Plus, a reader question about available beds for the homeless.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 12 minutes.

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Trump's immunity case. Plus, a reader question about available beds for the homeless.

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In our "Under the radar" section from Thursday, we incorrectly referred to Jake Sullivan as the Secretary of State. Sullivan is, in fact, the National Security Advisor. Ironically, all of the editorial team's focus was on a dispute about how to word a different part of that section, which appears to have distracted us from the very obvious mistake sitting right in front of our faces.

This is our 107th correction in Tangle's 247-week history and our first correction since April 15th. We track corrections and place them at the top of the newsletter in an effort to maximize transparency with readers.

Quick hits.

  1. The core personal consumption expenditures price index (CPI), which measures costs for common goods except for more volatile food and energy prices, rose 2.8% year-over-year and 0.3% month-over-month in March. (The numbers)
  2. Arrests of campus protesters demonstrating against the war in Gaza continued over the weekend, with an estimated 800 students arrested across dozens of college campuses since April 18. (The arrests)
  3. Hamas is sending a delegation to visit Egypt today to discuss Israel's latest ceasefire proposal, which includes the release of hostages. (The talks) Separately, the World Central Kitchen said it will resume operations in Gaza after the April 1 strike that killed seven of its workers. (The restart)
  4. U.S. intelligence officials have determined that Russian President Vladimir Putin likely didn't order the death of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, though officials still believe he was ultimately responsible for it. (The report)
  5. While fundraising for the 2024 election, former President Donald Trump met with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) for the first time since DeSantis dropped out of the GOP primary. (The meeting)

Today's topic.

Trump's immunity case. On Thursday, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Trump v. United States. During arguments, the court appeared ready to side at least partially with former President Donald Trump's lawyers, who argued he has absolute immunity from criminal charges for acts taken in his official capacity as president.

Reminder: The case stems from Special Counsel Jack Smith's investigation into Trump for alleged attempts to overturn the 2020 election. As part of his defense against those federal charges, Trump has argued that he cannot be prosecuted for actions that were part of his responsibilities as president nor for actions he was already impeached for but not convicted of. A federal appeals court rejected those arguments, and Trump appealed the case to the Supreme Court.

We've covered this case here and here.

Now what? The Supreme Court's conservative majority seemed skeptical of the federal appeals court’s ruling. Several of the justices expressed concern that if presidents did not have immunity, federal prosecutors could use the law as a political weapon against opponents. The justices left open the question of whether Trump's trial in D.C. over alleged efforts to overturn the 2020 election could go forward, instead signaling they might send the case back to lower courts to differentiate official acts from private ones. 

However, if the court were to ask the judge overseeing Trump’s case to hold hearings to make that differentiation, the trial — already delayed — would last well into 2025.

The arguments: John Sauer, the lawyer representing Trump, argued that without presidential immunity from criminal charges the presidency would be forever changed, suggesting the looming threat of facing criminal charges for official acts would "destroy" presidential decision making. Without immunity, Sauer argued, President Biden could theoretically be charged with unlawfully encouraging immigrants to come into the U.S. illegally through policy decisions.

For the prosecution, Michael Dreeben, a lawyer from Special Counsel Jack Smith's office, said that blanket immunity would place presidents entirely above the law and encourage crimes like bribery, treason, or sedition. Dreeben argued that Trump's lawyers are suggesting he should enjoy permanent and total immunity unless he has been impeached and convicted by Congress.

In response to questioning from Justice Elena Kagan, Sauer said an act like signing a form affirming false election allegations would be a private act, while calling the chair of the Republican Party would be an official act. Kagan asked whether a president ordering the military to stage a coup would be a private or official act, and Sauer suggested it would depend on the circumstances.

Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh, meanwhile, expressed concerns that a lack of immunity would encourage federal laws to be used to target political opponents. Gorsuch argued that a first-term president is always going to be concerned about reelection, and asked the Justice Department lawyers if they'd consider a president's motives in charging presidents. Dreeben assured them that ordinary presidential conduct is not targeted.

After Sauer conceded some of Trump’s alleged acts were prosecutable private actions, Gorsuch suggested there was some "common ground" being found and that the lower courts had already signaled they might separate private and official conduct. This was one of the strongest signals from the justices that they might send the case back to the lower courts to determine what constitutes official or private acts.

Ultimately, four of the conservative justices — Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, Alito, and Thomas — appeared likely to grant some kind of immunity to Trump. That means the case could hinge on Chief Justice Roberts, who seemed skeptical of the D.C. Circuit's opinion.

Today, we're going to break down some opinion pieces from the left and right about the oral arguments. Then my take.

What the left is saying.

  • The left thinks this will be a legacy-defining decision for the court. 
  • Some say the court needs to focus more on issuing a timely ruling than a consequential one. 
  • Others are disheartened at some justices’ apparent receptiveness to Trump’s arguments. 

In CNN, Steve Vladeck wrote “John Roberts has quite a mess in front of him.”

“Four of the justices — Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh — expressed support for different arguments that would each pose serious (if not fatal) obstacles to the closely watched criminal case. Four of the justices — Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Amy Coney Barrett and Ketanji Brown Jackson — seemed to support a ruling that would allow most, if not all, of the charges in the January 6 case to go forward. If that holds, the fate of the January 6 prosecution likely rests in the hands of the justice who spoke first and last on Thursday, but who did the least to reveal his views: Chief Justice John Roberts.”

“It became clear early in Thursday’s argument that there was little support across the bench for a narrow ruling that would be good for only this case,” Vladeck said. “Where exactly is the line between acts that are immune from prosecution and those that aren’t? One of the few colloquies during Thursday’s argument that featured the chief justice included his effort to underscore this problem… The one thing that seems most clear coming out of Thursday’s argument is that the answer — and the broader legacy of the Roberts court — will ultimately be up to him.”

In The Tampa Bay Times, Michael McAuliffe argued the “Supreme Court doesn’t need a rule for the ages, but one for right now.”

“Most Americans simply want a court decision that addresses the current accusations of criminal wrongdoing by a former president. That seeming gap of expectation versus need is an apt but unintentional reminder that the justices can be shockingly insular in their manner of decision-making,” McAuliffe wrote. “Are the accusations in the pending indictment sufficiently outside any core presidential duty to allow this case to move forward with no more delay? That question can be answered in the affirmative without resorting to the larger question of blanket presidential immunity.”

“The real fear is that a remand and further pre-trial appeals consume time slowly like an engorged creature protecting its kill. The justices don’t appear to see what is in effect snarling in front of them. That’s not right. No justification exists to ignore that delay is a death knell,” McAuliffe added. “Fortunately, we don’t need to decide the ultimate existential question. The indictment alleges criminal conduct by a president (now a former president) outside the core presidential duties. That conclusion can be made by the court without renaming the stars.”

In The Los Angeles Times, Francis Wilkinson said “the Supreme Court just showed us that Trump is not incompetent. He’s a master of corruption.”

“For all his mad greed and compulsive lawlessness, for all his sleaze and stupidity, crime is ultimately not Trump’s game. Trump is nothing like a master criminal. But he is a master of something far more sinister and complex: corruption,” Wilkinson wrote. “Crime is a largely private endeavor. Corruption is public. It seeps into the muscle and sinew of democratic society and institutions; it devours from within. The Supreme Court, drunk on arrogated power, cut loose from rudimentary ethics, has been eaten alive by it.”

“Originalists or textualists, all sounded more or less Trumpist as they seriously entertained Trump’s argument that his assaults on the constitutional order are protected by the Constitution itself. There is no way to make honest sense of such a liar’s mash. But Larry, Moe and Curly aren’t just chairing committees in Congress. They wear robes and furrowed brows now, too. And they seem eager to pretend that crimes are just constitutional exercises of power, and that one ex-president is a king.”

What the right is saying.

  • The right says broad presidential immunity is key to a functional democracy.
  • Some say the court should resist calls to issue a speedy ruling in the case.
  • Others insist Trump’s immunity claims cannot be allowed to stand. 

In Newsweek, Mark R. Weaver argued “the Founding Fathers couldn't have foreseen Trump — but they still immunized him.”

“If a president slips out of the White House and kills someone he's mad at, the law already allows him to be criminally prosecuted and politically impeached. The tougher question, which is being hotly debated in the Supreme Court this week, is this: When a president carries out his official duties, can he be prosecuted for that? We know for sure he can't be sued for it,” Weaver wrote. “If a threat of being ordered to pay money for a civil claim is a deterrent enough to distract a president from doing the work of the executive branch, the threat of being sent to prison is a dinosaur-sized distraction.”

“But one need not even mention Donald Trump's presidency to illustrate precisely why the Founding Fathers designated impeachment as their ultimate punishment for a president. Criminal charges as a political tool to neutralize and distract the Commander in Chief worried the founding fathers. Their Constitution protects official presidential actions from both civil and criminal prosecution. But they were wise enough to leave checks and balances on that broad grant of power,” Weaver said. “When law becomes a weapon of political revenge, it's our democracy that takes the fatal blow. Worse yet, it doesn't uphold justice—it undermines it.”

In National Review, Rich Lowry said “don’t rush the Trump J6 case.”

“As for the sweeping, unanimous decision of the D.C. Circuit that denied Trump’s claim of immunity and that Trump’s critics considered dispositive, Chief Justice John Roberts, who is not a MAGA extremist, made it clear that he thinks it’s desperately flawed. Trump’s critics are putting partisan considerations (the belief that a trial in and of itself and, even more so, a conviction, will hurt Trump politically) and their hatred of Trump and his postelection conduct before everything else in their demand for the fastest possible ruling most damaging to Trump. This is a very bad impulse when asking the Court to create a precedent that will affect all presidents going forward.”

“The idea that a complicated case relying on novel use of federal statutes and involving a former president should, or could, be slammed through the courts like a case about an overdue parking ticket was always ridiculous,” Lowry wrote. “The Court will almost certainly reject Trump’s extravagant claims of immunity while quite possibly blessing a more limited version. The Court also may ask the judge in the J6 case to determine which of Trump’s acts were official and which private. That would take time and be hateful to Trump’s enemies, who can’t bear the thought that the judiciary might be judicious in its handling of a truly momentous court case.”

In The Washington Examiner, Quin Hillyer wrote the “court should not grant Trump any broad-scale ‘immunity.’”

“Several Supreme Court justices yesterday seemed disturbingly open to far too wide a scope of supposed presidential immunity from criminal prosecution. Almost nothing in the actual text of the Constitution provides for such immunity,” Hillyer said. “Alas, Justice Brett Kavanaugh and especially Justice Samuel Alito asked questions indicating concerns almost diametrically opposed, constitutionally speaking, to the things that really should be alarming.”

“Trump says he can’t be convicted in impeachment proceedings if he is out of office and also that if he isn’t impeached, he can’t be criminally tried. Logically, then, that would make a president completely above the law, as long as he can keep his criminality hidden until the day after he leaves office. Yet nothing anywhere in the Constitution says or even strongly implies that a president is above the law,” Hillyer wrote. “The immunity Trump seeks is far more dangerous than anything Alito worried about… That’s why, to the extent any sort of immunity is recognized, it ought to be well defined and very narrow.”

My take.

Reminder: "My take" is a section where I give myself space to share my own personal opinion. If you have feedback, criticism, or compliments, don't unsubscribe. Write in by replying to this email, or leave a comment.

  • I was surprised by how many justices were open to broadly supporting presidential immunity.
  • The court doesn’t have to make a historic stand here, it just has to rule on this case.
  • Impeachment is a political tool, and prosecutions are for criminal acts — I don’t see why one should rely on the other. 

To be honest, I was taken aback by how many justices were open to absolute immunity during oral arguments. I said a few months ago that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit got it right. I wasn't sure how this case would play out before the Supreme Court, but I was certainly not expecting four justices to be open to the argument that broad presidential immunity might benefit democracy.

The idea that a president can't be criminally indicted because he was not impeached by the House and convicted in the Senate strikes me as absurd. I’ve only heard that argument used by people who feel their guy is being unjustly persecuted. 

That principle has an obvious flaw: A president could simply commit criminal acts at the end of their tenure (or resign immediately after) to avoid an actual impeachment trial and thus any criminal prosecution. In 2021, some Republicans cited Trump’s exit from office as their reason for not voting to convict him in his impeachment. Even his impeachment attorney suggested he could be tried for any potential crimes once he left office and that impeachment wasn’t necessary. 

Now Trump is arguing the lack of such impeachment means he can’t face any further repercussions. But there’s no need to decide on one or the other. Impeachment is a political tool that can be used for allegations short of felony charges, and criminal prosecution is a deterrent against any action that falls under criminal statutes. Applying both to presidents is perfectly reasonable, and far better than relying on impeachment alone. 

Nixon v. Fitzgerald, the Supreme Court case granting presidents immunity from civil lawsuits for acts falling within their official duties, is the most relevant precedent here. Trump is asking the court to extend similar immunity to him because he acted through the office of the presidency; but his alleged crimes are a perfect blend of private and official acts. That he used the power of his office (i.e. his official duties) to commit alleged private criminal acts is precisely what makes what he did so dangerous — and so worthy of federal investigation. I don’t say that to pre-suppose his guilt, only to say that the potential for him to be investigated, tried, and convicted seems perfectly reasonable.

As I've said over and over, Trump's actions (both alleged and well documented) related to attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 election are by far his most egregious actions as president, and really the actions I'd like to see tried in court.

Just like Michael McAuliffe (under “What the left is saying”), I was struck by how Neil Gorsuch and others seemed to want the court to make a grand ruling for the ages. They don't have to. They need to rule on the case before them, where everyone — the conservative justices, Trump's lawyers, and the Justice Department — seemed to agree that Trump was being accused of private acts that can be tried in our criminal justice system.

Remember, Trump got to the Supreme Court by making one broad and ridiculous-sounding argument: That he had absolute immunity from prosecution for everything he did while president. His lawyers narrowed that argument substantially before the court, making the case for an immunity that encompasses all arguably official acts. Trump’s defense team clearly wants this case to go back to the lower courts to parse all his actions in the wake of the 2020 election and to litigate which ones constituted private acts. This court seems poised to grant him that wish.

That delay would definitely benefit Trump — and I think that the Justice Department bears some responsibility for taking too long to bring this case. But I'm not really sure how or why any of that would be necessary. As McAuliffe said, there’s no reason for the court to “rename the stars” before allowing those acts to be judged by a jury.

Relatedly, the example Roberts brought up landed for me, too: If a president takes a bribe to appoint an ambassador, of course he can be charged for taking that money. The "official act" of appointing the ambassador is part of the crime, and any jury should be able to hear about that act in the context of the crime. Drawing these lines is unnecessary and over-complicated, creating a whole series of cascading issues. Crimes don’t become legal just because a president used their office to commit them.

Regardless of my feelings, the parsimonious path is the one the court seems to be taking. I'm not going to pretend distinguishing what acts can and can't be prosecuted in cases like this is a useless exercise; Gorsuch is right that such a ruling would have lasting impacts on the presidency, and that drawing some lines might be worthwhile. But it feels like the justices are creating an imagined threat — such as a president being prosecuted for an obvious official act like ordering a drone strike — to avoid dealing with the actual and realistic issues of presidential conduct before us. 

My overwhelming sense is that such a far-reaching ruling isn't necessary. This case is the first of its kind because Trump's actions in the wake of 2020 were the first of their kind. If a future Trump administration wanted to prosecute Biden for something, they'd have to do what the Justice Department did for Trump: Put together a years-long investigation, bring a detailed indictment, and then convince a series of judges and grand juries to take him to trial.

I'd much rather have that as the standard — paired with presidents who tread carefully knowing they aren't kings — than create some blanket immunity to prevent any future presidents from fearing repercussions outside impeachment for their actions. And I don't see anything in our constitution or founding documents to suggest we should broadly immunize presidents from prosecution. 

Take the survey: What do you think of the arguments for and against presidential immunity? Let us know!

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Your questions, answered.

Q: In the extras on 4/25/24, I read that the available beds (1.15 million) in the United States is roughly twice the number (535,000) of average homeless in 2023. Why do we have people living in tents and cardboard boxes? Is it distribution or disassociation?

— Jim from Wintersville, Ohio

Tangle: When we first included those stats, I skimmed the study that we sourced the numbers from to ensure they were reported accurately and that the source was reputable. In this case, I was convinced that the source was reputable (the Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD) and we had reported the figures accurately (1,112,545 beds were available, according to HUD). 

Like you, I assumed the issue was about distribution of beds — that many cities would have a surplus while others were at capacity. But I wasn’t totally sure, and I had to move on to other things. Unfortunately, I just don’t have the time to follow every lead I get.

But thanks to this question from you and a few other readers, I was motivated to look into the data more closely.

According to HUD’s 2023 Annual Homelessness Assessment Report, available beds to support people experiencing homelessness are divided roughly into two groups: One for people who had been experiencing homelessness, and the other for those who are currently homeless. Only 40.3% of the beds included in the report were in the latter group, leaving 449,567 beds available for the roughly 653,000 people who were without shelter on an average night in 2023. That’s a shortfall of roughly 200,000 beds.

Those beds were subdivided into “emergency shelter” and “transitional housing,” and then further specified for individuals, families, and — heartbreakingly — "child only households." That means that shelter availability was probably even further strained within those groups, and when you add reports of people on the streets refusing available beds it’s more likely than not that the generalized HUD shortfall is a slight undercount.

I’ve put two helpful charts from that report below.

Want to have a question answered in the newsletter? You can reply to this email (it goes straight to my inbox) or fill out this form.

Under the radar.

New results from a study in Norway are intensifying the push for reducing smartphone use among teenagers. The study examined 400 Norwegian middle schools that banned smartphones and analyzed data from a nationwide pupil survey, smartphone policies in middle schools, and a compilation of administrative datasets. The research associated bans with positive impacts, such as decreased bullying and better academic performance among girls. Psychologist Adam Grant highlighted the study on X, suggesting smartphones belong at home or in lockers. The Boston Globe has the story.


  • 272. The number of days since Donald Trump was indicted in the 2020 election interference case.
  • 47%. The percentage of Americans who approved of the Supreme Court’s performance in March 2024, a 7% month-over-month increase, according to a Marquette Law School poll. 
  • 20%. The percentage of Americans who answered affirmatively when asked if “former presidents” should have immunity from criminal prosecution. 
  • 28%. In a different sample from the same poll, the percentage of Americans who answered affirmatively when asked if “former president Donald Trump” should have immunity from criminal prosecution.
  • 48%. The percentage of Americans who said the charges against Trump in the 2020 election interference case should disqualify him from the presidency in August 2023, according to a CNN/SSRS poll. 
  • 43%. The percentage of Americans who said the charges against Trump in the 2020 election interference case should disqualify him from the presidency in April 2024.

The extras.

Yesterday’s survey: 829 readers answered our survey on the Grants Pass homelessness case with 55% finding the municipality’s laws to be bad policy. “Fining and imprisoning the homeless for noncriminal acts only worsens their plight, BUT parks and green spaces are there for everyone to enjoy the outdoors,” one respondent said.

Have a nice day.

According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, a mammal that was once considered eradicated from the state is now colonizing Ohio again. Fishers, a forest-dwelling mammal related to river otters and weasels, have been spotted in the state over the last few years. After being extirpated from Ohio in the mid-1800s, one fisher was spotted in the Buckeye State in 2013. Since then, fishers have been spotted 40 times across nine counties in northern Ohio. WLWT Cincinnati has the story.

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Isaac Saul
I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Bucks County, PA — one of the most politically divided counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.