National News Roundup: Year 3, Week 30 (August 11–17)
Well, I got back from vacation and the nation was somehow even more on fire than I left it. (I swear I didn’t leave the stove on.) We’ll get through this and out the other side; it’s just going to take all of us pitching in to support each other.
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 trip to Israel! — 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 the Mueller investigation over and the Senate and House both on a break, the Russia Investigation has been pretty quiet. But here’s what I have right now:
- Impeachment Investigation (Non-)Update.* Now that Democrats’ support for an impeachment investigation has reached a party majority, and chairman Jerry Nadler has clearly stated that he is conducting a formal inquiry into impeachment, the topic is again an open question. At the time that I type this, Nancy Pelosi is still reluctant to move in that direction. But that could change if pressure keeps up in the future, so it’s anybody’s guess what will happen when Congress comes back from the break.
This week’s Disregard of Governing Norms news, on the other hand, sure had attributes. Here’s what happened:
- “Moscow Mitch” Meme Gains Steam. The Democratic Party is definitely running with the “Moscow Mitch” moniker that started surfacing in the past few weeks, at least if Nancy Pelosi’s use of the term is any indication. Unsurprisingly, McConnell hates the term, because it draws attention to his recent reindeer games regarding election protections. So let’s make it the new 30–50 feral hogs, y’all.
- Israel Intervenes. Trump pushed on Twitter for Israel to ban two House representatives who planned to visit this week, arguing that it would “show great weakness” if they were allowed to visit because they “hate Israel and all Jewish people” — which, by the way, is news to this Jewish author. Showcasing the special, special bond that Trump has with Bibi, Israel went ahead and banned them, using boycotting as a cover. Eventually they walked back the ban on Representative Tlaib at her request, on the grounds that her grandmother is a life-long West Bank resident and thus she could probably sic the UN on them for this nonsense. But Omar remained banned, and ultimately Tlaib said “thanks but no thanks” to a visit under their required conditions. (Though Trump and others have tried to claim she set them up, it’s more likely that she received political pressure not to repudiate boycotting in this context.)
- Social Media Executive Order. The Trump administration announced that it plans to draft an executive order that would give broad authority to the FTC and the FCC to monitor and police online speech on social media platforms. You know all those times that someone told you that Freedom of Speech doesn’t apply to something, and a private actor’s removal of speech isn’t censorship, because the First Amendment only applies to government actors? That’s exactly what this executive order is designed to mess up, and we should all have something to say about it — as proposed it would be very, very bad for freedom of speech. We absolutely need to keep an eye on it.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- Epstein Death. Shortly after reams of discovery were made public on his criminal case, Jeffrey Epstein was found dead in his jail cell on Sunday. The death was originally declared a suicide, but Trump started accusing the Clintons of murdering Epstein to keep him silent (which would probably be a libel suit if we weren’t living in Bizarroland). Soon William Barr picked up the thread, and now there are ongoing DoJ and FBI investigations. And an early autopsy report revealed that his death is consistent with murder by strangulation, though the final report ruled that his death was a suicide by hanging.
- Greedy for Greenland. This week’s “why am I typing this” award definitely goes to a news story that Trump asked aides about buying Greenland, apparently because he wants to mine it for materials. Greenland, quite understandably, has made it clear that it’s not for sale — although they did leave the door open to sell him resources. In all seriousness, folks, this story is super weird but I also think it’s very telling that Trump is asking about buying and selling entire autonomous territories like it’s a real estate deal; he clearly views people’s lives as commodities in a way that we definitely don’t want a President to view them.
- Reproductive Rights Weirdness. Steve King was in the news this week for claiming that humanity might not exist without rape and incest, which was a terrifying view into his worldview that absolutely nobody asked for. (He also claimed the media owed him an apology because… reasons?) And King’s comment is a timely reminder of the nightmarescape currently looming over reproductive rights, between Planned Parenthood’s likely withdrawal from Title X funding as a result of the gag rule and Trump proposing more rules that let businesses discriminate on anything from reproductive rights to existing while trans.
- Even More Hellish Immigration News. Immigration news has been truly awful over the past couple of weeks, and somehow it just keeps getting worse. The long-awaited new rules on public charge were officially published this week, and as expected they disproportionately punish indigent immigrants for existing. In the process, they also force many lawfully present immigrants to choose between necessities such as health care and food and permanent immigration status. (The administration defended this practice by saying Emma Lazarus’s famous poem on the Statue of Liberty should only include those tired and poor who “can stand on their own two feet” and were “people coming from Europe.”) Additionally, the shooter in El Paso disclosed that his attack was motivated by anti-immigration sentiment, not that this was really in doubt, and an ICE employee drove his truck into a crowd of protesters in Rhode Island. There were also massive immigration raids at a food plant in Mississippi, apparently in response to a successful lawsuit about work conditions, which resulted in 680 arrests on the first day of school. The Ninth Circuit partially reinstated the (illegal) proposed restrictions on asylum entry, which came down around the same time the Washington Post reported on unsafe conditions for asylum seekers forced to wait in Mexico. And for an encore, the administration is trying to decertify an immigration judges’ union, because of course they freaking are.
- Mass Shooting Aftermath. In the aftermath of mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, we have no closure but lots of mess. Trump visited both sites for photo ops, of course making the trips all about him. Then he expressed half-hearted support for gun control while Congress considered five different bills on the subject and several Democratic candidates released comprehensive plans. Meanwhile, there were further arrests in both El Paso and Ohio due to concern about copycat crimes.
- Recession Threat.* A threat of recession looms large in the news cycle this week, with reports of sluggish growth early in the week forecasting a massive market drop on Wednesday. Though this wasn’t the first bad day the Dow has had in the past few years, it is the first time since 2007 we’ve seen an inverted yield curve, which many people view as a serious warning sign — apparently including Trump, if his Twitter tirade is any indication. It’s a predictable outcome of irresponsible economic policy, but it can be hard to predict when it will hit or how bad it will be, which is making a lot of people nervous. Needless to say, the Trump administration is insisting it won’t happen, but we should all be keeping an eye on this.
- Endangered Species Further Endangered.* The Trump administration weakened foundational wildlife protection rules this week, presumably just in case anybody’s wife really needed that grizzly skin coat. (I’m lying, it’s about oil, because of course it is.) The changes are particularly frustrating because they come shortly after a UN global assessment report stresses the importance of preserving biodiversity. Some days, it really does feel like we’re being governed by Captain Planet villains.
- Cyntoia Brown Released. After spending literally half her life behind bars, Cyntoia Brown was released from custody this past week when her sentence was commuted. Brown was originally sentenced at age 16 for killing a man who paid to have sex with her; she maintained the act was self-defense and prosecutors claimed it was a robbery gone south. Brown’s case had become a symbol for better protections for sex-trafficked minors in general, and her commuted sentence is a major win on that front.
- Recent Court Resilience. There were several promising court cases in the past week or so, which is only a partial balm to everything else but it’s at least a start. In DC, a judge awarded $700,000 to a college student heavily doxxed by neo-Nazis, creating valuable new precedent about the actual harm created by serious Internet harassment. And in lawsuit news, 13 states are suing the Trump administration over their rollback of the Clean Air Act while another 18 other states and several advocacy groups are suing over the new public charge rules.
- 2020 Primary Colors. Presidential hopeful John Hickenlooper announced he is officially dropping out of the 2020 race, though apparently he may run for the Senate instead (and more power to him, we need people to do that anyway). Between that and five candidates emerging as fundraising frontrunners for the September debates, we may be finally seeing an actual primary begin to take shape. We should continue to watch this, obviously, but it’s exciting to see order start to form from chaos.
So that’s what I have for this week, and good gravy, what even is the news right now. For making it through, you deserve this primer on zero-proof beverages 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 kudos for surviving a nine-hour Ikea trip!