National News Roundup: Year 4, Week 9 (March 15–21)
Okay, folks. At the time that I type this, most of us have been cooped up in our homes for over a week, and many of us live in places with stay-at-home or shelter-in-place orders by this point in time–needless to say, not ideal circumstances for anybody. Most of the news is COVID-flavored, and that doesn’t go down easy, but we’ll get through this. I’m here if anyone needs anything.
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 public gathering!–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:
With another week of COVID-19 crisis under our belts, it’s unsurprising that the Attorney General Overreach this week involves the crisis directly. Here are the details:
- Attorney General Overreach (Again). Attorney General and apparent aspiring fascist William Barr has asked Congress for permission to hold people indefinitely without trial during the COVID-19 crisis at all stages of procedure, including pre-arrest. Folks, speaking as an attorney who has a background in both criminal law and health law, I cannot stress enough how inappropriate this request is. We do sometimes curtail civil rights in times of war, generally due to either limited capacity for process or higher risk of quick-moving problems that damaging domestic war efforts, like espionage. That said, the COVID-19 crisis is not an actual war, and we cannot jail the virus to keep it from spying on us. In fact, high concentrations of people in detention is such a significant risk factor for this type of pandemic that many organizations are actively calling for controlled decarceration. And more to the point, Barr’s request wasn’t limited to the COVID-19 crisis; he asked for this authority “whenever the district court is fully or partially closed by virtue of any natural disaster, civil disobedience, or other emergency situation.” In other words, “let’s just suspend habeas corpus when we have a global pandemic or, y’know, when somebody I don’t like protests something.” This is straight up fascist nightmare fuel, and I can’t imagine the Democrat-controlled House will agree to it.
We also saw a bit of other Disregard of Governing Norms crop up during the crisis, though nothing as serious as the above. Here’s what I have for you:
- Trump’s COVID-19 Grab Bag. Though it’s hard to top Barr’s incredible request, we do have a few other weird, questionable bits and bobs from Trump over the past week. First there’s his bizarre relationship with the Defense Production Act, a law to force production of materials: he said he was invoking it to increase production of masks and ventilators but then dithered, insulted state governors, and simply outsourced to FEMA while Jared Kushner formed a shadow team. Then there’s the hostile answer he gave NBC’s simple journalistic question on Friday, “What do you say to Americans who are feeling scared?”–apparently in Trumpland, the correct response is “you are a terrible reporter.” And last but not least, we have the press conferences and tweets promoting unproven treatments for COVID-19 that are in high demand for other ailments, such as Lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.
- Senate Insider Trading. The other big story about sketchy government times this week is the major bombshell about the Senate Intelligence Committee–apparently current Chairperson Richard Burr and several other Senators were first briefed about first briefed about the coming crisis in January and responded by selling their stocks. (This would be bad even if Burr hadn’t downplayed the risk posed by COVID-19 for weeks, but he most assuredly did that last thing also.) Burr says he has asked the Senate ethics committee to review his stock sales, but in the meantime even Fox News talking head Tucker Carson is calling for Burr’s resignation.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- Election Infection Watch. A few states did try to have primaries as scheduled on Tuesday, and by all accounts it was something of a hot mess–prompting officials to begin discussing other options for subsequent voting days. Biden did sweep Florida, Illinois, and Arizona despite the pandemic, creating a lead so wide that centrist outlets are speculating that Sanders may drop out. And in all the chaos, Tulsi Gabbard did drop out and endorsed Joe Biden on Thursday.
- Governing in the Time of Coronavirus. This week, ho boy. By the time that I type this, most experts are acknowledging that the pandemic is accelerating and we’re running out of time to flatten the curve, which has officials taking all kinds of steps. Some hard-hit locations are triaging testing, several politicians are urging mobilization of the Army Corps of Engineers, and Congress managed to pass another emergency response bill that provides more paid leave and expands unemployment insurance. (Trump signed the bill into law on Wednesday evening.) That said, progress on the third bill of the set has been stalled for two days. The process is not improved by Senator Rand Paul testing positive for COVID-19, which forced several other Senators to quarantine after contact with him. A Seattle study has also begun testing on a vaccine, though it’s unlikely to become available for another year.
- Hunkering Down. With everything going on right now to try to contain COVID-19, and the inconsistent federal response involved, both state and federal systems have focused on closing down borders or urging people to stay in place. California has issued a shelter in place for several counties, and at this point many other states have followed suit with stay at home orders. The State Department has issued a Level 4 travel advisory for Americans considering going abroad, and both the northern and southern U.S. border are now closed, with imports dropping as well. In part due to that last bit, many places are still struggling to obtain materials and get testing in place.
- Market Volatility.* Though Trump is hoping that Congress will pass its third response bill soon, market volatility remains a really serious problem as the pandemic progresses. Experts say the market is now on pace for the worst month since the Great Depression, and projected unemployment rates reflect that as well. The federal government is attempting all sorts of things to stem the flow–federal taxes are now due in July; they’re permitting unlimited bond purchases; borrowers are allowed to suspend student loan payments for two months; and foreclosures are paused for federal mortgages. But the administration is beginning to mutter about reopening everything despite the health risk, and we’ll need to watch that carefully. Meanwhile, mutual aid efforts are popping up all over, and many nonprofits are seeking donations as well.
- Recent Resilience Grab Bag.We do have a couple of good news stories this week! On the court resilience front, the Second Circuit affirmed that Trump cannot block people on Twitter who annoy him. And on the organizing essential workers front, Amazon workers in Chicago are reporting that paid time off has become a reality for workers around the globe after several sites organized in Chicago and California. This is great news, especially given how much people are relying on Amazon while staying at home.
So that’s what I have for this week, and I’m sorry, there are no news refunds. For making it through, you deserve these new twenty-second Broadway hits 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 the willpower to stop touching my face!