National News Roundup: Year 4, Week 49 (December 20–26)
The frenetic pace of this week’s news is my fault, y’all–against all good sense, I mistakenly hoped that we’d get a quiet week over the holidays. (After four years of this, you’d think I would know better!)
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 an electoral college!–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:
Here we go again with yet another round of Election Rejection, as Trump refuses to wind down and the GOP refuses to deal with it. Again. Still. Here’s what I have for you:
- Trumped-Up Election Challenges. Apparently Trump isn’t about to let a little thing like certified election results stop him, and with his lawsuits winding down he is pivoting to new methods. He met with several GOP members of the House this week about the possibility of challenging the electoral college votes on the Senate floor, a move Mitch McConnell has openly gainsayed as ill-advised. Meanwhile, a few other GOP lawmakers are suing Mike Pence in an attempt to get him to ignore the certified results. Pence hasn’t really been all that reassuring when talking talking about how he’ll handle that, so we should probably be keeping an eye on him along with everything else. And speaking of suing, the people that make the voting machines are suing the Trump team for defamation, since they kept bad-mouthing the product in bogus lawsuits. Meanwhile, in the week leading up to the runoff Senate elections in Georgia, it’s anybody’s guess what all of this circus will do to those elections. And finally, against all of this backdrop, President-Elect Biden is expressing concern about cybersecurity and says that he’s still not getting full briefs on national security.
That said, we also got an improbable amount of Disregard of Governing Norms–like I said, that’s on me for wanting a quiet week. Here’s what I have for you:
- COVID Relief Circus. The pending COVID relief bill was an entire ride this week, I tell you what. Around this time last week, the House and the Senate both passed a final compromise version of relief legislation. Like people who expect rational thought from their fellow humans, leadership on both sides assumed that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s active participation in the negotiations meant that the White House was agreeing to the deal. This turned out to be a tactical error, as Trump promptly refused to sign the bill–blaming the amount of stimulus payment, but I suspect the provision ending surprise medical billing was his actual problem here. Since Trump took to twitter to demand $2,000 stimulus payments, House Democrats put forward an existing bill that did exactly that. Mitch McConnell, of course, was having none of that, and House GOP blocked the new bill on Thursday. Trump let unemployment benefits expire on Saturday before finally signing the dang bill on Sunday night to avoid a government shutdown. The whole thing mostly only hurt his own political party right before Georgia’s elections, and the House is still planning to vote on $2,000 stimulus payments even though he relented.
- Beg Your Pardon. As was foretold by prophecy, Trump issued a bunch of pardons leading up to the holiday, and thanks, I hate it. Most of the 15 people he pardoned on Tuesday were high-profile sycophants, people who were convicted of public corruption, or both, which is hardly surprising. But in a particularly galling move, he also pardoned the Blackwater Four, who were military vets working as contractors in Iraq convicted of the unprovoked killing of seventeen civilians while there. Then on Wednesday, he pardoned another 29 people, and most of them were personal friends, underlings, or both as well. At the time that I type this, he has personally intervened for five different people involved in the Russia investigation, three Republican officials, one family member, and six officials accused of wrongful killings. It’s traditional for a President to pardon people in their last few weeks in office, but it’s also hard to overstate how incredibly not normal these pardons are.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- Other Ridiculous Veto News. Speaking of refusing to sign things, Trump also formally vetoed his own defense’s spending budget this week because the bill didn’t repeal online liability protections for companies like Facebook and Twitter. At the time that I type this, the House has already overwhelmingly voted to override his veto, and the Senate is expected to go the same way.
- State of the COVID-19. Even setting aside the COVID relief bill news, COVID news was not good this week–our numbers overall nationally are slightly better than last week’s, but given the current spike that’s really not saying much. California became the first state to hit two million cases, which is not a distinction anyone wanted. The Associated Press is reporting that this year is the deadliest year in American history, and the biggest percentage jump in fatalities since the flu pandemic of 1918. And a new COVID strain was identified in the UK, prompting much of Europe to bar entry to the country. America is considering doing the same, which is a bit rich coming from us and might be pointless regardless, since we don’t know if the new strain is already here.
- Nashville Bombing. Even Christmas Day this year involved terrible national news, because 2020 is nothing if not consistent. A bomb was intentionally detonated in downtown Nashville, injuring three people, destroying buildings, and causing multiple massive disruptions in and around the city during the holiday. The injury count is likely relatively low because the vehicle announced it was about to explode starting about fifteen minutes beforehand, prompting police to vacate the area. Remains near the vehicle were eventually identified as the person who detonated it, making him the only person currently identified as dying in the blast.
- Black Lives Still Matter. In addition to the violence above, there was another police extrajudicial shooting of a Black man in Columbus, Ohio–which makes two in that location this month alone. Incredibly, the police officer involved in the first Columbus shooting was also in the news this week because a tape surfaced of him advocating extrajudicial violence in a church sermon. Needless to say, the community is both exhausted and incensed, and I don’t blame them.
Recent Court Resilience. We had a couple of good court moments this week. A U.S. federal district court judge issued a stay of Trump’s ban on diversity training from this past autumn in California, noting that the ban was “an insult to the work of addressing discrimination and injustice towards historically underserved communities.” And in Georgia, a class action suit regarding the unnecessary hysterectomies of women detained by ICE has grown to over 40 plaintiffs, highlighting just how seriously the September whistleblowing complaint is being taken by advocates.
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 seal getting nice pets 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 hours in the day!