National News Roundup: Week 32 (August 27-September 2)
What happens when your favorite news compilation service gets drafted while the author has a fever? LET’S FIND OUT! But on the plus side, other than my ridiculous week-long fight with The Superflu That Just Won’t Quit, this wasn’t an especially terrible week. Or at least, I don’t think it was. Let’s hope that’s not the fever talking.
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 an FBI agent — 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:
A lot happened on the Bill of Rights front this week, between the nurse in Utah arrested for doing her job and the United Nations’s (justifiable) attention on domestic media attacks. In particular, I want to pay attention to that brave nurse in Utah — this is the first documented instance we’ve seen, to my knowledge, of police arresting (white) professionals because they refused to cooperate with illegal searches. (But more about that below.)
- Nurse Arrested for Refusing to Illegally Search Patient. So, by now I’m guessing many of you have seen some variant on this headline: “Nurse . . . Arrest[ed] for Doing her Job.” That’s, unfortunately, a completely accurate headline as far as I can tell, but an incomplete one — in this case, “doing her job” means “complying with federal and constitutional law.” Folks, a thing I really want to stress is that this story is weird. Like, “woman arrested for laughing at Jeff Sessions” fascist-weird. It’s basic (and extremely settled) constitutional law that taking someone’s blood is a form of Fourth Amendment search, which means ordinary Fourth Amendment search rules apply — the police need consent, or a warrant. A patient in a coma can’t give consent, so that leaves a warrant as the only valid reason to ask for a sample, and guess what these police didn’t have? And, more importantly, they have to have known they didn’t have the right to ask for a sample. It’s honestly not even clear why the police wanted the dude’s blood in this instance, but arresting an ordinary nurse for following what appears to be standard hospital procedure, and for good reason, is really bad optics. I honestly don’t know if the new behavior in this instance is the arrest or the body cam video documenting it, but against our larger national backdrop, it’s worth paying attention to these kinds of casual police abuses either way.
- We Continue to Concern the United Nations. The United Nations human rights division issued another statement about the United States this week, this time about the current administration’s open derision for the American free press. It’s not exactly news to most people that Trump’s attacks on the free press have a purpose, but it is interesting that the United Nations is publicly speaking about it. (And, for the record, the human rights chief is absolutely right that incitement to violence is a real danger for the press as well as marginalized groups, as the media itself is starting to report.) I can’t decide if it’s ultimately good or bad that we appear to have landed on the UN’s human rights radar.
As predicted last week, we saw several forms of real progress in The Russia Collusion Investigation, perhaps in reaction to last week’s news.
- Pardon Parcel. Mueller made some intentional announcements this week to try to mitigate the worst of the Arpaio pardon from last Friday — more specifically, he made it known that he’s working with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (as well as the IRS) on his investigation of Manafort. As some outlets have noted, this information nicely neutralizes Trump’s implicit promise to pardon any wrongdoing by underlings — as a federal authority, Trump has no discretion to pardon state crimes, so anyone who has committed, oh I don’t know, financial fraud in New York, just to name a random example, might end up facing lots of time in jail if they don’t cooperate with Mueller’s investigation. Federalism sure is neat!
- Manafort Notes.* Remember that whole thing a few weeks ago about how Manafort was barely paying attention to the infamous Russia meeting, because he was staring at his phone the whole time? Turns out that he was staring at his phone because he was taking notes on it, so there goes that argument. He submitted the notes to the Senate Intelligence Committee last month, which means we now have a bit more information about what they said (although not too much, because they’re apparently a bit hard to make sense of). They might or might not be donation related, and we’ll presumably have more info soon.
- Comey Firing Letter, Take 1.* News also broke this week that Mueller now has a copy of a first-draft Comey termination letter that never made it to him because some of it was deemed “problematic” by White House counsel (and go ahead and let that sink in, I’ll wait). The letter was drafted by Stephen Miller, because of course it was, and so far nobody’s reporting on what it said. I can’t imagine it’s anything good, though, and we’ll likely hear more on this soon.
Your “Normal” Weird:
- DACA Face-off. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status (commonly known as ‘DACA’) is scheduled to either sunset or face litigation on Tuesday, and Trump has announced he’ll tell us his decision on that date and no sooner. The premise of the program, which was created by Barack Obama in 2012, is simple: “If you arrived here as a child, and you’re able and willing to work and obey American laws, we won’t deport you.” Trump is commonly believed to be planning to end the program — which would force the nearly 800,000 people currently on DACA status to relocate voluntarily or face deportation. The moral and humanitarian implications of this are obvious, but there are also fiscal ones: since Dreamers currently participating in the program, by definition, live and work as law-abiding residents in our communities, ending the program is expected to reduce the American gross domestic product by $433 billion over the next ten years. It’s presumably for fiscal reasons that Paul Ryan, Orrin Hatch, and other Republican leaders don’t want Trump to scrap the program; that’s definitely why tech CEOs don’t want it scrapped either. The White House put out a statement late last week saying they are still considering their options, which is a pretty weird thing to say at this stage, but all of this uncertainty has had a chilling effect on the DACA program either way. And I can’t say I blame literally anyone for refusing to trust this administration on anything immigration-related by this stage, particularly when ICE has forecast that they’ll begin destroying records of abuses such as sexual assaults and deaths in custody in the near future.
- Mattis Urban Myths. There’s been a rumor going around, more-or-less started by USA Today, that Mattis froze Trump’s order by announcing transgender troops on active duty will continue to serve. Which is… not completely wrong? But, as I noted last week, it’s also not quite right, either. Mattis did signal that trans troops will remain in place while the administration decides what to do long-term, and it’s also potentially true that he could have ordered all of them out pending a final decision. But that said, it wouldn’t have made a lot of sense for him to do that, and he’s literally following orders as outlined in the memorandum by keeping the serving troops in place. That said, though, I don’t think Mattis actually wants to remove these soldiers from active duty over something so petty. So it will be interesting to see what his posture is in six months. Assuming there’s even a Secretary of Homeland Security by then.
- Flood Protection Fallout.* This past week, media started reporting on the connection between Hurricane Harvey’s infrastructure failings and flood protections that had been rescinded by Trump the previous week. The Federal Flood Risk Management Standard had been put in place by Obama, because of course it was, and hadn’t even fully gone into effect before Trump scrapped it. And by the way, if you really want to depress yourself, you can read this full list of all of the Obama initiatives Trump has undone, which appear to have little in common beyond “Obama put this in place” (which, if you’re Trump, I guess is all you need to know).
- ACA Advertising Atrophied. Trump gutted the budget for ACA advertising this week, making it much harder for participants to know the details of the enrollment period for the 2018. He’s also cutting funding for navigators who help with enrollment. Both moves appear to be a form of sabotage, given how important it is for participants to get enrolled in the program in order for it to function properly. Not surprising, but still upsetting; for now, be aware that open enrollment for 2018 happens from November 1 through December 15.
- Harvey Follow-Up.* Hurricane Harvey moved out of Texas and Louisiana this past week, but there’s a lot of aftermath to handle, especially in small towns. As fuel prices rise in anticipation of shortage, and price gouging becomes a problem in general, the area also has to deal with pollutants released due to oil refinery damage, explosions from a damaged chemical plant, and several other forms of public health crisis at once. (And the International Space Station is run out of Houston, so Houston had extraterrestrial problems too.) On top of that, Trump has signaled he wants to tie Harvey relief funding to a bill increasing the federal debt limit, potentially making it harder to get the relief funding passed. Several mosques and mattress stores in the area have opened their doors as makeshift shelters, and once enough people complained, a megachurch did also. As noted last week, the Texas Monthly has concrete suggestions for how people can help the survivors, which I really recommend looking over if you have the time. If you only have a second to spare but still want to help, remember that money is much more helpful than items in the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster.
- Yup, the White House Still Hates Women. The White House announced they are canceling a study this week, which, surprising no one, was an Obama-era attempt to address race- and sex-based pay disparities. Incredibly, the stated reason given by the administration is that it would put too much work on businesses to determine if they pay people equitably. (Although at this point, I’m not sure why I even find that surprising.) For some reason I’m not actually clear on, the press is very interested in Ivanka’s support of the decision. I fully expect this decision to eventually backfire on them, but since that’s true of nearly everything this administration does, it’s not really saying all that much. Also, in other misogynist news, the White House quietly removed a 2014 report on sexual assault prevention from its online materials, so that’s fun. It is in fact normal for administrations to change web content as part of their transition, but replacing data with radio silence is decidedly less so, and members of the DNC were not fans. (Me neither, DNC. Me neither.)
- Trump vs North Korea (again).* North Korea launched another missile over Japan early Tuesday morning, causing the Japanese government broadcast a warning to nearby residents. Needless to say, Japan was not pleased, and has responded by strengthening ties to America. Trump, meanwhile, has responded by saying that “all options are on the table” and “talking is not the answer,” which is actually more measured than he was last time, so maybe coordinating with Japan is not a bad thing. That said, that didn’t stop Mattis from apparently contradicting him by saying that the United States is “never out of diplomatic solutions.” Also, all this is happening against a backdrop of beginning to overhaul the American nuclear arsenal, and North Korea just achieved another arsenal milestone of its own on Sunday. And experts are thinking talking may be Kim Jong Un’s whole goal here. With all these factors going on, it’s hard to know just what exactly is happening. So, basically, it’s Tuesday. (Except I’m writing this on a Monday.)
- Federal Judge Blocks Texas Sanctuary Law. There was a bit of movement on challenging a Texas law outlawing sanctuary practices this week, though obviously it wasn’t anyone’s main focus down in Texas right now (for obvious reason). In particular, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction blocking the law from being enforced while a suit is pending — a good first step, since injunctions generally require a showing that you’re likely to win the case, but only a first step. At minimum, this will likely prevent a full-blown “papers please” style of enforcement in Texas in the short term, so it still goes in the ‘good’ column.
- New Gene-Altering Leukemia Treatment. News broke about an incredible new leukemia treatment this week, which is the first gene therapy treatment of its type. Though the treatment costs a cool $450,000, this cost comes in as fairly comparable to existing treatments, which is pretty remarkable in context. It’s encouraging to see health science continue to advance, despite the hostile national climate for both science and health innovation.
- Challenges to Arpaio Pardon. Now that the country has taken a moment to collectively conclude that the Arpaio pardon was not a bad dream brought on by too much jalapeno pizza before bed, challenges are starting to roll in. One challenge, interestingly, is from the underlying court case itself — the judge is hearing oral arguments on whether the whole thing should be dismissed. While that’s pending, Protect Democracy is also challenging the pardon, and so are House Dems, who are calling for a Judiciary Committee hearing on the whole thing. Since this type of pardon is pretty much new and constitution-breaking — yet another instance of “somebody with a monkey’s paw wanted to find out the answer to an age-old unanswered Constitutional question” — it’s not really clear what will happen next. This kind of immediate action is a good sign.
And that’s what I got this week — hopefully, without typos or fever dreams. I’ll do my best to keep touching on all the key points each week, but the news is still moving really fast, and we’re also increasingly seeing announcements at odd times. Daily news summaries like WTFJHT remain an excellent resource until we meet again. We’ll try again next week, hopefully with fewer flu symptoms!