TIME Secret Service

Top Republican Watchdog Slams Secret Service Director Pick

Joseph Clancy
Susan Walsh—AP Acting Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, in 2014.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz says they should have picked someone from outside the agency.

A top Republican critic of former Secret Service director Julia Pierson is not pleased with the Obama Administration’s pick to be her successor.

House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Jason Chaffetz said Wednesday that the appointment of acting director Joseph Clancy contradicts the recommendation of an independent panel created by the Department of Homeland Security in the aftermath of the embarrassing White House fence-jumping incident in September. Clancy’s appointment over Sean Joyce, a former deputy director of the F.B.I, extends the agency’s 150-year history of being led by a Secret Service agent, according to the New York Times.

“Only a director from outside the Service, removed from organizational traditions and personal relationships, will be able to do the honest top-to-bottom reassessment this will require,” argued the report, which was released in mid-December.

Chaffetz said in a statement that it was “disappointing” the President “ignored” the panel’s recommendations.

“The panel made it crystal clear that only a director from outside the agency would meet the needs of the agency today—someone with a fresh perspective, free from allegiances and without ties to what has consistently been described as a ‘good old boys network,'” he said. “The good men and women of the Secret Service are screaming for a fresh start. At this moment in time, the Secret Service would best be served by a transformative and dynamic leader from outside the agency.”

Pierson, the first female Secret Service director, resigned on Oct. 1, a day after a poor performance before Chaffetz’s committee and revelations that an armed security contractor with an arrest record was improperly screened and allowed onto an elevator with the President. A last straw for Pierson was that she did not inform Obama of the security breach.

Chaffetz wished the best for Clancy even if he disagreed with the appointment. Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the Oversight committee, said he was also ready to work with the new director.

“Joe Clancy has taken strong action over the past several months to begin righting the ship at the Secret Service, he has been extremely responsive to Congress, and his decisive leadership has already resulted in major changes,” said Cummings. “I look forward to working with him closely over the next year to ensure that the Secret Service gets what it needs to fulfill its critical mission.”

TIME Congress

What Nancy Pelosi’s Visit to Havana Means

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi
Bill Clark—CQ Roll Call/Getty Images House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi holds her weekly news conference in the Capitol in Washington D.C. on Dec. 5, 2014.

Members of Congress have been traveling to Havana for a while, preparing the ground for the coming rapprochement between Cuba and the United States. But Nancy Pelosi’s arrival on the island Tuesday adds a certain weight to the process. Pelosi, the San Francisco Democrat who leads the House minority, has become the most senior congressional leader to visit Cuba, a nominal milestone in every sense of the word but one that nonetheless helps to sustain the momentum begun with the Dec. 17 joint announcements of Presidents Obama and Raul Castro.

And momentum matters on the Cuba question. Obama has moved with real dispatch, first with the surprise announcement that he intended to re-establish diplomatic ties with a state that has been regarded as an outlaw by previous administrations dating to 1961 and then by taking less than four weeks to publish new rules allowing U.S. citizens to travel to the island and send money there. But there’s a limit how much any president can do. The matrix of legislation that together are known as the Embargo can be undone only by Congress, a constitutional reality not lost on the Cuban officials working closing with the Obama administration to sustain the sense the countries stand on the cusp of a new era.

“The power in the United States is not the President,” a senior Cuban official informed me late last month, in the corridor of the Havana hotel and convention center where a U.S. Assistant Secretary of State and her Cuban counterpart had just concluded a day of talks on re-opening embassies. “Don’t be fooled,” the official said with a knowing look. “There’s what he’s allowed to do.”

Re-opening embassies is one thing a president is allowed to do, and the talks aimed at doing that had evidently gone well, not least because the Cubans themselves gave every indication of understanding that the real challenge was not about ambassadors but the congressional battle that lay ahead. U.S. policy on Cuba had been largely dominated by the Cuban exile community that fled the island after the 1959 revolution. And if Obama’s overture to Havana was based on a calculation that the exiles’ time has come and mostly gone, the lobby’s clout remains a formidable thing on Capitol Hill, where, for instance, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee is New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, the son of Cuban emigrants.

In meeting with government officials, Pelosi’s codel, or Congressional Delegation, will no doubt be quizzed on the prospects for rolling back the Embargo. The answer is partly evident in the presence of a Democratic with a reputation as partisan as Pelosi’s: Support for the outreach to Cuba, while not defined cleanly on party lines, skews Democrat. But part of the answer lay in list of non-official Cubans the five House Democrats meet with on their visit. One stop will be Cardinal Jaime Lucas Ortega y Alamino, the local leader of the Catholic Church whose leader, Pope Francis, played a crucial role in persuading the longtime enemies to come together, and afforded an ecclesiastical cover for a political change.

More importantly, the Americans will also meet with what Pelosi’s news release referred to as “members of civil society,” code language for political dissidents who cycle in and out of detention in Cuba, a one-party state that insists that criticism can occur only “inside the system.” Hence the inclusion of Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, co-chair of the congressional Human Rights Commission. Conspicuous demonstrations of support for these lonely dissenters were a key element of the State Department delegation, and will be for all U.S. officials — not only out of principle, but to show skeptics watching on the Hill that renewing ties to Havana does not meaning letting the Castros declare victory. And since the next round of talks is slated to take place in Washington next week, Pelosi’s visit also offers the opportunity to keep the focus on the island in question.

With reporting from Dolly Mascareñas in Mexico City.

TIME Congress

Judge’s Order Bolster Republicans in Immigration Fight

Obamas Attend National Prayer Breakfast
Dennis Brack—Pool/Getty Images President Barack Obama speaks during the National Prayer Breakfast on Feb. 5, 2015 in Washington, DC.

A federal judge’s order on immigration appears to have steeled some Capitol Hill Republicans’ resolve to fight President Obama over his plans to defer deportations for millions in the U.S. illegally.

The Obama administration had been set to begin implementing part of the November executive actions Wednesday, offering work permits and other documents to millions of undocumented immigrants, many of whom are parents of U.S. citizens or legal residents.

That plan is now on hold as the Obama administration appeals the judge’s order.

But the fight on Capitol Hill continues, with congressional Republicans hoping to use annual funding for the Department of Homeland Security to force the White House and Senate Democrats to capitulate.

Speaker John Boehner used the judge’s order to repeat his view that Obama overstepped his authority.

“The president said 22 times he did not have the authority to take the very action on immigration he eventually did, so it is no surprise that at least one court has agreed,” he said, in a statement echoed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. “We will continue to follow the case as it moves through the legal process. Hopefully, Senate Democrats who claim to oppose this executive overreach will now let the Senate begin debate on a bill to fund the Homeland Security department.”

Boehner’s comments were echoed by other Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who said Democrats were exhibiting the “height of irresponsibility” in blocking the funding bill.

Republicans have struggled for weeks to get any Senate Democrats on board with their strategy of using the Feb. 27 funding deadline to pressure the President into caving on his own executive actions. They’ve even lost a handful of Senate Republicans and Boehner—as of this weekend—is “certainly” prepared to let the agency run out of money. DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson believes that 30,000 government employees could face furloughs.

Meantime, the court fight will grind on. The White House plans to appeal the decision in the 5th Circuit, which could postpone the president’s actions by a month or two “at the very least,” according to Stephen Yale-Loehr, an immigration expert at Cornell University Law School who believes the president’s actions are lawful. He told TIME that it’s “unlikely” that “a lot” of people would be deported as the courts continue to hear the case.

“It’s always a chance,” he says. “If they’re stopped for a traffic violation and the local police turned them over to the federal immigration authorities they could be put into deportation proceedings. But even then they have to go before an immigration judge and a … hearing can take several months.”

TIME Congress

Boehner: Senate Democrats Are to Blame If Homeland Security Shuts Down

Republican Speaker of the House from Ohio John Boehner speaks at a press conference about President Obama's proposal seeking war authorization from congress to fight Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq in the Capitol in Washington on Feb. 11, 2015. Speaker Boehner also spoke about the congressional vote on the Keystone XL Pipeline.
Jim Lo Scalzo—EPA Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner speaks at a press conference about Obama's proposal seeking war authorization from congress to fight ISIS and the congressional vote on the Keystone XL Pipeline in the Capitol in Washington on Feb. 11, 2015.

"Senate Democrats are the ones putting us in this precarious position. It's up to Senate Democrats to get their act together," Boehner said.

House Speaker John Boehner said Senate Democrats would be to blame if Congress fails to pass a bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security before it runs out of money on Feb. 27.

In an interview on Fox News Sunday, Boehner said the House had “done its job” and passed a bill to fund the agency. That bill, however, also includes language that would roll back President Obama’s executive action on immigration, causing Senate Democrats to block it.

“The House has acted to fund the department and to stop the president’s overreach when it comes to immigration and his executive orders,” Boehner said Sunday. “Senate Democrats are the ones putting us in this precarious position. It’s up to Senate Democrats to get their act together.”

If a funding bill doesn’t pass both chambers, the agency will shut down, which would mean thousands of frontline workers, including border patrol agents, would have to report for duty without pay.

Fox News reports that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s office released a statement following Boehner’s interview saying Boehner “made it clear that he has no plan to avoid a government shutdown.”

[Fox News]


Rep. John Lewis: Selma Made Obama Presidency Possible

"I don't think as a group we had any idea that our marching feet would have such an impact 50 years later," Representative John Lewis said Sunday

Georgia Congressman John Lewis said President Obama likely wouldn’t have been elected President if it weren’t for the historic march in Selma, Ala., that he helped lead as a student organizer 50 years ago.

“If it hadn’t been for that march across Edmund Pettus Bridge on Bloody Sunday, there would be no Barack Obama as President of the United States of America,” Lewis said during an interview on CBS’s Face the Nation.

In his last election, President Obama received over 90% of the black vote. Some 50 years ago, Lewis was among the many civil rights leaders marching and advocating to make those votes possible.

On March 7, 1965, hundreds of nonviolent protesters marched across the bridge as a part of an ongoing effort to secure voting rights for black Americans. That day, though, Alabama police met the protesters with violent force. Many, including Lewis, suffered serious injury. “I don’t think as a group we had any idea that our marching feet would have such an impact 50 years later,” Lewis said Sunday.

[Huffington Post]

TIME Congress

Republicans Battle Each Other Over Changing Senate Rules

Ted Cruz
Lauren Victoria Burke—AP Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) speak to reporters on Dec. 13, 2014 on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Senate conservatives oppose their wish to change the rules to pass a controversial bill

A vocal crew of frustrated House conservatives called for a change of Senate rules Thursday, sparking a war of words with their Republican Senate colleagues, who defended the rights of Democrats to block legislation to undo legal residency President Obama has promised for millions of undocumented immigrants.

“I think when you have a president doing things that are unconstitutional, everything should be considered to stop that,” says Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, a conservative leader.

The response was quick from the other side of the Capitol building. “Change the Senate rules?” said Republican South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who is exploring a campaign for the Republican nomination in 2016. “No way. That’s crazy.”

Even Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Utah Sen. Mike Lee, two of the most conservative members of the Senate, said they did not agree with their House conservative allies. “For many decades the Senate rules have protected the rights of the minority and as a result the Senate functions, as the Framers put it, ‘as a saucer to cool the hot tempers of the moment,'” Cruz told TIME in a short interview. “The problem is not the Senate rules. The problem is that Senate Democrats have chosen to filibuster funding for the Department of Homeland Security. Democrats right now are engaged in partisan obstructionism.”

At issue is a bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security, which is facing a February 27 funding deadline. If Congress doesn’t pass a DHS spending bill, the agency will partially shut down and potentially furlough some 30,000 employees.

Republicans believe that the deadline gives them leverage to pass riders stripping away the President’s immigration actions, including a 2012 program granting temporary deportation relief to young adults who came to the country illegally as children. But they’ve ran into a united Senate Democratic bloc and failed three times last week to put the House bill on the Senate floor with the 60 votes needed. With only 54 Senate Republicans—and a few publicly calling for a shift in strategy—House and Senate conservatives have split over what to do next.

“They can change them today,” says Idaho Rep. Raul Labrador of the Senate’s filibuster rules. “They don’t need to wait for six or seven senators to decide to bring the bill to the floor.” He referenced the Democratic decision to scrap filibusters of federal judges and other Presidential nominees in the last Congress. “The Democrats changed their rules last time,” Labrador continued. “I know there’s a lot of tricks in the Senate and they should be applying one or all of those.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office says no proposal to change Senate filibuster rules is under consideration.

Democrats have called for a “clean” bill without any of the immigration amendments.

“All they got to do is send over a clean DHS bill and it’ll pass in a matter of hours,” says Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy.

TIME Congress

Know Right Now: Pipeline Bill Sets Up Obama Veto Showdown

The president has said he will veto the bill should it pass

Congress has passed a bill to construct the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which will allow oil to flow between the tar sands of Alberta, Canada and the Gulf of Mexico. But President Obama has pledged to veto the bill.

Watch today’s Know Right Now to find out everything you need to know about what happens next.

TIME Military

Fighting the Half-In War

Obama Asks Congress to Authorize War Against Islamic State
Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg via Getty Images President Obama discusses his draft resolution seeking congressional support in the war on ISIS flanked by, from left, Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry, and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

Obama opts for a “limited” military campaign against ISIS

Washington irresolution when it comes to waging war has become so feckless that the White House and Congress now engage in a paper chase that lets lawmakers vote on combat without the political risk that would accompany their declaration of war.

That’s why President Obama’s dispatch of his “AUTHORIZATION FOR THE USE OF UNITED STATES ARMED FORCES” is less than the capital letters might suggest. In fact, the draft makes clear that he is only seeking “the limited use of the United States Armed Forces against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.”

The war against ISIL, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, makes explicit a Presidential bet: “…in this campaign,” his draft resolution reads, “it is more effective to use our unique capabilities in support of partners on the ground instead of large-scale deployments of U.S. ground forces.”

His language expressly rules out “the United States Armed Forces in enduring offensive ground combat operations.” In an accompanying letter to Congress, he says U.S. ground troops would be restricted to rescuing downed allied troops, to “take military action” against ISIS leaders, and for “missions to enable kinetic strikes.” Small numbers, in other words.

“With our allies and partners,” Obama said Wednesday at the White House, “we are going to degrade and ultimately destroy this terrorist group.”

But his draft resolution also acknowledges that ISIS leaders “have stated that they intend to conduct terrorist attacks internationally, including against the United States, its citizens, and interests.”

Hard to understand—if Obama means what he says in that passage—why he thinks it wise to subcontract out the bulk of the responsibility for defeating this threat to America to non-Americans.

Then again, he may simply be appropriating such language because he’s caught in the threat-inflation mindset that has tainted much of the debate over the danger posed by ISIS. Fundamentally, it’s little more than a pipsqueak guerilla army outfitted with pickup trucks, AK-47s and a keen sense of the value of well-produced social-media posts. Congress is just as guilty on that charge, pumping the bellows of war against what basically is a barbarian horde.

“I’m concerned that the president is more focused on threading a political needle here rather than how to be successful in beating ISIS,” Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, told CNN.

If ISIS represents a threat to the nation, perhaps a declaration of war is warranted. If not, perhaps sitting on the sidelines makes more sense. After all, this conflict now roiling the Middle East boils down to a fight between the Shiite (Iran) and Sunni (Saudi Arabia) branches of Islam. Any role played by outsiders is likely to do little to change the ultimate outcome in such a religious war.

The founders of the U.S. intended that waging war would be a joint enterprise, with the President serving as commander in chief after Congress had declared war. Sure, there are times when a chief executive can’t wait, but Vietnam and Afghanistan each dragged on for more than a decade, and Iraq nearly as long, without Congress bothering to declare war (don’t worry, Iraq’ll be able to catch up in this latest iteration).

It may seem to be only a matter of rhetoric, but a declaration of war by the United States packs a profoundly different punch than a congressional resolution authorizing the use of force. It means the nation is committed to victory. The United States was committed to something in Afghanistan, and Iraq the first time around, but it surely wasn’t victory. The public senses this, and, as a result, the nation ends up fighting its wars tepidly.

Obama has made clear he believes he doesn’t need Congress to approve this retooled authorization for the use of military force. After all, he has been bombing ISIS for six months under authorizations passed by Congress in 2001 and 2002, shortly after the 9/11 attacks.

Both the White House and Capitol Hill get something out of the deal. Obama gets to outline his “limited” military goals. Congress gets to play warlord, without declaring war. The only U.S. party all-in on the conflict, as has become customary, are the young men and women who will risk everything to carry out their nation’s half-hearted orders.

TIME Congress

Congress Passes Keystone Bill, Sets Up First Veto in 5 Years

Congress passed a bill to authorize the Keystone XL pipeline, setting up the first veto since 2010 and only the third in the Obama presidency.

Keystone — the first priority of the new Republican Congress — has become one of the highest-profile environmental debates in the country and could pose problems for some Democratic candidates in the 2016 presidential cycle. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, for example, has declined to take a position until her former agency completes its review of the $8 billion pipeline.

Republican glee was evident even before the House passed the bill 270-152. Neither the House nor the Senate has enough votes to overcome a potential veto.

“Instead of listening to the people, the President is standing with a bunch of left-fringe extremists and anarchists,” said House Speaker John Boehner in a press conference before reporters. “The President needs to listen to the American people and say, ‘Yes, let’s build the Keystone pipeline!’”

House majority leader Kevin McCarthy then came to the lectern after the cries of “hear, hear” died down. “I’ll pause for a moment so you can keep writing that down,” he joked.

The pipeline would help link up to 830,000 Alberta barrels a day down to Gulf Coast oil refineries. With oil prices near $50 a barrel, however, the 1,179-mile pipeline will likely have less of an impact on both the environment and economy by lowering the chance that it will be completely utilized. The State Department reported last year that the pipeline would indirectly and directly support around 42,000 jobs over two years, but would only employ around 50 people once the pipeline was functional.

But the pipeline is popular — polls show that nearly 60% of Americans agree with the GOP’s position on TransCanada’s six-year project — and Republicans will continue to use it to drive divisions between Democrats.

“Once the President vetoes Keystone, Republican 2016 hopefuls can begin to use it as a clear example of Washington gridlock and obstruction at its best and start the conversation that the White House is truly the problem blocking progress,” says Ron Bonjean, a GOP consultant. “The move allows Republicans to show they would take swift action on this and then compare Hillary Clinton’s waffling on the issue as an example of more posturing rather than getting something positive done.”

TIME The White House

10 Vetoes That Shaped Recent Political History

With Congress now controlled by Republicans, President Obama is getting his veto pen ready, starting with a bill to approve the Keystone oil pipeline. Though he vetoed two bills in his first term, Obama had not participated much in this distinctive American political ritual. Here's a look back at some interesting and important vetoes in recent history.

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