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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: Announcement any time
  • Trump: “We’re not provoking”
  • Trump’s fake internet claim
  • Democratic town hall: Issues + Trump
  • WH: Cuban leaders didn’t want to change
  • Peace talks: Syria under pressure
 
SCOTUS Search: Announcement Any Time (Politico, Reuters, me)
• The WH has narrowed its search for a Supreme Court nominee to three federal appeals court judges: Sri Srinivasan, Merrick Garland and Paul Watford, a source familiar with the selection process said. A formal announcement could come as soon as today – ahead of Tuesday’s primary elections in five major states. If not today, likely this week – before the Cuba trip
 
• As soon as President Obama announces his pick, the WH and its allies will unleash a coordinated media and political blitz aimed at weakening GOP resistance. Obama campaign veterans have been contracted in six states – New Hampshire, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – where GOP incumbents are most vulnerable, plus Senate Judiciary chair Chuck Grassley
 
• With Republicans flatly refusing even courtesy meetings with a nominee, let alone confirmation hearings, they’re also looking into photo ops with Senate Democrats, and could pursue mock hearings or other events meant to highlight GOP intransigence, according to sources familiar with the planning (yes please mock hearings #summertimefun)
 
• The WH is still unsure how to deploy Obama. Some advisers feel like the presidential bully pulpit is the only way to bring enough pressure to have a chance at making Senate Republicans crack. Others have been advising that the more this is about Obama, the worse their chances are – focus on the nominee, instead (that’s assuming there even is a chance…)

 

Battle Lines Drawn
• Outside allies are lining up progressive organizations, labor leaders, women’s groups and black ministers to focus attention on the battle, which is likely to drag on for months. Senate Democrats have been pitching in. First up: photos and video of the nominee going to meet with Dem senators on Capitol Hill, hoping that will keep the nominee in the news
 
• Traditionally, Supreme Court nominees go completely silent except for their private meeting with senators and committee hearings. Maybe not this time. The nominee won’t be making the rounds of the Sunday shows, but some outside advisers have pushed for more contained appearances, like speeches at bar assns or law schools
 
• But the WH is proceeding carefully, feeling that the politics work best for them if they’re able to keep the focus on Republican obstructionism. If the GOP doesn’t ease the blockade, the admin is prepared for the fight to become more about ramping up embarrassment for Republicans up and down ballot going into November – hoping for a Dem win
 
• Conservatives say they’re bracing for an aggressive campaign by the WH and Democrats. Already, some groups have been circulating opposition research about several of the potential nominees, hitting Sri Srinivasan, Jane Kelly and Ketanji Jackson
 
• Democrats pounced on Sen John Cornyn’s (R-Texas) promise last week that the Republicans will turn Obama’s nominee into a pinata. As Cornyn warned, that could be enough to make some potential picks say no. (those are fighting words to the WH and Senate Democrats)
 

Trump: “We’re Not Provoking” (AP, AP, Hill, me)

• Donald Trump is standing by his antagonistic campaign rhetoric, saying he takes “no responsibility” for violence at his rallies. “We’re not provoking. We want peace. … We don’t want trouble,” he told a large crowd in Bloomington, Ill, as he campaigned ahead of another critical slate of large-state primaries. He claims merely to be the “messenger”
 

• Trump’s remarks came after a near-riot Friday night in Chicago as he canceled a scheduled rally amid widespread altercations between among his followers, detractors and authorities. It’s coming less than 48 hours before polls open in Florida, Ohio, Illinois, North Carolina and Missouri – could determine whether he wins the nomination without a contested convention
 

• Trump has tried to shift focus to Ohio, where he faces a late push from popular Gov John Kasich (R), who will campaign in the state today with Mitt Romney. Trump this weekend called Kasich “a baby” saying he’s “not tough enough to be president.” Then he incorrectly identified the gov as KASE-itch, deliberately mispronouncing his rival’s Czech surname (sigh)

• Sen Ted Cruz (R-Texas) criticized the rallies where Trump has people raise their hands and salute support to him. “This is America. We don’t pledge allegiance to a man. We pledge allegiance to a flag,” Cruz said on NBC. Sen Marco Rubio (R-Fla) compared Trump to third-world “strong men” and said his supporters in Ohio should vote for Kasich = help derail Trump

 

Trump’s Fake Internet Claim
• Trump claimed that Thomas Dimassimo, the man who tried to rush the stage at his Ohio rally Saturday morning, is connected to ISIS because one of his “internet people” discovered a shocking – fake – video online (removed) with Arabic music added. Trump said: “All I know is what’s on the internet.” (no comment)

• Charles Lister, a fellow at the Middle East Institute, called it “utterly farcical.” He noted the video also contained countless uncovered women, men in shorts and tank tops and a man holding arms with a woman – never be in an ISIS video. “ISIS poses a threat to U.S. national security, but giving credence to such ridiculous claims is arguably even more dangerous.”


 

• Trump confirmed Sunday that he was considering paying the legal fees of a white North Carolina man charged with assault after video captured him sucker-punching a black protester last week. Trump claimed Bernie Sanders campaign organizes ‘disrupters” and threatened to send his supporters to Bernie events. Sanders tweeted: “Send them.”
 

• During a town hall in Cincinnati, Trump dodged veteran Keith Moppin’s question when asked to clarify comments about Sen John McCain (R-Ariz) not being a war hero because he was captured. Trump immediately said: “Oh, no, no, no. I was – I never did that. You know that.” In July Trump said “I like people who weren’t captured” and dismissed McCain as a war hero “because he was captured”

 
Dem Town Hall: Issues + Trump (Politico, Guardian, me)
• Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are locked in a surprisingly tight battle for Ohio, Illinois and Missouri. At a CNN/TV One Democratic town hall at Ohio State University Sunday, Clinton said Trump has been “applauding violence,” revealing that foreign leaders had contacted her asking whether they could endorse her in order to stop Trump
 
• Sanders also condemned Trump, again calling him a “pathological liar” to kick off the town hall when presented with a clip of Trump suggesting protesters were Sanders supporters. “Donald Trump is literally inciting violence with his supporters. He’s saying if you go out and beat somebody up, I’ll pay the legal fees. That is an outrage.” (bernie does good outrage)
 
• Confronted by a question about her support for the death penalty from Ricky Jackson, who spent 39 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, many on death row, Clinton seemed somewhat conflicted as she defended her policy to retain it in “very limited” circumstances, such as for 9/11 and the Oklahoma City bombing
 
• Sanders set out his healthcare plans, attacked the war on drugs, and explained his support for public schools. Clinton showed the depth of her knowledge of Obamacare, promised to protect the U.S. steel industry and called China “the major rule breaker in the international economy.”
 
• Asked by Jake Tapper whether his trade policies were too restrictive, Sanders shot back: “Nobody is talking about building a wall around the U.S.” As members of the audience giggled, Sanders went: “Oh, wait. There is one guy. Let me rephrase: Nobody rational is talking about building a wall.”
 
• Turkish President Erdogan vowed to bring terrorism “to its knees” after a suicide car bomb attack in the capital Ankara that killed at least 36 people and wounded at least 100 others. An investigation was to conclude today. No group has claimed responsibility (BBC)


WH: Cuban Leaders Didn’t Want to Change (NYT, Politico, me)
• Both sides have a lot at stake in President Obama’s historic visit to Cuba 20/22 March. A successful trip could vindicate the decision by Obama and President Raoul Castro to pursue an official thaw. But a misstep or public dispute has the potential to set back the new relationship by highlighting the deep differences that still remain

 
• Normalization wasn’t even on the  minds of Cuban officials as Obama adviser Ben Rhodes in 2013 began the secret talks that led to the release of American prisoner Alan Gross, Rhodes said Friday, arguing that the Castro govt felt like it benefited from the isolation and opposition to the U.S.
 
• Getting the Castro regime to think about the reasons to change was a long process, Rhodes said. The WH argued that changing the policy was the natural outgrowth as they talked about prisoner releases and intelligence conflicts. But on Guantanamo Bay: “We have not entertained their requests. That’s not on the table.” No Obama visit to Gitmo, either
 
• The Presidential delegation will include SecState John Kerry, Ag Sec Tom Vilsack, Commerce Sec Penny Pritzker and Small Biz Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet – larger than normal for a presidential trip. Also members of Congress, business leaders and Cuban-Americans, Rhodes said
 
• Rhodes credited the Cuban community in Miami, particularly the younger generation, with helping make the change happen. “I was able to say to him, ‘There is a community of people who will support this, and they will speak out for it, and a lot of this is young people.” Rhodes reiterated that Obama will meet with dissidents while in Cuba (Cuba’s not happy about that)
 
• Al Qaeda linked militants killed at least 16 people in a gun attack on a beach resort in southern Ivory Coast Sunday. Four of the dead were Westerners. The gunmen were killed. It’s possible the attack targeted a U.S. delegation led by the asst commerce secretary, who was visiting the country. They hadn’t yet reached the hotel when the attack occurred. (BBC, Fox)
 
Peace Talks: Syria Under Pressure (BBC, me)
• Western powers have condemned efforts by the Syrian govt to set limits to the agenda of fresh peace talks scheduled to start today in Geneva. Saturday, Syria’s foreign minister ruled out any discussion of presidential elections (sort of a major point, really)
 
• SecState John Kerry responded by accusing Damascus of “trying to disrupt the process.” He was speaking after meeting European foreign ministers in Paris. France accused Syria of “provocation.”
 
• A cessation of hostilities agreed by most participants in the conflict began last month. It excludes ISIS and al Qaeda’s branch in Syria. The purpose of the partial and temporary truce was to enable the warring sides and their foreign backers to launch a fresh attempt to end the five-year conflict
 
• But the latest diplomatic row began when Syrian FM Walid Muallem said on Saturday that any talk of a new presidential election was off the agenda. “This is an exclusive right of the Syrian people,” he said. The main Syrian opposition umbrella group, the High Negotiations Committee, (HNC), said the pre-conditions could halt the talks before they had even started
 
• Sunday, Kerry said Syria’s allies, Russia and Iran, had made clear “there must be a political transition and that we must have a presidential election at some time.” Sunday, the HNC said it would push for an interim govt in which Syrian President Assad and the current leadership have no role. The indirect talks are mediated by the UN (so good luck with that)


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Victoria Jones – Editor