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

  • WH immigration scramble
  • DHS: 10 days from shutdown
  • Obama speaks at extremism summit today
  • Obamacare: WH boasts 11.4m signups
  • Ukraine: U.S. warns Russia
  • South Sudan threatens journalists
  • Cuba: Developments
  • Hillary Clinton / Elizabeth Warren Huddle
  • Rand Paul: 2016 announcement on 7 April?
WH Immigration Scramble

• The Obama admin put its new deportation relief program on hold Tuesday on the eve of its launch, complying reluctantly with a federal judge’s order that roiled immigrant communities nationwide and seemed to harden an already tense stalemate on Capitol Hill (AP, Hill, NYT, CNN, TRNS, Fox, TRNS, me)

• Admin officials, who have vowed to appeal, may ask an appellate court to issue an emergency order undoing Monday’s decision to halt President Obama’s executive actions, said Cecilia Munoz, director of the WH Domestic Policy Council on Tuesday. Officials will decide “in the next couple of days.”

• “This is not the first time where a lower court judge has blocked something or attempted to block something that ultimately is going to be lawful, and I’m confident that it is well within my authority,” Obama said Tuesday afternoon, speaking to the press pool. “The law is on our side and history is on our side.”

• But for tens of thousands of immigrants in line to begin applying today for work permits and deportation stays under Obama’s directives, those plans were canceled, at least temporarily

DHS: 10 Days from Shutdown

• Homeland Security stands 10 days away from losing funding, but Texas District Court Judge Andrew Hanen’s ruling made a compromise on that dispute look more distant than ever. Republicans are blocking funding unless Democrats agree to cancel Obama’s immigration orders

• “Hopefully, Senate Democrats who claim to oppose this executive overreach will now let the Senate begin debate on a bill to fund the Homeland Security dept,” House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said Tuesday in a statement. With Congress now on recess, lawmakers will only have a few days next week to reach an agreement next

• One possibility is a short-term extension of current funding levels, but Boehner said over the weekend that the House had done its job and he would “certainly” let a shutdown occur if the Senate didn’t act (polls show the public blaming the GOP – again)

• Hanen’s ruling late Monday late Monday night, in a case brought by 26 states led by Texas, said that Obama and DHS lacked the authority to take the actions they did. The order wasn’t a surprise from a Republican-appointed judge who has showed a hard line on border issues. The Obama admin could seek a stay in addition to appealing to the 5th Circuit in New Orleans


• State Dept spox Marie Harf on Tuesday struggled to explain her comments on MSNBC on Monday that State Dept is focused on stopping the causes of terrorism in the Middle East such as lack of job opportunities, poor education etc. “We cannot win this war by killing them. We cannot kill our way out of this war.” The right went ballistic


Obama Speaks at Extremism Summit Today

• President Obama will deliver remarks this afternoon at a WH summit on countering extremism and radicalization. He’ll highlight domestic and international efforts to prevent violent extremists and their supporters from radicalizing, recruiting or inspiring individuals or groups in the U.S. and abroad to commit acts of violence, the WH said

• The WH has sought to use the three-day conference in DC to stir a sense of urgency about the challenge of preventing home-grown terrorism and the radicalization and recruitment of Americans, particularly young people (AP, FT, me)

• Yet it comes as the Obama admin has struggled to match its stated strategy for fighting ISIS and other Islamist extremist groups with the realities on the ground in Libya, Yemen and other Mideast hotspots

• Thursday, Obama will speak at the State Dept at a gathering of representatives from roughly 60 countries. The UK, Jordan, Egypt, the UAE, Kuwait and France are expected to attend

• A few days ago, Egypt launched airstrikes against ISIS positions in Libya, where the group posted video of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians being beheaded, and the UN Security Council is considering its own response. Denmark is reeling from a weekend shooting spree by a 22-year-old gunman who authorities believe may have been radicalized in prison


• ISIS militants have burned to death 45 people in the western Iraqi town of al-Baghdadi. Who they were and why they were killed isn’t clear, the local police chief said. Al-Baghdadi is about 5 miles away from an air base where U.S. marines are training members of the Iraqi army (BBC)

Obamacare: WH Cites 11.4m Signups

• President Obama said Tuesday that 11.4 million people had selected private health insurance plans or renewed their coverage under the Affordable Care Act in the enrollment period that ended Saturday. Many people cited the threat of tax penalties as a reason for obtaining insurance (NYT, Fox, me)

• Admin officials said the numbers would grow in the next week as insurance marketplaces, or exchanges, signed up people who had tried to enroll but encountered technical problems on or state insurance websites (plus ca change)

• “The Affordable Care Act is working,” Obama said in a video released by the WH. “It’s working a little bit better than we anticipated – certainly, I think, working a lot better than many of the critics talked about early on.”

• The admin has had difficulty establishing a firm count of people gaining insurance under the health law. In April 2014, Obama announced that 8 million people had signed up in the initial enrollment period ending 31 March. By Oct, that number had declined to 7.1m because some people failed to pay premiums or were found ineligible

• Meanwhile, a looming Supreme Court case reviewing a key component of the health care law is raising questions about what would happen if the Obama admin loses. HHS Sec Sylvia Burwell has refused to say if the admin has a backup plan and Republicans don’t have a plan ready to go, either (so total chaos looms, then)


Ukraine: U.S. Warns Russia

• VP Joe Biden on Tuesday said in a statement, “If Russia continues to violate the Minsk agreements, including the most recent agreement signed on February 12, the costs to Russia will rise.” Earlier, Biden spoke by phone with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko

• Russian President Vladimir Putin urged the Ukrainian govt to allow its troops to surrender to rebels in the strategic town of Debaltseve. Putin also said he hoped the rebels would let any captured troops return to their families. Fighting continues today in the town despite a ceasefire deal signed last week (BBC, me)

• The UN Security Council called for an immediate end to hostilities. International observers monitoring the truce have been unable to enter Debaltseve. The town has become a key prize for rebels and govt forces, as it sits on a strategic railway line linking rebel held Donetsk and Luhansk

• UN Ambassador Samantha Power said Tuesday, “Russia signs agreements then does everything within its power to undermine them. Russia champions the sovereignty of nations and then acts as if a neighbor’s borders do not exist. ” Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin called her comments “offensive.”

• Pics: Horrific images capture the sheer brutality of war in Ukraine (warning: very graphic but brilliant pics) (Buzzfeed)

• “Today the world must stop the aggressor,” Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said in a statement Tuesday, following a phone call with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Putin said, “I hope the Ukrainian authorities are not going to prevent the Ukrainian soldiers from laying down their weapons.”

• Controversy surrounds the fate of dozens of govt troops – rebel sources say they were surrendered, while the army contends they were captured after running out of ammunition during an ambush

• The rebels say Debaltseve isn’t covered by last week’s Minsk ceasefire agreement and continue to insist that it’s an “internal” matter. Ukrainian TV has shown pics of texts sent to govt soldiers in Debaltseve, allegedly from Russia. “Poroshenko and his generals have betrayed you,” the messages read, “There’s no need for you to die for them.”


• VP Joe Biden swore in new SecDef Ashton Carter Tuesday at the WH. Biden got a bit Bideney with Carter’s wife Stephanie, placing his hands on her shoulders, leaning in close and briefly whispering in her ear. It went viral and he was excoriated for it. It wasn’t sexual. Cmon guys, it’s Biden – watch the whole harmless thing


South Sudan Threatens Journalists

• South Sudan’s govt on Monday threatened to silence journalists if they broadcast interviews with rebels involved in the civil war. “We are shutting your media houses down if you interview any rebel here to disseminate his or her plans and policies within South Sudan,” Info Minister Michael Makuei told reporters (AFP, me)

• Makuei’s comments came after a local radio station broadcast an interview with a top opposition leader. “If you can go as far as interviewing the rebels to come and disseminate their filthy ideas to the people and poison their minds, that is negative agitation,” Makuei said in the latest threat to press freedom in the world’s newest state

• Rights groups have repeatedly warned that security forces have cracked down on journalists, suffocating debate on how to end a civil war in which tens of thousands of people have been killed in the past 14 months

• Reporters Without Borders this month said South Sudan has slipped down six places on its annual press freedom rankings, listing it as the 125th worst nation out of 180. It said the war has “hit media freedom hard,” noting that “news outlets were warned not to cover security issues and journalists were unable to work properly because of the war.”

• Fighting broke out in Dec 2013 when President Salva Kiir accused his former deputy Riek Machar of attempting a coup, setting off a cycle of retaliatory killings across the country. War continues despite numerous ceasefire deals. Over half the country’s 12 million people need aid, according to the UN


• Is Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameini feeling the heat about something? His PR people have sent a letter he’s written to the youth in Europe and North America to UN press. The letter’s a month old. It urges youth to independently investigate Islam from “primary sources” in light of the attacks on Charlie Hebdo in Paris. Good idea from a not so good man


Cuba: Developments

• Democratic senators Claire McCaskill (MO), Mark Warner (VA) and Amy Klobuchar (MN) concluded a four-day visit to Cuba Tuesday and said there could be enough Republicans who support lifting a trade embargo to dismantle it in Congress. There is some support from GOP legislators such as Sen Jeff Flake (R-AZ), lead sponsor of the travel bill

• McCaskill said largely Republican agricultural interests in the Midwest supported lifting the embargo as “they really want to sell rice down there.” Meanwhile, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is leading the first official House delegation to Cuba since President Obama announced lifting certain restrictions on the country in December (Hill, WSJ, TRNS, me)

• The second round of talks to re-establish diplomatic ties between the U.S. and Cuba will be held in Washington on 27 Feb, State Dept said Tuesday.  The talks will be mostly centered on logistical issues to facilitate reopening embassies in Washington and Havana. The first round took place in Havana, where some early divisions arose

• Cuba has raised concerns about U.S. support to dissidents and its inability to conduct normal banking operations in the U.S., while the U.S. is concerned about the ability of its diplomats to move freely on the island, among other issues


• AG Eric Holder on Tuesday called for a national moratorium on the death penalty until the Supreme Court weighs in on the issue later this year. “There is not an ability to correct a mistake for someone who has in fact been executed, and I think that is the ultimate nightmare.” (Hill)


Hillary Clinton / Elizabeth Warren Huddle

• Hillary Clinton held a private, one-on-one meeting with Sen Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) in Dec at Clinton’s Northwest Washington home, a move by the Democrats’ leading 2016 contender to cultivate the increasingly influential senator and leader of the party’s economic populist movement. The meeting was at Clinton’s invitation (NYT, WSJ, AP, Hill, me)

• Clinton solicited policy ideas and suggestions from Warren, according to a Democrat briefed on the meeting, who called it “cordial and productive.” Clinton didn’t ask for an endorsement

• For Clinton, the get-together was a signal that she would prefer Warren’s counsel delivered in person, as a friendly insider rather than on national TV or in opinion articles (ie snark). And for Warren, the meeting offered the opportunity to make clear what she believes are the most pressing national issues

• Separately, countries including the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Oman have collectively contributed millions to the Clinton Foundation, which has dropped a self-imposed ban on donations from foreign govts, the WSJ reported late Tuesday

• The foundation’s decision to again begin accepting foreign contributions will likely raise new questions, (I’ll say) just as Hillary Clinton prepares for the expected launch of her 2016 WH bid in the coming months. The U.S. prohibits foreign citizens from donating to American campaign


• A local Fox News affiliate issues (IMO a total non) apology after airing a picture of President Obama as a suspect when reporting on a rape case. But they don’t say it’s a “rape” case in the apology…


Rand Paul: 2016 Announcement on 7 April?

• Sen Rand Paul (R-KY) is eyeing 7 April as the day he will announce his plans to run for president, people close to him said, a step that would position him ahead of his potential Republican rivals as a declared candidate and allow him to begin raising money directly for his campaign 10 months before the Iowa caucuses (NYT, Hill, AP, Fox, Reuters, TRNS, me)

• A Rutgers-Eagleton poll out today says that 59% of registered New Jersey voters don’t think that NJ Gov Chris Christie (R) would make a good president, while 34% think he would make a good president. Top five words to describe him: “bully,” “arrogant,” “selfish,” “good,” “honest.” (that’s a major ouch)

• At a meeting of Republican donors who helped pay for 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s campaign, Jeb Bush said he planned to distinguish himself from brother former President G.W. Bush because they have different interests, strategies and leadership styles

• Gov Scott Walker (R-WI) hit back Tuesday at those suggesting that his lack of a college degree disqualifies him from becoming president. “I’d rather have a fighter who’s proven he can take on the big govt special interests and win,” Walker said on Fox News’s The Kelly File. (Walker’s worked for big govt most of his career)


Beagle Miss P won the Westminster Dog Show Tuesday night. Good doggie

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Victoria Jones – Editor

TRNS’ Justin Duckham, William McDonald and Mary Jarvis contributed to this report

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