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

  • Immigration: Obama/Boehner secret face-off
  • Immigration: “Don’t poison the well,” Mr Obama
  • Thousands of child migrants still lack lawyers
  • Boehner feisty in presser
  • Obama sent “secret letter” to Khameini – report
  • October jobs report: 4 things to watch
  • Who killed Osama bin Laden?
  • VA sec bites back at lawmakers
  • Court upholds same-sex marriage ban in 4 states
  • U.S. jets strike at “Khorasan group” in Syria

Immigration: Obama/Boehner Secret Face-Off

• President Obama and Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) held previously unreported talks over a legislative compromise to fix the balky immigration system starting after the 2012 election. The discussions ended this summer with the two men sitting stony-faced around a white wrought-iron table outside the Oval Office, aides said (WSJ, me)

• “When you play with matches, you take the risk of burning yourself,” Boehner said Thursday of possible unilateral action by the president. Obama vowed in his Wednesday postelection presser to move ahead on immigration by himself

• The president and speaker began talking with some optimism after Congress’s bid to overhaul immigration ran aground in summer 2013. Hispanic supporters of Obama were growing impatient and some Republicans were seeking a fresh approach

• In an early sign of success, Boehner asked the president not to criticize Republicans on the issue, fearing this would antagonize lawmakers skeptical of an overhaul. Obama agreed

Talked Past One Another
• After several phone conversations, Obama agreed in November to seek a piecemeal overhaul rather than one bill as long as together it accomplished the goals of a broader bill. They even batted around ideas for tackling a so-called path to citizenship

• More often, however, the two men talked past one another, aides said. Boehner told colleagues that he found it hard to squeeze a word in, and that Obama didn’t grasp how Washington works. Obama and WH officials grew skeptical that Boehner could sell any deal to House Republicans

• In January, Boehner asked the president to stop signing executive orders on other issues, such as the minimum wage, while they worked on a deal. The speaker thought such a gesture might appease Republican lawmakers accusing Obama of abusing presidential power

• Some of the president’s aides thought it was a phony excuse. They thought the speaker couldn’t come through with the needed votes. Obama offered what he saw as a compromise:  The WH would defer action on immigration until after the summer to give the speaker maneuvering room

Boehner: “He Just Doesn’t Get it”
• In the discussion, however, Obama followed up with his go-to talking point in dealings with Boehner: “There will never be another Republican president again if you don’t get a handle on immigration reform

• Boehner resented getting advice from a Democratic president on how to make Republicans a more viable force. What he wanted was more specific: A strategy to build a coalition in the House that could pass a bill

• It became increasingly common for Boehner to hang up the phone with Obama and sigh, “He just doesn’t get it.” Senior WH officials, for their part, saw Boehner as a leader perpetually vulnerable to being deposed. House conservatives wanted tougher border security, not millions of new citizens

Obama: “Now You’re Suing Me?”
• On a personal level, their conversations remained friendly. A WH social invitation offered to Boehner was a turning point. The speaker requested a meeting with the president before the event. That got the WH’s attention. Previously, it was Obama who initiated contact

• Seated around a table outside the Oval Office, Boehner told Obama that the window for passing legislation was as narrow as it gets. His caucus was rattled by a child refugee crisis and the primary defeat of Majority Leader Eric Cantor, in which immigration played a part

• During the 15-minute conversation, Boehner also informed Obama the House planned to file a lawsuit over his use of executive authority. “Now you’re suing me?” Obama said to the speaker

• The following day Boehner announced his lawsuit. A week later, Obama publicly declared any change to the immigration system dead for the year. He blamed Boehner

Immigration: Don’t “Poison the Well,” Mr Obama
• Republicans took a harsh tone with President Obama one day after his post-midterms presser, in which he pledged to take executive action on immigration reform before the end of the year. “If the president acts on his own, he will poison the well,” Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said at his own Thursday presser (Politico, TRNS, Hill, me)

• “If you play with matches, you can risk burning yourself,” Boehner, a heavy smoker, said. “The American people made it clear on Election Day: They want to get things done and they don’t want the president acting on a unilateral basis. “If the president continues to go down the path of taking action on his own, he’s inviting big trouble.”

• Rep Lamar Smith (R-TX) spelled it out to Bloomberg. “We might try to defund what he does. We’ll obviously try a lawsuit. There may be actions we can take otherwise.” (obviously lawsuit?) “When he does this, he’s just frankly going to poison the barrel and make it awfully hard to work with him on other issues.” (why? it’s politics)

• Sen John McCain (R-AZ), who was one of four Republican members of the Gang of Eight that crafted the immigration bill that passed the Senate last year, said on MSNBC, “I literally am pleading with the president of the United States not to act. Give it a chance. We’ve got a new Congress. We’ve got a new mandate.” (come on, John)

• Always friendly and cordial, chairman of the Republican National Committee Reince Priebus said on CNN that Obama has been “lying” to Hispanic voters across the country for the last year. “I don’t believe a thing he says” on immigration

Thousands of Child Migrants Still Lack Lawyers
• Newly released govt data show an immigration court system under stress as judges face pressure to expedite deportation cases even as thousands of child migrants – many under 14 and with no grasp of English – are still without attorneys to represent them (Politico, me)

• The fast pace of arraignments has been quite extraordinary, with 11,392 master calendar hearings held from 18 July to 21 October or more than 800 a week. Of the 1542 removal orders issued in the same time period, 94% fell on children having no counsel (appalling)

• The full impact of the process has probably not yet been felt because of the abundance of continuances granted by judges allowing more time for children to seek counsel. But more than a third of these continuances will begin to run out in the coming weeks, posing a fresh challenge for the courts and also Congress

• Republicans are far stronger after the election and as a rule have opposed efforts to provide public funding for attorneys. But lawmakers must come to grips with appropriations for the 2015 fiscal year which began on 1 Oct

• The GOP must then contend with not only the inequities of the current situation but also the fact that the shortage of defense counsel – and frequent continuances – hurt the Republicans’ own goal of expediting the process

• President Obama and VP Biden meet for lunch today with members of the Congressional leadership at the WH (fly on wall)
Boehner Feisty in Presser
• House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) was feisty and confrontational at his presser Thursday. “I have told the president before he needs to put politics aside and rebuild trust and rebuilding trust not only with the American people but with the American people’s representatives here in the United States Congress.” (Politico, Fox, TRNS, Hill, TRNS, CNN, me)

• “Finding common ground is going to be hard work, but it will be harder if the president isn’t willing work with us. Yesterday we heard him say he may double down on his go it alone approach.” Boehner never mentioned the word “compromise” once in his press conference

• He listed five main priorities – “fix our broken tax code, address the debt that’s hurting our economy and imprisoning the future of our kids and grandkids, reform our legal system, reshape our regulatory policy to make bureaucrats more accountable, and give parents more choices in a system that isn’t educating enough of America’s children.”

• “The House, I’m sure, at some point next year, will move to repeal Obamacare. It should be repealed, it should be replaced with common-sense reforms that respect the doctor-patient relationship. Whether that can pass the Senate, I don’t know. But I know in the House, that will pass.”

• On immigration, “If the president acts on his own, he will poison the well. If you play with matches, you can risk burning yourself. The American people made it clear on Election Day: They want to get things done and they don’t want the president acting on a unilateral basis.”

• Rep Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) told members of her caucus Thursday in a 75-minute call that Democrats didn’t win Tuesday because Democrats didn’t vote (duh) She doesn’t think there’s a problem with the message. (some members do) (Hill, me)
Obama Sent “Secret Letter” to Khameini – Report
• President Obama wrote a secret letter to Iran’s Supreme Leader describing a shared interest in fighting ISIS, according to people briefed on the correspondence. The letter, reported by WSJ, urges Ayatollah Ali Khamemei toward a nuclear agreement (WSJ, BBC, Hill, me)

• Obama stressed in the letter that any cooperation on fighting ISIS is contingent on Iran reaching such an agreement by a 24 November diplomatic deadline. WH spox Josh Earnest declined Thursday to comment on Obama’s “private correspondence.” The letter, sent last month, is at least the fourth time the president has written to Khameini

• Officials with the Obama admin have, in recent days, placed the chances for a deal on Iran’s nuclear program as only 50/50, according to WSJ. (Obama has said that in the past, also) SecState John Kerry is scheduled to begin negotiations on the issue with Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif this weekend in Oman


• An interim deal agreed late last year gave Iran some relief from sanctions in return for curbs on nuclear activity. But talks stalled on the extent of uranium enrichment Iran would be allowed and on the timetable for sanctions to be lifted. Iran denies that it’s trying to make a nuclear bomb

• Thursday, Earnest said, “The U.S. will not cooperate militarily with Iran in that effort
[ISIS]. We won’t share intelligence with them. But their interests in the outcome is something that’s been widely commented on – commented upon and something that on a couple of occasions has been discussed on the sidelines of other conversations.”

• Also on Thursday, Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said he didn’t trust Iran’s leaders and that they shouldn’t be brought into the fight against ISIS. Sen John McCain (R-AZ) called it “shameful and immoral” if the U.S. was “playing footsie” with the Iranians and “hope they will somehow have an effect on ISIS.”
• Russian hackers have infiltrated most of the critical infrastructure in the U.S., according to ABC News – software infected with malware that controls everything from oil and gas pilelines to wind turbines and nuclear power plants (ABCNews, Hill)
October Jobs Report: 4 Things to Watch
• The latest snapshot of the labor market, to be released this morning, is expected to show U.S. employers added jobs at a healthy clip last month despite emerging worries about the global economy. Economists forecast the economy added 233,000 jobs in October and peg the unemployment rate as holding steady at 5.9% (WSJ, Bloomberg, CNBC, me)

Tracking the trends: Employers added an average of 22,000 jobs each month since last September. That’s the best 12-month stretch since early 2006. If October’s reading comes in near or above that average, it would suggest slack in the labor market continues to diminish

All eyes on wages: Steady job creation typically coincides with stronger incomes. Economists are still waiting for surer signs of accelerating wages, which should then support consumer spending and broader economic growth. Average hourly earnings, $24.53 in Sept, will be a number to watch

Short-term strength: One development that could support wage growth is falling short-term unemployment. The short-term jobless rate – unemployment for workers out of a job for six months or less – could fall below 4% for the first time since the recession began

Mind the mix: Many private employer job gains have been at lower-paying businesses. Stronger gains in higher-paying sectors would suggest recent job gains are more likely to translate into better economic growth. Recently, that’s been happening in construction and health-care

Who Killed Osama bin Laden?
• A former member of the Navy SEALs claims to have shot the Qaeda leader during the daring operation in Pakistan in 2011. Two years ago, another SEALs member said he was among those who shot bin Laden. Meanwhile, multiple military officials and fellow SEALs have said it was a third person, the point man, who fired the first shot that felled him

• It may never be possible to say who exactly fired the fatal shot or shots. No autopsy was performed and no video has emerged of the shooting. The military never released a photograph of bin Laden after he was killed and said that his body has been buried at sea (NYT, BBC, me)

• The public claims have antagonized senior officials, prompted a criminal investigation after disclosing classified information and alienated fellow SEALs, who object to individuals taking credit or cashing in on team efforts

• Robert O’Neill, 38, a former member of the elite SEAL Team 6, said that he was the assaulter whose two shots killed bin Laden, according to an account in WaPo. The website SOFREP, which focuses on special operations, revealed O’Neill’s name on Monday

• In interviews with Esquire, where he was identified as “the Shooter,” O’Neill had said that the point man, who saw bin Laden first, shot at the Qaeda leader but missed. O’Neill said that he fired two shots to the head of bin Laden, whom he described as still standing at the time

Point Man? O’Neill? Bissonette?
• One former SEAL Team 6 member with knowledge of the raid said in an interview on Thursday that he believed the point man had wounded bin Laden with a shot in the side. Rather than going in for the kill, the point man grabbed the women who were present and pushed them aside, fearing they were wearing explosive vests. O’Neill did fire the fatal shots

• “Anyone could have been in that position,” said the former senior member, who declined to be identified given the classified nature of the work. “We have known that this moment with Rob O’Neill coming out was going to happen sooner or later, and here it is.” (O’Neill sounds like an orifice)

• But other military officials took issue with O’Neill’s account. They credited the unidentified point man, who is still a member of the secret unit, with severely wounding or even killing bin Laden before other SEALs fired. A former commander of Team 6 said he believed O’Neill fired “insurance” rounds into bin Laden’s body, after he was down

• O’Neill’s version of events came after that of Matt Bissonette, another member of the raid team, who published a bestseller two years ago. In the book, Bissonette described how the point man shot bin Laden in the head, then he and another assaulter entered the room. Bin Laden was “twitching and convulsing” and they fired several rounds into his chest

• Neither man’s story can be independently verified. Last week, two top SEAL commanders warned in an open letter to current and former Navy SEALs, “We will actively seek judicial consequence for members who willfully violate the law, and place our Teammates, our Families and potential future operations at risk.” (good)
• Rep Paul Ryan (R-WI) on how he won’t be in Congress in 10 years: “No. God no. I’ve already been there 16 years. I don’t want to be a career guy. Even though I’ve been there a long time, where you could already say that….” He stops himself. “It’s just, I don’t want to spend my adult life in Congress.” (National Journal)
VA Sec Pushes Back at Lawmakers
• Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald on Thursday fired back at lawmakers who have accused him of not moving fast enough to remove managers accused of covering up healthcare delays for veterans, particularly Phoenix VA Director Sharon Helman (Hill, Roll Call, CNN, Fox, Politico, me)

• “Why is it in my interest to go slow on disciplinary action? Explain to me why that’s in my interest,” McDonald said during a Christian Science Monitor breakfast. “And then tell me why you want to play some kind of a political game about veterans.” (point) “The laws are very clear and I’m skeptical whether members of Congress don’t understand the law.”

• House Veterans Affairs Committee chair Jeff Miller (R-FL) and Sens John McCain (R-AZ) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) in recent weeks have accused McDonald of moving too slowly to fire senior level execs within the agency. They also have accused him of allowing some to retire with full benefits or seek employment elsewhere

• But McDonald said, “The law didn’t grant any kind of new power that would suddenly give me the ability to walk into a room and simply fire people. I wouldn’t do that anyway. Criminal prosecution has the priority, then the administrative disciplinary action follows.”

• He said the dept has more than 40 cases of disciplinary action in progress against senior leaders and is tracking more than 2,000 cases throughout the agency where an employee might be disciplined or fired. The FBI, DoJ and the VA’s IG are all involved in investigating



Court Upholds Same-Sex Marriage Bans in 4 States
• A divided Cincinnati-based U.S. appeals court on Thursday upheld bans on same-sex marriage in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee, breaking with several other courts that recently struck down bans on gay unions (WSJ, me)

• The 2-1 ruling, from a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, is likely to put renewed pressure on the Supreme Court to intervene and decide whether gay couples have a constitutional right to marry

• U.S. Judge Jeffrey Sutton, writing for the majority, said, “Better in this instance, we think, to allow change through the customary political processes, in which the people, gay and straight alike, become the heroes of their own stories by meeting each other not as adversaries in a court system but as fellow citizens seeking to resolve a new social issue.”

• In a dissent, Judge Martha Craig Daughtry said the couples “are not political zealots trying to push reform on their fellow citizens. They are committed same-sex couples, many of them heading up de facto families,” who believe their constitutional rights are being violated

• The Supreme Court surprised and frustrated many court watchers on 6 Oct when they announced they wouldn’t consider any of the seven appeals on gay marriage. Their action provided a boost for same-sex marriage by leaving in place three lower court rulings that struck down state bans. A Supreme Court review appears to draw closer

• Quiz! take the Perils of Perception Quiz. Think you know stuff that’s going on? Is the murder rate rising or going down? Things like that. Select your country and see how you do

U.S. Jets Strike at Khorasan Group in Syria
• American fighter jets carried out a series of airstrikes in northwestern Syria on Thursday that sought to kill leaders of a Qaeda-linked cell that’s plotting attacks on the West, American officials said (NYT, BBC, me)

• American intelligence assessments call the group Khorasan and say it could pose a more immediate threat to the U.S. and Europe than ISIS, which has seized territory on both sides of the Iraq-Syria border. The U.S. hasn’t targeted Khorasan since hitting its bases with cruise missiles at the start of its Syria campaign on 23 September

• A senior U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told reporters that one of the targets was a French militant called David Drugeon, who had joined the group. The official said it was unclear as to whether he had been killed in the strikes, but added: “We think we got him.”

• After the strikes in September, American officials thought they’d killed at least some of Khorasan’s leaders, including founder Muhsin al-Fadhli, a Kuwaiti who was close to Osama bin Laden. But in recent weeks, as intel analysts sifted through field reports and communications intercepts, they grew more certain that senior members of the group had survived

• Many in the Syrian opposition have expressed skepticism about the existence of the Khorasan group, saying that the U.S. had created it to justify strikes on Islamist rebels


• Vid: rocking into the weekend with “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap” live – AC/DC. This week, drummer Phil Rudd was charged with attempting to arrange a murder. Apparently, the alleged plot targeted two men and involved a hit man. Dunno the price… Charges have now been dropped

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Victoria Jones

TRNS’ Celina Gore, Leah Schwarting and Washington Desk contributed to this report


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