National News Roundup: Week 51 (January 7–13)
The news continues to be Spectacular Spectacular this week, and not necessarily in a positive way. On the plus side, however, that appears to include some spectacularly good news, so at least it’s balanced. I’m hoping next week will be better, because hope springs eternal.
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 FBI agent! — 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:
It’s a bit quieter on the Russia Collusion Investigation front this week, but there’s still a lot happening. Here are the main highlights to know:
- Fusion GPS Transcript Release.* Diane Feinstein posted the entire transcript of the closed-door testimony of Fusion GPS’s founder, Glenn Simpson, before the Senate Judiciary Committee. (You may recall Fusion GPS and their hired associate, Michael Steele, as heavily involved in the assembly of the Pee Tape dossier — not that official news sources will call it that.) It’s all very confusing, and I say that having read both the transcript and expert analysis of it (particularly recommending Elizabeth McLaughlin’s citation-heavy analysis, though the New York Times analysis has lots of useful info also). So though it’s not precisely my area, here’s my $0.02 summary: Despite a lot of efforts to discredit Fusion GPS as a company and Diane Feinstein for releasing the transcript, I think Fusion GPS and Simpson absolutely know what they are doing, have experience investigating Russian organized crime in particular, and through Steele may have found credible indications of potential blackmail as well as collusion. We don’t have enough information at this stage to know what on Earth has actually happened, but we absolutely should be investigating this more; there’s a very real chance that Russia does indeed have kompromat and semi-consensual cooperation from a sitting President. In other words: BRING ON THE SALACIOUS SUBPOENAS.
- Steve Bannon Brouhaha.* Steve Bannon stepped down from his position at Breitbart this week, embattled after duking it out with Trump in the social media streets all week. This probably won’t mean much at the Breitbart end, since I’m sure they have an endless supply of snakes over there. But it’s great news for the House Investigation Committee, which is trying to get Bannon to testify right now. He’s hired an attorney to help him prepare, which might mean interesting things in the next few weeks. (Well, more interesting than watching Bannon and Trump sling mud at each other, which was admittedly pretty interesting before it got old.)
- FISA Fights.* The House reauthorized the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act this week, rejecting reforms that would better preserve civilian privacy. The Senate has voted to begin debate, and is likely to vote in the upcoming week. But weirdly, the biggest point of resistance at the moment appears to be Trump himself, who is now questioning some of the provisions — in part because Fox News is questioning them, and in part because he thinks they were used in part to create the Steele dossier. In other words, disturbingly, Trump actually might object to a sketchy thing remaining law because the sketchy thing happened to him. (It’s a shame this rare exhibit is unlikely to result in him growing some empathy, because that would be a welcome respite and fascinating to watch.)
Your “Normal” Weird:
- Guess Who’s Running Now. (No really, your guess is probably as good as mine.) This has been a weird and confusing week for discussing people’s plans to run for office. First Oprah Winfrey gave an excellent speech at the Golden Globes last Sunday, which somehow resulted in everybody talking about whether she should run for President (though Oprah herself has indicated no plans to run). In more concrete news, Chelsea Manning filed paperwork to run for the U.S. Senate seat in Maryland this week, but has firmly issued no comment about her plans to run. And never one to be left out, Arizona’s own anti-immigration sadist Joe Arpaio announced he’s running for the Senate now that Jeff Flake’s seat will be up for grabs — but he’s enough of a media hound that he might not have even filed paperwork. So… some famous people might or might not be running for things?
- Hawaii Nuclear Scare.* A false alarm was raised on Saturday that Hawaii had an incoming missile threat. The statement was walked back within the hour it was released, though that still was more than enough time to scare the daylights out of lots of Americans, particularly given our recent history with North Korea. It’s unclear what exactly caused the false report, but I think it’s fair to say we’re all glad to hear that it wasn’t actually true.
- Immigration Updates. There were a lot of developments on immigration this week, and all of them were terrible — the news has spent a lot of time on Trump’s famously racist remarks and the resulting did-he-or-didn’t-he-say-the-racist-thing aftermath, but a lot of other things snuck under the radar while the brouhaha happened above. For starters, the comments were made in the context of DACA negotiations that had bipartisan support but still appear to be going nowhere, in part due to Trump’s unwillingness to cooperate. Even worse, due to Trump’s apparent reluctance to grant legal status to people who — and I can’t stress this enough — had access to legal status before his administration took it away, we might not avoid a government shutdown this upcoming Saturday. Additionally, there’s a fourth teenage girl in ICE custody suing to gain access to a doctor to terminate her pregnancy, which is being uniformly barred as a matter of course for any pregnant women in custody — including at least one rape survivor. And finally, ICE conducted a systemic nation-wide raid on 98 different 7–11 franchise locations on Wednesday, arresting 21 people and presumably harassing over a hundred more. The raid was ostensibly to send a message to employers, but since Trump arrested workers and pardoned the executive involved in the infamous 2008 raids last month, it’s kind of hard to take that at face value.
- Not Gonna Work. The Trump administration opened the door to letting states require employment as a qualification for their Medicaid plans, which… is a terrible plan, frankly, particularly when most Medicaid recipient families already work. But that hasn’t stopped Kentucky, which has already been granted permission to do just that! Admittedly Kentucky is not alone in this; among the other states seeking permission are Arizona, Arkansas, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Utah and Wisconsin — and each state has slightly different proposed requirements, since states can be responsible for their own Medicaid plans within reason. Since many of the states will exempt the people who aren’t already working (namely children, elderly people, and people living with disabilities that prevent work), this appears to mostly be cruel window dressing. But hopefully that means it’s also easier to eventually reverse.
- Inexplicable Drilling Victory.* Ryan Zinke walked back his announcement that he would permit offshore drilling in Florida in the same week that he announced a draft plan to permit it. It’s not clear what motivated his sudden change of heart, though Florida governor Rick Scott (and probably money) was in some way involved. At any rate, I put this firmly in the category of “I don’t know what happened but I’m for it.”
- DACA Court Win. A federal court held this week that Trump’s rescission of DACA effective this year was illegal and must be partially revoked, and the decision comes just as Trump and Congressional officials are struggling to hold functional bipartisan meetings to revive the program. In the short term, Dreamers are being instructed to reapply, but there’s likely to be an appeal on this court case, so we need to watch it carefully.
- Gerrymandering Jettisoned.* In other awesome court news, a federal court also recently held that North Carolina unconstitutionally gerrymandered when it drafted districts in 2016 to intentionally favor Republicans. The court has ordered the state to redistrict by January 24, and Republicans are likely to appeal as well, so it’s going to be important to keep an eye on this as we move forward with 2018 elections. But tossing district divisions based on partisan intent has historically been a very hard thing to get courts to do, and it’s honestly really, really exciting that we saw it happen this week.
And thus continues our Extra Extra edition news — lots of news of pretty much every type, but that’s better than news that’s uniformly bad. I’m hopeful that we’ll get some more good news next week, but I guess we’ll all find out together! Until then, keep on keepin’ on.