National News Roundup: Week 36 (September 24–30)
The news is a horrible, toxic trash fire this past week, and I don’t think I’m even capable of sugar coating that. Puerto Rico’s in a bad way, over 500 people were seriously injured (and 59 were killed) by one dude with way more automatic weapons than any one dude should ever have, and Trump still hasn’t been to the Caribbean but he somehow found time to go to the golf course. I recently posted an article about how to deal with weeks like this, and that’s about the best I got for you right now; I’m really sorry, folks. No judgment if your comfort food this week is an entire bag of Cheetos.
Standard standing reminders apply: I am no journalist, though I play one in your inbox or browser, so I’m only summarizing the news within my area of expertise. This week’s news contains some detailed analysis that’s outside my expertise — I’m a lawyer, not an accountant! — but all offroad adventures are marked with an asterisk. Okay, I think that’s about it for the disclaimers. Onward to the news!
Constitutional Crisis Corners:
The Russia Collusion Investigation was mostly pretty quiet this week, but we did have a little bit of movement:
- But Her Emails. The big story of idiocy this week was the news that at least six White House advisers used private servers for sending and receiving emails in their official White House capacity. Some of the advisers, such as Steve Bannon and Reince Priebus, are already gone — but several, such as Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump, Gary Cohn, and Steven Miller, are still present. Kushner in particular is estimated to have sent and received about a hundred emails between January and August, which is kind of horrifying when you consider that he went on several diplomatic trips in that time. The White House, as you can imagine, was just shocked to discover that — nope, sorry, that’s what would happen if we weren’t living in the darkest timeline. As it happens, the same administration that crucified Hillary Clinton over this hasn’t issued statements or censures of any kind to its own people — the best we’ve gotten on this so far is an internal probe being led by White House counsel’s office — and if you’re currently sitting here asking “But isn’t Don McGahn, current White House counsel, rumored to be about to quit over Jared Kushner?” Why yes, yes he is.
We also are still in a stalemate on the Threat to Free Speech front:
- Trump Still Hates Sports. The bizarre battle between our President and the NFL continues for yet another week, with players still talking about protests mid-week and Trump asserting that team owners are afraid of their players. By the following Sunday, several teams had released statements and many players found ways to protest during or before the anthem for a second week in a row. Meanwhile, nobody has signed Colin Kaepernick and some of the players are getting death threats. And the Black Lives Matter message that Kaepernick was trying to send with his original protests is getting lost somewhere in the shuffle. But, on the plus side, there’s this heartwarming story about a kid who proudly wore a Kaepernick jersey and the NFL players who surprised him with an X-box.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- Trump’s Surreal Tax Plan.* Trump released a more fleshed-out version of his tax plan this week, which Paul Ryan apparently thinks “[w]e really can get . . . done this year” — and if you’re expecting a tax version of ACA repeal-and-replace, sadly, you’re not far off the mark. Forbes put out a summary of the three biggest elements, all of which come with challenges: Consolidating down to three tax brackets (which raises taxes for the poorest Americans and lowers them for the richest); reducing corporate taxes; and getting the whole thing done under a reconciliation process — just like they were trying to do with ACA repeal. Also, though this wasn’t mentioned in the Forbes article, a provision buried in there to remove the estate tax could save the Trump family as much as $1 billion on taxes moving forward. But despite all the corporate tax revisions, the proposed plan is getting a lukewarm reception from Wall Street. And depending on how the plan is handled by Congress, all of its changes might end up being temporary anyway — the reconciliation process won’t allow a deficit increase of more than $1.5 trillion.
- …and the Rotted Pork Likely to Be Snuck In. Remember how I mentioned that the GOP is hoping to do all this under the reconciliation process, which is the same process they used to try to pass ACA reform? Guess what else that means! (If you guessed “they’re going to try to do ACA repeal under the tax reform process,” you win! And by ‘win,’ I mean ‘congratulations, here’s several more months of healthcare-based night terrors!’) It looks like Graham’s obnoxious plan to kick the can down the road isn’t generally popular within the GOP, but that could change at any time — especially if the GOP push to remove the filibuster entirely gains traction instead.
- The Price was Wrong. After much brouhaha about Tom Price’s use of charter flights on the government dime (which Rachel Maddow correctly notes would ordinarily result in a disgraced resignation), Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price did indeed resign last Friday. My researcher correctly called this ahead of time, noting that we haven’t had a Friday firing in a while, but I had trouble making Price’s resignation jive with my understanding of the Trump administration’s blatant laissez-faire attitude about self-enrichment at government expense. Then, when I was compiling my notes this past week, I remembered that DHHS had been criticized by the administration at the beginning of last week for a leaked draft of an “ideological” report concluding that refugees help economies more than they hurt them — and suddenly it all made sense again.
- Nature-Made and Man-Exacerbated Puerto Rican Crisis. You may remember from last week that Hurricane Maria left Puerto Rico entirely without power, with the governor of Puerto Rico warning that the infrastructure damage may takes months to repair. This was exacerbated by President Trump’s actions, or rather, his lack thereof; he initially refused to waive the Jones Act, which would have made it easier to send aid on foreign-owned ships; he kept other officials from visiting; and he still hasn’t set foot on the island as I write this twelve days after the hurricane. (Trump did eventually waive the Jones Act provision last Thursday, eight full days after the hurricane hit the island.) The island is still in really bad shape and having a lot of difficulty getting food, water, and supplies to its residents. This left an increasingly frustrated and desperate mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulín Cruz, to eventually send what she called a public ‘mayday’ call, saying, “People are dying in this country. I am begging, begging anyone that can hear us, to save us from dying.” Trump responded to this plea for help by criticizing Cruz for her “poor leadership,” calling her a “politically motivated ingrate” who was “nasty to Trump.” In the meantime, the Royal Caribbean cruise line and Lin-Manuel Miranda are picking up his slack. Which is definitely the most 2017 sentence I’m going to write this week. (Note: If you want to be a better human than our 45th President on this issue, several sources recommend donating to The Hispanic Federation’s efforts.)
- Immigration Inconsolate. The administration took a number of follow-up swings at immigrants this week, in addition to the horrifying treatment of U.S. citizens in PR detailed above. First news broke that the administration wants to set this year’s refugee cap at 45,000 people total, which is 65,000 lower than President Obama set the cap before leaving office in 2016, and literally the lowest cap ever set since we started the practice in 1980. Then for an encore, the administration finalized plans to collect social media info of permanent and naturalized immigrants, which both infringes on the rights of U.S. citizens and also is just a disgusting and nebulous invasion of privacy, since it will mainly be used on people who already lawfully reside in the United States. And after that, the administration wrapped up a four-day retaliatory ICE raid on places they deemed sanctuary jurisdictions called “Project Safe City,” which resulted in 500 arrests from ten locations. (My state of Massachusetts, perversely, was targeted because of a recent Mass Supreme Judicial Court decision.) A little under half of those arrested had no criminal history at all, despite the name of the operation.
- Moore is Less (but More in AL). Roy Moore carried Alabama in the primary for special election this week, defeating GOP favorite Luther Strange. Though some Democrats were cautiously happy about this, the victory has troubling implications for both parties if Moore can’t be defeated in the actual election, as he’s an extremely far-right candidate favored by Steve Bannon. That said, Moore faces an unusually strong Democratic opponent, so the seat is far from guaranteed. (The special election is December 12, so there will be a lot of time for things to progress from here.)
- The CHIPs Are Down. The LA Times reported on Sunday that Congress had failed to renew the Children’s Health Insurance Program — a program that provides coverage for nearly nine million children annually — before breaking for the weekend. It will be another week or more the error can be rectified. The worst part? It apparently wasn’t even on purpose, because the Senate Finance Committee had already had a deal on the table for five years of funding. The Senate was just distracted by the Graham-Cassidy circus and failed to enact CHIP funding in the three full days they had after they decided not to vote on Graham-Cassidy. I can’t even with this Congress, y’all.
- Mass Shooting in Las Vegas. A country music concert on the Strip in Las Vegas turned deeply horrific yesterday, when a gunman with 23 firearms in his thirty-second-story hotel room indiscriminately rapid-fired at thousands of people. Over five hundred people were injured, and fifty-nine people were killed. The shooter was identified posthumously as Steven Paddock, a 66-year-old white man from Mesquite, Nevada. He had no criminal record and no documented mental health issues. He also had no documented ties to any terrorist organizations (ISIS initially claimed credit for his attack, but ISIS would claim credit for Hurricane Maria if they knew who to call about it, so they’re not exactly credible). The attack left the nation reeling and re-opened conversations about gun control just as Congress was due to consider a bill rolling back silencer provisions, which likely will be tabled in the wake of the tragedy. Trump has said he plans to visit Las Vegas on Wednesday.
- Graham-Cassidy Bill is Dead in the Water. Mitch McConnell announced on Tuesday that the Senate would not vote on Graham-Cassidy this past week, which means they aren’t voting on this bill at all (because reconciliation requires a vote by Saturday). This is unfortunately not the same as definitely not repealing Obamacare, as was noted above, but at least now we officially know Graham-Cassidy has gone the same route as the July bills. In the aftermath, Lindsey Graham had some interesting things to say about healthcare, Trump lied about a mystery senator in the hospital, and both Trump and Ryan went back to yelling about the filibuster rule. So it was a big of a mixed bag, but at least we can sleep a bit easier for now.
- Dems Flip Seats. The Hill reported this past week that Democrats flipped seats in two state special elections this week, in Florida and New Hampshire. This is in addition to two seats flipped earlier in the month in New Hampshire and Oklahoma, for a total of eight flipped seats in state elections since May. It’s slow progress, but concrete progress nonetheless.
Just like last week, the news required multiple drafts this week — the news cycle is still pedals-to-the-metal at the moment. Daily news summaries like WTFJHT remain a very good idea for the foreseeable future. Here’s hoping that next week brings better tidings!