Just hours after I posted a Citylab article reciting all the ways the EPA has helped people's lives over the years, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has resigned:
Mr. Pruitt had been hailed as a hero among conservatives for his zealous deregulation, but he could not overcome the stain of numerous ethics questions about his alleged spending abuses, first-class travel and cozy relationships with lobbyists.
Mr. Pruitt also came under fire for enlisting aides to obtain special favors for him and his family, such as reaching out to the chief executive of Chick-fil-A, Dan T. Cathy, with the intent of helping Mr. Pruitt’s wife, Marlyn, open franchise of the restaurant.
White House advisers for months have implored Mr. Trump to get rid of Mr. Pruitt, including his chief of staff, John F. Kelly. Ultimately, the president grew disillusioned with Mr. Pruitt after a cascade of accusations of impropriety and ethical missteps overshadowed Mr. Pruitt’s policy achievements.
In recent days, people who have spoken with Mr. Trump said he sounds exasperated with his EPA administrator’s negative headlines. “It’s one thing after another with this guy,” one person close to Mr. Trunp quoted the president as saying.
Notice that the scandals didn't matter to Trump; only that the scandals "overshadowed...policy achievments."
So the swampiest critter in Trump's new swamp has quit. This is excellent news. But don't get too excited:
The E.P.A.’s deputy administrator, Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist who shares Mr. Pruitt’s zeal to dismantle climate change regulations, will act as the agency’s leader until a new administrator is nominated by Mr. Trump and confirmed by the Senate.
So the policies won't actually change; but at least Pruitt finally got fired.
Before Scott Pruitt and friends destroy the Environmental Protection Agency, it's worth remembering the good it has done over the years:
Whatever happens to the EPA, this might be a good time to reflect on its legacy, especially in urban spaces. Though environmentalism conjures “America the Beautiful” images of purple mountains and unspoiled wilderness, much of the EPA’s heaviest lifting in rescuing this nation from its own filth happened in cities.
Long before fracking made tap water ignitable, Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River caught on fire—a lot. The saga is a well-trod part of the EPA’s origin story, but it’s still worth revisiting. A 1969 river fire caught Time’s attention in an article on American sewage systems, headlined in print as “The Cities: The Price of Optimism.”
The EPA also went to great lengths to clean up the Great Lakes. That Time article described Lake Erie as a “cesspool" created by the waste of “Detroit's auto companies, Toledo's steel mills, and the paper plants of Erie, Pa.” More notable city water cleanup projects include the agency’s 1983 project to restore the Chesapeake Bay or the 2002 project to clean up the Hudson River after New York City became the last city to dump sewage at sea in 1992.
Congress passed the Clean Air Act in 1963, but it was the creation of the EPA, combined with amendments to the law in 1970 and 1977, that added regulatory weight to the law’s mandate of reducing air pollution. The agency worked with companies and set limits on air pollutants and emissions from source like chemical plants, utilities and steel mills. Before the EPA, smog enrobed many U.S. cities in a lethal hydrocarbon haze, none more infamously than Los Angeles.
On that last point, I remember L.A. in the 1970s, and I watched it transform. Same here in Chicago. When Republicans whine about regulations hurting business, what they really mean is they want to pass along all the external costs of industry to us, the way they used to. Environmental regulations do cost industry money—because those are the real costs.
So when Scott Pruitt says he wants to reduce the burden on business, realize that he wants to put that burden right back on you.
Josh Marshall says that, despite what will probably come from a hard-right Supreme Court over the next few years, this isn't the end of the left:
Elections have consequences. Often they are profound consequences stretching years or decades into the future from their inception point. Trumpism is civic poison. There is a temptation to think that this is another reverse coming after Trump’s election, the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord, the reversal of DACA protections and more. I don’t see it that way. These jolts are really only absorbing, fully recognizing the consequences of what happened in November 2016. Once we ingested it into the body politic all sorts of outcomes became either inevitable or possible. [Trump appointing a second conservative justice] is just one more of them, though perhaps the most consequential yet.
Jeffrey Toobin says Roe v Wade will be overturned and abortion in 20+ states within 18 months. This is far from the only change we are likely to see in short order. The most visible, high-profile Court issues tend to be those centering on questions like abortion rights, LGBT equality, religious liberty. Far less visible, though no less consequential, are the issues I expect a new Court to focus on most: using the scaffolding of the law to block legislatures from addressing key economic questions facing our society, much as the Court did in the late 19th and early decades of the 20th century. They are all important; they’re all down by six runs in the 9th inning.
How do we react? I wrote yesterday that we can’t expect the courts to save us. That was clear with yesterday’s decisions. It’s even more overwhelmingly clear today. Litigation remains critical. But the fight for voting rights, for instance, will be won at the ballot box. Change will come through robust political coalitions — at the local and state level, building to the federal level. Everything else must follow the same path. We are on our own, left to our own devices. The history, whatever mistakes, misfortunes and interventions, is simply the terrain we now grapple with.
Remember, the American populace will continue to look less white and less conservative as the years go on. And the Supreme Court will, with its coming 5-seat right rump, make decisions that more and more Americans find distasteful. The Republican Party have chosen the losing side, but like all people, they will fight harder to keep what they have than they fought to get it in the first place.
We've seen startlingly rapid reversals in American history, even when things looked the worst. The Court blocked FDR's first attempts to fix the economy in 1933-1935, but ultimately relented in the face of overwhelming popular support, which contributed to us getting out of the Great Depression.
Things look bad. But they always do right before they get better.
Justice Kennedy is retiring.
In a pair of 5-4 decisions today, the Republican Party's theft of Merrick Garland's seat on the Supreme Court paid dividends again.
The modern-day Taney court, with the Roberts minority plus Gorsuch voting one way and a majority of the country voting the other, ruled that President Trump's ban on immigration from Muslim countries was constitutional, but found that California's law requiring unlicensed "crisis pregnancy centers" to post a notice that they aren't licensed was not constitutional.
Add those to their decisions on Ohio's voter roll purge, American Express's gag orders, and mandatory workplace arbitration, and the Republican program to empower business at the expense of individuals continues apace.
Meanwhile, Michelle Goldberg says "we have a crisis of democracy, not manners," and says Trump Administration officials deserve public shaming.
One might hope that June 2018 will be the high point of right-wing retrenchment, but no, it'll get worse before it gets better. Enjoy.
Meetings and testing all day have put these on my list for reading tomorrow:
And with that, it's the weekend.
Yesterday I worried aloud that the Sessions/Miller/Trump immigration policy separating children from their parents at the border was a move in a longer game to get rid of Rod Rosenstein and Robert Mueller without making it obvious that was the goal. With the President's apparent policy reversal yesterday, that no longer seems the case. Josh Marshall has a new hypothesis taking into account yesterday's executive order:
And there you have it. DOJ confirms that the White House knows the President’s executive order is in fact illegal on its face. What it does is set a 20 day countdown until Trump blames a court for forcing him to separate more families again.
The Post agrees:
[I]t remained highly uncertain whether the president’s hastily drafted order to keep families together in federal custody while awaiting prosecution for illegal border crossings would withstand potential legal challenges. And senior administration officials said the order did not stipulate that the more than 2,300 children already separated from their parents would be immediately reunited with them.
At the same time, a senior Justice Department official told reporters that the administration had little legal recourse but to release the families after 20 days unless a judge grants an exemption to a 1997 court settlement and subsequent rulings limiting the detention of children.
Trump’s order “seeks to replace one form of child abuse with another,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a statement. “Instead of protecting traumatized children, the President has directed his Attorney General to pave the way for the long-term incarceration of families in prisonlike conditions.”
Remember, the immorality of the administration's immigration policies is a feature, not a bug.
I had a thought last night that disturbed me. It goes something like this:
Attorney General Jeff Sessions is being set up as the heel, so the President can fire him without it looking like a step in shutting down the Mueller probe.
Think about it. Sessions has doubled down on a monstrous policy decision that almost the entire Republican Congressional caucus wants to stop. He has become almost a comic-book villain now, taking responsibility for a policy that actually came directly from the White House. Even he has to see how unpopular the policy is, as Republicans in Congress certainly do because their jobs are on the line. Why would he persist?
So this gives Trump an opportunity to be the hero that fires Sessions, reverses the policy, and (oh, incidentally) installs a new Attorney General much more likely to fire Rod Rosenstein. That this policy came directly from the Oval Office, and that firing Sessions would be a complete reversal of everything Trump has said about it for weeks, really won't make a difference.
If this sounds like a pro-wrestling storyline, don't forget where Trump came from. He doesn't really care about policy; he cares about ratings. And this story has given his reality show tremendous ratings. Never mind that thousands of real children will never see their parents again. When has this administration cared about real consequences?
As the President frequently says, "we'll see what happens." If this is, in fact, the play, I expect it to happen in the next week, before Congress can pass a law that would set the President up for a veto fight with his own party.
McKay Coppins, who profiled Miller for The Atlantic last month, believes that the outrage over the immorality of the administration's immigration policy is exactly the point:
A seasoned conservative troll, Miller told me during our interview that he has often found value in generating what he calls “constructive controversy—with the purpose of enlightenment.” This belief traces back to the snowflake-melting and lib-triggering of his youth. As a conservative teen growing up in Santa Monica, he wrote op-eds comparing his liberal classmates to terrorists and musing that Osama bin Laden would fit in at his high school. In college, he coordinated an “Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week.” These efforts were not calibrated for persuasion; they were designed to agitate. And now that he’s in the White House, he is deploying similar tactics.
As public backlash has intensified in recent days against the new border policy, Trump administration officials have predictably struggled to formulate a coherent, unified defense. Amid all the bumbling recriminations and shifting talking points, one can sense in some of these officials a natural response to the situation developing at the border—if not shame, then at least chagrin.
But for Miller, it seems, all is going according to plan—another “constructive controversy” unfolding with great potential for enlightenment. His bet appears to be that voters will witness this showdown between Trump and his angry antagonists, and ultimately side with the president. It’s a theory that will be put to the test in November. In the meantime, the heartrending orchestra on the border will play on.
We may be stuck with this asshole for another 2½ years. But in just 140 days, we can send him and his boss a clear message.
To almost everyone's frustration, the Supreme Court rendered two unanimous decisions today in which they declined to rule on the constitutionality of two gerrymandering cases. This means both Wisconsin and Maryland will keep their district maps through the November election:
In the Wisconsin case, the court said that the challenges must be brought district by district, with voters in each proving that their rights had been violated. The challengers asked the court to consider the state map as a whole.
The Maryland case was still at a preliminary stage, and the court in an unsigned opinion said the lower court had not been wrong when it decided not to make the state redraw the maps in time for the 2018 election.
The justices sent the [Wisconsin] case back to a panel of three federal judges to see if the challengers could modify their suit to show they have plaintiffs in the individual districts.
Justice Elena Kagan wrote that the plaintiffs should be able to do so.
“Courts—and in particular this court—will again be called on to redress extreme partisan gerrymanders,” she wrote. “I am hopeful we will then step up to our responsibility to vindicate the Constitution against a contrary law.”
I totally understand why SCOTUS punted, because they really do not want to weigh in on such a politicized issue. But wow, given that a majority of Wisconsin voters are Democrats, it's obvious that the current Wisconsin map is a power-grab by Republicans who fear they're losing power against urban Democrats.
We're not going to be done with this in my lifetime.