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The 4 stories that drove this week in politics

In Trump’s America, a slow news week can feature a Cabinet shakeup.

Edmond school counselor Wendy Joseph, left, cheers with other supporters of the teacher pay raise during a rally at the state Capitol in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma on February 12, 2018.
Edmond school counselor Wendy Joseph, left, cheers with other supporters of the teacher pay raise during a rally at the state Capitol in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, on February 12, 2018.
Sue Ogrocki/AP

The weirdness of covering politics in Donald Trump’s Washington is that you can have what feels like a slow week in national politics also be a week in which a Cabinet secretary got fired. After all, the secretary of veterans affairs isn’t like a top-five most important Cabinet secretary or anything.

But with somewhat less heat than usual emanating from the nation’s capital, there was a chance for a wider range of actors — from Oklahoma teachers to Florida high school students — to make their voices heard. And never fear, Trump said some weird stuff too.

Here’s what you need to know.

David Shulkin is out at Veterans Affairs

The much-anticipated ouster of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin finally happened late Wednesday afternoon, paired with the much more surprising announcement that Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson, the chief White House physician, will be nominated to replace him.

Former Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin before the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Subcommittee of House Appropriations Committee  on March 15, 2018.
Former Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin before the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Subcommittee of House Appropriations Committee on March 15, 2018.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

  • A drive for privatization? Shulkin’s weak standing in the administration stemmed from systemic clashes between him and other political appointees over the idea of a dramatic push for privatization of VA health services, which he opposed. On his way out the door, Shulkin insisted to the press that this was the whole reason he got fired.
  • Nobody knows what Jackson thinks: And yet Jackson is not a conservative health wonk or known privatization advocate; he’s a career military officer who joined the White House medical staff when George W. Bush was president and got promoted to be the top presidential doctor in Obama’s second term.
  • What’s next? Confirmation hearings are rarely genuinely interesting, but it’s legitimately the case that nobody (except maybe Trump himself, who likes him a lot personally) has any idea what Jackson thinks about any of the relevant policy issues.

Oklahoma teachers are going on strike

Inspired by successful labor action in West Virginia, Oklahoma’s K-12 teachers say they’ll go on strike starting Monday unless they get a bigger raise than the state legislature seems willing to offer.

Surrounded by teachers and legislators, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin applauds after signing a teacher pay raise bill in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, on March 29, 2018.
Sue Ogrocki/AP
  • The issue: Oklahoma, like many states, reacted to the recession-induced fall in tax revenue by electing Republican politicians who cut taxes, forcing further spending cuts. Consequently, teacher pay is lower now nationally than it was 10 years ago in inflation-adjusted terms, inspiring many teachers to get more militant about compensation issues.
  • The offer: Late Thursday the state legislation approved a $6,000 pay hike, but teachers say they want more — and with lots of teaching jobs available across the state line in Texas, they think they can get it.
  • What’s next? A strike of this sort is a battle for public opinion. School closures are very inconvenient for parents and employers, but teachers are generally viewed favorably by the public. And with the state budget cutbacks already forcing schools onto four-day weeks in many areas, educators can credibly argue that their requests for more money serve the public interest.

Conservative media feuded with Parkland students

After last weekend’s well-received speeches at the large and well-organized March for Our Lives in Washington, DC, the teenage Parkland massacre survivors who’ve become gun control activists became the target of some oddly personal criticism from top conservative media figures. And then the kids fought back.

  • College application woes: It all started when Laura Ingraham decided to mock activist leader David Hogg in a tweet for having failed to gain admission to UC Los Angeles, UC San Diego, UC Santa Barbara, or UC Irvine. (Ingraham herself went to Dartmouth, like a good populist.)
  • Advertiser boycott: In response, Hogg called on the public to pressure Ingraham’s advertisers into dropping her show — naming 12 consumer brands, seven of whom have broken ties.
  • What’s next? Ingraham has already apologized, but the entire episode reveals once again that the student leaders out of Parkland are media savvy beyond their years and a difficult set of opponents for older political figures to tangle with.

Trump gave a weird speech

In Ohio allegedly to tout his administration’s infrastructure plan, Trump delivered one of the rambling, factually challenged addresses for which he’s famous. This one including what was, on its face, a major foreign policy announcement.

President Trump held a rally discussing infrastructure development at the Richfield Training Site, south of Cleveland, Ohio on March 29, 2018.
President Trump held a rally discussing infrastructure development at the Richfield Training Site, south of Cleveland, Ohio, on March 29, 2018.
Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images
  • The US military is leaving Syria: “We’ll be coming out of Syria very soon,” Trump said, seeming to announce a major revision of American policy which currently has about 2,000 troops stationed there “indefinitely,” according to the Pentagon. Trump said that’s over, “Let the other people take care of it now. Very soon. Very soon, we’re coming out.” But, of course, there’s no indication that this represents actual policy as opposed to the ramblings of a president who is a strangely marginal figure in his own administration.
  • He also said some more stuff: Trump also suggested that trade negotiations with South Korea could give him leverage over North Korea and misdescribed the border security provisions of last week’s omnibus spending bill.
  • What’s next? Trump will continue to walk the line between dishonest, uninformed, and inarticulate in a way that keeps people guessing.