National News Roundup: Year 3, Week 52 (January 12–18)
This week marks the pomp and circumstance leading into the Senate trial, and tomorrow we see the beginning of the Senate trial itself. I’m still not sure what kind of ride we will see, but we’re watching the GOP set up a circus and the House set up a courtroom, so there’s bound to be some clashing genres and a whole lot of inanity.
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 manager! — 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 is transitioning into the trial stage of proceedings, which is going about as well as you might expect. Here’s a quick summary of the uncertainty:
- Senate Trial Prep.The House voted to send along the articles of impeachment on Wednesday, and Nancy Pelosi picked House managers to prosecute — all legislators with legal experience, noting that her metric was “comfort in the court room.” Trump picked his team as well, which included…famous lawyers, I guess? Among the confusing picks: Kennith Starr, who famously prosecuted Clinton’s impeachment so hard that people compared him to Javert, and Alan Dershowitz, who was probably just ecstatic that someone believes he’s still relevant.) The Senate then took oaths of impartiality, even though several GOP Senators have informed us that they have zero intent to remain impartial, and appears to have agreed to Kamala Harris’s call for a halt in judicial review while the impeachment is pending. Today, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell released his proposed trial rules, which can more-or-less be summarized as “Who needs evidence, witnesses, or time to respond to motions? Let’s just get this over with in forty-eight hours, shall we?” All of this is particularly galling when you consider that the Government Accountability Office also released a report this week stating that the White House definitely broke federal laws when it withheld funds from Ukraine for a policy reason.
- Bonkers Parnas Evidence.* As hinted above, the House released a bunch more information gleaned from Lev Parnas this week in waves, and most of it is incredibly damning — the documents hint at everything from stalking Ambassador Yovanovitch to the involvement of Devin Nunes. Rachel Maddow also had a completely bonkers interview with Parnas where he reiterated that “everybody was in the loop” (including Trump, Pence and William Barr) about all of the above. And information also leaked that Giuliani had requested a private meeting with President Zelensky, using Parnas as a broker.
We still have some Iran updates this week under Disregard of Governing Norms, but there are some new contenders as well. These are the updates:
- Iran Updates.* Iran news is dying down, but we did get a few updates. Namely, the White House story shifted yet again, with Attorney General William Barr saying that the DOJ declared Soleimani a legitimate target when consulted before the bombing, and that said bombing was part of a larger strategey of ‘deterrence’ (which, frankly, is terrifying if true and terrifying if false, so we lose either way). Unsurprisingly, we also heard news that as many as ten GOP Senators may vote to limit this administration’s war powers with regards to Iran, because the White House clearly has abused the privilege.
- Legalizing Bribery.* This week’s “I can’t believe I’m not making this up” award is something of a twofer, and to be fair involves news from 2017. First the Washington Post ran a story adapted from a new book about the administration titled ‘A Very Stable Genius,’ noting that Trump called our military brass “a bunch of dopes and babies” because they wouldn’t farm out our troops for money. Then other outlets took that torch and ran with it, noting that he also wanted to change laws to allow bribery of foreign officials overseas, which is kind of a fascinating precursor to the current Ukraine controversy.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- 2020 Election Weirdness.After Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders were in the news for an apparent rift about the electability of women in 2020, there was much to-do about how this played out on Tuesday’s debate — namely, with Elizabeth Warren pointing out that she and Klobuchar both have the most successful campaign histories of the six contenders, and with a declined handshake that everybody yelled about for way too long, given that Sanders is researching whether he could give her multiple positions in his hypothetical administration. The Iowa caucuses are coming upon us, which is probably why the New York Times issued an endorsement today — of Klobuchar and Warren, though many outlets seem to be forgetting the Warren part.
- Fraught Russia With Love.* Current Russian President and all-around scary guy Vladimir Putin made some significant changes to how Russian politics work this week — namely, he replaced his resigning Prime Minister as he simultaneously changed the Russian Constitution to allow him to stay in power instead of running into a term limit in 2024. Some outlets are calling the one-two combination a January revolution, as it might allow Putin to remain in power for life, and nobody’s quite sure what his game is. That said, it definitely means nothing good for the United States.
- Administration Attempts Governing. The administration did do some actual governing this week, and most of it was no great shakes. The biggest news as I type this is that Trump signed a partial trade deal with China, which doesn’t do everything he wanted but he’s calling it “a monumental step” anyway because the man literally lies fifteen times a day. (It does relax some sanctions, though several remain in place, and hopefully it will provide some relief for farmers and the manufacturing sector.) The administration also proposed relaxing rules about nutrition in school menus, Michelle Obama’s most significant achievement, so that fewer vegetables were required and more fast food was permitted. They did this on this past Friday, which just so happens to also be Michelle Obama’s birthday, because apparently we’re being governed by middle schoolers.
- Gun Rally Rodeo. Virginia was in the news this week for a pro-gun rally to protest recently-proposed gun reform laws that caused a lot of fear and chaos before it even began. In the week leading up to the rally, the governor declared a state of emergency and the FBI arrested several men with ties to white supremacist militias who were planning to attend (some of whom were coming in from outside the country). The rally itself drew 22,000 people, many of whom were armed despite the governor’s instructions, though only one twenty-one-year-old unarmed woman was arrested.
- Equal Rights Amendment Resilience.Virginia ratified the Equal Rights Amendment this week, making it the thirty-eighth state to ratify since the legislation was passed in 1972. In fact, since the original proposal was so long ago, experts aren’t certain what happens next — we’ve reached the magic number for ratification, but there’s some disagreement about whether there was a time limit and this administration is trying to block it. We should definitely continue to watch this, but even just reaching the number for ratification is very exciting.
- Recent Court Resilience.The Fifth Circuit declined to hear a case that would have reopened the question of whether fifteen-week abortions are legal in the state of Mississippi, which means the decision to strike down the law in the lower courts stands (at least for now). It’s not clear why the court declined to hear the case, but the outcome is a win, so I’m counting it nonetheless.
So that’s what I have for this week, and I’m sure next week will be bonkers. For making it through, you deserve this elephant’s impromptu gentle hotel tour 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 good health for our household!