TIME politics

Michelle Obama: ‘Turnip for What?’

Michelle Obama
First Lady Michelle Obama is joined by school children as they harvest peanuts in the annual fall harvest at the White House on Oct. 14, 2014 Susan Walsh—AP

The First Lady films a hilarious vine about veggie consumption

First Lady Michelle Obama has brought her fresh-produce campaign to the most appropriately named venue yet: the six-second video app Vine.

The advocate of healthy eating — known for her White House garden — poses with a turnip in her brief video clip, before asking “Turnip for what?” It’s a fun play on DJ Snake and Lil Jon’s summer hit “Turn Down for What,” a song that’s had a longer-than-expected life as a voter-registration anthem. It was the perfect response to an Obama impersonator using Vine to ask the First Lady how many calories she burns when she “turns up.”

Perhaps this is the easiest and most cost-effective way to remind a generally disaffected young voter base of the appeals of the Obama presidency leading into the midterm elections. Or maybe the First Lady really just wanted to boogie with a root vegetable. Either way, this is perhaps the most unscripted Michelle Obama we’ve seen yet — willing to expend far more energy on TV appearances from The Biggest Loser to Parks and Recreation, none of which has caught the public’s imagination quite so vividly. We look forward to whatever may be her next veggie-themed song parody (good luck, as no veggie names spring to mind as rhymes for “All About That Bass” or “Shake It Off”) — or just the next time she has fun advocating roughage consumption.

Read next: Michelle Obama Thinks Pencils Are a Crummy Halloween Gift

TIME 2014 Election

Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu Gives President Obama a Passing Grade

“I think he’s had some really tough issues to deal with,” Sen. Landrieu said

On a scale of one to ten, Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu said Tuesday that she rates Obama at “six to seven,” giving the president a passing grade even as vulnerable members of the Democratic Party work to distance themselves from the President as Election Day draws nearer.

During the candidates joint Senate debate in Louisiana, all three candidates for Senate—Democratic incumbent Landrieu, Republican challengers Rep. Bill Cassidy and retired Air Force colonel Rob Maness—were asked how they would rate both President Obama and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. Obama, who has about an 38.7% approval rating in Louisiana, according to the Huffington Post pollster, was ranked zero by both Republican candidates.

Landrieu, however, was willing to cut him some slack. “I think he’s had some really tough issues to deal with,” Sen. Landrieu said.

Jindal fared better between the two Republicans, gaining a seven rating from Cassidy and a five rating from Maness. Landrieu gave Jindal a three.

The candidates sparred over issues like Common Core and health care coverage throughout the debate, with the Republican candidates largely focusing on Landrieu’s record of voting with the President. Because the race is split between three candidates, the contest may not be decided in November. If no candidate gets more than 50% of the vote on election day, a runoff election will be held on December 6.

TIME 2014 Election

Texas Voter ID Law Back in Play for Midterm Election

An appeals court ruled to let stand rigid rules for voter identification in the Lone Star State ahead of the upcoming election

Texas’s controversial voter identification law is back in play for the upcoming midterm elections, after an appeals court ruled Tuesday to let it stand.

The strict photo identification law requires voters to present one of 7 specific forms of ID at the polling place. Student IDs are not included among the acceptable forms of identification. Critics of the law say it risks disenfranchising hundreds of thousands of registered voters, many of whom are people of color.

But the Fifth Circuit Court found that the risk of confusion at the polls is too great to change voting procedures with less than a week to go before early voting begins on Oct. 20. Though the state filed a motion of appeal, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday to stay a district court ruling that blocked the law, pending appeal.

U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos, a 2011 Obama appointee, determined last week that Texas’s 2011 voter ID law is unconstitutional, violates the Voting Rights Act, and “constitutes an unconstitutional poll tax,” a powerful statement running in contrast to the state’s argument that the sole purpose of the law was to prevent in-person voter fraud.

“This is not a run-of-the-mill case; instead, it is a voting case decided on the eve of the election,” the ruling reads. The appellant court found that though “individual voter plaintiffs may be harmed by the issuance of this stay,” that harm does not outweigh the damage a change this close to the election could have on the process.

Texas’s law is one of several that have been tied up in the courts as the election draws nearer. The same day the district court ruled to block Texas’s law, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled to block a voter ID law in Wisconsin that advocates said could have disenfranchised over 300,000 residents.

Days earlier, the Supreme Court ruled to allow a sweeping voting law to stand in North Carolina, though voting rights advocates argued it disenfranchised minority voters and an appeals court moved to block some parts of the law in late September.

TIME 2014 Election

Democratic Group Goes Dark in Key Senate Race

Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes
Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes in Lexington, Ky., on Monday, Oct. 13, 2014. Pablo Alcala—AP/The Lexington Herald-Leader

The DSCC is not airing TV ads in Kentucky, where Alison Lundergan Grimes in campaigning to unseat Mitch McConnell

The Democratic candidate in one of the most closely-watched Senate races in the country is entering the homestretch of her campaign without TV advertising support from a key party group.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is not airing TV ads in Kentucky, a DSCC official confirmed, where Alison Lundergan Grimes in campaigning to unseat Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“The DSCC has now spent more than $2 million in Kentucky and continues to make targeted investments in the ground game while monitoring the race for future investments,” the DSCC official said. The committee, Senate Democrats’ campaign arm, could still announce a TV ad buy in the future.

The DSCC, which has outraised its Republican counterpart group, is on the air in many other competitive states, including Arkansas, Georgia, North Carolina and South Dakota, as the party fights to keep its Senate majority.

McConnell is leading Grimes by about three points, according to a Real Clear Politics average of polling data.

TIME 2014 Election

Vulnerable Democrats Run Away From Obama

Democratic Challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes And Senate Minority Leader McConnell Locked In Tight Race
Kentucky's Democratic U.S. Senate nominee, and Kentucky Secretary of State, Alison Lundergan Grimes speaks at the Fancy Farm picnic in Fancy Farm, Ky. on Aug. 2, 2014. Win McNamee—Getty Images

There's a reason the President isn't often seen on the campaign trail

In Monday night’s one and only debate for the Kentucky Senate race, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s Democratic challenger refused to say whether she voted for President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.

“I have my disagreements with the President,” Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes said. “The President is not on the ballot this year.” She added that it was her “constitutional right for privacy at the ballot box” to decline to name for whom she’d voted.

Though she did so clumsily and has been widely criticized for it, Grimes isn’t the only Democrat seeking a Grand Canyon of distance from Obama this campaign cycle. The President’s approval rating is at 42.6% and his disapproval rating is 10-percentage points higher at 52.3%, according to an average of national polls by Real Clear Politics. And he’s even more unpopular in states where Democrats are locked in tight races for control of the Senate like Kentucky, which he lost in 2012 by 23 points; Alaska, where he lost by 14 points; and Arkansas, which he lost by 24 points.

Democrats are hoping this election won’t be a referendum on the president, as midterm elections so often are. With just days left in the campaign, each race has become a smaller-scale war of parochial issues—most of them on which candidates can easily distance themselves from Obama.

As early as a year ago, Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor, who is warding off a strong challenge in Arkansas, highlighted how he opposed the President’s gun control legislation in his first television ad of the cycle. “No one from New York or Washington tells me what to do,” Pryor said in the ad. “I listen to Arkansas.”

On energy, Democratic Sens. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Mark Begich of Alaska both ran ads distancing themselves from Obama’s positions. “[T]he Administration’s policies are simply wrong on oil and gas production in this nation,” Landrieu said in her spot. Begich bragged that he “took on Obama” to fight for oil drilling in the Arctic and voted against the president’s “trillion-dollar tax increase.”

Democratic Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado said in his first debate with Republican Rep. Cory Gardner that he is the “last person” the Obama Administration wants to see visiting the White House.

And while endangered Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan met Obama on the tarmac in North Carolina in August, going so far as kissing him on the cheek—footage that ended up in campaign commercials against her—she made clear ahead of his trip that she believes his Administration “has not yet done enough to earn the lasting trust of our veterans.” (Obama was there to deliver a speech on veterans issues.)

Even Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who isn’t up for reelection this cycle, has taken the President out to the woodshed in recent days for not doing enough to protect Americans in the wake of the financial crisis. “They protected Wall Street,” she told Salon in an interview. “Not families who were losing their homes. Not people who lost their jobs. And it happened over and over and over.”

Meanwhile, Warren, like former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is proving to be a powerful and popular surrogate these midterms, welcome in places like Kentucky and West Virginia where Obama dare not set foot.

All of which is why Obama’s spending his weekends during the final sprint to the election day golfing, rather than on the campaign trail. He’s done a huge amount of fundraising, but so far only two campaign events for incumbent governors in Illinois and Connecticut. There are a handful of other solid blue states where Obama can help—in his native Hawaii, for example—but First Lady Michelle Obama is much more in demand than he is. Michelle—who has an approval rating of 69%, higher than both Laura Bush and Hillary Clinton at the same point in their husband’s presidencies—has campaigned for Senate hopefuls in Michigan and Iowa and a gubernatorial candidate in Maine, Massachusetts, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. And she’s scheduled to stump for gubernatorial hopeful Charlie Crist in Florida on Friday, not to mention a bevy of voter registration events in other states.

Running away from an unpopular second-term President is practically becoming a tradition in American politics. Before the 1998 midterm elections, Bill Clinton was plagued by the Monica Lewinsky scandal—though Republican overreach helped his party actually gain seats. And thanks to Iraq and Afghanistan, George W. Bush wasn’t very popular with his party in 2006, even before the financial crisis. Republicans lost both chambers of Congress that year.

“It’s a common phenomenon, running against a lame duck president,” says Prof. James Thurber, director of American University’s Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies. “In the last two years of his Administration, Presidents have tended to be very unpopular, having used up their political capital.”

Still, Obama bears the distinction of being so polarizing that running against him has proven successful for Democrats almost from the moment he was elected. In 2010, West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin ran an ad that showed him shooting climate change legislation endorsed by Obama with a gun. That same year Indiana Democrat Joe Donnelly ran ads distancing himself from the President. Both men bucked an anti-Democratic wave to get elected to the Senate.

Democrats this year are hoping to repeat their strategy. Grimes ran an ad in September that showed her shooting skeet while declaring: “I’m not Barack Obama.”

Read next: Hey, Mitt Romney Cracked a Good Joke

TIME

Iowa Senate Candidate Killed in Plane Crash

Dr. Doug Butzier, a Libertarian candidate running for Senate in Iowa, died in a plane crash in Dubuque on Monday night.

He died around 11 p.m. about one mile north of Dubuque Regional Airport, according to the local ABC affiliate. He was the pilot and only one aboard the aircraft. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash of the Piper PA 46-310P, a six-seater, single-engine aircraft.

Dr. Butzier grew up in Cedar Falls and lived in Dubuque working as the medical staff president at Mercy Medical Center, according to his campaign website. He had two sons, and was running against Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley and Republican state Sen. Joni Ernst.

Several high-profile U.S. politicians have died in plane crashes while running for Senate, including Senator Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.), Gov. Mel Carnahan (D-Mo.), Rep. Jerry Litton (D-Mo.) and Virginia GOP chairman Richard Obenshain.

TIME 2014 Election

Teachers Unions Are Putting Themselves On November’s Ballot

Teachers' unions are spending big in an otherwise boring cycle

While many political power brokers have quietly agreed this year’s midterms are big snooze—boring, uncreative, and largely meaningless—the teachers unions stand out as a loud, insistent counterpoint.

The National Education Association (NEA), the nation’s largest teachers union, is on track to spend between $40 million and $60 million this election cycle, while the smaller American Federation of Teachers (AFT) plans to pony up an additional $20 million—more than the organization has spent on any other past cycle, including high-spending presidential election years.

While the issues at stake vary by state, a number of elections this cycle will hinge on a variety of education-related questions, including recent cuts to public schools, growing class sizes, Common Core State Standards, access to pre-K education and the availability of state-funded student loans for college. A June Rasmussen report found that 58% of total expected voters ranked education as “very important,” while local polls indicate that voters in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Kansas and Illinois rank education as among the top three most important issues this cycle.

NEA National Political Director Karen White called this election cycle “a perfect storm” for voters concerned with opportunities available to the next generation. “Public education has become a top-tier national issue for so many,” White said Tuesday. Meanwhile, AFT President Randi Weingarten said that she sees this year’s midterms as “the most important” in recent memory, and described a handful of state and local races as among the most “vicious” and “disingenuous” she’s seen.

The NEA Advocacy Fund is focusing most of its dollars on mobilizing grassroots campaigns—door-knockers, hand-shakers, and political ad buys—in at least a dozen states, including Kansas, Pennsylvania, Arkansas, Hawaii, and North Carolina. NEA president Lily Eskelsen Garcia has spent the last week personally campaigning for Democratic gubernatorial candidates Mary Burke in Wisconsin and Mark Schauer in Michigan, as well as visiting Arizona as part of an effort to mobilize Latino voters, a voting bloc that tends to see education as a primary reason for going to the polls. In the next three weeks, Garcia plans to return to Arizona and Michigan. She has also scheduled visits to Colorado, Florida, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Maine.

Meanwhile, the AFT has prioritized races in six states: Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida, Connecticut and Illinois. Both the NEA and the AFT are expected to focus primarily on prying ambivalent, Democratic-leaning voters—so called “drop-out voters”—off their couches and into the voting booths.

Weingarten, who spent last weekend campaigning for Democratic Senator Mark Begich in Alaska, has also made multiple trips to Pennsylvania, where incumbent Republican Gov. Tom Corbett applauded the Philadelphia School Reform Commission’s decision last week to cancel its contract with the teachers unions. While some education reformers have applauded Corbett’s war on union contracts, which they argue divert cash from classrooms to teachers’ pensions, he still faces a tough race against Democratic challenger Tom Wolf. According to the most recent polls, Wolf is ahead by a slim but significant margin.

This past week, the NEA Advocacy Fund released its second ad in Kansas skewering incumbent Gov. Sam Brownback’s “failed experiment” in education. Brownback, who faces stiff competition from Democratic challenger Paul Davis, cut $56.6 million in public education in that state. Polls indicate Brownback and Davis remain neck and neck just three weeks before election day.

The NEA Advocacy Fund also has new ads this week in North Carolina, slamming Republican Thom Tillis on the issue of student loans. Tillis, who is challenging Democratic Senator Kay Hagan for her Senate seat, is nearly tied in the polls. Two more NEA ads went live today in Arkansas, where the battle between Republican challenger Tom Cotton and Democratic incumbent Mark Pryor remains a toss-up, and Hawaii, where the governor’s race favors Democrat David Ige by a narrow margin.

TIME justice

Obama to Wait Until After Election to Nominate Next Attorney General

Senate Democrats feared a confirmation vote right before Election Day

President Barack Obama will wait until after the midterm elections to nominate his next Attorney General, a White House official confirmed Tuesday.

Obama has been weighing whether to nominate a replacement for departing Attorney General Eric Holder before November’s election, after the White House announced last month that Obama’s longtime confidant decided to step down. But nominating a candidate before the midterm elections would have complicated the reelection campaigns of vulnerable Senate Democrats who are trying to separate themselves from the unpopular president, with lawmakers being called to state their support for or opposition to Obama’s selection before voters determine the balance of control in the Senate.

Obama is expected to unveil his selection shortly after the election. Among those up for consideration for the post, according to Democrats, are White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler and Secretary of Labor Tom Perez.

TIME States

Oregon First Lady Bought Land To Farm Pot

Cylvia Hayes
Cylvia Hayes, fiancee of Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, speaks at a news conference in Portland, Ore. on Oct. 9, 2014. Bruce Ely—AP

“I was never financially involved with it"

Oregon First Lady Cylvia Hayes said late Monday that she bought land in a remote part of Washington state in 1997 to grow marijuana, just a few months after she illegally married an Ethiopian immigrant who paid her $5,000 in exchange for receiving his U.S. citizenship.

Patrick Siemion, a retired real estate broker, told the Oregonian that Hayes bought a 60-acre plot of land in Okanogan to grow pot with another, unidentified man. Hayes later released a statement saying that she was “involved in an abusive relationship with a dangerous man” and had little money.

“We lived together for several months on the property in Okanogan that was intended to be the site of a marijuana grow operation that never materialized,” she told the Oregonian. “I was never financially involved with it. I did not pay any part of the down payment or mortgage payments. I had no money. … In the spring of 1998 I began to make plans to get away. In July 1998 I moved to Central Oregon and began building a life and career that I am very proud of.”

Hayes told the public about her marriage to Abraham B. Abraham, her third husband, last week. Hayes, standing alone behind a podium, said that at the age of 29 she illegally married Abraham, then 18 years old, so he could get his American citizenship. Hayes’ fiancé, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, said Friday that he had only learned about her third marriage that week and had “some processing to do.”

TIME ebola

Blocked From Pope’s Synod By Ebola, Liberia’s Bishop Tells His Nation’s Story

Gbarnga ebola
Grave diggers prepare for new Ebola victim outside an Ebola treatment center in Gbarnga, Liberia on Oct. 7, 2014. John Moore—Getty Images

“As Bishop of my people I carry within my heart their wounds and pains every moment of life here,” says Bishop Anthony Borwah

One bishop is absent from Pope Francis’ Extraordinary Synod of the Bishops on the family. He was invited, he wanted to come, his name is on the participant list, but he is not in Rome. He is some 4,000 miles away. And few—if any—people outside the synod hall even know he is not there.

His name is Bishop Anthony Borwah, 48, and he leads the Catholic Diocese of GBarnga in central Liberia, where Ebola is wreaking havoc. Tony, as he is called, learned he could not travel to the Synod in late August, when the Ivory Coast closed its borders due to the Ebola outbreak and restricted the one airline that could have taken him to Abidjan, where he needed to apply in person for a Schengen visa to travel to the European Union.

(PHOTOS: See How A Photographer Is Covering Ebola’s Deadly Spread)

Borwah may not be at the Synod, nor is he able to participate remotely due to technological limits, but the gathering’s focus on the family is vital to his Liberian families. Ebola is their most urgent challenge, but it is not the only one, he explained to TIME in this exclusive interview. Borwah submitted an essay to the Synod—an “intervention” in Vatican-speak—about the situations facing Liberian families. Borwah’s essay is not being read aloud at the Synod but will be entered into the written record and considered in any final documents that the Synod produces.

“Enormous are the pastoral challenges of the family in Liberia today,” his essay begins, before continuing to describe the challenges including Ebola, polygamy, migration, unemployment, the lack of a father-figures, domestic violence, child trafficking, and sexual tourism. “Existential questions from the poor, prevalently during the Civil war, are been asked again: Where is God? What wrong have we (Liberians) done again? How come we have once again become the abandoned and scum of the earth?”

(PHOTOS: Inside the Ebola Crisis: The Images That Moved Them Most)

The past few months since Ebola outbreak have been brutal for Liberia, where about 69% of the population is Christian, according to Pew Research Center. Borwah has lost dear friends to the virus, including his spiritual director, Father Miguel from Spain, his mentor and medical doctor Abraham Borbor, and his prayer partner Tidi Dogba. While the Catholic community as a whole has not had many deaths in Gbarnga, he says, those who are dying are relatives and friends. “As Bishop of my people I carry within my heart their wounds and pains every moment of life here,” he says.

The Liberian Catholic community is doing what it can to combat the virus. Borwah has called on all Catholics in his diocese to gather in prayer against Ebola from 5 to 6 p.m. every day from September 1 through November 30. The church uses the first ten minutes for education and updates about Ebola, and then for the last 50 minutes they pray with the Holy Rosary. They are observing strict medical rules about what kind of interaction they can have while together for prayer. No touching, no handshakes, and entrances of churches, homes, and offices have buckets of chlorinated water for hand washing.

The Catholic Church is also collaborating with the government on the national Ebola Task Force Team, Borwah says. The National Catholic Health Team is training nurses in three Catholic dioceses in Liberia, and Catholic clinics remain open. “Our Human Rights Department is also actively involved in violations issue[s] that may occur under such a crisis situation and the state of emergency when rights are restricted,” Borwah adds. “We hope to soon begin the distribution of food to mainly quarantined communities and other affected areas.”

The Ebola devastation extends beyond just a health crisis for Liberian families. The virus’ highly contagious nature means that family members are kept at a great distance from infected loved ones. Ignoring the restriction, on the other hand, can lead to death, but Liberian families are very affectionate especially in difficult times, Borwah explains, and the inability to show real human kindness is wounding morale.

Poverty is also increasing, he says. Already more than 80% of families in Liberia live below the poverty line, according to the Central Intelligence Agency. Now the price of rice and other essential commodities has spiked since the ebola outbreak due to port and border closures, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Labor shortages due to migration restrictions are also putting the fall’s rice and maize harvests at risk. Women, the FAO has noted, are particularly hard hit as many are the primary caregivers and can’t repay their small business loans. Schools are closed while the virus is present, and so students stay home and teachers do not get paid. “The Ebola situation has badly crippled the economy resulting in rife impoverishment and hunger,” Borwah says.

Increased poverty means increased desperation over the loss of family members to Ebola, he continues. That frustration is compounded when the government buries or cremates loved ones, often without family members present. “These new wounds are a tragic addition to festering wounds that families here experienced as a result of a more than 15 years of fratricidal civil war that officially ended a decade ago,” he says.

Borwah is grateful for global aid groups and donors like Catholic Relief Services and CAFOD, the official Catholic aid agency for England and Wales, but more support is needed, especially when it comes to supporting survivors. “Recently one of the survivors—my kinsman—committed suicide when people avoided him and he felt that he was unworthy of love anymore,” Borwah says. “We need more support to feed the thousand whom are hungry and angry and to care and counsel the Ebola survivors who carry the stigma.”

There is a dimension to the Ebola outbreak that also concerns him—the idea that Ebola’s spread could have a man-made and not just a natural source. “I believe that the causes of Ebola are not just physical but spiritual,” he says. “I like calling it the ‘Ebola phenomenon’ because it’s existence raises more questions than answers.”

Then there are Liberia’s non-Ebola-related challenges. Infidelity in marriages is common, with the causes ranging from poverty (mostly on the part of the women) and cultural permissiveness (on the part of the men), he says. “Generally the economy of the nation is in the pocket of few men, hence there is a lot of women prostitution,” he says. “I often say that these prostitutes are prophets and friends of Jesus as they signify the inequality, marginalization and injustice meted out against the poor and nobodies of our society especially women.”

Women, he adds, are generally subject to men culturally, and are often subjected to brutal domestic violence and impoverishment. The government of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has done a lot to raise the dignity of womanhood in beloved Liberia, he continues, but “the walk is still too long.”

Families are navigating questions of shifting identity. Western technological and cultural shifts mean that young people often have different value systems from their parents, and that is dividing families. “Parents can no longer control their children in the face of this new ethics, something, which brings a lot of pain and worries about the future of the family,” he says.

Borwah has a message for the world: “The friends of Jesus Christ—the nobodies, the poor, women and the innocents, the caretakers of others—need both the spiritual and material help. They are losing faith, hope and love. They are poorer, hungrier and very desperate. God has not and will not abandon us, so please do not abandon us to the onslaught of Ebola.”

And, in the midst of it all, Pope Francis, Borwah says, has not forgotten the Liberian people. “The Holy Father prays for Ebola stricken people everyday, even as the Synod goes on,” Borwah says. “He is very close to our suffering.”

His final words: “Please pray for us.”

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