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

  • Netanyahu triumphs
  • Scorched earth campaign
  • House GOP budget unveiled
  • Senate grinds to halt: Abortion
  • Iran talks: “A ways to go”
  • Boehner wants Clinton’s server
  • Secret Service chief in hot seat
  • FCC chief in hot seat
  • Rep “Downton Abbey” Schock resigns

Netanyahu Triumphs

• After a bruising campaign focused on his failings, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu won a clear victory in Tuesday’s elections, final results showed today, though he offended many voters and alienated allies in the process. Turnout was near 72% (NYT, AP, Haaretz, TRNS, TRNS, me)

• With nearly all the votes counted, Netanyahu’s Likud Party appeared to have earned 29-30 out of parliament’s 120 seats, in a position to be able to build a coalition govt with its right-wing and religious allies with relative ease, and sweeping past his chief rival, the center-left Zionist Union alliance, which got 24 seats

• Recent opinion polls indicated Netanyahu was in trouble, giving Isaac Herzog of Zionist Union a slight lead. Exit polls showed the two sides deadlocked. Netanyahu’s return to power likely spells trouble for Mideast peace efforts and could further escalate tensions with the U.S.

• The murky exit poll predictions led to an early reax from WH spox Josh Earnest, who said President Obama remained “committed to working very closely with the winner of the ongoing elections to cement and further deepen the strong relationship between the U.S. and Israel, and the president is confident that he can do that with whomever the Israeli people choose.”

• Silvan Shalom, a Likud minister, told reporters that Netanyahu would reach out first to Naftali Bennett of the Jewish Home Party and to Avigdor Lieberman of Yisrael Beitenu, two archconservatives, and “of course Moshe Kahlon,” of new rightist party Kulanu, predicting a coalition within the next few days of 63 or 64 seats

Netanyahu’s Scorched Earth Campaign

• Netanyahu embarked on a last-minute scorched earth campaign. In a dramatic policy reversal, he said he now opposes the creation of a Palestinian state – a key goal of the WH and the international community. He also promised to expand construction in Jewish areas of east Jerusalem, the section of the city claimed by Palestinians as their capital

• Netanyahu infuriated the WH early this month when he delivered a speech to the U.S. Congress criticizing an emerging nuclear deal with Iran. The speech was arranged with Republican leaders and not coordinated with the WH ahead of time

• In a seemingly desperate bid to rally support halfway through balloting on Tuesday, Netanyahu went on a tirade against Israel’s Arab citizens: “Right-wing rule is in danger. Arab voters are streaming in huge quantities to the polls.” He accused the left of busing Arabs in an effort “that distorts the true will of the Israelis.” Opponents accused him of baldfaced racism

• The Joint List of Arab parties appeared to have won about 12 seats. “This is a great achievement,” cheered Ahmad Tibi, a veteran Arab politician. “But we will have before us great challenges. We will fight fascism, we will fight racism, we will defend our rights, regardless of the govt.”

• By the night’s end, Netanyahu seemed to realize he needed to recalibrate his message. In a late-night speech claiming victory, he spoke of delivering security and social welfare to “all citizens of Israel, Jews and non-Jews alike.”

House GOP Budget
• House Republicans on Tuesday unveiled a $3.8 trillion budget plan for next year that effectively breaks tight budget limits on military spending while promising big cuts to social programs such as food stamps and Medicaid (Reuters, AP, Hill, WaPo, TRNS, me)
• The plan by House Budget Committee chair Tom Price (R-GA) would pad Pentagon and State Dept accounts for overseas ops in Afghanistan and elsewhere by $36 billion above President Obama’s $58 billion request. Such spending is not bound by the return of automatic cuts next year
• The doc assumes $2 trillion in 10-year savings from full repeal of the Affordable Care Act, a move that President Obama has vowed to reject. Price’s plan also recycles Rep Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) plan for controversial changes to the Medicare health program, turning it into a system of subsidies for private insurance
• Price’s plan could struggle to gain the support of deeply divided House Republicans. It seeks to skirt “sequester” caps, nominally keeping them in place to please deficit hawks, but it boosts military spending by adding nearly $40 billion to an off-budget war funding account
• President Obama ripped the budget blueprint. “It’s not a budget that reflects the future,” he said. “It’s not a budget that reflects growth. It’s not a budget that is going to help ensure that middle class families are able to maintain security and stability, and that people who are trying to get into the middle class have the rungs on the ladder to get into the middle class.”
• Labor Sec Tom Perez and Trade Ambassador Michael Froman will meet with House Democrats today in a classified briefing to discuss the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal. Several Democrats criticized the secrecy. Senior Dem aides said it’s normal for briefings on international agreements – just like the Iran negotiations (Hill, me)
Senate Grinds to Halt: Abortion
• Senate Democrats on Tuesday blocked an anti-human trafficking bill because of a measure that would prevent fees from a victims’ fund from being used for abortion for the victims – the Hyde Amendment. Democrats said Republicans sneaked the language into the bill. Republicans denied the charge and wouldn’t take the language out (NYT, Roll Call, Hill, TRNS, me
• Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said he will not turn to the matter of confirming Loretta Lynch, President Obama’s nominee to replace AG Eric Holder, until the sex trafficking bill gets off the floor. Meanwhile, the longer Lynch waits to be confirmed, the trickier her confirmation becomes. Sen Lamar Alexander (R-TN) became a “no” on Tuesday
• “The White House needs to get involved here, too,” McConnell said on the Senate floor. “So far the WH has barely lifted a finger to help us pass this legislation.”
• WH spox Josh Earnest reacted incredulously. “I’m actually surprised that a seasoned, veteran leader of the U.S. Senate like Mitch McConnell would need the assistance of the president of the United States to pass a common-sense piece of legislation like a child sex trafficking bill,” he told reporters
• Sen Chuck Schumer piled on. “Hard-right Republicans just can’t seem to help themselves, whether it’s trying to shut down DHS or sadly trying to play to their base on choice issues, even if it means a human trafficking bill can’t get done. Who would have thought they can’t even get a human trafficking bill with bipartisan support done? Wow.”
• An envelope addressed to the WH has tentatively tested positive for cyanide after two rounds of analysis, the Secret Service said Tuesday. It bore the return address of a man who has sent multiple packages to the WH since 1995, including one that was covered in urine and feces – equal opportunity weirdo, then (Intercept, AP, me)
Iran Talks: “A Ways to Go”
• Iranian and American negotiators on Tuesday tackled some complex technical issues related to Iran’s nuclear program, but some officials continued to speak of wide differences, dimming the prospects for an agreement this week in Switzerland (WaPo, AP, me)
• A senior Obama admin official said some difficult issues still lie ahead as negotiators try to reach an agreement by 24 March on the outlines of a deal to limit Iran’s nuclear program and ease sanctions. “There is no way around it. We still have a ways to go.”
• But Ali Akbar Salehi, an MIT-trained nuclear engineer who heads Iran’s nuclear agency, said that only “one essential item” remained on the table. “I can say, as a whole, I am optimistic,” he told reporters in Lausanne. He was even more optimistic to Iranian state TV: “The main issues have been closed.”
• U.S. officials have cautioned that even if a tentative agreement is reached on many details, the remaining differences could scuttle the chances for a final deal. The talks are now in a highly technical stage, as the sides juggle various formulas for restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program
• The U.S. is aiming to have a one-year “breakout” period, defined as the time Iran would need to produce the fissile material for one nuclear bomb. Officials say that’s double what many experts consider necessary. Another hurdle is deciding the pace at which sanctions would be eased if Iran allows more rigorous international inspections
• The WH is lobbying aggressively to limit Democratic defections on a Senate bill that would give Congress the ability to accept or reject any nuclear deal. Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Bob Corker (R-TN) plans to schedule a vote on the bill next week – days after a 24 March deadline for international negotiators (Politico, Hill, me)
Boehner Wants Clinton’s Server
• House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said on Tuesday at a presser: “The American people deserve all the facts about what happened in Benghazi. That’s why it’s so important for SecState Hillary Clinton to turn over her personal server to a neutral third party.” (Hill, Politico, TRNS, me)
• Meanwhile, Treasury Sec Jack Lew, who served directly under Clinton when she was SecState, maintained before the House Financial Services Committee that he had no recollection of Clinton’s decision to route all her emails through a private server. “I don’t remember giving it a lot of thought,” he said. “It was a long time ago.” Mostly he used the phone, he said
• Rep Sean Duffy (R-WI) expressed disbelief: “What I’m assuming is, you knew you were corresponding with her on an account that was an unofficial account,” he said. “All of us here understand that you’re saying, ‘I knew there was a nonofficial account. I just don’t want to tell you here.'”
• Democrats leaped to Lew’s defense. “Did you ever read Sec Clinton’s regular mail?” asked Rep Michael Capuano (D-MA). “Did you tuck her in at night? Did you make sure she brushed her teeth?”
• Spox Jen Psaki said Tuesday that State Dept has no record that Clinton signed a standard OF-109 form declaring that she surrendered all official records before leaving her post in 2013. Psaki said there’s also no record of the form being completed by Clinton’s predecessors Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell, either (total lack of furor about that)
• The Presbyterian Church (USA) approved redefining marriage in the church Tuesday to include a “commitment between two people,” becoming the largest Protestant group to formally recognize gay marriage as Christian and allow same-sex weddings in every congregation (AP)
Secret Service Chief in Hot Seat
• Secret Service director Joseph Clancy acknowledged Tuesday that he didn’t learn of an incident in which two agents, who reportedly had been drinking, allegedly drove onto the grounds of the WH until five days after it happened. He expressed frustration several times at having been unaware for so long (Hill, NYT, TRNS, me)
• People familiar with the investigation have said that surveillance video doesn’t support initial reports of an out-of-control car crashing into a WH barrier. People who have viewed the video said it showed the car bumping into a barricade and rolling to a stop. Initial reports suggested the agents had been drunk and that they crashed through yellow tape into a barrier
• The two agents have been reassigned to nonsupervisory positions while an investigation is conducted. It’s unclear whether the agency could prove the two agents in the car were drunk at the time since no testing was done on the level of alcohol in their blood. Clancy faced several questions about whether there was a problem with agents using alcohol for stress
• “In stressful jobs, those two become a major part of how people get through the day,” Clancy said of alcohol and caffeine. “But alcohol, as we all know, it messes up your judgment. “We do have an element that goes to alcohol” to cope with stress, “some go to exercise or religion,” Clancy said (maybe the agents were doing squats)
• Clancy’s budget request included a $8 million replica of the WH to be included for training. Rep Henry Cuellar (R-TX) said he had concerns about the request. Clancy said, “Right now we train on a parking lot, basically. On that parking lot, we don’t have the bushes, we don’t have the fences.” Last year, a man jumped the fence and made it into the mansion
• The attorney for U.S. Air Force veteran Tairod Nathan Webster Pugh of NJ says his client will plead not guilty to charges that he traveled to Syria to join ISIS. Pugh’s in custody and will appear today in federal court in New York City (AP, TRNS, me)
FCC Chief in Hot Seat
• House Republicans on Tuesday accused the FCC of bowing to WH pressure on its net neutrality decision, which has angered the nation’s cable and wireless giants. They said the agency’s IG has opened an investigation into whether the FCC had violated any rules (Hill, AP, me)
• Samples of 1,600 pages of emails and other docs released by the House Oversight Committee – while falling short of any blatant impropriety – raise questions about whether senior Obama aides went to unusual lengths to engage independent regulators on a popular issue
• An openly defiant FCC chair Tom Wheeler told the committee that keeping the WH up to date on FCC dealings isn’t unusual and that he won’t apologize for what he considers a transparent deliberations process. “There were no secret instructions from the WH. I did not, as CEO of an independent agency, feel obligated to follow the president’s recommendation.”
• Much of the focus was on behind-the-scenes talks last year among lobbyists, agency staffers and WH aides as Wheeler struggled with how exactly to regulate internet service. A court had knocked down the FCC’s previous legal approach, which had prohibited cable and wireless companies from blocking or slowing internet traffic
• Wheeler had been seen to be leaning toward a lighter set of rules, but “all that seemed to change on Nov 10,” said Rep Jim Jordan (R-OH), when President Obama released a highly publicized video calling for stronger regs. Rep Peter Welch (D-VT) accused GOP pols of turning the hearing into “a Watergate type of deal – what did you know and when did you know it?”
• Penn State intends to hold accountable Kappa Delta Rho members who used a private, invitation-only Facebook page to post “appalling, offensive” photos of nude and partly nude women, some apparently asleep, passed out, or being groped, taken without their knowledge, a university official said (AP, me)
Rep “Downton Abbey” Schock Resigns
• Rep Aaron Schock (R-IL) resigned Tuesday, not long after Politico raised questions about tens of thousands of dollars in mileage reimbursements he received for his personal vehicle. Schock billed the federal govt and his campaign for logging roughly 170,000 miles on his personal car between Jan 2010 and July 2014 (Politico, Chicago Sun-Times, WaPo, TRNS, me)
• But when he sold that Chevy Tahoe in July 2014, it had only roughly 80,000 miles on the odometer (gasp). The docs Politico obtained indicate he was reimbursed for 90,000 miles more than his car was driven. It’s not the only ethical and legal problem the 33-year-old flashy politician faces
• “The constant questions over the last six weeks have proven a great distraction that has made it too difficult for me to serve the people of the 18th District with the high standards that they deserve and which I have set for myself,” Schock said in a surprise statement. A spox said late Tuesday that he’s reimbursed all monies received for official mileage since his election&&&
• During the past month, Schock repaid the govt $40,000 after spending money from his official budget to redecorate his office in the theme of PBS’s “Downton Abbey.” He also reimbursed taxpayers more than $1,200 after using his office account to pay to fly on a private plane to a Chicago Bears football game
• Separately, on a campaign finance doc, Schock labeled the cost of a Nov flight on a private plane as a software purchase (!). He’s failed to report trips abroad, as required. And he held a fundraiser at a golf course without reporting paying for its use. In an interview last week, Schock couldn’t say with certainty that he hadn’t broken the law. “I certainly hope not,” he said
• The Office of Congressional Ethics opened an investigation of Schock on 28 Feb and has begun contacting his associates. The OCE probe – and any potential Ethics Committee investigation – will disappear with Schock’s resignation. But federal law enforcement could still look into Schock’s actions
• Britain’s Prince Charles and wife Camilla are in DC for a four-day U.S. goodwill visit that includes a meeting Thursday with President Obama. Today, they’ll go sightseeing, visiting the Lincoln Memorial, Martin Luther King Memorial and Mount Vernon (CBS, Reuters)

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___________________Victoria Jones – Editor

TRNS’ Luke Vargas, Nicholas Salazar, Mary Jarvis and Washington Desk contributed to this report

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