So yet another week started off looking like it was going to be dominated by the Russia story, with AG Jeff Sessions testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday generating lots of noise. However, that ever-present story was interrupted mid-week by the horrific shooting at the GOP House baseball practice in Alexandria, VA. As I write this post, both Rep. Steve Scalise and Tyson lobbyist Matt Mika are in critical condition, so DC Deciphered is sending out good thoughts for them and their families. Thankfully, the two Capitol Police officers who were injured in the shooting appear to be doing well. One of the officers, David Bailey, threw out the first pitch at the Congressional Baseball Game on Thursday evening:
Then, what do you know? Within a day, much of the attention had turned back, yet again, to Russia with reports that Special Counsel Mueller is investigating Trump for obstruction of justice. And with that, the week was once again dominated by the story that has permanently kidnapped our news cycle. But there actually was other news this week. So what else happened that you might have missed?
1. In an eerie bit of timing, this past Saturday was the commissioning ceremony for a Navy warship named in honor of former Arizona Representative Gabby Giffords, who was shot in the head in 2011 at a meet & greet with constituents in her home district. Giffords is the first living woman since Martha Washington to receive the honor of having a warship named after her. For those who don’t remember the details, Giffords just barely survived the attack, and six people were killed including an 8-year old girl.
2. In some very good news for opponents of the Dakota Access Pipeline – particularly for the Sioux Tribe at Standing Rock who are directly affected – a federal judge ruled this week that the environmental analysis done on the project by the Army Corps of Engineers was inadequate and needs to be partially redone. The judge wrote that:
The Court agrees that [the Corps] did not adequately consider the impacts of an oil spill on fishing rights, hunting rights, or environmental justice, or the degree to which the pipeline’s effects are likely to be highly controversial.
The pipeline will continue to operate until the judge reviews additional materials submitted by each party to the lawsuit that led to this ruling.
3. In not-so-good news for the environment, the Trump administration has put a two-year delay on two rules that would have limited methane emissions from oil & gas extractions around the country.
The Senate had attempted to overturn one of these rules in May, using a procedure that required only a simple majority vote, but the vote failed at the last minute when Sen. McCain surprised everyone by voting against it. There was speculation at the time that it was his way of registering anger over Comey’s firing, as the vote came just a day later. In any case, the Trump administration has now found another way to go about it.
4. The Trump administration, by way of the FDA, has also ordered a delay (this one is indefinite) on the new food labels that were supposed to roll out next summer. The new labels would have included a new line for “added sugars” and would have emphasized calorie content. The food labels were championed by First Lady Michelle Obama in conjunction with her “Let’s Move” initiative for healthier eating and exercise. It seems likely this reversal is championed by President Trump as part of his “Let’s Erase Obama’s Entire Legacy” initiative.
The delay is the latest reversal of the Obama administration’s nutrition reforms under Trump. On April 27, the FDA also delayed rules that would have required calorie counts on restaurant menus. A week later, the Department of Agriculture loosened the minimum requirements for the amount of whole grain in school lunches and delayed future sodium reductions . . .
But there may be another wrinkle here: As in the case of the menu-labeling delay, some companies have already adapted to the new rules — and they may be hurt if their competitors get more time to make the change.
5. In last week’s news round-up, I mentioned that Trump’s Twitter usage was raising a novel legal question: whether it violated the 1st Amendment for him to block followers. The stakes of that question only seem to be getting higher, as he’s now gone and blocked VoteVets.org, a large non-profit that represents veterans. (VoteVets is labeled as non-partisan, but they tend to lean progressive and are definitely not fans of Trump).
Remember back when when Trump loved veterans?
6. And Democratic Rep. Mike Quigley of Illinois introduced the COVFEFE Act, which would classify certain social media posts as presidential records. This might sound like it’s just petty trolling, but there has actually been a real issue over the preservation of Trump’s tweets, particularly those that he deletes shortly after posting. Typically, presidential records must be preserved under the Presidential Records Act. But, as tweets (and other social media) weren’t envisioned at the time the law was made, no one was really sure if the Trump administration would treat them as covered under the law.
However, as previously discussed, Trump uses his Twitter to make all sorts of announcements that in the past would have come as formal White House statements, such as announcements of cabinet nominees or policy changes. And Sean Spicer himself has said that Trump’s tweets are official statements. So these statements need to be preserved, just as any other output from the White House would be.
The Communications Over Various Feeds Electronically for Engagement (COVFEFE) Act, which has the same acronym as an infamous Trump Twitter typo last month, would amend the Presidential Records Act to include “social media.”
7. And a Pro Publica study found that numerous GOP members of Congress are also blocking constituents from their social media. This is an unfortunate trend, as this is often the only method constituents have for interacting with their representatives, as members are becoming more & more reluctant to hold town halls, and many districts are just too large for personal day to day interactions even when members are back home. Axios sums it up:
If you’re blocked by your lawmaker on social media, you have no access to their official page and therefore no way to interact with them online. You cannot post, like or comment on their page, nor can you comment or leave questions during live videos. And many lawmakers don’t have official policies about how to allow re-entry for someone who was previously blocked . . .
8. And credit where credit is due, one Republican actually stood up to Trump directly and forcefully: last week Politico had reported that the Trump administration was instructing federal agencies not to comply with Democrats’ requests for information in order to perform their oversight duties. This week, Chuck Grassley, the Republican Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee sent a scathing letter to Trump about it, saying that the directive from the administration . . .
. . . could greatly undermine transparency.
“It falsely asserts that only requests from committees or their chairs are ‘constitutionally authorized,’ and relegates requests from non-Chairmen to the position of ‘non-oversight’ inquiries — whatever that means.”
“This is nonsense,” Grassley added.
Grassley went on to write that “there is no legal or Constitutional basis for the Executive Branch” to withhold information from a member of Congress based on their position on a committee.
“For OLC to so fundamentally misunderstand and misstate such a simple fact
exposes its shocking lack of professionalism and objectivity.”
“Oversight brings transparency, and transparency brings accountability. And, the opposite is true,” Grassley wrote. “Shutting down oversight requests doesn’t drain the swamp, Mr. President. It floods the swamp.”
9. This week brought a really interesting ruling from the Supreme Court on how citizenship is determined for a child born outside the U.S. to an American parent. For these purposes, federal law had always favored unwed mothers over unwed fathers:
Under the law, a child born abroad to an unwed American mother automatically becomes a U.S. citizen if the mother previously lived in the U.S. for a period of at least one year.
In contrast, the child of an unwed father can’t become a U.S. citizen unless the father has lived in the U.S. for a continuous period of five years, two of them when he was over the age of 14.
In Sessions v Morales-Santana, this gender disparity was challenged by Luis Ramón Morales-Santana whose father fell 20 days short of the required residency. This week, the Supreme Court agreed with him that the gender disparity violates the Constitution’s equal protection clause.
However, while the case was a win for gender equality, it wasn’t exactly a win for Luis Ramón, or arguably for humanity. Instead of adjusting the father’s residency requirement down to match that of the mother’s, the Justices decided to adjust the mother’s requirement up to match the father’s. In other words, the tougher standard will now apply to everyone. This will apply to all new citizenship cases going forward, unless Congress steps in and makes a change.
10. And here’s something interesting & hopeful: Tennessee has become the first state in the country to offer free community college to (nearly) every adult. The plan is called Tennessee Reconnect:
In a statement celebrating the passage of Tennessee Reconnect, [Governor] Haslam repeated a familiar argument that has made the model palatable to conservatives here. Helping Tennesseans boost their education, he said, boosts their earning potential and the state’s ability to attract big businesses.
“In Tennessee, we’ve determined that the best jobs plan is an education plan. If we want to have jobs ready for Tennesseans, we have to make sure that Tennesseans are ready for jobs,” Haslam said in the statement. “There is no smarter investment than increasing access to high quality education.”
11. And finally, a fascinating story from Buzzfeed about a place in Mexico known as Molar City. It’s actually the town of Los Algodones, where thousands of Americans visit each year to have dental work done, because they can’t afford to have it done in the U.S. (And an interesting side note, according to Buzzfeed, the majority of the American visitors are Trump voters):
“Hello, my friends, are you looking for a dentist?” Pablo says, hopping off his perch on a shaded railing at the border crossing into the mid-May morning sun.
Wearing medical scrubs and a welcoming smile, Pablo introduces himself, his hand seamlessly producing a business card from his breast pocket between handshakes. “We have the best prices in town,” he says, confidently running through a litany of dental procedures his employer offers.
It’s a pitch Pablo makes dozens — perhaps hundreds — of times a day to tens of thousands of dental refugees who stream across the border at Yuma, Arizona, each year seeking the affordable dental care they only dream of back home. With an astounding 600 dentists in this town of just 6,000, competition for customers is brisk. And there is no shortage of them.