National News Roundup: Year 2, Week 6 (February 25-March 3)
Y’all, I gotta be straight with you; this is one of the worst weeks we’ve ever had. This is a good moment to remind yourself of your self-care routines and spend some quality time in your desk fort. Or come hang in mine! It has cookies.
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 an office chair! — 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:
Hey, remember when Captain America: Winter Soldier came out and a bunch of people hidden in the U.S. Government on the screen were yelling “If you cut off one head, two more will take its place,” because they served a shadowy Russian cabal instead of American interests? And then at the end it was over and we all got to go home happy because it was a freaking movie? I miss those days, because this week was full of Russian recapitation after recent strides in the Russia Investigation, and I tried going home but it didn’t make the news stop happening. Here’s the quick summary:
- Yet More States Compromised in 2016. So in 2017, the story was that one state’s voting rolls were compromised by Russian espionage in the weeks before the 2016 election, though there was no evidence that the votes themselves were altered. Then only a few weeks ago, that number jumped up to five. As of this week, unfortunately, that number is now sitting pretty at seven states — Alaska, Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, Texas and Wisconsin. And the intelligence community may have known this as early as January 2017, but we’re only learning about it now. By the way, while California and Texas had no anomalies, official records say Trump won Florida by about 111,000 votes, Wisconsin by fewer than 20,000, and Arizona by about 90,000. And all three of those states had much, much wider margins in 2012. So that’s a fun thing to wonder about.
- Vladimir’s Imaginary Nukes that Live in Canada.* So Putin announced in an address on Thursday that Russia was developing new “invincible” nukes, punctuating the point with a nice video of him nuking Florida. Experts say that the weapons capabilities he described are one part real threat and one part outright fabrication, with a high likelihood that he was simply bluffing to mobilize the Russian public to vote. But even if he was bluffing, the speech underscores a very valid concern about nuclear destabilization, particularly in light of what the New York Times rightfully calls an “American strategic void.” Simply put, the current administration doing virtually nothing about Russia’s cyber-espionage or threats of nuclear capability, and that makes Vladimir Putin dangerous even if he’s simply making stuff up.
- The Weirdest Game of Chicken. Okay, Teen Vogue pop quiz time! When faced with a subpoena to appear before a grand jury in the Mueller investigation, would you: a) Show up and say “I don’t recall” a whole bunch, a la Jeff Sessions; b) Insist that everything you’re being asked is privileged like a Breitbart exec; c) Go on a cable show circuit announcing incriminating things left and right and challenging Mueller to arrest you; or d) Comply like a normal person? I ask, gentle reader, because Trump former aide Sam Nunberg showed us all the value of a cracker jack law degree by choosing Option C in the most colorful fashion imaginable today. (The Atlantic thinks this behavior suggests a canny strategy, and they might even be right, but that didn’t make the whole bonanza less bonkers.)
Against this backdrop, it’s particularly harrowing that Trump has shown so much Casual Disregard of Legal Process this week, on everything from guns to advisers to the Presidential election process itself. It’s frankly pretty disturbing, but I’ll do my best to walk you through with minimal carnage:
- Due Process First, Thanks. Trump stunned his Republican allies mid-meeting on Wednesday when he suddenly loved gun restrictions and noted, “I like taking the guns early. Take the guns first, go through due process second.” You might feel a temptation to do a little happy dance about hearing him say this, or perhaps just give in the urge to yell about the stink it would cause if Obama had said it, but this isn’t cause for celebration. First of all, Trump walked back the statement a day later after meeting with the NRA, illustrating the by-now-established phenomenon of He Just Agrees with the Last Thing Somebody Said, so it’s not like it stuck anyway. But that’s also not a phrase we should ever be excited about hearing, regardless of opinions on responsible gun laws, because he is literally talking about taking due process away. That’s a founding principle of our democracy on everything from criminal procedure to civil forfeiture to law creation to… well, basically everything, and it’s not a good thing to cede to Coolranch Mussolini even if his opinion on the first thing he’d take away kind of makes sense.
- Please God Don’t Give That A Shot. When expressing praise for Chinese premier Xi Jinping’s attempt to abolish ruling term limits at Mar-A-Lago this week, Trump was quoted as saying, “Maybe we’ll have to give that a shot someday.” There’s a whole lot I could say about the chilling implications of him using the word ‘we’ at a resort he uses to charge people for access to him, but let’s put that aside for a moment because there’s an even more pressing elephant in this room: Terms limits are an essential element of healthy democracy. Saying something like that, even as a joke (and I don’t personally believe it was a joke, but more on that below) is deeply disturbing because the punchline of the humor is that we shouldn’t want to be a democracy, which is an idea Trump espouses over and over. He’s basically a dude who applied for a job, got mad when he was hired, and now complains about how his company should be in a totally different business literally every day.
- Chaos Demoning For Fun and Profit. Another comment that Trump made at a press dinner this week was that he “likes chaos,” which he then evidenced by attacking his own staff repeatedly. And while the Gridiron dinner is known for roasting, the comments reflect sentiments he expresses privately (and, in Sessions’s case, publicly!) in full seriousness. Trump’s apparently distrust and dislike of his own staff (and, in Kushner’s case, his own family) are strange, but they reflect a larger, stranger picture of profound corruption and dysfunction marked by disregard for rules on everything from security clearance to foreign diplomacy to emoluments. It’s no surprise that Right Turn columnist Jennifer Rubin calls the current White House “not so much as an administration as a weird fusion of the court of Louis XIV and the Mafia” and Chief of Staff John Kelly joked this week that he has his current job because “God punished me.” The current Chief of White House staff is saying his job is a divine punishment. That’s… not normal, y’all. Though on the plus side, at least we know the current chief of staff probably likes Presidential term limits.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- Abandon All Hope Hicks, Ye Who Enter Here. Given the abusive dysfunction I described above, perhaps it’s no surprise that Hope Hicks is leaving the White House ‘family.’ But perhaps more importantly, she testified for nine hours the day before she announced her resignation, and admitted that she tells “white lies” for the administration somewhere in the process. So this could easily be the first step to a nice relaxing trip somewhere without extradition, for all we know.
- The Kushner Chronicles.* In a surprising development, Jared Kushner’s security clearance was indeed yanked this week, though that might have been in part because of breaking news that several countries were likely manipulating him through his business interests while he served as a foreign diplomat. As a few outlets have noted, the lack of clearance might have literally no meaning anyway because Trump doesn’t listen to pesky things like who has clearance when he shares information. But the word on Pennsylvania Avenue is that Trump is turning on Kushner, so maybe he is bound for New York after all.
- Ben Carson’s Big Budget Adventures. Honestly any other week, this would probably be in the ‘bad’ column, but as you’ll see below it’s all relative. In case you were wondering what Ben Carson has been up to while his department changes absolutely nothing about its policies, here’s a quick summary: He apparently requested budget money for redecorating his own office. Then when a government official reminded him that the budgetary cap for that was $5,000, he complained that that amount “won’t even buy a decent chair.” Then he demoted the worker who refused his illegal request. Then he dropped $31,000 — literally double the annual income of many of program recipients — on office furniture. And when news broke about all of this earlier this week, he tried to cancel the order and complained that running HUD was harder than brain surgery. (Uh, I don’t think following budgets is exactly brain surgery, dude. Maybe you’d be more comfortable in the elevator.)
- Gun Hell Continues. Despite a lack of decisive action from Congress, the bitter political fight over responsible gun use just keeps going. Here’s the short list of all that’s happened in the past week: 1) A teacher in Georgia has already illustrated why arming teachers is a risky proposition (though thankfully, nobody was hurt); 2) more and more businesses are boycotting the NRA or creating rules about gun sales; 3) there was another school shooting at a college in Michigan; 4) we uncovered evidence that Russian politicians are cultivating NRA ties; and 5) Georgia legislators are in a convoluted open fight with Delta that keeps resulting in them trying to screw each other. And a cartridge in a pear tree.
- Immigration Updates. After one week without any immigration horribleness, the government is definitely making up for lost time. ICE picked up 150 people in raids in California, and about half of them have no criminal history at all. (This is kind of a neat trick only a week after Trump had threatened to have ICE leave the area entirely.) The numbers would probably be higher, but the mayor of Oakland warned her constituents, causing an ICE official to call her “a gang lookout” despite the lack of criminal involvement of half their detainees. And those poor souls have bad timing, because the Supreme Court also held this week that people detained by ICE can be held indefinitely without bond hearings (which undoes protections that used to exist in the California area). Meanwhile, Congress has already forgotten about DACA because they’ve decided that today’s deadline no longer has teeth, even though ICE is currently sitting on a bunch of DACA applications. Oh, and somebody discovered Melania came here on the wrong visa program, because of course she did, although she was granted the visa so it probably doesn’t really matter that much.
- Terrible Tariff Tacks.* Trump went totally off the policy rails this week and announced a total tariff on all steel and aluminum imports — a move counter to Republican politics, foreign relations with multiple allies, and frankly all good sense. Faced with opposition to his bananas populist trade policy, Trump keeps on doubling down, until we reached the point where he was demanding changes to NAFTA before he’ll resume ordinary trade with Canada — a country that, I might add, is usually a U.S. ally when the country isn’t run by a sociopathic rotted orange. His repeated re-commitments to making half the world hate us more have the Dow freaking out and his own party scrambling to block him, and let’s hope they’re successful, because this could be really bad. Though Amy Siskind thinks he’s consolidating power in a concerted move towards totalitarianism, I’m still holding out hope that it’s just a temper tantrum — he has, after all, had several things go wrong this week.
- Net Neutrality Bills. After a successful Day of Action organized by Battle for the Net this week, there are now bills attempting to undo the repeal by Congressional review before both the Senate and the House. Senator Markey’s bill has 50 supporters (all 49 Democrats plus Susan Collins), which is still short one vote of the numbers needed to pass; the House bill has 150 Democrats in support but needs 218 votes to pass. We should definitely be calling our reps on this!
- West Virginia Teachers’ Strike. A state-wide teachers’ strike has been going on in West Virginia for an incredible eight days straight, sparked by the West Virginia Senate’s refusal to raise wages to comply with the agreement created by teachers, the governor, and the House. (Note, by the way, that WV teachers’ salaries are among the lowest in the country.) The strike is incredibly brave, because this is a very tough time for unions and West Virginia doesn’t recognize a legal right to strike. Even more incredibly, many teachers are making sure their students still receive hot meals while they are on strike, since reliance on the free lunch program is very high in the state. Public sentiment seems to be with the teachers locally, particularly given how important education is for revitalizing communities.
- Pharma Bro’s Pharma Forfeitures. In vaguely amusing schadenfreude news, a federal judge has decided what the asset forfeiture will be in Martin Shkrelli’s criminal case, since he no longer has any actual money, and the whole thing is just as incredible as you’re imagining. The list includes — and I quote — “Shkreli’s $5 million E-Trade account, stake in the pharmaceutical company Vyera Pharmaceuticals (formerly Turing Pharmaceuticals), the Wu-Tang Clan album Shkreli purchased in 2015, a Lil Wayne album, an enigma machine, and a Picasso painting.” The dude is his own episode of Leverage.
And that’s what I have for you today! Hopefully no desk fort needed, but no shame if you need to take a minute. Here’s hoping next week is less terrible.