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.

News Now
  • Killer weather
  • DoJ settles probe into Cleveland PD
  • Defense sec starts war of words
  • Patriot Act in limbo: Senate in disarray
  • Congress scrambles for data deal
  • Four words in health law: Mistake? (depth)
  • WaPo’s Jazon Rezaian on trial in Iran
  • Obama marks Memorial Day
  • Ireland: Gay marriage now legal
  • Josh Duggar: Child molester?
Killer Weather Over Weekend (CNN, AP, Reuters)

• A tornado raged through Ciudad Acuna on the U.S.-Mexico border across from Del Rio, Texas, Monday, destroying homes, flinging cars like matchsticks and ripping an infant away from its mother. At least 13 people were killed, authorities said. The baby was missing

• In Texas, 12 people were reported missing after the vacation home they were staying in was swept away by rushing flood waters in a small town in Hays County popular with tourists. Witnesses reported seeing the swollen Blanco River push the vacation house off its foundation and smash it into a bridge. The 12 people were believed connected to two families

• The storms were blamed for at least six deaths Saturday and Sunday in the U.S., with three in Oklahoma and three in Texas. A man’s body was recovered from a flooded area along the Blanco River, which rose 26 feet in an hour and created huge piles of debris. Gov Greg Abbott (R) likened the ferocity of the flooding to a “tsunami.”

• In Hays County near Austin, up to 400 homes have washed away. More than 1,000 homes were damaged and waters washed two main bridges away. A new flood watch loomed from Monday into early today for Hays County. Forecasts this week call for thunderstorms, hail, high winds, flash flooding, river flooding and tornadoes


• U.S. military jets escorted an Air France flight into NYC Monday after someone claimed a chemical weapon was on board, the FBI said. The plane was cleared. A series of anonymous threats against commercial airliners, possibly same source, prompted searches of at least two other planes (CNN)


DoJ Settles Probe Into Cleveland PD (NYT, WaPo, me)

• Cleveland has reached a settlement with the Justice Dept over what federal authorities said was a pattern of unconstitutional policing and excessive use of force, people briefed on the case said Monday. The settlement could be announced as early as today. Details of the settlement weren’t immediately clear,

• The settlement comes days after a judge declared a Cleveland police officer not guilty of manslaughter for climbing onto the hood of a car and firing repeatedly at its unarmed occupants, both of them black. The verdict prompted a day and night of protests

• The DoJ in December issued a scathing report that found the Cleveland police engaged in a “pattern or practice” of unnecessary force – including shooting residents, striking them in the head and spraying them with chemicals. Sometimes using deadly force


• The report was compiled too early to cover the death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was playing with a replica gun in a Cleveland park in Nov when the police shot him. Prosecutors have yet to decide whether to bring charges in his death

• Saturday, demonstrators spent hours marching through Cleveland after a judge acquitted Officer Michael Brelo of manslaughter for his role in the 2012 shooting, which began with a car chase. While several officers fired a combined 127 shots, Brelo was singled out for manslaughter because he climbed onto the hood after the pursuit ended and fired 15 shots into the car

• The unarmed occupants, Tinothy Russell and Malissa Williams, died from gunshot wounds. The judge ruled that the actions of Brelo, who is white, were lawful. The DoJ, the FBI and Cleveland U.S. attorney’s office are still investigating the case

• Charter Communications Inc is said to be nearing a deal to buy Time Warner Cable Inc for $55 billion. It would be the latest in a series of deals that have reshaped the cable-TV industry as more consumers are “cutting the cord” and cancelling cable subscriptions (AP)

Defense Sec Starts War of Words (WaPo, AP, BBC, Hill, me)

• VP Joe Biden on Monday, in a phone call with Iraqi PM Haider al-Abadi, recognized “the enormous sacrifice and bravery” that Iraqi forces have displayed over the past 18 months in Ramadi and elsewhere. (apology much?) The call came a day after SecDef Ash Carter’s comment that Iraqi forces showed in Ramadi that they lacked the “will to fight.”

• Iraq and Iran pushed back Monday against Carter’s criticisms over the fall of Ramadi to ISIS. It all started on Sunday, when Carter said on CNN, “What apparently happened was that the Iraqi forces just showed no will to fight. They were not outnumbered, but in fact, they vastly outnumbered the opposing force. And yet they failed to fight.” Well, that set things off

• Monday, al-Abadi’s spox, Saad al-Hadithi, said: “Carter was likely given wrong information because the situation on the ground is different.” Al-Abadi said Ramadi could be taken back from ISIS “in days,” but he said more support was needed from international coalition partners (like doing the fighting?)

• In Iran, daily newspaper Javan quoted Gen Qasim Soleimani, head of the elite Quds force in the Revolutionary Guard, as saying the U.S. didn’t do a “damn thing” to stop ISIS’ advance on Ramadi. He said the U.S. showed “no will” in fighting ISIS

• The Sudanese govt on Monday denied that it was supporting rebels in South Sudan after Juba accused Khartoum of supplying arms to the insurgents threatening South Sudan’s oil fields. South Sudan says it’s regained control of oil town Malakal from the rebels. Graphic: South Sudan – how the crisis unfolded – interactive timeline of the civil war (Guardian, AP)

Patriot Act in Limbo: Senate in Disarray (CNN, Reuters, me)

• By a vote of 54-45 just before 1 am Saturday morning, the Senate failed to reach the 60-vote threshold needed to advance a bill that would have extended for two months provisions of the USA Patriot Act, S1357, that allows the collection of vast amounts of telephone metadata – leaving the fate of the program up in the air days before its expiration 1 June. High drama

• The vote against the extension came after the Senate narrowly blocked, 57-42, the USA Freedom Act, S1123, a bill that would end the bulk telephone data collection and replace it with a more targeted program

• Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) made four attempts to keep the Patriot Act alive: first to 8 June – objected to by Sen Rand Paul (R-KY), next to 5 June – objected to by Sen Ron Wyden (D-OR), next to 3 June – objected to by Sen Martin Heinrich (D-NM), next to 2 June – objected to be Paul again. Senators appeared stunned. Gasps were audible

• An exasperated McConnell then took off his mic and huddled with leadership colleagues. After a few minutes, he returned to the podium and announced: “We’ll be back Sunday, May 31, one more opportunity to act responsibly to not allow this program to expire. This is a high-threat period … My colleagues, do we really want this law to expire?” (um, yes, some do)

• The WH wants renewal of the program, with changes – USA Freedom Act. An admin official said that WH outreach to the Senate extended “well into the night.” But with no agreement reached, the NSA is beginning to “wind down” the program to comply in time with the 1 June sunset date, the official said (that’s what the NSA says it’s doing, anyway)

• Congress has approved a – drum roll – two-month extension of the highway trust fund, the 33rd short-term patch of that program since 2008. “What can you do in 60 days? Well, you can fill a pothole,” said No. 2 Senate Democratic leader Dick Durbin (IL). So they’ll be back dealing with it just before their summer recess… (AP, me)

Congress Scrambles for Data Deal (NYT, me)

• Rep Devin Nunes (R-CA), chair of the House Intel Committee, said a series of phone calls and staff meetings over the Memorial Day break should be enough to reach agreement on changes to the USA Freedom Act. Three senators need to be won over for the Senate to pass it. “That is the goal: Work it out over the break,” said Nunes

• If negotiators accept minor changes to the House bill, it will mark a significant retreat (ie smackdown) for Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Sen Richard Burr (R-NC), chair of the Senate Intel Committee. Both men have said phone companies, which would collect the data under the USA Freedom Act, aren’t equipped to handle the task

• The goal of the deal-makers is to ease concerns of Senate Republicans by adding a certification process to ensure that phone companies had developed a technology they needed to store the reams of data that were now gathered by the govt (Section 215). If the technology couldn’t be certified, a longer transition period would kick in. The Patriot Act expires at 12.01 on 1 June

• McConnell has recalled the Senate from recess on Sunday for a vote ahead of the expiration on Monday of the Patriot Act’s Section 215. But the House would have to act by the end of Sunday as well. If Congress doesn’t do something by then, the text of Section 215 will revert to what had been written before 2001 – seems like Congress would have to write a new bill…


• The Senate on Friday approved, 62-37, the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015 (TPA-2015), S.995, – “fast-track” – that will help President Obama conclude a massive Asia-Pacific trade agreement and sets the stage for a fierce battle in the House when lawmakers return in June (Politico, TRNS)


Four Words in Health Law: Mistake? (NYT, me)
• They’re only four words in a 900-page law: “established by the state.” But it’s in the ambiguity of those four words in the Affordable Care Act that opponents found a path to challenge the law to the Supreme Court. The mystery: Who wrote them, and why? Strongly suggest you read the article

• Were they really intended, as the plaintiffs in King v. Burwell claim, to make the tax subsidies in the law available only in states that established their own health insurance marketplaces, and not in the three dozen states with federal exchanges?

• NYT spoke to more than two dozen Republicans and Democrats involved in writing the law. The answer: None supported the contention of the plaintiffs, who are from Virginia

• “It was never part of our conversations at any point,” said former Sen Olympia Snowe (R-ME), who helped write the Finance Committee version of the bill. “Why would we have wanted to deny people subsidies? It was not their fault if their state did not set up an exchange.”


• The idea of denying subsidies to people who bought insurance through the federal exchange “was never discussed,” said Charles Clapton, a lawyer who worked on Finance Committee and the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee version for Sen Michael Enzi (R-WY)

• But senators and staff lawyers came to believe that some states – “five or 10 at the most” – would choose not to set up exchanges, said Christopher Condeluci, who was a staff lawyer for Republicans on the Finance Committee. So senators authorized a backup plan to allow the federal govt to establish an exchange in any state that didn’t have its own – –

• But they failed to include that language in the section of the tax code providing subsidies. “In my opinion, due to a drafting error, we overlooked it,” said Condeluci. “It was an oversight. Congress, in my experience, always intended for the federal exchange to deliver subsidies.”

• Things get rather detailed and complex after this. Basically, there are several drafts, and bear in mind that all along there are two committees working on separate tracks on this bill at the same time


• But: “it appears that the four words now being challenged were based on the initial premise and were carelessly left in place as the legislation evolved.”

• Then the two committees’ version had to be merged together in Oct and Nov 2009, largely by then Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV). The health committee measure clearly allowed subsidies in all states. The Finance Committee version wasn’t so explicit

• In stitching together the final bill, Reid took the language on tax credits from the Finance Committee, and generally followed the health committee in allowing the secretary of health/human services to operate a federal exchange

• But Reid didn’t adopt an important provision from the health committee bill that might have avoided the current fight. It said that a state with a federal exchange “shall be deemed to be a participating state” and that its residents could receive federal subsidies to help pay premiums. NYT throws Reid under the bus a bit

• So, “inadvertent,” “drafting error,” – enough for a win for the Obama admin at SCOTUS? A powerful line of judicial thinking holds that courts don’t have a license to disregard the clear language of a law. What matters, Justice Antonin Scalia has said, is “not what Congress would have wanted, but what Congress enacted.”

• Nobel Prize-winning mathematician John Nash, whose struggle with schizophrenia was chronicled in the 2001 movie “A Beautiful Mind” died over the weekend in a car crash along with his wife, Alicia, in New Jersey. John Nash was 86. He was the Nobel Prize for his work on game theory


WaPo’s Jason Rezaian on Trial in Iran Today (WaPo, BBC)

• WaPo reporter Jason Rezaian is scheduled to go on trial today espionage charges in a Tehran courtroom that will be closed to the public, including his wife and mother. Rezaian has been detained in Iran for almost 10 months. He could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted. Rezaian’s wife was arrested alongside him but later bailed

• Iran hasn’t recently commented on the case. A statement by WaPo executive editor Martin Baron says, “The shameful acts of injustice continue without end in the treatment of

[Mr] Rezaian.” “There is no justice in this system, not an ounce of it, and yet the fate of a good, innocent man hangs in the balance.”

• WaPo points out that Rezaian was arrested without charge and imprisoned in Iran’s notorious Evin prison – placed in isolation for many months and denied medical care he needed. He was given only 90 minutes to meet a lawyer approved by the court and “no evidence has ever been produced by prosecutors of the court to support these absurd charges.”

• President Obama has said that the WH would not rest until Rezaian was brought home safely. U.S. officials have repeatedly raised his case during nuclear negotiations with Iran, but have declined to link the two. Rezaian’s case was assigned to a judge known for his harsh sentencing in the past


Obama Marks Memorial Day (AP, Politico, TRNS, TRNS, me)

• President Obama on Monday saluted Americans who died in battle, saying the country must “never stop trying to repay them” for their sacrifices. He noted it was the first Memorial Day in 14 years without U.S. forces engaged in a major ground war. He didn’t mention America’s participation with other nations in the effort to stop ISIS

• Speaking to some 5,000 people on the hallowed grounds of Arlington National Cemetery, Obama said the graveyard is “more than a final resting place of heroes.” He said “it’s a reflection of our diversity, men and women of all backgrounds, all races and creeds and circumstances and faiths, willing to defend and die for the ideals that bind us as one nation.”

• Obama said most Americans don’t understand the sacrifices made by the 1% of the population that serves in the Armed Forces, but when he meets with families that have lost loved ones through military service, “I see that their hearts are still broken and yet still full of love. … In the face of unspeakable loss, they represent the best of who we are.”

• Presaging Monday’s solemn event at Arlington was the roar of motorcycles throughout the nation’s capital on Sunday as thousands of bikers saluted veterans with Rolling Thunder’s “Ride for Freedom.” That was followed by a concert on the Mall Sunday evening and Obama’s private breakfast Monday at the WH with reps of veteran and military family service organizations


• Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson won the straw poll at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference on Saturday with 25%. He was followed by Scott Walker with 20% and Ted Cruz at 16%. Chris Christie and Rick Perry tied at 5%. A few also-rans tied at 4%. Carson and Cruz campaigned hard, but most candidates didn’t compete – straw polls are dying (Politico)


Ireland: Gay Marriage Now Legal  (BBC, Guardian, AP, me)

• Diarmiud Martin, the archbishop of Dublin and one of Ireland’s most senior clerics, told broadcaster RTE: “We [the church] have to stop and have a reality check, not move into denial of the realities.” He spoke after a national referendum found 62% were in favor of changing the constitution to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry

• “I appreciate how gay and lesbian men and women feel on this day. That they feel this is something that is enriching the way they live. I think it is a social revolution.” The archbishop personally voted “no.” “I’m saying there’s a big challenge there to see how we get across the message of the Church,” he said

• Ireland is the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage through a popular vote, and its referendum was held 22 years after homosexual acts were decriminalized in the Republic of Ireland. Aodhan O Riordain, Ireland’s equalities minister, tweeted: “Ireland hasn’t just said “Yes” … Ireland has said: FCK YEAAHHHH”

• Justice minister Frances Fitzgerald announced Monday that the bill to legalize gay marriage should be passed before lawmakers’ planned 16 July summer recess. Gay couples already scheduled to be wed in civil partnerships will have their events legally upgraded to marriages. Like marriages, these have to be scheduled at least three months in advance


Josh Duggar: Child Molester? (WaPo, CNN, TPM, TPM, In Touch, me)

• Will TLC kill “19 Kids and Counting” now that Josh Duggar, 27, has admitted to acting “inexcusably” as a teenager? TLC has pulled all episodes. According to a 2006 police report – now destroyed – Duggar sexually molested several young girls, including his sisters, fondling their genitals both forcibly and while they slept. Duggar hasn’t specifically addressed the allegations

• Duggar has resigned from his position as executive director of the Family Research Council’s lobbying arm, FRC Actiom. According to his bio, Duggar seeks to “use his God-given platform to encourage others to be engaged in the political process.” In his (lame) statement, Duggar said he was “so very thankful for God’s grace, mercy and redemption.” (what about justice?)

• A police report obtained by In Touch weekly and the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette detailed the allegations, but the names of the suspect and all victims were redacted, because all were minors at the time. Arkansas Judge Stacey Zimmerman ordered the 2006 report destroyed, supposedly in case the names got out (how?)

• The police report says that Duggar received “counseling” from a “guy they knew in Little Rock who is remodeling a building,” according to Duggar’s mother. Later, in July 2003, the family told a corporal with the Arkansas State Police who gave Duggar a “very stern talk.” No further action. That officer is currently serving a 56-year prison sentence for child pornography offenses

• It’s clear from the in-depth piece in WaPo that rumors about Duggar’s molesting of young girls spread. Police really became involved in 2006 when an anonymous tipster phoned a hotline, 3 1/2 years after the first time the alleged offense was brought to the police. Interviews took place, but investigators determined the statute of limitations had expired – no charges


• Former Gov Mike Huckabee (R-AR) expressed support for the Duggar family on Friday, saying Josh’s actions were not “unforgivable.” “Those who have enjoyed revealing this long ago sin in order to discredit the Duggar family have actually revealed their own insensitive blood thirst.” (NYT)

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Victoria Jones – Editor

TRNS’ William McDonald and Washington Desk contributed to this report

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