TIME 2016 Election

Democrats Caught Up In Controversial Indiana Religious Freedom Law

Mike Pence
Michael Conroy—AP Indiana Gov. Mike Pence announces that the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services has approved the state's waiver request for the plan his administration calls HIP 2.0, during a speech in Indianapolis.

Obama, Clinton have backed similar religious freedom bills.

Indiana’s new religious freedom law, which has prompted calls for a state boycott because it might permit discrimination against gays and lesbians, was made law by a Republican governor and Republican legislature. But the controversy could also ensnare leading Democrats like President Barack Obama, Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, who previously supported bills with similar effects years ago.

“The Religious Freedom Restoration Act was signed into federal law by President Bill Clinton more than 20 years ago,” said Indiana Gov. Mike Pence on ABC’s This Week, defending his state’s actions by pointing to similar federal legislation. “Indiana properly brought the same version that then state senator Barack Obama voted for in Illinois before our legislature.”

The Indiana law prohibits the state from enacting statues that “substantially burden” a person’s ability to follow his or her religious beliefs. Critics argue it could be used to allow businesses to discriminate against gay and lesbian Americans in the state, prompting criticism from executives at companies like Apple, Salesforce.com and the NCAA, which will host the men’s Final Four basketball tournament in Indianapolis next weekend.

Democrats, including Hillary Clinton and aides to President Obama have also criticized the law. “Sad this new Indiana law can happen in America today. We shouldn’t discriminate against ppl bc of who they love,” Clinton tweeted over the weekend.

But the Indiana law was modeled on the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) introduced by then-Rep. Chuck Schumer, who is now a senior Democratic Senator from New York, and signed into law in 1993 by then-President Bill Clinton. The bill passed the U.S. Senate by a vote on 97 to 3 in 1993. “The power of God is such that even in the legislative process, miracles can happen,” President Clinton joked at the time of the bipartisan consensus.

Unlike the federal law which is focused on restricting government action to protect religious freedom, the Indiana version has a broader scope, potentially giving new rights to claim religious beliefs for private parties, like wedding cake vendors, who do not want to serve gay couples.

As an Illinois State Senator in 1998, Obama also voted in favor of a version of the new Indiana law. Years after that law passed, Illinois passed an explicit ban on discrimination based on sexual orientation, making clear that the law could not be used to deny service between private parties. That provision is not on the books in Indiana.

Despite weighing in on other controversial legislation in states, including this month’s passage of an anti-union bill in Wisconsin, Obama has not commented on the Indiana law, leaving his aides to critique it.

“Look, if you have to go back two decades to try to justify something you are doing today, it may raise some questions about the wisdom of what you’re doing,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Sunday on ABC’s This Week. Obama ducked a question on the Indiana law Saturday from reporters before departing on a two-day golf vacation to Florida.

The 1993 federal RFRA formed the underpinning of last year’s Hobby Lobby decision at the Supreme Court which allowed some employers claiming religious objections to avoid providing contraceptive coverage to their employees as required by the Affordable Care Act.

In a contentious interview with NPR’s Terry Gross last year, Hillary Clinton repeatedly called same-sex marriage a state issue when explaining her decision to reverse her opposition to such unions after leaving the State Department. She has yet to weigh in on whether she believes same-sex marriage should be protected at the federal level, even as the Supreme Court is set to hear cases that would do just that in the coming months.

Asked by Gross if her views on gay rights had changed since the 1990s, Clinton said, “I think I’m an American, I think that we have all evolved, and it’s been one of the fastest, most sweeping transformations that I’m aware of.”

David Axelrod, a former top political aide to Obama, wrote in his book published last month that Obama believed in same-sex marriage before he ran for the White House, but hit that position for political reasons.

TIME White House

Pope Francis Will Visit the White House

Pope Francis arrives under heavy rain, for his weekly general audience in St Peter's square at the Vatican on March 25, 2015.
Gabriel Bouys—AFP/Getty Images Pope Francis arrives under heavy rain, for his weekly general audience in St Peter's square at the Vatican on March 25, 2015.

Will discuss immigration with President Obama, among other things

Pope Francis will meet with President Obama during his trip to the United States later this year, the White House announced Thursday.

The Pope will visit the White House on September 23, according to a statement from White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, where Obama and Pope Francis will speak about “caring for the marginalized and the poor; advancing economic opportunity for all; serving as good stewards of the environment; protecting religious minorities and promoting religious freedom around the world; and welcoming and integrating immigrants and refugees into our communities.”

The two leaders met last year when Obama visited the Vatican in March 2014. The upcoming visit in September is part of a larger trip for Pope Francis; during his first visit to the United States as Pope, he will also be addressing Congress and speaking at the U.N. The trip is set to take place from September 22-27.

Read next: Why Pope Francis Is Obsessed With Mary

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Health Care

Obama on the Affordable Care Act’s Fifth Anniversary: ‘It’s Working’

White House Student Film Festival
Martin H. Simon—Pool/Corbis President Barack Obama hosts the second-annual White House Student Film Festival in the East Room of the White House, in Washington on March 20, 2015.

He challenged Republican critics who are campaigning on repealing the law.

President Obama had a simple message on the fifth anniversary of the Affordable Care Act: It’s working.

Speaking in the Executive Office Building next to the White House, Obama argued that his signature health care law was “working better than many of us — including me — anticipated” at increasing health insurance rates and improving the quality of care.

“The bottom line is this for the American people: this law is saving money for families and for businesses,” he said. “This law is also saving lives, lives that touch all of us. It’s working despite countless attempts to repeal, undermine, defund and defame this law.”

In particular, Obama highlighted a government report that showed that fewer mistakes in hospitals saved the lives of 50,000 people between 2011 and 2013, which the White House partly attributed to initiatives to reduce accidental overdoses, bedsores and patient falls.

The remarks came just two days after Texas Sen. Ted Cruz promised to repeal “every word of Obamacare” in a speech launching his presidential campaign, the first Republican to join the 2016 race.

Obama took the opportunity to take a few shots at Republican critics of the law, joking that “death panels, doom, [and] a serious alternative from Republicans in Congress” have all failed to materialize and challenging candidates campaigning for repeal to explain how “kicking millions of families off their insurance” will strengthen the country.

“Making sure that the Affordable Care Act works as intended to not only deliver access to care but to improve the quality of care and the cost of care, thats something that requires us all to work together,” he said.

TIME Rand Paul

Why Rand Paul is Attacking Ted Cruz

US-VOTE-REPUBLICANS
Paul J. Richards—AFP/Getty Images US Senator Ted Cruz( R-TX) smiles at the crowd while delivering remarks announcing his candidacy for the Republican nomination to run for US president March 23, 2015, inside the full Vine Center at Liberty University, in Lynchburg, Va.

Rand Paul has his sights set on Ted Cruz.

As his Lone Star colleague, Sen. Ted Cruz, announced his candidacy Monday, Paul took to Twitter, asking his following to retweet a two part message: “Stand with … Rand.” His supporters at Virginia’s Liberty University got it, trolling the cameras in red shirts with Paul’s mantra.

Several hours later, Paul went on Fox News’ The Kelly File, which aired an hour before Cruz appeared on Sean Hannity’s show. Paul attacked Cruz for being unable to spread his message past his speech’s largely favorable Christian audience, which, as Paul noted at least twice, were composed of students “required” to attend.

“Ted Cruz is a conservative, but it also goes to winnability,” said Paul, noting that he’s traveled to liberal redoubts like Berkeley, Calif., and spoken at historically black colleges. “I’ve spent the last couple years going places Republicans haven’t gone and maybe not just throwing out red meat but actually throwing out something intellectually enticing to people who haven’t been listening to our message before.”

“That’s the way you win general elections,” he added.

Paul’s double-barreled Internet and TV attacks came before he officially enters the race — he has scheduled a major announcement on April 7 followed by a tour of the early primary states. But they show his primary problem: he is largely competing for the same slices of conservative voters with Cruz even as he tries to expand the traditional Republican electorate.

“I didn’t find much I disagreed with,” said Paul of Cruz’s speech on Fox. “We kind of come from the same wing of the party and if you look at our voting records you’ll find that we’re very, very similar.”

The two conservative senators approach politics through different ideological frames: Paul’s a libertarian who wants a bigger tent in the GOP; Cruz is a conservative who wants to turn out more of the base. “Today, roughly half of born again Christians aren’t voting,” he said in his campaign announcement. “They’re staying home. Imagine instead millions of people of faith all across America coming out to the polls and voting our values.”

Read More: Full Text of Sen. Ted Cruz’s Campaign Launch


But in the Senate, their different paths have often led to the same destination. Both wish to “abolish the IRS,” rein in the National Security Agency, remove the chain of command in military sexual assault cases, pass a flat tax, see states scale back Common Core education standards, reform mandatory minimum sentencing, secure the borders before any type of immigration reform, repeal Obamacare and oppose aid to Syrian rebels. In 2013, several months after Cruz supported Paul’s filibuster over U.S. drone policy, Paul supported Cruz’s 21 plus hours of an anti-Obamacare tirade.

The main differences between the two are stylistic. Paul is running a freewheeling campaign, trying to appeal to constituencies Cruz isn’t addressing, while bucking the GOP leadership on foreign policy issues like normalizing relations with Cuba. But Paul has worked the Senate chamber much better, lining up support from fellow Kentuckian Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, while Cruz has failed to do the same from his Texas colleague, Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn. Both of those members of the leadership team are still incensed with Cruz’s strategy protesting the implementation of Obamacare in 2013 that led to a government shutdown, which briefly battered the party’s image.

The fight between the Tea Party senators extends from the same voters to the same staff. A few top operatives in Cruz’s backyard have jumped to Paul, including Texas GOP Chairman Steve Munisteri and Cruz’s digital strategist, Vince Harris, who orchestrated the nifty little trick of popping up Rand PAC ads every time you searched “Ted Cruz” on Google Monday.

But just Tuesday the New York Times reported that Cruz has recruited three Iowa leaders from Paul’s libertarian base. The polls for the next presidential election don’t close for another 595 days, but the early jockeying between the two colleagues has already begun.

TIME Foreign Policy

Obama Slows Troop Drawdown in Afghanistan

President Obama said the U.S. will keep about 10,000 troops in Afghanistan this year, as that country’s leaders had asked he slow the process of removing troops by 2017.

“This flexibility reflects a reinvigoration in our partnership with Afghanistan,” Obama said at a joint press conference with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani Tuesday.

Obama had previously said he wanted to draw down the remaining 9,800 troops to about half that number by the end of the year, with the goal of having between 1,000 and 1,500 in the country when he leaves office in 2017.

Ghani and Afghan Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah have spent the past two days in Washington meeting with high-level officials and expressing gratitude for the American government’s assistance as he seeks to assert control in the country. The Afghan leaders’ trip to the U.S. have marked a bit of a new way forward between the two countries. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter on Monday referred to the relationship as “revitalized.”

Ghani said the flexibility will allow the country to accelerate reforms to ensure its security forces are better trained and focused on their fundamental mission and to ensure that they “honor human rights.”

“Tragedy brought us together, interests now unite us,” Ghani said at the press conference.

Obama noted that slowing the drawdown means more Americans will remain in Afghanistan who would have come home, but he stressed that the overall goal of returning most troops by 2017 hasn’t changed.

“Providing this additional timeframe,” he said, “… is well worth it.”

TIME White House

White House Official Pushes Netanyahu to ‘Match Words with Action’

White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough told a group of liberal, pro-Israel supporters the solution was fundamental to U.S. foreign policy

A top White House official doubled down on criticism of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a speech to an American Jewish organization Monday.

Appearing before the annual conference for J Street, a pro-Israel liberal advocacy group, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said that Netanyahu’s new coalition needs to “match words with action” on the Israeli policy toward Palestine.

“An occupation that has lasted for almost 50 years must end, and the Palestinian people must have the right to live in and govern themselves in their own sovereign state,” he said.

On the eve of an election last week, Netanyahu had said that he would not allow a Palestinian state if he was re-elected, though he walked back the comments in an interview on MSNBC after he won.

In his remarks, McDonough argued that a two-state solution would benefit Israel too, allowing it to remain “both Jewish and democratic.”

“I know that you are here because you care deeply about the cause of peace,” he told the crowd. “And your voices are important too – you can help remind people that there is a great constituency for peace; that there are people who believe, as President Obama does, that peace is necessary, peace is just, and – yes – peace is possible.”

TIME White House

Obama Says America’s ‘Open for Business’ at Summit

U.S. President Obama waves after speaking at the SelectUSA Investment Summit
Joshua Roberts—Reuters President Barack Obama waves after speaking at the SelectUSA Investment Summit at National Harbor, Md on March 23, 2015.

President Obama was self-assured during a quick sales pitch to foreign business leaders Monday, saying he was confident that he could work with Congress to iron out trade deals and a budget plan.

“The things that help businesses grow are not partisan,” Obama said in his remarks.

Still, he and a key Cabinet member warned Republicans against blocking the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank, which helps foreign companies that need credit buy U.S. goods.

Obama faces partisan difficulties on both sides as he pushes ahead with the business-friendly agenda. A conservative group backed by the Koch Brothers launched a new effort Monday to block the Ex-Im Bank, arguing that it represents “cronyism and corporate welfare.”

The administration is also going head-to-head with members of the Democratic Party and typical supporters like labor unions as it irons out the plan that would free up trade between the U.S. and about a dozen countries in the Asia-Pacific region and Latin America.

Some of the most outspoken critics are Democratic Rep. Rosa DeLauro and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, who oppose the administration’s goal of moving the trade legislation through Congress quickly because they worry it will threaten jobs and standards on food and product safety.

In an interview ahead of the President’s speech, Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker said it would be “terrible” if the Ex-Im Bank were to expire and argued the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal is critical to the U.S. remaining competitive with Asia’s growing middle class.

“Today there are 550 million people in the middle class in Asia,” she said. “That number will be 2.7 billion in 15 years. The ability for our companies to be able to sell into the fastest-growing middle class market in the world is really critical.”

Vinai Thummalapally, the executive director of SelectUSA, told reporters that foreign investors are generally confident that the debate over the Ex-Im bank will die down eventually.

“In spite of the debate, it rarely comes up there’s this confidence that things will settle down, based on things that happened in the past.” for the most part, he added, “they’re amused, they shake their heads.”

TIME White House

Obama Rubs Elbows With Some Inventive Girl Scouts

President Obama Hosts White House Science Fair
Aude Guerrucci—Pool/Getty Images U.S. President Barack Obama (R) shakes hands with a group of six-year-old Girls Scouts from Tulsa Oklahoma who designed a battery powered page turner to help people who are paralyzed or have arthritis at the 2015 White House Science Fair in Washington on March 23, 2015.

The 6-year-old inventors were attending the 2015 White House Science Fair

President Obama spent some quality time with a group of six-year-old Girl Scouts from Tulsa, Oklahoma on Monday as part of the 2015 White House Science Fair.

The Girl Scouts—also known by the nickname “Supergirls”—attended the science fair after designing a battery-powered page turner meant to help people who are paralyzed or suffer from movement-related diseases like arthritis. They used Legos as the building blocks for the development of their prototype.

The White House Science Fair features projects from innovative students around the United States. This year’s fair is focusing on girls and women who are doing extraordinary things in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

TIME 2016 Election

Ted Cruz Becomes First Major Candidate to Jump Into 2016 Race

In this March 10, 2015, photo, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, appears in Washington
Pablo Martinez Monsivais—AP Senator Ted Cruz appears in Washington on March 10, 2015

"I am running for President and I hope to earn your support," Cruz announced on Twitter

(WASHINGTON) — Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz has become the first major candidate for president, kicking off what’s expected to be a rush over the next few weeks of more than a dozen White House hopefuls into the 2016 campaign.

“I am running for president and I hope to earn your support,” the tea party favorite said in a Twitter message posted just after midnight on Monday.

Cruz will formally launch his bid during a morning speech at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, choosing to begin his campaign at the Christian college founded by the Rev. Jerry Falwell rather than his home state of Texas or the early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire. It’s a fitting setting for Cruz, a 44-year-old tea party darling whose entry into the 2016 campaign drew cheers Sunday among fellow conservatives.

Amy Kremer, the former head of the Tea Party Express, said that the Republican pool of candidates “will take a quantum leap forward” with Cruz’s announcement, adding that it “will excite the base in a way we haven’t seen in years.”

Elected for the first time just three years ago, when he defeated an establishment figure in Texas politics with decades of experience in office, Cruz has hinted openly for more than a year that he wants to move down Pennsylvania Avenue from the Senate and into the White House.

In an online video promoted on his Twitter account, Cruz offered a preview of his campaign’s message.

“It’s a time for truth, a time to rise to the challenge, just as Americans have always done. I believe in America and her people, and I believe we can stand up and restore our promise,” Cruz said as images of farm fields, city skylines and American landmarks and symbols played in the background. “It’s going to take a new generation of courageous conservatives to help make America great again, and I’m ready to stand with you to lead the fight.”

While Cruz is the first Republican to declare his candidacy, he is all but certain to be followed by several big names in the GOP, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and two Senate colleagues, Kentucky’s Rand Paul and Florida’s Marco Rubio.

The Houston Chronicle first reported details about Cruz’s campaign launch. His move puts him into pole position among those whose strategy to win the nomination counts on courting the party’s most conservative voters, who hold an outsized influence in the Republican nominating process.

“Cruz is going to make it tough for all of the candidates who are fighting to emerge as the champion of the anti-establishment wing of the party,” said GOP strategist Kevin Madden. “That is starting to look like quite a scrum where lots of candidates will be throwing some sharp elbows.”

Following his election to the Senate in 2012, the former Texas solicitor general quickly established himself as an uncompromising conservative willing to take on Democrats and Republicans alike. He won praise from tea party activists in 2013 for leading the GOP’s push to partially shut the federal government during an unsuccessful bid to block money for President Barack Obama’s health care law.

In December, Cruz defied party leaders to force a vote on opposing Obama’s executive actions on immigration. The strategy failed, and led several of his Republican colleagues to call Cruz out. “You should have an end goal in sight if you’re going to do these types of things and I don’t see an end goal other than irritating a lot of people,” said Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch.

Such admonitions mean little to Cruz, who wins over crowds of like-minded conservative voters with his broadsides against Obama, Congress and the federal government. One of the nation’s top college debaters while a student at Princeton University, Cruz continues to be a leading voice for the health law’s repeal, and promises to abolish the Internal Revenue Service and scrap the Department of Education if elected president.

Last weekend in New Hampshire, one voter gave Cruz a blank check and told him to write it for whatever amount he needed.

“He’s awfully good at making promises that he knows the GOP can’t keep and pushing for unachievable goals, but he seems very popular with right wing,” said veteran Republican strategist John Feehery. “Cruz is a lot smarter than the typical darling of the right, and that makes him more dangerous to guys like Scott Walker and Rand Paul.”

The son of an American mother and Cuban-born father, Cruz would be the nation’s first Hispanic president. While in New Hampshire this month, Cruz told voters his daughter, Caroline, had given him permission to join the presidential race in the hopes that the family puppy would get to play on the White House lawn instead of near their Houston high-rise condo.

“If you win, that means Snowflake will finally get a backyard to pee in,” Cruz said his daughter told him.

To get there, Cruz knows he needs to reach out beyond his base. He is set to release a book this summer that he said would reflect themes of his White House campaign, and said in a recent Associated Press interview he will use it to counter the “caricatures” of the right as “stupid,” ”evil” or “crazy.”

“The image created in the mainstream media does not comply with the facts,” he said.

TIME White House

Obama Takes Netanyahu ‘At His Word’ on Palestinian State

US-POLITICS-OBAMA
Brendan Smialowski—AFP/Getty Images President Barack Obama speaks at the City Club of Cleveland March 18, 2015 in Cleveland.

Yet another sign of the strained relations between the two leaders

(WASHINGTON) — President Barack Obama said he takes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “at his word” for saying that an independent Palestinian state will never co-exist with Israel as long as he is in office, yet another sign of the strained relations between longtime allies.

Netanyahu has backpedaled since he stunned the U.S. and the international community by announcing that dramatic policy reversal on the eve of his re-election Tuesday. But in his first public comments on the election outcome, Obama suggested that he does not believe the Israeli leader’s softer position on the Palestinian state issue.

“We take him at his word when he said that it wouldn’t happen during his prime ministership, and so that’s why we’ve got to evaluate what other options are available to make sure that we don’t see a chaotic situation in the region,” Obama told The Huffington Post in an interview released Saturday.

Obama, who placed a congratulatory telephone call to Netanyahu on Thursday, said he indicated to the prime minister that the U.S. remains committed to a two-state solution as the only way to keep Israel secure.

“And I indicated to him that given his statements prior to the election, it is going to be hard to find a path where people are seriously believing that negotiations are possible,” Obama said.

Tensions between the Obama administration and Netanyahu escalated as the March 17 Israeli elections neared. The White House was particularly annoyed when Netanyahu accepted an invitation from Republican House Speaker John Boehner to address lawmakers earlier this month. Boehner had not consulted the administration before extending the invitation, which an infuriated White House said was a break from standard practice. Netanyahu sharply criticized a deal being negotiated among the U.S., Iran and other world powers over Iran’s nuclear program.

Obama said U.S.-Israeli military and security cooperation would remain unchanged, regardless of disagreements on policy.

“But we are going to continue to insist that, from our point of view, the status quo is unsustainable,” he said. “And that while taking into complete account Israel’s security, we can’t just in perpetuity maintain the status quo, expand settlements. That’s not a recipe for stability in the region.”

Obama also criticized Netanyahu for saying as the election neared that Arab voters were heading to the polls “in droves.” Obama’s spokesman Josh Earnest previously denounced the rhetoric as a “cynical Election Day tactic” and a “pretty transparent effort to marginalize Arab Israeli votes.”

“We indicated that that kind of rhetoric was contrary to what is the best of Israel’s traditions,” Obama said, adding that Israeli democracy is premised on everyone being treated equally and fairly. “If that is lost, then I think that not only does it give ammunition to folks who don’t believe in a Jewish state, but it also, I think, starts to erode the name of democracy in the country.”

White House chief of staff Denis McDonough is scheduled on Monday to address J Street, an Israeli advocacy group that opposes Netanyahu.

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