National News Roundup: Week 19 (May 28-June 3)

The news… appears to be slowing down a bit this week? I’m not sure how that happened, though I’m glad to be given a chance to catch my breath. That said, we did see some really big headlines, even if I don’t fully understand why some of the moves made this week. It’s like trying to follow a chess game where one of the players is drunk. And concussed. And there are cartoons happening in the next room.

Standard standing reminders apply: 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. This week also contains multiple headlines outside my area as a legal generalist — still a lawyer, not a spy! — but all offroad adventures are marked with an asterisk. Okay, I think that’s about it for the disclaimers. Onward to the news!

On Russia and News:

Somewhat mercifully, we’re back down to “just” The Russia Collusion Investigation this week in terms of constitutional crises in the news. The ongoing threats to the First Amendment and the Emoluments Clause haven’t gone away, though, so please still call your reps about them! In the meantime, here’s your weekly wtf about all things Russia:

Your “Normal” Weird:

  • Covfefe Conspiracy. Trump got way too much attention this week for tweeting “Despite the constant negative press covfefe” just after midnight. While Twitter had a field day, conspiracy theorists insisted that “covfefe” means “I will stand up” in Arabic (which, spoiler, no it doesn’t). Meanwhile, Sean Spicer insisted that “a small group of people know exactly what he meant,” which would be ominous if it didn’t seem more likely to be a bald-faced lie.
  • Communications “Shakeup.” Apparently as part of promised “shakeups,” Communications Director Mike Dubke resigned this week. It’s unclear when his last day will be and why exactly he tendered his resignation, although it looks like he actually entered it before Trump’s trip abroad. Spicer apparently will be covering his duties in the short term, with fewer media briefings in general. The decision to leave is particularly striking when considered against the extremely low staff numbers among this administration, which has only filled 39 of 559 executive branch appointments.
  • Travel Ban Blues. Trump has filed a petition with the Supreme Court to reinstate the ban, and Justice Kennedy will probably cast the deciding vote on whether the court hears the case or not. If the Supreme Court does decide to hear the case, this will be an incredibly important case for evaluating how independent our judiciary’s functioning has remained at its highest level. That said, the Supreme Court might very well decide to wait until somebody — anybody — actually makes a decision about the order itself on the merits of the case. (Meanwhile, Trump referred to the order as a “travel ban” again this weekend in a set of tweets about recent terrorist action in London, despite the fourth circuit literally reviewing statements like this to make the determination he’s appealing this week. Hopefully whatever court does consider the case itself will take note; the ACLU certainly noticed it, at the very least.)

The Bad:

  • Paris Accord Withdrawal. The unquestionably biggest news this week is that Trump said he plans to pull the United States out of the Paris climate accords, which are a voluntary agreement signed by 195 out of 197 countries (including us, obviously) in 2015. The purpose of the accord is to engage in practices to limit carbon emissions and slow the spread of climate change. Only two world countries do not participate in this accord — Nicaragua, which felt the accords did not promote radical enough changes to energy practices to preserve the planet, and Syria, which was distracted by a bloody civil war at the time of signing. Trump claimed that the agreement was “negotiated poorly” and too costly for Americans. Per the terms of the accord itself, however, the United States cannot actually exit until 2020, which makes this move as symbolic as it is ill-advised.
  • International terrorism. This was a very rough week on the international stage regarding violent attacks. Kabul, Afghanistan saw multiple instances of terrorism; first when a car bomb near a German embassy killed and injured hundreds of people, and again when blasts went off at a well-attended public funeral. There was also a terrorist attack at London Bridge, killing about seven people and injuring many others. London police responded to the scene extremely quickly, fatally shooting the attackers within eight minutes of the incident’s start and likely saving many lives in the process. (President Trump was equally quick to spread rumors, promote his travel ban, and harass the mayor of London for engaging in appropriate public relations with denizens.) Though the Taliban has denied responsibility for the attack in Kabul, the government blames the Taliban’s Haqqani network for both attacks; the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the one in London. It is important to note that both of these violent attacks during Ramadan reflect a perversion of mainstream Islamic law, which teaches that Ramadan is a deeply spiritual time for fasting and reflection. The attack in Kabul, which happened while people were praying and observing funeral rites during daylight hours, is particularly counter to the mainstream tenets of the faith; the Afghan President acknowledged this in his statement about the Wednesday attack.
  • Trump Exempts Staff from His Own Ethics Rule. Remember that Ethics executive order that Trump issued a few months ago about obvious conflicts of interest for government employees? Yeah, apparently neither does he, because he’s issuing waivers on it left and right. The most problematic waiver on the list is a “blanket waiver” for contact with news outlets, which they want to use to keep Steven Bannon in contact with Breitbart News, but there are seventeen waivers issued all told. Needless to say, the Office of Government Ethics is not impressed, and plans to push back on this practice.
  • But Her Emails. Trump apparently instructed national leaders to call him on his personal cell phone, which is a pretty significant breach of security protocol because the line is not exactly secure. So far, apparently only Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada, has actually taken him up on this offer, and I can only imagine how that phone call went. I bet Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto probably has a few choice things he would like to say to Trump on a secure line, though.
  • Texas Lawmaking At Its Finest. A Texas state legislator called ICE on protesting constituents this past week, citing “f*** them” as his reasoning (and yes, that is really an actual quote repeated by one of the legislators involved). Then for a follow up act, he got into a fight with multiple outraged fellow legislators, which ended with him threatening to shoot one of them in the head. He’s now in protective custody.

The Good:

And that’s all I got! (It almost ends up feeling short and sweet to me, though my trusty resident editor informs me that this is not universal.) There is a lot to track in the upcoming weeks, so I doubt we can get used to it. Catch you next week!

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