TIME Congress

What Does This Mysterious C-SPAN Call to Dennis Hastert Mean?

“Hello, Denny"

A C-SPAN caller’s mysterious question to Dennis Hastert last year has taken on a new meaning in light of recent allegations that the former House Speaker illegally paid $3.5 million in hush money to an unidentified resident of Yorkville.

The call was placed during a 2014 interview on C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal.”

“Hello, Denny,” said the caller, who identified himself as Bruce. “Do you remember me from Yorkville?”

The caller then laughs and hangs up the phone, and the interview moves on without further comment. Footage of the call garnered newfound attention after a federal grand jury indicted Hastert on Thursday for allegedly paying an acquaintance in his hometown of Yorkville hush money over “prior misconduct.”

TIME 2016 Election

Mad Rush to Hire 2016 Campaign Staff Brings Out the Beggars

Jeb Bush
Jim Cole—AP Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks at the Draft restaurant, Thursday, May 21, 2015, in Concord, N.H.

It is a great time to be an operative in Iowa or New Hampshire

It’s enough to make a campaign get on its knees and beg. Literally.

Such was the scene earlier this month at Rocket Man, a dueling pianos joint in Columbia, S.C. A top aide in former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s campaign-in-waiting dropped to one knee and asked a respected South Carolina operative to reconsider her decision to join rival Mike Huckabee’s run at the Republicans’ Presidential nomination.

Hope Walker, who most recently was the state director for the South Carolina GOP, told her suitor that she was sticking with Huckabee and there was no need for Bush to phone her. Bush communications maven Tim Miller shook his head, stood up and moved onto his next potential hire at the other end of the bar. Miller is still wooing that operative.

For GOP campaigns looking to build a payroll of experienced aides, this is the new normal: lots of courtship and many promises.

With more than a dozen—and perhaps eventually as many as two dozen—contenders at various stages of preparation for a White House bid, the fight for staff is fierce. Promises of access to the candidate, special titles and bloated salaries are the new chits for the small subset of political professionals who have run campaigns before.

And that’s before the outside groups, the super PACs and the nominally apolitical groups such as Americans for Prosperity or the League of Conservation Voters start building their teams. Those groups are ramping up their staffs and activities, fueled by donors who can give an unlimited amount of cash. In turn, it’s becoming a bidding war.

Operatives who have networks in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina stand to be the campaign’s most obvious profiteers.

“It is harder to find this time because there are so many candidates or likely candidates,” said a veteran operative to Presidential hopefuls and a current adviser to a top-tier candidate who has yet to formally enter the race. “The supply isn’t here to even meet the demands. There is a dynamic that it feels like there is a shortage of staff.”

Part of it is more than a feeling. Take New Hampshire, which is scheduled to have the nation’s first primary on Feb. 9, 2016. In non-presidential years, elections there are typically used to build a bench of talent and train them for the coming White House runs. That didn’t happen in 2014; Senate hopeful Scott Brown imported many of his aides from across state lines in Massachusetts, and gubernatorial nominee Walt Haverstein ran a lackluster race that no one wants to repeat.

The result is what one aide calls a BYOS dynamic: Bring Your Own Staff. Miami-based Miller was at Bush’s side last week in New Hampshire on a trip to New Hampshire. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker had his Madison-based aides with him on a recent trip. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has no plans to hire New Hampshire-based communications aides and sent a former Trenton-based adviser to New Hampshire to lay the groundwork for a potential run.

Even Sen. Kelly Ayotte had to import talent for what could be a tough re-election bid in 2016. The de facto head of the New Hampshire GOP recruited a campaign manager, Ben Sparks, from his most recent campaign helping Dan Sullivan win a Senate race in Alaska.

It is a dynamic that is playing out in the other states, and at national headquarters, where finding bodies to put into jobs is taking up a lot top campaign aides’ time.

“With the potential for 19 candidates, anyone who has a hint of a resume gets to be a political director or a state director,” said an established political adviser who has four Presidential campaigns on her resume. She, however, is sitting this campaign out despite repeated phone calls from presidential hopefuls and their staffs.

“Their pitch was: ‘Whatever you want,’” she said. She is passing even though she is leaving potentially hefty paychecks on the table. Her 2012 job paid her $10,000 a month and she figures she could have more than doubled that in 2016.

None of the declared or likely candidates has filed campaign finance reports that would indicate salary levels for the 2016 race. But among the sought-after operatives—friends to each other in non-election settings—they speculate some of the top staff hires are earning as much as $35,000 each month.

To be sure, there is money to be made Presidential politics. In late December of 2011—days before Iowa’s caucuses—then-state Sen. Kent Sorenson resigned from Rep. Michele Bachmann’s Presidential campaign to join Rep. Ron Paul’s. According to his plea deal in a campaign finance case, he received $73,000 for the defection. And that was over a move from a sixth-place finisher to a third-place candidate in 2012.

With 2016 looming, the price is only increasing. “They’re inflating the prices of these guys,” said a longtime adviser to a former governor chasing the nomination. “They know it’s a short run and they want to milk it for all it’s worth,” he added.

TIME 2016 Election

Why New Hampshire Will Be the First Real Test for Republicans

Reporters use their mobile phones to record potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush as he answers questions after a business roundtable in Portsmouth, N.H. on May 20, 2015.
Brian Snyder—Reuters Reporters use their mobile phones to record potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush as he answers questions after a business roundtable in Portsmouth, N.H. on May 20, 2015.

Bob Beckett takes his duty to vet presidential candidates in the nation’s first primary so seriously that it’s listed as his profession on his business card: “Registered New Hampshire Voter.”

He might want to have a few more printed up next year. The Granite State primary is poised to play an even bigger role than usual in the 2016 Republican presidential primary, possibly overshadowing the Iowa caucuses one week earlier.

In part, that’s because Iowa voters have lurched to the right, and the unusually large Republican field has more than a few candidates laying the groundwork to win big there, including Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. Each is climbing over his rivals trying to claim the most conservative corner.

That’s led to candidates who are seen as more moderate, such as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former New York Gov. George Pataki to pin their hopes on New Hampshire, while the would-be Iowa winners aim for a repeat win. And the states that follow soon after already have home-state figures starting with an advantage: South Carolina is Sen. Lindsey Graham’s home turf, while Florida is a base for both Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio.

With a broader slate of candidates competing in a more wide-open primary, New Hampshire could play a more crucial role winnowing the field. And for now, at least, it’s anyone’s game. Beckett, a 60-year-old sales manager for a technology company, said New Hampshire residents are still shopping around.

“We’re still kicking the tires,” he said, after a recent event in Bedford, N.H. “We vet these guys and figure out who is serious and who is not.”

From a purely logistical point of view, New Hampshire is an easier state to campaign in. Most of the population lives in the southern part of the state, requiring far less driving than Iowa’s expansive stretches between cities. And for the candidates with day jobs in Washington, it’s a quick flight north from the capital.

The state’s politics also make it more of a jump ball for presidential candidates.

Voters who do not identify with either major political party are the largest bloc in the state, and they can cast ballots in either party’s primary. That gives non-affiliated voters a great say in the winner and offers a preview of a candidate’s appeal with ever-crucial swing votes. To win in Iowa, many candidates have taken deeply conservative positions that come back to haunt them as nominees.

“Independents get to vote in our primary. It’s a better test of your general election strength,” said Steve Duprey, a former state GOP chairman who helped guide Sen. John McCain to his 2000 and 2008 victories in the state’s vaunted primary. “We have a broader range of views in the Republican Party than our cousins in Iowa.”

The Hawkeye State’s GOP has been dragged rightward in recent years. A strain of anti-immigration rhetoric has taken hold there, imperiling candidates who have backed proposals to address the more than 11 million immigrants in the country illegally. That spells nothing but a headache for Bush, along with two expected rivals who were the architects of the failed, bipartisan attempt to fix the immigration system: Graham and Rubio.

And Iowa’s deeply religious conservatives demand an orthodoxy that rewards candidates such as former Sen. Rick Santorum, 2012’s caucus winner, or Huckabee, who prevailed in 2008. New Hampshire, by contrast, is consistently among the most secular in the country in Gallup polling.

Instead, New Hampshire’s unofficial religion is politics.

“People here in New Hampshire know that it’s their civic duty. It’s what we do,” said Renee Plummer, a marketing executive who has organized luncheons for White House hopefuls to meet with business leaders. “We vet these people. We ask them the questions again and again, and hopefully we do it well for the country.”

History backs up that claim. Only three times since 1952 has the GOP nominee not carried New Hampshire. Iowa, by contrast, is a relatively new recent beachhead for the GOP. And since 1980, the state has four times backed candidates who failed to win the nomination.

It has become a cliché, for sure, but there is something to the refrain that Iowa picks corn while New Hampshire picks presidents.

It’s why Beckett and his neighbors crowded into a house near Manchester this week to hear Bush answer their questions about climate change, foreign policy and education.

“It’s just another day in New Hampshire,” host Rich Ashooh quipped to his guests who packed his living room to hear Bush.

Given the importance of New Hampshire, voters in the state should expect frequent visits from these likely candidates.

“I’m going to engage fully in New Hampshire,” Bush promised a talk-radio interviewer on Thursday as he drove between events.

While nodding to Iowa, it was clear Bush was betting big on New Hampshire: “These early states matter.”

TIME mitt romney

Mitt Romney Once Again Set to Lose, This Time in Boxing

The 2012 presidential nominee is set to face world champ Evander Holyfield for charity

Mitt Romney is going to lose. But unlike his 2008 and 2012 presidential bids, he knows it ahead of time.

Romney, who has never previously boxed, is scheduled to face world heavyweight champ Evander Holyfield during a charity event Friday evening in Utah. The former Republican governor of Massachusetts and 2012 GOP presidential nominee enters the ring as the undeniable underdog. Romney’s optimistic entrance music? “I Will Survive.”

“I expect to be beaten but unbowed,” Romney told the New York Times magazine in an interview.

Romney, the stiff patrician who is more comfortable captaining his boat around New Hampshire’s Lake Winnipesaukee than throwing haymakers, is using the stunt to raise cash for Charity Vision, which has ties to the Romney clan. The former governor’s wife, Ann, is on the organization’s board of directors; his son Josh is the group’s president.

Promoters estimate $1 million will go to the group, which helps treat blindness and eye problems in 25 countries. That sum would pay for about 40,000 eye surgeries from El Salvador to Indonesia.

But trading in cuff links for boxing gloves is a shift for Romney, who traded verbal jabs with President Obama but little more. Now, he’s facing down a four-time world champion and Olympic bronze medalist.

It is unlikely that Holyfield will be cowed by Romney’s tenure running 2002’s Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

“I will be doing a bit of dancing and dodging Friday night,” Romney told the magazine, comparing it to taking political hits during two runs for president.

A 30-second negative commercial, however, is unlikely to have anything close to the pain Holyfield could inflict on Romney’s matinee-idol jawline.

Romney advisers are hoping the jabs will be for show and in good humor. The fight is supposed to go three rounds, but the play-acting in the ring could be cut short once the novelty wears off. After all, one Romney friend says, the governor is doing this more to help his family continue its charity work than to put himself back in the spotlight.

While absurd, Romney is hardly the first political figure to stray from staid formality to help his own cause. Richard Nixon appeared on NBC’s “Laugh-In” variety show as a candidate in 1968, and presidential hopefuls are frequent election year cameos on “Saturday Night Live.” Former Republican Majority Leader Tom DeLay shook his rump on “Dancing With the Stars,” only to withdraw with a fractured foot.

And former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the GOP’s 2008 vice presidential nominee, signed with “Survivor” producer Mark Burnett for her own reality show, “Sarah Palin’s Alaska.” She has since been branded “the first lady of the outdoors” on the Sportsman Channel’s “Amazing America.”

Still, no politician has yet to take a right cross to the face from a boxing champ. Romney’s allies are betting Holyfield goes easy, and that the two-time presidential hopeful doesn’t become the first politician to know the literal meaning of being on-the-ropes.

TIME Marco Rubio

Marco Rubio Dismisses Pope Francis’ Views on Cuba, Israel

Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL).
Andrew Burton—Getty Images Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL).

Running for President, Leading a Global Faith Have Different Goals

During a Q&A on foreign policy Wednesday, Sen. Marco Rubio took a shot at an unlikely public figure: Pope Francis.

After delivering a meaty speech outlining his hawkish foreign policy priorities at the Council on Foreign Relations, the Florida Republican criticized the 78-year-old pontiff’s take on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the U.S.-Cuban standoff.

“His desire is peace and prosperity, he wants everyone to be better off. He’s not a political figure,” Rubio said. “Anything he can do to open up more opportunities for them, he’s going to pursue.”

Rubio contrasted that with his own approach.

“My interest as an elected official is the national security of the United States and embedded in that is the belief that it is not good for our people—or the people of Cuba—for an anti-American dictatorship 90 miles from our shores,” he said.

And asked about the Vatican’s support for separate states of Israel and Palestine, Rubio said the United States must stand with its ally Israel.

“It is the only free enterprise, democratic, pro-American country in the Middle East. If we had more free enterprise, pro-American democracies in the Middle East, my speech would be a lot shorter,” Rubio said.

Asked about his earlier support for separate states of Israel and Palestine, Rubio was dour: “I don’t think the conditions exist for that today.”

It won’t be the last time Pope Francis plays a role in U.S. presidential politics. He’s set to visit Philadelphia in September of 2015, as the presidential race gets even more heated.

Read more: The Possible Presidential Candidate Who Agrees the Most with Pope Francis

TIME White House

Why Obama’s Visit to Nike Bothers Liberals

President Barack Obama arrives at the Oregon Air National Guard Base ahead of a fundraiswer at Nike, in Portland on May 7, 2015.
Brendan Smialowski—AFP/Getty Images President Barack Obama arrives at the Oregon Air National Guard Base ahead of a fundraiswer at Nike, in Portland on May 7, 2015.

If there’s one thing the liberal, activist base can agree on, it’s that they hate President Obama’s proposed trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership. They argue that it would transfer hundreds of thousands of decent American jobs to developing countries, like Vietnam, where workers, laboring under poor conditions, make pennies an hour.

And if there’s a second thing that liberal can agree on, it’s that the multinational sports outfitter, Nike, which conducts virtually all of its manufacturing in Asia and Mexico, is perhaps the world’s most powerful symbol, fairly or not, of precisely this kind of exploitation of cheap overseas labor, to the detriment of the American worker.

So Obama’s decision to visit Nike to promote the trade deal Thursday has liberals completely baffled.

“It’s crazy,” said Neil Sroka, the communications director of Democracy for America, a liberal advocacy group. “It would almost be funny on its face, if it weren’t such a sad indication of how out of touch the White House is on this issue with the lived experience of the American people.”

T.J. Helmstetter of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee added that “President Obama’s position on the TPP is misguided, as evidenced by his visit to Nike, which pays workers overseas so little they can’t afford to buy the shoes they’re making.”

Campaign for America’s Future, another liberal group opposed to the trade deal, is organizing a protest outside of Nike’s headquarters on Friday.

The White House, for its part, is making the case that visiting Nike — famous precisely because of its embrace of globalization — makes perfect sense. The president is expected to argue that the trade deal will reduce prices for American consumers by cutting tariffs on things like imported Nike sportswear.

“By allowing our trading partners to produce the goods in which they are relatively more efficient, the United States can import at lower prices than would prevail if we were to use our scarce resources to produce the goods ourselves,” economic advisers at the White House wrote in a report this month.

The trade deal, the advisers explained, would set new, higher standards for labor conditions, environmental protections and copyright. In exchange, lower tariffs at the U.S. border would make it easier to import Asian-made products — including Nike clothing and shoes. The U.S. imported $987.41 billion in goods and services from the Asia-Pacific region in 2012, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

It’s an argument that is no doubt music to the ears of the corporate leadership at Nike, where 56% of the company’s revenue comes from outside Mexico, the United States and Canada, according to the company’s filings.

But labor groups, environmentalists, liberals, and some Tea Party Republicans say that argument doesn’t take into account the reality of average Americans.

“The argument doesn’t make any sense for struggling workers and their families,” said Sroka. “If you can’t get a job because companies like Nike are shipping their jobs to Vietnam where they’re can pay workers less, then it matters very little to you that your shoes are going to be two bucks less.”

Dave Johnson, a senior fellow at the progressive Campaign For America’s Future, made a more populist argument. “Phil Knight, head of Nike, is now worth $23 billion because America’s trade policies encourage companies like Nike to create and move jobs outside of the U.S.,” he wrote. “The 23rd-richest American is one more symbol of the kind of inequality that results from outsourcing enabled and encouraged by these trade policies. Workers here lose (or never get) jobs; workers there are paid squat; a few people become vastly, unimaginably wealthy.”

For the last two decades, Nike has come under consistent fire from civil rights and anti-globalization groups for operating sweatshops that exploit weak labor laws and employ children. As recently as last year, the company was criticized for abusing workers in Indonesia and underpaying workers in China.

Nike says it now operates all its factories above board. “Nike fully supports the inclusion of strong labor provisions” in trade deals, the company said in a statement. “We’ve made significant improvements and driven positive change for workers in contract factories that make Nike product.”

If the TPP is approved it will include 12 nations, including Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Chile, and oversee 40% of the world’s total GDP. Obama’s trip this Friday comes just as Congress is debating the passage of “fast track” legislation, which would give Congress only an up-or-down vote on the trade deal, with no ability to tinker with the details.

Obama and his allies on trade, which include Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden and the vast majority of the Republican establishment, have argued that “fast track” legislation is necessary to smooth the way for the TPP. Congress is expected to vote on the fast track next week.

TIME intelligence

McConnell Introduces Bill to Extend Surveillance Under Patriot Act

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., speaks to the media following the Senate Republicans' policy lunch in the Capitol on April 21, 2015.
Bill Clark—AP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., speaks to the media following the Senate Republicans' policy lunch in the Capitol on April 21, 2015.

The bill comes amid a bipartisan effort to curb the NSA's expansive collection of Americans' phone records

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell introduced a bill Tuesday evening that would renew several sections of the Patriot Act, which grants expansive powers of surveillance to intelligence agencies, that are set to expire this summer.

Among the act’s provisions that would be renewed until 2020 rather than expiring in June is Section 215, the National Journal reports. The hotly contested authority laid the legal groundwork for the National Security Agency’s sweeping collection of metadata from millions of Americans’ phone records.

The bill appears to challenge a bipartisan effort to amend Section 215 with stricter guidelines on what information intelligence agents can collect and retain.

TIME 2016 Election

Ohio Gov. Kasich ‘Seriously Considering’ Presidential Run

Benjamin Netanyahu Address
Tom Williams—CQ-Roll Call,Inc./Getty Images Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) talks with the press after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's address to a joint meeting of Congress in the House chamber, March 3, 2015.

"If it makes sense, you know I'll do it"

Ohio Gov. John Kasich says he is “seriously considering” a presidential run, joining an already crowded field of contenders for the Republican presidential nominee.

“If it makes sense, you know I’ll do it,” Kasich said Monday during a luncheon at the Detroit Economic Club, CBS Cleveland reports.

Kasich highlighted his opposition to deficit spending and illegal immigration as two issues that would shape his campaign platform if he decided to run. But he said he still needed to discuss the decision with family and friends.

The comments came the same day Senator Marco Rubio announced his presidential bid. Senators Ted Cruz and Rand Paul have also entered the Republican race.

TIME Rand Paul

Who Said It: Ron or Rand Paul?

Test how well you know GOP presidential candidate from his father

Sen. Rand Paul may be following in his father’s footsteps by running for president, but that doesn’t mean he’s moving in lockstep on the issues.

The Kentucky Senator, who will kick off his campaign Tuesday, has broken with his father’s libertarian positions in a number of ways in recent years.

See if you can tell which Paul said which quote.

 

TIME Budget

Texas Measure Cuts HIV Funds, Boosts Abstinence Education

A Republican-sponsored measure has been tucked into the Texas budget to supplant funding for HIV prevention with abstinence education

(AUSTIN) — Texas would cut $3 million from programs to prevent HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases and spend that money instead on abstinence education under a contentious Republican-sponsored measure tucked into the state budget Tuesday night.

The GOP-controlled House overwhelmingly approved the budget amendment, but not before a tense exchange with Democrats that veered into the unusually personal.

Republican state Rep. Stuart Spitzer, a doctor and the amendment’s sponsor, at one point defended the change by telling the Texas House that he practiced abstinence until marriage. The first-term lawmaker said he hopes schoolchildren follow his example, saying, “What’s good for me is good for a lot of people.”

Democrat state Rep. Harold Dutton asked Spitzer if abstinence worked for him.

Shouts of “Decorum!” soon echoed on the House floor as Spitzer responded and the back-and-forth intensified. Efforts by Democrats to put the debate in writing for the record — usually a perfunctory request — failed.

The measure is a long way from final approval. It must still survive budget negotiations with the Senate, although that chamber is equally dominated by conservatives.

Texas in 2013 had the third-highest number of HIV diagnoses in the country, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control. Texas also has one of the highest teen birth rates, and its public schools are not required to teach sex education.

Another Republican-sponsored amendment that passed Tuesday night would prevent schools from distributing sex education materials from abortion providers.

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