TIME Congress

Boehner Explains Why He Wants to Sue Obama

John Boehner
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio speaking on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 24, 2014. J. Scott Applewhite—AP

The president has "circumvented the American people," House Speaker says

House Speaker John Boehner says President Obama has “not faithfully executed the laws” of the Constitution “when it comes to a range of issues, including his health care law, energy regulations, foreign policy and education” in a defense of the lawsuit he plans to bring against the president.

The Ohio Republican, writing in a CNN editorial, says Obama has “circumvented the American people and their elected representatives through executive action, changing and creating his own laws, and excusing himself from enforcing statutes he is sworn to uphold — at times even boasting about his willingness to do it.”

Boehner announced his plans for the lawsuit in June. This month he will introduce a bill to the House that would grant the House General Counsel and the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group the authority to sue the president.

Obama has previously called the lawsuit “a stunt,” saying that he was “not going to apologize for trying to do something while [Congress is] doing nothing” during an appearance on Good Morning America.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest has said he thinks the lawsuit is “the kind of step that most Americans wouldn’t support” and that Obama’s actions have been consistent with his presidential authority, according to CBS.

“The legislative branch has an obligation to defend the rights and responsibilities of the American people, and America’s constitutional balance of powers,” Boehner writes, “before it is too late.”

[CNN]

TIME Election 2014

Congresswoman Waters Urges Blacks to Vote in This Year’s Midterms

Maxine Waters
U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) marches in the 29th annual Kingdom Day Parade on January 20, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. David McNew—Getty Images

Speaking at the 20th anniversary Essence Music Festival in New Orleans

Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters urged African Americans on Saturday to get out to the polls in November for the sake of President Barack Obama’s legacy. The representative from California also stressed the historic significance of voting in the African American community during a year when the nation is celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“Midterm elections are just as important as presidential elections,” Waters said during a speech at the Essence Music Festival. “Think about your ancestors; think about their sacrifice. Think about all of those who gave their lives. Get to the polls.”

African American voters turned out at the polls in record numbers in 2008 and 2012. In 2012, 66.2% of eligible black Americans voted, outnumbering white voters for the first time in history. And black women, who are the target audience of the Essence festival, were primarily responsible for that surge. Essence is owned by TIME parent company Time Inc.

But 2014 is a midterm year, during which non-white voters often turn out in lower rates. And without a big name like Barack Obama up for election, many Democrats worry black turnout will revert back to their typically low levels this November, hurting their chances at the polls.

Waters also said the African American community’s legislative goals are at risk of dying in Congress if Republicans gain control of the Senate on top of the House of Representatives. Fighting for issues like the Voting Rights Act, raising the minimum wage, and improving health care, Waters said, should drive African American voters to the polls.

“We’ve got a lot at stake,” Waters said. “You have got to realize you don’t just vote in a presidential election. We cannot get a bill through. We cannot get anything done as long as [Republicans] are in the majority.”

TIME Religion

Immigration Reform Has Some Dry Bones

A message for immigration reform is found in a Biblical prophecy

Immigration reform appears to be dead in this Congress. According to recent reports, Speaker Boehner told President Obama that the House would not take action on immigration legislation this year. This is a moral failure of leadership.

The resounding message from the Republican House leadership is that politics is more important than the suffering of families. In the end, the thousands of stories that evangelical Christians have brought to Republicans don’t matter to them. There is no other conclusion to be drawn.

President Obama responded with an announcement that his Administration will take executive action to attempt to fix some of the inhumane consequences of this horrible system and “try to help relieve the suffering” as faith leaders asked him to do in a meeting at the White House this week. Republicans will likely decry his efforts as “overreach” and claim he is failing to enforce the existing law. But obstructionism on the part of the Republican-controlled House, instead of addressing the moral failures of a broken system, is shameful. The fact that this President has deported a record number of people renders these protests both cynical and dishonest. If those who refused the moral opportunity to fix this broken system now oppose the President’s efforts to protect suffering families and people, many of us in the faith community will say back to them, “How dare you, and shame on you.” And many of us will be at the President’s side and have his back.

This development is deeply discouraging for the vast majority of Americans who support common sense immigration and for the leaders within the evangelical community, like myself, who have invested years urging Washington to act. While there are lessons we should learn and new strategies to formulate, it is important to recognize that we have not been defeated.

In a well-known passage in the Old Testament, the prophet Ezekiel describes a valley of dry bones. The imagery is clear: death and destruction have won. Then Ezekiel, following God’s commands, begins to prophesy. The bones start connecting, tendons forms, and skin begins to cover them again. Life is breathed back into them. Resurrection has occurred. Hope has triumphed over despair.

This is the reality for immigration reform. Reform will happen. Too many Americans support it, in all our political parties, for politicians to ignore them for much longer. There is enough agreement on the necessary changes—including reforming the visa process, addressing questions about the future flow of immigrant labor, and providing a legal way to become members of our society for the millions of hard working and law-abiding people who have made the U.S. their home—that the policy debate is largely over. It would provide a desperately needed boost to our economy and help secure our borders, goals both parties claim to share.

The question is not whether immigration reform will pass but how many more people will suffer before it does. The answer from John Boehner and the House – at least for now – seems to be that many millions will continue to suffer. That means countless more families will be broken up, parents and children will be living in the shadows of society, and the lives of so many will continue to be jeopardized every day. The thousands of children fleeing violence in Central America highlight the humanitarian crisis being perpetuated by the status quo. An orderly, smart, and humane immigration system could have helped here.

That the outcome of this legislative irresponsibility will be a set of limited actions taken by a constitutionally constrained President, and a continuation of failed policies is worthy of our deepest lament.

Some of the most powerful people in the country will spend the next days, weeks, and months laying blame in order to avoid the public holding them responsible. I hope and believe we are smart enough to see through this ridiculous veneer. The bottom line is that immigration reform failed because an extreme wing of the Republican Party held their leadership hostage out of political and racial fear—and their party leader didn’t have the moral courage to stand up to them. Few others will say that so frankly and succinctly. As a Christian I believe that truth has a liberating power. Those who have blocked immigration reform should be held accountable—and many Hispanic and Christian voters are vowing to do that.

We see the human costs of this moral failure on a daily basis. This is why the faith community will be working tirelessly to breathe life into the dry bones of immigration reform. We are not going away, and we will surround the politicians with our prayerful presence until this destructive immigration system is fixed and healed.

Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners. His book, The UnCommon Good is available in stores.

TIME Congress

Edward Snowden and the NSA Can Both Be Right

Edward Snowden NSA
US National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden speaks to European officials via videoconference during a parliamentary hearing on improving the protection of whistleblowers, at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, eastern France, on June 24, 2014. Frederick Florin—AFP/Getty Images

Two reports raise the possibility that on balance, both the NSA collection programs and Snowden’s revelations have done more to advance the public good than to harm it

The yearlong debate over the leak of National Security Agency documents by former contractor Edward Snowden has divided the world into two camps. One sees Snowden as a patriotic public servant and believes the NSA programs he revealed are unjustified threats to civil liberties. The other sees Snowden as a traitor and views the NSA programs as necessary for national security.

Two reports this week raise a third possibility: that on balance, both the NSA collection programs and Snowden’s revelations have done more to advance the public good than to harm it.

On July 1, the independent agency charged with overseeing U.S. intelligence and counterterrorism programs to ensure they don’t infringe on privacy and civil liberties found the core of the NSA’s Internet collection programs did neither. In a 196-page report, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board found both the NSA’s collection of Internet traffic from service providers, and the agency’s tapping of undersea cables, complied with the Constitution and Congress’s privacy protections for U.S. persons, and were therefore legal. It further found that the programs were valuable (two board members called them “extremely valuable”) for foreign intelligence and counterterrorism:

Presently, over a quarter of the NSA’s reports concerning international terrorism include information based in whole or in part on Section 702 collection.

On the other side of the equation, the PCLOB report comes less than a week after Adm. Michael Rogers, the head of the NSA, told the New York Times that while the damage done by Snowden was real, he did not believe “the sky is falling” as a result. Earlier in June, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told the Washington Post that “we think that a lot of what [Snowden] looked at, he couldn’t pull down,” and that “it doesn’t look like [Snowden] took as much” as first thought.

Taken together, the reports raise the possibility that the NSA programs continue to contribute to U.S. national security and that the damage done by Snowden’s leaks is offset by the public awareness of and debate about surveillance.

There are, of course, qualifiers to such a best-of-both-worlds view. For starters, the PCLOB report raised concerns about how the NSA, CIA and FBI search the data once it is collected from the Internet and recommended in some cases curtailing those searches. In January, the PCLOB found that the NSA’s telephone metadata records program was effectively illegal and should be ended. And no one can seriously look at the Snowden revelations without considering the possibility that they damaged national security. A large majority of security experts recently polled by National Journal believe the damage caused by the leaks is greater than the public value of Snowden’s revelations.

But the PCLOB said it had not seen any evidence of “bad faith or misconduct” in either the NSA’s Internet collection program or the telephone metadata program: for all the speculative fear of a dystopian future, no one has been maliciously targeted, and the programs haven’t been hijacked by a malevolent Nixonian seeking political advantage. At the same time, Snowden’s revelations have initiated a broad, bipartisan public debate over government surveillance, and he has advanced the idea that in the digital age, privacy is always in play (including the commercial collection and sale of data on virtually every household in the country, as the Federal Trade Commission recently reported).

This may all sound Panglossian, but it fits with the conclusions of the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, scourge of secrecy, who believed there were many things that “should be made secret, but then released as soon as the immediate need has passed.” Standing at the threshold of the digital age in 1997, Moynihan declared:

In one direction we can reach out and touch the time when the leaders of the Soviet Union thought that the explosion at the nuclear reactor in Chernobyl could be kept secret from the rest of the world. In the other direction we can see a time — already upon us — when fourteen-year-old hackers in Australia or Newfoundland can make their way into the most sensitive areas of national security or international finance. The central concern of government in the future will not be information, but analysis. We need government agencies staffed with argumentative people who can live with ambiguity and look upon secrecy as a sign of insecurity.

At the least, the new reports raise the possibility that neither side in the continuing debate over Snowden’s revelations has the absolute high ground when it comes to the defense of the public good.

TIME Congress

House Conservatives Are Right: Kill The Export-Import Bank

John Boehner, Kevin McCarthy, Eric Cantor, Richard Hudson
Newly installed House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., Former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C., and Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, met with reporters on February 4, 2014. J. Scott Applewhite—AP

Some corporate subsidies are good and necessary. This is not one of them.

The self-proclaimed fiscal conservatives who run the Republican Party did not object to the bloated agribusiness subsidies in this year’s $956 billion farm bill. They’ve fought for weapons systems the Pentagon doesn’t want and water projects the country doesn’t need. They’ve helped repeal sensible flood insurance reforms designed to slash subsidies for waterfront property. And now they expect us to cheer their efforts to kill the obscure Export-Import Bank, which doesn’t even cost taxpayers money?

Sure, why not? The Republicans may be hypocrites, but they’re right to take aim at the Ex-Im Bank.

The Ex-Im is, as Senator Barack Obama said during his presidential campaign, “little more than a fund for corporate welfare.” It provides cheap credit to foreign borrowers, often cash-flush behemoths like Brazil’s state-owned oil company or the emirate of Dubai, so they can buy products from U.S. exporters, often cash-flush behemoths like Boeing, Bechtel, Caterpillar or General Electric. It’s dearly beloved by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, but it’s often earned its reputation for crony capitalism. William Jefferson, the congressman memorably caught with cash in his freezer, got his dirty money in exchange for introducing corporate executives to Ex-Im officials, and the Justice Department is now investigating potential corruption inside the bank.

Former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor—like Texas Governor Rick Perry and other talk-a-good-game fiscal conservatives—supported the Ex-Im Bank, and the Obama Administration has defended it as a jobs engine. But Cantor’s stunning primary defeat to Tea Party challenger Dave Brat scrambled the politics of Ex-Im, persuading House Republican leaders to oppose the bank despite the pleadings of the Chamber and some influential corporate giants. Cantor had rolled the Tea Party and House Financial Services Chairman Jeb Hensarling on flood insurance; his successor, Kevin McCarthy, wants to reassure the Tea Party and Hensarling, a potential rival for his job, that the leadership will put conservative principles first.

There aren’t a lot of principled arguments for saving Ex-Im. Its defenders say most of its loans help small businesses, which is technically true when they define “small” as fewer than 1,500 employees. But 30% of the cash it lends goes to Boeing and over 60% goes to 10 large corporations. The bank also boasts that it doesn’t cost taxpayers money—which is true, or mostly true, depending on how you do the accounting—because only 0.3 percent of its loans default. But that’s not evidence the Ex-Im is effective. That’s evidence the Ex-Im is unnecessary. Surely the private sector can provide 99.7-percent-safe loans to massive conglomerates.

This is the problem with arguments that the Ex-Im “supports” about 200,000 jobs; most of those jobs would probably be supported without the Ex-Im. And while exports do help the economy, export subsidies distort the economy, reducing the cost of capital for well-connected companies while putting their competitors at an artificial disadvantage. Paul Krugman recently suggested on his New York Times blog that even though those distortions are inefficient, eliminating the Ex-Im’s modest economic stimulus while the recovery remains soft (and while the Fed would be unlikely to offset its stimulus by raising interest rates) would be worse. I’ve been a dedicated supporter of stimulus—I mean, dedicated—but Krugman’s argument can be used to justify any government program, no matter how absurd. It was a legitimate argument during the cataclysmic freefall of early 2009, but it packs less punch now that the economy is creating jobs at a decent pace.

The best argument for the Ex-Im’s corporate welfare is probably that other nations do it, too. That’s true. It would be nice if the Ex-Im died as part of a global trade deal that forced other countries to slash their own export subsidies and stop picking winners and losers. But since that isn’t a current option, we ought to go first and urge the rest of the world to follow. The direct benefits the Ex-Im Bank provides for Boeing do not outweigh the indirect costs it imposes on everyone else.

Those costs, it must be said, are not astronomical. We have an extremely big government, and the Ex-Im Bank, which finances only 2 percent of U.S. export deals, is an extremely small part of it. And there are times when government ought to pick winners and losers, even though it can be inefficient; for example, I’m a big supporter of federal loans and other programs designed to promote clean energy, because dirty energy is ravaging the planet.

The fate of the Ex-Im Bank, on the other hand, will not affect the fate of the planet. It probably won’t even affect the fate of Boeing, which is perfectly capable of doing deals with Arab petro-states without government-guaranteed financing. So what’s the point of keeping it around and enduring its periodic scandals? Those of us who believe that government should do a lot of important things, like defend the nation and fight climate change and ensure universal health insurance, ought to recognize that government shouldn’t try to do everything. Opposing the Ex-Im doesn’t mean agreeing with the Tea Party notion that government shouldn’t try to do anything—just that it should stop trying to do this.

TIME Obama

Obama Threatens to Go It Alone if Congress Doesn’t Help Fix Highways

Obama-Infrastructure
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks on the economy in Georgetown Waterfront Park on July 1, 2014 in Washington. Mandel Ngan—AFP/Getty Images

Obama threatens to continue acting without Congress if they don't fix the Highway Trust

President Barack Obama’s speech Tuesday was intended to call Congress to action on replenishing a fund for state and federal highway projects. Instead, it turned into a political rant against House Republicans, with Obama saying he’ll proceed without Congress’ help if need be.

The Highway Trust Fund is due to run out in 58 days, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers, putting 877,000 jobs and $28 billion in U.S. exports at risk. The fund is rapidly depleting due to declining gas tax revenues, a problem Obama wants to fix by eliminating corporate tax breaks. House Republicans, however, have balked at his plan.

“House Republicans have refused to act on this idea,” said Obama. “I haven’t heard a good reason why they haven’t acted, it’s not like they’ve been busy with other stuff.

“No, seriously. They’re not doing anything. Why don’t they do this?,” Obama added, before arguing that the U.S. spends a smaller portion of its economy on infrastructure than “just about every other advanced country.”

House Republicans, meanwhile, want to keep the highway fund rolling by ending Saturday U.S. Postal Service deliveries or enacting more stringent state online sales taxes. But in Tuesday’s speech, Obama was clearly frustrated by Congress’ inaction and with the increasing partisanship of the issue — House Republicans last month said they plan to sue Obama for what they argue has been the President’s abuse of executive actions, which allow the executive branch to take certain actions without approval from the legislature.

“It’s not crazy; it’s not socialism. It’s not the imperial presidency. No laws are broken, it’s just building roads and bridges like we’ve been doing,” the President said, adding that if House Speaker Boehner (R-OH) and his party won’t cooperate, he will continue to act independently.

“Middle class families can’t wait for a Republican Congress to do stuff,” Obama said. “So sue me. As long as they’re doing nothing, I’m not going to apologize for trying to do something.”

TIME White House

White House Chooses Congressional Fight Over Hobby Lobby Decision

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The White House denounced the Supreme Court’s decision Monday to allow for-profit companies to refuse payment for certain employee birth control insurance coverage because of religious objections. “Today’s decision jeopardizes the health of women that are employed by these companies,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.

But Earnest quickly added that President Obama, who has been touring the country promoting his ability to work around Congress, plans no immediate executive actions to remedy the situation created by the Hobby Lobby ruling. “The Supreme Court was ruling on the application of a specific law that was passed by Congress,” Earnest said. “So what we’d like is for Congress to take action to pass another law that would address this problem.”

This is a notable departure in strategy for the White House that is likely to increase the visibility of the issue in an election year, while delaying the arrival of a solution for those women who will now be denied certain contraceptive coverage. All signs Monday pointed to the fact that Democrats would rather stage a political fight over the issue than quickly resolve it for the affected women. Both the Democratic Party and the White House Twitter accounts spend much of the day rallying people to outrage on social media over the decision. “It’s time that five men on the Supreme Court stop deciding what happens to women,” tweeted Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Legal observers say it would not be difficult for the Obama Administration to resolve the situation unilaterally. The Department of Health and Human Services has already taken unilateral executive action to ensure that women employed by religious nonprofits get contraception coverage in cases where the employer declines to pay. “There was nothing in the statute that specifically allowed them to create the exemption for non-profit organizations so I don’t see why they couldn’t extend that to for-profit corporations,” said Timothy Jost, a law professor at Washington and Lee University and an expert on the Affordable Care Act’s regulations. “I don’t know why they couldn’t do it themselves.”

In fact, in a concurring opinion at the Supreme Court, Justice Anthony Kennedy recognized Obama’s unilateral powers as a rationale for allowing the for-profit companies to opt out of the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act. “In other instances the Government has allowed the same contraception coverage in issue here to be provided to employees of nonprofit religious organizations,” Kennedy wrote. “The accommodations works by requiring insurance companies to cover, without cost sharing, contraception coverage for female employees who wish it.”

But the White House has chosen to first try for a legislative fix in Congress, where the chances of success are slim at best. Republicans are mostly united in praising the Supreme Court result, all but foreclosing chances that a change in the law makes its way through the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, where most GOP lawmakers still back repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

Polls suggest that the issue could benefit Democrats in the election year. A Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted over the last month found that only 35% of the country believes that employers should be able to decide what kind of contraceptives their health plan provides for employees based on religious beliefs. By contrast, 53% of the country opposed giving employers that power.

The White House, meanwhile, is leaving open the option for unilateral executive action, but only once Congress fails. “We’ll consider whether or not there is a range of other options that may be available that don’t require legislative action,” Earnest said, declining to put a timeframe on the review.

 

TIME

Kerry: Syrian Moderate Rebels Could Help in Iraq

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia — Secretary of State John Kerry signaled on Friday that the U.S. hopes to enlist moderate Syrian opposition fighters that the Obama administration has reluctantly decided to arm and train in the battle against militant extremists in neighboring Iraq.

Obama sent Congress a $500 million request Thursday for a Pentagon-run program that would significantly expand previous covert efforts to arm rebels fighting both the Sunni extremists and forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad. The move that comes amid increased U.S. concern that the conflicts in Syria and Iraq are becoming an intertwined fight against the same Sunni extremist group.

If approved by lawmakers, the program would in effect open a second front in the fight against militants with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, that is spilling over Syria’s border and threatening to overwhelm Iraq.

“Obviously, in light of what has happened in Iraq, we have even more to talk about in terms of the moderate opposition in Syria, which has the ability to be a very important player in pushing back against ISIL’s presence and to have them not just in Syria, but also in Iraq,” Kerry said at the start of a meeting with Syrian opposition leader Ahmad al-Jarba.

Al-Jarba thanked the Obama administration for requesting the $500 million, but said his rebels want even more foreign aid to fight two fronts: a bloody insurgency and their so-far unsuccessful effort to oust Assad.

“We still need greater assistance,” al-Jarba said, speaking through a translator. “We hope for greater cooperation with the U.S.” He said General Abdullah al-Bashir, the head of the military wing of the Syrian opposition, “is ready to cooperate with the U.S. side.”

Al-Jarba called the crisis that has gripped Iraq in the last month “very grave” and blamed Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for policies that he said have divided the country. Iraq is 60 percent Shiite, and the rest nearly evenly split between minority Sunnis and Kurds. Iraqi Sunnis, who enjoyed far greater privileges during Saddam Hussein’s regime, have decried al-Maliki’s leadership and accused him of sidelining minority groups from power.

“The borders between Iraq and Syria are practically open,” al-Jarba told Kerry. ISIL seized a key border crossing between Iraq and Syria in the last week.

Kerry traveled through the Mideast over the last week to try to broker a political agreement with Iraqi leaders to give more authority to Sunnis in hopes of easing sectarian tensions and, in turn, help quell the dominantly Sunni insurgency.

Kerry also met with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, where it was expected he would seek the monarch’s help in supporting Sunni efforts to combat the Sunni insurgency. More than 90 percent of Saudi Arabians are Sunni Muslims.

Obama has long been reluctant to arm the Syrian opposition, in part because of concerns that weapons may fall into extremist hands, a risk that appears to have only heightened now that ISIL has strengthened. But Obama’s request to Congress appeared to indicate that tackling the crumbling security situation in Syria and Iraq trumped those concerns.

White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said the military assistance “marks another step toward helping the Syrian people defend themselves against regime attacks, push back against the growing number of extremists like ISIL who find safe haven in the chaos, and take their future into their own hands by enhancing security and stability at local levels.”

The Syria program is part of a broader, $65.8 billion overseas operations request that the administration sent to Capitol Hill on Thursday. The package includes $1 billion to help stabilize nations bordering Syria that are struggling with the effects of the civil war. It also formalizes a request for a previously announced $1 billion to strengthen the U.S. military presence in Central and Eastern Europe amid Russia’s threatening moves in Ukraine.

With ISIL gaining strength, U.S. officials say Assad’s forces launched airstrikes on extremist targets inside Iraq on Monday. The U.S. is also weighing targeted strikes against ISIL in Iraq, creating an odd alignment with one of Washington’s biggest foes.

Obama has ruled out sending U.S. troops back into combat in Iraq. But he has dispatched nearly 600 U.S. forces in and around Iraq to train local forces and secure the American Embassy in Baghdad and other U.S. interests.

The White House has been hinting for weeks that Obama was preparing to step up assistance to the Syrian rebels. In a commencement speech at West Point on May 28, he said that by helping those fighting for a free Syria, “we also push back against the growing number of extremists who find safe haven in the chaos.”

Officials said the administration would coordinate with Congress and regional players on the specific types of training and assistance the U.S. would provide the opposition. One potential option would be to base U.S. personnel in Jordan and conduct the training there.

The Senate Armed Services Committee already has approved a version of the sweeping defense policy bill authorizing the Defense Department to provide “equipment, supplies, training and defense services” to elements of the Syrian opposition that have been screened. The Senate could act on the bill before its August recess.

In addition to the covert train-and-equip mission, the U.S. also has provided nearly $287 million in nonlethal assistance to the moderate opposition.

The military program would be supplemented by $1 billion in assistance to Syria’s neighbors — Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq — to help them deal with an influx of refugees and the threat of extremists spilling over their borders.

TIME Congress

Obama: Boehner’s Lawsuit Is a ‘Stunt’

Barack Obama
In this Wednesday, June 25, 2014, file photo, President Barack Obama speaks at the League of Conservation Voters Capitol Dinner at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington. Jacquelyn Martin—AP

The President dismissed the Speaker’s planned legal action as a political ploy

President Barack Obama isn’t worried about a lawsuit House Speaker John Boehner plans to bring against him over his use of executive power, Obama said on Good Morning America Friday.

“I’m not going to apologize for trying to do something while they’re doing nothing,” Obama said. “The suit is a stunt.”

Boehner said Wednesday he plans to file a federal lawsuit against the President over what he calls “an effort to erode the power of the legislative branch” over the last five years. “I believe the President is not faithfully executing the laws of the country and on behalf of the institution and our constitution, standing up and fighting for this is in the best long-term interest of the Congress,” the House Speaker said.

Faced with a Republican-dominated Congress that has steadfastly thwarted much of his agenda, Obama has ramped up his use of executive actions to circumvent the House on matters like delaying implementation of parts of the Affordable Care Act, halting deportations of child immigrants and boosting the minimum wage and job protections for federal contractors.

“What I’ve told Speaker Boehner directly is: If you’re really concerned about me taking too many executive actions, why don’t you try getting something done through Congress?” the President said. “You’re going to squawk if I try to fix some parts of it administratively that are within my authority while you’re not doing anything?”

TIME Supreme Court

Supreme Court Limits Presidential Recess Appointment Powers

Barack Obama
President Barack Obama speaks about the situation in Iraq on June 19, 2014, in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington D.C. Pablo Martinez Monsivais—AP

The setback for President Obama is unlikely to stem the increasing political debate over the reach of executive power

Handing a victory to those who fear the executive branch has overreached in recent years, the Supreme Court has reined in the President’s power to appoint officers of the government when Congress is in recess. Weighing competing clauses of the constitution, the justices ruled Thursday that the President cannot circumvent the framers’ requirement that he seek the Senate’s advice and consent on executive branch appointments if Senators are only formally in recess for three days.

The ruling undermines hundreds of decisions made by the National Labor Relations Board in 2012 and for half of 2013, when the board comprised unconfirmed recess appointees. Those decisions will be revisited by the board that has since been confirmed by the Senate.

Nominally, the ruling is a win for Republicans who have made Obama’s use of presidential power a central plank of their mid-term election strategy. Sen. Orrin Hatch, the Republican former chair of the Senate Judiciary committee applauded “the Court’s willingness to stand up to President Obama’s flagrantly unconstitutional power grab,” while House Speaker John Boehner called the ruling a “victory for the Constitution, and against President Obama’s aggressive overreach.”

In fact, over the years, Republicans presidents have used recess appointments as often as Democrats. In 2013, the non-partisan Congressional Research Service found that Ronald Reagan had made 232 recess appointments, Bill Clinton had made 139, and George W. Bush had made 171. As of Jan. 2013, Obama had made 32. In that light, the ultimate effect of the Court’s ruling will be a slight shift in power to Congress from the executive branch.

Paradoxically, in recent years, Democrats have responded to Republican efforts to block Obama’s appointments by changing Senate rules to streamline the confirmation process. Last fall, Senate Majority leader Harry Reid forced through an ad hoc rule change effectively doing away with filibusters of all presidential appointments, except Supreme Court nominees—a dramatic move that curtailed the Senate minority’s ability to block presidential priorities. Reid said Thursday that thanks to that rule change, “today’s [Supreme Court] ruling will have no effect on our ability to continue ensuring that qualified nominees receive an up-or-down vote.”

By any ranking, America is one of the most free countries in the world. But particularly in recent years, as the 20th century threats of Communism, Fascism and National Socialism have faded, political discourse in the U.S. has tended toward apocalyptic predictions of democracy’s overthrow. Under George W. Bush, the left held that presidential signing statements threatened a fascist takeover of the country, while the right vigorously defended their use. Under Obama, the right sees the same presidential signing statements as an unconstitutional exercise of “king-like authority” while the left decries right-wing obstructionism.

The Supreme Court ruling Thursday on the fairly narrow issue of recess appointments is unlikely to placate either side’s concerns for long. House Speaker Boehner is set to bring an election-year law suit against the president next month in a self-described effort to “defend the Constitution and protect our system of government and our economy from continued executive abuse.”

–with reporting by Alex Rogers/Washington

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