National News Roundup: Year 2, Week 23 (June 24–30)
Okay, folks, this was yet another week of poor policy and protest, with a lot of good news reflecting the will of the populace and a lot of bad news reflecting an incredibly corrupt government. I’m making my peace with the semi-permanence of the new Very Bad and What We Can Do sections, as well as the unicorn chaser offering at the end of the roundup. Just like last week, The Good at the top has many items, and several involve ordinary citizens saying “This is not okay.” Because it isn’t, and the louder and more often we say it, the more of an effect that will have.
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 committee hearing! — but all offroad adventures are marked with an asterisk. Okay, I think that’s about it for the disclaimers. Onward to the news!
- Recent Immigration Resilience. Disgusted with the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy, seventeen states and the District of Columbia are suing to reunify the thousands of families separated at the border. And speaking of lawsuits, in a separate suit the ACLU convinced a federal court in California to order the administration to stop separating families and reunite the thousands already separated. These lawsuits also reflect the will of the country; over 750 Families Belong Together rallies in all 50 states saw turnout in the hundreds of thousands on Saturday as people turned up en masse to protest despite a major heat wave in much of the country. And prominent mainstream Democrats such as Kamala Harris and Kirsten Gillibrand are starting to talk seriously about dismantling ICE and CBP in the wake of the human rights abuses coming to light. The message is clear: Much of America finds this policy inhumane and unacceptable.
- Return to Catch and Release (We Hope). In light of the above court order, an executive order acknowledging children can’t currently be jailed long-term, and overwhelming logistical issues with detaining everyone, the administration appears to be reinstating catch-and-release protocols at the border. This return to a more humane policy is encouraging, although it’s unclear how long it will be in place and whether families already separated will indeed be reunited.
- Ocasio-Cortez Victory. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, a newcomer and millennial of color, beat out powerful incumbent Joe Crowley by a landslide in this past week’s primary in New York. Ocasio-Cortez ran on a platform of free education, affordable healthcare, and a livable working wage, which makes her victory even more striking. If she’s elected to the House, she’ll be the youngest woman ever elected to serve. I’m pretty jazzed about pretty much everything in this paragraph.
- Recent Court Resilience. Most of SCOTUS’s decisions this week were painful in the extreme, but they did decide this week that police can’t legally track people through their cell phone location without a warrant. This is a pretty major privacy rights win, especially in light of all of the other ways our rights are being challenged right now, so I’ll take it. (But I’m still mad at you, Justice Roberts.)
- Charlottesville Justice Moves Forward. James Alex Fields Jr, the man who drove a car into a crowd of protesters in Charlottesville last year, was charged with 28 federal counts of hate crime acts this week. Since I’ve heard Jeff Sessions, the guy who runs the Department of Justice these days, open his mouth literally ever, I’m genuinely shocked by his decision and statements on this case — it’s not like him to do this, and that makes me suspicious. Perhaps he’s planning to show that driving a car into a crowd of protesters isn’t actually a hate crime?
Constitutional Crisis Corners:
All this week’s Casual Disregard of Governing Norms ended up under the “very bad” section. That said, there were still a few noteworthy developments on the Russia Investigation front. Here’s a summary of the main things to know:
- Rogue’s Gallery Highlights.* Paul Manafort apparently owes $10M to a Russian oligarch with close ties to the Kremlin, which is not suspicious at all. Meanwhile, a former aide to Roger Stone was called to testify in the Russia investigation, and Michael Cohen is announcing that ‘his silence is broken’ because he interviewed with George Stephanopoulos on Saturday and clarified that his first loyalty is not to Trump.
- “Finish the Hell Up.”* Republicans in the House are still fighting with the Department of Justice and FBI, and this week was quite a spectacle. I think my favorite lowlight is Trey Gowdy telling Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein to “finish the hell up” with the investigation already (in the middle of a judiciary hearing, no less; at this rate we could replace daytime soaps with C-SPAN and nobody would notice). But I should also give a shout-out to the entire House GOP bloc demanding documents about Hillary’s emails they’re definitely never going to get by nonbinding resolution, which is its own special level of off-the-wall pettiness.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- Red Hen Hell. Despite lots of calls for ‘civility’ in the past week, the Red Hen aftermath is anything but. Restaurants with the misfortune to have the same name as the Virginia establishment are reporting harassment, the actually topical Red Hen restaurant was hit with a cyberattack and repeatedly doxxed, Trump used his office to tweet about the restaurant’s hygiene, and the Huckabees are blaming Red Hen owners for a picketing incident at a totally different restaurant. (Gosh, it’s almost like more than one person doesn’t like Sarah Huckabee Sanders.) Meanwhile, Huckabee Sanders is seeking a Secret Service detail over being politely asked to leave last week at the same time the RNC is airing a political ad entitled, ‘The Left in 2018: Unhinged.’ Overall, the picture emerging is that of a GOP beginning a concerted effort to portray liberal people as violent and dangerous (while simultaneously encouraging or ignoring harassment and other nasty behaviors in their own base). We should probably keep an eye on this.
- House DACA Debacle Concludes. The House ended up voting down the DACA bill from last week by a wide margin, with nearly as many GOP members voting against it as voting for it (despite Trump’s last-minute all-caps screed that everybody should vote for it). And now they’re on recess until July 10, so there’s definitely no movement on this for another week and a half at least. I’m shocked, just shocked, by this turn of events; aren’t you?
- Supreme Court Decisions. Aside from the privacy case above, the Supreme Court had a bad and baffling week, issuing several opinions that fly in the face of both legal precedent and good sense. The travel ban case was among those decided, with the Supreme Court holding by 5–4 vote that the ban didn’t violate the Establishment Clause despite Trump’s Islamophobic rhetoric; SCOTUS sent the case back to the lower courts for further action. There was also the NILFA case, another frustrating 5–4 decision, with the court concluding that pregnancy crisis centers aren’t subject to professional speech restrictions, which is a fancy way of saying they have a free speech right to lie to pregnant women about their own medical expertise as well as obfuscate the availability of abortions. And the week wrapped up with a gerrymandering decision that Texas didn’t intentionally discriminate when the state redistricted despite a lower court’s finding to the contrary and a holding that severely weakens union structures. I honestly don’t know of a single legal colleague happy about this week’s decisions — these decisions aren’t just disappointing in their conclusions; they’re also a worrying break from ordinary legal process, and Justice Kennedy announcing his retirement is even more cause for concern (but more on that below).
- Trade War News.* Another week, another set of steps towards a trade war that nobody but Trump appears to want. We’re particularly on thin ice with China, which is not great for China and indirectly hurting us as well (as Europe starts to work with China because nobody can work with the U.S. anymore). Meanwhile, Trump is threatening to leave the World Trade Organization and Canada has levied tariffs against us in retaliation for our weeks of bullying. And if you’re confused about how we even got here (because I sure am), you could do worse than read Bloomberg’s comprehensive summary of what the hell.
The Very Bad — Please Read It Anyway!:
- Shooting at the Capital Gazette. Five employees of the Capital Gazette, a news outlet in Annapolis, were shot dead in their newsroom on Thursday evening by an assailant intent on murdering the company’s news reporters. This tragedy is upsetting on multiple levels; on one level, this is a horrifying story about a violent stalker with a grudge killing people because several years ago they reported that he was a violent stalker with a grudge. But on another level, this is a terrifying story about increasing threats of violence and hostility against journalists crossing over into the realm of being actually carried out in the deadliest attack on journalists in our modern history — Jarrod Ramos may have had a grudge against the news outlet since 2011, but he didn’t shoot anyone in 2011. He shot an entire room of people, with smoke canisters and doors barred to prevent their escape, seven years later in 2018.
- Et Tu Kennedy? Justice Anthony Kennedy announced this week that he is retiring from the Supreme Court effective July 31, 2018, just ahead of the midterm elections. This was rather a surprise, since he had already hired four clerks for the October 2018 term. But when journalists started to dig into the decision, they found a convoluted story straight out of Organized Crime 101 — a complicated web of carrots such as flattery and potential sticks involving Kennedy’s son, who worked closely with Trump in his role at Deutsche Bank. We’re now left with Republicans already announcing that we can’t wait until after the election to fill the vacancy (despite the Garland/Gorsuch horror show of last year), a short list that includes a sitting Senator, a legal field that’s freaking out, and a likely conservative-majority court for a generation that was created by stealing a SCOTUS seat. It’s a rough time to be an American.
- Immigration Nightmares Continue. The due process nightmare continues at the border, even as we move back to a Catch and Release policy — in part because we had a lot wrong before zero tolerance took hold. On the docket this week: ICE is ordering migrant children as young as three years old to appear for their court dates without representation by their parents, or in some cases even attorneys — which is an old but odious practice rightfully gaining more attention in the wake of the zero tolerance separations. And before children even get to those proceedings, their sponsors are being charged thousands of dollars to transport them to their new homes. The overall situation has prompted the Government Accountability Office to agree to an audit of the Department of Health and Human Services, and the DHHS inspector general has agreed to initiate one as well. I think we can expect to find a lot more abuses uncovered.
What We Can Do:
This week’s list builds upon the previous weeks, because getting involved remains a great way to channel frustration and the fight is far from done. There’s less immediately obvious action that can be taken, but we can still call our reps and check for upcoming movement.
- What We’re Calling About This Week. With everything in chaos, it’s still valuable to call your reps on Diane Feinstein’s Keep Families Together Act and its companion bill in the House if you haven’t already, because immigration policy is still far from certain. And our extra bonus option in Massachusetts is still on the docket, because the House is dragging its feet on reconciling the budget bill, which means there’s still time to call your rep to encourage them to adapt the several provisions to protect immigrant rights. But as of this week, we should add calling Senators about SCOTUS nominations to that list, because their actions will be pivotal between now and November (especially if you live in Maine or Alaska). Several sites have great scripts you to follow, and if you live in Massachusetts you can still use MIRA’s list of talking points with Governor Baker and your other reps.
- Upcoming Actions to Know. For the most part, ground games are the word from here to November, and there’s no new national activism push on a particular date to know as a result. But in these unreal times, acting with your voting arm is more important than ever, so one thing I recommend everybody do this week is make sure they are registered to vote. And if you’re local and want to help others become registered as well, there’s a New Americans Voter Drive being hosted by the Mass Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy coalition here in Massachusetts every Thursday in July from 1:30 to 2:30, which can use volunteers if folks are free. I’m keeping an eye on upcoming events, and will definitely keep folks posted from here.
And that’s the news this week, and good job and my condolences for making it through the whole thing; your reward is this guy rapping about his cat’s bathtime and hopefully an eventual better government. I’ll be back next week, and I hope you will be too. In the meantime, feel free to ping the National News Roundup ask box. Send me questions! Send me feedback! Send me nominations for unicorn chasers!