TIME 2016 Election

Rand Paul Wins CPAC Straw Poll, Scott Walker Takes Second

Rand Paul speaks at CPAC in National Harbor, Md. on Feb. 27, 2015.
Mark Peterson—Redux for TIME Rand Paul speaks at CPAC in National Harbor, Md. on Feb. 27, 2015.

Sen. Rand Paul won the Conservative Political Action Conference for the third year in a row, but the real action was in second place, where Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker took the honors.

Paul’s victory, with 26% percent of the vote, was widely expected due to the throngs of young, libertarian-minded attendees. (He won 25% of the vote in 2013 and 31% in 2014.) But Walker’s second-place win showed the Midwesterner’s growing credibility among conservatives.

In securing 21% of the vote, Walker is sure to ignite more buzz as he seeks to appeal to both the party’s wealthy elite and its conservative base. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush may be dominating the fundraising primary, but Walker is picking up support among the party’s grassroots.

Walker’s continued rise has only pressured the more moderate Chris Christie, who placed 10th with the unfriendly audience and is finding his path to the nomination narrowed by Walker and Bush.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, whose fiery brand of conservatism appeals particularly to the CPAC attendee, placed third with 12% of the vote.

But the straw poll’s results are hardly predictive of the GOP primaries, providing only a murky window into the polarized political party. Only registered attendees are provided a code with which to vote, turning campaign staffers and volunteers into temporary travel agents.

Bush came in fifth with 8% of the vote. He faced a skeptical crowd at CPAC, where the conservative base views the Bush heir as an establishment figure backed by Washington D.C.’s power brokers. Many view his support of the Common Core education standards and immigration reform with suspicion, and his appearance on Friday punctuated was by heckles and jeers.

Busing in supporters to pack the audience and juice the vote in the straw poll is a longstanding CPAC tradition. On Friday crowds of young students descended on the Convention Center, bused in by Bush allies who helped them obtain passes to the conference when he spoke.

Paul and Cruz’s PACs organized discounted registrations and hotel rooms nearby for young attendees, who play an outsized role in swaying the poll’s results.

Jeb’s fifth place finish, despite a coordinated effort to boost his support, highlights a central challenge of his campaign: convincing conservatives that he is one of them. Bush aides believe that once the candidate has time to share his record in Florida that conservatives will warm to him.

Bush will travel to Iowa next week for the first time this cycle, where he is expected to receive another wary reception.

The poll surveyed 3007 CPAC attendees between Wednesday and Saturday, a 22% increase over the previous year. Nearly half the voters were ages 18 to 25, indicating a heavy presence on college-age Republicans. Walker, whose son Matt is Midwest vice chairman for the College Republican National Committee, relied heavily on the student vote.

TIME republicans

Real TIME: Scott Walker Tackles the U.S. Economy at CPAC

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker shared his views on the U.S. economy, the minimum wage, and and the dispute over Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s impending speech to Congress during his speech at CPAC.

Watch #RealTIME to see what he had to say.

TIME republicans

Real TIME: Chris Christie Jabs At The Media At CPAC

New Jersey Governor and likely presidential hopeful Chris Christie addressed his critics in the media and spoke out on his pro-life stance and passion for his job during his Q&A at the Conservative Political Action Conference near Washington at the weekend.

Watch #RealTIME to hear what he had to say.

TIME 2016 Election

Conservatives Mostly Silent on Gay Marriage at CPAC

Ted Cruz CPAC
Mark Peterson—Redux for TIME Ted Cruz speaks on stage at CPAC in National Harbor, Md. on Feb. 26, 2015.

Don't ask, don't tell

It’s a momentous time for gay marriage. Every few weeks a federal judge orders a state — most recently, deep-red Alabama — to recognize same-sex unions, bringing the total to 37. The Supreme Court could expand that nationwide with a ruling sometime this summer. But you wouldn’t know that from the discussions at a gathering of conservative activists this week.

At the Conservative Political Action Conference near Washington, talk of gay marriage was either brief or nonexistent. When prospective candidates brought up the issue, it was to quickly note their disapproval before moving onto another topic. Gone were the fiery speeches of just a few years ago.

“Marriage is a question for the states, and it is wrong for the federal government or unelected judges to tear down the marriage laws of the sates,” Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said in a brief response to a question by Fox News host Sean Hannity on Thursday.

Attendees at CPAC, many of them young libertarians, are unenthusiastic about the family values moralizing that pervaded much of the conservative discussion on gay marriage over the past decade. At a small breakout session on marriage, some CPAC attendees loudly booed a speaker who advocated continuing the fight against marriage equality.

“Any outright condemnation of gay people is not just a non-starter with general electorate, but also with the conservative base here at CPAC,” Gregory T. Angelo, executive director of the conservative gay-rights group Log Cabin Republicans, told TIME. “It’s something that doesn’t resonate.”

One reason for the change at CPAC is the broader changes in public opinion. According to a Gallup poll taken in May last year, 55% of Americans believe same-sex marriage should be legal, with just 42% opposing. That’s a complete reversal of public opinion from 2004, when just 42% supported gay marriage and 55% opposed.

Gay marriage was once a rallying cry for conservatives at CPAC, much as it was on the national stage. In 2006, then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist vowed at CPAC to pass a constitutional ban of gay marriage.

Anti-gay marriage displays were much more common in previous years, such as one by the Traditional Values coalition in 2004, which featured a woman dressed as a bride serving wedding cake. Traditional Values’ chairman, a prominent conservative said at the conference that year, “Babylon is symbolic of promiscuity, hedonism and homosexuality,” according to a report in Salon at the time.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, whose emerging presidential campaign has attracted moderate voices on gay marriage, appeared reluctant to speak about the topic just days hiring as his director of communications the strategist Tim Miller, who is gay. Hannity asked Bush whether his views on the issue have changed.

“I believe in traditional marriage,” Bush said curtly, without elaborating.

It was a contrast even with CPAC in 2014, when former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum reached out to evangelicals, saying “I want to talk about reclaiming marriage as a good for society and celebrating how important it is for our economy.” This year, Santorum devoted his speech to ISIS and foreign policy.

Young attendees at CPAC largely expressed support for gay marriage.

One young attendee and activist, Drew Constable, was adamant. “Any two consenting adults should be able to marry,” Constable said.

TIME 2016 Election

CPAC: 12 Takeaways As The GOP Presidential Race Takes Off

Rand Paul speaks at CPAC in National Harbor, Md. on Feb. 27, 2015.
Mark Peterson—Redux for TIME Supporters watch Rand Paul speak at CPAC in National Harbor, Md. on Feb. 27, 2015.

Checking the scoreboard on day three

There’s still a straw poll winner to announce, but the biggest story lines at this week’s Conservative Political Action Conference have already unfolded. Here are the 12 big takeaways from the annual gathering:

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker kept the momentum alive. Riding a wave of fresh support after his Iowa debut last month, Walker was the talk of the conference and emerged even stronger despite a dust-up over comparing union protesters to ISIS fighters.

The hawkish GOP is back. The rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) has tempered the dovish streak percolating within the party, as speaker after speaker advocated a more muscular approach to fighting the terrorist group.

That could spell trouble for Rand Paul. The Kentucky Senator is still a CPAC favorite and a force in the party, but one of the pillars of his appeal may be eroding.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush can handle the base. In a lively question-and-answer session, Bush found his footing after an uneven start and managed to escape unscathed. “That was raucous and wild,” he told supporters after, “and I loved it.”

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie did what he had to do: convince donors and voters alike that he’s still alive and kicking in the GOP nominating fight. No one was expecting a barn-burner from the moderate governor at CPAC, but he showed some familiar fight in a tough interview with radio host Laura Ingraham, peppering his answers with shots at the media and his 2016 opponents.

Republicans haven’t figured out how to prosecute former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s economic priorities. Speaker after speaker tied her to Obama’s foreign policy record, but mentions of her domestic agenda—and Obama’s—were rare and disjointed.

Former HP CEO Carly Fiorina had another strong performance, showcasing her willingness to forcefully criticize Clinton. Fiorina has no natural constituency or discernible path to the nomination, but her ability to play Hillary’s foil positions her for success on the debate stage and could lift her to a spot on the veep shortlist or a cabinet position if Republicans win the White House.

Moderators matter. The GOP is determined to mitigate the mainstream media’s impact on the nominating process, but CPAC showed that tapping ideologues to quiz the candidates carries its own problems. Fox News personality Sean Hannity served up softballs and cracked wise about former President Bill Clinton’s womanizing, while radio host Laura Ingraham laid bare her own biases by lambasting Bush and pushing Christie to do the same.

Sarah Palin can use her for talents for good. The former Alaska governor has long drawn eye-rolls and sighs from Republicans for her fake flirtations with the presidency and outlandish or sometimes incoherent statements. But at CPAC, Palin delivered a substantive, impassioned speech on veterans issues that called on both parties to address the needs of those returning from war.

The First Amendment only goes so far. Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson received a First Amendment Award for speaking about his faith. But the bearded reality TV personality blew through his allotted time limit, uncorking such a long, rambling speech that the CPAC organizers had to cue up music to drive him offstage.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz will run a populist, anti-Washington campaign that juxtaposes his principled stands in the Senate with the waffling of his rivals. That should make him a force in Iowa, but he still hasn’t shown how a zealous base will give him the math needed to win the nomination in this field.

Rick Santorum is the Republican Rodney Dangerfield. The former Pennsylvania senator carried 11 states in the 2012 nominating contest, finishing second to Mitt Romney. It was an impressive feat—yet he still gets no respect from the base, who filed out of the CPAC ballroom en masse during Santorum’s speech on Friday.

TIME Congress

House Democrats Save DHS From Shutdown, Republicans From Themselves

With just hours to go before a midnight deadline, Congress passed a one-week extension to fund the Department of Homeland Security and prevent sending 30,000 government employees home on furlough.

The vote ended a tumultuous day in the House as Republican Speaker John Boehner and his aides lost control of their right flank, failing to deliver a three-week funding measure for the department and relying instead on Democrats to pass the one-week measure to avoid a DHS shutdown.

Boehner had hoped the three-week extension would buy his conference time to figure out how to protest immigration measures put forward by President Obama last year, without shutting down DHS. But his fellow Republicans turned on the bill and it failed by a handful of votes late in the afternoon.

The Senate, led by newly elected Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, then calmly passed a one-week extension of funding for the department and sent that bill back across the Capitol to the House. After House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi spoke with Obama, House Democrats opted to vote with Boehner and the Republican leadership rather than allow funding for the department to fail.

The one-week extension in funding for DHS meant that McConnell could technically uphold his promise that there would be no government shutdowns under his leadership. But House conservatives effectively ended McConnell’s other major promise as leader: that the party would no longer be “scary.”

On the Senate side of the Capitol, the House disarray brought scorn from Democrats and Republicans alike. “Hopefully we’re gonna end the attaching of bullshit to essential items of the government,” Illinois GOP Sen. Mark Kirk, who’s up for reelection in 2016, told TPM. “In the long-run, if you are blessed with the majority, you’re blessed with the power to govern. If you’re gonna govern, you have to act responsibly.”

The DHS fight originated in November, when Obama announced he would unilaterally, temporarily defer deportations for up to five million immigrants who came to the country illegally. While Republicans in Congress were furious at what they called the “unconstitutional” action, they were faced with few good options to effectively negate Obama’s executive actions.

Their best option emerged last week, when a federal judge in Texas ordered Obama to stop his action through an injunction. Still, some of the top legal experts in the country say the president’s actions are lawful. Some Republicans applauded the three-week plan put forward by Boehner Thursday night, saying that it gave time to highlight the ruling.

“America should have an opportunity to understand why we object to the president’s action [and] why a federal judge found that the president didn’t have the authority,” said California GOP Rep. Darrell Issa. “So the Speaker has offered a very reasoned way to create space in which to have that debate with the Senate.”

Other Republicans believe that the party should have just passed what the Democrats wanted, a so-called “clean” bill that would not have added immigration riders. “We’ve got him into an arena that is honestly better than the Capitol,” says Oklahoma GOP Rep. Tom Cole. “We can’t achieve a complete victory in Congress. We don’t have the Senate. The President does have a veto. But in the courts we actually could achieve it. … I actually would argue this is actually a little bit of a sideshow,” he added. “I think the decisive arena is the court.”

The backlash among conservatives caught Boehner and his aides by surprise. Republican Rep. Walter Jones reached into his pocket for a copy of the Constitution when asked Thursday night why he wouldn’t support the plan. “How can I support money going to a president who violated the Constitution,” he said. “We cave in all the time up here,” he added, referring to previous spending fights. In a closed-door meeting, Jones noted “strong feelings” on both sides of the conference. On one side he said were “those of us who feel so passionately about the Constitution.” On the other, he said, were “those from other parts of the United States that are more concerned about the terrorist attacks.”

The passage of the one-week bill represented the second time since December that Congress has punted on DHS funding and left Republicans with the question of how they can viably protest the president’s immigration actions without shutting down the agency.

That’s a challenge Boehner will now face in just one week — two weeks earlier than he had hoped.

TIME 2016 Election

Conservative Activists View Jeb Bush With Skepticism

A raucous crowd at CPAC showed deep divides on Friday over a Jeb Bush candidacy

When Jeb Bush walked in at a grassroots gathering Friday, the Tea Party walked out.

As the former Florida governor spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference near Washington, several dozen younger attendees left the room, led by a perennial Tea Party protester in revolutionary-era garb and a billowing Gadsden flag. Outside the hall, a chant of “No more Bushes” could be heard, while inside Bush folded his hands and stood uncomfortably.

The rowdy scene revealed deeper divides between hardline conservatives and supporters of more Establishment favorites such as Bush and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. But as the frontrunner among donors, it was Bush who drew the ire of many activists in the audience.

Read more: Jeb Bush Pitches Skeptical Conservatives at CPAC

To be fair, CPAC is not representative of the entire Republican Party. Attendees of the annual event are as likely to sport a denim vest, T-shirt or scruffy facial hair as they are to wear suits and loafers. One man wearing a Judas Priest sweatshirt over a maroon tie told a reporter that for him, CPAC is “just an excuse to go on a five-day bender.” The Republican National Convention, it ain’t.

Bush’s recent success with big donors was more a liability among the crowd here than an asset. “When you see the candidates supported by the status quo figures, you have to wonder,” said Bob Bodi, a Republican activist in Ohio, who wore a burgundy tie dotted with GOP elephants. “Conservatives aren’t willing to watch an election be bought.”

CPAC attendees also complained that Bush is milquetoast. “I’m not sure he has the fire in the belly to get the country back on track,” said Bill Rogers, a septuagenarian working through a glass of wine one evening after most had headed home. “He’s too soft on immigration.” Still others doubted his commitment to conservative values. “He doesn’t focus enough on first principles,” said Razi Lane, a first-year student at Hillsdale College in Michigan. He conjured James Madison and John Locke to criticize Bush. “Who represents natural law better? Ted Cruz.”

It wasn’t just local activists who expressed skepticism about a Bush candidacy. The talk-show host Laura Ingraham lambasted Bush on his money connections in a speech Friday morning. “The idea that we should conduct any kind of coronation,” Ingraham said, “because 50 rich families decide who will best decide their interests? No way, Jose.” Donald Trump, the real estate mogul and indefatigable presidential possible roused the crowd when he said Bush “is in favor of Common Core, he’s weak on immigration.”

But apart from the Sen. Ted Cruz late-night dorm room debaters and National Rifle Association activists at CPAC, Bush also had his supporters in the crowd. As in past years, presidential hopefuls’ allies bused in groups of supporters to vote for them in the straw poll and represent them in the crowd. Mitt Romney did it, Rand Paul’s allies do it, and so did Bush’s. Bush’s supporters like his tolerant stance on immigration, his willingness to compromise, qualities they say make him electable. “You have to give a little and you have to compromise and that’s something our country is lacking,” said Mallori Ware, a 19-year-old first-year at Liberty University and CPAC supporter of Bush. “We’re not going to elect someone to office who’s too conservative.”

The CPAC conservatives disagree, and a fight is brewing in the buzzing convention halls, one that will define the GOP for the next year. The night before Bush gave his tumultuous talk, Maggie Wright, a 69-year-old committed Cruz activist was adamant: she wouldn’t walk out in protest the next day. Out of politeness? No, not at raucous CPAC. Wright would stay to hear Bush’s speech, and “use it as ammo when Ted runs.”

TIME Cuba

Cuba Talks Turn Awkward Over Terror Listing

President Obama Holds End-Of-Year News Conference At The White House
Alex Wong—Getty Images WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 19: U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during his speech to members of the media during his last news conference of the year in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House December 19, 2014 in Washington, DC. President Obama faced questions on various topics including the changing of Cuba policy, his executive action on immigration and the Sony hack. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Another round of talks, another round of smiles Friday, as negotiators for Cuba and the United States joined in stepping carefully around the first obvious obstacle to emerge in their joint effort to re-establish diplomatic relations.

The latest meeting was only their second, this time in Washington. Diplomats from both countries crowded around an array of tables at the State Department for what U.S. officials cautioned in advance would be a more “workmanlike” session, less dramatic than the historic inaugural session in Havana in January. That was the first since Presidents Obama and Raúl Castro surprised the world by announcing an intention to reconcile in parallel announcements Dec. 17.

At the time, Obama signaled what sounded very much like an inclination to remove Cuba from the short, brutish roll of nations the State Department lists as official sponsors of terror: The only other countries saddled with the designation are Iran, Syria and Sudan. “At a time when we are focused on threats from Al Qaeda to ISIL, a nation that meets our conditions and renounces the use of terrorism should not face this sanction,” Obama said. But actually removing a nation from the list, and freeing it from the attendant sanctions, turns out to be taking longer than expected. “On why it’s taking so long, I’ve got to tell you it’s just these processes tend to be a little bit more complicated than they seem, and that’s all I’m going to say,” a senior State Department official said in a telephone briefing with reporters on Wednesday.

The consequences of the delay may only be atmospheric, but mood has been one of the things the Obama administration has had going for it on this story. The head of the Cuban delegation, Josefina Vidal, said at the close of Friday’s session that removal from the list was not a strict precondition to resuming ties, but repeated that it is “a very important issue” to Havana, which has harped on it both publicly and privately. And privately,the terror list may indeed have been mentioned as a precondition to re-opening embassies: “It would be very easy to restore diplomatic relations,” the State Department official said in the background briefing with reporters, “if they would not link those two things.”

What’s more, a 45-day interval built into the assessment process means that Cuba will still carry the designation when Castro and Obama meet at the Summit of the Americas, set for the second week of April in Panama City. The confab was envisioned as a celebratory session that marked the end not only of the 50-year cold war between countries, but also of Washington’s estrangement from a Latin American establishment that largely esteems Havana.

The delay clearly pleases Congressional critics of the reconciliation, led by favorites of the Cuban exile community based in Miami. “President Obama and his negotiating team need to stop looking so desperate to secure a deal with the Castro regime to open an embassy in Havana, at any cost, before this April’s Summit of the Americas,” Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who also noted the arrest of 200 dissidents in Cuba the previous two weeks. Detentions of activists, often held only a short time, remains routine in Havana, the State Department has noted, and U.S. officials take pains to pay respectful visits to some of the island’s most prominent dissidents.

But on the narrow question of re-establishing diplomatic ties, the nominal point of the talks, both sides appear to be on the same page. “On the issue of the themes on the agenda that were of concern to us, I think we did make progress on a number of them,” said Assistant Secretary of State Robert Jacobson after the meeting. “Some of them, quite honestly, are close to resolution.” Vidal said much the same in a separate news conference. And the negotiators, at least, appeared intent on sustaining the gestures of good will that began in December with an exchange of prisoners, and is supposed to proceed to an exchange of ambassadors. Said Jacobson, in answer to question: “I do think we can get this done in time for the Summit of the Americas.”

TIME

Senate Approves 1-week Funding Bill for Homeland Security

House Fails To Pass Bill Funding Homeland Security Department
Win McNamee—Getty Images The U.S. Capitol is seen at dusk as the U.S. Congress struggles to find a solution to fund the Department of Homeland Security on Feb. 27, 2015 in Washington, DC.

(WASHINGTON) — The Senate has approved a bill to ensure full funding of the Homeland Security Department for one week, sending the measure to the House just hours before the agency faces a partial shutdown.

By voice vote late Friday, the Senate backed the bill.

It came a few hours after the House, in a surprise move, rejected a bill to grant the department a three-week extension. Republicans objected to the measure for failing to roll back President Barack Obama’s immigration policies and Democrats opposed it for failing to fund the department through the end of the budget year.

TIME

Stopgap Homeland Security Spending Bill Fails in House

House To Vote On Homeland Security Funding Bill
Mark Wilson—Getty Images House Speaker John Boehner at the US Capitol, Feb. 27, 2015 in Washington, DC.

(WASHINGTON) — The House has rejected a stopgap spending bill for the Homeland Security Department with just hours to go before a midnight deadline to fund the agency or see it begin to partially shut down.

The surprise 224-203 defeat of the legislation was a major embarrassment for House GOP leaders. Next steps were not immediately clear.

Some conservatives opposed the bill because it left out provisions to block executive actions President Barack Obama took on immigration, which Republicans have vowed to overturn.

House leaders tried to win lawmakers over arguing a three-week extension bought them more time to fight Obama while his immigration directives are on hold in court.

But conservatives abandoned the bill in droves and Democrats refused to make up the difference, pressing for a full-year funding bill instead.

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