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.

Israeli military says an anti-tank missile has hit an Israeli military vehicle near the Israeli-Lebanese border. Israelis return fire (AP) – developing


In the News

  • Loretta Lynch: AG confirmation hearing today
  • Lynch: Obama doesn’t have “amnesty”
  • ISIS hostages: Mother’s plea
  • Oops: WH drops college savings plan reform
  • Immigration: Boehner may sue Obama
  • Dems put brakes on Iran sanctions bill
  • Wicked weather forecast: Was it wrong?
  • Benghazi: The Hillary Clinton show?
  • Auschwitz: 70 years on
  • 2016ers doing things
  • Drunk droning = #fail
Loretta Lynch: AG Confirmation Hearing Today

• Loretta Lynch, a 55-year-old federal prosecutor, will face many potential minefields when she goes before the Senate Judiciary Committee today, but she’s also a polished, experienced lawyer who would be the nation’s first black female attorney general. Top Republicans concede she’s likely to be confirmed – unless she messes up (Politico, me)

• The two days of hearings will also be the first key test for the committee’s new GOP chair, Chuck Grassley of Iowa – known for his deliberative and thorough style, along with his obsession with congressional oversight of the admin, which he plans to raise in his questions

• Lynch, who’s now the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, is well respected on both sides of the aisle, but her confirmation fight will almost certainly spiral into a larger war between Republican lawmakers and the WH, especially on President Obama’s immigration executive actions

• Sen Jeff Sessions (R-AL) is sure to grill Lynch on whether she thinks Obama’s immigration moves are legally defensible (below). Sen Ted Cruz (R-TX) singled out the “abuse of power” at the IRS as a key issue. Sen Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a defense hawk and former Air Force attorney, plans to question Lynch on matters of war

• Many of these issues have already surfaced in Lynch’s private sessions with senators. Her courtesy visits have been bipartisan. Sen David Vitter (R-LA) proclaimed he would vote against Lynch even before he sat down with her. The threshold for Senate confirmations is 51 votes – it’s thought that she has them. She would need a handful of Republicans
Lynch: Obama Doesn’t Have “Amnesty”

• AG nominee Loretta Lynch plans to tell senators today that she doesn’t believe President Obama has blanket power to grant “amnesty” to undocumented immigrants, but she’ll argue that the president’s sweeping moves on the issue have stayed within the bounds of the Constitution (Politico, NYT, me)

• Lynch will not be drawn into “political back-and-forth issues” such as immigration and will “calmly and dispassionately emphasize her record as an independent, career prosecutor,” according to a person involved in her preparations

• She also will tell the panel that the Constitution will be her “lodestar” in determining the legality of the president’s actions, the source said. Lynch will contend she had “no part” in the Obama admin’s formulation of the immigration policy, although Lynch will note she has reviewed the memo from the DoJ’s Office of Legal Counsel that laid out the legal parameters

• Lynch will emphasize that the DoJ will focus on national security and cyber terrorism during her tenure. She will highlight her work on public corruption cases. She will also note that her office has handled more terrorism-related cases than any other U.S. attorney’s office, including several recent high-profile proceedings
• More than 6 in 10 Americans would want Congress to restore federal financial assistance for millions buying health care coverage under Obamacare if the Supreme Court invalidates some of those govt subsidies, a Kaiser Family Foundation poll said today (awkward for Republicans) (AP, me)


ISIS Hostages: Mother’s Plea

The mother of journalist Kenji Goto, a Japanese hostage held by ISIS extremists, appealed publicly today to PM Shinzo Abe to save her son after his captors issued what they said was a final death threat. “Please save Kenji’s life,” Junko Ishido said, begging Abe to work with the Jordanian govt until the very end to try to save Goto (AP, Bloomberg, me)

• In an apparent ultimatum late Tuesday, ISIS said the two hostages, Goto and a Jordanian pilot, will be killed within 24 hours unless Jordan frees Sajida al-Rishawi, an Iraqi woman sentenced to death in Jordan for her involvement in a 2005 terrorist attack on a hotel that killed 60 people. The deadline is tonight Japanese time

• Abe earlier expressed outrage at the latest threat, as secret talks in Jordan sought the release of Goti and pilot Mu’ath al-Kaseasbeh. In Jordan, the pilot’s father beseeched the govt “to meet the demands” of ISIS

• Bassam al-Manaseer, chair of the foreign affairs committee of Jordan’s parliament, said negotiations are taking place with ISIS through religious and tribal leaders in Iraq, adding that Jordan and Japan won’t negotiate directly with ISIS and won’t free al-Rishawi in exchange for Goti only

• A prisoner exchange would be contrary to the policy of Jordan’s main ally, the U.S., which opposes negotiating with extremists. Manaseer’s comments were the strongest suggestion yet that Japan and Jordan might be open to a prisoner exchange
• A South Sudanese militia has freed 280 child soldiers as part of a wider deal to release about 3,000 underage fighters, UNICEF said. The child soldiers were recruited into an armed group which has now made peace with the govt (BBC)


Oops: WH Drops College Savings Plan Reform

• The WH said Tuesday it’s dropping a State of the Union proposal to scale back the tax benefits of 529 college savings plans amid a massive backlash from both Republicans and Democrats. It was part of the president’s plan to consolidate and simplify a sometimes confusing array of tax breaks for college students (AP, me)

• Resistance from Congress was swift. Republicans publicly criticized the plan, and aides said House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (CA) pushed senior admin officials to drop it as she flew with the president aboard Air Force One from India to Saudi Arabia. Other top Dems weighed in, including Rep Chris Van Hollen (MD) and Sen Charles Schumer (NY)

• “Given it has become such a distraction, we’re not going to ask Congress to pass the 529 provision so that they can instead focus on delivering a larger package of education tax relief that has bipartisan support,” said a WH official Tuesday – anonymous

• Obama’s plan would reduce the tax benefits of future contributions to the popular 529 college savings plans. Current accounts would have been grandfathered, so existing funds could still grow and be withdrawn, tax-free

• The admin said all the additional tax revenue would have been used to help expand and make permanent a $2,500 tax credit that families can use for education expenses. Under current law, the tax credit is scheduled to expire at the end of 2017 (really mangled by the admin – not explained, and not researched as to popularity)


• Vid: Saudi TV did not blur out Michelle Obama’s face when she got off the plane with the president in Riyadh for the arrival ceremony. You can see her clearly. Rumors to the contrary are wrong. However, some Saudis are upset that she left her head uncovered. That’s considered OK for visitors for the kingdom – but people still got upset (me, TRNS)


Immigration: Boehner May Sue Obama

• First, blaming the snow, House Republicans postponed a planned vote on a border security bill. Then, in a closed-door meeting Tuesday, Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) told his members that he was taking the first step toward possibly suing President Obama over his executive actions on immigration (NYT, TRNS, me)

• Boehner was referring to a resolution that would authorize the GOP-controlled House to take a variety of legal actions against the president, from filing their own lawsuit to joining an existing suit filed by more than a dozen states now making its way through the federal court system in Texas. Last year, Republicans sued Obama over his health care law (if in doubt, sue)

• Boehner’s announcement, which seemed designed to try to mollify many of his conference’s most conservative members, comes as the Senate prepares to take up legislation, which already passed the House, to fund Homeland Security Dept through the end of the fiscal year. Funding is set to expire on 27 Feb

• The Senate’s not expected to be able to pass the House bill, which would roll back many of Obama’s unilateral immigration protections. Tuesday, Senate Democrats sent a letter to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), urging him to “work with us to pass a clean bill that funds Homeland Security for the remainder of the fiscal year.” – (fighting words)

• Conservative lawmakers in the House are worried that, in the end, their leadership will not stand up to the president over his unilateral actions on immigration – one of the reasons that some balked at voting for the border security bill, which was originally scheduled to hit the floor today


• Vid: A 30 second version of this powerful 1 minute NO MORE PSA will air during the first quarter of the Super Bowl. It’s the first time ever that the NFL has run an ad that directly addresses the nation’s domestic violence and sexual assault crises
Dems Put Brakes on Iran Sanctions Bill

• Senate Democrats on Tuesday put the brakes on new Iran sanctions legislation. Sen Bob Menendez (D-NJ) says he remains skeptical a deal will materialize, but says he and nine other Democrats now won’t push the bill until the end of March. It’s semi-good news for Obama, who has threatened to veto any new sanctions legislation (AP, Hill, TRNS, me)

• Republicans could still move ahead on the bill, but without Democratic support, Congress wouldn’t have the votes needed to override an Obama veto. The bill is scheduled for markup in the Senate Banking Committee Thursday. Sens Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ) on Tuesday evening unveiled the legislation with 14 co-sponsors

• The WH, British PM David Cameron and other international leaders have been lobbying U.S. lawmakers hard, arguing that if new sanctions were passed, Iran could walk away from the talks and say the U.S. was negotiating in bad faith and had scuttled the discussions

• Last week, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) fueled the rising friction with the WH by announcing that he had invited Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, a staunch opponent of Iran, to stand before Congress on 3 March and push for more sanctions. The announcement didn’t go down well at the WH (understatement)

• Boehner defended his decision again on Tuesday, saying the House is an equal branch of govt and he had the right to invite the Israeli leader to “talk to the members of Congress about the serious threat that Iran poses and the serious threat of radical Islam.”
• Vid: Vox explains the problem with “American Sniper” in 3 minutes


Weather Forecast: Was it Wrong?

• Small last minute changes in the air morphed what was supposed to be crippling feet of snow into a handful of inches, leading one forecaster to apologize, the National Weather Service boss to get defensive, politicians to explain themselves and some Northeast residents wondering where the much-hyped snow went (AP, WaPo, NYT, me)

• Were the forecasts off? WaPo’s weather page says it’s simple: Many forecasters failed to adequately communicate the uncertainty in what was an extremely complicated forecast. Instead of presenting the forecast as a range of possibilities, many outlets simply presented the worst-case scenario (WaPo did a good job – range of possibilities)

• The not-so-great blizzard of 2015 did wallop the Northeast: Long Island and Massachusetts got hammered with more than two feet of snow. New Hampshire even closed liquor stores on Tuesday! But snowfall in the self-absorbed media capital of New York City, shut down in advance, was under a foot. NYC lost $200 million in business

• In a press call Tuesday, a defensive NWS director Louis Uccellini said, “This was the right decision to make.” But he conceded: “It is incumbent on us to communicate forecast uncertainty. We need to make the uncertainties clear. We’re going to review this issue very carefully and assess a different approach as we deal with these types of storms.”

• Meteorologists say the nor’easter strayed about 75 to 100 miles east of its predicted track, which meant the western edge – New York and New Jersey – got 10 inches less than forecast


* “I would much rather be in a situation where we say we got lucky than one where we didn’t get lucky and somebody died,” New York governor Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday


Benghazi: The Hillary Clinton Show?

• Hillary Clinton is willing to testify before the House Select Benghazi Committee, Rep Elijah Cummings (D-MD), the committee’s ranking Democrat said Tuesday after the committee’s third hearing. Cummings said he’s spoken to Clinton and she “did not hesitate for one second.” (Hill, me)

• Committee chair Trey Gowdy (R-SC) said after the hearing that he planned to call Clinton to testify, saying a Benghazi investigation would be “incomplete” without questioning the former SecState (who has already testified during back-to-back hearings.) but complained “I can’t talk to her until I have the documents that would make that conversation productive.”

• Rep Adam Smith (D-WA) noted the Republican majority made no document requests between May and December, and Rep Adam Schiff (D-CA) said the committee, which was created eight months ago, is at risk of becoming a “partisan fishing expedition, or it’ll be drawn out to affect the presidential election cycle.”

• Republicans dismissed the complaints as “ridiculous” and said the five Democrats on the panel were hypocrites because they haven’t suggested any witnesses or requested any documents for the probe. “The happiness of the Democrats was never my objective in the first place,” Gowdy said after the hearing. “They’re looking for a reason to leave.”

• Rep Linda Sanchez (D-CA) summed up the Democrats’ frustration: “Now, more than ever, I’m convinced that my colleagues are in search of a mythical creature – a unicorn, that is, a made-up conspiracy that does not exist.”
• The Obama admin will seek a base defense budget of $534 billion when it sends its 2016 spending request to Congress next week, a U.S. official said Tuesday, a figure that exceeds federal caps by $35 billion and could trigger mandatory cuts (Reuters)


Auschwitz: 70 Years On

• Auschwitz survivors on Tuesday urged the world not to allow a repeat of the crimes of the Holocaust as they marked 70 years since the camp’s liberation. “We survivors do not want our past to be our children’s future,” Roman Kent, born in 1929, told a memorial gathering at the death camp’s site in Poland. Some 300 Auschwitz survivors returned for the ceremony

• Some 1.1 million people, mostly Jews, were killed there between 1940 and 1945, when Soviet troops liberated it. It’s expected to be the last major anniversary event survivors are able to attend in considerable numbers. In the U.S., President Obama also honored the tenth anniversary of International Holocaust Remembrance Day (BBC, TRNS, me)

• Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, told the commemoration: “Jews are targeted in Europe once again because they are Jews.” Auschwitz survivor Halina Birenbaum, born in 1929, said her greatest duty was to “tell others how much people

[in the camps] had wanted to live.” “I lived my mother’s dream to see the oppressor defeated.”

• Former inmates described how the Nazi guards had forced families apart, sorting new arrivals into those fit enough for hard labor, and those who would go straight to the gas chamber

• After the speeches, Jewish and Christian prayers for the dead were said before candles were lit at the Birkenau monument to the victims. Other victims of Auschwitz included Roma, disabled people, homosexuals, dissidents, non-Jewish Poles and Soviet prisoners
• Pentagon spox Rear Adm John Kirby disputed reports in Fox News and NBC News Tuesday that Army commanders have decided to charge Sgt Bowe Bergdahl, who went missing in Afghanistan in 2009, with desertion. “Let me just put a fork in this right now, if I can,” Kirby said (eloquently), “No decision has been made.” (WaPo, TRNS, me)


2016ers Doing Things

• Gov Scott Walker (R-WI) has taken a further step toward running, creating a committee called Our American Revival to help him spread his message and pay for campaign-related activities around the country in advance of an official 2016 announcement (WaPo, NYT, AP, Buzzfeed, Politico, me)

• A Texas judge on Tuesday refused to dismiss a felony abuse-of-power case against former Gov Rick Perry (R-TX) on constitutional grounds, rejecting the argument that Perry was acting within his rights as chief executive when he carried out a veto threat

• The decision by Judge Bert Richardson, a Republican, means the case against the possible 2016er can move forward. Perry left office 20 Jan and says he’ll announce as soon as May whether he’ll make a second run for the WH. He was indicted in August on charges of abuse of official power and coercion of a public servant

• Gov Bobby Jindal (R-LA) said on the Family Research Council’s Washington Watch radio program Monday, “If we’re not careful, the same no-go zones you’re seeing now in Europe will come to America.” He singled out those in “academic” and “media elite” who he said “don’t want to proclaim American exceptionalism.” (choking on porridge right now)

• Former Gov Mike Huckabee (R-AR) said on a talk radio show in Des Moines IA Friday, “In the South, or in the Midwest, there in Iowa, you would not have people [women] who would just throw the F-bomb or use gratuitous profanity in a professional setting … As we say in the South, that’s just trashy.” (I lived in the South, and that’s just bullsh*t, Mike)

• David Berry, an American contractor, is among at least 10 people believed dead after masked gunmen stormed the luxurious Corinthia Hotel in Tripoli, Libya. The Libyan branch of ISIS claimed responsibility (CNN)


Drunk Droning = #Fail

• It was pitch black near the WH when a drunk, off-duty employee of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency decided it was a good time to test-fly his friend’s quadcopter drone. Officials say the plan was foiled, perhaps by wind or a tree, when the unnamed employee lost control of the drone. He texted his friends, worried it had gone down on the WH grounds (it had…)

• It wasn’t until the next morning, when he woke (hangover?) to his friends telling him that his drone was all over the news that he contacted his employer and then called the Secret Service to confess. / A classified study of how to bring down small drones has led the Secret Service to try and develop new ways to detect and stop such craft (not going so well)

• Don Kerr, a spox for the Geospatial agency said, “The employee was off duty and is not involved in work related to drones or unmanned aerial vehicles in any capacity at NGA.” (phew) Kerr said in a statement that the agency took the incident seriously (NYT, CNN, me)

• The geospatial intelligence agency, HQ near Springfield VA, employs satellites to gather data for the military and other agencies by using imagery to detect human activity and to map out changes in physical features on the ground (there was a darn drone on the ground – that was the change in physical features of the WH grounds, fellas)

• President Obama, traveling abroad, said in an interview that commercially available drones empower individuals but that the govt needed to provide “some sort of framework that ensures that we get the good and minimize the bad” – regulations. He noted the drone that landed was the kind “you buy at Radio Shack.” (not for much longer you don’t)
• Vid: BMW i3 Super Bowl ad – Katie Couric and Bryant Gumbel get confused by tech in new Super Bowl ad (quite good). Bud Light Real Life Pac-Man #UpForWhatever ad for Super Bowl

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______________Victoria Jones – Editor

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

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