TIME Foreign Policy

U.S. and Russia in Mockery Arms Race Over Sanctions

Senator John McCain speaks at a news conference in Kiev
Senator John McCain speaks at a news conference in Kiev, Ukraine, March 15, 2014. Nikitin Maxim—ITAR-TASS/Corbis

The battle of sanctions between the U.S. and Russia this week has been met by a game of collective thumb-nosing from lawmakers in both countries. Several prominent American politicians targeted by Russian travel bans have taken to Twitter to mock the sanctions

The tit-for-tat battle of sanctions between the United States and Russia this week has been met by a merry-go-round of bravado and mockery.

After the White House threw down more sanctions Thursday on those close to Russian President Vladimir Putin for his country’s annexation of the breakaway Crimea region from Ukraine, Russia reciprocated by banning nine American senators, congressmen and White House officials from the country. What has followed can best be called a game of collective thumb-nosing.

Of the six members of Congress sanctioned, Indiana Republican Sen. Dan Coats took the cake for the most inventive response, taking to Twitter on Friday with a Letterman-like Top 10 countdown.

“I won’t be able to complete my granddaughter’s Russian doll collection,” he wrote at No. 10. “Our summer vacation in Siberia is a no go.”

Others took the chance to boast of their spot on the sanctions list. Louisiana Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu called being sanctioned a “badge of honor.” House Speaker John Boehner was “proud” to be on the list, according to a spokesman, as were the rest—Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain and New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez.

While the three sanctioned White House officials—senior advisor Dan Pfeiffer, National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes, and Deputy National Security Advisor Caroline Atkinson—largely stayed out of the limelight, their former colleagues joined in the mockery on their behalf.

“Putin’s move is nothing compared to the time @pfeiffer44 and @rhodes44 were kicked out of Russia House,” joked former Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau on Twitter, referring to the Dupont Circle bar that Washington Capitals star Alex Ovehckin has been known to frequent.

“Now that you’ve been banned from Russia, why not come out & catch a @chicagobulls game?” wrote former Obama senior advisor David Alexrod on Twitter. “@RahmEmanuel guarantees you entry!”

The U.S. sanctions will surely have some impact while Russia’s will mean little-to-nothing given the former’s primacy as a hub for global finance—as McCain joked, “I guess this means my spring break in Siberia is off, Gazprom stock is lost & secret bank account in Moscow is frozen.”

But officials targeted in Russia have taken it with equal aplomb. “All these sanctions aren’t worth a grain of sand of the Crimean land that returned to Russia,” Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister, wrote on Twitter. Vladislav Surkov, a close aide to Putin, said on Tuesday after the first, weaker round of sanctions that “I consider this a kind of political Oscar from America for best male supporting role,” according to Reuters. “The only things that interest me in the US are Tupac Shakur, Allen Ginsberg, and Jackson Pollock. I don’t need a visa to access their work. I lose nothing.”

Standard & Poor’s downgraded Russia’s credit rating on Thursday, and Russian stocks fell in the wake of the sanctions. Visa and MasterCard have stopped stopped processing payments by cardholders at Russian banks targeted by the sanctions. On Friday, Putin joked he would open an account on Monday at Rossiya Bank—one of the banks targeted by the U.S. sanctions and the credit card companies.

TIME Congress

Congressman Says Malaysia Airlines Disappearance ‘Intentional, Deliberate’

Mike McCaul made his statements as focus turned to the pilots

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Mike McCaul on Sunday called the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 “intentional” and “deliberate.”

McCaul said on Fox News Sunday that he believes the evidence points toward problems in the cockpit with the pilot and copilot.

Malaysia’s prime minister said this weekend that the plane was deliberately diverted and officials have confirmed that the pilots are part of the investigation. But on CNN, former Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte cautioned against any one theory and stressed that the passengers should be investigated, too.

TIME Foreign Policy

Republicans Knock Obama on Russia, as Crimea Vote Gets Underway

Ukraine's Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk (L) meets with U.S. Senator John McCain in Kiev
Ukraine's Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk, left, meets with Senator John McCain in Kiev March 15, 2014. Andrew Kravchenko/Pool—Reuters

Sen. John McCain and other GOP leaders say the White House hasn't gone far enough to contain Russian President Vladimir Putin

Republicans fiercely criticized President Barack Obama’s handling of the crisis in Ukraine on Sunday, urging the White House to take a firm stand against Russia’s intervention just as the Crimea region of Ukraine was voting on a referendum to split from the country.

“Russia is a gas station masquerading as a country,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said on CNN’s State of the Union, calling for “fundamental reassessment” of the U.S. relationship with Moscow.

“It’s kleptocracy, it’s corruption, it’s a nation that’s really only dependent upon oil and gas for their economy,” McCain said.

The comments came as voting was underway in Crimea, with the strongly ethnic-Russian peninsula voting on whether to secede from Ukraine and join Russia, despite repeated threats by the U.S. and the European Union that the vote will not be recognized as legitimate and that it will lead to further sanctions. Secretary of State John Kerry has warned Russia of consequences. But Republicans said Sunday that’s not enough, with some pointing to Kerry’s comments that the U.S. isn’t seeking to “threaten” President Vladimir Putin.

“Our administration is creating an air of permissiveness,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said on Fox News Sunday. “We do need to show long-term resolve. The comment that Secretary Kerry made is not helpful and again it shows a wishy washiness.”

Republicans said Russia’s recalcitrance requires a strong hand.

“No more reset buttons, no more ‘Tell Vladimir I’ll be more flexible.’ Treat him for what he is,” McCain said. “That does not mean the re-ignition of the Cold War. But it does mean treating him in the way that we understand an individual who believes in restoring the old Russian empire.”

White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer, appearing on NBC’s Meet the Press, reiterated the American position that the vote is not legitimate, and that sanctions would follow with the U.S. “supporting the new Ukrainian government in whatever way possible.”

“The United States is not going to recognize the results of that referendum,” Pfeiffer said.

TIME 2014 Election

Scott Brown Moves Toward Senate Bid in New Hampshire

Sen. Scott Brown on Capitol Hill in 2012.
Scott Brown on Capitol Hill in 2012. Alex Brandon—AP

The former Massachusetts senator and Tea Party star who lost his seat to Elizabeth Warren announced Friday the formation an exploratory committee to prepare for a Senatorial bid, this time in New Hampshire

Update at 5:06 p.m.

Former Massachusetts Republican Sen. Scott Brown will announce late Friday that he’s formally exploring a campaign to return to the Senate, but this time representing New Hampshire, a person familiar with his decision confirmed to TIME.

New Hampshire Republicans were abuzz Friday with the expectation that Brown would take the first step toward a 2014 Senate bid against incumbent Democrat Jeanne Shaheen by forming an exploratory committee. He’s expected to make the announcement late Friday afternoon during the Northeast Republican Leadership Conference in Nashua.

“The last three days, all signs have been pointing towards him getting into the race,” said Fergus Cullen, a former state GOP chairman, noting that Brown has made campaign donations to county and city Republican committees in the state to the tune of almost $30,000. “That ought to accomplish the goal of buying some friends and probably muting any dissident voices.”

If Brown ultimately decides to run, his name recognition—New Hampshire is part of the Boston media market—will make him a tough challenger to Shaheen, brightening Republicans’ prospects of picking up the seat. It could make it easer for Republican to retake the Senate in the midterm elections, and will at least divert Democrats’ focus from tough races in Arkansas, North Carolina, Louisiana and others, and sap the nearly $3.5 million Shaheen has in campaign cash. Brown, who moved to New Hampshire, would have to face criticisms that he’s a carpetbagger. And first elected to the Senate as something of a moderate, he could also still face a GOP primary challenger.

Brown won a major upset victory in a 2010 special election for the late Sen. Edward Kennedy’s seat, but lost in 2012 by seven points to liberal firebrand Elizabeth Warren in the most expensive Senate race in American history.

After moving to the state for what he said were family reasons, Brown has popped up in local media sporadically. A month ago, a shirtless Brown graced the front page of the state’s largest daily newspaper as he participated in the Penguin Plunge, the proceeds of which go to the Special Olympics. He will have some outside help to aid what has been so far a mostly quiet, inside game: The Republican super PAC American Crossroads will launch a $600,000 ad buy next week against Shaheen, Politico reports.

Cullen said Brown could do well with Republicans even though he just moved to the state in December (he had a vacation home in New Hampshire before then). “The people who use it weren’t going to vote for him anyway, whether that’s in the primary or the general [election],” Cullen said. He advised Brown to emulate the strategy Hillary Clinton used when she moved to New York and ran for Senate there in 2000, a campaign that started with a high-profile listening tour across the state.

“My advice would be don’t pretend something that you’re not,” Cullen said.

Update at 5:06 p.m.

In a speech that threw out red meat to conservative activists—praising the late Ronald Reagan and ripping ObamaCare, the IRS, and the 2009 stimulus package—and a call for both parties to come together for the betterment of the country, Brown announced Friday that he has formed an exploratory committee to prepare a campaign for the U.S. Senate. “A big political wave is about to break in America, and the Obamacare Democrats are on the wrong side of it,” said Brown, while noting that “There has to be a time and place where we act as Americans first, putting our country first.”

TIME Religion

Boehner and Pelosi Invite Pope Francis to Congress

Pope Francis holds his weekly general audience on March 5, 2014 at St. Peter's square in Vatican City.
Pope Francis holds his weekly general audience on March 5, 2014 at St. Peter's square in Vatican City. Andreas Solara—AFP/Getty Images

Congressional leaders used the occasion of Francis' first anniversary as Pope to invite him to Washington. President Obama is going to the Vatican to meet with His Holiness on March 27

Happy one-year anniversary, Pope Francis: You are invited to come to Congress.

Almost one year to the minute after Pope Francis was named Benedict XVI’s successor, House Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi announced Thursday afternoon that they were formally inviting the popular Holy Father to address Congress. President Barack Obama is going to the Vatican to meet with His Holiness on March 27, and the Holy See has not announced formal plans to visit the United States. Pope Francis has made it clear that his priorities for international visits are the Holy Land, Asia, and then Africa.

Congress could use some peace-building right about now. Leaders appear divided even on inviting the Pope: Boehner and Pelosi, both Catholics, issued the invitation, but Boehner did not include Pelosi’s name in his announcement of the invitation.

Pelosi’s statement:

“As we approach the first anniversary of the inauguration of Pope Francis, I am pleased to join Speaker Boehner in inviting His Holiness to address a Joint Meeting of the United States Congress.

“I had the privilege of attending His Holiness’ inauguration at the Vatican and was inspired by his message of peace, compassion, and brotherhood.

“Whether inspired by St. Francis of Assisi, who cared for all of God’s creation, or by St. Joseph, protector of the church, Pope Francis has lived his values and upheld his promise to be a moral force, to protect the poor and the needy, to serve as a champion of the less fortunate, and to promote love and understanding among faiths and nations.”

Boehner’s statement:

“It is with reverence and admiration that I have invited Pope Francis, as head of state of the Holy See and the first Pope to hail from the Americas, to address a joint meeting of the United States Congress.

“Pope Francis has inspired millions of Americans with his pastoral manner and servant leadership, challenging all people to lead lives of mercy, forgiveness, solidarity, and humble service.

“His tireless call for the protection of the most vulnerable among us—the ailing, the disadvantaged, the unemployed, the impoverished, the unborn—has awakened hearts on every continent.

“His social teachings, rooted in ‘the joy of the gospel,’ have prompted careful reflection and vigorous dialogue among people of all ideologies and religious views in the United States and throughout a rapidly changing world, particularly among those who champion human dignity, freedom, and social justice.

“These principles are among the fundamentals of the American Idea. And though our nation sometimes fails to live up to these principles, at our best we give them new life as we seek the common good. Many in the United States believe these principles are undermined by ‘crony capitalism’ and the ongoing centralization of political power in the institutions of our federal government, which threaten to disrupt the delicate balance between the twin virtues of subsidiarity and solidarity. They have embraced Pope Francis’ reminder that we cannot meet our responsibility to the poor with a welfare mentality based on business calculations. We can meet it only with personal charity on the one hand and sound, inclusive policies on the other.

“The Holy Father’s pastoral message challenges people of all faiths, ideologies and political parties. His address as a visiting head of state before a joint meeting of the House and Senate would honor our nation in keeping with the best traditions of our democratic institutions. It would also offer an excellent opportunity for the American people as well as the nations of the world to hear his message in full.

“It is with deep gratitude that I have asked Pope Francis to consider this open invitation on behalf of the Congress and the millions of citizens of the United States we serve.”

TIME Congress

Congress Debates Tying International Monetary Fund Changes to Ukraine Aid Package

Congress is hung up on including International Monetary Fund reforms in a Ukraine aid package while Russia announced Thursday new military operations massing forces on several spots along the Ukrainian border.

A Senate panel overwhelmingly advanced a bill Wednesday that would provide $1 billion in loan guarantees for Ukraine while tying that package to International Monetary Fund changes not included in the Republican-controlled House’s aid bill.

The Senate bill would move billions of dollars from an IMF crisis fund to its general account. That comes after a request by the White House, which says such a move would raise America’s influence over the lender and secure the resources needed to support Ukrainian economic reforms. It would also issue sanctions against Russians involved in President Vladimir Putin’s intervention in Crimea.

However, House Republican leaders, including Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, support a separate bill the House passed last week which includes a similar aid package without IMF reforms. Some conservatives believe the IMF provision would put the money at risk, while Boehner and Cantor publicly maintain that the IMF provision is superfluous and drags out debate while a bill is on the table.

The Senate will likely leave for recess this week before its version of an aid bill can be brought to the floor.

The IMF reforms would allow Ukraine to borrow approximately 60 percent more (from $1 billion to $1.6 billion) from the IMF’s emergency fund, according to the New Republic, but still below the $15 billion Ukrainian leaders seek from the lender. Simon Johnson, a former IMF chief economist, writes in the New York Times that Ukraine’s total financing needs this year approach $20 billion, well below what the U.S. will offer—a good thing, he writes with co-author and economist Peter Boone, due to the country’s “pervasive corruption.”

The European Union, meanwhile, has said it would provide $15 billion to Ukraine in loans and grants over several years if it signs a reform deal with the IMF.

TIME Congress

Capitol Hill Gym Buddies Try to Break Senate Gridlock

Sens. Schumer And Alexander Host Media At Construction Of Inaugural Platform
U.S. Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY) (L) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) (R), on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC in 2012. Alex Wong—Getty Images

Sens. Chuck Schumer and Lamar Alexander are trying to give the chamber a bit of legislative Metamucil after the so-called nuclear option left the gridlocked Senate even more constipated

On most mornings, Sens. Chuck Schumer and Lamar Alexander can be found in the gym in the Russell Senate Office Building. They gossip as they bike or lift weights side-by-side, but the chats often return to a topic weighing on both their minds: the woeful the state of the Senate and how things might be fixed.

It was through these sessions that the New York Democrat and Tennessee Republican hatched a plan. Since late last year, when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid triggered the so-called nuclear option limiting the minority party’s ability to filibuster some presidential nominees, the Senate has been at a virtual standstill. The acrimonious chamber has grown even more constipated than it had been before the bomb—and that’s saying something, since it was already on track to be the least productive session in more than 50 years.

While many senators have argued that only a drastic change—like undoing the nuclear option or deploying it even further—could ease the logjam, Schumer and Alexander turned to a kind of legislative Metamucil: a bland, feel-good bill that could lubricate the process. And so, the Senate on Wednesday began debate on the reauthorization of a popular child-care development block-grant program. “The goal here is to get off to a small but positive start with bipartisan bills, so that we can get back to legislating and tackling bigger issues in a responsible way,” says Schumer, the No. 3 Senate Democrat. “I hope it works.”

No limit was made on amendments to the bill, nor was there a time limit set for debate. Reid handed control of the floor over to the bill’s authors. Amazingly, no one filibustered. No one introduced controversial, poison pill amendments that would bring down the measure. In fact, things went so surprisingly smoothly that the bill is now expected to pass Thursday afternoon—well ahead of schedule. Schumer, 63, and Alexander, 73 are now hoping a few more Metamucil doses could bring the Senate back into something approaching “regular order,”—what is known in the Senate as the normal procedure through which bills are proposed and passed by committees and then debated and voted off the floor.

“It is very hard this year, because a lot amendments are of the gotcha variety, and there are a lot of vulnerable Democrats up [for reelection], giving Reid a major reason to fill the amendment tree,” says Norm Ornstein, co-author of “The Broken Branch: How Congress is Failing America and How to Get it Back on Track.”

“So starting small, testing the waters on a balance that preserves some basic standards of propriety, is a good way to go, and, I think, very popular,” Ornstein says. “But the stakes of the election are so high, and the temptations of individual renegade senators so clear, that I am skeptical that this is more than a modest breakthrough.”

Next up: a manufacturing bill co-authored by Missouri Republican Roy Blunt and Ohio Democrat Sherrod Brown, an energy efficiency bill co-sponsored by New Hampshire Democrat Jeanne Shaheen and Ohio Republican Rob Portman and, potentially, a deal on aid to Ukraine (though that bill is already hitting some partisan road bumps).

And there are still plenty of road bumps ahead—some might say mountains. Republicans remain leery that they are somehow getting played. They fret that when it really matters—like when Democrats bring up their economic agenda in the coming weeks—Reid will again block amendments and blame Republicans for intransigence and not supporting the middle class. This is, after all, an election year. And much of the agenda has not been written for compromise—say, a $9.10 minimum wage increase which could draw some Republican support, versus the $10.10 increase Democrats are proposing, which is a nonstarter with Republicans. Building post-nuclear trust is apparently going to take a lot more Metamucil, like a truck load of it.

So, perhaps Republicans should start going to the gym in the afternoons when Reid goes. The Nevada Democrat, though, once famously said he never gets approached in the gym, “probably because I look really ugly naked.”

TIME Congress

Lawmakers Optimistic About Mortgage Reform Plan

Senator Tim Johnson, chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, left, and Senator Mike Crapo listen during a Senate Banking Committee hearing in Washington, Feb. 27, 2014.
Senator Tim Johnson, chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, left, and Senator Mike Crapo listen during a Senate Banking Committee hearing in Washington, Feb. 27, 2014. Andrew Harrer—Bloomberg/Getty Images

A pair of senators are hopeful their proposal to wind down government-backed mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will be put to a vote in the Senate this year, but they face an uphill struggle

Lawmakers said they were hopeful Wednesday that a plan to ultimately replace government-backed mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and overhaul the nation’s $10-trillion mortgage market will get a vote in the Senate this year, despite an uphill political battle ahead.

The proposal by Senate Banking Committee Chairman Tim Johnson and Ranking Republican member Mike Crapo has the support of the White House, but obstacles remain, including from liberal Democrats, the GOP-controlled House, and lobbyists for Fannie and Freddie. Those companies have seen their share prices plummet since an outline of the reform plan was released Tuesday; actual legislative language will be released in the coming days.

“I’m optimistic this could be the year to get it done,” said Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), a member of the Banking committee. “I think it is one of the few bills that could actually get to the floor and move with a bipartisan vote.”

“I like what I hear,” said Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), another Banking committee member. “It’s going to be great.”

The proposal would wind down and replace Fannie and Freddie—which have long provided an implicit government guarantee to a vast swath of mortgage loans—with the Federal Mortgage Insurance Corp, a system of federally insured mortgage securities through which private insurers wouldn’t receive a government backstop until they took initial losses on mortgage loans. The proposal would also require new underwriting standards, mandating a five-percent down payment for all but first-time home buyers. The proposal comes after a series of hearings last fall and “dozens” of staff-level briefings, according to a Senate Banking Committee aide.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have been extraordinarily profitable since 2008, when the federal government seized them to stabilize a market beset by subprime loans that went bad and helped tank the economy. The White House announced on Monday that the companies could send more than $179 billion in profits to taxpayers over the next 10 years if the terms of their bailout remain intact, more than triple the estimate last year, Reuters reports. Fannie and Freddie together own or guarantee about 60 percent of existing mortgages.

There are significant challenges ahead to complete what White House spokesman Bobby Whithorn called “the biggest remaining piece of post-recession financial reform.” The initial reaction from Senate Democratic leadership was lukewarm, though a Senate aide told TIME that the chances of legislation hitting the floor are “likelier than not.”

“If there was ever a bill where the devil was in the details, this is it,” New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, a member of the Democratic leadership team and the Banking committee, said in a statement. While Schumer said that the principles of reform “seem reasonable,” his staff would not elaborate on any potential sticking points at this time. Senate Democrats on the Banking committee, including Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Sherrod Brown of Ohio, have said they won’t back a plan unless it “guarantees affordable loans for most buyers and includes significant support for low-income rental housing,” according to Bloomberg.

And it remains unclear if it could ever gain traction in the Republican-controlled House, especially in an election year. “I am skeptical of any approach that does not end the permanent government guarantee in the secondary mortgage market,” Texas Republican Rep Jeb Hensarling, who chairs the House Financial Services Committee, said Tuesday. “Such an approach could very well perpetuate the cycle of boom, bust and bailout we tragically just witnessed.”

Consumer activist Ralph Nader said Wednesday on CNBC that the bill is “dead in the water” unless the real estate and housing lobby support it. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who enthusiastically supports the plan, echoed Nader’s sentiment. “Never underestimate the lobbying power of Fannie and Freddie,” he said.

TIME Congress

The CIA Learns The Hard Way Not to Mess With Dianne Feinstein

Dianne Feinstein
Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Senator Dianne Feinstein talks to reporters as she leaves the Senate chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 11, 2014, after saying that the CIA's improper search of a stand-alone computer network established for Congress has been referred to the Justice Department. The issue stems from the investigation into allegations of CIA abuse in a Bush-era detention and interrogation program. AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

The longtime Senator may look sweet, but she has a talent for mowing down opponents with words. Responding to allegations that the CIA used spy tactics against her office, the California Democrat delivered a jaw dropping speech on the Senate floor

In the mid-1990s, Sen. Dianne Feinstein was trying to push an assault weapons ban through Congress. One day, the California Democrat was arguing for her bill on the floor when Sen. Larry Craig, an Idaho Republican, stood up and interrupted her. He patronizingly offered to teach her something about guns.

Feinstein coldly informed Craig that Harvey Milk, one of her colleagues on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, had been shot to death, and that George Moscone, her predecessor as mayor of San Francisco, had been assassinated.

Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz made a similar mistake last year while arguing against the gun reform bill that grew out of the Sandy Hook school massacre. “I am not a sixth grader,” Feinstein responded to Cruz in the Judiciary Committee markup. “I have been on this Committee for 20 years. I was a mayor for nine years. I walked in, I saw people shot. I have looked at bodies that have been shot with these weapons. I have seen the bullets that implode. In Sandy Hook, youngsters were dismembered. It is fine you want to lecture me on the Constitution. I appreciate it. Just know I have been here for a long time. I have passed on a number of bills. I have studied the Constitution myself. I am reasonably well educated, and I thank you for the lecture. … I come from a different place than you do. I respect your views. I ask you to respect my views.”

As the oldest current sitting senator, Feinstein, 80, may look like a sweet granny, but boy, is it a bad idea to cross her, something the Central Intelligence Agency is just learning. Feinstein, the first female chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, has often defended the CIA in the past on its surveillance tactics. But when the spy agency apparently used those same tactics against her, allegedly hacking her staff’s computers and stealing sensitive files, Feinstein was having none of it. Her speech taking the CIA to task on the floor of the Senate Tuesday morning was jaw dropping.

“I’ve had the privilege of serving in this body, now my 40th year. I’ve heard thousands of speeches on this floor. I cannot think of any speech by any member of either party as important as the one the Senator from California just gave,” marveled Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat.

As a woman that she herself says lived in a man’s world for decades after she arrived in Washington, Feinstein has worked hard to bring diversity to the intelligence community. “Even from when I came to the Senate it has changed dramatically in that regard [from] being all male,” she told TIME in an interview late last year.

She holds regular dinners for women in the sector. Her pantsuits, pearls and cordial demeanor can lull people into a false sense that she’s a pushover, says Bill Carrick, her longtime political adviser. “She’s very polite,” Carrick says. “But she’s also tough as nails. She’s been involved in a lot of tough issues over the years.”

In her floor speech on Tuesday, Feinstein accused the CIA of removing documents from her offices, secretly searching her staff’s computers and attempting to intimidate congressional investigators by requesting an FBI inquiry into their conduct—all charges that CIA director John Brennan disputed as “just beyond the scope of reason” within hours of Feinstein’s speech.

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence is putting the finishing touches on an exhaustive 6,000-plus page investigation into the CIA’s Bush-era interrogation program. Feinstein said in her speech she would ask the White House to declassify the report, so that the world could see “the horrible details of the CIA program that never, never, never should have existed.”

Brennan disputes the report’s and Feinstein’s conclusions on the program. “If I did something wrong, I will go to the president,” the CIA director said in a previously scheduled speech at the Council on Foreign Relations on Tuesday. “He is the one who can ask me to stay or to go.”

Feinstein described the CIA’s actions as “a defining moment” for Congress and said they gave her “grave concerns” that the CIA had “violated the separation-of-powers principles embodied in the United States Constitution.”

Feinstein’s public speech was rare and unprecedented for a intelligence committee chair. “What made her floor statement as impactful as it was is that she’s someone who’s low key, easy to work with, not someone to cry wolf,” says John Ullyot, a former longtime GOP Senate aide who worked with Feinstein and her staff. “So when someone like her stands up and go public with the Administration of her own party, everyone listens.”

Whatever happens, the CIA seems to have lost an important ally on the Hill, one who often shielded it from Democratic and Republican attacks alike. “I don’t understand what [the CIA is] doing, at all,” Carrick says. “She’s not been unsympathetic to the intelligence agencies and their mission. But this is so out of bounds. And she’s definitely the wrong person to take on on this. She’s definitely furious.”

TIME

Congress to Investigate GM’s Recall of 1.6 Million Vehicles

General Motors-Recall
David Goldman—AP

A U.S. Congressional committee says it will investigate General Motors amid reports that its employees knew, as early as 2004, of a potential lethal defect involving 1.6 million vehicles that would quickly turn off the engine

A U.S. congressional committee said it would investigate General Motor’s delayed recall of 1.6 million vehicles with a potentially lethal defect.

The BBC reports that as early as 2004, GM employees knew of a fault in the ignition that could suddenly switch off the car’s engine. Over the course of 11 years, safety regulators received 250 complaints from drivers who had suddenly lost control of their cars, according to the New York Times. Neither the car maker nor the regulators reacted to the warning signs until last month, when an internal GM investigation linked the deaths of 13 drivers to the faulty ignition.

Rep. Fred Upton said Congress would hold a hearing in the coming weeks to seek “detailed information” from both GM and safety regulators.

[BBC]

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