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.

Nepal: U.S. helicopter found – no survivors (Reuters)

Blues legend B.B. King has died at 89 – obit below

In the News

  • Amtrak: Funding “stupid?”
  • Amtrak: Train sped up – why?
  • Stephanopoulos charity SNAFU
  • PATRIOT Act in peril?
  • House strips DREAMers from defense bill
  • Obama: “Elizabeth” spat not “personal”
  • Iran bill sails through House
  • Trade: Fast track lurches to Senate floor
  • Gowdy/Clinton duel: Still no testimony
  • B.B. King: The Thrill Is Gone
Amtrak: Funding “Stupid?” (Politico, TRNS,me)

• “Are you really going to ask such a stupid question?” Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said at a presser Thursday, cutting off a reporter as she asked about criticism that railways aren’t adequately funded (most sensible question of the presser – bullying). Debate in Congress focused sharply on whether money would have helped Amtrak install Positive Train Control (PTC)

• That’s a safety technology that wasn’t activated on the stretch of track where the Amtrak train derailment occurred Tuesday. “Listen, you know, they started this yesterday, it’s all about funding, it’s all about funding. Well, obviously, it’s not about funding. The train was going twice the speed limit. Adequate funds are there,” Boehner added (see below)

• Democrats called Boehner’s logic nonsense. “Speaker Boehner’s comments are patently false,” Sen Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said in a statement. “Experts have made clear that positive train control could have prevented the tragedy in Philadelphia. It is simply a fact that inadequate funding for Amtrak has delayed the installation of PTC.”


• Under a 2008 law, PTC technology needs to be installed on railroads by the end of this year, but some Dems maintain that more funding could have sped up the technology. NTSB member Robert Sumwalt, who’s heading the crash probe, argued Wednesday evening, that the technology would have prevented Tuesday’s crash (couldn’t have hurt)

• “Based on what we know now, we feel that had such a system been installed in this section of track, this accident would not have occurred,” Sumwalt said. Wed, the GOP-led House Appropriations Committee voted down a Democratic amendment that would have offered $825 million for the technology known as positive train control (now, that’s “stupid”)

• Thursday, the Washington Examiner claimed the railroad had the technology installed on the tracks where the derailment happened but that it “wasn’t switched on.” Amtrak has said that it’s been installed, but that it hadn’t been activated because testing is still required before it can go live

• Congress is just 17 days from the expiration of the law (this is so lame) that authorizes federal spending on highways, bridges and mass transit – and the biggest debate in Congress is whether to provide patchwork funding to either July or December (note – not to actually get the job done right)

• A freight train derailed in the Hazelwood area of Pittsburgh early Thursday morning, resulting in at least 13 train cars moving off the track, according to a statement from Guy Costa obtained from various media reports. Costa said that no individuals were injured and that the cars were empty (CBS, TRNS)


Amtrak: Train Sped Up – Why? (AP, TRNS, me)

• Why did the Amtrak train that derailed this week speed up from 70 mph to 106 mph at a sharp bend in the minute or so before it crashed near Philadelphia, at a time when it was supposed to be slowing down to 50 mph? That’s become the central question surrounding thederailment. The crash killed eight people and sent more than 200 to hospitals Tuesday. Amtrak has apologized

• Investigators have found no problems with the track, signals or locomotive. NTSB member Robert Sumwalt said the train, en route from Washington to New York City, was on time as it left the station in Philadelphia a few minutes before the crash. It’s unclear, Sumwalt said, whether engineer Brandon Bostian manually sped up the train

• Bostian’s lawyer, Robert Goggian, said Thursday that his client – who grew up obsessed with trains – suffered a concussion in the wreck, needed 15 staples in his head and has “absolutely no recollection” of the crash. Goggian also said Bostian hadn’t been using his cellphone, drinking or using drugs. Police have apparently obtained a warrant to Bostian’s phone records

• Goggian said, “He remembers coming into the curve. He remembers attempting to reduce speed, and thereafter he was knocked out.” Goggian said the engineer doesn’t remember applying the emergency brakes, as investigators say was done. He said Bostian’s cellphone was off and stored in his bag before the accident, as required

• TRNS’ bureau chief Ellen Ratner, a frequent Amtrak user, raised some questions Thursday.  Among them: Why has no one required seat belts and when are they going to put them in? How many engineers does a train have? Do staff really work 12-hour shifts, and if so, why? Why do staff congregate in the cafe car during the ride, rather than spreading out?


• Former Gov Jeb Bush (R-FL) finally nailed his landing Thursday: “Knowing what we know now, what would you have done? I would not have engaged. I would not have gone into Iraq.” He claimed his mess of a week was because he didn’t want to say anything to suggest he was ungrateful for the sacrifices of U.S. troops. (one thing doesn’t equal another thing – I don’t buy it) (WaPo) me)

Stephanopoulos Charity SNAFU (Politico, NYT, USA Today, me)

• George Stephanopoulos says he shouldn’t have donated money to the Clinton Foundation and that he won’t moderate the ABC News-sponsored Republican debate in Feb after failing to disclose the contributions. In an interview with On Media blog, Stephanopoulos said that while he made the donations “for the best reasons,” he now realizes he shouldn’t have given

• But Stephanopoulos said that he wouldn’t recuse himself from coverage of the 2016 presidential campaign, despite urging from the office of Sen Mike Lee (R-UT), which said Thursday that Sen Lee would be advised not to go on This Week unless host Stephanopoulos “recuses himself from all 2016 coverage.” (think George can live without you)

• Throughout the interview, Stephanopoulos apologized profusely for failing to disclose his contributions to viewers, including during an interview with author Peter Schweizer, whose book “Clinton Cash” alleges that donations to the foundation may have influences some of Hillary Clinton’s actions as SecState

• Thursday, Schweizer accused Stephanopoulos of a “massive breach of ethical standards.” Prior to joining ABC News, where he holds a very senior news position, Stephanopoulos served in various communications and policy positions for President Bill Clinton and and on Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign

• Stephanopoulos gave a total of $75,000 to the Clinton Foundation. Sources with knowledge of his charitable giving said he gives to dozens of charities every year and that the total sum of those annual contributions is in the millions of dollars (bet press will now be pawing through to see who else he gave to)

• The publisher for “Clinton Cash” by Peter Schweizer has issued “seven or eight” corrections to its e-book. Politico’s analysis found some of those passages include Schweizer quoting a fake press release as a source and one implying Bill Clinton was paid to speak by an Irish billionaire who worked with State Dept – when he wasn’t (Hill, Politico, me)


PATRIOT Act in Peril? (Politico, me)

• With only days left to act and Sen Rand Paul (R-KY) threatening a filibuster, the prospects of a deal look grim. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell Thursday night proposed just a two month extension of expiring PATRIOT Act provisions to give the two sides more time to negotiate (cave to him, he means), but –

• “I’m going to filibuster, I’m going to do everything it takes to block a short-term extension,” said Sen Ron Wyden (D-OR). He, along with Paul, want to scupper any attempt to prolong Section 215, the bulk phone collection program that the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals declared illegal last week

• A short-term extension stands virtually no chance in the House, which just voted 338-33 to pass its USA Freedom Act, HR 3361. That bill reins in Section 215. If lawmakers allow the section of the PATRIOT Act to expire at the end of May, the govt will lose its ability to launch new investigations by those provisions – including the (creepy) phone records program

• “How can one reauthorize something that’s illegal?” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said Thursday. (point) “This is not a partisan issue … Democrats and Republicans are united in reforming the National Security Agency and how they collect their data. The Obama admin is in support of the USA Freedom Act (which makes you wonder how much it will actually do…)

• President Obama wrapped up a two-day summit with Arab nations Thursday by pledging, at Camp David, America’s “ironclad commitment” to help protect their security, pointedly mentioning the potential use of military force and offering assurances that a potential nuclear deal with Iran wouldn’t leave them more vulnerable (AP, TRNS)

House Strips “DREAMers” from Defense Bill (Hill, Hill, me)

• The House Thursday voted to strip a provision from the annual defense bill that edged toward allowing young undocumented immigrants to enlist in the military. Twenty Republicans voted with all Democrats in opposition of the amendment from Rep Mo Brooks (R-AL) that killed the immigration language

• Rep Mike Coffman (R-CO), a Marine Corps combat veteran, who voted for the provision, said: “If Dreamers want to put their life on the line for this nation, we should give them the opportunity and honor their willingness to serve. Coffman and other Republicans who supported the provision whipped fellow GOPers to oppose the Brooks amendment

• Brooks has noted that passage of the measure by Rep Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) could threaten the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016, HR 1735. He said on the floor that it “boils down to one question. Do you support and represent illegal aliens or do you support and represent Americans?”

• A federal appeals court is expected to issue a decision this summer about the fate of President Obama’s Nov executive actions that expanded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to shield immigrants in the U.S. illegally from deportation. The exec actions have been frozen since Feb

• House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said a few hours before the vote, “This is yet another example of anti-immigrant attitude on the part of House Republicans. This xenophobic, anti-newcomer attitude is something that is un-American.”

Obama : “Elizabeth” Spat Not “Personal” (Hill, Hill, Hill, Reuters,

• During a presser at Camp David Thursday, President Obama, who smiled and paused for effect as he used Sen Elizabeth Warren’s (D-MA) first name, said his dispute with the liberal star over his trade agenda “has never been personal.” “It’s fun for the press to poke around at it.” (er – Michael Corleone said the same thing about “personal”)

• Train derailment: “We are a growing country with a growing economy. We need to invest in the infrastructure that keeps us that way. That’s what great nations do.” He said that infrastructure spending shouldn’t be debated “just when something bad happens.” He said his prayers are with the families of the eight people on board who were killed

• Obama said he’s seen reports about the use of chlorine in bombs in Syria that have the effect of chemical weapons. “And so we’re working with the international community to investigate that,” he said (and – and – then?)

• Offshore drilling in the Arctic Ocean: Obama said he wants the country to move completely away from fossil fuels at some point, but: “In the meantime, we are going to continue to use fossil fuels, and when it can be done safely, and appropriately, U.S. production of oil and natural gas is important.”


Iran Bill Sails Through House (Hill, TRNS, me)

• The House on Thursday overwhelmingly passed, 400-25, legislation requiring congressional review of a nuclear deal with Iran, handing a victory to critics from both sides of the aisle who demanded that Congress have an oversight role. The bill has already passed the Senate. President Obama’s expected to sign it

• The bill gives Congress the power to approve or disapprove of a nuclear agreement with Iran during a 30-day period when economic sanctions couldn’t be lifted. Should the House and Senate vote to disapprove, and then override a likely Obama veto, the admin would be barred from waiving some economic sanctions on Iran

• International negotiators reached a framework agreement with Iran last month, and are racing to finish a final deal by 30 June. The deal is expected to lift economic sanctions in exchange for limits on Iran’s nuclear program and a new regime of international inspections

• House Foreign Affairs chair Ed Royce (R-CA) argued, “Once this legislation is signed, when Sec Kerry sits across from the Iranians, he’ll now have on his mind, ‘I’ve got to take this to Congress.’ That prospect can only improve these negotiations. And I just hope it’s not too late and we aren’t too deep into a bad deal.”

• Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) only allowed a few chances for amendments on the floor. Sens Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Tom Cotton (R-AR) tried to force a vote an amendment requiring Iran to recognize Israel, but were denied after McConnell moved to cut off debate. It’s the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015, HR1191

• Missouri House Speaker John Diehl (R), 49, resigned Thursday, a day after a report about sexts with a 19-year-old intern in his office. Example: Diehl: God I want you right now / Intern: I wish you could have me right now / Diehl: We need lot of time and s quiet room / Intern: That sounds amazing / Diehl: Will have my way with you / Intern: Soon enough / Diehl: And leave you quivering (AP, Kansas City Star)


Trade: Fast Track Lurches to Senate Floor (Hill, Politico, TRNS, TRNS, me)
• In a 65-33 vote Thursday, the Senate agreed to proceed to a package that would empower President Obama to negotiate future trade deals with minimal interference from Congress and assist U.S. workers displaced by foreign competition. The measure had been jammed up for a week


• The chamber is expected to vote on amendments Tuesday. A coalition of Dems led by Sen Sherrod Brown (D-OH) plans to throw up procedural roadblocks and offer amendments to expand worked protections. While they can’t win, they hope their resistance will stoke popular resistance and encourage Dems to vote against it in the House

• Democrats surprised everyone when they blocked McConnell’s first attempt to proceed to the trade package on Tuesday because it didn’t include a customs and enforcement measure addressing currency manipulation nor a package of trade preferences for Africa

• The Senate passed the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015, S.1269 and the AGOA Extension and Enhancement Act of 2015, S.1981, Thursday as stand-alone bills. Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) on Thursday dismissed the idea of Congress legislating currency valuation as “laughable.” (correct, sir)

• The trade package coming to the Senate floor includes Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), known as fast track, and Trade Adjustment Assistance. Fast track would grant expedited congressional review to trade deals negotiated by Obama and future presidents and guarantee them up-or-down majority votes. TAA provides funding to retrain U.S. workers who lose their jobs as a result of foreign competition

• Secret Service officers stopped a (stupid / weird) guy Thursday who was flying a small drone (pretty cute, actually) over the park in front of the WH. The drone operator was taken into custody by U.S. Park Police. He’ll be charged. DC is a “no drone zone.” WH was locked down. A month ago, a FL man piloted a gyrocopter to the lawn of the Capitol – and a drone flew in the grounds a few weeks ago… (WaPo, TRNS, me)

Gowdy / Clinton Duel: Still No Testimony (AP, Politico, me)

• The chair of the House select committee on Benghazi said Thursday he’s unwilling to schedule Hillary Clinton’s highly anticipated testimony until State Dept turns over key docs. Rep Trey Gowdy (R-SC) sent a letter to SecState John Kerry slamming the Obama admin for the alleged slow pace of turning over docs to the committee

• “The only thing standing in between the committee and the former secretary being able to discuss her tenure as SecState as it relates to Libya and Benghazi is the Dept of State’s failure, in more than half a year, to produce a single, solitary email responsive to our request and subpoena,” Gowdy wrote (sobbing uncontrollably)

• To underline the seriousness, Gowdy told Kerry that his committee has “shared its concerns” with lawmakers responsible for the agency’s budget “in the event reprogramming” of some dept spending is needed to ensure compliance with the committee’s request (go for the jugular)

• Rep Elijah Cummings (D-MD), ranking member, said Republicans were on a “fishing expedition.” He said the committee has had Clinton’s emails for months: “This new claim that the dept has not produced a single responsive doc is completely baseless and appears to be yet another excuse to drag out Sec Clinton’s testimony until closer to the

[2016] election.” (that’s the fun)

* Actor Johnny Depp’s dogs Boo and Pistol are preparing to leave Australia by private jet to evade a death threat tomorrow, the country’s Ag minister says. Depp “snuck” the dogs in on private jet and evaded strict quarantine laws. “It’s time that Pistol and Boo buggered off back to the U.S.,” ag minister Barnaby Joyce said this week (BBC)


B.B. King – The Thrill is Gone (AP, NYT)

• Blues legend B.B. (Blues Boy) King has died in Las Vegas at the age of 89, his lawyer says. Attorney Brent Bryson said that King died peacefully in his sleep at 9.40 pm PDT Thursday at home

• The one-time farmhand brought new fans to the blues and influenced a generation of musicians with his heartfelt vocals and soaring guitar on songs such as “The Thrill is Gone.”

• NYT says: “King married country blues to big-city rhythms and created a sound instantly recognizable to millions: a stinging guitar with a shimmering vibrato, notes that coiled and leapt like an animal, and a voice that groaned and bent with the weight of lust, longing and lost love.”

• NYT: “In performances, his singing and his solos flowed into each other as he wrung notes from the neck of his guitar, vibrating his hand as if it were wounded, his face a mask of suffering. Many of the songs he sang – like his biggest hit, “The Thrill Is Gone” – were poems of pain and perseverance.”

• King sold millions of records worldwide and was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He received his 15th Grammy in 2009. The NYT obituary is an absolute must-read – beautiful, extraordinary, powerful writing

• Rocking into the weekend with “The Thrill is Gone” live at Montreux 1993 – B.B. King

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Victoria Jones – Editor

TRNS’ Ellen Ratner, William McDonald and Washington Desk contributed to this report

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