Our Best Stuff From a Week That Defied Description

President Joe Biden walks toward Marine One on February 9, 2024, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Hello and happy Sunday. I sincerely hope none of you have turned the 2024 election into a drinking game (tempting though that may be), because anyone who has probably woke up Friday to a splitting headache. Take a shot every time former President Donald Trump has business before a court? Check. And/or a drink every time current President Joe Biden has a “senior moment”? Check, check, and check.

Forgive me for making light of very serious business, but Thursday was a crazy day. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments as to whether Colorado can keep Trump off the ballot in the state under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, known as the “Insurrection Clause.” Even before the ink was dry on the articles, blog posts, and tweets discussing that story—that the justices seem unlikely to rule that Trump is ineligible to run—news broke that Attorney General Merrick Garland had released to Congress a report from Special Counsel Robert Hur on his investigation into Biden’s handling of classified documents.

Now, the report had some good news for Biden. While Hur found that the president did retain and disclose classified materials, “no criminal charges are warranted in this matter.” Good start, right? Hur ran through a list of reasons for his findings: Having classified documents at his home while he was vice president and president is allowed, and jurors might find that Biden did not retain the documents wilfully. But then Hur concluded: “Mr. Biden would likely present himself to a jury, as he did during our interview of him, as a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory.” That’s not the kind of get-out-of-jail-free card that an octogenarian running for a second term in the White House is looking for.

These were hardly groundbreaking disclosures about Biden’s age and mental fitness. An NBC News poll released before Hur’s report came out found that 76 percent of voters have concerns about Biden’s health. But Hur’s report was a product of Biden’s own Justice Department.

We don’t like to repeat ourselves around here too often, but these stories warranted throwing all of our resources at them. In fact, we ended up sending two separate Morning Dispatch newsletters on Friday. In the main newsletter (🔒), we focused on Hur’s report and the reaction to it from both Democrats and Republicans. And we reported on the press conference the White House called for Thursday night to allow Biden to respond: “The president then took questions, and at one point poked fun at one of the lines in the report. ‘I’m well-meaning, and I’m an elderly man, and I know what the hell I’m doing,’ he said. As he exited the stage, however, a reporter shouted a question regarding the ongoing negotiations to free the remaining hostages in Gaza. Biden returned to address the final question—and confused Mexico with Egypt in his answer.” 

In the very special—and unlikely to be replicated—Afternoon Dispatch (🔒), we covered the oral arguments on the 14th Amendment question. The gang noted that the justices had questions on various aspects of the case but focused on “issues surrounding the authority of the states to act on Section 3.” The conclusion? “All indications from the oral argument suggest the justices are not inclined to pursue an expansive ruling requiring them to adjudicate what does and doesn’t constitute an insurrection.”

In The Collision, Mike and Sarah touched on the Hur report, but spent more time discussing the oral arguments in the 14th Amendment case and covered the other big legal matter involving Trump this week: A three-judge panel from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Trump enjoys no immunity from prosecution by Jack Smith in the January 6 case. How Trump responds to that ruling could determine whether that case is heard before the 2024 election, and Sarah and Mike run through the various scenarios. “If [Trump] wins the general election, the criminal cases against him—all of them—will be put on hold while he is in office, or dismissed entirely,” they wrote. “It’s why Smith’s team wants to speed up the process and why Trump’s team wants to slow it down. These are political, not legal, arguments for why the courts should act, yet the D.C. Circuit appears also to be influenced by the time crunch.”

In Boiling Frogs (🔒), Nick defended Hur—whom Trump appointed to be a U.S. attorney in 2018—from accusations that his report was politically motivated, instead blaming the Democratic Party for refusing to address this very obvious problem earlier. “The hard truth is that it was a matter of time before the president’s senescence exploded as a political issue in a spectacular way,” he wrote. “Most of us assumed that moment would come when he suffered a health crisis; instead it came when his own DOJ, in an official investigation, concluded that he’s too feeble-minded for a jury to believe he’s capable of felonious mens rea. The bomb has gone off at last, and members of Biden’s party privately seem to recognize the scale of the blast. It’s been a long time coming. The fuse has been lit for years.”

In Stirewalt on Politics (🔒), Chris labeled Hur’s report a “10-word epitaph for Democrats’ hopes.” But before he gets there, he also reminded us that congressional Republicans had a historically bad week that was overshadowed by the other stories. A bipartisan bill in the Senate to shore up border security and provide funding to Israel, Ukraine, and Taiwan—the product of months of negotiation—faced transparently opportunistic opposition from former President Trump and was deemed “dead on arrival” in the House by Speaker Mike Johnson. “To cover their hides from such a nakedly political move, House Republicans teed up a pair of ‘messaging’ measures to try to put some pressure back on the Senate,” Chris wrote. “The first, a doomed, incoherent impeachment of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas spearheaded by the unquenchably ambitious Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, unexpectedly failed. Whoops. Moving right along, Johnson’s team brought forward a standalone bill for Israel funding … which also failed.”

We are a country facing serious challenges, and this week was an unfortunate reminder that we have, for whatever reason(s), put too many unserious people into positions of power. On that cheery note, we did write about a few other things. Thank you for reading.

Israel’s Northern Front Looms

Full-on war between Israel and Lebanon-based Hezbollah has yet to break out, but the Israeli Defense Forces are treating conflict as a foregone conclusion. Charlotte reported from the border community of Hanita on the number of troops deployed and citizens displaced, noting that a wider conflict would exact a high cost on both sides. “Government officials have already begun preparing Israelis across the country for the possibility of long-range Hezbollah attacks, urging civilians to take appropriate precautions by stocking their shelters,” she wrote. “The Israeli Health Ministry last month ordered hospitals in the north to be ready to care for thousands of wounded patients.” 

The Upside of the College Enrollment Downswing

College enrollment has been steadily declining since 2010, a problem with multiple causes and no easy solutions. Or, maybe it’s not a problem at all? That’s the argument made by economist and American Enterprise Institute fellow Beth Akers. She noted that a declining birthrate has a lot to do with that, and that’s an intractable problem. But another problem is that people don’t feel like college degrees give them a good return on their investment, and colleges will have to do a bit of introspection about what’s brought them to this point. “Half of the American workforce has built lives and families working in jobs that don’t require a degree,” Akers wrote. “I hope that as young people turn away from traditional higher education, they take inspiration from the paths that these workers took to develop their skills and build careers. While they are less celebrated by society, pathways toward careers in the trades are often more lucrative than more academically oriented degrees.”

And here’s the best of the rest.

  • Late last week, Jessica Melugin argued that it’s the job of parents, not the government, to keep kids safe online. Continuing in our series of point/counterpoint arguments, this week Michael Toscano said it’s time for Congress to pass the Kids Online Safety Act.
  • The other other big story from Thursday was that former Fox News host Tucker Carlson aired his two-hour interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Putin made many false or misleading statements. And while Tucker might not have pushed back as much as he should have, we put fact checker Alex on the case.
  • For a deeper dive on the chaos in Congress over the border deal, check out Dispatch Politics. The crew also had the latest on Nikki Haley’s campaign.
  • The Department of Labor issued a new rule that determines whether workers should be considered employees or independent contractors. In Capitolism (🔒), Scott explained “why the rule remains costly, why it probably won’t achieve its primary objective, and how a new and important study on a similar regulation in California shows just these very things.”
  • The pods: On Advisory Opinions—which was just featured in The New Yorker!—Sarah and David discuss the oral arguments regarding Trump’s eligibility under the 14th Amendment. On The Dispatch Podcast, the gang talked about the collapse of the border deal and treads into AO territory in discussing the D.C. Circuit Court’s ruling that Trump is not immune from prosecution. And if you could use a virtual break from the news, tune into The Remnant, where Jonah checked in from the Virgin Islands and revealed how blissfully out of touch he was this week.
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