National News Roundup: Year 4, Week 52 (January 10–16)
Dear reader, I bet you will be shocked–just shocked–to learn that the 52nd week of Year 4 is chockablock and much of it is twitch-worthy. I take comfort in the belief that I’m hopefully viewing a last hurrah from the most venal and corrupt administration our country has ever seen. That said, though the Trump administration is ideally ending, the NNR is not! We may do some restructuring as we adjust to the Biden administration, but one way or another, we’ll still be here. There’s too much to do to stop.
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 Independence Mall!–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:
This week’s news on Election Rejection is probably a touch better than the week of the assault on the Capitol building complex, but not by much–as we learn more about the event, a lot of disturbing information has trickled out. Here’s what I have for you:
- Further Updates from the Insurrection. Though a few of the immediate consequences for Trump underlings have been pretty funny–Pompeo canceling his EU trip because officials refused to meet with him and Trump telling his team not to pay Rudy Giuliani spring to mind–much of the new updates about the attempted insurrection are far less amusing. Early in the week, Rep Mikie Sherill asserted that GOP colleagues had given “reconnaissance” tours of the site the day before the attack, and over 30 Democrats are seeking an investigation into this matter. Those reports appear supported by a Stop the Steal organizer’s statement that he had the support of three reps in Congress as he planned. Eventually, CNN aired footage of Rep Steve Cohen accusing Rep Lauren Boebert of leading such a tour the day before the attack; though he did not have concrete proof beyond saying he had seen her lead a group, that proof might not exist because reps are not required to sign their guests in. Either way, many of the people who stormed the Capitol Building have proven to have good working knowledge of the building complex; a group apparently nearly made it to the Senate chamber while Mike Pence was still there before being diverted away by a lone police officer who made himself a target. Many of the insurrectionists are also very well-trained; several off-duty members of police forces and current or former members of the U.S. military have been identified as participants. All of this, of course, sets the stage for high concern about reports of repeat attacks in the week leading up to inauguration, which I’ll talk about more below.
- Further Consequences. Unsurprisingly, given the information above, consequences continue on both criminal and non-criminal fronts. At this point, eighty people have been criminally charged, with charges ranging from simple trespass to sedition, and the first indictments have been issued as well. All told, officials are investigating over one hundred and seventy people. Countless people have given FBI tips about their own family members, disgusted by the destruction and multiple deaths caused by the mob. Meanwhile, various corporations have begun to pull their donations to the 147 members of Congress who appeared to support challenging Biden’s election win, which many people are taking as tacit support of the attempted coup itself. Trump himself, meanwhile, continues to be banned from half the Internet and suffer a whole host of business consequences for his role in the storm of the Capitol building, including several contracts pulled by New York City itself.
- 25 to Impeachment. We knew pretty early on that impeachment proceedings would begin last Monday, and sure enough, the House formally introduced an article of impeachment for incitement of insurrection in time for last week’s news summary. That said, because Mike Pence apparently hadn’t ruled out invoking the 25th Amendment, the House decided to formally call on him to invoke it on Tuesday evening. Pence refused that night, so the House voted to impeach Trump on Wednesday, with a total of 232 yeas and 197 nays–in total, ten Republican representatives voted to impeach. (In addition to being the first time that a President has been impeached twice, it’s kind of fun to note that it was the most bipartisan impeachment in history.) Now it’s an open question when when the article will be sent to the Senate for a trial, so we’ll need to keep watching and calling. In the meantime, Trump is far from contrite about the whole thing, and just today the White House published a “1776 Report” that appears to be another direct attempt at incitement. It’s therefore pretty unsurprising that he enters his final week in office with one of the lowest approval ratings in history.
Because it’s their last chance to get them in, we also saw a great deal more Casual Disregard of Governing Norms this week. Here are the events to know:
- Last-Minute Pardons and Executions. Three different federal executions were conducted in the past week, marking thirteen total federal executions in the past seven months after seventeen years without any executions at all. This would be monstrous enough to place as a priority during a pandemic, but the full context of these executions makes this particularly horrifying. Firstly, this is an incredibly high number for federal executions–in fact, a brief for one of the recent defendants notes it is more than three times the total for the past sixty years. But the part of this story that I consider most noteworthy is the fact that two of the three executions had been stayed by appeals courts, and were then summarily overturned by the Supreme Court this week. This news is bracketed by the developing story that Donald Trump has essentially been selling pardons, and in fact is expected to pardon or commute the sentences of over 100 more people before he leaves office on Wednesday. This kind of corruption seems pretty obvious on its face, but Margaret Love insightfully summarized the whole fetid ball of earwax by calling it “a basic violation of the longstanding effort to make this process at least look fair.”
- Your Ordinarily-Scheduled Corruption. Naturally, we also had more news about ridiculous unnecessary expenses and cronyism, because why should this week be different from all other weeks. There was a ridiculous story about Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump’s toilet that apparently is disputed, so make of that what you will. But more credibility is being loaned to the news that five different anti-vaccine organizations collectively received over a million dollars in PPP loans during the pandemic, despite perpetuating mistrust of COVID vaccines and therefore potentially prolonging the pandemic. This news is particularly egregious when you consider that tens of thousands of small businesses in the United States did not get any of those loans at all.
- Last Minute Policy Grabs. Unsurprisingly, the administration has also crammed through a variety of last-minute policy changes that appear designed to either make things difficult for successors, squeeze in some last-minute hate, or both. There have been a spree of final environmental rollbacks from the Department of Interior, Department of Energy, and Environmental Protection Agency, most of which will likely be undone by the Biden administration pretty promptly. The Department of Health and Human Services finalized a rule permitting social service groups to discriminate based on orientation and gender identity. And the FDA and CDC finalized a rule that essentially imposes term limits on health experts and scientists, because forcing leading health experts out is definitely a reasonable and safe thing to do in the middle of a pandemic.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- Inauguration Planning. As I mentioned in the last roundup, it remains a strange and scary time as we gear up for inauguration and officials remain vigilant, concerned about potential further attacks (although none have materialized as I type this). There is still no public access to the Capitol grounds, and in fact, the National Mall will be closed along with most major public bridges all week. The many National Guard troops stationed in the complex are being vetted to prevent infiltration. There are numerous checkpoints around the city, and one of them resulted in the arrest of a guy with 500 rounds of ammunition on Friday. The Biden administration is moving many celebrations online to try to keep a festive atmosphere against this backdrop, but it’s hard to keep a grim feeling from settling in.
- State of the COVID-19. COVID news continues to be rough. Seven different House representatives have tested positive for COVID after being forced to shelter in place with colleagues who refused masks, prompting Democrats to seek $1000-per-day fines for mask infractions moving forward. Meanwhile, news broke that this administration had completely exhausted its vaccine reserve, despite its announcement that it planned to expand access to said nonexistent reserve only a few days prior. Needless to say, this has implications for President-elect Biden’s vaccine distribution plans, and comes despite a lag in vaccine distribution generally over the last few weeks. Officials are now recommending the vaccine be given to anyone over 65 in an effort to speed things up. We are also expected to cross the threshold of 400,000 deaths by tomorrow morning. In slightly more positive news, articles also started appearing about the vaccine’s excellent track record for preventing deaths–though it is not 100% effective against COVID infection, those inoculated near-uniformly experienced milder and non-lethal symptoms.
- Recent Court Resilience. We had a few promising court moments this week. In Pennsylvania, a federal judge ordered that a rightfully-elected state senator must be seated in the Senate, ending a multi-week standoff that echoed our Presidential spectacle and created a lot of uncertainty. And in New York, the Attorney General’s office is suing the NYPD for misconduct during the Floyd protests. They may seem like small victories, but they are worth noting.
So that’s what I have for this week, and here’s hoping it’s the last Trump week I ever send you. For making it through all of that, you deserve SeaShantyTiktok and these animals interrupting photo shoots and an eventual better government. I’ll be back next week with more, potentially restructured, 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 a better place to put your comments!