TIME state of the union

The 7 Types of Jokes in Obama’s State of the Union Addresses

President Obama Delivers State Of The Union Address At U.S. Capitol
President Obama Delivers State Of The Union Address At U.S. Capitol in 2014. Larry Downing—Pool/Getty Images

The State of the Union is sort of like a long work meeting. Because it’s so tedious, even the lamest joke will get a hearty laugh.

That’s not to say that President Obama can’t be funny. Like most recent presidents, he’s gotten genuine laughs poking fun at himself and others at the annual White House Correspondents Association dinner and the Gridiron Club.

But those are actual jokes. The lines from the State of the Union that get laughs are something else entirely — those kind of “work hard … hardly working” things that Michael Scott would get uncomfortable groans for on “The Office.”

Here’s a guide to the seven types of Obama jokes you’ll hear Tuesday, in order of least to (al)most funny.

The Pun

There is no lower form of humor than the pun, but for some reason Obama has seen fit to include it in the most serious annual speech he gives.

Example: “In the year since I asked this Congress to raise the minimum wage, five states have passed laws to raise theirs. Many businesses have done it on their own. Nick Chute is here today with his boss, John Soranno. John’s an owner of Punch Pizza in Minneapolis, and Nick helps make the dough. [Laughter] Only now he makes more of it. [Laughter]” — 2014

Was it funny? No. This isn’t even a dad joke. It’s a grandpa joke.

The Dad Joke

While not a pun per se, this is a joke that depends on some lame play on words that would get you kicked out of a junior high cafeteria.

Example: “We got rid of one rule from 40 years ago that could have forced some dairy farmers to spend $10,000 a year proving that they could contain a spill, because milk was somehow classified as an oil. With a rule like that, I guess it was worth crying over spilled milk. [Laughter]” — 2012

Was it funny? No. This joke is so bad it makes us feel like sending a condolence card to Sasha and Malia for enduring their father’s sense of humor.

The Pop Culture Reference

There’s nothing wrong with a well-placed reference to pop culture. Comedians use it to great effect all the time. But there are times when it’s just lazy.

Example: “Women deserve equal pay for equal work. She deserves to have a baby without sacrificing her job. A mother deserves a day off to care for a sick child or a sick parent without running into hardship. And you know what, a father does too. It is time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a ‘Mad Men’ episode.” [Laughter]” — 2014

Was it funny? No. Although, in Obama’s defense, it’s not even clear this was supposed to be funny.

The Self-Deprecating Joke

Obama is on surer footing when he makes jokes that shows he is self-aware, especially given the intensely partisan audience at the State of the Union.

Example: “And if you want to know the real impact this law is having, just talk to Governor Steve Beshear of Kentucky, who’s here tonight. Now, Kentucky is not the most liberal part of the country. That’s not where I got my highest vote totals. [Laughter]” — 2014

Was it funny? Sort of. This is more “snort gently through your nose” funny than “laugh out loud” funny, but it’s approaching actual humor.

The Subtle Dig

Obama can be a little sarcastic at times, but when he wields that weapon gently, he can score a good point off his political opponents.

Example: “So again, if you have specific plans to cut costs, cover more people, increase choice, tell America what you’d do differently. Let’s see if the numbers add up. But let’s not have another 40-something votes to repeal a law that’s already helping millions of Americans like Amanda. The first 40 were plenty. [Laughter]” — 2014

Was it funny? Sure. It wasn’t the only time that Obama’s gotten a joke out of Republican opposition to the Affordable Care Act, either.

The Aside

The State of the Union is heavily scripted, but there are still moments when Obama breaks away, usually in response to the audience’s reaction — the way a late-night talk show host might milk a moment.

Example: “We cut taxes for 8 million Americans paying for college. [Applause] I thought I’d get some applause on that one. [Laughter]” — 2010

Was it funny? Sure. This is one of those moments that’s more about the delivery than the line itself, but we’re grading on a curve here.

The Reader’s Digest Joke

There’s never going to be a truly subversive joke in the State of the Union. But there are lines that can come close to something you might find in the “Life in These United States” column in Reader’s Digest.

Example: “Within 25 years, our goal is to give 80 percent of Americans access to high-speed rail. This could allow you to go places in half the time it takes to travel by car. For some trips, it will be faster than flying, without the pat-down. [Laughter]” — 2011

Was it funny? Yes. Everyone can relate to the hassles of going through airport security and the joke is unexpected enough to be funny. More jokes like this, please.

TIME Environment

A Bad Day for Climate Change Deniers … and the Planet

Deeper, hotter, sicker—and the oceans are only part of it
Deeper, hotter, sicker—and the oceans are only part of it Roc Canals Photography; Getty Images/Flickr Select

Jeffrey Kluger is Editor at Large for TIME.

Three new studies offer new proof of how bad the earth's fever has gotten

It’s not often that the climate change deniers get clobbered three times in just two days. But that’s what happened with the release of a trio of new studies that ought to serve as solid body blows to the fading but persistent fiction that human-mediated warming is somehow a hoax. Good news for the forces of reason, however, is bad news for the planet—especially the oceans.

The most straightforward of the three studies was a report from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) confirming what a lot of people who sweltered through 2014 already suspected: the year is entering the record books as the hottest ever since reliable records started being kept in 1880—and the results weren’t even close.

Average global surface temperature worldwide was 58.24ºF (14.58º C) — surpassing previous records set in 2005 and 2007 — and making 2014 a full 2ºF (1.1ºC) hotter than the average for the entire 20th century. And before you say 2ºF doesn’t seem like much, think about whether you’d prefer to run a fever of 99ºF or 101ºF. The planet is every bit as sensitive to small variations as you are.

“Today’s news is a clear and undeniable warning for all of us that we need to cut climate pollution and prepare for what’s coming,” said Lou Leonard, vice president for climate change at the World Wildlife Fund.

When it concerns the ocean, what’s coming may already be here. A sobering study in Nature looked at sea level rise in both the periods from 1901 to 1990 and from 1993 to 2010 in an attempt to sort out a seeming inconsistency: measurements from 622 tide gauges around the world showed that levels had risen 6 in. (15.24 cm) over the past century, but computer models and other tools put the figure at only 5 in. (12.7 cm). Here too, what seems like a little is actually a lot: a single inch of water spread around all of the planet’s oceans and seas represents two quadrillion gallons of water.

This could have meant good news, since it might have indicated that we’d overestimated the impact of melting glaciers and ice caps. But new computer modeling recalculated the degree of sea level rise over the last century and found that the tide gauges had it right all along, and the only thing that was wrong was that sea levels had risen more slowly than believed in the 90 years that followed 1900, and much faster in the 17 years from 1993 to 2010 — close to three times as fast per year. What does that mean in the long term? Perhaps 3 ft. (0.9 m) greater increase by the end of this century if we keep on the way we’re going.

Finally, according to the journal Science, at the same time sea levels are rising higher, marine life forms are growing sicker, with a “major extinction event” a very real possibility. All through the oceans, the signs of ecosystem breakdown are evident: the death of coral reefs, the collapse of fish stocks, the migration of species from waters that have grown too warm for them to the patches that remain cool enough.

What’s more, the increase in the number of massive container ships crossing the oceans has resulted in a growing number of collisions with whales — encounters in which the animals wind up the losers. Seafloor mining and bottom-trawling nets both plunder fish populations and further damage the environment in which deepwater species can live.

“Humans,” wrote the authors of the Science paper, “have already powerfully changed virtually all major marine ecosystems.”

No part of this bad-news trifecta is likely to change the minds of the rump faction of climate deniers — particularly in Washington. Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who is set to assume chairmanship of the committee that oversees science in general and NASA in particular had this to say to CNN about climate change: “The last 15 years, there has been no recorded warming. Contrary to all the theories that they are expounding, there should have been warming over the last 15 years. It hasn’t happened.”

He’s wrong on the facts — as the new temperature readings demonstrate — and wrong on his interpretation of the science which shows that the rate of atmospheric warming has indeed slowed a bit in the past decade and a half. The reason for that seeming happy development is not that climate change isn’t real, but that the oceans, for now, are sopping up more heat than anticipated—see, for example, those migrating fish.

Meantime, Cruz’s Oklahoma colleague Senator James Inhofe is set to become chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. This is the same Inhofe who persists in his very vocal belief that climate change is “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people” and that even if it is true, it might actually be good for the world.

Ultimately, reason will prevail; in the long arc of scientific history it usually does. How much ocean and atmosphere and wildlife we’ll have left when that happens, however, is another matter entirely.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Congress

Why Republicans Want to Give President Obama More Power

Barack Obama John Boehner
US President Barack Obama (R) talks with Speaker of the House, John Boehner, R-Ohio, during a meeting with the bipartisan, bicameral leadership of Congress in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington on Sept. 9, 2014. Jim Watson—AFP/Getty Images

The politics of passing the largest trade agreement ever—further tying the economies of 12 countries nested on the Pacific Ocean, an area larger than the Earth’s landmass—is complex, to say the least.

But House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan, a pivotal figure on trade in his new perch, appears optimistic that Congress can pass a major bill that would give President Obama greater authority to negotiate an agreement known as the Trans Pacific Partnership, which would affect about 40% of the world’s GDP and about a third of the world’s trade. That is, as long as Obama does his part, of course.

“This is an area we can find common ground with the President, but we need the President to engage,” said Ryan, still sporting his hunting beard at the GOP joint Senate-House retreat, a first for the party in 10 years. “We need the president to engage on this issue with his own party. We need him to make it a priority in the State of the Union. We need him to work with his party to help get votes.”

Ryan’s statement, echoed by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, underlines the difficulties in getting a deal sought by Obama for years. Granting “fast-track” authority, which would allow limited congressional debate, no amendments and an up-or-down vote, poses political perils across the aisle. Liberals, backed by labor unions like AFL-CIO, have raised concerns that TPP will exacerbate income inequality and have already begun planning how they could slow down the process in the Senate. Last month, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren expressed concern that TPP could increase U.S. access to risky financial products and take away regulators’ tools over foreign banks “to prevent the next crisis.”

And even though a new Republican-controlled Senate increases the number of pro-trade congressmen, conservatives have been furious with Obama’s executive actions—voting in the House on Wednesday to claw back years of his immigration decrees—and will be hard pressed to grant the Administration the leverage it needs to negotiate. Ryan points out that the Republican party, however, is largely pro-trade.

“By and large the vast majority of our members are in favor of getting these kinds of trade agreements because they know it’s good for business,” said Ryan. “The question that obviously you hear about is should we give this president TPA? TPA is asserting congressional prerogatives early in the process. So it’s a good thing no matter who the president is … and to make sure we get the best deal.”

Still, there is already sniping that the other party could tank the deal before congressional leaders even announce a goal of a timeline of when they would like to pass TPA.

“The one thing we have found time and time again is where are the 50 Democrats,” asked McCarthy, before noting that last year Obama urged Congress for a trade bill in his State of the Union address and then didn’t talk about it a day latter in a private meeting with then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. “The President has to lean in,” said McCarthy.

Some Democrats have said privately that it may be conservatives who tank the trade efforts.

“I think Republicans are going to confront the reality that doing TPA now goes against their central complaint about giving more authority to the president of the United States,” says a House Democratic aide. “They’ve been criticizing the president for months—if not longer—that he’s the emperor-in-chief. And yet they’re going to grant him basically complete authority to put a trade agreement in front of Congress and get an up-and-down vote? The closer this gets to that happening, the more their inexperienced members become familiar with the topic, they’re going to confront challenges in the party.”

If Congress doesn’t pass a trade-promotion authority bill, other countries will be more hesitant to engage in commitments with the U.S. since Congress could amend the deal. But members of Congress have a number of trade concerns spanning labor, environmental and intellectual property issues. In 2013, 60 senators and 230 representatives urged the Administration to address currency manipulation and exchange rate policies that they said could increase the trade deficit and kill jobs.

But Republican leaders at a retreat in Hershey, Pa.—“The Sweetest Place on Earth”—seem willing to work to overcome those obstacles.

TIME Congress

Immigration Sours GOP’s Sweet Retreat

From left, Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., and Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., prepare to board a tour bus to join Senate and House Republicans at a two-day policy retreat in Hershey, Pa. on Jan. 14, 2015, in Washington.
From left, Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., and Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., prepare to board a tour bus to join Senate and House Republicans at a two-day policy retreat in Hershey, Pa. on Jan. 14, 2015 in Washington. J. Scott Applewhite—AP

The sour topic here at “The Sweetest Place on Earth” is immigration.

In Hershey, Pa., at the Republicans’ first dual-chamber retreat in 10 years, conservative and moderate members debated the right strategy to protest the president’s recent executive actions deferring deportations for up to five million immigrants who have come to the country illegally.

“I think we’ve not handled the [immigration] issue well,” said California Rep. Jeff Denham, who voted against a GOP amendment this week that would roll back the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which has temporarily deferred deportation for hundreds of thousands of young adults who were brought to the country as children.

“Just throwing DACA out there without having a reform bill I think brings great concern not only from the Senate colleagues I talked to but from the folks in my district I’ve talked to,” he said.

South Dakota Sen. John Thune, a member of the GOP leadership, reminded reporters that the “magic number” in the Senate is 60 when asked how the chamber would consider a House bill passed Wednesday that ties the immigration fight to funding the Department of Homeland Security past its Feb. 27 deadline. While House and Senate Republicans have the “same goals” on reining in Obama, Thune said that there “may be different ways and approaches to this issue.”

Meanwhile, House conservatives are proud of the bill passed in their chamber this week, which would not only negate the president’s November immigration executive actions, but also several others going back years, including DACA. Arizona Rep. Matt Salmon said that the House has a “very, very united front” on its immigration bill. He said that the overall message he is getting from leadership is “we’re going to work our will.”

“We’re going to work our will and we’re going to send it over and stop worrying on what can get to 60 out of the Senate,” he said. “If we do that with enough time to respond then it’s a good process.”

Top Republican congressional leaders acknowledged the need to address a broken immigration system, but specifics past border security are hard to nail down. House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul announced Thursday night that his committee will introduce “the most significant and toughest border security bill ever before Congress.” Oregon Rep. Greg Walden, the head of the National Republican Congressional Committee, acknowledged that the GOP needs a “a positive immigration plan for the country.” House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan said that more and more Congressmen are recognizing that Republicans can’t fix issues like immigration unless it wins the White House and said it was “premature” to talk about immigration reform legislation that could pass this Congress, as the conference continues to develop its agenda.

“We are a country of immigrants,” he said. “Immigration is good for America. It’s important for jobs, for economic growth. It’s just that we want to have legal immigration. We want to have the rule of law restored. We want to fix this broken immigration system. I think most members agree with that.”

Other House and Senate party leaders acknowledged that Republicans have not yet agreed upon a strategy to fund DHS and oppose the president’s immigration actions. After the House passed its bill, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid tweeted that the “pointless, political” bill wouldn’t get the necessary 60 votes in the Senate.

Ironically, as TPM and others have noted, the fee-funded program that processes deportation relief and work permits wouldn’t be nearly as affected in the case of a DHS shutdown as border security and deportation efforts—Republican priorities funded through the appropriations process.

TIME state of the union

The Curse of the State of the Union Response

After the president gives the State of the Union, the opposing party typically gives a rebuttal speech. But the person tasked with that job has often had bad luck afterward. Here's a look.

Freshman Sen. Joni Ernst will give the Republican response to President Obama’s State of the Union next week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced Thursday.

The Iowa senator, who won a closely watched race in November, is the first woman to represent Iowa in either chamber in Congress.

“She is a perfect choice,” McConnell said. “Americans voted for change and Senator Ernst will explain what the new Congress will do and what it is already doing to return Washington’s focus to the concerns of the middle class and away from the demands of the political class.”

The assignment is not an easy one. The State of the Union carries with it all of the pageantry of the imperial presidency, making the response often seem lackluster by comparison.

Since the tradition started in 1966, the response has varied in format, with the speaker sometimes talking to a small group, alone in front of a camera, in a more informal setting or even at a governor’s mansion.

Ernst said she was “humbled and honored” to give the response.

“It is a long way from Red Oak to Washington, D.C.,” she said. “Growing up on a southwest Iowa farm years ago, I never, never would have imagined that I would have this opportunity.”

– With Alex Rogers

TIME Campaign Finance

D.C. Influencers Spend More on Advertising and PR Than Lobbying

capitol-building
Getty Images

Forget lobbying. When Washington, D.C.’s biggest trade associations want to wield influence, they often put far more of their money into advertising and public relations, according to a new Center for Public Integrity investigation.

Take, for example, the American Petroleum Institute. The oil and gas industry trade group spent more than $7 million lobbying federal officials in 2012. But that sum was dwarfed by the $85.5 million it paid to four public relations and advertising firms to, in effect, lobby the American public — including $51.9 million just to global PR giant Edelman.

From 2008 through 2012, annual tax filings show, the API paid Edelman a staggering $327.4 million for advertising and public relations services, more than any other contractor.

It’s been well-publicized how much industry spends on lobbying the government, but not so much is known about how much money goes toward influencing the public. In an effort to find out more, Center for Public Integrity reporters examined the tax returns for trade associations that spent more than $1 million on lobbying in 2012. The IRS requires the groups to report their top five contractors.

Of $3.4 billion in contracts reported by the 144 trade groups from 2008 through 2012, more than $1.2 billion, or 37 percent, went toward advertising, public relations and marketing services, more than any other category. The second-highest total, $682.2 million, or 20 percent of the total, was directed toward legal, lobbying and government affairs.

By industry sector, the biggest clients of PR, marketing and ad services were energy and natural resources associations.

The public relations industry is on a growth tear while the number of federally registered lobbyists is actually shrinking. Public relations work, unlike lobbying, is not subject to federal disclosure rules, and PR and advertising campaigns can potentially influence a broader group of people. In addition to Edelman, among the other major players are President Barack Obama’s go-to ad agency GMMB, “issue-advocacy” firm Goddard Gunster and government policy specialists Apco Worldwide.

While not a complete accounting of spending, the analysis provides a glimpse into just how important the public relations industry is to groups seeking to influence public policy.

Big energy leads spending

Boosted by the $327.4 million-worth of contracts Edelman inked with the American Petroleum Institute — consistently the largest contracts the Center found in five years of collected data — the energy and natural resources industry outspent every other sector on advertising and public relations.

The API, Growth Energy — which represents ethanol producers — and other energy and natural resources trade groups collectively spent more than $430.5 million on PR and advertising to help burnish their image between 2008 and 2012.

It’s not clear how much of the total went into the bank accounts of the PR and advertising firms and how much was passed on to media companies, however. Edelman declined to comment with Center reporters for this story. Edelman likely left some of the work for the API to its Blue Advertising subsidiary, which offers media planning and placement in its services and discloses work for the oil giant on its website.

Other top energy and natural resources interests included the National Fisheries Institute, which represents seafood harvesters, wholesalers and retailers, and the National Biodiesel Board, whose members take recycled cooking oil and animal fats and turn them into fuel.

Business associations — led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — represented the second largest industry category, paying PR and advertising firms a total of at least $214.9 million from 2008 through 2012. The U.S. Chamber, the nation’s biggest lobby and a prolific spender on political ads, paid $173.5 million to its top advertising firms during the five-year period.

In 2010 and 2012, all five of the trade group’s top contractors were advertising agencies.

The U.S. Chamber paid Republican media-buying firm National Media Research, Planning & Placement more than $60.8 million for advertising services in 2009 alone. National Media, based in Northern Virginia, researches voter demographics and behaviors and places ads in key media markets.

Another top advertising contractor for the U.S. Chamber was Revolution Agency, which the trade group paid more than $38.2 million from 2010 through 2012.

Revolution is a Northern Virginia-based advocacy firm that possesses the “Creativity of Madison Avenue” and the “Strategic Discipline of a Political Campaign,” according to its website. Its partners all formerly worked as staffers or consultants for Republican lawmakers, and the firm’s clients have included business groups and the telecommunications industry.

The agency was behind an award-winning public affairs campaign targeting the proposed Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, an agency birthed out of the 2008 financial crisis. The campaign on behalf of the U.S. Chamber included a TV ad that attacked the proposed bureau as a “massive new federal agency that will create more layers of regulation and bureaucracy.”

The finance, insurance and real estate sector ranked third in contracts with advertising and PR agencies, paying $184.5 million to contractors, including favorites the Most Organization, a West Coast advertising agency, and Locust Street Group, a “grassroots” advocacy firm. The sector was led by the National Association of Realtors and America’s Health Insurance Plans.

The Most Organization, based in Orange County, California, earned more than $116.7 million from 2010 through 2012 for its work to promote the National Association of Realtors in a national advertising campaign.

Fourth in PR spending based on top contracts was the food and beverage industry, which paid out $104.5 million from 2008-2012. Big spenders included the American Beverage Association, which has been shelling out millions to try and keep cities and states from taxing sugary drinks.

Rounding out the top five industries for PR and advertising spending was communications and electronics, led by CTIA — The Wireless Association, which represents telecommunications companies like AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Co. Also in that category: the Software Alliance.

Steve Barrett, editor-in-chief of trade magazine PR Week, says it’s clear why trade associations rely so heavily on PR and advertising.

“They certainly want to influence the general public,” he says, “because the general public will then influence the politicians, the lawmakers or the regulators in that particular industry.”

Edelman leads PR firms

The Center’s analysis includes the top five contractors for each trade association. Annual totals need to be at least $100,000 to be reported. The Center looked only at trade associations that spent more than $1 million on lobbying in 2012, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. [See Methodology.]

Edelman’s lucrative contracts with the American Petroleum Institute helped the PR giant earn $346.8 million, significantly more money from top trade associations than any other advertising or public relations firm, according to the Center’s analysis. But the oil industry trade group wasn’t the firm’s only client.

Others included the Business Roundtable ($9.9 million), a group of CEOs who advocate for business-friendly policies, the Software Alliance ($2.5 million) and the Grocery Manufacturers Association ($1.8 million).

The food-industry trade group paid Edelman more than $1 million in 2011 for work related to its campaign to put select nutrition facts on labels — a move that some health experts criticized as a way to head off the Food and Drug Administration’s effort to require more comprehensive labeling.

Edelman is the country’s largest independent public relations firm. It employs more than 5,000 workers and maintains subsidiaries that specialize in grassroots communications and advertising.

The firm’s Washington office has a staff of 225, which includes “former journalists, campaign veterans, political speechwriters, White House staffers and legislative aides,” according to the firm’s website. Among them: Steve Schmidt, a senior advisor to Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign; former White House deputy press secretary Jamie Smith; and former Sens. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., and Kent Conrad, D-N.D.

Edelman is known for its at-times controversial tactics. In 2006, the firm was forced to apologize for creating a misleading grassroots campaign for Wal-Mart. To polish the company’s reputation, the agency had created “Working Families for Wal-Mart,” for which a couple drove across the country blogging positive accounts of the retail giant’s employees and customers — initially without disclosing that they were compensated. The campaign, which launched amid bad press about the company’s employment practices, sought to portray Wal-Mart workers as happy middle-class families.

More recently, leaked documents revealed Edelman’s aggressive plans to attack opponents of a pipeline being developed by TransCanada Corp. Within days of the leak, TransCanada announced that it was severing ties with Edelman.

In both cases, according to reports and leaked documents, Edelman maintained the same three-step approach: promote positive messages, respond to criticism and pressure opposition groups.

Michael Bush, a spokesman for the firm, declined to comment for this story. In an email, he wrote, “We do not talk about the work we do for clients.”

Public relations and advertising agencies boast of their communications savvy, but firms contacted for this story were mum. Some, like Edelman, declined to comment, while others did not return repeated phone calls and emails seeking comment.

Most trade associations also did not respond to the Center’s inquiries.

Lisa Graves, executive director of liberal watchdog group the Center for Media and Democracy, which operates the website PRWatch.org, says trade associations are designed to be a “shield and a sword” for their corporate members.

“It’s important for people to know more about how the trade associations operate and which PR operations they’re funding,” she says, “because those nonprofit entities are extremely powerful special interests in Washington, D.C.”

‘Turning the tide’

Communications firm GMMB ranked second behind Edelman. The agency, which has offices in Washington, D.C., and Seattle, brought in $123.5 million from contracts with five different associations in the beverage, communications, transportation and business industries from 2008 through 2012.

Known most prominently for its political work on behalf of Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns — GMMB’s leadership team includes Obama’s campaign advisor Jim Margolis — the firm has created ad blitzes for trade groups including CTIA and the American Beverage Association, whose members include Coca-Cola and PepsiCo.

From 2009 through 2012, the wireless association paid GMMB $40.5 million to produce ads, including one TV spot with the message that “wireless is freedom.” The beverage association, which teamed up with GMMB on a 2012 ad campaign to promote new prominently displayed calorie labels, paid the firm more than $55.2 million.

The Most Organization and National Media Research, Planning and Placement were the third- and fourth-highest paid contractors for advertising and public relations services. Goddard Claussen (now Goddard Gunster) came in fifth, followed by Revolution Agency, which was sixth, thanks mostly to its work for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, according to the Center’s data analysis.

Apco Worldwide, which ranked seventh, earned $42.9 million from trade associations. The Washington, D.C.-based firm is known for its work for the tobacco and health care industries. Mike Tuffin, a managing director in the firm’s Washington office, joined Apco in 2012 after serving as executive vice president of America’s Health Insurance Plans, a trade group that represents health insurers.

On behalf of AHIP, the agency created front group Health Care America to attack filmmaker Michael Moore’s 2007 documentary Sicko, which demonized American health insurers, according to Wendell Potter, a former industry-executive-turned-whistleblower. (Disclosure: Potter is a regular columnist for the Center for Public Integrity.)

In the two years before Congress passed health care reform in 2010, Apco won at least two contracts with AHIP, totaling more than $5 million.

Among former government officials at Apco are ex-Gov. Bill Richardson, D-N.M., and ex-Congressmen Don Bonker, D-Wash., and Tim Roemer, D-Ind.

Ogilvy & Mather came in just behind Apco, earning nearly $41 million from four trade associations during the five-year period reviewed by the Center. But the firm, a subsidiary of communications giant WPP, earned almost all of its money from the American Chemistry Council, which represents chemical companies.

The American Chemistry Council paid Ogilvy more than $15 million in 2008 alone. That year, the firm led a couple of PR and advertising campaigns on behalf of the trade group, including one that discouraged Americans from supporting a ban on products containing phthalates, a group of chemicals found in plastics and suspected of causing changes in hormone levels, birth defects and other health effects.

The firm earned awards for the phthalates campaign, which it dubbed “From Toxic to Truthful: Turning the Tide on Phthalates.” Even though Congress eventually banned the use of certain types of phthalates in children’s toys, the firm patted itself on the back for helping to “neutralize negative coverage” and bring “a noticeable shift in the public mood.”

FleishmanHillard ranked ninth, according to the Center’s analysis. Its public relations and advertising clients included the American Petroleum Institute ($27.6 million) and CropLife America ($1.5 million), which represents the manufacturers of pesticides and agricultural chemicals.

The firm, which describes itself as being driven by “the power of true,” has consistently ranked within the top three of the world’s highest-paid public relations companies for the past five years, according to the World PR Report published by the Holmes Report. Its D.C. office is led by Kris Balderston, a former State Department official and deputy assistant to former President Bill Clinton.

Keeping the players straight in the advertising and public relations game is no easy task due to a series of massive mergers that have taken place over the past decade or so. GMMB, for example, is actually a subsidiary of FleishmanHillard, which is owned by the giant advertising and communications holding company Omnicom Media Group, based in New York City.

But most of the subsidiaries function under their own names.

Locust Street Group rounds out the top 10 firms for PR and advertising services. The Washington, D.C.-based agency earned $23.6 million in trade group money from 2008 through 2012, almost all of which came from America’s Health Insurance Plans. It’s unclear what exactly the agency did on the insurance group’s behalf — the firm’s founder, David Barnhart, declined to answer questions for this story — but Locust Street Group’s website says it builds “boots on the ground” coalitions and creates social media campaigns to help influence lawmakers.

“D.C. may have K Street with tons of lobbyists,” the firm’s slogan says, “but small towns all over America have a Locust Street.”

High stakes, big reward

For public relations agencies, landing a contract with a large trade association is a big deal.

“The stakes are high, and the competition is intense,” says Larry Parnell, director of George Washington University’s master’s program in strategic public relations. “But as you can see, winning one of these things is very lucrative.”

It’s difficult to draw sweeping conclusions from the data analyzed by the Center. Trade groups often vaguely describe the services their top contractors provide as “professional fees” or “consulting.” Many firms offer a wide range of services, at times making it unclear exactly what kind of work was done on the industry associations’ behalf.

Because the Center only reviewed the most politically active trade associations, the data didn’t include some industry groups that fell below the $1 million lobbying threshold but still spent heavily on public relations and advertising.

But the contractor information provides an inside look at the way trade associations use PR and advertising to ply the American mind. Trade groups determined to fight regulations and boost profits of their members have spent heavily to influence how the public perceives policies that affect everything from the air we breathe to the beverages we drink.

The strategy, public relations experts say, is not designed to replace lobbying so much as it is to enhance it.

“You can leverage [public relations work] so your lobbying is to a finer point,” says Parnell, noting that lobbyists can better influence lawmakers by showing them polling gathered by “grassroots” PR campaigns. “It provides air cover.”

“People and organizations are getting increasingly sophisticated with their communications strategies. They are more multi-dimensional,” adds Anne Kolton, vice president of communications for the American Chemistry Council. “With any advocacy [effort], the key is to create an echo chamber so people hear your message in numerous venues.”

There are some advantages to putting millions into PR rather than lobbying. For example, a trade association may be pushing a particular policy that is not so popular with the public. As long as it doesn’t directly contact a government official, it need not report who it has hired to do the PR work. Lobbying firms generally must report how much they are paid, who their clients are and what subject areas they are working on.

Misleading tactics

PR agencies may further obfuscate their role by creating so-called “front groups” that appear to be grassroots organizations, in an effort to push their clients’ messages. It is often difficult to discern who is behind these manufactured entities, though sometimes information can trickle through.

For example, the tax form for the National Mining Association showed that it paid $4 million to Weber Merritt, a Northern Virginia public affairs firm, as an independent contractor. The services were listed as “Count on Coal” in 2012, according to IRS filings.

Count on Coal calls itself a “grassroots organization” that educates people on coal-powered electricity. Its social media and online petitions, which criticize government proposals to cut carbon emissions, all omit ties to the mining association.

While this type of “grassroots” mobilization is increasingly driven by an industry or paid consultants, it is only one piece of the growing demand for communications professionals, who specialize in everything from crisis management to social media advocacy.

In 2013, the global public relations industry grew 11 percent over the previous year to $12.5 billion, according to trade journal The Holmes Report.

The steady rise in public relations worldwide spending has been accompanied by an overall drop in lobbying spending, beyond the trade group sector.

Lobbying expenditures peaked in 2010, when special interests spent $3.6 billion on lobbying federal lawmakers. Since then, they have declined steadily, falling to $3.2 billion in 2013, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The total number of registered lobbyists has also dropped.

Some say the change indicates a shift toward so-called “soft lobbying,” a strategy that enables industry groups and unions to influence public policy not only with public relations, but through think tanks, nonprofit organizations and grassroots groups that aren’t subject to federal disclosure rules.

Journalists overwhelmed

The golden age for PR has coincided with the decline of mainstream journalism, especially newspapers, which have suffered from plummeting ad revenue that has necessitated layoffs in newsrooms across the country.

Today, not only are PR professionals outnumbering journalists by a ratio of 4.6 to 1, but the salary gap between the two occupations has grown to almost $20,000 per year, according to the Pew Research Center. The widening employment and income disparities have left journalists underpaid, overworked and increasingly unable to undertake independent, in-depth reporting.

Rick Edmonds, a writer for the Poynter Institute who covers the business of journalism, says the shift has been particularly evident in the coverage of science and health news. Many news organizations that once reported extensively on those issues no longer have the resources to cover them adequately, and special interests have filled the void.

“A great deal of science and health news is coming from the PR side,” Edmonds says.

For trade associations like the American Petroleum Institute, that’s part of the larger public relations strategy that makes lobbying federal lawmakers a lot easier.

“If we’re concerned about a particular member [of Congress], we will educate that constituency and encourage people to weigh in with their elected official,” Jack Gerard, the American Petroleum Institute’s president and CEO, told The Washington Post in a 2012 interview explaining the mentality behind the trade group’s PR offensive. “Congress is a lagging indicator. Congress is responsive to the American people. That’s why a well-educated electorate is a key to sound policy.”

The gradual shift from a focus on traditional lobbying toward greater use of the “outside game of politics,” or communications like PR, has been going on for at least a decade, close observers say, but is now accelerating with advances in technology, social media and digital strategies, says Doug Pinkham, president of the Public Affairs Council, an association of public affairs professionals who specialize in corporate PR, lobbying and grassroots advocacy.

Not all of the trade associations reviewed by the Center spent more money on top contracts for public relations and advertising than on those for lobbying and legal services. But the data appear to support broader trends in the so-called “influence industry.”

“In the world we live in now,” says Pinkham, “if you have an issue that is visual and has a compelling narrative, we’re better off spending more resources on trying to educate the public” than relying on traditional lobbying.

Troubled industries turn to PR

The trade associations that rely most on PR and advertising campaigns are usually those representing industries facing the heaviest regulation and the most public contempt, says Edward Walker, a sociology professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, and author of the book Grassroots for Hire.

And the campaigns are often tied to specific public policy crises. As Walker says, they usually launch “when industries really feel threatened that they might actually lose a policy battle.”

Over the last few years, both the American Petroleum Institute and the American Beverage Association have used PR campaigns to defend their respective industries during heated debates over issues like the proposed Keystone XL pipeline and proposed taxes on sugary drinks.

At the outset of 2012, the American Petroleum Institute announced a “Vote4Energy” campaign to promote the industry in a contentious election year. Its social media endorsed the idea that domestic oil production would bring jobs, revenue and national security.

With Edelman’s help, the American Petroleum Institute also organized a speech and panel discussion targeting “key influencers” in attendance, including think tanks, government officials and the media. Online groups also emerged, like “Energy Tomorrow,” which hosts a blog by Mark Green, a journalist-turned-industry-blogger.

In addition to Edelman’s work, the petroleum group paid FleishmanHillard $22.8 million in 2012 for advertising to promote hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to skeptical citizens. TV advertisements targeted a half-dozen shale gas-producing states, including Pennsylvania, Texas and North Dakota, emphasizing small-town reliance on energy and downplaying environmental impacts, as part of its Energy from Shale campaign.

Big soda

Few industries have felt more threatened in recent years than soda makers.

Since 2009, the makers of sugary beverages have found themselves under attack from government officials and public health advocates who have blamed soft drinks for the nation’s expanding waistlines and have favored taxing popular sweetened beverages.

The American Beverage Association has fought back — vigorously — with the help of Goddard Gunster, a Washington, D.C.-based firm famous for creating the “Harry and Louise” ad campaign that helped bury President Clinton’s health care reform proposal in 1993 and 1994.

Goddard has produced anti-tax ads and created front groups in cities and states considering soda taxes. In 2012, the firm helped the association defeat two soda-tax ballot measures in Richmond and El Monte, California — campaigns that preceded its 2014 ballot-box battles in San Francisco, where voters rejected a soda-tax measure, and Berkeley, where a sugary-drink tax passed.

Jenny Wang, a public health worker and mother of two girls, recalls how the beverage industry flooded Richmond with anti-tax ads, buying up the town’s billboards and hiring residents to deliver mailers door-to-door.

“We didn’t have the manpower to fight against all of that messaging,” says Wang, a former Richmond resident who supported the soda tax. “They were so pervasive and so persuasive.”

John Dunbar contributed to this report.

TIME

House Votes to Overturn Obama’s Immigration Policies

House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio walks to the House chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington on Jan. 14, 2015, as lawmakers gather for a vote to fund the Homeland Security Department but will curb President Barack Obama's executive actions on immigration.
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio walks to the House chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington on Jan. 14, 2015, as lawmakers gather for a vote to fund the Homeland Security Department but will curb President Barack Obama's executive actions on immigration. J. Scott Applewhite—AP

Obama has threatened to veto the legislation

(WASHINGTON) — The Republican U.S. House voted Wednesday to overturn President Barack Obama’s key immigration policies, approving legislation that would eliminate new deportation protections for millions and expose hundreds of thousands of younger immigrants to expulsion.

The 236-191 vote came on a broad bill that would provide nearly $40 billion to finance the Homeland Security Department through the rest of the budget year.

Democrats accused Republicans of playing politics with national security at a time of heightened threats, and Obama has threatened to veto the legislation. Prospects in the Senate look tough, too.

But House Republicans, in a determined assault on one of Obama’s top domestic priorities, accused him of reckless unconstitutional actions on immigration that must be stopped.

“This executive overreach is an affront to the rule of law and to the Constitution itself,” said House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio. “The people made clear that they wanted more accountability from this president, and by our votes here today we will heed their will and we will keep our oath to protect and defend the Constitution.”

But Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., accused Republicans of “viciousness” for trying to make it easier to deport immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. Rep. David Price, D-N.C., called the GOP effort “a political vendetta,” adding, “It’s a reprehensible, reckless tactic which will compromise, has already compromised, the full and effective functioning of our Homeland Security Department” at a time of heightened security risks.

The immigration measures were amendments on the Homeland Security bill.

One of them, approved 237-190, would undo executive actions that Obama announced in November to provide temporary deportation relief to some 4 million immigrants in the country illegally. A second amendment would delete Obama’s 2012 policy that’s granted work permits and stays of deportation to more than 600,000 immigrants who arrived in the U.S. illegally as children. That measure passed more narrowly, 218-209, as more than two dozen more moderate Republicans joined Democrats in opposition.

The changes Obama announced in November especially enraged the GOP because they came not long after Republicans swept the midterm elections, taking control of the Senate and increasing their majority in the House. Republicans pledged then to revisit the issue once Congress was fully under their control.

But even with Republicans in control of the Senate, the bill faces difficulty there, especially because House GOP leaders decided to satisfy demands from conservative members by including a vote to undo the 2012 policy that deals with younger immigrants known as “Dreamers.”

Republicans are six votes shy of the 60-vote majority needed to advance most legislation in the Senate, and even some Republicans in that chamber have expressed unease with the House GOP approach, especially given the importance of funding the Homeland Security Department in light of the Paris terrorist attacks.

Some House Republicans acknowledged that the Senate was likely to reject their approach, perhaps forcing them in the end to pass a Homeland Security funding bill stripped of controversial provisions on immigration.

“They’re not going to pass this bill,” said Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa.

Homeland Security money expires at the end of February so House leaders have left themselves several weeks to come up with an ultimate solution.

Immigrant advocates warned Republicans that Wednesday’s votes risked alienating Latino voters who will be crucial to the 2016 presidential election.

TIME Immigration

House Republicans Go Big on Immigration Fight

Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) answers questions during a press conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 7, 2015.
Speaker of the House John Boehner answers questions during a press conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 7, 2015. Win McNamee—Getty Images

In a series of votes this week, the House GOP will protest nearly every major immigration executive action by President Obama in the past few years, threatening millions of immigrants who came to the country illegally with deportation.

The plan has no chance of passage; enough Democratic and moderate Republican senators have stated their opposition and the White House threatened to veto the bill on Monday. But a week after two-dozen Republicans voted to oust House Speaker John Boehner from his perch, the House GOP leadership has earned a respite of praise from conservatives and its rank-and-file for its approach in opposing the President and funding the Department of Homeland Security past its February 27 deadline.

“Clearly this is where we want to be,” said Florida Republican Rep. Tom Rooney, a member of the Appropriations Committee. “I want [Obama] to veto what we send up there so at least there is a clear distinction between what we think our constituents want to do versus what the president’s willing to do. Who’s responsibility is it now if DHS gets shut down? Is it the person who just vetoed it or is it the Republicans in the House who amended it to take his executive order out? I’d like to have that fight.”

“I voted for Boehner—and I haven’t been a big fan—but to his credit they’ve been reaching out,” said Arizona Republican Rep. Matt Salmon, noting that the 12 vote “toe-hold” another candidate for Speaker received was not due to his conservatives bona fides, but his message of inclusivity. “I think it’s symbolic of where we’re going to be…I think it’s very emblematic of the fact that leadership is actually listening to what we’re saying.”

The House GOP package, expected to be voted on Wednesday, would stop more than Obama’s most recent immigration executive actions temporarily delaying deportations for up to five million undocumented immigrants, including parents of U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident children for at least five years, by rolling back 2011 memos that expanded what immigration officials should consider in deferring deportations. Another amendment would defund a 2012 program that provides similar protection to hundreds of thousands of immigrants brought here illegally as children.

The strategy goes way beyond what was expected—simply, directly challenging the November White House actions—and is more likely to fail. But by voting on the package this week, the GOP leadership has given its members enough time to be on the record with their ultimate pipedream before having to recalibrate. It also may shift the House conservatives’ blame from their leadership to conservatives in the Senate.

“This is an opportunity for some of the people on the Senate side who are itching for a fight, like [Texas Republican Senator] Ted Cruz and others, to show what they can do,” says Salmon. When reminded that it’s clear the new GOP-controlled Senate can’t reach the requisite 60 votes, Rooney replied that it “kind of ticks me off, to be honest with you.”

The moves could further alienate Republicans from a Hispanic population that had been frustrated with a president who delayed his promises last year and oversaw a high level of deportation in his first six-years. However, House and even Senate Republicans have little political incentive to act on issues of Hispanic importance: The party would “probably” have held onto the House even if they lost every Hispanic voter in the midterms, according to a New York Times election analysis, and still have had a “real chance” to take over the Senate. Of course, it’s another story in taking back the White House, which would allow Republicans to roll back Obama’s executive actions with the stroke of a pen.

Boehner said on Tuesday morning that the debate over how to fund DHS is not about immigration, but about the president “acting lawlessly” and violating the “Constitution itself.” He also declined to tip his hand on whether or not he would allow a vote on a DHS funding bill without the aforementioned amendments before the February deadline.

“Our goal here is to fund the Department of Homeland Security,” said Boehner. “Our second goal is to stop the president’s executive overreach.”

Democrats ripped the Republicans’ package as poor policy and politics, noting that it was only a year ago when the House GOP announced its immigration principles, including legal residence and citizenship for children illegally brought to American “through no fault of their own.”

“I mean how do you go from that to this,” said Illinois Democrat Rep. Louis Gutierrez, a vocal immigration reform advocate. “It is much more extreme than anything I expected—and I expect almost anything from Republicans when it comes to immigration,” he added, before wondering aloud how “such a small band of Republicans” could “jeopardize” the party’s national positioning for a bill that wouldn’t become law.

MONEY identity theft

You Already Have Fraud Protection Tools That Are Better Than the Ones Obama Proposed

President Barack Obama arrives to speak at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) offices at the Constitution Center in Washington, Monday, Jan. 12, 2015
Carolyn Kaster—AP

On Monday, President Obama previewed his two big solutions for the problem of identity theft. But it turns out they may do little for your wallet.

Americans are terrified of identity theft. They’re more afraid of identity theft than every other crime, Gallup says. And they have good reason to be: Over the past year, millions of consumers have had sensitive personal information exposed in data breaches.

Well, President Obama has heard your concerns. He’ll offer at least two big solutions in next week’s State of the Union address. Obama previewed those ideas during a speech at the Federal Trade Commission on Monday.

Bottom line: If you’re afraid of an identity thief racking up debts in your name, don’t rest easy just yet. Here’s what the president’s proposals wouldn’t accomplish—and what you can do instead to protect yourself.

#1: A federal notification requirement for security breaches

Obama’s idea: Pass a new federal law requiring businesses to tell consumers their personal information has been exposed within a month of a breach.

“Sometimes, folks don’t even find out their credit card information has been stolen until they see charges on their bill, and then it’s too late,” Obama explained during his speech at the FTC. “So under the new standard that we’re proposing, companies would have to notify consumers of a breach within 30 days.”

But Paul Stephens, director of policy and advocacy at the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, says he worries that Obama’s national proposal could override existing state laws, which generally offer even stronger protections.

Altogether, 47 states have laws governing how businesses must notify consumers of security breaches. Most states “require notification in the most expedient/expeditious time possible and without unreasonable delay,” says Pam Greenberg of the National Conference of State Legislatures. Exceptions include Florida, which requires notice within 30 days, and Ohio, Vermont, and Wisconsin, which require notice within 45 days, according to Greenberg.

Stephens is also concerned that the legislation will give companies wide discretion to decide whether consumers are at risk—and, therefore, whether they need to be notified. “The mere existence of a breach should trigger mandatory reporting because individuals whose information has been breached have a right to know about it,” Stephens says.

What’s more, notes Stephens, in many cases it takes some time before the companies themselves know they’ve been hacked. And if law enforcement agencies are investigating the breach, authorities may ask companies not to disclose anything that would undermine the investigation.

We’ll have to wait and see on the details. The “Personal Data Notification and Protection Act” has not been introduced in Congress yet.

#2: Free credit scores

On Monday, the president praised JPMorganChase, Bank of America, USAA, and the State Employees’ Credit Union for offering their customers free credit scores as part of their packages of financial services. “We’re encouraging more companies to join this effort every day,” he said.

He’s had some help from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which over the past year has been pressuring credit card companies to provide free access to FICO score information to help consumers make smarter financial decisions—and the effort is starting to bear results.

“This means that a majority of American adults will have free access to their credit score, which is like an early warning system telling you that you’ve been hit by fraud so you can deal with it fast,” Obama said on Monday.

But that’s where he’s wrong. Your credit score is the opposite of an early warning system—by the time your credit score has moved, you’re already in deep trouble, explains Odysseas Papadimitriou, CEO of CardHub.com, a credit card comparison site.

“Let’s say I steal your identity and I open a credit card under your name,” Papadimitriou says. “I get your credit card June 1. I get the bill July 1, that bill is due on August 1. I miss that payment. The next bill is due September 1. I miss that payment. At that point in time, I get reported—on September 1. All the damage is done. That’s why it’s completely useless.”

Having free access to your credit score is nice. But if the score is bad, it’s already too late.

What you can do now

First, get your hands on a “chip-and-signature” credit card. Experts are hopeful that this new technology could stem the near-constant retail data breaches. Visa and Mastercard have promised to update all their cards by October 2015.

Here’s how it works: The “chip” encrypts your transaction data, which should make it harder for hackers to raid retailers’ checkout systems and steal your credit card number. Stephens warns that identity thieves can still rack up fraudulent charges in your name if they get hold of your physical chip-and-signature card. A chip-and-PIN card is even better—that would require you to input a 4-digit PIN for any purchase. But any chip should help.

Second, check your free credit reports. Your credit report will show whether any new, fraudulent accounts have been opened in your name. Your credit score will only tank once someone has opened a fraudulent account and missed two payments. Papadimitriou thinks Congress should let Americans access their credit reports for free, at any time. Until then, you’re only entitled to one free credit report from each credit bureau every year—so check every four months.

While you’re at it, keep a close eye on your credit card statements. Report any suspicious charges. The good news is there are consumer protections in place to ensure you’ll get almost all of your money back in the event of fraud.

If an identity thief just stole your card number, you’ll ultimately owe nothing. If an identity thief stole your actual card, your liability is limited to $50 for credit cards and $500 for debit cards, depending on how early you report the problem. So you want to catch it early.

For more

TIME 2016 Election

Paul Ryan Won’t Run for President In 2016

Paul Ryan
Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., is interviewed by Maria Bartiromo during her "Opening Bell With Maria Bartiromo" program on the Fox Business Network, in New York City on Sept. 29, 2014. Richard Drew—AP

Former GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan will not campaign for the top job in 2016, according to NBC.

The Wisconsin Congressman said he hopes to focus his energy on his powerful new role as House Ways and Means Committee Chairman.

“It is amazing the amount of encouragement I have gotten from people—from friends and supporters—but I feel like I am in a position to make a big difference where I am and I want to do that,” he told NBC, adding that it will be “bittersweet not being on the trail.”

Ryan said that there were “a number of very capable candidates” in his party who could win, but declined to endorse anyone in particular. He did express support for his former running mate, Mitt Romney, who has said he won’t run for a third time.

“It is no secret that I have always thought Mitt would make a great president,” said Ryan. “As for his plans for 2016, I don’t know what he is ultimately going to do and the last thing I want to do is get ahead of his own decision making process.”

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser