The news this week is an exercise in information overload, and most of it is utterly inane and/or terrible. There’s so much information, in fact, that I’m bending my rules slightly and kicking some of the more minor stories out a week in an effort to make this a more manageable maze. I’ll do my best to guide you through it, but bear with me folks; this will be a long one.
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 color guard! — 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:
This was another week with a metric ton of news on All Things Russia, and most of it is absolutely wild in one way or another. Here’s a nuts-and-bolts summary:
- See, This Is Why We Needed Russian Sanctions. Further news broke this past week that Russians successfully hacked U.S. voter systems in multiple states before the 2016 election — not just Illinois, as had been previously reported. Meanwhile, tracking has suggested that Russia is already meddling in the 2018 elections as well, at least according to a report from Rex Tillerson. Tillerson says it’s important to confront Russia about these actions, so we can all sleep safer knowing that Trump keeps refusing to do anything because “the threat of sanctions will be their own deterrent.”
- Trump is the World’s Worst Client. In will-he-or-won’t-he-interview news, Trump keeps claiming he wants to talk to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, despite increasingly inventive attempts at persuasion otherwise from friends and the poor schmoes tasked with representing him. But the likelihood is high that he can’t avoid it anyway, given the legal precedent set by the Supreme Court when Richard Nixon tried to weasel out of providing a copy of his infamous tapes. The best his beleaguered counsel can probably do is set the form of questioning — so they may end up stuck handing him a pen and hoping for the best.
- Trump Power Trip. The past week was, bluntly put, a difficult week for Team I Would Like Some Assurance We’re Not Secretly Russia. First Trump “jokingly” accused Democrats of treason while giving a speech in Ohio, for the extremely compelling reason that they didn’t clap for his meshuga policies during the State of the Union address. Then he followed that one up with literal marching orders, asking the Pentagon for a giant military parade. (It’s an idea he apparently took from France, but it doesn’t feel very Macronesque when it happens the day after he equated failure to clap with treason.) As you can imagine, nobody was especially excited to drop money on a parade because a draft-dodger said so, and Democrats are introducing bills in both the House and Senate to block the millions in funds this would take to implement. Amusingly, the bill title — the PARADE Act — stands for “Preventing the Allocation of Resources for Absurd Defense Expenditures.”
- The Neverending Nunes Efforts.* (Oh-whoa, oh-whoa, oh-whoa…) Apparently I named the headline in an apt way last week, because somehow the Nunes memo saga is still going on. At the beginning of the week, the House Oversight Committee unanimously voted to allow Democrats to release a rebuttal memo — presumably because the Nunes memo itself was so appallingly amateur hour. But by Friday, Trump had blocked the release of the rebuttal, insinuating that he might release it if he gets to decide how much it says (and if that surprises you, you need to read the other headlines in this section again). Meanwhile, Nunes is claiming that the FBI font was too small for him to read, and that’s why his memo is riddled with inconsistencies and and errors. And Politico also broke the news that Russian bots successfully popularized the #ReleaseTheMemo hashtag on our social media as recently as last week. And I became increasingly convinced we’re all in the Bad Place.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- The Amazing Bouncing Dow.* It’s been a very strange week for our economic markets, folks. First the Dow dropped over 1,000 points last Monday, only to gain about half of that back and then drop another 1,000 points on Thursday. The drops are historic in terms of sheer numbers, though the Dow had grown so large that they were less significant in percentage — but they still total nearly half the growth the Dow has experienced since Trump took office. As I understand it, market correction like this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it might mean a serious drop soon, particularly because the conditions mirror those preceding a 24% drop in 1987. At this stage, it’s probably too early to tell, though many analysts are likely more adept at reading these particular tea leaves than I am.
- Porter Portents. White House aide Rob Porter resigned amid multiple allegations of spousal abuse this week, but not before the White House vouched for him multiple times. Despite Trump being among those defending Porter, somehow this is resulting in heat on Chief of Staff John Kelly — perhaps because of mounting evidence that Kelly knew about the abuse and gave him increasing responsibility anyway. That said, he’s also blaming Porter’s current girlfriend, because why not blame a conveniently-placed woman too while we’re at it? Kelly has offered and then unoffered to resign as a result of all of this; I’m torn between yelling “BYE FELICIA” at his potentially-retreating head and worrying about what kind of evil muppet would likely replace him.
- Battling Budgets. After shutting down for a paltry six hours on Friday, Congress did indeed sort itself out on the CR issue. The resulting bill funds the government for another two years, assists the military and a variety of nondefense programs, funds relief efforts, and raises the debt ceiling. (It did not, notably, contain any provisions about DACA.) Against this backdrop, it’s a touch baffling that Trump released his own budget proposal today, after signing the other budget provisions into law on Friday. Just like last year, it’s 160 pages of garbage that threatens to eliminate Big Bird, dramatically reduces access to public benefits, and yet somehow still manages to overspend. Just like last year, Congress isn’t going to touch it — but it does give us a good picture of what the administration might prioritize in the next year. Unfortunately, the benefits piece looks extremely likely to come up soon; more on that below.
- Immigration Updates. At this rate, this section is just going to become a permanent fixture in the ‘bad’ column, because we seem to get more bad immigration news every week. This week’s news is another leaked regulation draft suggesting that it’s not safe for immigrants to access any public benefits, lest they be labeled a ‘public charge’ and denied permanent residence. As some advocacy groups point out, there are already rules in place limiting access to public benefits in the country; the proposed draft would extend those rules more indefinitely and apply them to parents seeking benefits for citizen children. This news comes alongside reports of people with valid lawful permanent residence claims being arrested by ICE when they report for their interview process, which is heartless, very unusual, and probably not legal; ICE is also now being sued for targeting activists in their arrest practices. Although, frankly, it kind of looks like ICE is just targeting literally everybody.
- Benefits Beatdown. Trump’s disturbing budgetary vision statement has a lot of people worried about a lot of potential policy changes for public benefits. In addition to the public charge issue outlined above, there’s also a threat to create a work requirement for public housing (which happened fairly recently with Medicaid, and also with food aid, making this a very realistic possibility). There’s also a threat of creating lifetime benefit caps for Medicaid recipients, which is both a terrible idea and similarly plausible, and a threat to remove food choices from SNAP recipients. Advocates and activists in both housing and health fields are bustling, and I’m sure I’ll have more information and suggestions soon.
- Unhealthy Healthcare. There was a lot of messed-up health news this week, so it’s as good a time as any for a summary. Trump nominated his current deputy chief of staff to be our new drug czar (yes, that’s a real title), continuing his weird trend of promoting his own staff to executive positions. Unfortunately, the man’s qualifications (other than “loyal to Donald Trump”) have yet to be seen — literally the only experience the man has regarding drugs is prosecuting people over them, and Trump’s moving the position’s oversight to the Department of Justice, which is a really bad sign. And speaking of prosecuting, there’s now a probe into insurance giant Aetna’s claim processing practices after a former medical director admitted under oath that they didn’t review medical records when denying claims — basically the industry equivalent of driving through town with your eyes shut and letting intuition tell you when to turn left. But, on the plus side, Purdue Pharma (purveyor of OxyContin, though you’re excused for thinking of basketball or chickens) has announced it will stop promoting opioids in light of the current epidemic — definitely because people are dying, and not because of the several state and municipal lawsuits filed to make them stop. And the Trump administration may or may not tackle rising drug prices. And last but not least, though you probably knew this already, the flu is uncommonly awful this year (but please get a flu shot anyway!).
- Nancy Pelosi Podium Adventures.* House minority leader Nancy Pelosi spoke for over eight hours on the House floor this week, using her position to create a makeshift filibuster over the lack of DACA progress. In the end, she ran out of things to say, but she did apparently set a new record for time on the House floor — and more importantly, she signaled to all of us that she was keeping Dreamers on her radar. Here’s hoping that translates to some kind of action in the next few weeks.
- New Obama Portraits.* Continuing a contemporary tradition, the National Portrait Gallery unveiled portraits of Barack and Michelle Obama this week. Both of the Obamas picked their own artist for their respective works, resulting in striking and complementary but distinct styles for each portrait. Kehinde Wiley, who created Barack Obama’s portrait, set him in a garden scene full of flowers symbolizing his birthplace, his ancestry, and his political home. Amy Sherald, who created Michelle Obama’s portrait, painted her in abstracted form on linen instead of canvas. Both portraits are beautiful examples of African-American artistry.
- Teamster Sanctuary. About 120,000 Teamsters in New York are organizing to become a “sanctuary union,” giving its members complex training designed to make them certified immigration badasses who know both their rights and everybody else’s. The decision follows an earlier resolution not to assist ICE in rounding up their members, but reflects a decision to escalate after one of their members was deported with no criminal history and green card applications pending.
For once, that isn’t all the news I have for now, but there was just too much of it for me to dump over your heads, Dear Readers. Here’s hoping next week is better, or at least quieter, though with this administration it’s anybody’s guess. At any rate, I’ll see you all soon!