National News Roundup: Week 10 (March 26–April 1)

I have to admit, I’m pretty impressed by how much the news just continues to escalate every week — we’re ten weeks in, and somehow I still can’t believe some of what I’m writing in this summary. A lot of major players are galvanizing right now; if our national news were a television show, we would definitely be gearing up for a season finale. Let’s just hope we’re all living in a genre that is at least somewhat kind to its residents.

Standard standing reminders apply: I am no journalist, though I play one in your inbox or browser, so I generally only summarize news in my area of expertise. Just like last week, this week involves a fair amount of foreign policy news, which is outside my expertise as a legal generalist focused on domestic indigent populations. I hope folks are up for some offroad adventures! (They are signaled with asterisks, and I won’t be offended if you skip over them.) Also, an additional caveat this week: I threw out my back impressively badly on Tuesday, resulting in a hospital visit and a several-day vacation to A Nice Drug-Induced Haze Land Where None of This is Happening. As a result, this week’s news summaries will be a bit less in-depth and I particularly urge you to review supplemental news as well this week. Okay, caveats over. Let’s get this week’s installment of Mad Max: Fury Road in gear!

The Weird:

  • Immigrant Improvements and Sanctuary Showdowns. It’s been an incredibly mixed week for immigrants, both nationally and here in my home state of Massachusetts — I’m including a brief summary of the latter at the end of the news. On the positive side of things, Secretary Kelly has moved away from his threat of separating families at the border, and the odds aren’t looking great on whether Republicans can get Congress to fund the wall. But now that there’s an official report on “sanctuary jurisdictions” (which is to say, governments that aren’t cooperating with ICE demands) in the U.S., everybody’s throwing down over it. Sessions announced that sanctuary jurisdictions will no longer be eligible for Department of Justice grants to assist with criminal law enforcement, an announcement which prompted Seattle to sue the administration (for, what, the third time in two months?). It also caused Bristol county sheriff Thomas Hodgson to opine to Congress that sanctuary jurisdiction elected officials should be arrested, nicely illustrating why so many local people seriously hate that guy.
  • Intelligence Rodeo.* I’m seriously starting to think the ongoing intelligence landscape needs its own roundup, though I’ll summarize best I can: Jared Kushner was tapped to testify about his ties to Russia; the White House is attempting to block Sally Yates from testifying about what she knows; Nunes really did get his info last week from a White House source, which is, uh, not good (and making people call for either his recusal, ethics violation charges, or both); the Senate Intelligence Committee is attempting to pick up the pieces of the stalled House investigation; Flynn offered to testify in exchange for immunity, but the Senate wasn’t having it and the House was noncommittal; and Comey apparently wanted to write an op-ed about the investigation back in 2016 (but was not permitted by the White House to do so, because it was a freaking op-ed). Oh, also, questions being asked about Flynn testifying had Trump so rattled that he left the room instead of signing two executive orders on trade matters (though he did sign them eventually, much to everybody’s disappointment). Also, the exact timeline of the unfolding Nunes saga has been very confusing, so here’s a good summary from the New York Times.
  • It’s My Party and I’ll Tiff If I Want To. In a move that surprises, well, nobody, Trump appears to have more-or-less declared war on the Freedom Caucus that refused to play ball last week, threatening to put them in the same bucket as Democrats. It’s a remarkably poor move from a traditional politics standpoint, and it will be interesting to see what happens on that front long-term. But the Democrats cleaned house this week as well, reminding us that they are a deeply fractured party too.
  • Gorsuch Guessing Game. Schumer has announced that he will filibuster the Gorsuch vote, but two Democrats have already indicated that they will vote for him and McConnell is trying to get Republican senators to go nuclear. The vote got delayed one week on Monday, so this will be an interesting week on this front for sure.
  • I Don’t Want Dinner with You Either, Pence. Mike Pence came up in the news a fair amount this week for announcing that he and his wife have a rule that he doesn’t eat meals with other women without her present. I’ll spare you a lengthy analysis of why this kind of rule hurts women professionally, and simply note that the feeling’s mutual.
  • Leggings Gate. Two teenaged girls were barred from flying on United Airlines this week because the airline said their leggings violated the dress code for “pass travelers.” Yes, really. No, I didn’t know they have a dress code either. At any rate, Twitter was very angry about it.

The Bad:

The Good:

  • MAR-A-LAGO Act. This is more amusing news than good, strictly speaking, but Democrats in the House and Senate have introduced a bill they are calling the “Making Access Records Available to Lead American Government Openness Act.” It would force the White House to reveal logs of visitors at all locations where official business occurs, and why yes, that would include the Mar-A-Lago resort, why do you ask? (The bill is frankly a good idea, with or without the pointed title.)
  • Georgia On Our Minds. The Georgia special election is shaping up to be a very interesting election, with Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff showing a real chance of flipping Tom Price’s old seat. We won’t have concrete news on the election results until April 18 or later, but it’s an interesting race to watch, and I’ll try to remember to circle back in a few weeks.
  • Revitalized ACA. Now that it’s looking less likely that the ACA is going anywhere, several states are revisiting the subject of expanding Medicaid — including Kansas, which should be an interesting showdown between the legislative and executive branches. Unfortunately, that’s the last of the straightforward good news I have on tap this week, though there’s some good schadenfreude for local readers below. If you aren’t local, feel free to read or skip at your leisure, and catch you next week!

Eastern Corridor Corner:

A rash of local news about national issues is prompting a new subsection this week, because boy howdy, did a lot happen here on several fronts:

  • ICE arrested multiple greencard holders in Lawrence this week as they showed up for routine appointments, which is a pretty dramatic change in posture and suggests we may see more aggression from them here in MA in the future.
  • Relatedly, things in Brockton exploded because there was a very widely-spread rumor that ICE planned to raid, which ultimately was announced by a state representative for the area on Facecbook. I don’t believe there was an ICE raid on Thursday, but since raids rely heavily on the element of surprise, this might be because ICE knew it would be hard to round up a wary and forewarned population.
  • Mayor Walsh gave a brief announcement and raised the transgender pride flag over the Statehouse, which was presumably in response to legislation being considered for trans rights but also happened to be when the “free speech bus” that roams the nation spewing hate speech was nearby; and
  • The mayor of Somerville, Joseph Curtatone, publicly called Sheriff Hodgson a “jack-booted thug”’ in response to his statement to Congress, and dared him to “Come and get me”. I admit the whole thing made me kind of miss living in Somerville, but either way, it’s a great way to close out this week’s news!

National News Roundup: Week 7 (March 5–11)

Travel ban, ACHA, and Russia, oh my! Buckle in, y’all, because we had another bad news week right on schedule, and this one’s pretty much a Gish Gallop of awful. Standard disclaimers still 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. I may touch on news I think folks should know that is outside my area as a legal generalist, but if we undertake any offroad adventures I’ll do my best to signal that for you upfront by giving that headline an asterisk. Okay, disclaimers over, and I’m sorry for what I’m about to do to your inbox.

The Weird

  • Sounds Nice where Pruitt Lives.* Perhaps this one goes in the ‘bad’ column, but I’m still having trouble wrapping my brain around the fact that it happened, so we’ll say it’s weird news instead — the head of the EPA went on the record as saying that “measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do” and as a result, he “would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.” He also said some strange things about carbon dioxide emissions, while he was at it. I have zero background in science, but even I can tell that Pruitt is clearly not inhabiting the same reality the rest of us. It sounds nice where he is, though.
  • SCOTUS Punts on Opining re: Trans Inclusion in Schools. Okay, admittedly this isn’t actually that weird, but SCOTUS sent a case about whether a seventeen-year-old could use a boy’s bathroom in his school back down to the circuit courts again. The case posture had been influenced by the guidance just withdrawn by Sessions, so it’s not surprising that it went back down. Hopefully we’ll hear more soon.
  • Don’t Buy Any Conestoga Wagons from Ben Carson. Ben Carson made the news in his first week, which surprisingly was not due to running HUD into the ground. Instead, folks focused on statements he made comparing slave transport by cargo ship to opportunistic immigration. Then he doubled down, so that was fun. And that’s about it for the weird news, because it’s really just terrible turtles all the way down.

The Bad

  • AHCA (and other signs of illness). Well, the GOP revealed their new healthcare plan this week, and it’s no wonder that they kept it under lock and key — it’s a half-baked hodgepodge of terrible. The bill has caused significant strife within the Republican party, which is about the best thing I can say for it; some (like Senator Murkowski, for example) are concerned that the medicaid changes will leave their constituents high and dry, while others (like Senator Rand) are angry that the bill doesn’t go far enough. That said, it still passed through the Ways and Means committee in the middle of the night, so it’s sitting with the Budget committee now. Early analyses seem to agree that the bill will cause huge gaps in coverage and tank risk pools (which this surprisingly good infographic does a good job of explaining concretely); it also inexplicably contains several tax cuts that only impact wealthy Americans. You can read the text here, but it’s a long and miserable slog, so if you like yourself and don’t work in healthcare I’m not sure I would recommend it. This short-form summary hits most of the highlights, and this excellent lengthy summary goes provision-by-provision (and if you’re feeling snarky, this op-ed is a good, if slanted, summary as well). For now, be aware that most of the proposed changes (with the exception of the final tax credits provision and a few others) were in the plan outlined by Ryan a week or two ago.
  • Anti-Missile Mayhem*. We deployed an anti-missile program in South Korea this week, which landed us in some hot water with China. But this administration seems preternaturally good at wriggling out of incidents with China, so hopefully that will happen again?
  • Budget Cuts Ahoy. The growing list of things this administration is threatening to cut billions of funding from now includes both HUD and the National Guard, because apparently we don’t need either of those things as much as we need an expensive Great Wall of Mexico. Both of those articles make me want to throw plates at my walls, by the way, so read at your own risk — but neither plan has been finalized yet, so there’s still time to try to get them changed (which I suppose is a silver lining of sorts).
  • The Russian Plots Thicken. Honestly, if this were a movie I would say we have too many plotlines going at once — the plots haven’t so much thickened as cemented in the pan because they were left on the stove way, way too long. This week we learned that Trump met directly with Kislyak on the campaign trail, though he suffered the same amnesia afterward as the rest of his team (and can I just say, Kislyak must be the most forgettable ambassador on the planet). Apparently they discussed working together on addressing Syria, which definitely isn’t disturbing at all. Also, Trump and friends continue to claim he was being wiretapped by Obama (and we’re all already tired of the phrase “deep state”), which Comey officially asked the Justice Department to reject. Leading up the rear, the FBI is still investigating Trump’s ties to Russia, which apparently has reached a “new stage of investigation” (whatever that means). Oh, and Flynn apparently came out this week as a Turkish foreign agent. No, really. Kind of recontextualizes those “Lock Her Up!” chants he led, doesn’t it?
  • Sessions Cleans House. Sessions abruptly ordered all remaining U.S. Attorneys who were hired under the Obama administration to resign on Friday. I’m sure this definitely has nothing to do with last week’s recusal or numerous calls for his own resignation because he perjured himself in his confirmation hearing.
  • Travel Ban Redux. Trump signed a new executive order this week intended to put the travel ban back in place. The new version is basically a Diet Coke version of the original executive order — mostly the same provisions, with some of the most consequence-laden elements removed — and there are already several suits being brought about it.
  • Privatized Prison Party is Still the Worst Party. The FCC reversed course on a fifteen-year effort to cap the costs of phone calls in federal prisons, making it harder for people to afford conversations with family members being held. The Nexus-run company ‘Libre’ was also in the news, because its privatized GPS system is alleged to be causing confusion at best and outright fraud at worst among immigration detainees.
  • Autocratic State of the Nation. Amy Siskind’s weekly authoritarianism watch review is a miserable, scary slog this week, but you should read it anyway.

The Good

  • SCOTUS and Racial Bias. The Supreme Court may have punted on the issue of trans inclusion, but they did issue an opinion on whether racial bias can taint jury deliberations (spoiler: it can). The vote was 5–3, which means it created precedent despite the even number of justices, and can be cited in later cases. It’s an interesting case and a surprising decision, and after this week I’ll definitely take it.
  • Correspondence with Guest Costars. A political correspondent in South Korea made news this week because of his adorable surprise guests. It’s a pretty great video, and you should go watch it — now that we’ve reached the end of the news we can all probably use a nice unicorn chaser.