National News Roundup: Year 4, Week 29 (August 2–8)
I know we’re all getting tired of same-y stories, but this week was another miserable Groundhog Day–right down to the heat wave happening as I type this. Come on, universe, you’re clearly running out of ideas. Just end the season and be done with 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 post office!–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:
On the Disregard of Governing Norms front, everything old is new again. Here are the things to know:
- Messed Up Trump Response: COVID Edition. This sure was a week for Trump either spewing nonsense about COVID or using it to justify executive overreach. The week began with sources telling CNN that Trump “still doesn’t get” how bad COVID really is, which was certainly borne out by his statements in that infamous HBO interview on Monday. When Dr. Fauci acknowledged that the U.S. has the worst coronavirus outbreak in the world–more on that below–Trump countered by claiming we would have a vaccine by the November election (spoiler: no we won’t). Numerous outlets report that the White House played a role in this week’s failure to reach a COVID relief deal, but that didn’t stop Trump from issuing a slew of executive actions that probably aren’t legal, don’t fully address constituents’ needs, and reflect a common pattern of executive overreach. (He also issued a bunch more orders that didn’t relate to COVID, but we’ll talk about that below.) And just to cap off the week, both Twitter and Facebook ended up removing Trump campaign content because it dangerously mischaracterized facts about spread of COVID-19.
- Generic Disregard Redux. We had a pretty broad range of suspicious government stories this week, and almost all of the grab bag is some kind of redux: 1) A State Department watchdog resigned, only a few months after the previous inspector general was forced out; 2) ActingDHS secretary Chad Wolf insinuated that troops are still on standby in Portland when testifying before the Senate; 3) House Dems want to investigate the postmaster general because they believe he’s intentionally delaying the mail for political gain; 4) New York prosecutors subpoenaed the President’s bank again as part of an ongoing criminal investigation into his business practices; 5) The Census Bureau announced it’s ending counting efforts a month early, on September 30, with no real explanation given for the change; and 6) Both Trump and his economic adviser made utterly wild statements aligning the Presidency with God, noting that Joe Biden would “hurt God” and that “The Lord and the Founding Fathers created executive orders,” respectively. (Depressingly, I thought that last one was at least new, but then I remembered that a GOP rep compared Trump to Jesus during the impeachment process only eight months ago, so in fact it is not.)
- Executive Order Bonanza. Trump has issued or discussed a truly impressive number of executive actions over the past week. I already mentioned the four COVID-related actions above, which delay payroll tax collection, extend unemployment aid, authorize “considering” whether an eviction ban is merited, and defer federal student loans. Among the others: 1) A truly wild promise to create an insurance order that would mandate covering pre-existing conditions, which is in fact already mandated by the Affordable Care Act; 2) An order barring TikTok from doing business with U.S. companies; 3) an order that would extend telehealth in rural areas; and 4) an order that requires the government to buy ‘essential’ drugs from U.S. companies. Some of these orders are benign, or even reasonable, but it nonetheless is noteworthy that he has this many executive orders in the pipeline, particularly when Congress is stalled.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- Election Oddities (Again). There was a lot of election news this week, even by our ordinary standards. Some of it was even good: 1) Several states had primaries on Tuesday, which appeared to be relatively uneventful (hooray); 2) Iowa restored voting rights of people convicted of felonies, which means all 50 states now have at least some form of restored enfranchisement for that population; and 3) the DNC will be fully virtual for the first time ever in light of the current pandemic. But unsurprisingly, we had some nonsense news from Trump as well: 1) He announced he’ll be accepting his nomination from the White House, which probably isn’t legal; 2) He insisted that only Florida can safely vote by mail; and 3) He is suing Nevada over their plan to make mail-in ballots widely available. And all of this, of course, is on top of growing concern about whether mailed ballots will be delivered in a timely fashion, as I mentioned above.
- State of the COVID-19.* Even by our ordinary standards, the news regarding COVID-19 is… really bad. We’ve passed 5 million cases at the time that I type this, and continue to have about a quarter of the entire world’s infections. About 162,000 people have died. A new study indicates that nearly half of low-income areas in the country have no ICU beds, despite being more likely to have outbreaks. The Senate, as noted above, failed to reach any kind of deal to assist the over 1 million people with unemployment claims, and governors are worried about trying to implement Trump’s executive orders. Nonetheless, Trump wants schools to reopen, while polls show parents want to retain some virtual education and districts that have reopened continue to report COVID outbreaks. But on the plus side, at least the IRS is finally fixing some stimulus check payment errors.
- Immigration Updates. After a brief jaunt to Portland, CBP is again back to banging the xenophobia drum, saying that migration numbers are increasing due to COVID issues in Mexico and arguing that this is reason to keep building a wall. The ACLU, meanwhile, is calling for DHS to be dismantled due to their many recent abuses. But as a silver lining to the changes brought by COVID, we did get new federal injunctions on the new public charge rule, and USCIS has already announced they will comply with them–which will bring relief to a lot of people seeking lawful permanent residence.
- Recent Court Resilience. We saw some promising court cases this week. The New York Attorney General filed a lawsuit to dissolve the National Rifle Association due to widespread fraud and self-dealing, which will be an interesting case to track on a lot of levels. And a federal appeals court concluded that the House can sue to force former White House counsel Don McGahn to testify, which will keep the issue moving forward after SCOTUS semi-punted at the end of their season. (He’s likely to stall further on other grounds, but at least it’s an indication that Congress does have that power.)
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 a capella rendition of ‘Wait For It’ 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 your favorite animal videos!