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

  • Nuke deal: Obama wants decision from Iran
  • Netanyahu speech storm rages
  • Obama: “All options” for aiding Ukraine
  • ISIS: Obama wants new war powers
  • Homeland Security: Republicans scramble
  • Alabama gay marriage confusion
  • Secret Service No. 2 demoted
  • Brian Williams debate
  • Obama’s “war on Christians”


Nuke Deal: Obama Wants Decision From Iran

• President Obama on Monday said he didn’t envision any more extensions in continuing negotiations with Iran to prevent the nation from obtaining nuclear weapons. “The issues now are sufficiently narrowed and sufficiently clarified that we’re at a point now that they need to make a decision,” Obama said at a joint WH presser with German Chancellor Angela Merkel

• The negotiations have twice been extended and face a late March deadline for working out the main outlines of a deal. The deadline for a detailed agreement is end of June. “I don’t see a further extension being useful if they have not agreed to the basic formulation and the bottom line the world requires,” Obama said (NYT, Hill, Haaretz, Reuters, AP, me)

• Obama said much had been worked out and the current complications “are no longer technical.” “The issues now are: Does Iran have a political will and a desire to get a deal done?” Obama said a deal shouldn’t be hard if Tehran was serious about not wanting nuclear weapons. “They should be able to get to yes.”

• Obama said he had an obligation to pursue the diplomatic negotiations as far as they could go, as long as Iran wasn’t using the time to advance its nuclear program. Obama said that if the talks failed, the “options are narrow and they’re not attractive.” (the vibe between the two leaders was friendly at the presser – some have said much tension was present – I disagree)
Netanyahu Speech Storm

• At the joint Merkel presser, President Obama said he was working to maintain the strong bond between the U.S. and Israel, “and the way to preserve that is to make sure that it doesn’t get clouded with what could be perceived as partisan politics.” – i.e. meeting with PM Benjamin Netanyahu in DC two weeks before an Israeli election (Hill, Haaretz, AP, TRNS, me)

• “I don’t want to be coy: The prime minister and I have very real differences around Iran sanctions,” Obama said. “It does not make sense to sour the negotiations a month or two before they’re about to be completed, and we should play that out.” If no deal can be reached, he would work with Congress “to apply even stronger measures against Iran. But what’s the rush?”

• Meanwhile, Netanyahu told a Likud party election rally in Israel on Monday, “A bad deal with Iran is forming in Munich that will endanger Israel’s existence. … Therefore I am determined to go to Washington and present Israel’s position before the members of Congress and the American people.”

• Netanyahu argued that there have “always been essential differences between Israel and the U.S.” and that “relations have remained sound.” “This will be the case this time as well.” “This is not a political issue or a party issue, neither here nor there. This is an existential issue, and I approach it with the fullest responsibility.”

• Israeli officials are considering amending the format of Netanyahu’s speech next month. They’re considering whether he should speak to a closed-door session of Congress or make his speech at the annual AIPAC meeting in DC. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) added his name Monday to the growing list of Dems skipping the speech
• Syrian President Bashar Assad in a BBC interview dismissed efforts by the U.S. to train and equip a “moderate rebel force to fight ISIS militants on the ground in Syria as a “pipe-dream.” He argued there were no moderates, only extremists from ISIS and al Qaeda’s affiliate, the al Nusra front (BBC)


Obama: “All Options” for Aiding Ukraine

• President Obama said at a joint presser with German Chancellor Angela Merkel Monday that the U.S. is examining “all options” for aiding Ukraine, including supplying defensive weapons, if the latest round of diplomatic efforts fails to bring a resolution with Russia (NYT, Bloomberg, TRNS, BBC, Sky, me)

• Russia had violated “every commitment” made in the failing Minsk agreement, Obama added, after talking with Merkel on a new peace deal. Obama has come under pressure from U.S. lawmakers to supply arms, despite objections from Merkel. Russia denies accusations of sending troops and supplying the rebels

• Obama and Merkel met after EU foreign ministers agreed Monday to delay an expansion of sanctions against Russia in a bid to give a chance for a new round of truce talks among the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France scheduled for Wednesday in Minsk, Belarus. Obama argued that the most potent weapon of the U.S.-EU appliance is maintaining unity

• “Both Angela and I have emphasized the prospect for a military solution to this problem has always been low,” Obama said. Merkel said success at the Wednesday summit “is anything but certain.” Obama said Russia was trying to redraw borders behind the “barrel of a gun” and that diplomacy remained the priority in the crisis

• Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spox Dmitry Peskov told a Moscow radio station Monday: “Nobody has ever talked to the president in the tone of an ultimatum – and could not do so even if they wanted to.” (bodes well for Wednesday’s summit)
• The WH is expected to reveal today a new unit tasked with integrating the intel communities’ cyber data and sharing it with civilian agencies, according to an industry source (Hill)


ISIS: Obama Wants New War Powers

• As early as today or tomorrow, President Obama is expected to send Capitol Hill his blueprint for an updated authorization for the use of military force, or AUMF. Haggling then begins on writing a new authorization for force against ISIS. The militants have seized territory in Iraq and neighboring Syria, where they have declared an Islamic caliphate (AP, me)

• In fighting ISIS, Obama so far has relied on congressional authorizations former President George W. Bush used to justify military action after 9/11. Critics say the WH’s use of post 9/11 congressional authorizations is a legal stretch at best. The president earlier insisted he had the legal authority to send a few thousand troops to train and assist Iraqi security forces

• A congressional official said the president will ask for a three-year authorization so that the next president will have to seek renewed authority to fight ISIS. The official said Obama wants to leave open the option to send in combat forces if needed, but isn’t seeking an authorization that would permit a prolonged U.S troop presence on the ground

• The WH request also wouldn’t restrict the fight to certain geographic locations, but would limit the U.S. to fighting ISIS militants or any future group that they become, the official said (not limited at all)

• One congressional aide said Democrats won’t rubber stamp the WH version, but will seek to rewrite it to include bipartisan views. Another congressional staffer said the debate in Congress won’t necessarily flow along party lines because conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats disagree about deploying combat troops and restricting the geographical area served


Homeland Security: Republicans Scramble

• Republicans are scrambling to figure out how to avert a shutdown at the Dept of Homeland Security while gutting President Obama’s immigration actions. GOP leaders probably won’t settle on a path forward until after next week’s President’s Day recess – right before funding runs out on 27 Feb (Hill, me)

• On the Senate floor Monday, Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) described in graphic detail how a Jordanian pilot was burned alive for 22 minutes. ISIS has “bragged” it’s coming for America next, Reid said. With 18 days of funding to go, Reid said: “Republicans are hell-bent on playing chicken with our national security.”

• Obama will spark more debate over terrorism when he sends lawmakers his request to use military force against ISIS (see story above). The request will be rigorously debated in a series of hearings on both sides of the Capitol

• During three separate votes last week, Senate Democrats filibustered the House-passed DHS spending bill, objecting to two GOP riders aimed at rolling back Obama’s executive actions that make it easier for illegal immigrants to stay in the country

• Republicans in the House and Senate are now waiting for the other chamber to go first. Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) recently said it’s time for the Senate “to get their act together.” But Sen Jim Risch (R-ID) has said, “The House is going to have to send us another bill that we can get on.” Options to fund the agency are becoming limited:
DHS: Tick Tock…

• Republicans could abandon their efforts to use the DHS funding bill as the vehicle to torpedo Obama’s immigration actions and instead turn to the court system. Congress could pass another short-term funding bill. A continuing resolution could be as short as 30 days, buying Republicans a bit more time to sort themselves out

• If Senate Republicans and Democrats can work out a compromise funding bill soon, it could be merged with the House-passed DHS bill in a conference committee. But the negotiators would have to move fast with the deadline quickly approaching (unlikely). If nothing works, DHS would shut down, setting off a blame game in the media

• Democrats would have the advantage of the bully pulpit. Both Obama and DHS Sec Jeh Johnson have already warned about the dangers of a shutdown. Over the weekend, Johnson said 30,000 workers would be furloughed if the dept closed down

• Republicans believe the American public will find Obama at fault this time around, but they don’t want to be seen as being soft on terrorism. House Foreign Affairs Committee chair Ed Royce (R-CA) said he’ll hold a hearing Thursday examining the threat from ISIS (yes, there’s a threat)


• Former Gov Jeb Bush (R-FL) has hired Ethan Czahor to be his chief tech officer for his PAC – and is standing by him. Monday, nearly 200 tweets disappeared from Czapor’s account, with a great many referencing women as “sluts” or commenting unpleasantly on gay men. Bush believes the comments were “inappropriate” (Buzzfeed, TPM)


Alabama Gay Marriage Confusion

• Same-sex couples began marrying in parts of Alabama Monday, making it the 37th state where gay marriage is legal, but judges in numerous counties avoided granting marriage licenses to gay couples in apparent defiance of the U.S. Supreme Court (Reuters, TRNS, me)

• The nation’s highest court earlier in the day refused a request by Alabama’s Republican AG to keep same-sex marriages on hold until the nine justices decide in the coming months whether laws banning them violate the U.S. Constitution. But same-sex couples in 42 of the states 67 counties encountered difficulties in getting licenses, gay rights advocates said

• This followed an order by Roy Moore, the conservative chief justice of Alabama’s Supreme Court, instructing probate judges to issue no marriage licenses to gay couples despite a federal court ruling in January throwing out the state’s gay marriage ban, effective on Monday, Moore’s chief of staff said the directive still stood, despite Monday’s SCOTUS action


• In Birmingham, dozens of same-sex couples married at the courthouse and an adjacent park. Wiping away tears, Eli Borges Wright, 28, said he was overjoyed to be marrying the man with whom he has been in a relationship for the past seven years. “After all of these years, I can finally say this is my husband,” he said

• This wasn’t Moore’s first foray into controversy. In 2003, he was removed from office after defying a federal order to take down a Ten Commandments monument he had erected in the state’s judicial building. He was returned to his post by voters in 2012

• Two of the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative justices, Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia, dissented from the court’s decision not to further delay gay marriage in Alabama. Thomas wrote that the court’s actions in allowing marriages to go ahead “may well be seen as a signal of the court’s intended resolution of that question.” Court hears arguments next month


• President Obama meets today at the WH with members of the Congressional Black Caucus, including freshman GOP Rep Mia Love (UT). Previewing the meeting, chair Rep G.K. Butterfield (D-NC) acknowledged the relationship between Obama and the CBC is “complicated.” (Hill)


Secret Service No. 2 Demoted

• Senior officials at the Dept of Homeland Security on Monday demoted the deputy director of the Secret Service, just days before he was due to testify on Capitol Hill, amid criticism from the agency’s most ardent lawmaker critic. Alvin “A.T.” Smith will take a job at DHS. Some at the agency considered him a respected leader – not all (NYT, WaPo, me)

• Rep Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), chair of the House Oversight Committee, had said Smith should be dismissed. Ranking Democrat Elijah Cummings (D-MD) concurred. Chaffetz said Smith had been part of the agency’s string of mishaps and scandals

• It was made clear to officials at the Secret Service and DHS that Chaffetz didn’t plan to go lightly on Smith at the hearing. Among other episodes, Chaffetz was likely to question Smith about his decision in 2011 to have Secret Service agents conduct welfare checks for five days on an agency employee who said she was threatened by neighbors

• It wasn’t clear how Chaffetz intended by treat Joseph Clancy, the agency’s interim director, although Chaffetz has said the agency’s next director shouldn’t come from within the agency. That’s a blow to Clancy’s candidacy for the job, for which he’s been lobbying. He remains a WH contender. The hearing has been postponed

• Smith had been with the agency for 29 years and was considered one of the few people with a deep understanding of the agency’s highly specialized mission. Some agency officials claimed he had undermined Julie Pearson, a former director of the agency, who resigned after she stumbled before the committee during a hearing about a WH fence jumper


Great graphic: Changes in the Secret Service (WaPo)
Brian Williams Debate

• A debate’s brewing over Brian Williams’ future as NBC Nightly News aired Monday without the decade-long anchor. Some critics have suggested that Williams should be fired. Others wonder if commerce will win out since Williams has kept Nightly News at the top of the ratings while much of the news division has crumbled (AP, WaPo, TPM, NYT, me)

• Meanwhile, John Stewart on the Daily Show Monday night pointed out that the same media that now are vigorously examining the facts in Williams’ storytelling Iraq history, still haven’t gone back to examine the lies they told in the media leading up to the U.S.’ entry into the Iraq war. He also ripped Williams

• If Williams’ future as the anchor of NBC Nightly News rests on his trustworthiness and ratings, new research delivered some sobering news Monday. Before Williams apologized for his Iraq story, he ranked as the 23rd-most-trusted person in the country. Monday, he ranked No. 835 (ouch ouch)

• The story Williams has told of covering Israel’s military campaign against Hezbollah has been dissected. At least three versions have surfaced involving the anchor traveling in a helicopter and witnessing rockets at close range (there’s a pattern with rockets and helicopters)

• His Katrina coverage is coming under particular scrutiny as he claimed that the Ritz Carlton was overrun by armed gangs, yet he never reported that on the air. He also claimed to have dysentery and to refuse treatment so that others could have it. He claimed to have witnessed a suicide at the Superdome and to have seen a body float by his hotel – all up for grabs now
Obama’s “War on Christians”

• Former Gov Mike Huckabee (R-AR) Monday on Fox ripped into President Obama’s National Prayer Breakfast speech last week. “Everything he does is against what Christians stand for, and he’s against the Jews in Israel. The one group of people that can know they have his undying, unfailing support would be the Muslim community. (secret Muslim, that’s why)

• At the breakfast, Obama said: “Lest we get on our high horse and think this

[violence in name of Islam] is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.”

• Rep John Fleming (R-LA) said on a radio show Friday, “Not only did he vilify Christianity, but he actually made a case to defend radical Islam.” Fleming accused Obama of “creating a propaganda bonanza for terrorists” with the speech. “What he’s really saying is ‘Well look, these are freedom fighters, just like the patriots of the Revolutionary War.'” (just like that)

• Hmmm. Fleming apparently didn’t hear the speech. What Obama actually said was that terrorists “profess to stand up for Islam, but in fact are betraying it. You see ISIL, a brutal, vicious death cult that, in the name of religion carries out unspeakable acts of barbarism, terrorizing religious minorities.”

• Fox News host Eric Bolling apparently doesn’t have access to Wikipedia or any extant religious texts. Saturday, he said, “Yet when you take Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, whatever, their combined killings in the name of religion — well that number would be zero.” (me, Buzzfeed, TPM, Hill, HuffPo, Politico)


Rep Steve King (R-IA) tweeted a cartoon of President Obama wearing a turban while speaking about the Crusades at the National Prayer Breakfast. “When you say our country must never forget, are you referring to 9/11?” a speech bubble asks. “No. The Crusades,” Obama answers (class, can always count on class from King) (me, TPM)

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Victoria Jones – Editor

TRNS’ William McDonald and Mary Jarvis contributed to this report

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