What if you held a civil war and nobody came? That was pretty much the big story this week, as we started out the week with two retiring GOP Senators – Bob Corker and Jeff Flake – launching very pointed and extensive verbal attacks on President Trump’s fitness for office. The media then went all in talking about the big GOP civil war. But there is no war, at least not among elected Republicans, because after Corker & Flake, no one else is showing up to fight.* The Party is choosing instead to fully surrender to Trumpism. GOP leaders – and most other elected Republicans – have spent the last few days attempting to sweep the whole thing under the rug, pretending as if it was just a simple teenage love spat that the “crazy kids” could sit down and work out over lunch.
Of course, Sen. Corker’s fears that Trump might get us into World War III or Sen. Flake’s denunciation of Trump’s behavior as “dangerous to our democracy” don’t exactly sound like the kind of thing that can be fixed over a sandwich. But hey, who cares about the details?? While all of that drama was playing out, there was lots of other news going on. So what else happened this week that you might have missed?
1. If you caught any news this week, you probably saw the very “fishy” story about the tiny company that was given the $300 million contract to restore power in Peurto Rico. The company, Whitefish Energy, is only two years old and had only two full-time employees at the time it was given this contract. It just so happens that Whitefish is based in the hometown of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, and the company’s CEO and Zinke are reportedly friendly.
Additionally, the Daily Beast reports that Whitefish’s General Partner gave significant donations to Trump during the 2016 election. Larger utility companies, who would normally handle a project like this, weren’t even considered for the project. When San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz commented that she was alarmed by the Whitefish contract and that it should be voided, Whitefish responded in very Trumpy fashion through a very Trumpy medium:
This didn’t really help make the case for the company’s professionalism, but Whitefish later apologized – also by tweet. Several congressional committees are now investigating this mysterious contract, and Democratic Senators have asked the Government Accountability Office to look into it as well.
2. The reason I wanted to bring that first story to your attention is mainly because of Zinke’s possible involvement. In the 10/6 What Did I Miss?, I told you about a couple of other issues involving Zinke that have raised some red flags: one having to do with his travel expenses and the other having to do with a possible violation of the Hatch Act. Now Politico tells us about another big red flag that hasn’t gotten much attention yet.
Politico explains how Zinke is helping scam PACs raise millions of dollars from unsuspecting conservative donors. The donors, often elderly people without much disposable income, give money to these PACs expecting that it will be used to help elect candidates or promote issues they support (which is what legit PACs use their money for). But these scam PACs only use a very tiny percentage of the money for those purposes. Most of the money is spent on consultants and overhead. In other words, it’s just a circle of scammers putting money into each other’s pockets.
While most other Republicans have stopped working with these specific PACs after trealizing they’re scammers, that hasn’t stopped Zinke:
Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) — who was angered last year when the Virgin Islands GOP used his photo without his permission on fundraising solicitations — said in a statement to POLITICO that the Virgin Islands group and ForthRight “are preying on seniors in a disgusting attempt to enrich themselves.”
None of the criticism has seemed to deter Zinke, who used part of a government-paid trip to the Virgin Islands in March to attend a VIGOP fundraiser, where — as POLITICO reported in early October — an invitation listed tickets costing as much as $5,000 a couple, and Zinke’s schedule indicated that high-dollar donors had a chance to take photos with him. It was at least the third VIGOP event Zinke had attended there since 2015.
3. And speaking of “draining the swamp,” the EPA is in the process of hiring 12 additional security officers to protect agency head Scott Pruitt. That will bring the total number of agents protecting him to 30. Pruitt has around the clock security, something no previous EPA chief has had. Salaries alone for the security agents will be at least $2 million per year. That doesn’t include costs for travel, training, equipment, etc. This comes at the same time that the agency has announced plans to cut its budget by 30%.
And as a reminder, like Zinke (and several other Trump cabinet members), Pruitt’s travel expenses are currently being investigated by the agency’s internal watchdog.
4. In last week’s What Did I Miss?, I told you about the undocumented teen who was being held in a federal facility and being prevented by the Trump administration from obtaining abortion. The last news at that time was that a federal judge had ordered the Trump administration to permit her to get the abortion, but then the Trump administration had appealed to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals which granted a stay, once again blocking the teen – who’s being called Jane Doe – from access to the procedure.
So now an update: After I last wrote about it, Jane Doe’s lawyers requested a hearing before the full D.C. Circuit, which is called an “en banc” hearing. For the initial appeal before the D.C. Circuit, a rotating selection of 3 judges hears the appeal. But a party can ask for the entire panel to re-hear the case, and in this case, the Court granted the en banc hearing. On Tuesday, the full D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals decided by a vote of 6 -3 that Jane Doe was entitled to an abortion “without delay.” The 3 judges who dissented were the three who were nominated to the bench by Republicans.
Shortly after the decision from the full D.C. Circuit Court, Jane Doe obtained the abortion, so there will be no further proceedings on the issue in her case. But this is almost certain to be a continuing issue with the Trump administration.
5. This week the Senate voted to overturn a rule put forth by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) that would have allowed consumers to bring class action suits against banks and credit card companies. The rule would have worked by banning the forced arbitration clauses that are usually in the fine print when you sign up for these products. The idea of these arbitration clauses might sound familiar to you from the Equifax data breach that was revealed last month. Remember there was a lot of confusion afterwards about whether people would be bound by the Equifax arbitration clause if they enrolled in the free credit monitoring that Equifax was offering as a mea culpa.
The CFPB – and Democrats – wanted this rule because it’s very difficult for individual consumers to get any redress for harms caused by these very large institutions unless customers are able to band together. It’s not worth it for one single person with a fairly small dollar injury to spend the massive amounts of money required to take on a big corporation. But a group of thousands of people who were injured could do it together. And that could force the company to change the harmful and/or fraudulent behavior at issue. Without this possibility for class actions, it’s a lot harder to hold large companies accountable.
Anyway, the Senate voted 50-50 on overturning the rule (all Democrats voted no), and VP Mike Pence cast the tie breaking vote in favor. If you’re wondering why Republicans were able to overturn this rule with a simple majority vote without Democrats filibustering it, it’s because they used an obscure procedural rule that prevents a filibuster. It’s called the Congressional Review Act, and I explained it here. Before this year it had only ever been used once. Republicans have now used it numerous times to overturn Obama-era rules. Keep in mind that the CFPB is still headed by Obama’s appointee, Richard Cordray.
The House already voted to overturn the rule back in July, so it’s a done deal once Trump signs it.
6. Trump’s big mouth may have real consequences – again. You probably remember that Trump’s comments and tweets about his desire for a Muslim ban affected several judges’ decisions in the lawsuits that ended up blocking the different versions of the bans. Well, now Trump’s comments might affect the sentencing for former soldier Bowe Bergdahl, who was captured by the Taliban after deserting his station in 2009:
While campaigning, Trump repeatedly called Bergdahl a “traitor” who deserved harsh punishment such as being shot. [Military Judge] Nance previously ruled those comments were “disturbing” but didn’t amount to unlawful command influence and noted the statements were made before Trump became commander in chief.
But last week Trump addressed his past comments when asked about them at a news conference. He replied that he couldn’t say anything more about the case, “but I think people have heard my comments in the past.” That, the defense said, shows he harbors the same views now that he commands the military . . .
Nance said his interpretation was that Trump was essentially saying: “I shouldn’t comment on that, but I think everyone knows what I think on Bowe Bergdahl.”
Judge Nance hasn’t determined yet how – or if – Trump’s comments will affect Bergdahl’s sentencing, but the passage above makes it clear that he’s concerned about the perception of Trump’s comments. In the meantime, the hearing is continuing as scheduled this week.
7. And oh yeah, here’s a minor thing – remember when Congress voted overwhelmingly back in July to pass a bill imposing new sanctions on Russia, and Trump basically had no choice but to sign it? Well, turns out, Trump isn’t actually imposing the sanctions. The deadline for implementing the Russia sanctions was October 1.
After the Daily Beast drew attention to the missed deadline (in the article linked above), the White House put out a statement saying that it was committed to holding Russia accountable but that the sanctions were still going through review at the State Department. That seems quite fanciful, however, considering that Trump signed the bill almost 3 months ago and it’s now nearly a month past the deadline.
Can anyone think of any other reason the sanctions haven’t been implemented, perhaps??
8. And this story is really heartbreaking. It’s also a very disturbing statement on how politicized and divided absolutely everything has become in the country over the last year or so. An 11-year old boy was kicked out of his Cub Scouts den because of a question he asked a local politician who was visiting their group.
When a group of Cub Scouts met with a Colorado state senator this month, they asked her about some of the most controversial topics in the nation: gun control, the environment, race and the proposed border wall between the United States and Mexico.
But questions from one Cub Scout, Ames Mayfield, 11, got him kicked out of his den in Broomfield, Colo., according to his mother, Lori Mayfield. At the meeting on Oct. 9, for which the scouts were told to prepare questions for State Senator Vicki Marble, Ms. Mayfield recorded her son asking the senator why she would not support “common-sense gun laws.”
“I was shocked that you co-sponsored a bill to allow domestic violence offenders to continue to own a gun,” Ames said in a question that took more than two minutes. He continued, “Why on earth would you want somebody who beats their wife to have access to a gun?”
The event took place not long after the Las Vegas shooting. As part of her answer, Ms. Marble, a Republican from Fort Collins, defended her position on gun ownership, saying that shootings in Las Vegas and Aurora, Colo., happened in so-called gun-free zones, and that “the more guns a society has, the less crime or murders are committed.”
Ames’ mom said that 5 days later, the Cub Scout pack leader told her that Ames was no longer welcome back to the den. She also said that though she’s heartbroken, she has found a new pack for him to join.
9. Now that Jeff Flake has announced he won’t be running for reelection in Arizona, everyone is trying to game out whether that helps or hurts Republicans’ chances of keeping that seat. Here’s something that might factor into that calculation: Former Sheriff Joe Arpaio says he’s considering throwing his hat into the ring:
Arpaio, who in August became the first person pardoned by President Trump after he was convicted of misdemeanor contempt, previously said he was considering a primary challenge against Flake.
“It’s still out there, I haven’t made a decision,” he told the Washington Examiner on Tuesday, shortly after Flake’s announcement.
The former sheriff said he met twice recently with Steve Bannon, the former White House chief strategist who has sought to recruit anti-establishment Senate candidates.
I don’t know how serious he is about this, but it’s something to keep an eye on. Arpaio lost his last bid for reelection as Sheriff in Maricopa County in 2016. But it’s unclear how he’d fare in a Republican primary (where he’d be much more popular), or if it came to it, a general election across the entire state (where he’d be less so).
10. And finally, a little “awww” to top things off. A puppy recently flunked out of the CIA’s explosive detection class. But instead of just letting the puppy go quietly off to her new life, the CIA had a little fun with it, sharing Lulu’s tale on Twitter:
See Lulu’s whole story here. I mean, who doesn’t love a little bit of cuddly from the CIA, right?
*Outside of Congress, you could say this civil war is taking place, as insurgent or outsider candidates, egged on by Steve Bannon and his acolytes, try to take out GOP incumbents, i.e. the hated “establishment.” It remains to be seen how much of a fight the establishment candidates actually put up. But within Congress, the so-called establishment has completely surrendered to the Trump/Bannon wing. There is no fight there.