TIME White House

Obama to Request $1 Billion for Investment in Central America

Barack Obama,
President Barack Obama making opening remarks at the House Democratic Issues Conference in Philadelphia on Jan. 29, 2015. Pablo Martinez Monsivais—AP

Vice President tapped by Obama to "lead this new effort"

President Barack Obama will request $1 billion from Congress on Monday to aid Central American governments making tough reforms as more youth seek opportunities in the United States, Vice President Joe Biden wrote in an op-ed published Thursday. That amount, he adds, is “almost three times what we generally have provided to Central America.”

Biden’s op-ed for the New York Times details that the funds would go toward security, governance and economic investments in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras—where the bulk of the children who cross America’s southwestern border traveled from last summer. He uses past investments in Colombia to combat poverty, corruption and drug trafficking—amounting to $9 billion since 1999—as a barometer of success and notes that Obama “has asked me to lead this new effort.”

“The cost of investing now in a secure and prosperous Central America is modest compared with the costs of letting violence and poverty fester,” Biden writes. “Together, we can help Central America become an embodiment of the Western Hemisphere’s remarkable rise—not an exception to it.”

Read more at NYT.

TIME White House

Michelle Obama Shares Throwback Photo to Encourage Youth to Get Insured

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden did the same

First Lady Michelle Obama shared an adorable picture of her younger self on social media Thursday, in a nod to both “throwback Thursday” and the Obama administration’s ongoing effort to get more young people signed up for health insurance.

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden got in on the #tbt action, too. The White House shared a picture of a young Barack exclaiming gleefully during a romp on the beach. His picture, too, was a bid to get youth to visit HealthCare.gov.

The White House is ramping up its push to get people to the health insurance marketplace ahead of the second enrollment period deadline on Feb. 15. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, 9.5 million Americans have selected or reenrolled in plans through HealthCare.gov; 35%, or 2.5 million, are under age 35.

TIME Congress

Senate Passes Keystone Bill

Senate Votes On Keystone XL Pipeline Bill
Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) (C) speaks about the Keystone XL Pipeline while flanked by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) during a news conference on Jan. 29, 2015 at the US Capitol in Washington D.C. Mark Wilson—Getty Images

Bill passed in the Republican-led Senate 62-36

The new Republican Congress is on the verge of passing a bill to build the controversial Keystone oil pipeline, helping connect the Alberta tar sands in Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.

After debating the environmental and economic issues surrounding the 1,179 mile pipeline for years, the Senate passed a bill Thursday that would authorize construction of a pipeline linking the Canadian tar sands with Gulf Coast oil refineries. It’s the first politically significant bill that has passed the Senate since Republicans regained a majority there this month.

The bill, which passed 62 to 36, was one of several top priorities for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner, advancing despite a White House veto threat over three weeks ago. The House will now decide whether it will take up the Senate bill, or move to go to conference. The President has vowed to veto the final bill.

The way in which it passed through the Senate—with more than double the number of amendments considered last year—provoked McConnell to flash a rare smile during a speech on the chamber floor Thursday morning.

“The debate over these American jobs has shown that with bipartisan cooperation, it’s possible to get Washington functioning again,” said McConnell. “This debate is also providing that the new Congress is ready to work and work hard for the middle class, even in the teeth of opposition from special interests.”

Republicans have often used the $8 billion pipeline to bash the Obama administration for catering to Washington special interests over middle class jobs; in his 2012 presidential run, Mitt Romney said he would build it “if I have to myself.” Polls show that nearly 60% of Americans agree with the GOP’s position on the TransCanada six-year project.

Senate Democrats brought up more than a few amendments to trip up their Republican colleagues. One brought up earlier in January—“To express the sense of the Senate that climate change is real and not a hoax”—passed with only Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker voting “nay,” as some skeptics of manmade global warming like Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe simply retorted that the climate has “always changed.”

A Republican-introduced amendment specifying that humans play some role in climate change was defeated by one vote, but gave 15 Republicans, including some 2016 swing-staters like New Hampshire’s Kelly Ayotte, Ohio’s Rob Portman and Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey, the chance to have their views marked on the record.

Republicans and anti-Keystone Democrats lobbied the same middle class vs. special interest critique and used the same State Department report to prove their points. That report shows that the pipeline would indirectly and directly support around 42,000 jobs over two years, but only employ around 50 people once the pipeline was built and functional.

“Right out of the gate the first act of the new Republican majority was to pass a special interest bill that’s a giveaway to foreign oil and steel companies that do nothing to benefit the American people,” said New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, a member of the Democrats’ leadership team. “Republicans are calling this a jobs bill, but the fact is that the Keystone [pipeline] would create only 35 permanent jobs—a drop in the bucket. A fried chicken franchise creates about as many jobs.”

The years-long, pick-your-own-statistics messaging adds to the point that the Keystone debate has taken on a political significance greater than its actual one. Its long-term economic significance and environmental impact is minimal. But for Congress and the Obama administration, which has also spun off officials to work for groups on both sides, the Keystone pipeline debate has risen to become one of the best-known symbols in the fight over the environment and economy.

TIME justice

Koch Brother Teams Up With Liberals on Criminal Justice Reform

Charles Koch
Charles Koch, head of Koch Industries, on Feb 27, 2007. Bo Rader—Wichita Eagle/MCT via Getty Images

The push for prison reform gets momentum from a conservative power player

Just days after word emerged that the billionaire Koch brothers will spend nearly a billion dollars to elect conservatives in the 2016 elections, Charles Koch sent a top adviser to Washington to urge Republicans to work with Democrats on a key issue: criminal-justice reform.

Justice reform is not a cause for which the Kochs are normally in the news. The billionaire brothers are known for their lavish giving to conservative candidates and causes, for which they are celebrated on the right and reviled by the left. But for more than a decade, the Kochs have quietly pumped several million dollars into efforts to fix a criminal-justice system that many on both sides of the aisle believe is broken.

Last month, Charles Koch co-authored an op-ed for Politico decrying the “overcriminalization of America.” Now the Kochs are teaming up with some unlikely allies on the left in hopes of rectifying the problem. And their presence in the emerging bipartisan coalition for justice reform underscores the issue’s rare—perhaps unique—status as a cause that has united liberals and conservatives in an era of bitter partisanship.

“There’s just so much movement here,” Mark Holden, senior vice president and general counsel at Koch Industries, tells TIME. “It’s sweeping in a lot of unusual, non-traditional allies, and I think it’s a good thing.”

Holden was standing on Wednesday under the glittering chandeliers and Corinthian columns of a caucus room in the Russell Senate building, where he had just wrapped up a prison-reform discussion organized by The Constitution Project. The event offered the rare tableau where a bipartisan group of activists gathered in Washington to agree on policy, rather than fling accusations.

The motley panel included liberal and conservative senators and congressmen, activists and commentators, who warmly complimented one another’s leadership. Holden was seated next to Van Jones, a former Obama environmental adviser who once accused the Kochs of running a “plantation.” The oddball pair seemed bemused at the strange alliance. “Dogs and cats sleeping together,” Holden joked.

It’s easy to see why the issue attracts both sides. The U.S. has the highest rate of incarceration of any industrialized country in the world (second overall, behind the tiny Seychelles). It has 2.2 million total inmates—more than any other nation, and an increase of 500% over the past three decades. There are some 4,500 federal criminal laws on the books. More than half of the federal prison population consists of nonviolent drug offenders.

“Conservatives and liberals, Democrats and Republicans alike, have come to the conclusion that the system that has developed over the course of the last few decades in this country isn’t working,” said David Keene, a longtime conservative activist. “We’ve come to the conclusion that we have to work together.”

Activists on the left have long been vocal opponents of the justice system’s failings, which disproportionately affect minority groups and the poor. But their right-leaning counterparts have also fought hard to combat the pipeline to prison, for reasons ranging from the big-government bloat to the waste of taxpayer dollars to the dehumanizing conditions that strip individual liberties.

“Most people assume that conservatives are motivated to reform by economics,” says Pat Nolan, the director of the Center for Criminal Justice Reform at the American Conservation Union Foundation. “My experience is not that. It’s the moral issues…There’s no form of government domination greater than imprisonment.”

Holden has been interested in criminal justice since his days working as a jail guard in his hometown of Worcester, Mass. He was in high school and college at the time, and some of the inmates were former classmates. He witnessed the ways the system can suck people in. “These were the kids who were always in trouble,” Holden recalls. “I’ve always kind of been around these issues.”

The Kochs’ commitment in criminal-justice reform dates to the mid-1990s, when the company became embroiled in a court case related to alleged environmental crimes at a a refinery in Corpus Christi, Tex. In 2001, a subsidiary of the company pleaded guilty to concealing environmental violations at the refinery; a multitude of other charges were dropped, but the company paid a $20 million fine to settle the matter. The owners believed they had been victimized by overzealous prosecutors and unclear statutes. “Our view was if we, a large company with many resources, were treated this way, what’s happening to the average American?” Holden says.

The Kochs began donating money to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) to combat prosecutorial abuses. “Once we got involved,” says Holden, “we couldn’t stop.” Since 2004, the Kochs have made annual donations (in the “significant six figures,” according to Holden) to the NACDL. The money is designed to address a broad range of justice issues, from mandatory minimums for drug crimes to the right to competent representation and sentencing disparities for the disadvantaged.

Last month, Holden and Koch laid out a five-point reform plan to change the criminal justice system. It includes ensuring that indigent defendants receive adequate legal counsel, reducing criminal liabilities for inadvertent violations, and restoring rights to youthful and non-violent offenders to help them re-enter the job market after their release. Such beliefs have led the Kochs to team up with liberal organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union to combat issues like harsh sentencing and Sixth Amendment rights. “It’s very, very rare where we have a moment that the stars have aligned in this way,” said Jones.

Progress looks possible at the federal level. Several justice-reform bills have been introduced in Congress. They’re often the product of strange partnerships: one Senate effort, which would adjust mandatory sentencing guidelines, was sponsored by Dick Durbin of Illinois, a leading liberal, and Utah Senator Mike Lee, a Tea Party darling. Another sweeping Senate bill, introduced by Kentucky Republican Rand Paul and New Jersey Democrat Cory Booker, would seal and expunge juvenile records for nonviolent offenders and restrict the use of solitary confinement. But so far the legislation has languished.

The Kochs have the power to change that. Their clout on the right could help sway more conservatives to support criminal justice efforts. Most of the likely 2016 Republican presidential hopefuls have supported some kind of criminal-justice reforms. Given the Kochs’ commitment to the issue, candidates might be wise to make issues like curbing the prison population a larger campaign theme.

Holden says the Kochs won’t make criminal justice a political litmus test, in the way that they have focused attention on issues like health-care reform or environmental regulations. At the same time, “to the extent that there are candidates that are working on these issues we care about,” Holden says, “we’re probably going to want to support candidates who are in favor of helping people, helping the disadvantaged with their policies.”

Compared to their spending on elections, the money the Kochs are funneling toward justice reform is modest. Their network plans to fork out nearly $900 million in advance of the 2016 election, according to reports—nearly as much as Barack Obama and Mitt Romney corralled in 2016 to support their campaigns. And Holden says there are no plans at the moment to increase the financial support for justice reform or form a new nonprofit devoted to the issue, although he wouldn’t rule it out. “It depends on what the opportunities are. If we see coalitions building and real change coming, and it’s consistent with our values and beliefs,” Holden says, “we’ll be all over it. We don’t necessarily start out saying we’re going to spend this much this year.”

And the momentum is building. “It’s not a left-right issue,” Holden says. “It’s all about what’s right for the country. There’s so much that everyone fights about, and there’s a commonality here.”

TIME Know Right Now

Know Right Now: President Obama And the Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama will be appearing in public with Obama for the first time

TIME revealed on Thursday that the Dalai Lama will be attending the National Prayer Breakfast on Feb. 5.

But why is this going to be so significant — and what does China have to do with it?

Watch today’s Know Right Now to find out more.

TIME Congress

Senators Introduce Bill To End Cuba Travel Ban

Young man wears shorts with the colors of the U.S. flag in Jaimanitas , Cuba, Jan. 2015.
Man wears shorts with the colors of the U.S. flag in Jaimanitas, Cuba, Jan. 2015. Yuri Kozyrev—NOOR for TIME

A bipartisan group of eight senators was set to introduce legislation Thursday to lift all travel restrictions between the U.S. and Cuba. The Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act, led by Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), would lift onerous constraints on Americans visiting the Caribbean island nation

A bipartisan group of eight senators will introduce legislation Thursday to lift all travel restrictions between the U.S. and Cuba.

The Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act, led by Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), is co-sponsored by an equal number of Senate Democrats and Republicans, and would end onerous constraints on Americans wishing to travel to the Caribbean island.

It is the first move by Congress towards ending the embargo since Obama’s December announcement that he would begin normalizing relations with Cuba.

The bill, which is seen by supporters as an intermediate step to lifting the full embargo, is co-sponsored by Sens. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas), John Boozman (R-Arkansas), Mike Enzi (R-Wyoming), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island), Tom Udall (D-New Mexico), Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) and Dick Durbin (D-Illinois).

The United States held face-to-face talks with Cuba last week to discuss how best to normalize relations. On Thursday, Cuban President Raul Castro added new demands to restore diplomatic relations, including the U.S. returning Guantanamo Bay.

 

TIME Congress

Watch John McCain Call Kissinger Protesters ‘Low-Life Scum’

He threatened to have them arrested

Sen. John McCain channeled his inner Clint Eastwood at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Thursday, calling protestors who broke in “disgraceful” and “low-life scum.”

The protesters began their demonstration as former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger entered to give his testimony in a hearing on national security and global concerns. For over one minute they chanted, “Arrest Henry Kissinger for war crimes,” until they were escorted away.

McCain, who chairs the committee, then apologized to Kissinger and the rest of the speakers, saying, “I have never seen anything as disgraceful and outrageous and despicable as the last demonstration that just took place.”

Watch the video here.

 

TIME Congress

Former CBS Reporter Takes Case Against Obama to Congress

Loretta Lynch Howard Sorority Sisters
Congresswoman Alma S. Adams posted this photo on Jan. 28, 2014. "Supporting Greensboro native, Loretta Lynch, in her confirmation hearing for U.S. Attorney General. #NC12" Alma S. Adams (@RepAdams) via Twitter

Sharyl Attkisson gets a large perch to project her lawsuit's claims

Former CBS correspondent Sharyl Attkisson, a high-profile plaintiff suing the Justice Department for alleged computer hacking, received a national audience on Thursday to project her claims before Congressmen who will chose her defendant’s successor.

As a witness before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is considering Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch, Attkisson broadly knocked the Obama Administration for punishing those who cross it.

“The message has already been received: if you cross the Administration with perfectly accurate reporting that they don’t like: you will be attacked and punished,” she said in her opening remarks. “You and your sources may be subjected to the kind of surveillance devised for enemies of the state.”

But Attkisson also repeated claims that she makes in her case: that forensic investigation confirm “intrusive, long-term remote surveillance” of her work. “That included keystroke monitoring, password capture, use of Skype to listen into audio and exfiltrate files, and more,” she said.

The Justice Department has repeatedly denied any effort to hack Attkisson. “To our knowledge, the Justice Department has never compromised Ms. Attkisson’s computers, or otherwise sought any information from or concerning any telephone, computer or other media device she may own or use,” the Department said in a statement in 2013.

Attkisson is seeking $35 million in damages, alleging that the Administration illegally monitored her work as she reported on the Benghazi attacks, Fast and Furious and Obamacare, according to reports.

The Washington Post reports that of the four witnesses called by Republicans, three are involved in lawsuits against the Administration.

As the hearing commenced, Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy objected to using the Lynch confirmation process as a forum for hearing unrelated grievances. “Barack Obama is not the nominee,” said Leahy. “That may come as a surprise to some who heard some of the questions [yesterday.] Eric Holder is not the nominee. Loretta Lynch, the daughter of Lorine and the Rev. Lorenzo Lynch, a U.S. Attorney twice unanimously confirmed by the United States Senate, one who has been applauded for her law enforcement work—that’s who is being called upon to consider.”

Lynch has gained the support of some senior Republicans, including Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, who called the nominee “exceptionally well qualified and a good person to boot” during the hearing.

 

TIME White House

See Air Force One’s Transformation Over 70 Years

The US Air Force recently announced a Boeing 747-8 would soon replace the current Air Force One — but from FDR to Obama, U.S. presidents have long flown in style

Huge gray warships used to be the primary way the United States showed its flag around the world. But there was only one problem with that: such flag-waving was limited to seaports, and the vessels’ bristling guns carried a decidedly military message.

In recent decades, the United States of America has waved its flag from the tail of Air Force One, the modified passenger plane that ferries the President and key pieces of his entourage around the globe. Its gleaming fuselage, with its white and light-blue livery, declares the American chief executive is in town, tending to the nation’s business.

Unlike warships, it can deliver the President to any city with a decent airport, at home or overseas, inland or otherwise. And its weapons—defensive in nature, consisting of electronic jammers, designed to thwart attacks, and flares fired from the plane to divert heat-seeking missiles—are hidden from public view.

Read next: Check Out the President’s New Airplane

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME

Watch Fox’s Megyn Kelly School Mike Huckabee Over ‘Trashy Women’ Comments

"We're not only swearing, we're drinking, we're smoking, we're having premarital sex"

After Mike Huckabee said that New York women were “trashy” for cursing in a professional setting, Megyn Kelly set him straight.

Huckabee said in a Jan. 23rd radio interview that he was shocked at the way professional New York women threw around f-bombs. “This would be considered totally inappropriate to say these things in front of a woman, and for a woman to say them in a professional setting, we would only assume that this is a very, as we would say in the South, that’s just trashy.”

The presidential hopeful said that there’s a “cultural divide” between people who live in the “bubbles” on the coast and the people who live in “the land of what I call god, guns, grits, and gravy,” which, incidentally, is also the title of his book. He goes off on a diatribe about the “culture of crude.”

Kelly listened politely to the former Arkansas governor before telling him what she really thought of his “culture of crude.”

“I do have news for you before I let you go,” Kelly said. “We are not only swearing, we’re drinking, we’re smoking, we’re having premarital sex with birth control before we go to work, and sometimes boss around a bunch of men.”

“Aw, I just don’t want to hear that!” Huckabee responded.

 

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