TIME global trade

Senate Agrees to Open Debate on Obama’s Trade Agenda

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) takes questions as Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) (R), and Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) (L) look on during a news conference May 12, 2015 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.
Alex Wong—Getty Images U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) takes questions as Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) (R), and Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) (L) look on during a news conference May 12, 2015 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.

(WASHINGTON) — Senators reached a deal Wednesday to move forward on President Barack Obama’s trade agenda only one day after Democrats embarrassed him by blocking it.

Lawmakers said roughly a dozen Senate Democrats agreed to let full-blown debate begin after both parties’ leaders consented to tweak the package that failed on a procedural vote Tuesday. Those Democrats’ votes were the difference between blocking the agenda and letting it move ahead.

The breakthrough doesn’t assure Obama of receiving “fast track” negotiating authority, which would let him send to Congress trade proposals it can kill or ratify, but not amend. That’s still subject to weeks or months of Senate and House debates, amendments and votes.

But the breakthrough gave the White House a welcomed respite from the negative headlines stemming from Tuesday’s setback, which was driven entirely by Democrats.

Most Democratic lawmakers oppose free-trade agreements, saying they reduce U.S. jobs. Labor unions and liberal groups, which are vital to Democrats’ campaigns, strongly oppose fast track.

Tuesday’s impasse involved side issues including a proposal to punish countries that keep their currency artificially low to boost exports. Wednesday’s agreement calls for a stand-alone vote on “currency manipulation” sanctions, possibly as early as Thursday.

A vote on fast track would come later, possibly next week.

TIME global trade

Did Senate Democrats Just Kill Obama’s Free Trade Deal?

President Barack Obama pauses during a meeting at the White House in Washington on May 1, 2015.
Susan Walsh—AP President Barack Obama pauses during a meeting at the White House in Washington on May 1, 2015.

In his years-long effort to advance a massive new trade deal, President Obama weathered a major setback Tuesday from an unlikely source: his fellow Democrats.

While Senate Republicans largely rallied around a vote to consider the so-called fast-track trade bill, which would strengthen Obama’s authority to complete the Trans-Pacific Partnership, all but one Senate Democrat voted to block it.

The fast-track bill would limit Congress’s ability to amend future trade pacts and is widely considered a vital first step on the path to ratifying the partnership, the biggest free trade deal of all time and a legacy-defining priority for the Obama Administration.

Whether Tuesday’s setback is permanent is now the big question.

Shortly after the vote, a half-dozen liberal groups, including the AFL-CIO, Democracy For America and Greenpeace, which have vehemently opposed both fast track and the trade deal, celebrated Tuesday’s blocked vote as a major victory. “We appreciate those senators who stood with working people today against a bill that would have led to undemocratic trade deals that lower wages and eliminate jobs,” crowed AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka in a statement. “This vote sends a message loud and clear.”

But whether the vote actually forebodes the end of the fast track—and the end of the Trans-Pacific Partnership more broadly—is actually not clear at all.

Simon Rosenberg, the founder and president of the New Democrat Network and a supporter of free trade, explained the day’s drama as simply an effort by Senate Democrats, many of whom have every intention to eventually vote in favor of fast-track, to sweeten the pot a bit in the meantime. “What Democrats are saying is, if you want our votes, we need more than what we have now,” he said.

What exactly Senate Democrats hope to get out of this maneuver—and whether their power play will work—will likely be hashed out in negotiations in coming weeks.

Pro-trade Democrats, including Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, who coauthored the fast track bill, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, who also supports giving the president fast track authority, have not been shy in their demands. Both said they would not vote to advance the fast track until Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell agreed to include in the package three other trade measures, including one that would crack down on currency manipulation, one that would aid U.S. workers harmed by a new free trade deal and another that would strengthen the government’s ability to crack down on violations of the trade deal.

There is apparently room for negotiation. New York Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer, who is in favor of the fast track and the free trade deal, but said he withheld his support until a measure on currency manipulation was included, told the New York Times that he might be willing to drop that demand. By Tuesday evening, McConnell was already wheeling and dealing, telling reporters that he had already repackaged the fast track bill with the measure helping U.S. workers, and said that Democrats could add other measures as amendments.

But Bhaskar Chakravorti, the founding executive director of Tufts University’s Fletcher’s Institute for Business in the Global Context, warned that it’s not that simple. New measures can’t simply be added overnight to the draft trade deal, which currently encompasses the U.S. and 11 other countries, including Japan, Australia, Vietnam and Chile and would govern 40% of the world’s Gross Domestic Product. U.S. negotiators will have to take each change back into multiple rounds of discussion with all 11 partner countries, all of which are at different stages of development and have different things to gain from the pact, Chakravorti said.

One of the stickiest wickets, experts say, might be a measure restricting currency manipulation. Japan has said explicitly that it will not join a free trade deal that includes such restrictions.

But, Chakravorti added, the Democratic Senators’ public mutiny against their own president could also help U.S. negotiators in the long run. “Preventing the fast track is already sending a signal to the negotiators on the other side of the table [in foreign countries] to offer certain protections for certain type of jobs,” he added. “It was meant to send a signal and I’m sure that signal is being heard.”

TIME Congress

Senate Democrats Block Action on Obama’s Trade Agenda

U.S. President Barack Obama pauses while speaking at an event recognizing emerging global entrepreneurs at the White House in Washington May 11, 2015.
Kevin Lamarque—Reuters U.S. President Barack Obama pauses while speaking at an event recognizing emerging global entrepreneurs at the White House in Washington May 11, 2015.

A deep divide between Obama and the many congressional Democrats who say trade deals hurt U.S. jobs

(WASHINGTON)—Senate Democrats dealt President Barack Obama a stinging setback on trade Tuesday, blocking efforts to begin a full-blown debate on a top priority of his second term.

The president’s supporters said they will try again, and Obama summoned key Democrats to the White House to discuss possible strategies. One possibility was to drop a contentious issue dealing with countries that manipulate their currency, but it was unclear whether that would resolve the impasse.

What was clear, however, was that Obama suffered a rebuke from his own party, led by some who served with him in the Senate.

Only one Senate Democrat, Tom Carper of Delaware, voted for a GOP-crafted motion to start considering Obama’s request for “fast track” trade authority. Fast track would let the president present trade agreements that Congress can ratify or reject, but not amend.

Proponents needed 60 votes to thwart a Democratic filibuster, but managed only 52 in the 100-member Senate.

Tuesday’s vote highlighted the deep divide between Obama and the many congressional Democrats who say such trade deals hurt U.S. jobs. Leading the fight against fast track are labor unions and liberal groups, which are crucial to many Democrats’ elections.

Most Republican lawmakers support free-trade agreements. They were in the strange position Tuesday of losing a vote but seeing the Democratic president take the blame.

“It is the president’s party,” said GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah. “It’s amazing to me that they would do this to the president on a bill of this magnitude.”

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said Democrats were “throwing their own president under the bus.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called the results “pretty shocking,” but he said the “door remains open” for trade legislation.

Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida took a darker view, however. “Maybe what McConnell really wants to do is embarrass the president,” he said, referring to McConnell’s refusal to grant Democrats’ demands about assembling the legislative trade package.

Several Democrats said Obama erred last weekend by pointedly criticizing a leading Democratic foe on trade, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, in an interview with Yahoo News. He suggested Warren was poorly informed and politically motivated.

Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, another strong opponent on trade, told reporters that Obama “was disrespectful to her by the way he did that,” and “made this more personal than he needed to.” Brown said he suspects Obama regrets the remarks.

The administration had planned to invite Senate Democrats to the White House on Monday to discuss trade, but it canceled the event, citing conflicts with a Senate vote on another matter.

Shortly before the Senate roll call began, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said some Democrats would vote against Tuesday’s procedural motion but ultimately support fast track for the president

Numerous Senate Democrats said they would back fast track only if Republican leaders cleared a path for three other trade measures.

One, to renew the African Growth and Opportunity Act, is uncontroversial.

The second calls for Trade Adjustment Assistance, which provides federal aid to workers displaced by trade agreements. Republicans don’t like it, but reluctantly acknowledge it’s the price for winning even modest Democratic support.

The third bill, involving Customs enforcement, is the stickiest. It includes a measure to take actions against countries that keep their currency artificially low, which makes their exports more attractive. The Obama administration opposes “currency manipulation” measures, saying they could invite international challenges to the Federal Reserve’s policies meant to boost the U.S. economy.

McConnell said that only two of the bills — fast track and Trade Adjustment Assistance — would be the subject of initial votes, but senators would have ample chances to address the other two bills during the amendment process.

Democratic senators huddled at midday and declared McConnell’s package unacceptable. Democrats rejected GOP claims that they broke an earlier agreement on how the four bills would be handled.

The president’s trade foes were exultant.

“The Fast Track train went off the rails today,” said Lori Wallach of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. Obama’s bid to build momentum in the Senate backfired, she said, and House Democrats remain convinced that “the trade package would do a lot more harm than good.”

Obama says the global economy makes it essential for more U.S. goods and services to reach other countries, home to 95 percent of the world’s inhabitants. He says old criticisms of the 1995 North America Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, are outdated.

The administration says it needs fast track approval to wrap up long-running negotiations with Japan and 10 other Pacific-rim countries, parties to the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Trade experts say countries won’t put their best offers forward if they think Congress will sidetrack the president’s agreements.

Senators and aides said the multi-faceted customs bill is the most problematic item in trying to find a new path forward. Some say the currency manipulation provision could deeply undermine Obama’s trade goals, while others call it mostly harmless.

___

Associated Press writers Laurie Kellman, David Espo, Andrew Taylor, Erica Werner and Nedra Pickler contributed to this report.

TIME Congress

Obama Moves Closer to Inking Pacific Trade Deal

US President Barack Obama speaks about trade policy at Nike Headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon, May 8, 2015 .
Brendan Smialowski—Getty Images US President Barack Obama speaks about trade policy at Nike Headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon, May 8, 2015 .

President Obama may move closer to a career-defining Pacific Rim trade deal Tuesday that could permanently alter the balance of power between the White House and Congress on trade issues.

The Senate is expected to approve a bill to give the president “fast track” authority to make trade deals, reducing Congress’ role to approving or rejecting the entire deal. Members of Congress would not be allowed to filibuster a vote on a trade pact, add amendments, delete parts or otherwise tweak the final version of a trade deal.

If it passes, the bill would grease the skids for Obama to finish the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an unprecedentedly massive trade pact binding the U.S. and eleven other countries, including Japan, Australia and Chile, and governing 40% of the world’s GDP.

Most trade experts agree that if the fast track bill passes, it all but guarantees that the Trans-Pacific Partnership will too.

Supporters of the Trans-Pacific Partnership say getting the fast track bill passed is crucial since, without it, Congress could muddle up a document that has been delicately wrought in private negotiations for nearly a decade.

But critics of the deal, which includes an unlikely coalition of Tea Party Republicans and liberal Democrats, argue that passing the fast-track bill is akin to signing a blank check.

Conservative critics worry that the fast-track hands undue power to a president they already don’t trust. In an impassioned plea to supporters Sunday, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions wrote that the fast-track bill marks a “consolidation of power in the executive branch,” by eliminating “Congress’ ability to amend or debate trade implementing legislation and guarantees an up-or-down vote on a far-reaching international agreement before that agreement has received any public review.”

Liberal Democrats, for their part, argue that the Trans-Pacific Partnership would be bad for working class Americans by shipping more decent jobs overseas. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has said that the Trans-Pacific Partnership will strip safeguards on the financial industry and establish a shadowy international legal system, wherein powerful corporates can sue countries through private tribunals. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada has promised to filibuster it if it comes to that.

Meanwhile, Obama has launched an aggressive and unusually personal lobbying campaign to pass both the fast-track bill and the final trade deal. In past months, he has met with members of Congress in the West Wing, promised allies future political support, and publicly attacked members of his own party who have been critical of the deal.

On Saturday, Obama called his one-time top ally, Warren, “absolutely wrong” in her opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership. “The truth of the matter is that Elizabeth is, you know, a politician like everybody else,” he said in an interview with Yahoo News on Saturday. “And you know, she’s got a voice that she wants to get out there. And I understand that. And on most issues, she and I deeply agree. On this one, though, her arguments don’t stand the test of fact and scrutiny.”

Warren responded Monday by arguing that Obama should release the full text of the agreement now in order to clear the air.

The Senate is expected to pass the fast-track bill tomorrow by a hair, although it’s hardly a slam dunk. The House, which has not yet scheduled a vote on the bill, is likely to put up more of a fight. The final language of the Trans-Pacific Partnership itself will be hammered out by negotiators in Guam this week and in the Philippines later this month.

TIME Congress

Can Elizabeth Warren Kill President Obama’s Trade Deal?

Sen. Elizabeth Warren listens to Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen testify, at a Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee hearing on "Semiannual Monetary Policy Report to Congress" on Capitol Hill in Washington, Feb. 24, 2015.
Kevin Lamarque—Reuters Sen. Elizabeth Warren listens to Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen testify, at a Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee hearing on "Semiannual Monetary Policy Report to Congress" on Capitol Hill in Washington, Feb. 24, 2015.

Elizabeth Warren, the famously fiery populist senator from Massachusetts, has a reputation for having a bit of a reverse-Midas touch, when she wants to: if she decides she is against something, it often turns to smoke.

The latest subject of her withering glare? In a letter to supporters Thursday afternoon, Warren decried a sub-chapter in the Obama administration’s proposed trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, that would allow companies to sue foreign countries through an extra-judicial tribunal made up of three for-profit arbitrators.

If that sounds a little hard-to-follow, that’s because it is. But Warren’s street cred with liberals is strong enough that they tend to take her lead even when the argument can’t be summed up in a simple bumper sticker slogan.

Provisions for these tribunals — known as an investor-state dispute system, or ISDS — have appeared in more than 3,000 trade deals, including the North American Free Trade Agreement, since the 1950s, according to Jeff Zients, the director of the National Economic Council.

But Warren argues that it’s different this time around. For one, the Trans-Pacific Partnership is enormous. It includes the U.S. and 11 other countries, including Japan, Australia and Chile, oversees a whopping 40% of the world’s total annual GDP, and it’s irreversible: once we’re in it, there’s no getting out.

And for another, she claims that ISDS isn’t what it used to be. Two decades ago, when NAFTA was ratified, multi-national corporations were smaller and less powerful than they are today. Her case is that as those interests have gotten bigger and bigger, they’ve gotten more litigious: in the four decades from 1959 to 2002, there were fewer than 100 ISDS cases world wide. Between 2010 and 2013 alone, there were more than 200.

“Recent cases include a French company that sued Egypt because Egypt raised its minimum wage, a Swedish company that sued Germany because Germany decided to phase out nuclear power after Japan’s Fukushima disaster, and a Dutch company that sued the Czech Republic because the Czechs didn’t bail out a bank that the company partially owned,” she wrote in a Washington Post op-ed this winter.

In February, John Oliver, the Comedy Central comedian and host of Last Week Tonight who also holds sway with liberals, mocked an effort by the tobacco company, Philip Morris, to use ISDS to reverse public health regulations in Uruguay’s designed to reduce the smoking rate.

President Obama, backed by most Republicans, a majority of Democrats, and the powerful corporate interest groups, like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable, says Warren is just plain wrong. (He’ll be at Nike’s headquarters in Oregon on Friday explaining why the TPP is great.) ISDS is necessary, the deal’s backers argue, to ensure the corporations feel comfortable making direct foreign investments in other countries — particularly those with less well developed court systems.

But policy arguments aside for a moment, will the famous Warren touch work this time around?

In the past, Warren has been successful in taking down very narrow targets. Last fall, she set her sights on Antonio Weiss, the White House’s nominee for Treasury undersecretary for domestic finance, and by January, he’d bowed out. Before that, Warren helped doom Obama’s plan to nominate former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers to head the Federal Reserve.

But Warren’s also had some off-days. She failed, for example, in her effort last December to quash Congress’s unwieldy continuing resolution and omnibus bill — nicknamed the “Cromnibus” — which included provisions that unwound financial regulations.

And the Trans-Pacific Partnership, for better or worse, may have more in common with the latter than the former. Like the Cromnibus, the TPP is huge, unwieldy, and also includes provisions that many Democrats will like.

Plus, there are technical difficulties. If Congress passes what’s known as the “fast-track” bill next week — it’s unclear if they currently have the votes they need — there won’t be any room for debate about which parts to keep, rewrite, amend or scrap. The fast-track bill binds Congress into an up or down vote on the final version of the trade deal.

And if it comes down to a simple “yes” or “no,” Warren’s famous touch, however powerful, might not be enough.

TIME Foreign Policy

Senate Passes Bill to Review Iran Nuclear Deal

Sen. Bob Corker
Bill Clark—CQ-Roll Call/Getty Images Sen. Bob Corker, Senate Foreign Relations chairman, arrives for a briefing on Iran nuclear negotiations with Secretary of State John Kerry and President Obama's chief of staff Jack Lew in the Capitol on April 14, 2015.

Bill to give Congress oversight of the nuclear plan passes Senate

The Senate on Thursday passed a bill that will give Congress a key stake in conversations on the pending nuclear deal with Iran.

Republicans and some Democrats in Congress have been pushing for oversight of the pending deal given that current proposals include relief from some of the sanctions placed on Iran by Congress. The bill that passed Thursday requires that Congress be able to review and possibly reject any deal the U.S. and world powers make with Iran regarding nuclear weapons. If Congress approves of the deal — or fails to disapprove within a certain timeframe — the President’s deal can move forward.

“No bill, no review. No bill, no oversight,” Sen. Bob Corker said on the Senate floor Thursday. “The American people want the U.S. Senate and House on their behalf to ensure that Iran is accountable.”

The effort to pass the deal, however, was hard wrought. Senators proposed a number of amendments to the bill that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell initially signaled would be up for a robust debate. On Thursday, lawmakers reached a bipartisan agreement to proceed with a vote without many of the proposed amendments. The only “no” vote came from freshman Sen. Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican.

The bill also faced backlash from the White House initially, but in mid April White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the President would be open to signing the compromise bill. The bill will now head to the House of Representatives for a vote.

While the debate continues, however, some lawmakers have signaled their support for the President’s negotiations with Iran. In a letter first reported on by the Washington Post, 150 Democrats urged Obama to “stay on course” and commended the work of world powers so far in the process.

“The stakes are too great and the alternatives are too dire,” the letter reads. “If the United States were to abandon negotiations or cause their collapse, not only would we fail to peacefully prevent the nuclear-armed Iran, we would make that outcome more likely.”

The Washington Post reports that the letter could mean the President has enough Congressional support to override a veto should lawmakers vote to reject the deal once it is released in June.

TIME White House

Why Obama’s Visit to Nike Bothers Liberals

President Barack Obama arrives at the Oregon Air National Guard Base ahead of a fundraiswer at Nike, in Portland on May 7, 2015.
Brendan Smialowski—AFP/Getty Images President Barack Obama arrives at the Oregon Air National Guard Base ahead of a fundraiswer at Nike, in Portland on May 7, 2015.

If there’s one thing the liberal, activist base can agree on, it’s that they hate President Obama’s proposed trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership. They argue that it would transfer hundreds of thousands of decent American jobs to developing countries, like Vietnam, where workers, laboring under poor conditions, make pennies an hour.

And if there’s a second thing that liberal can agree on, it’s that the multinational sports outfitter, Nike, which conducts virtually all of its manufacturing in Asia and Mexico, is perhaps the world’s most powerful symbol, fairly or not, of precisely this kind of exploitation of cheap overseas labor, to the detriment of the American worker.

So Obama’s decision to visit Nike to promote the trade deal Thursday has liberals completely baffled.

“It’s crazy,” said Neil Sroka, the communications director of Democracy for America, a liberal advocacy group. “It would almost be funny on its face, if it weren’t such a sad indication of how out of touch the White House is on this issue with the lived experience of the American people.”

T.J. Helmstetter of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee added that “President Obama’s position on the TPP is misguided, as evidenced by his visit to Nike, which pays workers overseas so little they can’t afford to buy the shoes they’re making.”

Campaign for America’s Future, another liberal group opposed to the trade deal, is organizing a protest outside of Nike’s headquarters on Friday.

The White House, for its part, is making the case that visiting Nike — famous precisely because of its embrace of globalization — makes perfect sense. The president is expected to argue that the trade deal will reduce prices for American consumers by cutting tariffs on things like imported Nike sportswear.

“By allowing our trading partners to produce the goods in which they are relatively more efficient, the United States can import at lower prices than would prevail if we were to use our scarce resources to produce the goods ourselves,” economic advisers at the White House wrote in a report this month.

The trade deal, the advisers explained, would set new, higher standards for labor conditions, environmental protections and copyright. In exchange, lower tariffs at the U.S. border would make it easier to import Asian-made products — including Nike clothing and shoes. The U.S. imported $987.41 billion in goods and services from the Asia-Pacific region in 2012, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

It’s an argument that is no doubt music to the ears of the corporate leadership at Nike, where 56% of the company’s revenue comes from outside Mexico, the United States and Canada, according to the company’s filings.

But labor groups, environmentalists, liberals, and some Tea Party Republicans say that argument doesn’t take into account the reality of average Americans.

“The argument doesn’t make any sense for struggling workers and their families,” said Sroka. “If you can’t get a job because companies like Nike are shipping their jobs to Vietnam where they’re can pay workers less, then it matters very little to you that your shoes are going to be two bucks less.”

Dave Johnson, a senior fellow at the progressive Campaign For America’s Future, made a more populist argument. “Phil Knight, head of Nike, is now worth $23 billion because America’s trade policies encourage companies like Nike to create and move jobs outside of the U.S.,” he wrote. “The 23rd-richest American is one more symbol of the kind of inequality that results from outsourcing enabled and encouraged by these trade policies. Workers here lose (or never get) jobs; workers there are paid squat; a few people become vastly, unimaginably wealthy.”

For the last two decades, Nike has come under consistent fire from civil rights and anti-globalization groups for operating sweatshops that exploit weak labor laws and employ children. As recently as last year, the company was criticized for abusing workers in Indonesia and underpaying workers in China.

Nike says it now operates all its factories above board. “Nike fully supports the inclusion of strong labor provisions” in trade deals, the company said in a statement. “We’ve made significant improvements and driven positive change for workers in contract factories that make Nike product.”

If the TPP is approved it will include 12 nations, including Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Chile, and oversee 40% of the world’s total GDP. Obama’s trip this Friday comes just as Congress is debating the passage of “fast track” legislation, which would give Congress only an up-or-down vote on the trade deal, with no ability to tinker with the details.

Obama and his allies on trade, which include Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden and the vast majority of the Republican establishment, have argued that “fast track” legislation is necessary to smooth the way for the TPP. Congress is expected to vote on the fast track next week.

TIME Congress

Former U.S. House Speaker Jim Wright Dies at 92

Former Speaker of the House Jim Wright speaks to visitors at his office on the TCU campus on May 5, 2014 in Fort Worth.
Ron Jenkins—Fort Worth Star-Telegram/TNS/Getty Images Former Speaker of the House Jim Wright speaks to visitors at his office on the TCU campus on May 5, 2014 in Fort Worth.

The Texas Democrat had served as the House Speaker from 1987 to 1989

(DALLAS) — Former U.S. House Speaker Jim Wright, the longtime Texas Democrat who became the first House speaker in history to be driven out of office in midterm, has died. He was 92.

The World War II veteran and author, often praised for his eloquence and oratorical skills, was living in a nursing home when he died early Wednesday morning, according to the Harveson and Cole funeral home in Fort Worth. Funeral arrangements are pending.

Wright represented a Fort Worth-area congressional district for 34 years, beginning with his election in 1954. He was the Democratic majority leader in the House for a decade, rising to the speakership in January 1987, to replace Tip O’Neill.

Although three House speakers had resigned before Wright stepped down in 1989, they all served during the 19th century — and none before him had been under fire and facing judgment in the House for breaking its ethics rules.

For nearly a year, the House Ethics Committee investigated Wright’s financial affairs at the prodding of a little-known Georgia congressman, Republican Newt Gingrich, who publicly branded Wright a “crook.” The bipartisan committee charged Wright with 69 violations of House rules on reporting of gifts, accepting gifts from people with an interest in legislation, and limits on outside income.

The committee accused Wright of scheming to evade limits on outside earnings by self-publishing a book, “Reflections of a Public Man,” he then sold in bulk. He was also accused of improperly accepting $145,000 in gifts over 10 years from a Fort Worth developer.

In response, Wright said he had not violated any House rules and vowed to fight the charges. But his support among fellow Democrats quickly eroded.

In a floor speech that ended with the announcement of his resignation on April 30, 1989, Wright called for an end to “mindless cannibalism” and decried what he called “this manic idea of a frenzy of feeding on other people’s reputation.”

His detractors contended that Wright resisted acknowledging his ethically dubious actions.

The Wright episode proved to be a harbinger of the rising partisanship within the House and the personal attacks between House members that would mark the chamber for much of the last quarter-century. Critics would say Wright himself had helped fuel the ill will between the parties by generally ignoring Republicans as he and other Democrats tended to House business.

House Republicans chose Gingrich as their whip just months before Wright’s resignation, and the Georgia congressman later became speaker for four years, beginning in 1995, until his own ethical lapses led to his departure.

James Claude Wright Jr. was born in Fort Worth on Dec. 22, 1922, the son of a professional boxer-turned-tailor. After the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, he left college to enlist in the U.S. Army and flew combat missions in the South Pacific, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Legion of Merit.

He served in the Texas House for one term, and at age 26 became mayor of Weatherford, his boyhood hometown. He served in that post for four years, from 1950 to 1954, before his first congressional victory.

Known as an eloquent speaker, Wright was a disciple of House Speaker Sam Rayburn, a fellow Texan. He also was a confidant of another Texan, Lyndon B. Johnson, who served in the Senate during Wright’s initial years in Congress before becoming vice president in 1961. Wright lost a special election to fill Johnson’s Senate seat that year.

Wright was in the presidential motorcade on Nov. 22, 1963, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas.

“To describe the depth of sadness that engulfed us that day defies vocabulary,” he once said, recalling how the friendly mood of the Dallas crowds turned to “sheer terror and horror.” His friend Johnson became president that day.

In his long House career, Wright was the author of major legislation in several fields but was most proud of his efforts on behalf of a “pay-as-we-go” interstate highway system and water conservation.

He helped President Jimmy Carter fashion the 1978 Camp David agreement that led to peace between Israel and Egypt, and he played a pivotal role in bringing about a negotiated settlement in Central America that later led to the 1990 elections in Nicaragua in which the leftist Sandinista government lost. Like many Democrats, he had opposed President Ronald Reagan’s emphasis on military pressure to fight Marxism there.

In his home state, Wright’s influence was felt long after he left office because of the Wright Amendment, which restricted direct commercial air travel from Love Field, near downtown Dallas, to nearby states. The amendment, passed in 1979, was designed to foster growth at the new Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. But in 2006, President George W. Bush signed legislation to repeal the amendment and loosen some flight restrictions. The amendment expired in October.

After leaving Congress, Wright made dozens of speeches around the country, particularly at universities, and was a consultant for a petroleum company. For nearly 20 years he taught a popular political science course at Texas Christian University.

In addition to writing a weekly column for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram for more than 10 years, he wrote several books. “Worth It All: My War for Peace” (1993) looked at the U.S.-Nicaraguan/Central America peace effort. In 1996, he wrote “Balance of Power: Presidents and Congress from the Era of McCarthy to the Age of Gingrich,” and in 2005 he revisited the war years in “The Flying Circus: Pacific War — 1943 — as Seen Through a Bombsight.”

In 1991, Wright lost part of his tongue to cancer. He had more surgery in 1999 to remove and reconstruct parts of his jawbone and tongue when the cancer returned.

Associated Press writer Douglass K. Daniel contributed to this report.

TIME Congress

Political Candidates Took 7,625 Uber Rides in the Last Election

Uber At $40 Billion Valuation Would Eclipse Twitter And Hertz
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images The Uber Technologies Inc. logo is displayed on the window of a vehicle after dropping off a passenger at Ronald Reagan National Airport (DCA) in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014.

Sen. Al Franken has “serious concerns” about Uber’s commitment to riders’ privacy, for which company executives have, in his estimation, shown “troubling disregard.”

The on-demand car booking service, Franken further asserted in a letter to the company, has used customers’ information for “questionable purposes,” such as tracking the travels of journalists and businesspeople.

But the Democrat from Minnesota has another distinction: Like numerous other federal politicians that could help or harm the upstart tech firm’s business fortunes, Franken is himself an Uber client.

In all, about 275 federal political committees together spent more than $278,000 on at least 7,625 Uber rides during the 2013-2014 election cycle, a Center for Public Integrity analysis of campaign spending records indicates.

That’s a roughly 18-fold spending increase from the previous election cycle, when federal committees together spent about $15,000 on Uber services. It represents a veritable monopoly, too: Almost no political committee used Uber’s direct competitors, Lyft and Sidecar, according to the analysis, and traditional taxi use declined precipitously.

Bipartisan love of Uber abounds, with politicos of all stripes composing a de facto Uber caucus, voting with their money for a wildly popular but controversial company.

Users include Democrats such as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz; Republicans such as Sens. Rand Paul and Ted Cruz; and a host of political action committees, super PACs and national party committees.

“Uber is the most safest, most reliable and convenient transportation option,” company spokeswoman Natalia Montalvo said when asked why politicians of all philosophical leanings are so readily embracing its services.

Uber itself has also become decidedly political of late.

Most notably, Uber has hired dozens of lobbyists and former political operatives — top President Barack Obama adviser David Plouffe among the latter — to plumb the pathways of power both in Washington, D.C., and most of the nation’s statehouses.

Much is at stake for the 6-year-old company: Its “ride share” services are still unsanctioned or even illegal in some communities, and Uber has at once aggressively sought governments’ approval to legally do business — while minimizing the kinds of strict operational rules and regulations that taxi and other ground transportation companies must often comply with.

Company officials, who regularly tout Uber as a way to reduce drunk driving and boost local economies, have also sought to calm political nerves following a jolt of bad publicity.

Uber drivers have been accused of and arrested for sexual and other assaults. In November, a top Uber executive threatened to publicize details about the personal life of a female news website editor who had publicly criticized Uber. The company has also caught heat for its use of “God view” — an interface that allows some employees to track the movements of its clients, politicians included. Its chief executive, Travis Kalanick, devilishly told Vanity Fair in December that he’s “like fire and brimstone sometimes” when sparring with detractors.

At the federal level, Uber spent $200,000 last year on government lobbying efforts and has already spent $110,000 during this year’s first quarter, according to federal records. (Lyft, which didn’t return requests for comment, has spent $40,000 so far this year.)

Uber in 2015 has used one in-house and seven contract lobbyists to, in its own words, lobby on “issues related to expanded consumer choice and small business opportunities through app-based technology,” among other concerns. Several of them previously worked for members of Congress, according to OpenSecrets.org.

Meanwhile, Uber lobbyists advocate for the company in 45 out of the nation’s 50 statehouses, a Center for Public Integrity analysis of state lobbying registration records indicates.

Maine, New Jersey, New Mexico, South Dakota and Wyoming are the only states where Uber doesn’t appear to have formally registered lobbyists operating on its behalf.

This much is certain: Uber has indeed begun reshaping the way political candidates and campaign staff mobilize resources and move themselves around, said Matt McDonald, a partner at Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm Hamilton Place Strategies, which last year published a white paper about Uber and politicians that asserted, “The nature of oversight changes when someone is both regulator and consumer.”

And that, McDonald added, “is all for the better if you’re Uber.”

Privacy practices concern Franken

Politicians’ shades-of-gray relationships with Uber contrast with red-and-blue Washington, D.C.’s frequent black-or-white stances on all sorts of issues: immigration, taxation, oil pipelines, same-sex marriage.

Take Franken, among the U.S. Senate’s most outspoken critics of Uber.

An aide readily acknowledged the company’s utility, both for his governmental and campaign offices.

“He still believes the company has not adequately answered his questions about some of its privacy practices and continues to have concerns about how its employees access, retain, and share customer data,” Franken spokesman Ed Shelleby said, while also noting that “no prohibition for services like Uber, formal or informal, exists in either office, and Sen. Franken himself has taken Uber.”And even the most ardent Uber supporters, such as Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., who mentions the company when lauding the “democratizing force of technology” and is sometimes personally courted by the company when traveling, today sound notes of caution when discussing it. No U.S. Senate campaign spent more money on Uber last cycle than that of Booker, which ran a $4,689 tab.

Booker “believes ride hailing services can provide good quality, competitively-priced, reliable transportation to customers but shouldn’t be exempt from regulations that ensure consumer safety and privacy,” said spokeswoman Silvia Alvarez, adding that the senator and his staff use a variety of transportation options, “from taxis and Uber to New Jersey Transit, Amtrak and the subway.”

Some of Uber’s top users simply don’t want to discuss the company at all anymore.

The campaign committee of Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Wis., spent more on Uber services last election cycle — nearly $17,000 — than any other federal political committee. The committee reported 835 Uber transactions during 2013 and 2014, or more than one per day.

Moore personally takes Uber rides because she doesn’t have a car in Washington, D.C., and underwent two knee surgeries in 2013, her office told The Wall Street Journal last year, prior to some of the company’s PR flaps.

Moore’s office declined to comment on whether Moore is concerned about Uber’s privacy standards or business practices.

“This week, our focus has and will continue to be the federal budget and the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank,” spokesman Eric Harris told the Center for Public Integrity.

Emily’s List, a political committee that advocates for Democratic women who support abortion rights, ranked No. 2 in spending — $12,675 — on Uber services during the 2013-2014 election cycle. Representatives there did not return requests for comment.

Other political committees that spent at least $7,000 last election cycle on Uber rides are the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, liberal super PAC American Bridge 21st Century, the Republican National Committee, the Democratic National Committee, the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Politicians are certainly free to travel as they please, said Kansas state Rep. Scott Schwab, a Republican and chairman of the Kansas House Insurance Committee.

But Schwab, who backed a bill that aimed to impose tough safety and insurance regulations in Kansas on Uber and similar companies, says the company isn’t concerned about what’s best for the state’s residents.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, a fellow Republican, vetoed the bill last month in the name of “an open and free marketplace.”

Then last week, Uber hired Brownback’s former campaign manager as a lobbyist.

“They don’t really want to see leaders govern or the will of the people prevail in making good policy,” Schwab said of Uber. “I have never seen any company operate like that …. They just want to win like it is a knock-down, drag-out primary campaign.”

Back in Washington, D.C., Addis Gebreselassie, vice chairman of the Washington, D.C. Taxi Operators Association, likewise wants politicians to believe that Uber, for its talk of innovation and positive disruption, is more destructive than anything.

While taxi drivers in the nation’s capital are heavily regulated, from the fares they may charge to how they’re licensed and insured, Uber drivers are not, Gebreselassie argued.

He called on federal politicians, in the name of fairness, to stop using Uber. He also appealed to lawmakers’ safety, saying they’re putting themselves and their staffers at risk by taking rides from lightly regulated drivers who might be inexperienced, or worse, dangerous.

“We don’t want to see anyone get hurt,” Gebreselassie said. “But maybe they won’t see what’s happening here until a big accident happens.”

He sighed.

“How painful it is to be here in the United States, in Washington, D.C., and be treated like you’re in the Third World,” he said.

Convenience wins out

Perhaps it’s because hailing a car through Uber’s mobile app is more convenient, and less harried, than calling a cab.

Maybe members of the political class have endured one too many trips with a taxi driver who couldn’t follow directions, or wasn’t hygienic, or seemed more concerned with yakking on his cell phone than stopping at stop signs.

Whatever the reason, Uber doom-saying and Uber bashing isn’t much affecting the steady march of politicians toward its services, even if its top users appear more reluctant to wax effusive about the company.

Already this year, several dozen federal political campaigns and committees have reported taking trips through Uber, federal records show, even if the teeth of the 2016 election season remain months away. Taxi use is less common than Uber use so far this year.

The company has already run a variety of specials around elections and political gatherings — to new users, a free ride on Election Day, for example — and McDonald of Hamilton Place Strategies predicts the 2016 election could be rife with Uber innovation.

Think software that allows campaigns to book Uber rides for voters, gratis. Or loyalty programs that further sweeten the experience of Uber transport.

“To the extent that campaigns can use these tools to their advantage, they will,” he said. “For taxi services, maybe this is a situation where you want to change the fundamental quality of your product, because you can’t fake your way through this.”

Kalanick, the Uber chief executive, explained in a recent company blog post why the firm will continue to assert itself in the political arena.

“Our roots are technology, not politics, writing code and rolling out transportation systems,” Kalanick wrote. “The result is that not enough people here in America and around the world know our story, our mission, and the positive impact we’re having.”

He’ll have plenty of surrogates on the campaign trail.

Chief among them: Jim Messina, who ran Obama’s successful re-election campaign and has called Uber “one of the most innovative companies in America.”

Messina’s on Uber’s payroll as a consultant.

He’s also a leader of Priorities USA Action, the chief super PAC backing Democrat Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid.

Alexander Cohen and Reity O’Brien contributed to this report

TIME Congress

House Adopts Compromise GOP Budget Targeting ‘Obamacare’

The 226-197 vote sends the non-binding plan to the Senate for a vote next week

(WASHINGTON) — The House Thursday adopted a compromise GOP budget that promises to speed repeal of the President Barack Obama’s health care law while giving the Pentagon an additional $38 billion next year.

The 226-197 vote sends the non-binding budget plan to the Senate for a vote next week. It promises to balance the budget in nine years with more than $5 trillion in spending cuts, though Republicans make clear they aren’t interested in actually imposing controversial cuts to programs like Medicare, food stamps, Pell Grants or the traditional Medicaid program with follow-up legislation.

Instead, the House-Senate budget framework increases spending in the near term by padding war accounts by almost $40 billion next year. And Senate Republicans skittish over politically dangerous cuts to Medicare blocked a House move that called for giving subsidies to future retirees to purchase health insurance on the open market instead of a guaranteed package of Medicare coverage.

Under Washington’s arcane budget process, lawmakers first adopt a budget that’s essentially a visionary document and follow it up with binding legislation to set agency budgets, cut or raise taxes, and make changes to so-called mandatory programs like Medicare and food stamps, whose budgets run as if on autopilot.

Republicans tout the long-term economic benefits of a balanced budget and say it’s better to tackle the long-term financial problems of programs like Medicare and Medicaid sooner rather than later.

Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price, R-Ga., said the GOP plan “will not only get Washington’s fiscal house in order but pave the way for stronger economic growth, more jobs and more opportunity. It invests in our nation’s priorities, ensures a strong national defense and saves and strengthens and protects important programs like Medicare and Social Security.”

But Democrats say the GOP plan unfairly targets the middle class and the poor while leaving in place lucrative tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy.

White House budget director Shaun Donovan dissected the measure in a blog post that noted $600 billion in cuts from “income security” programs like nutrition assistance, cash assistance to low-income seniors and people with disabilities, and refundable tax credits for the working poor. Donovan also pointed out cuts to Pell grants for disadvantaged college students while noting that its relief for the Pentagon is temporary.

This year, Republicans are focused mostly on finally delivering legislation to President Barack Obama that would repeal the bulk of his signature health care law. Successful action on Thursday’s budget plan would permit a health care repeal to advance through the Senate without threat of a Democratic filibuster. Obama is sure to veto the measure, which is scheduled to advance by late July.

While assuming expiration of health insurance subsidies and repeal of the expansion of Medicaid coverage under the health care law, the measure promises balance over the coming decade by relying on about $2 trillion worth of cuts to health care providers and tax revenues consistent with levels in place after the 2010 health care law. Republicans promise to repeal the Obamacare tax increases but don’t say how they’ll replace the revenue.

“The Affordable Care Act is still here, the revenue is still here, and the Republican budget assumes that revenue for the purpose of achieving balance,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md. “That leaves people’s heads spinning and it means the budget is not in balance.”

Separately, the House moved ahead on spending bills for the departments of Veterans Affairs and Energy. Both measures face veto threats because they fall short of Obama’s budget request, even as Republicans are skirting next year’s budget limits on the Pentagon by $38 billion by padding off-budget war accounts. Only 19 Democrats voted for the veterans measure Thursday in a 255-163 tally that fell short of the two-thirds required to overcome a veto.

Obama insists he’ll block Republicans from boosting the Defense Department’s budget unless they agree to relief for domestic programs as well. The Pentagon and domestic agencies alike are being hit by automatic spending cuts known as sequestration, which are the result of Washington’s collective failure to come up with enough deficit savings to replace them.

The GOP budget also promises cuts to domestic agency operating budgets that are passed by Congress each year that are deeper than the already-unrealistic levels required under sequestration. Such budgets would be cut by about $500 billion over 10 years.

Two of the Senate’s Republican presidential hopefuls, Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky, voted against the Senate’s budget last month as too timid, while Florida’s Republican Sen. Marco Rubio endorsed it.

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