Sen. John McCain is putting his affairs in order and reflecting on his career as he battles brain cancer at home, The New York Times reported this week. The 81-year-old former GOP presidential nominee has been receiving a steady stream of friends from both sides of the political aisle at his Sedona ranch, including Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, retired Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, and former Vice President Joe Biden. McCain reportedly encouraged Biden, who is considering a 2020 presidential run, not to “walk away” from politics. He has also expressed regret about picking Sarah Palin over Joe Lieberman as his 2008 running mate. McCain has also made it known that he doesn’t want President Trump, who infamously mocked the senator’s time as a prisoner of war, at his funeral. McCain allies have also quietly sent out feelers about his eventual Senate replacement, signaling that they’d like it to be a “McCain person.”
Hundreds of Hawaii residents fled volcanic eruptions on the state’s Big Island this week, as rivers of molten rock and clouds of toxic gas poured into neighborhoods. Fourteen fissures have opened up in and around the Leilani Estates subdivision since last Thursday, after a crater on the Kilauea volcano collapsed. Lava flows have so far destroyed at least 36 structures, covering an area equivalent to more than 75 football fields. Parts of the Kilauea volcano have been erupting continuously for more than 30 years, and scientists don’t know how long the current eruptions will last. Some residents have placed sacred ti leaves in the cracks in the earth that have emerged as an offering to Pele, the Hawaiian volcano goddess. “The land doesn’t really belong to us,” said one evacuee. “It belongs to Pele.”
To the delight of President Trump and his defenders, a federal judge in Virginia last week questioned what he called special counsel Robert Mueller’s “unfettered power” in the investigation into Russian election meddling. District Judge T.S. Ellis III suggested in a hearing that tax- and bank-fraud charges brought against Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort were outside the scope of Mueller’s probe. “You don’t really care about Mr. Manafort,” Ellis said. “You really care about what information Mr. Manafort can give you to lead to Mr. Trump.” Trump hailed the judge’s comments, quoting them directly in a speech to the National Rifle Association. Legal experts, however, advised against reading too much into the judge’s statement. “I think Judge Ellis may just be putting the government through its paces,” said Lisa Kern Griffin, a Duke University law professor. “That is not uncommon.”
Attorney General Jeff Sessions unveiled new “zero tolerance” immigration measures this week, including a policy to separate children and parents caught crossing the border illegally. The Justice Department vowed to prosecute every person who illegally enters the U.S., jailing adults and transferring children to shelters. In the past, most families have been kept together while awaiting civil deportation hearings. “If you are smuggling a child…that child will be separated from you,” Sessions said at a law enforcement conference in Scottsdale. “If you don’t like that, then don’t smuggle children over our border.” The Department of Homeland Security said 700 children have been separated from their parents since October. The Trump administration also announced an end to Temporary Protected Status in January 2020 for an estimated 57,000 Hondurans who have been allowed to live and work in the U.S. following a 1998 hurricane.
Pruitt under siege
White House aides are reportedly urging President Trump to fire embattled Environmental Protection Agency director Scott Pruitt. Pruitt is now facing at least 11 federal investigations into his conduct on a wide range of ethics concerns, including lavish spending on domestic and foreign travel and a controversial condominium rental agreement involving the wife of a lobbyist. At least five senior EPA staff members have resigned in the past month. Republicans increasingly see Andrew Wheeler, the newly confirmed EPA deputy director, as an acceptable replacement to Pruitt. A former coal lobbyist, Wheeler would be able to pursue Trump’s aggressive deregulatory agenda without drawing as much attention as Pruitt. Trump himself is reported to be growing frustrated with Pruitt, reacting angrily to a report that Pruitt’s staff tried to leak damaging information about Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke in order to divert attention away from Pruitt’s scandals.
Voters sink Blankenship
Republican leaders breathed a sigh of relief this week after West Virginia voters rejected a controversial former coal baron running in the GOP Senate primary. Don Blankenship, who served a year in federal prison after being convicted for conspiring to violate mine-safety rules following an accident that killed 29 miners, placed third in the race, losing to the more establishment friendly state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey. National Republicans feared that Blankenship was sure to lose in the general election against sitting Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, who is otherwise seen as vulnerable in deep-red West Virginia. President Trump personally implored voters not to nominate Blankenship as state polls showed him gaining ground. The former coal executive, who claimed to be “Trumpier than Trump,” was sharply criticized for racist ads that attacked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s “China family,” an apparent reference to McConnell’s wife, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.