TIME Mike Pence

Indiana’s Mike Pence Takes Blows, Burnishes Credentials In Religious Freedom Fight

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence speaks during a press conference at the Indiana State Library in Indianapolis on March 31, 2015.
Aaron P. Bernstein—Getty Images Indiana Gov. Mike Pence speaks during a press conference at the Indiana State Library in Indianapolis on March 31, 2015.

Becoming a liberal pariah can be good politics for a conservative

There are few immutable rules in politics. But here’s one: anytime you call a televised press conference to explain that you “abhor discrimation,” something’s gone awry.

Such was the plight of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who was dragged into the searing glare of the national spotlight Tuesday to defend a new state law that critics say will invite discrimination. That 37-minute gauntlet followed another televised grilling in which Pence dodged hypothetical questions about whether a wedding florist could deny service to gay couples. The controversy over Indiana’s new Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) enveloped the Hoosier State this week, sparking a massive outcry from businesses, activists and ordinary citizens.

But in gauging the damage inflicted on Pence, it’s worth recalling another of politics’ Newtonian laws: in partisan warfare, taking enemy fire for a cherished cause always mobilizes your own troops. For a conservative like Pence, becoming a liberal pariah is pretty good politics.

In other words, for a governor with half an eye on national office, there are worse moves than planting yourself at the center of a national controversy. Just ask Scott Walker, who vaulted from obscurity to the top of the early presidential pack primarily by picking a bruising fight with Wisconsin’s unions. Pence may have underestimated the blowback he’d get from signing the so-called religious-freedom statute. But the skirmish could help more than hurt in the long run.

In the near term, the battle of Indiana has raised the national profile of a first-term governor whom many Republicans have long dubbed a dark horse contender in the 2016 race. Pence has yet to spring from the starting gate: he hasn’t hired staff, built a fundraising apparatus or made the early trips to primary states that are reliable signs of presidential ambitions. But on paper, he is the kind of candidate capable of catching fire.

“Mike has a unique ability to rally people from all different sectors of the conservative movement,” says his former chief of staff Marc Short, who is now president of Freedom Partners, the political fund for the billionaire Koch brothers. “Mike models servant-leadership better than any politician or public official I know.”

Pence, 55, has described himself as a “a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order.” This week’s legislative fight showcased the Christian part. But over six terms in the House of Representatives, Pence also built up glittering conservative credentials as he battled the Bush Administration on policies ranging from the bank bailout to No Child Left Behind to Medicare Part D. He left a coveted spot as chair of the GOP Republican Conference for the statehouse in Indianapolis, a perfect perch from which to mount a national campaign.

Pence is more likely than not to pass up a campaign. For one thing, Walker and perhaps Ohio Gov. John Kasich have already occupied the Midwestern governor’s lane on the road to the nomination. But after months off the national radar tending to the legislative session in Indiana, the RFRA fight “puts Pence right back in the center of the storm,” says a longtime party strategist. If he survives the tempest, he could steer himself into contention as a champion of an issue that is particularly dear to voters in the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses. “Pence right now has the opportunity to win the Republican nomination by standing firm,” argues Mike Farris, a conservative lawyer who helped draft the federal RFRA in 1993.

At the same time, a dramatic confrontation on a divisive social issue was hardly the best way to introduce himself to the mainstream voters Pence would need to mount a credible campaign. “Does it help him? I doubt it,” says one top Republican strategist who believes Pence’s team bungled the issue. “If the primary voters think you aren’t skilled enough to beat Hillary, you’re going to be in a bad spot whether you have a good [voting] scorecard or not.”

With reporting by Sam Frizell and Zeke J. Miller

TIME Congress

New Jersey Senator Faces Corruption Charges

He's only the 12th senator to ever be indicted

New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez was indicted Wednesday on corruption charges for improperly aiding a friend and major Democratic donor. He’s only the twelfth senator ever to be indicted.

A federal grand jury in New Jersey charged Menendez on 14 counts, including eight related to bribery and another on conspiracy. Federal authorities have been looking into whether Menendez, who rose from a tenement in Union City to become the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, exchanged political favors for hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of gifts and campaign contributions from a Florida eye doctor, who was also indicted Wednesday.

Throughout the federal probe, Menendez has repeatedly said he has committed no wrongdoing. In a lively news conference in Newark, New Jersey, on Wednesday evening, a defiant Menendez knocked the Justice Department in both English and Spanish, periodically halting to wait for fierce cheers to die down.

“I’m outraged that prosecutors at the Justice Department were tricked into starting this investigation three years ago with false allegations by those who have a political motive to silence me,” he said. “But I will not be silenced. I’m confident at the end of the day I will be vindicated and they will be exposed.”

“I’m angry and ready to fight because today contradicts my public service career and my entire life,” he said. “I’m angry because prosecutors at the Justice Department don’t know the difference between friendship and corruption and have chosen to twist my duties as a senator—and my friendship—into something that is improper,” he added. “They are dead wrong and I am confident that they will be proven so.”

And in a letter addressed to Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, Menendez said he would “temporarily” step down as Ranking Member of the Foreign Relations Committee.

“While there is no caucus rule that dictates that I do so, I believe it is in the best interests of the Committee, my colleagues, and the Senate which is why I have chosen to do so,” he explained, adding that he would “retain my membership and seniority” and “will once against ascend” to the position “upon the successful resolution of the allegations before me.”

There isn’t a party rule that forces Democratic senators in top positions to relinquish their leadership roles, as there is for Republicans. A few weeks ago, Reid said he would not “deal in hypotheticals” when asked if Menendez should step down from his Committee spot if charged. Menendez has been an influential voice in international affairs, as well as an occasional thorn in the Obama Administration’s side on issues regarding Iran and Cuba.

In a statement Wednesday, Reid, who voluntarily interviewed with DOJ and FBI officials last year as they investigated the corruption charges, said he appreciated Menendez’s “willingness” to temporarily step down. “He has been a consistent champion for the middle class,” Reid continued. “As I have said about both Democrats and Republicans, our justice system is premised on the principle of innocent until proven guilty and Senator Menendez should not be judged until he has his day in court.”

It’s the first time in Reid’s decade at the helm of the caucus that he has had to deal with a charged colleague. The last such Senate Democrat, Harrison A. Williams of New Jersey, was indicted 35 years ago.

Menendez allegedly intervened on behalf of the eye doctor, Salomon Melgen, in three major ways, the indictment details: to facilitate the visa applications of three of Melgen’s foreign girlfriends; to “pressure” the State Department and influence the Dominican Republic to ensure Melgen a 20-year, multi-million dollar port security contract; and to protest Medicare reimbursement audits alleging that Melgen—Medicare’s top-paid physician in 2012—overbilled the government by about $8.9 million.

In 2012, about six days after Melgen issued a $300,000 check to a political action committee benefiting Senate Democrats, the indictment states Menendez delved into his friend’s Medicare billing dispute, taking his position in a meeting with the chief of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and later with then-Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

Menendez’s troubles came to light in January 2013, when FBI and HHS officers raided Melgen’s Florida offices after the conservative website Daily Caller ran an article that claimed Menendez paid two women in the Dominican Republic for sex at a gated oceanfront resort, where Melgen owned a home. While Menendez emphatically denied the report and the FBI found no evidence to support its claims, the Senator ended up personally reimbursing Melgen over $58,000 for two other private jet trips to the country in 2010, citing sloppy paperwork. Menendez did not disclose the free trips as required by Senate rules for three years and the chamber’s ethics committee reviewed the violation.

TIME States

Arkansas Governor Asks for Changes to Controversial Religious Freedom Bill

His own son signed a petition against it

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson called Wednesday for the state legislature to make changes to a religious freedom bill that prompted an angry outcry from prominent businesses and activists who say it could lead to discrimination against gays.

“I’ve asked the leaders of the General Assembly to recall the bill so that it can be amended,” Hutchinson, a Republican, announced in a news conference Wednesday morning.

Hutchinson had promised last week to sign the bill into law when it reached his desk, and on Tuesday the Arkansas state House affixed its final approval to the measure. But as a backlash over a similar bill built against Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, Hutchinson reconsidered his decision.

MORE: Uproar Over Religious Freedom Law Trips Up Indiana Governor

Noting that his own son signed a petition urging a veto, Hutchinson urged the Arkansas state legislature to tweak the language of the statute to make it mirror the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was signed into law with bipartisan support by then-President Clinton.

“This is a bill that in ordinary times would not be controversial. But these are not ordinary times,” Hutchinson said.

Pressure had mounted on Hutchinson to reject the legislation, as powerful corporations publicly exhorted the Republican governor to reverse his decision. On Tuesday evening, the Arkansas-based retail giant Walmart posted a statement on Twitter arguing the bill undermined the state’s “spirit of inclusion” and asking Hutchinson to veto it.

“My responsibility is to speak out on my own convictions,” Hutchinson said, “and to do what I can, as governor, to make sure this bill reflects the values of the people of Arkansas, protects those of religious conscience. But also, minimizes the chance of discrimination in the workplace.”

TIME White House

Obama Administration Can Now Sanction Foreign Hackers

President Obama Holds News Conference At The White House
Leigh Vogel—WireImage President Barack Obama holds a press conference during which he discussed Sony Pictures' decision not to release "The Interview" in wake of the alleged North Korean hacking scandal at The White House on December 19, 2014 in Washington, DC.

President Obama added a new tool to respond to cyber attacks, authorizing the federal government to levy sanctions against suspected hackers.

Under an executive order signed Wednesday, the Secretary of Treasury can freeze assets of those who engage in “malicious cyber-enabled activity” anywhere in the world so long as that activity is dangerous to the national security, foreign policy or economic stability of America.

The White House is not currently targeting anyone for cyber-related sanctions, but Administration officials said on a conference call they felt it was important to have the framework in place.

The sanctions come in the wake of several high-profile cyber-attacks including Target andJ.P. Morgan Chase as well as a hack of entertainment giant Sony that was blamed on North Korea.

Though the Sony hack led to the first U.S. government imposed sanctions related to a cyber attack, White House officials said Wednesday they have never before had the authority to punish individuals based on the activity, rather than the region or country responsible.

“What we’re trying to do is enable us to have a new way of both deterring [action] and imposing new costs against cyber actors wherever they may be,” said Michael Daniel, a special assistant to the President and cyber-security coordinator.

White House officials say the new sanctions are not meant to replace the existing tools that the Obama administration has put in place to confront cyber threats, but rather to “fill in the gaps.” Under the authority, officials would also be able to target businesses that use illegally obtained trade secrets or information to gain an unfair edge, and individuals and companies that give or attempt to give serious hackers a financial boost.

“We don’t want to just deter those with their fingers on the keyboard,” he said.

TIME LGBT

First Openly Gay Congressman Says ‘Prejudice Is Alive and Well’ in Indiana

House Financial Services Cmte Holds Hearing On Impact Of Dodd-Frank Act
Win McNamee—Getty Images Former House Financial Services Committee chairman Barney Frank (D-MA) testifies before the House Financial Services Committee July 23, 2014 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.

Barney Frank speaks out against the state's new law and says a federal version he supported was "overly drawn"

The first openly gay member of Congress said Indiana’s controversial new religious freedom law sends a clear message that the state discriminates, and that he now regrets his role in passing a federal law that has been used to justify similar state laws sweeping the country.

“It’s a statement by the state: ‘Prejudice is alive and well in our state,'” former Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Barney Frank said in an interview with TIME.

Frank spoke to TIME on Tuesday after Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, bowing to days of criticism from business leaders, gay rights groups and others, urged state lawmakers to clarify that the measure doesn’t allow businesses to discriminate against gay customers or anyone else. He said Pence’s comments that the law was never meant to discriminate were undermined by statements from supporters of the law who had raised the prospect of it allowing businesses to refuse services for same-sex weddings.

MORE: Uproar Over Religious Freedom Law Trips Up Indiana Governor

“He said the law that was passed—which was specifically to allow people to discriminate against gay people—does not allow you to discriminate against gay people,” Frank said. “If that were in fact the case, there wouldn’t have been any law.”

And he expressed dismay that a federal law signed in the 1990s by then-President Bill Clinton with his support, which initially came about to protect the religious practice of Native Americans using the illegal drug peyote for ceremonial purposes, was being used for political cover by Pence and Republicans pushing similar measures elsewhere. That bill was intended as a “shield for people for their own religious practices,” he said, not as a “sword” used to discriminate. “I now believe that the federal version… was overly drawn, and that people were not thinking about the extent to which it would be an exception to any discrimination laws. I’d like to go back and redo some of the federal law. A number of us did not pay sufficient attention to it.”

Pence signed the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law last Thursday, igniting a national firestorm and shining a spotlight on his state’s capital just days before it hosts the NCAA Final Four tournament. Critics of the law argue it’s an open door for discrimination, while some proponents including Pence say it is simply meant to protect religious liberty from government overreach and doesn’t allow any form of discrimination. Hours after Pence bemoaned “mischaracterizations” of the law and acknowledged being “taken aback” by the uproar, Arkansas lawmakers gave final approval to a similar measure.

“I abhor discrimination,” Pence told reporters Tuesday. “This law does not give anyone a license to deny services to gay and lesbian couples.”

Frank, who served in Congress from 1981 to 2013, said he, too, was surprised by the intensity of the backlash: “I have said for years that I’ve continually been surprised by how fast we are progressing in defeating anti-LGBT prejudice.”

“He’s not a Tea Party guy—I served with him in the House—he was one of the more conservative members,” Frank said of Pence, who hasn’t ruled out a campaign for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.“But I think in this case he is suffering from a severe case of cultural lag. You know, a few years ago this would have been acceptable.”

Read next: Miley Cyrus Says Indiana’s Religious Freedom Law Supporters ‘Are Dinosaurs, and They Are Dying Off’

TIME

Morning Must Reads: April 1

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

Arkansas Follows Indiana’s Lead

Lawmakers gave final approval to a religious freedom bill that has drawn sharp criticism from opponents who say it opens the door to state-sanctioned discrimination against gays and lesbians. Protesters filled the Arkansas Capitol urging the governor to veto the bill

Heir to Getty Oil Fortune Dies

Andrew Getty was found dead in his Hollywood Hills home from what was most likely natural causes or an accident, authorities said

Airline Executives Visit Crash Site

The heads of Lufthansa and its low-cost airline Germanwings are visiting the site of the crash that killed 150 people amid mounting questions

ISIS-Affiliated Group Claims It Carried Out Tunisia Attack

A terrorist group reportedly affiliated with ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack on a museum in Tunisia in March that killed 22 people, mainly foreign tourists. A purported announcement by the group was uploaded to YouTube on Monday

April Fool? No, the Amazon Dash Button Is Real

Amazon unveiled its latest innovation on Tuesday — the wi-fi enabled Dash Button that can be stuck anywhere in the house and used to order goods at the press of a button. The timing of its release had many on social media wondering if it was an April Fool’s Day prank

Joni Mitchell Hospitalized but in ‘Good Spirits’

Music icon Joni Mitchell was rushed to the hospital on Tuesday after being found unconscious in her Los Angeles home. According to her website, the singer “regained consciousness on the ambulance ride to an L.A. area hospital”

UberX Driver Arrested for Trying to Rob Woman’s Home

Police in Denver arrested an UberX driver Tuesday on suspicion of attempting to burgle a woman’s house after he dropped her off at the airport. The incident is the latest to raise safety concerns regarding the hugely popular ride-sharing app

Gamers May Learn Visual Skills More Quickly

A study from Brown University suggests gamers, who are already known to have better visual-processing skills, may also be able to improve on those attributes faster than the average person. A researcher compared them to athletes who learn quickly

Porsche Blames Paul Walker Crash on Driver

Lawyers for Porsche are blaming the man who was behind the wheel during a fiery Southern California crash that killed Fast & Furious star Paul Walker. The statements were made in a response to a civil lawsuit alleging a vehicle flaw caused the 2013 crash

A Massive Typhoon Is Approaching the Philippines

The Philippines on Wednesday warned its citizens and visiting tourists to be prepared for a high-intensity supertyphoon that looks set to hit within the next three days, with troops placed on standby and supplies of food and medicine readied as a precaution

Mark Wahlberg Eyes a Lead in Boston Bombing Film

Actor-producer Mark Wahlberg is said to be eyeing a starring role in a newly unveiled film about the Boston Marathon bombing. CBS Films’ movie, Patriots’ Day, will tell the firsthand story of the citywide manhunt for the suspects in 2013

The Wrld’s Oldest Person Dies in Japan

The world’s oldest person, who celebrated her 117th birthday less than a month ago, died early Wednesday in Osaka. Staff at Misao Okawa’s nursing home said she died of heart failure. She reportedly lost her appetite 10 days ago

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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.”

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