We have a number of unpleasant stories swirling around this week, and it feels like we’re somehow getting worse but staying stagnant at the same time. It’s a bit of a neat trick, and I would find it impressive, if I weren’t so busy being frustrated.
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 post office!–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 Corner:
On the Disregard of Governing Norms front, we have yet another week of Operation Terrible and overall administrative mishandling. Here are the things to know:
- Portland Pressure Persists. After an unnecessary amount of back-and-forth about it, Trump did withdraw federal troops from Portland towards the end of the past week. But after they left, news broke that DHS was compiling “intelligence reports” on journalists who reported on the conflict, and analyzed protester communications as well. The official in charge of that has since been reassigned–but, notably, not fired–and Trump was already threatening to send in the National Guard on the first day of the phase-out, so this may be a brief respite. Meanwhile, protests in Portland continue, but have refocused on local police activity.
- Barr Testimony. Attorney General William Barr testified before Congress on Tuesday, and it went about as well as you might expect. He defended administrative actions in Portland, calling the protests “an assault on government of the United States” and claiming Operation Legend had nothing to do with Portland but was rather just a completely normal mobilization of federal forces “to solve crimes and keep their communities safe.” He also covered the 2016 election, refusing to condemn solicitation of foreign assistance and calling the House investigation a “bogus ‘Russiagate’ scandal” that involved “grave abuses.” And finally, he covered the Stone case, claiming that his own prosecutors were “not [following] the rule of law” when recommending seven to nine years–which, I feel the need to note, was literally the federal sentencing guideline recommendation. I’m certainly not the biggest fan of federal sentencing guidelines, but Barr’s willingness to commit brazen perjury when literally discussing prosecution for perjury is pretty stunning. If nothing else, it definitely showcases an incredible disregard for governing norms.
- Trump’s Election Idea. There was a lot of election-related news this week, and much of it belongs in the “normal” weird below. But I would be remiss if I didn’t include a paragraph here about Trump’s incredible tweet on Tuesday, which appeared to sincerely float the idea of postponing the November election. Needless to say, he lacks legal authority to do this, as that date is set by Congress (a fact which Mike Pompeo appears confused about as well). Needless to say, nobody in Congress wanted to touch that suggestion, and ordinary citizens weren’t too happy either. After doubling down on the idea once, the administration did walk this one back. I’ve heard a lot of people speculate that the entire thing may have been intended to distract from economic news which broke the same day, but we should definitely keep an eye on this either way.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- Election Oddities (Again). In addition to the nonsense chronicled above, we had a lot of weird election news this week about mail-in voting–in fact, Trump’s arguments about election fraud caused by mail-in voting have Republicans worried about voter turnout. People are also worried about the recent Postal Service changes, which I documented last week, causing backlogs for ballot delivery. Meanwhile, Trump did plenty of other weird and obnoxious things this week, such as promising suburban voters on Twitter that they “will no longer be bothered by . . . low-income housing”, threatening to sue Nevada for sending everybody mail-in ballots, and pulling television ads from Michigan with three months left in his campaign. (Before we get too excited about that last one, the New York Times points out that he has plenty of pathways to victory that don’t involve the state, and he’s also still doing door-to-door and digital advertising.)
- State of the COVID-19.* COVID news continues to spiral further and further down the toilet for another week. Kodak–yes, the camera company–saw a jump in trade activity ahead of an announcement that they were receiving a giant government loan to make COVID treatments like hydroxychloroquine. (For those of you playing the home game, yes, that’s the same drug Trump loves that is widely discredited as causing heart problems.) NPR also reported irregularities in the contract awarded to track COVID data. Meanwhile, the body of data itself shows a devastating second wave, with experts noting more dissemination than in March and April, seven-day averages staying high at about 65,000 new cases, and multiple runs of over 1,000 deaths per day. Additionally, new research suggests that children can be carriers of COVID-19, and one of the first school districts to reopen had to quarantine someone within hours of opening.
- Economic News.* Adding to frustration, reopening the country too quickly didn’t even stabilize our economy, which was ostensibly the whole reason to risk it. Unemployment is still rising, and it doesn’t help anything that Congress couldn’t reach a deal before supplemental COVID unemployment supports expired on Friday. But the real story is that our economy had its worst second-quarter GDP ever, dropping 32.9% on an annualized basis. It’s not clear what will happen in the third quarter, but this news is very bad–so bad, in fact, that some people theorized Trump tweeted about election postponement to distract from it.
- Immigration Updates. We also had a weird, bad week on immigration news. The White House announced they will not be accepting DACA applications, despite the recent SCOTUS decision finding the program wasn’t legally terminated, so we’re all sort of waiting to see what happens on that one. Meanwhile ICE is complaining about their Netflix series, which launched today and accurately depicts, y’know, how bad they are. And rounding out the bad news, a new immigration application fee schedule goes into effect this week which dramatically increases the cost of many applications and imposes asylum fees for the first time ever.
- Recent Twitter Decency. After many years of frustratingly tepid response, Twitter continues to take off the kid gloves when it comes to irresponsible or hate-based communications. First they penalized Trump Jr for spreading COVID misinformation, creating twelve hours of “limited functionality.” Then they permanently banned white supremacist David Duke, which they honestly should have done eleven years ago, but it’s at least a step in the right direction to take away the KKK guy’s platform.
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 talking seal breakthrough and an eventual better government. I’ll be back next week with more (and hopefully more tolerable) 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 favorite animal videos!