The news was a peanut butter and tuna fish sandwich this week — definitely strange and kind of gross, but minimal toxic waste involved. After the rough few weeks we’ve just had, it’s nice to catch our collective breath for a moment! But that doesn’t mean anybody likes eating tuna fish with peanut butter.
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 Federal Reserve! — 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 saw a couple of instances of Casual Disregard of Governing Norms this week, and both of them were pretty weird. Here are the main things to know:
- Moar Trump-Sessions Drama. The latest in the ongoing and only vaguely explicable feud between Trump and Sessions is Trump talking with Sessions’s own chief of staff about taking over and ousting Sessions. It’s a move that sounds merely petty and asinine until you consider that the dude being tapped to replace Sessions once came onto CNN to talk about defunding the Mueller investigation — and then it sounds petty, asinine, and potentially dangerous. But some outlets are still reporting that Trump’s looking at a variety of candidates, so we’ll have to see what happens.
- Khashoggi Mystery.* Okay this one is pretty far out of my lane, but I’m going to attempt to summarize it anyway: Right now, the world is seeking answers on Saudi journalist Jamel Khashoggi, who went to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to get a license to marry his fiancee — and was never seen again. Turkey is convinced that Saudi Arabia is responsible for his grisly death, claiming that they have footage of it from his Apple Watch, while the Saudi consulate claims he left them unharmed. There’s evidence that the Saudi prince may be involved, but the Trump administration has a bunch of business dealings with him and is super coincidentally not inclined to sanction, blaming the whole thing on ‘rogue killers,’ even though Trump is also yelling about ‘severe punishment’ if they were responsible and Saudi Arabia is yelling about what will happen if we issue sanctions. So Turkey released an American pastor who has been imprisoned there for two years, which Trump is of course claiming was unrelated. All in all, it’s a confusing mess that leaves a lot of open questions and nobody looking particularly good.
This week’s news about the Russia Investigation was more about things that might impact it than the Russia investigation itself, for the simple reason that not much happened on the actual investigation. But here are a couple of tangentially related things to know:
- Wray Confirms What We All Already Knew.* The current director of the FBI confirmed this week that the White House limited the FBI’s ability to question people, which is sort of like confirming that water is wet but here we are. As the New Yorker points out, this may have implications for Trump’s relationship with the FBI going forward, and if nothing else it contextualizes his statement today that “it doesn’t matter” if Dr. Ford was telling the truth.
- Judicial Rushing Redux. The Senate saw yet another judicial confirmation rush job this week as Democrats scrambled to get out to the election trail, and just like last August it was a pretty poor bargain. That said, they did refuse at least one candidate, and an aide claimed to the Washington Post that as many as forty judges might have been pushed through if they hadn’t taken the deal. So I guess it could have been worse.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- White House Staff Shuffle (Yes, Again).* Nikki Haley resigned this past week, presumably to spend more time with her use of private jets. And Trump apparently plans to replace former White House counsel Don McGahn, who announced his departure back in August, with conservative commercial litigator and surprisingly non-sketchy attorney Pat Cipollone. And rumors are starting to trickle in that the next figure on the chopping block will be Secretary of Defense James Mattis, which Trump didn’t exactly dismiss with his maudlin observation that “eventually, everybody leaves.” Which, given how often he fires people, strikes me as a modern definition of ‘chutzpah.’
- Dow Drops R Us.* The ongoing trade war is continuing to have an effect on the economy, with the Dow dropping 800 points in one day and then continuing to fall. Unsurprisingly, Trump has resorted to insulting the Federal Reserve as a coping mechanism, because nothing makes economies recover more quickly than slagging on the people you need to fix it.
- Voting Registration Blues.* Georgia is already in the news for disproportionately and intentionally stalling the voter registration of 53,000 (predominantly black) applicants a month ahead of their governor election. I’m sure this is definitely unrelated to one of the candidates being in charge of voter registration in Georgia and the other candidate being the first ever black woman to win a gubernatorial candidacy. Unfortunately, Georgia isn’t the only state to go on a voter blocking rampage since a section of the Voting Rights Act was struck down in 2013; eight other states are having similar problems. But between the improper use of government position and recent news that a Georgia senator confiscated a kid’s phone for asking about the suppression, Georgia takes the whole thing to a new level.
- Census Citizenship Suspicions Confirmed. The guy who wants to add a citizenship question to the census — and is currently being sued over it — suddenly remembers speaking with Steve Bannon as well as Kris Kobach on the topic as of this week. Unsurprisingly, the thing that jogged his memory was evidence in that same lawsuit, which of course contradicts the story he told Congress (because lying to Congress is all the rage these days). Obviously, the evidence produced helps the plaintiffs’ prove that he was trying to chill immigrant participation, particularly when the content of the email from Kris Kobach is reviewed — so I suppose that’s a silver lining of sorts in this otherwise gross story.
- Immigration Updates. Since we pretty much never have immigration updates that are anything good, all I’ve got for you is varying degrees of garbage on the immigration front. The worst is yet another Groundhog’s Day attempt to reinstate family separation at the border, this time specifically for asylum seekers who have literally broken no laws, because the sequel is always worse than the first one. But we also saw the official publication of rules punishing immigrant access to public benefits, kicking off a sixty-day comment period (which you may recall I said a few weeks ago is my cue to start yelling everywhere about it). For more information on what you can do and why this is a cruel policy designed to hurt people, Protecting Immigrant Families has you covered; I strongly suggest reading what they have to say and leaving a comment before December 10 if you can!
- Trans Student Discrimination. A Virginia school decided this week that a trans student wasn’t allowed in either bathroom during an active shooter drill this week, leaving her outside while everyone else participated. This raises all kinds of questions — is this student is allowed to pee at school? — but it’s particularly galling when you note that the lockdown was in the bathrooms. So I guess this school’s plan in the event of an actual shooting was to let this student be the bait? (For Pete’s sake, during deadly shootings people hide in closets. It’s not like schools only let students seek shelter there if the kids can prove they’re coats.)
- Washington State Ditches the Death Penalty. The Washington Supreme Court made the noteworthy unanimous decision this week to do away with the death penalty, finding that it was imposed in an arbitrary and racially biased manner within the state. This marks the twentieth state to abolish the death penalty, and combined with three states that have moratoria on execution by governor decree, nearly half the country has removed capital punishment from its roster of sentencing. Since, as the Washington Supreme Court just noted, the death penalty has a racist and unjust history, this is solid progress. Much of this progress has been made in the last decade or so, and it’s genuinely very exciting to see the tide shifting on this issue.
So that’s what I have for this week, in all its weird and mostly gross glory. For making it through the news, you deserve this video of two guys letting bear cubs out of a dumpster and an eventual better government. I’ll be back next week with more news, and I hope you will be back as well — but in the meantime, feel free to ping the National News Roundup ask box, which is there for your constructive comments. Send me questions! Send me feedback! Send me peanut butter treats for Megabit! (He’s a dog. He likes peanut butter, probably even with tuna fish.)