The news was less traumatizing this week, but it was definitely no less weird. Every week’s a plague under this administration, but sometimes it just rains frogs — and hey, at least it’s not All Locusts All the Time! That said, weeks like this can’t be much fun for the frogs. And they’re not all that much fun for us, either.
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 box of cereal! — 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:
Last week’s Threat to Free Speech has taken some twists and turns, though it may be on its way to resolving. Main thing to know from this past week:
- Accosting Jim Acosta (continued). The CNN/Trump weirdness has continued into another week, though it may be drawing to a close thanks to judicial intervention. After sending Acosta to Paris to cover Trump where he can’t control access, CNN sued Trump over the yanked credentials — a suit which even Fox News joined! So it’s not ultimately surprising that the judge granted a temporary order to CNN, holding that the White House had to give Acosta access back pending a final ruling on the underlying case. So of course the White House responded by creating autocratic rules that say people may only ask one question, and get no follow-ups unless the President feels like it — and if they ask follow-ups anyway, their passes will be revoked. (I have a feeling we’ll be seeing another trip to court in the near future despite today’s settlement.)
We also saw some movement on the Russia Investigation, though it was still relatively quiet comparatively speaking:
- Accidental Assange Reveal. A filing on an unrelated matter this week accidentally revealed this week that Julian Assange has been secretly charged by prosecutors, a fact which has some media outlets nervous. Although I have to say, they’re almost certainly not as nervous as Assistant U.S. Attorney Kellen S. Dwyer, the poor (and likely overworked) sod who accidentally cut and pasted that little gem into a filing on another one of his cases. And with Whitaker presently in charge of the Justice Department, I bet asking if there’s room at the Ecuadorian Embassy is starting to look pretty tempting for him (but more on that below).
- Trump Says He’s Done. Trump started claiming this week that he’s finished answering all of Mueller’s questions and that they were ‘easy’ to answer, presumably because he thinks he’ll get 200 points for filling out his name. Giuliani, on the other hand, complained about perjury traps despite the lengthy negotiations on what questions would be asked. Meanwhile, a former Trump adviser is asking for a stay of his imprisonment, which may or may not mean that things are moving behind the scenes as the Mueller investigation remains in Whitaker limbo.
- What About Whitaker? This was quite an eventful week for Matt Whitaker. First Maryland asked a federal judge to rule that his appointment was illegal, prompting some Republicans to tell Trump to just pick an actual Attorney General already. Then the Supreme Court was asked to rule on the issue, which frankly may or may not work out well for any of us. And Trump would like us all to know that he’s not going to rein Whitaker in (no duh, he’s going to be the one giving the obstruction orders). Meanwhile, every shady thing from Whitaker’s past wound up in the news, and I’m here to tell you there was a lot of shady stuff. Major documented lowlights of Whitaker’s career: Claiming only Christians can be judges because Something Something Jesus; abandoning a taxpayer-funded public project midstream only last year; and running a scam company that sold toilets for guys with large penises (improbably, I’m not making that last bit up; Masculine Toilets were a real thing with an actual patent application). Against that backdrop, it’s no wonder that some analysts seem to believe Trump can’t get rid of Mueller now.
This week also marked the return of what used to be the most common crisis in this section, the Disregard of Governing Norms. Here’s all the weird noise that happened on that front this week:
- Melania’s Adventures. Melania took on a top national security aide this week, calling for the aide to be fired because… reasons? I’m actually not even clear on what her beef was, to be honest, though it apparently had something to do with her trip to Africa. People seem pretty shocked that she issued such a blunt statement, which I find pretty confusing as well — I mean, she already literally told us she doesn’t care about detaining three-year-olds; why were we expecting decorum?
- Census Circus Continues. The Supreme Court agreed this week to hear arguments regarding whether Wilbur Ross can be compelled to answer questions about the citizenship question on the 2020 census. The news comes at the same time that the Trump administration admits it’s considering sharing census answers with law enforcement (which, spoiler, is as illegal as you think it is). I legit can’t decide if the timing here is a good sign or a bad one, so I guess we’ll all read the tea leaves in real time on this one.
- Your Week in Trump Falsehoods.* Trump had a lot of bonkers things to say about voter fraud this week, which I suppose isn’t so surprising when his party just had their butts handed to them but it’s still obnoxious. Among the worst of Trump’s misrepresentations: Claiming that you need an ID in America to buy cereal; claiming people in Florida are forging ballots; and claiming undocumented people in California are voting. All of these issues are, of course, intended to muddy waters on issues that will outlast Election Day, and in the case of Florida at least appears to have achieved his aims (but more on that below).
Your “Normal” Weird:
- McConnell Muck and Mueller. Less than a day after publishing a hypocrisy-filled op-ed about the importance of bipartisanship, Mitch McConnell blocked an attempt to bring a bipartisan bill protecting Mueller onto the Senate floor this week. Nearly-retired Senator Flake and his bipartisan buddy Senator Coons are refusing to vote on any judicial appointments until the bipartisan bill had been considered, and so far appear to be staying true to their word — which, in turn, is making Lindsay Graham remember he helped write that bill. So we’ll see if anything comes of this.
- Mississippi Mud.* This has been a weird week for the Mississippi territory. First news broke that a regional EPA administrator in Alabama has been indicted for failing to follow state ethics laws, and is currently out on bail. But against that backdrop, we’ve also been watching the Mississippi GOP Senate candidate praise voter suppression and joke about hanging people. So things haven’t exactly been stellar south of Dixie this week.
- Get the Heil Out. A drunk guy watching a production of Fiddler on the Roof in Baltimore yelled “Heil Hitler” and “Heil Trump” during the intermission, apparently feeling the need to reference American nationalism due to the Judaism depicted in the play. As you can imagine, this sent panicked people running for the exits because they believed he was about to start shooting. Ironically, the guy involved doesn’t even support Trump; he apparently was yelling because he was mad and trying to make a point. (He has, nonetheless, been quite understandably banned from the theater for life.)
- Suppression and Concession.* All three of Florida and Georgia’s ongoing battles ended in Democrats conceding this week, with voter suppression and logistical issues looming as obvious specters. Though she has acknowledged her loss, Stacy Abrams is not giving up the suppression fight; she has indicated she will be suing Kemp in his capacity as Secretary of State. We’re now down to only the Mississippi runoff for Senate results, which… are going about how I mentioned above.
- Khashoggi Fallout Continues.* The CIA concluded this week that the Saudi crown prince had ordered the death of Jamal Khashoggi, on the same day that Trump claimed it was “too early to tell” whether he had been involved and called Saudi Arabia “a spectacular ally.” Meanwhile, the White House official who sets policy towards Saudi Arabia has resigned after pushing for sanctions against the crown prince, suggesting that no punishment will be forthcoming from the White House. So this is looking unlikely to resolve in any kind of responsible way anytime soon.
- Black Lives Still Matter. A security guard in Chicago, Jemel Roberson, was fatally shot this past week while subduing a dangerous shooter at the bar where he worked — but not by the shooter; Robertson was shot by police after he had subdued the original shooter. A witness on the scene says the police opened fire after being informed Roberson was a security guard, though other accounts say that information came out only after he was shot. Needless to say, this is a stunning and absolutely avoidable tragedy, and it’s rightfully being investigated as racially motivated.
- North Korea is Nuclearizing.* On Veteran’s Day, a Washington think tank put out some bad military news: It looks like North Korea is not denuclearizing even slightly, according to new commercial satellite imagery. In fact, the images suggest they have continued their ballistic missile program at sixteen different hidden bases, and were testing new missiles this week as well. Technically Kim never agreed to denuclearize, so he’s not happy about his actions being characterized as a ‘deception,’ and military talks have already been canceled over the coverage and related sanctions. We’ll need to keep an eye on developments, for obvious reason.
- Protection for Temporary Protected Status. Despite an ongoing glut of bad news for immigrants in this country, we did see a brief glimmer of light recently: As the Roundup mentioned a few weeks ago, a recent lawsuit in California forced the administration to halt its plan to remove status from about 300,000 people. In response to this lawsuit, the administration codified a renewal process this week, and its terms are fairly generous — the programs affected will now offer automatic nine-month extensions, authorization to work, and ability to re-register until the court case is resolved. This process buys time and relief for a huge number of people legally present in the United States, so it’s a much-welcome respite for the people it helps.
So that’s what I have for this week, and it’s definitely more than enough. For making it through, you deserve this short video about a police station that helps dogs and an eventual better government. I’ll be back next week with more (and hopefully less) 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 caffeine or more time to nap!