National News Roundup: Year 3, Week 32 (August 25–31)
Another week, another giant pile of “why are we trapped in this timeline.” As always, ice cream and I are there for you, but frankly, I won’t judge you if you go with something harder this week — the week went pretty hard on us, so it’s only fair.
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 tax return! — 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:
We’re starting to see more movement on the Russia Investigation than we’ve seen in some time, but that doesn’t mean it’s exciting news. Here’s what I have right now:
- Comey Commotion.* The Justice Department’s inspector general announced this week that former FBI head James Comey violated FBI protocol when he documented conversations with Trump in private memoranda and retained copies after he was fired. Unsurprisingly, Trump was tweeting about the findings pretty much immediately, but no official censure has been forthcoming — that will be the role of the Office of Professional Responsibility.
There was considerably more Disregard of Governing Norms, and none of it was especially fun viewing. Here’s what I have for you:
- This Week’s 45 Malfeasance.* There was a lot of overtly sketchy Trump behavior this week, although I say that so often I should just start outsourcing to a wind-up doll. The bit where he authorized a new Space Command was pretty funny, and other than being a waste of money it was probably fairly benign. But he also told staff to illegally seize land for a border wall, because he’d just pardon anybody who was prosecuted. (He later said he didn’t say that.) He also complained on Twitter that Fox News “isn’t working for us anymore,” which was a sentiment that Fox News apparently did not appreciate. He had Mike Pence stay in his golf resort in Ireland, which was literally across the country from his actual location of diplomatic business, because it would benefit him financially. And just to top it all off, news broke that Trump made up some of his phone calls with China to try to assuage concern about the trade war.
- Federal Election Commission Vacancy. Vice Chairman of the Federal Election Commission Matthew Peterson stepped down last week. Peterson’s chair is the fourth to expire under Trump’s watch, and none of them have been replaced — which means the FEC now lacks quorum required to function. Surprisingly, this one isn’t Trump’s fault, because he did nominate somebody several times — but the Senate hasn’t held a vote to confirm (hmm, where have I heard that one before?). Good thing we don’t have reason to expect foreign interference with free elections in 2020, amirite? Thanks Moscow Mitch!
- Deutsche Tax Situation.* Deutsche Bank confirmed this week that it does have some of the Trump family tax documents that were subpoenaed by Congress (though Capital One said that they do not). Deutsche also said, however, that it wouldn’t turn over the records or even say who they concerned until there was a court order, so it will be some time before we see further action on this.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- Hurricane Dorian’s Bitter Fruit. Hurricane Dorian came onto the scene this week and is proving as nasty as its namesake. Over the weekend, it passed through the Caribbean as a Category 5 storm and left 62,000 people without drinking water in the Bahamas. Now it’s headed towards Florida, where it is expected to hang out as a Category 2 storm for a couple of days. It’s likely due to the Florida part that Trump canceled his trip to Poland, though he also took the time to insult Puerto Rico while he was making preparations.
- Brexit Mess. It turns out Brexit is the sleeper schadenfreude of the week, and given the rest of the news I think we all deserve to read about it. First Prime Minister Boris Johnson successfully appealed to the Queen to suspend Parliament for several weeks before leading a single vote — which many members rightfully saw as an excuse not to debate Brexit that was prompting a constitutional crisis. (Brexit was supposed to go off on October 31, and Johnson has been pushing for an exit whether there was a plan or not.) But since Parliament had until September 12th for the suspension to go into effect, it was still in session today when conservative MP Phillip Lee defected to the Lib Dems, leaving Johnson without a working majority before anybody voted on anything. He responded by telling his party that anyone who voted against him once the first vote was, y’know, held would be forced out of the party. So twenty more members of his own party gave him the bird and voted themselves off the island, and now Johnson is trying to get a snap election on October 14. Meanwhile, the head of the opposing party is saying maybe he’ll consider an election, but only if no-deal Brexit’s already off the table. Folks, I’m gonna go ahead and conclude that when your second ever plan involves trying to convince people to put your job in jeopardy, you are maybe not super great at planning.
- EPA Deregulation Adventures.* The EPA is trying to roll back rules on methane emissions, which isn’t especially strange in 2019 (though that is its own tragedy). What is unusual, however, is the resistance they’re encountering from the people they’re trying to deregulate — apparently the relaxed rules may have policy consequences for automotive companies and energy companies further down the pike, and some far-thinking companies are organizing against the initiative. Since there’s a sixty-day comment window before they can do anything, and the industry appears mixed at best on these relaxed rules, we may not see this finalized before the 2020 election.
- Even More Hellish Immigration News. This week brought yet more bad immigration news. First 45’s administration ended automatic citizenship for children born on military bases by a convoluted memo that apparently confused a lot of people, but is concerning even in its more limited form. The administration also ended a program that allowed medically fragile people to stay here while they receive life-saving medical care. The CDC reported that there have been mumps outbreaks in fifteen different camps, making last week’s push to hold kids in camps indefinitely even more upsetting. Last but not least, the administration announced it plans to relax rules about language interpretation services in healthcare.
- Amazon Still Burning. At the top of the week, Bolsonaro refused aid pledged during the G-7 summit, saying that he would only take the money if French president Emmanuel Macron apologizes to him for calling him a liar. (He did accept British aid, but given what’s going on in Britain right now I’m not sure what that’s worth.) Trump praised Bolsonaro for rejecting aid, saying he was “in all respects doing a great job” because theirs is a special narcissistic relationship. As I mentioned last week, Amazonian damage is likely to have devastating effects on our global ecosystem long-term, because it’s an important player in delaying climate change — so, y’know, totally worth refusing relief over some insults.
- Straight Pride Parade Brutality. The city of Boston hosted a “straight pride parade” this weekend, which was really more of a pro-fascism pride event, and ended in nine people being taken to hospitals and at least one concussion. Countless eyewitness accounts and some on-the-ground footage documented police using pepper spray on counterprotesters with very little provocation, apparently mostly at the direction of one specific captain. I was not present at any of the violent altercations, but I do personally know people who were pepper sprayed, as well as people who shot video footage, and I cannot overstate how credible I find these reports. (Also, a simple search of said captain’s name pulls up his involvement in at least one previous police misconduct case.) Like so many Boston residents, I am disturbed and angered by this escalation, as well as bail conditions barring people from the city, and I urge everyone reading this to call their state reps.
- Recent Court Resilience. There were some promising court cases this week. On the health side of things, we have a $572M damage award against Johnson & Johnson for their role in the opiate epidemic, which in turn prompted a settlement from Purdue Pharma. In civic news, the Third Circuit permitted a lawsuit against the TSA to go forward, and a North Carolina state court found their legislative districts to be unconstitutionally gerrymandered under the state constitution — creating a new line of precedent to address unlawful districting in other states. All of these are positive developments, though it was a rough week in general.
So that’s what I have for this week, and I think we can all agree that it’s more than enough. For making it through, you deserve this compilation of lounging Jacob Rees-Mogg memes 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 more ice cream, cause we’re gonna need it!