National News Roundup: Year 2, Week 52 (January 13–19)
This was a really weird week even by our ordinary standards, but it was also rage inducing; MLK Day under this administration is a special Bad Place and the shutdown has hit the one-month mark. (I don’t mind admitting that I may have yelled things several times while drafting. I regret nothing, although my dog may feel otherwise.)
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’re nearing the point of a full month of shutdown, which means Disregard of Governing Norms was out in full force again this week. Here are the main things to know:
- Two Branches Duke It Out. The shutdown is turning basic concepts of government into something of a free-for-all, and I can’t say we’re enjoying the results. Though it was pretty edifying when Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi politely gave Trump a choice about the State of the Union — either do it in writing or postpone it, because nobody wants to see your MAGA face during the shutdown — it didn’t take him long to start retaliating. (At the time that I write this, he has graduated from canceling her trip to misogynistic Twitter attacks.) Meanwhile, Mitch McConnell kept refusing to vote on resolution after resolution to reopen the government, which eventually prompted thirty members of the freshman House class to bring a protest letter to all of his offices.
- This Week’s Consequences of Shutdown. Another week of shutdown means more mess to untangle — although in this case, it sure feels like more than a week’s worth. The most obvious and immediate effect is that airport checkpoints are becoming dicey, because more and more TSA employees are (understandably) refusing to come in and it’s forcing security lanes to close. But we’re also seeing trickle-down effects in our domestic violence shelter system, and our firefighting and cybersecurity systems are suffering as well. If this continues, we can expect our federal court system and diplomacy structures to start malfunctioning as well, because they will run out of money soon. And it’s looking likely to continue, because Trump is recalling over 50,000 furloughed workers without pay, and signaled he might be recalling even more workers in the near future. Meanwhile, his latest ‘offer’ for the wall money he’s demanding was protection for Dreamers that he’s legally obligated to give anyway because the Supreme Court declined to hear the case on the matter (which means injunctions preventing him from ending the program are still in effect). Against this backdrop, it’s little wonder even Cardi B had things to say on the subject.
- Emoluments Events. News broke this week that T-Mobile executives had immediately booked Trump Hotel rooms after announcing a merger that needs approval from the Trump administration. Needless to say, this put the emoluments clause back on people’s radars even before a government watchdog agency issued a report on the topic. (The report found that this administration violated the emoluments clause a bunch of times with its use of the Trump Hotel specifically — shocking, I know.)
This was another very strange week for the Russia Investigation, so there’s still a lot to process. Here are the main bits to know:
- Michael Cohen’s Sock Puppet Theater.* We heard a lot about Michael Cohen this week. First news came out that Cohen paid an IT firm to rig Trump polls in 2015 and to set up a sock puppet Twitter account to call him sexy (no, really). Cohen went ahead and confirmed both stories himself, noting he did at Trump’s instruction. And speaking of Trump’s instruction, Buzzfeed also ran a story that Trump instructed Cohen to lie to Congress about the Moscow Tower project. The Mueller investigation discredited the report, but it’s clear that at least some of it lines up with court documents, and Buzzfeed refused to retract the story. And then Giuliani disclosed some stuff that makes the whole thing sound even more credible — but more on that below.
- Collusion and Giuliani’s ‘Help.’* In true Giuliani fashion, after the man toured a couple of press circuits Trump now looks even more guilty of collusion. The latest is that he admitted Trump worked on the Moscow Tower project until October or November 2016, which is far, far later than anybody had previously admitted. He also acknowledged that Trump talked to Cohen about his testimony on the subject beforehand, calling it “perfectly normal” for them to discuss what Cohen was going to say to Congress ahead of time. There was also some back-and-forth about whether aides had been guilty of collusion, which he contextualized by saying “I never said there was no collusion” between the Trump campaign and Russia. (Yikes.) Meanwhile, we still don’t know what Trump said to Putin in their five meetings, the Senate couldn’t stop the administration from lifting sanctions against one of Putin’s buddies, and McConnell is trying to get the current Secretary of State to become a Senator. So that’s all fine and normal.
- Barr Confirmation Hearing. Amid everything else, Trump’s pick for Attorney General, William Barr, sat through his confirmation hearing this past week. He fielded a lot of questions about the Russia investigation, his likely relationship with Trump, and his views of executive power, which have been (rightfully) viewed by some columnists as a referendum on Mueller. His answers were mixed, which made some Senators apprehensive, but it seems likely he will be confirmed.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- Clemson and Hamberders.* In light of the shutdown, Trump doesn’t have a personal chef right now, so he served the Clemson Tigers fast food when hosting them to celebrate their national title. Though some NFL athletes were offended by the menu, I personally find it weirder that people created fake quotes from the Clemson quarterback to praise Trump. Also, Trump’s estimate of how many ‘hamberders’ he ordered grew by 700 over the course of a day, which SNL clearly enjoyed lampooning.
- White Supremacy On Parade. This was a weird, bad week for white supremacist ideas, which sadly makes sense because it’s Martin Luther King Day in 2019. First the House decided to pass a resolution condemning white supremacy instead of, y’know, actually censuring or even mentioning Steve King in any way (despite his direct role in making the resolution necessary). Then footage went viral of a teen from Covington Catholic High School blocking the path of Nathan Phillips, a Vietnam vet and Omaha elder, as the latter tries to lead a small group through during the Indigenous People’s March. The teen eventually issued a statement that he was ‘trying to diffuse the situation’ and that he was ‘provoked’. A longer video does show that the students were being taunted by a group of four or five adults, but shows Phillips lead a small group forward to de-escalate, much as he originally described in his Saturday CNN interview. Some short videos also illustrate that the students completely surrounded the group of indigenous people. (Needless to say, if you redirect aggression towards a second group, I’m not sure that counts as ‘diffusing the situation.’) And then, just to cap off a real banner week in white supremacy, Mike Pence insinuated Trump was the new Martin Luther King. And for an encore, Sarah Sanders said Martin Luther King ‘gave his life to right the wrong of racial inequality,’ and there’s so much wrong with that sentence that I don’t even know where to start.
- The Best A Man Can Get. Gillette made headlines this week by airing an ad suggesting that perhaps toxic masculinity isn’t awesome for men. The ad received a wild amount of backlash, given its central message; one particularly angry gent tweeted himself throwing his razor in the toilet. But recent research backs Gillette up — the American Psychology Association issued Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Men and Boys, which doesn’t pull punches addressing exactly how toxic masculinity is bad for men’s health. And apparently bad for men’s plumbers too, good gravy.
- ISIS attack in Syria. In light of the messy withdrawal from Syria beginning, it’s disheartening but foreseeable that a suicide blast claimed by ISIS killed four Americans in the area this week. Needless to say, this makes the withdrawal plans even more complicated, despite the official White House story that ISIS has been ‘crushed.’ We’ll need to keep an eye on this in the coming weeks.
- Immigration Updates. This was another bad, bad week in immigration news, y’all. An inspector general report issued this week in an attempt to fix the zero tolerance policy mess admitted that the number of children separated from their parents under the policy may be thousands higher than initially believed, because the administration began the practice almost a year before they publicly acknowledged it. The report also acknowledged that we don’t have exact numbers, only rough estimates, because the administration didn’t bother to track the families they separated at all. Investigators also found that, under the Trump administration, percentages of separated children in custody increased more than tenfold over the past two years. And though DACA recipients got a bit of good news when the Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal on the subject, four volunteers from No More Deaths were not so lucky — a federal judge convicted them of misdemeanors for leaving food and water for migrants crossing an Arizona wildlife refuge. The women could face up to six months in federal prison for their relief work, and there’s some speculation that the arrests were retaliatory, because they occurred shortly after No More Deaths filmed CBP agents dumping water. For those of you less familiar with that stretch of the border, I cannot stress enough that it is notorious for killing many, many people who attempt to cross through it — Humane Borders estimates over 3,200 people have died in the region while attempting to cross it over the past twenty years. These are the first convictions for this type of humanitarian work in more than a decade.
- Citizenship Census Resilience. A federal judge blocked the Trump administration from adding a question about citizenship to the 2020 census this week, calling it “a veritable smorgasbord of classic, clear-cut” violations that were “unlawful for a multitude of reasons.” Unsurprisingly, the Trump administration plans to appeal the decision, which is probably why congressional Democrats are attempting to introduce legislation that would serve as a bar to reintroducing the question.
So that’s what I have for this week, which definitely was more than enough! For making it through, you deserve this video of a porcupine getting a boost in the snow 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 an extra few hours in the day!