You know, occasionally people will remark on how I’m able to stare into the news void so much without getting jaded, and I don’t know what they mean — but then I look at a dog and pony show like this past week’s media circus and I’m somehow still amazed by how Extra it is. So I guess y’all have a point. (That said, I’m not sure if that’s a comment on my resilience, on 45’s smoke and mirrors, or both. It’s probably both.)
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 Twitter tantrum! — 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:
After a few weeks of quiet, we saw some significant movement on the Russia Investigation this week. Here’s what I have for you:
- Investigation News Redux.* The House decided this week to hold William Barr and Wilbur Ross in criminal contempt of Congress. It’s a move full of sound and fury but likely signifying nothing, since there likely won’t be any real-world consequences for it. Meanwhile, Roger Stone was banned from social media entirely because his judge was so annoyed that he kept refusing to comply with his gag rule. And more evidence surfaced that Trump was directly involved in all stages of the Stormy Daniels payments, suggesting that Hope Hicks lied to Congress on the subject — but no new charges will apparently be forthcoming.
- Al Green Goes Rogue. Rep. Al Green filed articles of impeachment this week due to Trump’s recent racist statements about the House Squad (which I’ll cover in more depth below). Given Pelosi’s objection, it’s not surprising that the House ended up tabling the articles — but some congress critters who support impeachment took Pelosi’s side because they want to hear Mueller’s testimony on Wednesday first and fold that information in. So we may see a return to this topic after that happens.
There was mostly just one gigantic story on the Disregard of Governing Norms front, but it’s quite a saga. Here’s what happened:
- Trump Racism Rodeo Continues. After last week’s aggressively racist twitter rant against ‘The Squad,’ Trump and some of his fellow Republicans doubled down multiple times in an ongoing ball-and-shell game where, as far as I can tell, the ball was either his ties to Epstein or the Squad’s actual point about the camps. First Kellyanne Conway asked a journalist to define his ethnicity before she would answer his question. Then the House eventually censured Trump over his statements by a party line vote, but not before holding a vote about whether Pelosi was allowed to call Trump’s racist comments ‘racist’ on the House floor. Trump responded by making (planned) further racist statements about Omar at a rally, which led to a crowd chanting, “Send her back!” for a full thirteen seconds. Trump defended the crowd’s chanting while a whole bunch of Republicans decried Democrats as antisemitic or launched into overtly racist and violent remarks. Meanwhile, Mike Pence and Mitch McConnell refused to directly answer questions about racism (in McConnell’s case, regarding his own wife, who is an immigrant of color). Then Trump put a bunch more antisemitic words in the Squad’s collective mouths and we all got Racism Bingo.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- Epstein Horrorshow Continues. Jeffrey Epstein continued to be in the news this week, despite Trump’s best efforts otherwise, for everything from his relationship with Trump to the weirdly permissive (and sometimes gross) practices of jail staff the last time he was held. By the end of the week, he was asking for bail to be set, presumably on the assumption that his judge hadn’t yet heard the seven different ways the man’s an obvious flight risk. (It turned out the judge had, though, because his request for bail was denied.)
- Rand Paul Refuses. Rand Paul was in the news this week because he more-or-less single-handedly blocked a bill to fund workers’ compensation for 9/11 first responders — which, disturbingly enough, is not the most abjectly callous thing I’m gonna type this week. The block is temporary, but the latest in a long line of delays for survivors of the 9/11 attacks, some of whom passed away from hazard-induced cancer before the first vote. It’s a sad low from a government full of sad lows, even though it’s only a temporary setback, and I hope the remaining survivors are given compensation soon.
- Even More Hellish Immigration News. Just like literally every other week, immigration news this week has established new lows. The latest is that Trump is considering refusing all refugee applications for FY20; is changing questions on the U.S. citizenship exam; and plans to dramatically expand the practice of fast-tracked deportations that skip immigration court entirely. Meanwhile, CBP was in the news for literally telling a three-year-old girl with a heart condition to pick which parent gets to stay in the U.S. while her family’s asylum claim is pending. But in more positive news, the ACLU has already filed a lawsuit on the proposed rule that would effectively end asylum at the Southern border and has announced they’ll sue over the expedited removal proposal as well. And organized protests have been occurring all over the country, both outside ICE detention facilities and otherwise.
- Title X Gag Rule Goes Into Effect. The Trump administration announced abruptly on Monday that starting now, clinics receiving federal dollars cannot refer women for abortions at all — a proposed rule that is the subject of still-ongoing litigation, but which has been permitted to proceed by a recent appeals court decision. Several states have decided to just stop receiving federal dollars instead of enforcing the gag rule, which means reproductive care will continue as normal in many places. But it’s still frustrating to see this rule go into effect.
- DOJ Fails Eric Gardner. The DOJ was in the news this week for refusing to prosecute the New York officer who negligently killed Eric Gardner in 2014. This news would be frustrating enough on its own, but reporting makes it clear that Attorney General William Barr made the call against the recommendation of his own civil rights division. Needless to say, black lives matter regardless of what Barr has decided about it, but this is a blow to the movement nonetheless.
- Recent Court Resilience. In the wake of national attention after a judge concluded that a defendant in an alleged rape case was “from a good family” and therefore shouldn’t be sentenced, the New Jersey Supreme Court has ordered mandatory training for every judge on the bench. The judge in question has also resigned, and the court similarly recommended the removal of a judge who inappropriately asked a complaining witness in a rape case if she ‘could have closed her legs.’ It’s definitely not the end of the conversation, but it’s promising to see judicial authorities acknowledge that official action is needed to change judicial culture.
- Protests in Puerto Rico. Protests have been going strong in Puerto Rico for multiple days now, as people take to the streets by the thousands to push for their corrupt governor’s resignation after his extremely damning chat messages were leaked last week. Denizens also organized an impeachment committee on Saturday, and yesterday he announced that he won’t run in 2020. But Puerto Ricans want him to resign, and frankly I don’t blame them.
So that’s what I have for this week, and it’s more than enough. For making it through, you deserve these videos of Broadway performers singing in the streets during last week’s blackout and an eventual better government. I’ll be back next week with more (and hopefully better) 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 your completed bingo card to win a prize!