National News Roundup: Year 2, Week 50 (December 27-January 5)
Improbably, the news was almost… quiet this past week and a half? Although there was another week of government shutdown, a new Congress, and a lot of Trump yelling, so it might be more accurate to call the news was ‘stabilized.’ Honestly, given how incredibly volatile the previous week had been, I can’t say I’m sad to get a bit of a breather; at least it gives me a chance to catch up!
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 shutdown! — 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 saw a huge amount of Disregard of Governing Norms this week — between a new, Dem-controlled House in session and the ongoing shutdown, this section is the real meat and potatoes of the week’s news. Here are the main things to know from this past week:
- New House Weirdnesses.* There’s a new House in town, and while that can only be a good thing, it’s certainly kicking off with a lot of weirdness. To start with, the Dems are refusing to seat a Republican from North Carolina — yup, you guessed it, the guy with a giant pile of ballot fraud allegations — because he’s still under investigation for said giant pile of allegations. But this is an unprecedented Congress even without the extra bonus fraud, because the breadth of representation is a new national record. And continuing the “new but improved” theme, the Dems in the House immediately kicked off the new session by introducing an anti-corruption bill that would limit gerrymandering and create automatic voter registration, among other changes. Meanwhile, new Speaker Nancy Pelosi has her hands full between Republicans’ weird hate-on for freshman members and said freshman members’ sustained interest in impeaching the mothburglar-in-chief.
- Government Shutdown Sure Is (Still) Happening.* We’re now on track for one of the longest shutdowns of the past forty years as the partial shutdown enters its third week. Though the House passed a bill to reopen government on its first day in session, Mitch McTurtle refused to let the Senate vote on it, and meetings with the White House proved less than fruitful. So now Trump has resorted to flavor-of-the-day wheedling to try to get some semblance of a wall funded, leading to gems like these: “[You] don’t like concrete, so we’ll give [you] steel.” “I’ll keep the government closed for months or even years!” “The Shutdown is only because of the 2020 Presidential Election.” And 800,000 government workers remain along for the ride.
After such a frenetic few weeks, things feel creepy-quiet on the Russia Investigation front, but given that Mueller just extended his grand jury another six months it’s likely to be the quiet before a storm. Here is the main thing to know this week:
- An (Alleged) American Spy in Russia. A U.S. citizen, Paul Whelan, was arrested on espionage charges in Russia at the end of 2018. Though his family says he was only there for a vacation, he apparently had passports from three other countries and a checkered past with the Marines, so by this point it’s anybody’s guess what is going on.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- Panderer-in-Chief and the Military.* Literally the day after Trump visited our troops in Iraq and lied to them about getting a pay raise, he was back in the news for posting a video of Navy SEALs from the same trip, which reveals classified information and could potentially endanger them further. But on the plus side, his blatant incompetence apparently broke up some kind of logjam on the topic of Syria, because national security advisor Michael Bolton has announced that “the timetable flows from the policy decisions” because there are “objectives . . . that condition the withdraw” — among them, that we wouldn’t be pulling out of Syria until we know Turkey won’t attack Kurdish allies.
- Pay Freezes and Trump Breezes. It turns out the middle of a government shutdown is the perfect time to order a pay freeze for federal employees if you’re Donald Trump, so he went ahead and did that this week. And he announced at the end of the week that he’s going to make a Big Announcement about the shutdown during prime time tomorrow, which may or may not be that he’s planning to declare a national emergency. So it’s been a fun week all around, really.
- Immigration News. Though things were quiet on a lot of fronts, immigration is the 45 misery engine that just keeps churning. Among the lowlights was another CBP use of tear gas against migrants at the border in Tijuana, some of whom have probably been camped waiting there since the last incident in November. But there was also a fun moment when Trump blamed Democrats for the death of two migrant children in custody — deaths which, I cannot stress enough, were entirely under executive branch control at every stage; this one really isn’t a “blame on both sides” kind of situation at all. Needless to say, I might have more to focus on after tomorrow’s announcement, though I’m hoping it will be more sound and fury signifying nothing.
- Bernie Sanders Suspicions.* Bernie Sanders was in the news this week because more than two dozen campaign staffers alleged ‘sexual harassment and violence’ in his 2016 campaign, citing everything from classic quid pro quo harassment to dramatic pay disparities. Though Sanders himself wasn’t cited as perpetuating abuse, his response was pretty concerning; he noted he was “a little bit busy” and said he apologized “to any woman who feels like she was not treated appropriately.” Seriously, that’s the apology that you give when your Aunt Cynthia is mad that she has to sit next to your Great Aunt Hortense at Thanksgiving; it’s not what you say when you learn people high up in your organization were penalized for refusing to sleep with their supervisors.
- ACA Silver Lining. We received judicial clarity this week that the ACA ruling out of Texas from a few weeks ago — which I’m still mad about, by the way — definitely won’t impact the law while an appeal is pending. And an appeal is almost certainly pending, because that was the whole reason the states asked for the clarification, so this was not an academic exercise. It will definitely help a lot of people keep coverage while this is sorted.
- Union Shutdown Suits. A federal employee union is suing Trump over the shutdown, alleging (probably correctly) that it’s illegal to force 400,000 workers to continue performing duties indefinitely without compensation. Needless to say, it will be very interesting to see what happens with this suit, particularly as we watch the shutdown drag on.
- Clemency for Cyntoia Brown. This week, some belated clemency reached Cyntoia Brown, an inmate in Tennessee serving a life sentence for shooting her sex trafficker as a juvenile. As he stepped down, her state governor commuted her life sentence, which will make her eligible for parole in August. Brown’s statement is, frankly, way more gracious than I probably be in her shoes, but that’s not surprising; she sounds like an extraordinary person all around.
So that’s what I have for this week, and it was a good amount for me! For making it through, you deserve this San Jose councilman getting sworn in over Captain America’s shield and an eventual better government. I’ll be back next week with more (and hopefully better) 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 lungs that enjoy human existence!