Y’all, this week is so bad that I’m eating ice cream out of the carton with a soup spoon as I type this, and I’m not even sorry. (Then right after I typed that, I dropped the soup spoon. And the dog went after it. It’s that kind of week.)
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 tariff! — 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 Corner
Somehow, we still have Russia Investigation news, though none of it is especially optimistic. Here’s what I have for you:
- Mueller’s Public Statement.* This was another noteworthy week for news relating to the Russia investigation. Former special prosecutor Robert Mueller issued a public statement for the first time, presumably in response to rumors that he had considered indicting Trump. He reiterated that he believes he may not indict a sitting President, and reminding Congress that they can impeach Trump if they want accountability for his misdeeds. Needless to say, this development has raised even more fervor about impeachment among Democrats, and especially among the 2020 candidates. But Nancy Pelosi continues to maintain that it’s not yet time to impeach Trump, despite increasing pressure otherwise.
- Russia Helping and Other Strange Tweets.* Sometime on Thursday morning, Trump tweeted that “I had nothing to do with Russia helping me to get elected.” Then, presumably realizing what he’d just admitted, he deleted it and tweeted “I got me elected!” instead. Given his lengthy history of denying that Russia acted to place him in power, this temporary admission is important — particularly because it underlines Mueller’s conclusions.
We also continue to see Disregard of Governing Norms each week, but this week, not all of them came from Trump. Here’s what happened:
- GOP Stall Tactics.* GOP stall tactics were on display in a variety of forms this week, with stories coming out of both the Senate and the House. All told, the House vote on the Senate’s disaster package was stalled out three different times this week, in each instance because the bill contained no additional border wall funding. (They did eventually pass it today, though.) Meanwhile, Mitch McConnell gleefully told a reporter that he would not stall if there were a Supreme Court vacancy in 2020, despite his stated reasons for obstruction when Merrick Garland was nominated in 2016. Both of these things reflect the slow degradation of our system itself in the face of partisan goals, which sadly is not really new but takes on new meaning in 2019.
- Trump Sides with Kim. Trump decided to side with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un on several issues this past week, ranging from whether North Korea had fired ballistic missiles to whether Joe Biden has a low IQ. Though Trump has an ongoing love-hate relationship with the dictator, this may be the first time he publicly dissed his own advisers and ignored the U.N. Security Council to ingratiate himself. Needless to say, none of this is acceptable or normal.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- Tattling Tax Report.* A study from the Congressional Research Service concluded this week that the 2017 tax return Trump engineered was — pardon the technical terms here — not awesome. More specifically, despite this administration’s claims otherwise, trickling down wasn’t a thing that happened for our economy, because the tax cuts favored corporations instead of humans. What’s weird about this story, of course, isn’t the predictable outcome of terrible tax plan; we’ve known that trickle down economics doesn’t work since the Dubbya era. What is weird, however, is how little attention this report is getting — in any other election cycle, Democrats would be having a field day with this. But since we’re all busy arguing about whether or not to impeach, the report has gone without comment.
- I’d Watch That Buddy Cop Movie. Per their agreement on Twitter, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ted Cruz are teaming up to take on a common Congressional retirement plan that invites conflicts of interest. (That’s definitely the most 2019 I’m going to type this week, by the way.) The practice they’re trying to curb is former lawmakers accepting paid lobbying positions upon leaving Congress, which is currently legal but invites good ol’ boy networks that aren’t really in constituent interest. It’s also a practice that is disturbingly common at the moment — nearly two-thirds of incumbents who left after the midterm election in 2018 went on to lobby for pay. I’m tentatively very excited about this even though it’s also very strange!
- Full of Freedom Gas.* In this week’s We Straight Up Live in 1984 news, the Department of Energy issued a press release that referred to natural gas as “freedom gas” and “molecules of U.S. freedom.” For folks playing the home game, natural gas is still a fossil fuel, and as such, contributes significantly to climate change problems. Unless we’re talking about all being free to die here in fifty years, this is not exactly an apt pet name for it.
- Frightening Foreign Affairs (Immigration Edition).* This week’s immigration news was a new low, and managed to end in a trade standoff. First there was the news coming out of CBP facilities on the border, which mostly involved aggressive overcrowding of families, including children, in tent cities for far longer than is legal to hold them. News also broke that the U.S. is now officially looking at the social media of visa applicants before deciding whether they can visit the country. Then, finally, we all sat and watched Trump’s hate-on for immigration impact world trade, because his new thing is blanket tariffs for Mexico on account of asylum seekers. (You get a tariff! And you get a tariff! He’s like the world’s worst Oprah.) This is gonna mess with our trade agreements on a grand scale, and also isn’t likely to result in fewer asylum seekers, which is probably why he capped off the week by trying to make it harder to claim asylum again. The most recent attempt is denying everybody waiting in Mexico because he made them wait in Mexico, and it’s just as likely to be found illegal as the last three attempts.
- Heartbeat Bill Hell Continues. The heartbeat bill trend we’ve been tracking for a few weeks now had further developments this week, and this time the Supreme Court is involved (though thankfully, not in an ‘overturning Roe v. Wade’ kind of way — yet). The court partially punted on Indiana’s abortion law, ignoring the part about not being allowed to get abortions based on the fetus’s sex or disability. But they heard and upheld the part requiring clinics to cremate or bury fetal remains, and Thomas wrote a whole love letter to overturning Roe v. Wade in his concurrence. Meanwhile, Missouri finalized its heartbeat bill, and so did Louisiana. And Missouri was also the site of a bitter battle to keep the last remaining abortion clinic in the state from being forced to close its doors — and that fight isn’t over, so we need to keep an eye on it.
- In Shocking Turn of Events, Census Question was Racist. The 2020 census citizenship question was in the news this week after it came out that a famous gerrymandering guru suggested it to the administration and even ghostwrote part of the DOJ request for it. And, because everybody in this administration says the quiet part out loud, he literally said it would benefit white people and Republicans while suggesting it. Needless to say, this news will impact the ongoing legal battle about whether the question was racist, and we should keep an eye on that.
- Tragedy in Virginia.* There was another mass shooting this weekend, this time in a municipal office in Virginia Beach. The gunman was a former employee who resigned just before he began shooting, and he left twelve people dead — eleven of whom were former colleagues.
- Recent State Resilience. The silver alloy lining of the heartbeat bill news above is that several states have taken action to protect reproductive rights in response. In the last couple of weeks, Illinois, Nevada, and Vermont have all passed laws protecting reproductive healthcare, and it’s a relief to see states taking legislation in the opposite direction.
So that’s what I have for this week, and I’m sorry, there are no refunds. For making it through, you deserve this story about history found in a kitchen drawer and this video of otters playing with Labrador retrievers. And also 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!