TIME faith

Hottest Tickets in Washington Are Going Fast for This Man

Pope Francis at the Capitol, of course

Rep. Peter Welch’s sister, Maureen, had better intelligence than the five-term Vermont congressman about Pope Francis’ upcoming trip to the United States and his historic address to Congress.

“She called before the announcement and said, ‘The pope is coming, can I have your ticket?'” recalled the Democratic lawmaker.

He eagerly said yes to Maureen — Sister Maureen, an Ursuline nun who has been a member of the order for 50 years.

While Welch’s decision was somewhat easy, other lawmakers are struggling with an extraordinary demand — from spouses, family, friends, constituents — for the one ticket they get for guests to sit in the upper galleries of the House chamber when the pontiff addresses Congress on Sept. 24. A chance to see and hear the 78-year-old Argentinian famed for making the comfortable uncomfortable is the hottest ticket in Washington.

“We have more requests for this appearance than anything anybody can ever recall around here,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said weeks ahead of the event.

The first time a pontiff will be addressing Congress rivals a presidential inauguration and State of the Union wrapped into one.

The president’s Cabinet, the diplomatic corps and members of the Supreme Court, six of whom are Catholic, are expected to join senators and House members in the seats on the floor of the chamber. The House recently took the unusual step of voting to limit the people who can sit in those prime seats, essentially barring former members.

That leaves the current 434 House members and 100 senators figuring out who to please with a gallery ticket and who they might upset. Whether a freshman on the job less than a year or a committee chairman with decades in office, lawmakers face the same rules as a State of the Union speech — one guest ticket per lawmaker.

“I’ve been thinking long and hard about that,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the No. 2 Senate Democrat. “Turns out I know a couple of Catholics,” he said, laughing. “And this is a hard call.”

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, is giving her ticket to her mother, Pat, who headed Catholic Charities of Maine. Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., said his choice “starts with family,” but he hasn’t decided yet.

Republican Rep. Leonard Lance, R-N.J., faces a nearly Solomonic choice straight out of the Old Testament.

“Either my wife (Heidi) or my twin brother (James), but I’m a very popular fellow these days because of that one ticket that I get,” Lance said.

Several spouses have already claimed the seats.

“My wife is getting my ticket,” Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Ill., said of his wife Judy. “Even before I knew that the official announcement was made that the pope was coming to speak to a joint session of Congress, I received the email from my wife saying, ‘Don’t give my ticket away.'”

Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., said simply: “It’s not my seat, it’s my spouse’s seat,” a reference to his wife, Myrna.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., avoided picking one family member and disappointing several others.

“I gave it to a nun who I love — Sister Simone. She’s the nun on the bus,” Boxer said. “She fights for social justice and she’s so happy.”

Sister Simone Campbell is the executive director of NETWORK, a Catholic social justice lobby, and is no stranger to Capitol Hill, lobbying on the 2010 law overhauling health care and immigration. In 2012, she organized the “Nuns on the Bus” tour of nine states to oppose Republican Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget, which the group criticized as detrimental to the poor.

Ryan was the Republican vice presidential nominee that year.

The presence of nuns will be a reminder of the changes at the Vatican from Pope Francis’ predecessor, Benedict, to the current pontiff. Under Benedict, the main umbrella group of U.S. nuns had come under scrutiny, accused of straying from church teaching. The nuns oversee much of the church’s work at hospitals and schools, and the issue roiled the church in the United States.

Earlier this year, under Francis, the Vatican said that it was ending its overhaul of the group, a quick resolution widely seen as an effort to quiet a dispute ahead of the pope’s visit.

While lawmakers are limited to one gallery ticket, there is a consolation prize of sorts. Members of Congress can promise a few dozen more family, friends or associates a chance to see the Pontiff, just not in the House chamber.

Each congressional office can request one ticket for seats on the lower West Terrace of the Capitol. Jumbotrons will be set up on the West Front of the Capitol, facing the National Mall, so thousands can watch the broadcast of the pope’s speech. Francis is also expected to appear on the Capitol balcony after his speech.

Each lawmaker also can request 50 standing-room-only tickets for the West Lawn, plus one ticket for guests who can sit in the cavernous Cannon Caucus Room and watch the pontiff on TV.

TIME Foreign Policy

Chuck Schumer Plans on Rejecting Obama’s Iran Deal

The move is a blow to the Obama administration

(WASHINGTON) — New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, the No. 3 Senate Democrat and next-in-line party leader, said late Thursday that he is breaking with President Barack Obama and will oppose the Iran nuclear deal.

“After deep study, careful thought and considerable soul-searching, I have decided I must oppose the agreement and will vote yes on a motion of disapproval,” Schumer said in a statement weeks before he will cast a vote.

Schumer is the first Senate Democrat to step forward to oppose the deal. His announcement came just hours after two other Senate Democrats — New York’s Kirsten Gillibrand and New Hampshire’s Jeanne Shaheen — announced their support for the international accord.

The deal, struck last month with Tehran and Western powers, would curb Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for billions of dollars in relief from crippling sanctions.

Schumer’s decision is a blow to the administration, though it remains to be seen whether other Democratic lawmakers will follow the New York senator. His split with Obama is remarkable for a senior leader in line to replace Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., after he retires at the end of next year.

Schumer’s decision also puts him at odds with the Democrats’ likely presidential nominee, Hillary Rodham Clinton, who has cautiously embraced the deal.

The administration, which has lobbied intensely for the pact, had secured the backing of more than a dozen Senate Democrats and more than two dozen House Democrats, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. Republicans, who control the House and Senate, are uniformly opposed to the deal.

Schumer signaled that he wouldn’t lobby hard against the accord. The House and Senate will begin debate on a resolution of disapproval when lawmakers return to Washington on Sept. 8 after their August recess. The administration needs Democratic support to sustain a widely expected veto by Obama of any resolution of disapproval.

“There are some who believe that I can force my colleagues to vote my way,” he said. “While I will certainly share my view and try to persuade them that the vote to disapprove is the right one, in my experience with matters of conscience and great consequence like this, each member ultimately comes to their own conclusion.”

Schumer has been under pressure as a congressional ally of Israel, leading fundraiser and strategist for his party, and lawmaker from a state that is home to more than a million-and-a-half Jews.

“The very real risk that Iran will not moderate and will, instead, use the agreement to pursue its nefarious goals is too great,” he said in opposing the pact.

Schumer said he based his decision on the nuclear and non-nuclear elements of the accord and on the question of “Are we better off with the agreement or without it?”

He complained that the pact does not allow inspections “anywhere, anytime” and that the United States cannot demand inspections unilaterally.

Schumer joins a handful of Jewish Democrats who have announced their opposition — Reps. Steve Israel and Nita Lowey of New York and Ted Deutch of Florida. Michigan Rep. Sander Levin, however, has endorsed the deal.

The powerful pro-Israel lobby American Israel Public Affairs Committee is vehemently opposed to the deal, which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has denounced as undermining the security of Israel and the region. Opponents of the pact have targeted Schumer in campaign-style ads.

The media-friendly Schumer made the announcement through the blog Medium, not in a high-profile speech on the Senate floor like several of his colleagues. His statement also was posted as much of the political world was focused on the first Republican presidential candidate debate.

The announcement came hours after the Senate left Washington for its recess. The move spares Schumer weeks of intense lobbying from proponents and foes of the deal.

TIME Washington D.C.

Man Who Landed Gyrocopter at Capitol Rejects Plea Deal

Doug Hughes flies his gyrocopter, near the Wauchula Municipal Airport in Wauchula, Fla., March 17, 2015.
James Borchuck—Tampa Bay Times/TNS Doug Hughes flies his gyrocopter, near the Wauchula Municipal Airport in Wauchula, Fla., March 17, 2015.

The offer was 10 months in jail

Douglas Hughes, a man who landed his gyrocopter on the lawn of the U.S. capitol as a protest, rejected a plea deal that would have given him 10 months in jail.

His attorney believes zero to six months in jail is more reasonable, the Associated Press reports, and Hughes insists no person or property was damaged.

Hughes is a mail carrier who landed on the capital lawn to protest money in politics.

The area Hughes flew was restricted airspace and was detained when he landed. He is now barred from flying any aircraft.

Hughes’ next court date is in August.

[Associated Press]

TIME public health

These Are the Healthiest (and Unhealthiest) Cities in America

A jogger runs past the United States Capitol building at sunrise in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013.
Pete Marovich—Bloomberg/Getty Images A jogger runs past the United States Capitol building at sunrise in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013.

West Coast cities make up six of the top 10

For the second year running Washington, D.C., tops the American Fitness Index (AFI) ranking as the healthiest metropolitan area in the U.S.

The nation’s capital can credit an above average access to public infrastructure for the top spot, according to the eighth annual report.

Minneapolis–St.Paul, Minn., came in second and three California metro areas — San Diego, the Bay Area and Sacramento — rounded out the top five.

“Our goal is to provide communities and residents with resources that help them assess, respond and achieve a better, healthier life,” said Walter Thompson, chair of the AFI advisory board, in a press release.

Indianapolis came in last place as it failed to reach the target goal in nearly all of the 32 health indicators measured. Memphis and Oklahoma City also ranked near the bottom.

The AFI used publicly available data points that are measured routinely and can be changed through community effort (so climate cannot be considered a health indicator).

Below you can find a list of the top-10 healthiest metro areas, according to the AFI:

  1. Washington, D.C.
  2. Minneapolis
  3. San Diego
  4. San Francisco
  5. Sacramento, Calif.
  6. Denver
  7. Portland
  8. Seattle
  9. Boston
  10. San Jose, Calif.
TIME Accident

At Least 6 Killed, Dozens Injured as Amtrak Train Derails in Philadelphia

More than 140 passengers were taken to nearby hospitals

An Amtrak train bound for New York City derailed in Philadelphia on Tuesday night, leaving at least six people dead and more than a hundred injured, officials said.

The train appeared to go off the tracks while going into a turn about 9:30 p.m., according to the Associated Press, one of whose own staff members happened to be on board.

“The front of the train is really mangled,” AP employee Paul Cheung said. “It’s a complete wreck. The whole thing is like a pile of metal.”

Images and videos posted to social media showed passengers struggling to crawl out of train cars that had flipped onto their sides. “There was dust and debris, I was choking,” Patrick Murphy, a former congressman who was on the train, said on MSNBC early Wednesday morning.

The train, the Northeast Regional 188, had departed from Washington, D.C., earlier that day.

Officials initially said 140 of the 243 people on board the train had been taken to local hospitals, with six people in critical condition. As of early Wednesday morning, there were at least eight patients in critical condition at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia, one of the facilities treating victims of the crash, according to NBC Philadelphia.

Hundreds of first responders rushed to the scene following the crash, including police, fire and rail officials. A team from the National Transportation Safety Board was due to arrive Wednesday morning to investigate the crash, and the Federal Railroad Administration said at least eight of its investigators would be dispatched to the scene.

“It is an absolute disastrous mess, never seen anything like this in my life,” Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter said, adding that all seven train cars were in “various stages of disarray.

“We walked the entire length of the train area, and the engine completely separated from the rest of the train, and one of the cars is perpendicular to the rest of the cars. It’s unbelievable,” he added.

Other passengers on the train included Jannelle Richards, a producer for NBC Nightly News, and Murphy, who tweeted photos of firefighters helping people escape a lopsided train carriage.

Richards said she heard a loud crash and saw people fly up in the air, followed by “jerking back and forth” and “a lot of smoke.” She also saw several passengers bleeding.

Amtrak announced earlier that it has canceled all train service between New York City and Philadelphia for the rest of the evening, and the incident will likely impact service in heavily trafficked Northeastern corridor for much longer. More than 11 million people traveled along that corridor, which runs between Washington and Boston, in 2014.

“There’s no circumstance under which there would be any Amtrak service this week through Philadelphia,” Nutter said.

 

TIME China

China Has Become the World’s Biggest Crude Oil Importer for the First Time

Holiday travel rush congests roads in Chinese cities
Feng lei—Imaginechina/AP Masses of vehicles move slowly during a traffic jam near the entrance to Lianhuo (Lianyungang-Khorgos) Expressway during the Labor Day holiday in Zhengzhou city, central China's Henan province, 1 May 2015.

The news reflects both China's soaring energy consumption and America's shale revolution

China is now the largest importer of crude oil in the world. In April, it surpassed the U.S., which has traditionally held the slot, with imports of 7.4 million barrels per day (bpd) or 200,000 more than the U.S., according to the Financial Times.

The news comes as a surprise because the Chinese economy has been slowing and just this weekend, in an effort to stimulate growth, the People’s Bank of China cut interest rates for the third time in 6 months.

Over the next few months, the U.S. and China may be in and out of the top spot, but because American imports dropped by about 3 million bpd in the last decade (thanks in large part to shale extractions) and because China’s purchases have boosted seven-fold, the Chinese should be the top crude oil importer on a long term basis.

China overtook the United States as the world’s top energy consumer in 2010 and is already the number one purchaser of many commodities, such as coal, iron ore and most metals.

TIME Congress

Washington Kids Should Be Able to Sled Down Capitol Hill, Lawmaker Says

Washington DC Area Hit With Mid-March Snow
Win McNamee—Getty Images Jon Ward sleds with his daughter Gwen and son Jethro on the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol on March 17, 2014 in Washington D.C.

The District of Columbia representative wants a ban on sledding on the U.S. Capitol grounds lifted before snowstorm

The District of Columbia’s representative in Congress has formally requested that a ban that forbids sledding on the U.S. Capitol grounds be waived in anticipation of an upcoming snow storm.

Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton of Washington D.C.wrote to U.S. Capitol Police Board Chair Frank Larkin on Wednesday requesting the ban be removed for March 5-8, so that D.C. families can take advantage of the snow.

“This could be the last snowstorm the D.C. area gets this winter, and may be one of the best for sledding in years,” Norton said in a statement. “Children and their parents should able to enjoy sledding on one of the best hills in the city. This is a one-time waiver that will allow D.C. kids to sled while we await a more formal review of the ban, which will likely come after the last snow has fallen in our region. Have a heart, Mr. Larkin, a kid’s heart that is.”

In February, Norton made a separate request to overturn the ban. Norton says families are calling her office, asking for the ban to removed. You can read her letter here.

TIME cities

Know Right Now: Washington, D.C. Legalizes Pot

Four other states have already legalized recreational marijuana

Recreational marijuana use and adult possession (up to two ounces) became legal in Washington, D.C. on Thursday, but there’s still no way to legally buy the drug. Watch today’s Know Right Now to find out more.

TIME architecture

Why the Washington Monument Has ‘Shrunk’ By 10 Inches

US-WEATHER-STORM
Karen Bleier—AFP/Getty Images A jogger passes the Washington Monument on a cold blustery morning January 27, 2015 in Washington, DC.

Symbol of the nation's capital loses a little of its stature

The Washington Monument now stands 10 inches shorter than when it was completed in 1884, or at least that’s what a new government measurement announced Monday suggests.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) used new technology to calculate the monument’s height at 554 feet 7 and 11/32 inches. But in 1884, the towering obelisk was measured at 555 feet 5⅛ inches.

What’s behind the incredible shrinking monument? A difference in the way the measurement was conducted likely accounts for most of the difference, according to NOAA. Engineers today used international standards to measure from the “lowest, significant, open-air, pedestrian entrance” to the structure’s peak. It’s unclear what standard engineers used when the monument was first built.

“We have to be cautious in comparing this new height to the historic one, since we do not know precisely the actual starting point that U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Lt. Col. Thomas Casey used in 1884,” said Dru Smith, a NOAA scientist. “Today’s elevation reflects the international standards for measurement of a building’s height as well as considerable technological improvements.”

The change in height not due to the difference in measurement standards is likely three-eighths of an inch, according to a report in the Washington Post. That change is likely due to wear and tear to the monument’s cap.

TIME Know Right Now

Know Right Now: From Nationwide Protests to a Historic Space Launch

Watch this week's #KnowRightNow to catch up on all the latest stories

This week, Cyber Monday shattered records with sales surpassing $2 billion. Sales were up 17% compared to last year, making it the biggest shopping day ever.

Protests flared around the country after a grand jury decided there would be no indictment in the case of Eric Garner, a black man who died while being violently subdued by the NYPD. Protesters blocked major roadways in Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Washington D.C., and more than 200 protesters were arrested in New York alone.

The Orion spacecraft successfully launched Friday morning, orbiting 3,600 miles above the planet, 15 times higher than the International Space Station. The spacecraft orbited Earth twice before landing in the Pacific Ocean.

And finally, Warner Bros. revealed the cast for its movie Suicide Squad this week. The film will feature Will Smith as Deadshot, Tom Hardy as Rick Flagg, Jared Leto as The Joker, and Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn. It’s slated for release in 2016.

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