Y’all, I don’t even know what happened this week. To the extent that there was a coherent theme, that theme is “Everyone in Government Is Twelve Years Old and Everything is Terrible.” 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 G6! — 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:
We had quite a week for Casual Disregard of Governing Norms, even by our modern low standards. Here are the main things to know:
- Giuliani Jamboree. This was an utterly incomprehensible week of Rudy Giuliani statements, and given how the last few weeks have been that’s really saying something. First he said that Trump would fight any subpoena from Mueller to testify, arguing that presidential immunity means that Trump can’t be subpoenaed or indicted for anything he does until he’s impeached. Inexplicably, his illustrative examples on this involved Trump hypothetically shooting James Comey, though he was quick to clarify that this was hypothetical (as if saying that made it better). Then, to follow up on this, Guiliani started claiming that Mueller was ‘framing’ Trump, repeating the beyond-tired half-truth that Mueller’s prosecutory team was full of “highly partisan Democrats” (when in reality the team does have 13 Democrats, but several members of the team have successfully worked under both parties and two of them worked for the current Department of Justice). And just to round out the entire thing, he also claimed that Kim Jong-un “got on his hands and knees and begged” to revive this week’s summit with Trump in Singapore (but more on that below).
- DOJ Not Doing Its Job. Jeff Sessions sent a letter to Paul Ryan explaining that the DoJ will not defend the ACA in court, claiming that protections against “pre-existing condition” insurance refusal practices are unconstitutional. Unsurprisingly, both Republicans and Democrats with upcoming elections are upset about this move, because the pre-existing condition clause is a pretty popular part of the ACA and because it’s likely to mess with the markets yet again. (Sessions also announced that the DOJ won’t be defending DACA, but that one was a little more predictable.)
- Somehow Even More Pruitt Scandals. Folks, it’s starting to seem like there’s a new Pruitt scandal literally every week — this time, it’s that he had his security detail picking up his dry cleaning and had a major Trump donor help him staff the EPA. Even Republicans are starting to grow really tired of the constant scandal stream, and while it’s happening Pruitt keeps making changes at the EPA. Literally none of this is normal, folks.
- Eagles and FOX. After Trump abruptly issued a statement that he would no longer welcome the Eagles to the White House — mostly because a bunch of them were planning to skip it — things started to get seriously weird, because it somehow ended in a prolonged fight between Trump and the city of Philadelphia. Significantly, Fox News got in on the action, airing footage of players praying before a game to back the President’s claim that the Eagles kneel during the anthem and are therefore unpatriotic and un-American. As is customary by this point for the Trump administration, this tactic included both a mischaracterization of the kneeling movement (because nobody is doing it to show they hate America) and also straight-up lies, because in fact not a single Eagle knelt in the entirety of the 2017 season. All told, the Eagles tight end Zach Ertz’s characterization of the whole thing as government propaganda seems… disturbingly accurate.
There were a couple of developments on the Russia Investigation front too. Here’s a summary of the main things to know:
- Et Tu Ivanka? Buzzfeed reported this week that Ivanka Trump connected Michael Cohen with a Russian contact during the campaign, with the end goal of arranging a meeting between Putin and Trump. This was apparently in November 2015, and connected to setting up a Trump Tower in Moscow, but it’s nonetheless an incredible story in the larger context of the Russia investigation.
- More Mueller Indictments. Mueller’s team has issued new obstruction of justice charges and a witness tampering indictment against Paul Manafort as well as his associate Konstantin Kilimnik for their attempt to influence the testimony of two witnesses in Manafort’s underlying case. There’s not much risk for Kilimnik at this time, because he’s not in the United States and Russia doesn’t seem willing to extradite to us, but the move still carries symbolic significance for obvious reason. It’s sort of like yelling at your cat after he’s eaten your sandwich; you can’t really do anything about it now but at least he knows you know.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- Now I’m Feeling So Wry Like a G6.* As last week’s jabs about Canada burning down the White House forecast, we ended up with a G6 instead of a G7 Summit after all. This was mostly because Trump pushed for the group to re-admit Russia, insulted everyone else in the group, and then left early in a huff. For an encore, he also disavowed the statement he signed by tweet after he was out the door, and now we’re openly fighting with Canada over their retaliatory tariffs and the EU is likely not far behind. Lots of foreign officials had commentary about the President’s behavior, and most of it can be approximately summarized as “What is he, twelve?” (And this before news had even hit about his kindergartener habit of ripping up papers he’s supposed to preserve and leaving aides to tape them back together. Our best guess is he’s more like two, Europe, and we’re super sorry about it.)
- Mitch McConnell Ruins Recess. Mitch McConnell canceled the August recess this week, which might end up impacting incumbents’ campaign strategies, but most of those folks are Democrats so who cares I guess? And speaking of Democrats, he went ahead and blamed them for his decision to cancel most of the recess, stating that “historic obstruction . . . of the president’s nominees” was the culprit (as opposed to, you know, the utterly bonkers nominees being put forward). Seriously, is anybody in our government an adult?
- Melania’s Amazing Disappearing Reappearance. People have been speculating rampantly about Melania’s one-month disappearance, which hasn’t been made better by Trump announcing she got an operation and can’t fly. This was probably not helped by MSNBC speculating that she’s “dead inside,” although she was apparently still alive and kicking enough this week to contradict Rudy Giuliani about her opinions on Trump’s affair with Stormy Daniels.
- Facebook Faces More Music.* The New York Times reported this week that Facebook gave device makers deep access to data on its users, a charge that Facebook is at least vaguely denying but seems more than plausible to the rest of us. And it apparently seemed plausible to Congress, too, because the head of the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee has announced that they’ll be seeking more information on this. Honestly, the more comes out about Facebook, the more I think they might as well just pick another date for testimony.
- Voting Rights Loss.* The Supreme Court issued a 5–4 opinion upholding Ohio’s voter registration law, which permits voters to be purged from voting rolls if they miss one federal election cycle and don’t respond to a notice sent to their address. The court’s logic was that the failure to respond to the notice is really what kicks people off the roll, not the failure to vote, although the dissent definitely didn’t buy that argument. Voter rights groups are understandably outraged — between suppression practices aimed to stop people from getting to the polls and common residence patterns in urban areas, this rule disproportionately impacts minorities and by extension Democrats. If nothing else, Trump thinks it’s a sound victory, which can be probably taken as a sign that the decision won’t mean anything good.
- Immigration Updates. This was another utterly horrorshow week in immigration news — bear with me; this will be long and upsetting. We kicked off with a raid in Ohio (why is all the bad news from Ohio this week?); 114 workers were arrested at a gardening company by a large force of 200 agents using helicopters and dogs. Some of the workers were subsequently released because they had legal status, and others were released to care for the dozens of children left stranded by the raid. And speaking of kids, news also broke that children are being routinely held longer than is legal at border checkpoints because CBP is taking so many kids from their parents that there is nowhere to put them. This is likely one of many reasons that the United Nations is telling the US to stop the practice of separating families, (correctly) calling it an “unlawful interference in family life.” But instead of listening, this administration is doubling down, sending 1600 detainees, including some asylum seekers, to await their civil deportation proceedings in federal prison (yes, really). And the Department of Homeland Security is moving forward with a plan to do full immigration checks on anyone who tries to sponsor an unaccompanied minor, which will almost certainly drive the number of available sponsors down and make it even harder to place kids they have separated from their parents. And just to cap everything off, Sessions announced today that families fleeing domestic violence or gang homicide will no longer qualify for asylum literally because he says so, using his authority as Attorney General to reverse a judicial ruling holding the exact opposite. This ultimately undoes years of precedent designed to assist people facing horrifically violent realities and is, frankly, one of the most morally bankrupt things Sessions has done in the past year.
- Medicare Meltdown. Several outlets ran a story this week on the Medicare Trustees’ annual report, though they disagreed about what the takeaway should be. Bloomberg’s version was that the Trustees expect Medicare funds to run out in 2026 — three years earlier than initially forecast. Though Forbes takes umbrage with this interpretation of the Trustee’s report, even they don’t think Medicare is in good shape; their theory is that Congress will just keep accruing debt as Medicare eats up more and more of the national GDP. Good times.
- DACA Updates. We’re rapidly approaching the point where House Republicans can force a vote on DACA legislation by discharge petition, which is a promising oasis of reasonable immigration policy in a desert of racist garbage. The House returns from the weekend tomorrow, which not-coincidentally is also the last day of the window to procure signatures, and right now they are only three shy of the 218 signatures needed. We’ll need to see what happens, but absolute minimum the more moderate House Republicans are causing major headaches for Paul Ryan, and frankly that’s pretty great and I’ll take it.
And that’s the news this week — less than last week, but it makes up for it by being terrible. I’ll catch you next week, hopefully with more good news. In the meantime, feel free to ping the National News Roundup ask box. Send me questions! Send me feedback! Send me government officials who act their age!