Scandal, shooting, and immigration deadlock.
This was (yet again) supposed to be infrastructure week in Washington, but the president’s release of a vague proposal with no legislative buy-in from either party didn’t really have much of an impact on either the news cycle or the real world. Instead, a horrific mass shooting in a Florida school and a long-scheduled immigration policy showdown in the United States Senate became the major stories by week’s end.
At the same time, it’s not a week in American politics these days without a fair amount of Trump Show antics. The ongoing fallout from former White House staff secretary Rob Porter’s domestic abuse scandal threatened to take down a larger circle of White House officials, and new evidence of financial improprieties from Trumpworld figures — including a Cabinet secretary — came to light.
Here’s what you need to know.
A gunman killed 17 at a Florida high school
Nineteen-year-old Nikolas Cruz is in custody on charges of killing 17 and injuring at least 14 in a shooting spree at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Cruz was armed with an AR-15 rifle that he appears to have purchased legally.
Predictable responses: House Speaker Paul Ryan warned against “knee-jerk” policy responses to the school shooting (he warned against “knee-jerk” responses to the July 2016 massacre in Orlando, too), while Chuck Schumer and other Democrats called for action on gun control legislation.
Guns in America, explained: Vox’s comprehensive backgrounder on what we know about guns and gun violence in America is here.
What’s next?: Realistically, nothing. Ever since the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012, Democrats have revived the political push for gun regulation but have shown no ability to turn it into a winning issue at the polls and frighten or persuade any Republicans into joining them.
All the different immigration bills failed in the Senate
Nothing passed the Senate: The Senate’s much-anticipated immigration week came to naught as neither the president’s favored proposal nor a bipartisan alternative co-authored by Sens. Mike Rounds (R-SD) and Angus King (I-ME) passed.
Hawks don’t get their concessions: This means no legislative fix for beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), but also that immigration hawks aren’t going to obtain any of the border security money that Democrats had been willing to put on the table in exchange for one — to say nothing of the sweeping immigration law changes they were after.
What’s next? Immediately, nothing. Lower courts have ordered the administration to keep accepting DACA renewals, effectively canceling the March 5 deadline. The administration has appealed to the Supreme Court and its odds of prevailing there are good, but the ruling on that wouldn’t come until June.
The White House’s Rob Porter story unraveled
New details — including sworn testimony from FBI Director Christopher Wray — made it clear that key White House officials including Chief of Staff John Kelly misled the public about what it knew regarding former White House staff secretary Rob Porter’s history of domestic violence.
Wray’s timeline: According to Wray, the FBI informed the White House of the charges against Porter when it completed its background check in July 2017 and then provided additional details at the White House’s request in November 2017. The White House just didn't care until the Daily Mail broke the story in February 2018.
Three different White House timelines: On February 6, when the Mail’s first story ran, Kelly and Sarah Huckabee Sanders both publicly defended Porter. Then on February 7, Porter resigned when photographic evidence emerged, and Kelly said the charges were “new.” On February 9, Kelly said he fired Porter right away when he first found out about the charges.
Porter’s not the only problem case: NBC News reported Wednesday evening that more than 130 political appointees working in the Executive Office of the President had not managed to secure permanent security clearances as of last November.
There were a bunch of other scandals
The Trump era is nothing if not jam-packed with news, so things like Trump associate Michael Cohen claiming to have paid hush money out of pocket to porn star Stormy Daniels to buy her silence about an alleged affair with Donald Trump didn’t really make it onto the homepage. Some second-tier scandal news was even made by members of the Trump Cabinet.
Expense abuses at EPA: It turns out that EPA Chief Scott Pruitt has taken to routinely booking first-class air travel for what his staff claims are security reasons.
Expense abuses at VA: Meanwhile, Veterans’ Affairs Secretary David Shulkin improperly accepted Wimbledon tickets and flew his wife to the UK at taxpayer expense.
Trump’s popularity is rising: Amidst this steady drumbeat of scandals and chaos, Trump’s approval rating has been steadily rising to a nine-month high, though he still remains unpopular by historical standards.