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

  • State of the Union: Preview
  • Obama’s tax plan
  • Poll: Obama’s bounce
  • First lady’s guests
  • ISIS threat: Kill Japanese hostages
  • Martin Luther King Jr Day
  • SCOTUS: Judicial elections – money, money…
  • Creepy surveillance news…
  • 2016ers doing things
  • Aurora theater shooting trial begins


STATE OF THE UNION: 9 pm EST tonight

SOTU: Preview
• With the American job market surging to life, President Obama plans to use his SOTU tonight to effectively declare victory over the economic hard times that dominated his first six years in office and advocate using the nation’s healthier finances to tackle long-deferred issues like education and income inequality (NYT, me)

• Coming off a midterm defeat, the president faces long odds in actually enacting his agenda and in essence is trying to frame the debate for his remaining time in power and for the emerging 2016 contest to succeed him

• For a president entering the seventh year of his presidency, the SOTU can be a final chance to move past difficulties and set the agenda before the next campaign swings into high gear and consumes the media’s attention (and before he quacks off into the nearest pond)

• Ronald Reagan used his to try to move past the Iran-contra scandal. Bill Clinton used his to try to move past his impeachment on charges of lying under oath about an affair with an intern. And George W. Bush used his to try to move past a disastrous year in Iraq and a midterm election “thumping.”

• “We have proof that President Obama’s strategy is working, and the Republicans now have a Chicken Little problem – all the doom and gloom they predicted did not come to pass,” Dan Pfeiffer, Obama’s senior adviser, said Monday

Vid: Blatant WH hype but still kinda interesting: Behind the scenes – a SOTU sit-down with President Obama

• Republicans cast Obama’s slow-motion rollout of his SOTU agenda in recent weeks as the desperate flailing of a lame-duck president who has not come to grips with the electorate’s decision in November or the fact that the opposition now controls the Senate as well as the House

• Obama has used the same period to reassert himself through a climate agreement with China, executive action to liberalize immigration rules and a diplomatic rapprochement with Cuba. His long-sagging approval ratings in polls have gone up (see story below)

Tonight, Obama will present the nation a series of proposals previewed in recent weeks that would make community college free for many students, expand paid family leave for new parents and raise taxes on the wealthy in order to cut them for middle income families and pay for some of his initiatives

• In laying out his agenda, Obama has pointedly made little effort to embrace that of the Republican majorities in Congress. While they want to approve the long-stalled Keystone XL pipeline, cut costly regulations and adjust the health care law to spare more businesses with part-time workers, Obama has vowed vetoes

• The president’s “proposals are so out of touch you have to ask if there is any point to the speech,” Reince Priebus, the Republican National Committee chair, sent in a Twitter message – ouch

• Question: What’s the drinking game phrase tonight? Answers on a three dollar bill by 3 pm, please. “You lie!” has been done and will eliminate you from the final draw for an opportunity to see Sen Joni Ernst (R-IA) (live on C-Span) castrate a current member of the U.S. Senate

SOTU: Obama’s Tax Plan
• President Obama will call for the closing of the so-called trust fund loophole, which allows wealthy Americans to skirt some taxes when they pass on their earnings to heirs, as well as raising the capital gains tax rate to 28% for high-income households – the same rate as under President Reagan, WH officials point out (Time, Hill, me)

• The president plans to use the additional revenue to provide a new $500 tax credit for dual-earner families, expand childcare tax credits and the earned income tax credit, and pay for his previously announced initiative to provide two years of free community college for students

• A senior admin official told reporters the tax loophole closures, as well as a new “fee” on the liabilities of the nation’s largest financial institutions would raise nearly $320 billion over the next decade. The official said Obama’s initiatives would cost about $235 billion

• The 0.07% fee on liabilities would be imposed on U.S. institutions with over $50 billion in liabilities – about 100 firms, according to the WH – in a post-economic crisis attempt to disincentivize increased leverage that could lead to another crisis. The official said it would raise about $110 billion over the next decade

• Another proposal would streamline and expand childcare tax credits, providing up to $3,000 per child under age 5, helping 5.1 million families that make up to $210,000 a year and cover costs for 6.7 million children

• Rep Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) called the plan “a non-starter” on Sunday. “We’re not just one good tax increase away from prosperity in this nation,” he said on CNN’s State of the Union (Hill)
Pre-SOTU Poll: Obama Bounce
• President Obama bounds into tonight’s SOTU with his highest job approval numbers in 18 months, according to a new poll released Monday by WaPo/ABC News. Half of all Americans say they approve of the president’s handling of his job, while 44% disapprove – a striking 6-percentage-point jump in approval from December

• And a WSJ/NBC News poll out today has Obama at 46% approval, up four points since just before the midterms. Half the public said the past year brought important economic improvements, a post recession high, while more than four in 10 said they’re satisfied with the state of the economy – highest in more than eight years

• More Americans say they trust Obama more than the Republican Congress to address the nation’s biggest problems, by a 40%-36% margin. That’s an 8-percentage-point swing since the election. And 41% of Americans say the economy is in “good shape” up from 27% just three months ago (WaPo, WSJ/NBCNews, Hill, me)

• The bounce has been driven largely by a rebound among millennials – whose support for the president has risen 19% since December – and Hispanics, who were likely encouraged by his executive action on immigration. He’s also up 11% among conservatives and 11% among men

• Voters back the president’s approach by a 17-percentage-point margin on climate change. Plus, 61% of Americans agree with Obama that a decision on the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline should wait until the conclusion of the State Dept’s needs assessment

SOTU: First Lady’s Guests
• Alan Gross, the American contractor released last month as part of a deal between President Obama and President Raul Castro after five years of captivity in Cuba, will be accompanied by his wife Judy as a guest of President Obama and will sit in the first lady’s box at the Capitol (Hill, Politico, NYT, Reuters, TRNS, me)

• Scott Kelly, twin brother to astronaut Mark Kelly, will also be a guest of Michelle Obama. Scott Kelly is scheduled to leave soon for a year aboard the International Space Station. Scientists will compare his medical status with that of his brother, who will remain on the ground. Mark Kelly is the husband of Gabby Giffords and is a gun control advocate

• Also in the box with Michelle Obama will be Dr Pranav Shetty, the global emergency health coordinator for the International Medical Corps, who spent months fighting Ebola in Liberia. Nearby will be Larry Merlo, the CVS Health chief, whose stores eliminated tobacco sales last year

• Sen Marco Rubio (R-FL) will bring Rosa Maria Paya, daughter of Cuban political dissident Oswaldo Paya, who was killed in a controversial car accident in 2012. Rubio said Obama should back an independent investigation into Paya’s death (Politico)
• Capt Phillip Tingirides of the LAPD, who leads a program that has helped the riot-torn area of Watts fight crime and promote better relations between officers and the community

• Ana Zamora, who was allowed to stay in the country under a 2012 program to end the risk of deportation for young immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally while they were children

• Jason Gibson, who lost both legs in Afghanistan and met Obama in 2012 at Walter Reed. Despite having 21 surgeries and being unable to use prosthetics, Gibson took up surfing and skiing, completed marathons on a hand cycle and obtained a pilot’s license

• No evidence has been found that anyone else was involved in the death of prosecutor Alberto Nisman, who had criticized Argentina’s president over a 1994 terror attack possibly involving Iran, officials say. Nisman has been investigating the 1994 bombing of a Jewish center in Buenos Aires (it’s very fishy) (BBC, me)
ISIS Threat: Kill Japanese Hostages
• In an online video posted today, ISIS threatened to kill two Japanese hostages if Tokyo doesn’t pay $200 million ransom within 27 hours, but Tokyo vowed it would not give in to “terrorism” and vowed to save the hostages. Doesn’t look good (AFP, Hill, AP, Fox, Daily Mail, me)

• British PM David Cameron said Sunday on CBS’s Face the Nation that part of the difficulty in stopping the terror threat is that it “keeps morphing.” “The threat has changed and altered, but it’s still based on the fundamental problem of a poisonous death cult narrative which is the perversion of the world’s major religions.”

• A Canadian general disclosed Monday that Canadian special forces deployed to Iraq recently exchange fire with ISIS, in the first official acknowledgement that Western forces have directly engaged the terrorist group. The incident took place sometime last week. Not immediately clear where, but they’ve been deployed in the north

• Reports say that ISIS may be making inroads in Afghanistan. A recruiter is said to have been active in Afghanistan’s southern Helmand province. He’s identified as Mullah Abdul Rauf, a former Taliban commander released from Guantanamo in 2007, under the George W. Bush admin

• ISIS publicly executed 13 teenage boys in Islamist-controlled Mosul for watching the Asian Cup soccer match between Iraq and Jordan on TV last week. They were rounded up and killed using machine guns, anti-ISIS group Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently, reported

• Next year, the richest 1% of people in the world will own more than the combined total of the remaining 99%, international aid agency Oxfam said Monday (Hill)
Martin Luther King Jr Day
• President Obama, the first lady and Malia marked the Martin Luther King Jr holiday by volunteering at a Washington-area Boys and Girls club. They helped children assemble literary kits containing flashcards and books intended to help promote reading and writing skills. They also helped paint murals (Hill, TRNS, me)

• “We need to agree in this nation on two basic statements of truth,” VP Joe Biden said during a speech to the Organization of Minority Women in Delaware. “Cops have a right to go home at night to see their families. And two, all minorities, no matter what their neighborhood, have a right to be treated with respect and dignity. All life matters.”

• In speaking of her father, Dr Bernice King said at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, “We cannot act unless we understand what Dr King taught us. He taught us that we still have a choice to make: non violent coexistence or violent co-annihilation. I challenge you to work with us as we help this nation choose nonviolence.”

• On Friday, Obama ordered new regulations governing the sale of military surplus equipment to local police forces. He’s also asked for funding that could purchase 50,000 body-worn cameras for police officers, something for which the family of slain 18-year-old Michael Brown has lobbied

• And Obama has impaneled a new task force, led by Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey and former Assistant AG Laurie Robinson, to examine the issue of police and community mistrust. The group held its first meeting earlier this month in Washington

• Vid: The myth of race, debunked in 3 minutes (Vox)

SCOTUS: Judicial Elections – Money, Money, Money
• Judicial elections already sometimes resemble regular political campaigns, awash in money and negative advertising. And judges routinely hear cases involving lawyers and litigants who have contributed to their campaigns (NYT, me)

• But 30 of the 39 states with judicial elections have tried to draw the line by forbidding judicial candidates to personally ask for money, saying that such solicitations threaten the integrity of the judiciary and public confidence in the judicial system

Today’s case is a First Amendment challenge to the solicitation bans, which have been struck down by four federal appeals courts. But most of the American legal establishment supports them. The American Bar Assn and a group representing the chief justices of every state have filed briefs urging the Supreme Court to uphold the bans

* SCOTUS on Friday agreed to decide whether all 50 states must allow gay and lesbian couples to marry, positioning it to resolve one of the great civil rights questions in a generation before its current terms ends in June. Arguments are likely in the last week of April (NYT, TRNS)
• The case concerns Lanell Williams-Yulee, who lost a race for a seat on the county court in Hillsborough County FL, which includes Tampa. She was reprimanded and made to pay $1,860 in court costs for signing a fund-raising letter. In briefs, she said Florida’s ban is a poor way to address potential problems

• In barring not only one-on-one requests but also mass mailings and speeches to large groups, one of her briefs said, Florida’s solicitation ban censors speech that’s unlikely to give rise to judicial corruption. The ban also does too little by allowing candidates to raise money through campaign committees and then personally than their donors

• But Daniel Wallach, a FL lawyer, said the state’s history, which includes recent and widespread judicial corruption, justifies the solicitation ban. In the 1970s, two justices of the FL Supreme Court resigned after evidence emerged that they had tried to fix cases for contributors

• A third stepped down when a gambling junket paid for by a litigant came to light. A fourth left the court in connection with a scandal including draft opinions ghostwritten by lobbyists (can’t make it up –  could make a TV show, though)

• Larry Wilmore’s “The Nightly Show” debuted in Stephen Colbert’s old time slot on Monday night. Opener: “The Oscar nominations are out, and they’re so white, a grand jury has decided not to indict them.”

Creepy Surveillance News…
• At least 50 law enforcement agencies, including the FBI and U.S. Marshals Service, have secretly equipped their officers with radar devices that allow them to effectively peer through the walls of houses to see whether anyone is inside, where they are and if they’re moving, a practice raising new concerns about the extent of govt surveillance (ya think?)

• SCOTUS has said officers generally can’t use high-tech sensors to tell them about the inside of a person’s house without first obtaining a search warrant. The agencies began deploying the radar systems more than two years ago with little notice to the courts and no public disclosure of when or how they would be used. They use radio waves and can even track breath

• The DoJ revealed on Thursday existence of a database, maintained by the Drug Enforcement Admin, which contains the records of calls made between phone numbers in the U.S. and overseas – even if there’s no evidence the callers were involved in criminal activity (Guardian, Hill, NYT, USA Today, me)

• The govt stored the numbers, time and date of the call and the length, but not names or personal identifying info. It collected calls between Americans and people in countries that had connections to international drug trafficking and related criminal activities

• About 70,000 emails from journos at NYT, BBC, Reuters, WaPo, NBC, Le Monde, the Sun, etc were collected and saved by GCHQ in the UK, a British spy agency, in a brief 10-minute exercise in Nov 2008, according to the Guardian’s collection of docs leaked by Edward Snowden. Docs also revealed GCHQ said journos were a potential “threat to security” – we are now…

• Filmmaker Michael Moore on Facebook Sunday defended negative statements he had earlier made about snipers, seemingly in response to the release of “American Sniper.” Moore’s uncle was killed by a Japanese sniper in WWII. Moore also said that MLK Jr was killed by a sniper. Moore said some positive things about “American Sniper” in the post (People, me)
2016ers Doing Things
• Possible 2016er Gov Bobby Jindal (R-LA) warned of Muslim “no-go zones” in London and other Western cities where “Muslim religious police” enforce faith-based laws during a speech in London Monday. Fox News has apologized for talking such nonsense and PM David Cameron has called Fox “expert” Steve Emerson a “complete idiot” for spouting the rubbish

• WaPo has a big front-page piece today discussing Hillary Clinton’s plan to assemble a heavily research-driven campaign designed to prevent a repeat of her poor performance in 2008, with a message focused on economic opportunity and her lifelong work to better women’s lives (still too narrow and won’t appeal to working-class white men)

• Mitt Romney tried out a populist economic message before the RNC winter meeting Friday. “Under President Obama the rich have gotten richer, income inequality has gotten worse and there are more people in poverty than ever before.” (that’ll work out well for you – let’s go to the 47% audiotape)

• Sen Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press that he’s established a “testing the waters” committee to see if he would have a viable shot at winning the GOP nomination. “I am definitely going to look at it,” he said (and look is as far as he will go – for many reasons)

• 2 Vids: Fox’s Judge Jeanine Pirro (LOL) apologizes for “expert” Steve Emerson’s repeated claims that Birmingham in England is 100% Muslim and parts of it are no-go areas. Fox News apologizes for “regrettable errors” regarding Muslim no-go areas in France and England. There were more apologies from Fox for the oft-repeated nonsense…

Aurora Theater Shooting Trial Begins
• Was James Holmes insane when he opened fire in a Denver suburban movie theater on 20 July 2012 during a midnight showing of a new Batman movie, killing 12 and injuring 70? He’s one of the few suspects to survive such an attack – many are killed by police or commit suicide (AP, me)

• Jury selection begins today, and the trial could run until October. An unprecedented jury pool of 9,000 will be winnowed to a handful to decide Holmes’s mindset. He later pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to multiple counts of first-degree murder and attempted murder

• If jurors find him guilty, they must then decide whether to recommend the death penalty. If Holmes is found not guilty, he would be committed indefinitely to the state mental hospital

• Under Colorado law, defendants are not legally liable for their acts if their minds are so “diseased” that they can’t distinguish right from wrong. Part of the reason the case has dragged on so long is the battle over whether that standard applies to Holmes. There are gag orders and court docs are under seal

• Holmes’ sanity was evaluated by a state psychiatrist but the results weren’t made public. Prosecutors objected to the findings and persuaded a judge to order a second evaluation. Those results were contested by the defense. Prosecutors have rejected at least one plea deal made by attorneys for Holmes
• OMG my mouth just fell open – video from a wild crash on I-95 in NJ on Saturday: tractor trailer = ice (it’s OK nobody is dead)

Sign up here for TRNS News Notes


Victoria Jones – Editor

TRNS’ William McDonald contributed to this report


The Talk Radio News Service is the only information, news booking and host service dedicated to serving the talk radio community. TRNS maintains a Washington office that includes White House, Capitol Hill and Pentagon staffed bureaus, and a New York office with a United Nations staffed bureau. Talk Radio News Service has permanent access to every breaking newsevent in the Washington, D.C. area and beyond.

Copyright © 2015 The Talk Radio News Service, All rights reserved.