This week was an explosion of activity, especially on Friday (which figures, cause I always send stories to my most excellent volunteer researcher on Thursday evenings). There’s a lot to catch up on this time, and I’m happy to walk you through it all! Though I make no guarantees that you will enjoy it as much as SNL did — it is the news, after all.
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 sarcastic clap! — 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:
With a week until the continuing resolution that ended the shutdown expires, the big Will They Won’t They of Disregard of Governing Norms is whether we’ll actually manage to get another deal in place before Friday. As I type this on Sunday, I’m honestly not sure what is going to happen this week, because reports are still all over the place. Here’s what I have for you:
- Shutdown Showdown Shuffle. As I noted above, the CR that ended January’s shutdown will only last until February 15 — by which point, we’ll either have a new deal or we’ll have another shutdown. It’s currently unclear whether Congress can reach a deal with Trump, who is still talking about declaring a national emergency if he doesn’t get funding for a wall (and went ahead and saw contractors about it this past week). For that matter, it’s unclear whether Congress can reach a deal with itself — Democrats and Republicans are currently battling over the Democrats’ attempt to impose limits on overaggressive ICE detention. The end result is like watching a three-legged race to a bomb diffusal manual; the stakes are high, but who knows if we’ll get there before the economy explodes again. Obviously, we’ll all know more by this time next week, for better or worse, and I will keep folks posted.
After a few weeks of quiet, it was pretty jarring to suddenly have an explosion of news on the Russia Investigation. Here are the things to know:
- Bezos vs Pecker. Jeff Bezos made the extraordinary announcement this past week that the owner of the National Enquirer, Richard Pecker, tried to blackmail him in response to the Washington Post’s coverage of several stories that relate back to Trump. Trump’s relationship with Pecker is well-trod ground, and in fact indirectly led to a plea agreement requiring Pecker’s parent company to keep its nose clean for three years — which he probably violated by threatening Bezos. Needless to say, the parent company is investigating, which has uncovered that another journalist has a similar story to Bezos’s, and the whole thing is a bizarre mess worth tracking.
- House Committee Activities.* This was a very active week for the House Intelligence Committee, which met for the first time under Democrat leadership on Wednesday. They officially voted to send transcripts of over fifty interviews in the House Russia probe to Robert Mueller, signaling that they intend to resurrect the investigation under less compromised leadership. They also postponed Michael Cohen’s scheduled testimony, saying it was “in the interest of the investigation” (which is either ominous or exciting, and it’s impossible to know which until they tip more of their hand). And the House Ways and Means Committee has begun the slow process of obtaining Trump’s tax returns. But the biggest news of the week involved the House Judiciary Committee, who questioned a belligerent Attorney General Whitaker in a bizarrely combative hearing. His refusal to answer questions practically guarantees that we’ll see another hearing, and highlights how ill-equipped he is to serve as Attorney General in the first place.
- What Mueller Is Up To.* Mueller continues to go toe-to-toe with Paul Manafort as his investigation winds down, alleging that Manafort lied in interviews to increase his likelihood of a pardon and that he worked on Ukranian political matters as late as 2018. This is, in turn, furthering an investigation into the campaign’s potential collusion with Russia, because discussions involving Russia’s invasion of Ukraine played a role in his work as a Ukrainian agent.
- Inaugural Committee Blues.* While all of this is going on, New York federal prosecutors are busy investigating the Trump inaugural committee, ordering the committee to turn over documents related to donors. The subpoena is just the latest in an ongoing investigation into financial misconduct, which the administration somehow claims “doesn’t have anything to do” with the White House despite a literal allegation of pay-to-play.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- Green Green New Deal. Freshman congressperson and millennial superhero Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez introduced a climate change framework to the House this week, with Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey introducing its counterpart in the Senate. The framework is called the Green New Deal, and it’s very ambitious in scope; it aims to revitalize our train infrastructure and transition to entirely renewable resources within a ten-year period. Predictably, Trump hates it, which is worth the price of admission all on its own.
- State of the Union Happened. As we mentioned last week, with the shutdown over, Nancy Pelosi issued another invitation to Trump to give a State of the Union on 2/5, which he accepted, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer also invited former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams to give the Democrats’ official response. So the State of the Union happened this week, and it sure… happened. The early sections of the address talked a considerable amount about unity, but eventually Trump’s ordinary brand showed up to the party. Highlights include: Toasting new law that creates fairer criminal sentencing, a shoutout to historic achievements for women in Congress, Nancy Pelosi’s sarcastic clap, and a promise to end the AIDS/HIV epidemic in the next decade. Lowlights include: Complaining about “ridiculous partisan investigations”, lying repeatedly about immigration, and claiming that if he weren’t elected we’d be at war with North Korea. Eventually, Stacey Abrams gave the official Democrat response, which was very focused (and though she stressed she wanted the country to succeed, she pulled no punches). Then the Internet collected all the great reaction faces from people forced to sit through the whole thing on camera.
- Virginia Imbroglio. Immediately on the coattails of last week’s Governor Northam blackface horrorshow in Virginia, his lieutenant governor was accused of sexual assault on Monday. Though it was murky at first, the whole thing gained specificity as his accuser came forward with a detailed and credible account. Then a second accusation of sexual assault became public by the end of the week, killing any lingering hope that This Was All Just A Misunderstanding. But Lieutenant Governor Fairfax is refusing to step down, despite growing calls to do so, and Virginia is considering impeachment proceedings. Meanwhile, because all this wasn’t enough of an executive crisis, Attorney General Mark Herring admitted he too had Done the Blackface in 1980 when he was in college, though at least there was no KKK involved. If Herring also resigned, it would leave the current very Republican Speaker of the House as the new governor — which would be a disaster for the Democrats, and that’s probably why the state is now split on whether Northam should resign. Which, to be fair, is a moot point because Northam still refuses to step down anyway, and on his apology tour called Virginian slaves “indentured servants” to a Black journalist’s face. (If you want the historical difference between the two, I recommend reading some literature about it and then appreciating the restraint shown in King’s response.) Needless to say, things in Virginia are even messier than they were a week ago.
- Scary Appointments. The GOP-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee approved William Barr’s nomination for Attorney General along party lines, which means his next stop is a full Senate vote. (Psst! Call your Senators!) And the Senate Judiciary Committee also pushed through 44 Trumpian judicial nominees, including approving Neomi “Date Rape and Dwarf Tossing” Rao to take over Kavanaugh’s old seat on the D.C. Court of Appeals. (Calling takes five minutes!) And the Senate GOP is moving to reduce debate time on appointments on the Senate floor, presumably because every time someone says “dwarf tossing” another Senator loses five polling points. (Here is a thread with scripts you can use!)
- Trump’s “Consumer” Protection. Faced with a month-long shutdown that forced 800,000 people to live hand-to-mouth, and the possibility of another shutdown looming, Trump’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau decided to change things for the real victims here: Predatory payday loan vendors. No, seriously, the CPFB is rolling back regulations on predatory lending practices, because apparently in Trump Opposite Land the real consumers to protect are the bottom-feeders of the loan industry. The rule wasn’t even supposed to go into effect until August, but loan practices were starting to change in anticipation of the new regulations — and naturally, that’s a lost opportunity to exploit a million federal employees next week.
- Supreme Court (Quasi) Wins. The Supreme Court decided by 5–4 vote to stay enforcement of a Louisiana law that would have dramatically curtailed legal access to abortions. The stay is not permanent, but keeps the law from going into effect while it is being challenged in the lower courts. The swing vote in question was Chief Justice Roberts, who appears to be pivoting on some issues in response his court being on fire. But lest we think he has changed too much, he also voted with the conservative bloc to let an execution of a Muslim prisoner go forward without equal access to last rites. So who only knows what he’ll do if the Louisiana case comes across his desk again as a final appeal.
- Immigration Updates. Though this was a fairly quiet week, we did see a few immigration updates — and notably, most of them were net positive. California and New Mexico are withdrawing their National Guard troops from the border, and at least one border town in Arizona that federal troops covered in razor wire is formally requesting that it be removed, saying that the wire is “nothing more than a spectacle by the Trump administration.”
So that’s what I have for this week, which definitely was more than enough! For making it through, you deserve this video of elephant orthopedics 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 tweets about calling your Senators!