This week started out really rough and ended up really strange — we had a lot of very traumatic and troubling events in the earlier half of the week, but by the end of the weekend Trump was taking credit for inventing the word “fake.” It’s sort of like being stuck in a horror movie where the killer stabs someone on Monday and then comes back on Friday to ask the survivors “What’s the deal with soap?” (Also, I know the news cycle has practically become minute-by-minute these days, but this is ridiculous.)
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 a lot of detailed analysis that’s outside my expertise — I’m a lawyer, not a football player! — 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:
The Russia Collusion Investigation saw a lot of movement this week:
- But Her Emails (Take 2).* More information came to light on last week’s White House Aide Private Server story, and none of it is great. There was apparently a third email address on a private server that both Jared and Ivanka used (and failed to report using) while working as aides. This is understandably not thrilling Democrats — House rep Elijah Cummings is asking for a formal FBI review, and fellow reps Ted Lieu and Don Beyer wrote to White House counsel Don McGahn to request their clearance be revoked. Then, just for extra cake icing, the story broke that Ivanka Trump narrowly avoided a criminal indictment in 2012 when a Trump attorney convinced the New York District Attorney to drop the case. So that all happened.
- Senate Findings.* The Senate Intelligence Committee announced its findings this past week, which is probably the biggest non-story to happen since the last update. Though mostly the committee simply announced that the investigation was ongoing, they did emphasize that they trust the conclusions of interference announced by the CIA and that Russian interference in American elections is likely to be ongoing as well.
- Facebook, Google, and Mueller (Oh My).* A grab bag of other random stuff also happened this week! We learned a bit more about the role of social media in the election, more specifically that Google also aired the ads and that Russia targeted specific states with its social media misinformation campaign (though Facebook won’t release specifics because of the Mueller investigation). And speaking of Mueller, he’s been very busy; his team is investigating the reach of the Presidential pardon, hoping to preempt any kind of preemptive shenanigans, and met with the author of the infamous “pee tape” dossier (not that official news outlets are willing to call it that). Meanwhile, experts connecting dots are starting to see a pretty sketchy picture.
We also are still in a stalemate on the Threat to Free Speech front:
- Trump Still Hates Sports. The bizarre battle between our President and the NFL continues for yet another week, with Mike Pence walking out of a game he conveniently decided to attend because players on the other team protested during the anthem (or, more accurately, because Trump told him to). By the way, as Slate notes, the political stunt cost taxpayers over $200,000, and that kind of publicly-funded race-baiting by a Presidential administration is completely unprecedented as well as a gross misuse of taxpayer funds. Basically, it’s an intentional and ongoing Presidential move to chill free expression that I’m tired of talking about even though it remains incredibly important that we pay attention to it.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- House is Bad at Balancing Budgets.* The House narrowly passed a budget resolution this past week, and it’s exactly as terrible as you might expect. Major priorities appear to be cuts to entitlement programs, increased spending for the military, and an overhaul of the tax system to benefit wealthy taxpayers. That said, this resolution is far from codified law, particularly because the Senate’s drafting process is looking very different than the House’s, and the two legislative bodies ultimately have to agree on the same bill. The tax cuts are likely to raise the deficit significantly, which makes them unpopular with both some fiscal conservatives and most Democrats. We’ll need to keep watching and see what comes out of the Senate in the near future.
- The Trump Show Continues. The Trump Administration Reality Show was particularly strange this week, especially towards the end of the week. The brightest gem in the collection was definitely Trump claiming he made up the word ‘fake,’ which I can’t even begin to guess about (though you have to admit, he does kind of redefine the term). But that bizarre behavior had lots of friends — there was also Trump’s absurd decision to pick a fight with Republican Senator Bob Corker, which is going to hurt him in at least three different ways politically (in addition to Corker’s incredible tea-sipping commentary and impromptu tell-all interview). And just to cap out an already deeply weird week, there’s now a three-way fight happening about who is the true First Lady of this administration, leaving Andy Cohen — the producer of ‘Real Housewives’ fame — to tweet that “Even I AM SPEECHLESS.”
- Rex Tillerson Holds a Press Conference About Saying What We’re All Thinking. After news broke that Rex Tillerson called Trump a ‘moron’ at a Pentagon meeting and considered resigning over the summer, Tillerson and Friends ended up holding a press conference — and merely addressed the idea that he was about to resign, leaving whether he actually disparaged Trump’s intelligence as an exercise for the reader. Though some of the press were speculating that he might be another Friday Firing faux-resignation, Tillerson appears content to stay in his post until Trump literally fires him.
- Tim Murphy Scandal Unfolds Like It’s 1998. Pennsylvania rep and All Around Slimeball Tim Murphy landed in hot water this week, when news broke that he was pressuring his mistress to have an abortion after she became pregnant with his child. Though he initially claimed he would simply not seek re-election, eventually he folded to mounting pressure and agreed to resign more promptly. Between someone actually being forced to resign over immoral choices and the whole thing taking weeks (rather than hours) to unfold, it was a very nostalgic sort of scandal!
- Trump Went to Puerto Rico and it was the Actual Worst. Trump did end up taking a trip to Puerto Rico on Tuesday, which ended up being an odyssey of blatant mischaracterizations, surreal t-shirt-cannon style paper-towel launching, and countless offensive and tactless comments — but not very much actual help. After it was over, FEMA removed statistics about how much of the region has power and water (which, according to an official Puerto Rican website, is about 15% power and 55% water respectively, in case anyone was curious). Meanwhile, it’s unclear whether Congress will provide more aid to the island, which is still sorely needed post-visit. Though government responses have been sluggish, several nonprofit entities have been working tirelessly; I’ll write more about that below.
- Trans Rights Should be Civil Rights. Sessions reversed course on another Obama-era protection this week, this time on a directive clarifying that gender expression is covered under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The directive gave protection against workplace discrimination for transgender Americans, which has effectively been removed; it’s realistic for trans Americans to expect that workplace discrimination based on their gender expression has effectively become legal again. The Sessions memo made it clear that this would be the Department position on all legal issues related to sex moving forward. Ordinarily I would put a pithy statement here, but I’m still really mad about it, so I’ll content myself with saying that it is not ideal.
- Trump’s Alarming Non-Diplomacy with North Korea.* Trump continued his disturbing gambit with North Korea this week, saying that Tillerson was “wasting his time” on diplomacy. Meanwhile, Russia is apparently claiming North Korea has missiles that can reach the west coast of the US, and Trump referred to this week as “the calm before the storm” but wouldn’t say more about what that meant (though it was probably in reference to either North Korea or abandoning the Iran nuclear deal, which he’s expected to do next week). Though Ted Lieu opined publicly (and probably accurately) this week that Trump has “no strategy on North Korea,” Trump did tell military leaders this week that “our goal is denuclearization.” Hopefully he doesn’t intend to achieve that by goading Kim Jong-un into chucking his entire arsenal at us.
- Continuing UN Embarrassment. The United States joined twelve other UN countries this week in refusing to condemn the death penalty for certain kinds of conduct — namely, apostasy, blasphemy, adultery and consensual same-sex relations — when the penalty is applied in a discriminatory manner. The resolution passed anyway, by a sound majority of 27 to 12. What we did support was a failed amendment by Russia asserting that the death penalty was “not necessarily a human rights violation.” ‘Murrica.
- What Is Even Happening in the EPA.* News broke this week (well, for some definitions of ‘broke’) that Pruitt does many things that hurt the credibility and functionality of the EPA, such as spending lots of time with industry executives and spending agency funds on questionable things such as frequent travel to his home state and a $25,000 phone booth (yes, really). But Trump managed to one-up himself with his pick for deputy director, who is a literal coal lobbyist. As in, “he was registered as a lobbyist two months ago.” What’s particularly noteworthy about this pick is that Bannon is no longer advising Trump and yet his nominations look identical to when he was — either Bannon actually does still have Trump’s ear, or Trump hates the EPA so much that he doesn’t need to have any kind of deconstructionist agenda to actively try to destroy it.
- NRA-Approved Gun Control Reform.* In the wake of the Vegas tragedy, Senator Feinstein introduced a bill this week that would ban bump stocks, which are a form of gun modification that allows a semi-automatic weapon to function as a rapid-fire automatic firearm. A similar bill is anticipated in the House this week as well. Though this is far from a complete guarantee of public safety, it has the rare distinction of being a restriction favored by the NRA — my cynical guess is that the association has its own reasons for not favoring weapon modifications, but at the moment I’m just grateful that the restriction is likely to go forward.
- Outpouring for Puerto Rico. Though Puerto Rico is still in rough shape, and it’s unclear whether Congress will act further to help, the call is being answered by a lot of different entities. As Lin-Manuel Miranda notes, the Hispanic Federation is doing a lot of excellent work getting first responders on the ground in affected areas. The Royal Caribbean cruise line has been sending supplies and evacuating people. Florida has opened three disaster aid centers for displaced Puerto Ricans. Feeding Children Everywhere is sending 4.4 million meals in the next few weeks. The governor of Illinois has offered assistance from the Illinois Coast Guard. The USNS Comfort arrived on Tuesday, bringing thousands of beds and medical supplies. MoveOn.org has a national fundraising effort, and Pat Rothfuss’s nonprofit, Worldbuilders, teamed up with Mercy Corps to fundraise and coordinate relief as well. Though none of these things can take the place of more comprehensive federal government action, they all reflect the efforts and sentiment of a nation that stands with its fellow citizens. I continue to encourage folks to do what they can to help, either with one of the above efforts or through other means.
And that’s what I have, in all its terrible and deeply strange glory. Daily news summaries like WTFJHT remain a very good idea for the foreseeable future. Here’s hoping that next week brings better tidings!