TIME 2016 Election

Rick Perry Disavows Tweet Calling Democratic D.A. a Drunk

Rick Perry Discusses Immigration And Border Crisis In Washington DC
Texas Governor Rick Perry delivers remarks about immigration at The Heritage Foundation August 21, 2014 in Washington, DC. Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images

'I do not condone the tweet and I have taken it down'

Texas Governor Rick Perry deleted an “unauthorized” tweet sent out from his official account on Sunday evening, that included a mocking image of a district attorney who is involved in a criminal indictment against the governor.

“I do not condone the tweet and I have taken it down,” Perry tweeted from his official account. The removed tweet included an image of Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg surrounded by beer bottles with a derisive comment about her drunk driving conviction in 2013.

Lehmberg refused to resign after the conviction, prompting Perry to withhold funding from her office until she stepped down. An indictment last month held that Perry’s maneuver might constitute a possible “abuse of power,” a charge the governor contests is based on a vague and outdated law.

TIME 2016 Election

Perry Stops in Washington in Wake of Indictment

Rick Perry
Texas Gov. Rick Perry speaks at the Heritage Foundation in Washington. Manuel Balce Ceneta—AP

Texas Gov. Rick Perry called his Aug. 15 indictment on charges that he abused power an “attack on our system of government” during a speech on immigration at the Heritage Foundation in Washington on Thursday.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry called his Aug. 15 indictment on charges that he abused power an “attack on our system of government” during a speech on immigration at the Heritage Foundation in Washington on Thursday.

Gov.Perry stopped in Washington on his way to New Hampshire less than a week after being indicted by a grand jury in Texas on charges of abuse of power. He said Thursday he was confident in his case and that he aims to “defend our constitution and defend our rule of law in the state of Texas.”

The charges against Perry stem from his veto of $7.5 million worth of funding to the state entity that investigates political corruption, the Travis County Public Integrity Unit, after Travis County’s embattled District Attorney refused to resign in the wake of a drunk driving arrest.

Democrats in Texas have alleged Perry wanted funding cut to the public integrity unit to delay an investigation into mismanagement at the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, one of Perry’s signature programs. In an affidavit released by Perry’s lawyers on Thursday, a former criminal investigator at the Travis County Public Integrity Unit said neither Governor Perry nor anyone from his officer were ever a target in the investigation into the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.

“Any suggestion that Governor Rick Perry or anyone associated with him was being investigated is untrue; and, based on my investigation, there was absolutely no evidence whatsoever that suggests wrongdoing on the part of any individual other than the individual ultimately indicted by a grand jury,” the affidavit reads.

Perry has come across as calm, and at times cheeky, in the face of the charges. The governor presented a slight smile in his mugshot, released Tuesday. After being booked, Perry went out for ice cream. And now, Perry is hitting the road, with scheduled appearances in states that would be crucial if the governor were to run for President in 2016 as expected, including New Hampshire, Iowa, and South Carolina.

Even during his brief remarks in Washington, Perry seemed to be focused mainly on the idea of one day serving as commander-in-chief: following a brief mention of the case against him in his home state, the Governor focused his attention on the crisis at the border, calling it a threat to national security. Perry said there should be no conversation about immigration reform, “until the border is secure.”

TIME States

Rick Perry Digs in for a Fight

Texas Governor Rick Perry acknowledges the crowd after being finger printed at the Blackwell-Thurman Criminal Justice Center on Aug. 19, 2014 in Austin.
Texas Governor Rick Perry acknowledges the crowd after being finger printed at the Blackwell-Thurman Criminal Justice Center on Aug. 19, 2014 in Austin. Stewart F. House—Getty Images

2016 presidential hopeful pleads not guilty in abuse-of-power case

Rick Perry isn’t going quietly. In fact, he says he’s not going anywhere at all.

The Texas governor pleaded not guilty Wednesday in the abuse-of-power case against him, waiving a formal arraignment that had been scheduled for Friday and signaling again his readiness to fight a prosecution that he has decried as a “farce.” This after Perry, who just days ago was barnstorming Iowa as he weighs a 2016 presidential bid, strode up to the Austin courthouse here on Tuesday to be booked and fingerprinted—and looking every bit the congenial, confident, quintessentially-Texan politician he has played with success for 30 years.

“I’m here today because I believe in the rule of law,” Perry said after having his mugshot taken Tuesday for booking.

“Like a true West Texan, in the face of adversity Rick Perry is doubling down and meeting his critics head on,” Rice University political scientist Mark Jones said. “Unlike most politicians facing indictments, Perry is reaching out to the media as opposed to running away from it.”

That approach led Perry’s lawyers to hold a briefing on Monday at an Austin hotel, unveiling a stellar team of star lawyers, and advising the media well in advance Tuesday that the governor would be turning himself in for the obligatory mugshot. After the booking, like the good Texan that he is, Perry made a point to thank the Travis County sheriff’s deputies who booked him—evoking a contrast with the torrent of abuse an intoxicated Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg unleashed on deputies and jail guards when she was booked on a DUI charge in April, 2013.

Perry’s response to a video of Lehmberg’s tirade, which prompted calls for her resignation from both Democrats and Republicans, is at the heart of the indictment against him last week. Prosecutors say he abused his power by threatening to veto funds for the Public Intergrity Unit she heads if she didn’t resign, an assertion that Perry and even some liberals have warned constitutes prosecutorial overreach into policing even the most basic posturing in modern politics. But Lehmberg is also at the center of Perry’s public relations strategy so far.

“If I had to do so, I would veto funding for the public integrity unit again,” Perry told a cheering crowd of supporters Tuesday. “I’m going to fight this injustice with every fiber of my being. And we will prevail.”

For Perry, this is a black hat-white hat YouTube range war, with a vodka-guzzling, out-of-control, drunken Democratic prosecutor on one side and a self-styled champion of the people and the rule of law on the other. Perry’s political action committee, RickPAC, unveiled a new ad Tuesday featuring, of course, the Lehmberg video.

“Governor Perry’s public relations strategy is to present this indictment as one blow, low and foul, in an ongoing fight between a disgraced, partisan, Democratic, district attorney and a Republican governor fighting for common decency, the rule of law, and the sanctity of the Texas Constitution,” said Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University and longtime observer of Texas politics. “This framing is working pretty well, especially among Republican leaders and activists, but it is at best a short term strategy that will be of no use at all if the case goes to trial.”

Perry’s only hope of remaining a viable presidential candidate for 2016 is to get the charges dismissed before trial, Jillson said. “But if he goes to trial, there will be weeks of testimony from Austin insiders describing in most unappetizing terms precisely how the political sausage was made,” Jillson said. “If that happens, it will make Chris Christie’s ‘Bridgegate’ troubles look like a walk in the park.”

Some Democrats have pressed the argument that Perry’s attempt to dethrone Lehmberg was aimed at derailing an investigation into connections between Perry campaign contributors and the Cancer Prevention and Research Insitute of Texas (CPRIT). But other Democrats see the indictment as baseless, including David Botsford, a prominent Travis County Democrat and a member of Perry’s legal team. He was the first to greet Perry at the podium with a handshake and an embrace Tuesday.

Perry’s legal team is a mix of colorful, political, heavyweight and well-connected lawyers. Botsford is regarded as a top criminal lawyer in Texas, but also someone who knows the inner workings and politics of the Travis County courthouse. Lead lawyer Tony Buzbee, who said the Perry prosecution is an example of “banana republic politics,” is a charismatic Houston plaintiff’s attorney. Also on the team are two star Washington attorneys—Ben Ginsberg, who represented President George W. Bush in the 2000 Florida recount, and Bobby Burchfield who has led the Republican National Committee’s successful legal fight against a key campaign finance law. The goal is likely to get the indictment thrown out as quickly as possible, and to get the case moved out of Travis County, where the judges and the majority of jurors are Democrats

While Perry’s stellar legal team plots the maneuvers ahead, Perry needs to focus on a different jury, political analysts say. “The principal problem for Perry is not so much how the indictment is being viewed by Republican caucus and primary voters in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and elsewhere, but rather the doubts it is creating about Perry’s political future among major donors as well as political elites whose endorsements Perry needs to be viable, especially in the early caucus and primary states,” Jones said.

“Both the donors and elites are thinking far more about the long game of winning not only the GOP primary, but especially the general election, and are quite likely to view the indictment, regardless of merit, as a significant political liability,” Jones said. “If Perry cannot get the charged dismissed, the indictment will be a dark cloud following any Perry 2016 presidential campaign.”

TIME justice

Rick Perry Booked in Politically Charged Abuse of Power Case

Rick Perry Mugshot
Texas Gov. Rick Perry gets booked on abuse of power charges at the Travis County Sheriff's Department in Austin, on Aug. 19, 2014. Travis County Sheriff's Department

The Texas governor faces two felony charges

Texas Gov. Rick Perry turned himself in at the Travis County Courthouse Tuesday on two felony charges of abuse of power.

Perry, who has vowed to contest the charges stemming from a threat and ultimate veto of funding to the state’s public integrity unit, surrendered himself to Sheriff’s deputies to be fingerprinted and have his mug shot taken. Perry is scheduled to be arraigned on Friday.

Outside the courthouse, Perry allies protested the indictment handed down by a grand jury Friday evening. “I am here today because I believe in the rule of law,” Perry told a crowd of cheering supporters before entering the courthouse. “And I am here today because I did the right thing.”

Perry was indicted for threatening and then ultimately vetoing funding for the unit after its head, District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, was arrested on charges of driving while intoxicated. Perry demanded that Lehmberg resign and, when she refused, vetoed the funding.

“I am going to enter this courthouse with my head held high knowing the actions I took were not only lawful and legal, but also right,” he added.

The governor and potential 2016 presidential candidate has hired a high-priced legal team and deployed his political machine in his defense, which has become a rallying point for Republicans across the country. Democrats, including former Obama strategist David Axelrod, have also expressed doubts about the merits of the prosecution.

Perry cast the criminal complaint as “an attack on our system of government,” arguing it was well within his rights to veto the funding. “If I had to do so, I would veto funding for the public integrity unit again,” he said.

“I’m going to fight this injustice with every fiber of my being,” Perry said before turning to enter the courthouse. “And we will prevail.”

Perry’s political action committee, RickPAC, released a new video defending the veto Tuesday.

After he left the courthouse, Perry tweeted that he went to purchase an ice cream cone.

 

TIME

Rick Perry Indicted in Politically-Charged Texas Battle

Rick Perry
Governor Rick Perry pauses as he addresses attendees at the 2014 Red State Gathering, Aug. 8, 2014, in Fort Worth, Texas. Tony Gutierrez—AP

Gov. Rick Perry was indicted on two counts of abuse of power Friday by a Texas grand jury, in the latest chapter of a long-running politically-charged dispute between the Republican and his Democratic opponents.

The indictment revolves around Perry’s veto of $7.5 million in funding to state’s public integrity unit., based in the Travis County district attorney’s office. District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, who ran the unit, was arrested on charges of driving while intoxicated in 2012. Perry publicly demanded that she step aside. When she didn’t, he vetoed the unit’s funding.

At the same time, the unit, long a weather vane to Texas politics, was investigating one of Perry’s signature achievements, the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, for alleged mismanagement. Texans for Public Justice, a left-leaning watchdog group, filed an ethics complaint over Perry’s public veto threat.

At the request of Special Prosecutor Michael McCrum, a Travis County grand jury returned felony indictments against Perry on two counts, abuse of official capacity, which carries a penalty of five to 99 years in prison, and coercion of a public servant, which carries a penalty of two to 10 years.

Central to the case will be whether Perry’s threat to veto, an act authorized by the state’s constitution, constituted a misuse of state property, and whether his calls for Lehmberg to resign rose to a level of coercion. Both counts are likely to prove difficult for prosecutors to make.

In a statement, Perry’s general counsel Mary Anne Wiley defended the legality of the veto and pledged to fight the charges. “The veto in question was made in accordance with the veto authority afforded to every governor under the Texas Constitution,” she said. “We will continue to aggressively defend the governor’s lawful and constitutional action, and believe we will ultimately prevail.”

“I am outraged and appalled that the Grand Jury has taken this action, given the governor’s constitutional right and duty to veto funding as he deems appropriate,” added David L. Botsford, Perry’s personal attorney. “This clearly represents political abuse of the court system and there is no legal basis in this decision. The facts of this case conclude that the governor’s veto was lawful, appropriate and well within the authority of the office of the governor. Today’s action, which violates the separation of powers outlined in the Texas Constitution, is nothing more than an effort to weaken the constitutional authority granted to the office of Texas governor, and sets a dangerous precedent by allowing a grand jury to punish the exercise of a lawful and constitutional authority afforded to the Texas governor.”

Perry did not testify before the grand jury and he was not subpoenaed to appear, though members of his staff did.

McCrum told reporters he will be working with Perry’s attorney to set up a time for Perry to be arraigned and booked. “I feel confident with the charges that have been filed,” he told reporters.

A noted San Antonio criminal defense attorney, McCrum was appointed as an assistant US Attorney by President George H.W. Bush. In 2010 he was nominated in President Barack Obama to be U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas, but he withdrew his name after his nomination stalled.

Texas Democrats quickly released a statement calling on Perry to resign. “Governor Rick Perry has brought dishonor to his office, his family and the state of Texas,” the party said. “Texans deserve to have leaders that stand up for what is right and work to help families across Texas.”

The indictment comes as Perry, the longest serving governor in Texas history, is set to step down in January after 14 years in office. The failed 2012 Republican presidential hopeful has been traveling the country in recent months in preparation for a second run at the White House, most recently returning to Texas from a four-day trip to Iowa on Tuesday.

TIME

Texas’ Perry Indicted for Coercion for Veto Threat

Rick Perry
Governor Rick Perry pauses as he addresses attendees at the 2014 Red State Gathering, Aug. 8, 2014, in Fort Worth, Texas. Tony Gutierrez—AP

(AUSTIN, Texas) — A grand jury indicted Texas Gov. Rick Perry on Friday for allegedly abusing the powers of his office by carrying out a threat to veto funding for state prosecutors investigating public corruption — making the possible 2016 presidential hopeful his state’s first indicted governor in nearly a century.

A special prosecutor spent months calling witnesses and presenting evidence that Perry broke the law when he promised publicly to nix $7.5 million over two years for the public integrity unit run by the office of Travis County Democratic District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg. Lehmberg was convicted of drunken driving, but refused Perry’s calls to resign.

Perry’s general counsel, Marry Anne Wiley, defended the governor’s action.

“The veto in question was made in accordance with the veto authority afforded to every governor under the Texas Constitution,” she said. “We will continue to aggressively defend the governor’s lawful and constitutional action, and believe we will ultimately prevail.”

The unit Lehmberg oversees is the same that led the investigation against former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, a Texas Republican who in 2010 was convicted of money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering for taking part in a scheme to influence elections in his home state.

Several top aides to the Republican governor appeared before grand jurors in Austin, including his deputy chief of staff, legislative director and general counsel. Perry himself did not testify, though.

Perry was indicted on charges of abuse of official capacity, a first-degree felony with potential punishments of five to 99 years in prison, and coercion of a public servant, a third-degree felony that carries a punishment of two to 10 years.

No one disputes that Perry is allowed to veto measures approved by the Legislature, including part or all of the state budget. But the left-leaning Texans for Public Justice government watchdog group filed an ethics complaint accusing the governor of coercion because he threatened to use his veto before actually doing so in an attempt to pressure Lehmberg to quit.

“We’re pleased that the grand jury determined that the governor’s bullying crossed the line into illegal behavior,” said Craig McDonald, executive director of Texans for Public Justice. “The complaint had merit, serious laws were potentially broken.”

Michael McCrum, the San Antonio-based special prosecutor said he “took into account the fact that we’re talking about a governor of a state — and a governor of the state of Texas, which we all love.”

“Obviously that carries a lot of importance,” McCrum said. “But when it gets down to it, the law is the law.”

In office since 2000 and already the longest-serving governor in Texas history, Perry isn’t seeking re-election in November. But the criminal investigation could mar his political prospects as he mulls another run at the White House, after his 2012 presidential bid flamed out.

McCrum said he’ll meet with Perry’s attorney Monday to discuss when he will come to the courthouse to be arraigned. McCrum said he doesn’t know when Perry will be booked.

Asked why McCrum never spoke to Perry personally, McCrum said, “That’s prosecutorial discretion that I had.”

The public integrity unit investigates statewide allegations of corruption and political wrongdoing. Perry said he wouldn’t allow Texas to fund the unit while Lehmberg remained in charge.

Perry said Lehmberg, who is based in Austin, should resign after she was arrested and pleaded guilty to drunken driving in April 2013. A video recording made at the jail showed Lehmberg shouting at staffers to call the sheriff, kicking the door of her cell and sticking her tongue out.

Lehmberg faced pressure from other high-profile Republicans in addition to Perry to give up her post. Her blood-alcohol level was nearly three times the legal limit for driving.

Lehmberg served about half of her 45-day jail sentence but stayed in office, despite Perry’s assertions that her behavior was inappropriate.

The jail video led to an investigation of Lehmberg by a separate grand jury, which decided she should not be removed for official misconduct.

The indictment is the first of its kind since 1917, when James “Pa” Ferguson was indicted on charges stemming from his veto of state funding to the University of Texas in an effort to unseat faculty and staff members he objected to. Ferguson was eventually impeached, then resigned before being convicted, allowing his wife, Miriam “Ma” Ferguson, to take over the governorship.

TIME Texas

First National Guard Troops at Texas-Mexico Border

Governor Rick Perry pauses as he addresses attendees at the 2014 Red State Gathering on August 8, 2014, in Fort Worth, Texas.
Governor Rick Perry pauses as he addresses attendees at the 2014 Red State Gathering on August 8, 2014, in Fort Worth, Texas. Tony Gutierrez—AP

(HIDALGO, Texas) — The first wave of National Guard troops has taken up observation posts along the Texas-Mexico border.

Several dozen soldiers deployed in the Rio Grande Valley are part of the up to 1,000 troops called up by Gov. Rick Perry last month, Texas National Guard Master Sgt. Ken Walker of the Joint Counterdrug Task Force said Thursday.

Several guardsmen were seen Thursday afternoon manning an observation tower along the busy road leading to the Hidalgo International Bridge.

This first batch of soldiers was specifically trained to man such observation towers in the area belonging to local law enforcement agencies and U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Walker said. They will serve as extra eyes on the border and report suspicious activity to authorities.

State officials have estimated the deployment will cost $12 million per month. Perry said the soldiers were necessary to help secure the border while the Border Patrol was busy with a surge in illegal immigration.

From October to July, 63,000 unaccompanied children were arrested after entering the U.S. illegally, double the number from the same period a year earlier. Another 63,000 families — mothers or fathers with young children — were arrested during that period.

“They’re just there for support,” Walker said of the soldiers. “We’re just trying to give some relief to the guys at Customs and Border Protection” and other law enforcement agencies.

The guardsmen seen Thursday were manning a tower owned by the Hidalgo Police Department.

Hidalgo Police Chief Rodolfo Espinoza said he would normally not have his department’s two towers manned. They have cameras that can pan the area and record activity, but having a person that can recognize something suspicious and report it is more valuable, he said.

“It is good to have them,” Espinoza said of the soldiers. “It is a positive benefit for everybody.”

TIME 2016 Election

The Starting Gun Has Sounded in Iowa on 2016 Presidential Race

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks during The Family Leadership Summit on August 9, 2014, in Ames, Iowa.
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks during The Family Leadership Summit on August 9, 2014, in Ames, Iowa. Charlie Neibergall—AP

Seven big name Republicans have visited the state already this month

Don’t let anyone tell you the 2016 presidential campaign has yet to begin. Seven likely Republican candidates have visited Iowa in the last 11 days. “Part of my role as the state party chair is to make sure that there is a welcome mat out there for every single person that wants to come into this state,” said Iowa GOP Chairman Jeff Kaufman Sunday, as he introduced Perry at a fundraiser for a state senate candidate in Grand Mound.

The welcome mat already is in danger of getting worn down.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz appeared at influential GOP donor Bruce Rastetter’s annual party in rural Iowa, with Rubio, the only speaker, wowing the audience, according to attendees. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul then arrived, embarking on a 3-day, 724-mile tour across the state to stump for candidates like Iowa Rep. Steve King. And Saturday, Cruz returned, joining four more would-be candidates, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, Texas Gov. Perry, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, at the Iowa Family Leader Summit, an annual cattle-call for the state’s social conservative grassroots. Perry used the event to embark on a 500-mile, four day tour on behalf of local candidates, meeting with influential state politicos.

On stage, in fundraisers and at the state fair, the candidates are road-testing their messages, “I wondered long and hard which is it, is this the most ideologically extreme or the most incompetent [administration],” Jindal said Saturday, mixing jokes with a speech heavy on his efforts to bring about education reform in his state. “The best answer I could come up with was Secretary Clinton’s statement, ‘What difference does it make?'”

Cruz spoke at the Des Moines Register soapbox at the state fair Saturday, and blasted Obama’s economic record. “We are trapped in the great stagnation,” he said, comparing Obama to former President Jimmy Carter. At the Family Leader summit, he listed off conservative victories since he took office, including efforts to block gun control. Santorum, meanwhile, repeated his call for the GOP to focus less on business owners and more on the workers they employ. Perry is due to face the notoriously heckle-prone audience on Tuesday.

Politicos in the state say Paul, Perry, Jindal, Santorum, and New Jersey Gov. Christie, who was in Iowa boosting Gov. Terry Branstad’s re-election just last month, have done the most to assist local politicians this fall—a key way to build support for the caucuses.

With the likely candidacy of Hillary Clinton, Democratic contenders have had much lower visibility, attending the occasional fundraiser for a candidate or the state party, but eschewing outright campaigning. Yet rumors abound that Clinton or her husband, former President Bill Clinton, will attend retiring-Sen. Tom Harkin’s final annual steak fry before his retirement next year. Their attendance at the Sept. 14 event, which was Obama’s first Iowa event in 2006, may be disrupted by the upcoming arrival of the Clinton’s first grandchild.

Cruz is already scheduled to be back in Iowa next month for the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition’s annual fall conference, while Perry, Christie, and Jindal all plan to be back in the state before the midterm election.

But that doesn’t mean they’re the biggest celebrities in town. A write-up of Rubio’s appearance at the Rastetter event in the Des Moines Register also noted the attendance of Chris Soules, the Iowa farmer who appeared on the latest season of ABC’s Bachelorette. The headline: “Rubio gains notice, but ‘Bachelorette’ hunk steals show.”

TIME Foreign Policy

Ted Cruz: Obama Must Seek Congressional Authorization For Iraq Strikes

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks during The Family Leadership Summit on August 9, 2014, in Ames, Iowa.
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks during The Family Leadership Summit on August 9, 2014, in Ames, Iowa. Charlie Neibergall—AP

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said Saturday that President Barack Obama must seek congressional authorization for U.S. strikes on the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) if they continue.

Speaking to reporters following a speech to Iowa conservatives, Cruz declared the rise of the islamist militant group “the latest manifestation of the failures of the Obama-Clinton foreign policies.”

While Obama has said the strikes are “limited” to protect American forces and personnel, as well as vulnerable Iraqi refugees, Cruz said Obama had yet to articulate a “clear military objective” for the strikes, calling on the president to focus on U.S. national security interests instead of trying to solve a “sectarian civil war that has been waging for over 1,500-years” between Sunnis and Shiites, calling political reconciliation in Iraq something that doesn’t “makes any sense.”

Cruz said he does not believe the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force in Iraq or the War Power Act provide Obama the authority to continue airstrikes against ISIS. “I believe initiating new military hostilities in a sustained basis in Iraq obligates the president to go back to Congress and to make the case and to seek congressional authorization,” Cruz said. “I hope that if he intends to continue this that he does that.”

Most Republicans in Congress, including conservatives like Cruz, have been largely supportive of the administration’s bombing and humanitarian campaign to protect U.S. forces and assist tens of thousands of Iraqi refugees surrounded on Mount Sinjar, but Republicans have called on Obama to outline a broader plan for the region. “”I am glad that President Obama is finally beginning to take the threat of ISIS seriously,” Cruz said.

Cruz’s criticism topped off a day-long barrage from conservatives at the Iowa Family Leader Summit in Ames, where several 2016 presidential contenders sought to appeal to the early-state grassroots with critiques of Obama’s handling of the situation in Iraq. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal applauded Obama for launching the campaign against ISIS, but said Obama must outline a broader vision to rout ISIS forces from Iraq and Syria. “I think he owes it to the American people, he owes it to our troops in uniform to define what the strategic vision is, what the strategic plan is,” Jindal said. “I believe it is unacceptable to allow ISIS to occupy territory in Iraq, in Syria, to continue to grow in strength.”

“These are terrorists who disagree with our fundamental values and our beliefs,” Jindal said. “This is a group that will, if it has the capabilities, bring that fight to us.”

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who won the Iowa caucuses in 2008, said Obama should not stop with bombing the group, but should finally arm Kurdish forces in northern Iraq and endorse the creation of an independent Kurdish state. ““If we had good sense, we would arm the Kurds as we said we would,” Huckabee said.

Obama has offered “A foreign policy that is absolutely—it’s not distinguishable from anything,” said Texas Gov. Rick Perry, adding, “we have to get Washington back.”

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum criticized Obama for removing all U.S. troops in Iraq in 2011, saying he should have used his “eloquence” to win over Iraqi leaders to support a status of forces agreement. “It’s stunning that they fall back on that it wasn’t their fault,” Santorum said. “That’s false.”

TIME 2016 Election

Chris Christie Battered By His GOP Rivals on Governors’ Circuit

Republican Governors
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, South Carolina Gov. Nikki R. Haley and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie listen as Indiana Gov. Mike Pence speaks during a press conference at the Republican Governors Association's quarterly meeting on Wednesday May 21, 2014 in New York. Bebeto Matthews—AP

On paper, New Jersey's Chris Christie leads the nation's Republican governors. In practice, he is becoming a favored target of his peers.

Forget, for the moment, about the cornfields and the straw polls, the live-free-or-die gun shops of Manchester and the sticky-sweet BBQ pits of South Carolina. There is a point in the 2016 presidential campaign, when the action that matters most is more likely to happen under gilded ceilings of Manhattan’s toniest restaurants than where voters actually live. Which is why New Jersey Governor Chris Christie found himself supping at Cipriani on May 18, seated between the billionaire who might fund his way to the White House and a rival governor who wants the job himself. It was a test meal, in its way, and Christie fumbled it.

Organizers had told the press to attend to hear Christie give a muscular address on his foreign policy vision. But the real audience was his table-mate, Sheldon Adelson, the casino mogul who dumped more than $100 million to elect Republicans in 2012 and was promising even more. Just weeks earlier, Christie had flown to Vegas with three other current and former Republican governors to meet with Adelson at his Venetian casino under the banner of the Republican Jewish Coalition. There Christie had botched his message, speaking of Israel’s “occupied territories,” a term that the Zionist Adelson does not favor. Christie later apologized during his few private minutes with the GOP kingmaker. Now he was back for what organizers called a “Major Speech on Israel and the Middle East.” And something went wrong again. He didn’t mention Israel once in his 18-minute address. In the midst of a political rehabilitation tour, his tablemate Texas Gov. Rick Perry saw a clear opportunity. When he rose to speak minutes later, Perry shoehorned three references to Israel within 90 seconds.

As the head of the Republican Governors Association, Christie is the charismatic captain of a club composed of formal partners but tacit rivals. And that rivalry has only gotten stronger in recent months. Despite surface-level niceties and some degree of symbiotic friendship, many want to see him and his presidential ambitions go up in flames. On Thursday, the tensions broke into view as Republican state leaders broke with Christie, who has refused to publicly appear with Rob Astorino, a long-shot candidates hoping to replace Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. “Glad to be with my buddy @RobAstorino in Aspen,” tweeted Perry, a few days after Christie told reporters he did not believe that the Republican Astorino had a chance of winning. Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker have all since expressed support for Astorino.

This follows several other thinly veiled slights in recent months. Just last week Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal implicitly criticized Christie’s habit of picking and choosing issues to engage on, saying the GOP must offer ideas not style. “The next big elections can’t be ones about personalities or just about slogans,” he told TIME, after a question about Christie. After Christie became ensnared in a scandal over lane closures on the George Washington Bridge, Jindal had told reporters, “No one governor’s more important than the other.” In February, Scott Walker used Christie’s scandal to sidestep questions about an investigation into improper political activities by his former aides. “He addressed it early on, but obviously he’s not out of the woods yet,” Walker told TIME, saying unlike his, Christie’s troubles were “just beginning.” And when Christie was nearly down-for-the-count in the immediate aftermath of the bridge scandal, Perry fanned the flames. “Is a conservative in New Jersey a conservative in the rest of the country?” Perry asked in February on ABC’s This Week.

As the Republican Party looks to its governors for leadership after years of chaos and infighting in Washington, Christie is no longer a cut above the rest, even as he travels the country as the official leader of Republican governors. Christie is routinely on the road meeting donors and reporters, and by the nature of the job working to defend the 20 Republican-held governorships up for re-election this year. Christie allies said the group was close, despite occasional disagreements. “First and foremost, they’re friends, so they want to be able to help each other,” says RGA Executive Director Phil Cox. Like any club, behind the pretense there are tense personal relationships, but the stakes are unusually high. Perry, Walker, and Jindal are just some of the governors competing in 2016’s proto-primary alongside John Kasich of Ohio, and Mike Pence of Indiana.

The Jindal-Christie relationship is the most fraught, stemming from a bitter leadership battle for the high-profile helm of the RGA in 2012. Christie won out, securing enough votes to force Jindal to accept the number two spot. And with Perry, Christie’s conversations frequently could not be described as civil, people familiar with the exchanges said. With Christie’s fortunes soured, his opponents hurriedly planned trips to New York to meet with the donor class he once seemed to have a lock on. Jindal and Perry have been there as much as twice a month since the beginning of the year, while Walker has made at least four trips as he raises money for his own re-election. Meanwhile, top donors are once again clamoring for former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush to enter the race.

“It’s like your fiancé cheated on you,” said a person close to one of the ambitious governors, explaining why no other governor has yet emerged as a new favorite. “You don’t propose to the next girl you meet. You take your time to have some fun and meet everyone else.” Meanwhile many of the governors Christie is working to re-elect have tried to place some distance between themselves and Christie, with fewer joint events open to reporters. The calls from New York financiers for Christie to run have become less frequent as they take stock of the field. Christie’s core argument to his party and Wall Street has been his electability, and he is still struggling to show he can win despite the setbacks. More importantly to donors, the question is whether he has learned from the experience. “He’s still surrounded by the same guys,” said one top Republican bundler who was previously committed to Christie. “Where’s the growth? I’m not seeing it yet.”

But it is Christie’s economic record that is emerging as a concrete boot to his likely campaign. His state’s finances are in shambles, with Christie forced to rollback a signature effort to begin paying down the state’s skyrocketing unfunded pension liabilities after overestimating state revenues by nearly $1 billion for each of the next two years. Christie’s state lags most of his GOP colleagues on annual rankings of the best state to do business, while its unemployment rate puts New Jersey in the bottom third of states. Where Christie talks up the successes of all GOP governors, Perry and Jindal travel the country referring to the governors as “competitors” for jobs, not-so-subtly highlighting their states’ relative successes.

The bridge scandal has also revealed the insularity of Christie’s team, centered around strategist Mike DuHaime and former law partner and political fixer Bill Palatucci. The former Giuliani for President campaign manager and Republican National Committee member, are the hard-charging pair behind the harder-charging would-be-candidate. Todd Christie, the governor’s brother, rounds out the inner circle that once included Bill Stepien, his former campaign manager who was poised to take on a role with the RGA and was forced to resign in the wake of his involvement in the bridge scandal.

Where Jindal, Perry and Walker all maintain national and grassroots donor lists thanks to political action committees, Christie’s political network is largely confined to New Jersey outside of his appeal to large donors. “He’ll start out at a disadvantage,” said on GOP digital operative familiar with the potential candidates’ operations.

At the Law Vegas gathering of Republican Jewish donors in March, Scott Walker tried to steal some of Chris Christie’s thunder. He sonorously told of lighting a “menorah candle” around Hanukah and that his son Matthew’s name is derived from the Hebrew for ‘Gift from God.’ Walker sidestepped his lack of foreign policy experience by telling of Ronald Reagan’s showdown with air traffic controllers that “sent a message around the world,” and highlighted his ability to win over Latino voters around Milwaukee. Each of these anecdotes were staples of Christie’s now-familiar pitch to donors and party activists.

Thankfully for Christie, he’s still the more dynamic speaker. Following 45 minutes after Walker, Christie told the same stories—but this time, the crowd was brought to their feet for applause.

Correction: The story has been changed to properly describe the people who had characterized the New York event as a “Major Speech on Israel and the Middle East.” They were event organizers.

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