National News Roundup: Year 3, Week 7 (March 3–9)
The word I would use for this week is “discombobulating” — though admittedly that may just be me, since I’m drafting this while sick again. But regardless of your fever state, there was a lot happening, much of it contradicted itself, and Congress and the Trump Administration continued to play tug-of-war with a variety of topics. I’ll do my best to unpack and outline for y’all!
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 sentencing hearing! — 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 finally seeing a slower week on the Russia Investigation, but there were still a couple of significant news stories. Here are the main things to know:
- Manafort Sentence Sadness.* Manafort’s sentencing hearing on his Virginia cases happened this week, and a lot of us found it pretty disappointing. Though sentencing guidelines suggest 19–25 years of prison time for his financial fraud convictions, he was sentenced to 47 months by a judge who described him as living “an otherwise blameless life.” He still has another sentencing hearing this week in front of Judge Amy Berman Jackson — the same judge currently fighting with Roger Stone about his inability to follow a gag order — and we might see a more severe sentence out of that hearing. That said, Judge Jackson’s case carries a maximum penalty of ten years, so we’re unlikely to see more than fourteen years total of incarceration.
- Following Up on Kushner Clearance.* After I wrote last week that Trump pressured staff to grant Jared Kushner security clearance earlier in the year, news came out that he did the same thing for Ivanka, who didn’t actually pass her clearance check either. We learned this because a White House source gave documents to the House Oversight Committee in response to last Monday’s probe. So now House Democrats are arguing about how to proceed on investigating the Trump children, and there will almost certainly be more developments. I’ll keep y’all posted.
This was not a great week for Disregard of Governing Norms, particularly because Mitch McConnell dug in his heels on some major legislation. Here’s what I have for you:
- Senate Slack and Showdown is Back. This week, the House Democrats passed H.R. 1, a sweeping ethics and election bill designed to address corruption and improve voting access. Though the bill contains many types of reform that benefit voters, Mitch McConnell is refusing to let it onto the Senate floor — and his stated reasoning was “Because I get to decide what we vote on.” (Someday dictionaries are gonna have a picture of him under ‘obstructionist jerkface.’) He thankfully cannot do the same on the resolution condemning Trump’s ‘national emergency,’ but the Senate still hasn’t moved on that either. That’s likely because GOP leaders are still trying to figure out a way around passing it, despite the bill’s bipartisan support. And while this is going on, Trump has introduced yet another budget that asks for billions in wall funding (among other nightmare demands such as ending subsidized FAFSA loans and making Medicare a block grant program). On the plus side, said budget is likely to wind up as toilet paper in the House, because let me tell you how much nobody wants another extensive shutdown after he’s already declared an emergency to get said funding.
- This Week’s Trump Malfeasance. This week’s general Trump grossness, ho boy, where do I even start. Just like last week, we’re going with rapid-fire summary: 1) In response to last week’s report about Trump’s deep ties to Fox News, the DNC announced it officially is refusing to let Fox News host debates in 2020; 2) Relatedly, Fox-related staffer Bill Shine is resigning from his position as the White House’s top communications adviser to work on Trump’s 2020 campaign; 3) Just like last week, Trump quietly signed a sketchy executive order again, this time canceling reports of civilian deaths caused by drones; 4) News broke that Trump has ties to the woman who founded the massage parlor where Patriots owner Robert Kraft was caught soliciting sex from trafficked women; 5) Michael Cohen is suing the Trump Organization for failing to pay millions of dollars in legal fees; and 6) Trump claimed that “the Democrats hate Jewish people” at a fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- Omar Upset Update. That last bit of Trump news above is likely a reference to ongoing conflict within the Democratic Party in the wake of Ilhan Omar’s comments last week, but it’s certainly not a fair summary of what ended up happening there. In light of some pretty awful official Islamophobic attacks on Omar as well as a generational divide within the party regarding Israel, the resolution originally planned for this week got broadened to a general anti-bigotry resolution. The resolution passed through the House and hopefully signals the end of this particular Dem fight — though incredibly, 23 Republicans refused to support the resolution, and noted in-House supremacist Steve King voted ‘present.’ (Every single Democrat, however, voted ‘yes.’)
- Chelsea Manning Back in Jail. Chelsea Manning was held in contempt of court this week for refusing to testify in a grand jury for a Wikileaks case, saying that she had already given extensive testimony on the topic and that she objected to the secretive nature of the process. (It was also likely relevant that her immunity meant she could not invoke the Fifth Amendment to protect herself during testimony.) Manning will remain in jail until she decides to testify or the grand jury concludes, which could be a matter of weeks. Needless to say, given Manning’s history, this story has very complicated implications about the use of civil contempt of court against marginalized former inmates. I’ll be keeping an eye on it.
- Immigration News. There was more immigration news this week, none of it especially great. News broke that the administration is continuing to separate families at the border despite a court order otherwise (more on that below). Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen defended the administration’s practices before Congress on Wednesday, insisting that there is a crisis at the border (and conveniently neglecting to mention that her department caused it). And ICE was in the news again, this time for keeping tabs on people who protest Trump in New York City.
- North Korea Nuclearization. Shortly after Trump walked away from last week’s summit, we learned that North Korea appears to be rebuilding its missile launch facility. U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton is threatening further sanctions, but Trump is simply saying that it’s “too early to see” and that he “would be very disappointed” if he decides to believe the reports. (It figures that North Korea’s nuclear arsenal is the one time Trump pulls out the “I’m not mad” card as President.)
- Boeing Tragedy Aftermath. Boeing 737 Max 8 planes are being grounded in many parts of the world after an aircraft crashed in Ethiopia today, resulting the deaths of all 137 passengers (including 19 United Nations staffers). This was the second deadly crash of this type of jet in the last six months, which contextualizes why many countries are leery of the jets, and there is some indication that the first crash may have been due to a lack of pilot retraining. The United States is still flying the Max 8 jets for now, though only two American airlines — American and Southwest — use them regularly.
- HIV Advances. News broke this week that scientists have successfully cured a second instance of HIV, about twelve years after their initial breakthrough. The procedure used is very complicated but suggests that a replicable cure may be possible — effectively, a second success illustrates a proof of concept. This is incredible news, even though we’re still pretty far from a widely-available cure; it represents a major milestone in research.
- Recent Court Resilience. There were a lot of good court decisions this week. Another federal District Court judge ruled that Wilbur Ross violated the Constitution by trying to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census, making two so far to say the move was illegal. Another federal judge held that the Trump administration is responsible for the additional families separated by the zero tolerance policy before its formal announcement last spring, including them in the class action lawsuit being brought on the subject by the ACLU. In the opinion, the judge noted, “The hallmark of a civilized society is measured by how it treats its people and those within its borders.” A Ninth Circuit judge also created more protections for asylum seekers, holding that they have a right to a habeas corpus review before deportation in certain contexts. And lastly, the Iowa Supreme Court held that Medicaid may be used to cover sex reassignment surgery, overturning a state ban on the practice.
So that’s what I have for this week, and it’s more than enough! For making it through, you deserve these photos from a bird photo booth and an eventual better government. I’ll be back next week with more (and hopefully less confusing) 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 a better system than Daylight Savings Time!