Welcome to another edition of What Fresh Hell?, Raw Story’s roundup of news items that might have become controversies under another regime, but got buried – or were at least under-appreciated – due to the daily firehose of political pratfalls, unhinged tweet storms and other sundry embarrassments coming out of the current White House.
In the past five days, we had a crucial midterm election – don’t let anyone tell you it wasn’t a Blue Wave – and then Trump held a meandering, hostile press conference, after which his regime stripped a senior White House correspondent's press credentials and circulated a doctored video suggesting that the reporter assaulted a young intern. Then the “President” replaced his racist, bootlicking AG with a griftier one. A guy shot up a bar, killing 12, including survivors of the Las Vegas massacre. Then multiple senior GOP officials started claiming that counting all ballots is a form of election fraud and half of California caught on fire.
So it was another slow news week in Trump’s America.
Matthew Whitaker, the new acting attorney general, may just be the perfect Trump appointee. He auditioned for the job of Jeff Sessions’ Chief of Staff by getting himself booked on cable TV shows to say that the Mueller investigation is an illegitimate witch-hunt and then stabbed his boss in the back by positioning himself to be appointed as his replacement. Meanwhile, the White House doesn’t appear to have vetted him, and were taken aback when reports emerged that he’d insisted that Russia didn’t interfere with the 2016 election—among other wacky claims -- or that he was “involved in firm that scammed veterans out of [their] life savings.” Now the FBI is investigating not only the “President” and his family and business associates, but also the nation’s top law enforcement official.
Consider Trump's new AG. -hired by DOJ after going on TV to rip the Mueller probe -friends with a Trump campaign ch… https://t.co/0NtxsM5Hve— Carol Leonnig (@Carol Leonnig)1541671188.0
We could have had taco trucks on every corner, is what we’re saying.
On his way out the door,
belligerent gnome outgoing Attorney General Jeff Sessions “has drastically limited the ability of federal law enforcement officials to use court-enforced agreements to overhaul local police departments accused of abuses and civil rights violations, the Justice Department announced on Thursday.”
In a major last-minute act, Mr. Sessions signed a memorandum on Wednesday before President Trump fired him sharply curtailing the use of so-called consent decrees, court-approved deals between the Justice Department and local governments that create a road map of changes for law enforcement and other institutions.
Donald Trump is bestowing the Medal of Freedom on Miriam Adelson, the wife of casino magnate and GOP mega-donor Sheldon Adelson. We don’t really care – Elvis and Babe Ruth are getting the award posthumously too – but it raises eyebrows coming so soon after the couple invested close to $100 million in the Republicans' midterm campaign.
That figure amounts to about 14 percent of what they reaped from the GOP’s #TaxScam in the first quarter of 2018 alone. We always tip at least 20 percent, and nobody ever gave us a medal for it.
It’s always sweet to be an oligarch, but especially so in Trump’s America. “Across the corporate landscape, the Trump administration has presided over a sharp decline in financial penalties against banks and big companies accused of malfeasance,” according to an analysis by The New York Times. “The approach mirrors the administration’s aggressive deregulatory agenda throughout the federal government.” Trump refers to this as standing up for those “forgotten Americans.”
There are rumors that
toxic bigot failed Kansas gubernatorial candidate Kris Kobach may replace embattled Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen in the near future. As we’ve documented here before, the Trump regime has installed quite a few anti-immigrant hardliners with ties to designated hate-groups at the agency. So Kobach would fit right in -- Stephanie Kirchgaessner reported for The Guardian this week that Kobach’s campaign accepted donations from white supremacists and that he “has for over a decade been affiliated with groups espousing white supremacist views.”
Scott Pruitt 2.0 Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has done a bunch of grifting in his official position and is now looking for a cushy landing spot, according to Politico. Ben Lefebvre and Eliana Johnson report that Zinke “has been exploring potential roles with Fox News, the energy industry or other businesses amid growing signs that he will leave President Donald Trump's Cabinet as he faces investigations into his ethics.”
Are there any members of Trump’s cabinet who can’t accurately be described as “embattled” at this point?
Can someone please tell us how Ryan Zinke racked up 17 ethics investigations even though he took 66 personal days i… https://t.co/8ztvr6YjdC— Citizens for Ethics (@Citizens for Ethics)1541817005.0
As was widely anticipated, the refugee caravan slowly working its way to our border through Mexico has largely disappeared from the news now that the midterms are over, but let’s not forget that thousands of troops remain on the scene, twiddling their thumbs and making busy-work. Will they remain deployed through the holidays?
US troops sent to thwart “the caravan” eat MREs, have little electricity, and live 20 to a tent. In Texas. They… https://t.co/t0Zb57Fmla— Aki Peritz (@Aki Peritz)1541862500.0
In somewhat related news, a federal court appeared to give Dreamers – young people brought to the US without papers at a young age – some good news this week, but Ian Millhiser reports for Think Progress that when you dig a bit deeper, it’s likely to be a devastating blow to their hopes for the future.
The judges upheld a lower court’s decision blocking the Trump regime’s move to end protections for Dreamers, but as Millhiser notes, “now that a federal appeals court has ruled on this issue, it has a straight shot to the Supreme Court,” where “the Republican-dominated Supreme Court is likely to back Trump along party lines.”
And the Trump regime enacted a “temporary rule” – citing national security to get around the usual agency process – to sharply limit the number of people eligible to apply for asylum. The Texas Tribune reported that the move “will likely prompt legal challenges.”
Among the many victories Democrats scored on Tuesday, knocking off Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was one of the most satisfying.
But now Wisconsin’s GOP-controlled legislature is considering stripping powers from the incoming Democratic Governor, Tony Evers, during the lame duck session. This follows a model established by North Carolina Republicans when they pulled off a similar “legislative coup” after GOP governor Pat McCrory lost his race in 2016.
Perhaps the most maddening thing about such norm-busting maneuvers is how asymmetrical they seem to be. The Milwaukee Sentinel noted that in 2010, Democratic lawmakers in Wisconsin “tried to rush labor contracts through the Legislature after Walker was elected but before he was sworn in,” but “the effort failed when two Democratic senators stunned their colleagues to vote with Republicans against the labor deals.”
There was lots of good news this week on the electoral front, but we want to highlight one state legislative win in New Hampshire. Cassandra Levesque first got into politics when, as a high school senior, she mounted a campaign to raise the state’s minimum age for marriage from 13 for girls and 14 for boys to 18 for everyone. It was “part of a Girl Scouts project that ultimately earned her the organization’s gold award,” according to The Concord Monitor. Eventually, she got a bill passed raising the age to 16, and then she decided to run for the state assembly. On Tuesday, at age 19, she became a lawmaker.
Finally, this week “a federal judge temporarily blocked construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, ruling late Thursday that the Trump administration had failed to justify its decision granting a permit for the 1,200-mile long project designed to connect Canada’s oil sands fields with Texas’s Gulf Coast refineries,” according to The Washington Post.
The judge, Brian Morris of the U.S. District Court in Montana, said the State Department ignored crucial issues of climate change to further the president’s goal of letting the pipeline be built. In doing so, the administration ran afoul of the Administrative Procedure Act, which requires “reasoned” explanations for government decisions, particularly when they represent reversals of well-studied actions.