TIME Education

What the New Senate Education Chair Thinks About No Child Left Behind

Lamar Alexander, Patty Murray
Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., right, and the committee's ranking member Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., arrive on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2015, for the committee's hearing looking at ways to fix the No Child Left Behind law. Susan Walsh—AP

Sen. Lamar Alexander, the new chairman of the Senate committee on education, walked into Congress this month with guns a-blazin’.

Twelve years after the passage of George W. Bush’s signature education bill, No Child Left Behind, and eight years after that troubled law was supposed to be revised and updated, the Tennessee Republican says now is the time for its long-neglected makeover.

He plans to take a revised version of the law to the Senate floor by the end of February, with hopes of pushing it through Congress “in the first half of this year.”

What exactly that makeover will look like is now the subject of hot debate on Capitol Hill.

The primary issue at stake is testing. Under No Child Left Behind, students are required to take a raft of standardized exams, each of which are used to assess whether schools are succeeding or failing, and, increasingly, to hold individual teachers accountable for their performance in the classroom.

Critics of No Child Left Behind—and there are lots and lots of them—generally hate the testing mandate. Conservatives and Tea Party activists decry it as “government overreach,” while liberals, local teachers unions and parents lament the reliance on “high-stakes testing.” Even Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has said that too much testing can “rob school buildings of joy.”

So far, Alexander says that while he sees the benefits of aggregating and breaking down federal testing results, “the jury is still out” on whether an updated No Child Left Behind should require federal standardized tests at all, and if they do, whether the government should be barred from imposing consequences on schools with bad test scores.

How Alexander and the Senate education committee ultimately come down on this issue could fundamentally alter the way that public education works in this country.

In a conversation with TIME last week, Alexander offered a peek into what he thinks might come next.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

You’ve said you’re not sure how you stand on the testing issue, but what is your thinking at the moment?

The thing that worked with No Child Left Behind is to take tests results, break them down and aggregate them so that we know that children really aren’t being left behind—so you can’t have an overall average for a school that’s pretty good, but still leave all the Latino kids in a ditch somewhere. But what’s increasingly obvious to me is that the biggest failure of No Child Left Behind has been the federal accountability system—the effort to decide in Washington whether schools or teachers are succeeding or failing. That just doesn’t work. But I think the jury’s still out on the tests.

How so?

What I didn’t realize when we started was the large number of tests that are required by state and local governments. [Former Florida Gov.] Jeb Bush’s Foundation of Excellence in Education in Florida found that there are between eight and 200 additional tests required by state and local government in Florida. That is a lot more than the 17 tests that No Child Left Behind requires.

So you’re not necessarily opposed to keeping those 17 federally mandated tests?

Dr. [Martin] West at Harvard [who testified before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee last week] suggested keeping the [17] tests but making the decision about success, failure and accountability part of a state’s system. … Dr. West argues that that’s the real culprit—trying to [design accountability systems] from Washington—and I think that’s a pretty persuasive argument. I mean, it may not be the federal tests so much as letting someone at such great a distance assign so much weight to a single test and such arbitrary consequences to it.

So there may still be a federal testing mandate in a revised No Child Left Behind?

Most of the controversy that exists today is the result of Washington getting involved [in state education policy] over the last six or seven years. People don’t like that. Teachers and their unions do not like being evaluated from Washington, and communities do not like being told what their academic standards are, i.e. Common Core, from Washington. They might adopt it for themselves, but they’re not going to be told what to do. … [Washington’s involvement] actually creates a backlash, making higher standards more difficult to hold onto and teacher evaluation systems more difficult to create because of all the anger. … It’s just not the way you make permanent improvements in 100,000 public schools. The community has to own the change. The teachers in the school have to own the evaluation system and believe it’s fair or it’ll never work.

So keep the federally mandated tests, but leave the consequences portion to the states.

That’s right. That’s what Dr. West argues: you have to have the annual test. You have to disaggregate it. You have to report it, so we know how schools and children and school districts are doing. But after that, it’s up to the states, who spend the money and have the children and take care of them and it’s their responsibility to devise what’s success, what’s failure and [what the] consequences [should be].

You’re saying that Dr. West’s position, but it sounds like you’re pretty sympathetic to it.

The jury’s still out for me. What I know is the biggest failure of No Child Left Behind is the idea that Washington should tell 100,000 public schools and their teachers whether they’re succeeding, whether they’re failing and what the consequences of that should be. That hasn’t worked.

TIME White House

Here Are the 8 Bills Obama Has Threatened to Veto

Barack Obama
President Barack Obama in the White House in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 16, 2015. Carolyn Kaster—AP

President Obama’s veto threats may end up being more like empty threats.

Though he’s only vetoed two bills so far in office — far fewer than most other presidents — Obama has told the newly Republican-controlled Congress that he will veto more if they send him the wrong bills.

Obama made four veto threats in his State of the Union address alone on stiffer Iran sanctions, the Affordable Care Act, Wall Street oversight and immigration.

“If a bill comes to my desk that tries to do any of these things, I will veto it,” he said.

But just because the President threatens a veto, that doesn’t mean he will. Nearly all of the bills he’s warned Congress about probably won’t make it out of the Senate anyway.

Here’s a look at the eight veto threats Obama has made so far.

Keystone XL Pipeline Act

What it would do: Approve construction of an oil pipeline between Canada and the U.S. Gulf Coast.

Where it stands now: The Senate is currently working out the final amendments to the bill, and it should go to a final passage vote before the end of January. It almost passed the Senate last year but lost by one vote.

Regulatory Accountability Act of 2015

What it would do: Establish tougher requirements for writing federal regulations.

Where it stands now: It passed the House and has some chance of passing in the Senate with the new Republican majority and support from moderate Democrats.

Save American Workers Act of 2015

What it would do: Increase the number of hours a week an employee has to work in order to get employer-provided health insurance, from 30 to 40.

Where it stands now: It passed the House, but there’s a scramble to line up the 60 necessary votes to pass the Senate (which would have to include six Democrats).

No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act

What it would do: Ban taxpayer funding for abortion.

Where it stands now: The act already passed the House, though it will be far less likely to pass the Senate because of the scarcity of pro-life Democrats.

Promoting Job Creation and Reducing Small Business Burdens Act

What it would do: Weaken almost a dozen provisions in the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial overhaul.

Where it stands now: It passed the House, but likely won’t pass the Senate. However, Republicans could muscle portions of it into law by attaching them to critical spending bills.

Natural Gas Pipeline Permitting Reform Act

What it would do: Require a decision on natural gas pipeline project applications within 12 months.

Where it stands now: The act has passed the House. While some House Democrats voted for the bill, it will likely stall in the Senate.

Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act

What it would do: Overturn Obama’s 2014 executive action on immigration, which shielded millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation.

Where it stands now: The bill in this form passed the House, but almost certainly won’t pass the Senate with the amendments about Obama’s executive action. However, some form of this bill needs to be passed by the end of February.

Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act

What it would do: Ban most abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy.

Where it stands now: The bill got pulled from the House this week amid concerns from female GOP lawmakers that it would weaken the party’s appeal among women and millennial voters. It will be amended and possibly brought up again later.

 

TIME Congress

Reid Plans Return to Capitol After Surgery

Harry Reid Holds Media Availability At The Capitol
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-AZ) speaks during a pen and pad session with reporters at the US Capitol on Jan. 22, 2015 in Washington D.C. Mark Wilson—Getty Images

Reid was exercising with rubber bands when one snapped and sent him into cabinets

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid held his first press briefing at the Capitol on Thursday since spending several weeks nursing broken ribs and shattered bones above his right eye. He said that he hopes to come back “full-time” a week from Monday, when he is undergoing eye surgery, and appeared in good spirits.

“I broke four ribs, but that—so minor,” he said. “They’re so meaningless it’s hard to believe.”

Reid fully outlined how he was injured in his new Nevada home on New Year’s Day. “I was doing exercises that I’ve been doing for many years with those large rubber bands and one of them broke and spun me around and I crashed into these cabinets,” he said. “And injured my eye. It didn’t knock me out but it sure hurt. I was taken to the hospital and came back here after a couple of days.”

He declined to answer a question about whether or not he was considering a lawsuit (“Let’s say if I were I wouldn’t be broadcasting it here”) and said the recovery is going well. He is walking for up to an hour now and has been listening to books on tape to rest his good eye. He occasionally takes Tylenol and hasn’t been receiving treatment for his concussion. He also said he appreciated a call from Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who will address a joint-session of Congress in March. Reid even opined about the ball-deflation controversy surrounding Sunday’s AFC championship game between the New England Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts.

“As far as I know, I can’t believe that the National Football League, worth the billions of dollars they make, couldn’t at least determine how much air should be in a football,” he said. “I don’t know why it should be left up to the teams.”

Reid said he still plans on running for reelection in 2016.

TIME White House

Obama Won’t Meet With Netanyahu During Washington Visit

US-ISRAEL-OBAMA-NETANYAHU
US President Barack Obama(R) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hold a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington on March 3, 2014. Saul Loeb—AFP/Getty Images

White House blames upcoming elections in Israel

President Obama will not meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu next month when he is in Washington to address a joint session of Congress, the White House said Thursday.

“As a matter of long-standing practice and principle, we do not see heads of state or candidates in close proximity to their elections, so as to avoid the appearance of influencing a democratic election in a foreign country,” National Security Council Spokesperson Bernadette Meehan said in a statement. “Accordingly, the President will not be meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu because of the proximity to the Israeli election, which is just two weeks after his planned address to the U.S. Congress.”

MORE These Are the Elections to Watch Around the World in 2015

On Wednesday, Speaker of the House John Boehner announced that Netanyahu had accepted an invitation to address Congress on Feb. 11, but neither the Republican leader nor the Israelis informed the White House, in a move Press Secretary Josh Earnest called a breach from protocol. The personal relationship between the U.S. and Israeli leader has deteriorated in recent years, even as both leaders argue that the professional relationship has never been stronger.

“The typical protocol would suggest that the leader of a country would contact the leader of another country when he’s traveling there,” he said. “That certainly is how President Obama’s trips are planned when we travel overseas. So this particular event seems to be a departure from that protocol.”

His address comes as congressional Republicans are pressuring Obama over the ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran. During his State of the Union Address this week, Obama threatened to veto any additional sanctions legislation passed by the GOP-controlled Congress while talks are ongoing.

“The President has been clear about his opposition to Congress passing new legislation on Iran that could undermine our negotiations and divide the international community,” Meehan said. “The President has had many conversations with the Prime Minister on this matter, and I am sure they will continue to be in contact on this and other important matters.”

In a statement announcing the address, Boehner called Netanyahu “a great friend of our country.” “In this time of challenge, I am asking the Prime Minister to address Congress on the grave threats radical Islam and Iran pose to our security and way of life,” he said. “Americans and Israelis have always stood together in shared cause and common ideals, and now we must rise to the moment again.”

Read next: Yemen’s President Resigns as Capital Remains in Hands of Rebels

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Congress

House GOP Pulls Anti-Abortion Bill on Roe v. Wade Anniversary

The House Republican leadership reversed course on plans to vote on an anti-abortion bill deemed too restrictive by many female lawmakers in its conference, exposing internal party divisions as activists mark the 43rd anniversary of Roe v. Wade with the March for Life.

The bill—the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act—would ban abortions after the 20th week of a pregnancy. Even though a similar bill was passed two years ago, Republican lawmakers raised concerns that this bill included a controversial clause requiring that a woman had to report the rape to police before she could get an abortion. The House will now hold another symbolic vote on a different, old bill that bans taxpayer funding of abortions.

“The reporting requirements I think were problematic,” said Missouri Republican Rep. Vicky Hartzler, who met with House GOP Whip Steve Scalise to air out her concerns this week. “Statistics show that a lot of women who are raped do not report it.”

Hartzler said she hoped that the bill would come back up with altered language that could garner more support. It’s unclear whether or not the current bill could have passed.

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has opposed similar legislative proposals based on fetal pain as “not based on sound science.” The bill would be aimed at a minority of abortions, since 92 percent are performed within the first 13 weeks, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Conservatives supported the bill in its entirety and expect the leadership to bring it back in some form. Susan B. Anthony List, the March for Life Education and Defense Fund, and Concerned Women for America Legislative Action Committee officials said they were “disappointed” that there wouldn’t be a vote and would work with the House GOP leadership “to ensure the maximum number of votes” in the future. Conservative RedState activist Erick Erickson called Republican Rep. Renee Ellmers of North Carolina, a key figure in opposing the bill’s rape reporting language, the “GOP’s Abortion Barbie.”

“There was a lot of discussion in our retreat [last week] about this and some of the new people did not want to make this the first bill they voted on because the millennials have a little bit of a different take on it,” said Republican Rep. Ted Yoho of Florida. “But you will see it come back because the American people agree with it two to one. It’s a hideous practice. It needs to stop.”

The conservatives’ confidence that the bill will be resurrected would disappoint Democrats like Oregon Rep. Peter DeFazio, who said that now there is “some grain of hope that the Republican leadership is no longer going to be totally constrained by the wishes of their right-wing friends.”

Other Democrats said the abortion issue plays directly into their “war on women” narrative.

“It’s almost as though they’re creating the strategy for us, bringing up these bills,” New York Rep. Joseph Crowley, vice chairman of the House Democratic Caucus told the Hill.

“In contrast to talking about job creation and bigger paychecks, they’re putting a bill on the floor that undermines the health of of America’s women,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi in a press conference Thursday. “The bill is worse than the bill they pulled from the floor yesterday. That affected thousands of women, maybe, this affects millions of women. It not only affects their health, it affects the personal decisions of how they spend their own money on health insurance.”

Moderate Republicans such as Pennsylvania Rep. Charlie Dent agreed with Pelosi that the GOP should be talking about pocketbook issues instead.

“I would prefer that our party spend less time focusing on these very contentious social issues because that distracts us from broader economic messages where I think we have a much greater appeal to the larger public,” he said.

MONEY retirement planning

Why Obama’s Proposals Just Might Help Middle Class Retirement Security

150122_RET_ObamaHelpRet
U.S. President Barack Obama delivering the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015. Andrew Harrer—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Congress probably won't pass an auto IRA, and Social Security is being ignored. But the retirement crisis is finally getting attention.

Remember Mitt Romney’s huge IRA? During the 2012 campaign, we learned that the governor managed to amass $20 million to $100 million in an individual retirement account, much more than anyone could accumulate under the contribution limit rules without some unusual investments and appreciation.

Romney’s IRA found its way, indirectly, into a broader set of retirement policy reforms unveiled in President Obama’s State of the Union proposals on Tuesday.

The president proposed scaling back the tax deductibility of mega-IRAs to help pay for other changes designed to bolster middle class retirement security. I found plenty to like in the proposals, with one big exception: the failure to endorse a bold plan to expand Social Security.

Yes, that is just another idea with no chance in this Congress, but Democrats should give it a strong embrace, especially in the wake of the House’s adoption of rules this month that could set the stage for cuts in disability benefits.

The administration signaled its general opposition to the House plan, but has not spelled out its own.

Instead, Obama listed proposals, starting with “auto-IRAs,” whereby employers with more than 10 employees who have no retirement plans of their own would be required to automatically enroll their workers in an IRA. Workers could opt out, but automatic features in 401(k) plans already have shown this kind of behavioral nudge will be a winner. The president also proposed tax credits to offset the start-up costs for businesses.

The auto-IRA would be a more full version of the “myRA” accounts already launched by the administration. Both are structured like Roth IRAs, accepting post-tax contributions that accumulate toward tax-free withdrawals in retirement. Both accounts take aim at a critical problem—the lack of retirement savings among low-income households.

The president wants to offset the costs of auto-IRAs by capping contributions to 401(k)s and IRAs. The cap would be determined using a formula tied to current interest rates; currently, it would kick in when balances hit $3.4 million. If rates rose, the cap would be somewhat lower—for example, $2.7 million if rates rose to historical norms.

The argument here is that IRAs were never meant for such large accumulations; the Government Accountability Office (GAO) looked into mega-IRAs after the 2012 election, and reported back to Congress that a small number of account holders had indeed amassed very large balances, “likely by investing in assets unavailable to most investors—initially valued very low and offering disproportionately high potential investment returns if successful.”

The report estimated that 37,000 Americans have IRAs with balances ranging from $3 million to $5 million; fewer than 10,000 had balances over $5 million.

Finally, the White House proposed opening employer retirement plans to more part-time workers. Currently, plan sponsors can exclude employees working fewer than 1,000 hours per year, no matter how long they have been with the company. The proposal would require sponsors to open their plans to workers who have been with them for at least 500 hours per year for three years.

These ideas might seem dead on arrival in the Republican-controlled Congress. But the White House proposals add momentum to a growing populist movement around the country to focus on middle class retirement security.

As noted here last week, Illinois just became the first state to implement an innovative automatic retirement savings plan similar to the auto-IRA, and more than half the states are considering similar ideas.

These savings programs are sensible ideas, but their impact will not be huge. That is because the households they target lack the resources to sock away enough money to generate accumulations that can make a real difference at retirement.

Expanding Social Security offers a more sure, and efficient, path to bolstering retirement security of lower-income households. If Obama wants to go down in the history books as a strong supporter of the middle class, he has got to start making the case for Social Security expansion—and time is getting short.

Read next: Why Illinois May Become a National Model for Retirement Saving

TIME abortion

House GOP Abruptly Drops Plans to Debate Abortion Bill

On the eve of anniversary of 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) — In an embarrassing setback, House Republicans abruptly decided Wednesday to drop planned debate of a bill criminalizing virtually all late-term abortions after objections from GOP women and other lawmakers left them short of votes.

The decision came on the eve of the annual March for Life, when thousands of anti-abortion demonstrators stream to Washington to mark the anniversary of the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion. It also came with GOP leaders eager to show unity and an ability by the new Republican-led Congress to govern efficiently.

Despite a White House veto threat, Republican leaders had planned on Thursday House passage of the legislation, which would ban most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

But they ran into objections from women and other Republican lawmakers unhappy that the measure limited exemptions for victims of rape or incest to only those who had previously reported those incidents to authorities.

The rebellious lawmakers argued that that would put unfair pressure on women who often feel shame or fear retaliation if they report those assaults.

In a complication GOP leaders were not able to resolve, they then ran into objections from anti-abortion groups and lawmakers when they discussed eliminating the reporting requirements.

House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions, R-Texas, said leaders made the decision after meeting “really, all day” with rank-and-file lawmakers.

Congressional Democrats who solidly oppose the legislation, along with abortion rights advocates, all but mocked the GOP’s problem. Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., said Republicans suffered “a meltdown.”

Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said of the bill, “These attacks are so dangerous, extreme and unpopular that House Republicans can’t even get their membership lined up behind them.”

Instead of the late-term abortion bill, the House will debate legislation Thursday banning taxpayer funding for abortion — a prohibition that is already largely in effect.

Though Republicans hadn’t ruled out dropping the bill, their turnabout came as a surprise.

Earlier in the evening, one leading GOP dissident said she would support the bill, suggesting that the revolt might be ebbing. In a posting on her Facebook page, Rep. Renee Ellmers, R-N.C., added, “I have and will continue to be a strong defender of the prolife community.”

Earlier Wednesday, Ellmers said she and other Republicans were objecting to the reporting requirement.

“The issue becomes, we’re questioning the woman’s word,” she said in an interview. “We have to be compassionate to women when they’re in a crisis situation.”

A 2013 Justice Department report calculated that just 35 percent of rapes and sexual assaults were reported to police.

There were also objections to the bill’s exemption for incest, which covered only minors who have already reported the incident.

“So the exception would apply to a 16-year-old but not a 19-year-old?” said Rep. Charles Dent, R-Pa. “I mean, incest is incest.”

The divisiveness over the measure comes as Republicans, looking ahead to the 2016 presidential and congressional elections, hope to increase their support from women. In control of the entire Congress for the first time in eight years, Republicans also want to demonstrate they can focus on issues that matter to voters and not get bogged down in gridlock.

Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., a chief sponsor of the bill, called it “a sincere effort” to protect women and “their unborn, pain-capable child from the atrocity of late-term abortion.” He also said GOP leaders “want to try to create as much unity as we can.”

The White House has threatened to veto the legislation, calling it “an assault on a woman’s right to choose.”

A report this week by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office cited estimates by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that about 10,000 abortions in the U.S. are performed annually 20 weeks or later into pregnancies. The budget office estimated that if the bill became law, three-fourths of those abortions would end up occurring before the 20th week.

The House approved a similar version of the bill in 2013, but the measure was never considered in the Senate, which was then controlled by Democrats. Its fate remains uncertain in the Senate, where anti-abortion sentiment is less strong than in the House.

TIME Congress

Only One Republican Senator Refused to Say ‘Climate Change Is Real’

Senate Luncheons
Republican Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi speaks at a news conference after the Senate luncheons in the Capitol on Jan. 7, 2015 Tom Williams—AP/CQ Roll Call

And another denier of manmade global warming wiggles free of the Democrats' show vote

A Mississippi Republican was the only U.S. Senator to vote against an amendment declaring that climate change is real on Wednesday.

Roger Wicker, the incoming chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, was the only no vote. The final vote was 98 to 1, with Senator Harry Reid, the Democratic leader from Nevada, not voting.

The amendment, introduced by Rhode Island Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, included only 16 words: “To express the sense of the Senate that climate change is real and not a hoax.” It was designed to highlight Republicans’ rhetoric that has run counter to the scientific consensus that the earth has been warming in recent decades.

But the stunt left some of the biggest deniers of manmade global warming some wiggle room. Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe, the chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, voted for the amendment and asked to be a co-sponsor.

“Climate is changing and climate has always changed and always will,” said Inhofe, author of The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future. “There is archaeological evidence of that, there is biblical evidence of that, there is historical evidence of that. It will always change. The hopes is that there are some people who are so arrogant to think they are so powerful they can change climate. Man can’t change climate.”

Whitehouse said he hoped the vote would send “a signal” that the Senate “is ready to deal with reality.”

“I almost hate to use my minute because I am so eager to hear what is said during the minute that our energy chairman will follow me with,” said Whitehouse before the vote. “But I’m hoping that after many years of darkness and blockade that this can be a first little vote beam of light through the wall that will allow us to at least start having an honest conversation about what carbon pollution is doing to our climate and to our oceans. This is a matter of vital consequence to my home state … and to many of yours as well.”

Wicker’s office did not reply for comment. In the past, Wicker, the new chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, has said that scientific data on rising global temperatures is not conclusive. “President Obama continues to defend his aggressive policies with assertions that global temperatures are on the rise — a notion challenged by scientists and scholars,” he said in a 2013 press release. “The recorded temperatures were much lower than the predictions from climate models often cited by the President and global warming activists.”

TIME State of the Union 2015

These Are the Funniest Memes From the State of the Union

Few were safe from becoming a joke on social media

While pundits and political operatives dissected President Barack Obama’s 2015 State of the Union address, the quick-witted citizens of Twitter flourished in the abundance of meme-able moments Tuesday night.

Here are some of the highlights.

  • Biden’s Reaction

    Not sure if the Vice President knew he was making the face of a rapper’s hype-man as the President spoke.

  • Speaker Boehner is Not Impressed

    Like the Vice President’s, House Speaker John Boehner’s facial expressions are always an easy target for critique during the State of the Union

  • Secretary Moniz Gets Meme’d

    Neither Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz nor his amazing hair got enough air time during the State of the Union

  • First Lady Fashion

    First Lady Michelle Obama channelled the look of another “First Lady” last night, Alicia Florrick of CBS’s The Good Wife.

  • The President’s “Drops-Mic” Moment

    The moment that stole the show gets the Vine treatment, complete with dad-dancing

  • Rand Paul Joins In

    Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul joined in on the fun, using a Willy Wonka meme to question the President’s plan for free community college

  • The State of the Union Is…

    Though Obama said Tuesday the state of our union is “strong,” someone suggested a word that could better connect with the youth

  • The Suit Returns

    White House Senior Advisor Dan Pfeiffer did a little pre-speech trolling, suggesting the President would be wearing his infamous tan-suit during the evening’s address

  • Joni Ernst’s Shoes

    During the official Republican response, Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst recalled covering her shoes with bread bags to protect them when she was growing up, which spawned arguably one of the funniest memes of the night

  • A Presidential Wink

    POTUS flashes a wink and a smile

    Read next: The State of the Union Brought Out the Troll in Everyone

    Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Congress

Boehner Invites Israeli Prime Minister to Address Congress on Iran

House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio walks to the House chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington on Jan. 14, 2015, as lawmakers gather for a vote to fund the Homeland Security Department but will curb President Barack Obama's executive actions on immigration.
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio walks to the House chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington on Jan. 14, 2015, as lawmakers gather for a vote to fund the Homeland Security Department but will curb President Barack Obama's executive actions on immigration. J. Scott Applewhite—AP

The Republican leader released a letter extending the invitation to Benjamin Netanyahu for Feb. 11

(WASHINGTON) — Rebuffing President Barack Obama on Iran, House Speaker John Boehner said Wednesday he had invited Israel’s prime minister to address a joint meeting of Congress next month about the threats from Tehran and radical Islam.

The Republican leader released a letter extending the invitation to Benjamin Netanyahu for Feb. 11. Boehner also told a private meeting of GOP lawmakers that Congress would move ahead on new penalties against Iran despite Obama’s warning that any legislation would scuttle diplomatic negotiations over the country’s nuclear program.

“You may have seen that on Friday, the president warned us not to move ahead with sanctions on Iran, a state sponsor of terror,” Boehner told colleagues, according to his office. “His exact message to us was: ‘Hold your fire.’ He expects us to stand idly by and do nothing while he cuts a bad deal with Iran.

“Two words: ‘Hell no!’ … We’re going to do no such thing,” the speaker said.

The U.S. and other Western countries believe that Iran is intent on trying to develop nuclear weapons. Tehran claims its nuclear program is peaceful and exists only to produce energy for civilian use.

The high-stakes invitation came just hours after Obama, in his State of the Union address, told Congress that he would veto any sanctions legislation and he urged Congress to delay further penalties against Iran.

“New sanctions passed by this Congress, at this moment in time, will all but guarantee that diplomacy fails — alienating America from its allies, and ensuring that Iran starts up its nuclear program again,” Obama said Tuesday night. “It doesn’t make sense. That is why I will veto any new sanctions bill that threatens to undo this progress. The American people expect us to only go to war as a last resort, and I intend to stay true to that wisdom.”

Obama last week warned that rash action by Congress would increase the risk of a military showdown with Iran, and that “Congress will have to own that as well.” In an unusual step, British Prime Minister David Cameron had called members of Congress to urge them to hold off on sanctions.

The White House had no immediate comment on the Boehner invitation. Typically, requests for foreign leaders to address Congress are made in lengthy consultations with the White House and the State Department.

Boehner said in a statement that Netanyahu “is a great friend of our country, and this invitation carries with it our unwavering commitment to the security and well-being of his people. In this time of challenge, I am asking the prime minister to address Congress on the grave threats radical Islam and Iran pose to our security and way of life. Americans and Israelis have always stood together in shared cause and common ideals, and now we must rise to the moment again.”

Boehner is enlisting Netanyahu as a powerful messenger who could argue for a tougher stance toward Iran and an individual who carries considerable sway with Congress. The prime minister repeatedly has warned that a nuclear deal could undercut Israel’s security.

The invitation comes at a crucial time for Netanyahu, who is in the middle of a re-election campaign.

He has addressed a joint meeting of Congress on two previous occasions, in July 1996 and May 2011.

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