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

  • SCOTUS: 4 big words Obamacare doom?
  • GOP scrambles for alternatives
  • DoJ slams Ferguson PD on racism
  • Netanyahu speaks to Congress on Iran
  • Obama takes issue with comments
  • In flip-flop, House approves DHS funding
  • Hillary Clinton’s private emails: Ssshhh
  • WH throws Clinton under the bus
  • AL court stops same sex marriage licenses
  • Boston Marathon bombing trial starts today

SCOTUS: 4 Big Words – Obamacare Doom?

• King v. Burwell, being argued today, focuses on the health insurance marketplaces or exchanges. The federal govt, through, runs the exchanges in 37 states – largely those led by Republicans who declined to set up state-based systems. The distinction between state and federally run exchanges is crucial to the case because of four words in the 1,000 page law (AP, TRNS, me)

• The challengers say the law allows subsidies – in the form of tax credits – only for people who get their insurance through an exchange “established by the state.” The plaintiffs interpret the phrase to mean that Congress intended to make the subsidies available only on the condition that states set up their own marketplaces

• The Obama admin says that interpretation is far too narrow: If Congress was trying to make health care affordable to all Americans, why would lawmakers have worded it in such a way that omits help for so much of the country? They point to a lack of statements by lawmakers to back up the plaintiffs’ contention

• The goal of Obamacare was to provide universal affordable coverage when an estimated 50 million Americans lacked it. That number’s gone down to an estimated 36 million. They need to keep healthy people in the pool. And a key component is providing financial help for those who otherwise could afford it: estimated 8 million people (Rand Corporation/Urban Institute)

• If the govt loses the case, a key pillar of Obama’s health care program would crumble. But a win for the plaintiffs carries risks for Republicans, who are scrambling to come up with alternatives. And nearly two dozen Republican senators facing re-election next year are from states that refused to set up their own exchanges. Stakes are very, very high
• Interactive: Supreme Court case – health care law – who would be affected? (NYT)

GOP Scrambles for Alternatives
Sen Ted Cruz (R-TX) offered the latest in a series of Republican Obamacare “alternatives” ahead of a SCOTUS ruling that could gut the law. Cruz’s bill would allow people to buy health insurance across state lines. It would also repeal Title 1 of Obamacare, which would undo much of the law, including the mandate to buy insurance and subsidies (so gutting, basically) (Hill, me)

• The plan joins a variety of recent GOP proposals. Three top Senate Republicans have proposed a plan to provide financial assistance to let people temporarily keep their Obamacare plans while a more state-based solution is worked out

• Meanwhile, three House Republicans, including Rep Paul Ryan (R-WI), have proposed another – vague – plan, which would provide tax credits to help people buy insurance, while allowing states to opt out of Obamacare’s mandates. The plans aren’t yet formal legislation and have only been outlined in op-eds

• But hardline conservatives like Gov Bobby Jindal (R-LA) argue that the GOP shouldn’t try to restore subsidies. “Americans would pay billions more in higher taxes to fund the newly-restored subsidies, making Obamacare that much more entrenched. What self-proclaimed conservative of sound mind would do such a thing?” he asked in an op-ed Tuesday

• David Petraeus has reached a plea deal with the DoJ and admitted proving his highly classified journals to a mistress when he was director of the CIA. Petraeus is a retired four-star general who led the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (NYT, TRNS, me)


DoJ Slams Ferguson PD on Racism
• The Justice Dept will issue findings as early as today that accuse the police dept in Ferguson MO of racial bias and routinely violating the constitutional rights of citizens (WaPo, NYT, me)

• In hundreds of interviews and a review of more than 35,000 pages of police records and docs, DoJ officials found that though African Americans make up 67% of population, they account for 93% of arrests between 2012-2014

• The findings come as DoJ officials attempt to negotiate a settlement with the police dept to change its practices. If they can’t reach a settlement, the dept could bring a lawsuit. A U.S. official said that Ferguson officials have been cooperating

• The DoJ concluded that African Americans accounted for 85% of all people stopped by Ferguson police officers and 90% of all citations issued. The DoJ plans to release evidence of racial bias found in emails written by Ferguson police and municipal court officials

• A Nov 2008 email, for instance, stated that President Obama couldn’t be president for very long because “what black man holds a steady job for four years.” An email depicted African Americans as monkeys. A third described black women having abortions as a way to reduce crime (speechless – whole thing leaves me disgusted beyond comment)

• Elected officials, protest organizers and community leaders on Tuesday renewed calls for Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson to resign, with some saying that the dept should be disbanded. They said the DoJ probe should have gone further by investigating other municipal police forces. “I live in Ferguson, so I knew this,” said young leader Tony Rice
• The review concludes that racial bias and a focus on generating revenue over public safety have a profound effect on Ferguson police and court practices. The review found a pattern of Ferguson police using unreasonable force against citizens

• In 88% of the cases in which the dept used force, it was against African Americans. In all of the 14 canine bite incidents for which racial info was available, the person bitten was African American (really? dog bites – not the 1950s)

• In Ferguson court cases, African Americans are 68% less likely than others to have their cases dismissed by a municipal judge, according to the review. In 2013, African Americans accounted for 92% of cases in which an arrest warrant was issued

• From Oct 2012 to Oct 2014, 96% of people arrested during traffic stops solely because of an outstanding warrant were African American. From April to Sept 2014, 95% of people held longer than two days in the city jail were black

• A U.S. military officer’s media briefing about plans for an Iraqi-led ground offensive in Mosul, including expected spring timing, amounted to a mistaken disclosure of “military secrets,” SecDef Ash Carter said Tuesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee (AP, me)
Netanyahu Speaks to Congress
• Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu told Congress Tuesday that an emerging agreement between Iran and the U.S. would all but guarantee that Tehran gets nuclear weapons and would be a very bad deal. In a controversial appearance, Netanyahu said, “Iran has proven time and again that it cannot be trusted.” (AP, Politico, TRNS, me)

• Netanyahu said that with the concessions the U.S. was prepared to make (6 world powers, surely?) Iran would not only gain nuclear weapons, but also eventually would become free of international economic sanctions. As a result, he said, it would be emboldened to finance even more terrorism around the Middle East and the world

• The result for Iran, he said, would be “aggression abroad and prosperity at home.” “We’ve been told that no deal is better than a bad deal. Well this is a bad deal, a very bad deal.” He gave few details of what are allegedly in the deal, having been politely warned not to

• Netanyahu said that the world needs to insist that no restrictions are lifted on Iran’s nuclear program until the country stops aggressive actions against its neighbors in the Mideast, stops supporting terrorism around the world and stops threatening to annihilate Israel

• House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was visibly upset during Netanyahu’s speech. In a statement, she said she was “saddened by the insult to the intelligence of the U.S. as part of the P5+1 nations, and saddened by the condescension toward our knowledge of the threat posed by Iran and our broader commitment to preventing nuclear proliferation.” (Politico, TRNS)
Obama Takes Issue with Comments
• Later, at the WH, President Obama took issue with Netanyahu’s comments. “On the core issue, which is how do we prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, which would make it far more dangerous and would give it scope for even greater action in the region, the prime minister didn’t offer any viable alternatives.”

• “I have repeatedly said that I would rather have no deal than a bad deal, but if we are successful in negotiating, then in fact this will be the best deal possible to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” Obama said. “Nothing else comes close. Sanctions won’t do it. Military action wouldn’t be as successful as the deal that we have put forward.”

• Netanyahu spoke in English shortly after SecState John Kerry met for more than two hours in Switzerland with Iranian FM Javad Zarif in hopes of completing an international framework later this month to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions

• The Israeli leader’s appeal also came two weeks before tight elections in which he’s seeking a new term – and after the invitation to address Congress extended by Speaker Jogn Boeher (R-OH). More than 50 Democrats didn’t attend the event, a highly unusual move, and VP Joe Biden was traveling in Central America

• In Israel, Isaac Herzog, who’s running against Netanyahu, said: “The painful truth is that after the applause, Netanyahu remains alone and Israel remains isolated and the negotiations with Iran will continue without Israel. It won’t change the
[U.S.] govt’s position and will only widen the divide with our great friend and our only strategic ally.”
• Senate Democrats are threatening to vote against their own Iran legislation because Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is rushing the bill to the Senate floor before it’s been through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “There is no emergency,” Sen Robert Menendez (D-NJ) said (Politico, me)
In Flip-Flop, House Approves DHS Funding for Year
• In an abrupt reversal of position  by Republicans, the House Tuesday passed a “clean” bill that would fund the Dept of Homeland Security for the rest of the fiscal year, averting a partial shutdown of the agency after weeks of uncertainty. Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) pushed the bill through over objections from hardline conservatives (NYT, TRNS, me)

• Boehner’s turnabout came after his leadership team suffered a humiliating setback on Friday, narrowly averting a partial shutdown of the dept after his more conservative members revolted against a GOP plan to pass a three-week funding measure

• House leadership had hoped that the short-term measure would provide it with more time to pressure the Senate to take up a bill that passed the House in Jan. That measure would have funded the agency but would also have gutted President Obama’s executive actions on immigration to as many as five million undocumented immigrants, including children

• But the backlash against the near shutdown of the agency was swift, with Republicans shouldering the brunt of the criticism. Republican leadership, which had promised to govern effectively, without the threat of govt shutdowns, had now failed its first major governing test and it realized it needed to move beyond the current fight

• Tuesday morning, Boehner presented three possible solutions to his members – a partial shutdown of the agency, another short-term measure that would postpone the fight, or a “clean” funding bill with no immigration provisions. His members quickly accepted a plan for full funding. Rep Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) complained that Boehner had “just caved in.”
• A suspect wanted for as many as five shootings in the Washington/Baltimore area has been arrested, the FBI said today. Earlier, a law enforcement source said the incidents might be linked to a shooting Tuesday near the NSA in Fort Meade, MD. Each shooting took place in a different MD county (bit weird, that) (CNN)
Hillary Clinton’s Private Emails: Sssshhh
It was only last month that the House committee appointed to investigate Benghazi was provided with about 300 of Hillary Clinton’s emails related to the attacks. This was shortly after Clinton turned over, at State Dept’s request, some 50,000 pages of govt-related emails that she had kept on her private account (NYT, Hill, TRNS, me)

• It was one of several instances in which records requests sent to State, which had no access to Clinton’s emails, came up empty. Clinton’s aides on Tuesday sought to play down the significance of her exclusive use of a personal email account for State business. But her use of the account shielded the emails from the eyes of investigators and the public

• In 2013, a reporter for Gawker filed a FOIA request for all correspondence between Clinton and Sidney Blumenthal, a close adviser. Some of the emails had already spilled into public view. But State told Gawker it could find no records responsive to the request. Clinton’s use of personal email for govt business is unusual for a high-level official, archive experts have said

• Federal regs, since 2009, have required that all emails be preserved as part of an agency’s record keeping system. In Clinton’s case, her emails were kept on her personal account and her staff took no steps to have them preserved as part of State records

WH Throws Clinton Under the Bus
• In response to a State Dept request, Clinton’s advisers, late last year, reviewed her account and decided which emails to turn over to State (looks really secretive – and short-sighted for a potential presidential candidate). State says it will now search the 50,000 emails in response to FOIA and congressional requests

• WH spox Josh Earnest said Tuesday, “What I can tell you is that very specific guidance has been given to agencies all across the govt, which is specifically that employees of the Obama admin should use their official email accounts when they’re conducting official govt business.” (right under the bus). Many groups have unfulfilled FOIA requests, including:

• In Dec, AP said its FOIA requests for records related to Clinton’s tenure at State, the oldest of which was submitted in 2010, weren’t answered. Conservative group Citizens United is expecting a ruling Friday about a lawsuit the group filed last year after State wouldn’t disclose flight records regarding Clinton – one of 16 unfulfilled FOIA requests it has filed

• Tuesday, State spox Alex Gerlach stressed the dept was working diligently to comply with voluminous requests for info from the GOP-controlled House. Adrienne Elrod, a spox for Correct the Record, a pro-Clinton group, called the issue of Clinton’s using personal email “manufactured controversy.”

• Tuesday, Rep Trey Gowdy, chair of the House select committee on Benghazi, said, “You do not need a law degree to understand how troubling this is.” He said, “this revelation … may well lay the groundwork for additional conversation with the secretary, in some setting or another.” (I’ll bet, rack? leg irons?)

Alabama Court Stops Same-Sex Marriage Licenses

• The Alabama Supreme Court Tuesday night ordered probate judges around the state to stop issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, ruling in direct opposition to a federal judge that the state’s ban on same sex marriage didn’t violate the U.S. Constitution (NYT, me)

• In a 7-1 decision, the court ruled that, “Govt has an obvious interest in offspring and the consequences that flow from the creation of each new generation, which is only naturally possible in the opposite-sex relationship, which is the primary reason marriage between men and women is sanctioned by state law.” The fight is likely to be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court

• This skirmish has gone on since Federal District Court judge Callie Granade ruled in Jan that the state’s ban on same sex marriage, which 81% of voters approved in 2006 referendum, was unconstitutional


• Chief justice Roy Moore abstained from the voting. He issued an administrative order in Feb that insisting that the state’s probate judges refrain from issuing licenses. With competing orders, including one from Grenade, which SCOTUS allowed to go into effect, Alabama was a checkerboard of options for gay couples

• Some judges granted licenses, while others refused. On 12 Feb, Judge Granade ruled that the probate judge for Mobile County couldn’t continue to refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples

• In the decision, the judges not only took on Granade’s ruling point by point, but also took on SCOTUS’s ruling striking down parts of the federal Defense of Marriage Act in 2013. A section of the ruling said probate judges could file papers within five days to argue that they shouldn’t be bound by the state justices’ decision

• Wow – raw vid: Villarrica volcano in Chile spews enormous gobs of molten lava as it erupts (apologize for weird background music in video…)

Boston Marathon Bombing Trial Starts Today
• A panel of eight men and 10 women, including a self-employed house painter, an air traffic controller and an unemployed auditor was chosen Tuesday to decide the fate of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who is accused of the deadly Boston Marathon bombing. The jury is all white, with one man of Iranian descent (NYT, me)

• Tsarnaev, 21, has pleaded not guilty to 30 counts against him stemming from the explosion of two bombs at the marathon finish line in April 2013. The bombs killed three people and injured more than 260 others. The counts include the subsequent murder of an MIT police officer. Seventeen of the 30 counts carry the death penalty. Opening statements begin today

• Four of the jurors said under questioning that they believed Tsarnaev was guilty but they could keep an open mind and base their decisions on the evidence. All the others hadn’t decided yet

• All said they were willing to sentence him to death, which is a requirement in a death penalty case; one woman said she was against the death penalty but could still consider imposing it. The jurors won’t know until the end of the trial which 12 members will take part in deliberation – to keep them on their toes and paying attention

• Pic: Madonna, 56, slams ageism in the cover story in Rolling Stone. “My age – anybody and everybody would say something degrading to me. And I always think to myself, why is that accepted? What’s the difference between that and racism, or any discrimination?” Her new album Rebel Heart is out 6 March

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Victoria Jones – Editor

TRNS’ Nicholas Salazar, Mary Jarvis, Shane Farnan, Midori Nishida and Washington Desk contributed to this report


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