So… This week was a trainwreck. Republicans gutted congressional ethics oversight, Trump shouted at CNN I mean held a press conference, Sessions was the first of Trump’s cabinet nominees to get a hearing, and an anti-vaxer may be put in charge of vaccine safety… and he’s a Kennedy. At least Chris Christie may be back to doing something productive (we hope).
One Drink: If At First You Don’t Succeed…
Remember last week when we reported a successful instance of democracy in action, where concerned citizens called their representatives to voice their objections to a House rules change which would gut the Office of Congressional Ethics and said rule change was quickly withdrawn in response? If it sounded too good to be true, that’s because it was.
This public outcry may have saved the OCE itself, which would have been significantly hobbled in its ability to conduct independent investigations and communicate with the public through the original rules change. However, the newly sworn in Congress still managed to slip a one sentence change through in the midst of all the hubbub that may be just as obstructive. It states that, “Records created, generated, or received by the congressional office of a Member … are exclusively the personal property of the individual member … and such Member … has control over such records.”
More simply put, each member of Congress now owns any document that comes across their desk, and are under no obligation to release them, regardless of their relevance to a potential investigation or vested public interest. So, if you’re a Congressperson reading this, go ahead and buy that $5,000 chandelier you’ve had your eye on with taxpayer money! That receipt, and any other similarly incriminating documents, are now untouchable unless you hand them over. Which you would totally do if you had documented proof of your own unethical behavior, right?
Two Drink: One Doozy of a News Conference
If anyone believed that the office would make the man, I hope Wednesday’s press conference disabused them of that misconception.
What the Guardian described aptly as a “trainwreck of a press conference” started with a valid, bipartisan policy point: curbing prescription drug prices (the US is the only developed nation not to have a government body to negotiate prices with drug companies, resulting in absurd discrepancies between US and European or Canadian prices). But then it quickly spiraled out of control.
A highlight was Trump screaming at a CNN reporter and calling CNN “Fake News” (Quartz wrote a great piece after the press conference called “An obituary for fake news,” but I digress). Trump also used a pile of paperwork as a prop to show how hard he’s been working on handing over his business to his children, which the Director of the Office of Government Ethics immediately described as woefully inadequate. And then there’s Russia- even Trump’s law firm has significant ties to Russia.
TL;DR, nothing we didn’t know, everything we expected. Trump acted like a toddler, has no plans to meaningfully separate his business and the presidency, and continues to flatter Russia in a way that goes well beyond any reasonable explanation. Lawyers are going to have a field day over the next year tearing his conduct apart. It’s going to be Watergate but on steroids.
Red Drink: Not Too Racist for 2017
In the first of many confirmation hearings for Donald Trump’s cabinet appointees, prolific racist Jeff Sessions on Tuesday sat before the Senate Judiciary Committee. His mere presence there as nominee for US Attorney General was impressive, given that he was previously denied an appointment by the Senate for another, lesser judicial appointment (federal judge) due to his egregious record on race and voting rights.
But we’re in a bold new world! Voting rights are well enshrined and no longer contested by any political party or candidate for reasons like race. So clearly the leader of the DOJ, the federal agency responsible for promoting and defending voting rights can be excused for not believing in them. Right?
Proving that he has moved past his prior views on race, Sessions submitted an answer to a Senate Judicial questionnaire identifying four cases he “personally handled” as “significant litigated matters” backing up his “strong civil rights record”. Unfortunately, as it turns out, Sessions has a different definition of “personally handled’ than many of us, as after the questionnaire was made public those actually involved in the cases came out and clarified that Sessions had “zero involvement”. Oops.
These are simple mistakes though. In contrast to Kellyanne Conway’s preferred methods of communication, let’s listen to what he actually has to say to the committee. In response to a question about whether “a secular person has just as good a claim to understanding the truth” Sessions, in open session, replied “Well, I’m not sure”.
In what is truly a feat we never thought possible, Sessions with that line brought the Committee chambers to total silence for several seconds. Who says he can’t accomplish great things?
Blue Drink: Robert Kennedy & Vaccines: Fox In Charge of the Hen House
We got a rare pick this week across party lines by the incoming administration to snatch someone the Democrats are probably happy to be rid of. Robert F. Kennedy, Jr, of the Kennedy dynasty and as blue as they come, is saying he was asked to head a commission on vaccine safety. He is also a prominent skeptic of vaccines. Trump has denied the appointment, saying he was exploring putting Kennedy in a committee on Autism, which, were it true, could easily be interpreted by an avid anti-vaccination critic like Kennedy as one and the same.
Somehow, it would be fitting for the president-elect who who won by denying cold hard facts to go to the original fact-denying movement for guidance.
For the record, Vaccines work, vaccines do not cause autism, and antivaxers caused a measles outbreak in California in 2015 because they weakened the herd immunity built by vaccines that protects all of us.
Silver Linings: Chris Christie to Focus on his Strengths
After falling from grace in the Trump circle, Chris Christie (still acting Governor of New Jersey) used his State of the State speech in New Jersey this week to return to the topic of the drug abuse and addiction epidemic occurring in the state (and, indeed, all over the northeast and midwest).
For anyone who hasn’t seen this powerful video, Chris Christie is a passionate defender of people who suffer from drug and alcohol addiction, and advocates sensible reform for minor drug offenders. If Christie could channel his national platform into addiction policy, he could make a serious positive impact on our country, and I wish him luck.
Drink of the Week: Mad Dog Shot
Because confirmation hearings. Get it?
- 1oz Vodka
- 1tsp raspberry syrup
- 2-5 drops tabasco sauce
Shake ingredients with lots of ice. Down quickly. (From 1001 Cocktails)