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

  • DHS: Two-vote deal? Not so fast
  • Obama vetoes Keystone: What next?
  • “American Sniper” trial: Guilty
  • Kerry makes case for AUMF
  • Kerry: No Iran deal yet
  • Netanyahu won’t meet with Democrats
  • Obamacare: No WH contingency plan
  • VA sec apologizes for false claim
  • Zimmerman: Not enough evidence
DHS: Two-Vote Deal? Not So Fast

• Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) Tuesday offered a path to avert a partial shutdown of the Dept of Homeland Security, saying he’d allow a vote on a bill solely to fund the agency, followed by a second vote on legislation that would halt President Obama’s 2014 executive actions on immigration. Plan, right? (NYT, Roll Call, TRNS, me)

• The move offered Republicans an avenue to break out of an embarrassing impasse as they try to prove their ability to govern as majority party in Congress. But it’s not over yet, and it’s quite likely that Congress will be forced to fashion a short-term spending bill to keep the dept open. Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) – now sporting sunglasses – was skeptical

• “We have to make sure that people understand the bicameral nature of this Congress that we serve in, so to have Senator McConnell just pass the ball over to the House isn’t going to do the tick. Unless Boehner is in on the deal, it won’t happen.”

• President Obama is expected to take questions today, including directly from undocumented immigrants, at the taping of a “town hall” in Miami that will air on Telemundo and MSNBC. He will also likely address the DHS budget (Miami Herald)

• Democrats are gambling that by staying unified, they can force McConnell – who promised to run a Senate that could be effective and still leave a conservative imprint on policy making – into a corner. (and not be “scary”) But the maneuver could backfire, if voters blame Democrats for filibustering the very spending bill for which they’ve been asking

• The next moves now rests with the House, whose members returned to the Capitol Tuesday evening (urgency much?), but wouldn’t have much of a path forward until after a closed-door conference meeting this morning. But many conservative House members are likely to balk at funding DHS without fighting Obama’s executive actions on immigration

• A short-term funding measure, while staving off a partial shutdown, seems destined to please no one. “A clean CR? Even Republicans are saying that is unacceptable,” said Sen Dick Durbin (D-IL). “That means we have to revisit this in 60 days and the dept is going to be diminished and its capacity to protect America in the interim.”

• Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen testifies for a second day before Congress today. Tuesday, she indicated before a Senate panel that if the economy continued strengthening, the central bank would drop its pledge to be “patient” with interest rates and start considering rises on a “meeting-by-meeting basis.” (FT, TRNS, me)


Obama Vetoes Keystone: What Next?

• President Obama vetoed the Republicans’ Keystone XL pipeline bill Tuesday. His veto message was delivered within hours of the legislation arriving on his desk, the latest step in six years of pushing and pulling over a Canada-to-Texas oil pipeline that’s become a symbol in the debate over jobs vs environment (Politico, NYT, TRNS, TRNS, me)

• Even before Obama whipped out his veto pen, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) vowed to hold an override vote, which the Republican leader’s office said would occur no later than 3 March

• That gives the GOP a small window to get the Democratic votes they need in order to push the bill past Obama. About 20 more Democratic votes in the House and four in the Senate are required to enact the bill

• In a veto message to Congress, Obama rejected the Keystone bill as an attempt to “circumvent longstanding and proven processes for determining whether or not building and operating a cross-border pipeline serves the national interest.” The bill would have declared the pipeline approved, ending the admin’s review of the project

• Green groups cheered the veto, but House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) called it a “national embarrassment.” Obama has no binding deadline to make the final decision. He could approve or deny the project at any time – or leave the decision to the next president

“American Sniper” Trial: Guilty

• A Texas jury has found Eddie Ray Routh guilty in the murder of U.S. Navy Seal Chris Kyle, who wrote American Sniper, and his friend Chad Littlefield. The judge sentenced Routh to life in prison without parole; prosecutors hadn’t sought the death penalty (BBC, NYT, me)

• Defense lawyers for Routh said the 27-year-old was psychotic at the time of the shootings two years ago. But prosecutors said Routh was aware of what he was doing, despite his apparent delusions about pig people, when he gunned the pair down at a Texas gun range in 2013

• The film based on Kyle’s memoir of his four tours of duty in Iraq was nominated for best film at the Oscars this year. The former Navy Seal, who has the most recorded kills of any U.S. sniper, was shot and killed along with Littlefield, at a rural shooting range south-west of Fort Worth


• Having retired from the military, Kyle had been helping other veterans deal with combat-related stress and mental health issues. On the day of the killings, Kyle and Littlefield took Routh with them to go shooting after the defendant’s mother asked for help in dealing with her troubled son

• Routh was under extreme mental distress and was convinced the two men would turn on him on the day of the killing, his lawyers argued. The court also heard that Routh was under the influence of marijuana and alcohol at the time of the shooting. Two experts who evaluated Routh for the prosecution testified that he was not insane and questioned his stories of traumas

• American Sniper had been playing just three miles from the courtroom since Routh’s trial began on 11 Feb. The film was widely seen in the area and it was likely that several jurors had seen it before they were selected for the panel. Routh’s lawyers tried to postpone the trial and move it out of Erath County, but the judge turned them down


• Sens Bob Corker (R-TN) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ) introduced legislation Tuesday aimed at helping end global slavery. The proposal would establish a foundation which would fund programs outside the U.S. that work to eliminate or prevent slavery. The foundation would focus on significantly reducing slavery within seven years (Hill, TRNS)


Kerry Makes Case for AUMF: Defines “Enduring”

• SecState John Kerry said Tuesday that the ban on U.S. troops engaging in “enduring offensive ground combat operations” against ISIS meant “weeks and weeks of combat.” Kerry’s comments at a Senate hearing came as he made the case for the president’s proposal for an authorization for use of military force against ISIS (Hill, BBC, me)

• “If you’re going in for weeks and weeks of combat, that’s enduring. If you’re going in to assist somebody and fire control and you’re embedded in an overnight deal, or you’re in a rescue operation or whatever, that is not enduring,” he said at a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on State Dept’s budget (bit off budget topic question?)

• The language has prompted criticism from Republicans who say that it’s too restrictive and ties military commanders’ hands, as well as from Democrats who say that it’s too vague and could lead to another ground war

• Meanwhile, ISIS abducted at least 90 women, children and men who are Assyrian Christians from villages in north-eastern Syria, activists say. It comes as Syrian Kurdish fighters backed by U.S.-led air strikes continue to advance into ISIS-held territory

• Three missing teenaged London schoolgirls believed to be heading to join ISIS are thought to have crossed into Syria from Turkey, UK  police say. Earlier, Scotland Yard denied it had taken three days to inform officials in Turkey about the schoolgirls traveling to Syria (huge row – and huge row over the airport not spotting and stopping them leaving the UK)


• ISIS is holding 150 Assyrian Christians hostage and is expected to release a message today threatening to kill them, an official tells CNN


Kerry: No Iran Deal Yet

• SecState John Kerry told Congress Tuesday, “The president has made clear – I can’t state this more firmly – the policy is Iran will not get a nuclear weapon. And anybody running around right now, jumping in to say, ‘Well, we don’t like the deal,’ or this or that, doesn’t know what the deal is. There is no deal yet.” (AP, Hill, AFP, Reuters, me)

• WH spox Josh Earnest on Tuesday denied a report in AP that a deal is taking shape that would restrict Iran’s ability to pursue a nuclear weapon for 10 years. “Those reports are not correct. That does not reflect the accurate negotiating position of the U.S. and our international partners,” Earnest said

• Meanwhile, an exiled Iranian opposition group Tuesday accused Tehran of running a “secret” uranium enrichment site hidden in a military base in the northeastern suburbs of Tehran. The group said this violated ongoing talks with global powers on a nuclear deal

• Alireza Jafarzadeh, deputy director of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, presented to reporters a series of satellite images drawn from Google Maps which he said backed “this intelligence from highly placed sources within the Iranian regime as well as those involved in the nuclear weapons project.”

• Separately, at least $1 billion in cash has been smuggled into Iran as it seeks to avoid Western sanctions, a bigger figure than previously reported, Iranian officials and Western intel and diplomatic sources say. They said the cash was hand-carried by couriers on flights from Dubai or Turkey, or brought across the Iraq-Iran border


Netanyahu Won’t Meet With Democrats

• Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday turned down an invitation to meet privately with Senate Democrats next week during his visit to Washington, saying the session “at this time could compound the misperception of partisanship regarding my upcoming visit.” (think that horse is out of the barn) (AP, Haaretz, PBS, me)

• “I regret that the invitation to address the special joint session of Congress has been perceived by some to be political or partisan,” Netanyahu wrote. “I can assure you that my sole intention in accepting it was to voice Israel’s grave concerns about a potential nuclear agreement with Iran that could threaten the survival of my country.”

• “We offered the PM an opportunity to balance the politically divisive invitation from Speaker Boehner with a private meeting with Democrats who are committed to keeping the bipartisan support of Israel strong,” said Sen Dick Durbin (D-IL). “His refusal to meet is disappointing to those of us who have stood by Israel for decades.”

• National security adviser Susan Rice said Tuesday in an interview with Charlie Rose on PBS, “It is not only unfortunate but it

[invitation and acceptance] is also destructive of the fabric of the relationship. It has always been bipartisan and we want to keep it that way. When it becomes injected with politics that’s a problem.”

• Netanyahu again attacked the Iran nuclear deal Tuesday. “This agreement, if signed, will allow Iran to become a nuclear threshold state. Meaning, with the powers’ consent, Iran will get a license to develop bombs – and this is a country which openly declares its intention to destroy the state of Israel.” – see “Iran Developments” story above – Kerry and Earnest


Obamacare: No WH Contingency Plan

• The Obama admin has no contingency plan if the Supreme Court strikes down subsidies at the heart of Obamacare, Sec of Health and Human Services Sylvia Mathews Burwell said in a letter to Congress Tuesday (bet they do – not tipping their hand and keeping pressure on the court) (Hill, me)

• “We know of no administrative actions that could, and therefore we have no plans that would, undo the massive damage to our health care system that would be caused by an adverse decision,” Burwell wrote. Burwell’s letter maintains that the Obama admin will prevail in court

• Some congressional Republicans, including Sen Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Rep Paul Ryan (R-WI), are working on contingency plans. Hatch said Monday he would unveil a plan “in the coming days.” (keep eyes on pre-existing conditions portion of any plan)

• The case could leave millions without subsidies to help them afford insurance in the roughly three-dozen states that rely on the federal govt to run their marketplaces under the health care law

• The challengers in the case argue that the phrase in the law referring to marketplaces “established by the state” prevents funds from being disbursed to federally-run marketplaces. The govt says that’s a nonsensical reading of one phrase that’s contradicted by the rest of the law. Arguments are 4 March


• Rahm Emanuel came in first among five candidates in the Chicago mayoral election Tuesday, but failed to seal a second term by winning support form enough voters to avoid a riskier runoff election this spring (NYT)


VA Sec Apologizes for False Claim

• The sec of Veterans Affairs apologized Tuesday after reports surfaced that he falsely claimed earlier this year that he was part of U.S. special operations forces during his time in the military. Robert McDonald, a former corporate executive, spent most of his time with the 82nd Airborne Division in the late 1970s – not a component of special ops (Politico, Hill, TRNS, me)

• “I have no excuse,” McDonald told HuffPo, which first reported the news Monday. “I was not in special forces.” He made the remarks while visiting an LA neighborhood with a CBS TV crew in Jan, when he encountered a homeless man who told him he had served in the elite unit. “What year? I was in the special forces,” McDonald replied

• McDonald held a presser Tuesday afternoon: “What you do when you try to connect with someone is try to find common ground. And with veterans, my common ground is my veteran experience. And as I said, I made a misstatement. I apologized for that. I have no excuse for it.”

• The WH on Tuesday gave a strong endorsement of McDonald. The VA sec is “somebody who understands firsthand the sacrifice that our men and women in uniform make on a regular basis,” said spox Josh Earnest, citing McDonald’s graduation from West Point and years of service. Earnest said it was “appropriate for him to apologize.”

• McDonald put out his email address on Tuesday in case veterans have any questions for him:


• Mignon Clyburn, one of three Democratic commissioners on the FCC, wants to narrow the scope of new net neutrality rules that are set for a vote on Thursday. Commissioner Tom Wheeler needs her vote to pass the rules since the two Republicans are almost certain to vote against anything he proposes (Hill, me)


Zimmerman: Not Enough Evidence

• The Justice Dept announced Tuesday that George Zimmerman will not face federal civil rights charges for shooting and killing unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin in 2012 while Martin was walking in Sanford FL. The decision wasn’t unexpected as three law enforcement officials told WaPo last fall that Zimmerman wasn’t expected to face charges (WaPo, me)

• “The death of Trayvon Martin was a devastating tragedy,” AG Eric Holder said in a statement. Holder said that the “comprehensive examination” determined that there wasn’t enough evidence for a federal hate crime prosecution

• Martin’s family said in a statement that they were “disappointed” with the findings. “We will never ever forget what happened to our son, Trayvon, and will honor his memory by working tirelessly to make the world a better place.” They thanked the DoJ

• DoJ specifically looked to see if Zimmerman violated a section of the U.S. Code that makes criminal any use of force or threat based on that person’s race. In the end, “insufficient evidence” was found, the dept said

• “Our decision not to pursue federal charges does not condone the shooting that resulted in the death of Trayvon Martin and is based solely on the high legal standard applicable to these cases,” DoJ said in a statement. Zimmerman was back in court last month after being charged with domestic aggravated assault

Instagram vid: We need more dancing NYPD!

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Victoria Jones – Editor

TRNS’ James Cullum, Loretta Lewis, William McDonald, Midori Nishida and Nicholas Salazar contributed to this report

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