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. / Israel cool-off?
  • When will Barack call Bibi?
  • Senate GOP budget
  • Obama touts “middle-class economics”
  • Clinton: No basic server security precaution
  • Tunis museum attack
  • Obamacare poll: More popular
  • Fed: No longer patient
  • Dems block trafficking bill – again
  • Anti-porn group slams Cheney: Playboy chat
U.S. / Israel Cool-Off?
• Now that Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu has won reelection after aggressively campaigning against a Palestinian state and President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, the question is whether the president and PM can ever repair their relationship – and whether Obama will even try. Wednesday, part of the answer seemed to be that the president wouldn’t make the effort (NYT, TRNS, TRNS, me)

• In strikingly strong criticism, WH spox Josh Earnest called Netanyahu’s campaign rhetoric, in which he railed against Israeli Arabs because they went out to vote, “deeply concerning and it is divisive and I can tell you that these are views the admin intends to communicate directly to the Israelis.”

• And with Netanyahu’s last-minute turnaround against a Palestinian state alongside Israel, several admin officials said that the Obama admin may now agree to passage of a UN Security Council resolution embodying the principles of a two-state solution that would include Israel’s 1967 borders with Palestine and mutually agreed swaps of territory

• Admin officials said that although the relationship between Israel and the U.S. would remain strong, it wouldn’t be managed by Obama and Netanyahu. Instead, it would be left to SecState John Kerry, one of Netanyahu’s only remaining friends in the admin, and to Pentagon officials. The U.S. would for the most part continue to side with Israel internationally

When Will Barack Call Bibi?
• As of Wednesday afternoon, Obama hadn’t called Netanyahu to congratulate him and left it instead for Kerry to do so. The president will eventually call the Israeli leader, admin officials said

• Israel, which has received more American aid since the end of WWII than any other country, will continue to get more than $3 billion annually in mostly military funding. And the U.S. military will continue to work closely with the Israel Defense Forces to maintain Israel’s military edge against its regional adversaries

• Netanyahu’s objections to a nuclear deal with Iran, and his decision to firmly ally himself with Obama’s Republican opponents, may well have hardened the president’s decision to push for an agreement, one Obama adviser said Wednesday. “We do think we’re going to get something,” one senior admin official said

• After Iran, admin officials said the next major confrontation with Netanyahu would most likely be over continued Israeli settlement building in the West Bank. The Palestinians plan to file a case in the International Criminal Court in April contending that the settlements are a continuing war crime
Senate GOP Budget
• Senate Republican budget writers on Wednesday explicitly rebuffed House Republican efforts to circumvent military spending caps, releasing instead an austere budget that sticks to those limits and cuts trillions of dollars from federal health care and welfare spending to reach balance by 2025 (NYT, me)

• The senate version hews closely to the budgetary intent of the House proposal, relying on a repeal of the Affordable Care Act, turning Medicaid and food stamps into block grants, and cutting domestic programs to end federal red ink without tax increases

• The Senate budget also relies on a significant gimmick by counting on a repeal of the health law but also assuming that $2 trillion from the law’s increases will continue to flow into the Treasury (huh?)

• Republican defense hawks aren’t happy. Rather than adding money over the 2011 spending caps, the Senate plan creates what’s known as a “deficit neutral reserve fund,” which would allow negotiators later this year to reach an accord that overrides the 2011 budget law

• “That’s totally unacceptable,” said Sen John McCain (R-AZ) and chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee. He said an empty reserve fund “is like saying we’re giving you a bucket of water only the bucket is empty. I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck.”

• Jolly graphic: How the Obama and Republican budgets compare (NYT)

• Republicans in both chambers now face the task of reaching accord on a document that will set overall spending levels next year and signal the legislative direction that Congress will take on issues like Medicare, the military and tax policy.  Both budget committees should complete work on their plans by today

• The Senate GOP budget is long on ambition but short on details. It foresees saving $4.3 trillion from mandatory programs like Medicare, food stamps and Medicaid, but unlike the House budget, it doesn’t make specific policy prescriptions, such as converting Medicare into a voucher program. The budget offers up $430 billion in savings from Medicare without saying how

• It assumes billions of dollars in savings from scaling back education programs, freezing Pell Grants for higher education, and curbing regulatory action under the Dodd Frank Wall St law. Spending on domestic programs under Congress’s annual discretion would be cut $97 billion below even the caps already imposed

• And special instructions are included to the Finance Committee and the Health, Education, Pensions and Labor Committee to repeal Obamacare with legislation that can’t be filibustered by Democrats. It could, however, be vetoed by President Obama

Obama Touts “Middle-Class Economics”
• Taking credit for a revved-up economy, an emboldened President Obama in Ohio on Wednesday criticized the House Republicans’ spending plan as one that offers a “path to prosperity for those who’ve already prospered” and no path to help hard-working, middle-class people get ahead (AP, TRNS, me)

• Obama recalled past dire predictions by Republicans that his policies would ruin the economy and stunt job growth, and noted – with a hint of glee – the steady decline in unemployment from double digits when he took office to 5.5%, with 12 million jobs created in the past five years and growth in other areas

• “When we, the public, evaluate who’s got a better argument here, we’ve got to look at the facts,” Obama told members of the City Club of Cleveland, a civic group. “Reality has rendered its judgment. Trickle-down economics doesn’t work. Middle-class economics does.”

• The House GOP plan favors defense spending, partially privatizes Medicare and cuts other social programs to help eliminate deficits in 10 years. Obama’s budget proposal, a $4 trillion plan, would target corporate profits overseas, raise taxes on the rich, spend billions on roads and bridges and reverse automatic budget cuts on spending

• Cory Fritz, a spox for House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), said, “Today’s stop in Cleveland was nothing more than a political stunt designed to double down on the same tax-and-spend policies that have failed middle-class families

• Vid: C-Span caller on the Republican line from California launches into a Fresh Prince from Bel Air riff when he calls Washington Journal about Iran negotiations

Clinton: No Basic Server Security Precaution
• Hillary Clinton didn’t take a basic precaution with her personal email system to prevent hackers from impersonating or “spoofing” her identity in messages to close associates, according to former U.S. officials familiar with her email system and other cybersecurity experts (Bloomberg, me)

• This vulnerability put anyone who was in communication with her account while she was SecState at risk of being hacked. Clinton said at the UN last week that there were no security breaches of her personal email server, but former cybersecurity officials and experts said that there were gaps in the system (how could she know?)

• According to publicly available info, whoever administered the system didn’t enable what’s called a Sender Policy Framework, or SPF, a simple setting that would prevent hackers sending emails that appear to be from Experts said that would have been relatively easy for foreign intel services and others to exploit


• “I have no doubt in my mind that this thing was penetrated by multiple foreign powers, to assume otherwise is to put blinders on,” said Bob Gourley, the chief technology officer at the Defense Intelligence Agency from 2005 to 2008 and founder of Cognito, a cybersecurity consultancy (expect GOP to pounce on this)

• Spoofing a senior official’s email identity is also an easy way to conduct “spear phishing” attacks, where an attacker sends a personally crafted email that appears to come from a trusted source. Once the target opens it, his own system can be compromised. Clinton said she emailed with dozens of State and WH officials, including President Obama

• Nick Merrill, a spox for Clinton’s personal office, declined to comment on the SPF issue. “Robust protections were put in place and additional upgrades and techniques were employed over time.” Never evidence of a breach, he said. Merrill declined to say who has been in charge of maintaining the server or ensuring its security since 2009

• Vid LOL: Absolutely best “question” at a political Q&A in the history of these United States. Person (m? f?) says President Obama tried to blow up a nuke in Charleston a few months ago. Must have missed that. Former Sen Rick Santorum (R-PA) eventually tries to answer

Tunis Museum Attack
• Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi has vowed to fight terrorism “without mercy,” following a gun attack on the Bardo Museum in the capital Tunis that killed 19 people. “These monstrous minorities do not frighten us,” he said. Seventeen foreign tourists were killed in the attack, along with two Tunisians (BBC, me)

• Security forces killed two gunmen but are continuing to search for accomplices. Officials say more than 40 people were injured. At the time of the attack, deputies in the neighboring parliamentary building were discussing anti-terrorism legislation

• Many Tunisians took to the streets of central Tunis to protest against the attack, waving flags and lighting candles outside the museum. World leaders condemned the attack. WH spox Josh Earnest said the U.S. would “continue to stand with our Tunisian partners against terrorist violence.”

• The attack is a huge blow for Tunisia’s tourism industry and its secular govt, which only emerged at the end of a long political transition several months ago. Islamist militants have tried to derail the democratic transition, which, although fragile, remains the most positive result of the Arab Spring in the Middle East

• Concerns about security in Tunisia have increased in recent months as neighboring Libya has become increasingly unstable. A large number of Tunisians have also left to fight in Syria and Iraq, triggering worries that returning militants could carry out attacks at home
• The DoD has confirmed that it killed al-Shabab leader Adan Garar with a drone strike in Somalia on Friday. U.S. believes Garar was overseeing ops that “target U.S. persons and other Western interests.” Garar was a suspect in the 2013 Westgate Mall attack in Nairobi that left 67 people dead (BBC, TRNS)

Obamacare Poll: More Popular
• A new early March Kaiser Health Tracking Poll finds that 40% of respondents would like to see Congress repeal or scale back the Affordable Care Act, while 46% said they’d prefer that Congress move forward with carrying out the law or expand what it does. Most Republicans oppose the law and most Democrats favor it (NYT, me)

• Some 43% of respondents view the law unfavorably, while 41% view it favorably. The margin has narrowed considerably even since last July, when 53% viewed in unfavorably in the Kaiser poll and 37% viewed it favorably. Drew Altman, the Kaiser Foundation president, noted the near closing of the gap happened after a three-month enrollment period with few problems

• Respondents were worried about the potential impact of the current case before the Supreme Court that could limit health insurance subsidies available to people under the law to people in states that run their own exchanges: 62% said a ruling would have a negative effect on the country, while 23% said the impact would be positive

• A large 81% of Democrats and 67% of independents said that in the event of such a ruling, Congress should pass a law allowing people in those states to continue receiving subsidies. Most Republicans, 56%, said Congress should take no action

• But in the potentially affected states, about 60% of Republicans, 70% of independents and 80% of Democrats said they favored state action so residents could keep receiving subsidies. Public awareness of the case remains dim – more than half said they’d heard nothing about it and 25% said they’d heard only a little
• With a number of upcoming high-profile cases being argued, on Wednesday, Sens Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) reintroduced legislation that would televise the Supreme Court’s arguments (Hill)
Fed: No Longer Patient
• The Federal Reserve has modified its stance on interest rates, which have been kept at a record low of 0% since the financial crisis in 2008. It removed the word “patience” from its regular statement. But the Fed said it would wait until it saw “further improvement” in the U.S. labor market before raising rates (BBC, WSJ, me)

• U.S. shares rose sharply on the news. A delayed rate rise is good news for U.S. companies, who will remain able to borrow cheaply for some time yet.  That cheered investors, who pushed the Dow Jones higher by 0.9% or 159 points to 18,008 while the broader S&P rose 1% to 2,096

• Many market watchers had expected the Fed to signal that it would move toward a rate rise in June or September. However, in a statement released at the end of its two-day policy meeting in DC on Wednesday, the central bank warned that U.S. economic growth had “moderated somewhat” since January

• Fed officials added that it would be “appropriate” to raise interest rates once there had been “further improvement in the labor market” and cautioned that “this change in the forward guidance does not indicate that the Committee has decided on the timing of the initial increase.”

• Fed chair Janet Yellen said in a presser following the release of the statement that the Federal Open Market Committee did “not want to rule out the possibility” of a rate rise, but any move would “depend on the committee’s assessment of incoming information.”

• The Archdiocese of San Francisco has reversed itself and is removing a (heinous) system that dumps water on homeless people who sleep on the ground near its sheltered doorways of St Mary’s Cathedral. Massive backlash and unfavorable comparisons with the Vatican installing showers for the homeless who sleep on their grounds and providing haircuts (WaPo)

Democrats Block Trafficking Bill – Again
• Senate Democrats blocked debate on stalled human trafficking legislation for a second day Wednesday as Sen Amy Klobuchar’s (D-MN) office belatedly conceded that an aide “had seen the language” related to a controversial abortion provision before the Judiciary Committee voted. The aide “did not inform the senator.” (oops) (AP, Hill, WaPo, TRNS, me)

• Democrats have said for more than a week that their side of the aisle wasn’t aware of the provision until a few days ago, nearly two months after the bill was made public and long after a bipartisan vote in the committee on 24 Feb. Several Democrats have accused Republicans of sneaking it into the measure without their discovering it

• It wasn’t clear if the Democratic aide informed any other staff members or officials in outside groups involved in the measure. Advocates with several women’s groups said at a presser Wednesday that they hadn’t known of the provision. Democrats erupted in anger last week, when they said they belatedly discovered the presence of the provision

• The legislation is designed to help victims of sex trafficking, establishing a fund to do so that would receive money paid by convicted sexual traffickers as part of their court cases. The measure says none of the money could be used for abortions except in narrow cases. Democrats said the move amounted to an expansion of existing federal restrictions

• Complicating the stand-off, Republicans tied the confirmation of AG-designate Loretta Lynch to the bill by saying no vote would occur on the appt until the bill passes. Sen Dick Durbin (D-IL) on Wednesday said Lynch, the first African-American woman nominated to be AG, “is asked to sit in the back of the bus when it comes to the Senate calendar.”


• Sen John Cornyn (R-TX) told reporters Wednesday he’s looking at having Congress annually appropriate the money for the victims fund, versus having it come from criminal fines, and would subject it to the same restrictions on abortion as other federal funds. No response from Democrats so far (Hill, me)

Anti-Porn Group Slams Cheney

• Anti-pornography group the National Center on Sexual Exploitation slammed former VP Dick Cheney on Wednesday for his recent interview with Playboy magazine: “Cheney’s choice to give an exclusive interview to an explicit publication further mainstreams pornography usage and fuels the acceptance of the hyper-sexualized, pornified state of our nation.” (Hill, Mother Jones, USAToday, me)

• Dawn Hawkins, the executive director of the group, continued to criticize Cheney in a press release titled “Note to Dick Cheney: Men Do Not Buy Playboy for the Articles,” accusing him of making the interview inaccessible to women with its placement

• Playboy on Tuesday published Cheney’s interview, in which the former VP accuses President Obama and AG Eric Holder of “playing the race card” against critics. He also criticizes the WH’s response to the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, and says the national debate that arose was unfairly focused on race

• “We should not sort of throw it all over on the burden of race, or racial inequality or racial discrimination, as being responsible for this particular event,” Cheney said. Nowhere in the 9,000 word interview was Cheney asked about the lack of WMD in Iraq or war-related deaths. Cheney said Obama was the “worst president of my lifetime.”

• President Obama and VP Biden meet Prince Charles and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, this afternoon in the Oval Office. Wednesday, the royals visited U.S. monuments, including the Lincoln Memorial, Martin Luther King Memorial, Mount Vernon, National Archives – Magna Carta. Charles addressed an environmental conference on marine waste (BBC, me)

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Victoria Jones – Editor

TRNS’ James Cullum, Mary Jarvis and Luke Vargas contributed to this report

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