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

  • Stocks tumble, oil slides
  • Drama! Boehner runs for speaker
  • Can Republicans govern?
  • House Democrats: Alternative agenda
  • Right resists GOP’s very first bill
  • Keystone votes loom
  • Gay marriage legal in Florida
  • Ferguson grand juror: Let me speak
  • Feinstein wants to ban torture
  • Steve Scalise: Too toxic to touch?

Stocks Tumble, Oil Slides
• The Dow industrials tumbled more than 300 points Monday. The declines were market-wide as oil prices plumbed new lows. Beleaguered shares of energy companies led the push lower after U.S.-traded crude oil fell below $50 a barrel for the first time in nearly six years. Energy shares in the S&P 500 dropped 4% (WSJ, me)

• Despite Monday’s rout, Wall Street trading desks said activity was relatively light given the scale of the move lower. Rather than sell en masse, many investors were simply starting the new year with a more cautious posture following last year’s brisk gains

• Stock markets around the world posted losses. The Stoxx Europe 600 index closed lower by 2.2%, amid uncertainty over Greece’s political future. With elections scheduled for later this month, investors continued to fret over the prospect of a new govt that pushes back against Europe-imposed austerity measures

• Despite Monday’s retreat, the Dow is just 3.1% from a record high reached in late December, and many investors remain optimistic about stocks in 2015. The accelerating U.S. economy and expanding corporate profits are expected to give a boost to major stock benchmarks this year

• And the slide in oil prices, while damping the outlook for energy companies, has been a boon for ordinary consumers by dramatically lowering gas prices and giving a boost to consumer spending

• Two plainclothes NYC police officers were shot in the Bronx Monday night after they attempted to stop a car while responding to a robbery, the police said. One was shot in the back and one was shot in the arm. The injuries were not considered life-threatening (NYT, me)

Boehner Runs for Speaker: Drama!
• Rep John Boehner (R-OH) is slated to win another two years as Speaker today. But don’t expect the public roll call on the House floor (and on C-Span) to be drama free (deckchairs & gin if you’re GOP). Like two years ago, a disorganized-but-vocal band of at least 10 conservatives has vowed to oppose Boehner (Hill, WaPo, NJ, Politico, TRNS, me)

• Over the weekend, tea party Reps Ted Yoho (R-FL) and Louie Gohmert (R-TX) said they’d challenge Boehner for the gavel. One outspoken critic, Rep Walter Jones (R-NC) has openly plotted, telling a radio station before Christmas he’s been huddling with 16 to 18 other conservatives to find a viable alternative to Boehner

• Reps Steve King (R-IA), Paul Gosar (R-AZ) and Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) are also in the “dump Boehner” camp. A handful of tea party freshmen also could defy the Speaker minutes after they’re sworn in by Boehner. Freshman Dave Brat (R-VA), who knocked off former Majority Leader Eric Cantor in the primary, says he’ll oppose Boehner. There are others


• Few see any serious threat to Boehner’s hold on power. The midterms not only gave House Republicans their biggest majority in generations, they gave Boehner a bigger cushion to absorb defections from members in his own party. Now, 29 Republicans would need to vote against the incumbent leader to force a second ballot

• The speaker vote, held by voice roll call, can take more than an hour to complete – a length of time that makes Boehner’s supporters uneasy. Informal lieutenants for the speaker will be spread throughout the chamber, ready to counsel on-the-fence Republicans, aides said (horse’s heads on desks?)

• If Boehner doesn’t have the necessary number of votes on the first round of balloting, a second round would be held. If that happened, House Republicans probably would move to a closed-door session to figure out the party’s next step before returning for a second vote (#GOPtransparency)
• President Obama hopes to recruit Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto to help pressure the Cuban Castro regime to undertake reform efforts during talks today at the WH, a senior admin official said Monday (Hill)

Can Republicans Govern?

• Given the rebellious streak that House and Senate Republicans have exhibited, top Democrats remain skeptical that Republicans can maintain control over the rank and file as they navigate some treacherous legislative terrain in the months ahead, including the need to increase the federal debt limit and the passage of a federal budget plan (NYT, me)

• Republicans have significant incentive to rack up some victories. They will be judged on their legislative performance in the 2016 elections, a presidential year when voters may be less friendly to the Republicans than they were last fall. Republicans will have twice as many Senate seats on the ballot as the Democrats will, including swing states

• The Senate’s upcoming Keystone debate will present the first trial of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) pledge for more open proceedings. Members of both parties will be able to offer amendments in what McConnell envisions as the sort of freewheeling debate that was missing under Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) – the new minority leader

• Members from both parties are scheduled to hold a joint retreat in PA in mid-January, and some Republicans are worried that House members may quickly become frustrated at the slow pace of the Senate even under their party’s control

• McConnell acknowledged that he would need help from Democrats who were willing to deal with Republicans, and said he had held discussions with a number of Democrats he thought were potential partners on various issues. “There is a pool of Democrats who want to do business,” he said (prob more a puddle than a pool)

House Democrats: Alternative Agenda
• Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) will unveil an alternative legislative agenda today. The Democratic bills focus heavily on curbing tax benefits enjoyed by corporations and diverting the revenue to infrastructure (Politico, me)

• “In sharp contrast to Republicans whose first vote in the new Congress will be to advance additional tax cuts for the wealthy and special interests, we will bring forward the Stop Corporate Expatriation and Invest in America’s Infrastructure Act, which prevents U.S. corporations from renouncing their citizenship to dodge paying their fair share of taxes,” Pelosi wrote to Dems

• The legislative package includes bills from Rep Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), the top Democrat on the Budget Committee. The first measure would mandate that corporations give employees raises that are on par with cost-of-living increases and would limit the tax deductions executives can take on bonuses

• The second is an infrastructure bill that would stop corporations from relocating abroad and redirect tax money lost through these so-called inversions to infrastructure projects in the U.S.

Right Resists GOP’s Very First Bill

• Opposition is growing from conservatives to the the first major bill of the 114th Congress, which would change the definition of a full-time worker under the Affordable Care Act from one who works 30 hours a week to one who works 40 hours. A vote’s scheduled for Thursday (NYT, me)

• Writing in National Review, Yuval Levin, a conservative popular with Republicans, said the legislation “seems likely to be worse than doing nothing.” His rationale is that there are many more people who work 40 hours a week than just over 30, and that it would be easier for an employer to cut their hours to 39 a week to avoid offering them insurance than to 29

• Still, Republicans and their allies are pushing to change the definition of part-time employment under the health law. After a yearlong delay, the law’s “employer mandate” will go partly into force this month, meaning that businesses with 100 or more full-time employees will have to offer at last 70% of their workers health insurance or pay a penalty

• More than half of all workers maintain at least a 40-hour workweek, according to the Commonwealth Fund, a NY-based foundation that studies health care. Most of them already get employer-provided health insurance, but about 9% – or 2.6 million Americans – don’t

• By pushing those workers onto the federally subsidized health insurance exchanges, the definition change would also increase the federal deficit by $73.7 billion over a decade, according to the CBO. The WH last year promised that President Obama would veto the bill, a vow likely to be reissued this week (more drama)

Keystone Votes Loom

• The House will vote on legislation to approve construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline on Friday, setting up a vote in the Senate for next week. The bill is expected to pass the lower chamber easily – has passed a number of times before. Not yet clear whether amendments will be allowed on the floor (Hill, Politico, me)

• Wednesday, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on Keystone legislation. The committee will hold a markup on the bill on Thursday. There will be an open amendment process on a floor vote, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has said (we’ll see how that goes)

• Senate Democrats are pushing a handful of amendments. “Consideration of this bill will provide us with the first opportunity to demonstrate that we will be united, energetic, and effective in offering amendments that create a clear contrast with the Republican majority,” a letter to colleagues from Sens Chuck Schumer (D-NY and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) says (uh huh)

• The list of amendments includes: a ban on the export of any oil shipped through the Keystone pipeline, ensuring the project would bring down U.S. energy prices; a requirement to use U.S. produced iron, steel and manufactured goods to produce the pipeline; prohibit a state from permitting a foreign corporation to invoke eminent domain;

• An amendment requiring that for every job created by Keystone, an equal or greater amount is created through clean energy projects; restore funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program to levels authorized in the 2009 economic stimulus bill under the condition that seniors and veterans get first priority


• WH spox Josh Earnest stopped short of issuing a Keystone veto threat at the briefing Monday. “We’ll see what the legislation actually includes before we start urging people to vote one way or the other,” he said (spell disingenuous, Josh) (Hill, me)

Gay Marriage Legal in Florida
• Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage ended statewide at the stroke of midnight Monday, and court clerks in some Florida counties wasted no time, issuing marriage licenses overnight to same-sex couples. The addition of Florida’s 19.9 million people means 70% of Americans now live in the 36 states where gay marriage is legal (AP, TRNS, me)

• Those court clerks were beaten to the punch by a Miami judge who found no need to wait until the statewide ban expired. Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel presided over Florida’s first legally recognized same-sex marriages Monday afternoon

• Florida’s AG Pam Bondi is still pursuing state and federal appeals seeking to uphold the ban that voters approved in 2008, but her effort to block these weddings until the courts finally rule was denied by the U.S. Supreme Court. SCOTUS may decide on Friday whether to hear cases on if same-sex marriage must be allowed

• Former Gov Jeb Bush (R-FL), who opposed gay marriage while in office and is a potential 2016er, said Monday: “We live in a democracy, and regardless of our disagreements, we have to respect the rule of law.”

• In Key West, Aaron Huntsman and William Lee Jones had tuxedo fittings Monday afternoon, aiming to be the first to receive marriage licenses in Monroe County after midnight, followed by an exchange of vows outside the courthouse. Jones said his stomach was “in knots” in anticipation



• Jury selection started Monday in the Boston Marathon bombings trial. Defendant Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was described as fidgety. A few hundred of a pool of about 1,200 potential jurors were given initial instructions by Judge George O’Toole (AP, Globe, me)

Ferguson Grand Juror: Let Me Speak
• A member of the grand jury that declined to indict a Ferguson police officer in the shooting death of Michael Brown, 18, contends in a lawsuit filed Monday that the prosecutor in the case, Bob McCulloch, had wrongly implied that all 12 jurors believed there was no evidence to support charges (AP, TPM, me)

• The ACLU filed the lawsuit on behalf of the unnamed juror, who wants to be allowed to talk publicly about the case but could face charges for doing so because of a lifetime gag order. No grand jurors have spoken about the case

• The juror also says he or she came away with the impression that evidence was presented differently than in hundreds of other cases they had heard, with the insinuation that Brown, not Officer Darren Wilson, was the wrongdoer

• The suit also contends that legal standards in the case were discussed in a “muddled” and “untimely” manner. Jurors could have charged Wilson with murder or manslaughter, but nine of 12 would have needed to agree. The suit argues the Ferguson case was unique and that allowing the juror to speak would be helpful to the national debate about race and politics

• “The rules of secrecy must yield because this is a highly unusual circumstances,” ACLU attorney Tony Rothert said. “The First Amendment prevents the state from imposing a lifetime gag order in cases where the prosecuting attorney has purported to be transparent.” Unusually, After the grand jury decision, McCulloch released thousands of pages of witness testimony

• A New York judge will hear arguments later this month whether to publicly release the records of a grand jury hearing in the case of an unarmed black man, Eric Garner, who was killed after a policeman put him in a chokehold while arresting him for peddling loose cigarettes (Reuters)

Feinstein Wants to Ban Torture
• One month after finally releasing a long-awaited report detailing the CIA’s brutal history of exposing suspected terrorists to torture, Sen Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), outgoing chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, announced plans to introduce legislation aimed at explicitly preventing the practice in the future, regardless of who is president

• In a letter last week to President Obama, Feinstein issued a series of recommendations to the president and also proposed a quartet of bills aimed at making permanent Obama’s executive orders that curbed much-criticized CIA interrogation practices run under the admin of George W. Bush. The letter was released Monday (Politico, Reuters, TRNS, me)

• Feinstein plans to file legislation that would ban the long-term detention of CIA detainees, limit the list of interrogation techniques used by intel officials and provide swift Red Cross access to detainees – all elements of Obama’s 2009 executive order. Feinstein would go further and explicitly prohibit the use of “coercive and abusive interrogation techniques”


• In the letter to Obama, Feinstein also recommended that the WH move unilaterally to improve oversight of covert programs, hold CIA officials accountable for individual overseas programs, limit contractors’ participation in these programs (big) and more. She’s pushing for all interrogations related to national security to be videotaped (tapes may be “misplaced?”)

• She’s concerned about reforming the declassification process. She wants greater congressional oversight – including by investigative staff. Finally, Feinstein asked that the president publicly support her legislation and recommendations when her letter was made public. The WH didn’t have an immediate comment. CIA said the agency is already doing some of her recs

• Separately, David Buckley, the IG for the CIA, will be leaving the agency at the end of January. He was responsible for conducting the investigation of CIA personnel hacking Senate computers amid the upper chamber’s investigation of the use of torture during the Bush admin. He’s going to the private sector
• The FBI apparently takes the position that court warrants are not required when deploying cell-site simulators in public places. The devices are decoy cell towers that capture locations and identities of mobile phone users and can intercept phone calls and texts. Two senators want to know more from the FBI (arstechnica, me)
Steve Scalise: Too Toxic to Touch?
• The scandal over Rep Steve Scalise’s (R-LA) 2002 speech to a white supremacist group has so badly damaged his image inside the House Republican Conference that he faces serious questions over his political future, according to interviews with multiple aides and lawmakers – including some Scalise allies (Politico, me)

• Scalise’s job as House majority whip remains safe – and Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has publicly backed him – but he may be too toxic for some Republican circles. Top GOP aides and lawmakers question whether he’ll be able to raise funds, especially on trips to New York or LA

• Rank and file lawmakers, meanwhile, found themselves defending Scalise back home, a potentially fatal flaw for someone who wants to serve in leadership. Conservative activists like Mark Levin and Erick Erickson have said he should be booted out of GOP leadership

• Monday, the WH weighed in for the first time. Spox Josh Earnest commented that it “says a lot about what the
[GOP] Conference’s priorities and values are” that Scalise has remained in leadership. Earnest several times repeated a Scalise quotation from before he was in Congress that he’s like KKK leader David Duke “without the baggage”


• House Democrats are exultant that Scalise is still the majority whip, seeing the controversy over the Louisiana Republican as the best bit of news they’ve gotten since their crushing defeat on Election Day. With Earnest seeking to fan the flames by launching broadsides from the WH podium, House Dems are trying to exploit the controversy as well – dollars in donations

• Scalise has gone into full defensive mode in recent days. Thanks to support from GOP leadership, Scalise survived the initial media frenzy over his speech to the European-American Unity and Rights Organization, a neo-Nazi/white supremacist group founded by Duke. There’s no movement to dump Scalise and he’s now gone silent

• Scalise is freezing out the press (wonder why) and other Republicans, leading to doubts about whether he has any plans to rehabilitate his image. But he’s sure to face a barrage of media attention once the 114th Congress kicks off today. His aides aren’t saying much, even to other Republicans

• Scalise allies say he can bounce back: he was just elected to a full two-year term as whip – time to recover; the allegations are old and somewhat confusing (not really confusing); his critics inside the conference are anonymous and supporters are out in the open; the Scalise they know is a kind man and inherent decency will come through in the end

• Yet with the Scalise camp largely quiet, his critics – both public and private – have begun to rail against the Louisiana Republican, demanding to know how long he can remain in his post. A GOP leadership aide said, “There is concern that the situation will make it more difficult for him to raise money.” (makes the world go around)

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Victoria Jones – Editor

TRNS’ Justin Duckham, William McDonald and Washington Desk contributed to this report


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