National News Roundup: Year 3, Week 15 (April 28 — May 4)
We had yet another chaotic, weird week this week. The news lately is like watching Salvador Dali paint off-handed after four martinis; it’s a vague, overblown mess I’m already dreading mopping up. (Honestly, after reviewing all of this week’s content, I kind of want four martinis myself. But I’ll have to settle for comfort ice cream, because the roundup isn’t going to draft itself!)
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 subpoena! — 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:
Y’all, I follow the news closely and even I can barely track the Russia Investigation and its related aftermath this week. I’ll do my best to unpack the confusion; here’s what I have for you:
- Barr (and Trump) Battle Mueller.* This story has many messy aspects, so bear with me here — I’m going to try to separate them out by topic and timing. At the top of last week, news began circulating that Mueller had written Barr an angry letter about Barr’s four-page summary of the report. And once that letter came to light, unsurprisingly Congress wanted Mueller to testify as well. Mueller was willing, and at first it looked like Trump would let Barr be the one to make the call. But then once Barr made it clear he’d facilitate, Trump did a take-backsie and decided to block Mueller from testifying, or at least signal he’d make it difficult much like he did for his former counsel Don McGahn. So we’ll have to see where we end up on that.
- Barr Battles Congress.* Also last week, and around the same time the Mueller letter leaked, Barr testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee for several hours regarding the Mueller report. This would have been noteworthy enough, but sometime in the middle of the testimony Senator Kamala Harris got him to admit he didn’t actually analyze any evidence to reach his conclusions, and Democrats started calling for Barr to resign. Barr retaliated by refusing to attend the House hearing the next day, which he’d been threatening to do for some time. So now, Speaker of the House Nancy is saying Barr has perjured himself, people are starting to talk about impeaching Barr, and there’s a contempt of Congress vote on Wednesday.
- Erik Prince Purgatory.* The House Intelligence Committee formally referred Erik Prince for criminal investigation this week, which may or may not result in consequences for him — after all, they have to refer him to William “I Refuse to Show Up” Barr for further action. We’ll need to keep an eye on this, because it has a number of different potential implications, and many of them are very important.
- Looking to 2020.* With all this chaos floating around at the same time folks gear up for the 2020 election, it’s inevitable that we’d eventually start talking about how to keep Russia from interfering in that one too — and equally unsurprising that Trump wants no parts of it. What is surprising is that outgoing Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen was literally told not to talk to Trump about it before she left office, because it wasn’t a welcome topic. (Apparently that’s true even if you’re Putin, because Trump refused to talk to him about it this week either.) Presidential hopeful Julian Castro publicly speculated that Trump wants Russia’s help, but Nancy Pelosi did him one better and said she worried Trump would refuse to leave office if his loss margin was too narrow. And lest anybody think she’s being paranoid, he did tweet this week that he thinks he should get two extra years because “2 years of my term were stollen [sic].” Which is a terrifying tweet on many, many levels, so let’s hope he doesn’t latch onto that one too hard.
It’s becoming harder and harder to distinguish Disregard of Governing Norms from the Russia Investigation circus above, but we did see a couple of power moves that stand on their own. Here’s what happened:
- Original Flavor Trump Slime.* With his back against a wall, Trump fell back on a lot of his own greatest hits this week. He continued to make news for suing more of his banks to try to keep them from releasing information about his taxes, for one. And he also started calling for investigations into the people who investigated him, because nothing says “probably guilty” like “career prosecutor with a squeaky-clean record that spans decades.”
- Emoluments Encore. In good ole fashioned emoluments news,apparently Trump World Tower condos were rented by seven foreign governments in 2017 without approval from Congress. Incredibly, the Trump Organization’s defense was that this was somehow misleading because the Trump World Tower wasn’t really owned by the Trump Organization.
- Chatting with Putin about the Russia ‘Hoax’.* Trump may have refused to bring up election meddling with Putin, but that didn’t stop him from talking with the Russian leader for an hour about the Mueller investigation ‘hoax.’ He apparently also discussed the current situation in Venezuela, as well as China and North Korea.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- Sanction Sparring. North Korea launched new projectile missiles this week, testing both their arsenal and presumably Trump’s ability to keep claiming he and Kim are BFFs after he refused to remove sanctions in February. Meanwhile, Trump has announced he’s imposing new tariffs on China, leading Chinese social media to compare him to Thanos because he’s wiping out half their stock market. So not a great week for our shaky relationships in Asia.
- Baby Beluga Charm Offensive. Okay, fine, there’s no evidence that the friendly whale with a harness stamped ‘Property [of] St Petersburg’ was a juvenile, but ‘the world’s friendliest escaped Russian spy’ was in the news for being adorable nonetheless. Apparently the budding spy has taken it upon itself to defect to Norway, and is now refusing to leave. And bugs the locals for pets on the snout. (As military discharge plans go, I gotta say that one is pretty good.)
- Facebook Eats Crow. Facebook made a big show of banning extremists like Alex Jones and Milo Yiannopoulos this week, presumably to distract from last week’s hefty fine fiasco. It’s a big step in the right direction, though “related” content is still allowed because, y’know, we apparently can’t treat white supremacists like they’re actually dangerous.
- UNC Shooting. There was yet another school shooting this past week, this time at UNC Charlotte. The shooting resulted in two deaths and four injuries, including the death of a student who likely saved many others’ lives by taking the gunman down. It’s unclear what motivated this shooter, as he left no manifesto and hasn’t issued a statement.
- ACA Awfulness (Again). The Trump administration filed a formal request to invalidate the Affordable Care Act this week, despite basically no backing from Congress, because a recent court case created a new opportunity for them to seize. I’ll be honest, it’s hard to get worked up about this Groundhog Day bonanza by the fifty-seventh viewing, but we should still probably track this. If the attempt succeeded, ACA repeal would be devastating for millions.
- Your Painfully Regular Bad Immigration Updates. This was another bad week for immigration, which is a phrase I seem to type every week nowadays. At the start of the week, Trump imposed more restrictions on asylum applicants, ordering DHS to impose application fees and bar work authorization. (This is, shall we say, not in the spirit of humanitarian aid, and will almost certainly be challenged in the courts.) Meanwhile, former DHS Secretary John Kelly was in the news for joining the board of the company that runs the largest shelter for migrant kids in the country. And the Trump administration is considering deporting people for lawfully accessing public benefits, because I guess the words ‘public charge’ weren’t sufficiently scaring immigrants anymore.
- Recent Court Resilience. In more positive news, a panel of judges in Ohio decided that the state’s congressional map was unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering — their words, not mine! — and therefore impermissible. This is a big deal, both in and of itself and because it’s unusual for courts to consider cases like this when there’s an open Supreme Court case. And California is suing the Trump administration over its ‘conscientious objection’ healthcare rule, which allows healthcare providers to refuse to treat certain patients. So courts are remaining an important way for people to get their rights enforced.
So that’s what I have for this week, and I think we can all agree it’s more than enough. For making it through, you deserve capybaras making friends with other critters 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 the ability to take more naps!