Well, folks, we’re officially past the halfway point of Trump’s first term (assuming he serves a whole one, though I suspect everybody reading this hopes he does not). And true to the last two years, this past week was a wild roller coaster ride; I think more than a few of us were a little green by the time it ended. But at least we got some good news as we cruised to a stop.
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 Presidential candidate! — 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:
Half the news this week involves Disregard of Governing Norms, though at least we got some positive shutdown news in the end. (I’m separating the shutdown news into two sections, by the way, in the hopes that it will make the whole thing less confusing.) Here are the main things to know from this week:
- Shutdown Roller Coaster Ends (For Now). Mitch McConnell finally allowed a vote on legislation to reopen government this past week, after the House had passed ten different bills on the subject. Since he’s Mitch McConnell, and therefore terrible, he scheduled two votes: One for House legislation that had already passed, and one for Trump’s bonkers bad-faith bill from last week. Unsurprisingly, neither bill passed; what was surprising was the minor mutiny McConnell found on his hands between the six GOP Senators that voted for the Dem bill and the GOP lunchroom fight the same day (to say nothing of all the protests that happened outside his offices). Eventually, and improbably, Trump agreed to the House version the next day, so a continuing resolution that lasts until February 15th was signed into law by the end of the evening, and federal employees ostensibly are receiving back pay by the end of the week.
- Wait, What? After over a month of truculent Trump times, I think his abrupt about-face on Friday was pretty bewildering — so I wanted to write a bit more about the factors at play. As I noted above, the shutdown was deeply unpopular and pretty widely regarded as his fault, which was in turn impacting his ability to set up a State of the Union address. The shutdown also was disrupting border security process and his deportation machine, which isn’t a problem from where I’m sitting but Trump likely thought it was. But likely the largest factor was a shortage of air traffic controllers on Friday, which caused flight disruptions at LaGuardia and other airports for over an hour. Since Trump pretty immediately went back to talking about his wall, he might still be considering declaring an emergency or starting another shutdown — which is prompting legislators to start pushing back on the concept of shutdowns altogether. We need to keep an eye on all of this despite Nancy Pelosi’s adept handling of the original shutdown, because February 15 will be here before we know it.
- State of the Union Showdown. This week also continued the surreal back-and-forth between the Speaker of the House and the “Dealmaker” In Chief that began last week with Pelosi’s strongly-worded letter. Although it initially looked like 45 would content himself with petty airplane power moves, he announced by letter midweek that he planned to come to the House to give his State of the Union despite being uninvited. Without Pelosi’s invitation, however, he doesn’t have the legal right to take the podium, and she made it clear that no invitation was forthcoming while the shutdown was ongoing. By midweek, Trump was the one to blink first, which probably impacted some of the shutdown news above. Since the shutdown is now over, Pelosi has issued another invitation for February 5.
It was a quieter week on the Russia Investigation front, but there were still some significant developments. Here are the main things to know:
- Further Cohen Circus.* Michael Cohen’s attorney announced this week that Cohen would not be testifying in front of Congress after all, because he had received threats from Trump that his family would face consequences if Cohen testified. (It’s hard not to view this story as related to last week’s Cohen news one way or another, though it’s anybody’s guess exactly how.) Unsurprisingly, the Senate Intelligence Committee responded by simply subpoenaing Cohen, so he’s now again due to testify on February 7.
- Moar Giuliani ‘Help’.* Giuliani gave another truly wild New Yorker interview this week, saying that he knew last week’s Buzzfeed article about the Trump Tower project in Moscow wasn’t true because “[he’d] been through all the tapes.” This was, incidentally, how we learned that there were tapes to be discussing, which is probably why Giuliani immediately pulled a Hagrid afterwards and said “I shouldn’t have said tapes.” Needless to say, this is not normal behavior for legal counsel, and some outlets are saying Trump is livid, but I’ve seen other people speculate that Giuliani’s behavior is Trump’s own strategy. Frankly, I have no idea what to believe, but it sure seems more likely now that Trump did keep working on a deal in Moscow through November.
- Stone Cold Indictment. Roger Stone was arrested and taken into custody before dawn on Friday morning, charged with several counts of lying, witness tampering and obstruction of justice. Though the actual charges are fairly mild, the facts of the indictments are anything but; they essentially connect Stone directly to both Wikileaks and the Trump campaign ahead of the 2016 DNC Russian hack. By the time that I write t his on Monday, Stone is already out on a personal bond and giving interviews. Needless to say, the connections between Trump, his associates, and Russia are getting so convoluted and numerous that many of us need a road map.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- Let Them Eat Loans. Commerce secretary and jackass billionaire Wilbur Ross was in the news this week for saying that he “d[oesn’t] quite understand” why furloughed federal workers seeking assistance from food banks didn’t just take out loans to make ends meet. To be fair, I don’t quite understand why his agency is charging 9% on the emergency loans they made available, so I guess that makes us even.
- 2020 Campaign Ring. As we move forward into 2019, it’s unsurprising that Democrat candidates are beginning to throw their hats into the ring for 2020 — in addition to Senator Elizabeth Warren and Hawaii rep Tulsi Gabbard, who declared their intent to run last week, we’ve now also got Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Kamala Harris and San Antonio mayor Julián Castro stepping forward. (Perhaps more surprisingly, former Starbucks CEO and fellow billionaire jackass Howard Schultz has started to mutter about running as well on an independent ticket, because what this country needs is definitely a split vote.) At any rate, all six join candidates who announced prior to 2019, of course, and several major outlets are keeping track of all the current contenders as well as those likely to add their names. All told, it’s going to be a pretty crowded ring, but there will be an unprecedented four women running this election. (Hilariously, the Hill reports that Trump is already trailing several of them in polls.)
- Trans Military Ban Reinstated. The Supreme Court issued a 5–4 holding this week agreeing to reinstate Trump’s ban on trans military service while review of the case is pending. They simultaneously declined to let the administration fast-track the case, which means lower appeals courts will hear the case first. Incredibly, the administration’s winning argument was that preliminary injunctions were a ‘growing trend’ that denied them “the ability to implement significant policy measures.” (This view, I feel the need to note, blithely ignores the fact that preliminary injunctions are only issued if there’s a high likelihood of prevailing on the merits of the larger case — in other words, the administration isn’t being discriminated against; they just keep trying to do things that are illegal.)
- Immigration Updates. On the same day the shutdown ended, the Trump administration started sending asylum seekers back to Mexico per the agreement they negotiated with the Mexican government. Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen called the move “unprecedented,” and she’s probably right about that, because it’s also illegal as well as ill-advised. Mexico is only grudgingly on board, calling the new policy “a unilateral move by the United States that we have to respond to,” so we might see pushback on that front. And on top of everything else, as Vox notes, the whole thing is basically on countdown to a lawsuit. I’ll definitely keep folks posted on developments as they happen.
- LA Teacher’s Strike Successfully Concludes. The LA teacher’s union strike successfully concluded this week, winning terms such as classroom size caps and nurses at every school. The superintendent noted that though “40 years of under-investment [can’t be fixed] in a week,” the strike settlement represented a good start. Between this and the air traffic controllers’ impact on the government shutdown, this week had some powerful messages about the value of organizing.
- Trans Rights Twitch Stream. Last weekend, UK Youtuber Hbomberguy began a spontaneous twitch stream of Donkey Kong 64 to support Mermaids, a trans rights organization that under funding threat due to moral panic caused by ‘faulty’ reporting. Incredibly, the stream went on for 57 straight hours, during which time it raised over $340,000 and drew cameo calls from everybody from Lindsay Ellis to Chelsea Manning to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. As Hbomberguy himself noted on the twitch stream, the sheer success of the event highlights how many people believe trans rights are human rights — which is particularly welcome timing given the news above.
So that’s what I have for this week, which definitely was more than enough! For making it through, you deserve these portraits of an artist’s hamster and an eventual better government. I’ll be back next week with more (and hopefully better) 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 an extra few hours in the day!