We’ve come to the end of another jam-packed week of news. Sadly, while this week was dominated by some of the usual suspects of late (Russia, the Supreme Court), a new story also commanded our attention: the horrific chemical weapons attack in Syria.
The U.S. launched dozens of cruise missiles at an air base in Syria Thursday night. Now we can only wait anxiously to see what happens next.
In the meantime, the Russia story and the Supreme Court story advanced, with Rep. Devon Nunes stepping back from heading the House investigation into Russia, and things coming to a head in the Senate as Democrats filibustered the Gorsuch nomination and Republicans used the “nuclear option.” On top of all that, Steve Bannon was removed from the National Security Council’s principals committee.
So it was an extra busy news week, even by Trumpian standards. But what else happened that you might not have heard about?
1. I just want to start off with one note on Russia, because I’m not sure if this story got a lot of circulation with so much other news breaking on Thursday. The New York Times reported Thursday evening that the CIA had evidence, earlier than any of us knew, that Russia was intervening in our election in order to help get Trump elected. But the FBI believed – at the time – that Russia was simply trying to cause disruption. So that disagreement affected how forthcoming the intelligence community was with information for the public.
The whole article is a must-read. It’s actually pretty unbelievable how concerned the CIA was well ahead of the election. Yet, the election was just allowed to proceed as normal. It’s becoming harder and harder to wrap your head around it:
The former officials said that in late August — 10 weeks before the election — John O. Brennan, then the C.I.A. director, was so concerned about increasing evidence of Russia’s election meddling that he began a series of urgent, individual briefings for eight top members of Congress, some of them on secure phone lines while they were on their summer break . . .
The officials said Mr. Brennan also indicated that unnamed advisers to Mr. Trump might be working with the Russians to interfere in the election . . .
These new details show Congress and the intelligence agencies racing in the campaign’s final weeks to understand the scope of the Russian threat. But Democrats and Republicans who were privy to the classified briefings often saw the intelligence through a political prism, sparring over whether it could be construed as showing that the Russians were helping Mr. Trump.
2. Officials at the EPA want to get rid of two programs aimed at limiting children’s exposure to lead paint. The proposal would cut these programs by $16.1 million and by 70 employees, and move their responsibilities to state and local governments (though the proposal also cuts state grants). The programs focus on training workers to safely remove lead paint from old houses, built before 1978 (which pose the biggest risk for lead exposure) and on educating the public about the risks.
The EPA has also decided not to ban an outdoor pesticide, chlorpyrifos, that was banned for indoor use 15 years ago. During the Obama administration, the EPA determined that the chemical might pose a risk to consumers, potentially causing damage to the nervous system and the brain, and Obama had proposed a ban. Now the EPA has rejected that proposal.
Children are the most at risk of harm from the pesticide. Studies have shown a connection between prenatal exposure to the pesticide and weaker cognitive function in the children when they develop. Eating the pesticide is a risk factor for damage, but working or living near the chemical is an even greater risk. As a result, according to the Bloomberg News analysis linked above, the most at risk group in the country, tend to be children of undocumented immigrants whose parents work picking produce and live near the farms.
Two groups are now suing the EPA to try to force them to ban the pesticide.
3. And now a couple of pieces of very good news:
- On Tuesday, the federal appeals court in the 7th Circuit ruled (by an 8-3 vote) that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects LGBT employees from discrimination in the workplace. This is the highest federal court to make such a decision. Five of the eight judges in the majority were appointed by Republican presidents.
Any discomfort, disapproval, or job decision based on the fact that the complainant — woman or man — dresses differently, speaks differently, or dates or marries a same-sex partner, is a reaction purely and simply based on sex. That means that it falls within Title VII’s prohibition against sex discrimination …,” Judge Diane Wood, a President Bill Clinton appointee, wrote for the majority.
The 11th Circuit came to the opposite decision on this issue last month, so it’s possible the question could eventually reach the Supreme Court.
- And in related news, a federal judge ruled that protections under the federal Fair Housing Act which prevent discrimination based on a person’s race, religion or sex include a ban on discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
The legal question was whether “sex” includes sexual orientation and gender identity, a matter in dispute around the country in several areas of anti-discrimination law, including employment law and Title IX’s prohibition on sex discrimination in schools and colleges.
4. And I made mention above of Rep. Nunes stepping away from the Russia investigation. You might not want to get too excited about his replacement, Rep. Mike Conaway of Texas. Back in January, Conaway compared Russian meddling in our presidential election to Mexican singers helping to get out the vote for Hillary Clinton in Las Vegas. When asked by the Dallas Morning News if he thought the two were equivalent, he responded: “Sure it is, it’s foreign influence. If we’re worried about foreign influence, let’s have the whole story.”
5. Now another good-news break: Jonathan Ossoff, the Democrat running in the April 18 special election to fill Tom Price’s old house seat in Georgia, just announced his fundraising totals. He raised $8.3 million. There seems to be a lot of enthusiasm from Democrats for this race. It’s a Republicans leaning district, but everyone who’s looked at the race thinks Ossoff actually has a chance to win it.
6. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has asked the Department of Justice (DOJ) to review all the agreements that the Obama DOJ had reached with local police departments around the country about how to reform the departments. These agreements, called “consent decrees”, were reached after the DOJ conducted investigations into troubled police departments and found terrible corruption, with patterns of racial discrimination and abuse. Most of these investigations were begun after we saw an increase in (or more likely just an increased awareness of) police involved shootings of civilians, often young black men, under controversial circumstances.
The Obama DOJ made it a priority to reach agreements with police departments to try to end some of these abuses. It appears the Trump DOJ is going to reverse these agreements. The DOJ under Sessions has already attempted to delay the consent decree with the Baltimore Police Department, which was put in place after Freddie Gray died under while in police custody. His death was ruled a homicide by the medical examiner, but no one was ever held criminally liable.
“Local control and local accountability are necessary for effective local policing,” Sessions wrote in a memo to department officials and U.S. Attorneys late Monday. “It is not the responsibility of the federal government to manage non-federal law enforcement agencies.
7. A federal judge has ruled that Trump can be sued for inciting violence against protestors at one of his rallies last March. (Technically the claim is that he “incited a riot” which led to the violence, but the effect is the same: the protestors get to sue him for causing them to be attacked his rally).
8. In honor of Women’s History Month, Trump quietly reversed a couple Obama-era rules that protected women in the workplace. Back on March 27, Trump reversed Obama’s 2014 Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces order that required federal contractors to comply with certain labor & civil rights laws. Two elements of this order specifically impacted women: paycheck transparency and a ban on forced arbitration clauses for sexual harassment, sexual assault or discrimination claims.
And for the first time, a new Gallup poll shows Obamacare with approval from a majority of Americans (55% to be exact).
10. Now for some fun stuff, this correction to a recent NY Times article is just too perfect, it seems like a spoof. But it’s real:
11. And Trump had this to say to reporters on Thursday, as the 11th week of his presidency was coming to a close:
12. And if you haven’t seen this yet, it’s worth the 3 minutes to watch it, I promise. It’s Sean Spicer, Kindergarten Press Secretary. Courtesy of The Daily Show.