TIME Congress

The Republican Senator Who Is Key to the Iran 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.

Over the next 10 weeks or so, Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker can’t afford a mulligan. Lucky for him, according to occasional golfing buddy and Georgia Sen. Johnny Isakson, he “doesn’t need ‘em.”

In that time, Corker will be “one of the most important people in the world,” as my colleague Massimo Calabresi writes in a magazine profile this week, as he attempts to ensure congressional oversight into a global debate on Iran’s nuclear program the Obama Administration would rather wage on its own.

As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Corker has the delicate task of crafting a 67-vote supermajority to beat back a veto threat on his bill, which the Administration has worried could imperil the chances of reaching a final deal by a June deadline. Corker struck a major agreement Tuesday, when the committee will take up his bill and introduce a series of amendments that could endanger consensus. But senators on both sides of the aisle are confident that Corker is well suited to the challenges ahead.

“There’s not a better horse to bet on in the United States Senate than Bob Corker,” says Isakson, a Republican member of the committee.

At first glance, Corker is an unlikely player in international affairs. A successful construction company owner, former Chattanooga mayor and head of Tennessee’s finances, Corker had no foreign policy experience before coming to the Senate in 2007. While a student at the University of Tennessee, Corker wasn’t even interested in politics, according to his roommate, Jimmy Haslam, who used to call Corker “Thor” because he “looked like a little Viking.” But his interests eventually evolved and after an introduction from Haslam, Corker met with Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander in 1993. The pair talked for an hour and a half as they walked down the beach at Hilton Head, South Carolina, discussing whether Corker should run for Senate or governor.

“He’s never been afraid of big jumps,” says Alexander, who thinks the two-term senator would be “terrific” as Secretary of either the State or Treasury departments. “In a way he’s perfectly named—Corker.”

Corker popped to the ranking Republican position on the committee in 2013 and became chairman when Republicans took the Senate this year. To overcome his initial lack of expertise, Corker has engaged in policy discussions with numerous foreign policy experts, including former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who has breakfast with him every two or three months. Corker also travels extensively; he told TIME in February that he had traveled to over 63 countries. Haslam, now the owner of the Cleveland Browns, says his longtime friend flies commercial on his trips to the Middle East with usually one staff member. “Bob’s not a hot dog,” says Haslam. “He gets the job done.”

Corker’s temperament may serve him well as debate over U.S. foreign policy no longer ends at the water’s edge. Democrats are still smarting from Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton’s direct letter to Iranian leaders and House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to Congress. One of seven Republicans who didn’t sign Cotton’s letter, Corker has garnered praise from Democrats. Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on Corker’s committee, calls Corker a “serious legislator” and an “ideal fit” for the panel’s chairmanship.

“I think that he is trying to use that position in the best tradition of the U.S. Senate to bring as much unity on behalf of foreign policy as possible,” Cardin told TIME last week. “And recognizing that’s challenging today, I think he’s done a really good job on his bill on the congressional oversight of the nuclear agreement. It’s one in which I hope we can find common ground. I think we’re very close to that.”

Introduced with Democratic Sens. Bob Menendez and Tim Kaine and Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham as cosponsors, Corker’s bipartisan bill threads the needle by establishing an order of review, preventing the president from waiving Congress’ economic sanctions against Iran for 30 days, according to a Corker aide, and up to 52 days if Congress passes a bill and the president vetoes it. If the deal is submitted late, after July 9, the review period reverts to 60 days, according to the aide. If President Obama accepts it, the Administration would be required to tell Congress every 90 days if Iran is still keeping up its end.

“We have reached a bipartisan agreement that keeps the congressional review process absolutely intact and full of integrity,” said Corker on MSNBC’s Morning Joe Tuesday. “On behalf of the American people we want to make sure that if a final deal is reached it lays before Congress, so we have the opportunity to go through every detail.”

Corker has worked for months to bring Democrats on board. The bill originally had called for a vote to approve or disapprove of the deal—now there is the option to not act, Menendez told TIME. Another priority—pushed by New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, according to the New York Times—was ensuring a 60-vote rather than a 51-vote threshold for any resolution of disapproval or agreement, ensuring that Congress spoke in a bipartisan manner. Kaine claims credit for limiting the bill to only sanctions imposed by Congress, rather than the Administration or international bodies. Still, just last week Cardin said he had three major areas of concern: “the time for review, the limitation of presidential powers during the review, and to the statute issues that are not directly related to the nuclear agreement.”

So over the past few days and up through Monday night, Corker has worked to close the gaps with Democrats, reportedly softening requirements that Iran isn’t directly sponsoring terrorism against the United States and loosening restrictions on the original timetable for a 60 day congressional review period.

The negotiations have appeared to assuage Democratic concerns. On Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said that Obama’s veto threat would be revoked—a stunning turnaround—if some of the changes the White House has proposed, including the timetable and terrorism language, make it through committee.

“We have to see what comes through the committee process,” said Earnest. “What we have made clear to Democrats and Republicans is that the President would be willing to sign the proposed compromise that is making its way through the committee today.”

Corker’s immediate challenge now is to navigate a series of controversial amendments from Democrats and Republicans alike. One from Connecticut Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy would allow President Obama to waive sanctions during the 60 days if a “failure to do so would be a breach of the final comprehensive agreement,” according to Murphy spokesman Chris Harris. Another by Isakson would make a condition of sanctions relief “fair and appropriate compensation” to Americans who were terrorized in the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis. And Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio will introduce an amendment making approval of the deal dependent on Iran’s recognition of Israel’s right to exist, according to the New York Times.

Some of those amendments are nonstarters with the Administration, which has launched a full-scale lobbying effort on Capitol Hill. Secretary of State John Kerry, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew and Moniz briefed House members in a classified session Monday and are expected to hold another for senators on Tuesday, according to the Times. They are trying to convince lawmakers to agree to a framework agreement that couldn’t be subject to a wider divergence of opinion. Critics like Cotton, a foreign policy hawk and Iraq combat veteran, believe the deal could eventually lead to a nuclear confrontation. The Administration argues it could lead to a safer world, lengthening the time it would take for Iran to produce such a bomb over the next decade from three months to a year, giving America’s allies more time to forcefully respond.

Corker’s knack for jumping into the hairiest policy debates hasn’t always been a success, including in his early efforts to negotiate the auto company bailout and Dodd-Frank financial regulation reform. “He’s a guy who views things without the partisan lens and from a very practical approach,” says Josh Holmes, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s former chief of staff. “I think in some ways early on it made him a target for Democrats to try to wedge the best deal out of.”

“I will say that Corker is amongst the most intelligent senators on the Hill,” adds Holmes. “He learns a great deal from each one of these interactions.”

Corker did seal a deal during the 2013 immigration reform debate, helping craft border security legislation that the Senate incorporated and passed before it died in the House. Menendez told TIME he “swallowed” Corker’s “odorous” amendment because he agreed with his colleague that it would “guarantee us a big vote and that the greater good was better served by accepting what he could bring along with him.”

Corker’s goal is essentially the same now: to convince a wide swath of Congress to get to “yes” despite their reservations. Menendez, who has “tag teamed” members on the bill on the Senate floor, says Corker is a dogged negotiator.

“He’s tenacious going to anyone on either side of the aisle making his case,” says Menendez. “And he won’t stop. If you say no to him, he’ll ask you why and then try to argue away the concern. If you say I’m thinking about he’ll probably come back to you another 10 times.”

With reporting by Maya Rhodan and Massimo Calabresi/Washington, D.C.

TIME trade

The Trans-Pacific Partnership Will Help Define President Obama’s Legacy

US President Barack Obama speaks while Japan's new conservative Prime Minister Shinzo Abe listens, following their bilateral meeting in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, DC, on Feb. 22, 2013.
Jewel Samad—AFP/Getty Images US President Barack Obama speaks while Japan's new conservative Prime Minister Shinzo Abe listens, following their bilateral meeting in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, DC, on Feb. 22, 2013.

The massive TPP trade deal could help boost the global economy and President Obama's legacy—if Congress lets it happen

In the next few days, the Senate will begin debate on one of the most important questions it will answer this decade—whether to grant the President “trade promotion authority” (TPA), also known as “fast track.” This move would give President Obama and his successors the authority to place trade agreements before Congress for a simple up-or-down vote, denying lawmakers the chance to filibuster or add amendments to the deal which change its rules.

Those in favor say that Presidents can’t negotiate growth-boosting trade deals without fast track authority, because other governments won’t make concessions if they know that Congress can later rewrite parts of the agreement. Those who oppose TPA say the devil remains in the details—small changes within a massive trade deal can have huge impacts on individual business sectors, and on the winners and losers in any agreement. They say trade deals are too important for the lives and livelihoods of ordinary Americans to leave their elected representatives with no say in their content.

That debate is now coming to a head because negotiations among a dozen Pacific Rim nations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)—an enormous multilateral trade deal involving a dozen Pacific rim countries—are entering the final stages. The talks now include the United States, Japan, Canada, Mexico, Chile, Peru, Australia, New Zealand, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei. This group represents 40 percent of world trade and 40 percent of global GDP. Without TPA, there will be no TPP, say trade advocates, which would cost America significantly. Too bad, counter trade opponents. If Americans can’t influence the deal’s content through their representatives, America is better off without it.

What’s at stake? TPP proponents say the deal would generate hundreds of billions of dollars of economic gains over the next decade by reducing tariff and non-tariff barriers across the 12 countries it covers. It would enhance security relations among member states, boost labor and economic standards and set rules for global commerce on free-market terms. For some countries, TPP would give their economies a significant boost. Projected GDP growth in Japan and Singapore for 2025 would be nearly a full 2 percent higher with the deal than without. Malaysia’s GDP might be higher by more than 5 percent. The difference for Vietnam might be more than 10 percent.

For the U.S., the political and security impact of the TPP is more important than the economic effects. In 2025, US GDP will be $77 billion higher with TPP than without it—just 0.3 percent. But the White House says it will boost exports by 4.39 percent over 2025 baseline forecasts. If true, that matters, because exports create the kinds of middle class jobs that boost longer-term growth and reduce income inequality. TPP would also give the U.S. a firmer commercial foothold in the world’s most economically dynamic region. And it would do so while growing the economies of U.S. partners and allies, which are anxious to avoid overdependence on fast-expanding China. That’s good for US security interests and makes TPP a central element of the Obama Administration’s long-promised pivot to Asia.

This is a big moment for those who believe in the power of trade to boost economic trajectories. In 2012, China surpassed the United States to become the world’s no. 1 trading nation in total trading volume. Today, there are 124 countries that trade more with protectionist China than with free trade America. That’s why the Trans-Pacific Partnership—whether he can pass it or not—will be a crucial part of Barack Obama’s legacy.

TIME Television

Watch John Oliver Get Michael Bolton to Sing an Ode to the IRS

Spare the IRS your ire

Tax day is nigh and John Oliver used his Last Week Tonight platform to urge taxpayers not to blame the IRS for their tax day woes — and instead save that ire for Congress.

“The fact is, blaming the IRS because you hate paying your taxes is like slapping the checkout clerk because the price of eggs has gone up,” said Oliver. He noted that if people are angry about the amount of tax they pay, they should blame Congress, who are also responsible for setting the tax rate and for making frequent, confusing changes in the tax code.

Oliver believes that the IRS is unfairly vilified by taxpayers, and their status as the universal scapegoat, gives Congress leeway to cut the agency’s budget, which results in fewer services and longer lines. To encourage people to spare the IRS, Oliver conscripted Michael Bolton to sing a stirring ode to the most maligned agency in the U.S. government.

Read next: Here’s What to Do If You Can’t Finish Your Taxes On Time

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Congress

Rep. Jim Clyburn Blames Conservatives for Walter Scott Shooting

Rep. James Clyburn
Tom Williams—Getty Images UNITED STATES - NOVEMBER 29: Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., speaks at a news conference after the 113th Congress Democratic Caucus Organizational Meeting in Cannon Building. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn, the No. 3 House Democrat and one of the most prominent African Americans in Congress, blames the shooting of an unarmed black man by a North Charleston police officer on conservative lobbying efforts.

Clyburn, who represents and previously lived in North Charleston where the shooting occurred, said that authorities should make an example of police officer Michael Slager, who was charged with murdering Walter Scott after videotape surfaced of the shooting.

“This is the most obvious thing I’ve ever seen involving a police officer,” he said in a phone interview Wednesday. “And I think there’s many more like this, we just didn’t have the videotape.”

Clyburn said that the relationship broadly between African Americans and law enforcement is “very, very bad” and blames the American Legislative Exchange Council, a nonprofit conservative group that drafts and promotes state legislation, and the billionaire Koch brothers, who have donated to ALEC.

Clyburn called the group “dangerous” and claimed that it was partly responsible for the death of Scott because of its support of conservative legislation, including the “stand your ground” laws that allow a person to kill in self-defense without having the duty to retreat. He then added that while the Kochs are lauded for their philanthropy in New York City—they have giving hundreds of millions of dollars to Memorial Sloan Kettering Center and the home of the New York City ballet and opera—some Ku Klux Klan supporters were once viewed as “upstanding citizens” as well.

“Let me tell you something, people who used to fund the Ku Klux Klan who were upstanding citizens by every other stretch of the imagination,” Clyburn told TIME. “The Klu Klux Klan didn’t run free throughout the South without financial support from some upstanding people. And that’s what’s going on here. The Koch brothers may be upstanding people in New York but they are funding these draconian attacks on voting, attacks on young black males—and that’s what ‘stand your ground’ laws are all about.”

Clyburn then blamed ALEC for creating the “atmosphere” in which the shooting happened. “This American Legislative Exchange Council is at the hub of a national effort to stand your ground laws, with these voter ID laws, these things are going out all over this country,” he says. “This is not isolated, this is coordinated.”

“I blame them for creating the atmosphere that will allow this police officer to shoot this guy in the back,” he said. “Yes, I blame them for creating that atmosphere. They’re the ones responsible for stand your ground laws. Yes I do.”

While ALEC has played a role at the state level in “stand your ground” legislation, the law isn’t relevant in this particular shooting, as Slager is a police officer.

Bill Meierling, ALEC’s Vice President of Public Affairs, says Clyburn is being fed “incredibly inaccurate and false information” about the organization.

“We work on limited government, free market and federalism issues,” he says. “We haven’t worked on anything having to do with firearms or self-defense in more than three years. We work on no social issues. We do, however, work on reducing recidivism rates and working on getting people out of jail, working on over criminalization issues.”

“We are working on body camera issues for local police enforcement that I think would have solved this problem,” he adds. “So we’re doing pretty much the exact opposite of what he says we’re doing. I can’t be more emphatic or stress it enough because it’s damaging to say that we’re involved in creating some sort of conditions by which these things happen.”

Ken Spain, a spokesperson for Koch Industries, called Clyburn’s comments “unfortunate and disappointing.”

“We share Mr. Clyburn’s outrage over what happened in South Carolina, but it is unfortunate and disappointing that he would perpetuate the false notion that Koch has been involved in so-called ‘stand your ground’ legislation or any public policy that would weaken voting rights,” says Spain. “In fact, Koch Industries has played a leading role in partnering with a number of liberal organizations on the issue of criminal justice reform to restore voting rights for non-violent offenders and support the overhaul of a system that has negatively and disproportionately impacted the rights of African Americans.”

TIME Rand Paul

Did Rand Paul Break Senate Rules at His Campaign Kickoff?

A video produced to kickoff Sen. Rand Paul’s presidential campaign may have run afoul of Senate rules designed to separate official government resources from electioneering.

The April 5 video, released two days before Paul announced his presidential bid in Louisville, includes a clip of the Kentucky Republican on the Senate floor during the nearly 13-hour filibuster in 2013 in which he temporarily blocked the John Brennan nomination for CIA director over criticism of drone warfare. Using the footage, contained in a Fox News package on the filibuster, appears to violate Senate guidelines on the use of video footage of Senate, an issue first flagged by a Democratic operative speaking to TIME.

“The use of any tape duplication of radio or television coverage of the proceedings of the Senate for political campaign purposes is strictly prohibited,” the Senate Manual states.

Jason Abel, an attorney for Steptoe & Johnson and former chief counsel to Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer on the Rules & Administration Committee, told TIME that the video contradicts a rule that prohibits the use of television coverage on the Senate floor for political campaign purposes.

“As a general matter, floor proceedings should not be used for any campaign purposes, even if it is footage from a news outlet,” he said. “The thinking behind this is any official’s actions or official resources should not be used for campaign purposes. The rules look at floor proceedings as official actions.”

A spokesman for the Democratic minority on the Rules committee told TIME that “after reviewing the information, it appears to be a violation of the Senate rules.”

Republicans and Paul’s campaign argue that the use of the video is acceptable, but did not explain their rationale.

“Use of footage produced by a news organization does not necessarily violate the rule,” says Amber Marchand, a spokeswoman for Senate Rules Chairman Roy Blunt. “We defer to the Chairman,” says Sergio Gor, a spokesman for the Paul campaign.

Abel added that violations of this rule are generally handled by the Rules committee, not the Ethics committee, but Democrats in the minority would not be able to take action unilaterally. Typically, the remedy is asking the Senator to pull the video or to remove the footage from it.

The issue has raised its head before. In 2004, an ad for President George W. Bush’s re-election campaign raised similar questions after using brief clips from the Senate floor to criticize then-Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry’s voting record on military issues. The Bush campaign denied any wrongdoing and the ad continued to run. In 2014, then-Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu re-enacted a contentious Senate hearing for an ad to avoid running afoul of the rule.

The Paul video announced that on April 7, when Paul officially launched his White House run, a “different kind of Republican will take on Washington.”

With reporting by Michael Scherer/Washington, D.C.

TIME Rand Paul

Watch Rand Paul Accuse Today’s Savannah Guthrie of ‘Editorializing’

“Let me answer the question"

Sen. Rand Paul, who announced he was running for president Tuesday, butted heads with the Today show’s Savannah Guthrie on Wednesday over questions about his foreign policy record that he deemed “editorializing.”

“You once said Iran was not a threat, now you say it is,” Guthrie said to the Republican candidate, who was speaking remotely from New Hampshire, per Politico. “You once proposed ending foreign aid to Israel, now you support it, at least for the time being, and you once offered to drastically cut … defense spending.”

But the Kentucky Senator, who has accused reporters of being biased in the past, pushed back against her statements. “Before we go through a litany of things you say I’ve changed on, why don’t you ask me a question, ‘Have I changed my opinion?’” he said. “That would be sort of a better to approach it. You’ve editorialized, let me answer a question.”

Paul clarified the he still believes countries should be free of foreign aid (“because we shouldn’t borrow money to do it”), just that it has happen “gradually” — and that his stance isn’t different from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s. He also acknowledged that the situation in Iran has changed since he first said the nation wasn’t a threat in 2007. “[That] was a long time ago, and events do change over long periods of time,” Paul said. “What I would say is that there has always been a threat of Iran gaining nuclear weapons, and I think that’s greater than it was many years ago.”

[Today]

TIME 2016 Election

John McCain to Run for Senate Re-Election in 2016

John McCain
Andrew Harnik—AP Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., during a press conference on Capitol Hill in Washington on Thursday, March 26, 2015, on the situation in Yemen.

The "maverick" Senator will be 80 by Election Day 2016

Republican Sen. John McCain isn’t ready to throw in the towel yet. The “maverick” Senator announced Tuesday that he will run for what would be his sixth term in office in 2016.

“I have decided to run for re-election,” McCain said in an interview with NBC News. “I’m ready, I am more than ready. In some ways, I am eager.”

McCain has served in the Senate since 1986 when he succeeded Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater. He currently sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee, an ideal job for the former serviceman, and has run for president twice— in 2000 and in 2008, when he gained the Republican Party’s nomination.

McCain could face a challenge from conservatives who think he’s been too liberal, including those in his home state. “I have to convince the voters all over again of Arizona,” he said. “But I will stand on my record but more so, I will stand on what I can do for Arizona and the nation.”

The senator has another factor weighing against him: his age. McCain, 78, will be 80 by November 2016. He told NBC he’s up for the time intensive labor that goes into working on Capitol Hill. In fact, he said, it’s in his genes. “I’m happy to tell you my mother is 103-years-old and she’s doing well,” McCain said.

Watch the full interview at NBC.com.

TIME Foreign Policy

The 5 Keys to a Final Nuclear Deal With Iran

The details of the agreement are only part of it. Here's what else matters.

The U.S., Iran, the European Union, Russia and China announced that they had “reached solutions on key parameters” to a nuclear deal April 2 after more than a week of tough negotiations in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Speaking at the White House, President Obama called the deal “historic” but also said that it was only a “framework” that depended on a final written agreement being set to paper in coming weeks.

In principle, the deal traded limits on the Iranian nuclear program and broad but unspecified international inspections in exchange for the lifting of U.S. and E.U. sanctions and conditional removal of United Nations sanctions. Obama said that until the written agreement was signed, “our work is not yet done” and that if Iran backslid, “there will be no deal.”

Five things will determine whether the U.S. and Iran can ultimately reach a signed, sealed agreement.

  1. What the deal says. Iranian acceptance of intrusive international monitoring of its nuclear program, and the ability of the U.S. and others to reimpose penalties if Iran cheats on a deal are the most important parts of any agreement for the Obama administration. The April 2 statement includes some specifics of the inspections, but leaves others open. Iran has apparently agreed to inspections of all parts of the Iranian nuclear program from mining and milling uranium to suspected nuclear weapons research facilities, and is “required to grant access” to suspicious sites. But the details of that access, its frequency and any limits Iran might try to impose are unclear. If the inspectors, or Western spies, turn up evidence of cheating, the U.S. wants to be able to reimpose the tough economic sanctions that forced Iran to the negotiating table without engaging in lengthy diplomatic wrangling at the U.N. The April 2 agreement speaks of removing some UN sanctions, maintaining others and says a “dispute resolution process” will be put in place.
  1. How Obama handles Congress. The March 31 deadline that drove the current round of talks was actually just a way for the administration to get the U.S. Congress off its back. The real deadline is the June 30 expiration of the Nov. 2013 interim agreement which froze Iran’s nuclear program in return for freezing Western sanctions. Many in Congress believe, rightly, that tough U.S. sanctions helped force Iran to sign that interim agreement to begin with, and now Republicans and some Democrats want a say in whether those sanctions get lifted. Some want to take action to force Iran to agree to concessions in writing. Congressional action could backfire and undermine the April 2 statement before a final deal is written down and signed. The administration is negotiating the terms of any Congressional action, and the outcome of those discussions is unclear.
  1. How Obama handles the international coalition. The greatest downside to the recent talks in Lausanne, from the U.S. perspective, was the appearance of fractures in the international sanctions coalition. Russia and China’s agreement to squeeze Iran through U.N. sanctions was another key to Iranian concessions over the last few years. At one point in the lengthy talks in Switzerland, Russia seemed to side with Iran over whether a deal had been agreed even as the U.S. and France said one hadn’t, raising the danger of a split. If Iran can divide the U.S. and the E.U. from Russia before signing a final deal June 30, it could escape sanctions without having to follow through on the April 2 concessions it provisionally agreed to.
  1. What happens in Iran and Saudi Arabia’s proxy war. Our magazine story this week details the region-wide proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran that is the urgent regional context for the nuclear issue. The Obama Administration is struggling to reassure allies in the Middle East that a deal with Iran doesn’t mean Washington is looking to help Iran’s ascendancy in the new, post-Arab Spring Middle East order. In his White House statement April 2, Obama said he would convene a conference with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab powers this spring as part of that effort. But the worsening violence in Yemen, Syria and Iraq, where Iranian and Saudi proxies are battling it out, could have an unexpected effect on the effort to reach a final written agreement.
  1. How long everyone talks. If the U.S. and Iran can’t get a final written deal by June 30, an ultimate agreement would depend on whether the two sides agree to keep talking, and writing, anyway. Some administration officials have argued it would be better to keep the talks going than to see a complete collapse. Under the terms of the Nov. 2013 temporary agreement, Iran’s program is frozen and the sanctions are in place. But keeping Congress onside, the sanctions coalition together and the Iranians at the table may be impossible after the next deadline.
TIME Congress

‘Girlfriend’ Issues at Heart of Robert Menendez Corruption Indictment

Ranking member Sen. Bob Menendez listens to testimony during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, in Washington on March 11, 2015.
Mark Wilson–Getty Images Ranking member Sen. Bob Menendez listens to testimony during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, in Washington on March 11, 2015.

Indictment alleges Menendez secured visas for donor's foreign girlfriends

When does a friendship become corrupt?

That question is at the heart of the Department of Justice’s case against Sen. Robert Menendez, who was charged on 14 counts including bribery and conspiracy Wednesday for allegedly accepting from a top donor-friend close to $1 million in gifts in exchange for political favors. Menendez is only the twelfth senator ever to be indicted.

To bolster their case, the federal authorities are claiming that the New Jersey Democrat improperly used his office in 2007 and 2008 to help the donor, Dr. Salomon Melgen, bring three girlfriends to the United States on tourist and student visas.

Detailed in about ten pages of the indictment, Menendez and his office allegedly contacted officials at the State Department and U.S. embassy in the Dominican Republic to secure the visas. In one case, a woman prosecutors described as Melgen’s girlfriend—a Dominican model—and her sister were denied tourist visas by the U.S. embassy because an employee was “not fully convinced” of their travels’ motives. Melgen told Menendez that day and the senator told a staffer to “Call the Ambassador asap.” The women—ages 18 and 22—received their visas by the next month. The indictment also alleges that Menendez met with the women, meeting one for dinner at a swanky Miami hotel with Melgen and the two others at Melgen’s Dominican Republic Casa De Campo villa.

While the details of the allegations are salacious, the onus will be on the prosecutors to establish that the Melgen-Menendez friendship was actually an illegal exchange of gifts and services. The 68-page indictment also alleges that Menendez pressured the State Department to influence the Dominican Republic to ensure a major Melgen port security contract and that he improperly advocated on behalf of Melgen in his multimillion-dollar Medicare billing dispute.

Meredith McGehee, the policy director for the Campaign Legal Center, says that Menendez could be aided in the case by an exemption for gifts from personal friends, which she says provides a “very large safe harbor” for members and their staff. Melgen and Menendez’s friendship dates back to the early 1990s.

“I think the prosecutors actually face a big hurdle in demonstrating efficiently to a jury why these gifts that Menendez received do not fall into the personal friendship exemption,” she told TIME. “He’s been a public official for most of his adult life and public officials tend to collect a lot of ‘personal friends.’ That’s kind of their business.”

Menendez denied all charges Wednesday night and said that his prosecutors are “dead wrong.”

“I’m angry because prosecutors at the Justice Department don’t know the difference between friendship and corruption and have chosen to twist my duties as a senator—and my friendship—into something that is improper,” he said.

TIME Congress

This Brothel Offered to Host Harry Reid’s Retirement Party

Harry Reid
Pablo Martinez Monsivais—AP Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nev. adjusts his glasses as he speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 24, 2015.

The brothel says a party there could be good for Democrat/Republican relations

A brothel in Nevada has offered to host Harry Reid’s retirement party, promising that it would be a “big hit” with the attendees.

In an open letter to the Senate Minority Leader, Sheri’s Ranch lists the policy initiatives Reid has supported that have benefitted the legal prostitutes in Nevada, Reid’s home state. The letter mentions Reid’s support for the Affordable Care Act, under which the prostitutes, who operate as independent contractors, can now have health coverage. It also talks about Reid’s support for LGBT rights and his opposition to a proposed nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain, which is in a neighboring county to the brothel.

But along with championing Reid’s politics, the letter also pitches Sheri’s as an ideal party spot.

“Many of your colleagues are intimately aware of our offerings, but we may have added new options since they last visited,” it says. “In addition to our VIP sex bungalows, BDSM chamber, and numerous Jacuzzi rooms popular with our friends from the political arena, Sheri’s has recently added a new massage room where your guests can receive full-body nude massages from one (or more) of the two dozen legal prostitutes on the property at any given time.”

“Heck, a retirement party at Sheri’s may even help lessen the animosity between you and your Republican acquaintances,” the letter adds.

Reid recently announced he would retire at the end of 2016.

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