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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
  • Obama: Will “do my job” on SCOTUS
  • Apple won’t unlock Calif gunman’s phone
  • Obama slams Trump, GOP field
  • Democrats court black voters
  • Pope to hold mass at Mexican border today
  • WH had plan for cyber attack on Iran
  • Oil deal or no deal?
Obama: Will “do my job” on SCOTUS (AP, NYT, WaPo, me)
• President Obama said Tuesday he would nominate a candidate to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court who is “indisputably” qualified. “I intend to do my job between now and January 20 of 2017,” Obama said. “I expect them
[Senate Republicans] to do their job as well.” Obama spoke at a presser in California after an ASEAN summit
 
• Fights over judicial nominations aren’t new, Obama noted, but “the Supreme Court’s different.” “This will be a test, one more test of whether or not norms, rules, basic fair play can function at all in Washington these days,” he said (errrmm – you been watching?)
 
• Since Justice Antonin Scalia’s unexpected death at a remote Texas ranch Saturday, WH lawyers and advisers have been scrambling to refine and vet potential replacements. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) has said he thinks Obama should leave the choice up to the next president (putting GOP senators in a bind – rare political misstep for him)
 
• “There’s no unwritten text that says that it can only be done in off years. That’s not in the constitutional text,” Obama said. “I’m amused when I hear people who claim to be strict interpreters of the Constitution suddenly reading into it a whole series of propositions that aren’t there.”

 

GOP Shifting Strategy on Nominee?
• McConnell has shown no signs of shifting his opposition and several lawmakers facing heated elections have backed him up. But the GOP may still be searching for a strategy. In an interview with Iowa Radio, Sen Chuck Grassley said he “would wait until the nominee is made before I would make any decision.” (he’s Judiciary chair – and can decide for himself)
 
• “I’m going to present somebody who indisputably is qualified for the seat and any fair-minded person, even somebody who disagrees with my politics, would say would serve with honor and integrity on the court,” Obama said. Asked if he meant he was leaning towards a moderate, Obama said, bluntly: “No.” (fascinating)
 
• He wouldn’t comment on whether he would consider appointing a candidate during a congressional recess – likely to further inflame partisanship in Congress. Conservative Sen Thom Tillis (R-NC) told a local radio show that Republicans “fall into the trap of being obstructionists” if they reject any nominee “sight unseen.”
 
• If Senate Republicans don’t confirm anyone, the Supreme Court will operate with eight justices not just for the rest of this term, but for most of the next one as well. High court terms begin in Oct, and the 80 or so cases argued typically are decided by early summer. They’d be unable to issue rulings on any issue in which the justices split 4-4
 
• Court officials said Scalia’s body will lie in repose Friday in the Supreme Court’s Great Hall, after a private ceremony. The funeral mass will take place Saturday. Scalia’s chair and the bench directly in front of his seat was draped in black wool crepe on Tuesday, a tradition going back to 1873

 

Apple Won’t Unlock Calif Gunman’s Phone (NYT, Hill, WSJ, me)
• A judge in California on Tuesday ordered Apple to help the FBI unlock an iPhone used by one of the attackers in the assault in San Bernardino that killed 14 people in December. She ordered Apple to provide “reasonable technical assistance” to the FBI
 
• Apple’s Tim Cook said today: “The U.S. govt has asked us for something we simply do not have, and something we consider too dangerous to create. They have asked us to create a backdoor to the iPhone. … We can find no precedent for an American company being forced to expose its customers to a greater risk of attack.” Cook called the judge’s order “chilling”
 
• The FBI says that its experts have been unable to get into the iPhone 5c used by Syed Rizwan Farook, who was killed by police along with his wife, Tashfeen Malik, after they attacked Farook’s coworkers at a holiday gathering (what the FBI really wants is to use this opportunity to get into all iPhones)
 
• Prosecutors said in a court filing that Apple had the “exclusive” means to bypass the security features on the phone, but that the company “has declined to provide the assistance voluntarily.” FBI experts say that because of the phone’s security feature, they risk losing the data permanently after 10 failed attempts to enter the password
 
• The DoJ had secured a search warrant for the phone, which is owned by Farook’s former employer, the San Bernardino County Dept of Public Health. But prosecutors said they saw little choice but to seek the additional order compelling Apple’s assistance (well, Apple says it doesn’t have the technology – this is going to get really interesting)

 

• The FBI says it has found a trench of human feces and a road excavated on or next to a sensitive cultural site with artifacts at the Oregon wildlife refuge where armed militants staged a standoff, according to court records filed Tuesday. Also, that firearms and explosives were found (disgusting violation of Burns Paiute Tribe’s sacred burial grounds – not surprising) (Reuters, me)
 
Obama Slams Trump, GOP Field (Hill, NYT, me)
• President Obama slammed Donald Trump and the rest of the GOP 2016ers Tuesday. “I continue to believe Mr Trump will not be president, and the reason is because I have a lot of faith in the American people and I think they recognize that being president is a serious job. It’s not hosting a talk show or a reality show, it’s not promotion, it’s not marketing, it’s hard.”
 
• “I think foreign observers are troubled by some of the rhetoric that’s taken place in these Republican primaries and the Republican debates,” Obama said at a presser at the end of a Southeast Asian summit. “I don’t think it’s restricted, by the way, to Mr Trump.” (But GOPers don’t give two effs what foreigners think – would ban over 1 billion of them, anyway)
 
• Obama said his successor would have “the nuclear codes with them and can order 21-year-olds into a firefight and has to make sure that the banking system doesn’t collapse and is often responsible for not just the USA but 20 other countries that are having big problems, are falling apart and are going to be looking for us to be doing something.”
 
• “The other countries around the world, they kind of count on the U.S. being on the side of science and reason and common sense,” Obama said. “There is not a single candidate in the Republican primary that thinks we should so anything about climate change, that thinks it’s serious. Well that’s a problem.”
 
• “The American people are pretty sensible, and I think they’ll make a sensible choice in the end,” he said
 
Democrats Court Black Voters (AP, NYT, me)
• Hillary Clinton took her campaign to Harlem in New York City on Tuesday, her focus squarely on solidifying support among black voters who twice backed her husband. She offered a detailed plan to overcome racial disparities ahead of crucial primaries in South Carolina and the Deep South (has either candidate done a lot for blacks – actually? asking for a friend)
 
• “It’s not enough for your economic plan to be ‘Break up the banks,'” Clinton said. Bernie Sanders has pushed back against Clinton’s contention that he’s only a “single-issue” candidate and campaigned Tuesday in South Carolina, holding a prayer breakfast with black ministers and appearing with Erica Garner, the daughter of Eric Garner – police chokehold death NYC
 
• Sanders pledged to reduce income inequality and break up big financial institutions, but also stressed criminal justice reform and voting rights and reflected on the country’s racial history. “it is clear to everybody that we still have a long, long way to go,” he said
 
• Clinton noted her solidarity with President Obama, the nation’s first black president. In pointed comments about Justice Antonin Scalia’s successor, she said, “Some [Republicans] are even saying he doesn’t have the right to nominate anyone. As if somehow he’s not the real president. You know, that’s in keeping with what we’ve heard all along, isn’t it?”
 
• Clinton’s address presented a $125 billion offering a plan of ideas to help African Americans, including steps to provide job and housing opportunities, protect voting rights and re-enter society after incarceration. She coughed repeatedly during her speech and tried to soothe her throat with water and a lozenge (Drudge all over that – but it’s a pretty persistent throat)

 

• Rapper Killer Mike took flak late Tuesday after saying at a Bernie Sanders rally – said he was repeating what a woman said – “a uterus doesn’t qualify you to be president of the United States.” He took to Twitter, saying he’d “gladly see” anyone who could lead “on behalf of the worker: “Cynthia McKinney, Elizabeth Warren, Connie Rice, I’m ready.” (Hill)
 
 
Pope to Hold Mass at Mexican Border Today (Reuters, Fox, Hill, me)
• As many as 200,000 Catholics are expected to cross four bridges from El Paso, Texas, into Ciudad Juarez, Mexico today to see Pope Francis in a massive pilgrimage likely to choke roads and immigration offices. The pope will visit a jail, celebrate mass and lay a wreath at the border wall in honor of migrants who have died attempting to reach the U.S.
 
• The pope is traveling to crime-ravaged Ciudad Juarez on the last stop of his six-day tour of Mexico. He’ll pray for migrants and victims of violence at the mass. A platform built next to the border fence will allow the pope to address El Pasoans watching from the U.S. (expect Donald Trump’s head to explode later today)
 
• The Vatican responded late Tuesday to Trump’s criticism of Francis’s plan to visit the border. Last week, Trump said, “I think Mexico got him to [visit the border] because Mexico wants to keep the border just the way it is because they’re making a fortune and we’re losing.”
 
• In a statement, Vatican spox the Rev Federico Lombardi said, “The pope always talks about migration problems all around the world, of the duties we have to solve these problems in a humane manner, of hosting those who come from other countries in search of a life of dignity and peace.”
 

• The pope has demanded that countries welcome those fleeing poverty and oppression and denounced what he calls the “globalization of indifference” towards refugees

•  State Dept spox Mark Toner, frustrated by Syria’s ongoing violence, told Russia on Tuesday to “put up or shut up” about implementing a ceasefire in the Arab country, even as the U.S. backpedaled from an agreement for the truce to begin by Friday (sooo not going to happen) (AP, BBC, me)

 

WH Had Plan for Cyber Attack on Iran (NYT, Reuters, me)
• The U.S. had a plan for an extensive cyber attack on Iran in case diplomatic attempts to curtail its nuclear program failed, NYT reports, citing the documentary “Zero Days,” and military and intel officials – but that the WH, the DoD and of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence all declined to comment
 
• Code-named Nitro Zeus, the plan was aimed at crippling Iran’s air defenses, communications systems and key parts of its electrical power grid and transportation systems, but was put on hold after a nuclear deal was reached last year
 
• The plan developed by the Pentagon was intended to assure President Obama that he had alternatives to war if Iran moved against the U.S. or its regional allies, and at one point involved thousands of U.S. military and intel personnel, the report said. It also called for putting electronic devices in Iran’s computer networks – “zero day” exploits
 
• U.S. intel agencies at the same time developed a separate plan for a covert cyberattack to disable Iran’s Fordo nuclear enrichment site inside a mountain near the city of Qum, the report said
 
• The existence of Nitro Zeus was revealed during reporting on a documentary film called “Zero Days” to be shown today at the Berlin Film Festival. The film describes rising tensions between Iran and the West in the years before the nuclear deal, the discovery of the Stuxnet cyberattack on the Natanz uranium enrichment plant and debates in the Pentagon over the use of such tactics

 

• China has deployed an advanced surface-to-air missile system to one of the disputed islands it controls in the South China Sea, U.S. and Taiwan officials said, ratcheting up tensions even as President Obama at a presser in California urged restraint in the region, after a two-day summit with Southeast Asian leaders (Reuters)

 

 
Oil Deal Or No Deal? (Reuters, me)
• Top oil exporters Russia and Saudi Arabia agreed on Tuesday to freeze output levels but said the deal was contingent on other producers joining in – a major sticking point with Iran absent from the talks and determined to raise production. More talks were planned with Iran and Iraq today in Tehran. Effectively, Iran could determine the success of the deal
 
• The Saudi, Russian, Qatari and Venezuelan oil ministers announced the proposal after a previously undisclosed meeting in Doha. It could become the first joint OPEC and non-OPEC deal in 15 years, aimed at tackling a growing oversupply of crude and helping prices recover from their lowest in over a decade. Oil prices jumped to $35.55 but later pared back to $32.18
 
• OPEC member Iran, Saudi Arabia’s regional arch rival, has pledged to steeply increase output in the coming months as it looks to regain market share lost after years of international sanctions, which were lifted in January following the nuclear deal
 
• Iranian oil minister Bijan Zanganeh also indicated Tehran wouldn’t agree to freeze its output at January levels. However, two non-Iranian sources close to OPEC discussions told Reuters that Iran may be offered special terms as part of the output freeze deal. Also complicating things is the geopolitical rivalry between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite Iran
 
• The Doha meeting came after more than 18 months of declining oil prices, knocking crude below $30 a barrel for the first time in a decade. The slump was triggered by booming U.S. shale oil output and a decision by Saudi Arabia and its OPEC Gulf allies to raise production to fight for market share and drive higher-cost production out of the market
 
 

CJ, a 3-year-old male German shorthaired pointer, won best in show at Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show on Tuesday. He was pretty laid back, unlike handler Valerie Nunes-Atkinson, who was over the moon, kissing judge Richard Meen and rival handlers, then dropping to her knees to hug and kiss CJ – and why not? He’s gorgeous

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Victoria Jones – Editor