Another week, another round of “did this really happen or am I having a fever dream?” I am sad to report, friends, that all of these things really happened. (But on the plus side, that does mean you can eat jalapeno pizza before bed in peace.)
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 subpoena! — 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:
Y’all, it’s another messed up week of Russia Investigation news — basically, pretty much everyone doubled down at once. I’ll do my best to unpack the confusion; here’s what I have for you:
- Obvious Obstruction Assists.* After the mess that was last week, the House Judiciary Committee was pretty displeased with current Attorney General William Barr, and voted to hold him in contempt of Congress along party lines. In apparent response, Barr told Trump to claim the Mueller report was privileged — which is some weaksauce nonsense, but I’ll get to that below — and Trump started talking about having Barr investigate Joe Biden. (I’m sure it’s just a coincidence that Biden is a frontrunning candidate for the Democrats’ Presidential nomination.) Meanwhile, Mitch McConnell was in the news for saying that “[the Mueller] case [was] closed” and people should stop investigating Trump — an idea so laughable, given Trump’s prevention of Mueller’s testimony in real time this week, that SNL made McConnell’s behavior their cold open. Nonetheless, Trump advisers claimed that his behavior wasn’t obstruction because “he just wants this to be over.” (Uh, yeah, wanting proceedings to stop is generally what motivates obstruction. You know, obstruction? The act of trying to impede proceedings?) Needless to say, fed-up Dems are starting to talk about bundling their contempt resolutions and fining uncooperative Cabinet members daily until they comply.
- Trump-Related Travesties.* As mentioned above, Trump took a Mulligan this week and decided to block Mueller from testifying, or at least signal he’d make it difficult much like he did (and continues to do) for his former counsel Don McGahn. Mueller’s testimony ended up being postponed as a result. Trump also claimed that he has executive privilege over the unredacted Mueller report and therefore wouldn’t be sharing it with Congress. (Spoiler: He really, really doesn’t; though he might have more of a point with Don McGahn). And news came out that Trump asked Don McGahn to say Trump never obstructed justice — which McGahn quite sensibly declined to do, because he doesn’t work for Trump anymore, Trump keeps badmouthing him, and he was probably still annoyed about last week’s subpoena orders. And speaking of subpoenas, the Senate Intelligence Committee has subpoenaed Donald Trump Jr., which has been an interesting development since it’s not a Dem-led committee. But since Trump is currently blocking over 20 separate Congressional probes, maybe some Republicans have had enough already.
- Rap Sheets of the Rich and Famous.* This week, over 800 former prosecutors signed a letter explaining exactly how and why Trump would be criminally charged if he weren’t President. Against that backdrop, it’s not surprising that Trump is again calling to ‘investigate the investigators’ — he’s probably trying to plan for his own future. What’s perhaps more surprising is that Barr appears to be listening, and is starting up said investigation — we need to keep an eye on that.
It’s becoming harder and harder to distinguish Disregard of Governing Norms from the Russia Investigation circus above, but we did see a couple of power moves that stand on their own. Here’s what happened:
- Pelosi’s Concerns.* Current Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has expressed a lot of concerns about Trump lately, though as far as I know she’s still not calling for impeachment. As I mentioned last week, she warned Democrats that she worried Trump would refuse to leave office if his loss margin was too narrow in 2020. This week, she conceded that the country was in a constitutional crisis. (Just one?) Then she called Trump “almost self-impeaching” because he kept obstructing justice daily. Madame Speaker, self-impeaching isn’t a thing; you still gotta pass those articles.
- Tax Return Trials Continue. Welp, another week, another round of arguing about Trump’s tax returns. This week Mnuchin refused to cough up documents (again), and he’s now being subpoenaed alongside the IRS Commissioner. The New York Times ran an article outlining all the money Trump lost between 1985 and 1994, which turned out to total over one billion dollars. Then just today, a federal judge heard arguments on whether Congress can subpoena tax records, and likely will issue a decision sometime after Saturday.
- Hard Pass on ‘Hard’ Passes.* The White House revoked a large number of “hard” press passes this week, making it significantly harder for regular visitors to attend press conferences. The purge was so comprehensive, according to journalists who were affected, that almost the entire White House press corps was caught up in it. Now, those still being granted access have “exceptions” to rules that screen out virtually everyone, and that means their passes can be revoked at any time. Needless to say, this kind of reduced access is frightening and unprecedented.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- Heartbeat Bill Chaos. Georgia, Alabama, and Ohio were all in the news for heartbeat bill issues this week, and the stories are as strange as they are horrifying. (You may recall that Ohio already has a stringent heartbeat law on the books from last month; this measure would intensify it.) Alabama’s legislature had to push back their vote when senators started shouting at each other, but the bill was voted into law this evening. Meanwhile, Ohio was in the news because a Congressman made up medical procedures to support his anti-abortion bill. And Georgia passed its own heartbeat bill, which won’t go into effect until 2020 but has some of the most stringent provisions in the nation. Folks, these bills are incredibly concerning regardless of your opinion on right to choose, because they are intentionally engineered to be illegal — the whole point is to create laws that violate Roe v Wade so that the issue goes before the Supreme Court and Roe v Wade gets overturned. With so much of our governmental structure under threat, we really do all need to care about intentionally illegal laws.
- Colorado Shooting. There was yet another school shooting this past week, this time in Colorado. The shooting resulted in one death and eight injuries, and yet again the death involved a student who likely saved many others’ lives by taking assailants down. This emergent pattern of children forced to engage in threat containment is horrifying, and a measure of just how much prior generations are failing them. Our kids deserve better than this — we all do.
- Frightening Foreign Affairs. This was a really rough week for our foreign policy and the resulting repercussions. North Korea tested short-range missiles repeatedly throughout the week, and we seized one of their ships because it carried coal in violation of U.N. sanctions. Meanwhile, our market started tanking right alongside China’s after Trump threatened tariffs again last week, and it didn’t help things when China threatened to retaliate. (Though Trump claimed “farmers would be very happy,” he ended up having to float the idea of a bailout to keep them from rebelling.) And on top of all of that, we issued sanctions against Iran as they threatened to step back from the existing nuclear deal — which, to be fair, Trump withdrew from a year ago. Both sides are saying that they don’t want a war, but this is a very tense time and we’ll need to watch developments carefully.
- Immigration Updates. Immigration remained in the news this week, and just like every other week it remained bananapants. News broke that Trump had been pressuring his more moderate DHS staffers to arrest thousands of families in coordinated raids before he eventually fired them all. Meanwhile, conditions are so bad at the border that detainees are being flown to other sites, but despite the severe overcrowding Lindsey Graham wants to introduce a law to hold kids in detention indefinitely. And Ben Carson is moving forward with his plan to evict mixed status families from public housing, so now we officially can leave a public comment telling him how pointlessly mean this proposal is.
- Public Option Becomes a Reality. This week, Washington State became the first state to offer a public option for health insurance, which will be available to residents of all income levels. Health insurer participation will be optional, but this is nonetheless a groundbreaking development in the health sector. It’s a grand experiment the nation will be watching, and I’m tentatively very excited.
- Recent New York Resilience. The New York State Senate passed legislation this week authorizing the state to share Trump’s state tax returns with Congress. The bill still needs to pass through the State Assembly, but would potentially be an alternate route to much of the same information Congress is currently stuck subpoenaing, so it’s a pretty big deal even at this early stage.
So that’s what I have for this week, and I think we can all agree it’s more than enough. For making it through, you deserve Topiary Cats 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 more days with sunshine!