I’ve been corralling the news into neat little paragraphs for about a month now, and I’m here to tell you, this past week is definitely the weirdest week of news we’ve had yet. Seriously. Between Trump declaring war on the public press, Trudeau explaining quantum computers, Flynngate (or should that be Flynn-a-lago?), and the Russian sub spottings on the eastern coast, writing the recap this week feels a bit like playing Surrealist Bingo. And I didn’t even win anything.
The stock reminders: I am no journalist, though I play one in your inbox or browser, so I’m only summarizing the news within my area of expertise. I may touch on news I think folks should know that is outside my area as a legal generalist, but if we undertake any offroad adventures I’ll do my best to signal that for you upfront by giving that headline an asterisk. Okay, warning label over. Onward to the news.
- Public Enemy Number 1: The Free Press. This week’s “I Wish I were Making this Up, What is Even Happening” award goes to Trump announcing that the free press is “the enemy of the American people.” And, in case anyone was still curious about whether Trump super hates the media enough to sincerely say this (spoiler: he does), White House chief of staff Reince Priebus thinks we should take him at his word on this one. I guess I need to add this to the Trump attacks on the First Amendment list.
- Mar-A-Lago Pay-to-Parlay. By several accounts, in response to North Korea’s very real ballistic missile threat, our imminently sensible President took phone calls from the dining area at Mar-A-Lago, which maybe wasn’t the most secure location ever. Apparently at least one guest took a selfie with the aide carrying the nuclear football, which we know because the whole thing ended up on someone’s Facebook page. Disturbingly enough, this might not have even been the biggest security breach, because staff also were using cell phone flashlights that might contain spyware to review documents. So basically, if you can afford the $200,000 membership fee, you might get to hear state secrets? So that’s cool.
- You Almost Sunk My Battleship!* Okay, not really. But a Russian spy sub was spotted off the coast of Connecticut this week. And Trump threatened to shoot it out of the water during Thursday’s press conference. So, you know, the title is nearly accurate. As well as terrifying.
- Word Salad Fib Factory Press Conference. Trump held a spectacularly mind-numbing press conference on Thursday, ostensibly to announce Alexander Acosta as his replacement nomination for Puzder but in reality to complain and show off his impressive casual lying skills. (My favorite was the part where he said that drugs cost less than candy bars, showing he’s out of touch with both the war on drugs and enjoyment of American processed chocolate. Although the part where he told a Jewish reporter to sit down and shut up when the reporter tried to ask about the JCC bomb threats all over the country — because some of his favorite people are Jews and he got 306 electoral college votes — was a close second, if an encore of a previous presser performance.)
- Trump Avoids Intelligence (in All Sense of the Term). Earlier this week, it came out that Sally Yates tried to warn Trump about the Flynn/Russian contacts issue several weeks ago. Which he ignored, because… reasons? This revelation, among others, began an intense will-they-won’t-they among Republicans in the Senate and the House about whether to further investigate the ties to Russia generally on this matter. Meanwhile, House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz has made it clear that he will not investigate unless someone drags him kicking and screaming, and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Devin Nunes thinks the $64,000 question in all of this is why Flynn’s phone was tapped. Also, Trump thinks “the real story” is that his people are leaking like sieves, surprising no one. Also also, there’s been a huge back and forth about whether the intelligence community has started withholding information from Trump on purpose, due to concern that his administration is compromised.
- Terminate the EPA Bill: Now with Text! Some summary text was added to H.R. 861, the bill introduced on February 3 to terminate the Environmental Protection Agency. The text is pretty much just clarifying exactly what’s on the tin: That it’s a bill to terminate the EPA effective December 31, 2018. There’s no reason to believe this bill will survive committee, but it’s completely bonkers that it even got introduced. The House has been hopped up on bonkers brew pretty much nonstop since beginning the current session, though, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by anything they do at this point.
- Try to Guess Trump’s Position on Israel, I Dare You. Somehow, in the past week, Trump both rejected the two-state solution that American politicians have been embracing for decades, and still managed to tell Netanyahu to cool it on settlement progress, leaving literally no one happy with him or his approach to Middle Eastern conflict resolution. Despite this, he apparently remains confident that he’ll single-handedly create peace in the Middle East, armed with the power of MURRIKA.
- More on ICE. Several more ICE headlines happened this week; a DREAMer on the DACA list was picked up as a collateral arrest in one of the raids, and in Texas an alleged abuser tipped off ICE and got the undocumented survivor picked up halfway through the hearing for the restraining order against him. Also, numbers from last week’s raids have come out, and ICE picked up and detained an estimated 600 people total in one week.
- Prosecutor, Recuse Thyself. Sessions is refusing to recuse himself on the Russian investigation, which he’s technically allowed to do (but it’s incredibly ill-advised and tacky). Democrats are putting increasing pressure on him, as the article notes, and we’ll see if it gets us anywhere.
- The National Guard Shouldn’t Be This Scary. There was a leaked memo this week that discussed using the National Guard to round up undocumented immigrants in eleven states. The document was signed by Secretary Kelly, but the White House distanced itself from the memo (although it did say it might consider authorizing this kind of expansion in the future). Personally, I’m not convinced the entire thing wasn’t an intentional leak to terrorize immigrant populations, but either way, it sounds like we can put this particular rumor to rest for the moment.
- Budget Woes (for Everyone But Trump). Trump’s incredibly petty and asinine plan to cut the budget for all relatively cheap things that bring people joy or safety in life saw forward movement this week, because Trump’s pick for budget director was confirmed by the senate. (And lest you think I’m being overly dramatic, things on the chopping block include Sesame Street, the National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, legal services funds, Violence Against Women grants, Americorps funds, and several other human interest streams of funding that individually make up 0.003% of the national budget or less.)
- Ryancare, um …doesn’t. Republicans finally offered a policy brief of a plan to replace the Affordable Care Act this week, with Paul Ryan’s “A Better Way” proposal leading the charge, and surprise surprise, it leaves a lot of indigent people out in the cold as well as potentially revamping Medicaid itself. As expected, the plan outline places heavy emphasis on health savings accounts (which essentially require the participant to fund their own coverage, albeit tax-free); it also proposes use of tax credits by age instead of income (which many indigent people can’t use), federal financing for medicaid on a per capita basis, and a lot of provisions that essentially leave structure decisions to the states. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the plan more-or-less guts many of the intended purposes of the Affordable Care Act; it’s much more concerned with driving down government costs than treating healthcare as a basic necessity. And honestly, I don’t even see a lot of evidence that this will drive health care costs down generally; it just shifts who ultimately is responsible for them back onto the consumer. Speaking as someone who works with a department of a safety net hospital, I honestly felt gross reading the primary source linked above, and I recommend starting with the second link if you aren’t up for swallowing a bunch of Republican propaganda.
- Autocratic State of the Nation. As always, here is the link to Amy Siskind’s weekly authoritarianism watch review. Some, but not all, of her work is reproduced here, and I recommend checking out her list.
- Checking the Cabinet: Pruitt was confirmed as head of the Environmental Protection Agency, despite literally having suits against the agency pending right now (booooo). Mnuchin was confirmed by a narrow margin as well. As noted above, Mulvaney was confirmed as budget director. Bizarrely, I have no other bad cabinet news from this week, in large part because…
- Puzder and Department of Labor NoTP: Apparently sufficiently few people wanted the Labor Department to be a gross, sexist extension of Hardee’s that Puzder withdrew his nomination this week. Trump ended up putting forward Alexander Acosta, a surprisingly competent and notably not-anti-labor choice, as his replacement nomination, which obviously has not yet been voted upon by committee.
- Out Like Flynn. I know, I know, I used the same terrible play on words two weeks in a row. But I presumably will never do it again, because Flynn resigned this past week! Right after I sent out last week’s recap, annoyingly enough. There is a now a short list of three people Trump might call on to replace him, which no longer includes former General Petraeus.
- A Day Without Immigrants. Restaurants in cities throughout the country shut down on Thursday to show denizens “a day without immigrants.” Though ultimately industry response to the protest was mixed, here in Boston a large number of restaurants put out statements in support of the movement.
- Justin Trudeau Explains Quantum Computing. Arguably not really national news, but still worth the price of admission. Think of it as your reward for making it through this roundup, because you’ve now read all the news that was fit to print!