After a zillion years of Bad News Bears, I’m just not sure what to do with the mostly-weird-and-somewhat-good news cycle I have in front of me this week. It’s like watching it rain fish after weeks and weeks of drought — sure, you were planning to make fish stew tonight, but what just happened? And is that fish even safe to eat?
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 tax collector! — 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 week had only one real instance of Casual Disregard of Governing Norms. That said, that one instance was pretty concerning. Here’s the deal:
Mueller Protection Process. The Senate is still fighting about a Mueller Protection Bill, with McConnell publicly stating we don’t need it and other Republicans publicly stating they’ll force a committee vote, at the very least. As fun as it is to watch McConnell’s own party go turtle-hunting, the Mueller protection bill is pretty serious, so here’s hoping it reaches the floor. The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote at the beginning of this week, so we’ll likely see more developments on this front in the near future.
Your Apparently Weekly Sex Scandal Update. There’s still a lot of white noise on the sex scandal fronts, which I’m guessing is an intentional effort on Stormy Daniels’ part — though honestly, there are worse things in the world than making people continue to care about this lawsuit. Ex-Playboy model Karen McDougal settled her contract case and now can talk about things to her heart’s content. Meanwhile, Stormy Daniels has offered $100,000 to anyone who can use a forensic sketch to identify the man she says threatened her in 2011. Since those aren’t exactly super accurate, she’s probably trying to keep the publicity ball rolling rather than expecting results. But she says she now has 1,500 leads, so it’s successful on at least one front so far.
Michael Cohen Updates. Things are a mess for Michael Cohen after his spectacular cascading failures in court last week. There’s lots of speculation that he’ll flip on Trump, his attempt to delay the Stormy Daniels suit failed when the judge refused paperwork filed on his behalf, and everything else going on forced him to drop thedefamation suits against BuzzFeed and FusionGPS. Gosh, it’s so sad when legal systems function properly.
Confirmation Biases. Jim Bridenstine, non-scientist NASA nominee extraordinaire, was confirmedalong party lines this week. Since Bridenstine didn’t even enjoy full Republican support at first, this is not exactly good news. And speaking of flipping Republicans, we can thank Rand Paul for Pompeo’s progression to the full Senate floor, since he flipped only minutes before committee vote after refusing to endorse him as Secretary of State. That one is not yet finalized, though, because the full Senate has yet to vote. So here’s hoping.
Waffle House Shooting. Four people were killed in Nashville when an assailant with an AR-15 started shooting up a Waffle House. The shooter was apprehended today and is in police custody, although he is not cooperating with questioning. Needless to say, this is the latest in a deeply upsetting and ongoing trend of gun violence in public places, and the whole country mourns another senseless tragedy.
Recent Court Resilience (Part 1). There has been an incredible uptick in court-related resilience in the last week — so much so, in fact, that I’m separating the stories into suits and court opinions. On the law suit side, the DNC made major news this week when it filed a lawsuit alleging Russia, Wikileaks, and the Trump campaign conspired to disrupt the 2016 election. I admit I wasn’t sure what remedies they were seeking when I first read this, particularly because the 66-page complaint alleges everything from copyright infringement to RICO conspiracy to trespass to misappropriation of trade secrets. But apparently, the DNC was successful with this technique in the aftermath of Watergate, so there’s precedent for it. Meanwhilie, Sandy Hook parents are suing Alex Jonesfor defamation after he claimed that the sentinel tragedy never happened and they were crisis actors. I honestly hope they take him to the cleaners, because casting doubt on their horrific lived experience is utterly heartless.
So that’s what I have for now, and I’m going to enjoy the relative respite while it lasts before the dumpster fire starts back up again. I’ll catch you next week, and if you need anything before then, feel free to ping the National News Roundup ask box — send me questions! Send me feedback! Send me fire extinguishers!
You know, when I watched Captain Planet as a small person, I had a reasonable expectation that I would not grow up and become governed by cartoonishly inept and morally bankrupt Saturday Morning villains like Hoggish Greedly, Looten Plunder, and Zarm. And yet I read the news this week and think, well, here we are.
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 Planeteer! — 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 the Russia Collusion Investigation front this week, and most of it is absolutely wild in one way or another. Here’s a nuts-and-bolts summary:
Garbage Truck Collision. In this week’s truly weird (and sad) news, an Amtrak train carrying a bunch of GOP lawmakers collided with a garbage truck this week. It says something about my friends, the GOP, and the past year that nearly everyone I know had the same reaction to the breaking news: “Is the garbage truck okay?” And the sad news is that it wasn’t; though there were no major injuries on the train, the collision resulted in six injuries and one fatality among the crew on garbage truck’s side.
Bills to Watch. There are a couple of different bills I suggest watching between now and Thursday, when the government may or may not shut down again. The first is a bipartisan immigration bill introduced by Senators McCain and Coons today, which — props to them — appears to be a mostly clean bill with no funding for a wall, increased interior ICE enforcement, or any other bonkers provisions (beyond increasing security at the border itself, which is not ideal but is unfortunately realistic). Naturally, the lack of utterly irrational and xenophobic provisions means that Trump is already badmouthing the bill, implying that the bipartisan group would need a veto-proof majority for this bill to go anywhere. The other important bill to track is the Mueller protection bill, which similarly appears likely to split Congressdown the middle as well. But given the utterly crackerjacks circus around Releasing the Memo, it’s not a safe bet that this is an issue actually dividing the country — in fact, polls show that the majority of Americans understand how important it is that Mueller have protection to do his job. So we’ll have to see who prevails on that, unfortunately, and hopefully all the news in the Russia Investigation column will make legislators more cautious.
Immigration Updates. There was a lot more immigration news this week, and the best I can say is that some of it is mixed rather than abjectly bad. There was another ICE sweep at places of business this week, which seems to be a new recurrent theme; 77 businesses in northern California were raided by ICE for their employment records. The companies were given three days to produce records. Meanwhile, ICE also announced an official courthouse policy, which can be approximately summarized as “damn right we’re going to arrest people at their criminal court dates, that’s like the easiest way to find immigrants we know.” (They did say, however, that they will generally not arrest family members or arrest in civil matters, at least according to their policy.) In slightly gentler news, the Department of Homeland Security decided to extend Syrian TPS for another eighteen months this week as well, but simultaneously announced that no new enrollment would be permitted despite (or perhaps because of) the desperate circumstances in Syria. As a result, the 6,900 people who were granted TPS and have remained in the United States since October 2016 — in other words, before Trump was allowed to touch anything — are protected as long as they don’t leave; the millions of displaced people seeking to enter the United States are out of luck.
Environmental Infractions “R” Us. We haven’t focused on environmental infractions in a while here at the roundup, and that is an oversight because I assure you, there are several — though today’s updates really just boil down to “Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke continues to be The Actual Worst Human Being.” Some of the highlights that prompted today’s Captain Planet comparison: a) misappropriating wildlife funds to pay for a helicopter tour; b) planning to drill in some off-shore locations and not others for the extremely technical reason that Well They Aren’t Florida; c) repealing fracking regulations designed to preserve health and safety on publicly owned lands; d) launching an expensive overhaul of his department that has been criticized as “more like a dismantling than a reorganization,” and e) retaliating against whistleblowers in his department (which is super illegal, in case anyone was curious). And speaking of things legal challenges to sketchy behavior, several state attorneys general are threatening to sue him over the arbitrary offshore drilling decisions; California is suing him over the fracking decision as well. I should probably start a running count, because I doubt those will be the last lawsuits of his tenure.
Chatty Orca. Scientists in France taught an orca whale to repeat human speech, getting her to say the words ‘hello,’ ‘Amy,’ and ‘one, two, three.’ I recognize that this isn’t actually national news in any sense of the term; I just figured that after the Zinke section, you might enjoy hearing news about biology that didn’t end in tears. Keep up the good work, Wikie!
And that’s all the news that I have for now; I think we all agree that it’s more than enough! I’m still holding out hope for a good news cycle, which we most emphatically did not experience this week. But either way, I’ll be back next week with more news, lovingly seasoned with snarky sardony.
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:
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.
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.
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!