TIME White House

President Obama Confuses James Franco, Joe Flacco in Speech

U.S. President Barack Obama during a news conference at the White House in Washington, D.C. on Dec. 19, 2014.
U.S. President Barack Obama during a news conference at the White House in Washington, D.C. on Dec. 19, 2014. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

The confusion creates a parody Twitter account @JamesFlacco

President Obama addressed the nation Friday regarding Sony’s decision to cancel the release of The Interview following repeated cyber-attacks on the studio, but when he spoke about the film’s stars he accidentally conflated James Franco and Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco into “James Flacco.”

Only moments after the slip up occurred someone had already snatched up the Twitter handle James Flacco and started a parody account.

The slip of the tongue was so talked about that even the Ravens quarterback got in on the fun, tweeting a quick correction to the President, and reaching out to Franco.

This article originally appeared on SI.com

TIME Media

Sony Chief Says ‘We Have Not Caved’ on The Interview

"We have not given up," Michael Lynton said after his studio cancelled the movie under pressure

Sony Pictures Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton defended his company’s decision to cancel the release of The Interview on Friday, even as the company refused to rule out releasing the movie in other ways.

Lynton said Sony’s decision was prompted by movie theaters opting not to show the film after hackers, who U.S. officials believe are linked to North Korea and who have wreaked havoc on the studio by disclosing emails and other company information, threatened 9/11-style attacks. Moments earlier, President Barack Obama had called the move to cancel the Christmas Day release a “mistake.”

“The unfortunate part is in this instance the President, the press, and the public are mistaken as to what actually happened,” Lynton said on CNN. “When it came to the crucial moment… the movie theaters came to us one by one over the course of a very short period of time. We were completely surprised by it.”

Read more: You can’t see The Interview, but TIME’s film critic did

Sony said in a statement later Friday that its decision was only about the Christmas Day release.

“After that decision, we immediately began actively surveying alternatives to enable us to release the movie on a different platform,” the studio said. “It is still our hope that anyone who wants to see this movie will get the opportunity to do so.”

Obama told reporters he wished Sony had reached out to him before canceling the film’s Christmas day release. It depicts a fictional assassination attempt against North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

“We cannot have a society where some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship here in the United States,” he said. “Imagine if producers and distributors and others start engaging in self-censorship because they don’t want to offend the sensibilities of someone who’s sensibilities probably need to be offended.”

Lynton denied the studio had given into the hackers’ threats.

“We have not caved. We have not given up,” he said. “We have always had every desire to have the American public see this movie.”

Read next: Obama Says Sony “Made a Mistake” Pulling ‘The Interview’

TIME White House

Barack Obama Holds First Ever All-Women Press Conference

President Barack Obama speaks during his speech to members of the media during his last news conference of the year in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House on Dec. 19, 2014 in Washington.
President Barack Obama speaks during his speech to members of the media during his last news conference of the year in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House on Dec. 19, 2014 in Washington. Alex Wong—Getty Images

The President made a statement without his actions

President Barack Obama’s traditional end-of-year press conference Friday was historic for reasons that had nothing to do with the substance of the president’s comments. All eight of the reporters who questioned Obama were women—and nearly all were print reporters—an apparent first for a formal White House news conference, a venue traditionally dominated by male television correspondents.

“The fact is, there are many women from a variety of news organizations who day-in and day-out do the hard work of covering the President of the United States,” said White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, after the event. “As the questioner list started to come together, we realized that we had a unique opportunity to highlight that fact at the President’s closely watched, end of the year news conference.”

The departure was noticed throughout the room, as Obama passed over male reporters in the front row and called on their female colleagues. “This seems unprecedented for a solo White House press conference,” said Towson University Presidency Scholar Martha Joynt Kumar, who tracks interactions between the president and the press corps, noting she does not recall a similar occasion in any previous administration. “It certainly is for Obama.”

The list of those called on:

  • Carrie Budoff Brown, Politico
  • Cheryl Bolen, Bloomberg BNA
  • Julie Pace, Associated Press
  • Lesley Clark, McClatchy
  • Roberta Rampton, Reuters
  • Colleen M. Nelson, Wall Street Journal
  • Juliet Eilperin, Washington Post
  • April Ryan, American Urban Radio

Before the George H.W. Bush White House, it would have been hard to find eight women to ask questions of the president, as there weren’t that many on the beat. Kumar noted that 10 women out of 21 reporters in the first three rows of the briefing room were women, the latest indication that the White House press corps is growing more diverse.

The White House informed the television networks they were unlikely to get questions at the new conference because each had asked the president questions at least twice since the midterm elections.

“It’s amazing for that to happen as that room is filled with a majority men,” said Ryan, who shouted out a question to the president and was acknowledged over questions shouted by male reporters. “I’ve been in one other historic press conference and got a question in the East Room and he called on a number of black reporters and it was amazing to be there. it was saying that maybe this room and this building is trying to reflect society and reflect America.”

In that press conference, on Sept 10, 2010, Obama called on four black reporters out of 12 questioners.

TIME White House

Obama Looks to the ‘4th Quarter’ of His Presidency

“Interesting things happen in the fourth quarter,” Obama said

At the end of a grim year that saw his approval ratings sink, his party pummeled in elections and his legislative agenda stymied by opponents, President Barack Obama made an impassioned argument Friday that the nation has emerged stronger than ever from economic upheaval and an unending sequence of foreign crises.

It was a rare glimpse of vintage Obama, the upbeat change-agent from his campaign days, who has all but vanished after six tough years of turmoil. In his ceremonial year-end news conference, Obama was buoyant, bantering with the press corps, mocking North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for the rogue nation’s response to a Seth Rogen movie, and rattling off statistics about the positive steps his administration has taken. And he served notice that as he approaches the final lap of his presidency, he isn’t finished putting his stamp on the nation.

“Interesting things happen in the fourth quarter,” the sports-loving president said with a grin.

Read more: Obama says Sony ‘made a mistake’ in pulling The Interview

Obama’s remarks came after a six-week stretch in which he sidestepped Congress to issue a series of major executive actions and foreign policy pronouncements, including a unilateral overhaul of U.S. immigration law in November and this week’s announcement that the U.S. will begin to normalize relations with Cuba after a half-century of conflict.

“This is still a repressive regime,” Obama said of the Cuban leaders, “but I know deep in my bones that if you’ve done the same thing for 50 years and nothing has changed, you should try something different.” Recounting his historic phone conversation this week with Cuban President Raul Castro, Obama joked that he apologized to Castro for his windy preamble, only to have his Cuban counterpart go on for twice as long.

Obama acknowledged that dismantling the Cuba trade embargo would require the cooperation of Congress, both chambers of which will be controlled by Republicans come January. “I think there are real opportunities to get things done in Congress,” he said. “The question is going to be are we able to separate out those areas where we disagree and those areas where we agree.”

One key area of disagreement is the Keystone XL pipeline, which Republicans are set to move forward with early next year. Asked Friday whether he would approve the project, which has been touted by Republicans as a job-creator and strongly opposed by environmental groups, Obama sounded less inclined than ever. “It’s not even going to be a nominal benefit to U.S. consumers,” the President said.

But Obama made a case that in a year dotted with setbacks and marked by ongoing Congressional dysfunction, the U.S. government had largely succeeded in rising to the challenge. Ebola has been wiped from U.S. shores and is receding in much of West Africa. The tide of unaccompanied minors arriving on the southern border has swept back out. The U.S. campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) saw the first signs of success. The economy is steadily improving, even if many have yet to feel the benefits of a brightening job market.

“I guess that’s my general theme for the end of the year. We’ve gone through difficult times,” Obama said. “But through persistent effort and faith in the American people, things get better.”

“Part of what I hope, as we reflect on the new year, this should generate is some confidence,” Obama said. “America knows how to solve problems. And when we work together, we can’t be stopped.

“And now I’m going to go on vacation,” the President added, eyeing an exit for his annual trip to Hawaii. “Mele Kalikimaka, everybody. Mahalo.”

TIME White House

Obama Says Sony ‘Made a Mistake’ Pulling The Interview

"That’s not who we are," Obama said

President Barack Obama said Friday that Sony “made a mistake” in pulling its film The Interview from distribution following a cyberattack that American officials have linked to North Korea.

Speaking to reporters at the White House, Obama confirmed the FBI’s assessment that North Korea was behind the attack. He said he wished the studio had reached out to him before canceling the film’s release, and that he fears it sets a bad precedent for the nation.

“We cannot have a society where some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship here in the United States,” Obama said. “Imagine if producers and distributors and others start engaging in self-censorship because they don’t want to offend the sensibilities of someone who’s sensibilities probably need to be offended.”

“That’s not who we are,” Obama added, noting that the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing did not deter runners from running this year. “That’s not what America’s about.”

Sony Pictures Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton, appearing on CNN shortly after Obama spoke, defended the studio. “We have not caved,” he said. “We have not given up. We have persevered and we have not backed down. We have always had every desire to have the American public see this movie.”

Obama promised that the United States would respond “proportionally” to the attack, but would not detail those actions publicly.

“We will respond,” he said. We will respond proportionally, and we will respond at a place and time that we choose.”

Read more: The 7 most outrageous things we learned from the Sony hack

TIME White House

Watch Live: President Obama’s Year-End News Conference

President Barack Obama is addressing reporters at the White House on Friday afternoon, amid the FBI’s announcement that it’s determined North Korea is behind the massive Sony hack and Obama’s move to normalize relations with Cuba.

Watch the news conference live above.

TIME Economy

Just How Much Does the Economy Affect the Outcome of Presidential Elections?

Obama
Barack Obama speaks during a rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Jan. 2, 2008. Mauricio Rubio—Getty Images

It’s time for the media to stop pretending that candidates’ personalities, rhetoric and strategies are what really count

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.

In a fascinating paper, Princeton economists Alan S. Blinder (formerly Vice Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board) and Mark W. Watson point to the significance of economic factors in presidential contests (see pages 14-16, especially). Their synopsis of elections since the end of the Second World War reveals that presidential candidates operated with distinct advantages or disadvantages, depending on whether their party or their opponent’s party recently governed in a period of prosperity or economic hardship. In many instances the state of the economy appeared to make as much or more of an impact on the presidential race than the candidates’ personal attributes, campaign strategies, or debating skills.

It is intriguing to expand upon the insights of Blinder and Watson and consider the potential influence of economic conditions on the 2016 presidential race. The state of the economy could play a major role in the outcome. But long-term wage stagnation could make that factor less significant in 2016. The disruptive character of stagnant wages was evident in the 2014 congressional elections. Even though the U.S. economy had improved substantially in recent years, Democrats lost decidedly in many sections of the nation. Democrats’ failed to excite voter support, partly because average American workers had seen little or no personal economic improvement in the years of the Obama presidency and Democratic influence in Washington. If this situation does not change in the next few years, the condition of the overall economy in 2016 may not influence the voters’ decisions as much as it has in the past.

Drawing upon insights presented by Blinder and Watson, it is evident that economic factors often affected voters’ judgments in presidential elections up until recent times.

For instance, historians often cite Harry S. Truman’s fighting spirit and the Republicans’ flawed strategies when identifying causes of the Democratic president’s surprise victory in 1948. Yet Truman’s campaign was buoyed by early signs in 1948 of an impressive post-war economic boom. Real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) had dropped precipitously in 1946 (a development that made pundits think Truman would lose in 1948), but a substantial economic recovery was underway by the time of the November, 1948 elections.

Richard Nixon ran for president in 1960. He lost, not only because he ran against a handsome, charismatic, and eloquent Democrat named John F. Kennedy. A third recession of the Eisenhower era, stretching from 1960 to 1961 undermined Nixon’s campaign. JFK excited voters with a promise to “get America moving again.”

Lyndon Baines Johnson won easily against Republican Barry Goldwater in 1964. Goldwater’s image as an extremist hurt his campaign, but economic conditions also made the Arizona Senator’s efforts difficult. The Kennedy/Johnson tax cut of 1964 quickly stimulated business expansion. Voters were in an optimistic mood when they went to the polls in 1964. Four years later, Richard Nixon benefited from the Johnson Administration’s economic troubles. Worries about inflation related to huge U.S. military commitments in Vietnam cut into voters’ support for the Democratic candidate, Hubert Humphrey. Federal efforts to deal with the emerging economic problems through fiscal and monetary policies aided Nixon, who won a race that turned close in the final days.

The economy first helped and then hurt Democrat Jimmy Carter. Shifts in energy prices made a big impact on Carter’s fortunes. Republican President Gerald Ford campaigned under a cloud in 1976. “Stagflation,” a combination of economic recession and price inflation, created difficulties for the GOP’s candidate, as did Ford’s pardon of Richard Nixon. Jimmy Carter secured a victory. Four years later, Carter’s efforts to remain in the White House failed. Jimmy Carter stumbled as a leader, and economic conditions exacerbated his difficulties. Oil prices surged in 1979 and inflation turned worse. The chairman of the Federal Reserve, Paul Volker, tried to tame inflation with tight monetary policies. Business and employment slowed considerably during the months that Carter campaigned for re-election.

In 1980 Ronald Reagan excited voters with promises to revive the economy. Reagans’ popularity slipped during his first two years in office, in large part because of a deep recession. By late 1982, however, Paul Volker’s monetary squeeze appeared to be working. Inflation declined. Additionally, global production of petroleum had expanded and prices dropped substantially. In 1984 Reagan won reelection in a landslide. Perhaps the Republican president’s ebullient personality would have carried him to victory under less promising conditions, but Reagan surely benefited from the favorable economic winds at his back.

Following the Persian Gulf War, President George H. W. Bush received a 90% approval rating and seemed well-positioned to win a second term in 1992. Then a troubling recession in 1990-1991 undermined his popularity. George H. W.’s Bush’s disapproval rating hit 64%. Bill Clinton projected an effervescent personality in the 1992 campaign, but that was not his only advantage over Bush and an independent candidate, Ross Perot. The voters’ unhappiness with the economy figured prominently. Clinton strategist James Carville famously identified the main issue: “It’s the economy, stupid.” Two years after the 1992 victory, Bill Clinton’s presidency was deeply troubled. Republicans crushed Democrats in the congressional races of 1994, and the GOP appeared to have enough clout in Washington to block Clinton’s initiatives. Republicans hoped to make Clinton a one-term president. In 1996, however, the U.S. economy looked much stronger than it had a few years before. Voter optimism helped Clinton to dispatch his competitors, Republican Bob Dole and independent Ross Perot.

Unfortunately for the Democrats, their candidate in 2000 chose to keep his distance from Bill Clinton. Al Gore, Vice President during the previous eight years, refused to exploit the Clinton connection to the fullest during his presidential campaign. Gore feared that voters would view an association with Clinton negatively because of the president’s scandalous relationship with a young intern. Al Gore made a strategic mistake. The U.S. economy had been on a sustained climb though most of Bill Clinton’s eight years. Gore failed to take adequate credit for Clinton-era prosperity. He won the popular vote but lost the election after the Supreme Court intervened in the Florida vote count.

Barack Obama benefited from economic conditions during both of his presidential campaigns. With the collapse of Lehman Brothers investment bank in September 2008, the U.S. and global economies began to crash. Many voters associated Republicans with the financial crisis. They backed the newcomer, Barack Obama over Senator John McCain, who displayed little understanding of economics during the campaign. In 2012 Republican Mitt Romney claimed that he, a successful businessman, knew better than President Obama about creating jobs and fostering prosperity. Romney’s message failed to resonate. There were many reasons for Romney’s defeat, but one of the most important was his inability to gain traction on economic issues. Mitt Romney could not effectively characterize Barack Obama’s administration as incompetent in business affairs. Stock markets had climbed steeply since their lows in early 2009, and the unemployment rate had declined substantially by election time.

Since the U.S. economy has been on an upward tear from the first months of Barack Obama’s presidency, Hillary Clinton or some other Democratic presidential candidate should have a distinct advantage in 2016. The Democrats’ future also looks promising because of the sudden drop in energy prices. A slowdown in global demand for oil, declining production costs related to fracking, and a glut of oil in global markets have rapidly cut the cost of a barrel of crude oil from about $100 to less than $70. Price drops work like a large tax cut or a welcome pay raise. In coming months and, perhaps, years, Americans will need less money to purchase gas for their car or heat their home. Consumer products may be cheaper, since they will be manufactured and transported at reduced cost. By the time of the 2016 elections, the benefits of reduced expenditures for energy may be more evident to voters than they were at the time of the 2014 congressional elections. Optimistic voters may reward the Democratic presidential candidate.

Democrats cannot, however, be certain that the U.S. economy will be dynamic in November, 2016. There are some troubling signs on the horizon. Global business has been slowing, especially in Europe. The U.S. economy has been growing more impressively, but Wall Street analysts warn that the lengthy stock market boom cannot last forever. Values have been climbing since early 2009. A serious market “correction” might arrive at a bad time for Democrats – weeks or months before the 2016 election.

Also, despite vigorous business expansion in recent years, most working Americans are not realizing true economic improvement. Employment opportunities have expanded, but many of the new jobs are part-time. They do not pay good wages, and they offer few benefits. In contrast, individuals with technical skills and advanced degrees often command strong earnings. Income inequality has become a glaring issue.

In recent decades individuals and families at the top have realized extraordinary gains, while the rest of the U.S. population saw disappointing returns. The Congressional Budget Office found that between 1979 and 2007 the top 1% of households realized 275% growth of inflation-adjusted income. In contrast, the bottom 20% of Americans saw growth in those 28 years of just 18%. Another study by the Economic Policy Institute revealed that between 1983 and 2010 approximately three-quarters of all new wealth went to the richest 5% of households, while the bottom 60% of households actually turned poorer over that period. Data from the Labor Department reveal that income for the middle 60% of the U.S. population has stagnated since 2007.

The angst of working Americans was evident in the 2014 congressional elections. Despite improvements in equity markets and corporate earnings, voters felt a pinch. Republicans cast President Obama as the culprit in their campaign rhetoric. They claimed his flawed leadership left millions of Americans struggling to earn a decent living.

President Barack Obama and Democratic senators have been dominant in Washington in the years of a remarkable economic turnaround, yet they failed to convince voters that their policies helped in significant ways to foster a recovery. A post-2014 election headline in the New York Times indicated, “Democrats Say Economic Message Was Lacking.” The Times reported thatDemocrats could not project the kind of broad vision in 2014 that inspires voter turnout. Larry LaRocco, a former Democratic congressman from Idaho, identified the challenge Democrats face as they look ahead: “What do we stand for?” he asked. In 2016 Democrats will need to convince voters that they do, indeed, have an effective plan for economic growth.

The Democrats’ efforts to persuade voters that the Obama presidency has produced results may become easier if recent employment statistics augur a trend. The Labor Department reported that employers added 321,000 jobs in November and, even more significant, the hourly earnings of ordinary workers jumped sharply. If future reports continue to show wage gains, the Democratic candidate will benefit from favorable economic winds. If the November gains prove a fluke and wage stagnation persists, Republicans may be able to capitalize on voter discontent in 2016, much as they did in 2014.

Whatever the situation, economic conditions will likely affect the outcome– as it usually does in presidential contests. Yet when writing and speaking about the campaign, many pundits will overlook this important factor. They will focus on the candidates’ personalities, rhetoric and strategies rather than evidence from history that suggests the state of the economy often has a major impact on the voters’ decision.

Robert Brent Toplin taught at Denison University and the University of North Carolina, Wilmington. Since retirement from full-time teaching, he has taught some courses at the University of Virginia. Toplin has published several books and articles about history, politics, and film.

TIME justice

Obama’s Judicial Legacy May Have Been Settled This Week

Bossy Sotomayor
Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor makes on opening statement during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, July 13, 2009. Tom Williams--CQ-Roll Call/Getty Images

A historically diverse group of judges

The 113th Congress may have passed the least number of bills in recorded history, but it did push through a heck of a lot of judges, helping secure a major part of President Obama’s judicial legacy.

After a whirlwind series of late and even midnight sessions these past few weeks, the Senate confirmed a total of 132 district and circuit judges, the most by any Congress in 35 years. Overall, they helped make the 305 Obama-nominated judges the most diverse group ever.

“What Obama has done within terms of his judicial legacy is what no other president has ever done before and it’s doubtful that any future president is going to match it,” says Sheldon Goldman, a professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. “Obama has diversified the bench in terms of gender, ethnicity, nationality to an extent never, ever, ever done before.”

In fact, as a recent political science study notes, Obama is “on track to be the first president in U.S. history to have a majority of his judicial nominees be either women or persons of color,” which is especially significant in comparison to the Reagan era, when 85% of appointed judges were white men.

Outside of the diversity, Obama’s judicial legacy is much harder to parse. According to Houston University political scientist Robert A. Carp, who co-wrote the aforementioned study, Obama’s district court judges are deciding cases in a “moderately liberal” or mainstream Democrat way, with the possible exception of labor and economic regulation cases. By comparison, his study says that President George W. Bush’s judges were among the most conservative appointed since 1932. And while having more Democratic-appointed judges helps the chances of liberal causes in the courts, it’s not a slam dunk, court watchers warn.

“It’s a bit of a crapshoot to try to say for sure what the makeup of any panel is going to be,” says Russell Wheeler, a Brookings Institute judicial expert, of the D.C. Circuit Court. “Just getting a Democratic appointee is not a for-sure indicator of how the judge is going to rule. It’s about the best predictor we have but it’s not very good.”

The way in which Obama got some of his judges could also backfire on Democrats down the road. Last year, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and his colleagues chose to change the rules, lowering the required number of votes from 60 to 51 to push through all judicial nominations with the exception of those for the Supreme Court. If the new Senate Republican majority holds and a Republican is elected in 2016, Goldman expects the GOP to change those rules for the high court too.

“That will mean that there will be no filibustering and they’ll need a simple majority and they’ll be able to get all the Robert Borks in the world that they want to put on the bench,” says Goldman, referring to the contentious Reagan nomination that was rejected by 58 senators in 1987.

“They could say ‘well here’s payback for what you did back in 2013, Democrats,’” adds Wheeler, who thinks a “nuclear option” for Supreme Court nominees is a possibility.

And in the remaining two years of Obama’s rule, Senate Republicans look to enjoy increased leverage to get the judges they want and slowing down anything Obama does. Typically home-state senators have significant input into which judges get appointed; Jennifer Prescod May-Parker, who Obama picked in June 2013 to fill a federal court seat in North Carolina—the country’s longest-running judicial vacancy in the federal district courts at the time, according to a local newspaper—has been blocked by the state’s Republican senator, Richard Burr. But Obama will have to find some way to compromise with the new Senate Republican majority: the past three two-term presidents—Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush—confirmed around a fifth of their appellate nominees in their final two years, according to Wheeler.

“To the degree that history is a guide, the confirmation process surely shouldn’t stop, but I suspect it’s going to slow down,” says Wheeler. “You’re not going to see the same pace of confirmations as 2014—I can assure you of that.”

TIME White House

White House Fence Must Be Raised ‘Immediately,’ Report Says

White House Security Secret Service
The White House is seen behind a fence on Oct. 3, 2014 in Washington. Mandel Ngan—AFP/Getty Images

An independent review into the practices of the U.S. Secret Service following several high-profile security breaches this year faults the agency for failing to maintain high training and accountability standards.

The executive summary of the classified report details recommendations for the beleaguered agency, which allowed a mentally disturbed man armed with a knife to enter the Executive Mansion, but also notes broad shortcomings to its readiness and training capabilities. On a practical level, it called for raising the fence surrounding the White House immediately following the security breach.

“We recognize all of the competing considerations that may go into questions regarding the fence, but believe that protection of the President and the White House must be the higher priority,” the report states. “As the Executive Branch, Congress, and the Service itself have all recognized, the fence must be addressed immediately.”

The report suggests that raising the fence at least “four or five feet would be materially helpful,” adding that it should be redesigned to eliminate horizontal bars and to potentially curve outward at the top to deter would-be fence-climbers and to give officers more time to respond to a would-be threat. The fence should be replaced around the entire 18-acre complex, not just along Pennsylvania Avenue, where most of the incidents have occurred, the report states.

Prepared by two former Justice Department officials and two former White House aides at the request of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, the report faults the department for failing to maintain adequate training standards. The Presidential Protective Division’s so-called “fourth shift,” which is supposed to allow the specialized agents charged with protecting the president to spend two weeks of every eight in training, has “diminished far below acceptable levels,” along with training for the agency’s Uniformed Division, which protects the White House complex. According to the report, apart from basic firearms and career training, the average agent received just 42 hours of training in fiscal year 2013, while the average uniformed division officer received under 25 minutes of training in the entire year.

“The panel’s recommendations are astute, thorough and fair,” Johnson said in a statement, saying Acting Director Joe Clancy has already implemented some of the recommendations.

The report details staffing shortfalls at the White House, where agents and officers have been assigned long duty tours and extended overtime shifts. “Rather than invest in systems to manage the organization more effectively and accurately predict its needs, the Service simply adds more overtime for existing personnel,” the report states, saying the two divisions are “stretched beyond their limits.” “Rather than sending its agents and officers to training, it keeps them at their posts.”

The panel calls on Congress and the Executive Branch to free up money to immediately hire 85 special agents and 200 Uniformed Division officers to allow for more time to be devoted to training, with a further review to determine whether any more are needed.

The report calls on the next director to come from outside the Secret Service, a shift that it says is needed to inject new leadership to address a culture of unaccountability. “The next director of the Secret Service should be a strong leader from outside the agency who has a protective, law enforcement, or military background and who can drive cultural change in the organization and move the Secret Service forward into a new era: The need to change, reinvigorate, and question long-held assumptions-from within the agency itself-is too critical now for the next director to be an insider,” the report states.

The new director must “must build a new budget from the ground up by defining its mission, determining what it will take to achieve it, and asking for that,” rather than working off what it believes it can get through the budget process. The panel says new steps must be taken to ensure that agency leadership and managers are open to suggestions and criticism of department practices by agents and officers in the field, and to ensure that the Secret Services’ disciplinary processes are followed and enforced in a fair and consistent fashion.

TIME Cuba

White House Open to Raul Castro Visit

President Barack Obama shakes hands with Cuban President Raul Castro during the official memorial service for former South African President Nelson Mandela at FNB Stadium, Dec. 10, 2013 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
President Barack Obama shakes hands with Cuban President Raul Castro during the official memorial service for former South African President Nelson Mandela at FNB Stadium, Dec. 10, 2013 in Johannesburg, South Africa. Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images

President Barack Obama is not ruling out meeting Cuban President Raul Castro at the White House, as his administration works to restore ties to the communist country.

A day after the president announced the beginning of efforts to normalize relations with Cuba for the first time in more than 50 years, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Obama would be willing to host the Cuban leader, comparing it to visits from leaders from other countries with checkered human rights records.

“The president has had the leaders of both Burma and China to the United States, and for that reason, I wouldn’t rule out a visit from President Castro,” Earnest said Thursday.

The two leaders spoke on the phone for nearly an hour on Tuesday evening reviewing the agreement to release American subcontractor Alan Gross and to take steps scale back the longstanding American embargo and travel ban. The two met briefly in South Africa last year at a memorial for Nelson Mandela.

In an interview with ABC News Wednesday, Obama wouldn’t rule a trip himself to Cuba. “I don’t have any current plans, but let’s see how things evolve,” he told David Muir. In a statement Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry said he was planning to visit Cuba. “I look forward to being the first Secretary of State in 60 years to visit Cuba,” he said.

 

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