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

  • Democrats squabble in own trade war
  • Senate passes trafficking bill 99-0
  • Obama at Everglades: Climate warning
  • VA: Only 3 people lost jobs in scandal
  • EU summit: Stop people traffickers
  • Patriot Act renewal: Resistance, surprises
  • Gyrocopter man “lucky to be alive”
  • Benghazi probe: Into 2016?
  • FBI alerts airlines: Hackers
  • White House Correspondents Dinner: Saturday
Democrats Squabble in Own Trade War

• Sen Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) on Wednesday escalated her war of words on trade with President Obama. She said it’s unfair for the WH to show corporations the contents of a Trans-Pacific Partnership, but to ask Congress to sign off on it, sight unseen. And she blogged: “No vote on fast-tracking trade until the public can read the TPP deal.” (Politico, TRNS, me)

• Obama said Tuesday he loves Warren, but “she’s wrong on this.” Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton has ties to the TPP going back to her time as SecState and she risks having to attack her former boss. But she also risks alienating the left wing of her party. For the time being, Clinton has threaded the needle (she does that well)

• Fellow Dem presidential hopeful Martin O’Malley has pounced on Clinton’s equivocation. “American workers whose jobs could be on the line right now are owed more than lip service. They deserve to know where leaders stand,” O’Malley said in an email sent Wednesday to supporters

• Trade promotion authority legislation would give the president the power to complete trade deals with only up-or-down votes from Congress. It’s seen as integral to both reaching a bilateral deal with Japan, the linchpin of the TPP. But an indication that the fast track bill doesn’t have enough votes could deal a blow to the negotiations

Today, Obama will make a pitch to his own political arm, Organizing for Action, on the need for this trade deal. He’ll say “that this staple of his campaign stump speech is the reason that he’s pursuing the kind of trade deal that will open up new opportunities for the next generation of middle class workers,” a WH official said Wednesday (reax could be interesting)


• The Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday approved a bill that would streamline passage of global trade deals through Congress, 20-6. The long-awaited trade promotion authority measure passed with the aid of seven Democrats, sending the measure to the Senate floor (Hill)


Senate Passes Trafficking Bill 99-0

• The Senate Wednesday approved, 99-0, a stalled bill to fight human trafficking, freeing it to consider the nomination of Loretta Lynch to be the next attorney general. The Senate is scheduled to move on Lynch’s nomination today. 2016er Sen Ted Cruz (R-TX) wasn’t present for the vote (not present for a lot of things, including committee hearings) (NYT, TRNS, me)

• The bill has been delayed for about six weeks, since Democrats withdrew their support for the bipartisan bill when they discovered an anti-abortion provision. Senators reached a compromise on that provision Tuesday. They worked behind the scenes until late Tuesday to sort through the many amendments introduced on the bill. They voted on 16 of them Wednesday

• “This legislation I think actually is a very positive step because what it demonstrates is that we have not fallen deaf to those who really need our help, victims of human trafficking,” Sen John Cornyn (R-TX), the bill’s main sponsor, said on the floor. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) had said he wouldn’t allow a vote on Lynch until passage of the trafficking bill

• The deal would address Democrats’ concerns that the legislation would expand the Hyde amendment, a law that prevents taxpayer dollars from being used to pay for abortions, by essentially splitting a victims’ fund in two

• Fines collected from trafficking offenders will go toward non-health care services, while federal money for community health centers – subject to the Hyde amendment – would provide the rest. Many victims would be able to obtain abortions under the laws’ exemption in cases of rape

Obama at Everglades: Climate Warning

• President Obama spoke Wednesday at Florida’s Everglades National Park, with a vast, marshy field as a backdrop. “You do not have time to deny the effects of climate change,” he told an audience of several dozen guests. “Nowhere will it have a bigger impact than here in South Florida.” (WaPo, TRNS, me)

• The political context was unmistakable: Obama’s climate change-focused trip on Earth Day was aimed at goading Florida Republicans – including Gov Rick Scott and two presidential contenders, former Gov Jeb Bush and Sen Marco Rubio – to engage him on the issue

• Obama mocked the GOP pointedly when he referred to Sen Jim Inhofe’s (R-OK) stunt in February, when he brought a snowball to the Senate floor to argue that climate change is a hoax. “Yes, this winter was cold in some parts of the country, including Washington,” Obama said. “Some people in Washington helpfully used a snowball to demonstrate that fact. But around the world, in aggregate, it was the warmest winter ever recorded.”

• The friction with Republicans was evident by Scott’s refusal to show up at the Miami airport to greet Obama on the tarmac, even though the WH had invited him

• Obama’s trip to the Everglades was part of a week of climate-related events at the WH. Obama has also highlighted his pact with China to significantly reduce greenhouse gases by 2025. He has announced a $25 million fund of public and private money to restore and maintain national parks, along with other things

• Carly Fiorina, former chief exec of Hewlett Packard, plans to launch her presidential campaign on 4 May, in an online announcement, and to hold a conference call for the national press, according to a person with knowledge. GOPers Ben Carson plans to announce on the 4th and former Gov Mike Huckabee (R-AR) plans to announce on the 5th (WSJ, me)


VA: Only 3 People Lost Jobs in Scandal

• The nationwide scandal last spring over manipulated wait times at Dept of Veterans Affairs led to the ouster of its secretary. Then in Feb, the new secretary, Bob McDonald, said in a TV interview that 60 people had been fired. The dept quickly clarified to 14. Turns out from internal docs that, at most, three people have been removed from their jobs (NYT, me)

• Docs given this month to the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, which provided them to NYT, show that the dept punished a total of eight of its 280,000 employees for involvement in the scandal. Only person fired was director of the Phoenix hospital, Sharon Helman, who technically was removed for receiving “inappropriate” gifts and not for her role in the scandal

• In a statement released Wed night, the dept didn’t dispute the numbers, but said that more than 100 other employees were facing disciplinary action. “VA is committed to holding employees accountable for misconduct,” the statement said. But the docs drew expressions of outrage from congressional Republicans

• Rep Jeff Miller (R-FL), chair of the committee, said he will introduce legislation today to speed the firing process. His measure would sharply cut the time allowed for employees to appeal terminations to less than 30 days. Existing rules allow employees facing termination to collect pay while they appeal – a process that can last up to two years

• The dept has been plagued by criticism and missteps in recent years, also including cost overruns and stalled hospital construction projects. More than a year after being put on leave, two top officials at the Phoenix hospital are still drawing a salary while investigations continue


EU Summit: Stop People Traffickers

• EU leaders are today due to hold an emergency summit on ways to stem the number of migrants risking the perilous journey across the Mediterranean. Draft proposals apparently include a push for a military mandate to destroy boats used by people traffickers. (will build more?) More than 800 people drowned off Libya’s costs on Sunday (BBC, Telegraph, me)

• Italian PM Matteo Renzi has called for direct action against people smugglers. A draft statement for today’s Brussels meeting, seen by AFP, says leaders will commit to “undertake systematic efforts to identify, capture and destroy vessels before they are used by traffickers.”

• It says EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini “is invited to immediately begin preparations for a possible security and defense policy operation to this effect, in accordance with international law.” Other plans include supporting UN efforts to help form a stable govt in Libya

• Italy says 90% of the migrant boats ending up on its shores set off from Libya. EU leaders are also expected to discuss what to do with those migrants who reach Europe. A proposal for them to be spread out more equally among all EU states is a hugely divisive issue

• On Monday, the EU set out a 10-point action plan to prevent more deaths. They include an increase in the financial resources of Frontex, the border agency which runs the EU’s Med rescue service Triton, and an extension of Triton’s operational area. The EU has been criticized over Triton, which replaced the larger Italian operation Mare Nostrum last year

• The House Wednesday passed the first major cybersecurity bill since the hacks on Sony Entertainment, Home Depot and JPMorgan Chase. The bill would give companies liability protections when sharing cyber threat data with govt civilian agencies, such as Treasury or Commerce Depts (Hill)


Patriot Act Renewal: Resistance, Surprises

• The future of the Patriot Act grew uncertain Wednesday as an effort to restrain the govt’s surveillance powers encountered resistance on both sides of the Capitol. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) upended the debate late Tuesday night by offering a surprise bill that would extend the Patriot Act for five years without changes (Hill, AP, me)

• In the House, meanwhile, a bipartisan plan to reauthorize the law while also making major reforms to the NSA hit a snag amid opposition from some hawkish Republicans. Now, a bill that backers had hoped would be introduced and passed through committee by the end of the week is up in the air (suspense)

• And despite a looming 1 June deadline to renew parts of the law, it’s unclear whether any bill can win enough votes to pass the House or Senate. Some civil liberties advocates are prepared to let the Patriot Act provisions lapse, arguing that outcome could be the only way to curb the govt’s voracious collection of personal data

• Controversial Section 215 allows the govt to collect “any tangible things” as part of a terror investigation. (who wrote that, I wonder?) The NSA has relied on that portion of law to collect phone records about millions of Americans, including the numbers involved in a call, when it occurred and for how long – but not the actual conversation

• House Judiciary Committee chair Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) had planned to introduce legislation early this week that was expected to require that the NSA obtain a court order before collecting records from private phone companies, among other changes. Backers had hoped for a markup today. Now, it’s “soon”

• Sen Patrick Leahy (D-VT), who has worked with the bipartisan group of House lawmakers on reform legislation, called McConnell’s move a “tone-deaf attempt to pave the way for five and a half more years of unchecked surveillance” that “will not succeed.”


Gyrocopter Man “Lucky To Be Alive”

• The House Oversight Committee will hold a hearing next Wednesday on the landing of a gyrocopter on the Capitol lawn through restricted airspace. (goody) “There was a combination of a lack of communication and some human error is what we heard in this briefing,” committee chair Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) said after emerging from a classified briefing about the incident (Hill, Politico, me)

• The Capitol Police, Sergeant at Arms and Secret Service briefed the top leaders of the House Oversight, Administration and Homeland Security committees Wednesday for an hour in a classified setting. Chaffetz said he “personally was sorely disappointed” the FAA, NORAD and Park Police didn’t join the classified briefing

• But representatives from the six agencies will be asked to testify at next week’s hearing. “I think their absence speaks volumes, but they didn’t seem to show up at the event of the gyrocopter, either,” Chaffetz quipped, taking particular aim at NORAD and FAA. “They’ve got a lot of explaining to do.”

• Postal worker Doug Hughes landed his gyrocopter on the Capitol lawn last week to deliver letters to each member of Congress on the influence of money in politics. He was arrested immediately on landing on the West Front and sent back home to Florida after being charged with a felony

• “He is lucky to be alive because he should have been blown out of the air and very well could have been,” Chaffetz said. “No notification. We never got an alert that something was happening at the Capitol,” Chaffetz said. Capitol Police Chief Kim Dine said during the briefing the alert wasn’t transmitted because of an error, according to Chaffetz


• A judge has approved a plan worth $1 billion to compensate former football players with head injuries. Multiple lawsuits filed against the NFL allege that it hid knowledge of concussion risks. Players’ lawyers say the money will be used to compensate families and for medical testing (BBC)


Benghazi Probe: Into 2016?

• The final report by the House Select Committee on Benghazi likely won’t be released until 2016. Rep Trey Gowdy (R-SC), the panel’s chair, has insisted he didn’t want to drag the investigation into next year. The development would further complicate former SecState Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid (Bloomberg, Hill, me)

• “Factors beyond the committee’s control, including witness availability, compliance with documents requests, the granting of security clearances and accreditations – all of which are controlled by the Executive branch – could continue to impact the timing of the inquiry’s conclusion,” panel spox Jamal Ware said in a statement

• Gowdy has asked the presumptive Democratic nominee to appear before the committee twice, once for a closed-door briefing to examine her use of a private email server while SecState, and once publicly to testify about the Benghazi attacks. Committee member Jim Jordan (R-OH) said the committee hadn’t heard back from Clinton

• Clinton’s attorney David Kendall said there was “no reason” to delay her appearance or have her testify in a private interview. “In November, I informed your staff of Sec Clinton’s willingness to testify publicly before the Select Committee on Benghazi. In the succeeding months, she has reiterated her willingness, and I do so again on her behalf.” He said she’d answer questions on email use, too

• Rep Elijah Cummings (D-MD), the committee’s top Democrat, blasted the committee’s delay. “This investigation is on track to last longer than the investigations of Iran-Contra, the Kennedy assassination, Watergate, and 9/11, and it will squander more than $6 million in taxpayer funds in the process.”

• The State Dept on Wednesday accused Russia of deploying more air defense systems in eastern Ukraine in breach of a ceasefire deal. State also said Russia was involved in training separatist forces in the area and building up its forces along the border. The Kremlin hasn’t yet responded to the claims (BBC)


FBI Alerts Airlines: Hackers

• The FBI has issued a formal alert telling airlines to be on the lookout for hackers. It follows an onboard tweet from security expert Chris Roberts, who joked about being able to hack into a United Airlines plane’s wifi network. A terrorist could theoretically take over systems that fly a plane by compromising equipment at their seat (BBC, me)

• United Airlines has now banned Roberts from all its flights. The FBI and the TSA said they had no info to support claims a plane’s navigation system could be interfered via its onboard wifi kit, but added that they were evaluating the evidence. In his tweet, Roberts suggested he might be able to deploy the oxygen masks on the flight

• On arrival at Syracuse airport, Roberts, who is co-founder of security company One World Labs – was taken in for questioning by the FBI, and his laptop and other devices were seized. A few days later, he was prevented from boarding a flight to California

• He had previously given a number of interviews, explaining the possible weak points in airline systems, telling CNN that he could connect to a computer under his seat to view data from the aircraft’s engines, fuel and flight-management systems. Security experts have warned for years that airlines are a possible target for hackers

• Planes including the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and the Airbus 350 and A380 have a single network that’s used by both pilots to fly the plane and by passengers for their wifi connections. “The risk is that a hacker sitting in the back of the plane, or even on the ground, could use the wifi connection to hack into the avionics and then remotely fly the plane,” said security expert Bruce Schneider in a blog


• Stunning vid: See Chile’s Calbuco volcano erupt for the first time in 42 years (RT)


White House Correspondents Dinner: Saturday

• Donald Trump is back, courtesy of Fox News Channel, who also have felon Martha Stewart. Wonder if headliner Barack Obama will decimate presidential-wannabe Trump, the way he did in 2011? Oh – President Obama is the main entertainment for the 101st WHCD this Saturday night at the Washington (Hinckley) Hilton. Obama will be working on his routine until the last minute

• Obama will be followed (dreadful slot) by SNL’s Cecily Strong, who’s nervous as all get-out. “I truly had days where I’m like, I wish I could disappear today, because there’s no way to back out of it.” Christi Parsons, president of White House Correspondents Assn, said they picked her because “she’s the nice girl who’s cutting in a way that you don’t really notice until later.” (hmm)

• The names of the celeb guests are still coming in, but it’s a combo of Washington pols and Hollywood. Madeleine Albright, former SecState and Tea Leoni, fake SecState from Madam Secretary, are guests of CBS. Jane Fonda is with CNN. Lots of The Walking Dead cast members stumbling around. Some House of Cards and Game of Thrones, too

• UN Ambassador Samantha Power is with The Atlantic, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is with Yahoo, Jeh Johnson, Sec of Homeland Security is with Thomson Reuters, WaPo has Treasury Sen Jack Lew and Labor Sec Tom Perez. Dow-Jones has John Podesta, Hillary Clinton campaign chair – but she seems to be a no-show

• Michael Kelly from House of Cards is with Thomson Reuters, Michelle Monaghan from True Detective is with The Atlantic, Kerry Washington from Scandal is with ABC,, Larry Wilmore from The Nightly Show is with The Now Yorker. As for me, no, I haven’t decided what I’m going to wear. There are options – and they are fabulous (Deadline, Hill, NYT, me)

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Victoria Jones – Editor

TRNS’ Justin Duckham, William McDonald and Washington Desk contributed to this report

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