The electoral college voted today, and I can’t get over how uneventful that event was–at the time that I type this, there are no faithless electors and I haven’t heard any reports of violence. Of course, we were hacked by Russia and the attorney general resigned, so there was still plenty of sensational news from the day. But the electoral college, at least, was functional.
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 an electoral college!–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:
Here we go again with yet another round of Election Rejection, as Trump refuses to wind down and the GOP refuses to deal with it. Here’s what I have for you:
- Trumped-Up Election Challenges. As I mentioned above, the electoral college vote today went… exactly how people expected it to, which by this point is deeply unnerving. It’s extra jarring, to be fair, because election challenges abounded the entire week beforehand. Trump asked the Pennsylvania House Speaker to overturn election results there, marking the third state he has pressured to throw out legal election results. Meanwhile, Texas sued to toss out legal election results and two dozen states countersued to stop them. (Within a few days of the suit being filed, the Supreme Court had tossed it out the door with a subtle note to Texas to stay in its own lane, and rejected a case challenging Pennsylvania’s results while it was at it.) While the case was pending, 126 GOP lawmakers urged SCOTUS to throw out election results in support of the Texas suit, and some prominent officials even began alluding to secession. Against that backdrop, it’s hardly surprising that at least one retiring Republican has officially left the party over the matter. Now that the challenge has been tossed, Trump is telling his base to “fight on,” whatever that means, and is still saying the election isn’t over.
- State of Unrest. As an unfortunate corollary to the legal challenges above, we also saw a fair amount of rallies and resulting violence about the election results. In Olympia, Washington, members of the Proud Boys shot counterprotesters on two separate occasions in an eight-day period. Meanwhile, in Washington DC, four people were stabbed and Proud Boys also vandalized several prominent D.C. Black churches. Michigan also reported credible threats of violence ahead of the electoral college vote, although there are no reports of violence at the building today.
That said, we also saw more Original Flavor Disregard of Governing Norms. Here’s what I have for you:
- Goodbye Barr! Apparently I still have some skill with tea leaves, because as I predicted last week Attorney General William Barr did indeed get resigned-slash-fired today. He leaves too late to prevent the execution of Brandon Bernard, but his departure may have implications for the remaining scheduled executions between now and late January. Given his methods of upholding the law while serving included acting as the President’s personal attorney on more than one occasion and lying about the contents of the Mueller report, I can’t imagine much of the country is sad to see him go.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- Unexpected Political Updates. Congress did indeed pass a one-week stopgap measure this week to avoid a shutdown on Thursday, which is to be expected. What was less expected was the veto-proof majority they managed on this year’s defense spending bill so that Trump couldn’t derail it because he’s mad at Twitter. The bill passes during a low point for Trump-military relations, as veterans are currently calling for his Secretary of the VA to resign because of his mishandling of a sexual assault case.
Your New Normal:
- Transition Tidings Continue. After last week’s health-related picks, President-Elect Biden appears to be continuing the trend with this week’s proposed appointments. He announced his pick for head of Veteran’s Affairs today, who is former Obama chief of staff Dennis McDonough. Much like Biden’s pick for head of DHHS, Xavier Becerra, McDonough lacks basic in-field background, and veteran organizations are frustrated by that lack. His pick for Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin, is also a potentially problematic pick, as he hasn’t been retired from the military long enough to be a civilian commander in accordance with federal law. (Austin would, however, be the first Black Secretary of Defense if confirmed, and that part is awesome.) He also proposed new heads of HUD and DOA, Marcia Fudge and Tom Vilsack respectively, and both of those picks look very traditional.
- State of the COVID-19. We continue to have horrifying new records of daily death, infection, and hospitalization counts in this country. Congress is considering another modest relief bill, which first appeared to be enjoying more support than previous efforts, but negotiations looked on the verge of collapse again by Tuesday evening. The FDA did approve the Pfizer vaccine for use–more about that below–but not before Trump threatened to fire the head of the organization because it was taking too long. And Florida police raided the home of a scientist who drew attention to the state’s COVID data manipulation earlier in the summer.
- From Russia, We Think.* News broke over the weekend that several government entities had been hacked, with the security breaches bearing hallmarks of Russian cyberespionage. The attacks also appear tied to a recent attack on FireEye, a cybersecurity company with many government contracts–FireEye reports that the perpetrators stole their own hacking software. Needless to say, Russia spying on our internal emails at the Commerce Department, National Security Council, and Department of Homeland Security for months is, uh, not great news, especially when the head of cybersecurity at DHS was just let go for saying there was no election fraud.
- COVID Vaccine Approved. As I mentioned above, the FDA cleared the Pfizer vaccine on Friday, and the first batch was shipped very quickly; at the time that I type this, the first recipients have already received their first shots. Naturally, people have a lot of questions about how the vaccine works and what we can expect, but this is nonetheless a monumental moment and a bright spot in what promises to be a dark winter.
So that’s what I have for this week, and I think we can agree that it’s more than enough. For making it through, you deserve a puppy for Chanukah 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 news of your Zoom plans!