National News Roundup: Year 4, Week 43 (November 8–14)
It’s impressive how quickly the news seems to find new routines–only a week after we got tentative election results, pretty much every day now follows a script. I don’t much care for the script, mind, because it involves blatant autocracy and a dangerous pandemic. But one has to respect the quick adjustment.
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 hand count!–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:
Folks, I think it’s fair to say we officially have a new Constitutional Crisis Corner after the last week and a half, and thanks Trump, I hate it. Everybody say hello to Election Rejection, the constitutional crisis we all knew was coming:
- Transition Trials. When Trump signaled that he wasn’t going to accept a peaceful transfer of power, he apparently meant that quite literally, because this administration has been refusing all attempts at transition and just straight-up planning like they’re not going anywhere for the last week and a half. The General Services Administration still hasn’t begun a Presidential transition as I type this, which may end in the Democrats suing them if they don’t give a reason by Wednesday. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo referenced “a smooth transition to a second Trump administration” and the White House told officials to move forward with next year’s budget plan. The administration also instructed staff not to comply with Biden’s transition team, which means President-elect President-elect Biden is not getting intelligence reports and the State Department is intercepting his messages from world leaders. Top medical official Dr. Anthony Fauci publicly expressed concern about the lack of COVID transition, prompting our President-elect to warn that this obstruction could kill people–and he’s absolutely right. Officials have also become concerned that Trump might disclose state secrets out of spite if he is forced out.
- Trumped-Up Legal Challenges. As final information trickles in about the 2020 election, it becomes glaringly obvious that Trump’s refusal to transition is both dangerous and baseless. Official records show that President-elect Biden likely flipped five states and won a total of 290 electoral votes even before Georgia’s recount was concluded. Trump had brought lawsuits in several states on the theory that there was widespread voter fraud, but no evidence of that materialized and eventually every lawsuit had either been conclusively lost or dropped. The Supreme Court has not weighed in at the time that I type this, and it’s very possible they never will. Meanwhile, Attorney General William Barr is still investigating nonexistent voter fraud even though a major federal witness recanted and the DOJ’s top prosecutor for election crimes, Richard Pilger, has quit in protest. And news broke this afternoon that South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham asked Georgia’s secretary of state, Brad Raffensberger, to throw out entire county batches of legally-cast ballots during the recount, which Raffensberger doesn’t even have legal authority to control. This shows no signs of abating anytime soon, even though some GOP officials have indicated that they think Biden should receive briefings.
That said, we also saw more Original Flavor Disregard of Governing Norms.Here’s what I have for you:
- White House Revolving Door Still Spins. Following Secretary of Defense Mark Esper’s firing last week, several additional Department of Defense officials resigned, and now we have yet more scary staff changes in the Pentagon. The Department of Homeland Security has seen forced resignations as well, and officials describe the staff changes as purging employees who are suspected of incomplete loyalty. The new acting officials are all staunch Trump loyalists, which matches the reports out of the Department of Homeland Security. Needless to say, this has a lot of bad implications during a time of transition, and even if we otherwise transition smoothly it will create confusion to have high turnover just before a new administration comes in. It’s also likely not a coincidence that the administration announced it wants to sell unprecedented arms to the United Arab Emirates in the same week.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- Other Election Updates. We saw less scary election updates as well, but many of them were still strange. Georgia confused everybody by conducting a hand recount of all of its ballots, which is both more expensive and less accurate than other methods of recount, and Trump can still demand another recount when it ends. This is particularly baffling, as I noted above, because Biden definitely won this race even if Trump somehow flips Georgia back. Meanwhile, Corey Landowski, who was part of the crew at Four Seasons Total Landscaping, has tested positive for COVID, which means we might continue to see infection among campaign officials even after the campaign has ended. And in comparatively benign election news, President-elect Biden has named his chief of staff, which will be longtime aide Ron Klain.
- Affordable Care Act Arguments. The Supreme Court heard arguments about the Affordable Care Act this week, shortly after both a pivotal election and a new justice’s appointment to the bench. The oral arguments appeared to suggest that the court is considering removing the insurance mandate and retaining the rest of the law, which would make legal sense given previous precedent on the matter but suggests that new appointments are not necessarily creating drastic changes on this issue. Nonetheless, it’s 2020 and politics are pretty wild, so we can’t fully predict what is about to happen (and during a pandemic, this case could impact a lot of people). We’ll want to keep an eye on this.
- State of the COVID-19. I know I say this every week, but no seriously, COVID keeps getting worse. Infection rates have risen 81% in the past 14 days, and on Friday we saw 184,000 new infections in one day. Over 68,000 people were hospitalized on the same day. Things are so bad, in fact, that Doctors Without Borders is coming here, considering our pandemic response to be an international health disaster. Unfortunately, things will probably get worse before they get better, especially if people aren’t careful over the Thanksgiving holiday. Several states are restricting business or social activities in response to the surges in infection, and we may see more of that in the coming weeks. In more positive news, early data suggest that Moderna’s COVID vaccine is almost 95% effective, which makes two different vaccines with promising results. Distribution will be difficult since the scale of distribution is unprecedented, but first responders might begin to receive vaccines as soon as next month.
- Protests and Violence. This wasn’t a great week for protest news. On Saturday, Washington DC hosted a “Million MAGA March” that ultimately resulted in a stabbing as well as twenty people arrested, and featured Proud Boys marching in merch that read “Stand back and stand by.” An FBI report was also released documenting a stark rise in hate crime murders in the past year. Against these backdrops, it’s disturbing to learn that the governor of Florida wants to expand “stand your ground” law to cover protests–the proposed change would almost certainly make stabbings like the one in DC more common as well as creating immunity for them.
- Recent Court Resilience. We did see a promising federal court case this week. A federal judge ruled that Chad Wolf was unlawfully appointed to head the Department of Homeland Security, and concluded that his decision to refuse DACA applications was therefore unlawful as well. It’s likely that President-elect Biden planned to reinstate DACA when he assumed office, but this will create continuity for DACA recipients, and is a nice piece of news regardless.
So that’s what I have for this week, and I think we can agree that it’s more than enough. For making it through, you deserve this tiny gator chasing a laser pointer 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 more sunlight in my living room!