National News Roundup: Year 2, Week 36 (September 23–29)
This news week was basically three weeks of the Kavanaugh saga in a one-week suit, and half of it was incredibly discouraging, makes no freaking sense, or both. I’ll try to break it down for you into manageable pieces, but I’ll be honest: It’s not looking pretty, folks. If you live in a place with a senator on the fence, I definitely recommend calling, and will include links to scripts below.
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 calendar! — 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:
The main thing to know about Casual Disregard of Governing Norms this week is the Kavanaugh saga, but there was also some bonus world leaders laughing at Trump. Here’s the $0.10 digest of the past week’s chaos:
- Kavanaugh Lead-Up to Testimony. Every single week of the Kavanaugh nomination since it started has been utterly nuts, and this week was no exception — even the few days between last week’s update and Thursday’s testimony were wild. The identity of the third woman to come forward was revealed as Julie Swetnik, whose allegations made under penalty of perjury included gang rape at multiple high school parties in the early 1980s, some of which were on Kavanaugh’s calendar. Trump wasted no time personally attacking Michael Avenatti after the lawyer posted his client’s information, which of course Avenatti responded to with “Let’s go.” And while that was going on, two more accusations arose, one of which allegedly happened in 1998 after Kavanaugh was an attorney (though that person opted to remain anonymous, and it is unlikely to be followed up). Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Grassley still went ahead and scheduled a committee vote for Friday before testimony had even been heard, which prompted Oregon Democrat Jeff Merkley to seek an injunction to stop the vote due to incomplete discovery. So that’s the level of bonkers that was happening going into Thursday’s testimony.
- Kavanaugh and Testimony Thursday. Y’all, I knew the proceedings on Thursday were gonna be bad, but I freely admit I was not prepared for the level of trash heap that happened in the Senate on the actual hearing date. Dr. Blasey Ford’s account, from her prepared statements to her hour or so of live testimony, was credible and sympathetic — on that point, even Fox News agrees. But it didn’t matter, because both Kavanaugh and the Senate GOP pulled out all kinds of insane stops to turn the whole thing into another kangaroo court, despite their improper focus on “reasonable doubt” like Kavanaugh was on trial. Lowlights ranged from the GOP claiming some other dudes had confessed to assaulting Ford to Lindsey Graham screaming in the middle of proceedings to Brett Kavanaugh screaming in the middle of proceedings, claiming the entire thing was revenge for the Clintons, and asking a sitting Senator about her drinking habits. And, predictably by this point, outlets are also reporting that Kavanaugh’s testimony included some perjury while he was at it. All told, SNL’s depiction of events was far less of an exaggeration than we’d all like, but Grassley still left the committee vote in place for the following day.
- Kavanaugh’s Current Chaos. In the immediate aftermath of the testimony, we’re still in wacky limbo, because the Friday committee vote didn’t exactly go as Grassley planned it. Amid growing call for an FBI investigation, and after being confronted by survivors in the elevator, Jeff Flake announced ahead of a stalling committee vote that he wanted a one-week delay for an investigation and that he and several other colleagues would be voting ‘no’ on the floor unless an FBI investigation was set up. Faced with the reality that they didn’t have the floor votes, Trump agreed to a ‘limited’ FBI investigation within two hours. The other shoe quickly dropped when it became apparent how limited Trump planned to keep the FBI investigation — the team initially wasn’t permitted to subpoena people or documents, wasn’t permitted to talk to Julie Swetnick at all, and was only be able to interview people allegedly present for the two relevant incidents (which is a total of four people). This was eventually walked back today, and the FBI now has guidance to interview whoever they see fit, which will hopefully mean they reach out to the growing list of people who say they have relevant information. They’ll also be examining his creepy calendars, which ironically probably support Ford’s narrative better than Kavanaugh’s, and may consider details from Judge’s book as well. While all this is happening, Senator Cotton is threatening to investigate Senator Feinstein because Ford’s letter was leaked, despite the GOP criticizing her as recently as Thursday for not sharing it immediately. And news also broke today that Kavanaugh was texting friends to coordinate his story before the Ramirez allegations went public, so we can add witness tampering to the laundry list of his bad behaviors.
- Trump vs the United Nations.* In not-Kavanaugh news, Trump gave a speech at the United Nations earlier this week that was met with actual laughter by other world leaders — though, in fairness, I too might have laughed at his bald-faced proclamation that he’s “accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country.” The speech (and its accompanying laughter) got the most news, but it was coupled with indicating that the EU, Russia, and China are moving to sidestep Trump’s new Iran sanctions. Trump also randomly started asserting that China is trying to mess with our elections, while he was there, naturally without any evidence whatsoever to support his claim. Taken in tandem, we’re seeing several signs that the United States has a notably waning star where other countries are concerned in a post-Trump world.
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:
- The Return to Rosenstein.* Despite last week’s promise of a Thursday meeting between Trump and Rosenstein after Monday’s chaos, Trump pushed back that meeting another week because he “d[id] not want to do anything to interfere with the [Kavanaugh] hearing” scheduled the next day. (So naturally, instead he hosted an 83-minute press conference bonanza the night before the testimony, using the opportunity to rant about the Kavanaugh proceedings, claim he meant to get laughed at during his United Nations speech, and diss Justin Trudeau.) At any rate, it seems pretty clear that Trump now understands that he’ll be forced to fire Rosenstein if he wants the man to go away, which is not in his interests; let’s hope that means this story stays quiet even after next week.
- House Actions on Russia Investigation.* The House had a startlingly busy week regarding the Russia investigation. First the House Judiciary Committee subpoenaed the McCabe memos that referenced Rosenstein’s offer to record Trump, which was quickly followed by a vote in the House Intelligence Committee to release all of the interviews it conducted for its own Russia investigation. And House Democrats tried to force a vote on a bill to protect Mueller’s investigation, but the House GOP blocked consideration of the bill.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- New NAFTA.* After dunking on Trudeau for half the week last week, Trump did reach an agreement with Canada on trade late last night after frantic negotiation. The new agreement has the catchy name of ‘United States-Mexico-Canada’ agreement, which I assume happened because Trump loves him some McDonald’s and “U.S. McA” sounds like something you can order there. And speaking of things children love, Trump took away from this experience that bullying people works, and is now threatening to use the same technique in negotiations with European Union, China, Japan, and potentially Brazil and India. So this will be a fun year of trade negotiations.
- Tax Cuts That Don’t Apply to You (Redux).* As forecast a few weeks ago, the House did indeed pass a bill that makes the tax cuts of last year permanent, because it managed to squeak by along party lines despite the overwhelming evidence that this is a terrible plan. Pretty much the only reason I’m sticking this in the ‘weird’ section and not the bad, other than the fact that I still can’t believe they did this while the Senate was grilling Ford and Kavanaugh, is the low likelihood that the Senate will touch this with a ten-foot pole during an election year.
- EPA Episodes.* This administration’s EPA is the gift that just keeps on giving, and we’re back again with a whole new set of horrors. On the global warming front, we’ve got a report that the global temperature will rise by seven degrees by the end of the century — which, for context, is fourteen times the mean increase from the past eighteen years. Disturbingly, the report that observes this appears to treat it as a foregone conclusion, and also doesn’t appear concerned by said conclusion. On the dismantling EPA structure front, the director of the Office of Children’s Health Protection was placed on administrative leave for no stated reason, and evidence suggests this was done as a sketchy way to close her office. And last but not least, because apparently the asbestos thing wasn’t mustache-twirly enough, the administration is finalizing a detailed proposal to dramatically relax rules about mercury emissions. And if you’re currently reading this and thinking “isn’t mercury a toxic substance that causes neuropathy if ingested, especially in children,” why yes, yes it is.
- Immigration Updates. The immigration front was mostly mercifully quiet this week — and mystifyingly quiet, frankly, given the expected publication of new public charge rules. That said, there is one big story, and it’s a concerning culmination of a lot of different pieces of changing immigration policy. The New York Times reported this weekend that migrant kids are being quietly moved to tent cities in west Texas under cover of night, where they aren’t receiving education or proper medical care (or, for that matter, accessing functional plumbing). This practice fits into a larger picture of systemic changes in border apprehension practice; the current concentration of migrant kids in shelters is at an all-time high because the administration is arresting undocumented people who offer to sponsor them. We’re likely witnessing another intermediate stage in the administration’s stated plan to make it legal to put migrant kids in jails, potentially indefinitely, and we need to be giving this our full attention.
- VAWA Blues. The Violence Against Women Act was scheduled to be reauthorized by September 30, 2018, and the House Democrats’ bid to reauthorize the law through 2023 was blocked at the debate stage on Tuesday. Ultimately, the law was extended through December 7 when the shutdown was prevented, suggesting that VAWA is going to be this year’s CHIP. The possibility of VAWA expiring is chilling for both its legal and its symbolic implications, particularly as the Kavanaugh circus continues onward, and I cannot stress enough how valuable it is to call your reps about this issue.
- Kavanaugh Resistance. One silver lining to the utter mess of the ongoing Kavanaugh saga has been seeing an ever-growing list of groups step forward to say “Hey, this should probably be investigated.” As I type this, that list includes the American Bar Association, faculty members of Yale Law School, the Dean of Yale Law School, four Republican governors, GOP Senator Jeff Flake, and, of course, pretty much all of the Senate Democrats. Several groups took their protest significantly further — notably, America magazine withdrew their endorsement of him as a candidate; Yale law students joined a national walkout protest; the Democratic Coalition filed an ethics complaint against Kavanaugh; and the ACLU has taken the highly unusual step of officially opposing Kavanaugh’s nomination. And, as improbable icing on the generally palatable cake, Fox News fired a contributor for calling Ford, Ramirez, and Swetnik “lying skanks.” I have no idea how that firing even happened, but I’ll take it. Also, and relatedly, if you want to call your own senators to encourage them on this matter, Celeste P has you covered with customized scripts for individual Senators as well as a script for senators generally.
- Recent Court Resilience. A district court this past week refused to dismiss U.S. lawmakers’ emoluments clause suit against Trump, finding that the 200 Democrats had standing to sue him on this issue. This is the second emoluments case against him to be permitted to proceed (of three total), and it’s just as exciting the second time.
- States Stepping Up. It’s been an exciting week for California, between a new law requiring women on all corporate boards and new sunshine laws for police conduct (and technically a new net neutrality law, but since that was immediately challenged by Trump it’s a bit less exciting). And New York made the landmark decision to include mental health in all of its health education curriculum, which is truly groundbreaking and a welcome piece of news in 2018. While our federal government remains mired in so many issues, it’s always helpful to note things states are doing.
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 parade of animals dressed up as other animals 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 a week’s worth of naps!