TIME Foreign Policy

Netanyahu Overshadows His Own Speech

Israeli PM Netanyahu weekly cabinet meeting
Abir Sultan—Reuters Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem on Feb. 15, 2015.

A partisan debate over the terms of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to the U.S. threatened to overshadow his message, as he arrived Sunday in the U.S. two days before an address to the Congress about the dangers of President Barack Obama’s recent moves to cut a deal with Iran over its nuclear program.

An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released Sunday found that 48% of registered voters said Republicans in Congress should not have invited Netanyahu without first checking with Obama, with just 30% of Americans supporting the move. President Obama has refused to meet the Israeli leader, citing the proximity of the visit on Israel’s elections. Obama’s National Security Adviser Susan Rice, cast the speech last week as “destructive to the fabric of U.S.-Israeli ties.”

At the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual policy conference in Washington, D.C., Sunday, the mood was uneasy, as the controversy overshadowed the conference and thrust the bipartisan organization into the uncomfortable position of lobbying lawmakers to attend a speech, as opposed to its key legislative priority: calling on Congress to play a role in reviewing the Iran agreement. “Frankly all of us should be concerned that care so deeply about the bipartisan support for the U.S.-Israel relationship,” AIPAC CEO Howard Kohr said Sunday. “We have spent active hours lobbying for members of the House and Senate to attend this speech.”

In the lead-up to the speech, dueling ads from left and right focused on the speech and who would attend. An incendiary ad from a group founded by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach and linked to Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson drew condemnation from all corners for accusing Rice of turning a blind eye to genocide. The ad compared Rice’s role in shaping a withdrawn U.S. policy during the 1994 Rwanda genocide, which Rice herself has since criticized, with her position on Netanyahu’s visit. “Ms. Rice may be blind to the issue of genocide,” the ad reads, under a picture of the National Security Adviser superimposed on the image of human skulls. The text goes on to suggest she has been more gracious in her dealings with Iran’s government than Israel’s. “She should treat our ally with at least as much diplomatic courtesy as she does the committed enemy of both our nations.”

Obama Administration officials were quick to condemn the move. “This ad is being widely met with the revulsion that it deserves,” a senior U.S. Administration official said. “Frankly, the ad says more about those who supported it than it says about Susan Rice.”

Netanyahu has a long track record of using addresses to Congress for his domestic political purposes. “I am leaving for Washington on a fateful, even historic, mission. I feel that I am the emissary of all Israelis, even those who disagree with me, of the entire Jewish People,” Netanyahu told reporters before departing. His coalition faces a close election on March 17.

In the U.S., the visit has turned into a political weapon. “The really only conflict here is between the White House and Israel,” said Speaker of the House John Boehner Sunday on CBS’s Face the Nation.

At AIPAC, Senator Ben Cardin, a Democrat from Maryland, sought to challenge that message. “The circumstances surrounding the invitation were not what they should have been,” he said. “We all understand that. But don’t lose focus. The bad guy is Iran.”

In Israel as well, the terms of the visit had become a point of political debate. “Netanyahu’s speech is diverting the question to be on whether he should speak or not in Congress rather than the security issue with Iran, and we think this is wrong,” said Israeli opposition Knesset member Erel Margalit. “We saw a poll that had the American public divided over whether Netanyahu should speak or not, instead of having 90% against the threshold nuclear state of Iran, which would have united everyone.”

To pre-empt claims that the White House has not sufficiently supported Israel, the National Security Council forwarded Democratic allies—and later posted online—a pocket card highlighting the U.S.-Israel relationship under Obama casting the President as a “strong defender” of Israel. “Under President Obama’s leadership, American engagement with Israel has grown and strengthened to an unprecedented degree,” it reads. The handout did not include any mention of Iran.

“The Administration doesn’t want to talk about the Iran deal — so instead of hearing about sanctions relief and sunset clauses, we’ve had weeks of high-school-level melodrama about speech protocol and a bad guy named Bibi,” said Noah Pollak, the executive director of the hawkish Emergency Committee for Israel. “The Administration has temporarily distracted from the Iran talks, but it’s also turned the Netanyahu speech into the Super Bowl of foreign policy. In the end it may turn out that Obama only drew more attention to what a bad deal he’s trying to cut with Iran.”

TIME Justice Department

President Obama Gives Teary Send Off to Attorney General Holder

Attorney General Eric Holder's official portait Image Courtesy of the Department of Justice

Notes Attorney General Eric Holder's stance on civil rights in his parting address

The President got misty-eyed during the unveiling of Attorney General Eric Holder’s official portrait Friday when he shared a story about the impact he believes Holder has had outside of the Department of Justice.

President Obama said he hosted a number of young men who are mentees under his My Brother Keeper initiative, which is celebrating its first anniversary, for a White House lunch on Friday. As the students, all black and Latino young men from the around the Washington area, went around the table sharing their life aspirations, one shared that he wanted to be the attorney general when he grew up. That moment clearly touched the President, who wiped away tears as he shared it with the departing Attorney General.

“I think about all the young people out there who have seen you work and have been able to get an innate sense that you’re a good man,” President Obama said. “Having good men in positions of power and authority who are willing to fight for what’s right … that’s a rare thing. That’s a powerful thing.”

Obama listed the Attorney General’s accomplishments as the third longest-serving and the first African American to hold the job. Throughout his tenure Holder made criminal justice reform and championing civil rights a priority of the department, including his recent efforts to challenge strict voting laws.

During his prepared remarks, a teary-eyed Holder said that there was still work to be done on civil rights and criminal justice reform.

“Make no mistake. We still have unfinished business and work to do,” Holder said. “In the defense of our nation we must always adhere to the values that define us. And, at all costs, the right to vote must be protected.”

The unveiling came just days after the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to approve the nomination of Loretta Lynch, who was tapped to replace Holder. The President said the Department of Justice is being left in “outstanding hands.”

TIME Education

White House Takes The Gloves Off in Education Fight

President Barack Obama holds a bilateral meeting with the Amir of Qatar - DC
Olivier Douliery—Pool/Corbis President Barack Obama looks on during a meeting with the Amir of Qatar, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington on Feb. 24, 2015.

After years of bipartisan language urging Congress to seize on “common goals” and “shared interests” to revise a dysfunctional federal education law, the Obama administration appears to be taking the gloves off.

In a conference call with the press this week, the Department of Education slammed the House Republicans’ proposed bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, also known as No Child Left Behind, which is scheduled for a House vote Friday.

The Department of Education called the bill regressive, “bad for children” and said it would amount to hundreds of millions of dollars of cuts to education spending. It then stopped short—but just barely—of calling the House bill outright racist.

Those fightin’ words come on the heels of yet another pugnacious White House report, released Feb. 13, which described the House Republicans’ proposal as a vehicle for shifting federal dollars “from high-poverty schools to more affluent districts.”

Rep. John Kline, the Chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, has parried the administration’s attacks, arguing that the bill does not cut funding at all and that it simply changes the way federal dollars are allocated to low-income districts, which serve mostly black and Latino kids.

But Cecilia Muñoz, the director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, told TIME that these issues are “very, very important” to the White House. “It’s very, very hard to reconcile the contents of this bill with the president’s long term goal of making sure every child is successful in school,” she said.

From the Obama Administration’s perspective, there are two primary issues at stake here. The first is how the new education law allocates federal dollars—known as Title I funding—to low-income school districts, which disproportionately serve black and Latino students.

Under the current version of ESEA, known as No Child Left Behind, Title I funding goes to districts with the highest percentages of low-income kids. The idea is that poor kids who attend schools full of mostly middle- and upper-middle-class kids are in a much better position—and therefore less in need of federal help—than poor kids who attend schools with lots of other poor kids. That analysis, a senior Department of Education official told TIME, is based on “decades of research” into how low-income students perform at different schools.

The House Republican proposal, which mirrors language in a recent draft of the Senate version of the bill, would fundamentally change that formula. Instead of funneling federal dollars to the schools with the highest percentages of low-income students, Title I funding would be allocated on a per-student basis. Kline has said that rejiggering that formula allows every low-income child who attends a public school to receive his or her “fair share” of federal assistance.

The Administration argues that would be a disaster. Allocating Title I funding on a per-student basis would lead to huge funding cuts in 100 of the largest school districts in the country, according to a White House report. Philadelphia City School District, which is 55% black, could lose $412 million, according to the DOE. Shelby County schools in Tennessee, which are 81% black, could lose $114 million.

Kline dismissed the White House’s claims, saying that they were “budget gimmicks” and “scare tactics” that entered “the realm of make-believe.”

The second issue at stake is the overall federal education budget. As it is, federal education spending is still at sequestration levels, roughly $800 million below where it was before. The House bill proposes to more or less leave that spending level in place, increasing it by only a smidgen—from $14 to 14.8 billion total—until 2021. It does not cut spending, staffers say, it simply retains a budget slightly higher than the current status quo.

A senior Department of Education official told TIME that while it’s technically true that the House bill does not cut spending, the point is that “it will feel like a cut,” especially in low-income school districts that, under the House bill, might see less Title I funding too. “The House bill cements sequestration level budget caps for an additional six years,” he said, and does not increase, even to keep up with inflation or rising enrollment. “The result is that by 2021, schools will have less money than they had before 2012.”

This week’s battle of words is mostly a dress rehearsal for a much larger fight over the final version of ESEA. Senate Education Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander expects to bring a Senate version the floor next month, with a vote on a final bill this summer.

The House bill, which is up for a vote on Friday, won’t have an easy path to victory. In addition to scathing criticism from the Obama administration, it is also up against a growing coalition of opponents on the right. This week, conservative mainstays like the Heritage Action and the Club For Growth have been pushing Republican lawmakers to vote against the bill on the grounds that it allows too much federal control over education.

In an effort to quell this conservative mutiny, Republicans adopted an amendment to the bill Thursday night that would allow school districts and states to come up with their own assessment systems—a move that further alienates the Obama Administration.

President Obama announced this week that if the final rewrite of the federal education bill ends up looking like the House version, he will veto it.

Muñoz, who spoke to TIME over the phone on Tuesday, said that the White House will fight hard for a bill that reflects “the president’s idea of what education should be.”

“It’s our job, the federal government, Congress’ job, to make sure every student is successful,” she said, adding that the House Republicans’ bill does not do that. “It’s just manifestly true that when you reduce resource to a place like Detroit and increase resources to a place like Grosse Pointe, you’re undercutting our primary goal of ensuring that every child is successful,” she said.

TIME First Lady

Michelle Obama Says It’s Time to ‘Fight Back’ Against Unhealthy-Food Ads

87992859
David Bishop Inc.—Getty Images Classic cheeseburger

New campaign will counter unhealthy-food ads aimed at kids

This week marks five years since First Lady Michelle Obama launched the Let’s Move campaign, which sought to reduce childhood obesity and get kids eating healthier. She’s taken aim at school lunches and encouraged more activity and water consumption. Now she wants more pushback on unhealthy-food advertisements aimed at kids — and celebrities are on board to help.

“If folks are going to pour money into marketing unhealthy foods,” she said at an event Thursday in Washington, “then let’s fight back with ads for healthy foods, right? Let’s do this.”

Obama spoke at the Partnership for a Healthier America Summit, where the organization announced the launch of FNV, a marketing campaign laser-focused on branding fruits and vegetables (hence the name “FNV”) as cool to youth. The Partnership for a Healthier America, known as PHA, was created in conjunction with the First Lady’s Let’s Move campaign in 2010, though the organization is independent from the White House.

A PHA statement released Thursday details how the campaign will feature appearances from actresses Kristen Bell and Jessica Alba, athletes Stephen Curry and Cam Newton and more.

“FNV was inspired by big consumer brands, whose tactics are relentless, compelling, catchy and drive an emotional connection with their products,” said PHA CEO Lawrence A. Soler in a statement. “We want to do the same thing for fruits and veggies, which have never had an opportunity to act like a big brand. Until now.”

TIME White House

Obama Meets With Trayvon Martin’s Parents on Third Anniversary of His Death

Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin – the parents of Trayvon Martin – paid a visit to the White House to honor the third anniversary of their son’s shooting.

They joined President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama for a special reception in recognition of African American History Month on Thursday, during which the President thanked the Martins for their attendance “on what’s a very difficult day for them.”

“Today, on the third anniversary of Trayvon Martin’s death, showing all of our kids, all of them, every single day, that their lives matter, that’s part of our task,” President Obama said. “Where we are today didn’t come easy. It came through thick and thin.”

The couple’s 17-year-old son was shot and killed on Feb. 26, 2012, after a confrontation with George Zimmerman, who was acquitted of second-degree murder charges in the teenager’s death the following year. It was also reported this week that the Department of Justice is set to announce it will not be filing charges against Zimmerman in the shooting of the unarmed teen.

Obama also emphasized to the audience in the East Room, including congresswomen Sheila Jackson Lee and Nancy Pelosi, the importance of African American History Month. He explained that annual commemoration is not to “isolate” or “segregate” or to put African-American history “under a glass case.”

He continued, “We set [the month] aside to illuminate those threads.”

In addition to acknowledging Martin’s death, the President also addressed another topical event, the 1965 march from Selma, Alabama, led by Martin Luther King Jr., that is depicted in the Oscar-nominated film Selma.

“What happened in Selma is quintessentially an American experience, not just an African-American experience,” he said. “It reminds us that the history of America doesn’t belong to one group or another. It belongs to all of us.”

Reporting by Sandra Sobieraj

This article originally appeared on People.com

TIME White House

Obama Thanks Redditors After FCC Approves Strict Net Neutrality Rules

"I wish I could upvote every one of you"

President Barack Obama knows his Reddit slang.

In a handwritten note, the Commander-in-Chief said he wished he could “upvote” every one of the Redditors who commented on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)’s net neutrality rules amid the hard-fought battle.

On Thursday, the agency approved the strongest rules yet in a vote split along party lines. “This would not have happened without the activism and engagement of millions of Americans like you. And that was a direct result of communities like reddit,” Obama said in a longer note posted in a Reddit blog post.

Learn more about the FCC’s rules here.

TIME White House

Amazon Hires Former White House Press Secretary Jay Carney

Jay Carney
Alex Wong—Getty Images White House Press Secretary Jay Carney waves at the end of his last White House briefing at the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House June 18, 2014 in Washington, D.C.

Will report directly to Jeff Bezos

Where once he talked foreign policy, now he’ll talk Kindles – former White House Press Secretary Jay Carney has taken a high level job with Amazon.

Carney will leave his post at CNN, where he is a commentator, and begin with Amazon on Monday as senior vice president for Worldwide Corporate Affairs, Politico reports. Carney will split his time between the D.C. office and the company’s Seattle headquarters, and he will report directly to Jeff Bezos.

He’s not the only former Obama confidante to head to Silicon Valley. In 2014, former campaign manager and White House adviser David Plouffe became the senior vice president of policy and strategy at Uber.

[Politico]

TIME White House

Obama Tries to Stave Off Deportation Woes at Town Hall

President Barack Obama answers a question from the audience during an immigration town hall meeting and Telemundo interview at Florida International University in Miami on Feb. 25, 2015.
Jim Watson—AFP/Getty Images President Barack Obama answers a question from the audience during an immigration town hall meeting and Telemundo interview at Florida International University in Miami on Feb. 25, 2015.

He called out Congress for stalled immigration policy but also shifted some of the blame to Americans who don’t vote

President Barack Obama did his best before an audience at Florida International University in Miami on Wednesday to reassure that his administration would be “as aggressive as we can” in the legal fight over his executive actions that would have given nearly 5 million undocumented immigrants temporary relief from deportation.

Speaking to nearly 300 people, Obama used the platform as an opportunity to call out Congress for stalling on comprehensive reform that would offer a more permanent solution.

“Until we pass a law through Congress, the executive actions we’ve taken are not going to be permanent; they are temporary,” Obama said Wednesday, at a town hall hosted by Telemundo and MSNBC anchor José Díaz-Balart that aired in the evening. “Not only are we going to have to win this legal fight, but ultimately we’re still going to pass a law through Congress.”

But the audience seemed most concerned with what’s really at stake for immigrant families amid the squabble that’s put his executive actions in jeopardy. And Obama’s answers on that were less encouraging. In the wake of a Texas judge’s decision to temporarily block the executive order—which the administration appealed on Monday—Obama and Secretary of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson have said that the judge’s order does not impact the administration’s ability to prioritize criminals and others who pose threats to national security for deportation.

Obama said Wednesday, however, that although his administration will focus on “criminals” and “potential felons,” there is no guarantee that everyone at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency will have gotten the memo.

“There are going to be some jurisdictions and there may be individual ICE official or Border Control agent not paying attention to our new directives,” he acknowledged. “But they’re going to be answerable to the head of Homeland Security because he’s been very clear about what our priorities will be.”

There are reports that some ICE agents are already using the Texas’s judge’s order as a signal they don’t have to follow enforcement priorities. In fact, the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice reports, one woman who has actively spoken out against the lawsuit against Obama’s executive action was subjected to wearing an ankle monitor at her last check-in.

The President also shifted some of the blame for stalled immigration policy to Americans who don’t vote.

“I’m willing to bet that there are young people who have family members who are at risk in the broke immigration system who still didn’t vote,” he said. “If we here in America voted at 60-to-70% it would transform our politics. We would have already passed comprehensive immigration reform.”

Wednesday’s town hall came amid the showdown in Congress over whether to use a bill aimed at funding the Department of Homeland Security as an opportunity to block Obama’s immigration action. If funding does not pass this week, the department could shut down. On that, Obama reiterated that Congress should pass a clean bill and challenge the action another way.

“In the short term if Mr. McConnell, the leader of the Senate, and the Speaker of the House, John Boehner, want to have [a] vote over whether what I’m doing is legal or not they can have that vote,” Obama said, adding that he would “veto that vote, because I’m absolutely confident that what we’re doing is the right thing to do.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has signaled he intends to do just that.

TIME LGBT

U.S. Military Takes Baby Step Toward Allowing Transgender Soldiers

Advocates hopeful the longstanding ban could be lifted after recent comments from top officials

The new Secretary of Defense may be ushering in a new era of openness in the American military. Recent remarks made by Ashton Carter and the White House have raised the hopes of advocates that the nation’s ban on openly transgender soldiers may be starting to crack.

Carter publicly reignited the issue Sunday during a town hall meeting with soldiers in Afghanistan. Asked about changing the longstanding policy, Carter replied: “I’m very open-minded about [it] provided they can do what we need them to do for us. That’s the important criteria. Are they going to be excellent service members? And I don’t think anything but their suitability for service should preclude them.”

On Monday, The White House sounded a note of support. “The President agrees with the sentiment that all Americans who are qualified to serve should be able to serve,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said when he was asked about Carter’s response. “We here at the White House welcome the comments from the Secretary of Defense.”

To critics of the ban, the prominent backing is a sign that the military may finally be ready to scrap one of its last gender-based prohibitions. But experts caution that the likelihood of an actual policy shift remains uncertain.

“I’m hopeful that this means that the regulations will be brought into line,” says Joshua Block, an attorney with the ACLU’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender & AIDS Project. “But the ball is squarely in DOD’s court to move forward with this.”

Transgender people are prevented from serving under Pentagon and military medical regulations barring people who have had a sex change operation and/or have “gender identity disorders.” Advocates for transgender service say these policies, which date to the early 1960s, are out of touch with the current medical thinking. The latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic bible, replaced “gender identity disorder” with gender dysphoria, a recognition that transgender people do not suffer from a mental illness.

Indeed, though the army does not provide hormone therapy to transgender soldiers, it approved the treatment for Chelsea Manning, the former army private convicted of leaking national security secrets, after she sued the federal government for failing to provide the treatments.

There are no official statistics on the number of transgender people in the military. A 2014 report from the Palm Center, a research institute that aids sexual minorities in the military, estimated that there as many as 15,000 transgender troops currently serving.

As a practical matter, the transgender service policy would be relatively easy to change. It does not require an act of Congress or an executive order by the President, but could be changed by the Secretary of Defense. Experts said this process should follow a formal review soliciting military, medical and scientific expertise that could take a few months, and a requisite training period to follow.

Pentagon spokesman Nathan Christensen said “there is no specific review of the Department’s transgender policy ongoing.” But Christensen said officials did begin a routine review of the Department of Defense’s medical policy earlier this month that will cover 26 systems of the human body, which would include—but is not specific to—the policy on transgender service. The review is expected to take up to 18 months.

This is not the first time the Obama Administration has expressed openness to changing the policy. In May of 2014, Carter’s predecessor, former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, told ABC News that he was “open” to a change in the policy. To advocates of ending the ban, the lack of concrete action following Hagel’s remark is a reminder to keep their hopes in check.

“It’s significant that this is the very first time that Secretary Carter has spoken publicly on this issue, it’s significant that it was five days after he was sworn in, it’s significant that the question came from the field from an actively serving naval officer. It’s especially significant to have the White House chime in so enthusiastically,” says Allyson Robinson, a veteran and advocate for transgender service. “But I don’t have a lot of faith in the regular routine review process. We need a top-down intentional review of these particular regulations at the DOD and service level and the only way that happens is from an order from the Secretary of Defense.”

TIME White House

Obama Vetoes Keystone Pipeline, Only 3rd in Presidency

Keystone Pipeline
Andrew Cullen—Reuters A depot used to store pipes for Transcanada Corp's planned Keystone XL oil pipeline is seen in Gascoyne, N.D. on Nov. 14, 2014.

President Obama issued his first veto since 2010, striking down a law that would authorize the Keystone XL pipeline, a major symbolic battle between environmental activists and the oil industry.

“Through this bill, the United States Congress attempts to circumvent longstanding and proven processes for determining whether or not building and operating a cross-border pipeline serves the national interest,” Obama said in a statement.

The pipeline would help link up to 830,000 barrels a day from Alberta, Canada, to Gulf Coast oil refineries. Over the past six years, the project has become one of the highest-profile environmental debates in the country and could pose problems for some Democratic candidates in the 2016 presidential cycle.

But with low oil prices, the 1,179-mile pipeline will likely have less of an effect on both the environment and economy by lowering the chance that it will be completely utilized. The State Department reported last year that the pipeline would indirectly and directly support around 42,000 jobs over two years, but would only employ around 50 people once the pipeline was functional.

The new Republican-led Congress decried the veto before the ink was dry. In a USA Today op-ed, House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wrote that the Administration had blocked a job-creating project to heed the voices of special interests.

“The allure of appeasing environmental extremists may be too powerful for the president to ignore,” they wrote. “But the president is sadly mistaken if he thinks vetoing this bill will end this fight. Far from it. We are just getting started.”

“This shouldn’t be a difficult decision,” they added. “It shouldn’t be about politics, that’s for sure.”

Of course, the Keystone debate has drawn lobbyists on both sides of the aisle and a reason why Senate Republicans brought the bill up first was because it would pass and draw a favorable political contrast. Polls show that around 60% of Americans agree with the GOP’s position.

The Keystone veto was only the third in the Obama presidency.

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