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D.C. Memo: More on Mar-a-Lago documents; Senate eyes same-sex marriage protection

Plus: Minnesota economy holding steady; voter anger indicates a very volatile upcoming midterm election.

A redacted FBI photograph of documents and classified cover sheets recovered from a container stored in former President Donald Trump's Florida estate.
A redacted FBI photograph of documents and classified cover sheets recovered from a container stored in former President Donald Trump's Florida estate.
Justice Department

WASHINGTON – The controversy over the documents retrieved from Mar-a-Lago continued this week, with revelations that information about an unnamed foreign nation’s (Iran? Russia? France? Israel?) nuclear secrets were among the files kept at former President Trump’s Florida resort.

The situation was already deemed extremely serious, and this latest revelation has been called a “gamechanger” that ratchetted up U.S. vulnerabilities by national security experts.

After The Washington Post reported last month that the FBI was searching for documents related to nuclear weapons, Trump posted on social media, “Nuclear weapons issue is a Hoax, just like Russia, Russia, Russia was a Hoax, two Impeachments were a Hoax, the Mueller investigation was a Hoax, and much more. Same sleazy people involved.”

Trump did score a win this week in a legal dispute over the documents – many of them highly classified – found at Mar-a-Lago.

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Judge Aileen M. Cannon of the Southern District of Florida, a Trump appointee, granted the former president his request for a special master, or independent arbiter, to review the records recovered from Mar-a-Lago.

She also gave the special master expansive power, with the authority to evaluate whether certain documents were covered by attorney-client privilege and also whether they are potentially protected by executive privilege, or communications between Trump and his advisers when he was still the president.

Cannon has yet to select someone for the job. The Justice Department will appeal her ruling.

Meanwhile, the involvement of a special master in the review of the documents is very likely to slow down the Justice Department’s investigation into the case.

Minnesota’s economy cooled a bit, but so did inflation

The latest report by the Federal Reserve Bank, released this week, said the Minneapolis-based Ninth District’s economic activity was slightly lower than when the central bank issued its previous report in July.

“Employment grew moderately since the last report,” the Federal Reserve said. “Wage pressures were strong as labor demand remained healthy and labor availability was still tight.”

One thing keeping labor tight is the lack of affordable childcare, the central bank said.

The Ninth District covers Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and northwestern Wisconsin, as well as Minnesota.

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As in many of the Federal Reserve’s 12 districts, inflation showed signs of slowing in the on the Ninth District.

The central bank has been steadily raising interest rates in an effort to combat inflation. But it is walking a tightrope because if the costs of borrowing money for consumers and businesses becomes too high, the nation could plunge into a recession. The higher interest rates are already making mortgages more unaffordable and having an impact on the real estate market.

The central bank, which surveys industries, businesses, economists and market specialists for each of its eight reports every year, also said “an index of regional manufacturing conditions indicated increased activity in Minnesota and South Dakota.”

“Consumer spending was flat overall with contacts reporting a wide variety of conditions. Commercial construction and real estate were flat, while residential construction and real estate declined. Agricultural conditions strengthened modestly, though drought threatened crop production in some parts of the district. Reports from minority- and women-owned business enterprises were mixed,” the new report said.

The Federal Reserve also said that in southern Minnesota, “distilleries, wineries and restaurants are banging right now.”

Meanwhile, the report said, “sales of cars, trucks, and various recreational vehicles have slowed, in some cases significantly, with lower demand and continued inventory shortages both playing a role.”

U.S. Senate may soon act to protect same-sex marriage

The U.S. Senate may soon approve its version of the Respect for Marriage Act, a bill that would require that someone be considered married in any state as long as the marriage is valid in the state where it was performed. The legislation is aimed at protecting same-sex and interracial marriages.

Senate approval of the bill was considered impossible just a few months ago because of the Senate’s 50-50 party split and the frequent deployment of the filibuster, which requires that most Senate bills garner at least 60 votes to pass.

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But Sens. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin, and Susan Collins, R-Maine, are leading an effort to find enough GOP support for the bill’s approval (all Senate Democrats back the act) and appear to have made some headway. To help win the support they need, the senators plan to introduce amendments making it clear that the rights of religious institutions or religious business owners to oppose same-sex marriage and other things considered a “religious liberty right” are safeguarded.

With the “yes” votes of 47 Republicans, including Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Minn., the House approved the Respect for Marriage Act in July. The move was a reaction to the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

In his concurring opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the high court should examine previous rulings that legalized the right for married couples to buy and use contraception without government restriction (Griswold v. Connecticut), same-sex relationships (Lawrence v. Texas) and marriage equality (Obergefell v. Hodges.)

A volatile midterm

Other events in Washington this week included the unveiling (finally) of the official portraits of former President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama.

But with the House still in recess and most of official Washington slowly coming to life after August vacations, I’ve had some time to reflect on the nation’s politics and the midterm campaigns. Every indicator shows voters are angry and it’s going to be a very volatile general election.

Labor Day kicks off the fall sprint to November’s midterms. Already, outside groups, many of which don’t disclose their donors, have spent more than $640 million – more than twice spent at this time in the 2018 mid-term cycle. That doesn’t count the hundreds of millions of dollars the political parties are spending.

Much of that money is going to attack ads aimed at increasing voter ire. And the anger is bipartisan. Democrats are angered that GOP appointees on the Supreme Court overturned Roe, and that Trump took classified documents home to Florida.  Republicans are angered that they no longer control the White House and bristle at nearly everything the ruling Democrats accomplish.

Sure, the voters have been angry before. But I fear this is going to be a banner year for voter discontent, and unchecked emotions don’t often lead to good political choices.