National News Roundup: Week 6 (February 26-March 4)
This week, ho boy, where do I even start. Everybody doubled down like they were eating fried food at KFC — literally everybody. The Trump administration. The Democrats. The free press. The dog. (Admittedly, that last one might be just me; we had some Rabbit Adventures in Dogsitting.) This is definitely a weird week news cycle, y’all.
Standard disclaimers still 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. I may touch on news I think folks should know that is outside my area as a legal generalist, but if we undertake any offroad adventures I’ll do my best to signal that for you upfront by giving that headline an asterisk. Let’s get this show on the road.
- Oscars in La La Land. The Oscars took a turn for the weird this past week, when they erroneously announced the wrong movie won Best Picture — a particularly obnoxious slight when you consider that the movie that did win was the first movie with an all-black cast to ever do so. Of course the media wasted no time reporting embarrassing details of the events both onstage and offstage. Also, quite inevitably, somebody got fired for it.
- Kellyanne Conway Couch Controversy. In what is, somewhat incredibly, not the most asinine controversy of the week, Kellyanne Conway was photographed sitting with her feet on the couch during a meeting of historically black colleges and universities at the White House. Conway then proceeded to explain that she “meant no disrespect” by it — belied by both the photo itself (come on, she is literally flopped on a cushy couch on her phone, and nobody sits in that position in business dress with their shoes still on) and the fact that she couldn’t even remember the acronym for ‘HBCU’ when discussing the event. And it’s a shame that we’re all talking about Conway’s lack of decorum, because apparently the event itself was a whitewashed horrorshow and there was very little opportunity for discussion, despite valid concern about these universities losing federal funding when Trump’s new executive order on the topic is implemented.
- Steak-a-Largo. Remember how I said the story above was not the most asinine controversy of the week? That honor belongs to our weird fixation with how Trump eats steak, which keeps coming up in the news this week for some reason. (I find this baffling for many reasons; it’s not like the dude’s steak habits changed in the past week.) Though that said, I don’t eat much red meat and even I know eating steak well-done is weird and gross, so I guess I can respect the fascination.
- Paul Ryan’s National Treasure. Absolutely the weirdest substantive news to happen this week was Paul Ryan putting his healthcare proposal under lock and key, and Rand Paul and Steny Hoyer’s resulting adventures trying to access it. I don’t believe Paul proved successful, but it did spark a whole meme on Twitter, which was kind of entertaining. Needless to say, while it’s not unusual for a majority party to draft legislation without input from the minority, keeping the provision locked and hidden away from majority party members is a bit less common.
- Somehow Uber is Still in the News. Apparently Uber isn’t yet tired of receiving negative press literally every week, because they were in the news again twice this week — first for a video of the CEO dismissing a driver’s concerns with obscenities, and then for a program called Greyball that it used to evade police investigation in locations where it operated illegally. And gosh, this sure couldn’t be happening to a nicer company.
- Trump Gets Lauded For Reading a Teleprompter… Okay, fine, actually what happened was he addressed Congress, and managed to not have a public meltdown midway through for once in his short nascent Presidency. You can read both the transcript and a fact-checking summary online. I recommend following with Alexandra Petri’s excellent article lambasting press coverage of the event, which nicely highlights why this bit of news went in the ‘weird’ column.
- …but Loses It Again Pretty Immediately. The positive news didn’t even last a full twenty-four hours (and we’ll talk more about why below), and Trump reverted back to form by screaming on Twitter before the week had ended. There’s a whole laundry list of things to pick from, but I think his claims that Democrats are colluding with Russia and that President Obama was tapping his phone at Trump Tower top that list. (Although that last one would be almost reasonable if it were less extreme or had sources, given the recent news about Obama aides preserving intelligence during the election.)
- Betsy DeVos Illustrates the Merits of a Public Education. Apparently DeVos’s private education did not include instruction on Separate But Equal precedent, because she referred to HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities) as “real pioneers [of] school choice” in an official Department of Education press release this week. She then did a strange combination of backpedaling and doubling down in response to criticism, stating that “your history was born, not out of mere choice, but out of necessity, in the face of racism” and concluding that HBCUs “remain at the forefront of opening doors that had previously been closed to so many.” Somehow we ended right back at voucher programs, as well as the recent executive order on HBCUs (which moves HBCUs directly under Presidential control) — presumably because she also didn’t learn the definition of the word ‘choice.’
- Suspects and Spidey-Senses. Remember the news item from last week about Jewish bomb threats reaching a boiling point? Like clockwork, a Manhattan District Court now has a suspect on several of the bomb threats. But the story doesn’t make a lot of sense, and my Spidey senses are tingling on this. I don’t think they’ve actually picked up someone responsible (and even if he is found guilty, he’s only charged with eight bomb threats out of the 121 reported since January). I know we’re not here for my armchair analysis, so I’ll keep the tangents to a minimum, but the whole thing is strange enough to land in the ‘weird’ news column.
- Autocratic State of the Nation. As always, here is the link to Amy Siskind’s weekly authoritarianism watch review. Some, but not all, of her work is reproduced here, and I recommend checking out her list.
- Sessions Breaking Bad. Sessions was in the news a lot this week, and almost none of it was anything good. First in a move I can only professionally describe as “not very nice,” he withdrew official AG support from the plaintiffs of a Texas voter suppression case the day before the scheduled argument, instead throwing his support behind the defendant state government. Then on Wednesday, it came out that Sessions had met with a Russian envoy twice during the campaign, despite making statements in his confirmation hearings to the contrary under oath. That kicked up a giant storm about whether Sessions had committed perjury, with multiple Democrats and a few Republicans calling for his resignation. The one silver lining in all of this is that he finally recused himself from the Russia investigation as a result of it all, though that’s a far cry from the resignation being discussed.
- Checking the Cabinet. More cabinet positions were filled in this week, with Secretaries of HUD, Interior, and Energy all now confirmed — with Ben Carson, Ryan Zinke, and Rick Perry respectively (and God help us on that last one). I admit I’m not looking forward to Ben Carson serving as Secretary of HUD either, though that might be a more localized issue.
- This Week in ICE Atrocity. A DREAMer was arrested at a press conference this past week in Mississippi, despite the Department of Homeland Security indicating that this population was not supposed to be targeted; at least one source is reporting that ICE is pursuing immediate deportation without a hearing on her case. On a larger scale, the current administration is also considering a new policy that would separate mothers and children upon apprehension at the border. The proposed policy, which would release children to state custody but hold parents, might be related to a class action suit approved this week that claims ICE forces adult detainees into unpaid labor while they are held — after all, that’s presumably harder to do if the detainee has children in tow. I plan to write more about the lawsuit, which touches upon several different areas of my expertise, in the near future; for now, suffice to say that this lawsuit is A Big Deal.
- Bomb Threats Keep Coming. As noted above, we’re now up to 121 total bomb threats at Jewish community centers and three instances of mass grave desecration in St Louis, Philadelphia, and Rochester.
- But Their Emails. Pence and Pruitt are both in the hotseat right now over email controversies — Pence apparently used an AOL account for official gubernatorial business when he was governor of Indiana, and Pruitt apparently lied in his confirmation hearings as well (though on the topic of personal email, rather than Russia). Probably nothing will come of it, but it’s fascinating nonetheless.
- Moonlight Makes History. The Oscars did have a lot of cool history this week! As noted above, Moonlight was the first movie with an all-black cast to ever win Best Picture. It was also the first time a Muslim actor has ever won an Oscar at all (Mahershala Ali, who won best supporting actor for his work on the same movie).
- Police Chief Objections. There was one glimmer of positivity regarding immigration this week; over sixty police enforcement heads signed a letter registering complaint about the idea of police being deputized as ICE agents.
- Changes at the National Security Council. Flynn’s successor is rolling back several of the changes Flynn made, which might include Bannon’s position on the council — though we’ll need to wait and see on that last part.
- Travel Ban Postponed Again. Though there were two executive orders signed this week, neither of them were the oft-referenced new travel ban document. They can just keep pushing this one back another four years, as far as I’m concerned, though I doubt anybody will follow my advice on that one.
And that’s all the news that’s fit to print today!