This was a strange, stressful week for most of us, between New Zealand and key votes in Congress. About the best I can say is that it was a strange, stressful week for Trump too — a fact of which he was all too aware, if his tweet tantrum from this weekend was any indication. So at least there’s that.
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 House investigation! — 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:
There was a fair bit of activity on the Russia Investigation, though not as much as some previous weeks. Here are the main things to know:
- House Investigation Activity.* This was a busy (and, frankly, kind of amazing) week for the House of Representatives. First the House Oversight Committee heard the testimony of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, and AOC in particular grilled him like a cheese sandwich. Then we had a sublime moment when the entire House — seriously, literally the entire House — voted for the public release of the Mueller report. Unfortunately, we quickly came back down to Earth when Trump had a Twitter tantrum about it and Lindsay Graham blocked the vote in the Senate.
- Sentencing Updates.* Paul Manafort had his second sentencing hearing this week in front of Judge Amy Berman Jackson — the same judge currently fighting with Roger Stone about his inability to follow a gag order — who gave him a slightly more severe sentence than the first one. All told, Manafort will serve a total of seven and a half years in prison, which is nothing to sneeze at when you’re his age. He was also indicted on new and unpardonable charges in New York basically as soon as he left the courtroom, so he’s far from done with criminal court. Meanwhile, Manafort’s buddy Rick Gates was not sentenced this week because he is continuing to cooperate, so they pushed out the hearing for now.
This was also a surreally awesome week for Disregard of Governing Norms, because the Senate got over itself long enough to pass some things to reinstate order. Here’s what I have for you:
- National ‘Emergency’ Updates. The Senate finally voted the resolution condemning Trump’s national ‘emergency,’ which managed to sail through with a 59–41 vote (and if you think that was a typo, I had the same initial reaction.) This is a big deal, even though Trump was able to veto it, because we only knew about four GOP Senators who were definite yeses ahead of time — and then twelve of them crossed the aisle to tell Trump where to stuff it. The bill now goes back to the House for reconsideration, and since the declaration is unpopular with constituents it’s very possible we’ll get a vetoproof majority on the second go-around.
- Senate Has Its Say. The Senate also voted to end U.S. support for the Saudi-led war against Yemen this week, presumably because they’ve hit a breaking point with Trump’s repeated support for sketchy Saudi practices. It’s the first time the Senate has ever passed something based on the War Powers Resolution Act of 1973. If the House supports the bill as well, it will be the first time Congress has used the Act to end US military involvement in a foreign conflict since its passage forty-six years ago. So we’re still in “watch-and-see” mode but it’s potentially a big deal as well.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- Fraud Styles of the Rich and Famous. The FBI charged fifty people as part of a convoluted fraudulent college admission ring this week. The indicted individuals are alleged to have faked everything from learning disabilities to athletic achievements as well as paying elaborate bribes, and two were famous celebrities — one of whom was Aunt Becky, and incidentally “Aunt Becky pulled a rich white lady crime” is definitely the most 2019 thing I’m going to type this week. The whole thing highlights major problems with the college admission process, which is heavily stacked to favor wealthy and privileged people even before you factor in fraud.
- Boeing Follow-Up.* In the wake of last week’s Boeing tragedy, Trump ordered the grounding of all Boeing 737 Max flights this week. Though the FAA initially resisted, they eventually followed suit after a number of similarities were discovered between this crash and the one last fall. More attention is being given to the FAA practice of ‘self-certification’ and pilot training as well, which will hopefully lead to safer practices.
- Pentagon Anti-Trans Policy. The Pentagon announced a new anti-trans policy this week, which will go into effect on April 12. Though the policy technically is not a full ban, it prohibits troops from transitioning and forces them to serve under the gender they were assigned at birth, so it’s plenty traumatizing nonetheless.
- Immigration Updates. The Trump administration also announced this week that they plan to close all of their 21 international immigration field offices, which will dramatically slow legal entry into the country. They also announced that they’ll take volunteers to form a militia at the border, because they have the good priorities.
- New Zealand Terrorist Attack. [Author note: This story is legitimately traumatizing and was heavily publicized, so there is no shame in skipping this paragraph — do what you need to do.] A white supremacist gunman livestreamed himself shooting indiscriminately in two mosques, killing a total of fifty people during two different religious services. Because the event was livestreamed to Facebook, the video was uploaded over 1.5 million times, though social media platforms were informed by the New Zealand government that airing the video violates the country’s laws. Between the video and a lengthy manifesto published on 8chan and other fringe social media, the shooting has drawn attention to the role of social media in propagating terrorism — at least, among people who aren’t Trump. The prime minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Arden, has called for banning semi-automatic weapons in response to the shooting.
- Recent Court Resilience. There were a lot of great court cases this week. A court in Ohio held that a former Apprentice contestant could sue Trump for defamation despite his current status as President, which obviously could have a number of implications down the road. The Connecticut Supreme Court also held that families who lost children to the Sandy Hook shooting could sue Remington, the gun manufacturer that makes and sells the semi-automatic used in the shooting. And a federal court issued a landmark 106-page ruling regarding insurance and mental health coverage, holding that the company breached its fiduciary duty by using discriminatory practices to save money. (That last case is heading into the remedy phase now, so there will likely be more news on it soon.)
So that’s what I have for this week, and it’s more than enough! For making it through, you deserve this dog in a beekeeper suit and an eventual better government. I’ll be back next week with more (and hopefully less confusing) 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 ice cream and chocolate spoons!