TIME Military

The Pentagon’s Dubious Dogfight

USAF The Pentagon plans to test the A-10, left, against the F-35 in 2018.

Test pitting new F-35 against venerable A-10 comes too late to matter

The good news is the Pentagon is finally pitting its tried-and-true A-10 Warthog against its brand-new F-35 Lightning II to see which one is better when it comes to helping out troops on the ground. The bad news is such testing won’t start for another three years, when the military will be too invested in the F-35 to do much about it.

In other words, the test will come too late to make much difference—for either the grunts on the ground, or the taxpayers footing the $400 billion bill for 2,457 of the planes Lockheed Martin is building for the Air Force, Marines and Navy.

“This is the endgame of a premeditated strategy that has led to this totally absurd situation,” says Chuck Spinney, a retired Pentagon warplane analyst. “It brings into sharp relief the whole way we buy our weapons.”

While some are cheering the aerial duel as a necessary sizing up of the two warplanes the Pentagon is counting on to keep American troops safe on 21st century battlefields, that misses a key point by a mile: the tardy testing highlights the second half of a two-act Pentagon play designed to make the F-35 a fait accompli:

• The opening act began with what’s known in the weapons-building trade as “concurrency”—letting something be designed and produced at the same time. Over the past decade, concurrency allowed production contracts to be spread around the country (45 of 50 states are building parts of the F-35) and, indeed, the world (11 nations are helping the U.S. build the plane). That has given it momentum on Capitol Hill.

• In the closing act, concurrency has delayed testing of the aircraft for years—including against the A-10—ensuring its production no matter what the belated testing might uncover.

Or, as they sometimes say at the Pentagon: too early to tell, too late to stop.

Concurrency’s cost could be seen late Tuesday, when the Pentagon announced a $311 million contract award to Lockheed for “retrofit modification hardware,” a common result of trying to build weapons when their blueprints remain in flux.

The A-10, with its single mission of protecting the grunts on the ground with its fierce 30mm cannon, has long been the favorite of soldiers and Marines who find themselves pinned down by enemy forces. But it’s that very attribute—that the heavily-armored A-10 is dedicated to a single mission—that has made the `hog vulnerable in an increasingly tight budgetary environment. Scrapping it, as the Air Force proposes, would save $4 billion over five years, the service estimates.

The F-35, on the other hand, is a Swiss-army-knife kind of warplane. The Air Force, Marines and Navy all had to compromise to come up with a design they could share. Outfitted to perform several missions—it can fly off aircraft carriers, drop bombs and shoot at other airplanes—it can’t excel at any of them. “The idea that we could produce a committee design that is good for everybody is fundamentally wrong,” declares retired general Merrill McPeak, a fighter pilot who served as Air Force chief of staff as the F-35’s development got underway in the early 1990s.

The Pentagon’s operational testing office issued a grim assessment of the most-costly weapons system in history in its latest annual report earlier this year. “Overall suitability continues to be less than desired by the Services, and relies heavily on contractor support and unacceptable workarounds,” it said, “but has shown some improvement.”

Michael Gilmore, director of the testing office, said last week that his office will send out separate formations of each plane to conduct what the military calls “close air support” missions. Such testing will highlight “capability gaps” between the F-35 and A-10. “It’s really not wise to guess,” he said. “You have to go out and get data and do a thorough and rigorous evaluation.”

That’s the only way, Air Force officials say, to know where to spend more money on the F-35 to make up for any shortcomings it might have compared to the 40-year-old A-10.

TIME Congress

Obama Is a Single Vote Away From Victory on Iran Deal

Bob Casey senator iran deal
Andrew Harnik—AP Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa. speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington on July 26, 2015.

Eight more votes would spare Obama from having to use his veto pen

(WASHINGTON) — Supporters of the Iran nuclear deal are on the cusp of clinching the necessary Senate votes to keep the contested agreement alive and hand President Barack Obama a major foreign policy victory, in spite of furious opposition.

Democratic Sens. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Chris Coons of Delaware on Tuesday became the 32nd and 33rd senators to announce support for the deal, just one shy of the 34 votes needed to uphold an Obama veto of Republican legislation aimed at blocking the agreement.

“This agreement will substantially constrain the Iranian nuclear program for its duration, and compared with all realistic alternatives, it is the best option available to us at this time,” Casey said in a statement. In remarks at the University of Delaware, Coons said: “I will support this agreement despite its flaws because it is the better strategy for the United States to lead a coalesced global community in containing the spread of nuclear weapons.”

Earlier Tuesday Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, predicted that Obama would get to 34 votes by week’s end.

Republicans in Congress and on the presidential campaign unanimously oppose the deal, which aims to curb Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for relief from economic sanctions. The Israeli government is vehemently against it, contending concessions made to Iran could empower that country, which has sworn to destroy Israel. But critics have failed to use Congress’ summer recess to turn the tide against the agreement, despite a multimillion-dollar lobbying campaign funded by the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC.

Only two Democratic senators have come out against the deal — Chuck Schumer of New York and Robert Menendez of New Jersey — while in recent weeks undeclared Democratic senators, even from red states, have broken in favor one after another.

With 34 votes looking to be within reach, supporters have begun to aim for 41 votes, which would block the disapproval resolution from passing in the first place and would spare Obama from having to use his veto pen. That would require at least eight of the remaining 11 undeclared Democratic senators to back the deal.

In a session with students at Johns Hopkins University, Cardin, who said he remains undecided, discussed the pros and cons and said he will decide based on which approach is likeliest to keep Iran from becoming a nuclear-weapons state. As a top-ranking Jewish Democrat, Cardin is the most-watched undeclared senator.

“I think it’s a tough call and I sort of bristle when people say this is such an easy decision, why haven’t you made it,” Cardin said. “I don’t think it is an easy judgment call. I think there are high risks either way.”

Cardin said the pressures from both sides have been enormous. AIPAC was hosting an event in a Baltimore suburb on Tuesday evening aimed at elevating opposition on Cardin’s home turf, but in a statement the group’s spokesman stopped short of holding out hope for blocking the deal.

“Three facts about this flawed deal are crystal clear – polls show the American people reject it, a bipartisan majority in Congress will oppose it and no major arms control agreement has ever been approved with only the support of a partisan congressional minority,” said AIPAC spokesman Marshall Wittmann.

The disapproval resolution would be sure to pass the GOP-led House, but there, too, Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi has pledged to muster enough votes to sustain Obama’s veto — which could only be overturned with two-thirds votes in both chambers.

Even if Congress were able to pass the disapproval resolution, it might not be enough to stop the deal, which was agreed to among Iran, the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China. In July, the U.N. Security Council unanimously endorsed the nuclear deal, approving a resolution that would lift the international sanctions on Iran in 90 days.

In a letter to Coons seeking his support for the deal, Obama pledged the agreement would not foreclose any options for the U.S. “It does not take away any of our own capacity to respond to Iranian threats to our friends and allies in the region, particularly Israel,” the president wrote in the letter released Tuesday by Coons’ office.

Casey said he reached his decision only after speaking one-on-one with the president three times in July and August.

In the end, Casey said in a phone interview with The Associated Press, “I never got information that was in any way persuasive that walking away could lead to either a better agreement or frankly an enhanced security environment.”

TIME Military

Retired Generals Wage Letter War Over Iran Nuclear-Deal Vote

Controversial Heavy Water Plant Nears Completion In Iran
Majid Saeedi / Getty Images The Obama Administration argues Iran's Arak nuclear facility won't be capable of producing fuel for nuclear weapons under the proposed deal.

The Pentagon's new dead-letter office

Last week, nearly 40 retired U.S. generals and admirals urged Congress to endorse the deal the U.S. and five other nations have struck with Iran to curb its nuclear ambitions. “We, the undersigned retired military officers, support the agreement as the most effective means currently available to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons,” they wrote.

The other side, nearly 200 strong, lobbed a return brass barrage Wednesday. “In our judgment as former senior military officers,” they said, the deal “would threaten the national security and vital interests of the United States and, therefore, should be disapproved by the Congress.”

Sure, brigades of special interests, including arms-control organizations, foreign-policy shops and even rabbis have been urging Congress to vote the pact up or down. But these ex-military officers are different, aren’t they? They spent their careers fretting over national security. Maybe that’s why, if you doubt the deal makes sense, you squirmed over last week’s letter. But you cheered this week’s, with five times as many signatures.

What’s a poor fence-sitting American to think? Not much, according to a sampling of retired general officers. “Having signed neither is about all I wish to say about this sort of thing,” says one former four-star, although he declined to say so on the record. “Those with the most insights and knowledge of the deal,” adds another, also speaking privately, “were not among the signatories.”

“I’m convinced that 90% of the guys who signed the letter one way or the other don’t have any clue about whether it’s a good or bad deal,” says Anthony Zinni, a retired four-star Marine officer who says he refused requests from both sides to sign their letters. “They sign it because somebody’s asked them to sign it.”

So how would he vote? Zinni says he can’t say, because he hasn’t had the closed-door intelligence briefings offered to lawmakers that he says would answer his two critical questions:

First, how airtight is the inspection regime? The more intrusive the inspections, the better the deal for the U.S. and its negotiating allies.

Secondly, how united are the allies in re-imposing economic sanctions if Iran is found to be cheating? The weaker the prospect of future sanctions, the worse the deal is for Washington.

“Everyone is speculating on worst case or best case,” says Zinni, who oversaw U.S. military dealings with Iran from 1997 to 2000 as chief of U.S. Central Command. “The guys who like the deal are saying `It’ll all work!’,” he says. Among those signing are Marine general James Cartwright (vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, 2007-2011), Marine general Joseph Hoar (chief of Central Command, 1991-1994) and Air Force general Merrill McPeak (Air Force chief of staff, 1990-1994).

“Those who oppose it,” Zinni adds, “are saying `They can cheat here, and here, and there!’” Opponents include Navy admiral Leon Edney (vice chief of naval operations, 1988-1990), Navy admiral Timothy Keating (chief of U.S. Pacific Command, 2007-2009) and Air Force general William Bigert (commander, Pacific Air Forces, 2001-2004)

Their views, Zinni argues, are driven largely by their politics. “It’s basically a Democrat-Republican issue,” he says. Like the lawmakers they are trying to influence, the signers who oppose the deal tend to be conservative. Those supporting it lean liberal (at least for retired military officers). It’s no surprise the generals against the deal outnumber those who support it. Surveys show that conservative military officers handily outnumber their liberal comrades.

“The agreement’s fine, if you think it can work. But if this is a Neville Chamberlain,” Zinni adds, citing the British Prime Minister who signed a peace pact with Adolf Hitler shortly before World War II, “then you’re in a world of shit.”

TIME abortion

Planned Parenthood Raises New Questions About Abortion Video Sting

Cecile Richards planned parenthood
Robert F. Bukaty—AP In this Oct. 3, 2014, file photo, Cecile Richards, Planned Parenthood president, speaks in Orono, Maine.

Planned Parenthood claimed Thursday that undercover videos of its employees published by the Center for Medical Progress(CMP) contained hidden edits that raise new questions about the full context of recordings.

An analysis of the sting videos, undertaken by consulting firm Fusion GPS at Planned Parenthood’s direction, revealed at least 42 splices where video content had been edited out, but conversation appeared seamless. Congress is expected to debate continuing federal funding for Planned Parenthood when it returns from recess in September.

In a statement, CMP said the Planned Parenthood findings revealed nothing improper. “The absence of bathroom breaks and waiting periods between meetings does not change the hours of dialogue with top-level Planned Parenthood executives eager to manipulate abortion procedures to get high-quality baby parts for financially profitable sale,” the group said in a statement. “While even Planned Parenthood’s “experts” found “no evidence of audio manipulation” in the recordings, it is telling that Planned Parenthood is trying so hard to pretend that their staff did not refer to a dismembered fetus as ‘a baby’ and ‘another boy.'”

While the Planned Parenthood report concedes that it is “impossible” to determine the extent to which the edits distort the video, it also claims that the manipulation renders the videos with zero “evidentiary claim” in a legal context, unless supplemented by the original unaltered material by CMP.

In a letter written to Congressional leaders on Thursday, Planned Parenthood also contends that the Center for Medical Progress, led by anti-abortion activist David Daleiden, may have broken several laws, including California laws that prohibit non-consensual recording of individuals and the making of false charitable solicitations.

The National Abortion Federal has already filed a federal lawsuit against the CMP for illegally obtaining information. Dawn Laguens, Executive Vice President of Planned Parenthood, said in a press call Thursday morning that Parenthood “may consider” a similar lawsuit against Daleiden and his associates.

TIME Military

The Air Force’s $25 Billion Bomber Blunder

Northrop Grumman An artist's rendering of what the Long Range Strike Bomber might look like.

Are these the same people picking targets?

No one knows what the Air Force’s top-secret new bomber will look like. But the service keeps saying it knows how much it’s going to cost. That’s what makes the Air Force’s $25 billion price tag error so disconcerting.

The problem began last year, when the service told Congress the yet-to-be-built Long-Range Strike Bomber would cost $33.1 billion between 2015 and 2025. It recently updated the estimate (from 2016 to 2026) to $58.4 billion—a hike of $25.3 billion, or 76%.

That works out to a swing of $169 for each of the roughly 150 million Americans who file federal tax returns. But, the Air Force acknowledged last week, the latest cost estimate to develop and buy the aircraft over the coming decade is pegged at $41.7 billion. Apparently, the fledgling stealth bomber can elude fiscal reckoning as well as enemy radar.

The pair of multi-billion-dollar snafus—$9 billion too low last year, $17 billion too high this year—is head-spinning. It leads to a simple question: is anyone minding the store?

Calculating the cost and timetable of new weapons is always difficult. Military hardware is constantly pushing the boundaries of what is possible (the new bomber, for example, will be “a long-range, air-refuelable, highly survivable aircraft with significant nuclear and conventional stand-off and direct-attack weapons payload,” according to the Air Force). The military hierarchy has strong institutional incentives to lowball costs and tighten schedules despite the state-of-the-art systems under development that challenge both. Lower costs and quicker production make it more likely that a weapon will be bought.

That helps explain why a weapon’s final cost, at the end of a production run, usually bear little resemblance to initial projections (and the inevitable delays drive up costs, which reduce the numbers of aircraft, tanks or ships to be bought, which drives up costs, and so on).

But none of that explains why the Air Force flubbed its numbers for the new bomber. Sure, early cost projections (drafted by an alliance of a military service that wants to buy what’s being built, and by contractors who want to sell it), are squishy.

But the Long-Range Strike Bomber was supposed to be different. Ever since 2011, the Pentagon has been saying the new warplane will cost $550 million a jet (although that estimate uses 2010 dollars, requires buying up to 100 of the new planes, and doesn’t include an estimated $20 billion more in research and development efforts that will be required to build it). In other words, it will cost a lot more than $550 million apiece, and taxpayers will invariably foot the higher bill.

The Long-Range Strike Bomber (it’ll eventually get a nifty name, like the B-3 Stealthstratofortress soon enough) isn’t a run-of-the-mill program. After all, it’s one of the service’s top programs, something the Air Force says is a vital replacement for the aging B-52 and B-2 bomber leg of the nuclear triad, which also includes land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles and submarine-launched missiles. A team of Boeing and Lockheed Martin is competing against Northrop Grumman to build it. The service announced last June it expected to select a contractor by this past spring, but that announcement has slipped until fall.

Rebuilding the nation’s nuclear triad is serious business. The cost estimates, contained in annual reports to Congress on how much the nation is modernizing its atomic forces, should have been double-checked, coordinated, scrubbed and double-checked again to ensure their accuracy.

While they’re only estimates—and need to mesh only with other estimates—their integrity is key to building support for a program that some believe isn’t worth the cost.

So what happened?

“It occurred in part because of human error,” Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said Monday. “And in part because of process error, meaning a couple of our people got the figures wrong and the process of coordination was not fully carried out in this case.”

Those who erred have been “counseled,” James said. “The key thing is there has been no change in those cost figures.”

In other words, that recent $41.7 billion estimate is rock solid, at least for now. As they say of the nuclear weapons the new bomber is being designed to carry: close enough.

TIME India

At Least 6 Dead as Runaway Truck Rams Into Train in India

Frequent mishaps highlight the lack of adequate infrastructure in India's rail network

Six people, including a state legislator, were killed in India early Monday morning after a truck transporting granite collided with a train.

The crash took place at a railway crossing in the southern town of Anantpur, the Indian Express newspaper reports.

The truck was unable to stop at the crossing because of a brake failure, local police said, and crashed through the gate into a carriage of the Bengaluru-Nanded Express. Three other carriages were derailed and five people inside the compartment — including Venkatesh Naik, a lawmaker from the southern state of Karnataka — were killed as a result of the impact. A passenger in the truck also died, while the driver narrowly escaped with his life.

“The truck driver jumped out seconds before the impact and fell unconscious but survived and he has been questioned,” a police official told reporters.

Monday’s incident is the third railway mishap in as many years at Anantpur as well as the second involving the Bengaluru-Nanded Express — a fire broke out on the train in December 2013, killing 26 people, while 25 passengers of another train called the Hampi Express died in 2012 when it jumped a signal and crashed into a freight locomotive.

It is also the second Indian railway disaster in two days, after three carriages of a goods train derailed in the northern region of Jammu and Kashmir. The derailment took place due to a “technical snag,” a local official told the Press Trust of India news agency.

One of the largest transportation networks in the world, the Indian railway system spans the length and breadth of the country and is a vital mode of connectivity. In the absence of modernization and adequate safety measures, however, tragedies like the twin train derailment that killed at least two dozen people earlier this month have become all too common.

Enhancing the structure and quality of India’s ailing rail network has been one of the main priorities of the Indian government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which announced in its rail budget earlier this year that it would invest $137 billion over the next five years to improve passenger safety and track quality, among other things.

India’s Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu called Monday’s crash an “unfortunate accident” in a post on Twitter, and announced that families of the victims and other injured passengers would be compensated.

TIME faith

Hottest Tickets in Washington Are Going Fast for This Man

Pope Francis at the Capitol, of course

Rep. Peter Welch’s sister, Maureen, had better intelligence than the five-term Vermont congressman about Pope Francis’ upcoming trip to the United States and his historic address to Congress.

“She called before the announcement and said, ‘The pope is coming, can I have your ticket?'” recalled the Democratic lawmaker.

He eagerly said yes to Maureen — Sister Maureen, an Ursuline nun who has been a member of the order for 50 years.

While Welch’s decision was somewhat easy, other lawmakers are struggling with an extraordinary demand — from spouses, family, friends, constituents — for the one ticket they get for guests to sit in the upper galleries of the House chamber when the pontiff addresses Congress on Sept. 24. A chance to see and hear the 78-year-old Argentinian famed for making the comfortable uncomfortable is the hottest ticket in Washington.

“We have more requests for this appearance than anything anybody can ever recall around here,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said weeks ahead of the event.

The first time a pontiff will be addressing Congress rivals a presidential inauguration and State of the Union wrapped into one.

The president’s Cabinet, the diplomatic corps and members of the Supreme Court, six of whom are Catholic, are expected to join senators and House members in the seats on the floor of the chamber. The House recently took the unusual step of voting to limit the people who can sit in those prime seats, essentially barring former members.

That leaves the current 434 House members and 100 senators figuring out who to please with a gallery ticket and who they might upset. Whether a freshman on the job less than a year or a committee chairman with decades in office, lawmakers face the same rules as a State of the Union speech — one guest ticket per lawmaker.

“I’ve been thinking long and hard about that,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the No. 2 Senate Democrat. “Turns out I know a couple of Catholics,” he said, laughing. “And this is a hard call.”

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, is giving her ticket to her mother, Pat, who headed Catholic Charities of Maine. Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., said his choice “starts with family,” but he hasn’t decided yet.

Republican Rep. Leonard Lance, R-N.J., faces a nearly Solomonic choice straight out of the Old Testament.

“Either my wife (Heidi) or my twin brother (James), but I’m a very popular fellow these days because of that one ticket that I get,” Lance said.

Several spouses have already claimed the seats.

“My wife is getting my ticket,” Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Ill., said of his wife Judy. “Even before I knew that the official announcement was made that the pope was coming to speak to a joint session of Congress, I received the email from my wife saying, ‘Don’t give my ticket away.'”

Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., said simply: “It’s not my seat, it’s my spouse’s seat,” a reference to his wife, Myrna.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., avoided picking one family member and disappointing several others.

“I gave it to a nun who I love — Sister Simone. She’s the nun on the bus,” Boxer said. “She fights for social justice and she’s so happy.”

Sister Simone Campbell is the executive director of NETWORK, a Catholic social justice lobby, and is no stranger to Capitol Hill, lobbying on the 2010 law overhauling health care and immigration. In 2012, she organized the “Nuns on the Bus” tour of nine states to oppose Republican Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget, which the group criticized as detrimental to the poor.

Ryan was the Republican vice presidential nominee that year.

The presence of nuns will be a reminder of the changes at the Vatican from Pope Francis’ predecessor, Benedict, to the current pontiff. Under Benedict, the main umbrella group of U.S. nuns had come under scrutiny, accused of straying from church teaching. The nuns oversee much of the church’s work at hospitals and schools, and the issue roiled the church in the United States.

Earlier this year, under Francis, the Vatican said that it was ending its overhaul of the group, a quick resolution widely seen as an effort to quiet a dispute ahead of the pope’s visit.

While lawmakers are limited to one gallery ticket, there is a consolation prize of sorts. Members of Congress can promise a few dozen more family, friends or associates a chance to see the Pontiff, just not in the House chamber.

Each congressional office can request one ticket for seats on the lower West Terrace of the Capitol. Jumbotrons will be set up on the West Front of the Capitol, facing the National Mall, so thousands can watch the broadcast of the pope’s speech. Francis is also expected to appear on the Capitol balcony after his speech.

Each lawmaker also can request 50 standing-room-only tickets for the West Lawn, plus one ticket for guests who can sit in the cavernous Cannon Caucus Room and watch the pontiff on TV.

TIME Donald Trump

Why Women Should Thank Trump

Donald Trump has called women “fat pigs” and “slobs.” When pressed about that during Thursday’s Republican presidential debate, he shrugged and talked about political correctness, then seemingly insinuated a female moderator was suffering from PMS. Then he suggested the criticism is somehow related to the fact that he’s “so good looking.”

For this, women should thank him.

With his remarks, the real estate mogul has single-handedly cast women’s issues into the spotlight in the Republican primary and by extension the general election. He’s not alone, of course. The likelihood that the GOP nominee will face Hillary Clinton has made Republicans more solicitous of women voters, while a series of undercover videos about Planned Parenthood have brought women’s health to the forefront.

But those other topics are fraught with ambiguity. Trump’s comments are not, which means they cast the reactions of other Republican candidates in a much brighter light.

At first, no one on the GOP stage was rushing to condemn Trump, who is leading in the polls. “When Megyn Kelly asked Trump about his sexist remarks during the debate, it was notable that no other candidate or moderator followed up or called Trump out for his dismissal of Kelly or his denial of the facts—some in the audience even applauded,” said Kelly Dittmar, a scholar at Rutgers University’s Center for American Women and Politics. “That was the first missed opportunity for his competitors to make clear that they disagreed with Trump’s disregard for women.”

In the days since, some Republicans have finally come out against Trumps’ comments. Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, the only woman in the GOP race, tweeted late Friday, “Mr. Trump: There. Is. No. Excuse.” Bush over the weekend said, “Do we want to win? Do we want to insult 53 percent of all voters? What Donald Trump said is wrong.”

And Trump himself backtracked on the Sunday shows, and is likely to do so again in a primetime appearance Monday night on Fox News. He talked about how he’d be “phenomenal” for women and how he, unlike his rivals, wants “to help the women.”

Now that’s he’s on the defensive, Trump is helping keep the focus on women’s issues.

“Trump is his hitting rivals, such as Jeb Bush, on their actual records and statements,” says Jennifer Lawless, director of American University’s Women & Politics Institute. “Trump has definitely opened the door for tough scrutiny of the GOP field on ‘women’s issues,’ and debates over contraception, abortion in cases of rape and incest and funding women’s health that will likely work to the Democrats’ advantage.”

This was always going to be a year where Republicans made a big push to take back the women’s vote, or at least mitigate its loss. So far, Trump aside, they aren’t off to a great start.

In January, House Speaker John Boehner was forced to pull an abortion bill off the floor after all 22 of his female members protested language that would’ve limited an exemption to a ban on 20-week abortions for rapes that have only been reported to authorities. The language was changed and the bill eventually passed. In July, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell accused Clinton of playing the gender card right before he kept the Senate in an extra week in a failed attempt to defund Planned Parenthood.

At the presidential debate, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker doubled down on their opposition to all abortions except in the case where the pregnancy threatened a mother’s life. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio took it a step farther underlining his opposition to all abortions, including in cases where it threatened a mother’s life, saying future generations will “call us barbarians for murdering millions of babies.”

Historically speaking, Republicans should be doing better. The GOP began as the women’s party, championing suffrage 40 years before it became law. Republicans also saw the first woman elected to Congress, the first female speaker of a state house and the first female Supreme Court justice.

But since the late 1980s, and especially after the Clarence Thomas hearings to be confirmed to the Supreme Court in 1991, Democrats began to take over that mantle. Republicans have lost women in every presidential election since 1988 and by far with the largest margin—12 points—in 2012. There are 77 Democratic women in Congress to the GOP’s 27.

Trump’s comments could help Democrats down the road if they end up defining the public perception of the Republican Party in2 016. Or they could help Republicans by forcing them to take a hard look at the issue during the primary.

Either way, as Trump would say, that makes women “winners.”

Read next: Trump’s Remarks on Women Cost Him This Weekend

TIME Innovation

Being Sarcastic Is Good for You

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

These are today's best ideas

1. Go ahead, be sarcastic. Harvard says it’s good for you.

By Christina Pazzanese in the Harvard Gazette

2. Serving in Congress is a pretty crummy job.

By Ezra Klein in Vox

3. Does America need a truth and reconciliation commission for race relations?

By Ronald C. Slye in Reuters Great Debate

4. Who would win a war between Al Qaeda and ISIS?

By Mark Hay in Vice

5. Where are all the women chess players?

By Hana Schank in Aeon

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Congress

State Department Nomination Blocked Over Clinton Email Inquiry

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (R) and Deputy Chief of Staff Huma Abedin arrive for a NATO Foreign Minister family photo in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin April 14, 2011.
SAUL LOEB—AFP/Getty Images US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (R) and Deputy Chief of Staff Huma Abedin arrive for a NATO Foreign Minister family photo in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin April 14, 2011.

Senator will block nomination over State Department's "contemptuous failures to respond to Congressional inquiries"

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley has put a hold on the nomination of a senior State Department diplomat over what he says is the agency’s two-year pattern of “bad faith” in his investigation of Hillary Clinton’s tenure there.

The latest example of that pattern, Grassley says, is the department’s failure to provide copies of thousands of e-mails allegedly sent or received by a top Clinton aide, Huma Abedin, involving the head of a private consulting firm for whom Abedin simultaneously worked in 2012.

Grassley filed a statement in the Congressional record Tuesday evening indicating that he would block the nomination of career foreign service officer David Malcolm Robinson, who has been tapped by Secretary of State John Kerry to be Assistant Secretary for Conflict and Stabilization Operations. Grassley said Robinson was “an innocent victim” of the State Department’s “contemptuous failures to respond to Congressional inquiries.” Grassley said the department “has engaged in unreasonable delay in responding to Judiciary Committee investigations and inquiries” including the Abedin issue.

Grassley’s office says the Senator was tipped by a confidential source to the existence of approximately 7,300 e-mails sent or received by Abedin involving Douglas Band, the head of a global consulting firm, Teneo Holdings, who served as President Bill Clinton’s personal aide for much of his presidency. Abedin had been Hillary Clinton’s deputy chief of staff and in June 2012 shifted jobs to become a “Special Government Employee” at the State Department while also being paid as a consultant by Teneo Holdings. Grassley requested documents relating to Abedin’s unusual employment arrangement in June 2013 and has yet to receive the e-mails, his office says.

Abedin’s employment by the State department and Teneo Holdings came after her maternity leave from the government, when she was living in New York with her husband, former Congressman Anthony Weiner. Abedin was given the unusual job designation, “Special Government Employee” which is normally reserved for employees being hired from the private sector or elsewhere in government with unique expertise.

In a July 2013 response to Grassley, the State Department said Abedin was retained as “a senior adviser/expert” under the SGE designation, which allowed her to serve other clients or entities and to keep her security clearance. In a July 5, 2013, letter from Abedin to the department included in its response to Grassley, Abedin said the birth of her son “led me to decide to spend the bulk of my time in New York City” and that she had received approval for the arrangement from the department’s legal staff and human resource officials.

Abedin’s lawyers said that while they, like Grassley, have not seen the emails involving Band, they suspect based on the volume of email and the wording in the Senator’s letter that they are mass mailings of schedules or press clips on which both Abedin and Band are copied. In her July 5 letter to the State Department, Abedin said she “provided strategic advice and consulting services to the firm’s management team, as well as helped organize a major annual firm event.” She said she wasn’t asked to undertake any work on Teneo’s behalf with the State Department, and didn’t provide “insights about the Department, my work with the Secretary, or any government information” to Teneo.

Band has built Teneo’s business around the network he established as President Bill Clinton’s personal aide at the White House and during his post-presidency. He has been the target of criticism from some Clinton allies for leveraging that network for personal advancement, most notably in a Sept. 2013 New Republic article. A spokesman for Teneo did not immediately return a messages requesting comment for this story.

The State Department has provided five letters since 2013 in response to Grassley’s inquiries about everything from its use of SGE designations to Clinton’s use of a private e-mail server. But Grassley says those letters have been incomplete and that the department has willfully withheld responsive materials, demonstrating “a lack of cooperation and bad faith in its interaction with Congress.”

Grassley says Abedin’s employment by both State and Teneo raise concerns about potential conflicts of interest. Abedin also worked for the Clinton Foundation during the period she was working for Teneo. Grassley has also alleged that Abedin may have improperly received payment from the department while on leave.

A State official says the Department will be providing a response to Grassley “in the very near future.”

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