This week was so bonkers even by our post-Trump standards that the New York Times put out an article on how bonkers it was. And they forgot a bunch of stuff! I think that tells y’all what you need to know about how this week’s roundup is gonna go. ^^;;;
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 tariff! — 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:
Just last week, this week had an impressive amount of Casual Disregard of Governing Norms. I’m starting to become concerned that this is going to be a new staple in the roundup, particularly because it seems to be accelerating as news of the Russia Investigation languishes. Here are the things to track this week:
- Congratulating Putin. After Vladimir Putin won a very stacked-in-his-favor election and became ‘President’ of Russia for a fourth term straight, Trump called to congratulate him on his ‘victory.’ It turns out that this was not a thing his staff wanted him to do (go figure), but when news of that leaked most public figures decided to get mad at the leaker. Folks, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from a year of compiling news about Donald Trump, it’s that the leaker gets all the attention but isn’t who you need to be worried about.
- White House Staff Shuffle Persists. The White House walkouts continued this week with alacrity — there are so many, in fact, that let me break it down by bullet point:
- First White House attorney John Dowd called it quits — you may remember him from such great hits as The Guy Arguing McCabe’s Firing Should End Mueller’s Investigation just last week and Discussing Trump’s Legal Matters in a Restaurant Where A New York Times Reporter Could Overhear. Dowd cited Trump not listening to him as his official reason, but since Trump pretty much never listens to anybody I’m guessing the money just wasn’t worth it anymore. Dowd was Trump’s main point of contact with Mueller, so it’s unclear what this means for the possibility of an official interview, particularly because new hire Joseph diGenova won’t be joining the legal team after all (so they’re down to a one-lawyer operation).
- Meanwhile, national security adviser H.R. McMaster was indeed pushed out this week, as foretold by news outlet prophesy, and prematurely by tweet (just like Tillerson) no less. Trump wants to replace him with terrifying warmonger John Bolton, a placement that doesn’t require a Senate confirmation — though the Washington Post thinks we shouldn’t head down to the bomb shelter just yet.
- This week’s Probably Going To Be Prematurely Enacted Next Week Prophecy is that the Veterans Affairs Secretary is getting sacked and that the Chief of Staff position will be removed entirely — and I can’t decide if that’s terrifying or likely to result in a complete lack of functionality at the White House. (Also, I found it helpful to remind myself just how many people have left in the past year by reviewing this summary of all the White House exits since January 2017.)
Wow, that was a lot of stuff. Okay back to your Ordinarily Scheduled Disregard for Norms.
- Stormy Daniels Saga Continues. The Stormy Daniels-style stories have reached interview mode! Former Playboy bunny Karen McDougal is giving a CNN interview about her ten-month affair with Trump (after officially suing to be released from her NDA), while Stormy Daniels sees McDougal’s Anderson Cooper interview and raises her a 60 Minutes one claiming that Trump’s people threatened Daniels and her child. Meanwhile, between posting photos of discs of evidence and fighting with Trump’s lawyers on public television, Daniels’s lawyer Michael Avenatti is proving almost as interesting as she is.
Just like last week, the Russia Investigation was upstaged by some of the incredible things going on just off-screen, but there were still one or two major things worth noting:
- Cambridge Analytica.* Oh gosh, where to even start with this one. So news slowly trickled out over the past week or two that Facebook had let a political firm, Cambridge Analytica, mine data from 50 million users that it had claimed would be kept private. The main organizers and bankrollers for the operation? You guessed it, people connected to the Trump campaign — more specifically, Steve Bannon headed the company, Robert Mercer funded it, and John Bolton was an early client (yes, the same John Bolton who just got appointed to National Security Adviser). After mining the data, which by the way Facebook has known about since 2015, Cambridge Analytica used that data to test pro-Trump messages with users on several types of social media. Which whistleblower Christopher Wylie thinks ultimately fell into Russian hands, and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg didn’t exactly jump to assuage this fear. So this… connects a lot of dots about how exactly we had Russian troll farms creating fake Texas political groups on Facebook. Also, unsurprisingly, Facebook stock took a brief nosedive, though it seems to be evening out as I type this.
- Sessions Sessions. After McCabe was let go for lack of candor, news outlets started to write stories about Jeff Sessions being investigated for perjury last year, prompting White House counsel to note that he’s not under investigation right now at least. And while that was happening, sources also started disclosing that Sessions lied about expressing opposition to meeting with Russia, and the rest of the campaign wasn’t what you’d call discouraging of the idea. It will be interesting to see what if anything comes from that, though it might be upstaged by the Cambridge Analytica brouhaha.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- Veto Visions. After both the House and the Senate voted to pass a bipartisan budget bill this week, Trump threatened to veto said bill on Twitter only about twelve hours before the shutdown deadline because it didn’t include funding for his @#)%*in’ wall. After a tense couple of hours he did sign it, but announced at a disjointed press conference afterwards that he would “never sign a bill like this” again. (More on why he might have said that below.)
- Trump/Biden School Age Fantasies.* Continuing this week’s theme of How Is This Real Life, Trump and Biden got into it on Twitter this week after Biden announced that he would have beaten up Trump in high school (but, he clarified later, only in high school) and Trump replied that Biden ‘would go down fast and hard.’ Meanwhile, Politico opined that we all lose because This Is In Fact Real Life at the same time that Vice concluded that if they ever actually started fighting the real winner would be the American people, proving that even the media is fighting with itself about this.
- Death Penalty for Dealing. The administration has been dropping giant hints about this for a while now, but Jeff Sessions didn’t make it official until this past week, when he issued a one-page memo “strongly urging” the Department of Justice to issue the death penalty for drug trafficking. Since he didn’t pass new laws — which would be outside his purview anyway — he’s stuck relying on the existing laws, which have never been used for this purpose although they have technically permitted it for twenty years. The lack of enforcement is in part because the statute specifies how much a person has to traffic before capital punishment can be considered for a convicted defendant who hasn’t killed anybody, and it is, in technical terms, a boatload of drugs — literally an entire person’s weight in heroin, a small pony’s weight in cocaine, or ten elephants’ weight in marijuana. The end effect is that the memo is gross, and likely a veiled threat to the legal marijuana industry, but honestly not much of a threat at this time. It’s a bit weird that he even bothered.
- Are You Tired of Terrible Gun News Yet (Because I Still Am).* Hopes that the Department of Justice might help curb the tide of violence, few as they may have been, dissipated when the spending bill signed into law on Friday provided no funds for proposed studies on school safety, a move that seems particularly crass when it happened the day that Maryland student Jaelynn Wiley passed away after being shot by her ex using his father’s gun. News of the incident has been as ubiquitous as pro-gun enthusiasts complaining that no one is reporting on it, and some of the takes about it have been too hot to handle. NRATV personality Colion Noir referenced the tragedy to concoct a bizarre fantasy about if the armed security guard who ‘engaged’ shooter Austin Rollins had been present at Stoneman Douglas. (It later turned out that Rollins’s fatal gunshot wound was self-inflicted, somewhat blunting the potential impact of Noir’s already-inane statement.) One Nevada high school student ended up suspended from school because his congressman’s office tattled to his principal about naughty language when he called to request responsible gun laws — unsurprising, since the GOP seems to consider curse words far more dangerous than guns. And Rick Santorum, ever the class act, declared that CPR training would sort all of this school shooting business out, which one must admit is a few steps better than thoughts and prayers (but only a few). All throughout this, many young activists of color have been left wondering why so few seemed to listen to them when they’ve been warning us about gun violence for years, even as a young man holding an iPhone is shot by police twenty times in his grandparents’ yard in California and a deputy shoots an unarmed black man in Houston.
- China Tariffs.* Trump issued tariffs against China this week for… reasons? Real talk, I’m not actually sure why he did this, besides posturing about persistent intellectual property problems with the country, and I’m not even sure he knows what the logic was. He left a bit of wiggle room for U.S. companies, who clearly are hoping to talk some sense into him as the Dow does another nosedive; meanwhile China wasted no time setting up plans for retaliation tariffs, because of course they did. Things seem to have calmed a bit in the last few days, with the markets recovering as both countries seem willing to talk it out, but the whole thing seems unnecessarily reckless and ultimately pointless. So, basically, Tuesday for this administration.
- Trans Military Ban Inexplicably Back. So remember back in December when a federal court held that the military had to accept trans applications and enjoined them from discharging trans military members currently serving? Apparently neither does Trump, because he’s trying to ban them again. I’m inclined to agree with the Democrats on the House Armed Services Committee, who called the move “vicious, inhumane and utterly wrong,” but they forgot an adjective: Though Trump is trying to pass this off like a new policy, it’s probably just as illegal as the old one was. Ultimately, all this announcement is likely to cause is more attorneys all over the country muttering, “We’ll see you in court, jerkface.”
- Wins in the Budget Bill. The budget bill that passed this week wasn’t perfect by any stretch — we have a long road ahead of us on ACA issues in particular without cost-sharing reduction payment funding — but Trump’s hissy about vetoing highlights just how bipartisan this bill really was by its final form. Among the exciting developments that made it into the final law: Funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting; newly-permitted studying of gun violence by the CDC due to partial amendment of the Dickey Amendment (which is the real name of the provision that prohibited study, by the way, and not just a value judgement on my part); expansion of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program; new background check requirements on gun purchase; protections ensuring tips belong to workers; newly-doubled community development block grants; and — best of all, in my opinion — the official rejection of pretty much all the worst bits of Trump’s evil budgetary scheme for at least another six months.
- March for Our Lives. This past Saturday, hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets in the March for Our Lives, a coordinated effort to stand against the USA’s gun violence crisis. The nationwide marches showcased the passion and wit of the student populace and the adults supporting them. At the helm and focus of the protests stood the irrepressible Stoneman Douglas shooting survivors, but a distinct space was made for other speakers as well, especially nonwhite voices. With the increased attention, pressure is mounting for legislators to take meaningful action. While the NRA issued an even-more-petty-than-usual statement criticizing the protests, the org was prudently silent during and after the march, proving that they can read the room, they just usually choose not to. And speaking of reading, if you missed the protest, USA Today and I have your backs with the now-traditional Best Signs of the Protest link.
- YouTube Guns for Gun Videos. Until now, YouTube’s policies have worked in favor of a sizable gun enthusiast audience, but things are changing. Last week, the video-sharing site announced a plan to ban gun videos that link to the sales of firearms, or demonstrate how to build or modify firearms. In response, some of these video makers are moving to adult entertainment site Pornhub, basically inviting all of the “gun fetishist” jokes anyone can come up with.
And in addition to all the news above — and boy howdy, was that a lot of news — the Roundup itself has some news as well this week. First of all, I’m excited to announce the creation of a National News Roundup ask box — send me questions! Send me feedback! Send me pictures of your cat! I’ll do my best to respond in a timely fashion, and you can read responses in more-or-less real time on the site. (The mechanism for feedback may change as we make other changes, but some version of the ask box will remain from here on out.)
I’m also doing some restructuring and expanding in the next few weeks, and will hopefully have updates on that as more things get set up! In the near future, expect the creation of an actual mailing list, so that folks join and unsubscribe at their own behest in real time. I’m also actively expanding the NNR team right now, so if you would like to volunteer or share thoughts, please let me know! You now have this handy-dandy feedback mechanism you can use to reach out. 🙂