National News Roundup: Year 2, Week 32 (August 26-September 1)
Y’all, the theme of the past week is “we’re all being governed by malicious toddlers,” as both Trump and half the Senate completely ignore restraint or rule of law. It’s even more reason to take actions like participating in primaries, calling your reps, and voting in November! We can — and will — push through this. And in the meantime, there’s always ice cream.
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 42,000 documents! — 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:
As has become traditional, we saw a fair amount of Casual Disregard of Governing Norms this week, and most of it is in one way or another pretty horrifying. Here are the main things to know:
- Kavanaugh Hearing. Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing began today, and the whole thing is an insulting kangaroo court. Trump, who loves making the subtext into text on all things obstruction, announced Friday that he was withholding 100,000 pages of documents from the Dubbya era. He claimed it was due to executive privilege, but it’s more likely because of Kavanaugh’s alleged history of lying to the Judiciary Committee, which would be potentially disqualifying if properly explored. A lawyer for Dubbya eventually did turn over slightly less than half the documents, but not until Monday evening, dumping about 42,000 documents less than fifteen hours before the hearing was due to start. Democrats moved to push back the hearing, because no human can carefully review 42,000 documents in fifteen hours even if they pull an all-nighter to do it, but Grassley ignored them — quite literally, in Kamala Harris’s case. So we’re now moving forward with a hearing where nobody has read all the documents, the judge in question has been accused of lying to the Judicial Committee holding the hearing, and Republicans have literally been publicly coaching the candidate on what to say. And to cap off the first day, Kavanaugh refused to shake the hand of a Parkland shooting victim’s father. Stay klassy, Basically Everybody Involved.
- Trump Accuses China of Hacking Clinton. Moving from the insulting to the ridiculous: Trump inexplicably claimed China hacked Hillary Clinton’s emails this week, despite literally no evidence to back this claim (but let’s be honest, when has that ever stopped him?). Needless to say, neither the FBI nor China appreciated this round of Trump Opens His Mouth and Lies Come Out. That said, it doesn’t look like we’ll see any immediate repercussions (though of course, I’ll keep you posted).
- Autocrat Watch. Trump also announced this week that White House counsel Don McGahn is leaving in the fall, which apparently was news to Don McGahn. (Trump is apparently considering DC lawyer Pat Cipollone to replace him, and hopefully Cipollone knows about it). But not content to fire his own people, Trump is also pushing AT&T and NBC to fire their news heads for… reasons? Apparently Because They Report Things reasons, as far as I can tell, though Trump’s hatred of a free press is well-documented by this point. And last (but certainly not least, because this one is new), Trump also went after Google this week. More specifically, he threatened to punish it because its search engine turns up results he doesn’t like.
- There Goes Our National Security. A new book by journalist Bob Woodward documenting the chaos of the White House, aptly called Fear, is due out this week — and suggests that however bad we thought things were at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, the reality is so much worse. I think the low watermark is probably learning that former economic adviser Gary Cohn used to steal documents off of Trump’s desk so that he would forget to sign them, because our President has no object permanence. But honorable mentions definitely go to Trump’s respective chiefs of staff calling the White House “crazytown” and “the devil’s workshop,” as well as literally everything Mattis discloses about his experiences as Secretary of Defense.
The Russia Investigation was calmer this week, but given the week before it that’s not saying much! Here are the things to know:
- How Trump Handles a Bad Week. In the aftermath of major Russia Investigation developments, Trump made… some life choices on the subject. In particular, news broke that Giuliani is preparing a report on Mueller’s report designed to rebut whatever Mueller finds in his investigation — before the Mueller investigation has released a report, so that’s kind of a neat trick. But they have a plan for that too, because they’re telling Mueller to wrap up his investigation (again), this time claiming that it’s not fair to have an investigation within 60 days of an election day (and never mind that a) it’s not a Presidential election cycle, and b) an investigation during the 60 days before a Presidential election was literally how Trump became President). Meanwhile, multiple Trump aides are being accused of tax fraud while he still refuses to release his tax returns, so that will be interesting to watch as well.
- White House Firing Redux (Russia Edition). Trump seems to be revisiting the idea of firing Sessions, Mueller, or both this week, according to the Washington Post and Trump’s own tweets. And as Papadopoulous faces sentencing, the walls do appear to be closing in, which might put a Trump-era Saturday Night Massacre back on the table. We’ll need to watch this carefully in the coming weeks, especially because Mueller already indicated that he won’t put his investigation on pause just because it’s 60 days before the election.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- NAFTA News.* The U.S. and Mexico announced that they had signed a new trade agreement this week, opening up the possibility that they’re both about to withdraw from NAFTA. Needless to say, this leaves Canada in a sticky situation, because the country would be at a severe disadvantage if left out of a North American trade agreement entirely. That said, both U.S. lawmakers and Canadian officials seem invested in making sure any NAFTA replacement is carefully approached, and experts seem to think the whole thing is a nonstarter if Canada isn’t on board. Which makes it unfortunate that Trump keeps insulting them, because it is causing them to balk at the idea of working with him. But the talks are nonetheless continuing on into next week, and we’ll definitely want to keep an eye on this as part of the larger trade picture.
- Primary Election News. Primaries were a bit of a mixed bag this past week. The Republican nomination for the AZ Senate seat left open by Jeff Flake went to Martha McSally, a moderate candidate saving us from a truly scary Senate race in Arizona. (Florida and Oklahoma had primaries in the past week as well, though neither were for Senate seats.) And here in Massachusetts, Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley displaced longtime Dem rep Mike Capuano within two hours of the polls closing, though the rest of the races are not yet conceded as I type this. But the Florida election landscape took a turn after the GOP candidate, Ron DeSantis, made a racist comment about his black Dem opponent Andrew Gillum — and then followed that up by claiming he didn’t know how he ended up a moderator of a racist Facebook group. And an Idaho white supremacy group started a racist robocall campaign against Gillum, which apparently didn’t help the cause because Gillum is now five points in the lead. And while it’s not, strictly speaking, primary news, it was announced today that Jon Kyl will fill John McCain’s vacant Senate seat, and that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is not seeking reelection.
- DeVos Delivers for Defendants. Betsy DeVos proposed new regulations for sexual misconduct in higher education. Unsurprisingly, the new regs protect people accused of sexual assault as well as the colleges they are attending, and would bring official policy in line with what she’s been having schools do already regarding mediation. At this stage, they’re far from final, which means we get an official opportunity to complain about them in the near future — which I’m trying to see as a silver lining.
- Immigration Updates. The main theme of immigration news this week is escalation, which is kind of inherently horrifying when we’re already so far into this process. News broke that the administration is revoking passports and beginning deportation proceedings for U.S.-born individuals, alleging that they aren’t really citizens and their birth certificates are ‘fraudulent’ (and gosh, where have we heard that one before). News also broke that Bank of America is freezing bank accounts of customers they suspect aren’t citizens — which, and I can’t stress this enough, is not a valid criterion for a legal bank account. And as the end of last week, almost 500 children were still separated from their parents.
- Federal Judge Rush Job.* McConnell managed to get the Senate to rush through several judicial confirmations this week, apparently banking on the Democrats’ desire to have time on the campaign trail to extract cooperation out of them. This isn’t great when the guy who nominated them has literally been fingered in a campaign-related felony, and it’s extra-bad because at least one of the judges was deemed unfit by the American Bar Association. Trump is poised to do a huge amount of damage on the judicial front; there really should have at least been an actual confirmation hearing for the guy the ABA said literally refused to show up to work half the time.
- Death Count Reevaluated in Puerto Rico.* This week, the island’s government raised the official death count from Hurricane Maria was to 2,975 people, bringing the number much closer to the estimate of a widely-accepted recent Harvard study. The number prior was a shameful count of 64, which was undercounting by a factor of nearly ten. It’s not really ‘good’ news, per se, but a more accurate death count is an important first step in other forms of relief and rebuilding, as well as preparation for future natural disasters.
- Recent Court Resilience. A panel of three federal judges ruled this week that North Carolina’s congressional district maps are unconstitutionally gerrymandered in favor of Republicans. It’s looking likely that the districts will need to be redrawn (yes, again). It’s likely this case will be appealed, particularly because it has already been to the Supreme Court and back once before, but the timing makes this exciting either way. And in more definitive positive news, a federal judge struck down three executive orders that weakened unions. So for now, the courts are working as intended.
So that’s what I have for this week, which seems like more than enough from where I’m sitting. The news was Chaotic Petty this week, and you deserve nice things for reading it, so please enjoy this story about veterinarians helping a lost sea lion get back to the sea. 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, which is there for your constructive comments. Send me questions! Send me feedback! Send me government officials who act like grownups!