National News Roundup: Year 3, Week 27 (July 21–27)
This week has a lot happening, and much of it can feel like a shell game designed to hide the ball from view — because it is. I’ll try to keep folks posted on everything going on, though some days it’s hard for me to keep my eye on the ball as well — those cups move really fast! (But we all do our best.)
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 policy change! — 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:
It’s another week of heavy movement on the Russia Investigation front, and some of the news has major implications. Here’s what’s going on right now:
- Mueller Testifies. Robert Mueller testified before Congress for seven straight hours on Wednesday, in back-to-back hearings with the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees. Though his testimony largely stuck to the bounds of the report, he made it clear that Trump was not exonerated by said report — even going so far as to confirm that he believed he could not charge a sitting president, but that Trump potentially could be charged upon leaving office. He also made it very clear that he was deeply concerned about foreign meddling in the 2020 election cycle, and had many things to say about Wikileaks. And it’s clear that at least one committee was listening, if the news below is any indication.
- Impeachment Investigation.* The House Judiciary Committee opened an impeachment investigation on Friday, and despite Nancy Pelosi’s continual reticence, committee head Jerry Nadler has suggested that he wants this to be the opening act to impeachment itself. The investigation includes a petition requesting information from Mueller’s grand jury proceedings, suggesting that the move relates in part to Mueller’s testimony. And it’s not really that surprising, because more and more House Democrats started to seriously consider impeachment after Mueller testified — at the time that I type this, we’re nearing a party majority.
- Election Protection Escapades.* Despite Mueller’s testimony on Wednesday, and the movement on impeachment, we have not seen the same success with attempts to protect our 2020 election cycle from Russian influence — mostly because Mitch McConnell keeps blocking his colleagues’ attempts to do something proactive. And that’s bad news bears, because even without Mueller’s testimony we would probably want to respond to news that Russia targeted election systems in all 50 states during the 2016 election. (Trump is technically responding to this news, in that he’s replacing the head of intelligence, but that’s not even the same postal code as what I meant.)
This week’s Disregard of Governing Norms news is just repeated installments of the Trump Is Horrible Show, but we have to pay attention to it anyway because it has implications. Here’s what happened:
- Executive Hacks. Trump made a lot of scary statements about his own executive powers this week. First he said he could wipe Afghanistan off the face of the earth as a proposed end to the ongoing war, which left Afghanistan quite reasonably asking “excuse me, you could what now?” Then he followed that one up by announcing that Article II of the Constitution gives him “the right to do whatever I want,” presumably because somebody told him that actually, no, he can’t just bomb Afghanistan cause it’s Tuesday. And to punctuate that point, he vetoed a resolution intended to stop him from selling arms to Saudi Arabia and then sued Congress about his taxes.
- Executive Attacks. There was also a lot of Twitter sleight-of-hand this week, which seems like it should get its own section. The most obvious example is his extended fight with Elijah Cummings, who got permission to subpoena White House officials this week and also got repeated rounds of 45 racism in response. Then Al Sharpton spoke up and got a face full of racism also, which Mick Mulvaney defended by saying Trump was just “fighting back” against “lies.” But Trump also threatened to ‘declare antifa a terrorist organization,’ which is confusing on at least three different levels; the antifa movement isn’t a specific organization and also it only exists as a counter to fascism, which means no antifa action is targeting a general civilian population. This is a particularly concerning move for its implications under the Patriot Act — which permits forfeiture and life imprisonment of designated terrorists, and probably was designed to detract from Barr’s decision about capital punishment — but more on that below.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- Seal of Disapproval. The other other weird Trump news of the week is that he spent 80 seconds in front of a doctored Presidential seal designed to mock him — specifically containing the double-headed Russian imperial eagle and a set of golf clubs as well as the Spanish phrase “Trump is a puppet.” The guy who created the seal apparently has no idea how Trump ended up in front of it, because he has no official affiliation with the campaign at all (and is a former Republican himself). I… got nothin’, y’all.
- Even More Hellish Immigration News. Immigration news remained really awful for yet another week. The latest is a new regulation that dramatically expands the practice of fast-tracked deportations that skip immigration court entirely — a particularly concerning development given the growing number of horror stories about ICE detaining U.S. citizens, because the practice makes it much, much harder to observe and correct agency abuses. Meanwhile, Trump threatened another travel ban and more tariffs to force Guatamala to agree to an asylum deal that will be a bad scene for everybody involved, including the United States. And the Supreme Court cleared the path for this administration to divert military funds for the border wall, though only while the appeal is pending.
- SNAP Cold Snap. The Trump administration proposed several cuts to SNAP benefits, commonly known as “food stamps,” in the past week — most of which are cruel or unnecessary, though they will apparently save the administration about $2.5 billion by increasing food insecurity. The proposed changes including lowering income eligibility to 130% of the federal poverty level and ending automatic eligibility through means-testing, and suffice to say my professional opinion of these changes as a person who works towards health equity is that they are butts.
- Barr Reinstating Capital Punishment. Attorney General William Barr reinstated federal capital punishment this week, ordering dates set for the first federal executions in almost two decades. All five of the inmates scheduled for execution have been convicted of heinous crimes, and one of them is a white supremacist, but the move is very concerning for its racial implications nonetheless — there are a lot of studies that show that wrongful conviction is a serious concern. Frankly, I wouldn’t trust this administration to apply a stamp, let alone apply rules of law to the correct people. And that’s before we throw in Trump threatening to classify the antifa movement as terrorists.
- Recent Court Resilience. A judge in California has already blocked the severe restrictions on asylum put in place by the Trump administration last week, stating that it is Congress’s job to decide who is categorically eligible for asylum under our existing law and the proposal didn’t honor current law. And that kid from Covington Catholic who was suing the Washington Post hit a brick wall this week when his case was dismissed because it completely lacked merit and also because he lied in his complaint.
- Protest Progress in Puerto Rico. After many days of protest to force the corrupt governor to resign, Puerto Rico saw victory on Wednesday night, when the governor announced that he is resigning effective August 2. This is a big deal, because it shows the real change that organized protest can bring.
So that’s what I have for this week, and it’s more than enough. For making it through, you deserve this excellent cover of Old Town Road 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 full night’s sleep so I can feel all fancy!