This week has been weird, y’all. Like, “conservatives are smashing their Keurig machines to stick it to liberals” weird. (Joke’s on them; environmentalists hate those things!) I got nothin’.
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 diplomat! — 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:
For a second week in a row, the Russia Collusion Investigation remains the biggest news of the week. We saw a lot of different interrelated developments:
- Carter Page’s No Good, Very Bad Testimony.* The transcript of the aide’s testimony before the House Intelligence committee, which was released at the beginning of the week, was… let’s just say, less than helpful to himself, half the Trump administration, and anybody who wants to dispute the validity of the Steele dossier. And, more to the point, it was less than helpful to Jeff Sessions, who had been claiming he knew nothing about any contact with Russia before Carter said he told Sessions he was going to go talk to some Russians.
- Sessions to Testify Again. In likely relation to that first bullet point, Sessions is scheduled to testify yet again this week after bipartisan requests were made on various media circuits. This is hardly a surprise, particularly because Democratic Senators were calling him to testify last week as well, but it will certainly be interesting to see what he says. My money’s on record numbers of “I don’t recall, Senator.”
- Gates Gag Orders. The presiding judge on the Manafort and Gates cases issued a gag order this past week, barring the parties, potential witnesses, and legal counsel from making statements about the case. This is probably at least in part because of public statements already made by defense attorneys, given the judge’s pointed comment about avoiding attorney statements “on the courthouse steps.” That said, this kind of order is not an unusual move in a criminal case, especially when the court will need to empanel a jury eventually — but it does show the judge is serious about moving the case forward.
- Trump Jr. Tweets His Own Prosecution Case. Again. An incredible story broke today that Donald Trump Jr was corresponding with Wikileaks, the site that published the DNC emails package, well into 2017. Then Donald Trump Jr. topped that story, in much the same fashion he did when news broke that he’d met with a Russian lawyer, by tweeting out all the messages. If all of this is bizarre and confusing to you, you’re in good company; Vox has a good contextual summary that makes it almost make sense.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- Rand Paul Mystery Assault. In a weird turn of events, Rand Paul apparently got assaulted by his Kentucky neighbor, a local doctor, over what may or may not be a landscaping dispute. Further confusing the issue, Paul supposedly hadn’t spoken with his neighbor in years before the attack. Whatever the motivation, Paul had six broken ribs, and his recovery is expected to take months.
- Voter Fraud Commission Suit. The voter fraud commission is being sued by one of its own members, Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, who is alleging that Democrats on the panel are being intentionally kept out of the loop on proceedings. As Dunlap put it in an interview, “I’m asking for a schedule, not the nuclear secrets of the country.” This is apparently the eighth suit to be brought against the commission, which is probably some kind of record even among Trump officials.
- Not Qualified Squared. One of Trump’s picks for appellate judge, Brett Talley, has been pretty unpopular. For one thing, he’s only been a lawyer three years and he’s never tried a case, which is probably why the American Bar Association deems him not qualified. But we learned this week he’s unqualified for a second reason, too: He’s married to the White House legal counsel’s chief of staff, which he conveniently forgot to mention on the Senate questionnaire form. But to be fair to Talley, he might not have known he had to disclose it. After all, he’s only been a lawyer three years.
- Trump’s Messy Trip to Asia.* Ho boy, where to even start with this one. Trump went to Asia over the past week, but not a lot got accomplished, other than some business deals with China. He did, however, manage to insult America, meet with (and defend) Vladimir Putin, tweet mean girl insults at North Korea, and discredit the CIA. But that didn’t stop him from announcing that he and Chinese President Xi Jinping could solve “probably all” the world’s problems. (Disturbingly, aides claim that this was the toned-down version of Trump’s trip — though nobody threatened nuclear war, so it absolutely could have been worse.)
- TPS News. Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke announced the fate of temporary protected status for Nicaragua and Honduras this past week, ending the status for 2,500 Nicaraguans but giving 57,000 Hondurans six months to get their affairs in order. Bizarrely, former Secretary John Kelly pressured Duke to end Honduran TPS immediately, despite literally making the same decision about Haitian TPS six months ago. (We’re now waiting for final word on Haitian TPS yet again, which is due by November 23, along with El Salvadoran TPS, which will be announced in January.) You can read more about temporary protected status, and why it has become a symbolic battle on immigration philosophy, in this thorough Vox article on the topic.
- Senate Version of the Tax Reform Bill.* The Senate released its version of the tax reform bill this week, in all its 253-page glory. Forbes put out a good summary, but here are the main things to know: 1) It has a lot of changes from the House version, which will probably necessitate the two bodies duking it out even if the Senate bill passes; 2) One thing that didn’t change is that the middle class is again the biggest loser; and 3) Trump likely wants the House version and that probably signals the rest of us do not.
- Roy Moore Joins the Sexual Miscreant Parade. There has been a huge amount on sexual harassment and assault in the news in the recent past, with this past week being no exception. The biggest, most political story to hit is that Roy Moore, the Republican candidate in the Alabama special election for the Senate, is alleged to have solicited sexual acts from multiple underage women while in his thirties. (I wrote up some thoughts on how and why the Moore story will have political implications, so I won’t rehash it again here, but the short version is that apparently not everybody has a problem with sexual predation of an eighth grader if the story comes from a Yankee.) But in addition to Moore, there’s also the growing Hollywood horror list, which is now up to 23 names since the Harvey Weinstein story first broke about a month ago. These stories, and their aftermath, illustrate the sheer pervasiveness of sexual violence in our culture. But news also broke this week that Gal Gadot, who is in negotiations for a Wonder Woman sequel, felt empowered to refuse to work with a name on that list, which seems like a sea change; maybe we’re entering a new era of accountability.
- Pruitt Will Roll back the Clean Power Plan. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt signed a proposal to roll back the Clean Power Plan this week, in sheer defiance of his own agency’s recent report and all common sense. Meanwhile, Pruitt is being sued over climate change, and Syria joined the Paris Accord, leaving us literally the only country in the world that isn’t cooperating. And people are destroying their Keurigs on viral video, so it’s a strange and disturbing time for environmentalism all around.
- ACA Numbers Don’t Lie. Despite some intentional sabotage by the Trump administration, ACA enrollment reached historic highs this season on its first day of enrollment, more than doubling the previous year’s numbers. In addition to suggesting that healthcare is on people’s minds, these numbers are another piece of evidence that the ACA has become much more popular with the average American in the past year. On a related note, in this past Tuesday’s election Maine voted to expand Medicaid under the ACA by referendum, finally getting around their governor’s perpetual veto. (Their governor, Paul LePage, is already dragging his feet on implementation.)
- Bob Is My Constituent. We saw some truly amazing victories on Election Day this past week, and I can’t oversell how excited I am about them all! Most obvious were the heaps of Democratic victories, including in both Virginia and New Jersey’s gubernatorial elections. But even more historic was the veritable tide we saw of successful female candidates, successful candidates of color, and successful openly trans candidates in particular. Also, I have particular delight in the story of Danica Roem, who is the first openly transgender state lawmaker, and who defeated Bob Marshall, an extremely outspoken and well-entrenched opponent of trans rights. When she was asked on election night whether she was glad to have defeated his agenda, Ms. Roem apparently replied: “I don’t attack my constituents. Bob is my constituent now.”
And that’s what I have this week — it managed to be weird, terrible, and kind of awesome in turns throughout the week. I could get used to having positive news, though I’m not holding my breath for too long of a streak. Either way, I’ll catch y’all next week!