers and 185,000 Marines,” he will say, drumming the call of the nation’s defense hawks. “Our Navy should have more ships,” adding the Navy needs at least 350 vessels. The Air Force, Christie will say, should have 2,000 combat aircraft and a total strength of 6,000 aircraft.

Christie’s call for an expanded military mirrors the plans of other Republicans, even the more dovish Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who earlier this year called for an expansion of the military budget.

Read more: Rand Paul Proposes Boosting Defense Spending

Christie has seen his path to the presidency narrow amid a troubled fiscal situation in his state and the continued fallout of the politically motivated closures of approach lanes to the George Washington Bridge by former aides in 2013. Monday’s remarks are the third in a series of addresses designed to restart his presidential efforts, as he prepares to make his candidacy official in the coming months.

Casting himself as a decisive leader in contrast to Obama, whom he says has not defined a strategy for America in the world, Christie will argue that the current administration is alienating American allies. One piece of evidence he’ll cite: Last week, Obama was set to host Gulf leaders, but several, including Saudi King Salman, pulled out in an apparent snub to the White House.

“The price of inaction is steadily rising,” he will say. “Just last week we saw the embarrassment of almost all the Gulf leaders, including the Saudi king, pulling out of President Obama’s summit at Camp David. Our allies want policies, not photo ops, and we’re not listening to them.”

Christie will call for the linkage between the sanctions on Iran stemming from its nuclear program to that country’s efforts to destabilize the Middle East, including its support for Hezbollah and the Houthis in Yemen. Such suggestions have been rejected by the Obama Administration as an effort to undermine the nuclear deal.

TIME

Morning Must Reads: May 15

Capitol
Mark Wilson—Getty Images The early morning sun rises behind the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC.

Good morning from Scottsdale, where the Republican National Committee is holding its spring meeting. Eight months away from the Iowa caucuses, the Republican Party is bracing itself for a greatly intensified primary next year, with many operatives predicting a drawn-out delegate fight to the nomination. The key cause: a crowded and unusually talented field that is bolstered by unlimited sums from super PACs. But party efforts to condense the primary calendar after 2012 may have made the situation worse for the GOP.

On the trail: On Saturday, 11 potential and actual Republican candidates will gather for the latest cattle-call at the Iowa GOP’s Lincoln Dinner in Des Moines, with candidates limited to 10 minutes of speaking time each—which means the 5:30 p.m. dinner will be lucky to end by 10 p.m. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton has scheduled her second visits to Iowa and New Hampshire since announcing her candidacy for next week.

Must Reads

Republicans Prepare for Painstaking Nomination Fight (TIME)
Insiders expect a fight like Democrats had in 2008—just with more candidates

Republican Party to Vote In Support of Religious Freedom Laws (TIME)
Undeterred by controversy after Indiana and Arkansas RFRAs

Jeb Bush Reverses Himself: ‘I Would Not Have Gone Into Iraq’ (TIME)
But says the war was “worth it” for the families of those who died

Democrats Play Hardball on Voting Laws Ahead of 2016 (TIME)
The party steps up its efforts to expand early voting

Clinton’s Litmus Test for Supreme Court Nominees: Pledge to Overturn Citizens United (WP)
Even as she takes courts super PAC money

Benghazi Panel Wants Documents Before Hillary Clinton Testifies (NYT)
Testimony delayed

Sound Off

“I’m going to filibuster. I’m going to do everything it takes to block a short-term extension.” — Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) on efforts to extend the controversial PATRIOT Act, which is set to expire at the end of the month.

“Are you really going to ask such a stupid question?” — Speaker of the House John Boehner to a reporter asking about this week’s Amtrak derailment and criticism over transportation funding

Bits and Bites

House passes Iran review bill, sending it to Obama

From Rand flip-flops to Hillary bumper stickers

Why presidential candidates must answer hypotheticals

Clinton backs Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill

What 2016 Republicans look like with John Bolton’s mustache

TIME religious freedom

Republican Party to Vote in Support of Religious-Freedom Laws

Protesters
Doug McSchooler—AP Thousands of opponents of Indiana Senate Bill 101, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, gather on the lawn of the Indiana state house to rally against that legislation on March 28, 2015

The GOP follows presidential candidates as issue takes hold on campaign trail

The Republican National Committee is expected to approve a resolution Thursday reaffirming support for so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Acts, undeterred by controversy in Indiana and Arkansas over whether such measures sanction discrimination against gays and lesbians.

The Resolution Affirming Religious Freedom Restoration Acts (RFRA) passed through the RNC’s resolutions committee Wednesday during the RNC’s spring meeting in Scottsdale, Ariz., and will be voted on by the full 168-member governing body Friday. The party traditionally votes on all resolutions as a package, and the RFRA resolution is expected to pass with little or no opposition.

“The Republican National Committee stands firm in upholding natural, human, constitutional, and, under the RFRA, statutory rights of religious freedom,” the resolution states.

A nationwide firestorm erupted after Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed a RFRA resolution into law that critics contended would allow business owners with religious objections to opt out of servicing same-sex weddings. Indiana’s resolution went further than the federal statute, which has been on the books since the Clinton administration. A similar controversy in Arkansas led to Governor Asa Hutchinson demanding changes to the law to bring it in line with the federal statute before signing it.

The cautiously worded RNC resolution encourages states to mirror the federal law, rather than the controversial Indiana version.

“The Republican National Committee supports and encourages States’ actions to enact laws that mirror the federal RFRA to protect citizens’ rights to lead all aspects of their lives according to their deeply held religious beliefs,” it states.

The resolution comes as the issue of religious freedom has become a significant conversation piece on the presidential campaign trail.

“The Republican Party will always stand for and defend religious freedom,” RNC press secretary Allison Moore tells TIME.

Separate RNC resolutions expected to pass Friday include one supporting Republican lawmakers in their criticism of the emerging nuclear agreement between the Obama Administration and Iran, and another calling for the replacement of the Administrative Procedure Act, a law that sets how executive agencies propose and enact regulations.

Yet another resolution reaffirms the party’s neutrality in the presidential nominating procedure, even as the RNC has seized control of the debate process. The party and television networks hosting the early debates this summer are struggling with how to include a field of more than a dozen candidates on stage.

TIME Republican Party

Republicans Prepare for Painstaking Nomination Fight

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus at the National Press Club in Washington, in 2013.
Manuel Balce Ceneta—AP Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus at the National Press Club in Washington, in 2013. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus at the National Press Club in Washington, in 2013.

It could be like the Obama-Clinton fight of 2008, only with more candidates

After Mitt Romney’s bruising nomination fight in 2012, Republican Party officials changed the rules in an effort to streamline the 2016 primaries. But the increased influence of super PACs and an unusually deep bench of candidates mean the changes could have the opposite effect intended.

Several Republican presidential hopefuls are already preparing for a long, blistering and potentially inconclusive nominating fight that could go all the way to the national convention.

“The rules were designed to make it more of a contest so that more states and activists are engaged in the process—and that’s definitely going to happen,” says Steve Duprey, the New Hampshire National Committeeman who helped to shepherd the rules changes through in 2012 and 2013. “The bad news is, this campaign is likely to go on longer than we’ve seen in a long time.”

Republican Party officials blamed a broken primary process in 2012 for contributing to Romney’s defeat and set about changing the party rules to keep it from happening again.

The committee shortened the calendar between the first caucus and the last primary, required the binding of delegates in primaries and caucuses and raised the bar for nominating candidates on the convention floor, requiring a nominee to win the majority of eight state or territory delegations. The idea was that a compressed timetable would favor better-funded candidates, while keeping lesser candidates from making a scene in Cleveland.

But three years later, the primary will be playing out in a very different stage, one where a massive crop of candidates with huge sums of unlimited cash have little incentive to exit early. Party operatives and campaign aides are predicting a longer, more intense contest next year than in 2012. They believe it will be more akin to the Obama-Clinton fight in 2008—a slow state-by-state contest to rack up delegates—only with a lot more candidates remaining competitive.

On paper, the RNC’s efforts will shorten the time from the Iowa Caucuses to when the nominee clinches a majority of delegates—primarily accomplished by a successful effort to keep the first contests from advancing into February. But Romney’s victory was all-but-assured months before he secured 50% of convention delegates in late May 2012.

Josh Putnam, an assistant professor at Appalachian State University who runs the exhaustive Frontloading HQ blog tracking the primary calendar, explains that about 50% of delegates to the GOP convention will be awarded by March 8, 2016, with 75% awarded by April 26—both weeks earlier than in 2012. “That is important because the last two Republican nominees established a lead by that 50% point and had clinched the nomination around the time that 75% of the delegates had been allocated,” he says.

But changes in campaign finance and an unusually strong field threaten to throw that precedent out the window. Now many party strategists expect four to six candidates to emerge as a top tier from the four early states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina. With roughly the same delegate support and momentum, they expect that the proportional contests in early March—when a front-runner usually emerges—may not be decisive. On March 1, for instance, more than 600 delegates are set to be awarded. “Lots of people will be able to claim victory that day,” said one top advisor to a Republican candidate.

Meanwhile, the rest of field may be in no hurry to go anywhere. The explosion of mega-donors writing significant checks to candidates and their super PACs has mitigated the historical impetus for dropping out, while the lessons of the up-and-down 2012 primary have incentivized staying in the race even when the odds turns slim.

“This could actually be a convention that matters for the first time since 1964,” says Saul Anuzis, the Michigan state chairman for Sen. Ted Cruz’s presidential bid and a former RNC member who backed the rules changes. “I still don’t think most of the campaigns have an infrastructure in place to deal with it.”

Not all strategists blame the predictions of a messy nomination process on the new rules. Michael Shields, the former RNC chief of staff, told TIME he believes the deciding factor in stretching out the primary in 2016 is likely to be the number of candidates who can raise money. “It would have been longer without the reform,” he said.

To be sure, all the prognosticating could also be wrong—a single candidate could build enough momentum in the early states to run away with the nomination in weeks. But with a field of more than a dozen candidates that appears at the moment to be unlikely.

Some campaigns are only just coming to the realization that this contest will be far different from the last, having spent the past months focused on the early states. “Those who have started to think it through recognize it’s going to be a long chase for delegates,” said a veteran GOP strategist.

Anuzis said Cruz is planning for the long haul and is already eyeing favorable congressional districts in California—which will go to the polls on June 7, 2016, and awards its delegates to the winners in each congressional district. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign has hired Jon Waclawski, a veteran of the RNC counsel’s office who was involved in drafting the rules after the 2012 campaign, as its counsel and chief delegate counter. People close to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s campaign said his team is drawing up plans to deal with what they expect to be a painstaking fight for delegates.

“This changes the way you have to run your entire campaign,” says one candidate aide. “You really do have to target, racking up local endorsements, for instance. Those people are going to be important when you’re competing on a congressional district by congressional district basis.”

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s advisers see the proportional contests in early March, and the potential for a drawn out delegate fight, working to their advantage. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum told reporters Thursday that he is broadly supportive of the rules changes, but is worried about the compressed calendar, “and it becomes just a money issue, and not an issue of momentum.”

What remains to be seen is whether this intensified primary process will be a benefit or liability to the eventual nominee in the general election. The knockdown, drag-out 2008 Democratic contest is viewed as having ultimately helped Obama, who emerged tested with a network of support outside of the early primary states. For months after winning the nomination, Republican presumptive nominee Sen. John McCain could hardly gain notice from the media­. “Will there be some broken glass, will there be some negative attacks, sure,” Shields acknowledged. “But I do believe this process, like the Obama-Hillary one, will leave our nominee stronger.”

Others are less sanguine, fearing the compressed timeframe could result in a more weakened nominee, battered by months of attacks from candidates and super PACs

“It’s pretty different when it’s a two person extended race opposed to a multi-person race—and in 2008 you didn’t have super PACs playing the role that they did and they generally tend to go negative,” said another longtime GOP operative.

With reporting by Philip Elliott/Little Rock, Ark.

TIME jeb bush

Jeb Bush Reverses Himself: ‘I Would Not Have Gone Into Iraq’

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush speaks at a town hall meeting in Tempe, Ariz. on May 14, 2015.
Deanna Dent—Reuters Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush speaks at a town hall meeting in Tempe, Ariz. on May 14, 2015.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush sought to turn the page on a week of terrible press coverage Thursday, telling a group of Arizona voters that knowing what is known now, he would not have launched the 2003 Iraq War.

“Knowing what we know now I would not have engaged—I would not have gone into Iraq,” Bush said, in reference to his greatest liability—the unpopular war launched by his brother, former President George W. Bush.

It was the latest turn in a tumultuous week that began with an interview with Fox News host Megyn Kelly on Saturday in which he said he would have supported going to war, even knowing that the Iraqi government did not possess weapons of mass destruction. “My mind kind of calculated it differently,” Bush later explained, saying he misheard Kelly’s question.

On Wednesday, Bush dodged the same question Kelly asked him days earlier, saying he wouldn’t answer “hypotheticals” and that the question did a “disservice” to the memories of the 4,491 American war dead.

But that didn’t put the questions to rest, Bush’s Republican opponents lined up to criticize him for the comments, while Democrats gleefully used the opportunity to tie him to his brother.

“If we knew then what we know now and I were the President of the United States, I wouldn’t have gone to war,” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie told CNN Tuesday. Sen. Rand Paul told the Associated Press that Bush’s comments represent “a real problem if he can’t articulate what he would have done differently.”

“Knowing what we know now, of course we wouldn’t go into Iraq,” Sen. Ted Cruz told The Hill.

Sen. Marco Rubio went even further in an interview Wednesday at the Council on Foreign Relations. “Not only would I have not been in favor of it, President Bush would not have been in favor of it. He said so,” he said.

Bush’s reversal may put the controversy to rest temporarily, but it only further highlights the challenges the entire Republican field with respect to talking about the conflict.

In a gaggle with reporters after his remarks, Bush maintained that the war was “worth it” for the families of the war dead.

“It was worth it for those families,” he said. “It was worth it for the people that made major sacrifices. In 2008 Iraq was stable. It was fragile, but it was stable. It was because of the heroic efforts of a lot of people. And re-litigating this and going through hypotheticals I think does no good to them.”

Bush said that after the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), the U.S. must “re-engage” in Iraq beyond what President Obama has done.

“I think we need to re-engage and do it in a more forceful way,” Bush said. “The president is very reluctant for whatever reason to make a clear commitment that we should have kept 5,000, 10,000 troops there.”

He acknowledged that there has been success countering ISIS since Obama ordered airstrikes and deployed trainers to assist Iraqi forces last year, but said more has to be done. “We can’t do it by drones. We have to be there to train the military and to do the things that are being done right now. And I believe that if we had stayed the course in that, if we do, we will be successful.”

Read more: Why Presidential Candidates Must Answer Hypotheticals

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