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

  • Trade vote scramble: Who has votes?
  • Hackers: Names of Chinese w/ govt ties?
  • Surprise: Data wasn’t encrypted
  • More U.S. troops to Iraq: Skepticism
  • Burwell/Ryan clash over Obamacare
  • Texas pool cop “apologizes”
  • Amtrak crash: Engineer not on cellphone
  • Sanders blasts internet “nonsense”
  • NPR’s Rehm asks about other lawmakers


Trade Vote Scramble: Who Has Votes? (AP, Politico, Hill, Hill, TRNS, me)

• The odd coalition of Republican congressional leaders and the Democratic White House twisted arms and offered sweeteners Wednesday in a hectic scramble to pass a major trade bill. A procedural vote is slated for today. But fierce opposition from unions and a dispute over Medicare language in a related bill threatened to block most Democratic support


• “We’re moving because we feel comfortable moving,” said Ways and Means Committee chair Paul Ryan (R-WI). Only 30 House Republicans are “no” votes or leaning no, according to The Hill’s Whip List. And 19 Democrats have said they’re “yes” or leaning that way after a furious WH lobbying campaign –  supposedly – it’s tight


• President Obama seeks fast track negotiating authority, which the Senate endorsed last month. It allows presidents to present Congress with proposed trade agreements that it could ratify or reject, but not change. If he gets it, Obama hopes to advance the Trans-Pacific Partnership with 11 other nations – many Democrats don’t like it, say it’s bad for workers


• The latest snag is a provision that would divert money earmarked for Medicare and use it to retrain workers displaced by trade agreements. Democrats support the retraining, but they strenuously oppose tapping Medicare money to fund it. The bill is the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015 (TPA-2015) HR.1890


• So House Republicans offered to put alternative funding sources in a related trade bill. But they’re desperate to avoid changing even a comma in the fast track bill because that would send it back to the Senate and give opponents another chance to throttle it there. That means the House would have to pass two bills – it’s going to be a complicated voting procedure


Hackers: Names of Chinese w/ Ties to U.S. Govt? (NYT, me)

• Investigators say that the Chinese hackers who attacked the databases of the Office of Personnel Management and grabbed info on 4 million current and former federal employees may have obtained the names of Chinese relatives, friends and frequent associates of American diplomats and other govt officials, info that Beijing could use for blackmail or retaliation


• Federal employees who handle national security info are required to list some or all of their foreign contacts, depending on the agency, to receive high-level clearances. Investigators say the hackers obtained many of the lists, and they’re trying to determine how many of those thousands of names were compromised


• In classified briefings to members of Congress in recent days, intel officials have described what appears to be a systematic Chinese effort to build databases that explain the inner workings of the U.S. govt


• The info includes friends and relatives, around the world, of diplomats, of WH officials and of officials from govt agencies, like nuclear experts and trade negotiators


• “It gives the Chinese the ability to exploit who is listed as a foreign contact,” said James Lewis, a cyberexpert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “And if you are a Chinese person who didn’t report your contacts or relationships with an America, you may have a problem.”


Surprise: Data Wasn’t Encrypted

• Officials have conceded in the briefings that most of the compromised data wasn’t encrypted, though they’ve argued that the attacks were so sophisticated and well hidden that encryption might have done little good (so no point trying? most utterly lame excuse ever heard)


• Investigators were surprised to find that OPM, which had already been so heavily criticized that its IG wanted parts of the system shut down, didn’t encrypt any of the most sensitive data


• The scope of the breach is remarkable, experts say, because the personnel office apparently learned little from earlier govt data breaches like the Wikileaks case and the surveillance revelations by Edward Snowden, both of which involved unencrypted data (heads to roll?)


• “It is certainly one of the most damaging losses I can think of,” said Rep Adam Schiff (D-CA), a member of the House Intelligence Committee who was briefed by intel officials. Sen Angus King (I-ME), who’s on Intel and Armed Services Committees, called for the U.S. to retaliate for those kinds of losses


• The WH has stopped short of blaming Katherine Archuleta, the director of the personnel office, for the breach, emphasizing that securing govt computer systems is a challenging task (but it’s her task! can’t wait for the unclassified hearing – popcorn, BBQ and a large frothy drink)


• The manhunt for two escaped killers expanded to Vermont Wednesday. State police said a female prison staff member being questioned may have had a role in helping the men. She’s Joyce Mitchell, 51, a training supervisor at the prison tailor shop. She was supposedly the getaway driver but had a last minute change of heart, panic attack and gunned it to the hospital… (Daily Beast, AP)



More U.S. Troops to Iraq: Skepticism (Guardian, Hill, TRNS, TRNS, me)

• President Obama has authorized up to 450 additional U.S. troops “to train, advise and assist” Iraqi forces fighting ISIS, WH spox Josh Earnest said Wednesday. They’ll be stationed at a new base in Anbar province to work with Sunni forces. The troops won’t serve in a combat role. There are currently 3,100 troops deployed to Iraq to train Iraqi forces there


• Obama telegraphed tweaks on Monday when he said “we don’t have a complete strategy yet” to train and equip the Iraqi military, but he said the Pentagon was working on a new plan. Obama’s move came at the request of Iraqi PM al-Adabi. Obama has called on al-Abadi to do more to supply and pay Sunni forces and recruit fighters to govt forces and Sunni militias (sure)


• The president’s plan was met with skepticism on Capitol Hill. Rep Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), who supports the mission, expressed “grave concern” that sending additional troops would result in “mission creep” and “combat situations.” Obama’s move is part of a broader effort to retake Anbar’s provincial capital of Ramadi, recently fallen to ISIS – then retake Mosul


• House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said, “This is another tactical move. I support the tactical move the president is taking, but where is the overarching strategy to deal with the largest state sponsor of terror in the region, Iran, and to deal with ISIL and all of their related groups?”


• The announcement was met with indifference and skepticism in Iraq. “The increase doesn’t have an effect,” said Hisham al-Hishami, an Iraqi scholar and expert on ISIS. “It is a weak step to reduce pressure from the media.” “Training is not a Sunni need or requirement, but arming is.”


• A new UN report accuses the Sudanese govt of restricting access to peacekeepers tasked with protecting the contested Darfur region. Meanwhile, humanitarian actors remained unable to reach parts of Central Darfur “reported to be worst affected by govt operations against armed groups.” (TRNS)



Burwell/Ryan Clash Over Obamacare (AP, WaPo, me)

• Congress and the states will need to find an answer if SCOTUS strikes down the subsidies that are a foundation of President Obama’s heath care law, Heath Secretary Sylvia Burwell told the House Ways and Means Committee Wednesday. “Something that repeals the Affordable Care act is something the president will not sign,” she said


• A Supreme Court decision is expected this month. The GOP runs Congress, and 26 of the 24 states likely to be hardest hit by a decision striking down the subsidies have Republican governors. In addition, 22 of the 24 GOP senators up for reelection next year are from those same 34 states (a bit of panic at the disco going on in the GOP)


• The case before the court involves a Republican-backed challenge by conservatives to the law. The suit says the law limits the subsidies to people in states that run their own insurance exchanges – and not to residents of the 30-plus states that use the federal website. The WH says that’s illogical and nonsense


• Committee chair Paul Ryan (R-WI) repeatedly asked Burwell if Obama would work with lawmakers to overhaul the plan “or is he going to put concrete around his ankles and say, ‘my law or nothing?'” Burwell said the admin “is going to do everything we can” to get ready and communicate with states. Ryan said the law is “broken.”


• Rep Sandy Levin (D-MI), top Democrat on the committee, said: “The shoe really should be on the other foot.” “You sit as arm-chair critics as millions of people have insurance who never had it before,” Levin said incredulously: “You’re livid because it’s getting better?”


• Kenneth Hackett, U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, on Wednesday urged Pope Francis to take a stronger stance on the Ukraine crisis ahead of the Pope’s meeting later that day with Russian President Vladimir Putin. “This is a very serious situation,” Hackett said (TRNS)


Texas Pool Cop “Apologizes” (NYT, AP, Buzzfeed, me)

• The police officer in McKinney TX who resigned after a cellphone video circulated showing him shoving a black teenager in a bikini to the ground outside a pool party offered a (non) apology Wed through his lawyer, who tried to explain his actions by saying that he was under stress after responding to two earlier calls and showing “compassion”


• Before arriving at the pool party Friday, Cpl Eric Casebolt had helped console the grieving widow of a man who had shot himself in the head in front of his children and had assisted in photographing the body, and then in another case calmed a teenage girl who was threatening to commit suicide by jumping off her parents’ roof, said his lawyer, Jane Bishkin


• “He never intended to mistreat anyone, but was only reacting to a situation and the challenges that it presented. He apologizes to all who were offended,” Bishkin said. She said Casebolt was “not targeting minorities,” adding “he also detained a white female, who you do not see on the video.” She said threats against him have caused him to go to an undisclosed location


• Hannah Stroud, lawyer for Dajerria Becton, 15, who Casebolt slammed to the ground, said she was exploring legal options. She said “stress” “belittled the apology a little.” Becton was an invited guest, she said, and she complied when asked to leave, but asked for her bag so she could call her aunt, her guardian, and then she was pushed to to the ground


Bishkin didn’t even name Dajerria Becton, referring to her as “anyone.” How rude. And the white female Bishkin referred to was Grace Stone, a 15-year-old who went up to Casebolt respectfully to explain what was going on, and was immediately shoved into handcuffs and pushed onto the ground. Guess Casebolt was all out of compassion



• Republican lawmakers and activists in New Hampshire are arguing in a letter to Fox News and the Republican National Committee that limiting the number of candidates who can participate in GOP debates would supplant the role that early nominating states, such as NH, play in allowing voters to narrow the field (NYT)



Amtrak Crash: Engineer Not on Cellphone (AP, Hill, me)

• Brandon Bostian, the engineer driving an Amtrak train, wasn’t using his cellphone to talk, text or download data just before the train derailed in Philadelphia last month, an updated NTSB report said. He also didn’t access the train’s wifi system. They haven’t ruled out the use of an app yet. The mystery of what caused the accident deepens


• Investigators have said that the train accelerated to 106 mph in the last minute before entering a curve where the limit is 50 mph. In the last few seconds the brakes were applied with maximum force, but the train was still traveling at over 100 mph when it left the tracks


• Bostian suffered a head injury in the 12 May crash, and his lawyer has said the engineer doesn’t remember anything from shortly before the crash. Accident investigators have said previously that they haven’t found any mechanical problems with the train. The track had been inspected not long before the crash


• At a Senate commerce committee hearing Wednesday, NTSB board member Bella Dinh-Zarr urged the swift installation of positive train control, a technology that can prevent trains from derailing because of excessive speed as well as collisions. She said the NTSB has investigated 140 accidents that could have been prevented if it was in place


• Tuesday, the House passed a transportation spending bill that includes $9 million for Amtrak to install inward-facing cameras in locomotive cabs so investigators have a video and sound recording of what’s going on inside the cab in the event of an accident



• Great graphic: Investigating the Philadelphia Amtrak train crash (NYT)


Sanders Blasts Internet “Nonsense” (Politico, Hill, NYT, me)

• NPR radio host Diane Rehm falsely stated in an interview with Sen Bernie Sanders (I-VT) Wednesday that he has dual Israeli citizenship. In an unusual exchange in the middle of the interview with the recently declared 2016er for the Democratic nomination, Rehm said she got the info about his alleged citizenship form a “list.”


• “Senator, you have dual citizenship with Israel,” Rehm began, before Sanders interrupted. “Well, no I do not have dual citizenship with Israel. I’m an American. I don’t know where that question came from. I am an American citizen, and I have visited Israel on a couple of occasions. No, I’m an American citizen, period,” Sanders said


• Sanders, who is Jewish, has visited Israel several times and spend several months working on a Kibbutz in the 1960s. “I understand from a list we have gotten that you were on that list, forgive me if that is…” Rehm said


• As the Jewish Journal noted, the list Rehm may be referring to seems to be one that’s circulated on the internet for several years concerning U.S. govt officials and members of Congress who allegedly hold dual citizenship with Israel


NPR’s Rehm Asks About Other Lawmakers

• “That’s some of the nonsense that goes on in the internet. But that is absolutely not true,” Sanders said. Rehm then asked Sanders if there are other members of Congress who do have dual citizenship, or if it is “part of the fable.”


• “I honestly don’t know but I have read that on the internet,” Sanders said. “You know, my dad came to this country from Poland at the age of 17 without a nickel in his pocket. He loved this country. I am, you know, I got offended a little bit by that comment, and I now it’s been on the internet.” (takes a lot to offend Bernie)


• Rehm said in a statement, “Rather than asking Senator and Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders whether he had dual U.S./Israeli citizenship, as I had read in a comment on Facebook, I stated it as fact. … I am sorry for the mistake. However, I am glad to play a role in putting this rumor to rest.”


• The National Jewish Democratic Council said in a statement, “This anti-Semitic canard of dual loyalty has persisted for decades, particularly about American Jews in public service. To directly ask, as Diane Rehm did, if there are members of Congress who hold dual citizenship with Israel is unbelievably offensive and completely indefensible.”


• President Obama wasn’t holding a pack of cigarettes in a pic of him meeting with Italian PM Renzi at last weekend’s G7 in Germany, WH spox Josh Earnest said Wednesday. Asked if Obama had a pack of cigarettes in his hand, Earnest said, “He does not.” Curiouser and curiouser… (Hill)

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Victoria Jones – Editor

TRNS’ Justin Duckham, Luke Vargas, Nicholas Salazar, James Cullum, Claire Woodcock, William Hadden and Elizabeth Wicks-Parry contributed to this report


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