TIME nation

Obama Goes to War (With Congress)

The President began bombing ISIS on his own, but only Congress can start a war

Earlier this summer, Virginia Senator Tim Kaine found himself in the Grand Foyer of the White House playing the foreign policy–hypothetical game with President Obama. Over drinks with some Senate Democrats, the President mentioned Kaine’s article that day in the Washington Post demanding a congressional vote to authorize any new military action against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), the armed extremist group overtaking large chunks of Iraq.

The Law Professor in Chief, who campaigned for office promising to rein in executive power, proposed some scenarios. “He’d say, ‘Here’s the situation. Do you think I have executive authority to act?'” Among the possibilities Kaine recalls: What if there is an imminent threat to a U.S. embassy? “We generally agreed on most of them,” says Kaine. But not all.

Two months later, those debates are no longer hypothetical. Since Aug. 8, Obama has unilaterally ordered more than 100 bombing runs on ISIS targets in northern Iraq, citing his authority under Article II of the Constitution to protect U.S. lives and offer humanitarian aid. Hundreds of military advisers have been dispatched to Iraq, along with shipments of lethal equipment to proxy forces in the region. Through it all, the White House has maintained that Obama has no plans to seek permission from Congress, which returns from recess on Sept. 8.

The Constitution gives the President the power to defend the country as Commander in Chief, but it delegates the power to declare war to Congress. Kaine is one of several Senators who believe Obama has stretched his powers about as far as they can go. “I am worried about the consequences of Congress basically saying the President can decide unilaterally which organizations to launch air strikes against,” says Kaine.

The Obama Administration, meanwhile, has been signaling that the conflict with ISIS is likely to expand before it contracts. U.S. officials worry about what they believe are hundreds of ISIS fighters with Western passports who could attack Europe or the U.S. if they return to their homelands. General Martin Dempsey, who chairs the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters that defeating ISIS will require action by U.S. or other forces on both sides of the Iraq-Syria border. Days later, Pentagon sources leaked news of new U.S. surveillance flights over Syria to better map out ISIS positions, a possible prerequisite to expanded bombing efforts. “Rooting out a cancer like [ISIS] won’t be easy and it won’t be quick,” Obama said on Aug. 26. Though the White House insists no decisions have been made for an expanded campaign against ISIS, no one denies that preparations are under way.

The ironies of the situation are striking. A President who helped build his national profile by opposing the war in Iraq now must decide whether to force a vote on a similar military adventure just weeks before midterm elections. But the commander who deferred to Congress rather than launch air strikes on Syria last year may not be able to attract the votes on Capitol Hill that he has in the past claimed to need. “I believe our democracy is stronger when the President acts with the support of Congress,” Obama said one year ago. “And I believe America acts more effectively abroad when we stand together.”

There are plenty of reasons for the White House to avoid a bitter debate over a new war in the Middle East. Obama’s attempts to get approval from Congress for the last round of Syria strikes failed to muster the required votes, and it divided his own party, upsetting many on the left. He has also spent some of his second term celebrating what he described as the coming end to the war on terror, a goal that seems increasingly distant. Congressional leadership on both sides is skittish about a vote. “Neither he nor the Congress wants to have this dance now,” says Jack Goldsmith, who led the Office of Legal Counsel for President George W. Bush. “That’s really what is going on.”

In the meantime, the White House has been searching for a legal justification for a protracted military campaign that doesn’t involve going to Congress. A 2002 congressional authorization to use force in Iraq remains on the books, but the White House announced in July that the document “is no longer used” and should be repealed. That leaves the 2001 congressional authorization to pursue those responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks, which a White House spokesperson says the Administration is “currently reviewing” to see if it applies to ISIS.

But Obama allies like Kaine, who otherwise supports Obama’s ISIS campaign, say that document clearly doesn’t cover ISIS, which did not exist in 2001. Far from being a partner of al-Qaeda, ISIS has emerged as a rival in the region. And in 2001, Congress rejected a White House request for broader authorization to allow military force against threats unconnected to al-Qaeda.

A third option–perhaps the most likely outcome–is for Obama to declare that his constitutional powers allow him to continue the conflict without Congress. A Vietnam-era law requires the President to seek congressional authorization for hostilities within 60 days of their launch, or begin military drawdowns; that deadline would expire after Oct. 7. But Obama never sought such authorization for the bombing campaign that toppled Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. Instead, his lawyers argued that the limited nature of U.S. support for air strikes on Libya did not amount to “hostilities” under the law.

In the end, the greatest risk for Obama in avoiding Congress may be to his legacy. No court is likely to force him to stop military action, and Congress is unlikely to unite around a demand for a vote. But Obama has repeatedly promised the American people a more democratic approach to warfare. As so often happens in the Oval Office, the President must now decide whether to pay a political price to uphold his public vows.

–WITH REPORTING BY JAY NEWTON-SMALL AND ZEKE MILLER/WASHINGTON

TIME Congress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the rest of the story at People

TIME Congress

Dennis Kucinich Is Going to Burning Man

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

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

Former presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich is headed to Burning Man.

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

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

TIME Congress

WATCH: John Boehner Has Found His Kindred Spirit … in a Monkey

'That's what I do all day!'

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The second most photographed object in John Boehner’s office — after the House Speaker himself — is a wind-up monkey that sits on his desk, crashes cymbals on command and, according to his staffers, speaks volumes about his work.

Boehner’s staff gave the gift as a “token of appreciation” and a subtle reminder to their boss to avoid comparing himself to a wind-up toy, as he did in 2011 when he was discussing the strains of his hectic work schedule. The monkey has since appeared in at least 29 photos with the speaker and various visitors.

On Tuesday, his staffers featured it in a YouTube video in which Boehner points at the toy monkey in action and says, “That’s what I do all day,” to a group of young girls getting a crash course in politics. “They wind me up about every 15 minutes,” he adds.

TIME Congress

Harry Reid’s Joke to Asians: You’re Not Smarter Than Everyone Else

"One problem that I've had today is keeping my Wongs straight"

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid drew laughter from an Asian audience Thursday with a pair of Asian-themed jokes.

“I don’t think you’re smarter than anybody else, but you’ve convinced a lot of us you are,” Reid, a Nevada Democrat, told the guffawing crowd at the Las Vegas Asian Chamber of Commerce. Video of the remarks was recorded by the Republican opposition research group American Rising.

Later, before walking off stage, Reid quipped: “One problem that I’ve had today is keeping my Wongs straight.”

The group decided against backing the Reid-endorsed Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor, Lucy Flores, supporting Republican Mark Hutchison instead, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports.

“My comments were in extremely poor taste and I apologize,” Reid said in a statement to TIME after publication of this story. “Sometimes I say the wrong thing.”

TIME Congress

Paul Ryan Explains What Happens When He Visits Urban Black Communities

People are excited to meet their first-ever Republican, he says.

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Congressman Paul Ryan, who has been spending some time in the last 18 months visiting urban black neighborhoods, says that he’s often the first Republican the people he talks to there have ever met. Ryan, who came to TIME’s office to do an interview for the magazine’s 10 Questions page about his book The Way Forward, says that folks are excited to see him mostly because he’s listening to them.

When asked if his experiences in urban neighborhoods had given him any insight to what’s happening in Ferguson, he sounded a few words of caution about rushing to judgment. “I think it’s important to be respectful of what’s happened,” he says, “and try to get to the truth and let the investigation takes its hold.” He also believes that when people think poverty is a problem the government takes care of, they don’t get involved and it isolates poor communities. “And so the way I think we ought to approach this is, we’d better be thinking about how to fight poverty eye-to-eye, soul-to-soul, person-to-person and reintegrate our communities instead of isolating people in our communities,” says Ryan.

Shifting gears, the former vice presidential candidate said that no further investigation of the President’s attempts at health care reform is necessary. Ryan thinks the health care legislation will collapse under its own weight. “I do believe that we will ultimately repeal this law,” he says of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. “And the reason I say that is not because I’m just some optimistic person who’s naive. It’s because I think this law will implode.” Ryan takes particular issue with the IPAB (Independent Payment Advisory Board), the committee set up to manage Medicare costs. “I don’t think people on Medicare will sit with the idea of 15 unelected bureaucrats determining how their care is going to be allocated.”

Elsewhere in the interview, the Wisconsin congressman declared that—despite putting out a book explaining his background and his policies in quite meticulous detail—he hasn’t decided if he’s going to make a run at the presidency and won’t until 2015. In the meantime, he’s offered up his proposals for immigration reform: secure the border, offer trackable work visas and then give current illegal immigrants a probationary period to become legal, while working.

He also revealed that whenever there’s a stressful meeting that John Boehner’s leading, he tries to sit way on the other side of the room. Boehner’s a stress-smoker and says Ryan, “I just hate getting that smell in my clothes.” Good to know.

Subscribers can read the full interview here.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: August 15

1. 1,000 new visas is a good start, but to continue building trust, the U.S. must further expand the visa program for Afghans assisting ISAF at great risk.

By Jordan Larson in Vice

2. It’s not too late for the Internet to ditch pop-up ads and build a better web.

By Ethan Zuckerman in the Atlantic

3. A peace deal may be the only way to relieve Gaza’s “health disaster.”

By Dana Lea in Politically Inclined

4. Now ubiquitous, mobile phones can close the gap for maternal health care.

By Becky Allen and Jenna Karp at the Council on Foreign Relations

5. To save the African elephant, we must ban all ivory sales for a decade or more.

By Daniel Cressey in Nature

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

TIME 2014 elections

Michelle Nunn Grabs Zell Miller Endorsement

Former Georgia governor and U.S. Senator Zell Miller gives a boost to the Nunn campaign

Former Georgia governor and U.S. Senator Zell Miller endorsed Senate Democratic candidate Michelle Nunn Thursday, calling her a “bridge-builder” that could end Washington partisanship.

Miller, an 82 year-old conservative Democrat, has a history of working with and endorsing Republicans. He endorsed President George W. Bush in 2004, Sen. Saxby Chambilss (R-Ga.) in 2008 and Gov. Sonny Perdue, the cousin of Nunn Republican opponent David Perdue, in 2006. This cycle Miller is also supporting Republican Gov. Nathan Deal over Democrat Jason Carter, the grandson of the former president.

The Miller endorsement caps a whirlwind week for the Nunn-Perdue race. The National Republican Senatorial Committee’s dropped its $2.5 million ad campaign calling Nunn “Obama’s senator,” Nunn released her first negative ad ripping Perdue’s business record, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution published a piece the Perdue campaign has labeled Nunn’s “DC Insider Land Deal.” The New York Times Senate forecaster moved its rankings of the race from “Tossup” to “Lean Republican” on Thursday.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bb8D3UPaLz4

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bTREGpKHHKQ#t=20

But Nunn’s camp is hoping the endorsement from Miller, who worked with her father, former senator Sam Nunn in the 1990s, will generate momentum for her campaign.

“I have great respect for her dedication to public service, and her dedication to bipartisan results,” Miller told the Journal-Constitution, citing Nunn’s leadership of the service organization Points of Light, which was created by former President George H.W. Bush. “I think she shares a lot of characteristics with her father.”

“I’ve known her since she was born,” he added.

TIME

The Battles of the Sexes in an Iowa House Race

Speaking at the Iowa State Fair, candidates play to their respective strengths

Des Moines, IA

On the campaign trail, Staci Appel is the yin to David Young’s yang.

Speaking at the Des Moines Register Soapbox at the Iowa State Fair, the opponents vying to fill Republican Rep. Tom Latham’s seat did not name or criticize one another and instead played up their strengths: he, his toughness and she, her womanhood.

Young, a former chief of staff to retiring Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, promised stronger oversight of the federal government, if he’s elected. “I will be a taxpayer watchdog for Iowa,” he pledged to the crowd on Wednesday, calling for a flat tax. “We have almost an $18 trillion dollar budget debt. Isn’t that astounding? I can hardly quantify that. We have to change the way we budget in Washington. They have to balance their budgets.”

Democrat Appel, meanwhile, played up the historic nature of her candidacy: She would be the first woman elected to Congress from Iowa. “Wouldn’t it be nice to have a woman’s voice in Congress that represents the State of Iowa?” she asked, to the loudest cheers of her speech. “You have to sit down and listen to folks to get things done and that’s what we’re missing in Congress right now. Nobody’s talking to each other. The gridlock is there and it’s not going to stop until we send different people up there to get things done.”

The message resonated with the mostly female crowd, many who were sporting Staci Appel t-shirts. “We’ve already seen the women of the Senate, getting together and having dinner every two weeks, they get stuff done,” says Rita Davis, a Des Moines Democrat. “Women get stuff done. I mean, not all women, but Staci is definitely one of those who does.”

Appel fits to a T the Democrats’ midterm strategy of appealing to unmarried women in midterm election that otherwise has them on their heels due to President Obama’s unpopularity. Unmarried women are reliably Democrat, though they tend not to turn out in off presidential years.

Young pointedly criticized Obamacare and what he called the President’s foot-dragging in approving the Keystone Pipeline, which Republicans say will create thousands of jobs if the Administration overcomes environmental concerns and allows it to go through.

Democrats view the seat, which encompasses most of Des Moines, as one of their few pick up opportunities. The district is a race swing seat and is rated a “toss up” by Cook Political Report, which tracks congressional races.

Appel, the former assistant majority leader in the State Senate, has a good personal narrative. She has six children and pushed through legislation to mandate equal pay for women, ban smoking in public buildings and to expand pre-school. Two of her own children benefited from that last bill, and Appel isn’t shy about talking about the effect of policy on her family, personalizing the race in a way that is often appealing to women.

Iowa Republicans have done their best to tie her to an unpopular president and an even more unpopular—in Iowa—House minority leader Nancy Pelosi. “Staci Appel will be the chief lieutenant of Nancy Pelosi, the San Francisco Democrat leading congressional liberals,” says Jeff Patch, communications director for the Iowa Republican Party. “Appel’s extreme ideas do not fit this district,” Patch says.

Appel’s campaign has tried to paint Young as a Washington insider, something that might be tough given that his biggest political association is with Grassley, a man who established his reputation as a tough investigator of the federal government and remains popular in Iowa despite his long tenure in Washington.

Appel has so far raised $1.2 million and had $726,000 cash on hand at the end of June, according to Federal Election Commission filings. That’s compared to Young whose raised $828,000 but given a six way primary, he ended June with only $88,000 cash on hand. Young had a six way GOP primary in which he placed fifth, but won the nomination at the state convention—welcome to Iowa’s arcane politics—to the criticism of some that his insider status with Grassley’s formidable machine unfairly greased the party’s wheels.

Young has also stumbled on organization. Google “David Young for Congress” and the top hit is “David Young for U.S. Senate,” a nod to Young’s erstwhile ambitions. Click on that website and it leads to his House campaign page.

TIME 2014 elections

Republican Bashes Michelle Nunn Over ‘DC Insider Land Deal’ With Lobbyists

Michelle Nunn speaks to her supporters after winning the Democratic primary for Georgia Senate on May 20, 2014. Akili-Casundria Ramsess—AP

David Perdue, the Georgia Republican businessman running for Senate, criticized his Democratic opponent Michelle Nunn over a land deal she struck with two Washington lobbyists four years ago.

The deal protected from future development large portions of 850 acres in Glynn County, which projects out into the Atlantic Ocean. Nunn and the lobbyists—one-time aides to her father, Sam, the former Senator—secured a $2 million loan in 2004 to buy the land in the hopes of building new houses and condominiums, but the idea fell through during the recession, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The 2010 land deal gave back “tens of thousands of dollars” in tax benefits, the newspaper reported.

Perdue called it a “DC insider land deal” on Twitter Wednesday night, shortly after the new broke. A campaign spokesman told the Journal-Constitution that the deal was evidence that Nunn isn’t the Washington outsider she claims to be.

“Michelle Nunn’s cozy relationships with Washington insiders undercut everything she is saying in her TV ads,” Perdue spokesman Derrick Dickey told the Journal-Constitution. “They are not only funding her campaign to mislead Georgians about who she really is, but they are apparently funding her personal business deals as well.”

Nunn’s campaign predicted the attack as early as December, writing in a memo to the candidate that it would prepare “complex and lengthy” pushback documents relating to “Michelle’s conservation easements.” That memo, leaked by National Review last month, listed “Nunn is not a ‘real’ Georgian” as one potential attack to combat. Nunn has lived in Georgia since 1989, but grew up in Maryland.

Nunn’s campaign told the Journal-Constitution that preserving land for environmental reasons is a widespread practice used by Democrats and Republicans, including Perdue’s cousin, former Georgia governor Sonny Perdue.

“It’s the highest hypocrisy for David Perdue to criticize a conservation program championed by his cousin and business partner, Governor Sonny Perdue,” Nunn spokesman Nathan Click told the Journal-Constitution.

“Michelle, her husband, Senator Nunn and Colleen Nunn were able to protect beautiful land in Glynn County for future generations through a program supported not just by Governor Perdue but a broad swath of Georgia leaders including Senators Chambliss and Isakson,” he added.

The Times Senate forecaster moved its rankings of the race from “Tossup” to “Lean Republican” on Thursday. Nunn released her first negative ad attacking Perdue’s business record earlier this week.

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