TIME politics

This Is What the Framers Said About the Senate’s Power to Offer Advice and Consent

The Constitution
Fotosearch / ;Getty Images Facimile of The Constitution For The United States Of America

But what did they really want? No one can be sure

History News Network

This post is in partnership with the History News Network, the website that puts the news into historical perspective. The article below was originally published at HNN.

Loretta Lynch, President Obama’s choice to succeed Eric Holder as Attorney General, has been awaiting senatorial confirmation for almost five months. The second clause of Article II, Section 2, of the Constitution states that presidential appointments of “public Ministers and Consuls” depend on “the Advice and Consent of the Senate,” and Republicans in the Senate are jealously guarding their power by denying consent.

The same clause also states that presidential treaty-making powers are subject to “the Advice and Consent of the Senate.” Forty-seven Senate Republicans place such stock in their constitutional power that they pointed it out to “The Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran.” In weeks to come, this corps will be offering President Obama a full dose of advice as it withholds consent for the nuclear deal with Iran.

“Advice and Consent”—what, exactly, did the framers have in mind?

That’s what members of the First Federal Congress tried to figure out, and they stumbled from the start—even though half of the first Senate’s twenty members were framers themselves, along with eight representatives in the first House.

On June 16, 1789, a Tuesday, the House of Representatives considered the framework for a Department of Foreign Affairs, to be headed by a secretary who would be “removable from office by the President of the United States.” This phrase, which followed a list of the secretary’s duties, excited far more interest than the duties themselves, and Alexander White of Virginia moved to strike it out. White and several others reasoned that “if the Senate are associated with the President in the appointment, they ought also to be associated in the dismission from office.” Based on logic alone, Congress had “no right to deprive the Senate of their constitutional prerogative.”

This was also sound policy, they argued. Senators served longer than the president in order to provide stability. (“President Obama will leave office in January 2017, while most of us will remain in office well beyond then—perhaps decades,” the 47 senators informed Iranian leaders.) “A change of the Chief Magistrate, therefore, would not occasion so violent or so general a revolution in the officers of the Government, as might be expected if he were the sole disposer of offices.”

James Madison disagreed. The Constitution was “silent” on the matter, he noted, but the first sentence of Article II stated, “The executive Power shall be vested in a President.” Each branch was to remain distinct unless otherwise stipulated, and although the Constitution did allow some instances of shared power, whenever these were not explicitly stated, executive functions, including removal of executive officers, must revert to the executive department, headed by the president.

Like his opponents, Madison argued that his approach was not only constitutionally sound but also good policy. If the president required the concurrence of the Senate before removing an executive officer, that officer could ensure his tenure in office by courting the approval of the majority of senators. The secretary of foreign affairs and other such officials would come under the sway of legislators, and executive accountability would be lost. Department heads could endure in office indefinitely, while the president had to stand for reelection every four years. The entire notion of a single chief executive would thus be undermined—in Madison’s dramatic words, “the power of the President” would be reduced “to a mere vapor.”

The dispute continued. With the original document “silent,” each representative had a chance to say his piece, and many did. Speakers on both sides vied with each other for who could best convey the overwhelming sense of gravitas. “The decision that is at this time made, will become the permanent exposition of the constitution; and on a permanent exposition of the constitution will depend the genius and character of the whole Government,” Madison said. “I own to you, Mr. Chairman, that I feel great anxiety upon this question … because I am called upon to give a decision in a case that may affect the fundamental principles of the Government under which we act, and liberty itself.” Not to be outdone, Georgia’s James Jackson declared, “The liberties of my country may be suspended on the decision of this question,” but top honors probably went to Virginia’s Richard Bland Lee. “The day on which this question shall be decided will be a memorable day, not only in the history of our own times, but in the history of mankind,” Lee predicted. “On a proper or improper decision, will be involved the future happiness or misery of the people of America.”

Notwithstanding the hyperbole and seemingly pervasive sense of self-importance, this was in fact an issue of lasting significance. If Congress decided one way, any department head, with skillful navigation, could create a fiefdom that might rival the office of the presidency and last through multiple presidential administrations; if it decided the other way, department heads would be under the direct command of the president, and there would in fact be a single chief executive.

Late on Friday afternoon, after four full days of debates (outlined in 125 pages of the Annals of Congress), the motion to strike “to be removable from office by the President of the United States” failed by a vote of 20 to 34. No other phrase, clause, or sentence commanded such attention or excited such passion during the First Federal Congress; even the Bill of Rights, the lack of which had almost doomed the Constitution, failed to occupy Congress as fully as the great removal debate.

And that debate was not yet over. After passing the House, the president’s power to remove the secretary of foreign affairs (and by implication other department heads) was taken up by the Senate, where it faced tougher resistance. Senators, unlike representatives, had a stake in the matter: they would gain immeasurable influence over the governmental apparatus if they won on a share of removal power. The Senate debate commenced on July 14 and lasted three days, but because the Senate met behind closed doors, the only record of their debates can be found in the colorful journal of Senator William Maclay, from Pennsylvania. By his accounting, Vice President Adams played a major role, not by making speeches but by cajoling wavering senators. “Everybody believed that John Adams was the great converter,” Maclay wrote, and Adams did more than convert. The final vote was ten in favor and ten opposed, so Adams, exercising for the first time his Constitutional authority as presiding officer of the Senate to break a tie, settled the matter in favor of the president’s exclusive removal power. For want of a single vote in the Senate, the federal government’s balance of powers would have been fundamentally altered.

Less than a month after the removal debate, the other “advice and consent” clause faced its first challenge. President Washington wanted to stabilize relations with Indian nations on the southern borderlands so they wouldn’t ally with Spain, which controlled the Mississippi River. Today, we assume that the president first concludes a treaty and then brings it to the Senate for “consent.” At the time, though, Washington and anybody else who took the Constitution at face value reasoned that “by and with the advice … of the Senate” required him to seek senatorial input before or during treaty negotiations, not just afterwards.

So on the morning of August 22, 1789, a Saturday, President Washington and Henry Knox, acting Secretary of War, entered the Senate chamber to seek that body’s advice. Washington composed a letter explaining the recent history of white-Indian relations in the region, followed by an extensive list of specific issues he wished senators to consider—a dozen concerning the Creeks and three that addressed relations with Cherokees, Chickasaws, and Choctaws.

According to William Maclay, Washington handed his introductory remarks to John Adams, who read them aloud. Adams “hurried over the paper” in such a manner that nobody could hear: “Carriages were driving past, and such a noise, I could tell it was something about ‘Indians,’ but was not master of one sentence of it.” Robert Morris asked Adams to read the letter again, and then, immediately, Adams repeated the first item and “put the question: ‘Do you advise and consent, etc.?’ ” When nobody rose to speak, Maclay, who relished the role of gadfly, stepped up. If he had not done so, he worried, “we should have these advises and consents ravished, in a degree, from us.”

“The business is new to the Senate,” Maclay said. “It is of importance. It is our duty to inform ourselves as well as possible on the subject. I therefore call for the reading of the treaties and other documents alluded to in the paper before us.” Although Washington evinced “an aspect of stern displeasure” at this attempt to slow down the process, senators began to address the items point by point. There were so many documents to be read and points to be considered, however, that they decided to send the matter to a committee and take it up at their next session, two days hence. “This defeats every purpose of my coming here,” Washington reportedly said. The president then “cooled by degrees,” but he departed soon thereafter with “a discontented air.”

Washington’s appearance on the Senate floor was a flop by anybody’s standards. Maclay thought it inappropriate for the president “to bear down our deliberations with his personal authority and presence,” while Washington must have been equally displeased. He was no stranger to seeking advice, but not in a venue such as this. On countless occasions during the Revolution, the Commander-in-Chief had convened his war council; never did he take that body’s advice lightly, and often he allowed it to overrule him. Then, he was dealing with colleagues who shared both the information he had at his disposal and a certain level of professional expertise relevant to the items under consideration; now, members of the Senate were ill informed and not particularly conversant in the matters placed before them. Collectively, they saw themselves as a deliberative body; individually, each valued philosophical correctness and speechifying, sometimes at the expense of taking action. Was the upper house of the legislature really the right body to issue advice? And even if it were, what was to be gained by the president sitting through the arduous process?

“Advice and consent” is a handy phrase, but the brief encounter on August 22 revealed that offering advice and granting consent are two very different activities. To give meaningful advice, senators would have to understand the intricacies of councils with Indian and European nations. A handful of delegates to the Federal Convention had wanted to create an executive council to handle such matters, but the idea never gained traction. Instead, senators were assigned the role of advisors, and this proved unworkable the first time it was put to the test.

In truth, the framers had not thought through how “Advice and Consent” might work in treaty-making, much as they had failed to stipulate who had the power to dismiss “public Ministers and Consuls.” This is understandable. Neither of the “Advice and Consent” stipulations was placed on the floor of the Federal Convention until September 4, 1787, after delegates had been deliberating for over three months; by then they were in a rush to adjourn, and they would do so thirteen days later. The Committee of Detail’s draft, submitted on August 6, had stipulated: “The Senate of the United States shall have power to make treaties, and to appoint Ambassadors, and Judges of the Supreme Court.” That draft, too, had stated that the president would be selected by Congress and serve a non-repeatable 7-year term. When a committee consisting of one delegate from each state restructured the entire edifice on September 4, the rest of the framers were so overwhelmed that they discussed the many changes only briefly. On September 7 James Wilson suggested giving the House as well as the Senate a role in ratifying treaties, but only Pennsylvania, his own state, liked the idea. The same day, Wilson and Charles Pinckney of South Carolina argued against involving the legislature in executive matters, but their concern was quickly dismissed. In short order, state delegations approved both the treaty-making and appointment clauses unanimously. That was all the attention “Advice and Consent” received at the Federal Convention.

Through the turbulent 1790s Americans tried to sort this out, dividing along partisan lines much as we do today. In 1793 Alexander Hamilton, writing as Pacificus, argued that the executive department, without the Senate, was the sole “organ of intercourse between the Nation and foreign Nations,” although five years earlier, writing as Publius in The Federalist #75, he had stated that it was “utterly unsafe and improper … to commit interests of so delicate and momentous a kind, as those which concern its intercourse with the rest of the world, to the sole disposal of a magistrate created and circumstanced as would be a President of the United States.” In 1795 opponents of Jay’s Treaty argued unsuccessfully that the treaty was invalid since the Senate had not been asked for its advice; further, they claimed it required the approval of the House as well as the Senate, since only the House was empowered to initiate the appropriation of funds that Jay’s Treaty required. The founding generation seemed as confused about such matters as we are today; then, as now, constitutional arguments were conjured to facilitate desired political outcomes.

All of which leaves us on our own, more so than many would prefer. Perhaps the greatest flaw with the doctrine of Original Intent is that the framers, individually and collectively, were not always clear in their own minds what they intended. They had ideas, they constructed drafts, they debated and changed these, and in the end they settled for the last draft standing, admitting as they granted their assent that flaws would emerge and future citizens would have to work things out, as we must do now.

Ray Raphael’s most recent books are “Mr. President: How and Why the Founders Created a Chief Executive” (Alfred A. Knopf, 2012) and “Constitutional Myths: What We Get Wrong and How to Get It Right” (The New Press, 2013). The tenth anniversary revised edition of “Founding Myths: Stories That Hide Our Patriotic Past” was published by The New Press in 2014.

TIME 2016 Election

John McCain to Run for Senate Re-Election in 2016

John McCain
Andrew Harnik—AP Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., during a press conference on Capitol Hill in Washington on Thursday, March 26, 2015, on the situation in Yemen.

The "maverick" Senator will be 80 by Election Day 2016

Republican Sen. John McCain isn’t ready to throw in the towel yet. The “maverick” Senator announced Tuesday that he will run for what would be his sixth term in office in 2016.

“I have decided to run for re-election,” McCain said in an interview with NBC News. “I’m ready, I am more than ready. In some ways, I am eager.”

McCain has served in the Senate since 1986 when he succeeded Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater. He currently sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee, an ideal job for the former serviceman, and has run for president twice— in 2000 and in 2008, when he gained the Republican Party’s nomination.

McCain could face a challenge from conservatives who think he’s been too liberal, including those in his home state. “I have to convince the voters all over again of Arizona,” he said. “But I will stand on my record but more so, I will stand on what I can do for Arizona and the nation.”

The senator has another factor weighing against him: his age. McCain, 78, will be 80 by November 2016. He told NBC he’s up for the time intensive labor that goes into working on Capitol Hill. In fact, he said, it’s in his genes. “I’m happy to tell you my mother is 103-years-old and she’s doing well,” McCain said.

Watch the full interview at NBC.com.

TIME Senate

New Jersey Sen. Menendez Pleads Not Guilty to Corruption

Sen. Robert Menendez arrives at a federal court to be indicted on corruption charges in Newark, New Jersey on April 2, 2015 .
Kena Betancur–Getty Images Sen. Robert Menendez arrives at a federal court to be indicted on corruption charges in Newark, New Jersey on April 2, 2015 .

He is charged with accepting nearly $1 million in gifts and campaign contributions in exchange for political favors

(NEWARK, N.J.) — U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez pleaded not guilty Thursday to charges that he accepted nearly $1 million in gifts and campaign contributions from a longtime friend in exchange for a stream of political favors.

Menendez entered the plea before a federal judge in Newark, one day after he promised to be vindicated and declared that he’s “not going anywhere.”

The indictment alleges he used the power of his Senate seat to benefit Salomon Melgen, a wealthy Florida eye doctor who prosecutors say provided the senator with luxury vacations, airline travel, golf trips and tens of thousands of dollars in contributions to a legal defense fund.

Melgen also entered a not guilty plea, and Judge William Walls set a tentative July 13 trial date.

Prosecutor Peter Koski said the “government is ready for trial at the earliest possible date.”

The investigation that led to the indictment came into public view when federal authorities raided Melgen’s medical offices in 2013. It will almost certainly lead to a drawn-out legal fight between Menendez and a team of Justice Department prosecutors who have spent years investigating his ties to Melgen.

It will require prosecutors to prove that a close and longtime friendship between the men was used for criminal purposes, and it is likely to revive the legal debate about the constitutional protections afforded to members of Congress for acts they take in office, which Menendez has already signaled as a possible line of defense.

The criminal charges brought Wednesday cloud the political future of the top Democrat — and former chairman — of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who has played a leading role on Capitol Hill on matters involving Iran’s nuclear program and U.S. efforts to improve ties with Cuba.

Menendez said he would temporarily step aside from his role as top Democrat on the committee but appeared more defiant than ever at a hastily called news conference that felt more like a political rally, with enthusiastic supporters cheering him on.

“I’m outraged that prosecutors at the Justice Department were tricked into starting this investigating three years ago with false allegations by those who have a political motive to silence me. But I will not be silenced. I am confident, at the end of the day, I will be vindicated, and they will be exposed,” Menendez told reporters, adding: “This is not how my career is going to end.”

He later said: “I am not going anywhere. I’m angry and ready to fight because today contradicts my public service and my entire life.”

Melgen’s attorney did not return a call seeking comment Wednesday.

The news was met with what appeared to be a coordinated round of supportive statements from national and New Jersey Democrats who rallied around the senator.

“Bob Menendez is one of the best legislators in the Senate and is always fighting hard for the people of his state. I am confident he will continue to do so in the weeks and months ahead,” said U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York.

But the indictment also raised questions about other money Melgen has contributed. An aide to U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota said Wednesday night that she would return campaign contributions she received from Melgen as well as from Menendez. Klobuchar matches the description of a lawmaker called “Senator 1” in the indictment, though she was not accused of wrongdoing.

The indictment from a grand jury in Newark contains 14 counts — including bribery, conspiracy and false statements — against Menendez and charges Melgen, a political donor to Menendez and other Democrats. Menendez had already acknowledged that he had taken several round-trip flights to the Dominican Republic on Melgen’s luxury jet that, initially, were not properly reimbursed. But the document spells out many additional gifts, such as a Paris hotel stay and access to a Dominican resort, that prosecutors say were never reported on financial disclosure forms.

In exchange for those and other gifts, prosecutors allege, Menendez sought to smooth approval of the visa application process for several of Melgen’s foreign girlfriends, worked to protect a lucrative contract Melgen held to provide cargo screening services to the Dominican Republic and intervened in a Medicare billing dispute on the doctor’s behalf worth millions of dollars.

In 2013, in an email exchange one day after Melgen and Menendez had golfed together in Florida, Menendez told a staffer to contact U.S. Customs and Border Protection to stop them from donating shipping container monitoring and surveillance equipment to the Dominican Republic, according to the indictment. Melgen had a contract to provide exclusive cargo screening services in Dominican ports, and the Customs and Border Protection plan would have hurt his financial interests, prosecutors say.

In advocating for Melgen’s business interests, prosecutors say, Menendez pursued meetings with the heads of executive agencies and tried to solicit the help of other U.S. senators.

Menendez has acknowledged taking actions that could benefit Melgen, among them contacting U.S. health agencies to ask about billing practices and policies. But the lawmaker has said he did nothing wrong and the interactions he had with the doctor were reflections of a close friendship dating two decades.


Tucker reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Jill Colvin in Newark, New Jersey, and Alan Fram and Erica Werner in Washington contributed to this report.

TIME Senate

Harry Reid: No Regrets Over False Romney Charges

"Romney didn't win, did he?"

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid has no regrets with falsely accusing Mitt Romney of paying zero taxes for ten years during the 2012 presidential elections.

“So the word is out that he has not paid any taxes for ten years,” Reid said on the Senate floor in August 2012. “Let him prove that he has paid taxes, because he hasn’t.”

Under criticism and repeated denials by Romney, Reid later put out a statement backed by an “extremely credible source,” which turned out to be billionaire Jon Huntsman, Sr, the father of the former Utah governor and Romney rival, according to Double Down by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann. PolitiFact rated Reid’s allegation “Pants on Fire.”

When asked about his comments in a new interview by CNN’s Dana Bash, Reid, who recently announced he would retire in 2017 after his term is up, rebuffed those who said his attacks were “McCarthyite.”

“Well, they can call it whatever they want,” Reid said. “Romney didn’t win, did he?”

TIME Congress

Harry Reid’s Early Retirement Announcement Shows How Much He Likes to Plan Ahead

Harry Reid
Douglas Graham—Roll Call/Getty Images Harry Reid on July 10, 2000

The Senate minority leader will not seek reelection in 2016

By announcing early that he will not run for reelection next fall, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid has freed up party resources that might have been spent on what would have been a tough race for other elections — a major reason behind his early decision, as he told the New York Times. That kind of planning ahead is not unusual for the minority leader.

Reid’s personal background might not peg him as a super planner: as TIME explained in a 2004 profile, he was once an amateur boxer, the son of “a hard-drinking gold miner.” (His mother’s pay came from taking in laundry from brothels.) But he devoted himself to finding stability, including through a conversion to Mormonism, and ended up the kind of person who famously carries around notecards on which to record every promise he makes, with the idea that he’ll later be able to record when he fulfills them.

One of the best illustrations of that forward-looking nature was explained in that same 2004 article, in which TIME’s Douglas Waller laid out how the Senator prepared for a filibuster:

Harry Reid is the kind of adversary who might just wear you down. Last year, for example, the Nevada Senator staged a one-day filibuster, standing on the Senate floor and talking for eight hours and 35 minutes straight to put majority leader Bill Frist hopelessly behind schedule on other bills that he wanted to rush through before the Thanksgiving recess. Reid planned everything carefully, down to his diet. So he wouldn’t be forced to go to the bathroom and lose his right to the floor, he ate only a slice of wheat bread and a handful of unsalted peanuts for breakfast, kept Senate pages from refilling the water glass at his desk and made sure he sipped only half of it during the day.

One thing he can’t plan, of course, is the one thing that many Washington-watchers will wonder most: who will take his place as the leader of the Senate Democrats.

Read the full 2004 story, here in the TIME archives: Herding the Democrats

TIME 2016 elections

Harry Reid Says He Will Retire at the End of 2016

Harry Reid
Pablo Martinez Monsivais—AP Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nev. adjusts his glasses as he speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 24, 2015.

The senator said he didn't want to use Democratic resources that could be put to better use in other elections

Sen. Harry Reid says he will not seek reelection in 2016, bringing an end to his decades-long career in Congress as one of the longest serving Democratic leaders ever.

The former majority leader says becoming minority leader after Democrats lost control of the Senate in November had nothing to do with his decision, nor did his rib-breaking exercise accident in January. Reid, 75, said that he did not want to make use of Democratic funding to be reelected when that money could be better used in other races, citing tough battles in Maryland and Pennsylvania.

In a statement, Reid also said his accident, which broke bones in his face, had given him and his wife “time to ponder and to think,” leading him to the conclusion that it would be best to hand over the reins.

Reid has already endorsed New York Sen. Chuck Schumer as his replacement over other potential successors like Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Senate Democrat. In an interview on a Nevada public radio station Friday, Reid cited Schumer’s work helping Democrats take control of 2006.

“I’ve never been a shrinking violet,” said Reid of his decision to name Schumer so early. “I think it’s very important that we have continuity in our leadership and I’ve done everything that I could to avoid a fight for leadership during all the time I’ve been in the Senate…He will be elected to replace me in 22 months. I think one reason that will happen is because I want him to be my replacement.”

“Schumer is a brilliant man from New York and he’s been a tremendous asset to me,” he added.

Reid was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1982, and then to the Senate in 1986. He wrote in his statement that as a boy, he’d dreamed of playing professional baseball. “But the joy I’ve gotten with the work that I’ve done for the people of the state of Nevada,” he wrote, “has been just as fulfilling as if I had played center field at Yankee Stadium.”

Barack Obama joined Reid on the radio show Friday as a surprise caller and called Reid one of his “best partners and best friends.”

“Harry’s going to be doing a lot of work over the next 20-something months but I think that when the story is written and all is told, you’re going to have somebody who has done more for Nevada and for this country as anybody who has ever been in the Senate,” said Obama. “And I could not be prouder of him. He did an unbelievable job on a whole bunch of really tough issues, saving this country from a depression, making sure millions of people had health care, making sure that young people are able to go to college. And he’s been one of my partners, best friends and I’m really honored to have served with him.”

“Well I’ll be damned,” responded Reid when Obama took the line. “What a guy.”

Read next: Congress to Solve Problem It Created 18 Years Ago

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Foreign Policy

Why Republicans Wrote to the Ayatollahs

Senator Tom Cotton speaks during a news conference with members of the Senate Armed Services Committee about arming Ukraine in the fight against Russia in Washington, D.C. on Feb. 5, 2015.
Samuel Corum—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images Senator Tom Cotton speaks during a news conference with members of the Senate Armed Services Committee about arming Ukraine in the fight against Russia in Washington, D.C. on Feb. 5, 2015.

Two words: Regime change

The 47 Republican Senators who wrote to the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran yesterday did so, they said, “to bring to your attention two features of our Constitution” which the Senators said limit how much President Obama can commit to in nuclear negotiations between Tehran, the U.S. and its five allies.

But to judge by his past statements about those negotiations, the letter’s primary author intended it not so much to edify the Iranians about the American system of government as to completely undermine the talks themselves.

Freshman Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas strongly opposes the nuclear talks and believes they should stop immediately. In January, he told the Heritage Foundation “the ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran … started out as an unwise policy [and have] now descended into a dangerous farce.”

In his Heritage speech, Cotton suggested that Obama might have cut a quiet deal to push off Iranian nuclear weapons capability until after the end of his second term. Cotton said that the President, in writing to Iran’s supreme leader over the last several years in pursuit of a diplomatic solution to the nuclear impasse, had behaved “like a love-struck teenager.”

By contrast, Cotton informed the Iranian leaders in his letter Monday that any deal Obama cut with them might not last. “We will consider any agreement regarding your nuclear weapons program that is not approved by the Congress as nothing more than an executive agreement,” Cotton and his fellow Senators wrote. “The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time,” the Republican Senators added.

Cotton has thoughts on what an alternative policy should be. In his Heritage speech, he said the U.S. should focus first and foremost on bringing down the regime in Tehran. “The goal of our policy must be clear: regime change in Iran,” Cotton said. To that end, Cotton said, the U.S. Congress should offer to transfer bombers and 30,000 pound bunker busting bombs to Israel for use should Israel decide to attack Iranian nuclear sites.

Not all the Republicans agree with that policy. Seven Republican Senators did not sign the letter, although they have not all stated their reasons. Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates has previously argued that Israeli military strikes against Iran could draw the U.S. unprepared into war. Cotton served in Iraq and Afghanistan, but after two long and costly wars few politicians are willing publicly to embrace policies that could drag the U.S. into another Middle East conflict.

Which may explain why Cotton and his fellow signatories ended their letter to the Iranians by saying only that, “We hope this letter enriches your knowledge of our constitutional system and promotes mutual understanding and clarity as nuclear negotiations progress.”

TIME Senate

Mikulski Will ‘Give It All I’ve Got’ to Elect More Women to the Senate

Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., the longest-serving woman in the history of Congress, speaks during a news conference announcing her retirement after her current term, in the Fells Point section of Baltimore on March 2, 2015.
Steve Ruark—AP Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., the longest-serving woman in the history of Congress, speaks during a news conference announcing her retirement after her current term, in the Fells Point section of Baltimore on March 2, 2015.

“I’m not ready to write my last chapter"

Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski took the stage at the EMILY’s List 30th anniversary gala to a raucous applause on Tuesday, one day after announcing she would not seek re-election after her current term ends in two years.

The firebrand Democrat, the longest-serving woman in Senate history, said while she’s ready to “turn the page,” she’s not quite throwing in the towel: “I’m not ready to write my last chapter.”

“I want to give it all I’ve got to elect more women to the United States Senate… and a woman to the White House,” she said, before a not-so-veiled nod to presumptive Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. “In 2016, we will elect that Democratic woman president and you know who I’m talking about.”

Mikulski was the first Democratic woman elected to the Senate in 1986, after about a decade in the House, with the support of EMILY’s List. The organization, which was in its early stages at the time, has helped elect pro-choice Democratic women to public office. Calls for paycheck fairness, raising the minimum wage and tax breaks for the middle class were intertwined with others for electing and supporting women in politics.

When they say, “she doesn’t look the part,” Mikulski said, “Tell them, this is what the part looks like.”

TIME 2016 Election

Barbara Mikulski, Longest-Serving Woman in Congress, to Retire

Sen. Barbara Mikulski
Bill Clark—AP Senator Barbara Mikulsk (D., Md.) speaks with reporters as she arrives for the Senate Democrats' policy lunch on Dec. 9, 2014, in Washington, D.C.

The Maryland Senator's retirement in 2016 leaves a gaping hole in the state's Democratic power structure

Barbara Mikulski, the Maryland Democrat who has served in Congress for nearly 40 years, will retire from her current position as U.S. Senator at the end of her term in 2016.

“I had to decide whether to spend my time fighting to keep my job or fighting for your job. Do I spend my time raising money or raising hell to meet your day-to-day needs?” she said at a Monday press conference announcing her decision. She vowed to continue to work to pass legislation in the Senate for the remainder of her term.

Mikulski, 78, was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1977 before moving to the Senate in 1987. She was the first woman to chair the influential Appropriations Committee, a coveted position given the committee’s oversight over hundreds of billions of dollars of discretionary spending.

Senate minority leader Harry Reid, who entered the Senate the same year as Mikulski, praised his Maryland counterpart as a “trailblazer”:

“Senator Barbara Mikulski’s career has been devoted to serving others,” he said in a statement. “As Dean of the women of the Senate, Barbara has been a mentor and friend to Senators on both sides of the aisle. Through her work, she has helped a generation of women leaders rise in the Senate.”

The departure of one of the most revered figures in Maryland politics leaves a gaping hole in the state’s Democratic power structure. A slew of members of the House may vie for her seat. It also may have implications for the 2016 presidential race if Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, opts to run for the Senate seat instead of challenging Hillary Clinton.

TIME climate

Senator Throws Snowball! Climate Change Disproven!

Jeffrey Kluger is Editor at Large for TIME.

Is Sen. James Inhofe really the person we want chairing the Senate's environment committee?

What’s all this talk about global hunger? I don’t know about you, but I just tucked into a burrito and there are plenty more where that one came from. But that doesn’t mean the nation’s soaring obesity rates are anything more than a rumor. Most of the people I work with look pretty darn good, so QED right?

Something similar is true of climate change—at least if you’re Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe, chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, and a man tasked with knowing a thing or two about, um, the environment and public works. The Senator, who has made something of a cottage industry out of arguing that climate change is “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people,” at last has drop-dead, case-closed proof that he’s been right all along. The evidence: a snowball. And not just any snowball, one right there in Washington, DC!

Inhofe brought his snowball onto the floor of the U.S. Senate on Thursday and declared that “we keep hearing that 2014 has been the warmest year on record.” Yet in a plastic bag, right on his desk, he had the evidence to demolish that claim. “I ask the chair, you know what this is?” he said. “It’s a snowball, and that’s just from outside here, so it’s very, very cold out, very unseasonable.” Then he tossed the unexpected snowball to the unsuspecting chair and returned to his prepared text with self-satisfied, “Mm-hmm.”

Inhofe is completely correct, of course: It was very, very cold on Thursday—unseasonably so. And it was also very, very hot in Opa Loca Florida, where the temperature was 87º F (30º C)—awfully sweltering even for that part of the country, at least at this time of year. Presumably, Opa Loca’s unseasonable steam bath is equally compelling proof that climate change is real.

Look, it’s easy to take shots at Inhofe, which is why everyone is doing it today—here and here and here and here just for starters. But the implications are real. Either he really doesn’t understand that weather isn’t climate, that long-term trends are different from short-term bumps, that what happens at your house or in your town really, truly isn’t what’s happening everywhere else on the planet, or he does know and he’s pretending he doesn’t. Either way, it’s hard to argue that he’s the man you’d want as the Senate’s leading voice on climate policy.

Here’s hoping, if nothing else, that Inhofe has an easy commute home tonight. It’ll be long-awaited proof that the U.S. highway system has at last solved the problem of traffic.

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