The spiral of vitriol in American politics reached its limits this week as a horrific shooting brought members of Congress together across party lines — and the spirit of bipartisanship remained more than symbolic as a cross-party deal on new sanctions passed the Senate by an overwhelming margin.
At the same time, the basic elements of partisan conflict — the Republican Party’s drive to cut back the welfare state and the investigations into Donald Trump’s links with Russia — continued to drive forward on a number of fronts. Meanwhile, one of the most recognizable and valuable technology start-ups of our era appears to be at risk of running aground, with multiple executives departing even as the company is slammed from all sides by legal issues.
Here’s what you need to know.
A gunman shot at congressional Republicans
James T. Hodgkinson, a 66-year-old from Illinois with a history of domestic violence and left-wing politics, opened fire Wednesday morning in Alexandria, Virginia, on a baseball field where congressional Republicans were practicing in advance of an annual Democrats-versus-Republicans charity baseball game.
- The third-ranking House Republican, Louisiana’s Steve Scalise was badly injured. A House staffer, a lobbyist, and two members of the US Capitol Police were also hurt, and the gunman was killed by return fire from law enforcement.
- Comity broke out on the Hill: House Speaker Paul Ryan responded with an emotional speech on the floor of the House, arguing that “we do not shed our humanity when we enter this chamber. For all the noise and all the fury, we are one family.” Nancy Pelosi says that she prays “for Donald Trump. That his presidency will be successful and that his family will be safe.”
- Don’t expect policy change: Liberals inclined to think that being victimized by a spree killer would change Republicans’ tune on gun control issues are badly mistaken. Conservatives very sincerely believe that a permissive gun regulation regime is the best approach for public safety and aren’t changing their tune on that.
Democrats are struggling to mobilize on health care
Senate Republicans continue to try to put the finishing touches on their health care bill, working quietly and out of public view without draft text leaking (or being released) or disagreements aired in public hearings. This is making it hard for Democrats on Capitol Hill and their allies in the advocacy world to mobilize opposition against legislation that, by almost all assessments, continues to be unpopular.
- Why it matters: The health insurance of millions of Americans is on the line, as are hundreds of billions of dollars in tax cuts — mostly, though not exclusively, for affluent households. Democrats used to be confident about winning this fight in the Senate, but have become pessimistic.
- What the left is trying: Progressive groups, led by MoveOn.org and Indivisible, are urging members to call senators and ask friends to do the same, trying to gin up the kind of mobilized opposition that House members felt in March. But the health story isn’t on the front pages of the newspapers or visible on television news, and advocates are struggling to make it work. Keeping the actual text of the bill under wraps has reduced media coverage and seemingly demobilized opposition.
- A template or a backlash? Legislating via a backroom deal that’s suddenly sprung on the public in advance of a vote is not a new idea, but it’s traditionally been done for bipartisan bills. If Republicans succeed in advancing a contentious, ideological bill through this path, it could become a model both parties use in the future. But trying to quietly slip a bill that polls very poorly into law could also lay the groundwork for a massive backlash.
Jeff Sessions testified
Attorney General Jeff Sessions took his turn in the hot seat, testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee about matters related to Russia — offering a fiery denunciation of the “appalling and detestable lie” that there was some kind of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.
- Why Democrats are mad: Sessions repeatedly declined to answer questions about his conversations with Donald Trump without formally invoking executive privilege, citing Justice Department guidelines that experts say don’t exist.
- How Sessions helped Trump: The attorney general disputed some details of former FBI Director James Comey’s characterization of a crucial meeting between Comey and Trump in the Oval Office. More importantly, Sessions insisted that the responsibility for correct protocol for conversations between the FBI and the White House lay with Comey, not with Trump.
- What’s next: Republicans hold the majority in the Senate, so Democrats couldn’t do anything about Sessions’s non-answers except complain. Special counsel Robert Mueller, by contrast, can try to compel Sessions to testify, in which case executive privilege could be formally invoked and there would be a legal case over whether it applies.
Uber is melting down
Amidst both personal tragedy (his mother died in a boating accident) and public scandal (a report by former Attorney General Eric Holder condemned an internal corporate culture of rampant misogyny), Travis Kalanick, the CEO of the market-leading ride-hailing app Uber, announced an indefinite leave of absence from his role as CEO. Emil Michael, the company’s senior vice president of business, also announced his departure this week.
- Why it matters: Uber has long been in a race between the transformative potential of its vision of ubiquitous, ultra-cheap, ultra-convenient rides and the ugly realities that a business originally built on rule-breaking has had enormous difficulty acting like a responsible stakeholder in a business where safety is a literal life and death matter.
- Uber’s troubles are mounting: Rampant reports of a toxic and sexist work environment have cost Uber valuable public relations points, but the company’s greatest jeopardy is on the legal front. Google’s self-driving car unit, Waymo, is suing Uber for allegedly having stolen some of the technology at the heart of Uber’s self-driving efforts, and they’re facing a federal investigation led by the FTC into their customer privacy policies (or lack thereof).
- And another lawsuit: On Thursday, the company was hit by a fresh lawsuit from a Texas woman who was raped by an Uber driver in India in 2014. The suit accusing the company of “[violating] her a second time by unlawfully obtaining and sharing her medical records from that vicious sexual assault.”
The Senate passed sanctions on Russia and Iran
With only two dissenting votes, the US Senate passed a large suite of new sanctions on both Russia and Iran, making it difficult for the Trump administration to ease up pressure on Russia but also lending congressional support to a more confrontational approach to Teheran.
- Congressional Republicans’ first break with Trump: The legislation was originally an Iran-only bill, but a bipartisan group of senators added the Russia provisions — giving congressional entrenchment to sanctions the Obama administration levied during the transition — which means that Russia will be punished for election-meddling that Trump still seems reluctant to agree even happened.
- Trump had looked into lifting sanctions: NBC News reported on June 1 that in its earliest days the Trump administration had looked into easing Obama-era sanctions. State Department professionals got wind of the plan, informed Congress, and blowback there caused Trump to hold his hand. This is Congress completing the pushback.
- Opposition odd-fellows: The only two “no” votes on the Senate bill came from opposite ends of the ideological spectrum, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) a conservative isolationist who opposes all sanctions, and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) who voted for the amendment adding Russia sanctions to the package but who argues that new legislative sanctions on Iran are a provocation that undermines the Obama nuclear deal. Most Democrats dispute that, but Sanders’s stance signals the opening of a foreign policy front in his ongoing intra-party insurgency.