TIME Budget

Texas Measure Cuts HIV Funds, Boosts Abstinence Education

A Republican-sponsored measure has been tucked into the Texas budget to supplant funding for HIV prevention with abstinence education

(AUSTIN) — Texas would cut $3 million from programs to prevent HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases and spend that money instead on abstinence education under a contentious Republican-sponsored measure tucked into the state budget Tuesday night.

The GOP-controlled House overwhelmingly approved the budget amendment, but not before a tense exchange with Democrats that veered into the unusually personal.

Republican state Rep. Stuart Spitzer, a doctor and the amendment’s sponsor, at one point defended the change by telling the Texas House that he practiced abstinence until marriage. The first-term lawmaker said he hopes schoolchildren follow his example, saying, “What’s good for me is good for a lot of people.”

Democrat state Rep. Harold Dutton asked Spitzer if abstinence worked for him.

Shouts of “Decorum!” soon echoed on the House floor as Spitzer responded and the back-and-forth intensified. Efforts by Democrats to put the debate in writing for the record — usually a perfunctory request — failed.

The measure is a long way from final approval. It must still survive budget negotiations with the Senate, although that chamber is equally dominated by conservatives.

Texas in 2013 had the third-highest number of HIV diagnoses in the country, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control. Texas also has one of the highest teen birth rates, and its public schools are not required to teach sex education.

Another Republican-sponsored amendment that passed Tuesday night would prevent schools from distributing sex education materials from abortion providers.

TIME Military

U.S. Resumes Weapons Flow to Egypt

An Egyptian Air Force F-16 fighter jet flies low over thousands of anti-government protesters gathered at Tahrir square in Cairo
Yannis Behrakis / Reuters A U.S.-built Egyptian F-16 flies low over thousands of anti-government protesters in Tahrir square in Cairo in January 2011.

But the White House announcement wasn't only about weapons

President Obama on Tuesday lifted his nearly two-year ban on shipping American weapons to Egypt, a restriction imposed after its military kicked out its elected government in 2013.

Obama relayed news of the move in a telephone call to Egyptian President (and former Army general) Abdul Fattah al-Sisi. It will allow for the shipment of 12 F-16 aircraft, 20 Harpoon missiles and up to 125 M-1 Abrams tank upgrades. The White House added that the Administration will continue to ask Congress to approve $1.3 billion in annual military aid to Egypt.

CRSU.S. aid to Egypt is overwhelmingly for new weapons, designated “FMF” (“Foreign Military Financing”).

The resumption of arms shipments to Egypt is in keeping with the growth of U.S. arms sales abroad. Major American weapons exports grew by 23% between 2005-2009 and 2010-2014, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) said on March 16. “The USA has long seen arms exports as a major foreign policy and security tool,” Aude Fleurant, of SIPRI, said when the group released its annual arms-sales accounting. “But in recent years exports are increasingly needed to help the U.S. arms industry maintain production levels at a time of decreasing U.S. military expenditure.”

The White House announcement wasn’t only about weapons. “President Obama also reiterated U.S. concerns about Egypt’s continued imprisonment of non-violent activists and mass trials,” it said in a statement. And, as the Administration drafts proposed legislation to resume military aid to Egypt, it “will not make the so-called ‘democracy certification’ in that legislation,” National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said.

In other words, Egypt remains little more than a military junta now wearing civilian clothes, and the White House won’t pretend otherwise.

All this is what diplomats call a return to the status quo ante—the way things were before. Obama is eager to defeat the militants of Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, defeat Islamic fundamentalist uprisings in Libya and Yemen and tamp down Iran’s ambitions—nuclear and otherwise. If he, and the U.S. government, have to cozy up to coup-plotters to achieve that goal, that’s realpolitik.

Cairo has recently suggested it may send ground troops into Yemen to bolster air strikes being carried out there by Saudi Arabia against the Iranian-backed Houthis rebels. Obama is now willing to resume the arms flow to Egypt in hopes of improving relations between the two nations as they join with other countries in a bid to restore stability to the war-racked region.

After nearly 40 years of such aid, the record is not reassuring. “Since the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian Peace Treaty, the United States has provided Egypt with large amounts of military assistance,” the Congressional Research Service reported earlier this month. “U.S. policy makers have routinely justified aid to Egypt as an investment in regional stability, built primarily on long-running military cooperation and on sustaining the treaty—principles that are supposed to be mutually reinforcing.”

TIME

Obama Grants Early Release From Prison to 22 Drug Offenders

"Now it is up to you to make the most of this opportunity," the President wrote

Twenty-two people who are serving lengthy federal prison terms for drug offenses will be out from behind bars this summer, after President Obama reduced their sentences on Tuesday.

Seven of the people had been sentenced to life in prison, and some have already served more than two decades behind bars.

The White House says the release of the 22 prisoners is in line with the shorter sentences attached to drug offenses under today’s laws.

“Had they been sentenced under current laws and policies, many of these individuals would have already served their time and paid their debt to society,” a White House blog post reads.

Tuesday’s announcement follows the President’s renewed focus on improving the criminal justice system in his second term. Last year, Obama’s Justice Department launched an initiative to identify candidates for clemency if they met certain criteria, including non-violent drug offenders who have spent at least a decade behind bars for their crimes.

The President sent a letter to each of the people who will soon be released. The letter reads in part: “I am granting your application because you have demonstrated the potential to turn your life around. Now it is up to you to make the most of this opportunity.”

The letter continues, “I believe in your ability to prove the doubters wrong.”

Julie Stewart, president of the Washington-based organization Families Against Mandatory Minimum Sentences (FAMM), hailed the decision to release the prisoners, saying, “President Obama is making good on his promise to use the powers granted him by the Constitution to provide relief for federal prisoners serving excessively long mandatory minimum sentences.”

“We hope and expect to see more commutations granted through the end of his term,” she added in a statement.

One of the 22 federal prisoners who will be released in July is Donel Marcus Clark, a member of FAMM who has been in prison for more than 20 years for his involvement in a nonviolent drug conspiracy.

The latest round of sentence reduction, formally known as commutations, brings Obama’s total tally of early releases to 43. That’s more commutations than Presidents Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush combined, though still not as many as granted by President Clinton.

P.S. Ruckman, a professor of political science and editor of a blog on the pardon power, tells TIME that Obama’s action on Tuesday is a sign the president is being thoughtful about issuing pardons.

“I would call it smart pardoning,” P.S. Ruckman tells TIME. “When you look at this, it looks like there’s a thought process behind it and that’s refreshing. It would restore faith in pardons if we had more of that.”

TIME States

NASCAR ‘Disappointed’ in Indiana’s Religious Freedom Law

The sports league joins a growing chorus of critics

NASCAR says it is disappointed by the passage of Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which critics say could be used to discriminate against gay people.

“We will not embrace nor participate in exclusion or intolerance,” NASCAR said in a statement issued to NBC Sports. “We are committed to diversity and inclusion within our sport and therefore will continue to welcome all competitors and fans at our events in the state of Indiana and anywhere else we race.”

The law, which backers say is supposed to ensure religious freedom for people in the state, has come under fire from both gay rights advocates who feel it could be used to deny service to gay people and corporations who fear the law could hurt businesses in Indiana if the state gains an anti-gay stigma. Other sports organizations, such as the NCAA, have also expressed concern over the new law, as have prominent businesspeople such as Apple CEO Tim Cook.

At a Tuesday press conference Indiana Governor Mike Pence said he would push lawmakers to amend the law so that it explicitly states that businesses can’t use it to discriminate against anyone.

TIME climate change

White House Outlines Plans to Cut Carbon Emissions By Up to 28%

Coal plant
Getty Images

The plan is the first step toward achieving an 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050

The White House reaffirmed a commitment to cut carbon emissions by up to 28% by 2025 in a Tuesday submission to the United Nations that promises new regulations on power plants, new fuel economy standards for some vehicles and rules to address methane emissions.

The plan, the first step toward achieving an 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050, calls for a dramatic increase in the rate at which the U.S. reduces carbon pollution, from 1.2% per year between 2005 and 2020 to between 2.3% and 2.8% between 2020 and 2025.

“This submission is ambitious and achievable,” said Brian Deese, a senior advisor to the President on climate change, on a conference call. “We know this is good for our economy, good for our health and good for our future.”

The plan, submitted to meet an informal United Nations target date, reaffirms a commitment made by the U.S. in November to cut its carbon emissions by more than a quarter by 2025. At the time, the U.S. and China—the world’s two largest emitters of carbon—made a bilateral commitment to take the lead on the issue, with China agreeing to stop growth in its carbon emissions by 2030.

The commitments of the U.S. and China, along with those of other countries that have submitted plans to the UN, are intended to make a statement that will encourage other countries ahead of a U.N. conference in December intended to produce a binding international agreement on climate change. Leadership aside, the plans already submitted promise to make a dramatic impact on global carbon emissions. Together the U.S., China, the European Union and Mexico, all of which have submitted plans, represent 58% of the world’s carbon emissions.

The U.S. plan, which relies on actions that don’t need Congressional approval, will likely face pushback from Republicans who have already sought to undermine the effort. U.S. officials said Tuesday that proposals are designed to remain in place for years beyond the Obama administration.

“The undoing of the kind of regulation that we’re putting in place is something that’s very tough to do,” said Todd Stern, special envoy for climate change at the State Department, on a conference call.

The plan drew immediate praise in environmental circles. Natural Resources Defense Council president Rhea Suh in a statement that she believes the plan can be “met” and “even exceeded.”

“This important commitment sends a powerful message to the world: Together we can slash dangerous carbon pollution and combat climate change,” she said.

TIME States

Indiana Governor Urges Clarification of Controversial Religious Freedom Law

“This law does not give anyone a license to deny services to gay and lesbian couples," Mike Pence said

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence urged state lawmakers Tuesday to amend a controversial new religious freedom law to clarify that it does not allow businesses to discriminate, bowing to days of criticism that the measure was an invitation to refuse services to gay customers.

“After much reflections and consultation with the leadership of the General Assembly, I’ve come to the conclusion it would be helpful to move legislation this week that makes it clear this law does not give businesses the right to deny services to anyone,” Pence said in a news conference.

The clarification to the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act would explicitly state that the law does not give businesses the right to discriminate. Pence is pushing to enact the change this week.

The law, which Pence signed last week, has ignited a national firestorm from opponents who decry it as anti-gay. Activists pointed to statements made by advocates of the law, who said that florists, for example, could deny service to weddings of gay couples. Business leaders, from Indiana health corporations to Apple CEO Tim Cook, also spoke out against the law, and a movement to boycott Indiana gained traction Monday.

MORE: Uproar Over Religious Freedom Law Trips Up Indiana’s Governor

Pence staunchly defended the law on Tuesday, even as he called for an amendment that would address what he called “mischaracterizations” about the bill.

“This law does not give anyone a license to deny services to gay and lesbian couples,” Pence said. “The language I’m talking about adding would be consistent with what the General Assembly intended, and certainly what I intended.”

Pence said he was stunned by the backlash the law prompted. He attributed the controversy to “reckless” media coverage of the law.

“Was I expecting this kind of backlash? Heavens, no,” Pence said. “Candidly, when this erupted last week, I was taken aback.”

MORE: 5 Things to Know About Mike Pence

A federal version of the law was enacted by then-President Bill Clinton in 1993, and an Illinois version was supported by then-Sen. Barack Obama. Almost 20 states have similar laws on the books. The law, proponents say, would protect religious liberties from government overreach. Proponents have pointed to the example of a Muslim prisoner who would want to have a beard despite prison regulations against facial hair as the kind of individual the law would seek to protect. But at a moment when same-sex marriage is increasingly sweeping the country, advocates have seized on a moment to paint it as a relic from another era.

Pence, who has not ruled out a campaign for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, has drawn national criticism for the law, as well as support from conservatives and some GOP presidential candidates. Pence will announce whether or not he will run for president at the end of April at the earliest.

TIME Election 2016

Martin O’Malley Courts Elizabeth Warren Supporters In New Hampshire

US-POLITICS-IAFF-OMALLEY
JIM WATSON—AFP/Getty Images Former Democratic Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley addresses the 2015 International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) Alfred K. Whitehead Legislative Conference and Presidential Forum in Washington, DC, March 10, 2015. AFP PHOTO/JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

The former Maryland governor offers an early hint at his coming presidential campaign strategy

BEDFORD, N.H.—Former Gov. Martin O’Malley parried reporter questions Tuesday about the two leading women in the Democratic party: Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren.

He didn’t want to talk much about the former. “Look, I’ve sort of said whatever I’m not going to say about the email thing,” he said, after addressing voters here. But when Warren’s name came up, he positively lit up.

“I believe that Senator Warren is speaking with great clarity especially on the need to regulate Wall Street to hold the CEOs of banks accountable, and to make sure that we put people at the [Security and Exchange Commission] and other entities that are going to deter the sort of behavior that led to the crash of our economy,” he said. “If the banks are too big to fail without wrecking our economy, then they’re too damn big.”

“I would welcome her supporters…if I were to get into the race,” added the former Maryland governor and likely presidential candidate.

Those populist themes, which have made Warren a leader in the Democratic party, found a central place in O’Malley’s prepared remarks during a scrambled egg breakfast in the suburbs of Manchester, before a crowd about 150 business insiders, political elites, and students. Lamenting what he described as the Republican economic agenda—“concentrate wealth at the top, keep wages low, and systematically deregulate Wall Street”—O’Malley advocated instead for increasing the minimum wage, making it easier for unions to collectively bargain “so that wages go up,” and to “expand social security, not dismantle it.”

“The central question of the battle for our democracy is, how do we make our economy work for all of us?” O’Malley said as the crowd ate scrambled eggs and fruit bowls in a hotel conference space.

“And yes, just as Teddy Roosevelt said, we have to be ready to stand up to special interests whenever their narrow agendas… threaten to wreck the homes and livelihoods and the hopes of average Americans,” he added.

O’Malley faces a major uphill battle for the Democratic nomination. While Clinton garners nearly 56% of the likely Democratic vote in New Hampshire, the first primary state, O’Malley is currently earning only about .8%, according to an average of five polls between January and March this year. In his press conference, he repeated a phrase he has leaned on often when asked about Clinton. He said history was full “candidates who are ‘inevitable’ until the moment they are not” and said that Americans were ready for “new leadership.” But he dismissed opportunities to needle the former Secretary of State directly.

Among New Hampshire voters, O’Malley clocks in behind every other potential Democratic candidate, including Warren (17.8%), who has said repeatedly that she is not running, and Vice President Joe Biden (7.8%). Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is also considering a run for the nomination, earns 9.4% of the primary vote in New Hampshire, according to those same polls.

Still, O’Malley’s speech Tuesday was well-received. He touted gay rights on several occasions, citing marriage legislation Maryland passed under his tenure, and calling Indiana’s religious freedom law “reprehensible.” He said it was “shameful” for potential GOP presidential hopefuls to support it.

The emotional high of the half-hour talk came when O’Malley asked the crowd of mostly white, middle-aged and older voters for a “little bit of audience participation.”

“How many people here believe firmly that you have enjoyed a better quality of life than your parents and grandparents?” O’Malley asked. Nearly everyone in the small room raised their hand.

“Second question,” he said. “How many of you believe just as firmly that your children and grandchildren will enjoy a better quality of life than you?” About two people raised their hands. The room was silent for a beat.

“That is the great question at the center of the debate at the kitchen table of our great democracy,” O’Malley said.

Afterward, about half the crowd gave him a standing ovation.

TIME republicans

Most Young Republicans Support Birth Control, Poll Says

TIME.com stock photos Birth Control Pills
Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME

But 60% don't think it's a health care need

A majority of young Republicans believe every woman should have access to affordable birth control, according to a new poll.

The survey, by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, found that 57% of Republicans aged 18-34 said they had a positive view of birth control, and two-thirds of them agreed that “every adult woman should have access to affordable, effective birth control because it gives people a chance to build families on their own terms.”

“Young Republicans don’t leave their ideology behind when thinking about expanding contraceptive access, and they certainly favor limited government,” said Kristen Soltis Anderson, a Republican pollster who conducted the survey. “However, within that context, they want to know how to make sure that the most effective methods of birth control are available to those who want them.”

Despite largely believing birth control should be covered by insurance, a majority of those surveyed, including 55% of young Republican women, supported the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case, which allowed an employer to deny contraceptive coverage to employees on religious grounds. And while a majority support birth control generally, 60% of respondents, including a majority of women, consider birth control “more of a personal convenience than a health care need for adult women.”

TIME Senate

Harry Reid: No Regrets Over False Romney Charges

"Romney didn't win, did he?"

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid has no regrets with falsely accusing Mitt Romney of paying zero taxes for ten years during the 2012 presidential elections.

“So the word is out that he has not paid any taxes for ten years,” Reid said on the Senate floor in August 2012. “Let him prove that he has paid taxes, because he hasn’t.”

Under criticism and repeated denials by Romney, Reid later put out a statement backed by an “extremely credible source,” which turned out to be billionaire Jon Huntsman, Sr, the father of the former Utah governor and Romney rival, according to Double Down by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann. PolitiFact rated Reid’s allegation “Pants on Fire.”

When asked about his comments in a new interview by CNN’s Dana Bash, Reid, who recently announced he would retire in 2017 after his term is up, rebuffed those who said his attacks were “McCarthyite.”

“Well, they can call it whatever they want,” Reid said. “Romney didn’t win, did he?”

TIME

Defense Secretary Laughs Off Biden Getting Cozy With Wife

“We’re great friends with the Bidens.”

 

Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter said he laughed when he saw the Vice President engaged in an infamous “close-talk” with his wife while he was being sworn in.

“They know each other extremely well,” Carter told Savannah Guthrie in an interview with NBC’s TODAY on Tuesday. “We’re great friends of the Bidens.”

Cringeworthy images of Vice President Joe Biden leaning into Mrs. Carter’s ear during his swearing in ceremony went viral in mid-February. It wasn’t, however, the first time the veep got a little too close for comfort.

In the interview with Guthrie, Carter also addressed the ongoing negotiations with Iran over obtaining nuclear weapons. If a deal isn’t reached by the Tuesday deadline, Carter said, “the military option will remain on the table.” He added, “if there is a good deal to have, obviously it’s worth waiting for and completing the negotiations.”

Watch the full interview at Today.

Read next: Connecticut Bans State-Funded Travel to Indiana Over Controversial Law

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