The US Is Not Doing Enough to Protect the Integrity of This Year’s Midterms
Here are the stories we’ve been keeping an eye on this week:
In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, the head of US Cyber Command warned lawmakers that the government is not doing enough to prevent new efforts by Russia to meddle in elections.
- “If we don’t change the dynamic here, this is going to continue,” Adm. Michael S. Rogers told the committee.
- Rogers, a holdover from the Obama administration, admitted that President Trump had not given him any new authority to disrupt Russia’s cyber operations.
- Rogers’ testimony came the same day as reports that “state websites or voter registration systems in seven states were compromised” by Russian cyber-actors. No votes were changed as a result, but the deep penetration underscores the risk to the upcoming 2018 midterms.
- The Department of Homeland Security denied the report.
- On Wednesday, an Axios-SurveyMonkey poll found that a majority of Americans are concerned that government is not doing enough to regulate Big Tech actors like Facebook and Google.
Smart read: this new report from the Brookings Institute on the increasing digital threats to Western democracies. For an alternative view, take a look at this report from the Cato Institute which found that the Internet did not play the instrumental, polarizing role in the 2016 election that most people assume it did.
The 2nd Amendment
After a bizarre televised meeting with lawmakers on Wednesday on the subject of gun regulation, President Trump took to Twitter to urge the American public to “respect 2nd amendment!”
- At the meeting, as the AP reports, Trump accused Republican Sen. Pat Toomey (PA) of being afraid of the NRA and suggested law enforcement officials “take the guns first, go through due process second” if they’re aware of a potential threat, which is really sort of the opposite of respecting the 2nd amendment.
- From the AP: “Trump again voiced support for expanded background checks. He endorsed school security and more mental health resources, and he reaffirmed his support for raising the age to 21 for purchasing some firearms. Trump mentioned arming teachers, and said his administration, not Congress, would ban “bump-stock” devices that enable guns to fire like automatic weapons with an executive order.”
- One Trump suggestion had Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a longtime advocate for an assault weapons ban, literally shaking with glee:
Other good news for gun regulation folks: the business community is feeling the heat. Dick’s Sporting Goods announced this week that its stores will no longer sell assault rifles, and both Walmart and Fred Meyer announced they will no longer sell guns to anyone under 21. These follow moves by other large companies, like Delta and Hertz, to cut ties with the NRA. AOL has the full list of companies that have ended their relationship with the NRA. Interestingly, a new Morning Consult poll found that many of these companies saw negative responses to their moves.
At the Washington Post, Marc Fisher explains why the corporate backlash against the NRA won’t affect the powerful gun lobbying group all that much.
Explore: the nonpartisan RAND Corporation’s new report on the effects of gun policies in America. The big takeaway: more research needs to happen.
The revolving door
It’s been a remarkably turbulent 13-plus months for the Trump White House, and this week was no different:
Hope Hicks, Trump’s longtime aide and third communications director, resigned her position after testifying before the House Intelligence Committee that she told “white lies” as part of her job. Hicks also refused “to say whether she had lied for a number of senior White House and Trump campaign officials.”
Hicks’ departure came just a day after Josh Raffel, the deputy communications director and de facto spokesperson for Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner in the White House, announced he was leaving.
Roberta Johnson, the US Ambassador to Mexico, quit this week after more than 30 years of government service. Johnson’s resignation follows a string of other high-level resignations or retirements at the State Department, which has been hollowed out by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
Jeff Sessions, the longsuffering attorney general, took another hit from his president this week, when Trump questioned his appointment of the “Obama guy” inspector general to investigate claims made in the memo released by House Intelligence Committee Republicans. In all caps, Trump called Sessions’ decision “DISGRACEFUL!” The tweet follows a pattern of Trump attempting to influence investigations in his favor.
Although the Department of Homeland Security denies it, NBC reported this week that the White House is preparing for National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster’s ouster. Trump and McMaster never quite clicked, and the relationship has become increasingly strained.
After taking a lot of heat, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced he would be flying coach from here on out. Pruitt’s not the only Cabinet member who’s courted controversy with his expensive travel habits: Tom Price, former head of Health and Human Services, resigned in September when his traveling habits received scrutiny. Ryan Zinke, Dave Shulkin, and Steven Mnuchin have all also faced criticism at times.
It’s been a really bad month for Jared Kushner, as this fascinating piece at the Washington Post details. Just this week, Kushner lost his high-level security clearance, and other folks in the White House are hesitant to have discussions with him as Special Counsel Robert Mueller continues to show interest in his business dealings. On Friday, the New York Times reported that President Trump has asked John Kelly, his chief of staff, to help push Kushner and Ivanka Trump out of the White House.
Thanks to Trump’s rash, angry decision to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum, Gary Cohn, his economic advisor, is on the bubble. Cohn threatened to resign if Trump went through with the move, and now he’s waiting to see how it plays out before he makes his decision.
Ben Carson, the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary, took heat this week over lavish spending on an office redecoration.
On Saturday a man shot and killed himself in front of the White House, according to the Secret Service
A powerful nor’easter killed at least eight people and knocked out power to two million homes along the coast from Virginia to Maine.
The Florida state Senate approved, and then minutes later rejected, a two-year moratorium on the sale of AR-15 assault rifles in the state.
President Trump might not have as much support for his nationalist agenda as he thinks: a new Gallup poll finds that 70 percent of US adults have a favorable view of foreign trade, and view it as an opportunity, not a threat.