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Victoria Jones created and edits Quick Morning News. She is chief White House correspondent with Washington DC-based Talk Media News, where her insight and analysis are made available to over 400 news talk radio stations around the country and internationally.

Quick News
  • After Scalia’s death, fierce battle lines
  • WH: Obama working on successor
  • Questions around Scalia’s death?
  • Trump / Cruz feud goes “nuts”
  • W stumps for Jeb!
  • Democrats battle in Nevada
  • Syria hospital strikes kill 50
  • Obama’s ASEAN summit
After Scalia’s Death, Fierce Battle Lines (NYT, Politico, me)
• An epic Washington political battle has taken shape after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia as Senate Republicans dug in Monday and said they would refuse to act on any Supreme Court nomination by President Obama. But the WH vowed to select a nominee within weeks – “in due time once the Senate returns from their recess,” – they return next week
• Multiple GOP senators said they strongly supported the position of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) that the vacancy should not be filled until after the presidential election, denying Obama a chance to reconfigure the ideological makeup of the court in the last year of his second term
• “I believe the Senate should not move forward with the confirmation process until the American people have spoken by electing a new president,” Sen Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) said Sunday. Ayotte is up for reelection in November against Gov Maggie Hassan (D). New Hampshire supported Obama in the last election
• The stance against even considering a nominee puts Senate Republicans in the politically charged position of defying the president on a crucial court opening in the heat of the presidential campaign – while also trying to hold on to their majority in the Senate (they think they’ve got a winner that will fire up the base – and it’s the one thing that will fire up the Dem base, too)
• Democrats quickly took aim at Republicans. “I think there is at least a 50-50 chance that pressure from the Republican Senate caucus will force McConnell to reverse himself and at least hold hearings and a vote,” said Sen Chuck Schumer (D-NY), the No. 3 Democrat in the Senate and a senior member of the Judiciary Committee

• Interactive: Supreme Court nominees considered in election years are usually confirmed – 6 out of 8 (NYT)


WH: Obama Working on Successor (Reuters, me)
• WH spox Eric Schultz told reporters on Monday that President Obama had started preliminary discussions with his team about naming a Supreme Court justice nominee and that admin officials had been in touch with Senate offices about the process. Schultz accused Republicans of political “bluster” for saying they wouldn’t confirm his pick
• Schultz laid out some of the criteria that Obama would consider in his decision making process. “The president seeks judges who understand that justice is not about some abstract legal theory, or a footnote in a casebook, but it is also about how our laws affect the daily realities of peoples’ lives,” he said (he already has a list, of course)
• Scalia’s death leaves the court evenly divided between liberal and conservative justices. “The Constitution doesn’t include exemptions for election years or for the president’s last term in office. There’s no exemption for when a vacancy could tip the balance of the court,” Schultz said (wasn’t elected for 3 and a quarter years…)
• “This is not the first time that Republicans have come out with a lot of bluster, only to have reality ultimately sink in,” Schultz said. “At each pass, they took a hard line. They tried to play politics. But ultimately, they were not able to back up their threats.” (but could try to run out the clock)


• Two leading candidates appear to be DC Circuit Judge Sri Srinivasan, 48, confirmed by the Senate in May 2013 97-0. Born in India, a Hindu, considered a moderate. Seems to relish  maintaining stability in the law. Also AG Loretta Lynch, 56, former top federal prosecutor in the Eastern District of New York, would be first African American woman on the court
Questions Around Scalia’s Death? (AP, San Antonio Express-News, WaPo, me)
• The Texas county judge who decided no autopsy was needed following the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has raised new questions about Scalia’s health in the days before he died. The judge didn’t see the Scalia’s body herself. Scalia was at a remote Texas ranch for a hunting trip (this story is unnecessarily weird)
• Presidio County Judge Cinderela Guevara told AP Monday she spoke with Scalia’s doctor, rear admiral Brian Monahan, on the day Scalia was found dead in his room at the ranch. She said the doctor told her that Scalia had a history of heart trouble, high blood pressure and was considered too weak to undergo surgery for a recent shoulder injury
• Those details are seemingly at odds with recollections of friends who described Scalia as his usual, happy self during the days leading up to his death. (well, they would) Guevara said she consulted with Scalia’s personal physician and local and federal investigators, who said there were no signs of foul play, before concluding he had died of natural causes
• Scalia’s body was found by Cibolo Creek Ranch owner John Poindexter (not that Poindexter, apparently) and a friend when he didn’t show up to breakfast. “We discovered the judge in bed, a pillow over his head. His bed clothes were unwrinkled,” Poindexter told the San Antonio Express News. “He was lying very restfully.” (pillow over his head?)


• The more extreme among the conspiracy theories is that Scalia was eliminated to ensure a 5-4 liberal majority on the Supreme Court before President Obama leaves office. Breitbart which is “reporting” this, does point out that it’s odd that Obama would wait until after so many major decisions have gone against him to do it…
Former DC Homicide Commander: “Stunned”
• William O. Ritchie, a former head of criminal investigations for Washington DC police, wrote in a Facebook post Sunday that he was “stunned” no autopsy was ordered. “You have a Supreme Court justice who died, not in attendance of a physician. You have a non-homicide trained US marshal tell the justice of the peace that no foul play was observed.”
• “How can the marshal say, without a thorough post mortem, that he was not injected with an illegal substance that would simulate a heart attack…” “Did the US marshal check for petechial hemorrhage in his eyes or under his lips that would have suggested suffocation? Did the US marshal smell his breath for any unusual odor that might suggest poisoning?”
• The manager of the El Paso funeral home to which Scalia’s body was taken on Saturday night said that Scalia’s family didn’t think a private autopsy was necessary. His body was to be flown to Virginia Monday night. No funeral details yet. Flags at the WH, the high court and federal buildings and embassies around the world are flying at half staff
• Scalia apparently had mentioned to some people at the ranch that he wasn’t feeling well, according to Guevara. She said that info came from her conversations with Presidio County Sheriff Dominguez and a U.S. marshal called Ken Roberts, both of whom had seen Scalia’s body and determined there was no foul play
• State law allows an inquest to be performed by phone. Guevara said she followed the procedure because both justices of the peace serving the region were out of town and she was also about 65 miles away from the resort (just sounds like more due diligence with a high-profile death would have been prudent to avoid inevitable rumors)
Trump / Cruz Feud Goes “Nuts” (AP, AP, NYT, NYT, Politico, me)
• Republican 2016er Donald Trump on Monday offered rival Ted Cruz an ultimatum, threatening to sue Cruz over his eligibility to serve in the WH – “birther” –  unless the Texas senator stops airing what Trump calls “false” ads and apologizes for what the mogul called a series of lies about his positions – less than a week to go before South Carolina’s GOP primary
• Trump also took aim Monday at the Republican establishment, accusing the Republican National Committee of packing its debate audiences with donors – a move he claimed violated the loyalty pledge he signed in September vowing to run as a Republican and support the party’s eventual nominee. (of course he did) The RNC says only 10 people were donors
• Trump went off on Cruz. “Ted Cruz is a totally unstable individual. He is the single biggest liar I’ve ever come across, in politics or otherwise, and I have seen some of the best of them.” – statement. At events in Charleston, Trump piled on: “nuts,” “basket case” – and he questioned Cruz’s Christian faith – “I don’t know, you’re going to have to really study that.” (mirror mirror…)
• Cruz responded at an event. “He
[Trump] apparently lost it. I mean, he was just going on and on about how I was the most horrible person in the world because I keep repeating the  things he said,” Cruz said to laughs. “And it’s an amazing thing. Have you noticed how rattled Donald gets when his numbers start going down? He gets very, very upset.”

• The 196 people, places and things Donald Trump has insulted on Twitter – a Complete List – NYT (number may even be higher by the time you read this…)


W Stumps for Jeb!
• During the afternoon presser, Trump also renewed his criticism of former President George W. Bush – whom he’d harshly attacked in Saturday’s nasty GOP debate. “If the ex-president is campaigning for his brother, I think he’s probably open to great scrutiny, maybe things that haven’t been thought of in the past,” Trump – (mysteriously) – told reporters
• George W. Bush never mentioned Trump. “I understand Americans are angry and frustrated,” the former president said during his first campaign rally for his brother, Jeb Bush. “But we do not need somebody in the Oval Office who mirrors and inflames our anger and frustration.”
• The former president emerged from his self-imposed political hibernation to try to give Bush a boost. “All the sloganeering and all the talk doesn’t matter if we don’t win,” W said. “We need somebody who can take a positive message across the country.” (bit late – Jeb’s identity crisis has hurt him – and he’s taken too long to come out swinging)

• Rather than gloss over 9/11, Bush leaned in. As the Charleston crowd fell into a hushed silence, he recounted in detail his whereabouts on the morning of the attacks and praised the troops that served in the two wars he started in response. “Your most solemn job as voters is to elect a president who understands the reality of the threats we face,” he said


Democrats Compete in Nevada (NYT, WaPo, NYT, me)
• As Democrats head towards Nevada’s caucus on 20 February, Hillary Clinton’s hopes have rested on her overwhelming advantage among voters of color. Bernie Sanders, however, is betting that his appeal among young and working-class voters, revealed so dramatically in New Hampshire, is strong enough to transcend race
• Sanders’s aides say there’s strong evidence in their internal polling that young and working-class Latinos are coming their way. In the wake of the NH defeat, Clinton spox Brian Fallon pointedly called Nevada “a state that is 80% white voters,” universally seen as a way to undercut the story that Sanders is making gains outside of progressive white voters
• Both campaigns competed intensely over the weekend, even showing up at the same predominantly black church in Las Vegas at the same time on Sunday morning. Awkward. Clinton sat on one side, accompanied by civil rights leader Rep John Lewis (D-Ga) and Sanders sat on the other side of the church with his wife Jane. The candidates avoided eye contact (ouch)
• Lewis told the church that Clinton was “ready to be president Day 1.” Clinton followed up by saying she planned to build on the Affordable Care Act, “which has been especially important for African Americans.” Sanders emphasized his desire to reform and demilitarize police departments, and that he wanted a govt focused on helping all Americans
• Sanders held a boisterous campaign event at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti on Monday. He also met with several residents of Flint to talk about the lead-tainted water there. He didn’t travel to the city, however. One person in the crowd shouted, “Go to Flint,” as Sanders said he had talked to parents who had witnessed the effects of the water on their children
Syria Hospital/School Strikes Kill 50 (BBC, Reuters, me)
• Up to 50 people have been killed in missile attacks on schools and hospitals in northern Syria, according to the UN. U.S. State Dept spox John Kirby said the attacks cast “doubt on Russia’s willingness and/or ability to help bring to a stop the continued brutality of the Assad regime against its own people.”
• Medecins Sans Frontieres said one of its hospitals had been struck by four missiles in the space of minutes, leading them to believe it “wasn’t an accidental attack, that it was deliberate.” Mego Terzian, the president of MSF France said “either the [Syrian] govt or Russia” was “clearly” responsible (a lot of evidence there has been a campaign against hospitals)
• However, the Syrian ambassador to Moscow, Riaz Haddad, said the U.S. was to blame, a claim the Pentagon dismissed as “patently false.” A UN spox said the attacks “cast a shadow” on commitments made by international powers last week to work towards a cessation of hostilities in Syria within a week (Russia/Syria have no intentions of a ceasefire)
• But Russia argues that the “cessation” doesn’t apply to its air strikes, which have tilted the balance of the war in favor of the Syrian govt. Syrian President Assad said the ceasefire didn’t mean “each party will stop using weapons.” (umm – cease. fire. weapons = confused?) Turkey on Monday accused Russia of an “obvious war crime” in connection with the attacks
• In Azaz, at least 12 people were killed in an attack on two hospital and two schools, reports said. One of those hit was a children’s hospital. “The Russians have been targeting this area because it’s what we call a liberated area – by moderate opposition,” said hospital worker Anfal Sevik

Obama’s ASEAN Summit (AP, me)

• President Obama is hosting Southeast Asian leaders at an unprecedented summit at Sunnylands resort in California as he looks to deepen ties with the region’s fast-growing economies. But uninvited China will be the proverbial elephant in the room as the leaders grapple with sensitive territorial disputes. Today is the second and final day

• Top issue: South China Sea – China says it has a historical right to virtually all of the South China Sea and has built seven artificial islands, including airstrips. Taiwan and four ASEAN members also claim land features in these important waters. Not a claimant, the U.S. has spoken out against China’s conduct and the Navy has sailed close to some of the islands

• Trade and TPP – U.S. companies have invested $226 billion in the region, and two-way trade was $254 billion last year. The leaders discussed trade and investment on Monday. They’re likely to discuss the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, and the four ASEAN members in TPP will want to know if Congress will ratify the pact (err – a bit iffy)

• Threat from ISIS – The U.S. wants to deepen counter-terrorism and intel cooperation with Southeast Asian nations. ISIS appears to be gaining a foothold. ISIS funded a suicide attack in Jakarta, Indonesia last month. Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia have all reported citizens traveling to fight in Iraq and Syria

• Human rights: awkward – Obama will emphasize the importance of the rule of law and civil society but likely avoid open criticism of a particular nation. Human rights activists have faulted the U.S. for inviting Cambodia’s Hun Sen, who has used violence and intimidation against political opponents, as well as the Thai prime minister, who seized power in a 2014 military coup

• Grammys: Taylor Swift won album of the year for “1989” – gave a speech empowering young women, Kendrick Lamar swept rap categories and electrified with the show’s central performance against “modern-day slavery.” Other standouts: Lady Gaga’s tribute to David Bowie and Alabama Shakes: “Don’t Wanna Fight” – won four – (most videos not yet available)

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Victoria Jones – Editor