TIME 2014 elections

Clay Aiken Holds Slim Lead in North Carolina Democratic Primary

Clay Aiken
Clay Aiken speaks to supporters during an election night watch party in Holly Springs, N.C., Tuesday, May 6, 2014. Gerry Broome—AP

The American Idol runner-up is ahead by just 372 votes, with all precincts reporting, but the race has still not been called

Former American Idol contestant Clay Aiken was ahead in the North Carolina Democratic congressional primary by a slim margin Wednesday morning. The former singer led his opponent, former state Commerce Secretary Keith Crisco, by only 372 votes with all precincts reporting, making the race too close to call according to the Associated Press.

As things stand, Aiken has the 40 percent necessary to win, but has been unable to declare victory.

Aiken and Crisco both hold 40 percent on the vote. Whoever wins will face incumbent Republican U.S. Renee Ellmers in November. Ellmers won by a wide margin in 2010 when she was elected during the Tea Party wave.

[AP]

 

 

TIME politics

This Is the One Thing the Right and Left Are Working Together On In Congress

It's time to get right on crime.

There is gridlock in Congress. A Republican House can veto any progressive idea advanced by President Obama. The Democratic Senate and the presidential veto can shut down any conservative proposal by Republicans. Taxes are not likely to go up or down much for the next three years. Spending is largely set by the sequester. We know what cannot be accomplished because of gridlock.

So what can be done? Can we find common ground issues between Tea Party Republicans and progressive Democrats?

Yes. And in the “man bites dog” department, the area where conservatives and progressives are beginning to work together is the hot-button issue that so violently divided Americans just a few years ago: crime and punishment.

Conservatives and progressives both see that America has a greater percentage of their population in prison and jail than other nations. The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that 2,266,800 adults were incarcerated in U.S. federal and state prisons and county jails in 2011. There were also 4,814,200 adults on probation or parole at year-end 2011.

Many of these inmates deserve to be in prison, and we are safer because they are. But every prison cell costs money. Americans concerned about government overspending note that putting a person in prison for one year in California can cost $50,000. Progressives note that many are in prison for non-violent crimes—some for decades. Progressives want racial disparities in stops, arrests, convictions and sentencing to be addressed. Both conservatives and progressives have begun internal discussions of the costs of the drug war on human lives, civil liberties and taxpayer dollars.

Conservatives pride themselves on the insight that one does not measure one’s commitment to an issue or progress by reciting how many tax dollars are being spent. They want to judge the success of education not by dollars spent but by what students learn. And yet, too often, a politician’s commitment to reducing crime has been judged by how much is spent, how many arrests are made and how many are sitting in prison rather than by asking “Is violent crime going up or down?” or “Is what we are doing to fight crime actually reducing the violent crime Americans rightly fear?”

The various faith communities and organizations, those that lean right and left, have been working in prisons for years. They have brought back to their allies the news that our present “lock ‘em up” strategy is breaking up families and communities and not reducing recidivism rates. Those punished with prison are not being prepared for life after prison. Their connections to their families and communities—the strongest source of gravitational pull to bring those who have broken the law back into a peaceful world—are not strengthened but torn asunder by our criminal justice system.

Many sentence lengths were set at a time of great fear and a belief that long prison sentences for possession of small amounts of marijuana or cocaine was the best—maybe only—way to make our streets safer and deter drug use. But now there are two pieces of legislation under consideration that allow us to rethink the federal government’s mandatory minimum sentencing, which greatly reduces a judge’s flexibility in sentencing. Utah Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Senator Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) have introduced theSmarter Sentencing Act of 2014, and Republican Rand Paul of Kentucky and Democrat Patrick Leahy of Vermont have introduced the Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013. If passed, these bills, from their odd couple co-sponsors, would grant judges some discretion in sentencing.

Reforming the criminal justice system that has almost 7 million Americans in prison, jail or under government supervision through probation and parole may not make headlines. But it is a big issue for the families involved—both the families of those breaking the law and families that are victimized by crimes because our system does not doesn’t do enough to effectively deter and punish violent crimes.

Conservatives and progressives have come to see the skyrocketing costs of mass incarceration. The number of people in federal prison has jumped 500% since 1980. Conservatives and progressives see that the present justice and prison system do not do enough to reduce recidivism. And this slow creeping towards “common ground” solutions also removes perhaps the greatest stumbling block: the fear that any elected official focusing on reforming this system is somehow “soft on crime.” It helps that the conservative’s Right on Crime movement focusing on these reforms was started and has had its greatest success in Texas. Just try and suggest Texas is “soft on crime.”

This movement should have arrived decades ago. It has much to accomplish still, but it is one shining example of trans-partisan cooperation that is beginning to save dollars, families, lives and our own communal sense of justice.

Joan Blades is co-founder MoveOn.org and LivingRoomConversations.org. Grover Norquist is president of Americans for Tax Reform.

TIME Foreign Policy

Senate Republicans Hammer Obama Officials on Ukraine

GOP lawmakers used a hearing to sharply question Obama Administration officials over their approach to Russian agression in Ukraine so far and whether more harsh sanctions against President Vladimir Putin's country will be implemented soon

Senate Republicans vented their frustration over the deteriorating situation in Ukraine on Tuesday, as a panel of Obama Administration witnesses struggled to lay out how the U.S. could block Russian President Vladimir Putin from enforcing his will in the embattled country. While political theater is nothing new in Capitol Hill hearings, Tuesday’s session on whether the U.S. should broaden military aid to Ukraine and step up sanctions against Russia saw lawmakers slap their desk, cut off witnesses and let emotions fly.

Republicans focused their anger on why President Barack Obama hasn’t taken a stronger stance against Putin, as he has repeatedly threatened. Sen. Bob Corker, the Ranking Republican on the committee who introduced a new bill last week expanding sanctions and military aid, was the first of his party to speak and ready for a fight. “Are you kidding me?” Corker asked one witness, Assistant Treasury Secretary Daniel L. Glaser, when Glaser initially declined to comment on how pro-Russian separatists are being funded. “Isn’t this what you do?”

“I had hoped better as a witness when I strongly supported nomination for your present position,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland at the end of his questioning.

“I’m not hearing discussed here today what is going to change Putin’s calculus,” charged Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.). “The economic approach is going to fail. When the economic approach fails, then what do we do? Are we ever going to consider providing even small arms?”

The hearing confirmed the Administration’s reticence in aiding Ukrainian forces with military aid. “Senator I think you know from our private conversations, I’m not persuaded personally that [Putin] can be deterred in the ambition that he has,” Nuland told Johnson. “I think there is a question about whether in the short run—we’re talking about the 19 days between now and the election—even with all the will in the world, one could pour enough in there to tip the balance vis-à-vis the mighty Russian military if he chooses to use it. So again we need to make it clear what the costs are going to be.”

As Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Evelyn Farkas put it: “Frankly, it’s not the military balance that is going to change the calculus for President Putin. He will know that it will be bloody if he chooses to intervene militarily in Ukraine… and it will be a disaster tactically and certainly strategically. So I think that adding more lethal military equipment into the equation, into the balance isn’t going to change things.”

Some Democrats fought back at their colleagues on ideological and fiscal grounds. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) reminded Republicans of the cost of aid as Congress debates cuts to military compensation. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said that those who want a “much more robust response” risk living by an “extinct principle” in which Russia is the United States’ chief adversary. “We should respond, we should be robust in that response, but we shouldn’t be expected to care about this as much as the Russians do.”

In his opening statement, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) attacked Corker’s new bill, which doesn’t have a Democratic co-sponsor, saying the effort drew “partisan lines around this issue.”

But despite the attacks on each other, many Democrats and Republicans united to press the Administration to figure out when it would implement stricter sanctions on Russian banking and energy sectors. Officials it the Administration would do so if looming elections in Ukraine don’t proceed as planned, and if the Russians support eastern Ukrainian cities that vote in referendums for autonomy. Menendez suggested the Administration impose some consequence “up front” to prevent Russia from further destabilizing the country before its presidential elections May 25, an idea on which many Republicans agree.

“If we don’t use this calibration on sanctions in a way to prevent further incursion into Ukraine we will find ourselves using those sanctions as an aftermath as we did in Crimea,” Menendez said. “And in my mind, that is an aftermath that I don’t want to envision.”

TIME Congress

Democrats Blast GOP’s New Benghazi Committee

Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act
House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence ranking Democrat Dutch Ruppersberger Bill Clark—CQ-Roll Call/Getty Images

"There is no new information left uncovered," said Dutch Ruppersberger, the ranking Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence

Correction appended, May 6, 2014

Congressional Democrats launched a unified attack on Monday against the newly announced special House committee to investigate the Benghazi attacks as a political ploy that will waste taxpayer money, while Republicans defended the committee as a necessary next step in the investigation of a terrorist attack that killed a U.S. ambassador.

At this point, there is no new information left uncovered that would warrant the designation of a new committee,” said Dutch Ruppersberger, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence’s ranking Democratic member, who noted that his panel has held 18 events, including a recent open hearing with former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell.

House minority whip Steny Hoyer described the new committee as a partisan exercise. “Political pressure from the base, people who simply want to, for political sake solely, pursue this matter, apparently have availed upon the speaker to change his mind,” he told reporters on Monday.

Mark Mellman, a pollster whose clients include Senate majority leader Harry Reid and Hoyer, warned that come November voters will feel similarly. “It can hurt Republicans,” Mellman tells TIME. “They are seen as pursuing partisan political vendettas instead of dealing with real problems.”

It is unclear how the new congressional body will be more effective in uncovering new information, since it will have the same powers as other committees in Congress. At the least, the select committee will serve as a clearinghouse for Republicans’ public strategy on Benghazi. “Creating a new committee is a communication coordination [effort],” says Representative James Lankford, the Republican from Oklahoma, a member of the House GOP leadership team. “I don’t know if it’s a new focus — it’s the answers to the questions that we’ve pursued the whole time,” he adds, noting that he had questions regarding communication breakdowns between the Department of Defense and State Department that night, and that he hasn’t heard an adequate explanation on why security personnel were pulled out of the embassy in the weeks before the attack despite calls to the contrary.

Despite extensive investigations — 13 hearings, 25,000 pages of documents and 50 briefings, according to one count — Lankford says there are still questions to be answered, and that “decisionmakers” from the White House, State Department and Department of Defense should speak before the new committee to testify. “The reason this is still a story today is that because we still get a slow trickle of information out in a constant spin rather than just getting the information out,” he says. “The Administration is not responding to our basic requests for documents.”

House Speaker John Boehner has chosen Representative Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, a former prosecutor and hard-line conservative respected by the House GOP leadership, as chairman of the new committee. One senior GOP staffer said Gowdy won’t have any of the “baggage” built up by previous investigations, which include one led by House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman Darrell Issa, who publicly supports the new body. Issa has a history of flashy confrontations as chairman, including with fellow members on his committee. In March, Issa cut off ranking Democratic member Elijah Cummings’ microphone and adjourned an Internal Revenue Service hearing while Cummings continued to speak. “Either they think Issa is a competent chairman, and has been pursuing a competent investigation, or they don’t,” Hoyer told reporters on Monday. “He’s had subpoena power.”

House Republican leadership aides tell TIME that the Speaker will appoint the members of the new committee after consultations with other leaders. Whether that includes his Democratic colleagues remains to be seen. Drew Hammill, House minority leader Nancy Pelosi’s spokesman, tells TIME that the office has “not received any information about how the committee would be composed” from the House Republican leadership. The timing of the vote, which requires a simple majority, is still being worked out, but could come as soon as this week.

The Speaker chose to create the committee after a conservative third-party group, Judicial Watch, obtained last week a previously undisclosed email through the Freedom of Information Act. The email, sent from Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes to former U.N. ambassador Susan Rice three days after the attack, stresses that “these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy.” At the time, the CIA believed the attacks were “spontaneously inspired” by protests in Cairo. But many Republicans are fuming because the White House didn’t include the email in prior disclosures, and Boehner called on Secretary of State John Kerry to testify before Congress on why the Administration “hid” the document. Lankford called the new email “the last straw.”

Republicans believe the new select committee could help the party come November. “The President’s credibility problems — not just on Benghazi, but on Obamacare and the IRS scandal go right to the heart of Americans’ distrust in this White House,” Andrea Bozek, spokeswoman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, tells TIME in an email. “His dismal approval numbers demonstrate the lack of trust families have in him, and it’s dragging down candidates across the country.” The new Benghazi committee could also prove damaging to the legacy of former Secretary of State and potential 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

Correction: The original version of this story misstated the number of hearings involved in the Benghazi probe. There were 13 hearings.

TIME Congress

Illinois House Member Investigated by Ethics Committee

Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) may have violated House rules by paying his former Chief of Staff as a contractor

The House Ethics committee is continuing an investigation into Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) to determine whether he improperly used funds to pay a former staffer, according to a statement released Monday. Gutierrez is under review for allegedly paying his former chief of staff Douglas Scofield thousands of dollars a month to provide training, which may not be permissible under House rules.

Gutierrez paid Scofield $595,000 for providing services that included staff development and training between 2003 and 2013, according to a report released by the committee. Because the funds were reportedly derived from the Congressman’s Members’ Representational Allowance — his office’s annual budget — Gutierrez may have violated congressional rules. While funds from the Allowance may be used to hire a contractor, the services Scofield provided “more closely resembled those performed by an employee or consultant – someone who provides professional advice or services—than those performed by a contractor – someone who performs a discrete task or job, such as maintenance, data entry, custodial services, or staff training,” the report says.

The investigation was reportedly sparked after USA Today published an article in June noting Scofield had been paid over $500,000 after he left Gutierrez’s staff. The Office of Congressional Ethics referred their report to the House committee, which decided Monday to review the matter further. Scofield, who is currently a lobbyist, worked as the Congressman’s Chief of Staff, until 2002 before leaving and eventually launching his own Chicago-based firm.

The committee released the following statement on the review: “The Committee notes that the mere fact of conducting further review of a referral, and any mandatory disclosure of such further review, does not itself indicate that any violation has occurred, or reflect any judgment on behalf of the Committee.”

Rep. Gutierrez’s spokesman Douglas G. Rivlin, also released a statement on the investigation: “As the Committee reviews this matter, Congressman Gutiérrez and his office will continue to cooperate fully. As the Committee points out, its review does not indicate that any violation has occurred or reflect any judgment on behalf of the Committee.”

TIME White House

White House Mum on Cooperating With New Benghazi Probe

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney declined to answer the question of whether the Obama administration will cooperate with a new Republican-led probe of the 2012 attack in Libya, but did offer criticism of how politicized the issue has become

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney declined to say Monday whether the Obama Administration will cooperate with a new GOP-led probe of the 2012 attack on an American consulate in Libya, just as House Speaker John Boehner selected a chairman for the investigative panel.

“We have always cooperated with legitimate oversight,” Carney said when asked if the White House will cooperate with the select committee headed by South Carolina Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy, before suggesting the new committee was illegitimate. “I think if you look at even what some Republicans have said, it certainly casts doubt on the legitimacy of an effort that is so partisan in nature.”

Carney went on to blast Republicans for politicizing the issue, saying the committee “perpetuates a conspiracy theory without a conspiracy.”

“There is a problem when you have so many conspiracy theories that get knocked down by the facts and yet the adherents to those theories only become more convinced that the facts aren’t what they so clearly are,” Carney said.

Responding to follow-up questions asking whether Obama would cooperate with the new investigation, Carney said he wouldn’t “speculate” how the probe would proceed, or whether it would be deemed legitimate by the White House.

Boehner formed the committee last week after the release of an email that congressional Republicans say the White House withheld from previous investigations in order to shield the president. The administration maintains that the email was not included in previous releases because it fell outside the scope of the congressional request. The email did little to expand on the well-established narrative of how talking points then-United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice used were drafted after the attack, though Boehner asserted that the administration’s decision to hold onto the document was a “flagrant violation of trust and undermines the basic principles of oversight upon which our system of government is built.”

Republicans have tried for years to use the attack in Benghazi, which killed four Americans including Ambassador Chris Stevens, as political ammunition. But the issue has rarely gained traction outside the GOP base.

TIME Immigration

Biden Tells Boehner To ‘Stand Up’ To Base On Immigration Reform

The Vice President used a Cinco de Mayo speech to push House Speaker John Boehner to push back against parts of the Republican base who are holding up comprehensive immigration reform

Vice President Joe Biden demanded Monday that House Speaker John Boehner “stand up” to those in his party who oppose immigration reform.

Speaking at a breakfast celebrating Cinco de Mayo, Biden highlighted the progress made by Hispanic Americans and made the economic and moral case for immigration reform, saying it would be a “shot in the arm” when the country needs one.

“It’s time for John—he’s a good man, John Boehner—to stand up and other Republicans to stand up,” Biden said. “Not for us to stand up. We’ve already stood up. We’ve been right there. We stood up. It’s time for him to stand up, stand up at not let the minority—I think it’s a minority—of the Republican Party in the House keep us from moving in a way that will change the circumstances for millions and millions of lives.”

Biden also stood by his assertion earlier this year that the more than 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States are already Americans. Republicans pounced on the comments at the time.

“And I know I was criticized for saying a couple of months ago in Florida that these 11 million folks in the shadows are already Americans and I got pretty roundly criticized for that,” he said. “But they are Americans. They may not be citizens, but they are Americans. In the definition of Teddy Roosevelt, he said Americanism is not a question of birthplace or creed or line of descent, it’s a question of principles, idealism, and character. And I would argue that those 11 million folks who have been here breaking their neck, working hard, they are Americans.”

As he made a roll call of the notables in the room, he pointed to Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, who made a reference to Biden’s appearance in an HBO-produced video at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner on Saturday, to which the Vice President replied, “Anyway, I just wish I could have kept that Corvette.”

TIME 2014 Election

Democrats Face Worst Midterm Climate in 20 Years, Poll Says

A new Pew Research Center/USA Today poll finds that low approval ratings for President Obama as well as dissatisfaction with the economy and the health care reform law spell bad news for Democrats ahead of the 2014 midterm elections

Democrats hoping to hold the Senate and make gains in the House during this year’s midterm elections are going up against the worst political landscape they’ve faced in at least 20 years, according to a new poll.

The Pew Research Center/USA Today survey released Monday found that 47% of registered voters either support the Republican candidate in their district or lean in that direction, while 43% favor or lean Democratic. That’s the lowest level of support Democrats have had around this point in the midterm election cycles since 1994, the year Republicans retook the House for the first time in four decades. And it’s even worse for Democrats than it was before the beating they took in the 2010 midterm elections.

Democrats are clinging to an endangered, slender majority in the Senate, and while the party has written off any chance of recapturing the House this year, many Democrats are hoping the party at least picks up enough seats to make a takeover more likely in 2016. But recent polls have brought troubling signs for the party, which is weighed down by President Barack Obama’s low approval ratings and disaffection over the health care reform law.

A majority said Obama wouldn’t be a factor in their vote this fall, but 26% said their vote would be a gesture against the president, and just 16% said theirs would be a vote for him, according to the poll. And economic pessimism remains a factor: 65% say it’s hard to find jobs in their community.

The survey of 1,501 adults, including 1,162 registered voters, was conducted April 23-27 and had a margin of error of 3.3 percentage points for registered voters.

TIME Congress

Republicans Launching New Probe of Benghazi Attack

John Boehner, Renee Ellmers
Speaker of the House John Boehner talks to reporters in Washington, D.C., April 29, 2014. AP

The GOP's effort to investigate the 2012 attack on a U.S. consulate in Libya intensified with a call for the Secretary of State to testify before Congress. Kerry wasn't in the State Department at the time, but Republicans say he's not meeting his obligations to cooperate with the probe

Updated at 2:20 p.m.

House Speaker John Boehner announced the creation of a new congressional committee Friday tasked with investigating the 2012 attack that killed four Americans in Libya, intensifying focus again on an issue that Republicans have tried to use as political fodder for a year-and-a-half.

The House Select Committee on Benghazi will, Boehner said in a statement, “investigate the attack, provide the necessary accountability, and ensure justice is finally served.”

A House GOP leadership aide said that Rep. Trey Gowdy (R—SC) is being considered for the chairmanship for the new committee, but no decision has yet been made.

The announcement comes after the release Tuesday of a White House email to then-U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, in which the an Obama Administration national security official advises Rice to say in an upcoming media appearance the attack was sparked by an online video “and not a broader failure of policy.” Boehner called Thursday for Secretary of Sate John Kerry to testify in Congress about why that email was not released earlier in congressional investigations.

The attack at the consulate in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012, killed four Americans, including including Ambassador Chris Stevens. Republicans have long accused the Administration of intentionally covering up the circumstances of the attack to protect President Barack Obama politically in the heart of his reelection campaign. But no explicit evidence of a cover up has emerged and the issue has generally failed to gain political traction beyond conservative activists.

Also on Friday, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) announced a subpoena demanding Kerry testify before his committee on May 21.

“Compliance with a subpoena for documents is not a game,” Issa wrote in a letter to Kerry. “Because your Department is failing to meet its legal obligations, I am issuing a new subpoena to compel you to appear before the Committee to answer questions about your agency’s response to the congressional investigation of the Benghazi attack.”

With reporting by Alex Rogers.

TIME Law

A Marijuana Bank for Colorado? Not Right Now

The marijuana business in Colorado is having serious problems finding places to put the vast amounts of cash it earns. Weed firms have struggled to find a way to handle the cash they make, because the funds are derived from a substance that remains illegal under federal law

An attempt to create a banking system for Colorado’s now legal marijuana businesses survived only a few hours before being effectively killed off Thursday.

The plan, which would have created a credit union for pot-related businesses unable to gain access to the regular banking system, cleared a state legislative committee early Thursday, paving the way for the world’s first financial system for the bud trade.

However, another committee killed the plan shortly after by amending the bill to require Colorado to keep trying to find a way for the marijuana businesses to enter mainstream banking.

Marijuana firms in Colorado and Washington state, the two states that have legalized pot for recreational use, have struggled to find a way to handle the large amounts of cash they make, because the funds are derived from a substance that remains illegal under federal law.

In February, the Justice and Treasury departments issued guidance suggesting that banks could offer basic services to marijuana dealers, but financial institutions remain wary. Consensus is growing that it will take an act of Congress to change the situation.

“I have long said the issue cannot be solved at the [state] capitol, and I don’t hold the current Congress in high esteem to get anything done,” the bill’s co-sponsor Pat Steadman told the Denver Post.

“But this bill would lay it squarely at their feet and force the conversation.”

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