National News Roundup: Year 4, Week 23 (June 21–27)
The main story this week is Attack of the Return of the COVID-19, and that horror movie has just as many bad life choices as you might expect. I think a Twitter user put it quite well: “Any zombie movie that doesn’t have hordes of people running towards the zombies to deliberately get bitten because they’re convinced it’s a liberal hoax is going to look pretty unrealistic now.”
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 bounty–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:
Another week of different forms of constitutional crisis, this time mostly under the “COVID” and “Not COVID” categories. First up, we have what I’m tentatively calling another round of Russia Investigation because it involves Trump being Putin’s favorite puppet yet again. (If the top story develops further, it may end up its own section though.)
- Bounties for Russia.* The incredible news broke over the weekend that Russian intelligence officers offered bounties to Taliban agents to kill U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, and that Trump has known about this since March. Or, more accurately, that Trump should have known about this since March, as that’s when his team was briefed–but intelligence officers had been tackling the issue since late January. Trump’s initial defense was “nobody told me,” which might actually be true, but belies the obvious problems in the West Wing.
- Roger Stone Trial Updates. The House heard testimony this week from former Roger Stone prosecutor Aaron Zelinsky, who confirmed that prosecutors were pressured to give him a more lenient sentence due to his relationship to Trump. Perhaps relatedly, Stone himself was ordered to report back to prison on July 14th, denying his request for another two months’ reprieve due to COVID. (I’m guessing Judge Berman feels that someone so obviously cozy with Trump can go ahead and follow Trump’s guidelines about the crisis.)
On the Disregard of Governing Norms front, we have more COVID crisis and somehow even less leadership than normal. Here’s what has happened:
- ACA Acrimony (Again). Our illustrious leader has filed an emergency brief asking the Supreme Court to overturn the Affordable Care Act again, because… reasons? I’m honestly not even sure what is motivating him to yank 23 million people’s insurance in literal middle of a re-escalating pandemic, beyond “I must spite Obama even if it kills you.” Recent SCOTUS cases, however, suggest they may not be so inclined to listen to him–but more on that below. In the meantime, House Democrats have introduced legislation to re-expand the Act, presumably just to be on the safe side.
- Messed Up Trump Response: COVID Edition. This was a pretty awful week for learning administrative missteps during the pandemic. News broke that federal officials allowed flawed tests to circulate, despite knowing that they are flawed, because Trump had promised test access that simply wasn’t possible. Outlets also revisited the news that the Treasury sent $1.4B in stimulus checks to over one million dead people. And news broke that the SBA exempted lawmakers from its own ethics rules when administering its $660B loan program. And, of course, there’s the current and unprecedented rate of infection, which this administration is minimizing and we will talk about more below. So, y’know, A++ management all around.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- Primary Colors. Primary elections were held in several states on Tuesday, and they appear to show a country still figuring out how to balance elections during the COVID crisis. In New York, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez handily won her district, which is fun to note, and progressives appeared to do well in general, though we’re still waiting on a large number of mail-in ballots. (The elections didn’t otherwise seem noteworthy–which is itself noteworthy, given how badly COVID had gripped the state.) Kentucky closed most of its polling locations and saw huge numbers of absentee ballots as well. This means delays in tabulating results, and with a closely-contested primary for the privilege of running against Mitch McConnell, those results are definitely worth watching.
- State of the COVID-19.* As I mentioned above, we’re currently experiencing an unprecedented rate of infection in the United States, with over 2.5 million recorded cases and over 125,000 recorded deaths reflecting new daily high records. Cases rates are increasing in 32 states, with 14 states holding steady and only a few states experiencing a decreased rate of infection. The infection rate is particularly concerning in Florida, Arizona, and Texas, where lax standards combined with high concentrations of people seem to be creating a perfect storm. Nonetheless, none of these states are closing back down, though smaller restrictions are being implemented–Texas is limiting gatherings to 100 people (yes, you read that right) and limiting restaurants to 50% in-house dining capacity; Florida is banning drinking in bars (but not in restaurants) and closing some beaches; and Arizona’s only concession appears to be finally allowing municipalities to require masks. Needless to say, it’s unsurprising that the European Union won’t let us travel there when they reopen their borders on July 1. Meanwhile, another virus with ‘pandemic potential’ was uncovered in China, and that sound you are hearing is my head hitting my desk repeatedly.
- Black Lives Matter News. News on this front continues to be one step forward and two steps back. We have several more stories of gun violence against protesters–white civilians in St Louis brandished guns at peaceful protesters, images of which Trump retweeted, and a photographer died after someone fired a gun into a crowd of protesters in Louisville, KY. Trump issued an executive order creating a felony charge for vandalizing Confederate statues, and also retweeted videos of someone yelling “White power”. In more positive news, there’s research indicating that no spike in cases was caused by outdoor protest, and the House passed an expansive police force overhaul bill.
- Recent Court Resilience. Adding to our growing list of moderate SCOTUS successes, the court issued a decision today on a Louisiana case regarding abortion, which featured a conclusion that an obviously-unconstitutional law that mimicked a law the Court overturned four years ago was, in fact, unconstitutional, because stare decisis is still a thing. (Poor Justice Breyer probably had to be restrained from writing “I’m sorry, was I writing in Esperanto last time?” when he drafted this opinion.) The Ninth Circuit also found that this administration’s border wall funding was illegal, which is encouraging as well.
So that’s what I have for this week, and I think we can all agree that it’s more than enough. For making it through, you deserve these doggos in bread masks and this happy leopard getting ear scritchesand an eventual better government. I’ll be back next week with more (and hopefully more tolerable) 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 promises you’re wearing a mask in public!