National News Roundup: Year 3, Week 22 (June 16–22)
Folks, the news is never what I’d call great, but after several weeks of increasingly dispiriting nonsense, this may be the worst week we’ve had so far this year. I’ve restructured this week’s roundup under the Really Bad protocol, so you get your dessert good news first and we’re closing with things you can do to help. Try to hold on to the knowledge that it won’t stay this bad — we will come through the other side. I’m here if anyone needs anything.
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 coal emission! — but all offroad adventures are marked with an asterisk. Okay, I think that’s about it for the disclaimers. Onward to the news!
- Recent Congressional Resilience. The Senate voted this week to block Trump’s arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which is a promising bipartisan step for reining in the administration’s scary foreign policies in general. And the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on a bill that would study potential ways to implement reparations. The hearing took place on Juneteenth, sending a powerful message about the current House’s posture on white supremacy. All told, it was a good week for Congress — especially compared to some state legislatures (but more about that below).
- Private Prison Reckoning. This was a good week for challenging private detention facilities. First Elizabeth Warren announced that she wants to end the practice of privatized detention — which apparently the market took seriously, because multiple private prison stocks dropped over 5% in response. Then on Friday, Illinois officially became the first state in the country to ban private immigration detention within its borders. The move is unprecedented, and it’s a really big deal.
Constitutional Crisis Corner
The Russia Investigation was fairly quiet this week, all things considered. Here’s what happened:
- Power Move on Russia’s Power Grid.* The U.S. intelligence community was in the news this week for cyber-attacks on Russia’s power grid, which seem intended as a warning to Vladimir Putin (and apparently happened without Trump’s buy-in — can’t think why). Some outlets are also suggesting that it’s odd that this was in the news at all, since it effectively ‘burns’ the attempt. I’ll keep an eye on this to see if there are further developments.
- Hope Hicks Testifies (Kind Of).* Hope Hicks was before the House Judiciary Committee this week, and apparently just straight-up refused to answer questions about her time in the White House. She did partially cooperate, however, so Democrats appear split on whether to subpoena her. I’ll keep folks posted on this one as well.
We saw a couple of Disregard of Governing Norms stories this week, and for the first time in a while they’re just all about Trump being horrifying. Here’s what happened:
- Trump’s Anti-Press Escalation. Trump has never been what you’d call friendly to reporters, but I believe this week is the first time he threatened a reporter with jail time mid-interview — said reporter, from TIME magazine, apparently hit a nerve on the Russia investigation. Incredibly, you can see in the transcript that the reporter responded by asking, “I’m sorry, Mr. President. Were you threatening me with prison time?” And Trump’s response: “Well, I told you the following [instructions.] You can’t do that stuff.” Note, y’all, that this is not a ‘no,’ and in fact sounds rather like a ‘yes.’
- Trump Assault Allegations. A prominent writer published a detailed account of 45 sexually assaulting her in a department store dressing room this week, noting in the piece that he had already been accused of such acts sixteen times to no effect. Trump’s early denials on the topic have ranged from “I don’t know who she is” (probably true, whether Carrol was accurately reporting or not) to “I’ve never met her” (a bold move when the original piece has a photo of them together). By mid-week, he had settled on “she’s not my type,” as his main defense, which… is definitely the grossest thing I’m gonna write this week.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- Joe Biden Knows Some Great Segregationists. Joe Biden was in the news this week for playing up his positive relationship with late segregationist senators, noting that they weren’t racist at him personally. Needless to say, several other 2020 candidates were not impressed, and Biden in turn wasn’t impressed with their opinion of the whole thing, but I gotta say “they didn’t call me ‘boy’” doesn’t really grant him the moral high ground here.
- Bizarre Harvard Non-Scandal. Harvard was in the news this week for rescinding their acceptance of a Parkland survivor upon learning he went on an n-word spree in the recent past. That’s not the weird part, by the way — the weird part is how offended some people were that Harvard exercised that kind of discretion. Gosh, it’s almost like they’re a private institution concerned about liability if foreseeable malfeasance results in harm to other students!
- Gag Rule Upheld in Appeals Court. The Ninth Circuit allowed enforcement of this administration’s Title X gag rule this week, which is pretty dispiriting news on several fronts at once. Just on its surface, the ruling’s not awesome because it set aside injunctions blocking enforcement, which means the administration to keep the rule in effect while the appeal is pending. But as the lower court injunctions suggest, the Ninth Circuit is a jurisdiction that’s not noted for its conservatism — the panel of three judges were all appointed by former Republican presidents. There’s another panel that will hear the case on the merits, and we’ll have to hope that the next luck of the draw is better.
- Clean Power Setback.* The Trump administration is moving forward with its plan to roll back the Clean Power Plan, issuing a new rule on coal emissions ironically named the Affordable Clean Energy Rule even though the main goal is to save coal plants. The new rule relaxes emission rules considerably, giving states the option to punt on rolling back emissions entirely, so it’s not surprising that several clean-energy focused states already plan to sue.
The Very Bad:
- Awful Immigration Updates. The past week has just been an ongoing parade of horrors coming from the border, with particularly awful news about unaccompanied minors — kids without proper medical care; kids without food or water; kids without soap or toothbrushes; kids without a safe place to sleep. Incredibly, the administration argued before a panel of judges this week that a right to ‘safe and sanitary conditions’ did not guarantee any of the above. The circumstances are so systemically awful that some politicians and experts are likening the centers to ‘concentration camps’ and ‘torture facilities.’ But interior news is bad too, because Trump threatened to deport ‘millions of illegal immigrants’ with raids in ten cities at the top of the week. He then claimed it would be postponed two weeks, but we’re waiting to see what happens.
- Chaos in Oregon. This entire story is horrifying, and I can’t believe it isn’t getting more attention. After GOP state legislators in Oregon walked off-site to protest a climate change vote, the Democrat governor sent the state police after them — which would seem extreme enough all by itself. But then one of the GOP legislators threatened to shoot the state troopers, and private militias issued threats to the rest of the statehouse. So now the whole state house is shut down, some of the GOP legislators are in Idaho posting pictures of peaceful protest like they’re violent, and holy crap how is this real life.
- Terrifying Iran Updates. The situation with Iran continues to be volatile and frightening, though at the time that I type this it has simmered down to Trump simply issuing sanctions. The week started out with Pompeo beating his chest in the general direction of Iran, while Trump initially looked more reticent. But then Trump announced on Twitter that he had readied an attack on Iran and withdrew after the jets were deployed. (It does look like he deployed cyber-strikes, though.) So now the immediate danger is over, but things could flare up again anytime, and I’ll keep folks posted.
What We Can Do:
- Immigration Detention Conditions. I put together a list of suggestions for folks who want to help and have no professional or cultural ties to targeted populations. Tl; dr version: 1) Learn about major organizations’ efforts; 2) Talk to your government; 3) Donate time and money; 4) Disseminate information without contributing to panic. For attorneys and other folks with professional ties, there are already many organizing efforts underway, and I recommend checking them out. For impacted populations, many groups have suggestions as well. We’ll get through this, and action can help.
- Iran Crisis. This one is down to mostly calling our reps, particularly given the encouraging Senate news from this week. You can find your House rep info here and your Senator info here, and as always, sites like ICalledMyReps and 5Calls have scripts for you.
So that’s what I have for this week, and it’s more than enough. For making it through, you deserve this ridiculous mashup 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 a clone army so I can Do All the Things!