Pipeline Delay Delights And Dismays Interest Groups

President Obama's decision to extend a review of the divisive Keystone XL pipeline frustrates energy and labor groups, but is welcomed by environmentalists. Final approval or rejection of the pipeline may not occur until after November's midterm elections

Environmental groups and energy and labor organizations sparred over the Obama’s administration decision Friday to extend its review of the Keystone XL pipeline, an issue that has increasingly become a political hot potato.

Energy interests, who say the pipeline will create thousands of new jobs and help spur America’s recent energy boom by connecting Canadian crude oil reserves with refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast, criticized the delay on a final decision.

But the pipeline has drawn harsh criticism for its likely environmental impact, with many arguing that it will greatly accelerate the energy-intensive extraction of oil reserves from Alberta’s tar sands and thus contribute heavily to carbon emissions.

The Obama administration’s decision Friday indefinitely extends the time executive agencies can review the approximately 2.5 million submitted comments and consider a Nebraska court case surrounding Keystone XL. The final approval or rejection of the pipeline may not occur until after November’s midterm elections.

The Natural Resources Defense Council approved of the extension on a deadline: “The State Department is taking the most prudent course of action possible,” the NRDC said in a statement. “It is already clear that the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline fails the climate test and will damage our climate, our lands and our waters.”

But proponents of Keystone XL said the Obama administration’s punt was politically motivated, as making a final decision before the midterm elections could hurt Democrats. “It’s a sad day for America’s workers when politics trumps job creating policy at the White House,” said Jack Gerard, CEO of the American Petroleum Institute. “Strong majorities in the House and the Senate have publicly called for Keystone XL’s approval.”

Democrats stand to suffer no matter what Obama ends up deciding. Approving the pipeline could stifle campaign contributions by environmental groups to Democratic lawmakers, while rejecting the pipeline could hurt Democrats in states whose economies rest on oil and gas production, and threaten support from labor groups who back the construction of the pipeline.

The Laborers’ International Union of North America also voiced its opposition to the latest delay. LIUNA’s president Terry O’Sullivan called it “another low blow to the working men and women of our country for whom the Keystone XL Pipeline is a lifeline to good jobs and energy security.”

Environmentalist and author Bill McKibben, one of the most fervent opponents of the pipeline, gave mixed reviews of the Obama administration’s delay, saying that putting off the decision means slowing the emissions-intensive and dirty extraction of oil in Canada, but bemoaning the President’s hesitation to take a strong stand on climate issues.

“We actually need President Obama providing climate leadership. If he’d just follow the science and reject the stupid pipeline he’d finally send a much-needed signal to the rest of the planet that he’s getting serious,” McKibben said.


White House “No Comment” on Bieber Deportation Petition

Miami Beach Police Documentation of Justin Bieber's Tattoos
In this handout photo provided by the Miami Beach Police Department and released on March 4, 2014, singer Justin Bieber is photographed by police while in custody on January 23, 2014 in Miami Beach, Florida. Miami Beach Police Department/Getty Images

The Obama administration had 'no comment' on a petition to have Canadian singer Justin Bieber deported from the United States following his recent legal troubles. Almost 275,000 people signed a petition on the White House website in January

After troubled pop star Justin Bieber’s spate of legal troubles earlier this year, the American people petitioned their government to deport the Canadian citizen from the United States. Nearly three months later, they have their response from the Obama administration: no comment.

Almost 275,000 people signed a petition on the White House website in January to “Deport Justin Bieber and revoke his green card.” “Sorry to disappoint, but we won’t be commenting on this one,” the White House wrote in its response, posted Friday. “The We the People terms of participation state that, “to avoid the appearance of improper influence, the White House may decline to address certain procurement, law enforcement, adjudicatory, or similar matters properly within the jurisdiction of federal departments or agencies, federal courts, or state and local government in its response to a petition.”

But the White House did use the opportunity to plug its call for comprehensive immigration reform, which remains stalled in Congress. “Independent economists say immigration reform will grow our economy and shrink our deficits by almost $1 trillion in the next 20 years,” the unsigned blogpost states. “For those of you counting at home, that’s 12.5 billion concert tickets—or 100 billion copies of Mr. Bieber’s debut album.”

On the substance of the matter, as we reported in January, Bieber’s multiple alleged offenses are unlikely to warrant deportation. He resides in the United States on an O-1 visa, which is reserved for “individuals with an extraordinary ability in the arts or extraordinary achievement in motion picture or television industry,” and only violent crimes and sentences longer than 1 year would result in a re-evaluation of his visa status.

Foreign Policy

Three Reasons the New Ukraine Deal May Not Last

US Secretary of State John Kerry, left, talks with Russian Foreign minister Sergei Lavrov at the start of a bilateral meeting to discuss the ongoing situation in Ukraine on April 17, 2014 in Geneva.  Jim Bourg—AFP/Getty Images

Thursday's agreement to calm the Ukraine crisis already appears tenuous, as Washington and Moscow promptly began bickering over the deal's meaning

The ink wasn’t yet dry on Thursday’s diplomatic deal to calm the crisis in eastern Ukraine before the Obama administration began casting doubt on it. Secretary of State John Kerry, who helped broker the deal in Geneva with Russia, Ukraine, and the European Union, warned that it was only “words on paper.” President Obama told reporters he didn’t think “we can count on” the deal sticking.

A day later, the agreement was already looking wobbly. Pro-Russian activists have refused to leave government buildings in eastern cities like Donetsk. Ukrainian forces paused what they call their “anti-terrorist” operations in the east, but didn’t withdraw. And Washington and Moscow promptly began bickering over the agreement’s meaning.

“We’re looking at all of this skeptically,” a senior administration official tells TIME.

All in all, the agreement is looking about as fragile as an Easter egg. Here are three reasons why.

1. Moscow and Washington disagree about the agreement

While most reporting in the U.S. has focused on the idea that the Geneva pact would require pro-Russian militants to leave government buildings in Ukraine’s east, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made clear on Thursday that he expects something more: for the pro-Europe demonstrators in Kiev’s central square, who initiated Ukraine’s revolution this winter, to vacate city hall and other municipal buildings they have occupied. “It is impossible to solve the problem of illegally seized buildings in one region of Ukraine when the illegally seized buildings are not freed in another,” Lavrov said.

The U.S. doesn’t see things that way. “There’s no parallel whatsoever between the armed and illegal seizures of government buildings, streets, and public spaces in eastern Ukraine, which are clearly covered by the accord from yesterday, and the legal and peaceful protests,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Friday.

The dispute hardly augurs well for the deal’s endurance.

2. The people who matter are ignoring it

A key passage of the Geneva deal states that

All illegal armed groups must be disarmed; all illegally seized buildings must be returned to legitimate owners; all illegally occupied streets, squares and other public places in Ukrainian cities and towns must be vacated.

On the pro-Russian side, agitators occupying government buildings in Donestk and other eastern cities and towns seem uninterested in those words. “Lavrov did not sign anything for us,” Denis Pushilin, head of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic, told reporters. And why would he? Moscow has denied coordinating with the likes of Pushilin, even if almost no one believes it. The question is whether Pushilin and his ilk are truly independent—or just obeying Moscow’s orders to ignore the deal.

On the pro-European side, the demonstrators who have been encamped in central Kiev for months aren’t about to abandon the tent-city infrastructure where dozens of them died. It’s not clear whether Moscow ever considered that a realistic outcome of the Geneva deal or is simply drawing the equivalence to defend the antics of its supporters in the east. But almost nothing Moscow does can disband Kiev’s Maidan.

3. Putin is saying ominous things

Though it was overshadowed by Thursday’s deal, the Russian president’s public remarks at a televised question-and-answer session in Moscow yesterday may have been more significant. As he fielded softball questions, a cocky-sounding Putin pointedly referred to eastern Ukraine as Novorossiya—which translates as “New Russia”—and noted that it once didn’t belong to Ukraine at all:

I would like to remind you that what was called Novorossiya (New Russia) back in the tsarist days – Kharkov, Lugansk, Donetsk, Kherson, Nikolayev and Odessa – were not part of Ukraine back then. These territories were given to Ukraine in the 1920s by the Soviet government. Why? Who knows.

Putin loves to unpack the historical roots of modern events. “Who knows” suggests he believes there is no good answer to his question, and that Russia’s surrender of eastern Ukraine was illegitimate.

There were some positive signs. Putin said ethnic Russians in Ukraine “should be full citizens in their country,” which implies a future outside of Russian borders. He even drew a distinction between eastern Ukraine and Crimea, to which he helped himself: “We must admit that the ethnic composition of Crimea differs from that of southeastern Ukraine,” Putin said. While Crimea is overwhelmingly Russian, Putin conceded that eastern Ukraine is, by his estimate, only about 50 percent so.

That said, Putin pointedly reminded his audience that the Russian Duma has authorized him to use force in Ukraine. “I very much hope that I will not have to exercise this right,” Putin said. Meanwhile, an estimated 40,000 Russian troops remain on Ukraine’s eastern border. Thursday’s agreement said nothing about their withdrawal.

White House

Obama Signs Bill Barring Terrorist Ambassadors

An undated handout picture released by the official website of the Iranian president on April 11, 2014 shows Tehran's newly appointed UN ambassador Hamid Aboutalebi who has been recently denied a US visa. Handout/AFP/Getty Images

The bill, sponsored by Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, is a response to Iran selecting Hamid Aboutalebi as its Ambassador to the United Nations. Aboutalebi allegedly participated 1979 Iranian hostage crisis

President Barack Obama signed a bill Friday that amends federal law to bar terrorists or others deemed to be threats to the United States entry to the country to serve as Ambassadors to the United Nations.

The measure, sponsored by Sen. Ted Cruz, was passed in response to Iran selecting Hamid Aboutalebi as its next Ambassador to the UN. Aboutalebi allegedly participated 1979 Iranian hostage crisis. The White House had already announced that a request for a visa for Aboutalebi would be denied.

The bill is the freshman senator’s first legislation to be passed by Congress and signed by the president.

Obama issued a rare signing statement as he signed the bill into law, saying he, like former President George H.W. Bush on a similar piece of legislation, is concerned it could infringe on his executive authority. “As President Bush also observed, “curtailing by statute my constitutional discretion to receive or reject ambassadors is neither a permissible nor a practical solution.” I shall therefore continue to treat section 407, as originally enacted and as amended by S. 2195, as advisory in circumstances in which it would interfere with the exercise of this discretion.”

Iran is protesting the decision to deny Aboutalebi a visa.

2016 Election

Unsealed Clinton Docs Shed Light on ‘Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy’

Former U.S. Secretary of State Clinton speaks to members of the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries during their annual convention in Las Vegas
Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks to members of the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries in Las Vegas, Nev., April 10, 2014. Steve Marcus—Reuters

Decades-old documents released by the National Archives detail the administration's efforts to get to the bottom of what then-first lady Hillary Clinton once called a “vast right-wing conspiracy” to discredit her husband’s presidency

The National Archives released a fresh batch of newly unsealed Clinton administration documents Friday, including one that may shed some light on the origins of Hillary Clinton’s famous description of a “vast right-wing conspiracy” targeting her husband.

In 1998, then-First Lady Hillary Clinton came to the defense of Bill by decrying what she described as a “vast right-wing conspiracy” to drum up imagined White House scandals. She was mocked by conservatives for her use of the phrase as the Monica Lewinsky scandal unfolded.

The newly-released, undated document—which comes from thousands of Clinton-era documents whose disclosures are being closely watched for any impact they could have on a possible 2016 presidential campaign by Hillary Clinton—comes from the office of Jane Sherburnem. She served as special counsel to the Clintons from 1995 to 1997 and quarterbacked the administration’s response to a spate of ethics investigations and accusations of impropriety that originated in the conservative press.

“The controversy surrounding the death of Vince Foster [a longtime Clinton confidant whose suicide fueled right-wing speculation for years] has been, in large part, the product of a well-financed right-wing conspiracy industry operation,” the document says. It goes on to describe the “Wizard of Oz” role played by Richard Mellon Scaife, a billionaire who funded numerous conservative and anti-Clinton organizations.

Elsewhere, the document seeks to track the origins of right-wing accusations against the Clintons from fringe political newsletters to the mainstream media, often through what was still then a new and exciting form of communication.

“The right wing has seized upon the internet as a means of communication its ideas to people,” the document says. “Moreover, evidence exists that Republican staffers surf the internet, interacting with extremists in order to exchange ideas and information.”


Obama Punts On Keystone Pipeline

Barack Obama
President Barack Obama gestures as he speaks at Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network's conference in New York, April 11, 2014 Carolyn Kaster—AP

A decision to give executive agencies more time to review plans for the controversial pipeline could push a final decision to after the midterm elections

The Obama Administration is extending its review of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline that has become an election-year minefield.

The State Department said Friday that while the public comment period will not be extended, executive agencies need more time to review the submitted comments as well as consider a Nebraska court case surrounding the pipeline. The indefinite extension could put off a decision on the pipeline, which would carry crude oil from Canadian tar sands to American refineries, until after November’s midterm elections.

“On April 18, 2014, the Department of State notified the eight federal agencies specified in Executive Order 13337 we will provide more time for the submission of their views on the proposed Keystone Pipeline Project,” the department said in a statement. “Agencies need additional time based on the uncertainty created by the on-going litigation in the Nebraska Supreme Court which could ultimately affect the pipeline route in that state. In addition, during this time we will review and appropriately consider the unprecedented number of new public comments, approximately 2.5 million, received during the public comment period that closed on March 7, 2014.

“The Permit process will conclude once factors that have a significant impact on determining the national interest of the proposed project have been evaluated and appropriately reflected in the decision documents,” the State Department statement continued. “The Department will give the agencies sufficient time to submit their views.”

The pipeline has become a focus of Republican critics of the Obama Administration’s regulatory process. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell blasted the White House Friday after news of the decision broke.

“It is crystal clear that the Obama administration is simply not serious about American energy and American jobs,” he said in a statement. “I guess he wasn’t serious about having a pen and a phone, either. At a time of high unemployment in the Obama economy, it’s a shame that the administration has delayed the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline for years. Here’s the single greatest shovel-ready project in America – one that could create thousands of jobs right away – but the President simply isn’t interested. Apparently radical activists carry more weight than Americans desperate to get back on the job. More jobs left behind in the Obama economy.”

-with reporting by Michael Crowley in Washington

2016 Election

Grandma Hillary Is a Double-Edged Sword in 2016

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Fleisha Rooney of Hershey, Pa., right, smiles as Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., holds her 6-month-old baby, Abbigail, during a campaign rally in Harrisburg, Pa. Monday, April 21, 2008. Elise Amendola—AP

Chelsea Clinton's announcement Thursday that she's expecting could change her mom's political calculus in 2016 but not necessarily for the better

When Chelsea Clinton announced Thursday that she’s pregnant, it took the media about two nanoseconds to home in on what that really means: Hillary, should she run for president in 2016, will campaign as a grandmother.

Some conservative pundits, perhaps unsurprisingly, were quick to the cynicism, with ruder ones even suggesting, absurdly, that Chelsea’s mom had pushed her because it would make good optics in 2016. And that’s to be expected. All is fair in love, war and Clintonland. But it’s worth noting two things.

For one, Chelsea is 34-years-old and has been married to her husband, Marc Mezvinsky, for four years. As any woman of childbearing age can tell you, now is the time in Chelsea’s life that the childbearing needs to happen. Let that sink in.

And for another, Hillary’s newfound role as grandmother isn’t necessarily a political boon. As I wrote in the Washington Monthly’s current issue, it could very easily cut both ways. After all, Hillary, who will be 68 in 2016, already runs the risk of appearing old, a vulnerability not lost on her detractors. From the Monthly:

(At sixty-six, Hillary is “not particularly old for a man,” Washington Times columnist Wes Pruden generously observed last year, but “a woman in public life is getting past her sell-by date.”) She will also likely provoke a national water-cooler debate, as no male candidate would, over whether she is too involved in her grandchild’s life, or, more likely, not involved enough—“How can she have time to be a good grandmother,” people will ask, “when she’s out running for president?”

The flipside, of course, is that the image of “grandmother” has changed fairly dramatically over the past decade or two. In the ‘70s and ‘80s, women in politics often worked to hide their age; being labeled a grandmother was considered a political liability. But as the Baby Boom generation has aged into grandparent roles, the term has been reclaimed. Being a grandma is now often used as a shorthand for a politician’s competence, compassion, and a commitment to her family—an image that sells well to liberals and conservatives alike.

As a result of this shift, we’ve seen more and more women in the past decade publicly relish their roles as grandmas. Within a few hours of Chelsea’s news on Thursday, Elizabeth Warren posted a picture of herself and her granddaughter on Facebook. (“I love-love-love being a grandmother,” it read.) Over the years, Nancy Pelosi, who has struggled to soften her image in the House, has talked often of her eight grandkids and occasionally dragged them along to political events. And in 2012, Sarah Palin, despite having become a grandmother after her unwed daughter’s teen pregnancy, embraced the title. The gun-totin’ Mama Grizzly was photographed regularly, grandbaby-in-arms, working the crowds.

When it comes to Hillary’s prospects on the campaign trail, the grandma card might be particularly useful. After all, one of her primary public image problems, both in 2008 and throughout her time as Secretary of State, has been that voters see her as cold, calculating and aloof. Campaigning with a toddler—cracking jokes about toys and lost sleep and the inevitable influx of stains—could make her appear softer, sweeter and more real in exactly the way she needs. It could also give her long-suffering speechwriters a raft of new material to help them connect the candidate to the policies she has already long championed, from pre-K education to family leave.

All that said, Hillary’s challenge, should she run, will not be to win over married or older women, for whom the grandmother schtick might be most appealing. Hillary’s challenge in 2016 will be the same as it was in 2008: getting younger women, who overwhelmingly backed Obama, to lend her their support. And to that end, Hillary’s secret weapon in 2016 might not be her new grandbaby, but her very own young woman: Chelsea herself.

2016 Election

Inside Ben Carson’s Conservative Marketing Machine

Dr. Ben Carson, professor emeritus at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference annual meeting in National Harbor, Md., on March 8, 2014.
Dr. Ben Carson, professor emeritus at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference annual meeting in National Harbor, Md., on March 8, 2014. Susan Walsh—AP

The group encouraging a retired surgeon to run for president is raking in cash

A little-known group devoted to drafting a retired doctor into the 2016 presidential race is raking in millions.

The National Draft Ben Carson for President Committee raised $2.4 million over the past three months, according to documents filed with the Federal Election Commission, outpacing far more prominent rivals. Carson, a 62-year-old retired neurosurgeon and political commentator, has never run for elected office. And there are few signs the fundraising boomlet has changed his mind. Running for office “has never been something that I have a desire to do,” Carson told TIME last month. The draft committee has no affiliation with the prospective candidate himself.

So how is a political neophyte with little campaign infrastructure, scant interest in the presidency and no real chance of winning helping raise all that cash?

As Michael Scherer and I explained in a feature story last month, Carson’s acolytes have tapped into the lucrative world of conservative direct marketing. His money-making machine has followed a well-honed formula: renting and expanding email lists, beseeching supporters for cash through email and the postal service, and then reinvesting big chunks of the proceeds in ever more appeals to activists. Once it cranks into gear, the machine is tough to stop. And its methods can be successful whether or not the cause is viable.

The hub of Carson’s fundraising drive is in an office park in northern Virginia, where the direct-mail wizard Bruce Eberle oversees a constellation of companies that raise money for clients. Eberle, an old lion of the conservative marketing world, has had decades of success connecting GOP activists and causes. It has sent more than two million pieces of mail on behalf of Carson, Tammy Cali, the president of Eberle Associates, told TIME last month. The response has exceeded anybody’s expectations.

Some conservatives have qualms about these tactics, noting they siphon cash and energy from activists’ limited supply. But there is no question that direct mail is working wonders for Carson’s political profile. Part of that is due to the appeal of the surgeon from Baltimore, who became famous for pioneering a method to successfully separate the heads of conjoined twins—and whose bootstrap tale and searing rhetoric delights conservatives. The Draft Carson committee likes to tell supporters that the African-American doctor is the only prospective GOP candidate who can win enough black votes to retake the White House.

But a large part of the success is due to the Eberle machine, which is filling its own coffers as it touts Carson’s chances. And the push to draft the doctor will only intensify. By the end of 2014, the Draft Carson committee expects to raise up to $8 million from 150,000 donors, director Vernon Robinson told TIME last month.

You can read the full story on Carson’s conservative fundraising machine works here.

Pictures of the Week: April 11 – April 18

From the sinking of a South Korean passenger ferry to the first anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing, to Passover in Jerusalem and Holy Week around the world, TIME presents the best photos of the week.


Snowden: Putin Must Be Held Accountable for Surveillance, Too

Edward Snowden, displayed on television screens, asks a question to Russian President Vladimir Putin during a nationally televised question-and-answer session, in Moscow, Thursday, April 17, 2014.
Edward Snowden, displayed on television screens, asks a question to Russian President Vladimir Putin during a nationally televised question-and-answer session, in Moscow, Thursday, April 17, 2014. Pavel Golovkin—AP

NSA leaker Edward Snowden explains in an op-ed why he asked Russian President Vladimir Putin about mass surveillance during a live televised Q&A yesterday, writing he did it to get a response "on the record, not to whitewash him”

Edward Snowden says he asked Vladimir Putin on live TV if Moscow conducts NSA-style surveillance on Russian citizens in order to get Putin’s answer on the record—not, as his critics charged, to be a prop for Kremlin propaganda.

“I was surprised that people who witnessed me risk my life to expose the surveillance practices of my own country could not believe that I might also criticize the surveillance policies of Russia, a country to which I have sworn no allegiance, without ulterior motive,” Snowden, the former NSA contractor who leaked details of its mass domestic surveillance programs, wrote in an op-ed published in the Guardian on Friday.

Snowden was criticized after he asked Putin during an annual Q&A session on Thursday if Russia spies on its own citizens in a way similar to what the U.S. National Security Agency does. In that exchange, Putin denied Moscow conducts mass domestic surveillance, saying, “We do not allow ourselves to do this, and we will never allow this. We do not have the money or the means to do that.” Snowden was lambasted in some corners for apparently setting Putin up for a denial with a pre-packaged softball question.

But Snowden, who is living under temporary asylum in Russia says he asked the question knowing Putin would lie in his response in order to replicate the famous exchange between U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, in which Clapper falsely claimed the U.S. does not conduct mass surveillance on Americans.

“I asked Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, a question that cannot credibly be answered in the negative by any leader who runs a modern, intrusive surveillance program,” Snowden wrote.

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