After a zillion years of Bad News Bears, I’m just not sure what to do with the mostly-weird-and-somewhat-good news cycle I have in front of me this week. It’s like watching it rain fish after weeks and weeks of drought — sure, you were planning to make fish stew tonight, but what just happened? And is that fish even safe to eat?
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 tax collector! — 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 had only one real instance of Casual Disregard of Governing Norms. That said, that one instance was pretty concerning. Here’s the deal:
- Pompeo’s Recent Adventure.* Mike Pompeo’s full confirmation vote is not scheduled until sometime this week (although he managed to squeak through committee today by the skin of his teeth). But that apparently didn’t stop him from secretly heading to North Korea over Easter, which we learned about this past week. If he was there as a nascent Secretary of State, beginning delicate diplomatic work before there’s even a confirmation hearing is both abnormal and deeply concerning. If he was there as the current director of the CIA, it’s a major breach of protocol that the public learned about a likely classified trip from the Yutz-In-Chief’s big mouth. Either way, this is kind of a nightmare and we should be calling our reps about it.
It was also a pretty quiet week on the Russia Investigation front, but there were a few things of note. Here’s a summary of the main things to know:
- Russia Sanctions Roulette.* After U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley indicated that we would be imposing more Russia sanctions on television, an apparently-watching Trump forced her to walk the statement back. A White House official tried to cover by saying she was ‘confused’. Haley is really not known for getting things wrong, so that seems unlikely — although in this instance perhaps she was confused about whether Trump watches shows other than Fox News.
- Mueller Protection Process. The Senate is still fighting about a Mueller Protection Bill, with McConnell publicly stating we don’t need it and other Republicans publicly stating they’ll force a committee vote, at the very least. As fun as it is to watch McConnell’s own party go turtle-hunting, the Mueller protection bill is pretty serious, so here’s hoping it reaches the floor. The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote at the beginning of this week, so we’ll likely see more developments on this front in the near future.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- Pruitt Petition. As the Office of Management and Budget investigates whether Scott Pruitt broke federal laws by ordering his bonkers sound-proof phone booth, 170 Democrats and 4 Republicans have introduced resolutions in the House and Senate calling for his resignation. The petition is definitely more statement than intended action at this point, since the resolution only has forty Senators on board — not the whole Democratic bloc, and they’d need another Republican to join. But it’s a startling (and apparently historic) number of cosponsors, so the petition does definitely make its point.
- Your Apparently Weekly Sex Scandal Update. There’s still a lot of white noise on the sex scandal fronts, which I’m guessing is an intentional effort on Stormy Daniels’ part — though honestly, there are worse things in the world than making people continue to care about this lawsuit. Ex-Playboy model Karen McDougal settled her contract case and now can talk about things to her heart’s content. Meanwhile, Stormy Daniels has offered $100,000 to anyone who can use a forensic sketch to identify the man she says threatened her in 2011. Since those aren’t exactly super accurate, she’s probably trying to keep the publicity ball rolling rather than expecting results. But she says she now has 1,500 leads, so it’s successful on at least one front so far.
- Michael Cohen Updates. Things are a mess for Michael Cohen after his spectacular cascading failures in court last week. There’s lots of speculation that he’ll flip on Trump, his attempt to delay the Stormy Daniels suit failed when the judge refused paperwork filed on his behalf, and everything else going on forced him to drop the defamation suits against BuzzFeed and FusionGPS. Gosh, it’s so sad when legal systems function properly.
- IRS Ires Us. The IRS made a lot of people cranky this week when the electronic filing system crashed on tax day, scaring the dividends off of a lot of last-minute filers who were told the system would come back online December 31, 9999. (These filers were, thankfully, given extensions.) But the last-minute filer crowd did not include Donald Trump, who simply asked for an extension (because of course he did). I don’t think anyone’s surprised that Trump didn’t file, especially because he did the same thing last year, but it’s still not exactly Presidential.
- Puerto Rico Without Power (Again). Puerto Rico is without power (again? still?) after experiencing an island-wide blackout this week. Experts estimated power restoration could take anywhere from 24 to 36 hours, and the island didn’t have 100% capacity when this happened in the first place. At least one enterprising resident is taking this opportunity to set up solar power, and frankly that wouldn’t be a bad plan for the whole island from here.
- Confirmation Biases. Jim Bridenstine, non-scientist NASA nominee extraordinaire, was confirmed along party lines this week. Since Bridenstine didn’t even enjoy full Republican support at first, this is not exactly good news. And speaking of flipping Republicans, we can thank Rand Paul for Pompeo’s progression to the full Senate floor, since he flipped only minutes before committee vote after refusing to endorse him as Secretary of State. That one is not yet finalized, though, because the full Senate has yet to vote. So here’s hoping.
- Waffle House Shooting. Four people were killed in Nashville when an assailant with an AR-15 started shooting up a Waffle House. The shooter was apprehended today and is in police custody, although he is not cooperating with questioning. Needless to say, this is the latest in a deeply upsetting and ongoing trend of gun violence in public places, and the whole country mourns another senseless tragedy.
- Recent Court Resilience (Part 1). There has been an incredible uptick in court-related resilience in the last week — so much so, in fact, that I’m separating the stories into suits and court opinions. On the law suit side, the DNC made major news this week when it filed a lawsuit alleging Russia, Wikileaks, and the Trump campaign conspired to disrupt the 2016 election. I admit I wasn’t sure what remedies they were seeking when I first read this, particularly because the 66-page complaint alleges everything from copyright infringement to RICO conspiracy to trespass to misappropriation of trade secrets. But apparently, the DNC was successful with this technique in the aftermath of Watergate, so there’s precedent for it. Meanwhilie, Sandy Hook parents are suing Alex Jones for defamation after he claimed that the sentinel tragedy never happened and they were crisis actors. I honestly hope they take him to the cleaners, because casting doubt on their horrific lived experience is utterly heartless.
- Recent Court Resilience (Part 2). The other side of the courtroom has been busy too this week. The 7th Circuit affirmed a federal district court decision making the administration stop penalizing ‘sanctuary’ cities by withholding funding, reasoning that the rule was an unconstitutional overreach and Chicago was likely to succeed at trial. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court also upheld a boundary on immigration law, finding that a law mandating deportation for “crimes of violence” without a clear definition of what that meant was unconstitutionally vague. (We also got the added bonus of watching Trump get mad at Gorsuch for siding with the majority, despite the fact that the opinion was based on a Scalia case, and that’s always a good time.) Also voter fraud commissioner Kris Kobach was held in contempt of court and the 2nd Circuit held in a slip opinion that the Department of Transportation has to follow its own laws about car emissions. All in all, a good week for courts working the way they’re supposed to.
So that’s what I have for now, and I’m going to enjoy the relative respite while it lasts before the dumpster fire starts back up again. I’ll catch you next week, and if you need anything before then, feel free to ping the National News Roundup ask box — send me questions! Send me feedback! Send me fire extinguishers!