National News Roundup: Year 4, Week 4 (February 9–15)
Welp, the impeachment process has been over for about a week and a half, and I definitely think it’s fair to say we have a new constitutional crisis corner. Funny how Trump never closes one investigation door without opening a new crimetimes window, amirite?
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 dubious budget proposal!–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:
Well folks, after a week and a half of this nonsense it is my sincere displeasure to introduce you to yet another form of Constitutional Crisis Corner, which I’m tentatively calling Attorney General Overreach. Here’s what has been happening:
- DOJ Turmoil. Shortly after all of Attorney General Barr’s candidate investigation nonsense last week, all of the prosecutors on Roger Stone’s criminal case either asked to be reassigned or straight-up quit because they didn’t want to change their sentencing recommendations. It turned out that Barr was forcing them to offer more leniency to Roger Stone because he’s a Trump ally, apparently based on pressure from Trump himself. Eventually Barr just announced he was taking control of the Stone sentence along with every other Trump-related legal matter. Needless to say, all of this blatant political interference has caused massive unrest in both current and former Department of Justice employees, who generally pride themselves on their integrity. At the time that I type this, over a thousand former DOJ attorneys and 9 Senators have called for Barr’s resignation, and Chuck Schumer has called for an investigation into the entire Roger Stone debacle.
- A Quick Note About Fake Fighting. When people started calling for Barr’s resignation, he went on television and complained about how Trump’s tweets were undermining him, trying to argue that he’s making his own decisions independent of the President. This entire thing is belied, however, by Trump’s complete non-response to this announcement; it’s hard to imagine him saying that anybody “has the right . . . to publicly express their opinion” if they truly hold an ill opinion of him. Barr’s actions on the Stone investigation also immediately followed Trump’s tweets about the matter. So, basically, I encourage folks to view this story with healthy skepticism.
- Parnas Implications.It would already be hard to know what all of the above means for the ongoing investigation into Lev Parnas, who is a Rudy Giuliani associate–it’s being led by DOJ officials in New York while Barr accepts Giuliani info on potentially related matters in PA, and that’s kind of an inherent conflict. But news also broke that the NY branch is considering adding new charges that would impact Giuliani, and that just throws gasoline on a department already on fire. The potential for misconduct here is really high, so we should keep an eye on this.
We also have a final few death rattles of Whistleblowing Ukraine Biden Bingo, which I think still deserve a separate section. Here’s the mop-up of the old scandal:
- Whistleblowing Winds Down. We’re pretty much going out not with a bang, but with a whimper. Some Utah lawmakers tried to get Mitt Romney censured for, uh, voting with Democrats, but that doesn’t appear to be going anywhere. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer wrote letters trying to get inspectors general to investigate Trump’s retaliatory firings from last week, but at least as I type this, that doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere either. Now that the investigation is over, Trump has basically admitted that he sent Giuliani to Ukraine. And last but not least, Trump has also started trying to get the military to publicly discipline Vindman for his testimony.
Your “Normal” Weird
- Bloomberg Schmoomberg. In the last week or two, we suddenly started to see outlets reporting favorably on Mike Bloomberg’s candidacy, despite his incomplete participation in the DNC campaign process, which means we’ve also been treated to a parade of public records illustrating why this is not a great idea. First was the recording of Bloomberg talking about his stop and frisk policies, which included such charming quotes as “95% of murderers . . . are male minorities” and “you can just Xerox” suspect descriptions. (Spoiler: This is statistically untrue in New York and elsewhere, as a cursory review of the past two years’ mass shootings would illustrate.) Then people dug up his statements about redlining from 2008, when he said that it was a mistake to end the practice of freezing people of color out of neighborhoods by refusing loans for mortgages because it caused the 2008 housing crisis. Then we started talking about the numerous accounts of sexual harassment and his practice of making women sign NDAs as part of civil settlements. Then, with no apparent irony, Bloomberg released some ads complaining about “slanderous attacks” on him because people were talking about all of the above. I honestly can’t even make this stuff up.
- New Hampshire and Nevada. Despite its iffy lead-up, New Hampshire was nonetheless a straightforward and successful primary, especially compared to the Iowa adventures. It even had a clear winner–Bernie Sanders, by a margin of about 1.3%. It also featured Pete Buttigieg as a close second and Amy Klobuchar in third, so both of them gained delegates for the upcoming race. Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden lagged behind, at least for now, but it seems likely that both of them will have stronger performances in other states. The next primary is the Nevada caucus, which happens on Saturday, and hopefully will prove less messy than Iowa.
- Coronavirus Creep.* The new coronavirus now has an official name–Covid-19–and is still making the news for making problems. The most recent bout of news is about a cruise ship in Japan that was evacuated due to Covid 19 outbreak, only to discover that 14 passengers with the illness were evacuated to the United States alongside 314 other passengers because they were asymptomatic at the time of testing. (There were also an additional 44 American passengers who tested positive for the illness, who were brought to Japan.) Needless to say, everyone involved is being quarantined.
- Budget Nightmare.* Trump released his by-now-signature nightmare budget this week,which includes old favorites like ‘who funds children’s health insurance,’ ‘why are we wasting money on loan forgiveness,’ and ‘I’m ordering Congress to end the National Endowment for the Humanities.’ Congress usually gives this stuff the due consideration it deserves (which is to say, even the Senate gives it none), but we should keep an eye on it anyway. This is a strange time in American politics, even for Trump.
- Immigration Updates. Another week of painful immigration updates, I’m afraid. ICE was in the news for shooting a bystander in the face in Brooklyn when he interrupted an arrest, apparently not knowing that the plainclothes agents were officers. Unsurprisingly, the administration turned this into a fight about sanctuary practices, and it likely spurred their announcement on Friday that they would be sending ‘elite tactical agents’ to New York and other cities they deemed to be ‘sanctuary jurisdictions.’ Then, just to round out the week, they began disrupting native burial sites in Arizona, blowing them up to make room for their border wall.
- Recent Legislative Resilience. The House and the Senate both had a good week in terms of legislative action, which is always nice to see. The Senate passed a bill limiting Trump’s authority to declare war on Iran, which did not quite make it to a veto-proof majority but did show significant bipartisan support at 55–45. Since the bill was distinct from the version the House passed last month, the bill moves to the House next. And in other House news, they voted this week to eliminate the ERA’s deadline for ratification. The measure would effectively allow the amendment’s revival, since we have the requisite number of state ratifications already–which would be pretty awesome, though it’s not likely to gain traction in the current Senate.
- Clearing the Playing Field. In the wake of the New Hampshire results, we have a new crop of 2020 hopefuls with low numbers who have decided to drop out. It’s bittersweet for the strongest of the contenders (you had a good run, Andrew Yang), but less so for candidates like Michael Bennet and Deval Patrick, who never broke 1% in the early primaries. And whatever your opinion, it furthers consolidation and coalition-building at a time when we really need it. So it’s certainly far from terrible to have a smaller playing field as we head into the Nevada caucuses on February 22.
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 hedgehog being enticed by a snack 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 hot cocoa for bedtime!