TIME White House

LIVE: Obama Speaks on ISIS and Ukraine Crisis

President expected to address the fight against Sunni militants in Iraq, and the worsening situation in Ukraine

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President Obama is expected to address the nation from the White House press briefing room on the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and greater Syria (ISIS) and worsening violence in Ukraine.

TIME Ukraine

Washington and Kiev Say Moscow Is Sending Heavily Armed Troops Into Ukraine

A group of Russian servicemen, who are detained by Ukrainian authorities, attend a news conference in Kiev
A group of Russian servicemen, taken prisoner by Ukrainian authorities, are presented at a news conference in Kiev on Aug. 27, 2014. Ukraine said on Tuesday its forces had captured a group of Russian paratroopers who had crossed into Ukrainian territory on a "special mission," but Moscow said they had ended up there by mistake Valentyn Ogirenko—Reuters

Putin shrugs and says the war is none of his business but a "domestic matter" for Kiev

Ukrainian and U.S. officials accused Moscow of sending heavily armed columns across the border into Ukraine on Wednesday — a move that Washington says is likely part of a “Russian-directed counteroffensive” against Kiev.

During a press conference in Washington on Wednesday, U.S. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said reports indicated that “additional columns of Russian tanks, multiple rocket launchers, and armored vehicles” entered southeastern Ukraine this week, sharply escalating the five-month-old conflict.

“These incursions indicate a Russian-directed counteroffensive is likely under way in Donetsk and Luhansk. Clearly, that is of deep concern to us,” Psaki told reporters.

In Kiev, military spokesman Andriy Lysenko told the New York Times that an armored Russian column entered the town of Amvrosiyivka on Wednesday in what was likely an attempt to expand the current multipronged counteroffensive against Ukrainian troops.

Separatist forces have long claimed that they use weaponry captured from Ukrainian arsenals. However, American officials argue that the hardware in rebel hands includes highly sophisticated air-defense systems — equipment that the Ukrainian armed forces are not believed to posses, according to the Times.

Ukraine went on to accuse the Kremlin of directing troops toward the coastal city of Mariupol, in what appears to be a bid to draw Ukrainian forces away from the heavy fighting near the rebel strongholds in Luhansk and Donetsk.

The escalation of the conflict comes only hours after an inconclusive round of talks wrapped up between Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Belarus on Tuesday night.

Following the meeting, Putin described the increasingly violent war in Ukraine as a purely domestic affair.

“Frankly speaking, we cannot discuss any conditions for a ceasefire or possible agreements between Kiev, Donetsk and Luhansk,” Putin told reporters, according to a transcript published by his office. “This is not our business; it is a domestic matter of Ukraine.”

Putin’s remarks came less than 24 hours after Ukrainian authorities said they captured at least nine Russian paratroopers inside the country earlier this week.

Russian officials later went on to explain that the presence of members of an elite Russian airborne division in Ukraine was likely the result of an accidental incursion that occurred during a patrol.

Putin brushed off the incident — explaining that such incursions aren’t really that big a deal.

“After all, Ukrainian service members entered our territory with armored equipment,” said Putin. “And we didn’t have any problems.”

The U.N. estimates that more than 2,000 people have been killed since the pro-Russia uprising kicked off in April. The fighting has also displaced close to 400,000.

TIME 2016 Election

Romney Says Chance He Runs In 2016 Is ‘One Of A Million’

NBC

Former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney on Tuesday put the odds of his mounting a third bid for the White House at “one of a million.”

The former Massachusetts governor told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt that he did not think he is well positioned to take on the expected Democratic front-runner, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and referenced this famous scene from 1994’s Dumb and Dumber when pressed.

“Well, you know, let’s say all the guys that were running all came together and said, ‘Hey, we’ve decided we can’t do it, you must do it,'” Romney said. “That’s the one of the million we’re thinking about.”

“I just want to confirm you’re telling me that we’ve got a chance there,” Hewitt asked. “The Dumb and Dumber, one of a million,” Romney replied.

Some in the Republican establishment have called on Romney to mount a repeat candidacy, arguing that the GOP needs an established figure to take on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Backers have pointed to recent polls which give Romney an edge over Obama were the 2012 election to be repeated today. Supporters have also cited foreign policy developments that they argue vindicate Romney’s mocked-at-the-time warnings about Russia and China.

“The reason I came to the conclusion I did, which is this is not the right time for me to run, is because of my belief that someone else stands a better chance of winning than I do,” Romney said. “Had that not been the case, had I believed I would actually be best positioned to beat Hillary Clinton, then I would be running. But I actually believe that someone new that is not defined yet–someone who perhaps is from the next generation–will be able to catch fire, potentially, build a movement, and be able to beat Hillary Clinton.”

Romney has raised eyebrows with a nationwide travel and fundraising schedule on behalf of Republicans this fall, an effort Romney confidants say was born out of his desire to thank Republicans for supporting him in 2012–not in an attempt to earn their backing for 2016. Romney’s 2012 running-mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, told Hewitt in an interview Monday that he would welcome a repeat bid by Romney.

Romney said he would “hope” that he’d be a better candidate if he ran a third time. “But at the same time, there are people who are not yet known by the American public who have extraordinary records, great capability, Paul Ryan being one of them, Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal, Marco Rubio,” he said, listing off some of the Republicans known to be mulling 2016 White House bids. “Of course, people are getting to know Chris Christie. Jeb Bush, they don’t know Jeb Bush as the governor of Florida, and the kind of record he has and had there.”

Romney left Sen. Ted Cruz and Sen. Rand Paul off his list of strong contenders, going on to say that he disagrees with those in his party who are pushing for the United States to disengage from the world. Romney pledged he would “continue to speak out on issues of significance as I see them, and hopefully be able to convince the people who are running from our party to adopt policies that encompass foreign policy and keeping America safe.”

In the interview, Romney also said he would be uninterested in serving as the running-mate for the eventual GOP nominee. “I would always be happy to serve my country in any way that I was called upon to do,” Romney said. “But that’s not a job I would seek. I was seeking the presidency, not the vice presidency.”

Listen to the interview here.

TIME White House

White House Announces Program to Lower Military Mortgage Payments

Soldiers Return To Fort Carson After Seven-Month Deployment In Iraq
A U.S. Army soldier salutes the flag during the national anthem at a welcome home ceremony for troops returning from Iraq on Nov. 10, 2011, in Fort Carson, Colo. More than 100 soldiers from the 549th Quartermaster Company, 43rd Sustainment Brigade returned after a seven-month deployment. They played a key role in removing excess equipment from Iraq as other troops withdrew from the region John Moore—Getty Images

Five banks will make it easier for active-duty Americans to get their mortgage fees capped

The Obama Administration announced a new program Tuesday to make it easier for active-duty servicemen and servicewomen to afford homes. The White House hopes the plan will help thousands of military families save hundreds of dollars or more each year.

Currently, Americans serving on active duty are eligible to have their home interest rates and some other debt fees capped at 6% under a 2003 law, but they must first prove their eligibility to lenders. Recent studies by the Government Accountability Office, however, have found many of those entitled to protections under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) don’t benefit from them, because they’re either unaware of them or choose not to deal with the paperwork involved. Speaking to veterans at the American Legion National Convention, President Barack Obama announced a plan to address those issues, with five of the country’s largest mortgage lenders agreeing to make the process easier and to proactively reach out to those who should be eligible for lower rates.

“We’re announcing a new partnership in which some of America’s biggest banks and financial institutions will simplify the process, proactively notify service members who qualify for lower rates and make it easier to enroll,” Obama said. “In other words, we’re going to help more of our troops and military families own their own home without a crushing debt.”

According to the White House, Wells Fargo Bank, Bank of America, Ocwen Loan Servicing, CitiMortgage and Quicken Loans are participating in the program. The five companies are also pledging to more frequently check Defense Department databases to see whether their customers are entitled to unclaimed benefits.

“Our preliminary analysis suggests that this new partnership will help tens of thousands of military families save money by reducing their mortgage interest rates,” wrote National Economic Council director Jeff Zients in a blog post on the White House website shared with TIME before publication. “On a $200,000 mortgage, even an interest rate reduction of only one percent will result in over $1,500 a year in savings for our military families — money they can put towards daily expenses, retirement savings or sending their children to college.”

“It’s clearly the right thing to proactively reach out to active-duty military members and make sure they — and their families — are financially protected,” said Quicken Loans CEO Bill Emerson. “Our military members have enough on their plate without burdening them with the added stress of having to contact their lenders to activate benefits the law entitles them to receive.”

The Financial Services Roundtable industry group hailed the announcement in a statement Tuesday, announcing that about 5,500 homes have been donated by affiliated companies to veterans and their families.

“We are proud that the voluntary commitments made in partnership with the White House today reinforce the industry’s overall mission to give back to those who sacrifice the most for this country,” said the group’s Housing Policy Council president and former Secretary of the Navy, John Dalton, in a statement.

TIME Foreign Policy

Obama Warns of Extended Campaign Against ISIS

Barack Obama
President Barack Obama speaks about veterans issues at the American Legion’s 96th National Convention at the Charlotte Convention Center in Charlotte, N.C., Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2014. Charles Dharapak—AP

The President makes his first public comments on the U.S. military campaign in Iraq since returning from vacation

President Barack Obama pledged Tuesday that the United States would not rest until it brought to justice the killer of American journalist James Foley at the hands of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).

“Rooting out a cancer like [ISIS] won’t be easy and it won’t be quick,” Obama told an audience of veterans and their families at the American Legion National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. a week after the extremist group released a video showing the graphic execution of Foley by an ISIS fighter. These were Obama’s first public comments on the conflict since returning from vacation on Martha’s Vineyard.

“Our message to anyone who harms our people is simple. America does not forget, our reach is long, we are patient, justice will be done,” Obama said, referencing Foley’s killing. “We have proved time and time again we will do what’s necessary to capture those who harm Americans to go after those who harm Americans. And we’ll continue to take direct action where needed to protect our people and to defend our homeland.”

As he weighs expanding the fight against ISIS into Syria, Obama warned that “history teaches us of the dangers of overreaching and spreading ourselves too thin and trying to go it alone without international support, or rushing into military adventures without thinking through the consequences.” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Tuesday that Obama has yet to decide whether to authorize the expansion of the weeks-long American air campaign in Iraq against the group.

Obama said that the strikes against ISIS have been limited to protecting U.S. forces and diplomats in Iraq, reaffirming that U.S. troops would not be sent back on the ground beyond an advisory capacity.

“Let me say it again: American combat troops will not be returning to fight in Iraq,” he said. “We’ll not allow the United States to be dragged back into another ground war in Iraq because, ultimately, it is up to the Iraqis to bridge their differences and secure themselves.”

TIME Ukraine

Rice Slams Moscow’s Intervention in Ukraine as ‘Dangerous and Inflammatory’

Susan Rice
National Security Adviser Susan Rice listens to reporters questions during a briefing on March 21, 2014 Manuel Balce Ceneta —AP

The National Security Adviser's condemnation comes ahead of a meeting between Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin

U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice has berated Russia for continuing to pump heavy weaponry and military personnel into Ukraine’s eastern provinces, where a pro-Moscow insurgency has been taking place since April.

“Repeated Russian incursions into Ukraine unacceptable. Dangerous and inflammatory,” said Rice on her Twitter account. “Russia has no right to send vehicles or cargo into Ukraine without Govt of Ukraine’s permission,” she said in a separate tweet.

She added that the Kremlin’s incursions into Ukraine represented a “significant escalation” of the crisis.

Rice’s strong words came hours ahead of a scheduled round of talks between Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Belarus on Tuesday. They also followed confirmation from NATO commanders last week that artillery units, manned by Russian troops, were operating both outside and within Ukraine and were bombarding Ukrainian forces.

Relations between Kiev and Moscow have been in a precipitous downward spiral since the ousting of Kremlin-backed President Viktor Yanukovych by mass demonstrations earlier this year. That was followed in March by the Russian annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula — a move that inspired a pro-Russian rebellion in eastern Ukraine the following month.

Under the leadership of Poroshenko, Ukraine has incrementally beaten back the insurgency, despite the aid that the rebels are receiving.

“What we’ve seen in recent weeks is a steady advance by the Ukrainian forces and Russia trying to pull various expedients out of the hat to help their proxies over the border,” John Besemeres, professor and adjunct fellow at Australian National University’s Center for European Studies, tells TIME. “So far, at least, it doesn’t appear that any of these are working.”

On Monday, Kiev claimed to have captured a number of Russian paratroopers inside its borders.

The news came as President Poroshenko dissolved the country’s parliament and called for a new round of elections in October.

“Many deputies who are in the [Parliament] are direct sponsors or accomplices, that is to say allies of the militant separatists,” said Poroshenko, according to the Associated Press.

Approximately 2,249 people have been killed and more than 6,000 injured in Ukraine since hostilities erupted, according to an assessment by the U.N.

Despite the heavy losses, which include more than 700 Ukrainian servicemen, Poroshenko appears to be committed to eradicating the insurgents.

“We will manage to defend the independence, life and security of everyone, our right to live freely on our Ukrainian land at the cost of colossal efforts of the entire nation,” the President told the country during a national address on Aug. 24, the country’s Independence Day.

TIME White House

White House Touts Petition Site But Many Await Replies

President Obama delivers a statement to provide an update on Iraq and the situation in Ferguson, Missouri - DC
U.S. President Barack Obama delivers a statement to provide an update on Iraq and the situation in Ferguson, Missouri in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House August 18, 2014 in Washington, DC> Olivier Douliery/pool—© Olivier Douliery/pool/Corbis

A mixed record

The White House could hardly contain itself earlier this month when President Barack Obama signed a bill allowing American consumers to unlock their cell phones. The bill was driven in part by the White House’s own petition website, “We The People,” and touted as an example of a new model of citizen advocacy influencing change in Washington.

“Today, President Obama will sign into law the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act, and in doing so, will achieve a rare trifecta: a win for American consumers, a win for wireless competition, and an example of Democracy at its best—bipartisan Congressional action in direct response to a call to action from the American people,” Jeffrey Zients, the Director of the National Economic Council, and Sen. Patrick Leahy wrote on the Huffington Post.

But the true story is hardly that simple. The “We The People” site, launched in 2011, has had a mixed history of living up to its promise of making the government more responsive to citizens.

While more than 151 responses have been posted, from serious ones on gun violence to humorous ones calling on the federal government to build a Death Star, some of the most controversial petitions have been waiting, and waiting, for official replies.

To date 19 petitions have reached the 100,000-signature threshold at which they are entitled to a response, most recently a petition calling for a “Michael Brown Law” requiring all police officers to wear body cameras in the wake of the Ferguson, Mo. shooting. But most of the 19 do not pertain to recent events; seven petitions are outstanding from 2013 and one, calling for the mandatory labeling of genetically modified food, is outstanding from 2012.

Nearly all of the outstanding petitions are on politically or diplomatically sensitive topics that the White House is clearly trying to wait out, from a plea to pardon admitted NSA leaker Edward Snowden to a call to declare the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group. The White House was unresponsive to a petition to “Stop SOPA 2013″—referring to a divisive anti-piracy bill—so an equally popular sequel was created, “Stop SOPA 2014.” And despite all of the White House’s harsh rhetoric on Russia since its annexation of Crimea and the shoot-down of Malaysia Airline Flight 17, the administration has yet to reply to a petition to designate Russia a state sponsor of terrorism.

The White House has also passed on replying to a number of petitions, including one to free Wikileaks-leaker then-Pfc. Bradley Manning, citing its terms of participation. “To avoid the appearance of improper influence, the White House may decline to address certain procurement, law enforcement, adjudicatory, or similar matters properly within the jurisdiction of federal departments or agencies, federal courts, or state and local government in its response to a petition,” the website states.

The outstanding petitions with more than 100,000 signatures by date of creation:

-Apr 12, 2012: “Support mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods (GMOs).”

-May 3, 2013: “Invest and deport Jasmine Sun who was the main suspect of a famous Thallium poison murder case”

-May 15, 2013: “Provide necessary assistance to prevent Taiwanese people from being murdered by Philippines and rebuild friendship.”

-June 9, 2013: “Pardon Edward Snowden”

-July 7, 2013: “Declare Muslim Brotherhood organization as a terrorist group”

-Aug 22, 2013: “Stop SOPA 2013″

-Nov 12, 2013: “Reform ECPA: Tell the Government to Get a Warrant”

-Dec 11, 2013: “Remove offensive state in Glendale, CA public park”

TIME History

Sunday Is the 200th Anniversary of the Burning of the White House

Capture and Burning of the city of Washington, 1815. White House
Capture and Burning of the city of Washington, 1814. Heritage Images/Getty Images

It’s an anniversary few seem to want to mark, except the victor

Look around Washington D.C. this summer and you’ll find parades, speeches and shows to mark the 150th anniversary of the Civil War and the 100th anniversary of World War I. Heck, there are even exhibits honoring the 25th anniversary of Prague’s Velvet Revolution and the fact the 50 years ago the Beatles first invaded America, to much teenage frenzy.

But what you won’t find are a lot of mentions about the War of 1812’s bicentennial. “Wait,” you may ask, “if it was the War of 1812, why would we celebrate it in 1814?”

“Although it seems rather morbid to celebrate the burning of Washington in the summer of 1814, it was the turning point of the war,” says Leslie Jones, public programs manager at the White House Historical Association, one of a dozen organizations organizing events marking the anniversary. “It was the force that pushed the American side to really come out and push for the victory that culminated in the battle of New Orleans with Andrew Jackson a few months later.”

Perhaps we don’t celebrate The War of 1812 because we started it to get back Canada, which we wound up losing for a second time, along with most of the buildings in the brand new capital. But the War of 1812 is worth commemorating: it cemented America’s identity as nation and it gave us Francis Scott Key’s ode to the Battle of Fort McHenry — also known as the Star Spangled Banner.

“This is an area of history that is so not well known by the broader American public,” says Karen Daly, executive director of Dumbarton House, a historic Washington property that is now a museum. “I find when people visit Dumbarton House, an incredible number of Americans don’t even know this event even happened. They tend to jump from the Revolutionary War to the Civil War. This area of history is glossed over in our schooling. And yet, this is what gave us our national anthem and it is very much the event that cemented the union and the democracy. It’s an incredible piece of our history.”

You won’t likely see Michelle Obama reenacting Dolly Madison saving George Washington’s portrait from the burning White House this weekend. But Aug. 24, the actual day of the 200th anniversary of the burning of the White House and the Capitol, will be celebrated in Washington with a 5k run at the Historic Congressional Cemetery, a family festival in Georgetown and a beer festival at Yards Park. And there’s one group that’s really celebrating: the British Embassy, tongue just a little in cheek, will be holding a “White House BBQ . . . on the 200th anniversary of a rather unfortunate event in UK/US relations . . .”

TIME White House

Watch Live: President Obama Makes a Statement on James Foley Beheading

President Obama is scheduled to make a statement from Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts Wednesday at 12:45 p.m. ET

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President Barack Obama is scheduled to make a statement from Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., on Wednesday at 12:45 p.m. ET. Obama is expected to address a video released Tuesday that appears to show a militant of the group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria executing American journalist James Foley, who was kidnapped in Syria in November 2012. National Security Council Spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said Wednesday morning the U.S. intelligence community believes the video to be authentic.

Watch Obama’s address live above.

 

TIME Foreign Policy

Obama Hails Retaking of Mosul Dam in Iraq

US-POLITICS-OBAMA
US President Barack Obama speaks about the US involvement in Iraq, as well as the situation in Ferguson, Missouri, in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, DC, August 18, 2014. Saul Loeb—AFP/Getty Images

Iraqi and Kurdish forces wrested control of the dam early Monday, with air support from the U.S.

President Barack Obama praised Iraqi gains against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in recent days, as U.S.-backed forces wrested control of a key dam from the militant group.

On Monday, Iraqi and Kurdish forces, backed by U.S. airpower, recaptured the strategic Mosul dam from the Sunni extremist group, both securing a vital source of electricity and preventing a catastrophic release of water that could have inundated parts of northern Iraq.

Speaking from the White House after returning early Monday for a brief interlude from his Martha’s Vineyard vacation, Obama hailed the dam operation as a “major step forward” in the battle against ISIS.

“If that dam was breached, it could have proven catastrophic, with floods that would’ve threatened the lives of thousands of civilians and endanger our embassy compound in Baghdad,” Obama said. “Iraqi and Kurdish forces took the lead on the ground and performed with courage and determination. So this operation demonstrates that Iraqi and Kurdish forces are capable of working together and taking the fight to ISIL. If they continue to do so, they will have the strong support of the United States of America.”

U.S. Central Command has been carrying out strikes against ISIS targets near the dam with fighter, attack, bomber, and unmanned aerial assets since Saturday. On Sunday, Obama informed Congress that he had authorized strikes against ISIS targets near the dam.

“Let’s remember, ISIL poses a threat to all Iraqis and to the entire region,” Obama said, using an alternative acronym for the militant group. “They claim to represent Sunni grievances, but they slaughter Sunni men, women and children. They claim to oppose foreign forces, but they actively recruit foreign fighters to advance their hateful ideology. So the Iraqi people need to reject them and unite to begin to push them out of the lands that they’ve occupied, as we’re seeing at Mosul Dam.”

Obama also announced continued progress in the effort to build an international coalition to provide humanitarian assistance to northern Iraq, as well as working with the newly designated Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Albadi on building a more inclusive government in Iraq.

“This is going to take time,” Obama added. “There are going to be many challenges ahead. But meanwhile, there should be no doubt that the United States military will continue to carry out the limited missions that I’ve authorized: protecting our personnel and facilities in Iraq in both Erbil and Baghdad; and providing humanitarian support as we did on Mount Sinjar.”

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