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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
  • SCOTUS vacancy: Senators spar
  • 2016: Cruz fires spokesman
  • 2016: Dems’ delegate debate
  • Syria: Ceasefire?
  • Kalamazoo: Suspect admits to killings
  • Sandy Hook gun lawsuit
  • DoJ wants to hack more iPhones
 
SCOTUS Vacancy: Senators Spar (AP, Politico, Hill, Hill, Fox, me)
• Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev) took to the Senate floor Monday and said Republicans were making “an unprecedented attempt to hold hostage an entire branch of govt.” “This is a foolish gambit,” he said, “a full-blown effort to delegitimize President Barack Obama, the presidency and undermine our basic system of checks and balances.”
 
• Reid was speaking about Senate Republicans’ plan to prevent Obama from filling Justice Antonin Scalia’s seat on the Supreme Court during this election year. Firing back, Republicans highlighted 29 June 1992 remarks by VP Joe Biden, who was chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee at the time:
 
• “Once the political season is underway and it is, action on a Supreme Court nomination must be put off until after the election campaign is over,” Biden said at the time on the Senate floor, according to C-Span. Biden on Monday said the remarks are “not an accurate description of my views.” (to be a fly on wall in WH – oh wait – Biden is in the woodshed)
 
• Biden said in his statement that in the same speech he encouraged the Senate and the WH to “work together to overcome partisan differences to ensure the Court functions as the Founding Fathers intended.” He touted his record as chair, saying he presided over the process to appoint Justice Anthony Kennedy who was confirmed during an election year
 
• Biden urged the Senate to ensure the “prompt and fair consideration” of a justice. Obama is expected to announce his nomination in coming weeks. GOP senators will gather today for the first time since Scalia’s death to discuss their path forward. Maine’s centrist senator Susan Collins (R) has come out in favor of a hearing, as has Sen Mark Kirk (R-Ill) – up for reelection

 

• The Pentagon today is expected to give Congress the Obama admin’s plan for closing the Guantanamo Bay prison, in a move that will likely spark a fierce clash with Republican lawmakers who oppose shuttering it. The long-awaited plan is part of President Obama’s final push to follow through on a campaign promise to shut the prison down (WSJ)
 
 
2016: Cruz Fires Spokesman  (NYT, AP, Hill, Politico, AP, Politico, NYT, Atlantic, CNN, me)
• Ted Cruz on Monday fired his campaign spox, Rick Tyler, for tweeting a story that falsely alleged Marco Rubio insulted the Bible (good move Rick). Earlier Monday, Rubio slammed Cruz for the incident and – of course – Donald Trump lashed out at Cruz over Twitter: Cruz “has now apologized to Marco Rubio and Ben Carson for fraud and dirty tricks”
 
• Meanwhile, establishment heavyweights continued to back Rubio, with many seeing him as the candidate who can unite the fractured Republican Party. Gov Asa Hutchinson (R-Ark) and Sen Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) signed on, and former Sen Bob Dole (R-Kansas) said he had been backing Jeb Bush but was now switching to Rubio. GOP Nevada caucuses tonight
 
• Pressure started to mount on John Kasich to get out. “If at some point John
[Kasich] were to decide not to go forward with his campaign, Marco would be the primary beneficiary of that decision,” former Gov Tim Pawlenty (R-Minn) told Politico after his Rubio endorsement. (horses’ heads on Kasich’s pillow in the near future…)
 
• At a Las Vegas rally Monday night, Donald Trump said the guards were being very gentle with a protester: “I’d like to punch him in the face, I’ll tell you that.” Trump said the man had been “throwing punches.” According to – anonymous – security personnel, the man didn’t throw any punches. Trump said in the “good old days,” the man would be “carried out on a stretcher.”
 
• Watch: Dick Van Dyke endorses Bernie Sanders with an “URGENT” message
 
2016: Dems’ Delegate Debate
• Bernie Sanders downplayed Hillary Clinton’s weekend victory in Nevada, pointing out that the win only netted her four additional delegates, out of the 2,383 needed to win the nomination. “This is about a slog, state by state by state,” he said
 
• Sanders argues that Clinton has made gains by lifting much of his message, including his “phraseology.” “I saw a TV ad and thought it was me, but it turns out it was Secretary Clinton in the ad,” he said (no question she’s started sounding more like Sanders)
 
• But Clinton has 502 delegates to Sanders’s 70. Those numbers include delegates won in state contests and superdelegates. She is likely to win a delegate jackpot from the overwhelmingly black and Hispanic areas in the Southern-dominated Super Tuesday primaries 1 March, when 11 states will vote and about 880 delegates will be awarded
 
• Meanwhile, about 11 million Hispanics voted in the 2012 presidential election, fewer than half of those who were eligible. Univision, including its top-rated Spanish-language network and many subsidiaries, is making an ambitious nationwide effort aimed at registering about three million new Latino voters this year


Syria: Ceasefire? (Reuters, AP, me)
• The U.S. and Russia on Monday announced plans for a “cessation of hostilities” that would take effect on Saturday, but a loophole would exclude groups such as ISIS and al Qaeda’s Nusra Front. Presidents Obama and Putin discussed the accord by phone. To succeed, the deal will require both countries to persuade their allies on the ground to comply (as if…)

• Bashar al-Zoubi, a political leader within the Free Syrian Army, said, “Russia and the regime will target the areas of the revolutionaries on the pretext of the Nusra Front’s presence, and you know how mixed those areas are, and if this happens, the truce will collapse.” (this is so sad – don’t see Syria abiding by this, even if Russia does – dubious anyway)

• A joint U.S.-Russian statement said the two countries and others would work together to delineate the territory held by ISIS, Nusra Front and the other militant groups excluded from the truce. But rebel officials said it was impossible to pinpoint positions held by Nusra

• In a sign of confidence, reflecting his growing momentum on the battlefield, Syrian President Assad on Monday called a parliamentary election for 13 April. The timing wasn’t a surprise as elections are held every hour years and the last one was in 2012

• Parties would indicate their agreement to the U.S. and Russia by noon Damascus time Friday and the truce would go into effect at midnight. The deal doesn’t spell out in detail how the truce will be monitored, let alone enforced. There’s to be a U.S.-Russia “communication hotline.” SecState Kerry said there were “significant challenges ahead.” (colossal understatement)

• A UN report out Monday finds “deliberate” destruction of hospitals in Syria by govt forces and ISIS was responsible for driving up deaths and permanent disabilities. The UN Commissions of Inquiry on the war in Syria flatly asserts that “war crimes are rampant” – very disturbing and haunting piece. U.S. and Russia also culpable (NYT)

 

Kalamazoo: Suspect Admits to Killings (Hill, AP, HuffPo, me)
• Jason Dalton, 45, an Uber driver and former insurance adjuster, appeared briefly in court by video link Monday and was charged with six counts of murder in the random shootings that killed six people in a Kalamazoo rampage Saturday. A judge denied him bail. He admitted his involvement, a county prosecutor said. Motive remains a mystery
 
• Uber acknowledged Monday that it received complaints about erratic driving by Dalton. Matt Mellon said that he hailed a ride around 4:30 pm Saturday. He said Dalton introduced himself as “Me-Me.” About a mile into the trip, Dalton got a phone call. When he hung up, he began driving recklessly, blowing through stop signs and sideswiping cars – Mellen jumped out at a stop sign
 
• President Obama argued before the National Governors Assn at the WH on Monday that it should be harder for troubled people to obtain guns. “I’ve got to assume all of you are just as tired as I am of seeing this stuff happen in your states,” he said. Obama said he phoned the mayor, police chief and sheriff to offer federal help
 
• Kalamazoo County Sheriff Richard Fuller said Uber is cooperating with law enforcement and he believes the company will “help us fill in some timeline gaps.” Uber said Monday it wouldn’t change the way it screens its drivers – the company never meets potential drivers in person. Dalton may have switched vehicles during the rampage

 

• Sea levels on earth are rising several times faster than they have in the past 2,800 years and are accelerating because of man-made global warming, according to new scientific studies. Until the 1880s, the fastest seas rose was about 1-1.5 inches a century. Since 1993 the rate has soared to a foot a century (AP)
 
 
Sandy Hook Lawsuit (AP, Hill, me)
• Lawyers for a gun maker and families of some Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre victims squared off in a Connecticut courtroom Monday over whether a federal law prevents the families’ wrongful death lawsuit targeting the AR-15 rifle used to kill 20 children and six adults in the 2012 shooting (and if it does, bit sick that one industry gets a carve-out)
 
• Judge Barbara Bellis heard arguments and said she would rule within the next two months on whether the lawsuit should go forward towards trial or be dismissed. Lawyers for Freedom Group, the gun maker, said the company is protected by a 2005 federal law that shields gun manufacturers from most lawsuits over criminal use of their products
 
• The families of nine children and adults killed and a teacher who survived say the AR-15 is a highly lethal military weapon that shouldn’t be sold to the public. They’re suing Freedom Group, the parent company of Bushmaster Firearms, which made the AR-15 used in the school shooting
 
• Joshua Koskoff, a lawyer for the victims’ families, said their lawsuit is believed to be the first to be filed under an exception listed in the federal law that allows litigation against companies that know, or should know, that their weapons are likely to be used in a way that risks injury to others (suits against gun makers have been largely unsuccessful)
 
• In a conference call on Monday, Gov Dannel Malloy (D-Conn), a Hillary Clinton supporter, railed against Sen Bernie Sanders (I-Vt), who supported the federal law in 2005. “Senator Sanders has been to gun safety what Trump should be accounted for improvements in diplomacy,” Malloy said. Sanders now says he backs legislation to remove liability protections for gun makers
 
DoJ Wants to Hack More iPhones (ABC News, AP, Reuters, WSJ, me)
• The DoJ is looking at a court order forcing Apple to help investigators extract data from iPhones in about a dozen undisclosed cases across the country, the WSJ reports. Also to bypass passcode security features of phones that may hold evidence. The details of the cases aren’t yet public and don’t tend to involve terrorism charges (so the FBI has been er less then truthful…)
 
• Meanwhile, in the San Bernardino case, Apple chief exec Tim Cook sent an email to employees Monday morning: “At stake is the data security of hundreds of millions of law-abiding people and setting a dangerous precedent that threatens everyone’s civil liberties” if the phone is unlocked. He urged the creation of a govt panel on encryption (sounds like he’s right)
 
• But FBI director James Comey, in a piece published late Sunday on Lawfare, said the San Bernardino case wasn’t about setting a new legal precedent but rather about “victims and justice.” A federal judge last week ordered Apple to create new software and take other steps to retrieve data from the locked phone used by now dead gunman Syed Farook
 
• Sen Mark Warner (D-Va) and Rep Michael McCaul (R-Texas) will on Wednesday unveil details of legislation that would create a digital security commission comprising technology, business and law enforcement experts to help break the impasse over encryption. Apple indicated that it would work with a commission or panel of experts
 
• Apple’s supporters plan to protest the FBI’s demands this evening outside Apple’s stores in the U.S., the UK, Germany and Hong Kong. Protests organized in U.S. cities by Fight for the Future include Washington DC – FBI headquarters, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco

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Victoria Jones – Editor