National News Roundup: Year 3, Week 48 (December 15–21)
At the time that I type this, Trump has officially been impeached by the House. A lot of people have asked me what I think of that news, but the truth of the matter is that I don’t know what to think, because nobody knows what will happen next–we’re all off the rails here, folks. We’ve never had a situation like this before.
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 Christian magazine!–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:
At the time that I type this, Whistleblowing Ukraine Biden Bingo has officially resulted in impeachment of President Trump, but it’s still chaos as usual and Congress has gone on break for the holiday. Here’s a quick summary of the uncertainty:
- House Floor Vote.* On Wednesday evening, the House voted to impeach Trump on the basis of both abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The vote was almost entirely along party lines, but there were a few exceptions to the general voting trends–notably, Democratic 2020 Presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard voted ‘present,’ former GOP rep Justin Amash voted ‘yea,’ and two Democrats (Collin Peterson and Jeff Van Drew) voted ‘nay.’ Jeff Van Drew has since announced that he’s joining the Republican party.
- Ukraine News Still Coming Out.* Somehow, we’re still getting fresh news about the original Ukraine-related malfeasance despite the fact that the investigation stage of the impeachment is ostensibly over. This week, Rudy Giuliani told multiple news outlets about how he ousted former ambassador Marie Yovanovitch because she would block an illegal Ukraine deal. Then newly-released documents revealed that the administration first froze aid to Ukraine only about 90 minutes after the infamous July phone call–drawing a clear line back to Trump and bribery. Needless to say, this has made next steps even more complicated, as I’ll talk about below.
- So What Now? Even though Trump has officially been impeached, we have no idea when we’ll see a Senate trial, if we even do at all. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer are already getting embroiled in a Senate clash of wills–McConnell is promising “total coordination” with the guy they’re supposed to be have on trial, in direct contradiction to the pledge of impartiality he’s supposed to make when upon starting the trial. This quite understandably has Democrats pretty uneasy; Nancy Pelosi has strongly implied that she’s holding onto the impeachment articles until the Senate has set up something resembling an actual trial. Meanwhile, Trump has sent Pelosi six pages of personally-addressed vitriol and claimed that he’s not impeached because she hasn’t sent the articles, McConnell is lashing out at Pelosi too, and Democrats are pushing for witnesses again now that we’ve seen the new documents and Rudy Giuliani mess above. So what happens next is pretty much anybody’s guess.
We also saw a handful of miscellaneous Disregard of Governing Norms stories this week, though impeachment really had center stage. Here’s what I have for you:
- Trump Christ Comparisons Abound. As part of the impeachment circus above, Republicans who were displeased with the proceedings compared Trump’s treatment to, among other things, the attack on Pearl Harbor and the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. That last one apparently riled up some people over at Christianity Today, who wrote in an article shortly after: “The impeachment hearings have illuminated the president’s moral deficiencies for all to see. . . . None of the president’s positives can balance the moral and political danger we face under a leader of such grossly immoral character.” Naturally, Trump’s camp responded by discrediting Christianity Today as “a far left magazine” and comparing Trump to Jesus again. (I’ve tried turning reality off and back on again, but it didn’t seem to help here.)
- GOP Lowlights Reel.* Even without comparing Trump to Jesus repeatedly and refusing to impeach him, this was a real banner week for the GOP. A Trump advisor was caught on tape this week saying that the GOP “traditionally” uses voter suppression to win swing states and should try a “more aggressive approach” in 2020, which is honestly kind of scary to contemplate given what suppression tactics look like already. Then Trump insinuated that a recently deceased statesman who served for 59 years was watching impeachment proceedings from hell. (No, Trump, you’re thinking of the rest of us.) And on his way out the door, former Kentucky governor and apparent sociopath Matt Bevin pardoned over 400 people, including several people convicted of serious, violent crimes such as murder and child rape. One of the pardoned people convicted of homicide, by the way, was the brother of a major donor to Bevin’s campaign.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- 2020 Election Weirdness.Another Democratic primary debate happened this week, which the New York Times (correctly) called “the smallest and whitest debate yet”–seven candidates took the stage, and only one of them was a candidate of color. Biden, Sanders, and Warren continue to be front runner candidates, though Buttigieg isn’t far behind, and Warren got a good soundbite about gender in. All told, right now the race is remarkable for how unremarkable it is–at the close of the year, we still don’t seem to have made much progress.
- Spending Bill Updates.The spending bill I mentioned last week did pass in the Senate, and Trump signed it on Friday, avoiding another government shutdown. But he was also in the news that day because he apparently leaned on the House to remove language requiring Ukrainian aid from an earlier draft–you know, the Ukrainian aid that was literally the subject of an impeachment investigation at the time, that Ukrainian aid?–and threatened to cause another shutdown with a Presidential veto if the clause wasn’t removed. I literally cannot make this stuff up, folks.
- Painful Immigration Updates. This was another painful week for immigration. The DHS inspector general found no CBP misconduct in the recent deaths of two Guatemalan migrant children in custody, even as news also broke that one of the children was on the floor for many hours after passing away before anyone found him. Guatemala is expected to finalize an asylum deal with the U.S. in the near future, which will require people coming up from the northern triangle to first seek asylum there before they will be eligible for U.S. asylum. (To remind folks who are less familiar with the topic, this is a very dangerous proposition for folks seeking asylum from the northern triangle, and will likely result in a lot of deaths.) And in slightly gentler news, several states informed the administration that they would continue to accept refugees despite no longer being legally required, but it’s disturbing that they’re able to make that call in the first place.
- ACA Uncertainty (Again). This remains a confusing and uncertain time for the Affordable Care Act, which weathered several swipes in the past week between tax repeals in the spending package and the Fifth Circuit finding the insurance mandate unconstitutional. The court stopped short of repealing the entire thing, and the California AG, who is leading the charge to defend the Act, has indicated he plans to appeal to the Supreme Court. Needless to say, we’ll need to keep an eye on this.
- Recent Court Resilience. The Supreme Court decided not to review a lower court decision this week that invalidated a law issuing criminal charges for sleeping in public places, finding it to be cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Since they aren’t hearing the case, the opinion remains good law, and it has some good language about the cruelty of punishing people for having no place to live. It’s a modest step for housing stability, but a step in the right direction nonetheless.
So that’s what I have for this week, and I think it was more than enough. For making it through, you deserve this mom yelling at her pundit sons on C-SPAN 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 photos of your pets!