The Paper Trail: October 27, 2023

Clarence Thomas’s R.V. Loan; EPA Failing to Combat Environmental Racism; Twitter After One Year Under Elon; and More. 

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Top stories for October 27, 2023

EPA promised to address environmental racism. Then states pushed back: President Biden promised to make environmental justice a priority. But amid a rising backlash in both red and blue states, the administration is failing to use the full force of its regulatory powers. (Yvette Cabrera, Jamie Smith Hopkins, and Grey Moran, Center for Public Integrity)

U.S. Postal Service touts crackdown on postal crime with hundreds of arrests: Letter carriers are on edge after nearly 500 of them were robbed last year. A critical inspector general report faulted USPS management for a lack of “actionable milestones” and accountability for staffing and training. (NPR)

Justice Thomas’s R.V. loan was forgiven, Senate inquiry finds: According to a Senate report, Justice Thomas failed to repay much, perhaps all, of a $267,230 loan he used to buy a luxury motor coach in 1999. At the very least, Thomas appears to have flouted an ethics rule requiring that he include any “discharge of indebtedness” in his financial disclosure reports. It also raises questions as to whether he properly reported the loan forgiveness on his tax return and paid the taxes owed. (Jo Becker, New York Times)

Working-age Americans are struggling to pay for health care, even those with insurance, report finds: More than half of working-age Americans say paying for health care is a struggle. Because of the costs, nearly 40% reported delaying or skipping necessary treatment or medication. (Megan Cerullo, CBS News)

Analysis: Here’s why MuckRock and POGO had to archive FOIAonline: Last month, the EPA decommissioned, an online resource that allowed the public to make and track FOIA requests to federal agencies and to view responsive documents. It still remains unclear when the agencies will restore public access to these records; in the meantime, POGO and MuckRock are providing a publicly available archive of nearly 34,000 documents captured before FOIAonline was shuttered. (Freddy Martinez, Project On Government Oversight)

Israel-Hamas War

Several U.S. troops report brain injury from attacks in Iraq and Syria: More than 20 service members have reported minor injuries as a result of Iran-backed attacks on U.S. positions in Iraq and Syria over the past week. (Lara Seligman, Politico)

Blinken says he asked Qatari PM to rein in Al Jazeera war coverage, per sources: The Secretary of State told a group of American Jewish community leaders on Monday that he asked the Qatari prime minister to change its public posture towards Hamas and “turn down the volume” on Al Jazeera’s coverage of the war. (Barak Ravid, Axios)

DeSantis administration claims it helped send weapons to Israel — but provides few details: The Florida governor’s office hasn’t provided information on what kind of weapons or ammunition were sent, specifics on how the state helped, or what private parties are involved. There are also conflicting accounts about how the effort was put together. (Gary Fineout, Politico)

🔎 See Also: DeSantis admin directs Florida universities to terminate student chapters that support “Hamas terrorism” (Andrew Mark Miller, Fox News)


Former Trump campaign lawyer Jenna Ellis pleads guilty in Georgia case: Jenna Ellis pleaded guilty Tuesday in the Georgia election subversion case and will cooperate with prosecutors — the third guilty plea in the past week. (Marshall Cohen, CNN)

Ex-Chief of Staff Mark Meadows granted immunity, tells special counsel he warned Trump about 2020 claims: Meadows has spoken with special counsel Jack Smith’s team at least three times this year, including once before a federal grand jury after Smith granted him immunity. Meadows allegedly informed Smith’s team that he repeatedly told Trump after the 2020 election that the allegations of fraud were baseless. (Katherine Faulders, Mike Levine, and Alexander Mallin, ABC News)

Colorado judge paves way for trial on whether 14th Amendment disqualifies Trump from office: The ruling clears the way for a trial to begin next week to determine if Trump is disqualified from 2024 presidential ballot because of his role in the insurrection. (Marshall Cohen, CNN)

Dobbs Aftermath

Despite state bans, legal abortions didn’t fall nationwide in year after Dobbs: In the year after the Supreme Court ended the constitutional right to abortion, the total number of legal abortions in the U.S. increased about 0.2%. The increase was driven by the expansion of telemedicine for mail-order abortion pills, increased options and assistance for women who traveled, and a surge of publicity about ways to get abortions. (Claire Cain Miller and Margot Sanger-Katz, New York Times)


“On track”: 3 percent of Americans have gotten the new COVID shot, but the CDC director remains confident: The Biden administration’s campaign to convince Americans to get an annual COVID shot is off to a very slow start. So far, 12 million people have gotten the latest COVID vaccine. By contrast, 16 million have gotten a flu shot. (Chelsea Cirruzzo, Politico)

College enrollment grew for the first time since the pandemic started: Community colleges and historically Black colleges and universities accounted for the most growth. (Danielle Douglas-Gabriel, Washington Post)

Defense and Veterans Affairs

Binge drinking, alcohol abuse remains significant challenge for vets: Veterans of every age group are more likely to binge drink or abuse alcohol than those who never served, but they are also more likely to seek help. (Leo Shane III, Military Times)

Military suicide rates mostly steady over past decade: The rates have held steady in the reserve component and increased slightly in the active rank-and-file despite a complete revamping of suicide prevention and mental health infrastructure in the military. (Meghann Myers, Military Times)

Business and Finance

Student-loan payment processors draw probe on wait times, borrower advice: The government is investigating allegations of botched customer service by loan processing companies over their handling of questions about the resumption of student loan repayments. (Gabriel T. Rubin, Wall Street Journal)

🔎 See Also: Influencers rival Biden administration in helping borrowers manage student debt (Bianca Quilantan, Politico)

🔎 See Also: Government moves to protect students when colleges are at risk of closing (Danielle Douglas-Gabriel, Washington Post)


Vulnerabilities in cellphone roaming let spies and criminals track you across the globe: The technologies that make cellphone roaming possible also make it possible to track phone owners across the world, according to a new report. (Sam Biddle, The Intercept)

The consequences of Elon Musk’s ownership of X: Under Musk’s ownership, the site has experienced a surge in racist, antisemitic, and other hateful speech; millions of people have been exposed to misinformation about climate change and the Israel-Hamas war; and foreign governments are using it to spread divisive propaganda with little or no interference. (Steven Lee Myers, Stuart A. Thompson, and Tiffany Hsu, New York Times)

🔎 See Also: How Elon Musk changed the meaning of Twitter for users (Kate Conger, New York Times)

Millions work as content creators. In official records, they barely exist: The U.S. Census Bureau tallies a list of 22,607 American industries, recognizing such obscure fields as pickled onion making and canoe repair. But the index makes no mention of social media content creators, an oversight that misses one of the biggest transformations in the U.S. labor force in recent years. (Drew Harwell and Taylor Lorenz, Washington Post)

Health Care

Black women face deadly racial disparities in breast cancer: As breast cancer deaths decline in America, racial disparities persist in the mortality rates between Black and white women. Doctors dismissing patient symptoms and lack of representation in cancer research are contributing factors. (Cheyanne M. Daniels, The Hill)

Adderall shortage causing long-term problems for students with no end in sight: More than a year after the FDA declared a shortage of the ingredients needed to make Adderall, grades are slipping, and caretakers are driving for hours to fill prescriptions. (Lexi Lonas and Joseph Choi, The Hill)

CDC updates RSV shot recommendations due to drug shortages: The update comes as RSV respiratory disease cases rise in parts of the U.S., creating a conundrum for pediatricians. (Sabrina Malhi, Washington Post)


Immigration and Border Security:

DHS shelves plan to require some migrants to remain in Texas after local backlash

Texas lawmakers vote to let local police arrest migrants

Texas sues Biden administration seeking to stop federal agents from cutting razor wire on border

Record-breaking numbers of Cuban migrants entered the U.S. in 2022-23

Other News:

Trump ordered to pay $10,000 for breaking gag order

Rep. Bowman pleads guilty after pulling fire alarm ahead of House spending bill vote

FBI’s new headquarters plan was not influenced by the Trump White House, watchdog says

See which states are expanding or restricting voting rights

41 states sue Meta, claiming Instagram, Facebook are addictive, harm kids

Upcoming Events

📌 Policy Forum: Government Censorship by Proxy. Cato Institute. Thursday, November 2, 10:00 a.m. - 11:00 a.m., 1000 Massachusetts Ave, NW, Washington DC.

📌 Free Speech: What Everyone Needs to Know. Cato Institute. Monday, November 6, 1:00 p.m. - 2:00 p.m., 1000 Massachusetts Ave, NW, Washington DC.

Nominations & Appointments


  • Nancy Anderson Speight - Member, Federal Labor Relations Authority