National News Roundup: Year 3, Week 6 (February 24 — March 2)
The news is slowly becoming the Constitutional Crisis Show, if the past few weeks have been any indication, and this week was no exception — it’s been a wild and disturbing ride. But we’re continuing to see promising investigation from the House, so we might see positive change on the horizon. (Very, very far on the horizon.) I’ll keep you posted!
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 resolution! — 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:
For a thing that everybody claims is winding down, we sure do keep seeing more and more activity on Mueller’s Russia Investigation and its many investigative cousins. Unsurprisingly, this section is yet again one of the busiest sections of the NNR — but for us, more activity generally means more better, and this week is no exception! Here are the main things to know:
- Mueller Is Legal (and Water is Wet).* The D.C. Circuit of Appeals ruled by unanimous 3–0 decision this week that there was nothing unconstitutional about Mueller’s appointment as special counsel. And if you’re like me, this is how you learned that former Trump aide Andrew Miller tried to dodge a grand jury subpoena by arguing that Mueller’s appointment was unconstitutional. (I give him points for originality, if nothing else.) The jurisprudence created by this may come back to bite Mueller, but in the short term it’s business as usual.
- House Impeachment Ahoy (Maybe)! Okay, fine, it’s not a guarantee. But the House Judiciary Chairman, Jerrold Nadler, sent out 81 document requests today to kick off a broad probe of Trump’s abuse of power in office, such as obstruction of justice and public corruption. This is a significant step towards impeachment for several reasons: the House Judiciary Committee is the only entity that can decide to impeach; an investigation would be the first step for that process; and obstruction of justice is definitely impeachable — it was the basis for Bill Clinton’s impeachment in 1998. The document requests, as you might expect, hit a broad swath of Trump associates, touching on people from multiple areas of his personal, professional and political life. Just for extra schadenfreude, several of the people tapped were names rattled off by Cohen on Wednesday when AOC got him to give specifics (but more on that below).
- Cohen Testimony.* Michael Cohen testified before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform this week, which was a wild ride spanning half the week. Before he testified, he fielded threatening tweets from sitting Congressman Matt Gaetz and released prepared statements that forecast some pretty major Trump malfeasance — and sure enough, Cohen’s allegations before the House Committee included all kinds of bombastic content. Cohen said that Trump was given prior knowledge of the Wikileaks plan, which obviously would be a really big deal if true and appears credible at first glance. He also submitted many documents relating to Trump’s financial dealings, some of which might lead to Trump’s taxes being subpoenaed, and alluded to another federal investigation into Trump. And Cohen concluded by stating that he fears this country will not see a peaceful transition of power if Trump loses the election in 2020. For those of y’all playing the home game, by the way, this testimony is tied to the other House action mentioned above, but a separate investigation from the Mueller investigation and the Southern District of New York investigation mentioned by Cohen — although Nadler is coordinating with both.
- Throwing Roger Stone (Again). Because Roger Stone apparently can’t go a single week without ticking off his judge, he has already broken the gag order he was issued last week — incredibly, not just by complaining about the Cohen testimony or Instagramming about his charges (though he definitely did those too). Not one for small gestures, Stone apparently has an entire book coming out about the very topic he was told not to discuss and he didn’t think to bring that up with the court until he’d already had a gag order issued twice. The arrogance here is staggering, folks.
This was also not a great week for Disregard of Governing Norms, because we started to see all kinds of weirdness. Here’s what I have for you:
- National Emergency Resolution Update (Again). The House successfully passed a resolution blocking Trump’s national emergency declaration this week, mostly along party lines but with a 245–182 vote. Trump, unsurprisingly, promises to veto the measure and tweeted a warning to the GOP on the topic. But that warning appears to have backfired, if it did anything at all, because four GOP Senators have come out in favor of the resolution — which is enough votes to put the bill on Trump’s desk and make me do a little happy dance. McConnell is required to hold a vote in the Senate in the next few weeks, so we’ll definitely see this play out one way or another in the near future, and I’ll let folks know what happens.
- New Old Trump Malfeasance. Because 2019 is The Most Extra, there was a bunch more obnoxious Trump scandal news in the same week as all of the investigation stuff above, despite (or perhaps because of) his jaunt abroad. I’m just going to rapid-fire a list of all the newsworthy things: 1) In summer 2017, Trump ordered his aide Gary Cohn to get the Time Warner merger blocked because he hates CNN; 2) In 2015, Trump knew some of the debate questions in advance because Fox News told him; 3) Just this week, Trump promised an executive order that likely messes with right to free speech under the First Amendment (despite, ironically, claiming it protects it); and 4) In May 2018, Trump ordered John Kelly to give Jared Kushner security clearance despite lack of actual clearance, which the Trump family proceeded to lie about repeatedly. That last one, incidentally, has gained the interest of the House investigation, and committees promptly folded it into their other inquiries.
- Let’s Review What ‘Antisemitic Slur’ Means. Ilhan Omar made news by questioning sketchy AIPAC practices in a problematic way yet again this week, this time saying, “I want to talk about the political influence in this country that . . . push[es] for allegiance to a foreign country.” (For those folks who don’t know this, dual loyalty is another very old antisemitic trope borne of Jewish diasporism.) That was legit not okay, and I sure wish she would learn to criticize Israel without dogwhistling in the process. But Jewish Democrat Eliot Engel didn’t help matters by calling the dogwhistle “a vile antisemitic slur,” and no one — not the House Dems, not AIPAC, not Israel — is well-served by the official resolution condemning Omar that’s scheduled to take the House floor on Wednesday. These actions are outsized for Omar’s infraction and create a false equivalence with the hateful rhetoric being spewed by the far right — particularly because that type of resolution was exactly what the House did when King came out in favor of white nationalism. (As if to prove my point, a hot take Washington Post op-ed has already materialized calling Omar “the Steve King of the left.”) I can’t believe I have to say this, but dogwhistling antisemitism is not the same as explicitly backing racial violence that kills people. And if the DNC wants to be The Not Racist Party of 2019, they should not adapt outsized measures shaming the first-ever Black Muslim congresswoman because she said a problematic thing at a town hall.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- Appointment Purgatory.* We have a number of appointments in the works as I type this, and most of them are strange and at least vaguely concerning. On the “sadly completed” end of the spectrum we have Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist now confirmed to head of the EPA. And in “probably completed but possibly not” news, we have Eric Miller, a vaguely scary conservative judge who is being installed on the Ninth Circuit despite significant shenanigans involved in his confirmation — which Dems may or may not choose to fight. Speaking of scary conservative judges, further down the spectrum we have Judge Neomi Rao of Date Rape and Dwarf Tossing fame, who just made it out of committee and hopefully won’t prevail on the Senate floor. I’ll keep folks posted on further developments for these three.
- North Carolina News (Redux). In further North Carolina news, Mark Harris also announced this week that he won’t be running in the new election. Meanwhile, Harris’s campaign contact from last time, who apparently was the one who hatched the absentee ballot scheme in the first place, has been indicted on charges. North Carolinians apparently still don’t agree on whether voter fraud is a problem and what all of this means, and the first primary won’t be held until May. But it will certainly be interesting to see the next election in progress.
- Nuclear Summit Fail.* Trump’s nuclear summit with North Korea fell apart this week after only a day of discussion, with virtually no progress made towards denuclearization. True to Trump form, on the day he left he simply said that they disagreed about sanctions, but by a few days later he was blaming Michael Cohen for the failure. Oh, and before he left, he sided with Kim about North Korea’s alleged human rights abuse against Otto Warmbier.
- Immigration Updates. It’s been a bit since we’ve done one of these, and given how upsetting this paragraph is I can’t say I missed it. ICE was in the news over the past week because DHHS documents have surfaced indicating thousands of adults and kids experience sexual abuse while they are in ICE custody — in 178 documented cases, abuse perpetuated by adult ICE staff. For women who have experienced sexual abuse on their way to the U.S. border, this likely compounds existing trauma, and it’s another form of horror that can require years of recovery. Meanwhile, numbers at the border remain unprecedented, and 29 parents that were separated from their kids and deported last year have returned to the border to request asylum and reunification.
- Abortion Gag Rule. The Trump administration put a rule into place this week barring family planning clinics that provide abortion or abortion referrals from receiving federal funding, a move that House Democrats are saying obviates congressional intent. (The House Dems’ argument is backed up by the fact that an anti-abortion bill failed in the Senate the same week.) About the best things I can say regarding this policy are that twenty-one states have filed suit to block it, and Planned Parenthood plans to keep on keeping on anyway.
- HR 8 Advances. A bill designed to allow more time for background checks when people attempt to purchase guns made its way through the House this week, advancing with a 240 to 190 vote. It’s unclear whether this bill will survive the Senate, but it’s the most sweeping gun control legislation in more than two decades, and it’s nice to see movement on this issue of any kind after the couple of years we’ve had.
So that’s what I have for this week, and it’s more than enough! For making it through, you deserve this video of Star Wars otters 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 seven more gallons of caffeine!