Republican Senator Says Subpoenaing Trump’s Tax Returns a Possibility in Russia Investigation
Maine Senator Susan Collins, unlike many of her Republican colleagues, indicated during an interview Wednesday on Maine Public Radio that she might just be serious about investigating the president and his administration’s shadowy relationship with Russia. As a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Collins is involved in the probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, and said Wednesday she is open to the possibility of subpoenaing President Trump’s tax returns, as part of the investigation, to ensure he doesn’t have any untoward dealings with Russia.
“I don’t know whether we will need to do that,” Collins said. “If it is necessary to get to the answers, then I suspect that we would.” Collins also indicated members of the Intelligence Committee will be requesting former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn appear before the committee. It was not clear if those hearings would be held in private or in public. Collins’ comments indicate an increasing interest in probing the Trump team’s Russian ties although the Maine Republican’s willingness to compel the president to release, at least hypothetically, his taxes as part of a broader investigation goes farther than her Republican colleagues in the Senate. “All of us are determined to get the answers,” Collins said. “In some ways, this is a counterintelligence cooperation—in many ways—and that’s what our committee specializes in.”
Trump Administration Revokes Federal Protections for Transgender Students
The Trump administration removed federal protections for transgender students Wednesday evening, effectively rolling back Obama administration legal guidelines that allowed students in public schools to use the bathroom and locker room aligned with their chosen gender, not their sex at birth. The Trump administration cited states’ rights as the primary motivation for the change and kicked the contentious issue back to individual states and local school districts to draw up bathroom policies for transgender students that do not violate federal anti-discrimination law.
“Officials with the federal Education and Justice departments notified the U.S. Supreme Court that it was ordering the nation’s schools to disregard memos the Obama administration issued during the past two years that said prohibiting transgender students from using facilities that align with their gender identity violates federal anti-discrimination laws,” the Washington Post reports.
The two-page ‘dear colleague’ letter included in a Supreme Court filing late Wednesday does not offer schools any new guidance, instead saying that the earlier directive needed to be withdrawn because it lacked extensive legal analysis, did not go through a public vetting process and sowed confusion and legal challenges. The administration said that it would not rely on the prior interpretation of the law going forward.
“Congress, state legislatures, and local governments are in a position to adopt appropriate policies or laws addressing this issue,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement Wednesday. “The Department of Justice remains committed to the proper interpretation and enforcement of Title IX and to its protections for all students, including LGBTQ students, from discrimination, bullying, and harassment.”
“The question of how to address bathroom access, which the Obama White House clarified last year, had opened a rift inside the Trump administration, pitting Betsy DeVos, the secretary of education, against Jeff Sessions, the attorney general,” the New York Times reports. “The new policy overruled the advice of President Trump’s education secretary and placed his administration firmly in the middle of the culture wars that many Republicans have tried to leave behind.”
Today in Conservative Media: “A New Era of Immigration Policy”
A daily roundup of the biggest stories in right-wing media.
On Wednesday, several conservative sites focused on an online survey whose results show, in the words of a TownHall headline, that “Americans Still Overwhelmingly Oppose Sanctuary Cities.” The online survey was conducted by Harris Poll, an organization that Breitbart identifies as “co-managed by Democratic pollster Mark Penn.”
InfoWars, like many other conservative outlets, focused on one result from the poll, framing it with the headline: “Shock Poll: 80% of Americans Oppose Sanctuary Cities.” (Breitbart also featured this number on its homepage.) The 80 percent figure derives from a question that proposes, “Cities that arrest illegal immigrants for crimes should be required to turn them over to immigration authorities.”
Town Hall suggested that the survey indicated “that Americans are sympathetic to” the story of “‘angel mom’ Laura Wilkerson [who] offered an emotional explanation of how her child was murdered at the hands of an illegal immigrant.” Infowars, meanwhile, wrote, “The results show clearly Americans want these aliens deported and do not believe ‘they’re enriching our culture’ and ‘helping our economy,’” quotations that do not appear to derive from the survey.
The immigration issue in general was widely covered by right-wing sites. The Daily Caller looked at two memos signed on Monday by the Department of Homeland Security, saying that they “ushered in a new era of immigration policy,” while focusing on how they diverge from Obama-era approaches. Covering the same news, National Review wrote, “The lesson here is that apologists for illegal aliens will come to rue the end of the dishonest Obama approach to immigration enforcement.”
LifeZette, meanwhile, ran an article focusing on GOP Rep. Adam Kinzinger’s objection to the inclusion of Iraq in Trump’s travel ban. Criticizing Kinzinger for this, LifeZette pointed out that U.S. Customs and Border Protection had clarified that “Iraqi’s [sic] aiding the United States would be allowed to board their flights, are eligible for a special immigrant visa ‘and will be processed for a waiver upon arrival.’” And Breitbart, consistent with its coverage of Sweden, ran articles on asylum fraud in Germany and other Eurocentric immigration topics.
Posts about Morning Joe's Mika Brzezinski were widely shared from conservative Facebook pages:
Kelly Appears to Contradict Rest of Administration, Self in New Statement About Deportation Priorities
In both an executive order and in a Department of Homeland Security implementation memo issued by DHS chief John Kelly Tuesday, the Trump administration has made clear that it considers all undocumented immigrants in the U.S.—not just the recent arrivals and individuals convicted of serious crimes that the Obama administration targeted—to be fair game for deportation. From the Jan. 25 order:
In executing faithfully the immigration laws of the United States, the Secretary of Homeland Security (Secretary) shall prioritize for removal ... removable aliens who:
(a) Have been convicted of any criminal offense;
(b) Have been charged with any criminal offense, where such charge has not been resolved;
(c) Have committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense;
(d) Have engaged in fraud or willful misrepresentation in connection with any official matter or application before a governmental agency;
(e) Have abused any program related to receipt of public benefits;
(f) Are subject to a final order of removal, but who have not complied with their legal obligation to depart the United States; or
(g) In the judgment of an immigration officer, otherwise pose a risk to public safety or national security.
Items C and G give immigration officers broad authority to prioritize the deportation not just of convicted criminals but of anyone they deem suspicious, while item D would seemingly cover almost all undocumented immigrants, most of whom have likely engaged in some sort of minor misrepresentation of their status in the course of living and working in the U.S. Language in other sections of both the executive order and Tuesday's memo makes clear, meanwhile, that all “removable aliens” should consider themselves subject to ejection from the U.S. And DHS says it is planning to hire thousands more agents and deputize thousands of other law enforcement officials to act as collaborators.
All this would seemingly add up to a drastic escalation in the pace and scope of deportations, right? Well, per the AP, here’s what John Kelly told Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales about that on Wednesday (translation via Google Translate with my own tweaks):
In a joint statement with Kelly, foreign minister Carlos Raúl Morales stressed “a very important issue that unfortunately has been interpreted in different ways: [Kelly] has expressed to us that there will be no massive deportations. The United States is to focus on those migrants who have a criminal record.”
So, maybe there will be large-scale deportations of generally law-abiding undocumented immigrants, or maybe there won’t be! It will be fun, for those immigrants, to wait and see how it all plays out.
(I’ve inquired with DHS about the apparent contradiction and will update this post if I hear back.)
15 Metal Albums Whose Titles Are Less Dark Than the Washington Post’s New Motto
The Washington Post unveiled a cheery new motto this week: “Democracy dies in darkness.” The phrase now appears beneath the newspaper’s name on its website and Snapchat Discover page, although it has yet to make its way into the print edition.
If it sounds like a catchphrase more befitting a doomsday prophet than a daily newspaper, that doesn’t seem to be the intent. While its precise origins are unclear, it’s a favorite saying of Bob Woodward, the famous Post reporter and editor, who has deployed it in speeches and interviews since at least 2007 as an earnest criticism of government secrecy. The Post’s owner, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, repurposed it as a rallying cry in a 2016 interview about why he bought the paper:
I think a lot of us believe this: that democracy dies in darkness, that certain institutions have a very important role in making sure that there is light. And I think the Washington Post has a seat, an important seat, to do that, because we happen to be located here in the capital city of the United States of America.
In Bezos’ mind, then, the motto is really about “making sure there is light.” Still, it’s hard to shake the sense that we’re reading dispatches from the end times with those three D-words looming atop the paper’s home page. The grim action verb, the present tense, the dunh-dunh-dunh alliteration, the foreboding final word: Cormac McCarthy, take notes!
Far be it for us at Slate to chide fellow journalists for apocalyptic responses to our present political predicament. That said, we can imagine that the backlash and mockery might give the Post’s executives pause as they ponder putting the motto on their subscribers’ doorsteps every morning, and we’re here to help. Should Washington’s paper of record decide at some point that it wants to strike a slightly gentler tone, here are 15 classic metal album titles that might fit the bill.
Welcome to Hell, Venom (1981)
Screaming for Vengeance, Judas Priest (1982)
Reign in Blood, Slayer (1986)
The Erosion of Sanity, Gorguts (1993)
Altars of Madness, Morbid Angel (1989)
Vulgar Display of Power, Pantera (1992)
Seasons in the Abyss, Slayer (1990)
Slowly We Rot, Obituary (1989)
Bonded by Blood, Exodus (1984)
Storm of the Light’s Bane, Dissection (1995)
Operation: Mindcrime, Queensryche (1988)
The Downward Spiral, Nine Inch Nails (1994)
All Hope Is Gone, Slipknot (2008)
Kill ’Em All, Metallica (1983)
Peace Sells … but Who’s Buying?, Megadeth (1986)
Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Black Man Whose Lawyer Called Racist “Expert” to the Stand
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a black death row inmate, Duane Buck, whose own attorney called an “expert” to the stand who told the jury Buck’s race made him a danger to society. Chief Justice John Roberts penned the 6-2 decision holding that Buck received ineffective assistance of counsel in violation of the Sixth Amendment, and allowing him to appeal his capital sentence. Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented.
Buck was convicted of capital murder in Texas, a conviction which carries with it the possibility of a death sentence. At the penalty phase of the trial, which took place in 1997, the jury was told it could impose the death penalty if it found “a probability that the defendant would commit criminal acts of violence that would constitute a continuing threat to society.” Buck’s attorney called an expert, Dr. Walter Quijano, to testify—with the knowledge that Quijano believed Buck’s race increased his probability of future violence. Sure enough, on the stand, Quijano testified that Buck’s race was “know[n] to predict future dangerousness.” He added, “It’s a sad commentary that minorities, Hispanics, and black people are overrepresented in the criminal justice system.”
The Trump Administration Is Set to Reverse Transgender Bathroom Protections
The Trump administration is set to repeal protections put in place by the Obama administration that allow transgender students to use restrooms and other single-gender facilities that match their gender identities. From the Washington Post:
In a letter to the nation’s schools, administration officials plan to say they are withdrawing guidance issued by the Obama administration that found that denying transgender students the right to use the restroom of their choice violates federal prohibitions against sex discrimination, according to a draft of the letter obtained by The Washington Post.
“This interpretation has given rise to significant litigation,” states the two-page draft, which indicates that the Education and Justice departments plan to issue it jointly. The draft says administrators, parents and students have “struggled to understand and apply the statements of policy” in the Obama-era guidance.
The Post goes on to report that the letter says the reversal has no bearing on bullying and harassment protections available to transgender students. The letter will evidently be released on Wednesday, according to the Post’s source, who also says Education Secretary Betsy DeVos does not want to rescind the guidance.
The Obama administration’s policy was part of Title IX guidelines released last May, which stated that transgender students were protected by existing regulations that bar discrimination by sex for schools receiving federal funding. “The Departments treat a student’s gender identity as the student’s sex for purposes of Title IX and its implementing regulations,” a joint letter to schools from the Department of Education and the Department of Justice read. “This means that a school must not treat a transgender student differently from the way it treats other students of the same gender identity.”
On restrooms and locker rooms, the departments wrote that schools “may provide separate facilities on the basis of sex, but must allow transgender students access to such facilities consistent with their gender identity” and also that transgender students could not be forced to use single-user restrooms.
The Obama administration’s guidance is not currently in effect—a Texas U.S. district judge issued a nationwide hold on the new regulations in the fall after 13 states challenged them. Asked about the potential for a change in the guidance on Tuesday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said that President Trump believes the use of restrooms by transgender students is “a states’ rights issue.”
USA Today reported on potential reaction from the states:
Fifteen states have explicit protections for transgender students, and many individual school districts in other states have adopted policies that recognize students on the basis of their gender identity, Sarah Warbelow, legal director of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) told The Associated Press. Just one state, North Carolina, has enacted a law restricting students' bathroom access to their sex at birth. But so far this year, lawmakers in more than 10 states are considering similar legislation, according to the National Conference of State Legislators.
On Feb. 13, Scott Skinner-Thompson of NYU’s School of Law wrote in Slate that the impact of a repeal of the Obama administration’s guidance may be more limited than the Trump administration realizes. “As numerous cases have already recognized,” he wrote, “the prohibitions on sex discrimination contained within federal civil rights statutes do extend to protect transgender individuals—irrespective of what the Trump administration may say about it.” This is partly because courts have found defining sex by asserted gender identity to be more legally and practically tenable than the alternatives:
[A]s the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals concluded in its decision to, in effect, permit Gavin Grimm, a transgender boy, to use the boys’ restrooms (a decision that is now being considered by the Supreme Court), the alternative interpretation of sex as “biological sex” offered by those opposing transgender access creates more ambiguity than it resolves. As the 4th Circuit reasoned: “For example, which restroom would a transgender individual who had undergone sex-reassignment surgery use? What about an intersex individual? What about an individual born with X-X-Y sex chromosomes? What about an individual who lost external genitalia in an accident?” An interpretation of sex that looks to an individual’s gender identity “resolves ambiguity by providing that in the case of a transgender individual using a sex-segregated facility, the individual’s sex as male or female is to be generally determined by reference to the student’s gender identity.” In other words, defining sex in terms of gender identity is the only interpretation that actually avoids inconsistencies and creates a uniform rule.
Republicans Are Facing Their Constituents in Town Halls This Week, and the People Are Angry
Congress is in recess, and members are in their districts hosting town halls this week. For many Republicans, that’s meant contentious meetings complete with constituent outrage over the GOP’s permissiveness with President Donald Trump and anger over potentially having their health care pulled out from under them. There have also been a number of sick burns along the way. The reception has been severe enough that some lawmakers have pulled out of town hall events. Here’s a glimpse into of what’s going on at some of the meetings around the country this week.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky:
"If you can answer any of that, I'll sit down and shut up like Elizabeth Warren." - constituent to Mitch McConnell pic.twitter.com/M3hPrVkUmF— Axios (@axios) February 21, 2017
Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley in Iowa Falls:
Many Americans are using the same town halls in which ACA was debated to now discuss its future. Here's one example. pic.twitter.com/1z1Pqu7pQV— Margarita Noriega (@margarita) February 22, 2017
Chuck Grassley asked about impeachment of Trump at town hall in Garner, Iowa: pic.twitter.com/eAPzQe0pLq— Vaughn Hillyard (@VaughnHillyard) February 21, 2017
Republican Sen. Joni Ernst ducked out of a veterans town hall in Maquoketa, Iowa.
The crowd jeers and chants after Joni Ernst ends her forum after only 45 minutes, few questions pic.twitter.com/aHrcbPMxv2— Iowa Starting Line (@IAStartingLine) February 21, 2017
Finally, here's the crowd chanting "Shame on you" as Joni Ernst left the forum in Maquoketa pic.twitter.com/KoJwLgjcfj— Iowa Starting Line (@IAStartingLine) February 21, 2017
Republican Rep. Dave Brat of Virginia:
Here's a good example of the rowdiness/frustration at Rep. Dave Brat's town hall tonight. He took over 30 Qs, got lots of pushback. pic.twitter.com/L3kHyDUNKw— Ashley Killough (@KilloughCNN) February 22, 2017
The scene outside Dave Brat's town hall in Blackstone Va. after it ended pic.twitter.com/YrwCclQZMu— James Arkin (@JamesArkin) February 22, 2017
Arkansas Republican Congressman Steve Womack:
Crowd asks Rep. Steve Womack (R-AR) to investigate Trump/Russia.— Bradd Jaffy (@BraddJaffy) February 22, 2017
Wait for it... pic.twitter.com/4siV7A0cOR
Many Republicans saw what was happening and bailed:
Federal Judge Halts Texas Effort to Block Medicaid Patients From Access to Planned Parenthood
A federal judge, on Tuesday, put a halt on Texas’ effort to cut Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood services in the state. U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks’ preliminary injunction temporarily stopped the state’s effort to defund the reproductive health non-profit, which gained momentum after anti-abortion activists released secretly recorded, highly edited videos in 2015 that were contrived to make the organization look like it was profiting off the sale of fetal tissue. Planned Parenthood was cleared of any wrongdoing by a Texas grand jury; that has not fazed Republican lawmakers however.
“Sparks' decision preserves what Planned Parenthood says are cancer screenings, birth control access and other health services for nearly 11,000 low-income women at 30 clinics,” according to the Associated Press. “Texas originally intended to boot Planned Parenthood in January but Sparks told the state to wait pending his ruling. Arkansas, Alabama, Kansas, Mississippi and Louisiana have also had similar efforts blocked.”
Planned Parenthood says none of the Medicaid funds it receives, which the organization says amounted to $3 million in 2016, go towards providing abortion services for the 120,000 patients it serves at its Texas health centers. Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said the state intends to appeal the ruling.
Discarded Troll Milo Yiannopoulos Is Now Useless to Conservatives
You can thank Steve Bannon, now a central figure in Donald Trump’s administration, for making the clownish hustler Milo Yiannopoulos a star. As the editor of Breitbart, Bannon recruited Yiannopoulos to the site, where he published columns like “No, J.C. Penney, Fat People Should Absolutely Hate Themselves” and “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy.” If Trump is a poor person’s idea of a rich person, Yiannopoulos is a Trump voter’s fantasy of a decadent gay sophisticate. His shtick is to wrap various shades of reaction—anti-feminism, racism, anti-Semitism, hatred of Muslims—in camp, to sell bigotry as cheeky provocation. He and co-author Allum Bokhari put it this way, in a Breitbart ode to the alt-right: “Just as the kids of the 60s shocked their parents with promiscuity, long hair and rock’n’roll, so too do the alt-right’s young meme brigades shock older generations with outrageous caricatures, from the Jewish ‘Shlomo Shekelburg’ to ‘Remove Kebab,’ an internet in-joke about the Bosnian genocide.”
Yiannopoulos uses his gayness to grant absolution to his mostly straight right-wing audiences, telling them that by reveling in prejudice, they are bravely flouting taboos. During the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, at an event billed as an America First Unity Rally, Yiannopoulos told a crowd full of bikers and Alex Jones acolytes: “I might be a dick-sucking faggot, but I fucking hate the left … the left in this country is a cancer that you need to eradicate.” As a gay man, he added, he aims to be “transgressive, to be naughty, to be mischievous. And today in America that means being right-wing.”
It turns out the right isn’t quite as enamored of transgression as Yiannopoulos thought. In the past few days, his career has imploded, thanks to old but previously little-noticed recordings in which he celebrates sex between teenage boys and adult men. In quick succession, Yiannopoulos’ invitation to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference was withdrawn, his $250,000 Simon and Schuster book contract was canceled, and on Tuesday afternoon, he resigned from Breitbart. Even Richard Spencer, the white nationalist who coined the term alt-right, now dismisses him. “He cannot be defended at this point,” Spencer said in a denunciatory video on Tuesday, adding, “I think it’s also clear that his career is over, definitively.”
Yiannopoulos, a sworn enemy of victim culture, reacted to his sudden fall by playing the victim card. “I’m a gay man and a child-abuse victim,” he said, at a Tuesday afternoon press conference in SoHo. “Between the ages of 13 and 16, two men touched me in ways they should not have. One of those men was a priest.” At the time, he said, “I didn’t perceive what was happening as abusive. But I can look back now and see that it was. I still don’t view myself as a victim, but clearly I am one.” He blithe remarks about the value of man-boy sex were thus his way of working through his own experience, though he allowed that “my usual blend of sassy gay British sarcasm, provocation, and gallows humor might have come across as flippancy.”
Over the next 30 minutes, Yiannopoulos apologized, deflected, complained about a political witch hunt, and tried to cast himself as a performer being held to an unfairly literal journalistic standard. “Go into any drag bar or gay club, and you will hear joke after joke about clerical sexual abuse,” he said. “I’m not afforded the same freedom to make those kind of jokes, because the media chooses to selectively define me as a political figure in some circumstances and a comedian in others.” Then it was back to leaning on his sad history: “To be a victim of child abuse, and at the same time be accused of being an apologist for child abuse, is absurd.”
There were moments of bravado: Yiannopoulos says that another publisher will pick up his book and that he’s starting his own media company. “I don’t think this has done any harm for my profile,” he said. “I think more people are going to read what I have to say on the subject of free speech as a result of this.” All the same, he seemed a little shaken, describing the past 48 hours as a “horrible and humiliating and degrading experience.”
Now he apparently wants to rebrand himself as an entertainer rather than a polemicist. “I’m going to focus now on entertainment, on education, and less perhaps on journalism,” he said. It will be surprising if that works. Yiannopoulos’ act was all about baiting liberals over free speech; he’d say something repulsive, the left would react, and conservatives could play the defenders of edgy self-expression. In the end, however, the right shut him down the second he made conservatives uncomfortable. Going forward, even if any right-wingers are willing to be associated with him, it will be hard for him to continue the fiction that conservatives are uniquely open-minded. That means he’s no use to them, or to anyone, really. Poor snowflake.