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 The case posture had been influenced by the guidance just withdrawn by Sessions, so it’s not surprising that it went back down.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.