TRNS News Notes is brought to you by Victoria Jones. Victoria Jones is the Chief White House correspondent and global analyst of the Washington DC based Talk Radio News Service, where her insight and analysis are made available to over 400 news talk radio stations around the country and internationally.

In the News

  • Absent in Paris: WH admits error
  • Mystery decision
  • Paris attacks: Latest
  • CentCom Twitter feed hacked! ISIS?
  • Obama’s big cyber push: Threat sharing
  • DHS funding fight
  • Keystone Senate debate: It’s a go
  • SCOTUS avoids gay marriage – again
  • Social Security disability cut – 20%?


Absent in Paris: WH Admits Error
• Wait, WH aides said Sunday, as they saw coverage come in of the anti-terrorism march in Paris –  Jordan’s King Abdullah is there? Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko? The leaders of the UK, Germany, Spain, Italy and other major allies – and even Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov? U.S. Amb Jane Hartley didn’t quite cut it (Politico, Hill, NYT, TRNS, me)

• WH aides were so caught off guard by the march’s massive size and attention that they hadn’t even asked President Obama if he wanted to go. So by Monday morning, the intensity of criticism was so fierce that the aides knew they had to apologize – something they don’t usually do

• Even if that meant leaving SecState John Kerry, who had been traveling in India and Pakistan and earlier Monday dismissed the criticism as “sort of quibbling,” looking out of step

• “We want to send a clear message, even in a symbolic context like this one, that the American people stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our allies in France. Sending a high-level, higher-profile official to that march would have done that,” WH spox John Earnest said Monday at the press briefing

• Republicans pounced. “The absence is symbolic of the lack of American leadership on the world stage, and it is dangerous,” wrote Sen Ted Cruz (R-TX) in an op-ed for Time, joining Rick Perry, Marco Rubio, Mike Huckabee and others who criticized – and yet didn’t go themselves, and had been strangely short on sympathy until the WH misstep

Mystery Decision
• Meanwhile, Israeli PM Netanyahu initially said he wouldn’t go, then changed course when several of his rivals in the upcoming Israeli elections said they’d go – and ended up getting rebuffed by French Jews for urging them to move to Israel and mocked by the Israeli press for angling his way to the front row of leaders in the photos

• Just who at the WH decided to skip the marches in Paris and a companion event in DC remains a mystery. And no rationale has been given. What the president was doing at the time instead on Sunday, Earnest wouldn’t say (football was on TV at a different time). Earnest insisted that security concerns were a factor

• Meanwhile, the Secret Service stepped up to give partial support to the WH. “Our logistic and security requirements had the potential to affect the planning and/or the event,” said a spox. However, the prospect of the president going was never seriously considered to the point of the Secret Service beginning security review process

• The French staunchly refused to criticize Obama’s absence. “It’s an intra-American controversy, it’s not a French one,” Geraud Araud, France’s ambassador to the U.S. told reporters. “From the French side, there is absolutely no hard feelings.”

• Cover of this week’s edition of Charlie Hebdo. It shows the Prophet Muhammad, with a sign above his head which says “all is forgiven.” He holds a sign saying “I am Charlie.” He is crying. The French paper Liberation originally tweeted the cover Monday night. Charlie Hebdo staff have been working out of Liberation offices since the massacre

Paris Attacks: Latest
• Investigators are looking into the possibility that one of the gunmen killed last week, Ahmed Coulibaly, was initially targeting a Jewish school south of Paris before he shot and killed a policewoman nearby. Authorities are also looking for anyone who may have assisted Coulibaly or brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi. They believe Coulibaly had financial support

• Reports today say that a Frenchman arrested in Bulgaria is suspected of links with the Paris attackers. Separately, President Hollande is leading a memorial service in Paris this morning for the victims of the attacks (WSJ, NYT, AFP, me)

• Meanwhile, Turkish officials released grainy, closed-circuit TV footage taken at Istanbul airport showing that Coulibaly’s girlfriend, Hayat Boumieddience, didn’t travel alone when she left France earlier this month. They identified a man as Mehdi Sabra Belhouchine. French prosecutors describe Boumeddiene as dangerous and trained to use firearms

• French interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve said 4,700 police officers and gendarmes will protect possible targets of anti-Semitic attacks. Up to 10,000 soldiers are also being deployed around France and are available to help secure Jewish schools and synagogues. The govt is also tightening security at mosques

• A first test of the political response to the attacks could come today when the National Assembly, the lower house of Parliament, is to vote on a renewal of the mandate for the airstrikes on Iraq. In the past, lawmakers have observed a longstanding tradition of avoiding dissent over such matters. Many analysts expect the legislature to extend the mandate
• President Obama told Israeli PM Netanyahu in a phone call Monday that the U.S. opposed the Palestinian Authority’s bid to join the International Criminal Court, the WH said. Obama also told Netanyahu that Washington wanted a comprehensive deal that would prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon
Centcom Twitter Feed Hacked! ISIS?
• Hackers claiming to be working on behalf of the Sunni militant group ISIS took over the Twitter feed and the YouTube account of the U.S. Central Command on Monday. “In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful, the CyberCaliphate continues its CyberJihad,” one Twitter post said (NYT, Reuters, TRNS, Hill, TRNS, me)

• “American soldiers, we are coming, watch your back,” said another. Other messages listed what they said were the names and phone numbers of American military personnel, while another said the “cybercaliphate” was “already here, we are in your PCs, in each military base.” The FBI is looking into the hack

• Many of the docs posted by the hackers appear to be public records, including transcripts of congressional testimony. Some docs, such as a summary of the costs of major Pentagon weapons systems, are readily available on the DoD’s website. By early afternoon, CentCom had taken down its Twitter account. It’s back up now

• Defense officials said in a statement that “operational military networks were not compromised and there was no operational impact.” CentCom said no classified info had been compromised and that it was notifying the Pentagon and law enforcement authorities so people “potentially affected” are notified quickly

• Several current and former U.S. security and intel officials said until now they had never heard of the CyberCaliphate. Some of the officials expressed skepticism at the group’s skills and abilities. “Hacking a Twitter account is about the equivalent of spray-painting a subway car,” a former senior U.S. intel official said (ouch)

Hacked Twitter page of Centcom (NYT)

Obama’s Big Cyber Push

• The CentCom Twitter hack Monday (awkwardly) happened shortly after President Obama unveiled three proposed new laws, announced ahead of the State of the Union address on 20 Jan, and in the aftermath of a year of high-profile hacks and data breaches which affected millions of Americans (Hill, NYT, CNET, me)

• Obama announced a new federal standard which would require companies to tell their customers within 30 days from the discovery of a data breach that their info had been compromised (way too long – when my info was stolen, they drained my bank account in less than a week)

• Obama also announced that he will resurrect the “Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights” which he announced during the last few months of his first term in office. The privacy bill, which Obama also asked Congress to codify into law, aims to give internet users the right to control what data is collected and how their data is shared


• A third proposed law, the Student Data Privacy Act, will prohibit tech companies from profiting from data collected on students in schools, amid an increasing drive to bring technology to the classroom. Today, Obama heads out to DHS to discuss efforts to increase cybersecurity info sharing between private sector firms and the govt

• The legislation will ask private corporations to share cyber threat info with DHS, which will then disseminate “in as near real time as possible” it to other pertinent federal depts, as well as collaborative groups run by the private sector designed to help identify and fix security holes

• In exchange, corporations that participate will get not only assistance in responding to cyber attacks, but broad legal immunity from users who could sue over the disclosure of their private info. This mirrors the CISPA Act, which has languished on the Hill over privacy concerns  – the WH says the new bill would fix them
• This morning, President Obama hosts the bipartisan, bicameral leadership of Congress to discuss a wide range of issues, including places where he hopes they can work together to grow the economy and protect national security. Veep will attend. (Should be a humdinger – Obama has now issued 5 veto threats in one week)
DHS Funding Fight
• As part of their proposal to fund the Dept of Homeland Security beyond February, House GOP leaders are pushing provisions to block President Obama’s recent executive order, which would halt deportations and allow work permits for as many as five million people living in the country illegally. The proposal threatens to shutter DHS (Hill me)

• Although the program would be funded by user fees, not congressional appropriations, the Republicans’ bill would prohibit the DHS from employing those fees to put the changes in place. The GOP bill would also roll back Obama’s 2012 deferred action program, which allows high-achieving illegal immigrants brought to the country as children to stay and work

• “It is clear Republicans’ partisan recklessness knows no limits,” Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said in a statement. “House Republicans are threatening a partial govt shutdown, choosing a time of rising terrorism to imperil the security of our entire country to satisfy the most radical anti-immigrant fringes of their party.” The bill is likely to be voted on Wed

• Republicans are threatening to “muck around” with crucial funding for DHS, WH spox Josh Earnest said Monday. He argued that “right now seems like a particularly bad time for them to do so. There’s probably a lot of reasons to think that what Republicans are planning on the DHS funding bill is a bad idea.” The WH issued a formal veto threat Monday

• “We want to send a bill to the president that defunds his amnesty program, but also very importantly funds the Dept of Homeland Security … It’s a very dangerous time. I would wonder whether or not the president would have real deep misgivings about not signing a bill funding DHS,” said Hal Rogers (R-KY), House Appropriations Committee chair, on Friday (threat?)

• DHS is stepping up security at federal buildings and at airports in the wake of terror attacks in France. The TSA is increasing random searches of luggage and passengers at airports (Hill)

Keystone Senate Debate: It’s a Go
• The Senate voted Monday to take up a bill that would force approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, opening a debate on energy and climate change that will preview other clashes to come between President Obama and the new Republican Congress. There will be a torrent of politically sensitive energy amendments

• The bill’s initial fate appears certain: Republicans, with the help of some Democrats, are expected to easily push it through Congress, and Obama is expected to veto it – then it gets interesting – are there enough votes to override? The procedural vote to start debate passed 63-32 (NYT, AP, Politico, Hill, Roll Call, me)

• Sen Brian Schatz (D-HI) made the case for the opposition. He said that if constructed, the pipeline would carry “some of the dirtiest, most dangerous and most polluting oil in the world.” He called the project “anti-clear water, anti-clear air, anti-public health.”

• A climate amendment, backed by Sen Bernie Sanders (I-VT), is designed to pin down senators’ views about the connection between humans’ greenhouse gas emissions and global warming, while Sen Ted Cruz (R-TX) is pushing a measure to end the four-decade-old ban on exporting U.S. oil, an effort that’s opposed by a majority of voters

• “I know senators from both sides are hungry for a real Senate debate,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). “We’ll have an open floor debate on jobs, the middle class, infrastructure and energy.” (fun, fun, fun)

• Banker Anthony Weiss has asked President Obama not to resubmit his name as undersecretary for domestic policy at Treasury. It’s a victory for Sen Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who maintained his background as a banker meant that he was too close to Wall Street. He’ll take a position as adviser to treasury sec Jack Lew – no confirmation required (Hill, AP, me)

SCOTUS Avoids Gay Marriage – Again

• The Supreme Court on Monday held off, again, any announcement that it will be hearing a case or cases challenging bans on same-sex couples’ marriages this year (Buzzfeed, AP, TRNS, me)

• SCOTUS did deny Louisiana same-sex couples’ request to skip the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals and hear their case directly, but the justices took no action on the four other marriage cases in which same-sex couples are seeking Supreme Court review

• The four other cases – from Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee – came out of this past fall’s decision from the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold the four states’ bans. The 6th Circuit has, thus far, been the only federal appeals court to find such bans to be constitutional

• The dismissal of the Louisiana petition – seeking “certiorari before judgment” – of the appeals court – wasn’t surprising given that such requests to skip over the appeals court are rarely granted

• The four cases are expected to be re-listed for the justices’ next conference, which will be on Friday. The court could announce any cases it has decided to take from that conference as soon as that afternoon. Separately on Monday, a judge ruled South Dakota’s same-sex marriage ban to be unconstitutional, but stayed the ruling pending appeal

Social Security Disability Cut – 20%?
• Democrats are pressing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to repudiate a rules change by House Republicans that could cut Social Security disability payments by 20%. They warned that nearly 11 million Americans could see their benefits cut if Congress doesn’t take action in the next two years (Hill, me)

• House Republicans last week included language in their new rules for the 114th Congress making it more difficult to allocate payroll tax revenues to replenish the Social Security Disability Trust Fund, which is due to run out of money in 2016

• “House Republicans acted according to their extreme ideology and put these benefits at risk by adopting a legislative rule change that creates a point of order against simple bipartisan technical corrections,” they wrote. They noted that Congress has reallocated taxes between Social Security retirement and trust funds 11 times in the past – four times under Pres Reagan

• Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Democratic Policy Committee Chairman Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Finance Committee ranking Democrat Ron Wyden (OR) signed the letter. Other signatories included Democratic Sens Patty Murray (WA), Debbie Stabenow (MI) and Sherrod Brown (OH) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT)

• Pic: Tiffany has a new ad campaign for engagement rings – and it features a gay couple for the first time (Fashionista)

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Victoria Jones – Editor

TRNS’ Nicholas Salazar and James Cullum contributed to this report


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