This Week in Garbageville: Week 21

Ten percent of the Trump presidency is over

What an awful week. It might be too soon to completely digest what went down ... but here's our attempt. Which terrible things in politics should we keep our eyes on this week?

Alexandria Shooting

On Wednesday, an Illinois man with a history of committing domestic violence opened fire on a group of Republican congressmen at their practice for a charity baseball game. Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) was seriously injured, as was a lobbyist who was practicing with the team. Four others were also less severely injured, including two Capitol Hill police officers who were on duty because Scalise is a member of the House GOP leadership. The shooter, James Hodgkinson, was killed. Hodgkinson was a former volunteer for the Bernie Sanders campaign and had posted anti-Trump messages to Facebook.

Should I be paying attention to this?

It is difficult to escape this story: It manages to squarely hit on the deepest anxieties of those across the political spectrum. On the one hand, the right is eager to blame the left for helping to make the rhetoric of today's political debates so heated. The left would like to turn attention to gun control. Somewhat less discussed is the irony that one of the Capitol Hill officers who helped protect Scalise and the other congressmen (and who was shot in the process) is a black, married lesbian — former college basketball star Crystal Griner. This is not to say that Scalise didn't deserve protection, but rather to note that Griner clearly didn't care about the particular identity or lifestyle of those she was sworn to serve ... unlike some congressmen we could name.

Mueller? Mueller?

Reportedly, GOP operatives are sensing a pattern: Trump attacks those investigating him, and — mysteriously! — leaks about the investigations follow. Smart operatives! Smarter than Trump, at least, who seems to still not understand that it is a bad idea to make enemies of the U.S. intelligence community. This week's one-two punch? Trump let hang the rumor that he might fire newly hired special prosecutor Robert Mueller ... and then the Washington Post reported that “officials ... briefed” on Mueller's investigation say that he has expanded the probe beyond Russia's hacking of the 2016 election and into Trump's obstruction of that probe, as well as “financial crimes among Trump associates.”

Should I be paying attention to this?

Another story that's a little difficult not to be paying attention to, and it's only growing in importance as the investigation progresses. Perhaps the question is what parts of the story you should be paying attention to.

Our best advice: Unlike us professional hacks, you have the luxury of ignoring the drip-drip-... well, perhaps a fire hose is a better analogy for this barrage of daily bombshells. What Trump's aides say, what Trump himself is saying or tweeting ... meh. Keep an eye on reports about what Mueller is up to, and monitor those areas where Trump's alleged malfeasance intersects with actual policy. For instance: The Senate this week passed (by a huge 97-2 margin) a bill that would block Trump from easing or ending the sanctions against Russia put in place by President Obama. Why is this important? The bill still has to face passage in the House, where its fate should reveal how serious House Republicans are about applying oversight to the executive branch; it will also be interesting to see how hard the Trump administration fights against this bill. How much does the White House have invested in having a free hand in Russia “negotiations”?

“Negotiations” in quotes there because, um, Trump has so far not volunteered what he wants, if anything, in exchange for a more benevolent relationship with Russia. Which is, you know, weird, and not a crime in and of itself ... but covering up an investigation into why he's so jazzed about Putin? Well, that is of course where Mueller comes in.

Who will think of the elections?

“I don’t remember any conversations with the president,” former FBI director James Comey said in a Senate hearing last week, “about the Russia election interference.” He also added that he thinks the Russian hackers “will be back.”

Comey wasn't the only one who felt like the Trump administration isn't too concerned about election safety. A week later, Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions, in yet another hearing about Russian interference, if “there [were] ever any meetings that he showed any concern or consideration or just inquisitive of what the Russians were doing and if they had really done it.” Sessions claimed he couldn't recall any such conversations. When later asked if he had ever sought more information on these cyber attacks, he said no.

Should I be paying attention this?

Yes, it is somewhat alarming that the executive branch seems unconcerned with protecting future elections from prying eyes. The 2018 midterms are barely more than a year away, and many states and municipalities aren't ready. Politico reported this week that the state of Georgia uses a pre-2005 edition of Windows to run its voting systems — and it isn't alone. A survey of 274 county election officials mentioned in a Slate piece that ran last week found that “more than half of the officials said they would need new voting machines by the 2020 election, but more than 80 percent of those said they did not know if or how they would be able to pay for replacements.” The money to update all these vulnerable systems is going to have to come from somewhere, but there isn't much evidence that people in power are interested in paying attention to the issue. And do we really want to relive 2016 all over again? We may not have a choice; the 2018 elections are almost here, and many states won't have time to do a complete renovation of their creaky equipment.

Now is the week of our discontent

Fox News ran a story with the headline, “NYC Play Appears to Depict Assassination of Trump.”

Should I be paying attention this?


Known unknowns

It might be a tad early to state this, but we can definitively say that Jeff Sessions's memoir of the Trump years is going to be the most boring of the bunch, as he won't be able to remember a single thing that happened. In his hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee last week, he said, “I don't recall” or “I don't remember” at least 19 times. In nearly all of his other answers, he merely stated that he was unable to craft a response, in case President Trump wished to exert executive privilege at a later date, which is kind of like saving a seat for someone even though you don't know if they are coming just because you want to be antisocial.

In other parts of the Capitol, Republican senators were busy this week working on their version of the Obamacare replacement legislation. They have not revealed what is in it, therefore we don't know which Americans would be most hurt by its passage. Democrats will not have a chance to propose amendments to the bill or even debate it, and plenty of Republican senators also have no idea what's in it. For a brief moment, it even seemed like Republican officials would try to bar TV cameras from the hallways of the Capitol, as if that would make it harder for their secret bill to give birth to attack ads before the midterms.

Should I be paying attention this?

When the federal government seems to transmogrify into a Jenga tower composed of unanswered questions instead of a national policy-making and bureaucratic entity, it's worth noticing. One Senate aide told Axios why the government had not yet released the health care bill: “We aren't stupid.” The American Health Care Act, as the New York Times explained this week, is detested everywhere in the country. There isn't a single state that approves of the bill.

Even if they don't show their work before turning it in, the Senate's health care bill might pass soon. The Trump administration might never recall what they did last summer, or ever, unless it pertains to having the best beginning of a presidency, not including FDR. (Trump has yet to shepherd any significant legislation through Congress, so we presume he means that he has talked about being a great president more than anyone else in history.) But as things continue to fall apart (the one certainty in the Trump years seems to be entropy), take note of the silences that are filled — and which ones still remain.

Regardless of the calorie-free Sessions hearing, or perhaps partly due to it, a majority of Americans think Trump interfered in the Russian investigation. Of course, wanting to possess more information about why these political story lines are unfolding in such an unpleasant way doesn't instantly bring transparency out of hiding. (We assume it is currently behind some dusty old cabinet in one of the agencies Trump forgot exists.) After years of waiting, Trump's tax returns, which could reveal unknown details about his financial past, remain so hidden that the next National Treasure sequel should be about them.

Travel ban continues losing streak

Another federal court ruled against Trump's travel ban.

The president is not happy.

Should I be paying attention this?

Yes. Trump has made clear from the beginning of his campaign that immigration is one of his primary concerns (“They're bringing drugs,” he infamously said during an early campaign rally. “They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”). The 9th Circuit decision noted that “National security is not a ‘talismanic incantation’ that, once invoked, can support any and all exercise of executive power,” but the administration and its allies on this issue have found plenty of other ways to target immigrants. Reuters reported earlier this month that the Trump administration has been targeting people who already were cleared from deportation by the last president. More than 100 Iraqi Christians in Detroit were detained last weekend. The acting director of ICE went on the Hill this week and said, “If you’re in this country illegally and you committed a crime by entering this country, you should be uncomfortable. You should look over your shoulder, and you need to be worried.” One teenager in New York was detained by ICE only days before he was set to graduate high school.

And, last but not least, the Supreme Court will likely decide the final fate of the travel ban soon too. Regardless of what happened this week, immigrants in the U.S. are going to be worried about immigration enforcement for a long time.

The GOP is still coming for your health care

Yes, we mentioned this earlier but it bears mentioning again and again and again: Trump's “repeal Obamacare” bill, the American Health Care Act, is still alive, still before the Senate, and still may get Trump's signature. And it is still as awful as it was when the House passed it, a fact that Trump seemed to recognize in a closed-door session with Senate GOP leaders when he called it “mean.”

A rare moment of understatement from the president! A bill that kicks millions of people off insurance rolls might even qualify as “bad”! Trump's odd denigration of the bill he celebrated passing in the Rose Garden, with a jazz band, may speak to the depths of its depravity or perhaps to Trump's cluelessness — neither of which will necessarily keep the Senate from passing some form of it and Trump making it law.

Should I be paying attention to this?

Yes yes yes yes yes yes yes. As important as the Russia/obstruction investigation is, undoing the Affordable Care Act would be catastrophic for some of the most vulnerable Americans — and some who don't yet realize they are vulnerable.

Furthermore, as we said, the Senate is counting on secrecy and subterfuge to get the AHCA through. They know it cannot withstand examination by their own constituents, and we should take advantage of that. Write your representatives, call them, go to town halls, let them know you're watching. And then watch.

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