The U.S. at a glance ...
Bears Ears’ ‘House on Fire’
Battling an inferno
Mueller(AP, Newscom, AP, Newscom)
Salt Lake City
Shrinking monuments: President Trump ordered the largest rollback of federal land protections in the nation’s history this week, reducing the size of two Utah national monuments by roughly 2 million acres and opening vast new tracts to commercial development. The Bears Ears National Monument will shrink to 228,000 acres, about 15 percent of its original size, while Grand Staircase–Escalante will be reduced by half, leaving it with about 1 million acres. Both monuments were created by Democratic presidents, with Barack Obama setting aside Bears Ears in December 2016 and Bill Clinton forming Grand Staircase in 1996. Western communities have long bristled at restrictions put on local land; Clinton’s declaration of Grand Staircase derailed a planned coal mine in one of the state’s poorest areas. Trump’s order is already being challenged in court by environmental groups, as well as several Native American tribes.
Massive wildfires: At least 27,000 people were forced to flee their homes this week as multiple fast-moving wildfires, whipped by strong winds, raged unchecked just outside of Los Angeles. More than 83,000 acres have been consumed and more than 200 homes destroyed so far, with the largest of the fires burning its way through parts of Ventura on its march toward the Pacific Ocean. Another 200,000 people are under evacuation orders. Months of dry weather have provided ample fuel for the infernos, exacerbated by the region’s fierce Santa Ana winds. Gusts of more than 50 miles per hour have grounded waterdropping planes and helicopters, stymieing efforts by fire crews. “The prospects for containment are not good,” Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen said. “Really, Mother Nature’s going to decide when we have the ability to put it out.”
Conyers steps down: Rep. John Conyers Jr., the longest-service current member of Congress, resigned his seat this week amid mounting accusations of sexual harassment from former staffers, and Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) faced growing pressure to step down in response to new allegations of inappropriate behavior. It was revealed last month that Conyers paid $27,000 out of his congressional office’s funds to settle harassment claims brought by a former employee, and he has since been accused by at least six other women of harassment and misconduct, including showing up to a meeting in his underwear and groping a woman in church. Franken faced calls from more than 30 Democratic lawmakers to step down after another woman claimed he tried to forcibly kiss her in 2006. He has been accused by six other women of groping or trying to forcibly kiss them.
Moore-mentum: President Trump endorsed Roy Moore’s Senate campaign this week, calling on Republicans to rally behind the candidate despite multiple allegations that he molested teenage girls. “Democrats refusal to give even one vote for massive Tax Cuts is why we need Republican Roy Moore to win in Alabama,” Trump tweeted, later phoning Moore to say, “Go get ’em, Roy.” The Republican National Committee, which severed ties with Moore after the allegations emerged, restored financial support for his campaign ahead of the Dec. 12 vote. Republican lawmakers had been softening their criticisms of Moore, who polls show is running neck and neck with Democrat Doug Jones in the special election to fill the seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell walked back earlier statements that Moore should drop out, saying that he will “let the people of Alabama make the call.”
Shutdown deadline: House Republicans led by Rep. Paul Ryan proposed a short-term spending bill last week that would keep federal agencies funded through Dec. 22, temporarily avoiding a government shutdown on Dec. 8 and buying more time to bargain over a longterm budget agreement. The sto pgap measure appeared to be heading toward passage when The Week went to press, though some House conservatives who hope to win further concessions on federal spending cuts were fighting for the deadline to be pushed back to Dec. 30. The leader of the influential House Freedom Caucus, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), said that he worried a Dec. 22 deadline would lead Republicans to cave to Democrats’ demands. “There’s a whole lot more pressure to get home for Christmas than there is for New Year’s,” he said. Democrats hope to use the budget talks to win key concessions, including protections for Dreamers, illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children.
Mueller agent ousted: Special counsel Robert Mueller’s office removed an FBI agent from its investigation this summer after learning that he’d exchanged anti-Trump text messages with another former member of the team. Peter Strzok, who had served as deputy head of counterintelligence at the FBI, was moved to the agency’s human resources division. Strzok was heavily involved in last year’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server. He was reportedly responsible for softening language in former FBI Director James Comey’s description of Clinton’s activities, changing “grossly negligent” to “extremely careless,” with the revised wording carrying fewer legal implications. The substance of the text messages isn’t known, but several of Strzok’s colleagues told The Wall Street Journal they were mostly in regard to what Strzok saw as norm-bending behavior by President Trump. The president seized on the news as evidence the FBI is biased against him, lashing out on Twitter that the agency’s reputation is “in tatters.” ■