Congressional leaders reached a compromise this week that will raise federal spending limits and increase the debt ceiling, averting a showdown over ballooning deficits and postponing the prospect of more government shutdowns until after the 2020 election. The agreement, which still must pass Congress, would increase spending caps by about $50 billion this year and $54 billion more the next year, with just under half of that going to defense. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said it was crucial to suspend the debt ceiling, allowing the government to borrow money to pay obligations like Social Security and veterans benefits. President Trump touted the deal, having persuaded Democrats to leave out “poison pill” amendments such as restrictions on using defense funds for a border wall. Numerous Republicans say the deal abandons goals to rein in spending. After hearing from Mnuchin, Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) said his message amounted to “Yippee yippee yay, I made a deal.”
‘Bathroom bill’ truce
A federal judge approved a settlement this week affirming the right of transgender people to use public-building restrooms that match their gender identity. The consent decree ends a three-year battle that put North Carolina at the center of the debate over anti-trans discrimination, after Republicans passed a bill requiring transgender people in public universities, schools, and other state-run buildings to use restrooms matching the gender on their birth certificate. The state bowed to threats of corporate boycotts and repealed that bill in 2017, though the replacement law banned new local antidiscrimination ordinances until 2020. As part of the latest settlement, trans plaintiffs agreed to drop other pending legal action. Access to one’s preferred restroom “is about nothing less than the ability to enter public spaces as an equal member of society,” said Tara Borelli, an attorney for the plaintiffs.
‘Unhinged’ and fearful
New York City
The man who mailed bombs to 13 prominent critics of President Trump last October is a Trump “super fan” who was radicalized by Fox News, his attorneys said this week. Cesar Sayoc, 57, regarded Trump as his “personal champion” and believed Democrats were “seriously dangerous to his personal safety.” The Fort Lauderdale, Fla., resident pleaded guilty in March to targeting former President Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and other politicians, journalists, and celebrities. Defense attorneys said steroids and social media made Sayoc “unhinged” and paranoid: “A rational observer may have brushed off Trump’s tweets as hyperbole,” they said, but Sayoc “took them to heart.” While working at a strip club and delivering pizzas, Sayoc “religiously” watched Fox, intensifying his fears about violent Democrats. Broke and living out of a van, the attorneys said, “Sayoc found light in Donald J. Trump.”
Two police officers were fired this week after one officer suggested on Facebook that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) should be shot. Charles Rispoli, a 14-year veteran of the department in Gretna—a city of about 18,000 outside New Orleans—was responding to an article about Ocasio-Cortez, the high-profile Democratic firebrand and onetime bartender. “This vile idiot needs a round,” Rispoli wrote, adding, “and I don’t mean the kind she used to serve.” Another officer, Angelo Varisco, “liked” the post and was also fired. Police Chief Arthur Lawson called their conduct “an embarrassment to our department.” Ocasio-Cortez blamed President Trump, tweeting, “He’s creating an environment where people can get hurt & he claims plausible deniability.” Capitol police have investigated 2,500-plus threats against members of Congress this year, on pace to set a record.
The Department of Agriculture proposed a rule this week that would eliminate food stamp benefits for 3.1 million Americans. The change would bar 43 states from continuing to automatically enroll families for federal food benefits when they apply for welfare assistance from another program, which advocates say eliminates paperwork and helps poor people accumulate savings. The White House calls automatic enrollment a loophole that lets people bypass eligibility rules such as limits on assets and says the change would save $9.4 billion over five years. There’s little evidence that people receiving food stamps have substantial assets: Typically, a family of three must earn less than about $27,000 a year to qualify for an average of $1.39 per meal per person. The proposal would limit automatic enrollment to families that receive at least $50 in other benefits for six months.
San Juan, Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló appeared headed for resignation or impeachment, succumbing to 11 days of massive protests demanding his departure. An estimated 500,000 people filled the streets earlier this week, shutting down a major highway before converging outside the governor’s mansion. The demonstrations began after leaked conversations showed the governor and his inner circle using homophobic and misogynistic slurs and mocking victims of Hurricane Maria. Days earlier, the FBI had arrested two of Rosselló’s former top aides for corruption. As protests swelled, swinging from euphoric to violent and leading police to use tear gas at least three times, Rosselló pledged to finish his term through 2020. Pressed on Fox News to name a single supporter, Rosselló named the mayor of San Sebastian, who later said he did not support the governor. ■