What Did I Miss? 10/20

It’s been said so often it’s becoming a cliché in the Trump presidency, but it’s true: every time you think we’ve seen the bottom, Trump somehow manages to sink even lower.  And that’s how we, collectively, ended up spending the week dragging the horrific pain of Gold Star families out into the public view for all to see.  Because, like he does so often when challenged, Trump responded by disparaging others (in this case, previous Presidents) in order to prove that he’s the best, the biggest, wrecking ball.jpgthe ultimate (in this case, at offering condolences).  And because Trump can never, ever let anything go, he kept hitting back and escalating at every turn – keeping the story at the top of the news for the entire week.

The other big – but less dramatic – story was the bipartisan agreement reached between Republican Senator Lamar Alexander and Democratic Senator Patty Murray to undo some of the damage Trump caused last week when he announced he would stop making Obamacare’s “cost sharing reduction” payments.  Trump is torn between wanting them to fix his mess (so he won’t be blamed for premium increases) on the one hand, and fearing the wrath from his base (who see any compromise as capitulation) on the other. So it remains to be seen whether he’ll sign on to this deal.  The week was spent in a game of “will he or won’t he,” while millions of American waited nervously to see what would happen to their health insurance.  Trump is truly a human wrecking ball, and we the people are all in his path.  But what else happened this week that you might have missed?

1.  Two different federal judges ruled against the most recent version (Version 3.0) of  Trump’s travel ban shortly before it was set to go into effect on Wednesday.  Federal judges in Maryland and Hawaii have issued nationwide temporary blocks preventing the travel ban from going into effect.  Like with previous versions, Trump’s own words came back to haunt him:

U.S. District Judge Theodore D. Chuang [in Maryland] issued a somewhat-less-complete halt on the ban than his counterpart in Hawaii did a day earlier. Chuang blocked the administration only from enforcing the directive on those with a “bona fide” relationship with a person or entity in the United States, such as family members or some type of professional or other engagement in the United States.

But in some ways, Chuang’s ruling was more personally cutting to Trump, as he said the president’s own words cast his latest attempt to impose an entry blockade as the “inextricable re-animation of the twice-enjoined Muslim ban.”

Judge Derrick K. Watson of Hawaii had, the day earlier, blocked the ban from going into effect for any citizen of the listed countries, except for North Korea and Venezuela. (The ban on Venezuela was very narrowly targeted to begin with).

2.  On Wednesday, a federal judge had ordered the Trump administration to allow an undocumented teenager, who is being held in a federal shelter in Texas, to get an abortion “promptly and without delay.” The 17-yr old was apprehended on the US-Mexico border on September 11, and she has been fighting to get an abortion since then. (She did not learn she was pregnant until she had a medical examination after being taken into custody in the U.S.).  She is 15 weeks pregnant.  Texas law bans abortion after 20 weeks.

A state judge previously ruled that the teenager could get an abortion without the parental permission required by Texas law, but she and her lawyers say federal officials have refused to allow her to travel to a clinic. Doe’s lawyers are not asking the government to pay for the procedure or arrange the transportation.

[Federal Judge] Chutkan noted during Wednesday’s hearing that despite the government’s contention that allowing the teenager to leave the shelter would pose a burden on the government, officials allowed her to be taken to a counseling session at what the ACLU described in court papers as a religious “crisis pregnancy center” aimed at dissuading her from the abortion.

However, on Wednesday evening, the Trump administration filed an appeal, and on Thursday, a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a temporary stay on the lower court’s decision.  The court said that the stay was not a decision on the merits but was simply issued in order to give the judges time to review the case.  There will be a hearing Friday morning.  (The abortion had been scheduled to take place Friday afternoon or Saturday).  In the meantime, the appeals court did allow the teenager to attend counseling and have an ultrasound on Thursday, both of which are required under Texas law before a woman may undergo an abortion.

3.  The anti-abortion zealotry – and the general culture war mindset – infuses every corner of this administration: one of Trump’s top advisers on trade policy prepared and distributed documents which claim that declines in the manufacturing sector lead to an increase in abortions. The documents also claim the manufacturing declines lead to spousal abuse, divorce and infertility.  The problem here is that this adviser appears to have “manufactured” these statistics out of thin air:

The documents, which were obtained by The Washington Post, were prepared and distributed by Peter Navarro, director of the White House Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy. They were presented without any data or information to back up the assertions, and reveal some of the materials the Trump administration reviewed as it was crafting its trade policy . . .

Navarro, an economist, is part of a small but influential wing of White House advisers who believe decades of free trade policies have decimated the U.S. manufacturing base and allowed other countries, such as China, Mexico, and Canada to take advantage of the U.S. They blame U.S. reliance on exports for hurting U.S. manufacturing, something Trump has promised to reverse.

4.  Speaking of advisers, Trump still has no White House science adviser. He’s taking longer to name one than any modern President.  And it’s not because he doesn’t need one – he’s making significant policy decisions on science-related issues, most notably pulling the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Accord:

Indeed, it is notable that Trump’s speech abandoning the Paris climate agreement did not address the fundamental science of climate change . . .

A number of other Trump decisions — on matters ranging from responding to hurricanes to dealing with Iran’s and North Korea’s nuclear programs — also have key scientific elements to them. Meanwhile, although Congress probably won’t go along, the Trump administration has also proposed radical cuts to federal science budgets, even in previously protected areas, such as medical research . . .

The administration is also considering changing or scrapping an international agreement regarding Iran’s nuclear weapons program, where questions of whether Iran is complying with the agreement hinge on details of the refinement of radioactive materials and other nuclear machinery. Obama’s energy secretary Ernest Moniz, who joined the administration after serving as a professor of physics and engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was closely involved in negotiating the deal.

I’ll just note that Trump’s energy secretary is Rick Perry, who took the job thinking it meant he was going to be “global ambassador for the American oil and gas industry.”  He had no idea what the job was, never mind how unqualified he was for it.

5.  And more on those advisers: Trump’s commerce secretary Wilbur Ross was in the spotlight for a minute this week when Forbes discovered that $2 billion was unaccounted for on his financial disclosure forms (and no, that’s not a typo – it’s “billion” with a B).  It turns out that sometime after Trump was elected, but before he was inaugurated, Ross transferred that money (which was about two thirds of his fortune) into trusts for his family.

Then, when he became a member of Trump’s cabinet and had to fill out a financial disclosure report listing all his assets (for purposes of conflicts of interest, etc), he had $2 billion less to include.  Of course, all those assets are still held by his family, so the conflicts aren’t really gone.  And, there’s also this small detail:

Federal law requires incoming cabinet members to disclose assets they currently own, as well as any that produced income during the current and previous calendar years, even if they no longer own the assets. Ross said he followed all rules. But how someone could apparently hold $2 billion in assets, without producing big income that would show up on a financial disclosure report, raises more questions than answers.

So it sounds like Ross was required disclose those assets anyway, since they almost certainly would have produced income for him during that time.  If you read the full article, you’ll see that Ross and the Commerce Department followed up with Forbes after the initial article was printed.  They added some information that they believe clears things up.  But much of what they said directly contradicts what Ross told Forbes earlier.  And the whole thing lacks transparency, which is definitely the exact opposite of “draining the swamp.”

6.  This week brought the first court hearing in an “emoluments clause” lawsuit against the President. The “emoluments clause” of the Constitution says that no United States official may “without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.” (We first talked about this way back in the 4/14 What Did I Miss?).

So the issue is that Trump has refused to divest from his businesses, and when representatives of foreign governments dine at his restaurants or stay at his hotels, he’s profiting from that.  And he may be profiting simply because he’s President and those foreign actors want to curry favor with him.

Part of what makes an emoluments clause case difficult though is that there’s never been an emoluments clause case before a court – ever.  And there’s a lot that’s open to interpretation, i.e., what exactly counts as an emolument.  Does simply profiting from an arms length business transaction count as an emolument? (And could this even be considered “arms length” if the foreign visitors are choosing Trump’s establishments to ingratiate themselves to him?).  We don’t know yet, because it’s never been litigated.

But a preliminary question is who has standing to sue (i.e. who can show they’ve been harmed) over an emoluments clause violation.  So that’s the first question the judge will answer.  He will decide whether the plaintiffs – a restaurant owner in NYC, a restaurant group, and an event booker for two D.C. hotels, along with an ethics watchdog group – have standing to sue.  If they do, then the case can proceed, which might open up a treasure trove of Trump’s financial documents as discovery begins.

7.  In the Alabama Senate race, which you’re probably tired of hearing about I’ve written about it here so often, the latest poll from Fox News got a lot of people’s attention. It shows Democrat Doug Jones tied with Republican Roy Moore.  Take it with a grain of salt – several other recent polls have all had Moore leading, though only by single digits, which is still quite something for Alabama.  So maybe, just maybe, Moore is too extreme even for a deep red state.

He’s still the heavily favored front runner in the race (the last time a Democrat won a Senate race in Alabama was Richard Shelby’s second term win in 1992 – he became a Republican 2 years later).  But Moore’s not going to be able to walk away with it as easily as he had surely hoped.

8.  And the holiday sales have started early: VP Mike Pence is scheduled to headline a Colorado Republican Party fundraiser next week in Denver. But demand for tickets is so low that the dinner’s organizers have had to put the tickets – originally priced at $275 – on sale for $150.  The group initially expected to sell 800 tickets but now say they expect attendance of 400.  The saddest part is how they tried to cover up the reason for the price cut:

Colorado Republican Party Chairman Jeff Hays tried to put his best spin on the news, writing in an email Wednesday: “Due to popular demand, we have made more tickets available at a new lower price.” But the same invite later says space is limited.

Daniel Cole, the party’s spokesman, clarified: “We are hearing from a lot of people that they very much want to see the vice president but the tickets were too expensive.”

He added: “We couldn’t fill the large room at that ticket level.”

9.  And lastly, this story might partially explain why Trump’s been especially off the rails this week: Forbes said on Tuesday that Trump dropped 92 spots on its “Richest Americans” list, falling from #248 to #156.  But don’t feel too bad for him – Forbes still estimates his net worth at $3.1 billion.

 

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