Preparing a draft on Sunday night, I turned to my editor and unironically said, “Oh wait, I’m not done with the Constitutional Crisis section yet, because I need to add a note about Larry Flynt under the Russia Investigation header.” As a friend of mine observed to me today, “This may or may not be the darkest timeline, but it’s sure as hell the weirdest.” (Although my money’s on both being true, for the record. I recommend comfort foods.)
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’s news contains some detailed analysis that’s outside my expertise — I’m a lawyer, not a firefighter! — but all offroad adventures are marked with an asterisk. Okay, I think that’s about it for the disclaimers. Onward to the news!
Constitutional Crisis Corners:
The Russia Collusion Investigation was unfortunately pretty stymied this week:
- What Russian Sanctions? Trump missed his own deadline for implementing Russia sanctions this week, deeply aggravating the members of Congress who drafted the sanctions bill. The sanctions, as you may remember, were designed to force Trump to punish Russia for tampering in the election, but since he so obviously benefited from said tampering it’s unsurprising that he dragged his feet on this. Still very frustrating, though.
- Social Media Scarpering. This week we learned that Twitter deleted data that would be relevant to the Russia investigation, which is frustrating to say the least. But there was evidence that Facebook isn’t really cooperating either, and took down thousands of posts that could have helped the investigation to minimize their role. So, uh… thanks, guys. That was helpful.
- Yes, That Larry Flynt Ad Really Happened. You didn’t have a Nyquil-induced fever dream; Larry Flynt really did take out a full-page ad in the Washington Post this week offering $10M for “information leading to the impeachment and removal from office of Donald Trump.” Putting aside how fascinating it is that the guy who literally runs Hustler finds Donald Trump distasteful, I haven’t yet heard anything about leads from the ad. I promise I’ll keep y’all posted.
This has really not been a good week on the Threat to Free Speech front:
- It’s Disgusting, All Right.* Trump threatened to take away NBC’s license over a story they ran this week, saying it was “frankly disgusting” that they are allowed to report things freely. Then he doubled down, saying that licenses “must be challenged and, if appropriate, revoked.” The FCC had nothing to say about this veiled threat, which is less than comforting. We need to be calling our reps about this, because it’s a serious threat that we can’t ignore.
- No News Is Bad News.* A guy who tried to cause an explosion in a North Carolina airport received surprisingly little media attention this week, despite being taken into custody and charged and despite being found with at least one explosive on his person. He presumably would have been in the news more if he weren’t white. This kind of underreporting is concerning and dangerous.
But on the plus side, there is a new dark horse in the Why Is He Still President? corner:
- Are You Tired of Hearing about the 25th Amendment Yet? So there’s been a lot of talk this week about the 25th Amendment — Senator Corker’s infamous New York Times interview sparked much more discussion about the President’s various odd behaviors, and whether he might be Constitutionally unfit to lead. As some articles note, impeachment requires cooperation from the Republican party, and though the 25th Amendment has historically been applied to physical health, a lack of mental stability might prove a convenient out for Republicans with serious buyer’s remorse. Though some experts think it unlikely, weirdly, Steve Bannon is one of the proponents. Strange times, y’all.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- Kelly Still Works Here. So Kelly gave a press briefing on Friday clarifying that he’s not getting fired, not firing anybody, and not quitting. Actually, what he said was that he “d[idn’t] think [he was] being fired today” and that he’s not quitting “unless things change.” Apparently, in today’s day and age, the fact that the White House Chief of Staff is “not so frustrated in this job that he’s thinking of leaving” is worth a press conference. Which… is not wrong, actually. Unfortunately.
- United States Leaves UNESCO.* Continuing the Trump Administration Embarrasses Us At the UN theme, the Trump Administration announced this week that the United States is leaving UNESCO next year. This is actually the second time the US has done this, because Reagan made the same decision in the 1980s. Trump cited “anti-Israel bias” as his reasoning, which is particularly galling when you consider that UNESCO was created in direct response to World War II atrocities and publishes a Holocaust education guide.
- SCOTUS Dismisses the Travel Ban Case. The Supreme Court dismissed the travel ban case this week, saying that it was moot because the original terms had expired. Without going too far into the weeds, needless to say, I don’t agree with this assessment when there’s a new, more permanent form of the (arguably same) travel ban in effect as I write this. There’s still a related matter pending, but it seems likely it will be dismissed as well. Though it seems likely there will be a legal challenge to the third travel ban, this is a frustrating and vaguely strange setback.
- The Wall of the Deal. Trump is still trying to use Dreamers as a bargaining chip to get his wall funded, which is pretty much the literal opposite of a clean DREAM Act and as a result was summarily dismissed by Democrats about thirty seconds after he asked. Then he announced that maybe he’ll push back the March 5 deadline if nobody will cut a deal with him. His negotiation tactics are like a surreal version of Getting to Yes where you just spin a wheel and offer whatever comes up when it stops. Meanwhile, Senator Thom Tillis has introduced a bill that… might be making traction? It’s hard to say, honestly, with Trump spinning his Art of the Deal Wheel in the background every five minutes, but it’s worth watching.
- More Natural Man-made Disasters. Deadly wildfires rage in northern California, forcing thousands to flee the area and killing over 40 people. As I write this, fourteen fires are still raging, though experts think the crisis may be close to over. The fires have raged for a week straight, and destroyed over 200,000 acres of land. The governor of California has called this “one of the greatest traged[ies] California has ever faced.” Meanwhile, as the west coast reels from that, Trump is threatening to abandon aid to Puerto Rico and the Pentagon accidentally included a reporter on spin emails for five days. Both locations will continue to need aid for quite some time to come.
- Clean Power being rolled back.* The EPA formalized plans to roll back the Clean Power Plan in the past week, impacting carbon emissions in about 25 states. The New York Times has a helpful article for explaining what this means in practical terms, but suffice to say: It doesn’t mean anything good.
- Contraception Mandate Narrowed. At the end of last week, Trump signed an executive order stating that employers no longer have to cover contraceptives under the ACA if they have religious objections. This change could cause hundreds of thousands of women to lose medical coverage, which creates considerable medical risk despite the administration’s claims that oral hormones and other contraceptives aren’t safe. Also, because apparently nobody covering this has bothered to point it out, plenty of people take oral hormones as medication for actual medical ailments, and the entire point of employer-based insurance is to cover people’s medical costs.
- Bombs in the ACA Marketplace. Remember how Trump has been threatening to stop paying subsidies for like a billion years now? This past week, he formally announced he was doing exactly that, effective immediately. The timing of this is pretty rough; it’s only a couple of weeks before the enrollment window was set to open, and it comes on the immediate heels an executive order to allow alternative health plans that provide less coverage under the current legislature. It’s possible this is a ploy to get Democrats to amend the ACA, but in the meantime the one-two punch has a lot of capacity to screw up the marketplace and the ACA more generally, at least in some states. We’ll need to continue to call our reps to try to get bipartisan infrastructure in place, and also watch the lawsuits on this carefully — see more information on the latter below.
- Iran Certification News.* As forecast earlier in the week, Trump disavowed the Iran nuclear agreement, but stopped short of leaving entirely. Instead, he told Congress to alter the deal, threatening to leave at a later date if changes aren’t made. We’ll need to watch what our reps do with this as well, but it’s a lighter blow than we were led to expect, and frankly I’ll take whatever I can get at this point.
- ACA Lawsuits. The silver lining to this past week’s ACA shenanigans is that there is already a growing pile of lawsuits filed on both executive orders and the subsidy announcement. The ACLU, Washington Attorney General, and California Attorney General are all suing Trump over rolling back the contraceptive mandate, arguing (probably correctly) that it violates the Establishment and Equal Protection clauses of the Constitution. Meanwhile, eighteen states and the District of Columbia are suing over the subsidies, seeking an injunction that would force the President to keep paying them. The National Governors’ Association issued a statement on the topic as well, indicating that they will be coordinating with Congress directly to facilitate a bipartisan fix on the subsidy issue. There are clearly a number of moving parts on the board already to try to fix both of these issues.
- Animal Kingdom News. Homo sapiens is not exactly a shining star species right now, but several other members of the animal kingdom popped up in the news in better contexts! In particular, for your dose of warm fuzzies, you can read about this octopus who wanted to thank their rescuer in person. Erm, make that “in octopus.” Also, a duck in Devon got into a drunken bar brawl with a local dog. On the plus side, the duck pulled through! Which is my new catchphrase for annoying my editor. I’ve already used it on her four times.
And that’s what I have, in all its terrible and deeply strange glory. Daily news summaries like WTFJHT remain a very good idea for the foreseeable future. Here’s hoping that next week brings better tidings!