TIME Campaign Finance

Janelle Monae Has a Secret Video of Barack Obama Dancing

Janelle Monae
Janelle Monae attends The Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute benefit gala celebrating "Charles James: Beyond Fashion" on Monday, May 5, 2014, in New York. Charles Sykes—Charles Sykes/Invision/AP

"She can blackmail me at any time," Obama says

If R&B artist Janelle Monae scores a Cabinet post before President Barack Obama leaves office, we’ll know why.

Obama’s three-day West-coast fundraising tour for Democratic candidates took him to the Los Angeles home of Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy creator Shonda Rhimes Wednesday, where he hobnobbed with the likes of Monae and Kerry Washington.

At the 450-person fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee — to which tickets started at $1,000 a head — Obama revealed that Monae was in possession of a top secret video of presidential dancing.

“Janelle has performed at the White House, like, 15 times,” Obama told the audience. “There’s going to be an official Janelle Monae room in the White House. We love her. Michelle and I love Janelle. We love her energy. We love her talent. But we most of all love her character. And anybody who gets a chance to talk to her, this is just a remarkable, strong, smart young lady.

“And I have to say nice things about her because she may be the only person in possession of a video in which I try to keep up with her and Usher on the dance floor,” Obama continued. “Now, this is top secret. She has promised that this will never be released. But she can blackmail me at any time.”

Monae called out “I love you!” to the Commander-in-Chief, to which he replied with his trademark “I love you back,” adding, “You do have that video, though, don’t you?”

Monae said she did, prompting the president to ask her to “testify” to his skills. “Now, tell the truth, though, Janelle — I wasn’t bad, though, was I? I’m just saying. Go ahead, testify just a little bit…Let me say I did not drop in splits. But I did bust a move. That I did do.”

Obama then recognized Washington, one of the earliest celebrities to back his 2008 candidacy, for being on his side when many Americans couldn’t pronounce his name correctly. “She pushed when the wagon was stuck in the mud — she was out there,” Obama said. “And she’s just been a great friend. Plus she showed me her baby pictures, and that is one cute baby.”

The West Coast swing has proven to be a controversial one for Obama, both for its timing amid multiple foreign policy crises and the secrecy surrounding fundraising events for two Democratic super PACs. White House officials defended Obama’s decision to continue with the trip despite the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 and the ongoing conflict in Gaza, saying that the president’s ability to manage the situations would not be impaired by keeping his schedule. While on the trip, Obama called Secretary of State John Kerry Wednesday to discuss efforts to bring about a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

The White House did not make public the list of attendees at the two super PAC fundraisers, one each House Majority PAC and Senate Majority PAC, or what they had contributed to gain access to the president. Reporters were not allowed to attend either session. “Without a doubt, I think we’ve done more to achieve the President’s commitment to transparency than any other previous administration,” said White House principal deputy press secretary Eric Schultz.

Obama returns to Washington late Thursday after another fundraiser for the DNC and delivering a speech on the economy.

TIME Foreign Policy

FAA Lifts Its Ban on Flights to Israel

Mideast Israel Palestinians
A departure flight board displays various canceled and delayed flights in Ben Gurion International airport a day after the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration imposed a 24-hour restriction on flights. The ban has now been lifted. Dan Balilty—AP

The agency says it has "carefully reviewed" new safety measures being taken by the Israeli government

Under pressure from Israeli and American officials, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) lifted a temporary ban on flights by American carriers to Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport late on Wednesday night.

The ban, issued midday Tuesday after a rocket fired from Gaza struck within one mile of the airfield, was rescinded 36 hours later, the FAA said in a statement. The move clears the way for U.S.-based airlines to resume flights to Israel’s main international gateway.

“The FAA has lifted its restrictions on U.S. airline flights into and out of Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport by canceling a Notice to Airmen it renewed earlier today,” the agency said.

“The cancellation is effective at approximately 11:45 p.m. EDT. Before making this decision, the FAA worked with its U.S. government counterparts to assess the security situation in Israel and carefully reviewed both significant new information and measures the Government of Israel is taking to mitigate potential risks to civil aviation.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lobbied Secretary of State John Kerry Tuesday evening to rescind the ban, as Israeli officials argued the American government was giving Hamas a victory. The airport is a mere 50 miles from Gaza, the scene of intense fighting between Hamas fighters and the Israeli military, who are determined to halt the firing of rockets into Israel. Many of the rockets have been intercepted by the U.S.-backed Iron Dome missile shield.

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg boarded an El Al flight late Tuesday to protest the FAA’s decision, declaring the airport safer than American counterparts in an interview with CNN Wednesday from Jerusalem. “The fact that one rocket falls far away from this airport, a mile away, doesn’t mean you should shut down air traffic into a country and paralyze the country,” he said.

Kerry, who arrived at the airfield Wednesday aboard a U.S. military plane, was apparently not troubled by the security situation. “He and our whole team were very comfortable landing at Ben Gurion Airport,” State Department deputy press secretary Marie Harf told reporters.

The FAA ban followed days after the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 in eastern Ukrainian airspace that the FAA had not believed to be unsafe for flight — an oversight that has drawn scrutiny after the deaths of the aircraft’s 298 passengers and crew. The FAA said it would continue monitoring the situation for any continuing security issues.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday Texas Sen. Ted Cruz promised to place a procedural hold in the Senate on all Obama administration nominees to the State Department until his questions on the FAA were answered. He accused Obama of using the flight ban to pressure Israel into accepting a ceasefire with Hamas to end the weeks-long conflict.

“The facts suggest that President Obama has just used a federal regulatory agency to launch an economic boycott on Israel, in order to try to force our ally to comply with his foreign-policy demands,” Cruz said in a statement.

The State Department’s Harf rejected Cruz’s assertions as “offensive and ridiculous.” Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes said Tuesday that the White House would not overrule a security decision by the FAA.

TIME Gaza

Why Obama Wants Israel to ‘Do More’ About Civilian Deaths

Palestinians carry a body into the Shifa Hospital morgue, Gaza City, July 20, 2014.
Palestinians carry a body into the Shifa Hospital morgue, Gaza City, July 20, 2014. Alessio Romenzi

And why Israel doesn't like it

As the death toll in Gaza escalates, so does the pressure from Washington on Israel to limit the killing. President Obama has conveyed his “concern” about Palestinian civilian casualties to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “Hell of a pinpoint operation,” John Kerry sardonically cracked on Sunday. Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told CNN Tuesday that Israel appears to be “over doing it,” and is hurting its “moral authority.”

But while the U.S. is clearly distressed about the rising civilian death toll in Gaza, now at around 650 Palestinian dead, the Obama administration won’t say what it wants Israel to do about it.

“I think probably they could take some greater steps, maybe could do a little bit more,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said on Tuesday.

But when pressed to explain what “do more” actually means, Harf demurred. “I don’t have any specifics for you. It’s a conversation we’ll continue having with them.”

Harf wasn’t going off message. Later in the day, deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes also said that Israel “can do more” to curtail the death of innocents. But Rhodes did not elaborate either.

So it’s not quite clear just what the Obama team is trying to say. There are a few ways Israel could “do more” to limit Palestinian casualties, but we have to guess at what Washington means.

One would be for Israel to hold its fire entirely. But that’s clearly not the U.S. position. Obama wants Israel to agree to a ceasefire, but not a unilateral one. U.S. officials repeat over and over that Israel has a right to defend itself from Hamas’s rocket attacks.

Is it Israel’s ground invasion that America opposes? It is true that the U.S. sought to dissuade it. “Nobody wants to see a ground invasion because that would put more civilians at risk,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said on July 14, days before Israeli troops crossed Gaza’s border. But the U.S. has not appealed for an Israeli ground withdrawal.

That leaves the question of specific targeting decisions. Israel says it is extremely careful in this regard, noting that it takes steps to warn innocents about impending attacks, including evacuation notices, cell phone calls and low-explosive warning “knocks.” But it has still killed numerous Palestinians in their homes. Two weeks ago it killed several young boys playing on a beach. This week, its tanks shelled a Palestinian hospital that Israel said Palestinian militants were using as a base. Both tragic and damaging to Israel’s reputation, these are probably the sorts of incidents the U.S. would like to prevent.

Israeli officials say that of course they don’t want to bomb hospitals—but that they’re in an impossible position. Hamas fighters operate in civilian areas, and store weapons or plan battles from places like homes and hospitals, they say. The Israelis even argue that Hamas actually welcomes and facilitates the death of its people. Hamas has urged Gazans to ignore Israeli evacuation orders. In recent footage from Hamas’s television network shown to TIME by an Israeli official, a Hamas leader says: “We, Hamas, call on our people to adopt this practice” of “sacrificing themselves to defend their homes.”

In this challenging environment, Israeli officials say they analyze every strike, consulting military lawyers as they run a calculation that involves a kind of moral mathematics. As Israel’s ambassador to Washington Ron Dermer told reporters yesterday, that means weighing the civilian toll of a strike against the potential future harm to Israeli soldiers and civilians that might come from inaction.

That’s obviously an extremely difficult—and highly subjective—calculation. Dermer says Israel would never kill fifty children in a classroom to destroy one Hamas rocket; whereas he says one civilian death would be an acceptable price for destroying 200 rockets. But where’s the line? Would Israel accept the death of one child to destroy a dozen rockets? A dozen children for 500 rockets? Bear in mind that those rockets almost never land with lethal results; two Israelis have been killed by the roughly 2000 Hamas rockets fired this summer. That’s a 0.1 percent fatality rate per rocket. And yet any given rocket could destroy a school bus or nursing home and render that figure tragically obsolete.

Nor are fatalities the only relevant metric. Israel is also trying to measure the impact of those rockets on its society, economy, and tourism industry. And how to weigh the economic and psychological cost of cancelled flights into Israel’s Ben Gurion international airport? Then there’s the additional matter of Hamas’s underground tunnels, meant to enable terrorism and kidnapping within Israel, and the stated reason for Israel’s ground invasion.

When Obama officials ask Israel to “do more,” they seem to be encouraging a revised moral equation. Of course, the U.S. can never micromanage individual targeting decisions. But Obama may want Israel to conduct fewer strikes, perhaps omitting targets like hospitals, even that if it means accepting more risk to its soldiers and civilians. Some philosophers contend that demonstrably accepting more risk to protect civilians is the grim duty of a just combatant against an enemy using civilian shields.

Beyond the humanitarian and philosophical argument for that, there’s also a strategic one. Israel must weigh the Hamas threat against a more intangible threat to its international reputation. The United Nations’ top human rights official is suggesting that Israel (along with Hamas) may be guilty of war crimes. Yes, we’ve been here before: a 2009 U.N. report charged Israel with targeting civilians during its 2006 offensive in Lebanon. Its chief author later recanted that conclusion—but not before real damage was done to Israel’s image.

Which brings us back to Obama. The president doesn’t want to appear indifferent to Palestinian suffering—one senior official recalls how his standing in the Muslim world plunged after he seemed to condone Israel’s December 2008 Gaza incursion—even if he sympathizes with Israel, and might even respond in much the same way. Obama has accepted plenty of civilian casualties in Afghanistan and from U.S. drone strikes elsewhere, after all. But he evidently feels he needs to say something, even if it’s not very clear what he means.

TIME Congress

Sen. John Walsh Plagiarized Final Paper for Master’s Degree

John Walsh
Sen. John Walsh, D-Mont., speaks during an event in the Capitol Visitor Center on the importance of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, July 23, 2014. Tom Williams—CQ-Roll Call,Inc.

A Walsh campaign spokeswoman says the plagiarism was a "mistake"

Montana Democratic Senator John Walsh plagiarized portions of a final paper required for his Army War College master’s degree, which he earned in 2007 at the age of 46, his campaign confirmed Wednesday. The charges endanger the Democrats’ control of the Senate as the Republican Party is attempting to pick up a net six seats this fall.

As first reported by The New York Times, Walsh passed off passages of his 14-page paper, titled “The Case for Democracy as a Long Term National Strategy,” as his own, without proper attribution to Harvard University and Carnegie Endowment for International Peace documents. Walsh told Jonathan Martin, a Times reporter, that he did not plagiarize, but an aide did not contest the charge, according to the Times article.

Lauren Passalacqua, a Walsh campaign spokeswoman, told TIME in a statement that the plagiarism was a “mistake.”

“This was unintentional and it was a mistake,” wrote Passalacqua. “There were areas that should have been cited differently but it was completely unintentional. Senator Walsh released every single evaluation that he received during his 33-year military career, which shows an honorable and stellar record of service to protecting Montana and serving this country in Iraq.”

Walsh served in the Montana National Guard for over 30 years before winning Montana’s lieutenant governor race in 2012. Earlier this year, after President Barack Obama nominated Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) to be the next ambassador to China, Gov. Steve Bullock appointed Walsh to the Senate. Walsh is currently running for another term in the Senate against Republican Rep. Steve Daines.

Outside election experts have given the edge to Daines. The Charlie Cook Report ranked the race as “lean Republican” in June, and Kyle Kondik, the managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, recently wrote that the seat was one of the three best Republican pickup opportunities in the Senate. Walsh has been gaining on Daines, however — a recent poll by the left-leaning Public Policy Polling showed that Walsh had trimmed an early 17-point Daines advantage down to seven points.

TIME Religion

Border Crisis: Central American Churches Try to Keep Children Home

Members of a Catholic church in a small town along the Guatemala and Mexico border hold a special mass celebrating the Virgin of Shelter.
Members of a Catholic church in El Pedregal, a small town along the Guatemala and Mexico border, hold a special Mass celebrating the Virgin of Shelter for undocumented migrants passing through their town, July 4, 2014. Meridith Kohut—The New York Times/Redux

Pastors in the United States and across Central America and Mexico have a new message: do not send kids to the border.

Thousands of children continue to cross the US-Mexico border without parents, and a growing group of Hispanic Christian pastors is urging churches across Central America to keep their children from making the trip. Their goal is ambitious: zero unaccompanied minors at the border by the end of the year.

The National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference/CONELA, a Hispanic Christian network that serves more than 40,000 churches in the US and 500,000 worldwide, is spearheading the campaign along with three other US-based faith organizations, Buckner International, Convoy of Hope, and Somebody Cares International. Together they hope to mobilize their member churches and partners in Central and South America to stop the children’s migration. “I believe it is wrong for parents to send children to the US border when the primary protective firewall for these children lies in a loving Christ-filled home where faith, family and education stand prevalent,” Samuel Rodriguez, president of NHCLC/CONELA, explains. “Correspondingly, as a nation and as people of faith, we must serve, heal and minister to those that have arrived in our nation because theirs, according to Jesus, is the kingdom of heaven.”

For now, the coalition is spreading the message primarily from pulpits and via a media campaign. The group launched a new website, ForHisChildren.net, on Wednesday, and is also beginning a radio ad campaign targeting some 500 radio stations, both secular and Christian, in Central and South America. Their message is direct: “How can we best protect our children? By making Christ the center of our homes, for a family filled with faith, hope and love stands as the primary deterrent against gangs, drugs and violence,” one of the Spanish ads says. “Keep your children home. Do not send them to the US border rather declare like Joshua, ‘As for me and my house, we shall serve The Lord.’”

NHCLC/CONELA leaders took this message to a gathering of 2,000 church leaders from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, in Guadalajara, Mexico, on July 10. The risk and likelihood of physical and psychological hardship, sexual abuse, and gang involvement, Rodriguez explained to the pastors there, outweighs the perceived benefits of letting children try to enter the United States. He asked pastors to share this message from their own pulpits: “Con Fe en Cristo y la familia junta; nuestros ninos tienen un future,” which translates as, “With faith in Christ and the family together, our children have a future.”

Beyond the humanitarian crisis at the border, the US faith leaders have political incentive to advise constituents to keep kids at home—vast numbers of migrating children continue to complicate the political challenge of passing immigration reform, which the leaders support. From October through the end of June, nearly 60,000 unaccompanied children were apprehended crossing the US border, and nearly all were from Central American and Mexico. The number of children under age 12 who have been caught at the border has more than doubled this fiscal year over last year, according to data obtained by the Pew Research Center. Earlier this week, NHCLC members met with White House officials and, separately, with Senator Ted Cruz to share their recent efforts to prevent children from illegally coming to the US.

Fermín García, pastor of the 7,000-member strong church Grupo Unidad Cristiana de México (Christian Unity Group of Mexico) in Tijuana, leads the NHCLC Mexico chapter, which includes thousands of Church of God, Assemblies of God, Foursquare and Methodist churches. He is working to spread the message across Mexico pastor to pastor, and this week he met with leaders of the Foursquare denomination at their national convention in Baja California to give them copies of the media spots to share with their local churches. Biblical principles, he explains, are what ultimately change kids lives, and that’s one of the reasons it is so important for pastors to spread the keep-kids-home message. “Parents don’t want children to fall into gangs or with poverty, unfortunately it seems they are finding the same thing, only now away from their family,” Garcia says. “Changes come with hearts being changed, not with money.”

Costa Rican pastor Ricardo Castillo Medina, who serves as president of the Hispanic Federation of the Assemblies of God, was initially surprised to learn of the campaign, but he quickly joined and helped to coordinate awareness and humanitarian aid for children. His network in the most vulnerable immigration zones is large—2,300 churches in El Salvador, 1,750 in Honduras, 2,600 in Guatemala, 5,000 in Mexico. The churches in his network, he says, now have instructions to share messages to keep kids home with their communities. Families need to know, he explains via email, that the risks involved for children seeking the American dream could turn it into a nightmare. “We can avoid children suffering abuse and exposure to inhumane conditions, and besides that it is a social-political problem,” he says.

Whether the overall campaign works on the broad scale remains to be seen. The motivating forces behind the children’s migration, like violence and poverty, have far from an easy fix. “Everything is still new and you can’t yet measure the impact,” Castillo says, “but I think we’re going to raise awareness so that children are not used.”

TIME energy

White House Tightens Oil Train Safety Regulations

Oil Trains Accidents
a BNSF Railway train hauls crude oil near Wolf Point, Montana on Nov. 6, 2013. Matthew Brown—AP

After a spate of train derailments, the Obama administration issued new rules on an increasingly popular way to move crude in the U.S.

Updated at 3:53 p.m.

Freight trains that haul an increasingly large amount of oil across the United States will have to improve safety mechanisms under new regulations proposed by the Obama administration Wednesday.

The new rules include lower speed limits, new brake requirements, tougher regulations on the sturdiness of oil tank construction and a plan for phasing out some older oil tank cars.

As a result of the rapid increase in oil production in North America in recent years, a growing volume of crude is being moved from well-head to refinery via freight trains—an increase of 423 percent between 2011 and 2012, according to the Department of Transportation. In tandem with that sharp uptick, there has been a spate of train accidents involving spilled crude oil, up from none in 2010 to five in 2013 and five by February this year, before a train carrying crude derailed in April in downtown Lynchburg, Virginia, temporarily setting on fire to a river that passes by the town’s population of 77,000.

The fact that train accidents overall have been in sharp decline in the last decade speaks to the tremendous increase in the amount of crude oil being moved around the country by rail.

Environmentalist groups have been pushing for tighter safety rules on freight trains carrying crude oil, which often pass through or near residential communities. A particularly devastating train accident last year in a town in Quebec left more than 40 dead and dozens of buildings destroyed.

Among the initiatives the DOT proposed Wednesday is a plan to address concerns that crude oil drilled out of the Bakken Shale formation in North Dakota, today one of the most productive oil fields in the world, is a particularly dangerous form of crude. “It has become general public knowledge that Bakken crude is proving particularly explosive,” said Anthony Swift, a staff attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

In its response to the DOT proposal, the American Petroleum Institute, a trade group, rejected the notion that Bakken crude is especially dangerous. “The best science and data do not support recent speculation that crude oil from the Bakken presents greater than normal transportation risks,” said API President Jack Gerard.

TIME Senate

The ‘Nuclear Option’ Might Just Save Obamacare

Filibuster reform meant Democrats could pack the federal courts — including one that is now poised to overturn a ruling that would hobble Obamacare

Sure, the Senate has been a wasteland for eight months now, but for some Democrats it was worth sacrificing what little comity was left in the name of a bigger legacy builder for President Obama: taking the “nuclear option” on the filibuster so they could prevent Repubicans from jamming up appointments to the federal courts. And this week’s federal court decisions on Obamacare would seem to have validated that decision.

On Tuesday, a three-judge panel on the U.S. Appeals Court for the D.C. Circuit ruled that the Internal Revenue Service lacked the authority to allow the Affordable Care Act’s federal exchange to hand out subsidies. The same day, another three-judge panel on the Fourth Circuit Court of appeals in Richmond upheld that exact clause.

The Obama Administration is appealing the D.C. decision — which would effectively hobble the healthcare law’s subsidies—and that appeal will go before the D.C. Circuit’s full panel of 11 judges. The D.C. Circuit court is known as the second-most powerful court in the land as it often settles questions of policy given its location in the nation’s capital.

It is also the court Democrats blew the Senate up in order to stack, by stripping the minority of the ability to filibuster certain nominees—a move so toxic it became known as the nuclear option. Seven of the court’s judges were appointed by Democrats, so odds are good the court will reverse the three-judge panel’s decision and agree with the Fourth Circuit.

Such a move would prevent the case from ascending to the Supreme Court, where Republican nominees have a five-four edge, though there are similar cases pending in courts across the country, so the issue could still be decided by the Supreme Court.

But Obamacare defenders will be breathing easier knowing that the D.C. Court leans in their favor. So, maybe it was worth shredding what little bipartisanship that remained to the Democrats in Obama’s second term. The President’s greatest second term legacy may well prove to be stacking the federal courts—not just the DC Circuit but many others—for a generation. Will that be worth all the lost legislation, like reforming the VA, immigration reform, appropriations bills, and so on? Time will tell.

TIME republicans

Governor Rick Scott Shows What a Real Scandal Looks Like

Rick Scott, Will Weayherford
Gov. Rick Scott, left, and house speaker Will Weatherford speak at a news conference after session on Thursday, May 1, 2014, in Tallahassee, Fla. Steve Cannon—AP

The Florida governor has been questioned about his investment in a natural gas company and his aide's involvement in a rail project.

A few months ago, I wrote about an epidemic of fake Republican scandals that Democrats were hyping for 2014, starting with a nothingburger of a whatever-gate involving Florida Governor Rick Scott. My point was that political scandals rarely get traction, and shouldn’t get traction, without a semi-plausible link to significant public policies. Let me put it a different way: Damaging scandals look more like the two latest messes involving Governor Scott.

The first involves Scott’s support for a controversial Miami-to-Orlando rail project known as All Aboard Florida, when the company pushing it had financial ties to his chief of staff. The second involves Scott’s support for a controversial natural gas pipeline to North Florida, when he owned a stake in the company building it. You probably haven’t heard about these messes, because they’re pretty obscure. They’re also mini-messes, especially for Scott, who was once CEO of a hospital chain that paid a record $1.7 billion fine for fraud committed on his watch.

What could turn these messes into scandals is their potential link to public policies—in particular, to lame and unpopular policies that could look even worse if Scott’s probable opponent, Republican-turned-Independent-turned-Democrat Charlie Crist, can frame them as corrupt policies. There’s nothing inherently wrong with government support for a train linking Miami and Orlando—though my pal Carl Hiaasen is not an All Aboard Florida fan—but it looks pretty sketchy after Governor Scott (at the urging of his conflicted chief of staff) rejected $2.4 billion in federal money for a high-speed rail project that would have eventually linked Miami, Orlando and Tampa. Similarly, there’s a case to be made for a natural gas pipeline to Florida, but it’s hard to square with Scott’s support for utilities waging an outrageous war to prevent homeowners from going solar in the Sunshine State.

Asking questions about an opponent’s record can be good politics, but answering them can be even better politics. It’s one thing to ask why Scott rejected federal money for a shovel-ready high-speed train that promised 27,000 jobs and enjoyed strong support from Florida’s business community; it’s another thing to suggest that Scott was clearing the way for his crony’s speculative slow-speed train. It’s one thing to ask why the Sunshine State is intentionally skipping a nationwide solar revolution that is reducing carbon emissions while saving ratepayers money; it’s another thing to suggest that Scott has a personal interest in pushing gas instead.

Scott will have a dramatic financial advantage in the fall, and it’s not clear whether voters will accept Crist’s latest political change of clothes, especially in what’s shaping up as a Republican year. But Scott is unpopular—he’s still best known as the Medicare fraud guy—and so are his policies. The challenge for Democrats is to link the personal to the political. Real scandals can do that.

 

TIME Congress

Congress Probably Won’t Address the Border Crisis Until After Summer Recess

Border Crisis
Undocumented immigrants await transport to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing center after being detained on July 22, 2014 near Falfurrias, Texas. John Moore—Getty Images

It’s becoming increasingly clear that Congress won’t address the border crisis until sometime after its upcoming August recess. The gulf between the House and Senate border crisis proposals is too great and the timeline too short, members and congressional aides indicated this week.

“I think that if you are focusing on the House, they’re going very bad over there because the Republicans can’t agree what they want,” said Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid, a top Democrat, in a press conference Tuesday. “The Democrats aren’t going to support some of their crazy ideas, and the Republicans can’t agree which crazy idea they want to put forward.”

Sen. John Cornyn, a member of the Senate Republican leadership team, also said progress on the crisis is unlikely.

“Unfortunately, it looks like we’re on a track to do absolutely nothing, which to me is the definition of political malpractice,” said Cornryn.

The major disagreement holding up the proposals has been whether to keep legal protections granted in 2008 to unaccompanied minors from non-continuous states, mainly Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. The Obama Administration, House Republicans and Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), who has authored a border bill with Cornyn, argue minors from those countries should be treated the same as Mexican minors, who are screened and deported more quickly by the Border Patrol. The House GOP border working group recommended to its conference Wednesday to craft a bill that would deploy the National Guard and amend the 2008 law to treat all children the same way. The Senate’s bill, which will be introduced Wednesday, doesn’t do either.

The Senate will likely vote on its bill next week, a Senate Democratic leadership aide tells TIME, mere days before the summer recess. Another Senate aide tells TIME that expectations of getting a bill signed before August are “slim to none” and that senators are already looking at options to take up the legislation in September. On Wednesday, House Speaker John Boehner said the House has not made a decision on when it will introduce its bill.

If Congress does nothing, the Administration will be hard-pressed to handle the surge of unaccompanied minors—more than 57,000 have been apprehended since October, according to administration officials—and may take it upon itself to act. Two departments in charge of arresting and removing immigrants who are in the country illegally—Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection—will go broke by mid-September, according to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, and the Department of Health and Human Services, which temporarily houses such children, is overwhelmed. If Obama is going to act on his own, he will have to move quickly amid flak from both sides of the aisle.

While Republicans may agree with the Administration on changing the 2008 law, they roundly criticize President Obama’s $3.7 billion request to handle the crisis as too high. Boehner called it a “blank check” Wednesday, saying that the House will tie a $1.5 billion proposal with the policy changes.

“Without trying to fix the problem, I don’t know how we actually are in a position to give the President any more money,” Boehner said.

The Senate’s version of the bill, meanwhile, includes $2.73 billion to address the border crisis, still $1 billion below the President’s request. It also includes funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system and fighting wildfires raging in the American west.

Republicans have continued to hammer the White House for not reacting to the border crisis warning signals sparked two years ago nor the dramatic surge of migrants in March. They have also latched onto a report by the Congressional Budget Office that says the Administration’s plan would only allocate $25 million through September, with the majority of the funds coming next fiscal year.

But Obama faces pressure on his left as well, and he has seen the border crisis lead to an unusually high level of intra-party friction. Last week, in a meeting with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus near the White House, Obama shot down a request to grant asylum as refugees to the tens of thousands of unaccompanied children at the southwestern border.

“I can’t go there,” said Obama, according to Cuellar, who was in the room, citing border security concerns. Rep. Rubén Hinojosa (D-TX), the Chairman of the Hispanic Caucus, told TIME that the meeting’s main focus was to oppose the 2008 law and to express “its collective unity in ensuring that these children receive due process under the law.” The White House did not return a request for comment for this article.

Democratic leaders have in turn slammed the proposal changing the way the U.S. treats non-contiguous minors. On the Senate floor Monday, Reid called the policy inhuman. “You wouldn’t send an animal back to this, let alone a little boy or girl,” he said. On Saturday, Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) said that the way the U.S. treats Mexican children is “abusive” and “deplorable.”

“Just so you know he’s a Texan before he’s a Democrat,” Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) joked last week of Cuellar, who has come under friendly fire for co-sponsoring a bill with Cornyn that would change the 2008 law. In an interview with TIME, Cuellar shot back at Pelosi for flip-flopping on how to try the Central American children. Pelosi’s office has maintained that she has never supported any changes that would negatively impact the children’s due process.

“She changed her position,” said Cuellar, noting that Pelosi had said that altering the 2008 law would “not [be] a deal breaker.” “It’s not only going against my position, but she is going against the Administration’s position, Secretary Johnson’s position and going against 18,500 Border Patrol agents that are on the ground that work on this day after day.”

Cuellar added that he and Pelosi have a “strong” working relationship, despite their current disagreement. “After we address this issue, the sun will rise, it will be a new day, we don’t burn any bridges, and we’re going to continue working on other issues together,” said Cuellar.

With reporting by Zeke Miller/Washington

TIME White House

Michelle Obama’s Pro-Water (Soda Silent) Campaign Makes Waves

Michelle Obama
First lady Michelle Obama, a longtime supporter of healthier eating and physical fitness, is surrounded by children as she expands her push for America to drink more water, at a "Drink Up" event at the White House. J. Scott Applewhite—AP

“I’m confident that in the coming months and years we will see people across the country drinking more and more water."

First Lady Michelle Obama devoted Tuesday afternoon to telling Americans to drink less sugary soda, without actually saying anything bad about sugary soda.

It’s been nearly a year since the First Lady launched the “Drink Up” campaign, a subset of the signature effort to promote healthy choices for kids that focuses on water. But instead of attacking the sugary, carbonated drinks and juices that contribute to the widening waistlines of our nation’s kids, “Drink Up” attempted to flood the market with positive, pro-water messaging.

At an event in the White House State Dining Room, the first lady said those who have been involved in promoting “Drink Up”—from the American Beverage Association to the Obama’s Portuguese water dog Sunny —have succeeded in making water “cool.” “I’m confident that in the coming months and years we will see people across the country drinking more and more water,” Obama said.

Their efforts have been proof that when you market and promote healthy choices as fervently as junk food, “then kids actually get excited about these products, and families actually buy them and consume them,” Mrs. Obama added. Seven organizations, including Brita, Nalgene, Haws Corporation, and S’well bottle, recently joined the campaign to promote the consumption and accessibility of water. And so far, according to a study conducted by Nielsen Catalina Solutions on the impact of the “Drink Up” campaign, online ads have helped fuel a 3% lift in sales of bottled water, worth about $1 million.

It’s good news for a campaign that came out the gate to criticism from nearly all sides. Some argued Mrs. Obama’s messaging about the benefits of water, which she called a natural “energy drink,” was inflated. Others said she should be promoting drinking tap water over bottled for the sake of the environment. While many were critical of the fact that instead of vilifying soda companies like Coca-Cola and Pepsi she partnered with them, which seemed contradictory given the direct link from sugary drinks to obesity.

“It’s less a public health campaign than a campaign to encourage drinking more water. To that end, we’re being completely positive,” Lawrence Soler, president and CEO of Partnership for a Healthier America, said at the time of the campaign’s launch. “Only encouraging people to drink water; not being negative about other drinks. “

A year later, however, tensions have cooled. “It’s terrific that the First Lady is working to make water more available, more cool,” said Margot Wootan of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “Increasing the appeal is one part of what needs to be done to reduce the consumption of other beverages.”

And meanwhile, First Lady Obama has gotten tougher on her efforts to promote healthier lifestyles. Though Tuesday was about fun and positivity—a group of local YMCA kids on the South Lawn even “surprised” the First Lady with a 60-by-40 foot water drop made out of 2,000 “Drink Up” branded reusable bottles—the anti-junk undertones didn’t go unnoticed. She even took time to mention the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s healthy school lunch standards she championed in 2010 and has been fighting since May to protect.

On Tuesday, the general message was, “don’t give up on our kids.”

“We need to keep working together within industries and across industries to help our kids lead healthier lives,” the First Lady said. ” And if we do all that, then I am confident — I continue to be confident that we can give our kids the bright, healthy futures they deserve.”

This story was updated to clarify that the survey on Drink Up was performed by Nielsen Catalina Solutions, a joint venture between The Nielsen Company and Catalina Marketing Corporation.

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