National News Roundup: Year 3, Week 43 (November 10–16)
Impeachment public hearings began this week, and I could easily write ten pages of analysis just on those two hearings alone — increasingly, it looks like Democrats are playing Battleship while Republicans are playing Deuces Wild. We’re due for a lot more of the same this upcoming week, so we’ll have to see what kind of impact the hearings have over time. In the meantime, there’s already a lot to puzzle over.
Standard standing reminders apply: I am no journalist, though I play one in your inbox or browser, so I’m mostly summarizing the news within my area of expertise. NNR summaries often contain some detailed analysis that’s outside my expertise — I’m a lawyer, not a women’s soccer team! — but all offroad adventures are marked with an asterisk. And, of course, for the things that are within my lane, I’m offering context that shouldn’t be considered legal advice. Okay, I think that’s about it for the disclaimers. Onward to the news!
Constitutional Crisis Corners:
Another week, another very full card of Whistleblowing Ukraine Biden Bingo, which continues to dominate the news cycle. Since we had three days of testimony and six witnesses, it’s getting a bit crowded down there, so this week’s news is separated out by day:
- Wednesday: Witness Back-to-Back.* The first open impeachment hearings took off at a full gallop; Ambassador William Taylor and deputy assistant to the State Department George Kent definitely did not disappoint. Taylor disclosed new information — a second phone call overheard by his aide that directly tied Trump to the push to politically pressure Ukraine — apparently brought to us by Sondland continuing the Team Trump tradition of making sensitive phone calls in crowded restaurants. (Though Taylor’s info was second-hand, a second staffer came forward and corroborated with a firsthand account the next day.) Taylor also confirmed that Trump prioritized a Biden investigation over aiding Ukraine. Meanwhile, Kent confirmed that Giuliani led a smear campaign against ousted ambassador Marie Yovanovitch as part of a larger effort to ‘gin up’ investigations. The testimony was so credible and damning that Nancy Pelosi started referring to the Ukraine push as ‘bribery’ by the next day.
- Friday: Sudden Tweet Attack.* Yovanovitch testified directly in Friday’s public hearing while the aide Taylor identified, David Holmes, was in a closed door deposition doing the same. Holmes apparently gave credible enough testimony behind closed doors that he may be added to the public hearing roster, so we should keep an eye on that. In the public hot seat, Yovanovitch described experiencing a smear campaign as Trump smeared her on Twitter in real time — highlighting the difficulties faced by career staffers under Trump and making Schiff mutter about witness intimidation. All told, it was a day so bizarre and grueling for Yovanovitch that it ended with Congress applauding her when she stepped down.
- Saturday: Deposition Track.* Saturday was another closed deposition, but it featured the first budget official who actually showed up to testify, and he agreed that withholding aid from Ukraine sure seemed sketchy to him. The House also released transcripts of several more depositions ahead of next week’s public hearings, which will be another packed schedule — but the whistleblower remains excused for now, despite significant GOP efforts to the contrary.
As in previous weeks, Disregard of Governing Norms somehow continues on despite the impeachment circus also happening. Here’s what I have for you:
- Like a Lying Stone (cont). Professional sleazeball Roger Stone was found guilty of all seven counts at the end of his trial this week, with charges ranging from witness tampering to lying to Congress to obstruction of justice. Stone makes the sixth Trump associate convicted of actions related to the Mueller investigation, and he faces up to 50 years in prison if the sentences are consecutive — let me tell you, it couldn’t have happened to a nicer oligarch. Now that the Stone trial has rolled on by, the tea leaves are suggesting that the next Trump associate to be prosecuted will be Rudy Giuliani, and I’ll keep folks posted on that.
- Stephen Miller vs SPLC. The Southern Poverty Law Center issued a report this week that analyzed emails from Stephen Miller to discuss his ties to white nationalism. The White House countered by claiming that it’s antisemitic to say that Miller is a white nationalist because he’s Jewish. It is this Jewish author’s considered opinion that it is more antisemitic to be a white nationalist, and Stephen Miller’s own emails suggest he quite clearly qualifies. So, y’know, takes one to know one.
- War Crime Pardon Party. Despite everything else going on this week, Trump still found time to pardon two service men who were charged with murdering unarmed people and a third convicted of posing with a corpse. The pardons went against the advice of the Pentagon, which wanted to maintain accountability and preserve chain of command — for some reason, they thought it was important to have ‘functional military tribunals’ with ‘predictable outcomes’ that ‘prevent rampant war crimes.’ All three of the men pardoned, incidentally, were white men originally charged with murdering people of color, and in other news water is wet.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- 2020 Election Chaos. 2020 election news continues, and continues to be weird. Bloomberg still hasn’t officially entered the race as I type this, but he sure did just so happen to apologize for his extremely unpopular stop-and-frisk policies as mayor of New York in the early 2000s. Meanwhile, Deval Patrick did formally announce he plans to run, and speaking as an MA resident who lived through the Patrick era, I cannot overstress how much this is the solution nobody needed. Completing the bland candidate trifecta, and illustrating why neither of these rich dudes’ services are required, a poll in Iowa suggests Pete Buttigieg is now leading in the primary.
- Your Semi-Annual Trump Physical Nonsense. Trump visited the Walter Reed Medical Center this week, which he is passing off as part of his yearly physical — but the trip didn’t follow protocol and was several months ahead of schedule. (Good luck getting your insurance company to cover two annual physicals in a nine-month period if you’re as healthy as Trump claims to be.) Some outlets have begun opining that we need a second opinion on his health — which is probably true for a lot of reasons, honestly — but with this administration, his head could be falling off and we’d still just get an announcement that “the President is in perfect health.” So we’re unlikely to see more on the matter.
- Immigration Updates. This wasn’t exactly a great week for immigration. ICE was in the news for holding a record number of unaccompanied minors in detention — almost 70,000, to be precise. (I don’t even know where to begin on how horrifying that is; kids aren’t supposed to be in custody long-term at all, which means ICE basically failed to do its job nearly 70,000 times in 2019.) The administration also proposed dramatic fee hikes for immigration paperwork, including the country’s first-ever asylum fees. Though the proposed asylum fee is deplorable — freedom from persecution should not have a price tag — the naturalization fee increase of 83% is also particularly noteworthy, because it would force residents to pay over a thousand dollars to experience full safety from deportation. And speaking of deportation, the DACA case went before the Supreme Court, where conservative justices appeared to signal they plan to end the program (though we’ll know more when the order issues).
- Senate and School Shootings. In a stunning display of poor governing and worse timing, Senate Republicans stalled out a responsible gun law on Thursday as yet another school shooting in California killed two people and wounded four more. The proposed legislation would have required universal background checks for private gun sales, and passed in the House earlier this year. Needless to say, this remains an excellent time to call your reps and tell them to ask the Wizard for a heart and/or a brain.
- Recent Court Resilience. There were a fair number of good court cases again this week. A federal district court found that the U.S. violated the Fourth Amendment by searching people’s phones for no reason at U.S. ports of entry. The DC appeals court reiterated that Trump has to turn over his financial records to Congress, refusing to rehear the case, though Trump is appealing to SCOTUS on that one. Speaking of SCOTUS, they refused to dismiss a case brought by Sandy Hook parents against gun manufacturers.And in the sports world, the U.S. women’s national soccer team was also granted class status in their gender discrimination lawsuit this week, which will significantly broaden the scope of the suit. So that’s pretty exciting as well!
- 2019 Election Aftermath (cont). In the final gubernatorial election of the season, Louisiana’s election went to the Democratic incumbent, who threw traditional Southern shade at Trump in his victory speech (saying “As for the President, God bless his heart”). Louisiana is the second red state this month to ignore Trump’s strong endorsement and elect a blue governor — officially, even, since Kentucky’s GOP candidate conceded this week. Some analysts are supposing that these victories will cause Republicans to stop mindlessly backing him during impeachment proceedings, and we can only hope.
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 these beautiful portraits of fruit 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 reprieve from the cruelty of linear time!