FOLLOW THE WEEK ON FACEBOOK
July 9, 2014
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The Supreme Court's decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby [PDF] isn't very popular among Democrats — or a majority of Americans, or some federal judges, for that matter. Democrats in Congress are trying to do something about it, The New York Times reports, and their legislative band-aid may even pass in the Senate. "Since the Supreme Court decided it will not protect women's access to health care, I will," said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the lead author of the Senate bill.

The 5-4 Supreme Court majority ruled that the Affordable Care Act's attempt to make all companies and non-church organizations provide their female employees with birth control coverage violated the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, so the bill worked up by Senate and House Democrats essentially says: not anymore.

The Democrats' bill, introduced Tuesday, leaves the 1993 law intact, as well as the Obama administration's compromise exemption for religious nonprofits with objections to contraception, but says that despite the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Hobby Lobby and other for-profit "employers may not discriminate against their female employees" in the coverage of preventive health services, and "shall not deny coverage of a specific health care item or service" that's required under federal law.

There's a certain air of political theater to the endeavor — "People are going to have to walk down here and vote, and if they vote with the five men on the Supreme Court, I think they're going to be treated unfavorably come November with the elections," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Tuesday, and the bill is very unlikely to pass in the House — but at least Congress is trying to reclaim some of its intended power. Peter Weber

3:28 p.m. ET
Win McNamee/Getty Images

Convicted murderer Kenneth Williams is scheduled to be put to death Thursday at 7 p.m. CT in what would be Arkansas' fourth execution of the month, BuzzFeed News reports. Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) had originally announced eight executions for April, but so far only three have been carried out while four others have been put on hold by different courts. The state is hurrying to carry out capital punishment before the supply of one of its three execution drugs expires at the end of the month.

To date, the state Supreme Court has denied two of Williams' requests for a stay; his lawyers filed a new lawsuit Thursday.

Read The Week's Anthony L. Fisher on why Arkansas' executions are a really big deal here. Jeva Lange

2:58 p.m. ET
Evan Agostini/Getty Images

Anthony "Ari" Rinkus is a convicted two-time felon who engineered a car theft ring and then, while still on probation, a Ponzi scheme con job. He also happens to be married to Heather Rinkus, the guest reception manager at President Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida — a fact he is quick to bring up and evidently has no qualms exploiting, BuzzFeed News reports in a startling investigation.

"Ari, a stocky former used car salesman, frequently holds court over a vodka soda at a local bar, bragging about his and his wife's connection to Trump and his team while trolling for investors for business deals he's peddling," BuzzFeed News writes. Heather Rinkus, who used to work for the family of Betsy DeVos, Trump's education secretary, landed the Mar-a-Lago job just before Trump became president. "[Ari Rinkus] kept saying, 'Once my wife gets that job, I'll have all the connections for you,'" a person who worked closely with Rinkus said.

Under the terms of his probation, Rinkus isn't technically allowed to have a job "that would require him to exercise fiduciary duties; to give investment advice or make investment decisions; to solicit funds; or to handle other people's money, without the advanced, written approval of the probation officer." Yet local real estate agent Richard Allison said Rinkus is "very good at going out there and socializing and finding people who would be good investors," and that he'd been pitched himself.

"He immediately brings up his wife's job — that's how he ropes investors in," said another person whom Rinkus tried to pitch. As FBI Special Agent in Charge Erick Martinez explained: "Investment fraudsters use the appearance of success to mask their tangled financial web of lies."

When told BuzzFeed News was going to write a piece about his dealings, Rinkus walked back almost all of his stories and claims. "I lied," he said.

By all appearances, though, Rinkus has been working for a security company called Securablinds, which is actively seeking government contracts. Rinkus had earlier bragged to BuzzFeed News that he had even pitched Eric Trump on the company. After all, Securablinds, which is based in the U.K, just opened a firm in Palm Beach.

Or, as Rinkus describes it, in "the president's backyard." Read the full investigation at BuzzFeed News. Jeva Lange

2:09 p.m. ET

Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was directly told in 2014 not to take money from foreign governments without explicit permission, documents released Thursday reveal. Flynn, who resigned from the Trump administration in February, took $34,000 in December 2015 for a speaking gala concerning Russian TV and more than $500,000 for lobbying on behalf of Turkish interests ahead of the November election. A defense intelligence official said Thursday that no record of Flynn asking for permission or approval "for the receipt of money from a foreign source" could be found, NBC News reports.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) — the ranking member and chairman of the House Oversight Committee, respectively — jointly criticized the White House for denying their request for documents related to Flynn. "I don't understand why the White House is covering up for Michael Flynn," Cummings said.

Facing accusations that Flynn's vetting process by the Trump team was insufficient, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer noted Thursday that the Obama administration was responsible for giving Flynn his security clearance years prior. Of course, it was still the Trump team that named Flynn as the administration's national security adviser, a role he filled for just 24 days. Jeva Lange

1:24 p.m. ET

An asparagus blessing at Worcester Cathedral went awry last Sunday when Gus the Asparagus Man joined the procession while dressed as a giant asparagus spear, BBC reports. Many of the Anglicans in attendance for the crowded St. George's Day service called the display a "pantomime," with the lobby group Christian Concern complaining that Gus' inclusion "made a mockery of Christian worship."

To mark the start of the British Asparagus Festival, a bundle of asparagus spears had been brought to the cathedral from the town of Evesham to receive a blessing. Canon Precentor of Worcester Cathedral Rev. Michael Brierley called the plant "a sign of the abundant provision and generosity of God" and he defended Gus' inclusion, saying it added "a bit of color."

Canterbury priest Rev. Peter Ould disagreed. "I think the service itself is a good idea — there isn't anything wrong in praying for a good growing season," he told The Telegraph. "But someone dressed up as an asparagus and a bloke in a St. George costume behind him holding a sword — that just looks a bit silly."

Others expressed concern about the lack of inclusion of other produce. "Why only adoration of asparagus?" a post on the Church of England blog Archbishop Cranmer said. "Where's the sprout liturgy, or equality for mushrooms?"

Gus is one of several asparagus characters that help celebrate the annual asparagus festival. He attended the St. George's Day service absent of Asparamancer, Eve the AsparaFairy, and the Asparagus King. Jeva Lange

12:13 p.m. ET
David McNew/Getty Images

President Trump has famously dismissed climate change as a hoax and his administration is reportedly debating how to walk back the United States' participation in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. But far from Washington, members of the president's party are quietly bridging partisan divides to work with Democrats on climate change legislation, The Los Angeles Times reports.

California Republicans voted last year against legislation that set an aggressive new benchmark for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the state by 2030. But the Democrats' legislation has since become law and now Republicans are exploring their own approaches to limiting emissions and using the freed-up revenue of a cap-and-trade program for tax credits and rebates. The proposed cap-and-trade program would require "companies to buy permits to release emissions into the atmosphere," the Times explains.

Assembly Republican Leader Chad Mayes said: "Californians, whether you're a Republican or a Democrat, are different from the rest of the country. What they're doing back in Washington, D.C., is not what we're going to be doing in California ... It would be foolish not to engage."

Still, it's a shaky new relationship; there is some question about the legality of the program, and Democrats might not be willing to give up certain parts of their proposal in a compromise, such as their wish to regulate public health pollutants along with greenhouse gases in the program. In one heated exchange with Republican Assemblyman Vince Fong (Bakersfield), Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown snapped: "You're not going to vote for cap-and-trade anyway. Look, cap-and-trade is about climate change, which you don't believe in and your president says is a hoax."

But Assemblyman Rocky Chávez (R-Oceanside) indicates things are changing. "You look on what's going on in the Antarctic, in the North Pole, you look at the issue of sea-level rise. It's an issue that we need to be concerned about," he said. "We want to be part of the solution." Jeva Lange

11:03 a.m. ET
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Fox News co-president Bill Shine may be the next big network figure to get the ax, New York's Gabriel Sherman reports. While the network deals with the fallout from dismissing its top host, Bill O'Reilly, and a raft of lawsuits alleging sexual harassment and racial intolerance, Shine is reportedly feeling the squeeze. Citing three sources familiar with the conversation, Sherman reported Thursday that Shine "recently asked Rupert [Murdoch]'s sons James and Lachlan — the CEO and co-chairman, respectively of network parent company 21st Century Fox — to release a statement in support of him, but they refused to do so."

Shine wanted the backing of the Murdochs to solidify his position at the helm of the company at a time of "withering press coverage," Sherman writes. He adds: "By refusing to back Shine at this tumultuous moment for the network, the Murdochs may finally be signaling that they're prepared to make the sweeping management changes they've so far resisted after forcing out CEO Roger Ailes last summer." Ailes left the network amid multiple allegations of sexual harassment, all of which he has vehemently denied. (O'Reilly has also denied all accusations against him, calling them "completely unfounded.")

Through a network spokesperson, Shine denied to New York that he had personally approached the Murdoch brothers for a statement. A spokesperson for the Murdochs also told New York that Shine never directly made such a request.

The trouble with dismissing a top network executive is two-fold: Shine has been a beacon of stability for a network mired in controversy over the last year, and he also "may simply know too much about Fox News' inner workings," Sherman says. Read his full report at New York. Kimberly Alters

Editor's note: This post originally misstated Shine's title at Fox News. It has since been corrected. We regret the error. The post has also been updated to include statements made to New York on behalf of Shine and the Murdochs.

10:55 a.m. ET

President Trump's former campaign adviser, Carter Page, is one of several characters to have fallen under intense scrutiny as authorities investigate Russia's influence on the 2016 presidential election. Page had been on the FBI's radar since a Russian spy tried to recruit him in 2013, and when he convinced the Trump campaign to allow him to travel to Moscow to give a Russia-friendly speech in July, the FBI took notice and began to dig into connections between Russia and the Trump campaign.

But Page claims the FBI's investigation made him "the victim of one of the most horrendous civil rights violations in recent U.S. election history." Speaking with CNN's Chris Cuomo on Thursday, Page said that his rights were violated by the legal FISA court warrant that was obtained, he alleges, based on information in a "dodgy dossier" — a reference to the widely-circulated but unverified espionage document that claims Russian President Vladimir Putin ran a secret campaign to get President Trump elected.

Mediaite adds that "for some reason, the ex-Trump adviser also brought up the recently released book about Clinton campaign dirt, Shattered, to further make his case that he was unfairly targeted, something that left Cuomo a bit confused." Watch Page's oddball defense below. Jeva Lange

See More Speed Reads