Much like a fever breaking, the news reverted back to its ordinary post-2016 form this week. Sadly, unlike when a fever breaks, I cannot tell you that you have dreamed the past four bizarre horrible weeks. But you still get a unicorn chaser at the end of the news, because I’ve decided I like unicorn chasers, so there’s that at least!
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 trade war — 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:
- SCOTUS Scouting. Trump continued to narrow down his short list of SCOTUS candidates ahead of his plan to announce a pick at prime time on Monday, and they’re as horrifying as you suspect they are. Between the timing and the covert interviews, neither the likely candidates nor the process is anything like normal, and all of the candidates appear poised to interfere with proper analysis of the Establishment Clause. By the time that I write this, the list seems pared down to Raymond Kethledge, Amy Coney Barrett, and Brett Kavanaugh, but I’ll keep you posted.
- Visions of Venezuela Invasion. News broke this past week that Trump wanted to invade Venezuela last August, and was still asking about it in September — which, for those of you playing the home game, was around the same time he added the country’s officials to Travel Ban version 3.0. So part of the facts the Supreme Court just relied on to find the ban legal may have only happened as a way of talking the President out of invading another country. Cool cool cool, all of this is totally normal.
- Kentucky Governor’s Medicaid Meanness. The Kentucky governor, Matt Bevin, has cut dental and vision coverage for nearly 500,000 Medicaid recipients in response to a court’s decision that he can’t implement a work requirement for Medicaid. Though he’s claiming this is what he needs to do in order to balance his budget, this was part of his overhaul plan already, and his department is claiming it will stop when they get their way in court — so it honestly kind of sounds like he’s just mad that he has to give Medicaid to poor people. And that’s kind of your job as governor, Bevin, so you should probably start reading job postings more carefully before applying.
- Shine on You Crazy White House.* This week in new lows, the White House just hired ex-Fox News co-president Bill Shine to lead their communications team. The pick is concerning for multiple reasons — for one thing, Shine didn’t exactly manage Fox News well, because he was ousted in part for mismanaging Roger Ailes’s sexual harassment. But additionally, the decision to hire someone so closely affiliated further links a sitting administration to Fox News as an entity, furthering the impression that the network is official propaganda. Which, let’s be honest, by this point it kind of is, so at least it’s truth in propaganda advertising.
There were a couple of developments on the Russia Investigation front too. Here’s a summary of the main things to know:
- The Michaels’ Publicity Stunts. After Stormy Daniels attorney Michael Avenetti correctly identified Michael Cohen’s interview with ABC as a publicity stunt, he then followed up with a publicity stunt of his own. More specifically, he implied he may run for President in 2020, citing Trump’s lack of political credentials as an argument for why he, Avenetti, would be qualified. I, uh, don’t think charismatic incompetence is transitive that way? But good bid, dude.
- Meanwhile, In Russia… Eight Republican members of Congress traveled to Russia this week, opting to spend their Fourth of July courting the Kremlin on the same week that the Senate found it had interfered with our free elections. This would not have been a great look for the Republican party under the best of circumstances, but it wasn’t just the holiday that made their trip was particularly ill-timed — while they were over there, two more people in Britain were poisoned by the nerve gas used on Sergei and Yulia Skripal in March. One of the two victims passed away early this morning, though the other is still in critical condition as I type this.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- Get Me Air Force One. A podcast host and Howard Stern associate best known as Stuttering John apparently managed to reach Trump on Air Force One this week by pretending to be Senator Bob Menendez, keeping him on the line for several minutes to discuss current events. (You know, given how long Trump has been buddies with Howard Stern, you’d think he would have recognized the guy’s voice.)The surreal story highlights the serious security risks created by lax administrative practices.
- Stunning the World Health Organization. The New York Times reported this weekend that the Trump administration tried to bully the the World Health Assembly into dropping an initiative on breastfeeding infants this past spring. Though the attempt ultimately was not successful, the threats to start a trade war if they didn’t back down are noteworthy nonetheless — especially because we did start up a trade war with China this week (but more on that below).
- Second Civil War Letters. After conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’s bizarre announcement that Democrats were planning a civil war on the Fourth of July, Democrats everywhere started sending Second Civil War letters, which are exactly as hilarious as you’d expect. If you haven’t had a chance to check out the hashtag on twitter, definitely take a moment and do it now; I’ll play some violin music for you in the background.
- North Korea News. The intelligence coming out of North Korea is that it’s still stockpiling more weapons in defiance of the agreement to denuclearize, but trying to hide this from the United States — shocking nobody except possibly Trump. So now we’re back to sniping back and forth with North Korea and calling it diplomacy, which by now is familiar territory.
- Trade War is Officially On. We’re now officially in a trade war with China, having levied $34B in tariffs against them at the end of the week. China immediately retaliated, and though experts are saying that China might be in a worse posture than we are, it’s not going to be a party for us either. I’ll keep you posted on developments from here.
- Affirmative Action Chopping Block. The Trump administration repealed Obama-era guidance on race and college admissions this week, saying that they weren’t required under law. (Which is probably even true, but neither is jailing kids, and that didn’t seem to stop this administration from reaching for that star.) It seems safe to assume this isn’t going to be an awesome time for affirmative action, though to be fair, we knew that already.
- Immigration Updates: Still Horrible. The administration may have chilled very slightly on the immigration hatred, but that’s seriously not saying much. News broke this week that they were complying with the reunification order from last week by telling asylum seekers they have to choose between reuniting with their children and seeking asylum. And for those who do choose to seek asylum, Jeff Sessions has rescinded guidance that granted them the ability to work while they wait for a decision. Meanwhile, the administration already knows it won’t meet its obligation to reunite families with young children by the end of the week, and appears to have destroyed some of its own records about the separation policy. The number of migrant children being kept in shelters is now over 10,000, up 21% from where it was last month, and parents who have been successfully reunited with their children say their children have come back traumatized and unkempt. And just to cap it all off, the administration also started quietly discharging immigrant recruits from the military.
- Immigration Resilience. A federal judge ordered the administration to release release over 1,000 asylum seekers currently being held, noting that the law requires them to be released within seven days if they’ve shown a credible fear of persecution. With all of the mistreatment of asylum seekers happening right now, it’s really valuable to have a court record and an order to follow the law.
- J20 Charges Dropped. The remaining charges against the final thirty-nine people arrested for protesting the inauguration were all dropped this week, rather than taking their cases to trial. Since these were the last of the DisruptJ20 group to be prosecuted, prosecutors have now wrapped up the entire matter with only twenty-one guilty pleas to show for their efforts to overcharge. This is good news for our democracy as well as good news for those thirty-nine people, because it would set a dangerous precedent to hold random protesters accountable for others’ actions.
- So Long, Pruitt. Scott Pruitt finally resigned this week, and incredibly, we somehow learned about more scandals on his way out the door (though he spent his entire resignation letter just complaining about people being mean to him). He apparently left some chaos in his wake, but until Trump replaces him with a hunk of coal named Carl, the EPA will be run by deputy director Andrew Wheeler, which Trump presumably thinks is almost as good.
- ACA Resilience. ACA enrollment is even higher than it was this time last year, with markets mostly staying pretty stable, which is pretty impressive given how many potshots have been taken at it in the last year. In light of the ACA’s continued state as a battleground, more and more states are taking steps on their own to leave the general structure in place should something happen to it. It remains clear that the ACA is popular and functional, despite the best efforts of the GOP.
And that’s the news this week, and good job and my condolences for making it through the whole thing; your reward is this Shiba Inu and human’s dance routine 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 nominations for unicorn chasers!