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

  • U.S. tilts toward arming Ukraine
  • Brian Williams sorry for chopper “whopper”
  • Massive data breach: Health insurer
  • GOP Obamacare replacement plan
  • ISIS: Jordan vows “harsh” revenge
  • FCC to regulate internet
  • Netanyahu: Dems give ambassador an earful
  • Immigration impasse
  • Paul, Bush, Clinton
  • Defense nominee grilled
U.S. Tilts Toward Arming Ukraine

• The Obama admin is tilting toward sending arms to Ukraine to help it fight Russian-backed rebels. Outgoing SecDef Chuck Hagel and SecState John Kerry on Wednesday flew to discuss Ukraine and other issues with allies in Europe. VP Joe Biden followed them today (AP, me)

• SecDef nominee Ashton Carter told Congress in his nomination hearing, “I very much incline in that direction,” when asked about providing defensive arms to Ukraine. The remarks were the latest in a series of signals this week that the WH may reverse its opposition to arming Ukraine to help its struggling military repel Moscow-backed insurgents

• Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko will have an opportunity to make his case to Kerry in Kiev on Thursday, and then later in the week to Biden and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Munich. In what’s likely to be a tense meeting, Kerry also plans to see Russian FM Sergei Lavrov at the Munich international security conference

• Senior U.S. officials previewing Biden’s trip said that the U.S. had taken note of how the separatists had pushed beyond established lines of control and that Russia was resupplying the separatists “in a very significant way.”

• Biden will also discuss with Poroshenko and others increased financial assistance to Ukraine as well as the possibility of increasing sanctions on Russia in the event it doesn’t change course, according to the officials. They added that the U.S. still doesn’t see a military solution to the conflict

• The Dalai Lama will attend this morning’s National Prayer Breakfast in Washington DC. President Obama will deliver remarks on religious freedom. Will the two meet? No plans and the WH played no role in arranging the Tibetan spiritual leader’s appearance. China is in a tizzy and is issuing warnings against meetings…


Brian Williams Sorry for Chopper “Whopper”

• NBC News anchor Brian Williams conceded Wednesday that he was not aboard a helicopter that was hit by enemy fire in Iraq in 2003 and forced down while he was covering the invasion – a story he retold as recently as last week. On NBC Nightly News, Williams read a 50-second statement apologizing (WaPo, Slate, me)

• “…I made a mistake in recalling the events of 12 years ago…I said I was traveling in an aircraft that was hit by

[rocket-propelled grenade] fire. I was instead in a following aircraft. … This was a bungled attempt by me to thank one special veteran and, by extension, our brave military men and women, veterans everywhere, those who have served while I did not.”

• The admission is a rare black mark for Williams, a poised, veteran newsman who has anchored NBC’s news since 2004 and has endeared himself to non-news audiences through appearances on “30 Rock.” “The Tonight Show” and other shows. No word from NBC on discipline or not

• Williams’s apology came after Stars and Stripes newspaper contacted crew members of the Chinook helicopter that Williams had said he was aboard when it was hit by two rockets and small arms fire. They said that Williams was not aboard. They said Williams arrived on another, undamaged helicopter an hour after the crippled Chinook had landed (sooo “following?”)

• Vid: NBC’s Brian Williams addresses Iraq RPG helicopter story

• Williams’s claim of surviving an air attack bothered several soldiers familiar with air ops at the time, including Sgt 1st Class Joseph Miller, who was the flight engineer on the helicopter that carried the NBC News crew. “No, we never came under direct enemy fire to the aircraft,” he told the newspaper

• “I spent much of the weekend thinking I’d gone crazy,” Williams wrote. “I feel terrible about making this mistake, especially since I found my OWN WRITING about the incident from back in ’08, and I was indeed on the Chinook behind the bird that took the RPG in the tail housing just above the ramp.”

• He added “…the fog of memory over 12 years – made me conflate the two, and I apologize. Nobody’s trying to steal anyone’s valor. Quite the contrary: I was and remain a civilian journalist covering the stories of those who volunteered for duty.” (an hour later is a long time to get mixed up)

• Dr Margaret Hamburg, Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Admin, who since 2009 has overseen a broad swath of reg from tobacco control to food safety and personalized medicine, is stepping down. Expected to be announced by the WH on Friday, a source said (Reuters)
Massive Data Breach: Health Insurer

• Anthem, one of the nation’s largest health insurers, said late Wednesday, that the personal info of as many as 80 million of its customers and employees, including its chief executive, was the subject of a “very sophisticated external cyberattack.” (WSJ, NYT, me)

• The company, which is continuing its investigation, said hackers were able to breach a database and get info including names, birthdays, addresses, email and employment info, including income data

• Anthem said no credit card info had been stolen and it emphasized that it didn’t believe (note: believe) medical info like insurance claims or test results were compromised. It said hospital and doctor info was also not believed to have been taken

• The attack could be the largest breach of a health care company to date and one of the largest ever of customer info. The breach was detected on 29 Jan. The company is working with the FBI and has hired Mandiant, a well-known cybersecurity firm, to look into vulnerabilities of its computer system

• The FBI now ranks cybercrime as one of its top law enforcement activities. Wednesday, Leo Taddeo, the FBI agent in New York who oversees the cyber and special ops division, said at a financial services industry conference in New York that “we are losing ground” in the battle with hackers

• The WH today will release a report on how companies use Big Data to offer different prices to different customers. Big Data techniques have “turbocharged” price discrimination, raising concerns about fairness, particularly when consumers don’t control their own data, WH adviser John Podesta said (Reuters)

GOP Obamacare Replacement Plan

• Sens Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Richard Burr (R-NC) and Fred Upton (R-MI) will today propose tax credits to help lower-income individuals and families purchase health insurance. They’re looking for a replacement health care law in advance of an expected Supreme Court ruling in June. The starting point for the three lawmakers is repeal of the current law (AP, NYT, me)

• The plan would eliminate the govt requirement for individuals to purchase coverage and the penalty for noncompliance and get rid of a companion mandate for businesses to provide coverage for their workforce. It’s also expected to scrap a requirement for all plans to provide insurance in specific areas and would halt the expansion of Medicaid

• The plan will call for tax credits for individuals and families up to 300% of the poverty line to encourage them to purchase coverage. For a family of four, that translates to annual income of up to $71,400, according to the DHS website. To help finance the plan, they want to tax the value of health plans above $30,000 a year as regular income (very unpopular)


• The emerging proposal is said to be based on an outline from a year ago by Hatch, Burr and then Sen Tom Coburn (R-OK). That proposed retaining a requirement that bans insurance companies from imposing caps on lifetime benefit limits. That’s expected to be repeated

• The proposal would require insurance companies to permit children up to the age of 26 to remain on their parents’ plans, although individual states could opt out of that rule (not much point). Pre-existing coverage would applying mainly to people who had been continuously covered by insurance. Uninsured people would get a one-time open enrollment period (whoop)

• The plan will include permission for insurers to sell plans across state lines as well as steps to limit the size of monetary damages in medical malpractice suits. Republicans say both provisions would hold down the cost of health care (at cost of patients)

• Dan Pfeiffer, one of President Obama’s longest-serving strategists and closest advisers, will depart the WH in early March. Communications director Jennifer Palmieri will leave in the spring. She’ll fill the same role in Hillary Clinton’s all but certain 2016 campaign. They leave a big hole in the West Wing


ISIS: Jordan Vows Revenge

• Jordan’s King Abdullah II called Wednesday for a “harsh” decisive battle against ISIS, declaring “this evil can and should be defeated,” after the militants burned a Jordanian pilot to death in a cage and gleefully broadcast the horrific images on outdoor screens in their stronghold. It’s said Abdullah may fly sorties himself (NYT, WaPo, AP, Hill, CNN, Fox, me)

• Declarations of outrage swept the Middle East on Wednesday as the Arab world united in anger at the burning of the Jordanian pilot. The head of Cairo’s thousand-year-old Al Azhar institute denounced ISIS as “diabolical,” and called for the extremists to be “killed, crucified, or their hands and legs cut off.” Iran called the killing “inhumane and un-Islamic.”

• In Washington, congressional support built for increased U.S. military assistance to Jordan. Currently, the U.S. is providing the kingdom with $1 billion annually. WH spox Josh Earnest declined to criticize Jordan’s decision to execute two convicted jihadists on Wednesday

• Meanwhile, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, a watchdog group, said Wednesday that ISIS militants are selling abducted Iraqi children at markets as sex slaves – with price tags on them, and sexually enslaving or killing other youth, including by beheading, crucifixion or burying them alive

• Iraqi boys under 18 are increasingly being used by the militant group as suicide bombers, bomb makers or human shields to protect facilities against U.S.-led air strikes. There are reports of children who are mentally challenged who have been used as suicide bombers, most probably without them even understanding, the UN body said


• President Obama discussed efforts to counter extremism and ISIS during a meeting Wednesday with Muslim-American leaders at the WH. The president also encouraged the leaders “to remain civically engaged in their communities.” (Hill)


FCC to Regulate Internet

• Federal regulators will follow President Obama’s lead and reclassify internet service so that it can be regulated like a utility, FCC chair Tom Wheeler said Wednesday. The new rules he will circulate to his fellow four commissioners this week are the “strongest open internet protections ever proposed by the FCC,” Wheeler said in an op-ed in Wired (Hill, Wired, TRNS, CNN, me)

• The “enforceable, bright-line rules” will ban internet service providers such as Comcast or Verizon from blocking or slowing people’s access to content online. They will also ban “fast lane” deals that the companies could make with websites to speed up particular services, and extend the rules to internet access through cellphones and tablets for the first time (TRNS)

• Broadband internet service is now classified as an “information” service under the FCC’s rules, which allows it to escape some types of regs that are applied to telecommunications services such as wired phone lines. A federal appeals court tossed out previous net neutrality rules last year and web activists have been calling for action. Nearly 4 million comments came in

• In Congress, Republicans have raced to write new legislation that would enshrine in law some net neutrality protections – such as a ban on blocking, slowing or speeding up people’s access to particular websites – but would ban the FCC from treating the web like a utility, among other new restrictions. Nothing will happen until after the FCC votes on 26 Feb

• The new rules will decline to regulate rates, impose tariffs or take some other aggressive regulatory steps that critics have worried about, and won’t lead to any new fees or taxes, FCC officials said. The rules will allow the FCC to investigate back-end deals that companies make to hand off web traffic from one provider to another and also to take enforcement action

• John Oliver makes the definitive case for net neutrality on “Last Week Tonight” – the FCC’s system crashed because of so many comments following the show

Netanyahu: Dems Give Ambassador an Earful

• In a sometimes heated meeting with Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., several House Democrats expressed anger Wednesday over PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s acceptance of a GOP invitation to address Congress next month, only two weeks before Netanyahu seeks another term in Israel’s elections (AP, WaPo, Politico, Hill, Fox, me)

• Some of the seven lawmakers – all of who are Jewish and strong supporters of Israel – urged Netanyahu to postpone the speech or hold it somewhere other than Congress. They told Amb Ron Dermer that Netanhayu was unwise to accept an invitation that bypassed President Obama. Dermer had asked for the meeting in hopes of defusing tensions

• Netanyahu’s 3 March speech would largely focus on Iran – and its nuclear program – amid delicate negotiations involving the U.S., other Western powers and Tehran. Rep Steve Israel (D-NY) said the problem began when Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) “decided that Israel would be a political football and he’d spike it in the end zone.”

• Some Democratic lawmakers, including Sen Dick Durbin (IL), the No. 2, leader, say they’ve not decided whether they would attend Netanyahu’s speech. Numerous top Democrats dismiss the idea of a large-scale boycott. The WH said Wednesday it didn’t yet have the schedule for VP Joe Biden for that March week

• Last week Netanyahu called House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), and Sen Chuck Schumer (D-NY), the No. 3, in hopes of blunting their opposition to the invitation (little chance)

• Sens Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Mike Lee (R-UT) Wednesday introduced a Senate resolution to “establish by rule the Senate tradition of approving presidential nominations by a simple majority vote.” In other words, gut the filibuster for all nominations, including the Supreme Court. They seek broad support from both parties – and won’t get it (Politico, me)


Immigration Impasse

• Senate Democrats for the second day in a row blocked a Republican Homeland Security funding bill that would roll back President Obama’s executive actions on immigration. A motion to begin debate failed 53-47 Wednesday, with all Democrats voting against it, along with Sen Dean Heller (R-NV) (Hill, TRNS, TRNS, TRNS, me)

• Sen Susan Collins (R-ME) floated a compromise. She filed an amendment that would allow Obama’s 2012 executive action creating the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Program to continue, while reversing the immigration orders Obama unveiled in November. She hoped to find Dem co-sponsors

• Congress must pass a new spending bill for Homeland Security by 27 Feb or the dept will shut down. The WH has warned a partial shutdown of DHS would put national security at risk and force 150,000 federal workers to go without paychecks

• Meeting in the Oval Office with a group of young immigrants who risked deportations without his actions (DREAMers), Obama said there’s “no logic” to those who hoped to use the threat of a DHS shutdown to gain leverage on immigration

• “Particularly for Republicans who claim that they are interested in strong border security, why would you cut off your nose to spite your face by defunding the very operations that are involved in making sure that we’ve got strong border security, particularly at a time when we’ve got real concerns about countering terrorism?” Obama asked


• Rep Joe Barton (R-TX) changed the bill number for his oil legislation from 666, a figure tied to the antichrist and Satanism, to bland 702, on Wednesday. “It quickly became clear that the original bill number carried many different negative connotations,” said his spox in an email. Recently, a Medicare bill and an Indian tribes bill both were 666 – nothing scary happened…boo


Paul, Bush, Clinton

• Sen Rand Paul (R-KY) who has been mired in controversy over whether child vaccinations should be mandatory, has long been associated with the Assn of American Physicians and Surgeons, a fringe medical group that opposes mandatory vaccinations. Paul stopped paying dues when he was elected to the Senate in 2010 (NYT, TRNS, Politico, me)

• The group has published articles asking whether President Obama is a hypnotist – based on an examination of his 2008 campaign speeches, on suggesting anti-asbestos regs helped cause the collapse of the World Trade Center during 9/11 and has tried unsuccessfully to get SCOTUS to release photos of Vince Foster to make sure he wasn’t murdered

• Former Gov Jeb Bush (R-FL) spoke in Detroit Wednesday. “The recovery has been everywhere but in the family paychecks,” he told members of the Detroit Economic Club. In a brief interview, he didn’t say whether his prescriptions would be tailored to help neediest Americans or would more resemble conservatives’ traditional solution of cutting taxes across the board

• Pressed on whether he would pursue the targeted tax breaks being pushed by so-called reform conservatives, Bush said, “More to come on that.” Laying down an ambitious marker, in his speech, Bush said the country should not settle “for anything less than 4% growth a year, which is about twice our current average

• Hillary Clinton’s Ready for Hillary PAC has received more than $10,000 from Albert and Claire Dwoskin, big donors to Democratic politics. However, the Dwoskin’s family foundation has publicly tied the use of vaccines to a rise in autism. Awkward, as Clinton tweeted Wednesday: “#vaccineswork. Let’s all protect our kids”

• Vid: Rep Tom Marino (R-PA) says President Obama is “getting close” to impeachment in a video posted by the Wellsboro Gazette. Marino said impeachment “comes up consistently at town hall meetings.” (Buzzfeed)

Defense Nominee Grilled

• Ashton Carter, President Obama’s pick to run the Pentagon, was grilled Wednesday by Republicans. Senate Armed Services Committee chair John McCain (R-AZ) asked Carter what the admin’s strategy was to confront ISIS (AP, TRNS, me)

• Carter said the goal was to defeat ISIS in a way that “once they are beaten, they stay beaten.” In Iraq, that’s the job of the Iraq security forces, which Carter said he understood would begin to take back territory in coming months. In Syria, the U.S. is helping build a fighting force of moderate Syrians to take on the militants

• “It doesn’t sound like a strategy to me,” said McCain. “It sounds like a series of goals.” / On cracking President Obama’s inner circle, Carter said, “I’ll be entirely straight and upfront with the president and make my advice as cogent and useful to him in making my decisions as I can.”

• Ukraine: “I incline in the direction of providing them with arms.” / National security implications to the U.S. if Iran were to acquire nukes: “In a phrase, exceptionally grave. First of all, they might use them, but second, their having them is likely to stimulate others to get them.”

• Afghanistan: Carter said he would consider recommending a change of plans for withdrawing all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2016 if security conditions worsen/ Sexual assault: “I think the idea that victims are retaliated against, not only by the hierarchy above them, but by their peers, is something that is unacceptable.”

#OpenCarry leader gun activist Kory Watkins warns Texas legislators that punishment for treason is death… (TPM)

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Victoria Jones – Editor

TRNS’ Nicholas Salazar, William McDonald, James Cullum, Mary Jarvis, Midori Nishida and Washington Desk contributed to this report

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