National News Roundup: Year 4, Week 30 (August 9–15)
Let’s not mince words; this week was rough and disturbing even by our basement-level 2020 standards–though on the plus side, at least there aren’t that many stories. Someday the news will be less horrifying, but this week is not that week, and I’m here if anyone needs anything.
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, the biggest news by far involves the U.S. Postal Service. That said, there are a few other bits and bobs to know as well, so we have a few stories to know. Here’s what I have for you:
- Messed Up Trump Response: Post Office Edition. As more and more news comes out, it becomes increasingly clear that Trump is gutting the U.S. Postal Service so that voting by mail becomes impossible–so clear, in fact, that he literally told us this on Wednesday. (Incidentally, Trump’s statement contextualizes why the Senate never voted on the HEROES Act, which provides additional funding to USPS, despite the fact that Trump literally plans to vote by mail.) The statement also validated the House Dems’ announcement that they want to investigate the postmaster general because he’s intentionally delaying the mail, and it’s not surprising that he’s now scheduled to testify before the Oversight Committee next Monday. The postmaster general is also now being independently investigated for the many sweeping changes he has been making amid obvious conflicts of interest, and the House has introduced legislation to undo said changes; Nancy Pelosi has called the whole House back from recess to vote on it this Saturday. On the mail end of things, the Letter Carriers union has also filed a national grievance. And in addition to all of that, news surfaced that 46 states received notice that their ballots may not be delivered on time back in July, despite the postmaster general’s promises otherwise. The United States Postal Service is an essential government service, and we need it for so many reasons even without considering the November election. But in the face of such a high-stakes election, this is a very, very big deal. and we need to be calling our officials about it right now.
- Creaking Cabinet. There were also a couple of stories this week about West Wing dysfunction, though they’re flying a bit under the radar for obvious reason. Trump apparently is considering replacing his current Secretary of Defense, which would put us on our fourth Secretary of Defense this year alone. And on the Homeland Security side of things, the Government Accountability Office has found that the top two DHS officials, Chad Wolf and Ken Cucchinelli, are not eligible to serve these roles under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998. (To be fair, experts have been saying this for a while now, but now there’s an official memo for Congress to ignore.)
Your “Normal” Weird:
- Election Oddities (Again). In addition to the postal service news above, we did see a few other stories about the election. The biggest piece of news, which I’m sure folks have already heard, is that Joe Biden has tapped Kamala Harris to be his pick for Vice President. Harris is expected to formally accept this week at the Democratic National Convention, which began today and will be largely virtual this year. Harris is also the first Black woman and the first person of Indian descent to be nominated for national office by a major party, so of course 45 is already positing that she’s not a citizen, despite clear documentation that she was born in Oakland, California. And despite the post office news above, the vast majority of states have authorized mail-in voting for this November’s election as I type this.
- State of the COVID-19.* COVID news is still weird and awful for the millionth week in a row. Death rates are continuing to rise, which might be in part because COVID is hitting nursing homes again, and Wednesday was our worst single day since early May in that regard. Reports also suggest that our official rate is too low, based on the number of unattributed and outlying deaths in the country over the past several months. Meanwhile, a Florida sheriff has banned his staff and visitors from wearing masks, and news broke that Trump is considering making a highly toxic plant extract a COVID medication. The Senate has gone on recess until September without passing any kind of COVID relief legislation, and the White House has clarified that the executive order benefits are lower than Trump has previously claimed. And just to cap everything else off, we’re conducting fewer tests and experts say we’re not doing enough as we move into the autumn months and greater health risk. Against this backdrop, it’s not surprising that the CDC has reported that Americans are experiencing increased anxiety and depression during the COVID pandemic. In a very mild silver lining, the CDC has also reported that people who have recovered from COVID will not need to be tested for about three months, which appears to be the window of the antibody.
- Immigration Updates. It’s not on the forefront of the news, but we are still seeing negative immigration stories trickle out of the administration, and they’re worth revisiting. This week’s latest is that Trump is considering closing the border to U.S. citizens and people with lawful permanent residence if CBP believes they may have COVID. (It’s always hard to tell whether the administration is seriously considering these types of extreme measures or just leaks memos to scare people, but I’ll try to follow up if we hear anything else on this.) Our short respite from the new public charge rule was also rolled back by the 2nd Circuit, and now only applies to Connecticut, New York, and Vermont. And finally, news also broke that a private detention company is holding migrant children in hotels prior to deportation without guarantee of food or adequate child care, which is both illegal and disturbing on a lot of levels. Apparently, this private detention company had previously detained kids in an abandoned office park in 2018, so I guess this is a step up, and that’s definitely the most messed-up sentence I’m going to type this week.
- Recent Court Resilience. We did get a couple of decent court cases this week, in addition to the bummer from the Second Circuit above. A federal judge in New York reinstated protections for birds that the Trump administration had rolled back, which should result in a lot of wildlife protection. And the Supreme Court declined to interfere with a new Rhode Island law that removed an old witness requirement for mail-in voting. Progress!
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 ferret’s ball avalanche 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 hours in the day!