Well, this week is definitely making up for lost time. It’s like all relevant parties tried News Week Lite last week and decided it wasn’t enough calories, so this week has three extra helpings of Modern Flavor Trash Fire. But there’s a lot of good news, too — turns out some of it makes a good Garbage Bin Flambe — so it could be worse.
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 a congressional hearing! — 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:
There was a lot of Casual Disregard of Governing Norms this week, even by our ordinary standards — it’s like the executive branch was saving up for a special occasion. Here are the wacko highlights:
- Mick Mulvaney’s Surprisingly Honest Corruption.* Mick Mulvaney gave a surprisingly honest account of his own policy-making practice at an American Bankers’ Association conference this week. Between acknowledging that he only talked to lobbyists who pay him and telling people his plans to get around consumer protection bureau regulations, it was a real rousing endorsement of democratic process.
- Pruitt Proceedings. Scott Pruitt testified in a congressional hearing this week, defending his multiple scandals with the ever-popular ‘I didn’t know about it, it was my staff, I’m just incompetent’ defense. Unsurprisingly, House Democrats were not impressed with these defenses, with ranking Democrat Frank Pallone point-blank telling Pruitt, “You are unfit to hold public office and undeserving of the public trust.” But despite political pressure (and Pallone’s frankly accurate observations), Pruitt still rolled out new regulations this week limiting data use in EPA reports. Though he argues the new regulations are about transparency in reporting, experts say the new rules could force the EPA to ignore major scientific studies moving forward. So he’s clearly not going gentle into that good night anytime soon.
- Michael Cohen Mayhem. There was a lot of movement on Michael Cohen, Stormy Daniels, and Trump’s role in it all this week, and absolutely all of it was pretty bonkers. First Michael Cohen indicated he plans to invoke the Fifth Amendment (which permits him to refuse to testify if that would incriminate him in a criminal case) to delay the Stormy Daniels case. It’s a savvy move, given the larger criminal investigation at play, because the criminal judge can take notice of anything said in the civil case — but it still has potential to backfire spectacularly. In that criminal case, incidentally, Trump graciously offered to personally review all of the materials seized from the Cohen raid “to aid in privilege review.” Judge Kimba Wood of course denied this, presumably after she stopped laughing, and instead tapped a former federal judge for the task. And speaking of Trump, he also announced on national television that Cohen did represent him on the Stormy Daniels matter (even as he tried to distance himself from the raid in the same interview).
There was a fair amount happening this week on the Russia Investigation front too, as several different interrelated issues moved forward. Here’s a summary of the main things to know:
- Mueller Protection Legislation (Again). This bill appeared stalled earlier in the week, after concerns that the bill may overstep its constitutional authority led Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley to introduce an amendment to the bill that left ranking Democrat Diane Feinstein fit to be tied. But on Wednesday night, Grassley released a new version with his amendment removed, and with that change in place the bill did indeed go through the committee with a 14–7 vote. It’s unclear what will happen with the bill from here, particularly in light of McConnell’s vocal opposition to even allowing a vote, but presumably we’ll all find out together!
- Sessions Dodge Spectacular. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said some pretty noteworthy stuff indirectly about the Mueller investigation this week. When speaking with a U.S. House appropriations panel on Wednesday, Sessions refused to appoint a second special counsel to investigate Hillary Clinton, saying that such an investigation “can really take on a life of its own.” Then, just in case we didn’t know what he was talking about, towards the end of the hearing he said Mueller’s investigation “needs to conclude.” (He also refused to clarify whether he would recuse himself from the Cohen investigation or whether he talked to White House staff about it at all.)
- House ‘Intelligence’ Committee Findings.* The House Intelligence Committee officially released their formal report this week, which concluded that there was no evidence of Trump colluding with Russia in its attempts to meddle in the 2016 election. Trump of course wasted no time yelling about how this proves the Mueller investigation is a witch hunt. But the timing of the report release is curious, because it coincides with evidence surfacing that supports the pee tape allegations — excuse me, the Steele dossier — and news that the Russian attorney who met with Trump campaign officials has official ties to the Kremlin. So I sure hope that 220-page report makes a good door stop, because concurrent news suggests it’s not useful for much else.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- Kris Kobach’s Filing Issues. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach showed the world he doesn’t know how to use the Word comments feature or a red pen this week, leaving notes in the body of a federal filing such as “PROBABLY NOT WORTH ARGUING?” and “[It] has been illegal to register to vote in Kansas for years” and “CITE [GOES HERE].” And though it’s fun to laugh at Kris Kobach’s apparent lack of proofreading, the underlying case is pretty important — it’s an ACLU case about voting rights in Kansas, and this is far from the first thing he has done to draw a judge’s ire. His lack of credibility can have real impact on voting policy, and that in turn can have impact in November.
- White House Dinner Party Madness. This was a weird week for White House dinners. First the White House hosted its first state dinner for French President Emmanuel Macron, inviting literally one Democrat on the entire guest list (Louisiana governor John Bel Edwards) and not many politicians in general. They did, however, invite current Apple CEO Tim Cook, who brought Obama’s former head of the EPA as his plus-one. But the dinner people are really talking about from this week was the White House correspondents’ dinner on Saturday, where Michelle Wolf roasted our current political reality so hard I think she burned the room down. While Trump snubbed the dinner a second year to go hold a campaign rally in Michigan and criticize the media, Michelle Wolf literally called him ‘possibly responsible for the collapse of the republic.’ And she also told a room full of media that they enabled and permitted Trump’s rise to power. But weirdly, all everybody wants to talk about is her comments on Sarah Huckabee’s eyeliner — we live in the worst-written timeline, y’all.
- I’m Sorry, Ron Jackson, You Are a Heel. First Ronny Jackson’s confirmation hearing was postponed amid significant scandal, with multiple sources alleging that he handed out so many drugs people called him ‘the Candyman,’ drank on the job, and oversaw a hostile work environment. Then, as the details trickling in became weirder and weirder — he didn’t just drink on the job, for example; he wrecked a government vehicle while drunk — eventually this week his nomination was withdrawn entirely. He’s also no longer welcome back as a White House physician. And since Mike Pompeo managed to get confirmed as Secretary of State this same week, I can’t decide if the whole thing says more about Jackson or Pompeo.
- Macron Failed Bromance.* As suggested by the state dinner, French President Emmanuel Macron visited Trump this past week to try to talk some sense into him on the Iran deal. Sadly, Macron didn’t exactly end the week optimistic, calling Trump’s abrupt policy reversals “insane” and saying he thinks the US will exit the Iran deal within the month. So I guess the bromance is over. At any rate, Trump has until May 12 to decide, which means we’ll know more soon.
- HUD Dare You. This was a bad week for most things real estate, I tell you what. Ben Carson announced plans to make HUD recipients pay more rent, including disabled and elderly tenants, both by increasing minimum payments and by increasing income percentage payments to 35% of recipients’ income. Y’all, I have a lot of news to get to, so I’m not sure I can take the time to unpack exactly what an appallingly bad policy proposal this is — but suffice to say, I’m not sure a dude who can’t buy a chair for under $5K should get to throw any stones. Meanwhile, news also broke that HUD insured Sean Hannity’s real estate empire, issuing mortgages that allowed him to buy $22.27M in property — and under Carson’s watch the loans increased by $5M. I guess if you need $15,000 from HUD you’re a freeloader, but if you need $5,000,000 you’re a dear friend.
- Incel-Related Tragedy. A driver in Toronto intentionally drove into a crowd of pedestrians this week, killing ten people and injuring fifteen more. The driver faces ten murder charges, but police are not using the t-word at this time. This is confusing, because the dude apparently posted “The Incel rebellion has already begun!” to Facebook ten minutes before killing a bunch of people, also noting that “we will overthrow all the Chads and Stacys” — in other words, he posted ideology contextualizing his unprovoked act of violence, which is pretty much a textbook definition of terrorism. Toronto police, get your act together.
- Immigration Updates. The travel ban oral arguments happened this week, and Justice Kennedy’s line of questioning bodes poorly for Team You are Welcome Here. (Although that said, I enjoy Bloomberg’s theory that Kagan plans to work on him.) We still have a bit of time before a decision will be made, which means the fifteen-month saga will continue on for now. In the meantime, the Department of Homeland Security announced that it will end TPS for Nepal in June 2019, marking the fifth TPS program to be terminated in the past year. And about 150 people from Latin America arrived at the border this week, ending the pilgrimage of the once-thousand-person caravan of asylum seekers — only to be told they couldn’t be processed and remain stuck at the Mexican border.
- Trump Tribal Sovereignty Challenge. This week’s How Is This Real News? award goes to Trump signaling that he plans to revoke centuries-old federal recognition of Native tribal sovereignty over Medicaid work requirements, of all things, because — and again, I can’t believe I’m not making this up — it would “raise…federal civil rights law concerns” to recognize a sesquicentennial history of legal precedent. The administration’s entire argument is so asinine I’m convinced even they see the straw peeking out, so suffice to say I hope they don’t double down.
- Arizona Special Election. Though Democrats did not end up carrying the Arizona special election, they did close the gap to a five-point advantage in a district that went to Trump by more than twenty points in 2016. The special election is yet another sign that things are not looking great for Republicans as we gear up for the November election, or even the upcoming Ohio special election.
- Recent Resilience Decisions. This was another great week for governing decisions in both judicial and state executive branches. On the judicial front, a DC district court judge found the rescission of DACA arbitrary and capricious, giving the Trump administration 90 days to come up with a better reason or start accepting new DACA applications. Meanwhile, another federal judge threw out Paul Manafort’s case challenging the validity of the special counsel investigation. The city of Seattle asked the Seattle Municipal Court to vacate all convictions for marijuana misdemeanor charges in the jurisdiction, including those that took place before the 2012 legalization. And in minor miracle territory, Jeff Sessions walked back his threat to cut off funding from the Vera Institute’s immigration program. So a good week on several fronts.
- North Korea News. North Korea and South Korea agreed to end their decades-long war at the end of a historic summit this week. Kim Jong-un also has agreed to denuclearize on the condition that the United States not invade him any time soon. The agreement is short on specifics, but it’s still a promising piece of news.
So that’s what I have for now, and I think we can all agree it is more than enough. I’ll be back next week, and if you need anything before then, feel free to ping the National News Roundup ask box — send me questions! Send me feedback! Send me trash fire recipes!