TIME Foreign Policy

Obama and Congress Play Hot Potato with War Powers in Syria

President Barack Obama delivers a statement from Martha's Vineyard, Mass. during his vacation on Aug. 20, 2014.
President Barack Obama delivers a statement from Martha's Vineyard, Mass. during his vacation on Aug. 20, 2014. Kevin Lamarque—Reuters

Few savor the idea of voting for military action with the midterm elections looming

White House photographer Pete Souza tweeted a photo of President Barack Obama and Chief of Staff Dennis McDonough taking a meditative walk on the White House grounds Monday. It was a small reminder of the infamous walk the pair took nearly a year ago when Obama decided to go to Congress for permission to bomb Syria. That proposition turned out badly: Congressional support cratered and Obama was left to scramble a diplomatic solution.

On a gorgeous Monday evening nearly a year later, the pair in their shirtsleeves could have been discussing almost the same dilemma: How does Obama continue to bomb Iraq and begin aerial strikes on Islamist militants in Syria without permission from Congress?

There are some in Congress who are calling on Obama to push through a War Powers Resolution. Article II of the Constitution grants the President the power to defend the country. But Article I gives only Congress the power to declare war. So, what in a post-War-on-Terrorism era constitutes an actual war? In 1973, afraid of Vietnam mission creep, Congress passed the War Powers Act, which requires the President to consult Congress 60 days after engaging in hostilities. If you count bombing a foreign country as hostile—as the U.S. did against militants in northern Iraq on Aug. 7—than the 60 days expires Oct. 7.

Theoretically, if Congress cares about not further weakening its oversight of the President’s ability to bomb whatever country he pleases, lawmakers will move to pass a War Powers Resolution in the next month. Presidents, including Obama, have argued that the War Powers Act is unconstitutional. But a turf fight over who gets to go to war is the last thing on Congress’ mind weeks before the midterm elections.

“Congress does not have the political will to approve a War Powers Resolution when the American people have very little appetite for war,” said Ron Bonjean, a former senior Republican congressional aide. “Getting the approval of Congress before the November elections to bomb ISIS targets in Iraq would likely require an attack on American soil or a very imminent threat of danger. Members of Congress want to secure their own reelections and this type of vote could be the defining factor in several tight Senate races across the country.”

Thus far, the Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees in the House and Senate, which would have jurisdiction over a War Powers resolution, have been waiting to hear what Obama wants to do. Congress has a spotty history of authorizing hostilities under this President. The House only succeeded on its third try in passing a tepid authorization for action in Libya—more than three months after U.S. involvement in Libya actually began. On Syria, both chambers balked at authorizing hostilities after Obama asked for support in the wake Syrian strongman Bashar Assad’s use of chemical weapons against his own people. When congressional support disappeared, Obama was forced to make a deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin to rid Syria of chemical weapons, rather than using force against Assad.

Few Republicans, a Senate Republican aide told TIME, want to vote to support the President, especially in election season. If Obama were to ask for money for his actions—a back-door way of showing congressional support for military action without having to outright condone it—that vote would be easier as it would be a vote for the troops, the aide said.

“The GOP must fear losing what feels like big momentum right now with the chance that the President will get a rally around the flag effect,” said Michael O’Hanlon, a foreign policy expert at the Brookings Institution. “I don’t sense that, through the midterm prism, the Democrats’ concern would be as great.”

Still, voting to expand hostilities in Iraq isn’t the most popular thing with Democrats either: Obama got elected in part because of his early and strong opposition to the war in Iraq—a “clean break from the failed policies and politics of the past,” as then-candidate Obama called it in a March 2008 speech. It’s ironic that before his last midterm election fight, he finds himself struggling to persuade Congress to return to a country he prided himself on leaving.

The most likely path here is that Obama will continue to do what he’s been doing, and probably expand attacks into Syria, using the Article II justification. As the White House has argued, he’s protecting Americans in Erbil, the Kurdish capitol in northern Iraq. By that measure, wherever America has an embassy, or citizens in peril, Presidents in the future will now have the precedent to engage in hostilities to protect them.

Last year, as Obama paced the grounds with McDonough, the Constitutional-law-professor-in-chief damned the politics and worried about going beyond previous precedent. A year later, and he’ll have no choice but to bow to the realpolitik of midterm elections.

TIME Congress

Senator Says Male Colleague Told Her ‘You’re Even Pretty When You’re Fat’

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY attends a press conference calling for the creation of an independent military justice system to deal with sexual harassment and assault in the military, in the Russell Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on Feb. 6, 2014.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY attends a press conference calling for the creation of an independent military justice system to deal with sexual harassment and assault in the military, in the Russell Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on Feb. 6, 2014. Mandel Ngan—AFP/Getty Images

"Good thing you're working out because you wouldn't want to get porky," Kirsten Gillibrand recalls one fellow senator saying

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) says in a new book that she has faced several sexist encounters with her male colleagues, being nicknamed everything from “Honey Badger” to “hottest member of the Senate.”

“Good thing you’re working out because you wouldn’t want to get porky,” Gillibrand says one colleague told her in the congressional gym, according to an excerpt of her book Off The Sidelines published by People.

After she lost weight following a pregnancy, Gillibrand writes that one male colleague squeezed her waist and implored: “Don’t lose too much weight now, I like my girls chubby.”

And she says one southern congressman told her, “You know, Kirsten, you’re even pretty when you’re fat.”

“I believed his intentions were sweet, even if he was being an idiot,” Gillibrand writes.

But Gillibrand told People she hasn’t been fazed by these incidents, and said she’s using the sexism she’s faced working in Congress as motivation to take on issues like military and campus sexual assault. In the book, which is being released in September, she calls on other women to “speak up, gather strength” and “support one another.”

“If we do, women will sit at every table of power making decisions,” Gillibrand writes.

The first-term senator also told People she isn’t deterred by the gridlock plaguing Congress.

“If I can work an issue like sexual assault on college campuses and drive a national narrative and know I’m making a difference,” Gillibrand said, “then whether or not we pass another bill in Congress, there’s still good things I can do.”

Read the rest of the story at People

TIME Drugs

The Government Wants to Buy 12 Acres of Marijuana—For Research

Marijuana Pot Weed Farm Growers
Jordan Stanley and others prune hemp plants growing on their family'’s farm outside Wray, Colo., on July 31, 2014. Matthew Staver—The New York Times/Redux

The NIH is looking for pot farmers

Calling all pot farmers: Uncle Sam is looking to buy.

An arm of the National Institutes of Health dedicated to researching drug abuse and addiction “intends” to solicit proposals from those who can “harvest, process, analyze, store and distribute” cannabis, according to a listing posted Tuesday night on a federal government website.

A successful bidder must possess a “secure and video monitored outdoor facility” capable of growing and processing 12 acres of marijuana, a 1,000 square foot (minimum) greenhouse to test the plants under controlled conditions, and “demonstrate the availability” of a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Food and Drug Administration-approved vault to maintain between 400 and 700 kilograms of pot stock, extract and cigarettes.

Back-up plans in case of emergency required.

The NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse is looking for growers who have the capability to develop plants with altered versions of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)—the main psychoactive component of pot—and cannabidiol (CBD), which is known for its medicinal properties. NIDA “anticipates” awarding a one-year contract with four one-year options, according to the posting. The vendor would also have to register with the DEA to research, manufacture and distribute cannabis.

NIDA spokeswoman Shirley Simson said the the agency was simply starting a new bidding competition since its existing marijuana farm contract is set to expire next year. The original solicitation for that contract was issued in 2009.

There are 18 states that have decriminalized pot, 23 states with laws allowing access to medical marijuana, and two states—Colorado and Washington—that have legalized the drug for recreational purposes. Federal law still classifies marijuana as a drug on par with heroin, acid and ecstasy.

-Additional reporting by Mark Thompson

TIME 2014 Election

Secret Koch Event Audio Could Be Gift for Senate Democrats

Koch Brothers Protest
Members of the "Save Our News'' coalition rally before delivering a 500,000-signature petition urging the Tribune Co. management to reject any offers by the Koch Brothers to buy The Los Angeles Times newspaper outside the newspaper headquarters in Los Angeles on May 29, 2013. Damian Dovarganes—AP

It's not what Republican candidates said that has Democrats salivating, but who they said it to

There was little revealed in the new, illicitly recorded audio tapes of top Senate Republican candidates addressing a group of high-dollar Republican donors, but their very existence may give Democrats a needed boost going into the fall’s midterm elections.

On Tuesday, The Nation released audio of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell addressing a June meeting in Dana Point, Calif. convened by the Koch Brothers, the billionaire energy magnates who have become Democratic bogeymen this fall. Early Wednesday, the Huffington Post followed with audio from a trio of Senate hopefuls: Iowa state Sen. Joni Ernst and Arkansas Rep. Tom Cotton, and Colorado Rep. Cory Gardner.

The muffled surreptitiously-recorded audio from the closed-door summit is hard to make out, not that it matters. McConnell repeated his longstanding opposition to campaign finance restrictions. Ernst and Cotton thanked the donors at the confab for their support. Gardner not-so-subtly suggested that their outside money efforts would decide his fate. None of this is news to anyone, but the optics of the candidates appearing to kowtow to the Kochs is enough to send Democrats into overdrive.

For months Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and an array of outside groups have tried to turn the Koch brothers into household names. “Republicans are addicted to Koch,” Reid declared in March on the Senate floor. The DSCC, which owns kochaddiction.com has placed the the billionaires at the center of their midterm messaging, arguing GOP candidates are beholden to the donors at the expense of their states. Meanwhile, Senate Majority PAC, funded by the Democrats’ own high-dollar donors, is blasting GOP candidates on the air for their ties to the Kochs.

The Democratic message has long had two aims: drive up Democratic fundraising, while turning swing voters away from Republican candidates. On the first front, the effort has clearly been successful. Senate Democrats maintain a strong fundraising advantage over Republicans, while their outside efforts have progressed mightily since 2010. Meanwhile, Democratic Senate candidates have managed to maintain polling advantages as the fall campaign heats up.

“It makes it much harder for them to try to hide their agenda,” said DSCC spokesman Justin Barasky. “Stuff like this audio recording helps tie them to their records.”

Barasky wouldn’t preview the virtually guaranteed onslaught of ads to incorporate the latest audio. “I would say that Democrats will continue to tie GOP senate candidates to the highly damaging Koch brothers agenda that they’re all pushing,” he said.

McConnell’s team tried to turn lemons into lemonade, touting the fact that he said the same thing behind closed doors as he does in public. “In contrast to Alison Lundergan Grimes’ failure to defend Kentucky coal from the EPA behind closed doors with Obama donors, Senator McConnell fights for Kentucky wherever he goes. Earlier this summer Grimes failed to utter a word of support after promising Kentuckians she would defend Kentucky coal at a Harry Reid fundraiser and lord knows what she said to Tom Steyer and anti-coal billionaires when she attended their conference in Chicago,” said McConnell spokeswoman Allison Moore.

Brook Hougesen, a spokeswoman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee said the Democratic attacks are “blatantly hypocritical.” “Harry Reid’s Majority PAC and other Democratic outside groups are outspending Republicans by millions including Put Alaska First – a front group for Reid’s PAC in Alaska where Democrats have poured in more than $5 million in a desperate attempt to save Mark Begich,” she said. “The reality is while Democrats are distracting themselves with their contrived baseless attacks that don’t resonate with voters, Republicans are talking about their solutions and reminding folks that a vote for Democrats like Mark Begich, Mark Udall and Kay Hagan are votes are Harry Reid and Barack Obama’s failed agenda.”

Both audio records were posted by The Undercurrent, a self-described “grassroots political web-show” hosted by Lauren Windsor. The show is affiliated with the progressive Young Turks Internet network, and sponsored by the progressive nonprofit group, American Family Voices. The method of the recording has not been disclosed.

TIME Environment

Obama Mulls Circumventing Congress for International Climate Change Agreement

Climate Change Global Warming Asbestos Mines
Asbestos mines in Amiandos, Troodos Mountains, Cyprus, June 15, 2014. G. Nimatallah—De Agostini/Getty Images

Possible end-run around Senate ratification

The Obama Administration is working on an international agreement for countries to cut their fossil fuel emissions, a move that could set up a showdown with Congress by avoiding the need for formal treaty ratification.

The accord, meant to be signed at a United Nations summit next year, will likely bypass the usual ratification procedure, the New York Times reports. Ratification would require a two-thirds vote from the Senate, but any action on climate change faces stiff resistance from Republicans and from some moderate Democrats, and President Barack Obama has increasingly looked for ways to work around congressional opposition as his time in office winds down. The Administration is considering framing an agreement as “politically binding” instead of legally binding as a way to circumvent the need for ratification, the Times reports. Obama’s climate negotiators told the Times that the framework would help “name and shame” negligent countries.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said it’s premature to say the Administration is planning to circumvent the Senate.

“Not a word of the new climate agreement currently under discussion has been written, so it is entirely premature to say whether it will or won’t require Senate approval,” Psaki said in a statement. “Our goal is to negotiate a successful and effective global climate agreement that can help address this pressing challenge. Anything that is eventually negotiated and that should go to the Senate will go to the Senate. We will continue to consult with Congress on this important issue.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) voiced opposition to the possible maneuver, saying it’s indicative of what he called the Obama Administration’s tendency to “ignore the elected representatives of the people when they don’t agree.”

-Additional reporting by Zeke J Miller

TIME Foreign Policy

Mother of American Held By ISIS Pleads for His Release

Shirley Sotloff Michael Sotloff ISIS
Shirley Sotloff, mother of American journalist Michael Sotloff who is being held by ISIS, pleas with her son's captors to let him live in this undated video released on Aug. 27, 2014. Al Arabiya

"I ask you to please release my child"

The mother of an American journalist held hostage by Islamist militants issued an emotional plea for her son’s release Wednesday.

In a video broadcast on the Al Arabiya TV network, Shirley Sotloff directly addresses Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS). She asks him to free her son Steven Sotloff after a year in captivity.

“Steven is a journalist who traveled to the Middle East to cover the suffering of Muslims at the hands of tyrants,” Shirley Sotloff says, adding that her son has no influence over U.S. government policy and should not be held accountable for its actions. “He is an honorable man and has always tried to help the weak.

“I ask you to please release my child,” she says, citing Muslim teachings on mercy.

Sotloff is a freelance journalist who has written in the past for TIME and other outlets, and has been missing since August 2013. His family initially kept word of his disappearance secret, but Sotloff was pictured in a video showing the execution of American journalist James Foley released by ISIS last week.

President Barack Obama said Tuesday that the U.S. would not rest until justice had been carried out against Foley’s killers. “Our message to anyone who harms our people is simple,” Obama told a veterans group in Charlotte, N.C. “America does not forget. Our reach is long. We are patient. Justice will be done.”

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Wednesday that “the thoughts and prayers of everyone here in the White House and the Obama Administration are with the Sotloff family.” Earnest said he wasn’t sure if Obama has seen the Shirley Sotloff, but that “members of this Administration have been in contact with the Sotloff family on a regular basis.”

TIME Education

Gov. Bobby Jindal Sues Federal Government Over Common Core ‘Coercion’

Leading Conservatives Gather For Republican Leadership Conference In New Orleans
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal speaks during the 2014 Republican Leadership Conference on May 29, 2014 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

The Louisiana governor accused federal officials of forcing states into a national curriculum

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has filed suit against the Department of Education over federal educational standards that he says are intended to “coerce” states into adopting federal guidelines.

According to the filing submitted to a Louisiana district court on Wednesday, Jindal charges the Department of Education with violating the 10th amendment by requiring states to participate in a consortium to help implement Common Core standards or risk losing federal funding.

The Common Core standards, which were released in 2010, are benchmarks for proficiency in English and math. The Obama administration urged states to sign up to Common Core, saying states using the standards would be more likely to win Race to the Top grants. Forty-four states have adopted them, but some have chosen to withdraw from the standards in the belief that they represent a step towards a federal takeover of education.

“Through regulatory and rule making authority, Defendants have constructed a scheme that effectively forces States down a path toward a national curriculum,” the suit alleges.

Jindal has been a vocal opponent of the Common Core standards, a bipartisan initiative which has gathered critics on the left and the right. He sought to remove Louisiana from the initiative in June, despite its backing from state legislators and the state’s Board of Education.

TIME Morning Must Reads

Morning Must Reads: August 27

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

Ferguson’s New Chapter

The St. Louis suburb faces uncertainty as it figures out how to turn a tragic moment into a lasting movement in the days after Michael Brown’s funeral. “We are required to leave here today and change things,” the Reverend Al Sharpton said in his eulogy

Why Waiting Makes You Happy

Several studies published in the journal Psychological Science suggest that people are more excited when they wait to buy an experience

Gaza Cease-Fire Deal Reached

The truce ends the seven-week war between Israel and Hamas, but it’s an open question whether longer-term political talks will continue

How 10 Seconds Could Save Lives During Earthquakes

California is looking to develop an early warning system for earthquakes, and the one that rocked the Napa area last weekend has brought new urgency to the project; experts say even 10 seconds would be enough to mobilize precautionary measures

Apple Appears Slated to Launch Larger iPad in Early 2015

Apple is reported to have been developing larger touch-screen devices in order to turn around sluggish sales; the new 12.9-in. iPad will apparently be launched in the spring, following the company’s release of a larger 4-in. iPhone next month

Ebola Forces Closure of WHO Lab in Sierra Leone

The World Health Organization shut down a lab in Sierra Leone and pulled its staff after a health worker contracted the virus; the closure is likely to impede efforts to contain a massive outbreak that has killed at least 1,427 people

American Writer Freed From Syrian Captivity Arrives in U.S.

Peter Theo Curtis returned home to the U.S. on Tuesday, two days after being released by al-Nusra Front, the Syrian extremist group that held him hostage for 22 months. Curtis said he was “deeply indebted” to the U.S. officials who worked to get him released

Landon Donovan to Join U.S. Soccer Team One Last Time

Donovan will make his final appearance for the U.S. men’s national team in an international friendly match against Ecuador in October. The game will allow fans to thank him for “all the memories he’s provided over the years,” said U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati

Doug Ducey Wins GOP Primary for Arizona Governor

The state treasurer and former CEO won the Republican primary for Arizona’s governorship on Tuesday, riding to victory with a campaign that focused on his experience in serving as a state official and building an ice cream company into a national brand

Snapchat Is Valued at Roughly $10 Billion, Reports Say

A number of reports say the startup, an ad-less disappearing-messaging service, is raising funds from investors based on a $10 billion valuation; if true, this represents an enormous valuation for a company that has effectively no revenue source

Doll Play Predicts Couples’ Parenting Style, Study Finds

Researchers at Ohio State University videotaped almost 200 dual-earner couples playing with a “doll” — actually pajamas filled with 7 lb. of rice and a green fabric head attached — that they were told represented the child they were about to have

Report: Lake Bell to Direct The Emperor’s Children Film

The actress and promising auteur is reportedly booked to direct the film adaptation of Claire Messud’s 2006 novel The Emperor’s Children, with the screenplay penned by indie-film stalwart Noah Baumbach, but there is no word yet on when the movie will hit theaters

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TIME States

Doug Ducey Wins GOP Primary for Arizona Governor

Doug Ducey, Sam Ducey, Joe Ducey
State treasurer and former CEO Doug Ducey, right, hugs his son Sam Ducey, with other son Joe Ducey, left, joining them as they all smile as the candidate arrives to claim victory on winning the Republican primary for Arizona governor in Phoenix on Aug. 26, 2014 Ross D. Franklin—AP

In the quest for right-leaning Republican primary voters, the six candidates quickly staked out hard-line positions on immigration

(PHOENIX) — State Treasurer and former CEO Doug Ducey won the Republican primary for Arizona governor Tuesday, riding to victory with a campaign that focused on his blend of government and business experience in serving as a state official and building an ice cream company into a national brand.

Ducey started Cold Stone Creamery in Arizona and built it into a well-known chain before selling the company in 2007 and getting into politics.

He has been state treasurer for the last four years, serving as the chief steward of Arizona’s finances during a period that included the collapse of the housing market in the state.

The race to replace Republican Gov. Jan Brewer began as a fairly quiet contest focused on health care and jobs before shifting abruptly when thousands of immigrant children began pouring into the country and some settled in Arizona.

In the quest for right-leaning Republican primary voters, the six candidates quickly staked out hard-line positions on immigration and repeatedly attacked the Obama administration for failing to secure the border.

TIME Congress

Dennis Kucinich Is Going to Burning Man

85th Annual Academy Awards - Arrivals
Dennis Kucinich Kevork Djansezian—Getty Images

Things in the Black Rock Desert are really gonna heat up this week

Former presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich is headed to Burning Man.

The former Democratic Representative from Ohio and two-time presidential candidate announced Thursday on Twitter that he plans to speak at the famed celebration of self-expression, community and the arts. He’ll be joined by a wide range of speakers, including conservative political advocate Grover Norquist.

Burning Man takes place in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada every year for one week and always ends with the dispersal of camp and destruction of any evidence of it existed. So, might not be that odd a place for a politician after all.

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