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Kirk Kovach | University of North Carolina 

Another week over, another week in review.

The government shutdown ended uneventfully, new reporting on the Trump-Russia story dropped from the New York Times, and more generally, some of the states are pushing back against the federal government. We’ll get into it.

Government Shutdown

The first topic is the government shutdown, which only lasted for 69 hours or so. The Democrats acquiesced to McConnell et al and the can has been kicked down the road for a proper budget deal. One major change going into this next negotiation, though, is that CHIP is off the table as leverage for the GOP. CHIP, or Children’s Health Insurance Plan, has been funded for the next six years (it ought to be funded more permanently, but still).

Republicans were making the case that Democrats held illegal immigrants in higher regard than American children. When referring to illegals, the Republicans meant DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the “dreamers.” I think that was a politically savvy calculation, albeit a morally questionable one. It created a false dichotomy between DACA and CHIP – this or that, one or the other. In an acceptable resolution to this whole government funding debacle, both will be solved.

That leaves the ball in the White House’s court. If the president can articulate exactly what he wants, which at this point I have yet to see, then maybe they can find a win-win scenario. I feel like a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers was not a position for which he advocated as a candidate, but maybe his base would find it acceptable in exchange for stringent border measures. Ultimately, regardless of what the House or Senate develops, President Trump will have to give it his stamp of approval.


Trump-Russia

While the budget debate has sucked the air out of most other conversations in the last two weeks, the New York Times reported on Thursday that President Trump ordered the special counsel, Robert Mueller, to be fired. This apparently transpired last June, but the White House counsel threatened to resign over the order. The president finally reneged, but the story just broke half a year later.

There are a few moving parts to my thoughts on this. First, I think firing Mueller would be catastrophic for Trump’s presidency. He called the report “fake news” as per usual, but it’s good that he didn’t fire the special counsel. If he truly thinks that he committed no crime, he should be fine with letting the former F.B.I. director going through his conduct.

The issue with that line of thought coincides with my second point here. I don’t think there’s any huge Russian conspiracy behind the 2016 election. I will grant you that they interfered, and I think that is well supported by our intelligence agencies. However, that does not rise to the level of proper collusion, whatever that might be. The Russians seemed to have acted, yes, but I doubt the veracity of a grand scheme in which Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin conspired.

That said, I do see quite the opportunity for them to uncover damning financial information. The now-president has a lurid past with untoward actors, so it really wouldn’t shock anyone if he were somehow connected to some type of fraud or money laundering efforts. I think it is pretty well documented that Russians would offload money by purchasing apartments in Trump buildings back in the day. While that may not necessarily have involved him directly, you can, of course, see how he might get caught up in something illegal if that transpired in his orbit.

That really wraps up my thoughts on the Trump-Russia story for now. I think it has been overhyped by the media, and I do mean all political stripes. Your Fox News and Breitbart-esque outlets are completely discounting it, going as far as claiming there are secret societies in the FBI and other ridiculous things.

Meanwhile, some on the left have hyped themselves up into a frenzy. Just the other day, Rachel Maddow displayed a graphic on her show listing all the Russians that would be at… Davos. Who would imagine that representatives of one of the most important nations in the world would be at the World Economic Forum? Everyone needs to just calm down and see what happens – everything else is just mindless hypothesizing, sans intellectual rigor.

Federalism Lives

The final topic is not necessarily a hot-button issue, but just something that seems to come up here and there during the Trump presidency. The states are really taking it upon themselves to act independently when they deem it necessary, indicative of a federalist system that remains intact to this day.

In particular, I’m thinking about North Carolina, my home state. In a state where Donald Trump and Richard Burr, our senator, won in 2016, Democrats Roy Cooper and Josh Stein were elected to governor and attorney general, respectively. The Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, has moved to begin offshore drilling in coastal states. Interestingly, though, he exempted Florida.

Florida, as you may know, has a Republican governor and attorney general. Secretary Zinke cited the importance of Florida’s coasts and their tourist economy, but does that not apply to every other state with a coastline? The obvious point here is that a Republican-led state seems to be receiving special treatment on a very important issue.

On that issue and others, Democrats in leadership among the states have pushed back. For example, Governor Cooper has requested that Secretary Zinke allow North Carolina to be exempt as well. AG Stein has joined with other attorneys general across the country in joint action when they disagreed with the actions of the White House.

We may not always associate Democrats and liberals as the pro-state’s rights crowd, but in the Trump era they are coming into their own. This will be an interesting issue to watch as it develops, say, with regard to more contentious items like DACA. Can a state like California tell their employees not to enforce federal law? How is that different than nullification? These debates will continue to flesh out in the next months and years, and I for one think it is a valuable and healthy sign of a republic working the way it was intended.


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