National News Roundup: Year 4, Week 2 (January 26 — February 1)
Another week, another set of messed-up impeachment proceedings. On the plus side, the rest of this week’s news looks a bit less dire, so that’s something–but I recommend comfort food nonetheless.
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 caucus!–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 Corner:
At the time that I type this, Whistleblowing Ukraine Biden Bingo is winding down in the Senate, which is not to anybody’s benefit except maybe Trump’s. Here’s what has happened since last week:
- Q&A Quagmire. After two short days of opening statements from the President’s team, we moved into a question-and-answer phase on Wednesday–and it was, to use a technical term, a hot mess. Alan Dershowitz created new nightmare fuel by claiming that if Trump “does something he believes will get him elected in the public’s interest,” then “that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment.” His colleague whom he cited, unsurprisingly, did not agree with his analysis. But many GOP Senators found it exactly the kind of cover they needed; by the end of the week they were arguing that Trump’s actions were bad but not impeachable. This in turn prompted the New York Times to run a thinkpiece entitled “L’Etat, C’est Trump,” and also prompted Democratic senator Joe Manchin to begin calling for a censure, since the GOP did concede the overall not-awesomeness of Trump’s actions.
- Witnesses Fall Through. By far, the most disappointing point of this past week’s proceedings was the witness vote on Friday. The week started out with Mitch McConnell indicating that he didn’t have the votes to block Bolton’s testimony, and at least one Republican senator also asked for the manuscript of John Bolton’s book. But then more moderate GOP Senator Lamar Alexander indicated that he would not vote for witnesses, possibly in response to public pressure from Trump, and Lisa Murkowski followed suit. And that was all she wrote–we needed four Republicans, and we only got two. The final vote was 49–51, which means no witnesses will be called in this trial despite the high likely value of John Bolton’s testimony–in fact, all four of the Democrat’s amendments failed along party lines. This, in turn, makes acquittal likely when the Senate votes on Wednesday, which is extra disturbing given the information outlined below.
- Bonkers Impeachment Updates.* A lot of completely bananas impeachment stuff happened this past week, and I would be remiss if I didn’t list it here: 1) More Lev Parnas evidence turned up as he sent McConnell an entire laundry list for testimony consideration; 2) The Administration admitted that it’s blocking release of twenty-four different emails that document Trump’s role in withholding aid to Ukraine; 3)McConnell openly coordinated the date of the final vote with Trump; and 4) Rand Paul outed an alleged whistleblower in a press conference because John Roberts wouldn’t let him do it in open impeachment proceedings.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- 2020 Election Weirdness.* Since it’s Monday, all eyes are on the Iowa caucus as I write this–which has an imperfect record, but nonetheless represents the first real primary results we’ll see this season. Since the process is a bit complicated, and I am by no means an expert on Iowan process, I decided to wait for final results to dive into how it went down–but rest assured, I will give a full summary next week!
- Confounding Policy Updates.We saw a number of odd policy changes this week, some of which are standard issue Trumpian poor policy and one of which is odd simply because I’m suspicious of how non-terrible it appears. First up, Trump undid Obama’s restrictions on land mine use, presumably because he believes killing civilians is a selling point. And in enraging policy news, we have the Medicaid funding overhaul proposed this week, which takes a major step towards a block grant structure for the entitlement program. It’s a move that experts and even Congress pretty uniformly regard to be demonstrably bad policy–the weird thing here is that we’re still stuck in this Groundhog Day ACA repeal hell after literally years of failed attempts. Finally, there’s a new process for public loan forgiveness that is designed to make it simpler to apply–and on its face, appears to actually do the thing it sets out to do! Nobody check whether Betsy DeVos is now a pod person, please, because we could all use a break this week.
- Coronavirus Creep.* The coronavirus situation continues to get worse, with the death toll in China now up to 425 and approximately 20,000 people diagnosed globally. We’ve also seen the first death outside of China and the first person-to-person transmission in the U.S. The World Health Organization has declared a public health emergency, and airlines all around the country are suspending flights to China. Experts note that the flu is a much more serious virus in the U.S. at this time, and that’s definitely true–and we should be thinking carefully about whether our responses are borne of racism rather than true public health concern. That said, we are underprepared for any pandemic in this country, and this is worth tracking.
- Immigration Update. In addition to the public charge changes outlined last week–which we now know go into effect on February 24, by the way–the administration added six new countries to their travel ban list this week. Folks from Nigeria, Eritrea, Sudan, Tanzania, Kyrgyzstan and Myanmar now have restricted travel as well, particularly when it comes to getting visas issued for temporary travel. Though I’ve seen at least one think piece calling this change a win for China, we’re also now restricting banning the return of foreign nationals who have set foot in China in the past fortnight due to the coronavirus’s origins in Wuhan. When this is added to the proposed visa restrictions based on health insurance and the proposed visa restrictions based on pregnancy, a picture emerges of pretty restricted temporary travel.
- Prison Condition Fatalities. Mississippi made the news this week due to its high number of inmate deaths since 2020 began, with thirteen total people passing away in a five-week period. The Southern Poverty Law Center has requested a federal investigation, and several rappers are suing. In separate but related news, a video taken in an Oklahoma jail showing an inmate begging for medical care while the staff mocked him made an appearance in the federal lawsuit over that inmate’s death. This is a major systemic issue in our penal system that definitely deserves our attention.
- Recent State Resilience.We have an odd array of good news on the state level this week, but I’m certainly not complaining! Virginia has repealed a law requiring mandatory ultrasounds for abortions which has been on the books for several years, and along with two other states also brought a lawsuit demanding the Equal Rights Act be added to the constitution. (It’s a good week to be Virginian, apparently!) And in New York, a state park in Brooklyn is being named after famous trans activist Marsha Johnson, which is an exciting milestone for LGBTQ representation in New York and elsewhere.
- Border Wall Bluster. In schadenfreude news, parts of the border wall keep getting blown over by wind, requiring large storm gates to be kept open indefinitely. Needless to say, this somewhat limits the effectiveness of said barrier, since it will have giant gaping holes in it for the foreseeable future. Gosh, it couldn’t have happened to a nicer wall.
So that’s what I have for this week, and I’m sorry, there are no news refunds. For making it through, you deserve this day in the life of a baby bat 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 more hours in the day!