TIME Foreign Policy

Netanyahu Overshadows His Own Speech

Israeli PM Netanyahu weekly cabinet meeting
Abir Sultan—Reuters Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem on Feb. 15, 2015.

The discussion over the terms of negotiations with Iran fade into background

A partisan debate over the terms of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to the U.S. threatened to overshadow his message, as he arrived Sunday in the U.S. two days before an address to the Congress about the dangers of President Barack Obama’s recent moves to cut a deal with Iran over its nuclear program.

An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released Sunday found that 48% of registered voters said Republicans in Congress should not have invited Netanyahu without first checking with Obama, with just 30% of Americans supporting the move. President Obama has refused to meet the Israeli leader, citing the proximity of the visit on Israel’s elections. Obama’s National Security Adviser Susan Rice, cast the speech last week as “destructive to the fabric of U.S.-Israeli ties.”

At the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual policy conference in Washington, D.C., Sunday, the mood was uneasy, as the controversy overshadowed the conference and thrust the bipartisan organization into the uncomfortable position of lobbying lawmakers to attend a speech, as opposed to its key legislative priority: calling on Congress to play a role in reviewing the Iran agreement. “Frankly all of us should be concerned that care so deeply about the bipartisan support for the U.S.-Israel relationship,” AIPAC CEO Howard Kohr said Sunday. “We have spent active hours lobbying for members of the House and Senate to attend this speech.”

In the lead-up to the speech, dueling ads from left and right focused on the speech and who would attend. An incendiary ad from a group founded by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach and linked to Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson drew condemnation from all corners for accusing Rice of turning a blind eye to genocide. The ad compared Rice’s role in shaping a withdrawn U.S. policy during the 1994 Rwanda genocide, which Rice herself has since criticized, with her position on Netanyahu’s visit. “Ms. Rice may be blind to the issue of genocide,” the ad reads, under a picture of the National Security Adviser superimposed on the image of human skulls. The text goes on to suggest she has been more gracious in her dealings with Iran’s government than Israel’s. “She should treat our ally with at least as much diplomatic courtesy as she does the committed enemy of both our nations.”

Obama Administration officials were quick to condemn the move. “This ad is being widely met with the revulsion that it deserves,” a senior U.S. Administration official said. “Frankly, the ad says more about those who supported it than it says about Susan Rice.”

Netanyahu has a long track record of using addresses to Congress for his domestic political purposes. “I am leaving for Washington on a fateful, even historic, mission. I feel that I am the emissary of all Israelis, even those who disagree with me, of the entire Jewish People,” Netanyahu told reporters before departing. His coalition faces a close election on March 17.

In the U.S., the visit has turned into a political weapon. “The really only conflict here is between the White House and Israel,” said Speaker of the House John Boehner Sunday on CBS’s Face the Nation.

At AIPAC, Senator Ben Cardin, a Democrat from Maryland, sought to challenge that message. “The circumstances surrounding the invitation were not what they should have been,” he said. “We all understand that. But don’t lose focus. The bad guy is Iran.”

In Israel as well, the terms of the visit had become a point of political debate. “Netanyahu’s speech is diverting the question to be on whether he should speak or not in Congress rather than the security issue with Iran, and we think this is wrong,” said Israeli opposition Knesset member Erel Margalit. “We saw a poll that had the American public divided over whether Netanyahu should speak or not, instead of having 90% against the threshold nuclear state of Iran, which would have united everyone.”

To pre-empt claims that the White House has not sufficiently supported Israel, the National Security Council forwarded Democratic allies a pocket card highlighting the U.S.-Israel relationship under Obama casting the President as a “strong defender” of Israel. “Under President Obama’s leadership, American engagement with Israel has grown and strengthened to an unprecedented degree,” it reads. The handout did not include any mention of Iran.

“The Administration doesn’t want to talk about the Iran deal — so instead of hearing about sanctions relief and sunset clauses, we’ve had weeks of high-school-level melodrama about speech protocol and a bad guy named Bibi,” said Noah Pollak, the executive director of the hawkish Emergency Committee for Israel. “The Administration has temporarily distracted from the Iran talks, but it’s also turned the Netanyahu speech into the Super Bowl of foreign policy. In the end it may turn out that Obama only drew more attention to what a bad deal he’s trying to cut with Iran.”

TIME 2016 Election

Jeb Bush Runs Conservative Gatekeeper Gauntlet

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

Jeb Bush made headlines Friday when he used wit to parry the boos of college-age conservatives at a conference outside Washington, D.C. “For those who made an ‘ooo’ sound — is that what it was? — I’m marking you down as neutral and I want to be your second choice,” he told the crowd, in what sounded like a prepared line.

But the moment may not have been the most consequential conservative test he passed last week. Just a day earlier, Bush addressed and largely won over a crowd of strict fiscal conservative donors off camera and thousands of miles away at a gathering of wealthy donors at a Club for Growth confab in Palm Beach, Fla.

David McIntosh, the group’s president, who interviewed Bush on stage, said his members, who tend to be wealthy fighters for strict fiscal conservatism, had been wary before Bush appeared, wondering who they would meet, “the old Governor or a new Bush,” a reference the raw feelings many conservatives still have against Jeb’s father and brother, who both enraged conservatives during their administrations.

But Bush made a forceful case for himself, McIntosh said. “I got to be governor of this state — this purple state, this wacky, wonderful state — for eight years,” Bush told the group, according to an account from the Washington Post. “I ran as a conservative, I said what I was going to do, and I had a chance to do it. And trust me, I did.” By the time it was over, McIntosh was all praise. “Bush impressed people,” he said.

That seal of approval could prove huge dividends as the establishment frontrunner works to avoid a movement backlash to his nascent presidential effort. The man who once said Republicans should “lose the primary to win the general election” is nonetheless aiming to establish his credentials in a way that minimizes the ideological protest against his candidacy from the right. But the fight is far from over. Other conservative activists have been far more skeptical. Grover Norquist, who runs another fiscal conservative group, Americans for Tax Reform, has been critical of Jeb Bush for refusing to sign his pledge, during his gubernatorial campaigns and now, to oppose all increases in taxes.

“My concern is that he has not made a commitment to the American people that he will not raise taxes when all the other candidates have done so,” Norquist said at the Conservative Political Action Conference outside Washington. “I think Jeb will take the pledge at the end of the day because both his father and his brother said ‘I don’t know’ and then when they realized what the pledge was and what it actually meant and that it was a pledge to the American people and not to me or Americans for Tax Reform, and that they had no intention of raising taxes, and that everyone else was doing it, they said yes, absolutely.”

Bush has so far refused to budge, and on Saturday his spokesman dismissed Norquist’s organization as just another “lobbying group.” “If Governor Bush decides to move forward, he will not sign any pledges circulated by lobbying groups,” Bush spokeswoman Kristy Campbell, told ABC News. President George H.W. Bush famously signed Norquist’s pledge and then broke it by supporting a tax increase as part of the 1990 budget, a move that hurt his reelection effort in 1992. President George W. Bush signed and honored the pledge as president, and his White House worked closely with Norquist to rally support for tax cuts in his first term.

One reason for Jeb Bush’s reluctance may be his desire to strike a bargain to reform entitlements if he became president. In 2012, he said in a congressional hearing that he would accept a theoretical deal to raise $1 of tax revenue for every $10 in spending cuts, a position that had been rejected by that year’s Republican presidential contenders, in large part because of Norquist’s pledge.

Like Norquist’s group, the Club For Growth also has a reputation for taking a hard line against any candidate who either raises taxes or leaves the door open to tax increases. But so far this cycle, there are no signs that the Club will target Bush. In 2008, the Club for Growth played an aggressive role in opposing Mike Huckabee’s presidential campaign, attacking him for some tax increases he pushed as governor of Arkansas. In 2012, the group released research papers on the candidates, but did not spend money or offer endorsements in the primary. This year, the group could be more agressive. “There is no decision on an endorsement,” McIntosh said.

But Bush is not seeking an endorsement as much as a lack of opposition. If the Club simply concludes that Bush can be seen in the same category as other Club for Growth favorites, including Ted Cruz, Scott Walker and Rand Paul, that would be victory enough for his presidential effort.

Additional reporting by Zeke Miller

TIME 2016 Election

Walker Hires Two Former RNC Aides In Political Roles

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker at CPAC in National Harbor, Md., on Feb. 26, 2015.
Mark Peterson—Redux for TIME Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker at CPAC in National Harbor, Md., on Feb. 26, 2015.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is beefing up his political operation, hiring two former Republican National Committee staffers to serve as deputy political directors on his emerging campaign.

Walker’s political group, Our American Revival, has hired Danny O’Driscoll and Wells Griffith, according to a spokesperson, adding to a team heavy with former talent from the Republican Party’s national office, including former political director Rick Wiley as campaign manager. The pair “will split the country to help identify, engage and mobilize supporters from grassroots organizations to elected officials, potential donors, state parties and allied groups,” said communications director Kirsten Kukowski.

O’Driscoll is a veteran of Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign, where he served as state director for Wisconsin in the general election and deputy state director in New Hampshire for the Republican primary. After New Hampshire, O’Driscoll worked on Romney primary wins in Florida, Michigan, and Ohio. Griffith was Deputy Chief of Staff of the Republican National Committee in the 2012 cycle and unsuccessfully ran for Congress from his native Alabama in a special election in 2013. He also served as the executive director of the Mississippi Republican Party and managed RNC Chairman Reince Priebus’ re-election campaign in January.

Walker, who finished second in Saturday’s Conservative Political Action Conference Straw Poll, appears all-in on a White House bid, with aides using the annual gathering as an opportunity to approach and interview potential staffers.

According to the PAC, the newly hired pair join Walker’s campaign-in-waiting including:

Rick Wiley: Campaign Manager

Ed Goeas: Senior Advisor

Brian Tringali: Pollster

BJ Martino: Pollster

Matt Mason: Political Director

Kirsten Kukowski: Communications Director

AshLee Strong: Press Secretary

Mark Stephenson: Data Director

David Polyansky: Iowa Senior Advisor

Andy Leach: Senior Advisor for New Hampshire

Michael Bir: New Hampshire

Gregg Keller: Senior Advisor

Gary Marx: Senior Advisor

TIME 2016 Election

Scott Walker Changes Position on Immigration as 2016 Nears

"My view has changed. I'm flat out saying it," the Wisconsin governor said

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said in a new interview that he has changed his position and now opposes a path to citizenship for immigrants in the U.S. illegally, a policy shift that comes as the Republican is emerging as a conservative favorite in the 2016 presidential race.

“My view has changed. I’m flat-out saying it,” Walker said during an interview on Fox News Sunday. “I look at the problems we’ve experienced for the last few years. I’ve talked to governors on the border and others out there. I’ve talked to people all across America. And the concerns I have is that we need to secure the border. We ultimately need to put in place a system that works. A legal immigration system that works.”

The acknowledgement came after host Chris Wallace aired a clip of Walker in 2013, when he was asked about a system that would allow undocumented immigrants to get citizenship and responded, “I think it makes sense.”

“I don’t believe in amnesty,” Walker said Sunday.

Walker, admired by conservatives for his victories over organized labor in Wisconsin, has been rising in polls in early-voting states like Iowa and New Hampshire, and immigration policy is an area where he can differentiate himself from one of his top likely rivals, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Walker finished second in a straw poll of conservative activists at a weekend conference in Washington, coming behind Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul.

“Candidates can say that,” Walker added in acknowledging the immigration shift. “Sometimes they don’t.”

TIME #RealTime

Real TIME: Rand Paul Wins CPAC Straw Poll

Rand Paul won the straw poll at the Conservative Political Action Conference for the third year in a row on Saturday.

The Senator from Kentucky won with 26% of the vote. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker followed closely behind with 21%, and Jeb Bush and Chris Christie finished fifth and 10th, respectively.

Watch #RealTIME for more on the final day of CPAC, and read more here.

TIME Israel

Israeli Leader Arrives in U.S. for ‘Historic’ Mission

Benjamin Netanyahu will address Congress on Iran's nuclear program

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrived in Washington, D.C., on Sunday for a controversial visit that the leader described as “a fateful, even historic mission.”

“I am the emissary of all Israelis, even those who disagree with me,” Netanyahu said on Twitter as he departed. “I am deeply and genuinely concerned for the security of all Israelis, for the fate of the nation, and for the fate of our people. I will do my utmost to ensure our future.”

Netanyahu, who is seeking re-election this month, will address Congress on Tuesday to express his opposition to a possible nuclear deal with Iran — a speech President Barack Obama’s top national-security aide has said will be “destructive” to U.S.-Israel relations.

The visit has further strained relations between Israel and the Obama Administration, which was not consulted before House Speaker John Boehner invited Netanyahu to address Congress. Obama is not planning to meet with Netanyahu while he’s in town, and a few dozen Democrats are expected to boycott the speech, which has been criticized as interference in Israeli politics just two weeks before an election.

The planned speech, National Security Adviser Susan Rice said Tuesday, has “injected a degree of partisanship, which is not only unfortunate, I think it’s destructive [to] the fabric of the relationship.”

Secretary of State John Kerry sought to cool the tensions a bit over the weekend, first in a phone call with Netanyahu on Saturday and then in comments Sunday, when he said the Israeli leader is “welcome to speak in the United States, obviously,” and that the Obama Administration doesn’t want the speech to become “some great political football.”

“Obviously it was odd, if not unique, that we learned of it from the speaker of the House and that an Administration was not included in this process,” Kerry said on ABC’s This Week. “But the Administration is not seeking to politicize this.”

Netanyahu’s camp also tried to lower the temperature. “We are not here to offend President Obama, whom we respect very much,” an aide told the Associated Press.

As he left for Washington, Netanyahu reiterated his opposition to a deal over Iran’s nuclear program. He is set to speak Monday at the annual conference for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, the powerful pro-Israel group.

“We are strongly opposed to the agreement being formulated between the world powers and Iran that could endanger Israel’s very existence,” Netanyahu said.

TIME 2016 Election

Rand Paul Wins CPAC Straw Poll, Scott Walker Takes Second

Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul won the Conservative Political Action Conference straw poll 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.

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