So how did you like “Infrastructure Week”? Yup, this week was designated Infrastructure Week by the Trump White House, and the focus of the week was supposed to be their “big” infrastructure plan (here’s the real scoop on this plan from the most competent man in Washington, Ron Klain), particularly their plan to privatize air traffic control.
Of course the week ended up being almost entirely dominated by the testimony of former FBI Director James Comey in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Even though the hearing didn’t take place until Thursday morning, much of the week leading up to the hearing was filled with pre-hearing anticipation & speculation which crowded out most other news. But there was other news. So what else happened this week that you might have missed?
1. With everyone focused on Trump & Russia, Republicans in the Senate have been able to quietly focus on wrapping up their Obamacare replacement bill. This worked out perfectly, since they’d planned on preparing the entire thing in secret anyway, and this gave them the cover to do it. Now it looks like they’re almost ready to put a bill on the floor for a vote. If they’re able to get to that stage – which, knowing Mitch McConnell, he will make happen – it’s almost certain to pass, as no Republican will want to vote against it and be branded as the traitor who saved Obamacare.
I hope to have a full post on this for you guys on Monday, with details about what’s in it, and how they’re managing to pull this off, when it looked like an impossibility just a few weeks ago. But for now, I wanted to be sure to mention it, because I think a lot of Democrats/Obamacare supporters have been lulled into a false sense of security based on the fact that we’d stopped hearing about this for a while.
2. And Trump’s scandals are really coming in handy for the GOP moving forward with it’s unpopular policy agenda: On Thursday, while everyone was busy watching the Comey hearings, Republicans in the House passed the Financial CHOICE Act, which would overturn Dodd-Frank, the set of regulations put in place after the 2008 financial crisis. Of particular note, the CHOICE Act would almost completely neuter the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), a longtime target of the GOP, which I wrote about in more detail here, for those interested in the history of this battle.
At the center of the debate around the bill is the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which creates and enforces consumer protection laws.
The bureau has cracked down on auto loan companies, prepaid debit cards and for-profit colleges . . .
If passed by the Senate, the CHOICE Act would give the president authority to fire [CFPB Director] Cordray at will. It would also put Congress in charge of the agency’s funding.
The Bureau’s mission would also be restricted to enforcing pre-Dodd-Frank consumer protection rules, and it would have a limited ability to write new rules or encourage changes in corporate behavior through tools like its public database of consumer complaints against businesses.
The CHOICE Act almost certainly won’t get the 60 votes needed to pass the Senate. However, according to Vox, there may be particular provisions of the bill that can pass the Senate through reconciliation, therefore requiring only 51 votes (or 50, plus VP Pence).
3. Trump’s Twitter use has been the source of endless fascination and entertainment, and likely even helped propel him to the presidency. Now, it’s presenting a really interesting and novel legal question: is he permitted to block Twitter users who want to interact with him on Twitter, or is that a violation of their 1st Amendment rights?
In a letter sent to Mr. Trump on Tuesday, lawyers for several users he has blocked argued that his account was a “public forum” from which the government may not constitutionally exclude people because it disagrees with views they have expressed.
Trump uses his twitter account to discuss his policies and to make announcements about cabinet appointments (he just announced his new FBI Director on Twitter earlier this week) and public appearances, and his tweets certainly shape the public conversation, so it’s hard to argue his twitter timeline is not a public forum.
And according to Reuters:
Eric Goldman, a Santa Clara University law professor who focuses on internet law, said that previous cases involving politicians blocking users on Facebook supported [the blocked users’] position.
4. In a very disturbing story, Buzzfeed collected numerous reports from around the country of kids being bullied at school by other students in ways that sound very reminiscent of Trump. And to be clear, this is not cherry-picking just a handful of incidents, this is a collection of more than 50 reports from around the country, which were reviewed for accuracy by Buzzfeed.
For teachers and principals, the first school year of the Trump presidency brought a new test.
“This is my 21st year in education and I’ve never seen a situation like this before,” said Brent Emmons, principal of Hood River Middle School in Oregon. “It’s a delicate tightrope to walk. It’s not my role to tell people how to think about political policies, but it is my role to make sure every kid feels safe at the school.”
At a time of thick political and racial tensions, and of heightened worries among people of color, what is a teacher to say when a student asks: Why can the president say it but I can’t?
5. In another disconcerting report about our nation’s schools from Buzzfeed, we learn that conservative think tank The Heartland Institute is shipping “alternative” climate science materials to teachers around the country.
Packages holding a cover letter, a 135-page book, and an 11-minute DVD, all falsely claiming that there is no scientific consensus on man-made climate change, started arriving in teacher mailboxes in March. The mailings were sent to more than 300,000 teachers, according to the group behind the campaign, the Heartland Institute. Based outside of Chicago, Heartland is a conservative think tank that lobbies against climate regulation, has received funding from fossil fuel-linked groups, and lauded President Donald Trump’s recent decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement.
6. And in some schools, teachers are having a real struggle teaching their students about climate change, because students are coming into science class already predisposed to disbelieve it. The New York Times tells the story of one particular high school class in Wellston, Ohio, where many of the students are resistant to the teacher who’s trying to convince them climate change is real:
Gwen’s father died when she was young, and her mother and uncle, both Trump supporters, doubt climate change as much as she does.
“If she was in math class and teacher told her two plus two equals four and she argued with him about that, I would say she’s wrong,” said her uncle, Mark Beatty. “But no one knows if she’s wrong.”
In the A.P. class, Mr. Sutter took an informal poll midway through: In all, 14 of 17 students said their parents thought he was, at best, wasting their time. “My stepdad says they’re brainwashing me,” one said.
Occasionally, however, there are breakthroughs:
In woods behind the school, where Mr. Sutter had his students scout out a nature trail, he showed them the preponderance of emerald ash borers, an invasive insect that, because of the warm weather, had not experienced the usual die-off that winter. There was flooding, too: Once, more than 5.5 inches of rain fell in 48 hours.
The field trip to a local stream where the water runs neon orange also made an impression. Mr. Sutter had the class collect water samples: The pH levels were as acidic as “the white vinegar you buy at a grocery store,” he told them. And the drainage, they could see, was from the mine.
It was the realization that she had failed to grasp the damage done to her immediate environment, Jacynda said, that made her begin to pay more attention. She did some reading. She also began thinking that she might enjoy a job working for the Environmental Protection Agency — until she learned that, under Mr. Trump, the agency would undergo huge layoffs.
“O.K., I’m not going to lie. I did a 180,” she said that afternoon in the library with Gwen, casting a guilty look at her friend. “This is happening, and we have to fix it.”
7. Remember the big stir it made when Trump fired Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, back in March? Trump fired half of the country’s remaining U.S. Attorneys at the same time (which was not unusual, as U.S. Attorneys often turn over when a new President takes office), but Bharara’s firing was big news, because Trump had explicitly asked him during the transition if he would stay on. Trump even had Bharara go in front of the tv cameras in the Trump Tower lobby to announce that he was staying. So his firing came as quite a shock.
Well, now, the New York Times asks: Where Are the U.S. Attorneys? Three months have passed, and Trump hasn’t hired a single new U.S. Attorney to fill any of the vacancies. So why was it so urgent to get those U.S. Attorneys out of there, when Trump clearly had no one lined up to take their place?
It’s bizarre — and revealing — that a man who called himself the “law and order candidate” during the 2016 campaign and spoke of “lawless chaos” in his address to Congress would permit such a leadership vacuum at federal prosecutors’ offices around the country. United States attorneys are responsible for prosecuting terrorism offenses, serious financial fraud, public corruption, crimes related to gang activity, drug trafficking and all other federal crimes.
8. Kris Kobach, Kansas Secretary of State, is the country’s foremost purveyor of the “voter fraud” myth and an advisor to Trump on both vote fraud and immigration issues. He’s announced that he’s running for Kansas Governor:
Kobach, who is a figure of national controversy for his hardline stance on illegal immigration, called Kansas the “sanctuary state of the Midwest” and claimed that the state spends hundreds of millions on public services for illegal immigrants . . .
Kobach, who appears regularly on cable news shows and previously hosted a weekly talk radio show, has developed an intensely loyal following both in Kansas and among conservatives nationally for his focus on immigration. Several attendees at Kobach’s campaign kickoff cited his focus on the issue as a major reason for their support . . .
Kobach’s announcement comes less than a month after he was tapped by Trump to serve as vice chairman of a special commission to study voter fraud.
9. And finally, Bloomberg Politics points out an amusing pattern in Trump’s habitual fabricating & excuse making: everything’s always coming in two weeks.
President Donald Trump has a plan. It’ll be ready in two weeks.
From overhauling the tax code to releasing an infrastructure package to making decisions on Nafta and the Paris climate agreement, Trump has a common refrain: A big announcement is coming in just “two weeks.” It rarely does . . .