National News Roundup: Year 2, Week 27 (July 22–28)
Okay, we’re now back down to only two forms of constitutional crisis, as Trump slowly walks back the Putin stuff — but two is more than enough, and it’s still the longest section in this roundup. We’re not out of the woods by any stretch, and as long as Trump stays in charge it’s important to keep on keepin’ on.
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 163-ft yacht — 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 different forms of Casual Disregard of Governing Norms this week, and they cover a lot of different types of ground — but for the most part, they involve trampling the First Amendment in one way or another. Here’s what happened:
- Continued Threat to Our Free Press. A CNN reporter was barred from an open media event in the Rose Garden this week, apparently because they didn’t like the questions she had asked earlier in the day as a pool reporter. Animosity towards the press is not a new move for Trump, but this kind of retaliatory barring certainly is — and it’s not a great sign, especially given everything else going on. Other White House press corps members are showing rare solidarity in the wake of this early-stage censorship, and Trump, predictably, is doubling down. At the time that I write this, he has moved on to deriding the New York Times and the Washington Post, calling them both ‘very unpatriotic’ for doing their jobs.
- Revoking Security Clearance for Funsies.* And speaking of warning signs, we had another one this week as well — Trump threatened to revoke security clearance from former White House advisers who annoyed him. The move would hurt him at least as much as it hurts the advisers, because they retained clearance for a reason — it’s traditional for former advisers to consult as needed on national issues, and the remaining administrative staff have the collective institutional knowledge of a wet paper bag — which is why he probably won’t do it. But regardless of the practicalities, the mere threat was an autocratic move that left retiring GOP members like Bob Corker and Paul Ryan vocally unimpressed.
- Religious ‘Liberty’ Task Force. I had initially decided to screen this one out, but then Sessions opened his mouth again today and here we are. After a ‘Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom’ conference last week, Jeff Sessions today announced the creation of a ‘Religious Liberty Task Force’ to address the nonexistent problem of honoring our First Amendment freedom of religious expression, which again I note is not under attack at all. The move further promotes earlier October guidance that permits healthcare workers to refuse to help people based on their religious beliefs, either by refusing to prescribe hormonal medications or by refusing to treat transgender patients. I seriously cannot state enough how disingenuous this entire thing is, because it serves no purpose beyond granting people a license to discriminate, which last time I checked wasn’t a fundamental or universal Christian tenet, has been illegal for many years, and is becoming more permissible anyway under recent cases like the Masterpiece Cakeshop case.
The Russia Investigation is still overclocked and going strong, too — no quieter than it was last week, which is really saying something:
- Your Weekly Cohen Collisions.* Michael Cohen continued to stay in the news this week in the wake of his recorded conversations with Trump (which, by the way, CNN went ahead and aired). His main follow-up was to claim that Trump knew about the 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russia well ahead of its actual date — and that Cohen would be willing to testify about it for Mueller’s investigation. Trump has denied this many times, and he has continued to deny it this week, but Cohen is a pretty credible inside source. It will be interesting to see what happens from here, to say the very least.
- Trump’s Russia News. We appear to be reaching the point where Trump and Russia can’t go a week without being in the news together, and this week is no exception. First outlets began reporting that Mueller is scrutinizing Trump tweets as part of his ongoing obstruction investigation, which has to be the worst document review ever (and I sure hope his legal aides have a ready supply of Tums and blood pressure medication). But this news hasn’t stopped Trump and Putin from continuing to publicly plan another meeting, this time with Putin inviting Trump over to Moscow. And Giuliani has taken another dive into the deep end of Questionable Lawyering, taking to the news circuits to claim collusion isn’t a crime. And while all of that is happening, Manafort’s trial starts on Tuesday — the first trial stemming from charges brought by Mueller, but almost certainly not the last.
- Infuriating Articles of Impeachment. And speaking of the Russia investigation,the Freedom Caucus blatantly tried to throw a spanner in the works by introducing articles to impeach Rod Rosenstein — which, thankfully, Ryan tossed out the window about thirty seconds after their introduction (but I’m mad about them anyway). The move was purely a political ploy to discredit the one guy who can legally dismiss Mueller, and it speaks volumes that they even tried it; there was no way these articles were going to make it to the floor in the current political environment. They must be getting desperate.
- First Known Russian Hacks of 2018.* This week brought us the first documented Russian attempt to hack the 2018 elections, with an unsuccessful attempt on the system of Missouri Dem incumbent Claire McCaskill. But after that didn’t work, news outlets began to report that Russian efforts are shifting to messing up the power grid, which would definitely be a significant disruption in states that use electronic systems. And on the lo-fi end of things, we also learned that indicted operative Maria Butina dined with at least one U.S. representative before her indictment. So ‘hacking’ is a bit of a moving target, really.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- The Resistance Goes Rogue on Republicans. This was a pretty active week for the Petty Platoon section of the Resistance, on account of a lot of people took it upon themselves to embarrass, harass, or break the stuff of prominent conservatives. First there was the Massachusetts Democrat who inexplicably got booked on Fox News and decided to make the most of it, using the time to directly tell Trump where to stick his border separation policy. Then Sasha Baron Cohen inexplicably got Georgia representative Jason Spencer to drop his pants and yell racial slurs on camera (which his public record would suggest wasn’t especially difficult). Unsurprisingly, the Governor of Georgia was unimpressed, and Spencer ended up resigning ahead of his term end. And on the vandalism side of things, Trump’s star on Hollywood Boulevard was smashed in again. Incredibly, the vandal turned himself in and apparently got bailed out by the last guy who smashed up Trump’s Hollywood star, and TMZ filmed people getting into a fistfight next to the busted-up star a few days later. Last but not least, someone untied Betsy DeVos’s 163-foot yacht and set it adrift on Lake Erie — which I’m sure she’s real mad about, because repairs will cost a quarter of a year of college tuition and now her family no longer has a matched set of ten multi-million-dollar yachts.
- Bailout for Farmers.* In light of the difficulties the trade war is causing American farmers, Trump announced a $12B bailout this week. Like much that Trump does, it appears to be the worst of both worlds — the bailout will create dependence on Europe to buy our surplus, but still permit Trump to go forward with his whackadoodle trade wars. And some outlets are saying that soybean farmers weren’t even doing that poorly in the U.S. in the first place. So there’s a lot to question here.
- Social Media Slump.* Facebook and Twitter are both having rough weeks on Wall Street, because it turns out farming out data to political groups and being a megaphone for megalomaniac Presidents (respectively) is bad for business. Honestly, the only thing strange about this story is that there are consequences for anything anymore at all, but I’m sure next week we’ll be reading about a big Twitter bailout.
- Immigration Updates. Family reunification efforts are still scrambled after the 30-day deadline has come and gone, with 711 children still in custody due to poorly-managed databases and partial deportation of families. Outlets are reporting the number of people given no chance to stay with their children may be as high as three-quarters of adults deported during the last couple of months, despite administration claims to the contrary, and news is also trickling in of rampant sexual abuse of people in ICE custody — including children in shelters as young as six years old. But none of this is stopping Trump from threatening to shut down the government if he doesn’t get a wall funded in the next two months (for the zillionth time), despite the real consequences this could have on the 2018 election. So it’s just a stunning display of callous mismanagement all the way down.
- Fraudulent Loan Forgiveness Mess. Betsy DeVos proposed this week to redesign a loan forgiveness program that provides relief for defrauded students. Though she’s been on the side of lending companies for a while now, this one is a new low, because students only qualify for the program if their school was closed or found fraudulent, and under the proposed new rules students aren’t guaranteed relief even if their school is forced to close while they attend. The proposal notes that “Postsecondary students are adults who can be reasonably expected to make informed decisions,” proving that Betsy DeVos has never actually met a college freshman, and is probably thinking more about the $13B this would return to the federal budget. But if this seems overly harsh to you, I urge you to remember that — per the beginning of this roundup — DeVos’s family literally owns ten multi-million dollar yachts, and speculate about how many times in her life she’s probably taken out a loan.
- Who Needs Endangered Species Anyway?* The Department of Interior introduced proposed rules for identifying endangered species, which are exactly as obnoxious as you would expect them to be — literally noting that they want to change the rules to make logging and drilling easier, and blithely ignoring the many species successfully rehabilitated by the Endangered Species Act. Basically, if you had managed to forget in the past few weeks that our Department of Interior was still run by a Captain Planet villain, Ryan Zinke is here to remind you.
- EU Tariffs on Hold.* We are apparently holding off on imposing more tariffs against the European Union, so that’s one fewer global entity we’ve goaded into trade war with us. Sadly, this is probably related to the fact that they’re going to buy our surplus soybeans, and they pretty clearly are waiting to see if he’ll reverse course, but you know what, so are we so that’s totally fair.
- Recent Court Resilience. A federal district court decided to move forward with a lawsuit alleging that Trump has violated the Emoluments Clause due to his practices surrounding the Trump Organization and the Trump International Hotel in DC. It’s the first time a court has ever permitted this type of case to move forward against a sitting President, and it may or may not force a conversation about whether people can sue a sitting President in general. That said, the historic nature of the decision probably says more about this sitting President than it does about the court, because the plaintiffs used 200 years of legal history to conclusively prove that the alleged actions do fall within what the Founding Fathers would have considered ‘emoluments.’ (Remember, Jimmy Carter gave up his peanut farm, and even Richard Nixon let his assets go — we’ve never had a sitting President still controlling business interests before.)
- Is There Life on Mars?* European scientists discovered evidence of a 12-mile long underground lake on Mars this week, though the body of salt water’s presence has yet to be confirmed. If its presence can be confirmed, it would reopen the age-old question of whether the planet could support life. And even if this turns out to be a big lot of nothing, it gave me an opportunity to quote David Bowie, so it goes in my good column!
Last but not least, the Roundup itself has some news as well this week. Since both my researcher and myself are traveling over the next couple of weeks, I’ve decided to not to attempt to kludge news together on the road — which means I unfortunately need to go dark for a couple of weeks after this roundup. But fear not, intrepid reader, because I leave you in the very, very capable hands of (freely available) current events giants, on whom I regularly rely myself!
The Big Three to Check:
- Matt Kiser’s WTFJHT (which summarizes domestic political news daily, including emailed subscription and web updates, and provides a one-sentence summary if you’re in a hurry);
- Amy Siskind’s The Weekly List (which summarizes weekly, as the name suggests, with a focus on authoritarian creep); and
- The Skimm’s Daily Skimm (which summarizes domestic and foreign affairs news daily, including emailed subscription and web updates, and I particularly recommend it for its coverage of foreign affairs).
Extra (Free) Sources if You’re Feeling Ambitious:
- The Washington Post’s Daily 202 (separated by topic, and a free newsletter available to non-subscribers);
- The Daily Kos (aggregate feed that updates more-than-daily — it’s something of a fire hose); and
- Current Status (aggregate feed that updates more-than-daily from Matt Kiser, and also something of a fire hose)
I’m so sorry to leave you folks, but I promise I’ll be back real soon! And when I return, I’m setting up more features for the Roundup, including a Real Life Newsletter, an inbox for corrections and submissions, and hopefully a forum for folks to talk to me and each other. Until then, keep on keepin’ on, and if you miss me, there’s always The National News Roundup ask box!