The theme of this past week’s news was largely “brace yourself for raining shoes” — and several boots and a sandal have yet to drop as I write this. This week, keep your eyes peeled for Mueller mayhem, final votes on tax reform, and personnel changes on Capitol Hill. But in the meantime, here’s some info on what has happened already.
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 an FBI agent! — 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:
This week was pretty quiet on the Russia Collusion Investigation front, in part because rumors started circulating that Mueller was about to be fired — but here’s what has happened:
- Mueller Email Adventures. Over the weekend, the Trump administration accused Mueller of unlawfully obtaining tens of thousands of emails from them because he went through the third-party General Services Administration. But as several legal experts note, public email accounts have no expectation of privacy, and it would be prosecutorial misconduct not to request the records. These claims fuel concern that the President is looking for an excuse to fire Mueller, despite his lack of authority to do so (and his claims to the contrary).
- Text Message Kerfuffle. Some unflattering texts between two FBI agents have Republicans clamoring to have a second special investigator investigate Mueller. This appears to be a whole lot of nothing — a subordinate calling Trump an ‘idiot’ and expressing a preference for Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election hardly implicates Mueller in 2017, particularly when Mueller removed the FBI agent as soon as he learned of the texts. But the story does appear to be another indication that the administration is gaining steam in a push to discredit or oust the special prosecutor.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- The Latest in Harassment Personnel Changes. With last week’s sweeping resignations come new seat-holders, and boy howdy is some of the process looking weird! I think I touched upon this last week, but the governor of Michigan has announced they won’t hold a special election at all, opting to leave John Conyer’s former seat open for an entire year and simply having ordinary elections in 2018. Meanwhile, Minnesota’s governor has appointed Lt Governor Tina Smith to take Al Franken’s seat, but it’s unclear when Franken plans to leave (and her appointment has created chaos in the state’s politics). And it’s completely unclear who is favored to replace Trent Franks, despite a primary election happening in only two months. So it’s been a bit of a wild ride all around.
- Trump Harassment Shuffle. There was lots of surreal and decisive movement on the Trump is a Serial Harasser front this week, though I’m still not sure what if anything will come of it. Among the highlights: Fifty-six female Democrats asking the House Oversight Committee to investigate allegations of Trump’s sexual abuse; Trump making surreal and sexualized statements about a sitting Senator; Nikki Haley saying that the people accusing Trump of sexual misconduct ‘should be heard’; and Kamela Harris joining the group of Senators saying Trump should resign.
- Jones Upset Aftermath. Democratic candidate Doug Jones won the Alabama Senate seat this week in an incredibly close election, making him the first Democrat to hold a senate seat there in literally decades. It’s incredibly exciting, and some much-needed good news, and it highlights some major personnel changes happening in the Senate’s near future. But despite Democrats urging otherwise, Jones probably won’t join the Senate until 2018 — the votes need to be certified, and Roy Moore also isn’t conceding despite the RNC’s signal that it won’t pay for a recount. And on top of all of that, the Alabama Supreme Court held that the state doesn’t have to preserve voting data, which might make a recount take forever if it does happen. Since Republicans are unlikely to delay the tax vote (despite Dems delaying in 2010 in a similar situation), this means he won’t be able to help with next week’s travesty.
- Tax Reform Remix. The tax reform roller coaster appears to be nearing a stop this week, but that’s not a good thing, as it’s currently slowing down right near a gilded circle of hell. Mnuchin released a one-page report this week, which Forbes (rightfully) says he should be ashamed of releasing; among other things, the report confirms that the tax cuts are so expensive that they cannot pay for themselves, and “welfare reform” (i.e. Medicaid and Medicare cuts) will be necessary to pay for it all. That, unfortunately, did not stop Bob Corker and Mark Rubio from eventually hopping aboard for the final version of the bill, leaving the GOP so confident they had the votes that they let McCain take the week off. Though the final version of the tax reform bill does soften a lot of the House version’s harshest edges, it still includes a repeal of the health insurance mandate, and it’s very likely to widen wealth inequality in the country. The Washington Post put out a good comprehensive summary of the final version, which is definitely worth a read (or at least a skim) if you get a chance. But the short version is: If you aren’t rich, it isn’t gonna be great.
- Net Neutrality Neutered. The FCC vote on net neutrality this week went ahead as expected on Thursday, despite requests from 18 attorneys general to postpone in light of a fraudulent comment investigation. The vote resulted in a repeal of net neutrality regulations by 3–2. This is bad news for activists, for reasons I’ve noted before (as well as for people who simply want to watch their Netflix in peace), but it isn’t the end of the line — there are several different efforts already in play to undo the repeal, which I’ll write more about that below.
- CDC Seven Forbidden Words. News broke this weekend that the CDC was given a list of ‘forbidden’ words by the Trump administration which cannot appear in official reports; more to the point, that list included words like “evidence-based,” “fetus,” and “transgender.” This is not the first instance we’ve seen of bizarre agency censorship — the EPA in particular has been noted for this all over the place, and the USDA has done it too — but there’s something uniquely alarming about the idea that our Center for Disease Control can’t note what works when combating epidemics. DHHS has denied the story, which I wish still meant something in 2017; since it doesn’t, we’re left wondering whether this was an actual policy, an attempt at a policy that backfired, or just a rumor that snuck past the Washington Post goalie.
- Federal Judge Withdrawals. Several deeply embarrassing federal judge nominations went the way of the dinosaurs this week! The first to go were Brett “Does it count if my wife practiced law?” Talley and Jeff “I Literally Told You I Illegally Discriminate” Mateer, who were both unceremoniously screened out by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. But after another nominee, Matthew Spenser Peterson, couldn’t answer extremely basic questions about legal procedure — like “I don’t know what a motion in limine is” level of basic — he withdrew his nomination today. Hallelujah, it’s raining turkeys!
- Net Neutrality Preservation Plans. Immediately after the FCC vote on Thursday, both politicians and attorneys general were springing into action. Senator Markey announced that he is filing a Congressional Review Act resolution to undo the FCC vote (which already has fifteen sponsors). On the legal end of things, several attorneys general are suing the FCC in connection with the fraudulent comment investigation, with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman leading the charge and potentially as many as eighteen other states supporting the suit. Following Markey’s lead, the governor of Washington announced a cooperative plan to preserve net neutrality, to the extent that the FCC doesn’t preempt state action; Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson also joined Schneiderman’s suit.
And that’s basically the news that was fit to email this week — some good, some bad, most unfinished. It’s like the Big Dig of news weeks! And speaking of unfinished, the next few weeks are going to be a bit wonky here at Roundup Center, because both Christmas and New Year’s Day fall on a Monday. The tentative plan is to issue the Christmas roundup on December 26, and I’ll check in from there on how to handle New Year’s. Until we meet again, happy holidays!