Realtalk and forewarning: This week may be the worst news week I’ve ever seen since I started doing roundups about seventy weeks ago. As a result, this roundup has two extra sections: The Bad is broken up into The Bad (Original Flavor) and The Very Bad (Extra Crispy-Making), and I’m also including a What We Can Do section because I think we all need it. Also, just for this week, I moved The Good to the top because life’s too short and we all deserve to have our news dessert first.
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 sinkhole! — but all offroad adventures are marked with an asterisk. Okay, I think that’s about it for the disclaimers. Onward to the news!
- Blocking Gets Blocked. A federal judge ruled this week that Trump blocking people on Twitter is an unconstitutional infringement on free speech when it’s done by The Actual President and he has to stop doing it. While I’m glad he’s being held accountable for something, I can’t help but think whoever made that wish to their local monkey’s paw maaaaaaybe could have been a bit more specific about it. But given how often he acts like Twitter is an official channel, it’s nice to at least have some consequences come out of it, and I think we’re all taking the wins where we can find them these days.
- Stacy Abrams Steams Ahead. Among the primary victories to emerge in the past week is the historic endorsement of Stacy Abrams, who won the Georgia governor primary by a landslide. If she wins the election, she’ll be the first black female governor ever elected in our country, which would be a massive victory on a lot of fronts; simply winning the primary is incredibly exciting!
- Victory in Ireland. Ireland voted by referendum to overturn its restrictive abortion ban, decisively ending one of the most draconic bans in the developed world. Lawmakers have promised to enact more permissive legislation now that the ban is removed from the constitution, with abortion being generally legal for the first twelve weeks and viability standards in place after. If you want to feel slightly better about humanity today, I recommend reading the #HometoVote hashtag on Twitter, which documented people’s treks back for the referendum.
Constitutional Crisis Corners:
We had quite a week for Casual Disregard of Governing Norms, including an unpleasant resurgence of press harassment. Here are the main things to know:
- Kushner Clearance. Jared Kushner was finally given permanent clearance this week, over a year into his tenure at the White House. Some analysts note this may mean he’s no longer a person of interest in the Mueller investigation after seven hours of interviews last month. In possibly related news, he also drove the federal Bureau of Prisons director to quit this week — or at least, the constant back-and-forth warring between Kushner and Sessions is what the guy cited as his reasoning.
- Fourth Estate Forsworn. The Environmental Protection Agency barred staff from AP and CNN from a national summit on water contaminants this week, going so far as to push a reporter who works for AP out of the building. (In case anyone was wondering why the AP reporter got the harshest treatment, the EPA is probably holding a grudge over the AP’s superfund site reporting this past winter.) This type of selective barring of mainstream press from public events is very concerning, particularly when Trump point-blank tells reporters that he demeans the press to discredit their negative coverage about him. But the most unusual and antagonistic moment against the fourth estate this week happened when Trump tweeted that the New York Times had made up a source when their source was, in fact, an official press briefing by White House staff where they asked reporters not to name the staff member. Folks, this antagonistic targeting of reporters has been going on for a long time, but the latest stories appear to represent an uptick in aggression, and it’s not good.
- Perjury Prime Suspects. This was not a good week for people pretending that high-ranking officials in the executive branch are not committing perjury. First Rudy Giuliani said that Trump may have trouble telling Mueller the truth because “truth is relative.” Then news broke that Trump Jr may have perjured himself when he testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this year. So that’s… a lot of threat of perjury in one week, especially when Trump’s also running around claiming news outlets have made things up.
- But His Cell Phone. While all of the above is going on, Trump is also refusing to use secure phones, apparently saying it’s “too inconvenient” to adhere to White House protocol when he wants to tweet things (because yes, of course this is specifically about the phone that has the Twitter app). And in case anyone was wondering whether this was the same thing he said Hillary Clinton should be locked up for, why yes, yes it is.
There were a couple of developments on the Russia Investigation front too. Here’s a summary of the main things to know:
- Taxi King and Other Cohen Updates. Michael Cohen’s ship just keeps on sinking, this week because his former business partner the “Taxi King” Evgeny Freidman has taken a plea deal and is cooperating with Mueller’s investigation. Cohen responded by claiming that they were never business partners, which doesn’t appear to reflect reality (but that hasn’t ever particularly stopped anybody in this administration). Also, news broke of yet another meeting between Cohen and Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg, bringing the total meetings to three and our suspension of disbelief to a close on whether they had ties. Tune in next week for yet another installment of Cohen’s Career Collapses In Real Time.
- Papadopoulos Sentencing. Mueller also began the sentencing process for George Papadopoulos this week, which given Trump’s increased aggression might signal that Mueller has been chased into the next phase of his investigation. But it also might simply mean that he’s gotten all that George Papadopoulos knows and is moving up the chain of command. We’ll have to keep watching to know what this means in the grand scheme of things.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- Insensate Informant Circus. Trump demanded that the Justice Department order an inquiry into whether the FBI (or the self-same Justice Department) “infiltrated or surveilled” his campaign. Given where Mueller’s current investigation into Russian collusion is taking him, it seems very likely that the FBI was properly investigating the campaign’s activity by summer 2016, which by the way didn’t involve infiltration or spying, and I’m gonna guess we probably wouldn’t have ended up with him as President if it had. At any rate, the Justice Department vaguely took the step requested, asking its inspector general to investigate whether political motivation drove the investigation that definitely did happen. The White House, in characteristic fashion, tried to block Democrats from attending briefings and also sent its own chief of staff and lawyer, which is a bit eyebrow-raising when the subject is the Russia investigation to say the least. This type of war on the FBI is unprecedented and entirely fabricated to be a distraction, and even some prominent Republicans appear uncomfortable with it.
- White House Sinkhole. This week’s “how is this not the Onion” headline is the sinkhole on the White House lawn, which appeared in the last week. It’s apparently right outside the press briefing room, and seriously I cannot believe I am not making any of this up. The Onion, which apparently recognizes when the real news crosses into its purview, did run an “opinion piece” with commentary like ‘This seems a little heavy-handed’ and ‘Which person in the administration was trying to tunnel out?’ (Never change, y’all.)
- NFL Kneeling News. The NFL caved to pressure from the White House this week and installed a new rule that fines teams if their players kneel during the National Anthem (but allows players to stay in locker rooms if they don’t wish to stand). Unsurprisingly, this attempt to compromise pleased nobody. The players’ union is upset because the league owners did not consult with the union before making the decision and because it infringes on the players’ right to use their role for social activism. Trump is upset because… he’s Trump, I guess? At any rate, he doubled down and complained about the players’ right to stay in the locker room under the new policy, saying that players who won’t stand for the anthem “maybe shouldn’t be in the country.” I’m apparently not the only one who took his words as a veiled threat to start deporting, but since most of our athletes have birthright citizenship I don’t know how he thinks he’s going to accomplish that.
- North Korea Uncertainty (Again). This week has been incredibly bizarre on the North Korea front, with the White House still prepping for a summit in two weeks despite officially canceling with the world’s most passive-aggressive letter earlier in the week. But even if the summit does happen, the White House may have missed its chance to investigate several sketchy North Korea actions, such as stockpiling chemical agents and selling nukes to Syria, because we have to return to the topic in a groveling posture after Trump’s very public hissy fit. But none of this has stopped the administration from selling commemorative coins at a discount, which is probably the most succinct summary of current American politics I could possibly offer.
- Immigration Updates. Immigration was in the news a lot this week, and some of it is so bad that I’ve created an extra section for it. We’re going to tackle the garden-variety bad first, and I’ll get to the deeply disturbing news after. Trump held an “immigration roundtable” this week, which appeared to mostly be an excuse to spread misinformation about MS-13 rates of entry, deduct aid money from other countries, and claim unaccompanied minors “aren’t innocent” (more on that below). Then the next day, he agitated for further immigration legislation, which would potentially be good news in a vacuum because Paul Ryan keeps stonewalling House Republicans who are trying to force a DACA vote. Except Trump, unsurprisingly, is still insisting on “a real wall” and also dunking on due process, asking “Whoever heard of a system where you put people through trials?” (yes, really). Meanwhile, while testifying before the House Committee on Education and Workforce, Betsy DeVos illustrated her ignorance on all things immigration by saying it was a “local community decision” whether school officials called ICE on students (as opposed to, you know, a blatantly unconstitutional action on the school’s part as well as a violation of ICE’s sensitive location policy to apprehend students at schools).
- SCOTUS Labor Law Decision. The Supreme Court ruled this week that companies can use arbitration clause to ban class action lawsuits, which needless to say is not great news for workers. Judge Gorsuch wrote the 5–4 opinion, highlighting the real-life consequences of judicial appointment irregularities, and I really hope Kagan is able to instill some sense in Kennedy before the court decides the travel ban case. For an encore, as if to underscore the point about the role of the other branches in court process, Trump chose the same week to roll back federal civil-service protections that have been in place for generations. Both changes will make it easier for companies and the government to discriminate against workers and harder for workers to enforce their rights — We Survived a Second Gilded Age and Nobody Could Afford the T-Shirt.
- Bad News Bears. This was another bad week for environmentalists, between Yet Another Pruitt Spending Scandal and a proposed Department of Interior rule that would roll back protections for bears, wolves, and caribou in Alaska. The new regs propose, among other things, baiting brown bears with donuts and bacon, shining spotlights into black bear dens, shooting mama wolves and pups during denning seasons, and shooting caribou from motor boats. The comment period starts on Tuesday, and only permits written comment, ruining my Cunning Plan to Leave Eight Hours of the Best Sad Bear and Wolf Noises the Internet Has to Offer on Ryan Zinke’s voicemail.
- GAO Approved Cuts to CHIP. The General Accountability Office approved cuts to the Children’s Health Insurance Program — yes, the same CHIP Congress failed to fund for many months, that CHIP — to fund this past year’s Congressional tax break bonanza. Though the cuts don’t take insurance away from any underinsured kids, they do take money out of emergency funding, which I’m sure will in no way backfire for anybody. In other words, this administration is literally taking money away from sick kids to fund its tax cuts for the super rich.
The Very Bad — Please Read It Anyway!:
- The 1500 Missing Children. The biggest horrific immigration story is actually a conflation of several different stories involving migrant children, so I’m going to do my best to break it down. The most publicized piece involves missing children, so we’ll start there: the Washington Post ran a story at the end of April saying that DHHS lost track of about 1500 migrant kids placed with sponsors when they arrived here as unaccompanied minors between October and December 2017. This information was disclosed to a Congressional subcommittee as part of a hearing designed to refine the placement program after a temporary shelter placed eight children with human traffickers in 2014 (and reports suggest there may have been more children released from shelters to trafficking rings during that time.) It was reiterated this past week by an official from the Administration for Children and Families. When pressed on the point in the April hearing, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielson testified that she “couldn’t agree more” that the senators had cause to be concerned, and that’s when things went off the rails, because her proposal was full immigration checks — not ordinary background checks — on all the people who take in unaccompanied minors. This will make it harder for undocumented family members to take in children because they might in turn be deported for stepping forward, and not-coincidentally lack of kinship placements is how the trafficking happened in 2014 in the first place. So yes, it’s true that children were trafficked, yes, it’s true that DHHS doesn’t know where 1500 kids are because they couldn’t reach them by phone interview, and yet yes, it’s also true that the proposed solution could potentially lead to more trafficking as well as more deportations.
- “Operation Streamline” and the Impact on Children. The second story, and probably the more pressing one, is that the Department of Homeland Security has started creating ‘unaccompanied minors,’ because as of this month it’s always removing children from their parents when they arrive at the border, even in instances where the parents are seeking asylum. This is being apparently applied in 100% of cases, and we’re hearing horror stories about children being separated from their parents at extremely young ages, with the youngest I’ve seen cited at eighteen months. I honestly cannot stress enough how damaging it is to their development to separate children from their parents that young, and it makes deportation proceedings harder to prove for DHS, which means it’s literally not in anybody’s interest to do this. Adding to the pile, new allegations have also surfaced this week that children in CBP custody were systemically abused between 2009 and 2014 (which is also the era of the trafficking allegations mentioned above). Instead of blaming Democrats for their own reprehensible policies, the administration should be finding a different deterrent strategy.
- “Operation Streamline” and Adults. The story of what is happening to these children’s parents is equally concerning. Earlier in the week, the Arizona Daily Star reported on the conditions faced by parents under the “Operation Streamline” policy, which started being applied to 100% of first-time border crossers at some point in May after Sessions announced it on May 7. Many aspects of the accounts sound horrifically familiar — parents are routinely unable to learn where their children are; people are being forced to wear yellow insignia as part of the program; and the administration keeps referring to the people they are targeting as ‘animals’ over and over again. The practice of charging and detaining all adults also may permit for-profit prison facilities to use detainees for cheap labor, which was recently challenged as unconstitutional when applied to immigration detainees who have no criminal convictions. I have no jokes here, folks, because this is unconscionable and we owe our fellow human beings better than this.
- Guatemalan Woman Killed by CBP. News also hit that CBP shot an unarmed young Guatemalan woman near Laredo, Texas. The woman, whose name was Claudia Patricia Gómez González, was 19 and trained as an accountant, and had headed north to find work. Though CBP initially claimed she had a two-by-four on her, they changed their story and canceled a press conference after the main witness in the area described a lack of weapons on or near González’s body and had video footage to back up this claim. CBP has settled over twenty wrongful death claims in the last fifteen years, suggesting this happens at least once per year. Relatedly, ICE was recently granted permission to destroy its records of sexual assault, death, and solitary confinement, which is deeply concerning given everything else going on.
- Dodd-Frank Rolled Back. The House approved a partial rollback of Dodd-Frank financial regulations this week by a 258–159 vote along party lines. (For those of you playing the home game and not familiar with the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, it’s the body of law put into place post-Great-Recession to keep banks from running us headlong off another fiscal cliff.) Since the bill had already been approved by the Senate, this was the last step to get the bill off of Congress’s collective desks and onto Trump’s to be signed into law. Though the reform isn’t fully comprehensive — among other things, it changes the threshold marker for “systemically important financial institutions” from $50B in assets to $250B, which means about ten giant banks still qualify — it represents a significant loosening of regulations for most banks in America. Trump signed the bill into law the very next day, which means the whole rotted enchilada is now official.
What We Can Do:
- Immigration Initiatives. There are several initiatives being started to address the immigration issues listed above, and getting involved can be a great way to channel any rage and frustration you may be feeling from the news above. A good starting place is the several great sites that have compiled resources for you already; I also recommend checking out sites that have great scripts for calling your reps, who have the power to set the Department of Homeland Security’s budget and oversee the department and therefore have some clout. (It’s particularly helpful to call members of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, House of Representatives Committee for Homeland Security, and House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee.) There are also marches are being organized for June 14. If you are more inclined to let your wallet do the talking, there are several nonprofit initiatives ranging from an Amnesty International call to action to an Act Blue Support Kids at the Border campaign to a Kids in Need of Defense fund to an ACLU petition, and all of these organizations can put your assistance to good use.
- Dodd-Frank Actions. The name of the game on this one is “November mid-term elections.” Remember who voted how in both the House and the Senate, and integrate it into your understanding of how candidates are voting generally. As a general rule, the House is vulnerable to being flipped, because every single House seat is up for grabs every two years. The Senate has 33 seats in the hot seat, with ten currently being held by Republicans and Independents. All but one of those ten voted for this nonsense, the exception being Bernie Sanders, so let’s make them regret that and flip the Senate also. (The Roundup does not recommend trying to flip Dem seats in the Senate, however tempting it may be, yes I’m looking at you Chuck Schumer.)
And that’s the news this week, and good job and my condolences for making it through the whole thing; your reward is this ridiculous video and hopefully an eventual better government. I’ll be back next week, and I hope you will be too. In the meantime, feel free to ping the National News Roundup ask box. Send me questions! Send me feedback! Send me the abolition of ICE!