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

  • Baltimore explodes in riots
  • SCOTUS: Gay marriage showdown
  • Nepal earthquake: 8 million affected
  • Lynch sworn in as AG
  • Iran nuke deal: Movement
  • Obama / Abe meet today in WH
  • Japan state dinner tonight
  • GOP defense budget: Challenge to WH
Baltimore Explodes in Riots

• Rioters plunged part of Baltimore into chaos Monday, torching a CVS Pharmacy, setting police cars ablaze and throwing bricks at officers hours after thousands mourned Freddie Gray, the man who died from a severe spinal injury he suffered in police custody. The governor declared a state of emergency and called in the National Guard (AP, Reuters, WaPo, TRNS, me)

• AG Loretta Lynch, on her first day on the job, said she would send DoJ officials to the city in coming days, including Vanita Gupta, the dept’s top civil rights lawyer. A daily curfew was imposed beginning today, from 10 pm to 5 am until 4 May, the mayor said, and Baltimore schools will be closed today

• At least 15 officers were hurt, including six who remained hospitalized late Monday, police said. Two dozen people were arrested. Officers wearing helmets and wielding shields occasionally used pepper spray to keep the rioters back. Baltimore Sun photographer Christopher Assaf was beaten by rioters Monday after they objected to him taking a photo

• Monday’s riot was the latest flare-up over the mysterious death of Gray. Gray was African-American. Police have declined to specify the races of the six officers involved in his arrest, all of whom have been suspended with pay. “I think the violence is wrong,” Gray’s twin sister, Fredericka Gray, said late Monday. “I don’t like it at all.”

• Graphic: Mapping the clashes between Baltimore police and protesters (NYT)

Who Are the Rioters?

• Police urged parents to locate their children and bring them home. Many of those on the streets appeared to be African-American youths. The riot broke out just as high school let out, and at a key city bus depot for student commuters around Mondawmin Mall, a shopping area northwest of downtown Baltimore

• Firefighters trying to put out a blaze at a CVS store were hindered by someone who sliced holes in a hose connected to a fire hydrant, spraying water all over the street and nearby buildings. Later Monday night, a massive fire erupted in East Baltimore that a spox for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake initially said was connected to the riots

• The spox later texted an AP reporter saying officials are still investigating whether there’s a connection. The Mary Harvin Transformation Center was under construction. No one was believed in the building at the time. Kevin Johnson, 53, a resident of the area, said the building was to have been earmarked for the elderly

• “Too many people have spent generations building up this city for it to be destroyed by thugs, who in a very senseless way, are trying to tear down what so many have fought for, tearing down businesses, tearing down and destroying property, things that we know will impact our community for years,” Rawlings-Blake said at a presser


• Rawlings-Blake blamed media for blatantly mischaracterizing her words Monday after she was quoted saying that the city’s police dept should “give those who wished to destroy space to do that.” At a presser, she said she was answering a question and made it very clear it was about balancing a fine line “between giving peaceful protesters a space to protest.” (didn’t say that, though)


“Credible Threat” to Police

• Monday night, Rep Elijah Cummings (D-MD) and about 200 others, including ministers and mostly men, marched arm-in-arm through a neighborhood littered with broken glass, flattened aluminum cans and other debris, in an attempt to help calm the violent outbursts

• Many who had never met Gray gathered earlier in the day in a Baltimore church to bid him farewell and press for more accountability among law enforcement. Police said in a news release while the funeral was underway that the dept had received a “credible threat” that three notoriously violent gangs are now working together to “take out” law enforcement officers

• Gray was arrested on 12 April after making eye contact with officers and then running away, police said. He was held down, handcuffed and loaded into a van without a seat belt. Leg cuffs were put on him when he allegedly became irate inside

• He asked for medical help several times before being put in the van, but paramedics weren’t  called until after a 30-minute ride. Police have acknowledged he should have received medical attention on the spot where he was arrested, but haven’t said how his spine was injured. He died on 19 April
SCOTUS: Gay Marriage Today
The Two Questions
• 1) Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex? 2) Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out of state?


Arguments From Both Sides

• The arguments of marriage-rights supporters boil down to a claim that states lack any valid reason to deny the right to marry, which the court has earlier described as fundamental to the pursuit of happiness (AP)

• They say state laws that allow only some people to marry violate the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law and make second-class citizens of same-sex couples and their families. Gay couples say that preventing them from marrying is akin to a past ban on interracial marriage, which the court struck down in 1967

• The states respond that they have always set the rules for marriage and that voters in many states have backed, sometimes overwhelmingly, changes to their constitutions to limit marriage to a man and a woman. They say a lively national debate is underway and there’s no reason for the court to impose a solution that should be left to the political process

• The states also argue that they have a good reason to keep defining marriage as they do. Because only heterosexual couples can produce children, it’s in the states’ interest to make marriage laws that encourage those couples to enter a union that supports raising children


• Justice Anthony Kennedy has been marching in the direction of declaring gay marriage legal nationwide in opinions since 1996. In his most recent gay rights decision for the court in 2013, rejecting a legal definition of marriage limited to a man and woman for purposes of federal benefits, Kennedy deplored that U.S. law for making gay marriages “unequal.” (Reuters, me)

• That 5-4 U.S. v Windsor decision didn’t address a constitutional right to gay marriage, but lower court judges interpreted the ruling as an endorsement of it and began invalidating state bans. Now, 37 of 50 states permit same-sex marriage, many because of judicial orders

• The justices are hearing in today’s oral arguments an appeal of the sole decision from a regional U.S. appeals court that went the opposite way. Last November, the Cincinnati-based Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit upheld gay marriage bans in Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky and Tennessee


• How much will Kennedy, a member of the court’s five-man conservative bloc who often casts decisive votes in close cases, show his hand in 2 1/2 hours of oral arguments?

• An element of uncertainty hovers over Chief Justice John Roberts. Roberts voted against gay rights in the 2013 ruling, but he separated himself from the most conservative dissenters and declined to declare outright that states may ban gay marriage

• The four liberals, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, have signaled their opposition to state same-sex marriage bans. On the other side have been the three most conservative justices, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, asserting that nothing in the Constitution guarantees gay marriage

• Gay couples and their families, about 30 adults and 20 children, have appealed the 6th Circuit’s decision. The name petitioner is James Obergefell, who wanted his home state of Ohio, which prohibits gay marriage, to recognize his Maryland marriage to John Arthur as John was dying from ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Arguments at 10 am EST today

• SCOTUS on Monday revived religious objections by Catholic groups in MI and TN to the Obamacare requirement for contraception coverage, throwing out a lower court decision favoring President Obama’s admin. The justices asked the 6th Circuit Court of appeals to reconsider its decision in light of SCOTUS’s 2014 ruling that allowed certain privately owned corps to seek exemptions (Reuters)

Nepal Earthquake: 8 Million Affected

• Eight million people have been affected by the massive earthquake in Nepal, and 1.4 million are in need of food aid, the UN says. International aid has started arriving, but there’s still a shortage of medical equipment, food and body bags. As bodies are recovered, relatives are cremating the dead (BBC, AP, Reuters, TRNS, TRNS, me)

• The 7.8 magnitude quake hit Nepal Saturday, destroying buildings in Kathmandu and severely affecting rural areas. A govt official said today the death toll had risen to 4,352. More than 8,000 people have been injured. Thousands in Kathmandu spent a third night outside, too afraid to go back inside their houses. UN food aid is scheduled to be delivered starting today

• The country’s most deadly earthquake in 81 years triggered avalanches that have killed 18 people on Mount Everest – the worst disaster on the world’s highest peak. More than 200 people were trapped on the mountain but helicopters were bringing them to safety with about 60 rescued on Monday, according to the tourism ministry

• Almost the entire Nepali army and police have joined the search and rescue operations, officials say. People are still being pulled from the rubble, more than 50 hours after the tragedy. Nepalis have complained of aid being slow to reach them and hospitals are unable to cope with the large numbers of people in need of medical attention

• The U.S. has now pledged $10 million in aid. Two teams of U.S. Army Green Berets happened to be in Nepal when the quake struck and the 26 Americans – who were training with the Nepalese army – are staying to help with search and rescue efforts. A U.S. search and rescue team is due to arrive today


• Drone footage shows devastating Nepal earthquake damage (Sky News). Nepal’s PM warns today that the death toll could reach 10,000 (Al Jazeera)

Lynch Sworn in as AG

• Loretta Lynch was sworn in Monday as the 83rd U.S. attorney general, the first African-American woman to serve. Lynch said her confirmation showed that “we can do anything” and pledged that the agency would “use justice as our compass” in confronting terrorism, cyberattacks and other threats facing the country (AP, Hill, WaPo, CNN, TRNS, me)

• VP Joe Biden administered the oath at a DoJ ceremony, calling Lynch “incredibly qualified.” He said Lynch had shown grace during the months-long confirmation process, in which her nomination became caught up in Congress in a dispute over human trafficking legislation

• “Ladies and gentlemen, it’s about time – it’s about time this woman is being sworn in,” Biden said to applause. (no shoulder massage, though) The 55-year-old Lynch was confirmed by the Senate on Thursday. She replaces Eric Holder, who served for six years. Lynch met with President Obama at the WH Monday afternoon

• The two discussed the ongoing rioting in Baltimore, which came hours after the funeral for Freddie Gray, who died days after he suffered a severe spinal injury while in Baltimore police custody. The DoJ is investigating the death, and Lynch told the president that the agency would provide whatever help was needed

• Later Monday, Lynch issued a statement condemning the violence in Baltimore as a disservice to Gray’s family and peaceful protesters. She said she would dispatch multiple DoJ officials – including Vanita Gupta, the head of the dept’s civil rights division – to Baltimore in the coming days


Iran Nuke Deal: Movement

• SecState John Kerry and Iranian FM Javad Zarif met Monday in New York for the first time since world powers and Iran sealed a framework agreement on 2 April that would limit Iran’s ability to build a nuclear weapon. They now have little more than two months to meet their own deadline of 30 June for a final deal (AP, Bloomberg View, me)

• In DC, lead U.S. negotiator Wendy Sherman told a conference of reform Jews that diplomatic collapse would leave Iran perilously close to nuclear weapons capacity. She said the WH might revive a veto threat if amendments change the bill substantially. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said a final agreement would in some ways be tougher than what the U.S. has outlined thus far

• All this was taking place before the Senate begins debate today over empowering Congress to review and possibly reject a nuclear pact. Republican presidential candidates are lining up to oppose any deal with a govt the U.S. considers the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism and to show their support for Israel

• Sen Marco Rubio (R-FL) wants to require Iran’s leaders to publicly accept Israel’s right to exist, a nearly impossible mandate. Sen Ted Cruz (R-TX) hopes to put the onus on advocates to win congressional approval of a deal, and not on opponents to gather enough votes for rejection (idea is to scuttle the bill)

• But even as the legislation moves forward, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) privately acknowledged to a gathering of the Republican Jewish Coalition over the weekend that his party doesn’t command enough votes to override a presidential veto of any resolution disapproving of an Iran deal


• The commander of Iran’s ground forces said in an interview that after the fall of the Soviet Union, America felt threatened by the “union between the Sunnis and Shiites” – the basis being the revolution in Iran. “The first thing they (US) did was to plan and carry out the events of 9/11, in order to justify their presence in Western Asia, with the goal of ruling it.” (Al-Aram, Politico)


Obama / Abe Meet Today in WH

• When President Obama and Japanese PM Shinzo Abe meet today, China’s rise will underlie both the economic and security discussions. Ahead of today’s talks, Japanese and U.S. foreign and defense ministers approved revisions to the U.S.-Japan defense guidelines that boost Japan’s military capability amid growing Chinese assertiveness (AP, WSJ, NYT, me)

• The changes, which strengthen Japan’s role in missile defense, mine sweeping and ship inspections, are the first revisions in 18 years to the rules that govern U.S.-Japan defense cooperation

• The meeting also comes as attention heightens in the U.S. over a Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement – a 12-nation deal to liberalize commerce around the Pacific rim. The U.S. and Japan are the biggest negotiators. “If we don’t write the rules, China will write the rules out in that region,” Obama said in a WSJ interview. “We will be shut out.”

• Importantly for Japan, the defense revisions come with a renewed pledge of the U.S. position that the Senkaku Islands – a group of small, uninhabited islands in the East China Sea – fall under Japanese admin and are within the scope of the U.S.-Japan mutual defense treaty. China also claims the islands, which Beijing calls Diaoyu

• WWII is also still a source of friction for Japan. South Korea has demanded an apology from Abe over the use of sex slaves during the war when foreign women were forced to work in Japanese military brothels. Pressed by a student while he visited Harvard on Monday, Abe said Japan is making “various efforts” to provide “realistic relief” to the victims

• Vid: The WH unveils the new Obama state china for tonight’s state dinner- the WH curator previews it with first lady Michelle Obama. She wanted modern elements, but also practical,  in the sense that it would be complementary to the preceding historic state services. What do you think? (not impressed, myself)

State Dinner Tonight

Tonight’s state dinner honoring Japanese PM Shinzo Abe will highlight the spring Washington tradition of cherry blossoms – originally a gift of friendship to DC from Japan. Masaharu Morimoto, best known as one of the Iron Chefs, will be guest starring in the WH kitchen for the night (swoon): “delicacies inspired by Japanese and American culinary traditions” (WaPo, Politico, me)

• After a sake toast, the dinner kicks off with a toro tartare and Caesar sashimi salad. The salad will come wrapped in a “clear acetate and tied with a Mizuhiki cord, emulating a gift to be opened,” per WH press release. Salad comes with smoked salmon and grilled chicken with koji. Then a Bok Choy vegetable consomme (nod to Michelle’s kitchen garden). Wines, natch

• Entrees include an American Wagyu beef tenderloin with spring vegetables, including young carrots, baby cauliflower and ramps from the farmers’ market. The roasted beef is topped off with a Maui onion veal jus – hat-tip to Hawaii, Obama’s native state. Dessert is cheesecake, but with silken tofu and soymilk (eeek). Fruit salad, sauce, selection of teas.

• Following dinner, guests will be tapping their toes to the falsetto stylings of the cast of “Jersey Boys.” Why, you ask? The WH press release says they’re huge in Japan: the jukebox musical recently won several top honors in Japan for best foreign language film

• It’s probably Social Secretary Jeremy Bernard’s swan song as he recently announced that he’s leaving in May and will be replaced by his deputy, Deesha Dyer. (The guest list isn’t out yet. The super-transparent Obama WH won’t release it until closer to the event)

• Sen Bob Corker (R-TN) is holding up a much-awaited GOP budget deal, barring Republican leadership and top budget negotiators Monday night from filing the agreement that was weeks in the making, his office confirmed. Rumors are it could be related to his objections to provisions that boost Pentagon spending without offsets – or maybe Iran (Politico)

GOP Defense Budget: Challenge to WH

• The GOP chairman of the House Armed Services Committee on Monday recommended a $604 billion defense budget for 2016 that challenges the WH because it includes lethal weapons for Ukraine, makes it harder for the president to empty the detention facility at Guantanamo and restores funding for the A-10 fleet (AP, me)

• Rep Mac Thornberry (R-TX) released his so-called chairman’s mark for the National Defense Authorization Act. Wednesday, his committee will debate the proposal, which he claims also works to add more flexibility and accountability into the defense acquisition process

• Rep Adam Smith (D-WA), ranking member, said keeping Guantanamo open was “a political position driving bad policy.” He said the budget proposal includes a ban on U.S. military base closures, forcing the Pentagon to maintain facilities it doesn’t need or want. However, Smith applauded a bipartisan effort to address defense acquisition reform

• The proposal authorizes $515 billion in spending for national defense and another $89.2 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations for a total of $604.2 billion. Another $7.7 billion is mandatory defense spending that doesn’t get authorized by Congress

• That means the chairman’s proposal would provide the entire $611.9 billion desired by the president, whose request disregarded spending limits that Congress imposed in 2011. The committee is skirting the spending cap for defense by increasing the OCO, the emergency war-fighting fund


• Wow: The entire history of the world – distilled into a single – gorgeous, colored chart – this is absolutely stunning. From 1931 (Slate)

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Victoria Jones – Editor

TRNS’ James Cullum, Luke Vargas, Midori Nishida and Washington Desk contributed to this report

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