TIME Morning Must Reads

Morning Must Reads: December 12

Capitol
The early morning sun rises behind the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC. Mark Wilson—Getty Images

Gorbachev Wary of ‘New Cold War’

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev tells TIME that the U.S. is to blame for starting a “new Cold War” with Russia and that President Vladimir Putin shouldn’t back down. “I learned that you can listen to the Americans, but you cannot trust them”

Congress Avoids Shutdown

Congress narrowly averted a government shutdown on Thursday night, squeaking through a $1.1 trillion spending bill with only hours to spare

CIA Chief Defends Agency

CIA Director John Brennan defended his agency from a sharply critical Senate report into its post-9/11 detention and interrogations

How Ridley Scott’s Exodus Strays From the Bible

The Biblical story of Exodus hits the big screen on Friday with the release of Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings. Like any retelling of a classic, Scott’s blockbuster invites questions about the tale’s origin and meaning

Storm Hitting California May Be Worst in 5 Years

A storm described as perhaps the strongest to hit California in five years barreled in from the Pacific Ocean on Thursday and hammered the state with all manner of weather misery — hurricane-force winds, sheets of rain and heavy snow in the mountains

DOJ Allows Native American Tribes to Grow, Sell Marijuana

The U.S. Justice Department announced that Native American tribes would be allowed to grow and sell marijuana on their sovereign lands if they abide by the federal statutes laid out for the states that have already legalized the drug

Pope Francis Says There’s a Place for Pets in Paradise

Pope Francis confirmed during his weekly address in the Vatican’s St. Peter’s Square that canines, along with “all of God’s creatures,” can make it to heaven. “One day, we will see our animals again in the eternity of Christ,” he said

Drug-Resistant Superbugs Could Kill 10 Million By 2050

Rising rates of drug-resistant infections could lead to the death of some 10 million people and cost some $100 trillion in 2050, according to a new report which called for “coherent international action” to regulate antibiotic use in humans, animals and the environment

Shonda Rhimes Slams ‘Racist’ Leaked Sony Emails

Shonda Rhimes, the creator of Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy, took to Twitter on Thursday to condemn an email exchange between a Sony Pictures executive and an Oscar-winning producer that was leaked during the recent hack

Keira Knightley Is Expecting Her First Child

Just a day after Keira Knightley nabbed two big acting nominations, the star has more happy news: she is about three months pregnant. Knightley, 29, is expecting her first child with husband James Righton, of the Klaxons, whom she married last year

No Casualties in Ukraine Truce

A tentative truce between government forces and pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine has resulted in the first 24 hours free from deaths and injuries since a civil conflict began in February, the Ukrainian President said on Friday

NYC Cops Want More Tasers

Law-enforcement experts are skeptical that a move to get 450 more Tasers on the street will address use-of-force concerns that have buffeted the NYPD. The talk of Tasers comes amid incidents that have put city cops under scrutiny for their use of force

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TIME brazil

Brazilian Politician Tells Congresswoman She’s ‘Not Worthy’ of Sexual Assault

Brazilian Congressman Jair Bolsonaro seen in 2011 Rogério Tomaz Jr./CDHM—Flickr Creative Commons

He said it on the floor of the legislature

A Brazilian Congressman apparently told a female colleague who had allegedly called him a rapist that he wouldn’t sexually assault her but because she’s “not worthy” of it.

Representative Jair Bolsonaro reportedly made the comments on the floor of the national legislature Tuesday after lawmaker Maria do Rosário gave a speech condemning the human rights abuses of the U.S.-backed military dictatorship from 1964 to 1985, a regime Bolsonaro defends, according to a translation from the Huffington Post. “Stay here, Maria do Rosário. A few days ago you called me a rapist, in the Green Room,” he said. “And I said I wouldn’t rape you because you’re not worthy of it.” The Green Room is a private room in the capitol building.

“I was attacked as a woman, as a Congress member, as a mother,” do Rosário told the Brazilian news agency O Globo. “When I go home, I have to explain this to my daughter… I’m going to press criminal charges against him.”

[Huffington Post]

TIME intelligence

The Twitter Debate Between the CIA and the Senator Behind the Torture Report

Sen. Dianne Feinstein oversaw the compilation of the 6,700 page report — and has a license to fact-check

While CIA Director John Brennan defended his agency from a sharply critical Senate report into its post-9/11 detention and interrogations on Thursday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein took to Twitter to fact-check his assertions. Feinstein, the chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, led the compilation of the 6,700 page report.

Here are statements Brennan made during the press conference, and what Feinstein tweeted about their accuracy:

Brennan: “The cause and effect relationship between the use of EITs [enhanced interrogation techniques] and useful information subsequently provided by the detainee is, in my view, unknowable.”

Brennan: “Another key point with which we take issue is the study’s characterization of how CIA briefed the program to the Congress, the media and within the executive branch, including at the White House. The record simply does not support the study’s inference that the agency repeatedly, systematically and intentionally misled others on the effectiveness of the program.”

Brennan: “[CIA professionals] are a testament to our history and our spirit, and a consistent reminder of the women and men who make sacrifices daily so that they can help keep their fellow Americans safe and our country strong.”

Brennan: “There was information obtained subsequent to the application of EITs from detainees that was useful in the bin Laden operation.”

Brennan: “But as I think we have acknowledged over the years, we have brought those mistakes, shortcomings and excesses to the attention of the appropriate authorities, whether it be to our inspector general, to the Department of Justice and others. As you well know, the Department of Justice looked at this for many years and decided that there was no prosecutable crimes there.”

Finally, Sen. Feinstein concluded with advice to Brennan:

 

TIME Congress

Congress Narrowly Avoids Government Shutdown

Congress averted a short-term shutdown by passing a spending bill before midnight

The House squeaked through a $1.1 trillion bill Thursday night with only hours to spare before a midnight deadline that would have shut down the government.

On the House floor, the vote tally—219 to 206—was watched as closely as the scoreboard in the final minutes of a hard-fought game after the initial scheduled vote was postponed for seven hours of arm-twisting, including a plea from White House chief of staff Denis McDonough to House Democrats. Congressmen ordered Armand’s and Papa John’s pizza when it became clear they would have to stay for dinner.

“Merry Christmas,” said Ohio Republican Rep. Pat Tiberi with more than a trace of faux enthusiasm after Washington’s worst holiday tradition was over.

There was a significant chance that the bill wouldn’t have passed, forcing a short-term, months-long patch. As it became clear that the Republican-controlled House was short of the votes, Obama and Vice President Joe Biden began calling wavering House Democrats. At the same time, House GOP leaders whipped the rank-and-file members they needed.

If the two sides couldn’t cobble together a majority by midnight, the government would have temporarily run out of funding. “I don’t think there’s going to be a government shutdown,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told MSNBC as the sun set on the Capitol with no agreement in sight.

The last-minute scramble to pass a spending measure called up unpleasant memories of the past several years, when Congress has repeatedly edged right up to deadlines to pass stopgap legislation. In each case, the legislative branch managed to skirt disaster—until last fall, when the Republican Tea Party faction forced a shutdown in an effort to gut the Affordable Care Act. That 16-day shutdown damaged the GOP brand badly, and its leaders promised to sidestep a sequel.

But members of both parties found things in the omnibus bill to hate. Liberal Democrats, like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, oppose provisions that would raise the maximum donation that wealthy individuals can give to political parties, as well as another that would provide government backing to some derivative trading measures like credit-default swaps. On the right, some conservative Republicans oppose the bill because it doesn’t defund Obama’s executive actions on immigration.

As a result, Thursday’s logjam caught many in the capital by surprise. Should a shutdown occur, it would have almost surely been short-lived. But the lack of support forced Republicans leaders to delay a planned vote.

“I’m not sure we have the votes,” said Rep. Robert Pittenger, a North Carolina Republican mere hours before the vote. “I do wish that President Obama and Nancy Pelosi would read off the same page.”

The White House urged Democrats to back the bill. “Democrats should be on board,” Earnest said, arguing a short-term spending resolution would leave the party with “even less leverage.” That message was reiterated in the McDonough meeting, which took place for over an hour in the basement of a Capitol annex.

Rep. Eliot Engel of New York said Thursday afternoon that he had been urged by the White House to support the measure. “Do you throw the baby out with the bath water or don’t you?” he said. “I think that’s what we’re all grappling with.”

The Office of Management and Budget held a call with executive agencies Thursday to discuss preparations for a possible shutdown, which officials believed was unlikely. But Congress still had to pass a short-term bill to push back the government shutdown deadline two days so the Senate would have enough time to pass the bill, as expected.

 

TIME Congress

See Congressional Staffers Stage a Powerful Walkout Over Grand Jury Decisions

African-American Congressional staff and others hold their hands up during a walk-out outside the House on Capitol Hill on Dec. 11, 2014 in Washington D.C.
African-American Congressional staff and others hold their hands up during a walk-out outside the House on Capitol Hill on Dec. 11, 2014 in Washington D.C. Brendan Smialowski—AFP/Getty Images

Staffers protest the recent grand jury decisions in the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases

Dozens of congressional staffers walked out of their offices in Washington, D.C., on Thursday afternoon to gather on the steps of the Capitol in a show of protest against two recent grand jury decisions in the police-invovled deaths of unarmed black men.

The staffers posed in the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” position that has been used in demonstrations across the country in response to the death of Michael Brown, the Ferguson, Mo., teenager shot and killed in August by a white police officer, who was not indicted by a grand jury.

Senate Chaplain Dr. Barry Black also led the demonstrators in a prayer. “Forgive us when we have failed to lit our voices for those who could not speak or breathe themselves,” he said, invoking the last words “I can’t breathe” by Eric Garner before his chokehold-related death on Staten Island in July. A grand jury in New York recently declined to indict the police officer in the incident.

 

TIME Congress

Democrats Upset Over Spending Bill Keep Vote Close to the Wire

Bossy Warren
Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren in Washington D.C. in November, 2013 Alex Wong--Getty Images

The bill to keep the government open is in trouble hours from a midnight shutdown-inducing deadline.

The House passed by two votes a measure to clear a legislative hurdle, as House Republican whips twisted the arms of retiring members to change their minds.

Liberals and conservatives oppose the $1.1 trillion government-funding bill. Conservatives oppose the bill for not defunding President Barack Obama’s executive action temporarily deferring deportations for up to five million immigrants who came to the country illegally. Appropriators have tried to convince them that that strategy doesn’t make any sense, as the primary government program involved is funded primarily through fees instead of the appropriations process.

Progressives like Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi oppose it over two provisions that would greatly increase the caps donors can make to political parties and another that would provide government backing to some derivative trading, including risky credit default swaps. Both members are in a full furor; Warren has repeatedly hit the Senate floor to warn of another taxpayer bailout of huge banks in a future recession.

New York Rep. Nita Lowey, the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, took to the floor Thursday to rip the campaign finance change, charging that the provision is “excessive” and will increase by “ten-fold” the limits on contributions to political parties. She lay the blame at both Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid and Boehner.

Some House Republicans believe that Democrats are simply blowing off steam before they quietly vote for the bill TODAY and leave for the holiday. Others aren’t sure—indeed the House GOP leadership had to delay the final vote Thursday afternoon to give more time to find enough votes—but agree that the Democrats’ opposition proved an discomforting finale to a deeply unpopular 113th Congress.

“I may have been born at night but it wasn’t last night and this was an opportunity for them to put a real dagger in the side of the governing majority,” said Arkansas Republican Rep. Steve Womack. “I think the swaps issue was more of a smokescreen for a larger issue and that was more of a political issue and a statement. It almost happened. It’s kind of an embarrassing moment.”

Womack, who sits on the Appropriations Committee and on a financial services panel, said he didn’t know who inserted the provision to change the major finance reform law Dodd-Frank. The lack of knowledge about certain aspects of the 1,600 bill is widespread among Congressmen; North Carolina Republican Rep. Mark Meadows said he voted to advance the bill but was still undecided on how he would vote when push came to shove.

“We’re still reading through it,” he said.

MONEY Pensions

Congress’ No-Bailout Pension Plan Is No Solution for Retirees

The cuts to promised benefits for current retirees would roll back a landmark law protecting pensions—and opens the door to further cutbacks.

Wall Street banks, automakers and insurance giants got bailouts during the economic meltdown that started in 2008. But when it comes to the pensions of retired truck drivers, construction workers and mine workers, it seems that enough is enough.

The $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill moving through Congress this week adopts “Solutions Not Bailouts,” a plan to shore up struggling multiemployer pension funds—traditional defined benefit plans jointly funded by groups of employers in industries like construction, trucking, mining and food retailing.

A bailout, it is not. The centerpiece is a provision that would open the door to cutting current beneficiaries’ benefits, a retirement policy taboo and a potential disaster for retirees on fixed incomes.

Developed by the National Coordinating Committee for Multiemployer Plans (NCCMP), a coalition of multiemployer pension plan sponsors and some major unions, the plan addresses a looming implosion of multiemployer pension plans. Ten million workers are covered by these plans, with 1.5 million of them in roughly 200 plans that are in danger of failing over the next two decades. Two large plans are believed to be much closer to failure—the Teamsters’ Central States fund and the United Mine Workers of America fund.

The central premise is that Congress won’t—and shouldn’t—prop up the multiemployer system.

“The bottom line is, we’ve been told since the start of this process that there isn’t going to be a bailout—Congress is tired of bailouts,” says Randy DeFrehn, executive director of the National Coordinating Committee for Multiemployer Plans (NCCMP).

The problem is partly structural. Multiemployer pension plans were thought to be safer than single employer plans, owing to the pooling of risk. As a result, the level of Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) insurance protection behind the multiemployer plans is lower. But many industries in the system have seen declining employment and have a growing proportion of retirees to workers paying into the pension funds. And many of the pension funds still have not fully recovered from the hits they took in the 2008-2009 market meltdown.

These problems pose a major threat to the PBGC. The agency reported recently that the deficit in its multiemployer program rose to $42.2 billion in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, up from $8.3 billion the previous year. If big plans fail, the entire multiemployer system would be at risk of collapse.

The fix moving through Congress would revise the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) to grant plan trustees broad powers to cut retired workers’ benefits if they can show that would prolong the life of the plan. That would mark a major change from current law, which calls for retirees to be paid full benefits unless plan assets are exhausted; then, the PBGC steps in to pay benefits, albeit at a much lower level. The bill also would increase PBGC premiums paid by sponsors, from $13 to $26 per year.

The legislation does prohibit benefit cuts for vested retirees over 80, and limited protections for retirees over 75—but that leaves plenty of younger retirees vulnerable to cuts. And although workers and retirees would get to vote on the changes, pension advocates worry that the interests of workers would overwhelm those of retirees. (Active workers rightly worry about the future of their plans, and many already are sacrificing through higher contributions and benefit cuts.)

The big problem here is that the plan fails to put retirees at the head of the line for protection. When changes of this type must be made, they should be phased in over a long period of time, giving workers time to adjust their plans before retirement. For example, the Social Security benefit cuts eneacted in 1983 were phased in over 20 years and didn’t start kicking in until 1990.

“It’s a cruel irony that in the year we’re celebrating the 40th anniversary year of ERISA, Congress is trying to reverse its most significant protections,” said Karen Friedman, executive vice president of the Pension Rights Center (PRC), an advocacy group that has been battling with NCCMP on some of the proposed changes to retired workers’ benefits.

Friedman’s organization, AARP and other advocates reject the idea that solvency problems 10 to 15 years away require such severe measures. They have pushed alternative approaches to the problem; one that is included in the deal, DeFrehn says, is an increase in PBGC premiums paid by sponsors, from $13 to $26 per year. Advocates also have called for other new revenue sources, such as low-interest loans to PBGC by the once-bailed-out big banks and investment firms.

There are no easy answers here. But cutting the benefits of today’s retirees should be the last solution we try—not the first.

Read next: 401(k)s Are Still a Problem, But They’re Getting Better

TIME Immigration

Activist Hailed as Face of Immigration Action Makes Her Case Before Congress

Astrid Silva Immigration Activist
Immigration activist Astrid Silva (in red) stands next to her mother, Barbara Silva, as she speaks about immigration reform at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Dec. 10, 2014. Larry Downing—Reuters

Astrid Silva joined a panel of witnesses at a hearing on Obama's immigration action plan Wednesday

Just three weeks ago, Astrid Silva didn’t know if this holiday season would be the last one she’d get to spend with her father.

Silva, 26, immigrated to America from Mexico with her parents when she was just four years old, crossing the Rio Grande in a homemade tire raft. Though she is currently exempt from deportation under a 2010 law that defers action on illegal immigrants who arrived as children, her parents are not. Her younger brother was born in the U.S. and is therefore a citizen.

Her father has an order of deportation against him and though his immigration has been stayed since 2011, he’s up again in January. This time around, Silva says, he’s much less worried. In fact, after President Obama’s announcement that he would be providing temporary relief from deportation to 5 million people, she and her family began to experience another emotion: hope.

“He’s going to be worried until there’s a law, but he’s very—he’s relieved,” Silva told TIME Wednesday. “He doesn’t have to wake up and think ‘Immigration is going to be there when I go out for work.’”

But on Wednesday, frustration was the emotion she hoped would come across as she appeared in Washington, before a Congressional committee. Wearing a bright red blazer, adorned with a button depicting a close family friend and “dream warrior” Tomasa Macias, Silva passionately defended the President’s action on immigration reform in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“When people attack the President for this action or challenge his legal authority—the same authority that Republican and Democratic presidents have taken before him, they are attacking me,” Silva said during her prepared remarks. “They are attacking the hundreds of thousands of children who need their parents to care for them and tell them that there are no monsters under the bed.”

Like many undocumented immigrants across the U.S., Silva watched the President’s Nov. 20 announcement with her family by her side. But Silva’s experience was a bit different. During the speech, the President gave Silva a shout-out, sharing her story as an undocumented immigrant who went on to college and become an activist in her community with the nation. She was hailed as the “face of Obama’s immigration action” in the Las Vegas Sun on Wednesday, but to Silva, she’s just one of many.

“I may be a face but there’s millions just like us,” Silva told TIME. “Just like me.”

And it was their stories, Silva said, that she hoped to share with the Senators on the committee.

“I’m 26 and I’m afraid that my parents will be deported,” Silva said. “I can’t imagine the six year old, seven year old living in that fear.”

TIME Morning Must Reads

Morning Must Reads: December 11

Capitol
The early morning sun rises behind the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC. Mark Wilson—Getty Images

Here’s the New Way Colleges Are Predicting Student Grades

U.S. schools are combing through years of data covering millions of grades earned by thousands of former students to gauge the probability that a student will finish school, and prop up those who might not by sending academic advisers or deans to intervene

Congress Hands a Mixed Bag to Marijuana Movement

The year-end spending bill gives momentum to the marijuana legalization movement, plus a painful setback

Why Uber’s Rape Scandal Is More Than a ‘Growing Pain’

Uber’s breakneck growth isn’t an excuse for the controversial rideshare and taxi service’s problems, TIME’s Jack Linshi writes

White House Salutes TIME’s Person of the Year

W.H. Press Secretary Josh Earnest congratulated Ebola responders Wednesday for being named TIME’s Person of the Year. “The President could not be prouder of the brave men and women who’ve committed themselves to this effort in a foreign land,” Earnest said

Hong Kong’s Main Democracy Protest Camp Falls

Authorities began clearing Hong Kong’s largest protest camp on Thursday, putting an end to a street occupation that has been a flashpoint for a bitter confrontation between pro-democracy protesters and city authorities, as well as the central government in Beijing

Dick Cheney Says Senate Torture Report Is ‘Full of Crap’

Former Vice President Dick Cheney called the recently released report on the CIA’s use of torture after 9/11 a “terrible piece of work,” in an interview that aired on Wednesday, “We did exactly what needed to be done,” Cheney said

Ebola Rages on in Sierra Leone With Over 1,000 New Cases

Sierra Leone has reported 1,319 new cases of Ebola virus infections in the last 21 days, according to WHO. The country has surpassed Liberia, which has experienced a steady decrease in cases over the last four weeks

NFL Owners Approve Revamped Personal Conduct Policy

Owners voted to approve a revamped personal conduct policy after scrutiny for the league’s handling of the Ray Rice domestic violence scandal. Commissioner Roger Goodell had acknowledged that under the previous policy, “our penalties didn’t fit the crimes”

U.S. Support of Guns Is Up After 2012 School Shooting

Americans’ opinions on gun rights have shifted further into the “pro” column since the deadly shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, which is approaching its second anniversary this month, according to new data from the Pew Research Center

eBay Is Said to Mull Big Layoffs Ahead of PayPal Split

The online marketplace is reportedly considering a plan to lay off as much as 10% of its workforce in anticipation of its planned split with online payment processing service PayPal by mid-2015, according to a new report citing company insiders

Survey: Most Millionaires Want Hillary Clinton for President

Hillary Clinton polled the most votes in a new survey that asked 500 U.S. millionaires whom they would choose for President. She came in a comfortable front-runner at 31%. Second was Jeb Bush with 18%, and the remaining votes were split between seven other politicians

Bill Cosby Accuser Files Defamation Lawsuit

A retired California attorney who says the comedian and actor drugged and groped her more than four decades ago filed a defamation lawsuit on Wednesday, claiming he “impugned” her reputation and exposed her to “public contempt, ridicule, aversion or disgrace”

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TIME Congress

Congress Hands A Mixed Bag to Marijuana Movement

Charlotte's Web harvest at the Stanley Brother's farm in Wray, Colorado for Pot Kids story.
Industrial grade hemp grows on the Stanley Brother's farm near Wray, Colo., Sept. 22, 2014. Matt Nager for TIME

The year-end spending bill gives momentum to the marijuana movement, plus a painful setback

For the marijuana legalization movement, 2014 ends the way it began: with legal changes that showcase the movement’s momentum alongside its problems.

Tucked into the 1,603-page year-end spending bill Congress released Tuesday night were a pair of provisions that affect proponents of cannabis reform. Together they form a metaphor for the politics of legal pot—an issue that made major bipartisan strides this year, but whose progress is hampered by a tangle of local, state and federal statutes that have sown confusion and produced contradictory justice.

First the good news for reformers: the proposed budget would prohibit law enforcement officials from using federal funds to prosecute patients or legal dispensaries in the 32 states, plus the District of Columbia, that passed some form of medical-marijuana legalization. The provision was crafted by a bipartisan group of representatives and passed the Republican-controlled House in May for the first time in seven tries. If passed into law, it would mark a milestone for the movement, restricting raids against dispensaries and inoculating patients from being punished for an activity that is legal where they live but in violation of federal law.

“The enactment of this legislation will mark the first time in decades that the federal government has curtailed its oppressive prohibition of marijuana, and has instead taken an approach to respect the many states that have permitted the use of medical marijuana to some degree,” Rep. Dana Rohrabacher said in a statement to TIME. The California Republican’s work on the issue reflects the strange coalition that has sprung up to support cannabis reform as the GOP’s libertarian wing gains steam and voters’ views evolve.

At the same time, the House chose to overrule Washington, D.C., on the issue. Last month voters in the District chose to liberalize its marijuana laws, passing an initiative that legalized the possession, consumption and cultivation of recreational marijuana. The move, which was supported by about 70% of the capital’s voters, paved the way for D.C. to follow in the footsteps of Colorado and Washington State by establishing a tax-and-regulatory structure for pot sales in 2015.

Now those plans have gone up in smoke. The omnibus bill contains a measure that would block D.C. from using funds to enact legalization. Congress has the power to scuttle the District’s plans because it controls the capital’s budget. D.C. politicians blasted the move, while many in Congress lamented the agreement. But there appears to be little that members can do to stop it.

Trampling on the district’s sovereignty was especially galling, says Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and a D.C. resident, when it happens at the same time that lawmakers uphold states’ rights elsewhere. “Republicans see D.C. as so rock-solid Democratic,” St. Pierre says, “that they won’t give it the autonomy they are otherwise willing to grant states.”

The spending bill caps a year in which pot moved to the forefront of the political debate in ways that longtime advocates never thought possible. A majority of Americans now support full marijuana legalization. In January, Colorado became the first state to establish a legal recreational pot market, following by Washington last summer. Both debuts had successes, yet both states were beguiled in their own ways by lingering federal challenges. In Colorado, legal million-dollar businesses still must conduct their business largely in cash, because federal law that classifies cannabis as a Schedule I drug blocks legal merchants from the banking system. In Washington State, the new weed shops comprise just a small slice of the marijuana economy, a thin legal layer piled atop the entrenched medical market and an illicit black market that continues to thrive because of better prices.

But Washington struggles also underscore why the medical-marijuana measure in the Congressional spending bill is important. Medical patients in the Evergreen State have been at the whims of overzealous U.S. attorneys or members of the Drug Enforcement Agency, who had discretion to ignore the Obama Administration’s admonition to let the local experiments play out.

That left medical-marijuana patients like Larry Harvey, a septuagenarian retiree, trapped by a legal paradox. Harvey and his wife Rhonda were legal medical-pot patients who cultivated cannabis at their home in the mountains above Kettle Falls, Wash., until they were arrested on federal drug charges. They are currently awaiting trial. Larry Harvey, who has long suffered from gout and was recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, has been unable to use marijuana to ease the pain. Now, says Kari Boiter, a medical-marijuana advocate at Americans for Safe Access who has worked closely with the Harveys, the family’s attorneys can argue that the government has no standing to pursue the case.

Overall, the spending bill is “more mixed signals from Washington, D.C.,” Boiter says. “But for medical marijuana patients, it is a real clear blow to the Department of Justice prohibition that has been crushing them. It feels like we’ve been vindicated.”

Update, 12/12: The original version of this story noted the bill contains a measure that would block D.C. from using federal funds to enact cannabis legislation. It also blocks the use of local funds.

Read next: Colorado Approves Credit Union for Pot Store

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