National News Roundup: Year 5, Week 3 (January 31 — February 6)
Well, the impeachment trial starts in the Senate tomorrow, and if the defense brief is any indication, this should be quite a circus. We’ve been through this rodeo once before, and though it should have a bit less pomp and circumstance this time I’m sure it will be no less ridiculous. Let’s get ready to ruuuumble!
Standard standing reminders still 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 impeachment trial!–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!
Cleanup In Aisle 45
It’s gonna be a real banner week for Election Rejection news, since the Senate impeachment trial starts tomorrow. Here’s what I have for you:
- Insurrection Attempt Updates. There was a bit more news about insurrection charges this week. With the latest set of arrests, we’re now up to 198 people charged, and the charges remain very varied. The FBI is also alleging in its documents that the Proud Boys were trying to retaliate against police because they were angry about response to an earlier stabbing incident. It’s still an open question whether anyone will be charged with murder.
- MTG Tapped Out. When I sent out the NNR last week, House Democrats were planning to bring the issue to the House floor if the GOP minority leader doesn’t remove QAnon Lady Marjorie Taylor Greene from several committees. As the week dragged on, despite significant pressure on the issue and some choice words from Mitch McConnell, House minority leader Kevin McCarthy proved unwilling to censure her. So as was foretold by prophecy, the House put it to a vote. Greene ended up removed from her committee appointments by a 230–199 vote, with 11 fellow Republicans voting to remove her.
- Impeachment Update. Needless to say, the biggest story of the bunch is the impeachment trial that starts tomorrow and likely will be over by Friday. Leading into the week, the House asked Trump to testify, and for a hot moment it looked like he might actually do it, but eventually his attorneys made it clear that this wasn’t going to happen. Speaking of his lawyers, they also raised a truly impressive array of nonsense defenses in their 78-page brief–everything from claiming incitement is free speech (spoiler: it isn’t) to claiming the Senate doesn’t have constitutional authority to hold a trial (spoiler: it does). In contrast, the impeachment managers are arguing that Trump’s speeches were singularly responsible for the insurrection attempt. Meanwhile, in a striking and unusual open letter, over 370 Congressional aides described the attack on their workplace that led to the impeachment charges and asked Senators to convict Trump so that he could never hold office again.
We also saw significant movement on the Biden Rebuilding fronts. Here’s what has happened in the past week:
- Confirmation Tango (Reprise). We saw a few more noteworthy confirmations this week. Notably, Alejandro Mayorkas was confirmed as the first-ever Latino Secretary of Homeland Security, and it will be interesting to see what he has planned for immigration policy. Meanwhile, Mayo Pete Buttigieg was confirmed as the first openly-gay Secretary of Transportation, and though I’m still not clear on how leading South Bend made him qualified for this, he’ll probably still be better than Elaine Chao. Buttigieg and Mayorkas join Antony Blinken, who was confirmed as Secretary of State the previous week.
- Dismantling the Deportation Machine. I mentioned last week that I want to pay particular attention to how we’re mopping up in the aftermath of the Zero Tolerance policy, and we’ve had further updates on that. President Biden passed several more immigration executive orders on the topic last week, including one that created the anticipated task force to address family separation and two others that order studies of immigration processes. He’s expected to continue to make further changes to enforcement this week such as returning to priority enforcement, and we’re also rejoining the UN Human Rights Council. However, ICE deportations are continuing despite Biden’s order to stop them, and a few outlets noted that ICE contract agreements made by Trump may limit how much Biden can do in the short-term.
Your New Normal:
- Congressional Updates. After a week of back-and-forth about the proposed stimulus bill, we have some clarity about the path forward from here. Now that the Senate rules standoff has ended, we fast-tracked to a stimulus vote by using budget reconciliation to move the bill forward without GOP cooperation. The House’s version moved forward on Wednesday at President Biden’s urging, and the Senate advanced its own bill early Friday morning. There continues to be disagreement about who exactly should get stimulus payments and what amount it should be, so we may not see a final bill in the next few days. Meanwhile, the House voted to create fines for members who refuse to undergo security measures when they enter the complex, and within four days two Republicans had been fined.
- State of the COVID-19. COVID news has some silver linings this week, which I will talk more about below, but there were some low points as well. Testing is apparently declining, which is baffling experts, and the Supreme Court removed restrictions on indoor, in-person worship that were put in place due to severe outbreaks in California. Experts are also concerned that the Super Bowl may create superspreader events, particularly in the hosting city of Tampa, which is particularly dispiriting when transmission rates had finally been going down nationally. The first U.S. Congressperson has died of COVID infection. And finally, the FDA is expected to release guidance on how to deal with new variants. The move is particularly timely, as the U.K variant is spreading rapidly in the U.S. and South Africa just halted use of one of its vaccines because it did not work on the new local variant.
- Vaccination and Transmission News. Not all of this week’s COVID news is bad, and some of it is pretty promising. As I mentioned above, case, death, and hospitalization rates have been going down at the national level. Early studies suggest the Oxford/AstraZenca vaccine is about 67% effective, which is about on par with the Johnson and Johnson findings–and incidentally, Johnson and Johnson is now seeking FDA approval, which means we might soon have a single-dose vaccine. In the meantime, Moderna is working with the Biden administration to increase vaccine access at pharmacies. Additionally, a new study suggests that recovered COVID patients are likely protected for at least six months after infection.
So that’s what I have for this week, and I’m sure the rodeo will have more clowns by the time we meet again. In the interest of engaged readership, however, you still deserve dessert links! I hope you enjoy these windows into other places along with our unquestionably better government. I’ll be back next week with more restructured and improved 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 assurances that you didn’t have Superbowl guests!