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.

Mitt Romney’s holding an 11 am EST “update” conference call with scores of supporters today – will give a signal re 2016 run


In the News

  • Obama: “Fired up!”
  • Senate passes Keystone bill
  • DC fiscal clash taking shape
  • Secret Service: More purging?
  • Border security: Calls for clean bill
  • Public info on Afghanistan = now secret
  • Loretta Lynch for AG – confirmation?
  • Bergdahl exchange prisoner: Back to the fight?
  • Super Bowl: Balls! Fakes! Dope! Fire Alarms! Kittens!
Obama: “Fired Up!”

• A fiery President Obama addressed House Democrats Thursday on the second evening of their retreat in Philadelphia. His remarks were tailored to the party’s new strategy: Focus the party’s message on growing the middle class and take full credit for the nation’s economic recovery of the past six years (Roll Call, HuffPo, Hill, me)

• “Obviously, we were all disappointed about the outcome of this election. There were a lot of reasons for it, and I’m happy to take some of the blame. One thing I’m positive about is, when we’re shy about what we care about, when we’re defensive about what we’ve accomplished, when we don’t stand up straight and proud -“

• He then began to list, his voice rising to a campaign stump speech crescendo as members rose to their feet in wild applause – accomplishments in health insurance, in immigration legislation and in “middle class economics.” He said Democrats “need to stand up … and not be defensive about what we believe in,” to a raucous standing ovation


• He said he would “happily veto” Republican efforts to undo Obamacare – a crowd pleaser – along with legislation to roll back the financial regulatory overhaul bill known as Dodd-Frank and a measure targeting his executive orders on immigration

• He slammed Republicans for risking a Homeland Security shutdown over those executive actions: “These are the guys concerned about borders, about terrorism? Now you want to make a political point?”

• He made specific mention of one “former presidential candidate” on the Republican side, Mitt Romney, who “suddenly is just deeply concerned about poverty.” “I consider imitation the highest form of flattery,” Obama said of Republicans’ sudden embrace of populist rhetoric

• In closing, he stepped back from the podium and took a drink of water. “I’m fired up!” he said. “I promise you, I’m not going out the last two years sitting on the sidelines. I am going to be out there making the case every single day, and I hope you join me.”


• Washington and Moscow are discussing a possible visit to Russia by SecState John Kerry to discuss the Ukraine crisis, possibly on 4-5 Feb, diplomatic sources say. EU foreign ministers have agreed to extend existing sanctions against Russia until September (Reuters, BBC)


Senate Passes Keystone Bill

• The Senate on Thursday voted 62-36 to build the Keystone XL pipeline, delivering Republicans the first legislative victory of the new majority. Nine Democrats joined with Republicans to approve the $8 billion project, five votes short of the two-thirds majority that would be needed to override a promised presidential veto from President Obama

• The bill now heads to the House – again. While the House voted to build the pipeline earlier this year, the Senate added several amendments to the bill during three weeks of work. Aides said House Republicans haven’t decided whether to pass the Senate bill as is or seek a conference committee where a final version would be negotiated between the chambers

• Obama has repeatedly warned Congress not to short-circuit the federal review of the pipeline. “If, in fact, the legislation that passed the House also passes the Senate, then the president won’t sign it,” WH spox Josh Earnest said Thursday (Hill, Roll Call, TRNS, me)

• The earliest the bill could reach Obama would be next week – just as the State Dept receives final comments on the proposal to build the pipeline. Agencies are required to send their recommendations about Keystone to State on 2 Feb, bringing the six-year long review of the Canada-to-Texas project one step closer to completion

• During the second week of debate, the Senate voted 98-1 that “climate change is real and not a hoax” after Democrats pushed to get Republicans on the record about the topic ahead of the 2016 elections. Fifteen Republicans voted for another amendment, which failed, that stated human beings contribute to climate change

• As the Texas Muslim community gathered in Austin TX Thursday to meet with state lawmakers, a presser was interrupted by hostile protesters – including this woman, who grabbed the mic and screamed: “False Prophet Muhammad! Islam will never dominate the United States and by the grace of God, it will not dominate Texas.” (TPM, me)


DC Fiscal Clash Taking Shape

• President Obama will propose breaching statutory spending caps in the fiscal year that begins in October, putting out a budget Monday that raises spending at Congress’s discretion by $74 billion – or 7%, the WH announced Thursday (NYT, Hill, WaPo, me)

• With the era of falling budget deficits coming to an end, Obama and Congress are hurtling toward a major fiscal clash over spending as the WH and Democrats press for an easing of fiscal spending austerity just as Republicans redouble efforts to balance the budget

• The president’s budget would raise military spending next year by $37 billion over caps set in the 2011 Budget Control Act, a measure reached after hard-fought negotiations with the new Republican-led House. Domestic spending would rise $38 billion over the cap for fiscal 2016

• Democrats are pushing to raise taxes on the rich to bolster the incomes of middle-class families, while Republicans remain united around a traditional platform of spending constraint and deficit reduction, which leaders say is the answer to sluggish growth and bridging the divide in incomes

• A series of fiscal showdowns is coming, starting with an end to DHS funding on 29 Feb, a sharp cut in physician payments under Medicare on 31 March, the depletion of the highway trust fund on 31 May, a debt-ceiling showdown this summer and the return of across-the-board mandatory cuts known as sequestration on 1 Oct

• Vid: Sen John McCain – “Get out of here, you low-life scum!” – to Code Pink protesters at a Senate hearing, (gosh) who were chanting at Henry Kissinger, 91, that he should be arrested for war crimes

Secret Service: More Purging?

• Two weeks after the Secret Service forced out four of its top officials, lawmakers are questioning whether the agency should have ousted one more – its influential and decorated second-in-command Alvin “A.T.” Smith. He has overseen the depts responsible for the missteps and is now helping to engineer the agency’s overhaul (WaPo, me)

• The House Oversight and Govt Reform committee plans to invite Smith and acting director Joseph Clancy to appear at a Feb hearing focused on the core reasons behind security breaches involving the WH and the president, according to people knowledgeable about the panel’s plans

• Committee members have heard from agency whistleblowers who have complained that Smith approved policy changes that they say weakened the agency, according to these people. Lawmakers have also quietly expressed concern to admin officials about Smith’s continued presence in top leadership


• Discussions about Smith’s role underscore a dilemma facing the Obama admin as it attempts to turn around the beleaguered agency: how to clean house in the upper ranks without losing the unusual expertise required for the highly specialized work of protecting the WH and national leaders. Smith’s allies describe him as a “pivotal peg in the foundation.”

• But Smith signed off on canceling academy classes for new recruits and regular training for officers, which resulted in the WH being guarded by a team of officers who were stretched thin and often unsure of their specific duties in responding to an intruder. He also approved cutting back on funds meant to replace aging technology and alarms

• Smith’s critics say he’s one of the central architects of an insular management structure that has lost the trust of rank-and-file employees. Many inside were shocked that Smith wasn’t forced out along with the top managers. However, Smith provided close counsel to Clancy and was involved in the recent departures of the senior managers


• Negotiations between Jordan and ISIS over the fate of two hostages appeared to have collapsed Thursday, raising fears that the extremists would kill a Japanese journalist and a Jordanian air force pilot. Officials said ISIS had failed to provide proof that the pilot was still alive, even though Jordan was prepared to turn over an imprisoned terrorist (NYT, me)


Border Security: Calls for “Clean” Bill

• The Secret Service cannot hire new agents for the next presidential election or make improvements at the agency until Congress settles the dispute over Homeland Security funding, DHS Sec Jeh Johnson said on Thursday. Funding runs out on 27 Feb (Hill, me)

• Three former DHS secretaries, including two who served under President George W. Bush, called on the Senate to pass a clean bill funding the department. Tom Ridge, Michael Chertoff and Janet Napolitano wrote that “funding for the entire agency should not be put in jeopardy by the debate about immigration.”

• Wow vid: Seattle teacher is suing the city after a police officer allegedly (oh she totally did) pepper-sprayed him while he was walking by and talking to his mother on the phone. He was having a peaceful Martin Luther King Jr Day protest, he said, and then… (TPM, me)

Public Info on Afghanistan = Now Secret

• Previously public information on the U.S. taxpayer-funded salaries, training and equipment costs for Afghan security forces is now considered classified. Basic details that have been reported for years, such as the number of Afghan troops in uniform or the cost of U.S.-funded infrastructure projects, will as of this month no longer be publicly available, officials say

• Classification of this volume is “unprecedented,” according to John Spoko, special IG for Afghanistan reconstruction (SIGAR). The watchdog responsible for the 13-year U.S. mission in Afghanistan noted the change in its latest quarterly report to Congress, released Thursday (Hill, me)

• “With few exceptions, the public’s business ought to be public. It’s a matter of accountability for spending and making sure the taxpayers get their money’s worth,” Sen Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said in a statement. “Suddenly classifying information that was public for years raises questions.”

• Info on taxpayer funds used in Afghanistan will now only be made available in annexed form to members of Congress with high-level security clearance, as well as to SecState John Kerry and the SecDef, currently Chuck Hagel. Sen Claire McCaskill (D-MO) said public access to the info was “vital” to oversight of taxpayer-financed Afghan infrastructure

• Army Gen John Campbell defended the decision in a letter to SIGAR. “We must be careful to avoid providing sensitive information to those that threaten our forces and Afghan forces, particularly that can be used by such opposing forces to sharpen their attacks.”

• Three American civilian contractors and an Afghan national were killed Thursday in a shooting incident at a military base attached to Kabul’s airport. A fourth American contractor was wounded. The Taliban today claimed responsibility – said the shooter infiltrated the ranks of the Afghan security forces (WaPo)


Loretta Lynch for AG – Confirmation?

• Senate Republicans had a clear strategy on Day Two of Loretta Lynch’s confirmation hearings, with a number of witnesses: Make it all about Eric Holder and the controversies that have lingered during his six-year tenure as President Obama’s attorney general (Politico, Hill, WaPo, Fox,  me)

• Former CBS News correspondent Sheryl Attkisson accused the DoJ of stonewalling access and reiterated her claim that the federal govt is monitoring her because of her reporting, using keystroke monitoring, password capture and Skype to listen in on audio. She’s sued DoJ. DoJ’s IG released a report Thursday that debunked her claims – her back space key was stuck

• Republican senators on Thursday praised Lynch. Judiciary Committee chair Chuck Grassley (R-IA), considered a tossup vote, said “There’s no question about her competence.” Sen Orrin Hatch (R-UT) announced at the hearing that he’ll be a “strong supporter.”

• Sen Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said he was “inclined” to back Lynch. Democrats spent much of Thursday’s hearing – which Lynch didn’t attend – trying to make the case that she deserved to be confirmed based on her record and legal expertise. Three of the Democratic witnesses knew Lynch personally

• Sen Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) complained at one point that the Holder-bashing was “frankly beneath the dignity of this committee,” saying the hearing was becoming a “sound bite factory for Fox News and for conspiracy theorists everywhere.”

• John Kerry cited and fined! Naughty. He didn’t shovel the snow off the sidewalk outside his Beacon Hill home in Boston. A concerned citizen (snitch) took a pic and complained. State Dept says the SecState will “gladly pay the $50 ticket”… (Hill, me)


Bergdahl Exchange Prisoner: Back to the Fight?

• The govt reportedly suspects that one of the five Taliban detainees released from Guantanamo Bay in return for Army Sgt Bowe Bergdahl last May has attempted to return to the fight. No comment so far from the Pentagon (CNN, Hill, AP, me)

• Several officials told CNN that an ongoing U.S. intelligence program to monitor the former detainees’ communications in Qatar, where they were transferred for a year, showed that one of them “reached out” to encourage militant activity. Congress has been informed of the info, but it hasn’t been made public

• President Obama said at a presser a few days after the transfer: “We have confidence that we will be in a position to go after them if, in fact, they are engaging in activities that threaten our defenses. I wouldn’t be doing it if I thought that it was contrary to American national security.”

• The suspicions about the man could reignite the debate over whether the exchange of five mid-level to senior Taliban commanders for Bergdahl was worth it, as well as strengthen opposition to releasing more detainees from Guantanamo Bay

• Sen Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said Thursday that the Taliban detainees have been in touch with members of the al Qaeda linked Haqqani network, yet all five still are being monitored in Qatar



• Health authorities in Arizona are on alert after warning that 1,000 people may have been exposed to a measles outbreak as the state prepares to host this weekend’s Super Bowl. AZ recommended that any unvaccinated person who’d been in touch with infected people should spend 21 days in isolation at home (AFP)


Super Bowl: Balls! Fakes! Fire Alarms! Dope! Kittens!

• During Super Bowl XLIX, the NFL will have to keep track of nearly five times more footballs than for a typical game – and that will include whether they’re properly inflated. “There will be some added security just because of the environment that we’re in for this game,” said Dean Blandino, (obscurely), the NFL’s vice president of officiating (USA Today, Hill, SI, me)

• Meanwhile, federal authorities have confiscated nearly $20 million worth of counterfeit sports memorabilia ahead of the game. In coordination with the NFL, federal investigators announced on Thursday that they’ve uncovered hundreds of thousands of fake sports jerseys, hats, t-shirts and other souvenirs over the course of a year-long investigation

• Somebody is setting off false fire alarms in the hotel of the New England Patriots and waking them up. On Tuesday, it happened at 1.30 am and on Thursday it happened at 5.30 am. Seems like someone is trying to disrupt their sleep so they won’t be rested for Sunday’s game

• A Seattle-based medical marijuana retailer is anticipating Seattle fans will want a “super bowl” for Sunday’s game. That’s why employees at Solstice are working to roll a staggering number of joints – 12,000 in all – for its special “12th Pack” promotion ahead of Sunday

• Meeeanwhile, Katy Perry says her halftime show will include lions and sharks. Over on the Hallmark Channel, Kitten Bowl II kicks off (cuteness overload) at noon EST. Then when you’ve recovered from that, which I may never, switch over to Animal Planet for Puppy Bowl XI at 3 pm EST.(cuteness coma)

• Vid: Always the best – 2015 Budweiser Super Bowl ad “Lost Dog” – get out the Kleenex in bulk

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Victoria Jones – Editor

TRNS’ Nicholas Salazar contributed to this report

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