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

  • House Republicans chop Amtrak’s budget
  • Amtrak crash train speed: 106 mph
  • “Hammered” Secret Service agent to resign
  • Iraq: The GOP’s Vietnam?
  • VA: “Fraud, waste, abuse?”
  • Deal: Vote on fast-track trade bill
  • DC’s Gulf nations summit: No horses
  • House passes NSA phone spy reforms
  • House passes 20-week abortion ban
  • Boston Marathon bombing case: to jury
  • Pols deny travel wrongdoing
House Republicans Chop Amtrak’s Budget (Politico, MSNBC, Hill, TRNS, me)

• House Republicans voted Wednesday to chop about a fifth of Amtrak’s budget, less than a day after a deadly train crash that Democrats pointed to as a prime example of the dangers of shortchanging the nation’s transportation needs. They also smacked down Democrats’ attempts to provide $825 million for an advanced speed-control technology

• “Based on what we know right now, we feel that had such a system been installed in this section of track, this accident would not have occurred,” NTSB member Robert Sumwalt told reporters Wed evening. Sumwalt, who’s leading the crash probe, was referring to the technology known as positive train control

• Republicans said the cuts are necessary to stay under the spending caps that President Obama and Congress agreed to four years ago. But over in the Senate, transportation appropriations chair Susan Collins (R-ME) said she hopes to set aside extra money for rail safety in her version of the funding bill: “We have had a lot of derailments.”

Interactive: Investigating the Philadelphia Amtrak train crash (NYT)

• In the House, the Appropriations Committee voted 30-21 along party lines for a bill that would give Amtrak about $260 million less than its typical $1.4 billion share. (stunning) Democrats said the House cuts fit a pattern of Congress failing to keep up with the needs of the nation’s aging transportation networks, which include crumbling roads, bridges and mass transit systems

• Besides cutting Amtrak, the House bill would also slash funding for DC’s Metro system, which had a rush-hour meltdown just three days ago because of smoke in the tunnel connecting DC with Northern Virginia (thousands stranded), as well as a smoke inhalation death in January (hundreds stuck in pitch-black, smoke-filled tunnel)

• Lawmakers from both parties have offered bills to slow down a congressionally imposed 31 December deadline for railroads to install positive train control, which both the railroads and DOT say the industry cannot meet. One of the Democratic amendments that failed Wed would have provided federal money to pay for installation – unknown whether it could have prevented the crash

• Beyond rail, Congress is just 17 days from the expiration of the law that authorizes federal spending on highways, bridges and mass transit – and as usual, Washington’s debating whether to kick the can down the road to July or December

Amtrak Crash Train Speeding: 106 MPH (AP, AP, WSJ, TRNS, me)

• The Amtrak train that crashed in Philadelphia, killing at least seven people, was hurtling at 106 mph (why?) before it ran off the rails along a sharp curve where the speed limit drops to just 50 mph, federal investigators said Wednesday. The engineer applied the brakes moments before the crash – but slowed to just 102 mph by the time the black box stopped recording data

• Robert Sumwalt of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) added that the speed limit before the bend is 80 mph. Brandon William Boshan, 32, the engineer, refused to give a statement to police and left a police precinct with a lawyer. (I’ll bet) Sumwalt said accident investigators want to talk to him but will give him a day or two to recover (lucky to be alive)

• More than 200 people aboard the Washington-to-New York train were injured in the wreck, which happened just before 9.30 pm Tuesday. Passengers crawled out the windows of the torn and toppled rail cars in the darkness and emerged dazed and bloody, many of them with broken bones and burns

• Among dead: Award-winning AP video software architect Jim Gaines; Justin Gemser, Naval Academy midshipman from NYC; Abid Gilani, senior VP in Wells Fargo’s real estate division in NY; Derrick Griffith, dean of student affairs and enrollment management at Medgar Evers College in NY; Rachel Jacobs, CEO of educational software startup ApprenNet, Philadelphia (WSJ)


• Amtrak suspended all service until further notice along the Philadelphia-to-New York stretch of the nation’s busiest rail corridor. The shutdown snarled the commute and forced thousands of people to find other ways – bus, car, plane – to reach their destinations

• Despite pressure from Congress and safety regulators, Amtrak hadn’t installed along that section of track Positive Train Control, a technology that uses GPS, wireless radio and computers to prevent trains from going over the speed limit (why not?). Most of Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor is equipped with Positive Train Control

• Amtrak inspected the stretch of track on Tuesday, just hours before the crash, and found no defects, the Federal Railroad Administration said. Besides the data recorder, the train had a video camera in its front end that could yield clues, Sumwalt said


• Sen Sherrod Brown (D-OH) said on MSNBC Wed, when asked if he’d apologize to President Obama for suggesting the prez was being sexist to Sen Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) by referring to her by her first name during back-and-forth in their trade spat, “I don’t want this to be personal either way.” (bit late for that) (Hill, me)


“Hammered” Secret Service Agent to Resign (WaPo, NYT, me)

• The Dept of Homeland Security inspector general has found that two senior Secret Service agents were most likely drunk in March when they drove into an area near the WH where the authorities were examining a suspicious package. The men both denied drinking to excess that night (uh huh – read on…)

• Mark Connolly, deputy special agent in charge of the Presidential Protective Division, and George Ogilvie, assistant to the special agent in charge of the Washington field office, had been at a retirement party for an agency official at a DC bar for five hours before the episode. Connolly has decided to retire (exhausted, I should think)

• The IG’s report found that Ogilvie paid a bar tab for 14 drinks, mostly Scotch  – after they first attended a work party with free drinks. (!) The report cites some officers recalling a supervisor who had questioned the agents that night describing the men as “hammered.”

• The report said it was troubling that “two highly experienced Secret Service supervisors drove into a crime scene inches from what the rest of the Secret Service was treating as a potential explosive device.” The IG’s report said the men hit a barrel that moved about five feet, though Connolly claims the car only bumped the barrel. “This was no mere bump,” the report said

• The report says that Connolly told a senior supervisor that night that he had “f**ked up” and failed to notice alerts on his Blackberry about the suspicious package investigation. The House Oversight Committee will hold a hearing on the 4 March incident today (oh goody). John Roth, the IG at Homeland Security, will testify. (grab your popcorn – pull up a deckchair)

• The situation in Burundi is unclear. President Nkurunziza has been unable to return home following reports that a coup was taking place while he was out of the country. There was gunfire  between rival troops in the country today. There’s been unrest since Nkurunziza announced he was seeking a third term in office – apparently in contravention of the constitution (BBC)


Iraq: The GOP’s Vietnam? (WaPo, TPM, me)

• The debate within the GOP over a 12-year-old invasion reflects the extent to which Iraq has become the Republican Party’s Vietnam – a factious, largely failed undertaking that the party once supported but now wants to forget. Former Gov Jeb Bush (R-FL) this week walked back a statement that he would have invaded like his brother Pres George W, even knowing what he knows now

• At the end of a rowdy town hall meeting in Nevada Wed, Bush had a testy exchange with a 19-year-old Democratic college student who said, “Your brother created ISIS.” (will go viral) Then she complained that Bush was being “pedantic” in response to her remarks. “Pedantic? Wow,” Bush said curtly, before arguing President Obama is largely responsible for the violence there

• Gov Chris Christie (R-NJ), as well as at least five other potential Bush rivals have said in recent days that they wouldn’t have backed the invasion if they knew in 2003 that the intel on Iraqi weapons was inaccurate: Sens Ted Cruz (R-TX), Rand Paul (R-KY), and Marco Rubio (R-FL), plus Gov John Kasich (R-OH). (not entirely why Bush invaded – avenge father, too)

• Rubio said Wed he would “not have been in favor of it.” But as recently as March, he said it was because Saddam Hussein would most likely have tried to build a WMD. “Here’s what I think might have happened, had we not gone. You might have had an arms race to put Iraq in Iran, they both would have pursued a weapon.”

• Meeeanwhile, the leading contender on the Democratic side, former SecState Hillary Clinton, is keeping very quiet. She has her own problems. She voted to authorize the Iraq war in 2003 when she was a senator from New York

• Former Gov Jeb Bush (R-FL) said to reporters Wed in Nevada: “I’m running for president in 2016,” then quickly walked the declaration back. “The focus is going to be about how, if I run, how you create high-sustained, economic growth where more people have a chance to earn success.” But he said it loud and proud (Hill, me)


VA: “Fraud, Waste, Abuse?” (WaPo, me)

• The Dept of Veterans Affairs has been spending at least $6 billion a year in violation of federal contracting rules to pay for medical care and supplies, wasting taxpayer money and putting veterans at risk, according to an internal memo written by the agency’s senior official for procurement (can’t make this stuff up)

• Jan Frye, deputy asst secretary for acquisition and logistics, describes in detail a series of practices that he says run afoul of federal rules, including the widespread use of purchase cards, which are usually meant as a convenience for minor purchases of up to $3,000, to buy billions of dollars worth of medical supplies without contracts

• He explains how VA has failed to engage in competitive bidding or sign contracts with outside hospital and health-care providers that offer medical care for veterans that the agency can’t provide, such as specialized tests and surgeries and other procedures. Frye says VA has paid at least $5 billion in such fees – in violation of federal rules

• VA spox Victoria Dillon said in a statement that some of the care the agency pays for isn’t covered by federal acquisition law. She also said that the agency is trying to manage rapid growth in medical care administered by outside providers (bit lame and bleating)

Today, Frye is scheduled to testify before the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee about waste and fraud in the purchase card program. (just don’t gorge on popcorn and barbecue) Frye, 64, is a retired Army colonel and former Army IG who has held senior acquisition positions over 30 years in govt


• Afghan police say at least 11 people have died in an attack on a Kabul hotel that was packed with foreigners awaiting a concert. U.S. and Indian officials said a U.S. citizen and two Indians were among those killed. Two suspected gunmen were were reported among the dead. The Taliban said it was responsible (BBC)


Deal: Vote on Fast-Track Trade Bill (Politico, Hill, WSJ, TRNS, me

• Senate leaders have reached a deal to advance President Obama’s trade initiative after a failed vote prompted a furious round of negotiating Wednesday. The deal would give Democrats a chance to vote on two of their trade priorities as standalone bills, in addition to the fast-track measure

• The Senate will vote at noon today on the standalone Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015, S.1269, and standalone package of trade preferences for sub-Saharan Africa, the AGOA Extension and Enhancement Act of 2015, S.1981. A vote to end a filibuster on the motion to proceed to the trade package is scheduled for 2 pm today

• The horse-trading was chewed over at party lunches and in private phone calls. An offer on the bills as a single package by senior Democrats was summarily rejected by Republicans. “They seem to think they’re still in the majority and that Sen

[Harry] Reid is the majority leader. He is not,” said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) in an interview

• Though it may be impossible to finish the trade package this month given the need to renew highway and surveillance laws before Memorial Day, lawmakers are scrambling to produce a result before the recess

• Republicans, pro-trade Democrats and the president all say the Trade Promotion Authority measure, which would allow the president to expedite trade pacts through Congress, is vital for approving the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a huge Pacific Rim trade agreement currently being negotiated by the admin and 11 other countries


• It’s looking iffy for the National Defense Authorization Act HR 1735 – aka the defense funding bill in the House. President Obama’s threatened to veto it. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) says she’ll vote against it, and she and Rep Steny Hoyer (D-MD), the No. 2 Dem, have started lobbying against it. Debate began in the House on Wednesday (Hill, me)


DC’s Gulf Leaders Summit: No Horses (AP, TRNS, me)

• Gulf nation leaders gathered Wednesday in Washington to warn President Obama of the risks of completing a nuclear deal with Iran. Obama will try to convince them of the potential benefits of the region. By the end of today, nobody will be convinced of anything much

• Meanwhile, Bahrain’s King skipped the summit and will join Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II at the Royal Windsor Horse Show and also discuss “progress and development of bilateral relations and cooperation.” Qatar’s ruler, who is attending the Camp David summit, met the Queen at the Royal Ascot horse races this week – horse diplomacy matters – like golf

• Obama met separately with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The president had planned to meet with King Salman but the kingdom abruptly announced over the weekend that he wouldn’t attend but would send the highly influential princes. The WH and Saudi officials insist the king wasn’t snubbing Obama

• Last night, Obama hosted a WH dinner for the Saudi princes, as well as reps from Qatar, the UAE, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain. The parties plan to spend today at Camp David, discussing the nuclear talks and Iran’s reputed support of terrorism in the region

• In 2011, the Obama admin accused Iran of plotting to kill the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. in DC. The Saudis are also particularly concerned about the situation in Yemen, where Houthi rebels with ties to Iran have ousted the U.S. and Saudi-backed leader. A Saudi-led coalition is trying to push back the Houthis with a relentless bombing campaign. A ceasefire is in effect


• Saida Grundy, a newly hired Boston University professor, is sorry for her “indelicate” tweets bashing white men and vows to be fair to all her students. She’s tweeted that “white masculinity is THE problem for america’s [sic] colleges.” “I take seriously my responsibility to create an inclusive learning environment for all of my students,” Grundy said in a statement (Fox News)


House Passes NSA Phone Spy Reforms (Hill, me)

• In a 338-88 vote, the House on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved the USA Freedom Act, HR 2048, which would prevent the NSA from collecting metadata about the phone numbers people dial and when their calls are placed. Forty-seven Republicans and 41 Democrats opposed the bill

• But the bill faces a dodgy path forward. The Senate has just two weeks before the existing law authorizing the NSA’s metadata collection expires. While the WH supports the bill, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is against it and wants to extend Section 215 of the Patriot Act – relevant bit – without reforms

• And things got a bit more complicated last week, after a federal appeals court in New York ruled that the NSA’s phone records program was illegal but declined to shut it down immediately. The decision threw the issue back in Congress’s lap – tick, tick, tick

• “I’m not ignorant to the threats we face, but a clean reauthorization would be irresponsible,” said Rep Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), who authored the bill and also wrote the original Patriot Act. “Congress never intended Section 215 to allow bulk collection. That program is illegal and based on a blatant misinterpretation of the law.” (and he should know)

• The bill would require the NSA to get a court order to look at data, which would be held by phone companies. It would also be required to ask for a “specific selection term,” so that records couldn’t be collected in bulk. It adds new transparency measures and creates a special team of experts to weigh in on some unique cases before the secretive FISA court


• The Laramie WY City Council Wed approved, 7-2, a local anti-discrimination ordinance in the college town where Matthew Shephard’s death triggered nationwide sympathy and brought a re-examination of attitudes toward gays 17 years ago. The state legislature had repeatedly rejected anti-discrimination bills, most recently early this year (AP)


House Passes 20-Week Abortion Ban (Hill, Roll Call, TRNS, me)

• The House approved a controversial bill banning abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy in a near party-line vote on Wednesday. The bill, which requires a 48-hour waiting period and informed consent forms, passed 242-184, with four Republicans in opposition. Four Democrats voted for the measure Rep Jody Hice (R-GA) voted present

• The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, HR36, was originally scheduled for a vote in Jan, but had been abruptly cancelled after some Republican women rebelled over a requirement that rape victims have to report to the police before they have the procedure. The Senate, despite GOP leadership support, has no plans to immediately pick up the measure

• The Obama admin again threatened a veto on Wednesday. Debate on the bill was spirited Wednesday, with members breaking out into sporadic rounds of floor applause – applause that’s against chamber rules

• The new language in the bill didn’t eliminate a controversial provision that allows victims of incest to receive an abortion only if they’re under 18 years old. Republicans have insisted that the bill’s language on sexual assault would cover incest. “Incest does not necessarily involve rape,” Rep Steve Cohen (D-TN) said on the floor. “Incest should always be an exception.”

• “In no way, shape or form is a 20-week fetus viable. There’s no evidence of a 20-week fetus surviving, even with intensive medical care,” Dr Hal Lawrence, executive vice president of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, told reporters on Wednesday

• Hillary Clinton slammed the 20-week abortion ban on Wednesday in a tweet: “When it comes to women’s health, there are two kinds of experts: women and their doctors. True 40+ years ago, true today. -H”


Boston Marathon Bombing Case: to Jury (AP, Boston Globe, me)

• Prosecutors and defense attorneys on Wednesday made their final appeals to the jury that will decide the fate of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as jurors began deliberating whether the Boston Marathon bomber should get life in prison or the death penalty. Jurors must be unanimous in their decision to impose the death penalty – or it’s life in prison

• Prosecutor Steve Mellin said, “The bombs burned their skin, shattered their bones and ripped their flesh.” The blasts “disfigured their bodies, twisted their limbs and punched gaping holes into their legs and torsos.” “Merely killing the person isn’t nearly as terrifying as shredding them apart.”

• Defense attorney Judy Clarke asked jurors to open their minds. “We think we have shown you that it’s not only possible, but probable, that Dzhokhar has potential for redemption,” she said, adding that he was “genuinely sorry for what he’s done.”

• The prosecutor showed a large photograph of 8-year-old Martin Richard, who was killed in the attack, and other children standing on a metal barricade near where Tsarnaev placed his bomb. “This is what terrorism looks like,” Mellin said. Tsarnaev, he said, showed no regret after the bombings, calmly going to buy a half gallon of milk 20 minutes later

• Clarke noted the testimony of one witness who said Dzhokhar followed his older brother, Tamerlan, around “like a puppy.” Tamerlan was a “jihadi wannabe,” Clarke said. “The tragedy would never have occurred but for Tamerlan – none of it,” Clarke said. Three people were killed and more than 260 injured when two bombs exploded near the finish line on 15 April 2013


• Tweet: (hope it’s still live) Gov Scott Walker (R-WI) marked the “505th” anniversary of the first settlers’ arrival in Jamestown VA with a tweet Wed. Only prob: First settlers arrived there in May 1607, meaning it’s only been 408 years. Twitter had fun with it. Walker later corrected his tweet

Pols Deny Travel Wrongdoing ( Hill, me)

• Four House lawmakers say they had no idea that a 2013 congressional trip to Azerbaijan was paid for by that country’s govt. Aides to Reps Ted Poe (R-TX), Ruben Hinojosa (D-TX), Jim Bridenstine (R-OK and Leonard Lance (R-NJ) say lawmakers got approval for the May 2013 trip from the House Ethics Committee. Other lawmakers were on the trip, too

• Two Houston-based nonprofit corporations told the committee they were sponsoring the conference in the capital city of Baku, near the Caspian Sea. The trip came at a time when energy companies, including the country’s state-owned energy company which secretly paid for the trip, were seeking clearance for a pipeline that would need exemptions from U.S. sanctions on Iran

• The energy company, SOCAR, allegedly paid $750,000 to cover travel expenses for lawmakers – as well as scarves, rugs valued up to $10,000, crystal tea sets and other gifts

• Congressional rules bar foreign govts from paying for travel for members of Congress. Three former Obama admin officials – Robert Gibbs, Jim Messina and David Plouffe – spoke at the conference

• Language exempting the Shah Deniz project, as it was called, eventually ended up in the language of a new round of sanctions on Iran that passed the House shortly after the Baku conference. (shocker!) The report from the Office of Congressional Ethics has been passed to the House Ethics Committee for further investigation

Get it first. Sign up here for TRNS News Notes


Victoria Jones – Editor

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

The Talk Radio News Service is the only information, news booking and host service dedicated to serving the talk radio community. TRNS maintains a Washington office that includes White House, Capitol Hill and Pentagon staffed bureaus, and a New York office with a United Nations staffed bureau. Talk Radio News Service has permanent access to every breaking newsevent in the Washington, D.C. area and beyond.

Copyright © 2015 The Talk Radio News Service, All rights reserved.