National News Roundup: Week 11 (April 2–8)

This past week was really rough — quite bluntly, we were due for a bad news cycle, and we absolutely got one. (In fact, a particularly keen observer might notice that these write-ups only ever issue on Mondays during rough news cycles, because I need the extra day to wrack my brain for that spoonful of sugar to help the horridness go down). The news sucked, and as of Monday afternoon, it still is sucking. It is my fervent hope that this will pass.

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. This week involves a bit less news outside my expertise, which also means fewer off-road adventures, but those that exist are still signaled with asterisks. Also, I am cognizant of the fact that this news review is going out on the first night of Passover, which is a holiday I usually observe; I will re-release the summary mid-week for those who are at seders tonight. Okay, caveats over, and now I give you a moment for the Ceremonial Retrieval of Comfort Food.

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Okay, are we ready to roll? Let’s get this show on the road…

The Weird:

  • Susan Rice Dreams.* Okay that title is admittedly because it amuses me, but a vivid hallucination would certainly explain this past week’s middle-of-the-week attempt to distract the free press — Trump decided that the wiretapping from Obama really did happen, and it was Susan Rice’s fault. This was pretty summarily dismissed by most outlets as the attempted distraction that it was, because there’s nothing to suggest illegal wiretapping at all. It’s pretty clear that the administration quickly understood the strategy wasn’t working — more on that below.
  • Bannon Conundrum.* Bannon has officially been removed from the National Security Council as of this week. “Why isn’t this good news?” I hear you asking, to which I respond: It’s the very fact that we’re not sure it’s good news that makes it weird news instead. I’ve heard people speculating that as a top adviser, Bannon maintains all the clearance of the NSC with none of the oversight. But that said, there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that Bannon’s star is waning while Kushner’s is rising — which is presumably what prompted this hilarious outburst — so I’m honestly not sure if he’s about to goose-step on out of the White House or not. One can dare to hope, though.
  • Blackwater Basics.* Just in case you forgot how bizarrely incestuous the entire Trump administration is, surprise, Betsy DeVos’s brother turns out to be the Blackwater guy! Oh, and he created a back-door channel to Russian staff for the Trump administration in January, because of course he did. Though by the end of the week, I think this story was mostly forgotten, given how the rest of the week went…
  • Repeal-and-Replace Rodeo. Even I had a hard time tracking the half-baked attempts to make repealing the ACA relevant again this week. I think this CAHC summary says it best: “The smash hit adventure epic The Quest For 216 (votes) continues, and Congress did not manage to get any kind of ACA repeal/replace bill to the finish line before all getting the heck out of Dodge yesterday and today. But . . . the idea now is that if they hit on the magic formula to get the votes (and, more importantly, get the commitments before putting a bill on the floor), Speaker Ryan could call the House back into session during the break to vote on something.” So there you have it.
  • Pepsi in Politics. In what I (and apparently some news outlets) can only describe as a stunningly off-base attempt to monetize Black Lives Matter, Pepsi released an ad this week for a hot second featuring What’s-Her-Name Babyface Jenner and The Deescalating Power of Pepsi. Or, more accurately, The Deescalating Power of Being A White Girl In Front of a Police Officer. As you can imagine, the Internet had a lot to say about this, and the ad was pulled very quickly — the real mystery here is who approved such an obviously ill-advised ad in the first place.

The Bad:

  • Nuclear Gorsuch.* We’re leading with the heavy hitters this week — folks, in my opinion this headline is the single biggest and most important thing to know happened in the past seven days. Note that I’m saying that on a week when we also bombed Syria (and more on the latter below, but stay with me here). The order of operations went something like this: The Democrats filibustered the Gorsuch vote. The Republicans didn’t have 60 votes, which have always been needed to overcome a filibuster and vote in a nominee to the Supreme Court. The Republicans responded by changing the rules so that only a simple majority was needed — a change colloquially known as “the nuclear option,” which was already done for Cabinet appointees in 2013 (and we are reaping the oh-so-fun results of that with cabinet members like Betsy DeVos and Jeff Sessions, who would not have been confirmed under the old rules). Gorsuch was, of course, confirmed under the new rules, but that’s not the important thing here (and liberals in the back, let go of your pearls long enough to let me explain). Using the nuclear option for Supreme Court nominees was an incredibly foolhardy decision that could literally wreak havoc for generations — it’s so serious, in fact, that an op-ed in the Washington Post this week sincerely called Mitch McConnell, who pulled the trigger, “the man who broke America.” You know how much fun we are having with Sessions and DeVos? (If not, let me tell you about the party that’s been happening on both of those fronts below.) They serve “at the pleasure of the President,” which means the very next President can (and probably will) kick them right out the door. Supreme Court Justices, in contrast, serve for life, and their decisions frequently outlast them — one the Supreme Court decides something, it’s the law until a subsequent Supreme Court overturns them, and that can take decades. And now any incompetent muppet can be rammed through the Senate without bipartisan support, which previously wasn’t possible. Gorsuch is conservative but competent, if you ignore the plagiarism allegations; the next nominee could be a judicial Betsy DeVos. It’s a brave new world of eroded checks and balances.
  • Oh Also, We Bombed Syria.* Trump abruptly announced that chemical weapons were a step too far on Thursday, noting that “no child of God should ever suffer such horror,” and launched fifty-nine Tomahawk missiles at the country. Since it was a pretty severe about-face for a dude who wanted to ban all Syrian refugees indefinitely to suddenly bomb said refugees because they were dying, and also he didn’t consult with Congress (although he did warn Russia), both his actions and his words made a lot of people very nervous. I personally suspect The Onion has the right of it, and this is military theater in the style of Clinton’s Somalia bombing during the Lewinsky scandal. If so, it appears to have worked, so bully for him I guess; watch this space for more updates.
  • All’s Fair In Pay and the Workplace. Though it’s not quite as earth-shattering, Trump also revoked the Fair Pay order put in place by the Obama administration, which, as this Independent headline so succinctly put it, “mak[es] it easier for men to sexually harass women at work and get away with it” (though it also makes it easier to pay women a lower wage). Raise your hand if you’re surprised by this point.
  • Blue Livelihoods Matter Y’all. Sessions ordered federal review with dozens of law enforcement agencies noted for particular police abuses, noting that “the individual misdeeds of bad actors should not impugn” the remaining police force. In what’s apparently signature Sessions fashion, he requested a 90-day delay on finalizing changes to police procedure in Baltimore that were supposed to be heard by a judge 3 days later, which I might characterize in strictly legal terms as “a total jerk move.” So, that’s what Sessions has been up to, per my reference above.
  • Let Them Eat Debt. His lovely education counterpoint, Betsy DeVos, meanwhile, has been issuing guidance about student loans permitting loan companies to charge rates so exorbitant that some companies are hastening to note that they won’t do it, and clarifying that the Department of Education doesn’t really have to honor loan forgiveness programs put in place ten years ago for public service. So that’s what she’s been up to, and it’s equally charming.
  • Your Weekly Authoritarian recap. Amy Siskind has a lot to say this week, surprising nobody, and I recommend reading it.

The Good:

  • 7th Circuit Civil Rights. The main good news of the week was a case that came out of the 7th Circuit, holding that discriminating against lesbians was a form of discriminating against women — an idea that may seem obvious, but from a legal perspective is a new and extremely promising line of precedent for further suits. I’m really curious to see what happens on this case from here, and I will definitely keep folks posted.
  • What’s Cooking in Special Elections. Surprisingly, both Kansas and Georgia are showing signs of potentially going blue in special elections, according to The Cook Political Report — though Georgia is of course more of a possibility than Kansas. In fact, they are calling the Georgia special election “a toss up,” which is pretty awesome for a county that has been Republican since dinosaurs roamed the earth. The Kansas election is tomorrow, though, so hopefully we’ll know more soon! (The Georgia election is not until April 18, so there’s more time on that one either way.)
  • Major Deportation Public Defense Landmark! This past week, New York set up the country’s first public defense program for deportation proceedings. This is an incredibly big deal, and I’m really excited about it — we’ve never before had any jurisdiction that guaranteed representation for anyone facing deportation from the country. I would love to see other locations follow suit, and I’ll definitely keep folks posted on this.

And that’s all the news that’s fit to print — thank everything; half that amount of bad news would have been enough! Catch you all next week, hopefully with better tidings.