It’s another godawful week, particularly on the immigration front, as we zoom further and further into fascism. As I’ve done once before, 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 like before, I moved The Good to the top because life’s too short and we all deserve to have our news dessert first. The closing has a rubber chicken singing Havana, because we can all use a unicorn chaser, and that rubber chicken is pretty talented.
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 summit! — but all offroad adventures are marked with an asterisk. Okay, I think that’s about it for the disclaimers. Onward to the news!
- Senate Strikes Back on ZTE. After Trump attempted to remove sanctions on Chinese communication giant ZTE, the Senate has adopted a measure that would block the action. Needless to say, the White House is not on board with this, but early attempts to get a GOP Senator to block the block provision have fallen flat to say the least. It’s looking very likely that the provision is going to end up in the annual defense bill, which means Trump can’t toss it without also vetoing the entire defense bill. So while it’s not a done deal, we’re in a good posture on this.
- Recent Court Resilience. A federal judge this week was having none of the Trump administration’s argument that violating the Emoluments Clause by taking the money of foreign officials at a Trump hotel in downtown DC is No Big, and the response was honestly pretty edifying to watch. (“Is your argument that as long as the president takes the money without corrupt intent, it’s O.K.?”) An official decision is due in just seven weeks, and I think it’s fair to assume that the Trump administration isn’t going to like it. Meanwhile, in a separate federal matter, a judge ruled that Michael Cohen can’t secretly object to documents he thinks might be implicated by attorney-client privilege, requiring him to file objections publicly with redaction to preserve the content in question. Basically: He can say “don’t take this document” without saying what the document is, but he can’t say it in secret.
- The Primary Trenches are Getting Deeper. Good news is coming in on the primary front: More women (Democrats in particular) are running than ever before, and a good deal of them are advancing in the polls! Meanwhile, the GOP contends with high-profile conservatives openly aligning themselves with white supremacists and a clear trend of intolerance for any Republican candidate who dares speak against Trump, which suggests that these elections may prove a good barometer for how well our nation can stand against the increasingly uniform far-right GOP.
Constitutional Crisis Corners:
This was yet another full week of Casual Disregard of Governing Norms, unfortunately. Here are the main things to know:
- Is the Swamp Draining Itself? This past Wednesday, CBS news broke a story that Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders may be planning to leave the White House Staff, as may Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah. Trump and his aides immediately called the story fake news and Sanders tweeted a denial as well, but recent videos of Sanders fielding questions about immigration policy seem to suggest she may be finding her role quite taxing. (Besides, if there’s anything we’ve learned about the Sarah, it’s that her relationship to the truth is as smudgy as second-day smoky eye.) If they do leave, it will be an unprecedented amount of turnover for the White House press staff in one year; either way, it will be interesting to see what happens.
- North Korea Summit Summarized. Trump and Kim Jong-un did end up meeting at an abbreviated summit in Singapore, which resulted in a signed joint statement after five apparently “very special” hours together. (The statement agreed upon denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, which isn’t exactly a new promise, and Trump agreed to stop doing military demonstrations.) During the meeting, Trump pitched the idea of Trump hotels in North Korea (yes, really), aired a video the press assumed to be North Korean propaganda and restricted U.S. press access for several windows of time. He also didn’t use any notes, relying on what he called “one of the best memories of our time.” He wrapped the whole thing up by conceding he probably wouldn’t admit it if he were wrong about Kim’s sincere intent to denuclearize. Needless to say, there’s a lot to watch here.
- Trump’s Weird Totalitarian Love Affair. Trump showed a lot of figurative and literal love of dictators this week, as the summit summary suggests. In addition to the summit itself, footage was released of Trump saluting a North Korean general, which North Korea immediately pounced on as effective propaganda — and for good reason; the action isn’t customary for U.S. leaders interacting with dictatorships or hostile nations. He followed up by telling a CBS reporter to be quiet instead of answering her questions about the North Korea summit, observing that he wants ‘his people’ to ‘sit up at attention’ when he talks like Kim Jong-un’s sycophants do. Then he showed yet more totalitarian inclinations when discussing the Department of Justice report (discussed below), calling his own FBI a “den of thieves.” So… all of that sure happened.
- New York Straight Up Suing the Trumps. The New York Attorney General is suing two generations of Trumps over the mishandling of the Trump Foundation, which the state characterizes as “little more than a checkbook” for Donald Trump — and if even half the allegations in the suit are true, that seems like a pretty fair characterization. The case was brought in front of the New York Supreme Court, but the Attorney General has also notified the IRS and the FEC.
There were also a few noteworthy developments on the Russia Investigation front. Here’s a summary of the main things to know:
- Your Weekly Cohen Updates. It was another bad week for Michael Cohen. He’s been telling friends he expects to get arrested soon, apparently in part because the feds have successfully reconstructed sixteen pages from his shredder and decrypted hundreds of phone messages. News also broke that his Trump-funded attorneys are expected to stop representing him when the document review completes. Meanwhile, he’s struggling with his relationship to the President in general (although we all are, Michael, you aren’t special on that front), and may or may not be considering cooperation with authorities as Trump waffles on pardoning him. Either way, he was denied a gag order against Stormy Daniels’s attorney Michael Avenetti at the end of the week, which I’m sure felt like a pretty low note to end on but was hilarious for the rest of us.
- Manafort In Jail. Things are also looking fairly grim for Trump’s former campaign head, Paul Manafort. Following an accusation by prosecutors that Manafort tried to convince witnesses to downplay his role in furthering Russian interests during the election, a federal judge has finally sent him to jail, a move that has drawn criticism not just from the defense, but from Donald Trump himself, who tweeted about the “unfair” decision and citing Manafort’s work with Reagan and Dole. It’s like a guy can’t even gently influence witnesses in his own trial any more!
- Roger Stone Remembers. News came to light this week that Trump campaign manager Roger Stone met with a Russian national who offered dirt on Hillary Clinton in 2016. Stone’s official position on this is that he ‘forgot’ about it when he was questioned by federal officials on collusion with Russia, but it’s totally fine because “I don’t think a failure of memory constitutes a perjury.” Which would probably even be true, if he had actually forgotten about it, but the texts back and forth with his colleague Michael Caputo seem to suggest that he hadn’t.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- Somehow Even More Pruitt Scandals. A major hallmark of the modern GOP is an uncanny ability to shake off scandal and remain in the party’s good graces, but everything has a limit. That limit can evidently be found in Ill-Advised EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, a man seemingly determined to have his fingers and toes in as many flavors of pie as exist, and who is currently phoning his contacts about grafting on more fingers and toes for additional pie coverage. Although Pruitt has coasted by well enough under Donald Trump’s protection, that protection is proving too thin — even Trump loyalists are starting to turn against him, including a Right-Wing Dark Money group and conservative radio host Laura Ingraham. The more stories about unprofessional conduct and misuse of influence pile up — including using his staff and contacts to find his wife a job, his daughter an internship, and himself tickets for a sold-out football game — the less likely Pruitt is to keep his job, which I guess he’s combating by… going on a weird publicity tour of Middle America. No, I don’t know either.
- Justice Department Election Report. The Justice Department’s Inspector General released a 500-page report on the FBI’s actions during the 2016 election, and needless to say the results were… mixed and confusing, and Trump’s lie fest didn’t exactly help, so let me try to break it down. The short version is that the FBI screwed up politically by appearing partisan but didn’t actually show bias in the investigation, and in fact the FBI probably should not have gone public with the Clinton investigation at all. Ironically, the report also noted that Comey used his own private email while conducting FBI business, prompting Hillary Clinton to throw very public shade at him. All told, there was a lot of hoopla but it’s not the exoneration Trump is claiming — in fact, to the extent it exonerates anybody, it pretty much just exonerates Hillary Clinton.
- DACA House Rounds. Paul Ryan agreed to a DACA vote this week to diffuse the discharge petition mutiny happening in the House, which seems like better news than it probably is. There will be two competing bills up for discussion; one of them is a conservative bill that follows Trump’s framework and the other is a bipartisan bill that includes a provision prohibiting separation of families but also ends the diversity visa lottery and funds more border security. Trump’s position on the bills has been incoherent but appears to have settled on supporting both bills. Needless to say, I don’t think this is the correct path to ending separation policies, especially with the Senate considering a cleaner bill.
- Shelter and Checkpoint Conditions. A week or two after a Senator was denied entry at a shelter for 10- to 17-year-old boys in Brownsville, Texas, journalists were permitted to tour the facility (as well as a smaller facility in El Cajon). Those allowed entry described Casa Padre as overpopulated — unsurprising, given the official report that about 2,000 children have been separated from their parents since implementing a policy of total separation in May — and with a regimented schedule for the boys in custody that some outlets (accurately) described as “prison-like.” The Casa Padre site is nonetheless at least a licensed facility, which might stop being a realistic standard as all the DHS’s shelters reach capacity — more on that below. And either way, shelter conditions are still better than conditions at the CBP checkpoints where kids spend their first few days, which made news this week for keeping kids in cages under conditions so bad the cells are nicknamed “iceboxes.”
- Trade War Teasing. The bad blood between the U.S. and Canada continued and expanded this week, with Canadians calling for a boycott on the U.S., Gary Cohn threatening tariffs for imported every car coming into the country, China slapping tariffs on us, and Congress displeased by the whole thing. Their opinion is understandable, because the mere threat of a trade war is messing with the economy and experts caution that it could undo the tax benefits created last year. And even Cohn concedes that Trump maybe doesn’t know what he’s doing, so maybe we’ll get lucky and Trump will get distracted by going after him for saying the sky is blue.
- AT&T Merger. In a historic ruling, telecom giant AT&T has beaten a lawsuit intended to stop it from buying out media giant Time Warner, meaning that their 85 billion dollar deal can move forward. While news of one giant devouring another is huge as-is, it could be argued that the bigger impact of the case is the precedent it sets — now that it’s been established that telecom/media mergers don’t violate antitrust law, Comcast is already poised to purchase Fox. While it’s unknown what effect on the consumer these deals might herald, I expect that this won’t be the last time these issues appear on the roundup.
The Very Bad — Please Read It Anyway!:
- Unaccompanied Tent Cities. With shelters filling to capacity and no end to the “zero tolerance” policy in sight, the administration has begun discussing (and implementing) a parade of terrible plans for what to do with “unaccompanied” children when the shelters become completely full. Initially they were discussing putting children on military bases, but then they one-upped themselves and decided that children should be put in tent cities instead. And now the latter plan is actually being implemented, with a tent structure already erected in Tornillo, Texas to hold about 360 sixteen- and seventeen-year-old boys. Despite already being in motion, the plan is drawing strenuous objection — in particular, people are concerned that the temperature, which regularly climbs above 100 degrees in Tornillo in the summer, could be fatal if not properly managed.
- Confusing, Conflicting Official Stories. One of the more noteworthy (and disturbing) things about the separation policy coverage is that the administration can’t agree on what their story actually is regarding it. Jeff Sessions, who described the practice as a ‘deterrent’ when first announcing it, defended the policy as righteous by citing Romans 13 (and there’s so much wrong with that sentence that I don’t even know where to start, but separation of church and state, historic use of that passage to propagate white supremacy, and the very fallible nature of our current administration all spring to mind). Department of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, in contrast, simply stated that there’s no policy of separating families at the border, because We Have Always Been At War with Eurasia. And Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders is still repeating Trump’s party line that the Democrats have caused a separation policy, which is nearly as blatant of a lie. This type of inconsistent and obvious lying is really not a good sign.
- Denaturalization Efforts Begin. The Department of Homeland Security is forming a new office whose purpose is to investigate thousands of old fingerprint records in an effort to strip citizenship from people. The official word is that this will be limited to people the office believes “cheated” in the naturalization process by committing fraud on their applications. But denaturalization — the act of taking away citizenship from someone who earned it as an immigrant — is very rare, and we’ve never have an office dedicated to this before, so immigration activists are notably suspicious of this new initiative. And frankly, I’m right there with them — I wouldn’t trust this administration to tell me the way to the nearest McDonald’s, let alone why it’s systemically removing rights from people of color. We’ll need to keep an eye on this for abuses.
- US vs the UN Human Rights Council. The United Nations told the US to stop the practice of separating families this week, calling it an “unlawful interference in family life” as well as abusive to children — and since stories are increasingly trickling in of families being permanently separated by partial deportation, that seems like an understatement. But the US responded by planning to withdraw from the United Nations Human Rights Council. Though the administration claims the imminent withdrawal is actually because of how the council treats Israel, to say the least the timing is pretty suspicious.
What We Can Do:
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 these suggestion lists, which have compiled resources and summarized courses of actions for you already, but I’ve also broken down their suggestions by category here:
- Immigration Initiatives: Calling Reps. Diane Feinstein introduced legislation in the Senate called the Keep Families Together Act, which as the name suggests is intended to prohibit the practice of separating families. It’s currently backed along party lines, with all the Senate Dems and none of the Senate GOP supporting it — which means your Dem senators can use some love to let them know you support their actions, and your GOP senators can use a piece of your mind. There are also two bills floating around the House right now, as I mentioned above, and though I don’t recommend either of them for immigration reform, it can be helpful to call your reps and tell them that, too. And you get an extra bonus option if you live in Massachusetts, because the House and Senate here are currently reconciling their budget bill, and the Senate version of the budget has several provisions to protect immigrant rights folded into it. Several sites have great scripts you to follow, and if you live in Massachusetts MIRA has a list of talking points you can take to Governor Baker (and while you’re at it, soften the blow by thanking him for condemning current border practices).
- Immigration Initiatives: Donation. There are many, many organizations that can use your support as they fight the current practices on the front lines (if you’re able to give financial support). If legal support is your thing: The ACLU is currently suing over the practices, the American Immigration Lawyers Association is organizing volunteer law efforts, Al Otro Lado is coordinating legal support for asylum seekers, Kids in Need of Defense supports unaccompanied minors in deportation proceedings, and the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services appears to be leading the local charge in Texas for representing and coordinating legal care. If other on-the-ground services are more your thing, Pueblo Sin Fronteras assists caravans on the ground on the way in, Border Angels organizes water drops for people traveling on their way in, and No More Deaths documents CBP abuses. (And Act Blue has aggregated those and many others at one donation site, in case you want to give to multiple groups.)
- Immigration Initiatives: Action. There are already several initiatives being organized to take to the streets to protest and support people being detained. In Thursday, June 14, there were Families Belong Together rallies all over the country Yesterday, there was a Father’s Day vigil for ICE detainees here in Boston and several representatives took a trip to visit ICE detainees in Elizabeth, New Jersey as well. There’s also a virtual event called Lunchtime for Change happening this Wednesday at noon across the country, and here in Mass that’s dovetailing with a MIRA rally at the state house from 12:30–2:00. And, of course, all of us can take action between now and November by making sure we’re registered to vote in the upcoming election!
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 of a rubber chicken singing ‘Havana’ 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 CBP!