TIME Congress

Gillibrand’s Harasser Revealed as Late Hawaii Senator

Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, is interviewed in his U.S. Capitol office on July 26, 2012.
Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, is interviewed in his U.S. Capitol office on July 26, 2012. Chris Maddaloni—CQ-Roll Call

Report indicates it was Daniel Inouye

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) made waves in her recent book when she revealed that one of her “favorite” older U.S. senators once told her not to “lose too much weight now” after having her second child because “I like my girls chubby.”

Gillibrand told TIME two weeks ago that she wouldn’t name which senator had said this to her. “It’s less important who they are than what they said,” she said, adding she that hoped relaying the story would make women feel more comfortable when similar things happened to them. But The New York Times, citing unnamed sources, reports that that the Senator in question was the late Daniel Inouye, the legendary Hawaii Democrat and World War II veteran who passed away in 2012. The Times also points out that Inouye had a dark chapter in his history: In 1992 his hairdresser accused him of forcing her to have sex with him.

Gillibrand’s office declined to comment on the report.

TIME Congress

Congress Votes to Arm Syrian Rebels

Mideast Syria
A photo provided by the antigovernment activist group Aleppo Media Center shows a Free Syrian Army fighter aiming his weapon during a battle with Islamic State militants in Aleppo, Syria, on Aug. 17, 2014 AP

The bill also funds the U.S. government through November;

The Senate voted late Thursday to approve a measure authorizing the Obama Administration to arm Syrian rebels in a vote that united many of the chamber’s liberals and conservatives.

The 78-22 vote followed on a 319-108 vote in favor of the measure Wednesday in the House of Representatives, sending the bill, which also funds the U.S. government through November, to President Barack Obama for signature. The vote clears the way for the U.S. to directly arm and train “moderate” rebels in the fight against both Syrian President Bashar Assad and the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).

Obama thanked lawmakers for swiftly approving the measure, after requesting the authorization in a speech to the American people last week as part of the Administration’s broad strategy to combat ISIS. “I am pleased that Congress, a majority of Democrats and a majority of Republicans in both the House and Senate have voted to support a key element of our strategy,” Obama said from the White House.

Obama said the congressional votes proved to the world that “when you threaten the United States and when you threaten our allies, it unites us, it doesn’t divide us.”

U.S. air strikes continued to target ISIS forces Thursday in Iraq, destroying an ISIS armed vehicle, two ISIS-occupied buildings and a large ISIS ground unit near Mosul and an ISIS ammunition stockpile southeast of Baghdad, U.S. Central Command announced. The President, who was briefed by Pentagon planners on potential ISIS targets for U.S. strikes in Syria on Wednesday, did not indicate when he would give the order for those efforts to commence.

“Today our strikes against these terrorists continue,” Obama said. “We’re taking out their terrorists, we’re destroying their vehicles, their equipment and their stockpiles.”

The bipartisan nature of the vote belies the divide in Washington over Obama’s strategy. Many of the most ambitious Senate lawmakers, including Republican Senators Rand Paul and Ted Cruz and Democratic Senators Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand and Bernie Sanders voted against the measure, which was the subject of spirited debate on the Senate floor Thursday. Senator Marco Rubio was the only likely 2016 presidential contender to vote in favor of the bill.

TIME Congress

Rand Paul Calls Kerry ‘Intellectually Dishonest’ on Arming Syrian Rebels

"We will be sending arms into chaos”

Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) blasted Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday as “intellectually dishonest” about the Obama Administration’s claim that it doesn’t need new congressional authority to arm Syrian rebels.

“You are intellectually dishonest if you argue that something passed in 2001 to [deal] with the people who attacked us in 9/11 has anything to do with sending arms into Syria,” Paul said during an afternoon speech on the Senate floor. “It’s intellectually dishonest and to say otherwise you are an intellectually dishonest person.”

Kerry told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday that the Administration would act under congressional authority passed in 2001 to fight al-Qaeda and its affiliates as it arms more moderate Syrian rebels for the battle against the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).

“The rebels have been all over the map,” Paul said. “There’s said to be 1500 different groups. It is chaos over there. We will be sending arms into chaos.”

Paul said the Senate should vote on a separate measure to expand military action in Syria instead of including it in the short-term government funding bill that the House passed Wednesday.

The issue of whether or not to train and equip the Syrian rebels opposed to ISIS has divided potential 2016 presidential candidates. While Paul and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) oppose the measure, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) supports it.

TIME Congress

Ukraine President Asks Joint Meeting of Congress for Lethal Weapons

Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko acknowledges applause after addressing a joint meeting of Congress in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Sept. 18, 2014.
Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko acknowledges applause after addressing a joint meeting of Congress in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Sept. 18, 2014. Kevin Lamarque—Reuters

“One cannot win the war with blankets,” says the Ukrainian president

Correction appended, September 18

Petro Poroshenko, the president of Ukraine, asked a joint meeting of Congress Thursday for military weapons in the fight against East Ukrainian separatists.

“One cannot win the war with blankets,” said Poroshenko to hearty applause. He added that both lethal and nonlethal aid is “urgently needed.”

The United States has provided about $60 million in nonlethal aid so far.

Poroshenko, who entered the House chamber to a three and a half minute standing ovation, astutely pulled at the heartstrings of Congress, tying Ukraine’s fate to American assistance in the fight, the “forefront of the global fight for democracy.” He also said that the country, like Israel, had the right to defend its territory and that the annexation of Crimea—”one of the most cynical acts of treachery in modern history”—wouldn’t be tolerated.

In a speech that lasted over 40 minutes, Poroshenko said the struggle “is not only Ukraine’s war.” He pushed for further sanctions against Russia to “help distinguish between good and evil,” a fund that would aid U.S.-Ukraine economic activity and a special U.S. security status for Ukraine.

“The war that these men are fighting today is not only Ukraine’s war,” Poroshenko said. “It is Europe’s, and it is America’s war too. It is the war for the free world.”

Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly reported that Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko gave his remarks to a joint session of Congress. It was a joint meeting.

TIME Congress

House Passes Bill to Train and Equip Syrian Rebels

Mideast Syria
A photo provided by the antigovernment activist group Aleppo Media Center shows a Free Syrian Army fighter aiming his weapon during a battle with Islamic State militants in Aleppo, Syria, on Aug. 17, 2014 AP

The bill passed despite wariness from lawmakers in both parties about President Barack Obama's strategy against ISIS

Correction appended, Sept. 18

The House passed legislation Wednesday to authorize the training and equipping of Syrian rebels, approving a key part of President Barack Obama’s strategy for fighting Islamist militants in the region.

The legislation, which also funds the government through mid-December, passed 319 to 108. But the amendment to arm the rebels passed 273 to 156, with more than 70 members from each party voting against it—signaling the bipartisan wariness of many in Congress to engage in another Middle East conflict.

“I don’t think it was the best choice but it was a step in the right direction,” said Representative Tony Cárdenas, Democrat of California. “It’s my understanding that we’ll get an opportunity to deliberate and then eventually vote on what we’re going to do in December … It was the first time I can remember that I was actually sitting there [on the House floor] wondering how I’m going to vote until I actually voted. And I voted yes.”

Lawmakers who opposed the amendment said the President’s strategy to arm so-called moderate Syrian rebels is misguided. The Obama Administration is hoping these fighters can help beat back the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).

“I’ve never been satisfied that we’re not going to end up fighting people that we’ve armed at some point in the future,” Representative Mick Mulvaney, Republican of South Carolina, said. “No one ever defined victory to me that made any sense whatsoever.”

The amendment even lost the support of Representative Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland, a top Democratic leader.

“I support the President’s overall strategy; I support what he’s doing in providing air support for the Iraqi forces and the Kurdish rebels,” Van Hollen said. “I have misgivings about this piece because the priority of the so-called Syrian rebels is to defeat [Syrian strongman Bashar] Assad. And I understand that, but it’s hard at this point to see how defeating Assad strengthens the mission against ISIS.”

The Senate is expected to pass the legislation later this week.

Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly reported the vote tally for legislation to fund the government. It passed 319 to 108.

TIME Congress

Kerry Seeks to Assure Lawmakers About ISIS Strategy

US Secretary of State John Kerry testifies about US policy towards Iraq and Syria and the threat posed by the Islamic State Group (IS) during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington on Sept. 17, 2014.
US Secretary of State John Kerry testifies about US policy towards Iraq and Syria and the threat posed by the Islamic State Group (IS) during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington on Sept. 17, 2014. Saul Loeb—AFP/Getty Images

The Secretary of State returns from an overseas trip to drum up support in Congress for the fight against ISIS

Secretary of State John Kerry tried to assure lawmakers Wednesday that the U.S. would not be alone in the fight against Islamist militants in Iraq and Syria, as Congress looks to pass legislation this week to equip and train the “moderate” Syrian rebels.

“This cannot be simply a campaign by the West against the East,” said Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee before which Kerry testified. Kerry responded that Menendez was “absolutely correct.”

“When we say ‘a global coalition’ we mean it,” said Kerry, who recently returned from a trip to the Middle East to rally about 40 countries for the fight against the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS). While there’s currently “no discussion” about countries sending in ground troops, Kerry said some have committed to air strikes. U.S. Central Command announced Wednesday that it has conducted a total of 174 airstrikes across Iraq.

Kerry said military action would end “when we have ended the capability of [ISIS] to engage in broad-based terrorist activity.” The ultimate goals of the fight include a “political settlement” in both Syria and Iraq to end terrorist safe havens there, he added. Kerry said that the U.S. strategy will be a “multiyear effort.”

The top two leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Menendez and ranking Republican Bob Corker of Tennessee, cautioned the Obama Administration against engaging in such a long military conflict in Syria without new, explicit congressional authority.

“As I have said many times, temporary and targeted air strikes in Iraq and Syria fall under the President’s powers as commander in chief, but if the military campaign lasts for an extended period of time, Congress will need to approve an [ISIS]-specific Authorization for the Use of Military Force,” Menendez said.

Kerry reiterated the Administration’s position that it would act under the 2001 AUMF against al-Qaeda and associated forces, enacted after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. He said that when ISIS separated from al-Qaeda a year ago in a “publicity stunt,” the organization did not change its targets and thus was still under the force of the previous congressional authority. Kerry added that he would welcome congressional action, but that President Barack Obama would act if the legislative branch did not.

Corker ripped Kerry’s response.

“To say that you’re going to do this, regardless of what we say—you’re not going to ask for a buy-in from the United States Senate or the House of Representatives on behalf of the American people—in a conflict that you say is going to be multiyear… taking us into another country with a different enemy, it’s exercising the worse judgment possible,” Corker said.

TIME Congress

Congressional Hearing into Benghazi Attack Avoids Political Circus

Trey Gowdy, Elijah Cummings Benghazi
Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., chairman of the House Select Committee on Benghazi, and Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, the ranking member, arrive as the panel holds its first public hearing to investigate the 2012 attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept. 17, 2014. J. Scott Applewhite—AP

Special panel debates security reforms following 2012 attack

The first hearing of a special congressional committee investigating the 2012 attack on an American consulate in Libya could have dissolved into partisan bickering, finger pointing and cut microphones on Wednesday. But it did not.

Instead the committee, led by Reps. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) and Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), focused on how the State Department can better protect U.S. diplomats as it implements recommendations from an independent review board. The 2012 attack in Benghazi killed four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens, and has long been political fodder for conservative criticism of the Obama Administration’s foreign policy record.

In the hearing, the State Department touted that it has taken each of the 29 recommendations from the review board, and 38 of 40 recommendations provided by another panel.

“There is no doubt in my mind that we are going to implement every one of these recommendations,” said Greg Starr, the State Department’s Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security. Starr said the State Department has instituted new measures to better evaluate the security threats at the top 30 high-risk posts by creating a more efficient internal chain of command.

Some lawmakers focused their remarks on one of the recommendations that won’t be implemented—the creation of an undersecretary for diplomatic security—even though a similar recommendation had been approved but not carried out by the agency after an embassy attack in East Africa in 1998.

“It’s recommendation No. 1,” said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio). “What’s it going to take to put in place the practices that save American lives?”

But the committee did not devolve into a political circus. Outside opposition efforts, including a liberal website designed to counter attacks lobbied against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, were largely silent. Cummings expressed hope that the committee could continue to work in such a manner.

“Too often over the past two years, the congressional investigation into what happened in Benghazi has devolved into unseemly partisanship,” Cummings said. “Today, we have an opportunity to focus on reform. How can we learn from the past to make things better in the future? This kind of oversight can be productive, it can be critical, and it can sometimes even be tedious, but it can also save people’s lives. I sincerely hope the Select Committee will stay on the course of constructive reform and keep this goal as our North Star.”

TIME 2016 Election

Elizabeth Warren and Suze Orman Call for Student Debt Reform

Democratic Senators Discuss College Affordability
U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) (2nd L) speaks as Senate Majority Whip Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) (L), and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) (R) listen during a news conference June 5, 2014 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Alex Wong—Getty Images

Warren didn't touch the question of whether she would run in 2016

Correction appended Sept. 17 at 2:40 p.m.

Senator Elizabeth Warren and personal finance expert Suze Orman teamed up Wednesday morning for a spirited, hour-long discussion about student loans, for-profit colleges and the staggering debt crisis facing tens of millions of Americans today.

The two women, who first met at a 2009 TIME 100 event, clearly saw eye-to-eye on nearly every issue, surprising absolutely no one, anywhere. They often echoed one another in their condemnation of “the biggest banks,” “the crooks” selling exploitative student loans, and corporate control over the lawmaking process.

“Washington works for those who have money and power, for those who can hire armies of lobbyists and lawyers,” Warren said.

“Private banks are financially raping—and I use that word truthfully—raping our children,” Orman said. “It’s ludicrous.”

The question of whether Warren will run for president in 2016 was defused right off the bat, when Orman jokingly announced her own candidacy. Warren remained silent on the issue throughout the panel discussion, hosted by Politico and Starbucks in downtown Washington, D.C., choosing instead to draw attention to her student loan reform bill, which was blocked by a Republican filibuster in June.

The bill would require the federal government and private banks to allow the roughly 25 million Americans, each of whom carry an average of $30,000 in student debt, to refinance their student loans at today’s lower interest rates. It would also cap undergraduate loans at interest rates below 4%. The current interest rate for federal Stafford student loans is as high as 8%; private loan rates often top 14%.

Warren and Orman argued that since Americans collectively carry more than $1.2 trillion in student debt alone—a sum that doesn’t take into account mortgages or other personal debt—they cannot buy houses or cars or make other purchases that would stimulate the economy. Senate Republicans blocked another effort to bring the bill to vote on Tuesday. Warren promised Wednesday to “keep hitting at” it this term.

Both Warren and Orman pointed out repeatedly that student loans, unlike any other type of loan, cannot be forgiven under any circumstances, including bankruptcy or death. Those carrying student debt through retirement “will have their social security garnished,” Orman said, as an appalled Warren echoed her: “Your social security check gets garnished!” Americans who die with student loans often pass on that debt to surviving family members.

One of the challenges in passing the student loan reform bill, Warren said, is that the U.S. government mades $66 billion between 2007 and 2012 off of the interest from federally-backed student loans. Her bill would reduce that profit substantially, but proposes making up the difference through a stipulation in the tax code requiring that those making more than a million dollars per year pay taxes at the same rate middle class families pay, she said.

Toward the end of the discussion, the moderators, Politico’s Mike Allen and Maggie Haberman, changed the topic to the upcoming 2014 and 2016 elections. Orman said that while she would vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016, she would much prefer to vote for Warren, who she described as her “political voice.” Warren smiled but didn’t respond.

Allen later asked Warren who her favorite Republican is, to which Warren quickly answered, much to the delight of the crowd, “Living or dead?” When Allen pressed her to come up with her favorite living Republican, Warren suggested Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who voted to advance debate of the student loan reform bill and is working on housing finance reform.

Allen later asked Warren what her reaction would be if Republicans win the majority in the Senate in November, and Mitch McConnell, who is facing a tight race in Kentucky, succeeds and rises to Senate majority leader. “I’ll be blunt,” Warren said. “I hope that he doesn’t come back.”

In one of the final questions, Haberman asked Warren which Republican she would like to see run in 2016. Warren just laughed. “No,” she said. “No.”

Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly said that Sen. Bob Corker voted for the loan reform bill. He voted to advance debate of the bill.

TIME Congress

Senator Seeks to Cancel NFL Tax-Exempt Status Because of Redskins Name

Cleveland Browns v Washington Redskins
A Washington Redskins helmet sits on the grass during a preseason football game between the Redskins and Cleveland Browns at FedExField on August 18, 2014 in Landover, Maryland. TJ Root—Getty Images

Sen. Maria Cantwell announced the upcoming legislation at a press conference hosted by the Change the Mascot campaign

Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) said Tuesday that she would soon be introducing legislation to end to the NFL’s tax-exempt status because of its refusal to pressure the Washington Redskins to change the team name.

“The NFL needs join the rest of America in the 21st century. We can no longer tolerate this attitude towards Native Americans,” Cantwell, a member and former chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, said Tuesday. “This is not about team tradition; it is about right and wrong.”

Cantwell joined tribal leaders and lawmakers at a press conference on Capitol Hill hosted by the Change the Mascot campaign. It’s been a year since the Oneida Indian Nation launched the Change the Mascot ad campaign against the Washington Redskins. On Tuesday, the campaign announced they would continue pressing the NFL to get urge Redskins owner Dan Snyder to reconsider the Washington team’s mascot and call on other team owners to join the effort to get the name changed.

In an open letter being sent to every NFL team owner, the Change the Mascot campaign says “the league is promoting this racial slur with the resources of every team, including yours, which makes it a league-wide crisis.” The letter continues, “If owners like you finally stand on the right side of history and publicly demand action, the NFL can and will change the team’s name.”

The coalition calling for a name change has grown over the past year, with lawmakers including President Obama speaking out against the Washington team’s name. Broadcasters and publications have agreed to not use the term. And earlier this summer a federal agency canceled the team’s trademark because of its use of a racial slur, though the Redskins organization has appealed that decision.

Through it all, however, Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder has said repeatedly he will not change the team’s name or mascot. “I respect the opinions of those who disagree. I want them to know that I do hear them, and I will continue to listen and learn. But we cannot ignore our 81 year history, or the strong feelings of most of our fans as well as Native Americans throughout the country,” Dan Snyder wrote in a letter to fans last October.

TIME Congress

Top Lawmakers Confident Bill To Train and Equip Syrian Rebels Will Pass

Senate Lawmakers Address The Media After Their Weekly Policy Meetings
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) answers questions following the weekly Democratic policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol September 16, 2014 in Washington, D.C. Win McNamee—Getty Images

President Obama looks to receive congressional support to equip and train Syrian rebels

Top congressional leaders indicated Tuesday that the short-term spending bill to keep the government open, combat the West African Ebola virus and train and equip Syrian fighters opposed to Islamist militants in Syria and Iraq will pass this week.

“When that bill passes [the House] and comes over here, I’m confident that it will pass on a bipartisan vote,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in a press conference Tuesday. “I’m glad that we’ll fund the government and give the President the tools he needs to combat ISIS,” he added, referring to the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS). Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that he would support the bill, which is expected to pass with the support of Democratic and Republican House leaders Wednesday.

The mood for U.S. intervention in Syria has changed significantly from a year ago, when President Barack Obama first sought congressional approval for airstrikes against the Bashar Assad regime, and even three months ago, when he sought $500 million to aid the Syrian opposition. Many congressmen now feel compelled to act after ISIS has gained control of more territory in Iraq and Syria and broadcast the beheadings of two Western journalists and an aid worker over the past several weeks.

“I think most members agree that what’s happened with the beheadings of now these three innocent citizens . . . and the narrative and threats associated with that, is a direct attack on the United States of America and our interests and our citizens here and abroad,” said Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.). “I think there is a strong sense in the Congress to respond to that and to respond strongly . . . And that’s what’s different than the vote we were about to have on Syria last time, which was in response to horrific, immoral acts, but drawing the connection between it being a direct threat on U.S. citizens was harder for the Congress to draw. I don’t think that connection is hard here.”

Despite their leaders’ position, some Tea Party Republicans and dovish Democrats have expressed opposition to the bill over concerns that Syrian rebel groups have not been properly vetted.

“I have concerns on every level on this thing, not the least of which is who this army is and how do you sort them out,” said Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), who has not yet decided on how he will vote on the amendment to train and equip the rebels. “When you have some experience in this part of the world, you get very wary about what you really know.”

 

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