This was another highly surreal and chaotic week — I feel like I wandered over to the other side of the looking glass, and now everything is distorted and backwards. (But I’ve reached the point where this is a comforting thought, because maybe if I can find Dinah we all have a portal out of here.)
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 spending bill! — 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:
This was another fairly quiet week on the Russia Investigation front, but there was still a fair amount of movement. Here’s what I have for you:
- Ongoing Obvious Obstruction (Again).* Just like last week, and the weeks before that, we saw a bunch of back-and-forth between the White House and the regular House about ongoing investigation. At the top of the week, Trump ordered former counsel Don McGahn not to testify before the House (an escalation from last week, when he just ordered him not to cough up documents). And sure enough, Don McGahn did not show up, so I guess we’ll see if there are consequences for that. Meanwhile, subpoenas have also been issued for former counsel Annie Donaldson and ex-staffer Hope Hicks. Perhaps most disturbingly, Trump also gave Attorney General Barr broad authority to investigate the Russia investigation staffers for proof of “treason” and ordered the intelligence community to cooperate with him. So, yay, all of that is normal and not fascist at all.
- Assange Indictments.* Despite (or perhaps because of) Chelsea Manning’s refusal to testify, the case against Julian Assange took some turns this past week when he was indicted on seventeen counts of violating the Espionage Act. Each of these charges carries up to ten years in prison, so he’s potentially looking at a life sentence if he’s convicted on all counts — way longer than he would have faced under the Obama administration (which only charged him with conspiracy to hack government servers). But the charges are big deal for more of us than just Assange because of their potential implications for the First Amendment — it’s currently common practice for journalists to seek classified sources of information in their reporting duties. And if anybody who complies is looking at a life sentence, that’s going to make accountability for this administration that much harder.
It’s becoming harder and harder to distinguish Disregard of Governing Norms from the Russia Investigation circus above, but we still do see a couple of power moves each week that stand on their own. Here’s what happened:
- Pelosi and Trump Throw Down.* This was a truly extraordinary week to watch the ongoing cage match between Nancy Pelosi and Donald Trump. In one corner, we had Donald Trump tweeting Fox News’s heavily edited videos of Pelosi, which slowed down her speech to make her look drunk. (Facebook and several other social media sites refused to take the videos down, by the way.) And in the other, somewhat less fetid corner, we had Pelosi’s increasingly obnoxious ‘I’m Not Gonna Impeach Trump, But I’m Sure Gonna Talk Incessantly About How Somebody Should’ campaign. The week culminated in Trump sitting down with Pelosi and Schumer to discuss infrastructure for — and I cannot stress enough that this is not exaggeration — all of three minutes before refusing to talk to them until all investigation of him stopped. Y’all, given the incredibly disturbing ways Trump has been wielding power this week — between the Russia investigation notes above and things we’ll talk about below — I don’t think we can go on like this forever.
- Bribery: Still Illegal.* The chairman and CEO of Federal Savings Bank, Stephen Calk, was in the news this week — for, ironically, trying to federally spend the bank’s savings. More specifically, he’s accused of loaning Paul Manafort $16M in exchange for a cabinet appointment. Obviously, this did not pan out for Mr. Calk — or for Mr. Manafort, for that matter — because bribery is, in fact, still illegal. So we’ll see where this set of charges goes.
- Jackson Not Jettisoned.* The Trump administration announced this week that it would be pushing back an Obama initiative to put Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill until at least 2028 — effectively canceling it, because this means they won’t make the change while they’re in office. In the course of defending Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Trump suggested putting Tubman on the $2 bill instead, because he’s racist and terrible. Meanwhile, a New York designer has created a 3-D stamp that will superimpose Harriet Tubman onto existing $20 bills in circulation, which may or may not be illegal — but to be fair, so’s half of Trump’s domestic policy.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- Senate Spending Bill. The Senate passed a disaster-relief spending bill this week for the first time in fifteen months — a staggeringly long pause, given how many natural disasters we’ve experienced this year, but at least in time to respond to the tornadoes that touched down in three states this week. Unfortunately, the bill has not yet passed in the House because a single rep objected to the lack of extra border wall funding and consequently blocked the entire vote. And incidentally, “there’s no disaster relief for Puerto Rico because one guy in Texas wanted a wall” is definitely the most 2019 thing I’m going to type this week.
- Weird Week for Britain. Conservative Briton and all-around jerk Nigel Farage got a milkshake to the Armani this week, highlighting an a growing movement in the U.K. of people throwing milkshakes at the alt-right as they make their Brexit tours. Eventually Farage started refusing to leave his bus, McDonald’s stopped selling shakes, and Burger King clearly enjoyed the whole thing. Then in the wake of all of that chaos, Theresa May announced her resignation date (which will be June 7, by the way). But it’s a bit early to celebrate the implications for Brexit, because some analysts are saying that Brexit might happen without any agreement — though that’s only one of several possible outcomes from here.
- Frightening Foreign Affairs (Again).* This was another bad week for foreign affairs, y’all. After signaling all week that this might happen, Trump went ahead and used the situation with Iran to declare a national emergency and send more troops to the Middle East. As far as I can tell, he did this so that he could sell arms to Saudi Arabia and the UAE without congressional approval. Needless to say, Congress isn’t best pleased by this development, and it’s possible we’ll see another resolution like the one on the border wall. (Here’s hoping they get a veto-proof vote this time.)
- Bad Week with Ben Carson. This was a bad week for basically everyone who had to interact with HUD Secretary Ben Carson, including Ben Carson. At the top of the week, he alienated members of the House Financial Services Committee with condescending nonsense like mistaking real estate owned by banks (“REO”) for Nabisco cookies and claiming a proposed rule to evict immigrants would somehow fix our housing crisis. (As someone who does housing policy work professionally, I really cannot overstate how little Carson appears to know on the topic.) This would be bad enough, but in the course of his testimony, he was asked about a rumored new HUD policy revoking protections for transgender homeless populations — a policy he said he “is not currently anticipating changing.” Then the very next day, the new policy was published, directly contradicting him. It’s not currently clear whether he lied or just honestly knows that little about his own department — if I worked at HUD, I sure wouldn’t let him touch anything — but the letter he sent the committee doesn’t really help matters. At any rate, now we have more formal comments to write.
- License to Discriminate. In addition to the homelessness policy referenced above, the Trump administration also announced this week that they plan to roll back protections for transgender patients in healthcare settings. Though the administration argues that they’re simply making the regulations confirm with the “plain text” of relevant law, the proposed regulations will make it easier for healthcare providers to deny treatment to patients on the basis of gender identity. Needless to say, this will have major implications for health equity and access to health care over time, and not in a good way. I plan to submit a public comment on this once we have a docket number, and I’m happy to help other people draft one too.
- Recent Court Resilience. Given everything listed above, it’s always comforting to see any branch try to put the brakes on this presidency, and there were several encouraging bits of news involving checks and balances this week. Two different federal judges rejected Trump’s attempts to block subpoenas from Congress about his taxes, which is probably why Wells Fargo and T.D. Bank have both just handed over documents without fanfare. Another federal judge also blocked part of Trump’s attempt to divert funds to build a border wall, quite sensibly noting that a need is not “unforeseen” if you talk about it for literally years beforehand.
- Recent New York Resilience. There was also good news on the state side this week! New York did indeed pass that legislation authorizing the state to share Trump’s state tax returns with Congress. But more importantly, they also passed legislation that allows the state to prosecute crimes occurring in the state that have been federally pardoned.
- Good Access to Insulin News. In light of the discrimination news above, I’m particularly glad to have good health news this week as well. Colorado became the first state to put a cap on insulin copays, making sure the treatment stays affordable to insured residents who need it. It’s only a first step towards fixing skyrocketing insulin prices, but it’s a promising one.
So that’s what I have for this week, and I’m sorry, there are no refunds. For making it through, you deserve this pangolin piggyback ride and an eventual better government. I’ll be back next week with more (and hopefully less terrible) 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 hours of sleep!