After weeks of deflection from leadership, we’re officially experiencing a national emergency and (global) pandemic as I write this–and the resulting week was so rough and fast-paced that somebody wrote a We Didn’t Start the Fire verse by Wednesday evening. There’s a lot to track, but we’ll get through it, and I’m here if anybody needs anything.
Standard standing reminders apply: I am no journalist, though I play one in your inbox or browser, so I’m mostly summarizing the news within my area of expertise. NNR summaries often contain some detailed analysis that’s outside my expertise–I’m a lawyer, not a public gathering!–but all offroad adventures are marked with an asterisk. And, of course, for the things that are within my lane, I’m offering context that shouldn’t be considered legal advice. Okay, I think that’s about it for the disclaimers. Onward to the news!
Constitutional Crisis Corners:
We somehow still have Attorney General Overreach this week, despite our continuing state of emergency in most states, which really tells you a lot about this administration’s priorities. Here’s what I have for you this week:
- Attorney General Overreach (Again). Technically William Barr is allowed to do this one, but I’m mad about it anyway: He pulled Jeff Sessions and decided to override immigration court precedent to make judges narrow their definition of ‘torture‘ in immigration cases. As the Washington Post article notes, this particular power is supposed to be a sometimes food, and the Trump administration keep using it over and over to bias precedent against immigrants–especially against immigrants seeking asylum or other forms of humanitarian aid. It’s a concerning pattern, especially against the backdrop of everything else the Department of Justice has been doing.
We also saw a bit of Disregard of Governing Norms, though less than might be expected given the everything going on. Here’s what has happened so far:
- White House Revolving Door. Several more officials have left the White House in the last week or two, including the now-former deputy communications director, Adam Kennedy, and the now-former chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney–though the latter is leaving to become the U.S. special envoy for Northern Ireland. Additionally, more than a third of all Senate-confirmed civilian positions at the Department of Defense are vacant, which is a new high (or a new low, depending on your perspective).
- Tax on Guarding Trump. Trump’s bills to Secret Service officials who stayed in his properties made a resurgence in the news this week. Apparently, the bills were even $157,000 higher than previously reported, totaling more than $628,000 since he took office–much higher rates than other entities were paying for the same rooms, and definitely not the gratis amount the Secret Service is traditionally charged. In other words, Trump dramatically overcharged his own bodyguards for room rentals–people who were only staying at his property in the first place so that they could potentially take a bullet for him–which brings new meaning to the phrase “job dissatisfaction.”
Your “Normal” Weird:
- Super Tuesday (Twice). Boy howdy, a lot has happened since our last update. Though I can’t cover it all, here are the most important highlights to know: Mike Bloomberg did pick up some delegates on Super Tuesday The First, but his performance was very poor overall, and Bloomberg opted to suspend his campaign and endorse Joe Biden by Wednesday morning. Elizabeth Warren snagged some as well, though she did not carry any states, but by Thursday she had opted to drop out as well. The vast majority of delegates went to clear winners Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders; Biden gained 252 and Sanders gained 183. Then several more prominent Democrats endorsed Joe Biden, including Kamala Harris (but notably, not Elizabeth Warren, who declined to endorse any candidate) as we geared up for the following Tuesday’s primaries, which covered six states in a Super Tuesday the Second. With those endorsements, it’s not surprising that Biden took four out of six states to vote. Bernie Sanders did win North Dakota, and Washington has not yet issued an official call. Then on Sunday we had our first two-person debate, since Tulsi Gabbard did not meet standards to qualify, which mostly featured coronavirus discussion but did include Biden’s intent to pick a female Vice President.
- Governing in the Time of Coronavirus. We’re already starting to see changes in the election process as a result of the pandemic, and many of them are quite striking. Both Ohio and Georgia have already postponed their presidential primaries, which were scheduled for mid- and late March. The debate on Sunday was also the first to lack a live audience, with only only moderators and candidates in attendance. The Supreme Court also postponed oral arguments for the first time in over a hundred years, creating uncertainty about the schedule for the year’s cases. In contrast, most federal government workers are still expected at their offices as I type this on Monday.
- Coronavirus Crisis Lead-In. It’s very surreal to realize the gap between our last NNR, when the U.S. first saw community transmission, and today, when we now have documented cases in 49 states. Suffice to say the watched pot definitely boiled, though it took a while for anybody to act on it. Trump initially continued to deny anything was truly wrong, shaking hands publicly and ordering officials to classify all meetings discussing coronavirus privately. Though an initial coronavirus bill authorizing $8.3B in state emergency spending did make it through legislative process, a subsequent coronavirus response bill stalled out in part because the GOP wanted more abortion restrictions added to the bill (and I seriously cannot make this stuff up). We also continued to have major issues with access to tests, especially as compared to other affected countries, so it was hard to get accurate numbers of infection. By Wednesday, the World Health Organization had officially classified COVID-19 as a pandemic, the market was beginning to tank, and action was no longer avoidable.
- Going the Social Distance. When Trump started acknowledging things were wrong, it was almost worse than his denial–his first decisive action on COVID-19 was to declare another travel ban, causing considerable panic. (In true 45 fashion, it turned out he also incorrectly summarized his own order, leaving his acting Secretary of Homeland Security to correct the record.) By Friday, he declared a national emergency, a necessary step to free up funds in many states and expedite testing (which did indeed appear to improve after that). By the time that I type this on Monday evening, most experts as well as the administration are encouraging social distancing and discouraging public gatherings. No matter where you live, it’s a good idea to read up on preventing spread of infection and responding to an existing case of COVID-19.
- Market Volatility.* In apparent response to the coronavirus crisis, the stock marketcontinued to fluctuate throughout the week, temporarily appearing to recover only to plunge again on Wednesday when coronavirus was declared a pandemic. From there, stocks continued to fall, and the economic impact of social distancing will likely cause ripple effects throughout our country as well. The Federal Reserve has slashed interest rates to zero in an attempt to combat some of the worst of it, but we’ll need to continue to watch this as the pandemic develops.
- Harvey Weinstein Sentenced. The Harvey Weinstein trial came to a close this week, with a judge sentencing him to 23 years in prison for multiple counts of forcible rape. The sentence was issued despite his apparent attempt to leverage connections to mitigate his exposure, which is a striking statement about the momentum the #MeToo movement has gained since its inception.
- Recent Resilience Grab Bag. It’s a bit of a bleak week all told, but I do have a few minor tales from the resistance for you. A federal judge took an opportunity to publicly criticize William Barr this week, calling his public statements about the Mueller report “distorted” and “misleading.” Social media began pushing back against Trump’s posts, as Twitter flagged a video as ‘manipulated media’ and Facebook removed Trump re-election ads because they created confusion around the official U.S. census. And finally, House Democrats asked the D.C. circuit to reconsider its recent decision about enforcing subpoenas, noting that the current situation may force them to arrest high-level officials.
So that’s what I have for this week, and I’m sorry, there are no news refunds. For making it through, you deserve this modern (cat-based) take on famous paintings 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 less confusing national news!