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

  • Obama: Cuba off terror list
  • Congress muscles in on Iran deal
  • Obama not “particularly thrilled”
  • Obama warns Iran re Iraq
  • “Doc fix” fixed
  • DEA chief on (very) hot seat on Hill
  • Clinton: First campaign stop Iowa
  • Christie comeback in New Hampshire?
  • House Armed Services: Free for all
  • Lincoln Shot at Ford’s Theatre
Obama: Cuba Off Terror List

• President Obama has decided to lift the U.S. designation of Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism, the WH said in a message to Congress Tuesday. The long-awaited decision effectively removes the principal impediment to the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries, as pledged last December (WaPo, TRNS, me)

• Congress has 45 days to consider Cuba’s removal from the list before it becomes effective, but cannot interfere with Obama’s decision without voting separate legislation – WH deems that unlikely. Cuba was first put on the list in 1982, at the height of the Cold War. Cuba’s removal would leave only three countries on the list – Iran, Sudan and Syria

• In his notification to Congress, Obama certified, under provision of applicable law, that “the govt of Cuba has not provided any support for international terrorism during the preceding six-month period,” and “has provided assurances that it will not support acts of international terrorism in the future.”

• Obama’s decision followed WH receipt last week of a State Dept conclusion that Cuba deserved to be removed from the list. In a statement, SecState John Kerry said the U.S. “has had, and continues to have, significant concerns and disagreements with a wide range of Cuba’s policies and actions” but they fell outside the criteria for designation of state sponsor of terror

• Congressional opponents of the removal, led by Cuban-Americans Sens Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) have argued that Cuba’s refusal to extradite American fugitives who reside there, in most cases for decades, should constitute an act of international terrorism

• Sen Marco Rubio (R-FL) condemns the removal of Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism (in Spanish)

Congress Muscles in on WH Iran Deal

• The WH relented Tuesday and said President Obama would sign a compromise bill giving Congress a voice on the proposed nuclear accord with Iran as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in rare unanimous agreement, moved the legislation to the full Senate for a vote (NYT, TRNS, me)

• WH officials insisted they extracted crucial last minute concessions. Republicans – and many Democrats – said the president simply got overrun

• The essence of the bill is that Congress will have a chance to vote on whatever deal emerges with Iran – if one is reached by 30 June – but in a way that would be extremely difficult for Obama to lose, allowing SecState John Kerry to tell his Iranian counterpart that the risk that an agreement would be upended on Capitol Hill is limited

• Congress could vote on an eventual end to sanctions, and then later take up the issue depending on whether Iran has met its own obligations. But if it rejected the deal, Obama could veto that bill – and it would take only 34 senators to sustain the veto, meaning that Obama could lose upward of a dozen Democratic senators and still prevail

• The bill would require that the admin send the text of a final accord, along with classified material, to Congress as soon as it’s completed. It also halts any lifting of sanctions pending a 30-day congressional review, and culminates in a possible vote to allow or forbid the lifting of congressionally imposed sanctions in exchange for the dismantling of much of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure

Obama Not “Particularly Thrilled”

• Why Obama gave in after fierce opposition was the last real dispute of what became a rout. WH spox Josh Earnest said Obama was not “particularly thrilled” with the bill, but “we’ve gone from a piece of legislation that the president would veto to a piece of legislation that’s undergone substantial revision such that it’s now in the form of a compromise.”

• However, Sen Bob Corker (R-TN), chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, said the “change occurred when they saw how many senators were going to vote for this, and only when that occurred.”

• But the compromise did shorten a review period of the final Iran deal and soften language that would make the lifting of sanctions dependent on Iran’s ending support for terrorism. The agreement almost certainly means Congress will muscle its way into nuclear negotiations that Obama sees as a legacy-defining foreign policy achievement

• The Senate is expected to vote on the legislation this month, and House Republican leaders have promised to pass it shortly after. The measure could still face hurdles. Sens Marco Rubio (R-FL), fresh off his 2016 announcement, and Ron Johnson (R-WI), have amendments that they say they could try on the Senate floor
Obama Warns Iran re Iraq

• President Obama warned Iran on Tuesday that its fighters must respect Iraq’s sovereignty and report to Baghdad in the region-wide battle against ISIS. Iran-backed Shia militias have played a major role in battling the Sunni group, an al Qaeda offshoot that emerged from the chaos in Iraq and neighboring Syria (Reuters, AP, me)

• Obama said he and Iraqi PM Haidar al-Abadi discussed the issue at length in their Oval Office meeting. He said it was clear that Iraq and Iran would have an important relationship because they shared a border and noted the Shia militias mobilized when ISIS was surging and the Iraqi govt was still getting organized

• Obama pledged $200 million in humanitarian aid to help those displaced by ISIS. But WH spox Josh Earnest told reporters at the briefing Tuesday that al-Abadi made no specific request for additional military assistance

• Speaking to reporters at the end of their meeting, al-Abadi thanked the U.S. for its sacrifices in the effort to liberate Iraq. He said he and Obama discussed plans to liberate the ISIS strongholds in Anbar province and the city of Mosul, after a successful campaign backed by U.S. airstrikes to push the militants out of Tikrit

• Obama said al-Abadi’s commitment to include all sectarian factions in Iraq’s govt is critical. “None of this works unless there is a perception among all the parties involved – Shia, Sunni, Kurd and others – inside of Iraq that this is an inclusive govt that is listening to the voices of all the people, and including them in decision-making.”


• America’s low wage workers are expected to strike in 230 U.S. cities today, including New York, LA, Detroit, St Louis, Kansas City MO and Raleigh NC. They’re calling for $15 hourly wages and the right to unionize. The SEIU has backed the “Fight for 15” movement (McClatchy)


“Doc Fix” Fixed

• The Senate Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a $200 million Medicare reform package that will end a two-decade headache for Congress known as the “doc fix.” The rare bipartisan bill, which passed 92-8, will now head to President Obama, who has promised to sign it. Obama praised the bill (Hill, me)

• “It’s a milestone for physicians, and for the seniors and people with disabilities who rely on Medicare for their health care needs,” Obama said in a statement. 2016ers Sens Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) voted no, as did Sens Mike Lee (R-UT), David Perdue (R-GA), Ben Sasse (R-NE), Tim Scott (R-SC), Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and Richard Shelby (R-AL)

• The Senate voted down six amendments that had been crucial to bringing the bill to a vote The nearly 300-page bill repeals automatic cuts to Doctors’ payments under Medicare, ending Congress’ ritual of temporarily putting off the cuts

• To win support from some conservatives who objected that it wasn’t fully paid for, leadership allowed a vote on an amendment from Lee that would have forced lawmakers to fully pay for the bill. The measure was defeated, 58-42. The bill will cost $214 billion over 10 years

• The amendment would have undone a carefully drafted deal between House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) about how to pay for the bill. Even with two-thirds of the bill’s costs not offset, the House overwhelmingly approved the bill before leaving town for a two week recess


• Eight former Atlanta public school educators were ordered on Tuesday to serve between one and seven years in prison for their convictions on racketeering charges in one of the nation’s largest test-cheating scandals (Reuters)


DEA Chief on Hot Seat on Hill

• Drug Enforcement Admin Administrator Michele Leonhart “looked the other way” and let federal agents off with “essentially a vacation” as a punishment for having sex with Colombian prostitutes, Rep Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), the chair of the House Oversight Committee, said Tuesday in a lively hearing (Hill, Politico, AP, me)

• Both Republicans and Democrats took shots at Leonhart, with some calling for “new leadership” at DEA. She’ll be back on the Hill today testifying before what promises to be an equally hostile House Judiciary Committee hearing. None of the federal agents who participated in the sex parties were fired, according to internal docs

• The DoJ’s IG released a report in March, accusing DEA agents of participating in sex parties funded by the drug cartels they were supposed to be investigating. A foreign officer alleged providing protection for the agents’ weapons and property during the parties. Foreign officers alleged that three agents were provided money, expensive gifts and weapons from cartel members


• Lawmakers from both parties said they were dumbfounded that AG Eric Holder found it necessary to send a memo last week reminding dept employees not to engage with prostitutes.”Hello? Am I missing something?” Ranking member Rep Elijah Cummings (D-MD) said. “I think we are at an all-time low here.” (oh we can always go lower)

• Leonhart claimed she doesn’t have the authority to fire these federal agents. Rep Stephen Lynch (D-MA) said: “I think the problem now is you’re protecting these people who solicited prostitutes, used taxpayer money to do it and, I believe, compromised national security. This is a disgrace.”

• Leanhart shot back: “As far as protecting them, I take great offense to that. I’m offended by their conduct; I’m offended by their behavior; I’m trying to fix the system.” The alleged sex parties date back as early as 2001 and occurred largely before Leonhart took over at the DEA in February 2010, according to internal agency records (she’s had 5 years to “fix system”)


• Top Google searches: 1) How old is Marco Rubio? How old is Hillary Clinton? / 2) What nationality is Marco Rubio? Is Hillary Clinton a Democrat? / 3) Is Marco Rubio running for president in 2016? Is Hillary Clinton running for president in 2016? / 11) Is Marco Rubio a twin? Is Hillary Clinton married? (Vocativ)

Clinton: First Campaign Stop

• Hillary Clinton began sketching out a progressive policy agenda and promised fresh thinking on a range of economic and other issues Tuesday, as she began her second run for the WH in the coffee shops and classrooms of small-town Iowa (WaPo, TRNS, me)

• Returning to the state that threw her last effort forever off course, Clinton was met by curious voters and a media frenzy. There were no big speeches or rallies. Instead, Clinton made a point of sitting down with small groups of people – three in a coffee shop, seven in a community college vocational classroom, a handful more at a second coffee shop

• “I am running to be the champion for Americans and their families, so that we can not just worry about treading water, so we can get ahead and stay ahead,” Clinton said after a discussion with students and others at Kirkwood Community College. Soooo this is crazy – media chasing Hillary Clinton’s Scooby van in Iowa

• She is expected to introduce her full policy platform in May or June. Among the details of her emerging platform, Clinton said she wants to fix the country’s “dysfunctional” campaign finance system. Asked about her campaign finance agenda, she said: “We do have a plan. We have a plan for my plan.” (huh?)

• When asked about the role of Priorities USA, a pro-Clinton super PAC trying to raise hundreds of millions of dollars to help her campaign, Clinton shrugged her shoulders and said, “I don’t know.”

• Clinton was asked by Rep Darrell Issa (R-CA), then chair of House Oversight Committee, in a Dec 2012 letter whether she had used a private email account while serving as SecState. She didn’t reply to the letter.  When State answered three months later, two months after she left office, it ignored the question. Clinton exclusively used a private email account as SecState (NYT, me)

Christie Comeback in New Hampshire?

• It’s the start of the Chris Christie comeback – at least that’s the idea. But no amount of plain talk and authenticity can gloss over the predicament the New Jersey governor finds himself in. Catching fire in first primary state New Hampshire won’t be easy – he’s currently polling behind seven other Republican candidates there at just 6% (Politico, me)

• In his speech Tuesday, Christie made a splash by calling for a reduction in Social Security benefits for seniors earning over $80,000 and eliminating the benefit entirely for individuals making $200,000 and up, along with raising the retirement age to 69 from 67. He also proposed a gradual increase in the age when seniors qualify for Medicare to 67 by 2040

Today, he’ll hold the first of two town halls in New Hampshire this week, the kind of event where the brash, loquacious governor is know to thrive – and sometimes make gaffes. Christie plans to do these events on a monthly basis in New Hampshire. Friday, he gives a speech at a GOP leadership summit where many 2016 hopefuls will be present

• The taint of scandal has dropped Christie from sure-fire presidential front-runner a year ago to the long shot he is now; the possibility of indictments related to Bridgegate, which could come at any moment, could deal a death blow to his 2016 hopes

• The other controversy is an unforeseen budget crisis that’s seen the state’s debt rating downgraded five times and the governor sued after the state defaulted on payments to the state’s unfunded pension liability – payments that were part of a law he signed in 2011 and still touts as one of his greatest achievements


• Fury over the official response to the al Shabab massacre mounts in Kenya as the police air chief has admitted that a plane meant to fly commandos was taking his family home from vacation. The time lost was used by the militants to hunt down students hiding in their dorms, even calling their parents, then shooting the students in the head (Guardian)


House Armed Services: Free For All

• The House Armed Services on Tuesday held its annual “Member Day,” allowing House lawmakers who don’t sit on the panel to voice their own concerns about military matters in their own districts (Hill, me)

• The annual tradition is a chance for House members to make the case for their own priorities to be included in the national defense authorization act (NDAA), which the armed services panel is slated to mark up in the weeks ahead. In all, 15 House members testified about what provisions should be included in the defense bill

• Rep Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), whose district is home to the Army’s Fort Campbell, pushed for more money for flight training at the base. She also warned against future troop reductions that could cut the number of enlisted soldiers at the site from 26,500 to around 16,000

• Rep Louie Gohmert (R-TX) made another push for a provision that would let service members carry private firearms on military installations, following the 2013 mass shooting at Washington DC’s Navy Yard facility. He also requested an amendment allowing chaplains to pray “in Jesus” name at services

• Rep Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) asked for more emergency visas for individuals who served as translators for U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and to consider his Smarter Approach to Nuclear Expenditures (SANE) Act, which would cut $100 billion from the country’s nuclear weapons budget over the next decade


• President Obama and his wife, Michelle, paid nearly $94,000 in federal taxes on $477,000 in income, they said in tax returns. That translates to an effective tax rate of 19.6%. He was forced to contend with Obamacare. The Obamas gave about $70,000, or 14.8% of their income, to charity (Politico)


Lincoln Shot at Ford’s Theatre

• Washington, late evening 14th April: President Lincoln and wife visited Ford’s Theatre this evening for the purpose of witnessing the performance of ‘The American Cousin.’ … The theatre was densely crowded, and everybody seemed delighted with the scene before them (edited version of original AP dispatch by Lawrence Gobright)

• During the third act and while there was a temporary pause for one of the actors to enter, a sharp report of a pistol was heard, which merely attracted attention, but suggested nothing serious until a man rushed to the front of the President’s box, waving a long dagger in his right hand, exclaiming, ‘Sic semper tyrannis,’ – – –

• – – – and immediately leaped from the box, which was in the second tier, to the stage beneath, and ran across to the opposite side, made his escape amid the bewilderment of the audience from the rear of the theatre, and mounted a horse and fled

• The groans of Mrs Lincoln first disclosed the fact that the President had been shot, when all present rose to their feet rushing towards the stage, many exclaiming, ‘Hang him, hang him!’ The excitement was of the wildest possible description…

• There was a rush towards the President’s box, when cries were heard – ‘Stand back and give him air!’ ‘Has anyone stimulants?’ On a hasty examination it was found that the President had been shot through the head above and back of the temporal bone, and that some of his brain was oozing out… (story contd)

• Vid: Last living Lincoln assassination witness appears on 1956 TV show “I’ve Got a Secret”

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Victoria Jones – Editor

TRNS’ Justin Duckham, Nicholas Salazar and Washington Desk contributed to this report

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