That was an odd week. It was the middle of summer and there was no baseball, except for that pleasant All-Star Game that means nothing at all – and then the season resumed on Friday evening. That’s fine. Everyone needs a rest. But only the baseball players got any rest. Everyone else watched things fall apart in Washington. The week ended with President Trump announcing that there would be no “citizenship” question on the 2020 forms, and no census-taker would ask about that – which he had said was absolutely necessary. No one else thought so. The Supreme Court said sure, add that question, but only if you explain why that question is necessary – because your previous explanation was nonsense. That proved difficult, and Trump seems to have decided that this wasn’t the moment to assert that the president does not ever have to do what the Supreme Court says, or not do what they say he cannot do. Perhaps he’s saving that for later. But this time he didn’t say that what the Supreme Court thinks about anything is irrelevant. He shrugged. He’ll get the “citizenship data” elsewhere – he said he was going to sign an executive order that all federal agencies provide that, which they already do, but it sounded forceful.
So, did Trump lose this one? He says no – he’ll get his data – but the ACLU said this:
Trump’s attempt to weaponize the census ends not with a bang but a whimper.
He lost in the Supreme Court, which saw through his lie about needing the question for the Voting Rights Act. It is clear he simply wanted to sow fear in immigrant communities and turbocharge Republican gerrymandering efforts by diluting the political influence of Latino communities.
He then tried a mulligan, but his keystone cops couldn’t settle on a new rationale for the question; they couldn’t even figure out how to swap out legal teams. Now he’s backing down and taking the option that he rejected more than a year ago. Trump may claim victory today, but this is nothing short of a total, humiliating defeat for him and his administration.
When the details of Trump’s new plan to compile citizenship data outside of the census come out – and his plans for using that data – we will scrutinize them closely and assess their legality.
They’re going to be busy. The new argument will be that the census itself is kind of useless. Slate’s Jeremy Stahl explains here:
The announcement does not mark the end of the administration’s efforts to dilute Latino political power. Prior to the Supreme Court’s rulings, evidence emerged that a GOP redistricting operative had helped to concoct the citizenship question as a means of drawing maps in a way that would be “a disadvantage to the Democrats” and “advantageous to Republicans and non-Hispanic Whites.”
But there are ways around that:
During the Rose Garden speech, both Trump and Barr seemed to concede that the actual reason for the citizenship question was to offer Republicans and “non-Hispanic whites” an advantage in future redistricting efforts. Both promised that the executive order would provide information that could be used in such efforts.
“This information is also relevant to administering our elections,” Trump said. “Some states may want to draw state and local legislative districts based upon the voter-eligible population. Indeed, the same day the Supreme Court handed down the census decision it also said it would not review certain types of districting decisions, which could encourage states to make such decisions based on voter eligibility.”
Trump was saying that states could simply ignore the census data:
In that second Supreme Court case, cited by Trump, the court ruled that questions of excessive partisan gerrymandering are not reviewable by courts. The fact that Trump brought it up is further confirmation that the citizenship question was never about enforcing voting rights, but rather an effort to entrench Republican and “non-Hispanic white” advantage in elections.
In more genteel terms, Attorney General Barr essentially said the same thing.
“That information will be used for countless purposes, as the president explained in his remarks today,” the attorney general offered. “For example, there is a current dispute over whether illegal aliens can be included for apportionment purposes. Depending on the resolution of that dispute, this data may be relevant to those considerations. We will be studying this issue.”
No, they’ve already studied the issue. Trump’s justice department will support the argument made by certain states that although the Constitution says “persons” those who chose that word really meant the voter-eligible population – citizens only would be counted – or only registered voters. That’s what the Framers must have meant, even if they didn’t write that down.
The Republicans are serious about this:
As University of California–Irvine election law expert and Slate contributor Richard Hasen noted in his analysis of the decision, this effort to change how states are apportioned according to voting-eligible population rather than total population is still very much a live issue:
“The government will still collect citizenship data to give Republican states a way to draw districts with equal numbers of voter eligible citizens, rather than all persons, thereby diminishing Hispanic (and Democratic) voting power. The question of whether that is permissible will have to be decided by the Supreme Court, where the odds are good that drawing such discriminatory district would be allowed.”
Trump put two guys on the Supreme Court to help make this so, and that’s where this is headed:
Basically, the Constitution says that redistricting is meant to take place according to a census count that includes an “actual enumeration” of the “respective numbers” of “counting the whole number of persons in each State.” But as Hasen has noted, in the 2016 Supreme Court ruling Evenwel v. Abbott, Roberts’ court left open the question of whether this language actually means states must draw district lines according to total population, or can do so on the basis of voting-eligible population.
Alabama has revived the effort to exclude noncitizens from its apportionment count in a lawsuit against the Census Bureau and the Commerce Department.
Stahl adds this:
While completely surrendering on this citizenship question fight, Trump’s executive order leaves open the door for future such efforts to redefine who counts as a part of the U.S. population.
It seems that some people just won’t count. That’s the plan. Was this nothing short of a total, humiliating defeat for Trump and his administration? No, this really didn’t matter very much. Trump will save any declaration that the Supreme Court doesn’t matter at all any longer for some other issue. He’s got this one covered.
But now Congress doesn’t matter at all. Tierney Sneed reports on that:
If anything was clear from Friday’s appeals court hearing in the accounting firm subpoena case, President Trump is going all in on the argument that Congress has almost no right to investigate or regulate his conduct.
The hearing, which lasted more than double the one hour it was allotted, featured Trump’s personal attorney doubling down on an a number of incredible claims. Attorney William Consovoy told the court that there is almost no legislation Congress could constitutionally pass to rein in any unethical behavior by the President. Because of that, Consovoy argued, there were no legitimate legislative reasons for the House Oversight Committee to subpoena Trump’s accounting firm for his finances.
And that was that:
The judges on the court at times appeared surprised by how extreme Consovoy’s theory was.
“Imagine, in the future, you have the most corrupt president in humankind, openly flaunting it, what law could Congress pass?” Judge Patricia Millett, an Obama appointee asked.
Consovoy said that it was “very hard to think of one.”
And he smiled at them:
The case is a lawsuit Trump brought against the accounting firm Mazars to block it from complying with a subpoena for the Trump family’s and business’ financial records. The House Oversight Committee has intervened in the case to defend the subpoena, and a district judge already rejected the President’s arguments.
But on Tuesday, Consovoy did not appear humbled in the least by the monumental smack-down he received from the district court. He conceded not an inch to the idea that Congress might be able to pass a law based on what it learned of Trump’s finances. He said that even if Congress could, the House’s claims that it’s looking at potential legislation were not to be trusted.
This argument came to head toward the end the first hour he spent arguing in front of the court.
“I take it your theory is that he’s absolutely immune to any oversight? Is that right?” Judge Millet asked Consovoy, who would only offer the Presidential Records Act as an example of whether Congress could regulate the President.
“Is that it?” she asked, her voice raised as Consovoy struggled to offer another example of where Congress could address the President’s conduct.
He couldn’t come up with anything but that didn’t matter:
Underlying this argument was another, perhaps crazier one: that in assessing the legality of the House’s subpoena, the court was required to assess the legality of any potential legislation that could arise from the lawmakers’ investigation…
The judges brought up Congress’ authority to investigate the executive branch’s compliance with the law. Consovoy claimed that the office of the President is not part of the executive branch in that way.
He said that Congress could investigate corruption with regards to an agency, but not with regards to the President.
He argued that if Congress wanted to investigate broadly the effectiveness of the law, it could not target one individual person’s compliance.
Okay, no one can investigate the president, ever, and the President is not part of the executive branch anyway. But what is he? That was buried deep in Trump’s Thursday morning tweetstorm:
Trump demeaned Elizabeth Warren by describing her as “a very nervous and skinny version of Pocahontas.”
Trump went on to compare Warren unfavorably with himself, describing himself as “so great looking and smart, a true Stable Genius!”
Trump is beginning to sound like Muhammad Ali – who liked to call himself “The Greatest” – but without Ali’s sly irony. Ali was kidding around. Trump is serious. There’s something wrong with this man.
And that was evident on Friday morning:
Labor Secretary Alex Acosta’s resignation Friday amid the mushrooming Jeffrey Epstein investigation made him the latest in a growing list of President Trump’s Cabinet members to depart under a cloud of scandal, plunging an administration that has struggled with record turnover into further upheaval.
Trump announced the departure in a morning appearance with Acosta on the South Lawn of the White House, telling reporters that his labor secretary had chosen to step down a day after defending himself in a contentious news conference over his role as a U.S. attorney a decade ago in a deal with Epstein that allowed the financier to plead guilty to lesser offenses in a sex-crimes case involving underage girls.
This was just too hot to handle right now, so Trump did what he could to make this seem okay:
The president expressed regret over Acosta’s decision, calling him a “great labor secretary” and saying he had reassured the secretary that “you don’t have to do this.”
“It was him, not me,” Trump said, though behind the scenes, he had grown uncertain about Acosta’s future, according to administration aides who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the matter.
This wasn’t okay:
The sole Hispanic member of Trump’s Cabinet said the intense media focus on his role in Epstein’s case while he was a U.S. attorney in Florida had threatened to become a distraction that would undermine his work for the administration. Trump has sought to promote robust job growth and record-low unemployment in his appeal to workers and organized labor as he ramps up his reelection campaign.
But Trump, who as a private businessman had socialized with Epstein in the early 2000s, has come under renewed scrutiny for his ties to the disgraced financier and has faced fresh questions over his decision to hire Acosta.
So this really did have to go away:
Trump said that Patrick Pizzella, the deputy secretary of labor, will become acting secretary of the department.
And so it goes:
Acosta’s rapid downfall closed a 2½-year tenure that began only after Trump’s first choice for labor secretary, fast-food mogul Andrew Puzder, was forced to pull out over several personal and professional controversies.
In all, 13 Cabinet members named by Trump have departed over 30 months, not counting those who served in an acting capacity. Several others left amid ethics scandals, among them Tom Price at Health and Human Services, David Shulkin at Veterans Affairs, Scott Pruitt at the Environmental Protection Agency, and Ryan Zinke at Interior.
Ronny L. Jackson, whom Trump nominated to replace Shulkin, had his name pulled by the White House after allegations of mismanagement during his time as the White House physician. And last month, Patrick Shanahan dropped out of contention to be the permanent defense secretary after revelations over his marriage and family background.
Several others, including Jeff Sessions at Justice, Jim Mattis at the Pentagon, Kirstjen Nielsen at Homeland Security and James B. Comey at the FBI, were forced out or resigned amid increasing acrimony in their personal relationships with Trump or the president’s frustration with their performances.
And that leaves this:
Trump has struggled to keep up with the frequent vacancies, and he has moved in several cases to allow acting secretaries, who do not require Senate confirmation, to handle the duties, raising questions of accountability from congressional Democrats and good-governance groups.
Trump says he likes it that way. That gives him more flexibility. He gets to bypass the whole confirmation process. He can put anyone he wants in charge of everything, no questions asked, for as long as he wants. Even this guy:
Incoming acting Labor Secretary Patrick Pizzella will take the helm of the department following the resignation Friday of Alex Acosta, who faced scrutiny over his role in prosecuting alleged sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein more than a decade ago.
But Pizzella, currently deputy Labor secretary, has his own controversial past that will likely come to the fore. Democratic senators and civil rights groups have expressed concern about Pizzella’s prior work with disgraced Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff in the late 1990s and early 2000s to hamper worker protections in the Northern Mariana Islands.
This was a scam:
When Pizzella worked on Abramoff’s team at Preston Gates Ellis & Rouvelas Meeds, the lobbying firm was pushing to prevent Congress from imposing minimum wage laws on the Northern Mariana Islands. At the time, there were “maximum” wage restrictions on the islands of $3.05 per hour for foreign workers, according to the Center for Investigative Reporting.
“Foreign workers pay up to $7,000 to employers or middlemen for the right to a job in the CNMI. When they finally reach the Commonwealth, they are assigned to tedious, low paying work for long hours with little or no time off. At night they are locked in prison-like barracks,” one government report found.
Abramoff was one of those middlemen. Abramoff was sentenced to six years in prison on fraud-related charges in 2006 and served four years and was released. He’s nobody now. Pizzella will be acting secretary of labor probably for as long as Trump is president. Congress has no say in this matter. No one has any say in this matter, although he held positions for both Bush and Obama. Maybe he’ll be fine. But who knows?
That’s how the week ended. Baseball started up again and Donald Trump is still president. And there’s something wrong with this man. Michelle Goldberg ends the week with this:
On Monday, Donald Trump disinvited the then-British ambassador, Kim Darroch, from an official administration dinner with the emir of Qatar, because he was mad about leaked cables in which Darroch assessed the president as “insecure” and “incompetent.”
There was room at the dinner, however, for Trump’s friend Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, who was charged in a prostitution sting this year. Kraft was allegedly serviced at a massage parlor that had once been owned by Li Yang, known as Cindy, a regular at Trump’s club Mar-a-Lago. Yang is now the target of an FBI inquiry into whether she funneled Chinese money into Trump’s political operation.
An ordinary president would not want to remind the world of the Kraft and Yang scandals at a time when Jeffrey Epstein’s arrest has hurled Trump’s other shady associations back into the limelight.
But he took care of that, or perhaps not:
Even with Acosta gone, however, Epstein remains a living reminder of the depraved milieu from which the president sprang, and of the corruption and misogyny that continue to swirl around him. Trump has been only intermittently interested in distancing himself from that milieu. More often he has sought, whether through strategy or instinct, to normalize it.
And that’s what’s makes this so strange:
This weekend, Trump National Doral, one of the president’s Florida clubs, planned to host a fund-raiser allowing golfers to bid on strippers to serve as their caddies. Though the event was canceled when it attracted too much attention, it’s at once astounding and not surprising at all that it was approved in the first place.
In truth, a stripper auction is tame by the standard of gross Trump stories, since at least the women were willing. Your eyes would glaze over if I tried to list every Trump associate implicated in the beating or sexual coercion of women.
Instead of that Goldberg goes for the biggest hits, so to speak:
Acosta, you’ll remember, got his job because Trump’s previous pick, Andrew Puzder, withdrew following the revelation that his ex-wife, pseudonymous and in disguise, had appeared on an Oprah episode about “High Class Battered Women.” (She later retracted her accusations.)
Steve Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist, was once charged with domestic violence, battery and dissuading a witness. (The case was dropped when his former wife failed to appear in court.) After Bill Shine, a former co-president of Fox News, was forced from his job for his involvement in Fox’s sprawling sexual harassment scandals, Trump hired him.
The White House staff secretary Rob Porter resigned last year after it was revealed that both of his ex-wives had accused him of abuse. The White House speechwriter David Sorensen resigned after his ex-wife came forward with stories of his violence toward her.
Elliott Broidy, a major Trump fund-raiser who became the Republican National Committee deputy finance chairman, resigned last year amid news that he’d paid $1.6 million as hush money to a former playboy model, Shera Bechard, who said she’d had an abortion after he got her pregnant. (In a lawsuit, Bechard said Broidy had been violent.) The casino mogul Steve Wynn, whom Trump installed as the RNC’s finance chairman, resigned amid accusations that he’d pressured his employees for sex. He remains a major Republican donor.
In 2017, Trump tapped the former chief executive of AccuWeather, Barry Myers, to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Then the Washington Post discovered a report from a Department of Labor investigation into Myers’s company, which found a culture of “widespread sexual harassment” that was “severe and pervasive.” The Senate hasn’t yet voted on Myers’s nomination, but the administration hasn’t withdrawn it.
And just this week, a senior military officer came forward to accuse Gen. John Hyten, Trump’s nominee to be the next vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, of derailing her career when she turned down his sexual advances. “My life was ruined by this,” she told The Associated Press. (The Air Force reportedly cleared him of misconduct.)
Yes, there is a pattern here, along with this:
Trump will sometimes jettison men accused of abuse when they become a public relations liability. But his first instinct is empathy, a sentiment he seems otherwise unfamiliar with. In May, he urged Roy Moore, the theocratic Alabama Senate candidate accused of preying on teenage girls, not to run again because he would lose, but added, “I have NOTHING against Roy Moore, and unlike many other Republican leaders, wanted him to win.” The president has expressed no sympathy for victims in the Epstein case, but has said he felt bad for Acosta.
And there’s this:
It was just three weeks ago that E. Jean Carroll, a well-known writer, accused Trump of what amounted to a violent rape in the mid-1990s, and two friends of hers confirmed that she’d told them about it at the time. In response, Trump essentially said she was too unattractive to rape – “No. 1, she’s not my type” – and claimed that he’d never met her. That was a provable lie; there’s a photograph of them together. It didn’t matter. The story drifted from the headlines within a few days.
There is something wrong with this man, or wrong with us:
Since Epstein’s arrest, many people have wondered how he was able to get away with his alleged crimes for so long, given all that’s publicly known about him. But we also know that the president boasts about sexually assaulting women, and that over a dozen have accused him of various sorts of sexual misconduct, and one of them has accused him of rape. We know it, and we know we can’t do anything about it, so we live with it and grow numb.
And that means there’s something wrong with us now. How did it come to this? And what will it be next week?