National News Roundup: Week 52 (We’ve Come Full Circle!)
The National News Roundup is one year old today! And what a year it’s been, ye gods. Relatedly, it’s also been quite an anniversary week — the only real bright spot is that Trump had to sulk at the White House all weekend because a government shut down forced him to skip his fancy inaugural party at Mar-A-Lago. Go ahead and drink deeply from that schadenfreude spring; we won’t judge.
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 Olympic athlete! — 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:
We actually did see a bit on the Russia Collusion Investigation front this week, but it was overshadowed by all the other rings of the circus happening simultaneously. Here’s what you may have missed:
- Bannon Brouhaha Two: Electric Bugaloo.* Well, Steve Bannon did indeed testify before the House Committee this past week, but he didn’t answer any questions, claiming ‘executive privilege’ every time he was asked things about Trump and slowly making the House Committee want to strangle him. (The House Committee is considering a contempt citation, in fact, because as Rep Peter King says, ‘I have contempt for Bannon anyway.’) Then it came out that the White House instructed Bannon to be obstreperous in the hearing. Since ‘executive privilege’ isn’t exactly a thing in Bannon’s case, this is probably another instance of obstruction of justice on Trump’s part. It will definitely be interesting to see what Mueller does with this in his own questioning process.
There were unfortunately multiple other constitutional crisis moments this week as well, for the first time in a little while, and the remaining topics really get my goat. First we have a Separation of Powers issue:
- You Don’t Get to Skip the Ninth Circuit. After a federal judge held last week that Trump’s rescission of DACA must be partially revoked, the Trump administration asked the Supreme Court to hear the case directly, attempting to skip right over the Ninth Circuit appeals court (despite being forced to file an appeal there as well). Sessions is calling this a ‘rare step,’ which is putting it mildly — in actuality, it’s probably an executive overreach. In addition to ignoring ordinary legal process, the executive branch is attacking the judicial branch with the request, because it’s trying to co-opt and subvert judicial procedure. I’m hoping the Supreme Court will just slap down the request and the case will go to the Ninth Circuit like normal, but I guess we’ll have to see what happens.
And last but not least, this week featured another round of First Amendment Attacks, because Trump finally got around to his inane Corrupt Media Awards and also made life harder for marginalized people.
- Steven Colbert Was Snubbed.* After several technical difficulties, Trump did eventually have his ‘fake news awards’ this week (which did not include Steven Colbert in the proceedings, despite his best efforts). As several media outlets have noted, ‘first place’ went to an opinion-editorial, and several other ‘awards’ were given to tweeted statements or quickly-corrected early drafts of stories. But even though these awards are ridiculous, they’re also really dangerous; they normalize the idea that a sitting President is allowed to call out news organizations by name and reinforce suspicion of the President’s disfavored outlets (such as CNN). Plus, they’re really just super tacky.
- Religious Freedom to Discriminate. Early in the week, Trump celebrated ‘religious freedom day’ (which is a real thing, going back to 1993) by condoning intolerance in a written statement riddled with dog whistles. Generally his dog whistles signal something, and this turned out to be no exception; later that same week, the Department of Health and Human Services announced a new ‘Conscience and Religious Freedom Division’ of the Office of Civil Rights, and guess what it does? (If your guess was ‘back health workers who refuse to treat people,’ you win a prize! Unfortunately, the prize is… health workers who refuse to treat people. Better luck next time!) This decision appears to be related to this administration’s refusal to grant abortions to teenage immigrants, and was announced the day before Trump spoke at a pro-life rally — but more on that below. Unsurprisingly, the ACLU has already announced an intent to sue.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- This Week in Trump. This was an uncommonly weird week of Trump watching, even by our modern standards, and none of it exactly inspires confidence. First there was the hoopla around Trump’s yearly physical, which he used to get a doctor to claim that he has no cognitive or mental issues and also that he has great genes (yes, really) — though of course, this doesn’t exactly guarantee that he’s a good President. Meanwhile, the story broke that Donald Trump paid a porn star $130,000 in hush money because he didn’t want her to disclose that he slept with her during Barron’s infancy — behavior that even said porn star observed wasn’t exactly stellar. (We also learned from this story that like all people stuck in the ’80s, Trump really hates sharks.) The entire intrepid affair is disturbing, but not for the reasons getting media attention — simply put, it implies practices and personality exploitable by blackmail. Of course, both the clean bill of health and the prurient past made a very surreal backdrop when Trump eventually spoke to the March for Life on Friday and complained that the law allows babies to be born in the ninth month of pregnancy (again, yes really). One presumes that he meant to complain about… c-sections, I guess? I’m actually not even sure. All in all, this week’s Trump news gets points for originality but marks off for its execution.
- Shutdown Show Down. The shutdown circus has been a wild ride, I don’t mind telling you. After early attempts at a bipartisan bill in the Senate failed, and the White House made it clear they wouldn’t play ball on reinstating DACA, Democrats started refusing to vote for the House bill because it did not provide any protection for DACA recipients. Then Mitch McConnell put severe pressure on Democrats, goading them and telling them that they had to choose whether they wanted CHIP or DACA. This made them double down, of course, and the whole thing officially went off the rails on Friday, causing an official partial shutdown. Eventually Mitch McConnell told the Democrats he definitely would allow a vote on DACA if they would just vote to turn the government back on, and managed to get enough votes to resume government action until February 8 (although 18 Democrats still voted against the measure, holding out for DACA reform). At this stage, the House has voted for the provision as well, and the White House signed it around 9:00. So the shutdown is officially over, at least for a few weeks.
- Travel Ban v. Seventy Million. The Supreme Court announced it will hear arguments on the Travel Ban 3.0, which has a lot of valid things to legally criticize to put it mildly. But the case won’t be heard until April — which means the ban will remain in effect until at least late June, which is the earliest we’re likely to get a decision. And of course, since the current version has no end date, a junk decision could mean we’re stuck with it indefinitely. (Meanwhile, we’re supposed to hear about the fate of Syrian TPS by the end of the month, and I’m sure that will be a hoot and a half too.)
- Other Immigration Updates. This was yet another truly awful week for immigration on a lot of other fronts as well. No More Deaths, a humanitarian effort based in Tuscon, published a report alleging that Border Patrol has intentionally destroyed over 3,500 gallons of potable water left for desperate migrants, as well as food and blankets, under a policy known as ‘Prevention by Deterrence.’ (The premise of the policy is simple: If you intentionally kill enough people trying to cross the border to the United States, fewer people will try it.) The report included videos of Border Patrol engaging in this practice as recently as last year. Meanwhile, Salvadorans and Haitians with temporary protected status were informed that they need to reregister within sixty days in order to keep their status, despite the programs winding down within the next eighteen months. And as an encore, Haitians were quietly removed from the list of workers eligible for seasonal visas in agriculture, creating fewer venues of lawful residence in the United States. This was, of course, only days after Trump disparaged the country in bipartisan negotiations. These policy changes, particularly taken in tandem, paint an ugly picture: An administration trying to locate all the lawfully residing Haitians and Salvadorans while systemically removing their lawful status, so that nearly 300,000 people will be easy to round up and deport as soon as they’re eligible in 2019. We need to be watching this, y’all.
- Korean Olympic News.* North and South Korea announced this week that they’ll be appearing under one flag for the opening ceremony of the 2018 Olympics, which is an exciting step. In addition to potentially signaling thawing relations, it’s also likely to be soothing to the South Koreans who have been watching an increasingly bombastic display between Trump and Kim Jong-un — it suggests that their President, Moon Jae-in, has been getting more of a voice in proceedings.
- Net Neutrality Lawsuits. Attorneys general from twenty-one states filed a lawsuit to block the net neutrality repeal this week, arguing (probably correctly) that the new rule hurts consumers and oversteps their Congressional authority. The suit was only one of many to emerge, as a plethora of entities made their displeasure with the policy known; at minimum, Mozilla and the Open Technology Institute have filed as well. It will be interesting to see whether these suits go anywhere, especially as they occur while Democrats in Congress try to use the Congressional Review Act to undo the move legislatively.
- Gerrymandering Jettisoned Part Deux. Following on the heels of last week’s news in North Carolina, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held today that Pennsylvania unconstitutionally gerrymandered as well, with the same issue — that the districts were drawn to intentionally favor Republicans. These districts will need to be redone before the 2018 election as well, and unlike the first case, this was based on the Pennsylvania constitution, not the federal one — so the decision is not appealable to the Supreme Court. I’m really excited to see what happens from here as a result! Also, as I noted last week, tossing district divisions based on partisan intent has historically been a very hard thing to get courts to do, so it’s nothing short of amazing that it’s suddenly raining redistricting!
And that’s all the news that I have for now! It’s been a week, but at least it’s just about over, which is probably the best I can say for it. Hang in there until next time!