Hello, and welcome to 2023! The last few weeks of the year went much like the rest of 2022 did: There were some wins, some rough moments, and a lot of “what just happened.”
Standard standing reminders still apply: I guess after six years I’m conceding that I’m a journalist, but I summarize news within my areas of expertise. NNR summaries often contain some detailed analysis that’s outside my expertise–I’m a lawyer, not a report!–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!
Cleanup in Aisle 45:
The end of the year remained a relatively frenetic time for Election Rejection news. Here’s what has happened:
- Election Rejection: Winding Down the House (some more). As I forecast before the break, the House committees of 2022 took a number of shots at Trump on their way out the door. The House Ways and Means committee did indeed vote to release Trump’s taxes, which is how we learned that the IRS didn’t follow policy and therefore never audited him during his first two years in office. We also learned that he held foreign bank accounts while President and paid no taxes in 2020. Meanwhile, the January 6 committee released its final 814-page report, as foretold by prophecy. Though much of that information was already public, report highlights include recommending overhauling the Election Count Act and banning Trump permanently from office.
The Biden Rebuilding updates are once again mostly legislative, but they’re nonetheless big news for Biden. Here’s what I have for you:
- Pile of Spending Bill. The biggest news from the Biden administration is definitely the passage of the 2023 fiscal spending bill, which Biden signed into law just before the new year. I’ve been rummaging in its innards for two days now to track the changes to Medicaid and CHIP, but this bill has a mountain of other important stuff stashed in it too. Among the noteworthy provisions: 1) An overhaul of the Election Count Act (as mentioned above) to avoid a repeat of January 6; 2) a federal ban on Tiktok apps for government devices; 3) funding for aid to Ukraine; and 4) a bunch of new rules for retirement savings.
Your New Normal:
- Contagion Corner. We’re experiencing another new dominant COVID subvarient spike, this time XBB.1.5, which the WHO warns is the most transmissible strain we’ve seen to date. This creates extra risk for seniors, though we’ll likely see other major effects as well. On a related note, the CDC reports that U.S. life expectancy has fallen for another year, in part due to the impact of COVID on older populations. Meanwhile, the US is imposing travel restrictions on people from China–which is pretty hypocritical, when we created XBB.1.5 and our COVID transmission rate still dwarfs theirs.
- House Hot Mess. The House of Representatives has been stalled out for the last two days because there’s no new Speaker of the House, which is preventing them from addressing any business. More specifically, the QAnon Caucus has been sticking it to prospective Speaker and garbage human Kevin McCarthy over and over again; as I type this, they’ve managed to keep him from the position for six straight votes and counting. It’s a spite-fueled clown show that didn’t even have a competitor until they coalesced around Jim Jordan somewhere around Vote 3, and by Vote 4 this morning they had moved on to local Florida Man Byron Donalds. Notably, House Democrats have held fast in their support of minority leader Hakeem Jeffries, who has remained the plurality winner every single time. Several of them also brought popcorn with them yesterday, because the lack of a Speaker means there are not yet rules of decorum, so there’s no rule against it.
- Climate Change Catastrophes. Most of the country saw unusually dangerous weather over the holiday week, which messed up water mains, knocked out power, caused a 46-car pileup in Ohio, and killed 40 people in Buffalo. The storm also created a mess for many airlines, but Southwest Airlines stood out as the clear loser in that regard. The company wound up canceling thousands of flights for several days straight due to a combination of weather woes, poor infrastructure, and poor management.
- Reproductive Health Resilience. We saw a major expansion of access for reproductive health over the last few days, when the FDA finalized rules which permit retail pharmacy sale of abortifacient medication. This clears the path for increased telemedicine access, particularly as the DOJ issued an opinion this week that the pills may be legally mailed to recipients in any state under federal law. I’m sure this isn’t the last we’ll see of this rule, but it’s a really meaningful expansion of access and I’m excited about it.
So that’s all I have from the holidays, and here’s hoping it doesn’t get worse. For making it through, you deserve this cat eating a sweet potato and a more functional government. I’ll be back next week with more restructured and improved 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 notes about your tai chi exercises!