TIME Israel-US relations

U.S. Relations With Israel Remain in Frozen Embrace Until Elections

Joe Biden
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden speaks to the Saban Forum in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 6, 2014 Jose Luis Magana—AP

The rule of thumb in Israeli politics has it that the moment new elections are called, affairs of state go into the deep freeze, not to thaw until a new government emerges months later. There have been exceptions — in 1981, Menachem Begin ordered the surprise strike on Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor three weeks before nationwide balloting — but none were in evidence at the annual conference of U.S. and Israeli leaders convened this past weekend at the Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu disbanded his ruling coalition three days before the Brookings Institution’s annual Saban Forum, rendering the elite confab a showcase for the status quo: the alliance remains closer than at any time in history at the level of cooperation between the two country’s defense and security establishment. But at the more visible level of political leadership, there’s no longer even an effort to disguise the ugliness. It was only five weeks ago that an anonymous Obama Administration official referred to Netanyahu in an interview as “chickensh-t,” and no one from the Administration dispatched to the Willard over the weekend bothered denying either the quote or the judgment.

The message, rather, was that personal feelings simply don’t matter much in such an ironclad alliance, and no one should be distracted by “politics” or “differences over tactics.”

“Look, we’re close friends. The American people and the Israeli people, our governments,” said Vice President Joe Biden, the most senior official on hand to address the state of the relationship. “There’s absolutely no daylight, none, between us and Israelis on the question of Israeli’s security. But as friends, we have an obligation to speak honestly with one another, to talk about, not avoid the tactical disagreements we have. And we have tactical disagreements to lay out for one another each of our perspectives. I know none of you have ever — I assume none of you ever doubted I’ve meant whatever I’ve said to you. The problem is I sometimes say all that I think to you.”

Biden noted, as Administration officials often do, that he and President Barack Obama have met with Netanyahu more than any other world leader. But that’s a double-edged observation given what a live mic caught Obama telling his French counterpart in 2011 (“You’re tired of him? What about me? I have to deal with him every day”). For his part, Biden called Netanyahu a friend of 30 years, adding “we sometimes drive each other crazy” but that both sides acknowledge as much.

“Let’s not make more of what are normal disagreements that occur between friends than warrants,” the Vice President implored. “Israel disagrees with us on a number of tactics. They have a different perspective on how to proceed. But folks, that’s the downside of democracy. It also has an upside. We never have to wonder where the other guy is standing. Occasionally, politics on both sides of this divide, these tactical divides, is used to try to gain an advantage. But you’re all sophisticated enough to know that.”

Secretary of State John Kerry, who has endured a good deal of name-calling from senior Israeli politicians (the Defense Minister famously dismissed his enthusiasm for peace talks with the Palestinians as “obsessive and messianic”), read from the same talking points in his address Sunday, noting the record-high levels of U.S. military and intelligence support for Israel “despite whatever political disagreement there might be, or tactical disagreement.”

Obama was not present this year, and Netanyahu’s prerecorded address was delivered by satellite from Jerusalem, where he noted he has “one or two things” to deal with. The brief speech was heavy on Netanyahu’s preferred topic of security. “The entire region is hemorrhaging, ” he said, singling out the emergence of the extremist Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) — which, a new Brookings poll shows, is of far greater concern to the American public than the question of whether Israel will make peace with the Palestinians, who claim the same land. Seven out of 10 people said that of events in the Mideast, the rise of ISIS threatens American interests “the most.”

The poll also showed that, if negotiations fail to produce a Palestinian state beside Israel, two out of three Americans would prefer a single democratic state with equal rights for Jews and Palestinians — a prospect that most Jewish Israelis say they regard as unacceptable.

Elections are tentatively set for March 17.

TIME Newsmaker Interview

Eric Cantor’s Secrets for Negotiating with Joe Biden

Joe Biden
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden speaks during the Civil Society Forum on the sideline of the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 4, 2014 Jewel Samad—AFP/Getty Images

"The Guy's Awesome"

Last week’s Republican victories may have had the paradoxical effect of increasing the influence of the consummate Congressional Democrat, Joe Biden. GOP leaders looking to show they can get things done now that control both the House and Senate will need to cut deals with the Obama White House, and Vice President Joe Biden may be their best hope to do so.

On Tuesday, TIME spoke with one of the closest observers of Biden’s negotiating tactics, his long-time sparring partner and former House Majority Leader, Eric Cantor, now vice chairman and at the investment bank Moelis & Company. As the number two Republican in the House for the first six years of the Obama administration, and a constant thorn in the side of the White House on issues like the budget, energy, immigration and health care, Cantor saw Biden’s techniques up close.

You’ve spent a lot of time negotiating with Vice President Biden. What was that like?

Cantor: Unquestionably, the Vice President knows how to negotiate. He understands people. And in my professional background, before I got to Congress and certainly now in the private world at Moelis & Company and in Congress, if you’re interested in doing deals, and getting a result, what I think what one needs to do is be able to size people up. And this is what Joe Biden has always been about in my experience. He is able to size up where the opposition is. He’s firmly rooted in his direction, what he needs to accomplish in the negotiations, and then understands how far you can push and not lose a result or a deal.

My real experience is from the extended time we spent together in the summer of 2011 around the debt ceiling discussions. As you recall, the Speaker had asked me to serve on the Biden commission. The President had basically formed it and put the Vice President in charge. And there were a handful of us in the room for seven weeks almost, three days a week, two and a half hours a day. And the Vice president was the only one, and that commission was the only entity that really came up with a list of spending reductions that both sides could agree to.

Now, he would always say nothing was agreed to unless everything is agreed to. But nonetheless, work was done in the granularity of the programs that were targeted. Nothing was ever agreed to universally because the tax question came up and that’s what kicked it back to the White House and we all had to come back to the White House for two weeks with the President and then ultimately that ended with the Super Committee creation. But if you look at what has transpired since then, the Super Committee, the fiscal cliff, Murray-Ryan, all of that, the work that came out of Joe Biden’s commission is the common theme. And I believe that is attributable to his negotiating skills and ability to cut through—to set aside what you don’t agree on and try to come to a result.

What was the difference in negotiating with the President compared to the Vice President:

Cantor: I just think that the President obviously doesn’t have the tenure in Washington in negotiating deals that the Vice President’s had. Just in terms of pure time. And I think that the President is very rooted in what he wants. The President also, in my view, is very rooted in what he thinks the other side wants. And that’s where the difficulty in my opinion has been with the President over the last six years. If one does not agree with the President’s view of what you want, there’s very little prospect for a result. Joe Biden has a real sensitivity, not only to human reaction, but also partisan and political sensitivities. He understands how far you can push before you just blow up the prospects for a deal.

One readout of last week’s White House meeting suggested that the Vice President got ahead of Obama’s position on immigration reform in a desire to cut a deal. Have you seen that happen before?

Cantor: Honestly, the whole sense of the discussion around the initial debt ceiling talks in 2011 was just that. The president had dispatched the Vice President to come up with areas that could become part of a larger deal. And really the Vice President was very clear and never hid anything from me. He said in order to get any of the kinds of things we’re discussing, the President is going to want some kind of revenue increase. He laid it all out on the table. ‘That’s what we need.’ And I indicated what we needed and that we couldn’t go for tax increases. So I think there has certainly been evidence that the Vice President is a negotiator, he wants to cut through and get a deal done.

I think that on the fiscal cliff deal, when he struck that agreement with McConnell, that was the last time that the President wanted Joe Biden involved. And this is unfortunately what the pattern has been. Hopefully, I think the President may see the light and say if you want to get a deal done, bring in the deal man, Joe Biden.

What’s the current state of the Biden-McConnell relationship?

Cantor: I can’t speak for McConnell. But I do… stay in touch with [Biden]. He stays in touch with people. Part of the ability to do deals is to know both sides and to understand their thought process and their political priorities and imperatives. My sense would be, if I’m like others, Joe Biden has maintained those relationships. And that’s one of the striking differences between the President and Vice President. The President has not spent the time necessary even while he’s been in office the last six years, much less before, developing, nurturing relationships and understanding people’s thinking. And that is a huge impediment to the President’s ability to do a deal, whereas I think Joe Biden has been schooled in that way.

How did you try to square the Vice President’s public image with his negotiating record?

Cantor: Joe Biden is what you see. You know, he’s genuine. Yes, he’s prone to gaffes publicly, and he’ll admit that. He’s very self-deprecating like that. And I’m certainly not one who agrees with Joe Biden on all things—we probably disagree more than we agree—but from a human and relationship standpoint, the guy’s awesome.

Do you think the midterms opened up the possibility for deal-making?

Cantor: I really think that there’s going to be a trial period here. And I really look at the next six weeks as that. From the White House standpoint, if the president signs an executive order on immigration unilaterally that will not bode well for the productivity of the next Congress. Again, I think that’s the trial issue for the president.

From Congress’ standpoint, their job is to get done the omnibus/minibus spending package. Because if they kick the can and decide to push the [longer-term spending bill] into the next Congress so they don’t have to “negotiate” with the other side, I think that leaves wide open the chance of mischief and derailing of the path to productivity.

Do you think last week’s election paved the way for a more united GOP conference, or will leadership still have difficulty keeping members in line.

Cantor: In my experience, I think the latter would probably be [a more likely] reality. And it’s always going to be a challenge for leadership. I do think in the House, the Speaker and the Leader are going to have a much larger majority now that hopefully will be more inclined to follow the path laid out by the Speaker and the leadership. If we can see the House and Senate to really begin to move legislation across the floor—and some of the legislation and probably a lot of it will not be to the White House’s liking—there’s something about that that may lend itself to a more espirit de corps, if you will, for folks to hang together because they’re winning, they’re getting legislation across the floor, they’re getting it out of Congress, sending it to the President’s desk and then it would be incumbent on the President to respond.

I think if you can see some real legislative productivity on the Hill that may lend itself to the larger majorities now hanging with leadership more.

TIME White House

Why Barack Obama Never Talked To Mitch McConnell on Election Night

Election Night for Senator Mitch McConnell, the senior United States Senator from Kentucky. A member of the Republican Party, he has been the Minority Leader of the Senate since January 3, 2007.
Sen. Mitch McConnell at his election night celebration in Louisville, Ky. on Nov. 4, 2014. Christopher Morris—VII for TIME

For the second time, the President struggles with Election Night well wishes to Republicans. But Vice President Joe Biden got through.

President Barack Obama called to congratulate Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell on winning the job of Senate leader between 12:30 and 1 a.m. Wednesday morning. The only problem: By then, McConnell and his wife, former Secretary Elaine Chao, had already left for home and some much needed sleep after a grueling campaign, McConnell aides say.

MORE: See all the election results

The President left a message.

Vice President Joe Biden, by contrast, called about an hour earlier, and was able to get through to his longtime Senate colleague. McConnell aides say they expect he’ll connect with the President later Wednesday and that he’s looking forward to having lunch at the White House on Friday.

This isn’t the first time the Obama White House has struggled to connect with an Election Night phone call, as I reported exclusively in 2011.

On the night that Republicans won control of the House in 2010, the White House Press Office came to a startling realization: They had no contact information for Speaker-to-be John Boehner. In President Obama’s first two years in office, he’d reached out to House Republicans so little that they had no reason to get to know—or even get phone numbers or e-mails for—Boehner’s staff. Democratic National Committee spokesman Brad Woodhouse was asked to call his fishing buddy, Nick Schaper, who was Boehner’s new media director at the time. Schaper gave the appropriate names and numbers to Woodhouse, who then relayed them to Press Secretary Robert Gibbs.

Update from Zeke Miller:

From a White House Official:

Last night the President phoned dozens of House, Senate, Gubernatorial candidates of both parties, and members the House and Senate leadership. The list of those lawmakers he connected with are below, and he is continuing additional calls throughout the day.

Senator Harry Reid

Senator Dick Durbin

Senator Michael Bennet

AR Governor-elect Asa Hutchinson

SD Senator-elect Mike Rounds

WV Senator-elect Shelly Moore Capito

MI Senator-elect Gary Peters

Senator Lindsey Graham

Senator Jim Inhofe

Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz

Leader Nancy Pelosi

Governor-elect Tom Wolf, PA

Senator-elect James Lankford, OK

Senator-elect Tom Cotton, AR

Governor John Kasich

Senator Susan Collins

Senator Ed Markey

Senator Jeff Sessions

Senator Cory Booker

Senator Tim Scott

Senator Al Franken

Senator Mark Pryor

Congressman-elect Seth Moulton

Governor Robert Bentley

Governor Bill Haslam

Read next: Obama Says He Wants to ‘Get Stuff Done’

TIME 2014 Election

Biden: Kansas Independent ‘Will Be With Us’

Greg Orman Kansas Senate
Independent U.S. Senate candidate Greg Orman poses with his wife Sybil at the Clint Bowyers Community Center in the west end of Emporia, Kans., Mark Reinstein—Corbis

Meantime, Greg Orman says he's not talked to the vice president

One of the more intriguing possibilities on Election Day is a tie in the Senate with Kansas Independent Greg Orman as the kingmaker. While Orman has not said who he would caucus with should he beat incumbent GOP Senator Pat Roberts, Vice President Joe Biden said Tuesday that he’s confident that Orman will join the Democrats.

“We have a chance of picking up an independent who will be with us in the state of Kansas,” said Biden in a radio interview with WPLR, a Connecticut radio station. Biden added that he thinks Senate Democrats will hold the majority with about 52 senators, with victories in North Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana, New Hampshire and Alaska.

Biden’s comments play into the Republicans’ narrative that Orman is really a Democrat. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus has said it’s “impossible” that he would caucus with the GOP, even though Orman has maintained that he would align with whoever wins the majority.

Still, the odds are that the Senate won’t come down to Orman, since most forecasters expect Republicans to win more than enough seats to take the majority with or without the Kansas independent.

Orman campaign manager Jim Jonas said in an emailed statement that the candidate has “never spoken to the Vice President in his life.”

“Greg is an Independent, and he’s not going to Washington [to] represent the Democrats or the Republicans—he’s going to represent the people of Kansas,” added Jonas.

TIME White House

Joe Biden, Top Obama Officials Get Cheap Family Vacations at Federal Log Cabin

Interior Department launches investigation after TIME inquiries

Correction appended Oct. 29

Vice President Joe Biden, his wife and 11 other family members spent four nights on vacation this August at a lakeside log cabin overlooking the snowcapped peaks of Mount Moran in Grand Teton National Park.

The four-bedroom Brinkerhoff Lodge, where they stayed, is owned and operated by the National Park Service. Under a policy adopted in 1992, after controversy over VIPs using the cabin for vacations, the National Park Service banned purely recreational activities by federal employees at the property, restricting its use to “official purposes.” But in recent years, the park service has interpreted that same rule so broadly as to again allow senior officials to take cheap vacations in Grand Teton with friends and family.

While visiting the park, Biden held no events, kept no public schedule, and his staff initially declined to answer a reporter’s question about where he spent the night. Last week, after TIME uncovered documents confirming his stay at the lodge, Biden’s office said the Vice President planned to personally reimburse the park $1,200 for “renting the Brinkerhoff” for his family’s vacation.

Under park service rules, the lodge is maintained for use by federal employees for “training and official conferences” and for those on “temporary duty in the park.” In practice, the superintendent of Grand Teton National Park, who has discretion over whether to demand payment for the lodge, has interpreted those rules to allow extended family vacations if there is an element of official business involved.

A Grand Teton National Park spokeswoman, Jackie Skaggs, said last week the Biden family visit met the internal criteria, since the Vice President received an official park briefing and tour while staying at the lodge. “With few, if any, exceptions, officials who stay at the Brinkerhoff are given in-depth briefings and/or issue tours,” she wrote in an email to TIME.

But that explanation may not stand. In response to further questions from TIME, the Interior Department said Tuesday that it was launching an investigation into how the park service has managed the Brinkerhoff. “In light of inconsistencies in billing practices and ambiguity in the policy at the park, the Interior Department has directed the National Park Service to conduct an immediate review of compliance with the policy and related recordkeeping and to seek reimbursement, where appropriate, for use of the Brinkerhoff,” wrote National Park Service spokeswoman April Slayton in an email to TIME.

A Favorite Vacation Spot

Biden is not the only senior member of the Obama Administration who has taken advantage of the Brinkerhoff in recent years for family vacations or getaways with friends. Records obtained by TIME through the Freedom of Information Act show that at least four cabinet-level officials, a deputy White House chief of staff and the director of the Park Service have made use of the lodge with friends and family since 2011.

  • Former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson stayed three nights in 2011 with her husband, and five other people, including a person listed as a friend. She received a tour of a new air quality monitoring station, according to a park official.
  • Former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood traveled there in 2012 for eight nights with his wife, his daughter-in-law, three grandchildren, two other adults and his son, Illinois State Sen. Darin LaHood. He attended the Department of Transportation grant award event, according to LaHood’s office.
  • Education Secretary Arne Duncan stayed there for six nights with his wife and children in 2013. He attended a nearby roundtable with tribal leaders and an event at a local school, according to the Department of Education.
  • Former Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar, who oversaw the National Park Service, stayed there with his family for three nights in 2011. His office did not return a call about the purpose of his visit.
  • Former White House Special Advisor Phil Schiliro also used the lodge for one night in August of 2011 with his wife and one other person. The White House did not return emails about the purpose of his visit.
  • National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis, his wife, his son and his son’s girlfriend stayed for five days in August of 2012. The park service said he had official business on two of the five days. ” The director took personal time during the remaining days,” a spokesperson said in a statement.

Under federal policy, family members may accompany government employees who travel on official business. “Family members’ travel costs and incidental expenses are not typically reimbursed by the federal government, although they may stay in the accommodations reserved for the traveling employee, as long as any additional costs incurred as a result of the stay are covered by personal funds,” wrote National Park Service spokeswoman Slayton.

Confusion Over The Rules

The offices of several officials who stayed at Brinkerhoff, including the Vice President, Duncan and LaHood, said there was initial confusion over their need to pay for extended stays at the lodge with family members.

Under National Park Service policy, “a bill of collection will be prepared” for those who visit the Brinkerhoff on “project related travel that will be billed to another entity.” The Freedom of Information Act request returned no documents showing that any bills had been issued. The park service also produced no records of official stays at the Brinkerhoff between 2000 and 2010.

A spokesperson for the Vice President, who declined to be named, said Biden’s office was still waiting for an invoice from the park two months after the stay, when TIME made inquiries. “The office understood from the park service that personal use would cost the local per diem rate,” the spokesperson said, referring to the a schedule of overnight hotel costs maintained by the General Services Administration for a single hotel room. Biden’s office said the Vice President will now personally pay $1,200 for the four nights, a figure that includes an extra $10 per night for each additional member of his family.

That cost, which assumes that a four-bedroom lodge is comparable to a single hotel room, is far below market rate for other nearby accommodations, especially during peak summer tourism season. At the nearby Jackson Lake Lodge, a two-bedroom cabin that sleeps four without a view of the lake, averages $250 a night in August. Nearby homes outside the park can rent for more than $1,000 per night during the summer.

A spokesperson for the Department of Education says the park service “never conveyed” to Duncan that he would have to pay for the non-official portion of his family’s nearly week-long stay. “Secretary Duncan requested an invoice for his family’s stay and will reimburse the park fully for the time he was on personal leave,” the official said.

A spokesperson for LaHood, who is now a policy adviser at a law firm, said he made a donation to the park at the time of around $250 after consulting with Salazar. LaHood has since asked the park if he is obligated to pay more.

With the exception of a $150 check from Salazar, the park service has no record of any payment from other officials for their stays, though Skaggs said charges are sometimes directly billed to other government offices and that the park doesn’t maintain records of those transactions.

There is evidence, however, that the park service is now trying to improve its management of the Brinkerhoff, at least on the public relations front. After being contacted by TIME, a computer with an IP address registered to the National Park Service made alterations to the Wikipedia page for the Brinkerhoff Lodge.

A phrase describing the property as a “vacation lodge” was changed to “historic lodge.” A phrase noting the Brinkerhoff’s history as a destination for “VIP housing” was deleted.

A Controversial History

Located on the banks of Jackson Lake with views of the glacier-strewn peak of Mount Moran, the Brinkerhoff Lodge was built in 1947 by the family of Zachary Brinkerhoff, a prominent Wyoming oil company executive. It features a two-story living room, a full-length deck, Western-style chandeliers and interior walls lined with log or knotty pine paneling.

After it was acquired by the National Park Service in the 1950s, the lodge became one of several “VIP” properties across the country, which were used by presidents, members of Congress and government bureaucrats. The park service curtailed their use following public outcry in the late 1980s and early 1990s. “The Secretary has concluded that the public interest will be better served by having the four existing VIP accommodations used only for official purposes,” reads a memorandum by former Parks Service director James M. Ridenour, which remains in effect. “As of February 10, 1992, these sites will no longer be available as VIP accommodations.”

All but the Brinkerhoff were eventually converted to other uses. The Bodie Island Cottage, a three-bedroom lodge that sleeps 11 just off the beach below the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in North Carolina, was turned into a ranger station. Little Cinnamon House in Virgin Islands National Park, where former President Jimmy Carter stayed for nearly two weeks after his 1980 electoral defeat, was turned into employee housing, and “is currently in disrepair and uninhabited” according to park service officials. Camp Hoover in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park, once a favorite of members of Congress with sweeping views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, was converted to a museum in 1996.

The park service maintains that it is cheaper for the federal government to house officials at the Brinkerhoff on official travel because it costs less than nearby hotels.

“Historic structures are better maintained when they are actively used and the park has determined that seasonal use of the Brinkerhoff will better protect this valuable historic facility,” Skaggs said. “By allowing officials and governmental employees access to occasional overnight stays in the Brinkerhoff, the park is able to fund the long-term maintenance of this historic structure.”

She added that the fees, when collected from stays at the Brinkerhoff, are earmarked for preserving the building.

Read next: Sources: Hunter Biden Leaves Navy After Drug Test

Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly identified Phil Schiliro’s former title. He was an assistant to the President and special advisor.

TIME politics

These Photos of Joe Biden Eating an Ice Cream Cone Show That His Eternal Summer Shall Not Fade

Oh, Mr. Vice President, thou art so lovely and so temperate

Well, it looks like whoever runs the Joe Biden Eats Ice Cream Tumblr has some updating to do.

During a visit to Portland to campaign with Sen. Jeff Merkley Wednesday, the veep stopped by the city’s beloved Salt & Straw ice cream parlor for a little treat. Or actually, from the looks of it, a rather large treat.

Biden ordered a scoop of “Chocolate Woodblock” and a scoop of “Double-Fold Vanilla” in a waffle cone. Of course, he also bought a cone for Merkley. And of course, he kept his aviators on the entire time.

Biden, Merkley
Vice President Joe Biden, right, and U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley enjoy ice cream cones after a campaign rally in Portland, Ore., Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2014. Don Ryan—AP
Biden, Merkley
Vice President Joe Biden, right, pays for ice cream cones for himself and U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley after a campaign rally in Portland, Ore., Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2014. Don Ryan—AP
Biden
Vice President Joe Biden enjoys an ice cream cone after a campaign rally for Oregon U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley in Portland, Ore., Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2014. Don Ryan—AP
Biden, Lobkowizc
Vice President Joe Biden holds an ice cream cone as he poses for a photo with Hope Lobkowizc and her son, Owen, at an ice cream parlor after a campaign rally in Portland, Ore., Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2014. Don Ryan—AP
Biden, Merkley
Vice President Joe Biden gets ready to pay for an ice cream cone after a campaign rally for U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley in Portland, Ore., Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2014. Don Ryan—AP

Somewhere, Leslie Knope is going weak in the knees.

TIME White House

Biden Takes Veiled Shot at Clinton, Panetta Over ‘Inappropriate’ Books

Vice President Joe Biden speaks to students faculty and staff at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Mass. on Oct. 2, 2014.
Vice President Joe Biden speaks to students faculty and staff at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Mass. on Oct. 2, 2014. Winslow Townson—AP

High-level White House debates over Iraq and Syria are coming to light as top officials air their differences.

Vice President Joe Biden blasted former members of President Barack Obama’s administration who have gone on to write “inappropriate” books about the White House.

Speaking to Harvard students in a question-and-answer session Thursday, Biden was asked whether he believes the U.S. should have acted earlier in Syria, a critique leveled by former Secretary of State and likely Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, as well as former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta in recent memoirs.

“The answer is no for two reasons,” Biden said. “One, the idea of identifying a moderate middle has been a chase America has been engaged in for a long time. We Americans think in every country in transition there’s a Thomas Jefferson hiding behind some rock, or a James Madison beyond one sand dune. The fact of the matter is, the ability to identify a moderate middle in Syria was—there was no moderate middle, because the moderate middle are made up of shopkeepers, not soldiers; they’re made up of people who, in fact, have—ordinary elements of the middle class of that country.”

The vice president continued that it was “inappropriate” for former administration officials to write books while Obama is still in office.

“And what happened was—and their history will record this, because I’m finding that former administration officials, as soon as they leave write books, which I think is inappropriate. But any rate,” Biden said as the audience chuckled. “No, I’m serious. I do think it’s inappropriate. At least give the guy a chance to get out of office.”

Clinton’s book Hard Choices includes details of internal deliberations where she unsuccessfully pressed President Barack Obama to arm Syrian rebels in 2012, one of the only clear denunciations she makes of the president in the book. “The risks of both action and inaction were high,” Clinton wrote. “Both choices would bring unintended consequences. The President’s inclination was to stay the present course and not take the significant further step of arming rebels.”

In Panetta’s forthcoming memoir, Worthy Fights, excerpted in this week’s TIME, the former Pentagon chief takes issue with Obama’s handling of the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq and the subsequent rise of ISIS in Syria. “To this day, I believe that a small U.S. troop presence in Iraq could have effectively advised the Iraqi military on how to deal with al-Qaeda’s resurgence and the sectarian violence that has engulfed the country,” Panetta writes.

Left unsaid by the vice president, is that he often argued for caution against intervention in the debates highlighted by Panetta and Clinton, according to current and former officials’ accounts.

TIME Joe Biden

Biden on Being a Veep: ‘Isn’t That a B—h?’

44th Annual Legislative Conference - Day 1
Vice President Joe Biden speaks at the CBC Spouses 17th Annual Celebration of Leadership in Fine Arts at the Nuseum Museum on September 24, 2014 in Washington, D.C. Earl Gibson III—Getty Images

Add another to your list of Bidenisms

Mark this down as another “Biden being Biden” moment.

On Thursday night, a questioner at the Harvard Institute of Politics identified himself as the vice president of the student body. A smiling Vice President Joe Biden then remarked, “Isn’t that a b***h?”

“I mean . . . excuse me. The vice president thing,” he said, according to CNN. Biden added: “I’m joking, I’m joking, I’m joking. Best decision I ever made. I’m joking—that was a joke.”

The student replied that he hopes Biden loves his job. “I do, actually. I love the guy I work with,” Biden said. The comments came during a forum on foreign policy.

Biden ran for President in 1988 and 2008 and has left the door open for another run in 2016.

[CNN]

TIME Congress

White House Wants Congress to OK $500 Million for Syrian Rebels

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks on the phone with Saudi King Abdullah from the  Oval Office of the White House in Washington
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks on the phone with Saudi King Abdullah from the Oval Office of the White House in Washington September 10, 2014. Kevin Lamarque—Reuters

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden are reportedly lobbying lawmakers for funds to arm and train Syrian rebels in fight against ISIS

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden are personally lobbying members of Congress to authorize around $500 million in funding to train and arm Syrian rebels in the fight against Islamist militants in Iraq and Syria, according to the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi spoke in Congress Wednesday in support of funding the rebels, dismissing the potential cost. “I believe we need to train and equip Syrian rebels,” Reid said. “Going at it alone will not suffice.”

House Republicans are now debating whether to add the White House request to the pending government spending bill.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D—Mich.) and Sen. Bob Corker (R—Tenn.), the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters Wednesday that they support arming and training the Syrian rebels.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) noted that an overwhelming majority of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted to arm moderate elements of the Syrian opposition in May 2013. “I think the task has gotten harder in terms of determining how to do that in a way that the arms end up in the right hands,” said Kaine. “But I still think that that can be an appropriate way to deal with [ISIS] threats on the Syria side.”

Not all senators support the measure, however. A spokesperson for Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said he “doesn’t believe that we should fund rebels who could potentially be our enemies.”

TIME Domestic Abuse

20 Years of Change: Joe Biden on the Violence Against Women Act

Vice President Joe Biden commemorates the 20th Anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act at the National Archives in Washington on Sept. 9, 2014.
Vice President Joe Biden commemorates the 20th Anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act at the National Archives in Washington on Sept. 9, 2014. Susan Walsh—AP

VAWA, which changed our national conversation on abuse and brought safety to more women, is my proudest legislative accomplishment

Domestic abuse of any kind is violent and ugly, and today there is rightful public outrage over it, whether the perpetrators are famous athletes, college students, members of the military, or leaders of our institutions and communities.

On Tuesday, I joined hundreds of domestic violence survivors and advocates at the National Archives to commemorate the 20th Anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and to recognize a right that flows directly from our founding documents: the right of every woman in America to be free from violence and free from fear.

Twenty years ago, this was a right that few people understood and our culture failed to recognize. Kicking a wife in the stomach or pushing her down the stairs was repugnant, but it wasn’t taken seriously as a crime. It was considered a “family affair.” State authorities assumed if a woman was beaten or raped by her husband or someone she knew, she must have deserved it. It was a “lesser crime” to rape a woman if she was a “voluntary companion.” Many state murder laws still held on to the notion that if your wife left you and you killed her, she had provoked it and you had committed manslaughter.

That was the tragic history when, as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I introduced the Violence Against Women Act in 1990. We started out believing that the only way to change the culture was to expose the toll of domestic violence on American families. And I was convinced, as I am today, that the basic decency of the American people would demand change once they saw the scale of violence and the depth of the ignorance and stereotypes used to justify it.

To paint an honest picture, I invited health professionals to testify on the long-term psychological effects of the violence. Advocates told of the desperate need for funding for shelters and centers. But what broke through were the stories of courageous survivors.

One woman testified ten years after being raped by her boyfriend as a 15-year-old, “It is not the gory details that you need to hear to understand, it is the suffering, the loss of feeling any control, the incredible self-blame, and the disruption of a survivor’s life that can’t often be heard.” She asked the committee a powerful question: “How did I get this message that…it was my fault?”

We heard more stories through a report detailing a single week in America where 21,000 women were victims of assaults, murders, and rapes. Women had arms broken with hammers and heads beaten with pipes by men who supposedly loved them.

But as more women — and men — spoke out, minds began to change. Terms of the debate shifted. And we forged a national consensus that something had to be done. Local coalitions of shelters and rape crisis centers led the way. National women’s groups and civil rights groups got on board. Brave women judges and lawyers stood up to Chief Justice Rehnquist, who opposed to the bill because it included a civil rights remedy. To get it passed with that remedy and more resources for shelters and advocates, I added VAWA to a crime bill I had been working on for years that had bipartisan support, put 100,000 cops on the streets, and provided more assistance for law enforcement.

On September 13, 1994, President Clinton signed the bill into law, and with each reauthorization over the years we’ve improved and included more protections for women, LGBT Americans, and Native Americans.

As a consequence of the law, domestic violence rates have dropped 64%; billions of dollars have been averted in social and medical costs; and we’ve had higher rates of convictions for special-victims unites and fundamental reforms of state laws. The nation’s first National Domestic Violence Hotline has helped 3.4 million women and men fight back from domestic and dating violence.

And along the way we’ve changed the culture. Abuse is violent and ugly and today there is rightful public outrage over it. It matters that the American people have sent a clear message: you’re a coward for raising a hand to a woman or child—and you’re complicit if you fail to condemn it.

That’s a monumental change from twenty years ago, and it’s why the Violence Against Women Act is my proudest legislative accomplishment. But we know there’s more to do. One in five women in America has experienced rape or attempted rape. Sex bias still plagues our criminal justice system with stereotypes like “she deserved it” or “she wore a short skirt” tainting the prosecution of rape and assault.

But twenty years after this law first passed, I remain hopeful as ever that the decency of the American people will keep us moving forward in the fight against this rawest form of violence and a culture that hides it. They understand the true character of our country is measured when violence against women is no longer accepted as society’s secret and where we all understand that even one case is too many.

Joe Biden is the Vice President of the United States.

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