I missed the Superb Owl’s great flight over everyone’s televisions yesterday to draft, which I’m a touch sad about. But it turns out even the Superbowl involved the news this week (which, by the way, is definitely the most 2019 thing I’m going to type today). So I like to think I was at everybody’s Superbowl parties in spirit, reminding people to resist and stealing too many nachos.
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 Senator! — 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:
Now that the shutdown is over, this was a fairly quiet week regarding Disregard of Governing Norms, but there is still some aftermath from the month of partial shutdown to wade through. Here is the latest:
- Shutdown Aftermath. In the week after the shutdown, we’re still seeing a number of repercussions, though other things are bouncing back faster than expected. There’s a bill going around the Senate that would give back pay to contractors, but Republicans other than Susan Collins aren’t touching it — they’re too busy working on repealing the estate tax, because we are all being governed by Ebenezer Scrooge. And early reports suggest the shutdown cost the economy $11B in total, and $3B of that will never be recovered. That said, the economy also added 304,000 jobs in January, which hopefully will mitigate the damage. Nonetheless, the Fed isn’t going to be raising interest rates again anytime soon.
It was also a fairly quiet week on the Russia Investigation front, but there were still some significant developments. Here are the main things to know:
- Bar on Barr Voting. The Senate opted this week to postpone the confirmation vote of Attorney General hopeful William Barr, kicking it out for another week while they process whether or not Barr would let Mueller do his thing. Since Trump was also recently quoted as saying it’s “totally up to the attorney general” whether the Mueller report ever sees the light of day, the Democrats’ hesitation seems pretty fair from where I’m sitting. The delay has given two senators, Chuck Grassley and Richard Blumenthal, an opportunity to introduce bipartisan legislation that would compel Robert Mueller to release a summary of his report to Congress and the public — which would obviate concern that Barr might bury any findings. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has blocked this type of legislation before, so we’ll need to see if it reaches the Senate floor (and call regularly if it doesn’t).
- Trump Putin Rendezvous (Again).* News broke this week that Donald Trump met with Putin at G7 in November without any U.S. staff present (although Melanie was there). And if that sounds familiar, it’s probably because this is the second year running that he has done this with a dude literally charged with interfering in our election. So that’s super fun and in no way disturbing, particularly in light of the two stories below.
- Trump-Cued Fighting. Given his recent mystery meeting with Putin, it sure is comforting that Trump is getting along with his own intelligence staff and political party! Wait, no, I’m informed that I have that backwards — he’s actually been increasingly fighting with his own intelligence experts, and is knee-deep in a public tiff with Mitch McConnell, my bad! Predictably, the Trump narrative is that he’s right and all the people he’s fighting with are wrong, which is pretty concerning — we’ll talk a bit more about what specifically everybody is fighting about below.
- Bye Russia, No Love.* The U.S. is officially leaving a 1987 nuclear arms treaty with Russia called the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces, with our Secretary of State saying that Russia has been in violation for at least five years. But Russia has been saying the same thing about us, and it definitely seems true that Trump is frustrated by China’s lack of restriction under similar treaty, so it’s kind of hard to know what’s going on in general. And at minimum, Trump keeps leaving or threatening to leave various treaties, which is concerning all on its own. So basically, there’s a lot to watch here.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- Polar Vortex Blues. Much of the country experienced extreme cold this week, as a polar vortex brought temperatures as low as -31 degrees Farenheit for several days. The Midwest was definitely hit the hardest, claiming the majority of twenty-one people deaths and fifty-one cases of frostbite while the vortex was occurring. But eyes also turned east to Brooklyn, where several inmates were held without heat or electricity in single-digit temperatures for several days. Thankfully, temperatures rose again fairly abruptly, and it is a lovely 50 degree day here in Boston as I type this.
- Northam Not Gonna Resign. News broke over the weekend that current Virginia governor and terrible Democrat Ralph Northam had photos in his med school yearbook that featured him either in blackface or wearing a KKK hood (it’s kind of unclear which). Though Northam initially apologized, he then refused to step down and shared another anecdote about his adventures in blackface, somehow believing that overt racism isn’t a disqualifying in a party whose main platform by now is We Aren’t The Racist Ones 2019. To their credit, Democrats are livid, and increasingly calling for his resignation. So it’s basically chaos down there, and we’ll have to see what ends up happening.
- Fighting About Afghanistan. News broke this week that we had reached a peace deal in Afghanistan, and will be likely withdrawing troops stationed there soon as a result. Between that and Syria, the GOP is pretty unified in their anger, and passed a Senate resolution rebuking Trump over it. Democrats are more divided on whether withdrawal is a good idea, particularly if they’ve thrown their hat in the 2020 ring, though I doubt anybody enjoys agreeing with Trump about whether the sky is blue, let alone his plan to end a 17-year war.
- State of the State of the Union. Since the shutdown is now over, Nancy Pelosi has issued another invitation to Trump to give a State of the Union on February 5th. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has also invited former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams to give the Democrats’ official response. And Trump is gearing up to talk about immigration at said address, which I’m sure will be full of factual information and complete sentences. So this will be an interesting State of the Union, to say the least.
- Jussie Smollet Assaulted. Empire actor Jussie Smollet was brutally attacked in Chicago this past week. The attack definitely appears to be a hate crime; Smollet reported that his assailants were yelling racist and homophobic things as they threw an “unidentified chemical substance” on him and put a noose around his neck. Needless to say, this type of attack is becoming horrifyingly common in the era of Trump, but it never stops being terrible.
- Mitch McConnell vs H.R.1. Mitch McConnell went on a major tear this week about House legislation designed to reduce corruption in government, quite tellingly referring to it as “a power grab.” (Uh, yes? It makes the American public have more power Mitch, that’s literally how anti-corruption legislation works.) The statements were a follow-up to an op-ed he had already published about said legislation, because I guess he felt like he hadn’t complained about the new House enough yet. But to be fair to McConnell (which isn’t a phrase I type very often), he’s also had his hands full trying to convince Trump not to declare a national emergency at the border — a threat Trump seems increasingly ready to carry out and which would definitely not end well for anybody involved, except possibly Nancy Pelosi’s approval rating.
- Immigration Updates. Given the lack of movement during the shutdown and lack of a permanent funding solution, it is truly impressive how much awful immigration news happened in the past week. We learned that the Pentagon is sending 3,750 more troops to the Mexican border, joining the 2,400 troops already there and extending the mission all the way to September. (Hopefully I don’t have to explain why this is both unnecessary bullying and a shameful waste of resources.) And news broke that ICE created a fake university as a sting operation, telling international students that the fake university was on their approved list of accredited schools and then arresting people who went there. Meanwhile, people in ICE custody on a hunger strike are being force-fed through invasive nasal tubes, and DHS refuses to reunify families they tore apart at the border because they say it might be ‘traumatic’ for kids to see their actual parents again, and does this planet have an exit ramp because weeks like this make me want to use it.
- White Supremacy is Terrorism. The white supremacist who murdered Timothy Caughman in 2017 pleaded guilty to terrorism and murder as a hate crime this week. It is hard to imagine a more textbook case of white supremacy as terrorism — the man literally murdered a random denizen going about his business in the hopes of sparking a racial war — but this is one of the first documented instances of a white supremacy terrorism conviction in the country. It’s grimly satisfying rather than ‘good’ to realize that we’re finally calling a spade a spade in a legal sense, but it’s still an important step for navigating the increase of hate crimes in a Trump-run America.
So that’s what I have for this week, which definitely was more than enough! For making it through, you deserve this video of otter pups 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 photos of Superb Owls!