Hey, y’all. Happy Friday, and happy holiday weekend. Let’s do this. —Jeffrey C. Billman
1. LATE-NIGHT LEGISLATING ON JONES STREET.
THE GIST: Late last night—technically, early this morning—the General Assembly wrapped up its long session. Here’s a quick rundown of some things that passed at the eleventh hour.
- Expanded gambling: Assuming Governor Cooper signs the bill, restaurants and bars will now be able to host nonprofit fundraisers that feature both games of chance and alcohol, though they’d need a permit and would be limited in how many of these events they could host a year. In addition, business and trade organizations could host game nights for their employees and members.
- Expanded hunting: House Bill 559 expands on a law passed in 2015 that legalized Sunday hunting, though the final version did not allow hunting on state gamelands between 9:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., as an earlier version did. Still, if the governor signs off and once the Wildlife Resources Commission establishes rules, hunters will be able to shoot migratory ducks on Sundays, and counties will only be able to ban Sunday hunting through referendums.
- The energy “compromise”: Senator Harry Brown has insisted throughout the session that wind farms are interfering with military flight training, even though the military is quite adamant that this is not the case. (Brown says generals tell him “off the record” that it’s a huge threat.) But since Brown is the Senate majority leader and wields a lot of power, he was nonetheless able to tack on a four-year moratorium to a renewable energy bill that would allow residents to lease rooftop solar panels rather than owning them outright and would reduce the amount Duke Energy pays industrial solar farms for electricity, among other things. The compromise reached yesterday is an eighteen-month moratorium on new wind permits, which critics say could prove fatal to ongoing projects in economically depressed areas on the state.
- See ya soon: The NCGA will reconvene in August to, for instance, override any vetoes from Governor Cooper or deal with new court orders. Then, it will gather again in September to redraw legislative districts in response to the Supreme Court deeming them unconstitutional racial gerrymanders. That session could also deal with veto overrides, constitutional amendment referendums, and the impeachment of Elaine Marshall (should they decide to go that route).
2. TRUMP TWEETS. SIGH.
THE GIST: In two tweets yesterday morning, President Trump lashed out at Morning Joe cohost Mike Brzezinski, calling her “low I.Q. Crazy Mika” and saying that she’s been “bleeding badly from a face-life” during a gathering at Mar-a-Lago around New Year’s Eve. As The New York Times so delicately frames it: “The tweets ended five months of relative silence from the president on the volatile subject of gender, reintroducing a political vulnerability: his history of demeaning women for their age, appearance and mental capacity.” As my mother, a Trump voter and to-this-day supporter, posted on Facebook last night: “Donald, please stop with the tweets! It’s childish and unbecoming of the POTUS.”
WHAT IT MEANS: Trump is Trump and will always be Trump. The same guy who bragged about grabbing women by the pussy is now the occupant of the Oval Office, where he continues to obsess over cable television news and lash out like a petulant preteen over perceived slights to his very fragile ego. This was all on display during the campaign. People voted for him anyway. Way to go, America.
WHAT’S NEXT: There will some hand-wringing and condemnation from conservatives, but for them Trump is a means to end—tax cuts, repealing Obamacare, etc. As long as he’s useful in serving that purpose, don’t expect the recriminations to go beyond finger-wagging.
Related: Mika and Joe respond in an op-ed: “Donald Trump is not well.”
3. GOP OPERATIVE ATTEMPTED TO COLLUDE WITH RUSSIAN HACKERS.
THE GIST:The Wall Street Journal is out with what has the makings of a pretty big story. (The Journal has a hard paywall, so if you don’t have a subscription, Slate has a recap here.) A GOP operative named Peter Smith, who died in May, reached out to hackers he assumed were working on behalf of Russia to access the thirty-three thousand emails deleted from Hillary Clinton’s private server. (These were the ones Trump publicly asked Russia to find and release, by the way.) And he told them he was working with Mike Flynn, a Trump campaign adviser who went on to be Trump’s national security adviser, before being fired for lying about his contacts with Russia. The hackers supplied him with some emails, but he couldn’t verify them, so he asked the hackers to pass them off to Wikileaks. Wikileaks never published those emails nor claimed to have them.
WHAT IT MEANS: From Slate: “[WSJ’s] reporting is presumably the opening salvo in this line of investigation that, for the first time, implies explicit collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. A Trump campaign official said Smith didn’t work for the campaign and Flynn, if he was involved, was participating in a personal capacity, not as a campaign official. The fact that Smith didn’t officially work for the Trump campaign seems like a no-brainer for obvious reasons, but doesn’t mean he wasn’t acting at the behest of someone on the campaign. Whether Flynn was acting in a personal or professional capacity, at the moment, is a distinction without a difference. Yes, at some point it would be important if he was relaying orders, or acting on behalf of someone higher up on the Trump campaign—of which there weren’t many—presumably Steve Bannon, who was leading the campaign at that point, or even the president himself.
“What the Journal story does indicate, however, is that a GOP operative who presented himself as working with Mike Flynn, a top Trump adviser with numerous dodgy Russian ties himself, actively solicited Clinton emails from hackers he believed to be Russian and assumed to be affiliated with the Russian government. Once he obtained a stash of unverified emails presented as the deleted Clinton emails, this operative then suggested the hackers release the cache to WikiLeaks one month after the DNC WikiLeaks dump and a month before the Podesta WikiLeaks dump. How involved was Flynn really? How much higher does it go in the Trump White House, if at all? These are questions that will need answers as Robert Mueller’s investigation grinds on.”
4. THE WHITE HOUSE WANTS STATES’ VOTER ROLLS.
THE GIST: President Trump, who is apparently still convinced that he only lost the popular vote because millions of people voted illegally, convened a commission co-helmed by Kansas secretary of state and notorious vote suppressor Kris Kobach to look into voter fraud and irregularities. On Wednesday, the commission sent a letter to all fifty states, requesting that they send voter roll data to the White House by July 14—including names, address, birthdates, political party, last four digits of the social security number, and which elections the voter has participated in since 2006. Kobach hasn’t said how he wants to use that data, but he’s long advocated for comparing state data to federal data to identify noncitizens and supposedly illegitimate voters, a process prone to massive error. Already, three states—California, Kansas, and Virginia—have refused.
WHAT IT MEANS: Given who’s involved and how this commission came to be, it’s almost impossible not to think of this as anything other than a prelude to widespread voter suppression under the guise of preventing voter fraud. So will Elaine Marshall and Roy Cooper have the guts to tell Kobach to shove his request where the sun don’t shine?
5. FOUR LOCAL HEADLINES.
- Missing RDU employee spotted at a gas station Monday afternoon. [N&O]
- Zillow backs off its threat to sue N.C.-bred Kate Morgan’s McMansion Hell blog. [INDY]
- The DOLRT project will find out soon whether it can move on to the next phase of the application process, but all that effort might be for naught. [INDY]
- UNC-Wilmington researchers discover a new species of flying squirrel. [N&O]
6. ODDS & ENDS.