National News Roundup: Year 4, Week 6 (February 23–29)
This week seems to have been mostly about coronavirus and primary election process, prompting Saturday Night Live to create one mashup cold open with them both. (The real-life results of the week are significantly less hilarious, but nonetheless here we are.)
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 case dismissal!–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:
Much of the Attorney General Overreach this week involves Trump again, implying that maybe this corner needs a new name. But nonetheless, here’s what I have for you this week:
- Stone Cold Testimony. In ironic inception news, we have Jerry Nadler’s announcement that the House Judiciary Committee is beginning an investigation into the Stone matter, which was itself about a Congressional investigation (and Stone’s decision to lie his face off for the duration). As part of this process, Nadler wants Barr to permit testimony from the four career prosecutors who quit the Roger Stone case before sentencing. William Barr is called to testify as well, which is currently scheduled for March 31. Given the last few weeks, I’m very curious to see what he says.
- SCOTUS POTUS. This has been a weird and vaguely disappointing week for Supreme Court news. At the top of the week we had Trump insisting that Sotomayor and Ginsburg recuse themselves from cases involving him, apparently because Sotomayor wrote a dissent pointing out that Trump keeps trying to ignore judicial process and this shouldn’t be encouraged. Trump’s blatant bid for bias came as the Supreme Court announced it will consider yet anotherAffordable Care Act challenge in the upcoming term, which will be the third one this court has heard. If the case follows ordinary process, they’re likely hearing oral arguments in the fall and reaching a decision in the spring. Many Democrats are happy about this development, both because a ruling will create more certainty about the fate of the program and because it will keep healthcare in the public spotlight as we near the 2020 election in November. I personally find it hard to rejoice about the Obamacare Challenge That Never Ends, but to each their own I guess.
- McGahn Case Crush. The DC Circuit court essentially punted this week on the question of whether the administration can just say “nah we good” to House committee subpoenas to testify, at least in the case of White House attorney Don McGahn. Though some outlets are reporting that Don McGahn “does not have to testify,” the court specifically held that it had no jurisdiction to hear the case and dismissed accordingly, so Congressional contempt is certainly still an option. Basically, this was the judicial equivalent of a kid doing crosswords in the kitchen while siblings have a drag-out fight in the living room–it’s not clear which kid is will end up with fewer teeth, but it sure won’t be the one who refused to enter the fray.
We also saw a bit of Disregard of Governing Norms, though less than might be expected given the larger news cycle. Here’s what has happened so far:
- Trump Sues the New York Times. Trump’s reelection campaign filed a lawsuit against the New York Times for libel this week, seeking millions in damages and claiming the Times has “extreme bias against and animosity toward the campaign.” This appears to be a SLAPP suit brought by the White House in real time, especially given Trump’s ominous comments to White House press corps that “They did a bad thing and there’ll be more coming.” This is unprecedented and horrifying, and is yet another step towards authoritarianism.
- Taliban Treaty?* We reached something of a peace deal with the Taliban over the weekend, with the U.S. agreeing to withdraw over the next 14 months and the Taliban agreeing to negotiate with the Afghan government after a prisoner exchange. Unfortunately, within a couple of days the Taliban had already violated the agreement, ignoring a week-long cease-fire and killing three people. Needless to say, it’s not clear where this leaves us, though hopefully we won’t end up worse than we started.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- Working for Boiled Peanuts. This week featured a Saturday primary in South Carolina, which turned out to be something of a game-changer. First, the candidates prepped with a debate on Tuesday night–which most of them spent dissing Bernie Sanders, although Elizabeth Warren continued dissing Mike Bloomberg. The vote itself was a major victory for Joe Biden, who carried every single county and won almost 50% of the vote total. Bernie Sanders also picked up some delegates, and we’re going into Super Tuesday with a surprisingly close race for frontrunner.
- And Then There Were Five.* Within forty-eight hours of Biden’s strong showing in South Carolina, Pete Buttigieg, Tom Steyer and Amy Klobuchar had all suspended their campaigns in the 2020 election. This means we only have five total remaining candidates as we head into Super Tuesday, and two of them (looking at you, Tulsi Gabbard and Mike Bloomberg) haven’t yet received a single delegate. This sudden consolidation of the moderate candidates has left some people worried that we’re facing a brokered convention, where no single candidate has a plurality of delegates.
- Corona Virus Creep (continued).* Coronavirus was all over the news this week, and none of the news was good. DHHS was in the news because a whistleblower alleges that staff were sent to help American evacuees from Wuhan withouttraining or protective gear. Gene sequencing in Washington, the state that had the first case, suggests that the illness was spreading in the state for weeks, punctuating the CDC warning that spreading “seems inevitable.” We also saw our first community transmission case in California and the first U.S. deaths from the illness. Case numbers are also growing in several other countries, particularly Italy and Iran.
- Administrative Response to Covid-19. Since the coronavirus has started to tank the stock market, Trump has been oscillating back and forth between ‘nothing to see here‘ and ‘this is a travesty for Trump.’ Eventually, he stuck Mike Pence in charge of managing the official White House response and media appearances, which is pretty hair-raising given Pence’s epidemic-related decisions in Indiana. As I type this, Pence is starting to limit what officials say on public media, so it’s helpful to read about safety precautions and keep track of vector spread through sources other than the government.
- Immigration Updates. The Second Circuit held this week that the Justice Department can withhold funds from cities and states that they deem to be ‘sanctuary’ jurisdictions–ironically, around the same time that the administration indefinitely postponed a sea wall in New York due to apparent animosity against the state. The Justice Department also announced that they are creating more infrastructure to denaturalize citizens, which I will definitely track as more news develops.
- Recent Court Resilience. We did see some decent court cases this week. The Ninth Circuit held that the M.P.P program, which forces asylum seekers to wait for their applications to be processed in Mexico, violates federal law. (They unfortunately stayed their injunction later in the day, but the Supreme Court is expected to hear the case next week.) And a federal district judge in D.C. held that the administration violated the Federal Vacancies Reform Act by appointing acting USCIS director Ken Cuccinelli, which also voids policies he set in the role. And a federal judge in Idaho has voided nearly 1 million acres of oil and gas leases because the process was arbitrary and capricious.
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 doggo rocking out in a cardboard box 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 a better bedtime!