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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
  • Pope v Trump
  • Pope flap: GOP 2016ers cautious
  • Scalia funeral flap
  • Dems in Nevada: Jabs = boos
  • GOP in South Carolina: Trump nailed
  • Obama to raise human rights in Cuba
  • Cracks in Russia/Syria alliance?
Pope v Trump (AP, NYT. BBC, CNN, me)
• Answering a direct question from a reporter on the papal plane, Pope Francis on Thursday declared that Donald Trump is “not Christian” if he wants to address illegal immigration only by building a wall along the Mexican border. Trump fired back ferociously, saying it was “disgraceful” for a religious leader to question a person’s faith
 
• “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian,” Francis said. While the pope said he would “give the benefit of the doubt” because he hadn’t heard Trump’s border plans independently, he added, “I say only that this man is not a Christian if he has said things like that.” Francis was returning home from Mexico
 
• Trump, a Presbyterian, roared within minutes: “For a religious leader to question a person’s faith is disgraceful.” (Trump, who wants to be the – secular – leader of the free world, has repeatedly and insultingly questioned President Obama’s Christian faith, and just this week questioned whether GOP 2016 rival Ted Cruz was actually a Christian, sooo…)
 
• Trump raised the prospect of ISIS attacking the Vatican, saying that if that happened, “the pope would have only wished and prayed that Donald Trump would have been president because this would not have happened.”
 
• Trump eased off on the pope later Thursday, saying he thought tha Francis’s comments were “probably a little bit nicer” than first reported. (who wants a president who doesn’t get the facts before he insults a world leader?) Trump in the past has referred to Christian communion as having “the little wine” and “the little cracker.”

 

Pope Flap: GOP 2016ers Cautious (NYT, AP, me)
• Sen Marco Rubio (R-Fla), himself a Catholic, referred to the pope as the “holy father,” but noted: “Vatican City controls who comes in, when they come and how they come in, as a city-state. The U.S. has a right to do that as well.” (pope didn’t question that – it was “only” building walls that he questioned)
 
• Rick Tyler, a spox for Sen Ted Cruz (R-Texas) tried to avoid the conflict altogether. “I’m not going to get between Mr Trump and the pope,” Tyler said. Some commentators on social media tried to say the wall surrounding the Vatican meant the pope was a hypocrite (wall was started in the 850s, not by the pope – and again – not the “only” option)
 
• Former Gov Jeb Bush (R-Fla), a Catholic, appeared to defend Trump. “I don’t question anybody’s Christianity. I honestly believe that’s a relationship you have with your creator.” (Bush, who’s previously been relatively sympathetic to the plight of immigrants, was quiet on the issue)
 
• Gov John Kasich (R-Ohio) said Thursday night that he was staunchly “pro-pope.” “We have a right to build a wall,” Kasich said But he added: “We need bridges between us if we’re going to fix the problems in Washington ’cause all they do is have walls.”
 
Scalia Funeral Flap (Hill, AP, Reuters, Hill, AP, me)
• WH spox Josh Earnest on Thursday defended President Obama’s decision not to attend the funeral of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. VP Joe Biden will attend. Republicans have slammed Obama for not attending the funeral, interpreting it as a sign of disrespect (Obama honored Scalia’s contributions to the court on Saturday)

• Earnest called it disrespectful for Obama’s critics to use the funeral “as some kind of political cudgel.” “The president doesn’t think that that’s appropriate, and in fact, what the president thinks is appropriate is respectfully paying tribute to high-profile patriotic American citizens even when you don’t agree on all the issues. And that’s what he’s going to do.”


 

• In lieu of attending the funeral, the president and first lady Michelle Obama are paying their respects to Scalia and his family this afternoon while his body lies in repose in the Great Hall of the Supreme Court. The WH hasn’t said what Obama will be doing during Scalia’s funeral on Saturday (leading to much speculation among chattering classes of possible golf)

• Still unclear whether Senate Republicans will allow hearings on a Scalia successor – but they’ll put themselves in the wrong if they don’t. There is no “precedent” for this. President Obama is being treated like 3/5 of a president by them by only being “allowed” 3/4 of his second term – minority voters also are noticing

 

GOP: No to Obama Successor
• A day after signs of splintering emerged within the GOP, Republicans mounted a display of unity in the form of a WaPo op-ed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) and Senate Judiciary Committee chair Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) on Thursday
 
• “No one disputes the president’s authority to nominate a successor to Scalia,” they wrote, but they argued that inconvenient as it may be for President Obama, “the Constitution grants the Senate the power to provide – or as the case may be, withhold – its consent.” Tellingly, they didn’t say whether the nominee should at least get a hearing
 

• VP Joe Biden spoke about a possible successor to Scalia on Thursday. “In order to get this done, the president is not going to be able to go out – nor would it be his instinct, anyway – to pick the most liberal jurist in the nation and put them on the court.” Biden said there are plenty of judges on high courts who “have had unanimous support of the Republicans.”

• Sri Srinavasan of the DC Court of Appeals was confirmed by a vote of 97-0 less than three years ago. Senators also unanimously confirmed Jane Kelly in 2013 to the St Louis-based 8th Circuit Court of Appeals
 

• Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev) said on Thursday that he thinks Obama will pick a nominee in about three weeks – “someone that is going to be good.” He said that the Republicans will hold hearings and put it to the Senate floor. He thinks they will “be forced, as much as they hate to,” to vote for this “very superior” candidate (is he psychic?)

• Watch: How to caucus in Nevada – as explained in a cute and slightly biased – way using talking stuffed animals and little girls – by the Bernie Sanders campaign (facts are correct, though)

 
 
Dems in Nevada: Jabs = Boos (Politico, Politico, Hill, AP, me)
• Hillary Clinton on Thursday night accused Bernie Sanders of attacking President Obama and her husband, former President Bill Clinton. “I just don’t know where all this comes from,” she said at an MSNBC town hall. “Maybe it’s that Sen Sanders wasn’t really a Democrat until he decided to run for office.” Boos from audience – “Well, it’s true, it’s true,” she exclaimed
 
• Speaking to reporters on his campaign plane Thursday afternoon, Sanders described some of President Clinton’s biggest achievements, the NAFTA trade agreement and welfare overhaul, as “disastrous.” Later, during his separate appearance at the town hall, he said, “I was asked to comment on Bill Clinton’s very strong criticisms of me.”
 
• And he noted – drawing some audience grumbling – that only one candidate in the Democratic race ran against Obama, before offering a strident defense of the president. “No one asks me whether I’m a citizen or mot … my father came from Poland. What’s the difference? Gee, maybe the color of our skin.”
 
• Both candidates are working to woo minority voters, a key plank of the Democratic party, ahead of Saturday’s Nevada caucuses. In the town hall, they vowed to make reforming the immigration system a top priority. Rep Jim Clyburn (D-SC), a top African-American leader on the Hill, will endorse Clinton today
 
• Clinton was pressed on why she has refused to release transcripts of paid speeches she delivered to Goldman Sachs. “I’m happy to release anything I have when everybody else does the same,” she said, adding that Sanders has also given paid speeches. Slight diff: Clinton made $675,000 for three speeches for Goldman; Sanders made $2,000 for three speeches in 2014

• Between 2009 and 2014, there were approx 17,968 emergency room visits in the US for foreign bodies stuck in a rectum – and 60% were NOT sex toys… About 3/4 of patients were male, of course… Example: Man, 76, stuck a shampoo bottle up his rectum and it got stuck – from ER doctor notes (this is a scream of a piece, with examples – Flowing Data)

 

GOP in South Carolina: Trump Nailed (Buzzfeed, Hill, NYT, me)
• Donald Trump, who has made his claim of having been the only GOP candidate to oppose the Iraq War in 2003 a centerpiece of his stump speech, said in a 2002 interview with Howard Stern that he favored the invasion. Trump repeated his claim Thursday night at a CNN town hall that he had been the only candidate to have the vision to oppose the war
 
• “Are you for invading Iraq?” Stern asked in the interview, audio of which was discovered by Buzzfeed. “Yeah, I guess so,” Trump replied, adding, “I wish the first time it was done correctly,” in reference to the initial Persian Gulf invasion by the first President George Bush (which he’s praised)
 
• Confronted with the contradiction by Anderson Cooper, Trump said he didn’t remember making the comment, but admitted, “I could have said that … I wasn’t a politician.” “But by the time the war started, I was against the war. And shortly thereafter I was really against it.” (so were lots of people – it was having the foresight to be against it before it started that mattered)
 
• Jeb Bush on Thursday night brushed off Gov Nikki Haley’s (R-SC) decision to endorse rival Marco Rubio this week. Bush said, “I’m marking her down as neutral,” drawing laughs. He also insisted he has a path forward in the race, despite his low poll numbers in many states
 
• John Kasich said that if elected president he would consider appointing one of his former rivals to his Cabinet: Chris Christie. Kasich said the two are “kind of buddies” and go out to dinner together with their wives, and he considers him “a terrific guy.”
 
• President Obama slapped North Korea with more stringent sanctions Thursday for defying the world and pushing forward with its nuclear weapons program, weeks after it launched a satellite-carrying rocket into space and conducted its fourth underground nuclear test
 
Obama to Raise Human Rights in Cuba (AP, Politico, me)
• President Obama said Thursday he’ll raise human rights issues and other U.S. concerns with Cuban President Raul Castro during a history-making visit to the communist island nation on 21 and 22 March. Obama will meet with entrepreneurs and members of civil society. He’ll be the first sitting president to set foot on the island in nearly seven decades
 
• “We still have differences with the Cuban govt that I will raise directly,” Obama wrote on Twitter in announcing the visit. Deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes wrote in a Medium blog post that the ultimate aim is to persuade Congress to lift the trade embargo – Havana’s biggest request – but there’s fierce Republican resistance to that in Congress
 
• GOP 2016ers slammed Obama’s decision. “I was saddened, but I wasn’t surprised,” Sen Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said Wednesday. “The problem with the Cuban govt is that it’s not just a communist dictatorship, it’s an anti-American communist dictatorship,” said Sen Marco Rubio (R-Fla). Cruz and Rubio are of Cuban descent
 
• Rep Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican born in Cuba, called the visit “absolutely shameful.” But Sen Jeff Flake (R-Ariz), cheered the announcement. “For Cubans accustomed to watching their govt sputter down the last mile of socialism in a ’57 Chevy, imagine what they’ll think when they see Air Force One,” Flake said

 

Cracks in Russia/Syria Alliance? (Reuters, Reuters, BBC, AP, me)
• President Assad was out of step with the views of his main ally, Russia, when he said he planned to fight on until he re-established control over all of Syria, Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s envoy to the UN said Thursday
 
• In the first public sign of cracks in the alliance between Moscow and Damascus, Churkin said it was incumbent on Assad to follow Russia’s line and commit to peace talks: “Russia has committed very seriously in this crisis, politically, diplomatically, and now also in the military sense.” And so Assad “should take account of that.”
 
• Separately, the Pentagon disclosed Thursday that U.S. officials asked Russia to avoid bombing broad areas of northern Syria where several dozen U.S. special operation forces have been working with Syrians fighting ISIS. The request, not previously revealed, goes beyond the Pentagon’s understanding with the Russians to avoid inadvertent military air collisions
 
• The UN’s World Food Program plans to make its first air drops of food and other aid in Syria to Deir-al-Zor, an eastern city of 200,000 besieged by ISIS, in coming days, the chair of a humanitarian task force said Thursday. UN aid agencies don’t have direct access to areas held by ISIS
 
• Rocking into the weekend: “Swings and Waterslides” – British indie band Viola Beach. No. 1 on iTunes this week. All four band members and their manager were killed a week ago in Sweden when their car plunged 82 ft off a bridge that had opened to allow an oil tanker through. The ship may then have sailed over the wreckage of the car – could they have survived otherwise?

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Victoria Jones – Editor