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

  • Angry WH / GOP senators clash over letter to Iran
  • Iran’s scornful reax
  • Poll: Early takeaways for 2016
  • Clinton likely to speak on emails this week
  • Immigration: Tx judge leaves block in place
  • University of Oklahoma fraternity: Racist videos
  • Ferguson: Judge replaced
  • UN: Violence against women
  • Putin reveals Russia’s Crimea takeover plot
  • Obamacare cost to drop
  • SCOTUS: 2 Guantanamo rulings


Angry WH / GOP Senators Clash Over Letter to Iran
• In an exceedingly rare direct congressional intervention into diplomatic negotiations, 47 Republican senators on Monday sent an open letter addressed to “leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran” declaring that any nuclear agreement with President Obama could be reversed by the next president “with the stroke of a pen.” (NYT, Bloomberg, WaPo, AP, Hill, TRNS, me)

• The letter appeared aimed at unraveling an agreement even as negotiators grow close to reaching it. Obama, working with leaders of five other world powers, argue that the emerging agreement would be the best way to keep Iran from obtaining a nuclear bomb

• President Obama, noting that some in Iran also want no part of any deal, said (drily) Monday “I think it’s somewhat ironic that some members of Congress want to make common cause with the hardliners in Iran. It’s an unusual coalition.” WH spox Josh Earnest denounced the GOP efforts as a “rush to war.”

• “Writing a letter like this that appeals to the hardliners in Iran is frankly just the latest in a strategy, a partisan strategy, to undermine the president’s ability to conduct foreign policy and advance our national interests around the world,” said Earnest, citing the speech invitation issued to Israeli PM Netanyahu without consulting the WH

• Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), attributed the letter to the “pettiness” and “spite” of the Republican opposition, “Let’s be clear,” he said on the floor. “Republicans are undermining our commander in chief while empowering the ayatollahs”

• The letter came as SecState John Kerry’s office announced that he would return to Switzerland on Sunday in hopes of completing the framework agreement before an end-of-March deadline. A senior American official said the letter probably would stop an agreement from being reached, but could make it harder to blame Iran if the talks fail
The letter (which is pretty condescending and patronizing), drafted by freshman Sen Tom Cotton (R-AR), says: “The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen, and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.”

• Cotton said Monday that he drafted the letter because Iran’s leaders might not understand the American constitutional system (see Iran’s reax below). Unlike a treaty, which would require ratification by two thirds of the Senate, the agreement Obama and world powers are negotiating wouldn’t automatically go to Congress. But members of both parties are seeking a vote

• Among the Republicans who declined to sign was Sen Bob Corker (TN), Foreign Relations Committee chair, who has been working with Democrats on Iran legislation. “We’ve got a bipartisan effort that’s underway that has a chance of being successful, and while I understand all kinds of people want to weigh in,” it wouldn’t “be helpful in that effort for me to be involved”

• Because it’s not a treaty, an agreement with Iran wouldn’t require immediate congressional action. Obama has the power under current law to lift sanctions against Iran that were imposed under his executive authority and to suspend others imposed by Congress. But to permanently lift those imposed by Congress would eventually require a vote

• Republicans and several Democrats have drafted legislation aimed at forcing Obama to submit the deal to Congress for a vote. But when Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) abruptly moved to advance that bill for a vote, several Democrats who support it balked at taking action before the talks wrapped up. McConnell backed off

• Sen Tom Cotton is scheduled to appear at an off the record event today with the National Defense Industrial Assn, a lobbying group for defense contractors. On Iran, Cotton has said Congress should consider supplying Israel with B-52s and bunker-buster bombs manufactured by NDIA member Boeing to be used for a possible strike against Iran (Intercept)
Iran’s Scornful Reax
• The GOP letter starts with the premise “you may not fully understand our constitutional system.” Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, spent nearly 10 years as the Iranian envoy to the UN and was partly educated in the U.S. Iran currently has the highest number of U.S. college alums serving in any foreign govt cabinet in the world (NYT, WaPo, me)

• “In our view, this letter has no legal value and is mostly a propaganda ploy,” Zarif responded. “It is very interesting that while negotiations are still in progress and while no agreement has been reached, some political pressure groups are so afraid even of the prospect of an agreement that they resort to unconventional methods, unprecedented in diplomatic history.”

• “I wish to enlighten the authors that if the next administration revokes any agreement with ‘the stroke of a pen,’ as they boast, it will have simply committed a blatant violation of international law,” Zarif continued in the statement

• “I should bring one important point to the attention of the authors and that is, the world is not the U.S., and the conduct of inter-state relations is governed by international law, and not by U.S. domestic law. The authors may not fully understand that in international law, govts represent the entirety of their respective states, are responsible for the conduct of foreign affairs – – –

• – – – are required to fulfill the obligations they undertake with other states and may not invoke their internal law as justification for failure to perform their international obligations.”
• A bipartisan trio of senators, including Rand Paul (R-KY), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Cory Booker (D-NJ), has planned a rollout today for legislation to remove federal legal barriers to the use of medical marijuana (Roll Call, me)
Poll: Early Takeaways for 2016
• In a new WSJ/NBC News poll out late Monday, 42% of GOP voters said they couldn’t vote for Jeb Bush, compared with 49% who said they could. In addition, 60% of all those polled said he represents “too much of a return to the policies of the past,” including 42% of GOP primary voters (WSJ, me)

• Some 86% of Democratic primary voters said they could support Hillary Clinton’s candidacy, with just 13% saying they couldn’t. She’s not weighed down as much as a legacy candidate because Democrats aren’t as turned off by that as Republicans are. But 38% of Democratic primary voters want to see someone challenge her

• More GOP voters said they were open to supporting Sen Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Gov Scott Walker (R-WI) than any of the 14 Republicans WSJ asked about – 56% for Rubio and 53% for Walker. They also face less resistance than most of their likely rivals. Gov Chris Christie (R-NJ) looks unacceptable to 57% of GOP voters (ouch)

• With SCOTUS set to hear a challenge of state laws banning same-sex marriage, the WSJ poll found 59% of the country wants to allow these couples to marry, an all-time high and a sharp increase from 2009 when just 41% backed same-sex marriage

• Americans are more likely to say the economy is improving than they were a year ago and some 47% credit President Obama. That’s good news for Democrats heading into a presidential election that will be defined, in some measure, by his legacy

• According to the highly regarded General Social Survey, the number of Americans who live in a household with at least one gun is lower than it’s ever been, paralleled by a reduction in the number of Americans who hunt. Now, 32% of Americans either own a firearm or live with someone who does. Significant decline since early 80s – then about half of Americans (AP, me)
Clinton Likely to Speak on Emails This Week
• Hillary Clinton is preparing in coming days to address her use of a private email account while serving as SecState, according to people close to Clinton, even as she continued to avoid questions about the matter on Monday after speaking at a Clinton Foundation event in New York (NYT, Politico, TRNS, me)

• One of the options Clinton is considering is a news conference, something she hasn’t held in more than two years. (this could go rather wrong for her) A spox for Clinton didn’t respond to requests for comment. She’s expected to announce her campaign for president, possibly as soon as April

• At the WH, spox Josh Earnest told reporters that President Obama traded emails with Clinton while she was SecState, but “he was not aware of the details of how that email address and that server had been set up or how Sec Clinton and her team were planning to comply with the federal records act.”

• The statement came two days after Obama told CBS News that the first time he learned that Clinton used an email address outside the U.S. govt for official business while she was in office was “the same time everybody else learned it through news reports.”

• Obama’s comment stirred skepticism since some interpreted it as meaning that the two had never exchanged emails while working together for four years. Earnest said Monday that Obama was “aware of her email address” but that he wasn’t aware that she used it for all of her official business or that it was a private server unconnected to the govt
• Sen Harry Reid (D-NV), Democratic leader, was interviewed last year by the FBI as part of its continuing investigation into Sen Robert Menendez (D-NJ), who federal officials say is likely to face corruption charges for accepting expensive gifts and trips from a Florida eye doctor. HHS Sec Kathleen Sebelius was also questioned (NYT)
Immigration: TX Judge Leaves Block in Place
• U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen in Brownsville, a city along the border with Mexico, on Monday declined to lift a block of the WH’s immigration plan until a court hearing on 19 March, where govt lawyers will have to explain a filing that some 100,000 people had been given three-year periods of deferred action prior to the judge’s injunction (Reuters, me)

• Hanen, who has previously criticized U.S. immigration enforcement as too lax, based his 17 Feb ruling on an administrative law question, faulting President Obama’s admin for not giving public notice of his plans. He also cited ways that Texas would be harmed by the action but used no other states as examples

• The decision was an initial victory for 26 states that brought the case alleging Obama had exceeded his powers with executive orders that would let up to 4.7 million illegal immigrants stay without threat of deportation. Obama’s orders bypassed Congress, which hasn’t been able to agree on immigration reform

• On 23 Feb, the DoJ requested an emergency stay of Hanen’s decision, and further asked that he at the very least limit his decision to Texas

• The DoJ said in court filings that it would take its request to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans if Hanen didn’t act by Monday. The dept couldn’t be immediately reached for comment

• In a statement Monday,President Obama said an “anti-worker law in Wisconsin will weaken, rather than strengthen workers in the new economy. Even as its governor
[Scott Walker] claims victory over working Americans, I’d encourage him to try and score a victory for working Americans.” (Hill)
University of Oklahoma Fraternity: Racist Videos
• The University of Oklahoma cut ties to one of the nation’s largest college fraternities Monday, and ordered the campus chapter to vacate its fraternity house, after videos surfaced that appeared to show fraternity members singing a racist song that included “there’ll never be a n—– at SAE” then went on “you can hang them from a tree but they’ll never sign with me” (NYT, KFOR, TRNS, me)

• At a predawn rally on the Norman campus, university president, David Boren, said members of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, must remove their personal belongings from the chapter house by midnight tonight, after which the house would be closed

• “These people have acted in such a way that is absolutely reprehensible and disgraceful,” Boren said at the campus rally, which drew several hundred. “I don’t have words in my vocabulary to adequately describe how I feel about people who would use those words in that way, and chant in that way.” Boren said that the admin is investigating the video

• The videos show a group of young white people in formal wear riding a bus and singing a racist chant. A grinning young man wearing a tuxedo and standing in the aisle of the bus pumps his fist in the air as he chants, while a young woman seated nearby claps. The Oklahoma chapter of the NAACP called for “a proper investigation” and said it hoped “justice is served.”

• Brad Cohen, the national president of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, said he was “disgusted” with the chapter and its members would be “dealt with.” In a statement, Cohen said the board had decided “with no mental reservation whatsoever that this chapter needed to be closed immediately.”

• A Vine surfaced Monday appearing to show Beauton Gilbow, the house “mom” for the fraternity, singing along to Trinidad James’ “All Gold Everything,” repeatedly singing the N-word. Earlier, she said in an interview that she wasn’t aware of what was going on in the fraternity and was “shocked,” and had never heard the song (Buzzfeed)
Ferguson: Judge Replaced
• MO appeals court judge Roy Richter was assigned Monday by the MO Supreme Court to take over for Ronald Brockmeyer who resigned on Monday. The high court said Richter will have the authority to overhaul court policies to ensure defendants’ rights are respected and to “restore the integrity of the system.” (AP,

• The Ferguson City Council met in closed session Monday but a city spox didn’t disclose the purpose of the meeting. Ferguson City Manager John Shaw – heavily criticized in the DoJ report – was escorted to his vehicle by a police officer without fielding questions

• The pivot to Richter comes after the DoJ released a report last week that cited cases of racial profiling and bigotry by police and chided what it described as a profit-driven municipal court system in the predominantly black suburb where Michael Brown, 18, was shot and killed by a white police officer on 9 August

• The report cited several instances in which Ferguson’s municipal judge, court clerk or city prosecutor helped fix tickets for colleagues or friends. The report said Ferguson officials displayed a “striking lack of personal responsibility among themselves” while some asserted to investigators that the city’s African-American residents lacked “personal responsibility”

• According to the report, Brockmeyer had admitted to adding charges, additional fines, even jail time when a defendant challenged a citation. At the same time, Brockmeyer didn’t pay his own income taxes, according to property records

• The WH Monday launched TechHire, an initiative and “call to action” to give Americans access to new high-paying technology jobs. The plan would give people access to education and training by working with cities which could compete for grants (TRNS, Hill)
UN: “Alarmingly High Levels” Violence Against Women
• Violence against women and girls worldwide “persists at alarmingly high levels,” according to a UN analysis that SecGen Ban Ki-moon presented to the General Assembly on Monday. About 35% of women worldwide said they had experienced violence in their lifetime (NYT, me)

• Delegates from around the world are gathering at the UN to assess how well govts have done since they promised to ensure women’s equality at a landmark conference in Beijing 20 years ago – and what to do next. Hillary Clinton, who attended the conference in 1995, is scheduled to speak today

• Since Beijing, there has been measurable, though mixed, progress on many fronts, the UN analysis says. However, the economic impact of violence is huge. One recent study found that domestic violence against women and children alone costs the global economy $4 trillion

• The World Health Organization, the UN’s main health agency, found that 38% of women who are murdered are killed by their partners. Marital rape is still permitted in many countries and new types of attacks have emerged, some of them online, including rape threats on Twitter

• The latest UN report draws attention to the rise of “extremism and conservatism,” and without naming any countries or groups, it argues that what they share is “a resistance to women’s human rights.” The assaults and abductions by ISIS have brought new urgency to the issue

• Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen Martin Dempsey on Monday ruled out immediate American airstrikes to stem ISIS’s destruction of Iraqi (world) archaeological and cultural treasures. Other urgent priorities. (can only save them once in the history of the world) (WSJ)
Putin Reveals Russia’s Crimea Takeover Plot
• Vladimir Putin has said for the first time that the plan to annex Crimea was ordered at an all-night meeting on 22 February. In a clip from an upcoming Russian TV documentary, Putin says that a meeting was called after Ukrainian President Yanukovych was ousted. Crimea was formally absorbed into Russia on 18 March to international condemnation (BBC, NYT, me)

• Russia has long contended that it acted spontaneously to reclaim Crimea, mainly to protect Russian speakers who it said had been threatened, and to stave off what it suspected was an attempt by NATO to colonize the Black Sea. Unidentified gunmen took over the peninsula

• “I invited the leaders of our special services and the defense ministry to the Kremlin and set them the task of saving the life of the president of Ukraine, who would simply have been liquidated. We finished about seven in the morning. When we were parting, I told all my colleagues, ‘We are forced to begin the work to bring Crimea back into Russia.'”

• On 27 February, unidentified armed men seized the local parliament and local govt buildings in Crimea, raising the Russian flag. Among them appeared to be regular soldiers without military insignia, who were dubbed the “little green men.” (sooo hands up all those who believe Putin right this minute that Russia’s not involved in eastern Ukraine?)

• The formal annexation of Crimea sparked unrest in eastern Ukraine on 7 April. A month later, pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk declared independence from Ukraine. Ukraine responded by launching an “anti-terrorist” op against them and the region became engulfed in a conflict which has cost at least 6,000 lives
• Watch out! A drone’s about! The Secret Service will test drones over Washington DC between 1 am and 4 am over the next several weeks as part of secret govt testing intended to find ways to interfere with rogue drones or knock them out of the sky (AP, me)
Obamacare Cost to Drop
• The Congressional Budget Office announced Monday that the Affordable Care Act will cost $142 billion, or 11%, less over the next 10 years, compared to what the agency had projected in January (WaPo, Hill, me)

• The nonpartisan agency said that Obamacare will cost less for two essential reasons. The first, and most significant, is that health insurance premiums are rising more slowly, and thus require less of a govt subsidy

• In addition, slightly fewer people are now expected to sign up for Medicaid and for subsidized insurance under the law’s marketplaces. That’s because the agency says that more people than anticipated already had health insurance before the law took effect, and fewer companies than anticipated are canceling coverage

• Separately, HHS Sec Sylvia Mathews Burwell on Monday said at a WH event that 11.7 million people had signed up for insurance under Obamacare’s marketplaces through the extended period of 22 Feb. That’s up from the 11.4 million people previously announced through 15 Feb

• Burwell directly addressed the Supreme Court case which could strip subsidies from 7.5 million people in the 37 states using federal marketplaces. “The law is clear. The text and structure of the Affordable Care Act demonstrates that individuals in every state are eligible for tax credits,” she said

• Apple on Monday unveiled its new watch device, which will comes in three models, from $349 to a gold Edition at $10,000. The Macbook will be overhauled to a new, extremely thin model. A new Research Kit suite of apps will focus on medical and diagnostic data. HBO Now will be offered exclusively for 3 months on Apple TV for $14.99 beginning in April (Buzzfeed)
SCOTUS: 2 Guantanamo Rulings
• The Supreme Court on Monday spurned two appeals involving U.S. treatment of Guantanamo Bay detainees. The justices in both cases left intact lower court rulings in favor of the U.S. govt (Reuters, me)

• In one case, the court left in place a Jan 2014 ruling by the DC Circuit Court against a Syrian former detainee, Abdul Rahim Abdul Razak al Janko. He had sought to sue the U.S. saying he was tortured and and suffered physical and psychological degradation at Guantanamo during seven years. The appeals court said courts don’t have authority to hear suits like his

• Separately, the court handed a victory to the CIA by declining to take up a case in which a civil liberties group, the Center for Constitutional Rights, was seeking access to videos and photos of another detainee, Saudi citizen Mohammed al-Qahtani

• The justices left in place a Sept 2014 decision by the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled the images are exempt from disclosure under FOIA, a law intended to facilitate the release of info held by the govt. The appeals court said releasing the images could harm U.S. national security by inciting anti-American sentiment

• Al-Qahtani is known as the “20th hijacker” over his alleged intention to participate in the Sept 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S. The Center for Constitutional Rights said the images would show evidence that al-Qahtani was tortured. He’s still being held at Guantanamo

• Vid: The NEW trailer for Game of Thrones season 5 debuted during Monday’s Apple event. It’s pretty epic. Do not watch if you’re not up to date. You’ve been warned

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Victoria Jones – Editor

TRNS’ Loretta Lewis, Midori Nishida, Mary Jarvis and Washington Desk contributed to this report


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