12-2-15 News Notes

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.

News Now

  • House GOP leaders move to avoid shutdown fight
  • GOP leaders stumped – by Trump
  • Climate summit: Now the work begins
  • Deal: $305 billion highway bill
  • Police killing of Tamir Rice: Grand jury begins
  • US: New “targeting force” for Syria and Iraq
  • Obama tells Russia & Turkey: End row
 

House GOP Leaders Move to Avoid Shutdown Fight (Hill, Hill, me)
• House GOP leaders are moving to avoid a big year-end spending showdown with Democrats by introducing a bill aimed at overhauling the visa waiver program in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks. It may also be included in the omnibus spending bill Congress must pass by 11 Dec to avert a govt shutdown, senior GOP lawmakers and aides said
 
• GOP leaders are coalescing around the bill because it’s expected to have broad backing from both Republicans and Democrats and is seen as something that could win President Obama’s signature. The WH on Monday had rolled out several unilateral changes to the visa waiver program to better identify individuals who seek to harm the U.S.
 
• The House package would lean heavily on recommendations from a recent Homeland Security Committee task force report focused on travel by terrorists and foreign fighters, such as requiring each country participating in the visa wavier program to issue “e-passports” with chips and biometrics and to report and monitor lost or stolen passports
 
• After the ISIS-linked Paris attacks, House Republicans had initially pushed legislation strengthening the screening process for refugees fleeing violence in Syria and Iraq. But Obama has threatened a veto, and top Democratic leaders are warning that it’s one of the poison pill provisions that would threaten a govt shutdown (GOPers nervous of blame for shutdown)
 

• Meanwhile, Sens Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz) on Tuesday introduced legislation that would add new security measures to tourists coming into the U.S. through the visa waiver program, which allows roughly 20 million tourists a year from 38 countries to enter the U.S. without a visa. A bipartisan group of 13 senators signed on as co-sponsors

 

GOP Leaders Stumped By Trump (NYT, me)
• Many leading Republican officials, strategists and donors are getting panicked that a Donald Trump nomination would lead to an electoral wipeout that could undo some of the gains Republicans have made in recent congressional, state and local elections. Almost everyone in upper GOP ranks agrees something must be done, and almost no one is willing to do it
 
• Trump is viewed unfavorably by 64% of women and 74% of nonwhite voters – November ABC News/WaPo poll. Pat Brady, former state GOP chairman in Illinois, where Sen Mark Kirk is locked in a difficult campaign, was direct. “If he’s our nominee, the repercussions of that in this state would be devastating,” he said. But there’s still been no tough anti-Trump ad campaign
 
• Hedge-fund billionaire Paul Singer and and the Koch brothers billionaires have each had preliminary conversations about beginning an anti-Trump campaign, according to strategists involved. But Trump has already mocked Singer and the Kochs, and officials linked to them said they were reluctant to incur more ferocious counterattacks (biggest bully on block)

 

• Filmmaker Spike Lee hammered Trump in a wide-ranging interview with the Daily Beast: “He wants to close down the mosques now. That’s like the Nazis. That’s Hitler,
[Italian fascist leader Benito] Mussolini, the Axis powers. You can’t do that.” (Daily Beast, me) (Lee doesn’t care if Trump attacks him – good for him)
 
• So far, only the super PAC supporting the presidential bid of Gov John Kasich (R-Ohio) has attacked Trump, but partly to gain attention and raise money. The Club for Growth, a conservative group, ran a short-lived and unsuccessful ad campaign against Trump in Iowa earlier this fall
 
• Slowly, some members of the party’s establishment are reckoning with the idea of a Trump ticket. The National Republican Senatorial Committee has cautioned its incumbents in blunt terms not to let themselves be linked to him (they’re majorly panicked)
 
• And some Republicans repelled by Trump feel little urgency to attack him because, they say, he’s preventing what they see as an even less desirable standard bearer – Sen Ted Cruz (R-Texas) – from consolidating the votes of hard-line conservatives. “He’s keeping Cruz where he is,” said Scott Reed, a veteran GOP strategist (Cruz is seen as a ghastly option)

 

Climate Summit: Now the Work Begins (Reuters, AP, TRNS, me)
• With encouragement from 150 world leaders ringing in their ears, govt negotiators from 195 countries in Paris on Tuesday resumed work on a draft text of a global deal to slow climate change. It became apparent that disagreements which have blocked a deal over four years of lead-up talks remain unresolved
 
• The biggest obstacle is money: how to come up with the billions of dollars developing nations need to shift from fossil fuels and adapt to the impacts of climate change. At Tuesday’s technical talks, countries restated their well-known negotiating positions on the question – with few hints of compromise
 
• China’s delegate Su Wei “noted with concern” what he called a lack of commitment by the rich to make deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions and help developing nations with new finance to tackle global warming. And the the group of 48 least developed countries urged far tougher action to limit rising temperatures
 
• The mood had been brightened by major spending commitments, including a plan by India and France to mobilize $1 trillion for solar power for some of the world’s poorest people and a private sector initiative led by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates to mobilize billions of dollars for new energy research and development
 
• But in the U.S., Republicans have signaled they’ll oppose authorizing the billions of dollars that President Obama has pledged to help developing nations adapt to climate change. In response, Obama told reporters Tuesday, “Everybody else is taking climate change really seriously. People should be confident that we’ll meet our commitments on this.” (really? ya think?)
 
• Hours after President Obama pushed for an international agreement to combat climate change, the GOP-led House voted to block that effort. The House passed a pair of resolutions, largely along party lines, that would prevent the EPA from implementing rules the admin released earlier this year to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Already passed Senate. Now goes to WH – veto (CNN)
 
 

Deal: $305 Billion Highway Bill (WSJ, Hill, Hill, me)
• Lawmakers in the House and Senate reached a deal Tuesday on a compromise highway bill that would extend federal transportation funding for five years as Congress scrambles to prevent a lapse in highway funding 4 Dec. The bill will be known as the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act (this is actually huge – a deal, and this deal)
 
• It calls for spending approx. $205 billion on highways and $48 on transit projects over the next five years. It would also renew the Export-Import Bank and set traffic safety priorities. It provides money for buses and ferries. For the first time, it sets up a grant program guaranteeing funds for large freight projects (Ex-Imp Bank is huge – right wing heads exploded)
 
• Lawmakers scrambled to finish so that both chambers would have time to examine the deal before Friday. The Transportation Dept had warned that it would have to stop making payments to state and local govts by then if Congress didn’t agree on at least another temporary extension
 
• The bill, if approved by both chambers, would result in the first transportation funding legislation to last longer than two years since 2005. The bill relies largely on revenue from reducing interest rates paid by the Federal Reserve to large banks, selling oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and increasing fees for customs processing
 
• Sen Tom Carper (D-Del) criticized the bill because it doesn’t raise gas taxes to help pay for transportation projects. Carper has introduced legislation to nearly double the gas tax. He said the bill was paid for by “budget gimmicks and poaching revenues from unrelated programs for years to come”

 

• Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan will give away 99% of their Facebook shares, or about $45 billion, to “advance human potential and promote equality,” the Facebook CEO announced Tuesday in a letter addressed to their newborn daughter, Max. Max gurgled (Politico, me)
 
Police Killing of Tamir Rice: Grand Jury Begins (CNN, Guardian, Cleveland.com, me)
• A grand jury has begun evaluating evidence to decide whether criminal charges should be filed against two white officers in the fatal police shooting of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old black boy carrying a pellet gun outside a recreation center, when someone called 911 saying that somebody had a gun
 
• Footage recorded by a surveillance camera showed then-rookie patrol officer Timothy Loehmann shooting Tamir within two seconds of a patrol car skidding to a stop just feet from the boy. Questions remain about whether Loehmann told Tamir to raise his hands before shooting him (whether he even had time to do so – or whether Tamir would have had time to raise them)
 
• In a signed statement released Tuesday, Loehmann says he saw a suspect “pick up an object and stick it down in his waistband” as the cop arrived outside a Cleveland rec center with his partner on 22 Nov 2014. He says he yelled “show me your hands” three times as loudly as he could. He says he thought the suspect “appears to be over 18 years old and about 185 pounds” and was pulling out a real gun

• A week after the release of a shocking video that shows a white police officer shooting black teenager Laquan McDonald 16 times, killing him, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has fired police superintendent Garry McCarthy, created a task force for police accountability and expanded the use of body cameras (AP)

 

• “I saw the weapon in his hands coming out of his waistband and the threat to my partner and myself was real and active,” Loehmann wrote in the statement, dated Monday (he’s had a year to think up some good stuff – he never mentions Tamir by name in statement – insult. And why wasn’t he patrolling with his seeing eye dog if he thought Tamir was 185 pounds?)
 
• After both officers’ statements were released by the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office Tuesday, the Rice family said, in a statement released through their lawyer, that prosecutors gave the officers special treatment by allowing them to submit their statements to the grand jury rather than testifying (good point – why in writing? maybe because no credibility speaking?)
 
• Tamir’s family has called for a special prosecutor to take over the case, alleging that prosecutor Tim McGinty has shown himself to be biased in favor of police. Loehmann had a “dismal handgun performance” during his brief tenure with the Independence PD in Ohio. “He could not follow simple directions, nor communicate clear thoughts nor recollections.” – let go…

 

• Rep Trent Franks (R-Ariz), a leading House abortion opponent, said to The Hill, astonishingly: “What this person [Planned Parenthood shooter] did was evil, and it should remind us all of the common denominator that Planned Parenthood has with individuals like this who have no respect for innocent human life.” (dunno where to even start with that) (Hill, me)
 
US: New “Targeting Force” for Iraq and Syria (Reuters, Hill, TRNS, me)
• SecDef Ash Carter told the House Armed Services Committee Tuesday that the U.S. was deploying an elite new force of special operations troops to Iraq to conduct raids, free hostages, capture ISIS leaders and carry out “unilateral operations” in neighboring Syria. He said the deployment was being carried out in coordination with the govt of Iraq
 
• Carter said the new expeditionary group is separate from a previously announced deployment of up to 50 U.S. special ops troops in Syria to coordinate on the ground with U.S.-backed rebels fighting in a civil war raging since 2011. Carter said the new force will be larger, but didn’t specify how may troops it will include (mission creep creep creep…)
 
• President Obama is under pressure to accelerate a U.S.-led coalition’s efforts to combat ISIS, in particular after the Paris attacks that killed 130 people. Obama has been reluctant to commit large numbers of American ground troops (are these troops on the ground? or floating a few inches above it so they don’t count?)
 
• Marine Gen Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the committee the new elite force would greatly accelerate the collection of intel, which “will make our operations much more effective.”
 
• Dunford told the committee that “we have not contained” ISIS. He said ISIS has been “tactically” contained in areas they have been since 2010 but added, “Strategically they have spread since 2010.” (hmm – tactics vs strategy – like rock, paper, scissors? – strategy wins)

 

• WaPo reports today that it’s widely believed among Iraqis that the U.S. is supporting ISIS for a variety of pernicious reasons that have to do with asserting U.S. control over Iraq, the wider Middle East and, perhaps, its oil. Partly because they’re so in awe of U.S. military might they can’t believe the U.S. would take a minimalist approach to ISIS – being stoked by Iran’s allies in Iraq (WaPo)
 
Obama Tells Russia & Turkey: End Row (BBC, Reuters, me)
• President Obama on Tuesday urged Turkey and Russia to reduce tensions, a week after Turkish jets shot down a Russian warplane – it’s disputed as to whether it was inside Turkish airspace. Turkey: yes; Russia: no. After talks with Turkey’s President Erdogan in Paris, Obama reaffirmed U.S. support for “Turkey’s right to defend itself and its airspace.”
 
• “We all have a common enemy,” Obama said, referring to ISIS. “I just want to make sure that we focus on that threat.” SecDef Ash Carter later said in DC that Turkey had to do more to combat ISIS, saying it hadn’t effectively controlled its borders to stop the movement of ISIS fighters
 
• Erdogan told reporters after the Paris meeting that his govt wanted to reduce tensions and was “determined to keep up the fight” against ISIS. Erdogan renewed his criticism of Russian air strikes against Turkmen rebels in northwestern Syria, complaining that the area is being “continuously bombed.”
 
• Obama said he expected Russia would eventually be convinced of the need for Syria’s Bashar Assad to leave power. He cautioned he wasn’t expecting “a 180-degree turn” in Russian strategy in the coming weeks but that “a shift in calculations” may occur over the next few months
 
• Russia has imposed sanctions on Turkey over the downing of the plane. Monday, Russian President Putin – also in Paris – accused the Turkish govt of attacking its jet to protect the illegal oil trade with ISIS. Some of ISIS’s oil is sold to Assad and some is smuggled through middlemen in Turkey. Erdogan reiterated his denial that his govt was involved in the trade
 
 

• Flying any time soon? Don’t watch this British Airways A320 try to land at Manchester Airport in super strong winds. Starts getting hairy about 1 minute in. Goes really wobbly after that…

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___________________
Victoria Jones – Editor

TRNS’ Justin Duckham and Loree Lewis contributed to this report

 

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