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.

Courtroom erupts after judge sentences prominent Egyptian activist to 5 years in prison after retrial for breaking protest law (AP, BBC)

In the News

  • DHS funding: GOP plots new strategy
  • Giuliani: Man obsessed
  • Giuliani defends in WSJ op-ed
  • Pols rise and fall in reax
  • New SecDef gathers top brass for ISIS talks
  • Did Pentagon over-share battle plans?
  • Johnson defends Obama admin
  • Terror threat to Mall of America
  • Obama welcomes governors to WH
  • Dems ask: “What’s a Democrat?”
  • Iran talks: “Significant gaps”
  • Birdman wins best at bland Oscars


DHS Funding: GOP Plots New Strategy

• Senate Republican leaders are considering a plan in which they would split off legislation attacking President Obama’s executive action on immigration from funding for Homeland Security. They’re also looking at dropping any effort to overturn Obama’s 2012 action which set up the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program – quite popular with voters (Hill, WSJ, TRNS, me)

• It remains unclear whether conservative Republicans would go along with splitting the immigration issue from DHS funding. Congress returns from a week-long President’s Day recess today

• In the meantime, the Senate is scheduled to vote today for a fourth time on a House-passed DHS funding bill that would reverse Obama’s 2014 and 2012 executive orders. However, Senate Democrats filibustered the last three attempts to bring the bill to the floor for debate without suffering a single defection and are unified in demanding a “clean” bill without riders

• The WH announced Friday that the Obama admin will seek to block a Texas judge’s order barring Obama from moving forward with executive actions to grant quasi-legal status and work permits to millions of illegal immigrants. Many legal experts believe the admin faces an uphill battle, in large part because the injunction effectively freezes the status quo

• Dept of Homeland Security Sec Jeh Johnson did the round of Sunday shows. Dept funding runs out on Friday. If the dept shuts down, Johnson said, 30,000 workers would be furloughed “including headquarters personnel who I count on daily to stay one step ahead of groups like ISIL.”


Giuliani: Man Obsessed
• Rudy Giuliani’s friends and political associates say he has become a man obsessed – horrified at what he views as a listless WH approach to terrorism and instability in the Middle East, and eager to say so. Last week, he caused an uproar after he said at a fundraiser that “I do not believe that the president loves America.”

• No more than an hour or two before Giuliani appeared at an event last week ostensibly spotlighting Gov Scott Walker (R-WI), he vented his frustration at President Obama at another fund-raising event in Manhattan. There, Giuliani took particular issue with Obama’s recent comments likening Islamic extremist terrorism to the religious warfare of the medieval Crusades

• Giuliani’s doubled and tripled down since then. Saturday, in an interview with NYP, Giuliani said Obama has had “communist” influences since an early age. “He was educated by people who were critics of the U.S.. And he has not been able to overcome those influences.”

• Friday, WH spox Josh Earnest said, “I can tell you that it’s sad when somebody who has attained a certain level of public stature and even admiration tarnishes that legacy so thoroughly.” “And the truth is I don’t take any joy or vindication or satisfaction from that. I think, really, the only thing that I feel is I feel sorry for Rudy Giuliani today.”

“We keep our eyes fixed on that distant horizon knowing that providence is with us and that we are surely blessed to be citizens of the greatest nation on earth,” – President Obama, 6 September 2012 / WaPo fact checker on Giuliani’s false claims about Obama’s speeches

Giuliani WSJ Op-Ed

• Rudy Giuliani used a WSJ op-ed published Sunday night to try to explain his controversial remarks: “I do not believe that president loves America. He does not love you. He does not love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country.”

• “My blunt remarks suggesting that the president doesn’t love America notwithstanding, I didn’t intend to question President Obama’s motives or the content of his heart.” (it wasn’t a suggestion. It was a statement of Giuliani’s belief about the content of President Obama’s heart)

• “My intended focus really was the effect his words and his actions have on the morale of the country, and how that effect may damage his performance.” (Giuliani continues to misstake what Obama has said, parsing the president’s words and cherry-picking from his speeches)


Pols Rise and Fall in Reax

• Gov Scott Walker (R-WI) said Saturday, “You should ask the president what he thinks about America. I’ve never asked him so I don’t know.” Later, asked by WaPo whether President Obama is a Christian, Walker, a likely 2016er, said, “I don’t know. I’ve never actually talked about it or I haven’t read about that.” “I’ve never asked him that,” he added (oh boy) (WaPo, Hill, Politico, me)

• Walker had already drawn fire for not condemning Giuliani’s comments earlier in the week. Later Saturday, Walker spox Jocelyn Webster called WaPo to clarify. “Of course the governor thinks the president is a Christian. He thinks these kinds of gotcha questions distract from what he’s doing as governor of Wisconsin.” (he didn’t seem to know his own mind)

• Sen Rand Paul (R-KY) said to WAVE in KY, “I think it’s a mistake to question people’s motives … I don’t question his motives. And I try not to question the president’s motives as being a good American or a bad American.”

• Former Gov Jeb Bush (R-FL) said last week he “doesn’t question President Obama’s motives” and Sen Marco Rubio (R-FL) implied he found Giuliani’s assertion “embarrassing.”

• Former Gov George Pataki (R-NY) said on Sunday, “I don’t doubt that the president loves America.” And Former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said, “I, for one, disagree with my friend and Rudy is a friend. It’s not about love of country. It’s about leadership.”

“I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being. But what makes us exceptional is not our ability to flout international norms and the rule of law; it is our willingness to affirm them through our actions.” President Obama – 28 May 2014


New SecDef Gathers Top Brass for ISIS Talks

• New SecDef Ash Carter is meeting with top U.S. military commanders and diplomats for talks in Kuwait today about the battle against ISIS, as America’s military effort approaches major hurdles in both Iraq and Syria (Reuters, AP, WaPo, USA Today, me)

• Carter says he hopes the roughly six hours of largely unscripted discussions will help assess the war that he’s inheriting as President Obama’s fourth SecDef. “I’m trying to assess the situation in Iraq, Syria and the region more generally,” Carter told reporters during his first trip abroad as secretary

• Carter’s meeting comes against the backdrop of a fierce debate inside the U.S. about the U.S. strategy, which Obama’s GOP critics say is far too limited militarily to succeed. It also comes at a moment of increasing concern about ISIS’s spread, with Libya emerging as a battleground for militants loyal to the group

• Among the long list of participants are Gen Lloyd Austin, head of U.S. forces in the Middle East, retired Gen John Allen, Obama’s envoy to the anti-ISIS coalition and U.S. ambassadors to countries including Saudi Arabia and Jordan. Still, a senior U.S. defense official traveling with Carter stressed the gathering was a learning tool – not a sign of concern about the strategy

• The U.S. is now restricting the role of ground ground troops in Iraq to advising and training local forces. But Carter could soon to asked to make a recommendation about whether to send American forces closer to the fight, possibly as spotters for air strikes during an offensive to retake Mosul that could begin in April or May

• Australia is to toughen citizenship laws and tackle those inciting hatred under new measures targeting domestic terrorists, PM Tony Abbott has said. He said citizenship for dual nationals could be suspended or even revoked (BBC)


Did Pentagon Over-Share Battle Plan Info?

• Did the Pentagon go too far in sharing its military planning? Last Thursday, a senior official from U.S. Central Command told reporters that Iraqi and Kurdish forces, with help from the U.S., were preparing to launch an assault to retake the Iraqi city of Mosul in April or May. The force would consist of up to 25,000 Iraqi and Kurdish troops (NYT, TRNS, me)

• Sen John McCain (R-AZ), chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Sen Lindsey Graham (R-SC), sent an angry letter to President Obama, demanding to know whether the WH had authorized the disclosures and said the officials responsible must be held responsible. The WH said it had no involvement in the briefing, and booted it to the Pentagon

• The disclosures caught the new SecDef, Ashton Carter, by surprise. “The secretary is always concerned about operational security and wants us to be mindful that we don’t put information out there that isn’t necessary,” a senior defense official told reporters traveling with Carter on Friday to Afghanistan


• Not clear how useful the disclosures will be to ISIS fighters. For months, admin officials have telegraphed that the assault on Mosul would come in the spring. The disclosure that up to 25,000 troops will take part was noteworthy, but the size of the Iraqi military, and the number of brigades it could afford to devote to the Mosul operation, isn’t a mystery

• The anonymous Centcom official didn’t answer perhaps the most sensitive question: whether the U.S. plans to deploy ground troops as air controllers, helping the Iraqis call in airstrikes on ISIS positions

• Senior Pentagon officials pushed for the Centcom briefing largely to demonstrate the steps the military was taking to counter ISIS’s propaganda campaign. “We want Centcom to provide briefings,” a senior defense official said. “And we welcomed this one.”


• President Obama is expected to get the Keystone XL bill today and WH officials said the president would veto it soon after. The veto would be the third and most significant of Obama’s six years in office and would likely be followed by several more vetoes, inked with his Cross Townsend black roller ball pen (NYT, me)

Johnson Defends Obama Admin

• Homeland Security Sec Jeh Johnson on Sunday defended the Obama admin’s non-use of the term “Islamist extremists.” “To start labeling

[them] as Islam or Islamic State in any respect, I think, gives them far more dignity than they deserve.” “There are 1.6 billion Muslims in this world. And true Islamic faith has nothing to do with what ISIL represents.” (Reuters, AP, WaPo, USA Today, TRNS, me)

• The latest ISIS video posted online appears to show 21 captured Kurdish soldiers paraded in individual cages through crowded Iraqi streets to wild applause. Some are briefly interviewed. The fate of the men isn’t shown on the video

• Wrapping up two days in the war zone, Carter on Sunday called Afghanistan’s army “a powerful force in their own right” but declined to say whether he thinks the U.S. can scale back military training and advising this year as planned

• Carter is planning recommendations to Obama about the future of the American military presence in Afghanistan. Saturday, Carter met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and said afterward that Obama is considering whether to slow the pace of U.S. troop withdrawals this year and next


Terror Threat to Mall of America

• A video purported to be by Somalia’s al Qaeda-linked rebel group al-Shabab urged Muslims to attack shopping malls in the U.S., Canada, Britain and other Western countries. The threat came in the final minutes of a more than hour-long video which also warned Kenya of more attacks like the Sept 2013 assault on a mall in Nairobi in which 67 people were killed (AP, WSJ, me)

• The narrator spoke with a British accent and appeared to be of Somali origin. “What if such an attack were to occur in the Mall of America in Minnesota? Or the West Edmonton Mall in Canada? Or in London’s Oxford Street?” the man said, then called for Britain’s Westfield mall in north London to be targeted

• “I would say that if anyone is planning to go the Mall of America today, they’ve got to be particularly careful,” Homeland Security Sec Jeh Johnson said Sunday on CNN. Appearing later on NBC, Johnson said, “I’m not telling people to not go to the mall. I think there’s need to be awareness, there needs to be vigilance and people need to be careful, obviously.”

• Johnson called the video “the new phase” of the global terrorist threat. “These groups are relying more and more on independent actors to become inspired, drawn to the cause and they’ll attack on their own,” Johnson said on CNN. Security was being beefed up at the Mall of America after the threat

• Minnesota, home to the largest Somali population in the U.S., has been the target of terror recruiters in the past. Since 2007, more than 22 young Somali men from Minnesota have traveled to Somalia to join al-Shabab, and a handful of Minnesota residents have also traveled to Syria to fight with militant groups within the last year, authorities say


• The House Oversight Committee will hold a hearing this week on Obamacare and tax season. This comes as the admin revealed Friday a major glitch in which 800,000 people received the wrong tax forms and were asked to delay their filings (Hill, me)


Obama Welcomes Governors to WH

• President Obama welcomed dozens of the nation’s governors to the WH Sunday night for an annual dinner. “Within this room, we’re not going to agree on everything. But I am committed to working with each and every one of you over the next two years to keep making progress. And we’ll talk more about that tomorrow,” he said (AP, me)

• Obama delivered the brief remarks at a dinner which coincides with the National Governors Assn’s winter meeting. He plans to sit down with the group today. Among those present was Gov Scott Walker (R-WI), who said Saturday that he didn’t know if the president loves America or is a Christian

• Gov John Hickenlooper (D-CO), the NGA’s chair, also spoke. He praised Obama for visiting his state during several recent tragedies. “I can personally say with the deepest respect and appreciation, thank you for the love – thank you for your love for the people of Colorado and of all our states.”

• Obama made brief reference to the presidential jockeying by several governors at the beginning of his remarks. “Harry Truman once called the presidency an ‘enlarged governorship,'” he said to laughs. “Of course, a few of you are hoping that he was right.”


Dems Ask: “What’s a Democrat?”

• Democrats are struggling to answer a simple question –  “What’s a Democrat?” – and must do a better job of explaining their core values to voters, according to a task force formed after the party’s dismal showing in the 2014 election (AP, WSJ, me)

• According to interim findings in the Democratic National Committee’s report released Saturday, Democrats lack a ” cohesive narrative” and need to find ways to help their party explain bedrock values such as fairness, equality and opportunity (stop being wonky)

• The task force recommends creating a “National Narrative Project” that will work with party leaders, activists, and “messaging and narrative experts” to create a “strong values-based national narrative that will engage, inspire and motivate voters to identify with and support Democrats.”

• Also urgent, the report said, is the need to recruit strong Democratic candidates over the next three elections to win back state legislatures, so the party can have more control over the redrawing of congressional seats following the next Census. “We need to build our bench,” Gov Steve Beshear (D-KY), a panel member, said

• The final recommendation focuses on voting rights. It supports a constitutional amendment to enshrine the right to vote and attempts in Congress to restore portions of the Voting Rights Act


• Bill O’Reilly’s account of a 1982 riot in Buenos Aires is being sharply contradicted by seven other journalists who were his colleagues and were also there at the time. The people all refute his descriptions of a “war zone” and “combat situation.” O’Reilly says he will settle the issue on his show tonight… (CNN, NYT, me)


Iran Talks: “Significant Gaps”

• SecState John Kerry and Iran’s FM Javad Zarif met for talks in Geneva Sunday evening on Tehran’s nuclear program. Kerry warned in London on Saturday that “there are still significant gaps, there is still a distance to travel.” They’re expected to continue their discussions today (AFP, me)

• World powers are trying to strike a deal with Iran that would prevent Tehran from developing a nuclear bomb in return for an easing of punishing economic sanctions. Iran denies its nuclear program has military objectives. There’s a heightened sense of urgency as the clock ticks toward a 31 March deadline to agree on a political framework for the deal

• U.S. and Iranian negotiators have been meeting in Geneva since Friday, and senior negotiators from the P5+1 group also met with Iranian negotiators Sunday. A key stumbling block in any final deal is thought to be the amount of uranium Iran would be allowed to enrich, and the number and type of centrifuges Tehran can retain

• Kerry also said Saturday, “President Obama has no inclination whatsoever to extend these talks beyond the period that has been set out.” Akbar Velayati, diplomatic adviser to Ayatollah Khameini, shot back Sunday that, “if American leaders don’t want to negotiate, it’s up to them, but they were the ones who were after negotiations.”

• In a sign of the growing push for an accord, U.S. Energy Sec Ernest Moniz is taking part in the talks for the first time, as is Ali Akbar Salehi, director of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization. Kerry played down the changes in the Iranian camp, and said Moniz was present because of the “technical” nature of the discussions



Birdman Wins Best at Bland Oscars

• Dark comedy Birdman won best film Sunday night (eventually, if you could stay up) and best director for Mexican film-maker Alejandro Gonzalez-Inarritu. Inarritu found “hilarious” presenter Sean Penn’s green card joke at his expense. “Sean and I have that kind of brutal relationship where only true friendship can survive.” (BBC, AP, me)

• British actor Eddie Redmayne won best actor Oscar for The Theory of Everything, while Julianne Moore picked up best actress for Still Alice. Redmayne thanked the Stephen Hawking family and said his award belonged “to all of the people around the world battling ALS.” Moore won for a woman battling early onset Alzheimer’s disease


• Vid: Common and John Legend speak about civil rights and the Voting Rights Act at the Oscars as they accept the award for best original song for “Glory” (Think Progress)

• Richard Linklater’s Boyhood won just one award from six nominations – best supporting actress – which went to Patricia Arquette. She gave an impassioned speech calling for wage equality. J.K. Simmons won best supporting actor for Whiplash, and called on everyone to phone their parents, if they had them (good idea, do it)

• Clint Eastwood’s Iraq war drama American Sniper, which made more money than everything else put together and is hugely popular, was largely shut out, winning for best sound editing, though it had six nominations

• Talented host Neil Patrick Harris did his best with bland material. Bland, in fact, was the watchword of the night. The gowns were bland. The interviews on ABC and E! were bland, the jokes were bland, and the show overall was waaaay over-long, over-bland and over-white


• Vid: Lady Gaga performs 50th anniversary “Sound of Music” medley at the Oscars – and Julie Andrews surprises on stage at the end. Lady Gaga was not bland

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Victoria Jones – Editor

TRNS’ James Cullum, William McDonald and Nicholas Salazar contributed to this report

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