Jeez, I leave the country for like five days and everything goes bananas — the news over the past week or two has been utterly wild. I’m including some news from the previous week, when the NNR was dark, to create further context. Sadly, none of it makes any of this make more sense.
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 an indictment! — 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:
For what feels like the zillionth week in a row, the Russia Investigation continues to be an incredible tug-of-war between Trump’s camp and Congressional Democrats. Here’s what has happened over the past week and a half or so:
- Where’s the Report (Redux)? This past week has been an absolute bonanza on the William-Barr-Mueller-Report front. Barr represented in his testimony on Tuesday that he would release a redacted report ‘within a week,’ but Mueller’s team started expressing frustration with his summary and the House started asking him to release summaries Mueller had drafted. Now the word on the street is that a redacted copy will be out on Thursday, and Trump is already planning to ignore it. The whole thing is so bananas that we’ll have to keep watching it closely because it’s anybody’s guess where we go from here.
- Nonspecific Spying Allegations (Maybe).* As alluded to above, William Barr testified in front of Congress for two days this past week, but most attention has gone to him telling Congress that the government “spied” on the Trump campaign in 2016. Though he didn’t particularly give any specifics, he did follow up by putting a team together to look into it, saying he “wasn’t putting a panel together,” and walking the whole thing back. So… that happened.
- Assange and Avenetti Arrests. Julian Assange was unceremoniously arrested this week when the Ecuadoran embassy in London kicked him out, apparently because he was a truly insufferable tenant who didn’t clean up after his cat or himself. Trump, predictably, has responded to the news with “New indictment, who wikileaks?” Meanwhile, in other Trump-adjacent news, Stormy Daniels attorney Michael Avenetti was charged with 36 new counts of embezzlement, fraud, and generally being a sketchy dude. So it’s been something of a strange week on the arrest and indictment front.
This was a similarly weird week for Disregard of Governing Norms stories, unfortunately. Here’s what I have for you:
- Tax Return Fight.* The tax return fight happening between Congress and the Trump administration has been pretty wild as well, taking all kinds of twists and turns over the past couple of weeks. First Trump’s lawyer asserted presidential privilege at the top of last week, saying the IRS shouldn’t respond because he’s the President. Then the administration said they wouldn’t respond while Trump was under audit. When that didn’t keep Congress at bay, Trump’s lawyer also told the Treasury not to respond until it received a legal opinion from the Justice Department (and the IRS did indeed miss a deadline last Wednesday). Then news broke that White House attorneys had already illegally consulted with the Treasury before the request was even made, and at that point the administration got more openly belligerent. By the time that I write this, Trump’s acting chief of staff had announced that Congress will “never” see the tax returns that they weren’t “smart enough” to see anyway, Congress has subpoenaed Trump’s accounting firm, and eighteen states have passed legislation keeping 45 off the ballot if he doesn’t cough up some tax information.
- Ilhan Omar Attacks. The other incredible thing to happen this week was yet another round of Ilhan Omar attacks, this time because she correctly called Stephen Miller a white nationalist and her month-old quote about 9/11 was taken out of context. (I feel the need to note, incidentally, that it’s not inherently antisemitic to call a xenophobic spade a spade, even if he happens to also be The Country’s Worst Jew.) This ultimately culminated in a pinned tweet from 45 that “we will never forget,” an apparently successful appeal to Islamophobia that several people cited as they made threats on Omar’s life. (To be fair to 45, Twitter immediately proved that we won’t ever forget his actual real-time response to 9/11, which involved bragging that he now has the tallest tower in Lower Manhattan — a claim that, by the way, wasn’t even true).
Your “Normal” Weird:
- Measles and Mandatory Vaccination.* As more and more measles outbreaks are reported nationally, New York City fields an outbreak so severe that the city has ordered mandatory vaccinations. It’s likely the strictest rule regarding measles vaccines in three decades, and was implemented in part due to an uptick in “measles parties” in the area. Unsurprisingly, some parents are already suing the city over the mandate. We’ll have to see if other cities follow suit, and also keep an eye on the unusually high outbreak numbers.
- Fires in Two National Treasures.* The famous Notre Dame cathedral in Paris suffered a very serious fire today, resulting in the total collapse of the main spire and roof and severe damage to the wooden interior. As of this evening, outlets were reporting that the bell towers and exterior frame were saved along with several major pieces of art, and French billionaire Francois-Henri Pinault has already stepped forward to pledge €100m towards rebuilding. In an odd coincidence, Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque suffered a fire on the same day, though thankfully with much less extensive damage to the structure. Authorities are still not sure what caused either fire.
- Problematic Pipelines.* In literal pipeline news, Trump signed an executive order this week designed to make it easier to build oil and gas pipes in the United States. In figurative pipeline news, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell changed appointment rules to get conservative judges approved after only two hours of debate. Neither of these are especially welcome news, for obvious reason.
- Immigration Updates. Immigration news is reaching new heights of “how is this our government” this week, which by this point is saying something. Trump started out by walking back his threat to close the Mexican border, swapping instead to car tariff threats — but by midweek he had decided to withdraw a nomination for ICE head because he thought his pick was too moderate. Then he followed that up by forcing out current Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielson, putting the head of CBP in charge of DHS and the white nationalist who engineered the Zero Tolerance policy, Stephen Miller, in charge of immigration policy generally. It’s looking like these changes are part of a larger plan to purge DHS staffers who were associated with John Kelly. And once he’d gotten rid of the moderating influence, all kinds of bananas rumors about asylum started cropping up (which I’ve outlined below).
- Harebrained Asylum Ideas. Per several news outlets and also the White House, here are several things that this administration is considering telling CBP to do: 1) evaluate asylum claims directly (instead of having, y’know, the people trained to do this do it; 2) send all asylees to sanctuary cities as a way to punish local governments that don’t cooperate; or 3) refuse admittance to asylees entirely by closing the entire border (which I bet you’re all shocked to know is super illegal). On that latter point, by the way, Trump allegedly told the head of CBP — who as I noted above, is also now in charge of the whole Department of Homeland Security — that if he was sent to jail for illegally refusing entry to asylees, Trump would simply pardon him. Absolutely no reason to suspect this guy of obstruction of justice, amirite?
- Recent Court Resilience. Despite the bevy of bad immigration news above, we did see some good court cases this week. A third federal court in Maryland blocked the Trump administration’s plan to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census, and another federal judge blocked the Trump administration from requiring asylum seekers to stay in Mexico while they wait for their cases to be heard.
- Black Hole Pics.* We saw a major scientific breakthrough recently when the first-ever photos were taken of a supermassive black hole. (This has historically been difficult to do due to the nature of black holes, which is why it’s a big deal.) The black hole photographed, now named Powehi, was captured by the Event Horizon Telescope project. Yay science!
- Recent House Resilience. The House passed a bill renewing the Violence Against Women Act this week, which was originally passed in 2009 but expired in February of this year. The new version incorporates gun control provisions that are unpopular with the GOP, so we’ll need to see what happens in the Senate from here. (They also passed a bill that would revive net neutrality, which is an important symbolic measure even though this one is considerably less likely to actually see the Senate floor.)
So that’s what I have for this week, and some of last as well. For making it through, you deserve this video of a cat letting its dog friend into the house 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 better immigration news!