Friends, this week I have a favor to ask: I’m writing a story and I want to hear from you. Specifically, I want to talk about how you follow political news these days and how it makes you feel — whether the barrage of evening push notifications is giving you hives, whether you’ve given up on Twitter, whether you’re obsessively following every twist and turn in this wild news cycle. If you’re interested in rocketing to fame in the pages of your local newspaper you can get get in touch via my email at the top of this story.
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Today, let’s talk about Jeff Sessions.
What’s at stake
We’re in the middle of a positively wild news cycle — Spicey, we hardly knew ye — fueled mostly by a series of increasingly feverish tweetstorms from President Trump. Much of the president’s ire has focused on his attorney general, Jeff Sessions — beginning with Trump telling the Times last Wednesday he never would have hired the former senator from Alabama if he’d known he would recuse himself from the Russia investigation.
His boss has been tweeting almost constantly about him since then: calling him “beleaguered” and his positions “weak” and, perhaps most significantly, questioning why he hasn’t investigated Hillary Clinton.
The local angle
On Friday, with rumors swirling about his resignation, Sessions came to Philly, a sanctuary city whose mayor is a vocal critic of the Trump administration, to talk about the dangers of sanctuary cities. This went about as well as you would expect.
After Sessions said he believed local police want to help the feds enforce immigration law, but are hamstrung by their cities’ sanctuary policies, Philly Police Commissioner Richard Ross told reporters he didn’t think local police should be involved in immigration enforcement at all. A few hours later, the Post reported that, during the election, Sessions may have discussed campaign matters with the Russian ambassador, something he’d previously denied.
This isn’t really about Jeff Sessions’ terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week. It’s about the way President Trump talks about the Russian investigation, and about his staff, and about his own power — something he’s defining, in real time, on Twitter, as he discusses his ability to pardon people and muses about investigating political rivals. It’s about how this kind of rhetoric is something we’re increasingly inured to.
Practically speaking, if Sessions resigns or Trump fires him, his replacement could temporarily skirt the confirmation process if Trump makes the appointment during a congressional recess. And my colleague Chris Mondics has a good breakdown of what to watch for in the event of a Sessions firing: political uproar, a boost for Trump’s base and an effort to curtail or fire Robert Mueller, the special counsel heading the Russia investigation.
What they’re saying
“Who the hell wants to speak about politics when I’m in front of the Boy Scouts, right?” — President Trump, addressing 40,000 Boy Scouts at their national jamboree last night. He proceeded to spend much of the speech talking about politics.
“If there’s this level of tension in the relationship that’s public, you’re probably right [that Trump wants Sessions out].” — new White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci, on conservative talk radio this morning.
“Let me be very clear: I did not collude with Russia, nor do I know of anyone else in the campaign who did so.” — White House adviser and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, speaking to the press Monday after an interview with Senate investigators.
In other news
- Senate Republicans are voting on their healthcare bill today — well, they’re voting on a procedural measure to open debate on the bill. But no one’s quite sure what bill they’ll actually debate — whether they’ll opt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act or just repeal and delay, giving themselves two years to come up with a replacement. PA Sen. Pat Toomey, who helped author the bill, told my colleagues Chris Brennan and Jon Tamari yesterday that he doesn’t know what he’ll be voting on. Heady times! The Senate convenes at noon.
- The Trump administration declined to renew contracts with two companies charged with helping people sign up for the ACA in 18 cities, including Philadelphia. Critics worry that this, combined with a shorter healthcare enrollment period, is a sign Trump is making good on his occasional musings about letting Obamacare fail, the Associated Press reports. Medicaid and Medicare officials say the companies had only worked with a minute fraction of the overall number of people who got coverage under the ACA, and that other federally funded programs do the same job.
- Jeff Sessions recently announced that he’s expanding the federal government’s use of civil asset forfeiture, long a controversial issue in Philly, which allows local police to seize cash and property in criminal investigations — and which critics on both sides of the aisle say funds police and prosecutors at the expense of people who often have nothing to do with those investigations. Under Sessions’ expansion of the “adoptive forfeiture” program, state and local police in areas that have banned civil forfeiture could ask the feds to seize property on their behalf — and still reap some of the profits from it. But it won’t apply in Pennsylvania — the state’s civil-forfeiture reform law, passed earlier this year, specifically bans adoptive forfeiture.
What I’m reading
- The Atlantic looks at Jared Kushner’s contacts with Russia — and what they reveal about the Russians’ playbook during the election.
- The New Yorker watches a bunch of old episodes of The Apprentice, the show that sold us our president, and comes away with some insights about the rise of Trump.
- Five Thirty Eight indulges in some extremely nerdy speculative fiction in the parallel universe where Hillary Clinton won the election. (Spoiler alert: their news cycle is also deeply exhausting.)
A non-political palate cleanser
Here is a story about Pete, a parrot from Allentown for whom Penn Vet is designing a 3D printed prosthetic leg.