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This week in Washington, the president disappointed the Beltway by holding his Fake News Awards via press release instead of hosting the black-tie, Trump Wines-open-bar soiree that the press corps, hungry for free stuff and notoriety, had hoped for. Fortunately, this got about as much coverage as a report that the president paid six figures to cover up an affair he had with a porn star 10 years ago. Nice!
This week in Washington
How’s everyone doing? 364 days ago, Donald Trump was inaugurated as president. And seven days ago, we were more or less in the same position: watching as Congress attempts, again, to avert a government shutdown.
On Thursday night, the House of Representatives approved yet another short-term continuing resolution to keep the government funded through February 16. Nobody wanted to vote on another one of these without something they could feel good about, so GOP leadership attached to the measure six years of funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program — a sweetener for reluctant Democrats — and suspending some taxes associated with Obamacare as a lure for Republicans. (That includes the medical device tax, loathed in Minnesota’s medical tech industry, which took effect January 1 after a two-year suspension.)
There was some drama: with House Democrats holding close to a unanimous line against the GOP-backed spending bill — the CHIP language did not sweeten much — an influential faction of House conservatives stood to make or break things. Ultimately, most got on board with the bill — sending the drama to the U.S. Senate, and forcing Senate Democrats to decide if they’ll risk a shutdown over their policy demands.
Most Senate Dems won’t vote for a short-term CR that does not have something to address the status of the Dreamers, the 800,000 undocumented youth permitted to remain in the U.S. under a Obama-era program that Trump terminated, called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Sen. Tina Smith signalled on Thursday that she intends to vote no on this CR, and many other Senate Democrats — and even some Republicans — are on record registering their intent to vote no on the spending legislation.
There’s just a few hours before government funding runs out — and chances that a shutdown happens are likelier than they have been in years. The New York Times with the latest on Friday morning. PBS News Hour with a helpful guide on what actually happens if the federal government does end up grinding to a halt.
POTUS has not exactly been helping. He spoke at the Pentagon on Thursday and said, essentially, yeah, a shutdown could happen, which would be bad for the troops and national security — shame if no one did anything about that! (Note that the military stays funded during a government shutdown.) He also sent a confusing tweet about CHIP on Thursday, throwing a last-minute wrench into a delicate process.
The prospect of some immigration deal as part of a spending bill — an agreement that combines a DACA solution with “border security” and other GOP goodies — crashed and burned earlier this week, which helped get us where we are now.
A critical moment was last Thursday, when POTUS made the now-infamous Shithole Comment in a room packed with U.S. senators. Aside from being a racist and, uh, shitty thing to say, the comment sparked an insane round of finger-pointing that targeted the integrity of the respected Democratic senator, Dick Durbin, who first called out the remark, and prompted sycophantic GOP senators to deny the president made the comment… even as the White House didn’t deny it, and the president phoned his pals to talk about how it was playing with the base. (New York Times with some additional context.)
The dust-up and its fallout, straight out of an episode of Veep, made a messy situation messier. Through this all, Trump has tried to make clear he will accept no deal unless there is funding for his border wall, while Democrats do not want anything to do with the Wall, and a non-zero number of Republicans think Democrats need to accept a lot more in exchange for DACA, like an end to the visa lottery system, limits on what Republicans are calling “chain migration” — the policy that permits immigrant families to reunite in the U.S., and caps on legal immigration.
Trump’s chief of staff, John Kelly, told Democratic lawmakers this week that the president’s campaign positions on immigration were “uninformed,” and said the U.S. will never build a giant border wall and make Mexico pay for it, scoops WaPo. Apropos nothing, Trump affirmed on Twitter Thursday morning that “the Wall is the Wall” and that his position has not changed.
Consensus is, via Politico, that Trump’s inability to stick to a position and his tendency to blow things up as people get close to a deal, as Shitholegate proved, is not good and people are tired of it. Unclear what the prospects now are for DACA, but Kelly on Wednesday vaguely affirmed it will happen… at some point. Democrats don’t believe this, and there’s definitely appetite on the left for a shutdown if a deal doesn’t have a solution for the Dreamers.
Anyway, Republicans generally believe things are going pretty well: a big national Gallup poll finds them as satisfied with the direction of the country as they have been in over a decade.
The president is a large, strong boy in nice health, the White House doctor confirmed this week. Dr. Ronny Jackson, who also took care of Barack Obama, appeared before the press corps to answer questions about POTUS’ physical and mental state, and while he said Trump could exercise more and eat better, he has very good genes and faces no serious health issues.
A lot of #Resistance types think this is hooey, no matter what the White House says. The NYT talked to some outside medical experts about Trump’s top-line numbers, like cholesterol, and found them to be alarming — and contradictory of Jackson’s sanguine assessment of POTUS.
Something kind of interesting that is getting less coverage than the president’s body-mass index and ability to identify animals: a report in the Wall Street Journal detailing that Trump’s lawyer paid $130,000 to an adult film actress with the nom de guerre Stormy Daniels — reportedly hush money to keep a 2006 affair between Trump and Daniels under wraps. This payout happened just months before the 2016 election, says WSJ.
On Wednesday, inTouch published an interview with Daniels in which she confirms the affair on the record. Slate’s Jacob Weisberg writes that Fox News may have had this story just before the election, but it mysteriously did not run with it. This story — which, you know, would have been a career-ender like two years ago — was struggling to get oxygen over the shithouse stuff. 2018!
The president finally held his long-awaited Fake News Awards, and by “held,” I mean he tweeted out a link to the RNC’s website. In list form, POTUS castigated all manner of fake stories and fake news peddlers, from CNN to NYT to the Washington Post. The first official winner in fake news: the Trump-Russia story. “NO COLLUSION,” the president said. (Emphasis his.)
This was a bizarre and weird conclusion to a bizarre and weird idea. BuzzFeed reports the RNC was saddled with the spade work of saving the White House from having to orchestrate such a display itself, and Republicans are depressed about what that means.
In real news, movement this week on the Hill for a key element of national security and surveillance policy: Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which gives U.S. intelligence the power to snoop on the communications of foreigners living abroad. The House and Senate voted to reauthorize that authority this week, over the objections of a growing group of Republicans and Democrats concerned that it gives intelligence a backdoor into spying on Americans.
My story on the unusually scrambled vote on this in the House, which put folks like Reps. Keith Ellison and Jason Lewis in the same column, and what that means for the politics of privacy and security. On Thursday, the Senate approved the 702 reauthorization, and it was Sen. Tina Smith’s first big vote: she joined with 25 Democrats to vote against extending the program, while Sen. Amy Klobuchar voted with most Republicans and 20 Dems to vote in favor.
In Senate campaign news, Tim Pawlenty confirmed this week he will not be running for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Al Franken. GOP establishment types, like former holder of the seat Norm Coleman, largely adore the former governor and failed presidential candidate and had been trying to push him in. So, Sen. Pawlenty is not to be, though he could still jump in the governor’s race.
This week also saw another big Republican name pass on both statewide races: Rep. Tom Emmer. The 6th District Republican issued a statement on Wednesday, saying he appreciated the “encouragement” he’s received to run for governor or Senate, but affirmed that he’d be running for re-election to his (safe) U.S. House seat. Emmer is also a top deputy at House Republicans’ campaign arm, and said he wanted to focus on the work of defending vulnerable incumbents and flipping Democrat-held districts.
Minnesota politicos on both sides thought Emmer would have been a formidable candidate in either the Senate or governor races. The one-time gov candidate also doesn’t suffer from a deficit of ambition. So, what gives? Democrats, eager to ride a blue wave in the 2018 midterms, may see Emmer’s move as another sign that Republicans are privately terrified about their prospects this November. At the same time, you never know: Emmer could see more opportunity to move up by staying put in D.C.
Via Politico, a report that the rebuilding project over at the Democratic National Committee has party chair Tom Perez and his deputy, Ellison, at odds. Nearly a year after a contentious race for chair, the relationship between the two, writes Politico, “remains chilly, with periodic explosive fights over party strategy and appointments.”
Franken is two weeks removed from the U.S. Senate, but he’s clearly not intending to lay low and remain in hiding: over the weekend in Minneapolis, he spoke at a celebration of Walter Mondale on the occasion of the veep’s 90th birthday. MPR’s Nina Moini, covering the event, reported that Franken got a standing ovation from the crowd. Franken also said that Mondale had been a good friend to him “during this difficult time.”
Scary and disturbing report in the Guardian about the culture of rampant sexual harassment and misconduct at the United Nations — and a system that encourages silence by ruthlessly punishing those who dare to speak out against abuses.
Ending on a lighter note, WaPo has revealed information critical to the American people: POTUS apparently prefers the red and pink flavors of Starburst — the only True and Good flavors — and so much so that he picks through bowls of the candy just to get those two types.
This habit was noticed by the House’s #2 Republican, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who tasked an aide with sending Trump a jar filled with his favorite flavors. Also of importance: McCarthy confesses in the story that Trump is that guy who talks during the movie. (I’m shocked! Shocked.)
But really, it’s worth reading the whole story, which is a revealing look at how a top Republican has managed to cultivate a mutually beneficial relationship with Trump.
The week’s essential reads
For 38 minutes on Saturday in Hawaii, the world was about to end: residents of the islands received a phone alert that a ballistic missile was incoming. The alert turned out to be a false alarm prompted by human error — but it lingered long enough for Hawaiians to freak out, react, and contemplate their possible annihilation. In the aftermath, reports the Atlantic’s Alia Wong, there’s a lot more to contemplate:
Matthew LoPresti, a state representative whose district is very close to Pearl Harbor (the likely target of a hypothetical bomb), recalled putting his young daughters, who are 4 and 8, in the bathtub, attempting to explain what was happening, and telling them to pray. “I couldn’t even get through a Hail Mary without my phone going off,” LoPresti, who is the vice chair of the House public-safety committee, told me. “As I sat there with my kids … I was going between this doesn’t really feel real and this is actually what it would feel like. It’s unbelievable that weapons would bring this kind of destruction.”
Craig Santos Perez, another University of Hawaii professor, offered a similar take. Perez, who grew up in Guam, was frying an egg for his 3-year-old daughter when he saw the alert on his phone. …
Although it turned out to be a false alarm, the omnipresent threat of war, he argued, is only one aspect of the broader problem of militarism in Pacific islands. “It feels deeply unjust, especially for the native people whether it’s in Guam or here in Hawaii who have to witness every day their sacred lands being used as military bases and being polluted and desecrated as well,” he said. “And to add to that, our islands are not only basis of war but they’re also targets of other foreign militaries—so in a sense we’re both a weapon and a target.”
As the Trump administration enters its second year, it has rapidly lost scores of aides and officials — some skilled, others less so — that keep the gears of the executive branch whirring. The brain drain is so bad, the Washington Post found that a 24-year old Trump campaign volunteer had been granted a vital role in spearheading the administration’s response to the opioid epidemic — a massive public health problem that Trump is promising to mitigate. WaPo’s Robert O’Harrow, Jr.:
In May 2016, Taylor Weyeneth was an undergraduate at St. John’s University in New York, a legal studies student and fraternity member who organized a golf tournament and other events to raise money for veterans and their families. Less than a year later, at 23, Weyeneth, was a political appointee and rising star at the Office of National Drug Control Policy …
Weyeneth’s ascent from a low-level post to deputy chief of staff is the result, in large part, of staff turnover and vacancies. The story of his appointment and remarkable rise provides insight into the Trump administration’s political appointments and the troubled state of the drug policy office.
Trump has pledged to marshal federal government talent and resources to address the opioid crisis, but nearly a year after his inauguration, the drug policy office, known as ONDCP, lacks a permanent director. At least seven of his administration’s appointees have departed, office spokesman William Eason said.
As 2017 drew to a close, people commiserated across social media about what an awful year it was — and hoped 2018 would be different. The New York Times saw a parallel from the past, when Americans were relieved to see a violent 1967 pass into 1968 — but they quickly found the new year was no calmer. Jacey Fortin and Maggie Astor with a cool multimedia piece on the parallels between 1968 and 2018 — complete with NYT “push notifications” from that far more analog year:
A fresh layer of snow blanketed the ground on the night of Dec. 31, 1967, and revelers in Times Square and Central Park seemed to look to the future with some hope. “World Bids Adieu to a Violent Year” was the Jan. 1 headline in The New York Times.
But 1968 would be tumultuous, too.
Even from the distance of a half-century, the moment feels familiar. From January to December, people demonstrated against racial injustice and economic inequality. Abroad, the United States military slogged through a seemingly interminable war. And after two terms with a Democrat in the White House, a Republican presidential candidate campaigned on a promise of law and order, and won.
The escalating sense of crisis in America’s diplomatic corps during the Trump era was underscored again this week, as a rising star at the State Department turned in his resignation letter. Morale continues to find new rock bottoms in Foggy Bottom, and the effects of a disinterested Trump administration are going to reverberate for a long time. McClatchy’s Franco Ordonez:
News of John Feeley’s resignation Friday sent shock waves through the State Department where the ambassador of Panama was seen as a rising star and a potential future assistant secretary — and more than a dozen State staffers said it caused them to question their own commitment to an administration they feel is undercutting the department’s work and U.S. influence in the world.
“Given what happened in the last few days, people are wondering how are they going to be effective in an environment like this,” said a U.S. official who works regularly with the State Department. “It’s one thing for us to go in and slam our hands on the table and say this is what we want … It’s another to denigrate them and make it crystal clear this is what our leadership thinks about them in the vulgarest of terms.” …
The resignation comes as the State Department undergoes a massive personnel shift. State has been shedding diplomats rapidly; 60 percent of the State Departments’ top-ranking career diplomats have left and new applications to join the foreign service have fallen by half, according to recent data from the American Foreign Service Association, the professional organization of the U.S. diplomatic corps.
The week in takes
NYT’s Farhad Manjoo: Apple needs to build a less addictive iPhone
Vox’s Matt Yglesias: Republicans embrace Trump because of his ignorance and laziness, not in spite of it
VICE’s David Dayen: Democrats need to go all-in on legalizing pot
Politico’s Jack Shafer: The New York Times’ new publisher should do one thing — sell the paper
The Week’s Ryan Cooper: Democrats’ votes to extend broad surveillance authority through the Trump administration is bewildering
Your weekend longread
As it has for a long time, law and order looks different on the lands of America’s tribal nations than it does elsewhere in the U.S. The complexity of law enforcement in these communities — brought on by the respective limits of federal and tribal law enforcement agencies — makes it harder to prosecute crimes on reservations and bring perpetrators to justice.
Tribes have lobbied hard in Washington to change that, and they have made progress. Still, a grim and lethal state of affairs persists on many reservations, like that of the Bad River Band in northern Wisconsin. BuzzFeed News’ John Stanton reports from Odanah, Wisconsin, where a tight-knit tribal community has been rocked by the killing of a young man by a police deputy, the latest crisis in a long and violent relationship between the tribe and police — one that has left native men and women feeling hopeless.
Now, two months after Jason took two bullets to the chest on Nov. 8, his family still doesn’t know exactly what happened the morning that Deputy Brock Mrdjenovich shot him dead. Jason’s family says the sheriff has told them nothing, and Brennan did not respond to multiple requests to speak to BuzzFeed News about the shooting and about local law enforcement’s relationship with the Bad River community. Michael Nieskes, the St. Croix County District Attorney who has been appointed as a special prosecutor to investigate the case, declined to comment.
The feeling of sadness and loss is palpable among members of the Bad River Band. But there’s also a deep sense of numbness and fatalism here that manifests in the nonchalant ways people talk about other violent encounters involving law enforcement and Native Americans. Jason’s death was at least the second time in as many months that a member of the Bad River Reservation had been killed by uniformed officers: On Oct. 28, a Jackson County Sheriff’s deputy shot and killed 27-year-old Lucas DeFord in nearby Black River Falls.
Locals have long complained about being pulled over for what they consider no good reason. “Driving while Indian,” they call it. And then there’s “the women,” a sort of shorthand that refers to allegations detailed in federal lawsuits that Sheriff Brennan did nothing as one of his jailers repeatedly raped and assaulted Native American women. “You’ve heard about the women, right?” locals say almost between thoughts.
What to look for next week
Congress will try to avoid shutting down government over the next 12 hours. The Senate votes today on the CR. What will happen!?! Stay tuned. The House was previously scheduled to be off next week, but if there is a shutdown, expect lawmakers to stick around to work on a deal.
With Congress on the brink of a shutdown, POTUS plans to make himself scarce: he is expected to fly to Florida Friday afternoon ahead of a big fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago to celebrate the one-year anniversary of his inauguration. A good look for the Dealmaker-in-Chief!
That’s all for this week. (Phew.) How about those Vikings, am I right? See you all back next week, but send me your emails: firstname.lastname@example.org.