National News Roundup: Year 2, Week 34 (September 9–15)
Last week, on the As the Country Turns: Oh, let’s be honest, none of us even want to remember. But it’s another week of your favorite (okay, least favorite) governmental soap opera! And actually, we’ve seen worse episodes, because there’s a double-cross this week that’s pretty satisfying.
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 confirmation 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:
We only saw a couple of instances of Casual Disregard of Governing Norms this week, but all of them were pretty major and majorly strange. Here are the main things to know:
- Kavanaugh Chaos Continues. The Kavanaugh hearing is the gift that keeps on giving, because the testimony apparently isn’t even over — and his confirmation would be a nightmare, so that’s not a bad thing. The latest started with Diane Feinstein tossing a snowball down a snowy hill and hoping it would create an avalanche by releasing a statement asking federal authorities to investigate Kavanaugh (though she declined to give specifics about what type of misconduct was in play). The allegations turned out to be a letter detailing a sexual assault when Kavanaugh was in high school, which Republicans handled by claiming the allegation was “ wholly unverifiable.” They also immediately produced a letter of support from sixty-five women who claimed to know him back then (because all of us just have a letter of character from sixty-five people who didn’t even go to our high school but super knew us 35 years ago that we keep in our back pocket, amirite?). Presumably annoyed by the whole “wholly unverifiable” thing, the person who wrote the letter stepped forward, and turned out to be a California professor named Christine Blasey Ford. Ford has indicated that she is willing to testify in a congressional hearing so that things can be, y’know, verified — and Kavanaugh said he’d be willing to testify, too. Once that happened, more moderate Republicans started to say the confirmation vote should be postponed to allow for congressional testimony, which ultimately culminated in another hearing scheduled for next Monday. The delayed vote can only mean good things for the preservation of our normal nomination process, so this is a major win no matter what else happens.
- Hurricane Horrorshows.* This was an awful week for hurricane news. Trump claimed that Hurricane Maria response was “an incredible, unsung success,” which understandably made anybody tied to Puerto Rico in any way, including the mayor of San Juan and several Florida Republicans, want to feed him his own liver. After several people blatantly contradicted his outlandish claim, he predictably doubled down, tweeting that “3,000 people did not die” just as everybody was watching Hurricane Florence roll into the Carolinas. And Hurricane Florence did prove devastating, causing a statewide emergency in North Carolina and 23 deaths. And the whole sodden mess was made even worse by news that $10M in FEMA funds were improperly transferred to ICE — but more on that below.
The Russia Investigation was absolutely bonkers this week. Here are the main things to know:
- Manafort Flips. I don’t even have a snarky headline for this one, that’s how excited I am about this! After multiple deals that fell through, Manafort pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States and conspiracy to obstruct justice this past Friday. His plea deal included a promise of ‘broad cooperation,’ including potentially testifying in any further proceedings. Needless to say, it’s a safe bet that they’ll be taking a closer look at the lobbyists he recruited after this, at absolute minimum, and obviously Manafort knows a great deal about the 2016 Trump campaign and its inner workings during crucial periods. Characteristically, Mueller isn’t sharing next steps, but it’s obvious that he has them, and I’m excited to find out what they are! (At this point, he could announce his next step is to do the Chicken Dance in front of the Lincoln Memorial and I would spend half the afternoon trying to figure out why that’s brilliant prosecution.)
- Declassification of Russia Investigation Docs.* In what is either a crafty-like-a-fox move or a very public meltdown, and I’m honestly not sure which, Trump ordered the declassification of a whole passel of Russia investigation docs earlier tonight. Since the individuals he targeted — former FBI officials James Comey, Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok, and Lisa Page, as well as sitting Justice Department attorney Bruce Ohr — were all people he dislikes, I would imagine there’s some embarrassing dirty laundry somewhere in there. But this is Trump, so it’s even odds whether he’s releasing enough rope to hang them or just wants the world to know that James Comey once texted about some indigestion. He’s also declassifying the entire FISA application for Carter Page, and his beef with Ohr appears directly related to the pee tape dossier, so I’m sort of leaning towards the “sundowning temper tantrum” theory of events for now.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- Primaries Wrap Party.* The final primaries happened this past week in New York, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire, bringing the initial voting season to a close. The overarching emergent trends show a country that is deeply divided, with an increasingly Trump-emulating Republican party and an unprecedented number of successful candidates who are women, younger candidates, and people of color on the other side of the aisle. So basically, we’re either going to have The Hunger Games or the Handmaid’s Tale in Congress come January, and I have absolutely no idea which.
- Foreign Affairs Weirdness.* Kim Jong Un sent Trump a letter requesting another meeting this week. And despite the utter lack of denuclearization progress since the last meeting, Trump was apparently sufficiently flattered by the “very warm, very positive” tone of said letter that he’s organizing another meeting. So this will be another fun game of Hot and Cold: Nuclear Edition. And speaking of cold, the U.S. ordered the closure of the PLO office in Washington this week, claiming it was because Palestine hasn’t played nicely enough with Israel in the recent past. (They also threatened the International Criminal Court because, among other things, the PLO was threatening to sue Israel there.) Jared Kushner, who is definitely an uninterested party in this, was quick to reassure us that removing their diplomatic presence from our country won’t make Palestine cooperate less in peace talks with Israel. And all of this happened on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Oslo accords, presumably because it would have been too much effort to head to Mount Herzl and spit on Yitzhak Rabin’s grave directly.
- Here, Have a Tax Cut (That Doesn’t Impact You). The GOP is trying to make the tax cuts of last year permanent ahead of the November election, despite their lackluster performance on improving the economy and a trillion-dollar deficit already anticipated within the fiscal year — which, by the way, is unprecedented during times of economic growth. The proposed cuts would add another $3.8 trillion to that deficit over the next two decades, and slow economic growth while they’re at it; the President of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget described the plan as “built on quicksand.” The tax cuts aren’t even popular, since they barely touch anybody but the super-rich, which is probably why the bills have ridiculous names like ‘the Protecting Family and Small Business Tax Cuts Act’ and ‘the Family Savings Act.’ And I kind of can’t believe I’m typing all of this, because the GOP used to be the party of fiscal conservatism, but as I noted above it’s now the Big Money Nazi Party so I guess this kind of blatant smash-and-grab has become par for the course.
- Dubious Defense in Dallas. In weird, horrible, and transparently racist news, a white Dallas police officer walked into a neighbor’s house and shot him this week, apparently with absolutely no provocation whatsoever. (Guess what race he was, go ahead, I’ll wait.) The police officer says that she thought she was in her own house, but this story makes absolutely no sense — she had enough time to ‘issue orders,’ but not enough time to notice all the furniture was different? Also, his apartment was on a different floor and had a bright orange doormat that her own apartment lacked. Then local police claimed that they found marijuana in the victim’s home — which apparently we’re supposed to think means extrajudicial shootings are okay? — and waited several days to arrest the officer. Incredibly, despite the undisputed account that she shot an unarmed guy in his home, who wasn’t even the first man of color she’s shot in the past fifteen months, the police officer is currently out on a $300,000 bail while she awaits a manslaughter trial. And as a person who worked for the public defender’s office for years, there is literally no part of that last sentence that does not disturb me.
- Immigration Updates. Immigration news continues to be bizarre and deeply horrifying. As I noted above, Trump apparently took $10M from FEMA and diverted it to ICE in the past year, along with $200M from various other places in the Department of Homeland Security. And this news contextualizes another weird story from this week, which is that we’ve gone from threatening to make Mexico pay for a border wall to offering to pay Mexico $20M to deport people before they reach the U.S. (Kind of makes you understand why Trump wanted to print more money in the basement, doesn’t it?) And the administration also announced that they’re cutting the number of permitted refugees down to 30,000 total for FY19, which is down 15,000 from the previous year and literally a third of the cap two years ago. Meanwhile, our illustrious Attorney General went on the record as describing the zero tolerance policy as “perfectly legitimate, moral and legal” and (incorrectly) attributed high asylum rates to Obama-era ‘incentives’ instead of, y’know, massive destabilization in the Northern Triangle making life there incredibly violent and dangerous. And while all this is going on, the number of migrant kids in shelters has reached its highest rate literally ever, because changes in sponsorship policy made it dangerous for undocumented family members to take them in. And just to cap things off, a Custom and Border Patrol agent went on a two-week killing spree, straight-up murdering four women and kidnapping a fifth who managed to get away. Disturbingly, this isn’t even the first instance this year of an off-duty CBP officer committing multiple homicides in his spare time. Gosh, it’s like this kind of position attracts violent people or something.
- Methane Emission Joke Goes Here.* Another week, more news proving that the EPA should really be called something else by this point. This time it’s relaxing rules on methane emissions, which appears to be merely the latest development in an ongoing series of Captain Planet villain impersonation. The statements issued make it clear that the EPA understands that this move will jeopardize people’s health; they simply don’t care. Well, at least they’re honest about it I guess.
- Clean Power Palate Cleanser. If you’re mad about the EPA news (as am I), it might help to know that green things are still happening somewhere on the planet! This past week, Germany rolled out two hydrogen-powered trains that emit no CO2 emissions whatsoever, and the science behind them sounds honestly really cool. And here in the U.S, California finalized a bill this wee that mandates 100% clean power throughout the state by 2045. It’s an ambitious and likely unprecedented plan, but made easier by the fact that California present gets about 40% of its energy through clean sources. The announcement comes just ahead of a massive Global Climate Change Action Summit, hosted by California’s governor (among others).
So that’s what I have for this week, and it’s more than enough! For making it through all of that, you deserve hilarious wildlife ‘furtography’ and an eventual better government. I’ll be back next week with more news, and I hope you will be back as well — but 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 Bongo Cat memes!