TIME Criminal Justice

Bipartisan Push for Criminal Justice Reform Sets Its Agenda

Grover Norquist, founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform, participates in a session on "Strategic Communication" at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Maryland, outside Washington, on February 26, 2015.
NICHOLAS KAMM—AFP/Getty Images Grover Norquist, founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform, participates in a session on "Strategic Communication" at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Maryland, outside Washington, on February 26, 2015.

But specifics are a casualty of the search for consensus

A bipartisan coalition leading a landmark push for criminal-justice reform has set its agenda, but many of the details remain to be filled in.

The Coalition for Public Safety, which includes some of the most influential policy groups on the right and left, announced a new campaign Monday to reform sentencing laws and reintegrate offenders back into society.

“We see these ideas as the baseline for how we can reduce the existing prison population,” said Christine Leonard, the group’s executive director, “as well as support individuals coming home.”

The announcement was a sign of how far the movement has come, but also a sign of how much work remains to be done to begin enacting its goals.

The group includes liberal outfits like the Center for American Progress and the American Civil Liberties Union, as well as conservative organizations like Americans for Tax Reform and Right on Crime. The multi-million dollar initiative is underwritten by donors as disparate as Koch Industries and the Ford Foundation. For these fractious factions, the ability to coalesce around a set of policy objectives is no small task. But a casualty of the search for consensus has been specifics.

Read More: Will Congress Reform the Criminal Justice System?

In a conference call Monday with reporters, the group said it would launch a national education campaign to mobilize public support for some of its priorities with the broadest support, including reducing the length of mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent offenders, curtailing sentences of life without parole, promoting alternatives to incarceration and removing obstacles that impede transitions back to the workforce for the one-in-three Americans with a criminal record.

But after months of meetings, the recommendations were modest in scope and light on detail. “These reforms are only the beginning of what lawmakers can do,” said Jason Pye, director of messaging and justice reform at the Tea Party-aligned group FreedomWorks.

Nor is it clear that the recommendations will do much to sway them. Despite growing consensus around the need to reform a system that critics call bloated and broken, there has been little little legislative movement. A raft of bipartisan proposals have languished in a divided Congress.

“Some of the other issues are blocked by partisan stalemate. This is one where we actually could move things forward,” said Grover Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform. “We’re just going to have to defeat the forces of the status quo.”

Organizers acknowledged that threading bills through Congress remains a challenge. The Coalition hopes to make progress by the August congressional recess, when the presidential race will kick into a higher gear and lawmaking will slow even further.

“We’re in a long term marathon here, in terms of where we need to shift the country after two decades of polices that took us in the wrong direction,” Leonard told TIME in an interview. “There is a strong sense of urgency among these partnering organizations to see that we’re making an impact, both in the daily conversations that are happening around dinner tables but also among policy makers.”

But in Washington the forces of inertia increase in accordance with the number of actors. There are are seven organizations involved with the coalition, and it took months of meetings to lay out a general blueprint. There are 535 lawmakers in Congress. Even the most powerful interest groups know that translating public support into tangible reform remains an uphill battle.

“This is not necessarily a road map for a legislative proposal, but it does demonstrate the pathbreaking level of agreement and consensus around a set of issues,” Leonard says. “What we’re anxious about is, why isn’t there more happening?”

TIME global trade

Liberals Vow to Punish Democrats for Trade Vote

Demonstrators protest against the legislation to give President Barack Obama fast-track authority to advance trade deals, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), during a protest march on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, May 21, 2015.
SAUL LOEB—AFP/Getty Images Demonstrators protest against the legislation to give President Barack Obama fast-track authority to advance trade deals, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), during a protest march on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, May 21, 2015.

Democrats who voted Thursday afternoon in favor of a controversial trade bill, known as “fast track,” will feel the wrath of some liberal groups.

The bill, known as the Trade Promotion Authority, passed 218-208, with 28 Democrats siding with President Obama and a strong, if unlikely, majority of Republicans. But liberal groups warned they would face a backlash from Democratic voters.

Democrats who allowed the passage of [the fast track] … should know that we will not lift a finger or raise a penny to protect you when you’re attacked in 2016, we will encourage our progressive allies to join us in leaving you to rot,” said Jim Dean, chair of Democracy for America, “and we will actively search for opportunities to primary you with a real Democrat,”

“Those primaries could happen next year or they could happen in election cycles to come, but, make no mistake, we will make certain that your vote to fast track the destruction of American jobs will be remembered and will haunt you for years to come,” he added. Democracy for America oversees a grassroots membership of 10.1 million.

Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth, a national environmental organization, said that he was “profoundly disappointed” with the Democratic leadership. “Sadly, we have come to expect Republicans to sell out the environment for the pursuit of corporate profits,” he said. “But we expect more regard for environmental protection and respect for working families from President Obama and the Democrats who supported this bill.”

The Trade Promotion Authority gives Obama the legal power to negotiate, and then pass to Congress for a straight up-or-down vote, all future free trade deals. That includes the controversial and imminent Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would knit together 12 Pacific Rim nations and 40% of the world’s GDP. Liberals, labor activists and environmentalists have furiously lobbied Democratic politicians in recent months to vote against the fast track on the grounds that it “greases the skids” for the TPP, which they argue will lead to job losses in the U.S., and a degradation of workers’ rights and environmental protections abroad.

But many major liberal heavyweights, including the labor unions, have been unwilling to make Democratic votes on the fast track bill a litmus test. AFL-CIO, for example, said this week that its 2016 endorsements will “not hinge” on how candidates voted on trade.

Stephanie Taylor, the co-founder of Progressive Change Campaign Committee, stopped short of making an ultimatum Thursday, asking instead that Democratic leaders lobby the Senate to vote no on the bill. “Voters need to see that Democratic Party leaders, including Hillary Clinton, are willing to strongly fight corporate interests that seek to hurt workers and everyday families,” she said Thursday. “All presidential candidates should urge the Senate to vote no on fast track.”

Clinton, the Democratic frontrunner, has yet to weigh in on whether she supports either fast track or the Trans-Pacific Partnership. In comments last weekend, she urged the White House to work with Congressional Democrats to strengthen support for American workers—a comment that broke from a strongly pro-trade position in the past.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has promised that the bill will pass the Senate.

TIME politics

House Passes ‘Fast Track’ Bill to Resurrect Obama Trade Agenda

John Boehner
Pablo Martinez Monsivais—AP In this June 11, 2015 file photo, House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Upcoming vote in the Senate could be a tough battle

(WASHINGTON) — The House has revived President Barack Obama’s embattled trade agenda. But a potentially tough Senate battle awaits.

The House voted 218 to 208 Thursday to grant Obama “fast track” authority to send Congress trade agreements it can reject or ratify but not change.

The Republican-driven vote marks a dramatic turnabout from last week’s stunning setback dealt to Obama by House Democrats. This time fast track was separated from another matter that the Democrats had used to scuttle the whole package.

The GOP-controlled Senate could take up the issue next week. The bill needs help from about a dozen Democrats. They want assurance that Congress also will renew federal aid for workers displaced by international trade.

Unions strongly oppose fast track. Obama says U.S. producers need it.

TIME politics

House Republicans Help Bring Obama’s Trade Bill Back to Life

John Boehner
Pablo Martinez Monsivais—AP In this June 11, 2015 file photo, House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington.

The vote would give Obama authority to negotiate global trade deals that Congress can approve or reject, but not change

(WASHINGTON) — In close cooperation with President Barack Obama, House Republicans worked to revive the administration’s trade agenda on Thursday, nearly a week after it was left for dead by rebellious Democrats backed by organized labor.

Legislation to strengthen Obama’s hand in trade talks is part of “expanding our influence in a critical part of the world,” Rep. George Holding, R-N.C., said as in advance of a re-vote on a measure the administration seeks to facilitate a 12-nation deal involving Japan and 11 other countries bordering the Pacific Ocean.

Democrats fought the measure, as they have for months, for fear it would lead to the loss of U.S. jobs overseas. “Let’s kill this donkey once and for all,” said Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Md.

Despite opposition from labor-backed lawmakers, the measure easily cleared a preliminary hurdle, 244-181.

The House debate and vote marked the beginning of an extraordinary rescue operation that the White House and GOP leaders in Congress hope will result in passage of a pair of bills by the end of next week.

The measure on the House floor would give Obama authority to negotiate global trade deals that Congress can approve or reject, but not change. Other recent presidents have had the same prerogative Obama seeks, known as “fast-track.”

Separately, a bill to renew an expiring program of aid for workers who lose their jobs because of imports will move quickly.

“We are committed to ensuring both … get votes in the House and Senate and are sent to the president for signature,” House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a joint statement issued Wednesday in an attempt to reassure pro-trade Democrats whose votes will be needed.

At the White House, Obama met separately with Democrats lawmakers inclined to support the legislation.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi had no comment on the day’s events. The California Democrat joined the revolt last week in which her party’s rank-and-file lawmakers helped vote down the aid package that they customarily support, calculating their actions would prevent the entire trade package from reaching Obama’s desk.

Supporters of the president’s agenda argue that the United States must stay involved in international trade, in part because otherwise, countries like China will write the rules to their own advantage. The administration’s immediate negotiating objective is a round of talks involving 12 countries in Asia, North America and South America.

Organized labor and other opponents of international trade deals say they cost thousands of American workers their jobs by shifting employment to foreign countries with low wages, poor working conditions and lax environmental standards.

Officials in Congress said Boehner and McConnell hope to have both the trade and the aid legislation to the president by the time lawmakers begin a scheduled vacation at the end of next week.

Obama has not spoken in public in the past two days about the attempt to resurrect his trade bills, nor have White House officials disclosed many details of his role in putting together the rescue attempt. McConnell and Boehner both said on Tuesday that they had spoken with the president on the phone, but they offered little by way of details.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters at the White House on Wednesday that “The only legislative strategy that the president can support is one that will result in both pieces of legislation arriving at his desk.”

Earnest also predicted that all of the 28 pro-trade House Democrats would be willing to follow the rescue strategy, as long as the aid package makes it to the White House after it is separated from the trade measure.

One of the lawmakers, Rep. Gerald Connolly of Virginia, concurred.

“My sense is that there aren’t going to be a lot of cracks in the 28 who voted yes last time,” he said.

Some congressional Democrats said they wanted the president to sign both bills at the same time.

Earnest didn’t pledge that, saying, “There’s also this fundamental question … about whether or not they have to arrive at the same time, on the same day, as part of the same legislative vehicle or separately, that’s exactly what’s being discussed on Capitol Hill.”

___

AP reporter Jim Kuhnhenn contributed to this story.

TIME global trade

House Will Give Trade Bill Another Shot on Thursday

Congress Convenes On Columbus Day As Government Shutdown Continues
Mark Wilson—Getty Images The U.S. Capitol in Washington in 2013.

The vote would allow Congress to approve or reject future global trade deals, but not change them

(WASHINGTON) — Congressional officials say the House will attempt as early as Thursday to revive trade legislation sought by President Barack Obama and blocked last week in a revolt by union-backed Democrats.

The officials say the vote would come on a stand-alone measure that would allow Congress to approve or reject future global trade deals, but not change them.

The Obama administration is seeking the authority as it works to wrap up a deal with 11 Pacific Rim nations.

A provision to renew a program of assistance for workers who lose their jobs because of imports would become part of a separate bill.

The officials stress that plans for a Thursday vote are not yet final.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid pre-empting any formal announcement.

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TIME global trade

White House Argues Trade Deal Just Hit ‘Snafu’

President Barack Obama President Obama departs from a meeting with House Democrats on Capitol Hill June 12, 2015 in Washington, DC.
Mark Wilson—Getty Images President Barack Obama President Obama departs from a meeting with House Democrats on Capitol Hill June 12, 2015 in Washington, DC.

The White House cast an embarrassing setback on a trade deal as little more than a “procedural snafu” Friday afternoon.

After a last-minute revolt by House Democrats, a carefully planned set of votes to give President Obama the authority to finalize the Trans-Pacific Partnership and help any American workers harmed by it failed to play out as the White House had hoped.

That left the trade deal in an uncomfortable limbo. The measure to give Obama trade authority narrowly passed with the support of Republicans, but it cannot go to the White House since Democrats withheld their support on the separate measure.

“Another procedural snafu has emerged,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters after the votes Friday afternoon.

He argued that the votes showed a “bipartisan majority in the House of Representatives” that backs Obama on the trade effort, noting that 28 Democrats voted for the trade powers.

And he said that Obama would not stop aggressively courting Democrats, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, to support the deal. The House will meet again on Monday and could make another attempt to approve both parts of the trade deal early next week.

“The President is determined, as was evident in visit to to Capitol Hill this morning, to build a bipartisan majority to make sure that we’re living up to our commitment as Democrats to fight for the middle class,” Earnest said.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., agreed with the White House’s assessment, telling reporters on Friday afternoon that the House could vote again and salvage the deal.

“We’re not done with this yet,” he said.

In a statement Friday afternoon, President Obama framed the day’s votes in a positive way, thanking a “bipartisan group of Representatives” for coming together “on behalf of America’s workers, our businesses, and our economy.”

Obama also urged the Republican-led House to pass the measure that would provide aid to American workers that Democrats scuttled in an effort to derail the entire deal. Inaction on trade adjustment authority, Obama said, would be felt by “about 100,000 workers and their communities annually if those Members of Congress don’t reconsider.”

“I urge the House of Representatives to pass TAA as soon as possible, so I can sign them both, and give our workers and businesses even more wind at their backs to do what they do best: imagine, invent, build, and sell goods Made in America to the rest of the world,” Obama said.

TIME Congress

House Democrats Help Sink Obama’s Trade Bill

US-POLITICS-TRADE-OBAMA
Mandel Ngan—AFP/Getty Images Anti-trade protestors hold banners outside of the Cannon House Office Building as US President Barack Obama arrived on Capitol Hill to lobby House Democrats on June 12, 2015 in Washington, DC.

Big defeat for President Obama

WASHINGTON (AP) — The House sidetracked a high-profile White House-backed trade bill on Friday, a humiliating defeat for President Barack Obama inflicted by Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and dozens of rank-and-file lawmakers from his own party.

The 302-126 vote came a few hours after Obama journeyed to the Capitol to deliver a last-minute personal plea to fellow Democrats to support the measure, which would allow him to negotiate global trade deals that Congress could approve or reject but not change.

“I don’t think you ever nail anything down around here. It’s always moving,” the president said as he departed — a prescient remark given Pelosi’s dramatic announcement later on the House floor.

“Slow down the fast track to get a better deal for the America people,” the California lawmaker said in a speech that drew handshakes and hugs from union-backed Democrats who have labored for months to reject Obama’s request for “fast track” authority in trade talks.

Republicans command a majority in the House, and Speaker John Boehner and the GOP leadership worked in harness with Obama to pass the legislation. But there were many defections among Republicans unwilling to expand the president’s authority and not nearly enough Democrats supporting him for the bill to prevail.

The outcome was also a triumph for organized labor, which had lobbied lawmakers furiously to oppose the measure that union officials warned would lead to the loss of thousands of American jobs.

Technically, the vote was on a portion of the legislation to renew federal aid for workers who lose their jobs through imports.

A second roll call followed on the trade negotiating powers themselves, and the House approved that measure, 219-211. But under the rules in effect, the overall legislation, previously approved by the Senate, could not advance to the White House unless both halves were agreed to. That made votes something less than a permanent rejection of the legislation.

Pelosi said the bill was “stuck in the station,” suggesting that changes could get it moving again.

Even so, it was unclear how majority Republicans and the White House would be able to gain the momentum.

“Basically the president tried to both guilt people and then impugn their integrity,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., one of the most outspoken opponents of the legislation.

Another Democrat, Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee, said Obama had told Democrats that “his whole philosophy, life, everything he’s done has been to help people. And he thinks he’s doing that with this trade agreement.”

Cohen added he remains on the fence after hearing Obama make his pitch. He noted that FedEx, a major employer in his district, supports the bill, while longtime political allies in organized labor oppose it.

Business groups generally favor the measure. But strong opposition by organized labor carries at least an implicit threat to the re-election of any Democrat who votes in the bill’s favor.

The debate and vote are certain to reverberate in next year’s presidential election as well. Most Republican contenders favor the trade bill. Among Democrats, Hillary Clinton is uncommitted, despite calls from presidential rival Vermont Sen. Bernard Sanders, an opponent of the measure, to take a position.

The president’s hastily arranged visit to Capitol Hill marked a bid to stave off a humiliating defeat at the hands of his own party.

His visit relegated much of the debate on the House floor to the status of a sideshow.

“Is America going to shape the global economy, or is it going to shape us?” said Rep. Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican who is head of the House Ways and Means Committee and a GOP pointman on an issue that scrambled the normal party alignment in divided government.

But Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., countered that the legislation heading toward a showdown vote included “no meaningful protections whatever against currency manipulation” by some of America’s trading partners, whose actions he said have “ruined millions of middle class jobs.”

Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee of California, an opponent of the legislation, said Obama’s appeal “didn’t convince me. It may have convinced other members.”

Other presidents have had the authority Obama seeks. The White House wants the legislation as it works to wrap up a round of talks with 11 Pacific Area countries.

The same measure included a renewal of assistance for workers who lose their jobs as a result of global trade. Normally, that is a Democratic priority, but in this case, Levin and other opponents of the measure mounted an effort to kill the aid package, as a way of toppling the entire bill.

The move caught the GOP off-guard. House Republicans, already in the awkward position of allying themselves with Obama, found themselves being asked by their leaders to vote for a worker retraining program that most have long opposed as wasteful. Many were reluctant to do so, leaving the fate of the entire package up in the air, and Obama facing the prospect of a brutal loss — unless he can eke out what all predict would be the narrowest of wins.

TIME global trade

Obama Takes the Case for Trade Deal to Capitol Hill

President Barack Obama waves at the crowd during the 2015 Congressional Baseball Game at the National Parks Stadium, on June 11, 2015 in Washington D.C.
Pool—Getty Images President Barack Obama waves at the crowd during the 2015 Congressional Baseball Game at the National Parks Stadium, on June 11, 2015 in Washington D.C.

President Obama met with House Democrats behind closed doors on Capitol Hill Friday as part of a last-minute push for support on a major trade deal.

The House is scheduled to vote on a measure that would strengthen Obama’s authority to complete the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the biggest free trade deal of all time and a major second-term priority for the Administration.

The bill has already passed the Senate, which means the House votes Friday are the final hurdle for Obama. Republicans in both chambers are generally supportive of the trade deal, setting up an unusual alliance with Obama in his second term.

Read More: Obama Moves Closer to Inking Pacific Trade Deal

But some House Democrats are threatening to vote against the bill, causing a last-minute headache for the White House and setting up a rare nail-biter of a vote in which neither side knows what will happen.

During Friday’s meeting, Obama told Democrats to “play it straight” on the pending trade votes. For nearly an hour, he argued that Democrats should stick to their guns on the fast-track bill and not let last-ditch opposition by some progressives derail it. Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar, who was in the room, said there was a feeling that Obama had waited until the last minute to try to sway votes. “I wish there would have been much better outreach by them,” he said.

Afterward, Obama wouldn’t tell press waiting outside the meeting room whether or not Friday’s trade votes were set.

“I don’t think you ever nail anything down around here,” he said. “It’s always moving.”

As part of his intense lobbying effort, Obama made a surprise visit to the Congressional Baseball Game Thursday evening, ironically arriving as the game was at a tense 2-2 standoff.

As he walked across the grounds at Nationals Park, the Democratic side of the stadium chanted “four more years,” while the Republican side chanted “TPA! TPA!”—a reference to the Trade Promotion Authority the bill would give Obama.

With Aisha Bhoori and Maya Rhodan/Capitol Hill

TIME Congress

See the One Pastime That Unites Republicans and Democrats

The first Congressional baseball game was played in 1909 and the annual tradition continues today — pitting Democrats and Republicans against each other in a more jovial dispute

TIME Pope Francis

Liberal Clergy Lobby Vatican Ahead of Pope’s U.S. Visit

Pope Francis arrives at the Paul VI Hall for an audience with President of Argentina Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner on June 7, 2015 in Vatican City, Vatican.
Franco Origlia—Getty Images Pope Francis arrives at the Paul VI Hall for an audience with President of Argentina Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner on June 7, 2015 in Vatican City, Vatican.

A group of liberal clergy and union leaders headed to the Vatican this week to lobby for Pope Francis to address race relations, income inequality and immigration reform, among other issues, in his upcoming trip to the United States.

During the four-day trip, the group of 14 met with representatives from a host of Catholic organizations, including two key cardinals who work on social justice issues.

Organized by the U.S. faith-based grassroots group PICO and the Service Employees International Union, the trip’s main goal was to get Pope Francis to highlight some liberal causes during his September visit.

“God cares about poor, low-wage workers. God cares about immigrants. God cares deeply about racial justice,” Bishop Dwayne Royster of the Living Water United Church of Christ in Philadelphia, one of Francis’ three major stops, told TIME. “So it’s very important that the faith community continue to lift up a moral voice and also a mirror to those in power.”

Read More: Pope Francis’ Poverty Agenda Draws President Obama

An advocate of the “Fight for 15” movement, Royster hoped to get the Pope’s attention on labor relations in his home city. When Francis arrives, Royster noted, “he will come into an airport where we support poverty wages and people are working in an oppressive environment.”

Participants on the trip also took to social media, tweeting images from the Vatican with captions such as “#TellthePope,” “BlackLivesMatter,” and “IBelieveWeWillWin.”

Overall, the people on the trip said their goal was to advocate for the marginalized.

A former undocumented immigrant from California, Father Jesus Nieto-Ruiz went on the trip to push for Pope Francis to back President Obama’s recent executive actions allowing undocumented immigrants to avoid deportation.

“The Pope and his advisors should listen to the real stories that we have picked up from people who are struggling in this society of exclusion,” he said. “People who have been here for many years, 25 or 30 years, and are now facing deportation because they don’t have documentation—they suffer in the shadows. And that’s not human.”

Read Next: Pope Francis’ Latest Mission: Stopping Nuclear Weapons

For PICO, the trip was also part of an ongoing “Year of Encounter” campaign to tie together various liberal causes, such as universal health care, a path to citizenship and police brutality, into a broader mission.

It succeeded in one respect, with Cardinal Peter Turkson from the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace inviting PICO to send a delegation in July to the Bolivian Assembly, where Pope Francis will speak during a Latin American tour.

For clergy members on the trip, the issues are both political and moral.

“The Gospel is political,” said Nieto-Ruiz. “We cannot distinguish and say, ‘Okay, the Gospel must explain theocracy,’ and then let the politicians run our lives with no principles whatsoever. Pope Francis is really incarnating for us the meaning of the Gospel. He’s inviting us to get involved in politics, even when politics is dirty.”

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