National News Roundup: Year 3, Week 10 (March 24–30)
Over years of doing this Roundup, I’ve noticed certain trends — nothing as certain as death or tax cuts, because this administration is bananas, but the tea leaves do tend to have some patterns. Unfortunately, this week reflects a pattern further on the “I live in the desk fort now” spectrum than I would like: Whenever this administration has had a “major win” recently, something awful happens on a policy front. You will not enjoy the immigration updates this week, but I have room in my desk fort if you’d like to join me. We have 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 a whistleblower! — 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:
After Mueller turned in his report, the Russia Investigation had many rounds about releasing the report but no knockouts on either side. Here’s what happened:
- So… About That Report? After Barr released his four-page memo, six House committee chairs let him know that wasn’t going to cut it and demanded a copy of the Mueller report be made available to them by April 2. Needless to say, as I type this Barr has a day left, and it’s not looking likely that he’ll deliver. This may admittedly be because the report itself is over 300 pages long, and some of it will definitely need to be redacted — Barr did announce he’ll have a public version by mid-April. Meanwhile, in the Senate, McConnell’s refusing to even hold a vote on making the Mueller report public.
- What’s Still Going? Despite a final version of the Mueller report dropping, on at least one case his grand jury investigation is continuing and that’s creating quite a rumor mill. But no matter what else is going on, we do know that Mueller has been handing off investigations all over the country, which means this isn’t the last we’ll hear of his work. Meanwhile, Trump and various House Republicans have been calling for House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff to resign all week because his committee is still investigating collusion with Russia, which is definitely a totally normal thing to do in a free Democratic Republic. Schiff (and various other Democrats) have all made it quite clear that he isn’t going anywhere.
- House Probe and Budget Blues. Faced with an obnoxiously obstructionist White House, the other House is considering using the budget process to make them cooperate. Meanwhile, in more mundane budget news, Betsy DeVos and Donald Trump spent the week playing hot potato with unpopular proposed Special Olympics cuts.
We also saw much of the same Disregard of Governing Norms stories as last week, although the specifics look a bit different. Here’s what I have for you:
- Congressional Weirdness. Between McConnell’s refusal to hold a vote on making the Mueller report public, his op-ed about how following normal process is obstruction, and a sketch phony ‘vote’ on the Green New Deal, it wasn’t a great week for governing norms in the Senate. The House unfortunately wasn’t faring much better; it failed to overturn the national emergency veto and the Department of Defense is starting to divert funds for a border wall. (Though as I noted above, six committee heads did demand a copy of the Mueller report by April 2.) That said, the Senate will need to vote on the veto override in the near future, and it could still pass there — which would potentially send it back to the House. So we may see less of a stalemate in the near future.
- Clearance Clearing House. A White House whistleblower came forward today and disclosed that the Trump administration has overturned no fewer than 25 security clearance denials over a window of months against ordinary procedure. She also noted that the denials were generally issued for major concerns such as foreign influence or criminal conduct, and that when she raised concerns about this she was demoted. Needless to say, the House Oversight Committee is definitely folding this into their clearance investigation, and has already subpoenaed more information.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- Jussie Smolett Story Gets Weirder. The Jussie Smolett story got even weirder this week when all his charges were dismissed — and then his record was sealed, making it impossible to really know what had even happened. Trump complained about it on Twitter, but this appears to be the end of the strange saga at least for now — if there are further developments I’ll definitely let you know.
- WTF NASA. NASA canceled its first planned all-female spacewalk this week because apparently they didn’t have two spacesuits that could fit women. I… don’t even know what to say to this, NASA. Your inclusivity is bad and you should feel bad.
- ACA Saga Continues. The Trump administration asked the Fifth Circuit to completely invalidate the ACA after a court found it unconstitutional a few months ago, which is kind of weird since the ACA is so popular and we’ve already gone through this a zillion times. Unsurprisingly, Democrats are making this a priority, and Trump is insisting he’ll replace it with something better (gosh, where have we heard that one before?). Meanwhile, the House Democrats are introducing a healthcare bill to protect the ACA, the Senate Republicans are refusing to draft any new replacement legislation, and another federal judge held that the administration can’t do an ACA run-around. So there’s almost certainly yet another ACA fight ahead; here’s hoping this one resolves the same way the last ones did.
- Immigration Updates. With the threat of a Mueller report on the horizon, we enjoyed something of a respite from new immigration horrors (although Original Flavor still was more than enough). Now that Mueller has released his report and Trump thinks he has been ‘totally exonerated,’ that break is definitely over — and I can’t believe half the crap I’m typing this week. To start with, Trump is threatening to just straight-up completely close off the Mexican border, which is a phenomenally bad plan he’s been threatening for months — but this time seems to be a more credible threat, because ICE has been forced to release people and Trump is imposing a deadline. He’s also cutting off aid to El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala — countries Fox News called ‘three Mexican countries,’ by the way — because he thinks too many asylees are coming to our border from those locations. (Folks, I can’t stress enough how Opposite Day this logic is, because asylees flee countries that have major problems and the aid he’s denying is designed to fix those problems.) Meanwhile, CBP is holding asylum seekers in a pen under a bridge and the migrant parents who returned to the U.S. for reunification with their kids are being detained again.
- Recent Court Resilience. A federal judge this week blocked the Medicaid work requirement being pioneered in Arkansas and Kentucky, which is promising in light of the ACA fight happening in general. And another federal judge in Alaska blocked the administration from drilling in the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans. In Supreme Court news, the court recently protected an inmate’s right to last rites after doing the opposite last month, and Gorsuch sided with Ginsburg to preserve tribal rights in a separate case (which is weird, but I’ll take it). So there were some judicial bright spots this week, at least.
So that’s what I have for this week, and it’s more than enough. For making it through, you deserve this bear in a hot tub and an eventual better government. I’ll be back next week with more (and hopefully less confusing) 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 better immigration news!