National News Roundup: Year 2, Week 35 (September 16–22)
Ho boy, this week’s news is weeeeird, y’all. Like, Weird Sisters Randomly Appearing levels of weird. And just like in that Scottish play, it’s unclear who will be in charge of what by the end of the week.
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. Somehow, the Kavanaugh mess is only slightly more settled than it was last week, because we all hit rock bottom and started to dig. Though Kavanaugh still planned to testify today, it wasn’t going to be possible for his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, in part because she’d received credible death threats and needed time to set up safety protocols. Ford also expressed concerns about testifying without an FBI investigation, since Trump refused to grant her request, and in particular about the likelihood that she’d get a fair hearing without one. Both Trump and McConnell wasted no time in proving her right, discrediting her even as Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley gave her more time to decide about testifying. Ultimately, a deal was reached for Ford to testify this upcoming Thursday. While all this was unfolding, one of Grassley’s aides resigned due to a history of sexual harassment, Kavanaugh’s friend Ed Whelan accused someone else of being the real assailant with zero proof and subsequently had to take a leave of absence, a second accusation that Kavanaugh committed sexual assault in college arose, a third accusation that Kavanaugh committed sexual assault in high school arose, and Montgomery County police indicated they may be starting an investigation against Kavanaugh. In response, Kavanaugh is coughing up calendars from 1982 and complaining that it’s all a “grotesque and obvious character assassination.” So all in all, the nomination hasn’t exactly been the midterm election boost the GOP was hoping to see.
- Trump vs the Attorneys General.* The less-bizarre news is that Trump continued to berate Sessions, this time with the passive-aggressive classic “I don’t have an attorney general” (because nothing says I’m A Functional Leader of the Free World like disowning key staff in interviews). But the larger and wilder news comes from memos written by Andrew McCabe, which seem to suggest that the deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein considered both secretly recording Trump when he first took office in 2017, and invoking the 25th Amendment to have him removed. Unsurprisingly, Trump appeared to be considering firing Rosenstein not long after this news broke, and though staff appear to have talked him out of it initially, there was a whole lot of confusion today about whether Rosenstein resigned (spoiler: he didn’t) or was about to be fired (and we’ll find out that part on Thursday, which you may note is the same day of the Kavanaugh hearing). The whole thing certainly raises a lot of questions, at the very least, and Democrats are justifiably pushing to protect the Mueller investigation by legislation again.
The Russia Investigation was a bit quieter than the other splashy headlines this week, but there was still some movement. Here are the main things to know:
- New Investigation Fronts.* There are a few different odds and ends that appear to have caught Mueller’s attention in the past week. First there was another Roger Stone associate contacted to testify before a grand jury, and it will be interesting to see if anything happens there. But Buzzfeed also reported that millions of dollars changed hands as a result of the infamous Trump Tower meeting, which is now being investigated by Mueller as well. It will definitely be interesting to see what happens from here.
- Declassification of Russia Investigation Docs.* Shortly after he declassified a bunch of Russia Investigation documents last week, Trump walked back his own declassification order. Which is probably good news for us, as well as good news for Trump — it’s just good for everybody all around — but the whole thing is puzzling to say the least. That said, the President’s version of events is that “key allies” asked him not to, which I’m taking to mean that Sean Hannity called him up and told him Fox News and Friends would be sad if he went through with it.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- This Week’s Weird Election News.* This was a really strange week on the election trail. Ted Cruz got some attention for his sketchy campaign strategy, which involved sending mail to people marked as a legal summons that were actually solicitations for donation. The practice capitalizes on elder voters’ confusion, which left some people wondering whether it was illegal, but the Federal Election Commission says there’s nothing in the rules saying he can’t confuse people this way. On the state level, a Minnesota state senator is suspending his re-election campaign after his daughter alleged that he sexually abused her for ten years. And in other family news, six siblings of an Arizona representative appeared in his opponent’s political ads, saying that their brother’s extreme far-right conspiracy theories were sullying the family name. Yeesh, it’s not surprising that Democrats are polling as having an advantage, given what’s apparently going on with GOP candidates.
- Opioid Bill Updates.* The Senate passed a bipartisan set of opioid bills 99–1 this week, which is frankly so rare by now that I’m astonished it happened. Even more weirdly, the legislation actually looks like a good starting place to combat the opioid crisis, though it’s far from a comprehensive fix to all of the root causes of the crisis. And even even more weirdly, Donald Trump supports the legislation, apparently because it will make it easier for Customs and Border Protection to screen mail packages for drugs. I’m not all that excited about CBP rooting through our mail, and I’m also legit freaked out by the Senate getting anything done, so into the Weird section this story goes.
- Ben Carson’s 15 Minutes of Infamy. Ben Carson was in the news a couple of different ways this week, and both of the stories were about par for the course with that dude. A few outlets reported that his department was full of rampant cronyism, rapidly promoting people who worked on Carson and Trump’s political campaigns with no experience and raising their salaries to six figures annually. But he was also in the news, in true Ben Carson fashion, for saying that the Kavanaugh accusations were part of a Socialist plot to take over the government — and next to that, cronyism looks pretty normal.
- Hurricane Hits Keep Coming. More news is coming in about Hurricane Florence, and most of it is seriously Not Good. The death count has climbed up to 42 people, and there are more tropical storms coming in as I type this. News also broke that two women seeking mental health treatment were left handcuffed in a sheriff’s van during the hurricane and both drowned. Meanwhile, the New York Times did a piece on living conditions in Puerto Rico on the anniversary of Hurricane Maria, which are just as bad as you expect them to be.
- Immigration Updates. I know I keep saying this every week, but no seriously, immigration updates are really bad this week. The Department of Health and Human Services is again reporting that it lost track of about 1500 migrant kids, which might be in the news to justify reports of ICE arresting potential sponsors of migrant kids because the would-be sponsors were undocumented. Attorney General and discount Javert Jeff Sessions issued an order that limits judges’ authority to dismiss deportation proceedings to pretty narrow circumstances — and I seriously can’t stress enough how incredibly bonkers that is, it’s not like dismissing a deportation proceeding magically grants people status. But probably the biggest piece of immigration news this week is that proposed new public charge rules got released (all 447 pages of ‘em), although they aren’t published yet, and they’re pretty gross. The long and short of it is that immigrant populations will be penalized for legally accessing common benefits like health insurance while in the United States. The proposed rules pretty blatantly punish people for being poor and price-gouge people who come here on work visas, and they’re just bad news all around, and you’ll definitely hear much more from me on this topic once they’re officially published.
- Trade War with China.* A new round of tariffs against China went into effect alongside other sanctions, despite Walmart sending a letter to the President asking him to reconsider. And for some reason, Politico interviewed Steve Bannon about it, although he’s probably right that by this point these tariffs are “a scale and depth that is previously inconceivable in U.S. history.”
- Census Citizenship Setback. In positive immigration news, a federal judge has held that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross must testify about the need for a citizenship question on the census, noting that “Secretary Ross must sit for a deposition because, among other things, his intent and credibility are directly at issue in these cases.” It was apparently also difficult to get information through other means, and Ross showed an unusual interest in the issue, so this is at least partially on him. But it’s a promising start!
So that’s what I have for this week, and it’s more than enough! For making it through all of that, you deserve this list of wholesome Twitter memes 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 more delays on the Kavanaugh vote!