National News Roundup: Week 39 (October 15–21)
I saw an article that described this week as a “terrible week for Trump.” Needless to say, as a general rule, a bad week for Trump is a good week for the rest of America, and this week appears to be no exception. Though we’re not out of the woods by any means — in fact, some really concerning things did happen this week — we reached a bit of a summit in the slow slog back to a healthy country. It’s nice to have some news to report this week that’s actually good.
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 Facebook staff! — 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 pretty all over the map this week — the short version is that the investigation is working, kind of, but what we’re learning is not awesome:
- Best Fake Russian Propaganda in Texas. A surreal story hit this week about an extremely effective Russian propaganda machine on Facebook that was successfully convincing Texans they wanted to secede from the country. The group had over 225,000 followers and was only taken down last week, which is kind of horrifying. Perhaps most importantly, they reached out to a real, existing Texas secessionist group and asked them to participate in anti-Hillary rallies during the 2016 election. So that’s…. a thing that happened and fooled almost a quarter million people.
- Social Media Ad Disclosure. In light of the first news item of the week, it’s not surprising that Congress has introduced a bill to force social media platforms to disclose who buys ads. The bill, called the Honest Ads Act, would require social media platforms to conform to the process used for television and radio ads. It would also require tech companies to maintain a record of who purchases ads, which is not surprising since destroyed records have been a real issue in the Russia investigation.
- Sessions (Lack of) Testimony. Attorney General Jeff Sessions testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee this week regarding Trump, Comey, Russia, and a variety of other investigation-related things. Credible outlets issuing live coverage pretty much uniformly reported that he cited privilege and dodged questions about most of these topics, although Sessions did disclose that he has not met with Special Counsel Robert Mueller at all. And, most notably from my perspective, he refused to commit to avoiding jailing reporters for doing their job, which I can’t believe isn’t getting more air time. All in all, it was very noteworthy testimony based on what he didn’t say.
- Social Media to Testify. And speaking of both social media and testifying, Twitter and Facebook are both scheduled to testify before congressional committees on November 1. (Well, their general counsel, at any rate; trying to get the apps to testify probably wouldn’t be very fruitful!) It will be interesting to see what happens with their testimony, to say the least.
This has really not been a good week on the Threats to Civil Rights front either:
- Somehow We’re Still Talking about the NFL.* The latest is that Trump launched a petition against the NFL because it won’t make a rule forcing players to stand. Though the owner of the Jaguars thinks Trump is jealous of the league, I think this is much more about testing boundaries to see when and how he can successfully silence voices of color — in part because he’s testing boundaries First Amendment issues of every stripe right now. I’m honestly kind of pleasantly surprised that the NFL isn’t playing ball with him. (See what I did there?)
- DeVos Has No IDEA. Betsy DeVos rescinded 72 guidance documents this past week that provide special education protections under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the Rehabilitation Act. It’s a particularly obnoxious move given her apparent “confusion” on the topic during her confirmation hearing as well as a recent Supreme Court case requiring more guidance on the topic for schools, not less.
- Immigrants Need Not Apply.* Among other challenges faced by lawful permanent residents who immigrate to this country, this administration recently implemented challenging delays to service in the military and a full bar to service for some branches. They are no longer allowed to enlist in some part-time branches, and cannot begin basic training before lengthy background checks are completed. Because military service opens the door to many types of opportunity and career advancement in this country, policies that bar people from enlisting have a variety of collateral consequences. Simply put: It’s one more form of discrimination on the pile.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- The Trump Reality Show Continues. I’m not going to dwell, simply because the most sensationalist chest-thumping seems like a vacuous distraction rather than a credible threat. But this week Trump continued the ongoing reality show, issuing more threats to McCain after the latter criticized his bonkers foreign policy and badly botching condolence calls after several soldiers were lost in Niger. Adding to the surreal reality-show feel of current politics, Dubya also said his piece about Trump (although he declined to mention him by name at any point). It’s been strange, y’all.
- Tax Reform News.* The Senate passed a tax reform initiative this week along partisan lines, squeaking out the bare minimum of votes needed despite bloc opposition from Democrats (and Rand Paul). I place this under the ‘weird’ column rather than the ‘bad’ column for several reasons: First of all, few people have even seen the bill, despite its success on the floor; as this first fact suggests, the bill is being rushed for a variety of reasons (which I can only hope to speculate about, since the Hill is a such bizarre quagmire right now). But they are using the reconciliation process — which you may remember from the summer’s ACA Repeal Greatest Hits — to pass Go and collect their $200 without working with Democrats. And that process is inherently kind of tricky and complicated, which makes it odd that they are trying to rush and also use it. Senator Corker’s recent outbursts have caused some pundits to speculate that tax reform is the only thing keeping the GOP on board with Trump’s egregious and dangerous Presidency; if they’re right, the tax reform efforts are also odd because they’re being treated like a final hurdle to impeachment.
- 9/11 Executive Order Part 2. With very little fanfare, Trump signed an executive order on Friday that piggybacked on a 2001 order responding to 9/11. The 2001 order declared a state of national emergency in response to recent terrorist attack and granted the President power to recall retired troops into service. Trump’s order also declares a state of emergency, Because Reasons, and allows him to recall up to 1,000 retired Air Force personnel, because the branch apparently has had staffing issues for some time. The order’s vague reference to an ‘emergency’ is very concerning, given that no obvious terrorist-based emergency has happened; some readers are also interpreting it to permit recall of other branches as well. (And if you’re noting the staffing shortages referenced in this section and asking yourself why this administration is also limiting who is allowed to serve based on citizenship, I too am asking that.)
- Water Struggles in Puerto Rico.* Puerto Rico still does not have clean water, and desperate denizens are starting to try their luck at hazardous waste sites. Though CNN is claiming the water is safe to drink, health officials remain very concerned about its consumption for obvious reasons. The EPA has placed guards at some of the Superfund sites while it conducts more testing of the water.
- California is Still Burning. As I write this on Monday evening, wildfires are still burning in California wine country, though fires are being reported as 90% contained. Experts are estimating at least 8,400 structures have been damaged, including some schools, and the death count has risen to 42 people. Experts think the fires will be out very soon, and I really hope they are right.
- Courts are Having None of this Nonsense There were several very prominent court wins this week, and they are all very edifying! Federal district courts in both Hawaii and Maryland have suspended the new travel ban, finding that the changes to the order do not overcome the issues that have plagued the ban since its inception. (And if you’re confused about the ridiculous number of versions of this ban, ABC has your back with a helpful summary and timeline.) But we also heard from the federal district court judge who was handling Joe Arpaio’s case; she held that his pardon does not vacate his conviction. The language of that four-page opinion is satisfyingly crisp; I particularly enjoy her note that the pardon “does not blot out guilt.”
- ACA First Aid. Only a few days after Trump announced that he won’t be covering ACA subsidies moving forward, bipartisan senators reached a deal on a stabilization package that would fund the subsidies for two years. Though there are still a lot of uncertainties, and Republican response was predictably mixed, experts appear to be cautiously optimistic about the likelihood that this will both pass and fix a number of issues long-term. This week also saw the introduction of the Protect Access to Birth Control Act, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like; it overrides Trump’s attempt to limit the coverage mandate. (Interestingly, Senator Patty Murray was an author of both bills.) And though it’s not a legislative action per se, the IRS has announced they will strictly enforce insurance disclosure mandates this year — a move that will likely help stabilize markets a bit and encourage people who can afford health coverage to seek it. All of these actions signal continual commitment to retaining the ACA from legislators.
And that’s what I have; some good, some bad, overall a bit less horrifying than normal. But the news is still moving very quickly, so daily news summaries like WTFJHT remain a very good idea for the foreseeable future. Let’s see if we can keep this streak going!