National News Roundup: Year 4, Week 25 (July 5–11)
This administration’s new approach is that we have a new normal, in which COVID is just part of the backdrop of all of life. Needless to say, there are obvious problems with this approach–namely, a pandemic like this is not normal and the U.S.’s ever-climbing death rate is avoidable. If you feel like you’re being gaslit, that’s probably because you are; this administration is going all-in. That doesn’t mean we have to accept it.
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 commuted sentence!–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:
Yet another week of “COVID” and “Not COVID” constitutional crises. First up, we have more lingering stories from the Russia Investigation, though none of them are what I’d call a fun read. Here’s what has happened:
- Stone’s Throw Away. Trump apparently decided he hadn’t done enough corruption lately with the pandemic slowing him down, so he went ahead and commuted Roger Stone’s sentence a few days before the latter was due to show up to prison. (It’s hard to keep up with the rogue’s gallery, but you may remember Roger Stone from such greatest hits as “didn’t bother to learn how WhatsApp would incriminate him,” “tried to get the presiding judge removed on the grounds that he wasn’t likable,” and “was found guilty of doing Trump’s dirty work literally seven times.”) Unsurprisingly, the presiding judge is already examining the order for scope, but it’s unclear whether there will be any leeway there. Needless to say, this is yet another new height of corruption, because no sitting President has ever pardoned somebody for crimes related to the President’s dirty work before. I’m sure we’d all be very horrified if we were still capable of the emotion.
- Vindman Out. Speaking of corruption, Lt Col Alexander Vindman, who was a key witness in the House impeachment proceedings, announced this week he was retiring from the military despite being due for a promotion to full colonel this year. He also made it clear that this retirement was in response to a sustained campaign of systemic harassment levied at him for said participation, which was spearheaded by the President. It’s an ignoble and I’m sure painful end to 21 years of service, particularly considering the bravery of his service this past winter.
On the Disregard of Governing Norms front, we have another week of growing COVID crisis and shrinking leadership. Here are the stories to know:
- COVID and Immigration. I’ve been meaning to talk for a little while now about the immigration power grab happening during the COVID crisis, which seems designed to make legal immigration more and more impossible. Among the changes during the last month: 1) Closing the borders to asylum seekers from countries with infection on a “public health” basis, even while insisting that our schools need to reopen; 2) A suspension of visas that allow people to enter the U.S. to work, which uses job security for Americans as a rationale and was itself an extension of an earlier order for the suspension of travel to seek lawful permanent residence; 3) A new rule that students on visas will be deported if their schools reopen remotely; 4) Apparently ceasing print of immigration papers after the contract with a private vendor ended; and 5) A broad set of proposed changes to asylum that make it very difficult for anyone to claim asylum at all. That last one has a comment period that ends on Wednesday, by the way, and I strongly encourage folks to write in and yell about it.
- Messed Up Trump Response: COVID Edition. At this point, I think it’s fair to say that the White House has hit rock bottom on COVID response and is starting to dig. Trump spent much of the week pressuring schools to reopen in person, complaining about CDC rules that urged caution and slow reopen. His cronies got into the action too, with Pence claiming new CDC regulations would be forthcoming (spoiler: no they aren’t) and Betsy DeVos following up by saying we don’t have to listen to the CDC anyway (spoiler: yes we do). When none of that worked, Trump started smearing his own head expert for listening to available data and for generally urging responsible pandemic policy. This is all, of course, in addition to the growing rhetoric that the growing infection numbers are part of life and “we need to live with it,” despite the administration also acknowledging that death rates will rise–but more on that below.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- Election Oddities (Again). In election news, a recent poll reveals that GOP voters don’t trust absentee ballots because Trump says they’re untrustworthy, despite him being pretty untrustworthy himself. This is alarming to GOP operatives, because the attitude might hurt GOP candidates in the long run. Of course, I think it’s safe to say Trump doesn’t care what happens to other GOP candidates, as long as he himself gets reelected.
- Confounding Court Cases. The SCOTUS term wound down this week, and we saw a few more confusing or concerning cases on the way out. The first was a decision to permit employers to opt out of the birth control mandate of the ACA due to religious objection, which needless to say is disappointing, particularly when many people take hormonal medication for reasons unrelated to contraception. The other was a set of two related decisions collectively saying that Trump has no executive immunity from subpoena–but Congress can’t have his taxes before November anyway, due to “separation of powers” concerns. The cases are a mixed bag, but there was at least one positive case as well, which we’ll talk about below.
- State of the COVID-19.* As I discussed above, we’re really not in great shape COVID-wise. We’re currently experiencing an unprecedented rate of infection in the United States, with 3.3 million recorded cases and over 135,000 recorded deaths –about one fifth of the entire world’s total cases to date. True to Dr. Fauci’s prediction that we may see rates of up to 100,000 new cases per day, we’ve already scaled past 63,000 per day at the time that I type this. Florida saw 15,300 new cases in a single day over the weekend, the single highest number we’ve ever seen, though that apparently didn’t stop Disney World from reopening. In international news, the leader of Brazil has tested positive and the WHO has acknowledged the risk of airborne transmission. But hey, at least Trump has finally started wearing masks in public, only three months after his own administration said everyone should!
- Black Lives Matter News. News on this front was a bit quieter this week, but the Marshall Project did cover the practice of peremptory challenges to jurors who support Black Lives Matter, which is a fancy way of saying “removed from jury service for thinking that extrajudicial killing is bad.” Meanwhile, San Francisco passed a law against discriminatory 911 calls, which they have amusingly named The CAREN Act, and Amy Cooper was charged with filing a false police report.
- Recent Court Resilience. We had some solid court cases this week in addition to the less-solid cases above. The Supreme Court held that large parts of eastern Oklahoma are still reservation land that belongs to local tribes. A federal judge also blocked the Justice Department from resuming federal executions. And in lawsuit news, several schools are suing Trump over his student visa power move, and seventeen state Attorneys General have joined in.
- Recent Racial Renaming. After last week’s deliberations, the NFL’s Washington team did indeed decide to change its name. The new name won’t be released for a few days yet, which might be because they still need to secure rights, but I’ll keep folks posted.
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 important inter-museum content and 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 more tea because we’re running out!