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

  • Obama’s national security strategy
  • Netanyahu speech: 3 Dems won’t go
  • January jobs report: the weird one
  • Ukraine: Euro leaders confront Putin
  • Brian Williams: Hole deepens
  • Homeland Security: GOP/GOP squabble
  • Anthem data breach: Lax security?
  • Benghazi committee: Democrats revolt
  • Jordan jets strike ISIS
  • Obama/Romney 2012 concession call spat!
Obama’s National Security Strategy

President Obama plans to release his second, and final, national security strategy today, laying out a blueprint for robust American leadership for his remaining time in office while recognizing limits on how much the U.S. can shape world events (NYT, me)

• “The question is never whether America should lead, but how we should lead,” Obama writes in an intro to the doc, a report that seems to mix legacy with strategy. In taking on terrorists, he argues that the U.S. should avoid the deployment of large ground forces like those sent more than a decade ago to Iraq and Afghanistan

• “There is this line of criticism that we are not leading, and it makes no sense,” said Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser. “Who built the effort against ISIL? Who organized the sanctions on Russia? Who put together the international approach on Ebola?” The 29-page doc uses the words “lead,” “leadership” or variations nearly 100 times (ooh bitchy, NYT)

• The strategy lists eight top strategic risks to the U.S., starting with a catastrophic attack at home but including threats like climate change, disruptions in the energy market and significant problems caused by weak or failing states

• The WH is expected within days – possibly today – to seek congressional authorization for the use of military force, or AUMF, for military operations against ISIS militants, kicking off a political fight that could see the admin clash with both parties over how much authority to give the president (WSJ, me)


• The security strategy doc also focuses attention on a goal to eliminate global poverty within 15 years. And, for the first time, a national security strategy makes it a priority to promote the rights of gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual people around the world

• It argues for lifting budget caps to increase military spending, standing up to Chinese territorial assertions and promoting free-trade pacts with Asia and Europe that the Obama admin is negotiating

• The report says the U.S. will “impose costs on malicious cyberactors.” It calls on the U.S. to increase its efforts to shape global norms and practices, not only online but also in space and on the seas, where the admin fears that China is trying to dominate lines of traffic

• The doc all but acknowledges that with Russian President Putin not interested in further nuclear arms cuts and Republicans in control of the Senate, Obama’s hopes of ratifying a long-stalled test ban treaty or negotiating new treaties are largely dead. That leaves only a deal with Iran, which the president wants but has proved highly elusive


• President Obama heads to red state Indiana today to sell his proposal to make two years of community college free


Netanyahu Speech: 3 Dems Won’t Go

• Three prominent House Democrats are vowing to skip Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress next month, saying they disapprove of Speaker Boehner’s (R-OH) decision to issue the invitation without consulting President Obama: Reps John Lewis (GA), G.K. Butterfield (NC) and Earl Blumenauer (OR) (Hill, AP, TRNS, Politico, TRNS, me)

• The WH hinted Thursday that VP Joe Biden may not attend the speech, which is expected to focus on Iran. WH spox Josh Earnest said Biden missed a joint session in 2011 because he was traveling abroad. Earnest said the VP’s travel schedule for early March hasn’t been finalized. (yet it looks like Biden will be able to attend the Pope’s speech in distant September!)

• Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said Thursday, “As of now it is my intention to go. It is still my hope that the event will not take place. There’s serious unease.” She said she wouldn’t be urging colleagues one way or the other in regards to their attendance (no horses’ heads then)

• Boehner created an exceedingly uncomfortable and politically fraught scenario for Democrats when he invited Netanyahu to deliver remarks to Congress – without consultation with the other party or even with the WH. There are rumors in policy circles within Israel that Netanyahu is looking for a graceful way out of the mess

• Netanyahu is set to visit Capitol Hill not only two weeks before Israeli elections, but as top officials try to negotiate an agreement under which Iran would abandon its nuclear program. The expectation is that he would specifically lobby on behalf of sanctions. Obama has said he would veto legislation imposing sanctions at this time


• Rep Aaron Schock’s (R-IL) adviser, Benjamin Cole, has resigned after comparing black people to zoo animals, among other things, on social media. Tweet: “So apparently the closing of the National Zoo has forced the animals to conduct their mating rituals on my street. #gentrifytoday Pt 1.” (Vox)

January Jobs Report: the Weird One

• January is one of the two most difficult months to calculate (August), and no matter what comes out today, a temporary factor will likely be the reason. That said, economists forecast 230,000 jobs in January after a preliminary 250,000 gain in December. Unemployment is expected to tick down to 5.5% from 5.6% (WSJ, Vox, Bloomberg, me)

• Many companies lay off workers hired for the holidays in January and that can throw a wrench into seasonal adjustments. Ditto for the weather – if it’s particularly bad or unseasonably mild

• Another complication : Some employment figures for January can’t be compared to December because the govt updates its population estimates at the start of each new year. The number of new jobs created and the unemployment rate, however, aren’t affected. So there have historically been surprises in January

• What will happen with wages? The big mystery of the current recovery is why wages haven’t risen much, even with job creation on a big upswing. Average hourly earnings actually fell in December. Look for wages to rebound in January and December’s decline may be revised higher

• The U.S. energy industry is starting to shed workers after the big plunge in oil prices, and that could depress hiring in manufacturing or related areas of the economy. Similarly, the construction trade could suffer a comedown after a big increase in seasonally adjusted employment in Dec owing to very mild weather. Retailers and shippers scale back in Jan


Ukraine: Euro Leaders Confront Putin

• French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are due to hold talks in Moscow today to try to end escalating fighting in east Ukraine. Their meeting with President Vladimir Putin follows urgent talks in Kiev, where a new peace plan was presented Thursday (BBC, AP, Reuters, Hill, me)

• Putin’s aide welcome the new European initiative and said the Kremlin was ready for a constructive discussion. Russia has vehemently denied backing the rebels with troops and weapons, while still acknowledging that some Russians are fighting with the separatists

• Meanwhile in DC, Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Armed Services Committee made a show of force Thursday to ramp up the pressure on President Obama to provide weapons to Ukraine. Chair Sen John McCain (R-AZ) led a bipartisan presser of 12 lawmakers calling for defensive lethal assistance to Ukraine

• SecState John Kerry was in Kiev Thursday for talks with Ukrainian leaders. At a presser with PM Yatsenyuk, Kerry said Obama “is reviewing all his options; among those options obviously is the possibility of providing defensive systems to Ukraine. We are not interested in a proxy war. Our objective is to change Russia’s behavior.”

• Top NATO commander, U.S. Air Force Gen Philip Breedlove warned Thursday that any move to give Ukraine lethal defensive weapons “could trigger a more strident reaction from Russia.” Meanwhile, VP Joe Biden meets top EU officials in Brussels today

Brian Williams: Hole Deepens

• NBC News anchor Brian Williams’s problems got worse Thursday, even though in a CNN interview, Rich Krell, a pilot of the Chinook helicopter that carried Williams and a crew in Iraq in 2003, said that it did indeed sustain small-arms fire, but wasn’t hit by RPGs. Krell said that Williams would have been aware the aircraft was hit

• Christopher Simeone and Allan Kelly, also pilots of Williams’s helicopter, strongly disputed Krell’s account. Joe Summerlin, a soldier who was on the helicopter that was forced down by enemy fire, said Williams’s helicopter was part of a different mission and at least 30 minutes behind theirs. His account is supported by Simeone and Kelly

• Stars and Stripes newspapers reported Thursday that Williams’s helicopter took no fire and landed later beside the damaged helicopter due to an impending sandstorm from the Iraqi desert, according to Sgt 1st Class Joseph Miller, who was the flight engineer on the aircraft that carried the journalists (Stars and Stripes, NYT, Politico, WaPo, CNN, me)

• Where are the accounts of the rest of Williams’s NBC News crew? Why have they stayed silent? It’s not clear whether Williams will feel compelled to speak again on the issue. For now, NBC News appears to be standing behind him. He renewed his contract in Dec, apparently for $10 million a year for five years

• Veteran war correspondents have reacted with considerable anger to the story, saying that it tarnishes their reputations, which they work very hard with the troops to establish. However, former CBS anchor Dan Rather, who left the network under a cloud after an inaccurate report, came to Williams’s defense Thursday. Can Williams survive this?


Homeland Security GOP/GOP Squabble

• A congressional stalemate over funding for Homeland Security deepened Thursday as Senate Democrats blocked action on the bill for a third straight day to protest Republican action on immigration. “This is like Groundhog Day,” complained Sen Mazie Hirono (D-HI) on the Senate floor. The vote was 52-47 (Hill, Roll Call, TRNS, Politico, AP, Reuters, me)

• Homeland Security funding will lapse 27 Feb without action. The bill, passed last month by the House, funds the agency through the remainder of the budget year while reversing President Obama’s executive actions protecting millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation. Senate Democrats want all the immigration language removed

• Republican leaders in both houses insist they won’t allow Homeland Security to go without funding at a time of global terror threats. But if they have a solution, they haven’t said what it is. Likeliest scenario may be a short-term funding extension. Sen Susan Collins’s (R-ME) compromise amendment doesn’t seem to be going anywhere

• “We are unable to get on this bill to amend it. And as a result of that, the House is going to have to send us another bill that we can get on,” Sen Jim Risch (R-ID) said after a lunch with the Senate GOP conference – lobbing it right back at the House

• “Right now the ball’s in the Senate’s court,” harrumphed Rep Rick Mulvaney (R-SC), summing up for many House Republicans. “If the Senate can’t pass anything, how is that the House’s problem?” Errr, blame? No one seemed to know how it would all end…

• Agriculture giant Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup has nearly eradicated the monarch butterfly – down by 90% in less than 20 years, the Center for Food Safety says. The product moves internally to the root tissue of the plant once it’s absorbed, preventing regeneration of the milkweed, the monarch caterpillar’s main food source 🙁 #totalfail


Anthem Data Breach: Lax Security?

• Experts said Thursday that personal info at Anthem was vulnerable because the health insurance company didn’t take steps, like protecting the personal information data in its computers through encryption, in the same way it protected medical info that was sent or shared outside of the database (NYT, Hill, me)

• The hackers gained access to up to 80 million records that included Social Security numbers, birthdays, addresses, email and employment info and income data for customers and employees, including its own chief executive. The hackers are thought to have used a sophisticated malicious software program that got them in and gave them the login of an employee

• Several security consultants have noted that in the past Chinese hackers have shown an interest in going after health care companies. A securities industry consultant said there were suspicions the hackers might have been working with the backing of a foreign govt or with people with ties to a foreign govt

• Katherine Keefe, an expert in cyberliability policies, said the combination of Social Security info and medical histories (which it’s not thought they have) was a valuable commodity to criminals. “The value to a criminal of having a full set of medical info on a person can go for $40 to $50 on the street. By contrast, a credit card number is often worth $4 or $5.”

• House Energy and Commerce Committee chair Fred Upton (R-MI) said Thursday cyberattacks threaten “every business” and that it’s “not a matter of if they will be infiltrated, but when.” “That’s why we’re pursuing legislation to strengthen data security.” The panel will receive a briefing from Anthem today


Benghazi Committee: Democrats Revolt

• A congressional investigation of the 2012 attacks on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya, is operating outside rules that require other House committees to disclose publicly how much money they spend and the issues they intend to pursue, according to all Democrats on the panel (here we go) (WaPo, me)

• The arrangement has added to suspicions among Democrats that the GOP-led committee – with no budget constraints or clear end date – is politically motivated and aimed primarily at damaging a likely WH run by Hillary Clinton, who was SecState at the time of the attacks in Libya (well…)

• A letter of protest by Democrats to the House Administration Committee, which oversees the chamber’s other panels, calls for a “public debate about the amount of additional time and money Congress plans to spend” investigating Benghazi, and for a public hearing before the Admin Committee, as is typically required of other panels

• The Benghazi committee is on course to spend more than $3 million, exceeding the annual budgets of long-standing committees that oversee veterans affairs and other issues, according to the letter. As many as eight previous investigations have rejected most of the politically charged Benghazi allegations

Democrats Frustrated

• A two-year inquiry by the House Intelligence Committee criticized a “flawed” process that led WH officials to make erroneous assertions about the nature of the Benghazi attack, and concluded that the State Dept facility where Amb Chris Stevens was killed had been inadequately protected. Three other Americans also were killed

• But the committee found no evidence that interference from Washington undermined efforts to defend the besieged State compound or a nearby CIA facility, or that there was a politically motivated cover-up afterward. Despite those findings, House Republicans created a stand-alone panel last year to focus exclusively on Benghazi

• Democrats on the panel have said that they were excluded from interviews that Republican members conducted with Benghazi witnesses, meetings Democrats said they found out about only after chair Rep Trey Gowdy (R-SC) had mentioned them publicly. Both sides have voiced frustration over the committee’s pace

• Rep Adam Schiff (D-CA), who’s on the panel and is also the ranking Dem on the House Intel Committee, said during a recent hearing that the Benghazi inquiry has already taken longer than previous House probes – including a 2005 examination of the response to Hurricane Katrina – with no clear finish line (2016?)


Jordan Jets Strike ISIS

• Jordan says its warplanes have carried out their first air strikes on ISIS targets since the militants released a video showing the killing by immolation of a captured Jordanian pilot. On their way back, the planes flew over the village of pilot Moaz al-Kasasbeh. Their flight coincided with a visit to the village by King Abdullah II, who was meeting the pilot’s family

• An army statement said the air strikes were “just the beginning.” State TV showed people writing messages on what appeared to be missiles for the air strikes, with one calling ISIS “the enemies of Islam.” (BBC, NYT, al Jazeera, me)

• Meanwhile, the U.S. military said that the U.S.-led coalition had conducted a total of nine air strikes on ISIS targets in Iraq and three on targets in Syria, between Wednesday and Thursday morning

• The Pentagon sent additional helicopters this week to northern Iraq to reduce the time needed to rescue pilots who may go down conducting airstrikes against ISIS, DoD officials said Thursday

• The move followed a demand from crucial Arab ally the United Arab Emirates that the U.S. place more effective search and rescue teams in northern Iraq, closer to the battleground, instead of basing aircraft for such missions much farther south in Kuwait. The UAE suspended combat missions in late December, citing fear for the safety of its pilots


Prayer Breakfast: Obama Preaches

• President Obama on Thursday condemned those who seek to use religion as a rationale for carrying out violence around the world, declaring that “no god condones terror,” and denouncing terrorists who distort religion “for their nihilistic acts.” (AP, Hill, USA Today, TRNS, Fox, me)

• Obama said terrorists “profess to stand up for Islam, but in fact are betraying it. You see ISIL, a brutal, vicious, death cult that, in the name of religion, carries out unspeakable acts of barbarism, terrorizing religious minorities.”

• Obama reminded the audience that people of all faiths have been willing to “hijack religion for their own murderous ends.” “Unless we get on our high horse and think that this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.” Right wing media jumped on Obama

• Obama offered a special welcome to a “good friend,” the Dalai Lama, seated at a table near the front among the audience of 3,600. Earlier Obama, seated at the head table, pressed his hands together in a prayer-like position and bowed his head toward the Dalai Lama then gave him a wave and a broad smile

• It was the first time the president and the Tibetan Buddhist leader attended the same public event, with China objecting to foreign leaders meeting with the Dalai Lama because of his quest for greater Tibetan autonomy from Beijing. But in a show of WH support, he was seated at a table with top Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett


Vaccines work! Here are the facts – in fun cartoon pictures that even I understood (Fusion)

Obama / Romney 2012 Concession Call Spat!

• David Axelrod, former close President Obama adviser, writes in his new memoir that Obama was “slightly irritated” by Mitt Romney’s concession phone call on election night. An “unsmiling” Obama told those in the room that Romney had said: “You really did a great job of getting the vote out in places like Cleveland and Milwaukee.” (Politico, me)

• The president had added, according to Axelrod in “Believer: My Forty Years in Politics:” “In other words, black people. That’s what he thinks this was all about.” Well! There’s been a war of tweets and interviews. Garrett Jackson, Romney’s body man throughout the 2012 campaign, told Politico he thinks Axelrod “concocted” the call

• “Mitt goes: ‘Mr President, I just wanted to call and congratulate you and your team on a well-fought race and congratulate you on your victory.’ Then there was silence on Mitt’s end – we weren’t on speaker.” Jackson said: “He didn’t do it in a malicious way – there was nothing about voter turnout.”

He Said / He Said

• Tagg Romney, who was also in the room when his father made the call, said in an email: “Garrett is 100% correct … We had no idea what turnout was like in Milwaukee or Cleveland at that point.”

• Jim Messina, Obama’s 2012 campaign manager, tweeted: “Every word of @davidaxelrod mitt e-night call is true. I was standing with axe and POTUS. That’s what happened.”

• Jay Carney, former WH spox, tweeted: “Account by @davidaxelrod of POTUS call w/Romney on election night is 100% accurate. I remember it well.”

• Two weeks after his loss, on a conference call with donors, Romney reportedly attributed his defeat to the “gifts” Obama gave to blacks, Hispanics and young voters

• Rocking into the weekend with “Living for Love,” the new single by Madonna from her upcoming album “Rebel Heart,” out 6 March. She previewed the video of the single Thursday on Snapchat’s new Discover channel – not available anywhere else yet

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Victoria Jones – Editor

TRNS’ Justin Duckham, William McDonald and Midori Nishida contributed to this report

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